Archive for August, 2019

A Blank Cassette, Part 2 (Letters from the Coast)

This is the second in a three-part series on the death of my father.


Years later, around Christmastime, I was visiting my stepmother. We went to a solstice party. It was fun for most of the night, and then I got drunk and tried to jam with her friends, many of whom had been his friends as well.

I had one of his guitars. It didn’t have a strap, and it felt so different from his Martin, the one I used at home.

I couldn’t keep up.

I don’t think I’ve ever felt so embarrassed.

I choked out, “Can someone please…um…please take this?” and handed it off and walked away.

I sat in the living room and cried silently. My husband tried to comfort me.

Eventually, my stepmother joined me.

“What’s wrong? Why aren’t you playing?”

“I can’t,” I rasped. “I’m no good at it. I’m just embarrassing everyone.”

“No you’re not,” she said. “C’mon, go join them.”

I wouldn’t. And after a few more awkward minutes, it finally came out, as I was hoping it never would:

“You had a whole life together that I will never be a part of. You tell me that he haunts you, haunts the house. He has never haunted me. All I feel is silence. All I feel is never being able to fully know if he loved me.”

She was appalled. “Of course he loved you. He loved you more than anything.”

“You’re secure in your love, in your story. I will never be.”

She tried to insist, and I know that she’s right. Everyone has always told me how much he loved me.

But it was because he told them.

Not me.

Never me.


We went home that night and I fell into bed. As usual, my stepmother stayed up late, listening to music. Some of it was probably his.

This was something my husband often complained about, that the music would go on and on no matter how late it was and no matter whether there were already other people asleep.

It was hard for me too. It felt like the lack of silence between my dad and his beloved of twenty-five years was being flaunted.

I know it wasn’t.

But it felt that way sometimes.


In the morning, I woke up blearily. There was so much snow on the ground, and more was falling. Snow and cold are silent too.

For some reason, I wandered into Dad’s old study. His old computer was there, and bits and bobs scattered about. I remembered going into that room a few days after he had died and finding his reading glasses, and how they had torn me in half, how I wailed over them. How could he be gone? His glasses are right here. Surely there’s been some mistake.

Now on the desk was a cassette tape.

I frowned, picked it up.

My eyes widened.

Neatly written on the liner paper was a set of songs that I had not seen together since 1994.

I brought it into the kitchen, where my stepmother was starting on breakfast.

“Where did you find this?” I asked.

She looked at it. “In the basement somewhere. Is that our wedding mix-tape?”

“No. This is a tape Dad made for me when I was…like, two years old,” I babbled. “He was afraid that I would forget his voice because he was away so much, so he made this for me. I listened to it until it fell apart. I thought that was the only copy in the world. I never thought I’d see it again.”

She smiled and continued prepping. “Heh. He gave you a Christmas present.”

It was so casual for her.

For me it was earth-shattering.

“He’s haunted me after all,” I sobbed to my husband.

“Come out,” (Sermon, August 25th, 2019)

On Thursday of last week, I was privileged to join people from our Diocese and a few other churches at St. Anselm’s near UBC for Queerest and Dearest day camp.

Queerest and Dearest is a camp for LGBTQIA2S+ people and their family members: birth, chosen, found, immediate, extended, church, or otherwise. Last year, campers were fortunate enough to have five days and four nights at Camp Artaban on Gambier Island, which were taken up with arts and crafts, outdoor games, time in nature, and queer and trans-positive worship and programming.

This year, camp could only be one day – but what a day!

There were so many things that struck me, but two of them stand out in particular.

The first was an activity we did at evening worship. The Rev. Carolina Glauster of Mount Olivet Lutheran Church, our chaplain for the day, led us in a reading of the raising of Lazarus.

Carolina instructed us to pair up. Then, we were told to say two things to our partner, using their name and proper pronouns.

The first, of course, was “Person’s name, come out.”

It wasn’t just an ordinary command – we were to imagine that this was God’s command to emerge into daylight, fully ourselves; a personal command, encompassing our entire being – that’s why we had to use the name.

I turned to my partner and said, “You should know, I’m probably going to have feelings.”

He said, “Me too.”

We were so nervous we did rock-paper-scissors to decide who would go first.

I think I had the deep honour of speaking God’s word first. Then he spoke God’s word to me.

“Clare, come out.”

I thought his voice might come full of weight, full of depth and meaning. But it was almost conversational. No need to make this a big deal.

Because it’s not.

I don’t mean that in a negative, minimizing way. I mean that raising someone and calling them out of the tomb others have erected around them is not a monumental task that requires all of God’s elbow grease. That might imply there was something beyond salvation within that person; that their state of being was more complicated for God to manage than a so-called normal person.

It’s not.

It might be hard for other people to accept and welcome, but never God.

Never God.

Which leads me to the next part of the exercise, a command for the symbolic crowd gathered around the tomb.

Jesus’ command in the story is, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

Again, we turned to each other. We had to use the correct pronouns.

My partner’s were he/his. I identify as nonbinary – neither male nor female, kinda in the middle. This is something that is relatively new. Many of you might understand what I’m talking about. I’m thirty-four now, but I had no vocabulary for how I have always felt until I was about twenty-seven. That was when I first heard the term genderqueer. I remember using it for myself because it felt so right, before I even really knew what it meant. All I knew was that it was me.

I’m still struggling to live into this identity that has always felt like mine, still struggling to claim pronouns, still struggling against the narrowness of how nonbinary is “supposed” to look and present

I call myself a pronoun avoider because I mostly prefer to use my own name as a pronoun. In this terrifying new wilderness of possibility, they/them felt too impersonal. But as I gain more and more friends who use it, it feels less impersonal. It’s become part of the fabric of the people I love.

So when it was my turn, I asked for they/them.

“Unbind them, and let them go.”

There were definitely feelings.

That activity was the first thing that struck me about the day.

On the Sabbath day, into the synagogue, comes a woman, bent over for eighteen years. Eighteen years spent only looking at the earth, only looking at her feet, or the feet of others. In English we sometimes talk about people being “bent double,” and when I think of this woman, “bent double” seems appropriate, because this woman isn’t just physically bent. This lady is also carrying all the weight of the patriarchy and ableism! No wonder she can’t stand up straight, girl is bent triple!

But that doesn’t stop her.

That says something about her, don’t you think?

She just shows up – the text says she “appears.” Jesus is teaching – was she already in the congregation, or did she hear him from outside and come in? It doesn’t say. What matters is that Jesus first proclaims her freedom, and then lays on hands.

He names her and performs a public action – both for her personally, but also so that others may witness his acceptance.

And of course, like the raising of Lazarus, this brings trouble.

The established hierarchy never likes to be unsettled. If this woman is determined enough to bring herself to the healer even with all of this weight piled on her back, just imagine what she’ll be able to do when she’s standing up straight.

The first thing she does is start praising God. That might seem innocuous, but it isn’t.

Which brings me to the second thing that struck me at Queerest and Dearest.

We came to the end of our time together, and I was standing outside, waiting for my ride to come.

At the end of a full day like the one I had experienced, I’m usually pretty tapped out, energetically.

But I was so, so full, that I talked at length with an old Indian couple walking by. Later a bat fluttered wildly above my head, catching bugs, and I couldn’t help but tell it how clever it must be to fly so well.

I’m not normally the kind of person to be so genuinely open and cheerful like that. I wanted to hug everything I saw. I was drunk on the Spirit.

It occurred to me that if I had had Queerest and Dearest when I was young, I might have grown into a totally different person.

No hiding, no hanging back, no fear of sharing myself.

I thought, “Wow. If we engineered a place like this for every person on the planet, where they could be fully themselves – what kind of human family would we have today?”

The world we have would certainly be totally turned upside down.

And that’s scary for the people at the top.

Just imagine the leader of the synagogue looking at this woman praising God with her whole heart, and perhaps understanding better than some of Jesus’ other detractors what people do when they feel like God has freed them to be themselves.

Freedom and joy are an invasive species. They upset carefully manicured lawns of hierarchy like dandelions. Funnily enough, dandelions are actually packed full of beneficial things like potassium and other vitamins. But a lot of people hate them, because they pop up uninvited and can’t be contained.

The weeds of God’s liberation likewise cannot be contained. And Jesus proclaims that, in front of everyone. For ancient peoples, ailments were seen as connected to malevolent spiritual forces, but it doesn’t take much mental gymnastics for us to see Satan as not the disability itself but all that extra weight I talked about earlier.

At least the leader has the decency to feel shame when Jesus points this out.

Friends, I invite you today, and in the days to come, to consider what weight you might be carrying on your back – and indeed, the weight that others carry. Jesus is not only committed to pulling you upright and letting it roll off your back. Jesus’s intent has always been to extend the power of healing to everyone. You may yet be called, once upright, to speak those words to others bent double under the weight of oppression and self-hatred: “Come out.” “Stand up.”

Don’t forget that that might bring you into trouble sometimes, and that you may yet be called to speak to the crowd: “Unbind the children of God, and let them go.”

A Blank Cassette, Part 1 (Letters from the Coast)

This is another multi-part entry, on the death of my dad.



Tomorrow is my dad’s birthday. He would have been 70.

I’ve written about him and his sudden death on here a few times. Grieving him has been long and complicated. He was a very taciturn person whose love always felt a bit…theoretical.

I have trouble with Jesus’s use of the word “Father” for God for exactly this reason. I imagine that, for many people, the relationship I had with my dad would feel quite similar to the postmodern relationship to God: mostly built on silence and rather inscrutable. It took a very long time for me to be able to listen to the love hanging unspoken in that silence.

I decided when I was about twenty-five or so that I was going to change the relationship. I wanted to risk breaking that silence. I wanted to speak the love that hung unspoken.

Part of it was that I realized that I had spent a few years wishing my relationship with my dad was more communicative, more open. And I had learned about my dad’s very difficult and rather sad childhood, and it made me feel more sympathy for him.

I thought, “You know, it’s probably a lot easier for a 25-year-old to risk change than it is for a 60-year-old.”

And, “I’m an adult now. I have the ability to make my own choices. I can’t just expect this without putting in my own work.”

It started so small. I ended a phone call with, “Okay, Dad – love you!”

I remember thinking, It has to start with this. What if he dies tomorrow and I never remember saying ‘I love you’?

I could tell he was taken aback. When I tell people the story verbally they always laugh when I impersonate his reaction. “Oh… (cough) I…br…love you too.”

I made other small movements toward him. All seemed successful. It was hard to tell. But Dad was in a good place anyway. He had moved and was really fitting well into the community. Everyone loved him. He had a band. He was writing his own songs for the first time.

I felt myself working up to a big moment. I wanted it to be on my thirtieth birthday.

I have a strong feeling that I actually talked to him about it the last time I saw him alive, about two months before he died.

I wanted to go fishing. I hadn’t been fishing with him since I was about twelve. And I wanted to end the day with laying down some tracks in his basement. We had done a couple the Christmas before, just with his iPhone, and I was impressed with the sound quality.

He seemed almost excited about it.

It never happened.

Instead of fishing, I went to a funeral.

Instead of laying down tracks in the basement, we spread his ashes at the top of the Sea to Sky gondola. They blew away and I forgot what Alleluia meant for a long time.

The silence between us became so, so deep.

“What love looks like,” (Sermon, August 18th, 2019)

Some time ago, a journalist and writer named Luke O’Neil started a blog called “Hell World,” where he shares his own private musings, mostly about politics. In April of this year, he wrote a post called “I hate what they’ve done to almost everyone in my family.” In it, he first chronicles the changes in his relationship with his family as they became, for lack of a better word, radicalized by Fox News.  He then shares, with permission, stories from other young people who had had the same experience. Some of them are heartbreaking. One young man writes, “When I found my dad dead in his armchair…Fox News was on the TV. It’s likely the last thing he saw. I hate what that channel and conservative talk radio did to my funny, compassionate dad. He spent the last years of his life increasingly angry, bigoted, and paranoid.”

There are a lot of folks in our world calling for increased dialogue, civility, and kindness. An article like this, in which so many people admit that they have had to sever contact with family members; in which so many admit that they don’t leave their children alone with their grandparents, makes the work of mending fences seem impossible.

In some cases, we should absolutely seek to find common ground, to try to weave together a new bridge between our hearts. But in others, maybe, as Jesus says, we might be called to cut our losses for the greater work of compassion, and for our own health.

I think this is especially hard in Canada where we joke about how our favourite subjects for conversation are mundane things like the weather. The real joke is that now even that might lead us into an argument, depending on one’s conversation partner’s beliefs about climate change. What a strange world we live in.

On the other hand, we might say that never before has it been so easy to defend our faith. For we know that Jesus would not approve of much of the rhetoric that calls itself Christian in North America. We know he calls us to have open hearts and minds and hands. If we choose, we progressives can actually make the argument that “the Bible is very clear”! For, in the case of how to treat refugees or victims of violence, or how to conduct oneself in a position of power, the Bible actually is clear – and it does not call us to exclude and abuse and slander.

Of course there is always danger in making in-groups and out-groups. But there are two things to remember which Luke was kind enough to include bracketing today’s text. One is that we must not be afraid. The other is that we are called to love our neighbours as ourselves. So perhaps the danger does not come in standing firm in our convictions, or calling someone on their toxic behaviour. The danger comes from us forgetting that they too are people loved by God.

Sometimes reminding them of that love looks like giving them a good shake, and sometimes it look like gathering them up in their loneliness, and proving that the world is not so frightful and cruel as to excuse frightful and cruel behaviour.

Let me be clear that I don’t think we are always called to throw ourselves into debates and battles. Emotional labour and the fatigue that comes with it is a thing, and we all need time to handle it. But we can stand firm. That’s bigger than saying, “When they go low, we go high.” That sentiment so often presumes the aggressor is acting in good faith and will be shamed by our goodness, and all too often they are not. Instead they will claim that we are as insincere as they are, that we are merely “virtue-signalling,” overflowing with self-righteousness while simultaneously just as duplicitous and scheming as our detractors. That’s when humour as a response is most helpful – like Elijah doing battle on Mount Carmel with the prophets of Baal, cheekily suggesting that perhaps their god is not answering their prayers because he had to go to the bathroom; or like God and the hilarious living parable of the prophet Jonah and his doomed bush. Some people punch Nazis, and some people just cover them in silly string, or like the unnamed teen who, in one delightful story out of Scotland, drowned out a racist’s venomous street corner ramblings by standing next to him while playing the bagpipes, and subsequently followed him wherever he tried to spread his hate that day.

Jesus was never merely a gentle pastoral figure – the white, blue-eyed hippie with a guitar, or even the nondescript kindergarten sage many of us grew up with who told us to be nice, share, and work hard. This regularly happens to our heroes as the culture tries to sanitize them. Folks who call upon more activists to be “like Martin Luther King” forget how deeply unpopular he was in his time, particularly among white moderates, many of whom said he went “too far.” Not because being kind to others is too far, but because King named uncomfortable truths, like the fact that 11am on Sunday mornings was the most segregated hour of the week, or that the war in Vietnam was exploitative and ill-advised, or that sometimes rioting and property damage were justified because they provided a way to bring to light the anger of the oppressed against a deeper injustice.

The same thing happened with Rosa Parks, who tends to be painted as a genteel model of spontaneous nonviolent resistance, or at least that was the way her story was framed when I learned it in school as a kid. In real life, she had been an activist for years before the bus incident in Montgomery, and had even been arrested for other acts of civil disobedience prior to that action. It was also anything but spontaneous. She was chosen by the NAACP to perform the sit-in because of her prominence in the community.

Likewise, no-one killed Jesus for teaching us preschool ethics. He was killed because he stood up against an abusive system and challenged its narrative. He insisted that God had no use for hollow acts of servitude to the state, that God wanted more for us than knuckling under until we could realize some metaphysical reward in heaven. God wanted healing, community, and liberation. God wanted us to risk everything for the kingdom.

Sanding off the sharp edges of one who, now dead, accepted that they would sow division in life, is a way for the system who killed that one to dull the power of their message. Sometimes, taking a stand means taking a stand, and it will set us apart from the ones we care about. Sometimes controversy erupts out of the smallest acts of resistance, and it reminds you of how shaky the system really is. It runs the way it does because at some point we all agreed that it should, or were pushed to believe it was the only possible way.

Jesus was only one person, but he inspired a movement that changed the course of history – admittedly not always for the better, but the very fact that he could do that should be a testament to who he was. To sow such division in a world far less individualistic than ours, where the family was the central unit and had the final say in many people’s lives, proves to us that his presence was so utterly compelling that it upset the entire social order of his time. For him to claim that blood families had less of a right to a person’s body and soul than God’s family, a chosen family, was deeply radical.

We may find that in our own circles our faith doesn’t cause much trouble, and that’s nothing to feel guilty about. But we are called to allow it to deeply influence how we move through the world, and not to count the cost when it means we have to take a stand on behalf of a liberating, boundary-breaking God.

So take a stand for that God, whatever that might look like. Know that when you do it, if you encounter anger or oppression, you’re never alone.

Jesus is with you, and so is this church.

God’s Heartbeat (Letters from the Coast)

August 5th found me once again decked out in red with my bodhrán on the bus, Skytrain, and a second bus, headed to Westridge Marine Terminal. The last time was almost exactly a year ago. I wore the same Tshirt (“Defend the Sacred,” from NTVS), the same “Janie” clergy shirt underneath, the same white stole gifted to me by a friend that I now think of as my “protest stole” (it’s covered in buttons and ribbons, souvenirs from other actions and important events like the TRC), and the same red kerchief on my head to keep the sun off.

The event was “Drums, Not Drills,” and I was ready.

My bodhrán and I had been specifically invited by my friend L, who is a warrior, having been arrested for blocking the gates of the tank farm and the terminal, and for chaining herself to a tree with her priest, my other friend the Rev. Laurel Dykstra. I feel strangely comforted bringing the drum with me. I had brought it to a gathering for the first time in April of 2018, and I can’t quite remember why. I don’t know that anyone told me to. Perhaps there was a call to bring instruments and it was the one that was easiest to transport. The day had been rainy, and I had brought a plastic bag just big enough for it. It had been given to me by my father, and I had only taken three or four lessons with it. For the most part I had only ever used it on the little albums I record for Lent and Advent. But it seemed appropriate especially as a white settler, as it is an instrument of my own people, and for the fact that I rather think my father would not approve of me participating in such actions, having been in the resource industry for most of his life (he was a lumber salesman). I like to think I am turning the river of history by using it for this purpose.

There is always an inevitable moment where one recognizes the kindred spirits nearby, and I saw some of these as I wove my way through the crowds at each new station. Some of them remembered me from other events, and asked me if I knew where the stop was. We didn’t sit together, but everyone knew we were together.

We arrived at the stop to find a helpfully placed banner (“Respect UNDRIP” #protectheinlet #stopkindermorgan) three drumming folks at the brow of the hill leading down to the oil tanks looking over the inlet. I drummed with them for a bit before heading down to the grassy patch near the road, which had tents and tables piled with food. Elders, middle-aged people, young people, little kids, dogs – everyone was represented. Folks I remembered from other days of action were there. Politicians, including Svend Robinson, were there. Taiko drummers grinned from under a tent. Later they would play for us, stances wide and powerful.

L stood with her Salal and Cedar banner. Her smile is like the first sun of the morning – gentle, filling you up. We stood together for a time and met some new people. One of them, a young teacher, stared at my clerical collar.

“Can you tell me what that’s about?” she said.

L and I laughed. “Well, I’m not sure what – it’s real, if that’s what you mean!” I said.

She laughed too. “Oh yeah! I didn’t know if it was like…a political statement, or – ”

“Yes,” L said, and I laughed some more.

There was a moment just before we began where I stood in the shadow of the Taiko tent, and I didn’t figure out who began it, but someone started to drum, just a simple stroke. There was no call, no invitation. Only the rhythm. Slowly, it grew louder and louder as more and more of us joined in. No one spoke. One woman tried to add extra beats, to get fancy, but it didn’t go anywhere and I saw her calmly return to that heartbeat.

The energy of the gathering shifted perceptively for me. The force of combined intent, of human hearts in sync, was breathtaking. When it ended, it ended, and the schedule continued. But I never forgot those long moments when it seemed our flesh, our brains, our hearts became permeable, and our blood rolled out invisibly to coat the skins of our drums, and it gave me hope for the future.

One Indigenous woman who I had seen at many of the actions spoke with such conviction and power, her voice almost a growl, weaving poetry into the air from the depth of her heart.

“I stood before that Kinder-Morgan gate and I knocked once for the children of the North,” she intoned, and several of the people around her cheered and beat their drums.

“I knocked twice for the children of the East!” she continued, and more of us cheered.

“I knocked three times for the children of the South! I knocked four times for the children of the West!” she roared. “I knocked to tell them, ‘We are coming for you!’”

There were songs. At times my arm got tired, so I stood behind one of the large stones littering the grassy patch and hoisted my foot up to rest on the one in front of me. I imagined it looked powerful, and giggled that it was really so I could rest my elbow on my thigh.

We drummed in the four directions, turning and touching the earth. Another Indigenous elder spoke fondly of the two large orca balloons three men held up with sticks. “Last time I saw those you made them dance when I sang the whale song,” she said, smiling. “I wanna see that again.” She got her wish; the men walked back and forth, bouncing their sticks, making the whales bob and weave. I wept and didn’t really know why. It was probably the delight in her voice.

Finally, we went on a sort of pilgrimage down a footpath through the woods around the outer boundary of the tank farm, drumming and singing. Hikers paused to stare. There was some hollering back and forth between elders and workers. All of it seemed fairly good-natured, at least on our side. We were told a story of a 70-year-old man who scaled a tree to remove the metal plate which kept eagles from nesting there.

I was bushed when we came back, but so glad I went.

I couldn’t say why I feel compelled to attend some of these actions. To many folks, this one in particular, in which we participated in no direct action, may have looked frivolous. Folks told stories, and we sang some songs and ate, and made signs. But no-one got arrested.

I ask myself sometimes, What good will this do? The government has made it abundantly clear that it doesn’t care about our actions, our stories, our demands, or our pleading. It will go on being addicted to oil. The earth is burning and no-one who can really do anything about it will.

Photo by Kimiko Karpoff, April 2018

And yet can I really say that nothing will occur when God’s people of all colours, creeds, languages, and nations come together to drum as one?

Could that have been God’s heartbeat I heard in the shadow of those tents?

“Myth-makers,” (Sermon, August 11th, 2019)

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. 2Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. 3By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.”

Hebrews 11:1-3

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

A friend introduced me to the music of Jay Brannan several months ago. Brannan is a singer-songwriter from Texas. He was raised in a conservative Baptist home and ended up leaving for California to become an actor, more than likely after discovering that he was gay. Over time he built up a music career through sharing his songs on Youtube.

Brannan has a sweet, almost plaintive voice, and his first album is low-fi, mostly just him and his guitar.

The first song my friend played for me was called “Goddamned.” In it, Brannan details his thoughts traveling through the Holy Land. He is clearly working through a lot of the theology he was force-fed as a child, and I could understand why my friend, who went through a similar struggle, shared it with me. It didn’t speak to me in the same way, but for those who have to break through the chains of spiritual abuse, naming such things is an act of bold resistance.

The chorus goes:

“‘Cause virgins don’t have babies / and water, it isn’t wine

And there’s a Holy Spirit, maybe / but she would never rent a room with walls built by mankind

Mary and Mohammed are screaming through the clouds / For you to lay your goddamned arms down

Rip your bigot roots up from the earth and salt the goddamned ground.”

In the interests of honesty let me add that while I have trouble singing the first few lines, I always join in on the last three.

Later, in the second verse, Jay sings, “Am I crazy? Maybe it’s me / But this all sounds like mythology.”

An admission which, for Jay, perhaps remembering thundering hellfire sermons from his childhood, was probably a moment of prophetic bravery.

For me, though, when I heard that line, I thought, “Well…yeah!”

See “myth” has become this dirty word in reference to religion, and it shouldn’t be. Myth was never meant to merely indicate something that wasn’t true. A myth is able to convey a depth of truth that ordinary facts cannot. Our ancestors have always known that, which is why they tell stories. We actually remember stories far better than facts. That’s probably why Jesus, like many other spiritual teachers, taught through story.

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

The problem with the more standard definition of “myth” is that it consigns myth to the exclusive realm of spiritual, religious, or metaphysical thought. It insinuates that everyday life and the secular world have no place for such things. But our everyday lives do have myths. Devaluing the idea of myth, or pushing it into the realm of the “merely” spiritual, fools us into thinking we as a species have grown out of them. And we so haven’t!

Richard Topping, the principal of Vancouver School of Theology, used to say, “Today’s myth is that a Lexus will make us happy.” We laugh, but we know it’s true. Commercials are probably the most recognizable Western cultural myths. But there are more in the zeitgeist, floating around, spun by today’s storytellers. One of them is that guns will protect people. One is that the poor deserve their lot in life because they just haven’t worked hard enough. Another is that ignoring hateful people and their rhetoric will make them go away.

Most of us know that none of those things are true, or at the very least, they are simplistic. They have never been factually true, but they continue to influence cultural movements and human souls the way older myths used to. We tell these stories in the campfire shadows of our uncertainty because it makes us feel safe, makes the world seem more understandable.

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

If we are not post-mythic, the point is not to try to grow past them, because we can’t. If we start from this assumption, that myths area by-product of human presence, we can move on to deciding which ones are allowed into our palace of meaning-making, here, today.

The point of a myth is to guide us through a loud and confusing world where there are many stories, many routes to take. So let’s think of myths like a map. Which ones give us a true and simple path? Which ones should we discard as out-of-date? Are some parts of them now under construction, or have they surrendered to erosion or natural disaster that changed the topography? Do some warn, “Here there be dragons”? Remember, myths are truer than true. There didn’t need to be literal grasshoppers and ants or tortoises and hares for us see truth and worth in those stories. They are illustrations of things we know to be real.

Now we will not know if our myth maps were the right route to follow until we come to the end of our lives. That’s what the faith, the conviction of things unseen, is for.

As Christians, we are called to use the Jesus map. And choosing it is so much more complicated and beautiful than “What would Jesus do?” although that is a big part of it. It is also so much more complicated than just uttering a magic prayer to be “saved,” as though that were ever done in Jesus’s time.

It’s about holding fast to the faith that Jesus gave us; not The Faith in a capital F exclusive Christians-only sense, but the faith as in the peace, the conviction, the heart of Jesus. It’s about accepting a posture of watchfulness for the one who will come to us unexpectedly – and remember Jesus begins this instruction with “Don’t be afraid.” It doesn’t have to be a frightened, paranoid watchfulness. Think of it more like the watchfulness you might have had waiting for an exciting event – a child watching for snow to show her Christmas is near – or watching at your window for an expected and much beloved guest.

So what is our Jesus myth? What’s the topography? What’s the landscape? It’s anything but easy. There are thick woods and barren wastelands. There are long stretches of unfathomed ocean. There are sticky humid swamps and mossy tundra. But there are also plains of soft sweetgrass and cathedral groves where sunlight paints everything in shades of gold. There are starfields above our heads which represent untold generations of faithful that came before and will come after us. And through it all a voice that proclaims an unbroken hymn: We are not alone. We have been fully known by the one who made us, and that one came to be with us to show us that we are never alone and that violence, ignominious death, and sin cannot change that. The very act of death indeed made it possible for all things to enter into a dance of resurrection and abiding presence.

Once you’ve accepted a myth as binding, you’ve got to dig in. Let it get into every nook and cranny, like beach sand or water. Let it bewitch you. Let it be childlike in its enthusiasm and adolescent in its intensity. Sometimes, it won’t be either of those things. When it isn’t, settle in for a stretch of contentment, or let it push you to reclaim what was lost. Your body and your heart will tell you what you need. Ask yourself questions. Ask God questions. Trust. Again, this will not always come easy or naturally. That’s okay. And if you find yourself trusting despite logic, despite patience, despite terror or pain or grief, let yourself laugh. It was the same for the psalmists, the same for the faithful among the Israelites in the desert.

Remember, faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. And we don’t need to be afraid.

Let faith frustrate you. Let it claim you. Let yourself be open to shouting at it, laughing at it, accepting it, pushing it away, doing everything we do with the ones we care for most deeply.

Let faith be your landscape.

[Trans]figured (Letters from the Coast)

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. 35For 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. 36For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?’ …

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, 3and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. 4And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. 5Then Peter said to Jesus, ‘Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’ 6He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. 7Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!’ 8Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.

As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. 10So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead could mean.

Mark 8:34-37, 9:1-10

Does God make mistakes?

That’s a whole post (or a whole other lifetime of books), but it was the question I remember pondering with a spiritual guide in seminary as we talked about trans people and Christianity.

I knew so few trans people before I started seminary, and this was probably a year away from my discovery of the term genderqueer and the beginning of my journey toward coming out as nonbinary. Despite my ignorance, I already accepted that trans people were beloved, holy, and a part of God’s plan however they felt called to present themselves.

But I do remember asking myself the question, and eventually that spiritual guide, an older cishet white guy, asked the same aloud: Does God make mistakes?

Why would these people be born into the wrong body, if we began with the assumption that they were created beings and that their gender identity was not a sin or a sickness? What kind of a loving God would inflict that on a person?

We pondered it for some time before my spiritual guide said, “I suppose one way to look at it is to examine the notion of the Christian being called to transformation. We all believe that we are called to become new creations through baptism and living the new life. That entails transforming ourselves, and there are so many ways to do that. And maybe trans people are called to proclaim and live out that truth…well, physically. With their bodies.” [Or with their presentation or pronouns or what have you, older me with a bit more knowledge of trans issues adds here].

I turned to look at him, and we both smiled. “Wow. Transformed indeed!”

This was earth-shattering for me – in a good way! For me the thought immediately leads to the revelation that trans people and others outside the socially constructed gender binary truly are sacred, just as many nonwestern cultures proclaimed pre-contact for generations.

In the passage above, we read Mark’s version of the story of the Transfiguration, which is traditionally celebrated just before the beginning of Lent, or August 6th. I have offered up my own queer and trans readings of Jesus on this blog, and here again there is a rich passage for those of us who exist in the twilight spaces in-between. To take us on a new journey, I’ve expanded the scope of the reading beyond the traditional boundaries of the story to give us some added context.

This strange mystical experience Jesus and his disciples have on the mountain occurs about a week after a conversation which arose from Jesus explaining that he was destined to suffer and die. He explains that all those who wish to follow him should be prepared for the same eventuality, and that those who wish to save their lives will lose them.

I want to tread carefully here. Trans people, especially trans women of colour, are among the most persecuted in the world, and I do not believe at all that anyone is called to accept suffering and death for greater glory or sanctity. The very notion is sickening. But one thing that is made clear to me over and over is that eventually, trans people do come to the crossroads of deciding whether or not to align our outer lives with our inner reality, whether that be through presentation, hormone therapy, gender confirmation surgery, or sharing pronouns. It really is a crossroads, because we know that at every turn we will be shamed, mocked, or doubted. So often, however, we choose to make manifest that inner reality, because losing a previous, false life is the only way to save the true, inner life that seeks to be born into the world.

Jesus, whom the Christian imagines as an incorporeal God taking on a new corporeal body, encourages this.

A week later, on a mountaintop before his closest and dearest friends, Jesus…well, comes out! His clothes become dazzling white and he is shown in the company of other spiritual giants like Moses and Elijah, whose inner realities also transcended their outer ones by virtue of their communion with God. Jesus’ inner reality, one that transcends his outer appearance and is confirmed by his association with similar figures, is made plain to his friends, whom he trusts to understand.

Sadly, they don’t. Peter gets excited, as usual, and seeks to ground the moment by building three dwellings. He’s so close to understanding! He understands that what he has witnessed is incredibly important, and that he was privileged to witness it. But he’s only able to respond to the physicality of these three beings. Jesus is extra-super important…but still operates solely on fleshly rules, ignoring the inner reality that Jesus is much more powerful than a mere man.

If you’ll permit me a cheeky analogy for a moment, it’s almost as if Jesus shows up in women’s clothing, and Peter comes to the conclusion that Jesus must be a drag queen. And he is 100% there for Jesus the drag queen! He’s going to come to all the shows and pass out fivers and use the correct pronouns…as long as Jesus is in the dress.

But this isn’t the point. Jesus is not a drag queen. The dress isn’t switched out for jeans and a collared shirt when the stage lights go out. The outer reality now matches the inner reality, and Jesus needs Peter’s support to live as trans 100% of the time, rather than living in women’s clothing sometimes.

And God confirms this. “Listen to him!”

Let him tell the story.

Jesus, in fact, tells them not to say anything when they have come back. There are a lot of theories about the meaning of Mark’s Messianic secret, but for our purposes we can say that Jesus wants to remain in control of the narrative himself. Only he can adequately explain the depth of his inner reality to people, and he’s smart enough to know that he needs to stick to works of wonder and metaphor for a little longer.

Perhaps this was his way of signaling to others who were like him. “I see you. Your inner reality is richer than your outer one too, isn’t it? I see you and I love you for it. I see the inner reality.”

To the disciples, he merely says, “Wait. Wait until my full-on coming out party. Wait until I rise from death: the biggest restriction outer reality has, the Ur-closet.”

They have no idea what the hell he’s talking about.

People who don’t feel compelled to that level of transformation so rarely do.

But trans people do. And Jesus does.

Happy [Trans]figuration.

“Your life is hidden,” (Sermon, August 4th, 2019)

“So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, 3for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.
5 Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry). 6On account of these the wrath of God is coming on those who are disobedient. 7These are the ways you also once followed, when you were living that life. 8But now you must get rid of all such things—anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth. 9Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices 10and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator. 11In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!”

Colossians 3:1-11

“Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain! The Great Oz has spoken!”

What an emblematic moment. It somehow manages through utter genius to simultaneously portray the willful curiosity of childhood and the healthy skepticism of adulthood. The curiosity is what saves it, though. An adult would be more likely, on hearing the exclamation, to laugh and walk away, shaking her head.

Only a child would be so recklessly brave as to open the curtain, like Dorothy did.

“For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.”

What a cryptic, wonderful statement! Scores of books and poems and hymns could be written on what this means. What does it mean for our life to be hidden with Christ?

What part of us is behind the curtain?

And how should we rejoice, knowing that Christ, behind the temple veil as our great high priest, still speaks to us from within that Holy of Holies, even if by the nature of our mortality we are not yet fully present with him?

Pay close attention to the one behind the curtain!

It’s appropriate to discuss curtains and hiddenness on Pride Sunday, where we celebrate the breaking down of closet doors and walls, and indeed celebrate something which the church has known for a long time: that family is so much more complicated and wonderful than blood and even legal commitments, that the human gift of thriving in connection is so strong that it transcends all boundaries and that that’s worth delighting in, and fighting for.

Last Monday, I was invited to a fundraiser for the advocacy group Rainbow Railroad. Rainbow Railroad is an organization that provides information, travel funds, and moral support to LGBTQ+ folks fleeing persecution in their countries of origin. There are 70 countries in the world that still criminalize same-sex intimacy, and Rainbow Railroad exists to help people escape and claim refugee status.

I had attended one of these fundraisers before, a couple of years ago, to hear the executive director, Kimahli Powell, speak. This year, though, Kimahli brought a guest speaker: Amin Dzabrailov, a Chechen who had been abducted and tortured by police for over two weeks in 2017. They wanted him to surrender the names of other gay men, which he refused to do. He was a thin, beautiful man who looked much younger than he was. His big brown eyes darted about the room, never settling, and he always clutched at something – his other hand, a denim jacket – probably to keep his hands from shaking. When we asked him how he had stayed so strong, he said quietly, “I thought I was going to die anyway, and I knew they would just do this to someone else if I gave names.”

When he was finally released, his brothers came to pick him up. Their car ride home was “just silence.”

With the help of a friend, deeply secret LGBTQ+ networks in Russia, and Rainbow Railroad, he was able to come to Canada as a refugee with several other Chechen men, who he says are now like a family.

After spending so long being hidden, he told us he could now wake up, go out the door, and be free. He said what was most healing was the ability to learn how to be himself.

It was that freedom which led him to be one of the first Chechen men to go on the record about his experience. He told his story to Time Magazine only a week or two ago.

“When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.”

It is not that we are calledto suffer needlessly, to run into the jaws of the dragon, to scourge ourselves seeking some elusive purity through pain and degradation. But in the words of Brian J. Walsh, the Christian ethic is a narrative ethic. This is about accepting an entirely new story as binding on our lives. This is about taking the pain that has been inflicted on us, or that we inflict on ourselves, and reclaiming the narrative.

It might look like facing your trauma full on and naming it, like Amin, for only in telling your story can you claim power over it, like Jesus naming demons.

Or it might look like reflecting on your past choices, and determining through gentle self-examination which ones led you astray through being made out of fear or pride. It might look like deciding on a totally new path, a totally new life.

It might look like playing peek-a-boo with God, who hides to be found by us, and takes delight in it, like a toddler who screeches with joy when she is discovered.

It does not mean we should be so heavenly minded that we’re no earthly good. Again, we’re bound to a narrative ethic. We’re bound to a story of God coming out – heh – in human flesh, our own vestments, having chosen this body with great care in order to spread the most good in the time God chose. God went from being hidden, incorporeal, without bodily form, to being clothed in a body, revealed in the glory of an ordinary human life. We may argue that it was hardly ordinary, and of course that’s true, but in his own context, it was to a certain extent. There were lots of healers and exorcists and Messianic hopefuls in Jesus’s time. It was only after that body was reclaimed in resurrection – heh, another coming out – that everything was fully revealed, and indeed once ascension took place and the body vanished, the new hiddenness was not the same as the old hiddenness. For now we had something to hold onto, something new to anchor us in this world and its beauty, while also calling us forward to walk into a new reality beyond sight and time – already here, but not yet.

Our lives may be hidden until Christ’s coming, but are we not also called to live as though the kingdom is already here? Are we not called, like little children playing, to live as though in a world of reckless love and generosity, despite the best intentions of a society that glorifies men who hoard wealth and resources like the one in Jesus’s parable as minor gods? Are we too not called to come out of the tomb, to come out as those who love Jesus?

Are we not called to live like Amin, who reclaimed a narrative of pain and torture by pulling back the curtain, exposing it to light, inspiring further bravery, and perhaps saving countless others in the future?

Perhaps, to the world around us, our life is hidden; our life as beloved, prophetic, dragon-slaying children of God. Perhaps the power we have to heal and liberate is hidden to a world that says sick is sick and dead is dead.

But we know better, don’t we?

We who have witnessed healing and resurrection know that every end is a new beginning.

“When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.”

To paraphrase Martha, we know he will be revealed on the last day.

But is Christ not also being revealed every day when the oppressed are given the strength to refuse silence, when powerful and poor alike are called to choose the way of service and solidarity, however they can, and when all are called to elevate the voices of those who have good news to tell?

Perhaps, in the world we’re living in today, it is we who are called to participate in the revelation of Christ, for in that revelation, we too are revealed in glory, for we are co-creators of the beautiful new reality we are being called to embody with our very selves.

Our priest and bridegroom calls from behind the veil for us to join him at the wedding banquet.

Pay close attention to the one behind the curtain!

Prism Prayer (Letters from the Coast)

Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, 9‘As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, 10and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark.* 11I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.’ 12God said, ‘This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: 13I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, 15I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. 16When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.’ 17God said to Noah, ‘This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.’

Genesis 9:8-17

I remember the very first time I bought a rainbow necklace.

It was probably in 2000 or 2001. There were so many options at the Pride Parade booths. I was about 15 and didn’t have a lot of money, and of course they were pretty overpriced, but it felt so, so important.

I picked one on a dog-tag style ball chain. Seven little metal rings, each one a different colour. Subtle, but unmistakable.

Wearing it felt powerful. My school was moderately safe, but things were not the way they were today. There was a little bit of danger in wearing it, but I didn’t care. I was who I was.

It’s amazing where you can see rainbows. The other day, looking into an evening sky, I saw one reflected in a light dusting of cirrus clouds. I’ve seen them reflected in ice-crusted snow at my feet. I’ve seen them in the mist rising off large bodies of water. Increasingly, I’ve seen them on small stickers pasted onto the glass walls of businesses around the city. “Safe zone,” these stickers proclaim.


One might argue easily that Genesis claims God plastered a safe zone sticker over the entire world.

The rainbow has since been adopted as a symbol for a multitude of different movements, but the one which most North Americans are familiar with is the pride flag. According to Wikipedia, it was popularized in 1978 by San Francisco artist Gilbert Baker. Since 1979 it has appeared with six stripes, corresponding to any naturally occurring rainbow, but originally it was made with eight, including pink and turquoise. The colours were actually assigned meanings:

Red: Life

Orange: Healing

Yellow: Sunlight

Green: Nature

Blue: Harmony/peace

Purple: Spirit

Pink: Sexuality

Turquoise: Art/magic

Sometimes a black stripe was added for AIDS victims as well.

Whatever you believe about the flood, it’s a story of God turning her back on creation, not because she is a petty creature but because that’s how bad humankind was acting. It must have been bad – humanity had barely gotten off the ground by the time God decided this. The best clue we have is the Song of Lamech, who sings to his wives about killing a man for striking him. God looks on humankind and “is sorry” to have created all things, for the earth is corrupt and “filled with violence.” Despite all of this, God sets apart the family of Noah, who is “righteous.”  Once the floodwaters have receded, God decides never again to wipe out life, and sets the “bow” in the clouds. This is a sign of peace, God laying her weapon down. Despite the continuing violence, God has determined not to punish all creation for the sins of humankind specifically. The resulting covenant, the Jewish people believed, was made with all creation and all people.

About a month ago, I came across this photograph on Twitter, taken by Christine Spencer and retweeted by @41Strange. Dazzled by its beauty, I smiled as I thought about the biblical story of the first rainbow as described above. I retweeted the image with the accompanying text:

“The rainbow has always been a symbol of divine reconciliation (and, I believe, most appropriately used by the queer community). And look here: it’s written into the very fabric of creation, wherever you look.”

As I continued to contemplate this, I was suddenly struck by the beautiful realization that one could just as easily say that queer people in all of their diversity are indeed living symbols of reconciliation. Queer folks, through their resilience, their willingness to speak the truth, their tendency to embrace things which would normally not be embraced by a person of their gender, their commitment to loving someone in a way that often transcends the smallness of gender norms – all of these things are refracted characteristics of the God who calls us out of our beautiful and very small human bodies and into a new dance of light and colour.

Happy Pride, y’all. :)