Sunday, July 1, 2012

Sermon for 5 Pentecost by Bill Fortier


By Bill Fortier
Copyright Bill Fortier 2012, all rights reserved

Jesus: Now that I've stuffed myself into this two-piece ensemble, proving just how far I'll go to get attention, have a heart, Jesus. Take my words and tie them to folk's hearts. Take them beyond me and my noise, to You, Love beyond all sounds and words. Amen.

Math was never my strongest subject in school. I was a very mediocre math student. Big M: Mediocre. My low point, at least in my memory, was word problems. There probably were lower points but I've gladly repressed them. But I digress: Word Problems. A mix of words and numbers. My brain would melt as I tried to figure them out. Picture my brain sliding out my ears. Some have argued that my Big Mellon Cave has rung hollow ever since.

So let's refresh your memory, Try to follow along and figure:

If John and his traveling troop of 313 yodelers left Hoboken, New Jersey and then met up with 135 Marxist Librarians from East Lansing Michigan who were memorizing all of official flowers from each of the 50
States while juggling 426 flaming chainsaws before an audience of Cattle Ranchers addicted to the poetry of Mary Oliver, recited to the din of 1,615 Kazoos, when do the marginal rates of the London Futsi and the Dow synchronize to spell out, in numerical code of course, the birthday of Francis Scott Keys, while raising the Atlantic Sea levels only .5cms? And where the hell are my car keys?

There will be a prize for the correct answer.

So word problems are brutal, at least for my pea brain.

Now let's drop down a key or two and talk about Word Problems, Violence, War and Faith. Remember, following this light skip through these chirpy ideas, we'll be serving lemonade on the lawn.

We church folk talk about violence and war like it is a really, really hard word problem. We talk and pray that if we just followed Jesus' words or Ghandi's words or Martin Luther King's words, war and violence would vanish, poof, like a long terrible nightmare.

I don't believe that though. I don't. Violence and war run very, very, very deep in our natures. Let's go back to the Bible and then we'll splash around in some science. Wee!

So we're still reading the Books of Samuel. Today we heard about the deaths of Saul and Jonathan and the messenger of their deaths. David kills the messenger: He shoots the messenger. David then sings his heart out in grief for his fallen comrades and draws the whole tribe into the anguished melody.

Violence is a blood-red thread that winds all the way through the Hebrew Bible. And violence keeps poking up in the New Testament too. Our Greatest New Testament Saint, Paul, was a conspirator, a terrorist and quite possibly a killer. And the fun doesn't stop here: Our two Greatest Western Male Saints, Francis of Assisi and Ignatius of Loyola were first warriors, soldiers. Both fought fiercely, we're seriously injured in battle and both were imprisoned. They were both deeply tormented by their war experiences, injuries and imprisonment. Their battle scars, shell shock or PTSD were their roads to Jesus.

They're not unusual either. There's a long line on the military road to Jesus School. This mix of killing, terror, defeat, humiliation and psychological torment has been a favorite Christian recipe for the whole span of Christian History.

That's already quite a combo: War as a road to Jesus. It gets even harder to understand though because war ravages the soul. Killing, the loss of deeply loved war-buddies and painful survival are a grim brain scrambler.

I killed and I survived. My buddies killed, or worse, didn't kill anyone and they were killed. I survived. They didn't. The comparisons torture our minds. The marbles swirl around in our heads, collide over-and-over-again, turning dark. I killed and I'm a teacher. I killed and I'm a physician. I killed and I'm a loving father or grandfather. These awful combinations screech, scream and squeal, howling like terrible ghosts in our heads.

So why do we kill and go to war over-and-over-and-over-again? Once again, sigh, it comes down to our brains.

The Brain: This gooey, sticky and leaky clump of wires that squeeze into our heads. The brain. This screwy organ is the problem. Deep inside this amazing lump of cells, in the part that's right behind our eyeballs and sits on top of our sinus bones. That part. That's where the fear-peas touch the rage-and-kill-carrots.

Look up Jak Panksepp on the Net or UTube.   He noodled these teeny-tiny wires, deep inside a cat's brain, right into their rage-and-kill-cells. He stands behind a protective glass and hits the juice. These sweet little kitties become crazy monsters right before your eyes. He turns the switch on-and-off. Sweet kitty-Crazy killer beast; Sweet kitty- Crazy killer beast. Or you can look up Robert Galbraith Heath. From the 1950's to the 1980's he did this to human Guinea Pigs. And he did this with permission from the Hospital Board of Trustees too! Even though it was crummy and creepy, he got the same results: Calm dude-Crazy monster dude; Calm dude-Psycho monster dude. Even though his science smells and is about as rotten as it gets, it stands. It's solid as a rock. Our rock-brains are the problem.

The fear-peas touch the rage carrots. The disgust-peas touch the rage carrots and the frustration-peas touch the rage carrots. See, we've all got this crazy vegetable medley in our heads.

Now here's the really, really, really mid-blowing part: All the rage-and-kill-carrots are smooshed up against the religious peas-and-carrots in the brain. Wow, wow and wow! And might I add, for rhetorical effect, wow! All this stuff is squished and scrunched together in our heads, like a very weird and silent game of twister.

Our brains are like an MBTA subway train. The homeless schizophrenic sits besides the MIT professor, who's just inches way from the gangster, who-in-turn is brushing up against the musician from the Berkley School. Just like the subway, it's a motley and raucous group of passengers in our Subway Heads.

So this violence, war and faith thing is much, much, much deeper than word problems, culture problems, video game problems and economic problems. It runs all the way down into the billions and billions of cells that clump together in our big fat mellon heads. This amazing party-mix is a wild and truly crazy collection. Sometimes our brains send out very destructive signals and were all easily weaponized. War pops up, all the time, because we have the brains we have. Sadly, in the wild spectacle of brain-karaoke, the rage-and-kill-cells sometimes grab the mic and don't let go. And just like the obnoxious knucklehead at karaoke, the one who's had a few too many Mai Tai's, the rage-and-kill-cells keep on singing a war tune, a battle hymn.

Now before we throw up our hands and race to the exits, let me state for the record: Whoa! Whoa! And whoa! Breathe deeply and stay in your seats. We're also built to do  many other things and we do. Really good and cool things.

And we actually know some things that shrink the war-bug. Let me give a few examples: Civilization really, really helps. Codes of conduct, etiquette, manners, The Rule of Law and Rights really help. Remember this is the concrete spread of Dignity and it really works! Beauty really helps too. The Arts tap into very different parts of the brain, the Better Angels of Our Nature, and they really help too. So does Jesus School, WHEN, and this is crucial, WHEN it sticks to Jesus and His Message.

Let me tell you about another big war-shrinker: Women. When we spread women around in positions of power and authority it really helps and here's why: Remember, in Sunday School, how I talked about that amazing little molecule, Oxytocin? This teeny-tiny chemical is the love-and-care molecule. They already give it to mothers and premature babies in the hospital nursery. And they're experimenting, very successfully, with other folk's too. Oxytocin is one Sacramental Chemical.

Now women's brains are oxytocin fire hoses, torrents of this wonder-molecule. Male brains: Not so much. Eye droppers. It's an oxytocin dessert in there. We need to spread oxytocin far and wide. Planting women, girls and moms as well as grand-moms, sisters and BFF's everywhere. The oxy-palooza really helps.

And I'll give you one other thing that really does reduce violence and war: Take a bunch of diverse folks from very different cultures and ethnic origins and smooshe them together, but not in ghettoes and enclaves. When very different people live right next door to each other, on the same streets, and work right next to each other, in the same jobs, violence and war sharply drops. We're not exactly sure why but the best guess seems to be there's not enough us's and too many them's to cook up the old us-against-them stew. So we know some tried-and-true solutions: Civilization, The Arts, Women and Diversity. So there's four things we can do to reduce the war fever that cooks in our brains.

But there's even more, really Good News: Jesus School is the Old Soldier's Home. We're all warriors, cats with wires in our brains who bite, scratch, hiss and spit. And just like Francis of Assisi and Ignatius of Loyola, after we've made a complete mess of things and caused a lot of mayhem, maybe even killed, really killed, we're welcome here.

We've also had the stuffing knocked out of us too and we've been trapped in all sorts of prisons, haven't we? We come to Jesus School and fall to His Feet.

Now think of Kate. Picture Kate standing over there right before we start on Sundays. She says, "Welcome to The Church of Our Redeemer. We're so glad you're here with us today." That's the voice of Jesus. Really, that's Jesus using Kate and her voice. I'll even use my fancy Latin, the Vox Christi, the Vox Jesu. We're clutching his feet, broken, ashamed and haunted,  and he says, "Welcome to The Church of Our Redeemer. I'm so glad you're here today."

Jesus: When I look in the rear view mirror and see the mess I've made and all the damage I've done, and can't undo, my whole body winces and clenches. But You hoist me up and wipe me off. I'm stunned by the welcoming twinkle in your eye. Gather up all your old soldiers and old soldierettes here, Jesus, and the young ones too. Dust them all off. The battles were fierce. Everybody lost and we're just trying to piece back some dignity here. Your Heart's so roomy and bright: Are you sure you're not drunk or high on oxy. Thanks for cleaning us up and not rubbing it in. AMEN.


  1. Excellent sermon Bill and great job stepping up to lead morning prayer yesterday!

    As I mentioned to you yesterday, I have found your teaching and preaching to be really refreshing and eye-opening and very useful in the work I have been doing on my spiritual formation this year.

    Rather than pushing a potentially unattainable 'let's all love one another like Jesus says and we'll all be better off,' you don't deny the high hurdles of overcoming our human nature including our natural drives for the grotesque (crucifixion) and the violent (war, murder).

    Rather than denying that these parts of the human mind don't exist, you challenge us to not only acknowledge it, but to accept (and perhaps embrace?) that is all part of how our loving God created us. In sum, we have dignity as God's creature regardless of our 'darker side.'

    Keep the good stuff coming Bill, I can not easily state how much you have done to open my mind and heart on my soul's journey this year.

    Happy 4th,

  2. Wow!
    Awesome, Bill!
    Jessie M.