Where would you put yourself on the optimism/pessimism spectrum? I suppose I land just slightly on the optimistic side, though with serious bouts of pessimism thrown in now and again. Among my friends there is at least one eternal pessimist (with an astonishing capacity to see the worst in every situation) and a few who seem born entirely to optimism (forever confident things will be just fine).
Perhaps we all slide along the continuum, depending on circumstances, but our optimism quotient also seems a fairly fixed personality trait. You occupy some place on this spectrum and there’s not much you can do to change that. Maybe it’s pessimistic of me to say that!
But let’s make this a little more concrete by asking about our present pandemic moment. Are you optimistic we have finally flattened the curve? Are you confident there will soon be effective treatments for COVID-19? That we might see a vaccine within the year? Get back to something approaching normal life in the next two years? Continue reading →
We all know the power of language within public debates. In such debates, most participants will use language that aligns their point of view with that of the wider culture. And most will try to distance themselves, lexically, from attitudes and actions that have negative connotations. In the abortion debate, for example, both sides describe their own position in positive terms – as either pro-life or pro-choice. We know that our language shapes public perceptions, and will shape the debate, and so we respond accordingly.
The question of this column is how to describe a certain kind of death. The death I’m referring to is that of a person who has a serious sickness that causes her substantial pain and suffering – and that pain and suffering cannot be relieved to her satisfaction. Her natural death is reasonably foreseeable and, at her request and with her consent, a medical practitioner gives her a series of injections that kill her cause her to die.
Within the Canadian context there is now agreement that this kind of death should be called “medical aid in dying.” This is the language now used in legislative frameworks, by most medical practitioners, and in public discourse generally. Continue reading →
Let me begin this morning by reading again just a few words from 1 Corinthians chapter 1. For me these particular words are more than a little odd – they almost stick out like a sore thumb – and for that reason I want to start with them. Paul writes these words to the church in Corinth: “I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius.” Aren’t these curious words? “I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius.”
These words become astonishing when we realize that Paul is the one who founded the church in Corinth. These words come from the apostle who went to that city and who debated in its marketplace and synagogue, with the result that women and men came to faith and were baptized. These words come from the pen of someone who lived with the Corinthian church for 18 months – leading them and caring for them and teaching about their new life in Christ.
To this church, to this group of people with whom he has had such a significant and personal relationship, Paul writes: “I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius.” Strong and strange words. Continue reading →
I begin this sermon with excerpts (including a few minor edits) from the first chapter of a novel entitled Galore. The novel is written by Michael Crummy, who is a is Newfoundlander, and this particular novel is set in a fictional Newfoundland town, a coastal town, called Paradise Deep. Galore won the Commonwealth Writer’s Prize for best book and was a finalist for the Governor General’s Aware for fiction a few years ago. So as we begin, some excerpts from the opening chapter of Galore.
Most of the shore’s meager population – the Irish and West Country English and the bushborns of uncertain provenance – were camped on the grey sand, waiting to butcher a whale that had beached itself in the shallows on the feast day of St. Mark. This during a time of scarcity when the ocean was barren and gardens when to rot in the relentless rain and each winter threatened to bury them all. They weren’t whalers and no one knew how to go about killing the Leviathan, but there was something in the humpback’s unexpected offering that prevented the starving men from hacking away while the fish still breathed. As if that would be a desecration of the gift.
They’d scaled the whale’s back to drive a stake with a maul, hoping to strike some vital organ, and managed to set it bleeding steadily. They saw nothing for it then but to wait for God to do His work… The wind was razor sharp and Mary Tryphena lost all feeling in her hands and feet and her little arse went dunch on the sand while the whale expired in imperceptible increments. Jabez Trim waded out at intervals to prod at the fat saucer of an eye and report back on God’s progress. Continue reading →
When you read through the proverbs, you very quickly discover that many of them offer a choice between stark alternatives. Always a choice – an either/or, if you will:
either wise or foolish
either hard working or lazy
either righteous or wicked
either upright or devious.
Looking at these either/ors in the book of Proverbs reminds us of words we read in Deuteronomy chapter 30 – words of God through Moses:“This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live, and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him.”
Again, a stark choice is set before us:
either life or death;
either curses or blessings.
This way of thinking about life and decisions may feel pretty heavy to us – and not only heavy. It will feel almost impossible for us human beings to apply this way of thinking to all of our decisions or actions. These either/ors are too stark for us. In the first place, if we thought about every decision and action as a choice between life and death, between light and dark, between wisdom and folly, we would probably be like the proverbial deer caught in the headlights – we’d be trapped and unable to move or make a decision. If every decision carried the weight of good and evil, light and dark, then with every little decision we would be wrestling with ourselves and the situation: “O my goodness, is this decision light or darkness – is this decision good or wicked – am I giving life or dealing in death?” If every decision we made carried that kind of weight, it would be a recipe for immobility and exhaustion on our part. Continue reading →
Seneca: “What is the body? A weight on the soul to torture it.”
Epictetus: “I am a poor soul, shackled to a corpse.”
Paul: “Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain.”
Apostles’ Creed: “I believe in…the resurrection of the body”