I had my 82nd birthday last weekend. I’m headed for 100! Wooo-hooo!
Anticipation makes me think back to how things have changed over the last century, or two. My wife Joan’s grandfather arrived from Sweden a century ago with an axe-head, a plane blade, and a handsaw. With those, he made all the rest of his carpenter’s tools.
I wonder what he would think of modern chainsaws.
A century before that, my ancestors arrived from Scotland, to farm 40 acres in southern Ontario. I wonder what they would think of tractors with air-conditioned cabs. Of hay-balers and combines and automatic milking machines.
Nothing stands still. Ever. And it shouldn’t.
Not even religion.
Changes within my lifetime
In my own lifetime, I have seen teaching about God evolve from God as a noun -- a Proper Noun with Capital Letters -- to a verb, an action, a way of being.
I have seen language for God in prayers and hymns evolve from exclusively male terms, to occasional feminine references, sometimes to words with no gender implications at all. And from speaking ABOUT God in the third person, somewhee out there, to speaking TO God with the more direct and intimate second person – “you”.
I have seen the biblically-justified exclusion of gays, lesbians, and women evolve into acceptance and inclusion.
I have seen the Bible, once a source of absolute authority on everything, knocked off its pedestal. It is still, probably, the most influential book in the world. But now it is, for me at least, a doorway to deeper truths.
A woman named Lorraine used to visit me in my office, after she got off work. (Whenever it happened, I had to phone Joan to say I would be late for supper.) Lorraine firmly believed that when she died, she would go to a place called heaven, where the streets were paved with bricks of gold, city gates were made of gigantic gems, and God sat on a golden throne – images largely derived from the book of Revelation.
Space travel tells me there’s no such place.
Lorraine died suddenly of a massive brain hemorrhage. I hope she wasn’t disappointed in her destiny. But even that hope assumes some kind of post-death existence in which she could be disappointed. Maybe there’s nothing. In which case disappointment doesn’t apply.
I wonder how many people still believe in a physical heaven. Not many, I’d guess. Yet many still cling to words and liturgies that reflect that abandoned theology.
Author Bruce Sanguin, in a chapter in the book The Emerging Church, charts a spiral of religious and moral evolution over thousands of years, from raw survival to an integrated system of values. The concept is too complex for me to explain here, but his point is simple – values evolve. Although individuals do not all evolve en masse, society as a whole does evolve.
Evolution is about more than Darwin. It is universal. Literally. The universe evolves. Life evolves. Religion evolves. I evolve. I am no longer the person I was at 20. I am not yet the person I will be if I reach 100.
I should not expect my faith to remain static either.
Copyright © 2018 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups, and links from other blogs, welcomed; all other rights reserved.
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I don’t often risk humour in my columns – at least, not intentionally. So last week’s column about getting voice mail responses to prayer was a bit of a departure for me. But you seem to have liked it.
Laurna Tallman sent her shortest letter ever: “Splendid and uplifting and funny. You made my day.”
Bev Edwards-Sawatzky kept her letter even shorter: “Brilliant, Jim. I love it.”
And old friend Ruth Buzzard agreed: “I love it, Jim. Also your commentary on Psalm 45.”
Chris Shreve from Edinburgh wrote, “Your words often help me understand things better; or express them better, but this is a delightful way to gently prod the trials of life in the 21st century as a Christian. Many thanks.”
Tom Watson stayed on the lighter side. He sent along his version of the inevitable consumer satisfaction survey: “This is an automated call from Celestial Cyberspace Group. CCG has been asked by the various deities to evaluate customer service. This will only take a few minutes of your time. 1. Did your contact with us prove to be satisfactory? 2. Is your issue resolved? 3. How many times did you have to access our services before finding an answer to your query? 4. Do you have any recommendations for improved service? “
Bob Rollwagen picked up on the substantive issue, the paragraphs about the content of education systems: “’Ethics’ is a small word for a really big issue. Justification of personal actions generally has the individual bring their own understanding of ethics to bear, and very few of us have had any training or education covering ethics.
“Just witness how sex education was used to manipulate the uninformed in Ontario’s election, how provincial financial reporting rules justify changing rules midstream to benefit the wealthy, how reducing government revenue is a valid reason to reduce public services for the disadvantaged, or even how education standards are lowered … I am not aware that Jesus ever used the word ‘ethics’ but his actions were and still are the definition of the word.”
Helen Arnott wrote, “Thanks for a good chuckle! I’m sitting here in the waiting room of a very busy medical lab with my new young friend from Syria, surrounded by all kinds of men, women, and children of all colours and descriptions, all sizes and ages, many wearing hijabs, some wearing African outfits or Indian saris, others wearing not much! I wonder who they think God is?! For me, just a human construct to help stave off the dark forces...I guess [that’s] heretical for many in this wonderful country of ours!”
Once again I go to the alternate reading for this coming Sunday: Psalm 145. It seemed more appropriate to the current political situation than Psalm 125.
1 Who can you trust these days? Only God. Forever and ever.
2 You can put your faith in God as long as you live. God will never abandon you.
3 Do not put your trust in any government. You cannot count on them.
4 Human life is short, but governments are shorter. With each election, their policies change; their promises dry up faster than morning dew.
5 Put your trust in God; for eternal confidence, count on the one who knows eternity.
6 What human agency can claim to have created the earth? What human agency can claim to care for it?
7 Look and see the actions that God favours: To feed the hungry; to set free the prisoners;
8 To give sight to the blind; to let the lame walk; to grant liberty to the oppressed….
9 Those who always take care of their own concerns are brought down by their own vaulting ambitions. God cares for the strangers, the widows, the orphans -- God watches over those who cannot watch out for themselves.
10 Can any human authority make that claim? God’s stewardship includes all creation. Trust in God forever!
For paraphrases of mostof the psalms used by the Revised Common Lectionary, you can order my book Everyday Psalmsfrom Wood Lake Publishing, email@example.com.
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Ralph Milton’s latest project is a kind of Festival of Faith, a retelling of key biblical stories by skilled storytellers like Linnea Good and Donald Schmidt, designed to get people talking about their own faith experience. It’s a series of videos available on Youtube. I suggest you start with his introductory section: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7u6qRclYAa8
Ralph’s “Sing Hallelujah” -- the world’s first video hymnal -- is still available. It consists of 100 popular hymns, both new and old, on five DVDs that can be played using a standard DVD player and TV screen, for use in congregations who lack skilled musicians to play piano or organ. More details at wwwDOTsinghallelujahDOTca
Wayne Irwin's “Churchweb Canada,”an inexpensive service for any congregation wanting to develop a web presence, with free consultation. <http://wwwDOTchurchwebcanadaDOTca>
I recommend Isabel Gibson’s thoughtful and well-written blog, wwwDOTtraditionaliconoclastDOTcom
Alva Wood’s satiric stories about incompetent bureaucrats and prejudiced attitudes in a small town -- not particularly religious, but fun; alvawoodATgmailDOTcom to get onto her mailing list.
Tom Watson writes a weekly blog called “The View from Grandpa Tom’s Balcony”-- ruminations on various subjects, and feedback from Tom’sreaders. Write him at tomwatsoATgmailDOTcom or twatsonATsentexDOTnet