Wednesday, July 18, 2012

July 15, 2012 - Reflection by David


I manage to catch bits and pieces of The Current from time to time, a CBC radio program on in the morning. I heard a piece last Tuesday: It was an interview of journalist Chris Hedges who has written a new book called, Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt in the United States. He argues in his book and his articles and interviews that the world is dominated by corporations and the quest for wealth and that US cities and towns have been devastated economically and culturally. He feels that a revolution is beginning in the US, much like the Arab spring revolution, and that Canada, also suffering from the same disease of greed and corrupt power, will face a similar revolution. It was a difficult interview to listen to because Hedges was so bleak in his assessment of the state of the world and the kind of work required to even the playing field so that all people might enjoy prosperity.
Now contrast that interview with a documentary that I also watched last week. It was a film made by Tom Shadyac, the director of comedic films—Ace VenturaBruce AlmightyLiar Liarand The Nutty Professor are among some of his films. The film is called "I Am." He had a bad fall while mountain biking in 2007 and suffered a concussion and the dreaded and much too common post-concussion syndrome. Because he was in such a bad state, suffering depression, nausea, thoughts of suicide, and bouts of needing complete isolation, he sought many different ways of healing. In the course of his quest for wholeness, he began asking himself questions about life and what it's all about. In his documentary, he interviewed Desmond Tutu, David Suzuki, Howard Zinn, Noam Chomsky, Lynne McTaggart, Coleman Barks, and Thom Hartman, philosophers, psychologists, religious thinkers, environmentalists, and other contemporary leading thinkers. He starts out each interview by asking if they've seen any of his movies; it's a funny moment and most say no. I confess that I've only seen Bruce Almighty. I was quite moved by Tom's documentary and found it very hopeful. He asks the questions "What is wrong with our world" and "what can we do about it." He himself is transformed from his former life, as he describes it, of greed and excess and becomes interested in those around him and the plight of the earth.
While I found Hedges hard-hitting and difficult, pulling no punches and being very, very honest about the state of the world, I found Shadyac also very, very honest, but much more hopeful. I find it hard, perhaps because I recognize my own pessimism and cynicism at times, to hear the bleak picture without any real sense of what we can do about it. Shadyac doesn't want to leave us in that bleak place, where he himself has been, because he believes in the human spirit and the ability for us to find a simpler life and hold to account those who are currently on the path of excess and greed.
What both Hedges and Shadyac expose, each in their own ways is that poverty, war, hunger, environmental crisis are the symptoms of what is wrong. The root causes are fear, prejudice, greed, lack of security, an inability to think with our hearts, the separation of our beings from nature, and an under-utilized sense of inspiration and awe. Shadyac advocates that our heart is our primary organ of intelligence and that human intentionÑprayer, thought, hope, loveÑcan change the world. He also notes that cooperation, not competition, is natural to usÑcompetition is learned behaviour. He also learned that non-violent, supportive language using love, compassion, gratitude and such words lead to a much more hopeful disposition than negative words.
And of course, intentional or otherwise, Shadyac's use of the title, I Am, relates to the name for God given to Moses, Yahweh, "I am who I am" or "I will be who I will be." In other words, God is the source of our beings. God is part of us, within us. The divine spark of life is...
The contrast between the way of fear, greed, the quest for power over, and prejudice on the one hand and wholeness, consensus, peace, love, compassion and justice on the other hand are at play in the story of the death of John the Baptiser. Herod, a manipulator who himself was manipulated, full of excess and licentiousness—Jesus Christ Superstar got it right in their portrayal of Herod—regretfully had John killed; Herod was actually afraid of John. John who foreshadowed Jesus, who was tough in his holding to account the likes of Herod, the Romans and some of the religious leaders, was murdered for his troubles. John exposed the root cause of difficulties in ancient Palestine, the root causes that still are at the heart of the ills of the world. John had gathered those around him who knew a different way, a way of peace, love, compassion and justice.
And Jesus, of course, in proclaiming the Commonwealth of God, advocated and embodied this way of compassion and love. The story of John's death comes in Mark's gospel between the mission of the 12, who in this action heralded a permanent Jubilee, and the story of trying to get away with his friends to pray only to encounter a crowd, which leads to one of the abundance stories, the feeding of the 5000, which was more like 15000 when you include women and children.
And what the Jesus story is all about for us as Christians is the affirmation that the way of greed, fear, hate, prejudice, and manipulation will not and does not have the final say. The way of life, love and compassion, the way of peace with justice is the way of our common humanity. As followers of the One who lives, we affirm life in all its fullness.
One of the ways we do affirm life and the values of love, compassion and peace with justice is to highlight what Shadyac and Hedges both affirm, and that is that we are together in this. We are together in a cooperative way not in a competitive way. One of the movements that has popularity in the world today is a movement called The Commons. Those who went to the Co-op's tailgate party last Saturday participated in The Commons.
The Commons were areas in Britain and other countries, which still exist, where land is held in common and people can graze cattle there or use in multi-purpose ways. This idea of public land has been expanded to be public space—on the internet, meeting space, buildings, green space—where people can come together. Cooperatives are an expression of The Commons.
What we are about here in this church, and in most churches, is The Commons. We are, really, a cooperative. This space is held for us cooperatively to meet, to celebrate community, to hold one another in love and prayer, to celebrate life, to delve deeply into what it means to live in a spiritual manner, to be together in solidarity with each other, to pray and advocate for peace in the world. We join our energies together to create positive change in the world to affirm life for all. We take Shadyac's ideas, which are nothing new after all, and put them into practice. We use language that is affirming and hope-filled! We are the Church.
I think that we need to recover the sense of Church being The Commons. We've become too insular, too separate, to sectarian and we need to recover the sense of the Church being a place where people can come together to seek peace with justice, to seek wholeness, to speak words of compassion, to discover and renew our sense of what it means to love in the world.
Denise Levertov, in her poem, "The Fountain", articulates how, when we go back to source of life in each of us, we find the courage to make a difference in the world. It starts small, with each of us drinking of the fountain of life, and then together encouraging others to drink, and soon, you have a world of hope, a world of peace with justice, a world of love. The whole world can become The Commons. And so, I leave you with Levertov's poem:
Don't say, don't say there is no water
to solace the dryness at our hearts.
I have seen

the fountain springing out of the rock wall
and you drinking there. And I too
before your eyes

found footholds and climbed
to drink the cool water.

The woman of that place, shading her eyes,
frowned as she watched—but not because
she grudged the water,

only because she was waiting
to see we drank our fill and were
refreshed.

Don't say, don't say there is no water.
That fountain is there among its scalloped
green and gray stones,

it is still there and always there
with its quiet song and strange power
to spring in us,
up and out through the rock. 

(Quoted in Cries of the Spirit: A Celebration of Women`s Spirituality, p183.)
Amen.

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