Sports and me, and other things

I had a brief exchange with a Facebook friend the other day. The friend is a baseball fan; I am not. To be truthful, I’m not much of a fan of any sport. OK, I’ll watch the occasional hockey game, and once in a while I’ll turn on a Canadian Football League game, but on the whole, my life proceeds very well without watching any sports, whether on TV or live.

It hasn’t always been so. In my first year of university, some of the great events of my first year living in residence were the football parties. A black-and-white TV, several pizzas, and the inevitable and (then-illegal) cases of beer. And all sorts of guys hanging around having a good time. The action on the fuzzy screen was almost incidental. I’ve never played football, except a couple of ill-advised forays into “touch” football, both of which ended with many bruises and sore joints for most participants.

I used to watch the Edmonton Oilers on TV, back in the glory days of the ’80’s w
hen Wayne Gretzky was in his prime. I enjoyed the daring and skill the team displayed, even if I’ve never really understood the game’s subtleties. My love for the Oilers started to wane when Gretzkoilersy was traded to LA in 1988. The only other hockey I ever watched much of was my home town’s senior team, the Drumheller Miners, who won the Allan Cup in 1966. My father was the team physician, and got free admission. I went to a lot of the games with him, sitting in the high bleachers behind the goal. The ambiance counted more for me than the game. As I said, I’ve never really grasped the subtleties of the game.
Hockey is only one game that I don’t really get. Truth be told, I don’t really get any of the common team sports, which may be because I was never any good at any of them, or any other athletic pursuit, team or otherwise. As a child, I was clumsy, slow, and badly coordinated, and Physical Education in school was usually something akin to torture: I couldn’t do most of what we were asked to do, and my classmates teased me endlessly about my incompetence.

There’s good reason why I don’t relate well to sports!

Nonetheless…
I still find myself getting caught up in others’ excitement about sporting events, because it seems to have something important to do with community. The great days watching football with my university buddies were great times of community. The rejoicing over the Oilers’ Stanley Cup victories was a collective party for the whole of this city.

If you like a sport, well and good. If you care deeply about it, that’s your business. I’ll try not to rain on your parade by revealing my lack of interest in something that you love very much.  All I ask is that you be tolerant of me when my eyes glaze over as you discuss the accomplishments (or lack thereof) of your favorite team or player.

I get excited by other things (classical music, church history and politics, food, photography…), and I know that my own passions can provoke the same kind of glazed-eye response as much of sports talk evokes in me. It takes all kinds to make a world, and that’s good.

Whether it’s sports, music, knitting, or whatever, let’s try to rejoice in each other’s passions, without trying to make our own passion someone else’s.

 

Under Authority

Notes for a sermon on Luke 7:1-10, preached on May 29, 2016 at Holy Trinity Anglican Church (early service)
and Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church (English service).

ACofC logoELCiC logo

About 15 years ago, on a beautiful Sunday morning in July, I walked with the rest of the Diocese of Edmonton’s General Synod delegation from the Waterloo University residences to the university arena. There we joined with other Anglicans and Lutherans from every part of Canada, and many people from the area around. We joined in a grand and joyful celebration, during the course of which Archbishop Michael Peers and National Bishop Telmor Sartisan signed what is now known as the Waterloo Declaration. Since that time, the Anglican Church of Canada and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada have been in Full Communion. [Pastor Jason’s] [My] presence here today is one of the fruits of that relationship. Trinity Lutheran and Holy Trinity Anglican have been working at building a relationship based on Waterloo.

The years leading up to that day were a time of dialogue between our churches, beginning with discussion among theologians, moving out into the dioceses and synods, and eventually into congregations. In my first charge, I was delighted to share a celebration of shared communion with the neighbouring Lutheran congregation. A few years later, in a different community, after the release of the proposed Waterloo Declaration, I participated with parishioners in a study of the proposed text, along with counterparts from the Lutheran congregation from just down the street.

We had very good discussions over four weeks, but things came to a head when a man from the Lutheran congregation said that this was all very interesting, but what difference would it make to their church? I told him that if their Pastor received another call, and they were in the call process, they would be free to call me if they so desired. “But… but… you are not Lutheran!” was his spluttered response. Aha!

So… what is this all about?

One several levels, it’s about authority, which is one of the underlying themes of today’s Gospel reading. It appears to be a simple story: Jesus is interrupted (something that happens all the time in his ministry) and asked to go to heal the slave of a centurion. Without actually meeting the slave or his master, Jesus effects the healing from a distance. A miracle!

We could leave it there, rejoicing in Jesus’ mastery over the forces of evil and disease. But let’s take a closer look at the story, and especially at the centurion, the second most important character, even though he never appears.

He’s quite a surprising character. The fact that he paid for the synagogue in Capernaum sets him apart immediately as a friend to the people whose land his army is occupying. He is a soldier with a heart, who cares deeply for his sick slave. He recognizes Jesus as a holy man who can help him. He knows enough about Jewish customs and beliefs not to risk defiling Jesus with his physical presence, or asking him into his house. What he has done has already pushed the boundaries of ordinary expectations.

Jesus’ response also pushes those boundaries. His ability to heal the sick is not constrained by space, ethnicity, or social status. Rather, he reaches out to someone beyond his community who recognizes Jesus’ authority, when the centurion declares:

For I also am a man set under authority…

Although he is set under authority, and wields it over others, the centurion’s power is limited. He can’t heal his slave without appealing to Jesus’ authority. Jesus likewise is “set under authority,” doing the will of his Father in heaven in bringing healing to this world.

“Authority” has a particular meaning in the New Testament. It is associated with power—the ability to do things—but it is more than that. Having authority implies the legal or moral right to exercise power, which means that the power and the right come from elsewhere. The centurion has authority under the rules of the Roman Empire and its army. Jesus’ authority comes from God alone.

After the Resurrection, Jesus committed his authority to proclaim and to build the Reign of God to his disciples. We read in John 20:21

Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’

We are the inheritors of Jesus’ authority, and so we are called to exercise that authority in the knowledge of its source. It comes ultimately from God, through Jesus, through the apostles, down the ages in the Church with all its historical twists and turns, to us today, in this building in this city in this year.

Authority brings responsibility. Power can never be left idle. Having the ability to do good demands of us that we actually do good. Power must also be exercised rightly. The moral or legal right to do things does not mean that whatever we do is the right thing.

It is no accident that the Church has devoted a huge amount of energy over the centuries to the matter of authority. It goes back right into the New Testament, beginning in Acts, when the eleven remaining apostles added Matthias to their number, only after making certain that he had the right history. Later the Church in Jerusalem needed to check Paul’s credentials before agreeing that his mission could continue. First Timothy contains a detailed list of qualifications for a bishop.

In today’s Church, as both Lutherans and Anglicans have received it, we give great attention to authorizing people to the ministry of word and sacrament. For both communions, these are crucial matters. Article VII of the Augsburg Confession says this:

The Church is the congregation of saints, in which the Gospel is rightly taught and the Sacraments are rightly administered.

You can find almost the same words in Article XIX of the (Anglican) Articles of Religion.

We spend a huge amount of our institutional energy in trying to ensure that the people who lead our congregations—both lay and ordained—are properly authorized. Some people may view that at as a waste of time, but I would submit that it is of utmost importance. Jesus was “under authority.” He left his church under the same authority. We are under God’s authority, called to help build God’s kingdom in this world.

May all our doings, corporate and individual, display our commitment to doing our Lord’s will.

Amen.

All Things New

Notes for a sermon on Rev. 21:1-6
Holy Trinity Edmonton, April 24, 2016

These past two Thursdays mornings, the study group discussed “This Holy Estate,” the report by a commission of the General Synod which seeks to find a theological case for the amendment of the Marriage Canon to permit same-gender weddings. I’m not going to discuss the report here, but one of the report’s questions on which the group spent time was the issue of how Anglicans use scripture. The answer is—to put it very broadly—very broadly!

Even within the group who met this week, we found a wide range of approaches to the Bible. I believe we would be fairly representative of the spectrum of Anglican practice. But even within this spectrum, none of us approached the Bible completely literally. More importantly, I believe, all of us affirmed the value of interpreting it in community.

The question of how to read and interpret Scripture is crucial; not just in the matter of same-gender marriages, but in how we frame the corporate life of the Church. We Anglicans have historically defined ourselves as a liturgical church, not simply because we “do liturgy,” but because our Scripture-filled liturgies express who we are.

Why am I spending time on this? In part because it’s a current topic in the Church’s decision-making, but also because we are in the midst of a series of readings from the Revelation to John, the book of the Bible with the most convoluted and controversial interpretational history.

It has a complex history of usage. It almost didn’t make it into the Bible. In the Orthodox Churches, which never read it in their liturgies, it functions more like an appendix. Some today tend to dismiss it as a historical relic with little relevance today. Other churches find it a rich source, constantly mining it to attempt to read the signs of our times. The central interpretational problem, I believe, is in the book’s use of symbolism, more by far than other book of the Bible.

My view of Revelation: it is a letter to seven churches experiencing oppression under the Roman Empire, probably written in the last decade of the 1st century. It uses coded language and symbols, largely drawn from Ezekiel and Daniel, telling of the tribulations that the churches will face, and exhorting them to stand firm, because, in the end – God will win! The meaning of the symbolism would be clear to anyone familiar with the Hebrew Scriptures, but unintelligible to others. Reading its message could be dangerous in the political climate of the time. Perhaps we could think of Revelation as “underground prophecy”.

One thing I am sure it is not is a book of clues about how to read contemporary events. Its roots are in the 1st-century Church, and the actions of “Babylon the Great” (read “Rome”) in the oppression of Christians who refused to bow the knee to Caesar.

For three Sundays we have selections from the book’s final chapters, presenting John’s vision of “a new heaven and a new earth” and the New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven. There are great battles in the preceding chapters, but now we hear God proclaiming that he will make his dwelling place among humanity, and every tear will be wiped away. It is a vision of everlasting peace and justice, and of the ultimate fulfillment of God’s purpose for creation.

It is not a vision of death and destruction and the ending of time. There is no rapturing of the faithful into heaven, no wiping out of all things. Instead, we see a new creation, where God will reign among his people for ever.

But just what does this mean: a “new” earth?

A family member makes his living as a cabinet maker. He recently posted some job pictures, showing a kitchen before and after his work. It was recognizably the same space, with the same general layout, but it was clearly new – almost unrecognizable. It was the same, but renewed, freshened, given new life. It seems to me that the new creation of which John tells us is much like this: the same, but renewed and given new life and purpose. It recalls stories of resurrection appearances in which Jesus is not recognized at until some cue happens. Remember how Mary Magdalene at the tomb believes Jesus to be the gardener until he calls her by name.

The same but different is an integral part of John’s vision for the age to come.

It is a vision of a redeemed creation. We are perhaps more accustomed to thinking of redemption as pertaining to people, but we should never forget that we human beings a part of creation. We are not independent from this earth, but are radically dependent on it. God’s self-description points to this dependence:

alpha and omegaI am the Alpha and the Omega,
the beginning and the end.

The second part could also be translated as “the origin and the fulfillment.” The end (Gk telos) is not a point beyond which nothing else is, but the fulfillment of God’s intentions for this renewed creation. From here on, everything will work together in harmony according to God’s desires—all creation singing God’s praises as the divine purposes are brought to be.

John’s final vision is of the world (creation) as it should be. It is a future vision, to be sure. It might be easy and tempting to dismiss it, but let us please not do that. Let us instead affirm that God will, in God’s own time, restore and redeem creation, and that God’s people will live in peace and justice for ever.

In the meantime—in these times—we are charged not to cede defeat to the powers, but to stand firm in the sure hope of God’s redemption, to work as we are able for the fulfillment of John’s vision, when God makes All Things New.

God’s love wins. That’s the message of Easter. We proclaim it aloud in our gatherings. Let us go forth to proclaim it even more loudly in the world we live in, through all we do and say.

Amen.

NMP & Holy Saturday

I started writing this in January, and am only now revisiting it on Holy Saturday, a day of very special significance in the Christian calendar, but which is typically ignored &/or misunderstood. More about that later…

When my spouse and I were about to retire, she and I attended a retirement dinner given by her employer. One of the other guests, who had retired a year or two earlier, said that the best advice she could give to new retirees was for them to remember that most things henceforth would be NMP:

Not. My. Problem.

For those who have been in administrative or supervisory roles, that’s a hard lesson to learn. For clergy, it can be even harder. We develop relationships with people, and establish ways of operating in our charges that create emotional bonds with people and places. If we didn’t do that, we wouldn’t be doing the work we are called to.

However…

When we leave a place, we have to leave behind all the pastoral and administrative relationships that we developed in the years in that place. That’s a hard thing to do, for both us and the people to whom we have ministered. Some do it well, some not so well, but there will always be people who are hurt by the process.

An  example:
During the first year in one charge, a parishioner whom I had only met in passing at that time came to talk to me. His wife had told him that their marriage was over. He had had a very close relationship with my predecessor, who still lived in the community while employed in a different ministry. The man was deeply bereft, not just because his wife was leaving him, but because his former pastor had told him to come and see me. He told me, “I thought that X was my friend, and he told me to go away.”

It’s easy for people to confuse pastoral relationships with ordinary friendship. When the pastoral relationship ends, as it inevitably will, does the friendship end?

My predecessor had done what he and I both knew to be the right thing by referring a pastoral issue to me, but the parishioner could not see it that way.

When clergy leave a place, the situation is reversed. Some people slough off the relationship like they do an old coat. “That priest is gone, now we’ll start to connect with the next one.” Others — like the man above — find it harder to disconnect, because the relationship has become entangled.

My predecessor knew for himself that that my parishioner’s issues were NMP.

I’ve tried hard to hold to this, and have mostly succeeded. I do confess to having failed a time or two, because something hit me hard and I reacted emotionally. It’s very easy to do this in real life, and even easier to do it via social media. I have asked forgiveness on at least one occasion, but it would have been much better for all concerned if I had never had occasion to do so.

Everyone is human. Everyone makes mistakes. But not everyone learns from their mistakes. When something is NMP, please don’t try to make it yours all over again.

Back to Holy Saturday…
This is the day when the Church recalls that Christ lay dead in the tomb. It comes between the profound shock of Jesus’ Crucifixion and the astonishing joy of the Resurrection. It is a day of emptiness, of grief, and of waiting. To be sure, looking through the lens of Easter tells us what we await. But let us remember that Jesus’ disciples grieved on that day without knowing with any certainty what the next day would bring. All they knew was that their Master was dead, and they could not see the future.

Leaving a place or a career can often be very much a “Holy Saturday” experience. It is disorienting. It brings grief. It leaves us longing for a lost past and hoping for an unseen future. And as in every grief process, the griever can make wrong decisions while the future reality unfolds.

 

The Cross—From the Other Side

Notes for a Good Friday sermon preached at Holy Trinity Strathcona
Edmonton AB, March 25, 2016

3 crossesWhy did Jesus have to die?” is a very common question, arising from believers and sceptics alike.

St. Anselm’s simple answer, known as “substitutionary atonement,” was that this was the only way to pay the price for our sin. It has become the dominant answer in much of Western Christianity. The early church did not have the doctrine and the Eastern (Orthodox) churches have never embraced it, but almost every hymn in the Holy Week section of Common Praise shows its influence.

The doctrine found early roots in the High Middle Ages, a troubled and turbulent era, when many theologians emphasized the wretchedness of human existence. Its influence continued into the Protestant churches, finding fertile ground in the teaching of John Calvin and his followers.

It works on a kind of quid pro quo economic system: Everything has a price, so somehow someone has to pay the price of sin.

However—it’s a very troubling doctrine in many ways, depicting God as vengeful, demanding blood sacrifice – of his only Son! Some have called it “divine child abuse.”

Under Anselm’s system, the Incarnation (God taking human form) was necessitated by the need for the cross. Jesus’ ministry was almost by-the-by. Our creeds don’t help us in this respect: both Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds contain “the great comma,” sliding directly from Jesus’ birth to the passion.

As one writer pointed out in a recent blog, the whole thing could have been accomplished much more quickly if Jesus had perished with the Holy Innocents of Bethlehem.

There are other problems, but let’s not spend much time on them. Let’s instead try to look at the death of Jesus of Nazareth through the teaching of another medieval saint – Francis of Assisi, who turned the whole equation around, only a century after Anselm.

Francis held that God’s fundamental act of redemption and salvation was the Incarnation. By entering into human life, God blessed and redeemed all of human existence. God loved humanity enough, that to step into our midst, and pitch his tent among us. And the Incarnation led inevitably to the cross.

What do I mean by that? Simply put: when the Word became flesh in Jesus of Nazareth, “flesh” included and assumed all of human existence. Jesus had to die because Jesus was human – and human beings die.

This human being differed from all others in his pre-existence as the Word (Logos), but as a human being he lived into the failings, all the limitations, all the frailties of ordinary people like you and me.

This human being – God incarnate – came to his own people – and “his own knew him not.” He was rejected by those who should have known him, religious leaders who accused him of blasphemy, people who looked for a human solution to their oppression and found Jesus wanting, leaders of the nation who were prepared to sacrifice one man for his supposed sedition to keep the peace, disciples who were drawn to him but could not hear the fullness of his message.

He was despised and rejected by others; a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity; and as one from whom others hide their faces he was despised, and we held him of no account.
(Isaiah 53:3-4)

He came to bring divine light into this world. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” (John 1:5) Jesus came to open the doors to eternal life. And what does that take?

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (John 3:16-17)

This is the action of a loving God – who desires that all his people should share his divine life, which is what eternal life means.

Jesus offended the blinded leaders of his nation by his words and actions. He made their lives uncomfortable, making it expedient to have him executed.

Crucifixion makes an example of the offender. It did so in this case, but ultimately not in the way his accusers could ever have imagined. Jesus died as one of us, taking with him to the cross all our triumphs and defeats, all our joys and sorrows, all our gains and all our losses. He died the most shameful death his age could give him. He died a criminal’s death, turning that death into victory, shaming those who wielded the lash and drove the nails, triumphantly proclaiming at the last “It is finished!”

He took the worst the powers of this world could muster against him, and turned it against them through the power of love.

In his birth, in his life, and in his death, God in Jesus took upon himself all that it means to be human.

When we rejoice, remember how Jesus rejoiced over his disciples.

When we weep, remember that Jesus wept at Lazarus’ tomb.

When a child is born, remember that Jesus also was born of a woman.

And when we meet death, remember that Jesus also knew its pains.

Today we remember that God loved us so much that he gave us his Son to lead all people to eternal life. As we look to the cross, let us see not a sign of shame and suffering but the throne of the King of Glory. Our King is crowned with thorns, his face streaked with tears for the people who would not receive him as their king, and handed him over to the powers of this world.

Today and every day, Jesus weeps for us.

Today and every day, let us weep for him and with him.

But finally let us remember that today is not the end of the story. We will tell the next chapter over the great 50 Days of Easter, as we rejoice in the fullness of God’s salvation of the world.

[repeat John 3:16-17]

Thanks be to God!

A new ___ ?

Some time in the ’90’s, the Rev. Loren B. Mead led a clergy conference for the Anglican Diocese of Edmonton. He had graciously agreed to come on a reduced fee, but we did not receive a discounted conference. Far from it — I recall it as one of the best of the various clergy conferences I attended while in parish ministry. I don’t recall much of the specific conference topics, and I have long since lost my notes from it, but one thing stands out.

In the final session, after recapping the major areas of discussion, Mead left us with “twelve truths” for ministry. Some of them were explicitly about church issues, but several could be applied very generally. The one that made the most immediate sense to me at the time was:

“A new ___ won’t solve all your problems.”

shutterstock_101551237When I posted this on Facebook without any referent, all sorts of people responded with either a question about what the blank represented, or their own suggestion for filling it in. The thing is, they’re all right in their own ways. What Mead was getting at in the original context (or so I heard it) was the tendency for people to latch onto a single solution for complex problems.

At the time of the conference, I was well into my second parish charge. When I arrived there, the Bishop told me to get them a building quickly, because the issue threatened to tear the congregation apart. There were a few people who resisted the whole idea of having our own building instead of the rented space we were using, but most of them were utterly fixated on getting into our own church. “It’ll be better once we get our building” was the mantra, spoken in a variety of ways, but always with the same subtext: all the problems of the congregation would be fixed by a building.

Wrong!

We did get into our own building, less than 3 years after my arrival in the parish, but the hordes of new people many were expecting never materialized. Rather, several families who had worked hard on the building project started to drift away from the church. Our income dropped by 10% in the first year, while the building occupancy costs drove the budget up by 20%. It was true that we had space to meet, we could advertise a fixed location, and we could set our service time without bumping into another congregation. But… (there’s always a “but,” isn’t there?) people’s energy levels were low. Years of working on a project had taken its toll. The new building didn’t solve all the problems — it merely helped with some existing ones, and brought along a whole set of new ones.

It took some time, but by the time I left there, the parish had managed to put its edifice complex behind it, and was beginning to behave like a missional church.

I had an analogous experience in my first charge, where I was the first resident cleric in 20 years. They had worked hard to become self-supporting once again, instead of being linked to the parish in the neighbouring town. A lot of hope was pinned on having me there, which I didn’t really wake up to until my first annual meeting, about 7 months in. One man said, “We thought the church would come to life again, and the Sunday School would be full like it was in the ’50’s.” The new priest was to be the solution to all their problems, leading them straight ahead into a glorious past. Those expectations were just as misplaced as the expectations around my next charge’s building. During my time there, we made a number of advances together, but the unrealistic expectations around my presence in an ageing congregation could never quite be overcome.

I have also seen this kind of magical thinking at work in all sorts of places inside and outside the church — enough material here to fill a small book! It appears to be happening to some extent in my former diocese, which has been through some very difficult times. A new Bishop is now taking office, and some of my acquaintances appear to me to have placed all their hope on him. I wish him and them well: they have a huge task ahead of them. Nonetheless, a change of leadership, while often very important, will not by itself solve all the problems of the diocese, nor of any other organization.

DSC_0011Individuals often fall prey to this tendency. Clergy (of whom I know quite a few!) can fall into the trap of thinking that a new charge will be the solution to their vocational and professional problems. It’s known as the “geographical cure” among some bishops of my acquaintance. It rarely works, because moving a cleric in burnout simply moves his or her problems from one place to another.

“A new ___ won’t solve all your problems.”

You can fill in your own blanks according to your situation. I’m certain it will be appropriate for you. Whatever happens, let it be a warning not to place all your hope in one solution, expecting a magical solution. There’s no magic on tap! In Christian theological terms, we might call it “pseudo-Messianic thinking,” looking for a new Messiah when the truth is we have one already. Following the true Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth, is the only real solution, as long as we don’t treat God like a kind of fairy godmother. Rather, the solution to problems is to be found in hard work, careful consideration of issues, working to change things that we can change, and turning what we can’t change over to God.


Note: I intend no offense to anyone in my former parishes or diocese. If any is taken, I apologize. Things are what they are, and this is my experience and my own opinion.

 

 

To respond to violence

peace-dove-and-sign

Many people dead…
Massive terror…
The borders of France closed…
Strong responses promised…

And how are we to respond?

I am a Christian, a person who attempts to follow the way Jesus of Nazareth taught and demonstrated in his life, death, and resurrection. That said, I recognize that the term “Christian” has taken on a number of loaded meanings in this highly politicized world, this world beset by civil, religious, and inter-ethnic strife. Far too many people who claim the name of Jesus Christ are espousing violence, and violent responses to others’ violence.

Events of a few years ago taught me the huge value in Jesus’ teachings in the Sermon on the Mount,  particularly his teachings about response to violence. Note that I understand violence to include not just physical violence, but any assault on one’s person, including professional and personal insults.

Jesus said:
‘You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile.’ (Matthew 5:38-41)

Turning the other cheek has often been interpreted to suggest that Christians should be wusses: lie down and let your attacker beat you again. Nothing could be further from the truth. Without going into a detailed exposition of the text, suffice it to say that this is better interpreted as standing up and requiring that you be treated as an equal. We expose the attacker for who he or she is by countering their hate with our selves: sons and daughters of the Most High, equally deserving of respect as those who present as enemies.

I had long believed this, but some events in my ministry a few years ago taught me its truth in a way that I could never have imagined before. It’s a long story, but let’s just say that I found myself under attack from some quite unexpected quarters. I had various people counselling me through this. Some urged me to fight back in kind. Others said I should go away for a while, and let things die down. Fight or flight, the classic responses to aggression.

I chose to do neither. Instead, I held my head high, and continued on in my ministry, doing my work in the best way I knew how. A year later, the parish had changed, as my co-worker observed. She had gone on a year’s leave just before the stuff blew up, and when she returned, she encountered a radically different atmosphere. Another friend told me later that my example had helped the parish turn the corner. I turned the other cheek, standing up and saying (by example) that you can’t treat people with disrespect as had been done to me.

That’s my story. Now on the world stage we find ourselves once again faced with appalling acts of violence against innocent people. The standard response — fighting back — has not worked. Read about it HERE. I believe with all my heart that we need to find a new way, one in keeping with the Gospel of Christ. A collective turning the other cheek and loving our neighbours. And yet, the words coming out of France can best be summed up as “REVENGE!”

There has to be a better way. Seeking revenge, even the limited revenge demanded by the Old Testament (“eye for eye, tooth for tooth…” cf. Exodus 21:23-25), perpetuates the cycle of violence. Revenge proves the attacker right, sucking us into an inescapable vortex. The last 14 years have proved this beyond any doubt. Revenge does not work; it does not stop violence.

What is the better way? It won’t be popular. Seeking with Jesus to halt the cycle of violence will inevitably lead to cries of betrayal and cowardice. My admittedly limited personal experience proved to me that loving our enemies is costly, but is ultimately of immeasurable value.

Let us seek to find that better way in our lives, our communities, and between nations. Let’s leave the last word to the prophet Micah:

For out of Zion shall go forth instruction,
   and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.
He shall judge between many peoples,
   and shall arbitrate between strong nations far away;
they shall beat their swords into ploughshares,
   and their spears into pruning-hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
   neither shall they learn war any more;
but they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees,
   and no one shall make them afraid;
   for the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken. (Micah 4:2b-4)

Post-script: Bishop Pierre Whalon has written eloquently on the same topic. Read his comments HERE.