thinking theology

Archive for October, 2017

The Thin Times

If you look on the internet, you will discover many articles about “thin” places or experiences. The common characteristic of both is the element of surprise. In the midst of walking, or feeling, or doing something, suddenly, the reality of the moment collapses, only to expand to a sense of being that is linear, unquantifiable, ineffable. And really any time and any place can become a burning bush, a voice in the clouds, a dazzling ray of sun. The thin time or place allows us to know the world of both spirit and matter as a sacred whole. In the season of All Saints and Souls, we connect the communion of those who have lived amongst us with this present community of faith and practice. It is a season meant to offer us the opportunity to see time as a tapestry being constantly woven with threads of our lives. We are invited to open ourselves to seeing and thinking beyond the limitation of our knowledge.

In speaking about faith as trust in the intrinsic goodness of creation, Marcus Borg wrote that it was through “mystical” experiences that he discovered the God that permeates reality with grace and compassion and wonder. (Awe and Wonder, p.26) These thin times grant us similar moments of possibility, moments when we remember that we are not alone, that our consciousness is bigger than our brains, and that we are intimately connected to a work in progress.

I was visiting an elderly friend this week. She felt distressed that she has memory issues. As the conversation went along, this became apparent as she kept forgetting who I was and saying how familiar I looked. She was embarrassed by these lapses. I told her that she was living in the thin time when past and future had less value than the present moment. She was delighted by a cheeky blue jay that kept coming to her window to eat bird seed and peek at her. I asked her if it was important to her which bird came. “Well, no” she replied. I said that it was the appearance of the bird that mattered most of all. She concurred. I told her that there exist whole schools of spiritual discipline that attempt to teach people to live in the moment and that now she was perfecting that way of being. It seemed to comfort her that it was natural and acceptable not to have to remember but to be content with the moment.

In the back of my head I was hearing, “Consider the lilies.” At this season of the thin time, perhaps we can practice letting go of our needs for control. We cannot initiate a mystical experience, but we can monitor our way of being in the world. We can develop the spiritual discipline of awareness, of being fully present both in our soul and in our body. My parents ashes were interred in our memorial garden. Now I know that those ashes have long since dissipated into the earth, but it still gives me a sense of peace to sit in the garden and remember those two loving people. I try to remember to make “Thank you for life” the first thing I say in the morning. I work at paying attention to my surroundings rather than the voices in my head, clamouring for attention and worry.

Mostly we rush about, but if we can intentionally get out of our heads and move into observer status, we might just discover an amazing world inviting our wonder. We might also reflect that being in the world, we can never leave it. We are, at the least, a part of its history, but maybe our energy, our souls, if you like, are part of this incredible package of stunning reality. Maybe we could trust Jesus when he says that we will be together always. Maybe we can trust the power of transformation to mold us into the forms we need.

In this thin time, let us open ourselves to moving beyond fear to trust, beyond cynicism to the wonder of childhood. Let us cease evaluating and categorizing for a time and just breathe with the world. Maybe we could just let the ancestors drift past us knowing that we belong to them as much as we belong to the dreams of our children. And the earth awaits our awareness that we are part of the planet. Not a dream, but the reality of life constantly living and recreating itself. We shall not die but live in the twinkling moment of revelation, in the heart and mind and body of God.

Caesar’s Face

With thanks to D. Mark Davis for his comments and translation.

In Matthew 22:15-22, we hear about the trap forming around Jesus. In this case, the temple and the Roman sympathizers form an unlikely and probably uncomfortable alliance. They ask Jesus if it is lawful to pay taxes to Caesar. There is no safe answer to this question. The temple, of course, also collected funds. The coins in either case were different. Temple coin could not be engraved with a human face or God’s face. Roman coins were engraved with the face of the emperor.

If Jesus said the coin should go to the Temple, it would be blasphemy, and also treason, a double whammy as they say. He turns the question back to them. He says, “Whose face is engraved here?” Then, it is logical that the coin belongs to the state. But God has presence over all, so the power of this coin is minimized by being part of a greater reality. It is a clever response, but also one to cause the listener to think. To whom do I owe my life? To whom do I owe my loyalty? To whom do I offer my service? Whose gifts do I appreciate and why?

Suddenly, we are confronted with some troubling thoughts. We in Canada, may not be living in occupied territory politically, but we might ask ourselves who owns our water? our natural resources? our fields and farms? our dairy and forests? How much control do we have over our daily lives?

Jesus was very political in his time and we must be too. It is not enough to hand over our coin to the state and then turn a blind eye to how it used, for good or ill. Politicians receive hate mail all the time. I wonder if they receive equal amounts of encouragement for their service in ecology, in justice, in compassionate legislation. We live in fractious times, but it is not all bad. I am proud of Quebecois who are wearing face coverings to protest the new law prohibiting such dress. Apparently even some bus drivers are protesting. This is an example of peaceful, but strong resistance to racism and martial law. I am happy to see Lloyd Longfield (MP) writing in social media about what he is thinking. Agree or not, it is an effort at transparency.

The best society is the one which understands sharing of resources , sharing personal as well as corporate responsibility. Jesus addresses not only social victims but also power brokers, demanding justice and consideration for all. The coin may belong to Caesar, but Caesar is accountable to God. In Hebrew scripture, in many passages, we hear the prophets warning rulers that security in leadership requires integrity. When integrity fails, so will the state ultimately. The lesson is that natural law will prevail because God shelters all.

The question for us in the passage is how do we use the coin that is stamped with our Caesar’s names? How do we decide whose agenda dominated our decisions? How do we weigh the easy prize against the long term care for the earth, and its people? Sheri Tepper, the novelist, commented that justice must be weighted on a case by case basis. God sees the sparrow, sees the tree, sees the whale, sees us. God sees the particular as well as the whole. Where do we place ourselves as church, as city, as family in that mirror; what do we see?

If asked the same question as Jesus was, how do we say with integrity how we support our society, our church, our family? Is it even a question we ask ourselves or have we forgotten to whom we belong, whose service liberates us?

Eat, Pray, Act

Eat, Pray, Act

This thanksgiving is a weekend for counting our blessings. As I write in Southern Ontario, I am looking out my window at dramatic weather, wind chasing clouds grey with rain, then in the next minute, clear skies and hot humid air. And I am reminded that I am not worrying about how to survive a hurricane, an earthquake, a tsunami, or even someone filled with rage and malice who wants to act violently.

There is plenty of food in the kitchen, plenty of family and friends with whom to share, plenty of love to go around. I live in a pleasant neighbourhood with trees and flowers and gardens, in a city that is fairly enlightened, and fun. How could I be anything but grateful! These are the macro thanks.

On a simpler note, I am incredible grateful for electricity and running water. I had a new appreciation for my laundry room and appliances when I read the article about Puerto Ricans, trying to remember how to do laundry without electricity or running water. And yet, I saw a picture of some families, men and women laughing together about how they wished they had listened to their grandmothers.

All over the world, people just like me except for circumstance, are struggling for survival, worried about how to take care of their loved ones, worried that they might be killed for having the wrong religion, colour, language, gender, politics. Again, in the midst of and despite so much pain and uncertainty, people are acting to improve things, speaking out although at risk; choosing to act rather than passively accepting the status quo. They are creating hope in what might look to us like impossible situations.

And what are we doing with our abundance, with our security, with our blessings. I think our first act is to give thanks at the tables where we find ourselves, banquets of food and spirit(s), to look with wonder on our lives, to turn from negativity to delight and appreciation, to cherish each other and the ways in which we are connected. The first chapter of the letter of James says that religion that is authentic calls us to and from the table, both acts of love, both acts of faith. People are encouraged to act on their faith, not simply contemplate their theology, or good fortune, or blessedness. Gratitude is a process that begins with appreciation, then recognizes that the cup is not just full, but running over. Then we are called to employ our hope, our assets, our skills, our privilege in the work of sharing blessings.

I cannot look at my grandchildren without thinking how I want all the children of the world, to have clean drinking water, to feel safe, to be proud of who and how they are. I want to do what I can to turn away violence and discrimination and injustice. I want to be a person who promotes peace and joy, not out of a sense of duty but because I have so much of all of this that I want to share it with others. May your hearts be broken and healed in love, both in the receiving and in the giving.

Here is my prayer
O Wise and Only One, how carefully you made us.
We are blue clay streaked with colour, full of divine radiance;
after the molding, after the fire, earth yet open to be filled.
Our days are but a moment through which your breath passes, sanctifying body and soul.
Burst from our hearts, Lover and Friend, unite us to one another like forests sharing sunshine and rain, water and wine, holiness gleaming through our tears.

Day by Day

In another conversation today with another male colleague (cleric) I heard about their faith crisis, creating a vocational crisis for them as well. Their pain comes out of a deep questioning of biblical theology and historical doctrines. What do I believe? What can I preach? What does any of it mean? These men identify with those who have left the church, and they do not recognize or trust the hope in the gentle but steady return.

Marcus Borg talked about pre critical, critical, and post critical faith. These clergy with great integrity are experiencing the pain of the second phase but I’m not sure what will help them move into the third phase without abandoning their vocations, or turning away from the faith in which they found nurture.

Most birds don’t leave the nest until they know how to fly because a premature choice can be deadly. I am afraid for my friends, afraid that their choices will not bring freedom but despair.

I was wondering why no women have spoken to me about this. I suspect it’s because women have to figure out how to work within a patriarchal structure and process. We have to see the diamonds in the coal, the precious fruit within a difficult covering. Because that is where we begin, I wonder if it gives us a method for dealing with new learning and the shock of that learning.

When I speak with lay people who are returning to church, they are coming because they buy into the social revolution of Jesus; in the beauty of traditional liturgical practice, they find rest for their souls. In the chaotic energy of family services, their hope is fed for a new world that sparkles with creativity and spontaneity.

The church offers an intergenerational community of people who are growing together beyond the answers and into the deep questions. These are people reimagining ancient metaphors and reframing old symbols, making ritual joyfully reverent, meaningful and spiritual food in a tough and hungry world.

I hope my brothers find support to move into the land of post critical thinking. I hope they find nurture and allow themselves to be new and vulnerable again. I hope awe overwhelms and opens all our hearts so that we may all see and love more clearly, more dearly.