On my last visit to Vancouver, I took a walk along False Creek.
Vancouver is its waterfront. The mountains are accessible only to a limited number of hardy hikers; a similarly small elite can afford to live in the mansions of Shaughnessy or the high-rise condos of the West End; ditto for heading out on the ocean in a yacht.
But the waterfront is open to everyone, regardless of age, ethnic origins, or income.
And the Parks Board has thoughtfully placed benches along the way, where passers-by can sit, catch their breath, enjoy the view, or just meditate.
Most of the benches have small bronze plaques attached -- memorials to a family member or friend. I read them, casually, as I strolled along. Until I got to one that offended me.
It eulogized a child who had died. It described how wonderful she was. And the last line said, “Jesus always picks the finest flowers first.”
And I found myself instantly angry.
It took me a couple of months to figure out why.
It’s not because I expect everyone to have a faith that matches mine. If someone wants to believe in Krishna, Ahura Mazda, or Pastafarianism’s Flying Spaghetti Monster (go ahead, look it up), that’s up to them. If they take the Bible or any other scripture literally, okay -- I may not agree, but if it gives them comfort in the tragic loss of a son or daughter, well and good.
And if it makes them feel better to believe that their child now lives in some kind of celestial paradise, fine.
But I found the plaque offensive because it maligned the character of a friend of mine. I would feel the same way if someone accused my wife of embezzling church funds, or my daughter of running a child sex trafficking ring.
Companion through life
I don’t often say this out loud, but I consider Jesus to be my friend. My mentor. My companion. As I reach a relatively advanced age, I realize that I have spent most my life -- sometimes consciously, often unconsciously -- trying to live by his example.
I see him embodying the best qualities of both God and humanity – being kind, thoughtful, considerate, caring, gentle...
But the words on the plaque make my friend Jesus a selfish monster who cares less about the pain he’s causing the girl’s parents and siblings than about his own pleasure. A bogeyman who delights in spoiling other people’s joy. A bully who grabs what he wants, regardless.
I would not consider someone a friend if he plucked my best flowers without my permission, indeed, over my vigorous objection, from the garden I have devoted my life to.
And then they’re supposed to act as if he had done them a favour?
The plaque would never incline me to see my friend Jesus as a compassionate human being, let alone a loving God. It makes him a medieval despot with life-and-death power over His miserable peasants.
I know those parents’ pain; my wife and I also lost a child. But I cannot, will not, blame Jesus for plucking that child away from us.
Rather, I felt my friend’s supporting presence as we struggled through those bitter times.
Copyright © 2018 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups, and links from other blogs, welcomed; all other rights reserved.
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In last week’s column, I wrote about a number of things that have changed, and are still changing, in my life and my beliefs.
Bob Rollwagen endorsed my view: “Right on. Change is accelerating while populist governments are busy reducing taxes, and public service is falling behind. A recent report from a European think tank reported that only 10% of financial growth over the last century has gone to the lower 25% of society. It is worse in the more affluent areas of the globe and it is accelerating also. The conclusion was stated and is obvious -- the richer, the ones with power need to share more. How? Pay their share of revenue needed to make society fairer and stop exaggerating the abuse assumed at the lower fringes.
“We all know the rich are getting richer. Business class is getting bigger on planes and planes are getting bigger to accommodate this accelerating change.”
James West told me I was being too literal: “Heaven is not a where but a when. Those who have access to it, listen to the song that didn't make it into Fiddler on the Roof, ‘When Messiah Comes’.”
So, essentially, did Tom Forgrave: “Going back to Genesis we are told we are made in the image of God. But God doesn’t have a physical image – does God look like you or Joan or Marg or me? – God’s image is spiritual and so are our essential images. That’s how things have changed for me. What survives after physical death is the ‘spirit’ of the person which is genderless. I don’t think I need to counsel a person that they won’t see the body of their deceased loved one – they’ll imagine that anyway. I just need to move them toward a more spiritual understanding of life after death. And I know that the last few lines of the ‘New Creed’ are very meaningful to people – and those lines have nothing to do with a physical body.”
Tom Watson looked at the resistance to change: “I knew a woman who was born in her parents' home on a particular street in her city. Upon marriage she and her husband built a new house three doors away on the same street. She died in that house at the age of 92. Not only had she lived her entire life in this one small area, she didn't care to travel and see what life might be like in other places, so had no exposure to different people and their ways of thinking or being. Consequently, her points of view, and her faith, remained static throughout her existence.
“How much anything about us evolves -- changes to whatever greater or lesser degree -- depends in large measure upon our exposure to differences which open up new ways of thinking about and looking at life. Left in isolation, there's nothing to lay over and against our preconceived understanding about anything.”
Margaret Carr wrote about changes she had experienced. In nursing school, she wrote, “We were taught to stand up if a doctor came to the ward and not to question an order even if we thought it was wrong. Now nurses are treated as a doctor’s equal and can contribute to a patient’s care by asking why if they question an order.
“So I fully agree with your Soft Edges column and just wish that all of our United Church ministers had the strength to tell us how things have changed in our religion. What a gift that would be to so many of my friends!”
I misread the lectionary’s choice for a psalm for this Sunday. It called for Psalm 98; I thought it said Psalm 95. When I compared them both, I decided I liked Psalm 95 better. I hope this doesn’t louse up anyone’s Sunday service.
1 Come and climb up to the top of the rock;
Stand on top, and stretch your arms out to the sky.
2 Reach out to the holiness that wraps its breath around you.
In grateful silence, soak up the shining light of life.
3 God is the rock upon which we live;
4 All the earth is God's:
From ocean abyss to mountain pinnacle,
5 From polar icefield to tropical rain forest,
God lives in every subtle link of life.
6 Bow your head before the wonder of it all;
Feel the strength of the rock rise through your feet.
7 We are one in God.
Lichens and trees, ants and people --
All are held in the circle of God.
For paraphrases of mostof the psalms used by the Revised Common Lectionary, you can order my book Everyday Psalmsfrom Wood Lake Publishing, firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Ralph Milton’s latest project is a kind of Festival of Faith, a retelling of key biblical stories by skilled storytellers like Linnea Good and Donald Schmidt, designed to get people talking about their own faith experience. It’s a series of videos available on Youtube. I suggest you start with his introductory section: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7u6qRclYAa8
Ralph’s “Sing Hallelujah” -- the world’s first video hymnal -- is still available. It consists of 100 popular hymns, both new and old, on five DVDs that can be played using a standard DVD player and TV screen, for use in congregations who lack skilled musicians to play piano or organ. More details at wwwDOTsinghallelujahDOTca
Wayne Irwin's “Churchweb Canada,”an inexpensive service for any congregation wanting to develop a web presence, with free consultation. <http://wwwDOTchurchwebcanadaDOTca>
I recommend Isabel Gibson’s thoughtful and well-written blog, wwwDOTtraditionaliconoclastDOTcom
Alva Wood’s satiric stories about incompetent bureaucrats and prejudiced attitudes in a small town -- not particularly religious, but fun; alvawoodATgmailDOTcom to get onto her mailing list.
Tom Watson writes a weekly blog called “The View from Grandpa Tom’s Balcony”-- ruminations on various subjects, and feedback from Tom’sreaders. Write him at tomwatsoATgmailDOTcom or twatsonATsentexDOTnet