Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Responsible Interdependence

A Reflection on Ezekiel 36:1-15
Wine Before Breakfast
Tuesday January 22, 2008 | 7:30am

As I read through this passage over the past few weeks, I found one thing particularly peculiar. One translation of the scripture we just read relates verse 3 in this way:
“For good reason they have made you desolate and crushed you from every side that you would become a possession of the rest of the nations.”
As I stared at this passage, after having contrasted it with other versions quite similar to the one we read together this morning, I looked at it in some sense of disbelief. Over and over I repeated to myself the phrases, “You have been made desolate. You’ve been made desolate for a reason, and a good one at that.”

And it just didn’t click. What was the reason? What could have been the good reason? And more directly, what interpretive point were they hoping to make by putting this particular spin on the text?

If the mountains had been able to join us this morning, I would want to ask them. As it was, the mountains thought that today might be a good day to sleep in.

To my ears, first off, it sounds like crazy talk, the whole scenario. The mountains, if you caught all six mentions of them in the passage, are being addressed as though they, of all, uhhh, people, might have ears to hear. If no one else would listen, if no one else would hear the word of the Lord, perhaps the mountains would hear.

So. We either we have Ezekiel addressing the mountains, or we have a prophet who’s gone of his rocker. He’s just lost it, and the next thing you know, he’ll be talking to a valley of dry bones. Whatever the case, if the mountains were listening, I suspect that they had some questions of their own.

The mountains sit there in silence, perhaps surprised, perhaps somewhat aghast to hear these words. They are dumbfounded. And so for now, they listen. And as they listen along with us this morning, I wonder if you can just hear their thoughts racing…
For what good reason have we been made desolate? For what good reason have we been taken advantage of, used, abused, and raped? For what good reason have our fruitful soils been ravaged, our life-giving waters polluted, our teeming, creative cities forsaken? For what good reason have we been treated with scorn of soul, with the utter contempt of a predator for its prey?

What on God’s green earth is the God ordained reason for this God-damned suffering? Because if there is, actually, a good reason, we’d like to hear it.
The good reason should, perhaps, be put in quotation marks. The good reason of the Edomites to possess the land, to take it under control, to use it, abuse it, throw it away as though it were worthless, is, in the final analysis, no good reason at all.

Here is the tension. Much earlier in the book of Ezekiel – the sixth chapter – God turned against the mountains of Israel. God turned against them because of Israel’s false and empty worship. Because they prostituted themselves before idols, the oracles of God pointed to the fact that the mountains of Israel would be laid waste. So God had foreordained Israel’s loss. The problem is that the Edomites had jumped on the bandwagon in a moment of opportunistic fervour, and taken advantage of this situation for their own pleasure, for their own greed.

While Israel was to be exiled from the land (and Israel, throughout the Old Testament always has a tenuous relationship with the land). While Israel did have a price to pay for infidelity, Edom went too far. Edom’s sword was vengeful. It was vicious. And it took joy in laying waste to a people and their inheritance. It took joy in making prey of the mountains and all they contained. And slanderously, it took joy in insulting these very mountains of Israel that for so long had pointed to God’s glory.

The way Ezekiel paints this portrait, the Edomites justify their actions, abuses and infidelities in the name of possession. Possession is, after all, some significant portion of the law. Isn’t it? If that field is mine, if that ox is mine, if that woman is mine, nine-tenths of the law says I can do whatever I want with that land, ox, or woman. Or so the Edomite theory at work in this portrait seems to go…

There is no mention of carbon offsets in the Edomites’ occupation of Judah. There is no mention of financial compensation, as if God’s land, the land he had given to (and, to be fair, taken away from) his chosen people could be bought and done with as some self-important king or a marauding army wanted.

With no justification, with no real reason, the Edomites dredge up an ancient quarrel, and knock Israel while she’s already down. Catching her on the rebound, they take advantage of her. And then they spread insults far and wide because, well, they can.

And the Lord, the living, creating, inspiring God of Israel, seeing all of this, finally says that enough is enough. Enough with the rampant killing and the chronic abuses. Enough with the rape of Israel’s daughters. Enough with the pollution of the fresh mountain air water and soil. Enough.

The point that God seems to be making is this: if you didn’t get it before, if before you were so ignorant as to discount my many good statutes, and my wisdom, if you thought that you could act independently, if you thought that your actions have no bearing on my interconnected, interwoven, interdependent creation. If you thought any of these things, well, today I will show you differently. Today I will show you that I am the Lord.

The mountains listen. And I suspect that as Israel eavesdrops on the conversation, they listen up too. Where Israel had been caught in its own infidelity, now Edom, caught in a web of self-seeking pride, will soon know what they possess, who holds the power, and who is the Lord.

Three times in this text, we encounter the word “possession.” But possession as understood by the Edomites is different from possession under Torah. Possession, as God’s law understands it leaves little room for self-serving, reductionist utilitarianism.

Land possession throughout the Old Testament is covenantally linked both to Yahweh and to the integrity of community. If any of these relationships suffer, all will suffer. If the land suffers, God and community suffer. If the community takes a hit, then God and the land take a hit. And, if God is wounded, then perhaps it follows that both the land and the community are in some way wounded. All pieces need to be in place. All relationships need to be maintained. And for renewal to occur, relationships must be repaired.

For God in Ezekiel, this relationship repairing enterprise is precisely how renewal takes place:

But you, O mountains of Israel, shall shoot out your branches, and yield your fruit to my people Israel; for they shall soon come home. 9See now, I am for you; I will turn to you, and you shall be tilled and sown; 10and I will multiply your population, the whole house of Israel, all of it; the towns shall be inhabited and the waste places rebuilt.

These verses, particularly, draw us back to the creation narratives in Genesis. They remind the mountains of Israel, and they remind us of the way in which God, creator, sustainer pauses mid-stride to bring about human life before allowing creation to continue. They seem to draw on that passage in Genesis 2 where:

No shrub of the field was yet in the earth, and no plant of the field had yet sprouted, for the Lord God had not sent rain upon the earth, and there were no people to cultivate the ground.

Before the water can flow, before the plants can flourish, the land requires people to tend it. And this is where our text brings us today. To a memory of the earliest songs of creation and the promise of a new song to be sung of a promised land flowing with milk and honey. Our text brings us to a dream of the future, where God, partnering with the covenant communitybring forth new life in a land that once was barren. A land that has been marred, ruined and insulted. And yet, this is now a land in which the people find themselves humming the tune, and bursting forth in song:
I lift my eyes up to the mountains
Where does my help come from?
My help comes from You
Maker of heaven Creator of the earth
No longer will the insults mean anything when God, for God’s own glory restores land and community. Throughout the passage, neither the people nor the land are the primary agents of renewal. God says, time and again, to the mountains and to all who will listen, “I will turn to you,” “I will multiply the people on you,” “I will cause your inabitation,” “I will not let you hear insults from the nations.” The great I Am, the God of Israel, is also the great I Will, the one who through the faithful covenant community, grows something new, in intimate relationship with all of creation. And this is perhaps what this passage most demands of us, that:
In a world seeking power unhinged from restraint
In a world desirous of revenge rather than justice
In a world engaging in worship apart from the God of Israel
In a world lusting for sex apart from community
In a world craving food, all the while ravaging its soil
This passage, and the God who as at work throughout the passage simply asks that we recognize where our hope, where our help and our strength come from.

To acknowledge that in the end there, is no such thing as autonomy. In the end, we are left with interdependence and a choice. Responsible or Irresponsible. Responsive or Irresponsive. What’s your pick?

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Christmas Post

My posting has gone the way of, well, the way of not posting for various reasons. The most compelling reason of which is spending time developing both the website and some behind-the-scenes stuff for empire remixed. Our blog has just recently gone live, with a Christmas Lament posted by Brian J. Walsh, co-author of Colossians Remixed.

The coming weeks will see posts from a number of different people on subjects far and wide, but all addressing ways of living as a Christian in a culture that is at-best indifferent to people of faith. My next post will probably find it's self over on the empire remixed blog.

Check out Brian's post, and add the empire remixed site to your reader...make it a New
Year's resolution or something.

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Thursday, November 08, 2007

Empire Remixed

After a bit of a break since their discussion of urban mission and ministry in the Spring, empireremixed is back with a brand new discussion. This time around they'll be taking on Milton Friedman, Naomi Klein and Jesus all at once. Could be a good time. Here's what it's all going to look like:
In The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, Naomi Klein tells the story of the relationship between electroshock therapy, free market capitalism, and the suppression of democracy.

But what can protect disaster-shocked victims from the exploitation of shock and awe tactics? Klein suggests that we need an alternative story to orient us in the face of disastrous disorientation.

And so, with the prompting of this text, we will seek to tell an alternative story, with an alternative imagination, for an alternative Kingdom.

Placing Klein’s text in dialogue with political theory and theological reflection, we seek to retell the story, with eyes and ears open, as we ask one another the question:

What’s your story?
Further details can be found at the empireremixed site, or on their facebook group.

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Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Meditation on Genesis 2

Delivered at Wine Before Breakfast
Wycliffe College, University of Toronto
25 September 2007

The image of the invisible God, the firstborn of creation is here at work. With sleeves rolled up, fingernails dirty, the work has begun. In the beginning, and from the beginning, it was his work, all along, being done. Before all things were, and because of him, all things are. Things are as they should be. Or are they?

“In the beginning,” so the story goes, “when God created the heavens and the earth,” God transforms the formless into the formative sustaining force on which our very lives depend. As the spirit moves over the water, it brings substance to the void.

The spirit’s movement over the water causes all that we now know to exist, for there is nothing that exists without its origin in God’s creative action. As the spirit moves over the water, light and darkness, water and sky and dry land appear with God’s refrain, “let there be.” Layer by layer, God creates the earth we know, and layer after layer of reality comes into being on the back of the previous.

The land put in its place, becomes the creator of place, a creative force imbued with the ability to bring forth vegetation. We notice the change in the narrative movement, for where God brought forth light and darkness, water and sky, here he imbues the land with its own creative, sustaining power.

God, creator, sustainer, invests his creative expression in and to and through the land. As the narrative continues to reflect on creation, God’s speech-act invests the land with the power to create ecological reality.

But that reality depends not only on God, not only on nature, but also on the human community.

The first account of creation, the debut performance, is perfect in motion, perfect in pitch. The dance, the songs of creation, are danced, are sung on a brand new stage, as the actors deliver line after line of creative, imaginative genius.

The second account, the second scene zooms in much closer. For here the sweeping narrative of dance and song is traded for much more earthy, gritty detail.

It is perhaps here that we first become aware that the whole of Creation exists only by participating in God’s life. In sharing his being, in breathing his breath, and in dancing his dance. And God’s dance is a square dance at the barn-raising of creation.

A square dance involves more than one. From the beginning, and in the beginning, a square dance demands community. A square dance is not a dance to be danced alone. And it is not a dance to be danced in any sort of exhibitionist pride, like that time in undergrad, or rather, those many times in undergrad you flailed across the dance floor, hoping to replicate Usher’s choreographed scene from an overplayed copy of “She’s All That.”

This isn’t quite so polished. The scene’s choreography starts with a few mis-steps, a few bruised hooves and one or two dislocated wings as Adam and the animals give it a shot.

The scenery is ready, but dormant, awaiting Adam’s grand entrance. He enters, timidly, tepidly, and considers partner after partner. Each passes by, each a part of the dance, but none, not a single one is just…quite…right. The chemistry just isn’t there.

But God clues in. God asks how it is even possible to produce a youthful romantic comedy without a solid female lead.

The animals? Red herring. Writer’s block. Product of a maturing vision. Wheels in motion, God, like any good choreographer, sends the dancers to rest as he again goes over the steps, as he searches for the perfect partner. In fitful sleep, Adam dreams feverish nightmares of the crocodile rock, large smile, sharp teeth, and fingernails all too long. This has got to stop. There must be someone else.

Upon waking, rolling out of bed, Adam with his daily espresso, strolls through the garden. Near a rocky outcropping, just past a cold, lifeless cave, she softly asks him, “are you the gardener of this place?” A chance encounter. He turns around. Stops. Gawks awkwardly. Doesn’t quite know what to say. And then, “would you care to dance?”

And here they dance a world into being.

What kind of world will we dance? What kind of world will this be?

What kind of world will we cultivate? This here, this tile and brick is God’s garden. What will we cultivate in this place?

I dream daily of the world this might be. I dream daily of what to create. But at times I think I dream alone.

I dream daily of what my community could be. My neighbourhood, my neighbours, the crooked lamp-posts and violent city streets. The lives of my friends in the boarding home up the way…I dream daily of what a future of creational intent just might look like.

I dreamed last night, and I will dream it again, that youth in my community will have food to eat. That they will not be stuck out on the street, or forced to sleep with parents fighting, yelling and shouting at them or about them, or both.

I dream of what my church community might look life if only I could communicate the loving purpose, and the gentle call of Christ in whom all things hold together. It’s not so bad as all this, I might say. I know it looks bleak right now, but if we’d only turn our heads. If we’d only focus our eyes on the steps that God is already calling, right here, right now.

I dream of what my home could be if only I were more forgiving, less judgmental, more honest, and less grumpy at 6:30 on a Tuesday morning.

I dream of a world that is, and yet is not. I dream of a world of possibility, of hope and of justice. I dream of a world in which the possibilities become more than just that. I dream of a world where possibility turns to probability turns to fact.

I dream of these things, and in my dreams, I dream of people with whom to dance these dreams into reality.

And when I wake up, I look to my right and greet another dreamer, another beautiful dancer beside me. Walk to the car, and greet another dreamer who lives beneath me.

I arrive in this place, look around the space and greet a whole host of bleary-eyed dreamers just like me. Some days it feels like I’m stuck in my own little creation dream. But I’m ready to wake up, and as we leave this place today, I’d like to ask you one last question.

Would you care to dance?

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Monday, September 17, 2007

Dealing the Word

If only I had a TV, I think I might be interested in watching how Mary-Kate's new character and Jesus get along. A pot-smoking Jesus-loving seductress? Yowzers.

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Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Happy Planet

I just took the Happy Planet Index survey from the New Economics Foundation. It's a great way to measure our impact on the environment, our satisfaction with work, and also calculates life expectancy and a number of other factors.

Apparently Ericka is going to have to put up with me until I am 90.8 years old. Lord have mercy on her soul...

The bad news is that I still have an ecological footprint of 4.4 global hectares, mostly because I've been in an airplane a bit this year. The cycling and TTC-ing are certainly helpful, but flights are certainly contributing to the high-ish rating, even if it is below average for Canada.

Thanks to No-Impact Man for the link...

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Trash Talk

After nearly an hour on the subway and RT, I get off to await my ride. I'm in Scarborough on the day after Canada Day, and I'm a little out of my element. I never come out this far. I rarely even leave downtown, and here I am in a world made for giants.

It's McCowan station, it was my first adventure on RT, which wasn't a big deal, except for the question "do people really live out here?" The answer, it seems, is yes. People with cars live out here, because it would be near-on-impossible to live here otherwise. Here there is nothing in walking distance.

A small but pointed example. I have just finished some water. A bottle I purchased, because I forgot to bring my Nalgene (sidenote: did you know that the clear ones actually leech chemicals into your liquid? neither did I until recently). I am standing outside of the station and walk back inside. There is no recycling or garbage receptacle immediately inside. There had been one on the RT platform, but not one here.

I go back outside and locate a lone garbage can across six lanes of traffic, possible more, if you count the turning lanes. Make that 8 lanes of traffic. Here's the problem, if 8 lanes isn't already a daunting task, the fact that there are signs prohibiting crossing from this corner to the opposite.

Rather, in order to comply with the law, you must cross with the lights (changing with pedestrian-unfriendly-infrequency) all the way around the intersection in a clockwise direction. As an experiment, since I had some time to kill before my ride arrived, I decided to test it out. In all, it took approximately 10 minutes to legally get to the other side of the road in order to toss something.

I know what you may be thinking, should you be thinking anything about this at all. And no, I didn't actually throw the bottle out. I put it in my bag, and waited til I got home in order to recycle it. But really, 10 minutes to dispose of an empty bottle? It's surprising there wasn't more trash on the side of the road.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Saturday Gathering Recap

On Saturday night we held our first of what I hope will be many evening services at bppc, the church that Ericka and I are attending in Parkdale. The church isn't holding any Sunday services throughout the month of July, and we saw this as an opportunity to start something new and also to maintain a community connection throughout the month.

We don't really know what will come out of these community gatherings, but I hope and pray that they become a place where relationship continues to grow with members of the congregation and with the broader Parkdale community.

It has been encouraging to hear from different people who attend the church that they think this is a good idea, and that they can't wait to bring Potato Salad or other food items to the next gathering...

Food, I think, has such an amazing and powerful way of disarming us, of making us to feel comfortable, and opening us up to one another. Perhaps that's why the original conception of the Lord's Supper, the Eucharist is more powerful to me than the wafers and shot glasses employed in many traditions today.

As much as I like the high view of the Eucharist held by Anglican, Catholic and Orthodox traditions, I really like to see "the elements" incorporated into a great feast of Christian charity and mutual concern. Everyone brings what they can, everyone receives food and drink a-plenty, and together we gather in the presence of one another, in the presence of Christ. In point of fact, we gather as the Body of Christ.

We are the broken. We are those who are poured out. We are the ones called to pour ourselves out for the sake of God's good world.

On Saturday night there were only 9 of us gathered, but it was a good group. We sang some songs of worship, we shared some food, and I shared a few reflections on 1 Peter 2:9-10. This passage has appeared in our bulletin for several weeks, and I thought it was an interesting place to start. I've written about this passage before, but my remarks this time focused on our need to embrace the role of Royal Priesthood for the good of our neighbourhoods.

Discussion of the passage came to the fact that Peter was writing this letter to diasporic Christian Jews, the lowest of the low in society. People who would have no right, or no reasonable claim to be a Royal Priesthood. They were a marginalized people who found themselves at the edges of both Roman and Jewish society. They were the outcasts.

And yet Peter wants to empower them with the truth of the gospel, the truth of God's relationship to Israel and the Church - that even though the world may malign them, they are called to be leaven.

I think this passage applies to us specifically in Parkdale. We are a small group, but we are called to live out the gospel in the midst of this neighbourhood. We are called to give our lives as Christ gave his. We are called to seek grace and mercy for those who have not received such things. We are called to be agents of change, change for the coming of the kingdom where injustice falls away, where love abounds and community grows and becomes more loving.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

From Calcutta to Toronto

This morning on the CBC, I heard Andy Barrie report that the St. Jamestown neighbourhood in Toronto is the second most densely populated place in the world, outside of Calcutta.

Freedomize India: You looking for some places to serve when you come back? I've got some thoughts...

Monday, June 25, 2007

Dualisms in Worship

Yeah, yeah, I haven't written in forever. Things are busy in the real world, and that makes spending time here a little less important. I am touching down for a few moments today though in order to share something from Alan Hirsch's blog, which touches on something Ericka and I are up to in the real world:

If we take the advice of the current Alternative Worship Movement, of which I am generally deeply appreciative, one of the tasks of the church in a postmodern context is to make ‘sacred spaces’, places filled with rich and fresh symbolism expressed new forms of media, where people can reconnect with God in new ways. And this all sounds right.

But when this impulse is divorced, as it often is, from the overarching task of mission (and that of missional contextualization) then it simply becomes another way in which we separate the sacred from the secular. By setting up a place which we call ‘sacred’ because of the lighting, the incense, and religious feel, what are we thereby saying about the rest of life? Is it not sacred?

We cannot escape the conclusion that by setting up so called ‘sacred spaces’ we by implication make all else ‘not-sacred’ thereby assigning a large aspect of life in a non-God, or secular, area.
For the month of July, every other Saturday we will be hosting an intimate community gathering featuring a potluck meal, prayer, worship, and meditation on scripture at our church in Parkdale. The idea is to do something that helps us to grow in community, as community, to explore expressions reflective of our diverse community, in music, scriptural mediation and prayer. The question that hovers, is how to connect our time of worship with our means of reaching out to the broader community.

What we will no doubt struggle to do is to connect the dots between what we do on any given Saturday night with how we live our lives throughout the rest of the week. It's always a struggle, and I pray that God guides us as we try to create such a space...

For those interested, you're definitely welcome to attend:

June 30, July 14, July 28

6.oopm Potluck (Bring something you can share)
7.00pm Worship

Bonar-Parkdale Presbyterian Church
250 Dunn Avenue
Toronto Ontario

Saturday, June 16, 2007

2 Questions

Why is it that globalization is the enemy of global (and most specifically, environmental) health?

Why is it that the move to bring things closer together often contributes to an increasing feeling of disconnect?

Friday, May 11, 2007

Eviction Notice: Elephants and Poor told to Get Going

Dozens of elephants in India's capital need a new home after being evicted from a riverside locale to make way for construction linked to the 2010 Commonwealth Games, officials said. The New Delhi government is racing to spruce up the sprawling city of 14 million in time for the games, which it views as a showcase for the country's capital. The city also has plans to evict poor slum dwellers.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Spiked Chai

I really want to try this. Who knew there was an alcoholic equivalent to Sister Chai? I wonder if they use this in India after a long day at work?