Monday, April 27, 2020

We Could Use a Mulligan...

(This was written for the church newsletter. It is also posted on my "Ministerial Mutterings" blog but since Facebook does not like that blog I am cross-posting here so I can share the post)

I am not a golfer. I do have a set of clubs (that were my grandfather’s and are older than I am) but I have not swung one since Miriam was a baby. But for three years in the 1990’s I worked at a golf course and since I could golf for free I went periodically, usually with fellow staff who were much better than I. That is when I learned about mulligan’s – because they took pity on me at times and granted me one. If you don’t know, a mulligan is a second chance, a shot you can retake without having it count against you. With all that has happened in 2020 is there a chance we can get a mulligan for the year?

Or maybe we need a Bobby Ewing moment. Years ago, in the prime-time soap opera Dallas the show killed off Bobby Ewing. But it turns out Bobby was a very popular character and they needed a way to bring him back from the dead. So in the closing moments of the last episode of the season Bobby’s wife found someone in the shower and when her turned around there was Bobby. The plot device used to explain it was that the whole thing had been a terrible dream. It allowed the whole story-line to be wiped out. I suspect that there are some who would not mind finding our that 2020, with oil prices crashing, and a pandemic, and the recent shootings in Nova Scotia has just been a terrible dream.

A third image. IN the second act of the musical Jesus Christ Superstar Mary Magdalene and Peter sing the song “Could We Start Again Please?”. It falls just after Jesus has been taken to see Herod, and before his final trial in front of Pilate. The text includes the lines:
(I found the words here )
I'd been very hopeful so far
Now for the first time I think we're going wrong
Hurry up and tell me
This is just a dream or
Could we start again please?
I think you've made your point now
You've even gone a bit too far to get the message home
Before it gets too frightening
We ought to call a halt so
Could we start again please?
Mary and Peter think things have gone off the rails and maybe a restart would take them down a different path, one with less fear and destruction. This image seems to match the feelings I see expressed on Facebook some days.

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news but none of those things are going to happen. Unfortunately history is neither a merciful golf move nor a TV soap opera. This is not a dream. We do not get a do over. But we might be able to start again (please). But what exactly do we want that re-start to look like?

Daily I see people asking when things will get back to normal. Daily I see people insisting that we have to hurry up and “re-open” the world so we can get back to normal. I am going to suggest if all we envision as our re-start is a return to some semblance of what reality was back in January then we will have missed the boat.

That is the mistake Peter and Mary make in the song, they seem to envision a restart that looks very much like the first go-round. But of course that is not what the resurrection is. The story of Easter does allow a chance to “start again” but it is not a simple reboot. Resurrection is more of a new start. I suggest that this is what we, as people of faith, need to be hoping, looking, and working for after this period of disruption. Otherwise we may well have missed a great opportunity.

I think we are learning a lot in these weeks. We have been challenged to think about what is really essential for good health in our lives. We have also been challenged to think about what really is not essential. The government programs to provide financial support should make us ponder what adequate support for healthy lives are – and then to ask why some people do not get that support in a non-pandemic time.

I believe God is with us in all this. I believe God is always calling us to look for resurrection, not a reboot. I believe the life of resurrection means a life that is different, maybe not even recognizable at first glance (note that most people in the Easter stories do not recognize Jesus at first). I also believe it would be much easier, much more comfortable to look for a simple reboot, or to call for a mulligan, and go right back to the way it was before. But God does not usually call us to take the easier or more comfortable route.

What do you hope life will be like when we climb out of the pandemic? What do you hope life will look like when we re-build an Alberta economy threatened (perhaps as never before in the oil age) after the most recent price crash? Where do you think God may be leading us into resurrection? Right now is a time of disruption and grief for what we think is being lost. But after grief comes the hope of new life and we are a Resurrection People.


Friday, April 17, 2020

Book 3 of 2020 -- Denial is My Spiritual Practice (And Other Failures of Faith)

When I first started this blog 15 years ago (give or take a few weeks) I started reading other blogs. One of those was one written by Martha Spong (though it was not for a few years that I learned her actual name because many people were at least pseudo-anonymous in the blogosphere of the day) and I have read her writing ever since. SO when I heard she had co-written this book I put it on my "I should get that some day" list. Someday came and when I was looking for a different sort of read I decided this would be it.

This is a memoir of sorts. Each chapter has Martha and Rachel sharing a story around a "failure of faith" (for the record I am not sure many them I would call failures, challenges maybe). The stories are honest, and sometimes raw, and always touch the heart. They also pushed me to ask why they were resonating with me, which pushed me as a reader to explore the questions the authors were raising/wrestling with. I am pretty sure that is the whole point. 

Very good read. Easy read but also challenging read. I like that in a book.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

The Story of Kalanit -- The Easter Squirrel

Caucasian Squirrel -- Picture Source
There were a lot of people who came to Jerusalem for Passover that first Easter, But there were a lot of animals that lived in and around the city all of the time. They got a first hand view of the events of Palm Sunday, through to Easter Sunday. One of them was a curious little squirrel named Kalanit.

From the time she was a baby Kalanit had been curious about those two-legged beings that made so much noise. Her mother always told her that those were dangerous creatures and she should run away when they came but she just had to know what they were doing. Besides, occasionally one of them would drop a tasty snack for her to eat. That is why she spent so much time in the trees along the road to Jerusalem.

One day Kalanit was scurrying along the roadside looking for food when she saw something strange. There were always people walking along the road but today they were standing alongside it. This intrigued Kalanit so she climbed one of the trees and slid out on a branch for a closer look. She could see someone coming along riding a donkey. Suddenly the branch she was on shook terribly, as if someone was trying it tear it off the tree. Quickly she jumped up higher to a safer place.

Kalanit looked with amazement as people tore branches off the trees and laid them on the road. The man on the donkey rode over the branches as the people yelled “Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” She wished she understood what these sounds meant. The two legged creatures seemed so happy, so excited. Obviously something important was happening.

As Kalanit watched she looked at the donkey. It looked so calm, so peaceful, so happy. Then she looked up at the rider. There was something about him. Just watching him go by she felt like everything was right with the world, like it would all be alright somehow. The the donkey went around the bend in the road, the crowd followed him and the road grew quiet again. Kalanit stood and watched after them for a long time, pondering the strange rider, before she resumed scrounging for food.

A few days later Kalanit was in a garden outside the city. She had returned to her nest high up in one of the larger trees for the night. Suddenly a small group of the two-legged creatures appeared. Irritated at this interruption to her sleep Kalanit started to chatter loudly, then she saw that one of the men was the rider from the roadway. Once again when she looked at him she had that sense of power, a sense that with him all would be well eventually. But something was wrong.

The man went off by himself. He fell to his knees Tears were streaming down his face. She heard the sounds “Lord take this cup away from me! But let your will, not mine, be done”. Again she wished she understood the language these creatures used but she could tell the man was terribly upset. Then suddenly there was a great noise.

A large crowd appeared. Kalanit could see the fire they carried, could see it shining on metal weapons. They sounded angry. She ran high up the tree just to be safe. The crowd took the man away. His friends stayed behind, they looked afraid. Kalanit wanted to follow the man. She liked being near him. He looked like a safe two-legged creature, one who would like squirrels. But they were going into the city. That was not a safe place for squirrels, even one as curious as Kalanit. So she found a tree near the city gate and waited.

The next morning Kalanit woke to another crowd coming out of the city. The man was there. But he looked terrible. He was bleeding. He looked defeated. There was a sadness about him. Kalanit jumped from tree to tree following the crowd. She just had to learn more about his man. She knew there was something special about him, something about him that made her think of old stories.

When Kalanit was young her mother told her about the Great Creator. The Great Creator, her mother had said, gave life to all the trees, and the squirrels, and the other creatures. You could know the Great Creator personally and you could tell when the Creator was present. You could feel the love of the Great Creator and know that things would be alright. When Kalanit looked at the man, even battered and bloody as he was, she felt the presence of the Great Creator. She had to follow him and learn more.

The crowd led her to a hill. There were no trees on the hill. It was not safe for a squirrel up in the open like that. But now Kalanit did not care, she had to get closer. So she skittered up among the crowd of feet until she was right near the front. There were two-legged creatures from far away up there. They had harsh voices and different colouring. They wore coverings that reflected the sunlight. Kalanit had noticed that the strangers made the people from around the city nervous.

The men with strange voices were taking the man, the special man, the one who reminded Kalanit of the Great Creator, and putting him on something. Then they raised up a strange looking tree. It was tall and straight with only two branches on it. The man’s arms were attached to the branches. Most of the two-legged creatures standing around the tree were laughing. But there were a few women off to one side who were not. They looked up at the man and Kalanit saw tears streaming down their faces. She went to stand with them. Something about them told her they were friends of the man on the tree.

Kalanit stayed there all day. She watched as the man on the tree died. She saw the men with the shiny coverings take him off the tree and give him to a small group of people. She followed those people into a garden, watched them place the man in a hole in the rock, and then leave him there. Kalanit could not believe it. How could that special man, the one who gave her that sense that all would be alright, the one who reminded her of the Great Creator, be dead? Kalanit rummaged around on the ground for some food, then climbed up a nearby tree to sleep for the night.

Early the next morning Kalanit was woken up by the sounds of tears. The three women with who she had stood on the hill beside that strange tree were in the garden again. Looking over where the man had been put Kalanit saw that the hole was open again. The women went over to the hole. A strange being came out. It looked like a male two-legged creature but different somehow. It shone. Kalanit had a sense of power, a sense of the Great Creator as he spoke. To her surprise she understood the words. Was he speaking the language of squirrels? Surely not, the women seemed to understand him too. Maybe he spoke a language that every creature could understand?

The man said that Jesus of Nazareth wasn’t there anymore, that he was raised. The women ran away, their faces a mixture of joy and fear and amazement. After they were gone Kalanit slipped down to the hole in the rock. She went in. It was empty. She came out and the strange shining being was there again. He sat down on the ground and let Kalanit climb onto his legs. They sat there for hours and the being told Kalanit all about this man named Jesus and about the Great Creator. The being told Kalanit about the importance of loving everything made by the Great Creator. Jesus, the being said, was raised by the Great Creator and because of that life would always be stronger than death.

After that day Kalanit was different. She was still a curious squirrel, always trying to learn new things. But she also had a new sense of how the Great Creator was with her all the time. She told the other animals about the man, Jesus. Some of them listened. Some of them laughed at her. Some of them thought she was strange. Kalanit didn’t care. She was happy. The Great Creator was with her. Life was good.