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!