AROUND THE KITCHEN TABLE
By Donald Ward
My father was raised in the Presbyterian tradition, my mother in the slightly more liberal milieu of the relatively newly formed United Church of Canada. When they married and subsequently moved west from Ontario, they saw no reason to cling to the stifling theology of their forbears and sought spiritual solace, instead, among the Society of Friends, or Quakers, who rejected form in worship — the minister, the homily, the sacraments — in favour of direct, personal contact with God.
In the years between my parents’ upbringing and mine, the Presbyterians have developed a much more relaxed attitude toward non-Presbyterians, to the point that my paternal grandmother — who in her youth would cross the street rather than walk directly in front of a Catholic church — came to accept Roman Catholics into her family as in-laws. The United Church, for its part, soon became so open-minded as to accept women into the ordained ministry. Many Christian communities, including the Presbyterians, have since followed suit, recognizing that the call to ministry is neither gender-specific nor neutral. Rather, it is a call from God, who created both Adam and Eve — “in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Gn 1:27) — and who cannot be ignored or denied without great cost by anyone who is called to service in the Christian community.
“Every aspect of the Christian thing,” wrote Marshall McLuhan, “is communication and change and transformation.” Like most things McLuhan said or wrote, the message takes a while to sink in. But, on reflection, it seems to me that the statement is a true image of Christ’s life. From the nativity to the crucifixion, communication and change and transformation were the hallmarks of his ministry, until he endured the ultimate transformation in the perfection of the cross.
So, too, the church of the resurrection has involved itself and the world in a constant struggle to appreciate and communicate the fullness of that singular sacrifice. Doctrines have evolved and developed, heresies have arisen, teachings have been accepted and then rejected — or rejected and then accepted; men and women have been vilified and later sanctified as the collective understanding of humankind has transformed itself according to the relentless urgings of the Holy Spirit.
The Christian life is a reflection of the Christian church — or perhaps it’s the other way around: the soul achieves perfection in unity with its creator, and each of us is given a lifetime in which to strive toward that unity. Admittedly, lifetimes are of variable duration; some are given a century or more, others are taken from the womb by violence or by nature. But even a child who dies unborn has learned a million things before the soul departs. For those of us who are granted the biblical three-score and 10, the Christian life is characterized by change, by growth, by the transforming process of becoming more fully human — and, ultimately, more Christ-like.
It is fitting, too, that the institutions of faith should transform and evolve, for a stagnant community can blunt the virtues like nothing else. A community that can neither communicate nor change, that cannot transform itself in the ongoing development of salvation history, will eventually become its own reason for being, the object of its own faith, as if the crucifixion and the resurrection were merely a unifying mythology, vaguely remembered and imperfectly understood, but with no real relevance to the daily challenge of being Christian. In such communities, rules are followed scrupulously while the theological virtues are carried off, one by one, like the victims of a subtle plague, until one day there is no community left, just a group of people bound by habit and fear.