I made this 4-minute film when asked to illustrate the Gospel lesson “The Good Samaritan” at the 2018 Eastern Synod Assembly. Here it is….
Friday, all three former railway employees involved in the terrible tragedy at Lac-Mégantic were acquitted. Most locals didn’t want them convicted. Even though the three men have admitted they bear some responsibility in the loss of 47 lives, everyone knows the fault lies higher up, with what the Bible calls the ‘principalities and powers’. If there was a Jonah for Lac-Mégantic, the prophet wouldn’t be in that little village. Jonah would be walking through parliament, in an Ottawa whose successive governments, Liberal and Conservative, let regulation go slack, and through Wall Street, or wherever the now bankrupt MMA Railway’s shareholders and executives live and work. Those are the people who should hear the call to repent. Some of those people might – actually – be you and me. We think ethical investment is an option. Is it, really? In light of Lac-Mégantic? Would Jonah have a word for us when we too, value financial returns over human life?
If we were really free, then fear and desire would not be so powerful. Jesus said: You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free. And when we really take a moment to look closely, the ideas that imprison us are lies.That the clothes make the woman or man. That we can solve an unhappiness inside with some form of success, that winning the lottery can make anyone happy, that the busier we are, the more important we are. That we need to be afraid of those different from us. That we can survive without love, or others. Lies, one and all. 500 years ago, Martin Luther’s great insight was that all that we need, we’ve ALREADY been given.We do not need to buy what is already ours, free. We human beings are not perfect. True. But we don’t need to be. And the people who say we should be, are playing games. Follow them and we’re buying into a cycle that will keep us forever trapped. Luther said that, thanks to our Creator, love is free. Not only that, but it’s also freeING. There’s a side-effect: the more we realize we don’t have to prove anything, the more we’re free to work for love and justice, for others. We’re not just free from. We’re free for. We’re free to make the world a better place by standing up against injustice and intolerance. Intolerance always plays on that same fear. If Jesus taught us not to be afraid, we don’t need to be fearful. We can break the control that others – especially politicians, these days, in the United States but also here in Quebec – try to have over us, using our fears.
Triumphalism is gloating. It’s me going by you on the highway, seeing you have a flat tire and saying to someone: “they deserve that.” We Canadians are more than a touch smug right now. Justin Trudeau may not be perfect. But he’s not Donald Trump. The world loves us, not so much for who we are, but for who we’re NOT. And we lap up the credit. Or triumphalism is those of us who are Euro-Canadian saying that we tend to live a richer and healthier life than many First Nations people because we somehow are smarter, or work harder, or something. When in fact, the truth is that people like me get an education and a good diet and many of these breaks because we are living off the ill-gotten gains of land that was stolen from the First Nations to give to our ancestors. And we have the gall to give ourselves credit. The same is true of this Gospel, written after the destruction of the Temple. Therefore, Jesus says to the Chief Priests and Elders, because of how you’ve treated the Son, I tell you this: the Kingdom of heaven will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces fruit. It’s been two thousand years since this supercessionist – and awful – text was written. In that time, has the official, institutional Church done any better than ancient Judea? No! The opposite: have we crucified those who were only seeking freedom? Yes. Have we stood idly by while the innocent suffered? You bet. Have we rejected love? Constantly. Reading this text shouldn’t make us smug. Christians are NOT God’s replacement for the Jews. What we are, is extremely fortunate we’re included in the family. And that, right there, seems the best way to eliminate self-righteousness. This is a perfect reading for a Thanksgiving weekend. The moment you and I take the time to think about how unbelievably fortunate we are, is the same moment smugness disappears. Happy Thanksgiving.
When I read Enn Raudsepp’s book Vändra, it was eye opening. The novel makes it very clear that Estonians have rarely been able to live on their own land. In the Middle Ages, German landowners came and took over everything, making the Estonians serfs and peasants. Then the Soviets came, again and again. Today is “Red Army Sunday”. If anyone knows about strangers taking over land, it should be Estonians. They know, as do the First Nations here in Canada, what it is to have foreigners pushing you out. Estonians know what an injustice that is. Estonians should, then, also know that the right thing, the loving and just thing, is to name that injustice for what it is, even here and now in Canada. So you, mortal, says Ezekial, you I have made a sentinel for the house of Israel; whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you should give a warning. I guess we who are Christians are not quite over the “should” stage. We should identify injustice, not just at the end of the Second World War, but also now. We SHOULD develop solidarity and empathy for people who are not like us. In that way, the reign of justice, of our God, begins already, in a very small way, here and now.
Consider this: when we think of the participation of Canadian churches in the decimation of the First Nations, we repent of residential schools and the 60s scoop. But it started even earlier. Christian missionaries, both Catholic and Protestant, were among those who urged the Saulteaux, the Cree, the Blackfoot, the Assiniboine and others to make treaty with Ottawa, right around that 150-years-ago date Canadians are celebrating this year. “Christian Indians” (as they were called), influenced by their priests and ministers who attended the negotiations, urged their traditionalist brothers and sisters such as Mistahi-maskwa (Big Bear) to take treaty. Since Christians were so crucial in brokering the numbered treaties, shouldn’t Christians have a special responsibility, now, in making sure they’re upheld? (with others, I will be walking the Battleford Trail in August 2017 to draw attention to an often forgotten part of Saskatchewan, and Canadian, history. For more info, see shfs.ca)
The more things change, the more they’re the same. Some of us tend to idolize Luther. But scholars point out he’s only important because he came at a kind of tipping-point. Despite the significant, obvious differences, we live in a similar time. There is again, as there was during the European Reformation, a revolution happening in social media. There is again, as there was in the 16th century, a kind of apocalyptic feeling in the air, a shock-wave of anxiety at the rapid pace of change. There are again various forms of political uprisings and revolts among the disadvantaged. Remarkably, there is a similar fear of the Muslim world’s influence on Europe, a fear stoked for political reasons by leaders in the West. There is, again, an important wing of Christianity (this time found on television and online) that offers to the gullible and the afraid, salvation in exchange for money. Cities are still the crucibles of social, economic and technological transformation. And there is again, as at the time of the Reformation, a church caught in the middle, and unsure of the way forward.
Voters these days seem more and more lazy and irrational. We are addicted to the easy sugar of slogans and of self-serving lies. Through history, to our shame, Christians have also been dangerously irrational. But always, thankfully, some of the faithful have also been NON-rational – not IRRational, – but non-rational, in a positive and difficult, discipleship, way; that is, revelatory, narrative and reaching for a dream that may never be realized, but makes life better in the meantime. Loving your neighbour, doing good for no return, giving up privilege for the sake of those who have none – these are also non-rational actions. They follow a dream of service, not selfishness. Luther wrote: ‘We are God’s work, and God’s poem. God himself is the Poet; we are the verses God creates (LW 7:366)”. When we embrace this kind of non-rational openness, we open ourselves, not to slogans and lies, but to art, visions, and transformative dreams.
I remember the first time I drove with GPS. I heard a word I’d never heard before: Recalibrating. You’re going one way when maybe, you should have been going another. The machine doesn’t fuss, or fret, or blame you. You could go off a cliff and it would just…recalibrate. Do not be afraid, says the angel to the two Marys who had come to anoint the body. RECALIBRATE. THAT was the message to the women who came to the tomb. The path your life is about to take, the angels said, is different from the one you had planned. Something has happened. Something dangerously hopeful. Recalibrate. After Jesus dies, it says in Matthew’s Gospel that the city leaders ask for a guard for the tomb. Matthew’s the only Gospel to recount this. “We want to make sure that his disciples don’t come to steal the body,” they say, “Otherwise his disciples will claim that he’s been raised, so the last deception will be greater than the first.” That phrase has always stuck with me. How can we, who celebrate this day, answer people who believe that we ARE living a deception? How about this? What’s unrealistic is NOT Easter. What’s unrealistic is our death-denying, hiding-the-facts-from-ourselves society claiming we’re never get older, just better. Some deny resurrection. But then we swallow the big lie that there’s no death, period. What’s unrealistic is paying hundreds of dollars for creams to hide our aging, or living in a world where the contents of a dumpster are entertainment on TV. What’s unrealistic is people who call themselves Christian who celebrate the world’s biggest bomb and never think about the fact that all that shiny metal is designed to blow human bodies up. The Marys were on their way to anoint a dead body when they were surprised by life. Like my experience learning to drive with a GPS unit for the first time, our Creator sometimes knows the path better than we do. Life comes THROUGH death. Do not be afraid. Life can triumph. The way can be recalibrated. Christ is risen. He is risen indeed.
you can pre-register (and maybe win some swag) at: Reformation and the City