TOB and Ordination II

Back in September 2015, I was one of three Canadian women presenting at the International Women’s Ordination Conference in Philadelphia on the question:
Theology of the Body – Friend or Foe of the Ordination Question?
This is Part II of four — Part I can be found here.

Our bodies are created by God to be living sacraments, to make God physically present in the world through our words and deeds. This is clearly the message JP II transmits through his Theology of the Body. While completely unintentional on the part Pope John Paul II, it is our conviction that in this firm claim by the Holy Father lay the beginning of a reversal of church teaching on the ordination of women.

We speak of transubstantiation when referring to the transformation of ordinary bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Jesus at the Eucharist. It is fascinating to think that women engage in a type of biological “transubstantiation” every time those who are pregnant grow another human being. The new life generated by sexual intercourse is literally fed by the mother’s own body and blood.  When she said yes, Mary became first in offering the world God’s holy body and blood through the birth of her son Jesus. Through God’s gift of growing new life in her womb and nourishing it with her own body, Mary, and every woman with her, can grasp a bit of the mystery of transforming ordinary food and drink into new life —a profound Eucharistic transformation, culminating in the great Eucharistic sacrament of the Incarnation of God’s own son Jesus. I wonder if we have really tapped the sacramental significance of this glorious and mysterious wonder of biological “transubstantiation” called pregnancy, whether we have personally experienced it or not.

Herein may lay a promise and potential of powerful witness through the ordination of a woman because of her gender. A woman priest, simply by being female, subverts the outdated and prejudicial associations of male-only priesthood. Women carry powerful symbolic associations with bodiliness and earthliness which are crying out to be reclaimed for the sake of the fullness of God and now also for the sake of the healing of “Our Common Home: the Earth.

After opening his encyclical on the environment Laudato Si with quotes from The Canticle of St. Francis, Pope Francis then immediately states:  This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life. This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor; she “groans in travail” (Rom8:22). We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth (cf.Gen2:7); our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters.

It is a chilling exercise to substitute the word “women” wherever Pope Francis refers to the earth. Chilling indeed to apply his words to the many and varied ways women and female ways of knowing and living have been “used and abused of the goods with which God has endowed us.”

A priesthood of different genders can affirm sexual difference (in positive and negative ways): women and men are equal but not the same, much in the same way as the TOB claims. Each brings different qualities and values attributed to God, embodied and symbolized in both male and female. There are several strengths in a priesthood of both women and men:

* An increased capacity to bring to Christian life and worship all the gendered ways  of being and symbolic meanings of the divine as reflected in both male and female;

* A restoring of the fullness of the principle of sacramentality which has to include male and female embodiment;

* A fuller expression of the meaning of the Incarnation, i.e. the Word becoming flesh in Christ Jesus.

* A fuller manifestation of the very Theology of the Body as articulated by St. John Paul II, in the fact that a priesthood of both sexes is a more honest reflection of the TOB claim that both women and men are first and foremost a human body in their fullest and most fundamental sense which is then subsequently expressed in male and female.

From cover to cover, the Theology of the Body is focused on human beings, male and female, as images of God that fully share one and the same human nature as “body-persons.” John Paul’s entire treatise is devoted to showing that Trinitarian communion becomes more clearly visible when man and woman, being of the same flesh, live in communion with each other and become “one flesh:” in marriage by sharing the gift of love and the gift of life; in community by holding all things in common and live in mutual love and mercy; in celibacy by giving one’s best self spiritually “for the sake of the kingdom.”

God deems both male and female bodies worthy sacramental vessels, capable of transforming ordinary food and drink, ordinary events and ordinary situations into  the radiance of the risen Christ present and active in the world.

Without negating the reality of sin, our bodies are created to be living sacraments. Despite our glaring flaws and shortcomings, both male and female bodies are created to make God physically present in the world through our words and deeds, in the same way as our Lord Jesus Christ revealed. According to the Theology of the Body, we make God in Christ present every day when we make giving ourselves to another a gift of love, mercy and beauty. Long before any of us end up in the marriage bed, and those who never do this in a marriage bed, we gift the world with our very selves in the quality of our love, our compassion, our forgiveness.

To be continued …

Prairie Encounters

Thank you for reading this reflection. For private comments, use the Contact Form below; for public comments scroll down further and use the space below “Leave a Reply.”

Silent Joseph Speaks

Preached at St. John’s Cathedral in Saskatoon this morning on Mathew 1:18-25. Of all characters featured in the Advent Scriptures, we never hear Joseph speak his own words. So I decided to give him a voice:

Good morning everyone. I am Joseph, son of Jacob, son of Matthan, son of Eleazar – my family line goes back to King David. So Matthew wrote about me in his Gospel – I guess you could call it my Annunciation (you know, Annunciation – to announce …) Some announcement it was all right! Embarrassing and shocking to say the least, to find the woman I was engaged to with child – and I knew it wasn’t my child! You know, in our days to be “betrothed,” engaged, carried more weight than it does in your day today. To be engaged meant that formal words of promise were exchanged. Mary and I had entered a sacred covenant with each other. In the Law of Moses, in the eyes of the people, Miriam – my dear Mary – was already my wife. But she would still live with her parents for another year or so, before I would come in procession to get her, to bring her into my home and into our bridal chamber.

So imagine my horror when I learnt Mary was pregnant! How could I ever go through with the marriage now??! The Law of Moses was crystal clear on what to do with an unfaithful wife – cast her aside, stone her! But I could never do this to my beloved Mary – I loved her way too much. But neither could I dismiss the Law of the Lord. O my God, what to do?? My heart was breaking and I was terrified. I had many sleepless nights with tears of agony …

Then when I finally slept for sheer exhaustion, that night I had a dream. In the dream a figure like an angel spoke to me: “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” Do not be afraid?! How could I not be?! And a child … from the Holy Spirit?! What if your daughter or wife comes home and tells you that? But the angel went on with words that rang a distant bell in my mind, a bell of insight in my fear-stricken mind and my breaking heart: “She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” Where had I heard these words before?

Now you need to know that I loved God. I loved Mary, of course, but I also loved God – fiercely. It was important for me to live according to God’s ways all my life. I wanted so much to be counted as righteous before the Almighty. So I made sure to ponder the Scriptures often, especially the prophets.

And now as I tried to make sense of the dream, my familiarity with the prophets paid off. I recognized the words of the angel –they echoed Isaiah’s words: “The virgin will conceive and bear a son, and they will name him Emmanuel…” Really? Hmm … Mary was a virgin all right, that I knew … or I thought I knew … but what if God … hmm …

Don’t get me wrong: it wasn’t all honkie-dorie right away. I was still scared to death – literally. But now the situation with Mary began to look differently. And I wondered if I … was being called to something new … but to what though? Should I put my trust in the law of Moses or trust Isaiah’s words that God was indeed up to something brand new through my dearly beloved fiancée Mary? Should I quietly divorce Mary to minimize scandal, or risk taking her into my home, name the child Jesus, and be his father?

At first part of me said: “Come on, it’s just a dream!” I’m sure you’ve said that about your own dreams at times. But hold on a minute … Even your modern day psychology considers dreams as bringing messages from the unconscious, so don’t dismiss them too quickly. In my day there was no such psychology wisdom, but we had the Holy Book. And that Book did tell me too not to dismiss dreams, but to take them seriously. I remembered my ancestor Jacob – he had dreams. My namesake Joseph was betrayed and sold by his brothers, and grew up in Egypt – he was known as a dreamer. But that talent eventually helped him to save our people. There was King Nebuchadnezzar whose sleep was disturbed by unsettling dreams for many nights. Eventually he turned to Daniel to interpret them. And what do you think of the prophet Joel’s words:

“I will pour out my Spirit upon all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy. Your old men will dream dreams (that’s me!), and your young men will see visions.”

So I slowly realized that my dream could have a message too, a divine message that helped me overcome my fear. I took a deep breath – don’t forget to breathe when you’re afraid – and took my dearly beloved pregnant Mary as my wife. And the rest is history as we say.

But, you might wonder what all this has to do with you here in Saskatoon in 2016? Well, let me tell you what I learnt through all this.

One, God continues to speak to us in all time and place. But … God’s speaking is not always black and white. To really hear and recognize God’s speaking we first need to orient our entire lives towards his plan for us, long before the cryptic messages arrive in our dream inbox. If our hearts and minds are steeped in our sacred tradition, grounded in the ways of God, this will both anchor us and give our lives purpose and meaning. The wisdom of our faith tradition will be a trustworthy guide. At the same time this wisdom tradition always needs to remain open to a new future – always. We can never regard it as exclusive and absolute, as our God is a God of new life and surprises at all times. Take it from me – I know from experience! Do both: listen to God’s wisdom in the tradition and wrestle with the complexity of life, while leaving room for the possibility that God might want to bring about something new in and through you.

Two, by risking to trust the new thing God was doing in and through Mary with her son Jesus, I made “my” son Jesus the most important reason for living and loving, and I’m so grateful now that I did.Now in your modern day and age, you are seduced to put your trust in many other things besides God and Jesus. In fact, it’s pretty ironic that this season of waiting for the birth of the Messiah has become the peak consumer season of the year. So many people put their trust in material things, thereby neglecting the things of heaven that will last. So many forget that we cannot take any of our possessions with us when we die. The only things that will cross over from this life into the next is love and mercy – love and mercy given and received. That is what Jesus came to teach us and to show us. So, will you make the Christ, Emmanuel, the centre of your life, the reason for all your loving and living? Will you commit to live and love and forgive like Jesus? I did, and it was worth all the risks. I’m so proud of my adopted Son, the Christ.

Last but not least, don’t dismiss your dreams. Try to listen to them; you might be surprised what you can learn from them. A wise person in your modern time once explained the importance of dreams as follows: ”Dreams are the perfect way to hear from God. When you are dreaming, you are quiet, so you can’t ignore God. Plus, you are not easily distracted. You’re basically all ears for about 7 hours every night.” 

Our dear friend Job in the Holy Book reports the same thing with different words: For God speaks again and again, though people do not recognize it. He speaks in dreams, in visions of the night, when deep sleep falls on people as they lie in their beds. He whispers in their ears…

 If you have trouble interpreting your dreams, you have psychology to help you along with the Holy Book. It’s not easy, though, and you will wrestle and feel fear. Sometimes dreams urge you to heal from past hurts – those too are messages from God. Messages from God are not intended to make life easy, but rather to make life rich and worth living. Remember that God desires us our fullest potential, a potential that reflects God’s own divine image and likeness. And God’s messages are not a one-shot deal either, but an ongoing challenge. If you read on in the Gospels, you know that for me the dreams kept coming:

“Joseph, wake up – Herod wants to kill the child – take him and his mother to Egypt.” “Joseph, wake up – Herod is dead – take the child and his mother back to Nazareth.” Now, looking back, I can honestly say that it was worth all the anxiety and gut-wrenching fear. Jesus grew in wisdom and strength and grace. And I was one proud husband and father.

So don’t be afraid to put your trust in God, even if that leads you into unusual places and decisions. At the end of your life, I pray that you can join me in saying: what a ride it was, worth all the blood, sweat and tears. Then you will be ready for your final and most complete act of trust – to hand over your life to the One from whom your life came in the first place. There is nothing more amazing than this.

You will not hear me speak words in Scripture, but I am grateful you have given me a hearing today. I thank you for your patient listening. And give Jesus a chance – he’s really worth it. One more week until his birth is celebrated. As I, Joseph, descendant of David, retreat back into the shadows of the Holy Book, know that I pray that your heart be ready to receive my son. AMEN

Prairie Encounters

Thank you for reading this reflection. For private comments, use the Contact Form below; for public comments scroll down further and use the space below “Leave a Reply.”

Choose the Better Story

I admit, I wasn’t an instant fan of Life of Pi (the book) when it first came out, because I’m not a big fiction-reader. But then I attended an event where Yann Martel spoke. His novel Life of Pi was soaring on the popularity charts (and was later made into a movie). Martel began his presentation by quoting the most frequent question asked by his readers: is Life of Pi true? He spent the rest of his talk sharing a brilliant multi-faceted explanation of truth. I went home and read the book, almost in one sitting. I was literally blown away; Martel’s/Pi’s insights have stuck like gems that keep instructing me as I continue to explore that all-time favourite question, “What is truth?”

Of course the story is true, replied Martel. All good stories are true. Good art is always true. There are truths that go beyond factual or scientific truth, such as moral truth, literary truth, emotional truth, historical truth. Religion does it, art, music and literature do it, fairy tales do it. They don’t contradict facts; they simply go beyond facts, further and deeper.

For all its touting of sophistication and modern living, it often seems as if  our western culture is losing the heart’s ability to live an awareness of truth that exceeds hard data and one-dimensional knowing. With the diminishment of religious adherence and practice, along with a flattened version of reality and a trivialization of the arts in various quarters, we risk becoming an impoverished species. How very sad and boring that would be.

Fortunately for us all, the likes of Yann Martel arise periodically to give us a jolt of what is really real and rich and deep and meaningful and goes far beyond what we can measure in facts and touch with our hands: Mystical writings in all traditions acknowledge the mystery of life and suggest ways of engaging with that mystery, even though it remains impossible to comprehend intellectually. You can view the world in different ways – historical, scientific, social, political – but there are limits to what you can do with a calculator or a hammer. You must make a leap of faith to get the full flavour of life. (Yann Martel Interview)

It is probably for this reason that Martel’s introduction to Life of Pi includes  an enigmatic line: Let me tell you a story that will make you believe in God.

Religious belief is one of the most fascinating themes in Life of Pi. Early on in the novel, Pi notes that religion is off-putting to many people because they believe it constrains  our freedom. He criticizes such positions for not realizing that ‘freedom’ outside of ritual and order, whether religious or secular, can be extremely frightening. Pi learns that the stakes at sea are much higher. In the absence of taken-for-granted order he faces life and death situations every day. It is his religious faith that gets him through — an implicit rebuke to those who believe faith limits freedom.

Martel asserts a strong relationship between religious faith and storytelling. Pi pities agnostics who are so paralyzed they cannot believe in anything. He admires atheists for having the courage to claim God’s non-existence and for working hard to justify their non-belief.

Pi’s fascination with stories leads him to embrace no less than three religions — Hinduism, Christianity and Judaism. He cannot understand how gods can be represented in such radically different ways, and wonders how to love the human Jesus. Until Father Martin suggests to the young Pi that we tell the same story in multiple ways to come to the same conclusion.

Pi’s beliefs mature throughout the novel. His first brushes with religion lead him to find several mentors and experiment with various forms of prayer, whether it be in  a church, mosque or the temple. However, only when he is on his forced journey at sea, does he realize that he truly believes in God. His faith is tested in a way that it was not before when life seemed orderly and predictable.

So enjoy here some of Martel’s/Pi’s nuggets of truth:

“I must say a word about fear. It is life’s only true opponent. Only fear can defeat life. It is a clever, treacherous adversary, how well I know. It has no decency, respects no law or convention, shows no mercy. It goes for your weakest spot, which it finds with unnerving ease. It begins in your mind, always … so you must fight hard to express it. You must fight hard to shine the light of words upon it. Because if you don’t, if your fear becomes a wordless darkness that you avoid, perhaps even manage to forget, you open yourself to further attacks of fear because you never truly fought the opponent who defeated you.”

“When you’ve suffered a great deal in life, each additional pain is both unbearable and trifling.”

“It’s important in life to conclude things properly. Only then can you let go. Otherwise you are left with words you should have said but never did, and your heart is heavy with remorse.”

“If you stumble about believability, what are you living for? Love is hard to believe, ask any lover. Life is hard to believe, ask any scientist. God is hard to believe, ask any believer. What is your problem with hard to believe?”

“The world isn’t just the way it is. It is how we understand it, no? And in understanding something, we bring something to it, no? Doesn’t that make life a story?”

“You might think I lost all hope at that point. I did. And as a result I perked up and felt much better.”

“People fail to realize that it is on the inside that God must be defended, not on the outside. They should direct their anger at themselves. For evil in the open is but evil from within that has been let out. The main battlefield for good is not the open ground of the public arena but the small clearing of each heart.”

“All living things contain a measure of madness that moves them in strange, sometimes inexplicable ways. This madness can be saving; it is part and parcel of the ability to adapt. Without it, no species would survive.”

“If Christ spent an anguished night in prayer, if He burst out from the Cross, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ then surely we are also permitted doubt. But we must move on. To choose doubt as a philosophy of life is akin to choosing immobility as a means of transportation.”

“The reason death sticks so closely to life isn’t biological necessity—it’s envy. Life is so beautiful that death has fallen in love with it, a jealous, possessive love that grabs at what it can. But life leaps over oblivion lightly, losing only a thing or two of no importance, and gloom is but the passing shadow of a cloud.”

“I was giving up. I would have given up — if a voice hadn’t made itself heard in my heart. The voice said ‘I will not die. I refuse it. I will make it through this nightmare. I will beat the odds, as great as they are. I have survived so far, miraculously. Now I will turn miracle into routine. The amazing will be seen everyday. I will put in all the hard work necessary. Yes, so long as God is with me, I will not die. Amen.’ ”

In short, repeating Martel’s own words from the interview quoted earlier, Life of Pi sums up as follows:

1) Life is a story.
2) You can choose your story.
3) A story with God is the better story.

Prairie Encounters

Thank you for reading this reflection. For private comments, use the Contact Form below; for public comments scroll down further and use the space below “Leave a Reply.”

A Spring in my Step

While it has been quiet on my blog, it`s been hectic in my life thanks to three young adorable granddaughters who took up my time, energy and attention for nearly three solid weeks. I discovered that I can no longer mix writing and tending to the needs and whims of little disarming and enervating creatures.

But while my days were filled with laughter, summer fun and young charm, the world kept on `burning`: more police shootings in the US, another friend in palliative care with cancer, random killings by mentally unstable persons, 1/4 million civilians trapped in Aleppo, suicide bombings and a coup attempt in Turkey, break-in at a friend’s house, an ISIS terrorist attack in a parish in rural France killing an 86-year old priest, a friend struggling mightily with his son’s transgender orientation, a Husky oil spill in our own beloved North Saskatchewan river affecting 100,000 + people’s water supply, Donald Trump winning the Republican nomination and then angering his own constituency with discriminatory comments regarding a slain Muslim US soldier … and on and on and on …

It`s a sheer miracle that beauty and love, joy and compassion, mercy and justice still break through in this messed up world. Despite all the evil, the bad choices, the wrong-headed decisions, the undeserved pain and suffering, the natural disasters on all levels — personal, communal, global — God continues to remain intimately involved with us in both ordinary and extraordinary ways, even if evidence is hard to see.

Blessing and curse, good and evil, have always woven themselves into every corner of our existence. Charles Dickens said it well when he wrote:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,
it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness,
it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity,
it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness,
it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair,
we had everything before us, we had nothing before us,
we were all going direct to Heaven,
we were all going direct the other way.
~ Charles Dickens in A Tale of Two Cities

Still, if you’re anything like me, all the bad stuff around us makes me want to scream and storm heaven, demanding healing and justice and peace. But all we get is a call to foster a heart of peace, love and mercy after the example of Jesus. Much of the bad stuff is the result of evil finding a nesting place in hurting and vengeful hearts, and then growing to take up all that heart’s space, snuffing out any chance for love, mercy and peace. Evil always looks for a heart/spirit in which to make its home. The antidote to this, according to Brian Zahnd in his book Radical Forgiveness, is to absorb the blow without retaliation and without allowing it to damage, define or destroy one’s own spirit. This, according to Zahnd, is exactly what happened at Calvary when Jesus uttered, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

As I am currently reading Zahnd’s book, a concrete example of forgiveness came to mind, one that has inspired me in many a hard time in my own life. Etty Hillesum left a few dairies after WW II, during which time she died in Auschwitz, and a huge witness to a spirituality of beauty and mercy that can rival any famous saint. If anyone had reason to hate and seek revenge, it was her. Yet, she didn’t let the horrors around her define her. No, her heart was committed to seeking beauty, love and mercy no matter how bad the world was. Just absorb her wisdom in the following words:

WalkingBarbedWire1“All I wanted to say was this: the misery here is quite terrible and yet, late at night when the day has slunk away into the depths behind me, I often walk with a spring in my step along the barbed wire and then time and again it soars straight from my heart—I can’t help it, that’s just the way it is, like some elementary force—the feeling that life is glorious and magnificent and that one day we shall be building a whole new world.  Against every new outrage and very fresh horror we shall put up one more piece of love and goodness. … Ultimately, we have just one moral duty: to reclaim large areas of peace in ourselves, more and more peace, and to reflect it towards others. And the more peace there is in us, the more peace there will be in our troubled world.”  ~ An Interrupted Life, Etty Hillesum

One moral duty: to reclaim large areas of peace in ourselves, more and more peace, and to reflect it towards others. The more peace there is in us, the more peace there will be in our troubled world. Thank you, Etty, for reminding us of the one important task.

While the world burnt, my heart/spirit drank in the love and hugs, the water splashes and fun with my dear granddaughters. I give wholehearted thanks for those energetic days of laughter and sunshine, for little feet dirtying my floor and leaving their footprints of love on my heart, and for the joyful exhaustion after all safely returned to their parents 🙂 It is little ones such as these that help shore up large amounts of the peace, grace and mercy needed to remain a whole human being in this beautiful yet broken world.

Prairie Encounters

Thank you for reading this reflection. For private comments, use the Contact Form below; for public comments scroll down further and use the space below “Leave a Reply.”

 

Unlikely People, Unlikely Faith

Note: On this Roman Catholic Feast Day of Corpus Christi the Anglican liturgy features the encounter between Jesus and the Roman centurion from Luke’s Gospel. The centurion’s words, brought to Jesus by his friends, have become an integral prayer of the Roman Catholic Eucharist in preparing to receive Holy Communion. From my new Anglican perch, however, it strikes me as ironic that the prayer of the centurion, an outsider by all criteria, has become part of a communion practice that reserves the right to determine who is and isn’t worthy to receive. Jesus makes all of us worthy; I don’t think church membership or our own efforts to become worthy were meant to be part of the deal. Contrition yes, but anything else, no. Is Jesus’ reply to the centurion not a gentle rebuke on any attempt to restrict access to Jesus, the healing Bread of Heaven, not least on our tendency to judge others by “policing” the communion table? I mean, with all due respect, I’m just wondering …

Homily for May 29, 2016 on Luke 7:1-10
St. Andrew’s Anglican Church, Humboldt, SK

Today’s Gospel opens the seventh chapter of Luke’s Gospel. A very interesting chapter, as it turns out. The chapter begins with a Roman army officer, a Gentile, who believes that Jesus can heal his servant without even being there.  “Just say the word, and I know it will happen.”  Luke says that Jesus was amazed at his faith; he hadn’t seen anything like it in Israel. The chapter ends with an immoral woman crashing a dinner party where she kisses Jesus’ feet and anoints them with perfume. The hosting Pharisee is offended.  Jesus forgives this woman and says, “Your faith has saved you.” She believed that Jesus would forgive and accept her—He did. Not exactly your run-of-the-mill folks… or are they?

Let’s take a closer look at today’s Gospel account…

Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word and let my servant be healed. A close variation of these words can be heard regularly still today: Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed. It is the Roman Catholic equivalent of what the BCP (Anglican Book of Common Prayer) calls the Prayer of Humble Access, a prayer that occurs in the same place in the Eucharist, and that echoes another healing story, (Mt & Mk) the story of the Syro-Phoenician woman: We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table. (BCP) (“Yes, Lord, but even the dogs gather the crumbs that fall from the table.”)

How peculiar … how very peculiar that, of all the stories in the Gospels, it is this one of the centurion’s faith (like the Syro-Phoenician woman’s faith) that became a major part of the church’s liturgical prayer. The centurion represents the occupying force of Rome. He is an emissary of the oppressor. Even Luke’s original readers and those who first heard this story knew full well that there is one thing that hadn’t changed across those decades and that was that Rome was still in charge, still occupying the country, still enforcing its will upon people of all ranks and stations. This centurion is one who – as he himself admits – is used to giving orders in the Roman army and having those orders obeyed. He is, then, one of those directly responsible for Israel’s oppression.

But I wonder if that’s not part of the reason that this story is so important and appears in both Matthew and Luke’s Gospel. I mean, just because this man is in the Roman army doesn’t mean that he is incapable of doing good and having faith, does it? Clearly this man, representing the enemy, is already known for having done much good. Even while an outsider to Jewish society, and representing the oppressor, this centurion is clearly choosing not to act as an oppressor. Rather than letting his power and status make him arrogant and hostile, he chooses to have empathy and respect for those in his care, and makes friends with them. He even worries about his sick slave, one who has no power, no voice, no authority at all. He built a synagogue for the Jews living under his jurisdiction and they in turn appreciate his generosity. “He loves our people” (vs.5).  And he’s most considerate and respectful of Jewish religious practice. Anticipating that direct contact with Jesus might compromise  Jesus because of religious purity laws, this Roman soldier decides not to approach Jesus directly. That deference on his part shows profound regard for Jewish religious customs. Instead, he trusts elders and friends to deliver the message on his behalf. Indeed, the Jewish leaders in his town commend him to Jesus. And, the centurion trusts that Jesus, with a word, will heal the beloved servant. Finally, Jesus is amazed: “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.”

What are we to make of this? First of all, we would do well to always and everywhere assume the best in people, no matter who or what they are, realizing that God loves all people – all people.

All people, literally all people, are redeemed by Christ’s sacrifice, not just Christians. Even if someone doesn’t share our faith in Jesus, they are our sister, our brother, in Christ. Even our enemies are worthy of our kinship and efforts to find common ground in the goodness of their heart. We need to continuously look for the good and the beauty, constantly looking for the gift and desire of faith in whatever way the other person expresses. Some well-meaning Christians get all tied in a knot and dismiss those who do not share our faith. But perhaps what we should be surprised at is not that unlikely and unexpected people demonstrate faith and do good works, but that we consider them unlikely and unexpected in the first place.

After all, Jesus commends the faith of this Roman centurion even though – and here’s the clincher – there is absolutely no indication that the centurion becomes … a follower of Jesus. I mean, he does not ask to follow Jesus or confess him as the Messiah or even seem particularly interested in meeting him. He simply sees in Jesus an authority that he recognizes and, quite frankly, an authority that he needs. Maybe he becomes a disciple, maybe not. Neither Jesus nor Luke seems particularly interested. Instead, Jesus praises his astounding faith and Luke records it. End of story.

So that kind’a makes me wonder …

We all know and love folks who don’t go to church, who aren’t particularly religious, or even Christian. For the most part, we’re talking about really good people. This story of the centurion is a good reminder that such people are also deeply loved by God, even if they don’t recognize or claim this love as coming from God. A priest once had an argument with a young scientist, who claimed that he didn’t believe in God. To which the priest calmly replied, “That’s okay, as long as God believes in you.”

God does not withdraw his love and mercy just because we don’t believe in God. Just because we don’t recognize God in our lives, doesn’t mean God cannot use us to do good in the world. Many of us love family members and friends  whose relationship to the church is sketchy at best. I have at least two of these wonderful human beings in my own life; they happen to be my own son and daughter. They, like the centurion, may not share my love for Jesus, but they sure know, like the centurion, when they or someone they know needs prayers: “Mom, will you say a prayer for so-and-so? They’re good people; they are worthy of having you do this.” Sounds familiar?

I’d like to think that the interaction between the centurion and Jesus reassures us that it’s okay that faith comes in different shapes and sizes, and certainly in different expressions, and that it is our job to recognize this … as Jesus did. I give thanks that centurion-like people are part of my life, people who I may not feel much in common with, yet people who, in their dealings with others, show respect and compassion, generosity and humility, nobleness and integrity just as the centurion clearly shows to the Jewish people,  to the soldiers under his command, and especially towards his slave. I pray that God would use my loved ones to do God’s will in the world (even if they wouldn’t call it that), and I pray that we would all have the grace and courage to affirm their goodness, sharing our gratitude as well as our joyful conviction that God loves them and uses them.

If we could sum up the one overarching lesson in the entire seventh chapter of Luke’s Gospel it is this: the people we would expect to have faith, don’t; and those we wouldn’t expect to have faith, do. Today’s encounter reminds us not to put people in a box. God is at work in everyone—even in the most unlikely folk. Next, don’t ever let our religious pedigree get in the way of trusting Jesus. It’s easy to become a Pharisee—self-righteous, trusting in our religious heritage and traditions rather than trusting Jesus.

Can we foster the kind of openness that Jesus shows in today’s encounter? If we do, we too may be surprised by joy when we bump into faith in unexpected places and people. For Jesus continues to turn everything upside down and inside out. The church in fact supports that upside down vision of Jesus, even if it doesn’t always reflect that in its own practice. One of the ways it does that is by allowing the words of two outsiders, the words of two highly unlikely people of faith, the centurion and the Syro-Phoenician woman, to find  their way into major parts of our Eucharistic liturgies. It is with their words that we approach Holy Communion:

We do not presume to come to this thy table, O merciful Lord,
trusting in our own righteousness,
but in thy manifold and great mercies.
We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy table. …

Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof,
but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.

“I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.”
AMEN

Prairie Encounters

Thank you for reading this reflection. For private comments use the contact form below. For public ones, scroll down further to write your thoughts.

 

Window on the World

As I am re-reflecting on the Cathedral windows, preparing my meditations for public sharing, I just realized something: none of the windows depict the crucifixion … An oversight? Maybe, and maybe not … The risen Christ, whose Real Presence is given to us in the Eucharist, also reveals his Crucified and Real Presence  in the least among us, in those sisters and brothers crying out for deliverance and healing, whose death-cry “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” still echoes around the globe. Jesus’ agony in the garden, his death-cry on the cross, is still with us in chilling, shocking and horrifying ways:

in the millions of refugees walking to safety …
in the missing and murdered aboriginal women
demanding justice …
in the indigenous peoples of the world
trampled on by western interests
of consumerism and economic monopolies …
in the quiet neighbour suffering abuse and neglect
within the walls of a home
intended to be a haven of safety and peace …
in minorities stigmatized for being different
robbed of the right to fullness of life …
in victims of the sex trade and human trafficking …
in the earth crying out for justice and right relation …
in the extinction of countless species
due to human ravaging of resources …
in child soldiers seeking love and belonging
in all the wrong places and in the wrong ways …
in innocent people killed in bomb attacks
in the depletion and unjust distribution
of the earth’s gifts for all …
in death-dealing superiority of one race over another …
in merciless and cold policies from corporate board rooms …

The window depicting the Crucifixion of the Most Holy One does not need a place in churches and cathedrals. That window screams its stark truth on our television screens and media-outlets, draws our reluctant attention on our mobile phone devices, iPads and news stands, ignorantly fills our neighbourhood homes, locker room talks and coffee row gossip clubs. What have we done to our God in one another?

How can we ever reverse our collective human culpability in so much visible and invisible, subtle and blatant, local and global suffering and destruction? We don’t deserve forgiveness. When it comes to sin and evil, all of us are capable, all of us are guilty; we only differ in degree, if we differ at all.

Screaming Friday, horrible Friday, death-dealing Friday … Good Friday??!!
Of all days filled with this walk-with-Jesus
(no walk in the park, that’s for sure!)
this is the day for mass confession,
for taking collective responsibility,
especially in the western world,
for the ravages on creation and all living things,
for the exploitation and destruction
of beautiful human beings
in desperate need of shelter and safety,
food and clothing,
a future and a homeland, a promise and a hope.
Do we truly grasp the extent of our evil ways?

O God, we would have been better off
left to our own self-destruction.
You, O God, would be better off without us!
Crush us, grind us to powder, return us
to the dust of the earth where we belong.
Start all over again,
creating without any mistake this time,
which really means: don’t grant free will
to the loving creating work of your hands,
because that’s what caused all the trouble
in the first place.
Give yourself a chance, crazy God,
to re-create, to begin again,
and do it right this time …

Good Friday, Saving Friday, Redeeming Friday…
Why, foolish  and overly generous Lord,
why indeed, did you save us from ourselves?!

Because my tiny cherished earthling,
I love you, and you are precious in my eyes …
Because I desire your wholeness despite everything …
Because all is not lost, despite
what you see and hear, taste and feel.
Because you are so much more than what your 
conniving ways can scheme.

Because you cannot save yourselves,
I sent a helper to point you
in my saving, redeeming, merciful direction:
look to your Christ, my Jesus, my Son.
Why do you think he is my Son?
Look to that One who shows the way out of your
self-inflicted misery …
Look to the One who held on to LOVE, my LOVE,
amidst a death-dealing swirling tsunami
of HATE and EVIL,
and then see what power is unleashed
when you learn to do
just that …
Death itself dies, its power dismantled,
swallowed up forever
in LOVE …

I hide my face
in shame and undeserving joy …
Love won’t let me drown in the waters of death,
but washes me in waters of life,
a cocktail-potion of terrifying
Grace mixed with Mercy
prepared by a crazy Lover in love with me, with us,
a re-creating Lover who won’t take death for an answer
under any circumstance …

Lord, have mercy; Christ, have mercy; Lord, have mercy …
I for-give … you …
Mercy within Mercy within Mercy

We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you,
for by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.

Prairie Encounters

Praying for the World

It is not Paris we should pray for; it is the world.
It is a world in which Beirut, reeling from bombings
two days before Paris, is not covered in the press.
A world in which a bomb goes off at a funeral in Baghdad
and not one person’s status update says “Baghdad,”
because not one white person died in that fire.
Pray for the world that blames
a refugee crisis for a terrorist attack;
for a world that does not pause to differentiate
between the attacker and the person
running from the very same thing you are.
Pray for a world
where people walking across countries for months,
their only belongings upon their backs,
are told they have no place to go.
Say a prayer for Paris by all means,
but pray more,
for the world that does not have a prayer,
for those who no longer have a home to defend.
For a world that is falling apart in all corners,
and not simply in the towers and cafes we find so familiar.
(by Karunaezara on Instagram)

The above words, cross-posted on a Facebook Page, reveal a reality much uglier and disconcerting than the loss of hundreds of lives in the Paris attacks. I felt convicted by these words, because my heart recognized them as true. I love Paris, I have personal memories in Paris, I lived in France several decades ago. And so yes, yesterday’s attacks shook me to the core because of these personal connections.

But Beirut and Baghdad are unknown places to me. And because they are unknown places, the people are unknown and do not inhabit my heart. While the loss of lives there through terrorist attacks is equally tragic, that news registered only in my head and not my heart. The same is true for other parts of the world most of which I have never set foot in. I confess the sin of callousness and uncaring.

Yet, my love for Jesus challenges me to desire a greater capacity to hold the pain of the world in my very bones. If I claim to pattern my life on the one who bore our sins (1 Pt. 2:24), then I need to learn to break free from my little self-centered box of a world and embrace the wider human family. But it’s hard, it’s so very hard, to constantly be open, wide open, to pain, to screams of despair, to roaring tsunamis of destruction and death. Not only to remain open to embrace such agony, but to embrace without collapsing under its weight and death-dealing blows. The spirit is so willing, but the flesh is so incredibly weak. I fail miserably every day to kiss the leper, to love the outcast, to forgive the offender.

Yet we are called to be the change we want to see in the world. And God does not give up on us as easily as we may. God knows the potential for good with which we are created. The spark of God in our DNA draws us to compassion and courage, to selfless giving and caring, to great loving and deep forgiving. Those are the things that make our humanity shine with a light that no darkness can overcome. It’s been done some 2,000+ years ago by an obscure carpenter in Nazareth.

That obscure, crazy carpenter from Nazareth dared to refuse to project and pass on the violence and pain inflicted on him. For the first time, someone —none other than God’s own Son—said: the buck stops here. No return punch. No more tit for tat, no more sacrifice, no more scape-goating. “What I want is mercy, not sacrifice,” says God in Hebrews.

Far from rolling over and playing dead, Jesus’ self-sacrifice extended far beyond fight or flight, far beyond the suicide bomber theology of a holy war. In the utterly non-violent, no-return-punch-walk to his own death, in this non-violent response, Jesus released a power far greater than the kind we humans normally employ. That’s what gives Jesus the crown of glory.

It takes great power to say with your life, “I will carry your pain and insults.” And to say these words from an inner place of strength and goodness, not from a place of victimization and inadequacy. Try to do this in the aftermath of Paris, or the Middle East, or Afghanistan, or our own back alleys and homes where abuse and violence create a living hell.

To be sure, carrying pain and insults willingly has nothing to do with being a doormat and simply taking it! Carrying pain from a position of strength is only possible when we are secure in knowing who and whose we are – God’s beloved son/daughter, in whom God is well pleased.

Of course evil needs to be opposed – no question. But we need to be much more creative in our plan of attack. In Jesus God found the only way that effectively neutralizes the power of evil in the world by saying: “I’m willing to suffer. I will bear the problem myself.” That was a brand-new answer, a revolutionary answer. This type of answer no longer contributed to the problem.

SuicideBomberThat carpenter showed how to grow to our fullest, deepest and most beautiful human stature, another way to say that he opened the door to heaven for us all. If all who profess his name take this seriously and put his example into action, we’d have a massive upheaval against terrorism, beginning with redistribution of riches and restoring dignity and right relations among all peoples.

Jesus’ way of staring down evil without becoming evil himself still looks ludicrous in the eyes of the world. Yet the alternative is much worse. Staring down evil with love and justice has been done successfully; it can be done again.

Look not on our sins but on the faith of your people, O God. Take away everything that sucks courage dry, break down every wall in callous hearts, remove prejudice–resentments–false stereotypes from rash judgments. Teach us your strong and open and generous loving, for the sake of the planet’s well-being and the future of our children’s children.

Update two days later:
I continue to feel helpless, fighting off despair in my own heart, despair for a world on the brink of utter destruction. All the above words seem trite, irrelevant in the face of global destabilization. The only consolation I find is in praying; I am immensely grateful to my friend Amanda who posted this link on her Facebook Page: A Prayer for Paris, Beirut and Baghdad. O God, save us from ourselves.

Prairie Encounters

Thank you for reading this reflection. For private comments, use the Contact Form below; for public comments scroll down further and use the space below “Leave a Reply.”

Let Me See Again

Preached on October 25, 2015 at St. Andrew’s Anglican Church on Mark 10:46–52. Keep in mind that these homilies are longer than usual, as they are preached in a non-Eucharistic service:

Well, who doesn’t know or like today’s Gospel story about Bartimaeus, son of old Timaeus.  Bartimaeus has a place in society. His role is that of the blind beggar. As a beggar his job is to remind passers by that they have an obligation to give alms. What Bartimaeus doesn’t have though, is the right to be too obtrusive. Bart may beg, but he may not badger the teacher. After all, we will tolerate the poor as long as they don’t become too demanding.

Bartimaeus oversteps this social rule with his loud appeals. Heart-wrenching and profound: “Son of David have mercy on me!” We are told that these words stop Jesus. He stands still and calls the man to himself. In response Bart does two things which are totally uncharacteristic for a blind beggar. He throws off his cloak and he springs up. Beggars, especially blind ones, do not throw off their cloaks and spring up. Not if they know their place and their craft, or graft. Beggars cower and cringe. The fact that Mark records this unusual behaviour suggests that the transformation of Bartimaeus has already begun.

I wonder sometimes what cloaks and cows us… What is keeping us from approaching Jesus? Our propriety, our lack of trust or our politeness? Do we come to church Sunday after Sunday, cloaked and cowering, watching the liturgical parade go by, sitting through worship untouched, never once letting the prayers and the hymns, the readings and reflections, the love of Jesus, touch our hurt and sorrow, our losses and our wounds? Perhaps we cower and remain silent because we fear others would tell us to be quiet and not make a fuss.

Thank God for this boisterous, blind, beggar, Bartimaeus! He doesn’t think twice about throwing propriety to the wind. He not only stops Jesus in his journey, he also elicits the strangest question from Jesus, “What do you want me to do for you?” Hello?! Blind beggar! Isn’t it obvious what he wants?

Well perhaps not. Remember the Gospel from last week. In last week’s Gospel text, which precedes today’s, the disciples came off looking rather smug. They thought they had this Jesus all figured out. But not so! While Jesus talks to them about bearing crosses, they argue about who will be the greatest in the kingdom! If anyone is blind and deaf, they are. In both situations, Jesus asks the exact same question: “What do you want me to do for you?” What do James and John answer? “Grant to us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” Do you hear the arrogance in those words? Do you “hear” the blindness in those words??? So here’s Bart today, and Jesus is not taking any chances; he doesn’t assume nothin’! After the arrogant answer of the disciples, it’s smart thinking to check what it is exactly that Bart wants.

But Bart, uncloaked and springing, unlike the disciples, our Bart wants the real change. He wants more than alms. He wants more than recognition, vain glory or prestige. He wants life!

Did you notice the interesting detail in his request? “My teacher, let me see AGAIN.” Blind Bart it seems had not always been unsighted and benighted. He had seen; he once knew colour, depth and shape. He once knew beauty and love and joy. He wanted it again. So do we, don’t we? And we too, no matter how awful life can be, have once known beauty and love and joy. And illness, physical—emotional—spiritual, can rob of us of all that.

And so Mark includes the sick a lot, and Jesus reaches out to the sick a lot. Because illness marginalizes us still today. When we suffer pain, physical or emotional, it keeps us from being able to participate fully in the life of the community. We can’t climb the steps as well as we used to, can’t drive after dark, can’t get out where we might infect others or be infected.When depression darkens our spirit, we don’t have the energy to invest in relationships or to see anything beautiful in life.

A few chapters earlier, Jesus healed the bleeding woman who touched the hem of his garment. Neither this poor woman nor our beggar Bart had friends to advocate for them. Both were pushed to the edges of society. Both take matters in their own hands. And both were commended by Jesus with the exact same words, “Your faith has made you well.”

The reaction of the crowd to Bart’s cries for help is interesting. First the crowd “sternly ordered” Bartimaeus to be quiet. Are they worried Jesus will be disturbed? Or are they using that as an excuse to quiet him because they are disturbed? Maybe they are disturbed by the reminder that there is pain in the world, they are disturbed by how close that pain has come to them—close enough to reach out and touch them, and they would just as soon not hear about it. They’d rather hear holy words from Jesus than the petitions of a sick man.

Let’s be honest; it’s darn uncomfortable when someone openly shares their need for help. It can be just as uncomfortable to walk past a beggar without reacting. I feel I did just about that a few days ago … and I feel ashamed about that, since I desire to be the face of Jesus in the world. A man walked into the community centre where I work, disheveled, asking for money and a place to stay. Instead of saying to him, take heart, sit down and have coffee, I immediately was on guard, not letting him touch my heart.  I just “tolerated” him while he made phone calls. I confess here this morning that I did not hear this man’s cries, and that I failed him and I failed Jesus.

Thank God Bartimaeus has better luck. He doesn’t keep his pain bottled up inside. He shouts, he cries out to Jesus. Far from avoiding emotional, hurting people, far from my own guarded heart only a few days ago, Jesus responded, called him over and faced the desperate hopes of a man in need.

I see in this Jesus story a human being in pain, who thankfully isn’t afraid to talk about it, and a community that initially is reluctant to hear his pain but eventually is willing to listen and to help. I pray in contrition that I may learn to do this next time.

Here’s a story about someone who was luckier than the man who I encountered a few days ago. Little or nothing in Annie’s life promised a rosy future. She was unschooled, hot tempered, nearly blind from untreated trachoma by age 7. Her mother died when Annie was 8. She and her little brother Jimmie were left with an abusive father and a dilapidated home. Two years later the father abandoned his children. Annie and her brother were sent to the orphanage for the poor.

Her little brother died a short time later. Annie was devastated; her life was lost before she had any, or so it seemed. Blind, poor, no one to help her see. But Annie cried out, just like Bartimaeus, for someone to take note of her. Lo and behold, a state official heard Annie’s plea and began securing some support for the rebellious and contrary teenager. After two unsuccessful eye operations, Annie was allowed to attend a school for the blind.

Her life changed dramatically. Annie quickly learnt to read and write. She also learned to use the manual alphabet in order to communicate with a friend who was deaf as well as blind. That particular skill opened the door to her future and a life of remarkable achievements. Anne eventually had several successful eye operations, which improved her sight significantly. She graduated as valedictorian of her class. A short time later, Anne accepted an offer to tutor a girl of 7, a girl who was spoiled, rebellious, stubborn, blind, deaf, and mute. That girl was Helen Keller, who credited Anne for letting her “see again.” Someone heard Annie’s cry for help, and Anne in turn reached into Helen Keller’s blindness in order to help her see again. And the rest is history, as we say.

“My teacher, let me see again,” Bartimaeus cried out. Whose cry for help do we need to heed? What if we learnt to throw off our cloaks of fear and embarrassment, and dared to talk about our pain? What if we learnt to make space for those who have trouble being heard, for those whose hardships have caused numbness and blindness of heart?

Today’s witness by Jesus summons us to this task. If we become like the disciples, telling folks to “shut up” we have no right to claim the name Christian. But if we become like the crowd, telling the hurting ones among us to “take heart” we may learn today’s lesson. Once we learn to listen and hear each other into loving speech, we will have begun to show one another the mercy and hope of Christ. Then we will exchange the arrogance and blindness of the disciples for the vision of God’s reign in Jesus where all blind beggars and bleeding women, all sinners and tax collectors, deaf and mute people have a place at God’s banquet of heaven. Our faith still has the power to heal us in this way.

Prairie Encounters

Thank you for reading this. For private comments, use the Contact Form below; for public comments scroll down further and use the space below “Leave a Reply.”

The Feminist Question

It was bound to come sooner or later. After my last post, where I speak heart-wrenchingly about Rome’s approach to the discussion of women, a friend queried in a private message: why are you hesitant to identify with the term feminist?

According to Webster’s dictionary, feminism is “the belief that men and women should have equal rights and opportunities.” I would add to that “as well as equal dignity and responsibilities.” Certainly, if the definition would end there, and if we all agree on what feminism is and is not, then no doubt I am a feminist, and a very committed one at that.

However, feminism didn’t invent the “equality for all” vision. I see the dictionary definition of feminism as integral to the witness and teaching of Jesus. If I am a feminist, it has found its inspiration and motivation in the person of Jesus long before I knew feminist theory and praxis. My feminism thus arises from my Christian discipleship and is guided by the same.

Now I already hear another question, a puzzlement, an objection. Yes, I wholeheartedly admit that various institutional expressions have scandalously contradicted Jesus’ teaching and his vision for a discipleship of equals, thus betraying the very One God sent to save us from the blindness and patriarchal madness that caused such a deplorable track record in the first place!  Most likely the Church’s failure to fully live Jesus’ radical message of equality and inclusion has contributed to the need for the feminist movement.

What I find fascinating, though, is that this flagrant betrayal of God’s messenger has in no way negated the soul-power and guiding potential of Jesus himself. What amazes me is that the heart and soul of this compromised Body of Christ, the Church, still pulsates with the potent memory of God’s own revolutionary dream of love and mercy, justice and equality for all, a dream as relevant and as sorely needed in our suffering world as ever before. What amazes me is that this radical love and JesusFeminist4bmercy still have the power today to overthrow notions of superiority, of hierarchy, of status and religious arrogance, even in the hallowed halls of the ecclesial patriarchal edifice, keeping religious careerists off balance and the institution on edge. That is why I think Pope Francis is a God-send — just in time. That is why the Church in every time and place must continually re-examine itself in order to re-align its teachings and practice with the Gospel message — Ecclesia semper reformanda est. While still needing much conversion on women’s issues I nevertheless see Pope Francis working hard to restore the vibrant soul-power of Jesus and the radical compassion of the Christian message. So I’m willing to cut him some slack on the “woman-question.”

The sad part though is that because of the institutional compromising of Jesus’ message, many feminists have given up on Christianity as a possible ally in their quest, thus throwing out the Jesus-baby with the smelly church bathwater. While I regret yet fully understand this abandonment, it is the revolutionary witness of Jesus that keeps me in the Church. It is his wild energy that keeps feeding my hope and my active contribution in my small corner of the planet to bringing about God’s reign of justice, peace and mercy for all.

Having said all this, I still prefer to be known as a Christian “tout court” (as the French say) rather than a feminist. I salute the quest for women’s equality and dignity, condemning with feminism every form of violence and abuse against women.  I salute the feminist connections between the exploitation of women and the exploitation of the planet. I thus recognize feminism as in sync with the Biblical witness to the equality, mutuality and dignity of “male and female” as well as the beauty and integrity of creation. But modern usage of the term feminism itself has acquired a lot of politically charged overtones, to the point that multiple definitions now seem to operate. Using the term today tends to communicate a package of ideological goals, some of which feel compromising to my Christian commitment. Included in these are abortion, homosexuality, marriage and family life, family planning (why feminists swallowed the artificial hormones so readily instead of insisting on attacking the “fertility problem” where it belongs — with men, fertile always and everywhere — beats me), euthanasia (not sure about this last one). While open to greater understanding, I tend to lean towards more traditional points of view, still uncertain which way is truly forward. Time and thoughtful discernment (almost impossible in heated political debates) will tell which direction for each of these thorny and complex questions points to greater flourishing of humanity and all of creation.Feminism1

Precisely because the term feminism encompasses many different things today, the designation can be used in both affirming and constructive ways as well as judgmental, dismissive and disparaging ways, depending which group of people employs and interprets it. Frequently I find myself understanding more than one side of contentious issues while I see advocates on either side of a political divide turning a blind eye to opposing viewpoints in order to bolster their own or, worse, vilify those who disagree. In our zeal to be right, one-sided and simplistic arguments, dishonesty and misrepresentation, even in sophisticated and inconspicuous forms, creep in all too easily. In the end, however, these cannot stand in the light of day, no matter which side of a complex reality we come down on, and can even risk discrediting our argumentation . When it comes to tactics and errors, zeal for a cause can in fact turn us into an unflattering mirror image of our opponent, thereby running the risk of discrediting our own argument. A good dose of charity, respect and humility would greatly benefit advocates on both sides of today’s complex realities.

I would see such temptations as a manifestation of “original sin,” that subtle yet so present “objective disorder” to which we are all prone, esp. when zeal for a noble cause takes hold of us and we dismiss the need for self-criticism and humility: “Feminism without spirituality runs the risk of becoming what it rejects: an elitist ideology, arrogant, superficial and separatist, closed to everything but itself. Without a spiritual base that obligates it beyond itself, calls it out of itself for the sake of others, a pedagogical feminism turned in on itself can become just one more intellectual ghetto that the world doesn’t notice and doesn’t need.” ~ Joan D. Chittister, Heart of Flesh: Feminist Spirituality for Women and Men.

My liberation as a woman is grounded in the Gospel call to fullness of life: “I came that you may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). The witness and teaching of Jesus provides everything I need to guide my growth as a woman and to inspire me to do my little part in making the world a better place where it is easier for more people to be good, fulfilled and joyful; I see no need for additional labels. Meanwhile the door between my Christian spirituality and feminism is wide open, facilitating an ongoing process of critical reflection, evaluation and appropriation of the two. Most importantly in this process, however, is that my relationship with Jesus informs and sheds discerning light on my feminism, not the other way around. As a good feminist, I claim my experience and my voice as legitimate. As a good Christian, I seek the face of Christ in all women and men of good will, expecting the Holy Spirit to bring gifts through the “otherness” of all my sisters and brothers.

http://www.prairie-encounters.ca

For further reading:
An interesting article appeared recently over at America Magazine: Feminist Case Against Abortion
Related site:  Feminists For Life

Radical, Gospel-inspired simple living is still embodied today by many courageous Christians: l’Arche founded by Jean Vanier, the Catholic Worker founded by Dorothy Day, and the Simple Way lead by Shane Claiborne — also see Red Letter Christians.

“We must each make a decision for ourselves on what works for our own lives.  Many will choose to leave behind the pain and rejection endured as a result of simply being a woman in religion that is embedded with structures that do not value women’s voices.  And, many will choose to stay and wade through the ongoing misogynistic practices in search for the nooks and crannies where one can find solace.  Both are feminist choices and every action contributes toward the ultimate objective of eradicating sexism and all oppression wherever they exist – including religion.” Thus says Catholic Gina Messina-Dysert in her TED-Talk on Feminism and Religion.

“If you feel deeply enough, you stay; not because you’re a masochist, but because it’s worth it. You’re struggling for the soul of something.” Thus says Elizabeth Johnson, one of my heroes in Catholic feminist discourse; several of her books grace my shelves. Here is a great article about her: Feminism in Faith

“Faith, religion, spirituality, cannot be subjected to sexist and misogynistic structures requiring women to renounce their freedom, their intelligence, their sexuality and capabilities to be part of them.” Words by Sr. Teresa Forcades, a medical doctor, theologian and Benedictine nun living at Montserrat, Spain, who has published a new book entitled The History of Feminist Theology. A short yet insightful interview with her can be found here.

Since I make reference to male fertility, I guess I should at least find a place where you can learn more about male contraceptive research —  click here.

There is a growing feminist movement in circles of Evangelical Christianity. Here is a recently launched initiative called The Junia Project with lots of solid reading in very accessible language.

Sarah Bessey wrote a great blog post on her integration of Christian discipleship and feminism.  Sarah’s words grace the image at the top of this blog post. She has also written a very engaging book with the title “Jesus Feminist.” Her words are a fitting ending to this challenging reflection:

Because I follow Jesus, I want to see God’s redemptive movement for women arch towards justice. God’s Kingdom tastes like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control. My life should still bear the fruit of the Spirit out. ~ Sarah Bessey

If we want to live counter-culturally as disciples, we have to live our lives and seek mercy and do justice counter-culturally as well. It’s tempting to want to employ the same tactics and arguments or methods that have been used on us or others but that is a temptation we must resist.  I don’t believe that silencing and shaming and other tactics of the world will really bring about God’s redemptive movement for women. We are to be gentle as doves and cunning as serpents. ~ Sarah Bessey

God is light, there is no darkness in him, so when we participate in the life of Christ now, we are marked as the bringers of light. The Apostle John wrote, “Anyone who claims to be intimate with God ought to live the same kind of life Jesus lived.” ~ Sarah Bessey

Feminism2

Thank you for reading this reflection. For private comments, please use the contact form below. For public posting of comments, scroll down to “Leave a reply.”

Christmas 2014

NativitySceneTo be honest, Christmas Day is no time to be born, especially when you love Jesus as I do. Confession: love Jesus, 364 days, jealous of Jesus, one day. But my parents didn’t share this sentiment. I was their first-born of five and remained the only girl. Born and raised in the Netherlands, I was doted on,  the only one receiving presents on Christmas Day. I still cherish those days of warmth and love – their memories still give off fuzzies.

As a teenager I had a stubborn justice streak, though, some strange wild desire to do the unconventional in the name of Jesus, something that made my Sunday-observing Catholic parents very nervous, especially at Christmas time. Given that I was my parents’ firstborn child, on Christmas Day, this created a lot of pressure not to rock boats on Christmas Day because, besides Jesus’ birthday, it was my special day and by extension my parents’ special day as my arrival had ushered them into parenthood.

But my zeal for Jesus got the best of me, and one year I announced I would not be home for Christmas (my birthday), but would volunteer at the nearby nursing home to be with those who had no family. I was in for an odd experience: delightful surprise at one of my best Christmases ever combined with sour comments about “being rebellious” and spoiling the family fun.

This memory came back last year as, once again, my zeal for Jesus got the best of me. Together with husband and daughter I spent Christmas Day volunteering at the local community Christmas dinner with all who had no one to celebrate with. This time there were no sour comments or resentful looks; we all agreed it was the best way to honour Christ’s birth. I’m hooked now; the family gathering will have to take place on another day close to Christmas. Pope Francis takes every possible opportunity to point out the obvious: followers of Christ are to look, sound and behave counter-culturally, especially in what has become the peak buying and consuming season of the year. Jesus, born in a stable, came into the world to fight and defeat the demons of greed and selfishness, prejudice and hardness of heart. From the manger to the cross, Jesus fought these death-dealing trends in the human heart, thus opening the gates of heaven through radical compassion and mercy, love and self-giving for the “least of these.” Read more at: http://www.prairiemessenger.ca/14_12_17/litlife_14_12_17.html

Thank you for reading this reflection. For private comments, use the Contact Form below; for public comments scroll further down and use the space below “Leave a Reply.”

http://www.prairie-encounters.ca