Finding Ourselves in the Middle of the Storm

I wonder if, as a nation, one thing we can do is to seek to remember the story of finding yourself in a boat in the midst of a storm. A storm that destroys everything in its path and changes landscapes and lives.
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I suspect some of us are asking how has it come to this?

What, in other words, is wrong with us?

Yesterday I came across an insightful perspective from the former pastor of 4th Presbyterian Church in Chicago, John Buchanan, who offered this thought on the anniversary of Sept. 11 last year.

He wrote,

"In a new book, Trauma and Grace, Serene Jones, President of Union Theological Seminary in New York, suggests that 9/11 sent our nation into the equivalent of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which is defined as 'a deep wound, not only to body but to spirit and soul and emotion. Its symptoms include numbness, emotional and sometimes physical paralysis, depression, and destructive, sometimes self-destructive, behavior.'"

In other words, President Jones wonders if as a nation we have perhaps not really moved forward from 9/11, that as a nation we are still suffering PTSD.

"When I read her book," writes Rev. Buchanan last year, "I found myself wondering if post-traumatic stress disorder is not responsible for the profound and unprecedented polarization in our nation and in the body politic."

I would add this morning, I wonder if as a culture, as a society, as a country, have the events of 9/11 somehow lingered in our subconscious?

Meaning, has 9/11 left a wound in our heart, our soul that has really never healed? Is that why, perhaps, so many of us feel numb, experience paralysis, depression and destructive, sometimes self-destructive, behavior?

Could it be the violence we all experienced -- the images of planes striking the Towers, people jumping from buildings, ash and soot in our hair, our eyes -- those horrific memories somehow continue to shape our public life together?

Could it be that one of the results of 9/11 is we are still a nation in trauma, paralyzed, depressed and destructive?

Could that lingering trauma be the reason why, for example, we condone extraordinarily violent video games, a now popular sport called Ultimate Fighting where men and now women pummel each other in cages, and movies like Batman where violence and death is highly polished entertainment.

Which then begs a question, what can we do?

Rev. Buchanan goes on to offer this thought, "One of the things therapists do with PTSD patients is help them remember -- help them remember and tell stories that remind them of who they are and who they can be."

In other words, when a patient is still in trauma, therapists try to enable that person to go back to time to remember who they were before the event and then to imagine a future where they don't feel numb, paralyzed, depressed and potentially destructive.

And so, what can we remember?

Who were we before and who can we still become?

The Old Testament says, remember you are holy, God's precious creation, and so ground your life in faithfulness, holiness and love. The New Testament teaches, remember the words of Christ: love God, your neighbor as yourself. Remember the life of Christ and carry his example inside you.

Rev. Buchanan writes:

"One of my ... remembrances of him is that time he fell asleep in the stern of a boat in the middle of a storm that scared his friends to death, Matthew, Mark, and Luke ... remember this little story.

Historians tell us that it was a favorite of the early Christian church, which must have felt as if it were in the middle of a storm with the boat sinking ... One of the earliest symbols of the church is a ship heading into a storm. It's the reason why the ceilings of church buildings often resemble the inverted hull of a boat."

This week I wondered if as a nation, as citizens, as members of Mayflower Congregational Church, one thing we can do is to seek to remember, remember our true identity as the Old Testament teaches, and remember Jesus and in particular the story of finding yourself in a boat in the midst of a storm.

For it sure feels like we are in storm right now, does it not?

A storm that destroys everything in its path and changes landscapes and lives -- as Sandy did just a few weeks ago.

And yet, to move beyond the trauma that has enveloped our country over the past decade or so, and yesterday, if we try to remember who we truly are and who we can become, maybe we start with what happens in that boat?

And it is important to remember first of all the disciples are in it together.

In that boat, together.

And in a sense, are we not in this storm together, as Americans.

Those children could have so easily been our children, our grandchildren, our nieces and nephews.

It is not so hard to imagine such a tragedy happening in our community.

Second, on that day the disciples discovered they were not alone in that boat -- God was with them. A God who can calm the waters. A God who asks us to have faith. A God who saves.

This Advent our series is called The Geography of Christmas.

We began out in the desert with John telling us to take a good, long hard long at ourselves and come clean before God with all our hidden secrets and sins. Next we went to Nazareth to hear the voice of an angel say, "do not be afraid, nothing is impossible with God," and Mary's response was, "I am your servant." Could it be this morning that we now find ourselves on that boat on the Sea of Galilee?

And perhaps this Advent that is where we are -- in a storm.

That yes this is the season of gold and silver, but really not yet.

Not now. Not today.

As the writer Annie Lamott once put it, "Advent isn't for the naïve."

Advent is a season that honestly describes the darkness of the human heart and how the light is stronger than the darkness. The stories of the birth of Christ do include Herod's slaughter of the innocents and the miracle God became a child wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

Rev. Buchanan ended his sermon with these words:

"Matthew doesn't describe the rest of the voyage, just that they reached the other side. But I've always liked imagining what it was like as the first rays of the early morning sun appeared over the mountain and there was a fresh breeze and calm water. I know they breathed a huge sigh of relief, [as] ... they stole glances at the one, the one whose love would never abandon them, sitting calmly in the stern."

So perhaps this Advent in the face of a horrific trauma let us, as best we can, remember who we truly are and who we can be.

Let us remember the geography of Christmas does lead us through a storm.

Let us remember and hold fast to the truth that light is stronger than darkness.

Let us this day not be naïve, let us grieve deeply but not despair, and let remember who we are and who we can, by God's grace and strength, still, still become. Amen.

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