Tuesday, December 11, 2018

The Politics of Integrity

Beginning the Story

“The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” I am sure you have heard that old saying – it has been around since Bernard of Clairvoux first said something like that back in 1155…

It is a clever way of saying just because we intended something to go one way does not mean that we are not going to mess it up and do the wrong thing.

I could probably come up with some example in a book, or a movie, or a television show… but I think if I gave you a second you could come up with one from your own life… Let me ask it this way.
Have you ever tried to take the easy way, or do something you thought was for the right reasons, only to have it blow up in your face?

How about those “little white lies” we tell?

I have some ADD tendencies. I have some anxiety. I have a really poor memory. So I pretend I am a really great multitasker because I cannot really focus well – hey look – a squirrel…. What was I saying, Oh yes, I am not a great multitasker – so the little white lies are kind of hard for me. I tend to be really truthful because in five minutes I may not remember the lie I told to make things better.
Or how about this as an example – when asked if I like broccoli by my in-laws I say yes to be polite. Now at every single meal, they make my favourite… broccoli. (this is not a true story, by the way, I like broccoli and my in-laws do not eat vegetables)

This is a silly example – but it is a real problem. When we do the wrong thing for the right reasons – it is still the wrong thing.

A Reading: Genesis 39:1-23

Now Joseph was taken down to Egypt, and Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard, an Egyptian, bought him from the Ishmaelites who had brought him down there. The Lord was with Joseph, and he became a successful man; he was in the house of his Egyptian master. His master saw that the Lord was with him, and that the Lord caused all that he did to prosper in his hands. So Joseph found favor in his sight and attended him; he made him overseer of his house and put him in charge of all that he had. From the time that he made him overseer in his house and over all that he had, the Lord blessed the Egyptian’s house for Joseph’s sake; the blessing of the Lord was on all that he had, in house and field. So he left all that he had in Joseph’s charge; and, with him there, he had no concern for anything but the food that he ate.

Now Joseph was handsome and good-looking. And after a time his master’s wife cast her eyes on Joseph and said, “Lie with me.” But he refused and said to his master’s wife, “Look, with me here, my master has no concern about anything in the house, and he has put everything that he has in my hand. He is not greater in this house than I am, nor has he kept back anything from me except yourself, because you are his wife. How then could I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” And although she spoke to Joseph day after day, he would not consent to lie beside her or to be with her. One day, however, when he went into the house to do his work, and while no one else was in the house, she caught hold of his garment, saying, “Lie with me!” But he left his garment in her hand, and fled and ran outside. When she saw that he had left his garment in her hand and had fled outside, she called out to the members of her household and said to them, “See, my husband has brought among us a Hebrew to insult us! He came in to me to lie with me, and I cried out with a loud voice; and when he heard me raise my voice and cry out, he left his garment beside me, and fled outside.” Then she kept his garment by her until his master came home, and she told him the same story, saying, “The Hebrew servant, whom you have brought among us, came in to me to insult me; but as soon as I raised my voice and cried out, he left his garment beside me, and fled outside.”

When his master heard the words that his wife spoke to him, saying, “This is the way your servant treated me,” he became enraged. And Joseph’s master took him and put him into the prison, the place where the king’s prisoners were confined; he remained there in prison. But the Lord was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love; he gave him favor in the sight of the chief jailer. The chief jailer committed to Joseph’s care all the prisoners who were in the prison, and whatever was done there, he was the one who did it. The chief jailer paid no heed to anything that was in Joseph’s care, because the Lord was with him; and whatever he did, the Lord made it prosper.

The Story Unfolds

This story would be laughable as a soap opera. In a nutshell here is the plot - Joseph is purchased by Potiphar, “a captain of the guard,” from the Ishmaelites, then is installed as an overseer in Potiphar’s house. The story emphatically repeats that God is active in Joseph’s life, making him successful in all his undertakings (Genesis 39:2, 3, 5, 21, 23). Potiphar, noticing his success, wants it to rub off on him and his household and so raises Joseph into a position of power within his household. Potiphar’s wife is also attracted to the success that emanates from Joseph. She uses her position to try to compel him to do her will, and when rejected, has Joseph put in prison.
It even has the humour of a modern television story – the wife grabs his robe and Joseph has to fight to keep away from her to the point that she rips it off of him as he runs out into the street naked…
Like I said, it would make a laughable soap opera – if it weren't for the fact that stories like this are a part of our daily news. It seems there is not a catholic priest or a politician alive who is not caught out on some sexual scandal. Almost every leader of a successful church is in trouble for everything from tax fraud to abuse.
There are still people out there who are different than this. There are people who have integrity. And perhaps this is why the story of Joseph made it into the bible. It is a story filled with the worst of human emotions, jealousy, lust, anger, murder, revenge… remember, this is the same guy whose brothers tried to kill him because he was father’s favourite, but instead threw him in a pit to die. (naked again, oddly)
And Joseph does some questionable things as he is making his way through the slavery route. For example, he keeps getting his wife to say she is his sister – so no one will use one against the other I suppose. And then when the owner invariably falls in love with her – and tries to sleep with her. Proverbial hell breaks loose.
So it is not that Joseph is perfect. He is not. And the rough life he has lived so far does not excuse his actions – he is often doing the wrong thing for the right reasons.
But there is a reason he continues to survive and thrive in this soap opera. And that reason is simple. Integrity.
A key difference between Joseph’s story and politics today is Joseph’s integrity. Most of the politicians who fall from power today do so because of their own failings, their own capitulation to corruption, greed, and lust. Joseph, on the other hand, falls from power because he dares to say “No” to corrupting power. He could have had a sweet deal, sleeping with Potiphar’s wife, running his house -- Potiphar didn’t need to know. But he decides to take the difficult path -- and it leads him to prison.

Ideas to Take With Us

These stories from Genesis are ancient. They are about people long dead living in a way we could never imagine, in a place, none of us have probably ever seen.
But there is a reason that for thousands of years they have been re-told – they are the fairie tales and fables of the Bible that are trying to teach us the basic idea of goodness.
Be honorable. Be upright. Be honest.
That is what it is to be a good person. And we tell these stories over and over so that we do not forget, and that we can pass them down to people like Brynlee.                                                                                                               
Despite the fact that the world DOES often seem like a soap opera gone wrong – there is still a right and wrong and there are still honourable people. This is our tradition and who we are.
We need to embrace it.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Narrative Advent 2

A Very Gothic Christmas

Beginning the Story

A very long long time ago Christmas had another name. It was called Yule – and was a celebration of the darkness. Well – for Vikings and all of those pre-medieval folks of Europe it was a 12 day festival and feast centering around midwinter – around the great hunt of Odin in the sky – and was accompanied by an increase in the undead walking around…

For a thousand years before Jesus was born Christmas was a time of Ghost Stories!

And that continued right through the Christian Era – when Christmas was modernized in Victorian England it was done with the popularity of a ghost story – the story of a hapless merchant named Marley who came back to haunt his business partner – Ebeneezer Scrooge...

You all know the tale – Scrooge was a mean-hearted miserly man who is urged by a progression of ghosts to med his ways and start being compassionate. All of this happens on Christmas Eve and by journeying to his own past, present and future with the accompanying ghosts – Scrooge is transformed into a giddy, loving, generous man who keeps Christmas in his heart every day.

Charles Dickens wrote A Christmas Carol in the 1800s – and he wrote it in a particular style, a genre, part of romantic fiction called Gothic Horror. There are four notable examples of Gothic Horror when you look it up – Dracula, Frankenstein, The works of Edgar Allen Poe, and A Christmas Carol.

There is another thing about Gothic Horror – the stories are …. trans-formative. They focus on the change that the reality and darkness of life cause on an individual – whether it is Frankenstein’s monster coming to grips with the hatred humans have for that which is different – or Dracula falling in love with the doppelganger of his long lost love – the events change the characters. By confronting the darkness and evil they grow and become better.

How is that for a different spin on Christmas? I am taking back the original pagan way of seeing it – Christmas is about finding your way in the dark.

Sharing the Story with kids

Candles in the Window

This tradition started in Ireland. It was originally about lighting a candle to help Mary and Joseph find their way to Bethlehem…. Because it was also something that Catholic families did in a country where being Catholic was illegal. It was a secret symbol for the priest who might be walking by that a Catholic Family lived here… and might want a visit.

Either way – it was about lighting the way in the darkness and became a symbol of hope. 

    A Reading

    Esther 4:1-17
    So let me tell you a story – a biblical story…
    When Mordecai learned all that had been done, Mordecai tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and ashes, and went through the city, wailing with a loud and bitter cry; he went up to the entrance of the king’s gate, for no one might enter the king’s gate clothed with sackcloth. In every province, wherever the king’s command and his decree came, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting and weeping and lamenting, and most of them lay in sackcloth and ashes.

    When Esther’s maids and her eunuchs came and told her, the queen was deeply distressed; she sent garments to clothe Mordecai so that he might take off his sackcloth; but he would not accept them. Then Esther called for Hathach, one of the king’s eunuchs, who had been appointed to attend her, and ordered him to go to Mordecai to learn what was happening and why. Hathach went out to Mordecai in the open square of the city in front of the king’s gate, and Mordecai told him all that had happened to him, and the exact sum of money that Haman had promised to pay into the king’s treasuries for the destruction of the Jews. Mordecai also gave him a copy of the written decree issued in Susa for their destruction, that he might show it to Esther, explain it to her, and charge her to go to the king to make supplication to him and entreat him for her people.

    Hathach went and told Esther what Mordecai had said. Then Esther spoke to Hathach and gave him a message for Mordecai, saying, “All the king’s servants and the people of the king’s provinces know that if any man or woman goes to the king inside the inner court without being called, there is but one law—all alike are to be put to death. Only if the king holds out the golden scepter to someone, may that person live. I myself have not been called to come into the king for thirty days.” When they told Mordecai what Esther had said, Mordecai told them to reply to Esther, “Do not think that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. For if you keep silence at such a time as this, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another quarter, but you and your father’s family will perish. Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this.”Then Esther said in reply to Mordecai,“Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and neither eat nor drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will also fast as you do. After that I will go to the king, though it is against the law; and if I perish

    The Story Unfolds

    The story of Queen Esther is, yes, you guessed it, a Gothic Horror. Or at the very least a story where darkness and tragedy transforms an individual. I read you a section of the middle – and most of us do not know the story, despite it being one of the most famous stories of the Bible to feature a woman hero.

    So let me give you an overview of the book of Esther.

    Esther lived in ancient Persia about 100 years after the Jews were conquered by Babylon. When Esther's parents died, the orphaned child was adopted and raised by her older cousin Mordecai.
    One day the king of the Persian Empire, Xerxes I, threw a lavish party. On the final day of the festivities, he called for his queen, Vashti, eager to flaunt her beauty to his guests. But the queen refused to appear before Xerxes. Filled with anger, he deposed Queen Vashti, forever removing her from his presence.

    To find his new queen, Xerxes hosted a royal beauty pageant and Esther was chosen for the throne. Her cousin Mordecai became a minor official in the Persian government of Susa.

    Soon after, Mordecai uncovered a plot to assassinate the king. He told Esther about the conspiracy, and she reported it to Xerxes, giving credit to Mordecai. The plot was thwarted and Mordecai's act of kindness was preserved in the chronicles of the king.

    At this same time, the king's highest official was a wicked man named Haman. He hated the Jews and he especially hated Mordecai, who had refused to bow down to him.

    So, Haman devised a scheme to have every Jew in Persia killed. The king bought into the plot and agreed to annihilate the Jewish people on a specific day. Meanwhile, Mordecai learned of the plan and shared it with Esther. Esther urged all of the Jews to fast and pray for deliverance. Then risking her own life, brave young Esther approached the king with a plan.

    She invited Xerxes and Haman to a banquet where eventually she revealed her Jewish heritage to the king, as well as Haman's diabolical plot to have her and her people killed. In a rage, the king ordered Haman to be hung on the gallows – the very same gallows Haman had built for Mordecai.

    Mordecai was promoted to Haman's high position and Jews were granted protection throughout the land. The Festival they created to honour this was Purim and is still celebrated today.

    So the Bible tells a story of how an evil villain plotted to kill an entire people – and the rich Queen who was pretending not to be Jewish sees this happening and is changed by it – admitting her faith and saving her people.

    Esther – Scrooge – Frankenstein – Dracula…. It is a powerful story because it cuts close to the quick – we get it. We allow ourselves to become comfortable, or even comfortably numb, to the horrors around us in order to be happy, or rich, or famous, or just to make our lives simpler – and that works for a while – until we turn out the lights.

    Ideas to Take With Us

    So we have the story of Esther – we have the story of Scrooge – and we have the story of us.
    Here is the Gothic story of Jesus – there was an evil king, who was so full of himself that when he heard a prince had been born who would eventually be more powerful than him – decided to have every male toddler and baby in the country killed. It was a horrific time. The Romans conquered and it made matters worse.

    In the midst of the pain and darkness however – some people chose to allow the experience to change them, to start to see things differently, to embrace love as an answer – and the leader of this movement was one of the few children to survive that horrible night of the long knives.
    Christmas is Yule is midwinter is darkness with the glimmer of light.

    It is, to again quote dickens a time when we should, as Scrooge declared: honour Christmas in my heart and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach!”

    So I want to make the case for seeing the darkness of the world and allowing the light of Christmas to transform us in the midst of it. Allow this season to work its magic in your soul – and it shall be a very Merry Christmas indeed.

    Monday, December 3, 2018

    Down By the Riverside

    Beginning the Story

     A little different today – breaking up the story a bit and having it set the stage. So here is what we are talking about – The Assyrians are the most powerful nation on earth  - this is around 750 BC – and they have invaded everything around them. They were the Romans of their day or the British Empire of Queen Victoria… And they decide to invade Israel – so they send an army, but more importantly, they send this really good public speaker, sort of an advertising campaign, a propaganda war, and what they say is this:

    No one has ever beat us. No one is capable of standing up to us. We are the most powerful nation in all of history. King Hezekiah is not going to save you. Do not listen to him… surrender. If you do, life will go on just as it did before, you will have peace and prosperity – in fact, it will be even better because you are Americans… er… Assyrians.

    Good campaign – the grass is always greener – things will be better if...

    and the premise is this – we are bigger, stronger, and better in every way and so we can protect you, take care of you – all you have to do is do what we say.
    Tempting, is it not? This claim can work in so many parts of our lives. You don’t want to be an independent contractor really, do you, I mean, if you join up with Acme Carpentry life will be so much better. Wallmart offers more choices and cheaper prices, shop here instead of the local grocer. Brett is a rich professional, wouldn’t you rather marry him than Billy – stuck in a dead end job with no potential? Being part of the United Church makes you part of the largest Protestant denomination in Canada! So much better than being an independent church!
    King Hezekiah hears this and tears his clothes. He hears it and realizes, Oh my God, they are right. Who am I to think I could do it better than the king of the whole Assyrian Empire? What can I give my people to compare with that? We are doomed unless we listen.

    Seeing it Through Story

    A Reading: Isaiah 2:1-4

    The Story Unfolds

    Two ways of seeing the world. That is what we are talking about here. The way of Assyria and the way of God. Might makes Right or Peace makes Prosperity.
    Consider the difference between the American dream, and the Canadian
    Bigger is better versus Better is Meaningful. I don’t know, there seems to be a lot of ways to say this. But let's consider it within our own social context and history. There was a time in North America where everything seemed to be settled. The World Wars were over. Everyone went to church to network and make friends. Most people had jobs. Women raised their 1.5 kids. It was all worked out because we said – ok, you take care of us, we will do whatever you say.
    Then there was the Cuban Missile Crisis, and Vietnam, and Watergate… and and and some prophet spoke up and started to speak out against the culture of the day. Hippies became not just dropouts from society, but the ones who were standing on the edges and saying, it is not supposed to be this way.
    If Jesus was born in the 50’s I wonder if he would be a hippie in the ’60s?
    This was a movement that fought against stereotypes and fought against the idea that there was only one way to do, one way to be. The funny thing is, it was so successful that we hardly credit it for the way these people changed the world. Questioning authority, freedom to find your own purpose in life, women’s rights, equality, sexuality, even politics, and religion changed as a result of the ’60s.

    Sometimes quietly and sometimes kicking and screaming – but it made a difference and made us remember there are always two sides to every coin.
    Here is a question – If I said there were two ways to do something, the world’s way, and God’s way, what do you think God’s way would look like?
    If Isaiah were talking to us here now in the 21st century, what would he say we should be like?
    These are not trick questions, the answers are pretty similar to what they were 3000 years ago.
    I am just asking because I think Isaiah was asking Hezekiah, and in fact, everyone, to just step back and think a little – to question authority – to be more hippy like.

    Don’t tell the Woodstock crowd with their bell bottoms and burned bras, but they were not even being that original. They were serving as the prophets of the day.
    I wonder who is doing that now?

    Ideas to Take With Us

    Some day – Some day nations will look up to us. Some day swords will be beaten into ploughshares. Some day we will study peace and not war.
    This is not just a pie in the sky dream but was an actual philosophy of life that we call the Kingdom of God.
    Way back in 700 BC there were two ways of seeing things, and there still are today. There always has been and there always will be. And I suppose there are times and places for each – for every matter under heaven.
    The Hippie’s of the 60’s still give me hope. They inspire me and motivate me to look behind the curtain and see what is really going on.
    And when I find myself trembling like Hezekiah and saying, “Oh God, they are right.” I think those are the times I need to look deeper and ask -  is that really true. Is there a better way?
    What would happen if we all took the time to ask that exact question?

    Monday, November 26, 2018

    Namaan Versus the River

    Beginning the Story

    There are a few stories in the Bible that I really like. I suppose that they are the ones that point out human nature in a surprising or interesting way… I don't know, I guess that is what I like in stories in general. When I read Heart of Darkness, Winnie the Pooh, or a Christmas Carol what always strikes me is how the writer wants you to see some part of human nature in a new or clearer way.
    Stephen King is good at that too. I suppose that is why he is so famous as an author. He uses fear to showcase a whole raft of human emotions in a way that we do not normally think about them.
    I mean think about it – Romeo and Juliet through Robin Hood and on to Mickey Mouse and the gang – these are stories that let us see ourselves in unique and different situations so that we can ask some deeper questions.

    Am I like that? What would I do if? Do people really think that?

    These are the questions that change us, that help us, that bring about a depth and a growing faith.
    It is no different from the stories of the Bible. Just as it was no different when Jesus told stories. In fact, from the dawn of human history, people sat around the campfire and told each other stories so they could learn, feel, and grow.

    Jesus would tell a story about a vineyard owner and the people he hired to pick the grapes and we would see ourselves in one of the characters.

    The problem is – these stories were usually about things we did not want to believe about ourselves – like that we can be mean, or jealous, or petty… but when it is a story about someone else it allows us to see ourselves safely… we are one step removed… and it makes us wonder.

    I wonder how much I would be like Jonah -  if God asked me to do something I did not want to do I might run away too. I wonder how much I am like the Pharisee who looks down on the person who throws a few pennies in the collection plate. I wonder if I would go hide in a cave when life got overwhelming like Elijah did.

    That is what we do, right? Watch a murder mystery or read a thriller and you cannot help but wonder how far you would have to be pushed before you took the shovel and bashed their heads in.
    The first step to wisdom with any story is to see ourselves somewhere in it.

    Seeing it Through Story

    A Reading: 2 Kings 1:1-15a

    Naaman, commander of the army of the king of Aram, was a great man and in high favor with his master because by him the Lord had given victory to Aram. The man, though a mighty warrior, suffered from leprosy. Now the Arameans on one of their raids had taken a young girl captive from the land of Israel, and she served Naaman’s wife. She said to her mistress, “If only my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.” So Naaman went in and told his lord just what the girl from the land of Israel had said. And the king of Aram said, “Go then, and I will send along a letter to the king of Israel.”

    He went, taking with him ten talents of silver, six thousand shekels of gold, and ten sets of garments. 

    He brought the letter to the king of Israel, which read, “When this letter reaches you, know that I have sent to you my servant Naaman, that you may cure him of his leprosy.”When the king of Israel read the letter, he tore his clothes and said, “Am I God, to give death or life, that this man sends word to me to cure a man of his leprosy? Just look and see how he is trying to pick a quarrel with me.”

    But when Elisha the man of God heard that the king of Israel had torn his clothes, he sent a message to the king, “Why have you torn your clothes? Let him come to me, that he may learn that there is a prophet in Israel.” 

    So Naaman came with his horses and chariots, and halted at the entrance of Elisha’s house. Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go, wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean.” But Naaman became angry and went away, saying, “I thought that for me he would surely come out, and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and would wave his hand over the spot, and cure the leprosy! Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them, and be clean?” 

    He turned and went away in a rage. But his servants approached and said to him, “Father, if the prophet had commanded you to do something difficult, would you not have done it? How much more, when all he said to you was, ‘Wash, and be clean’?” So he went down and immersed himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God; his flesh was restored like the flesh of a young boy, and he was clean.

    Then he returned to the man of God, he and all his company; he came and stood before him and said, “Now I know that there is no God in all the earth except in Israel; please accept a present from your servant.”

    The Story Unfolds

    So what do you think of this story?… What does it tell you about human nature?… And where do you see yourself?
    I think like any good story I can find myself in almost every moment of every character.
    Let’s start with Namaan. Here is a guy who is used to getting his own way – a guy with the resources and power to buy himself a cure. He is the type of guy who can easily go down to the US and pay for an MRI when he is told his is scheduled for six months from now.
    But when he gets there two things happen – first, Elisha does not even come out and see him, sends the secretary out to tell him to take two aspirins and call him in the morning… Or at least, that is what it seems like – wash in the river? That is it? No magic pill, no waving hands? No incantation? There has to be something you DO… to cure this disease, no?
    The rich powerful man who traveled hundreds of miles on an uncomfortable camel is told by the secretary to take a bath and go home. You can understand his outrage. I can even put it into a perspective that makes perfect sense to me… Namaan feels like he has not been heard and that Elisha does not care.
    No, wait, you don’t understand, I have leprosy… I’m special, I’m sick, you don't get it.
    I’ve said that. If you knew who I was, If you understood that I have cancer, if you only knew – you would treat me different.
    No – says Elisha – you are just like everyone else, no better or worse, and the cure is simple.
    Now, look at it from Elisha’s point of view. Let’s say the commanding general of the United States Army hears that I am really good at prayers and comes to church asking me to pray for peace. He hears that God listens to me and wants my prayer to solve the growing Korean, United States military crisis.
    Namaan is putting Elisha on the spot and demanding some huge miracle and Elisha figures, perhaps rightly so, that if he fails this test there will be repercussions. Big repercussions. Perhaps life and death repercussions. How do I get myself into these things, he mumbles under his breath.
    Ever felt like that? Like you had to impress somebody or do something that you really might not be able to do and the pressure is so much…
    If this story was set in the modern era Elisha would have said, here, take chemo and radiation like everyone else, and God willing, you will get better. The traditional cure for leprosy (which by the way, was any kind of skin disease from a blister to eczema) was to ritually wash. Essentially Elisha says, go and take the medicine like everyone else, you are not better or worse than them, and if God wills it, you will be cured.
    Which is hard for Namaan – who is used to getting his own way, sometimes at the point of a sword, to hear.
    For some reason, we have turned the characters around and made this a story about God being special and being able to work miracles. It is not. The waterworks, the same as the chemo works – sometimes. Namaan was just lucky.
    This is a story about feeling you are special – about asking for the impossible – and someone having the guts to point out you are just like everyone else and have to work to solve your own problems with the resources you are given.
    Again – not easy to hear.

    Prayer Reflection: Naaman’s Story (inspired by 2 Kings 5: 1-14)

    a little girl
    an army commander
    a religious zealot

    for one brief moment
    difference suspended
    doubt superseded

    ordinary water
    simple ritual
    extraordinary presence

    May we have the courage of the child
    to reach out to even the powerful.

    May we have the wisdom of Namaan
    to ask for help when we are lost.

    May we have the faithfulness of Elisha
    to love outside the lines. 

    ~ written by Katherine Hawker,

    Ideas to Take With Us

    I love this story because I am someone who thinks they are special and who wants to make things harder then they are. I want to lose weight by going on the newest fad diet and joining this Keto group and getting a Y membership… When the real answer is to eat better and go for a walk.
    I get Namaan – if it really is as simple as changing my diet, I am unlikely to do it. Maybe I am, just lazy, maybe I don’t want change, or maybe I just want to feel special and made a big deal of.
    It is uncomfortable to hear myself in this story – but it is something I have to hear. There is real wisdom to be found in these stories – but the thing is we have to realize that the stories are meant to make us think, to make us change.
    I think far too often we are our own worst enemies – we are standing in the way of the simple answer – or as the slave said if the prophet asked you to do something difficult would you not have said yes? We are not special, we are not different, but we have the choice to do the right thing. Just like everyone else.

    Monday, October 29, 2018

    The Wisdom of Solomon

    Beginning the Story

    Every organization has a test. If you join a ball team or go out for the school play there are tryouts.

    As we grow up and get involved in more and more this never ends. If you want to drive a car, pass the test, If you want to be a doctor you take the MCAT exams, want to be a lawyer, pass the bar, want to join the Masons, well, you have to memorize stuff for that and pass a test.
    There are job interviews and performance reviews and even blind dates that we have to contend with.

    There is nothing wrong with this. In fact, it is a good thing. We are a culture that values skills. And we expect the people who do certain things to bring an appropriate level of knowledge – whether it is the surgeon cutting into us or the carpenter repairing our screen door.

    The thing is – there is also this concept that we call the right thing for the wrong reasons. When someone says I want to be a doctor because I want to be rich, or I want to be a minister because I want people to listen to me, or I want to be married because I don't want to be alone, or I want kids because someone has to pay for my retirement… the whole thing falls apart.

    When you are doing something for the wrong reasons it is usually obvious. We know when someone does not put their heart and soul into something – you can just feel it. On the other hand, we have probably all run into someone, be it a parent, waitress, or rocket engineer who obviously so loves what they do that everything they do just seems exceptional.

    It is not a job – it is a calling. It is who they were meant to be. And because they embrace that – there is this magical way in which everything comes together.

    Some of us discover this right away – I know a guy who wanted to be a cop when he was eight and is now the chief of police in the Miramichi. Some of us only discover our calling after we require from the work we did to pay a lifetime of bills.

    Still – doing what you believe in and are passionate about is a goal worthy of working towards. Whether you call it destiny, purpose, a calling or fate – there is a way that we are supposed to be true to ourselves.

    A Reading - 1 Kings 3:4-28

    The king went to Gibeon to sacrifice there, for that was the principal high place; Solomon used to offer a thousand burnt offerings on that altar. At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said, “Ask what I should give you.” And Solomon said, “You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant my father David, because he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward you; and you have kept for him this great and steadfast love, and have given him a son to sit on his throne today. And now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David, although I am only a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. And your servant is in the midst of the people whom you have chosen, a great people, so numerous they cannot be numbered or counted. Give your servant, therefore, an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil; for who can govern this your great people?”

    It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this. God said to him, “Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches, or for the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, I now do according to your word. Indeed I give you a wise and discerning mind; no one like you has been before you and no one like you shall arise after you. I give you also what you have not asked, both riches and honor all your life; no other king shall compare with you. If you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your life.”

    Then Solomon awoke; it had been a dream. He came to Jerusalem where he stood before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. He offered up burnt offerings and offerings of well-being and provided a feast for all his servants.

    Later, two women who were prostitutes came to the king and stood before him  The one woman said, “Please, my lord, this woman and I live in the same house; and I gave birth while she was in the house. Then on the third day after I gave birth, this woman also gave birth. We were together; there was no one else with us in the house, only the two of us were in the house. Then this woman’s son died in the night because she lay on him. She got up in the middle of the night and took my son from beside me while your servant slept. She laid him at her breast and laid her dead son at my breast. When I rose in the morning to nurse my son, I saw that he was dead; but when I looked at him closely in the morning, clearly it was not the son I had borne.” But the other woman said, “No, the living son is mine, and the dead son is yours.” The first said, “No, the dead son is yours, and the living son is mine.” So they argued before the king.

    Then the king said, “The one says, ‘This is my son that is alive, and your son is dead’; while the other says, ‘Not so! Your son is dead, and my son is the living one.’” So the king said, “Bring me a sword,” and they brought a sword before the king. The king said, “Divide the living boy in two; then give half to the one, and half to the other.” But the woman whose son was alive said to the king—because compassion for her son burned within her—“Please, my lord, give her the living boy; certainly do not kill him!” The other said, “It shall be neither mine nor yours; divide it.” Then the king responded: “Give the first woman the living boy; do not kill him. She is his mother.” All Israel heard of the judgment that the king had rendered; and they stood in awe of the king because they perceived that the wisdom of God was in him, to execute justice.

    The Story Unfolds

    So this really might be Solomon’s interview for King. I see it as being a test – well if a test is part of a vision that you have in a dream…  And, well, if it is, Solomon passes with flying colours.
    This is not an unfamiliar concept. Abraham is told to move across the country, Moses has to climb a mountain, and Jesus spends 40 days wrestling with his demons in the wilderness.
    Are you prepared for what is coming? That is the root of what this is all about. It is not a bad idea, a leadership test to see if you are up to the challenge. But I think we have usually focused on what comes after rather than on how it all started.
    So David dies and his son Solomon is going to be king anyway – but this is sort of a test to determine what kind of king he is going to be.
    Cast your mind forward to the Jesus in the desert story I mentioned. Jesus is already baptized, he is already going to become a religious leader – but then he goes through a 40 day trial to determine what kind of leader he will be – are you going to use power, are you going to use God, are you going to use magic?
    Well God comes to Solomon in the middle of the night and says, you are a king now, you can have whatever you want… and Solomon says, I am not sure I am going to be a good enough king, the type the people deserve, can you make me a better king?
    It is such a good answer that he hits the jackpot and gets everything behind door number one, two and three! And he did not even know it was a test!
    Which is often the way for us mere mortals wandering around in the dark down here on earth. Things happen every day that present us with choices – good or bad, help other people or focus on our own needs – these are choices that are often completely up to us to decide, but it is still a test, a test of character.
    But then there is part two of this story – Solomon puts his new wisdom to the test in the famous test case for child custody. The so-called wisdom of Solomon is actually pretty harsh here and you are left wondering how far he would have gone to prove a point. But this will go down in the history of not only how to solve an argument – but the power of love.
    He is not wrong – a mother’s love would be willing to sacrifice everything to keep their child safe. It is a wise way to solve the problem by looking deeply into who and what these women are. And luckily, it works.
    Wisdom here is presented as knowing someone deeply – as understanding a person’s soul – and using that knowledge to solve the problem.
    Solomon wants to do the best by his people, so he asks for wisdom, and the wisdom he receives is the wisdom of knowing people – of empathy – of understanding. A wisdom based on love. You might recall a very similar situation where Jesus is asked whether or not they should stone a woman and he says, let he who is without sin cast the first stone.
    Exact same wisdom. Compassion and Empathy are used to help understand the person and solve the problem...

    Ideas to Take With Us

    Let’s assume life really is a test. Sort of. Or maybe a better way to put it is that life is a challenge which we are asked to overcome. There is a better way to do it and a harder way to do it. There really is.

    There is a way to win at life and a way to lose at life.

    But it has nothing to do with what the modern world keeps saying, you do not win through riches, fame, or any of that garbage – you win by becoming human. You win through love. You win by gaining the wisdom to understand that the game does not matter – the only thing that matters is the people playing the game.

    You can have anything, God tells Solomon – and Solomon already has the wisdom to, ok, help me get better at the real purpose of life. And it is a good answer.

    I think that is why we are here – at church – each week. Some part of us realizes that the meaning of life is deeper than we expect than we were taught at school and in our jobs – and we want to ask for that same wisdom – we are here to find it together.

    Monday, October 22, 2018

    The Power of Bathsheba


    You may remember a time when the mayor of Toronto was famous - his fifteen minutes mostly spent smoking crack. It is weird, is it not, the way our world is devolving. The wider the gap between rich and poor the more the rich can get away with.

    A marijuana story puts this in perspective from the non powerful side, and may be relevant in our newly legalized society... why legalize pot? Some cynics see it as a way for the government to make money - and it is.

    But consider this. 99% of all people arrested and imprisoned for marijuana use in Canada and the United States are first and foremost poor - and at least in the states, black.

    Smoking marijuana is something you arrest people for when they are undesirable and you have no other reason to arrest them. Thus legalizing it is actually a social justice issue. Poor people are getting in trouble constantly for something the middle class and rich people are not worrying about.

    Donald Trump proves my point from the other side. Be rich and put in a position of power and .... well... is there anything Trump cannot do? It seems every day there is some moral or criminal line crossed.

    The Ford brothers are even doing well for themselves...

    Not only does power corrupt - but it creates impunity...

    It is only when the outrage over the impunity begins to grow that anything actually happens. Look at the Catholic Church right now ... so many priests are in trouble for assaulting so many victims - but what really makes people angry is that they got away with it... that is was covered up... that the church believed they were above the moral and actual laws that protect the victims.

    So let’s talk about God’s preferential option for the poor. This is what we too often forget, or pave over, in church. God stands on the side of the victim, of the little person, of the slaves, of the outcast, of the widow and orphan.

    The heroes of God’s stories are not the rich and powerful but the carpenters and shepherds.

    So which side are we on?

    Going Deeper

    Why did you do that?

    That is a pretty innocent way of saying what I first thought this passage was about when I read it. Why did you do that? What the...

    Let’s talk about David for a minute. Small town boy made good – defeated the champion of the enemy army, a giant no less when he was young – goes on to be king... and a really good one, way better than Samuel.

    So David the king is hanging out at the palace one day while his army is off fighting a war. See, the opening sentence of this story should already make us say, what? Kings go and fight wars – they do not hide back in the castle. What is going on...

    Then there is this woman who is doing absolutely the right thing – taking a bath in her own house – washing after her “time of the month” as her religion says she must – with every confidence that she is alone and innocent. When who should decide to spy on her but the King, who should be off at war anyway... and what does he do then – sends armed guards to get her, bring her to the palace, and rapes her...

    What in the name of God was he thinking would be the end of all of this?

    You know the other thing I cannot help but think of... Donald Trump. I do not want to, I know I should not care, but really... does this story not sound just a little bit like it is about him?

    Then David conspires to have Bathsheba's husband killed and eventually makes her his concubine, she then presumably gives birth to David’s child. This is not the way things are supposed to go.

    Bathsheba is a victim. She is innocent. There is no good, no reason, no blame for what happens to her that goes on her shoulders. Right then and there David has lost everything. In that moment he loses his credibility, his reliability, and his morals.

    Absolute power corrupts absolutely...

    So why is this story here? What about this tale makes it worthy of remembering thousands of years late, much less being part of something that we think of as a holy and sacred guidebook for our faith?

    I think the answer to that is simple – and it is the prophet Nathan.

    Nathan and David grew up together in the palace after David killed Goliath. They were best friends. One became the king and one became the prophet.

    Despite friendship, despite being part of the royal court  - Nathan goes to David and says, you screwed up. This is not right. God is angry...

    If you keep reading chapter 12 you will see that Nathan tells David God is so angry that something horrible is going to happen – and even after David please, repents, prays, fasts, says he will never do it again – Bathsheba's child dies seven days later.

    You cannot do the wrong thing without repercussions. That is a very real moral of this story. Of course, it is awful all the way around – everything about this story is the subject matter we try to hide from our kids – rape, unwanted pregnancy, murder, violence, revenge and miscarriage... It is a horrible story from start to finish.

    But remember the two things it says in no uncertain way – Bathsheba was blameless – David was wrong.

    Faith speaks truth to power. Faith sides with the innocent. Faith stands up to the abuser. Faith is willing to call out sin  - no matter where, or when, or why it happens.


    In most Bible stories you can imagine yourself being one or another of the characters – sometimes we are like the poor man and sometimes the rich, sometimes like the vineyard worker and sometimes like the vineyard owner...
    Not this one.

    In this story there is only one person we are meant to be. Only one position we can take. We are Nathan. We are the ones who stand up and say – this is wrong! That is the only faithful response.

    It is hard, this standing with the victim, this preferential option for the poor... When the church does it we do not make any friends. It was the Methodist church in the 1800’s that started the whole anti-slavery movement. It was the United Church in Canada that started advocating for equality of LGBTQ peoples. It was the United Church who first said we were sorry for the way we treated the aboriginal people of Canada...

    We have always been the ones who are supposed to take the hard road of saying, that is not right, and doing something about it. I think the story of Bathsheba is a cautionary tale – that even the chosen of God can become someone who needs stopping. We just need to find our voice.

    Monday, October 1, 2018

    Salvation Through Work

    Beginning the Story

     The long walk to freedom, to paraphrase Nelson Mandela, is frequently difficult and almost always confusing.

    I don't know about the rest of you – but my life journey sure has had a few twists and turns. If you listen to the experts who talk about life stories – they all do. We find ourselves facing challenges, changing directions, starting over, choosing friends for the journey, killing them, hiding the bodies and choosing new friends…. There is, to say it a different way, nothing more constant than change.

    So here we are, trekking through life, and the thing is – sometimes we get stuck. Who knows, we find ourselves stuck in a job, our house burns down, a bad relationship, we goi bankrupt – somehow we find ourselves not knowing which way to go – not capable of finding a way forward.

    What then?

    Sometimes we are lucky enough that the answer comes to us and we just set out in a new direction..

    But that is certainly not usually the case. Most of the time we need something to happen, someone to come along, or some sort of kick in the proverbial can to push us out of the rut.

    When I was in school this was often a daily occurrence. A teacher would have to tell me to stop daydreaming and do my work – or I would be stuck on a math problem and they would have to show me a different way to think about it. That is basically a teacher’s job – to show people a different way to move forward, a new way to think about things, and create a path forward

    I have been lucky enough to have friends, teachers, colleagues, even enemies that have pushed me forward all the time. And in doing that I have always had those “aha”moments when I could say – oh… I see…. This is what I need to do!

    I think that might be the easy part. I think most of us have someone or something show up when we stop dead. Life just has a way of moving around us and carrying forward.

    Another bit of wisdom I heard once is that you can never put your foot into the same stream twice. So we may get stuck – but when we look up, the change we need will be there for us….
    But there are always complications – right? That is life.

    A Reading: Exodus 14:5-7, 10-14, 21-29

    Then the Lord said to Moses: Tell the Israelites to turn back and camp in front of Pi-hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea, in front of Baal-zephon; you shall camp opposite it, by the sea. Pharaoh will say of the Israelites, “They are wandering aimlessly in the land; the wilderness has closed in on them.” I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and he will pursue them, so that I will gain glory for myself over Pharaoh and all his army; and the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord.  And they did so.
    When the king of Egypt was told that the people had fled, the minds of Pharaoh and his officials were changed toward the people, and they said, “What have we done, letting Israel leave our service?” So he had his chariot made ready, and took his army with him; he took six hundred picked chariots and all the other chariots of Egypt with officers over all of them. The Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt and he pursued the Israelites, who were going out boldly. The Egyptians pursued them, all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots, his chariot drivers and his army; they overtook them camped by the sea, by Pi-hahiroth, in front of Baal-zephon.

    As Pharaoh drew near, the Israelites looked back, and there were the Egyptians advancing on them. In great fear the Israelites cried out to the Lord. They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us, bringing us out of Egypt? Is this not the very thing we told you in Egypt, ‘Let us alone and let us serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.” But Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid, stand firm, and see the deliverance that the Lord will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today you shall never see again. The Lordwill fight for you, and you have only to keep still.”

    Then the Lord said to Moses, “Why do you cry out to me? Tell the Israelites to go forward. But you lift up your staff, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, that the Israelites may go into the sea on dry ground. Then I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will go in after them; and so I will gain glory for myself over Pharaoh and all his army, his chariots, and his chariot drivers. And the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord, when I have gained glory for myself over Pharaoh, his chariots, and his chariot drivers.”

    The angel of God who was going before the Israelite army moved and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud moved from in front of them and took its place behind them. It came between the army of Egypt and the army of Israel. And so the cloud was there with the darkness, and it lit up the night; one did not come near the other all night.

    Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea. The Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night, and turned the sea into dry land; and the waters were divided. The Israelites went into the sea on dry ground, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left. The Egyptians pursued, and went into the sea after them, all of Pharaoh’s horses, chariots, and chariot drivers. At the morning watch the Lord in the pillar of fire and cloud looked down upon the Egyptian army, and threw the Egyptian army into panic. He clogged their chariot wheels so that they turned with difficulty. The Egyptians said, “Let us flee from the Israelites, for the Lord is fighting for them against Egypt.”

    Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea, so that the water may come back upon the Egyptians, upon their chariots and chariot drivers.” So Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at dawn the sea returned to its normal depth. As the Egyptians fled before it, the Lord tossed the Egyptians into the sea. The waters returned and covered the chariots and the chariot drivers, the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed them into the sea; not one of them remained. But the Israelites walked on dry ground through the sea, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left.

    Thus the Lord saved Israel that day from the Egyptians; and Israel saw the Egyptians dead on the seashore. Israel saw the great work that the Lord did against the Egyptians. So the people feared the Lord and believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses.

    Seeing it Through Story


    The Story Unfolds

    The psychologist Jung had a term for the ideas that matter most to us. He called them archetypes. Good and Evil, for example, are archetypes... we all understand what they mean instinctually. And they show up in every story from All in the Family to Little Red Riding Hood...

    The way we understand the world is through story - and the way we understand story is by repetition of things we already know.

    There is always a hero - there is always a villain - someone always has to go on a quest and someone usually falls in love. There are more - but I am hoping you see what I am saying... there are patterns and there are archetypes...

    And the Bible is no different. It is a story that is told in the same way over and over so that the moral sinks in.

    Well - not quite. The heroes and events have different names, they take place in different locals and involved different villains. But the idea is that we will get it one of these times...

    This is the reason I chose to do the Narrative Lectionary this year - I want us to get a picture of the Bible as a whole - and see why it is what it is.

    And September was Prehistory. The beginning. And the archetypes.

    You might remember we have talked about Noah Jacob, and Abraham, and now we are on to Moses.

    Anyone know what all of these characters have in common? No seriously, tell me some ideas of the point that Genesis makes over and over...

    How about this... God gives us something, we do not entirely trust God, we are given a quest to test our faith, we do the right thing, life gets better.

    That is the story of Adam, Eve, Cain, Abel, Noah, Abraham, Jacob and Moses.

    Each of them faces a different challenge, rebels in their own way, and accomplishes their quest in their own way.... but it really is the same story again and again and again.

    You realize what that means right? It means it is a pretty darn important story!

    So why is this the story that needs to be told in so many different words? The answer comes in today’s passage when we finally get to see how it works out in a crowd. In case you did not see yourself in ANY of the characters so far - YOU are the Israelites...

    God says, follow this guy I sent to help you and I will lead you out of captivity to freedom and new life. The going gets rough and we realize that the journey is gonna be long and hard and we decide not to trust God. We were better off back there, weren’t we? What was so bad about Egypt that we need to spend our whole lives wandering around in a desert? Is God really involved in any of this?

    That is right. The people of Israel, in the middle of being saved, stop dead and complain that they would rather go back.

    Does that sound familiar to anyone?

    Well - it should. It is the human condition. But these stories are also very clear about what happens if we have a little faith and keep going.

    Ideas to Take With Us

    I want you to see that these stories are all making the same point because it is an archetypal point, it is a foundational point, it is the point that underlies every other point and has to come first.

    We need to follow where God is leading to get to a better place and we are not going to like the journey.

    Translate that in any way you want - we need to love our neighbour in order to find out what true love is, but it is not going to be easy.

    We need to open our hearts if we expect to have someone love us but it is going to hurt a lot.

    We need to leave the past behind to find out who we truly are but the journey is going to be difficult.

    To untangle what this whole faith thing is all about - we really need to start here.... none of us want to leave our comfortable nest. All of us have to. We will find something better.

    Of course, I do not envy Moses. At least there was some food in Egypt. Water. Sure, there was the whole slavery thing, but you try and convince a hundred people that it is for their own good to leave home with nothing but the shirt on their back.

    You would really have to have faith to do that....