In the past fifty years “church” has been something we have mostly imported from our neighbour to the south. Our imagination about what it means to be God’s people has been shaped by a variety of traditions — you can name the one you know — but those traditions themselves have been conditioned by the preachers, leaders, books and churches that have dominated the scene in the U.S.A. The most prominent of these, we all know, being Willow Creek.
We are now in the intriguing place of recognizing the benefits — and the limits — of an imported imagination of ecclesial life. Our brothers and sisters to the south have passion and vision. They have often given us their best. But even their best is shaped by an ethos, story and place vastly different from our own. Context really has become king, and more and more Canadian leaders are beginning to ask what our uniquely Canadian soil should be contributing to an imagination of life as God’s people in a post-Christendom location. Wow. This is a GOOD THING!!
It’s a good thing because as Canadians we have our own story to tell, and our own GOOD THINGS to offer. To the extent that we are colonized by someone else’s questions and answers, is the extent to which we don’t deeply engage the questions for ourselves. And then we lose something that God is doing here, and have less to offer to others. To live authentically in OUR culture we have to do the work ourselves.
In the past few weeks I have discovered two more books published by Canadian faith communities that I had completely missed. One is a “Book of Hours” from St. Benedict’s Table in Winnipeg. The other is A Happy Ending, published by The Story in Sarnia, Ontario. Both of these are quality pieces of work, each with their own unique flavor, growing out of unique questions asked in unique places. Today I want to walk briefly through this latter book.
A Happy Ending is framed around the story of God, and our story growing out of his work in the world. On the very first page a very large frame showcases a question by Lesslie Newbigin:
“ If there is no point in the story as a whole, there is no point in my own action. If the story is meaningless, any action of mine is meaningless…so the answer to the question ‘Who am I?’ can only be given if we ask ‘What is my story?’ and that can only be answered if there is an answer to the further question, ‘What is the whole story of which my story is a part?’”
On the following page, they offer: “The church is God’s pilot project for The Happy Ending. Expressed in love, the church is a collection of imperfect people who – despite their differences and preferences – recognize that there is a better way to live with each other, with the earth, and in relation to God. Call it a practice session or a dry run, the church is sorting out what it will be like to live as we were always intended to live. Think of it as a jumpstart on The Happy Ending.”
“ This is our vocation: to convert the enemy into a guest and to create the free and fearless space where brotherhood and sisterhood can be formed and fully experienced.” -Henri Nouwen
“The table is a place where doubt is validated and questions carry no penalty. (John 20:26-28)
“The table is a place where the divide between the sacred and secular dissolves. (1 Corinthians 8:1-7)
“The table is the place where our deepest wounds are healed. (1 Peter 2:23-25)
“To this end, Jesus commissions his followers to be party planners. To recreate his table in homes and whore houses alike. To invite any and all, to serve well and plenty, until each has their fill and all the leftovers are collected (John 6:1-14).
The following pages talk about risk, imagination, and improvisation. This reflection on grace appears on page 21.
“Grace is one of the ways we recognize God’s active presence in our world. If God is guilty of anything it is that God values human freedom so much that we are allowed to do as we please. And if it seems like we never see God, it is likely because God works nights on the janitorial shift, cleaning up after yesterday and ensuring that mercy will be fresh and new tomorrow. (Lamentations 3:22-23)”
On page 27 under the title Holy Wholeness! they write,
“Holiness, Jesus saw, was not something to be protected; rather it was God’s miraculous power of transformation. God’s holiness cannot be soiled; rather, it is a cleansing and healing agent. It does not need to be shut up and quarantined in the temple; it is now, through Jesus’ healings and fellowship with the despised and rejected, breaking out into the world to transform it.” -Walter Wink
“There is a holiness sometimes in keeping it together.” -Sarah Masen
Then follows a discussion on inclusivity.
The latter part of the book is devoted to liturgies and prayers (92-136). My only regret is not knowing of this work sooner — it would have made a nice gift for friends.
Creativity is alive and well in our Canadian soil. Even though many of our months are too cold for anything to grow, the soil of the heart is warm and inviting. This is a beautiful piece of work from the Story folk! You can view a preview on ISSUU.
Go to Part II