November 18, 2001

Luke 21:5-19

One day people were standing around talking about the Temple, remarking how beautiful it was, the splendor of its stonework and memorial gifts. Jesus said, "All this you're admiring so much -- the time is coming when every stone in that building will end up in a heap of rubble."

They asked him, "Teacher, when is this going to happen? What clue will we get that it's about to take place?"

He said, "Watch out for the doomsday deceivers. Many leaders are going to show up with forged identities claiming, 'I'm the One,' or, 'The end is near.' Don't fall for any of that. When you hear of wars and uprising, keep your head and don't panic. This is routine history and no sign of the end."

He went on, "Nation will fight nation and ruler fight ruler, over and over. Huge earthquakes will occur in various places. There will be famines. You'll think at times that the very sky is falling.

"But before any of this happens, they'll arrest you, hunt you down and drag you to court and jail. It will go from bad to worse, dog-eat-dog, everyone at your throat because you carry my name. You'll end up on the witness stand, called to testify. Make up your mind right now not to worry about it. I'll give you the words and wisdom that will reduce all your accusers to stammers and stutters.

"You'll even be turned in by parents, brothers, relatives, and friends. Some of you will be killed. There's no telling who will hate you because of me. Even so, every detail of your body and soul -- even the hairs of your head! -- is in my care; nothing of you will be lost. Staying with it -- that's what is required. Stay with it to the end. You won't be sorry; you'll be saved."

<The Message >


1. [Here is an article about breaking one's own community. I recommend the author and his weekly e-mails]


Remember the singing group called the Weavers? Pete Seeger, Lee Hays, Fred Hellerman, and Ronnie Gilbert were, to my mind, the first and best of the folk groups. In the early 1950s, they sold millions of records. They saved their record label from folding.

Then, suddenly, the record company dropped their contract. Television programs quit inviting them to appear. The Weavers had been blacklisted. They were suspected of communist sympathies. (Seeger refused to testify before Senator Joe McCarthy's House Un- American Activities Committee. He was formally exonerated in 1962.)

"How many spies were pulled in by that dragnet?" Ronnie Gilbert demanded later. "Nary a one. Instead, it pulled down thousands of teachers, union members, scientists, actors, entertainers like us..."

Fast forward to today. Ronnie Gilbert is being investigated again, this time for belonging to a group called Women in Black. She describes it as "a loosely knit international network of women who vigil against violence, often silently... Because my group is composed mostly of Jewish women, we focus on the Middle East, protesting the cycle of violence and revenge in Israel and the Palestinian territories." For this, the FBI has threatened Women in Black with a Grand Jury investigation.


The current frenzy over security has given power to people who never learned to separate their personal prejudices and animosities from their jobs.

When chaplains and counsellors train for service in hospitals and other institutions, they take something called Clinical Pastoral Education, or CPE. A key element of CPE is learning to recognize your own values, convictions, and prejudices, so that you can avoid imposing your private views on those you work with.

It makes sense. An agnostic dying of cancer should not be badgered into an evangelical conversion by an chaplain, whatever the chaplain's personal beliefs. A bedridden patient should not become a captive audience for Buddhist, Hindu, or Islamic teachings.

The principle is simple. In any power imbalance, the weaker person should not be exploited by the stronger -- sexually, physically, economically, or theologically.


I doubt very much if the FBI -- or in Canada, the RCMP or the Canadian Security Intelligence Service -- gets any training comparable to CPE.

I'm sure that Canada Customs doesn't. For years, some officers' prejudice against lesbians meant that they continually impounded shipments headed for the Little Sisters' Bookshop in Vancouver. But they let Duthie's, Vancouver's biggest book retailers, import many of the same publications without question.

Until you've been on the receiving end, it's hard to realize the imbalance of power when officials confront ordinary individuals. One summer, I had a temporary job as a Customs Officer on the B.C./Idaho border. The only accommodation was on the Idaho side. Even though I entered only 50 feet into their territory, even though I worked for their Canadian counterparts, U.S. Immigration fingerprinted me. Checked my records. If they found any reason to reject me, I would have no place to stay. No job. And no recourse.


I remember standing outside the international arrivals door in the Toronto airport, waiting for my friend Sam Nazombe from Africa to walk through the frosted glass doors.

Other people greeted friends and relatives with squeals of joy, hugs, or distant handshakes. The crowd dispersed.

Then the public address system squawked, "Mr. James Taylor, awaiting Mr. Samuel Nazombe, report immediately to Immigration."

In Africa, I had known Sam as bouncy, confident, even cocky. In that immigration cubical, huddled in a chair, he seemed little more than a shadow.

The immigration agent -dark suit, white shirt, pink skin, red tie -- dominated the situation. He doubted the legitimacy of Sam's visit. Sam had a return ticket, but no money. Just my name and address.

In fact, Sam was coming to Canada for a kind of apprenticeship in journalism. I had met him while doing some writing and editing, as a Crossroads Canada volunteer, for the Christian Service Committee of the churches in Malawi. Sam's CSC employers wanted him to learn some new skills. So they sent Sam to spend three months as an intern with various Canadian church publications.

It was all legitimate. But the only way I could get Sam into the country was to sign a paper accepting total responsibility for anything he might do here. Fortunately, Sam didn't commit any criminal acts, or incur any financial liabilities.

But I still remember the power wielded by the immigration official. Over Sam. And over me.


All of which makes me wonder why there is so much fuss about Canada being too easy for refugees and potential terrorists to get into.

First, it's not that easy. Of 599 Chinese refugees who risked their lives to cross the Pacific to B.C. on a collection of rusty, ready-to-sink freighters, only two dozen received refugee status. Almost 400 were deported to whatever punishment awaits them back home.

Second, even if some people get into Canada, they still have to pass American inspection at the border. The terrorists who destroyed the World Trade Center did not catch their flights in Canada. They were granted entry into the U.S. by U.S. officials.

Now the U.S. and Canada are both tightening up. I'm concerned that the new mood puts more power into the hands of those who have so far shown little wisdom about using it. This past week, we heard that the FBI had rounded up more than 650 people, merely on suspicion. Some, apparently, only because they had Arab ancestry.

By contrast, European security forces arrested and charged just 23 persons, with no mass detentions at all.

Power is dangerous. Especially when influenced by prejudice, paranoia, or patriotism -- these days it is sometimes hard to tell the difference. Power always needs to be tempered by common sense, compassion, and sober judgement.

But I don't get the impression that those are part of the security curriculum these days.


Copyright 2001 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups permitted; all other rights reserved.


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2. This passage comes hard on the heels of the poor widow who gave extravagantly (in contrast to the rich). It is always interesting to see where breaks come in the scripture. To separate this one from what goes immediately before tends to have us think that two separate things are being talked about.

What is admired more in a capitalistic society than rich people? This is the modern temple. If you are brave enough to think about the World Trade Towers you might make the connection between it and the Temple mentioned here.

It would be a natural response for us to exclaim, "The time came for every stone in that building (WTT) to end up in a heap of rubble because the rich were eventually shown up by a poor widow." This is still difficult for many to think about but at least needs a brief mention.

3. If one does not want to go all the way down the line of what might be heard as treason in a patriotic time, there is also room to indicate that these times we are in are not a sign of anything beyond "routine history."

In either case, "rubble" or "routine," it is important to deal with questions of assurance. When we do not get excited by the hubbub around us it may not be that we are unaware of the situation, but well grounded in knowing we are cared for. The struggle here is finding images of assurance which can speak across the usual boundaries. What expresses the sense of being cared for is different for different generations and classes within generations (where folks are with their sense of security and control). This is a current struggle point for me.

Blessings upon you as you find the hope of assurance in a scared time.

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