“You Brood of Vipers!” How Dare You? – Matthew 3:1-13 – Advent Two

You brood of vipers! How Dare you? How dare you continue to Santa-fy the incarnation of Christ? John the Baptist is our annual reminder of that darkness is all around us. Sadly, despite this annual reminder, we are all too willing to glorify this terrifying messenger as we relegate his apocalyptic warnings about the catastrophic events that are happening all around us. Repent! the very word itself means “turn around.” Repent! Turn around! Stop focusing on your efforts to Santa-fy the coming of Christ. Repent and see that John the Baptist’s warnings continue to cry out to us from the wilderness to warn us of the fires that threaten to burn. You brood of vipers! Behold! A prophet cries in the wilderness!  This is what she looks like…

Watch Greta Thunberg’s warning. (see the video above)

Every Advent, John the Baptist’s warnings are served up on a silver platter as we remember the darkness of his wilderness. After John came the ONE in whom the LOVE that is DIVINITY was embodied. Jesus of Nazareth embodied LOVE. In Jesus we can see a new way of being in the world which promises to user in the Reign of LOVE. Not the heart and flowers kind of love, but rather, the LOVE that is the source of reality itself. The kind of LOVE that is capable of changing the world, the LOVE that is willing to sacrifice and to suffer for the all of Creation. The LOVE that is the ONE we call God.

The Reign of LOVE is calling upon each of us to embody LOVE as Jesus embodied LOVE. John the Baptist described the realities of his day accurately, but John was so wrong about what the Reign of God would look like. John envisioned the wrath of God. But the ONE who IS God did not come dressed in wrath to inflict punishment, doom, and destruction. The ONE who IS God came as LOVE.  In Jesus we can see that LOVE – dressed in human flesh, a baby yes, a baby subject to all the perils and dangers of life in the world; but also, as a fully-grown human being. A human being that embodied the LOVE that IS God in ways that offered us a glimpse of a new way of being in the world. Continue reading

PREPARE THE WAY FOR OUR GOD! Become the Prophet Crying FOR the Wilderness! – a sermon preached on the Second Sunday of Advent when John the Baptist Cries

BCsunsetReading over sermons I have preached about John the Baptist crying in the wilderness, I came across this “cry for the wilderness” that I preached six years ago. Sadly, the wilderness has an even greater need today for prophets who are willing to cry out on its behalf! I offer my plaintiff cry here to inspire my colleagues as they prepare to prepare the way on this coming Sunday.

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? 

Maybe my parents were right, these religious types are a little bit weird.  Happy, glowing, smiling people make me nervous. There they stood grinning from ear to ear.  What were they on?  And then, I saw it.  For the first time in my life, I saw it.  It had been there before.  But I had never really seen it before. The sky was amazing.  The colours were overwhelming.  It almost didn’t look real.  It looked like someone must have painted it that way.  It was magnificent, a work of art,  the most beautiful thing I have ever seen!

If you’ve never seen a late October, Pacific Coast Sunset before, you’ve missed one of the great wonders of the world. Neither Emily Carr’s paintings nor picture perfect post cards do a western sunset justice. Believe it or not, even though I had been living on the west coast for about four years, at that point I had never before really noticed just how beautiful a sunset could be.  No one in my experience had ever taken the time to stop and look at one. No one had ever pointed one out to me before.  I would never have dreamed of stopping a car and getting out to watch as the sun put on a show while setting. So I stood there. Overwhelmed by it all.  Amazed at just how beautiful it was. Wondering just who or what could be responsible for such a spectacular thing as this.  Before long my thoughts drifted to the Creator. Suddenly this God, that I had been trying so hard to fathom, was there. Right there.  Not just in the magnificence of the sunset, but right there on the beach.  At that moment, I was just as sure of God’s presence as I was of my own. I remember an overpowering feeling  of gratitude, gratitude for God’s presence, gratitude, because for the first time in all my life I was at home.  I knew that I was home. Home, not because of the place; home not because of the beauty of the sunset, but home because of God’s presence.  That longing that I had always felt; that longing that I have always labelled as homesickness, that over-powering longing was gone.  In that glorious moment, the presence of God, filled my longing and I was at home.

I’m sure that each of you could tell of a similar experience. So many of us have been blessed by the presence of God in creation. So many of us have had our longing for God filled by the wonder and majesty of creation. I suspect that our love of creation comes as a direct result of our relatedness to creation. For like creation and everything in creation we share a common Creator. My own love affair with creation kicked into high gear on the beach gazing at the magnificence of the setting sun and it has grown in intensity over the years. This past summer, Carol and I drove out to Vancouver and I have to say, if you want to renew your love for creation, drive across this magnificent country of ours.

You’ll find yourself absolutely besotted with creation as you fall in love all over again. By the time we reached my beloved Rocky Mountains, it was like some star-crossed lover, who simply couldn’t help herself from bubbling over with excitement. Not even the first rainy day of our trip could dampen my excitement as we drove south from Jasper toward the Columbia Ice fields. I couldn’t wait to gaze upon the grandeur of the glacier that I remembered from so many visits over the years. The rain was falling quite heavily as we pulled into the massive parking lot perfectly situated across from the ice-field. As we climbed the steps toward the viewing station, I couldn’t see much because I’d pulled my hood up over my head to protect me from the rain. When I reached the top and looked across the highway, it took my breath away, the mass of ice that was frozen in my memory, was gone.

I’m not sure if the drops of water falling down my cheeks were raindrops or teardrops, as I stood there frozen by a strange mixture of fear and sadness. In the decades that have passed since I first began to visit the ice-fields back in the 1970’s the ice has been receding at a rate of between 10 and 15 centimeters per decade. 120 centimeters may not seem like a great distance, but couple that with a decrease in the thickness of the ice and it is positively shocking to see the amount of ice that has vanished from view.

jokulsarlon-glacier-lakeTake a look at the iceberg that I asked Andrew to hang. This photograph was taken in a place I visited long ago. It’s a place were icebergs are born. I ended up there back in the days when I was in the travel business and ended up on a cheap Air Iceland flight that was delayed for a week in Reykjavík for a week. Back then Iceland’s airline must have had only two airplanes and when one of them suffered mechanical difficulties you literally had to wait around for them to fix it. It’s one of the reasons that flights were so cheap on Air Iceland.  You simply never knew how long your stopover in Iceland might be. I was trapped there for a week and during that time we decided to explore some of the most amazing geological sites that the earth has to offer. We travelled about 400 kilometers outside of Reykavik to the Jokulsarlon Lagoon; the birthplace of glaciers. It was in this strange lagoon, under an eerie twilight that lasted for the entire duration of my stay in Iceland, that I stud on the hull of a small tourist vessel, staring up at a magnificent glacier. I have no words to describe my terror. Continue reading

Advent Awake! – a sermon for Advent 1A

advent-awakeThis 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 

Perhaps, it’s the deeper and deeper periods of darkness as the nights go longer and longer. Maybe it’s the looming darkness of meaner and meaner politics as we endure the antics of the clown who masquerades as the most powerful man on the planet. Maybe it is the fearful darkness of the lives of half-a-million children trapped in the endless civil war in Syria. Or maybe, just maybe it is just the darkness that descends upon us as we begin to prepare for the most commercial, materialistic season of the year. Whatever the hue of this darkness, sometimes it feels like this is the season for sleepwalking as we stumble from one ritual tradition to another in our routine journey toward Christmas.

Once again the church’s season of Advent invites us to journey into the deepest darkness of our spirituality so that we might light a candle so that all the world might see; see though the darkness, see beyond our fear, beyond the despair, beyond the terror, beyond the mindless consumption, beyond the endless violence, to the hope that lies in the LOVE that we call God. But sometimes all this darkness lulls me into a state in which all I want to do is sleep. All too often, it is as if I am some sort of robotic, zombie, stumbling in my sleep toward the feint albeit unconvincing hope that it will all be worth it in the end. In my sleepwalking stupor I can scarcely even hear the Gospel’s cry to stay awake!  Awake, Awake, and greet the new morn! Keep awake! Wake and watch. Awake, awake, awake, wake-up, wake-up, wake-up. Light a candle against the darkness.

Week after week our Advent celebrations will begin with the lighting of one more candle in the Advent wreath. With each candle, we shine the light of hope, peace, love and joy into the ever-increasing darkness.

Hope, peace, love, and joy these are the dynamics of the enlightenment we little band of sleepwalkers are poked and prodded by the Gospel to offer to our world. Hope, peace, love, and joy, but the overarching value and dynamic represented by the increasing number of candles burning more brightly each week is the dynamic of enlightenment. Light. The ability to see what is going on in our lives. The value of alertness, of watchfulness of consciousness, of awareness.

The physician, Naomi Remen Stone, told Bill Moyers, when he interviewed her about healing and the mind in the early 90s, that all spiritual paths have four steps: show up, pay attention, tell the truth and don’t be attached to the results. Show up. Pay attention. Tell the truth. And don’t be attached to the results.

Jesus, the great healer, emphasized just how important it is for you and me not to sleepwalk through our lives, to wake-up and see exactly what is going on around us. Jesus is not the only religious founder to emphasize the importance of staying awake! The word “Buddha” contrary to popular misunderstanding is not the name of the founder of Buddhism. The word Buddha is a principle not a person. “Buddha” actually means, “awake”. When he was asked if he was a god the founder of Buddhism whose name was Gautama, responded, “No, I am not a God.” “Then what are you?”  he was asked. To which Gautama the man who would become the Buddha answered, “I am awake.” Continue reading

What Needs to Die So that Christ May Be Born In You? a sermon for Advent 1A

window4This 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

Has A Progressive Thief Stolen Advent and Christmas? a sermon for Advent 1A

o come o comeSometimes 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  

theifI 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

Shady Ladies, Forgotten Stories, and Images of God: Casualties of Our Advent Lectionary

In the preface to her beautiful children’s book, “But God Remembered: Stores of Women from Creation to the Promised Land” Jewish writer Sandy Eisenberg Saso tells this revealing story:                                                                                             

“Before God created man and woman, God wanted to create Memory and Forgetfulness. But the angels protested. 

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 (RCL: 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 are about to begin 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 gospel of matthewLadies” 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!

Christ is a Cosmic Event!

She had no family. She lived alone. For the purposes of this sermon I will call her Sophia. Sophia is the Greek word for wisdom and Sophia certainly revealed wisdom to me. I became her pastor in a round-about-way. Sophia knew somebody who used to be a member here and when the doctors told her that she was dying Sophia’s friend thought she ought to have a pastor.  So, I was summoned to Sophia’s bedside. I was new at this pastor stuff and I was afraid.  I had been told that Sophia 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 Sophia had 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 led 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. Sophia 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? Sophia spoke the word “Life?” as if it were a question. Life?: Would there be life beyond death? She’d like to believe so. Continue reading

Reign of Christ Sunday – sermons

I usually struggle with this archaic feast day for nothing about the teachings of Jesus remotely suggests that the title “KING” would have appealed to him. The Church on the other hand, was only too willing to claim the title for their founder. So whether it’s “Christ the King Sunday” or “Reign of Christ Sunday” or “Cosmic Christ Sunday”, to me it is simply the last Sunday of the church year and I can’t wait for Advent.  Here are a few links to some efforts I have made in the past. Enjoy!

Christ is a Cosmic Event!

Ruled By a Power Greater Than Fear

Home in the Love We Call God

Jesus Remember Me When You Come Into Your Kin-dom

Quest for the Cosmic Christ

Preparing to Preach or Not to Preach on Reign of Christ Sunday

Our Temples Lie in Ruins: Luke 21:5-19

“O God we call, O God we call, from deep inside we yearn, from deep inside we yearn, from deep inside we yearn for you.” The first time I sang Linnea Good’s plaintive song, was back in my seminary days back in the late 90’s. It is difficult to believe that I’ve been singing that song in various settings for almost a quarter of a century. A lot has changed since the longing of that tune first matched my own deep longing for God. I have changed, the world has changed, even my own longing has changed. Yes, I still long for God, but the god I long for is so much more than the god of my yesterdays. The intensity of my longing has deepened as the immensity of my own unknowing has been revealed.

The god of my childhood fell away long ago. I stopped longing long ago for the benevolent Father-god. He was replaced with longings for the theological images of a church struggling to survive in the modern world with a more sophisticated and gracious version of a super-hero; a shero if you will. My cravings to see feminine images of the DIVINE have deepened into longings that seem to transcend images altogether as my questions about the nature of the REALITY that lies at the very core of ALL that IS tear at the very fabric of my ability to comprehend the MYSTERY who is the LOVE that for millennia we have called “God.”

O God we call, from deep inside we yearn to capture you in words and images so that we can pin you down, explain you, and contain you in temples we erect to worship you without ever knowing the sheer magnitude of our unknowing. There are days when it feels that all the familiar trappings of what it means to be a person of faith lie in ruins before the onslaught of my questions. Like the communities that generated the writings in the New Testament, I too can see that the Temple lies in ruins. Temples fall, and when they fall the faithful often wander around the ruins longing for better days, when everything seemed so clear.

The community to whom the writer of the Gospel according to Luke wrote his gospel, knew the despair that comes when what you once held dear fails to explain the reality in which you find yourself. Written some ten to twenty years after the Romans destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem, the gospel-writers audience found themselves searching for answers. Who was this Jesus that we believed to be the Messiah, the new King David, sent to save us from our oppressors? Why did he die? Are the rumors that he lives on true? What about those who believe he will return? Who was Jesus, what did he teach, why did God let him die? Who will save us from the Romans? Why did God allow the Temple to be destroyed? Did Jesus know this would happen? What does it mean? How are we supposed to live our lives now? The Romans are killing hundreds and hundreds of us? What happens to our loved ones when they die? What will happen to us when we die? Where is God in all of this? The Temple, everything we knew and held dear lies in ruins. What are we to do? Come back to us Jesus. Come back and save us from all of this.

They’d built their hopes and dreams around the temple and the image of Jesus as the Messiah, their saviour, themselves as the Chosen ones and God as their liberator, vindicator, the rock upon which they could stand. But the Temple lay in ruins…

What happens when the images and idols we choose to worship fail to capture the full meaning of the One we long for? When our Temples fall. When the Church fails. When theologies are too limiting. When answers seem hollow or absurd. When new realities present themselves. When wisdom opens us up to new possibilities. When our questions go unanswered. Temples fall, idols are smashed, and images, ideas and theologies disappoint.

There are days, when it feels like the questions and the mysteries are just too much to bear and I miss that old gentleman up there in the heavens and I’m tempted to just lean into that old time religion and summon up the far-away-god in the sky and have him solve all our woes. And then I remember Jesus.

It’s Jesus that keeps me in what’s left of the church. In Jesus, I’ve met a human being who knew what it was to wander around in the questions; a Jewish rabbi, a teacher, skilled in the art of answering a question with a question. Jesus who cried out for justice and empowered the marginalized. Jesus who embraced his own humanity and lived fully, loved recklessly and gave himself fully to life, it’s Jesus whose ability to be all that he was created be that keeps me in the faith. Jesus who challenged the status quo of the religious authorities and insisted that we and God are ONE. Jesus who put people ahead of the law. Jesus who called and empowered people to resist injustice and yet refused to take up arms even though hundreds and perhaps thousands would have followed him all the way to Rome to fight if he’d only asked them to. Jesus who loved so fully that he refused to back down even though he knew that in all likelihood it would get him killed. Jesus who insisted that heaven is here on earth. Jesus who declared that the reign of God has begun. Jesus who reduced it all down to love, love of God and love of our neighbour as we love ourselves. Jesus who insisted that our minds be part of any relationship. Jesus the rule-breaker and party-goer, the one they called a drunkard and a glutton. Jesus who lived so fully and loved so greatly that in him we can still see the face of God the source of ALL that IS and all that ever shall be living not only in Jesus but in with and through all those who love as extravagantly as Jesus loved. Jesus whose life and witness was so powerful that when he died that horrible crushing death, it was as if the very curtain in the Temple was torn in two and the holy of holies was revealed for what it was, not nearly holy enough to contain the Source of our Being.

The Temple was too small, God was not there. Like the smallness of the temple our images, theologies, doctrines and dogmas, are too small, to contain the ONE who IS the very SOURCE of our being. The religious trappings are just that, trappings, they cannot contain the DIVINE ONE who lies at the heart of reality. Our images and idols have been smashed by our questions, and we can wander around in the ruins as they decay, or we can look for the ONE who lives and breathes in, with, and through us in the faces of those around us; the ONE who lies beyond us in universes that stretch beyond our comprehension. We can let the dead bury the dead, or we can seek the DIVINE One in the LOVE that is God embodied in the hearts and minds of those we love and who love us. Continue reading

“Makarios” – Blessed, Happy, Fortunate, EVOLVED – a sermon for All Saints’ Sunday

Listen to the sermon here

Our Gospel reading has often been called the Beatitudes. It is traditional to read the Beatitudes on All Saints’. Some years we read the eight Beatitudes as they have been passed down to us from the anonymous gospel storyteller known as Matthew, who sets Jesus’ sermon on the mount.  But this year is the year of Luke, so we read this anonymous storyteller’s version of the Beauties which appear in Jesus’ sermon on the Plain.  But whether it’s the sermon on the mount or the sermon on the plain what has been passed down to us is a description of the important characteristics of those who are blessed. There are all sorts of ways to interpret the word “makarios” which was translated into Latin as “beatus” the word for “blessed,” “happy, or “fortunate.” Today, I’d like to offer you another way of interpreting the Greek word “makarios”. “makarios” contains the Greek word “karios” Some of you will recognize the word “karios”,

here in Canada the mainline churches work together within the organization that bears the name “karios”. Karios is the organization through which we work together to achieve justice in Canada and in the world.  The name Karios was chosen because it is one of the Greek words for “time”, a special kind of time, the opportune time, or the supreme moment. Karios is used in the scriptures to mean that time when all is well, when people are making the best use of their time, when there is harmony or peace among people, or peace with God. Karios can also be used to describe the time when it is clear that the Divine has somehow visible right here and right now. Karios is sacred time. “Makarios” is related to Karios because a person who achieved “makarios” was said to be a person who had moved beyond the constraints of time and space. Continue reading

Reformation Sunday Resources

semper reformanda

Preparing for Reformation Sunday? Some of these posts might be useful:

”The Truth Will Set You Free. But First It Will Piss You Off!”

Echoing the Divine Plea: “I Lay Before You Life and Death. Choose Life!”

What if we won’t ever really understand Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection until we understand that God is dead?

Enough with “A Mighty Fortress” Already! Sing a New Song!

95 Theses for the Twenty-first Century

Freedom from What?  All this Reforming is Wearing Me Out!

What Darwin Never Knew

A Reformation Day Nailing to the Internet – John Shelby Spong

A Prayer for Reformation – Thomas Berry

Persistent Woman: Mother Earth – Luke 18:1-8, Genesis 32:22-31

Our worship took a different form as we listened to the cries of Mother Earth using some clips from the documentary Anthropocene: The Human Epoch. Turns out that Mother Earth is a persistent woman which we discovered when we wrestled with the SACRED ONE.  Two reflections instead of a sermon. You can follow along with the bulletin found here

Reflection: Luke 18:1-8

When we expand our image of the DIVINE MYSTERY that we call “God”, God becomes so much more than a far off distant super-hero, waiting around to grant our wishes. Everything is in God and God is in everything. But God is more than the sum of everything. It hurts our brain to imagine the infinite vastness of the MYSTERY and so we create stories to help us to know aspects of the DIVINE.

Jesus told a parable that has become known as the “Parable of the Unjust Judge”. The parable is actually about a “Persistent Woman.” As we listen to the parable I’d like you to imagine this persistent women is the personification of our Mother the Earth and the unjust judge, well that’s you and I, we are the unjust judge.

Reflection:  Genesis 32:22-31

When we expand our image of the DIVINE MYSTERY that we call “God”, God becomes so much more than a far off distant super-hero, waiting around to grant our wishes. Everything is in God and God is in everything. But God is more than the sum of everything. It hurts our brain to imagine the infinite vastness of the MYSTERY and so we create stories to help us to know aspects of the DIVINE.

Some say that Jacob wrestled with an angel; an angel is the word that means a messenger from God. Some say that Jacob wrestled not with an angel, a mere messenger from God, but with God herself. Some say, the Earth is in God and God is in the Earth. Some say, that the Earth is God’s body. Surely, we can all agree that the Earth is sacred.

The sacred Earth is crying out to us. Each one of us must wrestle with this sacred messenger; with the DIVINE ONE of which we are also a part. Wrestling with the sacred is never easy. Not everyone is up to the task. Many will simply roll over in the night, hoping that the sacred messengers, or the DIVINE ONE herself, will simply go away and leave us alone. Some will no doubt find themselves overwhelmed by the messenger, overwhelmed by the immensity of the task of wrestling with such an infinite complexity. Others will resign themselves to their apparent insignificance and accept the paralysis which comes in the darkness.

I’m reminded of a story about Martin Luther who when asked what he would do if word came from an angel, a messenger from God that the world was about to end. Legend has it that Luther insisted that if he was convinced that the world was about to come to an end that he would plant a tree.

Plant a tree. Such defiance, such hope, such faith in the future, gifts such as these are what every wrestler needs so that they may engage the DIVINE.

Wrestling with the sacred will exhaust us, frustrate us, wear us out and maybe even leave us wounded. The reality of this sacred wrestling is that it will forever change us.

May you be blessed in the darkness by Messengers to wrestle with.

May the wounds of the struggle change you in ways you can scarcely begin to imagine.

Like our ancestor Jacob, may you see the face of God and live.

May we all see the DIVINE ONE, in the sacredness of the Earth, and live together in the shalom, the peace that comes when all God’s creatures hobble away from their careless ways of being, forever changed by the blessing of our LOVER, BELOVED, and LOVE HERSELF. Amen.

God in the Guise of a Pleading Widow a Sermon on Luke 18:1-8

Like a Pleading WidowAi Weiwei’s exhibit “According to What? at the Art Gallery of Ontario inspired me to look beyond traditional interpretations of Jesus’ parable of the Pleading Widow to see our role as the unjust judge. The gentle breath of a newborn granddaughter enabled me to hear the DIVINE ONE persistently pleading for justice. Read the sermon manuscript below or Listen to the sermon here:  

I spent time exploring the Ai Weiwei exhibit at the Art Gallery of Ontario. It is a powerfully, disturbing, fascinating and compelling exhibit that I know will stay with me for years to come. Ai Weiwei is, according to the AGO’s description, “an artist with a very new kind of visibility. He has transcended his artwork to become a worldly figure who, for many, symbolizes the assertion of freedom of expression against great odds. Using the fame and recognition garnered by his art, Ai Weiwei has taken on issues that could not be raised publically in China.” The exhibit provides a unique window into a part of the world that continues to remain impenetrable.

Ai Weiwei and I are the same age but it is as if our worlds are light-years apart. I first became aware of his work during the Beijing Olympics in 2008. Ai is responsible for the spectacular design of the Beijing Olympic Stadium that has become known as the Bird’s Nest. With his conception of the Bird’s Nest Ai hoped to represent freedom. He saw the Olympics as a splendid opportunity to demonstrate that China was opening up after decades of seclusion with a dismantling of the barriers erected by successive totalitarian régimes. Sadly, Ai’s dreams were dashed as the stadium was constructed and the Chinese government resorted to old methods to drive the poor from their homes in order to build on Olympic sites.

On the opening day of the Olympics, Ai wrote this about his of his decision to boycott the events: “Today China and the world will meet again. People will see that the planet is now smaller than at any time in history, that mankind should bid farewell to arrogance and indifference, to ignorance and discrimination, and understand that we share the same small piece of land. It will be a time to rediscover each other, to share what is good in life, to look each other in the eye and link all 10 fingers. The colourful festival is a time not just for celebration, but also for peace and friendship. To rediscover our future, we should say goodbye to our past. We must bid farewell to autocracy. Whatever shape it takes, whatever justification it gives, authoritarian government always ends up trampling on equality, denying justice and stealing happiness and laughter from the people.

We should also leave behind discrimination, because it is narrow-minded and ignorant, denies contact and warmth; and corrodes mankind’s belief that we can better ourselves. The only way to avoid misunderstanding, war and bloodshed is to defend freedom of expression and to communicate with sincerity, concern and good intentions.

The “Bird’s Nest” National Stadium, which I helped to conceive, is designed to embody the Olympic spirit of “fair competition”. It tells people that freedom is possible but needs fairness, courage and strength. Following the same principles, I will stay away from the opening ceremony, because I believe the freedom of choice is the basis of fair competition. It is the right I cherish most. If we want it to be, today can be a moment of courage, hope and passion. This day will test our faith in the human race, and our determination to build a better future.”

The Chinese government has not reacted kindly to Ai’s public descent and he has felt the weight of their abuse. He remains under house arrest and was not allowed to travel to Toronto for the opening of his exhibit. It is only, Ai’s world renown as an artist and public dissident that protects him from the ultimate fate of so many Chinese dissidents.  Ai Weiwei’s courage in speaking out against injustice over and over again, has robbed him of his liberty and put his life in grave danger and yet he continues to publically protest the abuses of his overlords. Ai’s testimony, expressed in his art, speaks volumes to the world and even tough his protests fall on what appear to be the deaf ears of a régime that continues to oppress the people of China, one wonders how long these unjust judges will be able to resist his persistent pleas for justice. Continue reading

Wrestling With the Almighty: Locating Our Very Selves in the Sacred Story – a sermon on Genesis 32:3-31

Godbotherers

For those of you preaching on the text from Genesis 32:3-31:

You may not be able to tell from looking at me. But let me assure you that you are looking at someone who used to be a champion wrestler. Believe it or not, my wrestling skills actually helped me rise to the level of a world champion wrestler. Well, perhaps I should qualify that statement. When I was an amateur wrestler, I was a world-class champion wrestler. But like so many athletes, when my status changed from amateur to professional, I lost my championship status and although I still qualify as a professional wrestler, and I like to see myself as a champion, I’m no longer what you would call world-class.

Like many professional wrestlers my career began when I was but a child. Growing up I had a very clear advantage as I developed my wrestling skills. You see having a brother who was just 18 months younger than me meant that I had ample opportunities to hone my wrestling skills. My brother and I were always at it. I’ve got to say that even though we shared the same weight class for most of our childhood, when it came to world class wrestling holds, I had him beat. I had this wicked arm-hold sleeper, and that together with my full Nelson followed by a knee-arm press, was guaranteed to have my brother screaming uncle and agreeing to be my obedient servant until in no time at all. For years I reigned as the champion of our little world! I was unbeatable. My brother didn’t stand a chance. My reign as world champion would have continued if it weren’t for the abrupt ending of my amateur status.

One morning when I was about 13 and my brother was 9 and a half, we were going at it,  and to his credit my bother had me in an ingenious hold. Somehow, he’d managed to secure me with what we professional wrestlers call an arm bar. That’s where you’re opponent wrenches your arm behind your back and applies just enough pressure to cause pain, but not enough to break anything. But just when Alan was approaching the point of no return, I managed with a feat of superhuman strength to rise up, twist around and swing for all I was worth and connect with what I though must be my brothers chest. I expected that such a thrust would have released my arm from Alan’s iron grip. But he still had me. I was about to hit him again, when for no apparent reason Alan released me from his grip. In an instant I wiggled free, spun around and connected with what I figured would be a fatal blow. Just before my blow connected with it’s victim, I realized that I was doomed.

Continue reading

Whose Persistence? Preparing to Preach on the Parable of the Pleading Widow

pleading widowLooking back on a sermon I preached twelve years ago on this week’s readings from Genesis 32:22-31 and Luke 18:1-8, I am struck by how much my own images of the DIVINE ONE we call “God” have changed and yet remain oddly similar. The intervening years have afforded me the opportunities to begin to leave behind notions of an anthropomorphic God who intervenes in our lives. As I have embraced the writings of progressive and evolutionary theologians, I have struggled to understand and articulate DIVINITY’s nature from the perspective of panentheism (everything is in God). There are those who suggest that this is a departure from the Christian tradition. Yet looking back, I am beginning to see this movement as a natural progression of the tradition. Indeed, so much of what I have always loved about Lutheran theology has freed me to explore this path. So, I offer this old sermon as a snapshot of my own pathway toward new visions of the Divine. I trust that my early efforts to move beyond the notion of God as the “unjust judge” will move some to begin to see God in, with, and through all those who persistently plead for justice. 

What little I know about the art of wrestling I learned from my brother Alan. He and I are just eighteen months apart in age and together we participated in many a wrestling match. All too often one or the other of us would be bothering the other and before we knew it we were rolling around on the floor wrestling. I’ll have you know that up until the age of about twelve I was quite a good wrestler. Up to that point I usually managed to hold my brother to the ground and with my knees firmly pinning his arms I would be able to get my brother to agree to my point of view. But my brother’s adolescent growth spurt put an end to my winning streak. Just as soon as my brother was big enough to pin me to the ground I decided to stop bothering him. Bothering my brother became dangerous and I had to give it up in order to save my dignity. Continue reading

Gratitude for the Great Fullness of Life Is Only the Beginning – Thanksgiving

A couple of years ago, I began experiencing chest pains, nausea, and cold sweats. As these are signs of a heart-attack, I went up to the local walk-in clinic and soon there-after I found myself sitting in the emergency room. The doctors and nurses were convinced that I was in the midst of what they now refer to as a “heart event”. While awaiting some further tests, my mind raced to all the worst possible scenarios that I could imagine. Fear was my over-riding emotion. Fear that my heart was failing. Fear that decades of not putting my health first was catching up with me. Fear of what my future might hold. Fear of impending medical procedures. Fear of not being able to work, to pay our bills, especially our mortgage. Fear of turning into some sort of invalid. Fear that my future was being taken out of my control. Fear that I was getting old long before I expected to.

There is nothing like an emergency room to strike fear into your heart, especially when the pain that drove you there is throbbing in your chest. So, by the time I’d spent several hours enduring various tests, I thought I was ready for anything. That is until a young doctor who looked like he was about twelve years old walked into my cubicle. A part of me wanted to ask this child-doctor to go find a grown-up doctor, because this was serious business and I wanted to talk to an adult. Fortunately, I managed to suppress my ageism.  You cannot even begin to imagine my delight when the child-doctor pronounced his diagnosis. Gallbladder. No heart-attack. A severe gallbladder attack. These kinds of attacks are quite common in people who have recently managed to lose weight.  My reward for loosing 50 pounds was an afternoon in the emergency room.

I couldn’t believe my luck. I begin thanking everyone and everything for my extremely good fortune. Thanks be to God. Thanks be to medical science. Thanks be to my heart. Thanks be to the child-doctor! Thanks be for the opportunity to do better in the future. Thanks be for a future! I wept with joy! A gallbladder attack is a wonderful thing. A gallbladder attack is not a heart attack. I could go home. I could go back to work. I could pay the mortgage.

All my worst fears were gone. I would take this as a warning to never ever take anything for granted. When I went outside, everything looked so beautiful. It was as if I had awakened from a nightmare. I was so very grateful that I promised myself never again to take my health for granted, never again to take life for granted, never again to forget what a precious gift life is. From now on, I was going to pay attention to the wonders of this amazing gift of life. Continue reading

Faith: A little dab’ll do ya! – Luke 17:5-10 – World Communion Sunday

Today all over the world, churches of all sorts of denominations will gather to celebrate communion. World Communion Sunday is an opportunity to embrace the embodiment of the infinite variety that exists in within the communities of our fellow Followers of the Way.  Today, we uphold the reality that no matter how communion is celebrated we Followers of the Way are all companions. For to be a companion is to literally share bread together. The word companion is made up of two Latin words, “com which means “with or together” and “panis” which means “bread”. To break bread together is to be a companion.

Humans began engaging in the sacred act of breaking bread together generations before Jesus embraced the sacred act of sharing a meal together to strengthen the bonds of companionship among his followers.

How many of you remember the very first time you participated in the companionship of communion? I suspect that for many of us are of an age where we can remember when are communion practices were less inclusive than they are today.  For several generations many mainline denominations tried to limit communion to those who had been “properly” instructed in the “meaning” of communion. In Lutheran churches children often had to wait until after they were Confirmed in order to be welcomed at the table. Back then, Communion wasn’t so much celebrated as it was endured as a sort of ritual reward for penance. Fortunately, we have come a long way from the somber communion rites of the past. But, I suspect that many of us still carry the residue of less than life-affirming theologies that taught us to view Communion as a sort of ritual that needs to be endured as a way to remember a “blood sacrifice”, a kind of quid pro quo for our sinfulness.

I can still remember my very first communion. It was, for all sorts of reasons, a life changing experience. Fortunately, for me my first Communion was free from the trappings of penitence. There was little or no thought of a blood sacrifice for sin. You see, my first Communion happened by way of what some would call an oversite or an accident, but I think of as a grace-filled DIVINE blessing.

As I’ve told you before, I did not grow up in the Church. My family’s experiences in Belfast had shown us the worst that the Church can offer and so, my brother and I were never encouraged to go anywhere near a Church of any kind. We were baptized as infants as a kind of insurance policy and I never darkened the doorway of a church until I was fifteen years old. I was an incredibly lonely teenager. I had spent my childhood moving from place to place, country to country, school to school; always on the move. I learned very early not to make friends with people because if you make friends it is so much more painful when you have to move away.

Longing and loneliness were predominant emotions that characterized the deep homesickness of my younger self.  Looking back to my younger self, I can see a little girl who was homesick for a home she never really knew because when you move about as much as we did, no place ever feels like home. Eventually all you can feel is this deep longing for something you cannot quite name. So, one day, at the tender age of fifteen, a new acquaintance that I was tempted to turn into a friendship, invited me to come to church with her. Continue reading

You Are More Powerful Than You Think – Cosmos Sunday – Psalm 139

In our ongoing celebration of the Season of Creation, today we shift our focus to the Cosmos. Usually, the word “cosmos” conjures up starry images of far distant constellations. Staring out into space can make us feel small and insignificant. But on this Cosmos Sunday, I’d like us to move us from our usual perspective of the cosmos. Perspective is a powerful tool, especially when we contemplate our place in the cosmos. You see the word “cosmos” refers to the entire universe, every dimension of time and space, spiritual and material. The cosmos includes the glittering galaxies that are so distant that we must peer at them through sophisticated giant telescopes as well as the deep domains within each minute molecule which we can only peer at through the lenses of sophisticated giant microscopes.

In addition to the material dimension of universes, the cosmos also includes the dimensions of time, our imaginations and of the spirit. Take a cube of sugar for example. Scientists tell us that you could fit the entire human race into the volume of single sugar cube; that’s right all 7 billion of us in a single tiny sugar cube. Something about the emptiness of matter that is beyond my intellectual ability to comprehend.

The cosmos is both infinitely large and infinity small. None of our telescopes and none of our microscopes can actually capture the vastness of the infinitely large nor the infinitely small, we must rely on our imaginations for this perspective on the cosmos. Staring out in the night sky can make you feel very small. Looking around the Earth, which is in and of itself a small planet can make you feel small and insignificant. But as the psalmist insists, you are fearfully and wonderfully made. The Hebrew word that is translated as fearfully can also be translated as awesome. Your very being is so very wonderful that it inspires awe. Awe and wonder are the very first religious impulses. Congratulations, for you are awesome, tremendous, wonderful. And yet, so often we can only see ourselves as small in relation to the cosmos; small and insignificant, small and powerless.

I remember, once long ago, when I was feeling so very small, insignificant and powerless. I was only ten years old. My Grandfather had a way of belittling people that was crushing. Granda had been taunting me over something I had said. The adults had been talking about war in the Middle East. The year was 1967, the year of the Six-Day War. I was just ten and didn’t understand the details of what was happening. But I did understand the drills we went through at school. Those of you of a certain age may remember hiding under your desk as we practiced what we would need to do in the event of a nuclear attack. Somehow our wooden desks were supposed to offer us some sort of protection. It was madness. A kind of madness that all of us, even the adults in the room all bought into. Continue reading

Entertaining Angels: Hebrews 13:1-3

Hebrews 13Readings:  Luke 14:1,7-14; Mechthild of Magdeburg’s “The Flowing Light of the Godhead”; Hebrews 13:1-3

Listen to the sermon here:

I am often reminded of the fact that one of the most basic parts of my job of being a pastor is pointing out the sacred. Most of what I do revolves around noticing when we are in the presence of the HOLY, the MYSTERY, the ONE who is so much more that we are, the LOVE that lies at the heart of all that IS. My job is to point to the sacred ONENESS, the LOVE that many call GOD and say “there,” or “here,” or “now,” “don’t miss IT.” All too often we find ourselves in the company of angels, messengers of the LOVE that IS God, and we don’t even notice it.
For the most part we humans can’t quite grasp the magnitude of the MYSTERY that lies at the very heart of reality and so we do what humans always do: we personify this ONEness, or we use symbols and metaphors to indicate the presence of the sacred in our midst, and we tell stories. Stories that include burning bushes, ladders into the sacred realm, shepherds, lost coins, all sorts of symbols and metaphors that point to the ONE who IS. We have told some of those stories so often that the REALITY of the MYSTERY that these stories were created to bring down to earth, seems ever so distant and far away, lost in the mists of time. The REALITY that so many call God has been cast out there far away beyond our reach. So, week after week, I try to bring the stories, symbols and metaphors a little closer to the world that we inhabit so that you might be able to see in your own stories the angels that you have entertained without even knowing it. 
In October of 1977, when I was twenty years old. I was young and adventurous. 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 back-packing 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 Chania on the island of Crete. I knew that on Crete I could find work. So, 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, towards what was then called 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 their ancestors had done. I also remembered my surprise at entering the ultra modern city of Belgrade; the showcase of what was then 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 sky-scrapers and streets filled with automobiles. Several centuries seemed to co-exist in Yugoslavia.
I was awakened from my dreams 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.The young man handed my passport over to an older official and before I knew what was happening, I was being escorted off the train. I was shaking so badly that the young men on either side of me had to hold me up. I am not sure that my feet even touched the ground. After a long lonely wait in a drab windowless room, a woman entered. In broken English she told me that my visa was not in order. I gathered from what she was trying unsuccessfully to explain to me, that my passport contained the visa from my previous visit to Yugoslavia, but was missing an official exit stamp. She demanded to know why there was no exit stamp in my passport. Needless to say, I could not explain. I told her that I had only spent a little over a week in Yugoslavia the year before and then gone on to Greece. I told her that I didn’t know that an exit stamp was necessary and that I couldn’t understand why the Yugoslavian consulate would have issued my current visa if my paper work was not in order. She kept insisting that I needed an exit stamp. After several fruitless attempts to try and get her to tell me what I was supposed to do, I found myself in a small room. Its only window was reinforced with bars.
In the darkness of a Yugoslavian holding cell, I sat down and I began to cry. I cried like I have never cried before or since. I was terrified and my sobbing was uncontrollable. After a while I became conscious of a sound that did not come from me. “Susssssssssh.”
I realized that I was not alone in the darkness. Someone else was in the room with me. In the shadows, I could make out the shape of a woman. My sobbing began to subside as she continued, “Shussssssh.” The woman began to pace back and forth in our tiny room and gradually her shusssh turned into humming. She hummed unfamiliar tunes that somehow managed to calm me. Occasionally her humming would turn to singing. She sang softly and quietly and my sobbing began to ease.
In the shadows I could not tell how old she was. Her hair was long, dark and curly. She wore a plain cotton dress, ankle socks and a beaten up pair of shoes, whose laces flapped back and forth as she paced. It took only a few hours for my travelling companion to contact the British Embassy, sort out the mess and secure my freedom. The sunlight was just beginning to find its way into our room when my captor arrived to release me. As I left, I took a close look at my roommate. I smiled, hoping that she would understand my smile as gratitude for her kindness. Her tender sounds had calmed me and helped me through one of the darkest nights of my life. She returned my smile and added a wave of her own. Then the guard roughly escorted me out into the bright lights of the customs house.
Before I boarded a train that would take me safely out of Yugoslavia, I thought that perhaps I should try to help my roommate. Maybe I should try to find out why she was being detained. Perhaps I should try to help her get out. But this was not a place that welcomed questions and the warm sun of Greece beckoned me. And so, I boarded the train and I left. My few hours of captivity – I chalked up to just one more adventure on the road and I rarely thought of my room-mate again. Continue reading