Monday, March 31, 2008

Why I'm Not a Fundamentalist -- Part 5, Jesus' Return

I have seen many lists of the fundamentals over the years. At one point I was on the executive of an organization whose faith statement was fundamentalist in base (I said nothing about my objections, nobody asked to closely -- I was going for the community and the theological differences were not overriding that at that point in time). The fifth point has always been the acceptance of Christ's (imminent) return. I note that the Wikipedia page I referenced at the beginning of this series has another option that is a subset of Biblical literalism.

Christianity of course is all about living in the now and the not yet. We live in a world where the Reign of God is among us here and now but also is yet to come. And the yet to come is a point of contention.

For all of Christian history there have been those who expected to see the coming of the end-times within their lives. This includes Paul and, apparently, the Gospel writers. Every once in a while a new group or spokesperson arises claiming to know exactly when it will happen. And of course history shows us that every precise prediction has been wrong.

I personally have no trouble believing in some form of end-times/2nd Coming*/eschaton/parousia. Christian hope means looking forward to the Reign of God becoming more real. But I strongly believe that we are called to live in this world and not focus on what may happen in a new world. On a personal level this means that we live faithful/righteous lives not to win some heavenly reward after we die but because it is the right way to live. On a corporate level it means that rather than waiting for some cataclysmic change to happen we actively work to make the world we live in closer to the ideal. Why else do we pray weekly (or weakly) Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven?

The other issue I have with much of the dialogue around the end times is the interpretation of it. I think people appear to have difficulty with what Apocalyptic language is. Instead of seeing it as metaphor and image it is taken as precise predictions of actual events. You can always re-interpret events in the day-to-day world and make them fit some part of that imagery. For centuries Christians have derided Judaism for "failing to understand their own Scriptures" and not seeing Jesus as the Messiah. In fact to make Jesus fit the Messianic passages of Jewish Scripture involves some re-interpreting. When we belong to a tradition that had to re-interpret the Scripture we inherited because our experience of the Messiah didn't fit a literal interpretation, why should we believe that the next step in God's Reign becoming more real would follow a literal interpretation of Apocalyptic imagery that was likely never meant to be taken literally?

When the eschaton comes, it is likely to be in a form unlike what we are expecting. I have no doubt that it will come. I just don't think we should be spending a lot of energy trying to calculate when and where.

*I have always found the term 2nd Coming of Christ wrong. The Christian story is of an Incarnation in a man who died and then was resurrected. That is already the 2nd coming in my books (assuming dead means dead and gone. Therefore I think the end-times would in fact be the 3rd Coming.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

A Reminder....

TOday is the day!

TOnight at 8:00 local time around the globe is Earth Hour. The challenge is to turn off all your non-essential lights and appliances (computers and TVs included) from 8-9.

SEe a discussion on the topic here

I trust we can come up with something to do by candlelight...

Friday, March 28, 2008

How much control do they really have??

THe provincial budget was announced this past week.

In the aftermath there has been a lot of debate about whether this budget did enough or did the right things to stimulate the provincial economy which has been hard hit lately (the combination of high oil prices, the US non-recession, and the high CDN$/low US$ have turned much of the manufacturing industry and the forestry industry upside down). SUch debates are a common part of politico-economic dialogue, particularly in times of recession/downturn/oncoming recession (however you choose to describe the current situation).

BUt I really have to ask of governments have nearly as much control over the economy as they like to believe. In truth I suspect not even close. ANd the control is getting less. I think there was a time when governments had a much larger say in how the economy progressed, when tax regimes and incentives and so on made more of a difference. But in a global economy I really think that there are forces at work far beyond any one government to control.

After all, some of the larger economic units in the world are no longer national economies but instead are multi-national corporations. I would think that they would (do) bully, threaten, blackmail governments to get what they want for operating conditions -- and then do what they feel is best for their profit margin anyway.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

NEwsletter Musings

My latest write up for the Church NEwsletter is available at the church blog. SOme thoughts about resurrection that will likely get reprised later in a week or two for the local paper.


While planning worship on Monday I decided to talk about images of resurrection over teh next couple of weeks. Since spring thaw was well started (as evidenced by the lake at the foot of the driveway) I decided that this Sunday we would talk about seeds/bulbs growing out of the frozen ground. THe children's time will include planting seeds (in little cups) and everything...

WHat happened?

Monday night--3 inches of snow. OK, not totally unusual for March and wet wet snow that will melt fairly quickly once Spring-like weather returns.

This morning? Another inch of snow and this is not wet spring snow but light fluffy, big flakes like one would see in December. ANd a forecast low of -20 C tonight.

I should know better. In past years whenever we sang "As the sun with Longer Journey" (words are found here) during Lent the days immediately preceding that Sunday were marked by a cold snap.

Apparently I have the magical liturgical ability to control the weather!

Monday, March 24, 2008

Why I'm Not a Fundamentalist -- Part 4, (Bodily) Resurrection

IT seems very appropriate to deal with this topic at this time of year. I was going to do it on Saturday or Sunday but put it off because, quite frankly, I am not always sure how best to express my understanding of resurrection.

In every source I have read fundamentalism calls for an acceptance of the Easter story as meaning the bodily Resurecction of Jesus of NAzareth, the one we call Christ. (OK, usually it talks about the bodily resurrection of Christ but that is not proper terminology in my book, but it sure is more succinct and concise).

Again, this follows fully from a Biblical literalism. The Gospels clearly state that Jesus was removed from the cross and laid in a tomb. The Gospels are clear that the tomb was empty. And in 3 (plus the longer, likely later, additional ending in Mark) the Gospels state that someone met with Jesus, either in Jerusalem or in Galilee or both.

But I don't see the Gospels as history or fact. They tell the truth, but that is not the same. Sometimes (or even often) in practice one needs to change the facts in order to tell the truth.

I remember being at a seminar where John Crossan was speaking. He suggested that the burial tradition could just as likely be a statement of love. As in "gee I sure hope this man I loved and admired was given a proper burial". But the reality could also be that there was NO tomb (remember that most of Jesus' friends had run far away, they could't claim to witness a burial). Think about medieval England. Traitors heads were often put on a pike as a warning/deterrent to others (or if they were quartered that quarters might have been sent around the country for the same reason)*. It stands to reason that crucified criminals might be left on the cross to rot for the exact same reason.

If there was no actual tomb than the empty tomb narratives are obviously literary devices, they certainly don't prove a bodily resurrection event.

Paul's wonderful discussion of resurrection in 1 Corinthians leaves open the door that the resurrection was not a body. Certainly both Paul and the Gospel accounts make it plain that the resurrected Jesus was not the same as the pre-crucifixion Jesus. Paul talks about a spiritual body and in the Gospels people have trouble recognizing who they are talking to.

Certainly something distinctive happened that we now call the Easter moment. Resurrection is what we call it but what did people experience? Was it a resuscitated body? Was it a spiritual vision, such as Paul describes? (I vote for the latter) WAS it right after death or some longer period later? (I hunch for longer than "the third day") Where did it happen? (a variety of places) How did the common meal of faith help in that revelation?

It is my opinion that focusing too much on the body morphs the Easter story into some kind of Divine CPR/crash cart event. The power was far more than that. The point of the story is about life beyond everything the "powers and principalities" can accomplish. Resurrection is not the reversal of death, it is a changing, it is a rebirth.

But still we are left with the Gospel accounts. It is obvious that the early Jesus movement had a strong understanding that there was a tomb and that it was empty. There is a part of me that has trouble totally discounting that witness. But in the end, like virgin birth, like much in Biblical study, I find that arguing over the historicity of the account leads away from exploring and experiencing the truth in the account.

* This is also part of the reason that for much of human history executions were conducted in public places. The current practice in the US of having them behind closed doors works against the claimed deterrent effect. It is also true that many crowds seemed to consider watching executions a bit of a spectator sport.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Friday, March 21, 2008

What if you held a service...

and nobody came?

Thus was our Good Friday service this evening. 1 person came, so we visited a bit and then left.

Mind you many of those who likely would have come out tonight took part in the Ecumenical wlak this morning. ANd the last couple of times we have done an evening service there have been life 4. (LAst year was more because it was a morning service with the walk following)

Well a restful evening it is then...

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Why I'm Not a Fundamentalist -- Part 3, Atonement

From Part 1
For some reason last night I found myself thinking about the 5 fundamentals of Christian Fundamentalism. And I have never been accused of being a fundamentalist. But I thought more of us need to respond to fundamentalism beyond a rejection of it. So over the next little while (maybe by Easter) I intend a 5 part series on why I am not a fundamentalist.

One of the tenets of fundamentalism is an acceptance of Substitutionary Atonement (also referred to as Blood Atonement in some places).

Substitutionary ATonement is the belief that Christ's redeeming work is done by paying the price (in a "wages of sin is death" type of way) for human sin. THink sacrificial lamb, washed in the blood of the lamb type language. The theory is certainly present in Scripture but likely reached the peak of its develpoment when Anselm of Canterbury wrote the treatise Cur Deus Homo (Why God Man).

Anselm postulated that only a [hu]man could pay the price for [hu]man sin/wrongdoing. However he also held to the belief that the price for a wrong increased by the worth of the person being wronged*. Therefore only God could pay the price owed to God. Thus to bear the weight of human sin and still pay the price owed to GOd one had to be both human and DIvine. (Yes this is a gross simplification of the theory but I don't want to write and essay)

REally I have little problem with naming this as an atonement theory. IT is SCriptural and for those who find that guilt over those things they have done wrong is the main thing keeping them separate from GOd it can be comforting to think that the price of that wrongdoing has been paid.

BUt there are problems with this understanding. It has been called "divine child abuse" since it ends up claiming that GOd sent "His only begotten Son" just to have him killed. It seems to limit GOd's understanding of forgiveness to human understandings of revenge and payback. ANd it assumes that we all need the same path to at-one-ment.

Fundamentalism claims that Substitutionary Atonement is the only atonement theory that fits into Christianity. ANd to be fair it is the predominant atonement theory in much of Western Christianity, Protestant and Catholic, over the last several centuries. This is where the real problem comes in.

Historically there are multiple theories of atonement. THe three classics are Ransom/Christus Victor, Satisfaction, and Moral Influence. As it happens I am doing some pre-publication reading of a book on atonement theory for a former professor. The first chapter I read was on Jesus as REvealer, now I am reading a chapter on Jesus os Moral Influence. WE need a multiplicity of atonement theories because different people find that different things are the key that separates them from God. Substitutionary atonement has little resonance for my faith experience. But I would never claim that the theory which fits my experience the most (the Jesus as REvealer chapter resonated really strongly) has to fit everyone.

The problem with fundamentalism of any stripe is in the claim to one and only one truth/path/reality. That just isn't an accurate picture of how the world, or GOd, operates.

*I am not sure if Anselm had this in mind, but this part of his understanding reminds me of the concept of the weregild, a term out of ancient Anglo-SAxon law.

Because this isn't a liturgically important week...

APart from planning for Friday (ecumenical walk in the morning, worship in the evening) and Sunday observances here are the other bookings for my week:

Monday (yesterday): Hospital Board meeting in the morning, pre-marriage visit and Dentist appointment in the afternoon
Tuesday: Trustees meeting this morning, regular afternoon visit to seniors center
Wednesday: Hospital Board meeting, regular evening Faith Study
THursday: Palliative Care team meeting at noon

Good thing I got much of the Sunday worship prep done last week...

Friday, March 14, 2008

Why I'm Not a Fundamentalist -- Part 2, Virgin Birth

From Part 1
For some reason last night I found myself thinking about the 5 fundamentals of Christian Fundamentalism. And I have never been accused of being a fundamentalist. But I thought more of us need to respond to fundamentalism beyond a rejection of it. So over the next little while (maybe by Easter) I intend a 5 part series on why I am not a fundamentalist.

I note that Wikipedia links the Virgin Birth with the Divinity of Jesus. This is different from many lists of the fundamentals I have seen (most times I have just seen Virgin Birth listed). And although the two are linked, they are not totally tied together.

But we will focus on the Birth part here. The Divinity of Jesus is a wider matter. For now I will say that virgin Birth can be irrelevant to Divinity (in that Divinity/Son of God can happen without the Virgin Birth or conception through Holy Spirit).

I am one of those who thinks that arguments about Virgin Birth and the historicity of the birth narratives in Matthew and Luke are totally missing the point of Christmas as a faith celebration. Of course if I were a Biblical literalist then I would have to accept the Birth narratives and the virgin birth as fact.

Virgin and/or miraculous birth stories are a part of many mythologies. They are a common way of talking about what made this person (most of the time a man) special. When read in context, the passage Matthew uses as his proof text likely doesn't even appear to be talking about the coming Messiah or a virgin.

And let us be totally honest. No one was recording the events of Jesus birth, much less the pregnancy of a young girl nine months beforehand. There is no eyewitness to the conception or Annunciation (or the birth for that matter) involved in writing the Gospels. There is no sensible reason to believe either Luke or Matthew talked to anyone involved in the birth.

There is however reason to believe that Matthew and Luke had theological/philosophical/polemical reasons to create (or develop and pass on) a miraculous birth story for Jesus. The Gospels are all written with eyes that have experienced resurrection. Everything in them points to that resurrection experience. They are not historical, verbatim narratives.

Truth be told. I don't care if Mary was a virgin or not. I doubt the virgin birth as historical. I don't insist it didn't happen. I just think that isn't the key point of the Christmas story (just as I don't think historicity is ever the point of Scripture).

Does the Incarnation lose anything if Mary wasn't a virgin? Not in my opinion. So once again I obviously can't be a fundamentalist. But I can be a faithful follower of The Way anyhow (even if I have been called heretic for doubting the fundamentals).

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Resource for Photos

A colleague from BC set up a Flickr group of pictures to share for church use. All the pictures in the group are covered by a Creative Commons license and so are available for use without fear of piracy/stealing accusations.

I first looked at the site this week while choosing pictures for our Easter service. There is also a link to search all of Flickr for Creative Commons pictures

A Quandry

LAst Sunday morning it was noticed that the drains in the kitchen were not flowing properly. In fact they were exceptionally slow.

Part of this meant that when the dishwasher ran it did not drain properly and so did not rinse properly as it got overfull during the cycle.

Monday and Tuesday the plumbers came. Turns out these drains feed into the storm sewer (they are below the sanitary line and so they could not tie in to that 50 years ago -- at which point in time it wouldn't have been seen as an issue to have grey water flowing directly to the river) and leave the building at teh other end from the kitchen. THe problem is outside the building. To further complicate matters, as the water attempts to drain from the kitchen it backs up in the bolier room, coming out the floor drain. Plumber was going to attempt to contact the township staff to get them to do something.

10 minutes ago I checked. Drains are no better (possibly getting worse). The UCW has a Ham supper on Sunday. I am not sure it is appropriate to host a dinner when the kitchen drains are not working properly, when dishes can not be done properly, when using the water means flooding the boiler room (although water there flows to a sump which is then pumped out--into the parking lot)

OTOH, cancelling the supper has logistical and financial difficulties. Not to mention that this is a community event at a time when this town really needs communtiy events (as a mental and psychic health issue).

The appropriate response would be?????????

Monday, March 10, 2008

Why I'm Not a Fundamentalist -- Part 1, Scripture

For some reason last night I found myself thinking about the 5 fundamentals of Christian Fundamentalism. And I have never been accused of being a fundamentalist. But I thought more of us need to respond to fundamentalism beyond a rejection of it. So over the next little while (maybe by Easter) I intend a 5 part series on why I am not a fundamentalist.

WE shall begin with Scripture, for the simple fact that within Reformed theology one begins with scripture (also one's approach to Scripture deeply influences how one approaches the other fundamentals).

One of the fundamentals is Inerrancy of the Scriptures

There are some shadings of this belief. Some claim inerrancy in the original manuscripts (which of course do NOT exist so this is a red herring). Some claim inerrancy in original languages. Some claim inerrancy in the King James Version. Not a year ago I heard a radio preacher trying to explain why the KJV is the ONLY appropriate translation of the Bible for Christians to use (notwithstanding the fact that many Biblical scholars now consider the KJV a poor translation based on current knowledge).

Now to me the whole infallibility and inerrancy of Scripture argument has always made little to no sense:
  • Scripture openly disagrees with itself at various points (the 2 creation stories in Genesis, the 4 different portrayals of Jesus, the differences in the history of Israel/Judah between Kings and Chronicles).
  • It is known that textual errors, emendations, and "corrections" became part of the text that was passed on as things were copied by hand.
  • Much of Scripture is poetic and/or imaginary language and therefore impossible to take literally.
  • Those who take Scripture literally and/or treat it as infallible tend to interpret it very differently than the original writers did--often through the benefit of hindsight.

I find no need to look at Scripture in this way. In the words of John Spong "I take Scripture too seriously to take it literally".

Inerrantists will sometimes claim that they don't interpret Scripture, that they treat all texts as having equal value. But they don't. We ALL interpret Scripture, even if unconsciously. We ALL have a sub-canon that we use (often unconsciously).

Given the nature of Scripture, given the way it came to be written by a variety of humans, given that much of it is mythic and poetic and metaphoric, I find that treating it as inerrant or infallible or taking it as literal historic fact is often at best a misuse of the text.

Within my faith tradition we talk about the Bible in these words:

We receive the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, given by inspiration of God, as containing the only infallible rule of faith and life, a faithful record of God's gracious revelations, and as the sure witness of Christ.

These are words I can live with. The Bible contains the rule of life, but the words of the Bible are not, in and of themselves the words of God. It is the record of people trying to understand how God is active in their lives, not a word for word historical account of events and sayings. Not infallible, not inerrant, not even consistent at times. But it is part of how God is revealed. It is a big part of our faith. We have to take it seriously, we have to deal with it as source and referent. We do not have to, and in my opinion should not, take it literally or make an idol out of it.

So I really can't be a fundamentalist. Luckily being a fundamentalist and agreeing with the fundamentals is not required to be a faithful Christian. In fact fundamentalism itself is really a new phenomenon in Christian history -- as is Biblical inerrancy/literalism as the terms are now used.

This is a GREAT Idea!

Last night just before going to bed I saw this story:
Using the arts to change young lives
or in video

Bringing young people together from all different parts of society to experience the arts, to learn about what they can do, to build connections. What gets better than that?

Many of our communities would benefit from this sort of thing.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Lights Out!

Dear Friends and Neighbours;

I write to invite and encourage all of you to join in an exciting initiative happening at the end of this month.

In late February I was at a gathering of churches throughout Northwestern Ontario. At that meeting we heard about an initiative called "Earth Hour". The focus of Earth Hour is for people to turn off all their lights for one hour at 8:00 pm (local time) on Saturday March 29.

Why? What would this solve? Well this is a global movement. Imagine if even half the people of the world turned off their lights for an extra hour. The total energy savings would add up quickly. But it is also a way of making a statement. In order for real change to happen in the world we, the people, must be willing to play a part. By committing to turn lights off for an hour (and remember that the TV is a light source) we say that we are ready to give serious consideration to how we can be part of the eco-solution.

I encourage everyone to take part in Earth Hour this year. This idea began in Sydney Australia last year and has already spread around the globe. Will you help it grow? What are you willing to do to play a part in defeating climate change?

For more information about Earth Hour you can go to

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

NOtes On Easter Dates

AS all church leaders know, Easter is as early as possible this year. This afternoon I got the following in my e-mail around when it has been and will be this early again:

> As we know, Easter this year is March 23rd, Easter always landing on the 1st Sunday after the 1st full moon after the Spring Equinox (March 20). And we know too that this dating of Easter is based on the same lunar calendar that Jews use to identify Passover, which is why it moves around on our Roman calendar. (Altho this year is a catch-up year in the Jewish calendar which is why Passover isn't until next month.)

>This year is the earliest Easter any of us will ever see the rest of our lives, and only the most elderly of our population have ever seen it this early (95 years old or above!). While it is possible for Easter to be one day earlier (March 22), none of us have ever, or will ever, see it a day earlier! Here are the facts:

>> The next time Easter will be this early (March 23) will be the year 2228 (220 years from now). The last time it was this early was 1913 (so if you're 95 or older, you are the only ones that were around for that!).
>> The next time it will be a day earlier, March 22, will be in the year 2285 (277 years from now). The last time it was on March 22 was 1818. So, no one alive today has or will ever see it any earlier than this year!

>> And let the pastors say "AMEN!!"

Saturday, March 01, 2008

This is Troubling

This story hit the news this week:

Bill C-10, an omnibus bill now before the Senate, includes provisions in the Income Tax Act that would allow the federal government to deny tax credits for films that are offensive or not in the public interest.

Now I will admit that questionable content choices can (are) made by film-makers. ANd I will agree that there can be a legitimate debate about whether or not tax credits to the film industry are a good idea. But this proposal has strong overtones of censorship.

Who decides what is offensive? Who determines what constitutes the public interest? And why should the film industry have to support Judeo-Christian moral principles to recieve public support?

This is a bill that deserves some more "sober second thought".