“A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number and there became a great nation, mighty and populous.” So, mighty and so populous that some of our ancestors wandered all the way to Northern Ireland. As a child in Belfast a long time ago, longer than I care to remember, so long ago that life was very different than it is now. Life in Belfast during the sixties was simple. We didn’t have much. Life was simple and basic and so many of the things that we take for granted, simply didn’t exist back then. Looking back on it now, I suppose you could say that we were poor. The truth is, we may indeed have been poor but I never knew it. Back then “the troubles” were reigniting in Northern Ireland as protestants and Roman Catholics began to slip back into their old violent ways. Looking back, I realize that the poverty and violence of Belfast in the 1960’s made it a tough place to raise a family. So, it makes sense that my family would leave Belfast as what today we would call refugees, fleeing both economic hardships as well as the threat of violence. But as a child in neither knew nor understood the realities of our migration. Nevertheless, arriving in Canada was just like arriving in the “Promised Land.”
On this Canada Day weekend, I can still vividly remember my first full day in Canada, even though it happened so very long ago. My Mother, my brother, and I arrived at the old Malton Airport. I don’t have any actual memories of walking across the tarmac, but legend has it that it was snowing on what should have been a spring day. I do have memories of my very first car-ride. I can still see the massive 1957 Plymoth. It was the first car my family ever owned and it had these huge fins at the back that were taller than I was at the time. The back seat was positively enormous and riding back there, I was thoroughly convince that my Dad had struck it rich in Canada.
We pulled into the parking lot of the tallest building I had ever seen and Dad announced that we were home. He pointed out a balcony way up on the fourth floor and said that this was our flat.Then we climbed aboard an elevator. I had never been in an elevator before and I was amazed at the skill with which my father took charge of the controls. When the door magically slide open, we walked down a long hallway to arrive at our front door. I can still see the gold numbers on the door, “407”. We must be rich indeed, if we had good on our front door. I could hardly believe my eyes when Dad opened the door. I remember the shiny wood floors, the brand new furniture, and the big TV set.
As we toured the rest of the apartment, I simply couldn’t speak. This new home looked nothing like the homes I was used to. What’s more inside the kitchen stood a sparkling white refrigerator. I had never seen such a thing. All I remember is that this refrigerator had magic powers that allowed us to keep food cold. Visions of ice-cream must have danced through my head. Just imagine the marvelous ability to be able to keep ice-cream in your very own kitchen. No more walking to the corner shop or waiting for the ice-cream man to pass by.Ice-cream right there as cold as you like in your very own home. It blew my tiny little mind!Continue reading →
The raging storms are all around us!The tumultuous winds are raging, churning up the waters and tossing us about in traitorous seas. Our small boats are tossed to and fro as massive waves heave us left and right. The roaring winds create upheavals, which leave us cowering in fear, trembling as we struggle to meet each wave that carries with it the potential to destroy the few planks of wood that have been hewn together to carry us upon the changing sea which holds both the promise of sustenance and the threat of oblivion within the darkness of its depths. With each crash upon the hull our fear raises, and the ferocity of the storms intensify. Frightened, clinging to life as we are tossed from one danger to the next, we cry out into the storm, convinced that only a power more intense, bigger, stronger, massive, beyond our abilities to even imagine can save us from being swamped in our small boats. We know that left to our own devices without the meager security offered by our small boats we will be overcome by the waves and drown in the very sea that we must rely upon to sustain us.
The raging storms are all around us. Racism, poverty, disease, and violence; four winds that howl so ferociously that all we can hear is the sound of people’s fears as we see the very real possibility that the bottom might just fall out of the small craft we have fashioned to navigate the troubled waters that lie ahead. Racism, poverty, disease, and violence; four winds that drive us ever closer to wrecking our small boats hastily designed without thought to the perils which threaten to consume us as the monsters of the deep surface all around us. The weather forecast looks bleak as one storm after another rolls our way and we are so very tired. Tired of the winds of racism, which continue to blow despite our efforts to quell their intensity.
We have seen the power of racism that over and over again rises up in our midst. Some of us have learned to live in the almost silent breezes generated by our fear of the other. We have figured out mechanisms to quell the intensity of racism’s loathsome impact. We built lifeboats to carry us beyond the pain of the hatred that wafts in and around us, blown about by racism’s destructive currents. We know that there aren’t enough lifeboats to save us all so we jettison lives and turn away as others drown. We’ve grown accustomed to systems that allow us to deny their suffering as they flail about, trusting our lifeboats to protect us. Different seas have different others, but the lifeboats are crafted from the same materials. As racist breezes churn up the waters, poverty, disease and violence continue to howl and all the while, we are tossed upon the waves trusting that sleeping in the back of our lifeboat lies a power who if roused will protect us, save us, carry us safely to better shores.
Today, many of us are feeling more than just a little seasick. We thought we’d managed to quell the racism that once again howls in our midst. It’s a beautiful summer morning and we were looking forward to calm waters so that we can relax and breathe deeply in the warmth of our surroundings. But the winds of racism and violence have joined forces and blown the pain of children separated from their parents, lost and along languishing in detention centers, coupled with the knowledge that so many children continue to flee for their lives as wars continue to rage in far too many places. Even the imagining the pain, the fear and the dangers, threatens the stability of our lifeboats. We recognize the power of racism and violence to stir up the waters and so we comfort ourselves with the thought that these destructive winds are blowing in the south as if we here in the north are immune to the dangers that are blowing in the wind. We point to our American cousins as if they alone are the only ones in danger of sinking with their lifeboats weighed down by the presence of a raging orange fool whose tweet-storms causes new phrases to be added to our Orwellian lexicon: “tender age shelters”. Continue reading →
It certainly hasn’t been a great week for the bible! You can’t tune into any kind of media right now without hearing the Attorney General of the United States quoting the bible to support the draconian practices of the US Justice Department. It’s not the first time that evildoers have used biblical quotations to justify the unjustifiable and sadly, it won’t be the last time. On this Pride Sunday, we are all too aware of the age-old practice of weaponizing the Bible. I know that there are many people in the queer community who would like to abandon the bible all together. During times like these, I too struggle with the reality that the bible contains some pretty weird shit. But as annoying as some of the stuff in the Bible is, I know that there is some amazing wisdom that I’m not prepared to give up just because some throw-backs to a bygone era can’t seem to read beyond their own narrow mindedness. The current narrow-mindedness of the abysmal administration of our neighbours to the south serves as a case in point. While the bible does indeed say, that we should obey the law, if you read a little beyond the quote that was bandied about, you will find, just a few lines later that the bible also says, and I quote: “Love your neighbour as yourself. Love never wrongs anyone—hence love is the fulfillment of the Law.”
Like any book, when you isolate a small section of text, and fail to take into consideration the full context from which that isolated section has been drawn, you run the risk of abusing the actual intent of the original authors. The bible is a collection of books, brought together over hundreds of years in order to create an over-arching narrative. Those of us who have found value in the biblical stories, we have a particular responsibility to ensure that evildoers do not get away with abusing people with quotes from the very Bible that seeks to set all people free from false narratives. Sadly, many of us simply don’t know many of the biblical stories that make up the over-arching narratives of freedom, of justice and of peace. This morning, I’d like to draw our attention to an all too often hidden gem of a story that is particularly relevant to us as we celebrate Pride in all that we are created to be.Continue reading →
My granddaughter Audrey is just four years old. A couple of weeks ago, I received a text message from Audrey’s mother Laurel about a conversation over dinner. Said four-year-old Audrey, “Who made the world?” Her mother Laurel responded, “God made the world.” To which Audrey asked, “Who is God?” Audrey’s Dad, Jeff is a lawyer responded with a marvelous answer, “God is an all-powerful spirit who is everywhere. He made everything including you.” My brilliant granddaughter Audrey took her father’s answer in her stride and just like a four-year-old does, she pushed her parents even further by asking, “Who made God?” Jeff and Laurel answered in unison, “You should really talk to Gran.”
While I chuckled with delight at my granddaughter’s ability to stump her parents, I couldn’t help hoping that they might have spared me the prospect of trying to answer the unanswerable question of the ages. Little Audrey’s line of questioning echoes the questions of all the generations that have gone before her. I suspect that her parents swerved her theological challenge to their answers in much the same way as generations of parents have, by passing the question back to the generation that went before them; perhaps hoping that there might be an inkling of an answer that they might have missed along the way. But even though as Audrey’s Gran, I have spent the better part of my adult life dwelling in Audrey’s questions about the nature of reality, when it comes to questions about who made us, and who made God, all I can really do is look back to the wisdom generated by the generations who have gone before me. Just like my granddaughter, each answer that I discover, only generates a deeper more piercing question that leaves me to cope with the MYSTERY that lies at the very heart of reality, that which is beyond every answer, beyond the beyond, and beyond that also. So, this morning as we peer back beyond the beyond, we turn our attention to a story that has been handed down from generation to generation.
Genesis, the very name of this the first book of the Torah, genesis means the beginning. But don’t let the name of this ancient book fool you into believing that it will reveal the answer to age old questions. For we know that Genesis is but the beginning of a multitude of questions. Most of us have heard the answers that have been wrestled from Genesis so many times that we have already formed opinions about the stories in Genesis based on arguments about whether or not the creation stories are literally true. I have little or no interest in such childish arguments, as our friend Dom Crossan insists, it “is not that those ancient people told literal stories and we are now smart enough to take them symbolically, but that they told them symbolically and we are now dumb enough to take them literally.” Let’s just agree that the mythological stories contained in the book of Genesis were told to symbolize the nature of reality.Continue reading →
The gospel reading prescribed for this Sunday (Mark 3:20-35) paints a daunting picture of the perceptions of the people of Jesus’ hometown. The folks who knew Jesus, including his family worried that he might just be “out of his mind.” This is indeed a contrast to the ways in which Jesus is typically portrayed. This is a dangerous Jesus who ran the risk of being perceived as deranged. In his book “The Underground Church: Reclaiming the Subversive Way of Jesus” Robin Meyers captures some of this danger when he points to Mary Oliver’s poem “Maybe” in which Jesus’ “melancholy madness” is seen by his fellows as more dangerous than a storm. Safely ensconced in our imaginations, Jesus is rarely allowed to threaten the status quo to which we cling for dear life. Are we prepared for the stormy waters that would be stirred up should we take Jesus at his word? Maybe…
We have all heard the axiom: “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.” An axiom is a premise or a starting point of reasoning so evident as to be accepted as true without controversy. “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.” or this old chestnut: “You should not mix religion and politics” Failure to adhere to the logic of accepted axioms is unsettling.
A long time ago, when I was but a teenager – back in the by gone days of yore—I remember believing beyond a doubt that all I needed to do in order to be successful in life was to learn. I figured any problem in life could be solved merely by studying the problem, figuring out the possible solutions, eliminating incorrect ideas, reviewing past solutions, anticipating possible outcomes and factoring in the various laws which apply to the subject, and arriving at the correct answer. Studying, the facts in a reasonable way, analyzing the various emotions that might arise, and determining what was best possible outcome for the largest number of people; this rational approach was the key to success in life. I resolved to learn all that I could about how people had done things in the past in order that I might succeed in the future.
It helped that I was a history buff. History and English were my favorite subjects in high school and I excelled in both. Math and science, I struggled with; biology and geography I could manage, but algebra, physics and chemistry just about did me in. But I wanted to go on learning and it was made clear to me that if I could not master high school math and science, I wouldn’t be able to go on to university to study anything. So, I worked hard not to learn math and science but rather to pass all the math and science tests.
It wasn’t easy! Physics was just about the end of me. Not only was I incompetent when it came to learning the lessons of physics, the teacher couldn’t teach his way out of a wet paper bag; and besides he was just about the meanest marker in all the world, so I figured I was doomed. So, you can forgive me if I took a little pride in the fact that I actually got around to going to university as what they call a mature student. I didn’t actually go to university until I was 32 years old. I wasn’t entirely sure that I was going to make it through my first year, because in addition to all the subjects that I was wildly interested in, I was required to take a science class…but that’s another story. I was enrolled in a general arts program, majoring in religions of the world, with a minor in psychology. The subject matter in most of my classes was absolutely fascinating and I even remember being grateful to my high school physics teacher for drumming Newtonian physics into my non-scientific brain. You see little Isaac Newton went a long way in the study of theology. It turns out that when you are studying theodicy which is a fancy word for the reason behind the fact that God appears to let bad things happen and evil prosper; well when it comes to theologians trying to explain why God acts the way God does, there’s a whole branch of theology that figures God out using the rules of Newtonian physics. Although I didn’t learn much science in high school, I certainly did learn Newton’s laws of motion. So, I could understand how Newton’s explanation of how the physical world worked, was applied by theologians to explain why God let bad things happen in the world; even to good people. God wasn’t causing bad things to happen we were, because as everyone knows Newton’s third law of motion is an axiom, which is absolutely true; a fact beyond challenge, and I knew because not only did I memorize it to pass the test, but I actually thought I understood it. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Zippiddy do da! there you have it. When two objects interact, the size of the force on the first object equals the size of the force on the second object.
A little knowledge of Newton and you can solve the problem of evil in theology. The bad stuff isn’t God’s fault. The bad stuff happens to good people, not because God is testing them, or because God is capricious, or because God is powerless to act. Bad stuff happens because people who are not good do bad stuff and their action creates more bad stuff. The theology proof asked us to imagine Newton’s mechanized view of reality, by thinking of a pool table. One ball is bad, very bad, that one ball’s badness hits a good ball with force, and that good ball is compelled to move, hitting another good or bad ball it doesn’t matter, one ball hitting another ball with force, has a ripple effect, the ripple effect isn’t chaos, it’s the nature of reality, the way things were originally created, and what is necessary is for enough good balls to use good force as apposed to bad force in order for justice to prevail.
Now it’s been a while, so I’m making a bit of a hash of this, but I hope you get the idea that I thought I was figuring it all out, wrapping my brain around theology; beginning to understand how a good God can let bad things happen to good people. It was the nature of creation itself that was getting in the way. God could still be considered good even though bad stuff happened, because God was not responsible for the bad stuff, we were with all our bashing about on that pool table. It sounds ridiculous now. But at the time it was like being hit with a blinding light; an epiphany of sorts. God didn’t cause bad things to happen, but because of God’s commitment to our free will God would not intervene, but God’s goodness compelled God to be there with us as the bad forces were hitting us. I even figured out that Jesus was thrown into the mix because all those crashing balls were causing so much pain that God was compelled not to intervene directly but to set an example of goodness in the midst of evil; an example that we could look to and follow, so that with enough good people exerting enough good force we could create an equal and opposite reaction of goodness. It was all slotting into place. Here was a theory about God which used reason and logic to arrive at the goodness of God, while demonstrating the need for Christ, and a way forward out of the pain of bad forces and onto a table where the force of goodness was matched with more goodness. Do onto others as you would have them do onto you. Stop all the bad forces with goodness. Everybody get together try to love one another right now. Love, love, love, all we need is love. Love is all you need.
I was delighted with my new understanding and they way in which the God I was learning about fit so nicely into the Newtonian world view as I understood it. But remember the axiom I began with: A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. One day, during a second-year course in which we were studying the patristic explanations of the cross, we were arguing about the relative merit of a God who would demand human sacrifice when my carefully constructed vision of God was blown sky high. My defense of the goodness of God was challenged by a kid who had more than a little knowledge and whose broader knowledge of science just about robbed me of my sanity as I watched my carefully constructed vision of the goodness of God fall into the abyss. “Sadly,” this kid said, “Sadly your argument for the nature of divinity is constructed on a false premise.”
Try to remember the summer of 69. Pierre Trudeau had only been in office for a year. Richard Nixon was in the White House. The Vietnam was raging. Chappaquiddick and the Manson Murders dominated the news that summer. Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon. The Beatles’ Album Abbey Road was number one. Sesame Street debuted on Public television while the Brady Bunch debuted in prime time to compete with I Dream of Jeanie and Bewitched. In that last beautiful summer of the 60’s, 350,000 young people flocked to a farm in upstate New York for the three-day musical extravaganza that was Woodstock.
My family moved to Vancouver that summer and I turned twelve; too young to be a flower child of the sixties, but old enough to become a fan of the music of the sixties. Not many of us knew about Woodstock while it was happening. But when we found out, many of us wished we’d been there. Over the years millions of people have claimed that they were at Woodstock, despite the fact that the site could barely manage to accommodate the 350,000 thousand who did attend. News didn’t travel so quickly in those days. Woodstock may have captured the imaginations of millions but that was almost a year after the event when record albums began to hit the shelves.
Back then one of my prized possessions was my small transistor radio, which I held up to my ear so that I could listen to all my favorite tunes. The quality of the sound was abysmal. So, if you liked a song you heard you just had to rush out and buy a 45, for less than a dollar. I remember lining up to buy a copy of the number 1 tune that summer: Sugar Sugar by the Archies. But if you really liked a singer or a group, then you would have to save your money so that you could plunk down $5.00 for an LP, shot for Long Playing Album. That summer I spent weeks saving my baby-sitting money, about .25 cents an hour so that I could get my very own copy of The Fifth Dimension’s latest album, The Age of Aquarius. I was dancing and singing, “Let the Sunshine” and dreaming of becoming a teenager. Back then it took a whole year for the music from Woodstock to begin to seep into the culture. And so it was long after the summer of 69, that I got my very own copy of the quintessential album of the Woodstock generation: Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young – Déjà vu. I wore that album out. Our House, is a very, very, fine house! Teach your children well! Helpless, helpless, he…lpless! And then there was the best song on that album. Joni Mitchell may have written the song called Woodstock, but it took Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young to make it timeless.
Well, I came upon a child of God
He was walking along the road
And I asked him, Tell where are you going?
This he told me
Said, I’m going down to Yasgur’s Farm,
Gonna join in a rock and roll band.
Got to get back to the land and set my soul free.
I must have listened to that song a thousand times trying to learn the lyrics, but try as I might a line from the chorus eluded me. I just couldn’t figure out what they were saying. Do you remember the chorus? We are stardust, we are golden, We are ???? what was the next line? We are stardust, we are….something, something, and we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden. We are stardust, we are golden… We are ….billion year old carbon, And we got to get ourselves back to the garden. Well, then can I walk beside you?
When I finally figured out the lyrics, I was no wiser, I was lost…I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what they were on about. But it sounded good!!! So, I kept playing and I kept singing.
Over the years, I’ve hummed and sung along, trusting that we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden. And longing for a simpler time, when I was young and still believed that Adam and Eve had once frolicked blissfully in the pristine garden of Eden, and if we could only recapture the innocence of that garden all would be right with the world. I remember as a teenager, hearing sermons about Adam and Eve’s fall from grace, as the start of it all. Something went terribly wrong; if only Eve hadn’t have listened to that snake and if only Adam hadn’t listened to Eve, then evil wouldn’t have entered creation and we’d all be able to frolic in the garden with God. If only we could get ourselves back to the garden, Jesus would not have to suffer and die for us: “For we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves. We have sinned against God in thought, word and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone. We have not loved God with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbours as ourselves. And so for the sake of your Son , Jesus Christ, have mercy on us. Forgive us, renew us, and lead us, so that we may delight in our will and walk in your ways, to the glory of your holy name. Amen.” Week after week, year after year, Sunday after Sunday, I grew to understand that I along with all of humanity am in bondage to sin and we cannot free ourselves. Because Adam and Eve fell from grace, the stain of that original sin marks me as inherently sinful.Continue reading →