Walter Farquharson is a true believer, but not in a dogmatic way.
“God cannot be held captive within any building, institution, book, or system of thought, nor can God be owned by any nation, religion or system,” he wrote in the “Introduction” to his new book An Audacious Invitation: A compelling reflection on the Gospel According to John. “All creation however vast that might ever be known to be, is infused with the power, glory, compassion of that reality we know as life, light, love.”
An Audacious Invitation is a playful journey through The Gospel According to John co-authored with long-time friend Jeff Cook, minister at the Transcona United Church in Winnipeg.
Farquharson is fairly well-known around the Yorkton area having arrived in 1961 as the newly-ordained minister for the Saltcoats-Bredenbury United Church. He and his life partner Joan Casswell have lived in the area ever since. In Church circles he is also well-known as a hymn writer and former moderator of the national Church.
He is a delightful man to speak with and writes with optimism and joie de vivre as in this passage, also from the “Introduction”:
“Jesus helped his followers see in their encounters with ordinary women and men and children incarnations of holy love, some less perfect than others. This incarnation they also knew within themselves, and within their communities. They continued to “re-member” that power and grace they’d known as they journeyed with Jesus.
“So, I with many others, take the name Christian, not as a title of privilege or exclusiveness, but as a path to follow.”
The allure of John
This is what is so compelling about John’s gospel for him, he explained.
“I’ve always loved John,” he said. “I was introduced to the Church and the Gospel According to John as a teenager and for some reason or another there were certain stories in John’s gospel that I loved right away and I was attracted also to the way words are used and the interplay… it’s a very clever weaving that goes on in John’s gospel, it’s different than the other gospels.
“I think we often miss, people who read the gospel often miss, that they’re dealing with a poet and a story teller, who isn’t bound by strictures of, ‘is this exactly what happened?’ Would everybody have written down the same things, as if they ever would anyway around anything that happened?”
Farquharson wants people to see John in a new light.
“I would hope that the book would help them to read parts of the bible in a different way than they’ve been reading it, but more importantly, exactly what John wanted and that is that people might believe that we’re not hooked into the inevitable,” he said. “I think that’s part of what the gospel is about; things don’t always have to stay the same, that we can, through the spirit’s guidance, we can move to healthier relationships and that means healthier relationships people to people, it means healthier relationships with creation and with the future of the world.”
“I think that John is very clear, he says I’m writing so that you may believe, but he’s not talking about so you can buy into this or that system of theology, but so that you can believe, so you can trust that there’s a good message here which if we live [it] we’ll transform the world. I think that’s what comes through again and again so that’s why the title, the audacious invitation to participate in that which is always renewing and revolutionary.”
Farquharson also hopes it can find a wide audience.
“People who have read it so far, and we’ve been getting some good feedback, are saying they’re finding the book accessible,” he said. “Different ones are are approaching it different ways. People who have responsibility for giving leadership, preaching or teaching in the Church are saying it’s helpful to them as they prepare their own homilies or sermons. I’ve also had one young woman, who read parts of it earlier, said, ‘if anybody asks you who you’re writing for you can tell them that you’re writing for pagans like me,’ because, she said, ‘as I read, I’m finding things that resonate with me and yet I don’t see myself as a church person, I don’t see myself as a religious person.”
Thematically, An Audacious Invitation follows John “Gospelwriter” (as Farquharson dubs him) in the poetic sense with a tendency toward the humourous. Chapter titles include “Sorry Folks, That’s Not What’s on the Menu” (John 6:22-71), “The Sheep Whisperer” (John 10:11-42) and, for that most famous of bible quotes, ubiquitously displayed for the cameras at major sporting events across the continent, John 3:16, “More than a Quote.”
Structurally, the book is both conventional and unique. The chapters of the book follow the chapters of the gospel, well, religiously, a gag Farquharson should appreciate. The narrative, however, is a little different. Rather than combining the two authors’ input into a single voice, the two voices appear separately with Cook’s commentary interspersed, indented and in a different font, among Farquharson’s.
“What was interesting about how that began was as I started writing this reflection on John’s gospel and an extrapolation of some of the ideas and concepts within John, I asked Jeff who is a good writer and an astute person if I could send him the material as I was writing it and have his feedback,” Farquharson explained. “I sent him a few pages and he offered some response and after two or three times of this stuff going back and forth, I said, ‘you know, we should collaborate because I think your comments would help anybody who’s reading this. “Sometimes it’s seeing things from the same perspective, sometimes it’s a little different angle and sometimes there’s a whimsical quality about some of the things Jeff says.”
An Audacious Invitation is available locally at Coles and everywhere on the Internet.