len on November 25th, 2014

coverCanada has a reputation for justice, and for looking out for the small guy. And that reputation was probably partly earned and partly deserved — but much less true than we would like it to be, and less true since the Conservatives took a majority in government. While continuing to pay lip service to the concerns of the average Canadian, the Conservatives demonstrate by their actual practices that their main concern is corporations, big business, and the wealthy.

Now this new book by John Ralston Saul adds additional fuel to the charges of colonialism, exclusivity and dishonest dealing. Saul’s thesis is this: the greatest sea change underway in Canada at the present time is the return to a position of power, respect and influence of Canada’s First Nations peoples. And this is why Harper, and others like him, may be beside the point. This aboriginal renaissance is occurring despite the systemic resistance of governments.

Saul notes that Canadian society at large has moved on. We are post-colonial. We largely want to recognize and honor the treaties. Government, however, is mired in a system that was born in colonial days, and that and parochial attitudes and alliances prevents them from changing. That bodes ill for a number of reasons: fiduciary and other. If trust continues to be eroded, we delay the inevitable but also lose the full participation of a group of people who have much to give.

Saul documents Canada’s performance with regard to treaty promises way, way back, but with particular interest in the current climate. It’s impossible to read this book without getting angry. Yet at the same time, Saul is not a pessimist and in fact is hopeful — a stance based on Supreme Court decisions in the last ten years that call the government to account. Beginning with the Guerin decision in 1984, Saul analyzes the forces at play in the increasing recognition of both treaty rights and the fiduciary responsibilities of Canada. It really burns me how our government fails to honor promises made and resorts to deceit when dealing with aboriginal citizens!

See also the royal proclamation of 1963 – this video by Mennonite Church Canada. Review – Toronto Star

Postcolonial Conversations

len on November 22nd, 2014

cover“The most famous words about the city of Oakland, California came from the pen of Gertrude Stein. There was, she declared, no “there” there. This line has been widely understood as a casually dismissive judgment upon that city, and it has been used and reused countless times, as a barb directed at a variety of objects. Unfortunately, her quip is also the chief thing that many people, particularly non-Californians, are likely to know about Oakland. Its better-off neighbor Berkeley, home of the most eminent of the University of California campuses, and always eager to demonstrate its cultural élan, has even created a gently witty piece of public art called “HERETHERE” that plays on Stein’s words. The installation stands at the border of the two cities, with the word “HERE” on the Berkeley side, and the word “THERE” on the Oakland side. As you might expect, Oaklanders don’t much like it. There has even been a T-party rebellion, so to speak, in which an intrepid army of knitters covered up the “T” on the Oakland side with a huge and elaborate tea-cozy. 3 This is how they conduct cultural warfare in the Bay Area, where some people clearly have too much time on their hands.

“Yet the irony of it all is that when Stein penned those words in her autobiography, they were not meant as a snappy put-down. She was thinking of something entirely different. Oakland had been extremely important to her when she lived there there as a child, as a rare stable place in an unsettled and peripatetic upbringing. But when she discovered later in life that her childhood home there had been torn down, leaving her with nothing familiar to return to, Oakland lost its meaning for her. The blooming, buzzing confusion of the city no longer had a nucleus around which she could orient it. Saying that there was no “there” there was a poignant way to express this personal disorientation— a disorientation felt by many of us in the modern world, particularly when the pace of change causes us to lose our grip on the places that matter most to us.

“There is no evading the fact that we human beings have a profound need for “thereness ,” for visible and tangible things that persist and endure, and thereby serve to anchor our memories in something more substantial than our thoughts and emotions . Nor can we ever predict in advance the points at which our foundational sense of place will be most vulnerable, though surely a childhood home is a very likely candidate. In any event, when one of those anchors disappears or changes, as it did for Stein, we are left alone, bereft and deserted, our minds and hearts burdened by the weight of uprooted and disconnected memories which can no longer be linked to any visible or tangible place of reference in the world outside our heads. So the memories wither in time like cut flowers, and the more general sense of place, of “thereness,” is lost with them, like abandoned farmland slowly reclaimed by the primeval forest.”

Wilfred M McClay, Why Place Matters: Geography, Identity, and Civic Life in Modern America (New Atlantis Books)

len on November 21st, 2014

“Because I am involved in redressing a balance, I may at times seem to be sceptical of the tools of analytical discourse. I hope, however, it will be obvious from what I say that I hold absolutely no brief for those who wish to abandon reason or traduce language. The exact opposite is the case. Both are seriously under threat in our age, though I believe from diametrically opposed factions. The attempt by some post-modern theoreticians to annex the careful anti-Cartesian scepticism of Heidegger to an anarchic disregard for language and meaning is an inversion of everything that he held important. To say that language holds truth concealed is not to say that language simply serves to conceal truth (though it certainly can do), or, much worse, that there is no such thing as truth (though it may be far from simple). But equally we should not be blind to the fact that language is also traduced and disregarded by many of those who never question language at all, and truth too easily claimed by those who see the subject as unproblematic. It behoves us to be sceptical.”

McGilchrist, Iain. The Master and His Emissary. Yale University Press. Kindle Edition.

len on November 20th, 2014

Sedmak writes,

“There is a growing awareness that theology is not an instant product that we take from the shelf and put some (local) water in it in order to have an enjoyable drink. Theology is a specifically local adventure if it wants to be relevant for a particular culture. As Michael Amaladoss says ‘The flowering of local theology is a sign of the rootedness and maturity of a particular church.’ And also a sign of the rootedness and maturity of theologians.

“Whenever we do theology, we do theology from somewhere. We are somewhere, and we take positions. We are embedded in a form of life, here and now. This is our human situation…

“Doing (universal) theology locally is not the same as doing local theology. We know that Filipino theology, Ghanaian theology, Thai theology, Polish theology and North American theology taste different. We know that the context within which theology takes place shapes the form and influences the contents of theology… When we write a letter we think of the addressee first. This is a matter not only of politeness but of mere common sense… Whenever we do theology, we do theology ‘from somewhere.'” (Sedmak, 3-4)

All theology is local. It’s just that it’s taken us a while to admit it. The trialogue diagram above is the classical shape of the conversation. But I wonder if that was an honest appraisal of the way we do theology. Has culture been an equal partner in the conversation? Frankly, I doubt it. Until recently culture has been too transparent. We have resisted admitting that we had the problem of fish in the ocean: the water was transparent. Or we believed the myth of objectivity. Moreover, we privileged some voices while marginalizing others. All real theology was done in North America – or maybe Germany. So we need a new diagram.

image2Maybe our theological imagination needs to look more like this. The role of the particular setting where the church is in dialogue with the gospel has become larger than ever. This is because we are giving ear to marginalized voices; we are opening a wider ground for conversation, and listening to voices that are far away. We are recognizing that conditions have changed and culture has shifted — we have to listen anew in order to wrestle with questions that are new.

So I propose a larger role for culture in this trialogue. The end result will be recognition of Sedmak’s point above: all theology is local theology.

Doing Local Theology: A Guide for Artisans of a New Humanity. New York: Orbis Books, 2002. 182 pages.

len on November 18th, 2014

Edgar Casey notes that even journeys harbor a commitment to place. Places are more than mere backdrops but provide the medium of journeys, furnishing way stations as well as origins and destinations (274). “Journeys not only take us to places but embroil us in them” (276, Getting Back Into Place”)

“Pilgrimage is the kind of journey.. that moves from mindless to mindful, from soulless to soulful travel. It means being alert to the times when all that’s needed is a trip to a remote place to simply lose yourself, and to the times when what’s needed is a journey to a sacred place, in all its glorious and fearsome masks, to find yourself.” (Coniseau, The Art of Pilgrimage)

len on November 14th, 2014

“Those in leadership need to attend to three spheres of activities. Each sphere requires that we perceive, interpret and act concerning on-the-ground situations. Interpretive leadership is about meanings: it provides the resources and guidance needed to shape a community of learners that pays attention to and interprets both texts and contexts.

“Relational leadership shapes all of the human connections (internal and external) and attends to the health and synergism of those relationships.

“Implemental leadership guides and initiates activities and structures so that a church embodies gospel meanings and relationships. Even though this description notes separate spheres, they overlap and they must remain vitally connected. If they lose their cohesion, then organizational dysfunction results.”

Branson and Martinez. Churches, Cultures and Leadership: A Practical Theology of Congregations and Ethnicities 2011. (Kindle Locations 553-554).

len on November 11th, 2014

coverFred Polak (1961) writes of what he calls the “broken future of western culture.” He notes it is the first time we have experienced an “absence of persuasive positive images of the future.”

And isn’t that OUR story — the story of the western church? True, we still have hope — we still say that we believe God’s kingdom has come and is coming. But we have transferred much of that kingdom hope to the systems and technologies that have improved our lives. Increasingly that secular hope feels empty. At the same time our churches are greying and looking thin, our budgets decreasing, our buildings closing. It feels like the church itself has a broken future — we have entered a liminal space.

The transition from modernity to post-modernity and from Christendom to post-Christendom, combined with the rise of new media, have generated a liminal space for entire communities of faith. Churches are entering a nowhere land that has come into being in the turbulent waters of societal shift. We have become travelers with maps that are outdated and no longer describe the landscape.

In liminal space identity is suspended. Complex cultural forces are now generating liminal space for entire communities of people. In The Critical Journey Janet Hagberg and Robert Guelich describe faith transitions as “hitting the wall.” This difficult phase often occurs for individuals in mid-life. Now, however, it’s happening for whole organizations. Hitting the wall is a manifestation of liminal conditions for faith organizations. Churches that have hitherto been very outward oriented, busy and successful, find themselves confronted with new questions as they begin to decline, and a thriving ministry passes into memory. Why do we do what we do? What are our end goals here? Where have we placed our hope? The outward journey gives way to an inward journey that requires heart work and the integration of the shadow self.

On Friday evening we saw Steve Bell in concert singing, along with his classic work, new songs like ‘Turn It Around.’ There comes a time when we realize that we have lost our way, and that the orienting point might be the point of our departure. We have to reach back, turn it around.

len on November 7th, 2014

An excerpt from “Churches, Cultures and Leadership” by Branson and Martinez (2011)

“Praxis is actually the whole cycle of reflection and study on one hand, and engagement and action on the other. Brazilian educator Paulo Freire envisions praxis as the way to bring significant social change to people. He contrasted practice with what he called the ‘banking’ approach to education in which the teacher simply pours information into the student and the students role is to receive the information and act on it or pass it on to another person. Thus, for students education is passive (they are not supposed to be creative thinkers) and it only perpetuates the cultural norms of those who determine what is to be passed on. Instead, Freire wanted men and women to become culture-creators — persons who actually shape their own culture and context — but gaining through praxis a more thorough and more meaningful relationship with the world. He wanted knowledge to be more than bank information; he wanted knowledge to serve a life-giving role in your train persons and communities to change their context as they themselves were being changed through the reflection action cycle.

“Worship is the bundle of practices in which theology, culture, and experiences are already embedded. Every church also has a praxis concerning how they as a whole view and interact with their geographic neighbors or with persons from different ethnic backgrounds. In what ways do they embody a social existence that emphasizes, “keep together. Take care of yourselves. Be cautious of anything strange”? Or in what ways do they believe and act as if initiating hospitality and graciousness, especially to those who are new or different or needy, is the joy and challenge of the gospel? Churches are shaped by habits, which are shaped over decades and centuries by the interaction of reflection and action.

“Theologian Pat Keifert often reminds students and pastors, “Experience teaches us nothing!” Then, as questioning looks appear here and there among those who are listening, he continues, “No one learns from experience. One learns only from experience one reflects upon and articulates.” We believe churches benefit when they intentionally reflect theologically on a church’s life and ministry. We can learn that some of our habits are full of grace and faithfulness, but other habits show that we need to be converted.”


len on November 6th, 2014


len on October 31st, 2014

Bonhoeffer, in his book ETHICS talks about the worship of success. He writes,

In a world where success is the measure and justification of all things the figure of him who was sentenced and crucified remains a stranger and is at best the object of pity. The world will allow itself to be subdued only by success. It is not ideas or opinions which decide, but deeds. Success alone justifies wrongs done… With a frankness and off-handedness which no other earthly power could permit itself, history appeals in its own cause to the dictum that the end justifies the means. The figure of the Crucified invalidates all thought which takes success for its standard.