We just celebrated our college graduation on Saturday. I teach a course on spiritual formation and vocational discernment. I believe that vocational discernment [finding your calling] is at the heart of young adult spiritual formation, perhaps all spiritual formation. The Reformation was a time when there was not only reformation of church and doctrine but a reformation of the concept of vocation. Here’s a brief history of vocation:

It began with Eusebius [263-339 CE], Bishop of Caesarea, who said that Christ gave two ways of life: Via Contemplativa, or the contemplative life, primarily lived by priests, nuns, and monks. In Protestant terms this would be ministers and missionaries who have a “call” from God. This was a sacred calling, those who have a calling, a vocation. Those who did not have a call from God engaged in the Via Activa, the life of work: soldiering, governing, farming, trading, and raising families. It was praised as noble and necessary, but secondary.

This created an obvious double standard. It is somewhat ironic in that the monastic movement had a reforming mission to call a secularized church back to radical discipleship, but instead it had a relaxing effect in that it called a few to radical discipleship and let everyone else off the hook.

Martin Luther corrected the Catholic distortion by saying, “The works of monks and priests, however holy and arduous they may be, do not differ one whit in the sight of God from the works of the rustic laborer in the field or the woman going about her household tasks, but that all works are measured before God by faith alone.” When he talked about vocation he liked to use the most mundane examples: “the father washing smelly diapers, the maid sweeping the floor, the brewer making good beer.” All work is God’s work.

Unfortunately, Protestantism brought its own distortion. Whereas the Catholic distortion is a spiritual dualism, the Protestant distortion is a kind of secular dualism. It reduces vocation to an alternative word for work. John Calvin sarcastically said in response to Libertines, “Let a brothel keeper ply his trade… let a thief steal boldly, for each is pursuing his vocation.” Protestant reformers agreed that judges had to sentence, soldiers had to kill, and slaves have to serve in order to fulfill their God-given, predestined calling in life. I think you can see the problems with this.

The Anabaptists questioned this because the uncritical acceptance of some occupations did not allow for any challenge of the existing social order. They believed that the existing social order was not according to God’s reign; and, that they were called to set up an alternative social order as a prophetic witness. This created tension for them in certain roles because those roles were part of an evil system, e.g. the magistrate [kill people], a merchant [horde goods from poor].

But this initially prophetic question helped to produce the “Anabaptist distortion” of withdrawal from society in later generations. They did good things, and did them ethically [some of the time], but only for their own benefit and not for the common good.

So with all these distortions in history, how can we develop a good theology of vocation today that is consistent with God’s purposes?

 

 

 

 

Resurrection is Hard Sometimes

 

Resurrection was easy for you:

encounters in the garden,

walking through walls,

breaking bread, breakfast on the beach,

a cruise on the clouds

to go back where you came from.

 

But what if going back where you came from

was back to an alley

full of dumpsters and rubble

where you overdosed on fentanyl

because your pain was unbearable?

Then resurrection would be hard.

 

What if going back where you came from

was back to a disease

that caused you to starve till you fainted,

puke till you cardiac arrested

and stole your very selfhood?

Then resurrection would be hard.

 

 

The introduction to my post turned into a spontaneous poem of my own and in the process I forgot to post the poem that appeared in the guidebook as an introduction to the dramatic tableaux written by my son Adriel Brandt.

I like pictures of empty crosses,

because then I can hoist myself up

into His place

to look down on everyone.

Remember though,

that we are the Romans:

the white, the wealthy,

the employed, the male,

the heterosexual, the cisgendered,

the Christian, the Western:

we are, all of us, the Romans,

and if we learn to look

up,

we might see Jesus.

Good Friday

This was not five hundred years ago or even one hundred and fifty; it is today.

It was a difficult resurrection again today

from the warmth of my overnight tomb

and I wondered with doubt whether going to church

was an appropriate response to the death of God;

but, with duty I did—

although without anticipation or expectation.

I was greeted with poetry and pottery,

the sung and spoken word with feeling,

provocative and dramatic tableaux,

the pounding and tickling of keys on strings,

silence haunting and beautiful (I could use more of this in church),

and an art walk to Emmaus;

I don’t know if I encountered divinity

but Niagara was waiting behind my eyes.

Then my granddaughter

gave me a glimpse of Easter early

as she pirouetted around the parking lot

with last season’s sticks and leaves in hand

and the unblemished purity

of just being

alive.

 

This is Passion Week: from the volatility of Palm Sunday to the violence of Good Friday. I call Good Friday Armistice Day—the day that Jesus put an end to the need for animal sacrifice in worship and also the need for human sacrifice in war.

The Reformation was an important time of church reform but the dark side of the Reformation was that it was also a time of unbridled violence involving the old and crumbling Holy Roman Empire and numerous smaller jurisdictions: German principalities, various independent city states, and unorganized peasant groups—all of them aligned with some reforming and protesting branch of Christianity. Perhaps the most infamous of the violent events was the Munster debacle, climaxing on Easter, 1535. It was a tragic and terrible event that illustrated the extremes of the Anabaptist movement.

Although the Munsterites may have been on the fringes of Anabaptism—a radicalization of a radical movement—the events at Munster became very influential in shaping the theology and practice of Dutch Anabaptists for generations to come. Munster was a defining moment even if it was something to react against. My theory is that the terrible violence at Munster was instrumental in forming the strong pacifist theology of Menno Simons and subsequent generations of Mennonites.

Consider Menno’s own words: “After this happened [the bloodshed at Munster] the blood of these poor misguided sheep fell so hot on my heart that I could not stand it. I saw that these zealous people voluntarily gave their lives and possessions for their [false] faith and beliefs… while I myself continued in my comfortable life simply in order that I might enjoy physical comfort and remain outside the cross of Christ.”

After much agonized soul-searching Menno left the safety of the priesthood and joined the fledgling Anabaptist movement. He wrote about his developing convictions: “Christ is our fortress; patience our weapon of defense; the Word of God our sword; and victory a courageous, firm unfeigned faith in Jesus Christ. And iron and metal spears and swords we leave to those who, alas, regard human blood and swine’s blood about alike.”

And what of the violent debacles in our world today? The situations are much more complex in a global society but some of the roots are the same. Do these situations break our hearts the way the Munster debacle broke Menno’s heart?

I’m a pretty loyal Canadian in many ways. I prefer exploring my own country by road rather than other countries by air. I read Canadian history as a hobby. I think I’ve voted in every federal election since I got the opportunity to vote. As stated in previous posts, I have special interest in Canadian musicians. I prefer the CBC over other channels for my newscasts. I attend a parade and/or fireworks on July 1 if at all possible. I enjoy watching many sports but prefer CFL football to the NFL and my favourite sport to watch is ice hockey—sometimes called Canada’s national game [with apologies to lacrosse].

In hockey my favourite teams are Canadian teams: I grew up cheering for the Leafs, switched to the Jets when they got a professional team, then when we lost the Jets and our family moved to Calgary I added the Flames [subsequently had to dislike the Oilers]; when we moved to the west coast I began to appreciate the Canucks but felt compelled to switch back to Winnipeg as my favourite when the NHL came back to my home province. I’d love to see Ottawa win a Stanley Cup because it has been almost 100 years and for Toronto it has been 50; and of course, Winnipeg and Vancouver deserve their first! Although nowadays one can watch hockey almost any night of the week, Saturday night is when it becomes “the thing to do” for me. My favourite players on other teams are also often Canadian: Jonathon Toews, Braden Holtby, Jerome Iginla, and Carey Price just to name a few active veterans. And I can’t help but get on the Connor McDavid bandwagon just because he is such an exciting player to watch.

So, with the NHL playoffs just around the corner, the interest in the game again heightens, especially since at present five of the seven Canadian teams have a chance this year [compared to the depressing situation last year when no Canadian teams made the playoffs]. Unfortunately, I do not think that this will be the year we will bring the Cup home to Canada. Calgary, Edmonton, Toronto, and Ottawa are all young and exciting teams but I don’t think they have the experience and endurance to make it past the second round, although I will be happy if I am proven wrong. Montreal has Carey Price and Shea Weber but it will not be enough. In the west, Jonathon Toews could lead Chicago to another one and make it a dynasty or Joe Thornton and the Sharks could go right to the end as they did last year. In the east, Sidney Crosby and Matt Murray could help Pittsburgh repeat but my prediction is that the Washington Capitals [I know, the capital city of the USA] will take it all this year led by Alexander Ovechkin [He may not be Canadian but I love his passion and joy for the game]. And of course, they have Braden Holtby of Lloydminster [border city between Alberta and Saskatchewan] as the solid back-stopper and Barry Trotz from Winnipeg, Manitoba as their coach.

Review of “Hope” by The Strumbellas [Six Shooter Records, 2016]

As a middle-aged casual music listener I do not try to keep up with all the latest Canadian recordings. I recently added a few vintage Gordon Lightfoot and Guess Who records and I bought the latest releases from Blue Rodeo [1000 Arms] and the Great Lake Swimmers [A Forest of Arms]—What’s with the fixation on arms?—whom I discovered a few years ago. Jim Cuddy and Greg Keelor’s blended voices still send shivers up my spine and “Still” is still one of my favorite songs of all time but unfortunately I did not consider either of these new releases to be worthy of a review. Both of the albums sound like these bands sound—and don’t get me wrong, I like the sound—but in my opinion neither of the albums breaks any new ground lyrically or musically. What is there to say that has not been said?

So instead, I review a band that was new to me with their 2016 release: Hope. The Strumbellas are a six piece folk ensemble with all six members providing some sweet vocal harmonies and a rich folk/pop sound. Although not musically adventurous, the writing and production provide some catchy tunes and clever musical hooks. The ironic mix is that while the vocals and instrumentation are pleasant, upbeat, and refreshing, the lyrics are sometimes brooding, dark, and reflective—yet not without hope as the title suggests. The theme of hope is an appropriate one to reflect on during this season of Lent as we long for the new life of Easter. My favorite songs are: “Spirits” [the opening song to the album and the radio single], “Wars”, “Young and Wild”, and “We Don’t Know”. The one song that makes me shake my head is “Dog” where they sing: “When this road gets too rough I’ll be your dog”. Perhaps it is because I am not a dog lover that the analogy just does not work for me as the most effective to describe loyal friendship.

The lyrics on the entire album are loaded with what I would call young adult angst: “we’re a long way from home…I’ll be a dreamer till the day I die…I don’t want a never ending life; I just want to be alive while I’m here…we don’t know the roads we are heading down; we don’t know if we’re lost, that we’ll find a way…from this moment forever I can hope…I must go and chase this dream of mine…this shaky heart is young… I don’t know what I am but I’m doing the best I can…I’m young and wild…” The song writer’s head is full of a lot of stuff: dreams, guns, spirits, ghosts, pain, darkness, soldiers—and hope. Yet, upon deeper reflection perhaps young adults only mirror and artistically articulate what is human longing; and, if that is the case they speak the angst and hope that is in all of us.

If this band were in town I would definitely go hear them and take one of my young adult kids. The music is enjoyable and the lyrics are thoughtful and reflective. With six members I can imagine they would put on an energetic and lively show.