spiritual diseases: cynicism
This Lent we're taking time to embrace a truth at the very heart of our faith and spirituality:
that to be here and to be human is glorious,
that to be human is a wonderful thing,
and that this world is a marvellous place.
As a community, we’re doing that by exploring what we’re calling “spiritual diseases,”
these things which pull us away and even stop us from creating and sustaining that life and world.
Today we’re looking at a disease that Ive been rumbling with for awhile now,
and one I’d bet a lot of us do throughout our lives,
not only because we’re all human and therefore all get wounded from time to time,
but also because of the domestic and global political climate we’re living in.
So, my friends, today we’ll looking at the spiritual disease of cynicism.
And to do that, we'll talk about my moms cell phone and then we’ll talk about mountains.
So the big news in my family back home is that my mom got a cell phone.
It actually is a big deal. See, mom's not very techy. She’ll never be techy. She knows how to work the computer and as far as her needs go, that’s enough. That's an important detail as it explains why she didn’t go out to buy a cell phone, but instead is using on she found in some drawer in the house. Which is another important detail because my brothers and I haven't lived in that house for over 10 years so any phone in that house is at least 10 years old. But thats why she likes it, it's an old phone. It's nothing fancy or smart, just a phone to use for emergencies. And, for the final important details, it is a flip phone – remember those?
But even with it being just a simply flip phone, she still couldn’t figure out how to use it.
So, while visiting my brother in New York she was complaining how it’d ring, how she’d press a button on the side, how it’d stop ringing, how she’d hold it up to her ear, and how nothing would happen.
Thinking thats kind of strange my brother called the phone and watched as mom picked up her flip phone, press the volume button on the side, held it up to her ear, unopened, and exclaim:
“See?! It doesn’t work!”
get ready for a killer segway here,
is a lot like my moms cell phone.
One of the fundamental dispositions of our faith and spirituality is openness.
Faith needs to be open for it to work.
Which is why the Franciscan teacher Richard Rohr says stuff like: “faith is more how to believe than what to believe.”
Faith is this less “believing that … ” and more the very act of believing;
It is that disposition, orientation, and posture of openness to Something Bigger Than Ourselves.
And we say that because the God we believe in,
this Spirit, Source, Energy, whatever word you want to use for that Something Bigger Than Ourselves,
is a God who is with us and for us,
is a God who is holding it all together and moving it all forward,
is a God we can experience:
it’s a God that,
as mysterious as it is,
actually does speak to us,
actually does guide us,
actually is present,
actually is moving it all forward,
actually is something we can be connected to and caught up in.
And we can see this in the stories of our tradition where God speaks in the silence and the noise,
or how God appears in and speaks through strangers. We can see it in the how the Psalmist proclaim ‘Taste and see how God is good!’ or in how the ancient rabbis would talk about how God is like our breath, this animating force in which we live, move, and have our being.
The fundamental disposition of our faith and spirituality is one of being open.
And that openness isn’t just towards God,
its an openness that permeates our entire being,
that shapes not just how we see and experience the Divine,
but also how we see and experience ourselves, others, and the world around us.
It’s an openness towards ourselves and the willingness to believe that we can grow, forgive, change, and do amazing things,
this openness towards others and the willingness to believe that they can grow, forgive, change, and do amazing things,
and this openness towards the world and the willingness to believe that all of this is going somewhere – that tomorrow doesn’t have to be like today.
To have faith,
to be on this journey of becoming more and more human,
is to move,
step by step,
towards being open to saying ‘yes’ to a life and world beyond what we see and experience.
Are you with me?
And maybe we need to remember that disposition and posture our spirituality calls us to because all too often our lived reality and world is one of being hurt and wounded, of bumping up against the same walls and ceilings, of brokenness and violence, of fake news and alternative facts, and ones where where the only logical disposition, the only sane response to all of it, is one of cynicism.
Anyone know what Im talking about?
To be a cynic is to to have a fundamental disposition of mistrust.
Whether its out of woundedness or arrogance or something else all together,
cynicism is this self-imposed blindness,
this posture that shuts ourselves down and closes ourselves off.
And just like how a posture of openness shapes how we see ourselves, each other, and the world around us, so does cynicism:
it closes us off to the idea that there’s something Bigger Than Ourselves out there;
it closes us off to the idea that we can grow, forgive, change and do amazing things;
it closes us off to the idea that other people can do the same;
and it closes us off to the idea that this world is going somewhere, that it is possible to have a tomorrow that’s different from today.
To be a cynic is to give in to the destructive resignation to say ‘no’ to anything other than what we already know and already see.
let’s be honest,
who could blame us for being cynical?
We’ve all been burned.
We’ve all been abandoned.
We’ve all felt betrayed by our leaders, our government, and the media.
Who wouldn’t be cynical?!
If you’re like me, it’s a disposition and posture that can seem not only logical, but pretty smart too.
But here’s the thing about that:
Theres this story in the Bible ….
Jesus and his disciples are out doing their thing
and they’re teaching people how to be human and alive in this world and helping people reconnect with God, themselves, and each other.
And we’re told how a man comes to Jesus carrying his son whose suffering from seizures,
and he’s telling Jesus how he’s terrified his son will fall in a fire or drown,
how he already went to the disciples but they weren’t able to heal him,
and so he asks Jesus to heal his son so he can live safely and fully.
So Jesus, having compassion on the man and the boy, picks up the son and heals him.
After everyone leaves the disciples come up to Jesus and ask why they couldn’t heal the boy themselves, and Jesus says:
‘Because you didn’t have enough faith.' And then he pointed to a mountain off in the distance. 'If you had faith, even if it was just the size of a poppy seed, you’d be able to take that mountain out there and throw it into the sea.’
I think this is, among many things, a story about a faith that is open.
It’s about how the father had a faith that was open to the idea that his son didn’t have to live like that, and it's about how the disciples, despite the fact they couldn’t do it, were open to the possibility that they could.
And while those would be awesome things to explore and play around with, I think Jesus is making a far bigger point here, one that transcends and includes those points, and it has to do with that mountain he’s talking about.
This story we’re talking about takes place on a mountain side,
scholars think it is either Mount Tabor or Mount Hermon,
it doesn’t really matter;
what does matter is what you could see from it.
From this perspective, visible way off in the distance was a very particular mountain,
the one Jesus is pointing to,
a mountain that everybody in his day would know and recognize,
a mountain that was hugely significant in their world and lives:
the mountain of King Herod.
King Herod was the ruler of the area.
He was appointed to keep the peace by the Roman Empire,
which meant his job was to kill anyone who said or did anything remotely rebellious in order to sustain the empire’s control.
And wanting to do just that,
wanting to show off his power and glorify himself and the Roman Empire,
Herod literally built a mountain.
He called it, and this may be the best part, ‘Herodium.’
Its this crazy place.
It had a 650 seat theatre and a pool you could ride boats – boats! – around in.
It had 7 story tall towers all around it.
And it crazy huge – at 758 meters high it was the highest peak in the area;
you could literally see it from the other hills and mountains in the area,
just like the one that Jesus and his friends were standing on.
While we may marvel at it,
for the people at the time,
that mountain had a very different sense of awe:
for them it was a very ominous and powerful symbol of the their lived reality and world:
of a life and world under the boot of empire,
this empire that kept peace through violence,
that offered fake news and alternative facts to support its narrative,
that wounded and divided,
and that oppressed people by making them cynical,
by making them live under the shadow of that mountain,
convincing them that the way of Rome was the way of the world,
so don’t even hope for or trust in anything else,
for this is the way your life and world will be.
And it’s this mountain that Jesus specifically points to and says enough that if we have enough faith will could throw it into the sea.
One of the reasons we always turn back to these ancient Bible stories again and again is not because they just happened, but because they happen. We come back to these stories because these stories are our stories.
We too live under the shadows of a mountain, don’t we?
Whatever it is,
capitalism, materialism, racism, corruption, greed, forgiveness, abuse, sexism, nationalism, debt, addiction, false narratives, resentment, doubt,
these are the things which have oppressed us and beaten us down,
which taken away our hope, closed us up, and have made us cynical,
the things which occupy on our horizons, block the view of anything new and different, and say to us:
this is the way your life and world will be.
Anyone know what we’re talking about?
Im sure we all do.
We know the kind of life and world of living underneath the shadows of our mountains,
we all know the cynicism that comes from that,
this cynicism that makes us say ‘no’ to the possibility that it could be different.
But here’s the good news this story is offering us:
we don’t need to live like that.
Jesus here is reminding us a subversive and powerful truth,
one that cynicism can eclipse and close us off to:
that mountain can be thrown into the sea.
As painful and haunting as those things are,
they do. not. last,
that they do not have the final word,
because there is Something Bigger than those things,
a truth that is deeper than those things,
and a life and a world beyond those things.
And that Something is God, that truth is Love, and that life and world is what Jesus called ‘the Kingdom: this life and world out of the shadows and into the light, a life and world where we can be who we truly are and live as we are truly meant to live.
The only trick?
We need to be open to it.
We need the faith to be open to it, to believe it, to embrace it, and to live as though that mountain can be thrown into the sea and a new life and world can be had.
This is why faith is such an audacious, imaginative, ludicrous, and ridiculous thing,
which is to say why it’s so radical and revolutionary;
it’s a way of life beyond cynicism and giving in to what is,
and a way of life that says ‘yes’ to the impossible:
a way of life that says ‘yes’ to the idea that God is moving,
that we can grow and become something more than we are,
that people can change and forgiveness can happen,
and that the world can get better.
may we have a faith that is open,
a faith that allows us to see beyond the mountains,
and may we have the courageous faith to say ‘yes’ to the life and world God is opening up for us.