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Archive for January 2018

The Confession of Saint Peter A Sermon Preached at the Consecration of a Bishop

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The Confession of Saint Peter, Acts 4:8-13, Ps 18, 1 Cor 10:1-5, Matt 16:13-19

My sisters and brothers in Christ, I speak to you in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen.  I would like to acknowledge that the land on which we gather today is the traditional territory of the Tsimshian nation. My thanks to that nation for our use of the land. Hiy, Hiy.

We stand together as one people of God to undertaken a solemn and joyous task today, one that should fill us all with equal measures of fear and trembling and that mystical joy that is only possible through the intervention of the Holy Spirit. We stand together today to witness the making of a bishop, in the Church of Christ, a tangible sign of unity that connects us with so many other sisters and brothers throughout time and space, far beyond this place. And yet, as we undertake this holy offering of our brother David, we do so knowing that these tangible signs of unity are at times overshadowed by our very human tendencies to division and conflict. Yet all this falls away, like scales from our eyes, when confronted with the majesty and grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God.

I have known David for something like 21 years. I was a fellow Anglican worshiping on the nearby military base when he was Rector of the parish in town, a parish that we joined a year later. I was his Rector’s Warden and a Lay Reader until we were posted away and I started my journey to ordained ministry. I returned one summer for a brief period of internship – my only real memory of that time was skidding trees off the backlot behind the church. It did cement for me the reality of a multi-point rural priest: one day speaking about the Creator’s love, the next cleaning the bathroom or cutting trees. It was a great introduction to the realities of ministry and taught me early on that all tasks are holy when done as a prayerful offering.

I won’t presume to tell a soon-to-be-bishop where to go, or how to get there, but I will offer some reflections from my own struggles with being a leader and a person of Christ. I will approach the readings today from three perspectives: as an applied scientist (so there’s going to be math); as a theologian (so there’s going to be mystery); and as an Indigenous person who tries to understand the Creation through what Mi’kmaw Elder Albert Marshall calls “two-eyed seeing”. Using multiple perspectives helps us to avoid being trapped in a single cosmology as we seek to understand. Apart from the thousands of pages of advice and techniques the secular world tell us is essential stuff for a leader, in the way of Christ we are shown that ultimately a leader has only one task: to love those in her care both in and out of season; and particularly to love those whom you find to be particularly unlovable. And there is no way to carry out that task successfully based on human strength, but only if you are willing to be infused with the love of He who laid down his life for each of us, Jesus Christ.

Jesus leads the disciples into the district of Caesarea Philippi, at the literal edge of the northernmost boundary of the historic Israel. This was a city steeped in world religions – the city was originally named “Paneas” reflecting the city’s patron the Greek god Pan, and was later named the Caesar City of Philip by Herod’s son in honour of both himself and the Caesar. It was a fitting place for the Son of God to ask questions about his-self of the disciples, to define who and what he was in contrast to the pantheon of other religions available in the city. This was a boundary place, and it is often in the boundary places where we find tangible displays of God’s presence. It is in similar boundary-zones, or liminal places, where we find the opportunity for the greatest transformation of ourselves, as we sometimes need to be separated from our comfortable dispensations (cf TS Elliot) in order to truly experience an encounter with the Living God. This is something that we are all about this afternoon, as we witness the making of a new bishop, as through our prayers and praise we invoke that Living God to make this place liminal, a place of transition and transformation, that will see Priest David become Bishop David, and then David Caledonia.

Sometimes a change can only unfold for us when we are removed from those comfortable dispensations, when our usual haunts and supports no longer surround us. It is only then, when we are stripped bare of everything, that our usually full hands can be presented with the gifts which God wishes to give us. [CS Lewis] We step into the realm of the new, the unknown, and there answer a simple question: who do you say I am? A simple question that will define for us the entirety of our reality going forward from this point, even unto death.

Peter’s Confession is an appropriate reading for the making of a bishop, as it forms for us a brief and succinct assertion about what is properly the centre of what we are about as Christians. The syntax here carries a sense of the imperative in Jesus’ question to them all, sure, that’s what everyone else is saying; “but you, who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter’s reply is full of none of the equivocation we will hear from him in a few days’ time. This is a pivotal moment in Christ’s ministry, as with this confession Jesus turns from his ministry on earth to anticipate the end and in a few short verses will turn to predict his death. It is an appropriate moment to have in this boundary place, this place of transition. Notable is the boldness and directness of Peter’s assertion. This is not the introduction to a lengthy theological treatise about the nature of Christ, but a single sentence that encapsulates the whole: “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” The Christian church is on firm ground when she is as definitive about the one proclaimed, and ill when she equivocates, for it is the Christ that is necessarily at the centre of all we do. While this is a succinct definition, it is only the start of the description. For the definition to be completed, it will have to be worked out in suffering and finally, nailed to a tree. The Word nailed to wood will make this clear.[Bruner]

As we stand here today, that city of Caesarea Philippi is only a shadow of its biblical self. The multitude of temples to Pan persist only as foundations or cut-outs in the banks surrounding the city, as all the temples have passed while we continue to speak of the living God, the God who is alive and is life-bringing today. [H. O’Driscoll] The second god commemorated by this traditional place, the Caesar, has similarly passed into history as yet another empire of humanity which has not stood the test of time. This two-fold undoing of things which were grand and expected to last, just as the stones of the great temple in Jerusalem would eventually be displaced for good (Matt 24), is a cautionary signal to us here today about the importance of the works of humanity versus the clear and pointed confession of Peter. It is a reminder how often we focus on the doing of activities and the busy-ness of our day jobs in an effort to push forward God’s mission: sometimes acting as if not for us and our sweat that Living God would have little leverage to overhaul a broken world. God does not need Abraham, God can raise children from stones (Matt 3).

This is a pointed and relevant caution for us today as we carry on the work of the Bride of Christ, the Church, in the making of a bishop. In my day job I live a highly secular existence that circulates around business models, mission and vision statements, effective use of social media, branding, budgets and reporting to stakeholders. It is a distraction for the church as well. It is easy to convince ourselves that all our plans are the primary focus and to fall into the trap of searching for the right program or approach which will transform the worldly failings of our faith community into something bright and wonderful. Faith-based publishers provide thousands of resources that all promote the same message: if you can find the right system, churches will fill, money will be plentiful, and all will be well. In contrast, Peter and Jesus, have none of that about them in this moment, and we should pay attention to this exchange as a reminder of what we are to be in the world. It is attractive for us to focus on the rules, the laws, the Corporations Act as these are things we can sink our teeth into and understand and control – and it gives us the mistaken impression that we are the ones in control of everything.

This lie of control, that we are the ones who have to do it all, and that our victory over darkness will come with better business planning, is a dominant thought in Western culture. It comes to us as a continuing gift of the Enlightenment, and more specifically an enduring world view that comes to from science and particularly the works of Isaac Newton.  Newton, in his brilliant description of motion, also transformed the way we, and particularly the church, perceived reality. We are possessed of a Newtonian world view, you might say. Newton’s brilliance changed the way we saw the Creation, from a place of enchantment and mystery to one that was mechanistic, reductionist and positivist – where we believed we understood how everything worked. Through his math describing motion and energy transfer Newton convinced us that the Creation was something which could be defined and controlled entirely by the mind of humankind through mathematics: a world which was fundamentally fragmented, linear and hierarchical. That view infused all other investigation, including transforming the church, and leaving us with the idea that we were properly centred in the Creation, that reality was as we defined it, and as we would make it. That world view in turn gives us a fragmented and linear perspective of the person of Christ. [cf Charles Taylor, A Secular Age presents a similar thought, although he disagrees on the impact of the Enlightenment.]

In the eyes of the world, all reality is a machine which can be broken down to its bits and then rebuilt, all is within our understanding and all is within our control. That’s not a bad starting point for scientists working solely within Newton’s method; but it’s an awful place for a people of faith to dwell. It draws us into the lie that if we don’t figure out how to make the church great, it will fail and God will not be able to do anything on earth. Anglicans are particularly attracted to this place because we have a strong history as an intellectual tradition, which is not a bad thing…until it convinces us that we’re really brighter than we should think of ourselves.

The creator of quantum physics, Nobel laureate Werner Heisenberg, popularly known for his uncertainty principle, made this comment about a reductionist approach to reality:

The positivists have a simple solution: the world must be divided into that which we can say clearly and the rest, which we had better pass over in silence. But can anyone conceive of a more pointless philosophy, seeing that what we can say clearly amounts to next to nothing? If we omitted all that is unclear we would probably be left with completely uninteresting and trivial tautologies.

It is a cautionary word from a physicist that the reductionist approach to the Creation leaves us with being able to say next to nothing. Yet, this is still the way much of our thought and analysis unfolds – we work on the presumption that reality moves in straight lines – that a given input will consistently result in a given output. If you want to test that approach out in practice, try some pastoral counselling, or play the stock market. Both will quickly reveal to you that few things are predictable using straight, linear causation. These realizations are making their way into diverse areas of science, and are transforming what was previously conceived of as linear processes and thought, into webs of relationships that interact and display emergent properties – that is, the system produces outcomes which are not predictable. Emergent behaviour is a characteristic of any complex system, and it happens that reality is a pretty complex system. The reality we inhabit is not Newtonian, and I will suggest that moving out of that purely Newtonian framework is one of the challenges facing the church today. [TF Torrance]

The impact of Einstein’s general and special theories, and much recent work on the world of quantum physics, tell a story of a much more nuanced reality where interactions between objects are relational rather than linear.[1] We know that we exist within fields of energy, and that interactions are always taking place around us, even while we are unable to perceive them, and often unable to measure them in any real way. This is the realm where I find great parallels with theology, and quantum understandings of the chaotic and non-linear nature of relationships fit well in understanding Scripture.

Does this mean that all people of faith need to do a degree in physics? No, and there are a number of reasons for that, one being that we already have an alternative world view present within the Body of Christ, one which is not Newtonian but highly quantum in structure, and one which predates Einstein’s work and that is the Indigenous world view. The Indigenous world view has always been one which is inseparably relational, and has always observed the Creation as a complex system with emergent properties: it was only in the 1980’s in Alberta in a series of dialogues between Indigenous Elders and theoretical physicists initiated by Leroy Little Bear that the physicists realized that this quantum world they had known about for 100 or so years, had been an integral part of Indigenous teachings for thousands.

When we hear Indigenous speak of “all my relations” this is not prescribing a linear family tree of relatives. Rather “all my relations” inscribes a large circle, a wheel, which encompasses all of Creation in that relationship. This is not the way Newtonian-conditioned ears hear Indigenous reality and so when we protest pipelines or dams this is often seen as a kind of Indigenous not-in-my-backyard activity. In reality we protest because of the damage that will be done to our relation, the earth. So in my Indigenous thought, the earth is not a thing to be used to achieve my goals, but a member of my relations to be respected and cared for, so the earth may in turn provide and teach my people. This is the principle reason that we need to continue reconciliation, and to continue initiatives like the Indigenous Church and the Indigenous Spiritual Ministry of Mishamikoweesh, not because it is the right thing to do (it is), but because we need to again be taught what it means to live in a quantum relationship with the Creator. This is our natural dwelling place as Christians. The binding of our world view to Newton is linear and singular and centres us as individuals. Indigenous see the Creation as holistic and cyclical and not centring an individual in that world view. Rather the Creation is highly relational, with all sorts of quantum interactions happening, both seen and unseen, all the time. [Leroy Little Bear]

Peter’s confession reminds us that we are called to a different way of thinking about the Creation, one that is fundamentally relational in understanding where we fit within “all my relations”. This is a space well-known to Indigenous who accept that intrinsic relationality as the default in interacting with the Creation. It is a mode of thinking that theologian John Haught refers to as “anticipatory”, which sees the world not deterministic, and finds science and faith to be working at the same end: looking ultimately for the relational meaning in which we exist, a world that is still as infused with mystery as it was when Peter made his declaration. A world full of rich relationship and interaction happening all the time.

Peter’s bold statement – that Jesus was THE Christ, Son of the Living God, and it is a statement that foundationally defines us as Christians. And the implicit relationality in that assertion reminds us that our primary goal is not to achieve a successful church defined in worldly terms, but rather to be Christ’s church a reality that is uncontrollable and calls us primarily to be a people of prayer and love. Priest Robert Capon wrote about this in his book Hunting the Divine Fox,

And we ourselves get depressed when we find that our cult of the successful church, our trust in the proper efficacy of our efforts, is just another batch of hogwash. We worry when people leave the church, we fret when they don’t come in, only because we forget that the church’s business has a mysterious, not a direct, connection with her life. People come and go for all sorts of plausible reasons. Some quit because they hate the priest; others join up in order to hate the priest. Some stay on in the hope of having their questions answered; others buzz off because they don’t like the answers they get. … We can do it so badly that we end up in the poorhouse. But we still rest secure in the possession of the Mystery that never fails. … So no faking of the signs, if you please, and no simplifying of the Mystery. No …restaurant church where you eat plausibilities and feel hungry an hour later. Just the true church – the old leaky bucket, full of the water of life, from which we drink and never thirst again. (Capon, Hunting the Divine Fox)

So we are called to be a quantum church, a church not organized like the world…but rather, in the words of Rowan Williams we are called to, ‘inhabit it as a climate or a landscape…a place where we can see properly…a place…that is in some way growing towards being the universe itself in restored relation to God. … [but] forget this, and you’re struck with a faith that depends heavily on what individuals decide and on what goes on inside your head.’ It calls us into a stewardship which ‘refuses to be pushed into patterns which are dominantly functional’ but that fully engage the mystery to which we are called. (R. Williams, 2004)

Let us each, and collectively as this bit of the Body of Christ, engage that mystery as we say with Peter, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” Amen


References and assorted sources (I spent a lot of time reading and reflecting on this topic, so much so that my usual habit of working at my day job in the evening fell by the wayside, and I ended up way behind at work…which is probably healthier to spend my off hours reading theology rather than business plans):

Some of the reasoning is not credited, but reflects the work of Sydney Dekker, a cognitive systems engineer, in his books on just culture, accident causation (Drift into Failure). I’m also using a ton of ideas from the work of Howard Zehr and others writing in the realm of restorative justice.

The largest support to that constant outflowing of love is time in the Word and in prayer, and more than anything I expect a bishop to be a person immersed in both, steeped in prayer and the Gospel like fine tea, where the reality of Christ fills every cell. This is a challenge, particularly for a bishop in a diocese that spans a portion of our Canadian northern reality – vast stretches of wilderness punctuated briefly by industry, shuttered saw mills and smaller settlements. The model of bishop as CEO also mitigates against time in prayer, as the demands of the business of the church calls to meetings, business plans, budgets and busy work. Business intended at some points to convince ourselves that we are alive, and progressing – in a reflection on why a parish was maintaining a very expensive listing in the Yellow Pages, one leader remarked, ‘I like to see it there, it makes us seem alive and active.’ This sort of focus reflects a movement away from the centre that is Christ, and our business busy-ness anchors us more soundly in this world and away from our place as prayers.

This can be a lonely place to be, for it is a truism that leaders of all sorts stand alone. I’m often reminded when I get low that the world does not rest solely on my shoulders, as Welsh poet-priest RS Thomas wrote in “The Country Clergy”,

I see them working in old rectories
By the sun’s light, by candlelight,
Venerable men, their black cloth
A little dusty, a little green
With holy mildew. And yet their skulls,
Ripening over so many prayers,
Toppled into the same grave
With oafs and yokels. They left no books,
Memorial to their lonely thought
In grey parishes; rather they wrote
On men’s hearts and in the minds
Of young children sublime words
Too soon forgotten. God in his time
Or out of time will correct this.

The bishop as leader and as connection to the great tradition is called to fulfill the role of the bridge – the ‘pontifex’ across many chasms. The largest chasm that bridge is called to lead us across is the one defined by human pride that seeks to drive us apart, to ensconce us in factions or camps, to say “I follow Paul…or Apollos…or Cephas” or any one of a thousand other factions which we may choose to set ourselves apart from those we find difficult to be with, and yet we are each convicted in the intrinsic unity of the One Blood, bought for our salvation through the One crucified. It is for this reminder that we look toward our bishops, to call us again back to the truth that our common profession of faith is what unites us, in spite of our too-human tendency to split. (1 Cor 1:10-13)

“[W]hy was it virtually impossible not to believe in God in, say, 1500 in our Western society, while in 2000 many of us find this not only easy, but even inescapable?” (p. 25) God’s presence retreated in three dimensions. (1) People no longer see natural events as acts of God. (2) Society “could only be conceived as grounded in something higher than human action in secular time.” (p. 25) (3) People lived then in an enchanted world, now in disenchantment… Charles Taylor, A Secular Age

The other inoculation which Indigenous reality can provide for the settler church, is that many of the quantum, relational concepts now being “discovered” by Western science have been known as teachings for millennia. It was not that long ago that Western science concluded that birds were an ancient species and as such of limited intellect as they possessed an under-developed brain – hence the expression ‘bird brained’. That thought accepted as dogma is now revised as it turns out that birds have much more tightly packed neurons. Indigenous teachings have always recognized the intelligence of birds. [Jay Ingram mentioned this in an interview with Leroy Little Bear]

https://news.vanderbilt.edu/2016/06/13/study-gives-new-meaning-to-the-term-bird-brain/

Info on Catholic historian Charles Stanley https://livingchurch.org/covenant/2018/01/03/a-theology-for-anglican-church-growth/

On our keeping of the TRC calls to action: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/three-years-later-is-canada-keeping-its-truth-and-reconciliation-commission-promises/article34790925/

ACC Primate’s comment on the possibility of a national Indigenous Church by 2019: http://www.anglicanjournal.com/articles/indigenous-church-possible-2019-says-primate/

Princeton Theological Review special edition on TF Torrance: http://www.princetontheologicalreview.org/issues_pdf/39.pdf

TF Torrance wrote about the need to integrate practical application within theory, in theology as in science, as stated by Professor NEIDHARDT:

“With respect to theology, even a cursory reading of Karl Barth’s monumental Church Dogmatics reveals Barth’s recognition that dogmatic theology and the everyday concerns of church people are always intimately related. Torrance has clearly recognized the exacting congruence between Karl Barth’s unitary integration of practice and theory in all his theological work and similar unitary patterns in the scientific epistemologies of pioneering physicists. Foremost among these physicists were James Clerk Maxwell, who discovered the hidden unity of electric and magnetic phenomena manifesting themselves in the electrodynamic field, and Albert Einstein, who built upon Maxwell’s work in creating special relativity theory. Special relativity displays the unity of Clerk Maxwell’s electrodynamics, thereby competing his unifying insight. Building on this work, Einstein then developed general relativity in which geometry and mechanics form an integrated unity.

The following extended quote deserves careful reading, for it summarizes the theological unity of the Old and New Testaments which undergirds all of Professor Torrance’s integrative efforts with respect to theology and natural science:

The doctrine of the creation of the world out of nothing, of course, had its roots in the Old Testament and the Jewish understanding of the one God, who is the source of all that is outside himself, and who remains transcendent Lord over all that he has made, so that if he were to withdraw his creative and upholding presence from the creation it would lapse back into chaos and sheer nothingness. This teaching carried with it a conception of the free (non-necessary) relation of God to the world, by which its contingent nature is constituted, and a unitary outlook upon the world creatively regulated by God’s Word, which calls into question all forms of religious, cosmological, and epistemological dualism. The creative act which brought the universe into being and form was not regarded as limited to its impulse, but as remaining unceasingly operative, preserving, unifying, and regulating all creative existence which conversely was contingent in every respect of its nature and in no sense divine. Thus Judaism contributed to a profound understanding not only of the absolute beginning, but of the continuity, stability, and uniformity of the natural world as grounded beyond itself in the constancy, faithfulness, and reliability of God its Creator and Preserver.

However, it was Christian theology which radicalized and deepened the notion of contingence and gave reality to the notion of contingent intelligibility, through thinking out, in critical and constructive discussion with Greek science, the relation of the creation to the incarnation of God’s Word in Jesus Christ within the spatio-temporal realities and intelligibilities of contingent existence in this world. The incarnation made it clear that the physical world, far from being alien or foreign to God, was affirmed by God as real even for himself. The submission of the incarnate Son of God to its creaturely limits, conditions, and objectivities carried with it an obligation to respect the empirical world’ in an hitherto undreamed-of measure.

Hence, nature is indeed real! Accordingly, the seemingly small details of nature are important-worthy of detailed study. It is not a waste of culture’s finite resources for some people to worry about such things as how small versus big stones fall.

On the one hand, clear differentiation between the incarnation as the personal embodiment of God’s Logos being embodied in it, shattered the Greek idea that the intelligible order of the world is to be understood as a general embodiment of the divine Logos immanently within it; i.e., as its necessary, inner cosmological principle. That was to have very far-reaching effects in liberating the world from its inward bondage to divine changelessness in virtue of which it was held to be impregnated with final causes, and thus in liberating nature from the iron grip of sheer necessity that resulted from them. On the other hand, the interrelation of the Logos and the creation of all things, visible and invisible out of nothing by that same Logos, called for a profound rethinking of the relation between God and the world … in which it is recognized the incarnation has the constant effect of affirming the contingent intelligibility of the Creation, reinforcing the requirement to accept it as the specific kind of rationality proper to the physical world, and as the only kind capable of providing evidential grounds for knowledge of the universe in its own natural processes.”

From: Thomas F. Torrance, Divine and Contingent Order. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1981), pp. 32-34.

http://www.asa3.org/ASA/PSCF/1989/PSCF6-89Neidhardt.html

WH Auden’s poem Vespers

https://www.thefreelibrary.com/W.+H.+AUDEN%27S+%22VESPERS%22%3A+A+CHRISTIAN+REFUTATION+OF+UTOPIAN+DREAMS+OF…-a066681248

“Dom Gregory Dix shows that the Divine Office developed from a desire to sanctify time by integrating work and worship. The pattern of the day’s work and activity is affirmed in terms of the events of salvation history.(2) In this affirmation of history as a dimension of God’s presence, the Divine Office dramatizes the paradoxical nature of our existence as simultaneously finite and free. […]

In The City of God Augustine describes Cain’s murder of Abel as the primal, archetypal crime upon which the earthly city is founded. This archetypal event is later repeated in a crime of the same kind when Romulus kills his brother Remus, an event that marks the founding of Rome, “the capital of the earthly city.” To underline the primacy of the “Sin Offering” of fratricide as the foundation of the civitas terenna, Augustine quotes a line from Lucan’s Pharsalia which describes the walls of Rome “dripping with a brother’s blood (City of God XV.5.600). This image becomes a “cement of blood” in Auden’s “Vespers” and illustrates the demonic aspect of the quest for autonomy and transcendence, forcing the Utopian and Arcadian to recognize that they are “accomplices” in the death of innocence. For a split second they acknowledge our victim as the blood offering upon which their own dreams of autonomy depend. Utopias, arcadias, and democracies are thus refuted as inadequate interpretations of ultimate fulfillment.

Self-love is an aspect of the civitas terenna, call it utopia, arcadia, democracy. The original sin of our desire to be as God touches every moment of our historical existence. At the same time our capacity for freedom and transcendence bears the possibility of redemption and this too touches every moment of our historical existence. In Auden and Augustine it is not possible to separate the wheat from the chaff or the demonic from the redemptive which characterize history as a dialectic of human choice. The earthly and heavenly cities are interwoven. ”

WH Auden in his poem, Horae Canonicae, in the section named ‘Vespers’.  All of the creation turns on one reality, as Auden writes about the meeting of two dissimilar and disliking people at the cross-roads:

…cannot resist meeting to remind the other … of that half of their secret which he would most like to forget forcing us both, for a fraction of a second, to remember our victim (but for him I could forget the blood, but for me he could forget the innocence) on whose immolation (call him Abel, Remus, whom you will, it is one Sin Offering) arcadias, utopias, our dear old bag of a democracy, are alike founded: For without a cement of blood (it must be human, it must be innocent) no secular wall will safely stand.

Croatian theologian Miroslav Volf takes this issue head-on in his book, Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of IdentityOtherness and Reconciliation.

A Sermon Not Preached at an Ordination, Fr Jamie Howison. http://stbenedictstable.ca/2008/05/a-sermon-not-preached-at-an-ordination/

ABp Rowan William’s “The Christian Priest Today” May 28, 2004.

http://rowanwilliams.archbishopofcanterbury.org/articles.php/2097/the-christian-priest-today-lecture-on-the-occasion-of-the-150th-anniversary-of-ripon-college-cuddesd

Max Planck from “Religion and Science”, May 1937 lecture.

https://archive.org/stream/in.ernet.dli.2015.177537#page/n161/mode/2up

On the Jesus Prayer: Mysteries Of The Jesus Prayer: Experiencing the Presence of God and a Pilgrimage to the Heart of an Ancient Spirituality

St. Augustine’s City of God: “We see then that the two cities were created by two kinds of love: the earthly city was created by self-love reaching the point of contempt for God, the heavenly city by the love of God carried as far as contempt of self.  In fact, the earthly city glories in itself, the heavenly city glories in the Lord.  The former looks for glory from men, the latter finds its highest glory in God, the witness of a good conscience.  The earthly lifts up its head in its own glory, the heavenly city says to its God: ‘You are my glory, the lifter of my head.’  In the former, the lust for domination lords it over its princes as over the nations it subjugates; in the other both those put in authority and those subject to them serve one another in love, the rulers by their counsel, the subjects by obedience.  The one city loves its own strength shown in its powerful leaders; the other says to its God, ‘I will love you, my Lord, my strength.’

Consequently, in the earthly city its wise men who live by men’s standards have pursued the goods of the body or of their own mind, or of both.  Or those of them who were able to know God ‘did not honor him as God, nor give thanks to him, but their thinking became futile, and their senseless hearts were darkened; claiming to be wise’—that is, exalting themselves in their wisdom, under the domination of pride—‘they became foolish, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God into an image representing a mortal man, or birds or beasts or reptiles’—for in the adoration of idols of this kind they were either leaders or followers of the general public—‘and they worshipped and served created things instead of the Creator, who is blessed forever.’  In the heavenly city, on the other hand, man’s only wisdom is the devotion which rightly worships the true God, and looks for its rewards in the fellowship of the saints…so that God may be all in all [everything to everyone].” (AugustineCity of God, 14.28)

“One of our great allies at present is the Church itself. Do not misunderstand me. I do not mean the Church as we see her spread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners. That, I confess, is a spectacle which makes our boldest tempters uneasy. But fortunately it is quite invisible to these humans. All your patient sees is the half-finished, sham Gothic erection on the new building estate. When he goes inside, he sees the local grocer with rather an oily expression on his face bustling up to offer him one shiny little book containing a liturgy which neither of them understands, and one shabby little book containing corrupt texts of a number of religious lyrics, mostly bad, and in very small print. When he gets to his pew and looks round him he sees just that selection of his neighbours whom he has hitherto avoided. You want to lean pretty heavily on those neighbours. Make his mind flit to and fro between an expression like ‘the body of Christ’ and the actual faces in the next pew….” Lewis, Screwtape Letters

Torrance, T. (1972). Newton, Einstein and Scientific Theology. Religious Studies, 8(3), 233-250. doi:10.1017/S0034412500005904

Religions figure somewhat differently in John Haught’s The New Cosmic Story: Inside Our Awakening Universe, a critical-constructive account that boldly postulates that any sufficient account of “our awareness of an unfinished universe requires not only a new understanding of religion but also a new way of understanding religion’s relation to science.” Whereas science describes external reality, religion for Haught is an essential “inside voice” and a subjective, narrative reality manifesting an ever-developing cosmos. Perhaps most dramatically, Haught claims that “it is through our own subjectivity—mental, moral, aesthetic and religious—that the universe now carries on its long anticipatory adventure toward fuller being.”

Haught offers a useful typology of “ways of reading” the natural world: archaeonomically, which regards the world as the product of physical determinism (the purview of the new atheists and other staunch materialists); analogically, which views the world as an imperfect manifestation or corruption of distant and ultimate truths (the preference of many otherworldly inclined Christians); and his preferred category, anticipatory, which is “aware that the cosmic story is far from over [and] looks patiently and expectantly ahead for a possible meaning to it all…it reads the cosmic story both scientifically and religiously, from outside and inside simultaneously.”

John Haught’s The New Cosmic Story: Inside Our Awakening Universe

From book review: https://www.americamagazine.org/arts-culture/2018/01/09/are-faith-and-science-contradictory-or-complementary

Leroy Little Bear, “TRADITIONAL KNOWLEDGE AND HUMANITIES: A PERSPECTIVE BY A BLACKFOOT” https://www.sfu.ca/humanities-institute/contours/i2_p3.html

Two-eyed seeing: http://www.integrativescience.ca/uploads/files/Two-Eyed%20Seeing-AMarshall-Thinkers%20Lodge2017(1).pdf

[1] “On the other hand, in the relational universe’s model of the space-time framework, the physical universe represents a stage forming the expanding outer boundary of interactional relations between the objects and events that constitute its being.” Thomas F. Torrance’s Integration of Judeo-Christian Theology & Natural Science: Some Key Themes, WALTER J. NEIDHARDT http://www.asa3.org/ASA/PSCF/1989/PSCF6-89Neidhardt.html

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Written by sameo416

January 17, 2018 at 9:51 am

Posted in Uncategorized

Baptism of Christ

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7 January 2017 Baptism of our Lord, Year B, Genesis 1:1-5; Ps 29, Acts 19:1-7; Mark 1:4-11. St Paul’s Edmonton, ©2018 SJE

Open our hearts and our minds that we might hear your Word, that it will be written on our hearts, and that all we do and say may be governed by it, in Christ’s name.  Amen.

Today, just as we’re out of the 12 days of Christmas through the Epiphany of our Lord, suddenly we leap forward some thirty years to the baptism of Christ at the hand of John the Baptizer.  It has always struck me as quite a hurried journey, almost a panic, as we compress the first thirty years of Jesus’ life into the first few days of the New Year.  No sooner have we put away the swaddling clothes, toy rattle and left over infant-sized diapers than we are confronting John the Baptizer at the Jordan River with a full-grown Jesus now walking forward from the crowd. What compounds this confusing time compression is that when we, as dyed-in-the-wool Christians, hear the word ‘baptism’ we think quickly of our experience with baptism. That leads us to quickly conflate the baptism of John, the baptisms by Paul and our present practice of baptism, which causes us to miss some of the important movements happening within these readings. Our modern preference to use this day as a good day to conduct baptisms complicates our ability to find clarity around what is happening.

This was made very clear for me in an article documenting a discussion about the baptism of Jesus between a Roman Catholic and an Old Testament scholar. The Old Testament scholar asked at one point, but, “Surely, Jesus was Jewish”. The Roman Catholic responded by saying, “yes, he was Jewish, but when he was baptized he became catholic”. // In fact, even the Christian practice of baptism has changed in the past 2,000 years – if you’ve ever seen a very, very old church, meaning before 1,100 or so, you might have noticed that the baptistery is usually in a separate building from the church proper, sometimes attached, but always with its own entrance. In the early church, catechists were often excluded from the worshipping community until they had passed through baptism and were formally integrated into the community. The message to us is to be cautious importing modern ideas uncritically back into Scriptures.

The readings link together three images: first is the creation narrative, with the image of God’s Spirit brooding over the formless void. Next we hear of Paul’s baptism of several disciples of John with the baptism of Christ. Finally we hear the narrative from Mark’s Gospel of the baptism of Jesus by John. The image of creation and change in essence is consistent through the readings, which is appropriate because baptism is the first, and perhaps most significant transition which occurs with a believer on their faith journey. It is a ritual which marks the physical and spiritual transition of a new believer from the state of non-membership in the Body of Christ, to becoming a member of that Body through the in-dwelling of the Holy Spirit. This is an ontological event – ontology being the study of fundamental being. Baptism is a transition in who we are as people, in all aspects of our being: physical, emotional and spiritual. Baptism is also one of the visible signs of unity which links almost every Christian denomination and sect, whether considered classically sacramental or highly individual; infant or adult, baptism as a rite of entry to the faith could be seen as a point of unity. It hasn’t always been that way…

Back into the continental reformation, an offshoot occurred in the Anabaptists around 1522 in Zurich. Anabaptists rejected infant baptism because they believed baptism could only be properly done when an individual could provide informed consent for the process and entry into the church, what they called ‘believers baptism’. The Anabaptists were one of the most persecuted groups in the reformation, and their biggest threat was not just the Catholic Church but rather other groups of reformed believers such as the early Lutherans. A typical mode of execution was by drowning. The Anabaptist tradition has given us many things that continue to this day, foremost their rejection of violence something we see clearly in Mennonite thought. That history is one of the motivations that makes the Mennonite Central Committee such a powerful intervenor in any disaster or conflict around the world, but that formation of the early Anabaptist movement came through persecution at the hands of other believers.

This is an interesting point given our present state of church division, as we have been here before and it didn’t work any better in history. Our human response is sometimes to look first at the things which differentiate us, rather than by those which unite us. We might ask the question – well what is it which makes something a Church of Christ? How can we tell the something like 30,000 denominations apart, and how can we figure out which ones are following the same God? Important questions for sure. One of the places we can look as Anglicans is into the Book of Common Prayer articles of religion. There is one, #19, which speaks specifically to a definition of ‘the church’:

THE visible Church of Christ is a congregation of faithful men, in the which the pure Word of God is preached, and the Sacraments be duly ministered according to Christ’s ordinance in all those things that of necessity are requisite to the same.

If I reword this a bit and make the language inclusive, what we see is there are three things which mark ‘the visible Church of Christ’:

  1. It is a congregation of faithful people (that is, they keep coming back)
  2. The pure Word of God is preached (that is the Scriptures and Christ are proclaimed)
  3. The Sacraments be duly ministered according to Christ’s ordinance (being communion and baptism as the two that Christ instituted).

So, by the Prayer Book definition, if a church has faithful people, they preach the Gospel and celebrate at least the sacraments of communion and baptism, it is part of the visible Church of Christ. It is really interesting to me that while we spend much time speaking about doctrinal differences those are not brought out in the BCP definition. It doesn’t say, the pure Word of God is preached in a way that is epistemologically and ontologically consistent with your doctrinal understanding of what that ‘pure Word’ might be. It’s a challenging image.

It is very similar to what we see happen when Paul passes into Ephesus and encounters some of the disciples of Apollos. One of the modern commentaries I read noted that these people weren’t real disciples because they didn’t understand the faith properly. But, that’s not what the text says, and the commentary perhaps makes my point about our ease in finding reasons to differentiate ourselves from other Christians. Paul asks these disciples (and he apparently has no problem calling them disciples) if they had received the Holy Spirit at their baptism – their answer, ‘what is this Holy Spirit you speak of?’ If this was a meeting of two churches today, that probably would end the discussion, and the asker would leave saying…we can’t speak with these people, they don’t even know about the Holy Spirit! Instead, Paul continues to question and discovers that Apollos was baptizing in the manner of John, and had not received the full teaching about the baptism of Jesus. The result? They’re all immediately baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus, and the Body of Christ increases.

Paul’s action is a literal working out of the Great Commission, going out to make all people disciples by baptizing them. There’s a useful model in that interaction for us today. What it tells me is what you believe is critical, but it also tells me that people that don’t quite line up with your understanding of things are better brought into community where we can talk about what we believe and work out what it means to be a person of faith within that Body of Christ in practice. Christ is manifest in community.

This approach properly centres us in God as the one who will complete that Body of Christ when we come forward in faith – rather than placing the onus on ourselves to finally get it right, when we know how that has worked throughout history. One of the lies we are living out as a traditional church still comes to us out of the Enlightenment – that defines all of the reality in reductionist and dualistic terms. All reality is a machine which can be broken down to its bits and then rebuilt, all is within our understanding and all is within our control. That’s not a bad starting point for scientists working solely within Newton’s understanding of the world; but it’s an awful place for a people of faith to dwell. It draws us into the lie that if we don’t work to make the church great, it will fail and God will not be able to do anything on earth. Anglicans are particularly attracted to this place because we have a strong history of being an intellectual tradition, which is not a bad thing…until it convinces us that we’re really brighter than we should think of ourselves.

One of the gifts of more recent science is an affirmation that the Creation is a pretty weird place, and it doesn’t take long before you happen on something which really can’t be explained or understood. If you want a real mind-expanding experience, Google ‘quantum entanglement’ and read about the behaviour of entangled photons. Einstein believed the predictions from his theories in the 1930’s were incorrect as he could not accept such a strange result, and he described this as ‘spooky action at a distance’…but more recent experimental work has demonstrated that spooky action at a distance is exactly what happens –. Quantumly entangled photons apparently have the ability to communicate with each other faster than the speed of light. This Creation is a pretty weird place.

You see Newton was brilliant, and he provided models which allowed us to predict things which previously were unpredictable. But he could not have known that his math wouldn’t work for very heavy or very fast things. But, his mechanistic model of reality also informed all belief including within the church, and we as a modern church are still very much living out that Newtonian perspective. That is where we get much of our thought about how the church will only be successful if we can find the right program, or business plan, or ad campaign – for there is nothing left that we do not understand and no room for the Spirit (who does not conform to our clean models). This contrasts sharply with the reality that we know as people of faith, which is that God constantly brings greatness out of all of our efforts, even those which do not succeed. We also know that the secret to maintenance of the Body of Christ is not the right programs or business plans, but being people of prayer.

I was reading an atheist’s blog a while back, and he was encouraging his fellow non-believers to find a church on Sunday and challenge the clergy whenever they said something irrational and contrary to logic. I accepted long ago that much of what I would work with as either a priest, or an engineer, would challenge what I believed to be rational and logically. We’re told clearly in Scripture, that what we preach and live is foolishness to the wise (meaning those who think themselves wise).  It is only by embracing the foolishness of Christ that we can truly come into our real inheritance as children of the Most High. I’m happily an empirical fool for Christ.

It is too easy for us to succumb to despair when faced with the intense brokenness of this world, and our church, and our personal faith, and of all those around us. There’s a song by the Canadian band Metric called ‘Dreams so Real’ that addresses this challenge, reflecting on if they had really made any impact on the suffering world:

When I get to the bottom of it I sink
Seems like nothing I said, Ever meant anything, But a headline over my head
Thought I made a stand, Only made a scene
There’s no feast for the underfed, All the unknown, dying or dead
Keep showing up in my dreams, They stand at the end of my bed
Have I ever really helped anybody but myself?  “Dreams so real”, Metric

These are powerful words, particularly if you think that the onus to fix all the underfed, unknown, dying or dead rests entirely on your shoulders.  It is right to ask the question, have I ever really helped anybody by myself?  If we choose to rely on ourselves, and our ability to get things fixed, we ultimately come back to ask that same question.

From a bit more classic perspective, the poet, WH Auden in his poem, Horae Canonicae, in the section named ‘Vespers’ addresses the truth that underlies our attempts to fix ourselves.  Auden writes about the meeting of two dissimilar and disliking people at the cross-roads:

…cannot resist meeting to remind the other … of that half of their secret which he would most like to forget forcing us both, for a fraction of a second, to remember our victim (but for him I could forget the blood, but for me he could forget the innocence) on whose immolation (call him Abel, Remus, whom you will, it is one Sin Offering) arcadias, utopias, our dear old bag of a democracy, are alike founded: For without a cement of blood (it must be human, it must be innocent) no secular wall will safely stand.

That last line sums it up perfectly for us, and situates our meeting with the disliked other exactly where it should be, in the Blood of Christ: For without a cement of blood (it must be human, it must be innocent) no secular wall will safely stand. Reality, both Newtonian and Quantum is underpinned by one Creator God.

Now, lest we turn this the other way and say, yes it is all resting on the Blood of the Lamb, now what do I have to do to get enough of that to solve all my problems, all my failings, converting Christ into yet another tool that can only be used as well as we are able to conceive, let us turn to a T.S. Eliot poem that takes us the rest of the way home – for it is not because of our best efforts we are saved, but in spite of those best efforts. Christ came not to save a world that was convinced it was fully alive, but a world that had realized it was fully dead to itself. T.S. Eliot in the poem Gerontion assures that in spite of our seeming inability to avoid the train wreck that Christ himself will intervene:

Signs are taken for wonders.  ‘We would see a sign!’

The word within a word, unable to speak a word,

Swaddled with darkness.  In the juvescence of the year

Came Christ the tiger

… The tiger springs in the new year.  Us he devours.

Christ springs in the new year, with his only goal the complete consumption of all we are: Christ, the tiger, springs in the new year. Us he devours. Eliot critic Grover Smith explained this imagery in powerful terms, “Christ came not to send peace, but a sword; the Panther of the bestiaries…is also the Tiger of destruction. And so, ‘the tiger springs in the new year,’ devouring us who have devoured Him.” We draw this journey to a conclusion, ending with Augustine’s words about the communion bread and wine: behold what you are, and become what you receive. By our profession of faith we are the body of Christ, through our consumption of the body of Christ in communion, we enter further in to being that body of Christ. Our consumption of Christ, in turn results in us being consumed. That transformation calls us to live and breathe as a people called and redeemed, a people remade to be a people set apart. And today, as we recall the Baptism of Christ, the start of his journey to the Cross, let us again prepare ourselves to be consumed anew. Amen


TS Eliot (himself) reading The Journey of the Magi and Gerontion on YouTube...”A cold time we had of it…”

Here’s the links for The Journey and Gerontion in text form if you wish to print and ponder.

Malcom Guite’s poem Baptism of Christ

Beginning here we glimpse the Three-in-one;
The river runs, the clouds are torn apart,
The Father speaks, the Sprit and the Son
Reveal to us the single loving heart
That beats behind the being of all things
And calls and keeps and kindles us to light.
The dove descends, the spirit soars and sings
‘You are belovèd, you are my delight!’

In that quick light and life, as water spills
And streams around the Man like quickening rain,
The voice that made the universe reveals
The God in Man who makes it new again.
He calls us too, to step into that river
To die and rise and live and love forever.

 

Written by sameo416

January 4, 2018 at 8:49 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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