Friday, September 28, 2012

Living in Hope - A Reflection for Harvest Thanksgiving 2012

Thankfulness and gratitude can, at times, be hard things to aspire to.  We may wish to be thankful in all things, we may long to show gratitude for the blessings we have received, but thankfulness and gratitude may be beyond our reach or slip from our grasp. Sometimes we think that if only we change our mindset and think more positively we will be able to stir ourselves out of disappointment and pain and into thankfulness and gratitude. There is no shortage of positive-thought peddlers who would tell us that positive thinking will change the way we feel and think, and that it will even our health.  Perhaps there is kernel of truth in what they sell, but why is it that in spite of our best efforts we cannot be thankful? Why is it that in spite of all our positive thinking we find the rug pulled out beneath us and realize that we are less than thankful for the trials into which we tumble?

Trials are inevitable.  There is not a single one amongst us who will not know or experience significant, and even tragic, disappointment at some point in our lives.  Positive thinking only masks our pain and disillusionment.  Counter-intuitively, it seems to me that honesty about our disappointments is at the heart of living a life of thankfulness and gratitude.  It is not that we need to be thankful about such things.   Instead,  let us simply be honest that we are less than immortal, that we are indeed vulnerable, fragile people, that we can be hurt, and yes, we will in turn hurt others. If we are honest about such things we will realize that they can exert an extraordinary power over us that mere “positive thinking” cannot overcome.

But recognizing the power that disappointment, pain, and brokenness have over us does not mean that in the end we allow them to shape the story of our lives.  It does not mean that our narrative is to be controlled by the things that would destroy us.  It does mean that we need to understand that under our own power we are tempted by the illusion that we can be victorious over such things.  How many people have I loved, have you loved, that are stricken by cancer or some ravaging disease?  How many have lost jobs, relationships, peace of mind, and been told by some well-meaning soul to “cheer up” or “be positive.”  It’s not so easy is it?

Last fall I visited my friend Susan who was dying of cancer.  She was in much pain.  Her husband had just retired. There was much sadness that all their plans for a retirement together were about to evaporate. Susan told me she was keeping a journal.  I asked her what she was writing about.  She told me, “hope.”  As it came closer to her final days and she was in palliative care, I noticed that the word “hope” had been pasted on her door.  Susan had embraced something much bigger than herself.  Or rather, it had embraced her.

Hope is not simply positive thinking.  It is not mere optimism.  Hope does not have its origins or foundations in the human heart, but rather, in the heart of God.  Because of her hope in Christ, Susan did not have to deny her anguish, regret, or pain. She did not have to deny the reality about what was going to happen to her.  In the midst of these things, in facing these things with brutal honesty, she held fast to the one who made her, redeemed her, and at last called her home.  Hope is not something we muster up, but something God has for each of us and pours into our hearts in our weakness.  Hope is the undying, eternal reality that God loves us.  Hope is the truth that God seeks for us to be reconciled with each other, with his creation, and ultimately, with himself.  Hope is the longing that God has for us and by his gracious gift, it becomes our longing for him.  And thus, hope triumphs over the narratives of brokenness, of sinfulness, of pain, of disappointment and disillusionment. These stories, as painful as they are, will never be the last word for us, because God has the last word, and his word is Hope.   I find much to be grateful for in this truth, and I am thankful to my friend Susan for reminding me of this.

Wherever you are this Harvest Thanksgiving, and whatever challenges you, my prayer is that you will know hope of God in Christ Jesus and that his story of hope for you becomes the story that shapes your life.
c. 2012, the Rev. Daniel F. Graves

Friday, September 21, 2012

Thanksgiving for our Ecumenical Ministerial

One of the things I treasure greatly about ministry here in Bradford is our ecumenical ministerial.  For those who are unacquainted with lingo, an ecumenical ministerial is typically a gathering or association of clergy from the various denominations in a given community.  We typically gather once a month for lunch, discussion, planning and prayer.  We uphold each other in the challenges we each face in our respective ministries and encourage each other in the various initiatives we undertake.  We work together as much as possible in the community on projects in which we can find common ground. 

Over the years, I have heard horror stories concerning various ministerial associations.  In many cases, one group of similarly-minded clergy (the evangelicals, the catholics, or the liberals) try to take over the group, and others are left feeling marginalized.  Sometimes it seems that the tragic history of a fragmented world-wide Church is lived out on the local scale.  I am happy to say, though, that I have been blessed to have been part of two excellent ministerial associations in my ministry, both here in Bradford and during my time in Thornhill.  In both places there is deep conviction that we are serving the same Lord and that there is much that we can do together, in spite of the difference of opinion that we might have with respect to minor (and some major!) ways in which we understand the gospel. 

I think that one of the key factors in this is a level of trust.  I may not always agree with my fellow clerics on how they interpret various aspects of the gospel, but I trust and believe that they are acting faithfully out of their conviction that Jesus is Lord and that God is working in Christ to bring about the redemption of the world.  And I would venture to say that while some of them surely scratch their heads at my Anglian idiosyncrasies, I do think that they trust that I am working from the same starting place as they are, Jesus Christ as our Lord and Saviour. 

Fear and lack of trust come from lack of understanding.  As I write this there is once again growing turmoil between the Middle East and the West.  People are dying because we fail to understand the cultural narratives in which “the other” lives.  Those who are rising up against the West cannot understand why we would not just lock up the man who made a film insulting the Prophet and throw away the key.  We in the West have trouble fathoming the extraordinary and violent response to such a marginal, poorly-made film that nobody is actually viewing.  We fail to understand because our cultural, political, and religious differences run so deep that it may be next to impossible to find common ground.  I pray that this is not so, but it is a difficult and complicated task that requires time, cooperation, and intentionality – all of which seem to be in very short supply on the world stage, of late.

This is why I think we have cause to give thanks here in Bradford for the fact that those of us who are Christians can claim a common ground in Christ.  Even with the huge issues that divide us (the ordination of women, blessing of same-gender unions, varied understandings of the presence of Christ in the Eucharist), we can come together, pray together, work together, serve together and minister together.  I count my ministerial colleagues as amongst my dearest friends.  I am encouraged by them and inspired by their faith.  I don’t always agree with every aspect of how their faith is articulated or in every aspect of how they live it out, but we share something much more important, and that is the Good News of the Gospel and the faith of Jesus Christ.  What binds us is stronger than what separates us, and to this end, even though we sometimes find ourselves at odds and find that we cannot walk together on certain issues, we strive for the greatest degree of unity possible and demonstrate love and charity when we are at odds.  I think that this is something we can offer to a broken and hurting world.  I believe that this is a gift that the Church can bring to society.  In small and large communities across this country and around the world, churches can demonstrate in their communities what it means to share a common faith, live a common life, and journey together in love and charity in the midst of difference.  After all, our Lord is the lord of reconciliation and restoration.  As this Thanksgiving feast approaches this is what I choose to give thanks for this year.
C. 2012, the Rev. Daniel F. Graves

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Canadian Churchman's Round-up: A Compendium of Thoughtful Anglican Blogs, Issue #2

Every once in a while, the Canadian Churchman like to offer a “round up” of some of the interesting Anglican blogs and posts that out there in the blogosphere. I am not really interested in blogs that simply post snippets of news items or in blogs that are vehemently idealistically driven (from either the conservative or liberal perspectives).  What the Churchman enjoys reading are blogs that put some effort into theological reflection and seek to edify their readers.  It seems like these thoughtful Anglican blogs are often neglected, or buried under the weight of the sheer multitude of polemical religious bloggers.  Recent months have seen some very thoughtful posts indeed.  Here are a few of the Churchman’s recent favourites:

Faithful readers of this blog will know that the Churchman’s good friend, the Vicar of Wakefield, always writes in a thoughtful, reasoned and irenic way, which would make their shared hero Richard Hooker proud.  When the news hit this week that an ancient manuscript had been discovered which revealed that apparently Jesus had a wife that we have never heard of, the Vicar was quick into the fray to explain some things.  Even if the manuscript were even from the second century (and it is likely later), this does not necessarily mean that it is proof that Jesus was married.  The good Vicar uses the opportunity, though, to talk a bit about the role of women in the church over the years.

Over at Andrew's Version, the Warden of Trinity College, Melbourne reflects on the household code of Ephesians (which recently came up on the lectionary) with a thoughtful reflection on how that passage must be contextualized.  He also briefly considers the rather odd theology of submission that has been emerging in the Diocese of Sydney with respect to the marriage liturgy.

I should also draw your attention to "The Community," which is described as "a place for Canadian Anglicans to get together and talk about the Church."  It is a minstry of the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada, and features several theme-specific blogs.  Fr. Matthew Griffin blogs on the liturgy, and he recently interviewed the Vicar of Wakefield about his experiences of liturgy in both the Canadian and American churches (in several parts! Introduction, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3).  He as also has an interview with your favourite Canadian Churchman about the healing ministry.

The always thoughtful Laurel Massé struggles with the recent "Pussy Riot sacrilege" and the riots that have resulted over the release of an anti-Muslim film. She ably grapples with themes of religious offense, freedom of speech, and deliberate provaocation, and does so through the lens of the biblical term "skandalon."

A thoughtful series on the Nicene Creed is unfolding at Interrupting the Silence.  The articles are characterized by a balance of historical context, theological reflection and practical application.  What I like best, though, is that study questions are provided to encourage the reader to deeper reflection. They would also serve as a helpful resource for clergy or lay leaders leading sessions on the Creed. To date, four parts have been published (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3) with the latest entitled "Five Things We Believe About God."

"New Song to the Lord" is a collection of original lyrics by the Rev. Mark Kinghan set to traditional hymn tunes and metres.  Most of the hymns are seasonal and lectionary-based.  The most recent hymn is for the Feast of St. Mary, based on the Magnficat.  Those planning contemporary-language evening prayer services might consider using this version of the Mag!

One of our great Canadian liturgists, the Rev. Dr. Richard Leggett, faithfully posts his sermons most Sundays and has also provided some wonderful seasonal ordos for the Daily Office.  His Liturgy Pacific blog is always highly recommended both for his edifying sermons and his wise liturgical counsel!

This short compendium of thoughful Anglican blogs should keep you reading for a little while!  Please let me know about the blogs that you come across and I will be happy to included them in future editions of the "Round-Up."