By Caleb Ratzlaff
Consider a basic revenge flick such as “Taken,” or “The Revenant.” These movies often begin with a shocking injustice — the murder or abduction of a child, for example. The body of the film is then dedicated to the protagonist’s struggle to balance the scales of justice, so to speak, by chasing, outwitting, outmaneuvering, etc., the “bad guys” and finally taking sweet revenge. Twists and turns occur along the way, but classic revenge flicks often make us question the logic behind the violence portrayed on screen. Don’t get me wrong, injustice demands a response, and it should always make us upset. However, most revenge stories end in a spectacle of bloodletting, but the sacrifice leaves us unfulfilled, unconvinced that the cycle of abuse is truly ended. If revenge fails to transform injustice, how else might we respond, what kind of response justice demands?
In many ways, chapter four and five of Ephesians address the above question, describing a better kind of response to “the darkness of injustice.” At the end of chapter four, the reader is first urged to avoid certain activities: “don’t engage in lustful greed” (4:19), for example. And then, in chapter five, there is a call to expose the harm: “Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them” (5:11-12). The author repeats these two imperatives — abstain and expose — along with a third: the author calls the reader to pursue change by transforming relationships defined by greed and abuse. We read,
“Instead, be filled with the Spirit,
By a friend from the Commons
It's an interesting time in Hamilton. Condos are booming, and students are moving into the core, followed by priced-out renters and buyers from Toronto. How the city works is changing. Still, the old churches keep up with traditional outreach methods. Old notions of service and charity are everywhere. Food banks do their food bank thing; meal programs do their meal programs. Charity doesn't change, even as rents go up and homes double in value as waves of people move in from Toronto.
That's where I want to start--waves of people. If we want to talk about being a just city, it comes down to each and every one of us--our actions, and our moral responsibilities. The question is simple: Who are we responsible for? Christ teaches us that no, it's not just about our kin, our immediate people, our blood; it’s about how we show hospitality to all who come into our lives, especially those who are invisible to a rapidly gentrifying city like Hamilton.
By Caleb Ratzlaff
In apocalyptic style, John the Baptist introduces us to three components of Christ’s kingdom of peace: repentance, the Holy Spirit, and fire (Matthew 3:7-12). What comes after is often referred to as “Christ’s Baptism,” but if we consider the examples below and the exegesis that follows, it’s clear that John experiences a kind of baptism as well.
Regrettably, my wife Jenica did the vast majority of our wedding planning on her own. It’s no surprise that my failure to offer a help was a source of conflict on several occasions. For example, one evening, while Jenica was making wedding invitations, I looked up from my computer to realize that she was gone. Distracted, I hadn’t noticed her leave the room. Often when Jen’s upset she wisely disappears to cool-off before evaluating the situation. So when I realized that I was alone with a mountain of unfinished invitations, I knew something was amiss.
The feeling I had at that moment is something I think we’ve all experienced. It’s the moment we realize that we’ve let down those we depend on. Jen expected my help. It was our wedding after all and weddings take at least two people, not counting all the support contributed by family and friends. Repentance, I want to argue, is the realization that we don’t do life on our own. We depend on a power greater than ourselves — friends, family, neighbors, government, water, soil, oxygen and in these God.
By Caleb Ratzlaff
Lament over the Destruction of Jerusalem
1 By the rivers of Babylon--
there we sat down and there we wept
when we remembered Zion.
2 On the willows[a] there
we hung up our harps.
3 For there our captors
asked us for songs,
and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying,
“Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
4 How could we sing the Lord’s song
in a foreign land?
5 If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
let my right hand wither!
6 Let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth,
if I do not remember you,
if I do not set Jerusalem
above my highest joy.
7 Remember, O Lord, against the Edomites
the day of Jerusalem’s fall,
how they said, “Tear it down! Tear it down!
Down to its foundations!”
8 O daughter Babylon, you devastator![b]
Happy shall they be who pay you back
what you have done to us!
9 Happy shall they be who take your little ones
and dash them against the rock!
It’s difficult to accept the fact that the Bible describes revenge in such brutal detail as found in Psalm 137. There are other Psalms that ask us to direct our anger in ways that promote peace rather than perpetuate violence but not Psalms 137. Psalm 137 doesn’t temper an author’s fierce anger towards injustice and desire for revenge. It’s important to hear and remember the extent of the anger expressed here because it was apocalyptic verses like these that inspire Christ. He too is angry at the injustice he sees around him and condemns Israel in a similar way as Jeremiah (the prophet we think authored Psalm 137) condemns Babylon.
Psalm 137 is remembered for its violence but also because of the haunting tune set to its lyrics by Don McLean titled “Babylon” linked at the beginning of this post. If we let them, the song and its lyrics can haunt us in three healthy ways.
By Caleb Ratzlaff
It’s important to make two preambles before I begin. First, all the most interesting insights found below are taken from Amy-Jill Levine’s fantastic book Short Stories by Jesus. Second, this post is an attempt to deal with the parables as we think they were given by Jesus. In doing so, I avoid dealing with Luke’s interpretation, the way he relates them, in the voice of Christ, to repentance (more on this at the end). I want to be clear that this doesn’t imply that Luke’s interpretation and repentance are unimportant, but rather to do justice to both would require more space than a normal blog post allows.
Parables have a way of surprising us by inverting our expectations, forcing us in some cases to reconsider commonly held beliefs or to ask difficult ethical questions. Consider the parable of the “Three Little Pigs.” After two failed attempts, the wolf, in desperation, jumps down the third little pig’s chimney only to land in a cauldron of stew. Pig’s enjoying wolf stew is a surprising result (and in some ways disturbing). Similarly, when Christ told parables his aim was to provoke and disturb and it’s no coincidence that he uses parables to do so.
Luke presents a series of three parables: “The Lost Sheep”, “The Lost Coin”, and “The Lost Son”. All three parables follow a similar pattern: (1) a wealthy individual loses part of his or her wealth, (2) he or she finds the thing that was lost, and (3) its recovery is celebrated with a meal. These three parables follow the “rule of three” whereby the first two in the series set up the third. Again consider the parable of “The Three Little Pigs;” the first two pigs with their homes of straw and sticks set up the story of the third pig with his home of brick. Although the three parables in Luke are similar, the first two help explain the events of the third. To understand how Christ provokes his audience, than, it’s helpful not only to understand how the stories are similar but to also notice the details that make the third story unique. Below is each parable, with a consideration of the way in which Christ uses the story of “The Lost Son” to challenge expectations and ask difficult ethical questions.
For the second time in a year, numerous street workers were arrested this past week during a Niagara Region Police sweep of the Queenston neighbourhood. As part of their arrest, these women have been banned from the area between Queenston to the north, Westchester to the south and Oakdale/Geneva to the East and West. Although intended to improve the neighbourhood, these kinds of sweeps only make it more difficult for these women to receive help from their community and support base. Thankfully, the court order was amended to allow the Westview Centre4Women to be exempt from the ban Tuesday - Thursday between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. With this exception secured, WC4W is serving as a place where the women can access those services they depend on that operate out of the quarantine zone including: Positive Living, Start Me Up Niagara, Deb Nanson, YWCA - Stomp, Stacy Allegro Community Nurse, and Street Works. Westview Christian Fellowship and Westview Centre4Women know these women; we know their children and are part of their community. It breaks our hearts to witness this continuing ordeal.
We ask you to pray for the women arrested, for their families, and loved ones. Pray that they receive the support they need and continue to find love, joy, and peace despite obstacles in their lives.
Pray for the services working out of, and including, the Centre. Pray that they don’t lose hope in the important work they do but instead push harder to see the women in this community given the support they need.
Pray for the city of St. Catharines. Pray that our Compassionate City Initiative is able to focus on the people that live in our city’s neighbourhoods, including those individuals who are repeatedly swept out. Our city is not made of real-estate alone, but rather real-estate that is a home to its inhabitants. The city loses pieces of itself each time people are swept out.
As worship last Sunday we shared and discussed some of our favourite poetry and a few poems written by us. As preparation, we held a writing workshop with Bonita Martens who introduced us to some of the basics of reading and writing poetry. You’ll find a selection of the poems discussed below, enjoy!
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound...
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
— “The Peace of Wild Things,” Wendel Berry
Writing Workshop with Bonita Martens
Wednesday, June 15th, 6pm
On Sunday June 19th, as a part of our service, you are invited to sign up to share a short piece of writing you that you find meaningful. It can be something you or someone else has written. You can read your work out loud, you can have someone read it for you, or you can post it on the wall to share. Listeners will have the opportunity to provide feedback to writers.
To prepare for this Sunday, we are running a writing workshop where Bonita Martens will be giving some instruction on how to start the writing process. EVERYONE is invited to attend - women and men are welcome. If you have never written anything more than a grocery list, this workshop is for you! Come and explore this amazing way of expressing yourself.
To sign up for the workshop and/or to sign up to share your writing on Sunday morning, please talk to Rosilee Sherwood - firstname.lastname@example.org
By Ruth Brown Martens
Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
“Oh, you’re real, you’re real! Oh, Aslan!” cried Lucy, and both girls flung themselves upon him and covered him with kisses.
“But what does it all mean?” asked Susan when they were somewhat calmer.
“It means,” said Aslan, “that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backward. And now—”
“Oh yes. Now?” said Lucy, jumping up and clapping her hands.
“Oh, children,” said the Lion, “I feel my strength coming back to me. Oh, children, catch me if you can!” He stood for a second, his eyes very bright, his limbs quivering, lashing himself with his tail. Then he made a leap high over their heads and landed on the other side of the Table. Laughing, though she didn’t know why, Lucy scrambled over it to reach him. Aslan leaped again. A mad chase began. Round and round the hilltop he led them, now hopelessly out of their reach, now letting them almost catch his tail, now diving between them, now tossing them in the air with his huge and beautifully velveted paws and catching them again, and now stopping unexpectedly so that all three of them rolled over together in a happy laughing heap of fur and arms and legs. It was such a romp as no one has ever had except in Narnia; and whether it was more like playing with a thunderstorm or playing with a kitten Lucy could never make up her mind.
--The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe*
I never think of Christ’s joy when I think about Easter. I think about his suffering and pain and death. I think about his agonized prayer in the garden. I think about the betrayal, the blood, the beatings, the whipping and what an excruciating way to die crucifixion is. I think about Jesus gritting his teeth, setting his mind and forging on directly into the heart of darkness. I think about the work of the cross. I think about the fact that this work was required if salvation was to be accomplished.
By Caleb Ratzlaff
I remember growing up thinking that the Book of Revelation was impossible to understand. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I was able to acquire a “toehold” on the meaning of the text. This came through a better understanding of the history of apocalyptic writing and a few of its distinctive markers.
What does the word apocalyptic mean?
Often we think the word “apocalyptic” refers to the end times or the destruction of the world. This is partially correct. But a more accurate description defines apocalyptic as the transition between historical ages. As a description of a historical transition, apocalyptic literature describes the old age coming to an end as it experiences destruction and then the beginning of a new age.
Although there are many distinctive characteristics of Apocalyptic literature, I want to consider two: that it originates in oppressive situations and that it uses insider language.
By Caleb Ratzlaff
This post was originally published on the Institute for Christian Studies' blog, groundmotive.net.
Simon of Cyrene, as his name suggests, was a visitor to Jerusalem. His story is found in all three synoptic gospels but is noticeably absent in John’s account. Each gospel account begins with Jesus mocked and beaten by soldiers, after which he descends to Golgotha. However, as he begins his descent, the soldiers force a man from Cyrene, Simon, to carry Christ’s cross on his behalf.
I want to draw your attention to three aspects of this story. First, Christ needs help, he depends on Simon. Simon, in a sense, saves Christ’s life. Without help, it seems, Christ would have died even before he was able to begin his march towards the place of the skull. Second, Simon is forced to help, although just a sentence or two in each gospel, each account makes sure to specify that Simon doesn’t have a choice in the matter. Finally, it’s noteworthy that the idea of carrying one’s cross is foreshadowed in the Gospel of Luke. In Luke Chapter 14, Christ tells his disciples that the cost of discipleship will require them to a) hate their family and ultimately hate their own life; and b) take up their cross and follow him. Although I don’t want to discuss the specific meaning of this verse here, I think it’s fair to say that Jesus, and Luke specifically, considered carrying one’s cross to be related to one’s sense of belonging to a particular family. With these three points in mind, let us consider a contemporary parallel.
Jean Vanier recently wrote an op-ed for The Globe and Mail that addressed the issue of assisted dying. Although some may be disappointed that Vanier doesn’t absolutely condemn assisted dying, I believe that he accurately describes a dangerous failure in our society that must be considered regardless of our views on this sensitive issue.
By Erika Klassen
When God came to live on earth as a human being, He entered into a culture and a religion that had many, many dark places full of fear and ignorance. Jesus came to bring light. He came to bring the Kingdom of God to earth as it is in heaven. He came to show us a new vision and a new way of life.
In the first century a woman was defined almost exclusively in terms of her family relations. One of the biggest issues shrouded in darkness was the role and treatment of women. Jesus lived in an age of sexual discrimination. Women were dehumanized, viewed as objects and property. Most were banned from full participation in public life or any type of leadership role.
Two primary roles of women were: raising children and satisfying their husband’s desires, sexual or otherwise.
One day a Jewish woman called out to Jesus, “blessed is the mother who gave birth and nursed you,” to which Jesus replied, “blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it.” Jesus wanted to make it clear that a woman’s status was not dependent on the children she bears: her identity comes from God.
By Rosilee Sherwood
Our theme for this season has been “Our Identity Crisis”. When the three wise men came to visit Jesus, it was a symbol of how Jesus came for everyone. He was not the Messiah, or the saviour for just the Jews, he was for all of us. This idea, that Jesus is for everyone, was something that caused the Jewish community to have to rethink what it meant to be a Jew. If we are no longer “the chosen ones”, who are we? If Jesus is not JUST for us, are we still special? What is our role in the world? What does God think of us? Jesus coming for all people was an event that caused the Jews to question who they were and forced them to redefine their identity. Their answer to the question “who am I” had to change.
At the same time, another crisis was happening. Anyone who lived in the vicinity of a Jewish family but wasn’t Jewish themselves probably knew that this was a group of people who saw themselves as set-apart. They saw the entire Old Testament in the Bible as the story of how they are The Chosen Ones, and how all of the “gentiles” or anyone who was not born into their group, was NOT chosen by God. This was the way it had been for generations. So when Jesus came and said that he came for EVERYONE, those who used to be OUTSIDERS, where now a part of the group! Those who had always been told there were left out in the cold, were now welcome to come on in. Jesus coming caused them to change the way they saw themselves. When they encountered his message, they were forced to ask themselves “who am I” and there was an opportunity to give a new answer.
By Caleb Ratzlaff
Although considered the oldest book of the Bible, the Book of Job was probably recorded around the same period as the Book of Daniel and the Book of Isaiah, during what’s known as the period of Exile. During this time period a number of Israeli tribes were taken captive by Babylon (Daniel, in fact, is one of these captives). At the time it was recorded many in Israel would have identified with Job. Like Job, the Israelites felt their current lot in life was unfair, that the scale of life was imbalanced. From their perspective, God shouldn't have handed them over to their enemies, just as Job shouldn’t have been handed over to Satan.
Before considering Job’s suffering, I’d like to reflect on the imbalanced scale in my own life.
Last week I volunteered a lot of my time. I spent three and a half days helping my father-in-law replace the roof on his greenhouse, which is over a square acre in size. This was dangerous work. We had to walk the gutters between the peaks of the greenhouse roofs that were three stories high without harness or support. The slightest breeze could have easily swept the giant piece of plastic from the house and us with it. Then, yesterday, after helping my father-in-law, I went to my father’s and helped butcher turkeys. I’m not complaining, I enjoyed the hard work. It made me consider, however, the debts we owe one another.
We have a saying, Dad and I, that volunteer work among friends and family is “money in the bank”, meaning when you volunteer for friends and family the other is in your debt. Thinking about this, however, I realized that the balance of father and my father-in-law was pretty skewed to their side. I owe them so much that no amount of volunteer work on my part could ever satisfy my debt. This is true for many of us, we owe a tremendous amount to our parents or parent figures. For some, however, with irresponsible parents, the scales are imbalanced in the opposite direction, their parents actually owe them. And, it’s entirely possible that these irresponsible parents will never be able to atone for their mistakes. In general, however, I think it’s true that the youth carry a debt that will never be returned. It’s only because of the grace of our parents or past generations that we are free to live ordinary lives.
At best, our parents and our inheritance, encourages us to live on, using what’s been given us. Through their mercy, we are freed from our impossibly large debt and blessed to transcend the gift given.
By Rosilee Sherwood
I thought for a long time that GOD was up here and WE were down here and everything up there was good and wonderful and holy and amazing and everything down here was bad and ugly and just the everyday crap you had to put up with. I would come to church on a really good day or go on a retreat, or to a conference or something and I would (hands meet) MEET GOD. I would have this wonderful experience where I got to FEEL God and I thought that’s what being a Christian was all about. People said that God was always with me, but that was something I just had to believe, it didn’t really make much sense in my real life at the time. What I thought was that everything holy, everything spiritual, everything meaningful and life-changing, was separate from the everyday things, the practical things, the hard things.
One year during advent I started to think and talk about this separation. Someone pointed out to me that this might not be the most helpful way of understanding things. During Advent, we anticipate Christmas, and we prepare to receive Jesus, or God, as a human being. Advent has become my favourite time of year as I always look forward to hearing Vic share his passion for the Incarnation – God made flesh. As I started thinking about this, I began to see that for me, God becoming a human, Mary becoming pregnant and Jesus being born, this means that there is no separation. I began to discover that for me, thinking of all of these things as separate doesn’t give me a good picture of what life is really like. Us and God, of the holy things and the mundane things, beautiful things and boring things, life, and death. The separation I had learned about, the idea of God being up here and us down here, wasn’t the most revealing way of understanding God for me. I was beginning to see a different way of painting the picture of what God is like. It occurred to me that perhaps when we consider Advent and Christmas, we can see that we are here, AND God is here. The incarnation, God becoming human, shows us that the holy things, the good things, the beautiful and wonderful things, they are here too.
This is not a new idea. The Franciscan Monks, who have been around for centuries, believe that there is no clear distinction between the sacred and the “profane” or ordinary, because Christ existed in matter, from all eternity. When the Bible talks about creation, it says in Colossians that in Jesus, all things were created. Everything was created through him and for him. Jesus, holds everything together. For the Franciscans, God is everything – a rock, a tree, an animal, an angel, a human. So that is what I want to share with you. I want to share with you the idea that GOD IS WITH US. Goodness and beauty. They are with us. The main way that I think of God, is as LOVE. So, Jesus as a baby in a dirty manger means that LOVE is not something far away or separate from everyday life. Love is with us!!
By Caleb Ratzlaff
Westview Christian Fellowship is located in the Queenston neighbourhood, a district in St. Catharines that has abnormally high rates of poverty, homelessness, and illiteracy. Westview has become a strong community partner through sharing its resource and expertise with a women’s Centre, Westview Centre4Women. The Centre provides refuge, community, and a variety of services for women living in the Queenston neighbourhood. Although the Centre was initiated by the church as a response to a need in St. Catharines' downtown context, the Centre, in turn, responded to needs in the church when some of the participants became involved in leadership and support. Last year a number of women from the Centre expressed interest in an introductory course on Christianity. After trying the Alpha program, an evangelistic program which seeks to introduce the basics of the Christian faith, we decided to create our own curriculum to better suit our situation.
While considering this neighbourhood and the request for a course on Christianity, I was struck by one of the many compelling arguments found in Nik Ansell’s most recent book, The Annihilation of Hell: Universal Salvation and the Redemption of Time in the Eschatology of Jürgen Moltmann. Simply stated, Nik argues that Scripture is a story about the work of God and humanity making a home, a place in this world defined by care, respect, and love—something many struggle with in Queenston. This got my imagination turning: if creation is God’s domestic homemaking skills at work, was God homeless before he turned on the lights? Does God experience similar feelings and challenges as those associated with homelessness?* It’s a strange speculative thought, that creation emerges out of a God forsaken space, a space Moltmann argues is within God, akin to a woman’s womb.
This blog has multiple contributors. The beliefs and opinions expressed by each are one-sided and partial. We hope that by confronting and expressing our one-sidedness through dialogue this blog is able to reflect the life of Westview as we gather together and live in the Queenston Neighbourhood and beyond. If you are interested in contributing, please contact Caleb at email@example.com.