Archive for September, 2017

Why I Wear the Crucifix

This piece was originally posted as a thread on Twitter, September 28th 2017.


Interesting thought process today on the bus. I was in collar and a dude asked me what I thought Jesus would think about crucifixes.

I asked him what he meant and he said, “Do you think he would approve of people wearing them?”

He sort of laughed in this incredibly condescending way, and said, “I’m pretty sure I know.” O RLY PLZ SHARE.

“He would think they were evil and [people] who wore them were evil.” Essentially because they glorify a sick act of violence.

Before you ask, yes of course he was white. What else would he be?

And me being me, obviously I didn’t think of a response until after he’d already exited the bus, besides, “There’s empty ones, you know.”

It was only later that I thought to say (to myself, lol) that when you have a religious relationship with Jesus, he’s not just some dude.

Yes, he was an innocent victim of violence, but he was more than that. For me, he was God made flesh. And what does a crucifix proclaim?

For me, it is not about my personal sins, or at least it’s not solely about that. It’s not even just about “the sin of the world.”

For me, the crucifix is a reminder that Jesus, God made flesh, was executed by the state.

Executed for undermining its authority. Executed for daring to place God and God’s laws above their gods and laws. Silenced for the truth.

This is a powerful message to me. It says, “Don’t put your trust in human power structures above your trust in God.”

Think of what it means, what it proclaims, to wear the image of a victim of state violence around your neck.
To me, and to many Christians of colour, this is not an endorsement of state violence. Quite the opposite. It is an indictment. Solidarity.
It says, “God does not stand with the state, but with those whom the state deems disposable. More than that, God EMBODIES them.”

Of course I know that for some it symbolizes colonialism and oppression. And I think that fact is an outrage. We got it so wrong.

“Forgiveness and Facing Mirrors,” (Sermon, September 10th 2017)

“‘If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. 16But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax-collector. 18Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. 19Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. 20For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.’”

Matthew 18: 15-20


Who else’s heart rate goes up just thinking about taking a friend aside and saying, “Listen, we have to talk.” I think most of us remember what it was like to learn group dynamics, to eventually come to the conclusion that sometimes it really is better to be proactive and tell someone that what they’re doing is not helpful, or is in fact hurtful.

But MAN it stinks!

It stinks because we all know what it’s like when someone does that to us. It’s kind of like going to the dentist, isn’t it? Sure it’s healthy and necessary…but no matter how it’s done it’s also embarrassing and painful and a little invasive, right?

But think about how effective that conversation could be to change behaviour within a community.

Our friend David Lose asks in his blog post this week, “What’s more important: rules, or relationships?”

I find the question a bit simplistic. This passage looks like it’s about rules, but the rules wouldn’t work at all without a strong foundation of trust. It manages to lay aside defensiveness, power posturing, and the blame game for honest, open communication. It’s pretty remarkable advice for its time.

Consider too the beauty of the progression. You point out the issue when you’re alone. It’s not just to save face; it’s to allow for the possibility that you might be changed as well. You give the person the chance to explain themselves. You wouldn’t be likely to get an honest apology from someone if you yelled their sin out to everyone, or talked to other people about it behind their back. You can choose to respond how you wish, but you must give them this chance to explain themselves.

And if that brings about no change in either of you, you are invited to bring in two or three others –hopefully not to gang up on the offender, but for accountability and transparency. And if that doesn’t work, you reveal it to the community, rather than letting it poison things from the inside out. We all know what it’s like to be in toxic places, to be able to trace all of the poison back to one hurtful incident. The community is empowered to heal itself, because it cannot function unless group needs are being cared for.

And of course, the most beautiful part of the passage, even though it doesn’t look like it at first: “If the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax-collector.”

Which of the disciples was a former tax-collector? Which of the people whose requests for healing were met by Jesus was a Gentile? How did Jesus respond to both?

They are healed, called, and integrated.

Two people try to repair a broken bond. If they cannot do so with any of the instruments available to them, the community is called upon to remind the offender of the liberation and love that called that person in the first place.

We can make this interpretive leap because of the context of this passage: it’s surrounded by stories of healing and forgiveness. The passage just preceding this one is the parable of the one lost sheep, a parable that rejoices in the all-encompassing love of the God who goes out into the midnight wilderness to search for us, the God who rolls away the stone of our pain in order to welcome us into daily resurrection.

And, most germane to today’s passage, Peter asks Jesus after today’s Gospel reading, “How many times should I forgive someone who sins against me? As many as seven times?” “No, seventy-seven.” That’s not a literal number, of course – it’s meant to be hyperbole. A million times a million.

Lest we think this calls us to be doormats, Jesus begins the chapter by impressing upon the disciples the seriousness of the consequences of sin. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away, he says. We should avoid bad behaviour, but when we slip up, there is still love and forgiveness.

You can cut yourself off from God; you can try to escape, but God will keep calling.

This is not, as the Apostle Paul says, an invitation to sin all the more. It is a reminder that we need to live into our true calling as God’s people: that what we bind on earth will be bound in heaven; what we loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. When we embody love, love spreads. When we are together, Christ’s real Presence is among us, even we children of these latter years who have neither seen nor heard, and yet perhaps saw and heard in ways that his friends in first century Palestine never could have seen nor heard.

St. Margaret’s lives this out every day, in each of our individual lives, and here communally, together. We have this beautiful ministry of Hineni House, which today will start another new year of discernment, deepening spirituality, and inspiring souls to grow and be changed. If we look at Hineni House from a purely selfish perspective, they have a lot to teach us about community and the practices of forgiveness that we heard about this morning. Here are folks who sign on to live into it in a radical way. This is a gift that St. Margaret’s has given itself. Here is a community that embodies all of the joys, sorrows, and struggles of that early Christian community, that fledgling group of believers who weren’t always quite sure who they were and what they were doing, but were driven wholly by the desire to deepen their relationship with the one who made the stars of night, the force from whom all life and love flows out in streams of living justice across the universe. And in some ways Hineni House is even more precious, because those who are drawn to it come bearing threads from so many other tapestries of faith and experience. This is a group not made up only of people who would be familiar to us as Christians. This is a group that may never have crossed paths if not for Hineni, St. Margaret’s sacred well, if you like, and in that way they truly can be said to have been called by God.

St. Margaret’s could choose to simply observe this sacramental circle of people passively, gaining only knowledge to feed ourselves and our own dreams, but instead we choose to do more than learn and observe. We choose to not only support the House but to celebrate how they care for each other and for us.

That’s something to be proud of. Lots of parishes are willing to mourn the lack of young people in their pews, but not many parishes are willing to sign onto concretely supporting young people in their spiritual journeys freely, without knowing for certain if that young person is going to come out the other end a Christian, or even religious at all!

If we can affirm and celebrate that Hineni House shows us in miniature what a community called by God from all the corners of the world looks like, then it is incumbent upon St. Margaret’s to show Hineni House what it means to model that love in a Christian context, with a few more people and a story of the marriage that we proclaim took place between God and the cosmos. Our call is to live out loud this story of death and resurrection, of calling and forgiving, for each other and for Hineni House.

We are so lucky at St. Margaret’s to have this very tangible slice of the Kingdom, and we are lucky to be given this very concrete opportunity to show forth how Christ’s love makes us act in the world.

As we begin this new year at Hineni House and at St. Margaret’s, let us pledge to be like mirrors facing each other, within which the endless depths of the love of God are made manifest and reflected back, for the building up of God’s Kingdom here, in this place.

“Do you want to tell this story?” (Sermon, September 3rd 2017)

“From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.’ 23But he turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling-block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’

24 Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. 26For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?

27 ‘For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. 28Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.’”

Matthew 16: 21-28


Last week, we talked about heroes. We talked about Peter, who made his proclamation to Jesus. “You are the hero we’ve been promised.”

But there’s a twist.

The hero they’ve been promised is not an avenging angel, or a warrior king come to violently liberate vassal Israel from its latest Pharaoh.

This hero will be betrayed and executed by friends and authorities. Executed in a way that normally would result not in a swift burial but in a corpse left to be eaten by dogs.

No wonder Peter rebukes Jesus.

The Gospel of Matthew softens the word “rebuke” by including Peter’s line: “This should never happen to you!” It doesn’t sound like a rebuke, does it? The Gospel of Mark includes no such line. It only says that Peter rebuked Jesus. The Greek word is “epitiman,” and implies chiding as well as warning. It is the same word used to describe what Jesus does when he tells the disciples not to reveal who he is – that is, the Messiah.

Is Peter warning Jesus not to speak of these things openly? Why?

Perhaps Peter is caught up short by this new idea of what his hero will look like, and indeed what it implies about the kind of people he and his friends are to let this happen. And he rejects it, rejects that his hero will be betrayed and brutally, shamefully murdered. He’s being invited into a major paradigm shift, and he doesn’t like it.

We usually don’t, do we?

Of course it’s not the only paradigm shift he’ll have to endure before the story is over. Jesus says that his true followers should imitate him in this hideous march to death. And eventually Peter himself goes from being the hero of his own story to being the villain, the one who leaves his friend behind. No-one likes to consider that they are capable of things like this.

But we are.

Peter says, “You’re the hero we’ve been promised.”

Jesus says, “Yes…but it’s not what you think.”

Peter hears, “No, I’m not. And neither are you. No one is.”


Except maybe it isn’t.

The most beloved stories of our culture are about ordinary people who discover that they aren’t so ordinary. Star Wars. The Matrix. Harry Potter. Ordinary folks suddenly inducted into a secret world of magic super abilities; ordinary folks who discovered that they were extraordinary.

We love that story because we all imagine ourselves as the hero of our own story. Of course in time we usually discover that we are, in fact, painfully ordinary, and painfully mortal.

All of us know what it’s like when we discover that we and the people we love are really just…us. Fallible animals, capable of great innovation and kindness, as well as great cruelty and selfishness, and usually existing in the rather undramatic space in-between.

What frightens many Christians is the possibility that maybe the Church is not the hero of the story of creation.

What frightens many others is the possibility that maybe humankind is not the hero of the story of creation.

The belief that humankind is the hero is called anthropocentrism, and it’s one of the idolatries of the modern Church. Human beings have a very important role to play in the cosmos, but we are only one piece of a massive and complicated system of interlocking parts, all of which live or die by each other.

Our actions as a species have huge consequences, and that should frighten us, because we’re not driving this bus.

But it can also be a comfort. The earth does not stand or fall based solely on us. Even if we had managed to avoid committing the great sin of climate change, life on earth could still end by a stellar black hole, or a gamma ray burst, or the bizarre phenomenon scientists call galactic cannibalism. All life on earth will eventually perish when the sun burns out in five billion years, no matter what happens to humankind before then. We humans are supremely adaptable and terribly fragile. The first recognizable skeletons of Homo sapiens are about 200,000 years old. Our sun, by contrast, is 4.5 billion years old.

It is no longer possible, knowing what we know, to imagine God creating the sun solely to serve us.

We have two choices: We either believe that there is no story at all, and leave this building immediately to go do something else, or we choose to take our rightful place in the story alongside creatures like the sun and seeds and dark matter – alongside other servants and children and lovers.

Because this is God’s story, and we’re all a part of it.

This should not make us feel small or insignificant. The greatest gift of God to creation is that all of us are known and loved fully by the One who made all things. Never unlovable or forgettable or disposable – here by love for love, from seed to star.

Here’s an amazing fact: Every single day, a human being replaces 40 to 50 billion of the trillions of cells in her body. Every day, cells are dying and being replaced by new ones. Every cell has a story.

Every being is a cell in the body of the cosmos.

Some are stars, some are planets, some are single-celled organisms wiggling in a drop of seawater, and some are people with stories, hopes, and dreams.

God knows and treasures every single one, because God can. But no one of those cells is in full control, even though sometimes it may appear that way.

Jesus says, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

So, Christians, knowing who we really are: Are we not only willing to embrace our finitude, but willing to be one of the cells that dies so another may live? Are we willing to exchange a seat of power for a seat of pain? When we hear the words, “One day, when the glory comes, it’ll be ours,” do we hear that addressed to us, or to someone else? Are we able to accept, even rejoice in the possibility that when the glory comes, the poor and despised of this world will be lifted up to walk to God across our backs? Are we able to rejoice in the God who asks us to be willing to endure torture and execution for what is right when all the world proclaims it to be foolishness, or sin? Are we able to gather and worship not because we are better than the world, but because we are reminding ourselves that we are all a part of a much greater story than we can ever fully comprehend, and the truth of that story: that God’s business is the business of love, and love is worth dying for, and why would you ever not want to be a part of that story?

I’m asking these questions because I’m not always sure of the answer myself.

We are servants and yet we do all carry power. Some are white, some are not, some are queer, some are straight, some are able-bodied (always temporarily), some are disabled, some are neurotypical and some are not, some are men and some are women and some are both and some are neither, some are poor and some are rich and some are in between. All of us hold power, and all of us have known the absence of power, the sting of rejection, the pain of humiliation. This makes us mortal.

What makes us mighty, what puts us on the side of Love, is how we respond when we see others subjected to that pain. What makes us eternal is embracing our finitude before it can be inflicted upon us as though it were a punishment in a world that equates lowliness and difference with degradation and impurity.

Do you want to tell this story?

Refuse to believe that lowly means less.

Embrace the vulnerable, and proclaim your own vulnerability loud.

Exchange the crushing burden of protagonism for a cross.

The story is already happening all around you.

To paraphrase the singer Florence Welch, don’t give up – just give in.

Let us who are here by love for love be love.

Like Moses, like Mary, like Jesus, let’s proclaim, Hineni. “Here I am.”