As you write your Christmas cards….

And whilst pondering the fall of Aleppo……

 

He takes such small steps

To express our longings.

Thank you, Schubert.

 

How many hours

Do I sit here

Aching to do

 

What I do not do

When, suddenly,

He throws a single note

 

Higher than the others

So that I feel

The green field of hope,

 

And then, descending,

All this world’s sorrow,

So deadly, so beautiful.

 

 

Mary Oliver

 

So, what happens next?

So, what happens next?

We’ve had a week to begin to absorb the results of the US elections. Like a stone thrown into the middle of a pond, ripples of concern are moving outward. What will happen around climate change, trade, international relations, basic human rights? The feeling of having been robbed of the promise of a secure future isn’t restricted to residents of the US “rust belt”. Will the alt-right* movement in the US and Europe continue to grow as the only seemingly viable expression of disillusion? My European roots make the potential impact on it of a Putin/Trump alliance particularly significant: what about the people of Latvia, the country to which I feel viscerally bound? Tobias Stone’s blog “History tells us what may happen next with Brexit and Trump”** felt like a giant boulder being thrown into the middle of that pond.

We can’t predict what will happen next. Hoping it will all go away and grabbing a handful of popcorn as we watch yet another hour of comfort TV isn’t really an option, other than increasing the possibility of developing type 2 diabetes. The populist response in the tabloids and alt-right driven social media will not help build a more just society, nor will pretending there is no such thing as climate change when scientists tell us the last two years have been the hottest in recorded history.

One of the fundamental premises of the Christian message is that we are all connected one to another. It’s not only the solitary butterfly fluttering its wings in the Amazon rainforest that echoes across the planet, but our thoughts and actions, too. There is an intricate web of reciprocity that we all depend on for our existence; it can enrich our lives and the lives of others as well. It’s called love of neighbour: respecting each person’s worth, valuing the labour and needs of others, being available.

Another is the one in the Magnificat, Mary’s song of praise when she becomes aware she is carrying the saviour of the world within her womb:

            You [God] have shown strength with your arm,

            you have scattered the proud in their conceit;

            you have deposed the mighty from their thrones

            and raised the lowly to high places.

            You have filled the hungry with good things,

            while you have sent the rich away empty. (Luke 1:51-53. The Inclusive Bible)

The principles of fairness and equity, of justice and mutual support are God-like. The message that Jesus conveys in word and action reflect this. The call of the Christian message is to help build this into the fabric of society.

Be it the safety-pin you put in your lapel, the support shown to someone experiencing bigotry in a public place. Be it the respect shown to staff when those who manage companies recognize their primary responsibility is less to shareholders and their own bank-balance than the well-being of their employees, and their families. Be it the shareholders and stakeholders who affirm their critical role in ensuring the health of the planet, everyone builds a healthy society in a healthy world.

The Christian message isn’t just words, it’s a way of life. For everyone.

 

Ilze

 

*https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alt-right

**https://medium.com/@theonlytoby/history-tells-us-what-will-happen-next-with-brexit-trump-a3fefd154714#.169cg1y26

View at Medium.com

View at Medium.com

 

 

 

 

Stupid Phrases for People in Crisis

A very worthwhile read. Cliches seem to be all about feeling out of your depth in the face of someone’s pain and feeling the need to say something. But this is not a time to reassure us in our sense of helplessness! Marilyn’s suggestions for how to respond, listed at the bottom of her blog, are very worthwhile.

MARILYN R. GARDNER

crisis

  1. God will never give you more than you can handle. While some may believe it is theologically correct, depending on your definitions, it is singularly unhelpful to the person who is neck-deep in a crisis, trying to swim against a Tsunami. A wonderful phrase recently came from Support for Special Needs. They suggest changing this from “God will never give you more than you can handle” to “Let me come over and help you do some laundry.” This strikes me as even more theologically correct.
  2. It gets better. Yes, yes it does. But right then, it’s not better. And before it gets better, it may get way worse.
  3. When God shuts a door, he opens a window. Maybe, but maybe not. Maybe he just shuts a door. Maybe there is no window. There was no window for Job. There was a cosmic battle that raged as he sat in distress. There…

View original post 1,124 more words

Don’t say: “I can’t do anything.”

imageIn a week marked by continued unrest throughout the world, the bewilderment in behavioral therapist Charles Kinsey’s voice as he related the police officer’s response to Kinsey’s asking him why he had shot him, “I don’t know” echoes what many feel at this time.
Brexit, Trump, shootings in the US, attacks in Europe perpetrated by disaffected second generation immigrants, the failed coup in Turkey; what is going on? There seems to be a connection, as Mark MacKinnon suggests writing in the Globe and Mail on July 23: a groundswell of deep disatisfaction with the status quo among those who have found themselves sidelined. [1]
The uncertainty this is causing seems to be having a significant impact on our youth. Rather than looking forward to graduating high school and striking out into the world with enthusiasm, students are experiencing heightened anxiety and depression. For many young people, the future represents pressure, not possibilities.
How do we respond as people of faith? What constructive message can we share with our youth, with those for whom the present, let alone the future, seems bleak?

What might we glean from the passage from Genesis 18:20-32 about Abraham’s response part of a challenging situation?

It is worthwhile remembering that Abraham is the first patriarch of three of the world’s religions, an example of faithful leadership to Jews, Christians, and Moslems alike. The teachings contained in this narrative consequently carry great weight to their adherents. They have normative value.
In the verses before this passage God is shown as debating whether or not to tell Abraham of his plans for Sodom. God decides to do so, because “I have chosen him [Abraham] that he may charge his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice.” So, what follows is less a test of God, more of Abraham’s ability to act righteously and with justice. Has Abraham taken on board what it means to be in relationship with God, whose desire it is to bless and heal the world? In short, what kind of leader is Abraham? This encounter will be a key indicator.
God’s announcement of the decision to annihilate Sodom certainly opens the door to endless options to respond. Yet Abraham is not in the least interested in the reasons, neither does blaming or judging the inhabitants because of their deeds get a mention. And certainly, the last thing on Abraham’s mind is to applaud God for the rightness of their destruction or offer to rally his tribe to lend God a hand.
Instead Abraham responds to what he sees as the injustice of what God is proposing. Rather than bury his head in the sand and pretend he doesn’t know, or be overwhelmed into inactivity, Abraham stands his ground, literally. Indeed, he comes right up to God almost jabbing with his finger. “What do you mean, you’re going to destroy the entire city! What about the innocent ones?” and pleads with God repeatedly to show justice and mercy. And God agrees. Abraham has passed the test. He has shown courage, compassion, and tenacity despite being seemingly confronted by the greatest opponent imaginable.

We are all leaders. This isn’t just a meaningless mantra our children are sent home from school with to energize them, it applies equally to everyone. The choice, whether to blindly follow demagoguery, to remain in that most painful of places in the long-term, “sitting on the fence”, or to take action to support justice and righteousness is entirely ours. Taking action simply requires a little imagination, and using the talents and opportunities available to us. Each voice counts. Funding Barack Obama’s first presidential campaign seemed to be a lost cause by comparison to the might of wealthy Republican donors, but it was turned around by social media, by $5 and $10 donations from ordinary folk, and by people coming out to vote. Rather than joining in with the complaints at the water cooler, we can exercise our democratic mandate and write to our political representatives; they will take note. We can join with our faith communities and take action to support those who are sidelined. We can listen to our young people, and, instead of perpetuating the myth of “you can achieve whatever you want, all you need is to want it”, hear their concerns and reassure them that we are there to support them through difficult times.

We can. We can let the voice of Abraham, the actions of Jesus resonate through us. Chaos is not the only reality.

Genesis 18:20-32

Then the Lord said, “How great is the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah and how very grave their sin! I must go down and see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me; and if not, I will know.”
So the men turned from there, and went toward Sodom, while Abraham remained standing before the Lord. Then Abraham came near and said, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; will you then sweep away the place and not forgive it for the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” And the Lord said, “If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will forgive the whole place for their sake.” Abraham answered, “Let me take it upon myself to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes. Suppose five of the fifty righteous are lacking? Will you destroy the whole city for lack of five?” And he said, “I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there.” Again he spoke to him, “Suppose forty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of forty I will not do it.” Then he said, “Oh do not let the Lord be angry if I speak. Suppose thirty are found there.” He answered, “I will not do it, if I find thirty there.” He said, “Let me take it upon myself to speak to the Lord. Suppose twenty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of twenty I will not destroy it.” Then he said, “Oh do not let the Lord be angry if I speak just once more. Suppose ten are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of ten I will not destroy it.”   NRSV.

[1] http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/munich-nice-turkey-brexit-trump-its-all-connected/article31084101/

Image courtesy of http://alittlebitofquiet.blogspot.ca/2014/09/a-lemonade-stand.html
#Turkey coup #Trump #Brexit #Abraham #righteousness #Genesis18:20-32 #action #youth #hopelessness #courage #compassion #leadership

The Fourth Sunday in Advent.

                  There can be times the trees leap out at you, and this isn’t about the impact of today’s ice-storm.  All you see are trees: endless obstacles, in the way, stopping you from seeing beyond what you’re crashing up against.  Does this resonate at all?

                  Maybe it’s a challenge you face with work, with a relationship?

                  Maybe it’s as simple as getting ready for Christmas and realizing this morning that there was no way you were going to be able to get out and do the Christmas shopping.  When am I going to do it all?  Stuart Maclean’s story of Dave and Morley and the Christmas turkey comes into mind.  If you don’t know the story, http://castroller.com/podcasts/CbcRadioVinyl/3866301?start=0 will open the link            

            The details, the complexities seem too much.

                  But, take a step back.  Stop, look.  Take a breath. 

                  Does it really matter whether or not you forgot to order the smoked turkey at Starsky’s?  What matters is coming together, being together, the offering of what we have to the other person in love and kindness.  And in that moment, there is more present than you can see.

                  But between today and Christmas Eve are a whole lot of hours.  A whole lot of trees, and shrubs, and creaking branches.  We’re still in Advent.

                  Today’s Gospel reading tells the story of Joseph, the man entrusted to be the role model, the parent of Jesus.  Plenty of trees in this story.  Here it is, in Eugene Peterson’s translation: “The Message”:

                                    The birth of Jesus took place like this.  His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. Before they came to the marriage bed, Joseph discovered she was pregnant.  (It was by the Holy Spirit, but he didn’t know that). Joseph, chagrined but noble, determined to take care of things quietly so Mary would not be disgraced.

                  While he was trying to figure a way out, he had a dream.  God’s angel spoke in the dream: “Joseph, son of David, don’t hesitate to get married. Mary’s pregnancy is Spirit-conceived.  God’s Holy Spirit has made her pregnant.  She will bring a son to birth, and when she does, you, Joseph, will name him Jesus – ‘God saves’- because he will save his people from their sins.” This would bring the prophet’s embryonic sermon to full term:

                  Watch for this – a virgin will get pregnant and bear a son;

                  They will name him Emmanuel (Hebrew for “God is with us” )

                  Then Joseph woke up.  He did exactly what God’s angel commanded in the dream.  He married Mary. But he did not consummate the marriage until she had the baby.  He named the baby Jesus” (Mt.1:18-25

                  It’s easy to get side-tracked by the details in the story.  What does the reference to the virgin birth mean? How could this pregnancy have happened? Why is Joseph described as “ noble” (“honest” or “upright” in other translations) when he fully intended to cast Mary aside?  Modern scholarship does shed some light on these: the reference to a “virgin” is apparently a question of interpretation in the process of translation.  The Isaiah text (7:10-16) to which the gospel refers speaks in the original Hebrew of a “young woman” becoming pregnant. When the Hebrew Bible (our Old Testament) was translated into Greek a couple of centuries BC, the term “young woman” became “virgin” in the Greek.  This had the additional effect of presenting a version of the coming of the expected Messiah more in line with other religions that also mentioned the miraculous birth of a deity. Hence the gospel writer’s use of the word “virgin”, rather than “young woman”.

                  I am aware that this description may trouble some and that is clearly not the intent. But ultimately, the point of the birth and infancy stories of Jesus is not logic or rational explanation, but that God works in ways that are incomprehensible to our, limited, understanding. We call this: mystery.

            God chose to take on human form.  God chose to share our frailty and humanity in a way that would enable people to see in Jesus who or what God is.  No longer distant, unreachable, fearful but identifying with the poor and outcast, those looking for peace in their hearts, searching for a deeper meaning for their lives, for release from handcuffs that bind them to practices and behaviours that they are unable to free themselves from on their own. God chose to do this by becoming fully present in the world as a tangible human being.

                  No little surprise that Joseph hears of this in a dream for what the world is about to experience is more than we can comprehend in the course of daily life.  Yet, astonishingly, the content of Joseph’s dream makes it clear that the hope of the coming of a Saviour, Messiah, Jesus (the One who Saves) is no longer a dream, but a present reality. 

                  “With us – God” as the gospel writer states.  Emmanuel has come.

                  This is what we are preparing for. 

                  This is the big picture we have been swept up into. 

                  So take the trees for what they are.  Without them there would be no forest, but they do not dominate.  The questions you have, the challenges you face, the crazy running around before Christmas is all part of something bigger, but not ultimate ends or purposes in themselves. 

                  That purpose is clear: Emmanuel.  “With us – God”  “God – with us”.

            So, take a breath.  Open your heart and mind, and prepare to welcome him.

Thanksgiving Sermon October 13, 2013

       There’s something very special about little children.  Particularly if they’re your own, or, even better, godchildren or grandchildren.  The way the hand gets stretched out towards you:   “Sam!/Beth, Grandma, Grandpa: Look at me!  Let’s explore! Why?” In that brief second of time, all the cares you may be carrying slip away and all that matters is that encounter.  The trust, the love, the delight. 

            The gift a child brings.  An honest gift presented without the giver even realizing what is happening. 

           Image Yesterday a small group of us gathered outside to have our pets blessed, and later we joined other dog owners in the leash-free park outside.  Got to know the dogs, and the owners, heard the stories, felt the connection.  What had brought us together?  Our pets.  All dog, and cat owners know about unconditional love – it’s what they are given every time they come in through the front door.  It’s a gift that’s unconditional: all we have to do is provide our four-footed companions the care and attention they deserve. 

            During the morning a couple shared their experience of driving back the night before from Muskoka.  A meteor shower.  One so intense it looked like an unmoving, white Northern Lights.   The unexpectedness of the experience.

            Take a moment.

  • Stop reading.
  • Take a deep breath, exhale.  
  • Open yourself up.  

What comes to mind?

       Like the small child reaching out its hand, these experiences are heart-given, like our pets, they are unconditional, like the wonder of nature: unexpected.  In their unexpectedness, their joy, their honesty, they flip our mood around, transform the moment.  They stay with us, they resonate within us. 

            None of them have anything remotely to do with material possessions (with the possible exception of having an engagement ring presented to you),  yet they have an extraordinary staying power.  They can even shift how we see things, how we prioritize, and on what we base our fundamental values. 

            Seeing the first ultrasound images of the baby growing inside you changes you, or feeling it’s heart beating next to yours as your little one is handed to you for the first time and you hold it in your arms.  You realize: this is it.  Nothing else matters quite so much.   You are now a parent.  The years of “me”, of “it’s just the two of us so we can vacation, spend, go out, have gone, the first priority is now your family. 

            Please, this isn’t meant to be an artificial, Sound of Music, sugary reading of life. You know that, because you’ve been there. Each of us can recall at least one of these moments. 

            They are all gifts, gifts  of grace.  Unexpected offerings that open the eyes of our heart and soul to a new way of being.  They are presented to us by the Creator, the one who breathes life into us, into the world around us.  These are the experiences that bring colour to our lives, that enrich us beyond the temporary excitement of material possessions, they are life-giving. 

            Recalling these experiences evokes emotion within us. We experience what we felt at the time, sometimes even magnified as we begin to grasp their immensity.  They are what we are given to be a part of who we are, to help us see the bigger picture when we feel overwhelmed, to straighten our backs and release our shoulders when we feel the weight of the world pressing down on us, to propel us forward when we are lost. 

            In these moments of wonder, of joy, of being overawed, we encounter God reaching down to us, to caress our souls with her presence.  Inviting us, gently, into a new perspective on life.  The one that Jesus speaks of: that transcends the ephemeral, that sweeps us up into a gigantic, never-ending vista.  One based simply on deep, giving love. 

            You know what it’s like when you are truly loved:

something inside you is freed up and you can begin to become who you truly are.  You can love, and be loved and that means, you can give yourself permission to become vulnerable.  And once you learn to become vulnerable, you acquire the gift of compassion, the ability to stand alongside another human being during the challenging times of their life.    And to this mix, to this gift of being able to relax into who you are and focus on the other comes the gift of joy.  

            This is so very rich. 

            This is so very important.

            It changes you.  And as you are changed, the world of which you are part is changed.

            So,  take a moment to be still, evoke the memory of that time, andgive thanks.  From the bottom of your heart.  To pray that the inspiration of that time continues to change you, us all into the image of God that is already right here, within us.

            The Lord is near.  Right here. Right now.