Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Trying to connect the dots, unnecessarily

Another sermon - as seems to be the way of this blog at present! Life is busy and complicated, and good, and bad, and exciting, and challenging, and (in short) not conducive to getting Blog posts written!

So, here's my thought for today taken from these passages (Click for details):

Grace and Meaning

In the words of St Paul, or perhaps St John, or maybe St George, or even St Ringo

“When I was younger, so much younger than today.”

Ah, sorry, couldn’t resist!  No, it’s not a tubby boy story – but just a general reflection that today’s story from the book of Exodus used to cause me great consternation.  Or at least was one of those parts of Scripture that didn’t seem to fit…

I knew the story, the mythological story I am now convinced, of the temptations in the wilderness when Jesus proclaims, quoting Deuteronomy 6 ‘you shall not put the Lord your God to the test’. As I moved into the Anglican Church and got to know the words of the Venite, as Psalm 95 is known in Morning Prayer, I heard the verses ‘harden not your hearts  as in the provocation, and as in the day of temptation in the wilderness;

When your fathers tempted me,  proved me, and saw my works.

Forty years long was I grieved with this generation, and said, * It is a people that do err in their hearts, for they have not known my ways:

Unto whom I sware in my wrath,  that they should not enter into my rest.”

And I knew that ‘lead us not into temptation’ was better translated ‘save us from the time of trial’ and so the temptation mentioned in the Venite meant that the people of Israel had tested God, they had complained, and God was displeased – as related in our Psalm for today: When the Lord heard this, he was full of wrath; *
“a fire was kindled against Jacob,
and his anger mounted against Israel;
For they had no faith in God, *
nor did they put their trust in his saving power.
So he commanded the clouds above *
and opened the doors of heaven.
 He rained down manna upon them to eat *
and gave them grain from heaven.”

In a more contemporary translation it has the word that is the key phrase for me – not ‘so he commanded the clouds above and opened the doors of heaven’ but ‘YET he commanded the skies above and opened the doors of heaven.’

We have all this language of God’s anger and wrath, God’s displeasure – because we are not meant to question God, it seems, to test God, to tempt God. YET God provides, abundantly.

And in this came my perplexity.  It seemed a contradiction to my young brain… and not only that, but how did God provide Manna and Quail – and what was Manna?

Lots of people tried to give a pseudo-scientific explanation with regards to freak winds carrying the birds to the camp and some plant whose secretion created a bread like substance for the Israelites to eat.  Others simply said ‘God provides’ – but if that were the case why did God not provide in the same way today to those who were and are in dire straits.

Altogether it was a perplexity – when I was younger, so much younger than today (to quote the Beatleitudes)

But learning that Scripture was not all joined up and didn’t drop out of the sky, like manna, in one miraculous lump.  Learning that our Bibles are composed of myth and legend, metaphor and struggles for meaning let me realise that there is much going on in all of our Scriptural passages that say much more than just a simplistic reading could ever open us up to, liberated me from trying to put all of these contradictions and complications into a nice, easy to understand, package.

For our ancient forebears there was indeed an understanding of the all-powerful nature of God, and the principle that God was not to be questioned and was indeed to be held in awe and worshipped.  Alongside this, however, was the feeling that God did provide, and that as the stories of the wandering tribes of Israel and their amazing survival were passed down, that somehow the journey through the wilderness was sustained by God had to be held up alongside the human propensity for struggle, and complaint, and anger, and hurt, when things are difficult.

And so we have ‘YET’ – Yet God’s love and grace were poured out, despite hardship, the people of Israel survived and held on to that feeling and experience of God’s love and generosity. Despite all the odds YET they found what they considered to be ‘the promised land’ and settled and grew, and even (at times) thrived.

And so the principle of this myth of the manna is not one to try to explain, but to grasp the meaning, which is to remind us of God’s love, freely given. YET God commanded the skies above, and opened the doors of heaven’.  May we too know the deeper meaning of our Scriptures, and indeed all of our experiences, and the God who is present in each moment, and with us in all things.

Thursday, July 06, 2017

Pride - in the name of love!

Yesterday was the middle of Pride Week here in Victoria and St John's marked it, in partnership with Christ Church Cathedral and our wider Diocese of Islands and Inlets (aka the Diocese of British Columbia), with our regular Eucharist in the morning, and with a special Eucharist in the evening at which our Bishop Logan McMenamie presided and preached. It is a sermon worth sharing - so here's the link to the recording of it:

Some of what Bishop Logan said related to my own thoughts earlier in the morning - which wasn't recorded, but I have the script, so I thought I would share it here too!

Cast Out

I want to begin by sharing something that you might not know, but it’s important information that I think bears sharing in this hallowed setting. It’s just this – there’s a new Spider-Man movie released this week!

I know, exciting, eh?

It’s the third ‘reboot’ – of the franchise, which was one of the first of the contemporary multi-million dollar superhero movies which now crop up with disturbing regularity.  Movies which I admit, bring some of my teenage dreams to life as they present what my young imagination conceived so powerfully and engagingly.  But despite being a ‘reboot’ –with a new star, a new writing team, even a new studio – it is missing something that is usually a staple of these things.  An origin story, how Spider-man became the hero he his.

Which is odd, because we all need origin stories.  We all need to know our beginnings, and have that sense of purpose which comes from the discovery of our identity and our sense of rootedness in who we are.

Which is exactly what we have in today’s reading from the Hebrew Scriptures (see, you knew this was going somewhere!)  An origin story. And it’s a story that has been interpreted in different ways by two of the great cultures of the Middle-East. A story that some would say is in part the foundation of many of the tensions experienced today between Jew and Arab.

Within Arab culture, and particularly within the Islamic tradition- the key players in today’s story are Hagar and Ishmael, who being cast out from Abraham’s tribe a sent to the wilderness, where God hears their cries and sustains them.  In Arabic tradition, Ishmael becomes the founder of the Arab race.

Within Hebrew culture the key players are Abraham and Isaac, as the chosen son will become the inheritor of God’s promise to father many, to be the fulfilment of promise to Abraham and Sarah, and the beginnings of the Jewish peoples.

And the rest, as they say, is history, Or Myth. Or Metaphor. Or something. These stories have defined two peoples attitudes towards themselves and others and continue to be a source of finding identity and of interpreting history.

That’s all very interesting, Rector, you say – but what does that do for us today? What might this story, sunk bone-deep into the cultural narrative of our world, be saying to us today – beyond the need to be aware of our culture’s origin stories, and an interest in the way in which we carry on these stories one way or another.

There are many ways in which we could deconstruct these myths, and in which we could engage intellectually with these stories. But I want to draw us back to consider the feelings within them – and particularly to consider the exclusion which is at the heart of this story, and the casting-out of Hagar and Ishmael which is still a part of the life of the people of God today. Sadly.

This week, as you’ll probably know, is Pride week – and here in Victoria, Pride has become something of a celebration of just how far our culture and society has come in embracing and affirming all people regardless of their sexuality or gender identity. As many of the LGBTQ2si people I know would say, there is much to celebrate.  But the work is not done in changing hearts, minds, attitudes and rights for LGBTQ people.  Particularly within the Church we have been guilty of perpetuating a culture where we have cast-out those who we have perceived as ‘different’ to the hetero-normative culture.  And the church still seeks to do so.

For the queer people of faith, this story of Hagar and Ishmael, Abraham, Sarah and Isaac, has a different feel for those of us – even those of us who are affirming and inclusive – who have not been excluded from the life of the church because of who we are.  Most of us don’t know what it’s like to be cast-out.

And so we as a church have to, to use that old fashioned word, repent of that which has excluded and dehumanised anyone.  Even those of us who are part of this inclusive and affirming community need to recognise the harm our institution has done.  Of course, it’s not just LGBTQ people who the church has marginalised and excluded – we have, and do, continue to struggle as a church at large with the racism, sexism, and judgementalism which is an ugly streak within our various traditions. We, as people of faith need to continue to speak truth and justice even within our own traditions – and to be people who speak and act in a way which seeks to create a genuinely inclusive and loving community in which all are welcome and none are cast out.

Which brings me to the Gospel reading.  In this well-known story of the casting of demons into a herd of swine we are confronted, again with a metaphorical story which should make us consider how this reality is played out in our lives.  For though few of us would speak in terms of demonic entities, we can still see the demons which threaten to take control of us – demons of judgementalism, power, control, obsession with money or material goods, of self-absorption to the detriment of others, of fear, of hatred. We see these demons alive and well in our world, and within ourselves.  This is a different type of casting-out, where we need to confront our own prejudice and those attitudes that would judge any as less valuable, less worthy, less lovable than ourselves.  And to learn to see ourselves, as others, fully loved and embraced by God – for often our criticism and condemnation of others comes from not really liking ourselves very much.

So let us, with God’s help, continue our work of self-examination, of challenging ourselves and our institutional attitudes. Of casting out those things which are the demons of our current day, and of learning to include and affirm all people, no matter what their origin story.

And because of the title of this post - let's put this track up as well :-)

Monday, July 03, 2017

Misheard Bible???

So, what is the nature of scripture? Hmmm, good question - and one I have been struggling with for most of my adult life, as I have journeyed through many differing traditions and ended up very much within the liberal, broad part of the church!

I wonder if sometimes our approach to the Bible is somewhat like a misheard song lyric, every now and then we stop and say 'oh, so that's what it says'.  So here's some Peter Kay with some amusing misheard song lyrics (there's a few rude bits, so don't watch if easily offended)

I riffed off of this for today's sermon at St John the Divine, Victoria - as you'll tell if you listen to the podomatic link below, some of it I stole (acknowledged) wholesale, and then moved on to considering exactly what we are doing when we encounter 'bad' bible bits!