Sermon: Dinosaurs, Ascensions, and Hope: Believing in the Absurd

photo 1By Lydia Wylie-Kellermann
Day House Catholic Worker, May 28, 2017

Acts 1: 6-14

When I first looked at these readings, I couldn’t see past the ascension of Jesus rising from the ground into the clouds. What am I supposed to do with that? It felt so absurd.

Laurel Dykstra, an activist and theologian in Vancouver, talks about Luke using humor to illustrate just how much the disciples don’t get it! She plays this reading out as slapstick comedy with Jesus floating away into a cloud exasperated with the disciples. And the disciples then in the upper room forehead slapping and saying “I can’t believe that was the last thing we said to him!”

But what do we do with these pieces of scripture that are totally absurd? Completely unrealistic to anything we know in our reality? Cloud floating, virgin births, the dead showing up, the devil showing up…resurrection. How do we reconcile the absurd with our rational thought?

My mom didn’t believe in dinosaurs. She was quite clear about it and never showed an ounce of doubt in her decision.

In a Witness editorial she wrote “I consider it a gift to my kids that I find dinosaurs suspect. When Lydia, now 12, was in preschool her teacher announced that they had recently discovered there was no such thing as the brontosaurus. It was, rather, an apatasaurus- vegetarian, not meat-eating, and with an altogether different head. Yeah, right, I thought. Give me a pile of bones and I could make you five or six reasonably sized animals for any on dinosaur you want to assemble.”

When my mom wasn’t around, my dad would take us to museums to stand in awe under the giant dinosaur bone statues.

I decided to take on my mom’s belief. To doubt their existence. It drove people mad! Especially when I fell in love with an analytical math science nerd. Nothing drove her crazier than when I would publically announce that I didn’t believe in dinosaurs. In fact, we had to stop talking about it. Until Lucy brought it up in her speech at our wedding and Erinn looked at me and said “You don’t still believe that do you?” As if for a second she wondered if she had just made a huge mistake.

A couple years later, we made a marriage compromise. She had grown up with loving the myth of Santa Claus and I had grown up loving that we didn’t believe in him. I wanted that big time for my kids. So, in the end, I have sworn to the truth of dinosaurs and our kids don’t believe in Santa Claus.

There is something incredibly powerful about believing in something that is absurd. Being able to not believe in something that everyone holds as truth or believing in something that everyone else finds ridiculous.

It gives you the chance to be free from systemic narratives. Allows you to question everything. To not be held captive. Allows anything to become possible.

It exercises your imagination muscles so suddenly you can see light in the dark, you can love into spaces of hate, and you can find hope in dark times when injustice is around every corner.

It reminds me of a scene in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. The youngest child Lucy has discovered this secret, magical world of Narnia that none of her other siblings can seem to get to. Her oldest brother and sister are getting really worries about her. Is she going mad? Is she lying? So they go to the old professor whose house they are staying at to avoid the war.

But he surprises them saying he would never presume to know all the secrets of the house. If she doesn’t lie and she clearly isn’t mad, then logic insists that she is telling the truth. It is a hilarious unexpected conversation where a “grown-up” could be so open to the possibility of magic without any proof. Leaving the professor, you are struck with his great sense of wisdom. As if with age, comes the ability to be open to unexpected or impossible.

It makes me think of Walter Brueggemann’s idea of prophetic imagination. He writes…

The prophet engages in futuring fantasy. The prophet does not ask if the vision can be implemented, for questions of implementation are of no consequence until the vision can be imagined. The imagination must come before the implementation. Our culture is competent to implement almost anything and to imagine almost nothing. The same royal consciousness that make it possible to implement anything and everything is the one that shrinks imagination because imagination is a danger. Thus every totalitarian regime is frightened of the artist. It is the vocation of the prophet to keep alive the ministry of imagination, to keep on conjuring and proposing futures alternative to the single one the king wants to urge as the only thinkable one.

I love that. I love that our imagination is a theological muscle that all of us are called to exercise. I think this reading today, helps us do that. We read the absurd and take it seriously.

That gets to be part of my job in parenting right now. To foster the absurd. To help create spaces for their imagination to blossom and to take each absurdity with seriousness and delight. Play becomes so important. And it something that is being taken away from kids these days. I called a whole bunch of pre-schools around the city looking for a place for Isaac in the fall and school after school took me through the very structured day, in desks, and let me know how much homework they would have each night and when they would be tested. What?? He’s 4! I don’t want homework. I want play! I want him to be outside, to be expanding his imagination. To be exercising these skills that will affect his theology, his understanding of the world, his ability to create change in this world.

A month ago, Isaac wrote a beautiful letter to Donald Trump telling him that he needed to be nicer to people. As we dropped it in the mailbox, I was struck by the absurdity of it. If we were only making decisions based on logic, we never would have written that letter knowing that if it even gets opened, no one is going to hear it. But we didn’t, Isaac dropped it in the mailbox because we believe in the absurd. We believe in the small possibility that a four year’s old letter could change the course of history. If Jesus can fly up in the sky and float away on a cloud to heaven, then Donald Trump can get a little nicer.

So today, we read this reading and we take it seriously.
We stretch our imaginations.
We allow for logic to not be the only kind of truth.
And in so doing,
We will not be conformed to a system of oppression
We will not give into despair or limits.
We will pledge allegiance to the unusual
We will believe the undoable is doable
We will dwell in that absurd land of hope
We will imagine another world
And we will creatively make it so.

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