Sunday, June 17, 2007

A jumble of thoughts

The “old language” communion service contains a prayer referred to as the Prayer of Humble Access, which includes this line:

We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under this Thy table, but Thou art the same Lord whose property is always to have mercy.

I have always liked the poetry of this line – it’s a fascinating, humbling image. Of course, the theology I have been exposed to has always been one that was primarily built around boundless, unimaginable and yet personal love. Recently, a new acquaintance of mine argued quite convincingly that used the wrong way this could be a very hurtful and/or damaging prayer – that people who are hurting do not need or want to be reminded that they are particularly broken or unworthy. This concern is very valid; certainly, any penitential liturgy needs to be firmly grounded in the idea that we are all loved and perfect in our brokeness.

When I was younger and just starting to play the piano, my mom acquired a notepad with various amusing sayings, along the lines of “Today I practiced perfectly – even the mistakes were good!” and “I’m great – just ask my mom!”

In many ways, God’s love for us is exactly like that – we are perfect. Even our mistakes are good. Loved. Healed. Forgiven.

I was reminded of this debate after reading Sarah Miles’ book Take This Bread. In it she describes her unexpected conversion to Christianity and her work in starting a food pantry, and through it she weaves her theology. It was a supremely enjoyable read (highly recommended!) and she has very interesting theology, highly influenced by her experiences in South America during the rise of liberation theology but also uniquely her own. One of the main threads that runs throughout her book is the idea that truth is to be found in the margins, namely from the least powerful – truth is not found in what politicians or those is power say, but in the day-to-day lived experiences of the marginalized.

In light of this, she mentions at one point that she thinks that God uses not the polished, pious, “perfect” parts of us, but our broken, messy, more human side. True “Godly” community comes from people building something together out of their brokenness. Truth is found in the margins.*

I am really drawn to this idea. Communities that allow for the true range of humanity – not just the prettied up “pious” parts – have in my experience been much more authentic reflections of Christianity. And it is a true miracle that imperfect people can minister to each other so well – as often as not through these very imperfections. Furthermore, it is important to remember that we are all broken – whether it is visible, like in a drug addict everyone shuns, or invisible, like a secret compulsion or an unforgiving attitude.

I find that prayers like the prayer of humble access cited above taken on a very different light when viewed through the prism of a community that acknowledges that no one is perfect – “We are not worthy” – not a single one of us. We’re all in this together, we all mess up.

But thou art the same Lord whose property is always to have mercy.
Thanks be to God!

* This idea also ties very interestingly into that of a “post-Empire Church,” a term currently being used by people in the United Church in Canada and one I find very appealing (c.f. for example Richard Horsley, Jesus and Empire). However, there are already too many ideas mixed into this one post...

Monday, June 04, 2007

The weakest of these

(Blogging for LGBT families, one day late.)

“Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”"
There are many arguments to be made for and against inclusivity in the church (and in the rest of the world as well). On the one hand, there are many prooftexts one can point to, some easier to reject or interpret in context than others.

The gospel speaks to us of many things - but one of the key ideas that comes up consistently and repeatedly is the idea that Christians are to have a very special vision of the future potential of the world - what the world could be.

What are we to do?

“Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”
We are called to a radical mission of healing the world through love, and we are told to pay particular attention to those who are ignored or abandoned by the rest of the world - the one lost sheep.

In that context, exclusion is perverse. Exclusion hurts those who have the fewest resources best, even as those most hurt are also those with the least ability to defend themselves or otherwise deal with the exclusion.

Thus, when we are faced with people who are standing up for themselves, we need to remember that these are the exceptions to the rule. These are the folk who expect to be taken seriously, who can justify taking the risk they do in order to make things right. People with less privilege simply can't afford to pay the price that comes with standing up for oneself.

Two friends of mine - a queer couple - have told me how having a child completely changed the way they dealt with being out and with homophobia. Suddenly, the equation was more complex: they refused to take the chance of exposing their child to people who might give this child the idea that his family is somehow less ok or broken, and they couldn't through their own behaviour suggest this might be the case. Being out and honest with the world, but simultaneously more careful about the environments they were in, became the new normal.

Exclusion hurts most those with the fewest resources.

How can an organization built for a marginal people struggling to forge an identity in the face of empire justify aligning itself with oppression?

Saturday, June 02, 2007


[an old draft. published as-is because, well, it's interesting]

One of my biggest current fears or worries is whether the faith I have is sufficient to do the task I have set out for myself. Do I really believe enough to set myself up as a leader?

How does one measure faith?

This fear is particularly insidious because it is so hard to discuss. In fact, I wouldn't even post about it on here were this blog not (more or less) pseudonymous. What would people think??

Of course, these thoughts all seem a bit ridiculous when written out - how much faith does one need? Well, one could link to an obvious answer:

The apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith!’ 6The Lord replied, ‘If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, “Be uprooted and planted in the sea”, and it would obey you.

It's a fairly non-answer kind of answer, as these things go. I can't really put my faith on a scale, and see whether it measures up. As "just" a church-goer, this isn't really an issue - I have found that my faith can be somewhat cyclical, and I certainly have some doubt-filled days, but it's not particularly difficult to ride them out. Even in my most questioning days, church is very valuable, so the waxing and waning is more of a philosophical issue than anything else.

However -