ELCIC

Mapping with our Feet: Session 2

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In Feb 2017 I was invited by Bishop Michael Pryse to be the keynote speaker at the Bishops’ Retreat for Clergy, held at Niagara Falls. This is the second of my three presentations (the first is at somethinggrand.ca). To enter this PDF powerpoint, click the link below!

session-2-powerpoint

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Again the Call

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‘Wait and see what Trump does.’ How many times have we heard that, lately. Such terrible uncertainty. Everywhere. But hasn’t it always been that way? Jesus called the first disciples during brutal military occupation. Martin Luther became a monk and then a reformer  during societal earthquakes. Martin Luther King was who he was because he lived out his dream during, and precipitating, crises that shook the world. And so again the call.  This Jesus walks by us too. And says: ‘follow me. NOW is the time. Despite: no – because of – the risk. Follow me.’

All Souls

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My father died this August. All Souls, this year, is hitting me hard. ‘All that stuff about saints’, I remember hearing, growing up, ‘that’s just idolatry… worshipping false gods.’ Actually, I think the opposite is true. When we imagine that in this creation we’re somehow alone, that it’s all about ‘my God and me’, we make ourselves into idols. When we forget that ‘ashes to ashes and dust to dust’ applies to all of us we’re pretending to BE gods. When we act – what pride it takes! – as if we’ll live forever, we’re ignoring all those who have gone before. The truth is, we’ll always be in relationship with a world, animate and inanimate, that has experienced forgiveness and mercy and love before us, with us, and long after us. That’s the church. The one without walls, in either time or space. The boat, on the river of time.

Luther’s Long Shadow

My contribution to 500 years…

Luther's Long Shadow from Matthew Anderson on Vimeo.

What comes naturally

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A few years ago my daughter called me from a soccer field, telling me she’d been hurt. I picked up crutches and met her at the field. “Thank-you, Daddy,” she kept saying to me as I helped her up. “Thank-you for coming.” So you also, Jesus says, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say “We are but slaves. We have only done what we ought to have done!” Let me rephrase. Who among you, who is a parent or a step-parent or a grand-parent or an aunt or an uncle, would expect one of the children in your life in an emergency to thank you for coming to their aid? Would you not rather say to that child: “you’re welcome my daughter, my niece, but really I’m only doing what any adult in this situation ought to do?” I felt a bit ashamed. After all, where else would I WANT to be? Jesus is making the point that there are certain things that are just part of the deal. They’re supposed to be part of our basic identity. One night, years ago when I had a house, I left the water running on my grass by accident and went to sleep. My neighbor, who arrived home late, saw it and came over and turned it off. When he told me the next day and I thanked him, he just shrugged: “I’m your neighbour,” he said. “That’s what neighbours do.” Feed the hungry, says Jesus. Clothe the poor, visit the sick, seek justice for the marginalized and powerless…and do it all while being thankful for what you have, trying to live in love. You and I, said Jesus, should just shrug and say: that’s just what we’re supposed to do. Imagine a world where it could be that natural. Truth is…it can.

 

The Threshold

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A gate is an entry point. Or, depending on how you look at it, an exit point. Either way, a threshold is a place of potential, of encounter. It can also be a place to decide against encounter. Then Jesus said to his disciples. ‘There was a rich man dressed in purple and fine linen who feasted sumptuously every day. At his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus. The rich man in his house. The poor man at his gate. Miles apart – even only a few feet. Doors – gates, borders – our liminal places – are INCREDIBLY important. Where we are in relation to them says a lot about our theology. Lazarus never, ever, made it into the rich man’s home. And the rich man never chose to go to the border of his own comfort. Later in the story, he PLEADS to go to a gate – from hell back to his home, to warn his brothers. But it’s too late. Father Abraham, the rich man begs, Let me go. If someone crosses the threshold from death to life they will listen. To which Abraham replies: let them listen to the scriptures. At our margins and borders (dangerous places: crucifixions take place at the borders of cities) we risk change. But only there, outside our comfort zone, can we share in the blessing of Abraham.

 

 

Ahead of the Red Army Sunday

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Life of a Montréaler Dept: I find out today is Sunday is something called “Kodumaalt Lahkumise Jumalateenistus” (Leaving Estonia ahead of the advancing Russian Army Sunday). Such a thing exists? So I include prayers for modern-day refugees. As the Estonians file in for church, there are two visitors who happen to speak only Russian. What are the chances? They want to know if I will take their book, in Russian, and find a translator for the Finns, the other group I am responsible for. They may be Karelians with links to Finland, but I can’t tell. So I wave at the replacement organist for my Estonian service, who happens to have moved to Montreal from Ukraine. She comes over and they talk, in Russian, about the Finns, while I put the finishing touches on the Estonian-English liturgy about fleeing the Russians. Another day as a Lutheran in Montreal.

No Such Things as Miracles

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A week ago I woke up on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. I had my cell phone, which is a little black rectangle the size of my hand, on which I do my banking, take my pictures, shoot video, get directions when I’m traveling, write poetry, and check updates from high school friends I haven’t seen in 30 years, right by my bed. When I woke up I saw I had text messages from my kids in Montreal: ‘when are you coming home?’ ‘I’ll be there in a few hours,’ I wrote back. Crossing the Atlantic in a few hours? ‘Oh, okay,’ they wrote back. ‘C U later. We weren’t sure if it was today or tomorrow.’ I had breakfast in my hotel, got on a train that took me straight to the airport, where I had to stand in a machine that whirred around me and looked through my clothes and probably into my body cavities, to make sure that I wasn’t bringing anything bad on board. Then I filed onto a metal bird weighing hundreds of tons, as high on its wheels as my three-story apartment, and carrying as many people as live in many Canadian small towns. We went really, really fast down a runway until we lifted up into the air and through it at over 500 kilometres an hour. About two thirds of the way into the flight, I checked on a little screen in front of me and I saw that we were going right over Greenland. I’ve looked down from a plane before and you can see, on a clear day, the glaciers of Greenland and the mountain peaks. It’s a perspective that the ancient Vikings thought only the gods would ever have: looking down on the ball of the earth from five miles up. And then that huge mountain of metal safely landed, and I got home, and a week later looked at the texts for this Sunday. And I thought: this will never work. I have nothing to say. These texts are all about miracles. And there are no such things as miracles.

The Swedish UFO Society

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On the plane yesterday, coming home from Europe, I watched a film called “Ghost Rockets”. It was about a group of – mostly elderly, now –UFO watchers in Sweden. These are not crazy people. They have regular jobs. They think, for the most part, rationally. They expect that almost everything they hear of as strange will have some completely normal explanation. They believe in weather balloons and eyes playing tricks on people, on sightings of Venus or Jupiter or the Space Station fooling people. They are NOT conspiracy theorists or folks who believe in little green men. But as one of them says to the camera: “it would be a sad life if there weren’t things out there that we might someday understand, but we don’t quite understand yet. There are more mysteries in life that we realize.”

Faith, frankly, falls into the mystery category. And within that, part of the problem with the Trinity is that it seems to be an idea of something that, like UFOs, is more than a little hard to understand, much less believe. God, Jesus, Spirit. Three in one and one in three. But what does that mean? How all those three come together is something that has mystified and confused the best minds for thousands of years. And now, most of us simply don’t care enough about it to even bother. And yet…. There were two quite old men in particular that the film followed. At one point the two, old friends, are having tea, and one says to the other: you know, I’ve been doing this for thirty years and it’s just as exciting every time. And then he turns to the other and says: I don’t know if we will ever find anything. But my life is just so much richer for the fact of being curious. Isn’t it a wonderful thing just to be curious, to want to know more?

Seek me, says the Creator, and I may be found. Emphasis on the ‘may’. Look for me, and I will be there. Use your brains – and your imaginations, and your arts and your poetry and your worship and your wonder. The point is that love comes in at least three shapes. Whatever else it is, will sustain our search, like those Swedes, to old age and beyond.

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Fear and Loathing in Fort McMurray

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I’ve never been to Fort McMurray. Some of my relatives have lived there and worked there, but I’ve never seen the place. I’ve heard lots of stories. Do you see the shovel on this machine? Well, in Fort McMurray you could drive a city bus onto the shovel of some of those giant earth-movers. EVERYTHING was bigger – and usually better – in Fort Mac. The myth – not always the reality – was of a land of golden opportunity and huge trucks and six-foot flat screen TVs and drinking and gambling and appetites. A bust and boom, fortunes-won and fortunes-lost place. Our own version of Texas. And now so much of it is gone. Burnt out vehicles, homes turned to cinders. Playgrounds that look like bomb sites. There’s no question it’s a disaster. All those families who only had time to load up the car and run, all those brave emergency workers. But what’s ALSO telling, at least for me, is the reaction of the rest of us. I’m ashamed to say it took me, for one, a little while to develop my empathy. Maybe that’s in part because I hadn’t really realized the scope of the disaster. But it’s also more. It was, quite wrongly, a holdover reaction to Fort McMurray the BOOM town. Is it right to feel that? Not for a second. What does such a reaction tell us about the Gospel and about ourselves? What it tells us is we don’t yet understand how love is supposed to work. Luther once said that we need to hear the Gospel every day. Why? Because, he said, we FORGET the gospel every day.

The problem is not Fort McMurray the boom town. Just like the problem is not the nature of the Syrian refugees or the North African boat people. Compassion is not out there somewhere, dependent on whatever biases we have about the recipients of our kindnesses and whatever fads of the day motivate us. Compassion is supposed to be HERE, in US, unmoveable and constant. For the people of Jesus it’s supposed to be the one defining characteristic. They will know you by your love, said Jesus. Which also means, I guess, that without love they will NOT know Christians, nor whom Christians serve. In this latest disaster, the followers of the crucified one are challenged, again, as always happens, to reach out in care and compassion. They need us. But the truth is that WE also need THEM, and also need, again and again, to remember ourselves: to be our best, the ones we were created to be, reaching out and helping, doing our part and more, in love.