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

women Matthew1

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 Third Sunday 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. The followers of the RCL will not hear the names of Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, or Bathsheba; no, even Mary is only suggested as an optional replacement for the reading of the Psalm! 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!” Continue reading

St. Nicholas Is Too Old and Too Tired to Defeat the Selling Power of Santa Claus!

santa_as_satanToday, the Feast of St. Nicholas, the ancient precursor to the modern Santa Claus, will pass without much ado. Some will try to encourage us to resurrect St. Nicholas to save us all from Santa’s powers for we have gone astray.  To those well meaning souls who would rid Christmas of its flagrant consumerism, I can only offer up a feeble, “Baa Humbug!”

The very best traditions about St. Nicholas suggest that he was a protector of children while the worst tradition has him providing dowries so that young girls could be married off by their father rather than be sold into slavery. Meanwhile, the modern character Santa Claus grooms children to take up their role as consumers in the cult materialism. Some parents may bemoan the little gimmie-monsters that their children become, but most adults are rendered helpless by our own remembered indoctrinations and so we join in what we choose to deem as harmless fun.

‘Tis the season for contradictions.  ‘Tis the season when we prepare to celebrate  the incarnation of God in human form while also waiting for Santa Claus to come down our chimneys. Face it; most of the folks dashing about in the malls are more worried about the imminent arrival of Santa Claus than they are about God. I’d even go so far as to say that a good number of people have unconsciously substituted Santa Claus for God.  Santa Claus and the baby Jesus get into some pretty fierce competition at this time of year; and in the culture the larger loyalty belongs to Santa. Continue reading

Pregnant with Possibility: Advent 1B sermon Mark 13:24-37


This sermon for the first Sunday of Advent was inspired by a sermon written by Ian Lawton entitled “The Mother of All Virgin Births” in which I was captivated by his use of the phrase “pregnant with possibility.” I read Lawton’s sermon after first reading John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg’s book “The First Christmas” in anticipation of Dom Crossan’s first visit to our congregation (2008). I was so eager to prepare the congregation for Dom’s historical approach to Christmas that  I fear the sermon is overflowing, perhaps a little too pregnant with details.  Luckily, the congregation was treated to the wonders of Dom Crossan’s brilliance for several days and learned well from the master about the delights of historical details. I post the sermon here, trusting that some of the details may be enlightening as we once again prepare ourselves for the Season of Advent.

Let me tell you a story from down-under; an Australian story that was doing the rounds a few years ago. Like all stories it may never have actually happened, but it is absolutely true because it happen again and again, in various and myriad ways. This story happened a while ago in Brisbane, Australia…

“The story begins in the dark. A university student named John was on the side of the road hitch hiking on a very dark night and in the midst of a storm. The night was rolling on and no car went by. The storm was so strong John could hardly see a few feet ahead of him. Suddenly he saw a car slowly coming towards him and slowly it stopped. John was desperate for shelter and without thinking about it; he got in the car and closed the door.

It took only a moment for John to realize that there was nobody behind the wheel and the engine wasn’t on! But the car started moving slowly. John looked at the road and saw a curve approaching. John was so scared, that he started to pray, begging for his life. Then, just before he hit the curve, a hand appeared through the window and turned the wheel. John, paralyzed with terror, watched how the hand repeatedly came through the window but never harmed him. Eventually, John saw the lights of a pub down the road and so gathering his strength, he jumped out of the car and ran into the pub.  Wet and out of breath, he rushed inside and started telling everybody about the horrible experience he had just had. A silence enveloped the pub when everybody realized he was crying and he wasn’t drunk.  Suddenly two other people walked into the pub.    They, like John, were also wet and out of breath. They looked around and saw John sobbing at the bar, one of the men said to the other, ‘Look, Bruce, there’s that idiot that got into the car while we were pushing it.’

Spiritual Philosopher, Ian Lawton insists, “There is always more to life than meets the eye. There is more to life than what our sight is able to see. Our eyes don’t simply pick up information relayed from an outside world and relay it to our brains. Information relayed from the outside through the eye accounts for only 20 percent of what we use to create a perception. At least 80 percent of what the brain works with is information already in the brain. We only use a small fraction of our brainpower. We very rarely exercise the full potential of our physical strength. We rarely access all that is available to our senses. We rarely maximize the potential of our mind, body and spirit in harmony. There is always more to life than meets the eye.” Continue reading

The Birth of Jesus Is Not Very Original, Just a Birth Story Fit For An Ancient Hero

star-eastSome have said that the birth of Jesus is the most amazing birth story ever told. Jesus birth narrative heralded the arrival of a child who was praised as the Son of God, the Saviour of the World who was said to be the personification of peace on earth; God incarnate; fully divine and fully human. Not everyone agrees that this is the most amazing birth story ever told. Indeed, the story of Jesus birth can’t even claim to be unique.  Some claim that Jesus’ birth story is just one of a long line of birth stories. Jesus’ birth story, some claim, is only considered to be unique because it’s our story; a story we tell over and over at the expense of other birth stories that are just as great. Well it’s really not all that difficult to Google  “greatest birth story ever told”, select one or two of the greats and put them together to expose Jesus’ birth story as one in a line of ancient birth stories. Allow me to demonstrate.

Among the ancients, some insisted that the story Alexander the Great’s birth was weladat-alexander-mathaf-beirut
the greatest story every told. Alexander the Great’s birth story is truly one of the greats. He was, after all the, son of a Queen and a god and a king. His mother, Olympias was a Queen, betrothed to Philip of Macedonia. The night before they were married, Queen Olympias dreamed that a thunderbolt fell upon her body, which kindled a great fire, whose divided flames dispersed themselves all around her, and then as if by magic they were extinguished. Philip dreamed that he sealed up his Queen’s lady parts with a seal, which bore the impression of a lion. The high priests who interpreted the dream warned Philip not to even entertain the idea of consummating the marriage because one wouldn’t go to the trouble of sealing up something that was empty. So Queen Olympias must already be with child, who would undoubtedly be a boy with the courage of a lion. If that wasn’t enough to put Philip off he found a serpent lying beside Queen Olympias as se slept, which was said to have abated his passion. Later the oracle of Apollo at Delphi went on to explain that this was no ordinary serpent, no this was the incarnation of the God Zeus. The day that Alexander the Great was born, one of the Seven Wonders of the World burnt to the ground. The temple of the goddess Artemis in Ephesus was the home of the Goddess Artemis who was said to have been attending to the birth of Alexander at the time. Alexander the Great was heralded as the Son of God and Saviour of the World and as one of the greatest warriors the world has ever known, he went on to conquer a good portion of the planet. Continue reading

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

but-god-remembered

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 (the list of prescribed readings for Sunday worship) have failed to remember the stories and names of our foremothers? John the Baptist will strut across the stage again in this Sunday in churches all over the planet. We have begun a new cycle in the RCL in what is know as Year A the lectionary Gospel readings will focus upon readings from the Gospel according to  Matthew. But followers of the RCL will not hear the names of Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, or Bathsheba; no, not even Mary will put in an appearance despite the fact that all of these women are mentioned in the very first chapter of the Gospel according to Matthew! Last year was the same even though the RCL focussed upon the Gospel according to Luke, neither of the women of the Luke’s first chapter make an appearance without a great deal of effort. Unless worship planners are prepared to tinker with the lectionary Elizabeth and Mary will have to cede the stage to John the Baptist. So, all you worship planners and preachers out there, I say to you, “TINKER AWAY! TELL THE STORIES!”

As this is the year of Matthew, why not invite onto centre stage those “Shady 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!

St. Nicholas Is Too Old and Too Tired to Defeat the Selling Power of Santa Claus!

santa_as_satanThis Sunday, the Feast of St. Nicholas, the ancient precursor to the modern Santa Claus, will pass without much ado. Some will try to encourage us to resurrect St. Nicholas to save us all from Santa’s powers for we have gone astray.  To those well meaning souls who would rid Christmas of its flagrant consumerism, I can only offer up a feeble, “Baa Humbug!”

The very best traditions about St. Nicholas suggest that he was a protector of children while the worst tradition has him providing dowries so that young girls could be married off by their father rather than be sold into slavery. Meanwhile, the modern character Santa Claus grooms children to take up their role as consumers in the cult materialism. Some parents may bemoan the little gimmie-monsters that their children become, but most adults are rendered helpless by our own remembered indoctrinations and so we join in what we choose to deem as harmless fun.

‘Tis the season for contradictions.  ‘Tis the season when we prepare to celebrate  the incarnation of God in human form while also waiting for Santa Claus to come down our chimneys. Face it; most of the folks dashing about in the malls are more worried about the imminent arrival of Santa Claus than they are about God. I’d even go so far as to say that a good number of people have unconsciously substituted Santa Claus for God.  Santa Claus and the baby Jesus get into some pretty fierce competition at this time of year; and in the culture the larger loyalty belongs to Santa.

Besides, I don’t believe that consumerism is the most dangerous thing about Santa. So, before you accuse me of being a Scrooge or even a Grinch, ask yourself who it is that most children worship at this time of year, and I think you’ll agree that Santa is the one we’ve all been trained to bow down to, and not just at Christmas. It is difficult to deny that sometimes our view of God has been more influenced by Santa Claus than by Christ?  I dare you to compare the number of children standing in the lines at the shopping centre to get their picture taken on Santa’s lap to the number of children in Sunday School? So many of us made that same trip to see Santa when we were little and when we finally got to Santa’s lap, he asked us the big Judgement Day question that Santa always seems to ask, “Have you been good this year?” There’s only one way to answer that question – even though we may have been as deviousness might qualify us as servants of that other mythical character that begins with santa and ends with  n.  For all too many people this laptop confession begins a pattern for interactions with an image we create of the Father-God, who watches and records our offences, making a list if only for the purpose of forgiving us because an appropriate blood sacrifice has been made on our behalf.

Think I’m being harsh? Just listen to that song that pours from muzak speakers, the song that spells out a theology of Santa Claus.  “Oh, you better watch out.  You better not cry.  You better not pout. I’m telling you why. Santa Claus is coming to town.  He knows when you’ve been sleeping. He knows when you’re awake.  He knows if you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake. He’s making a list, checking it twice, gonna find out who’s naughty and nice. Santa Claus is coming to town.” The trouble with the theology of Santa Claus is that we keep applying it to God as we try to turn the Creator of all that is and ever shall be into a list-checking, gift-giver, whom we better watch out for, lest we be punished. Why then are we surprised that when our Santa-god fails to deliver or bad things happen to good people, that our childish faith in the Santa-god isn’t enough to sustain our trust?

Santa in his present incarnation is indeed pernicious, but like most mythical characters, he cannot be killed and any attempts to resurrect St. Nicholas to replace him are doomed, for the power of Santa’s materialism will always defeat the dim memories of St. Nicholas and his chocolate money. If we are going to break free of the cult of materialism, perhaps we out to try to convince Santa to use his mythical powers for goodness sake!

Yeah, that’s right, I’m going to say it, it’s time to let old St. Nick and his young assistant Santa die, so that a new Santa can be born; a Christmas resurrection if you will. We need a new Santa capable of changing our consuming ways. If the Coca Cola Company could use the advertising industry to transform St. Nick into Santa, surely we can resurrect Santa using the modern persuasive powers of social media to redesign the old salesman extraordinaire into a mythical character with powers fit for the needs of this century.

blue santina

SANTINA- all decked out in her Advent blue!

Imagine if you will, a new and improved Santina, all decked out in Advent blue, she has the power to open young minds to the needs of our neighbours and travels the world via her magic transporter beam, to gather the hopes and dreams of the poor and oppressed into one internet feed, which she magically imprints in our hearts and minds, so that we change the world, creating peace through justice! 

Oh, wait, we already have such a character. We don’t need St. Nicholas or Santa Claus, nor any new-fangled Santina.  We need the One we’ve always needed. The One who comes in the guise of a person. The One we seek is Christ. The One who lives and breathes in, with, and through us to create peace on earth through justice and love. The One who uses our hands, our feet, our lives to change the world!

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

women Matthew1

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 Third Sunday 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. The followers of the RCL will not hear the names of Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, or Bathsheba; no, even Mary is only suggested as an optional replacement for the reading of the Psalm! 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!” Continue reading

St. Nicholas Is Too Old and Too Tired to Defeat the Selling Power of Santa Claus!

santa_as_satanToday, the Feast of St. Nicholas, the ancient precursor to the modern Santa Claus, will pass without much ado. Some will try to encourage us to resurrect St. Nicholas to save us all from Santa’s powers for we have gone astray.  To those well meaning souls who would rid Christmas of its flagrant consumerism, I can only offer up a feeble, “Baa Humbug!”

The very best traditions about St. Nicholas suggest that he was a protector of children while the worst tradition has him providing dowries so that young girls could be married off by their father rather than be sold into slavery. Meanwhile, the modern character Santa Claus grooms children to take up their role as consumers in the cult materialism. Some parents may bemoan the little gimmie-monsters that their children become, but most adults are rendered helpless by our own remembered indoctrinations and so we join in what we choose to deem as harmless fun.

T’is the season for contradictions.  ‘Tis the season when we prepare to celebrate  the incarnation of God in human form while also waiting for Santa Claus to come down our chimneys. Face it; most of the folks dashing about in the malls are more worried about the imminent arrival of Santa Claus than they are about God. I’d even go so far as to say that a good number of people have unconsciously substituted Santa Claus for God.  Santa Claus and the baby Jesus get into some pretty fierce competition at this time of year; and in the culture the larger loyalty belongs to Santa.

Besides, I don’t believe that consumerism is the most dangerous thing about Santa. So, before you accuse me of being a Scrooge or even a Grinch, ask yourself who it is that most children worship at this time of year, and I think you’ll agree that Santa is the one we’ve all been trained to bow down to, and not just at Christmas. It is difficult to deny that sometimes our view of God has been more influenced by Santa Claus than by Christ?  I dare you to compare the number of children standing in the lines at the shopping centre to get their picture taken on Santa’s lap to the number of children in Sunday School? So many of us made that same trip to see Santa when we were little and when we finally got to Santa’s lap, he asked us the big Judgement Day question that Santa always seems to ask, “Have you been good this year?” There’s only one way to answer that question – even though we may have been as deviousness might qualify us as servants of that other mythical character that begins with santa and ends with  n.  For all too many people this laptop confession begins a pattern for interactions with an image we create of the Father-God, who watches and records our offences, making a list if only for the purpose of forgiving us because an appropriate blood sacrifice has been made on our behalf.

Think I’m being harsh? Just listen to that song that pours from muzak speakers, the song that spells out a theology of Santa Claus.  “Oh, you better watch out.  You better not cry.  You better not pout. I’m telling you why. Santa Claus is coming to town.  He knows when you’ve been sleeping. He knows when you’re awake.  He knows if you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake. He’s making a list, checking it twice, gonna find out who’s naughty and nice. Santa Claus is coming to town.” The trouble with the theology of Santa Claus is that we keep applying it to God as we try to turn the Creator of all that is and ever shall be into a list-checking, gift-giver, whom we better watch out for, lest we be punished. Why then are we surprised that when our Santa-god fails to deliver or bad things happen to good people, that our childish faith in the Santa-god isn’t enough to sustain our trust?

Santa in his present incarnation is indeed pernicious, but like most mythical characters, he cannot be killed and any attempts to resurrect St. Nicholas to replace him are doomed, for the power of Santa’s materialism will always defeat the dim memories of St. Nicholas and his chocolate money. If we are going to break free of the cult of materialism, perhaps we out to try to convince Santa to use his mythical powers for goodness sake!

Yeah, that’s right, I’m going to say it, it’s time to let old St. Nick and his young assistant Santa die, so that a new Santa can be born; a Christmas resurrection if you will. We need a new Santa capable of changing our consuming ways. If the Coca Cola Company could use the advertising industry to transform St. Nick into Santa, surely we can resurrect Santa using the modern persuasive powers of social media to redesign the old salesman extraordinaire into a mythical character with powers fit for the needs of this century.

blue santina

SANTINA- all decked out in her Advent blue!

Imagine if you will, a new and improved Santina, all decked out in Advent blue, she has the power to open young minds to the needs of our neighbours and travels the world via her magic transporter beam, to gather the hopes and dreams of the poor and oppressed into one internet feed, which she magically imprints in our hearts and minds, so that we change the world, creating peace through justice! 

Oh, wait, we already have such a character. We don’t need St. Nicholas or Santa Claus, nor any new-fangled Santina.  We need the One we’ve always needed. The One who comes in the guise of a person. The One we seek is Christ. The One who lives and breathes in, with, and through us to create peace on earth through justice and love. The One who uses our hands, our feet, our lives to change the world!

Enjoy this version of Let There Be Peace on Earth in which Vanessa Williams uses not only inclusive language, but celebrates the Earth as our Mother!

Magnificat for Ferguson, New York, and Canada’s Broken Justice Systems

stolen sisters pastorDawnAs I prepare the liturgy for the Third Sunday in Advent, various interpretations and musical settings of the Magnificat litter my office. Over and over again, the words placed on the lips of the young child Mary who was “great with child,” a child in whom our hopes and dreams for a new kin-dom of justice are embodied, sing in my imagination. In these past few days, I have observed my Canadian sisters and brothers as we look with horror and sadness as news of  what look to us like travesties of justice steam across the border. As Canadians we comfort ourselves with the delusion that the kind of racism which results in what appears to be a systemic contempt for the lives of young black men does not exist here in Canada. We shake our heads in disbelief as grand-juries refuse to indite police officers in Ferguson and New York trusting that our own justice system would do a better job of seeking justice. Some of us go as far as offering up a prayer of sorts giving thanks that we live up here and not down there. Up here we believe that we are above the kind of racism that results in systemic contempt for the lives of so many simply because of the colour of their skin. 

Mary’s song echoes in my brain and the tears begin to flow; tears of solidarity with the grieving, angry, laments being sounded by our American cousins as they cry out for justice, longing for the powerful to be brought down from their thrones and the lifting up of the lowly. Feeling my own anger and frustration at the callus disregard for the lives of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and little Tamir Rice, shot and killed by police who failed to determine that the gun Tamir was holding was a toy, I can’t help but wonder, “How long, O Lord.”

No sooner than my lament leaves my lips, I comfort myself with the thought that I don’t live down there in the U.S., and like so many Canadians, I am more than willing to leave the fate of my American cousins in God’s hands, for there is nothing I can do; thank God. I can happily go about my day, smug in my country’s belief that we are not like “them.” So, with Mary “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,” as images of Canadians, black, white, brown, and yellow dance in my head as equal before the law. Even as I sing to myself my favourite rendition of the Magnificat, images begin to creep into my head; images that cause the tears to return, images of stolen sisters, and the “Highway of Tears” bridges the gap between my delusions and reality. Continue reading

Pregnant with Possibility: Advent 1B sermon Mark 13:24-37

Advent pregnant2014 pastordawnThis sermon for the first Sunday of Advent was inspired by a sermon written by Ian Lawton entitled “The Mother of All Virgin Births” in which I was captivated by his use of the phrase “pregnant with possibility.” I read Lawton’s sermon after first reading John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg’s book “The First Christmas” in anticipation of Dom Crossan’s first visit to our congregation (2008). I was so eager to prepare the congregation for Dom’s historical approach to Christmas that  I fear the sermon is overflowing, perhaps a little too pregnant with details.  Luckily, the congregation was treated to the wonders of Dom Crossan’s brilliance for several days and learned well from the master about the delights of historical details. I post the sermon here, trusting that some of the details may be enlightening as we once again prepare ourselves for the Season of Advent.

Let me tell you a story from down-under; an Australian story that was doing the rounds a few years ago. Like all stories it may never have actually happened, but it is absolutely true because it happen again and again, in various and myriad ways. This story happened a while ago in Brisbane, Australia…

“The story begins in the dark. A university student named John was on the side of the road hitch hiking on a very dark night and in the midst of a storm. The night was rolling on and no car went by. The storm was so strong John could hardly see a few feet ahead of him. Suddenly he saw a car slowly coming towards him and slowly it stopped. John was desperate for shelter and without thinking about it; he got in the car and closed the door.

It took only a moment for John to realize that there was nobody behind the wheel and the engine wasn’t on! But the car started moving slowly. John looked at the road and saw a curve approaching. John was so scared, that he started to pray, begging for his life. Then, just before he hit the curve, a hand appeared through the window and turned the wheel. John, paralyzed with terror, watched how the hand repeatedly came through the window but never harmed him. Eventually, John saw the lights of a pub down the road and so gathering his strength, he jumped out of the car and ran into the pub.  Wet and out of breath, he rushed inside and started telling everybody about the horrible experience he had just had. A silence enveloped the pub when everybody realized he was crying and he wasn’t drunk.  Suddenly two other people walked into the pub.    They, like John, were also wet and out of breath. They looked around and saw John sobbing at the bar, one of the men said to the other, ‘Look, Bruce, there’s that idiot that got into the car while we were pushing it.’

Spiritual Philosopher, Ian Lawton insists, “There is always more to life than meets the eye. There is more to life than what our sight is able to see. Our eyes don’t simply pick up information relayed from an outside world and relay it to our brains. Information relayed from the outside through the eye accounts for only 20 percent of what we use to create a perception. At least 80 percent of what the brain works with is information already in the brain. We only use a small fraction of our brainpower. We very rarely exercise the full potential of our physical strength. We rarely access all that is available to our senses. We rarely maximize the potential of our mind, body and spirit in harmony. There is always more to life than meets the eye.” Continue reading

Shattered Angel: an Imperfect Christmas Story

As Christmas draws near, we turn to stories to express the inexpressible. Like the Gospel writers we are at a loss to explain the activity of our God in the world and so we too resort to story telling. Families gather and the reliable old stories are told. Each year new stories are added to our treasure troves as we seek to express the inexpressible and touch the hem of our God who is love. What better way to touch and be touched by God than to tell stories of God’s love in the world? We all have treasure troves of stories of Christ taking on flesh and dwelling among us. My story took place when I was a young woman determined that my first Christmas living out in the world would be the type of Christmas that dreams are made of.

It’s a story about the quest for the perfect Christmas. When I was growing up, I always wanted Christmas to be just so. But the reality of life with all its inherent dysfunctions coupled with financial limitations meant that we just couldn’t pull off the perfect Christmas. I used to comfort myself with the notion that when I grew up things would be different. When I grew up, I’d do things better. I’d save up my money so that no one would be disappointed and there’d be enough to ensure that the house would be filled with Christmas cheer! The decorations would be perfect and no family arguments or disappointments would be allowed to ruin my dream of the perfect Christmas. I knew that just as soon as I had my own place, I’d be able to pull off the kind of Christmas that would be so full of peace and harmony that the angels wouldn’t be able to keep from singing. Continue reading

Cheap, Small, and Plastic: a Christmas Eve Sermon for Progressive Christians

I have been asked to post last year’s Christmas Eve sermon. You can listen to it or read a transcript.  The progressive version of God Rest Ye Progressive Christians appears in the transcript. I searched without success for its source. If you know who wrote it please let me know.

Listen to the sermon


Last night, while suffering from a serious case of writers’ block, panic set in as I desperately struggled to figure out what to say to you all this evening. I’d spent most of the afternoon in my office, reading and re-reading chapters, articles and sermons, searching for a way to express the inexpressible. Christmas Eve is a challenge for a preacher. You all know the story so well that there’s nothing new that I can say.  Then there’s the fact that many of you don’t make it to church all that often, so we preachers kinda want to make our Christmas Eve sermons something special, in the hope that we might just inspire you to come back some Sunday morning. Add to that the fact that we at Holy Cross fall in to a category of Christianity that has been called “progressive” which means that we’re pretty clear on the fact that the Christmas stories in the New Testament  are full of metaphors and symbols that point to various truths about the nature of the MYSTERY we call God, as well as truths about ourselves and our life in the world.

As Progressive Christians living in the 21st century, we are fond of using the best scholarship available as we study the scriptures and so we know that the New Testament stories about the birth of Jesus are not actual historical accounts of the events of Jesus’ birth. So, last night as the panic began to get the better of me, I did what writers do when we are in the midst of a serious block, under the threat of a looming dead-line, I looked for a way to distract myself in the hope that if I gave my brain a rest, something might occur to me. Well by the time I made it back to my computer, I was determined that I’d throw caution to the wind and write a very informative, scholarly sermon which would give you all a progressive Christian view of the nativity. But you can all relax because, thanks to the arrival of an email, you have all been saved from Satan’s power. The email was from a colleague in  Australia for whom the Christmas Eve deadline had already come and gone, so he was feeling more than a little smug about having finished his sermon. His message to me came in the lyric of a song, which I’d love to sing for you. But most of you know that with my singing voice it is better that I just read to you what he wrote:

“God rest ye Progressive Christians, let nothing you dismay.

Remember there’s no evidence that there was a Christmas day.

When Christ was born is just not known, no matter what they say.

Good tidings of reason and fact; reason and fact;

Good tidings of rea-son and fact.

 

There was no star of Bethlehem; there was no angel song.

There could have been no wise men for the journey was too long.

The stories in the Bible are historical-ly wrong.

Good tidings of reason and fact; reason and fact;

Good tidings of rea-son and fact.

 

Much of our Christmas custom comes from Persia and from Greece.

From solstice celebrations of the ancient Middle East.

We know this so-called holiday is but a pagan feast.

Good tidings of reason and fact; reason and fact;

Good tidings of rea-son and fact.”

Well after singing that over to myself, I shut down my computer and went to bed. I went to sleep longing for the good old simpler days, when my brother Alan and I could enjoy our very own Christmas Eve tradition of watching the old black and white version of A Christmas Carol; the one were Alistair Sim plays Scrooge. I told myself that if I just went to sleep, something would come to me and I’d wake up knowing just what to say to you all on this night of nights. So, I dozed off with Alistair Sim’s Scrooge dancing in my head and singing, “I don’t know anything. I never did know anything. But now I know that I don’t know. All on a Christmas morning.”

It may not have been the ghost of Christmas past who visited me last night, but it certainly was a Christmas from my past. I must have caught a glimpse of it earlier in the day, when the box of Christmas decorations was hauled upstairs. It’s a small thing really. Something I bought to adorn my very first apartment. You see, my first apartment was just a small studio, everything in one little room, so there was no room for a Christmas tree. So, I decided that if I couldn’t fit a tree in there, I might just be able to manage a nativity set. But I didn’t have much money to spare and all the nativity sets I liked were outrageously expensive and then one day I saw it on a store-shelf, a tiny little nativity that I could actually afford. It had been marked down, from $16 to $12.95. From where I was standing it looked like it had been carved out of the finest wood. I knew that I just had to have it. When I reached out to take it off the shelf, I realized that it was actually made of plastic and suddenly the $12.95 price tag seemed way too much to pay for this mass-produced piece of plastic. But the longer I looked at it the more I knew that my little apartment needed it. Would you like to see it?

It may be small. It may just be a cheap imitation, but when I look at it I see all the hopes and dreams of all the years as they are told in the story of stories. No more ghosts visited me in the night, but just like Ebenezer Scrooge, I woke up knowing just what I had to do. You see Scrooge wasn’t the only movie that my brother and I used to watch. Alan was particularly fond of science-fiction movies. Sometimes, when he would manage to convince me to watch one of this movies with him, I would complain after just a few minutes in, that the premise was just too unbelievable; I mean really nothing like that could ever actually happen. Alan would remind me that you don’t have to believe them; you just have to watch them, go with the story, see where it takes you. When you really think about it, many of our best-loved stories never actually happened the way we tell them. Take Scrooge for example; does any one of us actually believe that Ebenezer was really visited by three ghosts?  We know that it is a story that never actually happened the way it has been told to us; and yet it has the power to take us somewhere, to move us as we watch the incredible transformation of old Scrooge and we too are moved to keep Christmas well. Continue reading

The Power of Love Who Lives In Us: a Christmas Eve Sermon

cloth nativityA sermon preached on Christmas Eve 2011 at Holy Cross Lutheran Church.

It has been said that the shortest distance between humanity and the truth is a story.[1]  Tonight, as we celebrate the greatest story every told, we also celebrate our own stories. As families gather and festivities progress we will tell our stories to one another; stories that move us to a deeper understanding of who we are; stories that in their own way compliment the greatest story ever told. Every family has them, those little stories that we love to tell one another because they remind us of our deep connections to one another or reveal a truth we treasure in one another. Christmas is a time for stories old and new, stories grand and glorious, happy and sad stories that will cause us to remember, to laugh and to cry.

So, this evening, my story, like the story of Jesus birth, begins with the stories of two pregnant women. The Jesus’ story begins with the stories of Elizabeth and Mary, two cousins who were great with child. My story begins with the news that two of my nieces Ashley and her sister Sheri Lynn, were also pregnant. Ashley was expecting her first child, Sheri Lynn her second. My niece Sheri Lynn’s little girl is my great-niece Isabella.

Isabella is just 3 years old and last month she and her mother, Sheri Lynn, travelled here from Vancouver, so that Isabella could be the flower-girl at my wedding. Before they arrived the story was already being told of Isabella’s response to the news that her Aunt Ashley was going to have a baby and that that baby was going to be a little boy. Isabella proudly announced that her Aunt Ashley’s little boy was going to be her new little brother. Well meaning adults tried to correct Isabella by gently telling her that her Aunt Ashley’s little boy would in fact be her cousin and not her brother. But Isabella insisted that he would be her brother. Various family members tried to convince Isabella that the baby her mommy was expecting would be her little brother or her little sister, but the little boy that her Aunt Ashley was expecting would be her cousin. But no matter how hard or how often they tried to explain it, Isabella went on insisting that her Aunt Ashley’s new baby would be her brother.

One day, while they were visiting, I snapped at the chance to look after Isabella while her mother did some sightseeing. I had some errands to run and it was marvellous to have a little 3 year-old along to help me. It gave me the opportunity to do some great-auntie stuff. And that’s how Isabella and I ended up in the local Christian bookstore trying to find a lightweight nativity set that she would be able to carry home with her on the airplane. I wanted her to learn to tell the greatest story ever told in her own unique way. Continue reading

To See Jesus as White Is to Miss the Birth of Christ All Together

“In Christ there is no Jew or Greek, slave or citizen, male or female. All are one in Christ.” (Galatians 3:28)  There has been much ado in the media over ridiculous statements about Jesus’ race. There are those who insist, despite common sense and forensic archeology, that Jesus was a white man. Sadly, these simpletons are running the risk of missing the birth of Christ altogether. For in Christ there is a new creation. Neither black nor white, male nor female, these words fail to define us and so must slip away. Let it be so. Let it be so, soon!  

The Birth of Jesus Is Not Very Original, Just a Birth Story Fit For An Ancient Hero

star in the eastSome have said that the birth of Jesus is the most amazing birth story ever told. Jesus birth narrative heralded the arrival of a child who was praised as the Son of God, the Saviour of the World who was said to be the personification of peace on earth; God incarnate; fully divine and fully human. Not everyone agrees that this is the most amazing birth story ever told. Indeed, the story of Jesus birth can’t even claim to be unique.  Some claim that Jesus’ birth story is just one of a long line of birth stories. Jesus’ birth story, some claim, is only considered to be unique because it’s our story; a story we tell over and over at the expense of other birth stories that are just as great. Well it’s really not all that difficult to Google  “greatest birth story ever told”, select one or two of the greats and put them together to expose Jesus’ birth story as one in a line of ancient birth stories. Allow me to demonstrate.

Among the ancients, some insisted that the story Alexander the Great’s birth was alexanderthe greatest story every told. Alexander the Great’s birth story is truly one of the greats. He was, after all the, son of a Queen and a god and a king. His mother, Olympias was a Queen, betrothed to Philip of Macedonia. The night before they were married, Queen Olympias dreamed that a thunderbolt fell upon her body, which kindled a great fire, whose divided flames dispersed themselves all around her, and then as if by magic they were extinguished. Philip dreamed that he sealed up his Queen’s lady parts with a seal, which bore the impression of a lion. The high priests who interpreted the dream warned Philip not to even entertain the idea of consummating the marriage because one wouldn’t go to the trouble of sealing up something that was empty. So Queen Olympias must already be with child, who would undoubtedly be a boy with the courage of a lion. If that wasn’t enough to put Philip off he found a serpent lying beside Queen Olympias as se slept, which was said to have abated his passion. Later the oracle of Apollo at Delphi went on to explain that this was no ordinary serpent, no this was the incarnation of the God Zeus. The day that Alexander the Great was born, one of the Seven Wonders of the World burnt to the ground. The temple of the goddess Artemis in Ephesus was the home of the Goddess Artemis who was said to have been attending to the birth of Alexander at the time. Alexander the Great was heralded as the Son of God and Saviour of the World and as one of the greatest warriors the world has ever known, he went on to conquer a good portion of the planet. Continue reading

Midwife Divine Now Calls Us

Jann Aldredge-Clanton not only provides a new hymn-text to the familiar well loved carol, Lo How a Rose, she opens us to beautiful images of God, calling out new birth in us. Enjoy!

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

women Matthew1

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 Third Sunday of Advent, I can’t help wondering why the creators of the Revised Common Lectionary (the list of prescribed readings for Sunday worship) have failed to remember the stories and names of our foremothers? John the Baptist will strut across the stage again in this Sunday in churches all over the planet. We have begun a new cycle in the RCL in what is know as Year A the lectionary Gospel readings will focus upon readings from the Gospel according to  Matthew. But followers of the RCL will not hear the names of Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, or Bathsheba; no, not even Mary will put in an appearance despite the fact that all of these women are mentioned in the very first chapter of the Gospel according to Matthew! Last year was the same even though the RCL focussed upon the Gospel according to Luke, neither of the women of the Luke’s first chapter make an appearance without a great deal of effort. Unless worship planners are prepared to tinker with the lectionary Elizabeth and Mary will have to cede the stage to John the Baptist. So, all you worship planners and preachers out there, I say to you, “TINKER AWAY! TELL THE STORIES!” Continue reading

St. Nicholas Is Too Old and Too Tired to Defeat the Selling Power of Santa Claus!

santa_as_satanToday, the Feast of St. Nicholas, the ancient precursor to the modern Santa Claus, will pass without much ado. Some will try to encourage us to resurrect St. Nicholas to save us all from Santa’s powers for we have gone astray.  To those well meaning souls who would rid Christmas of its flagrant consumerism, I can only offer up a feeble, “Baa Humbug!”

The very best traditions about St. Nicholas suggest that he was a protector of children while the worst tradition has him providing dowries so that young girls could be married off by their father rather than be sold into slavery. Meanwhile, the modern character Santa Claus grooms children to take up their role as consumers in the cult materialism. Some parents may bemoan the little gimmie-monsters that their children become, but most adults are rendered helpless by our own remembered indoctrinations and so we join in what we choose to deem as harmless fun.

T’is the season for contradictions.  ‘Tis the season when we prepare to celebrate  the incarnation of God in human form while also waiting for Santa Claus to come down our chimneys. Face it; most of the folks dashing about in the malls are more worried about the imminent arrival of Santa Claus than they are about God. I’d even go so far as to say that a good number of people have unconsciously substituted Santa Claus for God.  Santa Claus and the baby Jesus get into some pretty fierce competition at this time of year; and in the culture the larger loyalty belongs to Santa.

Besides, I don’t believe that consumerism is the most dangerous thing about Santa. So, before you accuse me of being a Scrooge or even a Grinch, ask yourself who it is that most children worship at this time of year, and I think you’ll agree that Santa is the one we’ve all been trained to bow down to, and not just at Christmas. It is difficult to deny that sometimes our view of God has been more influenced by Santa Claus than by Christ?  I dare you to compare the number of children standing in the lines at the shopping centre to get their picture taken on Santa’s lap to the number of children in Sunday School? So many of us made that same trip to see Santa when we were little and when we finally got to Santa’s lap, he asked us the big Judgement Day question that Santa always seems to ask, “Have you been good this year?” There’s only one way to answer that question – even though we may have been as deviousness might qualify us as servants of that other mythical character that begins with santa and ends with  n.  For all too many people this laptop confession begins a pattern for interactions with an image we create of the Father-God, who watches and records our offences, making a list if only for the purpose of forgiving us because an appropriate blood sacrifice has been made on our behalf.

Think I’m being harsh? Just listen to that song that pours from muzak speakers, the song that spells out a theology of Santa Claus.  “Oh, you better watch out.  You better not cry.  You better not pout. I’m telling you why. Santa Claus is coming to town.  He knows when you’ve been sleeping. He knows when you’re awake.  He knows if you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake. He’s making a list, checking it twice, gonna find out who’s naughty and nice. Santa Claus is coming to town.” The trouble with the theology of Santa Claus is that we keep applying it to God as we try to turn the Creator of all that is and ever shall be into a list-checking, gift-giver, whom we better watch out for, lest we be punished. Why then are we surprised that when our Santa-god fails to deliver or bad things happen to good people, that our childish faith in the Santa-god isn’t enough to sustain our trust?

Santa in his present incarnation is indeed pernicious, but like most mythical characters, he cannot be killed and any attempts to resurrect St. Nicholas to replace him are doomed, for the power of Santa’s materialism will always defeat the dim memories of St. Nicholas and his chocolate money. If we are going to break free of the cult of materialism, perhaps we out to try to convince Santa to use his mythical powers for goodness sake!

Yeah, that’s right, I’m going to say it, it’s time to let old St. Nick and his young assistant Santa die, so that a new Santa can be born; a Christmas resurrection if you will. We need a new Santa capable of changing our consuming ways. If the Coca Cola Company could use the advertising industry to transform St. Nick into Santa, surely we can resurrect Santa using the modern persuasive powers of social media to redesign the old salesman extraordinaire into a mythical character with powers fit for the needs of this century.

blue santina

SANTINA- all decked out in her Advent blue!

Imagine if you will, a new and improved Santina, all decked out in Advent blue, she has the power to open young minds to the needs of our neighbours and travels the world via her magic transporter beam, to gather the hopes and dreams of the poor and oppressed into one internet feed, which she magically imprints in our hearts and minds, so that we change the world, creating peace through justice! 

Oh, wait, we already have such a character. We don’t need St. Nicholas or Santa Claus, nor any new-fangled Santina.  We need the One we’ve always needed. The One who comes in the guise of a person. The One we seek is Christ. The One who lives and breathes in, with, and through us to create peace on earth through justice and love. The One who uses our hands, our feet, our lives to change the world!

Enjoy this version of Let There Be Peace on Earth in which Vanessa Williams uses not only inclusive language, but celebrates the Earth as our Mother!