Never Again: A Change of Many Hearts
Episode 4 – February 18, 2018
Ainsley McNeaney – “Underground”
Jake Tavill – “Noah’s Ark”
Reading No. 1
Read by Jason Meyers in the Oak Ridges Moraine
Reading No. 2
from A Tear and a Smile by Kahlil Gibran
Love for the World
Part of each episode of the Living Presence Podcast will feature a section where we lift up people and places who can use our alliance, our attention and some hope. (If you are from a United Church, this would be similar to “Prayers of the People” or “Prayers of Thanksgiving and Intercession”).
The idea and our hope are that listeners from all over can send in the people and places they would like to bring to our attention, and I would love it if YOU would consider sending something in to be aired. You can either a) record something with the voice recorder app on your phone and email it to firstname.lastname@example.org OR b) call 289-903-0019 and leave a voicemail OR c) Leave a written comment and I will read it on the air.
THIS WEEK WE LIFT UP:
- The victims, their families and friends, of the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida
- People who are grieving loss
- Those affected by sexual violence, sexism, etc.
- Those who are survivors of suicide
- The people of East Gwillimbury
- The family and friends of those in Toronto’s Gay Village who are saddened by the murders of 5 (and probably more) men from their community
- Mark Guevarra who was fired by the Archdiocese of Edmonton last week
So, we’re shifting a bit this week in terms of which narrative we’re following. Up until now on the this show, we have been hearing stories from what some theological schools now refer to as the Christian Scriptures, but has traditionally been known as the New Testament. Basically, these scriptures start at the point when Jesus enters the picture. The other set of Scriptures that are part of the Christian bible are the Hebrew Scriptures, or Jewish Scriptures, also called the Old Testament. This is where today’s reading comes from. It is an old, old myth, based upon other old, old myths coming out of Mesopotamia. This particular flood story was completed in its current form approximately five and a half centuries before the birth of Jesus.
Part of the issue with our reading this episode is that it’s only giving the final passage of a much, much longer story. So, I’m going to try and give you a brief synopsis:
Humanity had gone bad. Really bad. Angels are making babies with human women who are giving birth to giants. The book of Enoch – which is a non-canonical Jewish religious work, talking about people “sinning” with birds, reptiles, fish and other animals. You can read between the lines here. God was angry and disappointed with God’s creation. So God decides, “Screw it. I’m tossing the whole thing and starting over.” So, God finds Noah – whom the bible describes as being righteous in his generation, but given the state of things, this might not be much of a compliment. God tells Noah he’s gonna flood the whole Earth. Noah is to gather his wife, his sons and their wives and start building a giant boat. Noah and his party are also supposed to gather two of every animal – a male and a female so they can make more babies. People come and laugh at Noah for building such a boat, but Noah gets the last laugh in the end because soon the rains come…and they come and they come. 40 days it rains. After the rain stops, Noah sends out a dove which eventually returns with an olive branch. He sends it out a final time and the dove does not come back. God eventually tells everybody to come out of the ark. Noah kills a couple animals as a sacrifice, which seems a bit counter productive, but whatever. Then God proclaims a covenant, that never again will God cause a giant flood to kill all the people and animals, and that every time a rainbow is seen in the sky, we can remember God’s covenant with us.
The flood, and the decimation of fleshly creation, was an incredibly violent act. And I like to think…I like to think that this covenant is God changing God’s mind. That perhaps, God eventually came to the conclusion that killing everything and everybody off caused God too much sorrow and heartbreak. That God’s own heart was softened enough to consider that there must be another way.
As a bit of an aside, describing this story as myth is not synonymous with “untrue”…because this story has many truths. But for something to be true, it does not necessarily follow that there needs to be the possibility of an eye witness account, and that it factually, historically happened. We can take this story seriously, without taking it literally. So…this myth was eventually taken up by Christians and it is because of this story that for many generations, the rainbow has been a symbol of covenant and promise – specifically God’s promise to care for and look after all of us, and never again be so friggin’ angry that they decide to kill everybody and everything without discretion – to never again choose this level of violence against their people.
And it is also why, especially growing up in the 80s and 90s, that churches had rainbows plastered all over the place. The United Church was all about the rainbows. My very favourite picture of myself as a child was taken when I was three years old, in 1986. I was at some sort of fair with my aunt and my mother and my aunt took me to get my face painted. In the photo, I’m sitting beside her with a dove painted on my forehead and two rainbows – one of either cheek. I don’t remember this day, but apparently I refused to wash my face before going to bed because I wanted to keep the rainbows forever.
Like many folks my age, rainbows were a key feature of my Sunday School experience.
A mostly unrelated fixture of my life growing up was the eerie landscape of conservative talk radio. And I can honestly say I never in my life thought I would be speaking about these two very different experiences in the same sermon.
But…my father always had Talk 640 or CFRB playing as he was driving and there are a couple of people I felt like I practically knew from listening to their voices so much. One of them was Bill Carroll, which made it especially trippy when I was actually part of a show with him on CFRB last year…and the other was Michael Coren.
For those of you who don’t know who Michael Coren is, he was arguably one of the most recognized commentators, speakers and columnists within Catholic and conservative media in Canada. My father listened to Michael Coren on the radio, but he also watched his show every single night on CTS – the Christian Television Station. It’s worth noting that my father is not a Christian, nor does he claim to have any spiritual identity whatsoever. But Michael Coren said all the things Dad felt about the world. He often represented Social Conservatives in Canadian media, and those are my father’s people. I always felt like Mr. Coren was more dangerous than people like, say, Ezra Levant, because he was so well spoken, and as far as I can remember, never personally attacked anybody. He was harder to dismiss. People took him seriously. It was hard for me to reconcile watching this guy, who seemed like he’d be perfectly lovely in person, with the things he was saying, because they were just so hurtful, and directed at people I knew and loved.
One of Michael Coren’s positions that I disagreed with most vehemently – and believe me…I watched a lot of Michael Coren in my teenage years so I have a lot of material to work with – The position I disagreed with most vehemently was his stance on equal marriage. Mr. Coren was a member of the Catholic church and towed his denomination’s party line when it came to LGBTQ justice issues. But again, he never called anybody names. He was polite, yet firm. But by his own account, he emboldened those who were perhaps not as restrained to be more overt with their hatred. He wrote about it. He spoke about it. And people took his words and ran with them…
But after moving out of my family home when I was 18, I had a lot more control over whose voice I listened to on the radio…and I was too poor for a television, so that took care of that. But even if I had a television, I wouldn’t have been watching Michael Coren. So, every so often he’d pop up in the news, I would shake my head a bit, and then I’d forget about him again.
Until, recently, when I saw a newspaper headline that said Michael Coren had…well…he’s changed his mind. So what happened?
Well this is his explanation, in his own words:
I’m a person of faith. I’m a Christian. And I was increasingly uncomfortable with claiming to follow a man who was the personification of love, justice and forgiveness — tolerant, including, not excluding, never judging — reconciling that with a stance I had, which was pretty judgemental. And I don’t think that I was close to a break down, but I wasn’t comfortable in my own skin. And it got to the point where I knew I had to make a decision. (From the CBC interview below)
There’s much more to Mr. Coren’s story, which he details in his book called Epiphany. And I suspect there are still many different issues that we continue to disagree on. But after so many years of feeling hurt and frustrated and even angry at so much of what this man had to say, I actually found myself standing in my kitchen this week and moaning to my husband, “I can’t believe I’m developing a soft spot for Michael Coren!” My heart was softened to this man, and his journey. And because he was the voice of so much of the attitudes I internalized and experienced as harmful while growing up – Mr. Coren’s change of heart and my resulting change of heart has been a powerful and moving experience.
So then…I find myself coming back to the rainbow…a rainbow of covenant and promise…and now also a symbol of affirmation for those who identify as being LGBTQ. It’s interesting to me that the origins of the pride flag have nothing to do with God’s promise to Noah – it was created separately by an individual artist, with each coloured stripe representing a different aspect of human experience. And yet, here we are…a rainbow of covenant, a rainbow of affirmation…and then…I find myself hoping that responsibility can be added into the mix…
When God spoke to Noah and his family, promising to all of creation that never again would God send a flood to destroy everything, I’d like to think that covenant was a two way exchange, and perhaps on behalf of humanity, Noah’s responsibility was to…well…try harder. To try harder to live good and decent lives. To live with respect in creation. To love and serve other. This seems a good theme as we ease into the Lenten season. In the Christian narrative, God ultimately decides to enter into humanity with us … after continuing to blunder, perhaps God realized we were the kind of learners for whom simply telling us how to live wasn’t enough – laws and rules weren’t cutting it – we needed to be shown. We needed to be shown by somebody in whom we could see ourselves, and our potential.
For his part, Michael Coren has taken it upon himself to reach out to gay rights groups and apologize. To take responsibility. To sit down with individuals and say, “I am sorry that my words have hurt you. I am sorry that I have hurt you.” I’ve been told that for anybody who is part of the 12 step community, Step 9 – apologizing and making amends to the people you have harmed – if often the most difficult. I have found my heart even more softened after watching Michael Coren be so vulnerable – being so open and unreserved about his coming to terms with the words he has said, and the people he’s affected.
And with all of this deeply embedded into my mind and moving my heart, and seeing how Mr. Coren has taken on a responsibility to educate and make amends, I feel like I have my own responsibility now to examine my relationships to the people with whom I do not agree and consistently find myself at odds…often people I was closest to in my formative years. To work more towards dialogue than simply dismissal…because if Mr. Coren can do it, maybe I can step down from my soap box for a while and do it too.
God had a change of heart. Michael Coren had a change of heart. And…I even had a change of heart…because, once again, here I am, talking about Michael Coren in a way I never imagined in a million years I would be.
So I want to leave the last words of this reflection with him…because as we move ever closer towards Jerusalem, where we will hear about everybody from the disciples, to the religious leaders, to the government and to the crowds getting it so very wrong, it’s nice to be reminded that there is always a road home:
My interest as a Christian, and particularly one who got things wrong for so long, is always going to be truth, love, compassion and justice.
Michael Coren, Epiphany
The Living Presence Ministry is a community ministry of the United Church of Canada