Rev. Dr. Russ Daye
Zoom Worship – 26th after Pentecost
November 21, 2021
Daniel 7:9-14 (NRSV)
As I watched, thrones were set in place, and an Ancient One took his throne, his clothing was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool; his throne was fiery flames, and its wheels were burning fire. A stream of fire issued and flowed out from his presence. A thousand thousands served him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood attending him. The court sat in judgment, and the books were opened. I watched then because of the noise of the arrogant words that the horn was speaking. And as I watched, the beast was put to death, and its body destroyed and given over to be burned with fire. As for the rest of the beasts, their dominion was taken away, but their lives were prolonged for a season and a time. As I watched in the night visions, I saw one like a human being coming with the clouds of heaven. And he came to the Ancient One and was presented before him. To him was given dominion and glory and kingship, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away, and his kingship is one that shall never be destroyed.
Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the authorities. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.”
More than 30 years ago, when I was studying for the ministry, I had a summer job taking teenagers on canoe trips for the YMCA in New Brunswick. My home base was Camp Glenburn, a Y camp nestled in the river system of the Kingston Peninsula. One evening I returned to camp quite late after a trip to St. John to buy supplies for an impending trip. I was met by the camp director and a couple of counsellors who were in a state of some anxiety. Bruce, the director, said to me, ‘I need you to come with me and talk to a brother and sister. Something is happening to them that I can only describe as possession.’ I said, ‘dude, you’ve got to be kidding.’ He said, ‘just come and see.’ I was taken into a room where a 10-year-old boy and his 8-year-old sister were sitting. They were quite distressed. What followed is something I still don’t understand.
I carried out a very confusing conversation with the boy and the girl in which their voices changed back and forth between their normal voices and a voice that was deep and strange. The way they held their bodies would suddenly change when they were ‘channeling’ this strange voice and they would look at you with very different eyes. Finally, after talking to them for some time, and trying my best to manage my own confusion and growing anxiety, I came to the following conclusion. Both the brother and the sister believed that someone called Fred (I’ve actually changed this name for the purposes of anonymity) had the ability to control them, that he would ‘come alive’ in them and control what they thought, did, and said. Fred was not a disembodied spirit or a dead person. Fred was their mother’s boyfriend. In the moments when the brother and sister were not ‘possessed,’ they spoke of Fred in a way that made it clear to me that they were afraid of him, and made me suspect that he was abusive, perhaps sexually, and controlling. I couldn’t do much to help them. We kept them comfortable for the night and handed them over to child protection services the next day.
For some time, this experience haunted me. Of course, I was troubled by the suffering of these kids, but my distress was doubled by the fact that I had seen two people sharing the exact same delusion. How was this possible? It was a single mental illness playing itself out in two brains and bodies, two hearts and souls. Was it some kind of possession? Was it a shared psychosis? Had Fred been intentional about implanting this delusion in them?
Eventually I put this bad experience out of my mind and didn’t think about it for a long time. It came back to me when I became a close friend of Pauline Dakin, the CBC journalist. Pauline shared with me the story she eventually wrote in her bestselling memoir Run, Hide, Repeat. This excellent book, which I commend to you, tells the story of a whole family that is controlled by a shared delusion. For decades, through strange events and sudden flights across the country to set up a new life in new places, the family was controlled by a shared belief that they were being hunted by a mafia. Pauline shared this story, including the way she had broken out of the family delusion, with me over the course of hours walking the beach. Again, I was boggled. This was an unusually intelligent, resilient, and talented woman whose whole life into her early adulthood had been shaped by a family phantasm.
I think about Pauline’s family and the family of that brother and sister at Camp Glenburn a lot these days because the phenomenon of common shared delusion is exploding in our world. People I have known well for almost my entire life have told me that the mRNA vaccines were created by governments to alter our genetic makeup so as to better control us. They believe in a vast global conspiracy between political, economic, and medical ‘powers.’ They believe that the provincial health officers leading the vaccine drive are evil and cunning people. They are joined by millions in their beliefs. I know of families divided, long-standing marriages broken, careers ruined by these beliefs. There are Americans in my web of relationships who believe that the last election was stolen from Donald Trump. These are intelligent, successful people. This belief is shared by many millions of people. Some of those millions believe in claims made by an anonymous figure, called Q, that a cabal of Satanic, cannibalistic pedophiles operate a global child trafficking ring that led the conspiracy against Trump. Many, many thousands follow this.
I think many of us are having similar experiences and concerns. How do we get a handle on all of the confusion and seeming craziness in our world today? The psychologist Charles Tart has a theory that is very apt and helpful at times like these.
In his work, Tart learned about hypnosis and realized that he could create in people he hypnotized a new reality. For example, he could create a reality in which the person absolutely could not raise their arm. It was a trance. But he came to believe that we all live in a trance that is much greater than hypnosis. In our experiences as children, and through the teachings of parents and teachers and the like, we are all inducted into a ‘consensus trance’ that defines what is real and what isn’t. Every family, community and nation has its own consensus trance. When I was reading this some years ago, before all of the craziness that is happening today, I came to realize it explained something I pondered over for years.
When I traveled to India, I saw that most Indians lived in a reality different than that of North America. Spirit was much more alive and present. I lived for a time in South Africa and bumped up to communities that absolutely believed in witchcraft – for good, and for evil. White and black witchcraft it was sometimes called, and it could be used to heal or curse people. I met people, who believed in witchcraft that had been cursed. Their health fell apart and they were broken. In their lived reality, witchcraft existed. In my lived reality, back in Canada, it didn’t.
The notion of collective trance has an explanatory power to explain things like what is sometimes called the great clash of civilizations. The clash between the the Islamic world and the Western post-Christian world. It’s not just over economic or political factors; there’s actually a struggle to define reality. Wars often emerge when different societies, living different collective trances, bump into each other and fight about what’s real. If you trace conversations in our families and communities, there’s always a kind of politics going on about who has the power to shape the trance – what’s true and what’s real, and what isn’t true and what isn’t real.
What I think is happening right now, is that the collective consensus trance of Canada – of the Western world – is breaking down. For the first time, facilitated by the internet, we have people living in the same households who are now living in different trances. As a result, our societies have moved onto sandy ground and the consensus about what is true and real and good is breaking down.
Now here’s the good news: it needed to. As threatening as this breakdown is, our collective trance needed to give way. We were living in a way that was destroying the planet. We were growing levels of inequality that were deeply separating people. For hundreds of years, those of us of European descent in Canada lived a collective trance that said Indigenous peoples were not full members of society or not even fully human. Our collective trance needed to break in order to rescue the world. We need a new one.
How do you create a new one?
Both of our scripture passages today emerge from times when the collective trance of the ancient nation of Israel was breaking down and strange things – as strange as the elements of the Q Anon conspiracy theories and others – were being spoken and shared. Daniel spoke of an Apocalyptic vision he had (see reading).
What the heck is going on here? This sounds like the craziest Q Anon website or deluded fantasy that is being written on the internet today. To be frank, at times like these, Apocalyptic literature – like the visions of Daniel – is dangerous if we don’t use it properly or understand it. It is being used to feed some of these conspiracy theories. So, what is going on?
Daniel, like John – the author of the Book of Revelation – had a capacity to go into an alternate trance state from the one everyone else was in, and in it he was able to see into the interior nature of nations, including their ‘powers’ and authorities, and he was given symbolic representation of those nations.
So, which creature has the arrogant horn and who are these beasts that are to be slain? He’s actually speaking of the nations in the Near East that are in conflict with each other, trying to control the territories of Palestine, Mesopotamia, Persia, Egypt etc. He’s speaking to the interior natures of these empires – powers that are being destructive and predatory – and Daniel is saying that behind the realities that we live, there’s another realm in which God is mustering a world of justice. A time will come when those nations will be judged and power will be taken from them, and a new kind of kingdom will be established – one that resonates with justice, love and peace.
And what about our New Testament reading? What’s happening there?
There’s this argument between Pilate, the Governor of part of Palestine, and Jesus because some people have been calling Jesus ‘the King of the Jews.’ Pilate says to Jesus, ‘are you calling yourself the King of the Jews?’ And Jesus answers that he has a Kingdom (which Russ is going to refer to from now on as ‘a kindom’, because it has less patriarchal resonance) that is not of this world. ‘If my kindom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the authorities.’ In other words, if I were a King of a worldly power, my followers would be violent like you. But I belong to a kin-dom that isn’t violent, where power comes from love and service, and even self-sacrifice – the kind that Jesus is about to make on the cross.
In the years following Jesus’s crucifixion and resurrection, the people who followed him created a new trance. They believed that what they were doing was creating a society that was in harmony with another realm of peace and justice that lay hidden behind the one that we live in. I hope they’re right. I hope the kin-dom of God exists behind the surface of our ‘normal’ realm. I hope it’s offering to be actualized in this time.
What I know is that the common trance, the consensus trance that was created by the followers of Jesus in the days, weeks, months, years, centuries after his Passion, created a global community that tried to live without violence, and for centuries was non-violent. It tried to live with equal sharing and for generations it did live with equal sharing. It tried not to serve the authorities of the world, and for generations it didn’t serve the authorities of the world, and even suffered martyrdom.
What I say to you is it’s now time for us to work on a new consensus trance – but this time not just for Christians. We need to go into deep dialogue with Muslims. We need to go into deep dialogue with Indigenous people, Buddhists, Hindus, Atheists, and we need to have a conversation about what’s going to be the new trance that we all live in in this society. We need it, for as long as the power relations in our society remain as fractured and as unequal as they are, people will be suspicious of big Pharma and governments and corporations and they will become conspiracy theorists. We need a new trance, collectively formed, that re-balances power relationships and restores our harmony with the earth. And, having studied other religions, I know that Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus and Indigenous peoples, like us, have great historical texts and resources for the deep work of making a new trance.
I look forward to our conversations with those people and our work in creating a new kin-dom here among us. God bless us.
Image Credit: P. Lorenzetti 1330 [PD Art Old / PD Art 100]