This first chapter of Genesis that we just saw unfold before us, it might just as well have begun with “In the beginning was RELATIONSHIP” … the way it imagines this explosion of interconnected relational LIFE flowing from God … light and darkness, day and night, sea and dry land, plant and seed, fish and birds, wild animals and domestic. This incredible biodiversity, all of it flowing from and sustained by God … all of it an expression of God! And we haven’t even begun yet to speak of the creation of human creatures. But it’s there that we hear explicitly of the plurality of God--“let us,” we hear, let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness. And so in the image of God, human-kind is created, yet a further expression of God – the we-ness of God. And to everything … every creature, everything that has breath, is given every green plant for food. You can’t miss it … the creation is permeated with God’s own essence of life-in-relationship --relationship that is marked by diversity, and relationship that nurtures and sustains and generates yet more life.
In the weekly note out to Thrift Shop volunteers, Aleksa speaks of the welling up of tears at the sight of the volunteers who showed up for a walk together this past week. This was the first they had seen each other since the shop closed 3 months ago.
And then in a phone call with Daniel on Thursday, he described the bike ride to Peter’s school that morning. The first time in 3 months … Peter on the back of their magical orange power assisted chariot. And how at the very very first glimpse of the school, Daniel hears from the back seat: “I can’t get the smile off my face!” Of course it wasn’t the building that was so utterly thrilling but the prospect, ever so close, of being with some of his friends again in the flesh.
Maybe you’ve noticed too, how much flesh matters these days. Zoom is one thing. And our written greetings to each other these Sunday mornings are a true joy … but these are sure no substitutes for what it is to be together in person. Whether it’s tears or smiles or that flutter of excitement in the belly, these expressions that rise spontaneously in response to our connection with one another, surely they bear witness to something of our God-given essence, of how we are made for life-giving relationship … how we need each other. There’s something about these days of restrictions that are serving to remind us, put us deeply in touch with that essence, of who we are in that essential way … made for life-giving relationship.
It’s true in yet another way in these days, so marked by massive unrest in response to the murder of George Floyd. In rallies not just across the US but here in Canada and around the world, people of colour and white people are rising up --together. It seems we've arrived at a tipping point, where the rage among black people and the grief of generations of oppression is erupting into irrepressible demands for action, for change. And among growing numbers of white people, the tolerance, and the complacency in the face of racism that breeds injustice, even murder –that tolerance, that complacency is shattering. Hearts are breaking at the sight of our in-humanity. We’re getting real about the brutality and not only against George Floyd and not only by police. It’s coming home to us … finally starting to haunt us … that mothers are needing to teach their sons at a very young age that the world isn’t safe for them given the colour of their skin. It’s haunting us, the incident in Central Park of the white woman freaking out with fear in the presence of the bird watching man who asked her to put her dog on a leash … she not feeling safe because of the colour of his skin.
If we’re being real, most of us would confess to judging her more than being haunted by her. But what if we asked how did that happen? We, all of us, who are made for life-giving relationship, how did that happen? How did that insidiously get under her skin? What have we inherited, taken on board, that we didn’t know was there until it happens that someone asks us to put our dog on a leash, or whatever. Who would have guessed it would come to light that way?
Amid the unrest, fueling the unrest, there’s this growing desire, growing sense of urgency to make things right, to address the racism, to face it, to root it out. In a vigil last Sunday for George Floyd in Des Moins, Iowa, … there was a large gathering in the city park, black and white people together … and one of the speakers, a leader in the community, in his closing remarks about the need to work together, he said, “you white people, don’t tell us you have friend who is black.”
I get it. How great to have those friendships, but the deeper question is how are we participating in the systems that oppress, the behaviours that perpetuate inequality. How are we part of dismantling these things? How is it that suddenly there are billions of dollars made available in these last months … when for years, like 50, the reserve at Grassy Narrows has gone without clean drinking water. How is it that our prison population is hugely disproportionately made up of indigenous people? How is it that poverty is so racialized? How is it that there are so many more sorry facts that escape us?
Jonathan Sacks, noted philosopher, theologian, rabbi, in his book the Dignity of Difference, he says the greatest single antidote to violence (and let’s be clear … racism in all it’s forms is violence) “the greatest single antidote to violence is conversation, speaking our fears, listening to the fears of others, and in that sharing of vulnerabilities discovering the genesis of hope.” So the very thing that’s needed is encounter, connection, and here we are in this COVID time of restricted contact.
But surely that doesn’t mean everything gets put on hold. How might we use this time to shape us, educate us, energize us, prepare us for coming out of this time, so that when we are able to move out and meet, it’s high on our agenda, this dismantling of racism … that our moving out again is not just about picking up with our friends, the people already part of our circle … but stepping out in a way that widens our circle and deepens the conversation across the divides.
There’s much than we can be about in this time. And of course this is God’s time too! God’s whose very essence is loving relationship, whose being is forever opening in widening embrace. So for all the reading we might do, the on-line conversations we might pursue, surely this is a time too, to be more deliberate in turning to the Presence of God, in whose love we are eagerly welcomed and transformed. What might this look like? I so appreciate how Steve Garnaas Holmes describes it …
How do you live through a siege?
How do you guard your heart and keep your hope
amid violence, hatred, injustice and fear?
Let the sounds of the news
and the voices in your head settle and fade.
Release your fears and desires. Offer them to God.
Sit with the God of love and mercy.
Just sit with God. Sit, and listen.
Listen to God's passion for life and wholeness,
for justice and healing.
What do you hear from God,
the God who says “Let there be light,”
who says “I will give my life for you,”
who enters the world's suffering?
What is God saying to you?
It may be silence.
God may be weeping. God may be praying,
radiating blessing for all who are broken,
working wonders, renewing life you cannot see or know.
Open your heart
to let that light and mercy flood in.
to trust that gracious will.
Breathe deeply of that peace,
willing to be light in the darkness...
and go with love and courage
into the day.
And so may we, this day, and in the days to come.
 Jonathan Sacks, The Dignity of Difference – how to avoid the clash of civilizations, New York: Continuim, 2003, p2
 Steve Garnaas-Holmes, “Pray,” June 2, 2020