This reflection is not about Mother’s Day.
This sermon is more of a response to the past few days of work and what I’ve been thinking about and I’m calling it: Why I need church.
I have just spent two days sitting in meetings for the Council of General Synod, our National Anglican Church Council. It should have been three, but I spent Friday supporting our Maundy Café meal program, welcoming neighbours and guests to the front of our church where they were picking up a hot meal and some fresh vegetables.
So that was Friday, but Saturday and earlier today I was in meetings with people from all across Canada, doing Bible study, talking and listening and thinking about the work that the Anglican Church is doing in Canada and with international partners. We talked about finances, we talked about some work that is happening on interfaith dialogue, we talked about a strategic plan that has been a big focus of our work this year.
But we spent a lot of our time on Saturday morning listening to the stories and experiences of a group of people who were Asian, Indigenous, and Black, who were talking about their experience of being in the church. They talked about some really difficult experiences – and their stories aren’t mine, so I’m not going to tell them, because I don’t have permission to do that – but I can say that as you might guess, in a church that tends to be predominantly white, including the Council of General Synod, they were difficult to hear, maybe especially in a church that I think – despite our whiteness, believe ourselves to be open, inviting and welcome to everyone.
The stories that were shared were stories about not feeling welcome, or not included, or not treated or met with the same expectations as those of the dominant white culture, and it took courage to tell them.
We have been doing a fair bit of work on the council to try to hear stories, to participate in training and to unlearn ways of being that are rooted in a dominant patriarchal system and we have been calling is dismantling racism. Which I think is probably a good name for it.
To dismantle something, is to take it to pieces.
And I think that talking about race and experiences of racism both subtle and overt is probably a really good place to start
And I think it’s only one piece.
In his book, ‘Of God and Pelicans’, writer Jay B McDaniel in his chapter titled: A Postpatriarchal Christianity, writes: “At least in the West, images that have supported male rule over women have also supported the rule of rich over poor, race over race, culture over culture, and humanity over nature. The attitudes that have enabled sexism to persist also enable classism, racism, cultural chauvinism and anthropocentrism to persist…. Western patriarchal thinking has been characterized by three features: value-hieracrchal thinking, a logic of domination and certain conceptual dualisms.” (pg, 115)
This is how our church has been structured and the more I think about it, the more I am convinced that it has been bad for all of us and for the natural world around us.
And so what, you might be wondering does this have to do with our reading from John tonight. Well, I think it has to everything to do with it.
In the Gospel reading that we have just heard, Jesus is talking to his friends and he says: ‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. ‘ Then he gets to this tricky bit, he says: ‘ I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friend, because I have made known to you everything I have heard from my Father…..And I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.’
Whew – that is no small commandment. Jesus is clear – the people he is speaking to are his friends – they are on equal footing – not one over another. The power here (at least as I read it) is shared. Friends influence each other.
And I am worried about how well we have followed this commandment – as an institution – as an organization, never mind as individuals. And I think we are having to come to terms with it now. And I think it is and will continue to be a lot of work.
So, when I’m worried about something – when I’m trying to figure something out – my go to is to go searching for more information. To ask questions – I drive my friends crazy because suddenly they are getting texts and screen shots of articles that I’m combing through – and that’s what I did with this.
I went searching – I am still searching – because I want to love well. I want with my whole heart, to live into this commandment AND I truly believe that we as a church have something to offer the world about how to do this well – even with our history as a colonial church – maybe because of what we are learning from our history and about the work of reconciliation, which we have only just barely begun.
I think that our liturgy and our prayers and our practice of coming to the table together is an essential practice for all of us – particularly those of us who need to unlearn ways of being that separate us from each other – or who have heard voices in our lives that have tried to separate us out because of the culture that formed us, or the colour of our skin, or because of who we love or the gender that we identify as.
We have done such a great job of trying to draw lines to protect ourselves – that we have as an organization, sometimes forgotten what this commandment truly looks like or that the person who gave it to us was not white. Or that this faith was never meant to be about drawling lines for protection – but about leading with our hearts and speaking out to protect each other from the powers that would ‘other’ us. That Jesus’ gave up their life for us with the hope and the expectation that those of us who came after would and could do better than the empire that killed them for speaking out.
And we didn’t, but we can. I think that dismantling the structures of racism and patriarchy are essential to that journey – which means re-thinking how we structure ourselves, who we give power to and why, what voices we listen to and the language that we use, and also listening to the stories of people who have been harmed by what we have done – so that we know more and can do better.
And it means looking at the scripture that we read in a new light. In her article: Savior of the World but not of this World, New Testament professor Musa Dube talks about how we have used John’s description of Jesus not of this world, as a way to lay claim to the world – and that this Gospel has been the most used in colonization, because John’s Jesus is not restricted, but apart and she notes that ‘the Bible has exerted more cultural influence on the West than any other single document’.
These words that we read in scripture are powerful, and important and left in the hands of only a few, we can do terrible and ridiculous things with them. We can easily forget that part of loving our neighbour is respecting them, their dignity, their culture, their humanity and instead just try to make our neighbours think and even look and act just like us, which is what we did do and what (I hope) we are working towards unlearning.
You know, sometimes I wonder why I stay in this faith, in the church. But I keep coming back to the fact that I actually believe in the lessons that we learn in scripture, I believe in the teachings of Jesus and I believe in community – specifically in community that we can create by coming together to pray and eat and confess together – I believe that we are blessed by it and that the world needs it. AND I think that if we can unlearn ways of organizing ourselves that are based on patriarchal structures, then we can even be an example of what it looks like to confess our sins and what redemption feels like. And I have hope that it’s possible to do. I need you. I need communities like ours and to be in relationship and conversation with people not exactly like me. I need to be in hard conversations, and I have no interest in leaving this faith so that it can stay exactly as it is – I want to work for a better way and to challenge the systems that we have in place. Because I honestly believe that the world needs us as a voice that speaks for love and neighbourliness. It needs us to take seriously our baptismal vow that says that we will respect the dignity of every human being and care for the creation of the earth – even if we don’t get it right every time.
I want to learn to read the Gospel of John through a decolonizing lens. And I want to be a voice in favour of grace and redemption. So, I sit in church meetings and I listen, and I learn, and I ask questions and I get it wrong, and I have to ask for forgiveness, and I wonder what I’m doing here. Because I believe that is what love looks like – it’s imperfect and beautiful. And then I come to church to sit with you and to pray and sing and I confess my sins and am forgiven, and I have my grumpy, sarcastic heart cracked open a little wider. Love shows up in our stories and our listening and in challenging systems of oppression and colonization. It shows up in a wiliness to acknowledge that we don’t always know, and we have to re-learn.
And I come to church, to be with you, to learn from you how to be a better pastor, how to love my neighbour, how to be challenged and how to create community in a different way. I come to church, I need church so that I hear and hear again the commandment to love, and to be sent out into the world knowing what love looks like, so that I can try my best to share that love in the world around me.