We're into the book of Bamidbar now, which means plenty of stories about kvetching. This week's topic: the food. The Israelites are in the desert on their way to the promised land (they haven't yet been condemned to spend 40 years on this; it's just down the road), and God is sustaining them with manna that they merely have to pick up off of the ground and eat. One rabbinic tradition is that it tasted like whatever the eater wanted it to taste like. But the people complain, saying that the food they had back in Egypt was much better.
Seriously? You have got to be kidding me. They were slaves, ill-treated by their masters. I'm guessing that a day on which they got food at all was already a pretty good day, culinarily speaking. The regular deliveries of manna had to be better than that.
The people were upset -- probably not actually about the food, which might have just been a handy target. Being upset isn't a problem on its own; it's natural. But in expressing their upset they distorted history to make their point. We do this all the time, it seems; when we tell the tales the significant events in our lives were wonderful or terrible but rarely anything in between. Ask people of a certain generation and they will tell you that back in their day they walked to school 20 miles, in the snow, uphill -- both ways. Or sometimes it works in the other direction: the guy who had this job before you was wonderfully competent, unfailingly friendly, always on time -- nothing like you. Of course it's not true, but we do it anyway, just like the Israelites remembering an Egypt they never experienced.
Why do we do this? Ben Franklin famously said that there are only two certainties in life, death and taxes. With all due respect to Mr. Franklin I think there's a third: change. Change is scary; it might be better or it might be worse, and is the chance at "better" worth the risk of "worse"? So we tell ourselves stories to convince ourselves to avoid the risk. Egypt was terrible but predictable; this new, powerful God who drowns armies, forms a pillar of fire, and makes food appear on the ground represents a big and frightening change. But the problem is that change is inevitable; we might be able to resist any particular change, but we won't resist all of them.
By definition, change means we're going to have different experiences. There are times when we need to resist it and times when we need to be open to it. We are best-equipped to do either if we are honest with ourselves about what came before, rather than painting an exaggerated picture.
[I then tied this into some upcoming changes in our congregation that had been discussed in the annual meeting the previous night.]