thinking theology

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Faith and Reason

Faith and reason are two responses to encounters of the Holy. In John 20:19-31, the writer sets these responses apart in the disciples’ comments. For a long time in the church, however, all education, all “science” or knowing existed within the boundaries of religious oversight. Sadly, rather than embracing discovery and invention as Holy gifts, they were frequently perceived as heresy. 

Those religious scholars needed to reread John. Jesus does not chastise Thomas for his questions or for his need for physical proof. Nor does Jesus treat faith without proof as a sign of naïveté or gullibility. Rather, he accepts the different ways his followers accommodate a difficult truth. The gospel of John encourages us to “know” ourselves through integrating  Mystery that becomes reality for us. The disciples come to terms with their grief that things are different than they imagined, but that Jesus is and was and will become the Christos they loved and would only begin to know after the resurrection. 

So I don’t think the story of Thomas is about a schism between faith and reason; rather, faith and reason form the base for spiritual development. Faith is bedrock that promises a foundation of relationship with the Holy, a spiritual home for the seeking heart and mind. Reason — questioning — is also a Holy gift that impels beyond the truth of today into the unfolding truth of tomorrow. 

Judy Cannato said, “All our knowledge leads us to greater consciousness. Our knowing what we know is an act of self-transcendence, and our acting upon what we have learned will lead us to greater consciousness still.” (Radical Amazement)

At this time in history, we have folks who want to hide from learning about life, faith, the universe, while equally there are people asking deep spiritual questions that our religious institutions are just beginning to entertain. It is an exciting time for the church as we release ourselves to learning and to more profound consciousness.

In The Gnostic New Age, April DeConnick, says, “Gone is the God of damnation. Gone is the focus on sin and retribution. In its place is the God of Love that the Gnostics claimed to know. Separation from God and reunification with the sacred has become the story of salvation…. To be successful, religion today must promote personal well-being, health, and spiritual wholeness.” 

I would say that the latter values have been held safely by the mystics and the cloistered for all of these centuries. At this time, though, faith and reason are beckoning us into an adventure, an ark to a renewed world, an exodus into liberation, a wilderness of testing and fulfilment. And at the end, whenever and whatever that may be, we are promised joy.

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Christos Anesti!

Bunnies and chicks, chocolates and maple candies, spring flowers and sunshine: the ingredients of our Easter celebrations. Oh… church, too! I think Jesus would have loved all the intercultural props for the service that celebrates his resurrection into the Body of his followers. I am convinced that we are made for delight, for affection, for appreciation of the goodness of life. On this morning, we celebrate that healing is as real as pain, that death is an event in a life, not the end of life. 

Today we laugh away how imprisoned we have been by doubt and fear. Now we see how life could be, how we can remake the world in the image of sacrificial love, of peace, of enough for all. With our linear thinking, our over-confidence in knowledge, we forget to trust the impulse of our experience that will always draw us to beauty, to mystery, to the horizon where Christ is calling. 

Consider the lilies this morning. Artfully designed by the Creator and arranged by loving hands, they focus our vision on how we could work together with the Holy One. This is how life might be if we saw ourselves as co-workers with God. Such tiny specks in the universe, yet we have been asked to be the ones who give meaning, who provide for the safety of the other creatures and the earth. We have been commissioned by God to maintain this planet, this first home. We have been called to live resurrection, to speak resurrection, to become resurrection. With all the world, our song must be awe and praise and thanks. 

Do not fear that prompting in your heart. You have nothing to lose but isolation. Open your heart in community and discover that together we are on the path. If God were a verb, I would say that we can only “god” in community. By ourselves, we can prepare, we can send love and peace in prayer. But as we “god,” we discover how much may be achieved, how wonderful it is to sing together, and finally how much we lift each other in hope.

And so enjoy the chocolate today. If you are alone, go out to a restaurant and sit at the bar, enjoying the company of others, or call a friend to wish them happy easter or happy spring. If you are toiling under the demands of a big family dinner, remember what a miracle each life is. 

Christos Anesti! Christ is risen! 

And so may our hearts and love for each other rise with such beauty that Christ is revealed in our lives. 

Alleluia! Amen!

The Coming of the Light

Who has found the place of Wisdom? the prophet Baruch cries out. The place of Wisdom is filled with light and music.

— Baruch 3:20 —

All creation, from the stars above to the little mice that creep through the pantries of the world, praises the joy of living. Most of us are only visitors to the halls of the Holy, but we do catch glimpses from time to time through the lens of creation and through prayer, and those moments open our hearts and make us hunger for more.

During evening prayer we sing, “May our prayer rise up like incense before you, the lifting up of our hands as the evening sacrifice to you.” (Psalm 142:2) We give thanks for the gift of Jesus who teaches us that all life is sacred, that meaning must be assigned to all sacrifice, that the time for violent solutions has ended. When we all subscribe to this, war will become abhorrent to us, there will be no need for retribution any longer. The sweet smell of incense rises with our commitment to acts of peace and justice, with our prayer for transformation for ourselves as the body of Christ in the world.  

In the dark of night, the stars shine above even if we cannot see them and the purposes of God, like the stars, lead us to save ourselves, even when God seems absent. Within the womb of the world, new life is stirring, kicking away barriers and opening a way. God births us with pain and with love, trusting that we will find our way home, creating joy and gratitude with our passage through life. 

On this holy night, when grief becomes new sight, when we discover that nothing has been lost but everything is being changed; on this night we fan the flickering flames of our faith, and our dream of a redeemed and healthy world. For a while, we can stop sitting by graves and walk into the garden of springtime hope. We are invited to leave behind the binding cloth of death, shift what had seemed to be boulders, and wait for dawn, for the Beloved who is different and yet the same, the mystery of resurrection.

Church of the Broken-hearted

Again this year we gather to remember the death of Jesus — then — and the meaning of his life for us today. We do not gather to remember a dead hero. We do not gather to beat ourselves up with guilt. Rather, we gather to collect the promises and commitments we made on Ash Wednesday. Good Friday is the culmination of our Lenten devotions, our opportunities to minimize the suffering in our world, to devote ourselves to creating hope and the possibility of its fulfillment. 

For Jesus’ brutal death to continue to have meaning, we must accept his living presence in our lives. That means we intentionally lead lives of prayer and action. Our prayers require openness to our own historical complicity in the manufacture of violence, prayers that will lead us to acts of justice and reconciliation. We offer our commitment to grow into the Way that Jesus modelled for us, lives of peace-making, lives of compassion. 

At the centre of the cross is Jesus’ heart filled with the pain and hurt of life. But his arms reach out to the world in love. Christians, perhaps, should have been called the people of the broken heart. We stand at the foot of the cross like the bandits, unsure of our worthiness, not always sure what we believe. We stand at the foot of the cross with the women, who shared the pain of Jesus’ passing. 

And today we are here again, to recognize what it may cost to live a life of love and integrity. We kneel in gratitude that the story does not end with martyrdom because we know that Jesus’ love continues to connect us from birth to death, from crucifixion to resurrection. Through his broken heart then and our broken hearts now, the light of Grace shines through to remind us that we live in the presence of the Holy, the Source of all Being, the path that with all creation leads to transformation. Leonard Cohen said that everything has a crack in it and that is how the light gets in. 

The Stones Cry Out!

The stones cry out! If the earth has a language of protest, we are certainly hearing it. Bomb cyclones, torrential rain, earthquakes and melting glaciers, extinctions of some species. Stones are hard of course, and human hearts are fragile: physically, emotionally and spiritually. We, with all creation, are crying out for justice, for healing, for peace. Why is this so hard?

As we take our first step into Holy Week, we are reminded that Jesus came not to be a king or a conqueror, but a healer, a gatherer of human lives. He particularly cared about those whose voices were easily unheard. I muse that at the centre of the cross, all the suffering of the world is held, awaiting resurrection, awaiting hope of a new world, with different values, different priorities. 

(Romans 8: For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.)

On that day when Jesus rode into town on a borrowed donkey — to a crowd of street urchins, market folks, none posh enough for the upper city — he made a statement about who his people were and whose needs claimed his attention. Now, I don’t know if he was afraid or not, but the clarity of his understanding of the problem in his time shaped both his actions and his refusal to be bent by Roman authority. 

Palm Sunday carries both our desperate plea — “Hosanna, Save Us!” — and our hope for the seemingly impossible stand against the powers and principalities of the world. And so we open our hearts this week to the remembered pain of it all that is re-enacted, daily, somewhere in the world. Again we open our lives to a holy scrutiny of how cold our efforts have been in compassion for our neighbours, how much we have fallen short in our commitment to understanding and acceptance of others, how ungrateful for this creation we have been. 

Our leader has no magic wand, no fast cure, just the promise of a community of love, and a home (no matter how far we have travelled or how weary we have grown). He comes on a donkey, down an ordinary street, to ordinary people, and asks us to become his body, his love in a world become unlovely, his hope when for so many that light has dimmed. 

Palm Sunday ends with questions really. Will we sit at his table without judging the other guests? Will we be willing to stand with him on the side of the vulnerable, not counting our, or their, worthiness? Will we admit that without trust in him, our vision will be narrow and our efforts shallow? Will we accept his sacrifice as our own, his work as ours, his wounds are ours, his love to set us free? 

And so we pray,

Compassionate God, in whom is our dream of heaven and the peaceful dream of earth, help us to love ourselves and to forgive ourselves, so that we can love and forgive our neighbours and those whom we do not want to know. Break us and heal us, so that we may be strengthened by the fire of your love, and tempered by the heat of your compassion. In the name of Jesus, who lived in the full experience of Love, inspire our hearts with his passion and his faith in you. Amen.

Anticipating Easter

The spring rains and April sunshine are awakening the earth. The crocuses that we planted on Ash Sunday are getting ready to bud. And yet, there is still Holy Week before the Easter for which we yearn. 

Why do we put ourselves through the spiritual purging of Holy Week? We know how the story ends, after all. I think the passage from the desperate cries of Palm Sunday, “Hosanna. Save us!” to the joy of resurrection, invite us to see this reality in each of our lives and in the life of our nations and even the earth. Birth and death are both struggles into new life, new awareness. We can engage in these struggles as active participants. I invite you to allow yourselves to use this Holy Week to deepen the appreciation of the Divine working in our lives, both in shadow and in sunshine. 

From the cries of the crowd to the stillness of Good Friday, we walk a holy path in solidarity with all who suffer and with the communities of love and faith that gather in gardens, at altars, by candles, waiting in hope. 

When we shout, “ Hosanna; save us!”, let us hear the voice of the Holy One, saying, “I already have. Come to the feast of love and life… and bring your friends.”

Come to grieve for our world; come in hope. Come to rejoice that love is eternal, resilient like those pesky dandelions. Come because we are incomplete without

you. Come to the feast of life… and bring your friends.

A Judgment called Grace

Love is the strongest force in the world. Like our persecution of dandelions, we can try to poison it, dig it out of cultures, mine it until it’s exhausted, misrepresent it as punishment or morality, and yet it continually resurrects as itself. In a very limited way, I would say that love is the eternal force that inspires freedom, that surpasses judgment, that has no knowledge of punishment or retribution. It is the core of Judaism that informed every parable of Jesus, that taught him how to be the Christ in the world, the physical manifestation of God’s grace. 

From Genesis on, we read stories about God’s love in creation. When the first humans are offered self-awareness, they seize it and can no longer remain in ignorant bliss. They come to share with the Divine the awareness of belonging and alienation, choice and power. Of course, Eden looks different for them. Have you ever tried to return to a place of memory? But in the story, the Holy One softens the blow of reality by making them clothes, comfort against their new life. 

This is the pattern of the story of the relationship between God and humanity. Humanity makes promises and breaks the promise. Humanity is offered justice, freedom, compassion as a lifestyle, as a place where the holy and the human can meet in mutual delight. Unfortunately, we are slow learners, socially, and return to violence and self-centred aggrandizement rather than the ways of peace. At each break, priestly voices offer cultic solutions, prophets cast warnings of how the road poorly chosen will lead to disaster to no avail. I don’t think God punishes anyone. I think we punish ourselves and blame God. 

blog picIn the story of the prodigal son, we see the archetypal split of two brothers, each seeking the meaning of life. One brother chooses the ways of self-indulgence; the other brother chooses the path of duty. The father, who is loving, forgiving, tolerant, and patient, loves them both. In a culture based on productivity and duty, the indulgent son should be punished. In a culture based on freedom without self-discipline, the older brother is perceived as unreasonable and judgemental. 

These two brothers are the poles between which we swing, duty and self, reward and punishment, forgiveness and retribution. It is so difficult for us to imagine a world in which there is no punishment, but instead processes of reconciliation and accountability. The father does not ask either brother to change but waits, rather, for them to become aware of the possibility of a different path.

What is wrong with our world? Just this: at some point we will have to give up pointing our fingers at each other. In the novel by Herman Hesse, Siddhartha*, we read:

“It may be important to great thinkers to examine the world, to explain and despise it. But I think it is only important to love the world, not to despise it, not for us to hate each other, but to be able to regard the world and ourselves and all beings with love, admiration and respect.” 

Imagine a world in which we begin with positive affirmation, with a willingness to listen rather than shout slogans. Imagine that we believe there is nothing that can separate us because we are family. 

Beyond all this, I hear the story of the prodigal son as the encounter of humanity’s doubt, fear, shame with the loving gift of grace, a free gift of healing and reconciliation, no strings or conditions attached. Another quote from Siddhartha:

“I have had to experience so much stupidity, so many vices, so much error, so much nausea, disillusionment and sorrow, just in order to become a child again and begin anew. I had to experience despair, I had to sink to the greatest mental depths, to thoughts of suicide, in order to experience grace.” 

The compassion of Jesus arises because he is not the divided son. He is the human who lives equally in the grace of God and the delight of life in this world. On the cross, he lifts up fear and faith, suffering and release. He lives in the garden, but with awareness of the precious nature of life, of relationship. He sees the holy within and around all life. 

As we come to the end of Lent, let us give ourselves the gift of recognizing the ways in which we are self-centred, the ways in which we are self-righteous, and the greater promise that we can be filled with grace. It is there, as close as our next breath, intimate, yearning for our healing, hopeful for our growth. Let us release blame of ourselves and others; let us release the fears that teach us to mistrust our neighbours near and far; let us feel the holiness rising within to set us free. 

 

* Footnote: In 1951, Herman Hesse published a novel called Siddhartha, based on the life of Gautama Buddhas. It is about a young man who begins a search for enlightenment, which leads him through spiritual exercises, decadent living, and finally enlightenment.