Category Archives: Ecclesiology

“STJ 86: Taste and Bee” – Process & Theology

This art piece – STJ 86: Taste and Bee – thinks through Anglican, Sarah Coakley’s, articulation of desire in a Mennonite context. Here are a few slightly edited excerpts of an essay I wrote for professor Jeremy Bergen this year at Grebel Uni.:

STJ 86 Taste and Bee

“STJ 86: Taste and Bee” by Lisa Obirek, December 2015

5 reduction linocut on stonehenge paper with added media: water soluble oil, paint pens, raw bees wax, nail polish, gold leaf

This piece is called a “print” and fits within the broader artistic medium of “printmaking.” The more specific term for this particular print is called a five-reduction linocut. This means I use a traditional piece of rubbery linoleum which is essentially just heated up linseed oil and I carve designs into the same block of linoleum in five different stages.  I use carving tools that are similar to traditional wood carving tools on a smaller scale. These carving tools have different ends, or “bits,” that make their own distinct cuts into the linoleum. Continue reading “STJ 86: Taste and Bee” – Process & Theology

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Christian civilization and the refugee crisis

To say that I am unsympathetic with the idea, practice, or nostalgia for Christian civilization is an understatement. The coercive nature of such “civilization” strikes me as unavoidable. At worst Christianity collapses into and becomes equated with a particular culture’s norms, which gains further legitimation through Christ’s blessing. Equipped with this blessing such a culture becomes the norm; it defines what it is to be civilized. The step from here to the violent preservation (defending civilization itself!) and expansion (providing enlightenment to the unenlightened) of this norm, at all costs, is a natural one. We’ve seen this played out over and over again by the destructive conquests of western Christianity.

But are there more sympathetic ways to go about the project of Christian civilization? Some may well argue that working the idea of neighbour-love, as articulated by the Christian tradition, into a society’s basic self-identity and organizational principles is a laudable goal. Such people may even go on to say that such efforts have been crucial to the formation of better (more peaceable and compassionate) civilizations and cultures over the years. Even if this is possible for a society (and I’m not sure that it is), I still am unconvinced that it is worth striving for. Continue reading Christian civilization and the refugee crisis

Hauerwas on being a forgiven people

Scripture has authority for Christians because they have learned as a forgiven people they must also be able to forgive. But to be a people capable of accepting forgiveness separates them from the world: The world, under the illusion that power and violence rule history, assumes that it has no need to be forgiven. Part of the meaning of the ‘world,’ therefore, is it is that which assumes it needs no scripture, since it lives not by memory made possible by forgiveness, but by power. Being a community of the forgiven is directly connected with being a community sustained by the narratives we find in scripture, as those narratives do nothing less than manifest the God whose very nature is to forgive. To be capable of remembering we must be able to forgive, for without forgiveness we can only forget or repress those histories that prove to be destructive or at least unfruitful. By attending closely to the example of those who have given us our scripture, we learn how to be a people morally capable of foregiveness and thus worthy of continuing to carry the story of God we find authorized by scripture. – Community of Character, 68-69

Harry Huebner on being the the church in the world

I have now finished Harry Huebner’s Echoes of the Word. I enjoyed going through it in a relatively short time frame, and I hope readers appreciated the glances I provided into this reading.

Before I post a final quotation I’d like to draw attention to the two chapters I most enjoyed. What sets these essays apart for me is their tremendous practical wisdom combined with rich theological insight. That is, not only did these essays provoke my thinking, but I have high hopes that they will help me to become a better person – this without being trite or reductionist. Continue reading Harry Huebner on being the the church in the world

Jesus and the church’s call to embodied holiness

The issue for Jesus was both individual sinfulness as well as the people’s allegiance to a cultural dynamic of power, corruption, and piety. Especially serious was his charge that the religious leaders rather than calling the people to repentance were undergirding this way of life with religious rituals which abstracted the love of God. The Pharisees identified godliness with keeping themselves clean from the world around them. Jesus profoundly disagreed with this. The issue between Jesus and them was a hermeneutical one: how to interpret what God was doing. When Jesus said to them: ‘Woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and herbs of all kinds, and neglect justice and the love of God!’ (Luke 11:42a), he was not criticising their religion, he was criticising its abstraction. To be God’s people required incarnate compassion. You simply cannot be God’s and lack love for justice. Compassion is of the essence of God – witness the Prodigal Son story – hence if you are centred in God it defines your essence as well – witness the Good Samaritan story. Prophetic faithfulness, as Jesus interprets it, demands the unity of piety and politics. Continue reading Jesus and the church’s call to embodied holiness

On individualism and the church

Conservatives, including many evangelicals, tend to think of the church as a group of like-minded individuals gathered to re-enforce their individual piety (spirituality). Liberals…have, on the basis of maximising individual freedom, managed to associate religion so tightly with feelings that they have effectively reduced the church to an ethical society in which people are encouraged to make each other, and even those outside their walls, feel good. –  Echoes of the Word, 230

Traditionally Protestant Christians have understood themselves as a priesthood of believers. We need to be careful how we understand this notion. It does not mean that we are priests unto ourselves and therefore do not need each other; or that therefore our pastor cannot be our authority. This is a modern perversion, emanating from the quest for autonomous self-understanding characteristic of our age. Rather it means that we are all priests in relation to each other  we are all called to sacrifice ourselves for each other. This does not release us from or boundedness to God and each other; it binds us to both in our quest to learn what it means to be God’s children. – Echoes of the Word, 238

Compassion and presence: the church’s calling

The same central point is made: the justice of the biblical prophetic imagination is grounded in compassion. And nowhere is this seen more clearly than in the story of the cross and resurrection. The cross is the very embrace of the dialectical tension between justice and compassion.

Compassion is a radical critique of the imperial imagination because it announces that the hurt of the people, even of one’s enemies, will not be disregarded but will be taken seriously. To do otherwise is to make pain normative, injustice permissible, and evil god. Empires live in callous disregard to the human pain which they require to sustain themselves. God and God’s people live in compassionate empathy with the broken ones. God and God’s people offer hope to the hopeless. Continue reading Compassion and presence: the church’s calling

On Church Discipline

Eariler I suggested that we today are ill at ease with church discipline. I now want to claim that this is as it should be. However, we ought to make sure that our discomfort is for the right reasons. It is not sufficient to object to church discipline on the grounds that we do not like others telling us what to do and think. Being told how to live is something Christians should be used to – after all, we are precisely the kind of people who are trying to think and do what another (Jesus) has already thought and done. And herein lies what ought to be the real source of our discomfort with church discipline: Jesus. I suspect that if Jesus were living his radical life in our churches today he may well be excommunicated. At least he would be asked to tone it down, We may well send two or three people to talk to him about his extremism. ‘Sell what you have and give it to the poor.’ ‘Love your enemy.’ ‘Be servants of one another.’ ‘You hypocrites,’ said to religious leaders. Our response would be, ‘Come on, Jesus, give us a break! You are far too critical. Lighten up and be positive. This is no way to foster church growth.’ Continue reading On Church Discipline

The problem of knowing what to do with our confessions

When we confess our redemption through Jesus Christ we commit ourselves to a concrete social embodiment of the gospel. Nonconformity is therefore the hallmark of the Christian faith – although nonconformity must be carefully distinguished from non-participation. Nonconformity implies difference but not distance; exclusion yet embrace. I emphasise this matter because I se a discrepancy between what we confess and how we live. For example, we confess belief in non-resistance – although I think ‘peace-making’ would be a better word (Mennonite Brethren Confession, Article 13). Yet a growing number of Mennonites do not believe in peacemaking (let alone non-resistance) in any way that is different from other contemporary enlightened North Americans, who manage to make this conviction consistent with going to war when their nation calls them to do so. Unless our statements of faith help us with what it means practically to be peacemakers as Jesus’ disciples, this cannot be a credible confession.

We confess that our allegiance is to Christ’s kingdom and not to the state (Article 12), but it is primarily our state and not the church that is taking care of our medical needs, our education needs, and our security needs. Again, unless we can answer concretely what we mean when we say our security is not with the state, when in fact it is, we are not confessing properly. Continue reading The problem of knowing what to do with our confessions

The journey of conversion: excerpt from Boundaries Thick and Permeable posted in response to Joel Peters’s A Call (To Action!?)

The questions Joel asks in one of his recent posts are questions I’ve been asking for a while. Here’s an excerpt from my recent book that tries to address some of those questions. As with my last excerpt, I’ve decided to make the passage more readable by removing the footnotes.

*** Continue reading The journey of conversion: excerpt from Boundaries Thick and Permeable posted in response to Joel Peters’s A Call (To Action!?)