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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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

gospel and the gazette – remembering

Last Saturday’s Montreal Gazette carried a news story about the Berlin Wall. In fact, over the past week or so, newspapers from the London Telegraph to the New York Times to der Spiegel have carried stories about the Berlin Wall. The reason is that August the 13th marked the 50th anniversary of the building of the Berlin Wall. It was 50 years ago this summer, on the night of August 12th to 13th 1961, that Berliners heard the sounds of heavy equipment moving in their city. And when they woke in the morning a barbed wire fence had been thrown around West Berlin. The city of Berlin, of course was located completely within communist, East Germany – and so the construction of that barbed wire fence had the effect of completely cutting off surrounding East Germany from West Berlin, that part of the city controlled by the Americans, the British, and the French.

Over the years, that wall first thrown up in 1961 took on a number of forms. It began as that barbed wire fence put up in the middle of the night. A few years later it became a concrete block wall – and still later, in the 1970’s and 80’s the wall was reconstructed out of reinforced concrete.

But why was the wall constructed to begin with? What was it that drove the East German government to cut off West Berlin from surrounding East Germany? The fundamental reason for the construction of the wall was to prevent East Germans from leaving or escaping East Germany.  Earlier, in 1952 already, the border dividing East Germany and West Germany had been closed – this prevented East Germans from simply crossing the border into the West – and it meant that in the period between 1952 and 1961, when the Berlin Wall was built, the only way East Germans could escape life under the communist regime was within the city of Berlin – by crossing into West Berlin. Continue reading

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