For those of you preaching on the text from Genesis 32:3-31:
You may not be able to tell from looking at me. But let me assure you that you are looking at someone who used to be a champion wrestler. Believe it or not, my wrestling skills actually helped me rise to the level of a world champion wrestler. Well, perhaps I should qualify that statement. When I was an amateur wrestler, I was a world-class champion wrestler. But like so many athletes, when my status changed from amateur to professional, I lost my championship status and although I still qualify as a professional wrestler, and I like to see myself as a champion, I’m no longer what you would call world-class.
Like many professional wrestlers my career began when I was but a child. Growing up I had a very clear advantage as I developed my wrestling skills. You see having a brother who was just 18 months younger than me meant that I had ample opportunities to hone my wrestling skills. My brother and I were always at it. I’ve got to say that even though we shared the same weight class for most of our childhood, when it came to world class wrestling holds, I had him beat. I had this wicked arm-hold sleeper, and that together with my full Nelson followed by a knee-arm press, was guaranteed to have my brother screaming uncle and agreeing to be my obedient servant until in no time at all. For years I reigned as the champion of our little world! I was unbeatable. My brother didn’t stand a chance. My reign as world champion would have continued if it weren’t for the abrupt ending of my amateur status.
One morning when I was about 13 and my brother was 9 and a half, we were going at it, and to his credit my bother had me in an ingenious hold. Somehow, he’d managed to secure me with what we professional wrestlers call an arm bar. That’s where you’re opponent wrenches your arm behind your back and applies just enough pressure to cause pain, but not enough to break anything. But just when Alan was approaching the point of no return, I managed with a feat of superhuman strength to rise up, twist around and swing for all I was worth and connect with what I though must be my brothers chest. I expected that such a thrust would have released my arm from Alan’s iron grip. But he still had me. I was about to hit him again, when for no apparent reason Alan released me from his grip. In an instant I wiggled free, spun around and connected with what I figured would be a fatal blow. Just before my blow connected with it’s victim, I realized that I was doomed.
It has been a very long time since I read a novel categorized as “young adult” or “teen” fiction. But when a fourteen-year-old goes out of his way to recommend a novel to his pastor, I pay attention. I was delighted to discover that The Fault In Our Stars portrays young people living with big questions without resorting to easy answers. Indeed, the characters in John Green’s account of living with cancer, refuse to accept easy answers and learn to live with the ambiguity of life’s deepest mysteries even as they cope with the realities of impending death. This is a splendid read for all ages, especially for those of us who have long since left the coping strategies of the varieties of Christianity that are trapped within the limitations of a three tiered universe. Green brilliantly captures the gallows humour of those who must endure the efforts of care-givers while steadfastly refusing to “buy into the cancer-book genre.” Green’s time as a chaplain in a children’s hospital shows as does his ability to live in the questions. Following the success of the book, which debuted at #1 on the New York Best Seller list, has opened at #1 at the box-office. But, don’t let that stop you from enjoying this book which will make you laugh, cry, cheer, and think!! I have not yet experienced the movie for fear that it will interfere with my appreciation of the characters who live on in my imagination. Enjoy the first chapter, read by John Green.
Filmed July 14, 2014 at Chautauqua, Sister Joan Chittister explores, as only she can, “the role of the public intellectual (that’s you) in a society crammed with talking points, canned news, and Maddison Avenue politics and politicians.” This lecture is a MUST-VIEW for anyone who engages in public discourse in order to move us beyond intellectual slavery to institutions and tradition!!! Enjoy!!!
Jason Silva provides what he calls cognitive ecstasy as he peers into the future. Silva’s use of media to express his creative response to the human condition is art. I don’t claim to understand everything he says, but I can’t help but wonder if there will be a role for religion in our future??? A cognitive shift in understanding will be required so that we can once again open ourselves to the reality that religion is in and of itself an art form which at its creative best is a creative response to the human condition.
Jack concludes his five day lecture series by explaining the Crucifixion in the fourth Gospel. (filmed June 27, 2014) Our friends at College Street United Church in Toronto will be hosting Jack April 17-18, 2015. I shall post more details when they are available.
On this Canada Day, my wife and I begin our drive across this great land. Each time I make the trip from the east to the west, I am struck by the vastness of this land we call home. This year I take with me the deep impressions left upon my heart by our Synod’s Convention where we explored the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s work to come to terms with our nation’s shameful history. I know that I shall travel this land with hope-filled eyes, trusting that the work we have begun will open us to the work of reconciliation with our First Nations sisters and brothers. As we celebrate this land, let us remember those whose welcome of our ancestors came at such great cost. Let us find ways to walk together into our future open to the possibilities of reconciliation. Happy Canada Day EVERYONE!
Here’s a re-posting of a sermon preached last Canada Day which explores some of the work that lies before us:
I am indebted to Father Jim O’Shea for his article in the Huffpost and to Robert LoveLace for his parable about Chickens which appeared in The Rabble.
Listen to the sermon here
This week as the city of Toronto welcomes millions to the World Pride Celebration, it is so very appropriate that the lectionary provides a reading that has the potential to open us up to a more radical understanding of what WELCOME might mean for those who year to follow Jesus. This sermon on Matthew 10:37-42 uses two stories to posit questions about who Jesus might be. The context of World Pride provides us all with an invitation to welcome the ONE who comes to us in all sorts of shapes, sizes, and gender-identities. The imagined conversation with Jesus is taken from New Zealand preacher Clay Nelson’s excellent sermon on this text entitled “I Know I Am a Priest, But Am I A Christian?”.
There’s a story that I learned years ago when I was exploring the riches of the Buddhist religion and rediscovered in Wayne Muller’s LEGACY OF THE HEART. (p. 136)
There once was…. “A young widower, who loved his five-year-old son very much, was away on business, and bandits came, burned down his whole village, and took his son away. When the man returned, he saw the ruins and panicked. He took the charred corpse of an infant to be his own child, and he began to pull his hair and beat his chest, crying uncontrollably. He organized a cremation ceremony, collected the ashes, and put them in a very beautiful velvet pouch. Working, sleeping, or eating, he always carried the bag of ashes with him. One day his real son escaped from the robbers and found his way home. He arrived at his father’s new cottage at midnight, and knocked at the door. You can imagine, at that time, the young father was still carrying the bag of ashes and crying. He asked, “Who is there?” And the child answered, “It’s me, Papa. Open the door, it’s your son.”
In his agitated state of mind the father thought that some mischievous boy was making fun of him, and he shouted at the child to go away, and continued to cry. The boy knocked again and again, but the father refused to let him in. Some time passed, and finally the child left. From that time on, father and son never saw one another. Continue reading
Marcus Borg, an elder of today’s progressive Christian movement, has commemorated his 70 birthday with the publication of Convictions: How I Learned What Matters Most. Convictions is destined to become a primer for all those who seek a succinct articulation of the faith progressives hold in common. In Convictions, Borg constructs a permeable framework within which those who are “living the questions” can explore the contours of the God “in which we live and move and have our being.” As a pastor serving a progressive congregation, I am delighted to have this new resource to share with those who are ReThinking Christianity.
I first encountered Marcus Borg during the summer of 1994, when a friend who was concerned that my preparations for seminary would lead me to a career in a church bereft of intellectual inquiry, gave me a copy of Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time. What a gift it was to meet in Borg a scholar who so simply and authoritatively articulated so much of what I’d been learning in the academy as an under-grad in Religious Studies. Borg’s books quickly became allies in my own quest for ways to express my growing frustration with institutional Christianity which seemed hell-bent on keeping its members ignorant of the exciting and enlightening work of New Testament scholars.
While sections of Borg’s memoir slip into reactions to the monolithic interpretations of the Jesus story that plague the United States and have served to bolster American Imperialism, those of us who live in the shadows of this Empire will appreciate Borg’s deconstruction of right-wing-christianity. Like his earlier work, Convictions is a must read for professional preachers and teachers who will find in it a review of progressive Christianity that is written in a manner that will inspire us to move beyond merely deconstructing conservative christianity and begin to articulate what it is that “progressives” hold in common.
As a “bit of a memoir” Convictions will engage readers from all walks of life, many of whom will discover in Borg a fellow traveller on an all too familiar journey. As always, Borg manages to express the Christian narrative in ways which embrace the riches of the tradition while opening his readers to current insights from academia into Christianity’s history. Rather than approaching the future with fear, Borg remains open to the ever-expanding knowledge of reality being generated in other fields of human endeavour and points to a way of being in God that does not rely on oversimplified personifications of a deity Borg knows as Mystery.
As an academic, Borg bravely revels his own mystical experiences. I have always suspected that Borg might be a closet mystic and his tentative accounts of his mystical experiences provide welcome insights into the bedrock of Borg’s being.
I am convinced that Borg’s Convictions will quickly achieve the status of text-book for those of us who seek ways of being Christian in the 21st century.
After listening to my sermon from this past Sunday, a blog follower recommended Barbara Ehrenreich’s latest book, Living with a Wild God. The suggestion that my tentative attempts to express my personal mystical experiences might be improved by reading Enrenreich’s engaging memoir, which chronicles her own encounters with the inexpressible, propelled me into a sleepless night of reading as I devoured Erenreich’s stellar work that recounts her epic quest to make sense out of experiences that are so often never spoken of.
Suggesting that I turn to Erenreich for enlightenment is like suggesting that I return to an wise, familiar friend. I first encountered Enrenreich’s thinking way back in the late seventies when I was growing into the radical feminist movement and “For Her Own Good” awakened me to Enrenreich’s genius and introduced me to a way of articulating my own innate suspicions of the advice that was coming my way. Enrenreich’s wit left me hoping that I might grow up to become a careful thinker who could use incisive humour to move mountains. Recently her exploration of the darker side of positive thinking caused me to cheer out loud as I turned page after page of “Smile or Die,” in which Enrenreich’s observations revealed “How Positive Thinking Fooled America and the World”
I never would have imagined that Enrenreich would pen a “spiritual” memoir that reveals her personal mystical experiences. The book chronicles the mature, dare I say curmudgeonly adult’s relationship with her teenage self. While Enrenreich herself is mortified by the word “spiritual” the epiphanies of her younger self reveal so very much about the human quest for meaning. Enrenreich enjoyed an earlier career as a molecular biologist and her rational approach toward the examination of her experiences is priceless! The book speaks of the unspeakable in ways that defy easy or esoteric answers. As always Enrenreich’s considerable writing skills provide a compelling window into the human condition as she attempts to make meaning out of her experiences while steadfastly refusing to glorify her epiphanies. Will I doubt that either theists or atheists will be pleased with the book, those of us who are willing to live in the questions can’t help but applaud Enenreich’s courage! Enjoy CBC’s Mary Hynes interview in which Enreneich exhibits her characteristic surliness that makes her writing so engaging and refreshing!
This Trinity Sunday sermon owes much to John Shelby Spong’s book a “New Christianity for a New World” You can listen to the sermon here then watch the tail end of the Wolf Blitzer interview mentioned in the sermon.
In the midst to the devastation and debris that was left of the town of More, Oklahoma, it was all to clear that the power of the tornado that whipped through such a heavily populated area had left behind the kind of destruction that tears not only the foundations of buildings but also of lives. In living rooms around the world millions of people watched as the news media descended on what was left in the wake of nature’s wrath. One particular news report is still reverberating around the Internet. I had just come from my office where I had spent the afternoon, reviewing the Doctrine of the Trinity in order to write this sermon. My wife Carol was in the kitchen cooking supper and I sat down to catch up on the news events of the day. I tuned into CNN and there amidst the rubble of More Oklahoma was the familiar face of Wolf Blitzer. It was the day after the tornado and the big name newscasters had been rushed to the scene in time to provide color-commentary on the evening news. Wolf was interviewing a young mother named Rebecca Vitsmun who was holding a squirming her 19 month old, toddler Anders in her arms. The young mother gave a blow-by-blow account of her narrow escape from. All afternoon Rebecca was paying attention to the weather reports. Rebecca was not from More, but rather from New Orleans and so she was not used to tornado warnings. She’d grown up with Hurricane warnings and so her first instinct was to evacuate the area. But her husband and neighbours had told her that the safest thing to do would be to take shelter. Six-teen minutes before the tornado struck the weather service issued a warning to take shelter. As Rebecca’s husband raced home from work, this young mother grabbed her laptop, a mattress and her toddler and took shelter in the bathtub. Huddled in the tub covered by a mattress she anxiously watched the reports on her laptop. Tracing the path of the tornado, Rebecca realized that the tornado was headed straight for her street. Rebecca’s New Orleans’ instinct kicked in and with her baby in her arms she jumped into her car and without taking time to put her baby in the car seat, she drove as fast as she could out on to the freeway where she pulled over and put Anders into his car seat and then drove some more. After the tornado, Rebecca reunited with her husband, and they headed back to what was left of their home. The bathtub was so full of debris that it was clear to them that Rebecca’s instincts had saved her life.
After telling her harrowing tale, Wolf Blitzer congratulated Rebecca for saving her baby’s life and then said to this young woman, “You gotta thank the Lord.” Rebecca was clearly taken aback by the comment and hesitated. I held my breath, annoyed as hell at Blitzer for asking such a stupid question. Rebecca’s hesitation gave Blitzer the opportunity to move on, but no he just had to have an answer, and so he persisted. “Do you thank the Lord?” Rebecca gave Blitzer the kind of look that says, “Are you kidding me?” Then Rebecca gave Blitzer an answer that he sure wasn’t expecting from an American from the heartland of Oklahoma; Rebecca smiled as she answered, “I’m actually an atheist.”
As Rebecca laughed awkwardly, I cheered so loudly that Carol came into the room to see what was going on. I was so proud of that young woman for not going along with Blitzer’s nonsense. Who in their right minds would believe in a Lord who would pluck one family out of a bathtub and let seven children die in an elementary school? I mean, if this Lord that Bilitzer is so willing to give credit too is such a great rescuer, why didn’t this Lord change the twister’s path and send it out over the cornfields where the only damage it could do would be to crops?
I know they say there are no atheists in fox-holes, but I for one think that that bathtub Rebecca was hunkered down in was indeed a fox-hole and I’m delighted that when all was said and done, she and little Anders were saved by her instinct for survival. As for this Lord of Blitzer’s, well, judging by the awkwardness that Blitzer exhibited after Rebecca stood her ground, I can only guess that this reporter misjudged the situation. Blitzer a city-slicker from New York, assumed that all the local yokels must be bible-thumping Christians, and he probably thought that his question would have received a mindless ra, ra, yeah God, kind of response from all Oklahomans. I trust he won’t make that mistake again. I kind of feel sorry for him, because after all it only took a few hours before some televangelist’s were suggesting that God did indeed send the tornado to teach people a lesson. According to some bible-thumpers, if people prayed hard enough they would have been saved. Some even went so far as to suggest that the tornado was punishment for gay marriage. Continue reading
I don’t remember the first time I ever saw him. I was barely 18 months old when my brother Alan arrived. Despite the fact that he ruined my gig as an only child, Alan and I grew close over the years. We moved around a lot so we became one another’s best friends. But we went our separate ways when we became teenagers. When I tell the stories, I say that we went our separate ways because Alan became preoccupied with sports. I suspect that when Alan tells the stories, he says that we went our separate ways because I became preoccupied with the church. Either way you tell it, family and friends used to say that it was hard to believe that we grew up in the same household. Alan developed a reputation for been a bit of a redneck. I developed a reputation for being a bit of a radical. Alan drove four-wheel-drives and went hunting. I drove old beat up cars and lived at an ecumenical retreat centre. Alan learned a trade, settled down and raised a family. I travelled the world and didn’t get around to figuring out what I was going to be when I grew up, I went back to school at the age of 30.
Alan and I didn’t get around to understanding one another until we were in our mid-40’s. When I grew to appreciate the gentle man that he has become and Alan began to respect the person I’ve become. We still love to talk politics, but these days we tend to agree more than we disagree, I’m not sure who mellowed, the redneck or the radical. We don’t talk much about religion, though. Growing up, Alan would claim to be an atheist, and scoffed at my involvement with the church. These days, Alan, calls suggests he is an agnostic, and although he’s come to respect my life in the church, he still scoffs at the hypocrisy of the church.
I still remember the very first time that I saw Manjit. Her face was the colour of pure milk chocolate. Her jet-black hair was long and wavy. She sat at the very back of the classroom. When the teacher introduced me to Manjit, her toothy grin welcomed me. We were twelve years old. I was the new kid in town and Manjit was the only East Indian in the class. We were to share a double-desk for the remainder of the school year. I remember my first trip to Manjit’s home. A science project needed our attention. I can still smell the aroma of Manjit’s home where exotic curries released their pungency into the air. Over several meals at Manjit’s, I learned to like my food hot and spicy. Manjit’s mother would blend her own spices and she never forgot to send a package or two of her specially blended curries home with me.
Manjit is a gentle soul who introduced me to the wonders of her faith. Manjit is a Hindu. Manjit never tried to encourage me to become a Hindu. Although over the years she would remind me of the Hindu saying that admonishes Hindus to be better Hindus, Muslims to be better Muslims, Jews to be better Jews, Buddhists to be better Buddhists, and Christians to be better Christians. Manjit grew into a kind and gentle woman. She works as a social worker in Vancouver’s rough east-end neighborhoods. The last time I saw Manjit she was patiently guiding the students of a confirmation class that I taught, around her Temple. Later that evening Manjit and I talked a long time about Jesus. Manjit told me that she’d always been fascinated with Jesus’ teachings and that she had no problem believing that Jesus is God, but then she explained that Hindus have a thousand god’s.
I can still remember the very first time that Henry walked into my office. A long black beard together with the yarmulke that he wore on his head gave Henry away. So, from the very beginning I knew that Henry was Jewish. But it took a few years of working together before I discovered that in addition to being a graphic artist, Henry is also a rabbi. Henry became a dear friend of mine and over the years he shared so much of his wisdom with me. Many a night Henry and I sat up to the wee hours discussing the Scriptures. Henry even arranged for me to study Hebrew at his Yeshiva. I learned a great deal from Henry. We often talked about Jesus. We rarely agreed about Jesus, but we often talked about him.
Alan, Manjit and Henry, some would call them an unholy Trinity. But to me they are, each of them, sacred. Trinity Sunday is my least favorite Sunday of the Church year. It’s the only festival of the church year that is designed to celebrate not God, nor Jesus, not even the Holy Spirit, but rather a doctrine of the church. The notion that God is One in Three; a doctrine that was created by theologians to explain the inexpressible, a doctrine the church “fathers” began to cast in stone in the words of the Apostle’s, Nicene and Athanasian Creeds. Three Creeds that make up an unholy trinity in and of themselves. Three Creeds that the Lutheran Church continues to hold as articles of the faith. Three Creeds that continue to hold sway in our church.Three Creeds that in my humble opinion make up an unholy trinity. Three Creeds upon which the doctrine of the Trinity rests. Continue reading
Tutu: “Isn’t it wonderful that we have this Doctrine of the Trinity that speaks of God as a fellowship, a community. And so, you have this wonderful image of the community that is God, the Trinity. So that, all eternity the One who is called Father pours out all of God’s being into the Son….and the Son returning from all eternity this love and you have this movement between the two that is so tremendous that it is God the Holy Spirit.”
Desmond Tutu received the Templeton Prize in recognition of his lifelong work in advancing spiritual principles of love and forgiveness. This video was made to commemorate the honour.
This Sunday is Trinity Sunday. In anticipation, preachers all over the world are dutifully pondering the Doctrine of the Trinity desperately searching for something to say to encourage their congregations.
Preachers will trot out tired old clichés conjuring up images of triangles, shamrocks around, or point to H20’s ability to appear as water, ice, or steam while still maintaining it’s unified essence. Or have you heard the one about the 3 blind men and the elephant in the room. That old chestnut is trotted out by many a desperate preacher struggling to put flesh on the doctrine of the trinity. But for the life of me I can’t see how 1 blind man touching the elephant’s trunk and presuming that there is a tree in the room, while a second blind man catching wind of the elephant’s ear is convinced that there is some sort of giant fan in the room, while a third man grabs hold of the tail and is sure that he has hold of a rope, helps you to conclude that just because they’re all sharing a room with an elephant you can now confess that God is indeed Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever amen. But all sorts of mental gymnastics will be exercised in the vain attempt to make some sort of sense of the doctrine of the Trinity!
On Trinity Sundays, mindful of the fact that trying to explain the doctrine of the Trinity usually leads to heresy: dusty theological books that have not seen the light of day since last Trinity Sunday have been poured over to ensure that the formula’s learned in seminary are repeated correctly and heresy scrupulously avoided. The imaginative among us have attempted to baffle our congregations with our theological intellect, the pragmatic among us have attempted to baffle our congregations with something akin to BS, while the desperate among us have simply tried to survive the Trinity Sunday hoping against hope that no one will notice that we haven’t a clue what we’re talking about.
Perhaps only dear old Dr. Martin Luther possessed the theological integrity sufficient to save a preacher from the perils of preaching on Trinity Sunday. So, before I launch, forth, let me remind you what the instigator of the Reformation had to say on the subject of the Trinity. Martin Luther warned that: “To deny the Trinity is to risk our salvation; to try and explain the Trinity is to risk our sanity.”
I will confess that Martin Luther had much more at stake, literally at stake, than I do, because the truth is that for centuries the punishment for heresy would have found many an ancient preacher burned at the stake. But while the death penalty for heresy has been lifted, the risk to one’s sanity remains.
Now, I will confess that when faced with a particularly difficult theological knot, I prefer to begin by quoting Jesus and not Luther, but alas Jesus remained silent on the issue of the Trinity. So, I did try to find something helpful in the words of the Apostle Paul. But alas, without some really amazing theological gymnastics that are beyond my abilities to comprehend, even the Apostle Paul remains mute on the issue of the Trinity. So keeping in mind Dr. Luther’s dire warning that to, “To deny the Trinity is to risk our salvation; but to try and explain the Trinity is to risk our sanity.”
Let me remind you that the Trinitarian formula appears in Scripture only once, in Matthew 28, during what is called the Great Commission, when Jesus commands the disciples to go forth, baptizing in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. But the doctrine of the Trinity does not appear in the Bible
- The doctrine of the trinity, as we know it, was first formulated in the fourth century, by a couple of guys named Gregory and a woman called Marcrina.
- The doctrine of the Trinity was then developed over hundreds of years
- The doctrine of the Trinity was at the heart of several wars
- Thousands of Christians were killed because they came down on the loosing side of arguments over the doctrine of the Trinity
- No one has ever been able to adequately explain the Trinity
- Every explanation of the Trinity that I have ever come across includes some form of heresy
By the way, just so we’re clear, I rummaged through some of my previous sermons on the doctrine of the Trinity and I must confess that if this were the twelfth century, an angry mob would be stoking up the fires beneath my feet because based on things I have proclaimed on various Trinity Sundays a charge of Modalism could very successfully be laid against me, as could a charge of Sabellianism. You might be interested to know, that more traditional preachers than I, will no doubt preach sermons this Sunday which will prove them guilty of Arianism or at the very least Subordinationism. All of these heresies in a bygone age would have left us with a severe shortage of clergy in the church, as many of us would be smoldering at the stake for our crimes. Deciding who is right and who is wrong, who is in and who is out is a deadly preoccupation of humanity, a preoccupation that the church has not been able to escape. Continue reading