Category Archives: Semi-political

Looking to Jesus – A sermon

This is a sermon I wrote back in 1998.

It has stayed with me (that is, haunted me!) ever since.

I don’t know if it’s the “best” sermon I’ve ever written, but it is probably the most honest.

It has been slightly revised for the current day.

May it inspire your own wrestling and reflection.

Looking to Jesus

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Gay Pride in Lunenburg, 2019

The following was the litany written by myself, and read by myself and the Rev. LauraMarie Piotrowicz, from St. John’s Anglican Church in Lunenburg, on the occasion of the 4th annual Gay Pride Flag Raising in Lunenburg, on July 19, 2019.

Quite well received, actually.

**********************

We are here as allies, and as representatives of the church.  As allies, as representatives of the church, we would like to say the following.

For assuming we have had the right to tell others what their value is, we admit our brokenness.

For insisting that we have the ability to tell other how to be, we admit our brokenness.

For attempting to exercise power over others, and demanding conformity with standards that don’t even apply to ourselves, we admit our brokenness.

For turning our back on the image of God in you, we admit our brokenness.

For your grace-filled welcome to participate in this celebration with you, we offer our thanks.

For reminding us all of the kind of church, community, nation and world we are called to be, we offer our thanks.

For being who you are, and inviting us to share the same adventure, we offer our thanks.

For reminding us of the image of God in all of us, we offer our thanks.

May this day, our lives, and all our interactions reflect the presence of the God who is love.

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Photo by Grant Dixon.

Guns and the 2nd Amendment

In the wake of the latest school shooting in Colorado, I commented,

“Another loss to the gun industrial complex.
I wonder when it will be enough. I wonder when we will get mad enough to actually do something.
I wonder if we will.”

I was asked, “What’s your solution?”

My response.

“In theological discussions, we always start with the text. So, one part of the ‘solution’ (and I admit it’s only one step) is to acknowledge that this whole discussion is not about the 2nd Amendment, or the Constitution (in spite of the best efforts of the gun industrial complex to keep throwing that red herring in our faces).

The real discussion needs to be about the INTERPRETATION of the 2nd Amendment with which we have been saddled for too many decades, an INTERPRETATION which ignores the original intent of the framers, ignores the passage of time, and severely ignores that the “right to bear arms” is not an absolute right, but is granted for a constitutionally prescribed purpose. For the framers (and this is made clear in the actual document), they included that clause specifically for national self defence.

Note – Not defence of home and property, not defence against other people carrying guns (the whole “good guy with a gun” fairy tale), and CERTAINLY not for protection FROM the government!

The INTERPRETATION that it’s just about ‘gun ownership’ is killing people. Every day.  It’s about time that was acknowledged.

Another step, as others have mentioned, is to keep military grade weaponry out of the hands of civilians. In these days of professional militaries, there is no need for civilians to have these weapons, since they are not needed for a “well regulated militia,” or any other reasonable purpose.

I know there are more guns in the country than people. I know that there are generations of gun owners who have been steeped in the myth of an absolute right to own any firearm they might crave. I know that politicians are afraid to address the issue in any substantive way because they don’t want to lose donations or votes (or get shot like Gabby Giffords by a gun-crazed constituent). And I know that the gun industrial complex is a huge money maker, with its tentacles in many other industries and many electoral districts.

I am not delusional enough to think that this will be easy, or that a quick fix is available.

But I also know that too many people like Kendrick Castillo are no longer with us, and that there is no justification for that fact.

None. Period.

And I also know that sitting back, ringing our collective hands, and pretending that it’s too big so nothing can be done, is actually a not-very-well-disguised attempt to hide from the hard work of engaging with life in all its messiness.

I know that some commentators will ask about personal responsibility, and why didn’t the latest shooter take some for himself.

But that’s just another attempt to get ourselves off the hook.

The real questions we need to be asking are, what is YOUR and MY personal responsibility to Kendrick Castillo? What is YOUR and MY personal responsibility to addressing the gun industrial complex? What is YOUR and MY personal responsibility to engage the government to get off its collective rear end, and do something so we don’t have to be having the conversation again next week?

Because we all know that if we do nothing, or pretend that nothing can be done (which amounts to the same thing), we will be having this conversation again next week.

And the week after that.

And the week after that.

Silence, it has been noted, only helps the oppressor. Silence is what killed Kendrick.

Enough.”

I Refuse

More hatred.  More shootings.  More death.

And more platitudes.  (You know them all, so I won’t repeat them here.)

Well, not for me.  This is my “Here I stand” moment.

I refuse to play that game anymore.

I refuse.

I refuse to sit back and be helpless.  If I do nothing, I am simply enabling the next one.  And the next one.  And the next one.

And the one after that.

I refuse to accept that all we can do is cry and wring our collective hands.  That does not change the situation.  And the situation must change.  Now.

I refuse to accept that nothing can be done, especially when the shooter is white.

(Just to be clear, I also refuse to accept that militarizing the police is a valid response when the shooter is black, and that strengthening the military and closing borders to hurting people is a valid response when the shooter is brown.  But let’s at least face the truth that most of these terror shooting are committed by white men.)

I refuse to accept that the law can’t be changed because of a misguided, fundamentalist reading of a 229 year-old document which has already been changed 27 times.

I refuse to accept that there is only one way to interpret that 229 year-old document.  The interpretation we have allowed to be popularized is killing people.  Every day.

I refuse to accept that this is the singular action of one deranged person.  He has been empowered to do this very thing by politicians, by gun manufacturers, by ammunition manufacturers, by on-line hate groups, by fear-filled citizens, by lobbyists, by at least one store owner, and quite possibly by family and friends who refused to see and address what was in front of them.

I refuse to accept that this is the price of freedom, or that there is some “greater good” being served by supporting a system which makes this not only possible, but inevitable.

I refuse to accept that the vitriol and hatred and anger and violence and division and fear mongering and racism that is coming every single day from the President of the United States has nothing to do with this.  Of course it does.

Of course it does.

I refuse to accept that the vitriol and hatred and anger and violence and division and fear mongering and racism that is coming every single day from right-wing media outlets in the United States has nothing to do with this.  Of course it does.

I refuse to accept that the victims are to blame.  The perpetrator caused this.  Those who enabled and empowered and armed him caused this.  Those who fed his fear and rage caused this.  Those who saw and did nothing caused this.  The victims are not to blame.  They’re not.  Period.

I refuse to accept that our religious communities can only offer words of comfort for the families, but should be silent about naming the systems which brought us inevitably to this point.  Where religious communities have been silent, or hidden behind “Our job is to get people into heaven,” or hidden behind “We are not called to be political,” we have been complicit.  We are making it ok to pull the trigger; we are, in fact, helping to pull it.

I refuse to accept that now is not the time to talk about this.  It is long past time to talk about this.  It is long past time to act.

And, just in case this isn’t clear….

I refuse to accept responsibility for your angst and discomfort if I have:

  • named things you don’t want named,
  • pointed to things you don’t want pointed out,
  • implicated you in a system which perpetuates violence,
  • challenged your political bias,
  • called out your racial, political or religious privilege,
  • wasn’t “civil” enough for your tastes.

That is truly not my problem.

I refuse to play that game anymore.

I refuse.

God help me.  Amen.

Reading Esther in a Rape Culture

Do we believe women when they tell stories that men would rather not hear? Do we dare speak or preach about this? Do we dare not?

It’s in our scriptures, after all. In multiple places.

If we read the story of Esther, we find several points of connection with our current realities.

(Note – I’m not vouching for the historical accuracy of the book of Esther. I’m commenting on the story as it is presented.)

Esther became queen because her predecessor wouldn’t do what she was told by the king. He was drunk at a never-ending party, and decided he wanted her to parade around in front of allies wearing her crown (and nothing else?) so he could show off how pretty she was (and therefore, of course, how much of a man he must have been). She wouldn’t play the game, so she was killed.

After this, men were decreed to be master of their own houses (to keep women from getting any ideas).

Next, pretty virgins were sought out to join the king’s harem, and they went through an extensive, year-long process of beautification in order to be presentable to the king. Esther, a Jew, is brought into the harem, and eventually becomes queen.

Haman becomes chief advisor to the king. Mordecai (Esther’s uncle and adoptive father) refuses to tell Haman how great he was (a demonstration of how insecure power people often are), so Haman puts together a scheme to kill off all the Jews in the kingdom. Esther hears of the plot, and approaches the king to tell the him of the danger to her people.

But (and this is important for our day) she loses her nerve at the last minute. Will she be believed? Or will she be thrown out like her predecessor? After all, she is taking on the two most powerful men in the kingdom; one of them capricious and unpredictable, the other scheming and self-serving. Faced with that reality, she can’t bring herself to tell her story.

She approaches the king a second time, but again loses her nerve, and this in spite of the fact that the king offers a perfunctory promise that he will indeed listen to her. Will he? Or will he change his mind, and call his past promise Fake News? This is scary stuff, because the risks of acting are as dangerous as the risks of not acting. But she does manage to ask one more favour.

The third time she screws up her courage and manages to tell her story. On this occasion, a near miracle occurs: she is believed.

But things aren’t made instantly better. Haman is removed, but his scheme still moves forward, because he’s not the only one with designs on the Jews (there are 75,000 of them out there). Can you say, “enablers”? Sure you can.

In fact, things aren’t really made better until Mordecai (a man) is put in Haman’s place, becomes the royal advisor, and get’s his own laws passed so the Jews can defend themselves.

+     +     +

We need to be aware of the assumptions we bring to our reading of this story. It’s not just a story of a couple of plucky people taking advantage of a lucky break or two (being pretty, becoming queen, becoming chief advisor, etc.). This is a story of inherently unjust power structures (men over women, citizens over foreigners, power people over ordinary people, insiders over outsiders, etc.). And the rot goes deep, because in some cases the law stands as it was written (anything which might impact the perception of the king in the public’s eyes), and in some cases the law is subject to interpretation, revision or revocation (anything which impacts anyone else).

Ultimately, there is no rule of law. There is no justice. There is no fairness. There is only rule by royal whim (or whim of those who are close to the royal presence).

Esther’s story first names, and then challenges these unjust, unfair structures; and it also identifies the incredible risks that such challenge entails.

Yes, there is a “happy ending.” But the relief we feel at the end is so strong because we know that there was no guarantee of a happy ending, there or any place, then or any time. We all know there have been (and are!) too many times when the ending is anything but happy, and the machine goes merrily on.

I think we need to preach, teach and speak about this stuff, friends. This is not the time to fall back on moralisms (don’t do naughty things, if your hand causes you to sin, the life of faith is only about personal responsibility, it’s all about individual decisions, etc.). This is a time to talk about what is really going on, structurally, communally, economically, politically, religiously, internationally.

It’s risky. It’s dangerous. It will probably result in push-back. But the risk of not speaking to this is just as great, and if we succumb to that temptation and say nothing, nothing at all will change.

For anyone.

Peace…