Archive for October, 2017

Kenosis (Poem)

When God tears at your heart,

open your veins.


Let life flow out:

an immediate willful river


a craving

long unsated.


Fill your lungs

deepen the red


let the flames pour out

and the all


fall in.

“Thanksgiving,” (Sermon, October 8th 2017)

“On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. 12As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, 13they called out, saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!’ 14When he saw them, he said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went, they were made clean. 15Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. 16He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. 17Then Jesus asked, ‘Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? 18Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’ 19Then he said to him, ‘Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”

Luke 17: 11-19


There he went again, running his mouth at the table, the relative who always had to have the last word, always had to be louder than anyone else, always had to prove his point. And oh did I want to slay him with my wit, but it was a bit dull, having been bathed in a couple glasses of wine, one of which was in my hand. So I bit my tongue, and set that glass down on the table…and everyone jumped as the foot of the glass just exploded beneath it.

I guess I “set it down” a little more enthusiastically than usual! I guess biting your tongue is no guarantee that your opinion of a person won’t be known.

That was Thanksgiving dinner several years ago. We’ve all experienced something like that, right? I know there’s got to have been one awkward Thanksgiving dinner for each one of us in this church right now. I’m lucky enough that none of mine have been actively painful or toxic. But all of us have experienced the awkward. Awkward conversations, awkward kitchen mishaps, awkward political situations in the world that guarantee someone’s going to get into a screaming match, awkward subtext left unspoken, you know how it is.

And yet we do it, and all too often still feel thankful. Many folks, with families or friends, will still fold themselves into the chaos and occasional sharp edges of being gathered together. There is something profound about gathering together in a world that often appears far more violent than gentle, far more cruel than kind, to eat – to aggressively celebrate our status as living creatures who love each other.

Thankfulness is not a simple emotion. Like hope and joy, thankfulness has a shadow. It is painted with shades of awe. At its most pure, thankfulness reminds us of how vulnerable we are. Maybe that’s why harvest celebrations feature it so prominently. We are bringing in the sheaves and rejoicing in the feast because we know that lean times are coming. We bask in the love we have for one another because we know that that will have to be our light for the next few months as the nights draw in and winter comes. I was made most aware of this as I wrote this particular passage Friday night and heard the rain pounding on my windows and tolling ghostly bells in my flue.

The gift of our faith is that vulnerability is a sign of blessing. This is a precious and radical thing that we give to the world as Christians. It’s precious because it’s truly a balm for those who suffer; it’s radical because in an often senselessly violent world like the one we’re living in, it’s a little unsettling.

Today’s story is a perfect reminder of that truth. It’s a standalone story, sandwiched between two other stories that occur at unspecified times in separate locations. This is unusual – it’s far more common for a Sunday Gospel passage to be part of a much longer narrative arc. And it only occurs in the Gospel of Luke.

We may then very well ask what this despised Samaritan was doing among all these Jewish lepers? Well, Semitic purity culture made for strange bedfellows. Not just lepers but anyone who had a skin condition like psoriasis or eczema or even bad acne had to be segregated from the community. But it was pretty much unheard of for people to live isolated lives back then, so naturally they banded together, with their only commonality being their conditions and the resulting outcast status. Notice that Luke says they kept their distance while yelling to Jesus, out of respect to his status as a Jewish holy man who was not to touch the unclean.

Being made clean then represented not only health but liberation, the ability to reintegrate into society. It must have been such a strange moment of joy and confusion, so I don’t really blame the guys for just taking off and not going back to Jesus. Who knows who they had left behind in their illness, and who knows how long they had had to stay away?

But something very interesting is happening here. The blessing is in vulnerability. Perhaps these people were so astonished by their liberation that they couldn’t help but run screaming away from that previous vulnerability, that previous sense of loss and self-loathing.

We can empathize with that, right? How many times have you thought to yourself, “The sooner I do x, the sooner I can put this whole sorry business behind me”? “The sooner things can go back to the way they were?” We’ve all been there; some of us may be there right now. There is nothing wrong with the desire to return to a strong, capable state of being. I am not trying to say that anyone should feel compelled to wallow in helplessness.

But there is no sense in disavowing vulnerability as though it is shameful. This is impossible in the long run, and can make us see the vulnerable as obscene or unworthy.

There is no sense in pushing vulnerability away so forcefully that we forget the one upon whom we rely to see us through in the first place.

It’s not just that the Samaritan remembered his kindergarten manners while the others forgot.

It’s the fact that not only did he say thank you; he turned back; he literally “repented,” that’s what the word in Greek means. He went running back to Jesus – Jewish Jesus, whom he would normally have no contact with, as a Samaritan – and fell at his feet.

Jesus then says something interesting. “Your faith has made you well.”

It’s a testament to the over-the-top generosity of God that all of them are made clean, all of them are reintegrated. But only this one is proclaimed by Jesus to have been “made well.”

What could that mean?

Here again the Greek gives us a new lens. The word used can mean to be made well. But it can also have another meaning. It can also mean to save, or to deliver.

Your faith has saved you. Your faith has delivered you.

Saved from what? From the disease? Well, he didn’t say that to the others. It must be deliverance from something else.

Perhaps from the sting of vulnerability, the fear of shame, the sense that he was any less.

Not in the Temple, which he would not have even entered as a Samaritan. Not in the gilded hall of a king.

On the highway, within a group of other unclean people, forced to beg from a distance for liberation and reintegration.

God saw him, where he was, at his worst, and healed him. Not because of a sacrifice, not because of an act of righteousness, but because he asked.

All of them admitted that their need was greater than their pride. But only one realized the beautiful gift of a God who knows our needs even before we ask, and desires only that when we are afraid or in trouble or unclean, whatever the modern version of that may be, we lean into those arms.

What else would you expect from God, our Father in heaven?

This thanksgiving, as we come together in a world that is all too often marked by hate and mass shootings and apathy, name your need for God and for the people you love and who love you. Name that you would not be the same without them. Say thank you. Say I love you. And if you can, say grace before you eat.

I feel the need to say this to you personally, as someone who like anyone has also known unexpected loss, and had to learn the hard way to speak love before it can’t be done face to face. This week I bet a lot of people wondered if there really is anything to be thankful for in our world.

There is.

The Law of our Land

This piece arose out of a decision to rework an earlier entry. For #OrangeShirtDay, I was going to re-post this piece, written shortly after my last full day at the TRC in 2013. I went back and re-read it, and I saw that I had changed in my soul since writing it, which surprised me, as I didn’t feel like my feelings had changed much, but clearly my expression of them has. Today, I find it self-centered and maudlin, focusing more on my own white guilt than on the stories I heard, and expressing more concern with the terror of the past than the continued abuses that shackle indigenous people in Canada today. I don’t think it’s a terrible piece…but I can see, as I said before, how my soul has been changed over the four years since I wrote it. I decided to write something new, and I may even make it a yearly ritual, to see how much my soul changes over time.


Last Sunday, on the 24th of September, I joined with members of my church in a second Walk for Reconciliation. Tens of thousands of people re-traced the route we took four years previously – this time in better weather. We arrived at the Reconciliation Expo, where I participated in my first blanket exercise, led by Kairos. You can learn more about those here. It was described to witnesses as a sort of “experiential history lesson.” For those who have seen it: I was one of the millions of indigenous people killed by disease brought over by European settlers, centuries before reserves and residential schools, which meant I went back to my seat quite early.

We were asked to share our most powerful moment when it was through.

For me, it was the image of two people standing back to back. This represented an indigenous person and a child who had returned from residential school. Children beaten for speaking their language, scourged and silenced for attempting to preserve their cultural identity, despite great bravery and resourcefulness in the face of such abuse, often returned home having lost some or much of that identity. Forcibly stripped of memory and shackled with shame, they often returned to find themselves alienated and confused by what had once been intuitive.

This often forced a wedge between them, their families, and their communities, all of which was symbolized by these two people standing back to back.

Revisiting some of my blog entries from my time at the 2013 TRC events, I am struck by the memories of listening circles and testimonies, of the people who came to tell their stories, with and without fear but never mincing words, and what a beautiful and terrible gift it was to hear the truth.

I am struck by the memories of tears, the memories of emotional exhaustion that was palpable for everyone who entered that blessed site.

I am struck by what for me has become the scent of reconciliation: sage, truly a spirit in itself, omnipresent and enfolding, a healing herb which for me as a settler not only soothes but stings, as so many medicines do, calling me to not only pray for and contribute to the healing of others but to be healed from the soul sickness I carry, being complicit in the system of colonialism that once was and that continues to be.

I am struck by the mixed feelings of uncertainty and comfort: uncertainty because I walked among indigenous people as a foreigner, and yet also felt at home in the smells of medicine and the sights of Coast Salish art and regalia and the sounds of drums, because I grew up hearing these songs and seeing these animals and smelling these smells (sage smells like healing; cedar smells like home).

In my un-erasable foreignness I remember the all-encompassing arms of home embracing me when I stepped off the plane after my emotionally turbulent adventures in England, the land of my ancestors, and once again saw the art of Bill Reid; when I rode over a bridge and saw the fir trees; when I re-acquainted myself with the bigness of everything here that sustains me and the people who have cared for it for thousands of years.

And in the ocean of these spiritually tangled memories, I remember Audrey Siegl’s joy in May when I told her it was my first time singing the Woman’s Warrior Song, the unmitigated delight of her embrace, and my own surprise at her spontaneous welcoming of my voice: “Oh! I have to hug you!”

I am a settler child…and I belong to this land. I am bound to her laws, and reconciliation is only one of them.

And yet, I suppose, in a way it is the only one.

“Take a knee,” (Sermon, October 1st 2017)

If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, 2make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. 4Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. 5Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
6 who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
7 but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
8   he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.

Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
10 so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

12 Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

Philippians 2:1-13

“So that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Sometimes the lectionary’s just too perfect, isn’t it?

Today, friends, I am praising God for this passage, because today we are finally hearing it in its proper context.

In the past, you see, when I heard the line, “At the name of Jesus every knee should bend,” I always imagined my friends who are not Christian kneeling before Jesus, and it hurt my heart. It made me sad, because it would represent a loss of who they were, and who they are is beautiful and precious to God now.

But today, the full weight of the meaning is on our shoulders.

Those who know a little bit about Paul will know that many of the letters in our Bible were written to churches who were struggling and for whom he sometimes had harsh words. The community at Philippi was different. Paul loved them. The letter is warm and affectionate. Paul did not give them this wisdom in order to castigate. This was advice given to those whom he trusts to live it out.

Today, that includes all of us here, in St. Margaret’s Cedar Cottage, in 2017.

Let’s explore the first piece of that hymn:

“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,

who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.”

It’s easy to see this as a call to debasing ourselves, a call to accept suffering in silence. It is not that, even though others have made it that in the past, as others have put the call to kneel into the service of colonialism and exceptionalism. But we are not being called to literally be slaves. Human beings, who can become slaves to other human beings unwillingly, do not serve God by embracing our chains. This was the rhetoric that led us to today’s protests in the first place.

No, Paul is saying something much more shocking, both to us and to the people among whom he served, who believe it or not were more like us than we might care to think. Roman society was predicated on the pursuit of honour and upward mobility. People spent their lives chasing the dream to become more, higher, richer, closer to gods.

Sound familiar?

Now of course this is not an inherently bad desire – it’s the unconscious desire of every mortal creature to perpetuate itself and become stronger. But it, like so many other benign and understandable impulses, has become an idol to those who sit atop golden towers of plenty and still imagine they are in the mud. And many of us below have found our own benign impulse turning itself into aspiration to be like them, to seek ascension and small godhood ourselves.

Paul calls the Philippians, and us, across time, to abandon our attempts at small godhood. We are called to complete renunciation of any kind of godhood at all.

God chose slavery and degradation because it was the one thing God could never have inflicted upon Her. She chose it in order to know us better, to close the gap that we insist exists between us and God. And She did.

We are not God, but we can have the same mind within us. We can choose to try to close the gap.

How can we do this?

Let’s first acknowledge something very important to our purposes. The original “take a knee” protest of football player Colin Kaepernick, had nothing to do with Trump. What Kaepernick was actually protesting was police violence against black and brown people. Kaepernick himself, a Christian, has named his act as being born out of his faith. When Kaepernick takes a knee, he proclaims that God, not the state, is supreme. God, not the state, deserves the true fealty of the soul.

It’s unfortunate that his original intent has been co-opted, because this is incredibly relevant to our faith. We as Christians proclaim not only that God chose weakness rather than power to save the world, but that God chose a particular kind of weakness. It was not apolitical, because true powerlessness is never apolitical. True powerlessness exists at the crossroads of societal apathy and societal condemnation.

It was not enough for God to be made manifest in a person. God chose a brown man, conceived in an unmarried teenager, born to poor refugee parents in occupied territory. And God chose to work out our salvation not through a powerful king or brilliant academic but through a rural prophet and teacher who eventually became a condemned criminal executed by the state.

It’s easy for us to forget how radical this is when Christians can buy images of an instrument of torture in solid gold to wear around our necks. Let me be clear that I actually think those images are beautiful, because they remind us of God’s power to transform an instrument of state oppression into one of cosmic salvation.

But again, how do we close the gap?

We claim those vows to renounce Satan and the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God. We commit ourselves to God’s kingdom and God’s mission, which is to draw all people to God, the universal force of Love which is eternal and undying, the force that stirs within us when we are called to exhibit compassion and solidarity rather than fear and finger-pointing. We as Christians have a particular way of doing this, borne out of a particular story, and we should embody that wholeheartedly while affirming the ways of others and locking arms with them in our work.

It’s interesting that a lot of folks believe that when the church engages in activism it forgets or abandons its true values. This is a distortion. The kind of church that Kaepernick goes to understands things differently. This kind of church understands things differently. We are a reconciling community. We joined in the walk last week and we have a territorial acknowledgement every Sunday to honour the people of the land, and to name that this land is unceded and so our relationship is not exactly as it should be. Naming things gives us power over them, and so naming a relationship as broken and in need of healing has already changed the dynamic.

It’s the difference between saying our Saviour was killed and saying he was murdered.

The religious authorities of Jesus’ time confront him when he enters the Temple, their place of power: “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” Jesus responds with a riddle about the source of John’s power to baptize. The answer is probably the same as the answer to their question: his authority and the baptism come from God. But they’re not listening. Instead of seeking to proclaim the truth, they are more concerned with how others will react to their response. Classic politicians, these. But there are some people, within and outside our tribe, nation, and preferred company, who are not afraid to work out the truth of our salvation, who are not afraid to allow God to speak through their lips.

The work of our salvation is to affirm the truth of God’s sanctification of humility, and to stand, or perhaps kneel, in solidarity with those who embody that truth of where true power, humility, and sanctity lies.

Brothers, sisters, and friends, you who know salvation, have seen salvation, speak truth with your lips, your bodies, your hearts.

If you don’t know how, ask God to tell you. Admit your own fragility and turn to the One who has promised to answer those who seek.

Proclaim that the humanity enslaved and crucified today is the true embodiment of divine power.

Proclaim that God, veiled in fragile flesh, is more powerful than any power exhibited by human authority.