Posts Tagged ‘Christianity’

This Troublesome Priest, This Uppity Woman

Posted on: February 8th, 2019 by Wayne Fraser No Comments

Atheist United Church minister, the Reverend Gretta Vosper, is in the news again.

The Toronto Conference of the United Church of Canada (UCC) has issued a joint statement with Vosper and her congregation at West Hill United Church in Scarborough, that they “have settled all outstanding issues between them”. Gretta is now free, after a three-and-a-half-year controversy, to resume her ordained ministry in her congregation.

The joint statement was short on details but, in interviews, Gretta stands by her atheism, indeed, insists on it. In contrast, the national office of the UCC responded to the joint statement by asserting the church’s belief in God, “a God most fully revealed to us as Christians in and through Jesus Christ”.

As members of the Anglican Diocese of Niagara, we distinguish ourselves from Gretta in that we joyfully proclaim our experience of God. We know God not as a person, but as the “Ground of Being”. Nevertheless, we affirm Gretta’s obvious sincerity and worthwhile ministry.

The United Church’s dilemma with Gretta has been played out in the public arena through the media. However, more quietly, some Anglican congregations today are troubled by theological and liturgical differences.

Some Christians stumble when reciting the Creed, while others insist on its centrality to faith and worship. Some long for contemporary language in liturgy, while others love ancient rites. Some like a lot of music in worship, while others prefer silence. Some Christians lean proudly on dogmatic theological language and ideas; others, meanwhile, question traditional expressions of faith and actively seek new language to articulate their experience of the divine.

There is something empty of soul in angry exchanges over theological abstractions. There is something beautiful in welcoming strangers, angels unawares.

So, how can we all live together in peace? How can we cooperate for the common good? Well, just by doing it, by wanting to do it. By agreeing to disagree and then worshipping and working together for justice and peace.

Why do we need to get along? Because people outside church looking in are puzzled by our disputes, while all people within the church — even atheists — need to feel welcome and included. Shying away from such discussions does not resolve them.

Once challenged for his perspective, the late Marcus Borg responded that Christians could spend a lot of time talking about their theological differences, but it would be more worthwhile to emphasize what they have in common. The central commonality is that we are followers of Jesus, commanded by the Lord to love our neighbours and even our enemies.

Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan taught that there is no limit to the love of God and, consequently, there should be no limitation to our loving. Anyone in need of compassion is our neighbour and deserves our care and support.

Christianity is transformational, personally changing our hearts and politically changing our society. The current emphasis in the Diocese of Niagara on personal faith formation and the missional church provides the means for such transformation.

Following Jesus is the way we live together in peace. Jesus’ mandate as outlined in Matthew 25 will guide us in the joint pursuit of social justice. Working for the common good will supersede all our theological and liturgical differences. As Bishop Susan has recently reminded us, we are all in this together.

When we are gathered together as a community at the table of our Lord, our theological differences become less important than the mystery of blessed bread and wine.

by Eleanor Johnston and Wayne Fraser
originally published in The Niagara Anglican, February 2019.

Hear me Rohr

Posted on: May 17th, 2017 by Wayne Fraser No Comments

Many in the Diocese of Niagara may know Richard Rohr from his book Falling Upward, Bishop Michael’s 2014 selection as his Lenten book. However, you may not be aware that you can receive daily meditations in your email inbox from Rohr. We find these daily readings uplifting and inspiring.

Rohr is a Franciscan monk, founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, New Mexico. As our Diocesan website explains, “Drawing from his own Franciscan heritage and other wisdom traditions, Richard Rohr reframes neglected or misunderstood teachings to reveal the foundations of contemplative Christianity and the universe itself: God as loving relationship.” Rohr advocates the meditation tradition of Christianity, what he names the Perennial Tradition, for it is found across all religions.

Through contemplative silence, one enters the presence of Presence, one is able to hear the still small voice of God. Rohr explains, “In a silent posture of self-emptying, we let go of habitual thoughts and sensations and connect with an Inner Witness—God’s presence within—that gazes back at ourselves and out at reality with an Abiding Love.”

Without contemplative practice, Rohr asserts, religion becomes the “repetition of rote, wordy prayers, and attendance at social prayer.” Through regular periods of contemplation, one enjoys an experiential relationship with Divine Presence. True transformation, what John the Baptist called baptism “with fire and the spirit,” and Jesus termed rebirth “from above,” becomes a reality in each human heart and soul.

Without such personal transformation, we are left with defensive barriers against others unlike our own kind, and we focus on “externals and non-essentials.”

Rohr tells the story of Trappist monk Thomas Merton, one of the first in the 1950s and ‘60s to teach the contemplative practice lost over the centuries by the church. “Merton was not very popular with many of the older monks and was considered a rebel because ‘he told [them] that [they] were not contemplatives. [They] were just introverts saying prayers all day’ . . . You can imagine how well that was received.”

Rohr is “convinced that many, many young seekers left seminaries, ministry, religious orders, and convents basically because no one taught them how to pray!  Without a contemplative life, poverty, chastity, obedience, and community itself do not work or even make sense. And ministry becomes another way of running away or trying to find yourself instead of real service for others.”

The Christian contemplative tradition stretches back to the earliest church Fathers and Mothers who in the 4th century fled to the desert “so they could practice what they felt was authentic Christianity, unhindered by the priorities of the new imperial religion that was based largely on externals.”

Your public and your church library will have books on mysticism. Mystics teach us that prayer is not about what we say to God but what we receive from God, Love that enables us to move beyond judging and labeling, Love that enables us to love God, the human race and all of nature.

A reporter once asked Mother Teresa, “When you pray, what do you say?”

She replied, “Nothing; I listen.”

“What do you hear?” asked the reporter.

“Nothing. God listens,” she answered.

The daily meditations Rohr sends out through email seek to teach the contemplative tradition and offer thoughtful analysis of Biblical and Church teachings. It is not a new way of looking at Christianity, but a very old way of experiencing Christ. Jesus taught his disciples to pray. We highly recommend this daily food for thought, action and prayer.  Sign up for free at https://cac.org/sign-up/

 

By Eleanor Johnston and Wayne Fraser, originally published at http://niagaraanglican.ca/newspaper/docs/2017/may.pdf   p.4.

 

 

Change or Atrophy—Today’s Choice

Posted on: January 27th, 2017 by Wayne Fraser No Comments

Having questioned the Creeds in the October issue of Niagara Anglican, we thought we would follow up with what we believe. We worship God who created all things, follow Jesus who is our teacher, healer and friend, and hear the Holy Spirit who communicates all we need to know and do.

There are many ways of understanding, worshipping and serving. Wherever we are on the theological spectrum, we all need the courage, theological understanding and common sense necessary to tackle the great and inevitable changes and challenges facing our religious institutions today.

The concept of Original Sin is the key to obsolete beliefs including propitiatory sacrifice and substitutionary atonement. Likewise, to blame afflicted people for their personal torments is presumptuous in the extreme. God did not create us evil and prone to diseases as punishment for our fallen state. Humanity is not fallen.

Original Sin is not a concept even mentioned in the Bible. Original Blessing, its opposite, is, yet we allow ourselves to be “guilted” about Jesus dying for our sins. Instead, we see the Bible’s claim that God created the human race, all other species, our habitats and “saw that they were very good.”

The God we worship and serve is not an old man living above the clouds. We can call ourselves “a-theists,” people who do not worship a human-like, a human-made God. Many who have left church have done so because of the traditional image of God. Non-theism for most of us still attending church, is uncharted territory, a new theological creation. Who or what do we worship?

We must start with a humble reading of the New Testament, with the brilliant hope, peace, joy and love put before us by Jesus. We experience God as an evolving Ground of Being, and the key word is evolution. Here’s where the most radical concept comes in: God is Love, is giving and receiving. God plunges into the breakdown of humanity’s connection to creation as Love in our loving.

We seek the wisdom and faith to explore our human understandings of God, for kindred spirits of other world religions, and for this fragile earth, our island home. We see the destruction of the ecosystems and the mass extinctions of fellow creatures as crimes against God and all creation. We believe in caring for all species of creatures and their habitats. We welcome interfaith peace and inclusive justice for all.

A new era of Christianity is here and now but many are afraid to acknowledge it. It is here in our ecumenical and interfaith worship. We must give up our fantasy that Christianity is superior to other religions. People of all faiths have in common an evolving experience of the Divine.

True worship does not care a whit for the forms of our rituals. God gives no one the right to be militant. Jesus commands us to love God, our neighbours and ourselves. Change is difficult, in anything we do. It seems especially challenging in matters of faith.

We must, however, change or atrophy. Instead of condoning all the fears, threats and guilt induced in the past, let us rejoice in the complexity, beauty and mystery of all creation. All people come from God, we are imitators of Emmanuel, and we are co-workers with the Holy Spirit.

For the beauty of the Earth,
sing oh sing today.
Of the sky and of our birth,
sing oh sing today.
Nature human and divine,
all around us lies.
Lord of all, to thee we raise
grateful hymns of praise.

–Paul Winter, Missa Gaia

First published, http://niagaraanglican.ca/newspaper/docs/2017/feb.pdf  (page 6)