Archive for September, 2021

“Wisdom in gold sandals,” (Sermon, September 12th 2021)

I saw Wisdom calling out in the street once, and she looked FABULOUS.

It was a hot, bright, hazy day in Pride Week – the Saturday before Pride Sunday, in fact. I’d gone down to the Vancouver Art Gallery, where an art installation of shoes, toys, candles, and posters had been laid out on the steps facing Robson Street in honour of the thousands of children lost to the murderous bonfire of so-called residential schools.

I’d gone down there not only as a guardian of the installation, which was created to be a place of vigil and prayer, but to answer a call for drums and voices in response to street preachers who regularly came on the weekends to disrupt the space with racist, colonialist, and homophobic sermonizing. I never figured out which church they were from although one of them is a staple in downtown Vancouver who I’ve seen preaching all over the place.

I’d also asked two of my Sufi friends, Masa and Eda, to join me. Masa is Syrian; Eda is Turkish. Both have burning hearts for justice and compassion, and both have no problem speaking out when silence needs breaking.

And so it was that a group of us, mostly Indigenous but a few white people and my two friends, surrounded these three preachers with our drums and our voices, drowning out their vitriol with the Women’s Warrior Song and other anthems, and suddenly Wisdom was there before me, having clothed herself in the body of my friend Eda.

Eda is a Sufi to the core, born in Konya, where the poet Rumi is laid to rest, and she could not have looked more gorgeous that day, dressed like a runway model in a loose black shirt French-tucked into black Capri pants and stunning gold strappy sandals, with her dark hair flying unbound around her shoulders.

Statuesque and luminous, Wisdom shouted at the preachers, “Why are you yelling at these people to find Jesus? Jesus is already here!”

“Wisdom cries out in the street;
    in the squares she raises her voice.
21 At the busiest corner she cries out;
    at the entrance of the city gates she speaks:
22 “How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple?
How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing
    and fools hate knowledge?”

Jesus and the disciples have journeyed to the region of Caesarea Philippi, and surely then it was just as lovely and pastoral as it is now, a place of gentle green rolling hills interrupted here and there by barricades and unexploded land mines. It’s contested territory and surely always has been. It could not be a more appropriate place for this strange interaction between Peter and Jesus, a moment that starts out so hopeful and inspiring, and ends with confusion and rebuke.

For one moment, Peter gets it, and sees Wisdom on the roadside, speaking a wild and scandalous truth. But he misunderstands her message, and she becomes elusive again.

“Jesus called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.

For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.

For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?

Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?”

This might sound like one of those infamous clobber texts, the kind of passage used to impress upon us the importance of doing everything we can to avoid the fires of hell, but that’s a meager understanding.

Using the English word “life” here is appropriate but so is the word “soul.” Substituting that may make it sound even more like a clobber text, but we can choose another reading. We know what it means figuratively to sell one’s soul as well as literally. Let’s hear it again.

“For those who want to save their soul will lose it, and those who lose their soul for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.

For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their soul?

Indeed, what can they give in return for their soul?”

Those who want to save their soul will lose it. Those who are more concerned with what will happen to someone after they leave this earthly life than helping them to flourish here and now, feeding them with unending bread, helping them to encounter what John the Evangelist called zoe, eternal life in the here and now – those who want to save souls while enslaving and abusing bodies, those who act as if the soul of a human being is an object that can be possessed and added to one’s moral account balance: it is those who will lose everything.

For what would it profit me to gain wealth and riches or fame and acclamation for my supposed moral superiority, while forfeiting my soul by ignoring the needs of the vulnerable before me? How could I possibly think that, having spent my life bullying others and ignoring their needs in the here-and-now, I would have something to bring before God, as though I could bring before God an armful of souls that were not my own, and as though it were possible to do that by expending hours of energy screaming that those people would go to hell unless they listened to me?

Standing on the pavement outside the art gallery with my drum, I saw one of the preachers fix her gaze on Eda, standing next to me.

“You look like a Muslim,” the woman sneered, and proceeded to insult the Prophet with vile words I won’t repeat.

Eda just laughed. “Why are you so full of hate?”

Later, as we stood by the installation and chatted, Eda laughed even harder.

“She knew I was a Muslim – ha! She knew a lover of the Prophet when she saw one.”

Peter, who loved Jesus so very deeply, only recognizes him as Messiah for an instant, but still loses track of the message he is bringing. Meanwhile, back in Chapter 1 of Mark, a possessed man in the synagogue at Capernaum recognizes Jesus for who he is immediately, and names him loudly. Jesus shushes this unclean spirit like he does Peter, but later, Peter tries to shush Jesus.

Jesus, though, is no unclean spirit.

He cannot be stopped from crying out in the street as long as there are those who will listen.

And this is the moment where I must turn away from pointing my finger at others and point it at myself.

For while I recognized Wisdom that day, there have been other days where I haven’t, where I’ve responded with vitriol and anger rather than awe and wonder at Wisdom’s call.

I have been just as guilty as that woman we saw, just as guilty of labeling Wisdom a crackpot screaming on the side of the road.

It’s okay. We all do it. Sometimes we’re encouraged to do it, and sometimes we just do it because we fear what we don’t understand, and we yearn for the easy way rather than the way of being refined like gold in a furnace. That’s the human way of things.

It’s okay. Growth is hard. Being called out or called in is hard. None of us have to like it.

But in that moment when we suddenly recognize Wisdom, will we rebuke her like Peter, or will we choose to enter into her banquet hall? Will we choose her over the clamouring voices of the world we live in, which demand obedience and money and labour and heteronormativity and ‘passing’ and silence?

They are very strong voices, very strong indeed, and sometimes the choice to listen isn’t much of a choice at all but a matter of survival.

But you deserve more than just to survive.

You, like every other creature, like the planet itself, deserve eternal life, and bread that lasts.

If we desire this, all we have to do is just be on the lookout.

Wisdom stands on every street corner crying out for us to choose eternal life. She stands with hair unbound, luminous and laughing and inviting you.

Don’t be afraid to see her.