Speaker:- Rachel Mackintosh Worship Leaders:- Ted Zorn, Kate Lewis
Our recently retired minister, Clay Nelson, died on Thursday (2 November 2023). Those of us who have known Clay are grieving.
So, we’ve changed this service to reflect on coming together in grief and the wonder of life.
Rachel MacIntosh, Clay’s wife, will present a talk that Clay wrote and presented to us a couple years back called “Welcome to Limbo. Please leave your certainties at the door.” Appropriately, it’s about how we respond to chaos, uncertainty, and the unexpected.
Buddha told a parable: A man was travelling across a field when he encountered a tiger. He began to run, and the tiger chased after him. Coming to a precipice, he slipped and was able to catch hold of the root of a wild strawberry bush, hanging in the air. The tiger sniffed at him from above. Trembling, the man looked down only to find that another tiger was waiting to eat him. He thought the bush could sustain him for a while, until he saw two mice gnawing away the vine. A tiger above, a tiger below. The man saw a ripe strawberry near him. Grabbing the vine with one hand, he plucked the strawberry with the other, and ate it. How sweet and delicious.
Betsy: In early 2014, our Unitarian community was coming to terms with the fact that after only eight months, due to visa issues, we’d lost the American minister we’d contracted for two years. Fortunately the Ministerial Search Committee wasted no time in resurrecting itself to identify what we might do to support our Church’s dual strategy of working towards a full-time ministry and strengthening lay leadership.
I met Clay 10 years ago at a residential training for community organising. The basis of the training was storytelling.
At the opening of the training, all participants were asked to tell stories about a time we had spoken truth to power. Clay’s story was about taking the Anglican Bishop of Auckland to the Human Rights Commission for violation of the Human Rights Act because he refused to ordain a gay priest.
My story was about standing up to a union leader who, to a largely but not totally white male audience, had used the phrase “dirty girls of the Philippines” to refer to migrant sex workers. I confronted him privately and told him I had been offended at his use of language that was imperialist, misogynist and anti-worker. He went back to that audience and apologised, even though many of them had found his language perfectly acceptable.
As all the people in the room told their stories, we began to see that all of us had not only identified injustices but had also had moments of courage where we had spoken up. Some of our stories had had successful outcomes, but many had not. Many of us had acted alone. All of our stories had promise. When one person shows courage in the face of injustice, that act holds the kernel of transformational change.
At the risk of being grandiose, I begin this sermon a bit like the person who wrote the gospel of Mark. It’s more than 40 years since I read Madeleine L’Engle’s children’s book, A Wrinkle in Time. I have thought about it and talked about it since, but I haven’t relived it. (I didn’t watch the film because I didn’t want to risk my memory being ruined.)
Here is my telling of the bits that have stuck with me, with some interpositions along the way.
A father and son are in a horrible car crash that kills the father. The eight-year-old son is rushed to hospital in critical condition. ED staff prep him rapidly and take him to an operating theatre where the surgical team is waiting. Just as he’s about to go under the knife, the surgeon says, “I can’t operate — that’s my son.”
How can this be?
I opened the service with this riddle.
You may have heard it before.
You may have been confounded or you may have found the answer obvious.
Burning Down the House was part of the soundtrack of my adolescence.
The song came out two years after the 1981 Springbok tour of New Zealand that had united a nationwide protest movement from across the political and socio-economic spectrum, where tens of thousands of us had marched together periodically in the year leading up to the tour, and twice a week from 19 July — my mother’s birthday and the day our family went to the airport at dawn to protest the Springboks’ arrival — to 12 September — the fourth anniversary of Steve Biko’s death from severe beating in custody and the date of the final test match of the tour. The second match — against the Waikato provincial team on 25 July — was called off after protesters invaded the pitch. Apart from that one match, the tour went ahead. The movement didn’t achieve its aim of stopping the tour.
The introduction to the subject of the tour on the NZ History website has the subheading, “A country divided”.
The pandemic is a great rupture. Those who seek hastily to sew up the rupture and return to pre-pandemic normal are seeking to preserve a world where wealth is funnelled to the already wealthy at alarming rates, while millions upon millions pay.
The alternatives to a return to normal are political. It is a cliché that politics is the art of the possible. We are at a moment in the arc of history where what once was politically impossible is possible. We can now perform the art of the impossible. It will take all of us.