It goes without saying: Worship has been dramatically altered by the pandemic. Some of these alterations have been less than desirable, of course, but some of them have also been worth celebrating. Among the gifts of the pandemic, I would suggest, is our increasing attentiveness to everyday work and workers. Over past months there has been a new energy given to our congregational prayers for front-line medical workers, for those who deliver online orders, and for staff in grocery stores.
As we enter the new normal of worship in the days ahead, my hope is that our shared prayers for everyday work will be enriched and deepened—that we will remember that most of us participate in God’s mission through our everyday work; that our everyday vocations are a means by which we serve Christ in the world. As an encouragement in this direction, I offer these prayers for some of the workers I have encountered in just the past few weeks.
O God who provides home and shelter, we lift to you those who install windows and doors. As they pry out old, rotted window frames, scattering dust and splinters of wood, they thwart drafts and mildew. As they install new windows and doors, they provide protection against wind and cold and rain and heat. Remind each one that their work with hammer and level and cordless driver are your work for the wellbeing of others. As we celebrate their work, O God, we also remember and pray for those who live without such protection from the elements; we pray for the coming kingdom of Jesus.
There’s a temptation to wish life away—to wish that pandemic days, months, or even years would rush to oblivion. That from some bright future these mournful days would become as an Autumn mist burned away by the late morning sun. Forgotten; banished from memory.
Exhaustion of online world and conversation. Two dimensional images displace the play of light on faces and bodies. Loss of loving presence through touch and embrace and quiet nod. Digitized voices never quite capture the person we know and want to learn from. Click “leave meeting” and sit back to recover.
Far-off parents and grandparents reachable only by phone—a Summer visit already distant in heart and mind. Thanksgiving, family dinner over Zoom? Forbidden 600km journey to a meal of roast turkey and baked potatoes and the best stuffing ever and a welcoming embrace. Aching for a world other than the one received today. Continue reading →
My front-yard garden measures 12 feet by 11 feet and so represents a modest effort in terms of urban agriculture. It certainly doesn’t compete with the larger plots tended by some Portuguese seniors in west end Montreal, or with the wide-open community gardens that flourish here. But its postage-stamp size doesn’t tell the whole story of my veggie patch either. Year over year my acreage (dreaming big, here) teaches me much more than many other areas of life—it is the source of innumerable successes, failures, and opportunities to learn.
This year I decided to plant kohlrabi for the first time, which one website describes as “a unique, easy-to-grow veggie.” Easy for them to say! I don’t know whether to blame the less-than-consistent rainfall of this past summer or my less than strategic enriching of the soil, but the resulting, stumpy little kohlrabi stems were rather disappointing. In my defense I should say that I didn’t have a lot of time to invest in the garden this year. And the decision to leave town for four weeks of holidays wasn’t exactly conducive to its flourishing.
Most of the carrot seeds I planted in early June simply didn’t germinate, though the few seeds that did spring up produced twenty lovely carrots. Twenty! (You can interpret that exclamation mark as either frustration or delight!) They were typically odd-sized and wonderfully misshapen. Also, at some point during the season I simply forgot I had planted onion seedlings in the back corner, and only discovered them when pulling out overgrown crabgrass and other weeds a few weeks ago. And there they were, 10 of them pulled up and held in one hand, as remarkable and beautiful as anything on God’s green earth. Continue reading →
Clothing has always been a significant part of human identity. Historically human clothing has been particularly significant in terms of our shared or our collective identities. In particular cultures there was always a similarity of dress; our clothing marked us out as belonging to a particular culture or community. So there has been a style of clothing typical among the Scottish, or typical among the Dutch, or typical among Cameroonians – and then even within those larger groups, there have been narrower styles that marked out smaller groups or peoples. If you were an anthropologist travelling around the world two hundred years ago, you would have inevitably identified particular cultures or peoples according to the clothing they wore. Particular peoples just were peoples that wore this type of clothing. Your clothes made you part of a group.
Today that collective dimension remains a part of human culture in some respects. But today there is also something much more individualistic about our clothing. Our culture in the west today gives especially high priority to our creation of an individual identity. In our culture, everything around us is seen as raw material from which we can create or build or project our personal identity. We have been taught to resist the idea that our identity is in any way given to us or dictated from outside of ourselves – modern culture teaches us above all that our individual identity must be created, must be fabricated, must be cobbled together by us out of the raw material of life. You create yourself. You establish your own identity.
Kintsugi (or kintsukuroi) is a Japanese practice and refers to the repair of broken pottery. In this particular practice, a broken piece of pottery is repaired using a resin that is sprinkled with gold. The pieces of a broken bowl or cup of plate are bound together with this gold-sprinkled resin.
The result is striking, as is apparent from the bowl pictured.
When these pieces of pottery were originally crafted they were beautiful in their own right – they were crafted with care; they were functional; they were unique. But somewhere along the line they got broken. Perhaps they were treated carelessly – maybe banged down on a table in anger. Or perhaps they happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and were mistakenly sent tumbling to the floor. Whatever happened, the pieces ended up strewn across the floor.
But someone cared enough to take these broken bowls – and to mend them. And the result is not a piece of pottery that is returned to its original condition. The result is not a bowl that is the same as it always was. Rather, the result of this repair work is a bowl that carries in itself the marks of the past – it has been broken, that much is obvious – it is scarred. Continue reading →
The content of this sermon is based in part on Rebecca Konyndyk De Young’s Glittering Vices (Brazos, 2009).
I could feel envy eating me up – from the inside out.
I could feel envy getting hold of my life and my thoughts and my emotions.
But it seemed that there was little I could do to escape – there was little I could do to turn things around. Envy had a grip and it wasn’t letting go.
I have discovered that the Proverb gets it exactly right: “A tranquil heart is the life of the flesh; But envy is the rottenness of the bones.”
I have discovered that Chyrsostom was exactly right: “As a moth gnaws a garment, so doth envy consume a man.”
I’m not saying that I was just a victim in all of this. I know I’m responsible for my own actions. But for a time it was like I had became an observer of my own life. I could see what was happening. I could see where I was going. I could see what I was doing. And I could see the train wreck that lay down the track – a train wreck that would involve me and the person of whom I was envious. Continue reading →
For most of us, one of the earliest things we were taught by our parents was to say “Thank you.”
When someone paid you a compliment: “Did you say thank you?”
When someone was giving you a gift: “Remember to say thank you.”
And of course there was always also the right posture in gratitude: “You’ve got to look at her when you say thank you. ”
From those earliest days of learning to say thank you, there have been so many instances when gratitude has made sense to each us – so many times when we have expressed our thankfulness to others.
But as we have grown up – as we have put some distance between our childhood selves and our mature selves – the question of thankfulness has also gotten more complicated. I’m sure we’ll all agree. I’m sure that all of us can think of situations where thankfulness wasn’t at all straightforward. Continue reading →
It goes without saying – toddlers find it difficult to share. Have you ever tried to convince a 2 or 3 year old that they need to share something? Sometimes they are willing – very often they are not.
Just this past week, Becky had two of our kids with her picking up vegetables just down here on Grand boulevard. And one of the things she picked up was a small pumpkin. She had her hands full with the other vegetables, and so she asked Reuben if he would carry the pumpkin. Well someone, who happens to be named Esther, decided that she really should be the one carrying the pumpkin. “But Esther, it’s Reuben’s turn – I asked him to help me. You can carry something next time.” Well, as you probably suspect, that wasn’t going to do it for Esther. It was now or never – and the tears flowed and the little screams came. But I want to carry the pumpkin.
The whole logic of sharing is something that toddler’s are on their way to learning. It’s true that toddler’s can be taught to share, but it is only as they develop and mature that the logic of sharing becomes more deeply engrained in them. Even as they grow, of course, the various influences in a child’s environment (the example set by adults, for example) will influence whether they share with others. Continue reading →