Friday, January 31, 2014

Friday 5 -- Encounters

It has been an epoch since I have done a Friday Five...

Over at the RGBP site we have this prompt:
In this week some of us are preaching about a woman who encounters Jesus at the well, please name five encounters in your life leading to unexpected results. They might include learning a new skill, making a friend, falling in love, discerning a call or anything around or far off from those ideas.
  1. I have told this story before, but it just fits so well.  After all, who goes to a Presbytery meeting to find a spouse?  But that is what happened to me at the first Presbytery meeting after I started in ministry. 
  2. When I was in Grade 5 there was a chance to take part in the production of A Christmas Carol.  I decided I would, had never done anything like it before (and ended up playing Scrooge).  And from then until the end of high School being involved in theatre was one of the things that saved my sanity (such as it is) and indeed my became my major in university.
  3. I needed a summer job.  ANd I had fond memories of having gone when I was a child.  So I applied for a job at Camp Maskepetoon.  There is a very direct (if not exactly straight) line between that choice and where I am now.
  4. It was for Integration Seminar, a class in social ministry in my 2nd year at St. Andrew's.  Part of the class was to volunteer at a social agency.  I met with the Placement Co-Ordinator and we decided a good place for me was the Saskatoon Crisis Nursery.  In the end it may not have been the best placement for me to meet the goals of the place and my own learning needs (though those learning needs may not have been met in any placement as it is probable I was not yet ready to face my demons), but that experience prepared me for the time two years later when I needed a job and got a job at an equivalent agency in Edmonton -- Kids Kottage and spent almost 3 years there.
  5. Wandering through the mall in Atikokan during my first 6 months of ministry the Catholic Deacon called me over to have coffee.  Did I know that that coffee group would become my main non-church contact point for the next 9 years? But it did.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Book 2 of of 2014 The Hobbit

It was the fall of 1978.  I was in Grade 4.  Our teacher had a practise whereby the first block of time after lunch on Friday's he would read to us, generally a whole chapter.  The first book he read to us that year was The Hobbit.  So began my love affair with Middle-Earth.

As it happened, my dad had (and still has) a box set of Tolkien books on the shelf at home (which I think was fairly new at the time) and so as I grew tired of the chapter a week pace I started to read the book by myself.  I quickly passed the out-loud reading and was well into Lord of the Rings by the time Mr Davies finished the book in the class.

I have, of course, read the book many many times since then, though I think it has been 15-20 years since my last reading.

What is it about this book that makes it worth multiple readings?  Is it the story?  Partly  Is it Bilbo's growth over his "There and Back Again"?  Partly  But there is just something that grabs me, just as it grabbed me 25 years ago.  Once again I eagerly traveled from Bag End and the Unexpected Party to Rivendell, to the Halls of the Elven-King, to the Lonely Mountain.  Yes I knew what was coming.  But still it is worth reading.  It is, after all, a classic.

Now I just have to find a way to convince the girls to let me read it to them.......

Book 1 of 2014 --The Silmarillion

AS I mentioned in the previous post, on the first Tuesday of this year I discovered a series of Webinars dealing with Unfinished Tales by JRR Tolkien.  AS I was watching the first one I thought to myself "it has been too long since I read those books".  And so one of my goals for the year was formed....

Where do you start when sitting down to read Tolkien?  THe order in which they were published?  (WHich would be The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, the Silmarillion, Unfinished Tales and then the many volumes of the History of Middle Earth series).  There is a logic to that, and certainly Hobbit is the most accessible read of the bunch.  But of course I am not a newbie to Middle Earth (my introduction to Tolkien will be discussed in the next post).  And so the next logical choice is to read the books in "chronological" order (sort of like if I read the Narnia Chronicles now I start with The Magician's Nephew but for a newbie to Narnia I would always suggest they start with The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe).

And so I went downstairs and grabbed my old, well-worn copy of The Silmarillion off the shelf.  It is the copy I received as a Christmas gift 30+ years ago.  I can not remember the last time I read the book....

For those who are less familiar, this book is the history of the First Ages of Middle Earth. It begins with Creation, and follows through the struggles of the Eldar and the Edain against Morgoth in the War of the Jewels.  Then there is an account of the downfall of Numenor, which leads directly to Elendil and his sons returning to middle-Earth and creating the realms of Gondor and Arnor.

For those who have only read The Hobbit and The Lord of The Rings this is a different book.  But I like it.  It is a quick read (I started Tuesday night and finished it by the end of that week -- although the challenge in reading a book I know so well is to take the time to find new insights in it), but you get to explore the grey-ness of an epic struggle between good and evil over a number of fields and ages.  And it sets the stage for what comes after...

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Gift? Punishment? Blessing? Burden?

Which of those things is death?

Earlier this month I stumbled on to Mythgard Academy.  Both of the last two Tuesdays I have sat in on the free webinars (or at least the beginning of them before having to play chauffeur) exploring Tolkien's Unfinished Tales.  A comment made in the second one sparked the thoughts leading to this post.

But first I think we need some background....

In the mythology of Middle Earth as presented in the Silmarillion, there are two races who are referred to as the Children of Iluvatar.  These are Elves and Men.  Elves are immortal, unless they are slain they will live forever.  Men are mortal. Not only do they die of old age but they are far more likely to die from wounds and are susceptible to illness.  It is stated, repeatedly, that this death is teh gift of Iluvatar to men.  They are not bound to the world.  Elves, it is said, grow weary of the world but are bound to it, they do not have the release of death. (It is my belief that this world-weariness is far more a fate of those elves who have left the Undying Lands to live in Middle-Earth proper and/or those who are born in Middle-Earth.  Does one grow weary of living in Paradise?)

But the nature of life is that Men have difficulty seeing death as a gift.  It seems more like an unfair burden.  And they chafe at it.  The downfall of Numenor, the island of the Gift, was brought about largely because of this issue.  The last king of Numenor, in his vanity and arrogance (and egged on by Sauron) sailed with a mighty fleet to the Undying Lands to wrest immortality from the Valar.  To be fair the Elves also have trouble understanding death as a gift, but they may not taste the bitterness of the gift quite as directly (with the notable exceptions of Luthien in the Elder Days and Arwen in the early years of the Fourth Age).

In the webinar last Tuesday the presenter mentioned that Tolkien claimed nothing in his Middle-Earth mythology was in contradiction to standard Roman Catholic theology.  It was then mentioned that questions have been raise in this regard when it comes to the idea of death as a gift (remember Silmarillion, Unfiinshed Tales, and all the other books that have come afterwards -- there are a fair number--have been published after Tolkien's death by his son Christopher so Tolkien himself has  not necessarily been a part of these discussions).  It was also mentioned that there is a hint in one of the volumes of the History of Middle Earth series of a "Garden of Eden" type of story.  So is death the Gift of Iluvatar?  Or is it a punishment because the earliest fathers of men in Middle-Earth had their own Fall at the hands/instigation of Morgoth? 

But what is the "proper" theology of death in our world?  Is death solely a punishment accruing from the Fall as described in Genesis 3, a result of having been turfed out of Eden and no longer able to access the Tree of Life?  Or have we as humans done what the men of Middle-Earth have done when it comes to death?  Have we taken something that was part of ing, part of existence, possibly even a gift and turned it into something terrible and against God's plan?

The Men of Middle-Earth, for a variety of reasons, generally see death as a burden, not a release, not a gift.  They seek ways to avoid it.  They embalm the bodies of their dead in a statement against death's bitterness.  Does this sound familiar?

What if death, particularly a natural death after a life well-lived in old age, is not the enemy?  What if death was always a part of being alive?  Not a punishment for wrongdoing, but merely a part of reality.  What if the Fall was not the beginning of death but the beginning of humanity's struggle with death?

How many people in their later years have expressed a weariness, a wondering why they are still around?  How many families, at the end, have referred to the death of a loved one, particularly after a long or trying illness, as a release or relief too long in the coming?

What if death is, in a way a gift??  A double-bladed bitter gift too be sure.  But is there a way or a time when it is a gift from God? What is the "proper" theological approach to death?

I suspect it is somewhere between simple acceptance and Dylan Thomas' admonition "Do not go gentle into that good night".  It may be part gift, part burden, depending on a variety of circumstances.  In the Appendicies of Lord of the Rings we read of the death of Aragorn.  To Aragorn is given the opportunity to embrace his death peacefully before it is forced upon him in a period of dotage.  It is bitter for Arwen to watch happen, but it is embraced peacefully as a gift.  Maybe there are times when that would in fact be healthier for us too.  SO maybe Tolkien's theology is right after all...

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Book 11 of 2013 -- Pastrix

I am not big on memoirs or autobiographies (or biographies for that matter).  But when I saw some of the online comments about this one I thought it was worth a read.

And I was right.  Bolz-Weber tells her story with honesty and open-ness.  And in doing so casts a different light on the Gospel as she interacts with it.

There were a couple of times as I was reading her story that I saw a way to preach annual festivals (Baptism of Jesus and Easter) in a slightly different tack.  I especially liked her image of Jesus with the dirt of his tomb under his fingernails....

I would suggest this as a light, enjoyable, and very worthwhile read