Saturday, May 22, 2010

Hawaii, ten years on.

This past Friday I celebrated my tenth year in Hawaii. Man has the time gone fast, and it just seems like yesterday since I arrived! Now I am officially "kamaina" which means "local person" in Hawaiian. Yet looking back the move was bittersweet. I was happy in New Jersey so coming here, and pulling up my roots  was a big deal. I left a very comfortable job which I enjoyed and felt good at doing. I left many friends and a position I had spent building and developing for ten years. Even so, when my wife showed me the three options she had for her next assignment in the military, she let me pick. One said Hawaii and I forgot the other two. It was a no-brainer, it had to be Hawaii. And looking back, coming to Hawaii has been one of the best decisions we ever made. I had my moments though. I remember coming over on the plane and thinking, "wow, I have to start my life over again".

Hawaii was, and is, an adventure. It's a fantastic place to live. As in any new place, the first few years were spent " getting to know" just where everything is. Even though Oahu is a small island, there are still many places I have not yet explored. Getting around is sometimes a challange as many of the names of streets and towns still have Hawaiian names. Moreover, Oahu is a unique mix of different ethnic communities including Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, Filipino, Samoan, Micronesian and of course Hawaiian. It's a multicultural paradise. I've lived in several countries and States, but coming to Hawaii is unlike anything else I had ever experienced. I often have to pinch myself to remind me that "yes" this is the USA and that I am living and working here. You can often go into local restaurants and be the only one who speaks English.

Looking back, I have often thought back to the Irish notion of peregrini, the Latin term for pilgrim. The notion of pilgrimage is often left out of our understanding of Christianity. Yet for many today, and in the past, peregrini was and is a core concept. It's useful to reflect on leaving what we are familiar and comfortable with in order to grow spirituality. This practice was at the heart of Celtic spirituality, as particularly noted in the life of Columba, who left Ireland and went onto to found the monastic settlement on the remote Scottish island of Iona. Columba went onto achieve great things on Iona, and later  at the community on Lindisfarne. Columba never returned to Ireland yet his legacy was great. I have often thought of those wandering Celtic monks, who left their families, towns, and home country, and trekked across Europe, founding monasteries, touching lives, hearing and learning new languages. It must have been exciting (even in an addictive way) to wander as they did.

Looking back over the last ten years, I think it's helpful to recall that I too am on pilgrimage. And like Columba, I am invited to leave the known, journey into the unknown, which often includes my own "shadow" self. Along the way, I have learned to let go of certain expectation I might have, and to live in the moment, and to embrace whatever life brings. Life, and the spiritual life can be a wonderful adventure. May God lead you to a place or situation where you never imagined you could be.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Illuminated minds, illuminated manuscripts

Saturdays are typically goof off days. Rain, so no golf. I decided to spend the afternoon reading and listening to music. Not wanting to get into anything too heavy, I opted to look at some books I recently found on illuminated manuscripts. I love illuminated manuscripts, as always have marveled at the craftsmanship, detail, bright colors, and often humor they possess. They are dream like pieces of abstact art. I was fortunate enough to see The Book of Kells when I visited Trinity College in Dublin Ireland back in the 1970's. And they are even more impressive to see and view. Beautiful. University officials turn the page on a regular basis so viewers can come back and see something beautful and new.

Illuminated manuscripts had a central place in the history of the Celtic Church. You might even say that the manuscipts along with the high Celtic crosses were some of its most distinctive features. As indicated throughout this blog, the Celtic Church and monks were book lovers, had scriptoriums where they copied books with great care and precision, and loved learning wherever is came from. This included the pagan writers from Greek and Latin sources, Christian writings, and the Church Fathers. This was their great tradition. I can recall sections of Bede's Ecclesiastic History where monks carried the sacred books (its library) back and forth to the different monastries as they were fleeing the invasions of the Vikings. Obviously they were trying to preserve what mattered to them most.

There are many illuminated manuscripts from Europe yet the ones I am discussing here come from the seventh and ninth centuries. These are the Cathack, Book of Durrow, The Book of Kells, and The Lindsifarne Gospels. I've attached above some selections which will hopefully wet your appetite and motivate you to learn more. Starting on the left is from Mark, in the Book of Durrow. I've included two pages from The Book of Kells although I could have selected many others for their sheer beauty and brilliance.  The center selection is the frontpiece from John's gospel, and the image on the right is Christ enthroned. Each time I look at these works of art, I say "wow" and am reminded of just how long and difficult it must have been to make these things. And remember, these are painted on animal skins! There is something richly human in these primitive like forms.

That got me to thinking about the relationship between Christianity and culture. The illuminated manuscripts are treasures, and thank God we have them. But these are works from 1300 years ago. What works of art are we making in the church now that people in the future will examine and say the same thing? What will our cultural legacy be? And in "works of art" I don't limit that meaning to literature, or music in a snobbish way. But as a church community, we should think how are we influencing the culture and shaping it in a more Christlike fashion. Is the culture shaping us, or are we shaping the culture? What's wonderful is that the Celtic legacy can give us a starting point to answer these questions. They were able to convert a pagan culture which surrounded them, and where in a similar situation as to our own. Perhaps it might be in the form of education, in small schools that are devoted to passing down the best and brightest that has been said. It might be in reviving the practice of fostering, something very much like the hanai tradition in Hawaii. Or it might be in artwork, or using the Internet in some way not yet discovered. Looking at the illuminated manuscripts gives both pleasure and hope. They are a joy to behold. They illuminate today and were the result of an illuminated point of view.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

St. Aidan's: a place where everyone can serve

One of the best features of ministry is that you meet many kinds of people, from many different backgrounds and ages. In addition, St. Aidan's is blessed to have many young people from the University and College setting, as well as those from high school who come and perform community service. Since I have been at St. Aidans-some ten years now-I have seen this number grow. Almost every other Sunday I now sign community service sheets. It's a beautful thing to be able to see and work with these folks.

This leads me to a story about one of our volunteers, Cameron Chan. He has been a regular volunteer at the church, along with other members of his family, including his sister, parents and grandmother. Talk about intergenerational minstry, here it is in one family! I wanted to share this story because I think it's a beautiful thing to see young people volunteering and serving those in need. And they almost always tell me how much they enjoyed having the opportunity to serve. Here's how Cameron described his experience:

"For my junior year community service I have continued to feed homeless at St Andrews. I switched from going every third Sunday of the month to the second Sunday of every month. For the 25 hours I volunteered, I have served water, food, cleaned or threw out the garbage. When I volunteer at St. Andrews I learn the value of community and helping others. There are many people who are less fortunate than me and are very grateful to have a meal everyday. I realized that I should be grateful for all the conveniences and things I have in my life. It has taught me that I should always be grateful for what I have and devoting a small amount of my day every month can really make a difference in someone else’s life".

What a beautiful story and what a wonderful thing is it to be in a position to share stories like this.
Thanks Cameron and to the many others who come and discover in the simplicity of serving the homeless, there is great joy!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Rev. Dr. John Michael Hayes

Who says miracles don't happen?

Several months ago, a miracle of sorts took place at St. Aidan's Church. One Sunday morning, I happened to notice a new couple had joined us that morning for worship. Let's just say they stood out! After the service, I went out and greeted our newcomers. And much to my surprise not only did I meet both John and Karen, but I also learned that John was also a Celtic priest from a small Celtic denomination like my own. What's the chance of that happening in Hawaii of all places? A miracle indeed! Hard to believe that on the wee island of Oahu there are three Celtic clerics. Move over Ireland. And best of all, I then learned that John and will be in Hawaii for three years. This is terrific news indeed. God does work in mighty and wondrous ways.

St. Aidan's is very fortunate to have someone join us whose credentials are so strong. John received his undergraduate and Ph.d in psychology from Catholic University in the nation's capital, Washington, DC. Since then, John has spent over thirty years in the psychology field in different capacities. John has had numerous faculty appointments, and led many interesting workshops and trainings for other mental health professionals. He is eclectic in approach, fond of both Freud and Jung, and comfortable using a variety of modalities including psychotherapy, psychoanalysis, and couples, family and group therapy. He was a Franciscan brother for several years, and also studied theology at several Universities. He has four children. Karen Jones, John's wife, is a clinical social worker.

John has been with us for several months now, and we are blessed indeed to have him with us, serving at the altar and the pulpit. We rejoice in his many gifts, experience, and humor that he brings to St. Aidan's Mission Church. To find out more about our new priest John, you can visit his website which is linked  here.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Duns John Scotus: Last of the Schoolmen.

"He lived on: these weeds and waters these walls are what He haunted who of all men most sways my spirit to peace. Of realty the rarest-veined unravaveller; a not Rivalled insight, be rival Italy or Greece: Who fired France for Mary without spot."
Dun Scotus's Oxford, G.M. Hopkins

Time for the blog to focus on one of the greatest of Celtic thinkers, Duns John Scotus. He certainly has the greatest of names and it's hard to imagine any name ever topping this one. It rivals Babe Ruth for baseball, and Michael Jordan in basketball. Duns John Scotus (circa 1265-1308) was one of the most important figures of the medieval world. Little is known about his early life, and scholars speculate he was born in either Scotland, Ireland or France. We know Scotus was born a Celt, but we just don't know where. He became a Franciscan monk in 1290, and then went to St. Andrews Priory in Northampton, England in 1291. Later, he studied at Oxford from 1298 to 1231. In 1302, Scotus began lectures on the Sentences of Peter Lombard, some of the most famous collections of sayings and writings of the day. These lectures and commentary would lead Scotus into great prominence and demand as a teacher, but more on that in a minute.

Scotus is an important thinker, the last great philosopher High Middle Ages. Only St. Bonaventure, another Franciscan, could be said to have been a more important figure. Scotus was the champion of Franciscan Augustianism. His great gift was to be able to blend many different traditions together, including Aristotle, Church doctrine, and the Church Fathers. For these considerable abilities, Scotus rightly received the title "Subtle Doctor" of the Church. Scotus had a first rate mind, and was a great systematizer. A contemporary of Scotus', Rodulphus, noted that there was nothing his mind could not fathom, clarify or unravel. Scotus was often compared to another great figure in philosophy, Socrates, who often asked difficult and probing questions. Scotus tried to arrange the doctrines of the Church into something like our modern encylopedia. This helps to explain why the Commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard were so popular. Scotus, sounding very modern for his time, was convinced that truth would shine most brightly as a result of critical investigation. Even a school of thought-Scotism-was named after him and his method.  The Sentences were a textbook of sorts, a collection of sayings and truth claims, containing what was thought to be the best and brightest of the day. The problem was that much in culture and the intellectual life had changed since the sentences were first compiled. Doctrines and traditions needed to be updated and revised. The Commentary met these questions and challanges headon. Scotus's knowledge was considerable, and he tried to reconcile new learning with the old, and in some cases updated what seemed antiquated.  Scotus was not afraid to criticize positions he felt were wrong. It was this tendency which have caused some to remark that Scotus's mind was more critical instead of creative, and that his main focus was to disturb faith and controversy. Again like Socrates, Scotus was an irritant of sorts.

Scotus's ideas strike me  as a collection of both ancient and modern teachings. He denied the existence of God could be proved by reason alone, and took a more Thomistic approach, concluding it was only revelation (Scripture) and Church which could lead one to God. Scotus also had some disagreements regarding the doctrine of God. For Aquinas, the controlling element was Mind. Scotus argued God's will that was primary. God is good because He wills it so, and the will of God also determines the salvation of men and women. I think that what Scotus is getting at here, is that God's great attribute is "action" and involvement in this world, and was most visibly demonstrated in the incarnation. The thinking, mind centered theology, both of Aristotle and Aquinas, smacks too much of the Gods of the philosophers. And here, in a curious way, we are led back to a point made centuries earlier by Pelagius in The Christian Life, that the essense of the Christian life is in loving others, one's neighbors, and in doing good deeds. Action over contemplation. 

Scotus also parted ways on some of the more "traditional doctrines" of the church. He has a novel idea about sin. He felt sin was not something infinite as it concerned finite beings. He also denied it was something which was passed down to the human race by procreation. Good Franciscan that he was, sin was the result of the will. Nor did Scotus believe in the doctrine of transubstantiation. Throughout Scotus's writings there is a modern temper, a critical spirit which is not afraid to question and tackle long held beliefs. Students of his day, must have been excited and felt new worlds were opening before them. The themes of Scotus's writings and his life, leave one with the impression that he was an uneasy medievalist who also had touches of modernism in his blood. Perhaps that is why so many discover Scotus as someone whose writings and ideas still speak to us today.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The New Perspective on Paul

"Paul was reacting primarily against the exclusivism which he himself had previously fought to maintain. In particular, he was reacting against the conviction (shared by most other Christian Jews) that 'works of the law', such as (or particularly) circumcision and laws of clean and unclean, continued to prescribe the terms of covenant relationship for Gentiles as well as Jews. It was in and from this conflict that Paul's doctrine of justifcation by faith alone achieved its classic expression (Gal.2:1-21)."
The Cambridge Companion to St. Paul, James Dunn (ed), 2003.

My article on N.T. Wright generated alot of questions and as a result, I would like to write an entry on one of the ongoing debates in New Testament research these days referred to as "the new perspective on Paul" ("NPP" to follow). Let me first provide some background information, and then outline what I see as the main points of this "new perspective".

Surprisingly, the majority of scholars linked to the NPP are Anglo-American. Usually one could expect some German influence, as many of the great theologlians are German, but then again this is largely a rejection of another German named Martin Luther. One can connect the dots between the work of W.D. Davies, E.P. Sanders, James Dunn, and N.T. Wright whose work each built on the other. Of those mentioned, the latter two, Dunn and Wright, have written the most on the topic. If you want to dive into the NPP debate, any of the works by Dunn and Wright would be excellent places to start. For example, why not try N.T. Wright's Paul In Fresh Perspective (2005) as a pu pu as they say in Hawaiian!  They are well worth the effort.

NPP writers argue that we need to rethink how we read Paul, and how we understand Judaism. Much of our views have been distorted by Luther (mostly) and Calvin (to a lesser degree). In short, we have read the Reformers interpretations over Paul's and a result misunderstood both what Paul was trying to say and first century Judaism. In an interesting twist, Wright and others advocate for sola scriptura, which must drive the Reformed crowd nuts. But that is Wright and others point. Lets go back to what the Scriptures say which might not be what we have been taught. Scholars like Sanders have helped to carve out a new appreciation of Judaism for example, and that first century Judaism was never a religion of legalism based on works of righteousness. To put it in terms we in the Celtic world would appreciate, Judaism was not an early version of Pelagianism. Sanders coined the phrase "covenantal nomism" to describe the pattern of religion found in the Second Temple and Rabbinic Judiasm. This was a system which was based on the covenant and which required a proper response from the follower.

If Paul was not protesting against Judaism, what was he protesting against then? According to the NPP, Paul was more of a zealot for his country than a devout Jew. And once Paul converted to Christianity, he railed not against the Law, but rather a limited view of Judaism, a Judaism which focused more on the cultural aspects such as circumcision, purity codes, and that which ultimately separated the Jews from the Gentiles. Paul's understand of the Law and Covenant was wider than his contemporaries, and was one which he felt was meant to include the Gentiles.

There is more to the NPP debate than this, but these two points seem to me to be the most important and controversial ones. Now you can disagree with the NPP and that's fine. But if you are serious about New Testament studies, and want new perspectives for preaching and your own knowledge, you would be well to become familar with the writings of both Wright and Dunn who are two of the finest New Testament critics in the English speaking world today. These men remind us, and rightly I think, that there is always something new and fresh to learn when it comes to understanding God's word, and it's relevance for our life in the world today. Each age is challanged to interpret anew and to struggle with what the New Testament means.

After completing this article, I found a cool clip on Youtube, with both Wright and Dunn, that I wanted to include and is linked here. This also provides an excellent introduction to the NPP. Enjoy.

Monday, May 3, 2010

St. Aidan's: A gathering place.

In Hawaiian, Oahu literally means "the gathering place". And in a similar way, St. Aidan's Mission Church is a gathering place, where dozens of people from many difference spiritual backgrounds and persuasions come to help and volunteer. Our church is blessed to have dozens of volunteers and people who are eager to help. This story marks the first of many stories of people who work behind the scenes to make things happen with our ministry.

I want to share with you the story of one of our volunteers, Andy Fegan. I first met Andy several years ago when he called me to see if he could arrange for some community service for his daughter who was a student at The Priory.  No problem, and happens all the time. But therein began our discussion of lots of things, ranging from spirituality to politics, and of course sports. Andy is probably the nicest guy I know who supports the University of Michigan, which is tough to say as a Buckeye fan!

This was not a one time thing. Andy was attracted to the simple yet beautiful work that we do each Sunday in feeding the homeless, and wanted to help out in some way. Early on Andy volunteered to our ministry in a weekly fashion and he has continued on now for nearly four years. This is not unusual. Our church is fortunate to have volunteers such as Andy who who give up their valuable time, and go out of their way to make things happen. We are truly blessed to have you! A special thanks to you Andy and the many volunteers at St. Aidan's Mission Church, Honolulu, Hawaii!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Talking story at Harris United Methodist Church

Today I had the opportunity to speak at one of the oldest Methodist churches in Honolulu, Harris United Methodist Church. This wasn't the normal Sunday gig though. The topic was mental health and what role faith communities can play. What made today unique is that I also invited two persons to speak who also have children with serious mental illnesses. I met Audrey Chandler and Jim Mahalke in my work with NAMI, the National Alliance of Mental Illness, and both were instrumental in bringing the "Family to Family" program to both the Veterans Administration, and to another nearby church. I wanted the congregation to hear their stories. As Audrey and Jim both spoke, I felt their honesty and compassion extend out to the congregation, and connect in a wonderful way. It was something great to be part of.

Churches are places of healing, communities of love, and a natural fit for events such as "Family to Family" or workshops on mental health and the community. Churches are places for honest sharing and sharing from the heart. Moreover, Jesus calls us to be loving neighbors in the parable of the Good Samaritan. We fulfull a meaningful role by being welcoming to strangers, and caring for them.

Today was a wonderful start, and hopefully in the future, there will be greater links between organizations like NAMI and the church near you.  Thanks to the clergy, Noboku and Rona, and the congregation!


Saturday, May 1, 2010

The Celtic World: National Geographic Maps

"Fearless and high-spirited, they rushed into battle as if into sport. In hilltop forts they held regal feasts, and in sacred oaks groves they offered human sacrifices. Ornaments adorned their chariots and person; poets sang of their deeds. They were the Celts. In the eight centuries before Christ, these people created the first civilizaztion north of the Alps; their domain at its height spread from the North Sea to the Atlantic"

I don't know about you, but when I was growing up National Geographic was a big deal. Hopefully it still is. Back then, I would flip through glossy pictures of places I never imagined, and of persons and cultures who seemed very different than my own. It was the Internet before the internet, where one could aimlessly browse, get lost, and learn something of value. But the real jewel, like the prize in Cracker Jack, or gum in baseball cards, was the map that came with each issue. I can even remember my  father asking me if I wanted the maps of Britain, Western Europe, or some other place. I guess the internet has killed the need for that, and you can find those maps now for sale at a public library near you.

I found one titled "Celtic Europe" and gladly paid 25 cents to get it at my local library in Kaneohe, Hawaii. I look at that map from time and time and wonder. Like my Dad, maps fascinate me as well. I try to imagine what is was like for those tribes of Celts who wandered across what we now call Europe. Hey, its a long way from Ireland to Galatia or Asia Minor. Damn far! Why the wanderlust, and what were they looking for? Perhaps greener pastures, perhaps new lands to conquer, pillage, and plunder. I don't know.

These are not just maps. They also contain small but significant details which are artistically drawn out. For example, the quote on the top of this article is from the map. There are also notations about Druids, naked warfare, mercenaries, warfare, Celtic women, agriculture and more. There are also side columns which provide important information. For example, the Celts were not just one tribe, but many independent tribes. We also learn something about the Romans, the enemies of the Celts. By the third century B.C., Rome began defeating the Celts by taking on one tribe at a time. The old divide and conquer routine. There are even some a smaller snapshot maps and one it titled "Irish Monasticism" which marks the places where there were Celtic strongholds. The list includes monasteries as far away as Kiev, Vienna, and Erfurt. Not bad places to hang out, even today!

If you're interested in purchasing this map from National Geographic, you can find the link here. You can even purchase a laminated copy if you like. Not a bad gift for someone who loves Celtic culture.