My has been, fading, rust belt town yesterday joined the ranks of those more cosmopolitan climes with the dubious distinction of hosting a drag queen story time at the local library. It was a miserably cold afternoon. The wind whipped up and swept snow back and forth across the landscape, the roads, my porch and then windshield when I tried to leave my house in the early evening.
The local paper reported that ‘dozens’ came out for the story time. Here is a short video reporting on the event, and you can see that the room is full of people, though I was not able to make out very many children. Indeed, the clip shows the level of both performance and thought to which we here in Binghamton might rightfully be said to arise. The men in drag were not the vibrantly bedecked and painted characters of the advertisement. They were the usual small time seedy–a little makeup plastered on, a can of hairspray. And the interviewed passer by sounded off the usual, “This is so great so that our children can have more open minds,” or something. He looked nice though. I’ve probably seen him in Walmart on one of my self flagellating trips there.
As the event was going on I cleaned my house and tried to pray and also to listen to myself on the radio (second hour), defending the idea that not every person who feels called to be a pastor should therefore, at all cost, pursue that calling. Some people might need to go find a different line of work. Most of the callers into the show seemed incensed that I would suggest such a thing. Later on I saw the news that someone pushed the wrong button in Hawaii, and the alarms went off, and sent many many people into a terrified panic. Overall, as I cleaned and failed to pray, I found myself mourning the titanic tragedy of a culture and a people so completely adrift.
A culture and a people who haven’t heard the lines of this psalm, which, depending on what kind of lectionary you’re using, you might hear in church this morning.
O LORD, you have searched me and known me!
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.
You search out my path and my lying down
and are acquainted with all my ways.
The psalmist goes on and describes the peculiarities of God’s knowledge. There isn’t anywhere you can go without God knowing about, nothing that you can do. Everything that you plan to say is known to God before it is known to you. Before you were even born, God knew everything there was to know, from your molecular structure all the way to the thoughts, the feelings, the hopes that shift and change and make you into the complicated person that you are. No one else may know you, but God does.And you, knowing this in some kind of way, will probably run away from him. Will take off and flee to the depths of the ocean, to the heights of a mountain, to the warmth of a public library on a snowy afternoon. You will be jostling next to me in the Walmart aisle, buying Chinese plastic and averting your gaze from the Almighty, shifting and struggling so that his hand might not find you. You and me and the rest of humanity. Everyone, all together, lost, wanting to be known but not by the only one whose knowledge is Sure.
Except that you’re reading this and so, at some point, like me, you might have managed to make eye contact with this all seeing, all knowing, searching God. Your restless discontent with this life matched by his never missing anything that happens anywhere. He knows it all.
And we, as a culture, know less and less. We drift along in half truths, trying to piece together a coherent view of the world and ourselves out of plastic and apps, gender and money, makeup and feelings. We have to cobble ourselves together as best we can, taking the wisdom of the day and letting it carry us along at least until tomorrow when it will change into something else. We know that something is wrong. That a deep incoherence lies at the root, but no more can we dig down and find it than look up into the face of the all seeing, all knowing God.
At the end of the psalm, after pleading with God to destroy his enemies, the psalmist takes the daring, I might even say terrifying, step of asking God to search him. He is known already, but even beyond that, he says, go ahead and look. Hunt through all the bits of the self and see what is wrong, what is grievous. The way that I hunt through my house, looking for the source of some terrible smell. The way that we hunt through social media, looking for something to be angry about. Search, go on purpose to look.
You may search yourself out this way but you won’t be able to find out very much. You may peer at yourself in all lights and draw conclusions, but you can’t really know, not on your own. It has to be God who searches out and sees your grievous way for what it is, who speaks the word of truth about how bad it is, and then finally provides the remedy, himself. It can’t be you because even if you ask God to do this–to search for you and to know you–you will hardly be able to stand it. You will always be dragging yourself back from running away. Your mind will not be able to fathom the depths of your own darkness and God’s own knowledgeable light. It will be, “too wonderful.”
But do it anyway. Go, look him in the face. Indeed, though it is too wonderful and you cannot possibly attain to it, that is why God came down, searching you out, starting out his impoverished earthly life as a child, ending it by identifying himself with the comforting and essential bread and wine. Wipe off the makeup. Stop running away. Go face him.