Friday, August 21, 2009

the 2 handles...

My theme for this year's Religious Education Program is "the 2 handles." Taken from the words of the Stoic philosopher, Epictetus, "The 2 handles" has long been a favorite "proverb" of mine. A few years ago, I was pleased to find that James Freeman Clarke had preached a sermon on the proverb. It demonstrates all the virtues that have made JFC one of my true heroes and its vision of what it means to live a religious life is one that I hope we can get across in our Religious Education program this year. Some excerpts (to be continued for the next two or three days...)


EPICTETUS, the wise slave, who was in Greece what Dr. Franklin was in America, and whose proverbs have the same touch of common sense in them as have the Proverbs of Solomon, gives us in one place a parable of " The Two Handles." " Everything," says he, " has two handles. By the one it can be easily carried ; by the other not at all. Thus, if your brother has injured you, do not take hold of this event on the side of the injury, for that handle will not support it" (it is, as we say, intolerable), " but take hold of it by the other handle, and say, ' Well, he is my brother, after all, we were brought up together in the same house.' "

Precisely the same idea is expressed, and the same illustration used by Jesus in the Parable of the Prodigal Son. When the elder son returned from the field, and saw the rejoicing over his unworthy brother's return, he took hold of the fact by the handle of his brother's bad conduct and his own good conduct. " I have always done right, and he has behaved shamefully. You never gave me a kid, and you have killed the calf for him." But notice how the father presents to him the other handle : " This, thy brother, was dead, and is alive again. All I have is yours ; you and I are doing this together for him." Observe the value of that little pronoun " we." He does not say, " It was meet that I should do it," but " It was meet that we should make merry and be glad," thus assuming that the brother and father were both united in this generous reception of the penitent.

Almost everything has a pleasant and an unpleasant handle; there is something agreeable and something disagreeable in all that we see and meet and have to do with. Some take such things by the pleasant and agreeable handle, and others take them by the opposite one...

Why does genius glorify and transfigure all that it touches ? Because genius takes all facts, all events, by the right handle...In truth, to genius no fact is insignificant. Genius, like piety, calls nothing common or unclean...

I have, in my life, heard many young people complain bitterly of their circumstances, so unfavorable to the development of their character, so unsuitable to their tastes and capacities. They should take these things by another handle... Faithfulness in any place and work which God has given us, where God has placed us, wins at last the crown of rejoicing. Take hold of it by that handle. It is my work ; I am here to do it. I am a sentinel at this post, and the safety of the whole army may depend on my loyalty and truth. No one lives to himself and no man dies to himself. Every one can learn and impart some random truths from the commonest things around him, if he has a quiet eye in which to harvest them. Geese may save the capital by opportune cries — which is a comfort to geese everywhere. We are members, all of us, of a great body ; and God himself watches us, day by day, to see whether we are faithful to our task."


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