thinking theology

Archive for the ‘Categorically Random’ Category

Propers for January 26, 2020

This week’s prayers are based on the idea that Zebulun (one of the twelve tribes of Israel) was associated with being entrepreneurial, especially in matters associated with the sea. Naphtali (also one of the twelve tribes) was known for his holiness and eloquence. In Isaiah 9:1-4, we find this curious phrase: “…in the latter time he will make glorious the way of the sea, the land beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the nations.” Galilee, while prosperous, was a cultural mix of Jews and gentiles, with the Nabateans on one border and the Samaritans on the other. The area was seen as inferior by the elite of Jerusalem.

Collect
O Holy One, we come from many places, many backgrounds, many stories. Gather us together in compassion, in the work of justice. Together, may we become the healers of the earth, the makers of peace. We pray in the name of Jesus, who calls us into community here and beyond the sea, the faithful of the nations. Amen.

POP
Holy and Loving God, in you there are no boundaries, no division. As we pray, remind us that in you, we are one, in body and spirit.

We give thanks for life, for this earth that both nurtures us and rages against our selfishness. Today, we lift up….

In solidarity with the other creatures, the land and the sea, we search for healing….
We remember all who suffer in body and spirit…. When one suffers, the community is wounded. When one rejoices, they bring healing to all.

We invite the repentance and renewal of religious institutions, that we may speak with your prophets and saints, remembering Martin Luther King, Mahatma Ghandi, the Dalai Lama, Murray Sinclair, Sarah Bessie and….

Holy One, May our hands be open in love; may our feet carry us even into difficult places in your name; may our lips speak only peace. May we serve in joyous humility and courageous actions.

POG
Gracious God, we give thanks for the bounty that we receive from you. May it strengthen our service and lighten the path of others. In the name of Jesus, the risen One. Amen.

PAC
Loving God, in community we find your Spirit of peace. May your living Word and your blessed sacrament keep us in the Way of salvation for all. Amen.

Funeral Homily for Bonnie Milliner

Last week, as we heard about Bonnies illness and death, I came back to that image, but it was changed in my mind because I was thinking instead about how music was deep in her soul. I imagined the notes as souls encircling our world, the way you see pictures of angels on Christmas cards. Let’s take a minute to imagine this: a ring of music around us celebrating life and the Maker of all. What note do you think Bonnie would be? Would she be part of sacred music or would she be in charge of musical theatre?

There are two things humans fear, silence and the unknown. You might say that you crave silence, but we live in a noisy world, and even at night, there are not just the natural sounds of the earth and the creatures, but also human banging and crashing around in factories, on highways. As a child, I would sometimes stay with one of my maritime aunties at her farm on the ocean. I was frightened of the nights because, without the moon, the darkness seemed absolute, and the silence was thunderous, except for the waves on the shore. Someone told me not to be afraid. What I was experiencing was eternity. It did not seem all that attractive then, but now I am at peace with the soft blanket of night, and faith that what I cannot hear, can still be heard by God at least and that every prayer in love, reaches out to embrace and heal.

Jesus models for us that his path is not the path of certainty or safe passage, but rather that his path requires us to face suffering and our fears, our insecurities. We often prefer the impassive version of Jesus because it is less challenging than the Jesus who weeps, and laughs, feasts and makes new and improbable friends. This Jesus goes to the cross, himself afraid and unsure, feeling abandoned and alone. Of course, he is not alone. He is tied to the Holy Spirit, the force of creativity and change. And he rises to show us that the unknown will become known in new and unimagined ways. He rises and all around his teaching, new prayer, new actions, new work springs up as if there had been a plan for it.

Resurrection is a process and like all meaningful process, it will be sacrificial. We will have to get out of the boat and swim. We will have to leave what we love behind until we rediscover it on a farther shore. This is I believe is an eternal process. The Maker of all has chosen tiny, flawed humans to be the messengers that, in God’s economy, nothing is lost, but also nothing is static. We follow Jesus, sometimes shakily, sometimes with confidence, but if we still our minds, we can hear Jesus calling to us that we are precious, we are beloved, we are held firmly in the heart and mind of the Holy One.

And now, we prepare ourselves to release Bonnie to her job in the celestial choir, and we open ourselves to wonder and hope, as we step into the next chapter of our stories. In those memories and in that history, Bonnie is present with you forever. She will certainly always be present in this church. She, as we say, has been born into a new and living hope.

The next time you see the stars twinkling above you, remember, a universe awash in music and creativity. Remember that your soul and your body are an essential part of this cosmic symphony. Let us give thanks for Bonnie’s life that has called us together this morning and for faith that that love holds us together forevermore.

Funeral Homily for Bill Taylor

Today we give thanks for Bill Taylor. He will be missed, but never forgotten. The legacy he has left for his family and community is woven into the fabric of his relationships. The last time I saw Bill, I was rushing through Guelph General. I heard someone call my name, and when I looked around, there was Bill at a volunteer table. 

As Christians, we understand that great love will always carry some grief with it. That grief is the healing balm for loss; it is the impetus to remember and to flesh out our memories.  It takes the time it takes, for grief and love to find a balance in our hearts. 

The Spirit of transformation is ever with us, changing us and adjusting our memories and our understanding of our relationship. I think that it is in our loneliness and in our awareness of suffering, that we are most like the holy one because that pain causes us to reach out to each other, to let ourselves be changed, to seek the meaning beyond the moment. In the beginning, God desires creatures who can learn and change, creatures built for an unfolding cosmos. As part of this creation, this body of holiness, we are invited to remember that we are not in fact alone, but have been created to be in relationship with everything else living.

And St. Paul says, how are the dead raised. We have some scientific observation to help us with this. We know that life is always changing. Rain falls and becomes rivers, lakes, oceans. Some of that water becomes us as we drink. If we wake up early enough by a body of water, we will see the mist rising into the morning. And the the mist will disappear, but not the constituent elements, those hydrogen and oxygen elements which will morph into another form. 

I think it helps us to remember that we are made in love and cannot be severed from God, even when we wriggle and fight. We are a part of all that is. Bill has not been lost, as some say, but rather rediscovered within God’s loving hands. He is as close as your memory and yet invisible to the touch. We want to hang on, but he is being immersed in God’s plan for him and for each of us.

Birth and death are two difficult doorways, but when we push through

Today we give thanks for Bill Taylor. He will be missed, but never forgotten. The legacy he has left for his family and community is woven into the fabric of his relationships. The last time I saw Bill, I was rushing through Guelph General. I heard someone call my name, and when I looked around, there was Bill at a volunteer table. 

As Christians, we understand that great love will always carry some grief with it. That grief is the healing balm for loss; it is the impetus to remember and to flesh out our memories.  It takes the time it takes, for grief and love to find a balance in our hearts. 

The Spirit of transformation is ever with us, changing us and adjusting our memories and our understanding of our relationship. I think that it is in our loneliness and in our awareness of suffering, that we are most like the holy one because that pain causes us to reach out to each other, to let ourselves be changed, to seek the meaning beyond the moment. In the beginning, God desires creatures who can learn and change, creatures built for an unfolding cosmos. As part of this creation, this body of holiness, we are invited to remember that we are not in fact alone, but have been created to be in relationship with everything else living.

And St. Paul says, how are the dead raised. We have some scientific observation to help us with this. We know that life is always changing. Rain falls and becomes rivers, lakes, oceans. Some of that water becomes us as we drink. If we wake up early enough by a body of water, we will see the mist rising into the morning. And the the mist will disappear, but not the constituent elements, those hydrogen and oxygen elements which will morph into another form. 

I think it helps us to remember that we are made in love and cannot be severed from God, even when we wriggle and fight. We are a part of all that is. Bill has not been lost, as some say, but rather rediscovered within God’s loving hands. He is as close as your memory and yet invisible to the touch. We want to hang on, but he is being immersed in God’s plan for him and for each of us.

Birth and death are two difficult doorways, but when we push through, how much bigger, more colourful, more challenging and amazing life looks. From a microscopic cell to a creature who can imagine universes, stars, butter tarts! Life is. Love is. Everything else is either a challenge or a gift on the journey.

So hold Bill close in your hearts, remember him with both tears and laughter and trust God that Bill is in good hands. And for you, remember, life is necessarily shared. Nothing is lost forever. Everything lives within the mind of God whose only promise to us is life.

 

Our Legacy

In Psalm 49:5-11, we read,

Why should I fear in times of trouble, when the iniquity of my persecutors surrounds me, those who trust in their wealth and boast of the abundance of their riches?

Truly, no ransom avails for one’s life, there is no price one can give to God for it. For the ransom of life is costly, and can never be enough to keep us alive forever and never see the grave.

When we look at the wise, they die; fool and dolt perish together and leave their wealth to others. Their graves are their homes forever, their dwelling places to all generations, though they named lands their own.

In the long view, humanity may be on the edge of extinction but the earth will probably recover from us and our frightening greed and lack of boundaries. I find that cold comfort and, like most of us, would like to imagine leaving as a legacy a world of peace and abundance for the generations to come.

Visiting the rubble of the great buildings of other cultures is instructive in the sense that if we are wise, we learn that everything changes, mutates from what it was to what it could be, or disappears for a time. If everyone dies, and all things change, where do we want to place ourselves in this pocket of the Now, of eternity? How then shall we live? 

A friend recently said how little interest they had in the disposition of their body after death since it belonged to the earth but their soul — something no one could touch — belonged to the stars. For those of us who are not victims of a particular society, yet without any individual power to transform our world, we still have our voices. We may not live in mansions, but we have voting options. For those who do have economic power and influence, how are you caring for the vulnerable, the victims? A child is leading the climate change movement. We can all stop to support and listen to the children who do not care about the GNP, who have no interest in how well the banks are doing. They care about survival. 

What legacy do we want to leave behind? Our empty mausoleums? Our rubble? Or do we want to be a part of the mass outcry to save this holy earth, all its creatures, even our children!

The psalmist is correct that we all die and our names blow away like the ashes of a bygone era. How we live with that depends on where we place our priorities. For me, the sacred nature of all life, the challenge and comfort of the spiritual life, the pain and joy of community has always held more value for me than money or status. In this one holy life, I have wanted to drink deeply from the well of knowledge, feel passionately about the issues that concern us all, forgive and be forgiven for trespasses I didn’t recognize at the time. 

Part of my faith says that resurrection is possible, that there is a balm in Gilead to heal us all. For those of us who follow Jesus, there must be commitment as well as hope, work with our prayers, and compassion that leads us to justice rather than judgement. 

When I die, I hope wildflowers and a maple tree spring up although they were not planted. I hope that I have brought more love and healing than pain and injustice. I do not need any rubble added to my life. I am happy to fade away. 

What do you want your legacy to be? Do you hope for rubble or something more eternal? I hope that we all live with such an appreciation of the sacred in our world that the strength of our prayer, and the strength of our voices and actions, help us to trust that the Holy is working with us to renew the face of the earth.

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.