On this All Hallows’ Eve, I can’t help returning to the reality that lies at the very heart of our being. We know that we will die and from the very beginning of our consciousness of this reality we can only wonder and speculate on what if anything lies beyond our life here on this mortal coil. This video was first broadcast on the science network. It represents a collection of speculations that cross the artificial boundaries between science and religion.
Listen to the sermon here
On this Reformation Sunday, we at Holy Cross celebrated the Confirmation of five exceptional young people. It has been a wonderful journey! I can’t wait to see how they grow into all that God created them to be!
Delighted that so many of you after reading this morning’s post have expressed interest in Learning more of Matthew Fox’s 95 Theses for the 21st Century. The best place to find out more is in Fox’s little book “A New Reformation: Creation Spirituality and the Transformation of Christianity” published in 2006 by Inner Traditions press.
Click Here where you will find a complete list of Fox’s 95 Theses for the Twenty-first Century
In the spirit of the Reformation motto: semper reformanda – always reforming, what say we abandon the fortresses of our traditions. Tomorrow, Lutheran churches all over the world will begin their Reformation Sunday worship services vigorously singing “A Mighty Fortress” and I for one wish they wouldn’t. I suspect that the hymn’s author Martin Luther might just agree with me. After all didn’t Luther write a Mighty Fortress in an attempt to bring the popular music of the day into the church? I am convinced that this particular Reformation Sunday tradition has dear old Martin spinning in his grave at the thought that the church that bears his name is still singing a tired old chestnut like A Mighty Fortress to celebrate the Reformation. The very idea of 21st century Lutheran’s celebrating the Reformation by clinging to the events of the 16th century is an affront to the memory of Martin Luther.
We should be singing this centuries music and rather than smugly resting on the laurels of the past, we should be plotting were the reformation goes from here. Perhaps in this the 21st century, when so many of the church’s traditions have seen the institution fall into the malaise of irrelevancy, we need to echo the cry: “Semper Reformanda” — “Always Reforming” the cry of the reformers who insisted that the church in every age stands in need of reformation.
Legend has it that on October 31st 1517, after taking a long hard look at the Roman Catholic Church and having fixed his sights on what he saw as the source of the rot that threatened to destroy the church’s ability to proclaim the Good News of God’s grace that is revealed in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, Martin Luther took his 95 Theses on the abuses of the doctrine of indulgences into the streets of Wittenburg and nailed them on the doors of the church. Within a few short weeks, with the aid of the newest technology, copies of Luther’s 95 Theses spread throughout the Holy Roman Empire and sparked a Reformation the likes of which the church hadn’t seen since the Apostle Paul did away with the need to snip the male anatomy to gain entrance to the church. Luther’s words threatened the status quo of centuries of abuse. And the church as is her way, struck back with force so as to ensure that tradition might prevail. The rest, as they say, is history.
Ah history, safely ensconced in the past with its hoards of devils. Let the people rejoice because Martin Luther did it all and we can relax safe in the knowledge that we are justified by grace, through faith. Ain’t it great to be a Lutheran! “A mighty fortress is our God, who himself fights by our side with weapons of the spirit. Were they to take our house, goods, honour, child, or spouse, though life be wrenched away, they cannot win the day. The Kingdom’s ours forever!”
So tell me, if they fought the good fight in the sixteenth century and handed us everything we need, and God is on our side and wins salvation glorious: Where are the children? Where are the young people? Where are the neighbours? Where is everybody? How and why did the church of our ancestors manage to fall into such disrepair? How did we become so irrelevant?
Most of us, can look around and see for ourselves how broken the church is. If we are honest, we all have our own particular theories as to why and how this happened. Yet we continue to go about our business, hoping against hope that someone will notice and finally fix it. Year by year the church slips farther and farther into the morass of it’s own making and more and more people forget the wisdom of the ages and Christ seems to slip further and further from our grasp. We, who go by the name Lutheran, we can’t do much more than point to our glorious past as if we could only turn the clocks back the work of the reformers of old would save us. But time waits for no one and year after year, people drift away and churches close their doors, and those who are left react with fear.
Despite the fact that we’ve tried to immortalize him, it’s as if Martin Luther never lived at all. Back in the dim recess of memory Luther stands, frozen and impotent. And I can’t help but ask the question: “What would Martin do?”
Well in good old Lutheran style, a song comes to mind, a song of the people, a song from the streets, a drinking song…
“If I had a hammer, I’d hammer in the morning, I’d hammer in the evening, all over this land, I’d hammer out danger, I’d hammer out warning…
It’s time to stop celebrating the Reformation as if it is somehow over. The work of reformation continues precisely because the church is always in need of Reformation.
This week I re-read a little book by Matthew Fox. Fox was a Roman Catholic theologian until Mr Ratzinger silenced him. The Roman Catholic church’s loss was the Episcopal church’s gain. Shortly after Mr Ratzinger made himself pope, Matthew Fox took a long hard look at the church he’d served for so many years and became demoralized. Fox noticed the similarities between the sex-abuse scandals that continue to rock the church and the abuses wrought by indulgences, and asked himself what Martin Luther would do. That’s when Matthew Fox decided to write a few Theses of his own. Except where Luther wrote his 95 Theses to object to the practice of indulgences, Fox wrote 95 Theses to object to the many and various abuses of the church. It wasn’t difficult, over the course of a particularly dark night, Matthew Fox found that 95 Theses came flooding out of him. In the morning, he resolved to take his 95 Theses to Wittenburg and nail them to the very same doors where Martin Luther instigated the Reformation.
Well, things have changed a little over the course of nearly 500 years since that fateful day in Wittenburg. You can’t just waltz up to the doors at Wittenburg and nail things there. The doors are no longer made of wood and the city councilors require that you obtain a permit to protest at Wittenburg.
Fox was told that he would need to stay at least 500 feet from the doors, lest he interfere with the tourists who flock to visit the very spot were the church of the protester’s was born. Thus proving one of Fox’s thesis that the church has become for many nothing more than a museum for tourists.
Eventually the town council relented and after some careful construction, on October 31st 2005, Matthew Fox nailed his 95 Thesis to the doors of the church in Wittenburg. Rome took no notice. But the churches in Germany did. Just as Martin Luther’s action was aided by the invention of the printing press, Matthew Fox’s action was aided by the invention of the internet and thus began a conversation that led to the publication of Fox’s little book: A New Reformation: Creation Spirituality and the Transformation of Christianity. I return to Fox’s tome annually as part of my preparation to preach on Reformation Sunday.
Here’s a sample of Fox’s theses:
1) God is both Mother and Father.
3) God is always new, always young, and always “in the beginning.
4) God the Punitive Father is not a God worth honouring, but a false god and an idol that serves empire builders. The notion of a punitive, all-male God, is contrary to the full nature of the Godhead, who is as much female and motherly as masculine and fatherly.
5) “All the names we give to God come from an understanding of ourselves” (Meister Eckhart). thus people who worship a Punitive Father are themselves punitive.
6) Theism (the idea that God is “out there” or above and beyond the universe) is false. All things are in God and God is in all things (panentheism).
10) God loves all of creation, and science can help us more deeply penetrate and appreciate the mysteries and wisdom of God in creation. Science is no enemy of true religion.
15) Christians must distinguish between Jesus (a historical figure) and Christ (the experience of God-in-all-things).
16) Christians must distinguish between Jesus and Paul.
18) Eco-justice is a necessity for planetary survival and human ethics; without it we are crucifying the Christ all over again in the form of destruction of forests, waters, species, air, and soil.
20) A preferential option for the poor, as found in the base community movement, is far closer to the teaching and spirit of Jesus than is a preferential option for the rich and powerful, as found, for example, in Opus Dei.
23) Sexuality is a sacred act and a spiritual experience, a theophany (revelation of the Divine), a mystical experience. It is holy and deserves to be honoured as such.
24) Creativity is both humanity’s greatest gift and its most powerful weapon for evil, and so it ought to be both encouraged and steered to humanity’s most God-like activity, which all religions agree is compassion.
32) Original Sin is an ultimate expression of a punitive father God and is not a biblical teaching. Bit Original Blessing (goodness and grace) is biblical.
33) The term original wound better describes the separation humans experience on leaving the womb and entering the world–a world that is often unjust and unwelcoming–than does the term Original Sin.
59) Fourteen billion years of evolution and unfolding of the universe bespeak the intimate sacredness of all that is.
60) Jesus said nothing about condoms, birth control, or homosexuality.
71) A church that is more preoccupied with sexual wrongs than with wrongs of injustice is itself sick.
75) Poverty for the many and luxury for the few are not right or sustainable.
I’m sure that we all have thesis or two that you would like to nail to the door. I know that if I had a hammer, I’d hammer in the morning, I’d hammer in the evening all over this land, right up to the doors of churches everywhere, and I would nail a few theses to the more than a few church doors. I’d begin with a thesis about the need to move beyond the destructive theories of atonement that have only served to pervert the meaning of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and separate people from the sure and certain knowledge that neither death, nor life nor anything in all of creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ.
I’d include a theses or two about the dumbing down of our best theology and our acceptance of easy answers that have turned most people’s vision of God into a sadomasochistic father who insists on the death of his own son in order to satisfy our definition of justice.
I’d go on and on about the wonders and beauty of creation, and insist that we confess that we are wonderfully made.
I’d confess our obsession with self that lies behind the sin of avarice that permeates our consumer culture and turns our energies toward violence.
I’d call for a return to the Jewish tradition of Sabbath that called upon believers to read the Song of Songs and make love on the Sabbath.
I’d call the church to its responsibility to instill a love of creation in all people so that we can walk upon the earth lightly.
I’d remind the powers that be that all people are created equally and that sexuality is a gift from God to be celebrated and not used to segregate some believers from the priesthood that belongs to all believers.
On this Reformation Sunday, lovers of the church everywhere need to free ourselves from the shackles of tradition and about our 95 theses.
What wisdom do you have to share with the church? What needs reforming? What needs preserving? What needs tossing out? What needs holding up and celebration? When should we cry out in solidarity? When should we sing out with joy and wonder? What should we do? What should we stop doing? Semper Reformanda! Always reforming!
This Reformation Sunday at Holy Cross Lutheran, we will sing new words by Miriam Therese Putzer to Luther’s traditional tune: EIN FESTE BURG which you can find here
You can watch the video of Matthew Fox talking about his book here
For All the Children (Music & Text by David Lohman)
Here it is sung in Minneapolis by a group who gathered from many churches to claim the promise of God’s love for LGBT people in the struggle for equal rights under the law.
At Holy Cross we will sing this as a celebration of our commitment to radical inclusivity.
When I was just a teenager, I was introduced to the writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer by a wise Lutheran Pastor. I remember devouring Bonhoeffer’s “Life Together” and “Letters and Papers from Prison”. To this day, I credit Bonhoeffer for making me a Lutheran. While a great deal of water has flowed under a good many bridges since I was first enamoured of Lutheran theology, to this day I am grateful to that wise old Lutheran pastor who gave me my first taste of Bonhoeffer. Of late, there has been much ado about a little phrase that has been extracted from Bonhoeffer’s work: “religionless Christianity”.
(click here for full quotations from Letter and Papers from Prison)
“It is not for us to prophecy the day when men will once more ask God that the world be changed and renewed. But when that day arrives there will be a new language, perhaps quite non-religious. But liberating and redeeming as was Jesus language. It’ll shock people. It’ll shock them by its power. It’ll be the language of a new truth proclaiming God’s peace with men.” Bonhoeffer: Agent of Grace
Tragically, Bonhoeffer was executed before he had the opportunity to expand on his idea of Christianity beyond religion. The phrase “religionless Christianity” has intrigued agnostics, atheists, humanists, liberal christians and progressive christians. Eric Metaxas, author of “Bonhoeffer” dismisses the idea that Bonhoeffer was anything but a serious, orthodox Lutheran pastor right up to the end.
Despite the historical evidence of Bonhoeffer’s religious orthodoxy, the notion of religionless Christianity will not die. Bishop John Shelby Spong is among those who have tried to build on Bonhoeffer’s phrase and his book “Jesus for the Non Religious” has certainly moved the conversation along among progressive christians.
The dream of religionless christianity has moved well beyond Bonhoeffer as twenty-first century christians wrestle with archaic images of God and move beyond the religious trappings of traditional christianity. The notion of moving beyond religion has always intrigued me. Years ago, while studying Hinduism my professor offered a definition of God from one of the Vedas: “God is beyond the beyond, and beyond that also”. As I continue to explore the life and teachings of the man none as Jesus of Nazareth it becomes more and more evident that such a definition is compatible with his portrait of God. Jesus of Nazareth attempted to move his co-religionists beyond their religious images of God. What might our images of God become if we move beyond the idols offered to us by the religion of Christianity? Might we move toward images of God that more closely resemble the teachings of Jesus by moving toward a religionless christianity?
Sometimes we can better reflect upon our own tradition from the perspective of another tradition. In the video below, twentieth century philosopher and theologian Alan Watts explores the concept of the Religion of No Religion.
“Beyond the Beyond and Beyond that also.” Letting go of our images is the gift of faith that moves us beyond religion. I can hear Jesus call us to let go!
All too often we allow our images of God to become idols that we worship. Sometimes these idols prevent us from challenging our images of reality. Stepping outside our comfort-zones to explore images of reality that are envisioned by those who do not worship our idols sometimes allows us to see beyond the idols that have limited our vision. I remember reading Alan Watts when I was in my twenties. I’d forgotten how his visions of reality helped me to see farther than I’d ever dared. Recently, a friend shared the video below and all at once I remembered Matthew Fox’s quoting Thomas Aquinas who insisted that each of us is “capable of the universe”. Waking up the wealth of wisdom that exists beyond the idols we worship is just the beginning of a new day. We ought not to be afraid to open our eyes. “As capable as God are we.”
For more information about the life and work of Alan Watts click on the graphic below:
Whoever you are, at whatever stage of life you find yourself, Griefwaker is a powerful documentary that speaks to what matters in life. Appreciating endings so that we can appreciate now is not a skill that is often taught. It is a skill that enhances life. Enjoy this beautiful NFB documentary. Just click on the title below to link to the video:
An excerpt from “Love Poems From God” by Daniel Ladinsky,
(Penguin Compass, London: 2002)
(1515-1582) “Teresa was born in Avila, a beautiful high mountain village of Spain. She was one of thirteen children, three girls and ten boys, in a wealthy family. The Spain in which Teresa grew up was permeated with 700 years of Arabian culture; the eradication of Arab power was followed by one of Spain’s darkest periods, the insanity of the Inquisitions, which, in the fourteenth century, along with other grievous deeds, forced mass conversions of Jews to Christianity.”
“Teresa was her father’s favourite child, and the most spirited. Her mother died during childbirth when Teresa was thirteen, after which she had little supervision. It is believed she had a lover at the age of fifteen, which caused her father to send her to a convent boarding school, only to see her return home two years later because of poor health. When she was twenty-one, Teresa ran away from home to join a convent. At that time many convents were more like hotels for women, allowing them a great deal more independence than they would be allowed at home, though after two years at the convent Teresa had a near-death experience that changed her life. A spiritual awakening began in which she cultivated a system of meditation that sought quieting the mind to such an extent that God could then be heard speaking. Over the next twenty years she experienced many mystical states but not until she was fifty did she begin the most far-reaching aspects of her life’s work.”
St. Teresa of Avila “had a great desire for learning and when the Inquisition, in 1559, forbade women to read, Teresa turned to God and asked God to teach her soul about divine love. She then began to write completely out of her own experience. Many of her poems are, in fact, intimate accounts of her communion with God.
The Church’s persecution of Teresa had not waned when she passed away and was buried in Alba de Tormes in 1582. A year after her death some of her disciples, feeling that she might have wished to be buried in Avila, had her body exhumed. When her body was found to be perfectly intact and emitting a wonderful fragrance, her sainthood was formally decreed, allowing the publication and preservation of some of her works.
Most of what we see today of Teresa’s work is probably reined way back, for her writings fell into the hands and under the control of the very forces that had so opposed her throughout her life.”
“Teresa of Avila is undoubtedly the most influential saint in the Western world, and she has made great contributions to spiritual literature and poetry. She was a woman of tremendous courage who is rightfully credited with the remarkable political and religious reform achieved against the strongest—and most insidious—chauvinistic forces.”
“A realistic picture of Teresa’s life did not even reach the English-reading general public until the 1960s. She was known to have had a remarkable quick wit and a stunning, even provocative, sense of humour, as well as a great physical beauty. Her complete works include seven books, four hundred and fifty letters, and assorted poetry. Her writings are considered masterpieces of mystical prose and verse. She personally founded seventeen Carmelite convents and two monasteries, despite enormous opposition from the Church and other men in power.”
“We are here to grow a soul. Not just to sit on one and cash it in at the end of our life.” Matthew Fox explores the undiscovered territories that lie within us. Developing a sense of the sacred that lives in all of us is vital as we engage in the expansion of our consciousness. But has the church, like humanity itself, forgotten the sense of the sacred? Matthew Fox explores a vision of the church that is the place, the space, the happening, where mystics and prophets are birthed, nurtured, championed, supported, and challenged. Fox encourages the church to embrace her prophetic calling to interfere with education, economics, and the environment.
Speaking at the University of Noter Dame’s Centre for Social Concerns, on the 50 Anniversary of Pope John XXIII’s encyclical Pacem in Terris issued in 1963 as a call to “Universal Peace in Truth, Justice and Liberty” Sister Joan describes the “Common Good” as the Holy Grail of politics. She divines the common good as “a vision of public virtue which engages the individual citizen, energizes the government, shapes the public system, and points the public direction in all its policies, all its institutions, and all its legislative intents.”
Fear of diversity has relegated the notion of the common good to the status of an endangered species. Str. Joan points to Pacem in Terris’ insistence that nationality is trumped by one’s global citizenship and responsibilities and warns that pathological individualism threatens our ability to articulate a vision of the common good. She reminds us of the core of our Abrahamic traditions to discover what we hold in common as a seedbed for the reemergence of our desire for the common good in what Chittister describes as a Constitution of the Good Community”.
Sister Joan’s lecture begins at about the 12 minute mark.