Rev. Jeff Mansfield

Appearances Can Be Deceiving

On Valentine’s Day, my Valentine and I went to go see the new Frida Kahlo exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum. I admire Kahlo’s art, her politics, and her whole personality a great deal and I’ve been to some exhibits that have focused on her painting before. But reading reviews of the Brooklyn exhibit I learned that there wouldn’t be more than a handful of paintings. This exhibit is focused more on Kahlo’s personal effects which had been locked away for 50 years after her death. And now they’re taking a little tour out of Mexico City to Brooklyn.

I was kinda iffy about whether I’d want to pay to walk through rooms displaying a bunch of dresses—hundreds of Kahlo’s were discovered when her personal effects were released—but that’s not really my thing. And if the exhibit had simply been entitled “Frida Kahlo’s Dresses” I probably would’ve passed. But the exhibit is entitled, “Appearances Can Be Deceiving.” Hmmmm. Now that’s interesting.

I'm Not Good Enough

20th Century mythologist Joseph Campbell wrote extensively about what he termed the “monomyth.” The monomyth was not just one myth but a type of myth that can be found around the world and in different historical periods, and examples of the monomyth all have similar structures and themes. The monomyth, according to Campbell, is always about The Hero’s Journey: “A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on [the whole community].”

Campbell’s Hero’s Journey structure has been applied to world mythologies, Star Wars, and the Bible. But the place I think Campbell most wants us to use the Hero’s Journey as a tool is in our own lives. Campbell wrote in the opening chapter of his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces that the prime function of mythology and religious rites has been to supply people with the symbols that carry our human spirits forward to counterbalance all the forces in the world which try to hold us back.

The Blessings of Old Souls

The Temple was a place you could put your faith in.

Imagine it, Beloved. Approaching Jerusalem with Mary and Joseph and the baby, it’s the Temple that you can see from miles off; it’s the Temple that makes up the whole of the great city’s skyline. Within Jerusalem’s walls, in every quarter of the city, your eye is drawn up to the Temple’s immensity. Standing at its base, the great staircases climb and twist up three stories before arriving at the height of the lowest courtyards.

Cunningly carved out of natural features that were extensively reinforced and expanded upon over centuries, the Temple mount seems to be the great foundation of the world thrust up, the navel of civilization bulging out toward heaven. At its base there are carved stones—some 26 feet in length and weighing up to 400 tons, megaliths so large that modern engineers have lost the arts that could have moved them, let alone place and stack them with such exacting precision.

Good News to the Poor

When it comes to the poor and poverty, from one perspective, there is a LOT of good news over the last few centuries. In 1820 the world population was just under 1.1 billion people. And just over a billion of them lived in extreme poverty. That’s incredible, isn’t is? In 1970 we had a population just over 3.5 billion and almost 2.25 billion were living in poverty. Still bad. But by 1990 there were fewer people in the world living in extreme poverty than people not living in extreme poverty. And today, with a population over 7 billion, only about 700 million people are living in extreme poverty.

While there is remarkable good news here, there are three things to consider. First, extreme poverty is currently defined as people living on less than $1.90 a day. So, while there’s less extreme poverty than ever before, there’s still huge numbers of people who are very poor in the world—living on 2 or 10 dollars a day or on 2 or 10 dollars an hour. And right here in the United States there are an estimated 40 million people living in poverty and millions more one missed paycheck or hospital stay away from financial ruin.

Get in Line

In Luke’s gospel there’s none of that stuff about John the Baptist wearing camel’s hair, or breaking into beehives for his breakfast, or eating locusts for lunch. That’s not Luke’s style. For Luke, John the Baptist isn’t some bugged-out cartoonish hermit. He’s no joke, and his message is deadly serious. Luke says that John’s message was simple: Get yourselves right with God by being immersed in the Jordan for the forgiveness of your sins.

And when the crowds of sinners, tax collectors, and Roman soldiers showed up seeking forgiveness, John wasn’t easy on them. He called them a brood of vipers. He told them that God didn’t need them, that God could raise up new children from stones. He told them that the tree that bears no fruit is cut down and used to feed the fire. He said there is wheat and there is chaff and wheat goes to the barn and chaff goes to the flames. And he demanded that they change their ways: you must care for those in need, you must stop all abuses of your power.