Storm in black and white

Violent ultra
violet piercing dark skies;
dangerous contrast.

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My Bible Challenge blog is usually more spiritualized than topical, but this morning, reading Jeremiah’s continuing litany of oracles against the nations, I could not help but wonder where we fit in:

Jeremiah 48:33 Gladness and joy have been taken away from the fruitful land of Moab; I have stopped the wine from the wine presses; no one treads them with shouts of joy; the shouting is not the shout of joy.

On a more serious note, I am writing this as the city of Ferguson, a suburb of St Louis, Missouri, is struggling through its second week of troubles following the shooting death of a black teenager at the gun of a white police officer, with all of the power disparity and racial discomfort and disconnect that such a sentence implies. Reading Jeremiah’s litany of destruction, I wonder how we could ever have thought that we could be exempt from the judgement that befalls the nations that are too proud, too cold, too haughty to care for their own, their little ones, their children. The prophets speak of infidelity and idolatry; we too are guilty of blasphemy when we disown, disparage, demean by our words, by our actions, by the actions of our systems, the systems that we uphold with our money and our votes and our blind eyes; we are guilty of blasphemy when we disinherit or disavow anyone who is made in the image of God.

Thus says Jeremiah: their shouting is not the shout of joy. 

Will we repent? 

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Year A Proper 15: going to the dogs

This is a difficult story, there’s no doubt. First of all, Jesus challenges our traditions, our touchstones, and tells us off for defiling our language and our relationships with our unclean hearts.

And then directly afterwards he has this interaction with a woman of Canaan.

First, he ignores her. Then, he denies her. And after that, he insults her with a proverb.

Her retort is not a witty comeback, a clever piece of wordplay designed to disarm him, to make him laugh, giving as good as she takes. This woman is on her knees before him, comparing herself to a dog begging under the table for scraps of food, begging him in the language of his temple, his Psalms, Son of David – she cries out not in her own language, not in the language of Canaan and the Baals, not the language of her people but of his – she is on her knees and she is going all out to try to convert him to compassion even for her, even for the enemy of the Israelites, even for the enemy of their God.

Does she even believe in the God of Israel? Who knows? But she believes that Jesus can help her. He is her daughter’s way out of trouble and into a new life.

And at the end of the brief exchange, Jesus does heal her daughter, and he goes on to heal many of her neighbours, and even to share with them the bread of life, the selfsame miracle with which he had fed the lost sheep of the house of Israel, with baskets of broken pieces left over once more to take home and extend the feast.

Preaching on this story back in the fourth century, St John Chrysostom said,

“For both Christ went out of His borders, and the woman out of her borders, and so it became possible for them to fall in with each other: thus He says, Behold a woman of Canaan coming out of her own coasts.”

and again,

 “Do you see how this woman too contributed not a little to the healing of her daughter? For to this purpose neither did Christ say, Let your little daughter be made whole, but, Great is your faith, be it unto you even as you will; to teach you that the words were not used at random, nor were they flattering words, but great was the power of her faith.”

This meeting, in other words, has ramifications far beyond this woman and her daughter. By coming out to meet Jesus, by inviting him into her heart, her home, into relationship with her, a Canaanite with whom no relationship was possible for a traditional Jew; by meeting him halfway, this woman becomes a bridge between her people and his. Jesus has just said that the traditions and rituals of the Pharisees were less important than the commandments upon our hearts, to love God and our neighbour; and here is the proof: that through a meeting that crosses traditional boundaries, in a moment when enemies become co-conspirators in an act of healing, a woman receives mercy for her daughter, and it is through her faith that many are healed.

This has been a really difficult week in America. Behind it all is the story yet to be fully told of the death of a young man whose parents have hardly had the breath yet to grieve. In the forefront, we have seen the spectacle of camouflaged police offers perched on military vehicles aiming long guns at the residents they are sworn to serve. We have heard the stories of those gassed and arrested and assaulted like enemies.The image of a city at war with its own citizens has been hard to bear.

What has helped, in the past couple of days, has been the reaching out of relationship. Once people put themselves on the same side of the barricades, once the people with the firepower, and, let’s face it, all kinds of power; once some of them were willing to stand next to instead of over the people without it, there came in the night a glimmer of hope, a small spark of peace.

Churches in and around Ferguson, Missouri, including the Episcopal diocese, have been praying, marching, meeting, lifting up those around them. They know that it is by reaching out, crossing borders, flaunting barricades to hold hands with one another that healing begins. They have learnt from the encounter between Jesus and the Canaanite woman that there is no such person on our borders as the enemy, no one who must be outcast, no one who does not need and deserve mercy, and the love of God.

It is the call of the churches to be, to build those bridges across barriers, to allow grace and mercy to flow freely, so that all may feast together. We are all in need, kneeling at the feet of Christ, and we say, here, that we have the faith to make things happen. We dare not be the blind leading the blind. We have to open our eyes to see the chasms between us and our neighbours, the people who live just across our street, whom we never see. We have to find out where those fissures lie, so that we can begin to build those bridges. We dare not be the blind leading the blind.

We can begin by acknowledging the things in our own hearts that defile us, the prejudice, the enmity, the disgust. We can begin by cleaning up the language that comes out of our mouths, remembering that promise we made at our baptism, not to stand on our own dignity, but to uphold the dignity of every human being. We dare not call anyone dogs.

We dare not call anyone dogs.

The disciples could not bear her pain and they begged Jesus to send her away. We have seen, to, this week how hard it is to hold another’s pain. In the suicide of Robin Williams, we have recognized our own blindness in the darkening face of depression. It is difficult to build a bridge across that deep chasm, but we can keep reaching out, offering our hands to hold onto. If nothing else, we can hold out hope.

The disciples could not bear her pain, and they begged Jesus to send her away. We dare not send her away, because we too are in need of God’s mercy; we have seen our sisters and brothers, we have known ourselves tormented by demons. We know our own need.

Many of you grew up, as I did, reciting the Prayer of Humble Access from the Book of Common Prayer each time we came to the Communion table. Today might be a good day to revive it in our hearts:

“We do not presume to come to this thy table, o merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in your manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy table. But thou art the same Lord whose property is always to have mercy…”

Amen. Lord, have mercy.


*Chrysostom homily quoted from

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Flirting with depression

Lately, I’ve been seeing an old friend. We dated for a while, when I was in my teens. For a time there, in fact, he was pretty much all I could think about. But a good friend and a friendly physician gave me a little intervention and I came to realize that it was not a healthy relationship. With a bit of love and a lot of support, they helped me kick him to the curb.

“His type will always comes back to haunt you,” I was warned. And sure enough, he breezed in from time to time, usually at the worst possible moments, like when I’m holding a crying baby whose bottom needs wiping in a shirt that still has half the baby’s lunch on it, wearing hair that hasn’t been brushed since last November. He has a knack for catching me at my lowest ebb.

Anyway, lately I’ve been noticing him hanging around the edges of my life, his eyes piercing through the crowded photograph on my newsfeed, his voice crackling through the newsreel. Sometimes, he disguises himself as home. There is no one on this continent, he says, who has known me as long as he.

“Don’t you remember how I used to make you feel?” he whispers, “As though nothing else mattered at all.”

Oh yes, I remember. But since then, I have made vows, and faithful promises, to care, to love, to let others matter. Nihilism is no longer an option.

So I am taking steps to protect myself from his advances.I will block him, unfriend him. I will not return his calls. I will spend time in the places that he finds it hardest to follow, to catch up, to break in; on my bike, by the water, in my husband’s bed. If I hear him knocking at the door, you may find me scurrying to hide myself beneath God’s skirts. If our paths must cross, and I know that they will, I will refuse to meet with him alone. I reserve the right to call for back-up.

Because behind the lies he told, he never loved me. I owe him nothing.


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Morning Prayer

On the days when the sun

does not rise, when the chill

will not dissipate from the night air,

words fall anechoic from our lips

to the carpeted abyss.

Let our tears be our salt-

seasoned offerings,

burning water our prayer.

Lord, hear our prayer.

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Year A Proper 15: send her away

Matthew 15:21-28: the Syrophoenician/Canaanite/canine woman. Some problems for the preacher.

What’s in a name?

You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.
You old dog. Sly old dog. Dirty old dog.

Dogged. Hot dog. Dog eat dog.
Why keep a dog and bark yourself?
She’s a dog. She’s such a dog.
Lie down with a dog and get up with fleas.
Love me, love my dog.
A dog is a man’s best friend.

What do you feed to the dogs beneath the table?

Scraps. Crumbs. Leftovers. Flakes. Crusts. Scrapings. Fat.
Gristle. Rind. Skin. Bones. Broken pieces.
Dregs. Discards. Refuse. Rubbish. Five-second rule-breakers.
Dirty. Inedible. Not fit for human consumption.

What’s in a prayer?*

“We are not worthy so much as to
gather up the crumbs under your table;
but you are the same Lord whose property
is always to have mercy,”
aren’t you? Do you think
I am a wolf in sheepdog’s clothing?
Am I to hear mercy in your silence?
To gather up the dust from your feet?

What’s wrong with this picture?

My daughter’s cat, Sierra, begs like a dog;
she stands up on her hind legs, pawing the air for scraps,
begging for a bit of meaty love. It never fails, because
we think it’s cute, teaching her to beg like a dog.

*”We do not presume to come to this thy Table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table. But thou art the same Lord whose property is always to have mercy. Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us. Amen.” The Book of Common Prayer, According to the use of The Episcopal Church, 337

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My daughter’s t-shirt

When we went to the National Cathedral a couple of years ago, my youngest daughter bought a t-shirt with Robin Williams’ “Top 10 reasons for being an Episcopalian.”
Yesterday, he died, apparently of suicide.
My husband hates reading statistics or stories of those suffering his own particular brand of cancer. Similarly, for those of us who have suffered from depression, news such as that of Robin’s death also reminds us of our own mortality, our own statistical risk of premature death. As sorry as we are over him, his family, his friends, we also feel a little bit sorry for ourselves, if we are honest; a little bit nervous.
Then what is the church’s role in fighting suicide and promoting health? Jesus’ disciples were given a mission of healing, a ministry of care, which we have inherited.
We might start by doing to depression what Jesus did to leprosy: destigmatizing it; daring to touch it, even to kiss it.
We might start with love.
1 Corinthians 13, the one you hear at weddings, says,
“Love is patient and kind … It is not irritable or resentful… Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends…”
I paid for that shirt. I owe it to my church, I owe it to Robin Williams to be honest about how much I identify with its author. I owe it to my neighbour to love them through their depression. I owe it to myself and to God to live with faith, with hope, with love. And when I can’t, I hope that someone else will decide that it is their job to love me, anyway.
I hope that Robin Williams knew that he was loved, when he lived and when he died. I hope that he knew that he was not alone in his disease. I have faith that he is at peace. I hope that his family receives the love they need to survive his loss.
And I am very sorry.



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