Tuesday, 20 June 2017

The Evolution of God

Lorna and I have arrived at our cottage in P.E.I. and have settled in, hopefully for the summer.  It is a beautiful early summer day so I will have to think about actually getting out to enjoy the beauties of this corner of God’s world—which I don’t do often enough.  We had a relatively uneventful trip and were able t visit some friends on the way and almost visited a few more; unfortunately a miss communication prevented it. 

It is rather an adjustment getting to a different place and settling in for a while.  Lorna and I seem to have two somewhat different lives—one in Parkhill and one in P.E.I.   There are different church communities in each place as well as different residences.  We have different neighbours and different routines.  However, despite these differences there are many aspects of both lives that are similar.  I am still writing my News and Views on Monday morning and Lorna is out gardening—although she does a lot more of that here than in Parkhill.  She just popped in to the bunkie which is my retreat to say hello.  It says a lot that I need a retreat from the cottage.  But it is nice to have my space—don’t even suggest I should call it a “man cave”.  It is completely different. 

One question which comes to mind this morning arises from these similarities and differences.  IS there a different God in each of these places?  On one level the obvious answer is, “Of course not”.  However, we have different worship services here—we use exclusively the Book of Common Prayer with the traditional liturgy and music.  But that is really no indicator.  I think that the environment—in the broadest sense does influence how we perceive God and the image that we have of God. 
I am currently reading A New Kind of Christianity by Brian McLaren.  He was one of the presenters at the Haden Dream and Spirituality Conference which I attended before coming to the cottage.  He presents some very thoughtful ideas about how to understand the bible.  I think they are very good ideas but then they articulate much of how I think about the bible. 

McLaren proposes that we should look at the bible as a story of God’s people which had an evolving and maturing understanding of God, “I begin to see how our ancestors’ image and understanding of God continually changed, evolved, and matured over the centuries.  God, it seemed, kept initiating this evolution” (99).  He compares the danger of freezing our understanding of God as presented in printed word i.e. books, texts and concepts with the idea of freezing our concept of God in graven images.  Books houses in seminaries, images and books but our understanding of God cannot be frozen and stop at that. 

It makes sense to me that if God intended that nature should evolve, which I believe is God’s intention, that our understanding of God will also evolve as we have evolved.  God’ revelation did not stop at the book of Revelation.  The human race along with all of God’s creation can continue to reveal what God’s intention for us is; unless we destroy ourselves in our hubris.
In closing I would hope that you will keep yourself open to what God is revealing to you of God’s intention for you. 

Blessings on your journey.  

Monday, 5 June 2017

The Inner Pharisee

Last week I was “conferring”,  I was at the Haden Institute, Dream and Spirituality Conference in Hendersonville North Carolina.  I was a tad worried about crossing the border into Trumpland.  Ironically, I had the easiest border crossing I have ever had.  There was only one car ahead of me in the line at the booth and the border guard just asked me what I was going to do in Hendersonville N.C. When I responded I was going to a Conference, he asked what I would be “conferring about”.  I advised “dreams and spirituality” he gave we a funny look (as usually happens), and sent me on my way.

Lorna and I have gone to this conference for many years.  Lorna couldn’t go this year because she had a family wedding to go to in Ottawa.  I had already committed to lead dream groups and a workshop so I  miss the event.  The workshop was entitled The Ego, The Bible, and the Spiritual Journey.  It is based on my book The Ego and the Bible which explores the role of the ego in many of the bible stories   (I would be pleased to give you information about the workshop or the book).  However, enough about the commercial.

In addition to the annual conference, the Haden Institute trains people to lead dream groups and to be spiritual directors.  I have graduated form both programs and find leading dream groups and being a spiritual director to be a very rewarding ministry.   In the approach dreams are considered God’s Forgotten Language; God speaks to us in our dreams but we have forgotten how to listen and understand the language of God in our dreams.  This is true of many ways in which God speaks to us.  My approach to spiritual direction is to help Directees understand how God is speaking to them and how to respond and deepen their relationship with God.

To give you an example God speaking to me in a dream, I awoke one mooring at the Conference and I remembered a phrase that was presented to me in a dream; “policies known and unknown”.  That was all I remembered; it may have been part of a larger dream but I didn’t remember anything else. It was an interesting message but it really caught my attention later at the Eucharist that morning (each day started with a worship service at the beautiful outdoor chapel at the Kanuga Conference Center).  The Rt. Rev. Larry Maze, retired Bishop of Arkansas was presiding and preaching. 

The Gospel for the day was John 9: 1-8; this is the story of Jesus healing the man born blind.  The Pharisees were critical of Jesus doing the miracle because it was on the Sabbath and Jesus broke the Holiness code by working on the Sabbath.  In the sermon (I am paraphrasing here and Larry was much more eloquent) Larry noted that the Pharisees were concerned with maintaining the Holiness Code because it had worked well for the Jewish people.  It had enables them to survive and continue as God’s chosen people for a long time under trying circumstances.  Some people had to suffer because of the code but it was for the greater good and was from God.  However, the Pharisees had allowed the Holiness Code to become an idol and they wanted the Jews to serve the idol rather than God. 

As Larry noted we all have rules which we learned while we were growing up.  They were necessary as we were growing up to help us and to protect us.  We know many of these rules but others are often not in our awareness.  We all have an inner Pharisee who wants us to obey these rules and keep us on the straight and narrow path.  However, for the inner Pharisee these rules are God.  Some of these rules will prevent or hinder us for living life fully as God intends.  They can prevent us from being and becoming the people that God intends us to be.  The message I received in my dream was to explore the “policies known and unknown” in my life which are preventing me from being the person God intends me to be. 

After much work reflection and trial and error and mistakes false starts I have explored many of the rules and regulations and policies which my inner Pharisee want desperately for me to follow.  The dream image is confirming I still have work to do to discover those unknown policies.  I invite you to reflect on what are the policies that your inner Pharisee holds are a god if not God.  

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

What is an Apostle Any Way?

A few days ago, I finished reading Miracles, By C.S. Lewis.  I should say re-reading but it was as if I was reading it for the first time (wish I had the kind of memory that would retain more of what I read the first time).  This is the best exploration of the phenomenon and theological implications of miracles that I know of.  It was recommended by a professor when I was studying theology at Huron University College.  I would recommend it to anyone struggling with the concept of miracles, biblical or otherwise.

In the opening sentence of the chapter, Miracles in the New Creation, Lewis declares, “In the earliest days of Christianity an ‘apostle’ was first and foremost a man who claimed to be an eyewitness of the Resurrection.”  This reactivated a memory from some years ago when I was challenged on this definition.  I was at one of the intensives (residential session) for my training as a Dream Group Facilitator with the Haden Institute.  Someone asked me how I would define an apostle.  Apparently, someone in their group had a dream about being an apostle.  I defined it the way that Lewis was speaking of it i.e. someone who had seen the risen Christ.  The person did not like this definition as it did not fit with her understanding.  She referred me to passages in the Gospels which referred to the disciples as Apostles which was prior to the crucifixion.   Unfortunately, I had not thought much about this definition and was not able to support this definition in what I considered a satisfactory way. 

As Lewis notes, when two candidates where proposed to fill the vacancy in the inner circle of disciples created by the betrayal and death of the Judas their qualification was that they had known Jesus before and after his crucifixion and could offer first-hand evidence of the Resurrection in spreading the Good News of Christ resurrected i.e. the Gospel, to the world.  St. Paul claimed to be an apostle on this basis, “Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen the Lord Jesus?” 

I had been introduced to this concept but, as I note, I was not able to give an apology for that position, at least to my satisfaction.  This bothered me for some time afterwards.  This was actually because my ego was wounded and I felt inadequate.  Here I was a priest (fairly newly minted) but did not have a good grasp on what was a basic concept in Christians theology.  In effect, I did not look on this encounter as the opportunity it was to engage the person more fully and to explore where they were coming from.  My ego got in the way of an opportunity to engage life and people more fully which is what we are called to do as Christian.   What was most important to me was proving myself right and the other person wrong.

I believe that the ego is the one of God’s greatest gift to humanity.  It can be considered part of how we are created in God’s image.   It is a blessing; however, it can also be a curse.  The ego, in its normal state will believe that it is charge; that it is the center of life.  It does not surrender that position of self-deluded primacy easily.  It is usually a long journey for the ego to reached its proper place which is being in service to God rather than believing that God should serve it.  However, that is what we are called to be and do as Christiansin service to God and God’s creation. Perhaps that could be a working definition of apostle, one who is in the service of God in the world.  Thanks be to God. 

Blessing on your journey.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

A Creed? What is the Athanasian Creed Anyway?

In last week’s News and Views, I mentioned the Athanasian Creed, which, along with the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds, is one of the Creeds of the Christian Church.  I noted that it was my favourite Creed. A couple of people queried me about it as they were not familiar with it.  This is not surprizing as it has been more honoured in the neglect that the observance in the modern churchat least in the Anglican Church in this part of the world.

As I result, I was inspired to write something about it this week.  The Book of Alternative Services, which is the prayer book used almost exclusively in the Anglican Church today (we still officially recognize the Book of Common Prayer but it is dying of neglect but that too is another story), has only the Nicene Creed and the Apostles’ Creed in the worship liturgy.  The Book of Common Prayer, which is the traditional prayer book, includes the Athanasian Creed as an alternative.  I don’t know to what extent it was used in the past, not being raised an Anglican.  However, it is in the back of the prayer books and probably was not used to any great extent. 

With that background, let’s explore the Athanasian Creed a little.  Given its length, I have reproduced it at the end of this missive for reference.  I found this version of the website of the Anglican Church of Canada which notes, “It is included in the Book of Common Prayer, but is used very rarely in current Anglican Church of Canada liturgies”.

 I have been favourably disposed to this for a couple of reasons which are perhaps theoretical and theological rather than practical.  Indeed, I have never experienced the Creed in worship.  First, article 35 states,” One, however, not by conversion of Godhead into flesh, / but by taking of Manhood into God.”    This for me, is an affirmation and a redemption of matter and of the human body which overcomes the split between the divine and matter which developed out of Augustinian theology.  I am not equipped to get into the fine points of this but the church has had what can only be described as a less than positive view of human sexuality and the body in general focusing on its sinfulness.  It also has had a less than positive view of women which I believe, was due, in part, to the negative attitude to matter as fallen and sinful.  There were and are cultural influences as well cannot be denied.  The Athanasian Creed holds that the incarnation redeemed humanity in all its material form and being.

The second reason for my positive view of the Athanasian Creed (which was probably not written by St. Athanasius) was articulated by Madeleine L’Engle in her introduction to The Mind of the Maker by Dorothy Sayers.  This book is a wonderful exploration of creativity and the Creator.  L’Engle writes that the work of Sayer notes the incomprehensible nature of the three in One and One in Three of the Trinity.  However, she states that, “The Athanasian Creed is probably the most satisfactory of the creed, with its open admission that trying to define the undefinable is like writing on water, and no more translatable than the words Jesus wrote in the dust” (xxii). 
If you look at the Creed you will see that it goes back and forth and up and down in its affirmation that the Three are one and the One is Three and just what it is so get over your need to define this in a logical way.

For me this is an absolutely critical point in trying to explore God.  I spoke in my sermon yesterday about the necessity of using poetry and image to speak of God rather than trying to use logical, scientific, fact driven language to define the undefinable.  “In my Father’s house are many mansions.” Of the King James Version is so much more evocative than the pedestrian “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places” of the New Revised Standard Version. 
I have attached a copy of yesterday’s sermon if you would like to explore my thinking on this.  Blessings. 

Athanasian Creed

WHOSOEVER would be saved / needeth before all things to hold fast the Catholic Faith.
2 Which Faith except a man keep whole and undefiled, / without doubt he will perish eternally.
3 Now the Catholic Faith is this, / that we worship one God in Trinity, and the Trinity in Unity;
4 Neither confusing the Persons, / nor dividing the Substance.
5 For there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son, / another of the Holy Ghost;
6 But the Godhead of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost is all one, / the glory equal, the majesty co-eternal.
7 Such as the Father is, such is the Son, / and such is the Holy Ghost;
8 The Father uncreated, the Son uncreated, the Holy Ghost uncreated;
9 The Father infinite, the Son infinite, the Holy Ghost infinite;
10 The Father eternal, the Son eternal, the Holy Ghost eternal;
11 And yet there are not three eternals, but one eternal;
12 As also there are not three uncreated, nor three infinites, / but one infinite, and one uncreated.
13 So likewise the Father is almighty, the Son almighty, / the Holy Ghost almighty;
14 And yet there are not three almighties, but one almighty.
15 So the Father is God, the Son God, the Holy Ghost God;
16 And yet there are not three Gods, / but one God.
17 So the Father is Lord, the Son Lord, / the Holy Ghost Lord;
18 And yet there are not three Lords, / but one Lord.
19 For like as we are compelled by the Christian verity / to confess each Person by himself to be both God and Lord;
20 So are we forbidden by the Catholic Religion / to speak of three Gods or three Lords.
21 The Father is made of none, / nor created, nor begotten.
22 The Son is of the Father alone; / not made, nor created, but begotten.
23 The Holy Ghost is of the Father and the Son; / not made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding.
24 There is therefore one Father, not three Fathers; one Son, not three Sons; / one Holy Ghost, not three Holy Ghosts.
25 And in this Trinity there is no before or after, / no greater or less;
26 But all three Persons are co-eternal together, / and co-equal.
27 So that in all ways, as is aforesaid, / both the Trinity is to be worshipped in Unity, and the Unity in Trinity.
28 He therefore that would be saved, / let him thus think of the Trinity.
29 FURTHERMORE, it is necessary to eternal salvation, / that he also believe faithfully the Incarnation of our Lord Jesus Christ.
30 Now the right Faith is that we believe and confess / that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is both God and Man.
31 He is God, of the Substance of the Father, begotten before the worlds; / and he is Man, of the Substance of his Mother, born in the world;
32 Perfect God; / perfect Man, of reasoning soul and human flesh subsisting;
33 Equal to the Father as touching his Godhead;/ less than the Father as touching his Manhood.
34 Who although he be God and Man, / yet he is not two, but is one Christ;
35 One, however, not by conversion of Godhead into flesh, / but by taking of Manhood into God;
36 One altogether; / not by confusion of Substance, but by unity of Person.
37 For as reasoning soul and flesh is one man, so God and Man is one Christ;
38 Who suffered for our salvation, / descended into hell, rose again from the dead;
39 Ascended into heaven, sat down at the right hand of the Father, / from whence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
40 At whose coming all men must rise again with their bodies, / and shall give account for their own deeds.
41 And they that have done good will go into life eternal; / they that have done evil into eternal fire.
42 THIS is the Catholic Faith, / which except a man do faithfully and stedfastly believe, he cannot be saved.

Monday, 8 May 2017

I Bind Myself

I bind unto myself today
the strong Name of the Trinity,
by invocation of the same,
the Three in One, and One in Three.
I bind this day to me for ever,
by power of faith, Christ's Incarnation;
his baptism in Jordan river;
his death on cross for my salvation;
his bursting from the spic├Ęd tomb;
his riding up the heavenly way;
his coming at the day of doom:
I bind unto myself today.

I bind unto myself today
the virtues of the starlit heaven
the glorious sun's life-giving ray,
the whiteness of the moon at even,
the flashing of the lightning free,
the whirling wind's tempestuous shocks,
the stable earth, the deep salt sea,
around the old eternal rocks.

I bind unto myself today
the power of God to hold and lead,
his eye to watch, his might to stay,
his ear to hearken, to my need;
the wisdom of my God to teach,
his hand to guide, his shield to ward;
the word of God to give me speech,
his heavenly host to be my guard.
Christ be with me,
Christ within me,
Christ behind me,
Christ before me,
Christ beside me,
Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort
and restore me.
Christ beneath me,
Christ above me,
Christ in quiet,
Christ in danger,
Christ in hearts of
all that love me,
Christ in mouth of
friend and stranger.
I bind unto myself today
the strong Name of the Trinity,
by invocation of the same,
the Three in One, and One in Three.
Of whom all nature hath creation,
eternal Father, Spirit, Word:
praise to the Lord of my salvation,
salvation is of Christ the Lord.

This great and wonderful hymn was the offertory hymn at the ordination service last Wednesday when the assistant curate in our parish, Stephen Green,was ordained a priest along with another candidate Lisa Poultney.  It was a great service (we Anglicans know how to do these services really well) with and an inspiring sermon by Rev’d. Dr. Lizette Larson Miller of Huron University College. 
I have known and loved this hymn for many years.  It is an ancient one with the text being attributed to St. Patrick (fourth century CE), the one who is credited with driving the snakes out of Ireland.  However, whether it was the circumstances or the wonderful singing and accompaniment, or that I hadn’t sung it for a long time, singing this hymn moved and resonated with me more than I remember it affecting me in the past.

The hymn is truly a wonderful expression of the faith and belief of a saintly man   It is also an expression of wonder and awe at the glories of God and of God’s creation.  On reflection, it struck me that it is much more meaningful to me as a creedal statement than the creeds that we recite in worship.  The two creeds in our prayer book, the Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed, can lead to some dispute and dissension as some Christians today object to having to recite a statement of faith that they cannot agree with totally.  Some people may object the theological implications in these creedal statements e.g. the virgin birth or Jesus descending to the dead between his crucifixion and resurrection.  I have even heard of one person who refuses to recite the phrase “holy catholic church” because in their mind it refers to the Roman Catholic Church and, after all, we are Anglican and not Roman Catholic.  This despite, I presume, knowing that catholic refers to the universal church as opposed to the Roman branch of Christianity.  However, appropriateness of reciting the creeds in worship is another topic for another day. 

I will say that I am a true believer in the benefit of having Christians proclaim what it is that Christians believe in and have no trouble reciting either Creed.  I have a personal preference for the Athanasian Creed for a somewhat obscure reason which I also won’t elaborate on today.  However, my experience of the St. Patrick’s Hymn is, for me, a more meaningful statement of belief that any of those Creeds.   This is in part because it is beautiful poetry which resonates with me.  But more to the point, it is grounded in a sense of who and what God is to the world and for me in my life each and every day.

It beings with the wonderful idea and expression of “binding” to myself.  This speaks of relationship rather than a somewhat dry theology in the formal Creeds.  It proclaims that I am in relationship to all of God and all of creation.  This is true whether I am always aware of it (and I am not) and whether I live as if I am but it is a reality which need to be reminded of.  The song of St. Patrick proclaims the reality of the Trinity which I have come to know is true for me (despite not being truly able to proclaim that for many years).  However, it doesn’t go into the specifics of the what the Trinity is or is not.  Rather than speaking of the Son being begotten, not made and the substance of the Trinity, St. Patrick speaks of the fact of the Trinity and does not attempt to split hairs about the nature of the mystery which is the Trinity.  In a similar way, it speaks of the incarnation but does not dwell on the nature of that mystery but treats it as a mystery which is beyond our capacity as creatures of the Creator to truly understand as much as we have struggled to do so.

The poem then speaks of the personal relationship with Christ which is possible for all Christians; Christ with me, within me, beside me, behind me, before me, beneath me, above me, in quiet, in danger, in all that love me, in friend and stranger; above all, Christ to win me.  That is the best expression of what Christ means to and for me and what I strive for even though I do not always of even often experience. 

I have not spoken of the music setting by Cecil Frances Alexander (1818-1895).  This is wonderful setting which does the poetry justice.  This is particularly true of the verse noted above in which expounds of the relationship with Christ, the melody in this verse is completely different to the rest to the hymn, which for me wonderfully expresses that nature of teat relationship which is unique in all of God’s creation and central to us as Christian. It also makes it a bit of a challenge for congregational singing but well worth it.
If you are not familiar with the hymn and the music it is easy to find many different versions on line.  Here is a link to one which has the version we sang, https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=I+Bind+Myself+Today+Choral+Performances&&view=detail&mid=FB4B2D2067339BBD623AFB4B2D2067339BBD623A&rvsmid=F18EB6B58BC0BDC46FCAF18EB6B58BC0BDC46FCA&fsscr=0&FORM=VDFSRV

Blessings on your journey; may it be filled with beautiful music.

Monday, 1 May 2017

The Christian Family Tree

With Palm Sunday being celebrated last Sunday, we are now in Holy Week with the anticipation of the Great Triduum; The Great Three Days of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, The Easter Vigil and Easter Sunday.  I know this actually is four days but that Religion for you.  But actually, it is counted from the evening of the Maundy Thursday service, with the foot washing, to the end of the Great Vigil Saturday evening in which the resurrection of our Lord and Saviour is celebrated with the return of the light of Christ to the world.  It recalls the passion, crucifixion and resurrection of our Lord. This is the foundational story of Christianity. 

I was reminded of how important this is to us when I attended a session on a class on Luther a few weeks ago.  Lorna is taking that class at Huron University College, Luther: Love Him? Loath Him? Learn from Him, which commemorates the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.  I audited the class on that occasion being April 1st as we were in London to celebrate my birthday (yes, I am an April Fool and am proud of it). 

The professor, Murray Watson, who is a very engaging teacher, provided a hand out entitled, The Christian Family Tree compiled by Rev. Nathan L. Bostian.    This diagram has Jesus Christ as the “root and foundation” with all the major branches of Christianity which have sprung up in the two thousand years since then.  It has all the main branches which we are familiar with including the Anglican dated in 1536.  It gives the Denomination rating with such things as “T” for Use of Tradition, “W” for Style of Worship and “S” for Structure with a scale from 1 to 10 for each.  Anglicans are rated T4 with 1 begin conservative in tradition and 10 being liberal; W2 for with 1 being sacramental and 10 experimental; and S2 with the range between hierarchical and congregational.  This seems to be fairly accurate for Anglicans.  Of course there is a great range of difference between Anglo-Catholics and whatever the opposite is within the Anglican Church.  But overall it is a reasonable rating.  I can’t speak for the rating for other denominations but I sure there is similar variation within each denomination similar.

The thing that strikes me as I look at the chart is the diversity that has developed in the way we humans can decide to worship our God or gods.  We all believe we have basically the correct understanding of whom and what God is and the way God should be worshiped.  This is true for atheists who have their own god in my view (I leaned in grade 9 math that even a null set is a sub set of a factor) i.e. even non-belief is belief in something.

I am not absolutely certain of many things about God but I am sure that Jesus Christ did not have any idea, despite being fully divine (I’m not absolutely certain about that), that what he started would end up where it is today.  Being a good Jew he likely did not anticipate there being a new Religion named after him or at least after his title of Christ. 

I believe if we are to be at all true to what Jesus wants us to be we must focus on the root of who we are as Christians which is Jesus Christ.  If we all have this in common we should not worry so much about the differences in doctrine and liturgy.  That being said I am glad I have found the “one true faith” of Anglicanism which can worship God along with the other true Christian faiths. 

 To all my brothers and sisters in Christ have a blessed Holy Week and Great Triduum.  

The Christian Family Tree Part 2

On April 11th, I wrote about The Christian Family Tree which has many branches and Jesus Christ as the root.  I am again attaching a copy of the diagram that does a very good job of illustrating this.  I want to credit the source, Rev. Nathan L. Bostian, 2014. 

I have been asked to write additional thoughts following up from my original post.  On reflection on want to consider where they church is going in this first part of the 21st Century.   This may be a case of a fool rushing in where angels fear to tread.  However, I have thought of myself as something of a fool being born on April Fool's Day, so here goes.

I believe that the church, and probably all of society, is in an a between time.  The world seems to have no firm foundation. The mainline religions such as Anglicanism seem to be dying or at least if not dying then going through a reordering of how it will be the church.  Many main-line congregations in Canada are closing and parishioners are getting older and not being replaced in sufficient numbers to sustain   congregations that have existed for many years.  One of my congregations, a small rural church, celebrated its 150th anniversary some years ago and closed a few years later.  There have been many parishes or congregations that have closed in our Diocese in recent years.  This is due to changes in Canadian culture due to many factors including population shifts from rural to urban centres, secularism, the age of enlightenment, and much more.  There has been speculation that the survival of the church, at least as we know it, is in doubt.

I do not believe that the survival of the church is in doubt.  However, the form of the church is.  I don’t believe anyone can predict with certainty what the church will look like.  There have been many books written about this by many people who are wiser than I and possibly by a few people who are not.  Harvey Cox, one who is definitely wiser than I, has delved into this.  You may remember him from his book, The Secular City, which was something of a sensation in the 1960s. His most recent book, The Future of Faith, came to mind when I was considering this question.  It was published in 2009 and I read it around that time.  Cox proposes that Christian history can be divided in three periods or perhaps ages.  The first is the Age of Faith; I might suggest calling it the Age of Experience.  This was a relatively short period which included the first century Christians beginning with Jesus and his immediate disciples.  As Cox states, “To be a Christian meant to live in the Spirit, embrace his hope, and to follow him in the work that he began” (5).
The second period is the Age of Belief.  This age began a few generations after Christ and lasted about 1500 years (I would contend more like 1900).  This period saw the institutionalization of the church.  It can also be called the Age of Doctrine.  We are still experiencing the death, as the death-throes of this age with modernity and post-modernity takes a firm hold of the culture. Cox notes, “It was already comatose when the European Union chiselled the epitaph on its tombstone in 2005 by declining to mention the word “Christian” in its constitution” (7).

The third period proposed by Cox is the Age of the Spirit.  This is the age that we have begun to experience.  Cox identifies three characteristics of spirit or spirituality.  First, it is a form of protest against formal, organized religion.  Second it is an attempt to express the awe and wonder of creation.  Third, it recognizes the porous boundaries between the different branches of the Christian Family Tree and I might add other religions.  Cox sees this movement as looking forward rather than back to the past.

I agree with Cox that we seem to be entering an age of the Spirit.  The image that came to me when I was considering this is Holy Saturday; that time between Jesus’ death and resurrection.  We are in an in-between time when the Age of Doctrine is dying and the Age of the Spirit is being born.  Both death and birth can involve pains and uncertainty.  I think many Christians are experiencing both the death pains and the birth pains of the religions we are part of.

The challenge of the Age of the Spirit is just that―pain and uncertainty.  We can’t say that we weren’t given a heads up, “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).   The Spirit is not generally embraced by organized religion.  I sometimes refer to the Third Person of God as the Rodney Dangerfield of the Trinity; it don’t get no respect.  This is because it is unpredictable; it does blow where is chooses and we cannot control it as much as we would desperately want to.  Jesus did tell us what to expect but we didn’t truly believe him, “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you for ever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him, “You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you” (John 14:16-17).  The church and the world still does not seem to be ready to receive it two thousand years later.

To live in uncertain times in indeed challenging and these times are very uncertain given the state of the church and the state of the world.  We live in the Shadow of Trumpism of which Donald trump is more a symptom than a cause.  I propose that Anglicans need to add to the Three Pillars of scripture, tradition and reason.  We need to add a fourth; discernment.  We need to learn how to better discern where the Spirt is leading us and to discern how we can best embrace it within our current way of being church.  This is by no means easy; but whoever told you being a Christian is easy.  Actually, Jesus did say my yoke is easy and my burden is light so I guess that, easy or not, it is a challenge that is definitely worth it. 

Friday, 28 April 2017

Father Forgive Them

One of defining moments of Christianity is when Jesus is hanging on the Cross and in his death-throws he makes a plea to his Heavenly Father to forgive those who are executing him in this most terrible way, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing”.  That is the where the rubber hits the road for Christians.

The challenge for us to forgive others has not been treated seriously enough by organized religion or society.  You can see this in the way children are told to, “say your sorry” by their parents even though they do not feel sorry in the least.  The church says that we should forgive and so we should.  But how does forgiveness actually happen?  We can decide we will forgive because after all it is the Christian thing to do.  So, we can tell the offending parry (perhaps through gritted teeth), “I forgive you”.  You might actually believe that you have forgiven the other person.   You may actually convince your self that, at that moment in any case, you do believe you have forgiven them.  However, in my experience and understanding, true forgiveness does not come that easily. 

Forgiveness is a process which can and probably will take many years and have many set backs.  You will find that you have made a conscious decision to forgive but then the memory of the experience which requires forgiveness and the associated emotions such as anger and fear and desire for justice and even vengeance will overwhelm you.  When these things occur, it is a sign that true forgiveness has not occurred. 

There was an excellent article in the Glove and Mail, appropriately on Saturday of Easter weekend, that addresses many of the issues and misconceptions around forgiveness.  The article, entitled A Radical Grief, explores the journey of two people whose daughter had been murdered.  They made a conscious decision to forgive the murderer even though they did not know the person’s identity for many years.   They made this decision, in part, because, shortly after the crime became public knowledge, they were visited by someone who had experience a similar tragedy.  He warned them that his life had been destroyed because he was not able to forgive the person who had murdered his child.  

The article is valuable because it illustrates a number of lessons that we need to learn.  The first one for me is not directly about forgiveness but it is related.  The article is an illustration about an important way of understanding sin.  Sin is those things which ‘chain us to the past’.  I do not remember the source of this idea.  However, it is an important one for me.  If we allow events and circumstances in our lives to prevent us from living the lives God intends us to lead we are in a sinful state.  If my anger and hatred of someone consumes me fully or even partially we can not be open to receiving God’s love and share that love with the world.  We are indeed chained to the past.  There are many other ways of understanding sin but this is an important one.

Another lesson from this article is that it is not necessary for someone to ask for forgiveness to be give forgiven.  In the article the parents did not even know who the murderer of their daughter was.  However, they made a conscious decision to forgive them.  There is a common belief someone should not be forgiven useless they repent of their actions and seek forgiveness.  This can help the process.  However, it is not necessary.  The act of Forgiveness is as much for the salvation of the person who forgives as it is for the one forgiven.

Finally, forgiveness is a journey which can take a long time.  It doesn’t come easily and quickly in many cases.  They couple in the article explained the difficulty of forgiving the perpetrator.  At times over the years they were overwhelmed with anger and the desire for vengeance.  However, they continued on their journey of and to forgiveness. 

Their case was particularly poignant.  For many years they did not know the identity of the perpetrator.  When the identity was discovered through DNA evidence, they had the trial of sitting through the trial of the accused.  He was found guilty.  However, a new trial was ordered on appeal and at this time the outcome of the second trial is unclear.  The mother is quoted in the article, “I want to live,” she said.  “If we had waited for justice 32 years ago, can you imagine where we’d be?  We would have just put our whole lives on the shelf.” 

Love is the only thing that can defeat hate.  Blessings on you journey. 

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

The Crack in My Heart

Lorna and I attended the Easter Vigil service on Saturday at Trivitt Memorial Church in Exeter.  It was a truly wonderful service of new light.  I was particularly moved when the wonderful bells rang out after the Exsultet which was beautifully wonderfully sung by the cantor. 
That experience brought to life great line of poetry from Lenard Cohen (or Saint Lenny as I have come to call him):
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.

Those bells certainly still can and do ring.  The light of Christ was brought into the church in a very moving procession at the beginning of the service with the Deacon proclaiming “The light of Christ” and the congregation singing in response “Thank be to God”.  
The question that was focused for me in that moment was, what is the crack in our lives that lets the light of Christ in?   We often think of a crack as something negative.  There is a crack in the foundation of our house or another building that needs to be repaired.  If we have a crack in a dish it will probably have to be discarded.  If we fall and crack some bone in our body it will have to be put in a cast until it heals.  So what crack can let the light in?

I first heard this phrase many years ago when I first heard St. Lenny’s song Anthem on his album The Future which was released in 1992.  It was probably in that year as I have always bought Leonard’s albums (or received them as gifts) as soon as they are released.  That phase resonated with me immediately and I understood it as an expression of the reality that it is through our humanness and imperfections that we receive the blessing of life from God; that is how we become more fully the people God created us to be.  We will make mistakes and better yet mistakes are inevitable as we are created to live and love and learn and discover who we are and who God made us to be.  That does not happen without living our lives as fully as possible and we cannot do that without making mistakes.  It is through our mistakes and cracks that we are made whole.

I still believe that and it has become truer for me the longer I live.  However, the new realization that came to me during the Easter Vigil is that the crack needs to be in the protective armour that we build around ourselves and particularly around our hearts.  We spend so much of our lives creating protective walls and barricades and cocoons.  We encase our hearts in iron cocoons again the hurts that others have inflicted on us.  The crack in that protective armour will let the light on Christ—the love of Christ in to our hearts.  However, there is no guarantee that this will happen.  Even if a crack in that armour opens it, we may let fear close it up again. 

We are called to let the light of Christ into our hearts.  We are called to share that love with others; with the world. So let us all:Easter Vigil
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.

Monday, 6 March 2017

5 Marks of Love; Tell

5 Marks of Love; Tell

Yesterday we had the second session of our Lenten Series the 5 Marks of Love. We dealt with the first of the Marks of Love after the introduction to the program last week.  Just as a reminder the 5 Marks of love are:
1.     TELL: Proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom
2.     TEACH: Teach, baptize and nurture new believers
3.     TEND: Respond to human need by loving service
4.     TRANSFORM: Transform unjust structures, challenge violence of every kind
5.     Treasure: Strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth

Proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom is about that thing which Anglicans are, to put it mildly, not comfortable with i.e. Evangelism.  How do we proclaim the Good News i.e. the Gospel of Jesus Christ when we have (speaking generally) not been taught how to do it and have not, until the last part of the 20th Century, needed to do it? We do not have the history or experience or training to do this; it is not part of our DNA.  That is one of the reasons why our congregations are aging and the pews are no longer full (although we do sit at the back to make sure there will be room in the front of the church for latecomers to find a spot in a pew—we are still using pews pretty much exclusively).
In addition there are some of us—the introverts—who would die a thousand deaths if we had to knock on doors and invite people to our churches much less engage them in why we are Anglicans and what we actually believe in.  We have a long way to go to begin to Evangelize.

Actually that would be true if we only consider Evangelism to be what is portrayed by TV Evangelists and in the media.  We need to explore what Evangelism truly means.  That is what we started to explore in the first of the Marks.  What does it mean to share the Good News?  How can we share the Good News in our lives with others?  First we have to know what the Good News is for each of us. 

I have attached the two pages from the workbook that explores this. 

Blessings on your journey.

5 Marks of Love Introduction

5 marks of Love Introduction

On Feb, 26th we held the introduction to the Lenten series The 5 Marks of Love which I am leading at our church.  We had a very lively discussion in which I outlined how the sessions would be conducted and giving an introduction to each of the 5 Marks which will be covered in the five sessions during Lent.  We began by praying a prayer for the Lenten series which is a prayer I use at the beginning of the Spiritual Direction sessions I have with directees.  We followed with the Shema; the Hear of Israel which sums up the idea of the series i.e. it is recognizing the love of God in our lives and sharing that love with others.  I have attached the Introduction to the series from the series workbook. 

Prayer for the Lenten Series
Bless this time, in the name of the Three who are over us.
Bless this time, in the name of the One who guides us.
Open our eyes to see how our lives
Can reflect something of You.
Aid us in understanding Your will
With our hearts as well as our minds
Give us the wisdom to discern Your intention for us;
The strength to follow the path You prepare for us;
And Your comfort on the journey You offer to us.

The Great Commandment
Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one.
Love the Lord your God with all your heart,
with all your soul,
with all your mind,
and with all your strength.
This is the first and the great commandment.
The second is like it: Love your neighbour as yourself.
There is no commandment greater than these.  Amen.
In this series we will be exploring what it means to understand that God loves us and that we share that love with others as not only a calling but a as a response to that love.  Today is an introduction to the series.  We will be exploring each of the five Marks of Love in each of the five sessions after today.  There will be a time provided in the sessions to reflect on the content as well as to respond. 
No one is required or even expected to respond—it is never a case of respond or die.  I know some people are less at ease giving a response a larger group.  Also some people need time to reflect on an idea or proposal before they say anything about it.  I am often that way being a strong introvert.  So don’t feel under any pressure to participate verbally.  Your presence is enough. 
How does the divine life express itself in and through us? If we are marked as “Christ’s own forever,” what are the “marks of love” that reflect and manifest the life of God abiding and at work within us?  In this Lenten series we will observe and reflect on the ways in which God’s life expresses itself in us and through us.  Specifically we see God’s life at work within us as we:
1.     TELL: Proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom
2.     TEACH: Teach, baptize and nurture new believers
3.     TEND: Respond to human need by loving service
4.     TRANSFORM: Transform unjust structures, challenge violence of every kind
5.     Treasure: Strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth
Is there one of these Marks of Love that particularly resonates with you; one that you are drawn to in a positive way?
Is there one that particularly does not resonate with you; one that you cannot imagine yourself doing? 
Hopefully you will find our exploration of these Marks of Love to give you new perspectives on all the different aspects of God’s love.  

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Sermon February 12, 2017 6th after Epiphany

You have heard that it was said”.  

I’m sure that you have heard many things said in the news recently.  The president of the United States has said that he has been told lots of things such as there being 5 million illegal voters in the presidential election.  We’ve heard lots about alternative facts or alt-facts which aren’t facts at all.  Facts don’t seem to matter to many people any more.  Say the right thing to get your audience’s attention.  Say the right thing to stir up controversy and play on the prejudices that people hold. 

We are not immune to this kind of thing in Canada.  There is the proposal of Canadian Values Tests for immigrants.  There are proposed bans on certain kinds of religious symbols. We had the terrible event in the Quebec City Mosque where the Powers of Darkness struck against innocent people. 
We hear lots of things these days with the 24-hour news cycle and social media and Twitter reigning over everything else.  So what are we to make of what Jesus is telling us? 

“You have heard that it was said...But I say to you”.  Jesus repeats this formula three times in the Gospel reading today.  So what is he saying to us about what we have heard? There different ways of hearing.  Jesus tells us that anyone who has ears should listen.  When Jesus said this he was not saying that we should just accept everything we hear as, well, as Gospel truth. 

We should not listen without judgement to people who spread alternative facts which are in fact lies.  We are called to discern what we hear.  We need to have ears that hear truth and can discern the truth from lies. When Jesus tells us, “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times… But I say to you”, he is telling us to have ears to hear the truth of what he is telling us.  He tells us the truth about many things in the Gospel passage.  He is tells us in the passage just before today’s Gospel passage, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill”.

For the law to be fulfilled means that the essence—the spirit of the law is what matters—not the letter of the law.  He showed what this means when he said the Sabbath is made for man and not man for the Sabbath. 
It is the spirit of the law that matters to God and therefore to us.  That is why God became incarnate in his only Begotten Son, Jesus Christ.  God’s chosen people were given the law—the Torah.  The tablets were received by Moses on the mountain top.  They tried for two thousand years to fulfill the law by living according to the letter of the law.  Jesus Christ came to show them and us what the truth of the law was and is:
“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

That is what Jesus is telling us in today’s Gospel, “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times… But I say to you.” So how do we know truth?  How do we know when something we hear is the truth or a lie?  To do that we need to have the gift of discernment.  We need to draw on the revealed word of God in scripture.  We need to draw on tradition. This we Anglicans can do because we have the revealed word in the Bible every time we worship and when we read and reflect on scripture at home.  We Anglicans are also are steeped in tradition.  However, we need more than tradition.  We need to draw of experience.  We need to be able to draw on the experience of God working in our lives and in the world.  This has been something that the church does not always recognize and embrace.  Richard Rohr a Franciscan priest and mystic notes:
In the early 1960s, Jesuit Karl Rahner (1904-1984) stated that if Western Christianity did not rediscover its mystical foundations, we might as well close the doors of the churches because we had lost the primary reason for our existence. Now don’t let the word “mystic” scare you. It simply means one who has moved from mere belief systems or belonging systems to actual inner experience. All spiritual traditions at their mature levels agree that such a movement is possible, desirable, and even available to everyone. Richard Rohr January 24, 2017
We need to be able to recognize when and how God is speaking to us.  We need to pray and read the bible.  But it is just as important to listen to what God is saying to us.  God is speaking to us in many ways which we no longer recognize.  We need to be still and know that God is there even when we do hear him because of all the noise in the world.  

Most of all we can listen and respond by loving God with our hearts, and with our souls, and with all our minds.  We can respond by loving our neighbours as ourselves. Believe me, I know as well as anyone else that that is not easy.  Fortunately, God knows that we will not be successful all or even most of the time.  More fortunately, Jesus shows us that we are forgiven.  God does not expect perfection.  God expects us to try and try again.  I invite you to turn to page 53 in the Book of Alternative Services and recite that ancient prayer the Hear, O Israel.  

Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. This is the first and the great commandment. The second is like it: Love your neighbour as yourself.

There is no commandment greater than these.  Amen.