I have Seen the Lord!

Today, July 22, is one of my favourite feasts in the church calendar — Mary Magdalene. Deep connections and affection well up for this courageous woman of Christ, the first witness to the resurrection, the one commissioned by the risen Lord himself to “Go and tell.”

This “Apostle to the Apostles” has played a big role in my ability to embrace the priestly calling God placed in my heart some 25 years ago. Mary rushed alongside me as I struggled with the tension between the intimate new beckoning God was forging in the depth of my very being and the Roman Catholic prohibition to claim that same calling. It was she who made me realize that it was the risen Christ calling me, it was she who helped me echo the cry from her heart and recognize it as my own: “I have seen the Lord!” Rarely have I experienced such an intimate identification with a Biblical figure besides Jesus himself.

It is Mary’s bold witness that validated my calling as coming from God through Jesus. It is she who helped me to trust Christ’s summons in my heart to “go and tell.” It was she who held my trembling fearful heart as I allowed the priestly calling to mold and grow my inner landscape into a fertile field for God’s service at the heart of a Church tradition that both nurtured and inspired, dismissed and feared this calling in a woman. I owe Mary Magdalene a tremendous debt of gratitude and honour for her unbidden yet loving and generous gifts of guidance and strength, of courage and vision.

Given this personal and enduring friendship with Mary Magdalene, I fully endorse that she is regarded as a guiding light, an inspiration and role model for all women who feel a divine call to full priestly ministry, a call that Rome continues to resist and even deny. My heart is in full solidarity with these women, even as I am now preparing to fulfill this call in the Anglican tradition (which btw considers itself a full part of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church of Christ). But as I am now standing in a different ecclesial place, I am beginning to see different things and beginning to see the same things in a different light.

I have to ask the obvious: Why is it so painful to move to another expression of Christ’s one, holy, catholic and apostolic church? A rhetorical question maybe, for I know the reason well; I lived it intensely for many years. The Roman Catholic Church is my ancestral and spiritual home; how can I possibly “turn my back” on this holy Mother Church? Somehow leaving the home of our biological childhood seems obvious and expected. We consider it normal and healthy to leave the family nest in order to stand on our own two feet and find our own path. However, now that I have moved to the Anglican expression of Gospel discipleship I am making a surprising discovery: I have not left my ecclesial home, “home” went with me. Just as the lessons of my upbringing continue to guide me in adulthood, so the best of Roman Catholicism continues to animate life in my new ecclesial home.

But just as our upbringing bestows on us both blessings and curses, so does our ecclesial upbringing. Part of growing up, cleaning up and waking up is to exorcise and heal all that binds us in negative and hurtful ways. Maybe that’s why it took me so long to make the denominational move: I wanted to take as little unresolved negative baggage with me as possible, and worked hard to purify the motives for the move.

Blending the best Roman Catholic spiritual attributes with the Anglican gifts and blessings, new configurations are now growing in my spirit, leading to deeper insights and richer expressions of ministry and service. Would this have been possible had I remained safely (even though painfully) at “home”? Sometimes, no often, it takes leaving home in order to discover a bigger, wider and better home.

Which brings me to the next question. In the past 50 years the Christian family as a whole has been on a momentous ecumenical journey. We used to kill each other in the name of the Prince of Peace! It’s therefore momentous that we have now moved into the joyful recognition of the risen Christ in one another, animating and guiding each tradition according to its calling and charism. We have been echoing Mary Magdalene’s startling exclamation: we have seen the Lord in one another.

This remarkable achievement is truly cause for great rejoicing, especially in this 500th year since the conflicts of the 16th century splintered the Body of Christ in the west into countless fragments. And we are certainly celebrating this year, from small ecumenical study groups in rural communities right up to Pope Francis, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Communion of Reformed Churches and the Orthodox patriarchs.

But in the euphoria of celebration, we also need to continue asking: what are the practical spiritual and ecclesial implications of the significant strides we have been making towards Christian Unity? What is the Christian Unity we seek? If it is not uniformity, as most will agree, then how does the abiding diversity of our ecclesial understandings and practices challenge our understanding of Church as encompassing more than one tradition? And if we truly honour other traditions for the unique gifts and practices they share in the Body of Christ, do all need to embrace similar practices? Do all, and Rome in particular, need to ordain women? Now I know that even asking this question will not go over well with RC advocates for women’s ordination. Nevertheless the question deserves attention. Notwithstanding the very valid critiques of ecclesial patriarchy and clericalism in the RC Church, I cannot help but wonder. Is the new thing God is working out in our ecumenical journey that we grow our ecclesial vision so large, that moving to another tradition will no longer feel like betraying and leaving “Holy Mother Church” because “Holy Mother Church” really includes all traditions who profess Christ Jesus as Lord and Saviour?

Mary stood at the tomb weeping in grief and loss. “They” had taken away her Lord and she didn’t know where “they” had laid him. She grieved deeply for what was now over and gone, what was now no longer possible, or so she thought. The One who had healed and transformed her life, the one who had fed her soul was gone, forever. Now what? I felt a similar desperation when I first realized God was calling me to priestly ministry. In fact, two Marys rushed to my side in that painful moment. That visceral reality-check caused two burning questions, each connected with each Mary, to spring from my heart in fear and trembling: “How can this be?” (Luke 1: 34) and “Woman, why are you weeping?” (John 20:13).

The two Marys and I have traveled a long journey together. We’ve grown a deep and abiding friendship. Each Mary modeled how to give my fiat to God. Their witness, each in her own way, have guided and sustained and inspired my trembling heart. Now with great joy and deep satisfaction, I serve two rural parishes as an Anglican deacon, preparing for ordination to the priesthood in four months. I have come a long ways.

Today I salute you, Mary Magdalene. You have fed my courage to give my yes to the summons of the risen Jesus: “Go and tell.” My tears of pain and grief have turned into tears of joy and fullness. You, Mary, are still my trustworthy partner in mission and ministry, as I lead God’s people in worship and preach each Sunday with your passion, courage and conviction: “I have seen the Lord!”

For another article on Mary Magdalene, click here.

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Examining Difference

We have 80% agreement, the article states, between the two churches that both claim a Catholic identity. Anglicans and Roman Catholics are indeed so very close in liturgy and prayer, Scripture and Gospel discipleship, sacramental practice and spirituality, the historic three-fold order of bishop–priest–deacon, Mary and the Saints. Truly close siblings holding each other in deep affectionate regard. Then comes Bishop Linda Nicholls’ question: “If we’ve come to so much agreement … why is it we’ve arrived in such different places?” Why indeed … ???

In this question lies the enigma that is the Anglican Church to Roman Catholics. Now that I am swimming in Anglican ecclesial waters, some answers to Bishop Nicholls’ question are slowly floating to the surface. In his book The Anglican Moral Choice Paul Elmen formulates the difference as follows: The Roman Catholic view in general seems to be that a principle must be affirmed without exception; and that thereafter exceptions can be dealt with, without modifying the principle. The view natural to the (Anglican) mind is rather that a principle must be framed in such a way as to include all allowable exceptions. It follows inevitably that the Roman (Catholic) Church must profess to be fixed, while the Anglican Church must profess to take account of changed conditions. The (Roman Catholic) Church thereby conceives of and treats human nature in vastly different ways than the Anglican tradition, and that difference goes deep. (pg. 118, 1983)

In other words, the Roman Catholic point of departure leans more towards a legal authority model that allows exceptions in pastoral situations. The Anglicans acknowledge the grey and ambiguous spheres of life upfront, motivated by a deep concern to make room for every possible situation people of good will with a sincere desire for God may find themselves.

I appreciate the RC Church position. We need clear moral and spiritual markers to help develop our conscience and guide our life choices.  Like a good mother, Rome indeed strives to guide her children in upright and moral goodness. But I also appreciate the Anglican instinct of radical hospitality, the kind Jesus extended so freely in ways that scandalized the religious establishment of his day.

There is a real danger in an overly firm grip on the legal side of things. Once we become grown adults in faith, with capable and critical minds, life itself teaches us that we cannot always apply neat legal categories of right and wrong. The more we live, the more grey appears (despite our colourful experiences). This is where Anglican discipleship shows greater hospitality. While the Anglican approach can be criticized for its apparent inconsistencies, the Roman Church gets criticized for its inability to accommodate those same inconsistent and grey areas of life.

The Comments section of a recent NCR article included the following by a Catholic reader: To be fair, as much as I admire Anglicanism, the subject of homosexuality has long vexed the world-wide Anglican Communion, with some member bodies supportive of LGTB people and others, like the church in Africa, being solidly against. But that’s what I admire about Anglicanism: it’s messiness. They at least are willing to air out arguments in the light of day with considerable lay input. Within Catholicism it’s trickle-down all the way, and nothing ever sees the light of day.

While criticism can be swift over the Anglican storm around homosexuality and same-sex marriage, Catholicism has its own challenges when it comes to moral teaching and practice. The Church’s official teaching against artificial birth control has failed to persuade many married Catholics. As much as it tries to remedy and show contrition, the clergy sexual abuse continues to deliver serious blows to Roman Catholic moral credibility. Moreover, the Catholic Church is struggling mightily with how to welcome its gay and lesbian members.

Both moral approaches come with merits and risks. While the Anglican position risks allowing too much latitude (fueled by a radical trust that God will sort it all out in the end), the Roman position risks stifling pastoral accommodation, thereby alienating those whose lives do not neatly fit the legal ecclesial boxes. A superficial understanding of the Anglican position can lead to the notion that it stands for nothing, thereby completely missing its profound and robust relational and incarnational ethos. Roman Catholics can be criticized for trying to squeeze life’s ambiguities into a greater rigidity than life itself can tolerate, thereby ignoring its noble commitment to moral guidance.

Anglican ecclesiology and polity can look incredibly attractive, fueled by the Christian ideal of communion. But I do wonder if this makes Anglican spirituality and praxis an adult-church, “X-rated” so to speak. In other words, the Anglican tradition is not for children or the faint-hearted. A mature faith is required, an ability to engage in thoughtful dialogue without fear, reserving rash judgments and legalistic categories. However, I don’t think it was an Anglican who said recently: “Who am I to judge?

In one of his columns, Ron Rolheiser wrote: “What’s needed today is not less freedom but more maturity. We don’t need to roll back freedom in the name of God and morality: we need to raise the level of our maturity to match the level of our freedom. Simply put, we are often too immature to carry properly the great gift of freedom that God has given us. The answer to that is not to denigrate freedom in the name of God and morality, but to invite a deeper maturity so as to more properly honour the great gift that we have been given.” (May 21, 2006)

In light of Rolheiser’s words, it seems that both traditions need to be accountable to the other. Only in this tension of mutual accountability can the fruits of our witness mature in our common pilgrim journey in Gospel faithfulness.

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Canada150+ *

I am a first generation immigrant to this great country. I remember my introduction to Turtle Island/Canada. A young traveler, it did not take long before I became aware that this land had been home to countless generations of First Nations Peoples long before the likes of me arrived on its shores. Over the nearly 40 years that I have made my home here, I learnt much about the strain in relationships with those who had welcomed the first European settlers in good faith and mentored them in wilderness living. It is heartbreaking, really. And it continues.

Despite the initial inkling of trouble, I am ashamed to confess that for my first 25 years of farm living, First Nations neighbours on the reserve bordering our land were unknown to me. I was ignorant of the historical reasons for their broken lives. Faces, stories and persons came closer when I began working in a shelter for abused women and children. Their tears and pain found their way into my prayers; my heart began to break.

Several experiences followed that initial awakening, facilitating deeper learning about our strained past. My participation in Returning to Spirit was a watershed experience. More scales fell of the eyes of my heart. Our common brokenness as fallible human beings became the glue of reconciliation and healing. I watched the 8th Fire CBC Series and felt the resonance with my learning from Returning to Spirit. Finally I attended a day in the hearings of the Truth & Reconciliation Commission. Heart-wrenching, all of it.

Each of these encounters helped me to begin seeing glimmers of hope. For in the telling, however painful to do and to hear, comes healing; in the telling comes understanding and respect, in the telling comes the hope for reconciliation and the freedom to begin again. I remember Wab Kinew, host of 8th Fire, explaining the meaning of the title 8th Fire. In keeping with that meaning, I see today young aboriginal women and men rise up and reclaim their heritage in healing and reconciling ways. This gives me hope and courage to keep doing my small part in the quest for cultural and historical reconciliation, just as those featured in Reserve107 are doing in a small corner of the Saskatchewan prairies.

On the side of non-aboriginal Canadians, there is a slow yet steady awakening that we are Treaty people together with our Indigenous sisters and brothers. Our ancestors signed those Treaties; we did not keep the conditions of those agreements, agreements considered semi-sacred to the First Nations citizens of Canada. We have much to account for, much to repent for. And we must.

This year 2017 the Christian churches are marking the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. The 16th century events are not something to be proud of, as the Christian West exploded in hostile fragments, with continuing effects today, ironically all in the name of Jesus, the Prince of Peace. The ecumenical dialogues and agreements of the past 50 years have lead to concrete steps towards mutual reconciliation and healing. We are attempting to retell our fragmented history in new and reconciling ways, a journey from conflict to communion.

We can do no less with the Indigenous peoples of the world. Just as it took several generations to destroy aboriginal spirituality and culture, it will take several generations to undo the harm from the past. We have no choice but to have faith in the goodwill of our First Nations sisters and brothers, however often their attempts at healing and reclaiming healthy lives might fail. We have no choice but to keep hoping that we, the descendants of the European settlers, will arrive at understanding, respect and acceptance, however stubborn and reluctant we seem. We have no choice but to pray for contrite hearts that seek forgiveness, reconciliation and courage to build the next 150 years together in this beautiful land called Canada. The alternatives are worse.
I understand the planting of the TeePee on Parliament Hill this week by the Bawaating Water Protectors. I am relieved and grateful for the peaceful encounter between the activists and the Prime Minister, and for the government’s resolve to honour the right of their presence amidst the celebrations.

The following is a reflection I am sharing in an Ecumenical Worship Service in Watrous at the occasion of CanadaDay150, weaving together the legacy with First Nations People and the gift of God in creation:

The heavens are telling the glory of God;
and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours forth speech,
and night to night declares knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words;
heir voice is not heard;
yet their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.
Psalm 19

As part of marking Canada’s 150th birthday, we acknowledge those who were here before Turtle Island became Canada. We acknowledge that we are gathered on the traditional territory of the Cree, Saulteaux, and Assiniboine First Nations, in the area defined as Treaty 6. We acknowledge their stewardship of this land throughout the ages, a stewardship that lifts up creation as the gift that tells the glory of God, the Great Manitou.

The inhabitants of Turtle Island sacrificed much. Foremost among them are not the war heroes, the pioneers, the politicians and the industrialists, but the people who were here before Europeans arrived. For thousands of years Indigenous peoples walked on this land. Their relationship with the land was at the center of their lives. They knew how to honour the gift of creation, they allowed the heavens to tell the glory of God, the Great Manitou.

These First Nations Peoples welcomed our ancestors, they traded with them and taught them how to survive in a hostile environment. They intermarried with the early traders and explorers and created the new nation of the Métis. They negotiated treaties with us so that we might share the land and its resources, and they called us kiciwamanawak — cousins. (Donald Ward in his May 2017 column of the Prairie Messenger)

Now, after 150 years of Confederation, this beautiful land and its rich resources are crying out for better stewardship and greater reverence. Saint Francis of Assisi reminds us that the earth, our common home, is like a sister with whom we share our life and like a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us: “Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with coloured flowers and herbs.

This sister of ours, God’s lavish creation, so respected by the First Peoples of Turtle Island, now cries out because of the harm we have inflicted on her by irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. (Laudato Si) Eager to enjoy the earth’s riches, we have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence towards her in our hearts, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life. In all this exploitation of creation, we dishonour not only our First Nations sisters and brothers, but also the Creator, the Great Manitou.

Most of us here were born and raised in this beautiful land called Canada – Turtle Island. We love this native land; this is where we belong. We need to join hands to care for creation, each according to our own culture, experience, involvements and talents, so that our children’s children can have a healthy future.

We live here by right of treaty and by the benevolence of the First Nations People who welcomed our ancestors. We also live here because the generosity of this land has fed and clothed and sheltered us. Let us remember that we are all … Treaty People … and the earth is our common home. We pray for healing and reconciliation with our First Nations sisters and brothers and with our Mother Earth, God’s beautiful creation.PrayerWalk

Canada150 — What’s to Celebrate?

Canada and the Reformation: Uneasy Gratitude

* The image gracing the top of this reflection comes from the city of Vancouver

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