Thursday, July 31, 2008

Liminality of the Eucharist

This is a repost, the article was published in the now defunct Resonate Journal. I needed to reference it for my research, thought you might enjoy it.

Liminality of the Eucharist

There is a mall here in Ottawa where I enjoy sitting with a coffee and my Bible. I am convinced this is one of those places the ancient Celts would say is thin. That is a place where the veil between heaven and earth is so sheer that one almost stumbles through it to the other side, and into the very presence of God. I’ve stumbled across the threshold in that mall a few times now so just going there gives me a sense of expectation and longing. That mall is a place I want to experience with eyes wide open.

The Eucharistic Community

In the community I pastor we have been exploring the corporate Eucharistic experience. I have had the privilege of hanging out with some very cool Roman Catholics over the years. Their passion for the Eucharist has stirred up in me a deep dissatisfaction over the whole Protestant minimalist approach to this practice. I realize that I had been missing out on something good – and it had little to do with theology and a lot to do with expectation. For my Catholic friends the Eucharistic celebration is a thin space. In the sacrament they are actually encountering God and participating in God’s life. What is even more exciting is that their liturgical structures foster this expectation and create an environment where God actually shows up.

There is a lot of fear that can rise up whenever we talk about the Eucharist in this way. Many Protestants have been prejudiced with a notion that a sacramental theology excludes salvation by faith alone. This is the fear that the sacraments hijack the role of faith in the life of the believer. Many are scandalized at the notion that anything more than flat allegory happens at the communion table. And as a result it is no wonder that, since the time of Luther, there has been very little liturgical reformation in terms of the Protestant communion.

Maybe there is some validity to this fear because personally I now find the typical Protestant communion, with its little cups and little squares of bread, to be quite absurd. We need to ask the question: “What are we afraid of?” Are we afraid that God might really show up? Are we afraid that we might encourage people to recognize in the bread the body of Christ broken for them? Or that they realize, through the wine, that the blood of Christ seals the deal of a whole new covenant with God? These are legitimate fears. When God shows up things change and that can be hard to deal with. Just think of the frustrated disciples leaving for Emmaus; when they recognized Jesus everything changed.1

Many of us recognize that if we want to see healings, then we have to make space for them in our lives and communities. We need to ask in order to receive. We recognize that in the tension of these times we do not always see the things we long for – but that doesn’t stop us from asking, hoping and expecting. We can be comfortable with things like healing prayer, but still neglect a God given space for life changing encounters.

Not everyone will participate in the healing space, but almost everyone will participate in the act of communion. Jesus brilliantly tied His saving work to the most basic of human actions – eating and drinking. God “uses material things like bread and wine to get the new life into us. We may think it is rather crude and unspiritual. God does not.”2 In fact it is hard to think of any spiritual action that is more inviting and natural, yet also so meaningful. In order to overcome the fears that cause us to shy away from creating this space for Eucharistic encounters, let us examine some of the benefits that such a space can give our communities.

Shaping Eucharistic Encounters

The most basic benefit, and likely the most appealing, is the didactic nature of rich spiritual actions. Recently I attended a mass at a local Charismatic Catholic community. In the mass we were given the opportunity to write our troubles on a piece of paper and then toss them into a garbage bin set at the foot of the cross. It was a poignant moment in the service. After everyone was done the priest took the bin around asking who would like to have their burdens back? There were no takers. Actions like this make a dramatic impact on the participant. A richer vision for the Eucharist provides fertile ground for just such an impact.

When the elements of the Communion are small, they loose a lot of their potential impact. The richer the experience the more it will impact the participant. Recently in a home group we were celebrating the Eucharist and I happened to look down to see crumbs everywhere. I was scandalized. Not because I felt it was literally God underfoot, but because the whole thing was so messy. I realized that this made me very uncomfortable. In that moment God began showing me how comfortable I’d grown with the cross. The cross was almost a flippant part of my conversation, instead of the scandalous extent of our Great Lord’s love. This teaching moment would have been lost in small elements that possess no possibility for messiness.

There are many such moments in the Eucharist. Moments where we suddenly get what God is trying to show us, where the veil over our eyes is pulled aside and we catch a glimpse into the very heart of eternity. The Eucharist is only equaled by baptism in its rich potential for such an encounter. Our efforts at teaching are but letters on the page – it is not until the Living Word infuses them with presence that they burst to life in our veins invigorating our spirituality and passion for God. Those travelers to Emmaus found their hearts burning within them. Yet, it was not until the Living Word Jesus was recognized that the words propelled them to change their course of action.3

This invitation to change is the second benefit of a rich Eucharistic experience. The theological debate about the location of “real” presence need not find an answer in order for us to have a real experience with God. We are often so afraid of being deceived that we throw out the potential that maybe God will show up if we ask Him. Like most Protestants, I am not comfortable with the veneration of a host (wafer), but unlike most Protestants I expect to encounter the real presence of Jesus whenever I partake in the bread and the wine. In our fear we have done a disservice to the hungry masses, longing for real experience, real encounter. We have failed to believe that when God shows up everything changes.

You might suggest that we already have a space for encounter in our songs of worship or even some other aspect of our corporate liturgy. Corporate singing is quite accessible, but not everyone feels they can or should sing. Everyone eats and drinks. Jesus marries mystery to the mundane in a way that invites all of us to have that intimate encounter with Jesus. I like to think our community does intimate worship in song fairly well. When we had our first communion service in our newest home group, the response that struck me the most was “I liked it because it was intimate.” There is something about the invitation of the table that draws us into God’s presence. When we sing we exhale, lifting our voice and breath up to God. But when we eat and drink we take into ourselves the very meaning of the elements, taking God into ourselves in a very intimate way. I am convinced that we need to treat the Eucharist as a part of our corporate worship.

The third benefit might stretch our operative theologies. (Despite the challenge it is something very important for a full and rich Eucharistic experience.) When we celebrate the Eucharist we unite with the celebration of the Church throughout all of Salvation History. The reason this notion is a problem is that a connection has been made to the crucifixion in a way that suggests the Mass is a re-enactment of the sacrifice of Jesus and that in the celebration Jesus is perpetually offered in sacrifice for our sins.

Some conceptions and theologies of the Eucharist conform to this understanding, but there is another way of approaching this, one that I believe works with both understandings of the Eucharist. We see the participant as sharing in the collective memory of God’s saving action, participating in the reasonable response of deep gratitude that is the Eucharistic celebration. This participation in the shared collective memory is often called anamnesis, which is Greek for memory lifted up.

When we see the Eucharist as an invitation to participate in this anamnesis then we are acknowledging a connection with both the historic Christianity of the Last Supper and the fulfillment of history in the coming Kingdom Feast. The Last Supper narratives in the gospels represent the ways that the primitive Christian communities celebrated the Eucharist. It is not until the fourth century that the Eucharistic forms begin to become overly complicated. At that point we see the addition of venerations, processions and other ceremonial actions.4 Looking at the pattern of the gospels there is the implication that the Eucharistic event is both a memorial and a moment of recognition and that both are received with thankfulness as the word eucharist suggests.

The God Who Invites

But the idea of a memorial does not adequately capture the sense of anamnesis. It simply implies that we remember what God has done, give thanks and go on with our lives. But there is something deeper at work here.

There is an open door in the Eucharistic experience. God stands on the other side and beckons us across the threshold into that dangerous space where He is present. The latin word limina means threshold, and so this Eucharistic experience is a liminal experince.

The whole history of the Church is about this struggle at the threshold. When we celebrate the Eucharist we are standing with the whole of a great cloud of witness, seeing not only the accomplished work of the cross – but the invitation into the Kingdom work of the Church. God stretches out His hand and says of the bread, “behold what you are, become what you see.”5 This is memory come to life in the believer: the recognition that we too participate in this thing called Salvation History. This has the potential to really impel the participants into all that the Father has in His heart for them.

When we celebrate the Eucharist, we are inviting an encounter with the Living Word. We are inviting a visit from the God who changes everything – including our hearts and minds. We are participating in the rich heritage of the Christian Church – joining our hearts with the faithful before and after us in holy declaration that all Jesus has done for us makes a difference in our lives.

By celebrating the Eucharist, we are opening ourselves to stepping across the threshold between this world and the next – into the very presence of God. And we are letting the Word teach us through profound act and action. In the Eucharist we find a thin place just waiting to be experienced. The celebration of the Eucharist will be a place where you will want to keep your eyes wide open.

1 Luke 24:13-33.
2 C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (Glasgow: William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd., 1944), 62.
3 Luke 24:33.
4 Paul F. Bradshaw, In Search of the Origins of Christian Worship (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), 216.
5 Eucharistic formula usually associated with St. Augustine.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Postal Story of Redemption

Just spent the evening with a dear friend sorting out the stamp collection he inherited from his father. He was hoping to sell it off and raise some money to buy an item of interest that he could remember his dad by. As with most collections, there was a lot of material but not a lot of value. But the value isn't in the stamps anyway. The value was to his dad who in times of failing health had a much loved (obvious from the breadth of the collection) hobby to keep him company.

I know I promised to share my own story, I think it is something I should put right into my collection so that when my kids inherit it they can understand the value it had to me even if it doesn't bring in much monetary value (I am a realist). Stamp collecting for me brings me a lot of peace because God met me in a special way through reviving my childhood collection.

I collected when I was young, I think up until High School. My neighbour was a stamp dealer and the closest I had to a real mentor. I would take my little want lists over and he'd sell me stamps, but he'd also help me manage my collection and we were both part of the philatelic society. I have a newspaper clipping of a presentation of topical stamps I did with some classmates, boy was my haircut bad. One day I noticed that Mr. Henderson, my neighbour, had a bag where he was chucking damaged stamps. I asked him if I could have that bag to fill in some of the more pricey holes in my collection. He told me I could, but warned me that I would regret it if I did that. I didn't listen and found out he was right when one day I traded away my good copy of a stamp. I was very angry with myself over that.

I also had another incident that brought me shame. I had found a copy of a stamp that was misprinted. It was postmarked out of Bridgewater (known copies came out of Toronto) and was on piece (meaning it was still on the paper so that people could see I hadn't altered this stamp). In High School I had stopped collecting and was more interested in drugs at one point, hard up for money I remembered this stamp. There was a show that weekend so I took the stamp and sold it for drug money. I knew I got ripped off actually, but I just wanted the money.

I hadn't really thought of my collection for years when my folks forced me to take it to Ontario. There was a lot of shame tied up in it. A lot of old wounds. It reminded me a lot of my squandered youth. But my father-in-law was a big collector and I had trouble connecting with him. He wasn't sure a minister was a good match for his daughter. So I thought I should clean up my collection (getting rid of those damaged fillers) and show it to him.

I started in on the project and quickly realized how emotionally painful this was going to be. When I realized that the collection was representative of my past I felt like God was saying that we would work together to make this collection right. I spent many a tearful session going through my albums and thinking of how God's grace doesn't erase the past but helps heal the shame and regret.

What was amazing as well was how taking my collection back up gave me the connection with my father-in-law that was lacking. We began to work together and he helped me get my bearings in philatelic scene. He has since passed on, but I am grateful for the chance to share something with him and I think of him often when I'm sorting through piles of stamps.

I didn't think I'd do much more than clean up my old collection. I guess I thought I'd give it to Sharon's dad or something. But tonight I found a few things from my friend's dad's collection that should live on in my collection. The stamps might not be valuable in a monetary sense, but they sure are valued.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

One Step Forward, Ten Steps Back

I'm really not liking this Pope Benny, if he sticks around much longer the gains of Vatican II will be lost for the Roman Catholic church. Consider the reinstatement of the pre-Vatican II Latin Rite mass. This concession has appeal only for the hyper-conservatives who oppose the advances of Vatican II. Now I hear about the reinstatement of indulgences??? What the hell is Benny thinking. For those of us who know our church history, indulgences was a key contributing factor to the Protestant Reformation. The idea that the church can impart its supposed merit on behalf of another has no grounding in anything but medieval notions of a mechanistic relationship to salvation. I do x and God is obliged to do y, and it is all endorsed by the church. This is actually the sin of witchcraft, the idea that we can manipulate God. It is also bad theology of the Church which is not an independent repository of merit or grace. Grace comes from God alone and not on account of anything we do - it is a gift. Indulgences is a truly horrifying practice, an artifact that I had hoped had long since passed.

You know I would have no problem if Benny pronounced a special blessing on those who visited Lourdes, or even took up any of a host of questionable Roman Catholic practices. But by elevating this to an indulgence he has given in again to the forces that wish to see Roman Catholicism returned to the culturally neutered forms of the past. Bad move Benny, perhaps our Just God will extend your time in purgatory to compensate for the false bill of goods you just sold all those faithful Catholics.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Best Blog Post Ever!

Speaking of Scott, his blog is going on my blogroll next update. He has a great sense of wit. For your enjoyment please read this post all the way through!

Laugh out loud funny!

This is not Mysticism

This is just plain offensive. What have we come to that we can market such blatant self-indulgence as if it is legitimate spirituality? I like to party as much as the next guy, and I love to laugh, but this just makes me want to cry. The presence of God is never a joke, but from what I've seen in this and other videos - John Crowder is a joke. What kind of crap have we sown to reap this? For an analysis of Crowder's horrible attempt at preaching, see Scott's blog. In the meantime I'll just be over here lamenting.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

On the Mend

I finally got sick of being sick, so off to the doctor I went. It has been a full year, I don't much like doctors. If you've been following the saga of my Masters year, you will probably recall that I've been sick a lot. This is not normal for me, I'm usually a pretty happy and healthy guy. But stress does a number on the body. A little over a week ago I got a bug which came with a sore throat, well the doctor confirmed that my throat is infected. I also have a burn on my leg that became infected. My immune system is working somewhat, otherwise my throat problem would have migrated to my lungs. But the pills he prescribed should bring me back up to snuff in no time. In a couple days I should be back on my game and ready to resume writing in a serious way.

I also got a call from my brother that my mom took a tumble and broke her collar bone! They took her to the hospital in Halifax as she might need surgery. They were planning on coming up in a few weeks, but I'd be surprised if they make it now. If you pray, please lift my mom up. Fortunately my sister can look after their store, allowing my dad to be with her. Of course that means my dad is driving mom crazy.

I have been picking away at my second chapter. I'm trying to take it easy to give my body a rest. It is a balancing act though - the more I put things off the more stressed I get over being able to finish it. I should be fine though. The more I pick away at it the more I am mastering the material that I am trying to present. Clarity is a good thing.

To relax I have been spending some time with my stamp collection. I sorted out a bunch of Dutch stamps yesterday, actually found 25 stamps that I needed for my album. There is something cathartic about sorting stamps. Not to mention that there is a redemptive story of God's grace to me behind my collection, I'll share that here sometime.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Survived Second Round

The changes my director asked for on this iteration of my first chapter (second round with her)are all much easier fixes than the last round. Nothing truly major, mostly just some inside language that I need to fix up. Inside language is terminology that is used as if it has self-evident meaning but really is jargon from within that community. The big one I've been wrestling with is Church. Originally I had used that term to speak of groupings of traditions and worldviews. But Church is too loaded a word to use without spending ample time setting up brackets around the meaning you wish to convey - and, as my director argues, if you mean something else then why not say what you mean. But this is easier said than done. As a result the only church I use that word for is in the naming of the emerging church.

I should finish the revisions of this chapter tonight. Last night I relaxed after a stressful day not wanting to get sick anymore. I've a good chunk of my second chapter done, too. This project is definitely taking longer than I would like, but it is coming along.

Friday, July 11, 2008

[THO] Todd Bentley has bad theology

"Miracles and healings are evidence," Bentley said. "They are signs of the Kingdom, and if we don't have signs then all we have is a bunch of theology. How one individual wants to interpret Scripture and how another individual wants to interpret Scripture."

Todd Bentley quoted in USAToday.

This is the kind of inane comment that I've come to expect from Canada's bad boy of evangelism. It ranks up there with nonsense like being spiritual without being religious or the completely ignorant claim churches make that they don't have a liturgy. Thanks to Scott for pointing this article out.

First off, the article points out that Bentley doesn't have the evidence he would like us to think he does. But, I don't think that he needs to have it. Yeah, I know, but that isn't the point. He also questions how one can be too focused on miracles, well here it is. You can be so obsessed that you risk fabricating proof, or worse you focus on the miracles so much that you miss what God is doing.

But to the matter of theology - I have two concerns.1) theology is not just about scripture and 2) you have theology whether you think you do or not, just some is bad theology and some is good theology. Bentley is definitely in the bad theology camp, but hey, lets tackle this one thing at a time.

1) theology and scripture

Scripture studies is one aspect of theology. Depending on who you ask, it is either one of the most important aspects or it is one of the least. Personally I'm somewhere in the middle. Wimber wisely cautioned the Airport church not to try and extrapolate scriptural "evidences" for the manifestations. If it is God then what does forcing a meaning onto a passage of scripture do but give detractors a case for your poor biblical theology. If it is God, then let it be God. Don't focus on those things, focus on what we do know - what John Wimber called the main and the plain of the gospel.

Also theologically one has to compartmentalize or else you cannot gain the critical distance needed to make a proper assessment of your theology. I know this is important especially when miracles are happening. Lots of great healing ministries crashed and burned because they thought they were the end-all-be-all of God's activity on the earth. Pride comes before a fall - always. I for one would love to see one of these movements pastored properly. But hey, we all have dreams.

2) You got theology Todd!

Theology is too much of an afterthought for folks like this. Just cause something seems to be working, does not mean it is good or right. There seems to be a notion that God isn't in theology, this notion comes from the anti-intellectualism we inherited from the Fundamentalist movement (early 19th century). Can you not see Paul shuddering at such a preposterous idea? I can. You have theology, you have religion, you have liturgy - now what are you going to do with it?

What are we so afraid of that we have to talk down to anything intellectual? I know this is there, I have had to deal with these prejudices in my own heart. Somehow thinking that God can't help me with my academic pursuits - even though I do them to honour God, is something that I've recently become aware of. (This is probably why I dislike this kind of anti-intellectualism so much.) God is not afraid of our minds. God is interested in a whole person and bringing whole people to maturity. Seriously, this is a need of our time. God is not afraid of the truth either - and just cause you've convinced yourself that you have the truth, doesn't mean you do. Theology is a tool that helps us in the quest for truth. It is a good quest and one God is in. But when we talk about theology this way, we are implying (as Bentley does) that the truth is in the miracles. That is scary because Christians don't have the market on faith healings. If we stop the quest for truth when we encounter a supposed miracle, then what an impoverished people we are indeed.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

[THO] What is an Evangelical?

"Evangelicalism" is not, and never has been, an "-ism" like other Christian isms - for example, Catholicism, Orthodoxy, Presbyterianism, Anglicanism, or even Pentecostalism (where, despite many internal differences, the practice of sign gifts like tongues speaking provides a well-defined boundary). Rather, "evangelicalism" has always been made up of shifting movements, temporary alliances, and the lengthened shadows of individuals. All discussions of evangelicalism, therefore, are always both descriptions of the way things really are as well as efforts within our own minds to provide some order for a multifaceted, complex set of impulses and organizations.
Mark Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, 8.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

[THO] Bush Presidency, Onion Style

Bush Tours America To Survey Damage Caused By His Disastrous Presidency
If only Bush really did survey the damage he has done, not only to his own country but around the globe. Yesterday as part of the July 4th celebrations at the US Embassay they had a flyby from some US fighter jets. During that flyby, we were heading into the grocery store, let me tell you seeing US fighter jets fly North overhead was anything but comforting (I found out later that evening that it was part of a 'celebration').

Thursday, July 03, 2008

[FUN] Pokemon

This morning Elyssa and I will be making up new Pokemon decks. One of the things that I love to do is play games, and there are a few games that I've found particularly fun to play with my oldest daughter. Just a note of clarification, there has been a bit of paranoia amongst Christians over many of the games I enjoy (see a great example here, I love how easy it is to blame children's misbehaviour on anything but bad parenting!). But despite the fear inspired assumptions, pokemon are not demons! The names are most often reflections of what that monster is - pikachu (Peek at you), Mankey (monkey man), Doduo (Do Do bird with two heads), etc. Nor is the game a gateway drug to Magic (as if there is anything wrong with the game Magic in the first place, but for the record I've felt no urges to play Magic the Gathering before or after playing Pokemon). Ok, nuff said.

I sometimes chat with other parents who are interested in the games I play with my daughter, because they too want to find activities they can share. Here are some of our favourites:

Pokemon TCG - It is a really easy game, there is some reading but a deck has 60 cards and most of it is learning the meaning of symbols and numbers (stats). The deck is shuffled so it is a new game every time, and cards are available everywhere, including pre-made decks with all the counters you need to get started. (5 stars)

Harry Potter TCG - Too bad this one is out of print. It has a similar dynamic to Pokemon, but it requires a fair bit more reading. The play is simple, collect lessons, cast spells and summon animals (all the things that make the magic paranoid Christians cringe!) - just be the last wizard with cards left and you win! This was our first TCG (trading card game) so it has a soft spot in our hearts. (4.5 stars)

The Kids Next Door (TCG) - The other TCG we play. This one is pretty much the card game WAR with flair. The best part is the make it yourself cards. Kids like it, it is simple, but it will not have as much longevity with the parents. (2.5 stars)

- This is a great little tile placing game, not very hard and no reading for kids. My 5 year old joins us in this game. (4 stars)

Sword and Skull
- This is one of my newer games, picked it up for fairly cheap at CanGames this year. I also mentioned it in this blog post. This is an easy version of Talisman, and has a lot of similarities to Monopoly. There is a lot of reading for kids, but Elyssa is a voracious reader these days! You basically go around the board until you feel strong enough to take on the master pirate at the center, if you defeat him (or pay him off) then you win. (4 stars)

Roborally - A classic! I have the original with the pewter minis, and they've been painted by a pro (the guy on the left). Very little reading, basically you pre-programme your robot for five moves. You have to capture flags to win the game. As you play out those programmed moves bad stuff can happen! Lasers anyone? At CanGames there are always folks playing on custom (3D) Roborally boards. The game moves pretty fast, very enjoyable and better with more players. (5 stars)

Zombies - I know, this game is pretty grim. But if you don't use the cards, the game play is simply fantastic for kids. The zombies (you can get glow in the dark ones!) are silly and the goal is to escape with your life. This is a tile laying game with a twist. I've yet to play it with the cards, Richard introduced us to it at the cottage one year - we played with his daughters as well. No reading needed, but this game is not for everyone, but we like it. (4 stars)

Luxor - Ravensburger makes great games. This one is like a matching puzzle with an Egyptian theme. No reading and fun for the whole family. The best thing about this game is how awesome the game is made. (4 stars)

Of course we play normal games too: Sorry, Candyland, Bibleopoly (the game that is only really good with kids), Janga, etc. But those get boring pretty quick. I'm always up for new suggestions. Hope you get to enjoy some fun time with the little people in your life. I'm off to make my Pokemon deck!

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

[LIF] Happy Canada Day (2008)

Happy Canada Day!

My home has 100 years on me today. But I still love the old gal. I'm off to enjoy the festivities and hoping to see a mighty fine fireworks show tonight. Have great day all!