Fighting Demons

In the past few weeks, we’ve been kind’a in a party bubble in our church. We celebrated a baptism, three confirmations and the blessing of a lovely renovated hall with Bishop Chris. That’s quite the list of events, events that brought us much life and joy. And that’s good, that’s all really good. We need happy times – they help us store up energy and courage for the tough times.

So did you store up enough goodness and joy? Ready for today? Because today’s Scriptures bring tough times and tough situations. It doesn’t seem fair to be served these stories right when our spirits are light and when summer is at our doorstep. But we all know, shit happens when we least expect it. Take a deep breath, and let’s dive in, and see what the Holy Book has to say.

Elijah (1 Kings 19:1-15) is on the run – on the run from Ahab who wants to kill him, and on the run from God who wants him to keep needling Ahab with the truth. Elijah’s spirit is running out of steam, running out of courage. He’d rather die in a forgotten corner in the wilderness: “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.

Talk about discouragement and feeling like an utter failure! We know the feeling; we try to do the right thing, but life throws too many curves that we can’t handle. We think we understand what God is asking of us, but our efforts don’t seem to find much favour in the world. We want to love like Jesus, serve like Jesus and forgive like Jesus, but crisis upon crisis sabotages our best efforts, depleting our hope and energy, our courage and motivation. And so exhaustion has us fall into a deep sleep …

And what does God do … when he finds us asleep into that forgotten wilderness corner of our own lives? Come on, … get up and eat … eat some love bread and drink some soul-care … Walk in the beauty of God’s creation, feel the wind and the sun (or the rain!), laugh at a good joke, create a work of art, read a good book, have coffee with a friend, sit on the beach and watch the waves, share a family meal, write a gratitude list, lay down in a field and look up at the night sky, pray for someone else, dig in the garden, hold a baby … God’s first concern is … to … nourish and strengthen us, just as Elijah experienced … God knows our need to just stop … take a deep breath … Amazing really … how replenishing … simple love-food can be for our spirit…

But what if such love-food, instead of recharging our battery, is devoured instead by … demons??? That is what we hear about in the encounter between Jesus and the demon-possessed man in the Gerasene country (Luke 8:26-39). Here is a dramatic show-down between the One who is God’s love-food for all and the greatest enemies of God, the demons who absolutely despise everything good and beautiful and holy.

Now in our sophisticated day and age, we might think it kind’a freaky to talk of demons and demon-possession. Maybe we think of it as an ancient and out-dated concept. But not so fast …

When we speak of trauma, of PTSD, of the need for deep healing, when we speak of addictions, of dysfunctional behaviours, of obsessions and destructive habits; when we speak of mental illness, paranoia, and all the negative forces preventing us from becoming who God intends us to be, aren’t we in fact naming the demons of our time? We are just as surrounded by – yes, possessed by – as many demons as those whom Jesus encountered.

There are eary similarities between the demon-possessed man Jesus encounters and the demons that possess us. The person in the Gospel was totally cut off from family and society. He didn’t live with people, but “in the tombs,” probably in caves that were used as burying places. He was also “driven by the demons into the wild.” In other words, he was a living corpse, separated from normal people and normal living. The man was naked, and so overcome by violent impulses that he could not be restrained even with chains and leg-shackles. Furthermore, the demons were harming him. In Mark’s version he was “bruising himself with stones” (Mark 5:1-20). Finally, and most sadly, he was so totally possessed that even though the demons recognized Jesus as “Son of the Most High God,” the man could not free himself …

Recently I read about Victoria Morrison, a young woman from Windsor, ON, who fell prey to sexual exploitation in Winnipeg. Her case is now in court, and her 30-year old captor pleaded guilty to human trafficking, forcible confinement and obstructing justice. The man who captured her sounds “possessed:” among other things, he burned Victoria with a hot iron, shocked her with an electrical wire and locked her in a freezer. He also blindfolded her and tied her hands with bed sheets, then strung her up to the ceiling with a cord. This man’s demons not only ruled him, but deliberately set out to dominate and destroy another human being.

Other types of demons primarily rule and destroy the persons whose spirits they invade, such as the man in today’s Gospel. As we just marked National Indigenous Peoples Day in our country, my thoughts turned to the demons that have set up dominion in many Indigenous communities. The extensive historical research, the Truth & Reconciliation Report, the national inquiries such as the most recent one into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls are revealing the ugly face and death-dealing effects of these demons. The inter-generational trauma of colonization, which has inflicted cultural, social and spiritual devastation, has lead to the demons of self-destruction, personally and collectively.

Those demons have names, just like the demons in today’s Gospel: Jesus asked, “What is your name?” He said, “Legion”; for many demons had entered. Indeed, the demons in the Indigenous community have names too: addictions and abuse, violence and death-dealing life-choices, mental illness, despair and depression, suicide and a never-ending cycle of sabotaging, dysfunctional behaviours.

The demons in the Gospel knew who Jesus was. Jesus’ energy of love and grace and mercy pierced them and there was no hiding: it scared the livin’ daylights out of them! Why? Because demons know that when love-grace-mercy appear on the scene, their days are numbered. Casting out demons with the love-food and liberating power of Jesus is now our call, our task, but how? The flow of God’s love-grace-mercy is not as strong in us as in Jesus: our sinful streaks block that flow quite effectively, unfortunately. Yet Christ still calls us on the healing path of love and mercy. Jesus calls us to the hard road of reconciliation, as the way to cast out the demons of all oppression and broken relations. Here are some words from Rev. Ginny Doctor, the Indigenous ministries coordinator for the Anglican Church of Canada. She published these words recently under the title: Where are all our flowers going?

Where do we go from here? How do we talk about a problem so large – a demon so strong – that it needs a thousand pages and its own acronym? MMIWG have been with us for a long time; it goes way back to first contact with settlers. And it’s here with us now. Every day on Facebook, I see postings on missing Indigenous women and girls. Each one breaks my heart, and I wonder, “Where are all our flowers going?” They are gone to death and human trafficking. How to cast out these demons of destruction?

What needs to change to protect our women and girls? For one thing, we need to cast out the demons by making a good life for them in our communities —a task that is social, economic and environmental. Maybe then, they won’t have to travel bad roads looking for something better. We must tend to the gardens in which our flowers grow, increasing self-worth in each person, and provide economic stability in our communities.

The other way is spiritual. We need to see the beauty and value in these women and girls, in their very being. This is about honouring our women and girls by reconnecting with traditional values: respect, humility, wisdom, truth, honesty, courage and most important, love.

Ginny makes an important point here: the most effective way to cast out the demons of personal and collective destruction lies in finding the beauty in one another, in honouring the image of God in one another, in fostering God’s worldview with respect, humility, truth, wisdom, honesty, courage and most important, with love and grace and mercy. And I would add to this, cast out one another’s demons by sharing and carrying one another’s pain in the same way Jesus took on the pain of our sins on the cross.

After being back home in Windsor for 10 months, Victoria has relied heavily on WE Fight to ease her back into society. The organization helps survivors of human trafficking get back on their feet with income assistance, clothing and food as well as mental-health supports.
WE Fight brings the healing power of Jesus to those possessed by the demons of human trafficking: when love-grace-mercy truly enter the person’s heart, the demons days’ are numbered, and get chased out of our spirits. Victoria Morrison asked the court not to impose a publication ban that would protect her identity. She wants the public, and those who may be suffering or have endured similar experiences, to put a human face to this horrific story. “I want people to see how normal I am. I also want people to know even if you go through something this terrible, you can get out of it,” Morrison said.

People came out to see what had happened, and when they came to Jesus, they found the man from whom the demons had gone sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind…
Luke reports that the townspeople freaked out at the man’s healing, and that they became afraid. I wonder how we react when our demon-possessed sisters and brothers, whoever they are, find Christ’s healing and peace and joy. Jealous, because we need that same healing touch and have trouble tapping into God? Judgmental, because s/he doesn’t really deserve this? Afraid and nervous, because I don’t know how to relate to you now? Skeptical, because I don’t trust the healing to be for real? Indifferent, because I’m so exhausted from fighting my own demons?

Or … relieved, eager to share in your healing? Or grateful, ready to dance with you in joy? Or encouraged, because God is real indeed and can heal me too? Or inspired, for Jesus wills all people to be set free? Yes, in Christ there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of us are one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:23-29)

Exhausted and weary of fighting the demons, we (and many others) commiserate with Elijah – just kill me now, God. But God reaches out, gently and patiently, with love-food and soul-drink, through ordinary folks, ordinary events and ordinary things. Listen to Ginny’s words at the end of her article: My niece just sent me pictures of the flowers she has grown; they are beautiful, but not as beautiful as the two daughters and son she is raising. There is beauty all around us and in each one of us. Look for it, cherish it and safeguard it— before you have to ask, “Where have all the flowers gone?”

We claim the healing power of Jesus to cast out our demons – we look for it, claim it, love it, cherish it, safeguard it. That’s more than enough reason to continue our church party into the summer and into our lives, here and beyond. AMEN

Homily preached on June 23, 2019. While the Roman Catholic community celebrated Corpus Christi on this day, we confronted the demons in Luke 8: 26-39. The other Scriptures were 1 Kings 19:1—15 (exhausted Elijah), Psalm 42, and Galatians 3:23-29.

Trinity-style Loving

Every year the Church gives us Trinity Sunday right after Pentecost, and we’re supposed to say something intelligible about this serious theological construct we call God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. We have made things complicated over the centuries. The Trinity has filled countless books, all theological and theoretical explanations – well, most anyways. We generally think of the Trinity as a “name” for God: God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit. Now that’s certainly correct, but there’s more than merely a name here. Maybe the Trinity is also about how these three aspects of God relate to one another in unconditional and ever-flowing LOVE. Taken together, the Trinity is about relationship. Our God is a relational God. Relating in love, the three-in-one, reveals what God does. God is love, we hear that so many times in Scripture. And for Love to love there needs to be another to love: God so loved the world …

We’re very good at defining God and giving intellectual assent to a God of love. We’re less good, though, at loving like God. And yet, Jesus showed us that we have the capacity to love like God. What would happen if we took seriously the relational character of the Trinity? If Trinity Sunday is merely an intellectual yes to a theological construct defined long ago, a construct that we mindlessly recite in the Creed every Sunday, then it’s not worth the ink in the volumes of books.

But what if Trinity-style loving guides how we live? What if Trinity-style loving makes demands on us that are uncomfortable and challenging at times? What if the Trinity is the primary pattern for being church? And who is the church – we are, together! The church is fundamentally about relationship. Long before the church is an organization, a structure o pr a building the church is about a way of relating, a way of being in the world, patterned on God’s Trinitarian dynamic of loving in and through Father-Son-Holy Spirit.

A Trinitarian way of living and loving embraces the world wholeheartedly.  We cannot be church in isolation from the world. We cannot be church without relating in love to others. Autonomy and individualism are good goals of development, except when taken to the extreme, leading to cutting others off and out. Trinity-style loving excludes autonomy, isolation and self-sufficiency. Instead, Trinity-style living and loving always takes into account the effects of decisions on others, and those effects could mean life or death.

Trinity-style living and loving is at the heart of a life of discipleship in Christ. Trinity-style loving means not using Jesus’ words “I am the Way-Truth-Life” to exclude, but instead apply these words to include in our circle of love. Trinity-style living makes our faith very personal, yes, but never private, as if confined to some lofty ideas about heaven. When Jesus claimed to BE the Way-Truth-Life, he referred to a way of BEING in the world that is driven and guided by LOVE – God’s love. However, these words Way-Truth-Life have fueled suspicion and prejudice towards those embracing other paths. But I don’t think Jesus ever meant these words to shut others out, but to bring others in through loving.

So this coming week here in our own community, we have an opportunity to practice this Trinity-style loving, to bring others into our heart and into our orbit of love, to put our faith, our discipleship in Christ, in action. Many of us harbour suspicion and misunderstanding about our Indigenous sisters and brothers. Why can’t they seem to get their lives straightened out? Why can’t they get over it? I hear this often. Yeah, why can’t they? If that question lives in your heart, if you’ve ever spoken that question to another person, then the Blanket Exercise is for you. Because if Trinity-style loving is what God asks of us, if Trinity-style loving is what Jesus showed us how to do, then that type of all-inclusive loving becomes the litmus test for what faith looks like in the world. No textbook in the world has the same effect as real people committing to real God-like loving. And that loving involves being open to learning and understanding how and why others suffer and why they can’t seem to get their life together.

I have personally participated in the Blanket exercise several times. It is a unique and powerful experience of discovery, after which one can never go back to the old preconceived ideas. We cannot successfully address the current challenges between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in Canada without understanding how those challenges arose. Truth comes before reconciliation is possible. If Indigenous peoples need to face up to their part in making farms and rural living unsafe, us offspring of the original settlers must own up to the fact that we have not held up our side of the Treaties our ancestors signed.

It seems to be the week for connecting with our Indigenous siblings. Today, in a few hours to be exact, Rance Cardinal is arriving in Humboldt. An Indigenous young man from northern Ontario whose life was falling apart – yes, he struggled to keep his life together – has found the light of healing and reconciliation, arising from, of all things, the Broncos tragedy. In a few hours he will have completed a walk of 1200 km to heal and unite and reconcile and renew the face of this hurting world through his little, simple contribution of … walking. Rance’s meagre offering of three loaves and two fish have multiplied a thousand-fold. Countless people across the globe have been following him (13,000+ on FB alone), and now feel inspired, encouraged and healed by his  witness.  Reconciliation-in-Motion, they dubbed him. A young aboriginal man, an unlikely person, showing the world, showing us all, what Trinity-style living and loving can do for the healing of all – no exception.

As Rance arrives in Humboldt in a few hours, I am convinced that his heart is dressed in God’s own finest Trinity-style wear. His is a true contemporary Pentecost story. What’s more, Rance has been helping countless others to don the same holy attire. His own broken heart and the broken Broncos hearts are being healed and restored and renewed for the sake of this world so loved by God, a God of LOVE we proclaim as Father-Son-Holy Spirit. Rance set the bar high; can we follow suit? AMEN

Homily preached on Trinity Sunday, May 27, 2018

Isaiah 6:1-8; Psalm 29; Romans 8:12-17; John 3:1-17

* Update June 1, 2018. Upon his arrival in Humboldt Rance received an emotional and unforgettable welcome. He spent three days in our community, speaking at schools, playing ball hockey in the arena with the kids, visiting the players still in a Saskatoon hospital, visiting the crash site and paying his respects, being featured on our local radio station. He showed humility and determination, generosity of heart, courage and simplicity. His healing journey touched many not only in Humboldt, but around the world. Rance and his support team returned to Sioux Lookout, ON, by car. We will never forget him. More on Rance in my next blog posting.

Prairie Encounters

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