My latest column in the Christian Courier.
You couldn’t help but notice Jean Vanier when he entered a room. This was simply on account of his size – he was a big man, standing six feet, six inches tall. So just by virtue of his physical presence, he would likely draw your gaze. But if Jean Vanier drew sustained attention, and more than a passing glance, it was on account of the loving attention he gave to others. Many were drawn to him because his large hands and his wide embrace so evidently embodied a deep and sincere love for others.
Several weeks ago I had the privilege of listening in as some who knew Jean Vanier (1928-2019) shared stories of encounter with him. This took place at the 10th annual Summer Institute on Theology and Disability, held this year at Western Seminary in Holland, Michigan. Almost all of the stories that were shared painted a picture of someone who drew you in by giving his full attention. He was decidedly present in the moment, listening and sharing in a way that demanded as much of you as he gave of himself in the encounter.
One participant in the conversation shared about a time Vanier visited the Daybreak (L’Arche) community in Toronto. It was a mob scene as Vanier entered the home and was surrounded by members of the community. Yet this wasn’t adulation; not the adoration of a celebrity. Rather, as the speaker put it: “They drew near to him because he was a shepherd and these were the sheep who knew his voice; these women and men with intellectual disabilities knew he was responsible for this place (Daybreak) that had given them life.” By his loving presence, Jean Vanier shared and embodied the loving presence of the Good Shepherd. It is perhaps no surprise that so many were drawn to his life and voice. Continue reading
A sermon preached today in the Chapel of The Presbyterian College.
Nadia Myre is an Algonquin and Quebecois artist originally from Maniwaki who now lives and works here in Montreal. She’s not well known across the country, but her work is significant enough that she has a solo show at the Musée des beaux-arts here in Montreal right now. That exhibit explores the encounter between the Indigenous peoples and western, colonial cultures – an encounter she actually embodies in her own person.
Nadia Myre is perhaps best known for what she called “The Scar Project.” It was 8-year undertaking that ran from 2005 to 2013. Strictly speaking, it wasn’t Myre’s own work. Rather, the scar project was a communal work – a work created by many people over those eight years.
Over those years, the artist invited participants to sew their scars – physical scars, emotional scars, or psychological scars – to sew their scars into a 10-inch by 10-inch canvas. Each participant, each person, was given their own framed canvas, into which they could sew representations of the pain of their lives, the scars of their bodies and souls. Each participant was also invited to write a narrative, short or long, to accompany their canvas. Myre brought this project to schools, to seniors residences, to museums, and to galleries – and over the eight-year period, a total of 1,400 canvases were completed. She then exhibited them in a variety of contexts and a variety of ways. Myre created both a video installation and a book that brought together the images with the stories. Let me give just two examples of the anonymous narratives shared as part of the project: Continue reading
The gates of Jerusalem are busy places. There are so many people coming and going – whether for religious festivals, or for trade and commerce, or for administrative purposes. The flow of people is almost nonstop at these gates – through these portals into the city.
There is a pool near one particular gate of the city – and that pool near the sheep gate – is also a busy place. But this pool is busy not so much on account of the religious festivals, or on account of those traveling for trade and commerce, or on account or the administrative needs of the city or of that Roman colony more widely.
The area around that pool is busy because there is a tradition of healing associated with it. There is a tradition that when the waters are stirred – when there is some movement in the waters, as if stirred by an angel – the waters have healing or medicinal properties.
And so the area around that pool – the five porticos or porches that encircle the pool – they are filled with those looking for healing. This space is a kind of ancient hospice or hospital. By definition this is a group of those who are broken in some way; their bodies in need of healing in some respect. According to John’s gospel, those gathered around the pool are the blind and the lame and the paralyzed. And of course we know that in that culture, on top of their particular physical challenges, each of these individuals would also have faced a high degree of social isolation. So they seek healing in this pool – they seek healing in the stirred waters – they seek healing of their bodies and souls – a healing in their physical being and in their social identity. Continue reading
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
This morning’s sermon – posted before preached!
The townspeople knew all about this man. At one time he probably lived among them.Very likely he grew up as a boy and young man in their town. But over time they began to see something change in him. Perhaps they saw it all coming over months and years – they probably agonized over his decline – perhaps they struggled with what they could do to help him or his family. But he slipped slowly out of the community, onto the periphery of society
The one who was once a boy in their town now lives among the tombs – out in the wilderness – on the outer margins of human community – alienated and alone. He is a picture of inhumanity. He is a picture of life at the bottom of a terrible downward spiral.
It’s not like the townspeople had given up on him even now. Sometimes they tried to restrain him, for his own good. And from time to time they succeeded, but no more. Now when they bound him he would tear apart the bonds. Now he represents how far a person can fall from a life that is good and fulfilled.
One of the heartbreaking details of this story is that this man has no name – or seems to have lost his name. He is called Legion. But that, of course, is not his name. That is a name imposed upon him. That name Legion represents the destructive power that has him in its grip. He has lost his identity. He is not himself. Continue reading
In so many places around the earth, rivers are also boundaries. Rivers, of course, are natural geographic formations that are often difficult for people to cross or to get around. And so in the history of peoples and communities and nations, rivers have inevitably become boundaries that define those peoples and relations between them.
So the St. Lawrence River forms part of the boundary between the Canada and the United States in Eastern Ontario.
The Colorado River forms part of the boundary between the United States and Mexico.
The San Juan River forms a large part of the boundary between Nicaragua and Costa Rica.
The Zambezi River forms a part of the boundary between Zambia and three other countries – Zimbabwe, Botswana, and Nambia.
Rivers are these natural geographic formations that in many places have also become political boundaries. One people or nation lives on one side of the boundary, and another people or nation lives on the other side of the boundary.
There are at least two ways of to think about rivers as boundaries. And we’ve already been thinking about river boundaries in one particular way – we’ve been thinking of them in terms of a separation – in terms of something that divides people or keeps them apart. From this point of view, the river as a boundary might even be a point of contest or conflict – the river as boundary might become a source of animosity and political strife – or even of war. One simple, historical example – in the war of 1812, American troops crossed the Niagara River to attack British settlements near Fort George and Fort Erie. The British and aboriginal populations there eventually pushed them back across the river. From this first point of view, the river is something that divides or keeps people separated from each other. Continue reading
Last week as we began this short sermon series entitled Vintage Jesus, we spent a bit of time describing this whole fascination with the sensibilities and aesthetics of past decades. There is fairly wide interest in the clothes and jewelry and furniture, and other things from the 1930’s and 40’s up through the 70’s. There are shops and websites dedicated to selling vintage things – blogs dedicated to the discussion of all things vintage.
This week we’re going a slightly different way to introduce the vintage theme – in a moment we’ll do so by listening to some Johnny Cash. Most of us know how much dramatically the music industry has changed over the past number of years. It used to be the case that you bought your music in a very concrete form – you bought a record or a cassette-tape or a compact disc – and you would play that very concrete thing in a stereo of some kind. But today music is purchased and listened to in such a different way. You never “see” the music. You download it to your computer or directly to your phone – often wirelessly. For the vast majority of people in North America today, to listen to music you simply pull out your phone or your Ipod, put in your earplugs, and listen. We could easily play some Johnny Cash this way.
Given these technological advances, it may be surprising to us that the interest in vintage things includes an interest in the vinyl records. Over the past 20 years most people threw out their old vinyl records, or tried to get rid of them at garage sales. But there is an increasing number of people who collect old vinyl records – people out there looking for records, and buying up old record players like this Eaton’s model – it actually belongs to Iain MacLeod. Continue reading
I suspect that many or most of us here this morning have never heard of PostSecret.
PostSecret had its beginning in 2005 and was created by a man by the name of Frank Warren. Back in January of 2005, Frank Warren created this project by sending 3,000 self-addressed stamped postcards to people – and he asked those people to write a secret on the postcard, anonymously, and mail it back to him. Also, the idea was that the person would decorate the blank postcard in a self-expressive way or in a way that related to the theme of their secret. So Frank Warren sent out these hundreds of postcards, and then he starts getting them back – hundreds of anonymous secrets shared on personally crafted postcards.
Not too long after he started receiving the postcards from people, Warren also established a website on which he would put up the postcard images and their secrets. From there the whole thing snowballed. Every Sunday, for almost 6 years now, Frank Warren has put up 10 or 20 new postcards with their secrets. The rules he lays out are simple: You can share any secret as long as it is true, and as long as you have never shared it with anyone before. You’re supposed to keep it simple – only one confession per postcard. Continue reading
In the town of Capernaum lives a man who suffers from what we would call paraplegia.
He is paralyzed from the waste down – unable to use his legs.
He is utterly dependent on those who live around him – dependent on them to provide food and drink, to put a roof over his head and clothes on his back.
As is often the case with individuals who make appearances I n the gospel narratives, we know little about this man. We don’t know the cause of his paralysis and we don’t know for how long he has suffered.
On the other hand, we know something not insignificant about this man – we know that he has friends. We know this not only because he is alive – which itself requires the presence of friends in that context. We also know he has friends because they actually appear right alongside him in the gospel narrative. This man does not appear alone in the pages of Mark’s gospel – but with his friends. Continue reading