Posted by: gcarkner | October 17, 2021

November Feature Presentation from GFCF

Brian Bird, Assistant Professor  Peter A. Allard School of Law, UBC
DCL (McGill), BCL (Oxford), JD (Victoria), BA (Simon Fraser), of the Bar of British Columbia

The Struggle for Tolerance

Thursday, November 18 at 4 PM

Abstract

In many liberal democracies, there has been a tectonic shift in how we handle ideological conflict. Whereas the starting point was once a robust form of tolerance (live and let live), this principle is now fading. Tolerance, once widely regarded as an essential element of free and democratic societies, has become suspect. It is much easier to exhibit tolerance when we agree with each other. But we must also do the same—perhaps especially—when we disagree. If a grassroots rediscovery of tolerance does not occur, and tolerance fades further from view, our society will inevitably gravitate closer to the so-called tyranny of the majority, or at least the tyranny of an intolerant minority within the majority. Such a state of affairs is antithetical to the essence of liberal democracy. It also runs the risk of creating a vicious cycle: in which today’s tyrannized minority will be tempted to become tomorrow’s tyrannizing majority. Human nature, we can agree, is flawed. We do well to avoid inviting such human frailties to take centre stage in today’s culture.

Biography

Brian Bird is an Assistant Professor at the Peter A. Allard School of Law at the University of British Columbia. Before joining Allard Law, he was a postdoctoral research fellow at Princeton University in the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions. He clerked for judges of the Supreme Court of British Columbia and for Justice Andromache Karakatsanis at the Supreme Court of Canada. Brian completed his doctorate at McGill University on The Freedom of Conscience and holds degrees from Oxford, University of Victoria, and Simon Fraser University. Brian’s academic writing has appeared in venues such as the Dalhousie Law Journal, Cambridge Law Review, Alberta Law Review, Supreme Court Law Review, and Manitoba Law Journal. He is co-editor of The Forgotten Fundamental Freedoms of the Charter (2020, LexisNexis Canada). His primary research interests are constitutional law and theory, interactions between courts and legislatures, jurisprudence, philosophy of law, legal history, and bills of rights.

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Posted by: gcarkner | October 5, 2021

Join the Grad Christian Union Adventure

Inquiries: gcarkner@shaw.ca

More Info: Text 604.349.9497

We have a big commitment to your success and wellbeing at UBC

We recommend great books to expand your horizons

__________________

GCU on Campus is about Imagining the Possible, a Community Building into Each Other’s Lives, Pursuing Truth as Best we Can, Responsible Care for our World and Significant Relationships

Collaboration works wonder in grad school. Our interdisciplinary focus sparks creativity. You want to grow spiritually and personally as you expand your academic skill.

Weekly Devotionals to Encourage You

Fall Study in II Corinthians Saturdays at 1:00 PM on Zoom

Zoom Link https://twu.zoom.us/j/97261274085

GCU together with GFCF does Research into and Presentation of Cutting Edge, Progressive Thinkers

GCU Has a YouTube Channel with informative webinars and scholarly lectures

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCl4NgIg_ht8IZCRIhho4nxA

In the coffee shop, on the trail, over a meal, in a Bible study, GCU staff Gord & Ute Carkner share key insights on life with grad students. You also learn so much from other students and their journey with Christ and in their research. Friendship is a powerful energizer. We also draw on the wisdom and experience of key UBC faculty members. See our recent blog post What is Truth and Why Does it Matter? Need to pray about some concern? Text Ute 778.840.3549 Want to receive weekly updates: write gord.carkner@gmail.com

Experience our First UBC GFCF Lecture with brilliant physicist Tom McLeish: https://ubcgfcf.com

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Brian Bird, Assistant Professor  Peter A. Allard School of Law, UBC
DCL (McGill), BCL (Oxford), JD (Victoria), BA (Simon Fraser), of the Bar of British Columbia

The Struggle for Tolerance

Thursday, November 18 at 4 PM

Abstract

In many liberal democracies, there has been a tectonic shift in how we handle ideological conflict. Whereas the starting point was once a robust form of tolerance (live and let live), this principle is now fading. Tolerance, once widely regarded as an essential element of free and democratic societies, has become suspect. It is much easier to exhibit tolerance when we agree with each other. But we must also do the same—perhaps especially—when we disagree. If a grassroots rediscovery of tolerance does not occur, and tolerance fades further from view, our society will inevitably gravitate closer to the so-called tyranny of the majority, or at least the tyranny of an intolerant minority within the majority. Such a state of affairs is antithetical to the essence of liberal democracy. It also runs the risk of creating a vicious cycle: in which today’s tyrannized minority will be tempted to become tomorrow’s tyrannizing majority. Human nature, we can agree, is flawed. We do well to avoid inviting such human frailties to take centre stage in today’s culture.

Biography

Brian Bird is an Assistant Professor at the Peter A. Allard School of Law at the University of British Columbia. Before joining Allard Law, he was a postdoctoral research fellow at Princeton University in the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions. He clerked for judges of the Supreme Court of British Columbia and for Justice Andromache Karakatsanis at the Supreme Court of Canada. Brian completed his doctorate at McGill University on The Freedom of Conscience and holds degrees from Oxford, University of Victoria, and Simon Fraser University. Brian’s academic writing has appeared in venues such as the Dalhousie Law Journal, Cambridge Law Review, Alberta Law Review, Supreme Court Law Review, and Manitoba Law Journal. He is co-editor of The Forgotten Fundamental Freedoms of the Charter (2020, LexisNexis Canada). His primary research interests are constitutional law and theory, interactions between courts and legislatures, jurisprudence, philosophy of law, legal history, and bills of rights.

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Our Book of the Week: The Organized Mind by Daniel J Levitin

Posted by: gcarkner | September 26, 2021

Special Lecture This Week

Tom McLeish, Department of Physics, University of York

The Poetry & Music of Science

Wednesday, September 29, 2021 at 12 noon

Biography: Tom McLeish FRS, Professor of Natural Philosophy in the Department of Physics at the University of York, also affiliated to the University’s Centre for Medieval Studies and the Humanities Research Centre. He has conceived and led several interdisciplinary research projects, and is a recognized UK expert on formulating and evaluating interdisciplinary research. He co-leads the Ordered Universeproject, a large interdisciplinary re-examination of 13th century science. From 2008 to 2014 he served as Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research at Durham University and was from 2015-2020 Chair of the Royal Society’s Education Committee. He is a brilliant, creative mind and has won many awards for his work and teaching. He is the author of two important books on science and religion: Faith and Wisdom in Science (2016); and The Poetry and Music of Science (2019).

Abstract: In this address, Dr. McLeish suggests that the ‘Two Cultures’ division between the arts and the sciences is not the best classification of creative processes, for all creation calls on the power of the imagination within the constraints of form. The three modes of visual, textual and abstract imagination have woven the stories of the arts and sciences together, using different tools. As any scientist knows, the imagination is essential to the immense task of re-creating a shared model of nature from the scale of the cosmos, through biological complexity, to the smallest subatomic structures. McLeish draws on past testimony and personal accounts of scientists, artists, mathematicians, writers, and musicians to explore the commonalities and differences in creation. He offers close-up explorations of musical, literary, mathematical and scientific creation, illustrating how creativity contributes to what it means to be human, drawing on theological ideas of the purpose of creativity and the image of God.

Co-sponsored with Canadian Scientific & Christian Affiliation

Sponsored with Support from UBC’s William G. Murrin Fund

“The Romantic era of nature-writing constitutes one of the great hopeful chapters of history, where imaginative writing and imaginative science seemed on the edge of becoming the warp and weft of a single cultural tapestry.” (175-6)

“We are meaning-seeking animals immersed in a world of the aleatory and contingent as well as the wonderful and sublime. Part of our desire to make sense of the world seems to find an outlet in its recreation, or at least in creation of models of it. An experiment becomes a window on the world, and a local habitation for it.” (T. McLeish, The Poetry and Music of Science, 188) 

“The ability to bring something new and valuable into being is a wonder. At every turn we have found the process of creation to draw on the deepest human energies, most radical thought, and most powerful emotion. Hope, desire, cognition, vision, dreaming, craft, skill, expertise and passion are summoned in the task of conceiving and realizing our imagination. They weave a much more complex picture.” (T. McLeish, The Poetry and Music of Science, 301).

Four Stages of Creation: Ideation, Incubation, Illumination, Verification

“Art and science must both reassure and trouble, call on extension of both seeing and hearing, must both distance and immerse…. Art and science share the same three springs of imagination. The visual image offers perspective, insight, illumination. The written and spoken word bring the possibility of mimesis through the textual, the experimental, and the narrative form for the story of creativity itself. The wordless depths of number, the musical and mathematical draw on the ancient insights of the liberal arts at the limits of comprehension. These are the trinity of disciplines and of modes of creation that transport our present longings for a fruitful and a peaceful home in the world, toward a future in which we are less ignorant, wiser in our relationship, but no less caught up in the wonder of it.” (T. McLeish, The Poetry and Music of Science, 336, 339)

“Science becomes a moral and spiritual exercise in personal and corporate healing and flourishing…. The embedding of the scientific imagination within a much larger narrative of human advancement towards the divine constitutes a modern echo of the narrative described by Anselm and Grosseteste in their own times, but emerging within the new experimental programme of enlightenment science.” (T. McLeish, The Poetry and Music of Science, 276)

Notes: 

-The Creation Narrative: we begin with a blurry vision of something–>desire to respond–>series of attempts to create–>encounter with constraint–>the final answer/idea emerges from the subconscious.

-Tom sparks memory of Michael Polanyi, Personal Knowledge.

-Albert Einstein: “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”

-see Mary Midgley’s Science and Poetry, a rebuttal of Richard Dawkins’ reductionism.

-beauty is what the human mind responds to at its deepest place.

-Malcolm Guite: “Science and poetry are sisters.”

-Goethe: “Science and poetry come from the same cradle.”

-Three creative mode commonalities across the disciplines: Visual, Textual, Abstract 

Comparing Creativity in Science and Art

Tom McLeish

  • Challenges the obvious assumption that science is less creative than art and illustrates the contrary (contra C.P Snow’s ‘Two Cultures’)
  • digging down to a foundational core of science and humanities
  • Treats art and science on an equal footing and shows their interplay
  • Shows the points of contact between science and music, literature and visual art
  • Draws on historical and contemporary examples to provide a broader understanding
  • Brings medieval philosophy and theology to bear on current questions of creativity
  • Discusses the conscious and non-conscious mind involved in a breakthrough
  • Reports on individual conversations with artists and scientists and provides personal perspectives on their personal creative processes
  • Illustrates with rich and detailed examples such as a close reading of mathematics and music
  • Offers a rich conversation within academia and beyond–a wellspring of issues for dialogue and reconciliation
Posted by: gcarkner | September 24, 2021

Incarnational Spirituality: a new horizon 13.

The Power of the Transcendent Good in Society

We have been discussing incarnation presence in our last post. Now we want to define this presence in terms of goodness. We enlist the aid of two key theologians, American D. Stephen Long and German Christoph Schwöbel, for a richer articulation of the point of a transcendent turn to the divine good. Their work on the interface between divine and human goodness has resonance with Taylor’s trajectory for cultural renewal: a transcendent turn to agape love (C. Taylor, 1989). It will help to define more fully the character of such transcendence and the concept of the epiphanic encounter. In Taylor’s thought, agape, at one level, is a quality of human relationships, a hypergood that informs and even organizes the other goods within one’s moral horizon. It changes everything.

But agape, at another level, can also be seen as animating and empowering the ethical subject, and thus a constitutive good rooted in transcendent divine goodness. Constitutive speaks of sources. We now proceed to a further understanding of this concept, and its implications for the healthy moral self. There is a certain strangeness to the idea of transcendent divine goodness. It exceeds one’s human cognitive grasp, or ability to define it. One can use terms like infinite, excellent, most intense, purest, unfathomable, or superlative, as adjectives to describe this goodness. But one cannot fully grasp the qualitative dimensions of transcendent divine goodness with propositions alone. It is radically other, a radical alterity, trans-historical. At one level, it is incompatible, incommensurable with human concepts of the good–divine goodness is infinitely good. It blows our imagination circuits. It is no mere human projection–goodness that we find in the world points to and participates in, but is not identical with, goodness that is God.

By definition, it is much more than an absolute or a highest principle. Goodness is of the very essence of God; the claim that ‘God is good’ entails a distinctive character trait. D.S. Long attempts such an articulation when he writes: “God is good in the most excellent way” (2001, 21). This means that there can be no greater good, nor a position of goodness from which to judge God. Her we have a qualitative transcendence that is completely worthy of love and admiration, a goodness that is much more than moral virtue or useful/pragmatic goodness. God is the gold standard by which all human currencies of the good are measured. Another way of saying this is that there is an “irreducible density to God’s goodness” (Hardy, 2001, 75). Schwöbel (1992, 72) proceeds logically from this to say that in creation:

God has set the conditions for being and doing the good and for knowledge of the good in the human condition. On this account, transcendent divine goodness is the ontological ground of the human good; the human moral horizon is rooted in God, contextualized by God.

Not vice versa. Furthermore, the knowledge of the good is intimately linked with the knowledge of God, and one’s relation to the good is ultimately connected to one’s relationship to God. Stephen Long adds:

Participation in God is necessary for the good and for freedom. Evil arises when freedom is lost through turning towards one’s own autonomous resources for ethics. The fall does not result from people seeking to be more than they are capable of through pride but from their becoming less than they could be because they separate the knowledge of the good from its true end, God, and find themselves self- sufficient …. Seeking the good through nonparticipation in God, through the ‘virtue of what was in themselves’ makes disobedience possible. (D.S. Long, 2001, 128)

This is what Long refers to as the blasphemy of the a priori, that is, the philosophical preoccupation that assumes one can determine the conditions for knowledge of the good a priori, without engaging the good at its best–in GodThis in fact (blasphemy) is a working assumption in Michel Foucault’s moral self-making which I covered thoroughly in my PhD dissertation (https://ubcgcu.org/dr-carkners-phd-dissertation/). If the individual is the origin of the moral life, ethics would tend to be reduced to anthropology (what a tribe does) or autobiography (what I decide as values for myself).

Another conclusion that can be drawn from the premise of transcendent goodness is that this divine goodness is fortunately beyond human control, manufacture or manipulation. In the human world, it constitutes no mere social, legal or governmental construction of the good. Human attempts to articulate the good, construct the good, or to be good, are only vague, finite and inadequate facsimiles of God’s goodness. These articulations are also vulnerable to manipulation and exploitation, conflict of interpretations, and power interest, as Foucault saw so clearly. This is what incurs cynicism about the very use of the language of the good in our late modern condition. Some human standards are even tribal or historically contingent, or a product of corrupt self-interest by those in power, employed in coercive or abusive ways, or employed arbitrarily by the leadership, as we see in the news about several of our elites. Human claims and social constructions of the good are necessary, but not final. There is a critical need for a transcendent divine goodness standard to arbitrate and critique various human claims to the good, and human social constructions of the good.

Furthermore, the transcendent goodness addressed here is trinitarian and relational, an intensely personal goodness of a tri-personal God (the Trinity). This transcendent goodness begins/is sourced in God and then flows to creation as generous gift. This transcendence automatically has a relationship to the immanent human world. They are distinct but not totally separate. It is communicable, but the understanding and experience of goodness involves a journey towards the triune God. A full defence of trinitarian theology of goodness is beyond the scope of this post. Instead, we will limit this discussion to the exploration of what trinitarian goodness looks like as a plausibility structure, and how it assists in answering some of the problems and gaps in Foucault’s thin, self-reflexive moral self. It also provides a discourse and a subject position from which to further identify and protest Foucault’s aspiration toward the hegemony of the aesthetic. The task of ethics, from within this plausibility structure, is to assist the self in the journey from human nature as it is—with its inclination toward the good but its lack of substantive context, its lack of robust moral source, and thus its temptation toward evil, harm and violence—towards the concrete embodiment of what the self can become in heuristic relation to God’s goodness.

As rooted in the Trinity, this transcendent horizon of goodness involves the dynamic action of all three persons of the Christian Trinity in the world (incarnationally, existentially), not apart from the world or from society. Here are some of the implications that human goodness can be defined in the light of divine goodness, rather than in exclusion of it. According to this theological premise, “the trinitarian action in creation, revelation and inspiration in the world is all part of the moral horizon in which human moral reflection occurs” (Schwöbel, 1992, 71). The transcendent is effective and impactful in the culture spheres (science, ethics, religion and aesthetics) of the immanent and entails significant implications for the moral self.

This goodness is communicated through creation represented by the Father, through the Son, the God-Man, in the incarnation, and by the Holy Spirit as the source of empowerment and inspiration of human morality starting with the Christian community. The three persons create the conditions (the horizon) for knowing and doing the good (Schwöbel, 1992, 73). The Father as Creator has established the order, and the possibility of goodness in the creation, a relational structure of goodness. He created both a moral and a good world–to promote human flourishing. The Son, in Jesus Christ, is the fullest earthly revelation of divine goodness, a dramatic opportunity to see, encounter and experience God’s goodness within the human sphere, the articulation of divine goodness within human culture, society and history. The Spirit is the inspiration of goodness in human creatures, a key source of the good (constitutive good) for the moral self. This is how we can be morally good and grow into goodness beyond our current imagination.

This articulation shows key ways that the finite human self is made aware of, and drawn up into, the transcendent relationship through covenant, making divine goodness accessible and efficacious within the realm of human experience, yet without being assimilated into, or reduced to, the human realm. According to theologian Christoph Schwöbel,

It is one of the implications of this trinitarian conception of divine agency that the intentionality of divine action is not to be inferred from the structure of the world God has created, but has to be understood as grounded in the revelation in the Son. It is this paradigmatic action that is authenticated by the inspiration of the Spirit which then provides the framework for the interpretation of God’s work in creation. In a similar way the character of the work of the Spirit as inspiration indicates how God involves human beings in the realization of his intentions. It is the context of the interrelatedness of creation, revelation and inspiration that we can talk about God’s action in terms of free, intentional action. (C. Schwöbel, 1992, 70)

Transcendent trinitarian goodness is both secure and relevant because it resides in the integrity of trinitarian relationality, the benevolent sociality and communion of God as three persons (one-anotherness). And yet it becomes accessible and possible within the human condition because of the creation, revelation and inspiration work of the Trinity. This means that Taylor’s transcendent turn to a greater horizon of the good is no fantasy. It provides a robust plausibility structure, and a dynamic context for the identity of the self, as well as an open horizon for moral and spiritual growth towards a self with a transcendent dimension of depth (a thick self). “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.”

This now leads, in the next post, into a discussion of the quality of the will and a further exploration of agape love as a way forward. What are the implications of the transcendent turn to agape love in further substantiating the case for transcendent goodness as a viable source of the self?

Dr. Gordon E. Carkner, Meta-Educator with UBC Postgraduate Students, Author, YouTube Webinars

Long, D.S. (2001). The Goodness of God. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press.

Schwöbel, C. (1992). God’s Goodness and Human Morality. In C. Schwöbel, God: Action and revelation (pp. 63-82). Kampen, Holland: Pharos.

Hardy, D.W. (2001). Finding the Church: The Dynamic of Anglicanism. London: SCM Press.

Taylor, C. (1989). Sources of the Self: The making of the modern identity. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Posted by: gcarkner | August 14, 2021

Incarnational Spirituality: a new horizon 12.

Presence, the Key to the Existential Power of Incarnation

Faith requires infrastructure and its own plausibility conditions as Charles Taylor would say. His template of moral identity creation in the age of authenticity is located below. Incarnational spirituality involves a radical moral conversion, the growth of moral language skill, moral intelligence within a covenantal outlook. A morally relativist culture is weak and ineffectual; it tends to isolate people from each other. Relativist thinking about the moral goods is superficial, inadequate and self-contradictory. University of Virginia’s renowned sociologist James Davison Hunter stakes out the language of faithful presence which adds texture and definition to this needed conversion. Richard Foster reveals some key merits of the Incarnation Tradition in Streams of Living Water. This short essay is about the power of presence: divine and human. It matters immensely.

As we read more deeply in the letter I John and the Gospel of John chapters one, and fourteen through seventeen, the incarnation forms the four pillars and agape love forms the main structural beam in the house of faith, the body of Christ. This infrastructure is core. Incarnation is a key concept in the history of Christianity and its nuanced definition involved no small amount of debate in the early church. The New Testament authors draw heavily on the prophet Isaiah (7:14, 45: 21-24, 49, 52-53, 61) to reason about the implications of Jesus’ identity, his life and passion. They sincerely believe that Jesus is the anticipated, Spirit-anointed Servant who is ultimately God’s Son, that he has come to heal Israel, and in turn the whole world. The Incarnation is an extraordinary phenomenon, unparalleled in history. Without the fleshly Jesus who is fully God and fully man stated in the Athanasian Creed, we would have a different religion, not Trinitarian Christianity.

Taylor’s Moral Self-Construction Diagnostics Category A (Creativity)

(i) Creation and construction (as well as discovery) of the self.

(ii) Pursuit of originality in one’s self-crafting.

(iii) Opposition to the rules of society and even potentially to what one recognizes as morality, or the moral order.

Category B (Social and Moral Accountability)

(i) Openness to horizons of significance prevents one’s self- creation from losing the background that can save one from insignificance and trivialization (self-destruction of meaning). This can include God and tradition.

(ii) Self-definition needs to be developed in dialogue with significant others, that is, fellow moral interlocutors within a community and a narrative. (Taylor, 1991, 65, 66)

Late modernity tends to emphasize Category A of Taylor’s template with the emphasis on individual creativity and original self-invention (M. Foucault). It also entails a rebellion against societal norms as a form of oppression. There is a strong neo-Marxist component at work ideologically. What is missing or weak in such thinkers is the Category B emphasis on a broader basis for meaning, social accountability and identity. Taylor’s critique along with people like Emmanuel Lévinas is that it is far too individualistic, lacking the emphasis on interlocutors. Incarnational spirituality involves both A and B in balance, but it doesn’t take a jaundiced view of public morality. Allow us to explain.

Leadership in our Brave New World

Yuval Noah Harari (2019) sounds the alarm on our current biotech and infotech (artificial intelligence, machine learning) disruptive revolutions in his 21 Lessons for the Twenty-first Century. This revolution challenges some of our most sacred liberal and Christian values of liberty, equality, rights, human flourishing and meaningful work. We could also refer to Duff MacDonald’s culturally insightful 2017 book: The Golden Passport: Harvard Business School, the Limits of Capitalism and the Moral Failure of the MBA Elite. Everywhere we look, there are serious problems with our moral substance, infrastructure and standing. We will need grounded leadership to help us through this transition.

In the movie Invictus, Morgan Freeman plays Nelson Mandela, who wisely displays the insight that positive social change must begin with a different sense of identity, a consciousness of belonging to the other. The ability of people of different races and interests to imagine their common destiny is key to breaking down racial barriers and healing resentments erected during the Apartheid era in South Africa. Mandela offered a vision of a new humanity and won the world’s admiration for his heroic efforts to reunite the country and redress terrible imbalances, racial tension and injustice. It was an incarnational healing stance to politics. DeKlerk was also a key factor in the transition. Many religious leaders and believers supported this vision of a new South Africa. Incarnational spirituality has such a vision to renegotiate relationships in late modernity, offering a new set of power relations, new ways of being present to each other. It sets the stage for a new storyline of full mutual flourishing.

Faithful Presence The incarnation is all about presence rather than absence. With this kind of humanism in mind, we want to explore the dynamics of what renowned and uber articulate University of Virginia sociologist James Davison Hunter calls faithful presence (J.D. Hunter, 2010, 238-54). We resonate with his project for social change and his mandate for servant leadership. It extends the concept of suffering service to others from the previous post, with deep relevance to the common good. Hunter emphasizes the urgency of a fresh, binding outlook in our cultural and identity crisis.

Under the banner of incarnational spirituality, faithful presence offers a way to credibly re-articulate the narrative journey of self within late modernity, to find its new home beyond the barbed wire of war, hate and control, will to power, greed and narcissism. We use this language of presence to communicate this important concept of closeness to the divine. For example, the entire biblical message is the offer of life marked by goodness, peace, truth, beauty, joy, fruitfulness—shalom. Hunter writes that shalom also offers something serious to society at large, and it would be astute for the Christian community to pay attention to his voice. This is a robust sense of being with others, taking responsibility for the other (E. Lévinas).

Without a commitment to ideals that transcend the self and that direct life beyond self-interest, one is left with a despair that is not only joyless but also is indifferent towards need and thus incapable of addressing need. Hope is intimately tied to beauty for it is images of beauty and loveliness that inspire imagination and expand human possibility. (J.D. Hunter, 2010, 263)

The shalom of God is the presence of God (Ephesians 2: 14) in the world. Incarnational community means that followers of Jesus are mandated to be and bring this faithful presence, this incarnational kind of human compassion to their circle of influence, to everyday work life. Humans can be fully present to each other within the community of faith and fully present to those who are not at the moment part of that community. We pursue each other, identify with each other, and direct our lives towards the flourishing of one another.

A vision of order and harmony, fruitfulness and abundance, toward the well-being of others, not just to those in the community of faith, but to all…. Pursuit, identification, the offer of life through sacrificial love, this is what God’s faithful presence means. It is a quality of commitment that is active, not passive; intentional, not accidental; covenantal, not contractual. In the life of Christ we see how it entailed his complete attention. It was whole-hearted, not half-hearted; focused and purposeful, nothing desultory about it. His very name, Immanuel, signifies all of this—“God with us”—in our presence. (J.D. Hunter, 2010, 228, 230, 243)

Faithful presence means the virtuous ascent towards a virtuous society. It offers a transformation of relationships within the immanent frame, one that reaches beyond this frame for sources of the self (C. Taylor, 1989). It is a powerful source of the thick identity, one that has sustainability. Servant leadership is a critical posture of this kind of engagement with the world, one of commitment and enduring promise. People who feel called to this vision are now creating structures that incarnate blessing, beauty, meaningfulness and purpose. This includes cynics, secularists, anarchists and nihilists, the haves and the have-nots, as well as people of other faiths. We claim this incarnational posture as a different plausibility structure—what Taylor calls a new social imaginary. Shalom is the basis for dialogue, because effective dialogue with moral interlocutors requires love and respect for the other. Hunter highlights and sharpens the point of faithful presence as it reveals the impact of the incarnation, as if through a new prism. He speaks of the sacrament of everyday life.

I have argued that there is a different foundation for reality and thus a different kind of binding commitment symbolized most powerfully in the incarnation. The incarnation represents an alternative way by which word and world come together. It is in the incarnation and the particular way the Word became incarnate in Jesus Christ that we find the only adequate reply to the challenges of dissolution and difference. If, indeed, there is a hope or an imaginable prospect for human flourishing in the contemporary world, it begins when the Word of shalom becomes flesh in us and is enacted through us toward those with whom we live, in the tasks we are given, and in the spheres of influence in which we operate. When the Word of all flourishing—defined by the love of Christ—becomes flesh in us, in our relations with others, within the tasks we are given, and within our spheres of influence—absence gives way to presence, and the word we speak to each other and to the world becomes authentic and trustworthy. (J.D. Hunter, 2010, 252)

The practice of faithful presence is the incarnation of a fresh and constructive kind of servant leadership and mentorship (Robert K. Greenleaf, 1998; Don Page, 2009) in all realms of life, all careers and endeavors. Don Page, former speechwriter for the Prime Minister of Canada, and Professor Emeritus at Trinity Western University in the Masters Program in Leadership, has made a substantial contribution to this servant leader culture around the world. He casts a vision for the productivity of constructive, servant leadership. It simply makes sense that offering dignity and respect for employees creates a better work environment and a more successful company. It creates significant opportunities and space for others to participate and develop. It champions the giftedness, creativity and potential of those whom we mentor. His work is literally changing the world in Canada, Africa and China, changing values in the workplace and with it the financial success of corporations.

The practice of faithful presence generates relationships that are covenantal. These create space that fosters meaning, purpose and belonging … They provide for the physical, aesthetic, intellectual and social health of the community as a good in its own right. (J.D. Hunter, 2010, 266)

Some striking examples of how faithful presence can be lived It can often start with one person who takes the incarnation vision seriously and begins to live sacrificially for the other, for the common good. One inspired person who wants to be faithful to the divine incarnational perspective of humble servant leadership is all it takes to begin a move for the common good. Former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, spoke of the Taizé Ecumenical Community in Burgundy, France. They have had an enormous influence, and have captured the imagination of many European youth who wanted to engage the world constructively. Taizé has ambassadorial cell groups living among the poor in Asia, Africa and Latin America. This effort towards integral relationships amidst difference “represents a serious political concern, an eagerness to listen and learn across cultural boundaries, a sensitivity for certain styles in art and liturgy, traditional but spare and contemporary in expression, a profoundly contemplative spirituality” (R. Williams, 2005, 124).

Hunter mentions a group in the state of Michigan, USA hit hard by the recent Great Recession of 2008, who build not-for-profit housing to address the scourge of poverty and homelessness. A friend of ours mentioned a company that subsidized solar panels for poor areas and trained people in installing these for others. The Mennonite Central Committee sponsors Ten Thousand Villages stores with low overhead to assist talented artisans in developing countries to sell their work in the West, promoting shalom in both worlds. New York Times journalist David Brooks bring this vision of the virtuous life and society to the fore in his important contributions: The Road to Character (2015); The Second Mountain (2020).

Servant leadership with courage, depth and grace comes from Katherine Hayhoe, a climate scientist from Texas, who has demonstrated incredible patience with climate change denial. She has pursued with exceptional fortitude and resilience her message of care for the future of our biosphere and our grandchildren. She was once featured in Time Magazine as one of the hundred most influential women. Reverend Dr. Ray Aldred at Vancouver School of Theology is a powerful advocate for healing relations with Indigenous Canadians. His patient listening care incarnates agape love and inspires many others to participate in this dialogue and concrete reconciliation. His talk at UBC in March of 2021 gained much attention. Jim Wallis, a social compassion expert of Sojourners Community fame in Washington, DC, has put in endless hours building bridges and promoting justice though lobbying government and through social compassion work. His outreach to the poor, healing political fragmentation is promoting the common good of society as a key priority. There are many others who are finding deep meaning in helping others, in moral growth, in creating a new precedents, a new social ethos. Like genius inventor Buckminster Fuller, they want ‘a world that works for everyone.’ To the big issue at hand, Tedros Ghebreyesus, Director General of the World Health Organization, says “The reality is that vaccine inequity threatens us all: it provides the space for the virus to continue circulating and changing, increasing the risk of new, more dangerous variants emerging.”

We refer to ten things from Jim Wallis to suggest how one can be a faithful presence in family, society and work (J. Wallis, The (Un)Common Good, 2014, 297-98). At the end of the day, we must make key decisions, set strategic priorities and goals, take responsibility for our world–pursue the good, the true and the beautiful. This will invest wisely in the future for the benefit of everyone and for the planet. We believe that discovery of this integral relationship between our personal interests and those of others (the common good) is our best chance in late modernity for a brave new world of unity amidst diversity, providing social glue and hope. It is the best chance to master the Everest summit morally, spiritually, ethically and politically. It is a strong hope that we hold out for a better tomorrow as a human community, a fresh new economy of relationships. These are our suggestions, this is what we want to bring to the table of discussion, dialogue and debate. Please examine the inner merits of the position and put it to the test. It is not enough to interrogate and escape from nihilism, violence and anti-humanism. We must carve out a new space to be fully human, set new habits and precedents for a new philosophy of human flourishing (Miraslov Volf, Flourishing). It can become our new home, a new place to rest our hearts, to discover passion, joy and meaning in life.

The Power of Grace as Presence We do not have to do it all on our own, as radical individuals or prima donnas. This world is a gift from God to be enjoyed, not owned or worshipped. Grace is paramount in all our thoughts and activities. Christ helps us roll out the implications of his kingdom on earth, in time and space. His ministry, significantly, was only three years long, to demonstrate who was supposed to bring in the kingdom of grace on earth—his disciples empowered by the Holy Spirit. The church, as God’s redemptive agency for the world, should embrace its fullest calling as a conduit of this grace and a faithful presence (J.D. Hunter, 2010). We can rebuild like Nehemiah with persevering commitment and dedication. Christ, within his community, leads by example, inspiration, and empowerment of others. He calls us into our true humanity, cross-shaped, compassionate suffering and servanthood towards those for whom Christ died. Warren Brown and Brad Strawn (2012, 110) write: “the purpose of the church is the formation of a community of persons that is characterized by the reign of God, and as such, reflects God’s presence as a means of grace to the world.” A powerful moral conversion it is. German Theologian Dr. Gabriel G. Braun has written her PhD and recently published a good study on the theme of God’s presence (God’s Praise and God’s Presence, 2020).

Further examples come from Richard Foster (Streams of Living Water, 1998, 251-60) via an excellent example of such faithful presence in Dag Hammarskjöld, former President of the United Nations from his diary called Markings. Foster writes powerfully about how he allowed grace to seep down into his daily life and work for the benefit of the world of international relations.

He transformed the United Nations from a forum for conference and controversy into an agency of creative action for peace. As Henry Van Dusen has written, “probably no other individual in history has effected so large a work of mediation and pacification among nations.” (R. Foster, 1998, 259)

Foster has a couple other brilliant contributions to this discourse.

Foster on the Strengths of the Incarnation Tradition ( R. Foster, 1998, 266-7)

  1. It underscores the fact that God is truly among us in the warp and woof of our very earthly existence. “The world is charged with his grandeur.” writes Oxford poet Gerard Manley Hopkins. God is revealed in and through the material world.
  2. It roots us in everyday life, saving us from a spirituality divorced from the stresses and perturbations of ordinary life. There is respect for the secular world as the place where we live and move and have our being, the best place to practice incarnational spirituality.
  3. It gives meaning to our work. We have a heightened sense of the sacramentality of work as colabourers with God, as we bring good into the world and make a difference. See the Benedictine notion of the dignity of work or the Puritan notion of calling or vocation. We can decide to allow our entire life to be a channel of divine love.
  4. It is a valuable corrective to the Gnostic dualism of spiritual and material worlds (as we have shown in previous posts).
  5. It constantly beckons us Godward. The Sacraments shock us back into reality by making specific and concrete our identity.
  6. It makes our body a portable sanctuary through which we are daily experiencing the presence of God; learning to work in cooperation with God and in deepening dependence on God. Through his presence, we nurture the true, good and beautiful throughout society.
  7. It deepens our ecological sensitivities. We grow in our stewardship of the earth, for we know it is God’s good creation and that we must tend this garden wisely for future generations (Genesis 1-3). This is part of the cultural mandate which is rooted in the creation narrative, also impinging on the arts, political, judicial and institutional life.

Invite the Presence into Every Space: So we invite God to enter every experience of life. We invite God to set our spirit free for worship and adoration. We invite God to animate our preaching and singing and praying…. We invite God to heal our bodies. We invite God to inform our minds with creative ideas for our business [and academic] enterprises. We invite God to touch broken relationships and resolve conflicts at work and home. We invite God to make our home holy places of worship and study and work and play and love …. We invite the grace of God to come in loving response to our invocation. (R. Foster, 1998, 269)

On Presence in Our Work: We have a sense of calling, a God-given ability to do a job with a God-given enjoyment in doing it. We have a sense of responsibility to do something in our own time that has value. We have a sense of freedom from the burden of the workaholic, for we are not asked to do more than we can. We have a sense of creativity that enables us to place the autograph of our souls on the work of our hands. We have a sense of dignity, for we value people over efficiency. We have a sense of community, for we know that our life together is more important than the end product. We have a sense of solidarity with the poor to empower them to do what they cannot do by themselves. And we have a sense of meaning and purpose, for we know we are working in cooperation with God to bring the world one step closer to completion. (R. Foster, 1998, 270)

~Dr. Gordon E. Carkner, Meta-Educator with UBC Postgraduate Students, Author, Mentor.

YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCl4NgIg_ht8IZCRIhho4nxA

Taylor, C. (1989). Sources of the Self: the making of the modern identity. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Williams, R. (2005). The Truce of God: peacemaking in troubled times. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.

Wallis, J. (2014) The (Un)Common Good: how the gospel brings hope to a world divided. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos.

Brown, W.S. and B. D. Strawn (2012). The Physical Nature of Christianity: neuroscience, psychology and the church. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Hunter, J.D. (2010). To Change the World: the irony, tragedy and possibility of Christianity in the late modern world. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. 

Page, D. (2009). Servant-Empowered Leadership. Langley, B.C.: Power to Change.

Greenleaf, R.K. (1998). The Power of Servant Leadership. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.

Foster, R. (1998). Streams of Living Water: essential practices from the six great traditions of Christian faith. New York: Harper Collins.

Brooks, D. (2015). The Road to Character. New York, NY: Random House.

Brooks, D. (2020). The Second Mountain: the quest for a moral life. New York: Random House.

Braun, G.G. (2020 ). God’s Praise and God’s Presence: a biblical-theological study. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock.

Hammarksjöld, D. (1964). Markings.

Brother Lawrence (2016 Reprint). The Practice of the Presence of God. Mansfield Centre, CT: Martino Publishing.

Steiner, G. (1989). Real Presences. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Posted by: gcarkner | August 4, 2021

Incarnational Spirituality: a new horizon 11.

Incarnational Spirituality: a new horizon 11.

Self-Sacrifice, Giving of Oneself is Key to Incarnational Community

The triune God is a lively relation of three persons. My I is a Thou for God; I can only be an I because God wants to become my Thou. Human and divine realities are dialogically connected. It is God’s calling of the individual that gives each their unique worth.  One only becomes an “I” as awakened by the love of the “Thou”. The I-Thou of the Trinity finds its epiphany in the I-Thou between God and humanity, within history. Martin Buber speaks much of this vital I-Thou relationship.

In the relation of God and humanity, it is the unlimited “I” of God that calls the limited “I” of humankind into existence. To be human means to be addressed by God in the word, and to be so created in the image of God, that one can receive the word and answer the word. (Raymond Gawronski, Word & Silence, 142) 

Agape Self-Giving Love  How can we produce real character depth versus the superficial, consumer attitude? Consumer spirituality sets up believers for recruitment by cults, prosperity gospel charlatans. How do we protect them from becoming drones in a technological matrix, weaponized for nefarious politics? The church needs resilient believers who view creation and the world through the prism of the cross, who see sacrifice for the other as a great aspiration and a holy calling. We need the encouragement: Do not escape the world; do not worship or possess the world, but rather cultivate a life of love for others. This highlights the very meaning of life as service to the other. In giving oneself away, it is much easier to discover the deeper meaning and joy of life. We need an incarnational hermeneutic. How do we make Christ as suffering servant present in the world?

In the three persons, there is a versatile and dynamic oneness, yet there are also roles and primary actions that proceed uniquely from Father, Son and Spirit. God the Father: God bringing everything into being and holding everything together by his word. God the Son: God entering our history, showing God in action in human terms that we can recognize, accomplishing salvation for all. God the Spirit: God present with and in us, inviting us, guiding and counselling us, wooing us into participation in all God’s ways of being God. All these operations of God are in evidence as Paul directs and accompanies us in the process of growing up in Christ. (E. Peterson, Practice Resurrection,2010, 197)

Gnostics seek glory without suffering, strive to go around suffering or drown pain in pleasures, adventure, consumerism, social media, or binging on movies. In contrast to such escapist thinking, Christianity is more about obedience than knowledge, or a fulsome knowing that only emerges through obedience–faithful presence. The alternative facing us today is either Promethean arrogance or the greatness of humble obedience. Christian faith is primarily a listening obedience to a Person and the service to the sister or brother for whom Christ died (not a quest for a light that is greater than God). Love and obedience are united at the core (John 14: 21). On topic, former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams writes: “At its center and permeating its relationships is the conviction that truth can only be shown and spoken in compassion—attention to the other, respect for and delight in the other, and also the willingness to receive loving attention in return.” (R. Williams, 2005, 123)

We are suggesting that Gnostics can be lured away from their fantasies, disengagement and isolation into sacrificial community where people flourish as robust community. They discover a fresh human dynamic and learn the skills of listening, empathy, patience and compassion, practical actionable behaviour that builds up. This can provide a safe home as belonging, trust and servanthood grow. The passion of Christ is a statement that God is love at core, even through the deepest darkness. The cross is the unsurpassable  goal of the incarnation, the final stop in the descent of the Son (Philippians 2). The Logos becomes incarnate in the man Jesus in a selfless act to redeem mankind, giving up part of his freedom for the human other. It is a move from above. This is the opposite of Gnosticism where one seeks to rise from beneath to become one with the Absolute. Christ Incarnate displays the amazing self-giving character of God. Tom Holland (2019, 103) captures it:

The Son of God, by becoming mortal, had redeemed all humanity. Not as a leader of armies, not as the conqueror of Caesars, but as a victim, the Messiah had come. The message was as novel as it was shocking–and was to prove well suited to an age of trauma.

Tübingen theologian Christoph Schwöbel (1992, 76) notes that divine goodness, a communion of love, “finds its social form in the community of believers as the reconstituted form of life of created and redeemed sociality.” The point is that this community is called to communicate, mediate, and live into their baptism, live into and mediate such divine goodness. They are called to promote the virtues of charity, humility, reconciliation and mercy as a redeeming influence in society. Award winning historian Tom Holland notes how influential this has been down the centuries continuing to this day (Dominion: How the Christian Revolution Remade the World). He reminds us that Christian imagination has been vital in shaping our culture with its values. The old ethics of raw greedy acquisition and ‘conquer or be conquered’ barbarity is not the last word. Through this contemporary living incarnation, average people are invited to become entrepreneurs of the abundant goodness of God in the places that they live, move and have their being. Goodness operates at a deeper depth than suffering and evil and helps people get perspective on their lives and suffering. They learn to suffer with one another–compassion. This international community welcomes the challenge to engage human brokenness without becoming crushed by it, to treat people with dignity. 

Goodness as we define it as divine transcendent trinitarian goodness is no idealistic fantasy. It is empowered in the human theatre and human relationships through this accessible I-Thou relationship. This aspect of the incarnation is a profound sign that God has invited humans into communion within the Trinity. This communion offers a ground for social being itself, the basic framework of human community. In this sense, Jesus is the hermeneutic of a new, reconciled humanity, drawn from all the nations, religions and ideologies around the globe, inviting us to climb up to higher moral and spiritual plane. This high calling of suffering love is promoting a new way of seeing, the way of becoming renewed people in communities small and large–demonstrating the plausibility of resurrection life. It is a call to a new humanity committed to practice forgiveness, gratitude and making peace, to become a life-giving presence, a sacrament of grace

It may look tough at first because of the gap from where we now stand, but we are not alone. In community, roped together, we work as a team, receive gifts from others and learn how to share our giftedness. Christian community is all about gift and grace. These gifts, this transcendent economy of giftedness, makes life rich and meaningful, surprising and delightful (C. Schrag, 1997, 139-143). It engages us at the various interfaces and transitions of our lives. We bravely face the quest for a new identity. The chaos, bigotry and greed within our world inspire us to take action, to use our giftedness for the benefit of others. This is the way out of the cultural prison camp of nihilism in late modernity:

We depersonalize God to an idea to be discussed. We reduce people around us to resources to be used. We define ourselves as consumers to be satisfied. The more we do it, the more we incapacitate ourselves from growing up to a maturity capable of living adult lives of love, adoration, trust and sacrifice…. In our identity-confused society, too many of us have settled for a pastiche identity composed of social security number, medical records, academic degrees, job history, and whatever fragments of genealogy we can salvage. (E. Peterson 2010, 66, 79) 

We become empowered and resilient. Within incarnational community, human suffering, vulnerabilities and alienation can be taken seriously and dealt with through communal care: our pain finds meaning and redemptive power. Jesus of Nazareth accepted the mandate of the Suffering Servant spoken of by Isaiah the 8th century BCE prophet. He is the servant who empathizes with our vulnerabilities. He does not stand far off. He is the servant who suffers with us while protesting against the way things stand. The call of Abraham and of Isreal was to become a blessing to the nations, tous le monde. Jimmy Myers captures it succinctly: 

He [Jesus] exemplifies and creates a people committed to what David Bentley Hart calls ‘strange, impractical, altogether unworldly tenderness’ to those whom Nietzsche would have annihilated [and Hitler did]…. The beauty of this person, wholly man and wholly God, lies in the mystery that he brings salvation to the world not by excluding suffering but by uniting himself to it. (J. Myers, First Things, 2015) 

Jesus’ compassion offers moral spine to the incarnational community, and in turn to the larger human community, as an exemplar and pioneer. He models and mentors us in the virtues and the graces of a brave new world. At the end of his life, Nietzsche (Dionysus Versus the Crucified) realized that it came down to a choice between the Christ (suffering love) and Dionysus (self-indulgence, narcissism and entitlement). Nietsche despised Christian agape love and the vulnerable concern for the weak, the victim. Late moderns would do well to ponder the consequences of such a choice, as they continue to stare into their own personal abyss. Jesus’ suffering is not weak, frustrating or pathetic, but rather a highly effective, healing, redemptive love. He brings to an end the human obsession with sacrifices and scapegoating behavior (René Girard, 1978 and 2012). He breaks the back of evil and helps us expose its dark mechanisms and tactics, its weaponized lies. He is the ultimate victim who calls a moratorium on all victimization and violence against the neighbour. 

He [Jesus] brings the whole festival of divine grace to a world that has excluded itself from it and invites… humanity to take part, to enjoy a feast of resurrection where all divisions, segregation, and exclusion are transcended, where all have their place at the supper of the Lamb, where all, who see the face of the Beautiful One and in that seeing are transformed, are inundated and radiated by Beauty itself. In a word, to paraphrase St. Athanasius, he becomes the Ugly One so that we, the original ugly ones who have made this world ugly with our violence, might become beautiful. (J. Myers, First Things, 2015)

Jesus is also a sign of anger against, and rejection of, exploitation, victimization, marginalization and injustice. In fact, all ancient and modern prophetic traditions have been concerned with justice for the poor and marginalized. He is intolerant of evil and cruelty, opposing ideals, institutions and structures that seek to undermine human flourishing and seek to exploit others for personal gain or lust. Moreover, he is against politicizing religion, against using public rage for the purpose of controlling the masses. David Bentley Hart (2009) makes an excellent case for the transformative power of Christian love in shaping history and institutions. This agape community provides a home (Luke 6), a safe space of refuge amidst the challenges, conflicts, tragedies, and transitions of life. It addresses directly the pressures from the tectonic plates of our time—inequity, xenophobia, refugees, climate concerns, international debt, and terrorism. 

The agape community offers a space where we can become persons in a fulsome sense. It offers hermeneutical capacity to exegete life differently. It gives us ideas and courage to embrace the virtues. It provides a context for peacemaking and reconciliation. “Peace does not come without integrity, wholeness of human desire.” (R. Williams, 2005, 103). Incarnate communal life releases us from unconscious fear, anxiety, defensiveness and the ingrained compulsions of rivalry. We recover the art of contemplation: awareness of our vulnerability, interdependence, mutuality, contingency and humility in the presence of the divine and human other. Jesus followers, at their most authentic, do not accept injustice and violence, oppression and exploitation as the inevitable human condition.

For example, the United Nations International Charter of Human Rights is a landmark statement on the value of each human being and how they ought to be treated. It draws philosophical nourishment from incarnate spirituality. Charles Malik, former President of the UN General Assembly, was a key player in drafting the document and getting a majority of nations to sign. He was motivated by his Christian faith and his concern for justice and peace in the world after an immensely destructive World War II rooted in hate. Jesus’ followers interrupt the victimization of others and call the aggressors out on their bullying tactics (M. Volf, Exclusion and Embrace, 1996). They do not promote or tolerate social chaos and anarchy. They carve out a redemptive path, a hope for truth, forgiveness and reconciliation amidst the conflicts of life. Another example of this courageous stance is the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in both South Africa and Rwanda.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. saw how the solidarity of mutual love could empower social change and call us to our better selves. He understood the critical testimony of the ‘Beloved Community’ rooted in the ethics of the Sermon on the Mount. This kind of suffering love is depicted in the feature film Selma; it came from a deep, non-violent faith base. It was a daily experience for him and his colleagues to risk life itself on this love. His dream continually called people to the mountaintop of virtue, reconciliation, hope and justice. 

When Jesus is asked by his disciples who will be first in his kingdom, he tells them it will be the servants of all. Humility is one of the most poorly appreciated values in our intensely competitive culture, economy and politics. (J. Wallis, 2014, 49). 

One key historical marker for the inauguration of the new community is the resurrection. Bishop Lesslie Newbigin calls it a starting point, a singularity that cannot be explained by anything prior. It stands as a new beginning, a brilliant hope for change. The resurrection represents a cultural breakthrough. This is why Eugene Peterson (Practice Resurrection, 2010) focuses a whole book on growing up into maturity in Christ around the theme of resurrection. Articulate writer Andy Crouch captures its profound cultural and historical impact. 

The resurrection was a culture-shaping event…. If indeed it happened as Jesus’ followers proclaimed, [it] changed more of subsequent human history, for more people and more cultures, than any other event one can name… The resurrection of Jesus is like a cultural earthquake, its epicenter located in Jerusalem in the early 30’s [C.E.], whose aftershocks are being felt in the cultural practices of people all over the world, many of whom have never heard of, and many more of whom have never believed in, its origins…. The resurrection is the hinge of history–still after two thousand years as culturally far-reaching in its effects as anything that has come since…. It is a cultural triumph–an answer, right in the midst of human history, to all the fears of Israel in the face of its enemies…. Indeed one of the most dramatic cultural effects of the resurrection is the transformation of that heinous cultural artifact known as a cross. An instrument of domination and condemnation becomes a symbol of the kingdom that Jesus proclaimed; an alternative culture where grace and forgiveness are the last word…. The cross, the worst that culture can do, is transformed into a sign of the kingdom of God–the realm of forgiveness, mercy, love and indestructible life. (A. Crouch, 2008, 143, 145, 146) 

The incarnation is a game changer, a paradigm shift, regarding how we discover our individuality and spiritual wholeness. Within the outlook of moral-communal inclusiveness rather than through the pursuit of radical autonomy, our perspective can be altered for the good. We are capable of living alternative lifestyles, ones that are rooted in contemplation, compassion, receptivity, responsiveness to the aspirations and needs of others. The mutual respect of collaboration, cooperation and complementarity subverts fear, mistrust, and tribalism. It reduces violence as we seek new and fruitful ways of being human together. This perspective can handle difference, diversity, and plurality without fragmentation or ghettoization. It can help mitigate the centrifugal forces that seek to fragment contemporary society, providing a strong source of the good, and a centre that can hold. The alternative is just too frightening and destructive to consider. 

~Dr. Gordon E. Carkner PhD, Meta-Educator with UBC Postgraduate Students, Author of Mapping the Future, Mentor.

Taylor, C. (1989). Sources of the Self: the making of the modern identity. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Williams, R. (2005). The Truce of God: peacemaking in troubled times. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.

Zimmermann, J. (2012). Incarnational Humanism: a philosophy of culture for the church. Downers Grave, IL: IVP Academic.

Crouch, A. (2008). Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling. Downer’s Grove, Il: IVPress.

Peterson, E. H. (2010). Practice Resurrection: a conversation on growing up in Christ. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.

Gawronski, R. (2015). Word and Silence: Hans Urs Von Balthasar and the Spiritual Encounter Between East and West 3rd edition. Kettering, OH: Angelico Press.

Wallis, J. (2014) The (Un)Common Good: how the gospel brings hope to a world divided. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos.

Schrag, C. (1997). The Self After Postmodernity. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Myers, J. ( July 25, 2015). Is it True that “The World Will be Saved by Beauty?” First Things Journal.

Schwöbel, C. (1992). “God’s Goodness and Human Morality.” In C. Schwöbel, God: Action and Revelation (63-82). Kampen, Holland: Pharos.

Girard, R. (2001). I See Satan Fall Like Lightning. Orbis Books.

Hart, D. B. (2009). Atheist Delusions: the Christian Revolution and its Fashionable Enemies. Yale University Press.

Volf, M. (1996). Exclusion and Embrace: a Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness and Reconciliation. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press.

Postscript: Good & Evil according to Chantal Delsol, Icarus Fallen.

Definition of Evil: the Greek concept of diabolos–“he who separates, divides through aversion and hate; he who makes unjust accusations, denigrates, slanders; he who envies, admits his repugnancy.” The absolute Evil identified by our contemporary takes the form of racism, exclusion or totalitarianism. The last in fact appears as the epitome of separation, since it atomizes societies, functions by means of terror and denouncement, and is determined to destroy human bonds (examples: apartheid and xenophobia). (61)

Definition of the Good: For contemporary man, the notions of solidarity and fraternity, and the different expressions of harmony between classes, age groups, peoples, are still associated with goodness. The man of our time is similar to the man of any time insofar as he prefers friendship to hate and indifference, social harmony to internal strife, peace to war, and the united family to the fragmented family. In other words, he seeks relationship, union, agreement, and love, and fears distrust, ostracism, contempt, and the destruction of his fellow…. The good has the face of fellowship, no matter what name it is given, be it love, the god of Aristotle, or the God of the Bible. (62)

The certitude of the good finds its guarantee in the attraction it induces. The separation of the diabolos occurs constantly, but one day or another it will be pursued by mortal shame…. By experience, we know that evil lies in the excesses of [a particular] good. That is why we refuse to search for the rational foundations of the good, why we voluntarily allow our conception of the good to remain purely instinctual. (62, 63)

Posted by: gcarkner | August 1, 2021

Incarnational Spirituality: a new horizon 10.

Gnostic Spirituality: Dis-Incarnate Faith

Four Working Assumptions + Seven Theological Markers

1.   Modern Gnosticism is a highly individualistic quest for personal and spiritual self-invention or re-invention. One senses the need to seek one’s own individual destiny—to become a god or goddess. This contains the goal of a higher spiritual plane (moving towards the Light) than traditional religion, a higher plane than scientific knowledge. What is at stake is the primacy of self, choice, personal freedom and self-actualization. One is shooting for the higher, enlightened self and thus one must consume various spiritual experiences along the way. Gurus offer special knowledge for the journey, spiritual secrets (Gnosis). How I feel about myself and how I define myself is critically important. I must transcend groups, institutions and covenants and the way they define me. At core, Gnosticism is the gospel of self-idolization. It is a race for the top through performance: towards perhaps super-wealth, success, happiness or bliss. Salvation is all about transformation of the inner pneumatic individual.

2.   The world we live in is inferior, flawed, broken, dark, chaotic, confusing: god, the creator (demiurge), did a bad job. It is the world that holds me back from my true and ultimate spiritual fulfilment. Some Gnostics believe the physical world is evil, matter itself is evil, confining, restrictive with respect to the soul–dualistic anthropology. The individual must transcend all this pain, suffering, struggle and tragedy by means of disengagement from the world, retreat, losing desire for the world. The spiritual is above (outside of) the physical world. This world is not my home but an alien, offensive place into which I have been tragically thrown. Hell is other people; society is the problem, not me.

3.   To flourish, one must escape the world, its confines and restrictions for a new utopia, a new ideal form of existence. To reach this goal, one must transgress given limits: gender, sex, white male domination, divine moral tenets, family, institutions. The escape can involve travel to other planets, drugs, extreme sports, extreme makeover, or extreme lifestyle. The job is to become an original, a revolutionary. This has led some into loss of discernment regarding good and evil, right and wrong with the attendant victimization that follows. Others have become vulnerable to cult leaders, dictators, health and wealth gospelers, Ponzi schemes, charlatans of various sorts. Some egregious crimes have been perpetrated by Gnostic leaders and gurus. At core, there is a fundamental denial of death (Ernest Becker).

4.   The Gnostic Ghost: We discover in the mix a sacrifice of true personhood for a fantasy world of one’s own creation. Dream is more important than reality. There is a deep dissatisfaction with the paradoxes of being human. The ghost projects an image of self through a monologue of strong rhetoric. Built in is a commitment-phobia, a rebellion against moral code, personal responsibility and sacrifice for the other or the common good. The Gnostic is involved in a ‘revolution of release from restraint’. Freedom of choice is of the essence—consumerism writ large. One finds in the ghost an obsession for continual change and a passion to accessorize: hair colour, tattoos, clothing, jewellery, crystals. But all this can leave the Gnostic Ghost feeling isolated, disengaged and fragile.

Theological Articulations of Gnosticism

Hans Urs von Balthasar’s Seven Markers 

Summary from Kevin Mongrain, 2002, 33-37, but also based on Raymond Gawronski’s fine work on Balthasar, Word and Silence, 2015).

Gnosticism chooses mysticism over mystery, aesthetic mythologies over incarnational revelation or theological aesthetics, negation of personality over uniqueness of persons, resigned agnosticism over affirmation of the Word who claimed to be the Truth, Nothingness of Nirvana over Fullness of Being.

  • Gnosticism prefers ahistorical, a priori myths or speculative theories over against the contingent events of history. For example of such epic positions, see Hegel’s philosophy of Absolute Spirit. Karl Marx invented his secular utopia with the ruling proletariat and the mythology of a “new man” based on Hegelian dialectical materialism.
  • It rejects belief that the divine transcends the categories of human thinking. The divine must be mastered in a priori theories (Neo-Platonism, 19th century German Idealism, materialistic naturalism, pantheism or panentheism). Therefore, it is highly abstract and rationalistic. Some of these theories are quite destructive.
  • It is inherently disdainful of the Christian claim that the eternal God entered time, became incarnate as a human being. Believing in a larger gap between the human and divine realms, it resorts to mysticism to cross the gap. The Gnostic worldview tends to see Yahweh the Creator as beneath them and Jesus as a created aeon or much lesser divine being. Hubris arises from the theory that there is a God behind God (a Monad), an unknown abyss behind the Creator God, a hidden Light at the top. God (“The One”) is hidden and ineffable. It is ironic that Gnostics consider themselves as pneumatics (higher spiritual élites exploring the divine spark within) to be more sublime than the master builder of the universe.
  • This gives rise to a variety of alternative religious systems: redemption is stated in terms of a priori metaphysical laws. Humans must save themselves. Two types: a. Dualist—soul must escape the material world (often seen as evil); b. Monist—offers enlightenment through a grand universal theory (rationalism, scientism, pantheism, evolutionism) and dispels all differences, all relatives in favour of the supremacy of the Absolute.
  • The Gnostic view of the meaning of Christ is not glorification of creation but negation of creation in its materiality, temporality and multiplicity. The individual must de-create themselves and escape vertically into the infinite, impersonal Absolute.
  • It is often highly élitist and extremely ascetic. It is salvation by knowledge and mastery of self and others. This makes it secretive and insular, open only to the specially initiated, like Yale University’s Skull & Bones Society or the Masons. Michel Foucault’s ethics has this self-mastery element to it in his technology of self and has influenced many. Zen was the tradition of the elite in China and Japan, and now in the post-Christian West. Yoga has also grown its influence in the West. 
  • Discursive thought or I-Thou dialogue is spurned. God the Creator is scorned in favour of silence which is present with God ‘above’ or ‘behind’ God. It involves a monological movement of self-explanation, self-invention, self-divinization. The individual becomes one with ultimate being or non-being (Zen).

The central assertion of Gnosticism is that there is an essential connection between the human and divine spirits. God and the human spirits are so ontically fused that self-knowledge is equivalent to knowledge of God. Therefore, faith is superfluous; the key here is gnosis (knowledge). Swiss theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar sees Gnosticism as a direct opposition to incarnational thinking.

He promotes agonisme or resistance to Gnostic tendencies. There is little or nothing in Gnosticism of the centrality of justice and peacemaking, public responsibility, civic virtues and politics, ecological concerns and the importance of place, time and history. It involves the trajectory of the via negativa or so-called negative theology, ultimately landing us in the silence of nihilism, the un-word. Zen is the apex in Asia of such negative theology, absolute nothingness, Non-Being or Nirvana = Samsara. (See my YouTube video comparing The Way of Zen and The Way of the Incarnation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=67VP83R5mwQ).

Zen represents the most intense, the extreme human attempt to escape the limits of the human condition. It implies annihilation of God, man and the world. Raymond Gawronski summarizes the problem that Balthasar astutely recognizes: i.e. this radical religious nihilism where the Absolute is ineffable. It is a natural religion without grounds:

Natural man tries to escape from this world of limitation, finitude, death. Individualistic schemes of salvation lead him to dissolve his individual humanity or to dissolve his ties with the rest of humanity in attempts at union with the Absolute. In the end, all systems of natural religion or religious philosophy are based on attempts at identity. Without the revelation that comes from a personal God, a personal Absolute, reason tends to take over and reason projects itself as a monologue, the union is ultimately with oneself…. The way of human religion and religious philosophy is the way of ascent—towards God to be sure, but most significantly away from the world of multiplicity, individuality, relativity…. One is in danger of losing both the world and God. There remains absolute emptiness, Nirvana…. The ascent is always the way of silence [negation]. (R. Gawronski, 2015, 69-70)

The spiritual vacuum left by a technological society seems to have created the hunger for Zen in the West. The Western soul is searching for something/anything spiritual after becoming technologized to the point of emptiness. Balthasar is sharp on connecting the gnostic outlook of 19th century German Idealism and eastern religions like Zen. There is also a link between Neo-Platonism and Buddhism. I have often suspected this; he confirmed it. This is part of the quest to be one in identity with ultimate being and lose one’s individual self in the process, Identitas Entis. British public intellectual Jonathan Sacks (now deceased) spoke of Plato’s problematic influence on contemporary globalization in his very insightful volume The Dignity of Difference (especially the chapter entitled “Dignity of Difference: Exorcizing Plato’s Ghost” 2002, 45-66). He writes to contrast Platonism to the biblical God. He believes that Platonism contributes to tribalism and the clash of civilizations. 

He [God] is a particularist, loving each of his children for what they are…. God, author of diversity, is the unifying presence within diversity…. A God of your side as well as mine must be a God of justice who stands above us both, teaching us to make space for one another, to hear each other’s claims and resolve them equitably. Only such a God would be truly transcendent—greater not only than the natural universe but also than the spiritual universe, capable of being comprehended in any human language, from any single point of view. Only such a God can teach mankind to make peace other than by conquest and conversion, and as something nobler than practical necessity. (J. Sacks, 2002, 56 and 65)

Gnosticism is a faulty attempt to answer the big existential human questions of longing for God, personal transformation, guilt of existence, identity, shame, suffering and death. Its spirituality is dis-incarnate, other-worldly. We trust that this brief overview will lead to some good debate and dialogue about the contrast between incarnational and Gnostic spirituality. We sometimes gain more clarity about what we believe through contrast.

~Dr. Gordon E. Carkner, PhD Philosophical Theology, Meta-Educator with UBC Postgraduate Students, Author, Mentor, Blogger.

YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCl4NgIg_ht8IZCRIhho4nxA

Gawronski, R. (2015). Word and Silence: Hans Urs Von Balthasar and the Spiritual Encounter Between East and West 3rd edition. Kettering, OH: Angelico Press.

Mongrain, K. (2002). The Systematic Theology of Hans Urs von Balthasar: an Irenaean Retrieval. New York, NY: Crossroad Publishing Company.

Sacks, J. (2001). The Dignity of DifferenceHow to Avoid the Clash of Civilizations. London, UK: Continuum. 

Posted by: gcarkner | July 23, 2021

Incarnational Spirituality: a new horizon 9.

The Journey through Community to Communion: Becoming One 

“I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:23 ESV) Jesus’ prayer was rooted in the very heart of God. For 2,000 years, it has been a journey for billions of becoming like Christ—in communion with God. We continue in this noble quest, listening to God’s Spirit, asking him where we are in the process, and to call us into deeper communion. 

Human unity naturally operates within the context of community— the spirit of one-anotherness. Made in the image of God, we intuitively sense a feeling of solidarity as we come together in cooperation. We also gain insight into the essence of God as Trinity: three-ness and one-ness. The journey toward communion is sometimes long and arduous, but also exciting and full of surprises. In this short reflection, my deep longings and fulfillment emerge.

To say that I am made in the image of God is to say that love is the reason for my existence, for God is love. Love is my true identity. Selflessness is my true self. Love is my true character. Love is my name. If, therefore, I do anything or think anything or say anything or know anything that is not purely for the love of God, it cannot give me peace, or rest, or fulfilment, or joy. To find love I must enter into the sanctuary where it is hidden, which is the mystery of God. (Thomas Merton, Seeds of Contemplation, 1986, 60, 61)

Community Discovery in My Family Story

As an only child (born of European immigrants), the absence of competition for their attention made things simple. I lived in love and unity with my parents, a sweet treasure indeed. The first shock to this situation came at age seven as my parents decided to introduce me to my European relatives for the first time—the paternal side of my family. It was the beginning of numerous introductions to our extended family, in what was then West Germany. This coincided with their initial return to Europe since they emigrated to Canada in 1953. They fled Communist East Germany as newlyweds, risking it all on this new venture, starting from the economic bottom.

I was wide-eyed with awe meeting all these new relations as a young, naïve Canadian schoolgirl. My heart was racing with anticipation. I found myself sitting around a table with my parents, my father’s two sisters and a brother-in-law and my three cousins. I studied their features, manner and speech for a familiar resemblance and ring. The adults would exchange intense pre- and post-war stories. There was weeping from so much loss and suffering, mixed with robust laughter and sheer joy in each other’s company. It was a larger than life experience for me, almost surreal. 

My first tense political experience, however, came on another occasion as Mom and I were granted visas to return to the soil from which they fled as a young couple—the former German Democratic Republic (DDR/East Germany). The imposing and hostile Berlin Wall looked down on us an open display of ‘a great divide’ between eastern and western powers. It was rife with the tension of dark rain clouds, guards and angry dogs. As an aside, my father, feeling unsafe, never did cross again into the East after leaving for Canada. This journey with my mother was profound: an opportunity to bridge thousands of miles of distance between our families on her side. Through the various visits by plane and train, alienation has faded into love, joy and the kindest community imaginable. Our precious family was now united despite the political tensions. My East and West were one again through our visits. The wall eventually came down in 1989 as the Soviet Union crumbled and the two Germanies finally reunited in 1990 under Helmut Kohl.  

Witnessing the Fall of the Berlin Wall

Spiritual Longing (Sehnsucht)

One dear, hospitable aunt in the East during the cold war, was most curious for information about life beyond the Wall. Anneliese posed the question about my wonderful experience of community during my sabbatical year of global travel, age 29: “Ute, how could you have come to know all those strangers that you speak about from various countries? How is it that you were invited into their homes, their lives, met their children, ate meals with them? Those conversations provided such an education. How is this even possible?” My aunt’s curiosity was bursting with longing for the kind of communion that was definitely possible among God’s people whom I enjoyed in different countries. But people, even in the small village where my aunt and cousins lived, were taught to be suspicious of each other during the Communist era—the opposite of unity. It was more Darwinian: Trust no one because your life and safety depends on it!

Fullness of Communion is Costly and Humbling

John 17: 20-23 reflects Jesus’ heart for the power of communion between heaven and earth: “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me. That they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.” ESV

This section of Jesus’ prayer was illumined to me while I was engaged at age 22 with a Canadian Lutheran youth ministry team in India. As a team of eight students, we were asked to host four services that Easter Sunday. I lead one. Witnessing the stark diversity in India and speaking out of this text, a chorus began to rise from within the heart and soul of our team: “That we may be one… that we may be one. Jesus is praying that we may be one.” We sang this daily throughout our eye-opening subcontinent tour, at each venue. I came to such a deep conviction. Because Christ’s actions are always consistent with the will of his Father, his prayer is destined to reach its fulfilment. He himself has introduced to us the way of unity by praying us into the inter-relationships with the members of the Trinity. Our deep and real union with Christ is actually a taste of his union with the Father (I and my Father are one). This relationship within the Trinity is a beautiful model for human communion across difference and diversity, even conflict. 

It is one of the implications of this trinitarian conception of divine agency that the intentionality of divine action is not to be inferred from the structure of the world God has created, but has to be understood as grounded in the revelation in the Son. It is this paradigmatic action that is authenticated by the inspiration of the Spirit which then provides the framework for the interpretation of God’s work in creation. In a similar way the character of the work of the Spirit as inspiration indicates how God involves human beings in the realization of his intentions. It is the context of the interrelatedness of creation, revelation and inspiration that we can talk about God’s action in terms of free, intentional action. (German theologian Christoph Schwöbel, 1992, 70)

Jesus dramatically revealed to us this dynamic oneness. Beyond our clan, family or tribe, we have this God-given reality to back up our quest for community and communion. The desire for unity, demonstrated by years of tears and repentance, led to the dissipation of enmity and to the final 1989 deconstruction of the Berlin Wall. What a celebration! After forty-four years of hostility and cold war angst between political rivals, there came a new hope that walls of all sorts between various people will be deconstructed. We long to mature our understanding of Paul’s words in Ephesians 2:14-16: “For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new human community in place of two, making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing hostility.”  ESV

Paul was making reference to alienated Jews and Gentiles in the Greco-Roman world becoming one community in Christ. There is still work to be done in our time regarding repentance, responsibility, truth  and reconciliation. Recently on the steps of the Vancouver Art Gallery, I paused with my daughter dumbstruck seeing multiple toys, shoes and boots to represent Indigenous children lost during a dark period of Canadian history. They represented unmarked graves of precious young ones who were made in God’s image. We felt the tears of the angels. We must remember them and do better.

Our being in the image of God is also our standing among others in the stream of love, which is that facet of God’s life we try to grasp, very inadequately, in speaking of the Trinity. Now it makes a whole lot of difference whether you think this kind of love is a possibility for us humans. I think it is, but only to the extent that we open ourselves up to God, which means in fact, overstepping the limits set by Nietzsche and Foucault. (Charles Taylor, 1999, 35)

As we let go of suspicion and enmity, we enter a life of contrition and repentance towards hope for human communion. This is the route to the heart of God, the route through all our hearts towards the world. Such a trajectory moves us towards a credible posture. Our unity within the body of Christ commends the gospel of peace to a divided world. As Michael Cassidy of African Enterprise states in The Church Jesus Prayed For, “However, defaced or damaged the image is in another, it is never to be diminished and can never be destroyed.” The incarnation and the cross of Christ have opened the gate to mature unity amidst diversity and difference.

That most poignant image of hope, the Kingdom of God, expresses the relation of free divine love and loving human freedom together in depicting the ultimate purpose of God’s action as the perfected community of love with his creation. (Christoph Schwöbel, 1995, 80)

~Ute Carkner, guest blog.

Taylor, C. (1999). In J.L. Heft (S.M.). (Ed.). A Catholic Modernity? Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Schwöbel, C. (1992). God’s Goodness and Human Morality. In C. Schwöbel, God: Action and revelation (pp. 63-82). Kampen, Holland: Pharos.

Schwöbel, C. (1995). Imago Libertatis: Human and Divine Freedom. In C. Gunton (Ed.) God & Freedom: Essays in historical and systematic theology (pp. 57-81). Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark.

Merton, T. (1986). Seeds of Contemplation. New Directions Publication

Posted by: gcarkner | July 15, 2021

Incarnational Spirituality: a new horizon 8.

Incarnational Spirituality: a new horizon 8

The Quest for Communion & Community

Life in the kingdom builds upward momentum. Incarnational spirituality moves us from arrogant Gnostic individualism and boisterous self-assertion to humble servant leadership, mutuality and hospitality. The trajectory is towards a virtuous society. It takes us away from pure self-interest and god-like superiority, and leads us toward respect and responsibility for the other. We escape our isolation, aloofness and indifference, the neuroses of the aesthetic self, and we enter courageously into embedded, embodied vulnerability and trust. It leads us out of our sensuality and sloth into a group adventure that is grounded and hopeful. We move into spiritual formation within community.

In Part III of The Physical Nature of Christianity, Warren Brown and Brad Strawn (2012) write about complex dynamical systems and how this relates to Christian spiritual formation. Their claim is that it is the key context in which people change and are transformedIt is often assumed that speaking to the individual, and encouraging them to change or set high goals is the key strategy component of discipleship. The individual remains important, but it is our significant relationships that actually heal us, as many counsellors would corroborate. We see this tension playing out among the high achiever surgeons on Grey’s Anatomy. Without reconciling significant relationships, they are unable to do their job. Brown and Strawn encourage leaders to pay more attention to entities like social networks, mutual shaping experiences, clusters of relationships, and mutual imitative reinforcement, ideas that they draw from research in the social and behavioural sciences. 

This book offers vital advice for leaders and educators. In church, we often focus too intensely on the individual believer (or potential believer), on feeding them the right information or posing a challenge that will change their outlook, build their character or set their destiny. Are we not catering to the Gnostic mood of the day (radical individualism) when we are so oriented to pitching to the individual with all their desires, quirks, and sense of entitlement. Social formation of people within networks and clusters begs for more attention as we seek to imitate Christ. Millennials and Gen Z could be well-served with this approach, mobilized to contribute through these powerful small groups and networks: where they can begin to learn the art of self-sacrifice and agape love. Ghosts could be transformed into givers, value-adders and lively covenant participants. As mutual trust and commitment grows, it is much easier to ask for help to heal from one’s addictions,  “PTSD” or woundedness. Henri Nouwen called this an environment for wounded healers. I can strongly attest to the value of this approach during my formative adolescent years.

The notion of emptying of self in love characterizes Balthasar’s view of reality, from the relations within the Trinity, through the creation, incarnation and saving work of Christ, on to the expected response of the creature in self-giving love” (R. Gawronski, 2015, 163). 

The incomprehensible love of God meets humanity through the incarnation on understandable and practical terms in the social realm. Jesus Christ addresses each human being individually: each must decide if they will bear the Name of Christ, but immediately he draws them into a family environment. They see and are seen, know and are known, accept and are accepted, experience hospitality and generously share their resources. This process of maturity comes to full fruition within dynamic community, creative dialogue, and growing communion with the Trinity. This process bestows an eternal dignity and healthy self-worth.

Further, Incarnational spirituality reminds us that we are storied, communal selves within a covenant of love, not ghostly techno-hermits playing video games until 4:00 a.m. Respected American sociologist Brené Brown in Rising Strong (2015, 39f) claims that we need to own our stories however difficult or painful. She offers hope that we can re-write them with different outcomes: transcending fate, despair, addiction, dysfunctionality, shame and loneliness. But we cannot do without a larger story of redemption to help us envision this healing possibility. The Bible contains such a narrative. Hermeneutically, Christ is the core inner logic of scripture. The drama of the Word unfolds wonderfully in the breadth of scripture and the life of the church.

We read the Old Testament through fresh eyes, employing the  Jesus story and its teaching— a Christological reading. In light of Christ, we can capture the full narrative journey away from God, back to God, with God, for God, to the glory of God (lostness, alienation, recovery, reckoning, communion). It is a powerful insight to see the entire biblical narrative as the vehicle for God’s transformative work in human culture (Tom Holland, Dominion). God pursues and works with us at our worst, as well as our best, and our story can and does often change. Redemption in and through the incarnate Christ blossoms into harmonious social communion without dismissing the importance of the individual. “In redeeming the created order, Christ redeems social relationships among creatures, relationships that are intrinsic to created human nature” (K. Mongrain, 2002, 199).

It is the real, incarnate, suffering man Jesus who by what he is gives glory to God far greater than any suffering–free schemes of the Gnostics. Other religions all seek to free man from pain and death through liberation or at most great indifference: for Christianity, Christ by taking on himself the world’s guilt and sin on the cross, becomes the greatest proof that God is love.… The Cross is God’s last word about himself. (R. Gawronski, 2015, 180)

An authentic story acts like a good map. Story charts our course but simultaneously unlocks meaning, forms bridges, making sense of disparate ideas and experiences. We see beyond the weeds in our life, to the depth of what is at stake in our trajectory.

The Christian life involves re-understanding our entire lives and the whole world in the light of God’s revelation…. Creation and covenant map our existence, and we need to learn how to read the maps and use a compass to find our way through the territory. (E. Peterson, Practice Resurrection, 172)

Our character develops as we face adversity and our story helps solidify the meaning in our struggles and pain. For example, a creative colleague of mine, Dr. Laurel Borisenko, worked for the United Nations assisting African refugees. She discovered that theatre presentations of their struggle connected them with a healing path. She helped them use their creative imagination to tell their stories of displacement, suffering, poverty and violence. The story of the COVID-19 pandemic does not end with lockdowns and death. There are heroes and villains, but also a future, a new dawn on the horizon. Deeper roots in a tradition free us to move forward in hope with gratitude and joy, make us more resilient to the daily buffeting of adversity. We are released from the dark victimhood to fate—cosmic or social determinism.

Post-Resurrection Presence: Beyond Jesus’ profound bodily presence on earth, he has also been present in his community (John 14-17; Ephesians 4; Romans 12). As agape love incarnate, he left a following to carry the beautiful vision forward, and he commissioned a mentored leadership–the Apostles–to anchor us. This unique community is a historical and real extension of the incarnation. This diverse, worldwide community of Christians (now more than two billion souls) offers a cultural presence, performance and embodiment of God’s goodness on planet earth. It remains an influence of salt and light conscience for society, socially locating divine goodness in diverse places around the globe: pushing for hope, recovery and maturity.

Moreover, it is having profound influence for the good in many sectors, even at great cost. This entails a tremendous responsibility, opportunity and benefit for humankind. Its concern is the flourishing of all, including a profound commitment to dialogue across various traditions with a will to promote peace (M. Volf, 2015; J. Sachs, 2002, 2015). Neuroscientists Brown and Strawn in their salient book, The Physical Nature of Christianity (2012)use the comparison of the community of faith and an the ant colony. Genuine spiritual formation occurs within the integrity of mutual, responsible relational networks that matter to us, that make us whole and full of purpose.  The authors draw on and apply breakthrough insights from current neuroscience, psychology and sociology research. Missioned disciples spread not only the sayings but also the deeds and ethos of Jesus. They authentically act out an ongoing miracle of self-sacrifice and grace, refusing vengeance. Christian community is the active verb of God, the deed-word of God, the shalom of God carrying out the drama of God begun in the Old Covenant, now into the New Covenant. 

There are over one thousand verses of Judeo-Christian scripture dedicated to concern for the poor and marginalized. That ought to catch our attention: God is clearly a friend to the poor. One is reminded of that incredible speech by Portia in the Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice  in defence of the quality of mercy, something that she claims makes us more human. Compassion/concern for the other is an important matter of moral and spiritual weight and substance. Mother Teresa of Calcutta put it poignantly: “The greatest evil is the lack of love and charity, the terrible indifference towards one’s neighbour who lives at the roadside assaulted by exploitation, corruption, poverty and disease.” Moral growth and stature of character develop through careful and consistent service to others, being the divine presence in their lives.

~Dr. Gordon E. Carkner PhD, Meta-Educator with UBC Postgraduate Students, YouTube Seminars, Author, Mentor

Brown, B. (2015). Rising Strong. New York, NY: Spiegel and Grau.

Brown, W.S. and B. D. Strawn (2012). The Physical Nature of Christianity: neuroscience, psychology and the church. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Volf, M. (2015). Flourishing: why we need religion in a globalizing world. New haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Gawronski, R. (2015). Word and Silence: Hans Urs Von Balthasar and the Spiritual Encounter Between East and West 3rd edition. Kettering, OH: Angelico Press.

Mongrain, K. (2002). The Systematic Theology of Hans Urs von Balthasar: an Irenaean Retrieval. New York, NY: Crossroad Publishing Company.

Sacks, J. (2002). The Dignity of Difference: How to Avoid the Clash of Civilizations. London, UK: Continuum. 

Sacks, J. (2015). Not in God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence. New York: Shocken Books.

Peterson, E. (2010). Practice Resurrection: a Conversation on Growing Up in Christ. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.

Posted by: gcarkner | July 9, 2021

Incarnational Spirituality: a new horizon 7.

Incarnational Spirituality: a new horizon 7.

The Viability and Vitality of Faithful Presence

In the movie Invictus, Nelson Mandela wisely displays the insight that positive social change must begin with a different sense of identity, one where we become aware of belonging to the other. Individualism and self-interest must be sacrificed for the good of the group. The ability of people of different races and interests to imagine their common destiny would be key to breaking down racial barriers and healing resentments erected during the time of Apartheid in South Africa. The rugby team became a lightning rod for this quest in the movie. Mandela offered a vision of a new humanism and won the world’s admiration for his heroic efforts to reunite the country and redress terrible imbalances, racial tension and injustice. He headed off a civil war. I know one insider who relayed how close it came to a bloodbath. Many religious leaders and believers supported this vision and put much effort into its actualization. Incarnational spirituality has such a vision for renegotiating relationships, wealth and power in late modernity, offering a reconfiguration. This posture sets the stage for a new narrative of mutual flourishing, a new code for life . 

Thus, when the Word is enacted within the whole body of Christ in all of its members through an engagement that is individual, corporate, and institutional, not only does the word become flesh, but an entire lexicon and grammar becomes flesh in a living narrative that unfolds in the body of Christ; a narrative that points to God’s redemptive purposes. It is authentic because it is enacted and finally persuasive because it reflects and reveals the shalom of God (J.D. Hunter 2010, 254).

Rooted in God’s pursuit, identification, sacrificial love, offer of life for humans just like us, the incarnation is all about presence rather than absence. Within this kind of spirituality, we want to explore the dynamics of what renowned University of Virginia sociologist James Davison Hunter calls faithful presence (J. D. Hunter, 2010, 238-54). We resonate with his project for witness and social change and his mandate for servant leadership. It extends the concept of suffering service to others, with deep relevance. Hunter emphasizes its urgency in our cultural situation in late modernity. Under the banner of the incarnation, faithful presence offers a way to credibly re-articulate the narrative journey of self, to find a new home beyond the barbed wire of war, hate, resentment, control and narcissism. 

Without a commitment to ideals that transcend the self and that direct life beyond self-interest, one is left with a despair that is not only joyless but also is indifferent towards need and thus incapable of addressing need. Hope is intimately tied to beauty for it is images of beauty and loveliness that inspire imagination and expand human possibility. (J. D. Hunter, 2010, 263) 

We use this language of presence to communicate this important concept of closeness to the divine, but also generosity towards others. For example, the entire biblical message is the offer of life marked by goodness, peace, truth, beauty, joy, fruitfulness—shalom. Hunter writes that shalom also offers something serious to society at large, and it would be astute for the Christian community to pay attention to his voice. This is a robust sense of being with others, taking responsibility for the other. “The practice of faithful presence generates relationships and institutions that are fundamentally covenantal in character, the ends of which are the fostering of meaning, purpose, truth, beauty, belonging, and fairness—not just for Christians but for everyone.” (J. D. Hunter, 2010, 263)

The shalom of God is the presence of God (Ephesians 2:14) in the world. Incarnational community means that followers of Jesus are mandated to be and bring this faithful presence, this incarnational kind of humanism to their circle of influence, to everyday work and family life. Humans can be fully present to each other within the community of faith and fully present to those who are not at the moment part of that community. We pursue each other, identify with each other, and direct our lives towards the flourishing of one another. 

A vision of order and harmony, fruitfulness and abundance, wholeness, beauty, joy and well-being…. Christians are to live toward the well-being of others, not just to those in the community of faith, but to all…. Pursuit, identification, the offer of life through sacrificial love—this is what God’s faithful presence means. It is a quality of commitment that is active, not passive; intentional, not accidental; covenantal, not contractual. In the life of Christ we see how it entailed his complete attention. It was a whole-hearted, not half-hearted; focused and purposeful, nothing desultory about it. His very name, Immanuel, signifies all of this—“God with us”—in our presence. (J.D. Hunter, 2010, 228, 230 and 243).

Faithful presence is an Everest-like ascent into virtue and character. It offers a transformation of relationships within the immanent frame, one that reaches beyond this frame for sources of the self, sources of the good. It is a powerful source of a thick identity (Charles Taylor), one that has resilience and sustainability. Servant leadership is a critical posture of this kind of engagement with the world, one of commitment and enduring promise. People who carry this vision are now creating structures that incarnate blessing, beauty, meaningfulness and purpose for others, not reinventing the world to suit only themselves. This includes former cynics, secularists, anarchists and nihilists, the haves and the have-nots, as well as people of other faiths. The incarnational posture makes a claim on us as a different plausibility structure—a new social imaginary. Policy pursued and law practised in light of the justice of God is a witness to right ordering of human affairs.  Inquiry, scholarship and learning with an awareness of the goodness of God’s created order is a discovery of what is higher in tertiary education.

I have argued that there is a different foundation for reality and thus a different kind of binding commitment symbolized most powerfully in the incarnation. The incarnation represents an alternative way by which word and world come together. It is in the incarnation and the particular way the Word became incarnate in Jesus Christ that we find the only adequate reply to the challenges of dissolution and difference. If, indeed, there is a hope or an imaginable prospect for human flourishing in the contemporary world, it begins when the Word of shalom becomes flesh in us and is enacted through us toward those with whom we live, in the tasks we are given, and in the spheres of influence in which we operate. When the Word of all flourishing—defined by the love of Christ—becomes flesh in us, in our relations with others, within the tasks we are given, and within our spheres of influence—absence gives way to presence, and the word we speak to each other and to the world becomes authentic and trustworthy. (J.D. Hunter, 2010, 252) 

The practice of faithful presence is the incarnation of a fresh and constructive kind of servant leadership and mentorship (Robert K. Greenleaf, 1998; Don Page, 2009) in all realms of life, all careers—it issues in a new lifestyle. Dr. Don Page, former speechwriter for the Prime Minister of Canada, and Professor Emeritus at Trinity Western University where he ran the Masters in Leadership, understands this profoundly. He made a substantial contribution to servant leader culture (including China) through his talks and book, Servant-Empowered Leadership. He casts a vision for the productivity of constructive, servant-posture leadership. 

The gifts, resources, and influence one stewards are not one’s own to use as one wishes but rather they belong to God: they exist under his authority, and believers are held to account for how they steward them for the good of all. It simply makes sense that offering dignity and respect for employees creates a better work environment and a more successful company in the long run. It creates significant opportunities and space for others to participate and develop their contribution. It champions the giftedness, creativity and potential of those we mentor. The focus is on the physical, aesthetic, intellectual, spiritual and social health of the community. The reason leadership is sacrificial and selfless is because its practice is an expression of “power under submission” (Hunter). This is the opposite of Nietzsche’s culture as a will to power which has fuelled much of postmodern thinking. I saw it writ large in Michel Foucault whom I studied for my PhD.

Some striking examples of how faithful presence can be expressed come to mind. It often starts with one person taking the incarnation vision seriously; this person begins to live sacrificially and creatively for the other. One inspired person who wants to be faithful to the divine incarnational perspective of servant leadership is all it takes to begin a movement. Former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams spoke of the Taizé Ecumenical Community in Burgundy, France. They have had an enormous influence, captured the imagination of many European youth who wanted to engage the world constructively. Taizé has ambassadorial cell groups living among the poor in Asia, Africa and Latin America. This effort towards integral relationships amidst difference “represents a serious political concern, an eagerness to listen and learn across cultural boundaries, a sensitivity for certain styles in art and liturgy, traditional but spare and contemporary in expression, a profoundly contemplative spirituality” (R. Williams, 2005, 124).

Dr. Hunter mentions in his book a group in the state of Michigan, hit hard by the Great Recession of 2008, who build not-for-profit housing to address the scourge of poverty and homelessness. A friend of mine mentioned a company that subsidized solar panels for poor areas and trained people in installing these for others. The Mennonite Central Committee sponsors Ten Thousand Villages stores with low overhead to assist talented artisans in developing countries to sell their work in the West, promoting shalom in both worlds–building creative bridges to shalom. Students and faculty on campus at UBC have been delighted with the meaning of such a display in the student centre—it incarnates faithful presence so well. David Brooks brings this vision for virtue and character development, standards for high morality, in his important written contributions: The Road to Character (2015); and The Second Mountain (2020). These fine people and projects are interested in a world that works for everyone, not just the elite few.

Dr. Gordon E. Carkner, Meta-Educator with UBC Postgraduate Students, Author, Blogger, YouTube Seminars

Hunter, J.D. (2010). To Change the World: the irony, tragedy and possibility of Christianity in the late modern world. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. 

Williams, R. (2005). The Truce of God: peacemaking in troubled times. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.

Page, D. (2009). Servant-Empowered Leadership. Langley, B.C.: Power to Change.

Brooks, D. (2015). The Road to Character. New York, NY: Random House.

Brooks, D. (2020). The Second Mountain: The Quest for a Moral Life. New York: NY: Random House.

Greenleaf, R.K. (1998). The Power of Servant Leadership. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.

Zimmermann, J. (2012). Incarnational Humanism: a philosophy of culture for the church in the world. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press Academic.

White, R. (2006). Encountering God in the City: onramps to personal and community transformation. Downers Grove, IL: IVP

Wallis, J. (2014). The (Un)Common Good: how the Gospel brings hope to a world divided. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos.

Granberg-Michaelson, w. (1984). A Worldly Spirituality: the call to care for the earth. San Francisco: Harper & Row.

Delsol, C. (2013). Icarus Fallen: the search for meaning in an uncertain world. Wilmington, Delaware: ISI Books.

Dr. Don Page’s Principles of Servant-Empowered Leadership

  • Serves the followers for their benefit. Invest in people for their growth.
  • Primarily serves the interests of the followers above selfish or narcissistic interests.
  • Responsibility to followers is more important than positional entitlements.
  • Based on respect and love for the followers. Maintained through internal influence.
  • Willing to step aside for someone more qualified to lead. The position is held lightly.
  • Never pulls rank to get one’s own way, as that would be hurtful to the colleagues.
  • Accountable to everyone in the organization and outside constituencies as well. Concerned about the common good, not just individual good.
  • Welcomes regular personal evaluations as a means of improving the ability to serve followers. This kind of vulnerability speaks volumes.
  • Loyalty comes through the inspiration in the heart and soul of the followers. Have a low turnover rate because people are valued for their contribution to each other and to the organization.
  • Primary interest is in the well-being of their followers for their sakes. People on your team are seen as an end in themselves, not just a means to your ends.
  • Puts the spotlight on others. Servant leaders are generous with praise to others, but not shrill.

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