politics

Here’s to a positive, difficult non-rationality

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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.

Recalibrating

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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.

 

 

Anything can be Written like Scripture

Here are three examples I wrote for students. The assignment is to write a forgery, using a contemporary subject, of a fragment of a Gospel or of a scriptural apocalypse. The students are supposed to pay attention to the aims, the characteristic language, the themes and the style of the originals, and mimic those. These are my three!

A “Lord of the Rings/Hobbit” themed story, based on Luke 22:24 and following (a fragment from a Gospel)

 

A dispute arose among the travellers to Mordor about which of them was the greatest. The elves said: “We are immortal, and surely there is no greatness more desirable than this.” The dwarves said: “We are strong, and connected to the earth. Nothing is greater than the earth and its treasures.” The men and women kept silent, for they did not know what to say – they were weaker than the dwarves and short-lived: a man’s span is four-score and ten at most. But Gandalf called them together and said to them: “The lords of the Sauron lord it over their subjects. But it is not to be so among you. And then he took Frodo, the hobbit, by hand, and led him into the middle of the circle. “Rather,” Gandalf went on, “the greatest among you must become as the smallest, and the strongest as the weakest. It is the hobbit who is the greatest, for he will save us all.”

 

A Justin Trudeau political story based on Revelation 10: 1-10

And I saw a mighty lord coming down from the mountains of British Columbia, his smile like sunshine and a rainbow banner over his head; his face was that of an angel, and his body that of an athlete. He held a scroll in his right hand, and an eagle-feather from the First Nations in his hair, and when I inquired of my guide what the parchment might be, the guide said to me: “It is the last will and testament of his father, the Trudeau-who-was-before.” And setting his right foot on the sea of the Juan de Fuca strait, and his left foot on the land of Departure Bay, he gave a great shout, like the call of a grizzly bear. And as he shouted a sentence in both English and French, the three main political parties shuddered, and the fourth, a green beaver, hiccupped. And at the sound, I was about to write what I had heard, but the guide said to me: “Do not write what was just uttered. Rather, seal it up, and leave it for the second term.” And then the leader, who had a maple leaf across his chest and the words “Justin” over his forehead, held out his hand with the scroll upon it. And there was, I saw, also blood upon his head, and the guide said to me “That is the blood of the battles that are to come.” And then the guide said, “take the parchment from his hand.” And I did, and it looked handsome, but burnt my skin, like fire.

 

A personal family story based on Matthew 5, the beatitudes

When my grandmother saw the crowds of neighbours, she went up into the kitchen, and she sat down, and her daughters came to her. And she began to speak to them, and taught them, saying:

Blessed are you if you remember what you are worth, for no man will ever give you a value you do not give yourself.

Blessed are you when you suffer, as you will, for suffering builds character, and those whom adversity does not destroy, it strengthens

Blessed are you when you earn your own money. Keep some to the side, for the rainy days will come soon and often, and the dawning ease of childhood is short-lived

Blessed are you when you take up the cause of the poor and those with illnesses of the mind; there, but for the grace of God, go all of us.

Blessed are you when you remember me, and your father, and my parents, and your father’s parents, for you will remember then that you are rooted in a name and a tradition

Blessed are you when you put your hands into the soil, for you will be connected to what we are made of, and the matter to which we all return.

You are like a windmill on the farm. If no wind blows, the windmill cannot turn, and you cannot produce energy, or draw water. So always turn your face toward the winds of the spirit, and feel them in you, and you will be happy.

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Mapping with our Feet, Session 3: the desire for transformation

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In February 2017, Bishop Michael Pryse invited me to be the keynote speaker for the Bishops’ Retreat for Clergy, held at Niagara Falls ON. This is the third of the three sessions (the first is at somethinggrand.ca). To enter the powerpoint PDF, click on the link below!

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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

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.’

The Surprise

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Chagall window, Chicago

God’s mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation, says Mary. NOT “God’s mercy is for the rich”. She didn’t say that. NOT God’s mercy is for the upper-class. She didn’t say that either. And neither did she congratulate the selfish who are increasingly rewarded in our society and by our politicians (and apparently, by our votes): the influence-peddlers and the professors in their offices and the business-people in their downtown towers. For the mighty one of Israel, Mary said, has brought down the powerful and lifted up the lowly. God has filled the hungry with good things and  sent the rich away empty. Notice that word: empty. You and I –we’ve already had enough. Advent is about who we see and who we ignore, an announcement about place and privilege. It’s about justice. It’s about how much a cup of coffee costs, and who manufactures our shoes, and whether some government committee paid for by our taxes cuts funding for social programs. And it’s about our political and economic and environmental opinions just as much as our religious opinions. Because the surprise we’d better learn now, is that those things cannot be separated.

Luther’s Long Shadow

My contribution to 500 years…

Luther's Long Shadow from Matthew Anderson on Vimeo.

Why Religion and Politics should Mix

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A friend of mine was recently riding his bicycle when he was pulled over by the police. He was on the sidewalk, which is illegal. But. He was also going through the Atwater underpass, where there is no bike lane, and LOTS of scary traffic. In some spots there are just inches to spare between you and the cars. A driver swerves slightly, and they’ll knock you down. Not to mention the potholes. You may remember that a cyclist died not long ago going through an underpass like Atwater. After that, the mayor of Montreal, among other people, has told cyclists that they should take the sidewalk on those small stretches in underpasses where NOT to do so would be dangerous.

Apparently the Montreal police haven’t been listening to the mayor. When my friend came through the underpass on the sidewalk, the police were waiting. They pulled him over and hit him with a fifty-dollar ticket. As it turned out, however, that was only the first of his problems.

Give us your ID, the police said to him. Now. My friend is a nice guy. In his fifties. Grey hair. Clean-shaven, riding his bicycle home from his job downtown. Maybe even wearing his dress shirt, and a tie. But he knows the law, and so he said to the police: “I’ll give you my name and address so you can send me the ticket. But the law states I don’t have to give you my ID. No Canadian has to surrender their ID on demand to the police unless they’re being placed under arrest.”

He was right.

However, right isn’t always what’s important, apparently. Within seconds the Montreal City Police had my friend handcuffed, his hands behind his back. They marched him into the back of a police van. They started yelling into his face. Telling him he would be thrown in jail for obstructing justice. Telling him he was going to get a police record and never be able to cross the border into the United States again.

They searched his pockets, pulled out a USB stick that he had, and then, right in front of his eyes, broke it in half. All because he wanted his legal rights.

They say religion and politics don’t mix. Whoever said that didn’t know the Bible. My friend is not religious. But I’m saying that faith has something to say to what you and I should think of a situation like that. In fact, religion and politics mix ALL THE TIME.

Then all the elders of Israel gathered together, it says in the Bible, and they came to Samuel at Ramah, and said to him: appoint for us a king.

Samuel tried to tell them.

            You don’t WANT a king, the old prophet said to them. Rulers are a BAD idea. Rulers will do what they do best. They’ll tax you. They’ll form a police who will oppress you. They’ll make you slaves. They’ll take your children and put them in their armies and then your children won’t come home. A government will take your money, your food, your security and eventually, sometimes, your life. And they’ll do all this, just because they’re rulers, and you’re not. Are you sure you want a king?

And the people of ancient Israel said: Yes.

You know what they say: be careful what you wish for. Because now what are WE, and most people in the so-called developed countries asking for? Security. And we’re being asked if we’re willing to pay what that dream might cost.

True faith has never been particularly comfortable with governments. Now – for me to say that is controversial. It’s not an opinion everyone shares. But there’s a reason why the Bible says: “God is a jealous god.” and “You shall have no other gods.” It’s idolatry to mix up our faith with nationalism. The Kings were NOT good for Israel. Similarly, there’s a reason why Jesus died the way he did. Jesus did NOT die helping plague victims. Jesus was killed by a state, and in the name of law and order. Jesus was executed, as a troublemaker (remember my friend) by a legal government. A government, by the way, that was promising peace, prosperity and security.

Hmm.

Just before Jesus died something else happened that was interesting. The Gospels say that Pilate led Jesus out onto the pavement in front of the mob: “Would you have me crucify your King?” Pilate asked. And the crowds, although they didn’t know it, echoed the ancient Israelites. Jesus stood right there, in front of them. And they shouted back: “We have no king but Caesar!”

In other words, one more time people picked a man over their Creator.

The point here isn’t any specific government. The point is about giving up what the Creator first gave us – ourselves. This whole issue is about sovereignty. According to the Bible, we human beings are created in the image of God. We were given sovereignty over ourselves, in order to freely serve our neighbors, including animals and the natural world. And yet, rather than think like saints, rather than act as agents of love just a little lower than the angels, rather than risk uncertainty, most of us quickly give ourselves up voluntarily to corporations or parties or whatever else tends to enslave us. We trade ourselves for convenience.

But the prophet says to us: We do not have to be like the other nations.

This last week the Truth and Reconciliation Commission publicly released its report in Ottawa. Whatever else you might think about this or that provision, the BASIC thing that’s being asked for, the bottom line, is simply one thing: justice.

Governments – of ALL stripes – have been very bad at giving that. Apparently the Conservative minister of Indian affairs refused to stand with others when it came time to applaud the call for changes in legislation. If the prophet Samuel had been in Ottawa, he’d have said to us, ‘well, what do you expect?’ Power doesn’t help the weak. Power tends to serve power. Which is precisely why if we are children of faith, we need to act in a DIFFERENT way from rulers and governments. We need to be COUNTER-cultural. We need to take a stand for others, and with others. We need to identify and then help overcome what every state, of every political persuasion, will do to thwart justice.

Be careful what you wish for says Samuel. It’s good advice. Think about your democratic vote as a theological choice. Do we really want security at any price, including losing our own freedom? Do we really want a slightly better income at the cost of poisoning the environment? Do we really want to save a few dollars at the cost of historic injustices to the First Nations that can and should be overcome?

My friend sat in the police van for about 45 minutes. Other cyclists would come by, get their tickets, and look at him sitting there, handcuffed. “They looked scared,” my friend said. Like they were thinking: ‘what did HE do?’

But harassment didn’t win out over justice. Eventually, my friend said, a policeman came back to see him. It probably didn’t hurt that my friend had no record, and had never been in trouble with the law. The officer took off his handcuffs. When my friend asked what he was supposed to do next, the officer told him to get lost. The irony is that in the end, he didn’t even get the ticket.

Our Creator asks us to look beyond ourselves to a better world. A world that doesn’t depend on peace and security from Ottawa – or anywhere else. For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed says Paul, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands. So we do not lose heart.

There have been, and will be wrongs. That’s the world’s system. But our faith tells us that we are to stand, as Jesus did, with those who need justice. Religion and politics SHOULD mix. It’s time for us to get over wishing for a king. We can wish for justice and for peace, instead. And then do what we can to help make it happen.