Grace is her name.

Did you notice in my last post? I did get caught up in the language of politics. As I wrote the post I tried to maintain a spirit of grace but found it hard to do because I was talking about the lack of grace. Assertiveness and argument (it may even be good argument) does not seem to be the best friends of grace.

Christianity is not about grace only, but it seems to me that it begins with grace. Help must be given, protection and nutrition offered before laws and regulations can be introduced and followed.  The subject (person) needs to experience love/grace from the Objective (most likely through other subjects that has experienced this love/grace themselves and become a living part of the Objective) before he/she takes the leap of faith and enter into this living relation with the Objective.

I think the Church is in a “crises” because the Church often starts with rules and regulations when it approaches the suffering people of this world (both rich and poor). “You have to believe this to get our help”, “You have to follow those rules to be a Christian”. Grace is given after a statement of faith has been said (and this of course is not longer grace because grace can not be “bought”, it is given freely without any demands). I think secularism is spreading because we have taken a to much of an academic, assertive approach when we explain Christianity (or other matters, check this article http://www.canada.com/life/Analytical+thinking+undermines+religious+belief+study+suggests/6525014/story.html)

Secularism tries to define everything in formula. If Christianity is going to be understood as a life changing journey it needs to be more than formula, systematics and argument, and it is. It needs to present itself as a journey that begins with grace, not demands and argument. The secular argument, that there is no spiritual reality, crumbles upon its own absurdity when the physical and the spiritual works together. When grace (a spiritual attitude) is implemented in the worlds physical needs. I can argue with great assertiveness all day long (and argue well) but the secular person won’t be touched by anything less than the physical manifestation of my spiritual belief. If this wonderful spiritual reality that I’m talking about is not displayed by my actions how can anybody start to believe in what I say? If grace is not shown from me as a Christian to a secular friend how can I hope to display the love Christ has for this person?

Grace is not the full story but I do believe that the Church (which I am a part of) would be recognized for what it is supposed to be, if she can approach people (secular or not) with the attitude of Christ Himself, which is grace towards mankind.

I think U2 caught it pretty good in their song “Grace”

“Grace She takes the blame, She covers the shame. Removes the stain, It could be her name.
Grace, It’s a name for a girl. It’s also a thought, that changed the world.

And when she walks on the street You can hear the strings. Grace finds goodness in everything.

Grace, she’s got the walk. Not on a ramp or on chalk. She’s got the time to talk. She travels outside of karma. She travels outside of karma.

When she goes to work You can hear her strings. Grace finds beauty in everything

Grace, she carries a world on her hips. No champagne flute for her lips. No twirls or skips between her fingertips.

She carries a pearl in perfect condition. What once was hurt What once was friction. What left a mark no longer stings. Because grace makes beauty out of ugly things. Grace makes beauty, out of ugly things .”

Finally a quote:

“How can you sing of amazing grace and all God’s wonders without using your hands?”                 Mahalia Jackson

In Christ,

Fr. Jakob

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Freedom to pray?

I usually do not comment officially on things that happens in the “political” side of reality, but lately I have found myself being a bit caught up and engaged in some of the things happening there. I usually choose not to comment because I do not want to be caught up in that kind of language. So i guess this is the post that confirms my “rule”.

The Star Phoenix writes in a recent article about a complaint made against the City of Saskatoon. It concerns a counsellor praying at an official function (paid by tax payers) http://www.thestarphoenix.com/life/Christian+prayer+sparks+complaint/6496119/story.html. The counsellor says a blessing over the meal at the function. The argument that Mr. Ashu Solo puts forth is that he feels excluded, as an atheist, by this act of religion (Christianity in this case). He also says that state and religion is separated and therefore prayer should not take place in forums of state affairs. What amazes me is that a man who (I think) promotes tolerance (Mr Solo is a part of  the city’s cultural diversity and race relations committee) does not have any tolerance with this prayer. He goes on to say that this city and country is not a religious but secular and multicultural. That there is both spiritual, agnostic and atheist people living here. These last few words are true. But as for saying that this city and this country is not Christian just speaks about his lack of interest and knowledge about Canada’s and Saskatoon history and current demographic make up. If Mr Solo is so concerned about everybody being evenly and equally represented in state forums than maybe he would consider all the people not praying at that particular function and by that very silence are representing other opinions and religions.

I don’t believe that church/religion and state are destined to be together on this side of judgement either. But one of the fundamental pillars of a good state is to allow for the individual subject to express an objective belief in something or Someone. Both freedom of expression and freedom of religion are in question here. Is it freedom of religion if you can not express your religion in prayer in public? I gladly allow Mr. Solo to express his opinions in state forums without me “feeling excluded.” This kind of tolerance is part of what it means to be a part of human enterprise. I would also encourage Mr Solo to compare the spread of freedom of religion with the spread of Christianity. He could also study the spread of secularism with the spread of totalitarian state. Maybe he would discover the same pattern as I have namely that Christianity is the one religion that have a very high emphases on personal and religious freedom, choice, liberty and tolerance. Maybe that could compel him to show some of the same patience.

Bottom line seems to me to be that Mr. Solos secular opinions wants to exclude religion by way of repressing religious activity into the private sphere only (this may be a jump to conclusion but I think it may be pretty accurate). However, secular lifestyle and opinions is off course acceptable in the public and at state affairs because it is a “non belief”. But I tell you that a “non belief” is a belief as well because no subject here on earth can put forth “conclusive evidence” that God does not exist. I don’t think it is a coincidence that Mr Solo “feels excluded” in a way because his very philosophy of life denies and excludes him from the possibility of believing in anything or anyone more than himself… and that is a very lonely place to be.

In conclusion I would encourage Mr Solo to display some of this tolerance so that he can use it as a tool in the work of the city’s cultural diversity and race relations committee. I would also encourage Mr. Solo to consider the possibility, or the approach, that no society is totally secular since people always have believed in something or Someone. Be it themselves or in God, in things seen or unseen (or both).To say that a city or a country is secular is the sense Mr. Solo I think means is to rob that city or country of a huge part of its identity and therefore the ability for that city or country to identify itself.

Do we jeopardize people’s individual freedom if we perform religious activity in state forums or do we jeopardize people’s individual freedom if we forbid them? I think we know the answer.

In Christ.

Fr. Jakob

The meaning of your life

A few days back I conversed with a couple of friends on Skype. I think it is a pretty common thing for people to ask certain kind of questions when they talk to a priest. Questions like: “So what do you think about homosexuals?” or “How can a good God allow for so much evil to happen?” and so on. This time I was asked what I though the meaning of our lives to be. “What is the meaning with life?” This question is asked my many people (arguably by all) at least one time in life. Today I am going to try to answer that question for you:)

The fact that we raise this question at all speaks volumes about why we are here in a sense of that there is a reason at all. It is a hard philosophical argument to try to logically motivate why we ask this question if there is no reason for our existence at all. Why do we ask the question why? If we are mere chance we would have not been concerned with the question “why we are here and what the meaning is”. The only thing we would have been concerned with is “What should I eat?” This category falls under the other much established philosophical reasoning that there is a reason for everything that is happening or that there is an effect or consequence to every action. Hence, there is an effect, a consequence or a reason for us asking: “What is the meaning with life?” Some of the more common answers to this question are:

– “The meaning of life is to live it.”, “The meaning of life is to prolong it”, The meaning of life is to accumulate as much wealth as possible”, “The meaning of life is 64” (Travelers guide to the Galaxy), “The meaning of life is to die”, “The meaning of life depends on your own assessment of life” and “The meaning of life is to do good things to other people”.

All those meanings are in a way pretty good answers because they do hold some truth. The meaning of life is to live as in the sense of living in the present and enjoy life in balance and peace. The meaning of life is to prolong it as in the sense of understanding life as an eternal one, life is sacred and is not supposed to stop (die). The meaning of life is to accumulate wealth if wealth is understood with a heavenly perspective where true wealth is to give things away. The meaning of life is 64 if we by this mean that there is a definite answer and reason to life. The meaning of life is to die if by this we mean that to we die from ourselves and our small egos and agendas. The meaning of life depends on you assessment of it if this entails that you are searching eternally for the source of life in humbleness, you will find It if you do. The meaning of life is to do good things to people if there is no hidden motive or condition when you do this.

But you see we do not usually think about the above statements like this. We kind of take them at face value and we separate those statements and meanings by holding to one of them, and then we make one of them our only reason or meaning.

Western philosophy has taught us that we must exclude one thing to be able to hold another one as true. Scholasticism and systematization has taught us that we can only come to know the meaning of life through investigation and observation. I would claim that we can only know the meaning of life by way of participation in that very life. We are not supposed to be by standers watching life happen. We are supposed to be a part of Life itself. If we partake in Life then we will experience the meaning of it. If we do not we will forever be haunted by not knowing the meaning.

The reason for us asking the question of the “meaning of life” is that Life itself, Life within us asks this question so that we would start to search for Life. It is when we do not listen to this “voice” anymore, when we stop to search, that we encounter eternal trouble. We lose the sense of beauty in life. We take life for granted. We become jaded and belittle our life so that we can ignore the question and continue to dismiss opinions about the meaning of life with our pride.

So there it is, the meaning of your life is to continue to search for Life. The meaning of your life is to be a partaker of Life Itself. The meaning of your life is to more and more discover that you, just by living, has all the potential to discover what Life is about. And when you do you will start to truly Live. The meaning of your life is continued growth by way of leaving behind the things that are in the way for you to receive and see Life. The meaning of your life is to find Peace.

The meaning of your life is to realize that is not your life. It is a gift to you and you should give that gift to others as well. In giving it up, you will receive it.

The meaning of your life is to realize that your life is a consequence of an encounter with Life Himself, and to forever grow closer in your relationship with Him.

In Christ

Fr. Jakob

Perspective on “secularism”.

I just read an article that said that about 2/3 rds of Canadians believe that there is a God. Only 42% however said that “Religion is an important part of my life”. http://www.thestarphoenix.com/life/Survey+says+religion+important+Canadians/6424149/story.html Higher than I thought. In Sweden, where I’m from, about 50% of the population say that they believe that there is a God or a “Higher power”, 17% says that “Religion is an important part of my life.” http://www.dagen.se/dagen/article.aspx?id=162915. The only country that is less religious is Estonia (14%). If you research the statistics over countries that are the most secular you see two big trends. Trend 1: Rich countries. Trend 2: Current or former Socialist countries. These countries are generally in the highest 20% when it comes to statistics over suicide, abortion and number of sexual partners as well. Now, this is statistics and as far as I’m concerned there is three kind of lies. There are lies, there are LIES and there are statistics. We can bend them the way we want them to and make them mean what we want them to mean. What I’m most surprised about is that there is a fairly big belief in God amongst “secularized” countries but that this belief does not affect the way we live our lives (religious activity). There seem to be  a “disconnect” with our belief and what we do. Or maybe we just don’t believe in God “all that much when it comes down to it”.  ” It is just kind of nice to have the option open for God. Because you can not be 100% sure that He does not exist so I will keep the emergency door open just in case. And frankly, it sounds pretty wise, in the ears of others to be humble enough to allow for this opinion. ”

Truth is that all the countries of the world has the same level of secularization, that is 0%. Nada, noll, nothing. Secularization is just as non-existent as it has always been because you no what, everybody worships something or someone, be it Christ or the “famous people”. Everybody believes in something or someone, be it the Bible or the latest fashion in Cosmopolitan. Everybody has religious practices. For some people it is going to a church or a mosque, for other people it is faithfully(!) watching your favourite TV-show. Yes, everybody is religious about something. What the movement of secular society tried to do was to deny that we are religious all together. Secular society tried to take the “unseen” out of the “seen”. To separate the spiritual from the physical. To widen the gap between faith and knowledge. To pull apart holistic reality. “-You can not believe in things you can not see” (and this we and science do all the time…) And it succeeded pretty good. But as for diminishing religion or worship it has not succeeded. We just worship the created instead of the Creator. We are not less religious than before but we are further away from the knowledge of what true religion is it seems. We put infinite trust in finite things. We tend to believe in God if it suits our own “religion”, but we are very reluctant to actually implement the truly religious practices that we for instance find in the Beatitudes. When it comes down to it, we just think that our well-being is more important than other people’s well-being. Our addictions, our “religion” must come first.

Canada, Sweden, Norway and the other “secularized” countries of the world are just as religious as all the others. It is just that our worship is so misplaced, and the unborn, the poor and the lonely suffer for it. We do not change the world by aid programs and by “changing the system” but by stopping worshipping ourselves as gods and by stopping to feed our addictions.

In a way the term “secular” is true because it implies the belief or worship in the things that we can “see and measure”, this secular society do. But it is also more than this. Secular society actually worships powers that are not seen by claiming that there is no such thing as an “unseen reality”. Be attentive and careful about what you give priority in your life, what you “worship”, the path you are on will lead you somewhere…

In Christ

Fr. Jakob

The tension of a growing city.

The city where I live, Saskatoon, is growing at a pretty fast pace. There has never been so many buildings under construction here as it is right now. My friend that works with the power supply of the city is on his knees in work. The city wants more people here but not necessarily more costs… There is a big difference in commuting times and line ups compared to when I moved here. There is all kinds of restaurants and kitchens opening up with international cuisine (in the prairies, can you believe it!) Some investigations predicts that the population will increase from 240.000 – 500.000 within 15 years. The exploration of new natural resources and the development of new methods to get those resources (uranium, oil, metals and potassium) creates well paid jobs and attracts well educated people. Money talks (if you did not know it before..) House prices are through the roof, some bachelor suits are offered up for the bargain of a 1000 dollars (ouch! but they are somewhat furnished…)Price is increasing, interest is low, here we go! To sum it up, all the indicators of fast growing city and economy is currently increasing, fast. But that is great right! Increased economy means more tax revenue. Increased population means increased knowledge. Lets build higher, aiming for the sky! Lets dig deeper, increasing our riches!

Not so fast. During our last SEMF meeting (Saskatoon Evangelical Ministries Fellowship) we had 7 politicians visiting and presenting themselves. Each one of them sat at a table, having lunch with us and we had some good conversation. I asked the politician at our table what she thought about the fast growth in Saskatoon. Her response was that we must make sure that nobody gets “left behind”. I can appreciate that. People do get left behind in a fast growing economy. The reasons however, vary. The politicians also said that they appreciate the work the churches are doing “close to reality”. They said that they thought that leaders in the church saw much of what was really going on with people who are being “left behind”. Through the different ministries and programs the church offers, the church meets and encounter the weak, lonely and suffering. After the meeting I think both church leaders and politicians felt a bit encouraged. Just by spending some time getting to know each other, there was greater appreciation and understanding between “the church and the state”. No agendas, just getting to know each other better.

I never believed that you can impose state religion and still have personal freedom. I never believed that the Church and the State can be one on this side of judgment. I believe that true Christianity always offers freedom of religion to the individual. I actually would claim that it was christianity that came up with the idea. But I believe that christian values can be incarnated in a political setting because christian theology holds personal freedom in very high regard. Christianity is at its core not about law enforcement. It is not about total freedom either (we all know that we are limited, both by time and space). No, Christianity is about both. It is accepting a “rule of law” by free choice. It is about embracing a bit of bondage to be able to remain free. Christianity, when it works, always consider the ones that are “left behind” by this world not because it is “the right thing to do according to the law” but because it is a natural consequence of a Christ like life. People are being left behind by both political systems. They are being left behind by the liberals (freedom) because some people can’t handle freedom. They are being left behind by the conservatives (Law) because some people can not adhere to the law. And this becomes very apparent in the crock pot of a fast paced economy. The cracks are displayed when we build fast. A long with a growing economy comes increased trafficking and prostitution. Increased crime rates and drug import. Increased addictions and abuse.

The politician at my table confessed that there is basically no cooperation between the political parties. The opposition to the governing party is supposed to be just this, opposing everything that the ruling party thinks and does. Identity within the party is determined and sustained by manner of hostility and opposition towards the other. Personally I believe that Freedom (Liberality) and Law (Conservative) needs to rely on each other to be able to present a sustainable solution for an ever-growing economy and world. Going to the extreme in either direction will only leave more people behind. In a way the political system (liberalism, socialism – conservatism, capitalism) and the church (Protestantism, individualism, west – orthodoxy, community, east) faces the same problem. Living things, like a city or a church must strive for balance. They must draw strength from the Center. They must also have the freedom to reject the Center and push for the extremes (even though this is not healthy). Love and growth requires freedom. Love and growth requires law. Why did we seperate the two?

How do you treat the “other”. Do you leave them “behind”?

Fr. Jakob

The Superman

Yesterday I found myself in a place where I haven’t been for a while. I found myself in a somewhat engaging discussion. A good discussion. A discussion that flows back and forth, a conversation where you really wish to prove a point :). I can be somewhat of an instigator, triggering loud defenses and emotional apologetics. I try to prove my point by manner of realism (proper) and holistic approach. Yesterdays conversation was about if it is naive or not to always believe in a non violent solution to conflict. I thought it to be naive (and still kind of do) and my conversation partner did not. My main argument, from a realistic perspective, is that a non violent solution to every conflict only works in theory, in our dreams. To believe in it is naive because history shows us that more often than not, no violence is punished with more violence. The suffering increases rather than reduce. I do, off course believe in non violence in principle. I have this desire, to be able to think and believe that it is not naive. That non violence can overcome violence. That conflicts can be solved through words rather than weapons. That we can rewrite history in the future. I pray and wish this, but it seems like the reality of fallen humanity has put a strain on my wishes. The “grown up man in me” has seen reality and stopped to dream to a certain degree. I find no strength in a naive approach. But then I realized today, after some reflection; If we do not dream and believe (to believe can be very naive) then we never will have a chance for implementing anything. It is our dreams, goals and believes (naive or not) that move us into action (many times wrong action however).

If we never dreamed about flying we probably would not fly today. If we never dreamed about a peaceful world more people would probably suffer. It is ironic how secular society has “dreamed up” all those solutions and products with divine attributes and purposes given that a big part of society denies the existence of the Divine. We dream about eternal life, supporting the dream with anti age lotions but we deny the reality of it. We dream about strong, beautiful bodies, supporting the dream with superhero movie productions and excercise, but we deny the ultimate healing of our body. We dream about justice and peace, support the dream through law enforcement, but deny the reality of ultimate justice. We dream about gaining more wisdom, support the dream with studying at university, but we deny the presence of ultimate Wisdom. In secular society, Divinity is everywhere, it’s just that we made divinity commonplace by misusing it. Secular society is a result of over usage and abuse rather than “gained knowledge about reality”. We do not see the wonder of a laughing child anymore. Our “grown up knowledge” has made us cynical and unthankful. We do not recognize the small miracles taken place everywhere any more. We have “defined” and “explained” our reality to the degree of robbing ourselves of any wonder or marvel. We are jaded. Is this why children has a VIP line into heaven maybe? Do they still see the small wonders of this world? Are they still fascinated by seeing a seed turning into a plant or a salmon jumping upstream in the river? I think they are, if we alow them so spend some time with the wonders of this world (instead of sitting in front of a screen, simulating real colors… whatever…!)

I do believe that down deep within every single one of us, there is a remnant of that child that dared to dream (even if it was naive). Buried deep down in our soul is this desire of finding our “Superman within”. A desire to bring peace to the world. To offer healing and help to the weak. This notion that justice will be given to the afflicted and that the world is beautiful. It’s there, deep down within. It is covered by 6 feet of dirt. It is covered by jadedness, abuses done to us, bad TV, thousands of commercials saying that we have to look and do better. Covered by cynicism, by denial of the simple and true.

My dream is that you would reconnect with that notion and desire. There is resurrection to anything or anyone that is dead and has been buried. One made the journey below and He rose again. Put your trust in Him (even if it seems naive) and He will connect you to your “Superman” or rather, to true humanity once again.

In Christ,

Fr. Jakob

Morning has broken!

Easter is here! The season of the East. Where the sun rises above the horizon. The light comes from this direction every single new morning. The light plays with the properties and materials of the earth and color is brought forth. Shapes are displayed. Temperature and therefore life increases as the rays moves forward. The energy moves faster in the heat. Turning to the fast rising sun with our face we no longer see our own shadow. The shadow of the west is diminishing. The cold standstill of absolute zero temperatures (when all materials and life stands still) is not permanent. With heat (Fire) new movement is always possible. There is always a new morning possible for the ones who choose to believe. For the one who longs to be in the Light, in the presence of the Son. The time of darkness, when we sleep, or do activities we want to be covered by darkness, is over. The night has passed and a new day is here!

I find it pretty interesting that we are exposed to this procession of light everyday. We wake up from sleep every morning. This awesome mystery of life-giving heat and light, granted to us in a perfect balance of time, temperature and pressure. Yet, we sometimes are blind to its splendour and perfect harmony. We take it for granted because we think life to be an ordinary thing. But science, as well as religion will tell you that life is no ordinary thing. The circumstance and perfect balance required of everything physical and biological for life to happen is staggering. All the processes that needs to be in balance for life to spring forth is mind-blowing. From a scientific, logical, rational and probable perspective, life should not be happening. This tiny planet in the vast universe should not, really, be blue and full of life. It should be like other bodies and planets of the universe, dead. We breathe air into our lungs everyday and we think that is “common” or “our right.” We take life for granted (and complain when it is interrupted).

But divine Wisdom breaths life into human “knowledge”. The Divine desired more life. Divine Light can not be contained by anything we or Darkness possess. It springs forth wherever He desires It to spring forth not where we “would allow” It to spring forth. The grave, the standstill, darkness and death could not contain Him because those things are contrary to His will and nature. Death is not what Life desired, hence it power must be broken. It is a law of nature just like gravity just that more severe. So, we have this planet here, Earth full with life, rather than not.

We tend to think that small probability is a reason not to believe. We tend to think that rising from the dead is something that “can not happen”. It is to extraordinary to even believe, we think. But if you take a close look at yourself and the world you will see that your own self is a result of “springing out of nothingness”. Your life is a result of extraordinary events, processes and timing. You should (from a probability perspective) not exist. Yet you do. Our earth should not be in existence, really, it could not, be in existence if we approach it with reason only. Yet, it is here.

Rising from the dead is an extraordinary event for the ones that has been dead. Hence faith becomes the “connection” to the greater realities  of our life. But for God, rising from the dead is a natural consequence of Who He Is.

I would dare to say that if you believe that you actually exist, the logical (yet mysterious) conclusion would be that this is because the Light wanted you to. God wanted you to, He wanted it so much that He would even expel and defeat darkness. So I encourage you to live a life that displays and spreads life and light. Share this mysterious (and logical) feast of the resurrection and Easter!

In Christ,

Fr. Jakob