Breaking Bread in Response to the News

On my drive in to the church today I was reflecting on how to respond to the events that have made news headlines over these past days. There has been yet another deliberate shooting of the innocent, an attempt to breadtake as many lives as possible. We extend our prayers and sympathies to the victims in Quebec City as well as to our Muslim neighbors here in Ottawa. That much is obvious. As the news is recounted on the radio connections are made to the way our southern neighbour is closing its doors to those who wish to flee violence in some of the most unstable parts of the world.

It occurs to me that just as violence can creep through communities of faith and co-opt their commitment and devotion, so too it can poison the love of nation or culture. In a better world a person’s willingness to kill for an ideology, a faith, a culture or a nation would trigger some kind of automatic shutdown. It would tell us that we have gone too far and it would force us into some critical self-reflection. It would tell us that when our love for something we believe is ‘ours’ demands the death of others we have stooped too low. In a better world we would always recognize the inherent, divinely-ordained dignity of the lives of others. Continue reading “Breaking Bread in Response to the News”

Living in Grace (123)

I used to teach an Ethics course to undergraduates. It was fun because conversations in the seminar would move from the highly theoretical to the intensely practical quick enough to give everyone whiplash. IMG_3665One of the topics that almost always got students riled-up was distributive justice. This is the classic question of who should get what. I can remember one particular seminar where a student was trying to make the case for a libertarian approach by saying that those who develop skills more valued by society should be financially rewarded more handsomely than those who don’t. He said that the free market is a fine instrument for working this out. As you might expect, another student brought up professional athletes. Continue reading “Living in Grace (123)”

The Possibility of Falling Up—a short story*

Joanna waved from the café window. Henry was striding confidently over the winter sidewalk. He was thinking about how well he was moving for a tall fellow in his 80s. Optimistic thoughts like these had become an oddity for him. Henry had just raised is arm to wave back when he slipped. Everyone knows how this kind of slipping feels. Unanticipated. Your legs go out from under you. Continue reading “The Possibility of Falling Up—a short story*”

Hope and Difference, a Meditation (118)

Earlier this week I took a walk to our neighboring congregation, the shul or cmhsynagogue just up the hill. I think it was Wednesday. Wednesday was a blue-sky day, one of those days that tempts you to walk clear across the city. As I climbed the hill some lines from Isaiah floated through my mind:

In the days to come

the mountain of the LORD’s house

shall be established as the highest of the mountains,

and shall be raised above the hills;

all the nations shall stream to it.

One person walking up to a synagogue is not exactly the streaming of nations, but I trust you can see the connection. Continue reading “Hope and Difference, a Meditation (118)”

Is this a Political Meeting?

Not all Christians vote. I do. For me it’s one of those privileges I’ve been given that I don’t want to take for granted. I’m  skeptical about what actual goods state politics can realize. I doubt, for instance, that our governing authorities can make us better people. They can’t do much to make us more patient, more loving, more honest or more courageous. I vote, … Continue reading Is this a Political Meeting?

“By Myself” (105)

In the last paragraph of Luke 10 we find the itinerant rabbi from Nazareth once again on the move. Luke says that he entered a “certain village.”  That’s a knowing express–“a certain village”–the sort of thing one says with a wink and a nudge. Except that we don’t quite get it, and as a result it’s hard to find our way into this little story. judeaWe’re disoriented. Nevertheless, it is in this village that Jesus is welcomed into the home of a woman named Martha. If we look back a couple of chapters in Luke’s biography we read how Jesus “went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with him, and also some women . . . .” Martha and her sister may well have been among those women.

Continue reading ““By Myself” (105)”

Experimenting with Heterogeneity

Today the delegates for Mennonite Church Canada have voted to create space and leave room for churches that want to fully welcome gay and lesbian persons, including those in committed same-sex relationships. MC Canada AssemblyThe vote was to do that while at the same time not revising the Mennonite Confession of Faith that, more or less, defines marriage in a traditional way. It’s an interesting path forward. In effect it continues the practice already in place but now gives it the official sanction of the national body. This decision isn’t so much about sexual ethics as it is about a way of being church. In the floor discussions today there was a strong affirmation of the importance of unity, a unity that runs deeper than unanimity. The various churches represented here do not see these issues in the same way but most of us do think it’s possible to remain together in spite of that. The recommendation was affirmed by something like 80% of delegates, far exceeding the 50% plus 1 requirement. Continue reading “Experimenting with Heterogeneity”

“Betwixt and Between”

I’m at the national Mennonite Assembly in Saskatoon held at Generic Convention Centre XYZ900. It’s the usual suspects that gravitate to the mic at these sorts of events—not entirely but mostly. Person A, seemingly bent on being the hero of the traditional way, steps to the mic and goes through the usual litany of thumping Bible references. MC Canada AssemblyEveryone has heard these before. We learn nothing, except that person A now feels released from some sense of prophetic guilt. Then person B, seemingly intent on taking an epic stand in the opposite direction, steps up to another mic and reaches for a King-Gandhi-Luther (insert other moral hero here) reference. Again, we learn nothing, except that now person B feels released from some sense of prophetic guilt. Then there is person C, who says it’s all about love, and person D, who says we just need to pray more, and person E, who says it’s all about unity, and, of course, person F, who says unity is impossible because many have already been hurt and have left. The conversation around Christianity and same-sex marriage has been rehearsed so many times in so many places I wonder why there are still those out there who think there is a ‘solution’. Continue reading ““Betwixt and Between””

Haunted by Plain Folk: Why Simplicity Should be a Christian Virtue

Last month an essay of mine was published in the Journal of Brethren Life and Thought. Since that journal is probably not one that will be showing up in your mailbox anytime soon, I thought I’d included a bit of it here. The piece is based on a presentation I gave some years back; I’m happy to see it in print.

Simplicity strikes many of us as a good, if occasionally naïve, thing. In his “A Salutation of the Virtues” the thirteenth century saint, Francis of Assisi, cast Simplicity as a courtly sister to Queen Wisdom, outranking Lady Poverty and Lady Charity. In the twenty-first century we may well be intrigued by Simplicity but we probably lack the saint’s solemn devotion. Consider the TV reality show “The Simple Life,” which cast socialite Paris Hilton in the role of a farm worker. The foibles of the out-of-place heiress generated spinoff shows around the world. thrill of the chasteThe irony of simplicity’s attraction in a complex and fragmented time is captured in Valerie Weaver-Zercher’s marvellously titled book Thrill of the Chaste: The Allure of Amish Romance Novels. There Weaver-Zercher explores the growing American fascination with “bonnet rippers.” She relates that in 2002 only two such books were published. In 2012 there were 85.[1] This growth betrays, she thinks, a desire on the part of readers to be transported from a hypermodern and hypersexualized present to a simpler way of life. Weaver-Zercher is not alone in her analysis. Sociologists Donald Kraybill and Carl Bowman offer a corroborating conclusion about our cultural fascination with plain living. In a book about Hutterites, Mennonites, Amish, and Brethren they write,

Despite all our comfort and convenience, the possibility that [members of these plain communities] are happier haunts, indeed, torments the postmodern soul.[2] Continue reading “Haunted by Plain Folk: Why Simplicity Should be a Christian Virtue”

The Same Old Good News (101)

The book of Galatians was written to deal with a problem. Here’s the setup: the early church had come to realize that the good news of Jesus was for gentiles as well as Jews. What’s more, it was for gentiles as gentiles—they didn’t need to become Jews first and then become followers of Jesus. leavesGentiles were not required to follow the law, but, as we read in Acts 15, they were just expected to avoid food sacrificed to idols, avoid eating blood, avoid eating meat that was strangled and they were expected to not be involved in fornication. Here in Galatians, as opposed to Acts, Paul just mentions that gentiles were asked to help care for the poor. Think about what a dramatic shift this represented: it meant going from a way of life oriented around Torah law embedded in ethnicity, with instructions about everything from the type of fabric one should wear and how one should deal with skin rashes, to something else. Continue reading “The Same Old Good News (101)”