Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Which are we?

Lectionary Passages for Advent 2, December 4, 2016. Isaiah 11:1-10, Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19, Matthew 3:1-12, Romans 15:4-13

Every Christmas pastors have to speak on the same passages, and every Christmas I'm always amazed that there is something new to think and say about these same old passages.

This year I am wondering who these scriptures are meant for and what audience do I and my people assume we are a part of?

So much of the advent scripture is about hope for something better, and release from our bondage to the dysfunctions of the world. My question then is which side are we on? Are we the oppressed, the needy, the imprisoned, the poor, the meek like those named in Isaiah and  the Psalm? If we are not those, then are we the oppressors, the rich, the enforcers of power? Matthew names the Sadducees and Pharisees as a "brood of vipers". Isaiah, in the iconic peace passage that has the lion laying down beside the lamb, also says that God will kill the wicked. These bits should cause us some concern. The Pharisees and Sadducees were seen, by themselves and others, as the upstanding citizens, the religious law-followers, the good folk. Yet Jesus names them vipers. We might not think ourselves wicked, but maybe our complacency and consumerism is enough to put us into the wicked category too. It is easy, when life is mostly comfortable, to think we deserve it. To protect our comforts and ideas, to turn a blind eye to injustice and pretend it isn't our issue because, obviously, we are living right and others are not.

I don't think I am in the needy categories. I have food, shelter, safety, the support of friends and family. I even have health and insurance. If things go wrong, I will not be on the street or shunned by family or discarded by the systems in my Country.

So how do we listen to good news for the poor, if we are not them? Good news to the poor might be bad news for the not-poor....unless we can be part of the change, part of the sharing, part of the reconciling and welcoming of the other like what is encouraged in Romans.

The acknowledgement that humans fail, but there is always hope in God is a powerful message that needs repeating each Christmas. How we are recipients of that hope is worth rethinking again and again. From what perspective do you hear the news as an individual? As a part of a church? As a privileged Canadian? If I am not in obvious need of the kind of hope promised, how am I helping (or hindering) the delivery of God's promises to others?

P.S. A little side note. When I read the Isaiah piece again this year, I was struck by the sentence; "he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked." Not good news for the earthy or wicked! The most interesting bit for me is that the wolf, leopard, lion, bear, and asp are not in the "wicked" category at all. A lot of our literature, especially children's stories often categorize these predators as evil. Not here at all. If they are metaphors for people, perhaps the categories of wicked and not wicked are fuzzier than we think. Good thing God looks at the heart!

Another little note; I can't help but reflect on the advent scriptures in light of the election politics we see in the US, and the attitudes and issues, especially this "white-lash" thing being expressed in our culture. When I think of who the scriptures are for and who they are against, I recall the nasty things I heard said about democrats, and those said about republicans. I don't think the lines are that clear. There is good and evil on both sides-the stereotyping of whole categories of people is unhelpful and could even be hugely destructive to the process of positive change. So, when I think of the categories of oppressed and oppressor, I am leaving grey areas in my categorizations. What I really want to avoid, however, is the assumption that all the good parts of the scriptures are for me while the hard stuff is for someone else. I think that unless we face the nasty parts of ourselves, our communities and world will have a hard time seeing the true hope that God promises in these Advent scriptures.

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

A good mess-up

For November 20, 2016. Malachi 4:1-2, Psalm 98, 2 Thess. 3:6-13, Luke 21:5-19

I messed up this morning. When I read through the scriptures that Ken will be using for preaching this Sunday, I read 1 Thessalonians instead of 2nd.

It was a good mess up for me. On a morning when I can use some encouragement, this mistake was perfect.

Like many others watching and talking about the train-wreck election in the USA, I feel terribly discouraged about people. I am disheartened about the nasty rhetoric and alarmed by the seeming mainstream validation of racism and sexism. I have trouble understanding the way that people so willingly take up baseless rumours and accusations without proof. Horrible statements are glossed over. Logic and common sense seem in short supply. While I understand and support the need for free speech and protest, I decry the destructive ways that this happens. I have trouble claiming the name "Christian" when it is used to prop up or excuse decidedly un-Christian actions and claims.

These issues aren't only coming at me from our Southern neighbours. In the past weeks, both women running for the leadership of the Consersative party withdrew their candidacy because of the excess of abusive and sexist opposition they were targeted with.

Even closer to home, someone close to me has had to respond to horrible inappropriate social media posts coming from a relative. Ironically, in trying to respond in a constructively critical way, she/he has been accused of being an attacker.

Then, finally, I still hurt over some of the things that went on/go on in the church community I love. Hurtful rumours, blame, defensiveness, gossip,...all these destructive things go on wherever there are people. Even in gatherings of good and faithful people, we are often less than charitable or just with each other.

So, I was in a place to need encouragement. In 1 Thessalonians 3, Timothy has just returned from a trip to visit the Thessalonian church. His report back to Paul is about the faith and love he has encountered in the church. I don't believe the Thessalonians were perfect, I do believe that Timothy is focusing on the positives, and that has given everyone joy and energy.

When I think of the USA, my country of Canada, my province, my community, and my church, there are definitely problems. However, instead of letting those things keep me dragged down in the mire of complaint, I can chose to look to what is good. When I do that, I find so much to be thankful for.
In fact, if I make lists of problems and blessings that I experience, my list of positives far outstrips the negative.

This is not to say I am able to ignore the negatives, or remain quiet, it means that I am encouraged to work at them from a place of strength. In 1 Thessalonians, the early church community is suffering persecution-yet they are boosted up and able to keep working because they acknowledge the faith and love that surrounds them in the larger community. As a faith community we can do the hard work together because we have so much of what is good in common.

So, today I blog about the wrong scripture, not the one you will hear on Sunday. But it's a good place to start. Let's come to our worship on Sunday thanking God for the faith and love that surrounds us, thankful for our country, our communities, our church, and strengthened to continue the good work that benefits us all.

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Bones, broken promises, and new life.

For Nov. 6 2016, at First Mennonite Church. John 11:1-45, Ezekiel 37: 1-14.

Bones. Dead, dry, and disturbing because they hit us in the face with thoughts of mortality and helplessness in the face of death. We don't usually have to look at human bones because they are hidden under muscle and skin. When we see our bones, it means something has gone wrong. Something is horribly broken or long dead or neglected. We hurry to cover the bones up again with bandages or 6 feet of dirt. We don't want to see them and be reminded that things go wrong. It is unpleasant to feel responsible, or sad, or face up to brokenness.

Indigenous peoples know all about brokenness and cover-ups. Last week I had an opportunity to listen to Papaschase Chief, Calvin Bruneau, and Millwoods historian Catherine C. Cole talk about the history of the land that our church sits on. This land is part of Treaty 6, and is part of the parcel given to the Papaschase band as their reserve in the late 1800s. Through a variety of nefarious means, including starvation, money (scrip) tied to membership loss, government officials rewriting rules to "legally" remove rights, and settler pressure, members of the band had treaty rights taken away and they were scattered into the care of other bands-almost erased from history. For a quick summary of this history click on the link:


The scriptures today talk about the impossible, the dead coming back  to life. When I read these passages through the lens of the history I have just heard, they do come to life in new ways. I think of the bones Ezekiel looks at as the First Nations people who were almost erased from this land. The Papaschase are working hard to recover their history, to dig up both the physical and metaphorical bones of their people. Chief Bruneau has long been involved in the Rossdale burial site-where the remains of some of the original Papaschase inhabitants of Edmonton are buried He spoke of how, when there are construction projects in the Edmonton area, burial grounds are still sometimes uncovered. Sometimes the powers that be try to cover them up again-finding bones means slowing down construction projects. But maybe a bigger reason for the cover up is that if the bones are acknowledged, then the reality of a Papaschase people with roots and history and claims in this area must be acknowledged! The reality of broken promises and the responsibility for change is daunting, but of great and even sacred importance for all of us.

In both Ezekiel and John, new life seems impossible. It only happens when people listen to God, hope beyond hope, and acknowledge what God is doing.

I am particularly struck by the story of Lazarus. Jesus raises him from the dead, but then instructs the watching crowd, Lazarus' family, friends, and community, to "unbind him and let him go!" God does the impossible life-giving piece, but those around Lazarus have work to do now so that Lazarus can truly live among them again. Lazarus is alive, but the people around him have to acknowledge that, approach him, let him go, and then live with him among them.

The Papaschase people are alive, they are here. Are there ways that we, as their community and as fellow Treaty 6 people, can unbind them?

In July 2016, Mennonite Church Canada voted to 'repudiate the doctrine of discovery.' I think this is part of the important call to the work of unbinding. The doctrine of discovery is the colonial mindset (and laws) that allowed Christendom to claim superiority, to take lands and subjugate indigenous peoples. While we no longer officially claim these things, we have inherited a mindset of settler superiority and rights and racist attitudes that we are finally starting to understand and reject. The repudiation is a starting point, but seriously, the language of repudiation and doctrines (while important) sounds pretty stuffy and distant. How do we make it real and practical?

Here are some initial thoughts of how to start doing the work of repudiating/unbinding/partnering with our indigenous neighbours as we, together, come to new life.

1. Read the history. Support the uncovering of First Nations history that has been buried and hidden.
2. Listen to First Nations speakers, authors, historians....without offering a "fix." (We already have a long history of European settler "fixes" that have not been helpful. If something new is to happen, we have to stop doing things the same old ways.)
3. As our church considers what to do with our parcel of land, how can we acknowledge who this land was stolen from? What is our responsibility now that we have knowledge?
4. Stop complaining, and blaming, and naming. Listen.
5. Be willing to consider giving something up, or back, in the name of reconciliation.
6. Read the recommendations coming out of the Truth and Reconciliation process.
7.Find out about the issues in your neighbourhood or province and speak up. (For example: recent news reports have said that indigenous schools in the North receive less funding per student than other public schools. This is wrong and we should speak out.)

Other ideas?


https://dofdmenno.org/  a website with good, up to date anabaptist thoughts and resource

Wrongs to Rights. A special 2016 issue of "INTOTEMAK" magazine that engages the question; "How churches can engage the United Nations declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples." Our church library has a copy, and it can also be obtained through the Common Word Bookstore (this is our Mennonite Church Canada Resource Centre. Google will take you there.)

Buffalo Shout, Salmon Cry. Edited by Steve Heinrichs. 2013. Herald Press. A collection of essays and responses dealing with; "conversations on creation, land justice, and life Together." Our church library has a copy, Common Word Bookstore has it too.