does anyone really know what time it is? does anyone really care?

Matthew 20:1-11

I’m sure you’ve all noticed—
you really don’t have to pay much attention at all,
we have, in our culture, competing realities.
Now, technically, I think they’re competing views of reality,
but no one acts like that—
talks like that—
apparently thinks like that—
or, at least, admits to thinking that.
After all, if you just have a perspective on reality
instead of the definitive truth,
then how is anyone to know if your reality’s really real—
if you won’t even buy into it fully?
And so we have all too many people
who equate the volume with which you speak of your view of reality—
how dismissively you speak of someone else’s perspective—
ideally, the rudeness with which you can talk over someone else’s view—
equate all that with all the more reason to believe your perspective
is truth.
And the certainty with which you speak
indicates the truth of which you speak.

It’s a strange world in which we live.
It reminds me too much of living with toddlers.
But toddlers with parents who have decided
they really like the toddler world view—
parents who enable—facilitate this myopic narcissism
without acknowledging it a stage of growth and development
and who so do not appropriately confront its limitations,
and teach and model, within those limitations,
respect of others, humility,
and a truth beyond perspective.

And then we have these realities
(that are really perspectives on reality)
that cluster around ideologies.
Fair enough?
Again, perspectives of reality, really,
but that adhere to particular ideologies—
with again, no one acting like that—
no one admitting to that.

You ever watched toddlers playing soccer?
We call it amoeba ball—
no one playing positions—
everyone simply clustering around the ball moving as one.
Our culture oft seems to me like toddlers playing ideological soccer—
all clustering around the person with the loudest idea—
the very thought of other positions
not entertained at all—
until the ball squirts out to some other loud toddler.

Like I said, strange world.

We have, throughout Lent this year,
been thinking about sin in our world—
sin for our time—sin these days.
So we’ve been thinking about what’s deadly to us these days—
to us individually, corporately and even culturally.
We’ve also been thinking about the antidote offered by our faith—
by living a life of faith—
an antidote to what’s deadly.

And we’ve been noticing a disturbing—
it is disturbing, don’t you think?—
a disturbing correlation
between what we identify as deadly—
what we identify as sin,
and the assumptions and the norms of our culture—
with its hyper-individualism, its prioritizing of stuff,
its preoccupation with violence,
its propensity to isolate and blame the stranger.

And we’ve started wondering what we might need to do about that—
if the faith we profess and the world in which we live
stand over and against each other—
oh, now not completely,
but in significant ways—
what do we do about that?

This past Wednesday night,
we started listing
some of the points at which we believe
our culture’s assumptions, norms, and priorities,
run into our faith story—
as in crash into it head on.
We’re going to continue thinking about that,
and then specifically talk about
how to choose our faith—
well, first, ask if we do choose our faith over our culture,
and then, if so, how we choose our faith over our culture.
How might we expect people in our community
to see in us a challenge to those parts of our culture?
“Oh yeah, those folks over at Woodbrook.
They what?
How would you finish that sentence?
How would you love to finish that sentence?

I happen to think that’s critical.
Not just for us as church—
as those who claim to follow in the way of God—
I think it is critical for us who claim to follow in the way of God.
I think it is critical for the integrity and the future of the church—
not just for us though,
but also for our culture—
which is so in not so good shape.

We could, of course, continue to do
what our culture’s churches have for the most part done,
and that is ignore it—
ignore those places our culture slams into our faith
and co-opts it—
ignore our call to live into some of what it means
to be in the world but not of it.

To my chagrin and my delight,
some of the most prophetic words spoken in and to our culture
these days, come to us, not from the faith,
but from the satirists and comedians of the television—
particularly, I think, of late, Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert.
Steven Colbert, who’s a devout Catholic—
a Sunday School teacher, I’m told,
on the first episode of The Colbert Report,
October 17, 2005 in a segment of the show called The Wørd,
coined the term “truthiness.”
According to Wikipedia: “Truthiness is a quality
characterizing a ‘truth’
that a person making an argument or assertion
claims to know intuitively ‘from the gut’ or because it ‘feels right’
without regard to evidence, logic, intellectual examination, or facts.”

Out-of-character, in an interview, Colbert said more
about the cultural critique
he wanted to offer with the word:
“Truthiness is tearing apart our country,
and I don’t mean the argument over who came up with the word ….
It used to be, everyone was entitled to their own opinion,
but not their own facts. But that’s not the case anymore.
Facts matter not at all.
Perception is everything. It’s certainty.
People love [leaders
who are certain of their choices as leaders],
even if the facts that back [them] up don’t seem to exist.
It’s the fact that [they’re] certain
that is very appealing to a certain section of the country.
I really feel a dichotomy in the American populace.
What is important? What you want to be true, or what is true?”

Colbert chose the word truthiness …,
after deciding that the originally scripted word—”truth”—
was not absolutely ridiculous enough.
“We’re not talking about truth,
we’re talking about something that seems like truth—
the truth we want to exist”, he explained.

“In today’s civic climate, you can pick
the facts and concepts you wish to be true.
That is what the professionals in politics and advertising do.
Indeed, in a perversion of classic American ideals,
personally picking what truth to believe in
is assumed to be a basic right,
the very thing individuals ought to do
if they are making their own authentic choices.
It’s your right.

Colbert introduced his definition of truthiness,
simultaneously mocking it, saying:
“Now I’m sure some of the ‘word police’,
the ‘wordinistas’ over at Webster’s are gonna say,
‘Hey, that’s not a word’.
Well, anybody who knows me
knows I’m no fan of dictionaries or reference books.
They’re elitist. Constantly telling us what is or isn’t true.
Or what did or didn’t happen.”

So annoying, isn’t it?—
when that happens—
when our perspectives are confronted as perspectives—
when our realities are challenged—
so annoying and so very important.

Now is this all another expression
of the hyper-individualism of our culture?
I don’t actually think so though.
As much as it might appear to be—
appear to have to do with that peculiar pride
that would suggest if it’s my perspective,
how could it not be real?
But I think it actually has more to do
with a profound need for an acknowledged authority.

Because here’s the thing:
any estimation of truth (or reality)
is truly a validating of an authority.
So the important question becomes
who or what is the authority that underwrites our truths?
Is it what we see? “I have to see it to believe it?”
For some that’s true.
What about public opinion?
That’s definitely the authority for many.
Some might call it market research,
but it amounts to the same thing.
That’s it for some. Or another economic model.
A political perspective?
Sure. And another one. And another. And another.
And in the midst of all this,
“Trust in most all public institutions, social scientists tell us,
has declined steadily.
For example, a fall 2006 CBS News-New York Times poll
showed trust in government was at its lowest recorded level.”
And I can’t imagine that it hasn’t dropped since then!

So what about science?
Some choose that as an authority; some don’t.
Because science can be annoying
what with all its little facts, you know—its evidence.
The Bible?
Well some say they choose that.
But when it comes to Scripture, I would have to ask
what’s the true authority? Scripture itself?
Not with all the Scripture we ignore.
So what’s the authority behind/beyond the Scripture?
What’s the authority for what we ignore and for what we don’t?
Is it our own taste? Our own comfort levels?
We’re back to one of my favorite annoying questions:
how is what we believe different from what we want to believe?
What’s the authority that undergirds Scripture?
Is it culture? Our socio-economic status within culture?
Our education?
Our experience?
Our authority figures?
Is it God? The living Spirit who guides us into truth?
All of the above?

That’s why the community of faith is so important.
I have a lot of sympathy for folks who would rather,
as they say, worship out in nature—
get up on a Sunday morning and just head out into the woods—
into the mountains.
I get that. I do.
There are Sunday mornings I would rather do that.
No offense!

And it’s not that there’s not something to that—
something beautiful and profound and true.
But ultimately that’s too easy.
Because where’s the community with whom to be in conversation
that will both challenge you and support you—
confront you beyond your perspectives
and love you beyond them too?
You really can’t do this following in the way of God alone.
It doesn’t work.

Nothing new to any of this.
When Jesus rode into Jerusalem,
and the whole city was in turmoil, asking,
“Who is this?”
And a very large crowd gathered to shout out
“Hosanna to the Son of David!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!”
What was that?
What they thought was true?
Or what they so wanted to be true?
No way to answer that, is there?
And my suspicion is that it’s “Yes” to both.

This is the one.
Have you listened to what he says?
My God!
Have you watched how he lives his life?
One such as this should be king—should be authority.
And look at all the people!
Maybe he could be!
Maybe he will be!
Maybe what should be is more important
than the power structures—
more important than the leaders
invested in the power structures as they are—
more important than how much money is being made for some.
And shouldn’t we go with what we think should be?
Especially when there’s so much about the way things are
that we don’t like?

But we could, of course, ignore him.
Ignore what we think should be
in face of all that is.
And that would be easier.

Today is the last Sunday of Lent.
It’s also Palm Sunday—
the day commemorating the so-called Triumphal Entry—
though I tell you, more and more,
I think of God and Jesus
less in terms of triumph
and more in terms of persistence—
less in terms of moments of vindication
and more in terms of once again, choosing, God’s way—
God’s being.
Today is also Passion Sunday—
the beginning of Jesus’ trials and tribulations
(though I think that’s actually selling the disciples short!).

So today is more than one perspective.
It is more than one truth.
It’s a story bigger than we can tell
precisely because it’s many stories.
So it’s a story big enough to live into—
to spend our lives exploring and unfolding.

Or we could ignore it, of course.
And that would be easier.

Richard M. Weaver taught English at the University of Chicago,
and in a book a friend recommended, The Ethics of Rhetoric,
identified terms used in public discourse
that are somewhat vague and impenetrable,
yet with unmistakably either positive or negative associations.
So you hear one of these words,
and you’re not real sure what’s meant,
but you know how you feel.
Weaver suggested that too many of such terms
employed in civic discourse
by those “not moral in their use of rhetoric,”
seeking to generate and confer and sustain a charismatic authority,
constituted “one of the most dangerous lesions of modern society”
(Richard M. Weaver, The Ethics of Rhetoric
[Chicago: Henry Regnery Co., 1953] 232).

And speaking of such lesions,
honestly, sometimes I think there should be those
who, on behalf of the basics of our culture—
the taken for granted norms,
walk around in ripped clothes, ringing a bell,
crying out “Unclean! Unclean!”

So we could just talk Jesus today.
All glory, laud and honor.
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.
That would be easy.
It is Palm Sunday, after all.

But that would be, odd as it may sound,
I believe, in light of our conversation
that would be sin.
For it is deadly
not to maintain some deep sense of all the stories today—
all the truths—
the persistence of God in face of betrayal—
in face of temptation—
in face of violence and fear—
the truth of God who comes always again
to the truths of our world,
riding the inevitable turmoil in the wake of such persistence.
Who is this?

There is an antidote to the sin of our world—
the deadliness within it,
and the obliviousness within too much of our faith.
There is an antidote to it all in a life of faith—
a faith with integrity—
that acknowledges all the different realities of life.
But to work as antidote, it has to be a life of faith lived
confronting the taken-for-granteds of our world—
oh, not the easy hot button topics,
but the fundamental, bottom line basics.
A life thus lived
as an antidote to deadly—
a life of faith
not just affirmed,
not just preached,
certainly not ignored—

which would make of the upcoming week,
a Holy Week.

Wouldn’t it?


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