Date: June 21, 2015
Title: “Sticking to the Script?”
Preaching: The Rev. Donna M.L. Pritchard
Scripture: Mark 4:35-41
One of the most vivid images of chaos in ancient literature is a storm at sea. According to Mark Davis, there is good reason for this. He writes:
The imagery is compelling because in a sea storm, everything is in flux. The ground beneath your feet is moving. The mast to which you might cling is moving. The stern in which you might hide is moving. Even an outcropping rock, which may represent a mooring site in calmer seas, is now a danger – hard to see and likely to be the anvil to the waves’ hammer with the unfortunate boat caught between blows.
Surely this is a quintessential image of chaos – where everything is caught up, where it feels like nothing is secure and where our normal ways of finding security turn out to be useless. It is as if the script we have clung to, the cultural myths and world-views and expectations we have grown up with, are no longer working. And yet still, we stubbornly try “sticking to the script”. I am reminded of that colloquial definition of insanity. You’ve all heard it and could probably recite it with me: Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
It’s crazy. And it feels like that is exactly what is happening in this nation right now. We are doing the same things over and over again and expecting different results. As someone else p ut it following the shootings at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church this week: The burning question is, “What are people of faith going to do about it?” What are we people of faith going to do about it?
Are we going to continue to stick to the script we have been rehearsing for decades in this nation? Are we going to continue to pretend that the latest racist act is simply the result of one guy losing his mind, while we deny the bedrock of prejudice upon which this nation was founded? Are we going to imagine we’ve come such a long way toward equality and justice that we can lay down and take a nap in the back of the boat, even though the waves are threatening to engulf us all? Are we going to once again insist that we cannot do anything to limit the freedom of one citizen to buy a gun in order to murder another – or for that matter, to murder nine others, or ten or twenty or however many it will be next time? How long are we going to try sticking to the script and expecting a different result?
I’ve been thinking a lot about racism these past few months, and what we in the Church are called to do and to be in response. When traveling in Spain with my daughter Sarah, we talked a bit about it when I shared with her the questions coming into my prayers, and she shared with me a poem she wrote one afternoon. The poem is called “Costa del Sol, Spain”, and it starts out innocently enough. Sarah writes:
My mom and I are amused at the behavior of Europeans at the beach.
Of hearty northwest stock, we are accustomed to actually swimming.
The Europeans, by contrast, trade 3 Euros for a day of lounging in cushioned beach chairs,
Sipping beer and tropical drinks.
Worshipping the sun until their skin crisps –
Like so many chickens on a rotisserie.
But the beach is the main attraction in Nerja so my mom and I adapt.
Amid roasting white Europeans, African women sell bracelets in broken Spanish.
Asian women market beach-side “masage” –
Half Spanish and half English to cover all their bases.
The British mom nurses Sangria when she’s not nursing her baby.
She probably has a stressful job back home; maybe she considers herself a feminist.
Her mom buys a massage from one of the Asian women
And she laughs when her husband suggests that maybe
The masseuse does childcare, too.
I’ve been thinking about race and racism here – it’s much too glaring,
Too in-your-face for my American sensibilities.
I like my racism more discrete, subtle.
The Europeans’ open embrace of colonial disparities is to me
As the grizzly bear’s peeing in the river is to the announcer on the BBC nature channel:
Visiting the grand cathedrals in Spain, the conquest of America is on full display.
Gold crowns, gold chalices, gold-encrusted seats for clergy.
Silver replicas of the cathedral in miniature. Silver saints.
My mom once told me that you could build a silver bridge from Peru to Spain
With all the conquistadors stole from the Incas’ mines.
Visiting the great monuments of the United States is an entirely different story.
Ride the elevator to the top of the Empire State Building
And you would never know that it was all made possible
By the Transatlantic slave trade
And the genocide of North American Indians.
We Americans like to forget the Empire part of the Empire State (Building).
This is the difference between a nation forged explicitly in empire
And one founded in paradox –
A land of liberty in quotation marks and footnotes
Explaining to whom its principles apply.
How long will we continue trying to stick to our script and expect different results? Listen to these words describing those killed by hate in a sanctuary of love:
They lived meaningful lives, and they died nobly. They say to each of us – black and white alike – that we must substitute courage for caution. They say to us that we must be concerned not merely with who murdered them, but with the system, the way of life, the philosophy which produced the murderer. Their death says to us that we must work passionately and unrelentingly for the realization of the American Dream.
If those words sound hauntingly familiar, if they ring a little coldly historic, it is because they were not uttered this week in Charleston, South Carolina. Rather, they were spoken over 50 years ago in Birmingham, Alabama, as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave voice to our pain after four little girls were killed in the bombing of their Sunday School.
It takes your breath away, to realize how far we have NOT come! And to wonder, how long will we try to stick to this old broken and bankrupt script? How long will we continue to be enthralled by violence in this society? How long will we uphold racist structures and economic injustices which are all too evident to the marginalized and all too invisible to the powerful? How long will we deny the reality of white privilege, even chafing against those who presume to talk about the victimization of an unjust system?
We are being tossed around in a great tempest of violence, a great storm of fear. And Jesus? – it’s like he’s snoozing in the stern! We want God to intervene! We want God to take a hand, to rescue us from ourselves, to stop the madness, to heal our insanity, and to calm the waters in which we find ourselves. But the problem is, if we wake Jesus up, he will undoubtedly ask us the same question he asked those first disciples: “Have you still no faith?”
Jesus! Don’t you know we’re too busy trying to calm ourselves, and that we don’t have the time, or can’t risk the effort to try calming the wind and the waves battering our neighbor’s lives. Jesus! Surely you don’t expect us to believe we have the power to stand above our own prejudice, to stand against hatred and bigotry, violence, abuse, or terror? It is all we can do, at a time like this, to huddle together in the bottom of the boat.
But Jesus says that is not enough. It has never been enough. Several years ago I saw a “B.C” comic strip in which two cave-men sit together beneath a starry sky. Gazing up at the heavens, one of them says to the other, “Sometimes I want to ask God why God lets so many bad things happen in the world.” So the other Neanderthal says, “Why don’t you ask?” To which the first one responds, “Because I’m afraid God will ask me the same question!”
Huddling together in the bottom of the boat is not enough. Because Jesus never called his disciples to merely follow. Right from the beginning, Jesus has been calling us to lead – to proclaim, to heal, to forgive, to transform the world. Right from the very beginning, Jesus asks us to trust the power he promises and to take on the work he has given us to do. And Jesus is always suggesting we go over to the other side of the sea. He doesn’t seem satisfied to let us stay put in our thinking or our feeling, our living or our dying.
The story this morning revolves around a boat trip, going from one side of the sea to the other. Yet it is really a story about the movement we make when we let go of our script, when we change and trade spaces and move into a new way of being, a new way of loving, a new way of life. Karoline Lewis suggests:
If the disciples had said to Jesus, “Well, what if there is a storm?” they would never have gotten into the boat, because there are always storms of the Sea of Galilee. If the disciples had said to Jesus, “Well, first tell us what’s on the other side?” they would never have gotten into the boat, because of what ended up happening in the country of the Gerasenes…where they encountered a demon-possessed guy living in a cemetery, sent the demons into a herd of 2000 pigs and the pigs went jumping into the water. You just can’t make this stuff up! And who would want to jump into that kind of adventure? It turns out, the hardest thing is getting into the boat. You just have to get into the darn boat…because there is something on the other side that Jesus knows about, and Jesus desperately wants to get us there.
Perhaps the miracle in this story is not found so much in Jesus’ authority over the wind and the waver, but in Jesus’ ability to get us into the boat. Having faith does not mean trusting that Jesus will miraculously still every storm we encounter. Having faith is believing that another side is not only possible, it is essential. We have to get into the boat because we can no longer stick to a rotten, bankrupt script. The other side is not only possible, it is essential.
Again, in Dr. King’s prophetic words:
If you will hold on, you will discover that God walks with you, and that God is able to lift you from the fatigue of despair to the buoyancy of hope, and God is able to transform dark and desolate valleys into sunlit paths of inner peace.
I certainly do not have all the answers this morning as we once again confront the chaos. I cannot tell you exactly what we should do in the midst of the storm. But I do know this: It is time for us to get into the boat. It is high time for Portland’s First United Methodist Church – and for each and every one of us here – to not only follow Jesus, but to lead with Jesus to the other side, where justice and equity have real meaning and where love will no longer slumber in the face of hate. It is high time for us to get into the boat. Amen.