Taboo 5: Dangerous Questions - thrive UMC Official Blog

Taboo 5: Dangerous Questions

Taboo 5: Dangerous Questions

Luke 6:39-49

Throughout our ‘Taboo’ series, we’ve been talking about the deepest fears we, as church-people, have been trying to cover up –in order to discover what those fears say about us as individuals and as a community.  And it’s my personal perspective that, once we stop to face some of those things, and once we speak their names, these taboos will lose the power over us.  And I think that, in most cases, when we stop to really slow down and take a look at our taboos and fears, they maybe won’t seem so scary.  But on the other hand, what perhaps a few of you are finding, is that some of them are scary –like, really, REALLY scary.  For some of us, when we get our shovels out and start digging into the soil of our lives and our spiritual being, we might actually unearth some really nasty stuff.  Maybe even some toxic, deadly stuff.  Some of us, if we dare to take this journey seriously, might discover we’ve got something like gangrene in our extremities.  And once we recognize the gangrene, we’ll have to make a decision: do we want to just put our sock and shoe back on, and try to go back to just limping painfully along as if nothing had happened? Or are we ready to get help and face the possibility that the whole foot might have to go?

And this is a decision that you make every time you’re confronted with something that challenges who you are, and your current life-routine.  So the encouragement that I want to offer you here at the beginning is this: if you hear something that strikes a chord with you, if you’re sitting there listening, and suddenly you feel sad, or angry, or excited, urgently compelled to start going to another church, just spend some time with it.  Whatever it was that caused a strong reaction –just give it a moment.  That’s a signal that it’s probably something worth unpacking and living with for a little while.  And then after you’ve let it settle in a bit, maybe you can start to recognize some of what’s going on under the sensation.  So at that point, I’d like you to go ahead and make a note of it so that you can remember that thought and feeling and take it home with you to incorporate into your personal prayer life.  Send yourself a quick text, or write the thought on the thrive-card or whatever.  And, hey, maybe that means you tune out for a little bit, or miss another part of the message –that’s totally okay.  We’re trying to get our pod-casts up and running so maybe you can revisit what you missed later.

But on the other hand, if something does hit you, and you don’t take the time to let it settle in and speak to you, or you just shrug it off, there’s a very good chance you’re ignoring something that the Holy Spirit is trying to tell you.  And that doesn’t apply just to what happens here for an hour, but your whole life.  In fact, all the time, we have these experiences where something really hits us, and tries to break into the structures and habits of our lives –but we’ve been culturally trained to not let that stuff sink in –so that other people and powers can continue to make your decisions for you.

I just wanted to give you a really quick example.  While I was looking up some songs on Youtube that I was thinking about featuring for some upcoming services, I stumbled upon a short clip that just hit me like a ton of bricks.  And I just wanted to share it with you to see what kind of an impression it made on all of you:

Check the video: [here]

“He gave me life twice.  And that’s why I’m going to live it.”  -#OneBoldChoice, Toyota Camry.

What do you all think: is that a good commercial?

I have to tell you: I have some strong feelings about that commercial.  Of hate.   Because, yes, it is absolutely an incredible story.  A father gives up his kidney to save his daughter, and she’s determined to make the most of it.  But what I hate –to the extent that I almost felt my spirit vomit- about it is that it’s being used as a sales-pitch for buying a [ahem]-ing car!  And this, my friends, is why I think it’s so important to take some time to let our impressions settle in, so we can see what’s going on in our world and in ourselves.  For example, did you know that one of the most frequent comments on youtube about this advertisement was ‘It’s not about buying cars guys –it’s about being a great dad, or overcoming adversity.’

What?!?  Are you kidding me?  Not about buying cars?  And that’s why Toyota has spent $8 MILLION dollars (the price of about 174 Camrys), not counting production costs, to share this woman’s story in the Super Bowl?  To emotionally prepare all the fathers out there to give a kidney in the event that their kid gets meningitis?  Really?  No, it’s to try to coerce you into thinking that buying a Toyota is what good, bold people choose to do –without actually telling you to do that.

We need to wake up and pay attention!  This is why I had to make a chart for you guys.

Taboo 5 Chart 1

Event: Dad saves daughter, Camry

Ethical Proscription:Thou shalt’ buy a Camry

Moral Values: Cars are good for family; (money is best)

Metaphysical Assumption: Life is about family, health, accomplishment, determination, cars, (and people are stupid)

If you can remember this chart, and its respective layer of meaning, it will help you make a lot more sense of the world around you to be able to dig a little bit deeper into what’s going on.  In any event where you’re expected to be a participant, these layers will help you evaluate the situation.

Don’t believe me?

Check this out: you’re brushing your teeth one evening, getting ready for bed.  Suddenly your beloved spouse comes in and says, “Uh, hey sweetie, the dirty dishes are still in the sink.”  The eyes of your spouse do not, however, suggest that you are, in fact, sweet.

In response, you point out the obvious: ‘That must be because no one washed them.’

Suddenly chaos blows up your entire home –your spouse is furious and yelling; you yell in return because you can’t figure out what this instantly-crazy-person you married is mad about.  Hair is flying, the lights are strobe-ing on and off –the whole world is turning upside down.  And you have to know: what. just. happened?

Then finally, after hours of domestic trauma, when everyone is out of yells and the structural integrity of all of the door-frames have been vigorously tested, there’s nothing left to do but to curse –the dishes! ‘How dare you, dishes!  Why did you insist on remaining so dirty!  If we’d just invested in a sink-to-dishwasher machine, or at least paper-plates, none of this madness would have happened! –G.E., you’ve failed us!’

On the contrary, friends: as most surviving veteran spouses will tell you, in the context of marriage, dirty dishes are often not just dirty dishes.  Instead they are symbols of marital responsibility. So, in order to get to the bottom of what’s really going on, we can take our chart and turn the layers of meaning into questions that will help uncover what’s going on in the heart of the situation.    So let’s go through our little question-chart:

Taboo 5 Chart 2

  1. What is the event?  –Dirty dishes.  And anger –that’s it.
  2. What was the ethical call to action? In other words, what was the expected behavior, or the ‘thou shalt’ or ‘thou shalt not’ of the circumstance?  The right answer –the only right answer should have been ‘Oh, you’re right my beloved, I will go and wash those right now!’
  3. What were the moral values under the call to action? –In other words, what are the values that guide our day-to-day interaction of our shared marriage.  And in this, it’s good for both spouses to share a mutually agreed-upon set of duties or responsibilities.  And note here that I did not say ‘equally shared’ –because that is a dangerous form of math my friends.  Could you imagine: ‘Excuse me, excuse me, I think mowing the lawn once a week is worth at least two weeks of dinner dishes…’ No, no: let’s just stick with mutually agreed upon…  Now, here’s the million question: what does a reasonable distribution of labor look like in a marriage?  Your spouse will tell you; and you’ll disagree.  But if you have the discussion, you’ll be more likely to defuse future conflicts related to that subject.   But the really deep stuff happens at level 4.
  4. What are the metaphysical assumptions you’re bringing to the table? In other words, what preconceptions are we bringing to the table?  And what do those preconceptions say about your relationship and where it’s going?  And this is where gender-roles, and family role-models –both positive and negative- and past burns, and childhood fantasies, and beliefs about life and happiness all come out to play.  The metaphysical question for couples asks: who are you –as individuals and also as a couple; and what is the nature of the relationship you’re trying to build?

But almost no one talks on that level.  At best, most of our conversations and investigations happen between levels 1 and 2.  We can talk about current events and the things that should/should not be happening; but as a culture, we’ve almost completely lost our ability to talk about levels 3, and level 4 doesn’t even exist for some people.  If you don’t believe me, try asking people –ask anyone- what they value, which is a level 3 question.  Beyond family and friends, most people, including those in the church, are only able to identify the things they like.  And don’t get me wrong, that’s not a bad start, but that’s only a passive response to a phenomenonthere’s always a lot more to going on than our initial impressions and surface-level reactions.

Now, I bring all of this up because I often suspect that, most of the time, most of us aren’t even aware of what’s driving us and what we’re living for.  Sometimes we end up buying the Camry, not because it’s the car that best serves our needs, but because we just have a vague, indescribable emotional attachment to it.  Sometimes we fight over dirty dishes.  Sometimes we buy stuff just because we haven’t bought anything in a while.  Sometimes we watch terrible reality T.V. shows because it makes us feel sane.  Sometimes we take out our smart phones because we don’t have anything to say to our loved ones.  Sometimes we vote for particular political candidates strictly along party lines or because they just seem like nice people.  Sometimes we tell everyone we’re busy to cover up and protect the emptiness in our own lives.  Sometimes we fill our lives with noise to mask the terror we feel at what might be lurking in the closet of silence.  Sometimes it hits us that we have absolutely no idea who we are or what we stand for, but hey have you seen this youtube video, ESPN highlight, celebrity scandal, trending article, or fitness fad?

What is this life all about?  What are the forces at work behind the momentum?  Who are we in the midst of it?  What does it mean to be good?  What are we supposed to do?  How should we use our talents and resources?  What stories should we tell, and how?

Therefore, if you’re not prepared to respond to those most fundamental questions of life, then I can guarantee there are plenty of forces out there who are ready and willing, and already working, to do that for you.  And too often the Church has served as little more than just one more ethical voice in a sea of shouting –just one more finger wagging to ‘do this;’ ‘don’t do that.’ And meanwhile, we’ve all been left orphaned as we try to see the world for ourselves; we’re uneducated in the school of discerning for ourselves.  Bankrupt in our values.  Unaware of our own selves.  And left without a community to acquire, sharpen, and master the tools necessary to become vehicles of blessing for the world today.

Last week we talked about the taboo of doubt, which is a lack of trust in the face of the unknown.  And this week, we’re going to talk about the taboo that’s been used for generations to hide doubt, and blanket over trust, particularly in the church –and that’s the taboo of asking dangerous questions.

I met someone not long ago who, upon learning I was a pastor, immediately felt compelled to tell me she had left the Church.  And the reason she had left was because a good friend of hers got cancer.  And over the course of five years she prayed desperately while watching her friend wither up in protracted agony until the life was finally choked out of her.  And she asked me: ‘How could a God who loves us, and is supposed to protect us, allow someone so young and so good to die in such a horrible way?’  It was a question she didn’t believe was allowed to be asked at church.  And she was never equipped to tackle it on her own.  So she just stopped believing and stopped going.  No one missed her.

And probably a few of you have similar stories about questions there was never room for, or others may have questions of your own that have haunted you, which you’ve never shared, or even faced, on your own.

Who is God, and why does He allow so much suffering?

What is the Bible, and can I trust it?  And if so, how?

What do these really old stories have to do with me?

What’s truth when there are so many other religions?

What do miracles look like?

How am I supposed to make sense of Jesus’s death on the cross?

Why am I here; and am I a good person?  How can I know?

And there are probably others.  Countless questions we could spend life-times asking; but what’s so troubling about the economy of questions in church, at least to me, is not so much that we haven’t asked all of them, but it’s the underlying trend that most of us didn’t even know we were supposed to be wrestling with them in the first place.  Most of us don’t even imagine that it’s the questions, and the questioning process, that are an essential part of being in relationship with the Holy, living God.  Because we’ve always been taught that it’s the answers that matter.  There’s this whole atmosphere of assurance and certainty that hangs like a cloud over so much of what the church does now and is about, that we’ve deceived ourselves into thinking that if we just have all the right responses, in the right words, then it will be enough.  And because it looks like everyone else is just smiling and nodding, we just go along with it.  And so we’ve been handed all these answers to questions we didn’t ask, and creeds from other hearts in another era, and liturgies, and rituals, and sixty-six sacred books, but never a space and never a push to ask: what does this mean to me?

So here we are, with all of these answers, all of this information, sitting in the back of our minds like so many algebra formulas we never had any use for.   ‘Jesus died so we could be forgiven and saved from hell –oh, I’m so very thankful.  God is Three-in-One –makes total sense.  Holy Catholic church –sure, except I’m not Catholic.  Holy Spirit, blah, blah, blah –who cares about the Holy Spirit?  Lord’s prayer: trespasses, sins or debts? Know every word: check.  Holy water?  I don’t remember, but my mom’s got a certificate that says I’m good.  Heaven, I’ll see ya there pastor [high-five].  –So, uh, can go grab some lunch already?

Friends, do we even know what’s going on here?  Do we recognize what we’re doing when we come in to church and hear the songs, and close our eye at prayer time, and day-dream in the sermon, and watch as the offering gets passed?  Are we questioning the activity and looking for truth and meaning?  Are we fully aware of what’s going on and what’s at stake?  Are we checking to see if God is moving in us?  Do we understand what’s supposed to happen?  Do we notice when it doesn’t?  Are we even bothered by any of that?

Or are we just coasting?  Through church and through life, are we just going through the motions, checking the boxes, smiling and frowning?  Could the totality of our engagement in this world be summed up by four or five emoticons and a down-vote?

Or are we partnering with God as He works to make us new again each day, to rise to the task of creativity and service: to make meaning, to engage in the activity while also challenging the values of our culture?  Are we allowing the holiness of God to trespass beyond the defense-mechanisms and shelters we raise for ourselves to remain entrenched and unchanged?  Are we allowing the questions of Jesus to penetrate our ideologies so we can wrestle to become responsible and wise? In Luke 6:39, Jesus comes to his disciples, after he tells them what happiness looks like to ask them this.  Please read along with me; and I hope you’ll book mark it to check it out later too.

[Luke 6:39-49]

‘Why do you call me Lord, Lord and don’t do what I say?’ asks Jesus.

This, if anything, is the most dangerous question for the church today.  Why is it that we call Jesus Lord, show up at church, and yet, don’t live the life he’s called us to live?  A life stronger, deeper, and more flood-resistant than a life built on trending sand.  It’s a life that sounds so much better than the flimsy shelters we’ve erected to protect ourselves against the storm-darkened horizon.  After all, most of us, as adults will admit that all the nice stuff we could buy won’t add a thing the life we hope will appear in our eulogy.  We can probably tell that the heart of Jesus is richer, and more life-giving than the heart we have for ourselves now.

And yet, we’re still just us.  Living our lives largely for ourselves, not changing too much besides getting older. One more day closer to our funeral, but not thinking too much about it. Not really too open to being changed either.

Why is that?

Have you ever stopped to ask that about yourself?

Why do you even do the things you do?  What purpose do your choices serve?

And who are you in the midst of it?

Therefore, let us live this week with the question. Let it raise our values and fears to the surface so that we might come to know that for which we’re living now, and grow toward the rich life into which God calls us.

Why do you call him ‘Lord, Lord’ and don’t do what he says?