Pastoral Study Project Writing: I Suppose

* I would like to thank the Louisville Institute for graciously providing a Pastoral Study Project. 

I Suppose (John 21:25)

Our final words matter.  They can be marching orders, encouragement, invitation, dedication, benediction, or curse.  How closely do we read the final words of the Gospels?  ‘I suppose’, aren’t those curious words to have in the Gospel lesson?  

Where I grew up in western North Dakota we had a versatile word.  "I s'pose.”  “I s’pose was handy to use when one needed to fill time, when a gap in conversation erupted, or as the beginning of a departure.  The long good-bye is what I learned it was called in MN; the lingering, saying just one more thing, offering one more insight into the weather report.  ‘I suppose’ was what you said when you were trying to wrap it up but wanted to do it gently and with grace.

Well, I suppose.

Honestly, “I suppose.” never was a strong phrase; it was never a power phrase, it won’t go well with the Super-hero pose some of us strike before we do hard things to boost our confidence.  Luther didn’t say at the Diet of Worms, “Here I stand.  I suppose, I can do no other.”  ‘I suppose’ was a phrase that couldn’t really offend, I suppose.  

I bet we avoid saying these open-ended words because we don’t want to be perceived as weak, as wishy-washy, as open in a culture that seems to value rigid lines of definition.  

What is the Holy Spirit giving us or teaching us in these words at the end of John’s Gospel?  I imagine the Spirit tapping John on the shoulder saying, “Go ahead, put the pen down, it is good.  It is enough.  It is good enough.”  Because the Gospel is good.  And the Gospel is enough.  The Gospel is good enough.  And then John takes a breath, feels the sense of holy incompleteness because the truth of God’s grace doesn’t solely live in the stories John knows.  

I hear in these vague closing words of John’s Gospel, an invitation and an assurance.  In the acquiesces of the “I suppose’ there is the sense that the job of recording every single act that Jesus did would be a task larger than a lifetime and larger than one life.  And so, in the end, we aren’t given everything that Jesus did but we are given the truth that Jesus is so active in the world that it is an impossible task to record every single one.

Perhaps ‘I suppose’ wasn’t meant to be a final ending but a transition off the page and into the text of our daily lives.  ‘I suppose’ wasn’t meant to wrap it all up tightly but purposely to leave it open . . . open-ended because God’s work is still happening.

So why should we care? 

I bet we avoid saying these open-ended words because we don’t want to be perceived as weak, as wishy-washy, as open in a culture that seems to value rigid lines of definition.  Well, I suppose, that in our highly polarized culture where words inflame, blame is used as control and deflection from my responsibility in a situation, and shame, personal attacks, and speculation are part of the blood sport of politics, I suppose just might soften things.  Soften language.  Soften positions.  Soften hearts.  Soft hearts are to conflict like butter in the kitchen is to lima beans;  it can cover a multitude of sins.  I don’t know that two little words on their own can have such an effect but I do know that the Spirit of God is still working in the world, and “If everything Jesus did was written down there won’t be room for all the books that would be written.”  

God will work through your ‘I suppose.”  

I suppose.  I suppose.

Well, I s'pose.