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.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Book 11 of 2014 -- The Generosity Factor

This book was suggested by a member of my Ministry & Personnel committee, I think when we were talking about the need for the congregation to do some work around stewardship (because that is what the book is about).

The premise is that a rich, make money is what counts, stockbroker reads an article about a CEO who believes strongly in the value of giving.  At the same time the Broker is highly successful and yet wonders about significance.  So he goes and spends a weekend with the Executive to learn the secret of how giving and generosity brings happiness.

I am really tempted to get folks in the church to read this book and then have us discuss it.  It gives a good basis for a discussion of Christian Stewardship.

On the surface it is a novel, but the claim is that it is based on the attitudes and practices of one of the authors....

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Great Idea...BUT....

I am a firm believer in the law of unintended consequences.

Today I am wondering how that law will play out yet again.

In the mail today was our GST Credit statement.  As I might have expected had I thought about it.  But what caught my attention was a notice on it that all Government of Canada Cheques are being phased out by April 2016.

Not a problem for most people.  Indeed I haven't gotten a cheque from the government for almost 15 years.   All our tax refunds and credits come via Direct Deposit.

But will that work for everyone?

To get Direct Deposit you, obviously, need a bank account.  Generally to get a bank account you at least need a home address, some accounts may even require a minimum balance.  There are people who live without a bank account.  What happens to them when the government assumes everyone can do Direct Deposit?

As it happens there are many people who miss out on government payments to which they are entitled because they fall through the cracks.  They may not file a return because they have no income.  They may be so mobile that they forget to inform the office of a change in address (which will even cancel Direct Deposit payments--as we learned one year when someone at CRA mis-entered our Postal Code and then insisted we had moved without telling them and THAT was why they had the wrong address and mail was returned to them).  To require that one has a bank account to get money to which they are entitled is merely one more hurdle that will cut money away from some of the people who most need it.

I get it.  It is cheaper to not print and mail cheques.  It is more convenient for many of us to just have the money appear (which is why we do Direct Deposit).  But a cardinal (IMO) rule in public policy is to not create structure that harm the most at risk in the society.  Unless there is some other plan in place--this change will harm some of those who live on the least.

The law of unintended consequences at work....

Thursday, July 03, 2014

Book 10 of 2014 -- When "Spiritual But Not Religious" Is Not Enough

When I was in Seattle a couple months ago I heard Lillian Daniel speak and was very impressed.  And I had looked at this book a couple of times and pondered buying it.  So I finally pulled the trigger and got it.

First I have to say that I miss the days when I could read and retain stuff.....I seem to be getting worse at that.  And it is really frustrating.  But I digress.

I liked this book.  There were pieces of it I want to use in preaching later (assuming I remember--see above).   I am thinking of suggesting it as a Book Study for next winter, as I think there could be some great discussions out of each section. 

I am never sure how best to use a book like this.  You can, as I did, read it like a "normal" book, in order.  But because it is a collection of stories and reflections you can pick and choose and jump around.

In a culture where we have too often lost the ability (in and out of the church) to talk about where we find God and why we feel God's presence and how we "know" God this book gives us a start for the discussion.  I think it is good reading for those in and out of religion.

And I am seriously tempted to just read the chapter on Valentine's Day the next time Feb 14 is a Sunday (which should be 2016).