"As I mused, the fire burned"

Reflection on life as a person of faith.

Anglican Indigenous Bishops’ Response to Marriage Issues

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I’ve mentioned before that the corporate Anglican Church’s treatment of indigenous voices in the marriage debate has a strong overtone of colonialism about it.  It was clear to me that no one was really interested in listening to what they had to say, in the past or in more recent days or in engaging in a discussion that honoured the indigenous method of achieving understanding.  Reconciliation requires a mutual commitment to walk together, which means not deliberately invoking injury to your brother or sister.

Three of our indigenous bishops were asked to write a response by an Indigenous circle that meet to discuss the decision of Synod.  In obedience to the discussion in that circle, they produced this letter which sets out the problem facing them.  This is a classic collision of disparate world views, and the world view with the power (in the legal process) is once again having the final word.

If that’s not colonial, I don’t understand the meaning of the word.


A Statement by the Bishops Mark MacDonald, Lydia Mamakwa, and Adam Halkett

We are writing to the Church and our communities in light of the General Synod’s decision to take the first steps towards the changing of the marriage canon. As we wrote to the commission and stated at the Synod, we do not agree with the decision and believe that it puts our communities in a difficult place in regards to our relation and community with the Anglican Church of Canada. This statement was requested by an Indigenous circle that gathered after the final vote on the marriage canon was revealed.

We write this, of ourselves, acknowledging that we do not speak for all Indigenous Peoples, though we have consulted broadly and deeply with many. Although we note some difference between urban and reserve contexts and, less so, by regions, we believe we speak to and from what we have witnessed as a broad consensus of Indigenous Peoples. It is our hope that what we say will ultimately serve all, even those who may disagree.

Our land has a Charter of Rights and our laws support these rights. These rights are recognized and endorsed by the Church in its teaching and practice. These rights that First Nations enjoy and use to reaffirm traditional and inherent rights are the same rights that same sex couples use to be granted marriage rights and privileges. In the case of the Church, these rights grant the freedom to complete its pastoral work in marriages. In regard to Indigenous Peoples, they specially guarantee that they are self determining with regard to basic cultural and social matters. This is fundamental to the Nation-to-Nation relationship which is at the base of Indigenous Rights, reconciliation and a promising future for all of Canada.

Indigenous churches have these basic freedoms, under Law and under God. Supported by the courts and affirmed by the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, our freedoms set the course for our churches and their pastoral leadership in our communities and, specifically, in regard to our pastoral and social ministry for marriage. We are deeply disturbed and disappointed that so little attention was paid to our pastoral and social self-determination and the right to free, prior, and informed consent.

Our elders need to be actively involved with the conversation regarding these changes. Earlier discussions of these matters have never been translated into Indigenous languages, neither has This Holy Estate. That out elders have not been a part of this conversation, it seems to us, is a flaw in the process.

We voted “no” to changes in the Marriage Canon. We do not take this stand as a statement against any person or persons. In this, we simply affirm our right to express our cultural and spiritual understanding of marriage in the context of our own community life and according to God’s holy Word. Though some may see the “opt in” option in the proposed changes to the marriage canon as allowing all to have freedom in this matter, the change in language in the first part of the canon is a deeper problem for many of our communities.

It is our understanding that, while homosexual persons have always had a place in our societies, same-sex marriage, itself, has not. We find in both our reading of Creation and Scripture the unique relationship of Man and Woman. The difference between the two, coming together in the miracle of a unique spiritual communion, is essential to the way we understand marriage – but not only marriage, it is the way we understand the Land, the way we understand Creation.

Without commenting on Canadian Civil Marriage, we assert the unique right that Indigenous communities have to set their own way of life and their own way of speaking of marriage. Although the canon does not force anyone to do anything, the language of the revised canon changes the fundamental meaning of marriage to make it gender neutral. This is both a significant and unacceptable change to our communities, who still find male and female as essential to their understanding of the marriage ceremony.

We will discern what will be our way forward in the days ahead. We do know that we commit to the following:

We will continue in our conversation with the Anglican Church of Canada in regards to self-determination and mutual cooperation in our Anglican Christian ministry.

We will proceed towards self-determination with urgency.

We will seek ways to continue our conversation with the LGBTQ communities and individuals, affirming our earlier statements of love and welcome. ·

We call for the Church to seek ways in which to 1) further our self-determination and 2) to specifically address our self-determination in matters of cultural and social matters related to our communities. In this regard, we will seek ways for our communities to pursue and enact their own cultural understandings of when different from the rest of the Anglican Church of Canada. ·

We call for the Church to establish an inquiry into the process this decision was made. This was not the best for Indigenous Peoples, we can only believe it is not the best for others.

We believe that this entire incident calls for a review and rethinking of the ways that the Church conducts its business. We have resolved to work with you to see that we never have to be in this kind of situation again. For many of us, the silencing of our elder at the end of the Synod conversation – though understandable in Western process – was the most painful moment of all. We strongly feel that an apology to our Elder is in order.

We are deeply sad that, at a time in which the Indigenous and non-Indigenous Peoples of the Anglican Church of Canada warmly embraced each other and a new future, that we came to such divisiveness. We are deeply sorry for any ways that our actions – words and acts of sin by doing and/or not-doing – contributed to this outcome and will seek to do our very best in the future to embody the reconciliation that we see in Jesus. We believe that Christ is present among us, by His own power and promise, and we will look for Him to guide us into a better future. We, finally, pledge our very best attempts to remain brothers and sisters to all Anglicans, living out our baptismal covenant in the bonds of affection and mutual faithfulness.

Written by sameo416

September 26, 2016 at 5:04 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

“…to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost…”

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Pentecost 17C 11 September 2016 1 Timothy 1:1-17  SJE Edmonton ©2016 (updated for delivery)

Pray.  We’re starting a sermon series today concerning what it means to be part of “the Body of Christ” based on Paul’s writing in 1st Timothy.  It’s always appropriate to reflect on the question of what it means to be a part of this mystical body, and particularly so when we’re in the midst of search for a new associate priest, and just finished welcoming a new youth pastor.  In engineering when you’re faced with a problem no one has previously solved, our usual option is to return to “first principles”, foundational concepts that are the base of all derived work.  Reflecting on our membership in the Body of Christ requires us to engage theological first principles.  In doing so we ask the question which Christians throughout history have asked: what does it mean to us locally, when we assert that we are members of His mystical church, which is the blessed company of all believers (prayer of thanksgiving from the BCP Eucharist)?

In this regard we have this letter to Timothy in Ephesus.  That distant place and time was not so different from today – an ethnically diverse and belief-diverse community.  In some ways, more spiritually diverse than what we experience today – with temples to many gods available everywhere.  Paul begins this letter with a caution against false teachers and returns to a first principle, Paul’s salvation through Christ Jesus.  That principle, the person of Christ and His work on earth, is Paul’s consistent focus in all writing and teaching.  Not surprising considering that was the turning point in Paul’s life, the literal and total remaking of the person he had been…and it’s difficult to find a parallel to that conversion as an example today.  It would be something like a religious leader of the Taliban or ISIS, set on the murder of those who do not believe properly, suddenly showing up on our doorstep today and asking to preach about God’s love.

OK, into the text.  My first comment has to do with 1st Timothy overall.  As we heard today, there are portions of the text which you may fine directly challenging of your convictions.  Much ink was spilled in explaining why Paul didn`t really mean what he wrote.  Even more ink was spent on arguments that this text was not really written by Paul, but by an author who was seeking to use Paul`s authority to make his own point.  This movement to identify the `true` author of a given text has been very popular for the last few decades, most famously by the Jesus Seminar.  I was listening to a New Testament professor speaking on 1 Timothy this week, and part way through her presentation she asserted that most of the Bible had been written by other people than those credited.

I find these discussions highly problematic and I won’t spend any time on this aspect of Timothy.  There are two primary objections that keep me in a place where I`m willing to accept the canonically-assigned authorship.  1) The arguments about authorship are all based around what you might call `derived` sources…that is, using historical criticism or form criticism, by saying things like, ‘This is not the way that Paul would have written.’  This approach leaves much opportunity for personal biases to enter into the analysis, and at least a part of that movement exists for the intent purpose of removing or blunting difficult readings.  Secondly, those who formed the canon of Scripture in antiquity saw fit to include these letters ascribed in authorship to particular individuals.  There is good evidence that 1st Timothy was used by the group known as the apostolic fathers, early theologians of the 1st and 2nd century.  I`m not sure how I or any other reader 2,000 years downstream can presume that we can do a better job than those early Christians.  I would call that the height of cultural arrogance.

I am immediately suspicious of any work with Scripture that makes me more comfortable with what is written.  My desire is always to seek that which makes me feel righteous and if it can permit me to do those things which I ought not to do, all the better.  I recall a conversation I had with a seminary classmate about the story of the adulterous woman in John`s gospel (John 8).  Recall the story, the woman is about to be stoned for being an adulterer.  The Pharisees bring the woman to Jesus and ask about the Law of Moses.  Jesus replies, ‘Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.’  As he writes in the dirt, all the accusers drift away.  Now comes the punch line.  Jesus asks, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you.”  My classmate quoted this and then said, wasn`t it wonderful how Jesus accepted the woman in her sin, saved her from the religious apparatus of the day, and allowed her to go about her life?  Jesus didn’t judge her like the Pharisees did.  Did you catch the bit of the punch line that was missing?  I said to my classmate, but you’ve left off the end of the passage…and she said what?  When I told her that Jesus’ parting word to the woman was ‘Go forth and sin no more.’ She grabbed a bible to look up the passage, and then said, “I’ve never read that part before.”

That is such a good example of what I’m illustrating, that it is so easy for us to snip out the bits of a given text that hit us right where we need to be hit.  As a more humorous example there’s a scene in the Monty Python film the Life of Brian where the crowd is listening to the Sermon on the Mount.  The characters on camera are way back in the crowd, and so they mishear Jesus’ words about peacemakers, and instead hear, “Blessed are the cheesemakers.”  One asks the other – what’s so special about the cheesemakers, and his friend replies, “It’s obviously not meant to be taken literally, it means any manufacturer of dairy products.”  //  The ancient theologican Tertullian highlighted this when he describes how believers, then as now, seek an easier path, “A better god has been discovered, one who is neither offended nor angry nor inflicts punishment, who has no fire warming up in hell, and no outer darkness wherein there is shuddering and gnashing of teeth: he is merely kind. Of course he forbids you to sin – but only in writing”.  And we know all about restrictions in writing, like how easy it is to take subtle (or not-so-subtle) liberties on your taxes each year.  So there are lots of things written in Scripture, but what do we do with them when they counter something we hold very dear?  This is a critical question for each of us when we’re confronted by something in Scripture that we’ve never heard that way before, or when our first urge is to find some way to blunt the sharpness of what we’ve just heard or read…give up all that I have to follow Christ?  That’s fine as an abstract concept, but I live in the real world, meaning the world where I do as I wish. Our call is to stay in that challenging place.

We continuously seek to mold Scripture to our desires and wants, and we often do the same with our theology which is one of the real dangers of being a human within the Body of Christ.  There are two roads which can be followed from within this Body, one that leads to the fulfillment of our human desires, and one that leads to the fulfillment of God’s desires.  Ideally those two roads are the same path, for a Christian who is following God will ultimately end up right where they are supposed to be.  But, I know the truth for me is I continuously trip over my own feet as I’m following that road, and sometimes I take side trips off into the underbrush because something shiny caught my eye.

What we do understand is that Scripture, read and discerned within community and anchored in the great tradition of 2,000 years of interpretation, brings us closer to God.  This is true whether those texts fuel our hopes or bring us to our knees.  We live in this tension, summed up beautifully by the mystic saint, Julian of Norwich, who wrote, “Some of us believe that God is almighty and may do everything; and [some believe] that he is all wise, and can do everything; but that he is all love, and will do everything – there we draw back.”  While God’s touch is blessing, it is never less than burning, and not a smidgen under our control (Reynolds Price, Letters to a Man in the Fire).  While we like the intellectual appeal of a God of love and compassion, a God who might, at this very moment, be intimately involved in all aspects of our lives.  That is entirely different!

Paul’s words to us come home in a context that is not at all unlike when it was written: competing beliefs in the culture that lead to different doctrines which cause damage to the Body of Christ.  This comes through clearly in the opening caution about false teachers.  Note that Paul does not identify a particular doctrine, but rather speaks in general terms about what marks improper doctrine: it arises from speculation rather than faith; it is marked by a devotion to myths and endless genealogies; by teachers swerving into vain discussion who want more to be seen as teachers of the law rather than those who follow the law.  And this gives us a good test of anyone who presumes to be a teacher in the Body of Christ: do they submit themselves to the same challenging teachings and expectations? (this is the risk inherent in preaching)

The first warning sign for me of those who promote false doctrines or teachings is to look at the possible outcomes of the teaching.  There are a number of things that mark the discernment of God’s Word and will for the Body of Christ, all marked by the reality that these are all independent of how we might feel about the teaching.  Catholic author Peter Kreeft sets out that we should be soft hearted and hard headed, wise as serpents and harmless as doves, identifying that there are errors in either being too soft-hearted or too doctrinal.  He sums this up by saying, In our hearts we should be “bleeding-heart liberals” and in our heads “stuck-in-the-mud conservatives.””

Equally important in our discernment of God’s will for the Body of Christ are actions that force us to look external to our personal will, or even to the will of a particular community in a particular time.  We are all prey to the dominant thoughts in our culture, as much as we try to remain apart, and we must be aware that decisions made in the lifetime of one person may not consider God’s actions being worked out generation to generation.  Think about the people of Israel, moving from slavery to wandering in the desert to the Promised Land over several generations…the cultural winds would shift depending on what part of that narrative you happened to live through.  This is why discernment is a task of the community over generations.

True discernment requires we look at a number of different sources, all held in tension, but which should have some degree of agreement: the witness of Scripture; the teaching of the church, not in what is being taught right now, but what has been taught right back to the first witnesses?  the thoughts of great thinkers and teachers throughout history; what human reason tells us; what prayer reveals; what the discernment of a faithful community reveals.  If there is objection from one of those sources, it is a time for caution.

As a final test of God’s will, look for the presence and growth of the fruits of the Spirit as the outcome.  If the teaching results in the growth of love, joy and peace in the community this is a sign that it might be the action of the Spirit.  If it results in division, pain and grief, it is time to be very cautious.  This highlights another aspect of being in a faith community, that even if we believe God is calling us in a particular direction, if that movement begins to cause pain and suffering for some of our brothers and sisters, the call to the Body of Christ is to withhold from change lest we cause the faith of some to falter.  The strong believer is called to restraint lest their actions cause a weaker believer to falter in the faith which is to sin against those weaker believers.  (1 Corinthians 8)  This is a key aspect of discernment within community-that it is discernment in community…whatever you might individually feel as a result of a particular teaching is not the discernment of the community, which is the company of all faithful believers.  This counters the constant pull of our culture to individualism and the supremacy of the person…here, it is all about ‘us’, not ‘me’.

What Paul identifies as at the heart of all wrong teaching is a misapprehension as to the nature of God, which is why after the opening verses about false teachers, he immediately turns to talk about his call.  Remember that Paul was previously first among those who persecuted Christ and His followers, we hear Paul say in Philippians 3, “…circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee;as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.”  This is a direct illustration about what Paul has just written about false teachers – by restating that he was a false teacher, a blasphemer, persecutor and insolent opponent before he was saved through Christ.  This is the key message of this first part of 1st Timothy, for it is the witness of Paul’s life, and particular his willingness to admit his failure to be who God called him to be, that adds credence to his witness.

This is a radical departure from the values Paul’s place and time, and from ours as well.  What would you think if you went to visit a physician, or an investment advisor, and the first thing they did was describe to you all their failures?  Yes I’m willing to be your physician, but you should know that some of my patients didn’t get better…or I will invest your retirement savings, but you should know that I filed for bankruptcy last year after I made a series of poor investment decisions.  How long would you stick around in that office?  In the case of the Body of Christ  this is a key test and the reason why Paul is so forthright stating how he was saved from himself, from the magnificent person he had created through his own efforts, and how that all became for nought when he encountered the living God that day on the road.  While you may not want to be treated by a physician who says, “I’m the most diseased person in this city” when you are looking for leaders in a faith community, always start with the one who sincerely states, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am foremost.”

As a final illustration of this, there was an article about Omar Khadr and King’s University making the Facebook rounds this week. It highlights the journey of the King’s community in accepting the call to minister to the prisoner, even to the point it places them at risk.  When this story was posted on Facebook by a classmate of mine, he added a comment, “It may seem strange for an atheist like me to share this article; some of my friends might also remember that I am not a fan of religious universities of any stripe. However, there’s good happening here…”.  One true test of belief is what it does to those around us – does it result in the growth of fruits of the Spirt and the building up of the community?

So, as Christ held himself up on the Cross as an example for his followers to embrace, so too Paul holds himself up as a sign of what it means to be a teacher of the Law by the way he has lived his life.  This is the way we are all called to live together in sometimes difficult community, in this place and abroad, as it is the measure of how we live our lives in Christ that illuminate Christ for those around us.  May be ever be mindful of this holy calling, as we join together as brothers and sisters in the faith.  Amen.

 

 


Omar Khadr story: http://www.universityaffairs.ca/features/feature-article/welcoming-omar-khadr-kings-university/

Monty Python cheesemakers clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-xLUEMj6cwA

“For 1 Timothy reminds us what Scripture is and what Scripture isn’t. Scripture is not just a list of easily apprehended propositions with which we can agree at all times. Scripture is not just a collection of sayings that might guide our daily walk. Scripture is not just a perfect text free of discomfiting content. Scripture is as human as we are. But we also trust that God speaks through these texts, whether these texts resonate with our hopes or create a dissonant sound in our midst.”  http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3034

Reynolds Price, Letter to a Man in the Fire: Does God Exist and Does He Care? “We can ask for relief, for healing and respite; we can beg for our loved ones.  But the hands we’re in, at all times, are neither predictable nor intimately knowable.  They may cushion us, even deck us out with unasked-for gifts; but they’re never less than burning to the touch; and they acknowledge no guidance, no compass but their own.”

Peter Kreeft, on discernment: http://www.peterkreeft.com/topics/discernment.htm

  1. Have a soft heart but a hard head. We should be “wise as serpents and harmless as doves,” sharp as a fox in thought but loyal as a dog in will and deed. Soft-heartedness does not excuse soft-headedness, and hard-headedness does not excuse hard-heartedness. In our hearts we should be “bleeding-heart liberals” and in our heads “stuck-in-the-mud conservatives.”
  2. All God’s signs should line up, by a kind of trigonometry. There are at least seven such signs: (1) Scripture, (2) church teaching, (3) human reason (which God created), (4) the appropriate situation, or circumstances (which he controls by his providence), (5) conscience, our innate sense of right and wrong, (6) our individual personal bent or desire or instincts, and (7) prayer. Test your choice by holding it up before God’s face. If one of these seven voices says no, don’t do it. If none say no, do it.
  3. Look for the fruits of the spirit, especially the first three: love, joy, and peace. If we are angry and anxious and worried, loveless and joyless and peaceless, we have no right to say we are sure of being securely in God’s will. Discernment itself should not be a stiff, brittle, anxious thing, but—since it too is part of God’s will for our lives—loving and joyful and peace-filled, more like a game than a war, more like writing love letters than taking final exams.

I wrote about holy discernment in a blog two years back that presented thought similar to Kreeft:

https://sameo416.wordpress.com/2014/09/01/tests-of-doctrinal-faithfulness/

“I have known cases where what the patient called his “God” was actually located – up and to the left at the corner of the bedroom ceiling, or inside his own head, or in a crucifix on the wall. But whatever the nature of the composite object, you must keep him praying to it – to the thing that he has made, not to the Person who has made him. You may even encourage him to attach great importance to the correction and improvement of his composite object, and to keeping it steadily before his imagination during the whole prayer. For if he ever comes to make the distinction, if ever he consciously directs his prayers “Not to what I think thou art but to what thou knowest thyself to be”, our situation is, for the moment, desperate. Once all his thoughts and images have been flung aside or, if retained, retained with a full recognition of their merely subjective nature, and the man trusts himself to the completely real, external, invisible Presence, there with him in the room and never knowable by him as he is known by it – why, then it is that the incalculable may occur. In avoiding this situation – this real nakedness of the soul in prayer – you will be helped by the fact that the humans themselves do not desire it as much as they suppose.”  -Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis

Also influenced by Arthur Manuel’s book, “Unsettling Canada: A National Wake-up Call” which I’m reading this week.

Written by sameo416

September 9, 2016 at 7:56 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Brier

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Because, dear Christ, your tender, wounded arm
Bends back the brier that edges life’s long way,
That no hurt comes to heart, to soul no harm,
I do not feel the thorns so much to-day.

Because I never knew your care to tire,
Your hand to weary guiding me aright,
Because you walk before and crush the brier,
It does not pierce my feet so much to-night.

Because so often you have hearkened to
My selfish prayers, I ask but one thing now,
That these harsh hands of mine add not unto
The crown of thorns upon your bleeding brow.

Emily Pauline Johnson

Written by sameo416

August 27, 2016 at 9:13 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Cosmology and Family Heritage

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A friend recently mentioned a line from a Lee Maracle novel, “How do you begin to tell someone their world is not the only one?”   In the after-effects of Synod and some transient despair around the question of reconciliation, I’m clearly seeing that the real root issue is an inability, or an unwillingness to understand that other cosmologies or world views perceive the world in radically different ways.

This is not a question of degree, as in I think that is light blue while you call it teal.  Rather it would be like you saying that’s a chair and me saying no, its a grandfather…or you saying the Grand Canyon is the result of geology and erosion, and me saying no, Creator made it as the place from which all life came.  Do you see?  We’re not even talking about category errors, but rather a completely different way of perceiving what is around us.  It is not an academic question, but a question of being.

In spiritual matters, this has been plain to me for most of my life.  I have tangible perception of spiritual realities that most people aren’t even aware of, and I’ve encountered and seen things that can physically act in our reality but are invisible to most people.  This used to weird me out, but I’ve come to accept it as a particular part of God’s gifts for me to use in ministering to His people.  I’ve met others with similar experiences, just as I’ve met others who have physically perceived the Holy Spirit as a forceful wind that pushes on them.

When I describe those things to someone who has never had that encounter, they usually look at me like I’m unhinged or conclude that I’ve misinterpreted things (“there’s more gravy about you than the grave” as Scrooge said to his dead friend).  This is what I mean about fundamentally different world views…it is nearly impossible to even cross the divide to understand what is being spoken of.

But that is true in many aspects of reality.  I could write out the wave equations for an electromagnetic wave propagating in a waveguide from first principles, and solve them to demonstrate that there are discrete modes of propagation which can be defined by the electrical and magnetic wave maxima and minima.  Unless you have an advanced degree in electrical engineering, or had carefully studied the field, you would probably look at me in disbelief.  It’s a reflection of an old adage, any technology sufficiently advanced will appear as if it is magic.

So why is it so difficult to transition between cosmologies, to actually walk in another person’s shoes literally?  I think because it involves the need to completely remake ourselves into the being who can see differently, which is something only done with much pain and willingness to accept risk to the existence of the self.  This is not an easy journey, and you can’t make it happen just by reading a few books or a few blogs.

My experience of a couple decades of embracing my family’s suppressed indigenous history has been exactly that sort of journey.

More later…

Written by sameo416

July 14, 2016 at 11:14 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Statement of the Anglican Indigenous Bishops to the Commission on the Marriage Canon

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This is good enough material to repeat in full (as opposed to just a web link in the article previously posted).  Our indigenous bishops have voiced my pain and sense of unbalance very well in this, their submission to the marriage commission.  That this voice was submerged into a sea of other voices, and given the same degree of disregard, is a shameful act of the corporate colonial church.

Unfortunately, white society is often comfortable appropriating enough “indianess” to appear welcoming, while disregarding almost entirely the different cosmology that goes with indigenous understanding of the creation.  It is an engagement of convenience.  It ignores that our communities have an entirely different way of thinking about such questions, and an entirely different way of finding consensus that does not involve adversarial European constructs.  

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To our Relatives in Christ,

It is not easy for us to approach you on the issue of marriage in contemporary society, for us, a dangerously complex cross-cultural discussion. Though we have strong feelings and commitments on these matters, we are reluctant to speak. The intense and divisive nature of this discussion in the larger Canadian society is made much more threatening in our communities by our extended experience of misunderstanding and harmful judgment by Western institutions, especially the Church. The way the language and politics around the issues of marriage and sexuality divide people makes it seem all but impossible for our true thoughts and feelings to be heard. We have come to believe, however, that we must take the risk of expressing what we understand to be the opinions of our elders. For years now, we have been in prayer—we have meditated on Scripture, listened to what our elders have to say, and thought about the traditional ways of our peoples. With these we come to you, praying for the Spirit of Truth to lead us to the right.

Despite our mixed feelings, we are grateful that you give us an opportunity to speak. We speak to you as Indigenous Bishops and we will try to speak in an advisory manner, expressing, not only our opinion, but an account of some of the breadth of opinion among Indigenous people. We understand ourselves to be bishops for all our peoples, regardless of their opinion, sexuality, or faith. Though we take responsibility for what we say here, we have discussed these ideas with many and, more particularly, sought the counsel of one of our elders in the preparation of this statement. The most important parts of our report communicate what we understand our elders to be saying about marriage. It must be understood that this is spoken in the very real and hazardous context of our community life and the crisis in our family life today. This context is directly connected to the very painful history of colonization and its ongoing stress, poverty, and dispossession.

It is not forgotten by our elders and peoples that a great deal of this history was activated by attempts to destroy our families by the government and church. This leads to our primary position in this discussion. It is no longer acceptable to impose Western cultural questions and approaches on our societies, as if they were another segment or faction of a Euro-North American whole, either needing to be updated, tolerated, or assimilated in to the larger body. We absolutely reserve the right to make these choices and decisions, now and forever, on our own terms and in our own way.

At present, we do not hear our concerns and approach in either side of this very strained discussion. Our approach is not understood by either, and so we must, as far apart from that conflict as is possible, express our position with as much clarity as we are able. Our second primary position is, therefore, that our understanding of marriage appears to be quite different from the dominating society and both sides of this discussion within it.

For the rest of Canadian society, marriage appears to be a social contract between two people, who have the right, under law and as a human right, to form their family life in any way they see fit. (We can understand this point of view, since we are—sometimes by choice and 2 happily, sometimes with no choice and unhappily—compelled to be a part of the larger whole. We understand the Canadian society and its norms much better than it understands us.) In the understanding of the larger society, the focus of marriage is the individual choice, well-being, and happiness of the couple.

Although the well-being and happiness of couples is essential, for our elders marriage is a ceremony of the community and the primary place where we enact our understanding of Creation and the relationship of God to the universe. It is a ceremonial act that portrays our world view; it is our cosmology. What the ceremony says to the community is every bit as important as what is says to the couple. Many of our communities connect this ceremony to our experience of acceptance, salvation, and freedom in Christ. Marriage has become, for them, a picture of this mutual acceptance. Today, this is, in many communities, an affirmation of our Indigenous life and, though it may seem to be strange to many, an affirmation of our life before the arrival of Westerners and their missionaries.

Marriage is, in Indigenous understanding, an act in the spiritual realm, activated by ceremony and the commitment and love of the couples and their families. Encouraged by Christian theology and the reading of Scripture, many Indigenous Peoples enthusiastically held on to a view of marriage that saw the ceremony as activating a number of hidden but healing present rivers of spirit within the larger community. It is not that this is the only place in Creation where this happens. It is, however, the place where our elders see it in a clear and complete way. In this, the differences of sexuality, family, and clan, expressed in the marriage ceremony and family life protocols, were a necessary and essential part of this flow. Older members of the commission may remember a time when the Western view of marriage was also more sympathetic to the spiritual nature of Indigenous marriage. In this view, the spiritual character of the act was the most important part and the elements that predominate today were secondary and were derived from the first.

Though we are painfully aware that many people can no longer even imagine our cosmology or our understanding of marriage, the inspiration we receive from the world view of our elders is our only motivation; it is the encouragement that brings us to speak in the face of almost certain misunderstandings and opposition. Other questions raised about sexuality may receive various levels of reception within our communities, like anywhere else. For the most part, Indigenous counter-statements to modern trends in the understanding of sexuality were not directed at gays and lesbians, who have been and remain—in those of our communities that remain healthy, balanced, and inspired by Indigenous values—an accepted part of our communities. With this statement, we affirm that we understand gay and lesbian Indigenous people to be members of our communities and family. Not only worthy of our pastoral care and welcome, they are our brothers, sisters, children, and elders. There is no place for hatred and separation in Indigenous communities and, especially, in Indigenous Christian communities.

It is difficult to know, in the widespread and deep destruction of our history and traditions by colonial occupation, what our views were in the past, in times prior to the advent of European occupation and domination. Though many, if not most, of our societies appear to have had protocols of welcome and acceptance for homosexual members, we see little evidence that these practices were thought to be similar to marriage. Though these things were treated in various ways across our many and varied communities, we understand that there are many similarities 3 between the way marriage is viewed in the past and the way it is understood by many of our elders today.

We know that, for many, our insistence that 1) Indigenous communities must decide and rule on these matters on their own, and that 2) marriage is understood differently in our communities, will be seen as opinions that are tied to colonization and designed to express hurtful and hateful attitudes towards the gay and lesbian community. We disagree. We also hope to show that this is not true by our actions, through our fellowship, compassion, and love toward all people. We must always, at the same time, simply and resolutely declare what we believe to be true and what we believe is for the best.

Among our own people we acknowledge that there is no clear consensus about many aspects of these things. This is why we have taken the approach of this statement, speaking to our understanding of what our elders are saying, but also acknowledging that there are those who disagree—to them we extend our hand in the hope of mutual compassion and love. We know that there is also disagreement among our elders about what our own response should be, if the Anglican Church of Canada changes its teachings and laws about marriage. Some view this as intolerable, a few find this acceptable, and many would be willing to accept that we disagree with the larger church on these matters, as long as our societies, communities, and nations have the acknowledged and welcome freedom to act on their own. This last view is certainly the most widely held across the whole of our discussions on the issue. As we report these views, we cannot predict how this discussion will go forward among us. We can assure everyone that, if changes are made in church teachings and practice, there will be an extended conversation among our communities regarding an acceptable way forward.

We, as the Indigenous bishops of Indigenous communities, declare our commitment to what we understand to be the traditional, spiritual, and Indigenous understanding of marriage. We, therefore, cannot accept any changes that might be made without consultation with our communities. We pledge our love and pastoral care to all, within and without our communities, whatever their position may be. We uphold the inherent right and ability of our communities to make these decisions on their own. Finally, we promise to continue in a spirit of reconciliation and conversation with any who are willing to join us in the fellowship of Christ’s disciples. With this statement, we believe that we must also commit ourselves to the renewal of family life in our communities, through our love and respect for every one of our members. At the same time, this discussion and the crisis of our communities, call us to begin a new era of the honoring of the ceremony and discipline of marriage.

The Rt. Rev. Adam Halkett

The Rt. Rev. Mark MacDonald

The Rt. Rev. Lydia Mamakwa

Written by sameo416

July 13, 2016 at 12:06 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Marriage Canon (un-un)changed…for now…but does it really matter?

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This news story from the CBC announced the result of the much-awaited (in some quarters) vote at the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada to amend the Marriage Canon in order to permit “same-sex marriage”.

And now it looks like the motion did pass, because of a problem with the way voting was set up.  This story states the vote was miscounted.  I don’t have to change much of what I’ve written because pass or not, the vote is almost irrelevant.  What is relevant is the divisiveness and acrimony that has resulted.

The bullying problems are also reported as being the northern delegates, that is, those from primarily indigenous dioceses.  Bishop Robertson left the floor at one point in protest:

Northern representatives complained about feeling bullied, while Larry Robertson, Yukon bishop, left the floor in protest, saying he was angered at what he called the adversarial process.

As reported, the vote failed on the basis of one vote in the House of Clergy.  A momentary side path for some Synod 101 to explain what happened.

In matters of doctrine, a change to the Canons (church laws) require a 2/3 majority in each of three groups that vote at Synod: bishops, clergy and laity.  Doctrinal matters are of such central importance that only that large level of agreement, in three independent groups, can make a change.  (this of course assumes that you accept that doctrine can be decided by majority vote, which in itself is only a modern development in the church’s understanding of its polity).  If that change is voted in with 2/3 majority in each House, it would then have to be voted in at a second Synod, again a reflection of how important doctrine is to the church.  This means that the amendment will not legally take effect until passed at a second synod (2019) again with 2/3 majority in each House.

There was an interesting comment from the Primate yesterday that some were complaining of bullying in the small table discussion groups.

My own experience of these discussions is that there is a fair amount of bullying going around regardless of your particular theological stance on the question.  I’ve been told by clergy colleagues that the greatest threat to the church is orthodox theology.  As someone who follows that particular line of thought, being told that you are the greatest threat to the future of the church is not what I might term a welcoming, inclusive sort of experience. That’s just one of a series of events where I’ve witnessed and experienced coercive power being used to exclude one particular perspective.

It’s the reason I won’t attend gatherings on the subject as the use of coercive power to control and silence is too painful to witness in a group that publicly declares they are following the way of Christ.

What has become very apparent to me is that the church throws around terms like ‘inclusion’ and ‘welcome’, but means very different things from what I understand those words to mean.  When 66.67% of a group supports one thing, and 33.33% supports something diametrically opposed, it is difficult to find a place where you might talk about being inclusive.  The very nature of the discussion is fundamentally exclusive because the democratic and legal process is only structured to create winners and losers.  As I’ve pointed out previously, this debate is not really about ‘inclusion’, but about deciding which particular group it pains you the least to exclude.

Right now, it is obvious that the church as a whole is least pained by excluding anyone with a theologically traditional view of the sacrament of marriage.  Even if that voice reflects about 1/3 of the community.

I would welcome some honesty around that aspect of the discussion.  It’s one of the elephants in the room because the history of passing such motions results in division in the church.  For example, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC) after affirming such a motion reported 35 Alberta congregations leaving the church and a 25 percent decline in the budget (Anglican Journal, July 8,2013).  “Drawing the circle wide” is a bit of an oxymoron when it results in the fracturing of the body of believers.  We probably won’t have as dramatic a shift, but only because a number of those parishes have already left to join ANIC or other bodies.

In the past 10 years of discussion on this point, I have seen that degree of honesty only once.  An online discussion around the topic, involving those of all perspectives, considered this question of exclusion.  One pro-change participant finally stated why it was that they were not pained by excluding those of an orthodox bent: “You’ve had your time while others were excluded.  Now it’s their turn.”  Not ‘drawing the circle’ wide in any real sense, just changing the membership of who happens to be inside that circle.

This was a startling admission, and I was happy to have read it as it cleared up for me my confusion around the term ‘inclusive’ as used in these discussions.  Inclusive means including those whom you wish to include, while excluding those whom you really aren’t that concerned with.  I’m being harsh in stating that because it is how I perceive the use of the word ‘inclusive’ when it deliberately excludes people like me.  I think this the real lie behind the use of such terms.

There are lots of other things to say, but I’m going to avoid rehashing things I’ve said repeatedly in the past (like in my submission to the Marriage Commission).  Two points.

The first is a prediction.  Within three months the majority of Canadian dioceses will proceed to wholesale approval of same-sex marriages, rendering the national church discussion irrelevant.  This was a safe prediction to make, since two bishops openly stated they were going to proceed anyway, and a third would have publicly announced the same plan later this week.  The Marriage Canon was changed a few years back to remove the ‘man’ and ‘woman’ specifics, and now reads that ‘duly qualified persons’ are able to be married.  Since ‘duly qualified’ doesn’t get defined anywhere, there is a legal doorway that anyone can drive through at will.

Frustrated leaders are just going to go ahead and do it anyway, which in itself says something about the broken state of both our theology and our ecclesiology.  If the vote passed we would have feasting, when the vote failed now we’re going ahead anyway because we are certain that we know what is righteous.  This is a pretty cavalier approach to a matter that started out defined as doctrinal in nature.  That this does not cause gnashing of teeth throughout the church is another sign of how far we miss the mark when it comes to a real understanding of the Body of Christ.

I will make a different sort of prediction.  The impact of the cavalier approach to matters of common concern will spark a ripple of disregard for all of the polity of the Anglican Church of Canada.  This has already started, with reports over the last few years of parishes deciding to do things differently on their own initiative.  When the leadership disregards normal process (by saying I’m going to do it anyway regardless of the vote), it should not be a surprise when other leaders use that license to bring forth their changes.

What has bound us as a church for many years was a deep sense of moral obligation to each other.  This was not a legal obligation, and was summed up in the Solemn Declaration as being an intent to remain in community.  This moral authority is only a historic footnote today, as we begin to scatter to whatever winds happen to be blowing on that day. Being in community brings forth mutual moral obligation.  If the moral obligations are not respected, there is no chance that there can be real community.

The second I find greatly troubling on a deeply personal level.  The Church is completely disregarding the indigenous voices calling for a maintenance of traditional understanding. This is nothing short of a repeat of the residential schools experience for the indigenous person.

Strong words? Certainly.  Appreciate that from the aboriginal perspective this is once again a white, colonial manifesto being imposed on my community without dialogue and against our will.  Indigenous tradition reflects a far more nuanced view of sexuality than the European, but it also reflects a very traditional understanding of marriage.  While that has been stated, no where have I seen any restraint out of respect for these people that the Church (at least in Michael Peer’s words) wants to engage in healing and reconciliation. This is the second great lie – we want to reconcile, but only if you’re willing to follow us as we revise our understanding of the sacraments.

This perspective has been made clear numerous times, but there has been no willingness or effort to engage my community in a way that respects tradition and the traditional way of engaging in discussion about change.

I’ve seen a whole series of stories floating around about indigenous celebration of other sexualities.  I’m not knowledgeable enough to comment on those particular teachings, but many of those stories smack of colonial cultural appropriation.  What I hear loud and clear from the elders, almost universally across indigenous cultural groups, is that this is very contrary to their understanding of the teachings.

From the CBC news story above:

Indigenous bishops resisting change

The bishops’ group had indicated in February that the threshold would likely not be met. Indigenous bishops had also said they would resist having “Western cultural approaches” imposed on them.

From a previous source (my submission to the marriage commission) :

This is such a significant point, as it directly engages traditional teachings that exist in aboriginal cultures. The church is beginning to acknowledge that aboriginal cultures have a rich tradition independent of that which the settlers brought to Canada. This tradition has survived the repeated attempts of settler culture to destroy it. Does the Anglican Church now wish to begin that path of adversarial relations with aboriginals anew? For the church to consider moving in a direction that is contrary to the teaching of the elders, has the potential to alienate many northern congregations:

Bishop Lydia Mamakwa of the Northern Ontario mission area also commented that there is no First Nations representation on the committee. “Keep this in mind that the church and the Bible teaches that marriage is between one man and one woman…Our elders are very strong in that belief and they would like to see that continue, so please keep this in mind for our First Nations people, as they are part of the Anglican Church of Canada. (Anglican Journal, May 4, 2014)

At a provincial synod a few years ago (when I still was willing to take the risk of being in community that way) one of the Rectors from a northern, indigenous parish made a comment about the marriage question.  He said, “The day after such a motion is passed, my parish will cease to exist.”  Why?  Because it was so contrary to the indigenous understanding of what marriage was about.

As a Metis person, this troubles me in ways I can’t even begin to voice.  My family experienced racism from the church that led to a complete denial of who we were (this stretches back into the 1870s in Red River).  My great-uncle was likely the first aboriginal bishop in Canada, and certainly the first Metis bishop, but that will never be known in the history of the church, so effective was the death of who we were as a family.

Now, I find myself in a very similar space, wondering how safe it is to be me…in a church that has again spoken clearly about the place of indigenous voices within its community.

 

 

 

 

Written by sameo416

July 12, 2016 at 12:37 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

What is it that you believe?

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Pentecost 5C, 19 June 2016 SJE ©2016 Galatians 3:23-29 (no Jew or Greek); Psalm 42; Luke 8:26-39 (Gerasene Demonic)

Pray. I wasn’t originally scheduled to preach today, and didn’t realize when I invoked the Gerasene Demonic as an illustration two weeks back that it was my next Gospel to preach. Such is the synchronicity of God’s economy. I want to spend some time today reflecting on our perspective on such Gospel accounts, to speak about science and belief, and how it is that our state of belief influences the ability of the Spirit to act in our lives, and in our community.

I know that one of the things that drew me to this community of faith, and one of the things that keeps me here, is the quality of the teaching that I receive, not just from the pulpit, but from everyone in the community. I am encouraged by your faith, and your faithfulness teaches me things about being a Christian I could not learn on my own. This is a hallmark of a community of faith, that the faithfulness of all those who call that community home is a form of prophetic declaration of faith, much in the same way that my preaching is a prophetic declaration of the faith. The reason that challenging teaching draws me into community is not because it gives me easy answers about life, but because it sets out before me the difficult questions that I need to engage. Preaching is not about giving people answers to questions. It is about creating a reality in which you can begin to engage those questions within your own faith journey. Preaching is about building a theological framework that allows the followers of Christ to think about challenging reality in a way that is Christ-centric and consistent with the faith. So today’s focus, around this miracle account of the freeing of a man long-possessed, is ask you to reflect on how your particular world-view influences the way you hear God’s Word.

To we modern Christians, tales like the Gerasene Demoniac are sometimes seen as quaint oddities that hearken back to an age without the benefits of our modern knowledge and most particularly an age without science. We literally today have the entire world of knowledge available at our fingertips anytime of the day and night, and it is a heady power that leaves us convinced that no person of the past was as smart as we are today. This is really just a continuation of a mode of thought that arose during the Enlightenment, the scientific revolution, when one of the dominant paradigms was the idea that everything under the sun, all of creation, could be explained or would be explained by the brilliance of science. For a while it seemed that way, but the reality of science has been a process of continual remaking of what was first thought to be fundamental truth.

Miracles of any sort in the Gospels present us with a challenge. Our worldview, conditioned by that Enlightenment thinking, encourages us to immediately dismiss such accounts or alternatively to restructure them in a way that guts them of anything miraculous. We are left with a worldview with no room for anything that we cannot slot into a pragmatic, scientific context and that rationalizes what is recounted as understandable in modern terms. In fact, if you read modern Bible commentators, some spend more time explaining why something has a scientific explanation than actually attempting to engage the Scriptural text. And as I’m speaking about this modern, scientific, worldview, appreciate that I come to such questions as a scientist, an applied scientist and an empiricist and someone trained in theology, with a foot in both worlds.

Historically, the theological method was, the scientific method. That probably sounds a bit shocking. Theology was called “the queen of the sciences”, for it was the interpretive method through which all rational scientific inquiry was done. Now, you might say that is a fine historic thought, but it surely does not apply today. I can attest that my study of theology has made me a better engineer, and my engineering has made me a better theologian. At the root, all of these pursuits have a common goal which is faith seeking understanding. Even the pure sciences have at their root this idea of faith seeking understanding, although it is usually vehemently denied by those outside of the professions. Why is it denied? Because anything that smacks of the supernatural is seen today as fundamentally illogical and irrational. Nothing is further from the truth. In fact, our scientific method is based on what I would describe as faith-based assumptions.

Science is based on some fundamental assumptions about the nature of reality, fundamental assumptions that cannot really be empirically proven. One such assumption is the repeatability of observation. That is, it is assumed that the creation is well-behaved enough that we can discern scientific reality by watching things enough times to form repeatable theories. That’s not something you can empirically prove, even if it can be accepted as a good fundamental assumption because it frequently allows us to learn new things about our reality. A second fundamental assumption of science is that you can objectively view and measure things. What if the reality we perceive is not real? Then what we measure might also not be real, but we have no way of stepping outside of this frame of reference to look back in as a truly objective observer. I don’t want to spend any more time on the ontology and epistemology of science except to say, if you believe that science rests on an inviolable foundation of absolute truth, you are no longer thinking scientifically, but dogmatically…that is, you have ascribed to science the ability to make absolute truth claims…something which can only be done by crossing over into the realm of religion.

This is one of the reasons why many of the climate change debates I hear drive me absolutely batty, particularly when you hear the assertion that “the science is settled” on this question. Science, by definition, is never settled. Science reserves the right to be proven wrong every time a question is asked or data are examined. The history of science is a long tale of strongly-defended theories being cut to pieces by new data. An example of this development is our understanding of the fundamental building blocks of matter that has shifted dramatically. Thompson’s “plum pudding” model of the atom was held to be the truth in the early 1900’s. In 1911 that model was replaced by Rutherford’s which taught us that the atom had a small, very heavy, nucleus and was really mostly empty space. I recall in my early science classes in grade school being taught that the smallest elemental particle was the electron. Today, the list of elemental particles is too long to recite from memory and continues to grow. Each time there is a new discovery, all of the previous things held to be true need to be re-assessed. That is science, which means that science is not an arbitrator of absolute truth. A second dramatic area of change was around the motion of objects. Newtonian motion was considered the final unifying theory until Einstein came along and we realized that the very fast or very massive didn’t obey Newton. Einstein is still being proven with the detection of the first gravity waves earlier this year but (and in science there is always a but) now we have the quantum world which apparently follows a new set of rules. Every time our ruler becomes more precise we discover a new things to measure.

Science is a technique to collect repeatable observations of reality and to systematize those into explanations that can be used to predict the nature of reality…it is recursive and truth-seeking, but it is not in itself an absolute source of truth. But, modern culture receives science as the absolute reality, and so our cultural skepticism leads us to discount the supernatural outright as being fundamentally contrary to a scientific worldview. This leads to us unconsciously dismissing the miraculous in Scripture as being fundamentally unhinged, or explainable by exploiting the obvious poor knowledge of those reporting the accounts…we say, if the person writing the Gospel had been a modern person benefiting from science, these stories would have been much more lucid and explained away by science (without usually acknowledging that there are many things that science cannot explain even today). A couple classic examples about today’s reading. Some suggest what is really going on here is a witty satirical story about the Roman occupiers. The demon identifies themselves as “Legion”, which was the name of a large body of Roman soldiers. Jesus sends the Legion of soldiers into an unclean animal, the pig, which would be one of the ultimate Jewish insults, and then defeats the Roman soldiers by drowning, arising victorious. See how neatly the miraculous has been converted into a moralizing story? The fact it fails to engage major parts of the narrative is ignored, because the primary goal of removing the supernatural has been achieved. Another writer notes that that the modern mind first jumps to the economic question about the cost of 2,000 pigs, and next to the question of cruelty to animals. That same commentator notes that preachers with modern interest should instead focus on the reduction in the size of carbon footprint through the death of the pigs (aside from the 2,000 pig corpses now floating in the lake, releasing their sequestered carbon, that is). So much modern effort is spent in attempts to neuter the Gospel, to reduce it to something safe and malleable and contained. Our main goal is to divert our attention from the miraculous to make us comfortable within our Enlightenment world view.

One of my non-believer engineering colleagues once said to me, “You know what’s wrong with the Bible?” (I always love those opening statements from non-believers) “It’s never been re-written to address the needs and concerns of modern people.” I asked him if he had ever read the Bible, and he admitted he hadn’t. So I said, you know what really amazes me about the Bible? The fact that it still has the power to bring even modern people to their knees, in spite of being a narrative that is in some cases 10,000 years old. What my engineering colleague was reflecting is a common thought of modernity that anything that is more than a few years old can’t be of any real use to a modern people, who of course need modern answers to modern problems. By contrast, the reality which I observe is we’re really not as wise as we like to think we are. What my engineering world view has confirmed for me many times is that my scientific perception of the reality is limited, and only offers an imperfect understanding of that which is around me. I have seen and experienced things which are indescribable from a purely scientific perspective, because by definition, things that are supernatural are beyond the sway of the science’s ability to observe and explain the natural world.

Miraculous accounts in the Gospels should be taken at face value. Sure, the writers did not have our advanced knowledge of the causes of disease, or the treatment of mental illness, but they did know a lot about the natural world…and understood it in a way that we don’t today because we have all become so separated from the natural. The Israelites were not savages running around throwing sticks at each other, but were an advanced culture with great understanding of the world. Do not let a limited world view shut down the richness of Christian reality present in the Scriptures. We must read the Scriptures by presuming that miraculous healings, raising from the dead and the existence of demons and demonic possession are possibilities in God’s economy, even if we have not experienced those things first-hand.

There are miracles happening around us regularly. I know that there are members of our community who have experienced those things first hand, and continue to experience them first hand. I also know from experience that most of those people don’t openly speak about their experiences for they have learned how unaccepting the community of faith can be when people cross over into the mystical. Lord knows, I won’t even talk about such things in groups of clergy unless I know them all really well, because I’ve had so many bad reactions to my accounts of what I’ve experienced. One example – on my internship in Saskatoon my Rector and I had visited a man who was dying and in a coma. We prayed for him quite intensely. Later that night I had a vision of him dying, and being taken away by what I can only describe as angels…and I knew the exact time he had died which was later confirmed to the minute. I told that story to my internship student group at our weekly debrief. When I finished I had a room full of soon-to-be clergy staring at me in silence. Finally, one of my classmates said, I’ve heard stories like that before and I’ve always dismissed them as impossible…but I know you, and I know how rational you are, so I have to believe that such things actually happen.

The reason I’m speaking about this is because one of the problems with modern Christian faith is that we believe far too small, or we believe a little bit and become unbelievers when things don’t work out the way we think they should (if God was really good, he would do this…). We are supposed to be a community of miraculous expectation meaning we should be surprised when the miraculous is not regularly appearing in our midst. And there is a link between the state of our belief and the ability of the Spirit to work the miraculous, as we’re told in Mark 6, “5 And [Jesus] could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. 6 And he marveled because of their unbelief.” In his hometown, Jesus was unable to do any mighty works because of their disbelief. This is not to say that if we believe enough that anything we pray for will happen; but to assert that if we don’t believe at all there is an impact on the Spirit. Our worldview is not a neutral thing that impacts only us as individuals but rather it impacts everyone in the community. If Jesus was so limited by the disbelief of his home community, we cannot expect anymore as members of the Body of Christ. Secondly, this world view encourages a damaging conclusion: if we want to have any transformation in this world, it is up to us to do it because God is no longer acting within the creation in any real way. That is, if we want God to save this creation, we had better get busy and do it ourselves, because there’s no way He is going to do it on His own. This is a form of idolatry, which places the real work of God within creation, entirely into our hands. What we’re really saying is that God is not acting as we believe he should be acting, and so we take the Divine action into our own hands to achieve a quick-fix solution, which is a form of idolatry.

Consider this account of a miraculous deliverance of a man possessed by many demons. We have Jesus moving into unclean Gentile territory, into the unclean tombs, and into contact with an unclean man full of unclean spirits next to a herd of unclean animals, and Jesus renders it all holy and whole. The man, who no chains could hold, is now sitting, clothed and lucid, at the feet of Jesus. The man who Jesus freed from the chains of possession is now truly free, while those of the countryside who witnessed all this are themselves bound by fear, and as a result ask Jesus to leave them, which he immediately does. How often do we ask Jesus to withdraw from our lives and our communities because we have to be the ones in control? How often do we decide we have to act because we can’t trust God?

How do you receive the narrative? More importantly, how do you react? Do you look away in fear or disregard and bind yourself against God’s ability to break through, or does the manifestation of God’s authority in the midst of suffering fill you with hope and joy? Even more importantly, do you see the authority of Jesus manifested in the exorcism of this man from the tombs as an authority that all Christians may rely on by virtue of our membership in the Body of Christ? Or, is this a story of a past time that is no longer relevant to we modern believers? How we perceive the Scriptures is a reflection of what we believe, and what we believe directly influences what the Spirit can do in our midst. Is your belief big enough? Amen.

https://www.ligo.caltech.edu/news/ligo20160211 The LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory) detected gravity waves in September 2015.

Written by sameo416

June 18, 2016 at 10:43 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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