len on December 3rd, 2014

coverMeg Wheatley writes,

“We are lost—as a global culture, as organizations, and perhaps as individual leaders. We are in new territory, this brave new world that operates at hyper speed, hyper stress, and hyper irrationality. Our old maps for creating capacity no longer apply; in fact they only get us more lost. So I’ve been focused on how we get “unlost,” how we open to the information that will tell us where we really are, the very information we need to create new maps that offer us a way forward. Laurence Gonzales in Deep Survival, lists the four behaviors of people who are lost.

1. People who are lost at first deny they’re lost. They’re confident that they do know where they are, they just can’t find any familiar signs. Gradually, confronted with strange and unfamiliar sights, anxiety seeps in. They speed up their activities, urgently wanting to verify that they’re not lost.

2. At this point, doubt and uncertainty creep in. People become angry and impatient, pushing aside any information that doesn’t confirm their map. They become desperate to find the smallest scrap of information that proves they know where they are. They reject all other information; they treat as enemy the very information that would help them get unlost.

3. When this strategy fails, people reach the point when they can no longer deny that they’re lost. Fear and panic set in; stressed and scared, their brains stop working. They can’t think straight, so every action they take is senseless, only creating more exhaustion and more problems.

4. By now, confused and panicked, people search frantically for any little sign that’s familiar, the smallest shred of evidence that makes them feel unlost. But they are lost, so this strategy fails and they continue to deteriorate.

Gonzales writes, “Like it or not, you must make a new mental map of where you are or you will die. To survive, you must find yourself. Then it won’t matter where you are. Not being lost is not a matter of getting back to where you started from; it is a decision not to be lost wherever you happen to find yourself. It’s simply saying, ‘I’m not lost, I’m right here’”. Being lost is frightening only until we admit that we are lost. Once we stop denying our situation, fear dissipates.

From Margaret Wheatley, “Lost and Found in a Brave New World” in Leader to Leader.

len on December 1st, 2014

a timbered choir

len on November 30th, 2014

A child unborn, the coming year
Grows big within us, dangerous,
And yet we hunger as we fear
For its increase; the blunted bud

To free the leaf to have its day.
The unborn to be born. the ones
who are to come are on their way,
And though we stand in mortal good

Among our dead, we turn in doom
In joy to welcome them, stirred by
That Ghost who sits in seed and tomb,
Who brings the stones to parenthood.

W. Berry, in A Timbered Choir, 1998

len on November 28th, 2014

Stories are powerful. They invite us in. They make us laugh and cry. They invite us to see ourselves and our world in new ways.

A couple of years ago a church did an all day marathon of The Lord of the Rings. The story spans two years, and it revolves around the lives of some small and insignificant people called Hobbits. But these small people get caught up in a very big story: a dark Lord, rings of Power, good and evil battling for control of the Third Age of Middle Earth.

Our personal stories always take shape against a much larger backdrop, and in relation to God’s purposes for us and the world. Eugene Peterson puts it like this: “God is the larger context and plot in which our stories find themselves.”

It’s as we inhabit the larger story that our own stories have meaning. Until that happens our lives drift, and we sometimes mistakenly try to make ourselves the center. We need the big story to orient by — like a north star that helps us navigate.

The Christian church has always known this. That’s why we structured the Christian story into the Christian calendar. We call it the “liturgical year,” or sometimes just the Christian year.

We divide the year into seven seasons, starting with the story of Light. The cycle of Light has three parts: Advent, Christmas and Epiphany.

For some people, the Church calendar is unfamiliar. Others might wonder what’s the advantage in working through a yearly rhythm? Don’t things become too predictable?

But that’s the whole point. As CS Lewis put it, “When you still have to think about all the steps you aren’t dancing, you’re learning to dance.” Read the rest of this entry »

len on November 27th, 2014

Come, saviour of nations wild,
Of the maiden owned the child
That may wonder all the earth
God should grant it such a birth.

Not of man’s flesh or man’s blood
Only of the Spirit of God
Is God’s Word a man become,
And blooms the fruit of woman’s womb.

Maiden, she was found with child,
Nor was chastity defiled;
Many a virtue from her shone:
God was there upon his throne.

From that chamber of content,
Royal palace pure, he went;
God by kind, in human grace
Forth he comes to run his race.

From the Father came his road,
And returns again to God;
Unto hell it did go down,
Up then to the Father’s throne.

Thou, the Father’s form express,
Get thee victory in the flesh,
That thy godlike power in us
Make sick flesh victorious.

Shines thy manger bright and fair;
Sets the night a new star there:
Darkness thence must keep away;
Faith dwells ever in the day.

Honour unto God be done;
Honour to his only son;
Honour to the Holy Ghost,
Now, and ever, ending not. Amen.

George MacDonald

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)