Can We Stand in the Tragic Gap?

Wildfires in Australia, Venice underwater, Don Cherry, impeachment hearings…
Closer to home, young girls and women being trafficked, first nations reserves without clean drinking water, people in north Dartmouth who find it increasingly difficult to find a place to live and adequate food.

The list of things to despair over gets longer and longer it seems. How are people of faith and faith communities supposed to respond to all of this? Do we sink down in despair, hunker down and withdraw from the world? Do we enclose ourselves in bubbles of optimism and privilege where if it doesn’t affect us, it doesn’t matter?

Or do we stand in the ‘tragic gap?’

I first heard of the tragic gap and the writer Parker Palmer, when I participated in the Atlantic Jubilee Program, as part of my Spiritual Direction training. In his book, Healing the Heart of Democracy, he wrote about the importance of learning how to stand and act in “the tragic gap” — if we want to hang in for the long haul with birthing a better world. On one side of that gap are the harsh and discouraging realities around us.

On the other side is the better world we know to be possible — not merely because we wish it were so, but because we have seen it with our own eyes. We’re surrounded by greed, but we’ve seen great acts of generosity. We’re surrounded by violence, but we’ve seen people make peace. The tragic gap will never close once and for all, a fact that can lead us into despair and resignation. But if we recall the ample evidence that “the better angels of our nature” are still with us, we are more likely to keep working at making the world a better place. https://onbeing.org/blog/standing-and-acting-in-the-tragic-gap/

The first reading this morning is full of hope and despair. Through three generations of prophecy, the book of Isaiah has taken us from Jerusalem before the siege, through the Exile, and to the Return to their Holy Land. In today’s reading, the prophet looks further ahead. Rebuilding the Temple is not enough for God’s purpose of Shalom. There is a new vision, presented against a familiar background of sickness and death, dispossession, eviction, and destruction. But, even against the background of all that screams from us from our papers, tablets and TVs, shalom remains really and truly God’s will. Let’s listen as the prophet calls us to trust and rejoice, in Isaiah 65: 17 – 25 (Intro to Scripture, Rev. Stew Clarke and Rev. Catherine MacDonald)

65:17 For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind.

65:18 But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight.

65:19 I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and delight in my people; no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it, or the cry of distress.

65:20 No more shall there be in it an infant that lives but a few days, or an old person who does not live out a lifetime; for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth, and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed.

65:21 They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.

65:22 They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.

65:23 They shall not labor in vain, or bear children for calamity; for they shall be offspring blessed by the LORD– and their descendants as well.

65:24 Before they call I will answer, while they are yet speaking I will hear.

65:25 The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox; but the serpent–its food shall be dust! They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, says the LORD.

Isaiah was speaking to a dispirited people… and he is speaking to us. He is reminding us between the doom, despair and destruction, there are also stories of hope and new life. He is reminding us to stand in the tragic gap! In some ways, this period of Intentional Interim Ministry could be thought of as standing in the tragic gap. The gap between the present, where some of you despair and wonder if there will be a church, 2, 5, 10 years from now and a future that is yet unknown and so hard to envision that God is still up to something, right here right now.

Isaiah’s prophecy must have seemed crazy to the people.

65:21 They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.

65:22 They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.

65:23 They shall not labor in vain, or bear children for calamity; for they shall be offspring blessed by the LORD– and their descendants as well.

65:24 Before they call I will answer, while they are yet speaking I will hear.

65:25 The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox; but the serpent–its food shall be dust! They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, says the LORD.

Sounds like pie in the sky optimism doesn’t it? And he doesn’t give them a plan. He doesn’t give them 3 goals and the steps to reach those, it would have been great if he had! He is inviting them to stand in the ‘tragic gap.’ He is inviting them, and us, to have one foot in the despair of the present reality, one foot in the ideal future… and to straddle it. And not to be overwhelmed by despair… or paralyzed by perfection, but to know, deep in our bones, in our heart, that God is still present… God is still up to something.

Imagine, if you will, the despair of some of those first followers of JesusThe Gospel message was likely written after a Jewish rebellion which ended by Roman soldiers overrunning Jerusalem and burning the Temple, in 70 AD, so Jesus’ message would be especially pertinent to Luke’s readers.

Some, at least, would be well aware of the apocalyptic expectation, as represented in the book of Daniel.

In this belief, the problems of the world were too great for human endeavour, and God would have to step in with armies of angels.

Jesus is pictured in this passage, not dealing directly with the vision of victory, but warning against trusting a false messiah, or setting a schedule for God’s work.

He notes the risks facing his followers, but the bottom line is a call to faithfulness.

Even so, Jesus does not invite us to think that we few will be safe while others perish. (Intros to scripture by Rev. Stew Clarke and Rev. Catherine MacDonald)

Let’s listen closely for the Good News for us in: Luke 21:5-19

21:5 When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said,

21:6 “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.”

21:7 They asked him, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?”

21:8 And he said, “Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is near!’ Do not go after them.

21:9 “When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.”

21:10 Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom;

21:11 there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.

21:12 “But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name.

21:13 This will give you an opportunity to testify.

21:14 So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance;

21:15 for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict.

21:16 You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death.

21:17 You will be hated by all because of my name.

21:18 But not a hair of your head will perish.

21:19 By your endurance you will gain your souls.

A lovely reading as we lead up to Advent isn’t it! And please don’t misunderstand me, I do not think this reading foretold climate change or war or condones them. This reading too, invites us to stand in the tragic gap. Again, how do we stand there?

David Stevens, Leader of the Corrymeela Community in Northern Ireland, “There is a temptation or a tendency to look with morbid fascination of what has gone wrong, or what is going wrong. It’s part of human life. And we in Corrymeela, which is a group committed to reconciliation and peace, are no exception in this. There is the pleasant schadenfreude, which is a wonderful German word which means enjoyment obtained from the troubles of others. There is a certain shadenfreude in watching things go wrong and there is the destructive tendency to encourage them to go wrong. Our personal negativity has a wish for general negativity.”

And Thom Shuman writes this: In other words, if I am pessimistic (and part of a group), rather than letting the group lift my spirits or help change my attitude, I want the rest of the group to be pessimistic. It’s all too true – group dynamics are often affected more by the negativity of a small percentage of people than all the positive outlooks of the majority. So, what can a person, a group, a church do?

Pete Seeger said, “The key to the future of the world is finding the hopeful stories and letting them be known.”

So, I am giving you three hopeful stories to ponder:

More than 50 people and 17 combines came to honour Trevor Berkan, dead at 41 Berkan died in the early morning hours of Oct. 9 after suffering an aortic dissection — a condition where the major artery carrying blood from the heart tears. He left behind his wife and four boys, the youngest of whom had just started Grade 3. Link to the video.

Women soccer players huddle around a player from the OPPOSITE team when her hijab comes loose in order to shield her from anyone’s gaze. Video. 

The last, closer to home, the Maritime Bhangra Group. I went to a screening of their film last night. First of all, does anyone NOT know who they are? The Maritime Bhangra Group are Sikh Bhangra dancers who have settled in Halifax. They have become a viral sensation across this country as their video dances, for charity, have been seen over 25 million times. The film explored why new why new immigrants, who barely know our country, or our culture, have chosen to dedicate so much time to helping it. Hasmeet Singh Chandok is an unabashed optimist. “There is so much kindness in this world that we don’t realize,” he says, waving his hand. (The Coast)They practice what he calls ‘joyful activism.’

And they were joyful! Last night as we arrived at the Spatz Theatre, members were on hand to greet up with warmth, and hospitality. And not just smile and hand up a program, but to look us directly in the eye, share our hands, and say something like, “I am so glad you are here tonight!”

Last night we were told the story of their first paid performance, where they were grudgingly paid $50 and told that they were not worth even that much. Contrast that with now, they charge $600 a minute for a corporate performance, with all that money going to charity. He told this story to remind up to dream big…

In an article in 2017 he said, “I always say to people, it’s not just this one dance. The way people see, is something that’s changing. Changing the social engagements. Changing the conversations, we are having. Changing the way we used to think about the world, and now the circumstances.When I see this, it just makes me feel that things could be better. I mean, it will change. And I think people see this as a hope. https://www.vice.com/en_ca/article/4xpajb/we-talked-to-the-dude-behind-those-viral-maritime-bhangra-videos

img_20191117_1807292-1

This was a card I received on the way out. 

In Christian religion terms, “a new heaven and a new earth were and are possible.’
So let us stand in the tragic gap. Let us be joyful in all our interactions. Let us follow Jesus confidently into the future possibilities.

Let us do it with faith, with love and in community. Amen.

Isaiah 65: 17-25
Luke 21: 5-19
November 17, 2019
Stairs Memorial United Church

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s