Rev. Jim Ball has been nominated for Moderator of the United Church of Canada. To see Jim’s profile on the General Council 42 website, please click here.
1. What gifts and passions do you have that you believe the United Church of Canada needs today?
I offer myself, which is a most of the time, but not all of the time, thoughtful and non-anxious presence. I offer experience, compassion, enthusiasm, a love of laughter and of questions; a love of our story, ancient and contemporary; a passion to discern God’s presence in one another and in the world; a love for the people of the church, a love for the communities of faith that are dying, and a willingness to let go of what is dead and to start new.
2. Which Christian author has had the greatest impact on you?
The biblical scholar Ched Myers.
3.How would you articulate the good news that Canadian society needs to hear from our church in this time and place?
Good news comes in many forms. It is best expressed in response to the particular questions people ask and the specific circumstances and issues they face. Often it reveals itself in the form of embodied fairness, compassion, and humility. It comes in the form of tangible release, renewal and reconciliation within and among individuals and whole communities. It comes by invitation and operates through love and responsibility. It is love lived. Good news comes as an alternative to the narrative of fear, scarcity, loss, competition, and accumulation that dominates the evening news, the political discourse and the conversations around family tables and in coffee shops. We do not stand outside this drama, judging. Rather we understand that we are part of the thing that needs redeeming. We are recipients of good news even as we would be bearers of it, in as much need as any other. The church does not have a monopoly on this message. We do,
though, have a vital tradition of stories and practices that help us live it. Or at least try to.
4. “Cruxifusion” means “united by the cross.” What does Jesus’ death on the cross and his resurrection mean to you?
The question is short. I’m not certain the response can or should be.
The practical answer to your question is to be found in how I live – in what I prioritize and practice day by day. The story of his death and resurrection leads me to embrace the ways of love, and not of fear, as my principal mode of being in the world. And though I am as flawed as any other in this way of being, and frequently fall short, I am raised again and again by the story back into love, by which I mean a life of fairness, compassion and humility.
The theoretical answer involves a discussion of ideas, which can serve, but are not to be confused with lived faith. In the field of ideas, I would offer this: the cross is never something to seek or desire. It is something imposed upon us, as it was imposed upon him.
I believe that there are three different crosses we come to bear in life. As human beings we are united in our experience of all three. The first is the cross that life places upon us or nails us to. It is the cross of disease, diminishment, hardship, turmoil and loss. It is the price of admission each of us pays to be in this life, in a universe of rule and randomness, where much is good and glad, but where also the innocent get sick, the young leave early, and the elderly suffer, a world where continents collide, tsunami’s storm, and asteroids threaten.
The second is the cross laid upon others, one that we often help them carry, doing so out of a spirit of solidarity and compassion. This includes the care of aging parents, the raising of children whose parents left too soon, and the sending of emergency relief to the victims of all those storms and disasters and catastrophes visited upon the earth. It also includes the struggle for social justice and the safe and supportive accompaniment of one another in our own internal spiritual work.
The third cross is the one we make others and the earth carry when we won’t carry it ourselves. It is the cross that someone else has laid upon us because of his or her anxiety, fear or wound. It is unfair that anyone should suffer because others won’t deal with their own stuff. But it is also unfair that some have more anxiety and fear and wound to bear than others. So we do not judge. But we are faced with the question, “What do we do with the consequences of all of the pain that comes to us by redirection – in our families of origin, in our workplace and community, and in our personal relationships?” If, for example, someone is wounded, and becomes angry, which is oh so natural, but then expresses and redirects that anger at us, and places the cross of that anger upon us, do we mimic it, becoming angry people too, or do we have an alternative? Among the several difficult things Jesus asks us to do is this: not to accept injustice and not to pass pain on. And so he does not ask us to accept passively crosses that are foisted upon us or to remain in abusive situations. But, since all crosses leave a mark, he does ask us to face the consequences of third crosses in our lives – of all that has been unfairly laid upon us. He specifically invites us to pick up and address the impact of them to us and in us. These consequences we alone have the capacity to bear and remake, the remaking part sometimes taking a lifetime of struggle, determination and the help of others. And so we do, as best we can, with the thoughtful, loving and safe support of community. We embrace the journey of being and becoming an alternative to the pain, not by fobbing the hurt onto others but by extinguishing its power over our lives. Again, and again, and again. This, in part, is what it means to walk in his way.
The biblical affirmation that Jesus was raised from the dead means, at minimum, that his way of being in the world was vindicated by God. Rather than see his execution as a sign of defeat and as the end of his vision and program, those who follow are invited to see that the powers of fear and death can only stall, but not ultimately thwart, the ways of God. Fear and death do not have the last word. Love does. Which is to say that God does. And so it comes to pass on Easter night that the grief-stricken and fearful, who lament and tremble behind locked doors, are transformed by this realization and experience. They take up his program of solidarity and compassion afresh, practicing a generous and transforming love in the world, doing so with renewed purpose, joy, peace and hope. There are many places and moments in life where this story lives. For example, at every funeral I attend the experience of love having the final say, and not death, continues to be preeminent and all pervasive. For me, the Easter story is real, not simply because I believe it or wish it to be true, but because I continue to see and experience it in and around me.
5. How can we best pray for you?
Thank you! I would ask only that you continue to pray as is your custom, and to continue to do the inner work that leads you into lives of deeper fairness and compassion. Such prayerful living blesses the whole of creation, including the church and me along with it.