Kierkegaard – God – Movement

The second of two reflections I offered on the prayers of Kierkegaard at the retreat of The Presbyterian College this year. Like everything, Kierkegaard looks “slant” at the idea of God’s immutability.

If there is anything that gives the impression of unchangeableness, it is perhaps the towering and intimidating mountains that populate the face of the earth. Whether it is the Rocky Mountains here in Canada, the Himalayas of South Asia, or the Alps of central Europe, mountains represent the notion of the unchangeable. They have been and they will be. img_9315This summer I had the chance to see the Alps for the first time, and the ideas of durability and unchangeableness strike me as more than apt.

When we transfer these notions of the unchangeable into the realm of theology, it is the term “immutable” that might come to mind – we speak of the immutability of God. And there are theologically and spiritually adjacent terms that might also come to mind; ideas around the omnipotence and steadfastness and infinity and power of God.

In one of his prayers, Kierkegaard picks up on this longstanding emphasis of the Christian tradition concerning the immutability or unchangeableness of God. He affirms this idea about God, among other places, in the prayer that is included at the bottom of this blog post. He speaks to God in this way: “O thou who are unchangeable, whom nothing changes.”

And transferring this theological idea into the realm of human need and wellbeing, Kierkegaard also speaks to God with these words: “For our welfare, not submitting to any change.” After all, who would seek God if there was no assurance it was the same God who could be sought each new day – and not a God who had decided to change character and identity while you slept?

In his prayer Kierkegaard also speaks curiously of our need to “submit ourselves to the discipline of thy unchangeableness.” As if this characteristic of God is a reality we need to keep in heart and mind, intentionally, if we are to find rest and peace in our life and faith.

But again, as with so many things he turns his thoughts toward, Kierkegaard swings the whole prayerful conversation about immutability in an unexpected direction. Continue reading

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Kierkegaard – Love – Prayer

It had been too long since I had spent any concentrated time with the writings of Søren Kierkegaard – but this summer saw something of a revival in my love and attention toward his works. This revival was partly inspired by a family vacation to Denmark and Copenhagen, which included a visit (for me, at least) to the Kierkegaard family burial plot in Assistens Cemetery as well as some time at a Kierkegaard conference at the University of Copenhagen.

img_8061This revival of attention to Kierkegaard’s writings led me to offer some reflections on two prayers of Kierkegaard at the annual retreat of The Presbyterian College, held this past weekend in the Laurentian Mountains, north of Montreal

The first prayer I reflected on is one that sits as a kind of prelude at the beginning of Kierkegaard’s book Works of Love. It is a beautifully Trinitarian prayer, and one that reprises some of the great themes of Christian faith and identity. But as with almost everything that Kierkegaard’s mind and pen touch upon, there is also something fresh and challenging in the prayerful words he offers. (The full prayer is shared at the bottom of this post.)

First a few comments about the classic themes that Kierkegaard touches on. He points out that we cannot speak properly of love if we fail to remember the God who is love; that we cannot speak properly of love if we fail to remember the Son who gave his life for our redemption in love; and that we cannot speak properly of love if we fail to remember the Spirit, who always points away from himself, toward Jesus, revealing love.

So in this opening part of the prayer, there is both a remembering of love (of God) and a modelling of love, since Jesus becomes the one who shows us how to love – self-sacrificially. And the Spirit teaches us to love by pointing away from ourselves toward the God who is love, and toward the Son who embodies love for the world.

img_9538Kierkegaard also mentions, in passing, what he defines as a need in love. Continue reading

are you bored yet?

IMG_1362This piece was recently on exhibit at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, as part of the exhibit “From Van Gogh to Kandinsky.” I was struck by how thoroughly modern and contemporary this image feels – it could have been painted yesterday, but was in fact created in 1910 by Ernest Ludwig Kirchner. The curator of the exhibit suggested that the figure is daydreaming, but the notion that comes to my mind in looking at this piece is the notion of boredom. Boredom is a word that comes into its own, with something approximating its present meaning, in the 1840’s. It is a thoroughly modern concept and reality. This painting got me thinking and reading about boredom.

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Does boredom express a deeply modern despondency about the lack of meaning in the universe? What is there left to do, after all, when the end result is and will be sheer emptiness and meaninglessness?

Is boredom an expression of the frenetic pace of our particularly modern lives, where we have lost the capacity to sit still for even a moment; in which we have lost the ability to live without distraction and entertainment and titillation?

Are you bored yet?

Would the figure in this painting be any less bored, or any less a representative of our boredom, if she had a smartphone in her hand? Or would that, perhaps, make her the perfect emblem of our boredom? Is our only answer to boredom, more boredom? Continue reading

loving #jianghomeshi — from the presbyterian record

Presbyterian Record - December 2014 copyA piece I wrote about Jian Ghomeshi a few weeks back, now published in The Presbyterian Record. Reflecting on the demands of love when the public narrative pushes in a very different direction…

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How do you love a guy whose sex life and personal life are marked by instances of abuse and violence toward women?

How do you love a guy who took a Public Relations approach when his abusive behavior threatened to blow up publicly – deploying the best lawyers and publicists money can buy to “get out front of the story” and to “control the narrative?”

How do you love a guy who seems to think it is more important to protect his image and career prospects than to be honest and seek help and express regret? Continue reading

Loving Rob Ford

Mayor Rob Ford speaks to media after his meeting with Premier Dalton McGuinty , Police Chief Bill BlI confess that I am not a Torontonian. Rather, after more than fourteen years living in Montreal I’m almost at the point where I could safely call myself a Montréalais.

So the challenge of loving Mayor Rob Ford isn’t my particular challenge. Rather, the newly elected Denis Coderre is my challenge – because no, I did not vote for him!

Nevertheless, the question of loving Rob Ford is a huge question these days, both for Torontonians and the rest of us across the country.

It seems safe to say that the number of those who love Rob Ford has been in precipitous decline in the past few weeks. Though is also fair to say that there has been large constituency of Ford-mockers and Ford-haters out there for some time. Over the past two years they have made a regular appearance on my Facebook feed, as well as in plenty of other spaces.

This weekend, the whole question of love him or hate him was brought to mind by three tweets by Tabatha Southey, who is a writer for the Globe and Mail. In the first tweet she referenced a Toronto Star article that explores the challenges and possibilities of rehab – where Rob Ford is expected/hoped to end up in the coming weeks: Continue reading

I’ll stop pretending to be a Christian… #AttackOnChristendom

A piece I originally intended to submit to the Presbyterian Record, but then decided not to. For what it’s worth…

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Quid pro quo. You do something for me and I’ll do something for you. It’s an eminently reasonable formula, and I’d like to propose just such an exchange. I’ll get to the details in a moment, but let me give you the headline version first. Here it is: If you’ll stop pretending to be a Christian, I will, too. Quid pro quo.

Yes, this bargain is as dramatic as it sounds, and I may be out of my depth in proposing it – yet I think I’m operating from faithful logic.

As you are no doubt aware, perhaps even from regular perusal of the Presbyterian Record, theologians and social historians have been announcing, celebrating and bemoaning (sometimes all at the same time) the decline of Christendom for a few decades now. There is much evidence for this decline. As pollster Nik Nanos has recently informed us, only 22 percent of Canadians aged 15-29 say that religion is highly important to them. In addition, the percentage of those who claim ‘no religious affiliation’ continues to climb nationwide, with residents of my own province of Quebec being least likely to see faith as important to their lives. We hardly need reminding that it’s a bear market for Christianity. Continue reading

one another…

There’s a great phrase used in the New Testament – a phrase that speaks to the heart of our faith – to the heart of our identity. Here it is: One another. One another. Now that you hear it, it’ll probably strike you as familiar.

            Love one another.

            Wash one another’s feet.

            Greet one another with a holy kiss.

            Let us stop passing judgment on one another.

This little phrase speaks beautifully of the mutuality inherent in our life of faith. It demonstrates beautifully that within the Body of Christ each person must be intentionally engaged with the other – on a two way street. It’s not that only one person acts or speaks or teaches or whatever – rather as one is engaged with the other, that other is equally engaged with the one. Thus we read about the first Christians in the book of Acts, Chapter 4: “Now the whole group of those who believed were of one heart and soul.” — And so the list goes on as we scan through the New Testament writings:

            Bear with one another.

            Be devoted to one another.

            Instruct one another.

            Build one another up.

All of which brings us to today’s passage in James, in which the Apostle says: “Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed.” 

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Letter to Jesus

A sermon preached at the induction of the Rev. Greg Davidson into pastoral ministry in the congregation of Briarwood Presbyterian Church. References to Kierkegaard are from his Practice in Christianity.

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An open letter to Jesus.

 

February 8th, 2009

 

Dear Jesus,

 

It’s me again – no doubt you’re more than familiar with my handwriting by now. I only hope that it hasn’t gotten to the point that you groan in discovering yet another missive from yours truly as you thumb through the morning mail. And yes Jesus, I know, I don’t have to write to you – my ancestors in the faith did well to teach me that I can speak with you directly (the temple curtain is torn in two – gone are the priestly vestments). But somehow it’s easier for me to put things in writing, to put pen to paper in sorting through my thoughts, in sorting out questions of faith. No doubt this predilection for the pen and paper also comes from my ancestors in faith. I beg your patience, then, Jesus, as I once again spill out my thoughts and frustrations and questions to you.

 

This week I was thinking about those early days of ministry – of your ministry – when John the baptizer was still in prison. I sometimes wonder whether it frustrated you that the holy man clothed in camel-hair didn’t know that you were the one for whom he prepared the way – he’d heard about what you were doing, but still wasn’t sure you were the chosen one. But that’s a question for another day.

  Continue reading