David Dancing Dangerously

Notes from www.billbrucewords.com
Sunday, July 15, 2018
Trinity on Church UC, Kitchener

Text: 2 Samuel 6

As we go marching, marching in the beauty of the day
A million darkened kitchens, a thousand mill lofts gray
Are touched with all the radiance that a sudden sun discloses
For the people hear us singing
“Bread and roses! Bread and roses!”

None of us sang along with video of that old labour hymn this morning  (more verses are appended at the end of these notes).  After worship, several made the connection with the ‘Bread and Roses’ cooperative housing redevelopment of the old button factory at Queen and Courtland, but only one knew the origins of the name.  How soon has Kitchener de-industrialized and forgotten!

A century ago, the hymn was well-known in Methodist chapels like ours.  When the fights to get children out of factory work, to get women the vote, men a shorter work-week with a Lord’s Day Alliance, and less addiction with the Women’s Christian Temperance Union – we knew the tunes.  God was not neutral, and each church stood for some things, and against other things.

Now, we have exported child labour out of sight, to produce the cheap clothing we enjoy in this heat wave, work is ‘24/7’, and addictions are soaring and now de-criminalized, while our God, and our church, just loves everybody equally.  Our former passion and compassion is trivialized:

Most people think that the church
is an institution dedicated to the proposition
that somebody, somewhere, is having fun - 
and it has got to be stopped! 

Dana Carvey on Saturday Night Live captured it in the ‘church lady’ character, with her pursed lips and bitter self-righteousness: no drinking, no dancing - it might lead to sex! That act had legs because of an element of truth. 

Religion is not just about inhibiting bad behaviour. It is also about dis-inhibition of good behaviour, including celebration that rouses us from apathy.  Surely God – and a people of God - are not impartial, but against evil – and for good!

We’ve been hearing stories of David through the summer cycle. Today, we heard how he consolidated his power in Jerusalem, the city of David. He centralizes worship, moving ‘the-ark-of-the-covenant’, or ‘the-God-in-a-box’, to Jerusalem.  Moses had carried it, Joshua had followed it, till it resided in Shechem through the period of the Judges.  This was a powerful symbol.

They move the ark, the cart hits a bump on the way into Nacon’s barn, Uzzah reaches out to steady it, and God strikes him dead. It’s powerful, magical stuff, this old religion that shaped a people into reverence. People still make nervous jokes to me when they return from long absences, lest God strike them.  But the sin here was trying to ‘help’ God, to control the symbol – not coming home!

David decides it’s powerful stuff, this ark, and too much risk to bring under his own roof as if he controlled it. Park the ark at Obed-edom’s place up on the hill! Turns out risks lead to rewards, and risk-taker Obed-edom finds blessing - so David wants the ark nearer after all, under his roof, within his city walls, as he had originally planned.  Fear, awe, reverence, and risk, are all connected here. 

As the ark moves, David dances ahead of the parade, wearing only a linen ephod miniskirt, making a fool of himself, giddy with joy and anticipation of the blessings he already enjoys, and the ones he anticipates. Think of a young rabbi on Simcha Torah – or go visit that festival this October 2, welcoming year 5779!  As one ad puts it, keep the ‘joy’ in Judaism, and not just the ‘oy’!  

As David dances into town, his new wife Michal is scandalized. She’s daughter of Saul, an uptown girl, a diplomatic marriage from old money added to a couple of other wives that David already enjoys. She thinks she has married down. She is wrong. We in our subculture suffered similar sins in this 3rd generation of the United Church of Canada, become ‘mainline’ and ‘respectable’ and ‘established’.

Our Methodist movement started with passion, and our religious roots are in the Great Awakening, and Second Great Awakening, camp meetings of repressed farmers, and frenzied release of emotions in worship, as the Spirit moved. We had no media, audio or video. Were we more alone, or lonely than people now? No wonder that religious revivals challenge Harvey Cox’s ‘Secular City’.

In the 19th century, Marx and followers accused Wesley’s Methodists of thwarting revolution in industrial England, redirecting energy into personal piety with communal celebration.  Wesley himself fretted that his early disciples were too successful in becoming middle class and morally lax – like us?  In the 20th 

There are risks, and rewards, to a heart-felt religion of passion and celebration. This is the other side of the coin to the more recognized religion of compassion and care. How long can either survive without the other? Not long. 

This crazy story about moving ‘the-god-in-a-box’ (a term coined by Jim in our spring study of Joshua in light of ‘Settlers and Anarchists in Israel and Canada’) has an element of magical, supernatural phenomena evoking fear.  We kept translating ‘fear God’ as ‘revere God’ in recent decades, but something is lost from what Kierkegaard called ‘fear and trembling’, Tillich ‘ground of our being’.

Michal says ‘David don’t do it, you’re making a fool of yourself!’ David says ‘I will do it like a fool. It’s not about me, but about God.’ Michal was barren, lonely, however self-righteous, proper, with pursed lips of disapproval: beautiful, but barren, Dana Carvey’s ‘Church Lady’.  

Charles Taylor’s essay, “The Future of the Religious Past”, anticipated renewal of the ancient rites of faith, which I see in the ‘emerging church’ movement. Enlightenment traditions of reason and moral rules have risked the heart and passion of religion, the sense of magic, music and of dance affirming life. What’s left can become mere moralism, with scolding lectures – and no dancing. 

Taylor uses Durkheim as the name for old religions in which community and cult were united in one way of feeling, knowing, and doing.  He then adds prefixes ‘paleo’, ‘neo’, and post’ to the term, to describe how we disenchanted moderns try to reproduce that experience, in our context, parallel to the way people try to reinvent other ideologies, movements or practices.

You don’t have to love the Rolling Stones to be saved. Some people prefer Duke Ellington, and Louis Armstrong, but the point is the same: ‘It ain’t worth a thing, if it ain’t got that swing’. What makes me dance, or at least sway or tap a toe?  Very few slur my ethnic subculture as people who ‘sure got rhythm’!

I tried, however awkwardly, to connect this primitive sense of the holy, worship and spirituality, with its fears and tears, its celebration and dancing, to our advocacy and partisanship in favour of just changes and opposition to unjust status quo.  Each of us has to confess how we feel about God, and how our God and our religious community stands in relationship to the status quo.

Psalm 51:8 sings it this way: 
 Let me hear joy and gladness - 
Teach these broken bones to dance
Let the bones you have broken dance

The Bread and Roses video reminds me that it’s not absolute inequality, but comparative inequality, and our mobility and the direction of change, which drives passions.   With hindsight, it’s easy to recognize the prophets of the past, but with time, it’s easy to tame and obscure their emotional impact.  I offered a series of examples:

Emma Goldman, the free-thinker anarchist who endorsed targeted assassination of industrialists and politicians, birth control and universal suffrage, was extradited from the US to Russia after President McKinley’s assassination.  Nowadays, her poster, T-shirt and bumper-sticker is:

If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution

My copy of her 2 volume autobiography “Living My Life” from 1931, says that once she was scolded for dancing at a party in New York,  and told:

“that it did not behove an agitator to dance.  Certainly not with such reckless abandon, anyway…. I did not believe that a Cause which stood for a beautiful ideal, for anarchism, for release and freedom form conventions and prejudice, should demand the denial of life and joy.  I insisted that our Cause could not expect me to become anon and that the movement should not be turned into a cloister.  If it meant that, I did not want it.”

Mikhail Bakunin, an older Russian anarchist than Emma Goldman, focused on building collective organizations to balance to escalating power of the state, and opposing the rising ideology of statism.   Bakunin is credited, without citation with this poster, T-shirt and bumper-sticker:

Class consciousness is knowing what side of the fence are you on.
Class analysis is knowing who is there with you.

Mahatma Ghandi has become an icon of non-violence, but we forget that he was non-violent in civil disobedience, not in supporting the unjust status quo.  His witness has been reduced to this poster, t-shirt and bumper-sticker:

“Be the change you want to see”

Compare Gandhi’s own words (and actions): 
“If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. ... 
We need not wait to see what others do.”

Another slogan captured and used by politicians across the political spectrum for varying purposes is the poster, T-shirt, and bumper-sticker:

Are you part of the solution, or part of the problem?

Does it change that message to credit it to its author, Eldridge Cleaver, leader of the Black Panthers, before his exile to Cuba – and his return to the US as a Mormon and a Republican:

'There is no more neutrality in the world. You either have to be part of the solution, or you're going to be part of the problem.'

200 years ago, the British Empire planned a conservative colony in Upper Canada with landed gentry, and an established church.  Future nobility were granted huge tracts of land, and the Anglican Church given 1 lot in 7 of Crown Land, or ‘Queen’s Bush’, to finance its work.  Our Methodist pastors like Egerton Ryerson could not conduct a legal wedding, or register a birth by baptism.  Our members could not take a government job, hold military commission, go to college – till after the Upper Canada Rebellion of 1837.  

Feelings ran high still at the 1841 Wesleyan Methodist Conference: 

Q:  What are the sentiments of this Conference on the measure which has been adopted by the Imperial Parliament, on the question of the Clergy Reserves in Upper Canada?

1.    That we feel deeply aggrieved that unmerited injustice has been done to the Wesleyan Methodist Church in Canada, as well as to several other legally recognized denomination of Christian in Upper Canada, by the unequal and unjust provisions of that Act – so different from every expression of opinion and feeling which has every been made by the inhabitants of Upper Canada – so opposed to the recorded opinions of both branches of the Provincial Legislature, and the strong and reiterated opinions of His Excellency the Governor General of Canada.

2.    That, notwithstanding we feel ourselves, as a body, injured and aggrieved by the invidious and partial provisions of that Act, we recommend, in the present circumstances of the country, an abstinence from any re-agitation of the question.  We submit to it as a law, for conscience sake, whilst our representatives properly remonstrated against it as a bill.

In light of the new Ontario provincial government, and its throne speech on Friday, and how feelings are still running high among us, I commended this tradition of political partisanship, and a presumption of civil obedience, to your consideration.  I look forward to our study of Romans 13 in August!

David was ‘dancing dangerously’ in the scripture we heard today.  Contrast the fates of Uzzah, trying to ‘help’ and ‘keep control’ of God, and of Michal, beautiful and barren.  Tell me about your God, and your church, and our partisanship – and God grant you a heart to dance dangerously with us!


Bread and Roses

As we go marching, marching in the beauty of the day
A million darkened kitchens, a thousand mill lofts gray
Are touched with all the radiance that a sudden sun discloses
For the people hear us singing: 
“Bread and roses! Bread and roses!”

As we come marching, marching, we battle too for men
For they are women's children, and we mother them again
Our lives shall not be sweated from birth until life closes
Hearts starve as well as bodies; 
give us bread, but give us roses!

As we go marching, marching, unnumbered women dead
Go crying through our singing their ancient song of bread
Small art and love and beauty their drudging spirits knew
Yes, it is bread we fight for - but we fight for roses, too!

As we come marching, marching, we bring the greater days
The rising of the women means the rising of the race
No more the drudge and idler — ten that toil where one reposes
But a sharing of life's glories: 
Bread and roses! Bread and roses!

Our lives shall not be sweated
from birth until life closes
Hearts starve as well as bodies;
Bread and roses! Bread and roses!

Between Homes

Notes from www.billbrucewords.com
Trinity on Church UC, Kitchener
Sunday, July 08, 2018  

Text: 2 Samuel 5

The ‘Big Idea’ today was about our myths of ‘the old neighbourhood’, or ‘where I come from’. You know, ‘we walked 2 miles to school, uphill both ways in the snow’.  ‘We were so poor we had to take turns at the table, without enough chairs.’  ‘Wow – you had chairs?  We didn’t!’  We tell the stories of starting out in our adult lives, at work or in marriages – selectively, telling truth in myths.

This summer, we’re hearing the stories of David, selectively in the revised common lectionary and at greater length at this church.  We began with early legends of the child musician and shepherd, anointed in preference to his big buff brothers, fighting lions and bears and Goliath with a slingshot.  We hear the truth in myths to introduce his later success as king, before his failing mortality.

We tell the truths in myths, of our origins and of our future dreams, but we live at home in between memory and hope, in real time struggles.  The grandchild looks at old albums with her grandmother, and asks her: ‘Is it true, granny, that in the olden days everything was black and white?’  The present is never that simple, lived forward and told backward.  1980’s punk star Lena Lovich sang:

Home is where the heart is, 
Home is close control
Home is good clean living –
Let’s go to your place!

Truths are told in myths about origins and destinies.  The middle stretches of stories defy that form.  We hear today that ‘all the tribes at Hebron’ came to draft David to be king. But we know that Saul was killed trying to deceive David and Joab, and Abner backs Ishbosheth as successor, holding real power.  David is running a gang in the hills, hardly loyal or obedient. 

Imagine any political campaign and convention to find a new political leader: 

‘We are your flesh and blood,
and you’ve been leading us already,
so you should be our king David.’

As if! It was never so easy, and it is never so easy. David had to fight for it.

David had years before Saul died, and then years in Hebron, not entirely in charge.  Imagine David as leader of her majesty’s not so loyal opposition, the government in waiting, then minority government with regional support, or even an armed faction in a civil war, only later a majority, ruling south and north. We miss all the cues and clues in the text, if we ignore geography and history.

Was David popular?  Among what populations and tribes, and how could he build a coalition for a wider alliance? Did he appeal to a lowest common denominator, or ask us to ‘rise above’ gang colours to better ideals? David starts as a dissident, a rebel, on the run from Saul who is slipping into tyranny. Even here, at Hebron, his influence is limited to Judah’s southern reaches. 

David was ambitious, his dynasty ‘rags to riches to rags in 3 generations.’ For 7 years he is based in Hebron, but with more new allies from Israel in the north, he begins his rule over a ‘united kingdom’ for 33 years more by taking Jerusalem, a neutral city between Judah and Israel, belonging to neigther.

The Jebusites, called ‘the people in the land’ in this, resisted David’s rise, 1000 year before Jesus.  This text was locked in after the exile, 500 years before Jesus, as a minority of returnees proposed to build a second temple, despite the resistance of the majority of ‘the people in the land’, never exiled. Jebusites ran the well-defended city, with some vulnerability: a single water source by a wall.

Just as the Philistines with Goliath ‘trash talked’ the troops of Israel a couple of weeks ago, so the taunts of Jebusite defenders of Jerusalem sound like slang: ‘The blind and the lame won’t enter this city’.  ‘David, you’re as scary as my grandmother!  She’s blind and lame too!’  David trash talks back: ‘Oh yeah?’  ‘My grandmother will beat your city – even if she’s blind and lame!’  

The language of feisty athletes at a football field, a basketball court, or a boxing arena can be pretty rude, bigoted against aged or physically disabled folks.  It’s not actually directed at the weak, but as an insult against opponents of proportionate strength.  Context is everything in quoting such aphorisms. Defenders say their ‘B Team’ can hold off David, who says water-boys can win.

Apparently David’s troops led by Joab and Abner stormed the wall at the water source, if not up through the water pipe exactly.  Those taunted as ‘the blind and the lame’ with no hope of victory did, in fact, get to live in the city, and the saying became a colloquialism about their just deserts despite initial disadvantage and challenging obstacles.  

The United Church national General Council meets in Oshawa in a couple of weeks, and you will hear (if we make the news at all this time) about our crazy politics in the national media. We will likely be accused of being blind and lame, foolishly challenging Canadian support for the current Israeli regime. What anti-Semites would propose ‘Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions’ against Israel?  

We’re not against Israel.  However, we do often say that the incursions into Palestinian lands to expand Jewish ‘settlements’ behind ‘the wall’ are wrong.  The ‘blind and the lame’, Palestinians penned in refugee camps for 50 years, are taunted by the Jewish Defence Forces, in Gaza and around Hebron, more in this season than in recent years since Intifadah days.  

Our bulletin today offered maps. One showed the ‘Swiss cheese’ proposals of the Oslo Accords of 1993 and 1995 for ‘Hebron District Redeployment’. Another showed an ‘Arab Studies Society Land Research Centre’ map of the same area in 2018, with far more Jewish ‘settlement’, protected by ‘The Wall’.  Trump’s America supports Netanyahu’s Israel, as Harper’s Canada did. Will Trudeau?

News releases on the United Church of Canada website last Friday reported heavy construction vehicles with police escorts ready to bulldoze and relocate villages of Khan Al Ahmar and Susiya, already with a history of a couple of prior relocations. Their next pastures will adjoin a garbage dump.  In relation to the Fourth Geneva Convention, these actions are ‘illegal’ in occupied territory.

Another news release before this weekend originated from the Presbyterian Church of Canada. Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers are stonewalled at Israeli airports, and then sent to burdened third countries such as Uganda.  Rhetorically, I asked what kind of bigotry would deny asylum without hearing, citing lack of local resources to house the seekers.  The answer is ‘us, too’.

When you hear this stuff in coming weeks, if the United Church’s national gathering gets any press at all, don’t deny you ever heard it in your local church or that none of us agrees with the national leadership.  I know many of us voted for Mr. Ford, as we did for Mr. Harper, for many reasons.  Most of us can’t draw a sketch map of biblical Israel, let alone today’s state.   We disagree.

We tell our truths in myth, of our own origins, as we did and do about David.  We are an immigrant people, part of settler culture in Canada, aging WASP’s.  We share our dreams and hopes of our ultimate visions of a reign of God.  Meanwhile, we live in between those homes, in a world that defies description in terms of true myth and true dreams.  Who and what will we unite behind?

You’re invited this summer to tell stories together, about how your story, and our story, and God’s story fit together.    We’ve posted the first half dozen examples of ‘Story-Telling’ about Trinity on Church, as we imagine telling our story in the year 2020, with 20:20 hindsight, as an ‘elevator speech’ about our church and why we participate and invite others to join us.  

Sure, we remember and tell our truths in origin myths of Methodist settlers and city-builders in Kitchener.  We dream about inclusive and diverse church community in some far-distant future. Meanwhile, between those true myths and true dreams and visions, we tell stories like this one of David building alliances.  What word do you have for our hearts, O God, give us ears to hear!

Our Goliaths

Notes from www.billbrucewords.com
Sunday, June 24, 2018  
Trinity on Church UC

Text:  2 Samuel 17

The ‘Big Idea’ today was about whatever you face that is bigger than you, and smaller than God.  What Goliaths do you face?  In David and Goliath, 2013, Malcolm Gladwell challenged how we think about obstacles and disadvantages, underdogs and long odds.   Some face cancer or terminal disease, others hold jobs in declining companies or sectors – like mine! 

I tried to lighten up for a moment with a chorus from the old ballad of “The Preacher and the Bear”, as the preacher facing the bear by a river side in the woods, is moved to pray:

O Lord, you delivered Daniel from the lion’s den
Delivered Jonah from the belly of the whale and then
The Hebrew children from the fiery furnace, so the Good Book do declare
Now Lord, Lord, if you can’t help me, for goodness sake don’t you help that bear!

This summer the revised common lectionary invites the church to read through the tales about David, from his predecessor Saul to his successor Solomon.  1,000 years before Jesus, David’s century marked a change from anarchy to centralized kingdom, and too soon to division again of Israel from Judah. Reflected upon through fall, exile and restoration, the stories give deep perspective on collective human nature and leadership. 

All the Gospels tell you that ‘if you don’t know David, you don’t really know Jesus, yet’ – born in David’s city, of David’s line, Son of David. I owed you a sermon on David and Goliath, not just Gladwell’s pop philosophy panaceas or ‘how to’ solutions to discover slingshot innovations to beat armour.  George Herbert (1650CE) wrote that:

‘Sermons are dangerous things…
none goes out of Church as he came in,
but either better, or worse’.

David’s contemporaries knew how he had begun, as a guerrilla or terrorist in the hills of Galilee, running protection rackets during Saul’s reign. His actual record of support for Saul was spotty at best, and his succession to the throne instead of one of Saul’s sons was illegitimate and contested.

Those looking back after David’s death knew that later, in power, David’s reign, 
begun in civil war, ends w scandals of sex, abuse of power including the whole Bathsheba affair. The very model of an underdog became, through a lifetime recorded in these stories, a bully Goliath. 

Joseph Heller’s novel “God Knows”, assuming the voice of David in his old age, remembers David’s scandalous life. Perhaps you will rent a movie version, like Richard Gere in 1985, or Gregory Peck in 1951. Maybe you just need to listen to a familiar story today, as if for the first time, at our age in our time and place.

June 3, 1 Samuel 3  told of the call of Samuel the boy, at the shrine in Shiloh, with a context of anarchy, and the failure of Eli’s boys who corrupted the cult.  June 10, our congregational meeting heard 1 Samuel 8, as the mob demanded a king like other nations, in the context of Samuel’s sons’ failure.  Samuel warned folks that a king would just demand taxes, and conscript sons for death.

Sure enough, Saul turns out to be a wimp who haggles and compromises with the Amalekites instead of just beating them, as Samuel said God wanted. You don’t mediate a crime. You don’t plea bargain or settle, in some situations, or you’ll be back, in the Balkans or in the Gulf wars. Saul is still king, but a sitting duck, then lame duck, then dead duck, lacking legitimacy. Defensive, lashing out – there are rumours of madness as troops line up in the valley of Elah.

Last week in lectionary, as Trinity met neighbours from Seven Generations of Healing, the wider church listened as David was anointed by Samuel to succeed Saul someday. Jesse the Bethlehemite paraded his sons or Samuel to anoint one: first Eliab, the big and buff eldest, then Shammah, Abinadab, and 4 more sons, his best and brightest. Samuel asks for the son Jesse didn’t talk about: David, the youngest, the least and last, the youngest and most implausible one. 

David was off at his McJob, doing lamb-care as sheep-nanny, security guard for the family flock, working in the unglamorous back office supply chain of the food industry, not even up front as maître de, just a part time musician with a knack for fending off predators from the flock.

Anyhow, we pick up the story today with the impasse between Philistine and Israelite armies. On one mountain the Philistines camped. On the other were the Israelites. Between them lay the valley of Elah. Daily, the warriors would suit up, line up in the valley, stare each other down, and listen to the trash talk and taunts. Imagine the House of Commons, or the anthems before football or hockey game, as each team or party or army stands up for their people. 

Picture Goliath, 9 or 10 feet tall, draped in hundreds of pounds of brass armour, 
with lots of heavy weapons.   It’s like the heavy equipment carried by Canadian or American soldiers these days in Afghanistan or Iraq: JTF2, snipers, Special Forces, carrying hundreds of pounds of gear in the hot desert. Here is the image of a champion, proxy for a whole army and nation. If Goliath wins, Israelites will serve Philistines. The Israelites listen to the bully for 40 days in a row – but they are scared – God knows none is equal to Goliath of Gath.  

Things don’t change, do they?  Combatants still line up in the Gaza strip, that coastal link between Egypt, Africa to the south, and Europe and Asia to the north.  Young men stand up as warriors and champions, and they are scared, and they stand up for their people and nations, with the complicity of the rest of us. What’s at stake, and what’s at risk?  The 2007 movie ‘Valley of Elah’, redeployed to Texas roles written by Paul Haggis of London Ontario.  The 2014 Phil Klay short stories, ‘Redeployment’, tell of psy-ops warfare in Iraq today – and the disorientation of a young vet back in college in the USA.

Meanwhile, as Eliab, Shammah, and Abinadab are suiting up to line up in the Valley of Elah every day, David’s back home doing his lamb-care, sheep nanny, security guard, food service and transportation McJob. His mother sends him to the front on an errand, to deliver a care package of food treats for his brothers, and for their officers. David leaves the stuff at the Israelite mountain camp, and wanders up to the front, to experience the front line posturing and trash-talking for the first time. His brothers are mad, or embarrassed, but David is a cocky kid, who just gives Goliath as good as he gets. It’s a bit like a Bugs Bunny cartoon: ‘come back and fight like a man!’ says the pipsqueak to the giant.

We know the last scenes best: Saul gives David his own heavy suit of brass armour – but David can’t move, let alone fight in it. It’s a bit like a kid trying a suit and tie for a first job, and feeling like an imposter.  Each generation has to figure out their own uniform, gear, and way of being in charge. David takes his slingshot, picks up 5 smooth stones form the wadi, and walks out to face the giant, the bully, the champion, Goliath. 

They exchange a bit more trash talk about whose body will feed the animals and birds – then David kills Goliath, improbably.  David, the musician, the lamb-care sheep-nanny security guard food service transport worker, gets a new role as hero, improbable and against all odds. Is that a glorification of barbaric violent warfare?  I prefer to read it as a satirical farce making fun of martial male pretensions. How does it help us, to retell these stories, and re-imagine who we are and whose we are, and what we might do about it? 

There is an underlying ethical theory struggle in our reflections here these days. 
I’m suspicious of the utilitarian ethics of computation and recalibration, associated with the market model of rights-bearing individuals competing in a fair and free market at the ‘end of history’.  I’m trying to rediscover the place of character and community, and recognizing the contribution of narrative, to convey those qualitative dimensions of ethics and morality. 

We’re not ‘family values’ reactionaries, but we know we are more than consumers, more than employees, more than atomized isolated agents out to maximize our own goods, or ‘value-add’, as if those goods and values could be disembodied from incarnate creation and humanity.

Heidegger illuminated how ‘techne’ was used by classical Greeks as crafts of practical ethics, equally for skilled trades, politicians and artists. Thinkers like Jacques Ellul, Georg Gadamer, and Canadian George Grant, and more recently Alisdair MacIntyre and Charles Taylor pursued the political implications.

What if we reclaimed older language of ethics? Aristotle’s insight that ethics required ‘polis’ or community may be dismissed as petty parochialism compared to the conventional rhetoric of universal human rights, but let’s remember it before we dismember it. 

The grammar of virtue and vice can bring us back to a reminder of goods and values beyond the individual, incarnate in creation and humanity.  It may be deconstructed as guilt supporting privilege, but let’s reassemble it enough to enjoy dismantling it.  

I hate our current tendency to polarize most ethical or political issues into binary choices.  We demonize the other side as stupid or sick.  We beatify our side as absolutely brilliant and superior.  Biblical models, like David tales, are better.

Classic teachers of practical ethics knew a more complex vocabulary.  Short of the polarity of “vicious”, less bad, were the ‘akratic’, who knew the right thing but gave in to impulsivity.  I offered the example of most criminals, who are really just young men making stupid rash mistakes.

Short of the perfectly “virtuous”, less good, were the ‘enkratic’, who knew and did it all right, but without passion.  I noted the challenge of ‘None Is Too Many’, the account of Canada’s refusal of Jewish refugees in the 1930’s, when churches actually said too little, too calmly, to oppose our national bigotry. These days, social media asks ‘where are the white churches’ in opposing growing injustice of economic and gender inequality, and racialized minorities.

We are heirs of hard-won language for issues of pride, on this Pride Sunday. We can claim too much in vanity. We can also ask too little in humiliation.  What is violated in which violence? Can we be militant without being militaristic or martial?  Can we behave adversarially without being antagonistic? Which implied ‘uses’ are affirmed, while ‘abuses’ are damned as aberrations? 

Where can we find people who really differ, but still talk with each other? Ironically, people are finding this discourse within and between religious communities, peremptorily dismissed as fanatic by popular secular culture.

Remember David today, and later in the summer,  ‘when kings go out to war’ as David sends Uriah to die in the front lines, while he stays home to seduce Bathsheba.  We get there in August – join us!  The real trick to hearing these stories from the ‘former prophets’ is a hermeneutic of ‘here and now’!  Hear the stories again this summer, as if for the first time, at this age, in this context.

What word do you have for our hearts… give us ears to hear.  Amen