Beginning of the Good News of 2020
The Gospel of Mark begins with the phrase “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ.” We could all use some good news in 2020. We have a short theme sentence in the bulletin in each week. This week I included the sentence: “The beginning of the good news of 2020.” Someone in the office asked, “Don’t you mean 2021?” I had to think about it for a minute because technically we are starting a new church calendar, Year B featuring the Gospel of Mark, which covers most of 2021. Nevertheless it’s still 2020 for a couple more weeks, so I figure we could use some good news right now and not wait.
In the gospel passage for today, John the Baptist, appears as a wild prophetic figure. We have some of those around Victoria. Sometimes you hear them in front of the legislature or at other public gatherings. I’ve missed hearing such voices at public protests and rallies that have needed to be postponed in recent months.
Sometimes we hear different prophetic voices through art and literature. On Thursday I tuned in to the on-line conversation between Tim Lilburn, poet and professor at UVic, and Esi Edugyan, two time Giller Prize winner. She is the author of Washington Black and Half-blood Blues. The talk is part of John Albert Hall lecture series hosted by the Centre For Religion and Society and the Anglican diocese, which Pr. Lyle helps organize.
At one point in the conversation Tim Lilburn asked Esi Edugyan about the role of faith and the church during a pandemic. He wondered if she had any particular recommendations for churches and faith communities to contribute. Edugyan referred to her father who she said his entire social life revolved around his church. She noted earlier in the conversation just how disrupted his life had been with in person worship and other in-person programming cancelled.
She mentioned all the tangible ways churches and faith communities are there for others, whether it’s serving meals or a food pantry program. Spaces in which the community can gather whether for worship, socializing, and community outreach.
I think about the ways in which we are here for people at Church of the Cross. While in-person worship and programming is on pause, we continue reaching out to others through our support of the Shelbourne Community Kitchen. I think about evolving partnerships in the lower level of the church, which we’ll be discussing in part at a Dessert and Dialogue conversation this Tuesday, Dec. 8, at 7 PM PST. An e-mail will be sent by the office Tomorrow, Monday, inviting you to participate, including discussing going forward with Covid restrictions. The benefits of partnering with groups like the Kitchen, Harrison Place, and Our Place (considering the gifts around the table today), is that we are lifting up people in need of support. Whether there are community groups gathering in church spaces, Harrison Place is down the street from us, Our Place is on Pandora, and you realize how important it is for people to have places to go.
I think about the challenges in the church neighbourhood and there aren’t many places to go if you don’t have money. In addition to the Shelbourne Community Kitchen, there is the Jewish Community Centre which offers space. There is the Nellie McClung library branch a few blocks away. There is no place really to sit down and use the wifi, read a paper, and get in from the cold. That is when we think about uses of the church spaces we imagine what can provide that sense of community square. Where is a place people experiencing food insecurity or families could gather, for example?
The other day I stopped downtown to get money out of an ATM and a man in a wheelchair living on the street came in. “I’m not following you he shouted!” We had chatted briefly outside. He said, “I’m just coming in for the heat until security makes me leave. The heat feels so good he said.” I asked him whether he wanted anything to eat or drink and declined saying he would only need to go to the bathroom and he has nowhere to go at night.
It makes me think about what an opportunity we have to be a neighbourhood hub. In many ways we already are, but like everything, our engagement has been disrupted by the pandemic. And yet we are still dropping off gifts for people in need. We are coming to them, if they cannot come to us. And eventually that will change.
In addition to whatever we develop in the lower levels, imagine having a bench outside somewhere offering people rest before continuing their journey. In our immediate area there isn’t much in the way of outdoor rest stops, apart from bus shelters. We could invite people to use the guest wifi. It’s about inviting people into spaces, including outdoor spaces, when there are so few options available.
At another time in the conversation Edugyan talked about living in suburban Metchosin in which she often sees more deer than people. The street she lives on is especially quiet and she bemoans the lack of a public square. She longs for a place in her neighbourhood where people can get together, talk, make art, have meals, build community.
In a sense our neighbourhood suffers from a similar problem. While we have lots of people driving by, it’s hard to locate the heart of the neighbourhood. There are hearty places people gather and care for others given the various seniors care homes, places like the Kitchen, Fig Deli, cafes, McDonalds. But no outdoor space you could call a public square. A place to dwell or linger. Let’s keep imagining ways as church we can be part of a public square. You may have entirely different ideas none of us have considered.
Another part of the gospel story that jumps out is communal baptism. We are told that all kinds of people run up to John, confessing their sins, getting dunked in the river Jordan. I like to imagine when we have wide distribution of a vaccine that there will be mass communal baptisms. People are going to be so tired of isolation, they’re going to be ready for a real transformation. It will still be safer to gather outdoors for a John the Baptist style immersion baptism. The closest body of water to the church would be Cadboro Bay. The water is a brisk 6 degrees Celsius. People would fall back into the water and shoot straight back onto shore, slain by the Spirit.
There is an opportunity to engage with folks discerning baptism right now. There is a hunger for spiritual and religious engagement that is meaningful. People are hungry for an expression of faith that is affirming in all the ways we talk about. Queer affirming, overtly anti-racist, tackling poverty and climate justice. I think about Black Lives Matter and the ways in which local organizers have been poorly treated by the City of Victoria and Victoria Police, at times demanding Black Lives Matter organizers publicly apologize and repent, rather than people in positions of power repent of their inaction.
Repentance: Curbing Gender-based violence
And we can include the church in that repentance. We too need to reaffirm our baptism, commit to ways of being better. I think about violence against women with our current remembrance of the fourteen women who were murdered by a gunman at Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal on December 6, 1989.
I think about the ways in which churches have propped up gender-based violence by sweeping it under the carpet. Whether it is violence perpetuated by church leaders or simply not talked about. The hetero-patriarchy, insisting the only valid marriages are between one man and one woman, something churches still prop up despite policy changes, have often exacerbated this violence. Because other relationships continue to be seen as lesser than, including stigma around women leaving abusive husbands.
We think about violence against women and girls in dating. Too often we offer training only for women and girls in ways in which they can protect themselves. We offer little in terms of raising men to be better. There is still too much a sense of “boys will be boys” and that it’s women who need to police their bodies and ways they dress.
If we look at dress codes in schools and gyms it mostly applies to clothing women and femmes wear.
What would it look like for us to build a world in which we raise boys and men to take responsibility for their actions and that there are consequences when they do not? What about calling out violence in other men when they see it?
Good news doesn’t necessarily mean happy
Wrapping up, let us reflect upon the good news for each of us for 2020 and beyond. However, I want to emphasize that good news doesn’t necessarily mean that we are feeling happy. When we are mourning the death of friends and family, it doesn’t make us happy. Knowing Covid numbers are rising, doesn’t make us happy. Feeling anxious or drained of energy, doesn’t make us happy. It’s okay to say we’re tired and we’ve had enough.
The takeaway isn’t that you need to feel supercharged to start a new ministry, jump in the air, and click your heels. It’s that whatever we bring to the table Christ is with us.
We don’t know whether John the Baptist felt like baptizing dozens or hundreds of people. We do know he answered his calling in all his wildness. Just like the wildness of some of our houses outside our Zoom backdrops. That one little carefully curated corner. We pile up the clothes and dirty dishes just outside the video frame. That’s okay. That’s grace to accept one another where we’re at in terms of energy and keeping it together or lack thereof.
In the midst of sadness and anxiety, together we wait for joy. The joy of Christ and God’s love arriving in its fullness. In waiting, we invite that love into our hearts. You are amazing and you are enough. Amen.