thinking theology

Archive for November, 2016

The Time of Revealing

“Ignoring isn’t the same as ignorance, you have to work at it.”
― Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale

In Matthew we read the same kind of caution of which Atwood speaks in the Handmaid’s Tale. As our American neighbours threaten to dismantle women’s hard fought for rights, many of us are thinking of the prophetic quality of Atwood’s novel. I think we all feared the possibility, even the probability of a new fascism, but we hoped we would either be dead, or a new flavour of men and women would arise to combat all the “isms” of the world. That generation hoped to see the world evolve into a kinder, more insightful civilization.

Instead, what was really happening is that the evils were hiding in plain sight. In recent times, we had started to make jokes about being too politically correct, too earnest in our convictions. In fact, we did not take our fear seriously enough. Xenophobia, the fear of difference, sexism, the fear of women’s power, classism, the fear of the poor, all these never were left behind, but masked over. And now they are being revealed again in all their ugliness and perversity.

In the midst of it all, many of us also forgot this truth so well spoken by Atwood:
“Better never means better for everyone… It always means worse, for some.” We thought we were working against the problems of our times in localized situations,; we did not realize that the problem was global.

So what are we to do with this awareness, with our anxiety, with our tarnished dreams? One solution simply is to wait it out, find places to hide if we are not safe, or ignore the maelstrom, if we can avoid it. Another solution is the Christian response. We are called to open our eyes, to be prepared, to look around us with clarity, rather than doubt.

It means we will have to be fearless in facing our own complicity, our own comfort, our own casual disregard for the teachings of Jesus. At this moment, this kairotic moment, we will stand to be counted, which means standing with our Lord, who lived and died for love. And we will have peace because we will know the ways in which we have failed and the ways in which we have prevailed. We will know peace because we will live in the confidence that we are not called to be flawless, but to be open, learning as only lovers can. We will prevail because, as every wise person knows, love prevails.

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When All Falls Down

Percy Shelley’s “Ozymandias”

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away

The last century began with two horrific world wars that changed the political and cultural landscape of the world as it had been experienced until then. Within the last two millennia, genocide has been committed at the same time as engagement between unknown cultures.  Global trade and communication have advanced with each decade, along with exploitation, greed and corporate control over society.

With the violence we see everywhere in our world, and with the shocking results of the American election, we feel frightened and uncertain. Even more frightening, apparently our newspapers (The Hamilton Spectator) are being deluged with hate mail. Is this our voice or are these agents provocateurs? How do we decide which information is accurate and which is intentionally misleading?

Jesus responds to these same concerns in his own time. He could see the fractures in his own religion that needed to experience a reformation. He accurately analyzed the rotten core of the Roman Empire and he identified the problem of large groups of impoverished, desperate, angry people. We have tended to spiritualize his apocalyptic sayings but I suspect they are concrete warnings that the structures: political, economic, cultural, and their physical artefacts of buildings, statues, roads, would not, could not survive.

Until humanity evolves beyond greed and aggression, we are caught in a cycle of domination and revolt. Given how intimate our knowledge of each other has become, we are particularly vulnerable when the monuments of power come crashing down. It is not surprising to me that the politics of hate are rampant. I am sure they are fuelled by the powerful as they rage at others working to help humanity grow and learn peace.

Every time, we raise the ideals discussed in the Charter for Compassion, or protest the proliferation of earth killing plans, or stand with indigenous people, women, children, refugees, and others, we are pulling the tails of those who live invisibly in the corridors of power.

It seems hopeless, but Jesus reminds us that we may not be able to solve the problem, but we must hold fast through the grim days. We will stand with the vulnerable, with the protesters, with the resisters. We will protect the earth and its creatures. We will dare to be called naïve, to be soft-hearted; we will dare to act like Jesus, thus bringing him into our world, our time, and our witness. As Leonard Cohen said in an interview,

There’s a line in “The Future”: “When they said repent, I wonder what they meant.” I understood that they forgot how to build the arch for several hundred years. Masons forgot how to do certain kinds of arches, it was lost. So it is in our time that certain spiritual mechanisms that were very useful have been abandoned and forgot. Redemption, repentance, resurrection. All those ideas are thrown out with the bath water. People became suspicious of religion plus all these redemptive mechanisms that are very useful. from an interview with Leonard Cohen (RIP)

And finally, when we are told that war is inevitable, or that climate change is not a problem, then we will remember that God’s promise is that we are made for joy and peace; we are made to be loving and generous, faithful and courageous. When we wear the symbols of our faith: the cross where all tension is resolved in love at the centre; the fish — the sign of our inclusivity and welcome for all; the bread — the sign of labour for each other and for the global community; the wine — the cup of shared tears and laughter. Then we are expressing our hope and faith in a wider vision. We can let this world pass, because we are already preparing for change in the next era, for hope for our children and grandchildren. Jesus entrusted us with the task of keeping his vision through the ages until the time of peace has come and so we serve him with joy in the midst of struggle, and faith in the time of doubt.

Common Cup

This weekend we were able to renew acquaintance with a treasure both old and new in the Canadian Church. Common Cup Company, with some old favourites and some new material, came to Guelph. Songs that had become old for many of us were renewed by their musical energy and skill. The band has changed over time, but the quality of their melody and lyricism has only matured and refined. I suspect many of us have forgotten how influential Common Cup has been in the evolution of contemporary Christian music. I think Appleby College was delighted by how engaging their music is for a new generation. Some of us are conspiring to bring them back to the Golden Horseshoe in 2017. In the meantime, you can find them at http://www.facebook.com/commoncup or http://www.commoncup.com. They are living evidence of the power of justice, joy and praise in concert.