I’ve been wondering …
Let me set the stage, if you will, for this musing place in which I find myself. For the last few weeks, over the course of the Christmas and New Year’s season, I have been quite busy revising my doctoral work. The project is focused specifically on our United Church of Canada in respect to our rich history of justice work and the current structural change in which we find ourselves. So, that’s one part of the stage setting.
The next is that this coming Sunday I will be heading to La Ronge for my fifth College Sunday. It is hard to believe that our journey together is now entering its seventh month. It is even harder to believe that over a decade ago I journeyed with La Ronge’s minister, Heather Wyatt, as my diaconal mentor for three years, as I pursued my own ministry preparation with the Centre for Christian Studies.
So, that’s the stage: our denominational history of justice work and its structural change context, and an upcoming adventure with the La Ronge United Church.
In regard to the first, I have been wondering about what the first reading from Isaiah might be saying to us. As I have reflected upon the passage, my in-house liturgist and I have discussed it in respect to our denominational endeavour to live into right relations. This has led me to wondering to whom Isaiah might be talking and – in turn – what we might need to consider? This is where the Isaiah reading has taken me …
For most of our denominational journey, in particular as the war years unfolded in the last century, we have been very busy being suspicious – and rightly so, I might add. One of the central ways this has unfolded has been in the context of gender roles: when women’s lived experience of became incompatible with inherited theological traditions, we started asking questions, we got suspicious of the tension in our inheritance when it affected the quality of lived life.
This tendency to question – to ask who is in and who is out – has only continued. For near fifty years, we interrogated marriage as an institution and gender limitations we inherited and, in the 1970s-80s, we followed this expanding deconstructive journey into areas that ranged from sexuality to indigenous relations. As I look at the banner, which graces this sanctuary, it stands as testament to this faithful work. Work that now our United Church continues to explore and ask what it means to be an intercultural church in a secular pluralistic country called Canada.
In my wondering, therefore, from this tendency to ask who is in and who is out, what might it mean if this text is meant for all of those who have been marginalised and oppressed by theological traditions – new and old – that limit. What if Isaiah is talking about the vindication and salvation, the returning of dignity, to those with whom we endeavour to walk in solidarity?
From this question, I have then found myself wondering about our current denominational change context. This suspicion that has served us so well, I also believe it presents a challenge. I am grateful to Professor Mitchell for introducing me to the theorist Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick. Eve and I have been spending a lot of time talking as I have worked on my doctoral revisions.
Sedgwick talks about the danger when suspicion becomes paranoia. More pointedly, she believes that when we only see the world through one lens, that lens can then limit any other possible wisdom that might be gleaned from another. When that happens, we get paranoid.
For me, this seems to be a helpful challenge because as a denomination, we have initiated change not from a missional context. If we had been focused on mission, for instance, we might have held up the historic deconstruction we have briefly mentioned. Rather, fear has been the motivator. Declining finances, shrinking congregations, aging and missing generations, when experienced in a place already suspicious, makes it hard to see joy in hope.
Well – the first part of the stage is set: a denomination that has, in its history of deconstruction, nurtured an expansive theology that sees blessing in diversity and a denomination that is in a change context that is driven by deficit. The paradox is that as we endeavour to welcome others, we have a tendency to distrust one another.
Wondering … I have been wondering what this paradox has to do with the second reading: the first miracle of Jesus’ ministry, according to the Johannine tradition, is a wedding. Not just any wedding: a party, a multi-day event in which libations flowed and the first miracle was refilling the wine! Radical, abundant and joyful. I am wondering how this connects for you, for the College, for me and for our larger denominational context.
The other part of the set, therefore, is this upcoming trip to La Ronge. Congregations are different – each one is quirky, has a specific personality and more often than nought has found ways to continue to share the Good News even in the midst of life’s unfolding. These faith communities, however, have been living through a denominational journey that has left them – Sometimes? Often? – feeling isolated and, in turn, suspicious as we have looked to fix our fear that we often name as deficit in the midst of loss.
Let me be clear, I am not saying in any way that La Ronge is in a place of isolation. Though there is no doubt they are ‘isolated,’ quite frequently I hear them, and the College’s community celebrate the ministry we share with one another.
In this example of celebration, therefore, I wonder how it is that we, as a College, as students, as ministers, Sisters and Brothers, can bring this sense of joy abundant that the community of John saw in Jesus’ ministry in the case of these paradoxes?
I wonder how we as individuals, striving to support one another in our discipleship, find practices and ways to integrate this sense of fun, play and merriment in all we do?
I am here because of the denomination’s suspicious personality. If it were not for the 1988 decision to open-wide the doors for ministry to all people, regardless of who they loved, I would not be here. That radical and crazy decision, as an outsider, was joy-filled. Though I do not have a punch-line or catchy way to resolve any of these wonderings … here’s one last thought upon which I will leave us to further reflect.
I wonder what might happen, if we – in our various vocational places – connect the party at Cana with a richly expansive theology that sees blessing in diversity and not only think about it, but be it for ourselves, share it with others and, with humility, see in one another Love Incarnate …
May it be so