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.

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Book 13 of 2019 -- Two Gentlemen of Verona

Because sometimes you need a change of pace. And when you have a complete Shakespeare collection on your Kobo why not use that as the change of pace.

Once again I was reminded that the best way to read Shakespeare is out loud (so really not a "read in the coffee shop" endeavor, more of a "read in the bath tub" piece.

I had never read Two Gentlemen... before, well at least not the Shakespeare version.  30+ years ago I was in a musical adaptation of it that was...odd. Then again the story itself is kind of odd.

Nevertheless I think that reading a classic is always a good option.

Friday, December 20, 2019

Book 12 of 2019 -- Dare to Lead

Over the years I had heard many good things about Brene Brown. I had also been wanting to do some leadership development reading.  So I thought Dare to Lead would be a good choice -- particularly because I rarely think of myself as one who dares much.

I am tempted to order the workbook that accompanies the book and use it on a re-read. At the very least it is a book I think I will re-read in the future. It was challenging, in a good way. To put some of what Brown suggests into practice would stretch my comfort zones-- again this is not necessarily a bad thing. However I think that to provide leadership in a church that is in need of finding new ways to be church I need to push myself -- so that I can encourage others to push themselves.

Saturday, December 07, 2019

Jealousy and Anger and Fear... OH MY

I keep remembering the old saying about the "ancient Chinese curse" May you live in interesting times.  We are certainly living in interesting times....

In Alberta for the last couple of years there has been an immense amount of anger. It has been focussed in a few different places (more on that shortly). But I have been wondering what is driving the anger and what is causing the specific focal points for it.

I have long believed that anger is more of a secondary emotion. It grows out of something else. And I see the current anger in Alberta growing out of at least three other things. The big one is FEAR. Next up is PAIN. The next one is JEALOUSY. 

People are angry in Alberta because the economy is not booming. It has not been booming for several years now. And the nature of our system tends to mean that if an economy is not booming and growing it is struggling and shrinking. For some reason "holding its own" is never an option. [One of the talking points is that our economy is held up by lack of access (no new pipelines). But no access has been removed either, we can still ship as much oil as we could 6 years ago, albeit at a much lower price than 6 years ago. Why does lack of growth have to mean shrinking?] And so people lose income, either by reduced hours or losing their job completely. And so people are hurting. It is well-established that when we hurt we seek to lash out at the person(s)/system(s) we think is to blame.

So people are angry because they have been hurt. And in their wounded state they have had a number of people tell them who is at fault for their pain: the federal government, environmental activists (especially foreign funders of same), other provinces, those living off the public dime (either recipients of support or public sector workers). Which has had the effect of making people angry at those things rather than others who are possibly more to blame -- the large corporations who continue to make profits, the changing global energy industry, the provincial governments of the last several decades. So that is one facet of the anger. But there is more.

Alberta has ridden the tides of an uncertain resource sector before (and seems to have learned very little from it). The anger seems stronger, louder now. This, I think is where the fear comes in.  Many of us have been suggesting that this will not be like other cycles because the big boom will not come back like it has before. Others have been refusing to admit that this is a possibility. I think there is a very real fear that the big boom will not come back and we have no plan for something to replace it. There is fear that new pipelines either will not get completed and opened or that if the pipelines [which for years we have been told will bring back the golden goose] do come on stream the boom still will not come back [personally I more than half-believe this is why Kinder-Morgan cancelled the Trans-Mountain pipeline which the federal government (who we are told does not support the industry) the bought to try and keep it on track -- they no longer believed they would make the money they wanted off the project.] And when people are afraid they get angry at the very thing they are afraid of.

A lot of what I have heard over the last few years, from a variety of sources, has had fear in it. Some have tried to quell the fear. Some have tried to ramp it up and focus it into anger at "them". Some have tried to say there is nothing to fear, that the boom will still come back like it always has. Still the fear is out there. I think it is justified. I think people are afraid of losing their livelihoods, that people are afraid of us not being what we were. I also think they may have reason to be afraid. I do hope that we find a better way of meeting those fears than we have thus far.

I have a sense that most commentators and analysts will agree thus far. Theses are obvious sources of anger. But recently (as i the last few weeks and months I have seen something uglier growing. Jealousy.

Alberta is jealous of other provinces, most especially Quebec. This has been true for a long time. Alberta is jealous of Quebec's special status -- not because they believe Quebec should not have it but because they don't. Alberta is jealous that other provinces (and especially Quebec) get more in transfer payments under the federal equalization program. Alberta is jealous that Alberta is not seen as the best province in the country. Alberta is mad that Alberta does not get special treatment because of its economic contributions to the country. This, I think, is a large part of what has fed a long-term feeling of Western alienation (long term as in most of the province's history) and the occasional popping up of separatist movements (WCC when I was younger, Wexit now). It is also a jealousy that was once harnessed by Preston Manning' Reform Party and is now being harnessed by Premier Kenney's "Fair Deal" campaign (though I have yet to see what exactly he thinks "fair deal" means -- I hunch it means Alberta gets what Alberta wants). Federalism is a challenge in a country as big and diverse as Canada. And as a person whose preferred model of federalism is a much stronger central government I often find myself out of step with much of the country. But jealousy of what others have, or what we think they have, or what we think they should not have, does not help.

There is another piece of jealousy I am seeing, one that is more concerning to my heart. It is not a new think but in times where we are told we need economic restraint it is very divisive.  Jealousy of other Albertans. Jealousy because some have union contracts to protect them when others did not. Jealousy that some have jobs and others have lost theirs. I sense a lot of this in the ongoing debate around who has it better -- public sector or private sector workers. Right now, as we live into a provincial budget that some of us see as a disaster in the making (others see it as a much needed corrective) this jealousy is getting played out full force. And it makes people angry -- on both sides. It creates a "with us or against us" sensation. It gets in the way of having real discussions about what the best way forward is.

[For the record I believe firmly that the best way forward for Alberta's budget is to take a hard look at our revenue problem which is to blame for where we are. I have these dreams of what could have happened if 40 years ago we had not fallen victime to the myth of high services on low taxes]

But right now the fear and the jealousy and the anger are driving what passes for debate in this province. And it is getting us nowhere fast. Many of us have strong opinions on where to go next. Many of us have trouble allowing the opposite point of view speak to our hearts and minds. All of us go around trying to find data to back up our point of view -- which always reminds me of the quote usually ascribed to Mark Twain There are 3 types of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics. We have to find a better way. Jealousy and fear and anger, being used the way they are currently, will only poison the well.

Luckily I am, in theory at least, a person of hope rather than despair, of love rather than fear, of common good over individualism -- some days better than others.

Thursday, December 05, 2019

Miriam's Christmas

This was first written in 2005 but somehow had never been posted here -- as I discovered this morning

The wind gusted, sending the fresh snow swirling around the lamp post. Miriam shivered, pulling the thin coat tighter around her chest. “Gonna be a cold one tonight,” she muttered, squinting through the darkness.

A little further down the block was the big old church. Miriam remembered going there as a child, remembered the beautiful stained glass windows. Suddenly a friendly voice boomed in her ear. “Merry Christmas! Please come and join us for worship!”

Miriam looked around, wondering who the cheerful man was talking to. Surely it couldn’t be her. Christmas Eve was a special service, someone wearing an old coat and wrapped in a hand-me-down blanket didn’t fit in with the fancy dresses and bright lights. But there was nobody else around. “Ar-are you talking to m-m-me?” she asked.

“Of course my dear,” the greeter replied. “Come in and warm up at least.” Miriam could hardly believe her ears; certainly a chance to get out of the wind was welcome. Gratefully she made her way up the old stone stairs and snuck into a pew way at the back of the sanctuary, just as the opening notes of the first hymn were being played.

As she listened to the familiar old carols Miriam couldn’t help remembering the Christmases of her childhood. Things were so much happier, so much simpler then. “What had gone wrong?” she muttered to herself. Then the pageant started. Watching Mary and Joseph get turned away from the inn Miriam felt her heart reach out to them. She knew what it meant to have nowhere to go.

After the service, Miriam started to wrap herself in the blanket again and sneak out without being seen. No luck. The greeter was right there beside her again. “Where will you sleep tonight?” he asked. Miriam said nothing, just looked away.

Finally she looked up, “I don’t know, there was no room at the shelter.”

“Well that will never do” the young man said. He paused for a moment then a smile came back to his face. “You will come to my parent’s house with me,” he said. The story we just heard reminds us that there should always be room at the inn somewhere.

It might have been a trick of the light and wind. But at that moment Miriam was sure that the greeter’s face was shining, just like the angel in the window behind her. And somewhere she heard voices singing “Hallelujah!”…

Monday, October 28, 2019

Book 11 of 2019 -- Speaking Church

The title of this intrigued me.  So did the subtitle A New Vision for the Sub/Urban Congregation.  Serving in a congregation that is mainly urbanized with some still strong rural roots and links I wondered what Ross had to say.

It was a good read.  The major part of one chapter is a series of case studies/reflections using the letters to the 7 churches in Revelation. And that has me seriously pondering a sermon series on those letters, because I suspect all 7 have something to say to most churches.

I also liked where Ross challenged/counselled sub/urban churches both to look at what the needs of the community actually are and what other groups in the community are doing. Both of these are, I think the way to do good contextual ministry and avoid the "well when we did this it worked (30 or 40 years ago) trap. It also helps us remember that the church can work with other agencies and groups rather than only go it alone.

Friday, October 04, 2019

Book 10 of 2019 -- This I Know

At first glance a book about marketing seems an odd thing for a minister to read for continuing education but really...

Terry O'Reilly is a CBC Radio One personality. I first listened to his show Age of Persuasion and now listen each season for Under the Influence. With the result that there were a number of times in the book that I started reading a story , recognized/remembered it from the show and could "hear" Terry telling it as I read.

I chose this book for two reasons.  First off was because I really enjoy the radio show. The other was that I in fact think a marketing book is a very good thing to read for work in the church. Because, to be blunt, the church often sucks at marketing. Possibly in part because we don't think we should be worrying about marketing.

So as I read and enjoyed the book I was constantly asking myself "how does this translate to the church?". ANd there were a number of places. There were things I should consider in sermon prep, things to consider in Council visioning discussions, thing to think about in what advertising we do (which is very little).  I think the place to start is the basics.  What is our brand? What is our key purpose? Our Elevator pitch?

I need to give more thought. I need to find a way to share the thoughts with others, because marketing the church is not (just) my job.

Good book. entertaining but also thought provoking.

Tuesday, September 03, 2019

Book 9 of 2019 -- The Gospel According to Star Wars

My daughter saw this one on a book table at Presbytery and told me I had to buy it (although she is not a Star Wars fan at all). So I did.

Like many of my generation, those of us who grew up with the original trilogy, I have long seen God-talk in the Star Wars story.

In this book I found that McDowell does a good job of exploring theological themes (most doing with the nature of evil and the nature of power) in the original trilogy and the prequels. One place I would have enjoyed more discussion was how did the politics of the day shape the movies themselves.  Lucas has spoken at great length about how that helped shape the first movie but where did that impact the later movies?  McDowell does this to a degree but I would want to look at it some more (admittedly Lucas had the broad strokes of the story in mind well before the movies came out so it is a challenging line to draw).

I appreciated the depth to which McDowell takes the look. There are some interesting ways to look at the movies many have said are pure escapism.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Book 8 of 2019 -- Birth of Jesus for Progressive Christians

'Tis the time of year to be thinking of fall studies.  This book was suggested as a possible late fall/Advent study.  Earlier this year I read another book by the same author, that one was on Revelation.

I think it would work as a study.  I disagree with some of the comments Schmidt makes about the Scripture he  is discussing but that just makes for more opportunities to discuss.... right?

THough part of me wonders if a study group reading Borg/Crossan's The First Christmas might be better....