talented shareholder

I walked the middle way from Capel Curig to Dolwyddelan for no particular reason except to be out for the count. (of the US Election!)  Paths cross and collide on that pathway a journey through a bland landscape not empty but bleak where the division between land and sky is the most prominent feature.  The occasional fence or ancient dividing wall of the enclosures almost becomes an event.  But my eyes are cast down not up, focusing on the pathway that is not altogether obvious as it meanders through.  I’m standing drinking coffee at a marker post deciding which way to go. If you choose to go one way you choose not to go the other the other way – obvious, but often not so in life. No path we choose is wrong, just different, perhaps more difficult. We must choose the path we walk.

Standing apart whilst divisions grow and choices are made. What will we support? Is there a right way and a wrong way, a just way and an unjust way; a more caring loving accepting way of being? We leave marker posts for each other to follow in life, but interpretation is key to following the way. So I turn to a traditional interpretation of a bible reading which leaves me stuck in the midst of the mud.  It sees God as master and a faithful disciple as one who obtains a good return on the master’s money, the ‘talents’. Or perhaps, God gives us abilities or skills and its up to us to repay that gift. The word Talent comes from the ancient greek meaning an amount of Gold, a sum of money. Perhaps we were unwilling to critique the unjust financial systems, or perhaps we were just lazy, talent was a useful dual meaning and the awkwardness of the parable drifts away as does the original meaning of the word. The unfaithful one, the one who washes his hands of his masters unjust dealings and buried his masters money in the ground. We are told that this master is one who is involved in aggressive and unjust business dealings and praises those who double the investment.

The parable offers us no easy ethic or simple path to tread. It is a source of agitation, a struggle. Can there be any other explanation? Perhaps there is another way. Jesus could be offering a critique. The master is not God, the master is one of the unjust elite who is looking for a return on the investment at all costs. Call the master Blackrock, or Goldman Sachs, or Royal Dutch Shell or HSBC, or perhaps even their shareholders.  How close to home does it have to be before it becomes another painful truth. Those who take the money and return it with 100% interest are the slaves to the
system which says profit is king.

The one who buries the talent is the one who stands up to the unjust master, who critiques the system. This is Jesus, the talented shareholder, he has cast himself as the one who is condemned by the world for standing up to it and refusing to be complicit in the master’s exploitation of the other slaves. He even takes the ‘talent’, to prove it’s uselessness and plants it in the ground, then when the master returns he takes it out of the ground. See – it bares no fruit, unlike the wealth of the natural creation which bears much fruit. This parable becomes a critique on an economy in which the poor get poorer while the rich get richer. And they say the bible is not relevant to modern life. The servant who critiques the master is cast into outer darkness – Just as Jesus is cast out, crucified. The abundance of creation, rather than figures on a page mark the wealth of a nation. This is not complete without what follows, where Jesus speaks of gifts offered to strangers, of hospitality, and care for the sick. This is the beggar in disguise, the least of these who turns out to be the one in whose footsteps we attempt to tread walking a narrow path and dare to suggest that it is the Christ we follow. The Middle Way

The middle way

I imagine you
walking the opposite way
arriving at the marker post from
the other direction. Disappearing
into tussocks, sunk deep into the sodden
landscape. Swallowed up or sucked down.
Visible for a brief moment then gone.  Like
signposts in life. A brief moment of brightness
that leaves an image greying into the mists of memory.
Thoughts cloud and change what was once clear and sharp.
Your way ahead the path I’ve walked and your past mine
for the future. Our gift to each other.

The twisted tree is me

twisted treeAt first glance this tree looks quite ordinary.  Almost dead, but quite ordinary.  Perhaps a slightly more charitable assessment would be to suggest that it is clinging on to life.  It is, I hope still there, on a footpath above Trefriw up towards Llyn Geirionydd, for it is worth going to see.  There are countless thousands of trees around us but this one in particular caught my attention, caused me to turn aside for a moment.  On closer inspection the trunk of the tree is twisted beyond all reasonable expectation.  The trunktwisting continues up through the branches as they reach for the skies.  The twist is always anti-clockwise as it runs up the tree.  It looks as if it is continually turning to find the sun, but never succeeding.  A perpetual corkscrew of bark and wood.  Perhaps once the tree had a glorious canopy, but not today.    It is the teenager of trees, the Ash – late to rise into leaf!  Today they are bare branches holding themselves out to the sky as if in hope for one final flourishing.  The temptation to personify the tree is strong.  To imagine the tree as a person with wounds and scars of life bared for all to see.  One who opens out their arms, as if to say ‘Here I am this is who I am and it is all there is’ in some sort of public confession.  Daring those who see to condemn rather than to accept.  To turn away rather than seek understanding.  To see deformity rather than elegance.  What has happened to cause the tree to twist like this perhaps we will never know.  There are the usual scars where a branch has been taken or fallen but nothing to suggest why it has contorted so.  The list of reasons suggested why trees grow like this drift quickly to mythology and folklore.  Twisted trees are said to be a sign of a spring nearby.  In the Welsh Mabinogion it is an Ash staff that Gwyddion bears.  A symbol of healing and transformation.  Physician, heal thyself!  More down to earth suggestions are that it has been struck by lightening.  The resultant twist coming from a contraction of the fibres in the tree which naturally grow in a spiral.  Trees in the open as this one is are prone to the wind and sun bending branches one way, then pulling them another.  However the tree came to be like this doesn’t take away from its peculiarity.  It is a thing of beauty in all its contortions.
It is possible to see this tree as a mirror of life as we struggle through continually seeking that which nourishes us.  Accepting the blows and difficulties turning continually away from them and in search of something brighter.  These are the things which make us who we are.  We would not be the same without them, we, like every other tree I passed that day, would not stand out.   Lutheran Pastor Nadia Bolz Webber has written a great book called ‘Accidental Saints: Finding God in all the wrong people.’  The book is part of the story of her life.  From stand up comic, alcoholic, tattoo canvas and more she is perhaps an unlikely suspect for Pastor of a church.  Yet, it is in her brokenness that the wholeness becomes visible.  Nadia has exposed the darkest parts of her life for public scrutiny and has come through it all.  She is who she is before God.  Her honesty is enough.  It has been said of her that she preaches to herself and lets other people overhear.  If you think you are not good enough to be part of the kingdom of God, read her books, you’ll soon find yourself right at home.  We are all wounded in some way or other.  Acknowledging it and bearing it gives us our strength.  A twisted tree trunk gives incredibly strong timber, though often overlooked by the timber miller who looks for consistent grain.  Psalm 118 – the stone which the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.  In the words of the deuteronomist:  ‘I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity.’  Or in the words of the Gospel of Luke:  ‘Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.’  We each carry our cross.  In baptism we are marked with the sign of the cross, a reminder to bear our weaknesses, failures and be proud of who we are before God.