My latest column in the Christian Courier.
A large wooden crucifix stands toward the front of the crypt sanctuary in St. Joseph’s Oratory, Montreal. While the crucifix is not central within worship, it evidently receives much attention. A striking feature of the crucifix is the worn nature of Jesus’ feet — the paint is worn away and the surface smooth from the many hands that have rested there. Over the years, thousands of hands have been placed on those feet in a posture of prayerful need, of seeking the grace of God.
For those of us in the Reformed or Presbyterian tradition, this devotional attention to a crucifix will likely raise questions — questions as old as the Reformation itself. Doesn’t every artistic representation of Jesus somehow diminish him? Why not turn to the living Jesus in prayer, rather than to a lifeless statue? Aren’t these acts of prayerful devotion tied up with the idea that a human creation (a crucifix) can dispense grace?
Our tradition has been almost entirely word-centered, which means we are suspicious of visual and sculptural representations of Jesus or of God. In terms of the questions posed above, we have wondered whether such representations (idols!) distract us from the free grace of the living God. Our Reformed tradition has created only one narrow opening for such visual representations, in the specific case of those who could not read. In such cases, images (pictures) have been seen as a way to tell the story of Jesus and to share the truth of that story. This allowance for images focusses on their educational and not their devotional use. Continue reading
My latest column, for the Christian Courier.
Up until a few years ago I had never seen them. I didn’t even know they were around, so didn’t know to look for them. But every Spring they are here. In fact, we are at peak season right now so there’s a good chance you will glimpse them if you look carefully. And it would be worth the effort, too, given how beautiful they are in their blues and greens and reds and yellows – especially the yellows.
Perhaps you’ve guessed that I’m referring to the birds that make their way north each spring, particularly the warblers that rest each night in the trees around us on their journey. There is the Blackburnian Warbler, the Magnolia Warbler, the American Redstart, the Chestnut-sided Warbler, and the wonderfully named Yellow-rumped Warbler. The picture accompanying this column is of a Yellow-rumped Warbler that stopped over, ever so briefly, in my backyard last May.
For so many years, I missed this annual wave of feathers and song. While I have always enjoyed watching common backyard birds (finches, cardinals, jays, juncos and chickadees), I assumed that beautiful, multi-colored birds were a unique preserve of more tropical regions. Now that I know better, I’m learning to recognize the telltale movements of these tiny creatures in high branches as the sun warms them early in the morning. Continue reading
What we see says a whole lot about who we are.
In fact: What we see makes us who we are.
In our daily lives, every situation and every person and every landscape can be seen differently. And what you see in a given situation or what you see in a specific person or what you see in a landscape before you – what you see, says a great deal about who you are. Going even further again: What we see in all of this makes us who we are. You just are a person who sees this, rather than that – or that, rather than this.
Perhaps we can get a little bit more specific. When you look out into the night’s sky and you see all those stars visible to the naked eye – when you see all those stars, which are just a fraction of the 300 billion stars that make up our galaxy – when you see all those do you see a universe that came from nowhere and is going nowhere? Do you see a universe that is accidental and meaningless? Or in seeing those stars do you see the mysterious and wonderful work of a God who gives the world as gift and grace. A universe within which we may find our own lives as gift and grace. What you see in those stars says a lot about who you are – it says a lot about the hope and peace that defines you.
We can bring this down to another level altogether, of course. When you see a dad dragging a screaming 7 year old through the parking lot at the grocery store, do you see a dad who has lost his temper; do you see a dad who is impatient; do you see child who is spoiled? Or do you see someone struggling to be a parent in the way that every parent struggles. Someone who knows how to love and is almost certainly learning daily how to love more faithfully? Continue reading
Almost 7 years ago our family moved to a little cul-de-sac in the west end of NDG. And in that cul-de-sac we have developed great friendships over the years. But this week as I thought about it I realized that I couldn’t really pinpoint the first time I met any one of those neighbours. I know the general timeframe when I met them – it would have been around June or July 2008. But I don’t remember specifically meeting any of them for the first time. At this point we’re all just part of the neighbourhood furniture, whenever it was that we first met. That’s probably the case with a lot of people in our lives. If we stopped to think about it, we might not be able to pinpoint the first time we met them, or the first time we saw them.
Of course there are some people for whom we remember that first encounter. It helps if there was something memorable about the circumstances. It’s easy to remember the first time you met someone if it was at a job interview for example. Or it would probably help if they spilled coffee all over you the first time you met. That would make it memorable. For some people in our lives, there was something distinct or memorable about that first meeting, and so we can pinpoint it easily.
And then of course there are those first meetings that are so precious to us – and so much a part of who we are. Think of a first meeting with someone who became so special to you. Think of that first meeting with your child or your niece or nephew after their birth. A squawking, vulnerable, little baby, naked and then wrapped up tight in blankets – held so close and tenderly. Continue reading
A sermon, whose basic themes are informed by a short essay by the philosopher/theologian Jean-Luc Marion on the question of faith and evidence.
What is faith?
What does it mean to have faith?
How would we describe the experience of faith?
In our culture a very common way of thinking about religious faith is in terms of evidence – or, more specifically, in terms of a lack of evidence. From this point of view, if you believe something is true even without any evidence for it – that’s faith. If you believe something is true even though it can’t be proven and can’t be demonstrated, then that’s faith. In our culture it is very common to think this way – to think that faith just means believing something when there’s no evidence for what you believe. Since there’s no evidence, you’ve got to take it on faith.
So, simple examples:
There’s no scientific evidence that God exists but you believe it – that’s faith.
There’s no evidence prayer works, but you believe it does – that’s faith.
There’s no evidence Jesus rose from the dead, but you think he did – that’s faith.
There are other ways of thinking about faith in our culture, but this is quite a common way. And not only is faith commonly thought of in this way, but in our culture, we should perhaps add, a negative judgment is often attached to this kind of faith. In many corners of our culture, if you believe something without evidence; if you believe something to be true that can’t proven by observation and testing, then you’re considered naïve and foolish – even irresponsible. You shouldn’t take anything on faith. Continue reading