A Cure for the "Camelot Complex"
Text: Haggai 1:15b-2:9
I am a sucker for movie musicals. A favorite of mine is Camelot. I can still hear Richard Burton as King Arthur faux-singing:
A law was made a distant moon ago here: July and August cannot be too hot. And there's a legal limit to the snow here In Camelot.
The winter is forbidden till December And exits March the second on the dot. By order, summer lingers through September In Camelot.
In short, there's simply not
A more congenial spot For happily-ever-aftering than here In Camelot. Long before Lancelot, Guinevere, and King Arthur, people have suffered from the “Camelot complex.” It can be a deadly disease that keeps people fixated on an idealized past. The Spanish poet Jorge Amado says it well, “Always to our view, time now past was just better to us.”
The Hebrew prophet, Haggai, writes to a community suffering from the “Camelot complex.” After fifty years living in exile, his people have come home to a devastated Jerusalem. Over the years of captivity, stories were told and retold about the once magnificent temple, which were for them their Camelot. Now, that once magnificent temple is a pile of rubble and weeds.
Trying to recreate the past into a mythical Camelot is not unlike running a wind sprint on a track covered in molasses while wearing flip-flops. Nothing you do is ever quite good enough; it is never quite like it was back then. An affliction of my growing older is occasionally providing Camelot citations to my adult children. “Erin, if only you could have seen that actor in his heyday.” “Josh, if only you could have heard her sing in her prime.” When you are stuck in Camelot, nothing measures up today to what was the case back then and tomorrow looks like one huge, dark, ominous, frightening void.
Christians, I have found, are especially susceptible to the “Camelot complex.” “Remember when every one of these pews was filled and the ushers had to bring in extra chairs?” “Remember when we had Sunday School for more kids than we had room for?” “Remember people lined up to volunteer for every mission and project of the church?” “Remember?”!
Haggai offers a unique cure for those suffering from the “Camelot complex.” He does not tell his people to stop looking back because, “brighter days are just around the corner.” No, he tells them to look back, to remember, but not just remember a once glorious temple and the days when they were revered among the nations. He invites them to remember that they were once slaves in Egypt and God brought them out of captivity; that they were once exiles in Babylon and God has brought them home to Jerusalem, even in its devastated state. He invites them to look back so they can lay claim to God’s enduring promise: “Do not fear . . . once again, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land.”
Amid the gut-wrenching, divisive times in which you and I are now living, there is one word that dominates our public vocabulary. That word is: “FEAR.” Now, you and I have precious little in common with a small remnant of Jews living in post-exilic, decimated Jerusalem, but one reality that we both do share is fear. Fear is the mortar for the “Camelot complex.” Barbara Brown Taylor describes fear in these powerful words: "Fear is a small cell with no air in it and no light. It is suffocating inside and dark. There is no room to turn around inside it. You can only face in one direction, but it hardly matters since you cannot see anyhow. There is no future in the dark. Everything is over. Everything is past. When you are locked up like that, tomorrow is as far away as the moon." Fear keeps us stuck, fantasizing about an idealized past and terrified of a frightening future.
So, perhaps no words from ole Haggai to his people have more traction for you and me today than: “Do not fear.” If any words weave together the witness of the Old and New Testaments, it is the terse imperative: “Do not fear.” Every Christmas Eve, pulpits across the world announce: “Do not fear, for I bring you good news of a great joy.” Every Easter Sunday, we hear these words about Jesus: “Do not fear; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here.” Every time we come to this table, we are transported to that path from Jerusalem to Emmaus when in the breaking of the bread, two unnamed disciples were told by the Risen Jesus: “Do not fear.”
In this secular, suspicious, balkanized age, maybe the greatest gift that the church has to offer the world today is a life not governed by fear. It takes courage to remember the past, all of the past, so that we can trust that the future is in God’s hands. It takes courage to stare into that future and see not a horrendous, nuclear cloud, but the reconciling handiwork of God’s peace. It takes courage to stare into that future and see a world where tent cities of refugees awaiting asylum are unnecessary, where those afflicted with mental health struggles get the care they need, where prisons are converted into training schools and where legislators fight over how best to end illiteracy and poverty.
It takes courage to stare into the future and see the church not as an antiquated, old relic on life-support, but as a thriving community of worship, a community that sings and prays, baptizes and preaches, hopes and imagines. It takes courage to put fear in its place and to live fully, thankFULLY right now and tomorrow and in every day to come. The wise woman, Anne Lamott, says it this way, “People say you can’t have faith and fear at the same time. But you can. I’m exhibit A. I prefer to think, Courage is fear that has said its prayers.”
Late in the New Testament, a disciple of John writes: “There is no fear in love. Perfect love casts out fear” (I John 4:18). If that is true, then the only true antidote for the “Camelot complex” is to walk boldly into God’s future, dipping our hope in this holy water and stopping often at this table to taste and see that the Lord is good. It is to look back honestly and appreciatively, but most importantly, to look ahead because the Risen One who was born in a manger awaits us and would not have us bound in fear, but set free to live boldly in faith.
It takes courage not to get ensnarled in the “Camelot complex.” It takes courage to look around in faith, not fear, to look to the future in faith, not fear. It takes Courage that has said its prayers.
So, friends, time to pray!