Archive for the ‘Discussion’ Category

Sanctified in the truth

Posted on: April 27th, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Discussion

By Jeffrey Metcalfe 


Image: Christophe Boisson/Shutterstock

 

In the Meantime

Walking home from a riveting lecture on Christianity and peace, I had just started to cross the quiet intersection that leads to my neighbourhood when a black SUV, creeping past the stop line, hesitatingly pulled through the intersection and cut me off. It was not the first time this had happened.

Filled with righteous indignation at having to once again interrupt both my train of thought and my walking trajectory to avoid becoming roadkill, I raised my hand and, ever so lightly, I tapped on the side of the car.

Having completed its turn, the car immediately pulled over at the other side of the road, lowered its tinted windows and waited for me.

I swallowed deeply.

Awash in adrenaline as I approached the car, the driver inside looked at me and smiled. “You need to be careful,” he chided in a friendly tone, “when you cross intersections like this—you need to be sure you stop first, otherwise vehicles won’t know if you are trying to cross. Also, it’s not very nice of you to knock on the side of my car.”

I tried to explain to him how he had been the one who, by pulling through the stop line, had failed in his obligation under the law to stop—he didn’t agree. After a long discussion on our differing views about our observance of the laws of traffic, I apologized for knocking on his car; we shook hands and went our separate ways.

Human beings are self-deceiving creatures. While we are experts in observing and judging when others have crossed a line, we are wonderfully oblivious to the lines we may be creeping past ourselves. As Christians, we are called to be a people who are sanctified in the truth (John 17:17), and the truth is that we cannot trust ourselves to tell the truth about ourselves.

That is why the church needs an editorially independent media—a set of ecclesiastical journalists removed from the structures, interests and perspectives that animate our church’s ministries. Not because those structures, interests and perspectives are uniquely vulnerable to crossing lines—ecclesiastical journalism is just as fallible—but rather because we are all of us vulnerable to our own obliviousness, and we all need one another’s help in keeping ourselves accountable.

Just as the church needs an editorially independent media, so an editorially independent media needs the church. How many governments, corporations or communities of interest are actually willing to fund and defend a gaggle of nosey reporters who might at times hold their feet to the fire of public scrutiny? True editorial independence requires the existence of a people willing to sanctify themselves in the truth; a people who understand that, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8); a people who know that the truth, however difficult at times, will set them free (John 8:33).

As I was walking back to school the next day, I stopped to re-examine the intersection. The stop line was definitely not where I remembered it to be. My righteous indignation fled in the face of humility as I began to question the truth of the story I had told myself. Did he really cross the line, or, did I?

 

Jeffrey Metcalfe

Jeffrey Metcalfe is a priest from the diocese of Quebec and a doctoral student in theological studies at the University of Toronto.

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Anglican Journal News, April 21, 2016

A church faithful in its time

Posted on: April 27th, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Discussion

Image: Rawpixel.com/Shutterstock

Just a couple of short weeks ago, my front lawn was covered (again) in snow.  It felt like winter would never end and every casual conversation included a complaint about the insult of snow in April. And then someone shared a photo on Facebook of their snow-covered yard, captioned with a complaint—a photo that they had originally shared exactly one year ago. Because, it snows in April. Every year. And we are surprised and horrified. Every year.

This is either a testament to our great optimism that this year it will be different or to our remarkably short memories. Either way, it points to an almost wilful denial of reality. By April, we are so desperate for spring that we mistake our desire for reasonable expectation. We think back to last April—but only to the part we liked and fool ourselves into thinking that it’s the whole picture.

We do it in the church, too. We look back to a time of overflowing Sunday schools and full offering plates, and bemoan our empty pews and dwindling bank accounts. And we want it with such passion that we assume we are right to want it. If spring would just come again, we think, all would be as it should be.

But our memories are both short and selective. Sociologists of religion have done the work to show that the age we tend to wax nostalgic over was, in its day, a new thing and the evidence in front of us reveals that it was not a sustainable thing. Instead, that way of doing church was a particular response to a particular set of social conditions, the same conditions that produced the baby boom and the United Nations and the rise of the suburbs. People of faith looked around their world and created a church that spoke the language of its time and met the needs of its time. As a result, many good, faithful things happened—the Gospel of Christ was preached, disciples were formed, communities of love were nurtured, justice was proclaimed. Not-so-good things happened, too—because the church of that time, like the church of all times, was fallible.

Some of its mistakes have had lasting impacts—so did the mistakes of previous generations and so will ours. It was faithful in its time—as were previous generations in theirs and as we must be in ours. Our desires must come to reflect the work that God is doing, and not the work we wish God was doing, so that we will be able respond to the social conditions in which we find ourselves today, creating ways of being church in which the same good, faithful things can happen in new ways.

When we think back to last April, we need to see the whole picture so that we are better able to prepare for the spring that is coming, rather than lament the spring that has passed.

Rhonda Waters

Rhonda Waters

The Rev. Rhonda Waters is priest-in-charge at St. Matthew’s, diocese of Ottawa. 
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Anglican Journal News, April 25, 2016

Bart Ehrman examines how memories of Jesus morphed and changed

Posted on: April 2nd, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Discussion

By 

(RNS) New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman, a professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is a superstar author of 30 books on Christianity. He is known to his legion of readers as a scholar who has spent his academic career debunking long-held assumptions of traditional Christian belief.

His most recent book continues that trajectory. “Jesus Before the Gospels: How the Earliest Christians Remembered, Changed and Invented Their Stories of the Savior” applies contemporary memory science to the oral traditions of the early Christians. He sat down for an interview with RNS. The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: What did you most want to convey to readers of this book?

A: I wanted to introduce a general audience to something scholars have thought for a long time — that there was a 40- to 65-year gap between the time Jesus died and the earliest accounts of his life. So I wanted to talk about what was happening to the stories of Jesus in those years as people were telling and retelling them and look at how the stories were shaped and changed and eventually invested in Christian memory.

Q: Did you discover anything new about the Gospels?

A: Yes, several things. The Gospel of Matthew, which contains the Sermon on the Mount, was written around 85 C.E., a 50-year gap from when Jesus gave it. I started to wonder how is it possible for someone to know 50 years later what someone said at the Sermon on the Mount? I came to realize how implausible it is. I certainly think there are sayings in the Sermon on Mount that Jesus said, but the idea that he gave this sermon just the way it is laid down in Matthew is improbable. It is a memory rather than something that actually happened in Jesus’ life.

And I had long puzzled over the passage in the Gospel that says when Jesus was arrested in the garden, one or more of his disciples pulled a sword to defend him. I had been inclined to think that is probably a historical event. It didn’t seem like the kind of story that a follower of Jesus would make up — that Jesus had armed followers, that he wasn’t a pacifist. But in working on the book, I came to think if Jesus’ disciples had actually pulled swords why weren’t they also arrested? I think that shows the account cannot be historical, and I try to explain where that story came from. I think Jesus really did have a saying, “Live by the sword, die by the sword.” But what often happens in oral traditions is a story will emerge to produce context for a clever saying. So I now think this story emerged as context for “if you live by the sword you die by the sword.”

Q: Why does it matter whether Jesus actually said something or the Gospel writers conveyed the idea of what he said?

A: There are a lot of people who read the Bible in a very literalistic way and use the Bible for all sorts of hateful and wicked purposes. They have used it to support slavery, some continue to use it to support racism. They certainly use it to oppress women and people with a different sexual orientation. My own view is that it is a terrible use of the Bible. So if you can show some stories in the Bible cannot be taken literally, that can loosen up that interpretation and the Bible is not then as misused.

What I argue in the book is even though the historical Jesus is important, it is also important to think about how Jesus was remembered by Christians in the early church and that Jesus is being remembered in all sorts of contradictory ways today. People who buy into the prosperity gospel remember Jesus as the one who taught them a program they need to follow in order to become wealthy. People who believe Jesus was actually more concerned with the poor remember Jesus as someone who said you should give all your possessions away to others. Both of these can’t be right. So it is important to know what happened historically and to evaluate the memories of Jesus to see if some are better than others.

The big point I make in the book is how Jesus is remembered is more important than the historical Jesus because the historical Jesus did not make history. He is a construct of scholars. The memory of Jesus affects 2 billion people today and they are not following the historical Jesus. They are following a Jesus they have in their minds. So the remembered Jesus is even more important than the historical Jesus.

Q: How do you balance the need for historical accuracy with respect for faith?

A: I am not a theologian and I think the best theologians realize that the findings of history may challenge some people’s faith. But true Christian faith, in the opinion of these theologians, is not simply about the facts of history, and the facts of history cannot really touch true Christian faith.

(Kimberly Winston is a national correspondent for RNS)

Kimberly Winston

Kimberly Winston

Kimberly Winston is a freelance religion reporter based in the San Francisco Bay Area. She covers atheism and freethought for RNS.
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Religion News Service, The Slingshot, March 29, 2016

‘Find the good’

Posted on: March 30th, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Discussion


Finding the good isn’t an attitude one is supposed to summon up just for big, dramatic events. Illustration: R_LION_O/Shutterstock.


I am one of those people who go to the public library with no particular book or magazine in mind to check out. Instead, I case the shelves and wait for one or more to call out my name.

This serendipitous approach to reading has been interesting, to say the least. I have come across both gems and duds. But, often I find that the books I get are the ones I especially need at that moment.

Such was the case with Find the Good: Unexpected Life Lessons from a Small-Town Obituary Writer, by bestselling author (and, I later found out, Episcopalian) Heather Lende. It had me at “obituary writer” and the cover: an illustration of a bright, pulsating yellow lemon. I’m a big fan of obituaries (for real), plus, life has been handing me a lot of lemons lately and I figured it might teach me how to make lemonade.

Find the Good came about when Lende was asked to write a short essay about “one piece of wisdom to live by.” Her friend John, she recalls, had two rules for his only child: “Be nice to the dog and don’t do meth.” He grew up to be an upstanding young man. Lende asked herself: what would she, an obituary writer for the Chiliwack News, “rasp before my soul flew up the chimney?” She pretended to be on her deathbed, and the answer came: Find the good.

Writing obituaries of ordinary people who have come and gone in her small, tight-knit community  of Haines, Alaska, has taught Lendes “the value of intentionally trying to find the good in people and situations,” she writes. It is a task that can be challenging, but it can be practised, she adds. It can also make for a more meaningful life, something she discovers while digging deeper into the lives of the departed she has to cover in her “beat”—particularly those who die young or are lost to suicide, the lonely, the misfit, the eccentric and oft-misunderstood. “No one wants the last hour of her life to eclipse the seventeen years before it,” she asserts.

Find the Good—described by its jacket as “short chapters that help us unlearn the habit—and it is a habit—of seeing only the negatives”—will likely strike some people as Pollyannish. It’s not always easy to find the good in the face of horrific events and personal trials and tribulations.

But finding the good is not about ignoring harms done and pains endured. It can be about looking beyond the often incomprehensible that’s in front of us and not giving up hope for better days ahead.

Lende observes what most of us often witness in tragic incidents around the world—“awful events are followed by dozens and dozens of good deeds.” Suffering, she writes, “in all its forms and our response to it, binds us together across dinner tables, neighbourhoods, towns and cities, and even time. Bad doings bring out the best in people.”

Finding the good isn’t an attitude one is supposed to summon up just for big, dramatic events—as it is, daily life can be a tough slog.  As Lende reminds us, “We are all writing our own obituary every day by how we live. The best news is that there’s still time for additions and revisions before it goes to press.”

 

From everyone at the Anglican Journal, Happy Easter!

Marites N. Sison

Marites N. Sison is editor of the Anglican Journal. 

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Anglican Journal News, March 30, 2016

Edgardo A. Colón-Emeric: The hope of your calling

Posted on: March 28th, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Discussion

It’s hard to be in tune with Christ when you have tuned out your neighbors, says the assistant professor of Christian theology.

Ephesians 1:15-23 (link is external)

Editor’s note: Faith & Leadership offers sermons that shed light on issues of Christian leadership. Edgardo A. Colón-Emeric delivered the following address on June 10, 2011, in Duke Divinity Schools Goodson Chapel during the Center for Reconciliation’s Summer Institute.

 

In Ephesians, Paul prays that all his readers may know what is the hope to which God has called them.

“Hope” is a much-misunderstood word. For some, hope denotes a lack of certainty. Often, hope is mistaken for wishful thinking. At other times, hope is confused with having a glass-half-full kind of attitude. But hope, in the theological sense of the word, is not any of these things. Pollyanna abounded in optimism; Paul abounded in hope.

What is hope?

The author of Hebrews says that hope is the sure and certain anchor of the soul. For Thomists, hope is the virtue that orders our actions to a difficult but desirable goal. A Methodist might simply sing that hope is the blessed assurance that Jesus is mine, a foretaste of glory divine.

For Paul, hope is what keeps him fighting the good fight. Hope is what keeps him praying and praising even while in prison. Hope is what gives Paul the boldness to declare that the gathering of a few scores of Jews and Gentiles in the port city of Ephesus is no mere sociological fact but a new humanity in Christ.

As ridiculous as it might sound, God called the Christian community at Ephesus to be a sign of the age to come. By eating together in friendship, they actively participated in the unfolding of God’s purpose for creation. By joining together in the singing of psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, this small band of disciples witnessed that there is one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. In short, God called the little flock at Ephesus to be a sacrament of Christ’s work of cosmic reconciliation.

However, the Ephesian calling is a delicate one. The powers of this present age have been conquered, but they are still dangerous. Unity in the Spirit is difficult to maintain; the bond of peace is quickly broken; table fellowship is easily abandoned. This is why Paul prays so fervently for the Christians at Ephesus. Paul fears that if the Ephesian Christians fail to stir the hope of their calling, they will trade the glorious inheritance of singing in symphony with all the saints for the safety of ethnic section rehearsals.

Section rehearsals are important. I remember when I first joined a choir. After hearing me speak a few words, the director told me to go sit with the basses. I was completely confused by the singing going on around me. Having never sung in such a setting, I found that my ear was tuned to the melody line, and try as I might, I could not pick out the bass line.

Thankfully, after a few warm-up exercises, the director held section rehearsals. The purpose of the section rehearsal is to help each voice learn its part well enough to be able to sing together in polyphony. What I discovered after a while was that I could learn my part in the section rehearsal, but not fully, because my part only made sense precisely as a part of a larger whole.

Indeed, the real proof that I had learned my part was when I left the safety of my section and sat next to sopranos, altos and tenors. I was better in tune with the key of the piece when I learned to listen to the other parts.

For most of us, section rehearsals are all we have ever known.

In the United States, one part has been dominant for so long that the other parts have only been preserved through section rehearsals. Many of us would not be here today except for section rehearsals.

It is not easy to sing in symphony when one section blasts its part out of an overblown sense of self-importance. And yet it is hard to be in tune with Christ when so many of us have tuned out our neighbors. It is easy to give up on the Ephesian calling. For many, the hope of our calling takes second seat to personal choice and cultural affirmation. How can we possibly commit to praying and living together week in and week out when we are so different?

Why bother? For two reasons.

First, there is a word for describing the character of those who want to join the hallelujah chorus in paradise but refuse to leave their ethnic section rehearsals on earth. There is a word for describing the disposition of those who prepare to sing the songs of Zion by listening to the songs of Egypt. There is a word for thinking that we can be divided here below and still be ready to join our friends above. There is a word for desiring union with Christ without expressing love for all the saints. There is a word for expecting heaven without holiness. The word is “presumption.”

Presumption means desiring the end while despising and forsaking the means. Presumption is the archenemy of hope and the sidekick of despair.

Second, hope abides. God is not finished with us yet.

The power that God put to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places is still at work today. There is power in the name. Power to enlighten the eyes of our hearts. Power to wake those who are asleep. Power to wake those who are pretending to be asleep.

There is power in the name above every name. Power to free Christian tradition from cultural conservatism. Power to free love of country from fear of strangers. Power to turn off the treadmill of toleration and run the race of reconciliation. Power to grow into the full stature of Christ.

Claim that power. Do not be afraid to be holy. Do not be afraid to leave the safety of the section rehearsal. Do not be afraid to submit to the baton of Christ. It is not Edgardo who calls you; it is not Paul. It is Almighty God who calls you to join the celestial symphony with all the saints. Do not put it off until heaven. Claim the promise. Anticipate your heaven below. Dare to hope in Christ.

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Leadership Education at Duke Divinity, News & Ideas, March 28, 2016

Creating the conditions to nurture hope

Posted on: March 28th, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Discussion

The current situation facing Christian institutions can evoke fear. Yet we can, and should, recover hope by grounding our work in the hope of the resurrection and new life.

Shane Lopez opens “Making Hope Happen (link is external)” with the story of John, a farmer whose diagnosis destroyed his picture of the future. Working as John’s therapist, Lopez witnessed John redefine his future and recover hope. The experience launched Lopez on a journey to understand the conditions and activities that foster hope.

He discovered that living with hope, even in the face of the challenges of the moment, requires a vision that is beyond our reach and practical ways to make progress toward that vision.

Many congregations and other Christian institutions respond with fear as they see declining membership rolls, decreasing revenue and reduced influence. Yet, in worship we look to God who promises participation in an everlasting reign for all who believe. Somehow, we need to integrate the vision of God’s promises with our current circumstances and recover hope for the moment alongside hope for eternity.

For two years, I had a chance to work in Houston with Charles Rotramel (link is external), who has been befriending gang-affected young people for 20 years. One day we were reviewing the results of a psychological assessment indicating that every young person involved in the ministry was suicidal, which meant that other agencies considered the kids were too dangerous to assist.

We had to figure out a way to frame this finding so that the kids would not be abandoned. I recalled Charles having taught me that the kids never expected to reach their 25th birthdays, anticipating a violent death. In the assessments, these young people were considered suicidal because they had no hope of a future. If we could convince the researchers that the kids were hopeless — which was different from being suicidal — there was a chance the kids could get the needed services.

Charles had worked in the midst of hopelessness so long that he was no longer surprised by its effects. He worked every day to love those kids into hope for a future by creating conditions for caring adults to build friendships with them, by bringing back to the community those who grew up and made it to adulthood, and by helping them stay in school and find jobs. He did this because of his faith in God and a belief in the future that God has. He helped the young people face their fear with the gifts of friendship and practical help.

Lopez is a researcher for Gallup who defines the “hope cycle” as the three interrelated elements that are required to build hope in this world — goals, agency and pathways. This simple formula can help faith-based groups determine ways of doing day-to-day work that encourages hope.

Christian institutions face the challenge of translating our hope in the resurrection and new life into the circumstances of this age — for gang-involved young people, for patients in a hospital and for the work of the institution in a difficult economy. Lopez’s research suggests structuring services to empower participants (as micro-finance efforts create the conditions for entrepreneurship) and encouraging folks to consider multiple ways to achieve their goals. Grounding such steps in the hope of God’s eternal life provides power that is beyond individual perseverance.

How do you measure the hopefulness of your employees, board, members and participants? What can you do to help make hope happen for all?

 

David L. Odom is Executive director, Leadership Education at Duke Divinity

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Leadership Education at Duke Divinity, News & Ideas, March 28, 2016

An Easter Reflection – Contending with pop theology

Posted on: March 27th, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Discussion

 

An Easter Reflection –

CONTENDING WITH POP THEOLOGY

A Response to the Maclean’s Article
Easter, 2016 Canadian Edition:

“Did Jesus Really Exist?”

 

 

By Dr. Wayne Holst

After reading Brian Bethune’s cover-
story article in this week’s Maclean’s –
the Canadian newsmagazine – I am
no clearer about the author’s answer
to his posed question than I was before.

His attempt at a popularized version
of a pivotal issue in modern Jesus
scholarship fails, it seems to me. 

This leads me to conclude that the real
purpose behind his effort has little to
do with theological and historical
substance. But it has a lot to do with 
effect. He appeals to human emotions
and little else.

Unfortunately for Bethune, his efforts to
get my attention leave me cold and quite
confused by the time I reach his rather 
vague conclusion.

As usual, Macleans wants to attract
readers with a snappy title, then
tends to fall flat in terms of substance.
So, I must conclude after reading the
article – Macleans seeks attention to
sell magazines. The quest for historical
Jesus truth falls victim to sensationalism.

But, read the article yourself, if you
have not already done so, and come
to your own conclusions:

Macleans Article – April 4th, 2016
http://tinyurl.com/zeg8zq9

 

 

Here are a few thoughts to possibly
help you with your reflections.

The quest for the Jesus of history is not
by any means modern. You can trace the
process in theological studies for at
least two hundred years. Please see:

“The Quest for the Historical Jesus”
(A survey until the pre-current debate)

http://tinyurl.com/z9zd7jh

 

 

In many ways, the contemporary quest
covers a broad spectrum of historical
Jesus perspectives. There are many
variations on the theme. Here are a few
representative points of view to consider:

Bart Ehrman comes out of Protestant
fundamentalist background. He considers
himself an agnostic who has a profound
love for Jesus as a historical figure, but
does not consider him Saviour and Lord.
Here is information on the book that plays
the central role in the Macleans article:
 

“Did Jesus Exist? The Historical Argument

  for Jesus of Nazareth”

http://tinyurl.com/zx7afwr

 

 

Ehrman Bio: http://tinyurl.com/jf3fhcs

 

 

Richard Carrier, whose book is also mentioned, 
is a historian and a new atheist. He denies
that Jesus ever existed and is certainly not
a believer.

“On the Historicity of Jesus:
  Why We Might Have Reason for Doubt”

http://tinyurl.com/zbj9xqq

 

 

Carrier bio: http://tinyurl.com/md4znvp

 

 

N.T. Wright is a well-known biblical scholar
who believes in the historical Jesus and his
actual resurrection from the dead. He is a
leading British evangelical Anglican but
challenges traditional thinking when it
contradicts a reasonable faith.

http://tinyurl.com/jo4flj7

 

 

 
Tom Harpur is a Canadian, a former
Anglican priest and theological educator.
For many years he was the religion editor
for the Toronto Star. His central study on
the historical Jesus is:

“The Pagan Christ”

Harpur believes that Jesus is essentially
a mythological figure, but worthy of belief.
He would not share Wright’s view of Jesus
as Lord, however, and does not need to have
Jesus as a historical figure to make him
believable.

Click this link and scroll down a bit to read
my review of his book.

http://tinyurl.com/jobs3k4

 

 

Marcus Borg, who is my age and shares a
similar denominational background, died
recently.

He has spent a lifetime studying the Bible,
and Jesus in particular. Borg, for me, is the
most important theologian of the group.

I was fortunate to experience a long and
productive friendship with him. He helped
me to remain a Christian and church member
when I might have fallen away as a believer.

Borg suggests that those who are seeking a
meaningful understanding of Jesus should
dance warily around confessed church doctrines
about Jesus (what the gospels and the churches
say about him) and “seek a relationship with Jesus
as the Spirit of God.”

His primary summary of this philosophy is:

“Jesus: Uncovering the Life, Teachings
  and Relevance of a Religious Revolutionary”

http://tinyurl.com/zlcyt2q

 

 

Concluding Thoughts

At Easter, the highest festival in the Christian
Year, I am still a proud believer, but one who
has been shaped by all the opinions noted
above (and many others on the subject.)

Here is a quick summary of what I mean:

I believe that Jesus was a figure of history,
but that a lot of mythological embellishment
was added to his basic story and beliefs about
him. He was a Jewish seer and visionary who
taught people a way to God that did not depend
on religious systems but did not disparage them
either.

I am not convinced by the “Jesus as pure-myth”
approach, but neither am I dependant on a
“Jesus of history or the traditions of the church.”

At this same time, I am a product of church
tradition, and believe it is important to honour 
if not accept all of it, with all its wrongs, warts
and weaknesses.
 
I am not one who says “I am spiritual, but not
religious.” For my spirituality to remain vital
I must continue to be part of a real – not
imagined – religious community and I work
hard at that, because it is not always easy!

I do not believe that Jesus is the only way
to eternal life, but he is my way.

I continue to be open to the sincere
influence of other Christians, non-Christians,
and non-believers.

So that is my mini-manifesto at Easter.

As such, I rejoice to say:

“The Lord is risen. He is risen indeed!”

 

Dr. Wayne Holst teaches religion and culture at the University of Calgary and  helps  to co-ordinates Adult Spiritual Development  at St. David’s United Church in that city. _______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Colleagues List, Vol. XI, No. 31,  March  27th, 2016

Unprovoked act of kindness

Posted on: March 25th, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Discussion

head shotLast week, I was on the receiving end of an act of unprovoked kindness. It was done by a friend, and it affected my whole family. Although I am in the very fortunate position of having people do nice and thoughtful things for me often, this one caught me off guard by the sheer non-necessity of it: it was generosity and thoughtfulness far out of proportion to what the situation or our relationship called for.

It made me uncomfortable. That isn’t to say that I and my family didn’t receive this with gladness and gratitude. We did. Our friend had arranged for an incredible take-out Thai food feast to be delivered to our door on a tired Friday night, and that food could not have tasted better or been enjoyed more. The discomfort I was feeling was further out to the edges of my thoughts and activities—the last thought before falling asleep at night, hovering just around my prayer time, a shadow beside me when out running.

At the core of this lingering discomfort is a response that is pure, trustworthy. Human beings have the innate capacity to respond to the kindnesses we receive, and I needed to determine the appropriate response in this situation. I said thank you. I wrote a note of gratitude. And I wondered, not necessarily how I could do something in kind for this friend, but rather how I could look for my own opportunities to surprise someone else with an unwarranted offering. Our own experiences of goodness can awaken in us our ability to be grateful and generous people.

And then there is the version of this response that gets warped by what the church has always referred to as human sin. I don’t deserve this. And, intimately related to that, what debt do I owe? Acts of cruelty and harm can degrade human life and can leave individuals with a crippled sense of self-worth. How interesting and foolish and sad that an act of kindness can also touch off that guilty and doubting side of us. We don’t want to be beholden. And we count ourselves fundamentally unworthy. It is the basic state of affairs for the modern individual: to pride ourselves on being self-made… and to deep down consider ourselves fundamentally inadequate.

Desmond Tutu, in his book In God’s Hands, reflects on how typical it can be to have difficulty in receiving what might be offered to us:

If we have been brought up in an environment that values achievement at any cost, over and above the worth of simply being human, we find it extremely difficult to be comfortable with the ethos of grace—of sheer gift. …I accept that it must be enormously difficult to be open to receiving when one seems to lack for nothing, and that is perhaps why so many who come from affluent societies do not easily understand the wonder of grace, freely bestowed by a deeply generous God.

Our Lenten Scripture readings have led us into the heart of what Gift is and what it means. We have wrestled with the parable of the Prodigal Son, the father’s arms inexplicably open to the child who so completely disrespected and exploited him. We have wondered at Mary of Bethany’s foolish wastefulness, funnelling every spare resource she could glean into the silliness and fleetingness of a perfumed ointment for feet that will be dirty and sweaty and dry again tomorrow.

And now we are heading toward the cross.

Even the ones who would sentence Jesus would name him as innocent. Even the criminal hanging on the cross beside him could see that he had done no wrong. And he is whipped and stripped and hung up for all the world to see his shameful and painful gasping and dying. Because of the way the Gospel narratives are structured, and because we have the perspective of two thousand years of Christian history, there is a sense of inevitability about Jesus’ death. This is what he was born to do.

And yet, his death is also totally unnecessary. There were numerous escape hatches along the way—he didn’t have to go to Jerusalem, he didn’t have to challenge the authorities so publicly when he got there, he could have escaped on that Thursday night when he saw his friend Judas slipping off into the night, he could have begged Pilate or Herod for mercy. He ignored each of these ‘outs.’ He is the recipient of unprovoked violence, he becomes a lightning rod for the fear and violence and anger and hatred of the world in which he lives. But he is also an agent. He makes his choices. And in that respect, he is more than just innocent.

He is an agent of unprovoked kindness. He makes visible the suffering of the world’s poor and maligned, claiming an inherent value to human lives that have long and forever been judged as worthless. In response to one request for mercy from the barbaric criminal beside him on the cross, he opens up the gates of paradise. He anoints an unrepentant world with forgiveness in his dying breath. And his raised life is not given over to righting the wrongs that have been done to him, bringing the evil and hatred that has been inflicted on him home to roost in punishing those who have their just desserts coming to them. Rather it is wasted at barbeques and supper tables, in cryptic questions of love and a gentle invitation to touch and to believe.

The risen Lord doesn’t immediately inspire joy in his followers. The last chapters of Matthew, Luke and John describe Jesus’ Resurrection as, in part, a time of healing for his disciples. There are a series of meals and searching conversations which create space for Jesus to quell the fear and discomfort of his friends, friends who know they have let their teacher down tremendously, who expect to be called out for what they have done… what they have failed to do. We can imagine eyes furtively looking away, not meeting Jesus’ own gaze, on that first Sunday night appearance in the locked upper room. I am going to be made to pay for what I’ve done. They have to learn how to be humble enough to receive the forgiveness and love on offer, how to then be confident enough to allow their lives to be shaped by what they have received into people who can become offerings for others.

Gifts can be more complicated when they involve people who don’t happen to be Messiah and Lord. We do oftentimes give something expecting to receive praise or favour in return. We can hurt one another in ways that require that amends be made. Sometimes it is necessary for there to be a clear sign of changing ways before forgiveness can be granted.

And, as Desmond Tutu notes in an earlier point in his book, we are created in the image of God, created to be God’s viceroys, God’s stand-ins. Every now and then, we will be bowed down by an encounter with God’s unprovoked kindness, offered to us through another flesh-and-blood human being. We will be asked to dwell in the non-necessity of another person’s generosity toward us.

Just as the church has and continues to be formed by our encounters with the unwarranted, unmerited blessing of the risen Christ, may these moments of kindness we receive from another shake us and shape us as agents of God’s unnecessary love.

About Martha Tatarnic

The Reverend Martha Tatarnic serves as the rector of St. George’s Anglican Church in St. Catharines. Previously, she has served in congregations in Orillia and Oakville. Her focus in congregational leadership has been in empowering justice initiatives and outreach in the small church, starting a new service, the possibilities and potentials of Anglican-Lutheran partnership, and forming disciples through the power of music. As a young mother navigating family life through the continually changing waters of modern-day life, she is passionate about connecting the dots between faith – worship – Scripture, and exploring the concerns, joys, questions, stresses, worries, celebrations, of Right Here, Right Now.

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The Community, An update from The Community, March 25, 2016

The Easter story continues to unfold

Posted on: March 22nd, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Discussion


Photo: Shutterstock


Easter is the time of resurrection—when Christians around the world celebrate the triumph of life over death and celebrate God’s love for the world.

Even as we proclaim Christ’s resurrection, we remember that there remains a lot of brokenness and pain in the world. There are many who are struggling to see and experience the light of that love, and the light of the resurrection.

Easter is the perfect opportunity to remember the stories of Jesus’ ministry, and be reminded that we are called to do likewise. Just as we pray that God meets all people in their need, we are called to meet people in their pain and brokenness, just like Jesus did. We may not be able to take it away, but we can offer respite and relief in significant ways. Aid and relief work are tangible ways that our ministry is made real, and alive. Relief work overseas is done with and for people who are struggling from the effects of natural disasters, human conflict and disease. In the past decade or so, we have witnessed the Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami, the Haiti earthquake, the Japan earthquake and tsunami, the civil war in Syria and conflict in South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, to name but a few. These catastrophes have meant that people lost homes, livelihoods and the ability to care for themselves and their families. All too often, those who are most affected by these events are the poorest and most vulnerable.

The governments in countries where these events take place are often already struggling to provide for the basic needs of their citizens. A crisis can cause everything to break down. The resulting loss of life, injury and damage lead to disease, malnutrition and despair, and further loss of life. This can be a vicious cycle that is hard to break. People flee the effects of these events, becoming displaced within their own countries or refugees in neighbouring countries, or even resettling far across the world, including in Canada.

Relief is needed to help restore life—to bring a population back from disaster. Basic needs must be met; the infrastructure that allows for safe drinking water and easy access to food and shelter must be rebuilt.

The Easter story is continuously unfolding—wherever relief work is happening, where refugees are being cared for—because life is being restored.

We are presented with challenges and problems that we can see right here in Canada, and sometimes the thought of taking on the issues of the world are daunting. But the Easter story is one of hope, resurrection, of life rising up in spite of death. That is what relief work does—it feeds the hungry, clothes the naked, gives water to the thirsty, visits those who are alone and brings hope and good news.

Scott McLeod

The Rev. Scott McLeod is associate priest at St. George’s Anglican Church, St. Catharines, Ont. He is also the diocesan refugee sponsorship co-ordinator for the diocese of Niagara.

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Anglican Journal, March 22, 2016

God calls who God calls

Posted on: March 22nd, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Discussion

Photo: Rawpixel.com


I love weddings. I love working with people as they prepare for their life as a married couple. I love helping them choose the readings that will speak God’s Good News to them on their wedding day. I love witnessing their vows and speaking God’s blessing over them. I love watching the faces of those in attendance as they enter into the joy and the hope of their dear friends, seeing God’s love and faithfulness revealed in their union. I do believe that marriage is a gift from God, a vocation into which some are called as a ministry to God’s people and for their own well-being.

And God calls who God calls.

As church, we are most accustomed to thinking of issues of vocation and call in terms of ordained ministry. While this is a shortcoming on our part, doing a grave disservice to the many ways of life to which God calls people, at least we have some experience with controversial discernments. We still bear the scars from the fights over the ordination of women and LGBTQ persons. But that experience has taught us that God calls all sorts of people and it is not our place to reject entire categories of God’s children from entire fields of ministry. Instead, we have a responsibility to engage individuals in their work of discernment—asking the questions to help them uncover how and why they are called to a particular life and ensuring that they are prepared for what answering such a call might mean. Sometimes, we have the difficult responsibility of telling people we don’t hear what they hear. But that isn’t the same thing as refusing to believe God could possibly call someone like them.

God calls who God calls.

What would happen if we started thinking about marriage and our responsibility to those considering marriage in this way?

Perhaps we would find ourselves having to tell some people that we don’t hear God calling them to marriage at this time. Perhaps we would be better able to recognize and honour God’s call in the lives of people who are single or in unmarried partnerships of various kinds. Perhaps we would find new ways of thinking about divorce. And perhaps we would be able to see past the sex or gender identities of people in order to consider the actual nature of their relationships to which they are called.

If we have learned anything from the courageous honesty of our LGBTQ brothers and sisters, it is that things are never simply this or that. Human identity, human sexuality, human relationships are multi-faceted and complicated. God has created a wonderful diversity of people and calls us into a wonderful diversity of ways of living. It is not for the church to limit what God may do, but rather to help each of us better hear and more faithfully respond so that we may, together, more fully reveal the Good News of Christ for all of God’s people.

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Anglican Journal News, March 22, 2016