November 5, 2023 “Cultivating A Kin-centric Worldview”
Lisa Wiens Heinsohn
Homily for St. John’s Episcopal Church by Lisa Wiens Heinsohn given November 5, 2023
All Saints: Matthew 12:1-12, Revelation 7:9-17
What is church really for? What is it that we do that is unique, that we don’t get in other places? Church is one of the only places that provides us a place to learn to think and experience the world differently, which is the foundation for all other kinds of change. Here we practice values centered on an expansive relationship with God understood through the stories of our tradition. We can open to the power of God, the transcendent Source of all life, and be transformed in the encounter.
Today we celebrate All Saints’ Day, one of the seven great feasts of the Christian liturgical year, along with Christmas and Easter and Pentecost and a few others. This feast celebrates the living saints of the church—not just those few who achieved great things, but every one of us—and also our spiritual ancestors, both those who achieved great things and also every follower of the way of Jesus across time and space. Like every other time in the church year this is an opportunity to be transformed, to change how we perceive the world, so that we can make a difference in our Monday through Saturday lives outside these walls. And the thread of All Saints that seems most important to me this morning, the theme that has the most relevance for the transformation I believe the Spirit wants to bring about among us, is the vision of Beloved Community that we see in the reading from Revelation.
In today’s reading from Revelation there is this great apocalyptic vision of a vast multitude of countless people from every single tribe, language, people and nation, who had been through the great ordeal, and who stand before the throne of God. It is a pan-tribal vision where there is no kind of person who is left out. There is no us and them. They are a multitude beyond time. It describes them this way:
They are before the throne of God . . .they will hunger and thirst no more . . . the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd and will guide them to the springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.
What does this offer to us today?
In September your vestry met with the Sustainable Mission Team led by Rena Turnham, and we were working with the themes derived from our conversations with all of you about what is important at St John’s, what we feel is missing, what are the most important pieces and what are the themes of what the Spirit is doing among us. We did this crazy exercise called “4D Mapping” where each one of us physically represented one of those themes. We all stood in the center of the room and physically represented this community in its relationship to each other. The person who represented the earth laid down in the center of the room, because she felt the earth was our foundation. The person representing staff stood on one leg reaching toward the programs and the outside, teetering to maintain balance. The people who were more moderate or conservative stood at the outside facing away from the center, as if they
did not feel a part of things. Children, youth and family and music ministries were right at the heart of everything, vibrant and alive. It was a fascinating representation of the different facets of our community.
What came out of this exercise was very interesting. Although we talk a lot about Beloved Community in this church, it turns out we weren’t sure what that means. The Beloved Community person was trying to figure out how to relate to the others and it seemed awkward. We interpreted this to mean that we weren’t sure what Beloved Community is. Is it a a pipe dream that is unachievable, a worthy goal, but something like the vision from Revelation that is other-worldly and unrealistic?
I believe the vision from Revelation can help us understand what we mean by Beloved Community. Again it is pan-tribal. There are representatives from every single nation, people, tribe and language. It transcends the usual categories of difference that tend to separate us. This isn’t portrayed as a goal but a reality. The kingdom of God looks like a diverse ecology of countless beings. That isn’t what it should be. It is what it is. And not only are people from different tribes and languages and nations gathered. They are united by love, in all their difference. It is true that we are all already interconnected. Chaos theory and quantum physics and modern science are only now beginning to sense the vast web of life in which we are all caught up, how every single thing and person in the universe affects everything else in the universe, that no one is an island unto themselves. But in the Beloved Community, the quality of our connection is not competition, or violence, or hatred or fear, but love. And we at St. John’s are meant to cultivate this Beloved Community inside and outside our doors. Incidentally, I also believe this means we
shouldn’t assume that because our building is located in a predominantly white, affluent community, therefore we must be too. We are already not all white or affluent, and it is a disservice to the different and beautiful kinds of people we are here to refer to ourselves that way. But we also know that the kingdom of God is wildly diverse, and we know that a diverse ecology is a healthy one, and this is the kind of community we must always be seeking to become and to serve.
If you are as confused as the vestry and the sustainable mission team about how to do this, I submit to you that the way to begin is with how we see and experience the world. There is a growing movement among environmentalists and those who appreciate earth-based or indigenous wisdom, that is in full accord with what Jesus lived and taught all along. It is called a kin-centric vision of this world. A world in which what is central is not things or persons or even nouns, but relationships—that we are all kin, we are all related. The relationship itself is the central fact of reality. We are an interconnection constantly happening.
You are my brother, my sister, my uncle, my cousin, my child and my grandmother. The bat that lives somewhere in the upper reaches of the nave is my sister. The sedum flowers and plants in the pollinator garden outside are our older brothers and sisters, the ones who can teach us about how to live well and in balance with one another. The people who take the bus and those who rely on financial assistance from the government and the growing Somali population in Linden Hills are all my family. The people we serve at First Nations Kitchen and St. Nicolas in Richfield are our children and aunties and uncles. We are all saints—we are all innately sacred, born holy with the DNA of the image of God
woven through our cells like threads in a tapestry. The word “saint” just means “holy,” sacred and divine—which we all are. The Lakota people call this mitakuye o’yasin, all my relations. In fact they refer to mosquitos and prairie grasses and buffalo and crows as nations. The crow nation, they call them. The trout nation. In Anishinabe languages animals and plants and animals are referred to as people, not things, not “resources.”
Not only are we family with all beings, human and more-than-human, on this beautiful planet. We are also family with those who have gone before us, with literal and spiritual ancestors, without whom we could not be here. The fact that the actual feast of All Saints is celebrated on November 1 is not a coincidence. This day is also celebrated in Mexico as the Día De Los Muertes, the Day of the Dead. Celtic pagans celebrated a day they called Samhain on this day, when they thought the “veils between the worlds are thin,” and the spirits of the dead could visit them. This is a time when we can honor our continued connection with those who have gone before us, thanking them for their gifts even as we might sometimes feel called by God to make different choices than they made. This includes our church’s namesake, our patron saint John the Baptizer, who was a creative innovator who spoke truth to power and insisted that bloodlines did not make one right with God—right action did. It also includes our blood and spiritual ancestors, especially those who lived in right relation with God and others. It includes all those whom Jesus described in today’s gospel reading, those who had been persecuted for the sake of righteousness of all tribes and languages and nations, those who as the reading from Revelation described had been through the great ordeal, those who paid a price for being people of conscience whose integrity I hope to emulate.
In the kingdom of God, all of us are here in all our differences, united by our interconnection and more deeply by love. If you want a way to begin reorienting your life on this love, on the kin-centricity that is the essential fact of our being despite what our culture teaches, I have two practices you might try. Anthropologist Enrique Salmon, of the Rarámuri indigenous nation of Mexico, gives his students a practice to cultivate what he calls a kind of “concentrated mindfulness,” a quality of deep attention to the natural world around them, that promotes awareness of kincentricity. What he asks of his students that I commend to us, is that once a week for three months, in exactly the same time of day and in exactly the same place, spend 20 minutes carefully watching the sunrise or sunset and making notes of what you see. And do this not assuming that you are somehow objective. You can never be objective. You are a part of everything. This is your family. Instead, practice intentionally seeing everything is your kin.
Cultivate this careful, loving attention, full of empathy and curiosity, in which you are not separate from the world you are observing. Then take this to the rest of your life and, practice looking around you and saying to yourself about all the human and more-than-human people around you, you are my kin. What do you notice? For example, there are three maple trees outside St. John’s, all of whom are in completely different stages of falling asleep for the winter. One of them is wide awake, still fairly green. One of them is asleep, having lost her leaves, and one of them is sleepy, red, dropping leaves. Why are these neighbors of ours responding differently to the fall? See what a difference this concentrated mindfulness, this practice of seeing one another as kin, makes in how you speak and think and act. For we are all saints, beloved of God. Amen.