Archive for July 2012
Coventry Cathedral, in England, was built in the 14th century. It was a beautiful example of medieval architecture, and provided the tallest point of reference in the area: wherever one stood, one could see the spire of the church reaching up to the heavens. It was a symbol of stability and the sacred, a refuge and a sanctuary. For centuries, it guided the eyes and the souls of the people who lived nearby.
Until November 14, 1940, when the city was heavily bombed by German planes. When the people of the Coventry emerged from their shelters the next day, the sanctuary lay in rubble.
I didn’t know the story of Coventry Cathedral until I visited it with a group of high school choir students a few years ago. From a distance, we could see the old spire reaching up, just as it had done for hundreds of years. When we pulled into the carpark, however, something different came into view: the shell of the old church linked by an archway to a new, modern structure. The story of what the people of Coventry decided to do following their tragedy, and how their decision continues to reverberate around the world, is a remarkable story of faith and courage.
On the morning after the bombings, the Provost of the Cathedral, Richard Howard, was faced with the same questions we are all faced with in times of great tragedy and loss: Why did this happen to us? Where is God in this horror? How do we go on? Howard knew that the answers and actions of his parish would shape their faith and their lives for years to come. There was the temptation to demonize the perpetrators (in this case the Germans). There was the human desire to make a defiant, triumphalist statement: we are better than “they” are, we would never do something so horrific. There was the response that shock often brings: let’s just get past this as fast as possible and move on. As the church members moved among the destruction, they must have felt all of these things, and more. One man, Jock Forbes, saw something that made them all stop: two of the charred roof timbers had fallen in the shape of a cross. He lifted them up and placed them behind the remains of the altar, etching on them words which he remembered from years of Good Friday services: “Father, forgive.”
That action, and those words, became the cornerstone of their renewal. They made the decision in those first few days to choose forgiveness instead of revenge and bitterness. The parish decided to keep the remains of the old Cathedral as a testament to their faith and their legacy. They made the decision to build a new church, linked to the old one, as a statement of their belief in the future. And, perhaps most significantly, they decided to dedicate themselves to forming a new ministry: The Centre for Reconciliation. The intent of this ministry was expressed by Provost Howard on Christmas Day, 1940, just six weeks after the bombings. Using a national radio broadcast from the cathedral ruins, he declared that when the war was over he would work with those who had been enemies ‘to build a kinder, more Christ-child-like world.’
In the years to come, this Center has become an international place for conflict resolution and peace studies. Its symbol is the Cross of Nails, created from the remains of some of the metal work in the old cathedral. Made for the new cathedral building, replicas were sent to churches in Kiel, Dresden and Berlin, as a statement of shared hope and humanity – and mutual forgiveness.
This past week, as we reeled from the shootings in Colorado, I thought of Coventry Cathedral. It is in the midst of tragedy and loss we have the opportunity for something remarkable to happen. We have the chance to shift the way we look at things, to break the stalemates that keep us so stuck in cycles of pain and violence. Will we succumb to the temptation to demonize “the other” as someone so evil that we can wash our hands of him and others like him? Or will we choose, instead, to look at the ways we are failing in our mental health services, and change them? Will we decide, again, that nothing can be done to prevent this sort of thing, or we will admit to ourselves that we have allowed the rich and powerful gun lobby to shape our nation in ways that are unacceptable – and change our laws? Perhaps as we sort through the rubble of this tragedy, we will decide to build something unexpected: communities where we protect and take care of one another.
Just as in Coventry, England, in 1940, people of faith today are called to witness to a vision of peace and hope. And, just as in Coventry, that call often comes at times when we feel most vulnerable and hopeless. As we pray for the people of Aurora, Colorado, may we also pray for our country, that we have the courage and the creativity to find a way out of this violence and into a new era of peace. With God’s help, even this is possible.
At this year’s annual meeting, I shared two parables: both of which had to do with the sowing of seeds. The first, reprinted below, is the story of a woman’s encounter with her hopes, her dreams, a bunch of seed packets – and Jesus. The second parable, taken from the Gospel of Mark, is Jesus’ metaphor about what it means to scatter the seeds of faith: sometimes the seeds fall on ground so hard that nothing takes, other times the seeds burrow down just far enough to put in shallow roots but then die off quickly, and finally there are some seeds that take root and provide long lasting plants for others to harvest and enjoy.
Both parables speak to our work as a community entering our 150th year of ministry together. We have sown our share of seeds, facing the disappointments of projects that didn’t turn out the way we’d hoped, as well as benefiting greatly from the efforts of those who went before us. We are committed to co-creating a world made more compassionate and just, participating prayerfully in God’s work as we understand it – participating, but not controlling. We sow our seeds, not really knowing what will take and last, yet knowing that our very willingness to try is an act of faithfulness.
During the meeting, each participant received a package of flower seeds, as a reminder of our call. Perhaps you will notice in the months to come flowers peeking out from surprising places in town: a group of poppies on a concrete median or some wildflowers peeking out from behind a broken fence. Or you may spy a sunflower lifting its head to the sun in the midst of a lot full of weeds. Outward and visible signs of an inward and mysterious reality: God’s work is still happening, and we still want to be a part of it.
Thanks be to God!
Parables: The Arrows of God
By Megan McKenna
Megan McKenna uses many teaching stories to convey the radical themes of Jesus’ parables. Here is one on peace.
There was a woman who wanted peace in the world and peace in her heart and all sorts of good things, but she was very frustrated. The world seemed to be falling apart. She would read the newspapers and get depressed. One day she decided to go shopping, and she went into a mall and picked a store at random. She walked in and was surprised to see Jesus behind the counter. She knew it was Jesus because he looked just like the pictures she’d seen on holy cards and devotional pictures. She looked again and again at him, and finally she got up enough nerve and asked, “Excuse me, are you Jesus?” “I am.” “Do you work here?” “No”, Jesus said, “I own the store.” Oh, what do you sell in here?” “Oh, just about anything!” “Anything?” “Yeah, anything you want. What do you want?” She said, “I don’t know.” “Well”, Jesus said, “feel free, walk up and down the aisles, make a list, see what it is that you want, and then come back and we’ll see what we can do for you.”
She did just that, walked up and down the aisles. There was peace on earth, no more war, no hunger or poverty, peace in families, no more drugs, harmony, clean air, careful use of resources. She wrote furiously. By the time she got back to the counter, she had a long list. Jesus took the list, skimmed through it, looked up and smiled, “No problem.” And then he bent down behind the counter and picked out all sorts of things, stood up, and laid out the packets. She asked, “What are these?” Jesus replied, “Seed packets. This is a catalog store.” She said, “You mean I don’t get the finished product?” “No, this is a place of dreams. You come and see what it looks like, and I give you the seeds. You plant the seeds. You go home and nurture them and help them to grow and someone else reaps the benefits.” “Oh”, she said. And she left the store without buying anything.”
This week I share with you some words by Denise Bissonnette. She reminds us that every single day is a gift to be treasured. Our days matter – not because of their number but because of the way we choose to live each one. May this day and every day be dedicated to living fully and lovingly.
Thanks be to God, Kim
I Dedicate This Day
(From The Wholehearted Journey by Denise Bissonnette.)
With the gift of a dedication, a modest meal becomes a feast; the simplest words, a poem; a child’s carefree sketching, treasured art.
So how about a day like this one? By rising above my own petty concerns and granting this day a purpose, can I transform the humble offering of my time, my work and deeds into something noble, something worthy of another day of precious living?
For I don’t want to exist as if in some mindless entanglement in a meaningless world. I want to work myself like a silken thread in a web to which I belong. By dedicating this day, I want to open the door around my heart, to draw wide the curtain of my being so that this day may become a window…a window upon which the bird of purpose may perch and even sing.
Dedicated to the memory of Gandhi, I will walk in peace. With Mother Teresa in mind, I will look my fellow man in the eye. Devoted to Anne Frank, I will hold high a steady torch of hope. Inspired by Dr. King, I might even dare to dream. Dedicated to Vision, who knows what I might See? To listening, who knows what I might hear? Depending on the purpose I bestow upon it, this day may become a bridge to friendship, medicine for an old wound, or an orchard bearing the fruit of my labors.
The day that has not been anointed with purpose is like a bird with no sky, a fish with no stream, a lantern unlit. But when I dedicate my day I am an arrow shot from a steady bow. I am an eagle in spirited flight. I am a candle whose flame blossoms with light in my own small corner of time.
This day will come and go whether or not I make of it a gift. I can pray that it goes well…or I can choose to pray in a medium far more powerful than words. I can imbue them with a promise.
I choose to dedicate this day.
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