As you write your Christmas cards….

And whilst pondering the fall of Aleppo……


He takes such small steps

To express our longings.

Thank you, Schubert.


How many hours

Do I sit here

Aching to do


What I do not do

When, suddenly,

He throws a single note


Higher than the others

So that I feel

The green field of hope,


And then, descending,

All this world’s sorrow,

So deadly, so beautiful.



Mary Oliver


So, what happens next?

So, what happens next?

We’ve had a week to begin to absorb the results of the US elections. Like a stone thrown into the middle of a pond, ripples of concern are moving outward. What will happen around climate change, trade, international relations, basic human rights? The feeling of having been robbed of the promise of a secure future isn’t restricted to residents of the US “rust belt”. Will the alt-right* movement in the US and Europe continue to grow as the only seemingly viable expression of disillusion? My European roots make the potential impact on it of a Putin/Trump alliance particularly significant: what about the people of Latvia, the country to which I feel viscerally bound? Tobias Stone’s blog “History tells us what may happen next with Brexit and Trump”** felt like a giant boulder being thrown into the middle of that pond.

We can’t predict what will happen next. Hoping it will all go away and grabbing a handful of popcorn as we watch yet another hour of comfort TV isn’t really an option, other than increasing the possibility of developing type 2 diabetes. The populist response in the tabloids and alt-right driven social media will not help build a more just society, nor will pretending there is no such thing as climate change when scientists tell us the last two years have been the hottest in recorded history.

One of the fundamental premises of the Christian message is that we are all connected one to another. It’s not only the solitary butterfly fluttering its wings in the Amazon rainforest that echoes across the planet, but our thoughts and actions, too. There is an intricate web of reciprocity that we all depend on for our existence; it can enrich our lives and the lives of others as well. It’s called love of neighbour: respecting each person’s worth, valuing the labour and needs of others, being available.

Another is the one in the Magnificat, Mary’s song of praise when she becomes aware she is carrying the saviour of the world within her womb:

            You [God] have shown strength with your arm,

            you have scattered the proud in their conceit;

            you have deposed the mighty from their thrones

            and raised the lowly to high places.

            You have filled the hungry with good things,

            while you have sent the rich away empty. (Luke 1:51-53. The Inclusive Bible)

The principles of fairness and equity, of justice and mutual support are God-like. The message that Jesus conveys in word and action reflect this. The call of the Christian message is to help build this into the fabric of society.

Be it the safety-pin you put in your lapel, the support shown to someone experiencing bigotry in a public place. Be it the respect shown to staff when those who manage companies recognize their primary responsibility is less to shareholders and their own bank-balance than the well-being of their employees, and their families. Be it the shareholders and stakeholders who affirm their critical role in ensuring the health of the planet, everyone builds a healthy society in a healthy world.

The Christian message isn’t just words, it’s a way of life. For everyone.






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Stupid Phrases for People in Crisis

A very worthwhile read. Cliches seem to be all about feeling out of your depth in the face of someone’s pain and feeling the need to say something. But this is not a time to reassure us in our sense of helplessness! Marilyn’s suggestions for how to respond, listed at the bottom of her blog, are very worthwhile.



  1. God will never give you more than you can handle. While some may believe it is theologically correct, depending on your definitions, it is singularly unhelpful to the person who is neck-deep in a crisis, trying to swim against a Tsunami. A wonderful phrase recently came from Support for Special Needs. They suggest changing this from “God will never give you more than you can handle” to “Let me come over and help you do some laundry.” This strikes me as even more theologically correct.
  2. It gets better. Yes, yes it does. But right then, it’s not better. And before it gets better, it may get way worse.
  3. When God shuts a door, he opens a window. Maybe, but maybe not. Maybe he just shuts a door. Maybe there is no window. There was no window for Job. There was a cosmic battle that raged as he sat in distress. There…

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It’s Sunday.


It’s Sunday. Confession time.

I have a confession to make: I haven’t been to church on a Sunday since my sabbatical began on July 10.

“And you, a pastor!” I hear you.

On the first Sunday I was in the airport waiting for a flight. And for the other Sundays? I have no excuses.

Instead, I did what probably most of you did on this fine summer’s day. I stayed home.

It was a beautiful morning. I took my coffee outside, sat down on the shaded deck and listened to the birds singing as I inhaled the scent of a fresh morning and wondered what the day might hold. After a while I got up and took a stroll around the garden checking in on the vegetables and spoke sternly to the birds fighting around the feeders: “Play nicely, children. There’s plenty for all of you.”

It really was lovely. The glory and wonder of creation was all there and I thanked God for the blessing of being able to experience it.

I started to read through the lessons for the day, but stopped.

Something was missing.

I missed going to church.

Being a pastor on sabbatical means that I’m meant to use this extended time to rest, refresh myself, and be restored so I can come back re-energized for the next stage in our joint ministry. The unwritten rule is that you find somewhere else to worship so the boundary is maintained.

During my last sabbatical, ten years ago, I made a point of worshipping in as many different churches as I could. High Church Anglican, Pentecostal, multi-centre Evangelical, I went to them all. Yet this time the idea of going to a different church every Sunday and experiencing “coffee hour” after worship filled me with dread. I couldn’t see any point unless it was information gathering. But that wasn’t what going to church is about.

I realized today that I didn’t want to observe worship as an experience. I wanted to worship. I didn’t want to be a passive observer looking on, I needed to be in community. In the community to which I belong where Inta is in charge of coffee hour, Guntis takes care of the rota for the communion assistants, and Davids plays the organ. The one for whom Sarma prepares the Sunday bulletins and Andris ensures the sanctuary and fellowship hall are welcoming to all who come. I didn’t want to feel like the solitary chickadee at my bird feeder. I wanted to be with those to whom I belong and worship God with them.

We moved in to share with another congregation a year and a half ago having sold our glorious heritage building that was now far too large for us, but just the right size for a burgeoning new church plant. Yes, there have been the inevitable tensions as our two congregations learned not only to share but to reassess the validity of seventy years of assumptions about one another. Yet we have begun to experience the new possibilities that seem to have appeared out of nowhere.We are beginning to see that we truly become one as we gather to worship. As we meet at the altar. That we, a motley crew, are united in and by the bread and the wine and transformed by the presence of Christ. That Jesus can be experienced as alive in, through, and among this community. The one to which I belong.

And that’s what I realized I was missing this Sunday. Not our old church home so much, but the community that is the real “home”. I recognized it doesn’t matter how good the sermon is, whatever that means; it doesn’t matter if someone always sings slightly off-key. That’s not relevant. When I’m in that community I’m not assessing, I’m participating. All that matters is that this is where I belong, a community whose members have questions, doubts and convictions, one where people have experienced the brush of God’s touch, or yearn to know it.

So when I’m next in town on a Sunday morning during my sabbatical, I will go and sit as one of the congregation and just let go so I can feel the Spirit moving among us. I will gather with the others to receive the sign of God’s endless love for us, of God’s becoming human like us, receive the bread, and take the cup. And I will know that Christ’s hands are outstretched towards all of us as he says: “come, my beloved, this is home. Rest, be refreshed, and feel yourself restored so you can live your life in joy.”


“Though there are many of us, we are one body in Christ, and individually we belong to each other.” Romans 12:5


A recording of the remarkable contralto, Kathleen Ferrier (1912-1953) singing “O, rest in the Lord” from Mendelssohn’s “Elijah”.


Please note: all opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author alone and are not to be seens as reflective of any one denomination or congregation.

© Ilze Kuplens-Ewart 2016




Einstein’s enduring gifts


We all know the equation, combined with the image of Einstein with wild hair from our college days: posters, T-shirts. But what the heck does it mean, other than that Einstein was undeniably brilliant, and approachably crazy?

I wanted to know more.

WikiHow (thank you wikiHow: much of what follows is taken word for word from this source), told me that energy (E) can be neither created, nor destroyed. It becomes transformed into a different kind of energy.

Mass is the amount of matter in an object. Invariant mass is, as you might expect, the kind of mass that never changes no matter what. Relativistic mass is dependent on the velocity of the object. In Einstein’s formula, m (mass) is the invariant kind.

Like energy, mass can be neither created nor destroyed, but can also change its form. So the ice-cream you’re eating on that hot summer’s day still has the same mass, even though it’s melted, and is in the process of being transformed into a different kind of mass as it makes its gloopy way through your digestive system. Your initial scoop of ice-cream has stretched out and got mixed with other stuff and, – we know the details.

The “c” piece is about the speed of light. But the main point is that there is a link between energy and mass, an “equals” sign. They’re not two separate things: maybe one is “contained” within the other.

The cogs started moving inside my head.

What this mean for the language I use to describe the interrelationship between all things and what we call “God”?

Everything is composed of mass and energy. Neither are destroyed. Energy is transformed, as is mass. Mass can change.

As I reflect back on my day, and pause at moments to give thanks, I become reconnected with the presence of God. It doesn’t mean that God somehow disappeared in the intervening periods; I just wasn’t connected. But when I recall the thing, the person, the moment in the course of the day that lifts or reassures, the awareness of God’s presence is awakened within me. It’s as if the “equals” sign appears. And this then bounces off into an awareness of God “speaking” to me through my interactions with others, and the world around me. The nature of the “mass” has shifted, but is undoubtedly there.

This is particularly so when you contemplate the idea of the grace of God: unconditional, unearned loving-kindness, with more than a sprinkling of joy and delight at times. You become aware of it working within and around you. Just because you may have been unaware of it, doesn’t mean it didn’t exist; it is there. After all, when you eat your ice-cream you don’t think about the continued “life” of its energy and mass. Well, not until you step on the scales…

So, as a good Lutheran, I’m going to put myself out there and say that God’s grace is another example of E=mc2 at work. It is there as energy, active, engaged. It is there as mass – a concrete, nameable person, an experience. It is at the heart of who we are. And it will never disappear.

What a wonderful thought. Thank you, Einstein.



One of the tranformative moments of my sabbatical happened during the first week: attending the Kenyon Institute’s “Beyond Walls” programme. We had each been asssigned to a home group; mine was “E”. On our last morning those of us from the “E” group who were still there agreed that we had experienced something profound. We wanted to honour it by encouraging one another to continue writing, and to read one another’s work in the same respectful and gracious way we had done all week as a way of building on these newly-acquired skills.

Our first assignment on returning home was to write a piece based on the letter E. Thank you, dear colleagues and friends, for your continued encouragement.

Image of Albert Einstein with text taken by permission

Please note: all opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author alone and are not to be seens as reflective of any one denomination or congregation.

© Ilze Kuplens-Ewart 2016

Mid-week Musings

Sometimes obstacles can have unexpected outcomes.

I came on retreat with a persistent dry, hacking cough. My plea to preserve other retreatants’ sanity by being assigned a room where I wouldn’t disturb them was answered by being given the “Woodpecker” room. Blissful. A room at the front of the house, away from everyone else.

From the first morning, a wicker chair next to a table on the front porch became my “good morning, world” spot. Be it foreground, middle ground, or distance there was something engaging to see.

On the first morning as I was sitting and settling in for the day, a red squirrel and a chipmunk were unexpected companions. They disappeared quickly. I thought about the pack of trail mix I had brought with me, just in case I needed it, and decided the squirrel’s and chipmunk’s needs were greater than mine.

On the second morning, I scattered some of the delectable mix, sunflower seeds, cashews, peanuts, raisins, dried cranberries, on the wall in front of me and waited. Nothing.

On the third morning, ditto. This time a black, elegantly shorn Portuguese water dog came ambling out of the wood in front of me. It stopped, looked at me, I think somewhat disdainfully, and then wandered off.

On the fourth day, I gave up on the trail mix. But the chipmunk appeared.

On the fifth day, nothing.

On the sixth day the squirrel turned up!

On the seventh day the squirrel decided the shelf on the table next to me was worth exploring as were the chair legs under me. But then it realized I wasn’t part of the furniture and skittered off down the ramp leaving behind a trail of foot and tail prints on the dewy surface as testimony to its presence.

I went inside and got the trail mix. Just sunflower seeds and a couple of raisins left, the stuff at the bottom of the pouch. I sat down and waited. The chipmunk appeared. It turned out it wasn’t alone: there was a battle royal being fought in the flower bed beneath me. The winner crawled out onto the porch to my right, checked out the floor and discovered the seeds, and the raisins, chewed frenetically and disappeared, appearing again shortly after, in a different place. I wondered briefly if chipmunks were troubled by plaque from eating sweet things.

My learning from this? Aside from the obvious, that God won’t be tamed, nor is to be summoned up at will like the genie in Aladdin’s lamp: get up half an hour earlier. And instead of sitting slumped over the kitchen counter trying to focus on Matt Galloway on Metro Toronto (the morning radio show on CBC for my non-Toronto friends) as I swallow my morning cuppa, take it outside. Find a place to sit, preferably the same place each morning and savour your mug of tea, Lapsang Souchong with plenty of milk for me, or coffee if that’s what you prefer, and simply be. Savour the quiet. Feel how gently the world is being opened up to you.

Would you like to join me? Each in our own place, of course.

All materials published on this site are copyright.  Ilze Kuplens-Ewart, 2016

Don’t say: “I can’t do anything.”

imageIn a week marked by continued unrest throughout the world, the bewilderment in behavioral therapist Charles Kinsey’s voice as he related the police officer’s response to Kinsey’s asking him why he had shot him, “I don’t know” echoes what many feel at this time.
Brexit, Trump, shootings in the US, attacks in Europe perpetrated by disaffected second generation immigrants, the failed coup in Turkey; what is going on? There seems to be a connection, as Mark MacKinnon suggests writing in the Globe and Mail on July 23: a groundswell of deep disatisfaction with the status quo among those who have found themselves sidelined. [1]
The uncertainty this is causing seems to be having a significant impact on our youth. Rather than looking forward to graduating high school and striking out into the world with enthusiasm, students are experiencing heightened anxiety and depression. For many young people, the future represents pressure, not possibilities.
How do we respond as people of faith? What constructive message can we share with our youth, with those for whom the present, let alone the future, seems bleak?

What might we glean from the passage from Genesis 18:20-32 about Abraham’s response part of a challenging situation?

It is worthwhile remembering that Abraham is the first patriarch of three of the world’s religions, an example of faithful leadership to Jews, Christians, and Moslems alike. The teachings contained in this narrative consequently carry great weight to their adherents. They have normative value.
In the verses before this passage God is shown as debating whether or not to tell Abraham of his plans for Sodom. God decides to do so, because “I have chosen him [Abraham] that he may charge his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice.” So, what follows is less a test of God, more of Abraham’s ability to act righteously and with justice. Has Abraham taken on board what it means to be in relationship with God, whose desire it is to bless and heal the world? In short, what kind of leader is Abraham? This encounter will be a key indicator.
God’s announcement of the decision to annihilate Sodom certainly opens the door to endless options to respond. Yet Abraham is not in the least interested in the reasons, neither does blaming or judging the inhabitants because of their deeds get a mention. And certainly, the last thing on Abraham’s mind is to applaud God for the rightness of their destruction or offer to rally his tribe to lend God a hand.
Instead Abraham responds to what he sees as the injustice of what God is proposing. Rather than bury his head in the sand and pretend he doesn’t know, or be overwhelmed into inactivity, Abraham stands his ground, literally. Indeed, he comes right up to God almost jabbing with his finger. “What do you mean, you’re going to destroy the entire city! What about the innocent ones?” and pleads with God repeatedly to show justice and mercy. And God agrees. Abraham has passed the test. He has shown courage, compassion, and tenacity despite being seemingly confronted by the greatest opponent imaginable.

We are all leaders. This isn’t just a meaningless mantra our children are sent home from school with to energize them, it applies equally to everyone. The choice, whether to blindly follow demagoguery, to remain in that most painful of places in the long-term, “sitting on the fence”, or to take action to support justice and righteousness is entirely ours. Taking action simply requires a little imagination, and using the talents and opportunities available to us. Each voice counts. Funding Barack Obama’s first presidential campaign seemed to be a lost cause by comparison to the might of wealthy Republican donors, but it was turned around by social media, by $5 and $10 donations from ordinary folk, and by people coming out to vote. Rather than joining in with the complaints at the water cooler, we can exercise our democratic mandate and write to our political representatives; they will take note. We can join with our faith communities and take action to support those who are sidelined. We can listen to our young people, and, instead of perpetuating the myth of “you can achieve whatever you want, all you need is to want it”, hear their concerns and reassure them that we are there to support them through difficult times.

We can. We can let the voice of Abraham, the actions of Jesus resonate through us. Chaos is not the only reality.

Genesis 18:20-32

Then the Lord said, “How great is the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah and how very grave their sin! I must go down and see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me; and if not, I will know.”
So the men turned from there, and went toward Sodom, while Abraham remained standing before the Lord. Then Abraham came near and said, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; will you then sweep away the place and not forgive it for the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” And the Lord said, “If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will forgive the whole place for their sake.” Abraham answered, “Let me take it upon myself to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes. Suppose five of the fifty righteous are lacking? Will you destroy the whole city for lack of five?” And he said, “I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there.” Again he spoke to him, “Suppose forty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of forty I will not do it.” Then he said, “Oh do not let the Lord be angry if I speak. Suppose thirty are found there.” He answered, “I will not do it, if I find thirty there.” He said, “Let me take it upon myself to speak to the Lord. Suppose twenty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of twenty I will not destroy it.” Then he said, “Oh do not let the Lord be angry if I speak just once more. Suppose ten are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of ten I will not destroy it.”   NRSV.


Image courtesy of
#Turkey coup #Trump #Brexit #Abraham #righteousness #Genesis18:20-32 #action #youth #hopelessness #courage #compassion #leadership

Room for everyone at the Lord’s Table?


Some reflections on issues surrounding the debate on the ordination of women in the Latvian Evangelical Lutheran Church.

“Peace be to the whole community, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace be with all who have an undying love for our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Ephesians 6:23,24. New Revised Standard Version).

“ Theology is not an abstract discipline, but arises out of concrete life situations.”

             Pastors’ reflections to their congregation at the beginning of summer would customarily focus on the rhythm of summer with the opportunity for spiritual renewal this offers. Basking in the glories of God’s creation and being able to separate ourselves from the bustle of city life provide a gateway for the soul to be restored and to review our lives from that deeper place within where we experience the living God. I do hope you seize the opportunity this summer – relax! You are allowed to take the time to do nothing more than simply “be”, resting in the lap of God.

This time, however, there is a need to turn to other important issues and write at greater length than usual. By the time you read this two particularly significant events will have taken place in Riga. On May 31st, the Latvian Ev. Lutheran Church Abroad (LELCA), to which St Andrew’s belongs, will have established a deanery in Latvia. On June 2 and 3 the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia (ELCL) will have met and voted on substantial changes to their constitution. You may wonder how this is of importance to us. Paul’s words to the young Christian community in Corinth show the connection: “If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part gets the glory, all the parts celebrate with it. You are the body of Christ and parts of each other.” (1. Cor. 12:26,27. Common English Bible).

Paul’s words are written for one specific community, one that had experienced considerable turmoil and dissension, but the same metaphor can be applied to the whole church. This is why we pray for the church throughout the world when we gather to worship on Sundays. This is why we express our thanksgiving whenever the church has been guided by the Spirit in a way that has brought blessing. Also, what happens in the church in Latvia must be our concern: we share a common ancestry, they are our brothers and sisters, fellow Christians.

Why the concern around the ELCL synod? Why is the LELCA working in Latvia?

The Latvian mass media have pointed to one common denominator: the ordination of women. However, there is more.

Since his election in 1993 as head of the ELCL, archbishop Janis Vanags has maintained his conviction that only men can be ordained. Consequently there remained only the handful of female pastors in the ELCL who had been ordained by previous archbishops, Matulis and Gailītis between 1975 and 1992. As a result of the ban, many Latvian women who had fulfilled the requirements for ordination were accepted into the LELCA and now serve parishes in North America, the UK, Germany and Sweden.

In their Synod at the beginning of June, delegates from the ELCL will be voting on several changes to their constitution, including the paragraph that defines requirements for ordination thus formalizing the change in practice brought in by archbishop Vanags.

This move is a highly significant departure from previous church legislation. Even the first constitution of the ELCL, passed in 1928, made no reference to the gender of applicants for ministry, although the male pronoun is used in the text. Further, in the constitution passed by the ELCL as recently as Jun 5, 2007 in Riga, there is no qualification to candidacy based on gender. Yet the wording of the change passed at this year’s synod now states: “Male applicants may apply for ordination….” The Latvian mass media had predicted that this would pass with a substantial majority. It did indeed, although as the Lutheran World Federation pointed out in a press release on June 6 entitled: “Affirming women’s ordination as our shared goal”: “The LWF is concerned about the unity of the Latvian church, given the fact that many at the Synod opposed the motion, or abstained from voting.”[i] Announcement of the result of the vote was greeted with applause and cheering.

Much has been written about the establishment of the LELCA in Latvia, as well as the formal restriction of ordination to men only. With reference to the latter, objections include questioning how Biblical texts have been used to support the move against recognizing the validity of women’s ministry; challenging the assumption that the ELCL as a body is against women’s ordination, as well as objections based on human rights and gender equality.

Outside Latvia the direction being taken by the ELCL has been met overwhelmingly with concern and incredulity. The “refugee” generation and their descendents whose Latvian socialization was grounded in pride at the equal value placed on men and women in the interwar years and who have lived alongside major shifts in attitudes in the West towards groups who were formerly marginalized (people of colour, the LGBTQ community and women) find the viewpoint of the ELCL leadership regressive and unacceptable. “In the country there was total equality: the men were responsible for the fields and the forests, while the women took charge of the home, and the barn. This included the keys to the barn where the family treasures were stored.”

For me, as a woman who has served the Latvian Lutheran church as a parish pastor for 32 years, the decision to base suitability for ordination partly on the candidate being the “right” gender is deeply distressing. For years could I listen patiently while certain male colleagues in Latvia outlined their reasons for a male-only pastorate, patiently, because these attitudes were not part of my everyday reality. The uneasiness I experienced at those times as I became aware that the validity of my call and ministry were being disavowed was nothing by comparison with what my sisters in Latvia had to experience on a daily basis – put down simply because of their gender. Not only are these attacks a denial of the equality of women, more significantly. they are attacks on the authenticity of their call. They imply that God values men more than women. This begs the obvious question: did not Christ, crucified and risen from the dead, come to save the whole world, offering new life to everyone?

How to respond? Time and again Jesus calls his followers not to harden their hearts against those who oppose them, but to seek to understand them, that is to ground their response in love. A genuine attempt to understand comes with love, and only in love. This does not imply consensus, rather it is to ask why these attitudes have come to dominate in the ELCL, with an open heart.

One starting point is to explore the assertion: “Theology is not an abstract discipline, but arises out of concrete life situations.”

When the Lutheran church in Latvia began the process of renewal around the time of the restoration of Latvian independence the emphasis both the head of the LELCA, archbishop Arnolds Lūsis, and archbishop Kārlis Gailītis, head of the ELCL shared was a need for both churches to cooperate and begin to grow together as an integrated body. The joint, “red” hymnal was just one outcome, as well as the invitation to a number of LELCA clergy to help teach and train the current generation of theologians and ministry candidates. I was honoured to be among those and taught in Riga from January 1990 to Spring 1996, first at the Theology Institute and then at the University of Latvia, once the Faculty of Theology was reopened. I also led a number of retreats for female theologians.

Not long after these beginnings, both archbishops died. The elections which followed in Latvia to find a replacement for archbishop Gailītis provided the opportunity either to continue in this direction or to find another. Even before his election as head of the ELCL, Rev Jānis Vanags made his response clear: his church must take a different, independent course. With that, cooperation with a view to increased integration effectively ended. The decision by the leadership of the ELCL to stop participating in a joint yearbook affirmed this.

Undoubtedly clergy in both churches had emerged from very different circumstances. As the ELCL web-site states: “the church struggled to survive in every possible way so as to maintain a living faith, to preach the Gospel and the principles of a Christian life among the people.” We can only wonder at the courage, passion and self-denial of those who continued to minister faithfully despite being faced with unbelievable challenges during the Soviet era.

Clergy educated and brought up in the West had access to theology as it had developed in the post-war period. Their approach to Biblical materials was analytical, text-critical, and Luther’s emphasis on an academic education for pastors provided the impetus to continue exploring theology and recent academic developments after ordination as well as to attend to their own spiritual growth.

The last twenty years have underscored the conclusion that these are two, very different, worlds. While the preparation for ministry provided at the Luther Academy in Riga has produced a cohort of new clergy who take an increasingly negative approach to what they see as not being congruent with their dogmatic standpoint, a “post-structural” approach has come to dominate outside Latvia. The latter holds that each persons viewpoint is grounded in their personal experience, both of life, and of God. While this assumes differences in understanding, there is an emphasis on finding commonalities in the fundamentals of faith. It is difficult to see how both approaches can be reconciled.

Added to this is the psychological aspect: the social reality we inhabit affects our worldview. Thus suspicions around Western European “liberal” values continue to be expressed in a rejection of predominant shifts in Western mores. These are seen as an attack on the Christian faith which can only be answered by adhering to a literalistic interpretation of the Word, and rigid dogmatism maintained by an authoritarian structure that keeps tight control over the work of the church. This situation is not unique to Latvia: its echoes are visible elsewhere and in different denominations wherever the role of the church in society is seen as ever-decreasing in importance. Yet outside Latvia this response seems inconsistent with what seems valid for the church’s new reality. Can one person fully understand the “truth” of scripture if only Jesus is “the Way, the Truth and the Life”? How people experience their faith is highly personal and so, too, is how scripture is interpreted. It is interpretation. We all seek to understand and can presume no more; we are all simply human, able only to see part of the whole.

Whether or not God’s word has been “taken in vain” as archbishop emeritus Elmārs Ernsts Rozītis states in his article: “You shall not take the name of the Lord in vain” (the Latvian “vārds” can mean both “the Word”, and “the name”) is a matter for itself. However, the clearly evident deficiencies and slanted approach in the interpretation of certain New Testament passages on which the leadership of the ELCL rests its conclusion reflects their worldview. For example, while the ecumenically accepted New Revised Standard Version replaces the original Greek “men” or “brothers” with inclusive language in the Epistles, the translators of the new Latvian Bible insisted on adhering to the original. This is more than just an absence of good manners, or “political correctness”, rather, it is a refusal to understand that God’s grace, and the saving work of Christ is for all, both men and women, and to refer only to the masculine form indicates a difference in value placed on men as opposed to women in God’s economy.

How we approach scripture is highly important. On this rests the entirety of the work of the church, from the preparation of the Sunday sermon to relationships within the congregation and their mission outside the walls of the church. There is a ripple effect in the wider community.

The ELCL under the leadership of archbishop Jānis Vanags has sought to shape its identity separate from the LELCA. But objections raised by clergy within Latvia as well as lay members indicate there is not unanimous support for this. While there continues to be an unwillingness to listen to or respect divergent viewpoints, this expression of the body of Christ cannot embrace all its members. The LELCA began its work in Latvia because there was a significant number of people of faith who wanted to experience a different kind of Lutheran church in Latvia. Not everyone can belong to the Luther congregation in Riga.

This is a time both of deep sadness and of hope. Of one door closing, yet another coming open. On the one hand there is now an opportunity for Latvians in their home country to belong to Lutheran congregations that are more open. On the other is sorrow at the rigidity of the ELCL with all that is lost along the way. It is especially painful to think of the many Latvian women who have felt Christ’s call to follow him in ordained ministry, but may not express this in Latvia in the foreseeable future.

Those living in the West must be careful not to write off the possibility of continuing to speak with their brothers, and sisters, in the ELCL. A dialogue has to emerge. That has been noticeable by its absence. The fruits of an approach that is open, has a sense of humility before God and is peace-loving are clearly visible in the wider church, especially in the ecumenical conversations that have taken place over the last fifty years between the Lutheran World Federation and the Roman Catholic Church. This year, on Reformation day, October 31, a joint service will be led in Lund Cathedral, Sweden by Pope Francis I, the president of the Lutheran World Federation, Bishop Munib Younan, and its General Secretary, Rev. Dr Martin Junge, in the presence of the archbishop of the Church of Sweden, a woman.

The observations made be representatives of both churches are worth noting.

There is power when communities find their way out of conflict. In Christ we are encouraged to serve together in this world. The joint commemoration is a witness to the love and hope we all have because of the grace of God,” LWF President Younan and General Secretary Junge say. Kurt Cardinal Koch, President of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity explains further: “By concentrating together on the centrality of the question of God and on a Christocentric approach, Lutherans and Catholics will have the possibility of an ecumenical commemoration of the Reformation, not simply in a pragmatic way, but in the deep sense of faith in the crucified and resurrected Christ.”[ii]

These events do indeed concern us. Only God knows where they will lead us. But we have been provided with a remarkable opportunity to review both our own faith life and the life of the church. 2017 will mark the five hundredth anniversary of the Reformation. The valuable lead provided by the heads of the Lutheran and Roman Catholic churches gathering to worship God in humility this year on Reformation day serves as an invitation to us to use the year ahead, from Reformation day 2016 to 2017 as a year of renewal. A renewal of our faith.

Until then, let us all continue to pray without ceasing for the church in Latvia and beyond that the light of the good news of Christ be clearly visible among our people and that it bring peace, love and hope.

By God’s grace, may peace and love together with faith be with us all, brothers and sisters from Jesus Christ. Amen.


Ilze Kuplens-Ewart,

Pastor, St Andrew’s Evangelical Lutheran Latvian Church, Toronto.


For the newsletter of St Andrew’s Ev. Lutheran Latvian Church, Toronto, June 2016

©Ilze Kuplens-Ewart. 2016

Please note: this article reflects the personal opinion of the author.





Vai katram vieta pie Kunga galda?

Pārdomas par sieviešu ordināciju.

Sv. Andreja evanģēliski luteriskās draudzes Toronto Ziņām.

“Peace be to the whole community, and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace be with all who have an undying love for our Lord Jesus Christ.”Ephesians 6:23,24  (New Revised Standard Version)

“Miers brāļiem un mīlestība līdz ar ticību no Dieva Tēva un Kunga Jēzus Kristus! Žēlastība lai visiem, kas mīl mūsu Kungu Jēzu Kristu ar neiznīcīgu mīlestību.” vēstule efeziešiem 6:23,24[i]

Teoloģija nav abstrakta disciplīna, bet rodas konkrētās dzīves situācijās.”[ii]

Parasti mācītājas raksts draudzei vasaras sākumam būtu veltīts iespējai garīgi atjaunoties, ko dāvā īpašais vasaras ritms. Dieva radības krāšņums, laiks pavadīts laukos prom no pilsētas burzmas var ļaut dvēselei atveldzēties un rast iespēju revidēt savu dzīvi no dziļākās vietas sevī, kur piedzīvojam saskarsmi ar dzīvo Dievu. Arī to novēlu jums šajā vasarā, mīļie draugi – atslēdzieties! Jūs drīkstiet uz brītiņu ikdienā nekā nedarīt, bet tikai “pabūt” itkā Dieva azotē, kā latvieši to tik skaisti izsaka.

Tomēr šoreiz ir nepieciešams griezties pie cita veida nopietniem jautājumiem un rakstīt plašāk. Līdz tam laikam, kad saņemsiet šīs ziņas būs risinājušies divi īpaši nozīmīgi notikumi Rīgā. 31. maijā latviešu baznīca, kurai mēs piederam: Latvijas evanģēliski luteriskā baznīca ārpus Latvijas (LELBĀL), nebūs tikai ārpus Latvijas, bet tai būs apgabals arī Latvijā, ar savu prāvesti. 2., un 3. jūnijā savukārt tiekas Latvijas evanģēliski luteriskā baznīcas (LELB) pārstāvi savā sinodē, kur balsos par grozījumiem baznīcas satversmē.

Varbūt jūs vaicājiet – kas mums par daļu? Ir, jo, kā apustulis Pāvils atgādina par tās esību: “Ja viens loceklis cieš, visi citi cieš līdzi; ja viens loceklis tiek pagodināts, visi citi priecājas līdzi. Bet jūs esat Kristus ķermenis un katrs par sevi tā locekļi.” (1. v. korintiešiem 12:26,27). Pāvils raksta konkrēti par vienu draudzi, Korintē, kuŗa bija piedzīvojusi lielas grūtības un šķelšanās, bet šo pašu salīdzinājumu var attiecināt vispār uz baznīcu kā arī uz draudzi. Tāpēc lūdzam par baznīcu visā pasaulē, kad sanākam dievkalpojumā. Tāpēc slavējam Dievu par reizēm, kad Gars ir vedis baznīcu kādā īpaši svētīgā virzienā. Turklāt, tas, kas notiek Latvijas baznīcā ir neapšaubāmi mūsu rūpe, jo tie ir mūsu tautieši, – kristieši, mūsu māsas un brāļi.

Kāpēc satraukums par LELB sinodi? Kāpēc LELBĀL tagad darbojas Latvijā?

             Masu mēdiji Latvijā ir izcēluši vienu iemeslu: – sieviešu ordināciju, tomēr iemesli ir vairāki.

            Kā zināms, kopš savas ievēlēšanas 1993.g. kā LELB virsgans, archibīskaps Jānis Vanags ir pieturējies pie savas pārliecības, ka sievietes nedrīkst būt mācītājas. Palika tikai tās dažas, kuŗas iepriekšējie archibīskapi: Matulis, Gailītis, bija ordinējušas starp 1975. un 1993. gadu. Aizlieguma rezultātā, vairākas latvietes, kuŗas pildīja baznīcas satversmē dotos noteikumus ordinācijai, tika uzņemtas LELBĀL, ordinētas, un tagad kalpo latviešu draudzēs Ziemeļamerikā, Anglijā, Vācijā, un Zviedrijā.

Jūnija sākumā balstiesīgiem delegātiem LELB sinodē būs jābalso par vairākām maiņām savā satversmē, to starpā, par grozījumu saucamā 133. pantā, kas nosaka noteikumus ordinācijai. Tas formāli ierobežos ordinācijas praksi kopš 1993.gada.

Ir svarīgi norādīt, ka pat 1928. gadā pieņēmtā pirmajā Latvijas Evanģēliski Luteriskās Baznīcas Satversme netiek pieminēts dzimuma ierobežojums, kaut arī teksta saturs norādīts vīriešu formā. Arī, 133. panta izvārdojums 2007.gadā 5. jūnijā, Rīgā apstiprinātā LELB satversmē atstāj dzimumu pilnīgi neierobežotu.  Taču šī gada LELB sinodāļu priekšā būs maiņa šī panta tekstā: “Ordināciju var lūgt ikviens vīriešu kārtas pretendents …..

Latvijas masu mēdiji paredz, ka grozījums tiks pieņemts ar ievērojamu balsu vairākumu.

Ir ļoti daudz publicēts par abiem šiem notikumiem: LELBĀL Latvijas nodaļas dibināšanu, kā arī par proponēto 133. panta grozījumu. Iebildumi pret pēdējo ir daudzdažādi – apstrīd LELB vadības pieņemto apgalvojumu, ka Bībeles teksts aizliedz sieviešu ordināciju, apstrīd to, ka LELB tiek automātiski saistīta ar aizliegumu sievietēm kalpot, kā arī cilvēku tiesību arguments.

Ārpus Latvijas visbiežāk dzird neizpratni par paredzēto ierobežojumu. ‘Trimdniekiem’ un viņu pēctečiem, kas auguši Latvijas starpkaru brīvvalsts garā, un dzīvojuši līdztekus rietumpasaules viedokļu izmaiņai iepretīm cilvēku grupām, kas reizi bijušas marginālas (melnie, viendzimumu, sievietes) ir grūti pieņemt šādu LELB vadības nostāju, kas skan regresīvi un nepieņemami. “Laukos bija vienlīdzība – vīrieši pa tīrumiem un mežiem, kamēr sieviešu ziņā bija māja, kūts, un klēts, ieskaitot klēts atslēgas, kur glabājās saimes vērtības!”

Man, kā sievietei, kura ir varējusi kalpot mūsu, latviešu luterāņu baznīcā kā draudzes mācītāja jau 32 gadus pieļaut ordināciju daļēji balstoties uz kandidāta “pareizo” dzimumu ir dziļi sāpinošs. Jau gadiem esmu pacietīgi klausījusies, kamēr daži amatbrāļi Latvijā izklāstīja savu viedokli pret sieviešu ordināciju, pacietīgi, jo man nebija jācīnās ikdienā ar to. Tomēr iekšējais nemiers, kas manī kūsāja saprotot, ka tajās reizēs mana aicinājuma derīgums un kalpošana tika nonivelētas izputēja kā pelavas salīdzinot ar to, ar ko diendienā māsas Latvijā ir sastapušās – noraidītas, vienīgi savu dzimuma dēļ. Protams, ka tādejādi sieviešu līdzvērtība tiek apstrīdēta, bet vēl nopietnāki ir uzbrukumi viņu aicinājumu autentiskumam un, neizteiktais pieņēmums, ka Dievs novērtē vīriešus augstāk par sievietēm. Vai Kristus, krustā sistais, augšāmcēlies nav nācis, lai glābtu visu pasauli, ikvienam piešķirot jaunu dzīvi?

Kristū nojaušam nepieciešamību nenobetonēt savu sirdi pret otru, bet lūkot to izprast. Ar mīlestību. Tikai ar mīlestību. To darīt nenozīme piekrist. Bet ir vietā vaicāt – “kāpēc šādi uzskati ir ņēmuši virsroku LELB?”. Te nāk vietā citāts:

Teoloģija nav abstrakta disciplīna, bet rodas konkrētās dzīves situācijās.”

Kad LELBĀL archibīskapa Arnolda Lūša un LELB archibīskapa Kārļa Gailīša vadības laikā luterāņu baznīca Latvijā sāk atjaunoties, Latvijai atgūstot savu neatkarību, uzsvars bija uz abu baznīcu līdzdarbību un saaugšanu kā vienu vienotu vienību. No tā radās mūsu “sarkanā” dziesmu grāmata, kā arī aicinājums LELBĀL sūtīt garīdzniekus uz Latviju palīdzēt apmācīt teologus un mācītāju kandidātus. Tā es, piemēram, sniedzu lekcijas Rīgā no 1990.g. janvāŗa līdz 1996. gada pavasarim, vispirms Teoloģijas institūtā, un tad, kad Teoloģijas fakultāte tika atjaunota Latvijas Universitātē, kā arī vadīju rekolekcijas teoloģēm vairākus gadus pēc kārtas Talsu mācītāju muižā.

Neilgi pēc šī iesākuma archbīskaps Kārlis Gailīties aizgāja bojā autokatastrofā un arī archibīskaps Arnolds Lūsis aizgāja Dieva mierā. Archibīskapa vēlēšanas, kas sekoja Latvijā radīja iespēju vai nu palikt pie šī virziena, vai meklēt citu. Pirms pat savas ievēlēšanas kā LELB virsgans, archibīskaps Jānis Vanags  skaidri rādīja, ka vēlas attīstīt citu, patstāvīgu identitāti savai baznīcai. Ar to efektīvi pārtrūka sadarbības intensitāte. Kopīgās Baznīcas Gada Grāmatas izbeigšana nedaudzus gadus pēc tam to apstiprināja.

Ir neapstrīdami, ka abās baznīcās garīdznieki bija auguši asi atšķīrogos apstākļos. Kā rakstīts LELB mājas lapā: “Baznīca izmisīgi centās visos iespējamos veidos izdzīvot, sevi saglabāt, uzturēt tautā dzīvu ticību, Evaņģēlija sludināšanu un kristīgu dzīvi.” [iii] Varam apbrīnot šo pirmo drosminieku sirdsdegsmi un pašaizliedzību!  Turpretīm rietumos izglītotiem un augušiem garīdzniekiem bija pieejama teoloģiska viela, kas veidojās pēckara periodā. Viņi pierada analizēt un pētīt Bībeles tekstus, un Lutera uzsvars uz akadēmisko sagatavošanu nozīmēja, ka tiem bija mudinājums turpināt iepazīties ar jaunumiem teoloģiskā pētniecībā arī pēc ordinācijas, kā arī piekopt un attīstīt savu personīgo garīgo dzīvi.

Pēdējos divdesmit gados pastiprinājās apziņa, ka šīs ir divas, atšķirīgas pasaules. Kamēr Lutera Akadēmijā sniegtā izglītība ir sagatavojusi virkni jaunu garīdznieku, kuri pieņem arvien asāku attieksmi pret to, kas neiekļaujas viņu stingri dogmatiskā pieejā, saucamā ‘post-strukturālā’ jautājumu risināšana ir ņēmusi virsroku ārpus Latvijas. Pēdejā konstatē, ka katram redzējums tiek iespaidots no savas personīgās pieredzes, ar dzīvi, ar Dievu. Pieņem, ka ne visi domās līdzīgi, uzdevums ir – kas ir kopīgais, savienojošais ticībā.  Abas šīs pieejas ir grūti savienojamas.

Tam nāk klāt tīri cilvēciskais moments: katrs audzis savā sociālā realitātē uztver pasauli citādi. Tā aizdomas pret Vakareiropas vērtībām atspoguļojas vēl joprojām atkārtoti izjustā aizsardzībā pret to, ka ir ‘liberāls’ respektivi, rietumos vadošā dzīves izpratne. Tajā saredz uzbrukumu ticībai, kam vienīgā atbilde ir turēties pie “tiešo” Vārda, respektīvi stingri nosacītu dogmatisku pieeju, ko uztur skaidra autoritātes struktūra, kas kontrolē vadlīnijas darbībai.  Šādu atbildi lielajam pagriezienam baznīcas lomai sabiedrībā ievēro arī citās zemēs, citās konfesijā. Turpretīm ārpus Latvijas,-  lielākoties – šāda pieeja stāv pretrunā tam, ko piedzīvo kā atbilstošu jaunai baznīcas realitātei.  Vai cilvēks var pilnība izprast Vārda “pareizību”. Vienīgi Jēzus ir “ceļš, patiesība un dzīvība”! Veids kā izjūt ticību ir ļoti personisks. Līdzīgi ar Vārda interpretācija. Tā ir interpretācija. Katrs taustās izprast. Vairāk nedrīkst, jo katrs ir tikai cilvēks ar ierobežotu izpratni.

Vai Dieva vārds Latvijas baznīcā ir bijis “nelietīgi valkāts” kā apgalvo archībīskaps emer. Elmārs Ernsts Rozītis, savā rakstā “Tev nebūs Dieva vārdu nelietīgi valkāt”[iv] negribas tieši atbildēt. Tomēr ievērojami trūkumi un tendenciozā pieeja dažu Jaunās Derības rakstvietu interpretācijā, uz kā balstās Latvijas baznīcas vadības nostāja norāda uz to, kā pārmantotā izpratne par pasauli, un dzīvi ir to iezīmējusi. Tā, piemēram, kamēr ekumēniski pieņemtais angļu valodas Bībeles tulkojums “New Revised Standard Version” visur, kur Pāvila vēstulēs oriģinālais grieķu teksts runā par vīriešu kārtu ir atvietojis ar inklusīvu valodu, – brāļi un māsas, tur Latvijas Bībeles biedrības izdotais jaunais tulkojums pastāv uz oriģinālo – tikai vīrieši. Tas nav vienkāršs pieklājības trūkums, drīzāk nepievēršanās tam, ka Dieva žēlastība, atpestīšana Kristū ir piešķirta visiem, gan vīriešiem, gan sievietēm, kamēr minēt tikai vīriešu kārtu acīmredzami ceļ to pārstāvjus augstākā pozicijā Dieva darbībā.

Tas, kā pieejam Vārdam, Dieva atklāsmei ir svarīgi, jo uz tā balstās visa baznīcas darbība, no mācītāja sprediķa sagatavošanas, līdz sadarbībai draudzes locekļu starpā un pieeja  ārpus baznīcas durvīm.

Latvijas evanģeliski luteriskā baznīca Latvijā archibīskapa Jāņa Vanaga vadībā, ir lūkojusi veidot savu identitāti, kas neatkarīga no tās, kas Latvijas evanģeliski luteriskai baznīcai ārpus Latvijas. Bet protesti, kas dzirdēti no garīdzniekiem Latvijā, kā arī no draudzes locekļiem rāda, ka tā neuzrunā visus.  Kamēr tā nespēj pieļaut viedokļu dažādību un to uzklausīt un cienīt šis Kristus kopienes veidols nevar iekļaut visus ? LELBĀL dibināšana Latvijā notika tāpēc ka bija ievērojams skaits kristiešu, kas vēlējās Latvijā piedzīvot cita veida luterāņu baznīcu. Ne visi var piederēt Rīgas Lutera (Torņkalna) draudzei.

Visu šo uzskatu saldi sērīgi. No vienas puses ir prieks, ka tagad Latvijā ir atvērusies iespēja cilvēkiem piederēt draudzēm, kur izskan cita veida luterāņu ticības izpausme – atklātāka, atvērtāka. No otras puses izjūtu skumjas par LELB nobetonēšanos un visu, kas tiek zaudēts līdz ar to. Un ir īpaši sāpīgi domājot par tām daudzām sievietēm Latvijā, kuŗas izjutušas Kristus aicinājumu sekojot viņam kļūt par mācītājam, bet nevar kalpot Latvijā.

Rietumos dzīvojošiem un kalpojošiem, ir ļoti jāsargās nenorakstīt turpmākas iespējas sarunāties ar saviem brāļiem, un māsām LELB. Dialogam ir jāveidojas. Tāds nav bijis līdz šīm. Turpretīm liecība par augļiem, ko nes atklāta, Dievam pazemīga un lēnprātīga pieeja ir vērojama plašākā baznīcā, it īpaši starpkonfesionālās sarunās, kas risinājušas pēdējos piecdesmit gados starp Pasaules Luterāņu Federāciju un Romas katoļu baznīcu. Tā šī gada Reformācijas svētkos, 31. oktobrī, Lundas katedrālē, Zviedrijā kopīgo dievkalpojumu vadīs pāvests Francis I, Pasaules Luterāņu Federācijas prezidents, bīskaps Munib Younan un tās Ģenerālsekretārs māc Dr. Martin Junge, Zviedrijas baznīcas archibīskapei, sievietei, klāt esot.

Lai ieklausāmies ko abu baznīcu pārstāvji saka par šo. Luterāņu federācijas vadība: “Rodas spēks, kad kopienes atrod veidu, kā izkļūt no konflikta. Kristū esam mudināti kopīgi kalpot pasaulē. Šīs svinības ir apliecinājums par mīlestību un cerību, ko visi gūstam Dieva žēlastībā.” Un savukārt Kurts, kardināls Koch, prezidents Pontifikālās Kristīgas vienotības veicināšanas koncīlam saka: “Kopīgi uzsverot jautājumu par Dievu kā centrālu un balstoties uz kristocentrisku pieeju [Kristus ir darbības centrā], luterāņiem un katoļiem būs iespējams ekumēniski atzīmēt Reformāciju, ne tikviein pragmatiski, bet dziļā ticībā uz krustā sisto un augšāmcelto Kristu.” (Lutheran World Federation Geneva/Vatican City 1/6/2016). [v]

            Mīlie draugi, ja ne kas cits, visi šie notikumi tik tiešām saista mūs. Vienīgi Kungs zin, kur tas mūs novedīs. Bet mums ir dāvāta brīnišķīga iespēja lūkot no jauna uz mūsu pašu dzīvi ticībā kā arī uz baznīcu. 2017. gadā būs Reformācijas piecsimtgade. Vadoties pēc zīmīgās priekšzīmes, ko dos šī gada Reformācijas svētkos Romas katoļu un Luterāņu baznīcas galvām sanākot kopā lūgt Dievu visā pazemībā, lai arī mēs lietojam priekšā stāvošo gadu, no Reformācijas svētkiem 2016.gadā līdz 2017.gadam ka mūsu pašu “ticības atjaunošanas gadu.”

Starplaikā mudinu jūs neatlaidīgi lūgt par baznīcu Latvijā, kā arī ārpus Latvijas, lai Kristus evanģēlija gaisma būtu skaidri saredzama mūsu ļaudīm un nestu mieru, savstarpēju mīlestību un cerību.

Dieva žēlastībā – miers un mīlestība, līdz ar ticību lai ir mums visiem, māsām un brāļiem, no Jēzu Kristu. Āmen.



Mācītāja Ilze

2016.g. 31. maijā Jaunavas Marijas apmeklēšanas svētkos.

Šajā rakstā atspoguļojas māc. Ilze Kuplēnas- Ewart viedoklis, un ne kāda plašāka, baznīcas nostāja.

Tuvāka informācija:

Latvijas Presē

Vai liegums ordinēt sievietes par mācītājām liecina par vīriešu bailēm no konkurences? Saruna ar Kasparu Simanoviču



[i] “Bībele Jaunā Tulkojumā”

[ii] (p. 2091 “The Renovare Spiritual Formation Bible.” Ed. Richard J. Foster. Harper San Francisco. First Edition).




The Fourth Sunday in Advent.

                  There can be times the trees leap out at you, and this isn’t about the impact of today’s ice-storm.  All you see are trees: endless obstacles, in the way, stopping you from seeing beyond what you’re crashing up against.  Does this resonate at all?

                  Maybe it’s a challenge you face with work, with a relationship?

                  Maybe it’s as simple as getting ready for Christmas and realizing this morning that there was no way you were going to be able to get out and do the Christmas shopping.  When am I going to do it all?  Stuart Maclean’s story of Dave and Morley and the Christmas turkey comes into mind.  If you don’t know the story, will open the link            

            The details, the complexities seem too much.

                  But, take a step back.  Stop, look.  Take a breath. 

                  Does it really matter whether or not you forgot to order the smoked turkey at Starsky’s?  What matters is coming together, being together, the offering of what we have to the other person in love and kindness.  And in that moment, there is more present than you can see.

                  But between today and Christmas Eve are a whole lot of hours.  A whole lot of trees, and shrubs, and creaking branches.  We’re still in Advent.

                  Today’s Gospel reading tells the story of Joseph, the man entrusted to be the role model, the parent of Jesus.  Plenty of trees in this story.  Here it is, in Eugene Peterson’s translation: “The Message”:

                                    The birth of Jesus took place like this.  His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. Before they came to the marriage bed, Joseph discovered she was pregnant.  (It was by the Holy Spirit, but he didn’t know that). Joseph, chagrined but noble, determined to take care of things quietly so Mary would not be disgraced.

                  While he was trying to figure a way out, he had a dream.  God’s angel spoke in the dream: “Joseph, son of David, don’t hesitate to get married. Mary’s pregnancy is Spirit-conceived.  God’s Holy Spirit has made her pregnant.  She will bring a son to birth, and when she does, you, Joseph, will name him Jesus – ‘God saves’- because he will save his people from their sins.” This would bring the prophet’s embryonic sermon to full term:

                  Watch for this – a virgin will get pregnant and bear a son;

                  They will name him Emmanuel (Hebrew for “God is with us” )

                  Then Joseph woke up.  He did exactly what God’s angel commanded in the dream.  He married Mary. But he did not consummate the marriage until she had the baby.  He named the baby Jesus” (Mt.1:18-25

                  It’s easy to get side-tracked by the details in the story.  What does the reference to the virgin birth mean? How could this pregnancy have happened? Why is Joseph described as “ noble” (“honest” or “upright” in other translations) when he fully intended to cast Mary aside?  Modern scholarship does shed some light on these: the reference to a “virgin” is apparently a question of interpretation in the process of translation.  The Isaiah text (7:10-16) to which the gospel refers speaks in the original Hebrew of a “young woman” becoming pregnant. When the Hebrew Bible (our Old Testament) was translated into Greek a couple of centuries BC, the term “young woman” became “virgin” in the Greek.  This had the additional effect of presenting a version of the coming of the expected Messiah more in line with other religions that also mentioned the miraculous birth of a deity. Hence the gospel writer’s use of the word “virgin”, rather than “young woman”.

                  I am aware that this description may trouble some and that is clearly not the intent. But ultimately, the point of the birth and infancy stories of Jesus is not logic or rational explanation, but that God works in ways that are incomprehensible to our, limited, understanding. We call this: mystery.

            God chose to take on human form.  God chose to share our frailty and humanity in a way that would enable people to see in Jesus who or what God is.  No longer distant, unreachable, fearful but identifying with the poor and outcast, those looking for peace in their hearts, searching for a deeper meaning for their lives, for release from handcuffs that bind them to practices and behaviours that they are unable to free themselves from on their own. God chose to do this by becoming fully present in the world as a tangible human being.

                  No little surprise that Joseph hears of this in a dream for what the world is about to experience is more than we can comprehend in the course of daily life.  Yet, astonishingly, the content of Joseph’s dream makes it clear that the hope of the coming of a Saviour, Messiah, Jesus (the One who Saves) is no longer a dream, but a present reality. 

                  “With us – God” as the gospel writer states.  Emmanuel has come.

                  This is what we are preparing for. 

                  This is the big picture we have been swept up into. 

                  So take the trees for what they are.  Without them there would be no forest, but they do not dominate.  The questions you have, the challenges you face, the crazy running around before Christmas is all part of something bigger, but not ultimate ends or purposes in themselves. 

                  That purpose is clear: Emmanuel.  “With us – God”  “God – with us”.

            So, take a breath.  Open your heart and mind, and prepare to welcome him.