“I’m drawn to places,” writes Eric Weiner, “that beguile and inspire, sedate and stir, places where, for a few blissful moments I loosen my death grip on life, and can breathe again.”[i] He is speaking of what we’ve come to know as thin places.
Heaven and earth, the Celtic saying goes, are only three feet apart, but in thin places that distance is even shorter. The ancient Celts used the term to describe places like the wind-swept isle of Iona where Julie Kae will have an opportunity to spend some time this summer as a part of her sabbatical.
Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16† Psalm 22:23-31 † Romans 4:13-25 † Mark 8:31-38
Christy Ma began her newspaper article about a day filled with extraordinary events like this: “Valentine’s Day was a day of love, passion and friendships.” The first line flowed easily, but it took a few more days to get the rest together for the student newspaper the Eagle Eye. She and her co-author Nikhita Nookala drew guidance and reinforcement from each other and from the encouragement of an adviser to get it put together.[i]
Christy and Nikhita, you see, are students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, and they were writing stories about one of the deadliest mass shootings in modern history—a shooting they had experienced. They were covering the shooting and the candlelight vigil that followed, even as they were living it firsthand.
Genesis 1:1-5 † Psalm 29:1-11 † Acts 19:1-7 † Mark 1:4-11
I bought an app for my iPhone a while ago. It was the second time ever I shelled out any money for one. I suppose it’s the principle of the thing that typically keeps me from paying for a phone app. It wasn’t a lot of money, just 99 cents, but for what I got, I’m sure you’ll be impressed. It does one thing, and it does it really well. Five times a day it sends a note, a simple reminder, “Don’t forget, you’re going to die.” That’s it. Pretty cool, huh?
According to the app website, the invitations to stop and think about death arrive at random times throughout the day—at any moment, just like death. The app is called “WeCroak” which, I think you’ll agree, is a refreshingly straight-forward and direct name for a phone app. If you click on the message, it will take you to a quote about death, or, you might say, about life.
Here’s one example from this week, from the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda:
Death arrives among all that sound
Like a shoe with no foot in it,
Like a suit with no man in it.
Or this more didactic one from the German philosopher Martin Heidegger:
If I take death into my life, acknowledge it, and face it squarely, I will free myself from the anxiety of death and the pettiness of life—and only then will I be free to become myself.
Revelation 7:9-17 † Psalm 34:1-10, 22 † 1 John 3:1-3 † Matthew 5:1-12
“We have to stop and get Gran some ice cream.”
That was the memory that pressed in most strongly as I looked down at the rough map of my family that I had drawn. It was for a class, this map, and I wasn’t at all happy that I had to do it. We were to draw out the relational and emotional map of our families 3 generations back so that we could examine together the dynamics and the forces that are at play; so we could see what had formed us, and what has power over us.
I looked down at my map, all colored boxes and tiny dates and squiggly lines. “We have to stop and get Gran some Ice cream”, I heard my mom say, and my dad, and my uncle Hugh, my Uncle Ralph, my cousin James, my cousin Helen.
You see, when we gathered at my Gran’s house with family, everyone knew that someone had to stop at the corner shop right below her apartment and grab a little tub of the soft serve ice cream they sold there.
Now all these years later, it is this thing that I remember, so fondly. So much more happened in my family as shown by the rough contours of my map. Rough times, and happier times. People, regular, complex people trying to do the best they could, struggling with hurt passed down over the generations. Family gatherings could get difficult, old patterns kicked in. But she would always look forward to ice cream, and she would laugh when we brought it, and she would sit with her grandkids, while the other adults did their thing, she would sit and share a little ice cream.
Readings for this Sunday:
1 Samuel 8:4-11, 16-20 | Psalm 138 | 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1| Mark 3:20-35
I’ve preached this Mark text a number of times in the past, but I had never really noticed before that Jesus goes home. I don’t know about you. I don’t really think about Jesus as one who had a home. But that’s where he is. He’s home—apparently where he grew up. This is reinforced at the end of this section when Jesus’ mother and brothers show up. But this turn doesn’t seem to make home any homier. They think he’s gone too far, and the way Mark tells the story, their attempt to restrain Jesus is perhaps the greatest injury, personal rejection piled onto the charges made against him by the religious authorities from Jerusalem.
Maybe the question isn’t “Can you go home again?” but “Why would you want to?” What a blow this must have been!
Many of us know the complexities of family life. Our hunger for the idea of home is all the greater because those places where we would expect to find home are sometimes the places of our most infrequent encounters. Ask any therapist. We spend our lifetimes working in one way or another to make sense of our family ties, to live out from under them, to allow them to fund our strength and courage and wholeness.
The majority of my pastoral conversations have some element of family in them, and I suspect the ones that don’t are lacking that dynamic only because I’m not paying close enough attention.
Isaiah 35:1-10 • James 5:7-10 • Matthew 11:2-11
I was 27 when we moved to Seattle. Chris and I had left every single person we were related to back in NC. We didn’t know anyone here. But we moved in September and it was gorgeous! North Carolina had been hot and humid when we left and we got here; there were beautiful blue skies and moderate temperatures…best of all there was no humidity. Our apartment had been this chaotic sea of packing boxes and awaiting us here was a brand new house. I could do this! September gave way to a pretty and mostly sunny October but then November and December came. I was used to a lot of sunlight and turning my headlights on to drive in the middle of the afternoon was surprising and it made me a little depressed. I didn’t know anyone here and there were two other people in my family…one was two years old and the other one worked all day. It felt a bit like an exile.
St. Andrew Sermons