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Tuesday, 14 February 2017

The Hermeneutic of Wonder!

William Brown, Professor of Hebrew Scriptures at Columbia University in Atlanta, GA, was a presenter at Epiphany Explorations in Victoria at the end of January.  He has an interest in ecology and justice as well as astrophysics and astrobiology.  He gave three presentations in Victoria about interpreting biblical stories and the life we live through wonder, i.e. a hermeneutic of wonder.

While I’d not heard of using wonder as an interpretive lens by which to view biblical stories and the stories of our own lives, I’ve long had an interest in science and astronomy and am often in awe at the beauty of life.  I love getting to the top of a mountain and spending time in silence just taking it all in.  Almost every night, I will go outside to look up to the night sky to see if any stars or planets are visible.  I have a couple of aps on my iPad to help me understand the placement of the constellations and I look at it often.

Keep Jumbo Wild!

I’ve long loved Psalm 8 and think of it as the philosopher’s psalm.  “Who are we mortals that God should give us any heed?  And yet God has made us little less than God’s self.”  I imagine the writer of Psalm 8 looking up at the night sky and wondering about our place in the universe and God’s intention of love and justice for the world.

A couple of weeks ago, just after Epiphany Explorations, I was visiting my mother in Nanaimo; there was a convergence of Mars, Venus and the sliver of a waxing moon just after sun-down; these three celestial lights were in a tight triangle and very visible.  Last night (Monday the 13th of February), I went to a dark place just after 7 pm to look at the constellations.  Venus is very bright in the southwest sky; Mars is visible too, but much fainter.

I love the night sky.  When I was younger, a friend and I bought a map of the night sky constellations.  We were camping with our spouses and we had red lights and were looking up at the sky, consulting the map and trying to guess what we were looking at.  But it wasn’t computing.  After some ½ hour of trying to figure it out, we both realized that we had inverted the directions so where N was, we were thinking it was S, and vice versa.  Well, our spouses thought this was hilarious… so did we, as a matter of fact.  We all laughed and this seemed to reinforce the wonder with which we viewed the night sky (not to mention the wonder of human laughter).

Brown outlined how physicians are telling us that a sense of wonder can open up vistas of healing for us.  It helps calm us and helps us put stress into perspective.  A sense of wonder leads us to value and cherish—indeed, love—all creation.  Without anthropomorphizing creation, love can be experienced in the wonder of a grizzly seen at a distance, the grace of a deer leaping in the forest, the jumping salmon in running river, the spring display of colour, and a meadow just after the snows have gone.  A sense of wonder puts a new energy in our love for our fellow humans and in the intimate love we share with lovers, close friends and family.

And a sense of wonder helps us come at Scripture with new eyes and hear familiar passages with new ears.  It can make the story come alive.  Wonder can cultivate our deep commitment to justice and the well-being of the planet.  The old hymn invites us to take time to be holy.  We can take this time by being present in the moments of our days to see the world with wonder, to hear music with new wonder, and to share in life with an incredible sense of awe.

Cultivating more wonder in our lives can change us and create well-being... and it's good for the planet!

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Snowmaggedon This Week in Nelson, BC!

Nelson, and much of southern BC including the coast, has been hit by a series of snow storms.  There is so much snow that people don’t know where to put it and the city of Nelson has had a difficult time keeping up with the amount of snow that’s fallen.  Someone locally referred to this as “snowmaggedon.”  I heard someone else refer to the large amount of snow we have received as a “snowpocalypse.”

It has stopped snowing at the moment and we are now supposed to get some rain and warmer temperatures!  We’ll see what that’s like.  And we’ll see what happens on Sunday—we’ve nowhere to park!

I was at a store recently browsing for something and overhead two people talking about the weather—we do that a lot in Canada.  They were talking about the cold weather and the amount of snow; and then one said that this is proof positive that global warming is a hoax.  The other person agreed.  I couldn’t believe my ears.

We’ve moved away from referring to climate change as global warming.  While it is true that the earth is warming—by 0.85˚C since the industrial revolution—the warming of the earth is causing huge climate events—heavy storms, rains and flooding, snow, severe cold, severe heat.  The climate is disrupted by human-generated GHG (greenhouse gasses).  Scientists are warning us that there will be catastrophic changes to our planet if we exceed 2˚C by 2100.  (Current calculations by scientists tell us that if we don’t do better than the Paris Agreement, we will exceed 3˚C by 2100!)

Even 2˚C is too much.  We need to keep it at 1.5 or less!  That takes world-wide action on the part of our leaders and pressure from all citizens.  We have to hold PM Justin Trudeau accountable for the lack of climate leadership he has demonstrated in recent months; and of course, there’s Donald Trump, who doesn’t believe in climate change—how do we hold him accountable?

Yes, it is snowing and we’ve had long stretches of cold weather—cold for Nelson.  This is an example of climate disruption and a clear reminder to all of us to do what we can to urge governments to mitigate climate change (reduce carbon pollution soon and eliminate the use of fossil fuels by 2050) and adapt to the changes that have already disrupted life in many parts of the globe.  We also can come together to create strong movements of change.

Snowmaggedon is a call to action and a reminder that we need to do what we can do to seek justice for the earth.
Lots of snow and nowhere to park!

There's a car buried under the mound behind the street sign.

Monday, 6 February 2017

A Week of Tragedy and Solidarity

I’ve been away for the past couple of weeks attending a conference in Victoria and visiting family.  I’ve come back to an abundance of snow and the ubiquitous backlog of work that needs attending.

While I was away, the shootings in Quebec City took place--a heinous act of fear and hate against people of faith.  The Moderator of our United Church, Jordan Cantwell, wrote a letter of solidarity to our Muslim neighbours: “We share your grief, as we share your determination to stop the forces of hate that seek to divide and destroy us,” she wrote.

While the shootings were a terrible act, the actions of Canadians coming together in many cities, towns and rural areas was a tremendous act of hope, love and solidarity—a vigil was held here in Nelson on Sunday, February 5th.  A common message from these gatherings was that we will not be cowed by fear and hate; we will resist prejudice with love (as our Moderator said) and together we will be a light of hope to the world (as PM Trudeau implied).

While the tragedy in Quebec City occurred after the conference I attended in Victoria, a number of the presentations at the conference spoke to our need to actively resist fear and hate with concrete acts of love and solidarity.

We were reminded by MLA Melanie Mark, the 1st aboriginal woman to serve in the BC Legislative Assembly, that acts of love and justice have to be concrete in terms of actions and government policies; she is the member for Vancouver-Mount Pleasant.  She reminded us of the resilience of 1st Nations people in Canada and the fact that far too many 1st Nations children live in poverty and face many challenges from Residential Schools that cross generations.  Melanie’s was a message of hope and empowerment: when we seek to make changes through shared values and from a place of openness, vulnerability and shared power, we will find a common path on which to walk together.

The other presentation at the Victoria conference that spoke to meeting fear and hate with concrete acts of love was given by Martha Juillerat.  (Jordan Cantwell was due to speak, but she was unable to attend conference at the last minute.)  Martha spoke about her participation in the Women’s March on Washington 2017 and included many powerful pictures from that march.  She challenged us to think about racism and to question white privilege.  In the conversations she had with many women from different traditions, the common theme was that justice and love must be tangible and must be done together.  People must come together wherever and whenever injustice occurs; we were reminded that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”  (Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.)

Through all of this, I am reminded of something else Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, said: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character.”  That dream is still to be lived out in Canada as well as the USA and the rest of the world.  Concrete acts of love and solidarity along with the intention of peace with justice will go a long way to helping make this dream reality!