Friday, June 10, 2011


If anyone out there has been following these sporadic posts over the months and years, they may note that I have changed the name and discription. I had already changed the purpose/description in my disclaimer on the side. The name change refers to how I understand the Source of all that is.

I have started reading J. Philip Newell's "Echo of the Soul." In his introduction he writes:

" ... the analogy of royal garments woven throughwith gold. If the golden thread were to be ripped out of the clothing the whole garment would unravel. So it is with the image of God woven into the mystery of our being. If somehow it were to be extracted we would cease to exist. The image of God is not simply a characteristic of our humanity. It is the essence of our being ..."

Someone, in an interview for position of incumbent, once asked - you talk about God alot. Who is God to you. I simply replied - the Source of all that is - without God there is nothing. I still firmly believe that. It is understanding what that means in my personal faith life and in my life as a priest with which I struggle. Often the conflict comes between what I intuitively feel/believe and what those around me put forth as tradition/doctrine. In spite of my struggles, I hold unto the Golden Thread. Or maybe it is holding onto the Golden Thread that keeps me going forward through all my struggles - keeps me in my faith and in my church.

Love and Prayers,
Ann Marie

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Reflection - Part 6

We carry baggage today because we have not seen the Gospels through the lens of the earlier Hebrew writings, the traditions and understandings of which they came out, but rather through the lens of a community or communities struggling to define themselves as separate from the world. These communities may have shared a past with the traditions that formed Jesus but they did not share a future with them. They firmly believed the times were going to end. Their focus was not on bringing radical change to a world but rather to keep themselves for the end of the world. This is contrary to what Jesus preached.

It may well have been that Jesus did believe the end would come shortly after his death and resurrection. But it did not stop Jesus from reaching into the world and meeting people where they were rather than requiring people to jump through hoops to come to him. Once again Diarmaid MacCulloch writes:
Still, Jesus was a Jew immersed in the traditions that constituted the identity of his fellow Jews. He is recorded as taking a cavalier attitude to the Jewish Law or obeying its demands in ways that seem capricious, which caused anxious debate for generations about how far Christians
should imitate him, and which are still puzzling after much very sophisticated modern analysis of the mixture. Maybe the answer is that Jesus did not care a great deal about being consistent on the issue, given his concentration on the imminent coming of the kingdom, in which all laws would be made anew.

Or maybe it was the spirit of the law that Jesus followed rather than the letter – especially as it had been minutely defined by the various sects. Hence he healed on the Sabbath because his understanding that the spirit of the law was compassion and especially compassion for the vulnerable and those in need. Certainly the daughter of Abraham whom he healed was at no immediate risk but he saw her suffering and healed her so that she would not experience for even an instance longer – an example from which our medical system might benefit.

Maybe we as a church need to live in an end times mentality. There is no guaranteed tomorrow to complete our work, only today. If our work, based on the Gospels seen as a continuation of the prophetic tradition rather than solely through the lens of the Epistles, is to be working for the bringing in of the kingdom, as Jesus’ work was, then we need to act now to reach out and relieve the suffering around us. Not by waiting for those people to jump through the hoops and become one of us but by meeting them where they are and celebrating them for who they are – beloved children of God.

Instead of looking at a God that insists hoops be jumped through we could take the example of the father of the prodigal son – who seeing his wayward son approaching in the distance ran to embrace him rather than waiting for him to go through requirements and grovelling. We tend to be more like the other son – wanting some sort of requirements or accountability before the wayward son is accepted back into the fold.

Maybe we should look at the example of Jesus who, although he met people in the synagogue, went out into the highways and byways like the man with the wedding banquet and gathered people in to share in the meal – people who had not jumped through hoops or met requirements. The only qualification was that they existed and were invited – and all that were met were invited.

So at the beginning I said I might reach some conclusion. Typically, for me, I have not. So be it. The thoughts are there for further pondering. But for now, I have a vestry agenda to plan and a funeral service to put together. I may find time to reflect later on. Who knows.

Reflections - Part 5

So I guess Paul does have a lot to teach about being church in today’s context. By learning how to live in community we also to grow to a greater understanding of what that means. It can help us reach out into the communities around us.

Diarmaid MacCulloch writes:
The separate inspiration of much of Paul’s message … was bound to bring tensions with the Jerusalem leadership … At stake was an issue which would trouble Christ-followers for 150 years: how far should they move
from Jewish tradition if, like Paul, they preached the good news of Christ’s
kingdom to non-Jews? Questions of deep symbolism arose: should converts accept such features of Jewish life as circumcision, strict adherence to the Law of Moses and abstention from food defiled by association with pagan worship …? Paul would allow only that Christians should not eat food which they knew had been publically offered to idols, and otherwise not make much of a fuss about wares on sale in the market or about dishes at a non-believer’s table.

I wonder what impact following Paul’s lead would have on the practice of open communion that seems to be in controversy today – especially after the statement from the Canadian House of Bishops. It is all fine and dandy to say that we don’t have to ask whether or not a person is baptized when they come to the rail for communion. That is the equivalent of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” It does not provide consistency. Basically it says that we can practice open communion as long as we don’t do it knowingly. But as soon as we become aware we are not to practice it. So what happens then if I give someone communion on a regular basis and then find out they are not baptized. Of course, I would speak to them about baptism but am I to quit giving them communion when they have already received. Seems I am shutting the barn door after the horse got out. On second thought, maybe our bishops are following Paul’s example. Don’t eat the meat offered to idols but if you don’t ask and don’t know – it is okay.

It seems to me that if we follow Jesus’ example we would practice the meal as open to everyone. I am not aware of any place in the Gospels where Jesus insisted people be baptized in order to share the meal with him. There are no indications in the words of institution in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians or in the Gospels that the people who shared the last supper had to be baptized. It may well be that they all were as this was Jesus’ inner circle. But I am not even sure that baptism was a requirement for his community or whether it was later written in by his followers. We have no record of Jesus himself baptizing which seems strangely at odds with his commission that his disciples should go out and baptize the nations. Even the reading for Pentecost this year does not call on the disciples to baptize.

I am well aware that baptism as a requirement for full entry into the Church was a requirement very early on in the history of the Church. But I wonder if it wasn’t more an adaptation of the culture around it and maybe based on its Jewish roots. Circumcision was a requirement of the Jewish faith – an outward sign of belonging. The mystery religions of the time had an impact on the early Church and they had initiation rites.

I remember in seminary learning that the night before baptism the catechumens were given the secret. This secret was so secret that our professor had to finally tell us that it was the Apostles’ Creed as we couldn’t find any place that named it. It seems to me that Jesus, with his breaking down of barriers to a personal relationship with God, would not have put other barriers in place. I would, however, recognize a very human need to have some mark or rite of passage to belonging to the community.

Interestingly enough I recently researched the origin of the word “narthex.” Narthex is from a word referring to the giant fennel herb. I couldn’t, for the life of me, make a connection with the early church until I read that it was often used in initiation rites. Further research indicated that fire had been brought to earth in the hollowed out stem of this herb. Since fire was so significant to human development there is a connection with initiation. Early catechumens were made to stay in the Narthex for services until they were baptized. Some traditions had the doors being closed and locked before the reading of the Gospel. This would appear to be a very human requirement as I firmly believe Jesus would not have denied anyone the good news.

Reflections - Part 4

Unfortunately, we read Jesus and the Incarnation through the lens of the Epistles which is less of a ‘kingdom’ lens and more of a personal lens. So we, as a Church, tend to emphasize the difference Jesus and the Christian way makes in our individual lives. I have come to believe that this is one of the things that makes the Church more inward looking. We focus on the intellect (which is also a reflection of the influence of the societies in which the early Church struggled – intellect was part of the male and therefore superior. Experience, life lived in the messiness of the world was more the realm of the feminine and therefore inferior – a bit simplistic way of putting it, I realize.) I know a very dear woman with the heart of a deacon who constantly struggles with the structures of the church that see outreach as a pouring out of money rather than an engaging in the community around us. In this way, I very much feel my vows as a deacon – even though they were as a transitional deacon. I don’t see my vows as a priest changing the focus of my vows as a deacon but rather as a broadening.

We tend to hold ourselves distant from the struggles of the community around us. For St. George’s, and this is true of many churches, those struggles are separate from us because most of us do not live in the community in which our church is situated. Case in point being that although I serve in a core community, I live in a new suburb almost as far removed from the realities of my geographical parish as I can be.

Paul taught us well on how to live in Christian community. But Paul did not do much to teach how to continue Jesus’ incarnational ministry in the larger community context. Jesus did but we tend to follow Paul’s emphasis rather than Jesus'. Is it any wonder that we can’t get our congregations to look beyond themselves. For years we have taught through the lens of Paul’s writings. Even the call to discipleship in the Gospels is seen in that light.

And it might even be one of the reasons why so many people have cut their connections with the Church. They don’t see a continuity. The teachings and the call to the Christian life are not reflecting the reality in which they live. But this is not something we can blame Paul for. Paul, interestingly enough, was the one that reached outside the traditions of the church to be relevant to the larger community around him. (Did I mention that I live in a creative tension with Paul and his letters). It was actually the Jerusalem Church that wanted people to conform to the Jewish traditions ie. circumcision.

Reflections - Part 3

I read the Gospels through the lens of the prophets. I do not see the prophets as pointing to the coming of Jesus. I see the Gospels using the prophets as a way of pointing out who Jesus was to those earliest Christian communities. I see the prophets as expanding on the purpose of the Law. People were not getting that God was about justice – not justice as we understand it today which is largely about avoiding sin and when we do sin we are punished for it. The justice we tend to practice today is largely retributive rather than restorative. This definitely reflects the Latin roots of the early church as the Hebrew roots were more about restoration – for example the idea of Jubilee.

Throughout the prophets – as harsh as they often appear – is the idea of justice with compassion. We can clearly see God’s agonizing over God’s beloved children and how they just don’t get it. The error of their ways often has to do with their disregard for the most vulnerable in society.

This is reflected in the Incarnation. Jesus continued the prophetic tradition. He was solidly rooted in the Law but based his following of the law on justice with compassion. We see echoes of the prophets in his agonizing over how people just don’t get it. I am solidly with the writer of John when he/she states that whoever has seen Jesus has seen God. Wow! What a wonderful God that is. When one looks at the Incarnation and the deep compassion that Jesus has for all that he meets – okay, maybe not always right away; the Syro-Phoenican woman being a case in point – one cannot help but understand what it means when he says that he comes to bring life and bring it abundantly.

Last Sunday, based on something David Lose said on Working, I preached on how we were called into the same intimate relationship with God that Jesus had. That relationship is not just based on belief but on participating. David Lose talks about the Ascension being the original Rapture and Left-Behind. Only in this case to be left behind was an honour and a privilege not a indication of imperfection. We are left behind to continue in Jesus work in the bringing in of the kingdom. Jesus tells us that we shall do even greater things than those which we see him doing. For Jesus it is not just about living our individual and corporate lives in a right manner – it is about working to bring about a change to all of creation – about restoring things to the original created state.

Reflections - Part 2

One of my first discoveries after going through a year of BCP was that the readings are from the epistles and the gospels with the rare exception to prove the rule. Off hand I can remember one reading from Isaiah and I am too lazy to go back through and count the exceptions.

I had a time of fellowship with a couple of retired priests, one being my father. One of them made the comment that we tend to read the Gospels through the lens of the Epistles – especially Paul’s letters – rather than the Epistles through the lens of the Gospels.

I know that for a number of scholars the fact that Paul’s letters were written before the Gospels speaks to them of the Epistles being closer to the teachings of the early church. But let us consider this. Paul, after his conversion took off to Arabia for three years. He did not go to the people closest to the source – Jesus. We are not sure what exactly he did for those three years. We also know that Paul was often on the outs with the disciples who experienced Jesus in the flesh. Paul did not spend a lot of time in Jerusalem, closest to the source, but was a Jew of the Diaspora. That coloured a lot of his thinking and the lens through which he saw Jesus. I am beginning to wonder if we can legitimately base our understandings of the early church and its understandings of Jesus based on Paul’s letters. Maybe James’ letter is actually a better lens (and I will admit to a bias for James’ letter).

Of course being of a more Protestant tradition – I grew up in a more evangelical Anglican congregation (although my father’s early mentors were more of a Anglo-Catholic background which makes my background an interesting mixture) – Paul’s letters very much influenced the theology with which I grew up – maybe not so much the theology I learned from my parents but definitely the theology of the Church around me. My background has always held me in a creative tension with those letters. The social justice – action in the world – keeps me closer to James (and let us remember the Paul had real issues with the Church in Jerusalem headed by James) but I worshipped in a world dominated by Paul. My colleague's comment about reading the Gospels through Paul’s letters made sense to me in my current challenges with the Church.

Part of the tension is the recognition that as much as I have problems with Paul, it is probably due to Paul’s reaching out to the Gentiles that Christianity eventually flourished. (or maybe I am doing God a dis-service. It may well have been that another vehicle would have been found and it would have been a different base on which Christianity flourished – who knows.)

Another of my more current understandings of Paul is that for Paul the end times were just around the corner. I am currently reading Diarmaid MacCaulloch’s Christianity The First Three Thousand Years. On page 114 he writes:
… Christianity was not usually going to make a radical challenge to existing
social distinctions. The was that Paul and his followers assumed that the
world was going to come to an end soon and so there was not much point
in trying to improve it by radical action.

… He made notably little reference in his letters to the ‘kingdom of God’, that concept of a radical turn to world history which had meant so much to Jesus and had accompanied his challenge to so many existing social conventions.

Paul only experienced Jesus in a personal revelation rather than in community and incarnation. He was very Jewish and it can appear that he fit his understandings of Jesus into that tradition. He did not benefit from travelling and listening to Jesus and having Jesus challenge his understandings as Jesus did for the disciples.

So we end up with a lens of focus on personal salvation with end times coming soon. Although, to be fair, one can see a dealing with the failure of the end times to come in Paul’s later letters. Sometimes, when I read the letters, I wonder if there is real continuity with the Gospels.

The Church became preoccupied with individual salvation. My colleague made another interesting point. Paul’s understanding of atonement was largely based on the Fall or original sin. We now understand those stories to be myths - attempts to understand how in a world created by God there can be so much wrong. Paul’s understanding was that Jesus’ main role was to bring about the return to our origins before the eating of the fruit. In the main, Paul’s emphasis was on living a life of personal rightness – not so much calling society to account.

I happen to believe that as well. But I see it more through the lens of the prophets. Somehow, something went wrong in creation. Probably it had a lot to do with humankind’s wilfulness. I see the law trying to set guidelines/rules about how to live in a manner that benefits all of creation. The Ten Commandments are very important in how to live individually within community but the Law is more than the Ten. It also looks at living as a community in a larger context.

I love the Summary of the Law in the BCP – ‘on these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’ When saying morning prayer at the 10:30 service I almost always use the Hear, O Israel rather than the Apostles’ Creed. It places God at the centre but speaks to the fact that we can only have God placed at the centre when we live in right relationship with those around us. Paul does have some insights as to how to live that out in context of Christian community but maybe not so much on how to live and effect change in the context of living in and transforming the larger community around us.

My colleague suggested that we should actually be reading the Epistles through the lens of the Gospel rather than vice-versa. It makes sense to me. In that light, I can see how Paul enriches our understanding of living our faith incarnationally in our faith communities and in the larger communities around us.

Reflections - Part 1

I make no claims to being a scholar. I try to keep up with some reading to continue my education. Usually I try to take a few hours a week in my field office (Mel’s CafĂ©) with a book. Some weeks I get no reading done as I spend a fair amount of time interacting with the regulars and building relationships with the community. I tend to be more of relational and experiential priest than an academic.

Being at St. George’s has been a challenge in a number of ways. I give thanks for Biggar as it helped me discover who I am as a priest and develop the skills and experiences for the ministry to which I have come believe God called me. Biggar helped me discover, St. George’s is helping me to grow more fully into that priest in the context of a Church that may not be quite ready for that type of ministry.

I have always struggled with Paul. My mother and I would get on a rant about Paul and my father would just shake his head at us and call us heretics. But both of them brought me to read the Gospels through the lens of social justice and the prophetic tradition. Because Dad was my priest for the first 20 years of my life I didn’t even realize that there might be different lens until I was about 18 and out in the world a little more.

While at St. George’s I am becoming re-acquainted with the BCP including the readings on any given Sunday. My early morning service on Sunday is the Service of Holy Communion out of the BCP. In keeping with that service I do use the lessons in the prayer book rather than the Revised Common Lectionary. It often means two different sermons on a Sunday morning which can be a challenge but I am discovering a few of my challenges are making more sense.

Given that a fair number of my congregation have gray hair, and usually they are the ones that are most hesitant to change, becoming reacquainted with our traditions through the BCP has been a real blessing as it is helping me to better understand where they come from. Granted St. George’s uses the Book of Alternative Services as its main resource for worship but most of the older members were formed by the BCP.

So where am I going with this meandering? I am trying to piece together in my mind some of the issues over resistance to reach out more consciously into our communities. So this will probably be the beginning of a few posts as I try to work through what I have so far. It is by no means academic as I make no claims to being an academic (I have come to believe that placing most of our emphasis on academic understandings has helped keep us from a practice of incarnational faith in our communities. We will send money but often will not give of ourselves. I respect the academics as they often provide the thoughts that spark my thinking but I do believe they need to be balanced by experience as well as theory.) As I am a “right brain” person it will appear to meander at times but will eventually reach a conclusion – I hope.