Sabbatical Postcards - January

February 5, 2017

 

January 2017

Greetings friends.
January is almost done and it has been quite a month.  I used the early part of the month to ‘settle,’ to ‘decompress,’ and to ‘open’ myself, to a new way of being. Funnily, it was hard not to work! I have to admit I began sabbatical exhausted and slept more than I can remember.

I have spent time walking or riding, reading or writing. I have an office in the city which I visit daily. I have met some colleagues for lunch and engaged in worthwhile conversation. I plan to write about the ‘What if… we had good religion?’ series over the next month or so. I believe Hillhurst engaged with this question in a very rich way in the fall and I plan to record some of our learning, perhaps in a book? Who knows?

On Sundays I have wandered. I worshiped in an emerging-growing church community that is exploding with exciting new ways of being church. They have four services times each Sunday. Their ways are curious and intriguing. They have a coffee break mid service and serve very good lattes! The average age is 32.6! While lots of the theology wasn’t my cup of tea, the latte was delicious! I have also managed to ‘double dip’ on the same day and attend familiar United Churches in our city. There the average age is more like 72.6! The leadership was very fine and I felt comfortable in the pews. In one United Church of Christ congregation in the USA there was a choir of 50 robed with excellent classical music and a library of progressive thinkers. However, there were four kids at children’s time and I might have been the youngest present! I also visited Joanne Anquist in her ministry at McDougal United. It was great to hear her speak, sing and lead in a real and relevant manner. She has become a very fine minister in our denomination. I have continued to attend our contemplative service on Wednesday mornings at 7 am and value this community and the learning it provides. This is a meaningful aspect of my own spiritual life and the weekly practice holds a deep place in our overall tone and expression as a community.

I attended a learning event called Being a Public Theologian. This was held in Florida, led by two key American theologians, Doug Pagit and Brian McLaren. They are both public theologians.

So, what is Public Theology you ask? Here is a stab at it.
“It is issues of public concern, not just interests of the church. It is virtues that accompany the work of theology, not just the ideas. It is connecting grand religious vision with our messy human reality. It is articulating religious and spiritual points of view, to challenge and deepen our thinking and being on every side, of every important question life presents.”

The class of 25 folks were part of a new Master of Divinity degree called Open, a degree from Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis. It is supported by a network I belong to called Convergence, of the Center for Progressive Renewal. Like EDGE in the UCC, this network of churches in the USA is anxious and creative about our future.

It is clear the American election is on everyone’s mind as it relates to church in the USA. People are very, very nervous early on in the new presidency. There were many queries about life in Canada. It is obvious church and state are very much a part of the public conversation in the USA. I found this strikingly different from Canada yet, I sense the faith communities will become much more active and outspoken on behalf of refugees and human rights conversations in the weeks and months ahead.

The course was five days and looked at historical public theologians, like Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day, Nelson Mandela etc. We explored movements such as the civil rights, feminist, LGBTQ, and environmental movements. We looked at the roots of their message and how they expressed it to make change happen. We explored the ‘meta narratives’ in scripture where public theology happened. Beginning in the Exodus story of liberation through to the New Testament narratives of freedom. We explored the reality and the message of movements in the bible. It is clear the bible is more than a book of personal devotion.

Public theology has always been our story. The bible is the story telling. Our job is connecting the dots in the biblical story and our present reality. Theologians are called to help us and others reflect theologically on life, as it is presented.


We are meant to make the world better for all, not just some. I suppose I always knew that theology is both a public and private matter. Jesus clearly was a public theologian. And it is our baptismal vow after all! We also explored particularities like media roles, ways of engaging, and the call to engage the theological issues facing our world. As Richard Rohr would say, there is no duality between sacred and secular, there is only sacred.

It seems many in the USA seek a “private only” faith and it is clear that the public story has always been part of our faith journey. For me, it is where the rubber hits the road and faith takes on deeper meanings. It is how we walk the talk in meaningful ways that matter.

The course affirmed and expanded my sense of the great work we already do at Hillhurst and the potential for even greater engagement. We are poised for even greater public theology. This became clear to me at a Calgary Starbucks where the word ‘transformation’ appeared in four of five posters inviting people to “a healthy 2017…” Transformation is sought and engaged beyond us. Are we seen as a place that offers and explores such? Yes…I think so, so how can we be an even greater connector?

The class began each day in silence and ended with the following prayer:

“Deliver us…
From the cowardice, that shrinks from new truth,
From the laziness, that is content with half truths,
From the arrogance, that thinks it knows all truth,
O God of truth …deliver us. Amen “   

I like that. It reminds.

At the event I learned a lot living in a house with eight others and enjoying the formal and informal times of conversation. I rented a bike for $12 a day and toured the city which had very good bike lanes. This course has helped me ponder our  Hillhurst role in the issues of our city and nation. I remain thankful that I worship in a community that is real, relevant and engaged in what matters. We do public theology very well.

On the home front I have enjoyed some cocooning evenings at home, tobogganing, some movies, and even a novel! What a novel idea!

I am also filled with both gratitude and sorrow as we remember members of our community that have died this month. We have been blessed by their presence among us. Our concern and prayers sustain us all in the grieving days ahead.

I also peeked online at the Sunday leadership you have no doubt enjoyed this month from our ecumenical friends! And the mid week learning opportunities look brilliant!

Well, this is a longer ‘postcard’ that you may have wished for, and that I have ever written! On the bright side it isn’t scribbled in my handwriting with a traditional tacky Florida sunset to observe. (Funnily, people actually clapped when the sun finally dipped…? I am sure God was appreciative!)

As requested - and as I am pleased to do - I look forward to sending you another card next month.

‘Til then... blessings.

Cheers,
john

 

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