A Prayer for Orlando

I was preaching in a wonderful Brethren congregation here in Vancouver yesterday morning when word spread about the awful violence in a nightclub in Florida.  Nearly 50 people murdered and another 50 injured.  The worst mass murder shooting in America – so far.  The Elder leading prayers said what we were all thinking – that our hearts break at the news of violence, that we recoil when we hear of a human being with such hatred for other human beings, that we long for a day promised in Scripture when God triumphs for good over evil and when the good work that the Father began in raising the Son from the dead will be completed by the Spirit’s power in consummation.  Come, Lord Jesus Come.

This morning the Moderator of the 142nd General Assembly, Rev. Douglas Rollwage, offered this prayer on the national Presbyterian Church website:

A Prayer in a Time of Violence

Eternal God of loving-kindness,
you hold all situations and souls in your hands;
you are our only hope and comfort in life and in death, and
you are the one to whom we turn in times of trouble.

You sent Christ into the world
that we might have life
and have it abundantly;
he came as the Prince of Peace
to a world that is too often violent and marked by tragedy.

In the face of violence in Orlando and against people in the LGBTQ community,
we come to you in sorrow
for those whose lives are cut short or forever changed;
we come to you in frustration and anger
because of the violence in this world;
we come to you in confession
for we have been too often silent
when we should have spoken up against hatred and bigotry
and too often we have tolerated violence that breaks your heart.

We pray that you
watch over those who are in danger,
comfort those who fear for themselves or loved ones,
gather into your loving arms those who die,
give us wisdom to be voices of peace in moments and places of hatred and fear;
give us courage to be a force for positive change in our communities, workplaces and churches.

In the name of Jesus, in whom all is reconciled;
let understanding overcome vengeance;
let peace overcome violence;
let kindness overcome hatred and suspicion.

And in your grace, let us see the day when guns and all weapons that destroy life
are transformed into instruments of peace and healing.

In the strong name of Jesus, we pray;
Amen.

 

Ross Lockhart is Associate Professor at St. Andrew’s Hall, UBC and Director of the Centre for Missional Leadership.

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Polity & Pentecost

It was an honour to be a resource person on behalf of St. Andrew’s Hall/VST at the 142nd General Assembly held at York University June 3 to 6.  General Assembly is an extrovert’s dream, hundreds of Presbyterians in one place and several days in which to connect with leaders from coast to coast. I felt like a kid in a candy store.

 

From my “perch” at the back of the room, I was able to both observe the work of Commissioners throughout the sederunts, as well as participate fully in worship. As Commissioners dropped by the St. Andrew’s Hall/VST table to collect information on the college as well as their snappy SAH First Aid kit freebies,

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it gave me an interesting opportunity to hear various concerns about the state of the church. Many Commissioners thanked me for our webinars over the last year and named specifically how pleased they were that SAH’s Centre for Missional Leadership is focused on evangelism and mission in the church and world.

It was interesting to be once again at the “highest” court of the church in the season after Pentecost and watch the polity of church play out as motions and amendments worked their way through the Business Committee.  Perhaps predictably the most controversial overtures were often not debated openly, but played out in other ways as “pacifying motions” ended up in curious debates like the long conversation on what “tender pastoral care” looks like in the church.  I found myself at times wondering what it would be like to sit at Nicaea in 325 AD or Ephesus in 431 AD or Chalcedon in 451 AD and hear church leaders struggling to articulate the way forward that is most faithful to our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

As I listened pastorally to Commissioners visiting me at the resource table, there was a deep sense of worry how the current conversation on human sexuality was dividing the church and how, at times, even worship at General Assembly seemed to be a proxy battleground for the debate. I left GA this year with a desire to pray more often for the unity of the church, and the need to find a balance between an inclusive welcome and the courage to testify to our common humanity/sinfulness before our holy and triune God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Ross Lockhart is Associate Professor at St. Andrew’s Hall, UBC and Director of the Centre for Missional Leadership.

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Goodnight Gorilla

Goodnight Gorilla by Peggy Rathman has been one of our children’s favorite bedtime stories for over a decade now.  It has been passed down through our three children, each one enjoying it as much as the last.  For those of you unfamiliar with the story it is a picture book about a zookeeper who goes around at night locking up the zoo before returning home to bed, across the street.  The Gorilla in the story, however, causes more than a little chaos by lifting the zookeeper’s keys secretly off his belt and letting himself out of the cage. Then he lets all the other animals out of their cages. Then the Gorilla and all the animals follow the zookeeper home for a good night’s sleep.

The favourite part of the story, at least for our kids, is where the zookeeper’s wife yawns when she hears her husband come home, leans over to turn out the bedside lamp and says, “Goodnight,” unaware that her bedroom is overrun with animals bedding down from the zoo next door. We turn the page over and it’s all black and all these voice bubbles saying, “Goodnight.” I’ve noticed that both my wife and I say the “Goodnights” in different voices….goodnight, goodnight, goodnight, goodnight.  And then slowly I turn the page over and gasp “Ah, there’s a gorilla in my bed!!!!” The kids giggle and often want to go back to this page again and again.

I read my youngest that book this week and, for the first time, had an unexpected sense of sadness.  I had just read online about the killing of Harambe, the Western lowland gorilla who was shot after a 4 year old fell into his space at the Cincinnati Zoo.  Not only did the incident bring back to the surface ethical questions of animals in captivity, but I also struggled with what might be right and wrong in that scenario.  Should they have shot the gorilla?  Where there other options?  I also realize that I was reading Goodnight Gorilla to my own child – the same age as the one that fell into the zoo cage in Cincinnati.  Would I not value the life of my own child over the Gorilla’s life?  Yes.  As a Dad with instincts to protect my family, of course.  But who might also value the life of the Gorilla in captivity?  Surely both are precious to God.

As I reflected on this question I remember how my older children, when they were “outgrowing” the book, used to ask me about Goodnight Gorilla, “Dad, how could all these animals be there together in peace?”  Their wonder led me to ask, “indeed, how is it possible?”  Look at that hyena and armidella snuggling up together.  Why is the lion not eating the mouse or his banana? Could there be a world where this was true?

Not in my simple, sinful imagination in a world of power and greed.  But, of course, there is also that other imagination…

“The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the falling together, and a little child shall lead them.”  Isaiah 11: 6

Oh right, I forgot.  The Triune God’s imagination is brilliantly more than I could ask or imagine.  The glimpse of God with skin on in Jesus Christ reminds us of God’s faithfulness to world through Creation, Fall, Covenant, Exile, Christ, Church and…by God…one day Consummation.  If God really was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself not counting our sins against us – wow, then anything is possible.

I said goodnight to my sweet little girl and gave God thanks for her safety and flourishing and found myself later in the night thinking of that dear Gorilla and praying,

Father, grant us a vision of your peace and goodness that overwhelms the darkness of this world with the light of Christ. May our lives be marked by the good morning of your grace and the goodnight of your love. In Jesus name…Amen.

Ross Lockhart is Associate Professor at St. Andrew’s Hall at The University of British Columbia and founding Director of The Centre for Missional Leadership.

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Does Jesus Care if Young Adults Come to Your Sunday Morning Service?

“After Jesus figured out how to rejig the synagogue service, all the young adults and families came back to worship and put heaps of money on the offering plate.”
    – 1 Fabrications 3:16

Lately I have noticed that the participation of youth and young adults in the mainline church has become fetishized. That is, we often have “an excessive and irrational […] obsession with” youth and young adults taking part in our churches. (Thanks to Oxford Dictionaries for the definition.)

“If only” more young folks were in worship … came to more events and programs … contributed more money … etc … etc … then everything would be roses and cupcakes, forever.

Don’t get me wrong. I love it when young folks are in church. I love it when old people are there, too. And little kids. And middle-agers. Worship and other churchy activities are awesome for all ages: they form us as followers of Jesus, as compassionate neighbours, as eager servants of God and God’s love. Worship is essential to a rightly-oriented life, no matter your age or stage.

But trying to get a younger demographic into the church for the sake of survival, or for the sake of saying we did it, is backwards.

The vocation of Christian communities is to serve. To serve. To love. To give. To share. To partner with others in doing good. Worship forms us for that, and it orients our hearts to God. But we don’t exist as churches just for the sake of existing, and worship doesn’t happen just for the sake of happening. The church exists because the Holy Spirit has called us into existence for a reason: in order to further the purposes of Christ’s mission in the world.

So I think the real issue, the real question, is not “how can we get more young people into our church?”

The real question is, “how can our church serve the young people (and other people) in our community with joy and humility?”

To answer that question, we’re going to need to find some ways to listen, really listen, to those young people, whether they are “part of us” or not, and to ask them what they need. When we are clearer about that, we’ll have a better sense how to use our resources to serve them.

Rob Fennell teaches theology and history at Atlantic School of Theology in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

 

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Should There Be Religious Education in Public Schools?

In Manitoba in the 1970s and 1980s, when I was growing up, the public school system was completely evacuated of religious education.

Well, there were two exceptions: we read a Bible story from the venerable and hoary Hurlbut’s

Hurlbut's Bible

…and the Lord’s Prayer was said aloud during morning exercises.

There was clearly a Christian bias to those practices.

Then, a Manitoban student successfully protested having a mandatory Christian prayer in school, all the way into the court system, and morning exercises were de-religionized.

Otherwise, you would think that, according to the education I got at school, religion and spirituality did not exist. There was no mention of any religious tradition. It was completely rinsed out of the curriculum, like the mud ground into the knees of our jeans that our mothers valiantly tried to wash.

Even the core French language curriculum was curiously lacking in reference to the words of faith, despite the high correlation between Roman Catholicism and the francophone population in Manitoba and across Canada.

Along the way, many of us learned about religious traditions by-the-by. Or (more commonly) we learned bits and pieces, fragments of fact and fiction, here and there.

Today, I think Canadian religious illiteracy is kind of shocking. The assumption of most school systems seems to be that the whole world is irreligious.

Not long ago, one of our neighborhood schools tried to flex its multicultural muscles by listing the religious festivals in the monthly school newsletter. I thought this truly laudable, but the details (often quite erroneously stated) were haphazardly cut and pasted from internet sources in a way that boggled the mind.

I don’t mind AT ALL if someone believes differently than I do (or doesn’t believe). And I am certainly not saying that all students must be taught Christianity in school. That’s the job of the Church.

But I do think we have our heads in the scholastic sand in most places in this country.

If your neighborhood has public education about the plurality of religions that do in fact fill our society – excellent! But most places seem to assume a “don’t talk about it; it doesn’t exist” approach.

Meantime we run the risk of teaching that religion is non-existent or unimportant, when for so many people, here and around the world, the opposite is true. Faith is profoundly important to billions of people.

We run the risk of responding to each other’s faith traditions out of carefully-choreographed ignorance, instead of curiosity, respect, and neighbourly regard.

RESPECT A Bourdain 

Rob Fennell teaches theology and history at Atlantic School of Theology in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

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Pick-a-Flick Post-Easter Revelation

My family spent last weekend on Vancouver Island, connecting with Presbyterian colleagues and their families and preaching on the Sunday. We stayed in Cook Street Village, a cute as pie little neighbourhood on the other side of Cobble Hill Park from James Bay. It’s a trendy spot, with hipsters and homeless, boutique shops and cafes, an organic grocery store and an obligatory Starbucks.

Oh, and there was one more establishment that caught my eye. In fact, as I stood there it was clear that the children were confused but I was speechless.  No, don’t worry it wasn’t a medical marijuana dispensary, we’re used to seeing those on the west coast all the time.  What I saw was called Pick-a-flik.

The children asked me, “Dad, what are those people doing?”  I stammered, “Well, they appear to be going into a store where they look at DVD’s and pay money to rent them, take them home and watch them on a DVD player. And then return them to this store.” Silence.  “Like in person…” the children asked in a confused tone, “where they have to carry it back and forth?” Nodding in astonishment I said,“Yes, in fact, if they’re late returning the video they have to pay extra money in fines.” Wheels turning. Blank expressions.  And then,“Why don’t they just get Netflix?” the children asked innocently.

“I don’t know,” I replied and then the words just slipped out of my mouth, “I didn’t realize that people did that kind of thing anymore.”

As soon as the words were out of my mouth I realized that I had heard them before…here in Vancouver…in coffee shops, on the soccer pitch, chatting to parents at swimming lessons. “Where do you work?” “Oh the church…I’m a pastor.” “Really, I didn’t realize that people do that anymore?”

The funny thing about being Christian in this secular, west coast context is not that we do battle all the time with angry atheists. Oh yes, there are those around and it is a helpful reminder of the end of our privileged Christendom legacy to be mocked and derided for faith (it just happened recently in my own neighbourhood). But I don’t bump into angry atheists all the time. No, I meet a lot of affable agnostics. People for whom participation in a Christian community seems as foreign and antiquated as renting a DVD or, heaven forbid, a VHS from a pick-a-flik store down the street.

How might our witness as a Christian community not strike people as quaint or old-fashioned but daring and hopeful as an alternative path of living and loving in this world?  How might the good news of Easter strike people not as “old news” or “odd news” for this world but as news worthy to be describe as, “love so amazing, so divine, it demands my life, my love, my all…”

Ross Lockhart is Associate Professor at St. Andrew’s Hall/VST in Vancouver, British Columbia.

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A good news story

I thought this week you might be interested in this little story in The Globe and Mail about one little town’s efforts toward Christian unity. Click here. 

When our differences and distinctiveness drive us toward sectarianism, even within the Christian community, I am heartened by stories like this. Many thanks to John Allemang for a fine article (and a pleasant interview, too.).

Happy Easter. Let the Great Fifty Days begin!

Rob Fennell is Associate Professor of Historical and Systematic Theology at Atlantic School of Theology in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

 

 

 

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