Thursday, March 20, 2014

Every Data Point is the Tip of an Iceberg: Truth and Perspective

Reflection on Scripture composed for the Lenten devotional booklet published by The Pilgrimage of St. James', at St. James' Church, Marietta, GA. I'd intended to connect this directly to Stephen Sondheim, whose birthday is today, but did so only tangentially:  He is the master of multiple perspectives in theatre!  It's also the birthday of Andrew Lloyd Webber, whose "Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat" is tangential to this reflection.

Mark 4.22  There is nothing hid except to be made manifest.

Matthew and Luke revise this verse to say that things now hidden will one day be revealed.  That’s a comfort.  This day, near the end of a work week, at the end of winter, we’re eager to part the gray curtains of daily cares and seasonal gloom to get a look at the first weekend of Spring!

But Mark’s phrase implies something more complicated, that hiding the truth, as in a story or metaphor, can help us to see it more objectively.   Emily Dickinson meant something like this when she wrote “Tell all the truth but tell it slant.” A different slant gives a different perspective.  Today’s Old Testament reading illustrates how this can work:  Joseph could have skipped to the bottom line, saying, “Actually, I’m your brother Joseph, and I forgive you for leaving me to die all those years ago.”  Instead, he hides his identity and puts his brothers through a charade.  When they have to tell their father a second time that he’s to lose his youngest son, their guilt literally hits home.  Would the brothers have arrived at sincere repentance if Joseph had skipped straight to the bottom line? 

Yet our culture seems to be more and more defined by bottom lines, bumper stickers, and data points.  These are all denials of perspective.  Our discourse suffers when we forget that every data point is the tip of an iceberg.

St. James’ is not a church for skipping to the bottom line.  We take our time, we allow for silence, we don’t omit prayers or hymn verses, and worship is more than receiving a message.  For these forty days, we bury our alleluias, and we enter into Jesus’ story through the arts of liturgy and music.  And so we do all year long, to make God’s Salvation history our own.
Psalms  [70], 71; 74          Gen. 42.29-38    1 Cor. 6.12-30     Mark 4.21-34

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