Monday, September 27, 2010

breakfast on the border

A few years ago, over breakfast at Cora’s, a colleague for whom I have great respect used a phrase to describe herself that challenged me deeply, and nudged me down a path of learning and growth that has changed me. Speaking about her own spiritual life, she said she’d been living as a “functional atheist”. She continued to teach and preach about faith in God, but did not feel close to God, or that God was involved in her daily life.

I understood. For me, faith had moved from being a matter of the heart, and a way of living, and making every-day decisions, to a dry, intellectual exercise. When I considered God, it was more the idea of God, than the presence of God in my life.

The Bible stories I have been reading lately are been about people who are anything but “functional atheists”. Prophetic figures like Elijah, and Elisha, and Jesus responded to God’s call to leave behind their old lives, to travel into the wilderness, trusting that their basic physical needs would be met. Elijah lived in a ravine, drank his water from a brook, and ate bread brought to him by ravens twice a day. John the Baptizer lived in the wilderness on a diet of locusts and wild honey. Jesus had his desert time, during which he fasted, and told the tempter that we do not live by bread alone.

Later on, Jesus sent his disciples out in pairs, with only the clothing on their backs, and a message about God’s love in their hearts: "When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is set before you. Heal the sick who are there and tell them, 'The kingdom of God is near you.’ ”

These holy ones lived on the edge of existence, in a border place between life as we try to understand and control it, and life in the huge realm of God, where all is mystery, and we recognize that we do not really understand or control anything. They depended upon God for their very survival.

We do not always have to travel to a physical place, to find ourselves on the border between the known and the unknown, the safe and the wild, the sensible and the mysterious. Events in our lives, and in the lives of those we care for, can bring us to a time of wilderness, a time of searching- a time when life as we have known it no longer holds together, and we have to travel in a desert for a while, before we can see a new liveable place on the horizon.

The lives we build, and the things we take for granted can fall apart, and be taken from us. Hurricanes, earthquakes, floods are dramatic examples, but the same eventual deterioration of all that we have happens with the passage of time. Prophets and other spirit-filled people are a blessing to us, because they challenge us to look for more in life than what seems secure and comfortable.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

real hope

Near the end of my sermon on Sunday I was quoting a wise woman named Joan Chittister, who is a Benedictine nun living in Erie, Pennsylvania. She is a prolific author, having written more than 40 books. This past weekend she was interviewed on a CBC radio program called Tapestry. That interview can be heard at the CBC website.

I pulled some quotes about hope from the interview:

“People want to know about hope when they don’t have any.”

“Hope is the capacity to dance around corners with a smile on your face.”

“Hope is not an antidote to struggle. Hope is what comes out of struggle.”

“Hope is seeing in myself the ability to cooperate with a universe that is friendly and creator who wishes me well.”

Hope from this perspective is not a denial of hardship, or sadness, or loss, or challenges in life. Hope is the confidence that comes from having lived through hard times and come out the other end, altered by the experience, but still alive.

Sister Joan’s perspective on hope helped me see something new in the story of the “miraculous catch of fish”, and the call of Simon and other disciples. This may not be a new thought for others, but it jumped out at me that for Simon, the moment when he sees that life can be different than what he has known, hope is born, and he recognizes the call to follow Jesus.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Naked Truth about the Bible

the fifth page for Tues, Sept 14, 2010

Only God is God. Anything that is not God, is not God. If we substitute anything for God, or in our thinking or behaviour act as if anything but God is God, we are in danger of wandering into the territory of idolatry- the worship of a false god.

It is tempting to find God-like qualities in something close at hand. We crave answers, and reassurance, and security. It can be deeply unsettling to realize that these are hard to come by.

Part of a child’s maturing process is realizing that parents do not know everything. For the parent, this can be trying, as everything they say is challenged and tested. For the child, this is an exhilarating time, and a frightening time.

Some people are able to move from reliance on a steady stream of “right” answers, to a new kind of living that allows for ambiguity and mystery. Others find this intolerable, and quickly latch on to a new source of authority and rightness.

There are many refuges from the difficulty and discomfort of thinking for ourselves, and living with unanswered, and unanswerable questions. It might be loyalty to a cause, or an institution. It might be adherance to a religious perspective or philosophy. It might be an extreme attachment to another person, who seems to have all the answers.

I sometimes think that Christians use the teachings, the trappings, the institutions they have created as shelters from the storm of the unknown. The tendency to look upon the Bible as “inerrant” is a perfect example. The claim that this document reflects perfectly the mind of God strikes me as a desperate effort to hang on to “something” that is for sure.

As I preached on Sunday, there is so much that is beautiful and good and helpful in the Bible, and there is also a lot that we reject as racist, homophobic, misogynist, violent, and dangerous. Blanket claims that every word is “divinely inspired” require faithful people to accept, or give the appearance of accepting a lot of ideas we know are wrong.

I suspect that as an institution, the Christian church has been acting like the “yes men” in the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes, who can see the King is strutting around naked, but are afraid to tell him.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

God kneads us

This past Sunday we heard the passage from Jeremiah in which the prophet is sent by God to “the potter’s house” for a visual message. This story is the source of the image of God as a potter and humans as the clay. To remind us that we are each made by God to be “makers”- to create things, I gave every person who came for worship a plastic bag containing a ball of home-made play dough.

Here is the recipe we used:
1 cup flour
1/2 cup salt
2 tablespoons cream of tartar
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 cup water
1 three ounce package of jelly powder

Combine the ingredients in a pot, and stir over heat. I found that the mixture “works” better if it is cooked. I tried the recipe the first time by mixing it in a bowl, and using warm water, but it was not as successful.

Once the mixture seems cooked, and you have stirred the lumps out, turn the dough out onto a flat surface to cool a bit, and then knead it as if it were bread dough.

Kneading the dough gives it a smoother consistency, and is also a wonderful feeling.

The jelly powder gives the play dough colour and scent. I chose orange, which made things a bit confusing, because the little balls of play dough in baggies looked and smelled like apricots.