Today I thought we would start off with a little quiz. I’m going to give you a quote and you have to identify it’s source. Now if you’re really competitive you might want to get a pencil and paper. Go ahead, I’ll give you a minute to prepare. Ok – here we go.
“A person’s a person no matter how small”
“There’s no place like home.”
“I Think I Can, I Think I Can, I Think I Can”
“Real isn’t how you are made, It’s a thing that happens to you.”
“My bath was too hot, I got soap in my eyes, my marble went down the drain, and I had to wear my railroad-train pajamas. I hate my railroad-train pajamas.”
The sky is falling. The sky is falling.
“The moment you doubt whether you can fly, you cease forever to be able to do it.”
And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”
"You must never feel badly about making mistakes ... as long as you take the trouble to learn from them. For you often learn more by being wrong for the right reasons than you do by being right for the wrong reasons.”
"I don't understand it any more than you do, but one thing I've learned is that you don't have to understand things for them to be.”
How did you do? I’m hoping at least one of these instantly stood out to you. If you want the answers, we’ll post them in the description of this video after the livestream.
Did you figure out what these quotes have in common? They are all quotes from books. So how come you remember them? How come you remember one or two or maybe even 5 or 10 quotes from books?
My guess is you remember them because they resonate with you – they give voice to a narrative that informs how you understand the world or live your life. They explain how you operate in the world.
And of course, you might say, well they just give voice to experiences I’ve already had – which can be true. And, I’m guessing there are some stories that you love to share with young people in your life. Why is that? Stories don’t just sometimes give voice to our experiences they shape how we give voice to our experiences.
Narratives shape our understanding of the world. And while we might believe that there is only one valid narrative at any given time – the next time you have an experience in someone else’s company – ask them to recount the experience. Chances are what you remember and what you emphasize will be different. It’s even possible that the meaning you make of the experience will be different. Same experience, different stories, different impacts on how you live your life.
Of course, our own internal processing is not the only thing that influences how we understand experiences, how we narrate stories. There is a cultural narrative that surrounds us – the reinforces particular values and understandings. That cultural narrative heavily influences our own personal narrative.
During an address entitled “Race Talk and the Conspiracy of Silence,” given at the University of Rochester, Dr. Gerald Wing Sue a professor at Teacher’s College at Columbia University included the following on a list of master themes for white Americans (with master themes meaning that the stories white people tell are filled with these themes, we use these themes to make sense of the world):
We live in a meritocratic society.
Anyone who works hard enough can succeed in society.
Equal access and opportunity are hallmarks of society.
People should be color-blind and not judge one another by the color of their skin.
Racism is abhorrent, but is now a thing of the past (postracial era).
Think about how those themes might inform either your understanding of the world or how those around you understand the world. The professor’s point is that people of color’s experiences often do not support these narratives and yet we use the narratives to explain why people of color have not succeeded in the United States. We use the narratives to justify our actions.
Christianity is a narrative. A narrative that is meant to inform our life. And in fact, I believe that it is a narrative that at it’s core is at odds with white American’s cultural narrative. Our challenge as Christians is to let that be the narrative that is first and foremost in our minds as we go about making sense of the world around us and deciding how we will act.
In his commentary on workingpreacher.org, Roger Nam, Professor of the Hebrew Bible at Candler School of Theology in Atlanta, GA reminds us that our scripture passage this morning is casting a radically new narrative in Biblical times.
…ancient Near Eastern creation narratives were unapologetically polytheistic.
There were many deities, and they each had changing roles and forms. Marduk was associated with water, vegetation, and eventually magic and the head of the pantheon. Assur was leader of a rival pantheon in northern Mesopotamia. Back of Egypt, a different set of gods quarreled over legitimacy beginning with Osiris and Seth and then Seth and Horus. Each of these major pantheons had hundreds of lesser deities, contending for prominence or even survival.
And these deities were fickle. According to the Babylonian myth, Enuma Elish, they created humans, or at least some of them did. But at the same time, they latter regretted the decisions and schemed to destroy the human race because we were too “noisy.” These deities would battle, kill, enslave and retaliate against each other, and humans were often caught in the midst of these disputes.
Within this cultural narrative, the creation account of Genesis 1:1-2:4a presents a completely different account of the world’s origins.
… God is one. God is powerful. And God created us in his image. This opening passage of our Bible constitutes the essence of good news.
The opening passage of our Bible captures the narrative that explains the tie that binds Christians together - we are bound through God to one another. And if we take the narrative of Genesis 1 seriously, if we let it inform our life – we have to acknowledge that God did not divide humans at creation. The story does not say, God created white people to establish the narrative and rule over all others. The story says, God created human beings to reflect God’s nature.
And so, we must take care not to conflate this tie with monolithic experience, with monolithic truth. God created human beings – plural to reflect God’s nature. Genesis 1 is the story that tells us that we have bound together since the beginning. May it echo so loudly in our ears that it drowns out the cultural narratives that tempt us to believe that the experience of other human beings, also created in God’s image, do not need to inform how we understand and live our lives. May God guide us on this journey and forgive us for all the times that we stray. Amen.
“A person’s a person no matter how small” – Horton Hears a Who
“There’s no place like home.” —The Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum
“I Think I Can, I Think I Can, I Think I Can” – the Little Engine that Could
“Real isn’t how you are made, It’s a thing that happens to you.” – The Velveteen Rabbit, Margery Williams
“My bath was too hot, I got soap in my eyes, my marble went down the drain, and I had to wear my railroad-train pajamas. I hate my railroad-train pajamas.” —Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst
The sky is falling. The sky is falling. The Little Red Hen by Mary Mapes Dodge.
“The moment you doubt whether you can fly, you cease forever to be able to do it.” – Peter Pan, J.M. Barrie
And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” —The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
"You must never feel badly about making mistakes ... as long as you take the trouble to learn from them. For you often learn more by being wrong for the right reasons than you do by being right for the wrong reasons."—The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
"I don't understand it any more than you do, but one thing I've learned is that you don't have to understand things for them to be."—A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle“