September 7, 2014
Thirteenth Sunday After Pentecost
The subject of my sermon this morning is a “Defense of Discord.”
The Merriam Webster Dictionary says discord means either:
1) An unpleasant combination of musical notes
2) Lack of agreement between people, ideas, etc.
I am not, you may be surprised to learn, referring to our singing ability, or the lack thereof. So it is the second meaning I will be talking about. I’ll leave discussions of the musical implications to Glenn and Jessie.
One of the things that made it compelling for me to join Seekers was the “Statement of Commitment.” It did not ask me to believe in a specific dogma, or to say that Jesus was my best friend. It is simply asked me to live a life that was in accordance with basic beliefs I already held. When you join Seekers this is what you are committing to.
“As a member of this church, I will deepen my relationships in this local expression of the Body of Christ, sharing my gifts from God with others who worship with Seekers Church, and in the wider world. I will:
• Nurture my relationship with God and Seekers Church through spiritual disciplines;
• Care for the whole of creation, including the natural environment;
• Foster justice and be in solidarity with the poor;
• Work for the end of all war, both public and private; and
• Respond joyfully with my life, as the grace of God gives me freedom.”
However in the liturgy on Sundays, what we recite is somewhat different:
O Holy One, we come today
to claim our relationship with you.
We pray for the commitment to grow together,
sharing the gifts you give us with others
here and in the wider world.
Forgive us for the hurt we have inflicted,
and help us forgive those who have hurt us.
Give us strength and discipline
to nurture our relationship with you;
to care for every part of your creation;
to foster justice and be in solidarity with those in need;
to work to end all war, and violence, and discord;
and to respond joyfully when you call,
freely giving our selves as you have shown the way.
In this version, the commitment to end all war is expanded to include ending violence, and “discord“.
I suppose that the original writers of this passage may indeed have been referring to our ability as a choir, but I think it is far more likely that it is the second definition of discord, the lack of agreement between people or ideas, that was targeted.
Although I had recited this statement of commitment for many Sunday without noticing the difference in the two passages, ironically, the word discord itself eventually became a source of discord for me.
When I finally did focus on this, I responded the way most people do to discordant things in their lives;
I decided to ignore it.
It is easy to see why we as a group would try to eliminate discord. It is, by its very definition, jarring to the senses, whether musically or ideologically. The natural response is to block it out.
La la la la la, I can’t hear you…
So I decided I could just skip that one word when we recite the Statement of Commitment each week. Like the sound of a faucet dripping, unfortunately, it continued to get under my skin. When Ken actually asked me to preach again, I knew what it had to be about.
Origins and Mythology
As with so many things, we can find the origins of the word Discord in Greek Mythology. The story is called the Judgment of Paris. Once upon a time, or should I say, back in the day, Zeus decided to throw a party. The occasion was the marriage of Peleus and Thetis, better known as the parents of Achilles.
One of the lesser known gods in Greek mythology is Eris, also known in Latin as “Discordia.” Now Zeus was well aware of her reputation as a troublemaker, so he decided literally, not to invite Discord to the party. As you can image, this was not received well by Eris. So she came up with a plan…
Eris snuck into the Garden of Hesperides and picked one of the coveted golden apples. Upon it she then inscribed “To the Fairest,” and brought it to the party. Since she wasn’t invited to the party, she did not even go in, she just tossed it into the room and left. In a room filled with goddesses, there was quite a throw-down.
Eventually it came down to three goddesses: Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite. Zeus was asked to decide this impromptu beauty contest, but wisely decided to give that job to someone else. Instead he chose Paris, who was considered to be impartial.
So Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite got all dolled up and Paris “inspected” them. All of them also offered various bribes as well, but Aphrodite offered the most beautiful woman in the world, Helen, wife of Greek King Menelaus. Not surprisingly, Paris chose Aphrodite as the winner and wasted no time in whisking Helen off to Troy. This made Hera furious, not to mention King Menelaus who then declared war on Troy, launching 1000 ships and the rest I’m sure you know.
You may not recall this particular story, but it has been exceptionally well depicted by artists for thousands of years, probably because they got to paint the three most beautiful women they could imagine and piously call it religious art. Oddly, in almost all of those paintings the women are nude.
But as fun as this story is, Greek mythology was not just supposed to be entertaining. It also had a lesson you were supposed to take away, just as our scriptures do. In this case, it is telling us that discord is always present and you can’t deal with it by not inviting it to the party.
In Cheyenne and some other Native American cultures where they create intricate bead and quillwork patterns out of thousands of tiny beads, there is a thing called a spirit bead. Recognizing that nothing humans do is ever perfect, a single discordant bead is deliberately included somewhere in the pattern. This is seen as an act of humility, and a necessary part of every creation, because to presume perfection would offend God.
So you are probably still wondering why I consider discord to be so important. That is actually the easy part. In more situations than I can count, the voice of discord is my voice.
It is not that I want to want to start trouble. I do not. All too often I am simply aware of an issue, a problem, or an injustice that no one else will acknowledge. I know that pointing out that something, or someone, is wrong makes me the proverbial skunk at the garden party. So I try, often successfully, to just let it go if it is a minor thing. Other times I just can’t. This is what has earned me the label of “political activist.”
Most of you know I have spent many years advocating for trans* people. You may not know that I have also stood on soapboxes and railed about economic injustice, racial injustice, women’s rights and environmental causes. I have picketed nuclear plants, fundraisers, film festivals and the Ugandan embassy. I am Discord.
Being Discord means that I patiently explain that there really is abundant proof of global climate change.
Being Discord means that I speak out when people make racist and sexist jokes.
Being Discord means that I cannot sit down and shut up when I see injustice.
Being Discord means that I will not sit at the back of the bus.
Being Discord has gotten me dis-invited to a lot of parties.
But I do have friends. In response to the rigid rules and dogma of the Catholic Church and other entrenched religions, a book called the “The Principia Discordia” was published in 1965. It launched a movement known as “Discordianism.” The goal of the movement wasn’t to start trouble, but to get people to think for themsleves, not just follow the crowd. In Discordianism, everyone is a Pope!
Although it feels nice when everybody is in harmony, that very harmony has perpetuated some of history’s worst injustices. There was a time when slavery was accepted as the natural order of things. There was a time when nobody questioned children working in factories. There was time when everyone knew that women could not be trusted to vote. In every case, someone had to stand up to everyone else and say, “This is wrong.” That is the voice of discord, and we ignore it at our peril. Discord is often the voice of our conscience.
It is important to recognize that discord is not the problem; it is a symptom that there is something wrong beneath the surface. It beckons us to look closer, to learn the truth.
There is even holy discord in our readings this morning. In the passage from Exodus, God did not tell Moses to blend in and try not to be noticed. Instead he told him to have everyone kill a lamb and smear the blood on their doorways. That had to stand out.
In Romans, Jesus is telling everyone that the way they have interpreted God’s law is all wrong. It is actually all about love. “For the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” This was a pretty radical idea. I am sure that this was discordant to the establishment of the day.
In Mathew, Jesus did not say, “Don’t make waves.” Instead he told them, “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault”
There are many other stories of Jesus being the discordant voice. I’m sure the money changers were shocked when he overturned their tables.
John the Baptist and the other prophets were all discordant voices, telling the people that the path they were on was wrong, even if everyone else thought it was fine.
Even our mothers were often on the side of discord. I am sure I am not the only one who heard, “If all your friends jumped off of a cliff, would you jump too?”
When it comes right down to it, I believe every Seeker is a Discordian. Why else would you all be members of a church that is its own denomination, a church were the women long ago demanded an equal voice, a church where you will let nearly anyone stand at the pulpit? If you want to be told what to think, there is no shortage of churches that will welcome you. If you want to have rules dictated to you that you can never change, there is a Catholic Church within walking distance. But you, my fellow Discordians are here instead!