The Ecumenism of Beauty

Ecumenism. Does the idea of another well-intentioned interfaith event or mostly-ignored theological commission on the topic excite, annoy, or put you to sleep? Does the very concept seem improbable? Whatever you think or believe about ecumenism, we can’t ignore the fact Jesus wanted this, prayed for this, for all of us who call ourselves believers.  Eugene Peterson's The Message puts it well:

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The goal is for all of them to become one heart and mind—
Just as you, Father, are in me and I in you,
So they might be one heart and mind with us.
Then the world might believe that you, in fact, sent me.
The same glory you gave me, I gave them,
So they’ll be as unified and together as we are—
I in them and you in me.
Then they’ll be mature in this oneness,
And give the godless world evidence
That you’ve sent me and loved them
In the same way you’ve loved me.
—John 17:21-23

A new book on the topic, The Ecumenism of Beauty (edited by revered art historian Timothy Verdon), presents it from an entirely more broachable and beautiful angle: the arts. Published to coincide with the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther attaching those 95 reformational theses to the door of the Wittenberg Castle church, the book brings together artists and thinkers from Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, and Protestant traditions. With accessible writing and gorgeous full-colour images, it does do some wrestling with the historic tension between art as icon or idol. Mostly it simply shows how art, like genuine faith, entails an encounter, not an intellectual discussion or argument.

The book’s contributors—artists, scholars, and clergy—share the belief that beauty and art can bridge differences, unite people in 'shared admiration’ and possibly become an instrument of communion among separated Christians. They will also take part in a symposium organized to commemorate the Reformation’s 500th anniversary later this year, with sessions to be held in  Paris, Strasburg, Florence, New Haven (CT), and Orleans (MA).

A challenge for your Christmas letter

By the Reverend Canon Anne Moore

For a while I used to receive Christmas letters from various friends; sometimes I sent my own news. I am sure you have received some of these and, possibly, written some before e-mails and high postage costs. Basically they are good news—bragging of all that the children have been doing, trips you have taken, the year’s activities and achievements. I hear that that is what Facebook is about: putting your best face forward.

Rarely do I read a letter that describes a family’s witness, or outreach, or ministries—even when I know they are involved in them. Is that being politically correct?

“Oh, the letter goes to all my friends so I don’t include my church involvement. I wouldn’t want to offend anyone.” But aren’t we supposed to be ‘salt’ and ‘light’ in the world? How can we create a thirst for Jesus among our friends ifIf we have accepted Christ as Lord; if we are allowing the Holy Spirit to live through us and transform us into the likeness of Jesus, why are we reluctant to let others know? Maybe if we reminded ourselves that God receives all our out-going mail, we might edit the boastful bits and add the ‘loving the less fortunate’ bits, or ‘how God helped me this year’ bits.

If Jesus wrote a Christmas letter to us, it might sound like this:

“Beloved, I pray this season finds you well. I just want to share some of the highlights from this year. Thanks to many of your brothers and sisters, thousands of people have come to faith in me. Please pray for those who have gone astray, that they might find their way back. Many of your brothers and sisters in Africa, Asia, and elsewhere have lost their lives because they chose to follow me. Rest assured, they will be with me in Paradise. Many more of your siblings have reached out to those who are poor, homeless, hungry, sick and in prison. I am sure next year will be equally busy.
With all my love,
Your Saviour and Lord, 
Jesus”
(This idea comes from Faith Writers Magazine)

I wonder if it’s time that Christmas letters from us got some attention for Him, along with our other, personal, good news. I wonder if that could be another way of sharing the real meaning of Christ’s birth on earth.

May you have a blessed Christmas season.

Another look at Joseph: the non-speaker who speaks volumes

As our guest writer Jeeva Sam points out below, Mary’s husband Joseph, Jesus’ earthly father, gets short shrift in our yearly Christmas songs and stories. Even scripture doesn’t provide much about him. Yet he did play a crucial role, and as Jeeva elaborates so well, we can learn from his restrained manner. Enjoy and be edified.

By Jeeva Edward Sam

Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly.  (Matt. 1:19)

Joseph, being a just man and unwilling to put her to shame, resolved to divorce her quietly. (Matt. 1:19)

Quick, now, name one well-known carol that mentions Joseph. Better still, take your time, search on Google, Yahoo, MSN, Bing and Ask—the result is the same!  Not one, nada, nil.

Contrast this with repeated references to Mary, as in: “Mary’s boy child”, “Gentle Mary laid her child”, “On Mary’s lap is sleeping”, “Round yon virgin, MOTHER and child”, “For Christ is born of Mary”, “Mary was that mother mild”, and so forth. Even cattle, sheep and assorted members of the animal kingdom get more press at Christmas!

Point me to one word of dialogue Joseph is permitted to utter in the script of the Nativity as found in Holy Scripture, or in most traditional Christmas pageants for that matter. Need I say more?

Yet, it would seem that this unheralded man is undeniably part of God’s plan for the early part of Jesus’ earthly life. I find it instructive to examine the brief exposure to his character in Matthew 1:19 (Amplified Version): “… Joseph, being a just and upright man and not willing to expose her publicly and to shame and disgrace her, decided to repudiate and dismiss (divorce) her quietly and secretly.”

When Mary is found to be with child without an assist from her betrothed, a “just and upright man” could have ensured that justice was done by having her put to death or at least by issuing a certificate of divorce. Either action would have been kosher, but Joseph adds mercy to justice as he opts for a divorce with dignity.

Years later, when Jesus was asked by some what he would do with a woman who was caught in adultery (as if it is possible to catch only one partner in the act of adultery, hello?) he would stonewall their bid to stone her to death with the words: “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” (John 8:7) Like father, like son, perhaps?

I cannot help but contrast Joseph’s choice with the way I am tempted to respond when someone hurts me. Ever hear the expression: ‘Hurt people hurt people?’ Out of my hurt, I want to make sure that justice is done and you’re hurt too—at least as much as you hurt me.

I could use any platform available to me—Facebook, newspaper columns, TV, blog, pulpit—to at least shame, if not disgrace or downright destroy you. Or it could be a family gathering over the holidays where amid the toasts, treats, eats and greets, some dormant hostility, buried bruise or interred insult rears its ugly head again, or a fresh missile calls for a decidedly unchristian strike-back.

I could opt to leave lash-marks on the offender, or leave quietly with bite-marks on my tongue instead.

May I, like Joseph, be glad to let my non-speaking role speak volumes.

_______________________

Ordained by the United Church of Canada in 1982, Pastor Jeeva has been serving the Morgan's Point & Forks Road East congregations in Wainfleet, Ontario since 2007.  He and his wife equip entrepreneurial believers to experience exponential success in their endeavours and offer an intensive mentorship process that takes married couples in stress or distress from breakdown to breakthrough. He welcomes your feedback at jeevasam@gmail.com

FAMILY FIRST? Yes and no

[based on a sermon by Anne Moore]

Tough scriptures: to be glossed over or gleaned from?

I came to cast fire on the earth, and would that it were already kindled! I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished! Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law. (Luke 12:49-53) 

How is a listener or reader to handle this one? What happened to the Christmas ‘Peace on Earth’ proclamations?

No one doubts the importance of families. Within and from them we learn right and wrong, the importance of relationships, social skills, handling conflict, and much more. So why this talk, by Jesus, promoting actual family division, not reconciliation? It seems to make no sense, especially coming from our loving saviour.

We do tend to gloss over the tough scriptures. Yet knowing they exist within our Bible, we should instead try to glean wisdom and truth from them.

As Anne pointed out in a recent sermon on the reading, these words of Jesus do not deal with internal family issues but, instead, with the division often caused by following him. Other scriptures back this up, as does history and current news reports. We need only look at the horrific outcomes in the Middle East for so many who choose to follow Jesus, right now.

In Luke, we have Simeon’s words to Mary when she and Joseph were presenting their new infant at the temple for his dedication:

Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: "This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too." (Luke 2:34-35)

And how about when Jesus' own hometown folk tried to toss him off a cliff right after his first recorded sermon (Luke 4:14-30)?

Later in his ministry, when Jesus’ mother and siblings waited outside after requesting he come out and speak with them,  Jesus redefined family:

While he was still speaking to the people, behold, his mother and his brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him. But he replied to the man who told him, "Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?" And stretching out his hand towards his disciples, he said, "Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother." (Matt. 12:46-50)

The family of God has no political, racial, socio-economic, gender, or whatever barriers.  In calling us to be his disciples, Jesus cares only that we trust in and follow him, even if it means persecution and messes. The call of Christ overrules all other commitments, relationships, and even logic. Joy overrides any fear, and this divine connection proves itself over and over to be infinitely better and more delightful than any personal relationship.