Tag Archives: religion

November 14: Jesus Beyond Dogma II: xiv – ‘ A place for everyone at table.’

 

Throughout the parables and miracle stories Jesus is forever flouting rules and tradition; and offers no apology for so doing. He certainly went to the Temple to pray, but often accompanied by outcasts whose presence defiled the holy place. Jesus was committed to fullness of life above and beyond any and every system. He made people search for God not only in holy books, but principally in daily life; he uses everyday language – calling on everyday experiences; he insists we are constantly in God’s presence, not just when we formally pray – he makes care and concern for the other the key factor for kingdom living.

The Twelve certainly expected the messiah to be heroic – and they were disillusioned when he didn’t live up to expectations. Saint Paul’s vision of Church is more in line – centred on the Word in service of the community – but by the Second Century the Church was rapidly becoming institutionalised according to a shape at variance with Jesus’ own vision. This was when ecclesiastical [ritualisation] became more important than ecclesial [community in faith]. However, the original vision was never lost, nor will it ever be lost. Truth always survives, despite efforts to constrain it. What came to be known as the dark ages was when the Church had difficulty in controlling what was happening – whereas from the perspective of the Spirit it was a time of creativity and growth.

Is the real Jesus the middle-class revolutionary we have inherited? Are we true to the prophetic figure from Nazareth? Was the following of Jesus meant to be via a respectable religion? Can the freedom of the oppressed, and the empowering of the powerless happen this way? We surely should be recognised as different – to live for Jesus demands much more of us than to die for him. It means seeking justice, inclusiveness and equality – a place for everyone at table. Kingdom living was not something Jesus inaugurated for others to embrace and follow. He is the Kingdom. The Kingdom is how he lives and relates. What was he seeing that captivated him so much?

We are brought up through co-dependency – some are in charge, most aren’t. Our role is largely passive obedience. God is father, the Church is mother, making our relationship that of children. In such a setting the discipleship of equals has no chance. Adult is reserved for those in charge. Compassion is a fascinating quality in Jesus – it is always a verb, not a noun. Compassion means entering into the suffering of another, not just being there to help; and has nothing to do with pity and mercy.

AMcC

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November 9, Jesus Beyond Dogma II: ix – ‘Dogma means little to people seeking hope.’

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Reasoned argument seeks to break things down into constituent parts; it is story-telling that shows how the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Reasoned argument draws on things that worked in the past, story-telling offers a new world of possibilities. Could this be why Jesus used parable to communicate truth? Maybe even why he said unless you become as little children… children love stories!

We do well to remember that Jesus was at home in the world of story, because he was born of story, the story of creation and all its tremendous potential. Life looks very different when we set him within story – free of the world of rational argument.

It would never have occurred to anyone to doubt the existence of God if theologians had not tried to prove it. The Creed is a collection of dogmas, deemed to be eternally binding – beginning with the Creator, and ending with today’s guardian of dogmatic truth – the Church. Surely this is more to do with power than faith? The intention is good – to empower people with the gift of faith – but it effectively disempowers by making us passive recipients of truths rather than passionate seekers after Truth.

In the dogmatic system growth in faith is assessed by conformity to religious practice – which can become a form of co-dependence. Without doubt many have broken through these limitations, making commitment of heart and mind – showing how structures need to be assessed as to whether they serve the life or are self-serving. Jesus does not belong within such structures.

A different Jesus emerged, champion of equality, fired by intuition, intent on empowering the powerless and marginalised and inevitably seen as a threat to establishment – bringing down the mighty… raising the lowly – Luke 1.52. Dogma means little to people seeking hope. Preaching Christ carries no lasting impact; being Christ is what matters. This is not a rational option, but an emotional choice rising out of the heart – it is an option for love over truth.

AMcC

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November 6, Jesus Beyond Dogma II: vi – ‘How would he tell his own story? ‘

 

Is there a place for Jesus in today’s world? Has Evolution side-lined Christian belief? Certainly questions like these are not readily answered in terms of traditional theology. There isn’t an obvious fit between the conventional understanding of faith and the unfolding reality of the world. It might be preferable to be content with asking the questions rather than trying to provide answers!

It is clear that such questions are being asked more and more today and it is not clear whether conceptual answers are available. The questioners seem to be from a group familiar with the Christian story, but suspicious of the ways the churches tell it, or live it in a challenging way.

Scholars tend to say the Jesus story is for students and researchers of the Bible to elaborate. Jesus belongs to anyone struggling with faith – and how to live it truthfully. There is no doubt that Jesus remains a fascinating figure for many; and it is clear that many who would call themselves agnostic or even atheist actually live by values closer to the Gospel than do many Church-goers.

There’s obviously something bigger about Jesus than what is contained in doctrinal teaching. He appeals to the imagination in ways that make official teaching about him seem very bland. What is the reality of Jesus beyond dogma? He was very imaginative, to a degree more suited to story than to doctrine. How would he tell his own story?

There never has been a time when God was not fully involved with Creation. The Book of Genesis states that God takes great pleasure in the creative process – and God saw that it was very good – everything is good because it is of God, good only comes from goodness. With evolution the time came for the break away from our primate ancestors, when God adds a new dimension with the arrival of the human.

Strictly speaking this is when the Incarnation actually began – the Incarnation means God identifying with the human species. God, who created the human six million years ago did not say I’ll wait millions of years until Jesus comes before declaring salvation. Yet this has been basic to Christian faith for 2,000 years.

AMcC

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November 4: Jesus Beyond Dogma II: iv – Jesus Ignites a Spark

 

How does Jesus fit into our ever-changing world? This is a question many are asking; instead of the more helpful: how does our ever-changing world fit with Jesus Christ? There is a difference of emphasis between talking about the cosmic Christ and the Christic cosmos! How does Evolution sit with Christian faith, for example?

From a Christian point of view, those seeking this new truth tend not to be Church-goers, they are familiar with the Christian story, but suspicious of institutionalised religion being able to address this in a creative and liberating way. They say that the Jesus story is for scholars and theologians; whereas Jesus belongs to all who are struggling with faith. There is something about Jesus that is bigger and more embracing than the formalised Jesus story.

For many, Jesus grips creative imagination in ways that make formalised religion less than relevant. He ignites a spark within that seeks for much more than formalised dogma – which obviously has its place. Instead of simply reading the Gospel, use imagination and see if Jesus telling his own story has something revolutionary to say. Hear the facts about him, and let them take you beyond the words. After all, the Gospel Jesus gets rid of boundaries and conditions apply!

It is a first principle of education that we learn first from experience, and from the dialogue resulting from experience. The human search for genuine spiritual living is as old as 70,000 years – well before the 4,500 years of the existence of formal and institutional religion. This is why we must begin by appreciating the very real difference between the two. Religion refers to formally, institutionalised structures, rituals and codes of belief which are to be found in one or other of the official religious systems. Spirituality is about the ancient search for meaning and is as old as humanity itself and is part of the evolutionary process.

In modern times spirituality has been seen as an off-shoot of religion; however, research has shown that no less than two-thirds of adults have a personal spirituality, whereas fewer than one in ten go to church regularly. Spirituality is more akin to human experience than is institutional religion. There is need to reinstate true spirituality, highlighting its vital role in our search for the meaning of life. What is seen as the moral and spiritual breakdown in our time has more to do with religion than with spirituality. Spirituality today is alive and well and worth fighting for.

AMcC

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November 2, Jesus Beyond Dogma II: ii- Jesus Knew the Way

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All of us search for moral truth – and we find ourselves in agreement with folk of other faiths on values like peace with justice, truth and honesty, with respect for human life and above all – the primacy of love.

Jesus came as one who appeared to know the way to all this; and the Resurrection told them he had succeeded. Relief and excitement followed – he’s found the way out! This is the Good News – the Lord is risen! Jesus has entered the new life where death and sin are not there; and he offers the same invitation to all – come and see.

When those first disciples proclaimed Jesus is Lord, they were saying they had witnessed the moment when all this became clear. They had seen him suffer and die, they had been there at his burial – but now he is here, fully alive. What was reassuring was he seemed to be simultaneously dead and fully alive – he carried the marks of death yet was fully alive – death had been stripped of its power to frighten. The Son of God “loved me and gave Himself up for me” (Galatians 2:20). By suffering for us He not only provided us with an example for our imitation, (cf. 1 Peter 2:21; Matthew 16:24; Luke 14:27) He blazed a trail, and if we follow it, life and death are made holy and take on a new meaning. (GS.22)1

To believe Jesus is Lord means that life is no longer hovering on the brink of absurdity. No goodness is wasted and there is no ultimate defeat of human values. They are the building blocks for making all things new, to be transformed, as was the peak of human endeavour, in the Resurrection. This is what makes Christianity unchangingly always new, he has found the way through – the Lord is risen! What they were saying was some of them had seen him, walked and talked with him. Yahweh had kept his promise in this one man, who was saying to everyone – come and see.

This is telling us that the deaths of people like Martin Luther King, Oscar Romero… are only tragic in the way Calvary is tragic. With Easter morning death has lost its sting. The Resurrection reveals the divine intention with regard to everything that is good, anything that reflects the full human response to God is doing the Father’s will – i.e. creating the kind of world of the Messianic promises: peace with justice; coming to the help of the poor and powerless; universal fraternity and the freedom to worship the one God in whatever way is appropriate.

AMcC

1Gaudium et Spes – Joy and Hope – is the Second Vatican Council’s Document on the Church in the Modern World. http://www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_cons_19651207_gaudium-et-spes_en.html.

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November 1, Jesus Beyond Dogma II: i – Creeds, Codes and Dogmas

relief-1Chichester Cathedral

Reading the Book of Acts we see clearly how different was the Apostles’ sense of mission to that of today’s Church. We have Creeds, Codes and doctrines – systems to follow to preach the Word – they had none of this. They went out and shared their experiences of living with Jesus, especially after the Resurrection; what it was like to be with him. This mission hasn’t changed, though how we go about it has. We no longer have people to listen to who lived with him – nor even do we know of people who were with him.

We are weighed down with centuries of doctrine and speculation. The theologian speaks a language strangers do not know. So much of what is said and written seems far removed from everyday life. Can we do anything to recapture the powerful simplicity of those early days? The answer is the same – it is Jesus whom we share. The first Christian profession of faith was not I believe in God… but Jesus is Lord! Is this my experience, or is it what I am told to say? The Jesus they shared was a man they had known and lived with – they had experienced his enthusiasm, witnessed his frustrations. He enjoyed his life, along with him they knew excitement and disappointment – he wept on hearing of a friend’s death; and died violently while still a young man – with hope seemingly shattered and promises gone.

But here was not just a young man, full of promising potential – here was the reality of what being human means. Made in the image of God, the perfection of the human consists in the degree to which it truly reflects its origin. He claimed to be one with the Father, indeed he said to see him was to see the Father – he didn’t simply reflect divine perfection, he is this perfection. His disciples – even on Good Friday – knew they had seen the premature death of a man in whom they saw no trace whatsoever of evil. They saw the question all of us ask – even the best of lives must end, even the most special people must die, is life meant to be so absurd? Are our ideas, hopes and visions a promise of something wonderful to come or is it all a delusion?

These questions were answered by the Resurrection. This man, who had lived an exemplary human life, trusting himself entirely in the providence of Abba, was not deluded; and the chasm of death was no longer impassable. His friends remembered how they first met him, when he invited them when they asked him where he lived – come and see, he said. We may not know what they actually saw, but we know what they discovered from his passing from this life into a new world was not for him alone, but a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth – Ephesians 1.10.

Just as his death asked the vital question about the meaning of life; so the Resurrection provided the answer. God’s saving plan has finally earned the response in the most perfect way possible. The human Jesus has shown the fidelity which is the only reply God was waiting to receive. Now the human race began to be glorified through one of its members entering in to the new heaven and new earth. The way was clear for the disciples, our destiny and how to achieve it is wide open to anyone sharing the same humanity. Hopes and longings were always present for some kind of happiness beyond death – but God’s plan was recognised only in vague ways. Like a group of weary and hungry people lost in a forest; hopes were occasionally raised by some who set-out to find it, but there was no news of how they got on.

AMcC

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4 October: Pope Francis in Assisi

Pope Francis in Assisi - OSS_ROM

 On the Feast of Saint Francis we invite you to share Pope Francis’s words of peace at Assisi last year.

Appeal for Peace of His Holiness Pope Francis

Piazza of Saint Francis, Assisi

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Men and women of various religions, we gather as pilgrims in the city of Saint Francis.  Thirty years ago in 1986, religious representatives from all over the world met here at the invitation of Pope John Paul II.  It was the first such solemn gathering that brought so many together, in order to affirm the indissoluble bond between the great good of peace and an authentic religious attitude.  From that historic event, a long pilgrimage was begun which has touched many cities of the world, involving many believers in dialogue and in praying for peace.  It has brought people together without denying their differences, giving life to real interreligious friendships and contributing to the resolution of more than a few conflicts.  This is the spirit that animates us: to bring about encounters through dialogue, and to oppose every form of violence and abuse of religion which seeks to justify war and terrorism.   And yet, in the years that have followed, numerous populations have nonetheless been painfully wounded by war.  People do not always understand that war harms the world, leaving in its wake a legacy of sorrows and hate.  In war, everyone loses, including the victors.

We have prayed to God, asking him to grant peace to the world.  We recognize the need to pray constantly for peace, because prayer protects the world and enlightens it.  God’s name is peace.  The one who calls upon God’s name to justify terrorism, violence and war does not follow God’s path.  War in the name of religion becomes a war against religion itself.  With firm resolve, therefore, let us reiterate that violence and terrorism are opposed to an authentic religious spirit.

We have heard the voice of the poor, of children and the younger generations, of women and so many brothers and sisters who are suffering due to war.  With them let us say with conviction: No to war!  May the anguished cry of the many innocents not go unheeded.  Let us urge leaders of nations to defuse the causes of war: the lust for power and money, the greed of arms’ dealers, personal interests and vendettas for past wrongs.  We need a greater commitment to eradicating the underlying causes of conflicts: poverty, injustice and inequality, the exploitation of and contempt for human life.

May a new season finally begin, in which the globalized world can become a family of peoples.  May we carry out our responsibility of building an authentic peace, attentive to the real needs of individuals and peoples, capable of preventing conflicts through a cooperation that triumphs over hate and overcomes barriers through encounter and dialogue.  Nothing is lost when we effectively enter into dialogue.  Nothing is impossible if we turn to God in prayer.  Everyone can be an artisan of peace.  Through this gathering in Assisi, we resolutely renew our commitment to be such artisans, by the help of God, together will all men and women of good will.

 

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1 October: Fr Tansi’s music.

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We thank our good friend Ignatius for leading us to Franciscan Friar Fr Tansi’s music. We share Ignatius’s enthusiasm and are happy to pass on the news of his new album, Garden, which is being sold in favour of Mary’s Meals.

You can find the story of Liverpool-born Nigerian Fr Tansi here.

And samples of his music here.

We are sure you will enjoy his songs and start to sing along.

This is where Ignatius told us about Fr Tansi. Why not pay him a visit?

Will.

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August 31: L’Arche and Care V – So who is helping whom to achieve what?

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I’ve had a ‘portfolio’ of teaching jobs over the last twenty years, since I became unable to work full-time in classrooms, so it was easy enough to ease into the current L’Arche approach to work and leisure activities where people commit to a weekly portfolio of activities that might include candle-making, gardening, brewing beer, swimming and the weekly grocery shop.

That’s when we meet our friends, often enough. Our local metro supermarket can seem very crowded when three or four people stop to chat in the narrow aisles! We’ve also joined an informal leisure gardening group that includes core members, assistants and their families.

Jobs can take a little longer … for example, setting up a core member to saw wood safely, despite physical challenges. (I’m grateful for the training I received in task analysis as a young man!) but then three eight-year-old girls want to join in, so it’s time to set up the other saw bench and provide them, too, with encouragement rather than hands-on help.

So who is helping whom to achieve what?

Dear reader, I’ll let you puzzle that one out.

But working with core members and children makes me stand and stare and chat. Stand and let others work, stare at the problem of how to let them work safely. Chat while the job is done, encouraging, praising, suggesting, sharing the satisfaction of a job done, a skill acquired.

Let us be ready to receive from others. Didn’t Jesus get the idea of foot washing, that James talked about on Tuesday, from a couple of women?

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