Monday, January 07, 2008

Home By Another Way

This Christmas I received the best gift ever…my own personal global positioning system (GPS). Her name is Emily…well, at least the name of her programmable British voice is Emily. It’s comforting to think of her as her own person as she guides me through unfamiliar territory and landscapes lost to a fading memory.

My partner bought the GPS for me after I gushed for months about my friend’s GPS system I borrowed while in Atlanta. As someone who travels a lot and relies on the often unreliable mapquest computer print-out for directions, discovering the wonders of the GPS seemed like the greatest thing since sliced bread. No more guess-timating about mileage, or squinting to find street signs (which by the way hardly ever exist in New England). No u-ies after missed turns or wandering lost through dense and winding neighborhoods. With Emily, all my directional needs are met. I simply turn her on and let her soothing voice calmly guide me to my destination.

Sometimes it feels so good to have someone tell you exactly what to do, doesn’t it? The messiness of having to make decisions is taken care of and you can feel secure in the care of a higher authority.

Except, of course, when that higher authority tells you to turn onto a railroad crossing while a train is barreling down the track. This, unfortunately is not a scene from the Office (they turned into a lake), but rather the very true and unfortunate experience of a New York computer analyst who found himself stuck on the tracks due the directions of his GPS guide (certainly, not Emily…I’m sure). Although he escaped unharmed, his car and his digital guide were not so lucky.

Sometimes listening to the authoritative voices lead you places you never intended to go.

It is amazing how easily we can at times be cajoled into following the directions we have been given. While at times in our life, we might feel overwhelmed by the number of choices or options we have open to us, there is in fact never a shortage of “Emilys” who try to tell us what to do, turn by turn, choice by choice. Whether it is our parents shouting out instructions from “clean your room” to “get an education” or our friends urging us to do things we never dared, “come on, everyone’s doing it.” Sometimes we find ourselves moved to follow the suggestions found on TV, radio or advertisements on the T. Suddenly, it seems you just have to have the latest gadget or a bite of that delicious new burger. You might even find yourself convinced to enroll at ITT Tech or the University of Phoenix!

These voices shouting out directions are not the only instructions we get in life. Our society and culture implicitly communicate their own set of directions…some are formed by social customs and norms…perhaps around gender, class or age. “Boys don’t cry.” “Girls can’t play football.” Others are determined by the global domination system of capitalist economics and socio-political machinations. Rui Josgrilberg, a Wesleyan scholar in Brazil, talks about the “global domination system” as the New Leviathan based upon the forces of the financial system, global market, weapons and political control, science and technology and production. These forces provide an authoritarian voice that directs much of our life, yet mostly unseen…like the invisible hand of the capitalist market.
It is as if sometimes these narratives given to us by others dictate what we do…as if at a certain time in our life the GPS narratives turn on and we find ourselves conforming to the instructions of the way life is supposed to be….according to whichever voice of authority happens to be dominant at the moment.

But what if, in the moments that these narratives begin guiding our lives, sometimes unseen, what if we decide to take a different direction, a different route?

This is exactly what happens in the story from scripture that we read today. Today the Christian church worldwide celebrates the feast of Epiphany, which takes its name from the Greek word epiphaneia, meaning disclosure, manifestation, unveiling or appearance. At the simplest level, Epiphany commemorates the visit of the magi to the newborn Christ and the revelation proclaimed by them to the world, of the child as a king worthy to be honored.

Usually at CWM, we steer clear of references to kings and monarchs, but the lesson today is filled with them…rival powers vying for dominance. The epiphany or revelation of the magi, the wise ones, is not just that Jesus is born, but that a rival power, a rival authority, a rival narrative has been born into the world, one that stands in direct opposition to those in power. Jesus, as king, or divine authority, or divine guide, provides us with a different map and alternative narrative of how the world ought to be.

The foreign magi, who travel long and hard to worship Jesus with extravagant gifts remind us that Jesus is not only the “King of the Jews,” but also represents a new, compassionate kin-dom that encompasses all nations and peoples. In contrast to our propensity to privilege one ethnicity or people over another to exclude other people who are different, the foreigners from Persia (modern day Iran) reveal God's welcome of all people everywhere. The magi remind us that the kin-dom announced at the birth of Jesus cannot be limited to any singular people. The new kin-dom born into the world through Jesus abolishes not only the barriers of nation, race and ethnicity, but also transcends the boundaries of gender, religion, economics and social stratification.

Now, you can imagine that this alternative narrative, this rival script of a different world order is not taken well by those who hold and wield power. Not at all. In fact, when Herod, learns of the birth of this child and the promise of this new world order, he commands the child be put to death.

After worshiping Jesus, the magi set out to return to their country. But God warned them in a dream not to return to Herod, who had demanded that they come back with precise information. They disobeyed Herod and returned home “by another way.” The magi, who have glimpsed God made flesh, know that the path Herod has laid out for them leads to death and so they opt to go home by another way. Rather than follow the precise directions given to them by their own personal global positioning system in Herod, they opt for a path that leads to the divine revelation of love and compassion, peace and hope.

Whether or not this story is factually true is up for debate. Every year at this time the blogo-sphere lights up as people argue one way or the other to prove the veracity of their own perspective on this part of the Christmas narrative. The fact of the matter is, we cannot know for certain one way or the other.

Real, or not, we do know that the lesson the magi teach us is true. You see there is a difference between that which is factually accurate and that which is true, capital “T.” The story of the Magi, whether historically accurate or not, is absolutely true. The lesson it teaches points us to a truth about following God, to do the right thing…not the thing our family or friends or even the world tells us to do, but rather to do the thing that we know is right and good and just. The thing that will lead us not to the perfect socially acceptable middle-class life, but rather to the kin-dom of God waiting to be…where justice and peace reign and where the narratives of the global domination system are turned upside down.

The magi knew instinctively to follow God home another way. We, too, are called to follow the voice of God made known in our lives and not the voices of the world that lure us down dangerous, deceptive paths of false hope.

As the Christmas season comes to an end, we may find ourselves tempted to put away the hopes and expectations of Advent and Christmas, for the cold reality of the bleak January days that lie ahead. In his poem "For the Time Being," W. H. Auden describes this post-Christmas mood:

"Well, so that is that. Now we must dismantle the tree,

Putting the decorations back into their cardboard boxes –

Some have got broken – and carrying them up into the attic.

The holly and the mistletoe must be taken down and burnt,

And the children got ready for school. There are enough

Left-overs to do, warmed-up, for the rest of the week –

Not that we have much appetite, having drunk such a lot,

Staying up so late, attempted – quite unsuccessfully –

To love all our relatives, and in general

Grossly overestimated our powers. Once again

As in previous years we have seen the actual Vision and failed

to do more than entertain it as an agreeable

Possibility, once again we have sent Him away.

So, it's back to the old world we left behind for

just a bit on Christmas Eve.”

Yet, although the Christmas season has come to an end, our journeys as Christians have just begun. We like the magi are called to set out for home by another way. The Christ has been born into our worlds and we are meant to follow. Not the path of social conformity, but the road that leads home to God. Sometimes choosing that path is not easy and that is why we go the road with friends and family. We walk hand in hand with each other, guiding one another through the revelation of the divine in our midst, so that we resist the lures of the global domination system, the social scripts that tantalize us with false images of success, happiness, and family. Together, we choose an alternative path, another way, that follows Christ and leads us home to the kin-dom of love, mercy, joy, compassion, justice and hope.

1 comment:

helper said...

MapQuest is unreliable, true. For a better experience, use Google Maps.