Billy Graham can be seen as a polarizing figure, sadly some it is due to confusion with his son, other due to his non-wavering on his conservative Christian beliefs. He was a well travelled evangelist, who built quite a para-church ministry out of simple messages. The first being the very modernistic Roman Roads understanding that God demanded blood for Original Sin, and Jesus died for that ransom. Yes, this filled stadiums, many were already churched when they went, others were brought with friends. When I read Johnny Cash’s memoir, few may not know that he was the worship leader of these grand crusades (renaming of the tent revival). Yes, Rev. Graham had what is known as a fundamental understanding of theology, and held to traditional literalism. Which is why I can understand the opposing view presented by Michael Coren’s Otherside of Billy Graham in response to the “Saint” articles remembering the man. Let us remember it was Dorothy Day who said she never wanted to be a saint as to sink into irrelevance, and by creating a sanitized Saint story of Billy Graham I believe we do that.

It is okay to show the scars and all depending on your theological point of view of anyone. In Calgary, Licia Corbella wrote a great editorial in the Calgary Herald from the perspective of an attendee (1 of 215 million if I remember correctly). I pulled the quote of President Obama and Carter on who they knew Rev. Graham to be, as a counter point to Coren’s, so 3 “left” perspectives can be put forward of one person.

Former president Barack Obama called him “a humble servant who prayed for so many — and who, with wisdom and grace, gave hope and guidance to generations of Americans.”

Former president Jimmy Carter said: “Broad-minded, forgiving and humble in his treatment of others, he exemplified the life of Jesus Christ by constantly reaching out for opportunities to serve.” (From Licia Corbella’s editorial on Billy Graham’s passing).

What is that? A person is complex? Why does this matter to me who regular readers probably even question if I belong under the tent of “Christianity” (definitely many would say heretic would fit, and I know there’s a quarum that would not speak kindly upon my passing). It is because I attended a Crusade, sadly if was Franklin (who yes equated even the obese as hell bound) and not his father, but Rev. Graham aside from his writing, and providing spiritual direction to one of my favourite singer’s (Johnny Cash) and inspiration to a theologian I enjoy and draw inspiration from (Jimmy Carter) …he was someone my Mum and Nan respected.

No, it was not the bathed in the blood died for our sins thing either. Both these matriarchs that guided me in the faith took another touchstone message that Graham stayed on target with. Do not judge, live out of love.

                I understand the complexity of the man. I understand the conservatism of his beliefs. I understand the harm some of the messengers inspired by him have caused. I have seen the good works from others in building a better world inspired by the same words. I know, there is an afterlife, none of us know what it is, but he is there in that holy love.

But I do know…those that hear the message have something that needs to be taken into their heart: We cannot remain static. As we grow, our experience shapes our heart, and we must allow that experience to build on the simple cornerstone messages that charted our course on the journey.

Do not make any saint or hero irrelevant through sanitizing their life.

Make them relevant by showing who they were, how they struggled. More importantly though the complexity of the legacy left in how they loved…and for us here it is about using our hearts and minds to understand what it means for the next step forward.

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I am starting to think I sound like a broken record around the constitutional guarantee in Canada of “Peace, Order and Good Governance”. Many in electoral reform circles like to focus on the method of electing officials instead of the first step being unity of the citizens. As ideological entrenchments begin to outstrip collective good, Americanized fear based media mongering creeping into the Canadian narrative, we are now seeing an entrenched Urban versus Rural mindset.

I have family that lives both sides of this developing divide. Those who are in Rural Alberta, and Urban, I am an urbanite that enjoys the pace and community of the smaller centre life. Some would say the provincial collapse of the PC Dynasty is to blame, but I would point out in that dynasty neither group got effective representation as they could have had. Currently some would point to the NDP-UCP fiasco and that perpetuating the divide, I would say there is plausibility to that theory.

What is hard is that in the current discourse of society we enjoy to out shout someone, to keep our argument to 240 characters (I don’t know whether to thank Twitter for the increase or not), never give ground acknowledging someone else’s point is valid, always seek the one solution for multiplicity could not be possible and that surely there is not shared concerns. I could easily pull a conservative rural troll argument on an Urban issue to prove a point, but I will invert- Jason Kenney, his politicking on the issue aside, tweeted an Okotoks RCMP crime watch picture of thieves…was the response some decent kudos and retweets—no it was the vitriol. We all share these from our area when the police issue them, we even share them from other jurisdictions, but we have become entrenched in the belief that our concerns can’t possibly be the others.

Instead of Rural Albertans and Urban Albertans—howzabout a simple statement, We are citizens of Canada, that live in Alberta (or Albertans). In fact, I would challenge the Alberta Government to look at creating exploratory committees on issues differently (and yes this is the party of the majority, the loyal opposition, and all other elected MLA’s).

Crime is something that is a province wide concern. Rurally you have a mixture of long-term settlers; reserves and colonies (colonies being of Hutterite, Mennonite and Dukhobor), plus persons with disabilities, an aging population. What are you seeing? Oh, an urban population just spread out over more land? Amazing when we talk about who are neighbours are in context what it means. It means though more spread out where someone coming home, as my wife did 3 years ago, will notice shattered glass and a robbery to call police right away, or someone in the yard is only feet away from the house and call the police right away…it means on a large farm it may be a call to the RCMP detachment that services a county of many farms/villages/colonies/etc. with a few constables. It may be reporting what has been stolen, but not right away as you were not in that building every day and just noticed it. It could be hunters poaching animals on your land during hunting season as one of our MLA’s has been found guilty of doing. We know drug use is rampant in both settings, but we know pipelines come through smaller centres (20 years ago it used to follow the old still lines via Water Valley) and then distributes through new city subdivisions down to the core. Same issues, different complexities.

Health Care. We know the idea of population based health care. Leveraging home care so individuals can stay in their homes longer. The need for mental health supports. All these things we do by population numbers (and trust me in urban settings like Calgary we do not have capacity). Yet rurally they have the same instances per capita, yet more spread out, and continually seeing closure of facilities. No, it is not just like travelling via transit or circle road to the next quadrant to access that care or relative who has moved. In some cases it becomes hours via highway to the next level of care or housing. Urban dwellers voice concerns when families are separated due to coding systems and stressors. When quantity of life, and the number a person is, is placed over quality of life. Rurally, it can be whole counties that separate spouses due to their “code” of care. It can even be moving from one town to another, coded to one home, then one physically needs higher physical care, and even in a lower use jurisdiction when there is a two bedroom available and all the experts sign off, the powers that grant housing say NO because the codes are different. No context taken in, not quality of life looked at.

Yet whether you live in a city or rurally, you watch your elders, your children, who are in need suffer. You watch as the need for access to mental or holistic care is denied because you either live in a city where wait lists are huge, or in a rural place where the population does not allow and must travel. Travel is not always a plausibility.

Education… many factors in, we complain about cold days this winter in Calgary, but what of the same weather that literally shuts down bus routes in some areas, how many days are lost? For that time is there some technological solution to ensure all Alberta students regardless of residence receive the best education possible?

Poverty reduction—better term: Improving the affordability of life.

Caring for our seniors so their golden years can be adventuresome not fighting for survival.

See…the political system wants you to view where someone builds a life as another way to create an us-them divide. BUT WE ARE ALL IN THIS.

I propose, and it is out there now as open source policy for any party that wants to think outside the ideological box:

Committees of research and reconciliation be struck to explore these topics in real time. They need to be all party committees. But I challenge some points to really get into the flow (for the action research projects you can use a TRC model or World Café, as they allow the story up to now to be told, but then the impetus becomes on the solution moving forward as one):

  • The chair needs to live in a riding not in the setting (Rural chair needs to be from one of the 7 cities; Urban chair needs to be from rural ridings)-if a government MLA chairs one, the official opposition MLA needs to chair the other.
  • Membership needs to be made up of leading community leaders of the area; but also of some experts on the topic, and MLA’s from the various parties with no majority given to any party.
  • The reports need to grow policy recommendations for a new system that serves all Albertans (if taken federally, all Canadians, because let us be honest it is time to look at the Constitutional Division of powers and what reality of 35-40 million people need to be supported in a globalized world).
  • The role of the legislature with the tabled reports is to work with this as the premise to grow from, not to create partisan hot potatoes.

Other points to improve our democracy:

  • If the premier comes from a rural riding, deputy premier needs to be named from an urban riding, if the opposite does not exist in the governing party they must name from another sitting MLA.
  • Learn from the Yukon, if Premier is non-indigenous, Lieutenant Governor should be named from Treaty or Metis Nations or one of the Colonies as noted above in the article that make up our mosaic.
  • Amend laws for all electoral districts that one must live in the riding they are seeking to be an elected official in. Paper/parachute/write-in candidates cost our system money through vetting and printing of ballots. If a party cannot locate someone to run under their banner in said area they do not run a candidate, running a full slate is not a given.
  • Eliminate PAC donations (I would propose eliminating all donations and just provide free radio air time for the direct candidates’ campaign not the party, and have a certain number of debates set up that the person must attend unless they can document why not (i.e. Sickness).
  • Create a mechanism to encourage more independents to run by allowing Elections Alberta to issue tax receipts for their reported donations lists (if donations continue).
  • All donors’ lists must be ratified by a trained accountant and publicly posted no more than 1 week before vote time (so no fundraising last week of election-that is if donations can persist).
  • Sidebar, the federal idea of bailing out local newspapers has merit in renewing democracy if as part of the money they must carry 50% local content by local writers/photographers, and at least 1/5th of content must be to be looking at politics providing editorial space to a range of voices. Y’know what newspapers were like before conglomeration.

These are my ideas. I am what one would call “post-partisan”. I have always looked at the local candidate to conclude on my vote. Yes, I ran in 2006 for the Federal NDP, but I have also worked with the Federal PC Party and Federal Liberals, so meanderings with Greens and Communists and many other smaller parties and independent candidates. Remember parties are a functionality of our system, not how our system is designed to work so these things and others, are possible to create reform that bring us back together, united in our diversity.

A true Canadian Mosaic.

First we must see them as us, and us as them, or better yet, as neighbour, as citizen building a better future together.


Some Sundays even when one is healthy they cannot pull it together to get to church with the family. It can even be harder after a night of neuro-events, that left your own son checking on you to make sure “Daddy was still alive”. This was the night that I had come through, and was not well rested when I awoke. But needed to fill up the spirit over my cheerios and cuppa, which led me to accept a challenge from a friend. Re-look at JJ Abrams 2009 Star Trek reboot.

See, the challenge is, I am not a huge fan of Star Trek XI-XIII. I understand a series rebooting, new generation, new ideas. Yet I was one of the Trekkies’ pulling for a Worf led Enterprise movie; or a Riker/Troi USS Titan or a DS9 or Voyager…or even and Enterprise series movie…if there was to be something new what about looking at Enterprise C or B? Or another ship completely in the Star Trek Universe. Why re-cast iconic characters (and yes I realize this happens with James Bond, Conan, Batman, The Doctor, etc.). But this was the original cast being, well, re-cast. It is also a bit of Trekkie cognitive dissonance because I may not be completely infatuated with the new movies Boldly Going, but have enjoyed the re-cast in the IDW comic series. Soooo….

So addled brained, lethargic and somewhat hypothermic I settled in to be filled.

I am part of an endangered species.

-Spock (2009)

The death of Romulus leading a time travel narrative, a nod to Remus’ demise in Star Trek: Nemesis. Nero seeking vengeance for loss of his family, and destroying Vulcan. The act of travelling back creating an alternate reality where not everything is the same (and Vulcan is destroyed by an act of Zealot-Terrorism). New imaginings of each character.

Yet core precepts remain the same.

You are now, and will always be my friend… I am emotionally compromised, I lost my people, you need to get others to see.

-Spock (TOS in 2009).

Scotty talking about beaming Admiral Archers dog into somewhere when trying transwarp teleporting. Elder (Other-reality) Spock doing a tongue-in-cheek nod to Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, by giving Scotty a formula he would invent to move along a problem-solving plot point.

Kirk’s beating of the Kobayashi Maru (the no-win situation) a test designed by this reality’s Spock who chose Starfleet realizing he would never fit within Vulcan world fully. Playing out a more human side to the child of both world’s that followed Spock throughout the original.

Bones sharing his venture outwards to space, due to a loss of his family.

The ultimate no-win scenario to beat the drive of vengeance as Vulcan is in ruins, only 10,000 survivors and Nero has set his sights of Earth. The travel back in time to destroy the Federation (A Star Trek: First Contact nod), and red matter if it was the 1980’s you could hear the word “Genesis” ringing…life from lifelessness, lifelessness from life.

But it raises an allegorical point. Vulcan was the epicentre of where the Federation was birthed. A zealot not tied to any group officially lost something and took revenge by blowing up Vulcan (are you seeing terrorist parallels in our world?)…and how easy it would be to move to escalation instead of focusing on the need for a measured response while continuing to build relations. Even by bringing out a darker tone, as the story is being birthed in the world of uncertainty (more precarious than I would say the Cold War world, and post-Cold War world that birthed the original shows and spin-offs)…but still trying to bring hope to the front.

How is hope brought forward?

Through guidance of the elders to the core values of each character. That even if it appears everything may be different, choices can still be made to create a community of belonging.

The question the movie raises is whether Kirk and company this time will let the inclusion principles of the Federation win out, or succumb to the darkness being spread by Nero?

Are you Spock or Nero? Or Spock? Each decision creates a point in time of change.

What is your choice?

 


…Jesus son of Mary, honoured in this world and in the next, and of those granted nearness to God.

-Sura 3:46

                The Crusades were a horrific time within the Empire phase of Christianity. It was about anti-Semitism (travelling to and from the Holy Land was a great excuse for the warriors to cull the Jewish in the lands) and to let blood run high in the Holy Land battling the “infidel”.

During one such crusade time a disgraced Crusader received a call to something different. Francis was a party animal, one of those wealthy ne’er do wells many towns and communities know of. He thought to increase his lot by bravery in the Crusades…suffice to say he was not a good Knight, and wound up injured in a burnt out church where Jesus spoke to him through the San Damiano cross calling him to rebuild his church. After stealing supplies from his father, and rebuilding 3 fine parishes he was once again revisited and redirected to actual community based around hope and loved. Even beaten and imprisoned by his own parents, just emboldened this man to cast of (literally) the clothes of wealth and walk naked into the world.

The Franciscan movement is what began. Part of the life lived that receives little mention outside of the international circles (as most just know Francis for his love of animals, not activism) so he has been reduced to the garden statue or fountain. Yet it was in the midst of crusade times this rabble rouser and friends upset the apple cart, and not just in the challenge for equity and justice for the poor. Nope, he also crossed treasonous lines by going back onto the Crusader path to meet with Sultan.

Why?

To pray together.

To talk.

To share bread.

To be community.

Abraham was neither a Jew nor a Christian, but he was ever inclined to God and obedient to Him, and he was not of those who associate gods with God.

-Sura 3:68

Francis and his community understood an eternal truth. God is the source of all that is, all that exists within and through and lived out of the Holy Mystery. The source-Love- was not to be confused with the manifestations. That is…the wells are not the river.

We want the labels to divide. Those in power hope that we allow the labels to divide. Yet, there is another way. A way where we acknowledge the One River, and sample one another’s well water in a safe place of community, sharing prayers, sharing discourse, sharing bread. Being like Francis and the Sultan. That piece of light in the darkness.

And he will teach them the Book, and The Wisdom, and The Torah and the Gospel.

-Sura 3: 49

This is why my family hosts an inter-faith Questing through the Qur’an; and a Brunch & Bible (where we travel the roads of the Gospel of Luke & Acts of the Apostles) on alternating weeks. To share the foundation stories. To see where we connect. To hear where we differ.

To know  we are still united in our diversity.

                Much like Francis’ call to bring the gifts of peace, hope, faith, joy and love to Sultan. But also to receive these same gifts from Sultan.

For, what are we in humanity,

if not neighbours….

francis

The Gospel story, the faith story has not ended. It is not sealed. Each of us in our journeys, our lives continue to write in the book of life about how we live within, through and out of the love that is the Holy Mystery. So what is the new chapter you are starting in this moment?

Ecclectica

Posted: February 19, 2018 by Ty in Current Events

PCPO-The Party Brown may sink:

Less than four months to go to an Ontario provincial election. Patrick Brown resigned amid Sexual Assault/harassment allegations; his inner circle jumped before that. Interim-leader has dubbed party with deep rot. Four candidates running and before the deadline Brown files to run again for leader. First stating he did not resign (refuted by many news recordings of said conference); and then saying he was going to fight the allegations. Some have even touted he passed a lie detector. For those unaware of the fallacy of this test it can be beaten by severe personality disorders; those who believe they actually did right even if the act was heinous or a mood stabilizer ala Ativan. Do not hang your innocence on this test. Do I believe someone cannot fight an allegation? No, it is how our justice system is built. What is a struggle is how someone who resigned as leader, was removed from caucus, can actually re-file to run as leader from the point of being an independent (never mind the allegations) be a member in good standing to actually pass vetting to run again? Some have said that the party stated vetting was optional as he had previously passed.

Thoughts and Prayers and the creep of Americanized Fear:        

There is so much wrong with a nation that it is easier to purchase weapons of mass murder that get treatment for mental or physical health. I am not going to way into the fray at this juncture on what the neighbours to the south need to look at to save their children (their children’s voices are ringing loudly on that). What it is showing is how easily lobbyist money creates the Deep State—whether it be oil, enviro-logues or in this case NRA and Gun manufacturers.

This creep is in Canada, most notably Kevin Taft opened  the discourse of the deep state of oil money. But looking at the fear based campaigning happening I would say there is an attempt of the gun lobby to create an American-North gun rights movement. Let us first look historically at this, Canadians have never had the right to bear arms. We have a regulated fire arm training program, we look to levels of ownership (ala long rifles, hand guns), things like the AR-15’s are not allowed. But we start hearing the rhetoric of “stand your ground” or “right to protect property” and you can begin to see the de-valuation of the human life. Or the catch phrase that guns don’t kill, NO! they are inherently designed to kill, that is their purpose.

I know this, I took the course to own guns in Canada.

There are many layers to what causes school or mass shootings, yet the ease of availability of weapons of mass murder are a huge contributing factor. Lack of Universal Health Care. The ability to remove worth from the individual so they become the other, a group becomes seen as nothing more than other, without value.

I lament that the term “thoughts and prayers” has become code for the inaction of those funded by the deep state of gun money. For I truly do send positive thoughts and prayers to those who are victim of the violence. We do not have a constitutional separation of church and state so the argument of prayer in school is invalid in Canada. It cannot be mandated for we are a community of communities, but with a quorum of students and if it does not violate the charter any group can be formed in schools, so yes prayer groups can exist.

I am also a pissed off father that due to American fear, and mass murder my children are traumatized by “Lockdown” and “active shooter” drills. I still remember 6 years ago, holding my 5 year old daughter after her first one in kindergarten. I have held her and my son each time since.  I was told it was for safety by the CBE and by the Principal. I say bull shit. One can count on their hand the amount of times this has happened in Canada, but building up the shock and awe allows for a disvaluing culture to build. Start young enough with false trauma and then real trauma can be added. It leaves shell shocked generation.

SO yes, I feel real pain for the children and people who keep losing their lives because their politicians sold out to money. BUT choosing either Democrat or Republican in the USA is not going to change things. Choose differently with each vote, and shake the institution.

I believe there are some strong reasons we do not have this issue in Canada: 1) any public school group with a quorum of students can be struck to meet as long as it fits the charter (so through student leadership and inclusion we do have prayer and civil discourse on controversial topics). 2) it is easier to get aid for mental health than a gun (and with guns preference are to hunting rifles which is hard to rapidly re-load; handguns need another level of clearance/training; semi-assault/assault weapons are not allowed; we have limits on the size of ammunition clips); 3) We have a national meta-narrative of belonging and inclusion in our diversity (yes we struggle with it, yes we have our own issues, but we wear it publicly and struggle to do better). 4) the tipping point however is we are allowing the USA media/nationalist religion to infest our thoughts and discourse to the point their fear overtakes us–why the hell else do my children (special needs and typically developing) get traumatized by F’ing lockdown drills as there might be a shooter? There was Montreal Polytechnique in `89; Taber shortly after columbine… statistically this is not warranted…okay my sermon is over..and remember whether we hold to Judeo-Christian faith, humanist or Trekkian—the goal is simple, a world of peace, joy, hope and faith fuelled by love where all belong. Okay now sermon is over.

-My Facebook status on February 17, 2018

In Canada let’s shatter our false dichotomy. Let us see what happens to end fear culture. To End harassment and assault culture. To end Institutionalization when we choose to vote for other than the big 3 parties…what happens when no incumbents or big three are sent back to our Parliament and Legislature? When laws can be passed to wipe out big and dark money? It can lead to a better future geared to our Canadian Constitutional Guarantee of Peace, Order and Good Governance.


Guest Post/Sermon by Benny Leung

The passage that I choose for today’s sermon contains two distinct narratives – the first spans from verses 7-12 while the second spans from verses 13-19.

We know from the earlier chapters that Jesus had begun ministry and saw great success.  At the same time, he also attracted much unwanted attention from the religious political leaders; this led to tension which amounted to conflicts that led to his crucifixion.  Of course, the religious leaders’ worries concerning Jesus were understandable.  After all, Jesus did challenge the prevailing rigid social and religious status quo (i.e. washing of hands, the Sabbath, etc).  More importantly, Jesus’ ministry offered the masses that the religious institution could not offer – healing of illnesses and casting out of demons.

Many of us are familiar with the biblical account of why John the Baptist was killed by Herod.  According to the Gospel writers, John agitated Herodias by challenging her marriage with Herod as illegitimate.  Her anger towards John eventually amounted to a plot that led to his death.  In addition to the biblical account, Josephus had also recorded the account of John’s death in The Jewish Antiquities.  The historical account showed that John’s ministry gained momentum and had thousands of Jewish followers.  Knowing this, Herod feared he was losing control over the people and saw John as a threat to his position.  As a result, Herod proactive sought for opportunities to remove John in order to secure his position before the Roman Empire.

In light of this historical account, Mark 3:7-8 tells us that people came from Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea, Tyre and Sidon to see Jesus.  With the exception of Judea and Jerusalem, all the other cities are quite multicultural in a sense that there were gentiles living among the Jews.  In other words, while John’s ministry was limited in the wilderness and to the Jews, Jesus’ ministry spanned a much larger spectrum in terms of geography as well as culture and nationality; this made Jesus even more of a threat than John.  Thus, Jesus’ withdraw to the lake is likely a conscious response on his part in order to not jeopardize his ministry by the unwanted fame that he was gaining.  Jesus knew very well that the objective of his ministry is to preach the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven and not gain popularity.

Verses 9-10 adds further flavor to Jesus’ withdraw.

9 Because of the crowd he told his disciples to have a small boat ready for him, to keep the people from crowding him.

10 For he had healed many, so that those with diseases were pushing forward to touch him.

The boat that Jesus had his disciples readied was not a pulpit for the purpose of teaching but a means to avoid people from crowding him.  That is, the boat was there to separate Jesus from the crowd.  We can’t help but to ask the question of why the Messiah distanced himself from the people whom he is called to save?  What was the crowd there for?  Clearly, the people did not gather to listen to Jesus’ teaching about the Kingdom of Heaven.  Instead the crowd was there to seek physical healing because they had heard about the great things that Jesus did.  Interestingly, this set of verses did not mention healing of any sort; perhaps Jesus purposely refrained himself from healing the masses in order to emphasize the true purpose of his ministry.  Jesus came to preach about the Kingdom of Heaven, everything else is secondary.

Finally, verses 11 to 12 talk about Jesus’ authority over the impure spirits.  The fact that the impure spirits fell down before Jesus and proclaimed him as the Son of God would indicate the spirit knew about Jesus’ identity.  Interestingly, Jesus ordered the spirit to not tell anyone about him.  Why did Jesus do that?  Clearly, it is not the so-called messianic secret but Mark’s effort to prompt his readers to ask: who shall or is permissible to reveal the identity of Jesus?  In the context of the Gospel of Mark, it is God the Father and the passion of Jesus that are permissible to reveal the true identity of Jesus.  For example:

The voice that came from heaven in 1:11

The foretelling of the passion in 9:9, 10:38-39

The transfiguration in 9:7

The impure spirits were prohibited from revealing the true identity of Jesus because they are incapable of revealing the Son of God in the context of the Kingdom of Heaven.

What follows is a narrative of the commissioning of the disciples.  Beginning with verses 13-15

 13 Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him.

14 He appointed twelve*that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach

15 and to have authority to drive out demons.

we see a sharp contrast from what we had read about the crowd in the previous narrative.  Here Jesus only called those whom he wanted to the mountainside – there was no crowd and the setting had gone from the lake to the mountains.  Mountains are considered sacred places or places of spiritual encounters in the Jewish context.  In the OT, Noah’s Ark landed on the Mountains of Ararat, Moses received the law in the mountains and Elijah heard the voice of God in Mount Horeb, etc.  Similarly, the disciples were about to have their spiritual encounter as Jesus established the team of twelve, giving them the capacity preach and authority to cast out demons.

The purpose of building the group of twelve was to extend the longevity of Jesus’ identity on earth through discipleship (i.e. being with Him) and ministry by giving the disciples authority (i.e. enabling them to preach and cast out demons).  Jesus appointed twelve individuals out of his many followers to establish a tight knit community to represent Him and expand his ministry.  The Twelve has an important symbolic meaning in the messianic context – if the Messiah is to come and deliver his people from exile, he must (re)establish the twelve tribes of Israel.  Further to the symbolic meaning, the emphasis of the Twelve rather than an individual would suggest the importance of the community over individual.

The text proceeds to presenting the names of the Twelve ending with Judas Iscariot who betrayed Jesus.  The clear tension between Jesus calling those whom he wanted and the fact that Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus cannot be overlooked.  We ought to ask why did Jesus call someone who would ultimately betray him?  Did the Son of God fail to know what was to come?  For now, let’s toss aside the debate on predestination or the argument of whether Judas was saved.  Instead of challenging Jesus’ competency as a hiring manager, we need to remember an indisputable fact – none of the disciples really knew or understood the identity of Jesus (at least in the context of the Gospel of Mark); it just happened that Judas was an example that stood out like a sore thumb.  For example, James and John, through their mother, was eying for a high position in the Kingdom of Heaven.  In another instance, the disciples argued amongst themselves on who is the greatest.  Of course, we mustn’t forget Peter denial of the Lord.  Finally, the scattering of the disciples after the crucifixion.  All these examples serve as a reminder that none of the disciples really knew the identity of Jesus and the purpose of his coming.  Yet, Jesus saw another reality: The Kingdom of Heaven would be manifested through these stubborn and unworthy losers.

As distant as these stories may seem, the lessons from these stories are ever timely.  The present-day Christian is often under the scrutiny of deadlines – whether at work, family matters or ministry.  Even if we are able to escape the scrutiny of deadlines, we often subject ourselves to various metrics at work and/or ministry.  In the context of church, we measure our success on worship attendance, number of baptism, Sunday school attendance, church giving and so forth.  Over time, we end up worshiping these metrics instead of worshiping God, and we end up losing ourselves in the kingdom of heaven.

It takes integrity and courage to walk away from momentum or temptation of success.  Jesus withdrew to the lake to distance himself from the needy crowd; all those who came to Jesus had a legitimate need – they were either ill or demon possessed.  Yet Jesus knew very clearly that He did not come to satisfy the need of the masses.  The purpose of his ministry was to tell people about the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven.  The healing and the casting away of demons were means to declare the coming of the Kingdom.  In fact, Jesus exerted considerable effort to help people understand the reasoning and purpose behind his miracles.  Throughout the Gospel of Mark, we often see Jesus telling the healed and the liberated to not broadcast the miracles that they had just experienced.  What Jesus was trying to direct people’s attention away from the miracles but indulge them in the mystery of the miracle.

The business of evangelism is often a failure to the detriment in this regard.  I am not going argue whether the healings by charismatic televangelist are legitimate, although I am pretty sure they are not.   What I want to ask today is whether these healing help the healed see the coming of the Kingdom?  Closer to home, I know of folks who are hard-core advocates for evangelism.  Far too often, they are subject to the emotional euphoria from masses responding to an alter call.  In extreme cases, they fall into the trap of the messianic complex where they think they are the Messiah instead of Jesus.

Make no mistake, Jesus mandated his followers to make disciples of all nations; we are called to evangelize.  However, we must ask ourselves what kind of gospel we are sharing today?  Are we advertising a ticket to heaven or are we telling people about the Evangelion – that is, turning away from the old ways, taking up the cross to follow Jesus.  If it is the former, then we are not sharing the right things.  And if that is the case, it is a good idea to do what Jesus did; put everything on hold and take a step back to re-examine what the Gospel is.  The good news of Jesus Christ is about confession, repentance, reconciliation and transformation – it is about taking up your own cross and follow Jesus.

If withdrawing from the crowd takes integrity and courage, then indulging yourself in the community of faith is an act of valor.  After all, opening up yourself and subjecting yourself to vulnerability may not necessarily bring about outcomes that are desirable to our earthly understanding.  I have been involved in a conflict over the past few months of which the details I cannot disclose.  I had personally reached to the instigators to point out the issues, but I was ignored and brushed off.  The issues persisted, and I was discouraged to a point where I made a decision to sever myself from the church.  However, a good brother pointed the folly to such a decision and challenged me to seek a resolution on the matter instead.  Of course, leaving the church is the easiest solution because seeking a resolution means making myself vulnerable to the misunderstanding of blowing up a small matter or taking down the church because of my personal vendetta.  Yet, seeking a resolution also opens an opportunity for the instigators repent and, through it, the church would be able to live out the Kingdom values that we so cherish.

The fellowship of believers, the church, is one of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven.  Love is not the only experience from doing life together; there is also pain and suffering.  Yes, the church is place of love, a place of liberation, a place of openness, a place of inclusion.  Yet the church can also be place where people are wronged, a place of bondage, a place of mistrust, a place of segregation.  God, through the life of Jesus the Nazarene, indulged himself in this mystery.  Because the Son of Man had lived through it, his followers must also indulge themselves in this mystery.  And through this pilgrimage, His followers will own this kingdom mystery, through which they will experience His grace and mercy.

 


Progressive spirituality/Christianities within their current context I find tedious.  There is no scholarship building upon what has come before, rather it is a re-treading of old battles already fought. Why is this? I blame the regressive state of Western Culture. The loss of the ability to critically think, coupled with the conglomeration of media and the commodification of the human experience has led us down a rabbit hole. There is also the drowning with knowledge overload, and opinion as fact that has removed the ability to discourse, and discover wisdom.

It is a sad state on my journey as I look upon those writers that have shaped them, death, illness and retirement has stripped away those that have crafted cornerstones we should be building upon. The voice of progress, universal love and inclusion, liberation and social gospel is shrinking. Thinkers such as Marcus Borg, Desmond Tutu, Peter Maurin, Dorothy Day, Agnes MacPhail, Pierre Trudeau, Padre Pio, Leonardo Boff, meta-physicians; Dalai Lama, Pope Francis I, transcendentalists, Pope John Paul II, Pope John XXIII, Multiple saints & mystics, Mother Teresa, Nikos Kazantzakis, Stuart A. Schlegel, John Dominic Crossan, Matthew Fox, Martin Luther King Jr., Tommy Douglas, J.S. Woodsworth and the list goes on and on. The voices of and for the marginalized have been relegated back to the beginning of a cycle still debating that which human rights and suffragettes should have dealt with.

Yet “Progressive Spirituality” much like “Conservative Theology” got subsumed by “Prosperity Gospels” and “Salvation/Sanctification” (look at a Joel Osteen for the epitome of the lost track of universal love for the progressives). This is why during my time of medical sabbatical I was excited to find out post-stroke Bishop Spong had written a new book, but saddened as I read his preamble to it that this was definitively his last. It is his call for reformation, for the work already done and grow upon it.

He touches on the different times the Christ experience has been mislaid. The Fourth century experience we had codified as “Christendom” which would be as unrecognizable for the original community as it is to us in this day. He also touches on the Reformation, which aside from the land and power grab of the princes/royals to break the state hold of the Vatican. It was possible as well do a shattering transformation of cultural understanding as the plagues had shown that even the “Holy” lost a 1/3. The peasant class was open.

We are in a time like this. Even if traditionalists keep fighting against it. Holding to outdated understandings. Science has revealed much on creation, maybe not the why, but the how. We are in a world where we are taking control over our own destinies. Where we can accept equal marriage, we can accept medicine, accept being able to transplant organs, understand different ways of experiencing life. We can see through new eyes, yet we bring the old eyes leaving our understanding of the intrinsic piece that makes us whole left out in the old patriarchal imperial cycle. And yes, progressive thinkers who are emerging today instead of referencing what came before and building, are trudging up the same mountain again.

This is where Unbelievable (2018) rises. It is still American-centric, but Spong roots his 12 Thesis firmly in what has come before, and lays out a path forward. A new starting point for dialogue and discourse, being able to let go of what is no longer working or that which is harming.

So as we seek to understand the love triangle of My Neighbour, I leave you with excerpts for this work to see if it is something you wish to purchase for your journey, or to explore within your community:

John Shelby Spong (2018) Unbelievable: Why Neither Ancient Creeds Nor the Reformation Can Produce a Living Faith Today (HarperOne).

“what we must do is find the meaning to which the word “God” points.” P. 31

“Is the denial of theism the same as atheism? Is there no other alternative?” p. 38-39

“That is the universal human experience that our ancestors once called “Original Sin”. The experience was real; the interpretation was false. We are not “fallen sinners”; rather, we are incomplete human beings. Our old theology is dead. The door begins to open on a new way to tell the old, old story.” P. 89

“Every Jew would know that to refer to a grown man in Jewish society as “the son of a woman” was to suggest that his paternity was unknown. … we might infer a covert reference to her being pregnant outside of marriage, for there was no estate more lowly in in first-century Judaism that that of an expectant mother with no male protector.” P.112

Atonement theology, especially in its most bizarre “substitutionary” form, presents us with a God who is barbaric, a Jesus who is victim and it turns human beings into little more than guilt-filled creatures. P.153

Bulletins during Lent in many churches look as if they might have been purchased in a local sadomasochism shop. They feature whips and nails, and if they elicit any emotion at all, it is guilt. P.162-163.

In Jewish worship, however, the lamb was a symbol, not of a sacrifice that an angry God required, but of a human yearning to achieve the fullness of human potential. P. 165

The Easter experience in the new Testament, contrary to what we have traditionally been taught over the year, is not about bodies walking out of graves. It is far more profound than that. It is about God being seen in human life. By “God” I do not mean a supernatural, invasive God, who violates the laws of nature in order to enter time and space. I mean a transcendent dimension of life into which all can enter, an experience in which life is expanded, love is unlimited and being is enhanced. P. 188

The ascension story is both powerful and real, but it is not, and was never intended to be, literally true. P.196

Before prayer can be made real, our understanding of God, coupled with our understanding of how the world works, must be newly defined. P. 249.

I have no use for life after death as a tool or method of behaviour control. P.258

We are called by this new faith into radial connectedness. P. 270

When I contemplate the meaning of Jesus I come back again and again to his image as the ultimate boundary-breaker, in whom what it means to be human is constantly being expanded. P.278