Dec 04 | “Expect God to show up,” (‘Seed chat,’ Advent 2, 2022)

In Lauren’s sermon last week, we talked about waiting, and I confess I was at somewhat of a loss to figure out what more could be said about Advent. And imagine my whiplash when I looked at the assigned readings for the day and found two very hopeful ones grouped with “You brood of vipers.” Yeesh.

Then, I decided to listen to a sermon by the Rev. Traci D. Blackmon. Rev. Blackmon is an ordained minister in both the African Methodist Episcopal Church and the United Church of Christ, where she serves as the Associate General Minister of Justice and Local Church Ministries. She has been a vocal activist and organizer, particularly through Black Lives Matter and Repairers of the Breach.

The sermon, delivered in 2018 during an annual UCC conference, was about a passage from the Book of Joshua, but I found it strangely appropriate for Advent, for the passage she references details the story of the Israelites finally crossing the Jordan to enter into the Promised Land.

It is not a simple task, she explains, because to ancient peoples water often symbolized chaos and danger. She says, “The image of God parting the waters of the Red Sea and letting the Israelites cross over on dry land remains a potent image of God’s power to save. It is an image which would be fundamental to the Israelites’ developing understanding of their God because this water, which was usually seen as dangerous, is transformed in that moment into a gateway of crossing over into a new way of life.”

And here we are again, at the Jordan, with John demanding first preparation and then entrance in order to be saved. He chose the Jordan not merely because it was the closest place or the only place – he chose it specifically to evoke passage from one way of being to another, and he highlights the seriousness of this endeavour by demanding repentance.

Rev. Traci continues, “It is always challenging to move from one place to another; always frightening to let go of what has been to walk into what will be. Can you imagine what it was like for the Israelites to stand in their present and look into their future? It’s difficult; even when you know something good is ahead, it’s still difficult to leave what has been behind. …But if we just trust God with the first step, we give God the opportunity, my friends, to blow our minds. Have you ever trusted God enough to step into the water? I serve a water-walking God.”

She then outlines four instructions given to the Israelites in the passage, instructions I’m sure John gave to his candidates, instructions to help us gain a world full of the knowledge of the Lord, instructions to keep during this season of Advent.

The first is to wait for God.

You’ve probably noticed that the tendency of our world is to privilege Christmas by jamming December full of light, colour, sound, smells, taste, and social obligations. And let me be clear that taking delight in those things during a dreary time of year is 100% okay! But I know that plenty of people find it overwhelming as well, and this is why I treasure the season of Advent, which encourages us to pause and reflect on what is in store of us when God is finally made incarnate and born through Mary.

Wait for God.

The second is to watch for God.

Does this sound the same as waiting? It’s similar, but not quite the same. It’s not just about keeping watch like a guard, but about taking the lead from we see. That could be something as monumental as listening for God’s voice and guidance before acting or speaking, or it could be something as simple as being playful, keeping an eye out for God playing hide-and-seek with you in the beauty of the new-fallen snow, or the delight in gathering with friends, or in the blossoming of little lights everywhere as people decorate their homes and businesses against the short days and long nights.

Watch for God.

The third is to honour God. John says we must repent, a word with a lot of baggage, but really it just means to turn around, to choose a new way. The old fridge magnet says, “Jesus is coming: everyone look busy!” But if we knew that Jesus would be born into the world tomorrow, and we only had the chance to change one thing about our own little puzzle piece of the world, what would we change? What would we change out there and in here?* How would we carve out a little place of honour for the precious and vulnerable soul to come?

Honour God.

The fourth is to follow God.

How could we possibly follow, not only when we know we’re not perfect, but when God actually comes to us? How do we follow?

Well, we look at where God chose to enter into the world. Not in halls of gold and abundance, but in threadbare and splintery simplicity. And we follow Them there – not to be superheroes, but to enter in with our choicest gifts and say, “This is the birthplace of the Saviour.”

Follow God.

Finally, Rev. Traci adds one more of her own, one she says is not explicitly in the text but that “the text bears out.”

This one is my favourite one, and honestly, it’s the hardest one.

She says, “You must expect God to show up.”

“You must expect God to show up.”

We’ve got an advantage here, friends. The Israelites had seen the Red Sea parted. What problem could it be to part the Jordan?

Like them, we’ve seen greater things even that God being born among us.

Wait for God.

Watch for God.

Honour God.

Follow God.

Expect God to show up.

How will you do these things in this precious season of river-blue hope?

I want to know.

Sermon begins at 24:22

Dec 03 | The First Star: Mary’s conception (Way of Mary Reading Journal #1)

“Gardens upon gardens


in our minds,

in our hearts,

and fall from our fingertips

when You smile

in us.

You who are the promise

of fecundity,

the Sun

and the rain of Grace.”

Here Helminski reflects on Mary’s conception and birth to Anna and Joachim. Neither of Mary’s parents are given names in the canonical Scriptures, although they are in some that didn’t make it into our canon such as the Protoevangelium of James and Pseudo-Matthew.

Joachim is described in Pseudo-Matthew as a faithful and generous owner of flocks who gives away a third of his income to orphans, widows, strangers, and the poor. Anna, who shares the name of the mother of the prophet Samuel, is a woman of deep faith. Despite these virtues, they remain barren, a sign of shame in ancient Jewish culture. Of course, this narrative is regularly overturned in the Jewish Scriptures by the blessing of children as in the story of Abraham and Sarah and others, showing that the God of the Israelites cared deeply for those whom society may have seen as cursed.

Both Joachim and Anna receive angelic promises that they will bear a child – Joachim while tending his flocks in the wilderness, and Anna while listening to the sparrows in her garden. They finally conceive Mary, a girl-child.

Helminski links Mary to Miriam, sister to Moses, and gives Mary’s parents and cousins a priestly and prophetic heritage through the line of Aaron. She also details a bit of the story of Mary’s birth from the Islamic perspective, mentioning accounts from historians Jafar as-Sadiq (702-765 CE) and Al-Tabari (839-923 CE). Mary’s connection to Zechariah and Elizabeth, mother of Yahya/John the Baptist, is detailed in the Qur’an in Surah 19. In Surah 3, Mary’s father, who is named ‘Imrān in the Qur’anic text, dies before meeting his daughter. Zechariah is given guardianship over Mary and instructs her in the faith. He is a very different character from the scoffer portrayed in the Gospel of Luke!

It’s interesting to contemplate the parallel between these two couples – Anna and Joachim, and Elizabeth and Zechariah – who deeply long for a child, and Mary, a yet-to-be-married woman who conceives in one moment, without request. Some labour to bring God’s will to birth with tears and desperate longing…and to some God comes suddenly, without warning, inviting them to take part in the dance of Life and Love. (I remember once asking my friend Seemi if Mary turned/whirled when she conceived. Seemi replied matter-of-factly, “Of course.”)

I find myself thinking of the precious pairing of zhikr and sema: both acts of ecstatic praise, but somewhat different in my personal experiences of them. I remember chanting, “Hayy, hayy, hayy” at RumiFest 2019 from around midnight to 2am, our hands rising and falling in exuberant, emphatic motions – and then, whirling by myself during a 6am lull, the holy silence which had blossomed in my heart and emptied my head.

It’s not only formal acts of prayer which are necessary to do God’s will, but the willingness to become a garden – not merely words and actions of liturgy, sacrament, salah but a posture of openness.

We need both to birth the sacred.

Dec 01 | The Way of Mary Reading Journal

Last year, a precious friend, Farah, gifted me a lovely book, one that I had expressed great interest in: The Way of Mary: Maryam, Beloved of God, a compilation of theological reflections and poetry from Camille Helminski, a Sufi teacher. I decided to hold onto it for Advent 2022 as by the time I received it, Advent 2021 had already begun and I had already made my preparations.

I was thrilled to receive the book and even more thrilled to realize that if I started it now, in the first week of Advent, and read a section each week, it would take me right up until the week before Lent began. What an adventure!

Helminski divides the book into twelve passages, stations, or maqams, calling them “twelve stars of blessing” and linking each to a moment in Mary’s life.

The entries that follow are my reflections on what I read. What a gift to sit with Maryam for the weeks leading up to Jesus’s great journey, remembering all she did to make Jesus who he was.

I hope you enjoy it too!

“O Mother of the Community,

your robe is blue with stars,

because you shield us

under the heavens

filled with light from your heart,

that Heart that knows us,

each and everyone,

in our deepest beauty

and the strength of your love.”

Nov 20 | “The next thing to come,” (Sermon, Christ the King/Transgender Day of Remembrance)

This sermon was preached during a service of baptism for a trans man in our community. He is mentioned by name several times here.

All the way back in 2013, my friend and teacher Omid Safi wrote an article called “Between Good Friday and Easter: A Muslim Meditation on Christ and Resurrection” for The American Muslim. As he reflected on the power of the story of Jesus’s crucifixion, he wrote,

“There is a beautiful teaching of the Prophet Muhammad where a person came up to him and said: “O Messenger of God, I love you.” The Prophet said to him: “Then go put on the battle armor, because surely the next thing to come will be affliction.” The God that I have faith in is not just the God of the sunny days, but the God of every day, including the days of suffering, the days of pain, and the days of loss. I too seek shelter in God in the days of suffering, having faith in the unseen days to come.  Our God is the God of Good Friday as much as the God of Easter, the God of the lowest valley and the loftiest mountain, and the God of the spaces in between—where we dwell most days.”

Today is a strange confluence of days. We have Christ the King Sunday, also known as Reign of Christ Sunday or, “The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe,” if, as the Dude offers, you’re not into the whole brevity thing. It’s not an ancient feast. Christ the King Sunday was instituted in 1925 by Pope Pius XI, in response to what he saw as a growing secularism and lack of faith, but also nationalism and fascism. He instituted it to say, “Christ is our King, not the King of Italy, not the state, and certainly not this upstart Mussolini and his thugs.”

Today is also Transgender Day of Remembrance, a vigil observance begun in 1999 by Gwendolyn Ann Smith to honor the memory of Rita Hester, a trans woman murdered in 1998. The vigil commemorates transgender people lost to violence, often by reading the names of those reported murdered across the world. Today, this observance is especially important as we mourn the senseless murder and injury of queer siblings at Club Q in Colorado Springs.

And, it’s the day that our brother KC will be baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection, a day long awaited and now finally here, a day where we will pray that he be made strong with all the strength that comes from God’s glorious power, and prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled him to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light.

Today is a day of new life, when we will celebrate KC going down into the waters of baptism, waters that represent chaos and death, and coming up born anew. If it sounds scary, KC, don’t worry – you’ve done it before. You did it the day you chose to live as fully yourself in the world. As a wise prophet once said, “You should be baptizing me.” But let it be so now, for it is proper for us in this way to fulfil all righteousness.

Professor David B. Levenson in his article “Musings on the Messiah” writes, “One major function of the Messiah is to bring about God’s justice by defeating all agents of oppression, human and superhuman[.] However, the focus of [the sacred texts which discuss the Messiah] is less on the messianic figure than on the messianic age, the time when God’s justice, rather than Satan or Empire, would prevail.”

Today is a day where we look ahead to the restoration of those exiled by hate and invisibility and dysphoria and murder, where we look ahead to the end of days when the Anointed One will return to wipe away our tears. We look ahead knowing our King will come, but we all have a part to play in the healing of the world. Without God, we cannot; without us, God will not, for how can the messianic age come without our own healing as a species?

Today is a day where we are called to choose our King: Jesus, or Caesar; a day where are called to stand up to wicked shepherds – and woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter and slander the beloved sheep of God’s pasture. Woe to them, and weep for them, for they have chosen incarceration in a prison of hate and grey ignorance for access to the fleeting and false power that homophobia and transphobia brings.

Today is a day of staking our claim as beloved allies of God’s purpose, a day where in the face of murder and violence we choose life and love; a day where, like the thief, we cry out when silence needs breaking, cry out as witnesses to the unjust suffering all around us, and ask to be remembered despite all we have suffered and all we may have done to hurt.

Even at the very end, when it seems too late, forgiveness is offered.

Today is the day when, with KC, we are being called to say, “Jesus, I love you.”

The next thing to come will be affliction.

But we have known affliction, friends, and we have and shall overcome.

Did you know that, on the barren and rocky moonscape of Ireland’s west coast, plants from both the northern and southern hemisphere grow side by side, as they do nowhere else on earth?

Did you know that life probably began around hydrothermal vents spewing forth toxic chemicals deep in the ocean?

Did you know that after Friday on the cross came Sunday in the Garden?

Eh, I figure you heard that one before. But let’s remember it again anyway.

I’ll close with some words from “Our Precarious Joy,” a poem from nonbinary icon Alok Vaid-Menon:

“feeling is dangerous because
it requires us to dwell in anguish,
rather than anesthetize it
(as if it never happened).

so many fear joy because they fear losing it.

they hate us because we live here — in this precarious joy —
and we have found preciousness, still.

it is far easier to desensitize ourselves to the world.
but what about the romance of living?
the tundra of grief, of striving, of becoming like
every breath is an invitation to another way of being?

what about the dignity of being?
i won’t settle for anything less.

i would rather weep than pretend.
i would rather be hated than be digestible.
i would rather be mirthful than meander around like
happiness is some rare ray of light piercing through my window.”

Sermon starts at 27:43

Nov 13 | “By your endurance,” (‘Seed chat,’ November 13 2022)

I don’t tend to preface sermons with content warnings, but I will with this one. I’m gonna be talking briefly about the events preceding the El Salvadoran Civil War, which will include some mentions about state-sanctioned violence. If you’re not in a good place for that, please care for yourself as you need. There’s still coffee and tea back in the narthex if you want to tune out for a bit.

In 2014, I went on a trip to El Salvador with the Student Christian Movement, a radical ecumenical network of Christian youth who engage with social justice through the lens of faith. We stayed with Jose Innocencio “Chencho” Alas, a former priest and personal friend of St. Oscar Romero. He taught us about liberation theology as well as inviting us to help with local reforesting efforts by planting fruit trees and gardens in impoverished mountain villages. I learned a lot from him and his cheeky sense of humour, from appreciative inquiry to radical leftism to how to use a machete.

We visited many places that had been important to St. Oscar Romero, including the chapel at Hospital de la Divina Providencia, where he was assassinated, shot by members of a death squad while he was celebrating Mass on March 24th 1980. That day, he’d given a sermon calling on Salvadoran soldiers to obey God’s higher order and stop perpetrating violence and oppression on behalf of the government. Today, his office is a small museum, and many of his personal effects are behind glass as relics, including the church vestments he was wearing when he was killed, which are covered in dried blood.

When I saw them, I was barely a year away from my diaconal ordination, though I didn’t know it yet, and it hit me: the true meaning of taking up one’s Cross and following. Friends, I got on my knees.

We have a strange juxtaposition between today’s Hebrew Bible reading and today’s Gospel. While Isaiah speaks rhapsodically about the new heavens and the new earth, Luke details a situation that would have been very familiar Archbishop Romero.

Where Isaiah has,

“Be glad and rejoice for ever
   in what I am creating;
for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy,
   and its people as a delight.
I will rejoice in Jerusalem,
   and delight in my people;
no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it,
   or the cry of distress,”

Luke has,

“You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls.”

The Roman Catholic Church in El Salvador was and is an extremely powerful institution. Oscar Romero didn’t have a reputation as being particularly progressive before becoming archbishop. If he had towed the line, as his colleagues in ministry urged him to do, he might still be alive today. Maybe. Appeasement does not guarantee freedom or safety. Christians do well to remember that much.

But he didn’t tow the line.

How could he, as he looked upon the slain body of his friend, the Jesuit Father Rutilio Grande, assassinated by Salvadorean security forces? Rutilio had been working in the liberation theology model, creating self-sustaining “base communities” among the poor, which was of course threatening to a right-wing government on the lookout for leftist groups.

Archbishop Romero later said, “When I looked at Rutilio lying there dead I thought, ‘If they have killed him for doing what he did, then I too have to walk the same path.’”

I’m not trying to be alarmist – although one should be aware that no one who wakes up in a functioning democracy expects it to be dissolved, just like no one who wakes up in a city like Vancouver expects a pandemic to shut down the whole country.

These things happen every day, to ordinary people.

Ask my husband’s parents, who lived for several months in Iran back in the ‘70s, where women in miniskirts were still a common sight on the streets.

Ask our friends from Portland, Oregon, who found a fascist warzone had sprung up in their backyards overnight back in the summer of 2020.

Ask Chencho Alas, who woke up on November 16th 1989 to find six of his Jesuit compatriots at the Central American University in San Salvador – plus the caretaker’s wife and her fourteen-year-old daughter – had been murdered overnight, and photographs of their slain bodies decorated the walls of the hallway outside the chapel.

By our endurance we will gain our souls.

We here in Vancouver in 2022 are not in the position that Romero was in, or that Luke’s community was in. But there are many moments where we are called to endure hardship for the sake of life, love, freedom, peace, and the integration of our souls. There are moments where we are called to come out, to shut down a bully, to speak a truth that needs to be spoken, or stand beside someone in support as they speak theirs.

And if you’re anything like me, it’s scary as hell.

But if we don’t, that’s one beautiful seedling that goes un-watered, one perfect spark that winks out in a cold place, denying warmth to the cold or a warm meal to the hungry.

By our endurance we will gain our souls.

What does that mean to you?

Sermon starts 26:25

Oct 23 | “Heroic Pharisees,” (‘Seed chat,’ October 23 2022)


It’s a word I’ve heard Christian people use as a slur, shorthand for a sanctimonious legalistic person with no sense of mercy, often explicitly set up as an adversary to so-called Gospel ethics.

It’s one of those very interesting terms that seems to have crossed the political divide among Christians. I’ve heard both mainliners and evangelicals use it to refer to the same sort of person as described above. Heck, I’ve even heard mainliners use it to describe evangelicals.

As hard as people try, it’s really not possible in a post-Holocaust world to speak of Pharisees like this without invoking a long history of anti-Jewish and anti-Semitic rhetoric. We have a tendency to split the God of our faith into two: the mean judgmental “Old Testament” God, and the good and kind “Daddy” God that Jesus talks about – as though Jesus was not Jewish and wasn’t firmly anchored within his own tradition. This is actually one of the first heresies recorded in the early church. It’s called Marcionism, after its first proponent Marcion of Sinope, who believed that the teachings of Jesus were incompatible with the teachings of the Hebrew Bible, and that indeed the Creator God of the Hebrew Bible was an entirely different god from the God of Jesus, who had taken no part in the creation of the world. Marcion was excommunicated from the church in Rome around the year 144.

If we want to be in right relationship with the Jewish people, we need to re-evaluate the way we talk about our roots and our shared Scriptures. That includes coming to a new understanding of the Pharisees.

Some scholars have argued that Jesus himself could be described as a Pharisee. There is a notion (again, low-key anti-Semitic if you think about it) that the Pharisees were all wealthy educated folks who took delight in ordering poor people around. But they weren’t. Pharisee wasn’t really a class of people so much as a lens for looking at Scripture. Pharisees stood in contrast with Sadducees who were Temple priests insisting on proper protocols for worship, which heavily privileged Jerusalem and temple sacrifice as crucial for the following of the Torah. Pharisees, by contrast, insisted that ordinary people could keep the Law and be faithful Jews whether they had the capability of accessing Jerusalem and the appropriate resources for sacrifice or not.

You can see why some would put Jesus into that camp.

It’s likely that any arguments that occurred between Jesus and the Pharisees were more of an intra-religious debate which, over the years, were interpreted as Jesus people fighting with, well, not Jesus-people – especially for the writer of Luke, who was probably not Jewish and may not have really understood the heritage of the faith.

Now, on to the parable.

Amy-Jill Levine, the Jewish New Testament scholar who deacon Alisdair quoted last week, has done a lot of work to help re-imagine the figure of the Pharisee.

I’m going to quote from her at length here. She writes,

“Some Christian readers dismiss the Pharisee as hypocritical, sanctimonious, and legalistic, and in turn identify with the tax collector, the appropriately repentant and humble sinner. However, this reading traps interpreters: to conclude (following 18.11), “God, I thank you that I am not like this Pharisee,” places the readers in the very position they condemn. Moreover, this interpretation overlooks the Pharisee’s numerous supererogatory qualities: tithing, fasting, giving thanks without asking for something in return.

Other readers presume that the tax collector stands “far off” (18.13) because other worshipers ostracize him, believing him to be ritually impure. The parable says nothing about either ostracism or impurity; to the contrary, to enter the temple a person must be ritually pure. Even were he ostracized, the cause would not be impurity but employment: he works for Rome, the occupation government.

Still other readers perceive the Temple to have become an elitist, xenophobic, misogynist, fully corrupt “domination system.” Again, the parable thwarts this stereotype, since it is in the Temple that repentance and reconciliation occur.

Finally, might we see the Pharisee as helping the tax collector. Just as the sin of one person impacts the community (hence, e.g., “forgive us our sins” [11.4] rather than “forgive me my sins”), so the merits of the righteous can benefit the community (see Gen 18.24-33; hence one view of the cross: the sacrifice of one can save the many). Perhaps the Jews who first heard this parable understood the Pharisee’s merit positively to have impacted the tax collector. This would be the parable’s shock: not only that the agent of Rome is justified but that the Pharisee’s own good works helped in that justification.”

Can the good works of one really redeem the bad works of another?

Sometimes, when I’m deeply frustrated by the hypocrisy, power-hoarding, racism, and homophobia of this institutional Anglican Church, I think of those within it who carry out the good work of God quietly, with compassion and perseverance. I think of you, doing your best to love God and your neighbour in a lonely world that demands much of us.

I’m going to sit now and welcome your stories of times where you’ve seen the good overcome the bad, where the arc of the moral universe has bent toward justice, perhaps even where your own mind has been changed by the gentleness of others.

Again, it’s something we all need to hear.

Seed chat starts 23:55

Oct 16 | “You are enough,” (Sermon, October 16 2022)

This sermon was preached at Holy Cross parish in East Vancouver. Audio is linked at the bottom and you will notice there is an interlude in Japanese which is not included in the text version. Thank you as well to A. Nakao for recording the audio.

Good morning, Holy Cross parish. Thank you so much for having me. My name is Clare and I’m pastor to the St. Brigid’s congregation at Christ Church Cathedral.

All right, let’s do something a little different. Come along with me if you’re willing. If not, you can just listen, or take a little break if you need to. Do your shopping list. All are invited, none are compelled.

If you feel safe to, close your eyes. If you don’t, just soften your gaze. Let yourself breathe for a minute. Relax, feel yourself sturdy in the pew, breathe deep, relax any pressure points or pains.

Now, go to a beautiful place, a place that’s yours, where you’re totally safe. Maybe it’s a place you loved as a child – a house, a field, a beach, or maybe it’s just the darkness behind your eyes.

And finally, think about someone who loves you coming to meet you there. It can be someone who’s living, or someone who’s no longer on earth. Someone who knows you, with whom you have a shared vocabulary, who makes you laugh, who holds you when you cry, someone you don’t need to explain any of your weird quirks to, because they understand. Someone around whom you don’t have to pretend to be anyone else.

Let them slowly materialize in your mind’s eye. How do they look to you? What do you see on their face as they look at you? Is it a smile? Gentleness? Standing with arms held out? Seated in a chair with a lap ready for you?

Is it with invitation?

If yes, accept the invitation. Go into their arms, climb into their lap, stand close.

If not, just stand there and contemplate every part of that beloved one.

And let’s rest in the moment again.

You can come back to this moment any time you like, but now it’s time to leave. Thank the one who loves you, and become aware of your breathing. Become aware of the pew under you, of your limbs. Wiggle your fingers and toes.

You’re back here, with your friends and with me.

How did that feel?

This is how God wants it to be with us.

It might seem obvious, but I think we forget it often. Mai nichi watashitachiwa wasurete imasu.

Of course for some, God might be the only one who makes us feel that level of safety. But often, even that feels elusive and impossible, because we might think that God, knowing all of our sins and shortcomings, is more critical than our biggest critics. In the world we live in, we’re encouraged to believe that when someone knows our shortcomings, they’re just biding their time until they can use them against us.

Perhaps when Jesus tells us we should accept the Kingdom as children, that’s what he meant. Children are fully aware that they need help. They don’t fuss about it. They ask quite unselfconsciously for the things they need and want.

And yet somehow, we grow into adults who become so divorced from what they need that some die before asking for help, for support, for love.

A child will say, “Mummy, I want a hug.”

An adult will wake up one day and wonder how they ever got to be so lonely.

God begs us, pleads with us, never to lose that “Mummy, I want a hug,” relationship with God.

And yet we often exchange this relationship, which is loving but also dependent, for the perceived power that individualism promises.

The Israelites, newly born as a liberated people and sustained in the wilderness, built a kingdom, and began to struggle as all kingdoms do. Enslaved anew by empires, they heard the voices of prophets like Jeremiah speaking God’s word. God, who has deep respect for this beloved people, says through Jeremiah, “You wanted to be in right relationship, so I gave you the Torah to show you how it could and should be. Adults tell each other what they need. Why are you acting like we didn’t have that conversation?”

I don’t know about you, but I don’t get really ticked off with people I don’t care about. I only get ticked off with people I really care about. I do my best to tell the people I love the truth, because I respect them. Preserving the relationship is what’s most important, so I put the work in and have faith that they’ll listen, because they also care about the relationship.

That’s what God is like with us.

Jesus tells a parable of a woman who wears down an unjust judge with incessant self-advocacy. Jesus is not saying this is what God is like, and we should be like the woman. This woman has enough self-respect to demand justice for herself from this bored jerk and he relents. But God doesn’t have to be bullied into giving us what we need, because God loves us.

Often the Law or Torah is contrasted with the Gospel. One is hard and legalistic and one is easy and generous. This framing is wrong. It’s harmful to Jesus and Judaism. Like the 95 calls to action from the TRC, the Torah is God saying, “Do you want to be in right relationship? Do you really want that, with all your heart and soul? I’m going to take you at your word. I know you’re always saying you don’t want to offend me or get it wrong. So here it is. This is exactly what I need you to do to live in right relationship.”

That’s a huge gift.

How do we still get it wrong? The same reason I still snap at the people I love, or run late, or decide I’d rather sit around than clean my house. We’re frail. God understands that.

But to say that we don’t know what God wants from us?

Kanben shite.

We know what God wants.

We know God wants us to be kind and patient and loving.

We know God wants us to listen more than speak.

We know God does not want us to treat this planet and its many creatures, our siblings, with apathy and disdain.

We know God wants us to share with those less fortunate, and to advocate on behalf of the oppressed, and, you know, preferably not to oppress other beings in the first place.

We were taught that as children.

Why don’t we do it? We’re human. Okay.

But why do we pretend that God’s will is inscrutable?

I admit that sometimes it’s not clear what the right choice is. I’ve had times where I’ve lost sleep, where I’ve shook my fists at God and said, “How can I do the least amount of harm in this crappy situation?”

But often, it really is as easy as just choosing the good.

And if we can’t, or don’t, which, let’s face it, will be a lot of the time, it’s as easy as admitting that we know what we have to do, and we just don’t want to.

And that can just be the prayer. “God, I know what I have to do. But I really don’t want to.”

Believe me, God respects the honesty of that prayer.

Again, God does not have to be bullied and wheedled for justice or love, even when we screw up. God’s love cannot be bought or earned or stolen.

It’s offered freely, with total trust, in the same spirit as it was offered to you through that person you imagined at the beginning of the sermon.

Is that hard to believe?

Jeremiah shows us we can rest in that precious love. Remember, when the Israelites broke that first covenant, God prepared a whole new one.

“I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord’, for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.”

You surely know that the one who loved you has made you a better person.

That too is the same with God.

So, ganbatte ne. It is enough.

Oct 09 | “Invasive Thanksgiving,” (‘Seed chat,’ Thanksgiving Sunday 2022)

A new practice we started some time at St. Brigid’s is called ‘seed chats,’ which are kind of like mini-sermons with space left at the end for the congregation to respond. I wasn’t going to post them because they didn’t feel like “real sermons” but then I realized that was super weird, because they still are, just shorter and often with a question or prompt at the end. So here’s the first one I did. Unfortunately the comments are not included in the text, but the video of the livestream does have them.

I realized that the Thanksgiving passage assigned for today was one we already preached on at the beginning of Lent! I was wracking my brain trying to figure out when I’d preached on this last because I knew it was recent, but it wasn’t Thanksgiving last year, so I was like, “Where did I do this?” And then I found it – Lent 1! Bizarre!

Now when I preached that sermon, I quoted Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg, who said, “With the freedom and privilege offered in the Promised Land come obligations.” Relationship with God means relationship with those less fortunate. The Israelites were an agrarian people, a farming people, in the stories of the Promised Land, so first fruits are not won by ingenuity and hard work. Farmers know that they can work as hard as possible and still have a bad year. Ancient farming peoples relied on weather gods – rain, sun, harvest, and hearth deities who had their own wills and whims.

The biggest difference is that as Israelite theology shifted over time, their One God became larger and more inscrutable.

In the words of Amos:

“The one who made the Pleiades and Orion,
   and turns deep darkness into the morning,
   and darkens the day into night,
who calls for the waters of the sea,
   and pours them out on the surface of the earth,
the Lord is Their name,
9 who makes destruction flash out against the strong,
   so that destruction comes upon the fortress.”

In the words of Deuteronomy:

“When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labour on us, we cried to the Lord, the God of our ancestors; the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. The Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey.”

While many other gods may have acted more capriciously in the old tales, this God was a God who could not be manipulated by empty ritual. This God demanded that the people remember who they were: those who were called to a path of caring for those who dwelt among them as aliens and strangers, those called to remember their days of eating manna in the wilderness, bread of angels scattered down on the earth from heaven, those called to remember that they had been liberated because they were beloved, but sternly told that they should not believe this set them above other people. Indeed, their status meant that they should extend this empire-shattering love to all people.

And is this not also our story?

On this Thanksgiving Day we are called to remember who we are: those invited into a resurrection dance not just for Christianity or even humanity but all of creation, those given the great gift of a beautiful blue and green body held like a hazelnut in the palm of God’s loving hand, those who are taught that liberation and compassion are God’s true Law, rather than civility politics or fear or empire.

Shall we gather here tonight in thanksgiving? Yes, here and everywhere and at all times.

Shall we imagine that it is enough to say “Thank you, God, for all our gifts”? By no means. Gratitude and thanksgiving are meant to be invasive species. They are meant to overflow our cups – to overflow our tables, to come up to our knees.

What does this look like?

Every month, I attend a free online support group for caregivers for people with young-onset Alzheimer’s disease. It’s only one offering the Alzheimer’s Society of BC has given to me that has been the most incredible lifeline. I pray that when my mum’s struggle with the disease is over, I have the strength and endurance to give back to this incredible organization that brings hope to so many people. My gratitude already overflows for them and their work.

It’s your turn. Tell us a story of how thanksgiving has been invasive in your life. Tell us a story of how you might want it to be invasive. Tell us a story of witnessing it second-hand.

We need to hear it.

Seed chat starts at 21:00

Aug 07 | “Shine,” (Transfiguration Sunday 2022)

This Sunday was originally slated to include a baptism at St. Brigid’s, which is why once again we celebrated the Feast of the Transfiguration in this church calendar year. Unfortunately, the baptism ended up postponed, but it was too late to change the bulletins and readings, so I just rolled with it. It’s a fantastic story; no harm telling it more than once.

I couldn’t stop watching it: a little video, made by a friend, set to music: “Here comes the girl! Hello, girl! Welcome.”

The girl in question was a trans girl, brand new in her journey toward presenting publicly as female in her daily life. Going through my own gender journey, I’d cleaned my closet of my more feminine things that didn’t feel like they really belonged to me anymore, and I thought I could pass some of it on to a trans or nonbinary person. She was modeling a flowered dress from that stash, doing that thing that all girls do when they get a new dress: twirling. Our body types are nothing alike, but I figured her height and proportions would just make the dress hang a bit differently than it did on me, and I was right. It looked amazing. She looked amazing. Her smile was so sweet, so shy. “Here comes the girl! Hello, girl! Welcome.”

She wasn’t on a mountaintop, but she was transfigured.

In the Book of Daniel, in response to four great beasts symbolizing four of the great empires that ran roughshod over Israel, a Holy Ancient One cleanses them with celestial fire, putting an end to the arrogant, hateful, and meaningless words of the last, most fearsome beast. And after that, when oppression has been put to the flame, one like a human being, coming with the clouds of heaven, approaches the Holy Ancient One, and is given full dominion over all things.

One like a human being, but clearly not – one who comes robed in cloud and seems unbothered by the torrents of holy fire that have poured forth from this Ancient One, and yet looks like us. One whose identity cannot be determined by the eyes alone. One whose true power is only made fully manifest when oppression is put to the flame.

One like us.

Jesus goes to the mountaintop. He takes his closest friends, Peter, James, and John. He doesn’t trust just anyone with the secret he is about to reveal.

He has already been about the work of putting systems of oppression to the flame. He has commissioned fishers, labourers, and a tax collector or two, to go out into the world with the power to heal, to exorcise, and to proclaim the Kingdom of God. He has fed five thousand people with the bread of abundance, given without price or restriction to all who hunger. He has confessed, in an act of radical honesty, that this kind of advocacy comes with a heavy cost – indeed, it usually leads to death – and has encouraged others who want to follow to join him in that work of self-sacrificing love, love totally divorced from any desire for earthly wealth or gain.

And now, his true power, his true identity, is ready to be made manifest, at least for a moment.

On the mountaintop, in a period of deep prayer, accompanied by his closest friends, the ones he brought into the bedroom of Jairus’s daughter to witness her resurrection, he takes on a new form, a true form, a form that leaves nothing to the imagination. He is out and about.

Moses and Elijah, prophets who also led slaves to freedom, fed the hungry without price, and spoke truth to power, are suddenly beside him, placing him firmly, inescapably, in their legacy – in God’s legacy – of putting oppression to the flame.

In a bit of spooky foreshadowing the three companions are weighed down with sleep. In Chapter 22, they will once again be weighed down with sleep, not on a mountain, but in a garden. The Sufi mystic Rumi warns us, “If you want everlasting glory… if you want to burn with love, don’t go back to sleep. You have wasted so many nights; don’t go back to sleep.”

Here, though, on the mountaintop, they manage to stay awake, and witness everlasting glory.

And Peter, ever enthusiastic, ever clueless, tries to bottle the moment, to curate Jesus’s secret that the Liberator will come clothed in our own bodies, to make a monument to it.

And how can we not want to? When we finally see the truth of what Irenaeus was telling us when he wrote “The glory of God is a human being, fully alive,” how could we not want to build a city on that truth?

But this is always our first mistake: believing we can just pluck wisdom off a branch and keep it contained to one body, one story, one message. Believing we can encase God in gold and dance before Them on the mountaintop. Believing that we are one body, one story, one spirit, apart from everyone and everything else, alone. We take a moving intricate infinite and try to freeze it into a solitary static image.

Stay awake, Peter. This moment is too big for a tent or a tabernacle. This is your beloved, and he took you up here to tell you something profound. Listen to him. This moment is manna, heavenly bread. It’s a gift, but you can’t take more than you’re given. We know this, because a cloud comes down, just like it did for Moses and the liberated Israel. It’s terrifying, because this Liberator is not someone that can be manipulated or bullied or shamed, not someone who will inevitably turn on their flock. This Liberator is outside of the corruptibility that comes with human power. This Liberator is unlike anything we’ve ever seen before.

Stay awake, Peter. Don’t just listen because you’re a student and need to understand. Listen because the moment is fleeting, and it has to last you a while. You’re staring into a rising sun now, but a long night is coming. Your beloved is asking you not to waste that coming night with sleep and despair. He’s trying to tell you, in this one precious moment, that when the night comes, he wants you waiting at the window like the woman in the Song of Songs, ever hopeful that the beloved will bring the sun with him as he crests the treacherous rise of death like a gazelle.

Stay awake, Peter, you’ll want to see this.

This is only the beginning.

Have you ever seen someone transfigured?

Have you ever been invited to a lonely place to be told a monumental secret, and suddenly been struck by awe as the one you thought you knew became something else entirely – something beautiful and profound and unknowable, and yet so close to you, and wanting you closer, wanting you to cradle this incredible secret as though it were an infant star in your hands?

What did you see? What did you feel? What did you do?

Have you ever felt transfigured?

Have you ever made a careful, conscious choice of precious friends, and brought them to the mountain of your solitude to share this secret, not knowing how they would react, not knowing if they would recognize the deep work of prayer it took to bring forth this light of truth, trying to get them to stay awake, trying to get them to see you, to want to see you, to take immeasurable delight in the sight of you as you crest the hill of loneliness or burst forth from the crypt of your secrets?

What did you see? What did you feel? What did you do?

The great beasts of our world are on the loose, but so many angels are too. A thousand thousand are serving the Holy Ancient One in the work of lighting matches to put oppression to the flame. Ten thousand times ten thousand are bearing witness, tending fires already kindled.

Will it be enough?

Who knows? We’re in the cloud. It’s in God’s hands. We can build monuments and stay on the mountaintop, or we can listen, and go back out into the world, with hearts like torches.

The Sufi teacher Kabir Helminski wrote, “To be a dervish is very easy / Fill with love until you’re empty.”

To be transfigured is very easy. Shine.

Sermon begins at 32:17.

Jul 31 | “Try being you,” (Sermon, Pride Sunday 2022)

One morning I sat in a church holding onto a precious human soul, and insisting, “God loves you and does not condemn you to hell for being who She made you to be.”

“But what if you’re wrong?” they wailed.

It was 2018. I remember thinking, I thought we were past this.

Instead, here we were. This beloved child of God was ten years younger than me, and yet, still, the poison of church-sanctioned homophobia and transphobia had been drowning their soul.

I’m not trying to bum you out on this beautiful morning when we’re ready to march and love and be fabulous.

I’m telling you this because I needed to know, and we all need to know, in every moment, that Pride is not just about watching corporate floats and politicians and cops march by and marveling at how things have changed. It’s not just about having fun on a beautiful summer day. It’s not just about celebrating this church and the work it has done to make safe space for people like me – even when I was a confused bisexual kid in the late ‘90s and all the more as a self-consciously militant nonbinary kid in the 2020s.

My pronouns are they/them/theirs, by the way. Like Jesus, very God of very God, I am One who contains multitudes. Like the Holy Trinity, I am singular they.

A lot of people get it wrong. I’m not mad. I can tell most of the time it’s an honest mistake – like if your name is Doris but someone calls you Doreen.

I only get mad when people do it on purpose – like you would if someone kept calling you Doreen even after you corrected them many, many times.

Or if they told you Doris was a name they’d never heard before so they were just going to call you Doreen because that was easier.

But that’s not what most people are doing.

My pronouns are they/them/theirs. Not she/her/hers.

I’m asking you with an open heart to please not put me in the awkward position of having to apologize for making your life more complicated with my existence. If you mess it up, don’t start groveling. Just correct yourself and move on. I will too! I’m not a monster. I’m a human being. I’ve made many mistakes. I know you’re going to as well.

I know it’s especially hard if you’ve known me for a long time and you’re used to using other pronouns. Hard to course-correct a habit like that. I’ve struggled when long-time friends have changed their names and pronouns.

Do not underestimate how much someone will appreciate that you’re trying. When I can tell someone is trying it’s like a flower blossoming in my chest.

And oh man…if you introduce yourself with your own pronouns? That’s a whole bouquet you just planted here.

When you do that, you are signaling to me that you see me. You are signaling to your kids, your grandkids, your niblings, your friends, your students, your coworkers, that you see them, and then, like dear St. Fred, murmuring, “It’s you I like.”

When you do that, you are saying to that crying kid back in 2018, “I’m not wrong. I love you. And God loves you too.”

Because there’s clearly not enough of us saying that to the people who need to hear it.

If there were, maybe our bishops wouldn’t be fighting over whether to include 2SLGBTQIA+ people in ministry, or whether same-gender marriage is okay.

If there were, maybe I wouldn’t have had to spend so much time convincing queer kids not to just give up on living.

If there were, I would never have had to hear that kid ask me, over and over again, over a period of years, “What if you’re wrong?”

Let’s say I am wrong. Let’s say for a moment God is exactly who they say He is – because obviously that God is a He.

That’s no God of life. That’s no God that glistens forth in thousands upon millions of diverse creatures of every gender imaginable, and some unimaginable ones too. That’s no God that liberates the broken-hearted. That God ties up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lays them on the shoulders of others; but is unwilling to lift a finger to move them. That God is a refuge to no one.

I will not worship that God. That God is a death-dealer. I’ll go to hell before serving that God.

I’m speaking to you from the heart, because I love you.

The Hebrew Bible text we just read proves that God is not like that.

Now I know today’s readings are a bit iffy from a Pride Sunday perspective. Hosea can be a bit much. There’s the passage we heard last week about taking a wife of whoredom – EEK!

But the part about God still reaching out to us, even as we abuse and corrupt and destroy the creatures of God, because God is not like us?

Maybe even…a little queer?

That’s the good stuff.

God calls those who try to imprison Him/Her/Them to account in these passages.

From Chapter 10:

“You have ploughed wickedness,
   you have reaped injustice,
   you have eaten the fruit of lies.”

In disowning your children. In campaigning for conversion therapy. In refusing to provide medical care and appropriate bathrooms for trans kids. In forbidding kids from accessing anonymous queer and trans support groups in schools. In supporting people who sacrifice to the Baals of hate, like Intellectual Dark Web trolls. In refusing to learn proper pronouns and new names because “it’s too hard” or “it’s not proper grammar.”

It’s way harder to ask someone to start using a new name, or the right pronouns. I think the scariest thing I’ve ever done is asking my husband to start using they/them. I’ve known him for twenty years. I know he’s a good guy. I knew he would promise to try, and that’s just what he did.

It was still scary.

And by the way, Shakespeare used singular they.

But even if it was, is proper grammar really more important to you than our relationship? I mean if it is, okay. But don’t expect me to hang out with you.

Despite all of that, God calls us back. Despite all of the times that I’ve been hateful, God has called me back. Where I sowed rage, God sowed love and compassion.

Hosea’s anger is borne out from his response to idolatry. Idolatry is a sin because it puts something else in the place of God. For Hosea, writing in a particular place at a particular time, that was Baal, a different god.

But maybe for us, it’s homophobia. Transphobia. Misogyny. Transmisogyny. Maybe it’s thinking that God can’t be queer or trans. Maybe it’s thinking that God always chooses male pronouns. (Oh man, watch yourself, family, because if you think I get crabby when I get misgendered).

And maybe idolatry is based in fear. Maybe when people see someone like me, they see everything that they were told was off-limits to them, and some of them resent me for not playing by those rules. Maybe they see someone who feels free enough to be themselves. I mean I’ll confess that what actually happened was that I figured out I’m terrible at being someone other than myself, so I gave up.

But, in that spirit of fear, some folks look at God and think, “God couldn’t possibly approve of this, because if They did, I was lied to. If it was okay all along to be fully me, why have I been spilling my heartblood all this time trying to be someone else?”

Well, I’m done being afraid. I’m done making myself small to support people in lies of self-loathing.

I’m done with that God.

And you should be too.

You know what happened to that kid crying in the church in 2018? After they decided to try being themselves, I watched them become more and more compassionate and brave and accepting of others.

To my beautiful rainbow siblings, keep being you.

To those allied with us, stand with us. Keep being you.

To those who might be a little afraid, a little uncomfortable?

God loves you.

Try being you.

Sermon begins at 25:58