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.

 

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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.

Truth and Reconciliation at The Road Church

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As you may know, yesterday The Road Church participated in The Blanket Exercise.  It is a learning tool to help non-indigenous Canadians know more of the history of Indigenous people’s in Canada and what the effects of those stories that are still being felt and dealt with today.   I was surprised at the level of impact it had on me to watch my own children, not really having a clue what was going on, being taken to another part of the sanctuary represent Residential Schools.    This small bit of walking in someone else’s shoes has been and will continue to be a point of transformation for me.  The question I couldn’t get away from yesterday, feeling that as I watched my girl’s head walk away was “How does anyone come back from that?”

It is an eye-opening exercise and we did it on a weekend where Indigenous/non-Indigenous tensions are at the forefront in the news with the Colton Boushie verdict.  At The Road Church these last few months, we have been talking about what justice looks like in general, in the bible and why we need to engage with that word and all its implications for our real lives in Calgary (check out the website for any sermons you might have missed).  And in many ways, The Blanket Exercise was a good way to end the series while at the same time, it was a jumping off point.  In very real ways, it highlighted the open-ended nature of the questions we asked.   As we debriefed at the end, so many people said, “Its such a layered history,” and “So what do we do now?”

 

If you are looking for more information here are some websites you can look to.

Check out the website for the CRC’s Aboriginal Ministry and the Canadian Aboriginal Ministries Committee.    These will give you a sense of our broader community’s engagement with the issues as well as worship/reflective resources for you to look at.   CAMC has just this week also put out a reflection for Lent which reflects on the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People’s and our Faith-Full response to it.

 

As well, make sure you check out the magazine Faith Today for articles by Calgarian theologian Mark Buchanon and Christian-Indigenous leader Cheryl Bear on what it means to be reconciled as Christians.  As Cheryl Bear writes, “We can be better together. What are our first steps?”

 

If you are interested in further discussion on what the reconciliation with our Indigenous neighbors that is being asked for looks like and what it means to respond as Christians to this  real-life  justice issue on our doorsteps, we are going to host a Truth and Reconciliation Report Reading Group with its first meeting being Thursday Feb. 15 at 7pm at The Road Church.

 

As always, what was most striking about the day spent with the exercise and with our facilitator Cheryle Chagnon-Greyeyes was that, even though our worldviews and spiritual understandings are different between Christians and Indigenous peoples, we don’t need to collapse them into sameness to see the value in each other, to be welcoming to each other and MOST IMPORTANTLY to take one another’s stories seriously.  That is an important things to hold on to.   When we talk about God doing his work of reconciliation, its this – that HE does this work in our hearts  when we let down our guard and see each other as God sees us all –  as His beloved children.

The longing for justice is the longing for putting things to rights.  Every human has this longing innately working within them – for ourselves and for others.  As we ourselves are healed inside and out, we then look to be a part of the healing of others.  What would happen if we continue to follow this longing? Where would that thread lead us?  What story would we actually be telling then?  What story do we indeed live out of?    In His grace and peace, and only by the power of that grace and peace,  we will walk down this road together.

 

 

“Yes, no…uh, I forgot what I came in here for…..”

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Thinking with a friend today about how we are free to make choices.   We were talking specifically about having more kids. And the longings on both sides of that question.    But the concept is clear.  We are free, we are made free and we can say yes or no.  And saying yes to one thing means saying no to other things. And saying no to one thing means saying yes to other things.  Seems black and white.  But add some grace in there and maybe its something different altogether….

 

I think about how to do this work-mom balance.  How to do life once I’ve said “Yes” – a big, wholehearted “Yes” to doing work I love to do.  Safe to say I don’t have it figured out.  I still spend a good couple of hours in quality time with those babies of mine each day.  They are thriving and happy kids but I do worry about the tv time.  And the quick dinners.  I am squeezing in a lot of work late at night or early in the morning.  I forget things all the time.  I forgot to pick my kid up from school once.  I forgot to take my kids to the dentist when I made the appt. THAT MORNING!  I bailed on an interfaith dinner last week that was important to me because my kids were in no condition to come with me and we couldn’t find an alternative care plan in time….and I was surprised at how hard and disheartening and like failure that felt.    My brain is often preoccupied with what I should be doing next, it feels full when someone talks while I’m trying to process something.  And the house is closer to a garbage pile decorated with a slime-pocked carpet than a home—well, at least the home I envision smart, capable, fun, brilliant people have.    Also….there’s rabbits…..

 

Yes and no.  Yes to calling and yes to my beloveds.  No to uncluttered entryways…. Its not undoable, this work/mom thing.  But it probably won’t feel clear and without big waves – not for awhile anyways.  I read this just now in the introduction to Colossians Remixed by Brian Walsh and Sylvia Keesmat who happen to be scholars, pastors, married to each other and parents.  And the thing with the New Testament’s vision of life – new life – is that it is done together.  Everything we know about becoming God’s, becoming more our self’s and becoming each other’s happens with those right in front of us.  All we know about God will blossom in community – grown in soil, tilled and fertilized but the harvest comes within community.  And they mentioned how they wrote this book together, over many years, WITHIN their family life – within the first community of intimate living.

“Our three children did not have to “suffer through” the writing of this book.  If they did then the book would in fact lack credibility.  We did not “sacrifice” family life through long absences while researching and writing.  So we offer the kids no apologies.  Rather we thank them for grounding our lives in the important things like learning and housekeeping, playing and growing up, stories and nighttime prayers, tears and laughter.”

My calling only makes sense within the confines of this family, worked out with generosity and honesty and trembling and forgiveness and patience.  Worked out while their lives are rooting more each day in beautiful and hard things.

And that to me is the truth and the “Yes” of this year and this life going forward.  Yes to figuring out how to live this vision of wholeness, reconciliation, and grace IN THIS FAMILY, WITH THESE BABIES, AND THAT MAN WHO IS, AS WE SPEAK, WRESTLING THEM WHILE THEY SHOULD BE BRUSHING THEIR TEETH.  I love them all and all this is for nothing if the truth of restored living does not bear fruit in the growing with, the playing with, the listening to, the story-telling  back and forth that shapes it all.

 

Not sure if any of that made sense.  But tonight, this has helped ground my overwhelmed heart.  In the context of community, this community, will I know this calling fully.  Its not either/or.  Its not family or vocation.   But Both/And/This-sometimes-yes/that-sometimes-No.  Its slower but rooted and that is good.

 

And so now its off to break up the wrestling and read some Captain Underpants, do the dishes and think about good good news.

 

 

“Yeah, About Shithole Countries…..” or “This is our Story, This is our Song.”

 

Oh friends,

I just need to say it here – we are all from shithole countries.  Mine?  Poland after the First World War.  Poland, where the war devastated cities, towns, communities. Poland, where the greed of some led to the hunger of so many, even there, after 1929.  Poland where 3 million jews were marginalized way to easily and with barely a peep from the majority, with deadly, catastrophic, evil results.  That’s a poor, angry, troubled shithole country to me.

He might as well of said “how dare they, the poor and troubled, come to my home and think they deserve to have the food, safety, opportunity that I have. Only people who I would hang out with should be allowed in.”  And if you think this is an American thing, overheard last year, in a popular neighbourhood here in town when a homeless man collecting bottles was walking down the street: “Ugh…that’s why we moved here – so we didn’t have to see this.”

People of God, if we are not upset and hurt by what is happening to our neighbours because it is cutting us to the core of our faith in a good God, then it is because we have missed the Gospel.  We have misread that bible we so vehemently defend.  We have been told and told others, a lie, a mistake, an incomplete story.   And we have enough money and power for our lives to not be impacted by any of this.  We have been told that God loves us and wants the best for us.  And it ended there.  But actually, the story doesn’t end there.

When I was in seminary we had to read the whole bible multiple times-cover to cover.  And I remember staying up all night 2 nights in a row and underlining verse after verse in the old testament and the new about justice.  About caring for the poor,  the foreigner, about ensuring that those who do not have the resources to live whole flourishing lives, be given to and provided for, by those who do have those resources.  Thousands of Verses.  And I was so taken with them because — I HAD NEVER HEARD THIS BEFORE.   I had NO IDEA that this was part of our faith. Oh I had heard, be nice to people – but never in this full-bodied, take others actually seriously, sacrificially and with love way.   And to think I had almost walked away from this faith because, in the way it had been given to me,  it could not actually address the real world.   Thank GOD he did not let me and he gave me that bible in hand – and thank God I had been taught how to read –  for I had received an incomplete story.

Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and Love your neighbour as yourself.    THAT IS THE SUM OF ALL OF THIS.  That is the sum of Jesus’ death, sacrifice and resurrection – to bring back together what was torn apart.  Us from God and Us from Each other.  IF we do not actively resist that which tears us, Capital “U” Us, apart, simply because we don’t have to and still live a relatively happy, food-filled life, then we have misread our bibles.  Full Stop.

 

There is a reason Jesus was from a shithole country.  Why?  Because God was doing something about transforming our hearts – sin and brokenness made us obsessed with power, with having, with taking, with being number one.  It made us afraid  to not have stuff and to not have power.  And so in the process, in the incarnated way HE DOES EVERYTHING, he rooted himself in the shittiest shithole, the armpit of the empire, despised – “Nothing good comes from Nazareth”– and said, “Come all who are weary and I will give you rest.  Come find life, find water that heals, nourishes, satisfies.  Be healed and re-enter the life of the world around you.  Come and be made whole by letting go of all the stuff you have grasped to yourself in your fear and dark imagining.  And follow me – poor, homeless, from-the-shithole me and I will give you life…”

 

 

“Lastly, but in many senses most importantly, we are in danger of reducing Christ’s gospel, which we have been charged to preach in full.

If we create an over-emphasis on some elements of the gospel as being more foundational than others, we can lead to a misunderstanding of faith, or a skewed practice of it – i.e. a sense that following Jesus is all about feeling loved, or all about just “me” and “him”.

Many of us have become aware that our faith has become over-individualised in recent years, and so it is no surprise that the way we teach those we wish to protect and nurture the most, can become the place where this over- emphasis is at its most extreme.

Christians are called to have a personal, intimate walk of faith – to know that they are loved, and to pursue a deeper relationship with God. But loving others, and acting to promote justice, peace, and the increase of God’s presence and kingdom in every context we are in (home, school, community, nation and world) is not an add on doctrine that we should teach children when we decide they are old enough to proactively tackle the world’s brokenness. It is absolutely core.

Jesus answered the question ‘What is the greatest command’ with ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength’ but he did not finish there – he went on to summarise the rest of the law as ‘love your neighbour as yourself’ – neighbour here literally meaning anyone you have anything to do with. To Jesus, expressing love for God is inextricably linked with loving others. Ignoring, or retreating from, the suffering and injustice in our world – whether in our family, on our street, or in a different continent, is simply not an option. Multi-directional love is at the very centre of the Christian faith.”  from www.thesanctuarycentre.org

 

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I have come to love the Reformed tradition  (so much that I might even call it out sometimes and I will be called out by it sometimes).  And it is rich with the understanding that we help make the world a better place – we “put the world to rights” (NT Wright’s definition of justice) as the response to God’s love.  Justice is exactly our “I love you too Father” that that bible makes abundantly clear (Matt. 25 folks).  It is the manifestation of our gratitude grounded in a clear picture of who we really are and WHOSE we really are and what this Kingdom actually is.

We do it imperfectly, we do it short-sightedly, we do it weakly and that is ok.  We do it on big scales and on small – we do it in the community and in our homes.  We do it in the meals we make.  We do it with our money and with our attitude.  We do it out loud and in private.  At times we will focus on our own needs and at times we will focus on the needs of others.  But we do it, and we are never excused from an orientation towards each other, to putting the world to rights,  because we know our own woundedness, we know the shitholes from whence we came, and we know the love that meets us there 100% of the time.

 

THIS is our STORY, this is our SONG.   I’m going to sing it all the day long.

(just fyi, when I refer to s-hole countries, I am using it rhetorically, to upend the sentiment it was originally spoken in – the truth of the matter is, that the countries referred to, their people and the societies they create, are beautiful and broken and beautiful – like every bit of this world we make a home in.  Beautiful and good with a good dose of the human condition.  Places I would one day be so honoured to see first hand)