Do not let me hear
Of the wisdom of old men, but rather of their folly,
Their fear of fear and frenzy, their fear of possession,
Of belonging to another, or to others, or to God.
The only wisdom we can hope to acquire
Is the wisdom of humility: humility is endless.
- T.S. Eliot, East Coker, Four Quartets
So, the website wouldn't let me upload a mono voice recording this week - a first. While I get to the bottom of that, here's a version of the message from Sunday. With thanks to Rev. Maureen Ausbrook for her edits . . . It all feels a little disjointed here in print, but it's something.
Read the scriptures here.
Rev. Mark Wilson
Waterville UCC Feb 18, 2018, Waterville UCC Church
Jesus was in the wilderness, tempted by Satan, the story says. In Apocalypse Now, I remember how the general said, "There is a struggle in every human heart between the rational and the irrational, between good and evil . . . and good does not always triumph."
I read the news today (this week), oh boy! Seventeen more people, fourteen of them teenagers - children, really - were shot dead in yet another act of horrific violence; a slow-motion riot being played out over many places and times, with the threshold to joining that riot getting lower for each new shooter.
The first thing we might consider is this: Do we still feel it? Can we still feel it?
I’d like to begin our time today with what this isn’t about, then move to what I think it is about.
Everyone from the President on down wants to talk about this in the context of mental health and mental illness, and it kind of is about that, just not in the way he thinks. Mental health coverage isn’t part of most health plans, and when it is, it isn’t enough.
Mental health services are out of reach for most of us. We provide easier access to guns than to mental health services.
Women suffer from mental illness, too, and yet 98% of these shooters are men.
People in Australia and Great Britain and many other places also have populations that suffer from mental illness, but mass shootings don’t happen there, at least not as often. (They also have better access to health care).
Blaming mental illness is a temptation, not truth.
It’s not about immigrant populations, either; not about the rapists and murderers from Mexico. None of these school shooters had to cross the border to get here. No wall would have stopped them. They are, almost without exception, home grown white men.
They, we, are the terrorists here.
Speaking of borders, there were no impediments placed on these young, white, men from purchasing assault rifles. There should have been. I come from a hunting family. I was brought up to respect guns. I still have access to guns. I took hunter safety courses to be able to get a hunting license. I was taught, as most good hunters are, to only shoot what you think you can kill, and only kill what you can eat. Thanksgiving morning, we’d go out and shoot ducks for Thanksgiving dinner. We had to pick the lead shot out of our teeth.
We don’t need assault rifles, bump stocks, large magazines, and so on.
The only purpose those things serve is to kill people. If folks want to shoot those kinds of guns at people, they can join the military.
If we wanted to, we could find a way to ban most guns while still preserving our hunting and sport shooting heritage.
Maybe this is a good time to ask: Is anyone here armed?
Maine has a concealed carry law. You don't need a permit to carry a concealed weapon.
It’s the “good guys with guns” theory of safety.
Do you feel safer knowing that someone here, right now, might be packing heat? Not really.
Safety and security are illusions, then, and one of the more painful pieces around school shootings is the puncture of that illusion: that are kids are safe, that teenagers don't die. Sometimes, they do.
Security will, I fear, become a pretext for more guns, and more surveillance, making us less safe, and less free, not more.
The scapegoat mechanism (see: Rene Girard) is in full play in this dynamic, with the shooters our cultural scapegoats. We can explain away their individual acts with some semi-pro level Freud, hence the talk of mental illness.
But that’s what’s keeping us from having to truly focus on what ails us; and keeping us from a conversation we need to have as American.
And THAT is a conversation about toxic white masculinity.
I know as a man there are things men teach other men about what it means to be a man.
There’s the objectification of women through porn, the use of violence through corporal punishment, the domination of nature through hunting and fishing, the imposing of one’s will upon other young men on an opposing sports team, and, when all of that gets to be too much, there is the alcohol to try to wash it all away. And, of course, there’s more.
Taken together, it makes a pretty toxic stew.
Some of us make it out, relatively well adjusted, but only through things like liberal arts educations, good mentors and friends and role models, and the higher callings of our faith. Sometimes not even those things are enough.
There is a segment of the American population - white, male, Christian of a certain sort - that the world is leaving behind; passing by.
It is my contention that all of this violence - against minorities of all kinds, against women, against the environment, against the poor - committed by we white men - all of this violence has, at its source, an element of fear: the fear of the loss of control, and the fear that happens when you don’t really have a healthy, safe, way to process your feelings; nor do you have a healthy, safe place to process your feelings.
We’re broken and it is killing us.
And it is killing everything else along with it.
And we don’t know how to say that.
We’re terrified! We don’t know how to be our whole selves, and so we shut off in shame, regret, and rage. Until one day we can’t shut it off anymore, and then something like Parkland, Florida, happens.
It’s easier and more acceptable for us to show people being decapitated than people making love. We spend more money on defense than the rest of the developed world, combined. In the immortal words of Shrek: "Do you think maybe we are compensating for something?" In trying to show the world how tough we are, we are only exposing our weakness. Do you think maybe we’re afraid? Insecure? We don’t want to admit, we don’t know how to admit, we are vulnerable. It’s telling that the only part of the health care act Congress repealed was the individual mandate -- because NO ONE, ESPECIALLY a black man, even if he’s President, tells us white men what to do.
We don’t read this part of the Noah story, but right here in Chapter 9 it mentions Noah being the first man to make wine, and thus the first man to get drunk.
Accounts vary on what happens next, but in one version of the story, Noah’s grandson, Ham’s son, Canaan, sees his grandfather naked, and laughs at him, maybe castrates him, maybe more.
This story was then used by Israel to dominate Canaan, and, even though the text says nothing of Ham’s skin tone, the story was then eventually used by white, Christian slave owners to justify slavery.
They just made it up and made it stick, BECAUSE THEY COULD.
Once upon a time, God thought that God could violently overpower humanity and start over. Just save a few people, and wipe the rest of us out, and bring the earth back to its original state, before land appeared and was separated from the water.
God just thought maybe if we went back to the way things were, we could make the earth great again.
Just another chapter or two later we humans are misbehaving again.
And you can kinda’ hear God thinking, “Dang, I already promised them I wouldn’t wipe them out again. There’s the rainbow. I said, “Never again.” Now where do I have to go?”
But what if the story were inverted?
What if, instead of one man being saved and the rest killed, one man was killed and the rest saved, not through participation in violence, but in submission to it. In power made perfect in weakness.
In Jesus, we see an ethic of love and forgiveness substituting and subverting the dominant social order of domination through violence.
The Gospel is, after all, the story of a brown man who kept the company of many women, who suffered violence at the hands of the state rather than fight back; of a man who got angry, and was lonely, and afraid, and insecure; who wept.
With God, with Jesus, we take the side of the victims, the marginalized of this world.
Non-violent and non-reactionary, he died for all, even redeeming those who died in the flood.
Jesus’s death is God’s way of throwing a wrench into the machinery of sacrifice to keep it from ever working again, taking Jesus’ body and wedging the door of death open and saying, “Good luck closing that again.”
In the end, God raises up Jesus to show the inefficacy of violence and sacrifice to save us. Interestingly enough, there is a whole school of theology, from Augustine on down, that says the opposite. This is what you hear in many places: Jesus's sacrifice, and one that God required for our sins, is lifted up as salvific. This then allows for folks to call marginalized groups to sacrifice themselves as an example. "The poor will get their reward in heaven," these folks say, to justify being rich now.
Any violence that has happened since that moment, since the crucifixion, even the violence we’ve tried to pin on God, has instead, through Jesus’s resurrection, been shown to be our violence, not God’s.
Jesus claims the high ground. He’s won by losing; lived by dying, been raised by lowering himself to the lowest place, made peace by allowing violence to be done to him, redeeming it through forgiveness, and mercy, and grace. And now that violence has been unveiled, revealed for what it is, that it’s just us, not God doing this to us, Satan is on the run.
Resurrection is what happens when the victims don’t stay silent and don't stay dead; when they live and come back, demanding justice, and, in Jesus's case, also offering forgiveness.
One gets the feeling that maybe this time, in Parkland, Florida, starting from there, things might just be different.
You don’t hear many of the students or their families saying, “now isn’t the time to talk about gun control” and you don’t hear “we need privacy in this time of our sorrow.”
No, you don't. What we see instead are plans for marches and lobbying and speeches and rallies. These aren't the actions of an unresurrected people!
The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near.
Let us turn and believe in this good news!