Tuesday, December 13, 2011
Sunday, December 11, 2011
With a language we all understand
With an equal opportunity
For all to sing, dance and clap their hands
"At Christmas it was the infant Christ who was born again in human hearts, and it struck Francis that God came to earth as a baby so that we would have someone to care for. Christmas was the dearest of feasts because it meant that God was now one of us. Flesh of our flesh and bone of our bone, this child we could approach without fear. We could be silly and uninhibited as we sought to make Him laugh. We could be totally ourselves because a child accepts us just as we are and screams with delight at our little performances on his behalf.History has it that the first nativity scene was created by St. Francis in 1223 because he wanted to encourage people to really engage with "God [the] helpless babe." This seems to have gotten lost in all the hubub and hullabaloo surounding the holiday. Yet even those who would have us "put the Christ back in Christmas" seem to be totally focused on the adult Jesus, even the crucified Christ. But what about that baby? That little, helpless baby for which we "now have responsibilities"? What would it mean to your spiritual life if you spent this Advent season not so much preparing to receive God as preparing to take care of God?
Someone to care for, someone to try and please, someone to love. God, a helpless babe; God, a piece of Bread. How much trust God had in creatures! In the Eucharist and in the Nativity, we group up, because God places Himself in our care. We come out of ourselves if we are aware, because we now have responsibilities for God. Not only the earth to till and creation to subdue, but now God to care for."
Monday, November 28, 2011
Yesterday after a couple of moving services at church I received an e-mail from a congregant. He'd brought a friend with him and something had happened during the service that had made his friend feel unwelcome and had embarrassed him. The issue was something that was said during the welcome:
"We are an intentionally inclusive congregation and we welcome everyone to our church regardless of age, race, sexual orientation, gender expression, theological perspective, and even political party. The circle is large."
The problem wasn't with the words themselves, to be honest. It was the fact that after the words ". . . and even political party," people laughed. It happened at both services. And it has been happening, at both services, each week, since this language was introduced nearly a month ago.
I understand that for some it's an example of "nervous laughter." There are things that we Unitarian Universalist have generally made an unspoken agreement not to talk about in our sanctuaries -- theological perspective and political affiliation are two of the biggies. So to hear both of these things named in the same breath, well, there was bound to be a nervous giggle or two.
And, too, most Unitarian Universalists self-identify as liberal/progressive folks and it's taken almost for granted that most also self-identify as Democrats, politically. There is, again, a largely unspoken assumption that Democrats are liberal and Republicans are conservative and, so, why would a Republican even want to come to a Unitarian Universalist church? And, so, a chuckle at this seeming incongruity.
And yet . . .
And yet there are people who are liberal theologically, or socially, yet are conservative fiscally. (For instance.) There are people who, for any number of reasons, vote Republican and align with the majority of Unitarian Universalist in all sorts of ways. Many of these people are Unitarian Universalists; some of them are members of our congregation. And these people hear the laughter that follows our statement of inclusion and wonder if this church really is open to including them.
And then there are other folks who have family or friends with a different political perspective than their own who bring these people to church and they, too, feel the sting of that laughter. It's like we put out our hand in welcome and then pull that hand away just before the other person can grasp it. And then we laugh at our clever joke. It's humiliating -- for that other person, certainly, but it should be for us, too.
Now I want to be clear, I'm not trying to slap our collective hands, here. I wrote those particular words and was virtually certain that they would elicit some laughter. I expected it the first week; I even anticipated that there'd still be a reaction the second week. By now, though, these words have become a mirror, one that it may be uncomfortable to look into.
I have used words like this at some point in every congregation I've served. (Although, to be honest, the specific challenging category has been different in each one.) One of my jobs, as a pastor, and one of our jobs, as a faith community, is "to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable." It is really pretty easy for us to affirm that "[our] circle is large." It is harder, though, to keep reminding ourselves that it is not yet all-inclusive, nor even as inclusive as we'd wish it would be (if we're being honest).
There is always work to be done. As inclusive as this community is -- as truly warm and welcoming as it is -- there are just so many people who have been marginalized, who have come to expect marginalization, who anticipate being unwelcome. There is so much brokeness, and pain, and fear out there. And "church" can be a really touchy place for people. As I've mentioned in earlier posts, being truly welcoming involves a whole lot more than merely allowing people to come in the doors. It means that we -- the ones doing the welcoming -- must be willing to change, to be changed. Not an easy thing.
Sunday, November 27, 2011
Sunday, November 20, 2011
Monday, November 14, 2011
A few days into his journey to the mouth of the Coppermine River, Thomas Hearne and his party were set upon by Indians who stole most of their supplies. You might imagine that this would engender feelings of fear or, at least, uncertainty about the rest of their journey, about their very survival. But Hearne's journal entry is telling. He wrote, simply, "The weight of our baggage being so lightened, our next day's journey was more swift and pleasant."
I'd found this story, with slight variations, on literally dozens of sites -- both in collections of sermon illustrations and within sermons themselves -- and I've used this story several times since, virtually unchanged from its original telling. I used it again yesterday, as well. This time, though, while the basic thrust of the story stayed the same the tone was a little different.
In the ten years since I first encountered it I've become considerably more sensitive to the need to look with a inquiring eye at such a seemingly simple story. Who was Thomas Hearne? When did this journey take place? What was the behavior of Hearne and his party with the native peoples they encountered? What is, as Paul Harvey used to say, the rest of the story?
So I did some research. Wikipedia wasn't the only source I consulted, but I'll the first to admit that it wasn't exhaustive. Still, I discovered enough to learn that, for instance, contrary to what was written on all the websites I'd previously looked at Thomas Hearne was really Samuel Hearne. This story unfolds in the early 1770s. And there is undoubtedly a lot more to the story.
Hearne joined the Brittish Navy at age 11, and at 21 went to work for the Hudson's Bay Company. He made three trips north to find the copper mine the Inuit (and others) were using for their copper. The first two attempts were complete failures. It is most likely during the third trip that the story above occured.
On this third trip Hearne was the only Englishman. His traveling companions and guides were a group of people from the Chipewyan nation. Along the way this group was joined by a number of T'atsaot'ine, also known as "Yellowknife Dene" because of their use of Copper. It is now thought that many of these Dene joined Hearne's party because their nation was in conflict with the northern Inuit and this journey provided them an opportunity to strike at their enemies.
And strike they did. On July 14, 1771, Hearne's party reached the Coppermine River. At 1:00 am on JUly 17th, Hearne's guides attacked an Inuit encampment downstream, killing approximately twenty men, women, and children. This event became known as the Massacre at Bloody Falls.
It seems that Hearne was in no way involved, that this wasn't another case of European's slaughtering Native Americans, and that he was, in fact, horrified by the incident. It was he who afterward designated the site "Bloody Falls" and in his memoirs he noted, "I am confident that my features must have feelingly expressed how sincerely I was affected at the barbarous scene I then witnessed; even at this hour I cannot reflect on the transactions of that horrid day without shedding tears." He claims to have pleaded for the life of a young girl who feel literally at his feet, but that he was ignored.
Still, while I could find no reference to the attack on his own party, from whence the story comes, I can't help now wondering -- was that attack in retaliation for the attack at Bloody Falls? Or was it another example of the conflict which led to that massacre on July 17th? All I know for sure is that there is more to the story than there'd been when Samuel what Thomas.
I want to leave you with a story. The story of Samuel Hearne, who in the early 1770s was leading an expedition to explore to the mouth of the Coppermine River in the Northwest Territories of Canada. At one point in the journey his party was attacked by a party of Native Americans who made off with most of their supplies. I don’t know whether this incident occurred before or after a group of his party attacked and massacred a group of Cooper Inuit at Bloody Falls. But you can imagine the feelings after they were attacked and their provisions taken –in a foreign and unknown land, a dangerous journey still ahead, most of your provisions gone, the possibility of further incidents, the guilt, the fear . . .Now I don’t know much about Samuel Hearne. I haven’t been able to learn whether he had sisters or brothers; whether he’d had a family of his own. He seems to have been a good man who was truly horrified by the massacre carried out by his own people. Still, I don’t know much about Samuel Hearne, but I do know one thing. I do know is that he was well practiced in the art of gratitude. I know this not because of any commentary that survives about the man but because of the comment he made in his own journal the day after the raid. With all of the uncertainty, the tension, the anxiety that must have surrounded him at that time, Samuel Hearne wrote these words: "The weight of our baggage being so much lightened, our next day’s journey was more swift and pleasant."That’s someone who knew how to find the Gratitude Channel. "The weight of our baggage being so much lightened, our next day’s journey was more swift and pleasant."
There may be more "baggage" now in the telling, but some is worth holding on to . . . and holding up.