Tuesday, December 21, 2010
Today is the Winter Solstice. Tonight will be the longest night of the year. In that spirit, I will gather with others to honour that this time of year (although often joyful and festive) can be sad and lonely and fearful. The annual special service for hope and healing will be held tonight at 6:30pm at St. David's (4614-48 St; Leduc). All who know the darkness of this night and all who long for new light, please come.
After all, we might be able to see our hope and promise a bit more clearly in the dark of this night.
Tuesday, December 14, 2010
On the second Sunday of Advent, as I listened to the revised common lectionary scripture lessons being lead, I noticed a parallel between the Hebrew and Gospel lesson: snakes.
Isaiah chapter eleven is a marvelous vision of peace and harmony, so longed for by people in pretty much every time and age. "A shoot shall sprout out from the stock of Jesse: filled with God's Spirit shown in wisdom, understanding, counsel, might, knowledge, awe. Equity and righteousness will lead to justice for the meek and poor. Wolves and lambs, cows and lions and bears - together, O my!" Then verse 8 (NRSV): "The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den." And they will not be harmed.
In arid climates, desert snakes are a danger. They are great hiders. They fiercely protect their den. A child's playful hand is just as scary to the adder as any predator. Tragedy can ensue when the vulnerable are not protected.
In Matthew chapter three, as part of his invitation to repentance, John the Baptist insults some in the crowd calling them a "brood of vipers".
These adders and vipers are, of course, metaphors in these scriptures. The snake hides, comes out to strike and them slinks away again. In so much as people can be like that, John's metaphor can be helpful. the baptism of repentance was a challenge to see if people could look at their lives and see if they had any need for God. Was life perfect on its own or was there room for some mystery? Could they admit that they sometimes hide from their most negative sides: the greed, the selfishness, the apathy? Could they come out in the open and be open to God's grace and love?
Imagine how wonderful life would be if we were not afraid to live life out in the open, knowing that, regardless of our shortcomings and growing edges that we were forgiven, loved and free. It would be like playing over the adder's den with no fear of being struck.
It is this kind of radical message of grace that Jesus showed to the so-called outcast and sinners he welcomed along side the synagogue leaders and people of all walks of life who were attracted to the vision of God's kingdom Jesus embodied.
May we find ourselves playing along with this grace as well, as Christmas approaches.
Tuesday, December 7, 2010
Hope was so strong when Obama was elected. It's all but died now because, what might be seen as a compromise in Obama's eyes is nothing more than the republicans getting what they want when they don't control congress or the whitehouse.
How much more exciting it would have been to have the President send legislation to congress making the middle and lower income tax cuts permanent and letting the rich ones expire. It would have been the right to do. And the right would have 'compromised'. They would have.
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
For Christians in the north of the northern hemisphere, the arrival of this weather often happens concurrently with the beginning of the season of Advent. Advent is a season of preparation and waiting and anticipation. Winter beings out many of the same qualities. When the wind chill is expected to be -35ºC, one can't just throw on a pair of shorts and a t-shirt and be ready to face the day. It takes some preparation. Because it is too cold to expect the kids to always walk home from school, I have been picking them up on the really 'cold' days. But with four kids in three schools, I can't be there exactly when each one gets out; I've got a route to follow. So, some of them have to wait. In the cold and snow of winter, waiting is an expected must. For us northerners, there is also anticipation in winter - for my oldest son, he has been waiting for the ski hills to open and now the winter has arrived, they 'finally have'. For my other kids, they are seeing the joy of Christmas on the horizon. I would like to think that this is a theological anticipation, but I believe it has more to do with stocking and trees than churchy-things at their age.
Winter is a blessing and for that reason it is one of my favorite times of the year. I appreciate the change of colours, the brightness, and the forced waiting and slow down that this time of year demands. All of this will serve me well as Advent begins this weekend.
Wednesday, November 17, 2010
The move to a second vehicle was actually motivated by the fact that the van is already eight years old and has a whack of kilometres behind it. We couldn't imagine having to finance another $30K van in the next couple of years. We need room for six people when the whole family travels together, but the reality is that most of the time, we don't need that many seats. So a small car would be more practical as our main vehicle and we would use the van when we needed the space or if we absolutely had to be in two places at once.
The new car is a bottom of the line 1.6L manual transmission import. No bells or whistles. The van on the other hand has power windows and locks and mirrors, air conditioning and cruise control. In the car, if you want to control your speed, you need to use your foot; it you want the windows or mirrors moved, you turn a crank. It it's too hot, roll down the window and suck on an ice cube.
All the 'extras' that the van has are to make life easier and more convenient. Today, the driver's side window went down but didn't want to go back up. There is no manual override, no 'back up' crank. So, it's off to the mechanic because winter weather also arrived today. The cost of convenience - a few hundred dollars for a new tiny motor to save me the trouble us moving my hand in a circle for 20 seconds.
Bring back the horse and buggy.
Tuesday, November 9, 2010
- Think of the youngest child in your life: your child or grandchild, a relative or friend's child, a neighbor. Think of the youngest child in your life.
- She is worthy of life, isn't she? He is worthy of a future, isn't he? And wouldn't you say that he/she has 'done nothing to make themselves unworthy' of the best that is possible for her/him?
- What if we made every decision based on what was in her/his best interest?
- How would that change the way we govern? How would that impact how we relate to the world in which we live? Would we be so intent on wars over ideology and wealth? Would we insist on burning every giga-Joule of fossil fuel in the next 100 years until all that which took millions of years to develop is gone forever? Would we continue to believe that a growth-at-all-costs based ecomony serves us all? Serves this child?
- We can't blame him/her for the problems we have created? But if we truly cared about her/him and her/his future, what would we do about it?
Tuesday, November 2, 2010
This past weekend, all three levels of Camrose Buffalo minor football teams won semi final games and are heading into league championship games in a few days. Camrose minor football has never won a championship before. In fact, for most of their 5 or 6 year history, bufallo teams have struggled to get any wins. It is great to see progress. Now in sports usually an 'up' is associated with a 'down'. This year it was my son's team in Leduc's turn to have a winless season.
Life lessons all around! In our history, in new experiences. It has always been that way in the realm of faith. Thank God for the season we are in and that we are not alone.
Tuesday, October 26, 2010
After I took the test, I understood how the results could be abused the way I had experienced, but I also saw the light that countered that dark side. I finely understood why it was possible that given the same data and the same choice-options that people could come up with difference decisions. There was not necessarily right way or a wrong way, but perfectly valid different ways based on different personalities. I also paid close enough attention to learn that no type is absolute - that they simply indicate preferences - our natural way of acting and behaving if we have the opportunity to follow 'our best' path. Everyone lives in and out of their type. It's just harder when we have to go against our preferences. And so I resisted the dark side and avoided limiting people to their types. But it did help me understand why people's first and natural reactions were the way they were. And I understood myself better.
My original goal still stood. I still wanted to authentic. My type doesn't dictate how I will act or behave, it comes out of me.
Jesus invites us to live authentically - to avoid hypocrisy and embrace honesty. Authenticity is being true to one's self. Being an authentic person is living openly as who you are. Now MBTI reminds me that people exist on a long continuum between introversion and extroversion, so for some 'open' will be more or less obvious to the rest of the world.
Given that, I believe that being authentic is to live in such a way that others will be able to see what you believe is important.
Tuesday, October 12, 2010
I know a guy who is an aspiring semi-professional comedian. He and I were talking recently about how religion is a common topic for some of his colleagues. My friend has been bothered by some mean-spirited, volatile routines he hears from time to time, that seem to denigrate all religious activity, leaving no room for any value in a spiritual life. So he came to me for advice on developing a routine that valued religion. He asked, "what can I say to counter these guys?" That's a hard thing for me to do, we religious types do provide a lot of valuable material for comedians. I suspect that the basis of some of these anti-religion routines fairly respond to some of the worst parts of religion. As my favorite folk singer, David Wilcox reminds us, "there will always be a good man in the worst sense of the word."
I am a bit worried about how I can help my comedian friend, but I am also honoured, because, humour is a powerful spiritual tool. I am trying to think about the funny parts of what people assume we religious types believe and see if I can enlighten my friend's audience through this routine he wants to develope.
All I have so far is a start:
I know this guy who is a minister in a church. I doubt that you would have ever heard of him. He doesn't wear a polyester suit and a toupee on TV; and he's not making many headlines: he only sleeps with his spouse and he doesn't have five cadillacs purchased with the life savings of some naive old lady. I asked him, 'Is it hard being a minister when religion isn't as popular as it used to be? He said, 'it is actually a great time to be a minister because, no body is forced to believe in God anymore. They either do or they don't. Thank God people have to actually think for themselves when it comes to religion.' He said that the biggest problem with the modern state of religion is that too many people are taking things literally and not enough are taking it seriously. Just because someone writing in the Bible a few thousand years ago called God, "him" doesn't mean that we have to picture this old man with a white beard, covering up a "heavenly package" under his robes. I never thought I'd hear a minister say, 'It was a nice idea for God to make people in God's image, but that doesn't mean, we have to imagine God in a speedo'.
Got any other ideas for me of how to speak about a 21st century inclusive theology in a humourous way?
Tuesday, October 5, 2010
As a confessed cable news junky (US and Canada and BBC), I have been watching with fascination the US political scene. Voter anger, mistrust of established candidates, ya betcha!
We, voters are perfectly allowed to be upset with the direction our political leaders may have taken us. But we need to be rational and reasonable and realistic. Anger, by the very chemistry of the body, lacks reason. Which one of us has not experienced anger only to be filled with regret when 'cooler heads' prevail. It's a chemical reality of the way our brains work. Anger is a lousy decision making tool.
If we choose to use anger with our ballot, we will get the results we deserve, but they may not be what we need.
Tuesday, September 28, 2010
As I preached on Sunday, "Churches can be places of deep history. It is part of the nature of church - we are keepers of an ancient sacred story. But there is a danger when we live in the past. Because in every way that truly matters, we don't. "The time is now." It always is." And yet we value where we have come from and we honour those parts of our past that continue to inspire and have relevance for today.
Sometimes the honouring of the past is at odds with ministry in the present. For the past year or so, I have taken the lead in introducing and using projected images and words during the Sunday worship experience. It has been an intentionally measured process. I began with a borrowed projector, projecting the words to a couple of hymns on Christmas Eve two years ago. It freed up people's hands from the hymnbooks, so they could more safely hold candles - a tradition that we did want to have to set aside. It was a wonderful mix of the history and the modern meeting.
The next summer, on behalf of the church, I purchased a projector for a special Sunday service and began using it here and there for the past year. For many people, especially those who are involved in the formal decision making in the church, this was widely supported. And yet, I still am carrying this 'project' (so to speak). Because of me, there is some form of projection every Sunday that I am here. I do all of the prep work (creating the slide shows) as well as the button-pushing on Sunday mornings. I must admit it has been a challenge playing guitar and changing slides at the same time. The only help that has ever been offered has come from my children. But I'm okay with where things are for now. I know that I am pushing an envelope here and that if I stop pushing too soon, the envelope will simply reshape itself.
Things are at the point where I am testing the will of the congregation to make the projection system more fixed (right know, the projector sits on a small table and projects up on to a wall). Now history and modernity are clashing. Every thing has a time and purpose under heaven. that seems also to be true at the front of our sanctuary. Do we make a structural change and move some things to new places to make room for a screen? Do we give up wall space (that has been used for painstakingly and beautifully made banners? Are we worshiping the things of our past? Are we replacing that with worship for the latest technology to ascend upon the United Church?
This church went through a similar displacement process a few years back when one of our rooms was given up to create an accessibility ramp. The nursery moved, the choir lost their room, the office was used and then cleared out for a student minister. Eventually new file cabinets and remodelled cupboards in one of the multi-purpose rooms was to be the final step. And yet, just in this past week, I heard some words of discontent about how things aren't as good as desired.
Change is challenging. I am trying to lead some change. At this point, the line up behind me isn't very long. Ah well, I'll focus on what's ahead.
Tuesday, September 21, 2010
I never really watched the "A-Team" TV show, but Hannibal Smith's catch phrase came quickly to mind in the last few days for me. I have been planning for this upcoming weekend's service in my normal way. I start with the suggested readings from the revised common lectionary for the Sunday and see what emerges. I was drawn to the Old Testament and Epistle readings:
- Jeremiah (imprisoned by the King of Judah as the Babylonian forces lay siege to Jerusalem) makes arrangements to buy his cousin's land. There was no way he would ever live on or use that land. He did it as a symbol of his belief that in spite of the invasion by Babylon, there would come a time when the Judean people would buy and sell land here again.
- From 1st Timothy, words of encouragement in less than ideal times: be content with what you have - don't focus on wealth (held or desired) but on the pursuit of things like faith, love, gentleness.
So, the theme I was thinking would come out of this was "Now and Later". Living in today, with a mirror to the past and a eye on the future. I decided to have a similar focus for the special Saturday evening service I will lead for some local football families who will have to miss serves at their churches because their kids have Sunday morning football games this weekend.
Now and Later. Being content with now, while keeping hope for the future.
On top of all this I had a great conversation with an old friend about the value of faith in this 21st century and how we can be comfortable with what we are invited to believe. That conversation had us delving into whether every thing that has been passed on to us needs to be followed literally and how much is contextual. We spoke about the real value in understanding the meaning of our faith history over and against, how that has been lived out in the past.
I read the letter to Timothy and wonder if the Apostle Paul (or one of his companions writing in his posthumous-name) intended the words to be timeless. The language of the 1st century was speaking to a 1st century audience. Do they translate directly into our day? Well sometimes, yeah, pretty much. But what about when our worldview and context are different? Because we find slavery abhorrent, do we have to reject the message of Paul's letter to Philemon because Paul complicity accepts the legal validity of slave ownership (as pretty much everyone did in his day did), or can we see the relevance for 'now' in the deeper message? I think we can.
My friend and I talked about what it means to be Christian. And how, in some parts of the Body of Christ, if you don't agree you will find yourself on the outside of the circle of faith they draw. Now, I'm a lefty-liberal in pretty much every way, so my circles tend to be drawn pretty wide and I have room for even those-who-reject-me in my circles. But it is hard to be told 'you're not a real Christian' by someone else's narrow definition.
For me, being Christian is defined as having accepted Jesus as personal savior. It is not defined as adhering to a dogma that Jesus is God (i.e the second person of the trinity). It is not defined by expecting women to cover their heads and be quiet in church. It is not even defined as living a live in Jesus' example. These are ways of expressing one's faith withing a broader circle that is Christianity, they are not Christianity itself.
For me, to be religious or spiritual is to be open to the unknown mystery that we call God, who exists beyond us and has much more to do with this existence than we do. For me, to be Christian is to nurture a connection to God through and experience of Jesus. For some that might be a sense of extreme safety (salvation, if you will) that is known in an experience that feels like a relationship with Jesus at the depths of one's soul. For others that might be through the long and valued history of thought and developed doctrine based on 2000 years of reflection on the impact of Jesus; for others it might be in tension with some of those practices and beliefs. For others, it might be a sense of purpose in what one sees as a calling to live the love so central to Jesus' life and message.
The Apostle Paul once wrote that the church was like a body with many parts. Different, but interconnected. I am dismayed by the more narrow parts of this body, who prefer isolation and amputation to dialogue and tolerance. Ironically, as Christians, we don't own the word Christian. It has it's origins in an insult that was hurled at early believers that the people were encouraged to see as a badge of honour. Maybe it is more clear to say that we don't own the Spirit. We simply experience it. How can we deny the spiritual experiences of others, especially we are able to believe that God is all-inclusive mystery?
These varied thoughts and conversations seem to be coming together for me in that call to be content with what I have now: not just the physical things, but my sense of faith and hope. My connection to the Holy Mystery can not be devalued by someone telling me that I don't measure up to their expectations. I love it when a plan comes together.
Tuesday, September 14, 2010
I know that what is a minor inconvenience for me is extremely worrisome for farmers who have crops in the field that the combines can't get to.
And so I've been thinking about, how relatively my life is pretty good. I get down sometimes as I struggle to make life work: keeping a balance between work and home; looking after others in my care and finding care for myself; trying to be a loving, good husband and partner; being a dad who is forgiving and guiding. I feel like I am barely keeping my head above water sometimes.
But relatively, I have more than enough, I enjoy my life as best I can and I and doing pretty good. I will try not to get too down in the rain.
Wednesday, September 8, 2010
This guy is small potatoes; his congregation is supposed to be only about 50 people. I work with a church several times that size, yet the ministry I do, the sermons I preach are not making news. Is that a good or a bad thing?
Jone's message is larger than he is, or his church is. His hate is big hate. Ironically, his perspective is narrow. Actually that makes sense. He seems unable to view Islam and muslim people as anything but a simply defined, homogeneous group. He seems so sure that all muslims must be painted with the same hateful brush that he is unable to see the diversity.
He is motivated by his version of the Christian gospel that sees all non-Christians as enemies and a danger to his version of True-Christians. And so it doesn't matter to him that the vast majority of Islamic believers do not share Bin Laden's views or motives. They are not professing Christians - that is all that matters. And (to his credit) he knows that hate sells, it always has.
Where is Jesus' compassion? Where is a recognition of what we followers of Jesus hold in common with our sister faith?
Hate breeds hate. Even if he calls off the official burning (which I suspect he might now that issue has become one of safety of US troops in Iraq and Afghanistan), qu'rans will be burned on Saturday and it will be broadcast around the world.
Hate sells. Hate will have its day.
The real challenge is: let us be sure that hate does not get the final word!
Wednesday, September 1, 2010
For everything there is a season and time and a purpose under heaven.
I do believe that to be true. I appreciate the variety that life offers and brings. And I am weary of the timing of somethings. Today was the first day back at school for my children. It was a time for a hurried morning, up a bit earlier than most of the summer. And yet for them it was only a half day. Too quick for at least one of them, who can't wait to go back tomorrow.
It is hard, isn't it when we think the timing is right, but the cosmos turns out to have a different schedule. I sometimes feel so busy, pulled in so many directions, I wonder when 'my time' will come. And then, like today, something mystical catches my eye. I paused and saw two birds interacting; they seemed to be getting along, perhaps resting, perhaps looking for the next mosquito to munch. It struck me that they knew nothing about my calendar, they only knew of this moment and they were good!
Look at the birds of the air. God cares for them. So don't worry.
Maybe it's time that I started taking that seriously!
Tuesday, August 24, 2010
In that night, two men were in bed, one was taken and the other left. (Luke 17:34)
I'm only 20 pages in, but it is an interesting read, so far. I found this author from the 'facebook' page: I am a Christain and I support marriage equailty. Ronald is offering a free pdf copy to anyone who wants it and invites people to share it widely. If you want to read it, I've set up this link. You can't print it, but you can read it online (since I can't figure out how to link to a document on this blog site, I set up a hidden page on one of the little used football sites I manage).
What do you think?
Monday, August 16, 2010
I know it would be easier to ask for people to sign-up ahead of time. It might even commit them, if I asked them to pay a registration fee. But, philosophically, I believe that I should leave the invitation as wide as possible. As a result, I won't have any idea until tomorrow morning, if the 24 blank nametags I have made up will be enough. You might think I'm foolish doing it this way.
You're probably right. But at least it's consistent with my theme for this year's Vacation Bible School, our church's summer Learning Circle for children ages 4ish to 11ish: FUN FOOLISH FAITH. With so much of the ancient mysteries now explainable, with human knowledge now so vast that no one person can know all that is known, the concept of faith seems foolish in the modern age.
Although the mysteries are fewer, the big mysteries of existence still loom. And so I will echo the words of the Apostle Paul from the 2nd letter to the Corinthians (verses 16-21): I repeat, let no one think that I am a fool; but if you do, then accept me as a fool, so that I too may boast a little. What I am saying in regard to this boastful confidence, I am saying not with the Lord’s authority, but as a fool; since many boast according to human standards, I will also boast. For you gladly put up with fools, being wise yourselves! For you put up with it when someone makes slaves of you, or preys upon you, or takes advantage of you, or puts on airs, or gives you a slap in the face. To my shame, I must say, we were too weak for that! But whatever anyone dares to boast of—I am speaking as a fool—I also dare to boast of that.
And so, if it is my destiny to be a fool, I'll be a Fool for Christ. At least it should be kind of fun.
Sunday, July 18, 2010
Holiday = Holy Day.
I went to church today and was blessed by Jackie's message about Mary and Martha.
I have spent some time today in stillness trying to be Mary. But Martha's voice and her call to be in other places is loud and valid.
What to do?
Tuesday, June 22, 2010
I have always been a practical person. My days as a BComm student and accountant have made me a planner. But I am working hard against that tendency and and trying to just appreciate the moment, in the moment.
I want my kids to have memorable summers. They go to camp; maybe they'll have their own meatballs moments. Maybe they will learn that the Spirit of God is a reality, as I did at camp.
I also want to spend time with my kids, doing memorable things.
I may not have any RRSPs, or much savings; but I think I have been enjoying the time that is!
Are you ready for the summer?
Tuesday, June 15, 2010
It is the centrepiece of one of the most profound statements of the United Church of Canada. The New Creed was first released to the church and the world in 1968. There were some important edits in the early 80s and mid 90s. It is simple, includive and hopefilled.
We are not alone,
we live in God's world.
We believe in God:
who has created and is creating,
who has come in Jesus,
the Word made flesh,
to reconcile and make new,
who works in us and others
by the Spirit.
We trust in God.
We are called to be the Church:
to celebrate God's presence,
to live with respect in Creation,
to love and serve others,
to seek justice and resist evil,
to proclaim Jesus, crucified and risen,
our judge and our hope.
In life, in death, in life beyond death,
God is with us.
We are not alone.
Thanks be to God.
Last Thursday, on June 10th, 2010, the United Church of Canada was 85 years old. Quite young in long hostory of faith, but a legacy of the modern church to be sure.
It is nice to know that God is with us. Sometimes it can seem like that is all we've got.
Tuesday, June 8, 2010
I hope you can read this. I would have liked to just give you a link to the article, but The Rep hasn't made it available on their website yet.
Now, I love and respect Grant as a brother in Christ and I know he has a great heart and provides wonderfully compassionate and caring ministry, yet, something was missing in this column.
I know that there is much truth in what Grant has written. The feelings he imagines that the victim's families are feeling is likely right on. Of course, no matter what happens to Karla Homelka, the loss to the families - and to many of us, who just followed the news stories of the horrific and sadistic crimes - is permanent. There has been (and will continue to be) second guessing over the sweetheart plea deal which Ms. Homelka got (only 12 years for manslaughter). We all know that later video tapes showed that she was more involved than she had admitted. There was a national outcry, but the deed was done. Her punishment never really seemed to fit her crime. And so, when she was released from prison and now as she comes to a time when she could apply for a legal pardon, we are reminded that her punishment was not as severe as was wanted by many.
There is lots of talk about judgement in Grant's article (I found the segue from legal judgement to end-times judgement a bit loose). But ignoring that, I would say that there is plenty of information about Punishment. There are a number of biblical themes missing, but what would have made this article more meaningful for me would be a discussion about Discipline.
Discipline is very different from punishment.
The word origins help us with the difference: Punishment is about penalty. The Latin roots even imply that it might include causing some kind of pain for an offense. Punishment is all about making the offender feel and therefore understanding through difficult experiences the pain which they have caused. Discipline, however, is about learning. It has the same root as disciple, a learner. Discipline may be in response to an offence, but it is geared toward understanding so that something can be corrected. Discipline builds on remorse - it allows one to change so that future offending is much less likely: understanding why the offense took place and making the personal changes to be a better person.
In Canada, we speak of our prisions as part of the Corrections System. There is a strong focus on rehabilitation, along with the necessary public safety concerns. Yet for some, especially for those deeply hurt by the offense, it is hard to see past a need for punishment.
The Gospel of Jesus, to me, is all about discipleship. We are part of a movement of discipline. Jesus saw the good that was potential in everyone. He refused over and over again to allow people to be outcast. He welcomed those whom others wished punished or ignored. Jesus' response to those who had offended with greed or unfaithful acts, was to go and sin no more. He wanted them to learn how to change. He believed that change was always possible.
Do I like Karla Homelka and her crimes. Of course not! She has done horrific things. How much has she changed, I don't know. I do not know her mind or heart. I'm not sure what she has learned. But if our corrections system (who do look at her actions since her release and should try to assess the state of her heart and mind) allows for her to apply for a pardon, and if it eventually gives her that piece of paper, nothing she has done will be undone. Grant is simply wrong when he says that it is as if the crimes never happened. The girls were still tortured and killed. Their families still grieve and a nation is still outraged.
If and when a pardon is granted to Karla Homelka, she will have been told - we think you have learned enough to be given this gift of a new chance. Go and sin no more. I think that's what Jesus would say to her. If I am called to follow Jesus' Way, I will try to set aside my lust for punsihment and let discipline reign.
Tuesday, June 1, 2010
Land that has known so many divergent settled peoples, no one can the historic right to control the region. But, for better or for worse, the international community recognizes the state of Israel as the entity with authority over the area - in the same way the world recognizes the 49th parallel between the US and Canada, regardless of the long and diverse history of people living on North American lands.
So much effort is put into controlling the violence, that there is no opportunity to work for mutual existence. There are so many demands on the nature Palestinian autonomy, that there is no freedom to simply let people live. There is so much mis-trust built out of past acts of violence and threats from leaders across the region that a path of peace is unrecognizable.
What will provoke an end to the cycle of violence? Or is another generation doomed to kill and die for a battle with no end in site?
Tuesday, May 25, 2010
Tuesday, May 18, 2010
I know that I can become a better minister as I take advantage of opportunities to challenge my heart, mind and soul.
Thanks be to God. Now it's time to board!
Wednesday, May 12, 2010
Tuesday, May 4, 2010
The text was the passage in John 13:31-35: Love one another, as I have loved you. I keyed in on the unconditional nature of this love. I further proposed that the prominent orthodoxy that says that we must see God's love as "conditional" on our need to have Jesus absolve our basic sinful nature was hard to reconcile with what I hear John's gospel saying.
It was a Communion Sunday; there were ten minutes of announcements, so I know that I couldn't say everything I wanted to say. Thank God for blogs.
Even though I believe in a God who love unconditionally and I believe in a world and creation that is "good" (cf. genesis 1:31), I also believe in "sin" and I think it is a major issue for people and for the church. I like the way sin is addressed in the United Church's A Song of Faith: A Statement of Faith of the United Church of Canada.
Made in the image of God,
we yearn for the fulfillment that is life in God.
Yet we choose to turn away from God.
We surrender ourselves to sin,
a disposition revealed in selfishness, cowardice, or apathy.
Becoming bound and complacent
in a web of false desires and wrong choices,
we bring harm to ourselves and others.
This brokenness in human life and community
is an outcome of sin.
Sin is not only personal
to become habitual and systemic forms
of injustice, violence, and hatred.
We are all touched by this brokenness:
the rise of selfish individualism
that erodes human solidarity;
the concentration of wealth and power
without regard for the needs of all;
the toxins of religious and ethnic bigotry;
the degradation of the blessedness of human bodies
and human passions through sexual exploitation;
the delusion of unchecked progress and limitless growth
that threatens our home, the earth;
the covert despair that lulls many into numb complicity
with empires and systems of domination.
We sing lament and repentance.
John quotes Jesus: "I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."
To not love what Jesus loves could be called "sin". To not love the world, as God so loves the world could be called "sin". "Sin" is a choice to be guided by selfishness or hatred or indifference and not by the love that is the heart of the universe. And sin deserves our attention, individually and corporately.
Where I have problems with the orthodoxy is the theology that God chooses not to love us because of sin. I hope and pray that in our sinfulness, God loves us that much more. That's "grace". As A Song of Faith puts it:
Yet evil does not—cannot—
undermine or overcome the love of God.
and calls all of us to confess our fears and failings
with honesty and humility.
and calls us to repent the part we have played
in damaging our world, ourselves, and each other.
and calls us to protect the vulnerable,
to pray for deliverance from evil,
to work with God for the healing of the world,
that all might have abundant life.We sing of grace.
In the end, we should all be able to agree with Jesus: "By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another".
Tuesday, April 27, 2010
Happy birthday to us, happy birthday to us.
In celebration of this momentous occasion, each United Church congregation has been “paired”. People from the churches are encouraged to be in touch with each other. The hope is that people will be talking about their churches and getting to know each other.
St. David’s United Church in Leduc, Alberta is twinned with Memorial United Church in Murray River, PEI. Drop them a letter (electronic or traditional), if you like:
PO Box 1,
Murray River PE
If you are travelling to the Maritimes this year, perhaps you can visit your sibling church.
Check out their website http://www.memorialunitedchurch.ca/.
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
I get it when we're talking about an ancient society with little knowledge of the science of the earth. When one's world view is small and local, the big picture of moving tectonic plates is not the first thing that comes to mind.
The volcano on Eyjafjallajökull sits right over the tenuous boundary between two plates of the Earth's crust. It is an active volcano zone. This mountain has a relatively recent history of similar eruptions. Erupting is what volcanoes do. It is natural. It is normal. It just happens.
So are earthquakes and tsunamis and rains and droughts. It is part of the life of this planet.
None of this dismisses the anguish and hardship and death that often comes to people living in these areas. They deserve all of our compassion and help. The deserve our prayers. But they are not served by an outdated theology that blames them for these hardships.
Natural disasters are not the result of an angry or vengeful god. And it is a lengthy stretch of providence to say that since it was God who set the universe in motion that these resent natural events were part a master plan to reward or punish people based on their faithfulness.
I believe in a God who actively loves and supports and cares. I just don't believe that God dictates that volcanic ash will fall on a particular field because of what anyone does or believes.
Can I get an "Amen"?
Saturday, April 10, 2010
Praise the Lord!
Praise God in his sanctuary;
praise him in his mighty firmament!
Praise him for his mighty deeds;
Praise him according to his surpassing greatness!
Praise him with trumpet sound;
praise him with lute and harp!
Praise him with tambourine and dance;
praise him with strings and pipe!
Praise him with clanging cymbals;
praise him with loud clashing cymbals!
Let everything that breathes praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord! (NRSV)
I found myself thinking of a new phrase that I think I may have actually coined (I'll take credit for it for a while anyway): The Chaos of Praise.
Some people in more charismatic churches might know this better than others. The idea that a noise filled room of such diverse expressings of faith can be a form of deep praise.
For all of us there should be excitement and value experienced when the diversity and variety of God's people becomes obvious. It should not scare us or bother us, but exite us. We are no more or less than others just because they are different than us.
Thank God for opportunities to join in the Chaos of Praise.
Tuesday, April 6, 2010
The notion of a loving God looking beyond our mistakes and providing us with deep forgiveness is a central image of the God of the Bible - this theme is found throughout the old and new testaments. But the notion of the utter sinfulness of humanity making us detestable to God is not clearly supported, biblically. This belief was not really expressed much before the 3rd or 4th century.
And so, to simplify Good Friday as Jesus sacrificially dying for the inbred sins of humanity and to view Easter as only an act of proof of Jesus' divinity is to sell our central story far too short.
To many 21st century-minded people, the idea of a needed sacrifice for sin is problematic. It is inconsistent with a God who is love.
Here's where the sacrificial language comes from. The roots of Christianity are in the Jewish tradition and culture. From some of the earliest days of the Hebrew people, there developed the practice, when the harvest was brought in, to bring some of the first fruits to the centre of worship (eventually the Temple). A small portion of the food was ceremonially burned on the alter - symbolizing that as the smoke rose up into the heavens, this offering was being shared with God, who made the harvest possible. This was an act of appreciation with hopes that God would continue to bless the people. The vast majority of the food, was used for those who needed it: priests, temple workers, widows, orphans, foreigners.
As the society's acts of worship continued to develop, there was a sense that one needed to ritually prepare one's self to enter the sanctuary. This often involved ceremonial washing or acts of contrition (sometimes a grain or animal offering, which was burned on the alter as a means of symbolizing giving it to God). Depending on the activities of one's life, what was expected varied. It is during this time, that this activity became associated with the idea of righting one's self before God. We can see how it makes sense that over time the act of "killing" the bird or other animal by burning it on the alter was directly related to the notion that the person was now "Right with God".
Move ahead to the first century - forty years after Jesus was crucified. An uprising against the Roman occupation in Jerusalem results in the destruction of the Temple. This forced a change in how the religious leaders practiced their religion. Because Christianity itself and many of the early Christian leaders had Jewish roots, the destruction of the temple had a major impact on the growing Christian Church. Save for the letters of Paul, virtually all of the New Testament was written after 70AD into a world with no Temple in Jerusalem - into a world where the old ways of becoming "Right with God" were no longer applicable.
And so, almost half a century after the crucifixion, when temple atonement sacrifices were no longer possible, the Christians began to speak of the lack of any need to sacrifice. Jesus had taught about a God who loves beyond expectation, who forgives those thought to be unforgivable. Because of Jesus, atonement sacrifices were not necessary.
This is where some early preacher came up with the sermon illustration that the crucifixion (i.e. the death of Jesus) is a metaphor for the out-dated sacrificial rituals. I like the style - I use metaphoric language and sermon illustrations all of the time.
The problem is that too many of the listeners to that sermon took it literally. They developed a belief system to match this literal interpretation.
Jesus didn't die for my sins, or for your sins. He was executed as a minor inconvenience to Roman order. the crucifixion means little more that the tragic end of the earthly life of Jesus.
Easter, however, is where the focus belongs. When the tomb is discovered empty, the disciples discover the mystery that not everything ends with death. Cutting of the head should have killed the Way of Jesus. But just days after the horrifying crucifixion, the disciples were proclaiming that they were as empowered by Jesus' enduring spirit as ever - maybe more so now. Some claimed to have seem him or talked to him, but most didn't. These few amazing experiences were so powerful that they changed fear into faith, despair into joy, mourning into dancing. The disciples just felt that they were not alone - that the death of Jesus didn't kill what they believed. Jesus showed people a Way to experience the love of God that was not destroyed on the cross. This spirit did not need breath to survive.
What do we know? Jesus was a travelling preacher, healer. His words and actions were so compelling that he developed a devoted following. So compelling was the Spirit within Jesus, that people expereinced God through him. He would be called Son of God and God's Annointed One. His methods and ideas ran afoul with some of his religious leaders. This conflict within the population (perhaps highlighted by the mini-riot at the temple over the place of money changers and sellers or more likely claims of Kingship swirling around Jesus) got the attention of the political leaders. Jesus was used as an example of what happens to those who promote disorder within the Empire, even the far reaches of the Empire. And so, Jesus was one of thousands of people who met their death on the cross at the hands of Roman officials. His followers were devastated. They were fearful - the desired reaction anticipated by the authorities. And then "something" happened. "Something" turned their despair, mourning and fear into joy, dancing and faith. That something is the mystery of resurrection. And that has nothing to do with sin.
Hallelujah! Praise the God who doesn't need me to be perfect to believe these things.
Tuesday, March 30, 2010
The glimmering black ribbon stretches before me,
reaching into endless darkness far ahead, begging I follow -
follow unspoken promises of returning into new born light.
On its' back I run.
Fearsome, ancient mountains, pushed outward from her raging host,
deep scars slashed in her earthen flesh, never healing,
open wounds parting the landscape upon which black ribbons lay.
Her silent agony grants me passage.
On her back we run.
Wood and steel stabbed through bloodless shoulders.
Words and pictures speak of destinations, renewal.
Towers of glass and stone shield the roving masses.
Reaching, seizing, always more.
False prophets of light fracture the sky, pushing back a hidden night.
My black ribbon a refuge from the void of souls.
On its' back I run.
infinite returns to the end of our beginning,
witnesses to meaningless, faceless seasons.
Tortured whispers, embraced by loves tears, fall.
The black ribbon.
On its' back we run.
The glimmering black ribbon stretches before me,
reaching into endless darkness far ahead, begging I follow,
follow unspoken promises of returning into new born light.
Until I can run no more.
On its' back I run.
Tuesday, March 23, 2010
I'm reminded of the scene in Toy Story 2 (yes I have kids), where Sarah McClaughlin sings over Jessie's story of being forgotten and discarded by a young girl. It explains Jessie's hard exterior and refusal to let herself be loved again. Some to think of it, that's a pretty mature theme for a kid's movie.
We live in a disposable society. Most often, the things we have are not intended to last. It may be coffee cup that is tossed once the rolled up win tells us to "please play again/réessayez s.v.p.", or the computer that is obsolete before we plug it in, or the appliance that is cheaper to replace than fix. There is an increasing number of us, who are trying reuse things as long as possible - but it takes a lot of effort to not just give in to giving up on things.
And yet, Jesus said that the Realm of God was like someone who wouldn't let go of the hope that the lost would be - could be - found. Sheep, Coins, People. There is value in the well-treaded. New is not necessarily better. I'm telling myself that maybe we shouldn't be too quick to replace just because it's harder to seek and find the value that still exists.
Tuesday, March 16, 2010
Tuesday, March 9, 2010
I have kept up with family tradition and have come to need reading glasses in my mid to late forties. It was exactly the same with both of my parents. A week from now, I can ditch the cheap pharmacy 1.5+ glasses for my own prescription.
I suppose I have been a bit of an anomaly going almost five decades with only my God-given eyes to help me see the world. I certain was a bit odd, not seeing an optometrist for more than three decades.
Vision is such a key sense. And those of us who know good vision can too often take it for granted. I went through a few weeks as the year was changing where my eyes were messed up - trouble seeing distances and then bouncing the other way to having trouble up close. They finally settled back to "normal" which is my new normal of having reading glasses.
Vision is also a powerful metaphor: not just physical sight, but insight and imagination - of dreams and hopes and plans and possibilities. I pray that my eyes may be opened in this metaphysical sense, even as I begin my walk with corrective lenses. I hope to see the call of God, the ministry of Christ, before me.
Open my eyes, that I may see!
Tuesday, March 2, 2010
Jesus - called me hypocrite.
When I said that I believe
He said, how can you follow me
Without a willingness to leave
Leave the gates and the passwords,
Known by just your kind
Walk beyond the divisions that religions always finds
And BE the mercy, my people need the peace
This fight over faith won't bring them relief
I love them beyond belief
Jesus - called me a hypocrite,
When I said I'd spread the word
He said, how can you teach of love
Unless you live what you have heard
Hear the hearts of the people, crying out in pain
Pain caused by dominion, and fighting in my name - my
So, BE the mercy, my people need the peace
This fight over faith won't bring them relief
I love them beyond belief
Jesus - called me a hypocrite,
When I said that I was saved
He said, how will your soul be judged
With all the judgments you have made
Faith can't be your fortress, arrogant with pride
Come walk here beside me with the humble ones outside
And BE the mercy, all my people need the peace
This fight over faith won't bring them relief
I love them beyond belief
Jesus called me to be the mercy
Credits: David Wilcox 2009
Tuesday, February 23, 2010
Wednesday, February 17, 2010
I have been in Saskatchewan for 10 days so far, attending the Ministry of Supervision training course. St. David's has applied to be a learning site for a student minister and this training will allow me to take on the role of supervising that student. The timing of this event has meant that I am here for the start of start of the season of Lent. Today is Ash Wednesday.
It also means that I was here for Shrove Tuesday. I know that the people of St. David's would have enjoyed the fruits of the Men's Club's labours with the annual pancake supper last night. I was expecting to be with them in spirit, here at the Prairie CHRISTIAN Training Centre. I was prepared for the succulent smell of sausages and pancake and syrup as I made my way into the dining room ...
But my senses gave me a different message. None of the smells fit. It was Swiss Steak! [I was not aware that the Swiss liked their steak tough and tasteless] How is it supposed to be "Mardi Gras" (FAT Tuesday), if I don't even clear my plate?
Am I ready to head into the wilderness of Lent, without the "usual" preparation. I still have hungers to fed and yet, I am invited out into the unknown - to wrestle with the most basic questions of life. How should I live?
Thanks be to God, that I am not alone.
Ready or not, here I come!
Tuesday, February 9, 2010
I must admit that, as I sit in a motel room in Regina, basking in the minus 20 Celsius prairie sunshine, that I laughed a bit at the reporter, who was standing on the already melted sidewalk with no sign of a visible winter breath. But I quickly move to a more compassionate attitude. What is familiar to me, is foreign to them. Not that either of us normally has it better or worse, but that we have grown comfortable with what we experienced most. I have been out of my comfort zone on more than one occasion - and so, I have empathy for those people who may feel that mother nature or father god is moving against them.
Un-necessary extremes have a comical purpose, but I submit that we must not let ourselves lose track of the opportunities for growth that come with abiding with the unfamiliar.
Tuesday, February 2, 2010
Then quickly my mind fast forwarded to the next major season of the church year: Lent. So on Monday afternoon, I began planning - looking at the Lectionary readings, thinking about music and staring to outline themes and sermons. I find it helpful to plan a whole season at a time, so I had six Sundays before me between Ash Wednesday up to Palm Sunday.
Lent One will come up fast, as I will be away from Feb 8th to 18th learning how best to be a ministry supervisor. St. David's has applied to be a learning site and hopes to host a student intern in the fall. I will only have three days after I get back before the first Sunday of Lent is here. So an outline is essential - first of all for the church secretary who will need an order of service for the bulletin, but for me so that I can be thinking about the details while I am away.
Add to that the first wedding of 2010 that same weekend and planning ahead will hopefully make my like easier.
I have been down this road enough times, not to assume that all is done ahead of time. Things change and need to be open to change. I can plan the trip, lay out the route, but travelling it is another thing all together. I hope I am surprised along the way and will have need (opportunity) to adjust what has already been planned. That's life and it is good.
Wednesday, January 27, 2010
I'm sure that I am not the only one who has slipped through an entire day and missed a detail or two. Even so, yesterday was a good day. I had a very enjoyable (although late-starting) meeting about the upcoming youth rally St. David's is hosting in mid-March (http://www.anwconf.com/public/upcomingevents.htm). I finally feel on track. Some of the nagging worries I have been having were shown to be moot or were alleviated. I now have a list of what still needs to be arranged and it is mostly slotting in the many people who have offered to help during the rally.
I also got things together for another major part of my life (being a minor football team registrar). Midget registration begins tomorrow and I think I have all my things ready to go.
This kind of settledness is not going to last, is it? Ah well, better enjoy it while I can.
Tuesday, January 19, 2010
It's kind of depressing. Why do I keep watching these things?
The Bible is no stranger to apocalyptic literature: the books of Daniel, Revelation, as well as small sections of the gospels and other books. What seems to be the common context in the up-swing of these writings is that the world around the authors is filled with uncertainty, war or domination. When people feel helpless, they begin to wonder openly if God will just wipe it all out and give the righteous a fresh start.
I suspect that this has a lot to do with living in a post-9/11 world. The shadow of fear that those of us who grew up during the Cold War knew only too well is back for generations of today: thanks to suicide bombers and invading armies.
Is life really that fragile? Are we that devoid of hope?
Tuesday, January 12, 2010
Arise! Your Light is Come!
Yup, we sang 'em on Sunday, the first Sunday of Epiphany. I spoke about "noticing the light": Finding the hints that point to presence of the Spirit. And how life is up-lifted when bouyed by the Spirit.
In light of that ... this is my New Year's resolution for 2010:
I WILL TRY TO MAKE EACH DAY A GOOD DAY
in terms of ..
It seemed to make sense for me this year - the light has come on!
Tuesday, January 5, 2010
It's just a turn of a calendar page, but it reminds us of the cycles of life and the constant opportunities for fresh starts.
I had the last week of 2009 off from any formal responsibilities at the church. With the kids home from school - it felt like a week of Saturdays. And in a strange sort of way, that was kind of stressful. You see for me, as a minister, Saturday is sometimes a day off, but it can also be the last day of preparation for Sunday Worship. Every once and a while over the holidays, I would feel a flush of panic - "I'm not ready!" Then my concious mind would kick in and remember that it is (first of all) only Tuesday and (second of all) I don't have any worship prep responsibilies this week.
I like to be prepared. Truth be told, I seldom leave Sunday planning to Saturday. I try to avoid that last minute panic. But I know the feeling - and it's uncomfortable.
There is a modern proverb that says that God comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable. I'm glad to be afflicted with panic from time to time, especially when I am getting too comfortable.
This is a good message for me, at the start of a new year or at anytime!
HAPPY NEW YEAR