Category Archives: Rector’s Forum

Poetry in the Season of Advent (III)

Here’s the third and final poem in this short series that came out of the Rector’s Forum last weekend at St. Stephen’s Church in Edina, Minnesota, and that was written by none other than the Rector himself (i.e., me):

direct, truthful, unsettling
descends, embraces, loves, forgives
exhale and breathe the Holy Spirit

You can read the first poem here and the second poem here.

Poetry in the Season of Advent (II)

Here, as promised, is a poem by the Rev. Nancy Brantingham, Associate Rector of St. Stephen’s Church in Edina, Minnesota, which was written last Sunday morning and follows the same pattern that was described in yesterday’s post:

gentle, compassionate, kind
leads, protects, shelters, carries
I am safe

Look here tomorrow for the third and final poem by . . . me!

Poetry in the Season of Advent (I)

Last Sunday the Rector’s Forum at St. Stephen’s Church in Edina, Minnesota, featured guest speaker Jan Bucher, who is both a psychotherapist and spiritual director. Those present for her presentation were invited to write a poem that describes either God or ourselves in relationship to God, following this pattern:

one noun
three adjectives
four verbs
one or more words that connect with the first noun

I’d like to share with you three of those poems, beginning with this one by Daniel Beal, which alludes to the popular writings of C.S. Lewis:

powerful, quiet, watching
protects, understands, forgives, guides
the one I trust
Lion of his people

Look here tomorrow for the second poem by the Rev. Nancy Brantingham!

Rector’s Forum: Rhetorical and Real Violence

On Sunday, February 6, the Rector’s Forum at St. Stephen’s Church will feature a guest speaker: Mark Osler, Professor of Law at the University of St. Thomas School of Law in Minneapolis, Minnesota. His blog, Osler’s Razor, which is both serious and not-so-serious, has been added as one of the links on the sidebar off to the right. Interestingly, Professor Osler also writes an online column for the religion section of the Huffington Post. There he recently reflected — as he will do at St. Stephen’s — on his Christian faith in light of the murders in Tucson, Arizona, which have been the subject of much debate, both public and private.

These violent acts by a lone and troubled young man raise questions for him — as a Christian — about political rhetoric and about the death penalty. Here are a few of his thoughts on the power of mere words:

The Gospels, words in a book, are at the heart of my beliefs about God and human relationships. I certainly do hope that they inspire action. So do most Christians. Christ had no army, he had no formal power — all he had were words. And if we believe that those words of love can change the world, why do we doubt that words of contempt and anger can inspire violence in the weakest among us?

As Christians, we accept that words shape lives. With that comes a moral duty to use them carefully and gently for what is just. Too many among our faith have forgotten that. Civil discourse is not just a civic duty; to those of us who follow Christ, it is a Christian duty.

The latter issue of the death penalty is something that Professor Osler has contemplated at great length previously, as evidenced by his book Jesus on Death Row: The Trial of Jesus and American Capital Punishment. Here’s part of what he had to say about it in his online column about current events:

Most Americans, including most Christians, support the death penalty. This support too often is unchallenged by the fact that an unjust execution is at the center of our faith, and that Christ himself came upon a legal execution and stopped it (in John 8).

There will be a riotous cry to kill the killer, as is so often the case with high-profile murders. The basis for this cry will be nothing more than an urge to exact retribution, since there is no deterrent value in killing someone who wants to be a martyr . . .

You can read the whole article here.

Rector’s Forum: Who Needs Forgiveness?

Miroslav Volf is an interesting theologian at Yale Divinity School who was born in Croatia, the son of a pacifist minister in the Pentecostal tradition and the sole openly professing Christian in his high school of 3,500 students in the former Yugoslavia. The death of communism, however, gave birth not only to more public followers of Christ but also to warfare, eventually, between those Christians. Here’s what Volf said in a 1999 interview in Christianity Today:

I was very disturbed how a whole set of commitments were thrown out of the window by some of my Christian friends on both sides when the war came. The commandment to love the enemy, which we practiced more or less in relation to the Communists, did not apply when the enemy was our Serbian or Croatian neighbor. . . . I would ask my students, ‘Who is closer to you, your Croatian neighbor who’s not a Christian, or your Serbian brother or sister in Christ?’ It was not at all clear how the answer would go. Pretty soon it became obvious that’s not a Croatian question. It’s the dilemma of the church and the world.

So when he writes about religious violence or forgiveness, Volf brings instant credibility and isn’t merely reflecting on these ideas in the abstract. In his book The End of Memory: Remembering Rightly in a Violent World, he connects a prayer of Elie Wiesel on behalf of the survivors of the Holocaust:

Oh, they do not forgive the killers and their accomplices, nor should they. Nor should you, Master of the Universe. . . . As long as a spark of the flames of Auschwitz and Treblinka glows in their memory, so long will my joy be incomplete.

. . . with the words of Psalm 109:15, where the psalmist asks God to remember forever the sins of wicked and deceitful people:

Let them be before the Lord continually . . .

Volf agrees that it’s impossible to reconcile the memory of evil and the experience of joy. He also believes, however, that Christ’s forgiveness will ultimately be the last word and that Christ’s forgiveness embraces non-remembrance. So, while it’s important to remember wrongs suffered and not to remember them wrongly, thereby transforming memory from a shield into a sword, it’s even more important to realize that wrongs suffered won’t be remembered for eternity:

Evildoers triumph when they and their deeds are remembered even when they themselves have been defeated – the reason the same psalmist who implores God not to forgive the wicked prays that the memory of them may be blotted out from the earth . . .

If we remembered the wrongs suffered in the world to come, we would not only defer to the wishes of evildoers, we would also pay too much respect to evil itself. What incredible power evil would have if once you had wronged someone, you, the person you had wronged, and God would remain permanently marked by it!

Although Christianity and forgiveness are wonderfully intertwined, the latter is easier to receive for ourselves than to offer to others. This Sunday morning, the Rector’s Forum at St. Stephen’s Church will explore the struggle that so many of us obviously have with forgiveness, which is at the heart of the cross.