Advent III

In the first centuries the Church had a beautiful custom of praying seven great prayers calling afresh on Christ to come, calling him by the mysterious titles he has in Isaiah, calling to him; O Wisdom. O Root! O Key O Light! come to us!

The evening prayer, also know as Vespers, always includes the great prayer of Mary known as the Magnificat. Each day, the Magnificat is preceded by a short verse or “antiphon” that links the prayer to the feast of the day or the season of the year. In the last seven days of Advent (December 17-24), the antiphons before the Magnificat are very special. Each begins with the exclamation “O” and ends with a plea for the Messiah to come. As Christmas approaches the cry becomes increasingly urgent.

These moving “O Antiphons” were composed when monks put together texts from the Old Testament, particularly from the prophet Isaiah, which looked forward to the coming of our salvation. They form a rich, interlocking mosaic of scriptural images. The great “O Antiphons” became very popular in the Middle Ages when it became traditional to ring the great bells of the church each evening as they were being sung.

Each of the O Antiphons highlights a different title for the Messiah: O Sapientia (O Wisdom), O Adonai (O Lord), O Radix Jesse (O Root of Jesse), O Clavis David (O Key of David), O Oriens (O Rising Sun), O Rex Gentium (O King of the Nations), and O Emmanuel. Malcolm writes,

“The third Advent antiphon, O Radix, calls on Christ as the root, an image I find particularly compelling and helpful. The collect is referring to the image of he ‘tree of Jesse the family tree which leads to David, and ultimately to Christ as the ‘son of David, but for me the title radix, goes deeper, as a good root should. It goes deep down into the ground of our being, the good soil of creation. God in Christ, is I believe, the root of all goodness, wherever it is found and in whatsoever culture, or with whatever names it fruits and flowers, a sound tree cannot bear bad fruit said Christ, who also said, I am the vine, you are the branches.”

O Radix

All of us sprung from one deep-hidden seed,
Rose from a root invisible to all.
We knew the virtues once of every weed,
But, severed from the roots of ritual,
We surf the surface of a wide-screen world
And find no virtue in the virtual.
We shrivel on the edges of a wood
Whose heart we once inhabited in love,
Now we have need of you, forgotten Root
The stock and stem of every living thing
Whom once we worshiped in the sacred grove,
For now is winter, now is withering
Unless we let you root us deep within,
Under the ground of being, graft us in.

This sonnet based on the third O Antiphon is composed by Malcolm Guite.

3rd sunday of Advent = JOY

Black Friday was a taste of things to come. We know that the future – the ultimate future – is different, but we live in between the times.

During the 2014 Christmas season in Canada shoppers spent around 50 billion; in 2015, the number is expected to be around $1900 per person. Yes, we have learned that we can try to buy happiness. Bhutan does us one better, revealing in their public policy that “Gross National Happiness” is not connected to GNP, the number of toys you own or the number of cars in your garage.

Happiness seems to be the goal. But is there something better still?

Luke 2:10 “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people!”

JOY.

Elsewhere, “Cloudy with a Chance of Joy”

Advent

In the first centuries the Church had a beautiful custom of praying seven great prayers calling afresh on Christ to come, calling him by the mysterious titles he has in Isaiah, calling to him; O Wisdom! O Root! O Key! O Light! Come to us!

The evening prayer, also know as Vespers, always includes the great prayer of Mary known as the Magnificat. Each day, the Magnificat is preceded by a short verse or “antiphon” that links the prayer to the feast of the day or the season of the year. In the last seven days of Advent (December 17-24), the antiphons before the Magnificat are very special. Each begins with the exclamation “O” and ends with a plea for the Messiah to come. As Christmas approaches the cry becomes increasingly urgent.

These moving “O Antiphons” were composed when monks put together texts from the Old Testament, particularly from the prophet Isaiah, which looked forward to the coming of our salvation. They form a rich, interlocking mosaic of scriptural images. The great “O Antiphons” became very popular in the Middle Ages when it became traditional to ring the great bells of the church each evening as they were being sung.

Each of the O Antiphons highlights a different title for the Messiah: O Sapientia (O Wisdom), O Adonai (O Lord), O Radix Jesse (O Root of Jesse), O Clavis David (O Key of David), O Oriens (O Rising Sun), O Rex Gentium (O King of the Nations), and O Emmanuel. Also, each one refers to the prophecy of Isaiah of the coming of the Messiah. A particularly fascinating feature of the O Antiphons is that the first letter of each invocation, when read backwards, forms an acrostic in Latin: the first letters of Sapientia, Adonai, Radix, Clavis, Oriens, Rex, and Emmanuel in reverse form the Latin words: ERO CRAS. These can be understood as the words of Christ, responding to his people’s plea, saying “Tomorrow I will be there.”

This sonnet based on the first antiphon is composed by Malcolm Guite.

O Sapientia

I cannot think unless I have been thought,
Nor can I speak unless I have been spoken.
I cannot teach except as I am taught,
Or break the bread except as I am broken.
O Mind behind the mind through which I seek,
O Light within the light by which I see,
O Word beneath the words with which I speak,
O founding, unfound Wisdom, finding me,
O sounding Song whose depth is sounding me,
O Memory of time, reminding me,
My Ground of Being, always grounding me,
My Maker’s Bounding Line, defining me,
Come, hidden Wisdom, come with all you bring,
Come to me now, disguised as everything.

Elsewhere, a Celtic Advent

the Age of the Unthinkable

cover“Louis Halle, and American diplomat and strategist of the 1950’s, once observed that foreign policy is made not in reaction to the world but in reaction to an image of the world in the minds of the people making decisions. ‘In the degree that the image is false, actually and philosophically, no technician, however proficient, can make the policy that is based on it sound.'” AOTU, 13).

“If man is not to do more harm than good in his efforts to improve the social order, he will have to learn that in this, as in all other fields where essential complexity of an organized kind prevails, he cannot acquire the full knowledge which would make mastery of the events possible.” F. A. von Hayek, “The Pretence of Knowledge,” 1974.

If you were raised in an Asian home..

If you are under thirty and net savvy.

If you understand “hockey stick” systems and sandpile theory.

If you read Fritjof Capra and lean toward chaos theory in understanding the way things work..

If Sun Tzu makes more sense than von Clausewitz.

If you love and approve the work of people like Margaret Wheatley and Peter Senge..

If you follow missional leadership gurus like Alan Roxburgh or Ryan Bolger, and you dig complex adaptive systems. Then you don’t need to read Joshua Cooper Ramo, “The Age of the Unthinkable.” You are already there.

In some ways the book could be summarized by any of several of the aphorisms of Sun Tzu, like this one: For to win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the acme of skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill. (more…)

Christmas and baking

As the Christmas season approaches, I round up the ingredients for my annual Christmas cake project. I discovered I have all the spices needed, but I’m a little short on Napoleon brandy and grape jelly… A trip to the LCBO fixed that, and the jelly seems mostly for color anyway.

In the search for the recipe, I discovered that we have roughly 15 cook books in two locations, and four recipe boxes. The recipe boxes vary in size from tiny.. about six inches across.. to large.. about ten inches across and eight inches deep. The recipes are mostly written on lined paper, but there are also recipe cards, recipes cut from newspapers and magazines, and recipes written on the back of church bulletins (!). The dominant recipe card says something about zucchini and chocolate, although cheese and chocolate is another dominant theme. Hmmm… There may be a social history project lurking here!

The interesting fact is that I think we have only tested about 1 in ten of these recipes over the years. But we appear to have collected them from every source imaginable. Which got me wondering… why do we collect every interesting recipe, yet lack the life space to try them all? There’s something of Advent longing hidden here.

But maybe collecting recipes is a way of living into the future… it’s a hopeful pursuit. We hope that one day we might have time to try all these wonderful foods. Ha! Not gonna happen. Ah well.. brandy problem solved and on with the show.

My recipe is one I obtained from my sister twenty years ago. It’s a light cake: I never preferred the dark ones. It’s loaded with fruit and nuts, and I have already begun marinating the fruit in a half cup of brandy. Later this afternoon I’ll mix the ingredients, and the two loaves will find their way into a hot oven around 3 PM. After that, they will cool overnight before receiving their first baptism… with more Napoleon brandy. I know, I know — this is not a typical baptism experience and gives fresh meaning to “filled with the spirit.”

imageDid I tell you about the Napoleon brandy? I don’t drink hard liquor, but the smell of this stuff is incredible. It’s aged in oak for seven years: and yes you can get older (more expensive) brandy. The most obvious scent to me is apricots, and the golden color gives the same impression. (It runs around 40% alcohol, so you could probably use it in your lawnmower and for removing that sticky film left behind when you rip the label off the new camera you will get this Christmas.) Soaking the loaves in spirits helps the flavors ripen and mature. But this means you have to add a weekly practice to your disciplines: bring the cakes out of the cool location they are stored in, open the sealed bags and dribble fresh brandy on top. By Christmas time the flavor .. and the aroma.. is heavenly. Take a small sip of brandy and you feel the fire on your tongue.

These cakes are a lot of work, and they are far from instant. Good lesson here: maturity takes time. Make that investment over time and the best things show up. We shouldn’t really cut into the first cake for four weeks, but I’ve developed a habit of eating about a square inch of cake each time I add some brandy. It’s important that I know how this thing is turning out — what my guests will eventually appreciate (yes, any excuse will do!) All the best things improve with age: wine, brandy, and even people. They are a sacrament of fruitfulness and the care of God for the world, and a help to hospitality.

Giving up Control

“I think we have all learned by the middle of life that people do not change easily. We try to change others, we try to change ourselves, we try to improve situations by better communication methods, various coercive means and sincere prayer, but, dang it, most of us are just like we used to be. Only the disguise and the denial get better. It seems we don”t meet that many transformed people. What a disappointment.

“My hope, as I get older, is that I hurt people a little less. My hope is that I can at least see what I am doing a little better — and more easily apologize for my mistakes. My hope is that I can accept people and situations as they really are. In these ways I have changed. But I must painfully admit that I am in most ways the same person that I was as a 17-year-old-boy. The same underlying patterns of arrogance, denial, deceit, rash judgment, lust and laziness are still with me. Now I just know how to describe them better for NCR articles. All of my years of education, all of my Franciscan training, all of my attempts at prayer, all of my wonderful loves and my terrible mistakes — you would think I would be different by now. The truth is that I am radically different. The truth is that I am not different at all. And both of those are true at the same time.

“In my attempt to explain this ultimate paradox (and it is), let me start by saying that I do not think all the expert communication skills in the world, all the explanations of very helpful psychology, will ever make us completely loving or lovable people. One speaker said recently, to my initial shock, that if we actually communicated better we would probably love one another less. We would know the mixed motives, the critical and judgmental thoughts that are floating through one another”s minds, and would never be able to fully trust or entrust ourselves to anybody. Instant mental telepathy would be destructive of human relationships. What if there were a neon sign on your head broadcasting what you are actually thinking moment by moment? Most relationships would not even get off the ground. Thus Jesus, the consummate realist, does not really teach communication skills, although I am all for them myself. He just counsels a kind of larger trusting, a winning patience, a brutal honesty, a radical letting go of expectations that finally gets called “love.” Better communication will aid us. Love alone will save us.

“The great transformation that has gradually taken place in me — almost entirely beyond my own efforts — is that my Great Self has changed: at least in my awareness of it. “I live no longer not I,” as Paul would say (Galatians 2:20). The who is now different, which changes absolutely everything at the deepest level. The what and the why and the how, my personality as it were, are still a lot the same.

“I still prefer to do things that I am competent at, I still do things for at least partial self-interest, I still do things with the same inner energy of an Enneagram One. The only difference is that I have another center of gravity now. You might say that I am still trapped in personality, but utterly freed by essence.”

Richard Rohr, “Giving Up Control in Life’s Second Half” NCR, 2002

Evangelicals Around the World

A short article on the story behind Thomas Nelson’s new text.

“The book itself is a neat and tidy collection of 51 chapters by 46 contributors, including Rose Dowsett (who was a member of the Lausanne Theology Working Group), in the very relevant chapter ‘The Challenge of Evangelical Diversity’.

“Dowsett writes: ‘How inclusive, and how exclusive, should the evangelical family be . . . Is it possible to keep the peace between whose who call themselves conservative Evangelicals, those who call themselves open Evangelicals, those who call themselves Charismatic, those who call themselves Reformed, and those who find most or all of those terms utterly irrelevant and prefer no label at all other than Christian or perhaps Bible-believing Christians?’ An excellent question.

“Dowsett concludes: ‘Siblings in a family may be very different from one another, but we recognize that something is badly wrong when they are at war with one another.’ She then calls Evangelicals forward to a life of worship, life, and service.

“The Evangelical Movement of the future will be a recognizably global movement, spread predominantly throughout the Southern and Eastern continents’, writes Bhakiaraj. ‘Not necessarily characterized by its Western features and represented by its Western celebrity leaders alone, it will clearly be a world Christianity, a movement that is recognized as a truly global phenomenon. It will become increasingly more globally representative and expressive of the realities of Southern and Eastern continents.’”

Lausanne

Liminal or Liminoid?

Richard Rohr writes,

“The most common substitute for liminal space is “liminoid” space. I must admit that organized religion is expert at offering people the liminoid. It feels like the real thing, it feels different while actually reaffirming ego and persona. It is the much-touted trip to poor Guatemala, where you stay in the American four star hotel! It is cosmetic and devotional piety that reassures me that I am already and indeed one, holy, Roman Catholic and apostolic. It is a movement into “trance” and unconsciousness so that nothing real will be revealed and where the shadow has no possibility of showing itself.

“True liminality.. leads to increased awareness, increased consciousness of the pain and the goodness — your own and others — and increased knowledge of the shadow, too. Who would go there willingly I wouldn”t. You have to be led, or, like Jesus, you have to be “driven by the Spirit into the wilderness”? (Mark 1:12). Because first we must meet the “wild beasts” and only later do “angels minister to him” (1:13). No one wants to wait for the true angels. We would rather manufacture plastic, churchy ones and bypass the truly present wild beasts. Lent is 40 days of training in living with and learning from the wild beasts. Sort of a chosen three-ring circus and a deliberate refusal to retreat to the spectators” grandstand. We intentionally sequester the angels for six weeks.

“We cannot expect such daring from the secular system, but when the church itself offers us merely the secure old room or the trendy new room, I know we are in trouble spiritually. Our liturgies become mere ceremony and not truly sacred, transformative or initiatory space. Church becomes membership requirements instead of any kind of truly “new creation.” Priesthood becomes priestcraft, and religious life becomes a charade of an alternative because no real alternative has been seen or experienced. Spiritual leadership from people who have made the journey themselves is rare.”

church planting in 2016

cvrI’ve been asked to submit a course proposal for church planting in Canadian cities. I figured a good place to start was to see what others were doing. I found six syllabi from Canadian colleges and seminaries quite easily.

Wow. We are talking basic. But get this. Only two of the syllabi integrated leadership discussion as a matter of course. And only one of these related current leadership paradigms to the task of community building and growing a new work – this in the face of radical cultural shift, increasing complexity and networked reality! We are very much in post-Christendom and also in post-secular reality in Canada.

Of course anyone teaching a course has to be selective. You can’t teach a course in post-modern leadership and adaptive science at the same time as you teach on post-Christendom culture and church planting. Or can you?