I heard an interview-sermon at church a week ago and it triggered a reaction that I have had off and on for quite a long time. The text was the beatitudes Matthew 5: 3-10 which used a newer translation that replaced the word “blessed” with “happy”. The presentation was great, but that one glitch brought back a long conversation in my head. For me, the Gospel is supposed to be leading people to a deeper understanding and connection with God. And when translators “lighten it up” with “common language” it does not do the job. Happy comes from a 14th century word meaning lucky or fortunate. It is related to the word “happenstance” which is a combination of happen and circumstance. We are happy when things go our way, when the circumstances are pleasant and rewarding. Happy is related to our outside world. Blessed is a state of being when one is centered, or I would say, living in relationship with God. Yes, if you look back in the Greek usage it will say fortunate and even happy and the Greek word did refer to the elite, the rich, as blessed. But Jesus used it in a totally different way. Jesus is a transformational thinker and gives us a message that challenges our simplistic or egoistic thinking. It is not the elite who are blessed, it is the poor; it is the hungry and thirsty and those who are in mourning who are blessed. Why is that? Because they are connected to the world in a deeper, more loving way. They have a source of power that does not come from the world around them, rather it comes from the world within them. To bless someone is to empower them. When you bless someone, they are more than happy; they experience a deep sense of joy in being that gives direction to their lives.
As I moved further into my evolutionary Christian journey I thought I was losing my faith, but I was only losing my connection to the God I thought I knew, and was discovering a God who was much different and more connected to my everyday reality. Then I wondered if I could hold on to Jesus because he was integral to my connection with God before God took a different shape and purpose. (The 20 books written in the last 15 years that I have on the theme, “Who is Jesus”, suggest that I am not the only one with this problem. Continue reading
For two weeks I have had the most unsettling thoughts. Usually I am optimistic and hopeful, but lately I find myself angry and frightened. And I confess I now see how naive I am about political matters. I have been reading The Road to Unfreedom by Timothy Snyder. It brought back to memory a line in a sermon I heard 30 years ago by Fred Craddock, “A lie will get you far, but it won’t get you home.” It also reminded me of a parable told by Jesus about the wisdom of building your home on a rock foundation, not on sand. The rock is the truth, sand a lie. In a storm a rock will hold, but sand will shift, and your home will collapse. Grace means that a lie might take you far. You can get away with it, sometimes for a long time. But in the end if your life is built on lies it will collapse and you will lose everything. The Road to Unfreedom is about Russia, its collapse and re-emergence as a country built and maintained by lies.
The prologue to the book says that communism in Russia and democracy in the western world were both propagated by what Snyder calls the politics of inevitability. In this political view, it is the future when life becomes good, and you get there by living by the laws of progress as defined by your particular political structure.
In Russia this collapsed in 1991 and the western world said, “I told you so; it is our system that will inevitably lead to the good life”. But the collapse of the politics of inevitability did not lead to democracy, but to what Snyder calls the politics of eternity, where a nation sees itself at the centre of a cyclical story of victimhood. The politics of eternity narrative holds that the enemy is coming and we need to protect ourselves. Progress is seen as impossible; we must hunker down and be prepared to save our country from outside attacks. In this scenario politicians manufacture crises and manipulate emotions to hold onto power and distract from their inability or unwillingness to reform. One strategy to stay in power is to undermine foreign powers that exhibit a better way of life. Truth is not important; history is used selectively to show that we are the chosen people, and lies are used to demonize others and proclaim our innocence. Continue reading
On April 7th, an article in the Globe and Mail got me thinking. The article said shareholders of the Royal Bank were not happy with the “breath taking size of the CEO’s pay package” (last year $13.4 million dollars). An RBC board member responded that shareholders are getting a bigger dividend now because the bank is making more money. But that is not the issue. For me it is a justice issue. The Royal Bank exists in a bigger world. This response shows the narrow focus of the board (granted this was a share holder meeting). I wonder who speaks for the customer and the community. As a shareholder, I regularly get notices of fees being increased. If those pay packages were not so large I think they could afford to lower some fees for their customers. But that is not really the issue either. They operate in a community where poverty persists, low-income housing is hard to come by, and homelessness continues to be a problem. Enlightened leadership could shift $10 million out of top executive salaries (I believe there are 5 top executives) and put it into a fund to target poverty reduction. That would benefit the bank in the years to come, and the community right now. Just saying. For example.
This brings me to something I read in a Canadian book called, “I’m Right and You’re an Idiot: The Toxic State of Public Discourse and How to Clean It Up” by James Hoggan (2016). The author interviewed 23 people around the world asking the question, “Why in this age of communication can’t we solve big problems such as poverty, climate change, etc. In chapter 8, “The Self-Regulating Psychopath”, with Joel Bakan and Noam Chomsky, the conversation is about corporate greed. Continue reading
Three things caught my attention in the past two weeks: Thinking about Easter, a song I heard on the radio, and a play I saw at Alberta Theatre Projects called Constellations.
In my last post I mentioned that the ritual of observing the church year has been important for me in directing my thinking about faith and life issues. This year is no different. Lent has been an intentional reflection time for me, and Easter has always been a challenge. The Christian Church focuses on Easter as being the defining moment for God at work in history and in our lives. While I agree with this I have always had trouble with the way the church interprets this event. Jesus has always been very important in my life and I know him through prayer and scripture. The word of God still speaks to me after all these years, but I have never been able to figure out this teaching about dying for our sins. I know the theology, and can see that the system works when it includes heaven and hell, judgement day and our human nature being corrupted so badly that we need a saviour to help us. But this system no longer describes the real world for me and many others. The God who sacrifices his son so we/I might have eternal life does not fit for me with the love of God I know. It fits for me if I see the Easter event as a life pattern of letting go so new life can emerge (growing up). I have seen this life, death and new life cycle in my life many times.
I spent 53 years of ministry trying to understand Easter and preach it with integrity. I think that Jesus was modeling faithfulness as making life choices which lead to human transformation. To me it works as a metaphor for the way love works in transforming our lives, and it works in the scientific world if we change the word resurrection to emergence (See Nov.3 blog). But as a real physical event that changes history it seems limiting and inconsistent with my idea of the way a loving God is acting in the world today. Having lost the physical constructs of heaven and hell, for me the meaning of Easter is more about the way I live, the choices I make right now. Continue reading
Wednesday mornings I am on my way to 7 am meditation at the church I attend. Wednesday, February 14th I knew it was Ash Wednesday and thought I could escape the ashes on the forehead by going to the weekly contemplative service. However, after the welcoming, the worship leader turned it over to the minister who gives us a short reminder that this is the beginning of Lent and it is always good to remember that we are all going to die (someday). Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. I guess this is supposed to get us into a reflective mood.
I have a love – hate relationship with ritual. On the one hand it is boring, words and actions that we say or do that seem to lose their meaning over time and become empty gestures. On the other hand ritual surprises me and orders my life, leading me deeper into the place where God lives. I have always observed the church year. It gives a certain rhythm to my life and a way of celebrating birth, death and transformation as a pattern for life to evolve. Now the invitation is before me. Quickly my mind wonders if I am going to do this, and if I do, what does it mean to me. Continue reading
This one line in Fred Craddock’s sermon over 30 years ago continues to surface as wisdom for me. Lies are useful for short-term gain, but eventually the life gained because of a lie falls apart when the truth is discovered. Lies are destructive because they are not based in reality (perhaps in one person’s or group’s perception of realty). Even though we know this, we lie anyway to get out of a jam, to save face, or because we think what we are saying isn’t important (little white lies). Most of us lie everyday when we say “fine” when asked how we are. It is socially acceptable, more comfortable and who really cares anyway (we think to ourselves). Yet, it does matter. Lies take us farther and farther away from our own truth that gets neglected, buried and finally out of touch, even to ourselves. Once we are out of touch with the foundation of our life, we make it up as we go along — skimming on the surface of things, relationships and events, moving from one thing to the next. Making money, buying new technology, addictions to our phones and social media all keep us on the surface and out of touch with the foundation of life where values determine meaning and purpose. Continue reading
When I first began my ministry in 1969, the Christmas story was a literal story about the wonder and miracle of God’s love, the divine coming to us in human form that we might experience the gift of God’s grace welcoming us into his family. God showing us the way home so we would not be lost. We had our pageants and our decorations. There were concerts, gifts and excitement. Then as scholarly exploration of biblical texts became common knowledge, we came to understand that the Christmas story was really several stories and none of them necessarily factually accurate. The word “myth” was heard more; meaning the story was perhaps not factually true but was presenting an eternal truth in a human story.
That seemed to save the day and as a minister I searched for ways to highlight the eternal truths of God’s love and what better way than in the birth of baby. Continue reading