“Beyond Zebra” – sermon notes for Proper 12

Scarcity means an insufficient supply, and we believe in the truth of scarcity. We accept funding shortages that drive the teacher shortage in our urban schools, the reduction of services for the disabled, and the disregard for crumbling infrastructure of our urban core. We believe that there isn’t enough, and in our believing we find reality.

As I read “On Beyond Zebra” (Dr. Seuss) in the shadows of our St. Louis public school disgrace, I am aware that the results of our theology of scarcity are neither neutrality nor emptiness.

When we gather together millions of youngsters, house them in squalor for the better part of each waking day, require moronic rhythms of passive obedience, fail to provide safety with adequate supervision, fill their bellies with trans fats and preservatives (while preaching about obesity), we are not teaching nothing. We are inculcating our children with self loathing and limitation. We are destroying wonder and preparing a society of disdain for educated inquiry.

Educational reform, or the lack thereof, is not new. More than fifty years ago John Hersey published an article in Life magazine deploring the state of public education. Hersey described, “pallid primers [with] abnormally courteous, unnaturally clean boys and girls”. He believed that school was so dull that it was numbing the minds of our children. Trying to further this point he published a prophetic sci-fi novel entitled “Child Buyer” which attacked the rigidity of the public school system and showed the ways in which such stilted education actually destroys wonder and creativity.

Fads come and go, as do politicians.
But the lasting effects of our theology of scarcity?
Tragically these are felt into the seventh generation.

Dr. Seuss’ work stood in stark contrast to the drivel that Hersey railed upon and Seuss’ “On Beyond Zebra” specifically addresses the problem of unimaginative classrooms and the restrictions we place in learning. Conrad Cornelius o’Donald o’Dell assumes that the alphabet stops at “z” as he has been taught. He is comfortable in the world he knows, the world that is spelled with 26 letters. But what if there is more? What if we don’t limit ourselves to 26? Seuss invites us to wonder ‘what if?’

Our gospel lessons beckons to this kind of believing, a believing in possibility, promise, and yes, abundance. Far beyond the confines of reason and rules, free of a theology of perimeters and paucity, a hungry crowd is fed by one small lunch. This small and insignificant lunch, when shared and blessed, feeds the multitude and more.

What if we approached the education of our children with the same theology of abundance with which we fund the war machine? What if we allocated funds as unquestioningly for the disabled adult’s wheel chair as we do for the inmate chains?

Our theology of scarcity is a choice, a choice we must change.

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