Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The invisible gorilla

My sermon for this week was based on Luke 24:13-49.

To download a podcast of my sermon, click here.

I am not sure where and when organized religion became infected with the erroneous belief that doubt was a bad thing: doubting Scripture, doubting the miracles, doubting the Resurrection.  I think this is totally wrong.  I think doubt is a fantastic thing, and far from being the enemy of faith, it is in fact necessary if you want to deepen your faith.

First, let's get the obvious out of the way: if you have actually read the Bible from cover to cover and had no questions whatsoever, no doubts, not so much as a raised eyebrow, you should check yourself for a pulse right now.

Found one?  Good.  Read on.

The Bible is an enormously complex book that  uses a sometime subtle blend of history, legend, myth and metaphor to illuminate some of the most complex philosophical, moral and ethical dilemmas ever dreamed up by humankind, and if you think you got it all on the first pass, you are either deluding yourself or you are far too bright to be living on the same plane of reality as the rest of us.

Doubt to me is closely akin to curiosity: these are the aspects of human nature that drive us to explore, to learn, to move forward intellectually and spiritually.  They are essential to faith.

Faith is different than knowledge.  With knowledge, you know something and no further exploration is necessary.  End of story.

Faith comes from the Latin fide for trust.  It is this trust that allows us to move out of what we know now to new understandings, new experiences, new ways of doing things.

The flip side is that doubt without trust can slide in skepticism, and then we lock ourselves off from learning more.  We stagnate and cease to move forward.  We fail to see new learnings and experiences that may be waiting for us because we are fine with the way things are.

In other words, we must always expect the unexpected, as the cliche goes.

In this week's Gospel passage, Cleopas and an unnamed companion, both of whom were devotees of Jesus, are visited by the resurrected Christ on the road to Emmaus.  We are told that although Jesus walked and talked with them for some time, they did not recognize him.  I have heard all sorts of bizarre explanations for this: they were walking into the sun and couldn't see his face; they were blinded by tears of sadness over the loss of their friend and mentor, etc.

I suspect the answer is quite a bit simpler: they refused to recognize him because they knew he was dead.

Have you ever hear of an experiment called "The Invisible Gorilla"?  You can check it out here.  In it, researchers asked subjects to watch a video of people passing a basketball around.  They were instructed to count how many passes were made.  A couple of minutes into the video, a man in a gorilla suit walks into the frame, waves, does a little jig and then walks offscreen.

When asked if they noticed the gorilla, a full 50% of respondents claimed there was no gorilla.  They did not expect one, were not looking for one, and therefore they never noticed it.

Never underestimate the power of the human mind to select what it wants to see and what it does not.

The point is that Cleopas and his companion did not expect Jesus, and so they did not see him.

This is what happens when you lose a sense of doubt: you think you know something, and therefore you stop learning.

Questions and doubts are essential to faith.  They are not, as many people seem to believe, indications of a lack of faith.  The are indications of a mature. healthy individual who is seeking to broaden and deepen their faith.

Today I encourage you to doubt, to question, to challenge.  Be willing to have your mind changed.

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