4th Sunday of Advent Archive Edition
When you were little
the world was liquid
and they poured it into you
in small doses
and gulps even.
You swallowed everything.
How to tell time.
Why tie your shoes, and
how to tie them.
Why not hit, or
who you can hit and who you can’t.
Why you have to eat
and why McDonald’s French fries are
better than Wendy’s.
Uncle Joe is funny
aunt Ninya is mean,
and by the way,
you can trust the priest and the cop.
The liquid world went down easy
because you did not know any better
and drank without knowledge.
It never occurred to you to say “no”
or spit it out
or vomit it back.
When you were little,
three or four of five,
what poured into you,
because “No” was reserved for active resistance
against the do’s and don’ts of life.
What to believe,
and the colors
with which the world is painted;
who knows the truth
and who doesn’t;
who is good
and who is bad;
that was all poured into you like milk.
All those things we were given to drink
are just the way things are,
because when you were that small
the computer in your head
was all about downloading
and default settings
with no capacity for discernment
You drank it all in
because you could.
So they filled you up,
the ones who loved you and
thought it was for your own good;
and the ones who felt responsible for you
and knew exactly what you should be drinking.
They filled you up
with who you belong to
and where you don’t belong;
with God Bless American
and Hail Mary full of Grace;
with the Pledge of Allegiance to a flag
and Salvation through Jesus Christ alone.
They gave you everything,
everything you needed
to be safe
so you knew where the boundaries were
and judged right from wrong.
But something happened to you
at seven or eight or nine,
maybe even ten or eleven years old.
A switch turned on in your head,
just clicked on
in a pre-programmed way,
and then the downloading slowed to a trickle
and the analyzing sped way up.
You started crunching numbers
instead of just cataloguing them.
You started making colors
instead of just seeing them.
You started liking people you weren’t supposed to
and feeling uncomfortable
with people you were supposed to respect.
You started wanting things
you knew in the secrets of your heart
you weren’t supposed to want.
You started hearing and seeing
the ones who loved you,
and do things
no one was supposed to do or say.
You started feeling confused
because ‘this’ was sometime ‘that’
and ‘that’ was sometimes ‘this’
and black and white were sometimes
the opposite of what they had told you;
and that peaceful, easy feeling
that everything was in order and made sense
started to get all mixed up…
it all started to run together.
Then, then something happened
that really tore you apart.
Something they had told you
was a lie.
Something they said about how life works
or God is
or We are
turned out not to be true.
all at once, you had to wonder,
“What else isn’t true?”
It was a scary thought
and you had to decide:
Am I going to follow that question
wherever it leads
or should I just trust what they told me
and ignore this niggling discontent?
“If I follow it
I might never find my way back;
but if I ignore it
something bad might happen
that could have been prevented.
Oh, what to do?”
Some people follow that voice of discontent
into a search,
sifting through all that was downloaded
to see what was true
and what was false,
to understand what actually makes sense
with their own experience.
They also start to look for what contradicts
their own experience.
go back into the fold.
Even though something they were told,
something they swallowed,
was contradicted by their actual experience,
the prospect of having to figure out
truth and myth and fact and fiction
in what they were taught as children
just seems like more than they can handle.
The truth is,
you and I have done both:
boldly stepped off into the search
and quietly snuck back into the shelter of the herd.
No one but a maniac
has the energy
to live out on the edge all the time,
and very few of us
have the endurance
to hide within the shelter of myth forever.
So we pick and choose,
or more than likely,
we react differently at different times.
Lessons & Carols this year
is poking at us,
and each one of us will have to decide
what we want to do with that poke.
Jesus, it turns out,
is a very big deal in the Koran
and so is his mother, Mary.
Baby Buddha became radiant like molten gold,
and his birth was attended by miraculous signs
across the heavens.
I tell you,
it is all getting mixed up!
The categories won’t stay put,
and the boundaries are breaking down,
and now some are saying
that even if the stories we heard
didn’t really happen,
they can still be true.
What’s going on?
Someone said at the Wednesday morning communion,
“I never worry about
what I don’t believe
because what I do believe
is difficult enough.”
Ain’t that the truth!
Here is one of the problems
you and I have
with being deeply spiritual or religious people.
Regardless of whether we were raised
in a religious environment,
we were taught certain things
about how the “real” world is.
But just about every single
in any religion,
contradicts what we were taught
about the “real” world.
Let me give you an example.
Whether or not we ever liked or studied science,
we have been thoroughly indoctrinated
by its core principles.
We were nursed on its assumptions
and it is impossible for us
to live in denial of those assumptions.
one of the things we believe about the world,
that most previous generations of humans
did not believe,
is that “analysis” can resolve
most any problem or difficulty.
We believe that complex matters
are only compounds of simple elements.
The way in which one finds out
the truth about something in our world,
or solves a problem
or fixes something,
is simply to break it down to its constituent parts.
From nuclear engineering
what seems to be a complex organism,
machine or problem
is really only a combination
of simple 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.
This process can be applied to
or human beings.
This seems second nature to us,
utterly obvious and natural.
But human beings have not always
thought this way,
and in fact,
most religions have their origins
in a way of thinking
that does not fit our modern paradigm.
We assume the human being
is a complex machine,
but one that,
after proper analysis,
is only a large series of simple processes.
Everything can be explained and engineered
if we know enough about all of the parts.
So, we believe that
biology, genetics, and physics
can explain almost anything
by reducing it to its constituent parts
and analyzing them.
there is no such thing as a true mystery,
simply a gap in our knowledge.
Sooner or later,
if it is real,
we will find out what makes it tick
and we will be able to demonstrate it.
This is the milk with which we were nursed.
But the Christmas story,
regardless of who tells it,
contradicts what we were taught.
It is not just the story –
we can understand the poetry of the story,
and read it as a metaphor
without having to take it literally.
But the core idea of Christmas,
the core idea of every religion,
slaps the face of what we were taught:
That God is present;
God is indivisible and beyond analysis;
God, a non-material and intangible force,
is nonetheless influential
in the blood, sweat and tears of actual life.
and do not cohere
to our other ways of knowing things –
the usual ways of knowing things,
the scientific ways of knowing things,
the ways of knowing
that are so obvious we simply take them
So in the next week or so,
don’t get distracted by the details of the story,
or even the story itself.
Get absorbed in the tension
between what we were taught about the world
with its atoms, molecules, and bytes,
with our personal experience
of God’s presence among us
and within us
and surrounding us.
Dig into that tension
and get clear about the conflict
between what you were taught
and some of your crazy, weird, numinous experiences
of God in our midst.
If you do that,
you will be ready for next week
when we point to the actual presence of God in our midst.
At least that is what I am planning to do next week.