Monday, July 31, 2017

And Just Before I Leave...I'm Back!

So...I got a little side-tracked.

 A few months ago I made this lofty goal for the year 2017. In a concentrated effort to make my way through the plethora of books that have been accumulating on my bookshelves, I decided to attempt to read a book each and every week throughout 2017.

The goal was aggressive, I admit. But I thought to myself - it was better to try than to leave most, if not all of them, unread this year and feel guilty about the fact that I wasn't reading them. I have a wee bit of a book addiction. I have never cottoned onto e-readers because I like books. I like to hold them in my hands. I like the feel of them. Sometimes the covers have that velvety smooth feeling. Sometimes they have raised writing.

The pages are always neat and tidy with new books. I can't decide if I prefer the really clean feeling of pages that are often used with textbook-type books--you know what I mean, they are smooth and and weighty feeling--or if I would rather hold a book that has the jaggedy, uneven pages of certain paperbacks that has a bit of a pre-worn feel to them--kinda like buying jeans with the rips already at the thighs or knees.

Either way. I'm find myself a bit helpless in bookstores. I know that I am not alone.

I set this big goal of mine and did my best to keep up. I read through a week of holidays home with the kids. I read through Holy Week. I read when my dear one squired me away for a few days on my birthday. I read and I read and I read. And then I couldn't read anymore.

I was tired of reading. I was tired of deadlines. I was tired of the rather heavy topics. I started saying, "I should" to myself. When one starts to say, "I should be reading", reading loses its joy. Reading becomes a chore. Reading becomes a burden. It is no longer relaxing. It's no longer fun. It's not a quiet, peaceful event. It's work. It's a burden.

So, I stopped cold turkey. I just put down the book I was reading and didn't pick it back up. A certain someone kept asking when I was going to put up a new blog post so it could be shared on the church Facebook page. I began avoiding eye contact. I didn't read for work or for fun. I just read magazines and Twitter (well, who can blame me for that with the soap opera of Trump's White House being played out by tweet?).

I wondered if I had broken my reading bone.

Then I went on holidays. On our first full day of our two weeks at the lake, my dear one says to me, "I would like you to read The Happiness Project so we can talk about it. Can you read a chapter a day so we can discuss it?" How can you resist a request a like that? The book was written by Gretchen Rubin. Apparently the author's thoughts and views reminded him of me. What's ironic is that I lent him the book when he was bereft of reading material in June.

I started reading that Monday. And I couldn't put it down. Turns out my reading bone wasn't broken after all. I had just sprained it a bit.

I finished the book that Friday. And then I finished the book I abandoned in May. Then I read two more. I rediscovered my love of reading just in time for me to leave for Africa.

We're off to the airport soon for the Zambia Youth Exposure Tour and I promised the certain someone that I would get this post to her before I left and then have another when return. I'm taking four books along with me. After I finish them, I will give them to the theological students we meet though the United Church of Zambia. So - a double goal - read and gift away the books.

Because I'm rushing off, I am not doing a book review on the books. I'm just accounting for them and giving a quick comment.

First - The Happiness Project: Or Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun by Gretchen Rubin. My dear one was right - Gretchen and I might actually be the same person.

AWESOME book. This is someone who is an average, every day person who doesn't have huge struggles in her life but still finds herself wondering if she could enjoy life more. Not be so cranky or have, as her default setting, an attitude that precludes noticing the good things going on all around her. As my dear one has said, 'there's many a sermon in this book'. And maybe a book study.

Next, the oh so exciting sounding, Transforming Congregational Culture by Anthony Robinson. Honestly, this book is quite great. In fact, I think the reason why I stopped reading it was because I was trying to skip through it too quickly and was finding that I wanted to make notes to take to the Board at church. Which seemed like more work than my weeks were allowing at the beginning of May. So, I tried again and finished it. It was worth taking the time to slow down and make the notes.

Third - An Altar in the World by one of my most favourite authors, Barbara Brown Taylor. This book needs to be read by anyone who is exploring how to live the whole of their lives being present to the presence of God. Again - sermons abound and a book study of it would be well worth the time.

And, finally, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by my next most favourite author, Anne Lamott. The book is named as thus because when they were children, her brother had a massive report to do on birds. He had three months to complete the assignment. Anne remembers her brother, near tears, sitting at the dining room table at the cabin on the Sunday before the report was due having not done any work in the previous three months. Their father, a published author, went over to him and told him that it would be alright, he just had to write it bird by bird. Anne's writing is so easy to read. She is funny. And vulnerable. And encouraging. I love Anne.

So, that's it. My Goodreads Goal Page tells me that I am currently SEVEN books behind schedule - even AFTER I've entered the books that I will read in Africa. Sigh. Not ideal. But better than before. To give me a boost, I took a photo of all that I have read so that I can see how much I've already read in 2017. Nineteen books so far.


SaveSaveSaveSave

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Being Disciple in the Here and the Now

Our scriptures today the last lines from the Gospel according to Matthew. From the time of discovering that the tomb was empty to the moment where Jesus issues these last instructions to his disciples, there are just a few verses. The women approached the tomb, it was empty. An angel appeared and told them the one that they seek has been raised—go quickly, tell the disciples that he will meet them in Galilee. The woman leave, in fear and with joy we are told. They were scared. Who can really blame them? The tomb that had held the body of their deceased friend was empty and an angel that looked like lighting appeared and spoke to them. Of course, they were afraid. But remember, they also felt a sense of joy bubbling up within them as they ran. The possibility that Jesus was alive changed everything they had experienced over the previous four days.

The Gospel ends with our reading. It ends on a mountainside in Galilee, with the eleven remaining disciples who DID NOT see the tomb empty. Who DID NOT see or hear the angel dressed all in white. However, these disciples, despite not seeing or hearing for themselves, these disciples who were a bit disjointed, a bit discombobulated after the crucifixion of their leader, they listened to the women who HAD seen and heard these things and they took themselves unto Galilee. The women told them to ‘go’ and so go they did. Without witnessing for themselves the miracle at the tomb, without demanding proof, the disciples went. They arrived in Galilee at a certain mountain, and there they discovered Jesus, the Risen Christ. And, although all worshipped him when they were with him, we are told some of them doubted. We are not told what exactly it is that they doubted, but I bet we could come up with few ideas…we know they doubted but we also know that they were not given answers to their questions. In fact, instead of resolving whatever uncertainties there were amongst the group, the disciples were told once again to go. Go forth in the name of Jesus, make disciples of all nations. Remember Jesus, and presumably, God promised to be with them always, until the end of the age. And so, the disciples packed up their doubts and packed up their imperfect selves into their knapsacks and off they went. They headed out and began to share the Good News that death did not have the final word. Love had overcome hate, and the love displayed by Christ Jesus was available to all people, no matter who they were. No matter where they were from. No matter what they looked like. No matter what position they held in the world. God’s love was for them all. They set out to make disciples of all nations.

Isn’t that such a great ending for a Gospel that gave witness to the life, ministry, death and resurrection of the one who became known as the Messiah? It’s awesome. It’s full of drama and intrigue. There’s a miraculous twist ending with people going forth in buoyant hope and with divine purpose. It’s great. Except. Except, we know better now, don’t we? We know now, that if you read this bit of scripture literally, word for word, we know that this is actually a TERRIBLE ending to this story. We, the people who been woke to the brutal truth of what the British Empire did in the name of civilizing other lands know this ending is problematic. We know the truth of what the Dutch, the French and other European nations have done in the name of expansion. We know the truth of how harmful the Doctrine of Discovery—the concept that the Spaniards ‘discovered’ North America, like there weren’t already people living full and robust lives all over these lands now known as Canada, the United States and Mexico before Christopher Columbus first set foot on the so-called New World. This piece of scripture, called the Great Commissioning, has been used for millennia in religious warfare and in the attempted eradication of whole groups of people. Taken at its word, this Great Commissioning has been used by religious leaders—CHRISTIAN religious leaders—to send missionaries off to other lands so that they might civilize and then convert local heathens. Using other bits of scripture from here and there in the Bible, the justification often used for vigorously converting people, is that only those who know and accept Jesus as their Saviour will be saved and be permitted to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.

Now listen, you and I could spend a month of Sundays going out for coffee to unpack just that last statement alone, but let’s focus, right here, right now on the saving bit. For many, many years, Christians were taught that it was their responsibility to save the people of the world by making everyone they met a follower of Jesus. The making disciples of all nations was taken literally. But, here’s a question that needs to be asked. What if, what if back in the day, when missionaries went from village to village on a bike, bringing the Word of God with them. Maybe somewhere in China, Korea, Japan, or Africa—Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Botswana—what if, in the midst of saving the natives, the missionary’s bike got a flat tire? And the missionary did not end up making it to the next village. And, what if in that moment, with terribly unfortunate timing, what if in that exact moment, there arrives the end of the age? Do we honestly believe that God would not have welcomed all people—even those who had yet to meet the missionary and hear the Good News? Do we believe those heathens would not be held in the palm of God’s hand in their hour of need because arrogant and self-righteous Christians assumed those who did not know the teachings of Jesus were ignorant of the Divine’s presence in the world? That God would not be with them, because the missionary whose task it was to save them had the misfortune of suffering a flat tire? No, of course not. God’s abundant grace and love does not work like that.

And, even if the fate of their eternal life really was at stake, tell me which denomination of Christianity has, for real, the right code words—the correct password—to enter into the great unknown with God? My goodness, in chapter twelve of the Book of Judges in the Hebrew Scriptures, one thing leads to another and the Ephraimites, after losing a significant battle, are escaping across a river. The Gileadites, the victors of the battle, had control of the ford. To figure out who was friend or foe, they asked those seeking to cross the river to say a specific word – Shibboleth. It is a Hebrew word which literally means the part of a plant containing grains, such as an ear of corn or a stalk of grain but the meaning of the word is not important. The purpose in the Gileadites choosing this word is because that the dialect of Ephraimites did not contain the Shhh sound. So, when repeating the word, they said, ‘Sibboleth’ rather than ‘Shibboleth’, exposing the Ephraimites as the fugitives that they were. And, because they knew not the password, forty-two thousand men died that day at the river. (As an aside, this is a perfect example of a story we never hear about in the Lectionary but we will be exploring in our Knotty/Naughty Bible study in the fall. Stay tuned.) Anyway, my point is, if something so simple as not enunciating your s-h’s results in total annihilation, who’s to say the loudest or most charismatic preacher has the right words to learn and repeat has the exact right message to get to where you’re told you want to go?

It is estimated that there are upwards to thirty thousand different denominations under the umbrella of Christianity. A denomination can be large and international, like the Roman Catholic Church, it can be a national conglomeration of pastoral charges, such as our United Church of Canada, or a denomination can be very small and be considered an independent church with only one or two communities of faith. Which of these thousands of denominations has the doctrine exactly as Jesus intended it so that one might be saved? How many of us denominations think we have the Way mapped out and dismiss the road maps held by other denominations? And, if each of the Christian denominations believe they are the only ones with the proper way of living in God’s world—where does the saving begin and end? Pope Benedict once called the United Church damaged in the eyes of God—not totally broken but a little bent. So, if we, the royal we of all Christians, can’t even allow for our fellow Christians to be true disciples of Christ and, therefore saved, how then are we to treat non-Christians? I wonder if the splintering of Christianity with its vast array of understandings of what or who God is and the incredible diversity of theologies that range from right to left, I wonder if the growth of interpretation of this foundational text, the book we call the Bible, is not a key to how we have come to better understand the faith traditions that exist outside of Christianity? During the Crusades, it was considered a Christian imperative to destroy all Muslims. Now, here at Symons Valley, as well as many other churches of other denominations, welcome Muslim prayer groups into our church buildings for weekly prayer services. Our own lack of cohesion (I fretted about whether cohesion was the right word but, honestly, how many of us want to admit to being Christian when we travel in the States because we are worried that it might be assumed that we are of the evangelical right that is Trump’s main base of support? So, I’m standing by that word.)—I’m thinking it’s our own lack of Christian cohesion that has opened the door to examine other faith traditions and discover them to also be ways to connect with what, in our tradition, call God. For all we know, their divine, their deity or deities might very well be one and the same as our Divine, the one we have given three names-God our Creator, Jesus our teacher and the Holy Spirit, our inspiration.

We know, back in the day of European nations racing to expand beyond their borders, that lands that did not have people from Europe residing was fair game for colonizing. One of the goals of colonization was to make the people who already live there, who we now refer to as indigenous people, the goal was to make them become like you—through various means of force, power and control. A key component to assimilating the conquered and pagan people into their way of life, was to introduce Christianity to the people and demand conversion. Which you and I know is not how God works. We cannot force the transformation of another. Only God can change the heart of person, not a gun, or a bribe, or a threat. Knowing what we know now and living this life some two thousand years after these instructions were given by Jesus to his disciples, the idea that this large-scale missionary conversion project called the Great Commissioning is anything less than an encouragement for mass colonization is not acceptable. When a group of people insert themselves into a culture and insist that culture begin to change to reflect the language, economy and societal rules of the invaders, valuable differences are lost. In forcing one group to become like another, we now understand that so much is lost. Diversity is lost. Innovation is lost. Creativity is lost.

So, how are we to be disciples? How do we live out this Great Commissioning that Jesus bestowed upon us his future followers? I have not forgotten in my studying and writing for this Sunday that a group of us are going to Zambia in six short weeks. I have been asked many times if this is a mission trip and I always try to resist my body’s natural inclination to shudder at that word. The term mission harkens back to those days of conversion. More recently there is not active conversion taking place but through certain kinds of volunteer work, there are subtle, and sometimes not so subtle, messages that belief in Christ Jesus might make their situation better.


So, no, this trip is not a mission trip. It is a trip for followers of the Way, for Christians to travel humbly and with God, seeking to be kind and just. When I was wondering how I could best describe what being a disciple would look like in this day and age, I realized that maybe I could just describe the purpose and goals of our trip to Zambia—maybe you might hear what we, the leaders are hoping will happen and maybe it can translate to how we can be disciples here at home, in our every day lives.


We will be hosted by Christians from the United Church of Zambia. The Church’s theological students will take turns being our daily guides. We are Christians meeting other Christians who will share with us their stories, their struggles, their pain, their joys and their celebrations. We will learn about their health care and medical concerns, we will explore the impact disease has had on a whole generation of people and how it is that grandmothers have been vital in the raising of the children. We will learn about Zambia’s only resource, copper and may have the opportunity to tour an underground mine. We will ask questions, we will give presentations about Canada, we will listen and we will share. We will worship together. We will go and strive to be disciples, we will endeavor to live out the Great Commissioning by being and offering God’s great and abundant love and by being open to allowing God’s amazing power to work through and amongst us. To guide us and to assure us. Because it is when we open ourselves to those who are around us and allow ourselves to experience their pain and suffering and share compassion and kindness with them, then we experience God’s presence. We know that God is active and present in this world. God is creating and recreating. Redeeming and sustaining. Jesus told the disciples, I will always be with you. You are not alone. We know this. And we take this knowledge with us when we walk out these doors. We are God’s. We belong to God. We are not alone. Thanks be God.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Becoming the Church, Becoming a Disciple


Acts 2:1-8, 42-45 - read in English, German, Yoruba,French & Mandarin


Our scripture reading today tells us that there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven gathered together, waiting for some sign or word from God. They had seen their leader executed, witnessed his resurrection and watched as he ascended heavenly-ward, returning to God. Their patience and dedication bore fruit in the coming of the Holy Spirit as it descended upon them with a rush of wind and with tongues of fire. They each spoke in their own language and yet they were all understood. This remarkable moment of the speaking of many different tongues is intended to recall the listener of the day back to the story of the Hebrew Scriptures—a story that every Jew in that time would have known from hearing it being told in synagogue—the story of the Tower of Babel.

In chapter eleven of Genesis, it is told that the whole of earth spoke the same language and used the same words. I suppose that means idioms did not really exist—you know, those words and phrases that are specific to a certain culture or location. Like, only people from Saskatchewan know what a bunny hug is or how when I asked for a pop in Australia they looked at me in confusion and finally asked, do you mean you want a SODA? Back in the days of Genesis, everyone spoke the same and could understand one another. But then they all got a little too big for their britches and God felt the need to knock them down a peg or two. The people had begun to build a tower that would reach the heavens. In the creation of such an impressive structure, they were attempting to make a name for themselves. God saw that if they could build such a tower, there would be no end to their striving to become God-like themselves and so, because of their hubris, God threw a wrench into their plans by confusing their language. No longer could they understand one another. And to make matters worse, God scattered the people all over the face of the earth so that the knowing each other and the learning of each other’s languages was made all that much more difficult.

It reminds me of Trevor Noah's story of the important of language and dialect that he speaks about in his memoir, Born a Crime. Being a child of mixed race in South Africa, he fit in with neither the blacks or the whites. But he found that he was more readily accepted if he SOUNDED like the group he was trying to hang out with. Trevor had a knack for easily picking up other languages and copying the dialects of whomever he met. The difference in colour of skin between him and who he was talking to, no longer mattered as much as long as he sounded like them. Language matters. Sounding the same and having similar words as each other matters.

This Pentecost tale that we’re told today could be heard as a reversal of that Tower of Babel story. Instead of many languages being spoken and no one understanding the other, a multitude of languages is spoken but they all understood one another—just as if they each had a little translator in their ear like they do at meetings of the United Nations—you know, the speaker speaks their language and someone is translating simultaneously so that those who don’t understand whatever language is being spoken can hear it right in their ear in their own language. Today, instead of you all having your own such devices, you had the words projected up on the screen. French, English, Yoruba ,Mandarin, German, all spoken and all understood. But the Pentecost moment is not a true reversal of that Babel story. There was not a reverting to everyone speaking the same language as they did before the arrogance of humankind allowed them to think they all could become gods themselves if they built a big enough tower. The people of Pentecost were NOT of all the same culture, background or even positions of authority within their faith. There were people of all standings there together. They met without regard for societal rules concerning the mixing of genders and status. What or who you were outside the doors of the house church mattered not. Those gathered were not necessarily the same in all of their beliefs or the manner in which they lived their lives BUT they had this in common. They were willing to be with one another. To be in relationship with one another. The diversity of those gathered was not washed away, not blended into an indistinguishable mix—like when the kids smush together the colours of playdough so it became an allover taupey colour. A non-colour. Instead the differences amongst themselves were acknowledged and used to best worship God and to follow the Way that Jesus set before them in his life, his ministry and his resurrection. The Pentecostal moment, the Holy Spirit descending, the fire lighting above their heads, the speaking in tongues understood by all, was not the culmination of God’s work through Jesus in the world, but it was the beginning of God’s work in and around the world through this gathering of people we have come to call the Church.

This birthing of the Church, nearly 2000 years ago, brought together people of all stripes, sizes and shapes. There seems to have been no prerequisites for joining in. In today’s reading we hear the Church began with devout Jews—and of course it did, because Jesus lived his life as a Jew after all. Remember, he would have considered himself a Jew until the very day he died—he didn’t set out to break away from Judaism but to offer a new way of showing and sharing God’s love in the world within the faith tradition in which he was raised. And so, the story of the Church begins with the Jews. But we know that it is not too long after this wind-filled and fiery moment, that Gentiles, non-Jews, were welcomed into the fold. And, when that began to happen, no longer could this breakaway sect be considered, at its foundation, to be a strand or denomination of Judaism. Thus Christianity and its Church was born.

And what is important for us to hear, all these years later, is that this Church which was developing in real time for those followers of Jesus, was not was created with a perfect and saved people. We know these people from the Gospels. The disciples had trust issues. They had moments when they were not at their brightest, they failed to stand up when standing up was the only right and good thing to do. They sometimes spoke and acted hastily, without first literally considering what would Jesus do in those moments. Peter, the rock upon which Jesus built his church, even denied knowing Jesus, not once but three times. It is vital for us to understand that this story of Pentecost shows us that it was the perfectly imperfect who came together to receive the Holy Spirit. And the Holy Spirit was sent by God to ready all them, each of them with their own strengths and weaknesses, to empower them to offer the witness of what God’s love looks like when it’s lived out as was demonstrated by Jesus. This description of the early Church shows to us how Church was, and still is supposed to be, first and foremost, a fellowship of believers. It is a gathering of those who were then, and are today, a group of people who come with their own baggage, our own hurt, our own bits of selfishness and greed, our own sense of mistrust in the world around us and we gather so that we may enter into the process of being changed. Of being made whole and healthy—which is another way of saying, if you will, of being saved. Of finding trust. Of finding peace. Of finding the truth of oneself. Of finding a love and grace that overflows and in the overflowing, can be shared with abandon into the world. The Church was and is a people coming together and inviting others along on the adventure, this journey of faith. Inviting others into a life that lifts up love for one another over the striving for individual gain. Into a life that offers an abundance of compassion, care and concern over and above scarcity that comes with greed, fear and distrust.

The early Church collected themselves together and figured out how best to continue to learn from the ascended Jesus, the one whom they knew to be their Christ. And how to offer that learning to others who had never met Jesus but also understood him to be their Christ. The second chapter of Acts lays out how they encouraged others to become disciples of Christ. Sell all possessions, distribute to those in need, spend time together in the Temple and break bread with one another with a glad and generous heart. Out of interest, I went to the Holy Search Engine of Google to find out if there were any modern-day guidelines on how to be a disciple. And this is what I have to say about the results I found. Don’t use Google to find out how to become a disciple. Stick with the Bible, it’s all there. We do need to do a little updating and interpreting. It is the year 2017 after all. We now know the world is round, we know that the hubris of humanity continues to cause problems for ourselves, we live in a world in which birds of metal fly, science can help us see to worlds beyond our own and also helps us see how illness makes our bodies sick, we can talk to people pretty much anywhere on earth and from space and, within 32 hours, we can take youth from this congregation and have them visit youth on the other side of the world, in Zambia.

Being a disciple in this day and age is to live your life through the lens of the teaching of Jesus. It is the asking yourself, what WOULD Jesus do? It is choosing the option of love over the option of fear or greed. It is the recognizing that the lifestyle of which we avail ourselves has an impact on the world. Realizing when we have enough and we can give away the excess. That money and things are not all that matters—our energy, our skill, our talent can be given so as to make the world just for all people. It is the trust and belief that if we find ourselves in need, there will be others holding out their hands and hearts in love, willing to help. It is the coming together, praising and worshiping the God who loves us beyond measure. It is the taking time to sit and listen, quietly, patiently, for the Holy Spirit to breath upon us, to light such a fire that we see the Way before us.

And we are to invite others along on this journey of discipleship, remembering the purpose of the Church is not to convert. Only God can change and transform. The purpose of the Church is to offer opportunities such change and transformation. Our culture and society teaches us the illusion of control and autonomy. When, the reality is that we are NOT in control. We do not have autonomy over our lives. Ask anyone who lived near the river here in Calgary four years ago. They did not have control over whether their home was flooded. Ask anyone who has sat in the doctor’s office, listening to the worst news one can hear in that moment. Ask anyone who is of a certain age and is being told they can no longer live in their home. Control and autonomy is a falsehood that is taught to each us from an early age. The Church teaches us that, while we may not be control, we are not alone. WE are the Church, after all. Not a building but a gathering of perfectly imperfect people coming together in temple to worship and praise God, to share together what we have, to help those in need, to break bread and eat together with glad and generous hearts. In the uncertainty of what our lives have in store for us, in our fear of what is to come, in our need, in our wondering and in our doubts, there are two very certain things—one is that God loves you without end, without reservation, there is no limit to the grace offered to you in a love that beyond all knowing. And the second, is that you are not alone. You are never alone. You live in God’s world and there are many, many fellow travelers journeying along this life with you. Thanks be to God.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

The Courage of Intimacy

From Guest Speaker - Shari Derksen - a member of the SVUC congregation

Job 2:11-13, John 11:32-36, Ecclesiastes 3:1-8


Let us pray. Holy One of All That Is, thank you for your Word and the messages of truth that are in it. May we have the ears to hear the truth that you would speak to us today, and the courage to move towards your love and freedom. Amen.

Good morning. For those that don't know me, my name is Shari Derksen, and I've been attending Symons Valley United Church since Sept 2014. I'm used to being on stage here in a singing capacity, but this is a whole other ballgame. As a psychologist that focuses on healthy relationships and healthy sexuality, a message on intimacy is right up my alley. So I was more than happy to agree when Vicki approached me. Today I will be speaking on intimacy in friendship, and I will also be addressing intimacy aspects that can be applied to any relationship. The foundation of intimacy is a solid sense of self. That is, an awareness and allowance of our own experience so that we can share it with another, and also be open to receive what another has to share with us, whether that experience is positive, or negative. There is a special intimacy that is fostered in friendship. We choose our friends, those that we choose to share ourselves with. They are a joy in times of celebration, and a comfort in times of struggle. I am reminded of a time of uncertainty and restless nights when our eldest daughter Georgia was 10 and in a California hospital with a ruptured appendix. In a foreign country, with no family close at hand, our beloved friends Scott and Amanda were there to offer comfort and to provide some stability with childcare for our youngest, Sophie. Our willingness to share our struggle with our friends fostered intimacy. And I witnessed the comfort of friends when meal upon meal was brought to my parents home in the final weeks of my mothers battle with cancer. Reminders that we were not alone.


At a time when Job had lost it all, his children, his livelihood, and he was sitting in a pile of ash with painful sores all over his body, his friends gathered together to go and be with him and to comfort him. In 33 chapters of attacks and pontificating, their comfort is questionable, though more substantial than Jobs wife who simply suggested that he curse God and die. His friends were there to remind him that he was not alone. Even in suffering, he was not alone.

It's easy to share with our friends when we're happy, when things are going well. But it takes courage and vulnerability to admit when things are not going well. When we're sick, when we're broke, when our marriage is failing, when our child is an addict, when we're so anxious or hopeless that we can't get out of bed. In a world of images and appearances, and selective Facebook posts, and beautiful Instagram shots, we like to pretend that all is well, that everything's under control, that we have our act together. But it's in the reality, the authenticity, the rawness and nakedness of the human experience that we connect with one another, that we have intimacy. When we pretend and hide we deny the opportunity of allowing others to connect with us, or to help us, or to share in our experience.

Mary was authentic in her grief at the death of her brother Lazarus, and she wept openly in front of Jesus when he came to be with her and Martha. And Jesus, even in his divinity, was not above the human experience of sadness and anguish, and he too wept openly with his friends whom he loved. Intimacy.

There is a vast array of human emotions and human activities under the heavens. And in Ecclesiastes we are reminded that there is a time for everything. A time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to tear down and a time to build, a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing, a time to search and a time to give up, a time to keep and a time to throw away, a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak, a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace. We can choose to fully embrace or engage in these emotions and activities in the moment, or we can choose to deny or minimize them. And when we choose to embrace them and to share them with another, then intimacy can occur.

However, there are a number of ways that we block intimacy and I want to address a few of them this morning. One way that we block intimacy is through a lack of introspection, or in other words, a lack of awareness of or a disallowing of our own experience in the moment. Perhaps we are not aware that we are sad, or anxious, or angry, or that a boundary has been crossed, or we do not allow excitement or celebration. Sometimes in our growing up years we learn that it is not OK to feel or experience certain things. Perhaps we were taught that crying is for the weak, or to suck it up when things get rough, or that it's not OK to make mistakes, or that only dad or mom are allowed to get angry, or to not get too excited about things as they'll likely be taken away, or to not celebrate lest we become too proud for our own good. We learn that these feelings or experiences are shameful, and so we learn to hide them or to avoid them altogether, and in so doing we deny ourselves. We make ourselves small or invisible.

Imagine if Mary had learned that crying and sadness were shameful, and that at the loss of her brother, instead of weeping openly with Jesus and her friends, she distracted herself with busyness, or put on a brave face and pretended that she was managing fine. In denying herself the human experience of sadness and grief, she would have denied herself the intimacy and connection that would occur in sharing it with those close to her.

Another way that we block intimacy is by judging and blaming others. Rather than looking at ourselves and taking responsibility for creating what we want or don't want, we focus on others and how they need to change or be different. When we regularly focus our attention outward onto others we deny them the opportunity of learning and sharing in our experience. It is a way of distracting from what is going on with us. Intimacy occurs when I share with another what is true for me, not when I articulate what I perceive to be true for them. No one knows my truth but me, and they cannot know my truth unless I share it with them. Likewise, I cannot know someone's truth unless they share it with me. And so to pretend that I already know their truth and what needs to change, I deny them the opportunity of sharing what is actually true for them, and thus denying the opportunity for intimacy.

There was a time when I was angry towards my father for his behaviour, and I blamed him for not being the father that I thought I needed, and expected him to change in order to meet my needs. I would not share myself with him, and I was not open to hearing his truth. It wasn't until I was willing to look at myself and to take responsibility for my own perceptions that were in the way that I could share some of my truth with him and in so doing discover ways that we could connect. Truthful aspects of him that I was not able to see before when I was blinded by judgement and blaming.

There were those Jews who had come to visit Mary and Martha that judged Jesus for raising Lazarus from the dead and blamed him for creating a ruckus. And in their blame and focus outward, they went to the Pharisees to complain and perpetuated more fear and blame. But then there were those Jews present at the miracle who were open to the truth of Jesus and who he was. And their belief would have fostered connection with Jesus and intimacy with other believers.

Another way that we block intimacy is by manipulating and controlling others. That may be in aggressive, bullying ways, or it may be in passive-aggressive ways. Rather than expressing what it is that we need or want, we manipulate or control others to produce the outcome that we want and/or to relieve anxiety. Those that use aggression control others through fear. Aggression and angry behaviour is often an outer surface display of underlying emotions. What may actually be fear, shame, frustration, sadness, or any number of other emotions is displayed as anger. Rather than express what is actually going on and what is needed, aggressive behaviour keeps others at a distance.

While facilitating treatment groups for men mandated from the court for domestic violence, I've witnessed the transformation that occurs when these aggressive men learn healthier ways of communicating, and the intimacy that unfolds when they have the courage to express to their spouse or partner what is actually going on for them, rather than react with anger and violence. Spouses and partners who had previously shut down in fear, could now respond to meet needs in loving, intimate ways. And lastly, we block intimacy with others by manipulating them to get what we want. Rather than assertively express what we need or want we may use guilt, deception, or games of all kind kinds to control others to behave a certain way. Again, this is a way of keeping our truth from others. Connection cannot occur when we don't speak our truth directly. And others cannot respond to us in real and authentic ways when they feel manipulated. As humans we have a natural tendency to feel anxious and distressed when our freedom appears to be threatened, including feeling manipulated, and we try to regain a sense of control by refusing to comply. Were more inclined to move away or distance ourselves from the person that is manipulating us, rather than move towards them. The opposite of intimacy.

What holds us back from expressing our truth directly is fear. Fear of rejection, fear of disappointing others, fear of failure, fear of our own power, all kinds of fears. Fear is what keeps us small and separated. It takes courage to move away from familiar and comfortable patterns of fear. But when we do, when we break free from that which holds us back, we discover that fear is an illusion. That the truth really does set us free. Love really is more powerful than fear. I've experienced this time and time again in my own life, and have witnessed it over and over with clients as they let go of fears and discover openness and possibilities on the other side. As they expand and move towards love, intimacy occurs. So as I mentioned before, the foundation of intimacy is a solid sense of self, an awareness of and a willingness to speak our truth in the moment. I could go on and on about ways that we block intimacy, but I think I'll wrap it up there for today. May we look to Jesus as a model for speaking truth and fostering intimacy. Amen.