Thursday, 28 January 2016

La Loche

I was thinking of the unthinkable this week. Many of us were. I was thinking of the school shooting in La Loche and wondering how I might address it in my blog. An event like this deserves some response from people of faith.

My first thought was to write about how a Christian I believe that God does make meaning out of even the most meaningless events. Romans chapter 8 verse 28 says that "We know all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose." At the same time I don't believe that God has some kind of plan for horrific things to happen. I don't believe that God manipulates the events on the Earth according to a heavenly blueprint (like the movie the Adjustment Bureau). I think things just happen due to earthly consequences and that we have to deal with them but with God's love and compassion for us as we do.

Then I wanted to say why I think this horrible event happened. I wanted to blame someone. Jesus, however, warns us against this. In Luke chapter 13 verses one to five he responds to some accidents and massacres that happened in his time and says that it was not because the people affected were sinners. In effect he sidesteps the question of blame and says that our impulse should be to become better people. In his words we must repent or perish.

My wish is to blame something concrete and then work on that concrete thing so that a school shooting may never happen again. It isn't that simple though. The only thing that we can change is the only thing that we can ever change--ourselves. We can become the people that God yearns for us to be and hope that process of transformation will make a difference in the world around us. It seems like a paltry hope when I want to rage against something on behalf of someone else but my responsibility is for myself. I am called to live an ethical, loving life like Jesus of Nazareth, to make mistakes and learn from them. And that is the only way that I will make a difference.


Thursday, 22 October 2015

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Sermon July 5, 2015

Well in case some of you are short on beach reading in these late days of summer and if you missed the joint service with Grace-Westminster United Church on July 5, here is the sermon I preached on that day...

There was a time when I looked up to my mentors in the ministry and thought to myself, “Why on earth do they not take all of their continuing education leave? When I’m a minister I will take every single one of the twenty one days allotted!” This January I found myself 15 years into the ministry and without a single day of continuing education taken—and in July those days would disappear. So I set out to find a conference that would renew my mind and spirit. So it was that on June 5 and 6 of this year I attended the Justice Conference in Chicago, Illinios. I knew that there would be a good many evangelical church leaders at that conference but I had hope that the subject matter would tame the usual evangelical enthusiasm for Jesus. I was wrong. We sang umpteen praise choruses about Jesus, about how he had saved us by his sacrifice on the cross, about how he is our Lord and Saviour (with a capital L and S).
But what was truly amazing was that as I listened to the words of the speakers at the conference there was none of the stereotypical arrogance that we hear from the most loudmouthed self appointed church leaders in the States. Rather there was a genuine seeking of relationship with those who were on the margins of society—not for the sake of self satisfaction but because it is the only way in which we can honour Jesus—the One in whom love and justice were united. There were enthusiastic explorations of the racism gripping the United States—including racism and oppression of the First Nations. There were calls to drop the constant vocal opposition to abortion and same sex marriage and to pick up a constant call against poverty and for reconciliation. I had some doubts before attending that conference but it turned out to be a wonderful way to recharge my faith and my understanding of justice.
And perhaps the most wonderful thing about it was that the seeking of justice, the stance of humility taken by the people there was done in perfect harmony with an emphasis on Jesus and who he was and is in our lives. The first keynote speaker was Dr. Cornel West from Union Theological Seminary in New York City, a black theologian who was arrested in the protests in Ferguson, Missouri after the shooting of Michael Brown. He was talking about the white supremacist society of America and the need for us to reconcile the race divide. But he surprised me when he said that the white churches did not need to come alongside the black churches as allies. I had a textbook in seminary called, “Becoming an Ally” and it was influential in my thoughts and behaviours around justice. Dr. West continued however, “We don’t need allies, we want you to come as followers of Jesus.” It then struck me that indeed, we in the church don’t need to learn how to be allies—well maybe there are some things we can learn. But the source of our energy, our humility, our gentleness and our boldness comes from the person of Jesus Christ. And we omit Jesus from the centre of our church at our peril.
In today’s reading from the gospel of Mark Jesus goes to preach in his hometown synagogue. And his neighbours are, shall we say, less than impressed. They thoughts are recorded, “Hey isn’t this the carpenter who used to live in town? His brothers and sisters all live here but he abandoned his poor mother. What is he some kind of big shot now?” This is not exactly what is recorded in the bible but I could imagine it happening. When they first started the CBC television show “The Smartest Canadian” much was made about the fact that no one from Saskatchewan was registered for the show. My personal opinion is that didn’t indicate a lack of intelligent Saskatchewanians but rather no one from Saskatchewan wanted to admit that they were that smart because everyone in Saskatchewan has a grandmother, grandfather, great uncle or aunt who will remind them that they aren’t so smart and I changed your diapers when you were a baby! We don’t want anyone getting too big for their britches! Jesus is surprised at this lack of support but he does his best to try to heal the people there who are willing to accept his help but it is difficult without his hometown believing that he is special.
I wonder if the United Church has given up on Jesus. Like Nazareth, we who have been Christ’s hometown in this modern world don’t provide our faith in the name of Jesus. We are embarrassed of him because of what has been done in his name the tragedy of the residential schools coming most to mind. How can we proclaim the name of Jesus when so many indigenous children were taken away from their families, ripped from their culture and even abused and neglected until death—in his name? Honestly even as a minister I have been at time ashamed of the name of Jesus and have done linguistic backflips to try to talk about God’s redeeming love without talking about the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
But seeing at the Justice Conference the love of people for Jesus, combined with the hunger and thirst for justice in this world, gave me a new perspective. Even though it was only days after the presentation of the Truth and Reconciliation report I could see that there was value in the gospel and in the person of Jesus. After all, it was the failure of the church that those children were abused in the name of Christ. Jesus the first century Jew would never have agreed with an empire occupying populated lands and seeking to eliminate the indigenous culture there. That is exactly what the Roman Empire tried to do with Judea in Jesus’ time! When the children were being buried at the residential schools Jesus was not with the priests and nuns at the Mass or with the lay people from the United Church but Jesus was with those children who were crying silent tears. Jesus, who let the children come to him, was plotting with the residential school students how to escape back to the reserve. Jesus was with them trying to spark their memories into remembering and learning some Cree or whatever language was their own. For Jesus did not die on the cross for white people—Jesus died for the sake of the world so that all of us might know God’s great and ever abiding love for us. And indeed Jesus was already present on Turtle Island if the settlers had only eyes to see. In the resurrection power of the frozen land from winter’s grip, in the wise legends of Raven who was able to turn his opponent’s words against him, like Jesus. That is not to say that we need to label Native spirituality as a type of Christianity. It is to say that the spirit of the divine was already in this land long before most of our ancestors. And the story of Jesus is not a story of coming and conquering, the story of Jesus is a story of eating together and listening.
If we are to be the people of God in this strange and uncertain time we have to rely on Jesus and put him at the centre of our church. Without Jesus there is the temptation to think that we can fix the problems of the world by ourselves which we surely cannot. Without Jesus there is the temptation to ignore the spiritual part of the world’s unjust structures of economy and war. Without Jesus who regarded status as nothing, who ate with tax collectors who would have been above him in status and prostitutes below him and Pharisees somewhere in the middle—without Jesus we would be tempted to think of ourselves as above or below in status. As it is we are all sisters and brothers in Christ, giving to each as there is need—not an equal share but what is needed by each.
And ultimately we need Jesus because of his self sacrificing love. Whether you believe Jesus was the atoning sacrifice for our sins on the cross or whether you believe that his death was the consequence of his actions in Jerusalem on Holy Week, Jesus’ death was the result of his love for humanity. Jesus refused to deny the link between love and justice and for that refusal he was crucified. But Jesus was vindicated because he was raised from the dead and the power of God’s love was revealed and the weakness of violence and domination was exposed. We need Jesus because he showed how this self sacrificing love is the cornerstone of living a life of integrity and peace. Jesus showed us this.
So do not be afraid to call yourself a follower of Jesus! There is nothing in Jesus to be ashamed about. Do not let the loudest and crassest voices in this world have the final say in who Jesus is! He is love, he is mercy, he is giving and he is life and life in its fullest. We are not members of the United Church here—we are not members of St. Martin’s or Grace-Westminster. We are followers of Jesus—wherever he leads us. Amen.

Sunday, 7 June 2015

Dr. Cornel West

So I was going to do blog posts in real time about the Justice Conference and my time in Chicago but things got a little hectic. You see there was so much to think about and absorb that I was just enjoying the moment. As we all should.

The Justice Conference opened with worship (which was mostly praise songs which I didn't know). Then we heard from a black spoken word artist, Malcolm London. Then Dr. Cornel West.

Dr. West is an old school well educated black preacher and theologian in the line of Martin Luther King Jr. He was awesome! He challenged us to be bold followers of Jesus. He encouraged us to draw on the faith of those who came before us for passion and humility.

He said Justice is what love looks like in public and tenderness is what Justice looks like in private.

His words were only part of his delivery. It was like the Holy Spirit was contorting his body as he spoke. He leaned on the pulpit, crouched beside it, leaned back. And (most impressively from a United Church of Canada point of view) he spoke of justice not only for black people but for all people of color, gay and lesbians, Transgender, economically disadvantaged, etc. etc.

A great talk to set the stage for the rest of the conference. Oh and did I mention he was arrested at the protests in Ferguson Missouri when the peaceful protests happened around the death of Michael Brown? A great man.

Friday, 5 June 2015

Willow Creek Care Center

Spent the afternoon at the Willow Creek Community Church, one of the biggest churches in the USA. It certainly was big and swanky. It reminded me of a huge showhome or corporate headquarters. But the really amazing thing is that the church did research on the local community, found that poor and struggling people were being pushed out of urban Chicago because of gentrification and were ending up in apartments blocks away from affluent subdivisions.

Now Willow Creek has built a food bank that looks better than any Sobeys in Canada. Why? Because the dignity of their guests (they don't call them clients) is their primary value.

Money is cool but what is more rare is following your articulated values.

http://www.willowcreekcarecenter.org/

The Justice Conference

I'm at the Justice Conference display floor, waiting for my pre conference event on activism in suburban churches. There are red curtains everywhere dividing book tables from kiosks on justice driven church organizations. There are booths to promote justice against human trafficking, poverty and for development work and fair trade. I'll definitely be visiting the book tables later!

Thursday, 4 June 2015

Leaving on a Jet Plane

Well I am at the Saskatoon airport waiting for a flight to Calgary and a transfer to Chicago for the Justice Conference  (http://www.thejusticeconference.com/)
I'm going to try to let you know what the conference is all about as I experience it. I don't really know what to expect except for being more energized for the outreach part of my position at St. Martin's! Talk to you more from the Windy City!