The refiner’s fire

Text: Mark 10:35-45 (a second baptism)

Does spiritual growth have to involve suffering? Does following Jesus always imply pain and loss?

In the conversation involving James, John and Jesus that we heard today, Jesus uses the metaphors of cup and baptism. He is not talking about an everyday drinking cup or about his baptism in the River Jordan. He is talking about his crucifixion in Jerusalem that will occur just a few days after James and John make their request to sit at Jesus’ right and left hand in his glory.

Jesus says that his friends will drink from the cup he is about to drink and endure the second baptism he is about to endure. This implies that they too will undergo a baptism that will be like a crucifixion, a daunting prospect if there ever was one.

It is also a prospect that runs against the idea that Jesus does the work of healing for us. Many churches teach that one merely has to believe in the cross to be saved for eternal life.

Since I do not find this teaching plausible, I am glad that it is contradicted by today’s passage. Jesus walks a path of death and resurrection as our role model and companion. But even after his death and resurrection, we still have to walk the path ourselves. As in many other places, in today’s reading Jesus says that in order to save our lives we must lose them. To achieve greatness, we have to spend ourselves in loving service to others.

Happily, losing our lives does not always involve the pain of crucifixion!

The forms that baptisms by fire take vary. Sometimes, they involve pain. But with grace they lead us to greater love, peace and joy. They do so by lifting us out of our small, anxious selves into a deeper connection with God and neighbour. Any difficulties or pains we undergo in such baptisms are more than compensated by the relief they offer from our ego’s fears and desires.

Examples of second baptism include parenting, social justice work, charitable outreach, engagement with works of art, communion with nature, and acceptance of loss. Anything that helps us realize that our ego, with all its anxieties and impossible-to-fill desires, is an illusion can function as a second baptism.

Not all spiritual growth involves suffering. Nor does all suffering lead us to new life. But the presence of suffering is a sign that transformation is probably available.

I have been suffering for the past two years, and I am sad to report that it has not led to new life. My suffering strikes some as odd or unnecessary since it is about social change. I feel distress because movements that spread fear of Muslims, immigrants, and sexual and gender minorities have brought to power leaders who pursue racist, sexist, and violent policies. They include Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines, Viktor Orban in Hungary, Donald Trump in the United States, and Doug Ford in Ontario.

The upset I feel at the victory of such leaders has led me to wonder if I have wandered off a path of death and resurrection.

From a young age, I tried to place my identity at a social level. When oppressed groups and nations rose out of bondage, I cheered; but when events swung in the opposite direction, I suffered.

When I see rising levels of literacy, the overthrow of despotic governments, greater autonomy for women, and the eradication of deep poverty, I feel at peace. At such moments, it seems easy to let go of my small self.

I had thought that placing my identity in humanity was a way to rise above ego. In seeking union with all people, I believed that I could lay down my ego at the end of life and to see this as God’s amazing grace. But with sharp increases in racism, sexism, and violence – developments that also seem to close off the possibility of solving issues like climate change and war – I struggle to see Grace. I may be suffering as a result, but I am not transforming.

So, it seems that I have some work to do.

This week, I subscribed to a daily online meditation from the American Franciscan priest and writer Richard Rohr. I have always appreciated his writing, and I went to his website looking for ideas for my Continuing Education plans in 2019. Rohr runs a retreat and education centre in New Mexico called the Centre for Action and Contemplation.

This week, the theme in Rohr’s emails was suffering. He quoted from a variety of spiritual writers who raise up the ideas that failure is the path of transformation and that darkness and woundedness are our primary teachers.

In the past, I might have fond it easy agree with this. Critical moments of broken-heartedness, failure, and helplessness have, with grief and grace, led me closer to faith, hope and love.

But now in the face of the reality that hundreds of millions of people are willing to support ignorant and unstable bullies who pursue policies of ethnic cleansing, the oppression of women, and political violence, I am unsure. The fact that such leaders get enthusiastic support from fundamentalists – whether Christian, Muslim, or other – makes the situation more difficult.

Perhaps foolishly, I look for signs that the cultural tides are turning. Last week, I took one news story as such a sign.

The reaction to the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Kashoggi by Saudia Arabia in Turkey on October 2 might be a turning point. Kashoggi’s murder is shaking the close ties between the United States and Saudi Arabia in a way that other horrors – such as the brutal suppression of civil rights in the kingdom, Saudi support for a 2013 military coup in Egypt, and the proxy war that Saudi Arabia is fighting against Iran in Yemen with tens of thousands of deaths – have not.

Perhaps this is because Kashoggi resided in the United States, spoke English, and wrote for a prestigious newspaper. Whatever the reason, I welcome the push back his case represents against the murder of critics by dictators despite the praise that President Trump heaps on every dictator he meets.

This push back reminds me that the same people who today are flocking to support racist and sexist bullies can in other circumstances suddenly swing towards compassion, truth, and solidarity. It has happened many times before, and it will surely happen again.

I pray that the energy of young activists helps precipitate such shifts soon. Perhaps leaders like Vladimir Putin, Duterte, and Trump who have been able to get away with so many outrages will soon find themselves reviled by their former supporters.

But if this doesn’t happen soon enough for my liking, I hope that I can still find a way back to a path of death and resurrection. Assuredly, this would involve empathizing with victims – with assaulted women whose truth and pain is dismissed; with refugees who languish in danger as the borders of rich countries close; with families of dissidents who are murdered or imprisoned by the world’s strongmen; and so on.

It might also involve giving up ambitions. I thought I had escaped the trap of egotism by transferring my ambitions to society – to the collective creativity and productivity of humanity, and by locating grace and joy in the end of poverty, ignorance and oppression.

But now I wonder if I have to realize that success and failure are illusions at both the individual and social level. Instead of success or failure, there is just reality in all its messiness. Nor are the people of the world our brothers and sisters only when they behave they way I want. They are our siblings even when many of them are filled with racist fear and sexist rage. If I am to love my neighbours, I have to love them in all circumstances.

Imagine if the Saudi monarchy like Russia and North Korea gets away with the murder of its critics? Imagine if lies, racism, and sexism continue to help bullies gain power around the world? Imagine if climate change is not slowed.

Would such a world mark the end of a Christ-like path of faith, hope and love? No, for even as we support values of truth, fairness and compassion and even as we work for peace with justice, reality will force us to rise above desires for so-called success and above fears of so-called failure. Reality may cause us to suffer. Nevertheless, Christ calls us to transformation and love.

Life is about more than our egos; and it about more than the collective health of humanity. Life is about grace, joy and love, which are available in this as in any moment, right here and now.

In this life, we may be forced to drink many cups that taste bitter. We may undergo many baptisms by fire. We may find ourselves dying to illusions over and over again, sometimes with pain and grief. But we trust that our souls and spirits will be lifted to greater beauty, truth, and love.

Jesus has shown us a Way. He promises to walks with us on it. And we trust that he will be with us as the Risen Christ when the fires of our suffering have refined us into a unity more Sacred and beautiful than our egos could ever imagine.

Thanks be to God. Amen

Below is the “preamble” to worship that provides some context for the above sermon — Ian

This week Liliana asked me how we decide on themes for our Sunday morning gatherings. I replied that they often flow from the season of the church year. For instance, the four Sundays before Christmas form the Season of Advent, and by tradition these four have the themes of Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love.

In the first five years of my ministry, I also sought inspiration in a biblical reading cycle called the Revised Common Lectionary. Many churches around the world follow this three-year reading list. It suggests one reading each Sunday from the Old Testament, a Psalm, a passage from the letters of Paul, Peter, James, or John, and a passage from one of the four Gospels. I usually only chose one of the four, with a strong bias towards the Gospel reading, although sometimes I chose two and very infrequently three or all four.

However, I decided to abandon the Lectionary two years ago given that another central inspiration for our gatherings is what is happening in the world; and with the election of the 45th President of the United States in November 2016, the world entered a new era, in my opinion. His election and the success of other racist and sexist leaders revealed that the level of fear and rage among a substantial minority of people had reached such a height that tribal conflicts had retaken centre stage in society, and often in our hearts.

So, since then, I have created short or long sermon series, and searched for a Bible reading or two that might fit the theme. For instance, in September I led a three-week series on Paul’s spiritual virtues of faith, hope and love. Following that, we had three weeks related to a Stewardship campaign, with readings suggested by the national church.

But looking at the rest of October and November, no sermon series came to my mind. So, I decided to return to the Lectionary. This morning, the passage Barb will read for us in a few minutes, Mark 10:35-45, is the Gospel reading assigned by the Lectionary to October 21, 2018, the 29th Sunday after Pentecost 2018. I find a lot of inspiration in this reading, which is about the idea of a challenging second baptism, and I look forward to reflecting on it.

As I prepared my remarks, I wondered when I had previously preached on this text. So, I did a search on my sermon blog. This is one reason why I publish the texts of my sermons on a blog each Sunday – so that I have easy access to what I have written in the past. When I searched for Mark 10:35-45, I found that I first preached on this text six years ago on October 21, 2012 when I was in my first posting as a minister, in Borderlands in Saskatchewan. Given the three-year nature of the Lectionary, the timing is not a surprise. That sermon made what I think was a clever reference to a heartbreaking last-second defeat for the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the 2009 Grey Cup.

Also not surprising was the date of the second time I preached on this text, which was three years ago on October 18, 2015. In that one, I preached about the spiral trajectory of our lives as we endure the grace of one baptism by fire after another.

But what did surprise me was the third time, which was only eight months ago on February 25, 2018. In this case I used the text Mark 10:35-45 because of a controversial Dodge Ram ad that ran during the broadcast of this year’s Superbowl. The ad contained an audio excerpt of a sermon preached by the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. 50 years ago to the day of the Superbowl on February 4 1968, which was just two months before his assassination.

I had forgotten about this sermon! But given how much I find in today’s reading from Mark 10, I am OK to have chosen it again. I hope you get as much from listening to this reflection as I did in writing it.

As for the rest of our hour of prayer and song, I pray it will help us touch the joy that the many baptisms of life bring us as they help us rise above our anxieties and nto the wide vista of Love we call God.

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Worry and toil

Text: Matthew 6:25-33 (“the birds of the air”)

As a child, I was charmed by the words of Jesus we just heard. He says that we should be like birds and wildflowers that neither worry nor toil.

But despite the charm of this image, I wonder about it. Birds are hardly idle. Most of the time, they seem frantically busy. Nor do they always have a gentle and easy life. Some birds are predators, others are prey; and all of them have an existence as harsh and difficult as any other living thing.

The first Sunday that I preached in my settlement charge seven years ago in Saskatchewan, I ran into a yellow flicker as I raced between services in Coronach and Rockglen. Later that day, the act of yanking the corpse of this beautiful bird out of the grill of my car made it difficult to see birds as models of a worry-free existence within God’s providence.

Similar thoughts come to my mind when I hear Jesus’ statement that the lilies of the field do not toil. All day long, a lily turns its leaves towards the sun and uses its energy to produce sugar. All day long, its roots use this energy to pull water and nutrients out of the soil. Lilies look beautiful to the human eye — that is, when they haven’t been withered by drought, flattened by hail, or eaten by bugs. But like birds, they hardly seem idle to me.

The natural world is intricate and beautiful; but I do not think it illustrates God’s providence in the way that today’s reading might suggest.

Jesus’ words highlight both the similarities and the differences between humans and other species. Like wildflowers and birds, humans are biological creatures. As such, much of life unfolds automatically. Every moment, the trillions of cells that make up our bodies perform innumerable chemical actions without any conscious thought. In this sense, we are as blessed and as gifted as the birds of the air and the wildflowers of the field.

But unlike birds or flowers, humans also have a level of conscious thought. Language-based consciousness is a key factor that has allowed humans to develop complex societies over thousands of years.

One part of our conscious life we call toil – the work of sowing, reaping and spinning; and of baking, butchering, and candle-stick making. This work is not instinctual or unconscious. It is the joy and burden of economic life, and it is also a key place where we confront anxiety and worry.

We worry about many things related to the economy. This past week, the Dow Jones Index declined 1,000 points, and commentators wondered if the long run of economic growth that began in 2009 might be ending.

Also this past week, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published its latest report. It warned that the burning of fossil fuels is leading to earlier and more drastic pollution of the world’s oceans and atmosphere than previously thought.

Then there are everyday economic woes. We worry if our grandchildren will find a career in a complex job market. We worry if we will have sufficient savings for a comfortable retirement. We struggle with the stresses of our jobs, which can include boredom, commuting, office politics, and a fear that our work may not be meaningful enough.

So, we humans who work to make a living have many worries. And yet Jesus tells us that we should be as free as the birds.

Despite their frantic activity, birds and wildflowers live and die with minimal consciousness. Their existence — intricate and astonishing though it may be – is powered purely by instinct and genetic programming.

I am not suggesting that Jesus wants us to live without consciousness. Instead, I believe he is pointing us to a higher level where we might live with the effortless flow of birds and wildflowers while staying conscious and awake.

Jesus calls this higher level the kingdom of God. It is a realm where we see our individual lives in the context of all of humanity and the entire web of life.

Waking up to the reality of this level raises us above the concerns of ego. Our egos may be filled with anxiety. But in the realm of God — which we enter through caring for one another, spiritual practices, and the work of outreach and justice – helps us realize there is more to life than the turmoil of ego.

When we realize that worrying cannot add one hour to our life, we can let the Spirit of Life flow through us unobstructed. This does not mean that we cease caring for ourselves and others. It means that we can love from a position of trust. Each of us is a fragile and mortal individual who will suffer pain, injury and loss. But we trust that what we hold sacred survives our individual existence; and from this trusting place, sometimes our worries disappear.

Regardless of pain or pleasure, each moment reflects the same miraculous beauty we see in the birds of the air and flowers of the fields; and so we grow in gratitude and generosity. We give thanks to God as Source. We give thanks for the Risen Christ who lives within us. We give thanks for fellow pilgrims who walk with us as we struggle in joy to enter the kingdom of God. At its best, our service to family, church and neighbourhood flows effortlessly from this gratitude.

We try to love each moment, care for our children, and work for peace with justice. We do these things because they give life meaning and joy.

Life is a miraculous gift for which we give thanks; and because we trust that Love survives our death; and because we can enter God’s joyful kingdom in any moment of awe, solidarity, or compassion, we are able to relax.

Jesus is a companion who helps us trust in the Source and Spirit of Life and Love; and as people of faith, we can become as free from worry as the birds of the air and the flowers of the fields.

May it be so. Amen.

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Harvests of justice

Text: 2 Corinthians 9:10-15 (harvests of justice)

Harvest 2018 has been underway for weeks, and cold and wet weather has meant it has not always gone smoothly. We pray that the weather may yet allow most of the crop to be gathered in, and we give thanks for the efforts of farmers.

In today’s reading for Thanksgiving Sunday, Paul writes about harvests of justice. Other translations of his original Greek yield the phrases harvests of good deeds, harvests of righteousness, and harvests of fully-formed lives; and I appreciate all the translations.

Paul is saying that when we throw ourselves into serving others – as parents, as engaged citizens, and as members of a community of faith – we receive more than we give. The seeds of love that we sow yield the fruit of fully-formed lives, of being right with God, and of justice.

Nothing is more worthy, Paul argues, than losing ourselves in the service of the community in the name of love. Planting seeds of love yields rich harvests, which move us to offer thanks and praise.

When a family conflict ends in understanding, respect, and reconciliation, we give thanks. When a social movement overthrows a tyrant, we rejoice. When a church stewardship campaign brings new energy to outreach projects and makes the coffers overflow, we are pleased.

Unfortunately, we don’t always get the results we desire. Family members sometimes suffer despite our best intentions. Churches don’t always flourish even when we pour our hearts and souls into them. People go to bed hungry every night despite our outreach efforts.

So, what happens when the harvest is not successful? Do we sell the farm? Do we stop trying to grow in love with our family? Do we close the church and find something else to do with our Sunday mornings and Tuesday evenings? Do we yield the floor to bullies and abusers?

To be frank, sometimes we do step back. Sometimes creating family peace becomes impossible. Sometimes confronting poverty feels like banging one’s head against a wall. Sometimes, movements for equality and freedom are derailed; and at such times, we may need to take a break.

Perhaps you’ve been there. I certainly have. In my family of origin, there have been times when I distanced myself from my siblings. Happily, this hasn’t been permanent. As our parents aged and then died, I am glad that the five of us have been able to reconnect. But the periods of distance seemed necessary at the time.

The struggle for justice has also been tough for me. In this world of woes and wonders, I have put a lot of effort into working for peace, equality, and freedom.

In university, I threw myself into left-wing causes. But in my early 20’s, I decided to write off the years of blood, sweat and tears I had devoted to them. My crisis was about feminism. I had experienced a measure of healing from feminist ideas and actions. So, I was confused and disheartened when the group in which I was active decided to oppose feminism. Cutting myself off from it was painful.

But happily, within a year, I had found a new group of friends who were working for peace and solidarity in Central America and who seemed saner than the people I had hung out with in university. My new friends included a few people from the United Church of Canada whom I remembered fondly when I finally found the sense to stumble back into church 17 years ago.

Happily, during our lifetimes we have rejoiced at many harvests of justice – the end of apartheid in South Africa, the spread of gay rights across much of the world, the alleviation of deep poverty in much of Asia, the overthrow of despotic regimes in places like Eastern Europe and Latin America.

Then there are days like yesterday. For some of us, yesterday may have about ordinary Saturday tasks and enjoying beautiful Fall weather at the start of a long weekend. But for others of us, yesterday also contained a painful defeat.

Yesterday, the U.S. Senate voted to confirm Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court despite the credible charges of sexual misconduct against him and despite how he behaved in the hearings.

For millions of people, the melodrama of Kavanaugh’s elevation to the Supreme Court has stirred up memories of abuse and trauma. I had hoped that the revitalization of feminism in the #metoo and #timesup movements meant that the era of male dominance and the rule of bullies was ending. Yesterday’s vote illustrates how today’s culture still has a long way to go.

The pain of our trauma is amplified when powerful people imply that it doesn’t matter. So, yesterday was a tough day for many of us.

Nevertheless, the failure of a harvest of justice that doesn’t invalidate the struggle. We don’t know how far we can stretch the boundaries until we try. And win or lose, the work itself gives us gracious opportunities to live into our sacred values.

Once we have been grasped by the beauty of the struggle for love and justice — whether in family, neighbourhood, or world – many of us are impelled to find ways to join it.

This might involve finding new ways to listen and share with family members. It might involve participating in outreach efforts like The Bread Run or Clothing Bank. It might involve working for reconciliation with Canada’s First Peoples and supporting the rights of other oppressed people to live free from discrimination.

When these efforts yield fruit, it is easy to give thanks. But life is about the journey more than the destination, I believe. So, even when our efforts don’t yield hoped-for results, the work helps us to live fully-formed lives closer to the God who is Love.

I am grateful that I met left-wing activists in university. Despite our difficulties in staying grounded, I am glad I accepted their invitation to join their campaigns. I learned a lot and I was brought into contact with feminist ideas and people that helped heal some of the wounds of childhood and youth.

I am grateful that I made friends with people who worked in solidarity with Central America in my 20’s. Despite our inability to stop U.S. intervention in Nicaragua and El Salvador, I am glad I accepted their invitation to join this work. I experienced a Spirit of Love that shines bright in Central America, one whose beauty has guided me ever since.

I am grateful that Kingston Road United Church was a going concern when I stumbled into it in my 40’s. Despite the criticisms I sometimes express about the leaders of our denomination, I am thankful that the United Church invited me to join a path of faith, hope and love. There, at long last, I accepted the Grace to walk the Way of Jesus. This has given me a vocation of loving service, one which deeply feeds my spirit and soul.

You know, in times of defeat, we may need fellow pilgrims even more than when the wheels of justice are turning towards the light.

This week may be one in which those of us with memories of abuse may need a sympathetic ear more than ever. This Fall may be one in which the kindness we offer to clients of the Food Bank may be especially appreciated. This year may be one in which our need to comfort one another about the difficulties in achieving climate justice may be especially acute.

It is easy to give thanks when our efforts are successful. But even when they are not, we give thanks for the values that guide us and for family members and fellow pilgrims with whom we work to realize those values. We don’t always get the harvest we want, but we have each other and the presence of God in Christ who walks with us on joyful days as well as painful ones.

Mill Woods United Church invites us to follow the light of God’s love as best we can. Regardless of outcomes, our actions of loving service help us stay awake to the perfect Love and justice that is our Source and our sure destiny.

This Thanksgiving, I pray that we will be filled with gratitude for our connections to each other and to God. May we respond to God’s invitation to work for love and justice and so help us cope and thrive through all of life’s harvests.

Are we winning? Are we losing?

We are loving, and in the end that is all that matters.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

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Breathing love

Text: Matthew 25:31-46 (the parable of the sheep and goats)

What inspires people to join a community like Mill Woods United? What moves us to sing and pray together on Sunday mornings? Why do we give time and energy to outreach projects like The Bread Run or the Clothing Bank? Why do we march in the Pride Parade and participate in projects for justice, peace, and reconciliation?

I ask these questions today under the banner of “Inspire” on this the first of three stewardship Sundays.

The Gospel passage we just heard was suggested for this first Sunday by the national church; and I have followed this suggestion even though there is much in this passage I question.

On the positive side, Jesus says that we meet Christ when we feed the hungry, welcome strangers, and comfort the ill and imprisoned. This implies that actions matter more than beliefs.

On the negative side, he says that he will judge as goats those whose behaviour doesn’t meet ethical standards and condemn them to an eternity of torment.

Some church-goers are inspired by this passage to engage in works of charity and justice. But it also threatens us with hell. We seek inspiration in life and in ministry. But do we also need to be frightened into doing the right thing?

Last Monday, Kim and I attended a learning day at my alma mater, Emmanuel College at the University of Toronto; and one part of it dealt with the Day of Judgement referred to by this morning’s reading. We attended this event at the end of a weekend trip to Toronto during which I presided at the wedding of my niece, Rachel Grace Bakan Kellogg.

I loved the weekend and was delighted to be part of the wedding of Rachel and her now-husband Michael Stephens. It is one of my favourite weddings, second now in my memory only to the ceremony for me and Kim almost two years ago.

It was also the most secular wedding at which I have presided. Although Rachel’s grandfather, my father, was a United Church minister and although Michael was baptized and confirmed in the Roman Catholic Church, they are secular thirty-somethings living and working in Toronto, which is one of the most intercultural cities in the world.

The wedding did have some Jewish elements since Rachel’s mother, my sister-in-law Abbie Bakan, is from a Jewish family. We gathered under a canopy called a chuppah. Michael smashed a decorative glass to end the ceremony. And we danced a joyous hora during the reception on Saturday evening.

But the absence of the names Jesus and YHWH at the ceremony did not detract for me from a shining Spirit of Love that flowed through it. Although there were no official prayers, the ceremony was prayerful from start to finish. Although there was no mention of supernatural deities or judgmental saviours, their vows of love and everyone’s commitment to compassion and justice moved me.

I was inspired by Rachel and Michael and by the gracious gathering of family and friends who participated in their day. Like any gathering in the name of Love, the wedding filled us with hope, joy, and gratitude. It was a celebration on the side of the angels and not the goats, in my opinion.

Before we returned to Edmonton on Monday evening, I was happy that Kim and I could spend the day at Emmanuel College. I saw several of the professors with whom I studied from 2007 to 2011 and I enjoyed the discussions.

The day marked four anniversaries of significance to the United Church this year: the 70th anniversary of the founding of the World Council of Churches in 1948, the 30th anniversary of the 1988 decision of the United Church’s General Council meeting to allow gays and lesbians to seek ordination; the 50th anniversary of the 1968 union of the United Church with a small German-speaking denomination, the Evangelical United Brethren; and the 50th anniversary of the adoption by General Council of the New Creed.

The discussion on the New Creed is the part that fits with today’s reading. The New Creed — which begins with the lines “We are not alone. We live in God’s world” — is popular in the United Church. But one of its phrases is questioned by some.

The presenter talked briefly about this phrase — “To proclaim Jesus, crucified and risen, our judge and our hope.”

Does Jesus judge us, as today’s Gospel passage suggests? And does he send some of us into an eternity of torment?

Hell is one of the teachings of the ancient church to which I don’t subscribe. Despite what Matthew has Jesus say in passages like the one we heard this morning, I cannot worship a God who magically sustains ego consciousness for all eternity in order to inflict endless torment on so-called goats.

On the other hand, I am OK with the phrase “our judge and our hope.” Judgement for me is intimately connected to salvation. It is not about a mythical Day of Judgement, but about innumerable moments of Grace in the ups and downs of life.

Accepting one’s behaviour and situation can be searingly painful. But when we accept personal actions we now regret, and when we accept that we are trapped in conditions we don’t like but can’t easily change, we find ourselves lifted out of our small selves towards the big Self, which is the God who is Love. Acceptance can be both a painful judgement and a moment of joyous healing.

None of us always act with perfect kindness, compassion, and non-violence. None of us has the ability to effect all the changes to the world we would like. Try as we might, we often find ourselves unable to do much to bring about the realm of peace, abundance and love that is God’s dream for the earth.

Accepting this involves a judgement that we are weaker and less charitable than we would like. But it is preferable to accept this judgement than to deny it. If we never regret our ethical failings and never accept our humble reality as fragile and mortal individuals who are trapped in economic and political structures that militate against the world for which we long, we remain stuck in our egos and removed from the Source of Love we call God.

The good news is that the Day of Judgement can also be the Day of Healing and Liberation. Accepting the former opens us to the latter.

One of the speakers at the Learning Day last Monday, the Rev. Carmen Lansdowne of First United Church in Vancouver, made a related statement that I appreciated.

She reminded us that liberation not only brings salvation to the oppressed but also to the oppressors. Working for reconciliation with First Nations is about helping Indigenous Canadians heal from the harm they experienced at church-run residential schools. But it also helps to heal those of us in the dominant church. It gives us a chance to repent of the church’s colonial past and the idolatry of white supremacy on which it was founded. It opens us up to new vistas of love.

Another illustration of this reality is found in last week’s biggest news story — the testimony of Dr. Christine Blasey-Ford to the U.S. Senate’s Judiciary Committee about her alleged sexual assault by Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh.

I was moved and convinced by Dr Ford’s testimony on Thursday. Regardless of what the Senate concludes about Kavanaugh, I believe and pray that she found a measure of healing and freedom by speaking her truth in the cause of the civic good despite the fear and pain it caused her.

Kavanaugh could also been liberated on Thursday if he had used the humiliation of the accusations against him to repent of his past. Imagine if he had used his testimony on Thursday to withdraw his nomination. Imagine if he had said that being nominated to the Supreme Court by a President who himself faces multiple sexual misconduct accusations and who admitted to being a sexual predator to a reporter in 2006; a president who won three million fewer votes than his opponent; a president whose slender victory was helped by an intervention by the head of the FBI 11 days before the 2016 U.S. elections and by cyber attacks from Russia; a president who often acts as an Internet troll and an unconscionable bully; and who makes untrue, racist, and misogynist statements at a rate that makes many of our heads spin — imagine if Kavanaugh had said that in good conscience he could no longer accept a nomination from such a president. What if he had accepted the grace to stand down instead of angrily blaming those who question his fitness?

It is hard to imagine such a scenario. But repentance and conversion do happen, both for individuals and for nations. Thursday could have been Judge Kavanaugh’s liberation as well as Dr. Ford’s. Unfortunately for the U.S. and for Kavanaugh, he did not take the opportunity.

The contrast between Ford and Kavanaugh was acute. She spoke the truth in the cause of the public good. He denied the truth in the cause of personal gain and for a political agenda. I hope that someday he has a change of heart.

For any of us, moments of difficulty can become moments of judgement and salvation. This is one way to see our work as followers of Jesus. In the church, we breathe to the rhythms of love, which involve giving and receiving, sharing and listening, struggling and learning, and mourning and celebrating together. In our outreach and in-reach, we see the divine face of Christ in those we serve and in ourselves. We confront Love’s judgement and we touch Love’s hope.

Today as we look at this sanctuary ringed with tables that display this church’s work of seeking and finding and of giving and receiving, may we be inspired to continue to breathe in love even when it involves pain and to breathe out hope and joy.

The New Creed proclaims that Jesus is both our judge and our hope. This does not mean that lakes of fire await those of us who don’t measure up. It means that in accepting the realities we encounter in life and ministry even the smelliest of the goats among us can be healed.

May we use some of the innumerable moments of Grace in lives of pain and joy to accept Love’s judgement and to thereby experience the healing and liberation that is our birthright as children of God.

May it be so. Amen.

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Both sides now

Text: 1 Corinthians: 13 (faith, hope and love)

Paul writes that there are three things that last — faith, hope and love. One might question why he only lists three things. But when he goes on to say that love is the greatest of these, I imagine that few of us would disagree.

Stating that love is the most important thing in life seems uncontroversial although it is also far from the end of the story. Our understandings of love are many, and the reasons people value love might be just as numerous.

Sometimes, I view church as a never-ending conversation about love and how it shapes our priorities and behaviour. Today, I offer a few more words on it, based upon three sources – the words of St. Paul, a song of Joni Mitchell’s, and a book by one of my key mentors, Karen Armstrong.

Armstrong’s memoir of her time in a Catholic convent, “Through the Narrow Gate,” and the sequel to it, “The Spiral Staircase: My Climb Out of Darkness,” provided the backdrop to my reflections on faith and hope over the last two Sundays.

A more recent book of Armstrong’s called “Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life,” gave me the central idea behind this reflection. In this book, Armstrong argues that love is the royal road to spiritual healing because it helps us to transcend ego. When we love family members, neighbours, and even enemies, we remember that all people and places are Sacred. Our lives have many troubles, but the path of compassionate love reveals that at the depths our troubles dissolve. Love at its best show us that all is well, and that all will be well.

But before I say more about that, I put St. Paul alongside the Canadian singer/ songwriter Joni Mitchell! Fifty years ago, Mitchell wrote a song about both sides of love. Her inspiration for “Both Sides Now” was a line in a novel in which the narrator travels in an airplane for the first time and sees clouds from above. Seeing clouds from both sides becomes a spiritual epiphany for him. Mitchell’s song is about clouds, love, and life viewed from up and down, from give and take, and from win and lose.

Paul’s famous words on faith, hope and love have a similar ring. Like Mitchell, Paul says that faith, hope and love can be looked at from two sides. One is the perspective of a child. The other is that of an adult.

As children we learn the words faith, hope and love, but we can only grasp them in a childlike way.

For children, faith is about trusting their parents and whatever moral authorities their parents support. Child-like faith is a naive trust. It is essential, but not eternal.

As they get older, children become at least partially disillusioned in their parents and in church, school, and civic authority. Then, because we can’t live without trust, we seek other sources of faith, which is a central task of spiritual communities like this one.

For children, hope is about desire. They hope for exciting presents, wonderful adventures, and safe and comfortable surroundings.

As they get older, children often find such desires unfulfilled. We learn about our dependence on community and circumstance; and so we are forced to accept realities that we find unpleasant as well as pleasant. Our approach to hope may shift over time from desire to acceptance.

For children, love is about attachment. They cling to their parents for survival. Later, they become attached to other objects – peer groups, pop singers, sports teams, favourite foods, and so on.

As they get older, children find that not all attachments are healthy. Life’s ups and downs force us to confront the irreducible reality of other people who have needs, perspectives, and experiences different from our own. So, our love may shift to a deeper level where interdependence and unity are revealed.

Childlike faith, hope, and love are essential. We all experience them, and we all stay stuck at childish levels at least in part until our last breath. As Paul says, when we become adults we put away childish things, but only in part.

As we mature, we find faith in social processes that are both reasonable and open to social challenge. We find hope in a sober assessment of what is real and not just in what we may have once desired. And we find love in selfless actions that reveal our deep connection to family, neighbours, and the whole of humanity.

Love is greatest of the things that last because love is the path on which we transform. Compassionate action helps our childhood fears dissolve into a sturdy faith. Compassionate action allows our childhood desires to soften and to accept wounds as well as blessings; and compassionate action weakens our grasping attachments to people, places and things by revealing our deep unity with others and with the God who is Love.

For a simple illustration, I turn to this weekend’s dismal weather. Weather is one of the things on which we rely, and in Edmonton I have come to trust in almost constant sunshine. So, to go for a week without bright sunshine challenges my childish faith in the weather. A more mature stance, I suppose, would be for me to trust climatologists and meteorologists.

Weather is also an object of hope. We pray that summer will glide into autumn with plenty of continuing heat and sunshine. But his year, my childish hopes for a beautiful September have been dashed. A more mature stance, I suppose, would be to accept that I can cope and thrive no matter what the weather is.

Our weather is also one of the things I love. Since I moved West, I have particularly loved the sunshine and low humidity.

A more mature stance, I suppose, would be for me to love the weather regardless of its current state since it is yet another thing that reveals our connections to the web of life, the earth, and the cosmos.

Armstrong’s thesis that love helps us move from childishness to maturity may strike one as an obvious observation. Nevertheless, I appreciated reading her book on compassion this week.

Humans can’t help but love; and happily, love tends to pull us out of ourselves. A prime example is the love parents have children. But even attachments I would judge to be unhealthy can help us transcend our small selves. Take devotion to a sports team, which I sometimes criticize as idolatry. Fandom involves an ecstatic union with a community and cause bigger than one’s self, which is at least half the battle of spiritual growth.

Armstrong’s book offers suggestions to help the ecstatic trajectory of love. It has chapters on cultivating compassion for oneself; on empathy with the suffering of others; on mindfulness to help us tame more primitive motives and their accompanying thoughts and feelings; and many others. I recommend it.

Armstrong’s book reminds me of our work at Mill Woods United. When we listen to hurting people who drop by the office; when we serve clients at The Bread Run or the clothing bank; when we march in solidarity with First Nations and queer people; when we care for children and offer them nurturing experiences; and when we lift our voices in song and prayer, we often find ourselves swept up in the lasting things that are universal. We remind ourselves that our egos are temporary illusions and that only faith, hope and love are real and eternal.

Sometimes, our attempts to expand beyond our small selves can fail as in Karen Armstrong’s experiences in a convent. But often when we offer loving service to others we find ourselves embraced by a joy and peace that with Grace leaves our fearful and grasping egos behind.

Friends, at this point in our lives we have probably looked at love from both sides now – from a childish place of ego and from a place of compassionate love. The former leaves us stuck while the latter moves us from fear to a trusting faith; from desire to acceptance; and from attachment to transcendence.

This is yet another reason – although perhaps only one of a million – why of the spiritual virtues that last, the greatest of these is love.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

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Hope against hope

Hope is central to the church. In First Corinthians, Paul upholds three spiritual virtues – faith, hope and love; and although he notes that love is the greatest of these, hope is still central.

Hope is so central to our work that I strive to end every reflection on a hopeful note; and I pray that all the activities at Mill Woods United — whether Sunday morning gatherings, study group sessions, The Bread Run on Saturday morning, even committee meetings – send us out the door feeling hope and joy.

Now, do we always succeed? Hardly. Take Sunday mornings. During the almost five years I have been the minister at Mill Woods United, I have been criticized several times for preaching doom and gloom instead of hope and optimism.

I appreciate this feedback; and I believe it is related to my non-standard perspective on hope. The usual meaning of hope is an expectation that something wished for will happen or that something feared can be avoided. And of course, this is often how I use the word “hope.”

But as with faith, which was my focus last week, and love, which will be my focus next week, there is another way to view hope. From a more spiritual perspective, hope allows us to accept what is real even though reality contains not just the things we cherish, but also many things we dislike.

Last week, I looked at the challenge to faith that comes from living with intractable social and economic problems like climate change.

The usual meaning of faith is holding beliefs in the supernatural despite the findings of science. But instead of using faith as a synonym for religious belief, I often use it as a synonym for trust – trusting in the cosmos despite its awesome mystery; trusting in our bodies despite their fragility and mortality; and trusting in love despite our essential aloneness.

In a similar vein, next week I will look at love from two angles. Sometimes love becomes unhealthy attachment. But as we grow up, love helps us to rise above our egos, including our fears, desires, and attachments. Such selfless love connects us to the source of life and Love we call God.

I am drawn to these non-standard perspectives on faith, hope and love because — like T.S. Eliot’s poem “Ash Wednesday” – at several moments of crisis in my life, I have found that trust, acceptance, and love flow from disillusionment more than they do from the fulfillment of desires.

It was Karen Armstrong’s memoir, “The Spiral Staircase” that introduced me to Eliot’s “Ash Wednesday” when I first read her book about a decade ago; and as I noted last week, I re-read her memoir this summer.

In it, Armstrong details how in 1973 she felt the first flicker of recovery from physical and spiritual illness while listening to a public recital of Eliot’s poem. She was suffering from un-diagnosed epilepsy as well as from spiritual damage she had suffered in her training as a nun in a convent in London England from 1962 to 1969.

Armstrong writes:

“As I listened to Eliot’s poem being read, for the first time in years, I felt profoundly and spontaneously moved by a poem. I no longer had to wait for someone to interpret it, and my appreciation was no longer wholly cerebral. It was an emotional and intuitive response that involved my entire self. I thought I had lost this capacity forever, but here it was again . . . The poem, with its quiet, haunting accuracy, perfectly expressed my own state, and endorsed it, showing that I had not weakly abdicated from the struggle for life and health, but had somehow stumbled upon a truth about the human condition and the way men and women work (p. 139-140).

I had resolved to stop fighting my sickness and to accept what my life had become, and — “consequently” — for the first time in years I had responded spontaneously and with my whole being to a poem, just as I had before being damaged. It was a sign of life, a shoot that had suddenly broken through the frozen earth. This must be the way that human life worked. He who loves his life shall lose it; he who loses his life shall save it. This was not an arbitrary command of God, but simply a law of the human condition.” (p. 142)

“Ash Wednesday” is T.S. Eliot’s “conversion” poem, one that he wrote after he converted to Christianity and joined the Church of England. It alludes to the confrontation between the disillusionment of modern life and our hopes in childhood to live in paradise. Eliot’s poem points to an ability to rejoice despite a seeming lack of hope. “Because I do not hope,” the poem repeats over and over again. Somehow, in hearing his words, Armstrong begins to recover.

For me, the Royal Road to Love is found in accepting what is — both ourselves and our social circumstances. Both kinds of acceptance can be painful because of personal brokenness and of how this wondrous society seems so irredeemably violent and out of control.

But with Grace, we may be able to stop hoping to be someone else or to be somewhere else. Then after tears of grief, we might finally respect and love ourselves and so also be able to love our neighbours.

We are who we are; we exist in this wonderful and awful moment in time and place; and with Grace we can love ourselves and this world of wounds and blessings just as they are. We can love this precious and fleeting moment and so enter the Realm of God, right here, right now.

I close by reciting T.S. Eliot’s 1930 poem, “Ash Wednesday 1”

“Because I do not hope to turn again
Because I do not hope
Because I do not hope to turn
Desiring this man’s gift and that man’s scope
I no longer strive to strive towards such things
(Why should the aged eagle stretch its wings?)
Why should I mourn
The vanished power of the usual reign?

Because I do not hope to know again
The infirm glory of the positive hour
Because I do not think
Because I know I shall not know
The one veritable transitory power
Because I cannot drink
There, where trees flower, and springs flow, for there is nothing again

Because I know that time is always time
And place is always and only place
And what is actual is actual only for one time
And only for one place
I rejoice that things are as they are and
I renounce the blessed face
And renounce the voice
Because I cannot hope to turn again
Consequently I rejoice, having to construct something
Upon which to rejoice

And pray to God to have mercy upon us
And pray that I may forget
These matters that with myself I too much discuss
Too much explain
Because I do not hope to turn again
Let these words answer
For what is done, not to be done again
May the judgement not be too heavy upon us

Because these wings are no longer wings to fly
But merely vans to beat the air
The air which is now thoroughly small and dry
Smaller and dryer than the will
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still.

Pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death
Pray for us now and at the hour of our death.”

As Eliot suggests, sometimes in the silence of disillusionment we can hear the voice of Sacred Reality. It says: “Wake up, wake up. All is forgiven, all is healed. In this moment as in any moment, we are saved.”

May it be so. Amen.

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Climate of fear

Text: Mark 4:35-41 (Jesus stills a storm)

Despite an autumn-like chill in Alberta this Labour Day weekend, summer 2018 has been hot. All-time record temperatures have been broken around the world, including in Calgary. Heat waves have been longer than normal and wildfires have been widespread. Alberta and BC have not been the only regions choked with smoke. This has also been the case in the western United States, southern Europe, and Siberia.

Memories of heat and smoke are some of the key things I take from this summer. When Kim and I visited my family in Ontario and Quebec, we encountered extreme heat in Toronto, Montreal, and Quebec City. When we came back to Edmonton it was often hot and smoky. And when we spent a week in the Okanagan in August, choking smoke was present pretty much the whole time.

Although individual weather events cannot be linked to climate change, this summer’s high temperatures, burning forests, and smoke have helped to raise popular awareness of the findings of climate scientists.

Of course, an increased awareness of climate change is not the only thing I gained this summer. I also spent a lot of time reading books, many of them spiritual biographies. One was by a fellow student of mine from Emmanuel College, the Rev. Anne Hines of Toronto. Another was about the German Lutheran minister Dietrich Bonhoeffer who was executed by the Nazis in World War II. Another was the autobiography of Tom Harpur, an Anglican priest, long-time religion editor for The Toronto Star, and author of “The Pagan Christ” among other books.

The one I appreciated the most is “The Spiral Staircase: My Climb Out of Darkness,” by Karen Armstrong. I re-read it after reading its predecessor, Armstrong’s first book called “Through the Narrow Gate: A Memoir of Life In and Out of the Convent.” Armstrong entered a Catholic convent as a 17-year old in 1962 and left in 1969 after seven harrowing years that left her broken in body, mind, and soul. “The Spiral Staircase” tells the story of her recovery in the years that followed.

A pivotal moment in this recovery occurs when Armstrong hears the poem “Ash Wednesday” by T.S. Eliot. In the poem, Eliot confronts the clash between scientific rationalism and faith with these words: “Because I know that time is always time / and place is always and only place / and what is actual is actual only for one time / and only for one place / I rejoice that things are as they are and / I renounce the blessed face / . . . consequently I rejoice, having to construct something / upon which to rejoice.”

Eliot finds joy despite the fact that things are as they are. Today, they are fewer realities more frightening than climate change. So today, I reflect on how we can be people of faith in the light of this reality.

As you know, fossil fuels are ancient plants trapped in the crust of the earth and cooked by heat and pressure over millions of years. In the past 150 years, a massive amount of these fuels have been mined and burned, meaning that the solar energy stored in plants over hundreds of millions of years is being released into the atmosphere and oceans in just a few years.

One article I read this week speculated that the amount of oil, coal, and natural gas burned each year is equivalent to the burning of 20% of all the plants and forests on the earth. If true, this stunning idea makes it clearer to me why fossil fuels are radically changing the climate.

Climate scientists say that unless humanity drastically decreases its fossil fuel consumption, sea levels will rise, intense storms will become more frequent, and damaging swings in weather – between heat and cold, and drought and flood — will increase.

Happily, fewer people each year deny the truth of climate change. Action to tackle it has been inadequate. But the end of denial is not nothing.

Believing in climate change is similar to most of our other beliefs. We take it on faith. If we trust in the scientific method and in the integrity of the scientists in academia, government, and elsewhere, then we have little choice but to believe most of what we read in textbooks and science journals.

I believe that the world’s population grew from three billion when I was born to 7.5 billion people today because I trust the integrity of professional demographers. For similar reasons, I believe that the earth revolves around the sun despite the evidence of our senses to the contrary.

No one can be an expert in all fields of knowledge; and so our beliefs flow from trust in social processes. The basic question is, do we have good reasons to trust those processes.

Religious faith has traditionally been founded in the authority of church leaders and of sacred texts. Did the Angel Moroni show Joseph Smith where the golden plates with God’s words were buried in upstate New York in 1823? If you trust the Book of Mormon, then you believe this fact.

Did YHWH murder the first born of every Egyptian as a way of pressuring the Pharaoh? If you trust the book of Exodus, then you believe this fact.

Is artificial birth control a mortal sin? If you trust the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church, then you believe this fact.

Personally, I don’t believe the stories in the Book of Mormon and the Book of Exodus any more than I believe the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. I turn to science and open public discussion and not sacred texts or religious leaders to inform my beliefs about the world.

The same thing applies to the stories about Jesus in the New Testament and the teachings of the United Church of Canada. I trust the stories about Jesus not because they are from books claimed to be holy by my ancestors, but because they outline a path of death and resurrection that fits with what I have found on spiritual paths. On such paths, everything is challenged, including religious beliefs. On such paths, sometimes we find room in which new life and new beliefs arise.

Similarly, I don’t trust the leaders of the United Church of Canada just because they have been elected. I trust their regulations and rulings to the extent that they result from dialogue in which shared values of love, mutual respect, and openness to the findings of science are present. If those conditions were not present, I would not feel comfortable in the denomination.

Last month, the Roman Catholic Church faced another scandal based upon an investigation of horrific child sexual abuse in Pennsylvania. I agree with former Catholic and current United Church Observer columnist Michael Coren that the abuse of children will not be effectively tackled by Catholics until they discard beliefs about a male-only priesthood, enforced celibacy for priests, and opposition to the free and joyful expression of sexuality including homosexuality.

But even with a Pope like Francis whom I like and admire, such changes seem far off. The Catholic Church is founded on sexism, homophobia, and repression. With such foundations it can only produce a set of beliefs in which I would recommend no one put their faith.

The Catholic Church may be huge and influential, but unless it is radically changed, it will soon exit the world stage.

Hmm. Such a development seems almost as unthinkable as the idea that humanity will find a way to decrease its fossil fuel consumption by 90%.

In Thomas Moore’s most recent book, “A Religion of One’s Own,” he linked the decline of the church with climate change. Moore begins by noting that in many areas religion is “disappearing, going the way of bookstores, print newspapers, and landlines.” He tells a story about not being able to find a Catholic priest who could preside at the death of his father in 2012, something which floored him. He writes that “the emptying and graying of the churches feel much like climate change – something big and ominous is happening to us.” (pp. 1 and 3).

I don’t know how the Roman Catholic Church can be reformed anymore than I know how a world economy based on limitless growth can deal with climate change. But I am sure they both will happen.

The human race will not make it to the 22nd Century without equal rights for men and women and straight and queer people in all nations and institutions. Nor will it survive without uniting itself and finding a way to organize the economy that doesn’t require limitless growth.

One way or another, these developments will occur. I just pray it will be through peaceful dialogue and not through violent upheaval. We will see.

The changes required to halt climate change are collective and global. For this reason, I am not planning to sell our house in Lendrum and move to within walking distance of the church. Nor will I forego flights to the Caribbean in the winter. But I do support the idea of increasing the price of carbon, and by a lot, despite the many political leaders who argue otherwise.

When carbon finally has a price closer to the cost of the damage its release into the atmosphere and oceans causes, much will change in society. Cities will become denser. Whole careers will disappear and new ones will appear. The texture of daily life will change, and often for the better, I imagine.

The latter idea was brought to my mind at the end of the trip that Kim and I took to Ontario in July. We had gathered with family for a second memorial for my mother in Cobourg ON and a burial ritual in the Gaspe region of Quebec.

We spent the last night our of our trip at the cottage of Rob and Jennifer McPhee north of Kingston ON. We had a great time and were grateful for their hospitality.

On the morning of our departure, we drove down a rustic lane from their cottage to a modest two-lane highway. We then drove through the quiet countryside for 20 minutes to a hamlet called Parham where my father had been a student supply minister when he was a Divinity student at Queen’s University in the 1940s. From there we drove down to Lake Ontario to Highway 401 that connects Toronto to Montreal. When we joined it, it was four lanes. That soon grew to six, then eight, then 12 until it culminated in 16 lanes across the top of Toronto. As the warren of expressways also mushroomed we gave thanks for GPS on our phones that helped us find the particular strand of this spaghetti that would return us to the car rental garage at Pearson Airport.

We made it, of course. But the thought of commuting on these highways every day boggled my mind. It made the five minutes I spend every morning driving on the Whitemud from Lendrum to Mill Woods seem like a stroll in a park by comparison.

Not only are highways like the 401 part of the reason why humanity burns 95 million barrels of oil every day. They are dangerous, stressful, and disheartening; and so, I enjoy imagining how future generations will find more rational ways of getting from point A to point B. Not only will the oceans and atmospheres breathe easier, life will be more convivial and soulful, I believe.

In these times of rapid social change, many people respond with fear. Instead, I recommend that we find a trusting faith in the only place the 21st Century reasonably offers it – in public discussion, in the scientific method, and in the social struggle for truth that eschews the partial in favour of the universal, the tribal in favour of the human, and the fearful in favour of the loving.

Can we trust in God’s Love despite uncomfortable truths like climate change? I say “yes” despite how tough it can be to see a way forward. Is there hope? I say “yes” again, although I leave that for next Sunday’s reflection, in which I will return again to T.S. Eliot’s poem and to Armstrong’s reaction to it.

The alternative to faith is fear. So, as long as I value sanity and confidence more than fear, I will search with fellow pilgrims like you for ways to stay on God’s path of faith, hope and love. It is a joyous journey that starts by accepting that things are as they are.

May it be so. Amen.

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