The Season of Creation concludes with the celebration of the life of St. Francis – Matthew 6:25-29
The Season of Creation concludes with the celebration of the life of St. Francis – Matthew 6:25-29
In our ongoing celebration of the Season of Creation, today we shift our focus to the Cosmos. Usually, the word “cosmos” conjures up starry images of far distant constellations. Staring out into space can make us feel small and insignificant. But on this Cosmos Sunday, I’d like us to move us from our usual perspective of the cosmos. Perspective is a powerful tool, especially when we contemplate our place in the cosmos. You see the word “cosmos” refers to the entire universe, every dimension of time and space, spiritual and material. The cosmos includes the glittering galaxies that are so distant that we must peer at them through sophisticated giant telescopes as well as the deep domains within each minute molecule which we can only peer at through the lenses of sophisticated giant microscopes.
In addition to the material dimension of universes, the cosmos also includes the dimensions of time, our imaginations and of the spirit. Take a cube of sugar for example. Scientists tell us that you could fit the entire human race into the volume of single sugar cube; that’s right all 7 billion of us in a single tiny sugar cube. Something about the emptiness of matter that is beyond my intellectual ability to comprehend.
The cosmos is both infinitely large and infinity small. None of our telescopes and none of our microscopes can actually capture the vastness of the infinitely large nor the infinitely small, we must rely on our imaginations for this perspective on the cosmos. Staring out in the night sky can make you feel very small. Looking around the Earth, which is in and of itself a small planet can make you feel small and insignificant. But as the psalmist insists, you are fearfully and wonderfully made. The Hebrew word that is translated as fearfully can also be translated as awesome. Your very being is so very wonderful that it inspires awe. Awe and wonder are the very first religious impulses. Congratulations, for you are awesome, tremendous, wonderful. And yet, so often we can only see ourselves as small in relation to the cosmos; small and insignificant, small and powerless.
I remember, once long ago, when I was feeling so very small, insignificant and powerless. I was only ten years old. My Grandfather had a way of belittling people that was crushing. Granda had been taunting me over something I had said. The adults had been talking about war in the Middle East. The year was 1967, the year of the Six-Day War. I was just ten and didn’t understand the details of what was happening. But I did understand the drills we went through at school. Those of you of a certain age may remember hiding under your desk as we practiced what we would need to do in the event of a nuclear attack. Somehow our wooden desks were supposed to offer us some sort of protection. It was madness. A kind of madness that all of us, even the adults in the room all bought into. Continue reading
On this the first Sunday of the Season of Creation, we pause to contemplate the Ocean. I say the Ocean because even though we can the Ocean by many names, there is only one Ocean. Covering 71% of the Earth’s surface in one interconnected body, the Ocean contains 321 million cubic miles of water. This one gigantic Ocean contains 97% of the Earth’s water in which somewhere in the neighbourhood of 250,000 different species of life make their home. Only about 5% of the Earth’s Ocean has been explored by humans. The truth is that we humans know very little about the Ocean. We do know that at its deepest point, the Ocean reaches a depth of 6.8 miles.
For me, the Ocean has always been, what the Celts describe as a “thin place” – a place where the DIVINE permeates our being; a place where all the divisions we have constructed between the sacred and the ordinary disappear. A distant memory of my small barefooted self, clutching a bucket and spade, splashing in tide-pools, humming an old song, “Oh I do like to be beside the seaside, Oh I do like to be beside the sea!”, a memory that brings with it the sweet, salty smell of the sea.
I have not always been land-locked. Childhood memories of trips to the seaside in Northern Ireland, followed by high school memories of skipping class to pay amongst the waves, youthful excursions sailing up the coast of British Columbia, and long walks along Vancouver’s sea wall, permeate my senses with memories so sweet that I can almost hear the sound of waves lapping on shore, bringing with them the sure and certain knowledge that life is sweet and good. “Oh! I do like to be beside the seaside, I do like to be beside the sea!”
When my Dad was just a teen-age boy, he joined the British Merchant. Years spent travelling the Earth’s Ocean spawned a healthy respect for the power of the Sea; a deep abiding respect that he engendered in his daughter. To this day, while I do like to be beside the seaside, the deep, dark, open waters of the Ocean with their unknown secrets inspire a fear in me that can make my land-loving legs tremble.
What lurks beneath the Sea from which our ancient precursors first emerged? Deep, deep, darkness harbours mysteries of our origins over which the CREATOR of ALL that IS brooded and the RUACH swept over the face of the deep drawing forth life; our primal memories of the Sea inspired perhaps, by the breaking of the waters that heralded our own birth. Some four billion years ago, the miracle of tiny, living cells percolating in the depths remains a mystery we long to unravel. Six hundred million years ago, life miraculously moves onto the land, out of the waters of our gestating mother the Earth life emerges in all its magnificent complexities. Staring down into the depths of the Ocean, I have often been struck by the magnitude of my own insignificance and yet, here I am. Here you are. Here we are. All of us floating along in the blue-boat home of ours, even as sisters and brothers, cousins, and friends in the southlands prepare themselves for the power of the oncoming rush of the Ocean’s furry.
Storms rage upon the Ocean each and every day. But not until the Ocean threatens to encroach upon the Lands, do we shift our gaze and wonder at the depth of life’s mysteries. Knowing that in the coming days, like Job shaking his fist at the heavens, there will be those in the path of a storm named Dorian, who will be left with nothing but their own shaking fists with which to protest the cruel vicissitudes the powers of the Ocean. Dorian from the Greek word meaning “gift” as if such furry could be tamed by a name. This gift-storm will surely stir us, if for but a moment from the momentum of our lives, inviting us to spare a thought for our fellow creatures.
Recalling our connections one to another inspires a kind of concern that causes some to exclaim, “There but for the grace of God…” A kind of trivial response of inconsequential value in the face of such suffering. Is it any wonder that the god of our ancestors scorns our shaking fists in our sacred scriptures, where out of the storm YAHWEH can be heard to demand: “Who is this obscuring my plans with such ignorant words?”
Dare we turn the pages to seek comfort in a later text. As from the confines of a small boat, Jesus directs us out into deeper waters. Do we have the courage to risk deeper waters? I wonder.
Before a storm the calm upon the surface inspires such confidence in us as we quietly navigate without risk. As the storm rages, the temptation is to rush to the shore and abandon our small boats. Even if there are fish out there to be caught, why take the risk? After all we’ve been work hard for years and have caught nothing and lost more than we can bear. Our boat is too small. Our spirits are weary. And still Jesus says, “Pull out into deep water.”
In the midst of the turbulence we long for calm clear waters in which to sail. Fearful of the depths, can we hear Jesus, urging us to go deeper. Deeper, where pretentions having floated to the surface give way to authentic connections. Deeper, where we must hone our focus in order to see what really matters. Deeper, where conscious communication opens our lungs so that we can breathe with compassion. Deeper, where the LOVE that lives in us longs to stir us beyond our fear. Deeper, where MYSTERY dwells, compels, and empowers. Deeper, where darkness gives birth to awakening.
To this day, while I do like to be beside the seaside, the deep, dark, open waters of the Ocean with their unknown secrets inspire a fear in me that can make my land-loving legs tremble. And yet, here I sand, clutching my bucket and spade, full of visions of castles yet to be built in the sand, nursing my fears that the crashing waves might just wash it all away. Somewhere from deep, deep, within, I hear the words of Jesus, “Do not be afraid.” Do not be afraid. Do not be afraid. “Pull out into deep water.” Go deeper still.
May the ONE who gave birth to the OCEAN fill us with the courage to go deeper still. Deeper where the LOVE that lives in us longs to stir us beyond our fear. Do not be afraid.
Clay Nelson, a colleague in New Zealand, tells the story about a journalist who was stationed in Jerusalem. The journalist’s apartment overlooks the Western Wall which is the holiest site in Judaism. Every day when the journal looks out towards the Wall, she sees an old Jewish man praying vigorously. One day the journalist goes down and introduces herself to the old man. As a journalist she cannot resist interviewing the old man. “You come every day to the wall. How long have you done this and what are you praying for?” The old man replies, “I have come here to pray every day for 25 years. In the morning, I pray for world peace and then for the wellbeing of humanity. I go home and have a cup of tea and I come back, and I pray for the eradication of illness and disease from the earth.” The journalist is intrigued, and she asks, “How does it make you feel to come here every day for 25 years and pray for these things?” The old man looks at the journalist with great sadness and replies, “It feels like I’m talking to a damn wall!”
The old man’s frustration is one that I think we can all relate to when it comes to prayer. Sometimes it feels like we’re talking to a damn wall. And yet, we pray. Marcus Borg insisted that there are two things that most humans have in common. Borg wrote that, “Most humans have a deep longing for connection; a deeper connection to the DIVINE, to the sacred, to one another, to creation.” and “Most humans have a deep longing to make the world a better place.” Perhaps it is our longing for connection together with our longing to make the world a better place that provide our impetus to pray. So, is it any wonder that our desire to connect to the DIVINE MYSTERY that lies at the very heart of all that IS, should leave us frustrated?
Today’s gospel text has frustrated me for years. Over and over again, in my prayers I have asked and felt no connection. I have looked and not found. I have knocked and the door hasn’t been opened. It is as if I am up against the wall penned in by a multitude of snakes and scorpions, and there is no door anywhere in sight.
Author Anne Lamott insists that the two best prayers that she knows are: The first: “help me, help me, help me” and the second “thank-you, thank-you, thank-you”. Prayers of gratitude, most of us can handle. I suspect that for many of us the source of our greatest frustration comes from the “help me, help me, help me” kinds of prayer. For who amongst us has not prayed fervently and persistently only to experience the frustration of what seems like a vast, unresponsive, emptiness?
So many of us learned to pray to an image of the DIVINE MYSTERY that fails to capture the magnitude of the CREATOR of all that IS. We were trained to look up to the heavens as we beseeched a God whom we cast in the role of a cosmic superhero, ready, willing, and able to intervene on our behalf. Our prayers were crafted with a transactional mindset that perceived life from a dualistic perspective: either or, yes or no, all or nothing, agree or disagree, answered or unanswered prayer. You either believe in God or you don’t. Slowly, as we have learned more and more about the nature of reality, our longing to connect with the Source of All reality has caused us to expand our images of the ONE in whom we live and move and have our being. As the CREATOR OF UNIVERSES shakes off our way too small superhero costume, we are left standing among the snakes and scorpions wondering: to whom shall we go? how shall we pray? whatever shall we pray?
As I wrestled with today’s gospel text, I despaired of ever finding answers to my own questions about prayer. I mean when you give up the notion of worshipping what is but a poor image of the DIVINE and yet still long for a connection to the ONE who IS the GROUND of ALL BEING, then how, what, or why do we pray? I found myself wishing that my vacation started this week instead of next week, then I wouldn’t have to deal with this text. It wasn’t until I realized that my questions were blinding me to the words of the text. As I read the text over and over again, some might say as a kind of prayer, seeking to find, longing for connection, there it was in the words on the page.
Jesus said, “That is why I tell you, keep asking and you will receive, keep looking and you will find; keep knocking and the door will be opened to you. For whoever asks, receives; whoever seeks, finds; whoever knocks, is admitted. What parents among you will give a snake to their child when the child askes for a fish, or a scorpion when the child asks for an egg?”
My dualistic mind was forming questions that were transactional. Ask/receive, seek/find, knock/open. My questions about prayer were born out of a view of prayer that I thought I’d long since moved away from. I was trapped in an either or, yes or no, all or nothing, agree or disagree, believe or not believe, God or no-God, dualistic mindset and so my questions about prayer served only to build the kind of wall that caused my prayers to fail to provide even the remotest possibility of connection. My questions had become the very snakes and scorpions that I had hoped to avoid. Continue reading
…the prescribed reading for today (Luke 10:1-11, 16-20) is a little strange because it is chopped up into pieces…and leaves out several verses that to most ears sound more than a little judgmental. Without the omitted verses is a difficult reading that is seeming bereft of “Good News”. So, as is often the case when we deliver bad news, I’m going to ask you to sit down and take a few deep breathes. ….ready?
…the text continues with Jesus saying to the 72: “If the people of any town you enter don’t welcome you, go into its streets and say, “We shake the dust of this town from our feet as testimony against you. But know that the reign of God has drawn near. I tell you, on that day the fate of Sodom will be less severe than the fate of such a town. “Woe to you, Chorazin! And woe to you, Bethsaida! If the miracles worked in your midst had occurred in Tyre and Sidon, they would long ago have repented in sackcloth and ashes! It will go easier on the day of judgement for Tyre and Sidon than for you. As for you, Capernam, will you exalt yourself to the skies? No, you’ll be hurled down to Hades! Anyone who listens to you, listens to me. Anyone who rejects you, rejects me; and those who reject me, reject the ONE who sent me.”
Jesus has sent out seventy-two of his followers to proclaim that the reign of God is near. Two by two those who have learned at Jesus’ feet are sent to proclaim a new way of being in the world. Furthermore, Jesus instructs his followers to go out into the world with nothing, no knapsack, no sandals, and perhaps more importantly, with no purse; no money with which to provide the essentials. Like lambs Jesus sends his followers into the midst of wolves.
Lambs in the midst of wolves is a strange metaphor. I know a thing or two about lambs. I helped to tend a flock of sheep for about 8 years. While there were no wolves in the area, there were coyotes, and I can tell you that no self-respecting shepherd would expose vulnerable lambs to wolves. Jesus would make a crappy shepherd. Leaders are supposed to protect the ones they lead. Yet here, the anonymous gospel storyteller that we call Luke, has crafted a story that casts Jesus in the role of a reckless leader who demands an equally reckless vulnerability from his followers.
What we know about the gospel-storyteller that we call Luke is that he wrote close to the end of the first century. Some 50 to 60 years after the life of Jesus of Nazareth; a time when the full force of the mighty Roman Empire was being brought to bear upon the Jewish people and upon the followers of Jesus’ Way of being in the world. During this time both Jews and followers of the Way lived in fear for their lives. The very idea of venturing out into the world would have struck fear into the hearts of all those who knew the ferocious power of the Roman Empire. Wolves would have seemed timid when compared to Rome’s cruelty. Yet, in our story Jesus sends his followers like lambs into the midst of wolves? Totally unprepared. Totally vulnerable. Totally dependent upon the kindness of strangers; strangers who this story characterizes as wolves.
Now, I will confess that all this week, as I was studying this text, I saw myself as a lamb. But I have to say that this story didn’t make much sense to me until I began to see myself as one of the wolves. It wasn’t difficult to imagine myself as a lamb. Images of myself as a small child, a wee little lamb, helpless and vulnerable were easy to conjure up. Memories of my own childhood migration from Belfast to Canada reminded me of the ways in which my own family depended upon the kindness of strangers when we arrived in a strange land. I don’t really think my Mum and Dad were very well prepared for the journey that we undertook as a family. But thanks to all the help we received from the people who had gone before us and the strangers we met here in Canada, we did all right. Continue reading
This morning, I want to talk to you about an epidemic that is rampant in our world. This epidemic is growing at such an alarming rate that governments all over the world are scrambling to address the pervasive suffering that this epidemic is causing in people of all ages, all races, all classes, all faiths; this epidemic does not discriminate, every one of us is susceptible to the devastating consequences of this epidemic. Any ideas about what governments are calling this quickly growing epidemic? Loneliness. Loneliness or as some experts refer to it, social isolation is growing in leaps and bounds all over the place.
All of us have known the pain of loneliness. Some of us also know that loneliness can have a detrimental impact on a person’s mental health. Loneliness causes increased rates of depression, anxiety, and irritability. Research now shows that loneliness can also be physically harmful. Loneliness is linked to potentially life-shortening health issues like, high blood pressure, heart disease and obesity. Some experts have gone as far as to argue that being lonely for a prolonged period of time is more harmful to a person’s health than smoking 15 cigarettes a day. One of the most socially isolating aspects of loneliness comes from the social stigma that surrounds loneliness. We simply don’t talk about our loneliness. This social stigma often prevents people from seeking help. “People think if they admit they are lonely it means people don’t want to be with them.” People just don’t want to admit that they are lonely.
Loneliness is a global problem. In the United Kingdom the situation has become so serious that the government has appointed a loneliness minister to address the issue. In Canada, studies have found that one in five Canadians identify as being lonely. One in five of us suffer from the shame and the fear that come from being lonely.
Watch the Lonely Bench
I can’t help but marvel at Sukhkaran’s courage. I know that I would not have had the courage to sit down on the Lonely Bench. At his age I would have been too afraid that if I sat down on that bench, nobody would have come to sit beside me. We moved around so much when I was a kid. I was always the new kid in class. Every year a new school. Sometimes more than one new school in a year. As a child, I had intimate knowledge of loneliness. All too often I felt the pain of social isolation, of not belonging. I cried so many tears because of the pain that consumed me because I had little or no connection to the strangers into whose midst I stumbled in and out of.
It wasn’t until I was a teenager that I finally found my people. I was fifteen, when I found my tribe when I happened upon a Lutheran youth group which lead me into the church. Finding my people, my tribe and finding a place to belong in church, made my life a lot better. But even a sense that I actually belonged somewhere didn’t end my loneliness. Even the church can be an incredibly lonely place. Continue reading
A long time ago, I owned a beat-up 1969 Chevy Nova that I paid less than $700 for in the hope that that old car would last long enough to get me through my undergraduate years at the University of British Columbia. I was a late bloomer. I didn’t get around to doing my undergraduate degree until I was 32 years old, when I enrolled in the Religious Studies program at UBC. I was living in a shabby basement apartment, where the rent was cheap, but the parking was non-existent. If I was lucky, I’d find a parking spot in the alley behind my apartment. Walking in that dark alley at night was more than a little scary. Often, as I was hurrying through that dark alley, I would see this old woman who was living rough in a makeshift tent. It wasn’t much of a shelter, just some cardboard held together by old clothes and torn grocery bags.
The old woman and I never spoke to one another. After several weeks of seeing one another in that back-alley, we would quietly nod in recognition of one another. I knew that she belonged in the neighbourhood and she knew that I belonged in the neighbourhood. Neither of us was comfortable in the back alley at night and it seemed almost comforting to see a familiar face, rather than running into some totally unknown stranger.
One morning as I was hurrying off to class, I heard the old woman moaning underneath her makeshift tent. I am ashamed to say that her moans frightened me, and I dashed to my car, unlocked it as quickly as I could, and drove off to the university so that I could continue my study of the religions of the world. The irony was not lost on my and I was ashamed.
I had some brilliant professors at UBC who taught me all sorts of things, but none of those wise professors ever taught me as much as one of my fellow students taught me. My classmate Sannidhi taught me more about religion than any professor. Sannidhi is a Hindu who I suspect has traveled this earth in many incarnations. Sannidhi possessed wisdom beyond his 20 years of age. To this day, some of what I learned from Sannidhi, I continue to try to teach others. It was Sannidhi who taught me the Hindu understanding that all gods are but pale imitations of the ONE God who lies at the very heart of all that IS. It was from Sannidhi that I first learned the Hindu description of the MYSTERY that we call God, that I have come to love above all other descriptions of the DIVINE ONE. I’ve shared this description with you many times: “God is beyond the beyond and beyond that also.”
Despite the difference in our ages and backgrounds or maybe because of them, Sannidhi and I became study partners. Together, we navigated the murky waters of Religious Methodology as we tried our best to move beyond our own religious practices so that we could learn from the religious practices of others. Sannidhi often spoke about his home in India and how he couldn’t wait to show me what India was really like.
One evening I offered Sannidhi a ride home in my car. To this day, I’m not sure whether or not he was teasing me or if he actually was seriously impressed with my old Chevy. I remember him running his hand over its white vinyl roofand making a sort of tutting sound as his head bobbed from side to side and he expressed his admiration for such a fine mode of transport. Driving along, our conversation about the nature and reality of God was so engrossing that I invited Sannidhi to stop off at my place for a cup of tea so that we could continue our conversation. That’s how we ended up talking to the old woman who live lived in the back-alley behind my basement apartment. turns out her name was Joanna. In just a few moments, Sannidhi had learned that she liked milk and just a touch of sugar in her tea. I myself had never dreamed of offering the old woman a cup of tea. Sannidhi never dreamed of not offering her a cup of my tea. Continue reading
Yet, we struggle to find truth in Easter’s familiar stories. Some of us have been shaped by these particular stories. Some of us have built our lives around the truth that others have reported to us about these stories. Some of us have rejected these stories and filed them away with all the other idle tales in which we can find no truth. Some of us have moved on from these stories convinced that there is no longer any truth to be found. Some of us love to hear these stories because they take us back to familiar truths that inspire a nostalgic sense of well-being. Some of us, are determined to wrestle with Easter’s stories until they release all the truth that we can find in, with, and between the lines; truths that call us toward a new way of being, a way of being that we long to embrace.
I myself, I am a wrestler. Like Jacob of old, I wrestle with Easter’ familiar stories determined to get from these ancient tales not just truth, but an inkling of the DIVINE ONE who dwells in, with, through, and beyond all of our stories. Every year, after the excitement of Easter Sunday, the stories of a community locked away in fear come to us. Every year some element of these stories, touches me in ways that open old wounds and awaken familiar fears.
I remember long ago, when I was an intern trying to learn what it is to be a pastor. I’d never been to a visitation at a funeral home before. I remember putting on the uniform of a pastor. Back then, I wore the collar and the black-shirt not so much as someone wears a uniform, but rather as someone who puts on a suit of armor – hoping against hope that the uniform would give me an air of competence and perhaps even hide the fear that so often wells up in me.
I don’t really remember much about that particular funeral home visitation. I couldn’t tell you who it was who had died. I remember being relieved to see a familiar face in the long line up to greet the widow. I remember sticking close to that familiar face trusting that she would show me what was expected of me.
As we waited for our turn to greet the widow of the dead man, I wondered what on earth I could possibly say to ease her pain. Back then, I believed that this was the job of a pastor, to ease the pain. I hadn’t yet learned to be in the pain, to be with, to share in the wounding. Standing and waiting I kept asking myself, “What can be said when a lover dies?” The magnitude of such loss is immense. I don’t think I was the only one in that crowd of mourners who felt ill at ease.
Then suddenly it happened. I was confused as to why it was happening. It was like we were a sea parting as we made way for a woman who strode into our midst with such purpose. People stepped aside, got out of her way and then we all watched as this woman, this widow opened up her arms to embrace the newly widowed woman. Their wounds were not the same except perhaps in their depth. No words were spoken between these widows and yet the magnitude of their touch was a kind of miraculous healing. Continue reading
Let me begin where I believe we must begin on every Good Friday. Jesus did not die upon the cross to save us from sin. Jesus is not some sort of cosmic bargaining chip offered up in our place to a wrathful, judgmental quid pro quo god, who demands a blood-sacrifice in order to forgive us so that he and I do mean he can usher us into heaven. Jesus did not die alone on that first Good Friday and we have not gathered here simply to grieve something that happened nearly 2000 years ago. On this Good Friday, we stand in the shadow of the cross to grieve the death of LOVE; and there is one thing we all know about LOVE and that is that LOVE dies over and over again, each and every day. Each and every day people all over the world grieve the death of LOVE. Indeed, the death of LOVE is omnipresent. The death of LOVE causes us to tremble, tremble, tremble. So much so, that as LOVE dies all around us, something in us knows that we must insulate ourselves from the reality of death’s omnipresence or the sheer intensity of trembling will surely cause LOVE to die in us. Good Friday is the day that we set aside to lament the death of LOVE; an attempt, if you will, to confine the trembling to a more manageable time and place. On Good Friday, we gather together to tremble, tremble, tremble.
I was barely five years old the first time that I can remember this kind of trembling. These early memories of the trembling are lodged deep in my psyche and I confess to not knowing what actually happened. All I can tell you is how visceral these memories are and how formative they have been when it comes to shaping who and what I have become. It was 1963, I was just five, and my personal memories are but flashes that over the intervening decades have lodged themselves in and amongst the black and white footage that has become our collective remembering of this particular death of LOVE. There’s a surreal image, not exactly an image, more of a feeling prompted by my own mother’s sobbing and the impression of my Dad’s tear-filled eyes as together, with millions and millions of others, we attended the funeral of John F. Kennedy. Reflecting on my first experience of the death of LOVE, I can see now that the hopes and the dreams of my parents’ generation died again, just like LOVE had died for my Mom when the bombs fell all around her childhood home and again and again each night my Dad sought shelter from the bombs. As children of World War II, my parents’ generation witnessed LOVE’s death over and over again. They were all too familiar with the trembling that accompanies LOVE’s death.
As I was growing up, as each of you grew up, LOVE was assassinated, executed, snuffed out, bombed, napalmed, starved, murdered, and left to die over and over again. There were far too many funerals, too many opportunities to lament as LOVE fell victim to death. We all share countless collective memories of LOVE dying over and over again. We can add to that our own personal memories and it is clear that LOVE dies over and over again, each and every day. Continue reading
During Lent we are exploring the various ways in which the work of LOVE is accomplished. Each Sunday in Lent we will view and reflect upon a video that tells a story of LOVE’s embodiment in the world. Revolutionary LOVE calls us to love, others, love our opponents, love the Earth, love ourselves and thereby LOVE the MYSTERY that we call God.
Today, Rabbi Sharon Brous’ TEDtalk: “It’s time to reclaim religion” holds a paradox in tension: “I am dust and ashes.” and “For me the world was created.” Watch the video and remind yourself that you are dust and ashes and for you the world was created. Then watch our reflections upon Rabbi Brous’ reclamation of religion from the dual scourge of extremism and routinism.
I went to high school on the West Coast in a small town called Ladner. Today, Ladner is pretty much a suburban bedroom community from which people commute to their jobs in the city of Vancouver. But back in the early 1970’s, Ladner was a small fishing village. It was a terrific place to go to high school; that is if you were white, middle-class and male. I don’t really know how it was for the handful of folks who weren’t part of the white majority. I remember when I was in grade ten; a new girl showed up in our classes. I’ll call her Shirley for the purposes of this sermon. Shirley, we were told, came from somewhere way up north in British Columbia. Shirley wasn’t part of the majority, back then we called Shirley’s people “Indians.” I remember our homeroom teacher introduced Shirley as an Indian who had travelled south for her education. We were told that there weren’t any high schools where Shirley came from, so she had to leave her family behind and come down to Ladner all by herself. She was boarding with a family in Ladner.
About all I can remember about Shirley’s first days with us is the unusual way that Shirley dressed. Back then there was a sort of dress code. We all wore the same stuff, blue jeans, not just any blue-jeans, mind you, we wore a brand called Seafarers which had bell-bottoms, that dragged on the ground. Both boys and girls wore white tee-shirts and you just had to have the latest thing in foot wear: leather adidas running shoes. We thought we were so cool, with our anti style, which in our rebellious naiveté we didn’t realize was actually a style in itself. Shirley didn’t fit in, because she wore what we openly mocked as stylish clothes. I remember that all her cloths looked new and expensive as if someone had taken her out and bought her an entire wardrobe of old people’s cloths; and by old people I mean 30 somethings. She just didn’t look like one of us. But that didn’t really matter because Shirley wasn’t one of us and so we never included her in anything we did.
After Shirley had been in our school for a few months, I remember a social studies class in which the teacher asked Shirley to tell us about her life in Northern British Columbia. The tale that Shirley told us about the reservation on which she lived was unbelievable to our young ignorant ears. Shirley claimed that she had been forced against her will to leave her family behind and travel all by herself to live with a family that was only interested in the money that the Indian Affairs department paid them for her room and board. She said that her parents would be thrown into jail if she wasn’t in school even though there was no school anywhere near the reservation. She said she’d run away several times, but that she’d always been caught, and her family was punished because she’d missed so much school. She claimed that her family hated living on the reservation. Shirley told us that it wasn’t safe on the reservation because most of the men drank.
My classmates asked all sorts of questions, but there was something in the way they asked the questions that made it clear that none of us believed a word Shirley was saying. After all, how could any of this be true? Nobody would ever take kids away from their families by force. Back then we cut class all the time. It was a different world and as long as you kept your grades up nobody cared whether or not you went to every class. Cutting classes was part of our culture, so the idea that parent could be thrown into jail because you skipped school was crazy talk.
Why we wondered out loud, would the government send you to a school so far away; why not just send you to a school nearer the reservation so that you could go see your folks on weekends? Well, according to Shirley, the government picked schools that were far away so that the Indian kids wouldn’t just run away from school and head back home. The only way home for Shirley was on an airplane and the government only gave her two tickets a year. When the teacher asked Shirley about conditions on the reservation, Shirley spoke really softly about there not being enough water and food to go around. One of us said, that was because they spent all their money on booze and cigarettes. Shirley got really quiet then and the teacher ended the conversation.
Later in the cafeteria there was a lot of conversation about the lies we were convinced Shirley had told us. We simply didn’t believe a word she said. I mean really, this is Canada after all. Canada is a great country, a good place. My parents brought us to Canada because it’s the land of opportunity. If Shirley’s people were having a tough time it wasn’t the government’s fault. Like my classmates, I believed Shirley’s people had only themselves to blame for their troubles. From our position of privilege, we insisted that all “they” had to do was work hard and to get ahead. We believed that we Canadians are good people, we are not prejudice at all.
I remember an actual conversation about the many ways in which Canadians take care of “our” Indians, because we are not like the Americans. Canadians didn’t declare war on Indians, Canadians took care of Indians. Our ignorance was matched only by our arrogance. I, like my privileged classmates, had a naïve understanding of this country. We had been taught to look at Canadian history through rose-coloured glasses. I believed what I was taught about the honour and gallantry of the early settlers of this land, hard workers one and all;
good honest people who’d left the hardships imposed on them in their homelands to build lives for themselves here in Canada. I knew nothing of the world that Shirley was describing. We weren’t taught anything about broken treaties, or the abuses perpetrated by the Indian Affairs Department and we’d certainly never heard about the travesty of residential schools. The conditions Shirley tried to tell us about and the circumstances in which she found herself sounded ridiculous to us, so we assumed that Shirley must be lying. Ignorance and denial were not just our collective responses to Shirley’s story, in my own heart of hearts I was convinced that it that Shirley’s stories could not be true, and I was comfortable passing judgement upon her.
So, the good people of Ladner marginalized Shirley. We weren’t bad, no not us. We weren’t prejudiced, no not us. We simply could not, nor would we believe that the Canadian system could or would inflict such hardships on Shirley’s people. “They, those Indians” must be doing something to bring down the wrath of the Indian Affairs Department. We convinced ourselves that if “they” would just get themselves together and live more like us, things would go a whole lot better for “them.” Just look at Shirley and you’ll see what I mean. Shirley never finished grade ten, she started taking drugs and hanging out with men; older men. I heard that she tried to kill herself not once but several times. Shirley was messed up. From where I was standing, it sure looked like Shirley brought a whole lot of trouble upon herself.
Looking back on the young girl that I once was, I am ashamed of the self-righteousness that blinded me to Shirley’s pain. Sure, I can tell myself that it was a different time and we just didn’t know any better. I can let myself off the hook with all sorts of rationalizations, but the truth is that not a whole lot has changed, even though we all know better. The truth is that to this very day, I continue to find it difficult to accept the reality of my white privilege. I grew up with all the privileges of a world where everything was interpreted from the perspective of a paradigm of Empire and make no mistake about it, that Empire was ruled by white people who were mostly male. Every aspect of our culture was controlled by an Empire that bestowed privilege upon the tribe that I just happened to be born into. Continue reading
When I was a kid, my family moved around a lot. All that moving around, and always being the new kid at school, really messed me up. When I was about fifteen years old, I started hanging out with a gang. I haven’t got time to go into the details of my involvement with this gang;
suffice it to say, if I knew 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. These members of this gang were part of a Lutheran Youth Group. These gang members managed to convince me to run away with them. They were going on something I’ve never heard of before; a retreat, a weekend at a place called Camp Luther. Somehow, 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 thought they might be a cult. It was kind of exciting to flirt with a cult. So, there I was at Camp Luther on the shores of Lake Hatsick.
Pastor Don Johnson was one of the retreat leaders. Don was the father of our National Bishop Susan Johnson, he died just a few months ago. That retreat was where I first met the young woman who would become our National Bishop. The very first exercise that we were assigned was to team up with someone we didn’t know and share our favorite bible passage. This gang was about to discover that I didn’t belong. 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. So, I decided to break the rules of the exercise and teamed up with someone I knew slightly and suggested that she go first. Continue reading
A sermon for Epiphany 4C – listen to the sermon here
When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. In the words of Joanie Mitchell, “I’ve looked at love from both sides now. From win and lose and still somehow, it’s love’s illusions I recall I really don’t know love at all.” The Apostle Paul, who by most accounts, knew precious little about love, is responsible for passing on to generation after generation, one of the greatest love poems ever written. 1stCorinthians 13 is without a doubt the most popular reading at Western Weddings, as brides and grooms whether they are Christians, pseudo-Christians, non-Christians, or simply influenced by Hallmark sentimentality, confidently select this passage to celebrate their love for one another. Most preachers have to stop ourselves from rolling our eyes when prospective brides and grooms suggest this passage. We’ve been taught to understand that this text has nothing at all to do with the kind of love that lovers need to sustain a lasting marriage. Even if you know nothing at all about the rest of Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth, if you know anything at all about the love married couples share, you know that it is not anything like the love that is described in this text.
I’m as much of a romantic as the next person, but I ask you, patience, kindness, are one thing, and maybe you’ll get lucking and be able to avoid being envious or boastful, arrogant, or rude, and good luck to you if you do. But never insisting on your own way, never being irritable or resentful, bearing all things, believing all things; please give me a break. Show me a couple who don’t ever engage in a battle of wills, or build up resentments, or succeed in bearing and believing everything about one another, well, that couple is in all likelihood headed for some serious trouble. My darling Carol is perfect in every way, and I of course am perfect in every way and we are sublimely happy, so happy that birds sing when we walk by and flowers stand tall in our saintly presence…Of course not! Carol is the love of my life and being married to her is the best thing that ever happened to me. But I am annoying to live with. I have a job that interferes with our life together on a regular basis. When I’m on a role, I can be arrogant and rude. Even though I’d never say a bad word about Carol, especially from the pulpit, I will tell you this, if Carol was never, boastful, arrogant, or rude, if she was always patient and kind, never insisting on her own way, never irritable or resentful, well I don’t think I would be able to live with her. That’s not the kind of love that any of us could live with, let alone be in love with. I want a real-life partner, someone who will engage me in all of who they are, the good and the bad, the beautiful and the not so beautiful, for better or for worse, in sickness and in health. Continue reading
I have never much cared for John the Baptist. Everything that we read about John the Baptist in the Christian Scriptures makes me think of him as Jesus’ red-necked cousin. You know the kind of family member I mean. We all have one or two in our families. Some of you may have had the pleasure of being visited by one of your fanatical red-necked family members over the holidays. We’ve all been there. Stuck around a dinner table, trying to steer the conversation clear away from anything remotely political; fearing that at any moment our red-necked relative will go on a rant about immigrants coming into this country and threatening our culture, or the government wasting millions on foreign aid, or women with their feminist agenda’s wanting it all, and those lazy poor people who need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and stop expecting handouts, or heaven forbid, the relative whose neck so flaming red that they, at the drop of a hat, will sing the praises of the likes the orange fellow who lives in the White House, who they think is on to something because he refuses to be politically correct and tells it like it is. You know that relative of yours who keeps reminding you of the good old days and the need to return to them because if we spare the rod, we will spoil the child.
Take a moment and sit back and remember that relative, friend, or co-worker, and if you are blessed enough not to have such a person in your life, think about the folks who we see every day in every sort of media, the folks are calling for a return to the values you no longer share. Do you have a clear picture in your mind of someone whose constant wrangling makes you so uncomfortable that they embarrass you? Hold that image in your mind and listen as I do my best to imitate John the Baptist as he rants on:
“Pay attention people! You think my raving on and on about repentance is annoying? You think my baptism is demanding? There is somebody coming who makes me look like a wimp. There is somebody coming who has real fire in his belly. Somebody who will take your tools out of your hands, and wipe the floor with you, and toss the lot of you into the fiery pits of hell! You brood of vipers!!! You just wait! Be afraid. Be very afraid!!! You’re all going to get yours!
Repent. Turn from your modern, pinko, new age, progressive, radical ways!!! Return to the good old days!!! Days when men were men and women kept a civil tongue in their heads and kids were seen and not heard. The days when this was a God-fearing country and we rode with our neighbours to the south, to keep the world safe for the likes of us. It’s time to toughen up people and start demanding a little respect from those people, you know the ones I mean, the ones who are different than us.”
I don’t know about you but these days I tend to give rednecks like John the Baptist a wide birth. If I do happen to stumble into a situation where I can’t avoid fanatics like John the Baptist, I tend to just let them ramble on, until they wear themselves out and then I take my leave, shake the dust from my feet and I move on. But the holidays, oh the holidays, it’s difficult to avoid red-necks during the holidays, especially if we are related to them. Well John the Baptist comes around every Advent ranting and raving, shouting at us to Repent, to Prepare, you brood of vipers! No wonder, we are all very quick to move on to Christmas when we can ignore John and gaze adoringly at the baby Jesus, whose beauty makes us forget that Herod is looming in the background. But no sooner is the baby born, then in the wink of an eye Jesus is a grown man, and his dear cousin John is at it again, going on and on, threatening us by suggesting that Jesus is going to rain down on us bringing the Holy Spirit to baptize us with fire. With a winnowing fork in hand, he will clear the threshing floor and gather the wheat into his granary, burning the chaff with unquenchable fire. And the way that John tells it, it sounds pretty much like we are the chaff and not the wheat, and so, we are doomed to burn in that unquenchable fire, if we don’t do what John tells us to do. Repent! Repent! Repent I say! Repent! Be afraid! Be very afraid! The Lord is coming! Fire burns!!! Hell is on the horizon!!! Turn back! Turn back!!! Continue reading
A number of years ago, back when I had only been a pastor for a couple of years, on the Sunday just before Christmas, immediately after our worship service, I travelled over to the hospital to pay a visit to a member of this church. I was all decked out in my Sunday best.
So, I very much looked the part of a pastor. Back then, I was very unsure of myself in my new role as a pastor. Nothing made me more uncomfortable than hospital visits. I felt like I was a bit of impostor. It was the Sunday before Christmas, and even though the collar around my neck often felt like it might choke the life out of me, that collar proclaimed to everyone at the hospital that I was there in my professional capacity.
I enjoyed a very pleasant visit with one of the seasoned members of this congregation, who went out of her way to ensure that we both enjoyed the visit. As I was leaving the floor, a woman beckoned me into a visitors’ lounge, ever so quietly she asked, “Could you please help me?”
I sat down beside her and listened to her story. When you’re wearing a clergy collar people presume all sorts of things about who you are. This distraught young woman presumed from my attire that I was a competent professional who could accomplish what she could not. Tearfully, she told me that her farther, from whom she’d been estranged for many years, was dying and needed a priest. She had called the Roman Catholic churches in town and none of the priests were available to come right away. The young woman explained that she was afraid that there may not be enough time to wait for a Roman Catholic priest. She asked me if I would be able to administer the Last Rites to her father. I hesitated as I considered her request.
I was frantically going over what I had been taught about the Roman Catholic practices commonly known as “the Last Rites:” Confession, Absolution, Communion, Anointing the Sick. I had been trained to do all of these as a Lutheran, but not as a Roman Catholic. The Last Rites always were intended to provide comfort to those who were dying. But for centuries, many Roman Catholics had come to believe that the dying needed to receive the Last Rites in order to assure their place in heaven. This popular misconception created all sorts of anxiety about securing the services of a priest. While I was tossing this over in my mind, the young woman, grabbed my arm and loudly asked: “Protestants do have Last Rites, don’t you?” Continue reading
By now most of us are well on our way to “Preparing the Way.” Unlike John the Baptist’s plaintive cry to clear a straight path, fill every valley, and level every mountain, our preparations find us harkening back to the Christmases of our childhood, so that we might capture the love and joy that we imagine awaits us if only we prepare to do Christmas, the way it was done way back when. Right about now, in gatherings all over the place people are telling stories about how it was “way back when.” You know, “way back when” people knew just how to prepare the way for Christmas. I remember way back when I was just a little girl, you know long, long, ago, way back when Christmas celebrations were so different. Way back when I was a child, we didn’t hang fancy, specially dedicated stockings on the chimney with care, in hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there. No, way back when, people didn’t have the money to waste on special, fancy, Christmas stockings that were only used once a year. Way back when, we just went into our sock draw and pulled out the largest sock we could find, and we hung it up, in the hope that if we’d been good, our stockings would be filled with treats, instead of the dreaded lump of coal that our parents had been threatening us with for weeks. Come Christmas morning, way back when, we were happy when our sock was filled not with stocking-stuffers like we have these days, but with the same thing we got every Christmas in our stockings, an apple, an orange, a few toffee’s and a couple of coins.
You see way back when, fruit was seasonal and fresh apples and oranges were a real treat. These days we can haul crates of tiny delectable oranges from the grocery store all year long. But, way back when, oranges at Christmas time, they were a real treat. I never did like oranges very much, so I would always try to trade my orange with my brother so that I could have two apples instead. You see, way back when, children were easier to please and Christmas was different.
Which leads me to another story. I don’t remember when or where I first heard this story about way back when, World War II had just ended, and refugees were loaded into camps until the world could figure out what to do with the millions of displaced people. Back then, refugee camps were filled to overflowing with children who’d lost their families during the war. Apparently, there was this little boy in a camp in France, we’ll call him Andre. Andre couldn’t have been more than about seven years old and he could barely remember the family he lost almost three years before the war ended. He’d been living in the refugee camp, more of an orphanage really, for almost a year.
The camp was run by a few nuns who never could scrap together enough money to feed the children properly. But they did their best, and the children were, after all was said and done, lucky to be alive. The children hardly noticed that Christmas was approaching until one of the nuns announced that a neighbour had promised to come by on Christmas Eve to drop off a sack of oranges. Andre had only a vague memory of an orange. The year before a stranger had shared an orange with him and he remembered the taste of the three tiny sections of his share of the orange that oozed precious juice down his half-starved throat. Andre spent the days leading up to Christmas Eve dreaming of having a whole orange of his very own. He thought about the smell of the orange, dreamed of peeling the orange, and carefully considered whether or not to devour each and every section of the orange all at once or whether he should divide it and save a section or two for Christmas morning. Continue reading
As the Season of Creation winds to a close, some of us will take the opportunity to comemmorate St. Francis of Assisi this Sunday. You can follow the links to previous sermons for this celebration: A Feminist, the Niquab, St. Francis and the Sultan, The Saint and the Sultan Daring to Dance in the Midst of a March
Listen to the sermon here
Sisters and Brothers, hear again the words of St. Francis of Assisi:
In the spirit of St. Francis, I bid you peace. Please take a long deep breath…..Peace. Now if you would focus your attention upon these two beautiful bouquets upon the altar. Yes, I am well aware that these bouquets are little more than a collection of weeds. Yes, I know that many of us were taught by the Church, I’m talking here about the capital “C” Church; we were taught by the Church that flowers don’t belong upon the altar. Flowers upon the altar distract people from the presence of God and the acts of worshipping God, so if we must have flowers in the sanctuary, we were all trained to place them anywhere other than upon the altar; the holy of holies, the place where God works in, with, through, and under the bread and wine to touch us, love us, strengthen us, and empower us. We can’t, reasoned the Church, we can’t have people distracted from the actions of God that center upon the altar. So, the Church banished flowers from the altar. But on this the feast day of St. Francis, I asked Carol to gather up some bouquets of weeds and place upon the altar. I did so, because these bouquets are beautiful!
Take a good look…..In this beautiful season of autumn these particular weeds are everywhere. You cannot go for a walk or a drive in and around town without being confronted by the existence of these spectacular weeds. Take a good look….aren’t they beautiful.In the words of St. Francis,
Now look around you, take a very good look at this spectacular gathering, this splendid bouquet of what some might call weeds but, if you look very closely you will see in one another a breathtakingly beautiful bouquet of awe-inspiring flowers. Aren’t you lovely? Made from LOVE. Gathered around this makeshift altar of ours God will indeed work in, with, through, and under each one of us to touch us, to love us, to strengthen us and to love us. In, with, through, and under this is the way that Lutheran theology describes the way in which God comes to us in the bread and wine of holy communion. I have gotten into the habit of always reminding you that we live and move and have our being in God and that God lives and breathes in, with, through, and beyond us. I repeat this over and over again, not only to remind all of you but to remind myself that God is not some far off distant being, who lives up there or out there somewhere. God is here, right here, all around us, in us and beyond us just as surely as we are in God. So, on this the final Sunday in the Season of Creation it is so very appropriate for us to turn our attention to St. Francis who reminds us that all of creation is in God. Continue reading
Speaking in May of 2013 at the Festival of Faiths, Richard Rohr shares his perspective on silences as the only thing broad and deep enough ot hold all of the contradictions and paradoxes of Full Reality and our own reality, too. 99.9% of the known universe is silent,, and it is in this space that the force fields of life and compassion dwell and expand. Rohr insists that we too can live in this silent expanse!
Richard Rohr is a Franciscan teacher, author and founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation.