We all probably remember the joke where the caterpillar says to the butterfly, “Who me? Change? Are you kidding?” I know it’s a cliché, but change is constantly happening around us, within us and to us. It’s the rate of change that I believe is what produces the consternation that we face in our lives and in our world. Things change so quickly today. Language changes. Cultural norms change. Politicians change. We age. Our bodies change. And so it goes.
The other problem with change, apart from the speed of change, is that often change is unplanned. Things happen to us that we didn’t foresee and we are forced to adapt—to change—in order to accommodate whatever circumstance we are facing. Yesterday, at the Blanket Exercise that the Circle of Indigenous Nations Society coordinated, we talked about the unplanned changes that Indigenous people in Canada have faced for 500 plus years. Loss of land and habitat, loss of life due to Small Pox, loss of culture and religion, the 60’s Scoop, Residential Schools were all planned, some things by the Canadian Government and other things by colonialists who wanted land, but all of these changes were foisted on Indigenous people.
The idea of reformation, as this is Reformation Sunday, is that things need reforming, something needs to be reformed, something that isn’t working needs to change in a planned and intentional way. Reformation is in our Protestant DNA (see the slide) with change coming from Switzerland and Scotland via John Calvin, England via Methodism and Congregationalism originally from Anglicanism, and the US with respect to the little-known denomination that joined the United Church in 1967, the Evangelical United Brethren. The idea was that change needed to occur in these places where there was conflict, and injustice and religious oppression.
Reformation is change that considers that there is a dominant system that keeps people subjugated and downtrodden and looks for a just and peaceful solution to the oppression and imbalance of power. Luther protested the Roman Catholic oppression, as did Calvin, Zwingli, Catherina Zell, and many others. They protested the power structure of their day and created change.
In Canada today, there is a call for reformation—planned change to remove the Indian Act, planned change to honour the apologies made to Indigenous people, planned change to create livable conditions on Reserves, planned change to seek unity and harmony rather than difference. The problem is that those with power in Canada—the government—don’t see the same need for change.
And this call for reformation is one that is echoing around the world. Change so that we can address the warming planet. Change so that we can end wars and economic systems that oppress. Change that can end gender discrimination or race discrimination. There is a call for a world-wide reformation that is based on justice and peace, based on consensus and harmony. It is a reformation that in part says that free, unfettered capitalism has had its day and hasn’t worked; it’s time for something that accentuates community, togetherness, cooperation, compassion and hope.
The story of Blind Bartimaeus is the perfect story for today for it tells the story of one who wanted personal reform but who also became a symbol for a theological and political revolution. Bartimaeus wanted a reformation in his life as he couldn’t see. Interestingly, he actually saw some things very well even though he was blind; he saw who Jesus was because he had to rely on his heart. Bartimaeus is blind and sees and others around Jesus can see but are blind.
The fact that this is an important story is conveyed by naming Bartimaeus; some claim his name possibly means, from Hebrew, “son of the unclean.” Others say that his name is an Aramaic-Greek name meaning “son of the honourable.” Either way, this man is named and so we take note of the story. The implications of the meaning of his name are interesting, but I leave that for you to ponder.
It is a story in direct contrast to the story of a rich young ruler that we read a couple of weeks ago; he couldn’t part with his wealth. Bartimaeus, in contrast, after being healed, casts off his cloak, his one belonging, which was used by beggars for collecting coins. While the one at the top of the economic stratum couldn’t follow Jesus, the one at the bottom could, which said a lot about Mark’s intention and understanding of Jesus as that of a revolutionary, a reformer, who created a new community of non-violent, egalitarian participation and engagement that was to be the new KinDom of God. This was reformation par excellence! And it invites us to be thinking about our lives and the life of our community and what changes we need to create in a planned and intentional way.
In other terms of this worldwide reformation I mentioned earlier, consensus decision-making is an important plank, and its corollary political tool, proportional representation. You probably don’t know that The United Church of Canada has endorsed the idea of Proportional Representation, upon which we will be voting in November. I’m not going to tell you how to vote, but I’ll tell you why the BC Conference endorsed this direction and since I was one of the writers of the resolution that lead to this endorsement, you’ll know where I stand, also.
Part of the reasoning for BC Conference endorsing Proportional Representation has its roots in Jesus’ view of community and leadership; this is the idea that the new community God intends for the world emphasizes that no one voice has more weight than another. Economic status, place in the community, or political perspective is not a rank of privilege. Bartimaeus had a voice that was equal to everyone’s in God’s KinDom of love. So, the decision to endorse proportional representation was partly about justice, fairness and equality.
And it was also about consensus; while some people have difficulty with consensus decision-making, it is a model that includes rather than excludes. It welcomes multiple and diverse voices and supports those who have been or could be marginalized. The KinDom of God as Jesus imagined it was a community of equals that worked on consensus. And so, Proportional Representation would increase diversity, collaboration, policies that work for more people, and increase voter turnout.
The question sometimes comes up when I speak of political things, “Why should we talk about politics in the Church?”
One of the things I learned from my Dad when I first voted was that my vote needs to consider my values and who I am—who I am as a spiritual person. What I value. And what I believe about community. I am a whole person who doesn’t compartmentalize my beliefs when it comes to economics and politics. The United Church has stood by this belief, also.
And as we all know, in terms of reforming, our own congregation is going through changes; we are re-forming into something that we can’t yet identify. But we believe in community—in this community—and we seek to be faithful to the call of the KinDom of love and hope. And as our purpose statement says, we seek to live the Way of Jesus—inclusion and hope, radical equality and justice—and embody the Love of God. While we are not perfect at our reforms, we do know that we are always under construction!