After Charlottesville: Unequivocal, Repentant, Listening, Re-formed

 

There is a phrase that’s thrown around churches like mine: “Reformed and always reforming.”  Depending on who you talk to this refers to either the personal response of individuals (We have re-formed our theology now we need our hearts, minds, morals and outer lives to be re-formed as well) or the modus operandi of the reformer in the world at large – (Our theology and church and lives are always being re-formed by our engagement with scripture and the culture).   People argue about this, I guess.

 

I was reminded of this phrase when I read the article by Jemar Tisby in the Washington Post on Sunday (and more of the work at RAAN- Reformed African American Network).   In the Post Mr. Tisby wrote these words, “After Charlottesville, Will White Pastors Finally Take Racism Seriously?”  This question leads to more questions:  “Will white pastors NOW realize that the Christian life is expressed as though White-ness, its benefits and its understanding of the world, is considered the explicit and implicit goal and best outcome of our life together?”  “Will you, White pastors, realize this and see what it does to your brothers and sisters?” Mr. Tisby is asking  This cannot be unseen once you see it – our culture and our church were born out of this very assumption.  What we saw in the states this weekend was the vile, end-of –the-spectrum outcome of assuming white culture, history, church history, theological and institutional conclusions were the norm and the goal.  The vile outcome of this implicit way of walking in the world manifests in the degradation and utility of anyone not white for the purposes of a culture that benefits white skin and ideas alone.  North America was founded on this and all the good we enjoy was built within this method.  This is not in dispute.  White Christian’s understanding of themselves and the blessing of God is rooted in this – this is also not in dispute. It is.  It is.  It is a fact.   Now we can absolutely not be racist in theory or to the immediate people around us, but we can also absolutely benefit from the legacy of the degradation and utility of other human beings, and we do. And that has to be reckoned with.  Because race and the habit of not seeing others who are not like you, plays out in economics and in opportunity.  After 100’s of years, it is of course still embedded throughout North American culture that economic factors, capital, and opportunity factors, social capital, are unequal between the races.  And when we talk about white privilege it is this:  Can we look away from other people’s hurt, harm, words of protest, and in no way have our economic or physical lives threatened?  Can we live our lives without being affected by this?  IS our norm completely fine.   That is our privilege which is a race privilege and a class-economic privilege.  Now I’m not saying we all have to become full-time justice activists.  But what our brothers and sisters are asking is that we do not look away from the evil of racism because we simply can and our daily lives and our lives with Jesus would not be affected (but of course, it is).

 

What Mr. Tisby is calling for is for the church at large to accept the diagnosis which our brothers and sisters of colour are giving us all.   The human flourishing which God intended and incarnates at all points when God walks among his creation, (and that is a reformed, biblical, beautiful concept if ever there was one) is being held back by a refusal to acknowledge this deeply rooted brokenness, SIN of systemic racism.  The flourishing which God intended in his Kingdom is being held back when we do not under-stand, ask questions about, repent from, turn around, and finally see Jesus as the one who holds EVERY ONE OF US for our transformation and salvation from this garbage.  The flourishing of God’s creation is being impeded, by us, when we do not listen and obey, act, think, and interpret the world differently, with humility, with total, unequivocal mercy and grace.  The flourishing of God’s kingdom is stopped and then perverted when we do not take the response-ability to be re-formed, as it were, in regards to The Other.    To have our lives taken over by the ONE, the truth, the WAY, of bringing all things together into unity, into wholeness, to have our lives taken over by the ONE who has taken away that which divides us and is creating in himself one new humanity out of the divisions. (see Ephesians…all of it).

 

In Canada, in the Canadian Church, we do not have the cultural legacy of slavery, but we have a legacy of assuming white culture is God’s norm.  We do.  And it has decimated real humans, our indigenous brethren, in ways that are still being realized.   If we are going to have reconciliation with anyone, we have to start there.  The obvious and empirical evidence is this: God’s world is not defined by white culture (which was European and colonial culture and is now also North American and capitalist culture).   The beautiful truth of God so loving this world got worded as, “you have to think, be and live exactly in this way, OUR white way, to understand God’s love.”  And that is not the truth.  Just travel and find out. Just listen to voices long silenced and find out.   God’s world, and God’s word, empirically we can tell by using our eyes, is more than our understanding of it.  It is more than our own interpretation of it.  So as re-formed pastors, theologians, lay people, how do we understand God and interpret Jesus and these incredible scriptures knowing that our interpretation of them is rooted in a white cultural bias and is rooted in a cultural bias that puts the power of interpretation into the hands of a few who fit the bill?

 

What gives me hope is that Jesus got this “reformed and always reforming” thing and I think in both senses of the phrase.  He understood his role as a prophet, calling the interpretation of God’s works in the world back into an original light, back into a wholeness, a love, a relationship of meaning, wonder and created covenant.  But he also called into question the interpretation 100’s and 1000’s of years of that call that a specific culture had.  He did not mind breaking Sabbath laws if they helped God’s creation heal and become whole, over and over.  He did not mind breaking social taboos of associating with women, men of disrepute, over and over–it healed them and they became whole.  He re-formed a cultural understanding of the work of God in service of each person’s restoration into loving communion.  He re-formed the culture’s understanding of God and its theology and then charged everyone to take that theology and offer it back to God through the very shape, action and motivation of their hearts, minds, souls, and bodies.   Love this God, love this neighbour, love this self.

 

And in the ultimate “the medium IS the message” moment, the incarnation of God’s self in Jesus offers us the truth of how God is.  He is with us, over and over, in all cultures, in all races.  In all various broken and incomplete understandings, He is with us.  Andrew Walls, the missiologist, talks about how the very fact of the incarnation leads to a broader, fuller, truer, more whole understanding of the gospel with every new people group it encounters.   It does this because the incarnation is a translation itself.  A translation of God’s life force into the context of one culture.  And as each group encounters the gospel, something new is made known about the presence of that God.  And then that translation is translated again into another culture and then into another, with the truth being the kernel of “with us”, “for us,” “unto us” in every context and sola Christo (Christ alone) being the diamond waiting to be revealed with every generation.

 

To the church of North America, if I may, letting God translate Jesus into a context of diversity IS what IS happening now.  We are not a whole bunch of worlds separate from each other.  We are one world, one big-small world.   This is the truth that He is revealing through His creation.  And submitting to God’s work of opening our eyes to His diversity is the first step.  Followed closely by an examination of how we don’t do this systemically, at large, and from the front.  In practical, daily terms: Step number 1 – LISTEN TO OTHER VOICES.  Ask for discernment, ask for courage, ask for humility and LISTEN.  READ.  LISTEN to stories, experiences, their understanding of our good God.    Step number 2 – TALK TO OTHER VOICES.  Talk, see, ask questions, under-stand – that is, stand literally under their experience until you get it.   Step number 3 – TALK ABOUT IT.  Talk about race, how it is experienced in your specific context, engage with stories from YOUR city and the world.  To your kids, to your spouses, to your parents.  In your classrooms, in your churches.    Step number 4 – LISTEN, READ, TALK with the Spirit of the Living God, with all the honesty you are capable of.  Ok, maybe that should be first.  And also maybe that is actually happening as you do steps 1-3.

 

We affirm that Jesus would have none of this white supremacy garbage.  That really should be easy to affirm.  And now its ok to see where its roots and effects still lay within our every day workings.  Its ok to repent now.  It really is.  Nothing happens until then.  We all know this, don’t we.

 

 

Re-formed, always re-forming.  Inside, yes absolutely, and also outside, with the help of our brothers and sisters who hear things and know things we may not be listening for yet.

 

Wrinkles in Time, 8 year olds, and Truth…all while trying to do the dishes.

A-Wrinkle-In-Time

My husband and I were in the kitchen cleaning up after dinner this week when my 8 year old walked in and asked, “But how can we know what’s true?”  That’s a “pay attention” question if ever there was one.  She went on: “Like with ITIT told Meg and Calvin that it knew what was best and that if they gave in to it, it would bring them peace.  They wouldn’t need to worry or think or stress.  How did they know not to trust it when those words sound like good things?”

 

If you aren’t familiar with the references, they are from Madeleine L’Engle’s 1960’s fantasy A Wrinkle in Time which we had just finished reading together last week.  The 8 year old had been thinking about it apparently.  The main characters, Meg and Charles Wallace along with their friend Calvin were tasked with saving Meg’s father from the powers of darkness, from a blackness that blots out the skies, that’s hard to detect from earth, that’s seductive in its grasp but is very, very real.  Meg’s father was trapped on a planet that had succumbed to the darkness and on that planet it manifested as IT, a huge central brain that did all the thinking for everyone on the planet.  When Meg and the others confronted IT, trying to save her father, IT offered them peace.  IT would say things like: “Why don’t you trust me?  Why don’t you trust me enough to come and find out what I am? I am peace and utter rest.  I am freedom from all responsibility.  To come to me is the last difficult decision you will ever make…..in Camazotz all are equal; everybody is the same as everyone else.”

The 8 year old heard the words which were meant to confuse. She heard the big nasty IT say words that could be good but didn’t feel right.   And so she asked critical questions about truth.  She wanted to know why Meg knew not to believe IT.

And like everyone else, I am watching the news and seeing different takes on reality.  I am watching, in real time, some people say one thing and some people say another, all claiming to be the truth.  Truth is apparently in the eye of whoever can shout the loudest.  Truth is determined by airtime and tweets.  Everyone sees reality according to their own pain and their own benefit.  Truth becomes synonymous with a worldview, not a real world where everybody lives.

Pilate asked the same question of Jesus, the question precipitated by the same circumstances – two takes on a reality that were vastly different.  Some people said He was a healer, a prophet, someone who changed them and knew them and offered life.  Some said He was a dissenter, a dangerous villain who was out to take away a way of life, to strip morals away from people, to ruin the work of God in their land and take power for himself.  Everyone was angry, everyone was shouting, some were crying, some hiding.   But the words of accusation made sense.  Pilate didn’t want an insurgency on his hands, an uprising—he didn’t want a rabble-rouser disquieting the natives, claiming power.  And yet, when he looked at the man before him, he knew to ask the question.  He knew not everything was as it seemed, not everything was as it was being interpreted to him.   So Pilate looked at the small, naked man in front of him and asked, “What is truth?”

 

There is no record of what Jesus answered.  There is only a small, naked man standing there.  Reduced, stripped, completely bare and unarmed. That is the answer to “What is truth?”

 

When my daughter asked the question about truth, she was asking about discernment.  How do we discern what is good; how do we know we can trust it?  How do we discern when the words all sound like good things?

 

This is a question I have been asking myself too.  What happens to truth when reality can be interpreted as far away from facts and physical reality as need be?  When anything makes sense if you talk around it long enough.

 

As my husband and I stood there in the kitchen,  we tried to answer the 8 year old.  Two things came out of that conversation that have struck me as genuine litmus tests for truth.

The first is fruit.  As in, what is the fruit of the claim, the action, that is being discerned.  What is the result.  The 8 year old understood this idea of fruit—there’s a song (or 100) about it.  This is what kids do in Sunday school – sing songs about fruit.   The fruit of the Spirit of God is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control.   You can tell a tree by its fruit.  It makes a nice song but take it towards discernment and its powerful in its clarity.

 

Does the outcome of the claim being made on truth result in love?  Love, not admiration, not adoration, not praise, but love.  I love bell hooks’ definition of love.  “LOVE is as love does” she writes; love is when we “openly and honestly express care, affection, responsibility, respect, commitment and trust.” (All About Love, bell hooks, 2000).  Does what is being offered express care, affection, responsibility towards, respect of, commitment and covenant over and trust of the people involved.  This kind of love takes seriously the human worth of people– all the people.  We talked about this and it was clear to the 8 year old, IT did not love the people it claimed to be helping.  IT offered them ease but not love for their very own selves, especially not when they advocated for themselves.

 

Does the outcome of the claim being made on truth result in joy?   IT did not offer joy either.  IT offered a version of satiety, but not joy.  Not the swelling of the heart, not the gratitude that verbalized joy, not the color, the taste, the movement and new life that joy creates and recreates continuously.

 

Does the outcome of the claim being made result in peace?  Well, yes, in a way, the 8 year old noticed.  IT offered utter rest, no one had to think, no one had to fight, no one had any say in anything so no one thought they were better than the others.  This is why the 8 year old asked the question!  This is where the kernel of truth lay in IT’s claim.  IT claimed peace but brought it through force.  Was that real peace?

 

We moved on.  But the questions are SO worth asking.

Does the outcome of the claim of truth result in patience?  Does it make people able to stop and step back and listen before speaking? Does is create the capacity for second, third, fourth chances?  How about 70X7 chances?

Does it result in kindness? Does what you are hearing as the reality you should live by result in kindness?  Does it engender kindness?  Kindness to who? You?  People just like you?  Or everyone—even those soooo different from you.

Does it result in goodness?  In flourishing, in harvest, in abundance?  For all of us?

Does is result in gentleness?  Does it result in the ability to step back from rage and see the fragile human in front of you?  Does it give you the capacity to then reach out with intention but care to who is in front of you?  To yourself?  We never talk about gentleness.  But the Spirit does.

Does this truth result in faithfulness?  In covenant?  Does it result in long-term commitments to the good of the other?  Does it help you trust more?  Trust God, trust yourself, trust others?

Does it result in self-control?  Does your truth result in the ability to hold yourself accountable to others, the awareness to hold yourself as living within a whole, not just for yourself and for the immediate?

 

The other thing that came out of our kitchen conversation about A Wrinkle in Time was this question:  Who benefits from this version of truth?  Who loses?  Who gains more and who suffers?  It didn’t take too many years of human stories for my younger daughter to conclude last year, “Bad guys always want money and power, money and power.”  Thank you Disney movies.  Seems simple, but it could be worth asking, “Where is the power (and money and fame) going?”  Meg Murray, her brother and her friend saw that IT was after the power to control, to determine the fates of all the people on that planet.  And IT carved that power by diminishing the humanity of all the people – it no longer saw individuals, but a cause, a system, a truth based on not seeing individual worth.  Want to know why governments, churches and any institution can quickly move from truth to lie?  From good to harm?  Because of this…By no longer seeing individuals but only seeing the cause, when ends justify means, when the power to act tramples the real-live individual its supposed to help.

When we are called upon to make a judgment about truth, where is the power, and the money and fame that give it, going?  Who is benefiting and who is suffering?

 

As Pilate stood there, looking at the naked small man before him, powerless indeed, he asked, “What is truth?”  And the truth stood there naked and small—the truth stood there as basic as each of us on the day of our birth and the day of our death.

What was the fruit of this man, upholding and drawing in the humanity of all of us by just standing there.  He did not have power or money to convince or sway.  But he left in his wake people made more whole.  People seeing themselves for real for the first time.  Was there love?  Joy?  Kindness?  Gentleness?

Who benefited from this man?  The lost, the poor, the hungry, the thirsty, the orphan, the widow, the thief, the cheat, the lonely, the sick, the desperate, the questioning, the rich, the confused, the blind, the lame, the selfish, the adamant, the ones who cried out loudly, the ones who couldn’t anymore.  Every individual got to have their own selves given back to them, their dignity, their worth–Everyone who came into his frame, not just those who were just like him.

 

The God who gave.  Who poured out.  Who decided and intentionally emptied out for the benefit of the losers of the world, emptied out until his own death. Because he saw each of them?  And served them?  Touched their dirtiness?  And loved them?   Is that truth?  Is this how we discern truth these days?

The answer of truth, again and again with this Jesus, is no answer we can defend with swords and power or even with well-crafted words, initiatives, or programs, but truth?  Here, before Pilate and the powers of this world, truth is a person, fully alive.

 

Meg Murray…I keep coming back to her.  As she faced IT in the end, she was powerless to stand firm from its pulsing control.  She could not defeat IT through her will power, through her ability to think through the issues.  She could not defeat IT through any of her gifts, her strengths.  They were no match for its all encompassing lies that made complete sense.  But she held out for one thing – love.  Love for her brother, her baby brother who knew her, who saw her, who was cut from the same cloth she was, the one thing she could remember even in the face of the most peaceful lie of utter security, the lie of hardship ceasing.  Love for one person, for one individual in that moment, was the only thing that inoculated her from the lie that would not serve them, but take from them their power to be truly alive.

 

Love did it.  Somehow.  Over and over again, we read this in books–the really old ones and the really weird ones.  And 8 year olds the world over start to ask themselves the question, What is truth?

Is it any wonder the book was banned?

 

“A book, too, can be a star, “explosive material, capable of stirring up fresh life endlessly,” a living fire to lighten the darkness, leading out into the expanding universe.”  Madeleine L’Engle quoting astronomer Fred Hoyle in her Newbury Medal acceptance speech, 1963.

 

Conflict

Another excerpt from Jean Vanier

 

“Communities need tensions if they are to grow and deepen.  Tensions come from conflicts within each person–conflicts born out of a refusal of personal and community growth, conflicts between individual egoisms, conflicts arising from a diminishing gratuite (giving freely generously of oneself), from a clash of temperaments, and from individual psychological difficulties.  These are natural tensions.  Anguish is the normal reaction to being brought up against our own limitations and darkness, to the discovery of our own deep wound.  Tension is the normal reaction to responsibilities we find hard because they make us feel insecure. We all weep and grieve inwardly at the successive deaths of our own interests.  It is normal for us to rebel, to be frightened and feel tense when we are faced with difficult people who are not yet free from their own fears and aggression.  It is normal that our own reserves of gratuite run low from time to time, because we are tired or are going through personal tensions or sufferings.  There are a thousand reasons for tension.

And each of them brings the whole community, as well as each individual member of it, face to face with its own poverty, inability to cope, weariness, aggression, and depression.  These can be important times if we realize that the treasure of the community is in danger. When everything is going well, when the community feels it is living successfully, its members tend to let their energies dissipate, and to listen less carefully to each other.

Tensions bring people back to the reality of their helplessness, obliging them to spend more time in prayer an dialogue, working patiently to overcome the crisis and refind lost unity, and making them understand that the community is more than just a human reality, that it also needs the spirit of God if it is to live and deepen.  Tensions often mark the necessary step toward a greater unity as well, by revealing flaws which demand re-evaluation, reorganization, and a greater humility.  Sometimes the brutal explosion of one tension simply reveals another which is latent.  It is only when tensions come to a head like a boil that we can try to treat the infection at its roots. I am told there is a Chinese word for “crisis” which means “opportunity and danger.”  Every tension, every crisis can become a source of new life if we approach it wisely, or it can bring death and division.”

 

 

Each of the Other

Me: What’s the hardest spiritual thing I’m ever going to have to do?

Old Woman: To see every person as a gift.

Me: What kind of gift?

Old Woman: The best kind.  Based on the way you receive them.

Me: I don’t get it.

Old Woman: I know. But you will.  If you receive others as worthy, lovable, spiritual creations–perfect just the way they are–you get to see the highest possible version of who you are.  You get to be that.  Experience that.  And you become a gift to the world.

Me: Sounds hard.

Old Woman: The longer you think that, the harder it gets.

****

The funny thing is, she was right.

–by Richard Wagamese, from a collection of his writings, “Embers: One Ojibway’s Meditations (2017).

As we’ve been talking about community, living in community and the curvy path community creates for us, I am realizing more and more how intertwined our spiritual heart is with our heart towards others.  Of course it is, my brain says, for we were all made, all created, all loved and our wholeness depends on all of our wholeness.  This makes sense.  And yet living it out requires everything  that the life with God requires – TRUST that we don’t have to make it work out, but we just have to do what we are invited to; TURNING from a life focused on one to a life oriented towards the whole, God and the love of his long life which is all of us, all of this of course; RECEIVING the gift of grace that being with others gives us; HUMILITY, we do not make any of this life happen, we receive by turning and trusting and seeing so much more than we could imagine.

And all this in the grocery line, at the exhausting family bbq, at the town halls.  All of this at the PTA meetings, at church, in the Facebook feeds.  All of this happens (or doesn’t happen) in the way we orient ourselves towards our neighbours.  And knowing my own heart and my own ways of dismissing others, this is the biggest opportunity for growth, for change, for transformation into something that starts to hint at the person of Jesus.

 

 

Idealism

Here is another of our community readings, this one from Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together.  It was originally published in 1939, in Germany, in the midst of the fever rise of Nazism and the Christian Community’s deep lack of response to the manufactured divide of human against human running through their nation.  He’s got a few things to say to a group of people called by love to embody love….

“Innumerable times a whole Christian community has broken down because it had spring from a wish dream. The serious Christian, set down for the first time in a Christian community, is likely to bring with him a very definite idea of what Christian life together should be and to try to realize it.  But God’s grace speedily shatters such dreams. Just as surely as God desires to lead us to a knowledge of genuine Christian fellowship, so surely must we be overwhelmed by a great disillusionment with others, with Christians in general, and, if we are fortunate, with ourselves.”

“By sheer grace, God will not permit us to live even for a brief period in a dream world.  He does not abandon us to those rapturous experiences and lofty moods that come over us like a dream…Only that fellowship which faces such disillusionment, with all its unhappy and ugly aspects, begins to be what it should be in God’s sight, begins to grasp in faith the promise that is given to it.  The sooner this shock of disillusionment comes to an individual and to a community the better for both.  A community which cannot bear and cannot survive such a crisis, which insists on keeping its illusion when it should be shattered, permanently loses in that moment the promise of Christian community.  Sooner or later it will collapse. Every human wish dream that is injected into the Christian community is a hindrance to genuine community and must be banished if genuine community is to survive.  He who loves his dream of community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial.”

“God hates visionary dreaming: it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious.  The man who fashions a visionary ideal of community demands that it be realized by God, by others, and by himself.  He enters the community of Christians with demands, sets up his own law, and judges the brethren and God himself accordingly.  He stands adamant, a living reproach to all others in the circle of brethren.  He acts as if he is the creator of the Christian community, as if his dream binds people together.  When things do not go his way, he calls the effort a failure.  When his ideal picture is destroyed, he sees the community going to pot.  So he becomes, first an accuser of his brethren, than an accuser of God, and finally the despairing accuser of himself.”

“Because God has already laid the only foundation of our fellowship, because God has bound us together in one body with other Christians in Jesus Christ, long before we entered into common life with them, we entered into common life not as demanders but as thankful recipients.  We thank God for what he has done for us.  We thank God for giving us brethren who live by his call, by his forgiveness and his promise.  We do not complain of what God does not give us; we rather thank God for what he does give us daily.  And is not what has been given us enough: brothers (and sisters) who will go on living with us through brokenness and need under the blessing of his grace?  Is  the divine gift of Christian fellowship anything less than this, any day, even the most difficult and distressing day?  Even when sin and misunderstanding burden the communal life, is not the hurtful brother still a brother, with whom I, too, stand under the Word of Christ? Will not his sin be a constant occasion for me to give thanks that both of us may live in the forgiving love of God in Jesus Christ?  Thus the very hour of disillusionment with my brother becomes incomparably salutary, because it so thoroughly teaches me that neither of us can ever live by our own words and deeds, but only by the one Word and Deed which really binds us together–the forgiveness in Jesus.  When the morning mists of dreams vanish, then dawns the bright day of *actual* Christian fellowship.”

“Christian brotherhood is not an ideal which we must realize; it is rather a reality created by God in Christ in which we may participate.  The more clearly we learn to recognize that the ground and strength and promise of all our fellowship is in Jesus Christ alone, the more serenely shall we think of our fellowship and pray and hope for it.”

(This excerpt, like a lot of these community readings, was taken from a compilation of writings on community Called to Community: The Life Jesus Wants for His People, edited by Charles E. Moore.  You can find it at www.plough.com )

Leading Community

I came across this poem by Madeleine L’Engle as I was flipping through my bookshelf this week.  I’d never read it before but I needed it.  You could read it from a number of different circumstances and it could speak to you no matter where you are or how life is changing for you, but for me this week, as I’ve been thinking about community, it spoke to the leader in community – It spoke to what it is to try to guide…or is it listen… or is it lead…. or is it serve….. or is it all those things and you have to hold it so intensely loose.  Here, with Madeleine, Moses is the perfect point to contemplate for those leading community, especially leading through change.

 

Moses by Madeleine L’Engle 

Come.

When?

Now. This way. I will guide you.

Wait! Not so fast.

Hurry. You. I said you.

Who am I?

Certainly I will be with thee.

Is nothing, then, what it is? I had rather the rod had

stayed a rod and not become a serpent.

Come. Quickly. While the blast of my breath opens the sea.

Stop. I’m thirsty.

Drink water from this rock.

But the rock moves on before us.

Go with it and drink.

I’m tired. Can’t you stop for a while?

You have already tarried too long.

But if I am to follow you I must know your name.

I will be that I will be.

You have set the mountain on fire.

Come. Climb.

I will be lost in the terror of your cloud.

You are stiff-necked and of a stiff-necked people.

YOUR people, Lord.

Indubitably.

Your wrath waxes hot. I burn.

Thus to become great.

Show me, then, thy glory.

No man may see my face and live. But I will cover you with

my hand while I pass by.

My people turn away and cry because the skin of my

face shines.

Did you not expect this?

I cannot enter the tent of the congregation while your

cloud covers it and your glory fills the tabernacle. Look,

it moves before us again. Can you not stay still?

Come. Follow.

But this river is death. The waters are dark and deep.

Swim.

Now will I see your face? Where are you taking me now?

Up the mountain with me before I die.

But death

Bursts into light.

The death is

What it will be.

These men: They want to keep us here in three tabernacles.

But the cloud moves. The water springs from a rock that journeys on.

You are contained in me.

But how can we contain you in ark or tabernacle or

You cannot.

Where, then?

In your heart. Come.

Still?

I will be with thee.

Who am I?

You are that I will be. Come.

 

Communion

Jean Vanier wrote this next reading which are excerpts from a few different places.  As always they are beautiful and kind and you just want to live within that world they create.  And we can.

“To be in communion means to be with someone and to discover that we actually belong together.  Communion means accepting people just as they are, with all their limits and inner pain, but also with their gifts and their beauty and their capacity to grow: to see the beauty inside all the pain.  To love someone is not first of al to do things for them, but to reveal to them their beauty and value, to say to them through our attitude: “You are beautiful.  You are important.  I trust you.  You can trust yourself.”  We all know well that we can do things for others and in the process crush them, making them feel that they are incapable of doing things by themselves.  To love someone is to reveal to them their capacities for life, the light that is shining in them.

To be in communion with someone also means to walk with them.  Those of you who have had the privilege of accompanying people in distress and inner pain know that it is not easy to walk with them, without having any answers to their problems or solutions for their pain. For many people in pain there is no solution: For a mother who has just lost her child or for a woman who has just been abandoned by her husband, there is no answer, there is just the pain. What they need is a friend willing to walk with them in all that pain. They do not need someone to tell them to try to forget the pain, because they won’t.  It is too deep.

But this communion is not fusion. Fusion leads to confusion.  In a relationship of communion, you are you and I am I; I have my identity and you have yours. I must be myself and you must be yourself.  We are called to grow together, each one becoming more fully himself or herself.  Communion, in fact, gives the freedom to grow.  Is is not possessiveness. It entails a deep listening to others, helping them to become more fully themselves…

When I was in the navy, I was taught to give orders to others.  That came quite naturally to me!  All my life I had been taught to climb the ladder, to seek promotion, to compete, to be the best, to win prizes.  This is what society teaches us.  In doing so we lose community and communion.  It was not natural or easy for me to live in communion with people, just to be with them. how much more difficult it was for me to be in communion with people who could hardly speak or had little to seek about.

Communion did not come easily to me. I had to change and to change quite radically.  When you have been taught from an early age to be first, to win, and then suddenly you sense that you are being called by Jesus to go down the ladder and to share your life with those who have little culture, who are poor and marginalized, a real struggle breaks out within oneself.  As I began living with people like Raphael and Philippe (two men with intellectual disabilities), I began to see all the harness of my heart.  It is painful to discover the hardness in one’s heart.  Raphael and the others were crying out simply for friendship and I did not quite know how to respond because of the other forces within me, pulling me to go up the ladder.  But over the years, the people I live with in L’Arche have been teaching and healing me.

They have been teaching me that behind the need for me to win, there are my own fears and anguish, the fear of being devalued or pushed aside, the fear of opening up my heart and of being vulnerable or of feeling helpless in front of others in pain; there is the pain and brokenness of my own heart.

I discovered something that I had never confronted before, that there were immense forces of darkness and hatred within my own heart.  At particular moment of fatigue or stress, I saw forces of hate rising up inside me, and the capacity to hurt someone who was weak and was provoking me!  That, I think, was what cause me the most pain:  to discover who I really am, and to realize that maybe I did not want to know who I really was!  I did not want to admit to all the garbage inside me.  And then I had to decide whether I would just continue to pretend that I was okay and throw myself into hyperactivity, projects where I could forget all the garbage and prove to others how good I was.  Elitism is the sickness of us all.  We all want to be on the winning team.  That is at the heart of apartheid and every form of racism.  The important thing is to become conscious of those forces in us and to work at being liberated from them and to discover that the worst enemy is inside our own hearts, not outside.

Communion is very different from collaboration or cooperation.  When people collaborate, they work together toward the same end, in sports, in the navy, or in a commercial venture, for example.  They are brought together by a common goal, but there is not necessarily communion between them.  They are not personally vulnerable one to another.  When there is communion between people, they sometimes work together, but what matters to them is not that they succeed in achieving some target,  but simply that they are together, that they find their joy in one another and care for one another.  Raphael and Philippe really led me into this world of communion.

Looking back, I can see that when I was in the navy I was preoccupied with success and with trying to win the admiration of my superiors.  I loved the spirit and power that came with naval life.  Efficiency, not people, was my first concern. Similarly, when I left the navy, it was not primarily people who interested me. I wanted to devote myself to an ideal of peace and Christian life, and to the study of philosophy and theology.  Certainly, I wanted to follow Jesus, to know him and love him, but more out of idealism than because I wanted to live in communion. It took me some time to discover all my inner brokenness, which provoked difficulties in relationships and a fear of others.  I was happy to command, teach, obey and learn; but entering into communion with others, making myself vulnerable by forming relationships with them, was far more difficult.  I avoided people by throwing my energy into doing good things, praying and studying.  But maybe that was a necessary time of growth for me.  I needed the spiritual and intellectual formation which would gradually give me the inner strength to be able to enter into real relationships, to learn to listen to people and love them, and to become really myself.”

Excerpts from Jean Vanier’s “From Brokenness to Community,”  and “Our Journey Home: Rediscovering our Common Humanity Beyond our Differences.”    Compiled in “Called To Community,” edited by Charles E. Moore, 2016

A Visible Reality

 

“A truth, a doctrine, or a religion needs no space for itself.  They are disembodied entities. They are heard, learned, and apprehended, and that is all.  But, the incarnate Son of God needs not only ears or hearts, but living people who will follow him.  That is why he called his disciples into a literal, bodily following, and thus made his fellowship with them a visible reality.”                                                      Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“The daily practice of incarnation–of being in the body with full confidence that God speaks the language of the flesh–is to discover a pedagogy that is as old as the gospels.  Why else did Jesus spend his last night on earth teaching his disciples to wash feet and share supper?  With all the conceptual truths in the universe at his disposal, he did not give them something to think about together when he was gone.  Instead, he gave them concrete things to do–specific ways of being together in their bodies–that would go on teaching them what they needed to know when he was no longer around to teach them himself.

After he was gone, they would still have God’s Word, but that Word had some new flesh. The disciples were going to need something warm and near that they could bump into on  a regular basis, something so real that they would not be able to intellectualize it and so essentially untidy that there was no way they could ever gain control over it.  So Jesus gave them things they could get their hands on, things that would require them to get close enough to touch one another. In the case of the meal, he gave them things they could smell and taste and swallow and share. In the case of the feet, he gave them things to wash that were attached to real human beings, so that they could not bend over them without being drawn into one another’s lives.”                          Barbara Brown Taylor

“Now you are the body of Christ and each one of you is a part of it.”  Romans 12:27

“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.  Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.  There is one body.” Ephesians 4:2-4

Dear Momma

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Dear Momma,

 

You died. A year ago today I was holding your dead hand. For hours I sat with your body as it blanched, as it grew cold. Your fingers were starting to not look like your fingers. I couldn’t stop crying. They came for you, to take you and I wailed. Because I knew I would never see your body again. Never feel the way your skin was so light, so soft, so loosely lovely on you, like petals.   Your hair was still warm where it was nestled in the pillows so I buried my face there for a long time. The panic was rising and I was trying to keep it down but I knew they were on their way, strangers coming to take you.

 

You died. I know you know that. I don’t know what you know, but I can’t keep going unless I think that you know now, know more than you were able to before. You are not here and I miss you. Like an ache, like a bruise, like a break—somewhere in my body, everywhere in my body. Momma, you were my mommy. You were all that a child looks to. You held my hand, you brushed my hair.  You stomped your foot when I did cause it just made you so mad. You listened when I told you I was scared. You held my head in your lap on the night you told me you would die, soon.

When I was 7 you told me to find a picture that made me peaceful and hold that in my mind when the scary thoughts wouldn’t go away. I thought of clouds in the sky floating by and I have always gone back to that place when I am afraid.

You told me your dreams and I told you mine. Once we had an almost identical dream on the same night about violence against someone we knew. Turns out that person was mugged that night. Strange, so strange, but that was us. Both of us knew things before we knew them. That was from you. You grew and you grew and you grew as I grew. You were a different person when I was 37 than when I was 14. I loved you then and now. You made me so mad sometimes. Remember the time I refused to eat dinner with you because you made me so mad? I think I was 20. I was such a ….. I was it all, wasn’t I?

 

You died, momma. You aren’t here. I think I’m just starting to let that sink in. It takes me awhile. It didn’t feel real for a long time. But you aren’t here. I’ve had so many things to tell you. E is doing so good this year. She’s still E but, mom, you would be so proud. She has settled into her little self – we found out more about how her little (big) brain works. It explains a lot. We started listening to her more and she started listening right back. Funny how that happens. And little e, she’s had a harder year. She cries all the time about things not being right, about how she can’t go back in time and make things “true” once they’ve already happened in a way she didn’t want. I am at a loss about this. I don’t know how to help her. She’s strong but she’s also sad sometimes. I know you see her. I know you see her more than I do. They love you so much. They talk about you. They miss you. Both of them cried in Moana when her Grandma comes back to remind Moana of who she really is. Both of them told me that’s what you do. Keep reminding them. Keep reminding them of who they are and always have been. Its hard for me to remember sometimes because they are…well, they are really loud. Remind me too.

 

The girls are like you. I am like you. I’m speaking now more. Using the voice that is so much like yours. I preached at church. Preached. I was so scared that I almost threw up in the car. But then I also loved it.   It’s the weirdest thing. I have no idea where that leaves me, but I get to keep doing it and that’s good. I wish you were there. It was such a big moment for me. Sometimes I felt like you wished you could do the things I got to do – study, talk, help make decisions at church. Do this with me? This preaching thing? This studying, reading, praying, writing, exhorting, teaching, encouraging, pointing in a way that helps clear the fog, maybe, thing. In so many ways it’s a culmination of everything my life has been about so far—its blowing my mind a bit. But then its just preaching – its just talking in front of a small group of people I know about what I know and mostly what I don’t know about Jesus. But I’m a woman. And I’m preaching. I wish you were here. Sometimes I want to stick it to the men who told you to be quiet so bad. But I know I have to move forward past that too – they are just little humans after all. But I’ll keep preaching and pointing beyond myself, out past my own arm, and that will be our answer.

 

We miss you like we would miss our legs, like we would miss our eyes, like we would miss food – there’s never a minute we are not aware of it. Dad misses you. I can’t even speak to that – it hurts on a whole other level. I’ll let Dad write to you. But you were the love of his life. I know you knew that. The whole world saw it. What happens to that kind of love when it’s sawn in two. Where does it go?

 

C misses you. He’s a good brother, he calls me to check in. Oh and guess what? He’s getting married. Him and J got engaged in Greece. You would have been sufficiently jealous and happy, in that way you could be both. Who am I kidding, me too. We love J. She sat with me and you when your body was cooling. She came in, no hesitation and sat across the bed from me and watched you. She’s not afraid of being-with and she’s not selfish and it’s a good thing. She’s good for C. She reads a lot and pushes him and rolls her eyes while laughing in all the right ways at him. Her and B love sci-fi shows and books, not in the nerdy way but in the this-is-actually-deeply-true-way and she’s got it together.   I think C will be fine. Stevie is still the cutest dog.

 

Ok, that reminds me – Henry. He cried all morning, that morning one year ago. We were getting all your stuff ready to go to hospice and Henry was whining all morning and trotting between your bed and us as we moved around the house. Then you left and he knew it. He stayed close. He did growl at Stevie later that day when she came into your room, but we let it go that once. Henry has been good for Dad. Gives him a push to look up maybe. Henry has been good for us. He lets the girls pet him and doesn’t bark at everyone who walks in the door—who would have ever thought?

Oh, and also, we got a bunny. I know, I know! You’re horrified. They don’t smell quite as much as you used to always say. Maybe I’m just used to it….But he’s litter trained! And he jumps so cute! And he’s so incredibly soft and I needed something small to love. I think you’d love him deep down. He’s black with tiny bits of silver – like you! Heh heh heh heh…The whole thing makes me laugh and feel quite pleased with myself.

 

We are all good, even now in the midst of it all. In some ways the roads our lives are on opened up for us. Maybe because living became clearer when death was forced into it. There’s not a lot of room left to dink around and be afraid. What’s the point? Maybe…. Still wish with my whole heart you were here to talk to about it all.

 

 

This past week has felt like I was reliving last year. I was reliving what it was like to hear the news about how radiation didn’t work. Your resignation, dad’s lost and quiet voice. Reliving what it was like to have it suggested that you go to hospice right away. Reliving shifting you in your bed, reliving walking around the oxygen cord. Reliving what it was like to be in the grocery store and have dad call me to come right away – you were in a coma. You were winding down. Your life – all that life you had– closing in on itself, like a flower shuttering for the night. Shuttering down only to be opened by something it didn’t even know could be possible – more than you could even imagine. Reliving the hours of holding your hand, crushing all that morphine into yogurt, reliving holding you in the washroom, reliving you waking up, smiling at me for the last time with your eyes when you couldn’t move anything else. Green, gray – solid eyes. Perfectly sculpted brows I was always jealous of. Lines like living lace around your eyes. Your freckles showing. You were so beautiful and I’m not sure you ever let yourself in on that truth. But you were. And you saw me, one year ago, your girl.

 

I relived it all this week. It made me so tired. I could barely move the day we put the rest of you in the ground on Friday. I hope nobody thought I was rude – I could barely move.

 

And all this has made me so sad about other losses that I would have shrugged off. Grief is good. It makes us actually account for the life in our hands. Friendships that have shifted and are changing are making me cry. Which means they were meaningful, which means I was living, which is what God calls good, right? It hurts though. Sometimes I don’t know how we all keep living, us humans. All this hurt. It doesn’t surprise me all that much that people lash out against other people. I hate it but I’m not surprised any more. You should see what is going on in the world right now. Oh mom, its incredible. The pain is intolerable and we are just making it worse.

But.

But.

And yet….. I’ve taught myself to say.

 

The gift of death, if you choose to call it that, is the woke-ness to life. If you let it be, I suppose. I suppose there is always the choice. But here, in your house, the house of us that you built, momma, there is a woke-ness. We are trying to honor death and what it does to us while at the same time honoring life, living life. Today I wept at your grave, like a baby, lying in the grass. I needed to be close to dirt and earth and what is left of you here. And then I had to go watch little e get her preschool certificate and sing a song about a slippery fish and then we went and ate ikea meatballs and bought organizers and I had more ideas for a piece on truth and public life that I’m working on and now I really need a nap …. Life.

A good life – real and normal and good and called. And death – the ache that remains always. All at the same time.   I’m trying to honor life in what I put out there, what I say, how I say it. I’m trying to let your death be the ground that life comes out of – I’m trying to live out what you always said…

 

“God doesn’t bring anything good out of us, except by love.”

 

My anger, my disappointment, my bitterness – about your death, about losing you and your skin and your eyes, and about so many other things, about so many people and responses and blindnesses – most of all mine—all of that is only answered by love. Ever.

If I read how you taught me to read, if I pay attention the way you taught me to pay attention, if I forgive like you had to teach me through your very being, then all I have left is the answer of love. Not pillows and candles and cutesy mugs love – but forgiving, forbearing, sacrificing, listening, blind corner but believing the best, holding the ache kind of love. I’ve dipped one toe in. I truly have no idea, I know that. And I’m terrified at what embracing THAT kind of love means for the kind of loss I will hold in this body.

 

But. But.

And yet…..I, we, all of us who loved you, we are not alone.

 

Today, one year ago, momma you died. Dad will write to you. C too, I’m sure. The girls made you necklaces yesterday. I can’t stop crying and my head is pounding. Missing you like this is really scary. But I’m living and I’m trying to choose life and trying to raise the living-ness of this bit of world around me. I wish you were here for it, though, I wish you were here.

 

Dear momma, I love you. You made me so much more than you or I could ever even know. Well, maybe you know now. Dad said on Friday that you were so much more than you knew, so much more than the parts of your life.  That’s what you did for so many people. It must be obvious somewhere on that crown of yours….

Oh mom, I want to write more soon but I should go talk to our little e.  She is colouring and jumping on couch cushions and poking the bunny all at once.  But for today, the day you died one year ago, I just need you to know that I just miss you so much.

 

Love, your baby girl,

J

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Community – The Vision and the Call

Its been a fair while since I’ve posted on the blog.  Things have come up!  Unexpectedly, I’ve been preaching more.  So much has come up inside of me because of this process but mostly its been an eye-opening to see the astonishing amount of energy and focus that such a thing requires.  And I’ve loved it.

Here are links to two sermons on Ephesians if anyone is interested.

Ephesians: The Vision Imagined

Ephesians: Living a Life Worthy of the Call

 

Dwelling within these Ephesians words, for me, has everything to do with what we do at church.   As we’ve asked questions on the nature of church within my own community, these words held open a door into a transforming way to enter community for me.  If they hold a door open for you as well, bonus!

This little church I’ve found a home in is changing.  As things tend to do.  Leadership changes, name changes, identity changes rock communities and it takes a lot of maturity and letting go and listening to others to weather them.  And it takes a choice to start to see community for what it is and what it is not.  It is a group of humans, trying to live together.  It is not a product for consumers to pay for.  It is imperfect, because humans are imperfect.  It is a visible expression of the presence of Jesus. It is diverse because the WHOLE of  WHO God is is diverse.  It is not a group of friends and people who all think the same (although it can have elements of that within it, of course) but if that is what you are aiming for, you will never grow into something whole.  Something nice maybe–for the people who fit–but not whole.  It is hard work to build cohesion through difference.  Especially in a culture that idolizes ideology and “the latest, best idea!!!” over a recognition of each other’s messy, changing humanity.   It will require a whole lot of listening and a whole lot of putting your own voice aside for awhile to let another’s come through.   That’s painful sometimes.  It takes a lot of time.

Church is an ongoing discovery, ongoing treasure. Growth is not measurable by numbers in church but in the movement towards health and wholeness of its parts.  Health and wholeness of individuals, of relationships, of persons and a mysteriously present God.  And it requires each person to contribute.  When we strip away the bells and whistles, church community, for it to represent the Person of Christ and for it to feed its own sheep, must require each of us contribute.  Leadership does not sustain community – it stewards it, but if there is someone waiting for community to be given to them, they will not experience it.  Community always is sustained from an inner movement from in to out, not something from outside shaping in.  We have bought a lie that we go to church to be given to.  We go to church because we ARE.  We ARE, by God capturing our hearts, a person who lives out a piece of God’s body in this world.  We go to church to bring who we are.  BEING is the essential truth of church as BEING is the essential truth about a God who says things like “I AM.”

And there will be times for rest, receiving and times for action and contributing.  Like in a family there are times when members of that family are to be cared for, provided for, fed – but they do not exist to be fed by others and others don’t exist to feed them.  They all exist to BE and to contribute their BEING.   There are times for self care, and boundaries are necessary to any body.  But the goal is always the WHOLE BEING, not the triumph of one part at the expense of the others.

There will not be church where there are programs for consuming and customers for appeasing.  It might bring numbers, and I’d even say that it WILL bring numbers, but it will not bring church.  It will not bloom into the living presence of the living Christ.

Community has way more to do with HOW than with WHAT.  HOW do we do life together as opposed to WHAT we stand for as a group is what will bring transformation to groups, transformation that might actually stand up for something in the end, something like a whole humanity.

And not every community is the end for every person.  There are times to move on, times to stay.  Usually depending on where one is in their own cycle of healing and maturing, which is good and necessary and unavoidable.

Community is at once way smaller than we thought, way more ordinary than we thought and also way huger than we can imagine with a truth to it that will blow our minds with its pervasiveness, its comprehensiveness, its wholeness and witness to the work of God in the reconciling of this earth.    It is at once all that even while it is simply eating together and constantly adding more chairs to the table.

 

This little church.  A gift in the laundry pile of real life.  A bunch of normal people with normal issues that are at once life-altering and tedious.  There is nothing magical about a church community.  But in so much as there is an intersection of our deepest, transcendent, best hopes with real, dirty, actual life, there is a power.  A power that comes as a gift into that intentional space.  A power given to us to know love and keep after it even when it defies measuring.   A treasure in jars of clay indeed.  We’ve been sitting with words around community in this summer season and will continue to do so.

If you want to join in examining, contemplating, sitting with community, you are so welcome.  I will post quotes on community for reflection over the summer, ideas and experiences that challenge me and make me move.  And hopefully you have a real live place and real live people that you can put these words into action within.    And if you are looking, you are always, ALWAYS welcome on The Road.