Spiritual Friendship by Wesley Hill (Brazos, 2015)

I have been looking forward to this book for a while—its arrival had been rumoured for some time among facebook friends. My anticipation had to do with both the subject—friendship, and the author, Wesley Hill, an Assistant Professor of Biblical Studies at Trinity School for Ministry in Ambridge, PA.

I am drawn to Hill’s work for three reasons. First, because while we’ve never met, we share a significant amount of professional and personal overlap. We both studied at Durham University, for example, and indeed we both found those years to be transformational: we both became Anglicans while there. We have common friends. The evangelical Anglican world (whether we are Episcopalian, Anglican Church of Canada, ANiC or ACNA) is a small one and we are just one degree removed. At points, when I read his work—I was introduced to him through his remarkable book, Washed and Waiting—I can almost anticipate what’s coming next and yet am surprised at how he takes and develops what I had “just known” was coming. In many ways, he seems to me to be a kindred soul.

Second, and following on, he inhabits the ever shrinking middle in the current debate about how best to welcome gay and lesbian people in Christian churches. He, along with other voices like blogger and Catholic convert Eve Tushnet, embraces the Church’s traditional teaching on marriage and does so as a gay man, thereby making him an object of pity and/or suspicion by people on both sides. He is either woefully mistaken or worse, some sort of “Trojan Horse” for the extremes, both liberal and conservative. It may be that I have my own quixotic bent toward doomed battles, what J.R.R. Tolkien called “the long defeat,” but for whatever reason, that makes him attractive to me. Although I am straight (that likely didn’t need to be said; it’s pretty obvious!), Hill and I are fellow travellers (albeit lonely ones) on this journey.

Third, I am drawn to Hill’s work because of a shared appreciation for C. S. Lewis’s work, and in this context especially, the little book, The Four Loves. Hill’s book, Spiritual Friendship is in many ways a friendly criticism of Lewis’s chapter on friendship. And that is what I want to focus my remarks on.

Hill and Lewis agree that modernity doesn’t quite know what to do with friendships. They have been displaced by other loves, notably, in Hill’s view, by an idealized and idolized view of marriage as the relationship without which no one will ever be complete. Modernity simply has no category for strong same-sex friendships and so must sexualize them. For example, David and Jonathan, or Aelred and his monks, or the rare but real Christian practice of “brother-making,” (vowed friendships), these must really be covers for not simply erotic, but sexualized love. Hill and Lewis both argue that this is a little like the assertion, “There’s an invisible cat in that chair.” The lack of a cat, rather than being counter-evidence, is regarded as conclusive proof of feline invisibility. What might happen, wonders Hill, if we take the Bible, the monks, and the vowed friends, at face value? How might that challenge our views of friendship?

Here Hill parts from Lewis, and rightly so. Lewis’s view of friendship is, for all of the above, very modern and not very medieval. It is primarily mental; it is bent toward a shared interest or project (here Lewis uses the metaphor of the friends standing side by side, looking at a common object rather than standing face-to-face, looking at each other). Hill counters that deep same-sex friendship blurs the lines with other loves—at points erotic, at points affectionate. While this certainly echoes my own experience with two friendships, I agree with Hill that it may well be the unique insight that gays and lesbians offer to the Church—and have been offering already for many centuries. Many modern western churches (I refuse to say the Church here) have followed modernity into a withered and withering conception of friendship that potentially does great harm not only to their gay and lesbian members, but to their straight singles, too (and having been a Christian single until my 30s, I speak also from experience).

The last chapter, “Patterns of the Possible,” is particularly helpful for those of us engaged in parish ministry for its suggestions.

I highly recommend this little work to all who wish to be unsettled and enriched.

Terror in the Face of Life

Here is today’s sermon, based on Mark 16:1-8: Terror in the Face of Life

Forgiveness is the First Word.

A sermon for Good Friday: Forgiveness is the First Word

Jesus Christ: Epic Fail

A sermon for Maundy Thursday: Jesus Christ: Epic Fail

Sermon: Hell, Milton and More

Today’s sermon is available here:

It’s Not Persecution

When Preston Manning used to introduce new Reform Party MPs to the House of Commons, among the bits of wisdom he shared with them was one that went like this. “When you give your first speech, you are going to want to blister the paint on the ceiling with your words. If you do, you’ll set the cause back fifty years.” His point was simple. Inflammatory rhetoric may indeed send an endorphin rush to one’s brain causing momentary euphoria. It will not, however, produce consideration among honorable members on the other side. It may well, in fact, alienate sympathizers.

Manning’s advice has been on my mind as I consider Trinity Western’s proposed law school and the new sex education curriculum in Ontario. I don’t want to rehash the controversies here—they have been well reported in the mainstream and Christian media. I do want to reflect on how some of us in the evangelical community have chosen to talk about them.

But first, a little context. Being an Anglican priest means, among other things, I belong to a worldwide communion of churches. Because of that, I have been able to forge friendships with people not only in the UK, Australia, and the United States, but also Egypt, Tanzania, Uganda, Nigeria, Malawi, India, Pakistan and Mauritius. Through them, I have heard close-to-first-hand accounts of anti-Christian persecution. The accounts are brutal, violent, and, sadly, true. Persecution is common in many parts of the world and seriously underreported in the mainstream media.

Frankly, I am shocked at the rhetoric being loosely bandied about regarding religious freedom in Canada. Christians in Canada are not being persecuted. Our faith is not under attack. “The government” is not trying to take away religious freedom. Though this kind of rhetoric provides some sort of emotional release it is both false and finally unhelpful.

Its falsehood is clear when Canadian accounts of “persecution” are set aside stories of the real thing. Our churches are not being burned, our clergy are not being kidnapped, our laypeople are not being raped or beheaded, and communities are not being expunged. That is persecution. Some Canadian Christians are experiencing what is better termed soft discrimination. It may well be that over the next few years, such soft discrimination will become harder. Then again, given increasing immigration patterns and the accompanying growth of evangelical and Roman Catholic communities (and those of other religions) in Canada,[1] such discrimination may turn out to be short-lived. If for no other reason than religious people vote, too. Either way, though, we are not persecuted. We minimize the suffering of our brothers and sisters around the world when we say otherwise.

This rhetoric is also unhelpful. Because it draws a false identification between us and groups of people who are really being persecuted, it drives otherwise sympathetic people away. The TWU case raises all kinds of interesting questions regarding the shape of religious freedom in Canada, the purpose of the Charter of Rights, and the relation of so-called “public” and “private” commitments. These questions need to be thoughtfully debated, not reduced to sound bites. The new sex education curriculum in Ontario also needs careful consideration, and as both a parent and a Christian, I would say thoughtful opposition at specific points. To do so, however, takes time, care, and deliberately chosen, accurate words. Too many people have “blistered the paint,” making the work of others more difficult than it needed to be.

Jesus called his followers to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Much of our language on these and other issues, however, reflects neither wisdom nor innocence.In our context, the language of persecution is untrue, unhelpful and, frankly, does not reflect the love of neighbour and enemy to which disciples are called.

[1] See “Religion isn’t dying. It may well be rising from the grave.” By Aaron Hutchins in the March 26 edition of Maclean’s available here: http://www.macleans.ca/society/life/what-canadians-really-believe/.

Sermon: Mean Tweets and Godwin’s Law

Today’s sermon on Wrath and Envy (Sins 5 and 6) is now up here: Mean Tweets and Godwin’s Law If you listen, leave a comment!

C.S. Lewis Logos Library: Why Logos is Different from Kindle

Hey folks:

A couple of you have asked why they should invest in the Logos C. S. Lewis Library instead of buying Kindle editions. Here’s my attempt at an answer.

The first thing to be said is that Kindle and Logos aren’t really competitors. They serve different needs and even different audiences. It comes down to you and your needs as a reader. So if your intention is simply to build an electronic library or to replace your paper copies as they wear out, Kindle (or another e-reader) might be a good way for you to go. It is fast. It is reliable. It is portable. And most of all, it is cheaper. One of the hurdles that I faced when I first started investigating Logos was cost. And you may balk at it, too. I have come to believe that its benefits far outweigh the price. I think you will, too.

If your intention, however, is not simply to read Lewis for enjoyment, but to actually research themes as they develop through his literary corpus, then Kindle (or another e-reader) is of no use use to you. In fact, it’s even less use than having multiple paper copies of books at hand. For research purposes (this is my opinion), Kindle (or another e-reader) isn’t a helpful tool. You have to close one book before you can open another one (you can’t have multiple windows open). Nor can you search words or themes across texts. (For instance, you can’t move from The Four Loves to The Allegory of Love to compare what Lewis writes about  “eros” in each).

Here is where the Logos library really shines. Yes, you will pay more than buying the individual titles for an e-reader. But for the extra money, you will be able to open multiple books; the texts are fully indexed and you will search easily through the whole corpus. In my next Lewis blog, I’ll take you through such a study. I have to confess that the Logos software takes some time to learn, but the investment of both time and money pays off!

I need to be clear, finally, that you don’t need to be a Lewis scholar or a professional academic to make good use of the Logos platform. Because I teach a fair bit of Lewis in a university setting, it’s a superb tool. But I can see it being used by Sunday School teachers, lay leaders, or just interested readers.

Sermon: Stealing Life: Greed and Sloth

This morning’s sermon is now up here: Stealing Life

Authorship, Words, and Reader Response. . . .

No, not a reflection on biblical hermeneutics. Just a quick “get it out of your head and onto the blog” moment. I ran across a quote last night. Here it is: “Death is something empires worry about. Not something resurrection people worry about.” Given the original author, my immediate thought was, “Please, get over yourself already. Prophets are not feted by CNN.”

Had the speaker been someone like Canon Andrew White or Bishop Mouneer Anis, who know both death and resurrection hope first hand, I would have taken notice and offered a quick prayer for them, the people they love, and for myself. For them, that they would be protected; for me, that I would be grateful for the peace in which I live and that I would not presume upon God’s goodness.

Funny, eh?