Message by Rev Jenny Carter
February 24, 2019
(Based on Genesis 45:1-11 and Luke 6: 27-38)
My daughter Sarah, who is all grown up with children of her own, has a sign on her wall that reads, “Still kind of mad that I’m not a mermaid.” Which is perfect for her. You see when she was really little the Disney movie, “The Little Mermaid” was released, and it was her absolute favourite movie as a little person. I remember one time, when she was three and had the flu, she laid on the couch and watched that movie all day. I’m not kidding, she watched it over and over and over again. You might think the music from that movie is good, to which I would say, you are absolutely right – if it’s your first 3 times through it in a row. To which I would add, you just try not to cringe when it’s your fifth time through, where you hear the opening bars to “Under the Sea” yet again. You know you’ve watched something too long, and crossed some kind of line as a decent human, when a part of you begins to side with the villain Ursula.
There is something appealing about fairy tales though, isn’t there? We watch a hero or heroine go through horrendous trials and tribulations, often suffering at the hands of some evil villain, only to emerge after the inevitable show down, victorious. After their victory they sail, or ride off into the sunset, having claimed the reward for being good and virtuous and overcoming evil. Which often comes in the form of marrying the handsome prince or beautiful princess, and living in a castle, and as the movie or story fades to black, we hear those words that we have been waiting to hear since the story began, “And they lived happily ever after.”
Which is a bit of problem. While we might still believe in “happily ever after” somewhere deep down in our souls, living in the real world teaches us that how the fairy tales make it look isn’t really how life is. As my daughter made her way through the Disney Princess movies, graduated to her all-time favourite movie, “The Breakfast Club,” then off on to other more modern versions of the classic fairy tales, I would often lean in to offer my own parental narration. Which often came in the form of, “well Sarah, you don’t have to wait for the prince to come rescue you – you could go to university and be your own person who makes their own mark on the world. Women are equal, and should be valued for more than how they look or sing – even if they are a mermaid.”
My daughter does a loving, yet brutal impersonation of me leaning in and saying, “Real life isn’t like this Sarah.” A big hit at family gatherings. Of course I have the last laugh, she’s now a parent of three impressionable little ones. To which I just smile and feel like life evens out eventually. I didn’t’ realize how often I interrupted movies with a “teachable moment” until the day, when Sarah was about 13, she leaned in close to me, and in a low, very scary growl that only 13 year old girls are capable of uttering, she said, “I know Mom. I know! But sometimes a movie is just a movie.”
Sometimes a movie is just a movie, we all know that. And, I would guess, that we all know fairy tales aren’t real. Yet I can’t help but wonder if, tucked somewhere deep in our psyche, we aren’t all kind of waiting for the narrator to come into the movie that is our lives and declare that we will now live happily ever after. All of us kind of half waiting for that time where, following a particular heartache or hurt, we might emerge victorious, having overcome some final obstacle. A time where we get to ride off into the sunset of our lives never having to worry about one more problem, one more upheaval, or one more desperate fight for some kind of peace, or some form of meaningful and good life. And here’s where I lean in and say, “Life isn’t like that.” While hope is always appropriate, and better days where we will be happy again are surely possible, life is a work in progress where we never graduate to happily ever after. We simply live and move and grow as people experiencing the ups and downs, the struggles and the smooth sailings that life presents us with.
Life is more like Star Wars than the Little Mermaid. The empire always strikes back, but the rebel alliance will always rise again, and good will prevail and peace will come – if even for just a little while.
Our reading from Genesis reads a bit like a fairy tale. The story of Joseph has been immortalized on Broadway and on the silver screen because of its’ dramatic nature and its’ “happily ever after ending.” When Joseph was little he was the youngest and favourite son in a long line of sons. While his brothers had to work to support the family, their father indulged the little one. Joseph was a dreamer and so his father let him dream, the workaday world was not to be a concern of his. As Joseph grew, so too did the resentment of his brothers.
One day all of this brotherly resentment boiled over into a rage and the older brothers decide to kill him. One brother persuades them to sell him into slavery instead. Which they promptly do. So off Joseph goes to live as a slave. He runs into some trouble in Egypt, is imprisoned, and yet remaining true to his faith and his ability to dream, attracts the attention of the pharaoh. So grateful is the king for Joseph’s help, he rewards him with a government position second only to Pharaoh himself.
The reading we heard today picks up this story. A famine is happening in Joseph’s homeland, and his brothers come to Egypt seeking food for the family back home. They have a confrontation with Joseph, and after realizing who he is, they are terrified that Joseph will seek vengeance upon them. Yet instead Joseph reaches out in forgiveness. The brothers are reconciled. The one who is hurt has reconciled with the ones who did the hurting, and they lived happily ever after.
To which we all should be leaning in and saying collectively, “But life isn’t like that.” This story highlights how reconciliation is really important. We should all strive to heal relationships, but the work of reconciliation is a lot harder than a simple dinner between the one who was hurt and those who hurt him. Reconciliation is messy and uncomfortable, and complex, and time consuming, and comes with a bit too much honesty than perhaps any of us are comfortable with.
And sometimes, on an individual level, perhaps reconciliation isn’t always advisable, or even possible. None of us would ever suggest to someone who has experienced abuse to go and be reconciled with their abuser. First, not our call, and second, not all abusers “see the light” and stop being a threat to a person’s physical, emotional, mental or spiritual safety. In those instances, our picture of what reconciliation looks like (where all are brought together in a “happily ever after moment”) needs to change into being reconciled to self and safety and healing and a new way of living.
On a societal level, reconciliation is still messy and complicated and too brutally honest for most of our tastes. Yet we, especially those of us most at home in the dominant culture in which we live, have a faith imperative to do that hard and messy and complicated work. That was the work Jesus was always about – reconciling the powers and principalities of the world – speaking for change – so that there was a place of life for the little ones and the lost ones, for whom the dominant cultural ways are not working.
We live in a time where reconciliation is often not practiced, and where, especially in our national political discourse, is increasingly being viewed as a sign of weakness, or lack of worldly understanding about “how things work.” As people of faith, we totally understand “how things work” – but our question becomes, should this be the way things work?
For instance, the relationship between the dominant culture of Canada, and the indigenous peoples of the nation, is broken in a lot of places. It can be hard for us to see the degree to which it is broken. We don’t live on reserves. We didn’t have our children taken away to residential schools. We ourselves were not scooped up in the 1960’s. We are not made wards of the state, and have fewer rights than other citizens because of the Indian Act. So we don’t always see how things really are. Our hearts are loving, but our eyes haven’t seen what they need to see, and our ears haven’t heard what we need to hear.
Which are the first steps on the road to reconciliation. To find out how it is for others by looking and listening to what is happening in their lives. For a number of years, because of my role in the church, I was a part of the Truth and Reconciliation process. What a brutal bit of work. What I saw and what I heard gave me a glimpse, just a glimpse, into how it is for some of the indigenous peoples of BC. I remember sitting next to a First Nations man at one of the events, and we talked about what reconciliation looks like. Neither of us knew. We only knew that it was going to be hard for both sides, and that it probably involved a lot more listening to one another. One thing we did know for sure, was that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s work, was not a “happily ever after moment” and none of us were going to be able to ride off into the sunset free from work and worry.
So, we do not live fairy tale lives, but we do live faith lives. For me this is where I find real hope, and where I think reconciliation (with our indigenous neighbours, and our environment, and all manner of other broken social relationship) is possible. When a heart is open to another heart, and where both seek the best outcome for all, then the process of reconciliation becomes a little less messy, a little less complicated, and a lot more life filled.