Archive for the ‘Discussion’ Category

‘Nevertheless’

Posted on: November 24th, 2014 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Discussion

By Fred Hiltz

 

 

 

 

(This article first appeared in the November issue of the Anglican Journal.)  

On a Saturday morning in mid-September, I was seated with three other people, forming a panel at a meeting of the board of ATR (Anglican Theological Review), a quarterly publication well known for its articles, poetry and book reviews. We were invited to speak to the subject of “testing the bonds of affection” and to offer some reflections on the state of relations within and among the churches of the Anglican Communion.

While we acknowledged concerns about tensions over any number of matters and our grief over impaired relations between some churches, we noted the blessings of indaba—that manner of speaking and listening and learning from one another with far less rancour and much more patience. We heard first-hand testimony of the growth in understanding and respect among Canadian and African bishops who have been in dialogue for several years. We celebrated the many companion diocese relationships that have transcended—and in some cases transformed—relations across the Communion.

One of our panelists, Eugene Sutton, The Episcopal Church bishop of Maryland, said that he is heartened every week by what he calls that great “nevertheless” moment in the liturgy. Knowing he had grabbed our attention, he paused, and with a twinkle in his eye leaned forward and said, “You know, that moment when we all say, ‘We believe’ ”:

“We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty… We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ… We believe in the Holy Spirit… We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church…” (The Nicene Creed)

Yes, no matter how endearing or strained our relations with one another may be, “we believe.”

This confession of faith that we make in the Nicene Creed crosses theological and cultural divides. It spans vast diversity in biblical perspective and pastoral outlook. And not only that, it unites us with all the generations of the church that have gone before us and all those who will come after us.

Like Eugene, I am heartened by this “nevertheless” moment, and I hope you are also.

Archbishop Fred Hiltz is primate of the Anglican Church of Canada. 

_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Anglican Journal News, November 24, 2014

Beeswax and sweetgrass

Posted on: November 22nd, 2014 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Discussion

By Michael Thompson

 

 


As we gathered in the chapel to celebrate Eucharist, our friend and colleague Barbara was preparing to smudge the altar. In attempting to light her sweetgrass braid from the altar candle, she held it too close to the flame and for a moment too long, and the flame sputtered and died.

Well, one of the very best things about extinguishing beeswax candles, as many of us know, is the rich honey scent that the smoke carries across a space as it disperses from the tiny flame into the wide world and then vanishes.

It turns out that at the moment that Barbara’s sweetgrass braid put out the flame, an ember appeared on its tip. Its smoldering smoke joined that of the spreading honey-scented beeswax as Barbara slowly circled the altar. The blending of smoke from sweetgrass and smoke from beeswax filled the space with what you might call a providential aroma; both sweetgrass and beeswax were there, but so was something else, something at once brand new and ancient, the aroma of encounter, partnership, hope.

The encounter between beeswax and sweetgrass—between the settler church and indigenous peoples—has taken many shapes over the course of generations. And our shared history has left us both, in one way or another, diminished. The settler church lost the thread of God’s justice as it assumed a stance of cultural superiority and showed disdain for what the Creator was already doing before the first contact between Europeans and indigenous peoples. And the indigenous church was all too often denied its freedom to discern the incarnate Word in the languages and traditions written deep and long in the story of the people of the land.

The thing that has my attention is how the flame of the candle had to give way, if just for a moment, to the sweetgrass. The candle had to be at risk if the beautiful new thing—the smell of beeswax and sweetgrass—were to emerge.  It’s complicated. It’s as if I couldn’t know, couldn’t really know all the dimensions of the beauty in the beeswax I bring from the customs of my ancestors, until, by gracious accident, it yielded to the braid of sweetgrass, until, by gracious accident, the sweetgrass transformed the candle’s light to smoke.

There was a lighter not far from the altar. So as Barbara smudged the altar, as the smoke of beeswax and the smoke of sweetgrass filled our noses, another of us restored the light of the candle. Nothing was lost, really.  There was just that moment when one stepped back so another could thrive, and then there was more beauty, and then we prayed and gave thanks.

Archdeacon Michael Thompson is the general secretary of the Anglican Church of Canada. His column, Refraction, appears every month at anglicanjournal.com  ___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Anglican Journal News, November 21, 2014

Canadian mining practices have ‘imperial footprint’

Posted on: November 20th, 2014 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Discussion

 

By André Forget

Pat Lovell, lay delegate from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, and Bishop Jane Alexander of the Diocese of Edmonton, consider how the church can faithfully engage with problematic Canadian mining practices. Photo: André Forget.


Mississauga, Ont.

Though many Canadians might not often think about the nation’s mining practices, they are “very well known” to the rest of the world, said National Indigenous Anglican Bishop Mark MacDonald in a presentation to Council of General Synod Nov.15. This was not, MacDonald hastened to add, a good thing. “We have a superpower footprint in terms of mining—an imperial footprint, according to many people.”

The presentation, given by the public witness for social and ecological justice co-ordinating committee, featured a video created by Canadian ecumenical justice group KAIROS (which can be viewed hereThe video was a product of a May 2011 conference, convened to look at Canada’s relationship to mining.

The video explores the impact that mining practices have on the communities and people who live near them, and features prominent faith leaders from across the world denouncing such practices. “I’m not so much interested at this point in getting people to condemn [the practices],” said MacDonald. “I would settle if we could just make people aware of [them].”

The viewing of the video was followed by a time for reflection by delegates on how mining issues relate to the church’s mission in the world, and how the church could be more active in bringing greater justice to the earth and its peoples.

Jennifer Warren, a lay delegate from the ecclesiastical province of Canada, pointed out that there are other social issues created by the mining industry—the destructive effects it has on families, for example, when one partner spends weeks at a time away from home, or when young people get caught up in the dangerous lifestyle that often attends mining work.  MacDonald said that this was a “very big issue” for indigenous people as well, noting that he has heard communities across the country express concern about it.

Henriette Thompson, director of public witness for social and ecological justice for the national church, also spoke about some of the ways in which the church is already advocating for change in this area, namely through a push to create an independent government mining ombudsman who would oversee Canadian mining practices around the world, and also for the mandatory standards of practice for mining companies operating overseas to ensure they abide by Canadian law.

At their joint assembly in July 2013, the Anglican Church of Canada and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada approved a joint resolution that committed their membership to advocate for “responsible resource extraction” by Canadian mining companies and to support affected communities in demanding their right to “Free, Prior and Informed Consent” with respect to resource extraction, among others.

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Anglican Journal News, November 19, 2014

Hiltz offers view of church midway to 2019

Posted on: November 20th, 2014 by CEP Administrator No Comments
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By Leigh Anne Williams

 

Council of General Synod chaplain Sister Elizabeth Rolfe-Thomas records the thoughts of those sitting at her table about what has been achieved and what challenges remain in relation to the aspirations outlined in Vision 2019.   Photo: Jesse Dymond/General Synod


Accompanying a written report about his work and travels recently, Archbishop Fred Hiltz, primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, used his address to the Council of General Synod (CoGS) to focus attention on where the church is at in relation to the priorities and goals outlined in Vision 2019.

Vision 2019, Hiltz said, was not intended to be a strategic plan, but a guiding document that would direct planning, programming and any organizational restructuring over the nine years from 2010 to 2019. Seven priorities were identified—developing leadership education, supporting ministry through Council of the North, walking with indigenous peoples on a journey of healing, working toward peace and justice, engaging young people, enlivening worship and being leaders in the Anglican Communion and ecumenical actions.

Now, mid-way through the nine-year stretch, Hiltz suggested was a good time to begin assessing where the church is with its commitments to those priorities. He highlighted accomplishments to celebrate and challenges remaining in each priority area and asked for input from CoGS members as well.

In terms of leadership education, Hiltz mentioned that diocesan schools for ministry are “popping up all over our church,” noting that the House of Bishops is keen to discuss the “standards that are drawing and holding all the schools together, notwithstanding the very different kinds of needs that they are trying to respond to.”

Looking at the church’s efforts to walk with indigenous people, Hiltz mentioned that there was a strong Anglican presence at all the national events for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Since 1992, he said, there have been 555 projects and $5.9 million for gifts around healing and reconciliation in 27 of 30 dioceses. “[Anglican Healing Foundation co-ordinator] Esther Wesley has said that healing is happening. It doesn’t mean it’s happening everywhere, but it is happening.” Hiltz highlighted Bishop Lydia Mamakwa’s consecration, the creation of Mishamikoweesh as the first indigenous diocese and developments in Saskatchewan with diocesan indigenous bishop Adam Halkett as steps toward self-determination for indigenous Anglicans.

“Of course, there are some other issues that clearly remain big on our horizon, issues around non-stipendiary ministry in indigenous communities…We are only scratching the surface in terms of urban ministries for indigenous peoples,” he said, adding that the issue of violence against aboriginal women must be addressed.

Hiltz said bridge-building and relationships are central to his own ministry. “We struggle together, we pray together, we laugh together, sometimes we argue, but we’re in this together. We are one body.”

After some discussion, CoGS members added their thoughts. Several groups said that the primate’s list of achievements was quite thorough and so they focused more on challenges that remain. They include finding ways to raise up new leaders, ministering in the North and in very small rural parishes, encouraging Anglicans to be more generous in their donations to the church, decolonization, expanding ecumenical relationships and addressing the global environmental challenge.

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Anglican Journal News, November 18, 2014

Let’s talk about death

Posted on: November 17th, 2014 by CEP Administrator No Comments
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By Marites N. Sison 

 

Why is death shrouded in so much silence and fear when it used to be something so real and natural?


(This editorial first appeared in the November issue of the Anglican Journal.)

We are, on a daily basis, confronted with images of death: we see it in the news and on social media, on TV shows, movies and video games. We routinely hear about life-threatening diseases, mass shootings, massacres and disasters, and we witness public displays of grief and despair even from faraway places. There’s no escaping the shadow of the Grim Reaper—it is streamed 24/7 on just about every device imaginable these days.

And yet, for all its ubiquity and inevitability, most of us avoid talking about death, especially when it involves ourselves, and our loved ones. The Christian faith offers a message of hope about living well and dying well, but it is missing in the public sphere.

Only about 15 per cent of Canadians have discussed end-of-life care and funeral wishes, according to the Canadian Medical Association (CMA).

Why is death shrouded in so much silence and fear when it used to be something so real and natural? In the years 1900 to 1950, most Canadians died at home; the community assisted the family in attending to the dying and participated in rituals rooted in one’s cultural and religious background, according to Death, Dying and Canadian Families, a study by The Vanier Institute of Family.

Things shifted during the postwar years, when both birth and death took place largely in hospitals. Death came to be seen as a medical failure, notes the study, and “once all curative measures had failed, the dying person in the hospital was often left alone, their care left to nurses who were neither trained nor equipped to care for the dying.” Death became an individual and family affair  that often excluded children. Today, nearly 70 per cent of Canadians die in hospitals.

Change may be afoot. Death and dying are hitting closer to home. The population is aging, but life expectancy is also rising. By 2041, seniors will comprise nearly a quarter of the Canadian population, compared to 14.8 per cent today.

Quebec’s approval in June of medical aid-in-dying legislation, recent high-profile suicides of terminally ill patients and the Supreme Court of Canada’s review of existing laws prohibiting medically assisted death have forced Canadians to confront their own views about ending one’s life. It has also raised awareness about the need for palliative care. The CMA has called for a national strategy to provide compassionate care for the dying, noting from a national consultation it held recently that “Canadians want good access to palliative care, they don’t want to die alone, and they don’t want to be a burden to their family and caregivers.” The sad reality, however, is that access to palliative care varies depending on where people reside in Canada and what they can afford.

Given these developments, the Anglican Church of Canada’s faith, worship and ministry committee has created a task force to revisit end-of-life issues. (See p. 1.)

It is a necessary move. If clergy and lay ministers are to share the journey with people as they go through life and death, they must be equipped with theological, ethical and pastoral resources that are appropriate to their local contexts.

Whether one is a believer, seeker or non-believer, there will come a time—and that may be now for some—when questions about what it means to die and how, to the extent possible, one can prepare for it will be increasingly asked and the church should be there to support people. “Death cafés,” where folks drink tea, eat cake and discuss death, have sprung up across Canada, indicating a hunger for meaningful talks about mortality.

The church can help reduce the fear of dying, but it can also help increase knowledge about palliative care. Care in Dying, a report produced by a task force of the faith, worship and ministry committee, notes that along with other Christian communities, the church has had “a long history of providing many forms of health care, healing and support of the suffering and dying.” Churches have actively supported the development of palliative care facilities and practices, including pain management. “It is through these communities that we bear witness to the possibility that life can have dignity and meaning even in the context of the realities of pain, suffering and death,” said the report, available HERE.

EMAIL: editor@national.anglican.ca

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Anglican Journal News, November 17, 2014

Living in a post-denominational reality

Posted on: November 13th, 2014 by CEP Administrator No Comments
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By Wayne Holst

 

 

I would like to thank the Anglican Journal editor for giving me the opportunity to write this monthly column and for the latitude she is allowing me in terms of title, theme and content. I hope to provide some helpful “insights” to you, my readers. I would also like to tell a little about myself in this first submission.

For 50 years I have been involved professionally in the church as a seminarian, pastor and teacher. Hopefully, with that experience, I’ve learned some from my mistakes. As my theme indicates, I am a “post-denominational” person living in a secularized Canadian environment. At the same time, I have remained faithful to the institutional church, at least so far as being active in a local congregation since my baptism as an infant.

Like some of you, I was raised in a warm, supportive Christian community. I grew up in southern Ontario as an Evangelical Lutheran. (I use that term to distinguish it from the more conservative forms of Lutheranism out there, and also to affirm that church’s growing relationship with Anglicans.)

During my student years I was fortunate to meet several Anglicans who helped me in ways my own denomination at the time seemed unable to do. I will always be grateful for those early personal and vocational experiences.

Ecumenical associations have been key to my outlook and my remaining in the church.

For half my active years as a church person I was an ordained pastor who sought to be a worthy representative of the tradition that shaped my spirituality. With 50 years of that formation, it would be quite unlikely that I could ever be other than a “Lutheran.”

Yet, to my great surprise, I have spent 25 of probably the most creative and fulfilling years of my life (thus far) in a different place than I started. As much as I feared and resisted it, the time came to move on and I have been an active lay member of an Anglican and a United church in Calgary ever since. I have been able to “transfer” my developing skills as a teacher within and beyond the church to the university. I have never been more vocationally at peace than I am today.

Like at least some of you, I am a post-denominational Canadian Christian. A good thing about that is that I have never had to give up anything important about who I am. I am a satisfied lay member of a local congregation that seems to value my contributions. I have never rejected the original ordination that was happily restored to me by the church of my birth at a crucial time of transition in my life.

I believe there are many variations to my story reflected in the lives of countless other Canadians in churches today. Think about your own life, or the lives of people close to you. Quite possibly, this will confirm what I suggest is a post-denominational reality. __________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Anglican Journal News, November 5, 2014

Commission reviews opinions on same-sex marriage

Posted on: November 12th, 2014 by CEP Administrator No Comments
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By Leigh Anne Williams  

Canon (lay) Robert Falby, chair of the Commission on the Marriage Canon: “I am pleased that so many people, both lay and cleric, made the effort to make a submission.” Photo: Art Babych


When the deadline for making submissions to the Commission on the Marriage Canon passed at the end of September, 222 individual Anglicans, two dioceses, seven parishes, one theological college, one ecumenical partner and several Anglican organizations had shared their views about the possibility of altering the marriage canon to allow for same-sex marriages.

“I think it is fair to say that the views expressed in the submissions reflect the diversity of opinion within the church as to whether or not the marriage canon should be amended,” commission chair Canon Robert Falby told the Anglican Journal. “I’m pleased that so many people, both lay and cleric, made the effort to make a submission.”

The Anglican Church of Canada began considering the question of changing the canons or church laws governing marriage after a resolution passed at the last meeting of its General Synod—the church’s governing body—in July 2013. Resolution C003 asked the Council of General Synod (CoGS)—which governs the church  between the triennial meetings of General Synod—to prepare and present a motion to change the church’s Canon 21 on marriage “to allow the marriage of same-sex couples in the same way as opposite-sex couples.” It also asked that this motion include “a conscience clause so that no member of the clergy, bishop, congregation or diocese should be constrained to participate in or authorize such marriages against the dictates of their conscience.”

The resolution also sought a broad consultation about the preparation of the motion. At its fall 2013 meeting, CoGS passed a motion to establish the commission to carry out the consultation; the commission then invited Anglicans across the country to express their views on the resolution.

Falby said members of the commission are reviewing and studying the submissions as they prepare to deliver a status report to the Council of General Synod at its Nov. 13 to 16 meeting.

He encouraged all Anglicans to read the submissions, which were received between April 28 and Sept. 30, 2014, and posted on the website of the Anglican Church of Canada. “The decision is really up to the people who are delegates to General Synod in 2016,” he said. “It’s not an issue the marriage commission decides, and people need to understand what the members of the church have to say on the issue.”

Individual parishioners from 24 of the 30 dioceses across the country expressed their views, which spanned the spectrum of opinion on the matter. Responses from several parishes varied in forms that ranged from a one-page poll with each parishioner listing his or her signature as for or against the resolution, to lengthy statements that were subject to straw votes and approval by parish councils. One parish supplemented its written submission with additional reflections posted in a YouTube video. Anglican groups that submitted included the Prayer Book Society of Canada, Anglican Communion Alliance, Gracious Restraint Bishops and Integrity Canada. The commission also asked for three submissions from experts who have specialized knowledge of particular aspects of the issue.

Archdeacon Alan Perry, who has his master’s degree in canon law from Cardiff University, and Bishop Stephen Andrews of the diocese of Algoma, who is a theologian, both considered the question of whether the resolution proposed would contravene the Solemn Declaration, a document adopted by General Synod at its first meeting in 1893 and that forms part of the constitutional framework for the Anglican Church of Canada.

Lawyers at the firm of Hicks Morley offered a legal opinion on whether a provision in an amended marriage canon—which would allow clerics to refuse to participate in or authorize marriages that are contrary to their religious beliefs—would be susceptible to a challenge under Canadian constitutional law, the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Susan Johnson, national bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC), shared her church’s experience in handling the debate over, and decision in 2011, to allow ministers to preside at or bless same-sex marriages according to the dictates of their consciences. She gave her assurances that the ELCIC, which has been in full communion with the Anglican Church of Canada since 2001, will respect whatever decisions General Synod makes on the matter.

The commission, meeting just prior to the Nov. 13 to 16 meeting of CoGS, will receive some submissions from the Anglican Council of Indigenous Peoples, who were invited specifically to address the issue.

Falby said the work ahead for the commission will then be to consider the submissions and issues such as the Solemn Declaration and biblical justification as it prepares a final report for CoGS and works toward the wording of a motion that CoGS will present to members of General Synod when they meet in Toronto in 2016.

All submissions to the commission can be read at: http://www.anglican.ca/about/ccc/cogs/cmc/submissions/. _________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Anglican  Journal News, November 7, 2014

A big red door isn’t enough

Posted on: October 28th, 2014 by CEP Administrator No Comments
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By Rhonda Waters

 

 

One Sunday morning, I stopped in at the Starbucks directly across the street from the Cathedral. The barista asked about my clerical collar. When I told him I worked at the (large neo-gothic) church visible from his workstation, he commented on how nice it was to see it open and lamented that it was usually closed.

“But it’s not,” I replied. “The Cathedral is open all day, every day, all year long.”

The Cathedral has large red doors that are swung wide open every day. The interior doors are made of glass, a deliberate choice made during a development project in the late 1980s. The glass doors ensure that, even in the winter, those on the inside can see out and those on the outside can see in. They serve as a reminder that the church lives in the world and lives for the world; they serve as evidence that what we do is not a secret, not private, not “ours.”

And yet my friendly, curious barista barely noticed our presence.

And he is not unique. I have ceased to be surprised when people tell me they didn’t know there was a church beside the Bay store on St. Catherine’s Street, probably the busiest pedestrian street in Montreal. For more than a few people, we are simply invisible, in spite of the fact that the church takes up an entire city block.

This invisibility is both a serious problem and a great opportunity. It tells us that the church has become so irrelevant in the lives of many Montrealers that they don’t even notice our existence—their eyes simply slide off even our most obvious outposts. We may be proclaiming the Good News, but we clearly aren’t doing it loudly enough to attract their attention.

On the other hand, indifference is not hostility. Some people in church land assume that we know what “the world” thinks of us. People aren’t joining churches because they think Christians are judgmental, hateful, foolish, irrational…According to this view, we have to rehabilitate our reputations before we can hope to have anyone pay us any attention. But, while this is certainly true for some people and in some contexts, my barista would suggest otherwise.

If we are invisible, we have no reputation from which to recover (or upon which to build). There is now a generation of adults whose parents were not church-goers. In my experience, many of these people are curious about what we do and who we are—once they notice we even exist. So how do we get noticed if the wide-open red doors on a city-block-worth of Cathedral don’t do the trick?

We (together as the Body of Christ and separately as its members) need to boldly-but-humbly introduce ourselves to our neighbours, offering our services and our insights where appropriate, extending invitations and accepting theirs as we share in the work for environmental and human justice and in the common joys of music, art, and community life. We need our walls to be invisible…but only our walls. Only then will the church be truly visible and the Good News of the Kingdom impossible to miss.

 

The Rev. Rhonda Water is associate priest of Christ Church Cathedral, diocese of Montreal.

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Kathryn Reklis: Jonathan Edwards and the afterlife of failure

Posted on: October 25th, 2014 by CEP Administrator No Comments
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A feminist scholar finds inspiration in Jonathan Edwards the experimenter, who had no choice but to reach for new language, new methods and new ideas to make the truth of the divine drama come alive for his age.

 

Jonathan Edwards
 

When I’m asked about my research, I rarely make it past the first five words: “I’m writing on Jonathan Edwards.”

“Wasn’t he that hellfire guy?” “The ‘Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God’ guy, right?” Or my personal favorite, “You know, he believed that children would be tortured in hell for all eternity.”

“Actually,” I am tempted to say, “he only believed that about people who made ill-formed historical judgments.”

It is hard enough to defend a man everyone remembers from high school English as an exemplar of “terror preaching.” Add to this the fact that I am a feminist historical and constructive theologian and that Edwards was a staunch defender of orthodox Calvinism and late Puritan social hierarchy, and the defense is even harder to mount.

Believe it or not, it wasn’t Edwards’s way with a hellfire metaphor that first drew me in. I was attracted to Edwards because he was perched on the edge of a world expanding faster than the ability to take the measure of it.

Caught in the crosshairs of early modern philosophy and early practices of globalization, ministering and writing on the periphery of an expanding global empire, Edwards sensed the world changing around him.

From every corner — the merchant fixing abstract prices for goods acquired and manufactured around the Atlantic world, the mariner relying on new navigational tools to speed his travel, the farmer caught in battles over decreasing communal lands and increasing claims to private property — came cries for personal, sensible experience as the surest form of knowledge.

It wasn’t just philosophers like Locke who demanded to know things for themselves. The material, the measurable and the experiential were becoming a new standard for truth. On this shifting epistemological ground, old-fashioned Calvinist theology was losing its shine.

Edwards was determined to find a way to make divine truth seem as real to his parishioners as the knowledge they got from their senses.

The truth of the world, as he saw it, was the cosmic unity of all things in God’s benevolent and self-giving being. To know oneself as graciously pulled into the interconnected web of God’s being, and held there by God’s grace, connected in love to all other beings, was the main work of salvation.

Edwards experimented with different sermon styles to find a way to awaken his parishioners to this experience of reality.

In the 1730s, he hit pay dirt. Revivals that started in his Northampton, Mass., parish began to spread around the colonies and the broader Atlantic world. The experience of divine reality was so real for people caught up in the revivals, it overwhelmed them, body and soul: people wailed, flailed, shook and fainted. They were, as Edwards began to describe it, “swallowed up in God.”

Faced with detractors who saw only irrationality and charlatanism, Edwards developed an elaborate theological system to account for revival conversion, and in so doing he became the architect of a new style of Christian experience. Today he is claimed as “the bud of the bud and the root of the root” of American (and global) evangelicalism, which is either commendation or censure, depending on one’s perspective.

That we read his life and work as so successful would come, I think, as a surprise to Edwards.

He was dismissed by his congregation after many years of acrimonious discord. He died a relatively young man, at the prime of his intellectual production, having just assumed the presidency of the fledgling College of New Jersey (later Princeton University), but having never written the “new system of divinity” he had long had in mind.

The revivals he helped to prompt, spread and defend escaped his best efforts at ecclesial and theological control and took on lives of their own in more radical evangelical and social movements.

But the more time I’ve spent with Edwards, the more I’ve wondered whether this is the portrait of Edwards most useful to us now, perched as we are, too, on the edge of the world remaking itself.

Not the lambasting terror preacher who proliferated images of impending damnation to startle his “sermon-proof” congregation into some response. Not the erudite systematizer, penning magisterial treatises on everything from “true virtue” to “original sin.”

But the experimenter who had no choice but to reach for new language, new methods and new ideas to make the truth of the divine drama come alive for his age.

Given his aristocratic manner and unswerving Calvinism, what we recognize as some of the greatest successes of the style of Christianity he helped to birth would likely be seen by him as failures — new denominations like Methodism and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), the prophetic traditions of black Christianity, and the overall emphasis on the experiential nature of Christian life. And to the degree that he could predict where some of these forces were headed, he was dismayed.

Persevering in the face of these “failures” seems, in retrospect, to be the strongest proof of his faithfulness. Even though he could not see or control the ends to which his preaching and writing would be used, he persisted in following a call to make the truth real in a new way.

In his experimentation, he engaged everything at his disposal. He sought truth from every possible source: in the new philosophy of John Locke, the new science of Isaac Newton, the shipping logs of the Atlantic trade and the gossip magazines of London coffeehouses.

There was nothing too grand or too mundane but that it could point to the more encompassing reality of God’s truth.

I take this as a personal word of encouragement to the feminist theologian lost in the thickets of Edwards’s work and context. Perhaps it is another lesson Edwards can teach our own context: even in historical and theological worlds different from our own — even in the work of that “hellfire guy” — there are truths to learn that just might fund new experiments for present-day revival.

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Leadership Education at Duke Divinity, News & Ideas, October 24, 2014

The abundant waters of faith

Posted on: October 21st, 2014 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Discussion

 

By Gretchen E. Ziegenhals

 

At the recent ecumenical gathering of pastors, professors and other institutional leaders, “A Convocation of Christian Leaders: Taking Faith Seriously,” we used a painting by Russian Jewish surrealist painter Marc Chagall as a warm-up on the first day of the event.

The painting, one of Chagall’s depictions of “Moses Striking the Rock and Bringing Forth the Water,” served to introduce us to the themes of abundance and scarcity in our own work, ways of practicing our faith, the character of the prophet, and questions around “What gives life?”

Chagall’s depiction of Moses striking the rock portrays Moses with a raised stick in front of a dramatic sun, looking down at a river of water cascading over a cliff. Chagall uses dark, thickly painted colors to portray the Israelites on either side of the water. The crowd is a somber bunch, many with outstretched arms or hands, empty cups and hollow expressions.

Chagall’s portrayal of the Israelites reflects themes from his own heritage. Born to a simple family in a village in Russia, Chagall filled his paintings with images from village life. Using surrealist techniques like impressionism and cubism, his paintings were dreamlike, imaginative and magical. While he studied art around the world, he was homesick for his village and family and, as a result, his paintings were filled with themes of Belarusian folk life, the Bible and Hassidic Judaism.

With this introduction and the image in front of us, we began by answering two questions in small groups around our tables:

  1. What do you see? Describe what is going on in the painting.
  2. Who in the painting is taking faith seriously and how?

After a few minutes to discuss these questions, we entered more deeply into the painting by answering: “Where are you in the picture? How are you showing up to our week together? If Chagall had painted you into the scene, which figure would you be and why?”

Participants responded by talking about the ways in which they instinctively thirst for living waters, without always knowing what it is they need. The painting helped them express their desire to live “in the light,” to be at times joyful about the abundance that God provides while at other times fearful that what they need might not come.

One participant resonated with the figure of a woman in the painting who simultaneously extends her empty cup while placing her hand over her heart. She at once expresses both her faith and her need for the abundant waters. Another participant noted that while the water is flowing abundantly, the crowd doesn’t seem to be noticing. Are their times when, as poet Wendell Berry says, “What we need is here” but we don’t recognize God’s gifts?

Other participants identified with Moses, the leader who, keeping his face in the light, acts on his faith by obediently striking the rock.

Perhaps Moses, like these leaders, hoped beyond hope that his seemingly impossible act of obedience would bring forth sustenance for his people, abundance out of scarcity. New Testament scholar Luke Timothy Johnson writes that the character of the prophet is one full of spirit, word, embodiment, enactment and witness. Chagall’s painting helps us see both these characteristics of a leader as well as what it might mean to take our faith seriously.

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Leadership Education at Duke Divinity,  Faith & Leadership Newsletter, October 21, 2014