Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Neighbours in a Dangerous Time (for Sun, Aug 20/17)

Reading:  Psalm 137:1-6 and Psalm 126 (maybe ... things could change by Sunday)

Two psalms about the pain of being exiled from Jerusalem ... about losing what you counted on as your home, your identity, the place and the way of being you counted on as yours in the world.

Elgin, our Property Chair, dropped by the church yesterday afternoon to fill me in on what's been happening while I was on vacation around the use of our parking lot by a neighbouring business -- a simmering local issue that involves considerable confusion and sometimes a little heat around boundaries (both legal and practical), agreements, new and unfamiliar partners in an old and established neighbourhood, etc etc.

I was glad for Elgin's arrival.  It gave me a break from the bog I was in, trying to sort out this week's sermon.  I am committed to following through on a summer series I set up back in June, in which the theme this week is what it's like to be (and what good news there may be for those who are) in exile from home, longing for return, recovery and new life.  But I have also been deeply moved by the events in and from Charlottesville, by how the issues that have surfaced there relate to us here, and by an interview I heard yesterday morning with a man who is a recovered violent extremist, who has helped form an organization that helps heal others like him of the childhood trauma and undermined sense of identity, trust and self-worth that apparently is a common denominator world-wide among people attracted to violent extremism.  If you want, you can hear the brilliant 12-minute interview at

Anyway, when Elgin arrived I happily welcomed him, and told him he had a choice: he could either fill me in on the parking lot saga, or tell me what Sunday's sermon will be (without filling him in on the specifics of the bog I was in on the way towards it).  He sat and thought for just a minute (less, actually), and said simply, "Be a good neighbour."

How brilliant!  And how amazing of him to sum up both the saga and the sermon in just those four words.  Thank you, Elgin. 

In both the ill-defined parking lot around the church and the cultural-economic-social-political chaos of our times, isn't it really about being good neighbours -- what that means, what makes it hard to do and what stands in the way, what we need to learn and where we need to grow in order to be able to live out this so-simple-sounding command?

The man who works with violent extremists says it has to begin with regaining connection with our own humanity -- our basic self-worth, identity, meaning and purpose -- something so many people in the world are disconnected from, usually from childhood.  Because until we really know, accept and love our own humanity, how can we know, accept and love the humanity of others different from us?

And I think maybe the Bible (at least Psalm 137 and 126) might be reminding us of the ways we all feel exiled or dis-connected from Jerusalem -- whatever "Jerusalem" may mean and may be for any of us.  And that until we feel connected with it again, or feel connected to a new Jerusalem -- different and even better and fuller than the old, we just cannot get out of the pit of grief, victimization, and the politics (both personal and public) of grievance and retribution that we so easily fall into and inhabit.

So ... what does this mean for Sunday? For the sermon?  

Not sure yet. 

The first step is probably to spend some time with the question of what it means for me.

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