Thursday, May 21, 2020

Book 4 of 2020 -- Insurrection

To be honest I bought this one simply because I loved the title. I mean I have been known to use the phrase "when the revolution come" in an Advent candle liturgy and to title my Christmas Eve sermon "The Revolution Begins tonight".

More seriously, I have also long felt torn between the comfort of the church as I have known it and the clear sense that the church as I have known it is not what the church could be. I also am clear in the sense that the church as I have known it is not what the church needs to be moving into the future if we want to be faithful to the Gospel of Christ.

So I liked Rollins suggestions in this book. Not at all sure how to apply what I liked so much about the vision of Christianity he shares in real life but I want to. I want to learn how to be a follower of Christ who embraces the world-changing effect of living by kingdom values, or holding up an alternate way of life.

Much of what Rollins says challenges the church as a place of comfort, or appears to. But the journey of Christian faith has to take us through death. We have to experience the cross, the total loss, in order to be ready for Resurrection. And that will not be comfortable. Can I do that as an individual? Can the church do it as a community?

Friday, May 08, 2020

Ordiversary

Well technically my Ordiversary is not for a couple weeks yet, but today RGBP was holding the May Ordiversary Party.  In the post they ask:
  • something you remember from your ordination service
  • something you have particularly enjoyed about ministry so far
  • something new you have learned in the course of your ministry that they “didn’t teach you in seminary”
1)  I was ordained on May 26th 2001. The service was at St. David's United Church in Calgary. There were 4 of us Ordained that day. Instead of a sermon there was a dramatic presentation (though I can not honestly remember what the drama was about). AS this was a year when our Conference did not have an Annual Meeting the service was on a Saturday afternoon rather than a Sunday morning.

As a part of the service we were allowed to choose up to 3 people to take part in the laying on of hands (in addition to the Conference President and Executive Secretary). I had decided to choose people from 3 stages of my journey to ministry but was unable to get someone from my Camp Maskepetoon days so ended up with two. One was a member of the Youth Group and the Confirmation Class I had helped with during my internship. Ben and I had connected during those months. The other choice was obvious. Jane had been my Sunday School teacher when I was in Grade 6, she had a group of us help with special projects for the Jr (Grade 4-6) department at the time. Years later she invited me to help teach that same age group, which I did through University. She was definitely one of those people who led me into ministry (she continued teaching in that department until the middle of the first decade of the 2000's, so well over 20 years).

WE were also asked to choose one person to be our partner for serving Communion. This is where I brought in family and had my sister assist.

Later that day our family and a number of friends as close as family went out for supper. The next morning I got up and drove to my internship community to lead worship.

2) WOrship leadership has always been my favourite part of ministry. That I expected to be the case. I love preaching, baptisms, serving communion. A surprise has been how much I would appreciate being involved in serving the wider church.I really never expected administration and policy and procedure to be such a good fit with me.

Oh and I like to write stories from time to time!

3) In seminary we never talked about uploading sermons to YouTube and emailing out bulletins and having meetings on Zoom and hosting FB Live prayer times or all the other things we are all experimenting with at the moment.  Then again why would we -- most of these things were not possible in 2001, much less in 1992 when I first walked through the  seminary doors.

PS: 9 years to the day after I was ordained our youngest daughter was born. Ashley was very excited a couple of years ago when she read my Ordination certificate and saw that it was on her Birthday.

Monday, April 27, 2020

We Could Use a Mulligan...

(This was written for the church newsletter. It is also posted on my "Ministerial Mutterings" blog but since Facebook does not like that blog I am cross-posting here so I can share the post)

I am not a golfer. I do have a set of clubs (that were my grandfather’s and are older than I am) but I have not swung one since Miriam was a baby. But for three years in the 1990’s I worked at a golf course and since I could golf for free I went periodically, usually with fellow staff who were much better than I. That is when I learned about mulligan’s – because they took pity on me at times and granted me one. If you don’t know, a mulligan is a second chance, a shot you can retake without having it count against you. With all that has happened in 2020 is there a chance we can get a mulligan for the year?

Or maybe we need a Bobby Ewing moment. Years ago, in the prime-time soap opera Dallas the show killed off Bobby Ewing. But it turns out Bobby was a very popular character and they needed a way to bring him back from the dead. So in the closing moments of the last episode of the season Bobby’s wife found someone in the shower and when her turned around there was Bobby. The plot device used to explain it was that the whole thing had been a terrible dream. It allowed the whole story-line to be wiped out. I suspect that there are some who would not mind finding our that 2020, with oil prices crashing, and a pandemic, and the recent shootings in Nova Scotia has just been a terrible dream.

A third image. IN the second act of the musical Jesus Christ Superstar Mary Magdalene and Peter sing the song “Could We Start Again Please?”. It falls just after Jesus has been taken to see Herod, and before his final trial in front of Pilate. The text includes the lines:
(I found the words here https://tinyurl.com/ycmqze5s )
I'd been very hopeful so far
Now for the first time I think we're going wrong
Hurry up and tell me
This is just a dream or
Could we start again please?
I think you've made your point now
You've even gone a bit too far to get the message home
Before it gets too frightening
We ought to call a halt so
Could we start again please?
Mary and Peter think things have gone off the rails and maybe a restart would take them down a different path, one with less fear and destruction. This image seems to match the feelings I see expressed on Facebook some days.

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news but none of those things are going to happen. Unfortunately history is neither a merciful golf move nor a TV soap opera. This is not a dream. We do not get a do over. But we might be able to start again (please). But what exactly do we want that re-start to look like?

Daily I see people asking when things will get back to normal. Daily I see people insisting that we have to hurry up and “re-open” the world so we can get back to normal. I am going to suggest if all we envision as our re-start is a return to some semblance of what reality was back in January then we will have missed the boat.

That is the mistake Peter and Mary make in the song, they seem to envision a restart that looks very much like the first go-round. But of course that is not what the resurrection is. The story of Easter does allow a chance to “start again” but it is not a simple reboot. Resurrection is more of a new start. I suggest that this is what we, as people of faith, need to be hoping, looking, and working for after this period of disruption. Otherwise we may well have missed a great opportunity.

I think we are learning a lot in these weeks. We have been challenged to think about what is really essential for good health in our lives. We have also been challenged to think about what really is not essential. The government programs to provide financial support should make us ponder what adequate support for healthy lives are – and then to ask why some people do not get that support in a non-pandemic time.

I believe God is with us in all this. I believe God is always calling us to look for resurrection, not a reboot. I believe the life of resurrection means a life that is different, maybe not even recognizable at first glance (note that most people in the Easter stories do not recognize Jesus at first). I also believe it would be much easier, much more comfortable to look for a simple reboot, or to call for a mulligan, and go right back to the way it was before. But God does not usually call us to take the easier or more comfortable route.

What do you hope life will be like when we climb out of the pandemic? What do you hope life will look like when we re-build an Alberta economy threatened (perhaps as never before in the oil age) after the most recent price crash? Where do you think God may be leading us into resurrection? Right now is a time of disruption and grief for what we think is being lost. But after grief comes the hope of new life and we are a Resurrection People.

Gord

Friday, April 17, 2020

Book 3 of 2020 -- Denial is My Spiritual Practice (And Other Failures of Faith)

When I first started this blog 15 years ago (give or take a few weeks) I started reading other blogs. One of those was one written by Martha Spong (though it was not for a few years that I learned her actual name because many people were at least pseudo-anonymous in the blogosphere of the day) and I have read her writing ever since. SO when I heard she had co-written this book I put it on my "I should get that some day" list. Someday came and when I was looking for a different sort of read I decided this would be it.

This is a memoir of sorts. Each chapter has Martha and Rachel sharing a story around a "failure of faith" (for the record I am not sure many them I would call failures, challenges maybe). The stories are honest, and sometimes raw, and always touch the heart. They also pushed me to ask why they were resonating with me, which pushed me as a reader to explore the questions the authors were raising/wrestling with. I am pretty sure that is the whole point. 

Very good read. Easy read but also challenging read. I like that in a book.

Saturday, April 11, 2020

The Story of Kalanit -- The Easter Squirrel

Caucasian Squirrel -- Picture Source
There were a lot of people who came to Jerusalem for Passover that first Easter, But there were a lot of animals that lived in and around the city all of the time. They got a first hand view of the events of Palm Sunday, through to Easter Sunday. One of them was a curious little squirrel named Kalanit.

From the time she was a baby Kalanit had been curious about those two-legged beings that made so much noise. Her mother always told her that those were dangerous creatures and she should run away when they came but she just had to know what they were doing. Besides, occasionally one of them would drop a tasty snack for her to eat. That is why she spent so much time in the trees along the road to Jerusalem.

One day Kalanit was scurrying along the roadside looking for food when she saw something strange. There were always people walking along the road but today they were standing alongside it. This intrigued Kalanit so she climbed one of the trees and slid out on a branch for a closer look. She could see someone coming along riding a donkey. Suddenly the branch she was on shook terribly, as if someone was trying it tear it off the tree. Quickly she jumped up higher to a safer place.

Kalanit looked with amazement as people tore branches off the trees and laid them on the road. The man on the donkey rode over the branches as the people yelled “Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” She wished she understood what these sounds meant. The two legged creatures seemed so happy, so excited. Obviously something important was happening.

As Kalanit watched she looked at the donkey. It looked so calm, so peaceful, so happy. Then she looked up at the rider. There was something about him. Just watching him go by she felt like everything was right with the world, like it would all be alright somehow. The the donkey went around the bend in the road, the crowd followed him and the road grew quiet again. Kalanit stood and watched after them for a long time, pondering the strange rider, before she resumed scrounging for food.

A few days later Kalanit was in a garden outside the city. She had returned to her nest high up in one of the larger trees for the night. Suddenly a small group of the two-legged creatures appeared. Irritated at this interruption to her sleep Kalanit started to chatter loudly, then she saw that one of the men was the rider from the roadway. Once again when she looked at him she had that sense of power, a sense that with him all would be well eventually. But something was wrong.

The man went off by himself. He fell to his knees Tears were streaming down his face. She heard the sounds “Lord take this cup away from me! But let your will, not mine, be done”. Again she wished she understood the language these creatures used but she could tell the man was terribly upset. Then suddenly there was a great noise.

A large crowd appeared. Kalanit could see the fire they carried, could see it shining on metal weapons. They sounded angry. She ran high up the tree just to be safe. The crowd took the man away. His friends stayed behind, they looked afraid. Kalanit wanted to follow the man. She liked being near him. He looked like a safe two-legged creature, one who would like squirrels. But they were going into the city. That was not a safe place for squirrels, even one as curious as Kalanit. So she found a tree near the city gate and waited.

The next morning Kalanit woke to another crowd coming out of the city. The man was there. But he looked terrible. He was bleeding. He looked defeated. There was a sadness about him. Kalanit jumped from tree to tree following the crowd. She just had to learn more about his man. She knew there was something special about him, something about him that made her think of old stories.

When Kalanit was young her mother told her about the Great Creator. The Great Creator, her mother had said, gave life to all the trees, and the squirrels, and the other creatures. You could know the Great Creator personally and you could tell when the Creator was present. You could feel the love of the Great Creator and know that things would be alright. When Kalanit looked at the man, even battered and bloody as he was, she felt the presence of the Great Creator. She had to follow him and learn more.

The crowd led her to a hill. There were no trees on the hill. It was not safe for a squirrel up in the open like that. But now Kalanit did not care, she had to get closer. So she skittered up among the crowd of feet until she was right near the front. There were two-legged creatures from far away up there. They had harsh voices and different colouring. They wore coverings that reflected the sunlight. Kalanit had noticed that the strangers made the people from around the city nervous.

The men with strange voices were taking the man, the special man, the one who reminded Kalanit of the Great Creator, and putting him on something. Then they raised up a strange looking tree. It was tall and straight with only two branches on it. The man’s arms were attached to the branches. Most of the two-legged creatures standing around the tree were laughing. But there were a few women off to one side who were not. They looked up at the man and Kalanit saw tears streaming down their faces. She went to stand with them. Something about them told her they were friends of the man on the tree.

Kalanit stayed there all day. She watched as the man on the tree died. She saw the men with the shiny coverings take him off the tree and give him to a small group of people. She followed those people into a garden, watched them place the man in a hole in the rock, and then leave him there. Kalanit could not believe it. How could that special man, the one who gave her that sense that all would be alright, the one who reminded her of the Great Creator, be dead? Kalanit rummaged around on the ground for some food, then climbed up a nearby tree to sleep for the night.

Early the next morning Kalanit was woken up by the sounds of tears. The three women with who she had stood on the hill beside that strange tree were in the garden again. Looking over where the man had been put Kalanit saw that the hole was open again. The women went over to the hole. A strange being came out. It looked like a male two-legged creature but different somehow. It shone. Kalanit had a sense of power, a sense of the Great Creator as he spoke. To her surprise she understood the words. Was he speaking the language of squirrels? Surely not, the women seemed to understand him too. Maybe he spoke a language that every creature could understand?

The man said that Jesus of Nazareth wasn’t there anymore, that he was raised. The women ran away, their faces a mixture of joy and fear and amazement. After they were gone Kalanit slipped down to the hole in the rock. She went in. It was empty. She came out and the strange shining being was there again. He sat down on the ground and let Kalanit climb onto his legs. They sat there for hours and the being told Kalanit all about this man named Jesus and about the Great Creator. The being told Kalanit about the importance of loving everything made by the Great Creator. Jesus, the being said, was raised by the Great Creator and because of that life would always be stronger than death.

After that day Kalanit was different. She was still a curious squirrel, always trying to learn new things. But she also had a new sense of how the Great Creator was with her all the time. She told the other animals about the man, Jesus. Some of them listened. Some of them laughed at her. Some of them thought she was strange. Kalanit didn’t care. She was happy. The Great Creator was with her. Life was good.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

For the Easter Week Newspaper

Living in Saturday Time

Normally this weekend is a time of full churches and triumphant songs and celebrations. This year our buildings will sit empty and quiet, with the Alleluias shared in the comfort of our homes. Assuming, of course, that we find a place for Alleluia in the midst of our anxiety and grief.

What does it mean to proclaim the Good News in the middle of a global pandemic and economic turmoil?

This year the high point of the Christian Year comes at a time of great anxiety. This year the story of Life defeating Death comes at a time where people are grieving many things. We are grieving the loss of things we used to take for granted: going for coffee with friends, a restaurant meal, going to the gym, any social gathering at all. We may be doing some anticipatory grief for things that may never come back, for businesses that may not reopen, for changes that may turn out to be permanent. Some of us know people who have been diagnosed with Covid-19, some of us may know people who will not survive the disease. And we have the unknown length of time. Will this last till Victoria Day? Canada Day? Labour Day? Longer?

Add in the economic slump brought on both by the pandemic control measures and the crash of the global oil market and we have to wonder if we will have the same lifestyle that we had even a few months ago.

So much grief. Are we indeed walking through the valley of shadow right now? We could use some Gospel, some Good News in the world today. But we aren’t there yet. I think we are in the midst of Saturday Time (assuming we have indeed gotten past Good Friday). I think we will be in Saturday Time for a while yet.

Saturday Time is an awkward time. We are caught between the disaster of Good Friday and the triumphant words of Easter morning. Saturday is the day when we live with our grief, where we wonder what future there might be, where we just don’t know what will come next. In fact on Saturday we do not know for sure that Sunday will come. I find our culture does not do well with Saturday Time. We want to move quickly from the darkness of Good Friday to the triumph of Easter morning. We don’t like having to wait.

But we have to live in the Saturday Time. We have to allow ourselves to feel the grief and the uncertainty. Only then will we be ready for the surprise that comes next.

We are all, the whole globe, living on Saturday. We are all waiting. We may not not know what we are waiting for but we are waiting. So do what needs to be done on Saturday, that day between death and life, between disaster and triumph. Name your grief and sit with it. It is ok to be sad. Be honest about what makes you anxious or worried. It is ok to be a bit on edge. Be gentle with yourself and others. We are in the middle of a generation-shaping event. We don’t know what will be changed forever as a result. Some things will end. Some things will come back very much as they were before. Some things will come back in a new form. Life may never be the same again (or it might be very much the same, predicting the future is really hard).

But even in the midst of Saturday Time, with the grief and the anxiety and the uncertainty, we are people of hope. That is why we wait. We wait and we watch because we have hope that something will come. The promise of Easter is the promise of life and hope. Life will still win. What it looks like on the other side might surprise us. The Gospel accounts make it clear that Jesus’ closest friends were not expecting Easter. They were not expecting the world to be changed like it was. In the midst of their grief and fear some women went to a tomb on Sunday morning. They went to weep and mourn for the one they loved, for the world they had dreamed was coming. And then they had a shock. Jesus was not there, he had been raised. The darkness of Friday, the mourning of Saturday gave way to joy and wonder mixed with fear. What would happen now?

We will only get to New Life by living through this Saturday Time. But we remain people of hope. Life will still win. Christ is alive. The world will be changed, but Christ is Alive! God is with us! We are not alone! Alleluia!

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Book 2 of 2020 --Days of Awe and Wonder

I have enjoyed reading Marcus Borg since I first met him in my first year of seminary. In our Christology class that year we read his Jesus: A New Vision. Since then I have read many of the books he has written by himself and ones he wrote together with John Dominic Crossan.

This volume, published after his death (the afterword is a Eulogy given at his funeral), is a collection of writings, sermons, and lectures from over Borg's career. Some of them felt familiar as I was reading them, only to find out at the end that they were familiar as they were from a book I have read previously. However that is not a problem. It is a gift to read those words again.

There are themes that run through the book, themes about who Jesus is, about what faith means, about what it means to follow the Way offered by Jesus. As one who likes and resonates with Borg's work I found it refreshing.

Saturday, February 22, 2020

Book 1 of 2020 -- Short Stories By Jesus

Lately I have been fascinated (well maybe just more than usual as it is a recurrent theme in my brain) by the role of Storytelling in our lives. It is, I believe, through story that we open up some very deep questions. Which may be why I love the parables so much.

At any rate when I saw this book I just knew I had to read it.

In this volume Levine walks us through a number of well-known and well-loved parables. She talks about the ways they have been read in the Christian tradition. But more importantly she tries to help us see how they may first have been heard in Jesus' own time and place. In so doing she unmasks some flaws in traditional and modern interpretive choices. She helps us get a better picture of what 1st-Century Judaism may have been like. She helps us consider seriously where anti-Jewish rhetoric has embedded itself in our standard understandings of the parables.

This book does not make it easier to preach on these stories. Quite the contrary in fact. But that is how it should be isn't it?  After all it has long been said that if we believe we have the one right answer to what a parable means then we are oversimplifying it.  Parables should make us think and rethink. Familiarity may sometimes make that hard, this book pushes us to read them again for the first time.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Spirit Word for 2020

Extravagance!

During worship on January 12th we were invited to draw a Spirit Word for the year, a word to reflect upon and ponder how it impacts our lives (or perhaps how it could do so). I drew the word EXTRAVAGANCE, which is now hanging with the calendar in my office.

Now what might that mean?

A few early thoughts...

How is God extravagant? As people of faith we proclaim the extravagant grace, love, and mercy of God. God gives prodigiously and extravagantly. Pondering the word calls me to think about where I have been the recipient of the extravagance. This leads me to reflect on how I am blessed. Hopefully it leads me to a place of deep gratitude.

How are others extravagant? Where do I see people giving prodigiously and extravagantly to me and to others? This is one of the places I see God’s extravagance in action. Hopefully looking for this pushes me to not only recognize it happening but comment on it. Again a practice of gratitude.

How am I extravagant? How could I be extravagant? A place of challenge perhaps, a place to push myself to be more generous, more merciful, more gracious. Maybe I do a better job of avoiding political debate on social media? Maybe I push myself to be more patient with my children? Maybe I find time to do different things this year?

There is another side to extravagance. I think of the show biz term of extravaganza. An extravaganza is showy, fabulous, over the top. Where do I see that sort of showiness in life? Where do I see the need for more of it? An extravaganza is often less than serious, sometimes even frivolous. Where do I see that we need to be more frivolous in the world? Something to watch for over the year. And then maybe something to help shape my choices.

Who knows what else pondering extravagance will bring me this year?

Wednesday, January 01, 2020

Book 14 of 2019 The Truth About Stories: A Native Narrative

This is the 2nd book by Thomas King I have read in the last few years [here is the first].

It is interesting to read his books because up until 7 years ago the only way I knew anything about King was from listening to the Dead Dog Cafe on the radio. The books are not like the radio show. Well I guess there is a wry, dry humor in both.

I liked this book.  Much of what King had to say about the difference between being the Indian people look for and the Indian one actually is he covers in his later book The Inconvenient Indian however it is helpful information to see again.

I really liked the way King chooses to open each chapter with the same story, it gives a good continuity. Same with teh fact that the concluding paragraphs of each chapter are almost identical. Humans are peoples of stories. In our rationalistic scientific Western World we seem to have forgotten that. Well we think we have. I have noticed that it is story that helps us understand our rational scientific lives more than theories and proofs.

The best part of the book is the Afterword, that is where King pushes us to consider what might happen if we told ourselves a different story than the one we currently tell. Stories  are powerful. And, as King often reminds us, they are really all we have.