Over the last few months, I had the privilege of joining several other Generous Space community members in auditing a course taught by Sylvia Keesmat entitled “Justice in the Biblical Story” at Wycliffe College. Sylvia, and her partner, Brian Walsh, host our annual Generous Space CampOUT at their farm in Cameron, Ontario. What follows are my reflections on this experience:
Hunched tightly over the end of an ornate wooden table, surrounded by religious texts and the pale stern portraits of past college presidents, I sit arm and arm with friends. New and old, these friends and I have chosen to go on a journey together through the biblical story to discern what it might reveal about justice.
Our instructor has dirt under her fingernails. Dirt that has nourished the carrot-beet-currant salad and homemade salsa she brings to share with those gathered around this table. Food that in turn nourishes us as we learn and eat together. We begin with scripture, and clumsy/beautiful songs that begin alone and end in chorus: unifying us through known and unknown melodies – known and unknown stories.
Justice and the biblical story. A dubious topic to be sure. Isolated texts from this sacred book have long been mindlessly chewed and spat out, like tar, in our direction. Landing indiscriminately upon youthful faces and dripping with condemnation, with silence, with isolation, with dehumanization, with a taste of ‘otherness.’ And so, for sometime, I have set this book high, and out of reach on my bookshelf – gathering dust and mold.
It was the return to story that drew me in, that pulled this book off the shelf and into my hands…a story that this queer body walks in, that has given this life hope and purpose and context. A story of creation: of love overflowing. A story of good beings that failed to trust the One who made them good. A story of stubborn divine promise in the face of betrayal, abuse, and neglect. A story that moves continuously towards scandalous inclusion. A story of a dusty divine one made to be flesh dwelling among us, to teach us how to read this story, how to walk it and how it will unfold. A story of a saviour’s tears that washed clean the muddied, worn, and blistered feet of his beloved ones. A story of grace and mystery, and unfathomable love in sacrifice. A story of a people that resist custom and convention to embody neighbour-like friendship, holding all things in common: who feed the sick and clothe the poor and welcome the foreigner, the gentile, the eunich and the stranger. A story of a people that continue again and again to lose sight of the new creation unfolding all around us.
And so, after placing the anger, the mass genocide, the condemnation, the betrayal, the suffering and confusion of these texts in the arc of its story, it seems still abundantly clear that this book, this bible, is about a God who is passionate about justice. A God who breaks their own rules again and again in order to build a bigger table. Who mourns with us in our weakness and rejoices with us in our discovery of the goodness, the beauty, and the truth that we carry in our skin.
To steward creation and resist its destruction, to seek peace and reconciliation, to bless my enemies and proclaim them beloved, to welcome the immigrant and the refugee, to honour women, children and the first peoples of this land, to reject an economics of inequity and hierarchy, to hear the ‘other’ among us and make room for them at the table. To treat myself as a good creation, and proclaim the image of God in my neighbour and friend. This, it seems, is the work of justice. The work of the church. My work. The story that I live in, live out, and live for.
How might I honour the justice arc in this story? How do I transform my own experience of exclusion as a queer person in the church into questions that promote the flourishing of creation: Who is missing and how do I work to welcome them? What piece of my friends’ createdness am I missing? silencing? ignoring? How can I cultivate relationships that recognize, and celebrate difference?
Under this pale stern portrait gaze, I choose to proclaim: You are beloved. I am beloved. We are beloved. Let us come to the table as one, blessing each other with words of peace, embedded in a story of hope, leaning towards justice.
~ Eric Van Giessen, Operations Manager