Saving Face

In the light of the golden gate that Jesus entered on Palm Sunday we can identify the shadows that are present as well. The beginning of Holy week is a microcosm of the whole lenten journey. It is a bright sadness. The ones who have journeyed through lent in honesty can now see the end of the journey. But the vision we end up seeing might not be what we expected when we set out some 7 weeks ago. Tears tend to clarify the vision. For some reason the destination we are heading towards looks like a cross, a death rather than the jubilant celebration of overcoming sin and darkness. Much like the disciples we might have expected a conquering of the forces that is oppressing us. We thought that clinging to Jesus, following Him as His disciples would eventually lead to the physical enforcement of true justice. That we could skip the cross section of our walk by trying to obey the law.

Head in Hands

To be fair, Jesus entering into Jerusalem is the beginning of the culmination of a very physical enforcement of true justice, but not like we expected. Not like we anticipated it to look. It is physical in a different way.

It is the physicality of it all that presents us with the reality of the depth of our depravity. We thought that He came to throw the Romans out. Instead He is thrown to the ground. We thought that He would ban capital punishment and torture. Instead He is unjustly tried, tortured and killed. We thought that He would bring the biggest army ever seen to enforce justice, instead He walks the way of pain alone. We thought that He would whip evil out of the world. Instead He is whipped. We thought that He would stop the shedding of blood by one final battle, instead His blood colours the ground red. What is going on here?

The physicality of it all becomes a testimony against us. I sometimes fall into the trap of thinking that my sin and my shortcomings are just thoughts, that they are “spiritual” only. That my sin is somehow separated from any physical reality. Jesus suffering and pain forces me to face myself and the reality of my sin. I am part of the mob shouting to have Him killed every time I close my heart to the suffering and lonely. The least of these are still dying.

It might begin as a thought but if left to grow, that sinful thought will eventually manifest itself in physical reality. Either by doing what is wrong in the light of truth or by ignoring to do what is right in the light of truth. Christ receives blows from my hand every time I sin. The least of these are still crying.

Jesus road to the cross this week forces us to face the reality about ourselves and if we are being truthful, that reality might not look that great. In our efforts to manage the parts of our lives that we try to hide we forgot that nothing can be hidden from His sight. How is that possible? How can Jesus possibly know our innermost struggles and secrets? How can He know our shame? Because He is the victim of it. He physically carried it. His suffering brings light into the darkness because His body is bruised for our transgressions. Through His body reality is revealed.

When He faces the forces of darkness and sin He is facing the things that I have been trying to hide away, keep under lock and key. The things we have done in trying to avoid shame and saving face.

Jesus taking the humble path as a servant is truly astounding because in doing so He lets us know that He is not after shaming us. He is not after to “get us”. He is not enforcing justice from “above” in a way that we have to be afraid of. No, Jesus comes from below to carry the shame we could not carry. He meets our heart in the secret place when that is what we need. All we have to be is honest so that we may encounter our true self and the reality of our situation.

Instead of trying to save face we have to encounter our true face because when we do we will encounter the Face that saves.

The issue behind the issue

The root words of “Pornography” means to “write down and then sell”. For “Prostitution” it’s to “stand before, to expose publicly”. Poverty means “to produce little”. Trafficking means “touch repeatedly, handle”. All these words and their root meaning have a very ‘physical only’ connotation. They are basically void of a spiritual meaning. They are about product, profit, property and production. This is not mere chance because as long as we talk about these things with physical language and words only we won’t be able to tackle the issues. How we talk about something shapes how we think about something. How we think about something shapes how we feel about something. How we feel about something shapes how we act. How we act shapes who we become.

Our minds recalls and brings to mind different images and pictures when we hear words like: Poverty, Human Trafficking, Prostitution and Pornography. If we close our eyes and if we empathize with victims of these aforementioned situations of brokenness we actually might begin to cry.

If we ourselves have been victims of abuse, addicted to porn, trapped in a cage or sold as a product by other human beings we re-member these events with much more vividness. We might even throw up. We might get a panic attack. We might fall back into patterns that were forced upon us.

Why is this so. Why are we able to “re-live” a reality that has past into history? I believe it is because our body, our mind and our spirit operates together, as a small “trinity”. It operates in the image of Who it was created by either we chose it or not. Despite our best efforts and attempts to separate the spiritual realm from the physical realm, these two sides of our person are still two sides of the same coin. They are intrinsically bound to each other independently of how much we try to split them apart and treat them as independent areas of our person. This is why we might begin to cry simply by remembering a certain event. Our body is intrinsically linked to our spirit. We are body, soul and spirit. A small trinity, three different aspects of the one person that is us.

U.N as well as the Human rights commission has declared that every person has the same value. U.N got this not from socialism but actually from Christianity because it is only Christianity that has the philosophical base and logical explanation for that idea. If we perceive the world with the secular/material or the sectarian/legalistic eye we realize quickly that every person is not at all of the same value because value is determined by production or contribution or position with these paradigms. We may say that everyone has the same value but by simply observing how reality is playing out in secular society or in sharia countries we see that this simply is not true. If you have wealth you have access to more rights, better protection, better lawyers and a better life all over. If you are born a man you have a better chance at life over all. The idea of equal value can not be incarnated in a world that understands itself as material only. Christ changed that paradigm when He became human. When the Spirit touched the physical.

Equal value of persons can only be made real if we accept the idea that we are equal because of who we are, not because of what we do or what we produce. Who are we? Physical manifestations of a spiritual reality that God has created out of love. We are equally loved that is why we have the same value. True value can only be determined  by the One Who created the work, and we are the work of His hands. We are persons because we are loved. Not because we perform. We were nothing but became something because of His love. Love is the undergirding constitution of the reality we find ourselves in. We lost that awareness in the fall but we are able to meet and see God through the physical once again because God has reclaimed the work of His hands by revealing Himself in this work once more in a way we can comprehend, namely as Person. Jesus.

Now, what does all of this have to do with human trafficking, prostitution and pornography? Everything. Since we are able to see God and discover Him and His reality through the physical, by our senses, the devil twists our experience of the physical so that we won’t recognize God at work in the world. He tries to bend creation which is created good into something that will hinder us from seeing Gods fingerprints all over. He tries to turn Love into lust. Serving each other into consuming one another.  Music into noise. Bodies into commodities. Therefor the devil constructs his chief attack around the two paradigms that forms the  structure from where we perceive the world.

  • Knowledge (our mind) “Do you want to be like God?” (Objective view of the world)
  • Relationship (sexuality, our body) “The fruit is delicious” (Subjective experience of the world)

Once these two main sources of revelation are “out of tune” it becomes hard to see the spiritual reality that finds its expression in physical revelation. We start to see without seeing and hear without perceiving. Once we have “separated” the physical from the spiritual with our mind, trusting our own knowledge, we can easily fall into one of two ditches.

The first ditch is legalism and sectarianism that seeks to control the body with rules and laws (no freedom). The second ditch is secularism which claims that we can do whatever we want with the body because it won’t effect anything else because nothing except what we can see, feel and measure exists anyway (no boundaries). Once we loose the connection between the physical and the spiritual we are easy victims for the forces that operates in the spiritual realm because we don’t even believe that they are real!

For instance, we often believe that we are the authors of our thoughts. That might be true to some degree but our thoughts are triggered and stimulated by our surrounding and what our senses are picking up from the world around us. Ideas, thoughts, messages and information gets into our head all the time, often without discrimination. We often find ourselves to become like the people we surround us with don’t we? Addiction itself always starts with a thought. And the thought is triggered by either a memory or by our current context. Marketers knows this. CEOs knows this. Weight watchers, McDonalds, pimps, traffickers, pornography producers knows this. The devil knows this. They know that the mind has a very hard time resisting repetitive sensory stimuli. We have actual chemical reactions to visual imagery and colours. This is how we are created to bond and interact with the world. Eventually the mind gives in, even though it knows it’s not the best choice or even a good choice. Once the cigarette, the porn, the food, the violence, the purchase of sex or whatever addiction, is consumed the connection between the physical and the spiritual is done and the cycle reinforced. Next time we need more to get the same effect because what we incorporate in our body shapes who we become.

We used to think that the best way to avoid bad choices is to make the choice of not being in the environment they are being offered in. This becomes harder and harder today as we have instant access to lots of information. It’s almost impossible. We believe that the best way to avoid porn addiction is to avoid the context where you have access to porn. The best way to avoid sexual addiction is to avoid the circumstance where sex can happen. The best way to avoid addiction to food is to avoid exposure to the food you know are not good for you. And in some sense this is true but it is not only the physical environment we have to avoid, it is the spiritual environment. What does the spiritual environment that addiction can thrive in look like? It looks like not feeling good enough, loneliness, being disconnected, unloved, not being heard or seen, being abused, being disrespected, being cheated, feeling worthless, like nothing etc. It is only from a void, an emptiness, a lack that addiction can take hold.

Ever since the fall we crave the very thing we lost, that we can’t get on our own. Perfect love. To be connected to one another in Truth. The devil tempted us with the only thing we could not have, to be like God with the tactic of separation. To understand that we crave the perfect peace, love and harmony that we once had, lies at the foundation of understanding the nature of addiction. Our thirst is unquenchable, our greed is unsustainable, our soul is restless until it find peace and rest in God. It is His love we are searching for.

Addiction is so hard to break because it fails to recognize the spiritual reality (loneliness, separation) that caused it in the first place and makes the physical the only battle ground. If you are one of the many people that has tried to defeat addiction by saying with your mind “I will not do it again”, “This is the last time” and find yourself even worse off, you are not alone. This is the very nature of addiction. Addiction, or lets call it what it is, repeated broken actions separated from the good Reality from where they originally came, are hard to overcome because we are left with the belief that it is only by more actions, more work without faith, that we are able to defeat them. But, spiritual enemies can not be defeated if we only use physical tools. Addiction can only be defeated by addressing the very thought pattern and spiritual environment that it started in. We see this all the time in successful rehabilitation and restoration. It is when a person is able to recognize the cause (be it an abuser, one self, social circumstance etc) and forgive that cause that healing begins. It is at the moment of forgiveness that we recognize our inability to defeat our addiction by our own strength.

Remember, no one, no one is beyond redemption. No matter how far down the road of : “Who you are not created to be” you find yourself, you think beyond recognition, God loves you. All of you. He sees who you actually are, not what you have become. He sees beyond the hardened surface and under the filth. He sees the glorious potential and not the accumulated shame and guilt and He says:  “I have and will always love you, no matter what you do.” It is a  revolutionary message. It is hope, joy and peace. It is the message of love. And it is this message that we have been put here, right here to share, so that no one have to resort to behaviours in isolation they were not meant for.

Who is the greatest?

Homily, September 20th 2015 AD

Psalm 54:1 – 7   Proverbs 31:10 – 31  James 3:16 – 4:8       Mark 9:30 – 37

When we listen to the words of the gospel today it is easy to be tempted to believe that Jesus somehow wants us to lay aside our desire for greatness. I don’t know if you have this desire. To improve your life. To live with excellence. To set a goal and attain it. This is very much a part of the North American creed. Do and then improve, on your own preferably… This pursuit of greatness. I believe we all, to some degree have experienced this. This desire for greatness is in us because we know, subconsciously, that we were made for greatness. It is interesting how this desire is usually stronger when we are younger (we want to change the world, discover, learn, improve) and then as we grow older it seems to fade a bit. We start to think “realistically”. I wonder why that is?

It is not the desire to be great that Jesus has anything against. Rather it is the disciples perception of what greatness is. How it’s defined. “If anyone desires to be first he shall be last of all and servant of all.”The great ones

Along with the disciples we struggle with the same misconceptions about greatness. I tend to believe that greatness is 10.000 churches in “our” denomination. That we would have a new building filled with 1800 people every Sunday morning. That I am given worldly influence and that I can effect peoples lives with what I say only. I believe it’s having this blog read by 1 million people. Maybe you believe that greatness is to have your children succeed, to live a life without any discomfort or to receive your peers recognition for hosting a great party. Maybe you perceive greatness as being able to have the wealth to do what you want, when you want. Right about now you might start to think that I am coming against these things. I am not. Jesus isn’t either. He wants us to enjoy all these things in proper balance, but not as the measure of how good or great we are. It is not progress (as the world see it) money, success or even what we do, that defines greatness. We are great by nature. By simply being created in the image of God.

The disciples, and let us be honest, we as well are thinking with a worldly mind when we are debating about who is the greateast and who is not. Who deserves to be first and recognized by Christ. St Peter? Usain Bolt? Mahatma Ghandi? The truly great ones does not need to argue about this. They don’t need to compare, be jealous or concerned about who is hosting who. Who is in and who is out. Jesus does not hinder the disciples in their pursuit to be first, He wants them and us to strife for something higher. But He does not want us to forcefully impose ourselves as to obtain the highest glories and purposes. No He wants us to find true greatness by the way of humbleness. He is for greatness, but only true greatness. Greatness only remains great if it remains pure. And to remain pure, void of any worldly agenda, it needs to be discovered in meekness and humbleness.

You can try to impose your will on others, say your children, but chances are that you will only grow a distance between yourself and them. You can try to push your faith on others but don’t be surprised if these others quietly start to resent you. Greatness in the true sense can only remain pure if it is motivated by self sacrificial love for the other. We do not testify to people by forcing doctrine upon others, by “being great”. Jesus didn’t force Himself on others, He testified by way of living. Listening to the needs of others. We, as Christ followers must do the same. To truly listen requires a humble and peaceful heart. It is in this light we must hear St James in Chapter 3 and 4:

“For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. 17 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. 18 Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.  3 When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says:

“God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.”

Who is great? Our desire for greatness stems from the time when we were one with the Kingdom of God, before the fall. But this desire have been misplaced so now we believe we need to build a kingdom on our own. The Kingdom never disappeared and it has been revealed to us again in Jesus. It’s just that it is very hard to see (t)his Kingdom and enter it if we are preoccupied, building our own little kingdoms. The Kingdom of vanity, the kingdom of greed. The kingdom of pleasure. The kingdom of consumption and so forth. We can not serve two masters. That is why we must become like little children, they don’t have their own agenda, they just see reality for what it is. This is why it is so very hard for the rich, and lets be honest again, thats us, to enter the Kingdom. We, I am, preoccupied with building our own kingdom of money and influence. Not only that, this is why there is strife, and murder and division in the world because everyone says that their Kingdom is the true one. Be it a kingdom of science, capitalism, marxism, foodism or sectarianism. “My kingdom is better than your kingdom”.

But remember, a true Kingdom does not have to impose itself on others. It just is. It does not have to use violence or election tactics to prove validity. It actually grows by self-sacrifice, by giving itself up for others. It does not depend on peoples emotions or opinions about it. It just is. And it reveals itself through the ones who do not have to claim the first spot because they know that in the Kingdom, every child has their Fathers attention.

This is a struggle for me I must admit. To remain faithful to God’s plan for His Kingdom rather than my interpretation of it. Or in other words, to submit my preconceived notions in what I want out of life, to His will. I struggle because often I am so focused on what I have failed at or what I should have done or what I want to do that I forgot that the life I live is not my own.

As we enter this new church year I have chosen the word AUTHENTICATION as our annual theme word. This word means the process of determining whether someone or something is, in fact, who or what it is declared to be.

Are we who we declare ourselves to be? Are we Christians, followers of Christ? If we are, then that means that we to need to leave our homes, our Kingdom, just like Christ, and meet the broken where they are. It means to become the last. It means to be rejected and despised by many. It means to give up our lives for the sake of the world. Jesus became the last one, the servant of all. He did not do it to pursue greatness or impose Himself on others. He did it because that is Who He is. The greatest.

In Christ,

fr. Jakob

Deferred responsibility?

“- What happened to Christianity?” we ask. Nothing, it remains the same. The culture that surrounds it shifts slightly as time goes by, (even though cultural fundamentals also are slow to change).

There is a great designation to be made here. It is not the Church, the body of Christ that is effected by the changing culture. Jesus did not get stained by sin. His nature remained the same. It is actually Jesus and His body the Church that restores culture to it’s proper purpose and place. So beginning on a light note like that 🙂 where am I heading with this?

Myself and many of my peers sometimes fall into the trap of thinking that something must have gone terribly wrong with “Christianity” or with “Church”, especially when we read the latest “10 – list – of – something – that – made – me – leave – the – church – and – start – my – own – charitable – save – the – world – project” or about the sacking of Constantinople for that matter . We read on our devices about the personal experience of someone we have not met with angst and horror, hoping that we won’t experience the same thing. Or maybe that we will…? (Sometimes we want an excuse to leave the Church…)

We are scandalized by the Church’s inability to be relevant, forgiving, transparent, acceptant, honest, hospitable and loving. We know that if the Church only could muster the ability to apply these things, her true calling, the contemporary person would be drawn to Christ and His body. I believe this to be true. If the Church could apply these things it would very much offer what is needed in the contemporary person’s life, namely real relationship. We need to love and we need to be loved.

This need will not be satisfied by us sitting in front of our screens and voicing our concerns and/or our reasons to celebrate. The studies being done in this area, how digital interaction/connection affects us are starting to show this. We need more than the likes on our status updates. We need more than the FaceTime conversation. We need more than following the news on a distance. The development of the experiential travelling business is evidence enough. This generation of mine (and all generations for that matter) want to belong to something, want to know that we matter to someone and that we can contribute to the betterment of humanity. Our creative capacity and the tools available to us are astronomical. But , (there is always a but) I believe we are going about it in the wrong way.

We have been taught that we can consume whatever we choose to consume, including Church. We have been fostered to believe that whatever I prefer should also be my right. Whatever I choose, and the choices are endless, is what is true for me. So when we choose the Church we attend it is often based upon what this Church does for me. Yes, we have heard this before and we know that this is not the best way to go about choosing what Church to attend (only to our own preferences) but the deeper issue is not that we choose like this. The deeper issue is that we treat “Church” as something separate from ourselves. In essence, Church is not something to be chosen by the individual as we have been taught. Church is the personal encounter with restored reality, and we can only have this personal encounter in the light of Someone else’s face. Church is not a individual preference, it is Personal immanence.

See all these things that “the Church” struggles with; relevancy, transparency, integrity, honesty, acceptance, hospitality and love is really my struggle. The Church struggle with these things because we people comprising the Church struggles with these things. The moment we start to blame “the Church” for all the hurtful things done, in that moment you are increasing the distance between yourself and the Church. As a Christian, as someone anointed, you can not distance or cut yourself of from the body and still believe that you are going to have any intrinsic effect on Her life. It is easy to criticize and judge something you do not view yourself as being part of.

I don’t think it is mere chance that a lot of the blame that the Church is receiving is shared online. It is one thing to write generally about the dismal state of the Church on the anonymous Internet, it is quite another to talk in confidence and trust with another person about it. And this is the point of being Church in the first place. We need the real, physical encounter. We need to be encouraged but also held accountable by other real, physical beings. Short of that we will eventually escape into the pseudo reality of “gnostic internet”.

God knew that we would not be satisfied until He had revealed Himself in the flesh. We need to see, hear, touch, smell and taste love to be able to trust that it is real and true. We needed Him to share our life in the flesh. So God sent His Son to heal the broken world and to reveal His love in the world. God DSC_0022knew that it would not do with updating His status through the prophets. He knew that it would not do with just “liking” the likes of David and Jonah. He knew that it would not do to reply “maybe” on the invite from the Jews. He had to show up, in the flesh, and show up He did.

Would not His very own body do well if we did the same? If we actually showed up and were present where God is planting us? If we took all the time we spend online (ok, maybe not all the time) and used that time to build other people up? If we said “yes” or “no” and meant it? If we made promises and kept them? If we lived in covenant where we would be grateful for honest appreciation and admonition?

To act with integrity and inline with what I have just written, I then must invite you. If you do not already attend a Church I invite you to visit us here at Holy Covenant. We are trying (and failing) to live somewhat like this. We are here, present in the midst of North Park, Saskatoon and we would love to get to know you. We are in it for the long haul. We can not offer new emotional “super experiences” every week (or month for that matter). But we do offer what we have. Real people wanting to share the blessings and burdens of life. A steady prayer life. A helping hand. An encouraging word. You can visit our webpage (off course, here we go again…) but don’t stop with that, come visit us in real life because that is were Church really happen. And… if you are about to make big judgement calls concerning the “dismal state of the Church” please take a moment and read up on the actual nature of the Church, you might be apart of her…

It is about grit you know. About putting our hands to the plough. If you desire real relationships and real people it will claim your life, it takes work (lots of it). But then on the other hand what else would be worth giving your life up for? Welcome to Church, it will always be here, even after you have written your last status update…

In Christ,

fr. Jakob

When talking fails, listening begins?

I moved and settled down here in Saskatoon because some of Gods people asked me to do so. I have come to love Saskatoon, her people, beauty and personality. As someone arriving from far away I was thrilled to recognize the imprints of the work by the Holy Spirit in the city, she is founded on the spirit of the aspiration of mutual understanding and cooperation rather than colonization and segregation. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M–y1AEX9pM (Thank you Chris Randall for bringing this to my attention). Many spiritual gifts are at work in the Church of Saskatoon. The Holy Spirit is at work here and the Kingdom of God is just a perspective away. Like an orchestra the Church in Saskatoon is tuning up to play beautiful music, but before that can happen, before the full potential of the orchestra is unlocked, the orchestra needs to put it’s full attention on the Conductor first, not each other. When full attention is given to the Conductor then we are able to play at the right moment, giving our all back to Him, receiving instruction and life in turn. We are able to listen and hear the melody of the Conductor in the others of the orchestra when we are waiting in anticipation to play.

When the different members in the body of Christ (i.e. the orchestra) try to communicate and get to know one another we often refer to this as “ecumenism” or “dialogue”. Here in the city of Saskatoon there has been such a process going on between the Roman catholic church (RCC) and big parts of the Evangelical church (EC) for the last 3,5 years. A group of 10 representatives from each “side” have met regularly to try to find out what we have in common, where we differ and where we can cooperate for the overall good of our city. The group has been trying to “tune up”. I admire and feel inspired by such an endeavor and process and I respect the work of the group walking trough all of this as well as the many forerunners that made this conversation possible. The goal, as I understand it, is for the representatives to eventually sign a document that outlines the similarities, differences and how we can cooperate.

It just turns out that this is harder than maybe anticipated. There is a hold up. Leaders asked to sign struggles with signing it. They are looking for their instruments. They don’t even know that a tune up has begun. They don’t even want to play. Why is that?

I believe that the ecumenical dialogue, the tune up, will only move forward if Truth is put forward, and in this dialogue process of getting to know each other better we are discovering notes missing and instruments being bent and out of tune. Getting a symphony ready to play takes time. Truth is that under a politically correct and polite surface there are many, old and deep resentments lingering in the members of the body of Christ. If those instruments are played out loud, the world will hear an orchestra out of both tone and sync. The beautiful music She was intended to play becomes a testimony against Her, the audience and the musicians fleeing the scene. Then after a while we eventually start a new dialogue or a new attempt at “revival”…

It is pretty easy to sign a document but it is hard to be one. We can sign a document and feel pretty good about that for a while but unless we are actually prepared to go back and repent and return from the things that caused all this disharmony in the first place it will be just another “nice” document to put on the already overflowing shelves of “historical events in the church” in the “humanities” section in the “library of pride”, another concert that appeared maybe even nice but did not stir the hearts of the musicians or the audience.

Documents and notes worth their while, always need to be representative of an existing reality. This goes from everything from bills and bonds to creeds and sheet music. Money without trust or a functioning economic system is just, paper… Notes without a person with an instrument interpreting and playing them in tune are just ink… No spirit and no life. If ecumenism is going to remain true to it’s name and continue in the Spirit of the 7 ecumenical councils (to draw all the members of the Church to Christ by the Holy Spirit, to bring us home) it must seek what is true about how the church ended up in her current state. Ecumenism must not dwell on the sin and despair but it must aid the Church in acknowledging the history of Herself and repent from the things that seek to destroy Her from within. The members of the body must be prepared to remain in proximity to one another even when the worst sins are brought to surface. In a process like this, (and don’t get me wrong, the formulated document is very much stating the reality of our current agreements and differences), the different parties/members must be prepared to grow the environment in which the document is formulated in. It must be a living letter/document/covenant before it can be written. A document can never bring about reality but reality can bring about a document.

Sure there are 20 representatives in a working group that are able to come to an understanding of what the document is about but that is because they have committed to relationship. If the goal is to state the truth about our current situation then we must have representations from a greater and more diverse base doing the same. We must refrain from calling it a vision statement because that communicates that we share a common vision, we don’t. We share One Lord, One faith, One baptism and One Lord and Father of all, (Eph 4:4 – 6) not a common vision/understanding/interpretation of Him. God can never be grasped by our imagination or knowledge. He can only be experienced through a bond of love. He remains forever elusive to the proud but forever close to the humble. He remains the same but in His greatness we experience Him in different ways on a personal level recognizing Him in one another. So, rather than a vision statement I’d like to call the document “A current assessment of the Church in Saskatoon – a living document.” (Even though that might sound a bit dry. Other suggestions are received with gratitude!)

It is not that God is not at work in Saskatoon, He is always at work, everywhere. He Is. It’s just that we won’t experience (t)His reality, Him at work, until we submit to His will and authority. What is His will? That we love Him and one another (John 13:34 – 35), it is here that we fall short. We put our own, or at least I know I do, agendas/believes/egos before loving others. If we love one another, unity will follow by default, by divine decree. Why is it so hard to love one another?

In my own research about the history of the Church I have encountered two patterns, two spirits that seems to hold a tight grip, undermining every try to truly love and to reconcile. These two spirits are hard to identify because they have formed paradigms that many persons operate from within. Once within a paradigm, it is very hard to see it from “the outside”, hence it is hard to identify these spirits if one is operating in them.

One spirit I call the spirit of paternalism and this is the spirit that claims that it is only certain people with certain abilities that can have revelations from God or interpret what God says. The spirit of paternalism undermines true conciliar process, and the voice of every believer. It tries to regulate the Holy Spirit by definitions and protocol. It refuses to wait in patience for the Holy Spirit, fearing exposure. It hoards legal process, scholastic method and fixed strategies to be applied on diverse circumstance. The spirit of paternalism in many ways is the parent of colonialism. Paternalism says that the body of Christ is something to be ruled over, not membered into. It clings to status quo to a fault, it suspects creativity, spontaneity and diversity. It shuts its ears for anything that it can’t control, for the miracle and for the unexpected. It is addicted to nostalgia. Paternalisms creed is “No change.”

The other spirit that is roaming around is the spirit of independence, or rebellion. Some 33.000 denominations (http://www.philvaz.com/apologetics/a106.htm) testify to the fact that this spirit does not want to come in under any authority except its own. This spirit breeds church splits, dissent and emotionalism. It is the harbinger of restlessness, discontentment and confusion. It leaves and disengages rather than committing to the relationship. It seeks something “new” as to stimulate its appetite while discarding anything “traditional” as dead religion. It claims ownership over “new” discoveries while failing to recognize that this “new” truth had been present all along. The spirit claims that it is the guardian of individual freedom but it is a false claim since true freedom can only be actualized when we give our freedom away, binding ourselves to Christ. We need His authority as incarnated by the Holy Spirit in His Church to be free. This, the spirit of rebellion refuses to recognize. The spirit of individualism might say that it has Jesus as Lord but will often refrain from taking any instruction from Jesus very own body, the Church. It abhors repetition, structure, discipline and accountability. The creed of the spirit is “Everything must change”.

I leave it up to your conciliar discernment to determine what different doctrines these two spirits has put forward within the history of the Church.

When these spirits clash, murder happens, as we have seen in both crusades, post reformation Europe, inquisitions, slave trade, power agendas in worldly politics etc. They enforce each other in a vicious circle leading towards death. When we refuse to recognize that both these spirit are present within our own hearts we often choose to endorse one and “kill” the other but there is a different way. By acknowledging the presence of both they start to loose power over our hearts and eventually it becomes clear that we, as the body of Christ, in a mystery, must change to remain the same (to use the words of fr. Alexander Schmemann). It is our lack of love for one another that keeps us from seeing that structure and freedom are not opposed, that ritual and creativity is not mutual exclusive and that liturgy and spontaneity actually benefit from one another.

The problem was never that we didn’t know the solution. The solution has always been there. The solution is a Person and our hearts as parts of this Person has always known that deep within. We, as the body of Christ are the mission (Missio Dei). The Kingdom of God is standing at the ready to launch in and invade a broken city, one act of love at a time. The highway to His city runs through our hearts (Ps 84:5). The problem was/is that we never thought it might actually cost us something, or rather everything (Matt 16:25). Pure love, Gods Way, requires pure hearts (Matt 5:8) and in that area, I must confess, I have much that I must offer back to God for His healing. There are many stones in my life obscuring the path (Isa 62:10) to the gate that stands wide open. I just can’t make it on my own. I need my Conductor to be able to play. As churches we can’t make it on our own, we need our Conductor and one another to manifest the glory of Christ’s body, to find and reveal that glorious city right here in Saskatoon (1 Cor 12:20 – 22) Everything is ready, a feast prepared, (Matt 22:2) a robe waiting (Luke 15:22), gates swung open (Rev 21:25), the table set (Luke 22:29 – 30).

For the reconciliation of the body of Christ in Saskatoon, to be obedient to the will of Christ Himself , to be one, (John 17) I suggest the following:

  • Continuously pray for the Holy Spirit, the Giver of life, to be present in all of the aspects of the process. Allow for time to wait and listen for Him. Take a posture of waiting and expectation.
  • Continue the dialogue with holy tension. Invite more and more people to public meetings, talking about the different parts of the document, what they mean and how they can be applied. Create a place where relationship can happen and we can get to know one another. Do not set a “goal date” for when a document needs to be “finished”. The law is now written o hearts of flesh, not on stone. If we desire to love one another then we need to get to know one another, both blemishes and gifts.
  • If there are to be some joint services in this process, give them a language of repentance, vulnerability and sacrificial love rather than a celebration of a unity that is based on mental ascent. If we can’t share the Eucharistic table because of different believes or lack of love, this should be acknowledged rather than ignored as to not grieve the Spirit of Truth. In pretending that we offer our all, celebrating “unity” we (albeit maybe not intending to) commit the same sin as Annanias and Saphira, the sin of pretense, perpetuating the brokenness by never addressing the underlying issues. On the other hand, if we in joint service can be vulnerable and acknowledge the sins of the past that we have committed towards one another then the Spirit of Truth is at work and can begin His work of healing.
  • Don’t do anything together until we know who we are together. If we are going to function as a unified body we need to know what the different parts of the body are good at, what their identity and function is. For this to happen we need working relationships. Can we find a way to gather all (Roman Catholic, Evangelical, Orthodox, Protestant, Baptist etc) Christian leadership to pray together at least once a year?
  • List of things that we need to repent from: I won’t point fingers but will trust that the Holy Spirit will reveal to us what we need to repent from. If you feel bold enough I encourage you to write down what you believe you need to repent from in the comments below, maybe that can give us some clues about what the body of Christ is suffering from and then we can ask for His healing.

One of the first lessons we learn about discernment – from Jesus anyway – is that it will always tend toward concrete expressions of love with real people rather than theoretical conversations about theology and philosophy. Such conversations are valuable only if they eventually lead us to a more concrete expression of love for the real people who are in need around us. If such conversations don’t move us toward concrete action in the world, we become the proverbial noisy gong and clashing symbol. The disciples blindness to the work of God in their midst is sobering because it demonstrates that even those who are the closest to Jesus and on a serious spiritual journey can still miss things – especially if we are living and breathing the same cultural influences together.” Excerpt from “Pursuing Gods will together” by Ruth Haley Burton

It would have been easier not to write anything at all and just go about life as usual, life is fine. But, we are made for more than just “fine,” we are made in and for greatness. It is for this reason I have penned this text. It is for Jerusalem’s sake (i.e. the Church – the foundation of peace) I can’t keep silent. The Conductor is urging me to pay attention to Him and play my instrument together with you. In the end it is not enough to talk about Christ, we must be a part of Christ. I say that I love Saskatoon. Blessed is the one who does not have to use words to convince his listeners… Lord, have mercy. Holy Spirit, come with Your cleansing fire.

In Christ

fr. Jakob

Is freedom, freedom if it is limited?

As of late I have been pondering a couple of questions that I thought I had safely stacked away on the shelf of “mysteries I don’t understand but choose to believe in”. If you are a bit like me then you also consider and discern certain believes and doctrines to the point where we choose to accept them or reject them according to our consciousness, then we kind of “lay them to rest”. In the current position I find myself on this journey called life I find myself thinking a lot about the nature of freedom. I am starting to accept that there are a couple of more layers concerning freedom that I chose to ignore before because I could glimpse the uncomfortable consequences of what investigating it further would bring.

In the post-modern, western paradigm that I have grown up in we tend to define freedom as the opportunity and possibility to do whatever we want, whenever we want, as long as it does not infringe on someone else freedom. We have freedom of speech and expression. We enjoy freedom of thought, religion and conscience. The democratic idea is built upon the notion that free citizens will contribute their vote (will) to form the governing/stewarding body for the general benefit of the citizens. In many countries in the West we have enjoyed these freedoms to the point where we believe that freedom is the same as no borders, no limits and no restrictions. The individualistic “thought of rights” have pushed us to the brink of taking our freedom of choice for granted. Let me suggest that as a result of this we witness all kinds of developments in society where man tries to “bend” the natural order of creation into what he wants and believes. When I was younger I used to hold a notion of freedom very close to this but as of late, something in me has changed. I’ve come to accept what I knew deep down all along, we are not free in the ultimate sense of that word. We use to be, we are not any longer. We will always strive to be free because we know; deep down, this is our purpose.

Now, if we take a couple of steps back from the narrative of “progress” and humble ourselves, if turn to Scriptures and let ourselves be read by Scriptures rather than the reverse, we will see that the freedom we enjoy today is far from what it was before the fall. If we allow ourselves to be guided by the established patterns in the universe we soon realize that this notion of freedom being the same as “unlimited” freedom just isn’t true. Truth is that we are created free, in the image of God, but that our freedom is limited because we are not God. Even if we wanted to we can’t create something out of nothing. Hey, we would have a really hard time just altering the course of the earth around the sun. If I put all my will power and choice into the process of becoming Superman, I would not succeed. I do not have the power to “will” myself into existence. We are free to explore and steward the world but we are not free to create it or even permanently destroy anything in it. Hence it might be possible to draw the conclusion that our freedom is limited by the borders that God has set up for our existence. He wills us into existence and He takes us out of it (even though this seems highly unlikely since He loves us. Why would He have created us in the first place just to eradicate us?). In our hubris after the fall we have come to believe that we are the “owners/masters” of our lives and that we are in control of these borders. We have come to believe that we have the power to destroy the world by either nuclear disaster or pollution (or both) but this is not so. God is in charge of the final destiny of the world. In Exodus (and many more places in Scriptures) we read, “All the earth is Mine.” It is God Who is in ultimate control. As it is only He that has all knowledge it is only He that enjoys ultimate freedom (and even He is bound by Himself). It is He that is the Author of our ability and faculties of freedom and choice, the most important choice being, us trusting or rejecting God for our healing.

Why is our understanding of the nature freedom so important? Why is it important to designate between Gods unrestricted freedom and our limited freedom? It is important because since freedom is an attribute of a loving God, in Who’s image we are created our understanding of this attribute will shape the core of our person. It is important because this is to state the truth of our circumstance and the Truth will set us free.

For the longest time I believed that unless I am totally free (unrestricted freedom) I can’t truly love. I still believe this to be true but this statement is framed in the wrong way. It is not about if love requires freedom to be true love, it does. It is about us accepting that we are not the Masters of our lives so that we may open the door of our hearts to the one Who is. I thought that I could truly love because I was truly free. Truth is that we are the fruit of Gods true love and freedom and it is because of this that we can love each other in freedom even though this love in freedom is not perfected like God’s. We are not the authors or sustainers of true love and freedom and until we realize this we will not be able to join and enjoy Him Who is. It is not about us first; it is about Him first and then us becoming a member of His body. (Rom 5:18, 8:19-20, 11:32)

A proper understanding of limited and ultimate freedom also opens the door to the eventual reconciliation of all people to God. How you might wonder? One of the greatest obstacles for the idea of universal reconciliation to God the Father through Jesus is the notion that God will never violate our freedom of choice. If He does, well then we are just robots in some super advanced board game that God has created for His own amusement and we don’t have the choice to reject Him. Since we can’t reject Him, there is no true choice or freedom hence He can’t be a God of love. On one hand we know that God is love (and Love never fails). On the other hand we know we are free and so we wonder if the triumph of love is inevitable, what room is there for free will? And on in circles it goes. What if our salvation is more based on God choosing us in His unlimited freedom rather than us choosing Him with our limited freedom? “If we are faithless, He remains faithful because He can not deny Himself. (2 Tim: 2 – 13) The argument is framed in the wrong way. It is not freedom or love, it is freedom in love and that freedom can only be found when we realize that we are bound to God by His love for us, He is Love. We have an eternally valid connection with Him because He created us in Love.

I am somewhat confounded by people who say: “If God violates our freedom He can’t be a God of love.” (If a father puts his son in house arrest to protect him, he cannot love His son…) The same people also often proclaims that “This same God of love will condemn many people to eternal damnation and conscious torment.” (If the son of the father refuses to say yes to his father the father will eternally punish him).

Some questions that I have thought about this last year are: How can a God of love let His children suffer eternal damnation and torture? How can a just and loving God allow for any presence of evil to last forever and ever, even if it is restrained in hell? How is God’s victory complete if evil is allowed to remain? Why does a loving God require a permanent punishment for temporary violations against His will? This is not just. This does not make any sense. These are questions many churches and pastors dare not touch because the current hermeneutic and paradigms of many denominations does not provide the tools to answer these questions. How is this good news for all people? How is this gospel? People in the West are leaving the church in droves because of the Church failing to answer these questions and I can’t really blame them. If this is the case then the Gospel is not good news, it is bad news for most people.

If God has a plan for reconciling everything to Himself, to the same good state that was before the fall, as Scriptures seem to imply in several places: (Psalm 86:9, Isaiah 49:6, 54:8 – 10, 16, Matt 18:13, Acts 3:20 – 21, 1 Cor 15 :20 – 29, Eph 1:10 – 11, 1 Tim 4:10, Philippians 2:9 – 11, Col 1:19 – 20, Rev 21:4 – 5 and many more) how does that work without Him violating the freedom He has given to us? This question can only be answered if we understand our freedom as limited. Our limited freedom was never meant to decide the eternal destiny of our person or anything/anyone else. It is only God Who can decide what our eternal destiny and purpose is. Our limited freedom was only meant to acknowledge what (Who) truly Is, to come in under the wings of a loving Father. If we follow the patterns in Scriptures it seems like Gods children are always given a second, or a third or a forth chance to turn to Him. There is always a remnant left, God does not desire to eternally destroy any one of us, He desires to eternally destroy sin. He want’s to eternally restore us into His likeness by transforming the work of death and sin in our person into new life. God’s justice can only be satisfied by the restoration of all things, not the eradication of the things He created. God eradicates sin by restoring its enablers (all of us) from a fallen state, not by punishing us forever and ever but by holy transformation. He has already given a second chance once. After Adam and Eve disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden God said that they would die and died they did, but not as we usually understand death. God had prepared another way. He is in control, motivated by His great love for His children. He did it again with Noah, saving mankind from permanent damnation and eradication. He did it time and time again with the Israelites. If we reject God in this life, just like Adam and Eve, the people in the days of Noah or the Israelites, what makes you think that He would not give us at least the same opportunity as they got to repent and turn towards Him? Jesus even went down to preach to the captives in hell so that they would repent. At least, what makes us so sure and convinced about “certain” peoples eternal damnation? Could it be that the protestant hermeneutic have been shaped by a desire to distinguish itself from the Roman Catholic doctrines of indulgences and purgatory to the degree of that we now read Scriptures to confirm a doctrine (the assurance of eternal damnation for some people) that is not really there? Personally I believe that the doctrine of the assurance of eternal damnation and torment in hell is just a “hang over” response to the already flawed doctrine of indulgences combined with a heavy handed interpretation of St Augustine. I mean, if we can’t “buy ourselves or our relatives out of hell, well then what alternative is there other than that they have to stay there forever? It’s a flawed belief built upon political and monetary motivated propaganda (it was expensive to build the St Peter basilica in Rome). So, once in hell always in hell, you had your chance in this life.

If we take the time to study the passages in Scriptures in original languages and in literal translations (OSB, Young’s, Strong’s) that seem to imply eternal damnation (Mark 9:43, 47 – 48, Matt 25:41, Luke 16:26), we will discover that Gods love is much greater than what some other translations might suggest. The word “aionios” (in say Matt 25:41) have often been translated into “eternal” or “everlasting” but actually is more properly translated into “an age lasting” or “an age after an age”. According to this word, the time for God’s punishment is limited, a limited chastisement for offenses done in limited freedom. If our freedom of choice were limited and therefor also our sin, it would seem more just if a potential remedial punishment also is limited. Even earthly fathers know the punishment for a crime should not go beyond the severity of the offense unless it must do so for redemptive purposes. Few people take the time to do the work of proper translation and tracing the consequences of their beliefs like this, I wonder why? Maybe it is because we realize what implications this would have. We would have to focus on peoples potential rather than their sin. We would have to behave in a Christian Way, letting God be the judge. We would have to help people for their benefit not ours. We would have to change our paradigm into a paradigm of love. Personally I believe that Scriptures have more evidence pointing to everyone eventually being reconciled to God than evidence that even one person will be eternally damned and tormented in hell. I can’t know for sure but the evidence seem to point to a more positive outlook for many more people and that is good news! Within the history of the Church there are examples of people believing in universal reconciliation, St Gregory of Nyssa being the most prominent one. However the church has never made it an official doctrine. Maybe that is because the how, when and where God saves His people should not be defined by fallen humans (sine we are the objects of this very salvation, how can we hope to know the exact process of it), or it could also be that the political powers in the church realized that they wanted to decide who’s in and who’s out in the Kingdom of God.

Is limited freedom, freedom? Yes, because limited freedom makes us aware of our dependence on God and to be dependent on Him is to be free in the ultimate sense, paradoxical as it sounds… Will God violate our choice and enforce His will? No. Can God change or prolong the context in where we make our choices until His desire (everyone’s salvation) is fulfilled? Yes. If He wants to, and I choose to believe in a loving Father that want’s to. Where does that leave us? Is it divine manipulation or is it perfect love. Is it manipulation if a father leaves the door to his house open for eternity or is it love? As fallen beings we must refrain from making it an either or question. If we make one of the two a “required belief” we risk doing the very thing we want to avoid (passing judgment on everyone who does not believe exactly like I do). A true personal conviction in the reconciliation of all does not have to force that belief on any other person because it trust’s that God will eventually take care of that person. The belief in the reconciliation of all can only be shared by the testimony of one’s life, universal reconciliation can’t be defined by us because God alone defines salvation. We can’t judge it because it trusts that God will do that. It cannot push itself into the doctrines of the Church because when it does, it looses its mysterious power, and it becomes another legislation that might tempt people to control or judge others. We are left with a question. Are we being most true to our God given identity by being concerned with who is “in” or “out” or are we being most true by believing that God loves everyone with an everlasting love and act upon that belief? The Truth will set us free.

The Judas in me

“Today, the Master shows His disciples an example of humility: He Who wraps the heavens in clouds, girds Himself with a towel; He Who holds all life in His hands, kneels down to wash the feet of His servants. O long suffering Lord, glory to You.

– Even my dearest friend, whom I trusted, who ate of my bread, has lifted up his heal against me. (Ps 41)

Today Judas lays aside his outward pretence of love for the poor; he no longer even seems concerned for the needy as he openly displays his greed for money. As he desired to sell the sinful woman’s oil of myrrh, now he seeks to sell the heavenly myrrh itself, ready to take the silver pieces and be off. Unable as he is to accept the Lord for whom He truly is, in his greed for the profit of the sale and in his frightful turmoil he concludes the transaction. From such a faith deliver us, O Lord!

– Whenever she comes to visit, she pretends sympathy, but her mind gathers mischief and slander, and when she goes outside she gossips freely. (Ps 41)

You are treacherous and deceitful, O miserable and evil-minded Judas! Because you are sick with the love of money, you have come to despise mankind. If riches mean so much to you, why become the disciple of the One Who teaches poverty? Why even pretend to be His follower! But if your love is truly for Him, how can you betray Him? How can you sell Him for money and hand Him over to be murdered? Let the sun tremble and let the moon weep, let all the earth quake and groan, and let all creation cry out with us: O long-suffering Lord, glory to You!”  (Troparia of Holy Thursday)

To remember Judas for for the crime he committed is proper. It is also easy, often to easy. I find that it is with ease that I project my own participation in the betrayal and murder of our Lord on Judas, Herod, the Pharisees and Pilate. Yet deep down I know that I also, on numerous accounts have betrayed my Lord. When I deny Him like Peter, when I commit sins that I know are wrong. When my lack of love and concern for others takes over my priorities. When I let greed fester in my heart. The only thing I know that I can do to transform this pseudo, luke warm reality residing in me is to let Him wash my heart clean. To accept His sacrifice in His broken body and in His blood. The hour for this sacrifice draws near.

Let us go in holy silence! And in anticipation, let us watch and wait!