thinking theology

Archive for July, 2019

Neither a Rock nor a Scorpion


In Luke 11,: 1-13, there is a discussion about persistence and generosity. People are encouraged to be generous without being coaxed. But if they resist, then persistence is the tactic to use. In a world where getting a deal is a high priority in both buying and selling, it is difficult to prize relationship and generosity over indifference and greed. I was thinking about the inherent delusion of “owning” property, rather than caring for a part of the earth. No one truly owns the plots of the earth. We inhabit various places for a few decades and then we are gone from and back into the earth. We become what we had thought to enslave. In the meantime, the “deals” of the real estate market have benefitted some and set up barriers for others.

This axial time is critical for what life will look like in 50 years from now. I will be, as they say, pushing up daisies by then, but I hope the earth is still cool and not on fire. Our children are begging us to put our enormous influential and economic resources to the task of saving what we can of our planet. And we keep giving them rocks and scorpions.

The world is knocking at the door of the wealthy nations begging for crumbs and safe harbour for the children. When will the impulse of generosity overwhelm the cynicism of power and narcissism/patriotism? Jesus said that for anyone who harms the vulnerable, it would be better if a huge stone were tied around their neck and they were dropped into the depths of the sea. This saying haunts me as I am aware that my financial and social comfort is part of a collusion with oppression, regardless of my intent.

So what can we people privileged with comfort, education, family, community do? The first order is to recognize that others are paying our way: we do not deserve our bounty. Secondly, we need to pray with such a deep spirit of gratitude that generosity becomes our norm. Thirdly, we need to educate ourselves so that we know the difference between crumbs and bread, eggs and scorpions, charity and justice. We need to learn how to listen beyond our fears and defences, opening ourselves to the gift and sacrifice of humility, setting our sight on that frightening cross in the hope of resurrection of vision and faith.

And finally, we need to remember that we walk with Jesus, beyond the limitations of our churches and our traditions. In my garden, as I caress the the soil, the green growing things, an angel whispers in my ear, “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.” And when I simply cannot bear the violence, hatred and ignorance I see in the news, “ and the earth shall be full of the holiness of God, as the waters cover the sea.” Finally, when I despair and feel powerless, I remember that Jesus too felt abandoned, yet his death brought a taste of life that was new, born out of sacrifice and tears and suffering.

I think the future will be hard for all the children of the world, but perhaps by committing ourselves to loaves and fishes, eggs and freedom, safety and compassion, some of the suffering may be ameliorated. Maybe if we remember that we are the caretakers, not the owners of the earth, we will fall in love with its holiness again. Maybe, some of us will be redeemed, some of us forgiven, and all of us held in the embrace of Life and Holiness, in the Eden that we will then remember.

Always a Choice

I have been thinking about Mary and Martha this week. My mother — and many other women of her generation — took umbrage at this story. It seemed to show a lack of appreciation for the actual work of hospitality. It seems fine to invite friends home for dinner, but who will prepare the meal? Who will clean up? The women had been the worker bees in the church; they did the fund raising, made the coffee and goodies, ran the altar guild, taught the children, responded to the mission of the church. Usually the story of Mary and Martha was told as an elevation of contemplation and learning over the demand to serve others. No wonder it made them cranky!

Maybe we need to hear this story again. It is a story about choice after all, but maybe it does not praise one choice more than another. Maybe it is a story not just about choice, but our responsibility to ourselves to choose what is life giving over what is simply dutiful. Maybe Martha is being challenged to choose for herself, for what she needs. Perhaps her problem is that she can only choose for herself rather than impose her ideas on another.

I have been reading a novel by the late and wonderful writer, Ursula Leguin. The novel is called The Telling. In it, a society has had imposed upon it the morality, the expectations, and the purpose of life by an external system based on the industrial model of our world. In this artificial and dominating construct, the philosophy, beauty, social organization, and values of an earlier culture are under constant threat of erasure.

I was thinking how much American entertainment, clothing, religion, industry, and values dominate our planet. At last, some indigenous voices — in particular — are attempting to save the earth from the ravages of indifferent, hostile industry. Other voices call out for a civilization that values peace above productivity, education and beauty above expediency, and health above riches. It really is a question of choice for the whole planet. Our choices will determine our freedom, our compassion, our survival as a species. 

We cannot choose for another. We must choose for ourselves. It profits no one to blame each other. In our time, it is important for individuals to be thoughtful, not reactive; to be calm and inquiring; to learn how to discern whatever we think the truth is about the sacred, the precious, what is holy.

On Leguin’s planet, there is no religion. What is sacred is ancient story about how to walk in beauty and peace. Here is a lovely quote from the book:

So, without the telling, the rocks and plants and animals go on all right. But the people don’t. People wander around. They don’t know a mountain from its reflection in a puddle. They don’t know a path from a cliff… they hurt themselves. They get angry and hurt each other… they want too much… people eat poison food. Everything’s confused. Everybody’s sick. 

But we’re here, and we have to learn how to be here… how to study, how to listen, how to talk, how to tell. If we don’t tell the world, we don’t know the world. We’re lost in it, we die. But we have to tell it truly. Take care and tell it truly. (144-145p.)

So if Martha had wanted to study, she could have sat down. If she wanted to prepare the meal, then she could do that too. What is the better part that Mary chose? I think it was knowing what she needed to do, without imposing on another. Women must remember that we have choice. All people need to be honest about how and why we choose. For us as Christians, if we choose to follow the Way of Christ, then we must be ready to learn, and know when to take action. We need to learn how to listen without preparing an argument in our heads. We need to be ruled by compassion for all people and for our world.

The Eden We Deserve

Christianity, in its original form, is a simple way of life. Don’t take more than you need. Share with others. Be merciful. Do not be judgemental or bigoted. Assume the best in others and, if they reject you, go eat at a different diner. 

Over the millennia, we have created complexities and bureaucracies that obfuscated the beauty of Jesus’ message and turned it into crowd control with elites and petitioners. From time to time, the temple is swept clean, but the new temple quickly remembers the ways of the flesh and surrounds itself with rules and  hierarchies, circles that determine who is worthy and who is not. 

No wonder the world has lost faith and hope for something better. The meeting of General Synod this weekend showed how the people of the fish can show courage and strength and change direction. It also showed how a minority of mean talkers, self aggrandizers, and hard hearts can thwart the peaceful dreams of the many. 

So what do we do between the sweetness and promises of Jesus, and our own tendency to perverse cruelty? Well, there was a person who was beset by robbers and left in a ditch, no money, beaten and afraid. Several folks passed him, busy on their way, following what they understood to be their best choices. And still the person bled, and suffered in the ditch. Finally someone stopped and took a chance. They cleaned the person up, arranged for lodging and sustenance, and offered restitution for any expense. It was a risk for them both. The victim had to be willing to be helped by a stranger; the passerby had to hope the victim would not — somehow — turn on him. It was all about trust and compassion.

There is not a lot of trust in our world and we can see why very clearly. Look at the water in Attawapiskat. Look at the children in detention centres. Look at our prisons, our homeless, our broken and bleeding people, some of whom appear to be clothed in the garments of the middle class, but have still been broken. Look at our own hearts that are daily assailed with problems that bewilder us, situations in which we are powerless. 

We are called to be peacemakers, not judges. We are called to humble tasks, caring with words and actions, for everyone whom we may meet. We are called to forgive ourselves so that we know how the healing of Jesus may begin in us and extend beyond us. This acceptance of forgiveness again and again will teach us humility, trust in the Holy One, and open our hearts to see the best in others. And when our hearts are open, we will also recognize meanness and pettiness, and we will rebuke those demons with our firm and uncompromising commitment to love and justice. 

We will get tired and feel defeated from time to time by those who abuse their power, but we will rise again and again because you cannot keep a holy person down. Like dandelions in the spring, like ants in the sugar mill, like yeast in the dough, we will rise and we will change everything.

Our  lives here are brief, so we have only a little time to do the work and model the love of Christ. But our life in Christ is eternal so we have no fear. There is a movement of the Spirit in the world. Let us quicken our ecological resolve in gratitude for this planet, in compassion for all creatures, including ourselves. Let us believe in the vision of Christ with such faith and fervour that it is actualized and becomes the new reality. 

This week, I was browsing in the Restore for Habitat. When I came out, there were two men, obviously new Canadians, struggling with a dresser too large for their little car. I watched for a bit with interest. Ann has frequently had to do packing magic when I have made similar errors in furniture shopping. She always gets it in! Anyway, I offered to take their dresser home for them in my slightly larger car. It was a bit of language struggle, but then the deed was done: the dresser was in my car, I followed them home, I delivered the dresser. I think they were still confused about what had happened as I drove off. It has made me chuckle ever since. They will probably be telling the story too. Now I am telling you because I want you to know that it may have been a good deed but it so delighted me that I can’t stop smiling about it. And thats how the world is supposed to work. We do what we do and it brings us delight. We live in love, and so we receive love. We trust, and are ourselves proven to be trustworthy. 

Jesus calls us to this ministry which will sometimes be rewarding, sometimes frustrating, sometimes infuriating, but act by act we are transforming the world into the eden that we deserve.