Friday, June 27, 2014

On WW I Centennary

Tomorrow will mark the 100th anniversary of Archduke Ferdinand’s assassination by a Serbian nationalist, 19 year-old Gavrilo Princip. History classes since then have declared this event to be the trigger that set World War I in motion—the straw that broke the camel’s back if not the actual reason for the bloody debacle that snuffed out over 17 million lives.  
                I’d like to recommend most highly an article by Esther Epp-Thiessen of MCC on the subject “Calling for a passionate pursuit of nonviolent peacemaking,” a response to the anniversary of this grotesque war.
                As many of you know, I’ve been struggling to get a Mennonite Interpretive Centre off the ground here in Rosthern. The foundation for an assumption that such a place is needed is the conviction that Anabaptist/Mennonite people are among the best placed of all the protestant denominations to interpret to the world a gospel of peace. At our most recent planning meeting, a member of the group reported that one response to our project was, “How many people will get saved through such a place?” It’s not a bad question, depending on what you mean by “saved?” A flippant answer might be, “If it helps to prevent another conflagration like WW I, possibly 17,000,000.”
                It does suggest some substantial questions, though, not the least of which is, “What is the gospel message with which we’ve been entrusted, and does it need to be passed on?” We do feed the hungry (somewhat and sometimes), visit the sick and imprisoned (not as much as we should), lament the plight of the poor (but don’t really know where to grab hold of their problems helpfully), but by and large, we do these things to and for known individuals. But what are we doing to help reconstruct the world so that so very many afflicted individuals and groups could be made safer?
                I applaud the efforts of my fellow Anabaptists who have risked much to bring shelter, sustenance, and a future to the neediest among us and around the world: MCC, MEDA, MDS, etc. But I am invigorated by Esther Epp-Thiessen’s appeal to us all to pursue with passion a discipline of non-violent peacemaking.
                Here’s an ancient legend I just made up: A certain family complains to a neighbour that his family is constantly struggling with water dripping down from the ceiling, falling on them in bed, contaminating their food, making irritating plop-plops day and night. The kind neighbour collects all the ice cream pails, buckets and cans he can find and delivers them to the afflicted neighbour so he can catch the offending drips. He then relays news of this good deed to a third neighbour who doesn’t seem impressed with what is obviously a benevolent gesture.
The third neighbour goes home, gets a ladder and replaces a few broken shingles, thereby rendering all the pails, buckets and cans redundant.
                If the realization of a safe, well-fed, free humanity is an objective of the gospel, then we Anabaptists may have to buy more ladders, risk climbing onto more roofs, broaden our definition of evangelism.
                Some matters to ponder in this time when the temptation for resorting to military solutions to conflict is a daily reality.
                I feel moved at this time to re-present Wilfred Owen’s WW I poem as a reminder to all of us that parades, Remembrance Day tributes, crisp uniforms, the pomp and circumstance of military funerals notwithstanding, war is never what it’s romanticized to be.
(If you are visiting the link above, be sure to open the second You Tube video on offer there. It accompanies the reading of Dulce et Decorum est with WW I footage.)
Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots 
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.
Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime . . .
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum

Pro patria mori.1
1.              1.  It is is sweet and right to die for one’s country.
Wilfred Owen
Thought to have been written between 8 October 1917  and March, 1918

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Do you know if you're an agnostic or not?

A recent Facebook entry pointed to a Red Letter Christians blog post by Alan Molineaux that caught my attention, particularly because of the title: We are all Agnostic; we just don’t have enough faith to admit it! You can find the post here.
                Molineaux’s point as I understand him is simple: we tend to grow into position A as opposed to B, and because we have been conditioned to think that pole A is the only place to be, admitting of uncertainty (agnosticism, if you will) is a failed stance. Effects of allowing that there’s substance between the poles could be demonstrated by negotiation and compromise; another is the admission that “I just don’t know.” (The word, agnosticism, means “not knowing.”) Because compromise is not on in religions heavily grounded in faith confessions, admitting to doubts—let alone declaring oneself to be an Agnostic Christian—takes a great deal of confidence—that substance we frequently call “faith.”
                I’ve lost count of the people I know who have wandered away from the Christian churches because pastors and congregations don’t know what to do with—or simply cannot tolerate—expressed doubt, cannot engage in conversation that admits of possibilities between the poles. Fact is, most of the people I’m talking about haven’t left the church (point A) to join that ferocious band of atheists holding out with the same one-sided vigour for the righteousness of pole B. They mostly find themselves in the company of people who are apologists for neither A nor B while, for the most part, continuing to think of themselves as heirs and followers of Jesus Christ.
                Pole A, of course, is governed by an evolved worship of and interpretation of the Bible. Far-reaching developments are happening in the discussions about Scriptures, seems to me. I’m reading a lot of material lately that advocates for teaching scripture as a library of unequal parts as opposed to a single book, of allowing life experience and broader dialogue to influence our hermeneutic approaches, of giving present inspiration a place alongside historic inspiration. This is not to say that it’s a tidal wave of progressive thinking; orthodoxy and conservative views of Bible interpretation are still getting the bulk of ink and air time and likely will for a long time to come. At least in North America.
                And it is having grown up in a polar environment that makes people choose to leave rather than open up what would be the can of worms that uncertainty represents for conservative religion, for their colleagues, for their families. We are all Agnostic; we just don’t have enough faith to admit it!
                Perhaps Molineaux should have added a few lines from Shakespeare’s Hamlet (III,i,85-90):

Thus conscience does make cowards of us all,
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought,*
And enterprises of great pith and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action.

Certainly the tortured consideration of what a declaration of doubt may do to friendships,  natural families, church families could qualify as “a pale cast of thought,” that might well “turn aside” what for many would amount to a “great enterprise.” 
Commentaries like Molineaux’s will always draw criticism for undermining individuals’ tenuous attachment to the dogmas of belief.

* “sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought” could be read as “infected by the debilitating practice of thinking-about-it-too-much.”

Thursday, June 12, 2014


Let's Let in Some Light, here.

Open Letter to Tom Mulcaire:

I have been a supporter of the CCF and NDP for over 50 years, and am currently a monthly contributor. I am shocked by the leadership handling of the current crisis regarding misuse of parliamentary funds (alleged). To keep my loyalty, here's what you ought to do: 1) Announce immediately that the NDP will pay the costs as calculated by the internal economy committee - under extreme protest. 2) Pay to the House of Commons and Canada Post the amounts named immediately. 3) Appeal to the membership to cover the costs with additional donations (I hereby pledge $500.00 that I absolutely can't afford) and begin seeking a court determination of the legality of the payments.
I can pretty safely predict that the spotlight will then shift to the other parties' use of parliamentary advertising. I can also pretty safely predict that given the above, donations will cover the payments in 24 hours and membership will increase substantially. If you don't do this, we'll be held up for months as the party that won't pay back to taxpayers what they owe. Tom, please abandon this "everybody does it defense" and get us back to higher ground.
George Epp
Sask NDP member # 233695