Rev. Vosper and the heretics of Scarborough   Leave a comment

Toronto Star column by Rick Salutin

United Church minister Gretta Vosper holds sevice at West Hill United Church on Sunday.
United Church minister Gretta Vosper holds sevice at West Hill United Church on Sunday.  (RANDY RISLING / TORONTO STAR) | ORDER THIS PHOTO  

The Rev. Gretta Vosper and her heretics — pardon, congregants — had their brief moment at the Inquisition yesterday — pardon, hearing. The deciders in the United Church of Canada will now pray, ponder, then render judgment.

Vosper is charged with not believing “in God, Jesus Christ or the Holy Spirit,” for which she could be defrocked — a term sounding newly pertinent in the era of the burkini. She calls herself an atheist, as regards the traditional “God” but says she understands “god” (she prefers lowercase) in her own way; so she both denies and affirms.

This isn’t Richard Dawkins’s atheism. The issue surfaced when she wrote an open letter on the Charlie Hebdo massacre saying bad things can be done in the name of God — hardly controversial or atheistic either. You could even argue that the Bible’s second commandment against worshipping false gods makes exactly her point.

As a teen, at Holy Blossom Temple, I read a novel by a rabbi, As a Driven Leaf, about a Talmudic-era sage named Elisha ben Abuyah, who raised impudent theological questions. He was in effect excommunicated and henceforth referred to as “the other” but remained revered by some sages and in subsequent tradition. Heresy in the name of faith and the truth — especially about the divine — has always been an intrinsic part of religions.

So, starting in the 1200s, a book known as The Atheist’s Bible — attacking Moses, Jesus and Mohammed — was denounced by religious authorities — and it didn’t even exist. Eventually, centuries later, it got written, as if it was necessary. In the 1960s, there was a “Death of God” movement inside U.S. Protestantism.

Vosper is in this tradition. She’s obsessed with god and writes books defining her concept. She says she believes in “a metaphorical God, as a symbol for a set of values.” She argues we “create god,” which in turn empowers us.

So yes, she’s being metaphorical but in theology, what isn’t? Surely most Greeks didn’t think actual gods lived up there on Olympus. There’s a developed theology of “demythologization” in Christianity. Atheism could end up as just another metaphor. One minister insisted the United Church “typically” affirms something “beyond material reality … more than the eye can see.” Okay, but who in the era of quantum physics wouldn’t affirm that? There are also groups of clergy who, like Vosper, “no longer hold supernatural beliefs.” But even that seems murky since it’s unclear what supernatural means today.

UCC clergy are expected to be in “essential agreement” with basic church doctrines but that can get pretty metaphorical too (“God is Holy Mystery … Mother, Friend, and Comforter”), leaving, says the UCC’s own journal, “plenty of leeway, God-wise.” And just how much is “agreement” really worth? Conrad Black, in his press lord days, apparently considered buying the Star so he was shown the leftish Atkinson Principles, which are legally built into the paper’s DNA. He looked at them and said something like, “Yah, I could sign on to that.”

If there’s anything innovative in Vosper’s challenge, it may be her serious treatment of the term, atheism. “New” atheists, such as Dawkins, just toyed with it, setting up simplistic, primitive versions of religion that they then debunked, like naughty kids in Sunday school. Vosper agonizes over the word, searching for any meaning it might have in religious settings. Such efforts keep religions vital.

In my own transition out of seminaries, for a long time I’d call myself an agnostic, till one day I thought, “Oh hell, I’m an atheist.” It wasn’t dramatic, more like the way a snake sheds its skin or, perhaps, being defrocked. In Obama’s first inaugural he mentioned atheists respectfully, which may have been a step along the way to rehabilitating the term in the U.S. context.

I used to ask people I knew at Union (protestant) seminary in New York how serious they were about Christian doctrines, like sin and salvation. Or was their Christianity just an autobiographical accident of birth through which they got attached to certain rituals, music, images etc., they were reluctant to abandon. I think those remain issues, especially in a globalizing world. In a way, Vosper is just stating the obvious and her opponents, merely postponing the inevitable.

She and her flock sound like they simply want a little meaning in their lives that feels really — meaningful. Can the United Church accommodate that?

Paul Rogers: We won’t defeat ISIS without a dramatic change in tactics   Leave a comment

On Sunday, September 18, 2016 the CBC’s Michael Enright broadcast an in-depth interview with Paul Rogers, who is the Professor of Peace Studies at the University of Bradford. Enright began with the following introduction:

We are now fifteen years into the global “War on Terror.” It has led to the ousting of regimes in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, and to the detainment or deaths of thousands of Islamist militants — along with a lot of their leaders.

It has also cost trillions of dollars and led to the deaths of at least 250,000 people — mostly civilians — many times more than the number of people who died on 9/11. That number doesn’t include the hundreds of thousands who were injured, and the millions who were displaced.

The War on Terror also played a part in the creation of ISIS, and in alienating and radicalizing people in the West and in the Muslim world.

What the War on Terror has not done is defeat terrorism. That might be because it has been prosecuted like a normal war, deploying tremendous military force to vanquish a foe.

Paul Rogers says the kind of war we’re engaged in against ISIS is an irregular war — one which cannot be won with sheer military might, technological superiority or strategic cunning.

And, he argues, irregular wars are the the kinds of wars we will find ourselves mired in through the decades ahead if we don’t change our approach to fighting — and preventing — them.

Paul Rogers is a Professor of Peace Studies at Bradford University in the UK and the International Security Editor for the website www.opendemocracy.net , as well as a regular guest on The Sunday Edition. His most recent book is called Irregular War: ISIS and the New Threat from the Margins.

 

The interview is available on CBC’s podcast website: http://www.cbc.ca/radio/podcasts/arts-culture/the-best-of-the-sunday-edition/

Posted September 19, 2016 by allanbaker in Canadian society, Peacemaking

Tagged with , , ,

Church: thermometer or thermostat?   1 comment

A reflection by Ted Schmidt

Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co-workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right.

ML King Jr “Letter from the Birmingham Jail” April 16,1963

One of the sad developments over the years has been the loss of power and agency in the institutional Catholic church.

“While it is inevitable that large institutions run down and in uber-capitalist countries will be co-opted by the culture, there will always be counter-movements fighting against such lassitude. History is full of examples beginning with the early church in the Roman Empire, then the Beguines, Francis of Assisi, Wesley’s challenge to high church Anglicanism, the Catholic Worker.” The examples are too numerous to mention. The Church at Vatican ll stated that it was “ecclesia semper reformanda”, a church always in need of renewal.

Today a Vatican ll pope has arrived, a man who understands that the church must be thrust into society as leaven.his theology is focused on Jesus’s call to God’s reign. Too many bishops are still locked into the church as the heart of the gospel. Sadly they resist Pope Francis.  The world today ruled by corporate power will always resist the gospel. Vatican ll reminded us that “we to must shoulder the cross which the world and the flesh inflict on those who search after peace and justice.” As King reminded us the church should not be a thermometer.

ML
In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society.
Birmingham Jail

All of the above and below reminded me of a remarkable student I had in the 80s. John Popiel went on to do significant development in the Dominican Republic and today coordinates the Jesuit Volunteers in Canada.

In the nuclearized 80s I sent out students 2X2 to knock on doors and join the resistance to Canada  testing the Cruise Missile. Johnny came in with  a harrowing tale of some guy running him off his porch , telling him to eff off , saying he was all for testing.

I just laughed and had John read the gospel for that day in home room class. The gospel was Luke 10:5 ff

When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’”If someone who promotes peace is there, your peace will rest on them; if not, it will return to you. Earlier the Jesus of Luke gave this advice If people do not welcome you, leave their town and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.”

John was stunned. The gospel had leapt off the page as it always does when we turn it into action. It’s like putting on 3D glasses—you see a new reality.

Chris Hedges recently wrote (below) about an Anglican bishop who basically asked the church to become the leaven, stop mirroring the corrosive culture and take a stand for God’s reign of peace and justice.
Carrying out sustained acts of civil disobedience is the only option left to defy the corporate state, says retired Anglican bishop Packard, who over the years has been arrested at an Occupy Wall Street protest and other demonstrations. It will be a long, difficult and costly struggle the decorated Vietnam vet says. But there are moral and religious laws—laws that call on us to protect our neighbor, fight for justice and maintain systems of life—that must supersede the laws of the state. Fealty to these higher laws means we will make powerful enemies. It means we will endure discomfort, character assassination, state surveillance and repression. It means we will go to jail. But it is in the midst of this defiance that we will find purpose and, Packard argues, faith.

PACK
“This is the renewed presence of the church, people of spirit wandering around in the darkness trying to find each other,” Packard said to me before he was taken into custody by police during the Montrose protest. He stood holding one corner of a large banner reading, “We Say No to Spectra’s Algonquin Pipeline Expansion.” “When you find a cause that has spine, importance and potency you find the truth of the Scripture. You find it inside your gut. There is an ache in the culture.” Gesturing toward his fellow demonstrators, he added: “These are a few of the people who are speaking to it. This is what the church used to be. It used to be standing in conscience.”

Spiritual Paths   Leave a comment

IMG_3089

“I think joy and sweetness and affection are a spiritual path. We’re here to know God, to love and serve God, and to be blown away by the beauty and miracle of nature. You just have to get rid of so much baggage to be light enough to dance, to sing, to play. You don’t have time to carry grudges; you don’t have time to cling to the need to be right.”

Anne Lamott – in the Washington Times, 2008

Annual Checkups we could all benefit from – by Jim Taylor   Leave a comment

Sunday August 14, 2016

ANNUAL CHECKUPS WE COULD ALL BENEFIT FROM

By Jim Taylor

I had my annual physical checkup this last week. The doctor did all the usual things. He checked my vital signs — I still have them, thank you — and poked and prodded various parts of my body to make sure nothing was going wrong under cover, so to speak. He ordered a series of tests, to ensure he hadn’t overlooked anything.

He asked questions. And he took time to listen to me. To hear what I might have observed about the way my own body functions. After all, I live with it every day. But I don’t always know whether that mole is significant, or how to reduce the pain in my big toe.

Basically, I learned that I am still in good shape. For my age, at least. I can expect a few more years of reasonable health.

In grocery terms, though, my shelf life is limited. And I have certainly passed my “best before” date.

Occasionally, I read that an annual physical is a waste of time. It may be even hazardous. Apparently, the incidence of heart attacks, strokes, and aneurysms rises after a medical examination.

 Maybe so. But I still want that annual checkup. I want to know what might be going wrong, before it’s too late to do anything about it.

OTHER KINDS OF CHECKUPS

 I also need other kinds of annual checkups.

 I do get an economic checkup periodically. I keep track of our investments. I know if we spend more than we need, cutting into the funds to sustain us for our remaining years. An investment advisor regularly sits down with us to evaluate our financial well-being.

But what about my emotional well-being?

I have no such thing as an annual emotional checkup. People ask, “How are you?” Or, “How are you feeling these days?” But it’s a courtesy, as meaningless as the supermarket cashier who tells every customer, “Have a great day!” If I take the question seriously, a detailed description of my feelings causes the questioner’s eyes to glaze over. She looks for someone else to talk to. Anyone.

The other day, a friend asked, “So what do you think of our civilization these days?”

“Doomed,” I replied.

Both question and answer were light-hearted. But he heard something more: “That doesn’t sound like the Jim Taylor I know,” he said.

So I probably need an occasional emotional checkup. It’s not something I can do for myself — my own feelings will inevitably colour my perception of those feelings.

And how about a spiritual checkup? Many people might not even consider a spiritual checkup important. And what would one check for , anyway — adherence to a defined set of beliefs? Memorized responses to a catechism?

No, it’s not about whether I believe the right things. It’s about how what I believe affects how I live.

IMG_0309

Weathercock near Waupoos, Ontario

DEEPEST CONVICTIONS

A spiritual checkup would probe my deepest convictions. Why am I here? How did I get here? What am I supposed to do about it?

Those convictions affect how I relate to my family and my friends. How I spend my money. What I do with my time. How I treat my environment.

Don’t confuse those convictions with conventional religion. They may — or may not — relate to my professed beliefs in God or my connection with a church. If the kind of God I believe in influences the way I deal with fossil fuels, human rights, and income disparities, good. But if I don’t believe in God, I still have to deal with those issues. And if the kind of God I believe in doesn’t affect those decisions, why should I bother believing in Him? Or Her — whatever…

These checkups require more than just head knowledge. They require sensitivity to me. I don’t want a medical checkup from someone promoting her own quack cures. I don’t want an economic checkup from a shill for his own mutual funds.

In the same way, spiritual and emotional checkups would require, I guess, someone with extensive insights into theology and psychology, but free of cookie-cutter solutions. Jesus is not the answer, if you haven’t heard the question. Nor is Freud.

As a milestone birthday hurtles towards me, and as I realize that the road ahead of me is much shorter than the road behind, I feel an increasing need to know that I’m on the right road. Or at least, on the road I want to be on.

Aha! That’s what I need to extend my shelf-life — a map reader!
********************************************************
Copyright © 2016 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups encouraged; links from other blogs welcomed; all other rights reserved.
       To send comments, to subscribe, or to unsubscribe, write jimt@quixotic.ca
********************************************************

Spirituality and “religion”   3 comments

IMG_2972

John Wesley frequently began his weekly study groups with a simple, profound question: “How is it with your spirit?”

Spirituality is a nebulous term, and it is in common use these days. I hear people telling me that, “I am a spiritual person, not a religious person” or, “I’m spiritual, but not religious.” For a while I even considered responding to this type of dualistic statement by saying that, “I’m religious, but not spiritual.”

In her book called, “The Practice of Prayer”, Margaret Guenther takes the Christian journey of faith beyond being simply a belief system. “Our spirituality is not what we profess to believe, but how we order our lives. Our stewardship of time, energy, material things, and relationships to our fellow creatures reflects the way we express that ordering of our lives.

For those who follow the path of Christianity, our faith has an active component. It is more than what is in our minds, it is also reflected in how we live. In other words, “agency” is a part of the Christian path. Words and actions of those following the Christian way are also consistent with each other. In our Christian scriptures, the Letter of James reads;

“It isn’t enough just to have faith. You must also do good to prove that you have it. Faith that doesn’t show itself by good works is no faith at all – it is dead and useless.” (James 2:17)

It seems to me that Christian spirituality might be summed up in the writings of the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Galatians:

“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”(Galatians 5: 22)

St. Francis of Asisi’s words reflect this “active spirituality” in the statement that; It is in giving that we receive.

For those who wish to nurture their spirit, it is in sharing the gifts of love, joy, peace, etc, that we receive nurture for our spirit. For me, those are the fruits of the Spirit that describe the spirituality of Christian folk as we travel our journey of faith.

How is it with your spirit?

Life is more than …   Leave a comment

The sermon shared on Sunday at Beach United Church interpreted a challenging story from Luke’s Gospel – Luke 12: 13 – 21. The preacher, Rev. Lawrence Nyarko, suggested that we listeners consider also the words of Gandhi:

There is enough in this world to satisfy human need,

but not enough to satisfy human greed.

IMG_2917