Thursday, 19 July 2018

Social Justice and the Religion


Today I am tackling the last of a series of questions that were posed to me by one of my readers.  First, I want to express my appreciation for those questions.  They certainly have provided me with some very interesting material for me to write about.  More importantly they have made me engage with some rather difficult and challenging issues such as the Trinity.  Here are the questions which have been exploring in the past weeks:
Can you explain to me your grounding belief in the Trinity? I can’t explain internally the need for formal religion and rules and commitment. 
I agree that when you drill down to the bottom of all... be good treat people as you want to be treated...  try to correct wrongs when you can etc. 
Does it come down to blind faith? What drives you to continue?  Do you ever feel that your energy would better placed in just straight up social justice?
As I noted, today I am engaging with the last question, “Do you ever feel that your energy would better placed in just straight up social justice?”  My initial response to this was that these are not mutually exclusive positions.  There have been great traditions of people who engage in social justice from both religious and non-religious perspectives. You can bring a religious perspective and base your social action in religious  principles and practices.  You can also come to social action from a secular perspective.   Currently we have people such as Elizabeth May, the leader of the Green Party of Canada and ecologist and journalist Dr. David Suzuki who do not bring an openly religious component to their work.  I am not aware if their perspectives have perhaps been influenced by religious beliefs or practices but they are not the basis of their public positions.

In the modern era you have the great tradition of the Social Gospel in Canada which informed and motivated many of the leaders of the early modern movement for social justice.  It is the tradition I was raised in as my father was a United Church minister who was grounded in the Social Gospel and process theology.  This certainly informed both my political understanding and my theology.  However, I have, of course, gone a somewhat different but not entirely incompatible path since my beginnings.     

The Social Gospel Movement in Canada had leaders such as J.S. Woodsworth the founder of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) political party which was the precursor of the New Democratic Party of Canada (NDP).  Woodsworth was a Methodist minister who preached the social gospel.  This was followed by such notables as T.C. Douglas the father of universal health care in Canada.  Douglas was a Baptist minister and deeply influenced by the Social Gospel tradition.  Douglas was the first leader of the NDP which was formed out of the socialist CCF.  Also of note was Stanley Knowles, a leader in the NDP, who was a United Church of Canada minister was who was also greatly influenced by the Social Gospel movement. 

This is just a few of the examples that could be cited. They were prime examples of people who attempted and in some cases were successful in bringing social programs to Canada based on their understanding of the Christian Gospel, which is the Good News of Jesus Christ.  Going a bit further back in history you have people such as William Wilberforce, who was instrumental in the elimination of slavery in England.  Although not an ordained minister Wilberforce was greatly influenced by his Christian beliefs, “his political views were informed by his faith and by his desire to promote Christianity and Christian ethics in private and public life.” 

Given this, I believe that the question arises, is their any difference in coming to social action from a religious versus a non-religious perspective or influence? I have given this a great deal of thought over the years due to my early influences and I believe that the challenge of social justice is to base your action on being for something rather than against it.  If you are against what you see as the evils of the world you may be successful in defeating the enemy but the question that arises is, what do you replace it with.  The alternative is guiding you needs to be what you are for?  The foundation of the Christian is (or should be) Jesus Christ who commanded us to love our enemies.  We need therefore to base our actions on love and not hate.  There is no guarantee that Christians will do this.  There are perhaps endless examples of Christians doing very unchristian things.  However, at least we have the example and the hope of Jesus Christ to be our guide and our guard against the hatred which seems to easy for people to embrace. 

I recently came across a quote by Thomas Merton which addresses this:
What is the relation of [contemplation] to action? Simply this. He [or she] who attempts to act and do things for others or for the world without deepening his own self-understanding, freedom, integrity and capacity to love will not have anything to give others. He will communicate to them nothing but the contagion of his own obsessions, his aggressiveness, his ego-centered ambitions, his delusions about ends and means, his doctrinaire prejudices and ideas. There is nothing more tragic in the modern world than the misuse of power and action. . . . —Thomas Merton [1]
As difficult and seemingly impossible it is to follow the commandment to love our enemies it is what we need to guide us on our journey.

Friday, 13 July 2018

What Drives Me To Continue

The last few additions have been dedicated to responding to questions which were posed to me by a reader.  Here are the questions for your reference and consideration:
Can you explain to me your grounding belief in the Trinity? I can’t explain internally the need for formal religion and rules and commitment. 
I agree that when you drill down to the bottom of all... be good treat people as you want to be treated..  try to correct wrongs when you can etc. 
Does it come down to blind faith? What drives you to continue?  Do you ever feel that your energy would better placed in just straight up social justice?
Today I will respond to the question: “What drives you to continue?”   That is a very personal question which I am not sure I have a complete answer for as it is a work in process.   The first thing that I ask myself is, what is it that I continue?   Is it my life long involvement with the church?  Following on with that thought, is it my decision to seek ordination as a priest which I continue to be and continue to serve, albeit in a different and less active role in retirement.  Is it someone who believes that dreams are one of the many ways, indeed one of the important ways, a way that God speaks to us and who works with others in discerning their meaning?   It is as a Spiritual Director which I have come to more recently?  Is it my attempts to be a husband and father to my spouse and children as flawed as they are?
Or is it more basic than all that.  Is it to continue to explore and discover how I can be the person I believe I should be and by extension become the person that I believe God created me to be? All of those things are connected and the idea of discovering and making incomplete and flawed and halting efforts in all those ways are what drives.  It is what I come back to no matter how I try to avoid it or rationalize not following that path which apparently God has laid out for me.
Let me give one example which I am most clear about.  I first felt the call to ordained ministry in my thirties.  I had been and continue to be actively involved in the church all my life.  At that point it was in the United Church of Canada.  I entered into the discernment process and followed that for some time until circumstances convinced me it wasn’t the time to pursue that path, I told myself that it really wasn’t for me ̶ perhaps a case of sour grapes.  In any case, my journey continued in fits and starts and sometimes what seemed to involve many disastrous wrong turns and dead ends.  
After some searching I ended up in the Anglican Church as my church home.  I continued on with life and was approaching retirement from my first career as a civil servant.  I began to be drawn to take courses in theology at Huron College, out of interest of course and never with the intention that it might lead to where it eventually did.  I continued on taking courses part time categorized as a ‘Special Student” which always tickled me as I secretly thought I was special.  I retired and after a short, brilliant (just kidding) career as a “consultant” still taking courses as a Special Student, I began to fell the pull to explore the possibility of ordination on the Anglican Church.  As I have said at other times I was hoping for a “Road to Damascus Experience” to get a clear massage that this was a call I should answer.  That never came, at least not that clearly as St. Paul received his (thank God).  It was more a case of God continuing to nag me which, I have concluded is often the way God works.
In any case I decided the only way to discern if God was actually calling me to this path was begin to follow it.   This is what I did and continue to this day.  One of the signposts along the way which I like to recount (as am therefore going to here) was a case of synchronicity (a Jungian term for significant coincidence).   I applied to be a full-time student in the MDiv program (apparently no longer ‘special’) and had an interview with the Dean of Theology.  After what was a very positive interview I was driving home and had my radio tuned to CBC as usual (radio 1 for those who listen to CBC).  There was a program in which three clergy were being interviewed about their experience of being called to ministry as mature adults (at least chronologically).  I took this as a sign I as on the right path. 
A big part of what drives me to continue is to keep trying to discern where God is calling me in my life.  I try do this in as many ways as possible.  I believe that God speaks to us in many different ways.  We are all more open to some ways than other but it is for us to try and discern the voice of God however we can.

Blessings on you journey and keep your eyes and ears and all your senses attuned to the voice of God.  

Tuesday, 3 July 2018

Is Faith Blind


The last three entries of this blog I have been attempting to answer, as best I can, questions that were posed to me:
Can you explain to me your grounding belief in the Trinity? I can’t explain internally the need for formal religion and rules and commitment. 
I agree that when you drill down to the bottom of all... be good treat people as you want to be treated..  try to correct wrongs when you can etc. 
Does it come down to blind faith? What drives you to continue?  Do you ever feel that your energy would better placed in just straight up social justice?
Initially, I ventured into the landmine of the Trinity.  This was followed by a discussion of why I participate in formal religion, and thirdly, the question behind the statement that at bottom the issue is be good, treat people as you want to be treated; in effect, the Golden Rule. 

This week I will respond to the question, “does it come down to blind faith?”  The term ‘blind faith’ can have a rather pejorative connotation.  I sure that it was not meant that way knowing the person who posed the question.  However, often it is used by many people judgmentally implying, how can anyone be so stupid to live their life based on blind faith when it flies in the face of the evidence facing them in that face.  What comes to mind for me when I consider the type of blind faith that will illicit this type of question is people who belong to the flat earth society or that believe that the ̶̶moon landing was staged or that dinosaurs (at least baby ones) were present on the Ark.  I do believe that blind faith in that sense can lead us to places that God doesn’t intent us to be. 

Faith can be more positive if it is not used it in that way.  I recently listened to an episode of Tapestry on CBC radio in which the wonderful host Mary Hynes interviewed physicist David Deutsch.  He revealed in the interview that he has no doubt that science will come up with the answer to the mystery of human consciousness and be able to replicate it in Artificial General Intelligence i.e. robots.  That is absolutely a faith which is based on a belief in the science rather than belief in a divine being.  However, it is positive in that it has led Mr. Deutsch to strive to explore the mysteries of life through the scientific method. 

Human beings are endowed with reason and intellect and I cannot believe that God did not intend us to inquire about God’s creation and, as a result, to develop an understanding of God’s intention for us and all of creation.  That is one of the aspects of Anglicanism that attracts me.  The three pillars of Anglicanism are scripture, tradition and reason.  Following this, I believe that scripture in inspired, but not dictated, by God.  Tradition allows us to follow the time-tested practice of the church but also allows us to consider and develop new traditions.  Finally, reason allows us to use our intelligence, and hopefully our wisdom, to question and perhaps even find answers, to some of the questions which arise regarding how we can live lives that are faithful to God in a world which is changing and often challenges our religious beliefs and practices.

That is the what and the where of it for me and faith.   I know (have faith) that all there is, the earth, the stars and the moons and other dimensions we don’t know about are created by God.  I am a creature of God’s creating and I owe all that I am to God.  I have a duty to try and live my life in an effort to become who I continue to discover God created me to be.  I try and know that I will never fully succeed but I know that is okay with God. 

While I was writing this, I was listening to music on my computer as I have a wont to do.  The song that came up was “You’ve Got me Singing” by Leonard Cohen ̶ St. Lennie as he is in my mind as he is the Lord of song.  The song captures the meaning of faith in my life far better than I can: 


You got me singing
Even tho’ the news is bad
You got me singing
The only song I ever had
You got me singing
Ever since the river died
You got me thinking
Of the places we could hide

You got me singing
Even though the world is gone
You got me thinking
I’d like to carry on
You got me singing
Even tho’ it all looks grim
You got me singing
The Hallelujah hymn

You got me singing
Like a prisoner in a jail
You got me singing
Like my pardon’s in the mail
You got me wishing
Our little love would last
You got me thinking
Like those people of the past

You got me singing
Even though the world is gone
You got me thinking
I’d like to carry on
You got me singing
Even tho’ it all went wrong
You got me singing
The Hallelujah song

I hope that you will keep on singing on your journey,

Wednesday, 27 June 2018

Is the Golden Rule Enough?


In the last two editions of my blog I have been attempting to answer, as best I can, the questions posed to me:
Can you explain to me your grounding belief in the Trinity? I can’t explain internally the need for formal religion and rules and commitment. 
I agree that when you drill down to the bottom of all... be good treat people as you want to be treated..  try to correct wrongs when you can etc. 
Does it come down to blind faith? What drives you to continue?  Do you ever feel that your energy would better placed in just straight up social justice?
Two weeks ago, I ventured into the landmine of the Trinity and last week, I why I participate in formal religion.  This week I will delve into the statement (rather than question) that at bottom the issue is be good, treat people as you want to be treated.  We are, of course, talking about the Golden Rule which, can be considered a foundational rule of Christianity.  Some references from the New Testament include, Luke 6: 12,” Do to others what you would want them to do to you” and Matthew 7:12, “Do to others what you want them to do to you. This is the meaning of the law of Moses and the teaching of the prophets.”   Jesus is putting these statements forward to those listening as rules if not commandments. 

However, as indicated in the passage form Matthew, it did not originate with Jesus.  Indeed, a quick check on the internet reveals that this rule can be considered a universal one.  There are references from many different religious traditions: Ancient Egypt, ancient India including, Buddhism and Hinduism, ancient Greece, Persia and Rome, Jainism and Sikhism.  This list is far from exhaustive, but I believe I have made my point.
This is a rule which is therefor something which can take you a long way in life morally and spiritually if you endeavour to follow it.  It is, as I have noted, foundational to Christianity.  So why not give up all the other rules, regulations, doctrines, practices, creeds and other aspects of Christianity which can be challenging and frustrating as well as enlivening and fulfilling and sometimes even fun; just follow the Golden rule?  Good question if I do say so myself.

The Golden Rule is foundational, but it is not “The” foundation.  Jesus calls us beyond that to the even more difficult challenge to love.  This is even more foundational; love your neighbour as yourself regardless of who your neighbour is, even the despised Samaritans in our lives.  Bottom line, we are to love our enemies. 

Here’s is where the rubber truly hits the road.  We might be able to convince ourselves that we are able to follow the Golden Rule.  However, I don’t know about you, but I know there is no way that I can love my enemies at least without a lot of help from God knows where.  That help is in and from Jesus. 

Now we come to what is the true foundation of Christianity in my view.  Jesus makes it possible that when, not if but when, we fail to love our neighbours/enemies we can turn to Jesus and ask for forgiveness and we are assured that we will be forgiven.  Jesus showed us that on the cross: “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.”  I believe that even those who crucified Jesus were therefore forgiven.  Perhaps like the soldier at the foot of the cross they had to recognize Jesus as the Son of God but perhaps not.
So, by all means, if you believe that following the Golden Rule is enough for your rule of life absolutely follow it.  However, when you aren’t able to always treat others as you would have them treat you I hope you will consider the true forgiveness that is possible, not easy but possible, that comes from following Jesus Christ.ght 
Blessings on your journey. 


Last week I began to answer the questions posed by one of readers in response to one missives Here are the questions:
Can you explain to me your grounding belief in the Trinity? I can’t explain internally the need for formal religion and rules and commitment. 
I agree that when you drill down to the bottom of all... be good treat people as you want to be treated..  try to correct wrongs when you can etc. 
Does it come down to blind faith? What drives you to continue?  Do you ever feel that your energy would better placed in just straight up social justice?
Last week I tacked the issue of my lived experience of the Trinity.  This week I will respond as best I can to the comment on the need for formal religion. 

Often people will reject the formal structure of religious organizations.  There is much to criticize and reject in the actions of religious leaders and organizations.  Things have been done and, I daresay, continue to be done which, in my view, are not what Jesus had in mind when he taught and healed and was crucified because of who he was and how he lived. 

Many people will say that they are spiritual rather than religious.  There is much to commend being spiritual.  Indeed, I work as a spiritual director and encourage people to explore and deepen their spiritual lives.  However, I believe that unless we live out our lives within the larger context of a community of faith it is very difficult to have a structure in our lived which provides the means of keeping me on the course which God has prepared for me.  Richard Rohr, one of my go to guys in these matters addresses this, “Our Western culture leans toward self-sufficiency and independence, and we often need to be reminded that we are part of a greater whole, that we are not alone in our longings and efforts for peace, justice, and healing. This is one of the great gifts of what we usually mean by “church”—a gathering of people in solidarity of purpose, praying and seeking God’s presence together.”  (Daily Meditation September 20, 2014)

Being part of a religious community does not mean that you will not take a wrong turn and go off course.  That is guaranteed to happen just as it happens to the organization.  However, being part of a community provides the opportunity to get back on course and try again.  Indeed, it is very foundation of the practice of religious worship that provides the regular opportunity to acknowledge where you have gone astray and missed the mark i.e. sinned, to repent and ask forgiveness.  We have the assurance by our doctrine that when we do this we will be forgiven.  Again, there is no guarantee that people will seek forgiveness in their heart of hearts, but the possibility is given to us through the grace of God.

Jesus Christ has promised that where two or three (or more) are gathered in his name he will be with them, “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them." (Matthew 18:20).  Again, there is no guarantee that those gathered will make an effort to understand what Jesus is directing them to do, but that is what we are called to do.  Religious organizations are comprised of fallible, imperfect, flawed human beings.  However, Jesus, being fully human as well as fully divine, knew that very well and understood that we would make mistakes and go astray.  However, despite this he calls us to be together.

Blessings on your journey will all its mistakes and missteps  




Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Trinity Explained, A Halting Effort


I did not send out an edition of News and Views last week as Lorna and I were travelling to our cottage in P.E.I.—the Island province of Canada for readers who are not Canadian.  One American friend wished me” a good summer on the lake” when I told him I was going to our cottage on Prince Edward Island. 

I had a response to my most recent News and Views on the Trinity which posed some very interesting and challenging questions.  I thought I would use this venue to respond. 
Here are the questions:
Can you explain to me your grounding belief in the Trinity? I can’t explain internally the need for formal religion and rules and commitment. 
I agree that when you drill down to the bottom of all... be good treat people as you want to be treated..  try to correct wrongs when you can etc. 
Does it come down to blind faith? What drives you to continue?  Do you ever feel that your energy would better placed in just straight up social justice?
On reflection, I don’t think it would be wise to try and tackle all of them this week.  That would take more space than I try and allot for these epistles.  So, will spend the next few weeks responding to them.  Today I will try and tackle the question of my Trinitarian belief—the saying about fools rushing in does come to mind, but here goes.

At this point in my life I can say without reservation that I am Trinitarian in my belief.  I haven’t always been able to say that.  However, it has been an evolving belief and understanding in my life.  For me each “Person” or aspect of the Trinity is the best expression I know of the nature of God/the divine.  All parts of the Trinity are necessary for my understanding and experience of God.  I am able to see God as creator in the world in which I live and the infinite universe which this world, and by implication I am a part.  I believe that this world does have a creator—it could not have happened by mere chance given the complexity and richness and manifold nature of the universe.  This is, admittedly, a matter of faith which I will explore in future musings.  It is also essential to me to be aware that I am a creature, being created by God.  I have been given gifts which make me who I am, a person of strengths and weaknesses but also a unique expression of God creation.  However, I also am aware, at least some of the time, that every human’s being is inherently worthy of respect.  I do not by any measure succeed in that all the time or even most of the time which brings me to the second Person of the Trinity; Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God the Father; fully human and fully divine.  This is the part of the Trinity which has been the greatest challenge for me over the years.  I could always appreciate Jesus as a great teacher and all-round good guy.  I might have also believed he could have performed some miracles if they could be explained rationally or scientifically such as the feeding of the 5000 when everyone brought out the bag lunch they had hidden under their cloaks.  However, I have come to believe, as it is a pure case of belief, that Jesus was the example of God expressed as fully as possible in a human person.  Everything else follows from that, miracles and healings including the big one—the resurrection. 

Perhaps the most important aspect of the revelation of the divine in Jesus is how Jesus is the perfect example of the ego in the correct relationship to God i.e. serving God rather than what seems to be part of our nature of trying to make God serve the ego.  However, it is Jesus who makes forgiveness possible for me—possible but not easy.  Jesus sacrificed himself and showed us it is possible to forgive our enemies and to be forgiven.  Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. 
Finally, the Third Person; the Holy Spirit.  As I mentioned previously, this is my favourite part of the Trinity.  It is the one I have the most direct experience with and of.  The Holy Spirit is the thing that moves and shapes me on a daily basis, when I pay attention to it, and even when I do not.  It brings dreams which are a revelation from God about my relationship to God and who God created me to be.   It is with me every moment of my life, waking and sleeping and is my guide and source of the divine.  However, I wish it was more predictable and easier to understand at times.

I will stop there for today.  I could say much more about the Trinity and that would only be a pin prick of what is possible to know.  Beyond that, what is important to know is that it is at bottom and top, inside and out a mystery.  And ultimately it is best to ‘let the mystery be’ to quote one of my favourite songs. 

I want to thanks the person who responded with these questions.  They lead me to places I might not otherwise explore at this moment. 

Blessings on your journey. 

Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Thoughts on the Trinity



Yesterday was Trinity Sunday in the Anglican church calendar.  It is the day in the church year in which we celebrate the three-fold nature of God.  It might be tempting for a non-Christian to ponder if Christians claim to be monotheists why do they worship three Gods?    There is no simple answer to that―at least one that I am aware of.  However, I am a full-blown Trinitarian and have no problem (at least on my better days) believing in the three-fold God of the creeds; God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit or as some parts of the Christian church has updated it; Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier.

That being said, I must confess that I am partial to the third person of that Trinity; the Holy Spirt.  I have said elsewhere, perhaps a bit irreligiously, that the Holy Spirit is the Rodney Dangerfield of the Trinity, ‘it don’t get no respect’.  God the Father and God the Son usually get more attention and honour in the church, at least the part I am familiar with, except for special occasions such as Pentecost.  Considering it was an integral part at the beginning of things; “1In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, 2the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.” (Genesis 1: 1-2).  The Holy Spirit was the responsible for the incarnation, “The angel said to her, ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God.” (Luke 1:35).  We are also told about its nature in John’s Gospel that the Holy spirit is unpredictable, “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So, it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8)

I believe that it is this characteristic of the Holy Spirit, the unpredictable and uncontrollable nature, that has determined its lowlier estate in much of organized religion.  The Holy Spirit blows where it chooses and is not constrained by the church hierarchy.  Try as they might, and they have, the clergy cannot control the Holy Spirit and more than anyone else is able to.  To my mind, the main characteristic of the Holy Spirit is that it inspires.  The way it inspires which I am particularly thankful for is in our dreams which are aptly called, God’s Forgotten Language.

However, there is much which can be challenging and frustrating with the Holy Spirit.  It never, as far as I know, operates on command.  We may wish that we could call upon it when and where it is needed but it is beyond our control.  This desire has been called elsewhere ‘God the Butler’, a God who can be called up from the servant’s quarters when it is convenient and desirable. 

Now I don’t want to leave you with the impression that I don’t believe in the importance of the other two Persons of the Trinity.  God the Creator has created and continues to create and I have been redeemed by the sacrifice of God the Son.  All three are important and necessary to my life.  But as with our children it may not be politic to have a favourite but it is human.

The question I will leave you with, at least your Christians, is, which Person of the Trinity do you pray to when you pray?  

Blessings on your journey.