Rev. Danielle K Bartz June 20, 2021
Exodus 2:11-22 “Historical Dislocation”
“I can barely keep track of what month it is, let alone what day.” “I feel so awkward talking with people in-person now.” “Everything I thought I knew about myself has fallen away and I am not sure where I am going.”
I have found myself muttering those statements several times over the last year, and I have heard them spoken by several of you. As the pandemic in the United States is easing, we are reemerging into a world that looks and feels differently than we expected. We haven’t returned to the way things were before, and nor do we want to. But, we are not quite sure where we are. Not even quite sure who we are. Early in the pandemic, I used the term ‘pause’ frequently: we are going to pause in-person worship, we are going to pause our fellowship gatherings, we are pausing that tradition. It has become increasingly clear to me, however, that we did not pause at all. We continued going, the world continued going, our journey moved forward – and we have ended up somewhere we are still struggling to name.
Diana Butler Bass, religious author and speaker, calls this feeling ‘dislocation.’ We have been dislocated for over a year and are now trying to relocate ourselves somewhere entirely new. In an article that she published a couple of months ago, Diana Butler Bass outlined the four ways she believes the church and individuals have been dislocated:
- Historical Dislocation: we have lost our sense of where we are in the larger stories of our individual and communal lives. In a way, history has been disrupted in the same way social, religious, and political norms have been disrupted. We are asking ourselves: “where are we, and where are we going.” This is historical dislocation.
- Temporal Dislocation: we lost our sense of time that existed before the pandemic. What day is it? What month? What season? Was last year 2019 or 2020? Is today Sunday even though I haven’t left my house for worship? This is what she means by temporal dislocation.
- Relational Dislocation: we have lost our daily habits of interacting with people and communities. Even the way we express emotion has been disrupted: for a year we didn’t gather to grieve or celebrate life’s milestones with our families and communities. We wonder and worry about that first big, mask-less gathering or reunion with friends and family we haven’t seen other than over a Zoom screen. We have found ourselves relationally dislocated.
- Physical Dislocation: this is a loss of embodiment. For over a year, nearly all our social, political, work, religious, and leisure gatherings were over a computer screen. We didn’t share space and breathe the same air. We forgot what the sanctuary pews feel like and how the church smells on a warm day. We have been dislocated physically from one another and for the wider world.
Diana Butler Bass very accurately, I believe, outlined the way we have been dislocated over this last year. We all have personal stories to share, but I want us – for the next four weeks of this sermon series – to focus on the dislocation we have experienced as church. And, most importantly, I want to offer suggestions for ways that we can begin to relocate ourselves as a worshipping community.
The Exodus story will be our scriptural resource as we consider our dislocation and move towards relocation. The wilderness journey of the Israelites in Exodus feels reminiscent of the journey we have been on over the last year. Wandering through the wilderness with no clarity of destination. Yearning for the simplicity of the past, even though it was not good. Arguing with God, arguing with leaders, trying to forge relationships and community in new ways – all of the themes of Exodus are themes we have been experiencing as well. And the first dislocation we will consider – historical dislocation – is a theme that is prevalent throughout the Exodus story. And in particular, it is a part of Moses’ story.
Moses, if you remember, was born during the time when the Egyptian Pharaoh, who enslaved the Hebrew people, was growing fearful of the Hebrews. They were growing in population, and Pharaoh worried that they would rise up and demand their freedom. In order to maintain his power, Pharaoh ordered the midwives to kill any Hebrew boys who were born. Moses was spared this execution by the cunning of his mother and sister, and when they could not hide him anymore, they placed him basket amongst the reeds of the river. There a daughter of Pharaoh found the baby Moses, took pity on him, and raised him in the palace.
Moses, a Hebrew – a member of the community of the enslaved – was removed from that harsh existence, but also removed from his history. He was raised in the household of Pharaoh, and while the text does not say much about his life there, we know he lived into adulthood and from today’s text, we can surmise that he was not fully aware of the plight of his people. In the scripture we read today, after Moses had grown up, it says “he went out to his people and saw their forced labor.” Perhaps he did not know, or perhaps he knew but didn’t fully understand, that the people who would claim him as their own were treated harshly as slaves. His anger at their treatment boiled over and when he saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, he killed the Egyptian. He had to flee and found himself in the region of the Midians, a nomadic tribe, and there, after coming to the aid of the daughters of a Midian leader, was married and had a family.
The early story of Moses is one of someone separated, more than once, from his people, their stories, their identity. He didn’t know the ancient stories, nor did he know the current lived experiences of his own. He was so far removed from his own history, that the Midians even called him Egyptian – which would have been a remarkable insult for any Hebrew. Moses was dislocated from the history which could have given him grounding. And while he had no way of knowing what God had in store for him, or for his kinsfolk, Moses was aware that he struggled to know how and where to belong.
Moses was in a space in between – a liminal space. Not grounded in the past, not sure of the future. Throughout our pandemic experience, we have also been in a liminal space. We lost our footing on the ground of our past as the norms of history, politics, social interaction, and religion were disrupted. As a society we have begun to question our understanding of who we are as a people. We have delved into our history as a country to reveal the trauma and violence we used to cover up. The answer to “who we are” feels more uncertain than ever, and the question of “where are we going?” feels almost impossible to grapple with. We have been historically dislocated. And while we will never settle again where we were before, we can begin to relocate ourselves in the place we are going.
I think a way we can do this is by telling our stories. Our personal stories, our community stories. And then turning to a friend, old or new, and asking for their story. In the telling and the listening I know connection will be found. A common element, a shared new insight, a connection long ago forgotten but ready to be reclaimed. We can tell our stories and listen to the stories of those around and begin to relocate our history in a way that serves and grounds us today. I don’t know, but I imagine, as Moses led his people out of Egypt and through the wilderness, they shared their stories. Moses listened to his kinsfolk and, I believe, realized he wasn’t truly the stranger he thought himself to be. His grounding was there all along, he just needed to find his footing on it.
This last year has been historically dislocated as we have struggled personally and communally with who we are as a people, who we have been, and where we are going. While I don’t know where we will end up, I do have faith that we will be relocated somewhere, and with God’s help, we will find that place to be rich with promise. And as we continue this journey, we can find solid ground by sharing our stories and listening to the stories of others. And as we do so, the Beloved Community of God will be further formed, held together by a past brought clearly into the light, and future created by hope. Amen.
Good and loving God, there are times we are not sure where we have been and can’t see where we are going. There are times when we have found ourselves with a clear path or a ground which feels steady. During these times of dislocation, help us to turn to you and know that you are a constant, and unfailing presence in our lives – one that always has been and will always be.
As we search for our place in history, help us to turn to the ancient stories of our faith and the modern stories of that faith lived out. In these stories, old and new, shared and received, may we always see in them the ways you have guided and loved us. May we see the ways you have pushed us to new places, and been a refuge when we were tired.
Loving God, we also pray today for the men and father’s of our lives. For those who have cared for us, given us courage, healed our injuries, taught us lessons, and nurtured our development. For the father’s of our world, we give great thanks.
We pray all of this in the name of Jesus Christ, a guide along the way, a keeper of stories, and a compass point for the journey. Together we pray in the way he taught us with Christians across time and space by saying…Our Father…