Who Could Blame Us for Longing to Go Home to Life Before COVID? Rev.21:1-5a

This is not the Homecoming Sunday we were hoping for. This is not the home we had hoped to be worshipping in this morning. We had high hopes that once we were all able to be vaccinated, that we could return to worshipping together, in person, in our sanctuary. But once again the numbers are going in the wrong direction and many of us are dreading what might happen now that schools have opened once again. So, out of an abundance of caution we are not returning to the home that our sanctuary was for us. The home of our longing continues to allude us, so how can we call this Homecoming Sunday?

Longing for a home that I cannot return to is a familiar feeling for me. For I have spent a great deal of my life longing for a home I could never return to. To say that my family moved around a lot when I was a kid would be a massive understatement. Sometimes it felt that every time I became comfortable enough to think of a place as home, we were on the move again. Moving from house to house, country to country, school to school, classroom to classroom, left me longing for what was once home. I was always the new kid in school. Being the new kid in unfamiliar surroundings is not a pleasant experience. The stress of new surroundings and unfamiliar ways, not to mention strangers to get to know, could be unbearable at times.

The stress played itself out in the form of a recurring nightmare which continues to show up as we navigate the ups and downs of these strange pandemic challenges. The nightmare is always the same. I’m breathless from running away from some frightening experience. I arrive at what I believe to be the front door of my home. The door is the only thing which ever changes in my nightmare. Sometimes its blue, sometimes its red, sometimes its green. Recently it was a mostly glass door, similar to the one in the front of our church. Somehow, in my dream I always know that beyond the door I will find relief from the pressures of the newness in which I find myself. Beyond the door, no matter what the colour, beyond the door I will be safe.

Now rowing up we were latch-key kids. For those of you too young or too privileged to remember, latch-key kids, we were the children of families where both parents worked. So, we fended for ourselves when we got home from school. So, that we wouldn’t lose them, we carried the keys to our home on chains around our necks. In my stress induced nightmares, I arrive breathless at my new front door, take the key from around my neck, so that I can let myself into the safety of my home, only to discover that the key never fits into the lock because the key which I carry is always the key to the last house that I lived in. Unable to enter my new home, I awake filled with anxiety. The best word to describe this anxiety is homesickness; a longing for home, for familiarity, a longing for what was.

This nightmare has become all too real as so many of the places and events in which we once felt at home have changed so very much. The unfamiliar contours of our new reality seem to be relentless. Who could possibly blame us for longing to go home to life before COVID? During these past eighteen months it has been one change after another. So much has been lost. So many connections have been severed. Too many people have died. Institutions have fallen. Business have closed. Relationships have suffered. Some churches have not survived. And maybe worst of all, grief has been suspended until someday when we can all grieve together in-person. Here we stand outside the door of a whole new world, longing to return to what was.

We are not the first to stand in the precipice between the kind of world where we felt at home and a new world of unfamiliar challenges. I am reminded of a writer who also worked out their anxiety about the future. We don’t know his or her name, but tradition has named this writer John the Elder, or John the Divine, or John the Theologian. I like to call him, “Johnny” to differentiate him from Jesus’ beloved friend John. Johnny was a follower of Jesus’ Way of being, who wrote the Book of Revelation at the very end of the first century. Some 70 years after the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth, and about 30 years after the Romans had destroyed the Temple of Jerusalem and reduced the city of Jerusalem to ruble. We don’t know how Johnny ended up on the Island of Patmos, which is between Greece and Turkey. We do know that life for the Followers of the Way was fraught with dangers the likes of which makes COVID seem like a picnic. Surrounded by enemies, Johnny tended to write in code, to protect his meaning from all but fellow Followers of the Way. Sadly, Johnny’s cryptic code style has led to all sorts of abuses of the text of Revelation over the centuries. Not the least of which is the misunderstanding perpetuated by fundamentalists who insist on reading the Book of Revelation as a prediction of the end of the world. Martin Luther was not fond of the Book of Revelation and seriously considered leaving it out of his translation of the Bible. In the end, Luther opted to put the Book at the end of his version of the Bible, where it remains to this day.

Revelation can be best understood not as a prediction of the future, but as a description of the end of one world and the beginning of another. Johnny was writing to an endangered, marginalized people in hiding, whose world had been turned upside down by their oppressors. Revelation invites people out of the world they know and into a new world. Listen to the way Johnny invites his fellow followers of the Way move into the new world by describing his dream.  

John the Elder writes: “Then I saw new heavens and a new Earth. The former heavens and the former Earth had passed away, and the sea existed no longer. I also saw a new Jerusalem, the holy city, coming down out of heaven from God, Beautiful as two lovers on their wedding day. And I heard a loud voice calling from the throne, “Look! God’s Temple is among humankind!” God will live with them; they will be God’s people, and God will be fully present among them. The MOST HIGH will wipe away every tear from their eyes. And death, mourning, crying and pain will be now more, for the old order had fallen.” The ONE who sat on the throne said, “Look! I AM making everything new!” (Rev.21:1-5a)

On this Homecoming Sunday, I suspect that many of us, myself included, are not quite ready for the new world that awaits us. We are longing for the familiar of what was. Some of us are prepared to burst into the new world which awaits us determined to reestablish what once was; to set things up the way they were, to get back to what we fondly refer to as “normal”. Others of us are tempted to hunker down, and wait until it is safe, so that we can go back to our old ways of doing and being, once the all-clear is sounded. If you are anything like me, you’re teetering on the edge, not knowing exactly what to expect, and anxious about what lies beyond our longings for the familiarity of home. I feel like the latch-key kid I once was, I’m homesick for what was and anxious about what is to come. I just want to go home. I want to go home and I’m not sure that any of the old keys hanging around our necks can get us there.

A long time ago, I told a very wise friend of mine about my recurring nightmare. My friend Henry is a very wise Jewish Rabbi, who is also a licensed psychotherapist. So, he knows more than a thing or two about dreams and anxiety. After asking me a few questions about my recurring nightmare, Henry suggested that I try summoning up my nightmare as a daymare. Now, I’d never heard of a daymare, so it took a while for Henry to convince me that I should try to walk around inside my nightmare in the middle of the day to see what I might discover. I agreed on the condition that Henry would come with me into my daymare.

We began by talking a little about the various anxieties which were creating my stress. It didn’t take long for us to arrive at a very large formidable, black door. I reached for the key which hung around my neck and just like always the key didn’t fit. Henry invited me to toss the key away. He insisted that the key I was clinging to belonged to my old home and it was not the key which I needed. I protested that I was so homesick that maybe I should just try to find the door which my old key fit into. Maybe if I found the right door, I’d finally be able to go home. Henry asked me, “Where are you when you have your nightmare?” At first, I didn’t understand, “I’m running away.” “No,” Henry insisted, “not what is happening in your nightmare. But where are you actually dreaming your nightmare? Where are you?” I still didn’t understand. So, Henry gave me the answer, “You are at home in your own bed. You are already home. You are already safe.” Then Henry told me to go to the window and look outside and he asked, “What can you see?” I saw people, some unfamiliar, some familiar, some old friends, some new friends, some strangers, all of them changed somehow from how I remembered them. I saw familiar places, unfamiliar places, all of them changed somehow from how I remembered them. I saw all sorts of things, places, and people I’d never seen before. Henry told me to come away from the window, in my dream. “Look at the door. You don’t need that old key to get into your home.  You are already inside. Inside your new home. Open the door, open the door and go outside.”

That other dreamer, Johnny, he understood, the voice he heard in his dream, said it loud and clear: “Look! God’s Temple is among humankind! God will live with them; they will be God’s people, and God will be fully present among them. The MOST HIGH will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

The old keys we’re clinging too, we don’t need them anymore. We’re safe, in our HOME, which is the ONE in, whom, we, live and move and have our being. There’s a whole world out there, full of people who have been forever changed, full of new and unfamiliar ways of being. One thing remains the same, whether we are worshipping online, or gathering in parking lots, vaccinated, wearing masks, in-person or mediated over technology, we are already home because we’ve always been home.

Our old keys may not fit the locks. But the ONE who is our HOME, is making all things new. Look around, look out the window, open the door. Welcome HOME! HOME to the ONE in whom we live and move and have our being! Our LOVER, BELOVED, and LOVE Itself – HOME!  Amen.

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Catching Glimpses of YAHWEH’ Backside – Exodus 33

A while back, I traveled up to Owen Sound for the funeral of a young colleague who died in a tragic motorcycle accident. During the two-and-a-half hour drive I couldn’t help wondering what life is all about. The stunning reality of the death of someone so young reminds us just how very fragile life is. 

As I drove north, the weather began to turn. So, by the time I reached Blue Mountain the wind was really howling. Driving along the shore of Lake Huron I could see waves rising. I’d been driving for over an hour, so I decided to pull over and take a walk before the rain began. Staring out over Nottawasaga Bay toward the vast grey horizon, I felt very small and insignificant. My mind wandered as my face was pelted by the sand which was kicked up by the wind. The sensation of the sand hitting my face awaked me to the reality that we are dust and to dust we shall return. As my mind wandered, I caught sight of a small tuft of tall grass bent over by the force of the wind. The long grass embodied my feeling of fragility as it was laid almost parallel to the beach by the strength of the wind pummelling it with sand. I thought about the RUACH, the WIND, the BREATH, the SPIRIT of DIVINITY, the power and the majesty of the RUACH as it blows where it wills.

Pelted by the wind, the sand, and the reality of death, the fragility of my own being struck me to my core as a deep, loud, “No!” rose up from my inner being. It was as much a plea to the RUACH as it was a staunch denial of the reality of fragility of life. “NO!” I shouted into the horizon. But the RUACH, the wind and the sand threw my “NO” back in my face as my tears mixed with the rain which began to fall. The wind must have changed direction because when I looked back at the tuft of fragile grass it was standing tall even as the rain’s intensity increased. I took a long, deep, intake of breath. It was as if the very RUACH of DIVINITY entered my being. I wiped my tears and the rain from my face, straightened my spine and walked back to the car ready to face the reality of our mortality, strengthened by the knowledge that I had encountered MYSTERY; the MYSTERY which is the source of ALL.

The Bible is full of stories which touch the deepest MYSTERY of life. The ancients knew that eternal truths are best communicated through stories. So, we plumb the depths of our scriptures,   parables, myths, and similes to discover our reality. Memories, stories, imaginings, myths, wonderings, and glimpses are the stuff of truth. We human creatures just can’t help wondering. How did we get here?  Who made us? Why were we made? Why are we here? Where are we going? We humans can’t seem to help wondering, what’s it all about? From days of old, we’ve been sitting around campfires weaving tales about how we came to be, and what it’s all about, speculating on the nature of our CREATOR.  Story after story has been told; stories which weave in and out between our experiences and our wonderings, what’s real, what’s not, what’s true and what are imaginings. The best stories, the ones which captured our imagination and stimulated our wonderings, those stories were told over and over again. Handed down from one generation to the next. Some stories so profound that they just had to be written down. Elevated to the realm of the sacred, these wonderings took on the qualities of myth. Sacred truth, so precious that over the years some have sought to defend these stories with their very lives. Others have built their world around these sacred truths, found their identity between the lines of their imaginings. Still others have feared the very wonderings which birthed these sacred truths. So afraid have they become that they have tried to insist that these sacred truths aren’t even ours, but rather the divine ramblings of the MYSTERY we call, “GOD,” whispered into the ears of scribes who jotted them down word for word, in the Kings English no less, holding between their lines not only sacred truths, but perfectly preserved history. So treasured are these sacred truths that some even claim that between their lines lie the for-telling of our future. So treasured are these sacred truths that the questioning of even the slightest detail has the power to set one tribe or nation against another.

From the storytellers of old to the recesses of our imaginations the character Moses has cast a spell on generations of wanderers and wonderers. All Moses wanted to do was to see GOD in all of GOD’s glory. Moses, who as the story goes, had been talking with GOD for years, he’d staked his whole life, and the lives of his kinsfolk, the lives of his people on those conversations. Moses wanted to actually see GOD, in all GOD’s glory. Who can blame Moses? Wandering out there in the wilderness, trying to juggle the needs of a people lost, homeless, and afraid. Hoping against hope that there was a land of milk and honey out there somewhere. Moses had the stone tablets; GOD’s law, written in stone a gift for this people who’d followed him out into the wilderness. Imagine: they followed Moses out into the wilderness all because Moses had heard GOD speak. Right there from out of the flames of a burning bush GOD called out to Moses. The GOD of Moses’ ancestors spoke, and a promise was born, the promise of liberation from slavery, of deliverance from oppression, the promise of a land; a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey.

Such a promise required more than just the ramblings of a burning bush; such a promise required a name. Who was this GOD speaking from the flames? Moses said to GOD, “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The GOD of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is GOD’s name?’ what shall I say to them?” From that burning bush came the sacred name when his GOD said to Moses, “YAHWEH.” I AM WHO I AM. YAHWEH. I SHALL BE WHO I SHALL BE.

YAHWEH the sacred name of GOD, so sacred that Moses and his people would never utter it. So sacred that even after they’d told their stories for generations, they’d punctuate the name of GOD with only a silence; a long pause where people could breathe the name within themselves. YAHWEH. YAHWEH. So sacred that when it came time to write down their sacred stories, they didn’t write the whole name of GOD. Just the consonants were enough to evoke the sacred name, Yod, Hey, Vav, Hey. Over the generations, the people forgot how to breathe the name of GOD, and so the scribes, hinted at the vowels so that the breath of GOD continued to emanate from GOD’s people. But as the tribes fought over the details of the story, the sacred code of silence failed to evoke the breath of GOD and even though from the burning bush GOD was said to have declared, “This is my name forever, and this my title for all generations,” the peoples of GOD, forgot the sacred name. So, the scribes replaced the sacred code of silence with bold letters which included the vowels and once again the name YAHWEH was heard when the sacred stories were told. YAHWEH, I AM WHO, I AM or I WILL BE WHO I WILL BE. It says it all, GOD IS. GOD WILL BE. NOW and FOREVER.

This ought to be enough. But wouldn’t you want more? Surely, we can understand why Moses asked for just a little more? There’s no harm in asking, so good old Moses gave it a whirl: come on, just once show me. “Show me your glory, I pray.” And the MIGHTY ONE said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you the HOLY NAME, and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. “But,” said the MIGHTY ONE, “you cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live.”  And the MIGHTY ONE continued, “See there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock; and while my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by; then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen.” And so, Moses caught but a glimpse of YAWEH’s backside. Just a glimpse mind you. But isn’t that how it always is? Just a glimpse. Just a glimpse of DIVINITY here and there for our GOD SHALL BE WHO OUR GOD SHALL BE. We must let the glimpse be enough. But oh those glimpses.

When I arrived at the funeral, I was greeted by friends and colleagues as we began the task of preparing ourselves to pay our respects and give thanks for the life of one of our own. In the faces of friends and colleagues I caught glimpses of the ONE WHO IS the SOURCE of our being. In their tender embraces I felt the grace and the compassion of the MYSTERY we call, “GOD.” Later in the stories we told one another the LOVE, which is DIVINITY, soothed and nurtured us. Sitting around a table breaking bread with one another I felt a deep, heartfelt, “Yes!” rising within me. “YES!” I raised a glass, and I gave thanks for life. Even though I’m not so sure I’d live to tell the tale, I’d still love to see the face of DIVINITY. But for now, I’ll settle for a glimpse of DIVINITY’s backside. For now, all we see is a glimpse of DIVINITY’s glory.

But oh, those glimpses. Once you catch a glimpse, you’ll never forget it. So, close your eyes.  I mean it, close your eyes. There, look closely. Can you see a glimpse of DIVINITY in your mind’s eye? The first time you knew you were in love and there in your beloved eyes, you saw but a glimpse. Or standing there holding that beautiful child for the first time, gazing into the wonder you held in your arms, there was but a glimpse. Look down onto the page, between the lines of that poem that told your whole life in just a few carefully chosen words, there’s the hand of DIVINITY. Look, look there she goes, she just learned to ride her bike all by herself. She’s growing up so quickly. Do you see right there behind her, there in the shadows watching her, if you look closely, you see the arms of DIVINITY ready to catch her. Look at him he thinks he knows it all, there he goes with the keys to your car, in the screech of tires can you hear it, it’s the sound of the LOVE, which is DIVINIY trying to catch up with him, trying to keep him safe. Listen carefully can you hear it, it’s ever so faint, the rattle of her last breaths makes it hard to hear. But if you listen carefully, you’ll hear the RAUACH, the SPIRIT breathing alongside her as she breathes her last breath, YAHWEH. YAHWEH. As you struggle to leave the room, wondering how you can ever find a way to say good-bye, good-bye Grandma, good-bye Grandpa, good-bye Mom, good-bye Dad, good-bye my love, if you lean back, you will feel them, embracing you, the arms of DIVINITY holding you in LOVE. Look there, GOD is in that smile, the smile that says I’ve known you so long and yes, I still love you even if you drive me nuts, there in the gleam in your lover’s eyes, can you see the glory of the LOVE which is DIVINITY? Gaze out into the fields and see, there amongst the wildflowers, there dashing by through the trees, trudging up into the hills, hiking over the mountains, if you look closely, you’ll see DIVINITY’s backside.

There’s truth in our stories, sacred truth; truth in our myths, in our wonderings, our musings and our longings. Between the lines, beyond the page, in, with, through and under the words, there’s truth in questions and questions in truth and through it all dances our GOD who is LOVE, YAHWEH. If you open your eyes and look around, you’ll catch a glimpse of YAHWEH; whose backside is more beautiful than words can say. Words may fail us, but we will keep trying to describe the wonder, the beauty, the magnificence of YAHWEH’s glory. That’s just the kind of creatures we are. So, proclaim YAHWEH’s glory! Let the DIVINITY of your imagination, myth and story, take on flesh and dance with your memories of YAHWEH’s backside. Delight in the knowledge that all our wonderings pale in comparison to the splendor of the MYSTERY, which is the LOVE we call GOD, YAHWEH. YAHWEH the GREAT I AM, our LOVER, BELOVED, and LOVE ITSELF.  Amen.

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SHALOM – EIRENE – PEACE NOT just a noun! Peace is a verb!

Once upon a time, there lived a very wise Queen who ruled over a large powerful country. The wise Queen was always doing things to teach her people to live in peace. One day the wise Queen announced that there would be a contest to see who could create the most beautiful painting which portrayed peace. Many great painters from all over the world sent the Queen their paintings.

One of the many paintings was a masterpiece which depicted a magnificent calm lake, which perfectly mirroring peacefully towering snow-capped mountains. Above the mountains was a clear blue sky with just a few fluffy clouds. The picture was perfect. Almost everyone who saw the painting was convinced that it was the best portrayal of peace, and it was sure to be chosen by the wise Queen as the winner. However, when the Queen announced the winner, everyone was shocked. The painting which won the prize had mountains as well. But they were rugged and bare. The sky looked very angry, and lightening streaked through the ominous clouds. This scene did not look at all peaceful. It looked like the artist had made a mistake and painted a viscous storm instead of peace. But if anyone bothered to look closely at the painting, they would see a tiny bush growing in the cracks of the rugged mountain rock. In the bush a mother bird had built her nest. In the midst of the rush of an angry storm, the bird sat calmly on her nest. The wise Queen understood that peace is born in places where you would least expect it. Peace is born in the midst of all the chaos. Peace calms the troubled heart. Peace, real peace is also a state of mind, a way of being, a way of doing which breaks out amid turmoil.

A mother bird’s calm, despite her chaotic, dangerous surroundings is the embodiment of peace.  Calmly, lovingly, caring for those around us in the midst of chaotic, tumultuous, times, despite the dangers, or the apparent hopelessness, to love without fear is a way of being in the world that breaks out in the strangest of places. Peace is a way of being, a way of doing in a world which all too often, appears to be bereft of the possibility of peace.

SHALOM, a Hebrew word and EIRENE a Greek word, both of which we generally translate as peace. Well, our modern understanding of peace often begins and ends with seeing the word PEACE simply as a noun. But both our Hebrew and our Greek ancestors understood SHALOM and EIRENE as both a noun and perhaps more importantly as a verb. Sadly, we all too often read the word “peace” only as a noun describing the absence of conflict, war, violence, trouble, or unease.

While the word SHALOM as a noun does indeed refer to the absence of these things, it also refers to the presence of completeness, or wholeness. SHALOM and EIRENE are not just nouns, they are also verbs. In Hebrew, SHALOM is understood as the verb “to make complete,” “to repair” or “to restore,” or “to make whole.”

Our ancestors understood that life is complex. Life is a multitude of complexities, relationships, and situations. When something is out of alinement or missing, our SHALOM breaks down. When warring parties or nations are out of alinement, and war breaks out, peace is made not just by refraining from violence but by attending to what is missing in the relationships, attending to the well-being of one another, and working together for one another’s benefit. That means for the benefit of people who were once our enemies.  

When the anonymous gospel-storytellers who heralded the birth of Jesus as EIRENE, they did so because Jesus’ followers saw Jesus as the restorer of wholeness, because he brought PEACE not only among the nations, tribes, and families, Jesus brought PEACE with the ONE in whom we live and move and have our being, the ONE who dwells in, with, through, and beyond us all. Jesus said,

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; but the kind of peace I give you is not like the world’s peace. Do not let your hearts be distressed; do not be fearful.”

If you listen to the news or tune into the media of any kind, you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. We all know that there is no peace in Afghanistan, which although it dominates the news, it is just one of many nations which has no peace. We also know that our profit driven greed and self-centeredness is at war with the Earth. The only planet we have. The ravages of climate change versus the almighty dollar and our reluctance to repair and restore, to make whole our relationship to the Earth, are writ large across our news screens.

As followers of Jesus, we are called “to peace,” which is to repair, to restore, to complete, to make whole. To peace, it is a daunting task. But the restoration, the completeness, the PEACE we long for requires us to understand PEACE as more than just a noun describing a state of being. SHALOM, EIRENE, PEACE, needs us to embody these words as verbs, by restoring, bringing, making SHALOM, making EIRENE, making PEACE. But in our own state of incompleteness, in the absence of SHALOM in our being, we are afraid. Afraid of putting ourselves on the line. Afraid to follow Jesus into our Jerusalems. Afraid to trust our own power to resist. Afraid to say no to our overlords. Afraid to abandon the powers empire. Afraid to risk what’s ours. Afraid of the storms which rage all around us. Afraid of trusting the PEACE which is within each of us. Afraid to put our faith in a God who IS LOVE. We are afraid of the unfamiliar. We know the contours of commerce, with its violence and unfettered greed. We’ve grown accustomed to the suffering. We trust the untrustworthiness of the powerful. We learned to live with the evils of our systems. Better the devil we know than the devil we don’t know. And yet, the image of that mother bird tending her nest among the rocks and ravages of the storm continues to compel us. The promise of peace breaking out in our chaos, the desire for wholeness continues to allure us. Jesus’ commandment to: “Do to others what you would have them do to you.”  continues to inspire us.

The PEACE you have left us with dear Jesus, may not be the kind of peace the world gives, but surely it is the kind of peace which calms all fear? “Do not let your hearts be distressed; do not be fearful.” SHALOM the kind of PEACE which surpasses our understanding breaks out when together we find the courage to set aside all fear. Jesus said, “Those who love me will be true to my word, and Abba God will love them; and we will come to them and make our dwelling place with them.” Come oh GOD who IS LOVE. Dwell with us, in us, through us, and beyond us. Let the hopes and dreams of our ancestors move in, with, and through us. Do not let our hearts be troubled. Do not be afraid. Let peace break out in the most unlikely of places. Let us begin by recognizing the PEACE which lies within. Paying attention to this gift of PEACE within us empowers us to love our enemies by tending to their well-being, so that friend and foe alike can be restored, made complete, and made whole. Let the PEACE which lives within us empower us to be peacemakers, doers of peace, bringers of peace, lovers of peace, restorers of wholeness. SHALOM, EIRENE, PEACE, in the name and for the sake of the ONE who IS our LOVER, BELOVED, and LOVE Itself.  Amen.

View the full Worship Video below.

Afghanistan: Bear Witness We Must!

When I was in my early twenties, I was so much more adventurous than the pastor who stands before you. Still foolish enough to believe in my own ability to meet any situation I stumbled into; I travelled the world seeking all the excitement which life might bring my way. More than once, I ventured into worlds beyond my meagre capacity for wisdom. With a reckless spirit, a rail-pass in my pocket, a backpack slung over my shoulders and several hundred dollars’ worth of travelers’ cheques, yeah, travelers’ cheques. That’s how long ago it was. I had several hundred dollars of travelers’ cheques tucked into my wallet, when I boarded a train in Zurich, Switzerland, bound for Athens, Greece. Despite my youthful vigor, I was tired. Several months of backpacking in Northern Europe had left me weary. In just five days my rail-pass would expire, so I decided to head to Greece, where previous visits had taught me, the living was easy. I longed for the warm sun, the blue skies and the equally blue waters and the promise of a cheap place to rest.

As the train made its way through the Alps, I remembered a similar trip which I had made the year before and I tried to calculate whether my remaining funds would allow me to return to the village of Hannia on the Island of Crete. I knew that in Crete I could find work. I planned to mix a lot of relaxation and fun 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, 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 marveled 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 section of the city of Belgrade, the showcase of the dictator Tito’s communist regime. I fell asleep pondering the sharp differences between the lives of the poor 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 buildings and streets filled with automobiles. Several centuries seemed to co-exist in this Yugoslavia.

I was awakened by the sound of people shuffling to find their papers as the train conductor instructed us to get our passports and visas ready for customs inspection. When the Yugoslavian custom officials, with their rifles over their shoulders boarded our train, they were preceded by men guided by vicious looking German shepherds. Even though I knew that I had all the correct papers and that my backpack contained nothing more offensive than some dirty laundry, the sight of the dogs, the guns and the uniformed officials struck fear into my heart. I nervously handed over my precious passport to an official who looked younger than my twenty-two years. He carefully read over the visa which I had obtained in Zurich the day before; a visa which I could not read because it was written in an unfamiliar language using unfamiliar alphabet. The young man handed my passport over to an older official and before I could comprehend 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’m not sure if 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. “NOT in order! NOT in order!” She kept repeating it.  I gathered from what she was trying to 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. “NO EXIT STAMP! NOT in order! 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 paperwork was not in order. She kept insisting that I needed an exit stamp. “NOT in order! NOT in order! EXIT STAMP!” Continue reading

Credo: the first creed is not about belief! It is about LOVE – Galatians 3:28

Six years ago, I returned to Belfast after a long absence. In addition to the joys of visiting family, I attended a festival celebrating radical theology. The festival ended with a pub crawl on Saturday night. When Sunday morning arrived, I decided to worship at the church next door. There were more progressive options which would have been more in keeping with radical theology. St. Anne’s Cathedral drew me to her pews partly because my grandparents had been married there and my mother was baptized there. But more importantly, it has been a long time since I had been on a pub crawl, so I was a little worse for wear and St. Anne’s was just next door.

St. Anne’s is also known as the Belfast Cathedral and is part of the Church of Ireland, which is part of the Anglican Communion. So, I knew that the liturgy would be very familiar. Being just two minutes away from the sanctuary, I was able to time my arrival just before the service began. I mean, just before the service began. I wandered up the aisle, intending to sit in the back row. However, the back row was miles away from the last row of occupied rows. So, I had to travel three quarters of the way down the aisle in order to sit in the back row of the gathered congregation. In a church which boasts a seating capacity of 4,000 people, I walked past row after row after empty row in order to join a congregation of about thirty people. As I sat in a sparsely populated row, I quickly checked my watch to make sure I in my hung-over state, I hadn’t mistaken the time, and this was not the main Sunday worship service. Perhaps it was already evening, and this was the evensong crowd? But no, it was clearly 11am and an elaborate procession of liturgical leaders were beginning their walk up the long empty aisle. I scrambled to my feet, and perused the service bulletin, ready to lend my inadequate voice to the singing of God’s praise.

Alas, our assembled voices made hardly a din in the cavernous empty cathedral. The service droned on, and on. Lots and lots of words; mostly familiar. A few hymns, mostly familiar. An inoffensive sermon, by a gentle priest. Looking forward to the Eucharist, I longed for the hymn of the day to end. Flipping the page of the service bulletin, I came across an old nemesis. The liturgical option to use the Creeds, either the Apostles’ or the Nicene Creed, is not something we at Holy Cross have done for many years. Sadly, the majority of Anglican and Lutheran congregations do. There it was, right there on the page, a rubric instructing the assemble to turn to the Apostles’ Creed. I dutifully obliged, turning to the appropriate page as the congregation completed the hymn. There on the page, I began to inwardly read and digest the words of the Apostles’ Creed.

It had been a long time since the familiar words took up space in my mind. “I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth. I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to the dead…” Wait a minute. The words are so familiar, they are in my bones, they are part of who I am. But suddenly it was not the words which drew my focus. I’d long since given up on the patriarchal language, or Mary’s virginity, or the judgmental threats to the living which I knew were coming. Not even the inherent sacrificial atonement theology could hold my attention in that nearly empty cathedral. My eye, my mind, my whole being was firmly fixed on a punction mark. I’ve always known it was there, but on that morning, I actually felt that tiny, monumental, comma’s impact. The entire life of Jesus is reduced to a comma which sits between his birth to a mythical virgin, and his death at the hands of the forces of empire. Jesus’ life, his teachings, his loves, his passions, his story, and most of all Jesus’ humanity is reduced to a comma.

I quickly turned to the Nicene Creed to confirm what I already knew. “We believe in one God, the father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is seen and unseen. We believe in on Lord, Jesus Christ the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father; Through him all things were made. For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven, was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and became truly human. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried.” No mere comma this time, but a period. No sooner is the DIVINE Jesus born of a mythical virgin to become human, than with a definitive period does Jesus’ life pale in comparison to his death. I stood frozen, paralyzed by the reality of a comma’s momentous power, and a period’s precise ability to move the attention of generations of believers from the magnitude of Jesus life to visions of an other-worldly kingdom from which judgement of the living and the dead would be doled out between this world and the next.

Sweet Jesus, where are you? Where is your life in these iron clad, deliberately laid out, statements of faith, to which we are expected to say:  “I believe, We believe?” Our creeds reduce Jesus’ life to a comma, or a period. The tiny little punctuation marks designed to shift our focus elsewhere. These tiny punctuation marks, they move us along without another thought to Jesus’ life, his teachings, his way of being in the world, his humanity. I closed the hymnal, and I took my leave. Outside the sun in all its glory beckoned me on to the streets of Belfast were actual humans greeted me with nods and smiles. I found my way back to my hotel, where the concierge greeted me, with a friendly smile and questions: “Is church over already? How was it?” To which I happily answered, “Yes. I believe it is. For me anyway.” The happy concierge replied, “Sure, that says more than you meant, I’m sure.”  …I believe it does.

Credo, from the Latin verb credere which is the first word in both the Nicene and Apostles’ Creeds. Credo a Latin verb which our English hymnals translate as: I believe in the Apostles’ Creed and We believe in the Nicene Creed. Is it any wonder that Christianity, is all too obsessed with believing?  Continue reading

HODOS: a word getting in the way of THE WAY! – John 14:6

He was screaming at me. Clearly, he was furious with me. His face was beet red. He kept jabbing the air in front of my face with his finger. The veins in his neck were raised and throbbing. He kept going on and on and on about how wrong I was. I tried to calm him down, but he could no longer hear anything I was saying. He was so inflamed by my original statement that nothing I could say or do short of falling to my knees and begging his forgiveness for having been so wicked would suffice.

So, I just stood there, hoping that eventually he would wear himself out and quiet down long enough for us to agree to disagree. But his enthusiasm for his cause was stronger than I’d anticipated. He knew that Jesus is the way, the truth, and that NO ONE, NO ONE, NO matter who they are, or how good they may be, NO ONE COMES TO THE FATHER EXCEPT THORUGH JESUS CHIRST, WHO IS THE WAY, THE TRUTH, AND THE LIFE! The sooner I confessed Jesus Christ as my Lord and Saviour and quit trying to figure out ways to get people into heaven through the back door the better off I would be. Furthermore, unless I was willing to confess the error of my ways, then I had no business calling myself a Christian, because I was clearly damned to hell.

I can still see the anger and the hatred in my old friend’s face. Anger which seemed so out of place. We were on retreat in the mountains of British Columbia. We had just listened to a beautiful sermon about the Many Mansions which God has prepared for all of us. Not surprisingly my friend took exception to the preacher’s emphasis on God’s different ways of including the different people of the world into God’s LOVE. Over lunch we argued about just what Jesus meant when he said, “I am the way, and the truth and the life.  NO one comes to the Father except through me.”  My friend, it seems, had all the answers. Those who do not accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior will never be acceptable in the sight of God. They will never be included in the Kingdom of God, for indeed they are all damned to hell! I could not accept that a loving and gracious God could be so cruel. So, I walked away from my friend and his theology.

I did my best to find another way to explain Jesus’ words. Maybe it was the hatred in my old friend’s eyes, but there was something about Jesus’ words which were getting in the way of the WORD. I ignored Jesus’ exclusive words and I focused on Jesus’ words about ABBA’s many mansions. This method worked for me for quite a while. Then one day, while I was studying for an under-graduate degree in Religious Studies at the University of British Columbia, I was confronted once again by Jesus’ words which continued to get in the way of the WORD. Words I believed to be incompatible with the Jesus’ WAY of being LOVE in the world.  We were studying the history of inter-faith dialogue. Our class was made up of Hindu’s, Muslims, Jews, Taoists, Sikhs, and one lonely Buddhist. Together, we discussed the problems which have happened down through the centuries when people of different faiths encounter one another.

One day, we were given a very engaging assignment. We were teamed up with a member of another faith tradition and asked to bring to the table a piece of sacred scripture from our partner’s faith tradition that we found intriguing. Of course, this meant that we had to read the sacred scriptures of another tradition.

My partner was a young Hindu named of all things Nigel.  Nigel had been born in India to parents who dreamed of having their son educated in England. So, they gave him an English name and they were so delighted when their son decided to seek an education in Canada. Nigel was a devout Hindu. He was familiar with the New Testament, and he was intrigued with, as Nigel would say, “this fellow Jesus.”  During my studies, I had read the Bhagavad Gita, and was familiar with its representations of the spiritual struggle of the human soul. I hadn’t yet read the Upanishads, so under Nigel’s tutoring I worked my way through, what he lovingly called, the Himalayas of the Soul, while Nigel renewed his acquaintance with the Gospel of John.

After several weeks of study Nigel and I selected the texts that we would study together. I chose a text from the Bhagavad Gita which roughly translates as “All paths lead to the same goal.”  (4:11) I chose this text because the notes in the commentary indicated that many Hindu’s believe that because God is all-pervading, where else can any path lead. With this text, Nigel and I explored the Hindu understanding that all gods are but pale representations of the One True God and that all pathways will eventually lead to this God. Continue reading

LOVE is what we are made for! – 1 Cor. 13 and Romans 8:37-39

When I was a kid, my family moved around quite a bit. All that moving about, and always being the new kid at school, it really messed me up. It’s not surprising that I started hanging out with a gang. If I’d known what this gang was all about, I would never have gotten involved with them. What I didn’t know when I started hanging out with this gang was that the members of this gang all had one thing in common, they were all part of a Lutheran Youth Group. This gang managed to convince me to run away with them. They were going on something I’d never heard of before; a retreat, a weekend at a place called Camp Luther. So, at the tender age of fifteen, I found myself with a gang of young, socially aware, politically astute kids who wanted to change the world. As I figured out who and what this gang was, I worried that they might be a cult. But it was kind of exciting to flirt with the idea of a cult.

The very first exercise that we were assigned was to team up with someone we didn’t know and share our favorite bible passage. Well, this gang was about to discover that I didn’t belong there. You see, I didn’t have a favorite bible passage. I’d only been to church a handful of times in my life, and I hadn’t read very much of the bible. Well, I hadn’t read the bible at all. So, I decided to break the rules of the exercise and I teamed up with someone I knew slightly and suggested that she go first. Danna recited her favorite Bible passage from memory. I was astounded at her ability to quote such a long passage from memory. Later I would find out that she was a “PK”; that’s code for pastor’s kid. I can still remember the passion with which Danna described her love for this particular passage. Danna’s favorite bible passage quickly became my favorite passage as well. I told Danna so, right then and there; conveniently getting myself off the hook of trying to come up with a favorite passage of my own.  

1st  Corinthians chapter 13. Danna recited it from a brand-spanking new translation of the Bible; you may remember, if you are of a certain age, it was called “Good News for Modern Man:”

“I may be able to speak the languages of man and even of angels but if I have no love, my speech is no more than a noisy gong or a clanging bell. I may have the gift of inspired preaching, I may have all knowledge and understand all secrets; I may have all the faith needed to move mountains—but if I have no love, I am nothing. I may give away everything I have, and even give up my body to be burnt—but if I have no love this does me no good. Love is patient and kind; it is not jealous or conceited or proud; love is not ill-mannered or selfish or irritable, love does not keep a record of wrongs; love is not happy with evil but is happy with the truth. Love never gives up; and its faith, hope, and patience never fail. Love is eternal. There are inspired messages, but they are temporary; there are gifts of speaking in strange tongues, but they will cease; there is knowledge, but it will pass. For our gifts of knowledge and of inspired messages are only partial; but when what is perfect comes, then what is partial will disappear. When I was a child, my speech, feelings, and thinking were all those of a child; now that I have grown up, I have no more use for childish ways. What we see now is like a dim image in a mirror; then we shall see face.  What I know now is only partial; then it will be complete—as complete as God’s knowledge of me. Meanwhile these three remain; faith, hope, and love; and the greatest of these is love.” As Danna spoke of her love for this passage, I began to glimpse my own deepest longings. With all of who I was at the age of 15, I knew that I wanted to know this kind of love. I was so overcome with longing, that right there in front of everyone, I began to weep. I was so overwhelmed. The Pastor leading the retreat, noticed my pain and gently encouraged me to simply weep. No one said a word. But I was keenly aware of their presence.

Later that evening, in the glow of the firelight, I mustered up the courage to ask the Pastor what his favorite passage from scripture was. The words he spoke continue to resonate deeply in me: “What will separate us from the love of Christ? Trouble? Calamity? Persecution? Hunger? Nakedness? Danger? Violence? As scripture says, “For your sake, we’re being killed all day long; we we’re looked upon as sheep to be slaughtered. Yet in all this we are more than conquerors because God has loved us. For I am certain that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, neither angels nor demons, neither anything else in all creation—will be able to separate us from the love of God that comes to us in Christ Jesus, Our Saviour.”

Again, I wept. The realization that the LOVE which longed for was already mine and that nothing could separate me from that LOVE, overwhelmed me. The community which I encountered back then, was not perfect. But I was a child, and I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child, when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. Over time, I began to see that gang of young people. I began to see them for the imperfect tribe that we were. As I grew in knowledge and experience, I also saw the church which introduced me to the MYSTERY which is LOVE is far from perfect. I’m guessing that most of us have had our illusions about communities, especially church communities shattered at one time or another. Continue reading

TSADIYQ: So Much More than Mere Righteousness! – Amos 5:23-24

Years ago, when I was in the business of developing package holiday tours, I traveled on a junket to the city of Lima which was sponsored by the government of Peru. The Peruvian government tourist office was trying to convince the travel industry that Lima was about to become the hottest destinations for North Americans. I had never been to Peru before, but based on what I knew of the conditions in Peru, I strongly doubted that Canadians would be flocking there in great numbers. The now defunct Canadian Pacific Airways, had just opened up a new air route to Lima and it was my job to put together holiday packages for the airline. These government sponsored tours are designed to showcase a destination in its best light. So, I was not surprised when we were quickly hustled out of the airport in luxurious limos and taken to the best hotel in the city. That night after a magnificent meal we were briefed by the government tourism officials on what we could expect to find in the streets of Lima. During the course of our briefing, we were warned that from time to time during our stay we would undoubtedly run into “the odd beggar or two.”

The odd beggar or two? That phrase struck me as odd at the time.  But now it fills me with shame as I remember passively listening without comment. We were instructed not to let these beggars bother us. We were assured that many of them weren’t nearly as bad off as they looked and that we shouldn’t allow them to play on our sympathies and spoil our stay in Lima. According to our guide, begging was a way of life for most of the people who lived on the streets and if we showed them any courtesy, they would only try to take advantage of us. We were also warned to leave any valuables in the hotel safe. Wearing jewelry of any kind was strongly discouraged by our government guides.

The next morning as we prepared for our sightseeing tour, my assistant John and I, we dutifully deposited our valuables into the hotel safe. Before we left the hotel, John, who’d been on a few of these junkets with me in the past, asked me if I had enough change. John knew that our guide’s instructions about giving money to beggars would have, as usual, fallen on deaf ears. John didn’t like the idea that no matter where we were, if someone asked me for a handout, I always tried to oblige. John insisted that giving money to beggars sends out the wrong signal. He insisted that if you give money to one, then you’ll have to give money to all of them, and there’s no way that you can solve a beggar’s problems with a few coins, let alone deal with the problems of all the beggars who’ll jump on the gravy train. John and I had long since stopped arguing about the matter. We’d worked together for a long time, and we’d agreed to disagree, besides I was his boss, so rather than try to argue with me John just sort of looked out for me and tried to make sure I didn’t get myself into too much trouble. I had assured John that I had enough small change to see us through the morning, but I wasn’t prepared for the onslaught from the homeless children of Peru.

It only took about ten minutes before my pockets were empty. When I ran out of coins, I was stunned when John took over where I left off. In the past, John had always managed to stick to his guns, but these kids somehow managed to get to him. It’s difficult for North Americans to understand how small children can be allowed to roam the streets. The poverty is beyond comprehension. I don’t remember much about the city of Lima. I couldn’t tell you anything about the tourist attractions which we visited. But I can still remember the pain and desperation in the eyes of the children we encountered. At lunch, John and I filled our pockets with left over bread and bits of cheese, which we gave to the children who accosted us outside the restaurant. John kept blaming me for starting something that we had no hope of finishing. But despite his insistence that we adopt a tougher stance, it was John who hustled over to the shop across the street and bought several loaves of bread, which he distributed, to a small band of kids who followed us the rest of the afternoon.

As we headed back to our hotel, I think both John and I took some consolation in the knowledge that for at least a few hours, the little band of kids who were following us, had food in their bellies. We were discussing the relative merits of buying these kids dinner, when a boy, who couldn’t have been more than about ten years old, came around the corner and blocked our way. Before John could do anything, the boy grabbed me by the arm. John was about to reach for the boy’s shoulder, but something in the boy’s appearance stunned John into stillness. The oozing sores which covered most of the boy’s face were revolting. It was as though this child was actually rotting before our very eyes. Before John or I could recover from the horror of being in such close proximity to septic human flesh, the boy reached for the silver necklace which hung around my neck. I had tucked the silver cross which hung around my neck inside my shirt so as not to attract attention to it. But as the boy took hold of the chain, the cross was revealed. The boy hesitated for just a moment, and the two of us exchanged a glace which contained such sorrow. And then in a flash, the boy, the chain, and the silver cross were gone. Continue reading

METANOIA the First Words Out of Jesus’ Mouth – Mark 1:14-15

Metanoia is one of my favorite words in all of Scripture. Metanoia is also one of the first words out of Jesus’ mouth. In the very first chapter of the first gospel written sometime after the year 70, by the anonymous gospel-storyteller which we know as Mark, the story of Jesus begins with the story of Jesus’ baptism by John in the Jordon, followed by a brief allusion to Jesus’ sojourn in the wilderness.

In all of this, the anonymous-gospel-storyteller’s Jesus remains silent, speaking not a word until the verse 15thverse of the first chapter, where we are told that John has been arrested and Jesus appeared in Galilee proclaiming the Good News of God. Listen to the first account of the first words out of Jesus’ mouth, when Jesus’ proclaimed: “This is the time of fulfillment.  The reign of God is at hand! Metanoia, and believe this Good News!” That’s it.  That’s all there is to it.  Jesus’ first words, according to the first of the four anonymous gospel accounts. The first words out of Jesus’ mouth, “This is the time of fulfillment.  The reign of God is at hand! Metanoia, and believe this Good News!”

After giving us this first proclamation of Jesus, the anonymous-gospel-storyteller immediately moves the story on by taking Jesus for a walk down by the Sea of Galilee in search of some fishers to whom Jesus speaks his next words, “Follow me!” and you know how the rest of the story goes.

Sadly, very few of us seem to pay much attention to the first words out of Jesus’ mouth. “This is the time of fulfillment.  The reign of God is at hand! Metanoia, and believe this Good News!” Metanoia.  Such a beautiful word.  Such a monumental beginning. Metanoia if only we could hear the blessing Jesus offered humanity, with this wondrous commandment, metanoia. Sadly, this magnificent commandment metanoia has been abused over the centuries. Tragically, translators have for far too long, offered us a severely limited translation of metanoia; a translation which fails to capture the richness or the beauty of metanoia.

For far too long, far too many of us have been stuck in our ways, the very ways from which Jesus was trying to set people free. We have been stuck in our ways but the little, limiting, restrictive, incomplete, dare I say, ugly translation of the word metanoia. Repent. Repent, I say. Repent! Repent, look it up.  Worse yet, Google it. Repent, let me quote Google for you, Repent means,  “to feel or express sincere regret or remorse about one’s wrongdoing or sin.” Google even uses it in a sentence: “the priest urged his listeners to repent.” Can it be that the first words out of Jesus’ mouth were: “feel or express sincere regret or remorse”? Well, I’m sure that there are all sorts of people who believe that we must repent if we want to follow Jesus. But as for me, I’m not buying it.

Did you ever notice how very often the little English word “repent” is followed by a dire warning designed to inspire fear? Repent or else something terrible is going to happen to you!  The number of times the little word “repent” is used to inspire fear and trembling in the name of Jesus, makes me wonder why so many of Jesus’ would-be followers have forgotten Jesus’ instructions about fear itself. Why is it that so many Christians are so well versed in the Ten Commandments, or the Greatest Commandment but so very few of us are as well versed in the top commandment? By top commandment, I mean the commandment most often cited in our sacred Scriptures. The commandment, “Do not be afraid,” appears 366 times in the Bible. As they say in Ireland, “366 times that’s once for every day of the year and once for no reason at all.”  “Do not be afraid.” In both the Hebrew Scriptures and the Christian Testament, we hear first the voice of the DIVINE MYSTERY which we call, “God,” say it again and again, and then Jesus says over and over again, “Do not be afraid.” Continue reading

Sermon: BAT KOL, the Daughter of a Sound Welling Up Within

My first conscious memory of hearing the BAT KOL, the Daughter of a Sound, the still small voice of DIVINITY happened on a sojourn into a Thin Place during a summer camping trip when I was just 13. My family had travelled to the west coast of Vancouver Island to what was back then, a mostly unknown treasure. Pachena Bay is by far one of the most beautiful places in all of creation. These days hikers on the Pacific Rim trail often begin or end their hike by camping at Pachena Bay. But way back then; the bay was only accessible by the most treacherous of logging roads. And there was no official campsite back then. You simply asked the members of the First Nation for permission to pitch your tents on their land. As a result of this splendid isolation, we spent several weeks as the only family camped in this idyllic bay.

One of the main attractions at Pachena Bay were the pods of whales that are attracted to the bay. Pachena Bay with its warm Pacific waters, heated even more by virtue of its shallow depths, attracted schools of salmon, ling cod and halibut, who make up a veritable smorgasbord for the pods of whales, that continue to visit the bay to this very day. One quiet afternoon my brother Alan and I were playing on the shore. Our parents were sound asleep when the whales arrived. I’m not sure how many whales entered the bay. Our count was based on the number of spouts that emanated from their blowholes. So, there could have been half a dozen or there could have been only one whale. Anyway, we did what any self-respecting kid would have done in our position. We jumped into the rubber dingy, and we paddled as fast as we could, determined to chase whales. Now, the dingy wasn’t totally inflated on account of the leak that it had sprung the day before. So, it made it difficult for us to work up much speed. But I must tell you, when that first whale jumped up out of the water, and we saw the tell-tale signs of those white patches on its side, we moved faster than you’d think two kids in a slowly deflating rubber dingy ought to be able to manage.

Killer whales. These days they are called orcas. But Alan and I, we knew exactly what they were, and they certainly weren’t beautiful orcas to us. They were big giant killer whales, and we knew that we were their lunch. Suddenly, one of those magnificent monsters rubbed up against the bottom of our dingy. I went headfirst into the ocean, and I sank like a stone. The underwater sight of two killer whales caused me to open my mouth to scream and water rushed into my lungs. I knew I was about to drown. That’s when I heard the small voice. It was a very quiet little voice deep down inside of me, at least I think it was inside of me. The small voice within my very soul said only one word “Swim.”

And swim we did all the way back to shore. When our heartbeats returned to normal, we decided that we’d made a clean escape and we chose not to share the adventure with our sleeping parents. As frightened as I was, I was determined to get close to these magnificent beasts. So, the next morning I rose early, and as the mist was rising over the water I paddled out toward the mouth of the bay and waited. It didn’t take very long for me to realize that I was in the presence of something much larger than myself. As a whale gently brushed the underside of the dingy, a strange calm came over me and I was not afraid.  It was as if my whole being was alive. One of the whales rose out of the water and as she came crashing down, I marveled at the magnificence of this beast. After what seemed like hours but was probably just a few minutes, the whales moved on and I was left to clumsily put words onto the depth of my experiences, in what the ancient Celts would call a Thin Place; a place where the lines between the ordinary and the sacred are thin, and we can see, feel, touch, hear the MYSTERY which lies at the very heart of reality. 

There’s a story in the Hebrew Scriptures which resonates with me in light of some of my own experiences in Thin Places, in the presence of MYSTERY. You’ll find it in the first Book of Kings. (1 Kings 19:1-12) It is about a prophet named Elijah, who was struggling to understand the will of the they knew as YHWH, the HEBREW name for the MYSTERY we call God, which can be translated as I AM, WHO AM or I WILL BE WHO I WILL BE or the GREAT I AM. Our HEBREW ancestors, JESUS’ very own kin, understood the MYSTERY which we call GOD, as the verb TO BE, for this MYSTERY IS BEING itself.  Anyway, poor old Elijah suffered in his quest to bring the WORD of YHWH to his people and in the midst of his turmoil, Elijah was lost and fearing for his life.   As the ancient storytellers weave their tail, Elijah was familiar with the voice of YHWH, so much so that he dared to argue with the voice.

One day, Elijah demanded of the voice, “I have been very zealous for YHWH God Omnipotent. The people of Israel have abandoned your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death by the sword. I am the only one left, and now they’re trying to kill me, too.” Elohim (that’s an ancient Hebrew word which we translate simply as God or Lord.  The word literally translates as EL – the generic term for a god, put together with the feminine form of the word for “majesty” – so clearly “LORD” is not a correct translation for ELOHIM the God who is described as more than one QUEEN?) But I digress. “ELOHIM,” the GOD who is the feminine plural of MAJESTY, said to Elijah: “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of YHWEH, for YAHWEH is about to pass by.” Imagine the MYSTERY, which is the I AM, the very essence of BEING is about to pass by. Our Hebrew storyteller paints such a vivid picture of the Thin Place in which Elijah stands. “Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountain apart and shattered the rocks by YHWEH’s power—but YHWH was not in the whirlwind. After the wind there was an earthquake—but YHWH was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire—but YHWH was not in the fire. And after the fire came a still small voice.”

“A still small voice.” Our English translations do not do the HEBREW justice. For after the fire came a BAT KOL. BAT KOL, the DAUGHTER OF A SOUND or as some translations put it the DAUGHTER OF A VOICE. ELOHIM the MYSTERY which IS the god known by our ancestors as the GOD who IS the feminine plural of MAJESTY, the ONE Elijah knew as YHWH, the ONE who IS the verb TO BE, the I AM, this ONE comes to Elijah in the DAUGHTER OF A SOUND. Continue reading

DABHAR the ISNESS of DIVINITY the CREATIVE ENERGY of WORD and DEED

Sometimes, we must let go of words in order to move beyond words, so that we might understand the MYSTERY which is sometimes called “God” and sometimes called “the WORD”. Letting go of words is not easy for someone like me. Years ago, I decided that in order to understand God, I needed to learn how to meditate. It didn’t go very well. I remember talking to a good friend of mine about the trouble I was having learning to meditate. Bryan had travelled all over the Far East and was an avid practitioner of transcendental meditation. He sympathized with my dilemma and suggested that perhaps my spiritual quest would need to be one which entailed letting go of words so that I could move beyond words. I remember being dumbfounded by the idea of ever being able to let go of words. But Bryan insisted that unless I moved beyond words, I’d remain frustrated by my attempts to learn any form of meditation.

I confessed that I had absolutely no idea where to begin. Bryan said that my basic problem was wrapped up in the weakness of my right mind. Before I could take offence, Bryan went on to explain that I was primarily a left-brain kind of gal. Bryan insisted that I needed to learn to develop the right hemisphere of my brain. Even though I was familiar with the theories about right brain verses left brain, I had absolutely no idea about how to go about changing what I thought was the unchangeable reality that my left brain, which is the area responsible for verbal and cognitive skills, is the hemisphere that I tend to rely on rather than the right brain, wherein lies the artistic, playful side of my nature. I like words. I like the way words sound. I like the way the way words look. I like the meanings of words and I love the history of words. I love putting words together. I’m called to a profession which is all about words. So, asking me to move beyond words is like asking me to give up my lifeblood. But Bryan was determined to move me beyond words. So, he made me promise to meet him at his workplace the very next day.

Bryan is a pilot, a helicopter pilot. Bryan also knows that I’m afraid of heights and although I’ve conquered my fear of flying, I’m rather partial to fix-wing aircraft. Helicopters make me more than nervous; helicopters terrify me. Most of my fear of helicopters is Bryan’s fault. While Bryan was studying to be a pilot, he would share with me some of his newfound knowledge about helicopters. One thing stood out for me: helicopters are unreliable. The best mechanic can safety-check a helicopter and certify that it is perfectly safe to take off and still the helicopter can malfunction and cause the pilot to have to land immediately. So, I was not too crazy about meeting Bryan at work. But who am I to argue with a guy who was determined to develop my right brain?

That’s how I found myself hovering over the mountains of North Vancouver in a small helicopter which for some reason, I could not understand, had no doors. I was strapped in, and Bryan assured me that there was no way that I could fall out. But there was something about all that fresh air swirling about which made the clouds seem a little too close for comfort. So, I held on for dear life as Bryan headed North towards Garibaldi Mountain. As Garibaldi slipped out of view followed by Blackcomb, and Whistler mountains, the sheer beauty of all that lay before me, filled me with such awe that my mind struggled to comprehend the splendour my eyes beheld. This of course was my left-brain on overdrive struggling to find words to describe the experience of my senses. 

It wasn’t until I heard Bryan’s noisy voice through the crackly headset that I realized that rather than moving beyond words, my mind was flooded with words. I asked Bryan where we were going, and he pointed to a place on the northern horizon and told me that we were going to put down on the side of a mountain in a place which he knew, I would absolutely love. As we’d long since passed the boundaries of my ability to recognize the mountains by their shape, I turned to the map of the Bastion Range, but I could not read our location. Bryan motioned to a point in the distance and indicated that it would be there that he would land the helicopter. As we hovered over the spot, I wondered how he’d manage to land, when through the headset Bryan explained it was too dangerous to actually land.  Bryan would hover inches from the ground and if I was willing to go where few humans had ever gone before, I would step out of the chopper and huddle down on the ground as Bryan swooped back up into the air out of sight, so that I could be alone in a place where Bryan was sure I’d find no words but one.

I was relieved that Bryan had not explained all this while we were still on terra firma because I would never have agreed to this particular journey. But out there, up there, the appeal of the Alpine meadow perched on a mountainside was more than I could resist. Nevertheless, as the ground approached, I became convinced that I was about to die. But I was much younger then and far more reckless, so in seconds, I was hugging the Earth and feeling the whoosh of the chopper as Bryan climbed out of the way without me. I knew that he’d be back in about 5 minutes, but as the sound of the helicopter disappeared, it was replaced by the roar of a silence, a silence I had never heard before. I stood up in time to see Bryan disappear behind the summit and discovered that I was quite literally on top of the world.  

I’ve rarely tried to put into words what happened next. I resisted doing so for years.  I think out of some sort of belief that in trying to put it into words, I would rob it of its, its what, its what, that’s just it, I don’t know what……Well I do know, I just don’t know how to say it with words.

Standing there looking out at what seemed like all of Creation right there before me. Looking down at the vast valley below and up to the summit above, I could almost reach out and touch the top of the mountain. Blanketed by a sky, which I was convinced I could walk out upon, because so much of it appeared to be below me and not above, my senses were overwhelmed. I was alone and yet I knew I was not alone. I’d like to say that I was conscious of a presence but that’s not really how it was. Words cannot do it justice. I was surrounded by it. Not “it” really but “is”.

“Is” is about as close as I can come to describing it. I was in the presence of, or surrounded by, or overwhelmed by, or upheld by, or embraced by, or touched by, caressed by, or loved by ISNESS. Somehow, I knew that this ISNESS was the ONE I had been longing for, the ONE I was trying to learn to meditate for, the ONE I desired to know, the ONE who all those years ago, I called, “GOD”. But even then, I knew that, GOD is too small a word to describe the ISNESS. But there in the presence of all that IS, I had no need to describe IS.  It was enough to simply be. All words, and thoughts slipped away, and it was enough to just be. To be in the presence of the SOURCE of all that IS. Continue reading

CELEBRATE PRIDE: Transforming Taboos and Recognizing Tapus – Celebrating Our Sexuality!

Happy Pride everyone! For those of us who are queer survivors of the church’s long history of persecution, these are indeed glorious days! For centuries, the church has had a problem with sexuality, sexualities of all descriptions, whether gay, or straight, bisexual, transgender, two-spirited, or gender fluid, sexualities of all types were a problem for the church! Somehow over the years, the church lost its way when it comes to the miracles which are our bodies. We are fearfully and wonderfully made. Sex is a blessing, a wonderous gift from our CREATOR! And yet somehow the church failed for so very long to be grateful for the blessings of sex, sexuality, gender-diversity, and celebrating the joys of being queer, they became taboo in the church. No sex please we’re christian! Sex was distorted by the church into something perverse. The church became incapable of even discussing sexual diversity, let along celebrating with pride, those who are queer.

Our very existence in the church was taboo. There’s an interesting thing about that word taboo – you see the word didn’t come into the English language until the 18th century when Captain Cook brought it back with him from New Zealand. Our word “taboo” comes from the Maori, “tapu” which actually means sacred, holy, to be revered, handed down with reverence, and somehow over the decades this beautiful Maori word for sacred and holy was changed, as language is often changed. This word was changed into a perverse word which means unspeakable or worse yet untouchable. A taboo is something to be hidden away, ignored, denied, or destroyed. In my lifetime, I have been taught by the church to condemn homosexuality, which for me meant learning to despise who I am, so much so, that I chose to hide who I am. Today, I am proud of who I am.

I am also grateful for the blessing of being a proud same-gender-loving, queer pastor. We’ve come a long way in a few decades. Pride celebrations give us an opportunity to remember where we have been, look at where we are and to discover hope for the future, for journey that we are on; this journey of equality and inclusion. Which we hope will become a reality for more and more of our LGBTQI2s+ sisters and brothers all over creation.

One of the things that we wanted to do this morning was to reflect a little bit on where we’ve been and then explore some of the places we might like to go. So, I was wondering if the members of the Worship Team would be willing to share with me some of their experiences with queer folk and so I invited them to join me this morning. We’re just going to have a conversation and invite you to eavesdrop on our conversation about where we have been. So, if someone is willing to start by giving us a little clue into some of your experiences with LGBTQ folk.

OK to start. I was nursing at Toronto General in the late 70s early 80s. I’d grown up in England and really not come across any openly gay people. So, coming to Toronto was was quite an experience for me. But one day we were going into a patient who was HIV positive and the doctor dressed up in gowns and gloves and so did I. I think we had to take blood. And so, we went in very carefully, very aware of what we touched and what we didn’t charge, very aware of the needle and recapping it. And then the patient’s partner came in. No gown. No gloves. He came in and he massaged the patient’s feet. I was so struck by y the love, the pure selfless love with which he demonstrated he cared about his partner. And I thought, boy some marriages could do with a little bit more of this. Plus, the fact that I am not very keen on peoples’ feet. So to massage  someone else’s feet is way up there for me. I’ve never forgotten the love and to me that’s really all that matters between people.

Well, Jane I have to agree with you on the love. Certainly 50 years ago, I had barely heard the words gay or lesbian and I had never given the concept much thought. And then one night I was at my brother’s house, with my sister, and we had supper together , and he came out to us. Now you have to understand I had the greatest brother in the world. I was ten years older than him, so we actually became friends and got to know each other as adults. But the kindness and the compassion and the love that he had for everyone. He was so inclusive. When he came out I said to him, “OK I can support your choice.” Oy vey! Little did I know choice does not part of the equation. So I had a lot of learning to do. And he took me and taught me and I just learned so very, very much form him.  He was fortunate enough to marry when the government finally allowed that. And the other really wonderful part of that, was that is partner had a son. And he, that the family time with his partner and his son where just wonderful to him.  During the 80s and 90s he accompanied and lost a number of friends to HIV aids. But he was always there for them. I learned a lot from him. He was the greatest.

I also have a story from the early days. My husband was in the floral industry for over 20 years and beginning before we were even married. And so, that really automatically meant that we had many friends and acquaintances and co-workers in the industry, who were gay. And it certainly was a place of acceptance there and I have to say we learned more about unconditional love and acceptance than from many other traditional couples, heterosexual couples who we knew particularly in the church family elsewhere. As things developed, we attended a convention in the States connected with the floral events, and we took our kids with us and we stayed with a gay couple on the way down and had interactions and get togethers with many other gay people and couples, while we were down there. And upon returning, another couple not close friends but again someone in the church family, questioned us when we told them about our trip, questioned us about whether we were concerned about the influence on our children. And we said absolutely not. But we didn’t pursue it any further. We did not want to ruffle the feathers. Instead we chose then and in future days just to keep talking about our other friends and how wonderful they were and the experiences that we had with them. And by that method hoping that they would begin to think and possibly change their own minds.

Marney I like the way that you used the term traditional family. I think my growing up was fairly conservative community Church, traditional family. The community was pretty white. almost exclusively white, so to see someone else that was a different colour, let alone question whether they had a different type of family system was very unfamiliar for me. I’ve been working in healthcare for quite a number of years and certainly met people of all stripes, colours, sexual orientations within that. And I struggled to try and find a story out of that without risking sharing any personal information about patients that I’ve seen. So, I’m going to take a slightly different look at it. I’m going to look at it from my experience within the church itself. I think I told the story before, that I was the typical young man following God’s call, right. But I was the only young man in my class. So we looked at the diversity in that women and men, and young and old, a good indication that the church was moving forward with better inclusion. But boy did we have a long way to go. So, I’m grateful, really grateful to have been in the church in the last 25 years that has struggled with this inclusion. I remember some very heated assemblies, were we were  engaged in some pretty nasty family fights over some of these assemblies, as we discerned who we were, and who was in, and who was out, and we’ve made some pretty substantial gains toward a fuller understanding of God’s grace that does not exclude. But certainly as a church, when I say church I mean national, regional, organization, but congregations as well, we still have quite a distance to go. It was not only the church that was growing. I was doing an incredible amount of growing and continue to grow in understanding God’s grace that does not exclude.

I went through my music degree and in the music world or have long been people of different sexual orientations. So I was introduced early on to beautiful people that I have no problem seeing God in them. I had no problem seeing full spectrum of human experience, irrespective of their sexuality. And also encountered less commonly people would identify as bisexual. And that’s the interesting part for me now, is that more and more people I meet are indicating that they’re not 100% one or the other, that there is a fluidity that is gaining legitimacy.  I used to be that the gays were mad at the people who weren’t fully gay because they were betraying their true nature. But I don’t think that’s the story. I think there’s more variety than we’ve been led to believe, and society seems to be finally open letting people be. And people loving is such a powerful thing. And that’s what determines my take on everything. If it allows them to express more that needs to be encouraged and enabled and not hampered in any ways or form.

We’ve certainly come a long way from seeing any conversation in the church about our sexuality as taboo to beginning to take those first steps of being inclusive of the diversity of sexuality’s. And even celebrating sexuality and our bodies in the church. So, we’ve certainly come along way. We do have a long way to go as we as we learn from one another what it means to be fully human.

What does it mean to be fully human? Those of us who aspire to follow Jesus, we have this sacred story which will be read in churches all over the world this week. It is the story of a woman whose humanity, particularly the female attributes of her humanity cast her beyond inclusion in society. As the story goes this unnamed woman, fell prey to her society’s fears. Fears and taboos go hand in hand, and the only way I know of overcoming fears and taboos is LOVE. The healing power of LOVE is the way in which LOVE draws us into intimacy. Taboos cannot survive intimacy. The unnamed woman in our story walked up to Jesus and she touched the hem of his garment. This woman would have been oppressed by the social norms of her day; so much so that we could say that she herself was a living, walking, touching, taboo. Our Jewish ancestors believed that blood contains the sacred power of new life. We are only now beginning to discover that our Jewish foremothers were accustomed to setting themselves apart during their periods. This was a sacred time for women, a time to forgo their regular chores and hardships, a time to contemplate the sacredness of life. It was as our Maori friends would say a tapu – a sacred time. Sadly, like the word tapu itself, it didn’t take long four our ancestors to take something sacred and turn it into a taboo. What was once liberating became oppressive as our ancestors began to fear the power of blood. This unnamed woman would have been required to stay away and if she did encounter people, the law required her to shout out a warning:  Unclean! Unclean! Unclean.”

In the desert heat, I expect that the smell alone would have alerted Jesus to the reality that the person who touched him was indeed a bleeding woman. When the woman fell at Jesus’ feet she was trembling with fear, she told Jesus everything and Jesus responded not by calling her out as a “bleeding woman” but by calling her “Daughter”.

Daughter. No longer an outcast but a Daughter.  A member of the family. Kin. A Child.  Beloved. In my sacred imagination, I like to imagine that the anonymous-gospel-storytellers told this story in a kind of male-muddled order. To hear them tell it the woman was healed before she told her story. I believe that the woman was made whole after Jesus listened to the woman and heard her tell her own story. Frightened and trembling the unnamed woman fell at Jesus’ feet and told him the whole truth of who she was.

“My Daughter,” Jesus said, “My Daughter, your faith has made you whole; go in peace”. No longer taboo, this beloved Daughter is seen in the full glory of her humanity, a tapu, sacred, holy, divine, a beloved child of the ONE who is LOVE, the transformative power of Creation to heal and make whole.

So today, let us celebrate this LOVE which has which has brought those of us who are queer all the way from being taboo in the church to being celebrated, with PRIDE as tapu, sacred, holy, beloved, daughters, sons, genderfluid, queer, loving beings. May the LOVE which is the DIVINE MYSTERY breathe in, with, through, and beyond each and every one of us, beLOVed children of the HOLY ONE. Happy Pride everyone!  Happy Pride.  

Blessing:      

Remember you are tapu.

Beloved children of the HOLY ONE.

May LOVE continue to breathe in, with, through, and beyond

each and every one of you beloved Tapus

for you are sacred, holy, beautifully and wonderfully made,

children of the ONE who is

BEYOND THE BEYOND AND BEYOND THAT ALSO,

OUR LOVER Beloved and LOVE itself. Amen.

View the full Pride Worship Celebration below

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