Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Sacred Story, Or Sacred Soap Opera?

Last night as I was reading the Book of Acts, I came up on the beginning of Chapter 19, where Paul runs into some disciples in Ephesus and says, "hey, did you get the Holy Spirit when you believed?" And they're like, "Um, no. We've never heard of the Holy Spirit. What's that all about? We were baptized by John."
So Paul baptizes them in the name of Jesus and they get the Holy Spirit and go around prophecying and speaking in tongues.

This just cracked me up: "We've never heard of the Holy Spirit." I just see them kicking at the dirt with their toes while Paul stands there thinking, "God, I need a cup of coffee."
It's just one of the great comedy moments in Acts, the other (for me) being when Paul preaches on for so long that Eutychus falls asleep and falls out the window to his death. ohmygod, Eutychus just fell out the window! he's totally lying in a little heap down there on the ground! holy camel patties! someone do something!
You can just imagine this. Of course Paul runs down and resurrects him, and all is well (except that no one asked Eutychus if maybe he wouldn't prefer to stay dead rather than listen to Paul keep preaching. Maybe they sent him home for a nap. One can only hope so).

There's another great episode where some charlatans are trying to cast out demons in the name of Jesus, and they get the tar beaten out of them and are thrown out of town bloody and nekkid. And there's that whole scandal with Demetrius, the maker of the Artemis figurines, and a big mob scene there.

We say that the Christian story is a sacred story, but to me it's more like a sacred soap opera, and therein lies it's profound appeal. Whether our lives are dull and uninspiring or full of drama, who isn't drawn to a massive cosmic soap opera?

What is Unitarian Universalism's sacred story? A long line of reasonable people thinking smart thoughts?

Yawn. I just fell out the window.
And yet that's what we so often present in our Sunday Schools and from our pulpits.

Don't you think there's a reason we all love to rehash the bloody controversies of our past, and even to perpetuate them through our own passions today? Don't you think there's a reason that we savor the stories of the nutjobs among us, telling them again and again over dinner? Don't you think there's a reason we perpetually regale ourselves with the tales of how crazy we all got during this or that conflict, and for our fond and constant remembrance of that pistol in Theodore Parker's desk?

Unitarian Universalists love to emphasize freedom, reason and conscience, and to suggest that our "sacred story" derives from tales of heroes and heroines intellectually embracing those principles. They say that, and then they fail to mention, or to make thrillingly real in the telling of the story, all the blood and guts that came with embracing those principles. That's a serious mistake, for you will notice that when UUs get together, what binds them in affection and energy is the dramatic stuff, the unbelievably insane stuff, the war stories, the power struggles, the scandals, the times when emotion exploded out and overcame Reason, and everyone actually felt caught up in the spirit.

No one wants to be part of a sacred story that bores you so much you fall asleep and fall out the window. We need something that more honestly reflects the high drama of who we are and what we endure together.


Anonymous jinnis said...

Amen - I'm having a great time retelling the history stories in sermons and bringing out the more human drama rather than focus only on the high ideals.

Blogger CK said...

What story would you like UUs to tell--since you're a UU minister, I'm assuming you have some ideas? (Asked sincerely, not sarcastically)

Blogger Nathan DeMay said...

Hey, don’t forget reasonable people thinking smart thoughts WITH hyphenated, or at least very long, last names.

--Oversoul Wilkerson-Smythe

Blogger dame olympia's page said...

that is so totally why, when in UU history class, and I had to write a paper on Channing and Ballou's ongoing argument, I chose to entitle it

"Channing and Ballou: Celebrity Death Match!"

for some reason, dean grodzins, our prof at the time, did not think this was funny.

I thought it was hilarious and a great way to keep that human interest going!

Dame O

Anonymous jinnis said...

I like the approach, Dame O.

I just told the story of John Murray and Thomas Potter last Sunday - framing it as our one honest to goodness Unitarian Universalist miracle. But putting the emphasis on how Potter welcomed Murray before Potter knew that Murray had been a preacher. And used the actual words that are attributed to the exchange - all found on the Murray Grove website. And I was inspired by Rob Hardies' John Murray lecture from GA 2006 and how he emphasized the welcoming.
The whole context of the story was for the theme of radical hospitality.

Blogger Ian said...

Sorry to be an outsider here, I am UCC, but on the "Unitarian Considering Christ" wing of my denomination, so I hope I'm welcome ;-)

Anyway, I used to work in a homeless shelter for many a year and it was always the stories about someone going off, or almost getting hurt that got told over and over. The miracles always happen when things are most dangerous, most desperate, most whatever...

Like the time the guy with Charlie Manson eyes spit grape seeds almost in my face before biting the cross around my neck...

Or the time I instinctively ran in the bathroom behind the two big guys intent on pounding the one little guy and I made myself the peanut butter in the big guy - little guy sandwich. How no one got hurt is beyond me....

All these crazy Bible stories are even more exotic, wrestling angels, meal jars that don't run empty, blind people seeing, gallons and gallons of water becoming wine...let's party!

Blogger Sun Warrior said...

Well we could re-start one.

Been reading a Northrop Frye book, where he wonders about the constant reference to Jesus' 'beloved,' John.

Now I know most women prefer to think of Jesus romantically linked to the redeemed whore, Mary Magdeline. Every woman wants to be rescued.

But what if Jesus was gay? Makes a lot of sense when you look at how screwed-up Christian sexuality, the Catholic hierarchy, and all this worry over controlling life and Creation is.

Isn't there something timely in the fact that all these fundies in high office are being outed??? Repressed sexualities morphing into unhealthy hypocrisy? Unable to face the truth?

Hmmm, I'm off to blog...

Blogger jean said...

My sermon this week is about King David--adultery and coverup by arranged murder and all. Now there's a soap opera plot for you. And he was 'a man after God's own heart'. Ponder that.


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