Wednesday, July 7, 2010


I clipped this out of Sojourners magazine (I think it was Sojourners) many years ago. Framed, it hangs on my office wall as a reminder to me.  "Every time you say no you also say yes."  Typical William Stringfellow wisdom.

Notice how Wetmore tucks in an "I love you" and an "alleluia" amid the many mini-"no's." Also, see if you can find an "absolutely not" and two "yes's."

This was brought to new light this morning as I was reading in a chapter on observing sabbath by Barbara Brown Taylor.  She quoted Karl Barth: "A being is free only when it can determine and limit its activity."

It's not just what I CAN do, but what I am free NOT to do. I am free in that I can determine my own choices.  But that freedom becomes qualitative (or life becomes qualitative) when I use my freedom to limit what I choose.  "Yes" is made meaningful by "no."

When I choose to say "no" to small things, I open up the possibility for something beyond.  We can fill our lives with immediately gratifying things.  But if we do, we close possibilities for greater opportunities.

I can see this as a fractile sort of thing with many applications in many directions.

This is partly about delaying gratification.  Delaying gratification is, it seems to me, one of the more important and useful of self-disciplines for mental health, spiritual development and basic well being.  But saying "no" in order to say "yes" is not just about delaying gratification.

Jesus talked about wide and narrow ways.  I'm thinking about that in relationship to saying "no" in order to say "yes."

In his letter to the Galatian Christians, the Apostle Paul challenged Jesus' followers to live fully in freedom made possible by grace through faith. At the same time, he warned them to guard their freedom carefully.  It can be easily lost to addictive legalism, on the one hand, and morph into a slavish indulging the sinful nature (lawlessness or antinominanism), on the other.

Don't think of this as saying "no" to all things material and "yes" to all things spiritual.  That's a trap, a false dichotomy.  Material is not inherently bad and so-called spiritual things are not all necessarily good.  That is not the essential choice.

Think more in terms of saying "no" for the sake of a "yes" to conscience and sanity, intention and purpose, wholeness and completeness, right-making and restoration, relationship and community.

But when to say "no" and when to say "yes?"

An old gospel song sang "keep your eyes on the prize."

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