Okay, slow deep breaths.
Watching the kids should help us remember what the world was like for us back then.
When we were small
the world was liquid
and the grown-ups poured it into us,
sometimes in small doses
and sometimes in big gulps.
We swallowed everything back then:
How to tell time,
how to tie our shoes;
not to hit
or who we could hit;
why we have to eat our broccoli,
and how MacDonald’s French fries
are better than Wendy’s;
Uncle Joe is funny
but Aunt Nina is mean;
you can trust the priest
but not the car salesman –
or vis versa.
The liquid world went down easy
when we were little.
We swallowed it
because we didn’t know any better
and because we were drinking
It never occurred to us
to say “no”
or spit it out.
When we were little,
three or four or five years old,
what to believe,
the colors with which the world is painted,
who knows the truth
and who doesn’t,
who is good and who is bad,
was given to us
like the milk we drank.
When we were little like that,
like the youngest of the sweet ones
who just gave us the Christmas pageant,
the computer in our brain
was set to download
and the default settings
had no capacity for discernment
We just drank it all in.
And so they filled us up,
the ones who loved us
and the ones who thought it was for our own good;
and the ones who felt responsible for us
and the ones who knew exactly
what we should be drinking.
They gave us everything we needed
to be safe
and so we knew where the boundaries were
and would be able to judge right from wrong.
But then something happened.
Somewhere about age six,
or maybe not until seven, eight or nine,
a switch turned on in our head.
It just clicked
as if it was pre-set,
and then the downloading slowed down
and the analyzing sped up.
Suddenly we started crunching numbers
instead of just cataloguing them.
Very slowly at first
but then definitely,
the analysis came on fast.
We started making colors
instead of just seeing them.
We started liking people
we weren’t supposed to like,
and sometimes feeling uncomfortable
around people we were supposed to trust.
We started wanting things
we knew we weren’t supposed to want.
We started hearing and seeing
the people who loved us
and do things
no one was supposed to do or say.
We started to feel confused
because this was that
and that was this
and black was white
and white was black.
The opposite of what they told us
turned out to be the way it really was
and that peaceful, easy feeling
when everything made sense
started to get all mixed up.
Then we decided
that something they told us
wasn’t just mistaken,
it may have actually been a lie.
Something that the ones who loved us said
turned out to be not true at all
and we couldn’t see
how they could have believed it either.
So we decided they made it up
to keep us ignorant, or happy, or quiet.
So then we started wondering
“What else” isn’t true?
It was a scary thought
and we suddenly had a decision to make:
follow that question wherever it leads
or just trust what they told us
and ignore the niggling discontent.
It was a conundrum.
If we followed it
we might never find our way back
But if we ignored it
something bad might happen
that could have been prevented.
We may have hovered over that dread
for a very long time,
or taken a leap forward or backward
right there on the spot.
Some people follow that voice of discontent
and wander off into a search
of all that downloaded stuff
to see what was true
and what was false
and to understand what actually makes sense
from their own experience
instead of from what someone told them.
Other people go back into the fold.
Even though something they were told
was contradicted by their actual experience,
the prospect of having to figure out truth from myth
and fact from fiction
just seems like more than they want to handle.
In fact, all of us have done both:
we have boldly stepped off into the search
as well as quietly snuck back
into the shelter of the herd.
No one has the energy
to live out on the edge all of the time
and very few of us
have the endurance to hide within
the shelter of myth forever.
So we pick and choose.
Being deeply spiritual people,
raised in a religious family
whether mildly religious or wildly fanatic,
we were taught some core religious truths
that were later contradicted
by those who taught us about the “real” world.
An obvious example,
and one I have pointed to before,
is that we have been thoroughly indoctrinated
into the core principles of science
whether or not we ever enjoyed it
as a subject in school.
We have been nursed on the assumptions
of a scientific worldview
and it is impossible for us
to live in denial of those assumptions.
One of the things we believe about life
because of what we have been taught,
is that analysis can resolve
most any problem or difficulty.
This is actually a pretty new idea
in the history of human thought.
We now believe that complex matters
are only compounds of simple elements,
such as in chemistry and biology.
The way we find out about the truth
or solve a problem
or fix something,
is to break it down into its constituent parts.
What appears to be a complex
organism, machine, or problem
is really only a combination of components
connected to each other.
By breaking down the organism
or machine into its parts,
we can see what it really is
and therefore what makes it tick.
We apply this idea
space and time,
and human beings.
It is now second nature to us –
so utterly obvious and natural
that we have forgotten
what a new idea it is
in the history of humankind.
Religions on the other hand,
have their origin
in a way of thinking
that does not fit into the scientific paradigm.
Biology, genetics, and physics
believe that we can reduce all matter
to its constituent parts and analyze it,
and therefore the only mystery
lives in the gaps of our knowledge, which are gaps that will sooner or later be filled.
But the Christmas story,
regardless of who tells it,
contradicts that modern scientific worldview.
At the core of the Christmas story
and of Christianity itself,
is a belief that slaps the scientific worldview
in the face:
God is present.
In the manger God is present.
In the manger of your heart and mine,
God is present.
Not only is God present
but God is indivisible and beyond analysis.
God is non-material
and an intangible force
that is nonetheless influential
in the actual blood, sweat and tears of ‘real’ life.
God is an actual, ‘real’ presence
both immaterial and
Not all beliefs and ideas
between a scientific and spiritual worldview
contradict one another,
but the core principal in each
do not cohere with each other.
I mention it
because the tension is obvious this time of year.
What we were taught about the world
with its atoms, molecules, and bytes
is at odds with our experience
of a God that is present among us
and within us
and around us
yet neither visible nor quantifiable.
I encourage us to dig into that tension
rather than ignore it
or pretend it does not exist.
What we have been taught
about how the world ‘really’ is
does not jibe with some of our weird, intuitive,
of God in our midst.
I am not trying to say
that the events of the Biblical story are factual –
that they really happened
exactly the way they are written –
rather, I am saying they are true.
Truth and fact, as we well know,
are two very different things.
The truth in our lives
does not always line up with the facts,
knows the difference.
We are in a season of truth right now,
and navigating the tension
between truth and fact in our lives
and in the world around us,
is also at the heart of Christmas.
Have a great week!