Faith, the Gospel and Kamanzi Crop Production

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—This is a blog post by Rob Bonk (yes, THAT Rob Bonk…my dad) that he posted on the Ubuntu trip’s blogsite.  He just went to Malawi in July with a team of The Road Church members to witness and participate in the work of the “Church in Community” program that World Renew supports there.  While there is no people group who is perfect and we do well to not idealize humans without discernment, there is a deep well of truth in what he witnessed in Africa.   There is a deep well of truth wherever there are people created in the image of God.

 

Faith, the Gospel and Kamanzi Crop Production    by Rob Bonk

“…and their faith was fulfilled by what they did.” James 2:22

Let’s assume, and I don’t think this is a huge stretch, that the faith talked about here was a faith in the idea of a Kingdom of God put forward by Jesus the Christ. A Kingdom which belonged to the poor, the meek, the prisoner – a kingdom where the ‘Acceptable Year of the Lord’ was actualized.

Church in Community is an initiative by World Renew to “help church leaders and their congregations work to bring about positive change for their larger communities” (Fay Yu; WR website). Their success and legacy could easily be summed up by James 2:22. During our recent visit to Malawi, we spent days in countless meetings going over the impact that the Church in Community ministry has had on the village people who have participated in its vision and program. Meetings which saw no shyness by the people of the villages share with pride on how the ideas, the programs and directives of the Church in Community staff have improved the lives of all who have participated.

A participation that saw people being able to double and even triple their crop yield by using local materials to embellish traditional fertilizer with the result of turning one bag of chemical fertilizer which would burn out the soil after repeated use to ten bags of naturally formulated 90% organic fertilizer that could be used in perpetuity and with no risk of harming the native soil.

A participation that taught gender equality – husbands can help their wives in preparing the meals, fetching water from the bore hole or even looking after the kids.

A participation that brings all God seekers together for the greater good of the village. A participation where the all can look after the all. Where Christians and Muslims, Catholics and Anglican, Pentecostals and Presbyterians, Baptist and Seventh Day Adventists, can sit together in a room and have constructive meaningful dialogue on how to help the orphan, the widow and the the “other” in the community.

A participation where the people can study the Bible together and see how they can affect good stewardship of the earth by serving and protecting their environment to ensure it sustains them for generations to come.

A participation to see how the village can influence their own destiny by building houses, schools and churches using their own resources. By pooling assets and hiring local workers, thereby adding to the village economy and not waiting for outside teams of foreigners to helicopter in, build something and leave. A participation of ownership, a participation of pride and a participation of collective fulfilment.

This “doing” of participation can be seen as the the manifestation of the Acceptable Year of the Lord – the Year of Jubilee – the year where everything begins anew; the year of the second chance.

In the agrarian society of rural Malawi we see so much of the Gospel in action but the very significant and prophetic words of Isaiah show a correlation between crop production and the plan of God;

“For as the earth bringeth forth her bud, and as the garden causeth the things that are sown in it to spring forth; so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth before all nations”  Isaiah 61:11

 


God does his work of reconciling all things to himself – all things back – this is his work and we get to witness it – point to it – like Dad is here. “Look there it is!  Look at what God does!  Look at who He is!  Look!”   And then we are invited to jump in, and join in.  Where there is health and growth – point and join.  Where there is reconciliation, point and join.  Where there is redemption, point and join.  Anytime someone chooses to trust rather than hoard, to forgive rather than resent, to love rather than fear  – Point it out!  Jump in!  Join in!   God has always been on the move – its good to have our eyes opened.

We are nobodies saviours.  We just get to point and join.   And we will be surprised at how bodily, how physical this salvation is – at how much it has to do with real life.  But that’s the kind of God we find in scriptures – always present.  Ever present.  In this real life.  Point and join in on people’s real lives.  Even your own.  This is the call.

(ps.  Also, I love how obvious it is that I’m his kid.  He’s a good dad.)

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Things I Learned from my First Year of Being a Pastor

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(Ordination Day)

I started working as a pastor and as a university chaplain last year. Officially 28 hours per week. Ended up being between 32-40 almost every week. The jobs are a mix of a lot of meetings, lots of leading, public speaking, organizing, and a lot of alone time, reading and writing and praying. To say it was an adjustment from my life as a stay at home mom is an understatement. So here are some things I have learned as I have a bit of breathing space to reflect this summer.

 

1 –I learned that I did a lot around the house before. As evidenced by what the house looks like now.

And now that I’m working? At a job I LOVE? I don’t want to do it – clean – anymore. Just plain fact. I want to work! I want to read, write, talk to people, and have great ideas and put them into action – and I want to do this for most of my day. And then I want to come home and play with my girls, eat good food, read them books, play a round of monopoly, go for a walk and then sleep. I don’t want to clean. It has given me great empathy for Brad though – he doesn’t want to clean either and now I know its not because he hates me, or this life we have together. It’s not because he doesn’t value me or the work that happens at home.   Its just because he doesn’t want to.

So we are working on this – cleaning is an important part of life.  Because the other thing that has become abundantly clear is that I did a lot around the house, because I like to have a clean house. I need it to be clean so I can think.  So I can be a good steward of the stuff.   The clutter almost killed me this year. The energy it takes to organize stuff, to consistently act upon my “stuff” in ways that put it where it should be – oh this is hard on -30 degree days when we’ve been in the car for over an hour in winter traffic and I want to, need to, sleep and the kids are hungry. The “stuff” gets put off. And then piled up. And then it haunts me and judges me and I get all huffy at it and in a weird rebellious move I don’t touch it on purpose – like, “ha ha, clutter. That will show you to sit there and be all judgy of me…”

Also I have learned that this strategy does nothing.

So what I have learned is that I did a lot before. And am still doing a lot.   But in a different area of my life and the old one still needs attention.

 

2- I have learned that I love structure. And plans.

I love it and need it and also balk against it and throw it off. Its like I need it so that every now and then I can disregard it—there’s something in my psyche that needs both.

One whole empty day that I can arrange my way is a glorious thing. I read the news, drink my coffee, read a book, think about the work that I’m going to do that day, clean a couple things, spend extra time on my makeup, read some more, get doing some work and then go get the beautiful kids and take them outside for a bit, – and its usually a good day.

But after one empty day, I feel crazy. The coffee starts to burn in my stomach, the news is like a whirlpool I can’t get out of, the cleaning just devolves into putzing around the house aimlessly, I stare too long in the mirror and then find every weird thing about me is hopeless and awful, I try to read again but start to wonder if anything will ever change in the world – and then I start to wonder if anything I do means anything. And then I start to think about how all the successful people in the world wouldn’t be doing what I am doing today, and then I feel like I am wasting all the things I’ve been given and then I just end up crying on the living room floor.

So ya, structure is my friend. I need to have meetings – out of the house, with people, with purpose. I need to work on sermons outside of the house – that news, and that mirror and those piles of clutter are just too loud when I’m in the house for too long.   And I think in this season of getting used to a different use of my time, retraining my brain in very real ways, having things that keep me on track and in the right head space are invaluable. Things like regular people and outside and commitments. Structure. But not too much.

 

3 – I have learned that I need my friends. This is a non-negotiable.

When you are a stay at home mom, you make the most out of having beautiful children yell and interrupt your every waking thought and needing you to teach them about poop and the results of sibling violence and “paint-doesn’t-go-there” by getting together with other moms and then at least you are beside each other while you are being interrupted by poop and sibling violence and paint in bad places. You feel a bit less alone when you see a friend.

This year I didn’t see my friends as much. And I love these women. I feel like I have been graced with an incredible assortment of women who love and think and struggle and laugh and for some reason they like me too. And I missed them so much this year.

One of the results of being on your own too much is that you forget who you are. I think we need people to help us know who we are. Now that’s not always the case – there are times and seasons when we necessarily HAVE to separate from community to get to our bottom and get to a deep honesty—that’s usually where transformation starts. That’s usually where God finally gets a word in.

But then there are other times when too much time alone will make you weird. And forgetful. Of the gift others are and the gift you are too.

I found this year that I needed my friends to remind me who I was. To be that mirror. To draw me back out of my over-thinking, over-feeling self and grab me by the shoulders and point me, reorient me to what they know is my truer self. What is my north star.

Just talking and celebrating the things we love most of the time will do this. Our love for books, fish creek, walks, podcasts, our babies who aren’t really babies – all reorient me. And then talking about where Jesus is in this-all the stuff around our own parents, our own crippling doubt, our own deep anxieties, our own exhaustion at the thought of trying harder, our own ups and downs with our husbands, parents, children-we talk about where Jesus is in that. And I am given back myself and I can go and do this life better. These women are truly incredible, very beautiful and so ordinary. I have screenshots of my favorite texts from them in a file on my phone and I look at them sometimes when I’m spiraling down.   Even from afar these women save me.

 

4- Ok, in general,  have learned I just need people.

I have always been on the line between introvert and extravert. But I realized that I need people for my energy especially in work that requires a lot of thinking, praying and writing. Half of what I described above as lack of structure – the general malaise that sets in after too much time alone -has to do with lack of people.

I remember Eugene Peterson once saying that when he feels down, depressed, confused, he goes and sits somewhere in public. He goes, listens, maybe joins in conversations. But he said he just needs to get out of his own head and be with real people in their real lives.

This I need.   I work better in public, I get more done, I work more efficiently. I don’t even know why other than people give me energy and focus. I locate my work and root my work better when I’m in public – at the library, coffeeshop, interfaith office, with others—than I do when I’m on my own. And that makes sense. My work as a preacher, as a small group leader, as a spiritual director is about people in their real lives. So maybe I work best where there are people in their real lives.    And wow, the conversations I’ve had (and overheard…..so many first dates happen at coffee shops!)

 

5- I have learned that I need a big calendar.

I need to see all the dates for months at a time in front of my eyes all at once.   I find it hard to conceptualize my time and what needs to be done next on the calendar on my computer or phone. I have to see it all working together in one place for me to be able to feel like I have a handle on it.

I learned that just because I write something down in the calendar on my computer/phone does not necessarily mean anything. I have to have a sense of where the event fits in with my day/week/month/semester otherwise my brain kind of just excises it.  I need to grasp the whole to be able to remember the parts.   Like that time when I had in my calendar that I was supposed to volunteer in my daughter’s class. Then THAT MORNING, literally right before school, I made a dentist appointment for myself for the same time I was supposed to be in the class. Both entries – right there in front of me but for some reason, my brain didn’t grasp this. And THEN, I drove the girls to school, walked them to the doors, hugged and kissed them, walked back to my car and thought to myself as I got in- “Wow – a whole morning to just sit and work on my sermon! Yes!” And so I drove to a coffee shop and worked happily on that sermon – it was a great one, btw. Worked happily on it until I got a call from the dentist, and then it slowly dawned on me why my daughter’s teacher looked SO PUZZLED at the door when I just happily waved goodbye.

So I have big calendars now. And lists. And every alert you can imagine. And big coffees. And notes written in pen on my hand.

 

6—I have learned that I can be scared. A lot. For long periods of time. And still be ok.

From September until February, I did something new, unfamiliar, and not yet in the lexicon of things Jacqui does, and SCARY every single week. Preaching, leading a service, hosting a blanket exercise, my flipping ordination examination, dealing with my flipping ordination examination….doing communion, my flipping ordination examination. I remember in February sitting at church realizing – I don’t think I’ve had a week yet where I didn’t live with full-on nausea/butterflys/anxiety about how it was all going to work out, this new thing I was doing this week. And I realized I was tired and needed to have a bit of a break from all that adrenaline. But I did things that were very hard for me. Very new for me. And I still feel sick to my stomach a lot. But I did it, I’m doing it, and I am ok.

 

7 – And the biggest, coolest thing I’ve learned from working is this- I am FULL of gratitude.  I know, I sound like the happy, clappy Christian just full of the joy of the Lord – the kind that usually make me roll my eyes juuuuusssttt a bit because I have a snark problem.   But here we are.   It’s true. I am full of gratitude and I am full of love.

I love working. I love reading. I love talking about meaningful things.   I love praying.  You know this about me. I love that I am working and reading things, learning things, being able to synthesize words in such a way to tell others words – this is my dream, dream, dream job in many ways.

I love the university. I love the students. I love the diversity.  They are interesting and thoughtful and I’m going to say precious. Not in the cutesy way of “aren’t you precious” but in the way that their lives, the way they are sounding out the depths, trying out themselves in this world of big decisions and lots of other people, are precious treasures, totally unique. Like we all are.   Just so much to offer the world, their communities. Its been very cool to be able to see that a bit.

I love scripture. In recent years, its been handed back to me, like a gift, after I necessarily had to ask hard questions of it. Don’t be afraid of the hard questions reading scripture will make you ask – this book, but most importantly the love behind it, can absolutely handle the questions – not because it will make sense like a science text makes literal sense. But because it represents the bigness of God’s vision, the beauty of his creation – the people, their cultures, their shadows and their bright faiths.   I love diving into it. I love Paul now! Isn’t that crazy? It’s funny how when you are honest about your questions, you start to read different. And maybe it’s just been such a gift to see that the courage to follow that different reading through has resulted, by grace and a expansion of vision, given these words back in a real and powerful way.  And while I know the harm these words have been used for, I also have been given the grace to see where they spread God’s good.

I love my babies.     They are growing in magnificent and loud ways. They are extraverts, talkers, thinkers.   They laugh a lot. They fight a lot. They question a lot. They never wear clothes that you couldn’t see from space.   Working this year has let me see them in a new light. They aren’t mine – they belong to God.   And he thinks they are incredible.   He loves their loudness.  And I love that guy I married – he has grown as I have this year – he’s been frustrated as I have this year, he’s chosen grace and I have needed to this year and I could not imagine a better person to wake up in approximate closeness to, separated by a six year old who still wriggles in every night and puts her hands on us and says, “I love you guys” every night.  EVERY. NIGHT.

I love my mentors and the other pastors in my community that I’m lucky to know. I can’t even describe to you the quality people that this work has put across my path. Women and men who are thoughtful and very prayerful. Who are asking good, hard questions. Who love to learn about Scripture, culture, people, and most of all, I’ve found, they are a people who are honest about learning trust.   These are people who I trust with my doubts. Who can handle life without either over-spiritualizing it, or diminishing the struggle but still keep hope. Who meet with me to talk through my life, or my work, knowing that they are really inextricable and it’s a good but hard task to balance them both. I just have been consistently encouraged and glad to know that I landed here. Now, its only been a year, so there’s a good chance that I’ll eventually see the other side of them too – I mean, we’re humans – but this is a good place to be and good people to work alongside.

And I love this little church I’m at. This beautiful growing seed of a church has gifted me with real discipleship. And what I mean by that is that doing real, accountable, long term community means I am actually growing and changing – maybe even into something like Jesus. I have learned about patience, kindness, gentleness – mostly with myself.   And I am learning to receive – feedback and grace. In community is the only place I’ve actually learned about trust, about not having to solely rely on my own capacity and I’ve had to learn to ask for faith and ask for help – cause I don’t have enough on my own. I have been shaped more into someone that knows I am not in control.   I’ve learned about the strengths of regular, ordinary people, and the treasure they have to offer the world. Our church has become increasingly more inter-generational in these last years. What a subversive gift to the world this is – to value every person no matter what stage of life they are at and learning from those who have lived longer. What a transforming gift to me these people are. Kindness, mercy and goodness are all present here.   I could write way more about church. This church. These people.

Ok, as I’m writing this, I have realized that I could go on and on about more and more things I am very thankful for.  As my husband likes to say, “seriously….why so many words…..”

But mostly, I am so thankful for this opportunity to work and exist doing things I love to do. I am thankful for this work.  And it feels good to write it out as one big prayer of thanks.

So, here’s to year two!   I am excited and terrified for it.

So…I Worry…

So I worry. About all sorts of things. I’m pretty sure it’s the reason why animals in my house turn out a bit funky—they live in a soup of my worry pheromones…poor things.

Since my mom passed away, I’ve noticed more about how anxiety sits in me, how my body holds it. When its really acute my arms go numb. My shoulders tense up and I have to physically choose to relax them. It almost hurts to let them down, the tension is pushing in so much.  Its like my whole body is on high alert, my whole body is condensing around my inner organs. My mind in this state has already gone to tunnel vision, turned into a dense fog, wrapped itself in wool. When mom was dying, I experienced this for weeks. Every day.

Since then, I’ve noticed it happen and I can name it now- I am recognizing how it feels and what’s going on inside me when my body is doing this thing. Anxiety, dread, a sense of loss, a sense of losing. I call it having “griefy arms.”   As in when my husband asks, “ How was your day Jacqui?” I sometimes say, “honestly, its been really hard…I had griefy arms today.”

Griefy arms requires a few hours of actual rest. There is no other thing that will help.

 

But sometimes the anxiety is more low key. Its there, like it is when its acute, but it seems more muted. This is regular anxiety – the kind I think we all live with more than we’d like.   This is the kind of anxiety that living life just seems to produce.   I am noticing my regular, run of the mill anxiety more.  The anxiety about work – “Am I doing well enough?  Will people keep coming?”  Anxiety about parenting – “Is this going to turn out?  Are they going to be ok?” The anxiety about just being a grown up –  “Am I managing all the details of life well?  Have I remembered to do everything?  Good gracious, there are so many details!”  The anxiety is that I never feel like I have a handle on it.

I worry about if I’m shopping efficiently enough, getting all the deals. I worry about if I am keeping the right records for taxes enough. I worry about all the decisions and all the things I should do about church, church, church,  MRU, and the kids…..the kids, the kids, the kids, ….

 

Yesterday I was faced with my worry and stress again.   It was a pretty normal decision about rooms/rent/church stuff. It was one of those decisions where there are pros and cons on both sides. And I was, once again, faced with the reality that I don’t know the best path.  I was faced with the knowledge that  I don’t know how to effect the perfect result in every situation.  I am not able to account for every possibility that might happen out of this decision.  It simply just hit me hard that this decision might not work.  It might backfire.  It might affect others negatively.   It might—but it also might not.   But after the discussion, I got dizzy and my shoulders started to compress. We Brad and I were later walking with the girls outside and I needed to sit down a while and breathe through the beginnings of an anxiety episode.  It passed, more or less.

 

Maybe I was extra tired. But this connection to my griefy arms, and my deep anxiety of not knowing how to make it better was made crystal clear.

 

What happened to me yesterday was the accompanying anxiety that comes when I reach the end of my resources. Do you get this too? When I reach the end of my ability to forecast, and I’m  not sure how decisions are going to turn out, this is producing a deep anxiety. This ache blooms when I realize that in whatever needs to happen, or what I think needs to happen, I am in the end incapable of fulfilling this on my own. With this sort of unknowing, there is a new anxiety that blooms – ripe and dropping its seeds everywhere. When I have to rely on something other than my own strength, the weighty anxiety grows until the roof cracks and falls. When I do not have an inkling of actually HOW I am going to get through something, or make something happen, my body starts to tell me I need to take a minute.

 

Later, I turned on an old sermon from one of my old seminary professors Darrell Johnson. And he said this—when you are worried, what Jesus is telling you to do is to look away. Literally, stop looking at what you are worried about, and then look at a flower. Turn your head.  Look at a bird. In Matt. 6 Jesus declares, simply, clearly “Do not worry. Look at the birds, look at the flowers—God takes care of them. And you too. Even you Jacqui.”

 

Look at the flowers. Look at the birds. Literally.

This is the spiritual practice that is saving me right now.

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I live a 3 minute walk from a huge provincial park. Deer, cougars, bobcats, bears (its happened!), snakes, mice, rabbits, grouse, hawks, starlings, robins, squirrels, and very offended chipmunks walk the paths that I walk almost every day.

So today I am looking. At the flowers that nobody planted, that nobody tends. But they grow every year, again and again, seeding, rooting, blooming a kind of beauty that is so unnecessary to exist and so needed to live.

Today I am looking at the birds. The birds who make their nests in the rock. Who flit in and out and find food for their babies. They leave and return and they keep growing enough to start a new life. Start a new nest. Find a new nest and create more.

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The way of this Christ I follow is one that is not flashy. Birds and flowers? Seriously? When faced with decisions that might work and might crash and burn? When faced with my own weaknesses? When I might make a mistake that hurts others? Birds and flowers?

 

Yup, birds and flowers. His way is a way of trust. Not effort. But trust. Not success. But presence, but trust. A trust that reconciles my fearful, untrusting, resisting, resentful heart back to his.

 

I’m staring at my fear, staring at my fault line, staring at all the possibilities I cannot possibly account for and my arms are starting to tingle.  I’m staring at the recriminations that are scaring me to death if I make a wrong move…..

Stop staring Jacqui and look at the flowers. See it. See the petals. See the little bugs on it. See how delicately I delight in this world. Even you.  Be present to me.  That’s where your heart can stay.

Stop staring Jacqui and turn your head. Look at that bird. Its yellow, its green, its black and grey and it knows its business. And I have provided for it. It lives in trust. And I made you, Jacqui. I made you to live in trust. I know it feels so foreign, so unlike every self help book you’ve read. But trust me, and trust the life I’ve given you.

Birds and flowers. This is the spiritual practice that is saving me right now.

Birds and flowers.  And eyes to see the truth.

This is the Word of the Lord—Thanks Be To God—

 

 

I read this in Brennan Manning’s Ruthless Trust this morning:

“When the brilliant ethicist John Kavanaugh went to work for three months at “The House of the Dying” in Calcutta, he was seeking a clear answer as to how best to spend the rest of his life. On the first morning there he met Mother Teresa. She asked, “And what can I do for you?” Kavanaugh asked her to pray for him.

“What do you want me to pray for? She asked. He voiced the request that he had borne thousands of miles from the United States: “Pray that I have clarity.”

She said firmly, “ No I will not do that.”

When he asked her why, she said, “Clarity is the last thing you are clinging to and must let go of.” When Kavanaugh commented that she always seemed to have the clarity he longed for, she laughed and said, “I have never had clarity; what I have always had is trust. So I will pray that you trust God.”

 

Birds and flowers. Jesus.

What kind of kingdom is this that values trust over clarity?   His. His. The kingdom of the King of Creation. Trust is what was lost and trust is what was restored. And its so beautiful.

 

 

 

 

 

The Creator Knew; The Creator Always Knows

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-Behind Bow Valley Ranch in Fish Creek Park-

This was an article I wrote for the Christian Reformed Centre for Public Dialogue’s Do Justice Blog (whew that’s a mouthful 🙂 ) I wanted to share it now here, as we’ve just passed Indigenous People’s Day and Canada Day here in Canada.  In my circles and maybe yours too, there’s a few common responses to issues regarding Indigenous peoples in general, to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action, and to Christians starting to be vocal in this sphere.   1 – The response where non-indigenous people say out loud or in their hearts, “Enough already, just get over it. We’re doing enough, your situation is actually your fault”;  2- The response where non- indigenous people want to help “those people” and have all sorts of ideas of how to do that for them;  3- The response where we spend time analyzing all the reasons why things are the way they are, defending, accusing, and trying to get a grasp on it – mostly just deferring our own ability to respond to it to some later day; 4- The response where Christians are told to focus on Jesus and saving souls, forgetting (or maybe never being taught?) that Jesus is found in anyone who asks our help;  5 – The response where people are good people, living normal hard/happy lives and just honestly don’t know how to proceed, where to take action, how to do anything differently, how to imagine anything differently, with regards to Indigenous people’s in Canada.   

I’m going to posit that there is an “under all that” way, the way that has to start all reconciliation- from husband/wife, parent/child, all the way up to nation/nation – and its the dual notion of inviting and listening.  Inviting someone else to speak and then listening to what they say.   This is how we want to be treated – to be given space to say our piece and to be listened to; this is how we are called as friends of Jesus to treat others.  And it can only be done in proximity, in relationship.

So what follows is what happened in a couple people’s real hearts when a small imperfect church tried this just a little bit.  

 

In the fall of 2017, in the year of Canada 150 celebrations, the Canadian AboriginalMinistries Committee of the CRCNA invited pastors and churches in Canada to consider together what it means that the land we call Canada has been inhabited for far more than 150 years.

They asked, “What do the biblical calls to hospitality and reconciled relationships mean for your church’s relationships with local Indigenous peoples?” And they invited pastors to preach about this.

Rich Braaksma, the Western Canadian Regional Leader for Resonate Global Mission and one of the pastors at The Road Church in Calgary, AB, took this challenge. He reached out to The Native Center at the University of Calgary for anyone from the local indigenous community who could help our church enter these questions.   One of the administrators there, Cheryle Chagnon Greyeyes said yes and then even offered to come to our church to speak to us about these questions.

That Sunday morning, Cheryle told us a little bit about herself, about who she was, where she was from and she told us a bit about the land the church was sitting on at that moment. She sang a welcome to us.   The service continued as it usually did with a few songs and then with the Hearing of The Word. Pastor Rich got up and spoke about hospitality. He spoke of his recent travels to Oman and Bangladesh where hospitality is expressed with an invitation to sit and share tea, sweets, food. He spoke of the deeply biblical theme of hospitality and he spoke about the story The Good Samaritan in Luke 10. Love God and Love our neighbor, Jesus told the people who were looking to him to give them something to believe in.   To which someone, not unlike ourselves, needed a caveat, because surely it was too much to love every person like a neighbor.   Surely we can’t be expected to…well, LOVE just ANY neighbor. “Who IS my neighbor, Jesus?” someone asked.

And of course, Jesus refused to play along and to the questioner and the crowd he instead told a story about someone not like them, not liked by them. In fact, he told a story whose hero was a Samaritan, someone at the time, expressly overlooked, distrusted and looked down on by this audience.   Jesus flipped the question and instead of defining who the neighbour was that they were required to love, he told a story about what the work of the neighbour would be, what the actions would be. He defined the actions that, in fact, would sum up the law and the prophets.  We in the congregation heard this word, knowing we are both Jesus’ questioner and people in that crowd; both the loving neighbour, the ignoring neighbour and the neighbour who needs to be loved.

 

Rich and Cheryle then talked about hospitality. Rich asked her questions about her culture, what practices helped with hospitality and we learned a bit more about practices and the meaning behind things we perhaps didn’t previously understand like smudging, or the gifting of tobacco (it’s not ever for ingesting we learned!). Cheryle talked about ceremony and why it was important for her – how it is “kindness signified.” She talked about how good guests listen to their hosts and partake in the world of their hosts.  They enter into the practices of the host, for it means you take seriously their place in the world and you take seriously that you are entering that place as a guest – you do not take over the home of your host for your own. And good hosts, in turn, care for the needs, the lives, the world of their guests.

The whole conversation was a practice in hospitality. Rich and Cheryle are different, absolutely. And there are differences that can’t be conflated into sameness and shouldn’t be. No one is saying that their different beliefs about the nature of the world and their different experiences of the world are interchangeable. But Rich and Cheryle are also neighbors and they were taking seriously what it meant to care for and welcome someone else’s dignity, their whole person, their God-given, Creator-given life. Their conversation opened this up for us.

But what happened on this Sunday was not limited to what it taught us in the congregation—it wasn’t limited to our thoughts and thinking about this issue.  I think this Good, Big and Incredibly Loving God we serve loves to take what we learn in our heads and pull it right down into our hearts. I will give 2 examples of this, and I hope you read them, not as theological points, or as things to convince you of one thing or another, but as examples from a generous God to a few particular people of what might happen when you invite someone else over, when you open up space to hear another voice.

 

The first happening – A couple in our congregation, a few years ago, adopted 3 children of indigenous heritage. It is very important to their family that their children have meaningful and authentic connections to their cultural roots. Anyone who adopts knows a connection to the people and place of birth is vital to the health and resilience of their children. There is a yearning in us to know the family that brought us to this earth.   They knew that their children’s birth mother was of Metis-Cree descent but as she herself had been adopted out of her family culture, they had not found anyone of this heritage for their children to connect with. Until this Sunday. After the service, this mother brought her children over to meet Cheryle, who is Metis-Cree. Now, to understand what happened next, you have to know that their youngest daughter is a reserved girl. She is warm and loving with her family, but will also hang back silently with people outside of family, often not making eye contact. When she met Cheryle, however, she looked right at this elder’s friendly face. Cheryle put her forehead to the forehead of this tiny 3 year old. And they looked at each other for what the mother said felt like 5 minutes! Then this little girl allowed herself to be held, kissed on the cheek, seen. Indeed, she nestled her face into the neck of this woman she just met.   The mother wept. The father wept. The other family witnessing this wept. In the words of this mother in an email later, she said that this connection was “an experience beyond earthly explanation, for sure.  My words do not do it justice.”   Cheryle and this family will stay in touch, and while the children may not have their biological grandmother to help them interpret and make sense of their place and their story in this world, they now have another woman, inviting them into her life and her community so that theirs may be strengthened.

For this mom, to see her youngest daughter seen, cared for, connected to her root on this earth, that is a gift of Godly proportions. A gift given, in what some may call a coincidence and others may call grace. God knows what we need. And he provides, so often, where we are not looking for it. “Do not forget to provide hospitality for strangers for you unknowingly may be entertaining angels,” we read in our bibles. You may very well be welcoming those who would do God’s work in this world, even in your own heart, when you welcome a guest into your life.

 

 

The second story is my own. And like the story before, a bit of background is needed. My mom passed away after a very brief illness last year. About 6 months before her diagnosis my mom had been walking in Fish Creek Park past an outdoor art installation celebrating the western and indigenous influence on the area. On this day of dedication there was woman singing and drumming on the hill.   My mom stopped walking, and listened for as long as she could. During this time, God spoke to her about his love for her. My mom felt God encouraging her through this woman singing—a thrill of hope. I remember this day, as my mom called me, excited, brimming with the words of her Father to her heart. And into her illness and before her death, she held onto that moment in Fish Creek and mentioned it often. It was a touchstone.

Well, this particular Sunday of Cheryle’s visit also happened to be the day we decided on to be my ordination Sunday.   After the sermon came the official call, questions, prayers and the laying on of hands of my ordination and Cheryle had asked if she could sing a song of women’s blessing. To me, she said, this song was a prayer for me to know The Creator’s place for me in this world.  To say it was beautiful doesn’t quite do it justice. It was haunting, unfamiliar but also arresting and ministering. I have longed to teach, preach, pray, lead my whole life and for the last 20 years I have been trusting that these things in me would come into fruition, not knowing how, when, in what context. It has been a long, twisty journey and to then be blessed into this ministry in this unexpected way was a gift beyond words.

After this Sunday service, after the ordination, my father went up to Cheryle, described that event in Fish Creek with my mom and said, “This is a shot in the dark, but would that have happened to have been you?”   And Cheryle looked at him and said, “No, but I know of that event. My daughter sang at that.”   At that point, my dad began to cry, weep actually. I have never seen him cry like that in public.   In this incredible, unprobable circle of grace, a daughter was an instrument of blessing and encouragement to an unknown mother and 2 years later, her mother blessed and encouraged an unknown daughter. The women in that family were used, beyond comprehension, in the mystery of God’s all-seeing grace, to equip and encourage the women of my family for what lay ahead. My father kept coming to tears all day, even during family dinner later that night saying, “The Creator knew….God knew…”

 

AND THIS IS THE POINT. The whole point. We don’t know what we invite in when we open up our table. What we do know is that we have been called into being by a welcoming God. We know that we have been called by a God who just loves to reconcile – it’s his favorite work. To reconcile his people to his heart, back to their own hearts and back to the hearts of one another.   In this year of Canada 150, we do not have to be afraid to talk about the effects of past decisions, past doctrines and the impacts these have on people today. Truth is essential for healthy relationships – and the truth of how the indigenous people of Canada was a truth we were not hearing for a long time. But now we are. And truth will never do us wrong, it will make us uncomfortable, but it will not denigrate or damage us, not if we have given up our stake on power and control – power and control that, as children of God, were never ours to begin with. And while we have to do this work, we also get the privilege of wondering and listening together at what the healing looks like. This is the good work of being followers of Jesus – to wonder at what it is to witness God doing his work of reconciliation in the world and to maybe even participate in it too.

We are witnesses to a grace that goes far beyond what we say we know-indeed it goes far past what we could ever know. This is a grace that goes to the centre of who we were created to be and to the heart of who this God is. He is the Community of Love, the triune God who made us ALL in His image. And this world, of all of us, is His. Not one inch is not his—The Creator knows and holds it in his hands.

We at The Road Church got to see this in sharp relief in that unique, unlikely Sunday service. We got to witness that when we welcome one another, its like welcoming The Other, The Very God, and when we make room at a table that is not even ours to own, it is a foretaste of His dream, His world made new. A world where we see and know and participate in the life of the Creator God and his goodness and his shalom for every person, every image of God out there.

And this is good news.  This is good news that I am a somehow a recipient of, and good news that I am still Wonder-ing at.

 

Written by Jacqui Mignault, Pastor at The Road Church as well as a Campus Minister at Mount Royal University in Calgary.

-Post Script- Cheryle came and visited us at The Road Church again, leading us in the KAIROS Blanket Exercise, and has even visited some of us in our homes, teaching, laughing, talking, singing, dropping off coffee makers and gifting smudge kits-if that’s not a Happy Canada Day thing to celebrate, I’m not sure what is.

 

On Praising God with our WHOLE selves – body and soul.

–An Excerpt from my sermon on Sunday–

“Theology determine anthropology which determines policy.

This sentence means that what we believe to be true about God will determine how we view humans – ourselves and others – and that will determine the ways we choose to live with each other.

If we believe God does not love our bodies, we will not live in ways that take care of the bodies of others, or ourselves. We might even be ok with public policies that say we can destroy the bodies of others, if it suits our “Christian” goals.  Some of us have been reading the TRC report together and so this makes me think specifically of our Canadian-Christian witness and legacy – IF God only cares about our souls and will throw away the body, it’s a hop, skip and a jump to denigrating Indiginous bodies for the sake of making Christians out of them.   This did not lead to wholeness, flourishing, the abundance of love, joy, peace…..     I know its a big subject but its ok to critique this.

If we do not have a robust understanding of what it means that God incarnated his whole self into Jesus for Our Whole Selves, then everything we do and say in the church will have no legs.   What music we sing, how creative we are, how well we market, how many musicians we have on stage, how many commentaries we read, none of it will matter because the gospel we are telling would only speak to a fraction of our whole selves. It will just be pure energy with no body. This good news will limp, it will be lame.  And those of us with power will way too easily be able to hurt those with less.”

 

There’s good news – there is– I have drawn my place in it.   The Incarnated God is my hope and my salvation.

But….

What gets me about public christianity these days….its our witness sounds nothing like love for the body, mind and soul of each human.   I grieve and read, talk, and grieve more a lot these days….

Its not even a matter of what do we do – its a matter of how do we listen now- how do we rend our hearts and turn…..

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Incredulity of Saint Thomas by Carvaggio ca. 1602

 

 

 

Deconstructing Faith – Its Gonna Be Ok

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I read this book at 20 and it changed me.  As you read this quote, you might recognize your own situation.  For L’Engle it was the highly cerebral German theologians who answered everything that left no room for her.  For me (and many in our culture), it was evangelical “just try harder-pull yourself by your bootstraps” theology that has insidiously rooted in everything we faithful do, that left no room for my story.  And under both (and maybe all tricks of the enemy) is our essential need to control so that our fears, shame, anger may be quieted.

If anything our culture is groaning at us right now, its that the loudest stories the faithful have told in public are not the truest ones.  Because they do not start and end in love.  They don’t start and end with love for everyone, not just the ones that look like you.  These stories are being found lacking when they are examined by the actual seeking ones.

L’Engle also makes note that the opposite of sin is not virtue – beware the tendency to legislate our salvation.  The opposite of sin is faith.  Its trust in a loving, all-ways-meeting-you-and-everyone-else-too God, who looks like a grace-filled face interested in your life as it is.  The end.

 

So if your faith is deconstructing–if you are questioning the validity of what you’ve been told – its good and you are in good company.  It’s God talking to you in a new way, like how I talk differently to my 9 year old than I did when she was 1.   Its God taking you by the hand (or knocking you off your horse if you’re a bit like Paul) blinding you to everything you thought you needed to know, and showing you the one thing needed.    This is the still-point of transformation every time, in every shade of Christianity.

 

“I was at a point in my life where my faith in God and the loving purposes of Creation was very insecure, and I wanted desperately to have my faith strengthened. If I could not believe in a God who truly cared about every atom and subatom of his creation, then life seemed hardly worth living. I asked questions, cosmic questions, and the German theologians answered them all—and they were questions which should not have been answered in such a finite, laboratory-proof manner. I read their rigid answers, and I thought sadly, “If I have to believe all this limiting of God, the I cannot be a Christian.” And I wanted to be one.

I had yet to learn the FAITHFULNESS of doubt. This is often assumed by the judgemental to be FAITHLESSNESS, but it is not;

It is a pre-requisite for living faith.

Francis Bacon writes, “If we begin in certainties we will end in doubt.”

The anonymous author of The Cloud of Unknowing writes, “By love God may be gotten and holden, but by thought or understanding, never.”

Love, not answers.

Love, which trusts God so implicitly despite the cloud (and is not the cloud a sign of God?) that it is brave enough to ask questions, no matter how fearful.

It was the scientists, with their questions, their awed rapture at the glory of the created universe, who helped to convert me. In a sense, A Wrinkle in Time was my rebuttal to the German theologians. It was also my affirmation of a universe in which I could take note of all the evil and unfairness and horror, and yet believe in a loving Creator. I thought of it, at that time, as probably a very heretical book, theologically speaking, which is a delightful little joke at my expense, becase it is, I have been told, theologically a completely orthodox book. The Holy Spirit has a definite sense of humor.”

Madeleine L’Engle from Walking on Water

From Reading Wendell Berry During Sermon Prep.

“The whole creation exists only by participating in the life of God, sharing in His being, breathing His breath.  “The world,” Gerard Manley Hopkins said, “is charged with the grandeur of God.”  Such thoughts seem strange to us now, and what has estranged us from them is our economy.  The industrial economy could not have been derived from such thoughts any more than it could have been derived from the Golden Rule.

If we believed that the existence of the world is rooted in mystery and in sanctity, then we would have a different economy.  It would still be an economy of use, necessarily, but it would e an economy also of return.  The economy would have to accommodate the need to be worthy of the gifts we receive and use, and this would involve a return of propitiation, praise, gratitude, responsibility, good use, good care, and a proper regard for the unborn.  What is most conspicuously absent form the industrial economy and industrial culture is this idea of return.  Industrial humans relate themselves to the world and its creatures by fairly direct acts of violence.  Mostly we take without asking, use without respect or gratitude and give nothing in return.  Our economy’s most voluminous product is waste–valuable materials irrecoverably misplaced, or randomly discharged as poisons.

to perceive the world and our life in it as gifts originating in sanctity is to see our human economy as a continuing moral crisis.  Our life of need and work forces us inescapably to use in time things belonging to eternity, and to assign finite values to things already recognized as infinitely valuable.  This is a fearful predicament. It calls for prudence, humility, good work, propriety of scale. It calls for the complex responsibility of care taking and giving back that we mean by “stewardship.”

Wendell Berry in The Essential Agrarian Reader: The Future of Culture, Community, and the Land, ed. by Norman Wirzba

While it was still dark

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I woke up at 5:44 am this morning with these words running through my head:

“Very early in the morning, while it was still dark…”

They are the intro to the resurrection story.

 

It all starts in the dark. Always, everytime – this is how God does things.

Seeds, chrysalis, the womb, the heat of the earth, the source of the font. The pre-cellular enzymes swimming in the depths of the ocean for billions of years.

All life, all new life, all transformed life begins, “While it is still dark.”

 

We do not serve the God of winning – we serve the God of transforming. This is a big ,big difference.   And this God was not afraid of the dark, of falling, of failure of expectations, of silence – in fact, it was part and parcel of it, of the transformation. It always is.

This God IS NOT afraid of what the dark holds – for it actually is the start of all transformed life.

 

I think of those women who walked in the dark, three days after a violent, bloody, terrifying day. They walked in unknowing, they walked not understanding, they walked forward only doing what they knew to do next. They walked with their hearts broken. They walked not even knowing if their physical safety would be guaranteed in this powder-keg city that cheered at the pain of this One.  This one who took their lives seriously and held their selves with love and kindness.

They walked in the dark.

And they were met. By something they could not have even imagined. By someone who knew their names.

 

This is a Sunday I can get behind – this is such a good story.

This Dark Day We Call Good

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(Christ on the Cross with Two Maries and St. John, El Greco, 1588)

 

If you missed a Good Friday service or you aren’t sure why you would go to one but are interested, here is the story told at The Road Church’s Good Friday service.    We played Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings following the story and gave space for silent reflection.  I’d encourage you to try that too.  

 

Walking Through The Days

So we have been gathered today to live into this story that marks us as a peculiar people, the story of a very dark Friday that we call Good.  We are going to talk about the story, and sit inside of it, just as those first hearers of the gospel would.  I’m telling the story as it comes to us in the book of Luke, if you want to read along, or go home and take a look at it, with a couple details included from other gospels for good measure.

 

A day before the big yearly Passover festival in Jerusalem,  Jesus said to his friends Peter and maybe his friend John, “We should find a place to have a Passover meal. Could you guys go get ready for that?” And they serendipitously found a place, and they got the evening ready.

On that Thursday night, Jesus and his friends sat down together and they ate. They ate this Passover meal, Maybe they had this done every year since they were kids with their families. But this year, this rag tag group of unlikely friends, ate like they were their own new family. They got ready their meal of lamb, of bitter herbs, of unleavened bread. They ate to remember when the angel of death passed over the houses of the Israelites that had been marked with lamb’s blood, when God saved them from slavery by bringing the realization of death onto their captors.

They sat down and ate together. It had been a long week of keeping up with Jesus preaching in the temple, of being with him while he said hard things and then going off to the Mount of Olives at night, to be quiet, to listen. So it was good to be eating, to be together. But as they ate, Jesus said something strange. Something they did not understand.

And because we are putting ourselves in the story, I’m going hand out the bread and hand out the cups, and we are going to wonder at the actions, the words, this person of Jesus.   I’m going to pass around a plate of bread and cups of wine or juice – take it like you normally would, eat it and drink it like you would when something was passed to you at your dinner table. Feel free to eat and drink it now as the disciples would have that Passover night.

As Jesus passed the bread around he said something strange, “Take some of it. Grab a piece of this bread. This piece of bread in your hand, in your mouth, its my body broken for you, given for you my dear, dear friends.   And he then he passed around a cup, and he said, take some, drink some – this wine is my blood, spilled out for you.”

His friends, used to his ways, but unsure what he meant, broke off hunks of bread and swallowed some wine, and wondered at his words.   They continued with their meal as usual. They talked, they argued over who was going to be greatest. Just like a bunch of humans. And so Jesus took off his robes and sat at their feet like a slave and once again tried to get them to see – that its not the greatest that is to be revered, its not the greatest that saves you,– it is the last and the least, the servant in your midst, the lowering of your own heart.   His words, and especially his actions were deeply affirming to the disciples hearts and deeply disturbing to the ways they were used to living – and well, that’s the way it was with Jesus.

Now, at some point in the meal, something happened to the disciple Judas—he got up and left, not saying a word to any of them, he left—I wonder if someone like John or James noticed the looks, the furtive words between Judas and Jesus. I wonder if Jesus met their questioning eyes, or did he look at his hands, and with a knot in his chest take a deep breath, knowing what the night would hold for him, and knowing what the night would hold for his friend Judas.

 

After this strange, beautiful, unsettling dinner, they followed Jesus and went to the Mount of Olives, to the Garden of Gethsamane. They spread out under the trees. Jesus asked, quietly, “Pray-stay awake and pray with me. Please.” I wonder if his voice betrayed him, if it wavered. I wonder if they picked up on it and if they had any clue what day it was that they were walking through or if it was just another normal, wonderfully strange day with Jesus.

Jesus watched his tired friends, fumbling into sleep with all their humanness, and walked to a tree a few yards away. His panic was strong now, his fear rising in his throat.   I wonder if He saw the flickers of firelight coming up the hill. “Father, Father,” he cried. “Please, please take this cup. You could, please.” He tried to remember, tried to put back together in his mind the promises, the promises of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob-the promises of God to his own heart. He tried but he could not talk himself out of the fear, he could not get his head above the anguish of waiting for what was coming and so all he could do was surrender to it, let go inside of it, and say “But… Father…do your will.”

 

His friends, the disciples, They tried to stay awake, they tried to pray but must have nodded off because suddenly, in the darkness, flashes and flickers and voices were seen, heard, waking them up.     They saw Judas—he had brought soldiers. He brought men to arrest Jesus. To take him, to try him. The disciples’ anger was quick, firey, palpable, their adrenalin suddenly flooding them. They tried to fight and Peter grabbed his blade, lunging at the big man in front of him. But Jesus’ voice, strong now, was clear as a bell ringing in the mist,

“Peter, no, that is not the way your wholeness will come. That is never the way your salvation comes.” And He, He reached out his hands, touched the man who was there to hurt him, and he touched his wound, his pain, and restored his ear.

 

The shadowed crowd surged around Jesus and seized him by the arms. They walked too fast for his feet to keep up, or maybe it was his knees giving out, betraying his heart and he stumbled. The disciples watched, baffled, so very uncertain as to what was going on, they watched as the soldiers took him, they took Jesus, their friend, they took my lord, to the high priests house, in the dark and his friends, his friends, who had been woken out of their sleep, what had awoken to find the work they had given their lives to was taken and they just stood there. Just like that.   What was happening? What should they do? His friends, with the bread and the wine still in their bodies, were bewildered to the point of anger. Afraid to the point of denial. They were flooded with Confusion, anxiety, despair. These are not words we associate with the triumph of life and love in the world, and yet they are part of the story. They are here, they are part of OUR story and we don’t get to Sunday until we walk through them, honestly.

 

When we, 1000s of years later – generations later, read our story and live into our story, this is the hard part. I find I don’t “live into” Easter like I do with Christmas. At Christmas it is a thing of joy to wait, with expectancy—there’s hardship there, but we know at the end, the gift, the joy, the new life will come and so I’m ok with living in anticipation. But in a very real way, I do not want to have to live through these days that lead up to Easter.

I do not want to live through fear, the kind of fear that makes it hard to breathe. And yet I have. I do not want to live through confusion, bewilderment, the kind that makes me doubt every thing around me. And yet I have.   I do not want to have my expectations about my worth, my work, my family, dashed and trampled – that hurts more than we admit. And yet I have. I do not want to live through pain, through wounds, through messy messy hurt. I don’t want to do the hurting and yet I have . I don’t want to acknowledge that I am afraid and that I’ve denied the truth because of it. And yet I have.

But if we read our story, when we live into it, we know that its exactly here, in fear, sightlessness, weakness, doubt, confusion, destroyed hopes, anxiety, depression, even death, that our Father, our redeemer, plunges his hands right into the middle of it, deep down, and THERE, right there, does his work of transformation. He is not afraid to walk the days before Easter.

I don’t want to have to live into this story. I want a page of instructions, a guarantee and a happy ending with a bow on top. I want to win at life, or at least do well enough that nobody thinks to say anything. I do not want to stumble or fail or not finish in high standing, I do not want my hopes to go unfulfilled, I do not want to fear or be confused. I do not want to be in the dark.

And yet we do not serve a “Winning” God, we serve a “Transforming” God, a Transforming God deeply, inextricably woven into this life. And this changes the whole game.

 

Jesus, the Son of God, the Son of Man, was here, now, on this day that we are walking through, at the mercy of thugs. The guards watching him, dragging him, began to mock him. Beat him. Cruelty comes easy. They hurt this man they did not know but had been told was the enemy. They blindfolded him, pushed him around, taunted him with “Prophesy then! Who hit you?” Cruelty comes easy.

Jesus was then dragged to the Sanhedrin, the place where the Jewish leaders met. They had gathered in the early morning, anticipating their victory over the rabble rouser, the one threatening their identity, their power, their understanding of the world. No proof was needed, the only thing that mattered was that his words made them feel threatened. They dragged him before Pontius Pilate, the Roman Governor who could punish this man the way they wanted. “This man is subverting our nation, he is disrupting what we do. He does not follow the order, the law, we need – that you need.” Pilate looked at Jesus, this bleeding, weak, hurt man. His eyes did not say rebellion, but I wonder if Pilate saw something much deeper in them – much deeper than rebellion, much more disruptive.

“You brought me this man as one who was inciting the people to rebellion. But I don’t see it. He has done nothing to deserve death.   I’ll punish him for you, a good flogging, and then release him,” Pilate finally pronounced.

The roars were deafening. The crowd bellowed to the point of rage – and rage in groups is a terrifying thing. Pilate was faced with the choice of killing an innocent man, or having an unruly protest led by the powerful religious leaders of the region. That wouldn’t look good on his resume back in Rome.

He looked at Jesus, the hurt bleeding man, whose eyes saw way more than Pilate was comfortable with and said, “Fine. But his blood is not on my hands.” He released another man convicted of insurrection and murder. And the Pilate stalked away leaving the People to their own devices. And all I can think about is how when the Everyone is loved, how when everyone matters, and every one is seen by God, how this is incredibly threatening to the ways we are used to doing things.

 

Nameless soldiers then led Jesus away, away to die.  They marched him through the city, down the dirt path. They grabbed a man named Simon from the Passover crowd and made him help Jesus carry the cross, carry that which was going to kill him. A big group gathered behind the soldiers including women, the text says. Women who wept, wailed, and mourned the suffering about to happen. Jesus saw them and knew that the pain they were going to suffer, and soon, even outweighed his own.   I wonder what the disciples were feeling. Their friend, their beloved, their cause, the reason they had left all that was comfortable and easy and embraced all that was hard but good, He was being led away to his death and they could do nothing to stop it.

Jesus was taken outside the city, to a hill called Golgotha which means Hill of the Skull with two other men who were to be crucified. The soldiers hammered nails into Jesus’ hands and into Jesus feet—there’s blood here, there is bodies being broken.   They hoisted the rough wood up and let it drop into its hole. The Body of my lord, the Body of this man hung there, heaving, dying, shutting down on itself, its life being drained with every breath.  We have a hard time imagining the pain. So we don’t. But we do not deny that it’s there, right there in the heart of God.  The pain is great and Jesus of Nazareth, eyes blinded by shock, pain, broken heartedness, cried out “God, where are you? Where did your face go? I cannot see you.”

 

Two thieves accompanied Jesus to the door of his death. I can’t help but think of Jesus in the towel washing his friend’s feet the night before and thinking that this is fitting. Jesus with the rabble, Jesus with the sinners, Jesus with those who have no recourse, Jesus with the lowest, the least and there, there the lowest being found.

One thief said, “Why don’t you save yourself? If you are the Messiah?” And the other rebuked the first and said, “This man has done nothing wrong. We deserve this, he does not.” Then, in what I can only imagine as a miraculous feat of energy, this thief said to Jesus, “please, remember me when you come into your kingdom. Remember me.” And in a feat of unimaginable kindness in the middle of his pain, Jesus said yes.

 

“It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land.” For the sun stopped shining.   And the curtain of the temple, the curtain that separated the place where God dwells from the people, this curtain was torn in two from top to bottom and Jesus called out with a loud voice, “FATHER! INTO YOUR HANDS I COMMIT MY SPIRIT. It is finished.”  And when he had done this, he breathed his last breath.

 

Its not many of us who get to watch as our loved ones breathe one last breath. But its surprising in its finality and its quietness. Life, and then no life. Breath and then no breath. Thought and then no thought. Sense and then no sense.

 

A centurion, seeing what had happened, was compelled to praise God and said, “Surely this was a right and righteous man.” When all the people who had gathered to witness this sight saw what took place, they beat their breasts, as they had been taught to do at such things, but then they went away.

But those who knew him, his friends, with the feeling of his hands on their feet, his voice in their ears, the memory of his bread and his wine being shared among them still bright in their minds–his friends, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.

Christ has come, Christ has died, and this is the story we walk through today, remembering that we do not serve a Winning God, we serve a Transforming God. We serve a God who transforms death, not by denying it, but by wading right into the middle of it and declaring even it is His.

 

Let us pray

“Father in heaven, you are holy. This is your kingdom and we do not understand it and it weighs heavy. And yet we live in it. Be with us as we go home to our lives and ponder the nails, ponder the death, ponder what it means to be friends, brothers and sisters with Jesus in this season, and on this day.   Be with us in our vigil, in our waiting, until we meet again. May your hope be what keeps us going. Amen.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Preaching the Psalms

rainTHIS is why I love Walter Brueggemann:

“Note that the Psalms thus propose to speak about human experience in an honest, freeing way. This is in contrast to much human speech and conduct which is in fact a cover-up.  In most arenas where people live, we are expected and required to speak the language of safe orientation and equilibrium, either to find it so or to pretend that we find it so.  For the normal conventional functioning of public life, the raw edges must be denied or suppressed for the purposes of public equilibrium.  As a result, our speech is dulled and mundane.  Our passion has been stilled and is without imagination.  And mostly the Holy One is not addressed, not because we dare not, but because God is far away and hardly seems important.  This means that the agenda and intention of the Psalms is considerably at odds with the normal speech of most people, the normal speech of a stable, functioning, self-deceptive culture in which everything must be kept running young and smooth.

Against that, the speech of the Psalms is abrasive, revolutionary, and dangerous.  It announces that life is not like that, that our common experience is not one of perfect equilibrium…Perhaps in our routinized prayer life that is one of the reasons the Psalter does not yield its power–because out of habit or fatigue or numbness, we try to use the Psalms in our equilibrium.  And when we do that, we miss the point of the psalms.  MOREOVER, OUR OWN EXPERIENCE MAY BE LEFT UNTAPPED AND INARTICULATE AND THEREFORE UNLIBERATED.  Such surface use of the Psalms coincides with the denial of the discontinuities in our own experience.  It happens daily in the reduction of our language to numb conventions.

Thus I suggest that most of the Psalms can only be appropriately prayed by people who are living at the edge of their lives, sensitive to the raw hurts, the primitive passions, and the naive elations that are at the bottom of our life.  For most of us, entry into the Psalms requires a REAL CHANGE OF PACE.  It asks us to depart from the closely managed world of public survival, to move into the open, frightening, healing world of speech with the Holy One.”   –From Walter Brueggemann’s Praying the Psalms, 1993

 

I know its heady but it is also true.  We live numb – I do anyways, so much of the time.  We let the ways we speak about the world and our own experiences in it dull the true things about it – true things that are at once very hard and very good. The Psalms, if we let them, will give us a way to enter the radically honest, radically hospitable language of a life with God.  And if we can do this together?  Well, we just might have a  community of radically honest, radically hospitable people who are being transformed by the Presence of the Living God right there in the midst of those words.