Category Archives: Writing

“The Future of Christianity” by Alister E. McGrath

img_1398.jpg

What a good book! On April 8th while attending The North Shore Writers’ Festival luncheon circle with authors, I noticed a display of books near the door to the room. It was the week before Easter and there was an eclectic display of Christian books on various topics. I signed out “The Future of Christianity” by Alister E. McGrath.

I knew of the trusted Prof. McGrath from Oxford University through my years of part-time study at Regent College, UBC. A couple of weeks later as I started reading the book I was hooked by his bringing together of historical and political facts as precursor to the current unsettled condition of the Western church. My curiosity was piqued to read his take on the ways the church is changing and how to position myself to accept reasonable adjustments in the way we do church going into the future.

This is not a review or a summary. Upfront I want to say, I cannot do this book justice, but will only highlight a few things for readers to be encouraged in the way forward. As St. Benedict said, we are always beginners. There is much to know. This is the main thing I learned at seminary. The Gospel remains the same but the Christian in the world changes over time and culture.

So one thing is for sure, in order to understand the way forward, we need to know where we have come from and where we are right now. Dr. McGrath is particularly effective in pulling together the big picture of the church in culture and defining the essence of where the church is now across the globe. The following is a remnant of what can be feasted on in this book written for scholars and not.

There is much history of how things with Christianity in all its forms got the way it is today. One thing I noted was of McGrath’s explanation of a major factor affecting the church during WWII was in Hitler presenting his ideas to the church as a renewing of German culture. Sadly, and a warning for us, is that eventually the church became so much like the culture that it could not critique it with the noted exceptions of writers Karl Barth and Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

After the shock of the wars, there was a spiritual vacuum, leading to the ‘Death of God’ movement in the 1960’s and other factors. Many thought that Christianity would be no more: “This surge of enthusiasm often led to the suspension of any critical faculties… The sweeping aside of traditional morality was seen as purely liberating at the time. It was fun to be able to sleep with whoever you liked and do whatever you pleased. It all seemed so innocent. The darker side of things was there to be seen… the truth could not be suppressed forever… decriminalization of paedophilia.” One can easily fill in the blanks of the long ranging effects of this movement in Paris. A long litany of historical events, large and small, illustrates the results of the: “rupture of the centuries-long cycle of intergenerational transmission of the Christian faith.”

Even some uncritical theologians abandoned the faith and former Christians “thinking Christianity had nothing to offer in relation to the supernatural of mysterious” were attracted to New Age practices. Add to this the fact that the “Enlightenment lost any remaining credibility” with its “demand that everything should be neatly ordered, rational, and logical” and you have the perfect storm that led to Postmodernism.

Christianity has now been commodified and marketed as a spiritual product: “A successful church was now seen as a church that grew” so that “Western churches outreach” was seen as the “McDonaldization of Christianity.” “Efficiency, calculability, predictability and control” now informed the model. Yet there remains: “a longing for spiritual authenticity.”

In my oversimplified and truncated picture of events there is seen the result that Christianity remains the largest religion in the world. As it cooled in North America and Europe, faith has spread like wildfire in Asia, Africa, and Latin America – so much so that they send missionaries now to re-invigorate personal faith in the West. It is a grand story and McGrath tells it well. Much of his forth-telling of possible future trends is unfolding now – a full 15 years after his book was written. Of note are his descriptions of how each strand of Christianity can continue to right itself to face a drastically changing world with the unchanging Gospel told and lived in both new and ancient ways.

There is a move toward forming Christ-centred community churches that care for the people around them over churches that do not attract by their denominational differences and doctrinal squabbles. The Bible is paraphrased informally to include the unchurched. McGrath relays the thought that rather than more academic theologians, what the world needs now, is a movement of amateur theologians: novelists like C.S. Lewis and Dorothy L. Sayers etc. He says that some of the American megachurches are becoming like the “medieval monasteries plant[ing] smaller monasteries in outlying regions, resourced by the mother house until they were deemed strong enough to be self-sufficient.” He states: “The future of Christianity will be deeply shaped by this major new trend.”

Enough said. Actually, God is very much alive. There is the necessity though that churches get with the program that God has. What is the Spirit saying to confused churches in this so-called post-Christian cultural mash-up? Jesus came that we might have abundant life. He also turned culture upside down – especially for and by God’s people. Isn’t confusion one of the precursors of change?

Eating Caesar Salad at Nitobe Garden

IMG_1338

“Nitobe Memorial Garden”  DS, iPhone Photo, April 2017

So I am a colourist. There’s no doubt about it. I like colour. Today I am surrounded by greens; layers and layers and shapes of greens at Nitobe, an Asian garden on the UBC campus.

Huddled in my knitted forest green scarf with clear and emerald hand-tied beads and navy hooded coat, I sit to rest. The planked bench is dry. I take the Caesar Salad container out of my grey felted bag and eat.  The lemon wakes me. I swish around the breadcrumbs in my mouth with water from a green gingham lidded jam jar I carry with me often since art school days.

Students crunch by walking on the path. They overwhelm my quiet peace for a while with their heated discussion. Photographers set up tripods in a couple of places in the distance; a waterfall rushes, bringing movement to the still water under the arced wooden bridge. In this day, when the rain has taken a break and the sunshine has not started, the greens clear the palette of my painter’s mind for the paint box of colour that will show up in this late arriving spring.

I breathe

I offer a prayer of thanks

I stop to write in the gazebo

Moss lichen bark

Tiny patterned ferns

Marsh green shoots

Yellow polka dot buds

On bushes

Small verdant mounds

Fill my eyes

The seagull

Calls to the rasp

Of the gardener’s rake

Wind on my face

I look forward with courage again. I continue on the grey pebble path accompanied by the unseen sfumato of soon coming Valley Lilies.

Drops begin to fall but the exit is in sight.

 

“Be still and know that I am God.”

Book of Psalms

.

Reading ‘Surprised by Joy’

There is so much I miss in reading books by C.S. Lewis. His writing is so intellectual, so dense with classic literary and philosophical allusions that it is overwhelming at times. Not so this time – as Luther wrote about being inspired to ‘pick up the book and read,’ so it was with me this month. Perhaps I was confused by Valentine’s Day and thought this was the love story of how Lewis and his wife met, not how he came to know and love God. (Now that I remember, that heart-changing story was told in the movie “Shadowlands”.)

The small yellow book lay near the front of my bookshelf as it had for several years. Maybe it was the blue sailor’s costume or the summer yellow sun behind the graphic of the boy on the cover that attracted me. I felt the desire to read another autobiography. This is a year of reading and writing memoir for me.

Clive Staples Lewis was born in Ireland in 1898. He had a comfortable childhood until his mother grew ill. He had heard that God would answer prayers of faith. So he prayed. When a miracle did not come the grief of his mother’s death and his gradual loss of faith were the marks of his childhood. In his father’s loss he was unable to relate well with his two sons. As it was not unusual for boys to go to boarding school in those days, each son was sent off in turn.

Deprivation and teacher incompetence rendered his boarding school experience harsh. Yet it was in relating to classmates and their hierarchies that he learned social skills to survive being an introvert. He was studious and found his way among them. Eventually he became a Professor of Medieval and Renaissance Literature at Cambridge. His prolific writings have delighted people of every age.

The book goes on to give the reader a view of how his reading the classics and in arguing in discussion groups with mentors and peers he formed his ideas about philosophy and about life. Faith having been eroded by years of neglect seemed in the book to be a side project carried on by God (hardly noticed at times by Lewis). By music, by experiences and longings for what Lewis called Joy, the pages of autobiography are like taking a trowel with the author and participating in an archeological dig of his thoughts. Glimpses of how his worldview changed now and then are like peepholes into God’s work behind the scenes.

Layer upon layer, God worked on God’s reluctant subject, until Lewis had to acquiesce and admit that God is real, present, and loving. C.S. Lewis tells his conversion story as being the only logical conclusion.   Lewis relates a real spiritual walk at a local zoo with the great charm of his imaginative stories: “Wallaby Wood with the birds singing overhead and the bluebells underfoot and wallabies hopping all around one, was almost Eden come again.”

The experience of seeking Joy only pointed to and led the way. We are grateful for signposts on a journey but they are not the destination. By one intriguing story after another Lewis finds that his longing for Joy is not for a feeling but for a Person. He writes:  But what, in conclusion, of Joy? For that, after all, is what the story has mainly been about. To tell the truth, the subject has lost nearly all interest for me since I became a Christian…

God has taken me as blogger on a journey of discovery also. I was born in Saint John, N.B. and dedicated to God there (something that God seems to take very seriously!) My childhood of singing in a tiny Scottish church and watching adults being baptized by immersion, the celebrations of Easter and Christmas, the refusal of confirmation, the leaving of church for a decade, the comeback truly a follower of Jesus Christ and the Joy of Companionship along some dark rainy roads to reach some turquoise beach experiences come to mind. Now in Vancouver, art school and seminary practices and friends along the way are there to enjoy a way of life with overflowing meaning. What is that old saying? It goes something like: a joy is doubled and a sorrow is halved when shared.

Book of Isaiah

Precept upon precept; line upon line; here a little, and there a little… will he speak to [t]his people.

img_1203

Desk Photo Collage DS

 

Remembering Summer

End of Summer

Woe is me

It is not going to be

The weather I want

You see

 

The rain will come

The rain will go

The snow will fall

I do not want it all

 

Although I am sure

A broken ankle will not

Reoccur

Memory stays

Of those long Physio days

 

When life was halted

Upon my bed

While visions of

Matisse and Degas

Filled my head

 

Life forever changed

On that black ice day

A swollen ankle comes still

When I try to play

 

But during that time I

Created small portraits

That six years later

Call me back

By their profits

And beauty raw

 

More tiny pictures

Of tiny people

Will come from my fingers

To inhabit my portfolio

For a time I do not know

When they will be seen

And live and heal

My broken memories

And summer will be back

Again.

DS

 

longing in the midst of a cold snowy winter

Remembering Summer DS

Prayer and the Creative Process

img_2889

“View from Stephanart Studio” DS

 

The one thing I’ve learned is to always keep moving. Never let it all drop. Always be doing something for your project, even if it’s printing it out and crossing out words and writing in other words, or writing a plan. Stay in motion. Give it something.

Contemporary writer Alex Leslie

An unfinished painting stands facing the wall in the Stephanart Studio. The artist has not painted for months now. Her fear has been that in her angst to continue the work she will ruin it. Her work was interrupted by life and she lost the vision for its completion.

It had stood central on the easel for weeks while the sketchbook drawing was enlarged and redone on the 36” x 24” canvas. The foreground and background were thinly painted in. Three telephone poles had been erected in the image and Easter colours chosen for their completion but never applied. Their starkness in the landscape mirrored the artist’s wilderness experience of late.

Just now, in the middle of the night, after all this time technical ideas came to its creator. Shapes and colours floated through her dream. An inner excitement drew her to record it here. She will go out to the studio, unlock the door, and restore the work’s place on the easel.

The day before, the artist had received a visit from a colleague who had prayed for her to forgive a past hurt and for creative work to continue. An oppression has lifted. Inspiration is this odd, this ad hoc. The work stops, the work starts again – so frustratingly simple, so complex and profound. Who is this great God who calls and equips us to create, to forgive, to live inside the real work of art that is this world? Who is she that her work can be disrupted by her inner life, by her outer life? Why was her call answered so quickly when others are not?

Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous [person] availeth much.

Book of James

 

Grace Wulff Booklets

Gifts for the Journey

Gifts for the Journey

At a recent conference I ran into a classmate from our days at the Carey Centre for Spiritual Formation, Grace Wulff. Grace is now a hospital chaplain in Vernon, B.C. She has written her own resources, which include her drawings to further enliven the work. They will be providing interest, comfort and an opportunity for self-expression to those enduring long days in a medical environment.

Through personal narrative, encouragement and timely questions, her books provide accompaniment. Examples:

Dreams and Hopes

Did some of your dreams come true?

Do I still have dreams?

Write down your dreams and hopes for the future.

“A Guided Journal for Hope and Healing” 2015 Grace Wulff

Waiting Room

Sitting

Alert

Waiting for …

the moments pass

 

I breathe

In

Out.

 

Sometimes the

Doing

Preoccupies.

 

It fills the

Spaces.

 

Perhaps

Waiting

can be a gift.

 

Can I calm

The restless

anxiety

of not controlling

the next moments?

 

As I sit

and wait

and breathe.

 

“Gifts for the Journey: A Hospital Chaplain’s Reflections on Life and the Life to come.” 2015 Grace Wulff

 

Here’s a shout out for the lovely Grace –

Blog website: journeyofhopefaithandlove.blogspot.ca

 

– to purchase the booklets and materials please contact Grace directly at:

 

grace@gracewulff.com

 

 

Redaction and Collage

IMG_2994

“Scripture Fragment” 2016 DS

The penny has dropped. The light bulb has gone on. Redaction and collage are the same. One pieces together the writings of others. The other gathers and glues found images. The author/artist unites them with a few of her own ideas. What could be better?

These seem to be very postmodern pastimes. Yet they are each ancient practices. DeSilva a Bible scholar and Rauschenberg a prolific artist of found objects may make strange companions but have worked in similar ways.

Redaction criticism of the Gospels pays particular attention to the differences between each fragment of text preserved. These differences cannot be collapsed together without losing the authentic voice of each of the four Evangelists. They serve an important purpose. That said, in piecing together the Jesus sayings, the redactors see that they form a related whole.

In my mind, the redactors of the ancient texts are actually like collagists. They take what is there and fit the pieces together like skilled artists use binder. The Spirit helps the redactors of Scripture like rabbit skin glue or synthetic medium promotes the harmonization of disparate images do for the artist. Authentic meaning is both discovered and made:

Presentation of the passage often connects directly with the themes or topics that are of greatest interest to the Evangelist.

Taken from (An Introduction to the New Testament by David A. deSilva)

Robert Rauschenberg (1925-2008) took 2D and 3D fragments of everyday life: a bed, a goat, a tire, or a bird, or a newspaper item, mixing together elements of high and low art to present to the world his unique skill in portraying both art and life. Memories of childhood fragments influenced his masterful work:

His mother, Dora, was a devout Christian and a frugal woman. She made the family’s clothes from scraps, a practice that embarrassed her son, but possibly influenced his later work with assemblages and collage.

http://www.theartstory.org/artist-rauschenberg-robert.htm

Redaction must be one of the most basic activities of life. Go for the gold then, when a surfeit is received. The opposite venture leads to a ‘less is more’ way. We gather and we purge, write and redact. We create paintings and we sell them. We birth children, then we say goodbye to them. Art and life are collaged by the Spirit.

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:

 A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;

 A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;

A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

 A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;

(Book of Ecclesiastes)