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?