Canada. A country of reconciliation?

My latest column for the Christian Courier.

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What would be an honest answer to the question posed by the title of this column? Some might offer a half-hearted “We are trying?” in reply to that question. Others would say that even such a half-hearted answer gives us too much credit – that the correct answer is closer to a flat-out “No.” For my part, I would venture that we have taken some baby steps in the direction of reconciliation, but that we still have a very long way to go.

Now this is not a resoundingly positive note on which to begin a column marking Canada’s 150th birthday. Couldn’t another question have been asked? Perhaps one that would invite more celebratory reflection on our national identity? Perhaps, yes. But I must confess my uneasiness with the Canadian predilection for national self-congratulation, and so my reflections here will not trend in that direction.

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission has now come and gone, and much meaningful work was done within the seven years of its mandate. Most important, survivors of the residential schools came with grace and courage to share their stories – reminding the nation and its churches of the violence that was done to them and their communities in the name of Christian faith and of civilization. Stories of abuse. Stories of loneliness. Stories of language lost. Stories of families torn apart. Continue reading

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thinking prayer with forgiveness

Over the past weeks we have been explored the possibility and reality of forgiveness. Among other things, we talked about the unconditional forgiveness of God – this forgiveness that undergirds our whole spiritual life – that God persists in loving us and seeking us and walking with us even when we continually fail. We talked about forgiveness as letting – forgiveness as the sometimes-difficult work of our letting go of anger and judgment and bitterness – as God forgives us, so we must forgive others. We also pointed out that within the Christian tradition forgiveness isn’t simply about our own personal healing – rather the trajectory of forgiveness is toward reconciliation.

This morning, before we move into the season of Lent next week, we are going to conclude this brief series. And as we do so I want to pick up just a few themes around the question of forgiveness. More specifically, I want pick up a few themes by thinking prayer and forgiveness together. How does our life of prayer relate to the possibility and reality of forgiveness in our lives. Continue reading

forgiveness – beyond the therapeutic

The word forgiveness is a difficult word. It’s a word we come across in novels and in biographies – it’s a word we will hear others using – it’s a word we ourselves will use from time to time. But it’s a slippery word. The meaning of the word often changes from one situation to the next. The meaning of the word often changes from one person to the next. Two different people may use exactly the same phrase: “I forgive her.”  But they might each mean something quite different when they use those words.

Of course it’s possible through discussion and study to get some clarity about what the word forgiveness means. We don’t have to remain forever in a fog of misunderstanding. But even when we arrive at some point of clarity about the meaning of forgiveness, we run into quite a different challenge. As I mentioned last week, the idea of forgiveness is not only a slippery idea, but it is a contested idea. There is disagreement in our society about what forgive should look like – there is disagreement about what forgiveness is.

And this morning I want to focus on one particular disagreement about forgiveness – a disagreement about what forgiveness is. But in order to explore this particular disagreement, we aren’t going to start with the disagreement itself. In fact, we are going to leave aside the whole question of forgiveness for the moment. Continue reading

forgiveness (and repentance?)

Forgiveness is always a challenging topic to talk about or preach about. At one level forgiveness is a challenging topic because when we talk about forgiveness we are talking about our very personal and sometimes painful experiences.

Beyond the personal nature of the topic, forgiveness is also challenging subject because in our culture there is disagreement about forgiveness. There is disagreement about what should be involved in the process of forgiveness – there is disagreement about the goal or purpose of forgiveness – there is disagreement about when we should forgive. The idea of forgiveness is a contested idea.

Beyond the personal nature of the subject, and beyond the fact that there is disagreement about what forgiveness should look like – beyond all of that there is also the fact that forgiveness always draws us into a particular story – and our stories are always complicated. Our stories always involve unique personalities and a unique set of actions and unique set of words spoken, and a unique context of relationships. Our stories can always be looked at from different perspectives. And this richness and complexity means there is no simple way to describe forgiveness. In one situation forgiveness might unfold in this way. In another situation, forgiveness might unfold in that way.

So the only thing we can do in exploring forgiveness is to try and describe one little piece of the puzzle at a time. That’s what we are doing for just a few weeks these Sunday mornings. We’re kind of circling around the subject of forgiveness, looking at it from a different perspective each time. Continue reading

Forgiveness as Letting Go

In the first half of this sermon I have closely followed Anthony Bash’s discussion of forgiveness as letting go in Just Forgiveness.

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Just let it go.

How many times have you heard those words in your life? How many times have you perhaps spoken those words to someone you know.

Just let it go.

We tend to use that phrase in situations where we think something minor has happened. Some little thing has happened and we think it’s not worth getting worked up about it. We might say:

She didn’t really mean what she said – just let it go…

He could have done something much worse – just let it go…

She didn’t cause any real damage – just let it go…

In general we offer these words in relation to something minor. We all know that if we were to get angry or upset about every little thing in life, then we would probably spend our whole lives angry and upset. We all know that if we don’t display a little bit of grace in everyday life then we will spend our whole lives in very tense relationships with other people. So those words make sense to us because they make life manageable: Just let it go… Continue reading

gospel and the gazette: postsecret

I suspect that many or most of us here this morning have never heard of PostSecret.

PostSecret had its beginning in 2005 and was created by a man by the name of Frank Warren. Back in January of 2005, Frank Warren created this project by sending 3,000 self-addressed stamped postcards to people – and he asked those people to write a secret on the postcard, anonymously, and mail it back to him. Also, the idea was that the person would decorate the blank postcard in a self-expressive way or in a way that related to the theme of their secret. So Frank Warren sent out these hundreds of postcards, and then he starts getting them back – hundreds of anonymous secrets shared on personally crafted postcards.

Not too long after he started receiving the postcards from people, Warren also established a website on which he would put up the postcard images and their secrets. From there the whole thing snowballed. Every Sunday, for almost 6 years now, Frank Warren has put up 10 or 20 new postcards with their secrets. The rules he lays out are simple: You can share any secret as long as it is true, and as long as you have never shared it with anyone before. You’re supposed to keep it simple – only one confession per postcard. Continue reading

rigorousness vs. leniency

It’s probably fair to say that we Canadians like things made easy. This become particularly obvious when we think of the various technologies ar out disposal:

Why get off the couch when you can change the channel with a remote control?

Why plant a large garden when you can get your vegetables at Metro?

Why change your whole lifestyle when you can just change your light-bulbs and consider yourself “green”?

At some level of course we can only be grateful for technologies that take some of the pain and harshness out of life. But it seems we always go one step further – yes, we want the pain and harshness out of our lives – but we also want everything to be a little easier. It applies to most living in modern western culture. You can only imagine the financial resources, the production time and the energy that go into making things easier for us. Continue reading

Considering Forgiveness…

In January I will be teaching a course in the McGill Faculty of Religious Studies. It is entitled Contemporary Theological Issues, which is to say that the actual content of the course was actually somewhat open-ended.  After considering several possible topics, I landed on the topic of forgiveness and reconciliation.

In the process of considering and exploring this theological question I came across this sculpture by Margaret Adams Parker – commissioned by Duke Divinity School and situated on their campus. It is a remarkable portrayal of the return of the prodigal son – and of the elder brother’s hesitance (refusal?) to welcome his brother home.

This image is from the Duke Divinity School online newsletter from Winter 2006. You can visit Magaret Adams Parker here. The story of the making of the sculpture is here.

Forgiving Others

A sermon in our continuing series on the Apostles’ Creed. The story about Father Chacour is taken from Jones’ book Embodying Forgiveness. I have followed Jones in some of what follows. Also, I have built upon insights taken from Paul Wadell’ book on friendship – one chapter of which is dedicated to the question of forgiveness.

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I believe in the forgiveness of sins. 

You might have thought the forgiveness of sins would be included in the first section of the creed – after all, it is God who forgives our sin.

Or you might have thought the forgiveness of sins would be included in the second section of the creed – after all, it is through Jesus that our sins are forgiven.

But no – we only arrive at the forgiveness of sins in the third section of the creed. We confess our belief in the forgiveness of sins with the same breath that we confess our faith in the Holy Spirit – the one who forms us the church, who binds us together in one Body.

The fact that the forgiveness of sins is found in the third section reminds us that forgiveness is bound up with our identity as the church. Because God forgives, we as the church know forgiveness – we bear witness to God’s forgiving love. Even more, however, the church is a community in which we extend forgiveness to each other.  

Continue reading