Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Evangeline, A Love Story for the Ages

Lorna and I went to see Evangeline at the Confederation Centre in Charlottetown on Saturday.  It is a new musical by Ted Dykstra.  It was recommended to me by a friend/relative which I can now thank him for and pass on the recommendation to others.  I am generally not a great lover of musicals but this is definitely the exception that proves the rule (I'm not a great fan of that expression either but this exception proves the rules as well).  The music was enjoyable and fit well in the context rather than being an excuse for singing which I find doesn’t always happen (e.g. Les Misérables the movie).  The production was of high value with the set being simple but effective using projections on a back screen which included maps of the journeys of the hero and heroine.  I even enjoyed the dancing which says a lot –not being a fan of dance usually - including the liturgical kind.  The acting and singing were exemplary (again unlike Les Misérables)
The story is adaption of the epic poem of the same name by Longfellow which recounts the long attempts by the two lovers Evangeline and Gabriel to reunite after being separated tragically on their wedding day.  The lovers’ story is backgrounded by the events around the expulsion of the Acadians from Nova Scotia by the British to various places in the United States.  The lovers search is a life-long event which is made all the more tragic by many times their paths almost meet.  Gabriel dies in Evangeline’s arms in the final scene with the being not a dry eye in the house.  I was not really familiar with the events around the expulsion of the Acadians so it gave me a great introduction to that unfortunate part of Canadian history  - we can always blame it on the British so our Canadian holier than thou virtue is intact.    
I hope you do get the opportunity to take in a production in the future.  I definitely recommend it and trust it will be mounted in other venues in the future or it could be an excuse to come to beautiful PEI. 

Who's the Samaritan in Your Life

Sermon August 25, 2013
13th Sunday after Trinity - Luke 10: 25

The parable of the Good Samaritan is certainly one of those well-known passages from the bible - know well by people of our generation anyway.  The danger with a well-known passage such as this is twofold (if not more).  First when we are listening to it being read, we are likely to not pay attention.  We will think, Oh yes – the Good Samaritan – that’s a nice story – I’ve have heard it so many times that I certainly know this story.”  And so the listener doesn’t listen and if you don’t listen – you don’t hear what God is telling you.  Well, that the first danger – the one you have to pay attention to.
The second danger is for the preacher.  The congregation listening to the Gospel may say to him or herself after she has stopped listening, ‘I’ve heard quite a few sermons on the Good Samaritan.  I wonder if this preacher will say anything new or will it be the same thing I’ve heard before?”  That’s the danger for me.  Will I be able to say something that will reveal a new perspective on this word of God? Or will it be the same old – same old. 

As the hymn says, it is an old, old story of Jesus, of Jesus and his love –  a story that he is telling us.  One of the principles of the Gospel is that it should surprise us every time we read the Gospel.  If we read it with fresh eyes and listen with fresh ears it should surprise us because we will be different people from the last time we read it and hearing the Word of God should change us.  So I am going to read it again and see if you can hear it again for the first time…..

Was there anything that surprised you when you heard it this time?  Was there anything that you hadn’t heard before?  Well, one of the things that I became aware of when I read it a few days ago to begin to write my sermon is that it is really in three parts – three acts.  The first act sets the scene.  We have the person coming to Jesus to ask him as question.  The second act is meat of the passage – the parable that Jesus tells to make his point to those who are listening.  The third act is the climax – the message – the truth that Jesus want us – the listener to hear and inwardly digest.
In act one the thing that stands out in this reading is that the person who approaches Jesus is a lawyer.  Now, if it weren’t for this passage I wouldn’t have thought that there were lawyers in Jesus day.   I would have thought that issues of law would have been handled by the priest and other religious people.  But here we have a lawyer asking Jesus – a rabbi – a teacher for his view on the law.  Jesus turns the question on the questioner - a good Socratic method and answers a question with a question – in this case a question of law.  Jesus takes the game to the lawyer’s home court.  And the lawyer answers in good lawyerly fashion – with a summary of the law.  Jesus – the good teacher affirms his student – applauds him and tells him that if he does what the law says- loves God and his neighbour he will live.  These are the two great commandments we recite at the beginning of the service.

All well and good.  It could have ended here.  But Jesus has engaged him and drawn the lawyer into his sphere.  The lawyer now asks the question Jesus intends him to ask, “Who is my neighbour?”  Jesus now has him fully engaged – just as we should be if we are listening.  Well, who is our neighbour?  Jesus draws the lawyer and us further into his realm by the cast of characters in the story.  Who are the players – the characters in the story? ….
Well we have the traveler – who is not identified – but we assume that he is a good Jew.  We have the priest and the Levite – good upright Jews and of course the Samaritan – the hero.  Who else?  Well let’s not forget the thieves (we don’t know how many of them there are – but more than one).  And finally – well we have the inn keeper. 

The scene is set by the traveler being preyed upon by the thieves.  Of course he is travelling in dangerous country.  The audience – the lawyer and others will automatically identify with the traveler.  He is a citizen who has to travel in dangerous country – probably a familiar experience for people in Jesus time – travelling was not a pleasant and safe undertaking like today – well perhaps like it used to be until recent times.  The listeners could all picture themselves in the traveler’s shoes.  The dramatic event happens – the traveler is robbed and left for dead – a dramatic but not a surprising turn in the story.  Now here comes the twist.  Two upstanding God-fearing holy people come along and pass by on the other side.  These are the associates of the listener – the lawyer – good upright Jews.  People like him.  He can imagine that very well happening – and he is probably filled with righteous anger.  What happens next?  Well our hero comes to the rescue.  But another twist to the story -the hero is a Samaritan - you can almost hear the intake of air as the lawyer gasps in surprise.  A Samaritan!  Shock and horror – a despised outsider – he’s the one who comes to the rescue of the good Jew.  The Samaritans who are almost as bad as Gentiles.  Perhaps even worse – they are the poor cousins to the Jews who did not worship at the temple and were basically part of a family feud that was long and deep.  There was no love lost between the children of Judah and the Children of Samaria. 
No love lost and yet this is the neighbour who showed mercy and love   - the example that the good Rabbi Jesus held up as a paragon of the law.  The question for us today is - who is the Samaritan in your life?  Who is the one who you as a good upright person hate to have come to your recue?  Who would you hate to have save your life?  Who would be the last person you would want to owe a debt so great that it could not be repaid?

That is the Samaritan in your life.  That is your neighbour.  That is the one who showed mercy to the good Jew.  That is the one Jesus - our Saviour and Redeemer tells us we must love if we are to receive eternal life.  Amen. 

Monday, 12 August 2013

Reading the Bible 30: Genesis 37 – Joseph the Tattler

The tale of Joseph has so much that is important – parents having favourites, those of us of a certain age can hear the echo to Tommy Smothers plaintive cry, ‘mom always liked you best’ – joseph and the technicolour dream coat – Joseph the dreamer – Joseph’s chickens coming home to roost and being sold into slavery.

For me the beginning of the story of Joseph is important - as it is with all well-told tales – as it gives a clue to what will follow.  In effect Joseph is a spoiled brat.  He is his father’s favourite and he knows it.  He lords it over them with his coat of many colours and his dreams surprisingly seem to confirm his favoured status.  His brothers bow down to him symbolically in his dreams.  There is a hint in the fall to come as one dream presents his father bowing down to him as well which does not please Jacob and his indulgence is stretched somewhat but is still intact.  How many of us who have siblings long for place of the favourite in our parent’s eyes?  Of course we often secretly believe that we hold that position but don’t give voice to it.

Joseph’s problem is that he truly is his father’s favourite and throws it in his brothers’ faces.  Well the inevitable happens.  Sometimes bad things do happen to good people but seemingly here there is no question in our minds that Joseph deserved what he got.  Well the reaction of the brothers is rather severe and even being sold into slavery is extreme no to mention being left to die in a dark pit.  However, it is easy to understand the motivation of the brothers. 
We are faced with the question and mystery of evil.  The other side of all this is the question about how do we judge what happens to others and ourselves.  What seems to be bad or even evil may not in the end turn out that way.  This is certainly the case with Joseph which we will see in the later parts of the story.  However, there is no question that no matter what perspective will have on some events there is no way to see the good intended.  Good may be a byproduct as with heroic acts of people who risk all to save others form evil al la Raoul Wallenberg but we fail to see that these acts heroic as they are can be a reason for the holocaust.  As I have just been reading in Religion and the Unconscious by Ann and Barry   Ulinov we need to stop treating evil as a problem to be solved and treat it as a mystery which is destined to remain as such no matter how we try to solve it. 

However, in the case of Joseph God’s hand seems to be guiding all the events including the dreams that Joseph is sent and even the way Joseph seems to misunderstand them.  In the end they turn out to be prophetic and part of God’s plan for all concerned – at least for God’s chosen ones.  But that too is not the view the Egyptians would take, is it?

Cottage Reading 4

I finished reading The Girl Who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson, the second book in the trilogy after The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.  I have seldom, if ever, been as enthralled by a book or a character so completely.  I finished the many, many hundreds of pages in a very few days. 
The heroine Lisbeth Salander is, to my mind,  one of the most compelling characters ever created in fiction.  She is a female anti-hero which is rare.  Probably a bit like Katniss in the Hunger Games - although I have only seen the movie and not yet encountered the books -another trilogy as I understand.  It is intriguing and not entirely clear to me why Lisbeth is so compelling.  She is involved in much serious violence which is common to male antiheros  al la Bruce Willis - both as victim and perpetrator.  However, as one of the male characters states she is imminently moral - only she operates out of her own clear sense of morality.  She is extremely capable and talented in many way but very vulnerable at the same time with many obvious character flaws.  Not something which is portrayed in many male antiheros.
A rather surprizing comparison came to mind - probably because I am resident on PEI currently and have been soaking in all thing Island for about two months now.  Lisbeth struck me as having similarities to Ann - she of Green Gables fame.  This was surprizing to me as there is, as far as I know, no violence in the Ann stories.  However, for what I know of Ann - which isn't a great deal - she is someone who has a deep sense of justice and shows great determination to see justice done as does Lisbeth.  Similarly she also has her own unique view of the world she is living in which is not shared by those around her. Not being all that knowledgeable about Ann as I mentioned, I checked out my thought on this with my local Ann expert - Lorna.  She was basically in agreement with me.  I was introduced to Ann on one of our early car trips to PEI with the book on tape and was similarly engaged with that story. 
All in all I would warn against picking up these books unless you are able to spend significant time engaged with Lisbeth and all the others characters in Stieg's fertile imagination. 

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Reading the Bible 29: Genesis 36 – Esau – There shall be Kings

I can’t say that I was engaged with the generations of Esau as described in this episode.  Then again I have not been one who is interested in tracing my family tree unlike someone close to me who goes steady with Ancestry.com at times.  I’m sure that the compilers of the bible had their very good reasons for including all this information on the generations of Esau.  I am sure it was necessary from their perspective.  This gives me a good example of how important perspective is in attempting to discern God’s will for us what was the importance of generations to the Israelites?  Of course it showed the connection between their history from Abraham to their time.  It gave them an understanding of the covenant that God made with the Patriarchs and how it was still active in their lives.  It may also have been a way of establishing their right to the Promised Land.  That claim is still being made by the Jewish settlers in Palestine today as they encroach on the Palestinian territory.  They are being permitted to do so by the government of Israel today for its own political reasons and not because it is part of the land promised to them by YHWH. 

One verse jumps out at me among all the list of descendants in this passage.  Verse 3:These are the kings who reigned in the land of Edom, before any king reigned over the Israelites.  There seems to be an ulterior motive for placing this information about the neighbours of Israel and by inference about Israel.  It implies that there will be kings in Israel.  It raises the question, will this or does this (is this now in terms of the compilers) a good thing or a bad thing?  Should Israel have kings as the Edomites do/did?  They will be clamoring for a king as their neighbours have in the time to come – with mixed results.  Their heritage can be traced back to Abraham through Esau.  Does it mean that Israel has lost its way by going this route?   

All in all it is a reminder that religion and politics are seldom far apart and we should always be aware and wary when we try to use religious justification for a political agenda.  Beware in recruiting God to your side in an argument It might just as easily be the devil as God that is making you do it.

I have just finished reading "I" is for Innocent by Sue Grafton.  The is a well written mystery of the page turning variety.  I definitely recommend it and it is part of a series that works its way through the alphabet so lots of potential there.  Wikipedia notes that "W" for Wasted is due out in September of this year.  These all feature private investigator Kinsey Millhone.
The protagonist in these stories is an interesting character - and this is where the assumptions come in. I had made the assumption that  our hero is a man (the name Kinsey doesn't give any clue either way).  It wasn't until well into the story when our hero is interviewing a character in prison that it began to dawn on me that Kinsey is a woman.  The clue to my clueless wrong assumption was when the male prisoner made a pass at our now revealed heroine.  Initially I was surprized that the male prisoner would be making a pass at another male visitor. I thought to myself that this was an interesting twist from the usual and wondered why Kinsey just didn't discourage him by telling his he was straight and not interested.  Ah yes assumptions!
I reminds me of the puzzle that was popular more than a few years ago: A man and his son are in a car crash. The father is killed and the child is taken to hospital gravely injured. When he gets there, the surgeon says, 'I can't operate on this boy - for he is my son!!!' How can this possibly be?
Of course this puzzle was popular before it was possible for same-sex couples to adopt so the answer was not 'the patient had two fathers'.  No I won't leave you hanging.  If you haven't guessed the surgeon was the patients mother. 
In any case it is good to remember we are all products of our times and experiences and we all make assumptions all the time which colour our attitudes towards many things and people.   
Enjoy the rest of the summer - it doesn't seem so endless at this point - and read something that isn't intended to improve your mind - even though it may just do that anyway.