Yesterday, I had the opportunity to hold a three week old. As the baby got passed around from one auntie or grandma to the next, I was impressed to see the men also take turns. Uncles, boyfriends, grandpas held this little baby with wide open hearts, and it was a joy to watch. I hadn’t seen the baby’s dad since he had run away from home at 16, all surly and angry at the world and his parents. But there he was, also with a wide open heart, smiling and at peace with himself. I could tell that he wanted to be in his baby boy’s life for the long haul, messy diapers, skinned knees and all. He had made the transformation to being a father that had a wide open heart for his boy.
This transition is not easy for people, and men in specific. They are supposed to be as tough as Paul, enduring tragedies and suffering without comment, being the strong silent cowboy that rides off into the sunset. Not exactly a wide open heart in that imagery. Nor does it transform the people around them or make the world a better place. The lone cowboy is one who solves his problems with a gun, and knows that because he is truthful, his six-shooter will make justice come true. Unfortunately, we know that all too often that is a lie. A police officer gets shot while trying to deal with a racist man. A congregation loses 9 members in a prayer service, and so on. Where do we find ways to help men have open hearts without being ridiculed for appearing weak?
I think that we can look at our gospel story for clues. Jesus has been telling stories to his friends and followers. The fishermen let him use their boat as a podium. These are rough and tumble guys used to living hard lives. It was so rough that If you ever get a chance to go to Israel, you will find a boat discovered in 1986 that dates back to the time of Jesus. It’s 27 feet long and patched with 10 kinds of wood to keep it afloat. These were desperate times for the men, with the Romans moving in and overfishing.
Taxes meant that it was hard to make ends meet, and many men went elsewhere to become indentured servants if they became bankrupt.
Going across the Sea of Galilee would not have been a big deal for these men, it is only 13 kilometers wide. But in another sense, it would have been a very big deal. On the other side was where there were Gentiles, those people who were not Jews. Gentiles would have been Romans, Egyptians, Greeks, Phoenicians, and other foreigners. Jesus wanted to go teach there? What a disturbing idea! Somehow they went along with it and took Jesus across.
There are many similar movements where we are going to the other side in our own day. The TRC has wrapped up its deliberations, and Dr. Marie Wilson has asked us to accept the historical evidence of the abuses of Residential Schools. Wab Kinew challenges us to rethink our stereotypes as a way of healing our country. Theo Fleury dares to speak of the treatment he got at the hands of his hockey coach.
All too often, calls to rethink our ideas and move to the other side, to open our hearts wide, lead to backlashes. General Tom Lawson spoke about men’s behaviors being part of who they are. A young man took a gun into a black congregation. And the Government of Canada is still not interested in finding out what is happening to aboriginal women who have gone missing in Canada.
Backlashes lead to storms that blow up when we least expect it, storms inside our hearts, storms in the media, storms in our families, storms in our industry or our jobs, storms in our community. They leave us feeling bewildered, confused, and sometimes even scared. The disciples are terrified, and are sure that they are going to drown in the attempt to do something new. Jesus only makes their confusion greater. They are familiar with the story of Jonah and the whale where a storm comes up because Jonah is going the wrong way.
God convinces Jonah that he must turn around and go where God wanted. Maybe the fishermen thought the storm was God’s way of saying, ‘turn around, Jesus, and stick to your own side.” So when Jesus wakes up, he doesn’t say, like Jonah did, “let’s turn the boat around, let’s pray for God to forgive us. No, he talks to the storm the way they imagine God talked to the waters and wind in the days of creation itself. Who is this Jesus, who is even greater than Jonah?
The last verse says that ‘they were filled with great awe”, but the Greek is phobon megan, or mega phobia! Discovering that we are being called to do hard work is scary. Some never manage it, like the shooter in South Carolina. We are called to re-examine our racist assumptions, our skewed sense of history, and even our national identity by the TRC.
Dr. Wilson said that it’s not by feeling shame or guilt or trying to fix each other that we will change Canadian History, it’s by how we treat each other, day to day even when we are terrified. We can become honorable and loving fathers, mothers, uncles, aunts and neighbors dedicated to supporting all the children of Canada. We can be become a country where racism and cultural genocide is a thing of the past. We can call for a place where education and healthcare is funded equally for all. And we can learn to see Jesus in the boat beside us, opening our hearts wide, smoothing our waters and calming our storm. May it be so for us all.