2016 Synod Study Conference
|Photo credit: AB. & T. Synod website|
From January 25-28, we attended our annual, Alberta & the Territories Synod Study Conference in beautiful Canmore. This year’s keynote speaker was the Rev. Dr. Anna Madsen, a “freelance theologian” who founded the OMG Center for Theological Conversation in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. She holds a Ph. D. in systematic theology from Regensburg, Germany. This year’s theme was “Liberated by God’s Grace.”
Here are a few random thoughts, based on my notes from Dr. Madsen’s presentations. I apologize for any inaccuracies, distortions, misrepresentations, etc. –Dim Lamp
According to Dr. Madsen, the core of her theology is Easter. If I understood her correctly, she said that the most important day of the church year for her is Holy Saturday. I find this problematic, since I don’t think we can separate the events of Holy Week and single out one particular day—they are all of a piece intricately woven together. According to Dr. Madsen, Holy Saturday is about ‘proleptic hope,’ and Christ is the grounding of it. Holy Saturday is living in the now and the not yet. Hope is by its very definition proleptic—‘a taking before.’
Hope is at home in the world of the unpredictable and comes outside of the system; therefore it’s about humility and gives rise to subversive grace. Death is real, but life is real-er. Easter identifies Jesus as the Messiah.
Now that you know as Christians that death does not win—there is more to do with life than to try to preserve it.
Imagination is an act of hope—calling into being what is not yet being.
One learns about grace by considering its opposite—dialectic theology. The world craves tangible grace. The human condition makes us feel that we are in debt. For example, pay your parking fee before it exists. It’s often hard to find expressions of grace in mainstream culture. For example, expressions like “you get what you deserve,” etc., are quite common.
Grace is being what we are called to be and doing what we are called to do. Grace is doing what you can do. An illustration of this is the gospel story of the woman who anointed Jesus’ feet. We cannot do all that we need to do—therefore we can do what we can do.
Relationships are fostered when finitude is acknowledged. None of us are ever complete in our sinful state, yet grace is possible.
There is the grace of rest. The Sabbath, as A.J. Heschel observed, connects us with the eternal in time.
In her second presentation, Dr. Madsen spoke of sin as misdirected trust—trusting in the penultimate rather than the ultimate. Sin is less about morality and more about mortality. In the human condition, there are struggles with chemical imbalances—for example, some folks are victims of their own genes.
Jesus offers salvation through health and healing. Are you well? is a question of salvation. Relational questions are important. What happens to people that make them like they are? We are called to be ‘holy observers’—not to judge others. Those who are suicidal need to respect their own future self. Hope helps one live into the future.
In her third presentation, Dr. Madsen spoke of consumption, materialism and individualism. She cited the example of Ayn Rand’s novel, Atlas Shrugged. Rand’s philosophy extolled the virtues of individualism. She said, “I am done with the monster of we.” For Rand, god is I.
The Hebrew word Tzedec, righteous, means to be properly aligned. Faithful stewardship involves being properly aligned with God, others and the world.
Do we define ourselves in relation to everything as an extension of ourselves? This definition feeds an endless desire for consumption and material possessions.
Dr. Madsen referred to Narcissistic Personality Disorder. NPD is a mental disorder where people have an inflated sense of their own importance, a deep need for admiration and a lack of empathy for others. According to Madsen, 98% of NPDs are male. They suffered abuse in their early years and have no positive sense of the self at all, so they look for it externally. For example, Donald Trump depends on lifting up the fact that he’s very wealthy. Dr. Madsen stated that we’re all a bit like Trump insofar as we define ourselves a lot by our externals—our status, education, homes, cars, etc.
In view of stewardship, what would Jesus have us do? We don’t like limits much in North America—we don’t know the limits regarding materialism. There’s a widely held belief in the credo of limitlessness in North America; and part of this is related to our large space, geographically speaking.
Dr. Madsen cited the Danish Lutheran pastor, Rev. Kaj Munk, who resisted the Nazi occupation and was murdered by the Gestapo. Rev. Pastor Munk said that sometimes recklessness and a ‘holy rage’ are required in certain circumstances. We may need to rage at the lie.
It’s worth paying more attention to the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit as dunamos—dynamite—powerful. Do we realize what we are praying for when we pray for the Holy Spirit to come into our lives? The Holy Spirit is calling us into the way of Tzedec, a way of authenticity.