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

Self love? Meh. (Really?)

It’s safe to say that Christianity has often been indifferent toward self-love. In fact, when I imagine the typically response to the possibility of self-love, I would describe it like this:

Self love? Meh.

Our own Reformed and Presbyterian tradition has often been downright negative about self-love. Within our tradition great emphasis has been placed on our brokenness and our sinfulness and our need of forgiveness – and great emphasis have been placed on the tremendous love of God toward us in Jesus. Our tradition has emphasized grace – everything we receive is through the grace of God – the undeserved love of God.

But in that kind of framework there often hasn’t been a lot of room for self-love. In fact self-love has often been seen negatively. In sermons and in books on Christian faith you will often hear that we are too preoccupied with ourselves, too focused on ourselves – this is an expression of our sinful self-absorption. We are too focused on ourselves and on what we need and what want – so focused on ourselves that we fail to love God and fail to love our neighbour. Continue reading

Law and Love – Don’t mess me ’round

This week I was listening to CBC radio one the afternoon, and the program was Shift with Tom Allen. Tom was at his witty and conversational best that afternoon. As you may know, Shift is the CBC program that makes the transition from classical music in the first part of the day to rock or independent pop music late in the afternoon. So at the beginning of the program you are likely to hear movements from a Beethoven symphony or violin concerto by Bartok. But by the end of the program you are likely to hear R.E.M. or Arcade Fire or Sarah Harmer.

And when I was listening to Shift toward the end of the program, Tom Allen introduced a song by telling a story about about visiting friends of his who own a guesthouse in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. These friends had a problem with bears in the spring, when the bears would come out of hibernation and would be hungry and on the prowl for food. The bears would show up around the guesthouse, trying to get into the garbage, scrounging for food. And so his friends had to chase away the bears – scare them off on a regular basis. One morning that he was there, and there was a bear out near the garbage area, they asked Tom if he wanted to give a try at scaring the bear away. And so he agreed – he went out on the porch and started shouting at the bear, yelling at that bear to get away. The bear didn’t even look up – this screaming city boy wasn’t going to startle a bear enough to send it running. Sort of like us with our raccoons, I suppose – you yell at them, and they just kind of look up at you like, “What’s your problem?”

But at that point, the woman who owned the guesthouse with her husband took over. She took a can of tomatoes with her, threw it at the bear, and shouted at the bear with an intensity and volume that Tom Allen just could not muster. And when the bear saw the tomatoes fly, and heard this woman deploying her vocal cords, it took off running. 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

love — the way over the mountain

Paul speaks of love as the more excellent way – an image which includes within itself the idea of a mountain pass. So love is the more excellent way, the higher way, and the way over the mountain. With this in mind, my sermon a few weeks ago included images from a walk I took on our mountain here in Montreal. Perhaps these images of autumn capture something of love’s glory and beauty, together with the words of 1 Corinthians 13.

Roland De Vries, Montreal

love, knowledge, idols — priorities!

Many years ago now I visited Becky in The Gambia, West Africa. She was there working as a nurse and nurse tutor, and I was there for a short vacation over the Christmas holidays.

One of the experiences I remember from those 4 weeks in The Gambia was attending a church service in the village of Jarrol. This was a village just a few kilometers upcountry from where Becky was living and working. And it was a very small church – there were only 6 of us there that Sunday morning. Along with Becky and me there were two other health care workers (Australian midwives) – there was a young Christian man who was serving in the Gambian army – and there was the village chief, who was a Muslim. That Sunday I was asked to preach, which I did, and the young Gambian man translated my words into the Mandika language for the chief. As you can imagine, it was pretty informal – I sat on a bench in the church as I offered some reflections on a passage of scripture.

Everything went fine that morning. But then after the service, one of the Australian midwives pointed out that after reading the scriptures I had placed my bible on the ground next to the bench where I was sitting. She pointed out that in a Muslim context, this would have been a sign of profound disrespect for the bible – no Muslim would ever put the Qur’an, their holy book, on the ground. The only saving grace, she said, was that I had at least placed the bible partly on mat that was there on the ground beside me. Continue reading

temptation and love – a conversation with Jesus

When I hear again the story of your temptation, Jesus – when I read about those 40 days you spent out in the wilderness, there is one question that comes to my mind. Only one question, Jesus. It’s a question I can phrase in lots of different ways – it’s a question I can express from different points of view – but really it’s all the same question.

The story of your temptation raises this question for me, Jesus: Why?

Why did you set out from your home and your community that day? Why did you leave the routine of life and work and responsibilities that morning? It’s in our homes and in our communities that we have our life and our identity. It’s in our work and in the fulfillment of our vocation that we make real contributions to our community. It’s not through disengagement and withdrawal that we make a difference, but through engagement in relationships and community. So why, Jesus? Why did you walk out on everything for more than a month. Why did decide to withdraw and go your own way for those weeks?

I could understand if you just needed a bit of time away to be rejuvenated. Continue reading

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

Love, Caress, Difference (for valentine’s day?)

In my book Becoming Two in Love I have created brief, first-person “moments” that give expression to the account and ethics of sexual difference otherwise described somewhat abstractly. An ethics of sexual difference is one that affirms the fundamental mystery that the sexuate other is/represents. It is an ethics that entails a refusal of relations of appropriation and possession and identification between man and woman.

Here is one of those first-person “moments” that explores the caress as respecting difference and love between man and woman, also in the context of faith.

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IMG_9308We are by no means strangers. Years of a shared life form a thick and complex backdrop to our everyday conversations and encounters. Between us, the invitation to a caress is a summons to a privileged and private intimacy. And even if this invitation and encounter is marked by a degree of ambiguity or uncertainty, nevertheless a shared history of trust and care mean that the caress may be given, and received, in freedom. Risk remains, certainly—but who could or would mitigate every risk. Continue reading