Breaking Bread in Response to the News

On my drive in to the church today I was reflecting on how to respond to the events that have made news headlines over these past days. There has been yet another deliberate shooting of the innocent, an attempt to breadtake as many lives as possible. We extend our prayers and sympathies to the victims in Quebec City as well as to our Muslim neighbors here in Ottawa. That much is obvious. As the news is recounted on the radio connections are made to the way our southern neighbour is closing its doors to those who wish to flee violence in some of the most unstable parts of the world.

It occurs to me that just as violence can creep through communities of faith and co-opt their commitment and devotion, so too it can poison the love of nation or culture. In a better world a person’s willingness to kill for an ideology, a faith, a culture or a nation would trigger some kind of automatic shutdown. It would tell us that we have gone too far and it would force us into some critical self-reflection. It would tell us that when our love for something we believe is ‘ours’ demands the death of others we have stooped too low. In a better world we would always recognize the inherent, divinely-ordained dignity of the lives of others. Read more

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Living in Grace (123)

I used to teach an Ethics course to undergraduates. It was fun because conversations in the seminar would move from the highly theoretical to the intensely practical quick enough to give everyone whiplash. IMG_3665One of the topics that almost always got students riled-up was distributive justice. This is the classic question of who should get what. I can remember one particular seminar where a student was trying to make the case for a libertarian approach by saying that those who develop skills more valued by society should be financially rewarded more handsomely than those who don’t. He said that the free market is a fine instrument for working this out. As you might expect, another student brought up professional athletes. Read more

Through Water and Word (122)

We begin with ‘water’ and with the words of an ancient Hebrew poet.

The poet would have composed in his head and then dictated the lines to a copyist. The copyist would have written the lines out with a stylus on a papyrus scroll. The scroll would have been made from the stalk of a papyrus plant. scrollThe  papyrus stalk would have had it’s rind removed and the inner fibers sliced lengthwise into long strips. These strips would have been placed side by side in two layers, each layer at a right angle to the other. The two layers would have been wetted and pounded together. The joined layers would have made a long sheet that, when it was dried, could be rolled up as a scroll. The scroll would have been divided into columns by the copyist and filled with the poet’s composition. Here are the words scratched down:

Ascribe to the LORD, O heavenly beings,

ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.

Ascribe to the LORD the glory of his name;

worship the LORD in holy splendor.

‘Ascribe’—the poet means ‘name God this way’ or ‘say these things about the divine’. He then encourages us to worship the LORD as one who is magnificently different. Sometimes, when a morning is bright and the snow is new it’s as though we can see these words, ‘glory’ and ‘splendor.’ They cling to the trees and lie heavy and thick on the grass. Read more

Mary Karr, an Ancient King and the Presence of God (a sermon from advent 4, 121)

We could take a little poll to see what percentage of us would appreciate more joy. All we would need to do is ask for a show of hands. I don’t think we have to. Joy is something most of us crave. Christians are led to expect it. streetIn the beginning of Galatians 5—this is Paul’s description of the things the Spirit produces in our lives—we read that “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace,” and so on. There is joy coming in at number two.

In the last verse of Isaiah 12, a few chapters out from the Old Testament reading for the Fourth Sunday of Advent we come across this: Shout aloud and sing for joy, O royal Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel. Joy is a response to the presence of the Holy One in our midst. It’s the culmination of the thought that begins with the famous phrase, “A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse.” The shouting, the singing for joy at the presence of the Holy One—it’s the culmination of that. And then, of course, there is Luke 2. The angels are talking to the shepherds. Do you remember what they say? “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior . . . .” Did you catch that, “great joy”? We find ourselves in a mess that runs too deep for us to fix. So there is joy at the birth of a savior.

The quick and obvious conclusion is this: God’s presence in our world and God’s work in our lives should make us joyful. If the faith helps us live well, joy should be part of the deal. But saying it ‘should’ isn’t the same as saying it ‘does’. Read more

The Possibility of Falling Up—a short story*

Joanna waved from the café window. Henry was striding confidently over the winter sidewalk. He was thinking about how well he was moving for a tall fellow in his 80s. Optimistic thoughts like these had become an oddity for him. Henry had just raised is arm to wave back when he slipped. Everyone knows how this kind of slipping feels. Unanticipated. Your legs go out from under you. Read more