thinking theology

Archive for November, 2015

Trust not in Princes

Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals, in whom there is no help. Psalm 146

War and the dream of peace. I have so much trouble with Remembrance Day. It seems to me that the only tribute that makes sense would be to break our weapons and turn them into tools for living. But that would mean a change in our songs, our prayers, our economic and foreign policies. Every generation survives on the blood of another. All our monuments and holy places cover battlefields. The earth is soaked in the violence of humans. You probably have photo albums of your family in a time of war just as I do. I look at the young faces before they left, and I look at the ghosts in the eyes of the ones who returned. And between those two stories lie all the other victims.

I want to remember today the ones who died as young men and women with dreams and hopes. I think of them sacrificing all that they had and thought they might accomplish because diplomacy failed and greed and fear won. Nobody wins in war except the makers of weapons. Nations are broken and impoverished. Schools are burned, crops destroyed. The ones who live carry scars both visible and invisible. The non-combatants too are wounded, the refugees and orphans, the traumatized, and the grief stricken. There is no glory in war except for those who create war.

And so I resist remembering because it is painful, because I know that we are not done with war, and because I am afraid for the children yet to come into this violent world. Although I know few of those who died, I feel guilt and grief that war became the concluding chapter of their lives. I give thanks for their sacrifices and I pray for forgiveness that we have not found a way to control our greed and rage. I want to shelter all those in uniform today, shelter them form both physical and emotional harm. I want the light of peace to uncover the secrets of violence, to heal old wounds, and to make bridges between people. I want to think of soldiers as those who rescue us in times of danger, who know how to deal with tsunamis and with drought, with the cataclysms of earth and the unexpected catastrophes.

It has been said that war is a failure, but it is not true. War is the game of the powerful as they use people’s lives like pawns on a board. There are winners but they remain cloaked in their power and security. All the rest of us are impoverished by their schemes. We become the widows of 1 Kings 17:8-16 and Mark 12:38-44.

And so today, we can place a wreathe at the cenotaph, but the best remembrance we can bring is repentance for the violence and the remaining prejudices in our own hearts. The solution to complicity with war propaganda is a deep commitment to see each person as precious, as like us: to see each child as our child, each soldier as our loved one.

We can fix a star of hope in our hearts and a pledge that someday we will dispute the war makers and instead hear the peace makers and we will act. We will come to the temple with the trust of the widows in 1 Kings and Mark, who give everything they have; out of poverty, they offer the only gift worth giving, their trust and their belief in a new day.

On that new day, neither nationalism, nor fear will be able to cloud our vision of peace. On that day we will not come to the monuments with tears of grief but with the banners of change for all the lives to come. We will say to the fallen, we have finally heard you and bring you the new world for which you died so long ago. Your deaths were not in vain. We honour you and we give thanks for your sacrifice that taught us not to fight again. May the reign of peace come soon.

All Saints and Souls 2015

In this time when we celebrate the feast of all saints and souls, it is an opportunity to remember that we are forever connected to those who have gone before, to think about the mystery of life, about how death both defines us and yet how we defy it with the deep intuition in our souls.

The writer of the Wisdom of Solomon said, “For though some might think they were punished, their hope is full of immortality.” And, “Those who trust in God will understand truth, and the faithful will abide with the Divine in love.”

Why is it that we think that the sufferings we all must endure are punitive, that somehow we erred and that has led to punishment in the form of death or illness. When I was a neonatal hospital chaplain, it broke my heart to hear grieving parents wonder what they had done that had caused their baby’s death. How had they offended? People with a difficult disease sometimes wonder what they have done that has brought this illness to them. It is a commonplace saying that someone was so good that they didn’t deserve to die. These statements are possible because we need to give meaning to our suffering rather than think of a universe in which we have no control. There are other ways to think about all this. When we see the divine not as a judge, or a stern parent needing to be placated or obeyed, but as Life itself to which we connect intentionally and are connected essentially, then we recognize the arena of choice.

Sometimes we think that if the universe is random, then there is nothing divine, no connection and we feel cut adrift. Or perhaps we feel free, alone and lonely but free from the constrictions of faith or doctrine. But both these ideas, obedience or disengaged randomness, are themselves limited. Perhaps if we release our need to control, we could see ourselves as participants in an incredible adventure, one in which we are specks of dust that can change and shape the universe. The truth then is that our options are open. We cannot blame God if we cannot connect to that pulsating Life and Light that is the heart of everything that is. And in humility, we acknowledge our insignificance in the great arena of space and yet we remember that psalm,

Psalm 8:4-8 (NKJV)

What is humanity that You are mindful of us,
And the son of man that You visit him?
For You have made him a little lower than the angels,
And You have crowned him with glory and honour.

Made from the stars, we are called to dream big, to understand that the intelligence that is in us is called to grow and develop into Christlike beings, into the radiance of the stars themselves. Origen of Alexandria (185—254 C.E). pondered the idea of the soul, as forever evolving into the mystery of Being.

We have challenged the idea of a plan for each life and yet we must acknowledge the “butterfly effect” in which even the slightest motion affects everything else in the world. Thus, we are bound only in that we are connected to everything else, anchored in this universe, and yet free to act.

One of the problems for us is linear time. We have begin to imagine other ways to think about time that open up new ideas about our existence. In one sense, we have already died because in one minute we will seem to wink out of existence, but in another sense, each moment in which we have lived exists forever. We are the dead and yet we live. Jesus encourages us not to think of time as one step after another but as pools of grace and possibility. In this sense, death and birth are events in life, steps in beginning and ending, rather than beginning and ending in themselves. In Revelation we read that it is only in the Divine moment, that contains both the collapse and the explosion of life, can beginning and ending be recognized as one thing.

And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.

It is our imagination that needs to be unbound. we need to stretch ourselves into those “vast expanses of interstellar space” to see that our tiny flashing lights live forever. Time is a construct but what if time is a prism rather than a line and the colours and complexity become more complex and colourful as events are added like new etching on an infinite stone.

Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go.’ When we can release our fear and our grief, we discover a freedom from all that has bound us. Of course life will continue to contain struggle and loss, but we can understand the events in a new way. We can begin to see that eternal life begins in us and continues through us, and through all people. No one is lost but everyone is held in this web of life that is cosmic, vibrant, and energetic. We all are part of this. We have been imagined into existence and we have imagined other ideas, people, events into existence. Nothing is lost. When we unbind the wraps we keep on our minds and our memories, we are freed to walk from the tombs of doubt and dismay to participation in Being. It is this sense of unity with all, alive within all, connected by compassion and freed by love, that gladdens our hearts and shows us the path to eternal life. Jesus told us that wherever he was, he would bring us with him. We have only to throw off our fear and unbind the Imagination, the likeness of the Maker within us. Within the communion of the saints, with love for all those we hold dear, we are stepping into the flow of the universe, the holy and mystical reality that is our true nature.

For the quiet of death
And the cry of birth
As we go and grow
On the tapestry of saints
Emblazoned on
The stars
The Light