Ursula K. Le Guin | A Small Tribute

Just before dawn we climbed to the Sun Gate near the completion of our camino on the  Inca Trail, and the words which first sprang to my mind, as we were astonished by the wonder of Machu Picchu displayed before us, were those of Ursula Le Guin

“And though I came to forget or regret all I have ever done, yet I would remember that once I saw the dragons aloft on the wind at sunset above the western isles; and I would be content.”                                                                 [The Farthest Shore]

I was entranced by an historical wonder and from my heart, unbidden, rose words crafted entirely in fantasy.

This says more about the lyrical imagery of Le Guin than anything else. An author, offering a treasury of fantasy and prophecy, of mysticism and tragedy, daring to show us a reflection, through imagined beings and their world, the truth of our beauty and our terror, and our capacity for wonder.

Earthsea captured me and has held me for more than four decades, while lesser imitations found their place. Just twelve months past, I entrusted my original Puffin series to a young friend, convincing myself into the deluded belief that “they are only books”. They returned, safe, last week.

I was caught, horribly, by The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas, Le Guin’s prophetic short story on our world which could not speak more clearly to then, whenever “then” was, and to our nation’s failings – and our very own – at this very moment. Read it at your peril.

A poet’s voice lost, not silenced. A prophet’s call magnified in death, we hope, with tributes near and far, even ones as sparse as this.

“Light is the left hand of darkness
and darkness the right hand of light.
Two are one, life and death, lying
together like lovers in kemmer,
like hands joined together,
like the end and the way.”                                                     [The Left Hand of Darkness]

A Living Witness?

A month before Christmas, I bought a suit. It was the first suit I have purchased, apart from the five dollar Vinnie’s edition dinner suit in the 1980s for formals and other flash occasions.

Several people had told me that there are occasions when I need to look, well, moderatorial, and so I bit the sartorial bullet.

The reason I mention this is neither to garner sympathy, of which there has been none, nor to discourage mockery, of which there has been a small avalanche, but to talk about how we – all of us – appear in the world around us.

There is a sideshow amongst some church enthusiasts, in social media backwaters and in a few communities of faith, about “what the minister should wear” for worship. Albs and stoles and scarves and cinctures and clerical collars and ties and suits and shorts and “Jesus sandals” are all part of the vocabulary which can, surprisingly, lead to pretty heated engagements.

My experience in ministry has been that people in the wider community often expect “the minister”to wear some indication of authority, much like a firefighter. The congregation often argues the opposite view. And if you’re buying into this topic with an opinion bordering on passion, then the merry-go-round has begun.

If an alb and stole prevent me from bearing witness to the crucified, risen Christ, then the alb is not the problem. If a fitted men’s shirt and shorts – with appropriate footwear – meanthat I am better enabled to proclaim the Gospel, then we need to ask some serious questions.

We visit the sideshows because they avoid the real event. We talk incessantly about finance because it’s a simpler analysis than discerning – and then acting upon – God’s mission. The Synod conversation about our finances is not unimportant, but if we solve the financial issues before us and fail to comprehend how best to live as a community of faith, then we have only become better managers, not better disciples.

Another distraction is that of the “formula” where if we just perfect the church worship/small group/five-point sermon, everything will fall into place. I have preached recently in Mascot and Moree, Bankstown, Beecroft and Kurrajong and to think that one size fits all misses the subjective ministry of Jesus to centurions and fisher folk, women, children and gentiles. It also reduces the Gospel (and our experience of it) to a marketing exercise and fails to understand it as a reflection of the imagination of God.

How are we able to speak of Jesus to those around us? This is rarely a single, spontaneous moment, or the crafted technique to which I was first exposed during my uni years. This is the conversation which has ranged for hours, or years, around what is important for us: our relationships, our home, our politics, our safety, our world, our jobs, our fear, our hope.

This happens in the community in which people are made welcome, like the carols at Bendemeer, where the gathering of people singing and barbecuing is almost twice the village’s population.

This happens in the book club, or the refugee support group, or the young parents’ recovery time. The conversation reflects the value of those before us and their inherent value to our God.

We “bear our witness” in our lives – not only in the words we speak, but in the life we offer to others in hospitality, in community, in worship and God’s word.

By the way, I still have the Vinnie’s suit, if anyone needs one.