Archives for category: Uncategorized

Although Martin Luther departed from Roman Catholics on many doctrines, he continued to agree on a number of points, including infant baptism and original sin. In his commentary on Romans he wrote: “But original enters into us; we do not commit it, but we suffer it. We are sinners because we are the sons of a sinner. A sinner can beget only a sinner, who is like him.”

Anabaptists disagreed with both Luther and Roman Catholics on both of the above points, although lately some Mennonites have been influenced by the “neo-reformed” movement that has also influenced numerous other evangelical denominations and emerging churches. I generally try not to bother myself with such heavy subject matter, but The Story of Original Sin, with only 108 pages, and written by John E. Toews, a renowned Anabaptist biblical scholar, attracted my attention when it came out a few years ago. Despite the small number of pages, his biblical and historical research is thorough. Here are a few of his conclusions in regards to the doctrine of original sin:

“Augustine’s doctrine of original sin is without biblical and historical foundation… There is no basis for it in the Genesis 3 text [neither sin nor Satan appear in the story], or elsewhere in the Hebrew Scriptures… There is no basis for it in the New Testament and certainly not in Romans 5:12 [Augustine did not know Greek and based his mis-exegesis on Ambrosiaster’s mistranslation of this text]. Paul’s real agenda is not Adam’s sin and its consequent universal death, but Messiah Jesus’ triumph over the apocalyptic power of Sin and gift of righteousness and life for all people.”

“Augustine’s doctrine of original sin could have been declared heretical… but became dogma instead of heresy, and his teaching has been perpetuated in the western church ever since. How could a teaching which violated the major criteria for truth in the ancient church have become dogma? The truth be told, it had to do with politics… to justify the practice of infant baptism as the means of cleansing for original sin.”

In his concluding chapter he proposes a more constructive proposal based on contemporary Jewish, Eastern Orthodox, and Anabaptist confessions:

“So, how do we understand sin? Sin is enslavement to transpersonal and structural powers… that have the world in their grip. All humans are born into the world that is enslaved by these powers… and we all let ourselves be seduced by these powers or we choose to embrace these powers and their sinful ways. Each culture and each ideology gives expression to these powers in different ways, so that the Christian church must continually discern the ways in which the powers tempt and call people to choose to turn away from God, each other, and creation.”

Let’s replace Luther’s belief in original sin with what is truly original and biblical: God has created each person in the divine image to be in loving relationship with Godself who first loved us. That is our original blessing!

 

Advertisements

My Canada 150+ blogs of the summer give way to a new series in anticipation of “Reformation Day” on October 31 which will mark exactly 500 years since Martin Luther posted his 95 theses on the door of Wittenberg Cathedral. I begin a series of blogs reflecting on some of his quotes and ideas. I am not a Lutheran but the Anabaptist movement which I identify with would not have happened without the work of Martin Luther. Although I prefer to see the Anabaptists as a third stream of the Reformation era they were also “protestors” of the corruption in the Roman Catholic Church of the day. This protest was ignited by Luther’s famous post.

Let’s begin with a lesser known pithy quote from Martin Luther. “Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.” This reflects a strong attachment to creation and all vocations within it as well as a “new creation” type eschatology. Although his statement is about planting time and it is now harvest time, this good earthy theology makes me thankful again for the produce of our garden and of the fertile Fraser Valley in which we live.

It was a warm and dry summer so some crops thrived and others wilted in the heat. The lettuce, kale, and especially spinach did not like the heat. What did really well? Broccoli, carrots, raspberries [as usual], rhubarb, and concord grapes. Cucumbers, potatoes, peas, green beans, yellow wax beans, and radishes were normal although they finished bearing a bit earlier than usual. The ever-bearing strawberries still give me a handful for my cereal now and then. Most of the perennial herbs continue to flourish: oregano, dill, sage, basil, chives, parsley, thyme, rosemary, chamomile, lemon balm, spearmint, peppermint, stevia, and lavender. I beat the squirrels by harvesting my hazelnuts early this year and they are ripening nicely in a paper bag but the birds got most of the blueberries and choke cherries, and the apples are not as plentiful as last year. The list seems long now that I actually name them all! What a variety of tastes and fragrances! I’m glad I planted in spring and the world is still in one piece [depending on the perspective of course] as we move into fall.

The apple harvest has just begun in BC, although the best apples come from a few hours away in the Okanagan. The ones on my tree are hard and tasteless and barely good enough for sauce so we buy our apples from the market! I really enjoy the early-season Sunrise variety with their crisp tartness. They have come up with numerous varieties over the years and I enjoy many of them but the good old Spartans are still my favourite apple. How about you?

 

I went to seminary in Toronto, Ontario, Canada’s largest city. The seminary boasted some of the top Christian scholars in Canada and was located in the upscale suburban neighbourhood of North York. I commuted in once a week while working in a rural congregation made up predominantly of uneducated, migrant agricultural workers who spoke English only as a third language. The 401 highway was a 200 km bridge between these two vastly different worlds. Which one was the truly sacred place? What a difficult but wonderful exercise of translating the lofty concepts of theological academia into the language of everyday life!

One summer I lived on campus for a week while taking a course. I took an evening away from the seminary to participate in a folk festival. As I was wandering about the venue looking at various booths I spotted a T-shirt with pictures of dogs spouting thought bubbles above their heads that represented various beliefs about God, e.g. the atheist dog was thinking “There is no God”, the theist dog was thinking “There is a God” and the agnostic dog was thinking “Is there a God?” etc.

In the rational western world, poetry and theology do not often go together as they do in the Psalms and Prophets but I believe they should dance more often. This shirt and my theology class inspired the following poem. It really needs to be read aloud in a high pitched, pretentious, snobbish, British accent but perhaps you can imagine it and then be a bit more humble next time God shows up somewhere we do not expect or does something that does not fit our theological constraints.

THE DYSLEXIC AND HIS DOG

I am

a dyslexic and I have a little dog;

his name is Yahweh.

I put him on a chain or a leash

so he does not get away.

 

At night

he sleeps in a little box

by the parlor door.

I have a neon pooper scooper

in case of messies on the floor.

 

In the morning

I take him for little walks

to Jerusalem Park.

He’s a nice little dog

but he never does bark.

 

One day

my little dog was gone (god-noggit!).

I saw him at the neighbors’

(they don’t even believe in dogs)

and he’s running free and wild,

all over their yard and flowers…

And look!

He’s climbing a tree!

Dogs don’t climb trees!

 

 

Our birthplaces have significance—they determine our citizenship for one!—even if we move from that spot immediately after our birth. I was born in Steinbach, Manitoba and spent my first six years of life on a farm about six miles north of there. Then after moving a few hours west with my family I traveled back to the area to visit relatives occasionally but I also had a lot of spiteful humor about it during those years, thankful I had left the Mennonite Mecca. In light of that it is perhaps ironic that Steinbach became significant in my spiritual journey during young adulthood. My motives for attending Steinbach Bible College were mixed. I had just graduated from high school and was not having success in my fall job hunt. I was looking for a job in the area and dropped in at the college to see a girl I had liked at camp that summer. I saw the excitement of students beginning the new adventure of college life. It was God speaking! By the end of that week I was registered and starting classes.

For the next three years Steinbach was my home for most of every year. Steinbach hosted a number of important milestones in my life. I graduated with my first of four post-secondary degrees. I bought my first car: a royal blue Olds Omega with mag wheels, and also got my first bank loan in order to make it happen. I met my first steady girlfriend there and a year later experienced my first romantic heartbreak there when she broke up with me. I got my first independent apartment in Steinbach. I had three different jobs in Steinbach: car jockey at an auto dealership [where I found my car], guitar instructor for a music store [where I met the young woman], and forklift driver for a truss manufacturer [which paid for my apartment]. I won’t go into detail on any of the adventures surrounding the above milestones. All this to say that Steinbach was not only my birthplace but also became a sacred place where I grew in my independence: spiritually, intellectually, financially, and socially. Steinbach was the place where I became an adult.

The following poem is about middle adulthood, the time when we rework our past and embrace our new maturing selves. Author Miriam Toews was also born in Steinbach and spent her formative years there. Her book, A Complicated Kindness, is a work of fiction about a teenage protagonist living in East Village but to me it had some obvious autobiographical references. East Village was a reference to Steinbach, the largest town in the East Reserve, one of two parcels of land given to Mennonite settlers in 1874. I not only knew many of the locations described in the book but I could also relate to the rebellious teenage years of the protagonist. However, my theory is that the book is actually the story of Miriam Toews’ midlife journey of coming to terms with her past. I was in the midst of this journey myself when I read the book. I had a clever idea to put my midlife journey in the form of a humorous poem written like a fan letter to her. The love and hate are personifications of the love/hate relationship we have with ourselves and our past lives.

I submitted the poem to Rhubarb: A Magazine of New Mennonite Writing but unfortunately they did not seem to understand that poetry is metaphorical and published it in the “letters” section making it look like I was a Miriam Toews stalker! I received some venomous hate-mail from one very literate reader who also did not get it. So for the public record, I had and have no desire to have a relationship with Miriam Toews but good art always provokes identification, and her writing is good art. My poem may not be the best art but after the previous incident I feel I have to explain the poem just to make sure people don’t misunderstand. It’s a poem about my sacred place in Manitoba, even if I [and Miriam Toews] have left that place both literally and figuratively.

LETTER TO MIRIAM TOEWS

I love you, Miriam Toews

that mole on your cheek

your straw straight hair

those Baltic blue eyes

mischievous

deep sadness in behind

and that self-deprecating smile

the Menno drawl

(just like me)

I love you, Miriam Toews

I hate you, Miriam Toews

you soiled the bed

that I was born in

I used to like chicken

(especially breasts)

but now I’ve flown the coop

(just like you)

with my own evisceration

and I’m all embarrassed

to be who I am

lonely on my bedroom floor

I hate you, Miriam Toews

I love you, Miriam Toews

we cried together in triage

drowned in the same gravel pits

slid down suicide hill

excommunicated,

we escaped the hatchet line

I thank-you for your cruel kindness

now breathe your burning breath

on my frigid fingers

writing

I love you, Miriam Toews

 

Saskatchewan has a bad reputation for geography. People make jokes about driving through it at night because there is nothing to see anyway. People think of it as merely miles and miles of flat grassland now turned into wheat and now canola fields. Thus, many people do not get off the Trans-Canada highway to explore this diverse province. Even if staying on this legendary highway there is diversity from the aspen forests, ponds, swamps, and valleys in the east to the open prairie around Regina—which fits the stereotype—to the salt lakes and flats, and then the grand rolling hills growing bigger and grander from Moose Jaw to the Alberta border. And this is only a small slice of the south! We have not yet mentioned the absolutely stunning Saskatchewan or Qu’Appelle River valleys or the top half of the province that is lake and forest country. So give Saskatchewan a chance! This summer we had to fly over it in our annual trip to Manitoba and I missed it.

My sacred place in the province is hills overlooking the Saskatchewan River at Saskatchewan Landing, a few minutes’ drive north of Swift Current where we lived. They have since made a national park out of similar terrain south of Swift Current: Grasslands National Park. This geography has a haunting beauty all its own. From a distance they are but dry hills and rolling prairies, which have a haunting beauty all their own, but if you look closely at the right time of year you can see blooming cacti the colour of the most glorious sunshine. That is the juxtaposition of life: sometimes the times of suffering make us more beautiful people. This place became sacred for me because it corresponded with a particular geography of my soul that I was experiencing at the time. It was a time of transition, confusion, and lack of clear direction. I often went to these hills for solace and to cry out my longing for redemption and healing. The depth of my experience in these hills inspired more poetry than all of the other provinces combined. Sometimes people have chuckled when I read this poem because all they know are the Saskatchewan stereotypes but they don’t know my soul or the sacred beauty of the place.

Saskatchewan,

a naked barren land

and domineering sky—

heat, dust, wind, smoke sweeping

over ridged and rugged yellow grayish skin

stretching on endlessly.

Is there anywhere to go here?

Is there any destination?

It’s all so open-ended,

seeing forever

yet seeing nothing.

 

We have lived in five Canadian provinces so I will choose one place from each of those provinces. Each province has its own beauty geographically and in each province I have had unique encounters with God. I began with my present in BC so I will move from west to east and backwards in time chronologically.

My first impression of Lake Louise was a line-up of cars and a large over-crowded parking lot befitting a super-mall in a big city. I wondered whether it would really be worth fighting all the crowds. Then I saw it and I knew why millions of people from around the world flock to gawk at the view across Lake Louise toward the glacier framed symmetrically by mountain slopes. A gaze of few minutes is simply not enough! Just as Moses at the burning bush, one has to take off their shoes to put their feet in, or dip a paddle from a red canoe, or take a hike for different vantages. As I heard the mixture of many languages from around the world all gazing at the mountain scene, the vision of Isaiah came into my mind and heart.

The mountain of the Lord’s temple

will be established as the highest of the mountains;

it will be exalted above the hills,

and all nations will stream to it.

Many peoples will come and say,

“Come let us go up to the mountain of the Lord.

He will teach us his ways so that we may walk in his paths.”

God will judge between the nations

and will settle disputes for many peoples.

They will beat their swords into plowshares

and their spears into pruning hooks.

Nation will not take up sword against nation,

nor will they train for war anymore.

 

I have taken a monthly retreat day for almost 30 years now. One of my special places for retreat since living in Abbotsford has been Fraser River Heritage Park in Mission, BC. The view to the south is spectacular: the wide Fraser River, the fertile and expansive valley, forested hills, and Mount Baker’s snow-covered peak in the distance. It is not difficult to experience the Creator’s closeness here and yet the place is also marked by spiritual pain–story boards were added a few years ago to commemorate the sad chapter of a residential school on the site. I have written numerous poems from this vantage point and this latest one illustrates a few of the layers from prehistoric times to my present that make this a sacred place.

STORY BOARDS

Coagulating story boards

Markers of days gone by

Sheltered by shade of trees with eyes

What stories could they tell?

In the distance a dormant cone

Now covered all with snow

A deep rainforest lies below

A river flowing by

Teeming large with salmon plenteous

Ancient home of STO:LO

Hemlock and fir and cedar grow

Gray rain and cloudy sky

Foreign explorers found their way

With alcohol and gun

Built a school: St. Mary’s Mission

Christendom is to blame

So much pain these cracked foundations

Dignity and pride like mist

What can anyone say to this?

We hang our heads in shame

Now there’s a new and winding path

Nearer to death than birth

Will something fresh ever come forth?

Or does one pause to rest?

Coagulating story boards

From ancient fire till now

List! Listen to the leaves and bow

Your story may be next