We are proud to be part of the AFFIRM network of churches joining with others to declare ourselves to be fully inclusive of people of all sexual orientations and gender identities. All are welcome here.
A program unique to CMUC Burrard St. Story Guild had its inaugural launch in the spring of 2018 with its storytelling of the prophet Jonah. Story Guild uses theatre arts to invite children (ages 3-12) into the stories of the Hebrew and Christian traditions. Participants are given lots of options as regards the extent of their involvement on the stage (depending on confidence and skill levels), yet regardless of experience or training (none required) all the participants work together to build a storytelling event that touches the hearts of young and old alike.
Rehearsals for the Story Guild productions take place on Sunday mornings from 10:45-11:45.
Would you like to better understand transgender experiences through the lens of Christian faith? You are invited to CMUC’s Affirm screening of “Belonging in the Body: Transgender Journeys of Faith” on November 14 in partnership with Generous Space Ministries.
The film, released in 2018, shares the stories of 11 trans Christians along with their experience of church, scripture and faith. Following the one-hour film in the sanctuary, there will be a chance to ask questions to a panel of trans Christians. A reception with refreshments will follow in the Centre for Peace. This is a FREE event open to all with an optional opportunity to donate toward the work of Generous Space.
Check out the trailer here:
Evening begins at 7 pm at the church. Panel discussion follows film. Reception will happen afterwards in the Centre for Peace. This is a FREE event with donations accepted for the work of Generous Space. Come are you are.
This Sunday, November 11 we invite all to attend our Remembrance Day service and tribute to the 90th anniversary of Canadian Memorial United Church as a memorial to peace. Service and starts at 10:30am. Open house at 12:30pm. Concert at 2pm.
~Take in a reverent and inspiring wreath laying service with peace advocate Tessa Blaikie Whitecloud.
~Tour the historic stain-glass windows and read their poignant stories.
~And hear the Universal Gospel Choir as they perform a moving Remembrance Day concert.
This is the 90th anniversary of the church, and we are so proud that we still stand as a tangible memorial to peace.
Please join us!
10:30am – Commemorative Service with church choir and orchestra
12:30-1:45pm – Open House. View the historical stain-glass windows
2:00pm – Remembrance Day Concert by the Universal Gospel Choir. (By donation.)
Come pay tribute to those who fought for our freedom, and join with us as we promote peace.
This is a story of the families known as the patriarchs: Abraham, his son Isaac, and Isaac’s son Jacob. We now call them the fathers of our faith, and along with them come the mothers of our faith: Abraham’s wife Sarah, Isaac’s wife Rebecca, and Jacob’s two wives, Leah and Rachel. These families are not perfect. In fact, they rival both great opera and soap opera for dysfunction, pain, and fraught relationships – much like our own families. But this story, the story of the marriage of Isaac and Rebecca, is one of faithfulness and hope.
First, some background: in the ancient world Near East, finding a suitable wife for his offspring, especially the heir, is one of a patriarch’s most crucial responsibilities. In the world of Genesis, there was no belief in afterlife; immortality instead lay in progeny.
It was also crucial that Isaac’s wife be from the same community. The practice of marrying within one’s community or tribe is called endogamy, as opposed to exogamy, in which one marries outside the community. Exogamy (marrying outside) is practised by groups with a strong sense of identity, who are not threatened by change. This describes neither Abraham’s family nor the later nation of Israel. Abraham had long ago left his homeland, called by God into the land of Canaan, which is roughly present-day Israel, and when he went down into Canaan, Abraham brought with him a new faith, a faith in this God named Yahweh, a God who was not worshipped by any of his new Canaanite neighbours. God then established a covenant with Abraham, promising that his progeny would be a new nation; that they would be as numerous as the stars in the sky and the grains of sand in the desert. If Abraham’s son marries a Canaanite woman, she will bring her own religion and her own gods, and Isaac will be tempted to stray from sole worship of Yahweh, which puts the covenant at risk. Isaac has to marry a woman from Abraham’s own family.
Abraham is now living near Hebron, a city that still exists today, at the southern end of the West Bank, but his family is back in Mesopotamia, around the area where Turkey and Syria and Iraq meet. So he entrusts his servant with camels and wealth to make the journey to find a suitable bride. The servant makes the journey, and when he comes to the city, he needs to figure out a search process for a suitable bride. It’s interesting that God, who is active and in direct communication with the family of Abraham throughout the book of Genesis, does not speak directly in this story. I’ll return to that later, but want to bookmark it now.
Acting without direct instruction from God, the servant is left to his own devices for a search process, and so he asks for a sign as divine guidance. The servant prays for a sign that the young woman whom he asks for water will not only give him water, but also water to his camels.
Now the camels are the key point on which the story turns: watering them is the central criterion, and it’s important. He doesn’t ask that she be beautiful, although she turns out to be. He doesn’t ask that she first identify herself as being from a certain family, although this will be important. The most fundamentally important qualification of which the servant can think is that she offer to draw water for the camels.
This wasn’t put into perspective for me until it was pointed out in my research sources that camels are thirsty creatures and can drink an enormous amount of water! Does anyone want to take a guess as to how much water a camel can drink? I have the number in both litres and gallons, so pick the measurement of your choice. Go ahead and shout out some guesses!
The answer is 20 gallons, which is 76 litres. The average car has a gas capacity of 45-65 litres. A camel can hold more fluid than a full tank of gas – and there are ten of them. We’re talking 200 gallons, or 760 litres! To put that into an everyday perspective, if you picture a 4 litre jug of milk, it would take 190 of those to fully water ten camels.
Not only that, but the well we’re talking about is not a vertical shaft with a bucket attached to a rope: it’s at the the bottom of an inclined slope. Fetching water from this well requires descending to it and ascending from it. So when Rebecca waters ten camels, she is not languidly draped over a picturesque fairy tale well, robes flowing romantically, gracefully lowering and raising a bucket. Nope: Rebecca is gittin’ ‘er done. She is strong, she is active, and she is no doubt sweating.
Earlier in the story (v. 19-20), while she’s drawing the water, Rebecca is described as hurrying and running. This speed echoes an earlier story in Genesis about Abraham, in which he is visited by strangers (who turn out to be angels), and he is described in similar terms: he hurries to meet them and runs to arrange their refreshment. It is this same hospitality, this generosity, this thoughtfulness that marks Rebecca not only as a good wife, but as the woman who will act in a way that will fulfil God’s purposes.
A caveat: there are a couple things this is not about. This is not about women’s function being only to serve others. This is not about any of us burning ourselves out, neglecting our own needs in order to fulfil those of others. This is about the willingness to show up in the moment and say “Yes” to an unexpected request. That is the the mark of being ready to take part in the work of God: the work of God in this story being the continuation of the family of Abraham, and it is the same willingness that Jesus’ mother Mary displays in the New Testament when she consents to bear a child; a willingness that God asks of men and women.
So what does this mean for us – we who are unlikely to encounter thirsty camels?
I think this story is about one of the simplest and hardest things: saying “yes”.
Earlier I pointed out that God neither speaks nor acts directly in this story. Instead, God is at work in the small interactions between people. This story reminds us both that God is always present, and that working with God and building the world God envisions can take place in the most simple, day-to-day interactions. What is required of us, in order to take part in God’s workings in the world, is to notice the needs of those around us, and respond.
It’s really simple.
And it can be really hard.
Life is demanding: the requirements of day to day life can feel relentless, leaving no time to see outside the next thing on our list. But I think what this story shows is that it doesn’t take grandiose visions, great social movements, or large-scale planning to be part of God’s work. Instead, it takes a willingness to respond on a very small scale to very immediate needs.
We live in a broken, hurting world, and sometimes we are broken and hurting ourselves. There are so many needs – people sleeping in our streets, the suicide rates of aboriginal teens, the pollution of African nations by oil companies – that they can easily overwhelm us. But they are there, and while we are none of us God, and we are none of us required to save the world, something is still required of us.
I get very uncomfortable when I ponder this, because it can seem a short step from saying “something is required of me” to “I have to act a certain way in order to earn God’s love”. That is not what I am saying. The challenge is to find the middle ground between “it’s all up to me” – which it isn’t – and “I can’t do anything” – which I can.
I can treat the faceless customer service rep on the phone as a human being. I can tell the young woman in the hijab how much I like her shoes. I can check whether the scruffy guy on the bus with his head between his knees is okay. I can keep my eyes open to the world around me and see the humanity. Or I look to the northwestern Ontario small town in which my grandmother lived for examples: it’s the neighbour who mowed her lawn, the friend who dropped off an extra Thanksgiving dinner.
In the Hebrew scriptures, God establishes a covenant with the people of Israel: God is our God, and we are God’s people. God promises to be there for us, never abandoning God’s people, and in return, we are asked to keep God’s ways. Keeping God’s ways is never about rigid rules. Keeping God’s ways is about caring for the poor, the widow, the orphan, and the stranger – the vulnerable and the outsider. Doing this will change us.
And so when I say that something is required of us, what this really means is that we are invited to be changed. We are invited to leave behind our fear, our smallness, our walls, and embrace the uncertainty of a life in God – not to earn divine approval, but for our own sake. We are accepted, loved, and wanted as we are, and we are invited to the freedom and life of keeping God’s ways: a God who dreams of a world of justice, mercy, and kindness. The path to that world is built one small step at a time, one small “yes” at a time.
We will fail. We will walk away from the well, too busy, tired, or cranky for the camels. But the beckoning is always there: the beckoning to build a world we can only imagine, one thirsty camel at a time.
When we were looking at the worship calendar for this summer, there was some discussion about whether or not we could ignore Canada Day.
We decided not to. Not this year, as the colonial project of Canada turns 150 years old.
Canada has a checkered past. We have many incredible people and institutions worthy of celebration – public healthcare, a powerhouse national womens’ soccer team.
As well as a painful history of genocide, internment, disenfranchisement – a history that continues to be felt in communities, passed down through generations.
This celebration and this grief are both true and the combination of them is uncomfortable.
AND there is no path to transformation – individual and collective transformation – that doesn’t first take us through discomfort – through deep, and sometimes painful, reckoning.
Individually and collectively, we are not, and have never been, perfect. Pretending otherwise does us no good. Preaching is about sharing the Good News. And the good news lies in the possibility that our past mistakes might transform us.
Now, for a little perspective, in the scheme of geological history, a 150-year-birthday is pretty little. Even on a timeline of human history, 150 is very young.
This past Spring an ancient village was discovered in Heiltsuk territory, 500km NW of Victoria. The village is believed to be one of the oldest human settlements ever found in North America – the remains that were found were estimated to be 14,000 years old.
Older even than this biblical story we just heard – and maybe that we’d like to avoid – the cringe-worthy story of a God who demands that Abraham kill his only son, Isaac, born to Abraham and his wife – who might have also been his half-sister – Sarah after a life of infertility, so that Abraham could prove his fear of, and therefore his love for, God.
I don’t need to tell you that this story does not work particularly well for me. Like the overt nationalism of Canada Day, this is a story I would like to avoid. And it too, is fertile ground for recognizing and participating in transformation.
You see, God has changed since Abraham’s time. Certainly our understanding of – our relationship with – God has changed since Abraham’s time. And even saying “changed” is understating it. God – our understanding of God – has been transformed.
It hasn’t happened quickly. And if you are looking, it’s certainly still possible to locate evidence of that God of Abraham in hearts, and hymns, and liturgies. That is where we come from, but it is not all of who we as Christians are, and it certainly doesn’t need to be where we are headed.
I am of a generation that is more comfortable with change than with stagnation. It’s what we’re most used to. So I’m drawn to Process Theology.
Process Theologians speak about the things that do endure, including electrons, molecules and cells, and the human soul.
And they speak about events and experiences that are distinct and that do not endure over time, that “arise, become, and reach completion.” But even these distinct events, they say, have an essential relatedness.
Theologian John Cobb – who, at age 91, was at CMUC drinking beer and taping a podcast last summer – Cobb explains that even distinct events are not independent and separable. They are “essentially related to previous experiences”. Their relationship to past events is primary – they are only distinct in how they react to those events.
The basic idea is that everything is informed by everything that came before it. There is no ‘it’ that isn’t part of that web of relationships and process. Here in this Sanctuary, that may seem obvious. But it is such a deeply counter-cultural notion that it bears repeating.
It is so significant because the Process Theologians include God in this calculation.
Our faith is shaped by an ancient history of a God who demanded horrific tests as proof of love. AND it has simultaneously been shaped over thousands of years by astounding acts of love.
In powerfully clear language, Cobbs says: present occasions feel past occasions. This implies, he says, that “each occasion is a selective incarnation of the whole past universe” – How’s that for a theological statement? And this means “that our activities will make a difference throughout the future. Future occasions will necessarily prehend [or feel, and be impacted by] us.”
It’s in that sweet middle spot that we always find ourselves – between feeling the past and impacting the future. We are created and creating beings, of a creator and creating God.
That’s the middle spot that we live in today, amid celebrations of Canada’s 150th birthday.
We give, we worship, on land with a history of genocide. We are the descendants of survivors and – for a great number of us – of perpetrators and beneficiaries of that cultural and physical genocide, or we are more recent immigrants and settlers onto land with that history.
More stunning is how that history continues to be felt today. Felt in a variety of legal, resource and land disputes, where the government of Canada is on one side, arguing against Indigenous peoples – where our shared tax dollars are used to resist the rights, health and title of Indigenous people.
That history is felt by the massive over representation of Aboriginal children in foster care, and Aboriginal people incarcerated in prisons, Aboriginal people in our homeless populations – symptoms of intergenerational trauma, and symptoms of systemic bias in our institutions, institutions that shame, blame, and penalize Aboriginal people more quickly than supporting them.
How we React to these things is what defines who we are, and what defines who we become into the future.
One way to react is to apologize.
In 1986 the United Church of Canada apologized to First Nations people for the pain and suffering caused by the Residential Schools, and reached further back in history, to apologize for the physical and theological damage done by early missionaries and colonists.
It took until 2008 for the Government of Canada to apologize for Residential Schools.
Both of these apologies were powerful moments of being in relationship with, and being transformed by, our past mistakes. The United Church’s 1986 apology from the Right Reverand Bob Smith read, in part:
“Long before my people journeyed to this land your people were here, and you received from your Elders an understanding of creation and of the Mystery that surrounds us all that was deep, and rich, and to be treasured.
We did not hear you when you shared your vision. In our zeal to tell you of the good news of Jesus Christ we were closed to the value of your spirituality.
We confused Western ways and culture with the depth and breadth and length and height of the gospel of Christ.
We tried to make you be like us and in so doing we helped to destroy the vision that made you what you were. As a result, you, and we, are poorer and the image of the Creator in us is twisted, blurred, and we are not what we are meant by God to be.”
Good, heart-felt and well articulated apologies are hard to come by. The church, in this apology, did very well. The problem, usually, is that even in apologizing we want to be right. Our brain jumps in to conceal or protect our heart.
Comedian Amy Poehler wrote in her 2014 book about a gut-wrenching mistake she made –on live TV to Saturday Night Live’s millions of viewers. And about the three years in which that mistake ate away at her before she finally apologized.
She gives examples of two apology letters – one from the brain – an apology that attempts to explain, justify, to clear your name, and one from the heart – that takes risks, that admits imperfection and asks nothing.
An apology from the heart means risking a brokenness that may not be mended in our lifetime. AND it creates the uncertain, uncontrollable, space for transformation.
It’s a choice. And, like everything, a calculation of what can be gained and what might be lost. Each mistake, all of our reckoning, presents an opportunity. Put up a safe, strong wall, or crack open a little more.
No part of process theology, no aspect of the science of evolution, no review of human history, suggests we will always choose right. There’s no guarantee that being people in process means we are people who will naturally progress. Sometimes – many times – we, our leaders, our governments, get defensive, or don’t pause to reflect – we refuse to feel past events, and our mistakes compound upon one another.
How we react is a choice, and these choices are intimate, and risky.
Everything is informed by everything that came before it. But how we react is what defines who we are, and who we become.
The cliché may be that Canadians say Sorry too often. But to do it well – to admit our imperfections without needing to explain and justify – and to really, really be willing to be transformed by them – we all could do a little more of that.
The government of Canada’s formal apology paved the way for the 5.5 year Truth and Reconciliation Commission process. Many of you, I suspect, participated in some event related to that process.
The United Church of Canada’s 1986 apology has led into deeper relationships with Indigenous people, through church structures like the Aboriginal Ministries Circle, and through shared advocacy and faithful public witness efforts.
It may be, for some of us, that these heart-driven apologies on Indigenous Rights don’t see resolution in our lifetime. That they feel like picking at wounds from our past.
But I want to tell you – when the Government of Canada made that apology in 2008, I was working as a youth and family worker at an elementary school where the majority of our families were Aboriginal. That morning our lunchroom/auditorium was packed with kids and families watching, and there was not a dry eye in sight.
I have seen the pride of young Indigenous dancers at the Friendship Centre, and the love of Elders and grandchildren at the annual Womens Memorial March, I have heard the Hip Hop of a Tribe Called Red, and watched the round dances of Idle No More.
These apologies have shifted the burdens of blame and responsibility, and young generations of Indigenous People are transforming themselves, their communities and this country.
We are in the early days of this transformation. In time it will entirely transform this country – it will require all sorts of shifts that may be upset the current power imbalance – but we will all be richer for it.
The God that our ancestors knew and wrote about was vengeful, had a fragile ego, played favourites. And that God was evident in our actions. With courage and with resistance, we have become reacquainted with God again and again throughout human history. We have learned, grown, adapted in how we live and how we relate to one another, and along the way we have encountered God doing the same.
Dr Martin Luther King famously quoted theologian Theodore Parker in saying, “The moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice”. In contrast, process theology says that the divine power is persuasive rather than controlling – the unfolding of justice is not inevitable – it will not happen without our participation.
But when we participate in that work, we do so in the presence of God.
When we soften our hearts to make amends for past errors, when we are willing to loosen our grip on control in order to be transformed, when we show up and do the tangible work of bending the universe toward justice – we are living into the pull of a God who has transformed and is transforming. A God who has a checkered past. A God who longs for justice too.