Law and Love – Don’t mess me ’round

This week I was listening to CBC radio one the afternoon, and the program was Shift with Tom Allen. Tom was at his witty and conversational best that afternoon. As you may know, Shift is the CBC program that makes the transition from classical music in the first part of the day to rock or independent pop music late in the afternoon. So at the beginning of the program you are likely to hear movements from a Beethoven symphony or violin concerto by Bartok. But by the end of the program you are likely to hear R.E.M. or Arcade Fire or Sarah Harmer.

And when I was listening to Shift toward the end of the program, Tom Allen introduced a song by telling a story about about visiting friends of his who own a guesthouse in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. These friends had a problem with bears in the spring, when the bears would come out of hibernation and would be hungry and on the prowl for food. The bears would show up around the guesthouse, trying to get into the garbage, scrounging for food. And so his friends had to chase away the bears – scare them off on a regular basis. One morning that he was there, and there was a bear out near the garbage area, they asked Tom if he wanted to give a try at scaring the bear away. And so he agreed – he went out on the porch and started shouting at the bear, yelling at that bear to get away. The bear didn’t even look up – this screaming city boy wasn’t going to startle a bear enough to send it running. Sort of like us with our raccoons, I suppose – you yell at them, and they just kind of look up at you like, “What’s your problem?”

But at that point, the woman who owned the guesthouse with her husband took over. She took a can of tomatoes with her, threw it at the bear, and shouted at the bear with an intensity and volume that Tom Allen just could not muster. And when the bear saw the tomatoes fly, and heard this woman deploying her vocal cords, it took off running. Continue reading

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love, knowledge, idols — priorities!

Many years ago now I visited Becky in The Gambia, West Africa. She was there working as a nurse and nurse tutor, and I was there for a short vacation over the Christmas holidays.

One of the experiences I remember from those 4 weeks in The Gambia was attending a church service in the village of Jarrol. This was a village just a few kilometers upcountry from where Becky was living and working. And it was a very small church – there were only 6 of us there that Sunday morning. Along with Becky and me there were two other health care workers (Australian midwives) – there was a young Christian man who was serving in the Gambian army – and there was the village chief, who was a Muslim. That Sunday I was asked to preach, which I did, and the young Gambian man translated my words into the Mandika language for the chief. As you can imagine, it was pretty informal – I sat on a bench in the church as I offered some reflections on a passage of scripture.

Everything went fine that morning. But then after the service, one of the Australian midwives pointed out that after reading the scriptures I had placed my bible on the ground next to the bench where I was sitting. She pointed out that in a Muslim context, this would have been a sign of profound disrespect for the bible – no Muslim would ever put the Qur’an, their holy book, on the ground. The only saving grace, she said, was that I had at least placed the bible partly on mat that was there on the ground beside me. Continue reading

the Spirit of freedom – sermon 3/5

Who doesn’t want to be free?

There is something so compelling about the idea of freedom. In our lives, in our culture, and in the wide world there is a desire for freedom – a desire that comes to expression in so many ways. Yes there are sometimes different ideas about what it means to be free – in some cases there are conflicting ideas about what freedom looks like, exactly. But even so, the compelling nature of human freedom is expressed powerfully when we ask that simple question: Who doesn’t want to be free?

This past week we have celebrated Canada Day, so perhaps a way into this subject is by way of the freedoms we enjoy here in Canada. There are the general freedoms we enjoy – freedom to work and to travel and to raise a family. More specifically there are the freedoms that are given to us and outlined for us in the 1982 charter of rights and freedoms: the freedom of conscience and religion (the first of our freedoms); freedom of thought and expression; freedom of peaceful assembly; freedom of association; freedom to move within the country; freedom to leave the country and return.

These freedoms, and others with them, are basic to Canadian culture and basic to many other societies – in many cases these freedoms are written into constitutional frameworks. But then of course there are and have been many places where these basic freedoms haven’t been granted – where certain groups are or have been excluded from sharing in such freedoms. In such contexts the call for freedom becomes particularly compelling. Continue reading

sabbath keeping: Kierkegaard’s contribution

In Presbyterian circles, when the idea of Sabbath observance comes up, you inevitably come up against the Presbyterian myth of the Sabbath. It goes like this: When I was a child we went to church on Sunday morning, and then again on Sunday evenings, and the rest of the day you had to rest. You could read a book on Sunday afternoon, but that was about it. No playing sports. No running around in the house. There was certainly no cutting the grass, and no working in the garden. We wouldn’t have dreamed of going shopping on Sunday – and even have if we wanted to pick up a few things for dinner, the store would be closed. Things sure have changed, haven’t they?

When we think about our Sabbath myth, we have to ask what it means for us. And it seems to me that there are at least two ways to look at it. On the one hand, this Sabbath myth points to a religious practice that we are glad to be done with. In this sense our Sabbath myth points to an time when we were a bunch of legalists, a people that didn’t know what it meant to attend to Spirit rather than the letter of the law. From this point of view, the fact that all those old rules have fallen to the wayside will be seen as good news. Thank goodness, we might say, those days of rigid legalism, of stoic Presbyterianism, have come to an end.

But in our contemporary context it seems that our Sabbath mythology might also function in quite a different way as well. Perhaps our Presbyterian Sabbath narrative serves also as a kind of nostalgic wishing after something lost. Continue reading

sarah harmer’s take…

Canadian musician Sarah Harmer has a new album out next month, but in advance her label has released a single from the album entitled ‘Captive’. You can hear it on her website, here. I was struck by the logic of the lyrics. The song-writer points to our sometime inability to live well within a relationship (thus, ‘forget the way I acted’) and then expresses her desire to be ‘held captive’ in the relationship – her voluntary wish is to be ‘fenced in’ and to be ‘held to this thing’ so that she can live in the joy and delight of love. The counterpoint is that if she is not fenced in (even if it is a wholly voluntary fencing in) she won’t get to the good stuff. Thus, the song opens:

I want to be held captive (Oh oh oh)
Forget the way I acted (Oh oh oh)
It’s just I’m out of practice (Oh oh oh)
and d-distracted.

And ends with:

Fence me in and keep me close
Fence me in and keep me close to you

Continue reading

fenced in and free…

If you are anything like me, you’ve got a love-hate relationship with the mirrors in your home. You wake up in the morning to get ready for the day, you go into the bathroom, look in the mirror and wonder to yourself

did that zit really have to come out on the end of my nose

or, is that another wrinkle there beside my right eye

or, is that pot-belly sticking out just a bit more

or perhaps, not quite as much hair on top this morning.

There’s a mirror in the bathroom, maybe a mirror by the front door, maybe a mirror in the living room. Walking around your house is like watching your own life unfold in High Definition. And it ain’t always the prettiest picture – yea, some of us get a better deal than others – but most of us aren’t Narcissus. Most of us don’t spend our days in front of the mirror because we’re in love with our own reflection – we do so because we are preoccupied with what we perceive as problems Continue reading