This is a small post about something I rather not talk about, but maybe we all should!
The other day I was invited to join a group who meets after church, to discuss Progressive Christianity (this will be tackled in a future blog). The meeting went for about an hour, and there was about 15 people who attended. We were all sitting in a circle, and after initially introducing ourselves, I went on to share my journey from a person who was very critical of anything Christian to someone who combines being a scientist/researcher and a part time Pastor in the Uniting Church.
But this blog is not about any of that. There was someone who was videoing the discussion, and recently I had a look at the recordings. What! I’m not thin and beautiful! But that’s how I thought I looked.
It was a deep shock to examine the footage and see this slightly overweight, middle aged women, with a squeaky voice and hair all over the place in the seat that I should have been in. I have never been one to like photos of myself or even listen to myself after I have presented a paper or sermon, so the video was a reality check!
Clearly I would much rather have my made up vision of myself instead of what I saw on the screen.
Maybe that’s a problem for many of us. I want to be something that I’m not, and will probably never be (perhaps when I was 10 yrs old!). Accepting ourselves, with all our faults and imperfections is part of being human. When we deny who we really are, and pretend to be something else, we can get ourselves tied up in knots. We are swayed by everything the comes along, in the hope we will match up to this perfect person we have in our mind. And then we are disappointed over and over again, when it is not really us. Or worse still, we become self loathing of the wonder and marvel we are, because whatever characteristics we have are not the right ones.
Loving ourselves is as much the faith journey as loving others. For we cannot love others until we embrace the absolute marvel we all are! The universal spirit is just that, universally in all of creation including every one of us. I believe we are all windows to the divine.
There is nothing I can do about my voice (thanks mum) and I probably could lose a few pounds, but that look is my look! I am who I am, and you are who you are, and embracing ourselves is the start of a wholeness that brings healing and joy.
I was asked by a friend to publish this sermon/letter but the best I can do is to put it here. Just to let you know, I don’t have a brother called George or John and the letter is creative fiction, but with some truth to it! I have put the gospel reading in at the end so you know the context. K
To my dear George,
I hope this letter finds you well, and also your family. I am writing because I feel really upset and need to share my worries with you.
I caught up the other day with our beautiful older brother John, and it was not a great meeting. I know we love each other dearly, but that day, we were more like enemies, shouting and screaming at one another.
You may wonder why and over what, and I can tell you it was over important stuff. We were talking about the refugees that have come to live in our neighbourhood, after being in detention for over 6 years. I certainly feel so terrible that they have been locked up for so long, and urged John to join my little group providing welfare and support, and this is both food and money. We just try to be a friendly face as they settle in to such a strange place.
You would have thought that I had asked John to poke needles in his eye the way he responded. He kept going on about how they will take our jobs, how they will suck the economy dry and how they are probably terrorists anyway. Really, mostly they are women and children, families and young men who just want to start a new life.
It was really horrible, because I didn’t want him to think that I agreed with him. Rather I pointed out that they are people just like us, except they have been through terrible things, things that we could never imagine, and deserve to be supported and included. I also pointed out that we are so lucky, being white and middle class in a democratic country, surely we could be generous with our good fortune.
Anyway, John refused to budge, and so did I, and in the end we went our separate ways without really dealing with the issue.
I know we are supposed to be family but sometimes, he drives me crazy!!!
It made me think a little bit about what is peace actually is, and harmony, and what is real peace. I could have kept quiet and not rocked the boat, but, that didn’t seem quite right.
I have been listening to a podcast on the guy called Jesus who lived in the 1stcentury, Judea, or the Middle East if you like. I’ve never heard him described in this way before, but he seems to have some really radical views, which are pretty attractive. Like his ideas on peace. He seemed to think peace is not just where I keep what I have and you keep what you have, and the situation stays the same even if I have more than you. No, he seems to suggest that for real peace to occur we also need to have justice, and compassion and to share our wealth. That everyone belongs to God, and no one is excluded. Sort of what I was trying to point out to John.
It seems many see Jesus as a sort of prophet, but more than a prophet. Since his message still resonates with people today. You, more than anyone, know that I believe there is something hidden in all of us and all of life, a God thing, but it’s something I have trouble naming, or responding to. Well apparently people see in this guy the heart of God and by following his way, somehow feel connected to God. Rather than waiting for heaven, he says things need to happen here and now.
And the funny thing is, the things we are facing today, climate change and the environmental crisis, wars and violence, leaders who use their power by excluding those who are the poorest, and people like us who don’t want to share, are the things that he and his people were also facing back then.
Same shit, don’t mind my language.
I was listening to one part of the podcast which focuses on a passage in the bible. In it Jesus basically tells people to get over themselves and I felt he could have been talking to us. That comfort and pleasure is not the way to go, because it means others are left out, excluded while we sit pretty. He also says that we choose to close our eyes to this disparity, like we notice the cloud rising and the wind blowing, but not the suffering of others. I loved this passage, even if its uncomfortable to hear. The picture he’s painting seems pretty clear. I feel like he’s saying were all idiots if we don’t get it. Maybe we don’t!
I wonder if John would be more open if he didn’t go to that really, really, crazy church, which while talking about peace and justice, condemns people who don’t believe in their way. What is that all about anyway? Somehow that doesn’t seem to be the message that I was getting.
Anyway, the podcast continued, suggesting that we will come into conflict with those we love if we follow the Jesus path to peace. For his peace involves a thing called Shalom, a wholeness, not just for and between some but for all and between all. I think it’s much more than an absence of war or a unity without substance. He seems to have been one of the true prophets, as I mentioned before, who believed you cannot have peace without compassion, kindness and justice. And maybe this requires challenging the status quo.
I suppose, if I think about it, it’s inevitable that this path is going to cause division. Just look at me and John. it’s going to cause division if we stand with the people our society deems unworthy, the marginalised, and this would definitely include the refugees, and the aboriginal family that lives down the road. To stand with the poor and the oppressed and stand against injustice, racism, sexism and classism is definitely challenging the status quo. Or even to suggest that everyone has the God factor in them, is a beacon of God, rather than just some.
The good thing is, and I wish I had all this when I spoke to John, that Jesus didn’t actually just say it, he did it. He apparently ate with the most marginalised, he spoke with women, some of his disciples were women, he chastised those who worried about rules rather than people, who worried about who was in or out, and he responded to violence with love and forgave those who wronged him. Jesus lived the shalom idea, bringing together opposites to make a whole, both within ourselves and in the world. And he showed us how to do it.
He was some sort of guy. Not the airy fairy Jesus I had heard of before, but a real person. And I like that he wasn’t a marshmallow. He was tough, and stuck to his ideals, his God calling, until the end. Maybe if this Jesus gets a bit more air time, things might change. As he said in the reading I told you about, “whoever is near me is near fire, whoever is distant from me is distant from the kingdom.”
In the meantime, I will sign off and go and hunt down John for a coffee. Perhaps we can talk quietly about our differences and work together to create our own shalom. Our own peace. We can at least try.
Thanks for listening.
Your loving sister
‘I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed! Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on, five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided:
father against son
and son against father,
mother against daughter
and daughter against mother,
mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law
and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.’
He also said to the crowds, ‘When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, “It is going to rain”; and so it happens. And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, “There will be scorching heat”; and it happens. You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?
It is well known my love of Mary Oliver. She has written of life, and faith and what it is to be human in a way that deeply affects all who read her words.
But now I have found another poet who does the same thing. I was introduced to him at the recent Common Dreams Progressive Christian Conference, held in Sydney in July. His name is Joel McKerrow, and we were privileged to her him perform a couple of his poems. They were amazing, so much so that I have used a couple already.
The poems are available in book form, or if you want to hear him then also on DVD, and CD.
Here are 2 of my most recent favourites –
Something That We Might Call God
There is a restlessness,
A disquiet on the inside.
There is a fire. Or at least a flame.
The chase for God or something that we might call God.
There is a hoping. A knowing
and still it holds you.
Rekindle her: I beg of you.
Choose presence. Listen to the silent stories,
the ones hidden between
the lines you let them read.
This is not a problem to solve.
This is not a life that you have to have together.
it may be the best thing you could do right now.
A peace in a sea of confusion and calling.
And don’t they say that grace
makes beauty from the ugly.
So begin with the beauty and the beautiful.
Stare at it like you stare at the flame.
The day will come when you shall find yourself
once more burning.
Look deep into the world
and the world shall look deep into you
and somewhere in the stare between,
this is where she waits, God.
Or something that we might call God.
And so we chase the light,
find the light,
swim the light,
taste the light,
love the light,
become the light,
even in the dark,
When the sun is cast upon a heavy moon.
There are many others, and I will post a few in the next few months. But this is a taster.
Sometimes, words fail, metaphors fail, and we wonder whether we are deluded in believing in something more. A something more that connects us to the universe and to one another. A something more that lies deep within our hearts.
And then a poet comes along!