On Sunday morning my hard drive was dying, though I did not know it at the time. I spent the rest of Monday with a technician friend trying to fix it, and eventually I had to replace it. Now in transferring information from my back up to the new hard drive there is a lot of waiting around. My technician friend and I got to talking.
It started off with some talk about WiFi, Bluetooth and cables. I have my files backed up on an external disk which is connected to the computer by WiFi. He said ‘I prefer the cable. That way I know no one is getting into the signal before I do. It’s the same with keyboard and mouse. If your computer is dying, or there is a virus, it is better to use the direct cables than to use Bluetooth or Wifi.’ So clearly there is a need for safety in this business! But my friend has other safety mechanisms. He has an elaborate overview of history that connects ancient Egypt, the Knights Templar, and modern day surveillance agencies!
At first I thought these ideas were too outlandish, and I used to just listen politely to him and then reject them. But during the long day, I started to listen more carefully. It struck me that this elaborate system, like the use of secure ‘cables’ is also a form of safety mechanism for him in the kind of
information age that we are in, which is also dangerous.
I feel that. The system that my friend has developed is one that uses knowledge to keep him safe. Well, in the computer world, the knowledge about how to replace a hard drive certainly kept me safe (ish). And on U Tube, there is a whole lot of knowledge that helps me fix things that are broken that I did not know before. I love the sense of power (in the sense of ‘being able to’) and the sense of security that this knowledge can give. It is no wonder that knowledge is a powerful route to security which many people seek after.
But then I am thinking of other situations where my vulnerability comes into play. Being a ‘sensitive type’ I often over react to public situations. Recently I have found myself saying ‘I don’t want to go out’ or when I think about my work, I am glad that I do not have to go ‘into the office’ to spend my whole day with a boss and work colleagues. Now this is a limitation based on the set of ‘cards’ that I was delivered. But like my friend’s elaborate knowledge system, my own ‘job system’ is one that allows my
vulnerability and sensitivity to be
protected, while at the same time allowing the benefits of that sensitivity to be developed in thinking and praying and writing and in short, being a priest.
So not only is my vulnerability protected by knowledge, but also by the social situation in which I live. This is also a s
afety mechanism for something sensitive that can’t take too much interaction.
But then comes the inevitable case of a necessary ‘interaction’. What happens when I encounter a knowledge system or a social setting where I come into contact with other people’s knowledge or beliefs or behaviour. What happens when I have built a set of beliefs and a social system that keeps me safe, and then I encounter someone who wants to change this social system, or has different beliefs?
This is exactly what happens to me and to you as we begin to engage with one another as priest and congregation. Every member of the congregation has the Church’s ‘social system’ playing a role in their own ‘safety system.’ This may range from how Church goes on
Sunday, to how the creed is said, or to what version of the Lord’s Prayer is used. It doesn’t really matter what. Almost anything can be used as a life boat. Everyone’s set of Christian beliefs is like my friend’s elaborate system. It is a view of how things are that makes sense of the rest of life and this too keeps us safe. This can range too from various kinds of fundamentalism, to other kinds of millenarian Christianity, to wanting Church to go a certain way all the time.
So the interaction puts everything up for grabs. There are three basic responses to a situation like this. As an illustration, I am reminded of Karl Jung’s story about how he first became interested in the thought world of Schizophrenics. He was watching a ‘demonstration’ where the lecturer had a ‘crazy’ person who was speaking ‘gibberish’. He said ‘I don’t know what it’s supposed to mean!!!’ The ‘crazy person’ was continually saying ‘I am the Loreli, I am the Loreli!’ Jung remembered the German song called ‘The Loreli’ which in fact starts off ‘I don’t know what it’s supposed to mean!!’ There was his breakthrough. What sounded like
gibberish to the lecturer made sense to the ‘crazy person’ and to Jung. He made his living thereafter trying to decipher the thought worlds of so called ‘crazy people’ in order to help them become a bit stronger.
So, like the lecturer, we can reject thought worlds that appear ‘outlandish’ (‘from an out-land’). Of course we can also find them totally new and acceptable and a valuable contribution to our own thought. But the difficult part is the middle option that begins with rejecting the foreign thought or set of actions and then proceeds to delve deeper into them. This is what Jung did. This is what happens between every priest and congregation over their lives together. And the engagement goes both ways. I keep asking ‘what is being said by this set of commitments? How do I understand what this person is trying to say?’ At the same time you are confronted with a priest who is not the same as the one you were used to. So there is a task for you. You say ‘What does he mean by that?”
Now the three options are available to us all. We can accept what is said because it comes within the ‘known world’ already. We can spit it out (reject) the idea as crazy and go away. Or we can ‘digest’ the idea, which is what I try to do in these reflections and in sermons. To ‘understand’ is to ‘stand under’ something, that is, to let that ‘something’ have influence ‘over’ us.
In my answer to my friend’s question ‘What is your set of ideas’ I said “Well, I think we put our faith in the future of Jesus. That is, we believe that Jesus was onto something in his lifetime, a long time ago, and that that ‘something’ was to do with how God wants the world to be. So since Jesus was raised from the dead the future is in his hands, and ours with his. We have a picture of what it is like from the Gospels. You know at the ascension the disciples wanted the ‘knowledge’ and Jesus says to them ‘It is not for you to know the times and seasons that the Father has set by his own authority, but you will receive power when the holy Spirit comes upon you, and you will be my witnesses.’ So I try to live out of faith in Jesus, but without knowing how the long sweep of history goes.’
Having faith in Jesus who died, was entombed and rose again means that I can be safe in the middle road of engagement with new ideas and ways of being as I too die to what is familiar and begin the process of ‘digestion’ of the new. That is my own best hope for me.