Dorothy Day is a shero of mine! But I will never call her a saint! The tradition of commemorating saints on the day of their death makes today a day for celebrating Dorothy Day! But, Dorothy Day objected, “Don’t call me a saint! I don’t want to be dismissed so easily!”
Dorothy Day died in 1980, at the age of 83. She was one of the greatest religious figures of the century, and one of the most paradoxical. She was a Catholic and she was an anarchist. She condemned poverty and she advocated against it. She founded the Catholic Worker, a loose aggregation of ”houses of hospitality,” communal farms, newspapers and round-table discussions for ”further clarification of thought” — and called her memoirs ”The Long Loneliness.” The movement was wary of authority, yet revered her as its leader.
When she died, a multitude came down to the old dwelling off the Bowery to pay their respects, the way people had come to Catholic Worker houses for soup ever since the Depression. There were Catholic Workers, social workers, migrant workers, the unemployed; addicts, alcoholics, anarchists; Protestants, Jews and agnostics; the devout and the strident and the curious, there to see what a saint looked like.
On this day, I celebrate the life and witness of Dorothy Day a shero, a Christian mystic with all the attributes of a saint!
I didn’t know it at the time, but I actually met John the Baptist when I was fifteen years old. She didn’t look much like you’d imagine John the Baptist would look, but she had that same crazy intensity, that same focus on the fact that we’d better change our ways, we’d better repent, and start doing things differently or we’d be in real serious trouble. Lola was my friend Valerie’s mother and she simply couldn’t stop going on and on about the environment and how we were destroy the earth. At the time, I remember thinking she was a bit of a nut-case and on more than one occasion I wished she’d just shut up about it. I was just a kid, and the earth was just something I took for granted. The earth was just there to provide for our needs. I couldn’t believe how much Lola went on and on about all the stuff we humans were doing to destroy the earth. I just wished she’d leave us along to get on with things, I couldn’t abide her incessant nonsense about how we were going to destroy the planet. All her feeble little attempts to be kind to the earth, made me seriously question her sanity.
I tolerated Lola not just because she was my friend’s mother, but I didn’t really understand her until one day when the three of us were travelling together. We were coming home from church. I had only been going to church for a few months. I was trying hard to understand this whole God thing. So, I went to church a lot. My friend Valerie had persuaded me to start going to church with her and family had become like my second family as they supported me during my first attempts to explore the mysterious world into which I had begun to feel pulled. As we drove home from church, I was feeling a little glum. Try as I might, I couldn’t really understand this church thing; all that singing and praying didn’t really help me to feel closer to God. Mostly I just liked how people at church treated each other. I liked how they went out of their way to help me feel at home. Whether or not God was there, well I really wasn’t sure.
Anyway, we were driving along the road. It was a partly over-cast day on the west coast of British Columbia, just a few clouds. You could see the mountains off in the distance. We were chatting back and forth when all of a sudden Lola pulled the car over to the far side of the road, switched off the engine and got out. Valerie followed her mother out of the car, so I figured I had better do the same. Val and her mother scampered down from the road and onto the beach. When they reached the water’s edge, they stopped and just looked off into the distance. Apart from a tanker-ship making its way across the horizon, I couldn’t see much of anything. Lola had the most amazing expression on her face. She positively glowed with happiness. Valerie wore a similar expression. I must have looked somewhat puzzled because Val smiled at me and said, “Isn’t it the most beautiful thing you have ever seen?” This only confused me more. What were they looking at that had made them stop the car, scamper down the bank and stand there at the water’s edge on a cold autumn evening? Continue reading →
There was a young woman who lived in an apartment, in a very rough neighbourhood. It was the east end of a very large city. Many of the people who lived in this neighbourhood got by on welfare, others earned their living any way they could. The young woman moved into the apartment because it was close to the office where she worked, the rent was cheap and quite frankly she was young and foolish. She ignored all the warnings of her family and friends and moved into the apartment convinced that she could handle anything that came her way.
Her neighbourhood contained the most unsavoury of characters. The office where she worked was just down the street from her apartment and every morning as she walked to work she would meet some of her neighbours returning home from an evening of plying their trade on the streets and in the alleys. Each morning, she would be met at the entrance to her office by an old man named Ed.
Ed had been living on the streets for years. He was very hairy, very dirty, and he tended to rant and rave a lot. Ed was a wild man. He slept on the doorstep of the young woman’s office because it was somewhat protected from the winter weather. Even though Ed made the young woman nervous, she got used to seeing him in her way.
Ed always gave the young woman a warm welcome when she arrived. He knew that when she got inside, she would brew fresh coffee. He used to tease her that, she was a sucker for a sad face as he waited patiently for her to bring him a cup of coffee. They never talked much, though. Ed would just rant and rave about the injustices of the world. The young woman never found out how Ed ended up on the streets. She didn’t know how he spent his days. Continue reading →
Occasionally we replace one of the Sunday Bible readings with a contemporary. On the First Sunday of Advent three years ago (Advent 1A) we used the poem “Amazing Peace” by Maya Angelou. It was first recited at the lighting of the National Christmas Tree in Washington. Since then it has been illustrated by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher. The poem captures the longing for peace that permeates the Advent and Christmas seasons.
This sermon is inspired by the work of the Reverend J. Edwin Bacon Jr. whose retelling of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s radical sermon “Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution” inspires my own musings. Bacon is one of my favourite preachers and it is a privilege to be able to adapt and expand upon his work! Our readings included: “The Star Within” a creation story by Dr. Paula Lehman & Rev. Sarah Griffith, Matthew 1:1-17; and Matthew 24:36-44. Listen to the sermon here
Sometimes it feels like a progressive thief has stolen Advent and Christmas from us! Sometimes being a progressive Christian is about as sad as being a who down in Who-ville; why sometimes I even miss old Santa Claus himself and in my nostalgic haze, I long for a simpler time and faith! How are we supposed to celebrate Advent and look forward to the coming of Christ, when some of the best stories of the season never actually happened they way we’ve been lead to believe? In this sermon (preached on Advent 1A – Dec.1, 2013) the beloved myths of a birth long ago are proclaimed as transformational stories that have the power to open to what lies beyond the words to the Word. Readings: Isaiah 2:1-5, “Amazing Peace” by Maya Angelou, Matthew 24:36-44
I couldn’t believe that this was happening to me. You read and hear about it in the newspapers and on TV, but you never expect it to happen to you. You know that it happens all over the place, but you somehow believe that you are immune to the dangers. You take precautions, you’re not stupid, but you can’t live your life in fear. Then one day, when you least expect it, you find yourself face to face with a nightmare.
The back alley of a downtown street sounds like a risky place to be; a place you should never go alone. But when it’s the alley behind your own apartment building, the alley where you park your car, well you take the risk. Sometimes it made me nervous, sometimes I would rush from my car to the apartment because I thought I heard something in the darkness. But most evenings, I never gave the dangers of city life much thought and then one night, when I wasn’t expecting it, it happened. I was half way across the alley when from behind a parked car, he jumped out at me. He grabbed me by the arm and spun me around. There was no time to think – – pure terror filled my mind. He pushed me up against a wall and for a moment just a moment I thought the unthinkable. Every fiber of my being decided immediately to resist and I managed to shake him off. That’s when he pulled out the knife. It wasn’t much of a knife really, just a tiny penknife, but it had the power to capture all my attention. His hand was trembling. I took my eyes off the knife long enough to see that his whole body was trembling. I took a deep breath and looked him in the eyes. His face was filled with fear. Sweat was dripping down from his forehead. He was breathing with a great deal of difficulty. We stood there in the darkness, staring at one another, both of us breathing heavily.
“Money! Money give me your money!” Never did I ever imagine that these words would cause relief. He wasn’t after me; he was after my money. Then I realized that I had no money. But he didn’t believe me. So, I tried to explain that I never carried cash. I use my bankcard for everything. I could see the panic race across his face. He was in bad shape. He needed money. No doubt he needed a fix. But I had no money on me.
What kind of fool walks around in the city without any cash? I decided that if he was in as bad a condition as he looked, I just might be able to convince him. So, I told him that I had about twenty dollars upstairs in my apartment. I begged him to let me go upstairs and get the money for him. He shook his head in confusion, so I went on. If he just let me go upstairs, I’d get his money and then he could be on his way, there might even be more than twenty dollars. The state he was in made it impossible for him to think straight. Why else would he have agreed? He let go of me. I raced to the apartment. It took several attempts before I could get the key in the door, but finally it opened and I dashed inside and pushed the door shut. I raced up the three flights of stairs and into my own apartment grabbed the phone and began explaining to the 911 operator that my attacker was waiting for me down in the alley. By the time the police arrived, he’d figured things out and was long gone. But they picked him up a few hours later. The next morning when I went into the police station to make a formal statement, an officer explained to me just how lucky I was. Often when an addict doesn’t get what they want, things don’t work out quite so well. The officer explained that I probably wouldn’t have to go to court because they had enough other things they could charge him with and I might as well save myself the trouble. Besides this guy knew where I lived. So, I went home vowing to be more careful, to stay alert. To keep watch. The thief in the night changed the way I lived my life in the city. I became much more careful and to this day, I always make sure to have at least twenty dollars in my purse.Continue reading →
This sermon was preached at Holy Cross Lutheran November 28, 2010, sadly racism continues to live on in ways that threaten so many lives and the question of this sermon seems even more urgent today. The readings included Isaiah 2:1-5, “Amazing Peace” by Maya Angelou, and Matthew 24:36-44, during the sermon I read from the Qur’an Sura 19:1-30 which you can find by following the link in the body of the sermon.
While I was studying for an undergraduate degree in Religious Studies at the University of British Columbia, I worked as a volunteer women’s center. Because I was studying the religions of the world, women who were being persecuted as a result of religious belief were often referred to me.
I’d been working with a young woman who was being abused by her father and brothers because they felt that she was adopting Canadian ways and thereby abandoning Islam. I remember visiting her in the hospital emergency room after her brothers had beaten her nearly to death. She told me that the last thing her brother said to her before tossing her out of the back of a van, was that she should consider herself lucky that they had talked their father into letting them beat her, instead of doing what he had ordered in the first place which was to kill her. I sat at her bedside wondering how a brother could do such a thing to his sister. I decided that they must be religious fanatics and I wondered how any religion could drive a father to seek the death of his own daughter.
The next morning I didn’t feel much like going to my Religious Studies Methodology Seminar. The Seminar was comprised of 7 students from various faith traditions along with 4 atheists and 3 agnostics. Together we studied the various methods of studying religion. We were about to embark on the phenomenological approach to the study of religion. “The Phenomenology of Religion” is a fancy academic way of describing the study of actual religious experiences of the divine. As we stumbled to our seats the professor announced that he would be dividing us into groups of two and he wanted us to learn all that we could about our partner’s religious experience. We would have two weeks to come up with a 1,000 words describing on the phenomenology of our partner’s religious life. I was paired with an Imam who was studying Western approaches to religion prior to taking up a position in a local mosque. Ibrahim was a recent immigrant from Pakistan. But he might as well have been from Mars as far as I was concerned. On that day of all days, Muslim men were not exactly my favorite characters. Continue reading →
The angel of Song said, ‘Do not create Forgetfulness. People will forget the songs of their ancestors.’
The Angel of Stories said, ‘If you create Forgetfulness, man and woman will forget many good stories.’ The Angel of Names said, ‘Forget songs? Forget stories? They will not even remember each other’s names.’
God listened to the complaints of the angels. And God asked the angels what kinds of things they remembered.
At first, the angels remembered what it was like before the world was formed. Then as the angels talked about the time before time existed, they recalled moments when they did not always agree.
One angel yelled at another, ‘I remember when your fiery sword burned the hem of my robe!’
‘And I remember when you knocked me down and tore a hole in my wing,’ screamed another.
As the angels remembered everything that ever happened, their voices grew louder and louder and louder until the heavens thundered.
God said, ‘FORGET IT!’
And there was Forgetfulness.
All at once the angels forgot why they were angry at each other and their voices became angelic again. And God saw that it was good.
God said, “There are some things people will need to forget.’
The angels objected. ‘People will forget what they should remember.’
God said, ‘I will remember all the important things. I will plant the seeds of remembrance in the soul of My people.’
And so it was that over time people forgot many of the songs, stories and names of their ancestors.
But God remembered.”
As we approach the Season of Advent, I can’t help wondering why the creators of the Revised Common Lectionary (the list of prescribed readings for Sunday worship) have failed to remember the stories and names of our foremothers? John the Baptist will strut across the stage again in this Sunday in churches all over the planet. We have begun a new cycle in the RCL in what is know as Year A the lectionary Gospel readings will focus upon readings from the Gospel according to Matthew. But followers of the RCL will not hear the names of Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, or Bathsheba; no, not even Mary will put in an appearance despite the fact that all of these women are mentioned in the very first chapter of the Gospel according to Matthew! Last year was the same even though the RCL focussed upon the Gospel according to Luke, neither of the women of the Luke’s first chapter make an appearance without a great deal of effort. Unless worship planners are prepared to tinker with the lectionary Elizabeth and Mary will have to cede the stage to John the Baptist. So, all you worship planners and preachers out there, I say to you, “TINKER AWAY! TELL THE STORIES!”
As this is the year of Matthew, why not invite onto centre stage those “Shady Ladies” from Matthew Chapter 1: Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba, verses 1-17 make an excellent reading! John Shelby Spong is an excellent resource, you can find a transcript of his excellent sermon here. At Holy Cross we will use Matthew 1:1-17 as our first reading and Matthew 18-24 as our Gospel reading. This will allow us to usher Mary onto centre stage. Then on the Fourth Sunday of Advent we will switch over to the Gospel according to Luke for all three readings: First Reading – Luke 1:26-38, Second Reading – Luke 1:39-45, Gospel Reading – 1:46-59.
I am forever hearing people despair about biblical illiteracy as clergy and church-insiders bemoan the collective forgetfulness of our culture. I suspect that the snippets of readings that we hear year after year may be a factor in the gaps of our collective memory when it comes to the women of the New Testament. Let this Advent be different. Invite the women of the gospels onto the stage. John the Baptist will be happy out there in the wilderness until his feast day in June!
Since 1925, the last Sunday of the church year has been celebrated as Christ the King or Reign of Christ Sunday. This year at Holy Cross we celebrated “Jesus the Christ Sunday” with readings from Galatians 3:26-28 and Luke 23:33-43.
Yesterday, my Auntie died. Barbara was a kind woman. A good woman. A woman who welcomed me into her home even though we met long after the marriage that tied us together as kin had ended. A woman who welcomed me into her home even though she could scarcely afford to take care of herself and her two children. A good woman who chose to be hospitable, kind, and welcoming, when it would have been perfectly acceptable for her to send me on my way.
I was a teenager when I first met my Auntie Barb. I was doing what a lot of young people have done since time began. I left the safety of my home to travel the world. I didn’t have much money, just a back-pack on my back, a few dollars in my pocket and all the confidence of a nine-teen year-old, looking for adventure. Barbara must have been in her late forties when I arrived on her doorstep. Her marriage to my uncle was ending and she was struggling to make ends meet. Her two children, my cousins were just kids twelve and fourteen; demanding all the things that kids have always demanded of their parents. Barbara could barely afford to put their food on the table, and yet when I arrived on her doorstep, Barbara opened her door, invited me in, and took me on as one of her own. Her many kindnesses to me, came from somewhere deep inside of her that said, no matter how tough my own life is, no matter how little I have to give, I choose to give, I choose to be kind, I choose to open my door to welcome, I choose to be hospitable. My Auntie Barbara died yesterday, and the lives that she touched are sorely grieved at her passing, but the world goes on. So, what does it matter that Barbara choose kindness when there were so many other less costly options open to her?
Today, in churches all over the world, Christians are celebrating Christ the King Sunday or in as those churches that try to be more inclusive in their use of language, call it, the Reign of Christ Sunday. It is the last Sunday of the Church year and since 1925, the last Sunday of the church year has been used to declare that Christ Reigns; that despite what the world says, Christ and not the rulers of this world reigns supreme. It is no coincidence that Christ the King Sunday began in 1925, by the decree of Pope Pius the 11th. You see in Italy in 1925, there was a king other than Christ. ll Duce, Benito Mussolini rode the crest of fascism to become the supreme ruler of Italy in 1925, declaring himself the heir to the Roman Empire. Il Duce declared that the fascist state of Italy was born out of the eternal need of the Aryan and Mediterranean races to ensure the purification of their people. Christ the King Sunday was established in defiance of Il Duce. The church chose to insist that Christ and not racism ruled supreme. It wasn’t the first time that the followers of Jesus insisted that something other than fear would rule their lives. From the very beginning the followers of Jesus insisted that Jesus and not Caesar is LORD. The very first creed was as simple and as complicated as that. Jesus is LORD. Jesus rules not Caesar. This simple and yet complicated creed, was enough to get you killed in the first century. And yet, people chose to insist that the ways of Jesus would rule their lives and not the ways of the empire. So swift and harsh was the reaction of the Roman Empire to the rebel claim that Jesus rules, that hundreds and thousands of Jesus followers were crucified for insisting that there was another way to live; a way to live free from fear.
As the followers of Jesus were persecuted for living in the hope that love and not hate offered a better way, it became more and more dangerous to confess that Jesus is LORD, and so the rebels developed ways of recognizing one another that set them apart from those who lived in fear of the powers of the Empire. The Ichthys, the symbol of the fish arose as a way of identifying those who chose love over fear. Ichthys the symbol of the fish was adopted by the early followers of Jesus because the Greek word for fish, ICHTHYS was an acronym for the word fish. The first letters of the Greek words Jesus Christ Saviour of the World, spell the Greek word for fish. The symbol of the Ichthys was simple to draw; it could be traced in the dirt, quietly so the authorities would not notice, the same authorities that insisted that Caesar was the saviour of the world.
Quietly, defiantly, the followers of the way, the way of the one who first called the fishers from Galilee, the rebel Jesus of Nazareth, who dared to suggest that love was more powerful than fear, chose to identify themselves with the symbol of the fish. It wasn’t until 364, when Constantine co-opted Christianity as the religion of the Empire that the Cross usurped the fish as the symbol of Christianity. The adoption of the cross, the instrument of state execution was an act of defiance. The most fearful symbol of Roman oppression was transformed from an instrument of torture into a symbol of torture and death’s inability to kill hope. Where once the Roman Empire had used crucifixion to terrorize the peoples they had conquered, the very people they conquered used the sign of the cross to declare that hatred could not kill love.
The forces of hatred over and over again have used fear to drive out love. Over and over again, people have found ways to resist hatred in spite of their fears. History is littered with stories of leaders who have insisted that the only way to survive is to play to our fear. Fear mongering is nothing new. Fear mongering has often tried to dominate the hearts and minds of people. During the darkest days of the second world war, when the fascist regime of Germany’s Third Riche rose to power they did so, by playing on the fears of the German people. But despite the fearsome methods of the loathsome fascists, there were those who continued to choose not to be ruled by their fears.
There are all sorts of stories of those who resisted insisting that fear would not rule their lives. There is a story of quiet resistance that happened Norway after the Norwegians were defeated by the Nazi’s. In the darkest days of the German occupation some Germans, adopted the symbol of the paper clip, worn in their lapel pockets as a symbol that hatred would be defeated. As powerful and as frightening as those dark days were, there were those who choose not to be ruled by fear. A symbol as innocuous as a paper clip, declared that love and not hate would rule the day.
Once again there are those who seek power by playing to our fears. Symbols that we thought had been banished to the pages of history are being drawn on mosques and synagogues all over the world. Just this past week, in Ottawa and in Toronto Swastikas have declared that we should be afraid and let hatred rule. Once again there are those who choose not to let fear rule. Safety pins are appearing everywhere declaring that despite the best efforts of those who choose fear and hate as their rulers, hatred will not be allowed to rule those who choose love. Something as innocuous as a safety pin has become a symbol of hope as people declare themselves safe places for those who are being oppressed.
The human spirit is an amazing and fragile work of beauty. The human spirit can and is often crushed by fear and hatred. But the human spirit can also be restored and empowered by love. We can choose to live in fear, or we can choose to live in hope. Our fears can feed hatred. Our hopes can feed love.
For those of us who seek to follow the teachings of the one whose love could not be conquered by what at the time appeared to be the most powerful Empire on earth, symbols like the fish, the cross, a paper clip and a safety pin point to a way of being in the world that moves us beyond our fears so that love is empowered. The symbols in and of themselves are nothing really, just signs pointing to something beyond the powers that be, to something capable of giving life to love.
Sometimes the horrors of our history are so overwhelming that we begin to fear that fear itself with conquer us. Sometimes, in the face of the enormity of our fears, all we need is something simple like a sign, or a symbol to point us beyond our fears so that love can triumph over fear and hatred. Sometimes that sign comes in the form of a fish, a cross, a paper clip, or a safety pin, and sometimes that sign comes in the form of an open door, a welcome, a hot meal, a cup of water, a warm embrace, or the presence of a friend or ally. The symbol itself is not much in and of itself; insignificant really in the grand scheme of things, but more powerful than the most potent rulers. When you think about it, Jesus himself is but a sign, a symbol pointing beyond himself to the most potent thing in all of creation, the power of love over fear.
My Auntie died yesterday. Hers was an insignificant death in the grand scheme of things. But the love she embodied is more powerful than death. The love she embodied lives on in all the lives she touched. We can live into our fears or we can live beyond our fear. We can be ruled by those who use fear to rule or we can be ruled by a power greater than all our fears. Choose LOVE and live beyond our fears. Choose LOVE.
Rather than the recent church tradition of celebrating the Reign of Christ/Christ the King Sunday, on the last Sunday of the church year, we at Holy Cross celebrate our complex relationship with Jesus the Christ. readings include the parables of the lost from Luke 15:1-32.
A number of years ago, I’d only been doing this job for a couple of years, immediately after a worship service, I went over to the hospital to visit one of you. I was all decked out in my Sunday best, so I very much looked the part of a pastor. Even though, I still felt more than a little like an impostor. I’ve been at this for over sixteen years now and sometimes I still feel like I have so much to learn before I’ll feel like a real pastor. But it was Sunday and even though the collar around my neck often felt like it might choke the life out of me, it proclaimed to everyone at the hospital that I was there in my professional capacity. I enjoyed a very pleasant visit with one of the seasoned members of this congregation who went out of their way to ensure that we both enjoyed the visit.
As I was leaving the floor a woman beckoned me over to the visitors’ lounge, “Could I please help her.” I sat down beside her and listened to her tale. When you’re wearing a clergy collar people presume all sorts of things about who you are. This distraught young woman presumed that I was a competent professional who could accomplish what she could not. She told me that her father from whom she’d been estranged for many years was dying and needed a priest. They’d called both the Roman Catholic churches in town and none of the priests would be available for a few hours. She was afraid that that might be too late for her father and wondered if I was willing to administer the last rites.
I hesitated. The young woman presumed my hesitation was because I was obviously not a Roman Catholic priest. She asked me, “Protestants do have last rites don’t they?”
I refrained from telling her that since Vatican Two Roman Catholics no longer have last rites. Instead I simply told her what I had been trained to tell her during my scant few months of training as a hospital chaplain. Which was that I’d be happy to spend some time with her father. The young woman persisted, “Can you give my Dad the last rites? Please!”
I nodded and asked her for a few details about her Dad. Armed with only some basic details and the fear that I was in way over my head, we entered the room and the daughter announced to her father that this nice Lutheran priest had come to give him the last rites.
With that, the young woman slipped out of the room and I was left with a man not much older than myself, who looked very much worse the wear.
I introduced myself and explained that none of the local Roman Catholic priests were available for a few hours and that I would be happy to stay with him until one of the priests arrived.
“You’re a priest?” the man in the bed looked unconvinced.
I assured him that I was indeed a priest although in the Lutheran church we call priests pastors. I was babbling. I do that when I’m nervous.
He told me that he’d never met a priest who was a woman. He’d met lots of priests who acted like old women, but never a priest who was actually a woman. He reached out and took my hand, “Can you hear my confession?”Continue reading →
Traditionally the festival of Christ the King or Reign of Christ Sunday. At Holy Cross we celebrate Jesus the Christ Sunday. This sermon explores our complicated relationship with the Jesus we meet upon the cross who shared our human desire to transcend death.
She had no family. She lived alone. For the purposes of this sermon I will call her Sophia. Sophia the Greek word for wisdom. I became her pastor because she knew somebody who used to be a member here and when the doctors told her that she was dying she thought she ought to have a pastor. I was summoned to her bedside. I was afraid. I had been told that she only had a few weeks before the cancer would take her. To be present to a stranger when they are so close to death is a daunting task. No time for gentle hello’s, or warming up to one another, just a long, painful and sometimes awkward good-bye.
I went to Sophia’s bedside every day. Some days, when she was able, the questions just tumbled out of her. She wanted to know what I believed. No pat answers or trite platitudes if you please, just the facts. I liked her no-nonsense approach even though I knew that the meager facts that I possessed might not sustain us on our journey. It didn’t take me long to figure out that she’d spent a great deal of time in the church. Her parents saw to it that she was raised in the church, but a lifetime of tragedy and heartache had lead her far away from the faith she’d grown up with. But as death drew near she longed for the certainty of her youth.
She’d like to believe. It would be nice to think that there would be a place for her, not exactly heaven per se but someplace heavenly, perhaps like Paris in the springtime. She so loved Paris in the springtime, if only heaven were full of cafés, or patisseries where she could while away the hours talking with others who appreciate the finer things of life.
Life, would there be life beyond death? She’d like to believe so.
One morning, I stopped by Eduard’s bakery on Main Street and picked out the most European pastries I could find, then I swung by Starbuck’s and had them grind some fresh beans. As I brewed the coffee in Sophia’s kitchen, the aroma wafted up the stairs and she shouted down and asked me to heat up some milk so that we could have lattes. It was as heavenly a breakfast as we could muster and our conversation took us back to Paris and a springtime before I was born when Sophia was young and beautiful and the men fell at her feet.
Some of her stories actually made me blush. We laughed and laughed and laughed until we cried. After Paris, we travelled to London by way of some excellent fish n’ chips and a few glasses of cider. It was cold and wet in London and Sophia managed to complete her nursing studies even though a certain young man begged her to give up work and come and be his love. Over sausages and beer, we travelled to Hamburg where Sophia fell in love with an orphanage full of refugee children. By the time our conversations took us to India, Sophia was too ill for a curry so we sipped tea as we wept over her stories of poverty and disease.Continue reading →
A few years ago, we at Holy Cross began our quest for the Cosmic Christ on the last Sunday of the Church calendar; traditionally the festival of Christ the King or Reign of Christ Sunday. Our readings: John 1:1-6; Colossians 1:15-20; and Matthew 9:16-17. The sermon was the first in a series of sermons on our Quest for the Cosmic Christ which anticipates the season of Advent’s waiting and hoping for Christ to be born in us.
“No one sews a piece of unshrunken cloth onto an old cloak, because the patch will pull away from the cloak and the tear will get worse. Nor do people put new wine into old wineskins—if they do, the skins will burst, the wine will run out, and the skins will be ruined. No, they put new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.” Matthew 9:16-17
My one and only experience with old wineskins was not a pleasant one. If I’m honest, I have to admit that I’m not exactly sure that the offending wineskins were old when I encountered them. They were however old-fashioned. Indeed, I do believe that if Jesus tried to tell this story in the in this century instead of the first century, he would have cautioned us against putting new wine into old-fashioned wineskins. Few people use old-fashioned wineskins. The only time I’ve ever come across old-fashioned wineskins was about 35 years ago when I myself wasn’t so very old. I was backpacking around Europe on a very tight budget. In order to extend our stay we had to stretch every penny. So, from time to time we camped out. I remember one particular night, after securing our campsite and pitching our tent, we walked back into the nearest village. I don’t remember the name of the village, I only remember that we were somewhere north of Florence, Italy. After a cheap dinner in a local taverna, we were wandering back to our campsite, when one of us, I don’t remember who, decided that we needed some more wine. When you are travelling in Italy on the cheap, some wines are less expensive than bottled water. So, I’m sure my travelling companion was just trying to save us some money, when he came out of the shop and encouraged us all to go in and take advantage of the great deal he had just bought. For not much money he had purchased two wineskins full of what promised to be a charming little vintage. I do love a bargain, so in I went to purchase my first and my last old-fashioned wineskin full of a very decent little chianti. The rest of the way back to our campsite, we speculated over the source of the wineskin, but as to whether sheep, goats, or cattle had given up the ghost for these skins, I’ll never know. I do know that we consumed a great deal of wine over our campfire. Sometime during the early hours of the next morning, most of us ended up down by the riverside, tossing the contents of our own stomach. Later in the afternoon, convinced that we were dying, some of us managed to drag our sorry-selves to a nearby clinic where we discovered that we were not hung-over at all; we were in fact suffering from a type of poisoning. Apparently, if wineskins are not cured properly, bacteria that are normally generated in the stomach of the animal, whether it’s a goat, a sheep, or cattle, morphs into some kind of poison, which can in some cases be fatal. My friends and I got away with about four days of hugging a riverbank in a kind of agony that some would say we deserved for trusting old-fashioned wineskins; something the locals are loath to do.Continue reading →
I usually have the presence of mind to book my vacation or some sort of continuing education event that takes me far away from the pulpit on Reign of Christ Sunday. Formerly known as “Christ the King Sunday” an attempt to move beyond exclusively male imagery for Christ (in whom there is no east nor west, male nor female) some church-folk have attempted to change the name of this festival to Reign of Christ Sunday. But merely changing the title fails to get beyond the struggles I have with this festival of the church year!!!!
Born in an age that was birthing fascist regimes, this particular festival of the church clings to it’s christian imperialist past. Instituted in 1925, by Pope Pius XI, (you can read the full proclamation here) the festival was designed to remind the world that Christ is the King of the World. The irony of proclaiming Christ as “King” when the life of Jesus of Nazareth positively denies “kingliness” seems lost on the church. The appropriateness of asserting Christ over the religions of the world lacks the kind of humility embodied by Jesus of Nazareth. So, this year I am not prepared to celebrate Christ the King or the Reign of Christ Sunday. Instead, we will take a leaf out of Matthew Fox’s book and craft our worship around the theme of the Quest for the Cosmic Christ.
Years ago, long before I ventured to seminary, Matthew Fox’s book Original Blessing opened me to the wonders of Creation Spirituality. So, I eagerly worked my way through his book The Coming of the Cosmic Christ. I confess that my first reading of Fox’s tome left me in the dust of my own lack of understanding of traditional Christology. But even back then, without the benefit of theological training, I sensed something of the MYSTERY that I had always trust Christ to BE. I have returned to Fox’s work many times over the years and over and over again I have discovered a WISDOM that moves me beyond the limitations of the historical Jesus toward a more holistic vision of Christ, which like Fox I believe, has the potential to move us to a more wholistic relationship with Creation. I trust that the WISDOM of the Cosmic Christ will lead us into the Season of Advent so that we can be about the work of birthing the Cosmic Christ.
a season to scatter stones and a season to gather them;
a season for holding close and a season for holding back;
a season to seek and a season to lose;
a season to keep and a season to throw away;
a season to tear and a season to mend;
a season to be silent and a season to speak;
a season to love and a season to hate;
a season for hostilities and a season for peace.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8)
“The birds they sang
at the break of day
I heard them say
Don’t dwell on what
has passed away
or what is yet to be.
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.” (Anthem by Lenard Cohen)
What a season we are in; a time to grieve, a time to weep, a time to harken back through the ages to seasons when our ancestors spoke of rending their garments.
Tearing their clothing, the fabric that protects them from the elements.
Tearing the fabric that adorns their body, the fashion that identifies them, shows the world who and what they are ripped and torn as they throw themselves down to the ground and wail in their grief.
In these past few days, the sound of rending garments has haunted my very being as if the fabric of civility is torn in two and our hopes and dreams as timid as we allow them to be, are ripped asunder.
Wailing and gnashing of teeth can only begin to express our grief.
What we need is the ululation, that long, wavering, high-pitched scream, the kind of howling that has long since got out of fashion in our civil society.
“We asked for signs
the signs were sent:
the birth betrayed
the marriage spent
Yeah the widowhood
of every government —
signs for all to see.”
Our hopes and dreams of a new season had barely begun to surface.
When our own demons tore the curtain asunder to reveal the reality that white supremacy and male supremacy, are not going gently into the great night.
“Ah the wars they will
be fought again
The holy dove
She will be caught again
bought and sold
and bought again
the dove is never free.”
Women grabbed as once again misogyny is worn as a badge of honour.
People of colour taunted with lynching ropes.
Our fragile planet groaning under the pressure of our filth, threatened by the ignorance of powerful deniers who now wield the power of the richest purse.
“Ah the wars they will
be fought again
The holy dove
She will be caught again
bought and sold
and bought again
the dove is never free.”
Conversion therapy is on the books again.
Tired tropes of white supremacy.
Muslim bans, deportation squads, treaties broken, pipelines built, clean coal replacing suspicious solar, as our energies are directed and distracted by promises of taking back and making great again.
“The holy dove is never free.
The wars they will be fought again,”
water-boarding and torture back in vogue again.
Even generals cower before visions of their new commander-in-chief, promises to “bomb the shit out of them” as the generals wonder who are “them.”
Let’s build a wall. Let’s build it high.
Let’s dig a moat. Let’s fill that moat with crocodiles.
Let’s keep them out.
What a season this is.
Only the promise of winter can cheer our hearts, the drifting snow, the promised birth.
Let Jesus come.
Let Christmas mirth distract us here.
But Christians cheer.
They’ve found their saviour.
“Two Corinthians” is their guy.
Pussies be damned we hear them preach.
What a season this is.
I’ve struggled wondering what to say to you this morning; what hope can I offer?
When the message of the one we profess to follow has been used in ways that have convinced 81% of white evangelicals to vote for change such as this?
The majority of Roman Catholics joined in.
33% of the women who voted cast their lot with a misogynist.
75% percent of those who voted profess to be Christian.
The curtain is torn.
Wars and rumors of wars.
“The holy dove
She will be caught again
bought and sold
and bought again
the dove is never free.
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.”
“Here we stand.”
Convinced that we are above it all.
Polite and kind are we.
Have a nice day.
“Here we stand.”
We who have yet to elect a female prime minister or a prime minister of colour.
Our last prime minister called for a burka ban and a barbaric practices hotline and we had already elected him 3 times.
But we’re not them.
No orange tan, just pretty locks of hair and a name that takes us back to simpler days when the just society, and multiculturalism inspired a mania whose child now feeds our arrogant notions of sunny ways.
We’re not them.
Our fingers point to the racist south while First Nations die in a slow creeping genocide.
It’s been a year since McLeans’ announced that our Indigenous peoples are incarcerated at ten times the rate as other Canadians.
But we are not them, despite the fact that our Indigenous peoples are murdered at more than six times the national average.
NO we are not them, even though our Indigenous peoples must survive on 40% less than the average wage in Canada.
We are not them.
139 active drinking water advisories in 94 First Nations communities across the country, more than 1000 missing and murdered indigenous women and girls and to which we say,
“Have a nice day
We are not them.
Even if it is true that by almost every measurable indicator Canada’s indigenous population suffers a worse fate and more hardship than the African American population in the United States.
We are not them.
We are not racist.
“The birds they sang
at the break of day
I heard them say
Don’t dwell on what
has passed away
or what is yet to be.”
There is a season turn turn turn, to every purpose under heaven.
And here we stand, right smack in the middle of a season in which the Gospel and the church are associated with bigotry, racism, misogyny, sexual assault, climate change denial, and persecution of people based on ancient myths interpreted as facts.
Here we stand, an inclusive, progressive, science loving, historically critical, knowledge loving family that continues to struggle with the teachings of Jesus, refusing to take the Bible literally while trying to take it seriously.
Here we stand, convinced that we can do no other.
Opening our arms wide, extending a promise of radical welcome.
“Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.”
Ring the bells that still can ring:
the bells of justice
the bells of hope
the bells of peace
the bells of joy
“Forget your perfect offering.”
The cracks are there for all to see.
The light shines in.
And still we sing.
And still we stand.
Trusting that every tear will be wiped away.
That all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.
LOVE will turn our mourning into dancing.
Here we stand for we can do no other.
Ring the bells that can still ring.
The LOVE that is God is the only hope I have to offer you in this strange season that we are in.
The LOVE that is God is the best hope that we have to give.
The young woman can still remember one particular Remembrance Day when her words and actions did nothing more than offend someone she loved very much. It was the one and only argument she ever had with her Grandmother and it happened over Remembrance Day. At the time, she was living in London. She remembers thinking that Londoners take Remembrance Day very seriously indeed. More so, she thought, than in her native Canada. She wondered if the blitz had something to do with it.
While most of the poppies people wore were red, she began to see white poppies appear on the lapels of more than just a few people. She read in the newspaper that those who were committed to peace and believed that for the most part, Remembrance Day only serves to glorify war were donning white poppies. You could pretty well draw a dividing line between the generations using the colors of poppies as your guide. Young people, who had never experienced war tended to wear white poppies, while those who were older and who had memories of war, tended to wear red poppies. In many homes poppies in and of themselves managed to start wars.
The idealistic young woman was just twenty and her commitment to peace determined her choice. She was wearing a white poppy the day she traveled up to the Midlands to visit her Grandmother. It was the day before Remembrance Day when she arrived on her Grandmother’s doorstep. She’d forgotten all about the white poppy that adorned her lapel. She couldn’t help thinking that there was something odd about the reception she received from Grandmother. It wasn’t exactly what you would call warm. Her Grandmother was upset about something. But the young woman couldn’t quite figure out what, because her Grandmother appeared to be giving her the silent treatment. She just served dinner and listened quietly as the young woman chatted on about her week in London.Continue reading →
You better watch out. You better not pout. You better not cry. You know who is coming to town. Yes, this is the weekend. In cities, towns, and villages all over the place you know who is coming to town. He knows if you’ve been sleeping. He knows if you’re awake. He knows if you’ve been bad or good so be good for goodness sake! I’m not too old to remember a time when I believed in the person you know in Canada as Santa Claus, but when I was a kid in Belfast we called him “Father Christmas”. I remember the excitement I felt about his pending arrival and I remember trying ever so hard to be good. I don’t remember being disappointed when I realized that Father Christmas was a conspiracy of sorts. Somewhere, somehow in my little child’s brain, I sort of transferred all the love, affection, anticipation, and fear that I harbored for Father Christmas over to THE FATHER. FATHER GOD, who I imagined as a grey-bearded old man who lived up there in heaven. We never went to church, but somehow the adults in my life managed to communicate to me that, I’d better watch out, I’d better not cry, cause HE knows if I’ve been bad our good and I’d better be good for goodness sake. I learned to say my prayers, to thank the Father for all the good stuff in my life, and to ask the Father to take care of Mummy & Daddy, Nannie and Granda, Gran, my aunts and uncles and oh yes don’t forget my brother Alan, even if little brothers are annoying, please Father take care of him and maybe make sure that Mummy and Daddy have all the money they need to buy us Christmas presents and if there’s time help us all to live in peace.
My childish notions about HIM, up there, eventually gave way to adolescent wonderings about why HE let bad stuff happen to all the good people, and why people died in accidents, or people got hurt, or sick and died. I remember being particularly preoccupied with thoughts about why bad, evil, nasty people got away with stuff; I mean why didn’t HE just use some of HIS all powerfulness to stop bad things from happening? Eventually, when I found my way into the church, I began to add qualities to the character of the FATHER. Gradually, the FATHER became gentler, kinder, wiser, and more gracious.Continue reading →
In October of 1977, I was twenty years old. I was young and adventurous and with a rail pass in my hand, a back pack slung over my shoulders and several hundred dollars worth of American Express Travellers cheques in my pocket, I boarded a train in Zurich, Switzerland, bound for Athens, Greece.
I was tired. Several months of backpacking in Northern Europe had left me weary. In just five days my rail-pass would expire, so I decided to head for Greece, where the living is easy, where the warm sun, blue skies and equally blue waters held the promise of rest and relaxation.
As the train made its way through the Alps, I remembered a similar trip which I had made the year before and I tried to calculate whether my remaining funds would allow me to return to the village of Hannia on the island of Crete. I knew that in Crete I could find work. I planned to mix a lot of rest and relaxation with just a little work and try to live out the winter on the Mediterranean.
As the train rattled through Austria toward what was then Yugoslavia it began to get dark. I was disappointed that my journey through Yugoslavia would be completed in darkness. I remembered my previous journey, by car, through Yugoslavia and how at the time, I had marvelled at the diversity of this strange little country. I remembered men and women driving oxen as they ploughed their fields in much the same way as there ancestors had done. I also remembered my surprise at entering the ultra modern city of Belgrade; the showcase of Tito’s communist regime. I fell asleep pondering the sharp differences between the lives of the poor people in the villages who appeared to live without any modern conveniences at all and the lives of those who inhabited the city of Belgrade with its towering skyscrapers and streets filled with automobiles. Several centuries seemed to co-exist in Yugoslavia.
I was awakened by the sound of people shuffling to find their papers as the train conductor instructed us to get our passports and visas ready for customs inspection. When the Yugoslavian custom officials, with their rifles over their shoulders boarded our train they were preceded by men guided by vicious looking German shepherds. Even though I knew that I had all the right papers and that my back pack contained nothing more offensive than some dirty laundry, the sight of the dogs, guns and uniformed officials struck fear into my heart. I nervously handed over my precious passport to an official who looked younger than my twenty years. He carefully read over the visa which I had obtained in Zurich the day before; a visa that I could not read because it was written in an unfamiliar language and an unfamiliar alphabet. Continue reading →
All Saints’ Sunday readings: Contemporary reading: “A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of a Course in Miracles” by Marianne Williamson, Gospel: Luke:6:20-31 – extensive quote within the sermon from evolutionary scientist Stephen Jay Gould – the hymn sung before the gospel is “I Am the Dream” words: S. Curtis Tufts, Music: Rick Gunn
All Saints’ Day is a day for remembering. The word saint simply means “holy”. In the New Testament, all those who believe and were baptized were referred to as saints. It wasn’t until round about the third century that the church began using the word saint to refer to those who had been martyred for the faith. Over time these martyred saints were held up for veneration and people used to pray to them to intercede on their behalf. I’m not going to go into all of the institutional abuses that led Martin Luther and the later reformers to abolish the veneration of the saints. Except to say, that while the Reformation put an end to the veneration of the saints in the protestant churches, it did not abolish the concept of sainthood.
Within the mainline protestant denominations, we use the term in much the same way as it was used in the New Testament to describe the faithful. We talk about the communion of saints to describe all the faithful who have gone before us who now rest in God, together with all the living who walk in faith. So today as we celebrate the saints, we give thanks for all the faithful those living and those who have gone before us.
Today, I remember and rejoice as I give thanks and praise to God for the witness of St. Joyce of Belfast. St. Joyce who in her own way taught her children to love God and to pray always. And so today, I give thanks and praise to God for the life and witness of St. Joyce of Belfast, my Mom, who was the first to teach me the Lord’s Prayer, and who puts flesh on Christ’s command that we love our neighbours as we love ourselves.
Today I remember and give thanks for the life and witness of St. John of Wales, whose life in the church as a choir-boy was followed by long years of self-exile and whose keen wit and lack of patience with hypocrisy instilled in me a desire for honesty and integrity in the articulation and living of the faith. I give thanks for St. John, my Dad, whose open heart has stretched his discerning mind and enabled many to see the humour in this God-given life we live.
Today, I remember and rejoice as I give thanks and praise to God for the witness of St. Valerie of Ladner. St. Valerie so loved and feared God that she dared to reach out and invite a wayward soul to come and worship God. St. Valerie sang God’s praise, rejoiced in the communion of saints and helped a young friend find a home in God’s holy church. And so toady, I give thanks and praise to God for the life and witness of St. Valerie, my high school friend, who was the first to invite me to come and worship God.
Today, I remember and rejoice as I give thanks and praise to God for the witness of St. Wilton of Lunenburg. St. Wilton loved God all the days of his life and served God with gladness and distinction. St. Wilton went far beyond his call as pastor, he opened up the scriptures to those who eagerly sought the truth of God’s Word with love and dedication and he went on to inspire a diligence to scholarship that nurtured the faith of so many young people. And so today, I give thanks and praise to God for the life and witness of St. Wilton, my first pastor, who taught me to be uncompromising in my study of the scriptures, and steadfast in my love for God.Continue reading →