Sunday, October 30, 2011

Lord, how I want to be in that number . . .

Texts: Revelation 7:9-17 (blessing, glory, wisdom . . .) and 1 John 3:1-3 (children of God)

Halloween, the evening before All Hallows or All Saints Day, is a time for thrills and chills. And this Halloween, researchers at the United Nations have given us an additional reason to be scared. They estimate that sometime tomorrow the world's population will pass the seven billion mark for the first time.

Perhaps the UN deliberately chose the date October 31st to scare us. After all, their science is not an exact one and the United States Census Bureau estimates that the seven billion mark will not be passed for a few more months. But regardless, the milestone is coming. The world's population continues to increase in dramatic fashion.

A focus on population fits well, I think, with the celebration of All Saints Day on Tuesday and All Souls Day on Wednesday. For more than 1,000 years, November 1st has been set aside by Christians as a time to remember the heroes of our tradition. And November 2nd is a day where we are urged to remember and honour all of our ancestors whether we think they were saintly or not.

This year, there are clearly more of us alive than ever before to celebrate our ancestors. But have you ever wondered how many ancestors we have? Just how many human beings have ever lived and walked on the face of the earth? Well, I did a search this week on the topic, and found an informed guess in an article from the journal Population Today. The article speculated that there may have been as many as 100 billion humans born over the last 50,000 years . . . though perhaps only 50 billion of those people survived beyond infancy.

The Population Today article was written to counter an urban legend from the 1970s. That legend suggested that 70% of all the people who had ever lived were alive at that time. Not so, says this article. If the figure of 100 billion is close to being accurate, the percentage is more like seven than seventy. Still the legend had a ring of plausibility to it because of the huge growth in human population in the modern era.

When I was born, the number of people alive was less than 1/2 of what it is today. And when my parents were born, there were fewer than 1/3 as many people alive then as  now. The population increases of the past few generations -- despite the many deaths caused by wars, starvation, and epidemics -- have been startling.

Here are some milestones. There were only a few million people widely scattered across the earth 8,000 years ago when agriculture first began to replace hunting and gathering. By the time of Jesus, that number might have risen to 200 million. The half billion mark was reached by 1650; the one billion mark by 1800; two billion by 1930, three by 1960, four by 1975, five by 1985, six by 2000, and seven billion now. If current trends continue, the earth might see 10 billion people by 2050.

So when the saints finally do go marching in on the Day of Judgement, it could be a very long line!

On the other hand, we live in Saskatchewan, which has struggled with population declines for much of its 100+ year history.  Saskatchewan's population boomed in the first three decades of the 20th Century and had nearly reached the one million mark by 1930. But with the dirty 30s, the population shrank. By the 1960s, the one million mark was nearly reached again. Then after some dips in the 1970s, it was finally passed in the mid 80s. But our population declined again in the 90s and has only now passed the one million mark for the second time during the last few years of economic boom.

And then there is the movement of people from the countryside to the cities, which is as much a part of Saskatchewan's reality as any place else. So even as Saskatoon, Regina and other cities grow, towns like Big Beaver or Killdeer teeter on the brink of the ghost town status that has overtaken so many other places across rural Saskatchewan. Still, regardless of our size, the church urges Christians across the world to celebrate our saints and ancestors this week.

The texts we focus on today for All Saints Day are from First John and  Revelation. Both talk about our future hope in God. But while the reading from First John is vague about the details, Revelation contains nothing but vivid detail.

The Church used to think that the Gospel of John, the three letters of John, and the book of Revelation were all written by the same person. But today, scholars no longer believe this. And the big differences between these texts help to make their argument.

I love much of the imagery of Revelation. And when I hear our reading today, it brings to my mind the glorious final chorus from Handel's masterpiece, the Messiah. This chorus, "Worthy is the Lamb," uses the words we just heard from Revelation in a repeated line that sounds like this: "Blessing and honour glory and power be unto him, be unto him, that sitteth upon the throne and unto the Lamb." And later, "Blessing, Honour, Glory, and Power be unto him." This long chorus concludes with a five minute fugue where the the choir repeatedly sings just one word, "Amen." Most people know the Hallelujah chorus from the Messiah and some of the Christmas parts. But my favourites are the choruses based upon Revelation.

And it is a glorious vision, don't you agree? However, my attitude to Revelation changes when I look at the verses that immediately precede and follow today's reading. The first eight verses of chapter 7 describe a mark placed on the forehead of 144,000 people, 12,000 from each of the 12 tribes of Israel, to protect them from God's wrath. Despite its strangeness, I am OK with this passage -- except when some Christians use it to argue that out of the 100+ billion people who have ever been born, there may be just 144,000 of us who are to be saved from eternal damnation.

And then in the next two chapters of Revelation, Jesus opens the final seal of the Day of Judgement and all hell literally breaks loose on earth. Vast numbers of people are killed in a succession of attacks and calamities, and those not slaughtered are tormented. Here is an excerpt from Chapter 9: "From the smoke came locusts on the earth, and they were given power like the power of scorpions. They were told not to harm grass or any green plant or tree, but only those people who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads. The locusts were allowed to torment these people for five months, but not to kill them. And their torment was like the torment of a scorpion when it stings someone. And in those days people will seek death and will not find it. They will long to die but death will flee from them." Hmm. Is this the Word of the Lord?

So while Revelation contains glorious images of a New Jerusalem flowing with living water and lit by God's glorious light, it also contains horrible images of mega-death, torture and eternal torment.

Revelation is the work of a passionate, pain-filled and angry man. He is John of Patmos and he has been imprisoned on that island because of his Christian beliefs. John has an understandable hatred of the Roman Empire. And so he writes an Apocalypse about end times and about heaven and hell. And with some controversy, early church fathers included his book as the final one in the New Testament.

But if I, like him, believed that upon Jesus' return, God would mercilessly torture people who did not have a mark on their foreheads, I would be unable to worship. So even as I treasure certain passages from Revelation, I discount other images from it of death and torture. But is this a legitimate move for a Christian minister?

Well, I am glad that the Lectionary readings for All Saints Day include not only a reading from Revelation but also a reading from First John. First John also talks about life at the end of the age. He says, "we are God's children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is." And that is it. Now we are God's children. What we will be has not been revealed – despite the sometimes wonderful and sometimes lurid details of Revelation.

Perhaps the author of First John did not own a copy of Revelation, otherwise he would not have claimed that the future has not yet been revealed. Who knows? But I am glad that First John is in our Bible, just as I glad that Revelation is there too. Like much else in the Bible, the two help bring balance to each other.

First John says that we are children of God, which we symbolize in the church by baptism. We don't know, he writes, about the future except that it will be in God. His words echo those of St. Paul who wrote "We know only in part . . . but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end . . . now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known." (1 Corinthians 13)

In distinction to Paul, the author of Revelation claims to have seen the future clearly. But I don't believe him. I believe that he sees the future dimly, like St. Paul, like the author of First John and like the rest of us. He sees it as through a mirror.  And while I trust in our tradition and in God, I don't trust in either the gory or the glorious images that John of Patmos so vividly paints.

Which leads me to two questions: what has become of our departed ancestors, and what does the future hold for us? Will we be in that glorious number when the saints go marching in? And will we be joined by the billions of other people, Christian and non-Christian alike, that have come before us?

The passage from Revelation that we heard today presents an image of a wide, perhaps universal salvation. Multitudes from every nation, tribe, and language gather around God's throne. Would this multitude only include Christians? I for one would argue not.

Of the 100 billion or so people that have yet been born, only a small fraction have ever heard the name Jesus let alone embraced Him as their personal Saviour. For this reason alone, I imagine that non-Christian people would be part of any uncountable multitude such as the one John imagines in front of the throne of God.

Those of us gathered here embrace Christianity as our spiritual tradition and as a path to salvation, and for that I give endless thanks. But the big majority of our ancestors who never heard the name Jesus also sought God's healing. And I trust that they found it, just as non-Christians today aso find it.

On weeks like this when we stop to remember, thank and honour our ancestors, I imagine that their souls flicker briefly again in us. We also trust that their spirits have gone where we all originated; to the One Spirit that animates and sustains the universe.

The assurance that I find in our Scripture and tradition does not take a detailed form like that found in Revelation. Instead, like St Paul and First John, I perceive dimly as through a mirror that our baptismal life in Christ is a movement away from individuality and towards union with all the spirits who are now striving or who have striven for love.

I trust that our ancestors have found ultimate safety and fulfilment in the arms of God, as will we all. Further, when we want to taste now the eternity and the healing that is promised to us, we need only open ourselves again to the grace of our baptismal vows. They are vows of death to an old way of selfish life and promises of resurrection to a timeless and selfless life within the Spirit of Christ.

With Grace, we can taste this communion with Christ now and see our salvation as through a mirror darkly. Soon enough, we will see God face to face in the communion of all the saints and then know completely the glory that is to be found by dying to an old way of life and rising to new life in Christ.

Thanks be to God, Amen.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Occupy Borderlands! Gods, emperors and taxes

Text: Matthew 22:15-22 (Render unto Caesar . . . )

People have been complaining about taxes for as long as government has existed. Many of us don't like paying them and we are often unhappy with the services that our taxes support. In Canada, we rely on government for healthcare, education, roads, regulations, and security even as we often complain about their cost and quality.

Imagine, then the negative feelings people must have towards taxes when their government is a foreign empire that uses its taxes to oppress and exploit them. The latter describes the situation faced by Jews during the time of Jesus. While the Romans did provide the people of Palestine with roads and peace, they prevented the Jews from having their own state. And the Romans used the taxes paid by their conquered subjects to support the lavish lifestyles of the ruling elite in Rome and the armies that conquered other humble people throughout Europe and Asia.

This is the background to the conflict between the Pharisees and Jesus found in our Gospel reading today. The Pharisees ask "is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor?" Jesus immediately realizes that their question is a trap. If he answers "yes," he risks angering his peasant followers who hate Rome and its tax collectors. And if he answers "no," he risks exposing himself as a dangerous subversive.

Instead, Jesus uses a Roman coin to come up with a reply. He notes that the coin has a image of the Roman Emperor on it, and then says that we should "give to the emperor the things that are the emperor's, and to God the things that are God's." Or in the more familiar words of the King James translation, Jesus says, "render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's and unto God the things that are God's"

This reply silences Jesus' enemies. But what does his phrase really mean? It is not immediately clear to me if it means that his followers should pay taxes to the hated Roman Empire or not. And if money is among the things that belong to Caesar, then what exactly are the things that belong to God?

Thinking about this story brings to my mind current political struggles around taxes, government spending, and the economy. These have been hot topics since the financial crisis of 2008. We are told that it was only massive government bailouts of the banks in 2008 and 2009 that saved the world economy from a depression. But there has been a backlash since then against both the banks and the governments that propped them up with tax dollars.

In the United States, one early reaction was the formation of the Tea Party. This movement takes its name from a tax revolt in the British colony of Massachusetts just before the American Revolution. Many American colonists did not like paying British taxes on tea. Their slogan was "no taxation without representation." And their symbolic protest that dumped tea into the harbour in Boston helped to spark the Revolution that led to the establishment of the United States in the late 18th Century.

Today's Tea Party is angry about the massive rise in government debt in the United States following the bailouts of the banks. However, it is hardly a revolutionary movement. It opposes most government spending other than the military and therefore opposes most taxation.

A newer protest movement in response to the same issues is Occupy Wall Street, and it has been dominating news coverage this week. Tomorrow will mark one month since this movement began in New York City, and by now it has spread to hundreds of cities around the world, including here in Canada.

The Occupy Wall Street participants are protesting against economic inequality, corporate greed, and the cozy relationship they see between governments and the very rich. They claim to represent the 99% of us who have not benefited from government efforts to deal with the economic crises of the last three years. The 1% who do benefit, they say, are billionaires, many of whom are to blame for the financial frauds that led to the crisis in the first place.

Occupy Wall Street has received support for the same reasons as the Tea Party. Despite the massive amount of tax money funnelled into banks over the last three years of economic crisis, few positive effects seem to be flowing to ordinary people.

On both the left and the right of the political spectrum in the United States, people are angry that trillions of tax dollars have been spent propping up the banks and that this spending has not yet stopped people from losing their homes or their jobs.

A trillion dollars is a hard figure to understand. Many of us had never heard of the world trillion until three years ago when government bailouts began. In order to help us better understand the world trillion, I present a word picture involving seconds.

1,000 seconds equals 17 minutes. 1 million seconds equals 11 days. 1 billion seconds equals 32 years. And 1 trillion seconds equals 32,000 years! So if someone gave you a dollar every second for the next 32,000 years you, too, could have a trillion bucks!

And now Europe's banks are teetering on the brink of collapse, and another 1.5 trillion dollars of tax dollars is the suggested cure. Bitter people wonder why the government doesn't just directly pay off poor peoples' mortgages instead of giving the money to banks and their rich executives. Well, I am sure there must be good reasons to funnel tax money to those at the top instead of those of us at the bottom, but I can also understand people's resentment.

In 2009, when billions of tax dollars were invested in General Motors to prevent its bankruptcy, I chatted with a member of the Kingston Road United Church choir in Toronto who is a manager with GM in Oshawa. I suggested to him that instead of the bailout, the government should just buy every family in North America a new truck! That way, the average person would at least get something from the bailout. He thought it was a good idea. But I guess that is not how spending taxpayer's money works . . .

Jesus' phrase to "render unto Caesar what is Caesar's and unto God what is God's" can be understood in different ways. The one that I find most useful is based on the following observation. Not only was Caesar the Emperor of Rome, he was also considered to be a god. The Romans had other gods such as the immortals who lived on Mount Olympus. But although he was a mortal human, the emperor was also said to be a god and the son of a god. Not only did his subjects owe the emperor tribute in the form of taxes. They also owed him devotion as the bringer of peace from heaven to earth.

I believe that this fact explains why Jesus' reply silenced the Pharisees. As devout Jews, the Pharisees argued that there was only one God, the God of Israel. But rendering unto Caesar what was Caesar's meant not just paying taxes, but also worship. And worship of any god other than Yahweh was a sin for devout Jews.

Jesus does not directly answer their question about taxes. But by drawing attention to the image of the Emperor on Roman coins, he highlights the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. They try to be both devout Jews and dutiful subjects of the hated Roman empire. But Jews and Romans understand Jesus' directive to give to God what is God's differently.  For the Jews, God is the God of Abraham, Jacob, and Moses. For the Romans, god is the emperor in Rome whose armies conquer and oppress poor people everywhere.

So which God are we to choose? The emperor or Jesus? A few days after today's Gospel story, the Empire executes Jesus. And God raises Jesus to new life. 40 years after that, the Romans burn God's Temple in Jerusalem to the ground. And out of the ashes of Jerusalem arises a new faith made up of the poor. From defeat, God continually shows us a path to a new life of love beyond earthly standards of success. God makes the choice between Jesus and Empire an easy one for us.

Where one's treasure lies is also where one's heart lies. If this is true, then it must be true that many people today worship wealth, luxury, and power, just as people in Ancient Rome worshipped the power and wealth of their emperor god.

Do the trillions of dollars in taxes spent in propping up the banks over the last three years indicate that banks are the new gods of our current empire? Should we then join the protest of the supposed 99% against government support of the rich 1%? Should we start an Occupy Coronach/Rockglen/Fife Lake movement perhaps?

Well, I am not suggesting the latter. But I do believe that the current anger about government money going to the banks instead of to poor people reflects a common theme in history as found in our Gospel reading today.

As followers of Jesus, many of us value solidarity in suffering more than success in business or war. Many of us value loving service to our neighbours more than a rat race in which the person with the most money and influence wins. Many of us value faith, hope and love more than fear, despair and violence.

As followers of Jesus, we try to render unto God what is God's. We uphold values centred on love. We worship a God who suffers with us and shows us the path to new life that rises above the false gods of either Rome of 2000 years ago or of Wall Street today. We gather each Sunday to remember that our strength lies in weakness, that humble service can create a life of hope and love, and that death leads to resurrection.

Those of us gathered here today and in churches all around the world do not belong to the 1% who have super-wealth and privilege. Instead, we are part of the 99% who continually receive the grace to remember that solidarity is more beautiful than victory, that service is more valuable than wealth, and that love is stronger than death.

Wall Street may sometimes seem to have occupied our governments. But God in Christ has occupied our hearts.

Thanks be to God, Amen.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Giving thanks, in sickness and in health

Text: Luke 17:11-19 (the thankful leper)

So, it is Thanksgiving Sunday 2011. And as on any day, each of us probably have a lot for which we are thankful.

However this week, like many of us who struggle with illness or who are mourning the loss of loved ones, I have been dealing with some things that we don't usually associate with gratitude. For one, my ex-wife, with whom I remain close, fell ill last week, and she now faces a complex recovery.

Also, one of my cultural heroes and the most famous CEO of our day, Steve Jobs of Apple Corporation, died this week after a long illness.

In the wake of Jobs' death, I appreciated learning more about his thoughts on mortality and how it might illuminate our lives. I hope that by looking at connections between his thoughts and the Christian Way of the Cross that we can gain a new perspective on thanksgiving.

Giving thanks is a key practice of Christianity and of any well-balanced life. Focusing on our blessings and offering thanks to God for them is a simple and effective way to accomplish several spiritual tasks.

Giving thanks can remind us that our accomplishments result not from our own efforts but from the matrix of natural and social forces into which we have been born. It can help us remain humble.

Giving thanks can help us remember the grace that supports us even when we are in pain or in other types of distress. It can help us trust our lives and our God.

And so some of us may have adopted Oprah Winfrey's suggestion to keep a gratitude journal. Many of us try to start every prayer with thanks. And many of us begin and end each day by remembering our blessings.

But how can we give thanks when we feel overwhelmed by pain or fear? To approach this topic, I start by recounting what I have been up to over the last few weeks.

Two weeks ago tomorrow, I travelled for the first time to Fort Qu'Appelle to attend a United Church event for ministers who are new to Saskatchewan. For three days and nights, 10 of we newcomers spent time in the beauty of the church's Calling Lakes Centre. We learned more about Saskatchewan, the work of the church here, and about each other. We got to know the three ministers who led the event and other church leaders, including the President of Saskatchewan Conference, Deb Laforet who is a minister in Stoughton, the staff of the Saskatchewan Conference office, and former premier Lorne Calvert, who is now the Principal of the United Church's St. Andrew's College in Saskatoon. We also spent time visiting some of the First Nation communities near Calling Lakes and a local farm family who are active in the church.

I believe that I gained a lot from the experience. It reinforced my gratitude for the people who make up the United Church and my pleasure in being a part of our wonderful church and its ministry.

Immediately following the Calling Lakes event, Carla and I attended the meeting of Chinook Presbytery in Moose Jaw. And it had a similar impact on me. I learned a lot, enjoyed the people who make up Presbytery, and am glad to now be part of it.

When Presbytery finished last Saturday afternoon, I flew to Toronto to spend three days there. My original intent had been to spend time with my mother, who had moved to Toronto to live in a senior's residence there on October 1st. And I was pleased and relieved to be with her and to see that she will probably enjoy the residence and settle into life in the big city where she can be closer to my two brothers and their children.

But as I was packing for both Moose Jaw and Toronto a week ago Thursday, I got a call from my ex-wife. She was in hospital emergency and was being admitted for treatment. In the end, she stayed in the hospital for eight nights and was seen by an array of specialists. Although she is now at home and has a clear treatment plan, I feel sad about what she now has to deal with.

On the other hand, I am grateful to our publicly-funded medical system and the extensive care she has already received. I am grateful that she and I got to spend a lot of time together over the three days. And I am grateful that despite our divorce we are still  loving friends.

There is nothing unusual about having one's friends and loved ones fall sick, especially as we get older. And when someone close to me is in hospital, or when a cultural icon like Steve Jobs of Apple, who is only a few years older than me, dies of cancer it reinforces the truth that I am no longer young.

But as we age and deal with the inevitable illnesses of ourselves and of our friends, is it still possible to give thanks and to throw ourselves wholeheartedly into our annual Thanksgiving festivities?

Our Gospel reading today is about sickness and healing. Ten lepers beg Jesus for mercy. He tells them to show themselves to the priests; and merely by obeying this command, they are healed of their sickness. Only one of the ten, however, moves from a trusting faith, which has healed him, to thankfulness. This last leper returns to Jesus to thank him for his healing.

This simple story sketches the whole of the Christian life. By trusting in God in Christ, we are healed. And our response to this healing is to give thanks. Trust God, be healed, and give thanks: that is really all we called to do in this life.

But what about sickness that is not healed? And what about death, which comes eventually to all of us? Trusting in God does not mean that we or our loved ones won't get sick. Giving thanks to God for the healing we do often experience does not mean that we won't eventually die. So why, then, should we give thanks?

It all depends, I believe, on what we mean by healing. The lepers wanted their skin disease to be healed. And perhaps that is what happened. But in general the healing offered by God in Christ is not about avoiding disease, ageing or disability. God's healing is deeper than that. It is spiritual healing. It is healing found by following Jesus on the Way of the Cross. It is a healing found in confronting our fragility and mortality and not in denying them.

Jesus, by travelling to Jerusalem with his friends in the sure knowledge that this will mean his death, models for us a life that is freed from anxiety about pain and death. It is a life that acknowledges the toughness of the human condition. The Christian path doesn't eliminate anxiety by denying suffering and death. It eliminates it by accepting and even embracing those tough realities.

Here is how the late Steve Jobs put it in a commencement address at Stanford University in 2005 the year after his diagnosis with pancreatic cancer. He said:

"When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: 'If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you'll most certainly be right.' The phrase made an impression on me, and since then, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: 'If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?' And whenever the answer has been 'No' for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something."

He continues, "Remembering that I'll soon be dead is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything -- all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure -- these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart." .

In his speech, Jobs touches on some of the key teachings of the Way of the Cross, I believe. Christ teaches us that only by dying can we can gain new life. This is as true for God in Christ as it is for each of us. By taking up our cross and following Jesus to Jerusalem we are given the courage to live our lives in the light of death. We are given the courage to die to our old anxious way of life and rise to a new one filled with hope, joy and love regardless of the circumstances. Life does not become free of pain. But it does become free of old ego anxieties. The Way of the Cross helps us to realize that though our egos are temporary, our future in God is secure and eternal.

You know, it can seem easy to give thanks for the things we like: good health, loving families and friends, a bountiful harvest, a peaceful and prosperous country, beauty, excitement, pleasure, and so on. But I believe that it is also possible and useful to give thanks even when dealing with thing that we don't like: illness, broken relationships, loneliness, failed harvests, times of conflict and poverty, ugliness, and pain.

Regardless of our circumstances, we can give thanks for this sacred moment. We only have now in which to live. In receiving God's help to accept the moment, we wake up to God and to each other regardless of pain or pleasure. Giving thanks flows from such acceptance and it also helps us get to that acceptance.

Accepting the moment, even when we or our loved ones are in pain, is a gift from God. It helps us to die to our old anxieties and rise to a new and eternal life within God  through Christ in the power of the Spirit.

Now sometimes in moments of pain or loss, we are incapable of acceptance and gratitude. And that is understandable and OK, I believe. The eternal life in Christ that we can enter in any moment is often fleeting in my experience. But with God's help we rise again and again to those moments in prayer, worship, or love in the sure hope and faith that our source is in God and our destiny is in God.

This Thanksgiving, I am thankful that initial treatments have put my ex-wife out of  danger. I am thankful for our years together and our continuing friendship even as I find it hard to accept the pain and regret for everything we did not like about our marriage.

This Thanksgiving, I am thankful for the life and leadership of Steve Jobs of Apple even as I find it hard to accept his death. I am thankful for the publicity given this week to his provocative words from 2005 on how the shadow of death might illuminate our present moment in God's Sacred life.

This Thanksgiving, I am grateful to be the minister here in Coronach, Rockglen and Fife Lake. I am grateful for the beauty and abundance of this land. I am grateful for the warm welcome you have extended to me in my first three months here. And I am grateful for the people and activities in the communities in which we live and in which we carry out our ministry.

This Thanksgiving moment, like any other, is one in which we can wake up to both the beauty and the pain of human existence in community and with God. Despite everything, we are here. God is here. Love is here.

Thanks be to God, Amen.