[Sermon Notes – Video is below]
Asking the why question is like “opening a can of worms” to use the old cliché. Once that toothpaste is out of the tube, it is nearly impossible to get it back in.
This is why a lot of organized religion does not want, or allow, people to ask the why question.
We have majored on the why question at Vermont Hills – it is part of our being a ‘spiritual oasis’. The honest truth, however, is that asking the why question is like lancing a blister. At first it can be bring great relief to release the pressure, but then the raw pain in apparent and the healing must begin.
I love the joke that if you have two Jewish Rabbis debating any topic, you will have at least 3 opinions represented. That must be nice, I have at least 3 opinions about most arguments just within myself!
When I give myself permission to wrestle with the why question, I have 3 main arguments competing for the upper hand. They might be called:
- The Cold Hard Facts
- Questioning the Question
- Blame the Big Bad Wolf
Here is how it works.
The cold hard facts lead to staring reality in the face – even gazing out into the abyss at points. We have been sold a bad version of religion in America. The certainty and confidence of our inherited brands of religion come up short and the answers we are given ring hollow in the echo chambers of organized religion and its institutions of power.
We know in the cells of our being, deep down in our bones, that the explanations we have been provided are empty of any real power and, thus, the ability to make any concrete difference or bring substantial change to our material circumstances. The world simply does not work the way it has been outlined for us. Bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people. The world seems unfair at so many levels and there is no silver bullet or magic words that will fix it.
But things, of course, are not that simple.
The second doubt I struggle with is with the question itself. In the age of science and reason that we live in, we are under the false impression that we have access to all the data or that we would interpret the facts correctly even if we had they entire equation. There are simple too many variables in this equation to think that you or I would be able to solve the riddle even if we could account for the myriad of contingent elements that have conflated and conspired to land us in the mire that we find ourselves in.
I know you – and know myself. We have limitations, and agendas, and flaws, and fears that keep us from accounting for and then attending to the insanely complicated reality that we find ourselves conscripted to in the modern world. Things are incredibly messy in real life and the overlapping mass of variables and influences beat us down and keep us paralyzed to suffer in silence, self-medicate, and try our best to salvage some scrap of meaning out of our short existence. So we willingly accept the opiate of the people and attempt to distract ourselves with consumption and striving and retail therapy.
We blame the big bad wolf. Either that or we scapegoat those we are victimized and find themselves at the margins. We point the finger at the top of the pyramid of power or we go after those on the outside – or both! Outsourcing our pain and frustration is a national pastime.
We do it with businesses, government, lawyers, main stream media, social media and religions. We use words and phrases like corporate fraud, congressional corruption, systemic racism and toxic masculinity. We are just trying our best to in some way grasp and frame within the mental tools we have access to – to explain that something is off. More thank out of sorts, there is injustice and inequity baked into the bread at a foundational level.
You are probably aware that I subscribe ‘the perfect storm’ theory of crisis. For something to become critical, you probably have at least 3 smaller storms that have converged to form the larger crisis.
This is why appreciate so much that our book, Naked Spirituality, includes this section on perplexity in the spiritual journey and life of faith. Things are not just complex they are complicated and often perplexing. If this were simple, I tell myself, this would already be fixed. The reason that problems linger and are not resolved yet is that there are overlapping and mutually inflaming ingredients to our complicated scenario.
So in the perfect storm theory of crisis, you have to say that it is all 3.
- The facts as we see them just are not lining up and the old explanations simply do not work.
- We don’t have access to all the data and in our limitations and fears we try our best to make sense of things but ultimately come up short.
- Somebody is to blame and maybe more than one
Why is this happing? There has to be some answers but we know that none of the explanations that we have been given will fix it. There must be something else going on that I don’t know about yet that is extremely disconcerting. But I know that ultimately somebody has to be responsible otherwise this whole thing is unacceptable somewhere between infuriating and depressing, at minimum it is discouraging and disorientating.
I am left to ask the why question. I know it is bigger than just me and more than I can wrap my head around. The why question initially feels liberating but what follows is a disillusionment and unsatisfying existential malaise or even a crisis of faith and conscience.
Welcome to the Lenten Journey. This is why we need Easter with its new life and promise of resurrection. This is why god had to die. This is why we must pass through good Friday. I can’t be left to stare into the void and fall into the abyss. And we are not.
We are invited to question the questions – to join others in creating a safe space to ask tough questions – and to believe different things than we used to (yes) but to also believe them differently.