Sermon about Dogs

For the Blessing of the Animals service, October 6th, 2015.

This prayer was given to me by a parishioner aptly named: Kitty.

Animal prayer

This day is celebrated because of a man named St. Francis of Assisi. I read a sermon of his online in which he preaches to the birds. His sermon is, literally, for the birds. It’s adorable but it made me wonder if perhaps the man was a bit insane. Then I realized, I talk to my dog all the time. The thing I find myself telling her with the utmost seriousness, again and again – as if I’m realizing it for the first time – is: “You are a good dog, and I love you.” It is her doggy-ness that I love. I love her for exactly who and what she is. I imagine, in some small way, this is akin to the delight and love God feels when he looks at us. God, when he created the world, saw all that he had made – including us – and said it was “very good.” You are a good world, and I love you.


Animals are somewhat of a running motif in the Bible. God refers to himself like a mother hen who gathers her chicks under her wing. When speaking of Heaven, the prophet Isaiah says the lion will lay down with the lamb, there will be peace between even animals when Christ comes again.

Even in the Law, in Deuteronomy, God takes into account the important role of animals in the agrarian society,

“If you see an animal that is overburdened, you should lighten its load to help it.” Jesus teaches us that we are like sheep, and our Lord, the God of Heave and Creator, chooses to identify with one of the humblest of jobs, the care-taker of sheep, a shepherd.


God has brought animals into some of the most significant aspects of his salvation of Creation whether it is riding in on a humble donkey, being born in a stable; it is in the sacrifice of animals and the shedding of blood – their innocent life – that paid for the sins in the Jewish sacrificial system and paved the way that Jesus ultimately fulfilled when he gave his life and shed his innocent blood on the cross. John 3:16 reminds us that for God so loved the world… that he went the distance from heaven to earth, in order to bring us – all of his very good Creation – back into loving relationship with him, free from the consequences of sin.


The temptation for us in the church is to act as though our faith is solely an intellectual one, operating in the realm of ideas and transparent, unseen things, but our God is a God who was born, who was a child, who suffered and… rode a donkey.

Our faith is an embodied, physical faith. It’s why eating – taking Communion – is a part of our worship. Our pets are uniquely able to help us be present, to be aware of our physicality, to see how connected our body and soul really is – and I believe are one of the ways God touches our lives.

My dog, is a good dog. Here she is, patiently enduring a halloween costume.


One of the things my faith helps me face, is that one day I’m going to have to say – for one last time – “See you later,” to my pet. This little life of hers won’t last – but it has been very, very good, and our faith tells us that every good and perfect gift is from God, a glimpse of heaven, so to speak, and foreshadowing of what is to come.

At funerals in the Anglican and Catholic tradition, we are reminded of the promise of resurrected bodies – the only clue about what that’ll look like is the resurrected body of Christ himself. We will have a resurrection that looks like Christ’s resurrection. Where we eat with our friends on the beach like Jesus did. Heaven will be like a wedding reception with great food, and the bridegroom is Christ, and the church is the bride. There are no more tears, no more sickness or dying. And in a mystery that I can’t explain, this whole, beautiful earth, filled with the life and the goodness of God, all of creation will be made whole again, and friends and family – furry and less furry – that we’ve had to say goodby to in this life we’ll never have to say good-bye to again.

Our God is a good God, his goodness is demonstrated in his creation. Because of his son, Jesus Christ, we can have hope that –

Our bad things will turn out for good.

Our good things can never be taken away from us.

The best things are yet to come.


A Prayer for Safety in an Unsafe World

I find Anglican prayers helpful when I want to pray and hear wiser words than my own, when I want to silence my own restless mind and listen in on God’s prayers for me.*

This prayer is a Compline service (old english word, related to the word “Complete”) that is prayed before going to bed, at the end of the day. It’s about four-hundred years old, so remember what we know about life four-hundred years ago. Generally a fairly miserable time to be alive, life expectancy is about 35, and Shakespeare is writing plays. There is no electricity or central-heating in England.

Here is what it says:

* O Lord, You will keep us safe
and protect us forever.

I am placing my soul and my body
in Thy safe keeping this night, O God,
in Thy safe keeping, O Jesus Christ,
in Thy safe keeping, O Spirit of perfect truth.
The Three who would defend my cause
be keeping me this night from harm.

* I call on You, O God,
for You will answer me;
give ear to me and hear my prayer.

* Show the wonder of Your great love,
You who save by Your right hand
those who take refuge in You from their foes.

* Keep me as the apple of Your eye;
hide me in the shadow of your wings.

Lighten my darkness, Lord.
Let the light of Your presence
dispel the shadows of night.

* Christ with me sleeping,
Christ with me waking,
Christ with me watching,
each day and each night.

* Save us, Lord, while we are awake,
guard us while we are asleep;
that, awake, we may watch with Christ,
and, asleep, may rest in His peace.

God with me protecting,
the Lord with me directing,
the Spirit with me strengthening
for ever and for evermore.

* In the name of the Father precious,
and of the Spirit of healing balm.
In the name of the Lord Jesus,
I lay me down to rest.

The peace of all peace
be mine this night
+ in the name of the Father,
and of the Son,
and of the Holy Spirit.

Death was crouching at the door of the person who wrote this. We may be living four-hundred years later in Canada with free health care, warm clothes and warm homes and death out of sight and out of mind. But this prayer still feels risky.

What if God _doesn’t_ keep me safe? 

Events like Paris, images of devastation in Syria, Remembrance day, the funeral of a loved one, these experiences interrupt us. They shake us.  But that feeling of precarious insecurity should not drive us away from Christ. What the author of this prayer understood was that the safest place to be – in life or death – is in Christ. Death rattles us but our Saviour knows. He’s been there. What Christ did on the cross wasn’t about giving us safe lives but about giving us himself.  He is the promise, the hope, the salvation, the security, the peace, the way, the truth, the Life. Yes, there is death, but we will walk through it with Christ.

And we can dare pray for safety and security and life everlasting because we are held in Christ.

God has already made us safe.


“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” – Jesus



*Wait, wut?

Yes, God prays.

Let me explain a bit about what it means that God prays to God.

Scripture is called the Word of God. It is a message, but it is also – we believe – summarized perfectly and represented in Jesus Christ, the person. Jesus is the Word. Jesus is the message. His birth, life, death, and resurrection, and alive-as-we-speak life is the Word and being alive thus still speaks. The author, the one who speaks, is God the Father.


So why would God need to hear from God? Don’t they know what each other is thinking? Aren’t conversations and prayers ultimately about the transference of information and thus prayers (especially prayers between God the Father and God the Son) redundant?

Prayers are not information delivery. I believe they are communication of a different sort. I believe they are a sign of relationship.

Love isn’t silent. Desire and glory and awe are not silent. You don’t see a sunset, or the beauty of a perfectly nutritious and well-plated meal, and not instagram that. You hear a piece of music played unlike anything you’ve ever heard before and you share it. You want your friends to hear the glory. I imagine that the insufficiency of language is what created poetry – we want to put words and prose to reflect emotions and experience that go beyond language, so we decide not to write to the very end of the line. We rhyme, we sing, we invent words, we borrow words from other languages. But we express somehow. Especially to the one we love, especially about the one we love.

So God prays to God. For us. About us. And He hears.

That relationship between and within God (which we parse out as “the Trinity”)  has unity and diversity and love. It’s in part why he created us. We were made in his image. We were made for relationship with Him.



Pro-Women; what it means to have hope for the dead

When I was in second or third year I was sitting in a seminar at Brock and we were talking about the history of oppression of women.

I was frustrated with the way the conversation was going. I didn’t know why but I think in hindsight (10 years later) I know what bugged me. “Oppression” was rightly being characterized as an injustice, something that causes sorrow and despair.

Yet here I was sitting within a modern Western culture that was being lauded as the salvation of women –  with money and opportunity and the most equality ever achieved to this point, educated and speaking freely – and I knew sorrow and despair. I knew things weren’t “right” yet. 

So, I said something that made me look like an idiot: “I don’t believe women have always been oppressed.”

What I meant was, we can’t be honestly suggesting that oppression is some sort of monolithic blanket of evil that shriveled the entire corpus of the human spirit until about 100 years ago and now modern Western culture is the pinnacle of progress and peace, creativity and joy… 

Of course, a more nuanced answer might be, I don’t believe oppression is the whole story.

“Oppression” is an incomplete picture of what’s really been ailing women in the course of history. The thing we still need, the setting right of all things wrong, is not something that we can achieve if just given enough time and effort. We can’t pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and save the world. We can’t raise the dead and tell them, “Hey, remember how the whole world didn’t value you? They were wrong. You are so wonderful and beautiful inside and out and you are loved for exactly who and what you are!” Where is the hope for them?

Women have been oppressed by their brothers, and sisters, too. The human family is dysfunctional. Cain killed Abel for doing nothing wrong and the Cains of the world haven’t stopped killing innocent Abels. What underlies all that ails us, however, is sin. And then we die. Every one of us. We yearn for more than this world can offer us. We imagine and envision peace and justice and fairness … and life everlasting. Why? Because we were created for more than this world can offer us. 



…into this world of darkness and oppression and death…

…came a Light.

The Light. The way, truth and life. In a screaming little infant our God came down from the highest point of heaven – where God’s will was done – into this mess. He moved in. He healed the sick. He raised the dead. He set captives free. He walked to the Cross and laid down his life – a perfect offering, the shedding of innocent blood – to pay the price on our heads.

And he defeated death. It may be the worst this evil world can dream up, the worst they could do to him. And he walked through it so that our final resting place would be the Peace of Christ. Our “Rest in Peace” is not a hole in the ground but in the life of Christ. He is alive, and we are alive in Him. He is our home.

We can imagine and envision peace and hope and justice because we were made for that – we were made for the Prince of Peace and a Lord and Saviour who is a just judge, merciful and kind. We can (and should!) work towards that picture of heaven-on-earth, doing for one what we wish we could do for all, participating in the sanctifying work of Jesus (renewing, healing, bringing order, making things right, etc.) that continues by the power of the Holy Spirit. That is the Kingdom of Heaven Jesus talked about, that is both now and not yet. Something not fully realized, but nevertheless something we can glimpse.

But that day when all things wrong will be righted, when all things sad will become untrue, when truth will reign for women and men? That’s judgement day, the return of the one True King, who defeated death and set us – captives to sin and death – free. The resurrection of the dead, life everlasting, a new heaven and new earth.

Crazy. Good. Crazy good news.


What I believe about Evolution

A rewriting of something someone else wrote… original stuffy British piece here.

People make mistakes. Even church people. I’m about to tell you about a mistake the church made.

Big new ideas can be scary, because they tend to shake things up and can make you feel like everything you thought you knew is now in doubt. The church made such a mistake with Galileo’s astronomy, and has since realised its error. Some church people did it again in the 1860s with Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection, but it’s been over 200 years since Darwin was born, so let’s look at what we’ve learned since then.

Theories of biology becoming theories of spirituality

Extremists, fundamentalists and hateful bigots exist at both ends of any political spectrum. If Darwin’s ideas once needed rescuing from religious attacks, they may also now need rescuing from some of the enthusiasts for his ideas. A scientist has a duty to the truth, but how a scientific theory is used, politically or ideologically, is up for grabs by any idiot. ‘Evolution’ has become something bigger than Darwin’s own theories, and seems to now suggest a religious (more like anti-religious) belief system. This doesn’t make the church of the 1860s right to have attacked Darwin, but it does suggest that maybe we should look again at what Darwin actually said.

Nothing in scientific method contradicts Christian teaching

Darwin was, in many ways, a model user of good scientific method. He observed the world around him, developed a theory which sought to explain what he saw, and then set about a long and painstaking process of gathering evidence that would either confirm, contradict, or modify his theory. In science, hypotheses are meant to be constantly tested. Subsequent generations have built on Darwin’s work but have not significantly undermined his fundamental theory of natural selection. There is nothing here that contradicts Christian teaching. Jesus himself invited people to observe the world around them and to reason from what they saw to an understanding of the nature of God (Matthew 6: 25-33). While Christians believe that the Bible contains all that we need to know to be saved from our sins, they do not claim that it is a compendium of all sorts of knowledge (it tells us nothing whatsoever, for example, about how to cook eggs). We recognize that truth is not something that solely resides in the realm of science. Jesus himself warned his disciples that there was more that he could say to them and that the Spirit of truth would lead them into truth (John 16: 12-13). What Christian teaching does say, however, is this:

For the word of God is alive and active. … it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.

Hebrews 4:12

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

2 Timothy 3:16-17

The grass withers and the flowers fall,
but the word of our God endures forever.

Isaiah 40:8

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

John 1:1

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Matthew 4:4

Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

John 8:31-32

Christians have good reason to place a high value on “God’s word.” But it was pride in our interpretation of the Bible that made us persecute Galileo when he suggested the earth wasn’t the centre of the universe. Eventually, we figured out we were pretty silly and that Galileo was right. When a person (or church) cannot conceive that their interpretation of the Bible (for example, a literal interpretation of Genesis 1-3) is wrong, they have made a false idol of their intellect, and even a false idol of the Bible. It may have sounded like evolution was threatening “God’s word”, and of course if that were true evolution had to go. But evolution threatened only those who believed evolution meant no God…

People kinda freaked out

Darwin’s evidence-based research (or more generally, “science”) was never the problem. His theory offended some Christians because some Christians (and some atheists) took evolution to mean that God had NOT created human beings as an entirely different kind of creation to the rest of the animal world, and that he had NOT created everything in a literal six days.

But if God had a special relationship with humanity, or if we believe in a realm of the spiritual (that does not exist in a world of the five senses) how can that special relationship or a spiritual existence be undermined just because we develop a different understanding of the biological processes by which humanity came to be? Perhaps some of the reaction against Darwin was largely based on an Elizabethan or snooty ‘yuk factor’ response when he proposed a lineage from apes to humans.

A more balanced response would be to acknowledge the differences of bodies of knowledge, agreeing to scientific truth and spiritual/religious truth that do not have to conflict. But the legacy of Darwin (rather than Darwin’s own achievements) has had a shadow side.

Let’s not make science do what it’s not meant to do

If evolution is continuing, and humanity as we know it is not the final summation of the process, it is not difficult to slip into a rather naïve optimism which sees the human race becoming better and better all the time. Despite our vastly expanding technical knowledge, even a fairly cursory review of human history undermines any idea of constant moral progress. Christians believe that all of us are constrained by sin and that only through the death and resurrection of Jesus can we move beyond what constrains us to a fuller and more human way of living. But Christians are not the only ones who are skeptical of the idea that evolution means moral progress.

Natural selection, as a way of understanding physical evolutionary processes over thousands of years, makes sense. Translate that into a half-understood notion of ‘the survival of the fittest’ and imagine the processes working on a day-to-day basis, and evolution gets mixed up with a social theory the very opposite of the Christian vision where the meek inherit the earth. This ‘Social Darwinism’, in which the strong flourish and the weak perish is a misapplication of Darwin and science. Darwin’s immense achievement was to develop a big theory which went a long way to explaining aspects – but not all – of the world around us. The difficulty is that his theory of natural selection has been so effective within the scientific community, and so easily understood in outline by everybody, that it has been inflated into a general theory of everything – which is not only stupid but dangerous.

Pseudo-Darwinian (not really Darwinian) reductionism (reducing everything) elevates selfishness into a virtue and celebrates power and dominance. It is not only a misunderstanding of Darwin but may even contribute to human decline by eroding those aspects of being human which have given us such a natural advantage. Even the more sophisticated versions of ‘Social Darwinism’, which interpret all human behaviour in terms of the struggle for dominance and the maximisation of genetic advantage through the generations, risk presenting us with an image of being human which makes us slaves to some kind of evolutionary imperative, as if we are programmed in ways we cannot over-rule. But the point of natural selection is that it is precisely by being most fully human that we demonstrate our fitness. And being fully human means our ability to act selflessly or lovingly and to challenge thin concepts of rationality which equate “being rational” to material self interest. It is vital that Darwin’s theories are rescued from political and ideological agendas – and made back into the thing they were always meant to be: Good Science.

Our bad: Christian Pride and one reason why we dug in our heels

Some Christian movements still make opposition to evolutionary theories a litmus test of faithfulness and even believe Darwin’s theories to have fatally undermined religious belief, suggesting even the word “evolution” to be bad. Why should this be?

The Church of England in 1860 was facing challenges to its power. New denominations were confronting the power of the established church and there was movement between the social classes (see: Downton Abbey – more people were threatening to take what power the few had) – and then came Darwin. These were nervous times for Anglicans, and because they had a lot of political influence in society threats to that power were blown out of proportion and characterized as attacks on God himself.

What was true for Anglicans in 1860 is generally true for all kinds of Christians today, although the threat may be from radical Islam, secularism, consumerism or atheism. The cultures within which Christians try to be faithful generally do not conform to Christian beliefs, so following Jesus means at some level standing against at least some social norms. The problem for all Christians is figuring out where the surrounding culture is actually a threat and where it is compatible with our understanding of God. Because “science” in our culture has been widely regarded as offering a total theory of everything and because some scientists have encouraged this (power and greed are at play in academia and the markets, too) a parody of science has become a focus for some Christians, especially in the US. Fear and anger at the outside world – without a strong counter-narrative – has bred in some corners of the church anti-evolution/anti-science fervour in order to create a narrative of what they stand against – unfortunately forgetting their own story, what they stand for, the Gospel: Jesus’ story.

So how do we reconcile faith and science?

At a university in Kansas, a biology professor was asked how he dealt with teaching Darwin’s theories to students whose churches insisted that evolution was wrong and whose high schools taught creationism (Creationism suggests a literal 6-day Creation, while the belief in “Creation” emphasizes the point that God created us). “No problem,” the professor replied, “the kids know that if they want a good job they need a degree, and if they want a degree they have to work with evolutionary theory. Creationism is for church, as far as they’re concerned. Here, they’re Darwinists.” The professor was pointing to young lives which could not be lived with integrity – the very opposite of how Christians are called to live. There is no integrity to be found either in rejecting Darwin’s ideas altogether or in elevating them into the kind of grand theory which reduces humanity to the sum of our evolutionary urges. For the sake of human integrity – and thus for the sake of good Christian living – we have to hold both Darwin and our Christian faith together.

We practice the old virtue of ‘faith seeking understanding‘ – believing that once we have put our faith in God, we must put our minds to good use to figure out the reasons behind what we believe. But the struggle is not over yet, as the problem is not just with the religious but those who falsely claim Darwin in support of their own political interests, too. Good religion needs good science, but good science needs good religion, too, otherwise we paint an incomplete and lopsided picture of our humanity, and our world.

Think on, brothers and sisters, in Christ.

Apostles Creed Common English

(Just handed this in. An assignment in “translation”.)

Write a “translation” or paraphrase of the Apostles’ Creed or the Nicene Creed into contemporary vernacular English.

I believe in God, the Father almighty,creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,

who was conceived by the Holy Spirit

and born of the virgin Mary.

He suffered under Pontius Pilate,

was crucified, died, and was buried;

he descended to hell.

The third day he rose again from the dead.

He ascended to heaven

and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty.

From there he will come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,

the holy catholic* church,

the communion of saints,

the forgiveness of sins,

the resurrection of the body,

and the life everlasting. Amen.

What I take to be true – in such a way that it changes my entire life and informs how I act – is that there is a God, and that He is the most powerful being in existence. All of the natural and supernatural world was created by Him.God has taught us to refer to him as “Father” because he has adopted those who believe in him as children. His first-born and the only son like him in power and substance, is both fully human and God; his name is Jesus. We follow and obey Jesus because he is the one who saves us.

Jesus was born from a human mother, who was a virgin; a young woman named Mary. God moved in a supernatural way in her body, miraculously for the only time in history making in her a human child – except God’s own spirit was the power that made her pregnant (not a man). Jesus was conceived, and born, as a human, yet was still fully God. And God became Father, and Jesus is his Son.

Jesus grew up and suffered because of what he had been born to do. His purpose put him at odds with the ruling government of the day, and a man named Pontius Pilate sentenced him to be beaten and put to a painful death. Jesus’ was put on a Roman torture device that was made of wooden beams and nailed to it, and the process resulted in his death. Jesus’ body was put in a tomb; yet his spirit went down into hell itself. On hell: He was separated from his Father, the most painful and heart-breaking thing he had ever experienced. His death was for the crimes committed by mankind against the laws of God so his Father’s anger would have been directed at him.

Two days after Jesus had died, His spirit had returned to his body, and he had a pulse. His body was no longer dead – he miraculously was alive and well.

Jesus didn’t stay on earth. Because Jesus is fully God, and still fully human, he is the first fully alive person to return to God. His exit was a dramatic one, as he left going up into the clouds, to be together with his Father – the all powerful God – once again. Jesus sits beside him, on his right side – in a place of honour and power and love.

One day, Jesus will come back to earth to rule as judge and determine with infinite wisdom what every person has ever done. He will declare what was right and wrong for everyone, both those alive, and those who have died.

I think it is true that God is a Spiritual being, and moves powerfully, with purpose, in all matters of life and death around the world.

… that there is purposeful and all-encompassing body of people who also believe in Jesus, called “the church”

… that there is a spiritual unity between individuals when they believe, and when they take communion (eat bread and drink wine together to remember Jesus’ life and death and resurrection and ongoing life-giving force in our lives)

… that Jesus’ has forgiven sins (no longer considers relevant) for those of us who look to him to save us because he took the cost of our disobedience against the law of God upon himself when he died,

… that one day our bodies – which die – will be brought back to life like Jesus’ was,

… and that we are welcomed into not just spiritual but physical life that never ends after we die in this world.

I agree with what has been said.

Looking beyond culturally-defined gender norms to a humanity like Christ’s

Gender. It keeps coming up and I don’t have a place to process so forgive me as I blog about it.

As a kid I had in my gut certain beliefs that I didn’t doubt, like the fact that women were as valuable to God and the rest of humanity as men were. I’ve followed through on those instincts with book-learning, which I believe I take to as well as the next man. *grin*

Speaking of non-inclusive language, as a young female reader I was never really bothered by masculine pronouns throughout English literature, because I understood that “what they really meant” was humankind.  Women relate across gender lines from our earliest storybooks, the most popular of which typically featuring boys. Gender with girls is always much more “fluid” because we are taught we can do whatever boys do. Boys  face stricter definitions, perhaps because they’re not told otherwise.

In my most recent class at Wycliffe, a professor went out of his way to use inclusive pronouns where there initially were none in the text. I found it made me think about my gender, about how the professors “inclusivity” was actually a gloss on the text suggesting I was initially not the target audience all the while, as I mentioned above, if the male pronouns had just been read and not amended I would have made the translation in my head intuitively.

In the course before that, a student described a group of diverse people to have “diverse genders” and when I objected to generalities and argued for more powerful prose (it was a homiletics course) by the naming of “women and men” I was informed my binary gender terms were insufficient. I agree there in sufficient but disagree that it should mean they are not included. More on this later.

There were complaints after Mother’s day at church that we were celebrating it at all. I didn’t hear why but imagine the questions were around why we celebrate motherhood.  Why give a flower to every woman as though we are all mothers, reducing our gender to our usefulness in procreating society? Why propagate a Hallmark holiday?

And then there’s Bruce Jenner, a man who was quintessentially American male – an Olympic athlete – who like many other trans people before him felt to be true to his inner person he needed surgery.


(One of?) the first heresies in the early church was the belief that Jesus did not raise physically from the dead, but rather it was a spiritual resurrection. It is wrong to ever suggest that the body is less valuable than the soul. Our God is the incarnate Christ – God begotten (physically born) – as the now-incredibly-awkward-Christmas-carol-lyric says: he did not abhor the virgin’s womb. He was flesh and blood. Our God revealed himself to us as a human male, and introduced us to a new name for God: Father. Yet God related across gender lines, entrusting women for some of his biggest moments (birth)(resurrection), talked to prostitutes, and worked with women who supported him financially during his ministry.

We get our ultimate definition of what it means to be human from Jesus Christ. Any worldview without Christ is ultimately self-referential, looking inward, creating a culture that has competing and ever-shifting values; in other words, without Christ we are judging good and evil for ourselves and sometimes we get it wrong (see the Garden of Eden).

Gender norms in North America keep getting pinker and bluer. As we strive to define ourselves and create narratives of meaning in an increasingly post-Christendom culture, our definitions of gender hace bcome more rigid and – as the professor noted in my homiletics course – too narrow. It has meant we’ve needed to include terms “she” and “woman” or the remove gendered language altogether, using more biologically accurate, “Humankind.” But what if we had a perspective of our humanity that went beyond our culturally contingent gender norms where womanliness means looking good on Vanity Fair, and manliness is sports. What if our humanity could be freely male, female, and yet something more? Physical and spiritual, now and not yet.

The kingdom of Heaven – pretty much Jesus’ main teaching point – was “near,” NOW but NOT YET. What that means is that of course our churches aren’t perfect, of course our bodies still die, of course there is still the problem of evil and pain, but we have glimpses of the VERY GOOD because Jesus has come.  The promise and the hope of that better world and life everlasting IS in Jesus Christ, who held together the greatest tension, who was fully man and fully God. He rose from the dead, the firstborn  of the new creation, the first guy to beat death, to talk to women, to usher in a new upside down kingdom where the pinnacle of our lives is not inward-focused self-service but self-giving love.

So what do we do, then, as these imperfect yet spiritually reborn followers awaiting new bodies while in this fallen world? The Jesus who saves you while you were still a sinner asks you to…

a) be the best man or woman or child you can be! Do good, do yoga, eat kale! Work on your house! Work-out! Do you! Buy organic. Have fun! (that’s my definition of a 2015 urban Canadian – feel free to define your own circle of friends/peers).

b) Ascribe to culturally constructed definitions of manhood and womanhood, as seen in (insert era/home country/culture).

c) follow Him.


So we first and foremost follow Jesus.

We celebrate (but do not idolize) motherhood and fatherhood because God made them. Same goes with kids.

We will call God Father because Jesus taught us to, understanding it means more than any earthly Father – yet upholding what the created order of earthly fathers can teach us.

We must be compassionate on those that feel their bodies are insufficiently defining them, and get surgeries, be it face lifts or gender reassignment.

Uphold the whole person as created and called by God as very good. Categories and labels will always be insufficient. God has the final word on us – not the English language.

And remember that the ultimate human being to look to for the definition of personhood, who spoke the world into existence, who created all things, is Jesus.

Truth and Reconciliation Jesus

I was drawing a comic on the flipchart – essentially a timeline of the Early Church – in our confirmation class.

church history

At one point, I draw two wedding rings overlapping with the words “Church” and “state” underneath.

Emperor Constantine becomes a Christian. There is a marriage of church and state. This is why we don’t marry non-Christians, I think, their values are differentThey worship other gods…like power, war, and greed. It becomes socially and politically advantageous to call yourself a Christian, and when it’s socially and politically advantageous to call yourself a Christian, everyone does. This is why church attendance is down in North America, but I digress.  And in the name of our Prince of Peace, wars are raged… Christ healed the sick, restored sight to the blind, and resurrected the dead; then great campaigns are raged of torture and death.

Christians no longer look like “little Christs.” They look like everyone else.

* * *

The time is not the middle ages, the place is not the middle east. The last residential school closed in Saskatchewan in 1996. In the last 200 years families of aboriginals in Canada have been systematically torn apart and the trauma has been felt in every generation since. It’s a sort of torture, a destruction, a violence against people who – and I cannot emphasize this strongly enough – Christ has called to love.

Love? Yes, love. “Love thy neighbour.” But who is my neighbour? (Hint: It’s not those closest to us who can afford the same kind of house we can)

The question and how Christ answers it belies this sentiment: if you can figure out who IS your neighbour, then you don’t have to worry about who ISN’T. 

But Jesus doesn’t give a list of neighbours. He doesn’t even say, like some moral maxim, “everyone.” He doesn’t name a race or a gender or an age. He tells a story – he describes an act of self-sacrifice, kindness and generosity:

Luke 10:25-37 The Message (MSG)

Defining “Neighbor”

25 Just then a religion scholar stood up with a question to test Jesus. “Teacher, what do I need to do to get eternal life?”

26 He answered, “What’s written in God’s Law? How do you interpret it?”

27 He said, “That you love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and muscle and intelligence—and that you love your neighbor as well as you do yourself.”

28 “Good answer!” said Jesus. “Do it and you’ll live.”

29 Looking for a loophole, he asked, “And just how would you define ‘neighbor’?”

30-32 Jesus answered by telling a story. “There was once a man traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho. On the way he was attacked by robbers. They took his clothes, beat him up, and went off leaving him half-dead. Luckily, a priest was on his way down the same road, but when he saw him he angled across to the other side. Then a Levite religious man showed up; he also avoided the injured man.

33-35 “A Samaritan traveling the road came on him. When he saw the man’s condition, his heart went out to him. He gave him first aid, disinfecting and bandaging his wounds. Then he lifted him onto his donkey, led him to an inn, and made him comfortable. In the morning he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take good care of him. If it costs any more, put it on my bill—I’ll pay you on my way back.’

36 “What do you think? Which of the three became a neighbor to the man attacked by robbers?”

37 “The one who treated him kindly,” the religion scholar responded.

Jesus said, “Go and do the same.”

I’m not sure what reasons were being used to “save” people through torture and threat of death across the ages. I suspect it’s the same reasoning being employed by ISIS, today. Perhaps in the desire for power and control over others they are tempted to think physical acts trump spiritual ones, and “saying the magic words” will save a soul, whether or not the heart agrees.

“The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7

Today I read a comment on an article about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Canada: “This is horrible. We’re better than this, Canada!” 

But it’s clear that we’re not.

It would be nice to believe that. It would be nice to believe that evil is something other people in other countries commit, but not us.

I say this because if we think that the evil done by men and women over time is somehow inhuman and other, then we are more likely to repeat it, more likely to think “us” incapable of being that wrong.

The problem is not unique to a particular time or place; the problem is an intensely human problem.

Faced with great, uncontrollable forces from without, fear can be turned to anger and hatred, and salvation taken into our own hands. But we cannot save the world, we cannot even save ourselves. Only God can do that – and he did. It. is. finished. Only God can deliver a soul, transform a life and a family and a country: only God can save the world.

We pray in the Lord’s prayer: Thy Will be done (on earth as it is in Heaven). Hell exists on earth. We make it for ourselves when we follow our own will and self-made definitions of “good”. But good intentions can never add up, they’re incomplete, they do not get us to where we need to be. The road to hell is paved with such…

For bringing order to the chaos, hope to the families affected by residential schools, freedom from controlling, oppressive forces that have used the name of Christ to hurt instead of help, we have only one hope…

The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.

This is our Creation story. In the dark, murky waters, symbolic of death, hell, and chaos in the ancient world, we see our God, the Spirit of God, hovering over – separate from yet close to – the face of the chaos.

And he speaks. And he brings light, and life and truth. He creates. He divides the waters and dry land appears. He creates the borders of the seas. He can MAKE SOMETHING where there is NOTHING. And his works are VERY GOOD. Let us pray to our Creator, the one who died in order to save us, the one who lives again and has defeated death, and chaos, and hell.

Gracious God, Creator of the Universe
you speak to us through your prophets
and through Jesus Christ your son.
Through Jesus comes grace and truth,
healing and justice.
Your love has freed us from the bondage of fear
to become your disciples.
That love gives us the strength
and compassion to do your will
through Jesus Christ our Lord.   Amen.

from: A service of Prayer for National Aboriginal Day (2007)

My sermon on John 3:16

Lent 4 (Gospel reading: John 3:14-21)

Our Bible passage today is the chunk of scripture surrounding one of the most famous verses in the Bible – John 3:16. One of the reasons it’s so famous is that it is considered to be an encapsulation, a summary of the Gospel. It is Jesus Christ’s life, and ministry and purpose – in a nutshell.

It’s nighttime. Nicodemus has come to talk to Jesus, but is ashamed to be seen with him. See, Nicodemus was one of the Pharisees, a ruler of the Jews. He was a leader and part of the religious elite. Pharisees were so well versed in the law, they wrote laws on top of the law so that you would never actually break the law. They were the holy men. They thought they knew right from wrong. They thought they knew everything.

And they did not like Jesus. For many reasons, not least of which at the beginning of his ministry, at his baptism, he calls them a brood of vipers.

The darkness that surrounds Nicodemus and Jesus cannot be ignored. Its presence is palpable. By coming to Jesus at night, Nicodemus shows himself – and the Pharisees that he represents – that he believes coming to Jesus, LOOKING to Jesus for any source of wisdom or truth is wrong. In fact it’s shameful. Nicodemus doesn’t want anyone to know that he’s coming to Jesus. He doesn’t want the neighbours to see.

Actions reveal beliefs. There was a desire there to know the truth.  Jesus doesn’t mince words with Nicodemus. Our Scripture passage today throws us into the middle of Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus.

Jesus reminds this Pharisee of the story of the Israelites in the desert. Nicodemus would have had this story memorized. Nicodemus had all the scriptures memorized. He knew the context as soon as Jesus brought it up. Moses is leading the Israelites through the wilderness and they sin against God, so God sends venomous snakes among them and many of them die. They see the error of their ways, they cry out to God, and God tells Moses to make a bronze snake and put it on a pole in the middle of the camp. They are told that all anyone had to do to be saved was to look at the snake, raised up there on the pole, and they would be healed. All they had to do was believe that God’s way was THE way, and their actions would follow. Their belief would lead them to look, their belief would like to their healing, their salvation, their very lives.

In our Western, Individualistic, consumerist culture, we’ve got darkness. Especially in cities like Toronto. We think we know it all. But there are poisonous snakes here. Our self-interest has left us lonely, our consumerism has left us empty.

In Matthew and Luke Jesus calls the Pharisees a brood of vipers. Isn’t that funny? These religious men that put the burden on the people for their own salvation – THAT works-righteousness – THAT is what was killing these people. THAT was the poison in their blood. As much as sin is serious the wickedness of the Pharisees, what Jesus calls EVIL, was actually how they made up their own religion, picking and choosing how to act in such a way that they looked good and didn’t have to look too closely at Jesus.

The Light has come into the world, but the Pharisees hated the light, because it demanded belief. If Jesus was God, they were not. (Now no self-respecting Pharisee would call himself God, and no person today would either, but you see that we all worship something, and we either choose God as our Lord or we choose ourselves). So they chose darkness instead of light. Not unlike we do. Choosing not to believe in the fullness of the gospel, the fullness of Christ, and instead choosing to believe in some half-truth, that we create. When we look to ourselves to be the experts on our salvation instead of Christ, like the Pharisees, we turn inward, it becomes about us, and that inwardness ultimately devours us. We are destroyed. We perish.

Jesus’ shines light on Nicodemus in his darkness. Jesus knows the darkness Nicodemus chose to visit him in, reflected the darkness of disbelief inside him.  Yet, he says, “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world (or Nicodemus), but in order that the world (and Nicodemus) might be saved through him.”

Nicodemus’ in our story today did not believe. Not yet. He was still one of the Pharisees, a group of people that did not recognize Jesus as the Saviour or as the son of God. But Jesus is patient, he engages with him. Later we learn that Nicodemus brings a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about 75 pounds in weight, to wrap the body of Jesus after the crucifixion, as is the burial custom of the Jews.

Eventually, he comes to the light. He comes to Jesus because he believes, if he does not fully know yet who Jesus is or what he was doing, dying on that cross. Coming to Jesus is what is true, is right.

Like the bronze snake lifted up in the middle of the camp of the Israelites, anyone can look to Jesus for salvation. And like the Israelites in the desert, we still today need a saviour, a healer, a way to be made right with God. We need the poisonous venom in our blood healed, we need a transfusion, we need the blood of the lamb. And there’s only one way, The way, the truth, and the life. It is Jesus. That is the Gospel, the good news. That God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

I leave you with a quote:

 “As Christians, we seek to be instructed by God, thus from a theological perspective we do not presume to already know or to understand what is wrong. Even the knowledge of sin and evil is often a matter of revelation. We rely upon the Holy Spirit and Scripture to illuminate our individual and societal wrongdoing, and we approach the Bible with open minds and prayerful hearts.” (Paul Scott Wilson, in The Four Pages of the Sermon.)

May our hearts and minds be open, and may we prayerfully ask Jesus to shine his light of truth on our lives so that we may more fully believe in him. Amen.

Comfort, don’t Kill

One of the best documentaries I’ve ever seen was called, “How to Die in Oregon,” which came out in 2011 and chronicled three people’s deaths – on film (two of which we heard audio but they did not film the actual act).

It was heart-rending, understandably. These were the last moments of life for people. They were surrounded by friends, and/or or family. They didn’t want to be a burden anymore. They didn’t want to suffer anymore.

I read this quote from the LA Times which furthers the point that death is often chosen not out of physical but mental pain. Here is the article (written by a M.D. who works with palliative care patients).

In the 1990s, proponents in Oregon campaigned to legalize physician-assisted suicide in cases of unrelievable physical suffering. Oregon Health Authority research, however, shows that more than 75% of those who took that option didn’t cite pain as a concern. Their issues were emotional or existential: feeling a burden to family, loss of autonomy or inability to do things they enjoy.

THAT is a problem in society, a problem in our families and a problem in ourselves. Our inability to face the hard things does not make the easy way good or right. It means we need more than what we’ve currently got to deal with the hard things.

Two out of the three people in the documentary said – after they had drank the Gatorade-mixed-with-little-white-pills – “It’s so easy,” as if in surprise. Their vision – and their life – faded. The loss of their life wasn’t any easier on those who loved them. Their friends and family still lost their mother/father/friend. But instead of their presence, there was just emptiness, there was just … absence. The story ended sooner, it didn’t end better.

We are inextricably linked to those who die. It is never impersonal. 

Doctors and their patients are made of the same stuff, and if we’re legalizing some humans to kill other humans, we are ultimately making murder ok by calling it something else. And murder affects us. It changes our society. Just ask soldiers.

War is never a neutral act, wherever it takes place. In a hospital room or on a battle field, in an interrogation room or in the middle east, just because we can’t see the harm done doesn’t make it unseen, unfelt, undone. 

Attempted suicide was once illegal. If you survived your suicide attempt, you’d get thrown in jail. The idea is – you don’t have the right to take anyone’s life, not even your own. There was an idea that your life belonged to the community, because you were a child/mother/sister/friend/coworker/neighbour/citizen. There was an idea that you belonged… here…because you were one of us, and we wanted you. Obviously, we came to realize that the mental anguish someone is going through who is willing to try to take their own life is EXACERBATED by prison. We realized that a person shouldn’t go to jail, instead, we should try to help them. Punishment sent a message that what they did was wrong, but rehabilitation sent a more powerful one: why it was wrong.

We – as a society – cannot sustain ourselves if our suffering turns us against each other rather than towards each other. Whether we’re killing ourselves, or getting someone to assist, we are hurting all those around us more than if we were to just keep on. Our lack, as a society, in our support for the elderly, the sick, and the dying – and for those that love and care for the elderly, the sick, and the dying, is not something that we can solve on our own.

There is something greater than compassion, which can be used as the motivation to kill “out of compassion.” Above compassion is love. Love is patient. Sitting, waiting, suffering-alongside. Love always breeds life, never death. Love is self-less, pours itself out for the other, at the ultimate cost.

Jesus knew selflessness. He gave himself to us, his death for our life.

And that life is not some merely physical life, but life with him. Not life happily ever after.  Not life wealthy, and prosperous. He didn’t die so that we wouldn’t suffer. Instead our wealth would be in Him, our happiness would be in Him, and our suffering would be redeemed in Him. When this limited, pain-filled life, where death seems to be the end, leaves us sorrowful, in HIM we can see something different. We can see resurrection, in Him. In this life, in this world, we will have suffering, but take heart, he says, for I have overcome the world. Our God is here, with us, emmanuel, every. single. deeply-pain-filled moment, every glimmer of hope and every dashed one, he is greater than our deepest lows and loves us longer than we can live. He loves us and brings us through death to something more after it. You may not have what it takes to face death – your own, or the death of those you love – but he has faced death, and offers a hopeful word. He has defeated that darkness, that absence, with his eternal presence. He is with you, and he is with those you love, loving more than you can, and carrying us safely to where we need to go. Carrying us to that distant shore where all that is sad will become untrue. 

Thanks be to God.


Dear The Auld Spot,

Tonight I visited your fine establishment and had a fantastic time. You are a pub with great food, and great drinks, and great decor. It was cozy, warm and beautiful in its own right. I’m quite happy with the service and location. Would recommend!

However, at the end of my stay there I visited the washrooms, and saw this:

Shining Heres Johnny Jack Nicholson
For the gents, to the left, Jack Nicholson in The Shining, the iconic “Here’s Johnny” face.
and beside it, to the right, the equally iconic shower scene from Psycho.
and beside it, to the right, the equally iconic shower scene from Psycho.

I instantly “got it”. I know it’s supposed to be funny, right? First you see Jack Nicholson, and then you see a woman screaming (different movie, but same idea). Jack Nicholson saying ‘here’s Johnny!’ is kinda awesome. But in the juxtaposition it told a story – I saw a perpetrator of violence against women, and the reaction of a woman who was experiencing the horror of violence against her. Jack Nicholson isn’t just Johnny now, he transcends the boundaries of his movie and becomes symbolic of the violator *because* he has been paired with an image of the violated, murdered woman in another film. Then there’s another thing – these are both bathroom scenes when a man crosses a boundary with intent to kill, and what you’ve done is made them the symbolic representatives identifying the two sexes and “welcoming” them at the entrances to the washrooms. These photos are labels, to their functional extent, and men-as-violators and women-as-victims simply cannot be acceptable, as good for a laugh or considered appropriate decor.

I don’t believe you intended to give the impression that you thought women should identify as victims, or that you should remind them as they walk into your washrooms that women are often murdered in this supposed sanctuary. Giving you the benefit of the doubt, I suspect it was likely an afterthought to pair the two photos, because the Here’s Johnny image is awesome, and it kinda makes sense to have a reaction shot to its right. I bear no ill will, but since complaints without solutions are annoying, here are some alternatives:

Criteria: Iconic female film stars, and humorous in juxtaposition with Jack.

1. Mila Jovovich, the Fifth Element. She's a badass, a strong woman, and this movie is a sci-fi cult classic.
1. Mila Jovovich, the Fifth Element. She’s a badass, a strong woman, and film is a sci-fi cult classic.
2. Princess Leia, serious business. She doesn't get to do much in this movie, but she doesn't look like she's gunna get murdered anytime soon, either.  Same era as The Shining, too.
2. Princess Leia, serious business. She doesn’t get to do much in this movie, but she doesn’t look like she’s gunna get murdered anytime soon, either. Same era as The Shining, too.
4. I don't think I have to explain why this photo is awesome. The movie is a cult classic, and it's Uma Thurman, who later kills bill (reversing gender stereotypes, yay!).
3. I don’t think I have to explain why this photo is awesome. The movie is a cult classic, and it’s Uma Thurman, who later kills bill (reversing gender stereotypes, yay!).
4. Wonder Woman. Nuff said.
4. Wonder Woman. Nuff said.
Nostalgia much? Sarah Connor in the Terminator. Or possible Terminator 2. Who can keep track? All I know is Arnold is reprising his role for another installment of the franchise soon and he's approximately 100 years old. This woman is a badass.
5. Nostalgia much? Sarah Connor in the Terminator. Or possible Terminator 2. Who can keep track? All I know is Arnold is reprising his role for another installment of the franchise soon and he’s approximately 100 years old. This woman is a badass.

Whatever you choose, please realize you tell a story by pairing those images together, and any sort of scared or vulnerable-looking woman is not a good idea.

That’s a long letter, but I thought it necessary to give an explanation because it’s no fun getting complaints especially if they seem unreasonable at first – I consider this something that is important to me, and likely to other women as well. I hope that you can see the situation from my perspective, and that things can change without any hard feelings.

I wish you all the best and look forward to the next time I get to dine at your fine establishment!

-Christine Ivy

life is short and sweet