Thursday, March 26, 2009

God of Light, God of Darkness

A Lenten Homily

John 3:14-21

As a university student, I used to plant trees in Northern Ontario as a summer job.  It was hard work, rising early, planting as much as you could in the daylight and resting during the night. On occasion, on really, really nice days, when the morning planting had been going well, one of my favorite things to do would be, after my lunch break, to stretch out under a large tree and take a well earned nap.  I would lie there in the darkness of a deep sleep, on a bed of moss, or of dry earth with a warm summer breeze blowing over me, until I would wake up to the light of the midday sun shining down on me through the cracks in the canopy of maple or oak or birch leaves that occupied the space between the light of the sun and my eyes.  

I still recall those moments in vivid memory—those moments of waking, of blinking at the invading light, adjusting to being awake again, getting my bearings, taking stock of what the rest of the day held in store as I lay on the forest floor—in those moments, coming into the light was beautiful and sublime.

Of course, at other times in my life—like when my mom would throw open the curtains on a Monday morning at 7 am to rush me out of bed so that I would make it to school on time—coming into the light, being awakened by the brightness of the morning was a less than beautiful event…it was downright maddening for a teenager—in fact, it’s still downright maddening for a grown man, but that’s just between you and me. 

You see, coming into the light can be, at times beautiful and, at other times, maddening—and sometimes, coming into the light, at its most intense, can be both at once.  Think about the birth of a child.  This beautiful act of coming into the light of the world is accompanied by pain, stress, crying, and maybe the occasional freak out by the attending husband (again, this is just between you and me)—you see, it’s madness and beauty all wrapped up together. 

The light that invades and displaces the darkness is the light of God; in fact, here in John’s gospel light is another way of speaking about the life of God himself, who in Jesus assaults the darkness of the world.  The shining of this light is itself both beauty and agony, which is something the season of Lent asks us to remember as we approach Good Friday where we learn that the beauty of God is all tied up in the agony and madness of the cross of Jesus.

Being drawn into this light is both maddening and beautiful.  This light of God, this light that Jesus shines into our world displaces and dispels our darkness—which is beautiful in itself.  But it’s maddening because, as Jesus says, we love the dark—and not just the darkness of a good sleep.

This passage in John comes on the heels of Nicodemus’ coming to Jesus to question him.  He comes to Jesus, in the darkness of night.  "Night" is, in the gospel of John always more than the darkness of night. It’s ignorance; it's sight, but it's an obscured sight; it’s confusion.  It's odd to find Nicodemus here "by night". You see, Nicodemus is one who knows. He's a “leader” in the religious establishment, a smart person, a learned person, a church person, if you will.  Nicodemus is us, those of us “on the inside track”—but he’s still in the dark.

We, as people, love the dark because it’s there that we feel safe, don’t we?; we feel safe because it’s only in the dark that we feel as if our secrets won’t betray us as they would if we found ourselves in the brightness of the light.  In the light we can’t help but be exposed and that’s maddening because we don’t trust each other with our secrets, let alone do we trust God.  We feel as if coming into the light might somehow expose us as in some way less than loveable by God and by each other—and that makes us anxious and fearful.  Anyone who’s kept a secret, anyone who’s harbored a lie deep down within themselves knows this fear—and that’s to say we all know this fear.  Not only fear, but this madness can easily slip into hatred of each other because it’s easier to hate each other than to live truthfully with each other.

But learning to blink at this light, as I like to think Nicodemus did when we find him later in the Gospel of John preparing Jesus' body for burial is what salvation is all about.  Learning to slowly allow the light of God’s love to illumine our lives, darkness and all, learning to see the light of God’s love through the cracks in our lives is another way of speaking about conversion.  Not many people experience the blinding light of God’s love like Paul did on the road to Damascus—though its been known to happen.  No, for most of us, recognizing God’s light in our lives is a slow process; it’s a slow opening of the eyes, like after a deep and heavy sleep; the darkness doesn’t just vanish but as we learn to see in God’s light, as our eyes adjust to what life looks like, or ought to look like on God’s terms, we’ll notice that the darkness of our lives cannot help but be slowly exposed—and that that’s ok.  We ought to be a community that trusts God and each other with our darkness, with our secrets.  We are called as the church to learn to be a community that knows trust and love as living alternatives to fear and hatred. 

Coming to the Lord’s table—being a eucharistic community—means that we commit ourselves, weekly, to a way of life where, whether we like it or not, we are implicated in living in the light.  If I were honest with you, some weeks I’d rather hide in the darkness than to be implicated in this exposure…but again, this is just between you and me.  Regardless of our proclivity for the absence of this light, the beauty of all of this is that God does love us and that God does transform us, in spite of ourselves, from lovers of the darkness to lovers of the light, from lovers of clandestine fear to lovers of the truth, the truth about ourselves, about God and about each other, no matter how maddening we might find that to be.

Let us pray. 

Relentless God, you pursue us with your light; you invade our darkness with the maddening light of your Son Jesus.  We’d rather live in the darkness and, if we were honest with ourselves, we’d rather you leave us alone.  But you don’t.  You pursue us, and you catch us; you catch us up in your love.  And when we get past our compulsive desire to be alone—to be in the dark—we find ourselves in this community, implicated in your way of life as your eucharistic people.  Prepare us again this morning to walk in your light and may we live that light into the darkness of our world. Thanks be to God.  Amen.

A Funeral Homily

A Funeral Homily
preached at Moore Chapel
Opatovsky Funeral Home
Sundridge, ON
March 26, 2009

Our Stubborn God

I met Bob at our first wardens meeting when my family and I first came to the parish a year and a half ago.  Bob, at the time, was a warden at St. George the Martyr Anglican Church in Magnetawan as well as its treasurer.  I was just remarking to Shirley a few days ago about how much one person can do—about how important one person can be in the whole scheme of things and what a gap they can leave when they’ve gone.  Well, in our church, with the loss of Bob, he’s left a huge gap.  Bob was determined and tireless in his work for the church and for his community—people like Bob are hard to come by.  Bob was, to say the least, one of a kind.  He was an Anglican’s Anglican.  He took his faith seriously and he treated the life of the church as if it were an extension of his very own.  He was also inseparable from Shirley—they were a team, a pair in ministry as they were in life.  

Bob was also very stubborn.  It seems as if it was built into him.  Shirley and I spoke about this one day on our way up to see Bob in North Bay as he was fighting his cancer.  From our very first meetings, when I first came to the parish, he would stick to his guns, clarify his points, and he would push them through, and he had no problem telling me the way it was—he was indeed a force to be reckoned with!  Now some people take stubbornness as a less than desirable quality—but, in the case of Bob, I appreciated Bob’s tenacity—his doggedness; in fact, I think it was a blessing to the church.  In other words, Bob was a gift for the church and a gift to his community.  I say this because Bob embodied a way of life that reminded me a lot about what we, as Christians, confess about God.  I’m not sure Bob knew this or not, and I never did get the chance to tell him—but he knows now—that he reminded me consistently that our God is a stubborn and tenacious God.  

The God of Israel, the God of Jesus Christ, the God of the church is a God who doesn’t let us go despite our faithlessness; God is a God of persistence, a God who will not let his point go; a God who relentlessly pursues us in this life with the light of his love and who catches us up in that love in our deaths.  This God is a force to be reckoned with!  Bob knows this God and this God knows Bob; and now that he has died into the life of this God, Bob knows this God to be even more stubborn than he was!  And thank God for that!  

God’s whole point in Jesus Christ is resurrectionthe turning of death into life; the miracle of light exploding the darkness of our lives and our deaths.  And so, while the death of someone we love, like we loved Bob, is certainly a time for mourning—for mourning a real loss—it is much more deeply a time to celebrate hope; to celebrate the hope that God doesn’t leave us alone, that God is so insistent on his point, so stubborn for us, so unrelenting in getting his way that he won’t leave us alone.  He hasn’t left Bob alone and he doesn’t leave you alone Shirley, or your children.  He doesn’t leave any of us alone and we thank our stubborn God for that. 

Amen & Amen. 

Friday, October 17, 2008

Our new little boy!

Our new little boy arrived about a week and a half ago and is doing very well. I've taken a parental leave from the parish and will be home for the next two months.

You can read about our home birth on my wife's blog here.

This is a picture I managed to snap of his older brother, giving him a kiss! He's very excited to be a big brother.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Lars, the Real Girl and Foucault

Renée and I watched Lars and the Real Girl the other night starring Ryan Gosling. I can't believe that this movie was passed over for best picture for the Academy Awards. It did get nominated for best screenplay (well deserved) but lost to Juno (another great film). Gosling also got a SAG nomination for best actor but, unfortunately, was overlooked by Mr. Oscar.

If you're a fan of the HBO series Six Feet Under, you'll really enjoy this one. The screenplay was written by Nancy Oliver who wrote some of the best Six Feet Under episodes. Not only is this movie fall-off-your-chair funny (which I did when Lars introduces his family to Bianca), but it's also a sociopolitical commentary on how society deals with emotional and mental health. I won't get into the plot too much, but the story is about a delusional breakdown of the main character, Lars (played by Gosling) who has been unable to deal effectively with past family tragedy (the loss of his mother, occasioned by his own birth, and the loss of his father when he was a young boy). Clinically, he would be labeled with something like social anxiety disorder (a 'sad' acronym at best). Lars has repressed his emotions to such a degree that even the touch of another person causes him pain (the kind of pain when your feet get really cold then you come into a warm house and they feels just like that, Lars tells us). He ends up ordering a 'real doll' from a website and begins a delusional relationship with her and the rest of the story deals with how his family and his community (his church, workplace, friends, his therapist, and a real girl) support him and help him through his delusion.

I've also been reading Foucault's History of Madness and early on, Foucault talks at length about leprosy and how medieval Europe shunned and relegated all lepers to the outside of the city gates (a scapegoating role the mentally ill--the mad--would come to fulfill after leprosy disappeared from Europe). Foucault then takes us through a medieval liturgy of exclusion:
'Dearly beloved', says a ritual from a church in Vienne in the south of France, 'it has pleased God to afflict you with this disease, and the Lord is gracious for bringing punishment upon you for the evil that you have done in this world.' The leper was then dragged out of the church by the priest and his acolytes...but was assured that he was God's witness: 'however removed from the church and the company of the saints, you are never separated from the grace of God.'...Abandonment is his salvation, and exclusion offers an unusual form of communion (History of Madness, 6).
This liturgy of exclusion would carry over into the eighteenth century as society became less and less hospitable to madness, controlling it by labeling it, corralling it, and 'solving' it with institutions and the systematic treatment of 'unreason'.

What struck me in this movie, is how Lars' family and community (even his church!) came alongside him and didn't expel him or scapegoat him. But the most compelling aspect, in my opinion, is how the therapist works with Lars. We never get the sense that she's treating a problem and Lars is never medicated. Lars learns how to be touched by her and Lars eventually makes the decision himself to finish his delusion. In one scene, Lars' brother wants an answer, he wants a solution to this problem as quick as possible. The therapist tells him, in probably the most subversive scene of the movie, that this delusion isn't a problem, in fact, it can be a gift for Lars and for those around him, which in fact, it turns out to be.

Now, I realize that labeling this delusion 'a gift', especially for those who have lived through or live with mental health issues, is a tenuous description but one that is, at least in this situation, quite apt. In fact, in the
Foucaultian sense, this 'gift' has its own dignity--this ship of fools is allowed to float on without being 'powered' over, without being confined and expelled from society. In fact, if the church can come to behave like Lars' community, learning to live with and within the delusions of life, we can also learn how to accept the gift of difference that mental and emotional health issues bring with them into our communities.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Foucault on Power, Help!

To those of you who happen to come across this rarely updated blog (and who are competent in the secondary literature on Michel Foucault!) I am in need of help. I'm working on my dissertation on how Barth handles the language of 'powers and principalities' in the NT (also looking at some minor figures like W. Stringfellow) but I think Foucault will offer a solid dialogue partner for a constructive account of the Christian life lived in conflict with the 'powers'. That said, can people point me to the best of the secondary literature on the subject? Toole's Waiting for Godot in Sarajevo first turned me on to Foucault so I'm familiar with that one.


p.s. I'm reading Foucault's History of Madness right now and I'm entirely fascinated with it! I'll post some thoughts on it soon (maybe!).

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Upcoming Conference

There's an exciting conference coming up at Tyndale University entitled The Holy Trinity in Holy Scripture and the line-up of presenters is exciting. The conference's keynote speaker will be John Webster. There is still a call for papers for those of you interested. Last year's conference Figured Out: Figuration in Biblical Interpretation has already been published. This year's conference will also be published in book form. I won't be submitting a proposal, but I will hopefully be going.