Making the Impossible Possible by Rev. Erin Gingrich

Making the Impossible Possible
By Rev. Erin Gingrich
February 9, 2014

Meditation here

There once were two grandmothers who lived on Mount Fuji in Japan. This mountain held a special place in their hearts. In fact, it did for many people in Japan. It is known as a sacred place. It is a place where every rock, tree and flower is considered to be the abode of the spirits. Following World War II during the American occupation of Japan, our government set up a military base on Mount Fuji. The two grandmothers were very upset. They could not accept this. So, they set up a small camp on the mountain near the military base. And when the soldiers would gather for their military exercises the two grandmothers would pop up in front of their guns and say, ‘Shame on you. You should go home to your mother.’ The soldiers were shocked to say the least. They were so taken aback by what these women were doing that they eventually stopped doing their exercises. This, of course, was not acceptable to their commanding officers. So they brought in the police to arrest the women. The soldiers were ordered to get back to their training. When the police arrived, twelve of them arrived dressed in full battle armor with shields came to arrest the women. However, even after the women were removed the soldiers were so shaken by what the women had said and done that they were “spooked” and they refused to shoot their guns there.

These grandmothers gave the soldiers a wake up call, a wake up call they experienced as so sharp, unexpected and real that it sliced through the politics of war. It snapped the men into a different reality than they had been experiencing only moments before. It’s kind of like they were a bunch of kids running around the neighborhood, up to no good when these two grandmothers told them to knock it off.

Except it was so much more than this, the two elderly women could have been putting their lives on the line. They stood in front of guns with live ammunition, in front of soldiers who were occupying their country. These grandmothers could have easily been killed and forgotten about. These women had tremendous courage to act in spite of this. They had the courage to act not knowing how they would be received by the soldiers, but knowing that their choice to act made all the difference in their lives. To be able to live with integrity on the sacred mountain, they had to speak their truth. They didn’t know how the soldiers would respond, but they knew that speaking their truth mattered to them. As it turned out, it also mattered to the soldiers.

This story is remarkable. On some level I think this it’s because we actually don’t expect to hear that truth telling can really make that much of a difference. We may think its even naïve and unsophisticated to think that the truth is enough to bring about change. We can think change has to be more involved than that. A redistribution of power doesn’t just happen on its own because we tell the truth. It doesn’t just happen because it’s the right thing to do. We may recall the wisdom of Frederick Douglass, who wrote the following during the push to end slavery in the mid 1800’s. He said, “If there is no struggle there is no progress…. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”

This is true, sometimes, as was the case during Frederick Douglass’ lifetime. We can see it was also the partly the case for the grandmothers. They courageously stood in front of the soldiers calling them to account, demanding a change. The truth spoken in love can be a powerful act, sometimes even more powerful than soldiers and guns.

Making the impossible possible can take a long time and it often does involve struggle, and other times the struggle can shift quickly once we’ve decided to act in spite of our fear. We can’t always know what the journey will entail. And we can’t even know that what we’re doing will definitely make a difference. But, what we can know is that living from our truth makes all the difference for us. Living our truth matters. It has to. The grandmothers wouldn’t have stood in front of a mass of armed soldiers who were shooting their guns if their truth wasn’t absolutely essential to their beings.

To be willing to do such a brave act we have to know that our actions matter. We have to have the imagination to see beyond what is currently happening, to imagine that the truth really does matter in the world. Our imaginations have to get active to carve out space for the truth to occupy.

The human world is the shaped by our imaginations. It can be limited by what we dream and pursue and its boundaries can expand when we imagine that the impossible is possible and then we act on it. We only bring about what we can imagine. We have to believe that our dreams are not just dreams, but that sometimes they are prophesies.

I want to tell you another story about a woman who is a great teacher of this point. Her name is Polina and in 1996 she was an 18 year old student in Bulgaria. That winter she was part of a Bulgarian environmental group that wanted to shut down the construction of a nuclear power plant in Belene. Belene is a small town on the banks of the Danube River near Romania. This town of 10,000 people is unfortunately best known for its prison and its defunct nuclear power plant. Construction began on the plant in the late 1980’s under the rule of the communist government there, a government that was widely known to be corrupt and that was mistrusted by the people. This power plant was part of the problem. It had been deemed one of the world’s ten most dangerous power plants. The people didn’t trust the government to build this plant safely and they were right. Its construction was problematic and many wanted it shut down.

The environmental group Polina was a part of held a national conference to get people together to figure out a way to stop it. Various professors and scholars in the field offered their opinions. They primarily focused on finding alternative energy sources and finding ways to create financial incentives to stop the construction. After many of these strategic opinions had been shared, Polina got a chance to speak. One of the organizers at the conference described what happened next. When Polina was finally recognized, the eighteen-year-old student said, ‘If you want to stop the construction of the Belene reactors, you need to overthrow the government.’ The organizer said that “Participants smile[d] politely as if thinking, ‘What a nice thing for this child to say.’ They continued talking about return on investments and various energy aid schemes being offered worldwide. But Polina was not deterred. She went with twenty friends to the steps of Parliament and started a daily protest against the government. The media thought it was charming and put them on TV. This was in December of 1996. Three months later, there were 20,000 people on the steps every day. Bowing to popular pressure, the government resigned. Shortly thereafter, the first democratic government was elected. A couple of months after that, they released their energy policy—canceling the Belene project.” (The Impossible Will Take A Little While,196)

HOLY MOLY! Polina dreamt about what was possible and acted on it. She imagined a world with a government that could be trusted. She imagined a world where the people’s ideas mattered. She imagined a world where people could stand up, state their truth and expect results. Many thought this was ridiculous, naïve, youthful idealism. She imagined it was possible. She set out with courage, holding onto her vision and her truth. She didn’t know when she started that so many others would join her. She set out on the path of her truth, seeking to make the impossible possible despite the fact that her compatriots in the struggle laughed at her. At 18, she set out to overthrow a corrupt, communist government. Who knows what dangers she truly faced in taking this action or how fortunate she was that the media broadcast her message.

Like the grandmothers, she stepped courageously into sharing her truth without knowing what might happen. She did not know for sure if her actions would make a difference. With her hopeful imagination intact, she courageously set out to expand what is possible.

I’m sharing the stories of the grandmothers and Polina because their work, making the impossible possible, is also our work. This is the work of the church. Isn’t that what we are called to do together? To continually work “to expand the boundaries of the possible (223).” This is why we gather- to shape what is possible first within our own hearts: to forgive when it seems impossible, to keep moving when our hearts are broken and feel betrayed, to know we are capable of so much love and to live further and further into that place of opening, to expand what is possible in our hearts. We also gather to expand what is possible in our spirits, to grow our souls. We seek to be present to life’s joy, to witness its power, to understand its transformations and losses, its racism, poverty and oppression. We come together to expand our ability to open to the gifts life has for us and to expand our offering of gifts back into the world. We come together in church to live from this place of expanding heart and spirit.

The work of the church is to help each other live from this place within ourselves, within our homes and relationships, in our connection to the earth, and in our connection to all people. We are expanding what is possible within ourselves and in our world.

I have one final story to tell you. This one is about a man named Matel Dawson. Matel worked as a forklift operator at a car company for 60 years. When he started his job he made just over a dollar an hour. Sixty years later – he made twenty-five dollars an hour. During those sixty years, he worked and worked and worked. He rarely took a vacation or a holiday. He drove a 1985 Ford Escort, and lived in a one-bedroom apartment, and held off on retiring until he was 81 years old. And Matel was a happy man.

You see, Matel made enough to afford bigger and better things, but he made a conscious decision early on in his life to live below his means. Coming of age during the Depression, Matel had to drop out of school when he was 14 to work to help support his family. Matel knew the value of a good education, maybe because he never had one himself. And during the last ten years of his life, Matel gave away all of the money he saved. Can you guess how much? 1.3 million dollars. He gave his money to the United Negro College Fund, to local community colleges, to his church. He followed the advice his mother gave him as a child – to always give something back, no matter how little.

I’m grateful for Matel’s story. He knew that he had the power within him to give life to his dreams and imagination. He made choices to put his beliefs into action in powerful ways.

I believe Matel Dawson lived from a deeper truth as well. Like the grandmothers and Polina, he, too trusted this deeper truth. He knew that money could not save him – not from getting older or getting sick, not from the inevitable challenges of life and loss. Matel Dawson put his trust in something deeper than money. He trusted in the advice of his mother – to always give something back, no matter how little. He knew, like Polina and the Grandmothers, that helping other people, not his money, is what would bring him happiness and give his life purpose.

Let us be people who like the grandmothers, Polina and Matel seek to live their truth not always because it’s easy, but because it’s life giving for us and we know that it is for the larger world, too.

Let us be people who dream of what may be, and then act to make the impossible possible.


The stories in this sermon came from the book, The Impossible Will Take a Little While, edited by Paul Rogat Loeb, published by Basic Books in 2004.


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