Friday, October 31, 2014

Book 14 of 2014 -- You Are Here

As commander of the International Space Station a while back Canadian Chris Hadfield made quite a splash. Many people followed his Twitter account.  He recorded a song with the Bare Naked Ladies.  He was, in Canada at least, a raving success.

Since arriving back on terra firma Hadfield has published a turned out to be an author as well.  I someday intend to read An Astronaut's Guide To Life On Earth.  Recently I herd him being interviewed on the radio about a book of pictures he had taken while on the ISS. Today while grocery shopping I saw it and so we picked it up.

Then after lunch I sat down and looked through the whole book.  I will look through it again.  The book is broken down by continent and Hadfield gives some commentary on each picture.   I think it is a great book to find in many living rooms.  And also a great book to be in school classrooms and church libraries.  It helps us to see the world differently...

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Fear

Fortuitously, this popped up on my Facebook feed today



This post has been gestating for a week or so.  But given the events in Ottawa this past Wednesday it became more important that I actually put it into words....

80 years ago, in the depths of the Great Depression, Franklin Roosevelt told the people of the United States "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself".

Centuries ago Isaiah spoke the word of God that had been revealed to him saying:
But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. (Isaiah 43:1,2)
Indeed, one of the most common phrases we find in Scripture is some form of "do not be afraid".  Angels say it almost any time they appear.

So why are we so afraid all the time?

What really started this post was the pondering if we are becoming MORE afraid.  Which really doesn't make a lot of sense.  I mean my parents grew up in the era of "duck and cover", or as Billy Joel put it "under their desks in an air raid drill" leading to the Cuban Missile Crisis and the politics of brinkmanship.  In the 1980's I remember concern over the possibility of a Soviet invasion of Poland during the Solidarity "crisis", and the Iran-Iraq war, and at least one day when school lessons were pre-empted by discussions of nuclear war following the aring of the TV movie The Day After (especially since it was commonly assumed that the Edmonton area, with many oil refineries, was relatively high on the target list).  Then there was the Kuwait invasion and the first Gulf war.  And 9/11.  And the growing environmental awareness.....

But still I wonder if we are becoming more afraid.  Actually I think we are becoming more afraid.  So really the question is why...

I don't think it is because there is any more reason to be afraid.  I don't think ISIS or other "terrorist"/paramilitary/radical groups or Ebola are a greater threat than the idiocy of mutually assured destruction and brinksmanship was.  Different threats definitely but not greater.  And let us be honest, various populations have lived in the shadow of possible violence for many years.

I think part of the blame is in the power of the military industrial complex, which only makes money when there is a demand for militarization and warfare(open or covert, hot or cold).  But that is easy picking.  We have known since the presidency of Dwight Eisenhower that this was a problem.

I think the big cause is the media, both traditional and social.  I have long believed that the 24 hour news cycle and the movement away from real journalism and into "sound bite news" in the haste to break a story first )sometimes without really worrying about confirming factual details) has been detrimental to how well we actually understand the world.  But add that to the premise that "if it bleeds it leads" and the news media serve to breed fear (Fearbola one TV comedian termed it recently).  Hearing the same story, or half story, over and over again also increases the spread of fear and changes our focus on the events around us.

Social media is no better.  It takes little to no time for sensationalized accounts of events to meme their way through social networks.  And fear is a contagious thing so everytime we click "share" or "retweet" we make a choice to increase fear or to limit its spread.

A prime example took place this week.  Even before the story was close to being over there were people making assumptions about what was happening and who was to blame.  Our Prime Minister, even before details were known about the shooter (at least publicly, it is plausible the PM had more information than had been released) was quick to use the terrorist word and link this event even if only through implication, to ISIS/ISIL and other radical groups.  AS it turns out an equally plausible explanation to the event was that a mentally-ill/troubled individual had a break and acted violently.  But of course that doesn't make us afraid and therefore willing to support actions like expanding military action in Syria/Iraq or advocating the further breakdown of civil liberties in the name of security and safety.

Yes the world is not what we wish it would be.  Yes there are terrible things that happen.  But we can choose to be ruled by fear or not.  We can choose to trust that things are not as bad as they are made out to be.  We can choose to think about things in a way beyond the sound bite and the headlines.

If Isaiah heard right, it seems God wants us to work through/past/avoid the fear.  Because maybe FDR was right--we only have to fear fear

ANd on a related note, what would your boggart turn into?  

Saturday, September 27, 2014

What's Your Accent?

I posted this on a discussion forum recently, thought I might broaden the audience....

Years ago, when I first started in seminary, I remember talking to a classmate. She had gone to University as a mature student and so was older than most of her class mates. In one class the instructor asked if anyone had an accent. She put her hand up. The rest of the class was confused because she spoke like any Prairie Canadian, so she obviously did not speak with an accent. But her point was that we ALL speak with an accent.

I propose that we not only all speak with an accent. We also think and write with an accent. We are all a product of a culture (in some cases we are the product of a fusing of 2 or more cultures). That shapes how we think, how we understand the world, what we expect from the world, how we respond to the world. This accent is the result of many factors. Some would include geography, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status/class, age/era in which we grew up, level of education of both ourselves and the key people in our lives, our religious background.

So what is your accent? What formed it? How does your accent determine how you interact in the world? How do you (or can you) translate/restate/revisualize things from your accent to make it more understandable to someone with another accent? How willing are you to understand one who has a different accent?

It is important to ask these questions. Because otherwise we forget that we have an accent, and then it is easier to complain about other people's accents. And then communication becomes just that much more difficult.

Friday, September 05, 2014

Does God Change?

It is a vexing question over the ages.  Does God change with time or is God eternally immutable?

For some people the idea that God might change weakens God.  For some it raises questions about how we know what truth is, if the basis of truth can change.  For others it is not a big issue at all.  I count myself in camp #3.

This week I have been working with the story of Noah.  And this is one of the stories where God appears to change.  Or at least that has been a line of discussion in a FB group this week.

SO does God change?  Not just in the Noah story but in the scope of Scripture as a whole.  Taken from a literary-criticism approach God as a character in the story certainly changes.  Or at least wears a variety of masks.  God is Creator but also Destroyer.  God is Advocate and Judge.  God is a Tribal God, fighting on behalf of God's People or God is the One God, Universal.  God the character is different, plays different roles, has different priorities in different parts of the story.

But is that change?  Is that change to the essence or change in view?  Is it God changing or the developing understanding people have of God?

Then there are times God changes God's mind.  The Noah story would seem to fit in here.  In fact God seems to change God's mind twice in that story--first God regrets creating humanity then God regrets the flood.  Other examples would be God and Abraham bargaining over the destruction of Sodom & Gomorrah or Moses convincing God not to destroy the people of Israel in the desert.

Are these just changes of mind or are they deeper changes of self-understanding?  I would argue that especially the Moses instance is a change of self-understanding, particularly since that is pretty much the line Moses uses to convince God.

And certainly we see change in Jesus.  Most notably when he is challenged by the Samaritan woman about the children's food going to the dogs.   And if in Jesus we see God most clearly and Jesus changes/grows in understanding what does that say about God?

But in the end, for me, God has to change.  Scripture is clear that God is God in relationship with Creation.  Real relationship means growth and challenge and change.  Certainly the Scripture witness is clear that most of the change and growth happens on the Creat-ed side rather than on the Creat-or side.  And it will always be impossible to know how much of the change we see in God is in fact God changing or the result of a new understanding of God growing in the witnesses and storytellers.  But if God is truly in relationship with us, if that relationship is actually based in mutuality, then yes God is changed by the relationship.

And that need not be a bad or a scary thing.  It will however be difficult to sort out at times...

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Book 13 of 2014 -- Peter Pan

During the summer the oldest girls and I have established a pattern.  Each night before bed I read them a chapter of a book.  This summer we started with The Hobbit which conveniently we finished just before going away on holidays (and the girls enjoyed it far more than they thought they would).  At that point they started asking what I would read when we got home.

I knew it needed to be something I could get finished by the end of August because we have learned that once school starts there is too much happening to have these reading sessions.  So I started checking what I had available.  As it happens I had picked up a free e-book copy of Peter Pan a couple of years ago to have something the girls could read on the Kobo should they want to.  I counted chapters and days and realized this would fit into the available time.  Accordingly in the middle of August we began to read it and finished it on Sunday night.

Strange as it may seem I had never read the full book of Peter Pan before.  I had seen the Disney movie of course.  I had listened to a record telling of the story based on the Disney movie (complete with songs of course) when I was young.  I had read an abridged version for early readers.  And I have seen 2 different stage versions.  But I had never read the full novel.  Until last month.

The story of course is known.  The story is pretty much the same in all versions.  Even Disney stayed pretty close to this one.

But I was not ready for the implicit violence and the acceptance of same than Barrie includes in his text.  Bloodletting happens with little or no concern or anguish.

Nor was I ready for the explicit racial stereotyping.  Maybe that is a sign of how long it has been since I read/watched the story (because now that I think of it the Disney movie included some pretty racist stereotypes in it too -- like the song "What Makes the Red Man Red") but the treatment of the "redskins" in the novel is terrible.  I know it is a product of an era that is long past but still it did come to the point where I had to talk about stereotypes to the girls as we were reading.

Peter Pan is an interesting story.  Pure escapism on the surface.  And yet I wonder if there is something more there that could be explored.  What does it mean to grow up?  What does it meant to live in "Neverland"?   ANd why do we forget?

Monday, September 01, 2014

Old Friends




I went to a funeral today.  For a person I have known for 42 years today (well not to the date but our families met each other on Labour Day Monday 1972). Our families are so close that we have long referred to each other as family.  And so Ron was Dad #2.  I know that family better than I know some of my own cousins.

As I sat in the back of the church this afternoon and watched people I was struck by the nature of Old Friends.  There were people there I haven't seen in decades.  And yet, given time I suspect we could start playing catch-up.

In our case the connection point was the church.  For many of us it was the Senior Choir where our parents sang.  In that crowd today were some of my former babysitters and Sunday School teachers (as they made sure to tell my girls).  Or there was my former Junior Choir leader.  Old friends, old connections, deep meaning.  Lots of remembered stories.

Sadly, because I did not feel I could lose another day of my week and the funeral was a 5 hour drive away, I did not have/take the time to truly reconnect.  Some other day perhaps.

But it also reminded me of the importance.  I have gone through much of life without making strong connections.  I have no friends from my undergraduate days.  I have limited contact (only through FB) with high school classmates, before that I had pretty much none.

And yet I think we need old friends.  We need those people with whom we share stories--even if part of us fears those stories being told. 

Old friends.  A great gift.

Rest in peace Ron.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Newspaper Column -- Why is the Church so Political?

It is a question many church leaders have heard at some point in time. Maybe from a member of the congregation she serves. Maybe from someone in the general public. Usually from somebody who has been “ticked off” by a statement the leader, or the congregation, or the denomination has made.

Why is the church so political? Why does the church need to stick its nose into political issues? Why don't you just stick to talking about the Bible and God and prayer and stuff?

At heart this is asking us what our faith is about. At heart this raises the question of where we should be involved in the world.

My home denomination, the United Church of Canada, has regularly been scolded, even demonized, both from inside and outside, for stances taken by some portion of the Church. At the same time we have been praised for taking those stances. Sometimes it has been a local issue. Sometimes it has been national. We have taken positions and made statements on child poverty, gender rights, issues around sexual orientation and gender identification, various ecological causes, international relations, economic fairness, aboriginal issues, and probably a few other categories.

Why? Because in every case someone, or more often a group of someones, felt led by their understanding of faith, their understanding of God's vision for the world, their sense of God's call, to make a statement and/or take action on a specific issue. In short, the church gets political because God asks us to.

In fact, scripturally speaking, the idea that the faith community should “stick to the Bible and God and prayer and stuff” is not even on the radar. Moses and Isaiah and Elijah and Jesus and David (to name but a few) all meshed politics and faith together. For most of human history there has been no separation between faith and politics.

For people of faith, faith touches all of our lives. Faith isn't a compartment while politics is another compartment and economics another compartment. Maybe we try to compartmentalize our lives but then the boxes all get dumped out and life mixes together. And because life all mixes together our faith and our politics and our economics and our family life all get meshed together. And so to speak to the life of faith, to talk about God, means talking about political issues.

One of the blogs I read on a regular basis (http://revgalblogpals.org) has a regular feature they call “The Pastoral is Political”. Writers for that feature talk about how the life of faith intersects with the political issues in our world.

It is said that to be a person of faith is to bring your priorities to the place where they resonate to the same frequency as God's priorities, to wake up worrying about what God worries about. Which means we take our cue from how God has been revealed through the ages. And there we find that God worries about issues like Peace and Justice and Economic Fairness and Creation. So we have no choice but to be outspoken on those issues as well. To do otherwise would be unfaithful, would be a failure to listen to God's voice in our lives.

So yes, the church will sometimes say things that we wish they would not. But we do it because it is where we hear God calling – which sometimes means we have different opinions expressed as we sort out what we hear God saying. God calls us to talk about life. God calls us to proclaim God's hope for the world. That means we talk about Oil Pipelines, and Missing/Murdered Indigenous Women, and Foreign Affairs, and Economic Inequality. God challenges us to learn about them and ask ourselves what God is saying about those issues. Then we share our questions and our understandings with each other, growing and exploring and learning in community.

We will get it wrong at times. We will tick people off at times. But the church isn't in it to be perfect or popular. The church gets involved in life to be faithful. The church gets involved in the world because that is where God wants us to be. The church gets involved in the world because it is where we already are.

The challenge I have for you, brothers and sisters, is to join the discussion. Help us all as people of faith to explore what God is saying about the world we live in. Help us all discover and live towards God's vision, God's hope, God's promise. Who is in it with me?

God bless us all as we take part wholeheartedly in life and as we challenge ourselves to grow closer to the Kingdom. Amen.





Monday, August 18, 2014

#RAllyRevGals Post Number 2...

Over at RGBP Marthahas challenged ring members to "write a blog post about a woman who has been a positive influence on your ministry (whether or not she is/was a pastor),"

I have two women to write about.  So here is #2:

May also served my home congregation at one point in time.  But while that fact touches on this story, it is not the basis of the story, not the time she had the most impact on me.

After my first internship crashed 20 years ago (on this day 20 years ago I was getting ready to move to Edson for it) I took a break from studies of 4 years.  One of those years I did a unit of CPE, which would later count as 2 course credits when I went to finish my MDiv.

May was my CPE supervisor.

During the CPE entrance interview we talked openly about the fact that we had a past history.  She had served in my home congregation when I was 11 or 12, my father had been on the M&P committee at the time, and her pastoral relationship with the congregation had not ended well.  We talked about if this past made it a good idea or a bad idea for her to be my supervisor.  As she was at the time a provisional supervisor I can only assume she also had that discussion with her supervisor as well.

I think it was a good thing.  More about that in a moment.

CPE was a challenge for me, as Pastoral Care was (and is) a challenge for my ministry gifts.  And at that point I still had a LOT of personal work to do before I would be ready for ministry.  I had little self-confidence, little sense that I had much to offer.  I was uncomfortable with emotional discussion.  So yeah, CPE was a challenge for me.  I was blessed with a good group who were supportively challenging.  And May was an excellent supervisor, both in the group discussions and in the one-on-one.  She helped start me on a path that would lead to seeing a counselor and doing a whole lot of healing and growth.  And I think that she was best able to do that because she knew a different me.

Quite frequently in our discussions May would look at me and say "that isn't who you are, isn't who you used to be, what happened".  She was able to remind me of what had been true before the worst years of school bullying had changed me.  In retrospect I think others had seen signs of it, had tried to draw me beyond the image I had taken on of myself.  But May could provide her own testimony of who she knew me as.  And that had more impact.  I also think that because I knew more of her story, including parts she omitted when she told her story to the group (and called her on when we met one-on-one the next time) it was easier for me to be open with her than it wold have with another supervisor.

CPE was not a magic bullet.  After that I still ended up going to a counselor (on the advice/instruction of my Presbytery E&S Committee) for a couple of years.  But it started me on the road to health.  And May was a big part of that.

Sadly May is no longer living.  Rest in Peace.

#RallyRevGals Post Number 1....

Over at RGBP Marthahas challenged ring members to "write a blog post about a woman who has been a positive influence on your ministry (whether or not she is/was a pastor),"
I have two women to write about.  So here is #1:

It was a woman who first suggested I go into ministry.

Barb came to serve my home congregation when I was in high school, grade 11 I believe.  One of her main roles was support for the Christian Education activities and that is how I got to know her.  She also led an adult Bible Study but I was not heavily involved in that group until after she had moved on (though I heard reports of some of their discussions).  But as part of an active family in the church I got to talk with her relatively often and felt a connection I did not feel with either of the other ministers who served that congregation while she was there.

When I first applied to work at Camp in the spring of 1989 Barb was one of the people I used as a reference.  I remember that discussion.  We talked about my experience with IVCF (a group I was by then finding less and less comfortable in) and how their approach to Bible Study sat with me.

The other time I worked most closely with Barb was when I was on the interview/hiring committee for a new church musician (organist and choir director) and she was the ministry personnel working with the committee.

Then one day she said to my mom: "has Gord ever considered ministry?".  We all laughed. And yet within a year I was sitting in the office of the University chaplain asking about the process.  As I was getting ready to go to seminary I wrote to Barb.  Haven't talked to her for years in person, though we have connected on Facebook.   But without her question, I wonder if I would be where I am now....

And when I remember that story I remember that we in the church have a duty to call out leadership.  And yet I wonder if I would be able to do that, to ask that question.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Book 12 of 2014 -- Into the Abyss

In the congregation I serve there are several people who are part of a book club.  After church one morning one of those people recommended this book to me.

In Alberta politics are, well, odd.  For the entire history of the province there has been a series of dynastic governments where one party has control, often overwhelming control, of the legislature for many terms.  Then suddenly a new party takes the helm.  The current party is now 43 years in control.  But 30 years ago it seemed things might change.  The economy (as a result of the early 80's recession) was depressed, a people used to having more government money than they were sure what to do with had much less, and the dangers of building a provincial economy too reliant on one sector (oil) were becoming evident.  And then there was a strong leader of the Official Opposition.  True they only had 2 seats but when the Alberta tide changes 2 seats could lead to a majority of seats in just a couple of elections.  Then that leader was killed in a plane crash.  This book is about that plane crash.

But really it is about the survivors of the crash. It introduces them and how they came to be on that flight.  IT talks about how they survived the cold night in the wilderness, 2 of them severely injured, even as we also get told about the search and rescue progressing.  I remember October of 1984 being very snowy.  In fact I remember wading through thigh high snow on Halloween that year. I also remember the news breaking the Grant Notley had been killed.  I don't remember the rest of the story that we learn here.

Roughly the last half of the book is about the aftermath.  What was learned?  What impact did the crash have on those 4 people (one of whom, a Provincial Cabinet minister of the day is the author's father)?  How did their lives turn out afterward?  And as interesting, in a reality thriller type of way, as the crash and survival and search/rescue part of the book is, the last half is somehow better.

I imagine that the members of that book club, many of whom would have been living in Grande Prairie 30 years ago, would have found the book even more interesting as they may have had clearer memories of the events than I--being only 15 at the time.  I am glad the book was recommended.  I am glad I listened to the recommendation.