To Till and Keep—Sketching an Environmental Ethic

At the church I serve a group of adults has been doing a study on theology and the environment. I’ve been leading other things and have not been able to participate. I wish I could have listened-in somehow. It’s spring here in the lower Ottawa Valley. You would have to make a deliberate decision to avoid thinking about trees and garden plants. The book of Genesis says that God planted a garden with trees that were “pleasant to the sight and good for food.” This time of year that’s not hard to believe. If it’s not true—if it is not the case that in some awesome way a divine mystery has given us plants both beautiful and delicious—then evolution has wrought in us a misdirected instinct. If that transcendent and radically-near event we call ‘God’ has not given us the things of spring, then the beauty we see taking shape, which so readily evokes divine awareness in people of all creeds, has pointed us in the wrong direction. Read more

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The Limits of Water (162)

I want to focus on the story of Peter and the gentiles today. It’s from Acts 10. We’ll get there in a moment, but first I have a question for you about Mennonite moments.

Have you ever had a Mennonite moment? More specifically, have you had a Mennonite moment in the shower?

This sounds weird. You’re wondering: What is a Mennonite moment? Is it allowed, even in the shower? Is that the only place it can happen? What about Menno Simons? He didn’t even have a shower. Does a Mennonite moment involve peace? Does it have something to do with baptism? Is it a historic thing, like being burned by Catholics or drowned by the Swiss? Can you have a Mennonite moment . . . if you’re not a Mennonite? Read more

Reading for the Road (161)

Some of you are probably familiar with the story of Paul Kalanithi. Just a few years ago, as he was nearing the completion of his neurosurgery residency, he began feeling ill. At the same time, he was also a neuroscience research fellow. Before going to medical school he had completed degrees in literature and philosophy. Kalanithi was already an immensely credentialed person, but the completion of his residency meant that he would soon have his choice of his choice of prestigious job offers. He would have a handsome salary and more realistic hours. If he could just hold things together physically and emotionally for a little while longer, things would change. However, his symptoms persisted, and it became clear that his health problems weren’t simply due to the exhausting hours associated with his top-flight medical training. Read more

Witnesses to these things (160)

Many people love car shows. I do not. I understand that there is a lot of cool engineering and design in cars. I get the fact that there is a lot of history in them as well. I know that Colin Powell, the former US Secretary of State, has said that when he lived in Washington D.C. he always had several old Volvos in his garage. On the weekends he liked to get his hands dirty bringing them back to life. After a cheap paint job, he would resell the cars. I think it gave him a sense of accomplishment that being Secretary of State did not. Still, I must confess that interest in cars is not something I have.

I share this bit about myself to set up a story I want to tell. The fact that it involves me going to a car show says more about the size of the town we lived in than it does about my personal interests. I’m trying to manage expectations. The story relates to a word our biblical readings (Acts 3:12-19; Luke 24:36b-48) had in common—the word ‘witness’. ‘Witness’ is an important biblical word, but it is one that can makes many of us uncomfortable. Read more

Confession is a Sort of Honesty (157)

Every Sunday churches around the world read a set of passages assigned by the lectionary. Of those assigned to us today, the one that I want to draw our attention to is the reading from Psalm 51. We read it to each other as a call to worship this morning and echoed it in a hymn. What this poem does, perhaps more than any other in this part of the Bible, is display the value of confession. Confession is admitting, to ourselves first and then to others, that we have made a poor choice. It might be helpful to think of confession as “radical, personal honesty.” Often when we want to get serious about radical honesty we aim to tell others what we really think of them. Confession, though, turns this back on ourselves.

Confession is not the stuff of pleasant homilies. You might feel that in your body even now—a tension, an uneasiness. So let me tell you a story. Read more

Saved from What? (156)

Some of you have probably seen the film Hidden Figures. It was released in the early part of last year. The film takes us into the story of African American women working for NASA in the middle part of the last century. As movies often do, Hidden Figures simplifies the history a little. But it does so in order to tell the story of three really smart women: Katherine Johnson, a ‘computer’ before that term referred to a machine; Mary Jackson, an aspiring engineer; and Dorothy Vaughan, a department supervisor. Read more

Lent II – Forgiveness and Awe

 

“You who fear the LORD, praise him!

All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him;

stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel.”

 

A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to talk at some length with a group of university students curious about the link between Christian spirituality and reconciliation. The basic question we were working with was this: What is it within the Christian tradition that serves as an impetus for resolving conflict? Other groups were having similar discussions related to other spiritual traditions.

One of the things that was the most provocative for my group was the idea of forgiveness. In particular, the words of Jesus on the cross, “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” I tried to steer the conversation toward the lines about forgiveness in the Lord’s Prayer; I think those are more formative for Christians. However, it was the response of Jesus to his tormentors that grabbed the student’s attention. Why would he forgive in this situation? Would we do the same? Why would we go through the often long and difficult process of releasing our right to get even? It was not a short conversation. Read more

The Vegetarian Option (154)

I’m quite sure some of us have had this experience. I could be wrong of course. We can always be wrong. Sometimes the things we want to believe the most are wrong. But here’s the experience I imagine you’ve had: you we’re in a conversation with someone and somehow they found out that you were a person of faith. They let it be known that they didn’t believe in the existence of God. The two of you got to talking and eventually you realized that what they didn’t believe was something like this:

They didn’t believe in a God who sits in the clouds, looking down on earth over his long white beard and controlling everything. They didn’t believe in a God who looks at a child suffering and says, “Yup, just as I hoped.”

Or maybe they said that they didn’t need God to fill in the gaps of science. They said that natural explanations were good enough. You squirmed in your seat a bit but you nodded and said “okay.” You carried on with your day. Hours later, though, the thought struck you: “Hey, I don’t believe in that stuff either. The ‘God’ they don’t believe in, I also don’t believe in. If that makes them an atheist, then I guess I’m an atheist too.” You realized the two of you actually had quite a bit in common.

Read more

As Though They Had No Possessions (153)

We have come to the third in this series of sermons related to the way of life practiced by the early church. In the past two I’ve tried to show how these ancient disciples of Jesus were eccentric. They found the centre to their identity outside themselves. They believed their bodies were not their own but were intended as signs of God’s presence in the world and as descriptions of God’s character. Now we move to another chapter of I Corinthians, chapter 7. Our reading came from the second half of that chapter (vv. 29-31).

I Corinthians chapter 7 deals with a question the disciples in Corinth asked Paul about marriage and sexuality. One of the commentators I read this week, Israel Kamudzandu, ended his nice, calm exposition of this passage by saying in an off-handed sort of way that it deals one of the most divisive subjects in the life of the church. As I read those lines, after having decided to preach on this text, I felt a bit as did once when I bought a car. Several days after I bought the used vehicle I found myself marooned at a gas pump, having just figured out that the release lever for filling the car’s tank didn’t work. Things like these would be helpful to know in advance. Read more

You are Not Your Own (152)

“You are not your own.” I wonder if there are many ideas that could be more upsetting to the way we think about our lives today. If the normal way of life is like a Jenga tower, the kind you build with rectangular wooden blocks, the idea that we are our own, that our bodies are our own, is one of the blocks on the bottom. Much of our how we think of ourselves depends on the belief that we own ourselves. You can probably imagine a disagreement between a parent and a child about, I don’t know, a haircut, tattoo or a new piercing. The child pushes back against the parent’s criticism, saying “It’s my body. It’s my decision.” Or maybe it’s an argument happening at the other end of the spectrum, an elderly parent is deciding whether or not to undergo some new life-saving medical procedure. “Come on dad,” the daughter says, “this will extend your life by another five years.” The dad replies, “No, it’s my body. It’s my decision. I don’t want it.”

The point doesn’t have anything to do with tattoos or medical procedures (maybe it’s the grandparent who want the tattoo or the wild haircut). I just want to point out how common it is for us to argue on the basis of the claim that our bodies are our own. Read more