Thursday, February 22, 2018

Belonging Everywhere and Nowhere

Have you heard of Brené Brown?
Yes? Skip this paragraph.
No? Then watch here in her first Ted Talk.


Right now. Spend 20 minutes and get to know her.

Okay, good. Now you know why I like reading her books. She writes in the same way she is able to tell a story. She knows how to tell a good tale and all the while she's talking, you are learning something. At the very same time.
At Symons Valley United Church we have found a pattern of doing a book study after Christmas. Often into Lent. Folks like to be challenged a little bit but, like all of us, don't want to be burdened by texts that are dense or too academic. Last year we read Brené Brown's Daring Greatly and everyone loved it.

This year we are reading her most recent book, Braving the Wilderness. In preparation for the book study, I read the book as my 2nd book for the year - Book 2 of 26. We have read through only the first two chapters so I don't to give too much away here but I can tell you some of my favourite parts.
Braving the Wilderness is about belonging. Brown takes a quotation from Maya Angelou:
You are free only when you realize that you belong no place - you belong every place - no place at all.
True belonging doesn't require you to change who you are; it requires you to be who you are.
It seems that so much of what hurts in life is feeling that we don't belong. We don't feel accepted or included as we fully are. We don't belong in our family, in our social circles, in our work place. Much of what Brené Brown writes about is being authentic - about being fully who we are - about being the person that God intended us to be. That is where the Daring and the Braving come into action in Brown's writing.  It's takes courage, vulnerability and faith to stand up in today's world and be okay with being and saying exactly what you know to be right and true, regardless of what the group around you believes. Even if what you have to say is more about expressing doubt and asking questions.

Funnily enough, as these things happen to be now and then, the next book I picked up to ready (Book 3 of 26) was Brian McLaren's A Search for What Makes Sense: Finding Faith. McLaren's book is more for a reader who is struggling with faith - whether because they find themselves in a faith tradition that no longer makes sense to them or because they have not grown up in a faith community and are trying to understand what they are looking for.

In other words, they are seeking to belong.

I was struck how these two books meshed together. McLaren writes:

Good faith is honest. Shouldn't good faith feel free to express both doubt and confidence?
Good faith is communal. Since my individual understanding is so limited, don't I need connection with a group of trusted companions, so we can help and encourage one another in our common search for faith, God and truth? 
In other words, we naturally want to belong. We are pack animals. But belonging to a group should not cost us our ability to seek truth, express doubt, ask questions and to be fully who it is that God made us to be.

Next on my reading list... Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Coast Trail by Cheryl Strayed.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Reel Theology: The Post

Luke 4:28-30, 22:39-43

Well, here we are, at the last in our Reel Theology sermon series. We’ve looked at a variety of movies with a wide range of themes and topics. We started with “I, Tonya” and Stephen explored how the lack of love in Tonya’s life drove her to seek love in places and people that could not offer her love in return. Then, through “Ladybird”, we explored the determination of Christine in not letting go of her plans for the future only to discover that her success going forward was built on a foundation of love from her past. Then Stephen looked at the impact of isolation and reminded us that it is in community that we find healing when he spoke about “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. With “The Greatest Showman” I spoke about how God’s love is for all people, no matter the size, shape, colour or ability.  And last week, I looked at how God’s grace was portrayed in the movie “Dunkirk”. And this in last week of the series, we are looking at “The Post” starring Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep. In December when we were choosing the movies to preach on, this is the movie I was most excited to see and to talk about. For those of you that were here last week, know that, as unwilling as I was to see the movie “Get Out”, that’s how much I wanted to see “The Post”. One of the reasons for my desire to see it is because I’m thinking we’re watching the Americans live through a similar type political upending, right now, in this modern day.

Let me tell you, my dear spouse would have been quite surprised a couple of short years ago if he heard me say that this movie out of all the ones we selected, was at the top of the list of which one I wanted to see the most—a movie with a story is primarily about political intrigue. You see, it was not all that long ago, I will admit, that I had very little interest in politics—Canadian, much less American. But then, in 2016, November 8th happened. It was a Tuesday and we had a Board Meeting. Nancy McKellar and I sat together, taking peeks at her phone, and watched with despair as Donald Trump made his way to becoming the next President of the United States. Donald Trump. President! I got home that night and threw up my hands and said, this is it, the world has gone to hell in handbasket. The 15-year-old, who was watching the poll returns, told me, it can’t be all that bad Mom, let’s see what he can do. Remember this is AFTER Trump was caught on tape talking about sexually assaulting women and had twelve women accuse him of sexual harassment, never mind all the horrible things he had said during the campaign. Anyway, November 8th resulted in me paying a lot closer attention to everything that’s happening in the States. When the time came that I could name people in Trump’s administration and those Senators who were speaking against the Muslim ban and rallying support for their version universal health care, that was about the time in our household that I realized that those that I live with had only so much patience for American politics. What I find fascinating, is that at this point over a year into his presidency, Trump and his cronies are the creators of and the participants in a modern day political train wreck. And it’s happening right before our eyes. My generation has not ever really experienced something like this. Maybe the Iran-Contra Scandal but not something that has impacted the whole country the way Trump’s policies are affecting all manner of people across his nation and, then, even into ours as travel across borders is restricted and NAFTA and the Paris Agreement no longer seem to be important to the government of the US. So, this train wreck is happening in slow motion and I can’t seem to look away.

So, I wanted to see “The Post” because I was interested to see how an earlier political scandal played out—now that I understand the structure of the American government, it’s a lot less confusing to watch these US political dramas. This movie is advertised as the struggle experienced by the Washington Post, a local Washington, DC paper, in publishing the highly controversial Pentagon Papers in 1971. Now, remember, 1971 was the year before Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward began reporting about the Watergate break-in. The Pentagon Papers were thousands and thousands of documents that had researched and assembled as a history of the US’s involvement in the Vietnam War. The Papers revealed that the U.S. had secretly enlarged the scope of its actions in the Vietnam War with the bombings of nearby Cambodia and Laos, coastal raids on North Vietnam, and Marine Corps attacks, none of which were reported in the mainstream media at the time. The Papers demonstrated that successive Presidential Administrations had systematically lied, not only to the public but also to Congress. The publishing of the Papers allowed the nation to discover how deeply they had been betrayed by their government. So, that’s the basis of the movie but the story of publishing the Papers is not really the Washington Post’s story. In truth, it belongs to the New York Times, whose staff spent three months vetting and confirming facts before taking the risk of being charged with treason in making the Papers public. The Washington Post did their own reporting but, the fact of the matter is, they were quite secondary in the drama of being attacked by the White House and having to defend their First Amendment right and the right to publish.

The underlying story line of “The Post” is, I think, the more intriguing story—especially in light of the recent growing awareness of the role of women in society and the world. “The Post” can be seen as the story of a pivotal moment in the life of Katherine Graham, the publisher of The Washington Post. The movie displays how Katherine grew from being rather meek and unsure in her role as Publisher of her father’s paper, to becoming a resolute and confident leader who finally takes on the mantle of the guiding force of the paper that had been in her family since 1933. Due to a poor relationship with her mother, who was distant and often away, Katherine’s lack of self-confidence was apparent well into adulthood. Despite having worked for a newspaper in San Francisco and for the Washington Post itself since 1938, her father gave control the of the paper to Katherine’s husband in 1946. When asked if that ever bothered her, she replied, “Far from troubling me that my father thought of my husband and not me, it pleased me. In fact, it never crossed my mind that he might have viewed me as someone to take on an important job at the paper.” Katherine never planned on running the paper but the sudden death of her husband in 1963 elevated her abruptly into leadership. It might seem odd to young women today when the Prime Minister of Canada is asked why he has appointed so many women to Cabinet, his response is simply, it’s 2015 but let us remember that in 1963 women were simply a non-entity in the business world. Time and time again, we see Katherine enter into board rooms and meetings in which she is the only female amongst a dozen men. The very few women in leadership in the Sixties and the early Seventies had no female role models, mentors or examples of how the weaker sex could possibly function in rooms full of powerful men. One quotation that sums up the attitude at the time towards women being leaders over men, which seems unbelievable today and which my movie mates thought was hilarious that I was them to hear it, one of the men says behind Katherine’s back, “A woman preaching is like a dog walking on its hind legs. It’s not supposed to happen.” So, you can see, the mountain that Katherine had to climb in order to establish her authority as Publisher of the Washington Post.

Cindy read two passages from Luke today. The first takes place near the start of Jesus’ ministry once he returns from the desert where he was tempted by Satan. The second reading takes place at the end of his ministry, in the dark of the night in the quiet hours just before he was arrested for blasphemy. Both moments are examples when Jesus finds himself uncomfortably dealing with the outcome of his beliefs and his actions. Jesus knew what he was about. After his baptism and his time of trial in the desert, Jesus firmly believed that his role was to upend society as everyone knew it—so that the poor, the ill, the widowed would no longer suffer at the hands of those who lived by greed and fear-mongering and who remained willfully ignorant to God’s call for humanity to create a loving and peace-filled world. Jesus returns to his hometown after swinging through Galilee and being glorified by all there who heard him speak. He arrives in Nazareth and speaks at the synagogue. You can imagine that he might have been a bit nervous, speaking for the first time in front of the folks he grew up with. His words are heard but the people are not prepared to recognize his authority. Is this not Joseph’s son? they ask—as if Jesus could never be more than the son of carpenter. He holds his ground and continues to speak as one very knowledgeable of God’s ways. How dare he, this son of a carpenter, he’s no religious leader. The people who have known him his whole life rise up and kick him out of the synagogue and down the road. They kick him out. Out of his hometown! Can you imagine what he must have been feeling? But he keeps himself together and passes through their midst. He stood up and said what he knew to be true and when he was challenged, he did not capitulate. He held his ground.

The second part of the scripture reading is similar in nature, but from a different perspective. Jesus has caused trouble everywhere he went during his ministry. In-between the miracles, the healing, the preaching the Good News and modelling God’s love in his actions and his behavior, the Jewish religious leaders who worried more about their peace rather than God’s peace, have challenged him every step of the way, telling everyone who would listen exactly which societal norms and religious laws he was breaking, and they plotted to kill him. Relentlessly pushing, Jesus did not give up saying what needed to be heard so that change, real change could happen in the world. And, when he arrives in the last few free hours that he has, he knows there is no going back. His path has been set and it leads in only one direction, to the cross. He prays, asking God to take his cup—that cup that is so full of anxiety, trepidation and certainly some fear of what’s to come, it’s so full that it is nearly over-flowing—God, please take the cup. But then he says, not my will, but yours be done. Jesus knows that just as he stood up all through his ministry, he needs to keep standing now. He had been a fierce advocate for speaking truth at all times, even when it meant people would not fully understand and might be angry with him. He couldn’t speak out against complacency, against the sins of the world and against the systemic disregard for the common good in all the days leading to the Garden, and then just denounce it all and walk away.

The definition of integrity is the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles, the state of being whole and undivided. One does not simply have integrity, one builds and cultivates integrity by behaving authentically in a consistent and predictable way. Brene Brown, the author of the book we are reading for this winter’s book study, Braving the Wilderness, says that for someone to fully belong to any one group, they must first belong to themselves—we must be authentic to who we are no matter the pressure from the outside world to compromise our principles, give up our beliefs or enter into moral ambiguity. We seem to be living in times in which the truth is constantly up for debate, an era of fake news. Promises are made and not lived out. In these days of the phones in our pocket, there is very little chance that what is said, even in a closed setting, can be denied. And now, more than ever, it is becoming apparent that some of our leaders will say anything to be elected only to renege later. How do we explain to our children, how do we justify to ourselves that it is okay to say one thing in once circumstance and then then say the opposite later? When Justin Trudeau campaigns on election reform and then virtually ignores the electoral reform commission’s report? Or when Trump says he loves the Dreamers and wants nothing more than their security but then holds their citizenship hostage against a variety of other political matters?

Integrity is essential for peace to reign in our world. Integrity means that speaking truth is important. When you are truthful, when you have integrity of spirit, of action, of belief, when you have integrity trust is created and built upon. Change can happen. Voices can be heard. Peace can be found. Jesus modeled integrity that came at a great cost. It is said that both faith and integrity always come at some cost—if they were free, neither of them would be much to build a foundation upon. Katherine’s integrity, the principles that she tried to live her life by, the moral compass by which she set her path, were not necessarily known because no one thought her opinion important, but when the time came, when push came to shove, when the White House was using every scare tactic in the book, when that happened, she did not back down. When her personal relationships with politicians caught up in the mess of the conspiracy could have influenced her to set aside what was good and right to do, she didn’t let their likely embarrassment sway her. It was not easy, but she stayed standing. She remained authentic to herself and by saying, do it, publish, her commitment to truth, her integrity, shone through the fear and stress of what might come.

Watching this movie in which someone, particularly a woman with all that’s happening now in our society, that this person sticks firmly to her principles and her moral character and allows for the truth to be known, is so heartening in today’s world. Those who stand for truth, whose integrity is solid, models for the rest of us of how important it is, even when we want our cup, the burden of standing strong, to be taken from us, their behaviour models how vital it is for each one of us to make known that what is right and good must always stand over what is hurtful, what is fearful, what is evil. Knowing that truth and integrity are not necessarily priorities of certain leaders today, it’s more important than ever for us to act with integrity. Which might, in turn, give another encouragement when called upon, to act themselves with integrity, to behave with honesty, to be whole and undivided in their moral principles. Let us hope and pray that it may be so. Amen.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Reel Theology - Dunkirk

John 15:12-17, Ephesians 2:8

When Stephen and I were choosing movies for this Reel Theology sermon series, we had to pick from movies that, for the most part, we had yet to see. We selected movies nominated Best Picture for the Golden Globes. There are two awards in the Best Picture category—best dramatic movie and best musical or comedy. We chose three from both categories. We read the synopsis and watched the trailer for each of the movies. There was much discussion whether we should include the movie “Get Out” or “Dunkirk” in our list—both being the intense, somewhat scary type of movie. It turns out, that on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being that we enjoy intense, somewhat scary movies a lot and 1 being that we, in no way at all, enjoy these types of movies, it turns out that both Stephen and I are great big fat 0s on this scale. Neither of us saw “Dunkirk” when it was released last summer nor had we seen “Get Out” which was released last February. When the time came to watch the trailer for “Get Out”—which, by the way is in the comedy category—Stephen completely bailed and left the room. He had seen it once and didn’t need to see it again. We both agreed that it had all the makings of a horror movie, not a comedy. Anyway, It didn’t take us very long to choose “Dunkirk” over “Get Out” and then for him to suggest I be the one preaching on it.

I will say that I have heard very positive reviews for “Get Out” and it seems that we all should be watching it for how it portrays modern day race relations in the United States. My dear spouse has assured me that “Get Out” is well worth the effort and suggested we watch it at home, where all scary movies should be watched so I can keep an afghan close at hand to hide my face behind and he will pause it right before the really scary places and warn me about what’s about to happen. You can understand why the youth had so much fun making a minister-level of scary for the haunted house last fall. So, here we are. I ended up watching Dunkirk by myself on the Red Arrow to Edmonton. I’m sure I looked odd when I was tilting the iPad up and down and away from me during certain scenes. It was hard hold the iPad and cover my eyes with my scarf.

The movie version of “Dunkirk” is about the evacuation of some 338, 000 soldiers from the beach and harbor of Dunkirk in the north of France in 1940. Allied Belgian, British and French soldiers had been cut off and surrounded by German troops. Over a period of eight days, a rescue operation initially planned for 45,000 men grew exponentially so that seven and a half times that many were rescued. The evacuation of Dunkirk is a moment in our history that is filled with acts of heroism, self-sacrifice, miracles and unbelievable feats of sheer will and determination. The movie gives very little detail about the how and why of the decisions that brought the 400, 000 troops to the coast at Dunkirk. We are not told much of the events leading up to the evacuation nor, when the movie is finished, are we told what happened once the men are rescued. None of that matters in the telling of this event. The evacuation and rescue of that vast number of troops, who waited with incredible patience and self-control lined up from the beach into the water, day after day, is story enough. That the story is about the rescue efforts made by the British for the Allied forces will likely give cause for those of us on the victorious side of the overall war to pay attention but even if you took the reality of Allied versus Axis away, the movie would still be a riveting tale.

Dunkirk was such a massive operation, it would be hard to know where to focus over those eight days of getting troops off the beach. In a clever manner, the movie narrows the experiences of the evacuation to three story lines. We don’t know names so much as know personalities of the characters, the way they fight to survive in what became, I’m sure, felt like hell on earth. At first, there is a young soldier who emerges onto the beach which already has thousands of men. Over the course of the week he spends on the beach or in the water and water vessels trying to get away, he is joined by one and then another soldier. The three become united in their efforts to survive. There are three other men, or rather, two men, a father and son, and a teenage friend, who leave Ramsgate, England just across the English Channel, in a small pleasure boat having been requisitioned by the navy to assist with the rescue. There were 850 of these so-called little ships of Dunkirk, that could get close enough to the beach to ferry the soldiers out to the larger carriers. And, in the third storyline, there are, at first, three pilots fighting over the ocean, near Dunkirk. Three become two, and then becomes one. Each of the men, teenager included, is either trying to survive or trying to help another survive. The difference between life and death is razor thin.

It’s hard to know where God was in the Second World War. You could say that about any war, but World War II seemed especially heinous. People have trouble seeing how God was at work in the world in those years. It seems that we allow greed and fear and anger to often cloud our decision making. We know that is with us in all times and in all places, but are we always with God? So much of humankind’s folly is at odds with the peace of God’s kingdom. Truly evil things are done during war. These moments of madness make heightened the sin and brokenness of our humanity but these moments of confusion and terror also give opportunity to see more clearly the grace of God which is given to us in this world time and time again. If only we recognize it for what it is. Breaking through the mass chaos of the events in this movie, there are brief slivers of time in which God’s grace can take your breath away if you have the eyes to see and ears to hear. A stranded soldier is rescued from the middle of the English Channel by the men on the boat. He is in distress—shell-shocked and frightened. The father treats the soldier calmly and gently. Makes sure he gets a cup of tea. Makes sure he is comfortable. Grace. Later there is an accident and the teenager is badly hurt by soldier. The son, a friend to the teenager, is angry and scared at first but over the course of the day, he experiences, second-hand, the terror of having to fight for survival, and later, when the distressed soldier when asked if the boy is alright. The son reassures him. Yes, he says, he’ll be alright, even as the boys’ body is being carried off the boat by stretcher in the background. The son knows it was an accident and he knows the solider could not bear the burden of yet another tragedy. Grace. And near the end of the movie, when the evacuated soldiers are moving by train through England, they are feeling ashamed for needing to be rescued. They are afraid that the Allied world will think them cowards and hate them. The soldiers cannot bear to look up when they come into a station filled with civilians. They think the noise they hear are protests against their retreat but then they realize that the crowds are cheering for them not against them. The people waiting at home for word of their troops on the ground, are celebrating their safe return. To their surprise, the soldiers are not blamed for the military failure but rather are greeted with joy and with thanksgiving. Grace upon grace in a time of fear and desperation.

One definition of grace is that it is the free and unmerited favour of God. Grace is our unearned help and our undeserved blessing. Grace is bestowed upon each of us by God without expectation or explanation. In our world, in our common lives, we are governed by a deep-seated understanding that we get what we earn. We get what we deserve. We work, we get paid. We borrow money and we pay interest in exchange. We receive a Christmas card and we are sure to give one in return. Our common lives is often an equation that eventually balances out. Tit for tat. Quid pro quo. That is the economy upon which we structure our everyday lives. But God does not operate within the economy of credit and debt. God does not keep a tally. God’s economy leaves no one behind. In the fullness of divine love, no one is left out. That is the gift of God. That is grace.

Sometimes the witnessing of grace can feel like catching a break. The soldier caught a break in not being found guilty in the manslaughter of an innocent boy. The returning soldiers caught a break by not being blamed for the mistakes of the military leaders. But grace is so much more than that, isn’t it? For God is there, mixed up in the mess of life. The United Church’s A Song Faith states, ‘we are a community of broken but hopeful believers’. Even in the hurt and damage we do to one another—with wars, distrust, greed, fear, with the lack of love, A Song Faith reminds us that:
God transforms, and calls us to protect the vulnerable, to pray for deliverance from evil, to work with God for the healing of the world, that all might have abundant life.
We sing of grace.
War brings moments that are extreme and magnify what is broken about humanity and so, behaviour that is kind and compassionate that might seem insignificant in another time, are also magnified and we can catch a glimmer of God working. But I would hope that we do not need war to open our eyes and ears to recognize God’s grace. In our everyday lives, grace can the nudge from God, reminding us to extend of the courtesy of assuming good intent, or at least the absence of bad intent, on the behalf of the actions of another. Or God’s grace shows up in the unnecessary gracious of another when you’re ‘assuming good intent’ radar is not functionally properly. Like the other day when I was in the lineup for the Tim’s drive through and this guy made like he was going to cut in front of me in line. I expressed my concern for his lack of lineup etiquette. He could easily of escalated the “discussion” but he didn’t—he rolled down the passenger window and explained he was trying to get out of the way of someone backing up. Sigh. You see, I just assumed bad intent on his behalf. Thankfully I wasn’t a total jerk during the “discussion” phase of the interaction but I still felt bad. Why did I move so quickly to the negative possibility of his motives? Probably cause I was in a hurry, just like every other time I’m at Tim’s. As much as I try to allow for grace to enter in and allow me to be gracious, sometimes it’s hard when I’m in a hurry. Again, from A Song of Faith, “God tends the universe, mending the broken, reconciling the estranged.” I said sorry and bought the man his coffee when I got to the window.

Grace can be knowing, really knowing that so much of our life circumstances can be summed up with, there but for the grace of God go I. By luck or happenstance, we are in the right place at the right time when someone else is not. By the skin of our teeth, we miss a near disaster when another does not. I read a post from a clergy person in the States that I met a couple of years ago. She told of her dear friend, a young man who had lost his parents and sister to a driver who had taken too much Xanax—an anti-anxiety drug that can make you drowsy. Anyway, in the collision, the driver’s 2-year-old child was also killed. The driver had just recently been sentenced for his actions and he received what would seem to be a rather light sentence. Two reasons why the judge was somewhat lenient were that when the driver was free from jail for a short period of time, he returned to the scene of the accident and saw that small crosses had been erected—three for the young man’s family and one for his daughter. Knowing that the young man had set up the crosses and had included his daughter in the memorial, cause the driver to begin doing whatever he could do to make reconciliations for his actions. That he was actively working to make things right—as right as could be—showed the judge that he was taking responsibility for his actions and because he was and because the young man who lost his family wrote a letter stating that he believed there were extenuating circumstances to the accident, that he understood the driver did not enter onto the roadway that day with the intent to kill his family, that the driver made a mistake, the judge was lenient in the sentence. The grace of God shown by the young man, setting a cross for a child he did not know and in the writing of the letter,

God transforms what we have broken. Grace is more than mere kindness, it is God working in our world, it is the transformation of life. We need the assurance of grace when we are recovering from mistakes and need grace to sustain us if we are uncertain we are taking steps in the right direction as we make our way in life. You do not earn grace. Nor do you buy it. God’s grace is given abundantly and without reserve. God loves you and offers you grace, in the good and difficult times in your life. God offers you grace even when you may not recognize it in the moment. God offers you grace whether you believe you deserve it or not. God’s grace is not a transaction. God’s grace is for you. May you recognize it in your life this day and forevermore.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Reel Theology - The Greatest Showman

Matthew 8:1-4, 15:1-11

I'm not a stranger to the dark
Hide away, they say
'Cause we don't want your broken parts
I've learned to be ashamed of all my scars
Run away, they say
No one will love you as you are

But I won't let them break me down to dust
I know that there's a place for us
For we are glorious*

So, I will say right now that I love this movie. I have seen it twice and if you like it as much as I do, you might want to download the movie soundtrack to save you some money from having to see it again and again. The combination of catchy music and the funky dance moves make me feel warm and happy inside. It pretty much has everything—a love story that has mean parents getting in the way and they have class differences, success is had through grit and determination, there’s personal growth, there are precious friendships and, not only one underdog, but several folks who are down and out who overcome the odds set against them. It’s a lovely story.

The story of “The Greatest Showman” is loosely based on the life of Phineas Taylor Barnum, who, in 1871, created what would become the Ringling Brothers & Barnum and Bailey Circus, which shut down for good last year. To say it is loosely based on the historical figure of PT Barnum is a bit of a stretch. There are only three essential details that connect this movie’s story to the life of PT Barnum. PT indeed marry a woman named Charity and, of course, he did create a museum of oddities which evolved into a travelling circus and, for those of you who have seen the show, he really did introduce the Swedish opera singer Jenny Lind to America. The rest of his story has been reinvented and reimagined for the movie. However beautiful and compelling the story, it is important to know that this movie is primarily a work of fiction. I point this out because there are relationships and moments in the movie that simply did not happen or could not have happened in the time in which PT Barnum lived and when he created the circus. But I’ll get to that later.

The movie begins with Phineas as a boy who is living in poverty with his father. As all good tales go, there is tragedy in the boy’s life and he must find a way in a world that is cruel to those born within the lower classes. Thanks to the kindness of a woman who has some sort of unknown condition that sets her apart from the rest of society—you saw her in the trailer, she was the one who gave the Phineas the boy an apple—anyway, because of her kindness Phineas survives a rather desperate time and carries on and become a self-sufficient adult. Later, in another bleak moment, Phineas is inspired to start a museum of oddities. His memory of how the somewhat deformed woman helped him when he was younger, leads him to create a new show, a circus displaying people who are, themselves, odd, who are not the normal, not usual—a bearded lady, a giant, a wolf-man, Siamese twins, a man tattooed from head to foot, stem to stern. The Circus has its opponents in those who fear the unknown, the unusual. Phineas must fight against so many cultural norms to create a home for his own family and then the family he creates with the people of his Circus. Despite his successes, he cannot escape the lower class into which he was born. The deformed and strange human oddities he befriends are thought to be the result of moral depravity and so the righteous protest his Circus along with those people who fear what they don’t understand. There are two consistent aspects to Phineas’ character in the movie—he loves his wife and children without reserve and he cares deeply for the friends he finds the creation of the Circus. Of course, there wouldn’t be a story worth watching if there wasn’t a hiccup now and then in how Phineas treats his family and his friends, but, overall, it is evident that he cares not for what society determines as acceptable—he loves regardless of what’s ‘right’.

When the sharpest words wanna cut me down
I'm gonna send a flood, gonna drown them out
I am brave, I am bruised
I am who I'm meant to be, this is me
Look out 'cause here I come
And I'm marching on to the beat I drum
I'm not scared to be seen
I make no apologies, this is me

When Stephen and I were looking ahead to the movies we chose for this sermon series, it wasn’t hard to connect scripture with this story. The relationships Phineas developed with the people who came out from the shadows to be in his show is reminiscent of how easily Jesus approached the people of his time who had the terrible disease of leprosy. Leprosy is contagious disease that affects the skin, mucous membranes, and nerves, causing discoloration and lumps on the skin and, in severe cases, disfigurement and deformities. Leprosy still exists today but is now mainly confined to tropical Africa and Asia. I don’t think that I’ve never met or seen anyone with leprosy but I’m pretty sure that if I did, I would think twice before I would stretch out my hand and touch them as Jesus did in the scripture reading that Kim read for us this morning. Jesus did exactly what no one else would do, he reached out to the one suffering. Besides just the looking gross and inherently not wanting to get too close, Jews would not have touched a person known to be ill because it would mean they would be unclean until they could perform their ritual cleansing. And until they could be ‘clean’, they could not interact in many everyday social activities. Of course, this was in the days before germs and the miracle of soap were understood—it was important to follow the religious laws because it often meant that you stayed healthy.

When I was in grade six, I was called from class to go to the office. Being a relatively well behaved student, I was a bit confused. Once I got there, the school nurse was waiting for me. I can still remember her worried face as asked me to show her my hands and then to open my mouth. Being careful to not touch me, she took a quick look and, from the look on her face, she did not like what she saw. Turns out, a teacher had notice the spots that had recently appeared on my hands and reported my condition. I was sent home immediately with diagnoses of hand, foot and mouth disease. I felt like a pariah. While that was a relatively minor illness, I was quite impacted by being secluded because of it. A few years ago, with our first youth trip to Zambia, I had a parent who informed that her daughter would not be shaking hands with any Zambians for the fear of catching some illness of sort or another. I told the mom the youth would either shake hands or not come on the trip because greeting one another with a handshake is central in interactions in Zambia. The importance of connecting through the slapping together of hands and the unique way they have of shaking the hand that is offered cannot stressed enough. Being afraid to touch another person in Zambia is to diminish their personhood. So, neither my hand, foot and mouth disease or the hand of an everyday Zambian does not even begin to approach what leprosy must look like and yet Jesus did not hesitate. He was asked help and he could have just offered prayers of healing for the man. He could have just prayed. But he didn’t. When asked for help, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched the one that no one else in that society would. And he did not rush to the mikveh, the ritual bath, to cleanse himself. He touched the man and did not then pull out his hand sanitizer. He touched him and asked God to free the man from illness, to make him clean. And he was.

The second part of the scripture reading takes place soon after Jesus healed the leper. Jesus is about to sit for supper and, again, has not done the proper ritual. He is criticized by the religious leaders. His response is basically, what does it matter if I do a certain thing, a ritual, if I then go about my life without being kind, without being compassionate? He points out that it does not matter the fuss that is put into eating or not eating from list of ‘proper’ foods if one does not offer words of love to all they meet? I can imagine this was absolutely shocking to those who heard Jesus say this. Remember, these were the days that strict food laws were in place not only to offer a sense of community and belonging to those who followed the laws but they existed also because people had discovered, over time, if they ate certain types of food or prepared some foods in certain ways, people would become ill and sometimes die. So, to disregard the food laws would have been monumental. But Jesus was not disregarding the safety of food preparation so much as he was disregarding the false sense of piety connected to them. It is not what goes into your mouth that makes you more faithful to God, it is what comes out of your mouth that lets the world know your commitment to God and God’s love for the world.

In the Book of Acts, Peter, the rock upon whom Jesus built his church, had a dream sometime after Jesus is killed. Peter and his fellow apostles had been debating about what the emerging church will look like—who can join, who can do what, etc. One point of contention was whether one had to be a Jew before becoming a Christian—remember, Jesus did not set out to start a new church, at the time the followers of Jesus were considered more a sect of Judaism rather than a stand-alone faith tradition. Anyway, one night Peter dreamed a dream in which a blanket descends from the sky, presumably from heaven, and on it were all manner of animals. Peter interprets this dream as confirmation that all animals can be mixed up together, there needs to no longer be a strict separation of certain foods from other foods. The laws of Judaism did not need to be followed if one followed Christ. Yay, they could eat bacon! This was an earth-shattering change. The social norms that had developed out of the Jewish cleanliness laws meant that one had to be careful about who they came into contact with and who they associated with. Division would have been a natural outcome of such norms and where there is division, relationships are difficult to foster. And when relationships do not foster, it becomes easier and easier to see the unusual, the odd, the strange as something scary, unpredictable, unhuman.

Another round of bullets hits my skin
Well, fire away 'cause today, I won't let the shame sink in
We are bursting through the barricades
And reaching for the sun (we are warriors)
Yeah, that's what we've become

Won't let them break me down to dust
I know that there's a place for us
For we are glorious

But with Peter’s dream, the newly emerging Christians could start eating bacon and they could begin eating with the other, the outsider, those at the margins. Remember Jesus ate with all he met along the Way—with prostitutes, tax collectors. He healed the blind, drove demons out of the ill and he cured the lepers. He sat with people with illnesses and deformities. It was confusing why one person and not another would be unfortunate and become ill or be born with a deformity or to be profoundly unlucky with their life circumstances. This random selection of fortunate and unfortunate, the ancient Hebrew people turned to God and let God take responsibility for the good and the bad. And if you had something bad happen to you, if you were not what was considered normal, surely God had weighed in and found you lacking in some manner. It was in bad form to associate with those that God had clearly judged to be less-than. Their misfortune might rub off onto you. And yet Jesus did associate with the less-than. With the ill, the unfortunate, the down and outs. He did openly. And he did so while calling those who wouldn’t hypocrites. Because if anyone needed to know God’s love, it was the very people who had been rejected by society.

At some point in his life, the real PT Barnum became a politician. From one of his speeches is the line, “A human soul, ‘that God has created and Christ died for,’ is not to be trifled with. It may tenant the body of a Chinaman, a Turk, an Arab or a Hottentot – it is still an immortal spirit.” In a time when people of colour were disregarded as less than human, when those who were not normal or who suffered misfortunes in life were considered beneath the general public’s care, PT Barnum made a home for the unusual. This sentiment comes through more so in the movie than the reality of PT Barnum’s life. As I said earlier, the progressive views that the movie displays are improbable considering the time the movie was set in. Although PT Barnum advocated for an end to slavery and pushed for African-America suffrage, in his younger years he was a slave owner. The movie does depict an openly inter-racial couple but it is hard to imagine that could have been possible in the mid-1800s. But that is one of the reasons this movie is so compelling—what seems to have been impossible, becomes possible. Social barriers are broken, courage is found to stand up to what is unjust, the strong fight the good fight so that the broken, the scared, the ill, the hurt, and the unusual can come out into daylight and be seen. The movie version of PT Barnum creates an environment of welcome in which each person’s worth is recognized regardless of how there are packaged up for the world to see. He says to those who have not known any kindness from society as he tries to convince them to join his Circus: They don’t know it yet but they are going to love you.

When the sharpest words wanna cut me down
Gonna send a flood, gonna drown them out
I am brave, I am bruised
I am who I'm meant to be, this is me
Look out 'cause here I come
And I'm marching on to the beat I drum
I'm not scared to be seen
I make no apologies, this is me

No matter the size, shape, colour of those in his life, he sees them fully for who they are. His actions showed his love. And that is what Jesus taught us to do so long ago with the lepers, the prostitutes, the ill and the poor. And that is what God would have us do as we leave this place of comfort, safety and love and go back out into the world to share God’s love with all we meet. To know that in the praying for healing, courage and hope, we must never forget to also reach out in love and offer a hand that is compassionate and welcoming for love is not distant. It is as close as a handshake, an arm around the shoulder, a hug, a hand held in prayer. I pray that it may be forever so. Amen.

*Lyrics from The Greatest Showman soundtrack - song: This is Me

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Evolving in Monkey Town

Isn't January great? In the first days of the month we make New Year's resolutions. And the for the first few weeks we actually follow through with said resolutions. And when we do, we feel such a sense of accomplishment. And we try our best to not worry for the next goal cause that's for our future selves to worry about. Right? Or is that just me?

I love New Year's resolutions. In January.

February is another set of feelings. Cause. You know. Ash Wednesday needs planning. So does the AGM. And that stupid Masters thesis proposal isn't going to write itself. And there's the little trip to Ontario that I need to make. (Did I tell you that I have the privilege to be a Youth Group leader for General Council 43? Yay! But there's some traveling ahead to prepare for that.)


Life in ministry has a tendency to hit hard in February because Lent always (ALWAYS) seem to take ministers by surprise. It always (ALWAYS) comes a lot sooner after Christmas than you would think.

But I digress.

This year I've set my reading goal to be 26 books. They are stacked every so beautifully on one of my bookshelf. I am excited to read each one of them as I carefully selected them just last month. I love looking at books. And holding books. And choosing books. And buying books. It's the reading all of that's hard. There never seems to be enough time. I sometimes think having a chauffer would free up some valuable reading time.

Today I am happy to report in about book #1 - Faith Unraveled by Rachel Held Evans. I enjoy Rachel's writing. When I was on sabbatical I read her book, Searching for Sunday and very much enjoy it. As do lots of people on Twitter. I regularly see tweets that are thanking Rachel for her wisdom in that book. So, as I do when I like something, I get more of it. In fact, if you pay attention over the next year, you will see a few repeat authors (Hatmaker, McLaren, Barnes) - I might be able to run workshops on each of these theologians by the time I'm finished the pile. From Rachel Held Evans, I selected Faith Unraveled and A Year of Biblical Womanhood.

The long and short of Faith Unraveled is that it is a memoir about Rachel's faith journey. She grew up as a conservative, evangelical Christian in Dayton, Tennessee, which is where the Scopes Monkey Trial took place in 1925. The trial was a test of the law, at the time,which prohibited the teaching of evolution in public schools. The American Civil Liberties Union sought a teacher who wished to sue the State to oppose its anti-evolution laws. Some bright spark figured that Dayton would be put on the map if the trial took place in their courthouse. A local teacher by the name of John T. Scopes was found and the trial took place in the heat of that summer. Essentially, it was a science vs. religion spectacle. Dayton acquired the name, Monkey Town (a play on evolution's assertion that humans are just a short genetic hop from primates).

The trial was many things and both sides think they won. Scopes ended up being charged with violating the law as he admitted to teaching evolution in his classroom. Dayton ended becoming fervently religious. Conservative religious. Evangelical religious. Rachel grew up in the nineties as a believer in the black and white of God's Word as presented in the Bible. All of life could be seen through a biblical worldview and there was only one correct path - the path of her church and pastor. A critical event occurred as the US was about to invade Afghanistan in 2001 and was broadcast on TV. This event made Rachel ask questions of her faith tradition and her God. Questions that her friends, student colleagues, parents and religious leaders could not answer to her satisfaction - thus beginning the unravelling of almost she had ever believed in. And the building up again of her faith and the establishing of a firm foundation upon which she meets God and Jesus.

I very much enjoyed this book if, no other reason, than it speaks to what we, in the United Church of Canada, know to be true - doubt and questions are not denials of faith but essential components of faithful living. Here's one of my favourite lines, from chapter 19 entitled, Adaptation:
I may have met one or two people who rejected Christianity because they had difficulties with the deity of Christ, but most rejected Christianity because they thought it means becoming judgmental, narrow-minded, and unkind. People didn't argue with me about the problem of evil; they argued about why Christians aren't doing more to alleviate human suffering, support the poor, and oppose violence and war. Most weren't looking for a faith that provided all the answers; they were looking for one in which they were free to ask questions. (203)
If you'd like to borrow this book or any other one that I've written about, swing by my office one day - I'd be happy to lend it to you.

Onto book #2 - Braving the Wilderness by Brene Brown - the book we are studying for our Lent Book Study. See the SVUC website for more details.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Reel Theology: Lady Bird

Exodus 13:17-18, 20-22 and Matthew 15:21-28

Christopher and I saw Lady Bird in early December, before the Golden Globes were announced and so I didn’t necessarily watch it thinking I would be preaching about it this month. When it was nominated for Best Picture in a Musical or Comedy, I was not surprised. I had urged Christopher to go see the movie for three reasons. First of all, it’s the scene in the trailer in which Lady Bird opens the car door as her mom is driving and just tosses herself out of the moving vehicle. Her mom’s reaction is awesome. She is ragging on her daughter in one moment and then in the next she’s screaming at the insanity of what her daughter just did. That scene was so great. I would have paid money to see that movie for that scene alone because it’s my kind of humour. My interest in the movie was heightened when I heard a compelling interview with the movie’s writer and director, Greta Gerwig in which she described her thought process in the writing and making of this movie. And finally, I wanted to see Lady Bird even before it was on our short list of Golden Globe nominees for this Reel Theology sermon series because our son Matthew, who is attending film school has a very good understanding of which movies are worth seeing and which movies are not and said this was going to be one of the best movies of the year. Not a statement to ignore.

On Friday afternoon, I went with some friends to see The Greatest Showman – another movie we are exploring in this Reel Theology series. I enjoyed that movie so much that after Christopher and I went to it over the Christmas holidays, I went again with my friends. Just as the movie ended and we all took a breath, one friend turned to me and asked, ‘now, how are you going to turn that into theology – into a sermon?!’ As I had seen the movie before, I quickly listed the themes that I will be exploring when the time comes. But the question alone of how to pull theological themes from a movie or any other life event is not insignificant.
Stephen and I did not choose movies with overtly religious story lines. As far as I know there are also no moments of glaring biblical allusions such as there was in the Superman movie, Man of Steel where Superman is up in space and he knows that he must return to earth to save the planet. He leaves the spaceship by stepping backwards from it and hangs, there suspended, because, you know, he’s Superman and can stand out in literal space with no spacesuit and he hovers there a moment and as he does, he raises his arms and hangs his head. Which recalls anyone who knows the story of Jesus to his last moments of his humanly life, his crucifixion. And then there’s the last scene of Clint Eastwood’s movie, Gran Torino, in which the main character played by Clint, has put himself in harm’s way to protect some certain others that he used to despise and had grown to care deeply about over the course of the film. Clint’s character is shot and killed, and the ending scene and the camera pans up from the ground so that we can see Clint’s character laying on the ground and he’s lying there, with his arms outstretched. Once again, recalling viewers to the cross and, if you are a believer in the notion that God sent Jesus so that that his life would be sacrificed for the sake of humanity, this moment would be quite meaningful.

When images such as these appear in films, it is easy to make connections between the story on the screen and the bible. Well, it’s easy for those who are quite familiar with the biblical stories. When I was in first year English as university, my professor told the class it was essential for us to know the Bible because so often literature has the same story arcs as the Bible. Now that I’ve lived a bit of life, I would qualify what that professor told us. It’s not so much that English literature re-imagines the themes of the Bible but that those who know the Bible find parallels between the two. If a Rabbi, a Pastor and an Imam read the same book, I’m sure they would each find connections between the story written and the teachings of their own faith tradition. This is because each of them and each us have a particular worldview through which we filter what we see, feel and hear in the world using our life experience and the knowledge that we’ve gained to help us categorize and make sense of our world.

For those who grew up in homes with family attending church and having the occasional theological discussion, regardless of which faith tradition it is, it would not be a great stretch to make connections between what is happening in the secular world and your faith. You are trained to hear things and see things that others might not recognize because they are not familiar with the story. Like having a secret language. Like when the early Christians when it was still dangerous to openly acknowledge that you were a follower of Jesus, you would greet a stranger and draw a line such as this in the sand. If the other person did not follow Jesus, it would be meaningless to them, just a random movement. But if they were a follower of the Way, the invitation would be recognized, and they would complete the symbol by drawing another line so a fish was revealed.

When you live and breathe something intentionally, you begin to make connections between what you know and believe with what is happening out in the world. Like when my then fourteen-year-old asked me during the month of March if the flowers in the middle of a restaurant’s dining room table were purple because it was Lent. Probably had nothing to do with Christianity but he knew it was Lent and the colour for Lent is purple, therefore he saw Lent when he saw the flowers. A Muslim would have just seen beautiful flowers. Or perhaps, purple means something for them that we Christians did not make the connection to at that moment. There was push by some Christian denominations to always keep the teachings of Jesus forefront and centre, to filter all that happened in life through biblical learnings by asking the question, ‘What would Jesus do?’ A whole line of jewelry and rubber bracelets were created with the letters, WWJD to remind the wearer to examine the situation they were in through the lens of the Gospel. So, when my friend asked me, ‘how are you going to preach the movie?’ it was not because she didn’t believe there were biblical themes in the movie but, rather, it was because she did not watch it with an eye for what would Jesus do, what is God telling us, as she watched the story.

The Bible is a series of stories that have been told and re-told over many, many years of how the early people of our world interacted with God and began to understand the ways of the world as God’s people. These stories were eventually written down and canonized into what we know as our Bible today, which includes the Old Testament, the Hebrew Scriptures, some of which we share with Judaism, and the New Testament, the Christian Scriptures. There are some Christians who might say that the day the Canon was finalized, was the end of interpreting of what God is doing in our world. What is written in the Bible is set in stone and the teaching is either there or it is not. There is nothing new to be understood or added. This literal, fundamentalist view of the Bible is a rather modern idea, created in late 1700s, early 1800s. Unfortunately this take on the Bible does not allow for the events of today’s world to enter into the biblical stories. The Bible was not intended to be a closed, dead thing. It is the Word of God and, as we know, God is not dead. God has created and is creating. God worked then in and through Jesus and God works today, in and through us. The Bible is a living thing, ready and able to accept the innovations and actions of God’s great Creation, of God’s humanity, and inform us as to how God might want us to act and react to the history that is being made today. We just need to be paying attention.

So, here we have this movie, Lady Bird. The story begins with a young woman, just about to begin her final year of high school. She and her mother are wrapping up a tour of potential colleges for Christine, who has recently given herself the new name of Lady Bird. We quickly learn that her mother has set a rather low bar for her daughter and does not have much confidence that Lady Bird will amount to much. She is trying to keep Lady Bird’s expectations in check. State college, not an Ivy League school is likely her best case scenario. Over time we come to understand that Lady Bird’s parents have serious financial concerns. The dad struggles with depression. The mom works double shifts as nurse on the mental health floor of the hospital. The older brother’s girlfriend has moved in because of something sketchy that’s happened, possibly between her and her parents. The dad has a soft spot for Lady Bird and her ambitions. The mom is exhausted. While she empathetic and caring at the hospital, she is fiercely direct with her daughter, who seems to be flighty and not appreciative of all her parents have sacrificed for her. The movie is a love story of the relationship of these two women. One-minute fighting tooth and nail and the next being in total agreement. There is religion throughout the movie as Lady Bird’s parents have insisted that she attend a Catholic private school. As the movie moves through Lady Bird’s grade 12, the passing of time is marked by the religious holiday masses the students need to attend but, by no means will she attend a Catholic college.

The focus of Lady Bird’s life, in this last year of high school, is to get out of Sacramento, the town she has lived in, on the wrong side of the tracks, for her whole life. Her mother does not want her to go. For financial reasons and also, we come to suspect, because she doesn’t want to lose her daughter. With some deception, Lady Bird finds a way out of Sacramento for college and when this is reveled to her mother, her mother is completely devastated. Devastated at the betrayal of the deception, the betrayal of her leaving, the betrayal that Lady Bird no longer needs her mother. She refuses to speak to her daughter in the last weeks she lives at home and when she finally does go, there are no words of hope, comfort or encouragement. The last few minutes of the film shows Lady Bird in her new life. And then, in an evening when the impact of all that has occurred washes over her, she revisits and reclaims all that she thought she had left behind her. She takes back the name her parents gave her. She seeks out a church to attend mass. And she calls her mother.

I chose the scripture readings from Exodus today because I was reminded of the trust in God that the Hebrew people had in fleeing from Egypt. Of course, there was soon to be some whining and complaining about wandering in the desert, but there was also a firm belief that there was a future for their people in moving forward. They not only believed this in their hearts but they had a sign in the pillars that God provided for them. A pillar of cloud in the day to protect them from the intensity of the sun and a pillar of fire at night to light their way and give them warmth. From the very first moment we meet Lady Bird, we can see in her the strength of her belief that she was capable of more than a local college. And, while we might not have seen the pillars that were set before her to follow, we see her determination and trust in following them. I also chose the story of the Canaanite woman who insists that Jesus assist her and her daughter, despite of his dismal of her request and her need for his help. In this story of Jesus, it is one of the only times that we see Jesus be inconsiderate of another’s need. And the woman does not back down. She fights for what she needs. I saw that story played out in this movie. Lady Bird’s potential is dismissed again and again by the elders in her life but she does not back down. She keeps standing up for what she wants. For what she needs.

Now these are the biblical stories that came to mind in regards to Lady’s Bird’s commitment to something bigger than what life seemed to be offering her in Sacramento. It was her determination to keep her eye focus on what was in front of her that I best remembered when I asked myself, what biblical story does this remind me of. And I could have built on the idea of having complete faith that God is working in your life and to keep keeping on. But what I have found, that has struck me more than her commitment was her paying attention. Just as the Hebrew people had to pay attention for the sign to flee Egypt and they had to pay attention to the pillars of cloud and fire to escape without harm. And just as the Canaanite woman had to pay attention to what Jesus was saying so that she could use his own teaching in her argument that he needed to help her and her daughter. Just as the people of God need to pay attention of how God is working in their lives, Lady Bird needed to pay attention to what was good in her own life. We don’t really get the sense that Lady Bird has anything good to say about Sacramento. Or her family. But as she is writing essays for her college applications, we discover that Lady Bird knows Sacramento in and out. We see a memory of hers of her first drive through town after she gets her driver’s license and we get the sense that she suddenly has a different appreciation for the town she has long taken for granted. In her new life, she is chatted up by a fellow and, out of the blue it seems, she asks him if he believes in God. Not really, he says. Why, do you? He asks. And she realizes that she does. No longer having time marked by being enveloped within the seasons of the church, she found herself paying attention to what she believed as opposed to what she felt was imposed upon her. The fellow asks her name. Christine, she says, the name my parents gave me, she says. She has a terrible evening. And in trying to get back to her residence, she finds herself in front of a church, at the beginning of mass. And she walks in. We are not privileged to join her once she walks in but when she walks out, she does what seemed impossible just days earlier, she calls her mom. Not expecting her to answer but to let her know how much Christine appreciates her mom in her life. Lady Bird seems to have spent so much of her last year of high school trying to flee her life not realizing it was the very things she was trying to escape that gave her the strength, the courage, the hope and the determination to leave. To stay on track. To stay focused. A solid church that gave her a stable and firm grounding in the world. A foundation of a family who kept her grounded and loved her beyond measure and against all odds allowed her an education that they couldn’t really afford. A Dad who was always there. A Mom who never relented in fighting for her daughter, even if it sometimes, from Lady Bird’s teenage ego-centric view, felt as if the mom was fighting against her rather for her. But it turns out Lady Bird was paying attention all along. She noticed what was good and vital in her life. And that’s what God asks of us. To notice what’s good and vital. To pay attention.