Including Green

When I was a child
I was told that
blood runs blue until
it spills in the air, where
it’s painted red. I’ve since
read that blood is not blue
but then when I view my veins,
I see green. Maybe my blood
Is tainted with envy or maybe
it’s enviro-blood, scouting out
ways to minimize my-its-our
carbon footprint, or maybe
it’s a sickly green, at sea in
seeing naught but ought, not yet
aware of freeing waves of grace
awash in every colour
including green.

There’s More Here Than Meets The Ear

IMG_5783 (3)

Meet Chip. I realize it is not the most inventive name for a chipmunk, but my wife called him that one spring day when he popped his little nose around a rock to sniff us out. The name has stuck and he has stuck around. A few years back we lost our cat, and in the ensuing summers our backyard has become a bit more diverse. Chip is out and about. We regularly see robins, cardinals, rabbits, squirrels – the list goes on and on. We all loved Noel dearly, but it is nice to see some bio-diversity.

I especially like Chip. One day I was reading a book on a Muskoka chair and when I looked up, on the chair beside me was Chip eating a raspberry. He calmly ate half and then scooted off, leaving the other half for me or some other hungry creature. My wife has had the same experience. We will often see him pause in his jog across our patio, cheeks full to the brim with seeds or such, panting while he catches his breath. And then again after a brief repose, he sprints to the end of his race, a barely noticeable hole in our lawn, which serves as a portal to his storehouses.

I thought of Chip the other day while reading some theology. Luther wrote a treatise in 1525 entitled “How Christians Should Regard Moses.” It was written in response to an emerging idea that Christians in the German lands should be freed of the pre-Christian laws, which formed the basis for current laws, and embrace instead the mosaic laws. Luther disagreed, claiming that the mosaic laws were written for mosaic times, and while we might employ some of them (he mentioned, in particular, the Jubilee Laws), he rejected their wholesale engagement. He wrote that some of what we hear God say in the bible is said by God to others, not to us and so we ought not to hear them as addressed to us. Of course, this invites a broad conversation concerning which bits are intended for us, a matter taken up in earnest throughout the document. At any rate, he used a most interesting example to illustrate his point concerning directed speech. He mentioned that God speaks to angels, trees, fish, birds, animals etc but we do not hear it because what God says to them was not meant for us. And then I thought of Chip.

I like the idea of Chip – and Noel for that matter – holding converse with God (I can’t imagine it being a monologue). Nature, like “civilization,” is both messy and beautiful, and I would anticipate praise and lament from Chip and his fellows. Of course, I do get to hear one side of the conversation from time to time. The local cardinals let me in on their side of the song, for instance, even though I do not know what they say. But I hear them “saying,” that’s for sure! Of course, there are other – biological – ways to interpret their song, and I will happily hear of other interpretations. I will probably agree with them, but rescind from thinking scientific and theological explanations as mutually exclusive. But in the meantime, I will listen hard for what God has to say to me in this verse and not that, and in the play of Chip and friends, gracing my lawn with their presence.

IMG_5792 (3)

The World Beneath my Feet

It has been a wet June, and somewhat cold too after a warm dry May. Yesterday I rushed out and mowed the lawn aware of an impending rainstorm. My timing – albeit prompted by my wife’s observation of the light’s shift– was exquisite. The heavens opened just as I put away the lawnmower. Our lawn these days is rich in colour and complicated in content. “Weed and Feed” and such were outlawed a few years back, and so folk have the option of hiring lawn professionals (who can still use such products), or going au naturel, or converting grass to something else: a rock garden, a perennial bed, etc. Ours is a rather large lawn and so the conversion option is not so very attractive. We are not inclined to go with lawn professionals, and so wild is our style.

Our lawn gets a little more interesting each year. It hosts many sorts of plants, including grass. From a distance it looks a lovely green of various hues. Up close the breadth of selection is staggering. I generally like this, and am very happy with what must be a small wild strawberry that grows below the generous height I have set my lawn-mower. It begins with a lovely, tiny butter yellow flower that turns into a rock hard red fruit that is utterly inedible. From my perspective, its value is all in the beauty it brings to the lay of the lawn. Last year, a pretty little purple flower came along as well. I cheered it on, of course. But in due course I realized that it was strangling everything. It didn’t play well with others, and so I pushed back. This year it pops up here and there and I round it up with my hand rather than “ “Round Up.” Clover spots the lawn, and feeds the rabbits, and there are the odd dandelions that I did not dig up manually in the spring. I leave them be until next spring.

As you can tell from the above, I know my lawn a bit better than I did, say five years ago, when we would fertilize and apply herbicides in the spring and cut like crazy through the summer. Now I wander around, with my eyes on the ground wondering what I might find in this microcosm of multiculturalism. Scientists tell us that diversity is the building block of a healthy eco-system. That seems sound, as long as that diversity is ready to push back when certain species have “monoculture” as their watch word. Social scientist tells us that diversity is also the mark of a healthy culture, where room is made for the many or few who are different from the rest. That Christian sage of old seemed to have this in mind when he compared the church to a body, a harmony of disparate parts needing a diversity ordered to the common good of all.

Dealing with diversity in human community, however, is frightening. We imagine that if others look like us they will think like us and then all will be well. This, of course, is one way we put our heads in the sand. The pathway of the common good does not demand everyone look the same, or say the same thing, or even believe the same way. Common good comes from good community where people take time to be with one another, to find out what it is that divides and unites us, and to respect the difference and the distance we all need. In this week of national celebrations north and south of the border, we do well to recall that we all need one another because we can only be individuals together.

Thoughts from Eisenach

DSC01027

I am a stone’s throw away from the Wartburg Castle, famed for hosting two giants in the Christian faith: Elizabeth of Thuringia and Martin Luther. The former is renowned for her love of the poor, and the later for his witness to the message of Justification by Grace. (I should note that Goethe, too, wrote a love letter or two from this same castle.) I am in Eisenach to participate in a conversation hosted by the Lutheran World Federation on the topic of the Psalms in the life of the church. In and of itself, this is an interesting topic, but it is made doubly so in this instance because this is a gathering of people from around the globe. Together we discuss what it means to read the Bible in our contexts. The context of Eisenach, where we are staying, is especially potent because it was in the Wartburg that Luther translated the New Testament into German and in one stroke made the Bible available to a broader audience and in so doing consolidated many German dialects into what would become standard Hochdeutsche. To be here with people from around the globe is an incredible gift.

Part of the gift of being here is hearing different languages spoken. Chapel every day includes praying the Lord’s Prayer; each in their own language. Although English is the language of papers etc., it is in prayer that we fully hear the diversity that we are. There is something profound in this experience: gone is the rhythmic cadence of all praying together, and we hear instead a kind of murmuring, or perhaps one could call it a bubbling, a kind of effervescence that reflects the beauty that happens when diversity dances with unity: many voices praying the same words in different languages. We are gathered together as one, but a “one” that celebrates multiplicity in Luther’s heartland.

It is important to note that Luther didn’t translate the Bible into the language of his heart with the intention that all should learn German in order to read his translation. He felt that the Bible should be available to people in their mother’s tongue. In so doing he invites us to consider that every tongue, every culture, every people have an inherent dignity. Unfortunately too many of us live in cultures that worship uniformity over unity – cultures obsessed with the cult of efficiency. It isn’t efficient to speak across cultures and so uniformity pummels the richness that is unity in diversity. At one level, it isn’t too surprising that we trade unity for uniformity. It is, after all, hard work to enter into the thought world of people who live a different reality than mine, but to refuse that challenge is to forfeit a moment of grace: a moment I am reveling in this week. And so I invite you, too, to take time this week to reach across a divide – whether it be financial, racial, or political – to encounter difference. As you do so, accept the otherness of the other even while you hold hands in whatever small way might be possible. You will be glad you did.