I read once that when Thomas Jefferson was writing the Declaration of Independence, he was not happy about the idea of a committee making revisions to it. (It’s hard to put all your heart and energy into something, only to have it “improved” by a committee.) But apparently Benjamin Franklin told Mr. Jefferson a little story that helped ease his anxiety somewhat. Franklin said that when he was younger, he had a friend who was opening up a hatter’s shop. The friend decided on a sign for the window that would read: “John Thompson, Hatter, makes and sells hats for ready money”–with a picture of a hat underneath. He asked his friends what they thought, and one said the word “Hatter” seemed superfluous, since “makes and sells hats” made that clear. A second friend said “makes” could be left off, since most customers wouldn’t care who made the hats. A third friend said “for ready money” wasn’t necessary because no one in the area sold on credit anyway. That left “John Thompson sells hats”–but a fourth friend said, “No one would expect you to give them away, so why do you need the word ‘sells’?” Finally, someone suggested that the word “hats” was unnecessary too, since there was a picture of a hat on the sign. So the sign ended up reading “John Thompson,” with a picture of a hat underneath.
Apparently, that little story helped Thomas Jefferson feel a little less anxious about his work being revised by others.
This story strikes me for a couple reasons. One is that, when I’m writing a Sunday sermon, I often go through the process of deleting extraneous words and sentences. Even whole paragraphs or pages. And it’s often hard to let them leave, after having spent considerable time “birthing” them.
The other reason this story speaks to me is that my ministry with you is something like an ever-evolving story. Not that a committee sits down and revises my sermons before I give them–but that I continue to learn from you and revise my own thoughts as we interact with one another. (Mostly through electronic media these days.) I am changed by you–as I hope you are changed a little by me. And in the end perhaps a church, at its best, is a place where people go to get revised, improved, and amended. And in the process, some of the extraneous things in our lives fall by the wayside, so that what is left is fewer words and more meaning.
For that, I “tip my hat” to you.
peace and unrest,