Carlyle Fielding Stewart III

Writings on Democracy, Social Justice, and Religion

Creative Problem Solving: A Jesus Perspective

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Delivered on the Lord’s Day Political Candidates Sunday/October 23, 2011

 II Kings 4:1-7; Matthew 19:16-26; Luke 12:16-2 

The scriptures for today’s sermon provide a glimpse into the power of creative thinking. Jesus, the master teacher, always provided food for thought through lessons that challenged people to think differently about themselves and world so they could solve their problems creatively. The purpose of Christianity is not only to help become more Christ like but to develop the kind of solution based thinking that would help make the world a better place in which to live. 

When God the father sent his son to save the world it was for the purpose of providing an alternative model of existence to world to humankind solve problems that had been created by his sinful condition. 

Everything about the mission of Jesus was designed to created a new paradigm and model of thinking, acting and existing that would improve the condition of both the individual and society.

His health care ministry which healed the sick was not only designed to eradicate debilitating diseases that had both devastated individuals and marginalized them from society, but also designed to creatively and positively change the negative self concepts these people had acquired as a result of their physical afflictions.

Thus Jesus health care ministry was an exercise in creative problem solving not only medically by healing their afflictions, not only psychologically by transforming their negative self image into a positive self image, but also socially by helping those healed persons to become productive citizens in their communities and society.

Thus his health care ministry was one attempt to creatively solve problems for the entire society by helping individuals overcome their limitations and afflictions so they, their families and their communities could become better places in which to live.

In reading the parable of the rich young man in Matthew 19:16-30 again we have a story about creative problem solving. Traditional readings of this text focus on the foolishness of the rich young and the fact that Jesus told him to sell all he had and give to the poor. Some people misread this text to imply that Jesus was anti riches and wealth, which he was not, and that this remedy that selling all one has and giving to the poor is a solution for every single person of wealth and means. 

But a closer, deeper reading of this text tells us that Jesus was responding to the rich young man’s question about what he should do to inherit eternal life. Everything the young man did up to that point did not solve his problem or answer his question. He was financially successful. He had all the material riches that one person could wish for. But he still could not solve the problem of meeting the requirements of obtaining eternal life.

By telling the young man to sell all he had and give to the poor Jesus was challenging that young man to radically change his way of thinking. Selling all he had would put him back into a situation where he was hungry again, and once he was hungry again, he could begin thinking creatively and entrepreneurially about how he could help not only himself but other people in his community who were in need such as the poor. Up to that point all of his hard work had only helped himself. Now by selling all he had, would put him into a condition of scarcity and want, and now he could creatively meet the challenge of taking the same ideas that had made him rich to help other people who were poor to overcome their indigence.

Jesus was trying to change the young man’s current dead end thinking into creative thinking so that he could help become part of community problem solving rather than being a part of the problem of his community. This change in thinking would enable the young man to become part of the solution to problem solving rather than part of the problem. That parable was a challenge to the rich young man to begin thinking creatively again, which meant putting himself into a position of want and need, not only so he could empathize with the poor and know how they felt but also so he could active his creative entrepreneurial spirit to be blessing to more than just himself.

What is missed in this text is that Jesus probably knew that if the young man emptied himself of all his possessions, he could empty himself of all those preconceived ideas and thoughts that kept him from really succeeding in God’s eyes instead of being successful only in his eyes and the eyes of his peers. Jesus probably understood that this young man was gifted enough to move to a place where his possessions no longer possessed him, where he once again free himself to use his gifts for the betterment of himself and his community and thus please God and inherit all the riches of eternal life rather than the material riches of his temporal life.

Look throughout the Gospels and you will see that Jesus is always challenging people to solve problems creatively whether it was through a change in attitude or a change in thinking or a change in personal self esteem, moving people from a can’t do to a can do reality; moving them beyond a philosophy of “no I can’t” to a theology of “yes I can!” Jesus knew that big change could occur through small change through something as simple as just changing the way we think about things.

The same principle of creative thinking can be derived from our II Kings 4:1-7 scripture where the prophet Elijah is confronted by a widow who had run out of resources and was hounded by her creditors. She was afraid that her indebtedness would cause her dead husbands creditor to come and make her two boys slaves to pay off that debt. The prophet says, wait a minute, what do you have in your house? She said I have nothing at all except a little oil. Elijah said go and ask all your neighbors for empty jars, and pour that oil into all the jars. Well she did until she ran out of jars to pour that little oil into. Elijah challenged her to take inventory on what she had before she lamented about what she did not have. As it turned out she had more oil than she imagined. She had more oil than the jars could fill. What Elijah did is challenge her to change her thinking about her resources; to shift her perspective from limit to limitlessness; from scarcity to abundance; from nothing to more than something.

Sometimes we need to see what God has already provided us before we run off complaining about what we don’t have. This requires a little faith and some creative thinking in order to innovatively solve our problems. Using what we have as a basis for realizing our true abundance and how much we have been blessed is a far greater strategy than lamenting and bemoaning and groaning our condition of scarcity and then doing nothing about it.

A further lesson of this story is that each of us has more than we think, and that we can’t simply sit back and let somebody tell us what to do, we must do for ourselves and know that God still makes a way out of no way like he always has. We have more at our finger tips that we could imagine  and if we just get enough jars, change our thinking and our strategies, we will have more than enough resources to meet our needs.

And this brings me to another point about our condition and the state politics in American society both locally and nationally. Instead of creatively thinking of ways to solve our problems we keep going down the same track, with the same thinking that dead ends nowhere.

Rather than getting up off of our behinds to help the American people, all some politicians want to do is keep helping those who don’t really need that help as much as the poor. My problem with politics today is that certain people no longer have a creative problem solving approach to America’s problems. They have given up. They see things only one way. They have closed themselves off to other creative possibilities so that we can move into the future. It’s the same old ideology, with same old dead lock, stonewall, padlock approach to doing nothing rather than having the moral courage to do something bold and creative to help our country to move beyond its present crisis.

Our democracy is in deep trouble and many of the politicians with their one sided, non creative, myopic thinking have gotten us into this quandary and we need the kind of creative, courageous leadership that will lead us out of the present economic and political quagmires. Insanity has been defined as doing one thing over and over expecting to get a different result.

The great Tip O’Neil once said that “All politics is local.” What happens politically on the local level is just as important as what happens on the national level. We can take neither of these processes for granted. We just hope that the people who run for office both locally and nationally will remember that Government of the people, for the people and by the people is still the best hope for America and the best form of government of earth.

You can’t have creative strategies for true problem solving in America when in a government for the people you shut most of the people out and only talk to rich people and powerful people; people who see things only their way, devoid of compassion and empathy for the poor like that rich young man in Jesus parable and have no other creative imagination to envision a world that is beyond the myopic view of their world.

They keep wanting to do things the same way expecting a different result. At least in the old days many people of wealth and privilege had the idea that I can get mine by the sweat and brow of the other folks which means that I must create a world where they can get theirs too. I can get mine and they can get theirs and so when everybody does better everybody does better.

Now the thinking is not longer empathetic or eve creative. The thinking now is I will get all that I can get and the rest of the world can be damned. Let the ninety nine percent of the people; let the poor; let teachers and students and policemen and firemen and government workers and the unemployed and the sick and hungry and seniors and the middle class, and people who are different; and science and education and unions and collective bargaining and human rights all be damned. 

Their attitude is winner take all and losers take nothing attitude is destroying our nation and ruining the best democracy on earth. The problem with Washington is the lack of creative imagination, creative solving problem, of looking at the world from more than just one point of view.

My professor James Ashbrook, said one day in response to a statement made by a student that minorities did not have the capacity to help America out of her problems to which he responded, “That is incorrect. Minorities and have always been resourceful in problem solving in America.” Why you say that?” said the student. Ashbrook went on to say, “Any people who have to think twice about being in the world are usually more creative because they have to think of things from more than just their own point of view. “Typically African Americans have not only had to think of things from their own point of view, but from the point of view of white people, which sometimes tends to make them more creative.” This is especially true when it comes to thinking about how we think.

The purpose of Jesus ministry was to help peopled transform their thinking so that that not only looked at themselves from the point of view of their adversaries, but from God’s point of view, and from the point of view of a transformed person.

America will continue go backwards when you have people at the decision making levers of power who cannot think beyond their own single point of view. What we see afoot in our country is a desire to push the nation back into the dark ages where there is only one point of view, one way of doing thinks, one perspective which says yes to the rich and no to the poor and middle class; yes to power and wealth and no to the people without power and wealth. It is one single, selfish, paltry point of view that says yes to the people who pay for my election and sponsor me and no to the everyday people who elected me.

Which means Yes to corporations and no the people. Yes to the freedom to plunder and pillage and wreck the economy with impunity and no to justice. Yes to Wall Street and no to Main Street and Back street, Yes to corporations and no to individuals. Yes to bailouts for the bankers and no to the people who have been thrown out of their homes largely due to the Casino capitalism of those banker. Keep rewarding the rich and keep ignoring the poor. Follow only the golden rule he who has the gold makes the rules and can break the rules whenever he or she desires. and now thrown out of their home largely due to bankers who gambled away their futures. Yes to Grover Norquist and no to President Obama.

We can talk about rebuilding the physical infrastructure of America all we want but we also need to rebuild our spiritual infrastructure to adopt some critical and creative thinking, some new ideas, to make America better not just for some of the people all of the time but all of the people all of the time.

It is beyond a tragedy that we have lost our creative imagination in the political process; that we cannot think beyond a firm resentful no; that we would rather drive the economy and the country off the cliff and let it perish than to compromise or creatively think about what is in the best interests of our people.

A greater tragedy is that we have used Christianity as a religion simply to attack and alienate other people, a religion that is more interested in entertainment than transformation; more interested in punishing people who question authority rather than questioning authority who punish the people. The great tragedy is the way that Christianity has been used to dumb people down; to throw people out; to rip away their future and to cast them to the winds. It is more than tragic how people put words into the mouth of Jesus by saying that he hates the poor or that he hates the rich, that he hates Jewish people when he himself was Jewish; that he hates this and hates that, when all he tried to do was help people come to terms with their problems and understand that there is no problem God cannot creatively fix on his own or through us who are willing to think boldly or creatively knowing that when everybody is thinking alike somebody is not thinking.

The tragedy is that some elected representatives cannot think creatively to  solve our problems anymore. America, one of the most creative nations on earth that gave the world auto motion and automation, mass production and refrigeration, the telephone, the micro chip and fiber optics, the artificial heart, heart transplants and blood plasma, medicine for polio, vertigo and got to go;.  America a leader in science and technology, music and the arts; we who gave the world Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and William Faulkner, Toni Morrison, Ralph Ellison and Jim Morrison, Charlie Parker, Maceo Parker and Miles Davis, Jack Johnson, James P. Johnson and John Johnson, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Warren Buffett, Babe Ruth, Ted Wiliams, Willie Mays and Hank Aaron, Don King, ML King, Rodney King, B.B. King and King Oliver.

A great nation is America with great variety and creativity; great points of view from people of every station and hue. There is Wall Street, Jefferson Street, Bourbon Street and Beale Street. There is Eastern European, Western European, Middle European, Native, African, Arab, Asian, Latino, Hispanic and Chicano cultures. There Carnegie, Mellon, Vanderbilt and Rockefeller; there is Classic Jazz, cool Jazz and smooth Jazz, the Blues, rap, the Spirituals, Gospels, country music and rock and roll. There is apple pie, baseball and Chevrolet. There is Zuben Meta, Yo Yo Ma and  Kathleen Battle; Buddy Battle, Bruce Springsteen and Muddy Waters; there is Howlin Wolf, Wolf the movie with Jack Nicolson and the wolf man.

Just look at America! Horace Silver, Ben Silver and Benny Goodman; James Brown, Bobby Brown and the Brown Blind Boys. There is Carlos Santana, Paula Abdul and Barbara Streisand, Waylon Jennings, Tammi Wynette and Garth Brooks; there is David, the Duke of Earl and Duke Ellington. There is Frank Sinatra and Frankie Valley, the Marvelettes, the Miracles and the Temptations. 

Just look at America with all of her variety; Harlem New York and Hollywood California, Appalachia and Palm Springs Florida and Palm Springs California; there is Watts, Detroit and Washington D.C; Midnight Mississippi and Daylight North Dakota, Birmingham Alabama and Birmingham Michigan.

American the creative; with her country clubs and public parks; mountains, valleys, rivers, lakes, deserts and oceans. There are cars, buses, trains and planes, people of all colors, sizes, shapes and dispositions, IBM, GM and Auntie M, Ford, Chrysler and Wonder Bread; Micro Soft, Soft Key and Mister Softie; there are Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Shintoists, Taoists, Bahai, the Oracles of Delphi and Atheists.

There is Howard and Harvard, Hampton and Stanford, Vanderbilt, Tuskegee, Spelman and the College of William and Mary. There are M.D’s, Ph.D’s and no D’s; white collar, blue collar, no collar and make me want to holler. This is America and we can’t get a funky jobs bill passed because the nation is held hostage by Corporate power and we have a party in office that is more concerned about denying Obama a second term than getting America back working again!

The tragedy of America is the loss of creative thinking; the loss of freedom where we can unequivocally concede that there is more than one way, or two ways, or three ways or three thousand ways of thinking of things to make our nation and world a better place first for all Americans then for everybody else. Start taking care of the people of America; take care of home and then you can take care of everybody else.

It’s not about Republic and Democrat but right and wrong; caring not only for the most of these but the least of these. It’s not about big government or small government, it’s about good government; not liberal or conservative but what point of view will best meet the needs of all America. Where are the creative ideas; where is the innovation that is the hallmark of a free country that can freely think and move and create freely to make the world a better place. You cannot have a free country when a few people are trying to dictate and rule the country in the interests of a few people. That is not America. That is not democracy! That is not true freedom.

We are pushing our country backwards by a lack of creativity and imagination; by a lack of creative thoughtfulness that thinks and does things from not just a single point of view. We are beating down our country by this boss hog approach. We talk of rebuilding the country’s physical infrastructure but we also need to rebuild our spiritual and intellectual infrastructures.

Our thinking is warped because we keep thinking in either / or categories but should instead think in both/ and categories, which means changing the way we think about the world and the way we act in the world. Why does it have to be all or nothing for one group or another?  Why can’t the rich get richer and the poor get richer too? Why can’t we have a country where everybody does better so that everybody does better? Why can’t we emulate those nations that rule by consensus where everybody, young people, old people, well and sick people, people from the medical, business, educational and other communities agree on strategies where everybody wins; where the people win and the nation wins and business wins and everybody wins. You cannot tell me that there is no system that cannot create this movement of freedom for all people. Like the woman who overlooked the oil in her cabinet, we already have the answers. Its how we think about what we have and how we use what we have.

We must change our thinking from the ideas that when we give something good to others that they are taking something good from us. We need a new attitude with a new gratitude that is thankful for the blessings of our nation; thankful to be an American; thankful for the challenges of living now and thankful that the door had not been slammed shut on us; that there are still new possibilities, new opportunities; new frontiers and new vistas to make America and the world a better place for all.

That’s what Jesus tried to teach the rich young man. We’ve got to change our thinking to think about this in a way other that we have been thinking. That is the essence of America!

What is stunting our growth as a nation is the lack of creativity; the inability to see things from more than just one own point of view; the power to imagine, innovate and create which is the hallmark and greatness of America. America has always been a leader in creativity. The Founding Fathers took a more creative approach to government by devising a system without a monarch or a tyrant or regent or despot. They believed that the people could govern themselves. They believed the people could find way in this experiment in democracy. They created a political system that made compromise and consensus a virtue not a vice; a system that lived by yes, and no and maybe not a system that lived exclusively by “no and only for the rich.

America has led the world in innovation and creativity and ingenuity and imagination and as we spend our time arguing and stonewalling each other, other countries are gaining ascendancy and power. China is buying up all the rare earth materials while we argue about bread for the poor. China has spent the last thirty years, says …..buying the rare earth materials that allow them to make………Here we are as a country quibbling over who gets the peanuts when the rest of the world is buying up the whole peanut farm.

We have lost our creativity and our ingenuity and we are losing our ground as a nation because some of our elected reps can’t hold two opposing thoughts in their minds at the same time; can’t think other than how they are told to think by their corporate sponsors; and when we lose our capacity to think and create and to do we lose the essence of our democracy and the basis for America, which is freedom, for then we become monolithic and one dimensional; near sighted and small minded;  provincial rather than providential in our thinking, acting and doing.

Friends, I am so thankful that the nonviolent occupy movement is now sweeping the globe in quiet protest against the confiscatory and predatory winner take all policies that are crippling our nation and our world economy.

Friends the occupy movement is saying there is still another way to think about this. “You cannot just ignore us. You cannot just walk all over us. You cannot just take our democracy and turn it into a plutocracy or oligarchy. No. We still want our democracy. We still want our freedom. We still want clean water and we want clean air not only for ourselves but for our children and their children and their children. We want to be educated and employed and we want to have access to good health care. We still want the right to collectively bargain and think about our world differently than what you think of it. “

We want our corporations to thrive but we do not want a corporatocracy where only corporations rule over us and deny us our rights to basic subsistence. Yes, we want our country back. We want it  back from those who want to selfishly keep it only for their benefit and their gain and not the rest of us.

Creative problem solving friends is what we need today whether Republican, Democrat, other; a problem solving strategy that will help everybody in need. The world will not get better until we get better. I hope and pray that those of you here today who will be blessed enough to lead our city, our county, our state and our world will remember the these words of one of Americas greatest minds, Steve Jobs at the 2005 Stanford University Commencement address:

Your time is limited so don’t waste it by living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped in dogma which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others opinions drown out your own inner voice. More important have the courage to follow your own heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.



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