I’ve been at war for years against a foe that’s elusive, disruptive, and catastrophically dangerous. He goes by the name of the Good Idea Fairy.
I was briefed on the danger of the Good Idea Fairy during my initial days in the military. The intel collected on this particular enemy thus far warns of covert and disruptive operations. If caught unaware, certain individuals are suddenly overwhelmed with the genius of a certain idea and become hopelessly blinded to the obvious flaws in tactics, logistics, and overall lack of common sense. More experienced staff and leaders may be familiar to the signs that a Good Idea Fairy is in the area and have developed safe zones and no-fly zones in which spontaneous “good ideas” offered by “that guy/gal” are quickly contained before they can spread. In the military, the counter strategy is to isolate the infected (typically) officer and distract them with some form of a Power Point presentation with pictures until the Good Idea Fairy has safely left the area.
I am a very common target for the Good Idea Fairy. I have come to learn that The Good Idea Fairy knows the route from my house to my office rather well. As a pastor and chaplain, I find myself often knocked over the head with his magical wand as I tweak and twist worship and outreach strategies to change the world, or at least my little corner of it. My wife, soldiers, and members are pretty good about getting me back down to the ground and throwing me outside or in my office until the effects wear off. I am always looking for the next great idea or trying to identify the areas that I am losing touch with the community and the world around me. I’ve found that as a pastor, I forget. I forget what it’s like to not be a pastor. I forget what it’s like to not think about church events and services. I forget what it’s like to wake-up on Sunday morning and go over options on what to do with my day. I forget what it’s like to be the type of person that I’m trying to get to know. And when I really think about it, my great ideas are normally at the expense of great relationships. Who are the great people that I’m leaving behind when I’m too busy trying to make great ministry?
I think we’ve left some good people behind– labeled as bad ideas in our search for the perfect good idea. I preached this last week about a Good Idea Fairy in the Old Testament. In a story about Abram and Sarai, God promised them not only a great and wonderful land in which to live, but God promised them descendants and offspring in which to fill the land and become a great and powerful nation. Now, as the situation begins to unfold, I quickly recognize the work of an ancient Good Idea Fairy. Abram and Sarai can’t have children and it is going to be awfully hard to fill up an entire promised land without some sort of heir apparent. I can only imagine what kind of dinner conversation took place as Sarai came up with the good idea to let Abram sleep with her Egyptian slave girl, Hagar, and conceive an heir through her. Somehow Abram found it within himself to grudgingly and selflessly agree to have sex with now two women until a son was conceived. Amazingly enough, Hagar does become pregnant and her relationship with Sarai begins to deteriorate and unravel quite quickly. Imagine that. What seemed to be such a good idea to Sarai and Abram at first becomes quite the family drama and ends with some of the most heartless and cruel treatment of a young pregnant girl with no choice and no rights that I’ve ever read about, and yet they seem to write it in such a way that one feels that surely Hagar deserved what she got. Maybe if she didn’t dress like an Egyptian slave all the time, people wouldn’t look at her like an Egyptian slave. Now I understand my modern perspective and moral perspective are much different than ancient Middle Eastern customs, but the isolation and abuse of others for the sake of pursuing what we believe to be good ministry and good organization planning is all too common across generations. The baby is not even born yet before Sarai and Abram write off Hagar and her unborn child as their unfortunate bad idea and run her off into the desert trying to get home.
This isn’t the only time that Hagar finds herself in the wilderness, pushed off as a bad idea, with nothing to show for her sacrifice than broken promises and a child that she was forced to conceive and raise, now desperately close to death. It’s at this point that God does something that I think Abram and Sarai wouldn’t expect. Who knows if they ever even found out, but God appears to Hagar and speaks to her each time she finds herself alone and desperate. God tells her that even if everyone else around her as discarded her as a bad idea and broken their promises with her, God will keep God’s promises and still see her and her son through until they too become a great nation.
It’s a hard story to deal with if you’re a big fan of Abraham and Sarah. We may try to justify their actions and we may try to convince ourselves that their intentions were good or noble on some level; however, the Good News is what happens in the wilderness when God shows up to the one that was cast out. God still treasures, hears, and speaks with the young girl that was thrown out as a bad idea. I wonder who we’re leaving behind, forcing out, and have left labeled as a bad idea? Would we find seek out Hagar in our communities and apologize for how she’s been treated and offer her the support and care she needs to experience the fullness of the promise of God, or is God left to clean up our bad ideas and make the connections and promises that we’re too busy and too afraid to make on our own?