Scratching the Surface

I remember playing out in the garden as a child, with a shovel, trying to dig a hole and wondering just how far I could dig. Could I reach the other side? I was amazed with the idea that straight through to the other side was somewhere in Asia. I could not comprehend that distance, nor did I have any idea of the amount of rock that I would have to go through, that was just on the crust of the earth, before reaching the many layers of the mantle that were still incredibly far from the core of the earth.

Humans have dug some pretty deep holes by hand. In the Cappadocia region of Turkey, at around 700 B.C., people built the ancient city of Darin-cool-you, stretching to nearly 200 feet below the surface and holding 20,000 citizens. This underground city included homes, wineries, and schools.

By hand, humans have gone even deeper into the crust. The biggest hand dug hole is in South Africa, and was dug by South African Laborers in the 1870s to 1910s. It is now known as the “Big Hole.” White South Africans were in search of diamonds. So they had black South Africans folks dig by hand 790 feet deep in awful conditions, removing 22 million tonnes of earth. I don’t even know how to conceptualize that much earth. Over five thousand Black South Africans died from working in this hole. Their deaths as a result of the white’s greed for diamonds.

The underground is terrifying. Going as deep as the “big hole” in South africa would be claustrophobic. It would be dark. I would fear collapse. I would fear for my life.

So why are we metaphorically journeying under the ground during lent? Why should we take these scary journeys under?

Chaska has taught me a lot about dahlias. The beautiful flowers whose heads can get as large as plates. There are a couple of ways to grow dahlias. You can grow them from seed. However, when you grow them from seed you never quite know what they are going to look like, because the different color and textured dailies cross pollinate when they create seed. So if there is a field of yellow dahlias, and red dahlias, you might get some sort of combination flower of yellow and red.

The other way to grow them is through harvesting the tubers of the previous season’s dahlias. (show tuber). IF you harvest the tubers, you know that the flower will look the same has the flower from the previous year. You grow a dahlia, you like how it looks so you dig underground and find the tubers that multiplied over the summer, and you put them into dry, dark storage for the winter.

This dahlia was taken from our garden last summer. And Chaska put it into storage for the winter in our basement. She checks in on them every so often and all of a sudden, this one starts sending up a small, small shoot. That means that we needed to get it in the ground asap. The only issues is that, it’s not spring yet. If we placed it outside, it would die. So I am going to plant it in a bucket of soil. I am going to dig down, go under the surface and put it 4 inches into the dark, rich soil, sprout side up, so that it can grow.

Could we grow, like dahlias, from spending some time going under the surface.

Our scriptures for today are two stories about going under- though instead of underground, its underwater.

In Genesis we have the story of Noah.

As Genesis 6 states, Noah was a righteous and blameless man, and walked faithfully with God.

Like many of the old testament stories of destruction, the story of Noah has always been a hard one for me. What am I to make of a God that destroys the world with a flood. Wasn’t the God of Hebrews supposed to be unique because of the non-violent creation story? Wasn’t it all made good in the beginning?

A few years ago I wrote out some song lyrics to try to make sense of this story. And I’ll read them to you now.

If I were Noah, would I build

A mansion ship, upon a hill

A giant gate that would safely hide

Me from the world outside

If I were Noah, would I think

of myself a righteous man,

when stormy waters slowly rise

to take those left outside

If I were Noah, could I lock

The giant gate, and seal their fate

Would I have courage to look deep inside

and question my dear god

If I were Noah, would I think

The rainbow is, a peaceful sign

Could I tell my kids the sacred lie

That everyone else deserved to die

When I hear this story – I question God. Was that really you? The divine, loving, non-violent creative force of hope? I nearly feel immoral not to.

What I find so disheartening about the story of Noah, is that Noah is not changed by the experience of watching all other life being wiped from the earth. Our passage today, which is the aftermath of the flood, we see God, who seems to be regretful of this flood, say that they will never do this again. But Noah is just Noah. No change

Noah just keeps doing what “God” commands him. Over and over again. God commands him to build an ark – he does it. God commands him to take two of every Animal, and he does it. Noah was obedient, righteous and blameless. I feel suspicious of this type of covenant. A covenant where Noah just does all of the things God tells him, without a critical thought in the world.

It is nearly as if Noah has no conscience. No sense of grief with this loss of life. Experiences of destruction like this should change a person, right? I would imagine that watching this flood unfold would be traumatizing.

But I get the sense that Noah does not want to go beneath the surface – He doesn’t want to have to contend with the violence and pain that was drowned under the water. He does want to contend with his own emotions that are beneath his own surface.

This past summer, the biggest blockbuster hit was the Barbie Movie. At the beginning of Barbie Movie, everyone in Barbie Land is perfect. Everything is great. Then, Barbie throws a party for all of the other Barbie. Another one of her perfect parties. All different kinds of barbies are dancing and having a blast and they have a conversation that goes like this.

B1: This night is just perfect.

B2: It’s perfectly perfect.

B3: And you look so beautiful, Barbie.

B1: Thanks, Barbie. I feel so beautiful.

B2: So do I.

B3: This is the best day ever.

B4: It is the best day ever.

B1: And so is yesterday, and so is tomorrow, and so is the day after tomorrow and even Wednesdays and every day from now until forever.

B3: Yeah, Barbie!

(Everyone Cheers)

B1: You guys ever think about dying?

There’s a record scratch and the party comes to a halt

B1: I don’t know why I just said that. I’m just dying – to dance.

The dance party resumes.

Barbie is living on the surface. She is not going under. Everything is perfect. Everything is beautiful. Everything is fine. But the existential crisis hits her out of nowhere. It creeps up from under the surface. This creeping crisis gets bigger and bigger as time goes on, and it disrupts her perfect life.

Barbie is like Noah, trying to keep a perfect world together, above the surface.

Here is the thing – I am not too unlike Barbie. I understand not wanting to think about all of the death, pain, and destruction around us.

I don’t like following the news. It’s nearly unbearable. While I have been trying to follow the awful death and destruction that is happening to Palestine, its too much to hold. I found myself feeling really sad after all of the events we hosted here on Sunday. Sad for Taraq, sad that I am part of a country that is funding the deaths of his loved ones. Sad that I feel nearly hopeless.

It feels easier for me to simply get on the Ark, stay above the surface, and not deal with this pain that is happening away from my view, under the surface. Like Noah, to not let it change me. Can’t I be just a “good righteous man” instead.

Its not only the painful things of the world around us that are under the surface. There are the things in our own lives that we want to ignore.

The band “Dawes” wrote the song “Just beneath the surface” on their 2013 album “Stories Don’t End.” The chorus of the song goes:

Just beneath the surface there’s another one of me

At the root of all my trouble, in the twitch before I speak

With thoughts and revelations even I could not accept

Just beneath the surface is where he will stay kept

Oh, just beneath the surface is where he will stay kept

We all have parts of ourselves we don’t like to show. Perhaps parts of ourselves that are too painful to talk about. Too painful for us to want to even reflect on.

To dig down to those parts of ourselves is scary. We don’t always want to relive the painful parts of our lives. We may be scared of what we will find. Perhaps a truth about ourselves that we don’t want to have to contend with.

Our Mark passage today offers a different approach than staying on the surface. From Mark 1:9-11 –

“At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

Jesus was baptized. He actively chose to descend under the surface. Not stay above it in an ark, but have his body plunged downward into the water. Jesus took the journey down, into the dark, into the water, towards death.

One way of understanding baptism, is a metaphorical death. That when one “chooses” to be baptized they willing go down into the water to metaphorically die and come back up reoriented in a new way of life. One goes down, and then comes back up.

This last fall, I led a class of FMCers through a class called “transitions.” We explore the ways different cultures and traditions mark transitions in life. Like graduations or weddings or funerals. But a lot of times, we don’t mark other transition in life. Like a job change, or turning 63, or a spiritual renewal. So in this class we explored different models for understanding our transitions. One of the models for understanding a transition is the gospel model: Death, Descent, and then Resurrection. Metaphorically, like Jesus, in a transition one dies, descends into the grave, and the comes back up.

As we undergo change in life, we loose something. Something dies. There is a death.

When Flora was born, I went from having free evenings, to do all my favorite things, like going to as many church meetings as I could dream of – to no longer having my free time that I cherished. It’s not that I didn’t love Flora, and want this transition to happen. But when you have a transition in life, there are losses that need to be recognized, no matter how beautiful the transition.

So with Flora and the new loss of free time, I made a “decent downward.” It was frustrating. I felt like a part of myself was lost. I was having to figure out who I was a dad, as a husband, and how that fit into being a pastor. And to be honest, I am still trying to figure this out. I think I am on my way towards resurrection. But here is the thing-

We cannot rush towards resurrection. You can’t force it. The descent happens to us. We might want to rush our way back to the surface, but we are still have hard work to do underground. It takes time.

Resurrection is the last stage. Well, we have a few more weeks of lent before we talk about resurrection. During lent, we are going to hang out underground. Grow our roots down here.

For us to have rooted faith, we need to have spent quality time underground, journeying like roots. Down into the spaces that, like Noah, we do not want to have to contend with. We want to stay in perfect Barbie land, partying every night. But in order to grow, we need to spend time with the dahlia tubers under the surface.

Perhaps we are struggling with how to respond to the war in Gaza. Perhaps we are struggling with anger or sadness that is underneath the surface. Perhaps struggling with a transition in our lives. As followers of Jesus, we are to take this trip downward to tend to these things.

Maybe this means sharing what is under the surface with someone. Maybe it means journaling or finding a spiritual director or therapist or a friend to explore the underground with. But unless we make the plunge, the things under the surface will not grow and change. They will not become dinner plate sized dahlias. They might even creep up as weeds and inhibit us from growth in life.

However, in following Jesus, we see Jesus taking this trip downwards over and over again in his ministry. First in his baptism. But then he refuses to be a king that rises to the top. No, Jesus’ ministry is tendings to the wounds that everyone is carrying underneath the surface.

Can we journey underground together? Scratch the surface. Tend to the pain of each other.

In our transitions class, each week we read a prayer that I would like to read a line from to you. As we read it in the class, a person in the group would go the bucket of dirt and hold it in their hands, as another member would read:

“In the touching of the earth may we not fear the dark, but enter it expectantly, ready to learn its ways.”

May we journey with Jesus, under the surface.