Wednesday, December 31, 2014

What REALLY Happened...

10 days ago, after worship on the 4th Sunday of Advent when this sermon was presented (here is a podcast of the actual presentation), a comment was made: "maybe one year you can preach about what really happened--though maybe Christmas isn't the right time for that".

The comment has stuck with me.  What might that sermon be?  (And in point of fact I think that the Sunday before Christmas or the Sunday after Christmas would be a fine time for it--but not Christmas Eve.)

I think I need to start these thoughts with the statement that I do not think there is any remembered historical event in either Matthew or Luke's stories of the Nativity.  I think it is all theology.

BUt the only reason I can make that statement is that the "born of a virgin, conceived by the Holy Spirit" line is not vital to my understanding of Jesus as the Christ.  If that was not true then I would have to find historical accuracy in order for my faith to make sense.


For me the "what really happened" sermon would be more about "why was the story told this way".  Mind you for me that is often the sermonic question.  PArt of that is because I find the "what really happened" line to be a fruitless trail.  Because we can never know for certain, there is simply no source of information to answer the questions, we are likely going to find the answers we expect to find.  And in the end the question of faith is more about meaning than event.

But the question was what really happened.  And I think there are only a few things we can say with great certainty.  WE can say there was in the tradition a sense that there was something different about Jesus' birth.  I think there are signs that there was a hint of impropriety about the birth, that the child was born "too soon" -- and there have always been children born "too soon" relative to marriage dates.  We can, I believe, say with a degree of certainty that there was a conflict between the understanding that Jesus was a descendant of David as well as a plausible tradition that he was (or that the Messiah would be) born in Bethlehem and the lived reality that he came from Nazareth (a conflict that Matthew and Luke resolve in two different ways).  Other than that I think it is all theology.  After all the primary point of the Gospels is not history/biography as we understand it in 2014.  The point is to proclaim the Good News that the Messiah has come, that the Kingdom of God is at hand.  And for Matthew and Luke that means starting with conception and birth (for Mark the story begins with Baptism, for John Jesus its the Primeval Word who was in the beginning).

SO why might Jesus have been born too soon?  Maybe Joseph and Mary had a shotgun wedding?  Maybe Mary had another beau on the side, one she may have preferred but a different arrangement was made?  Maybe Mary was a survivor of sexual violence?  All possibilities.


But for me the question is always WHY.  Why did Matthew and Luke tell this story this way?  How did they see God active in Jesus of Nazareth, who they knew as the Risen Christ?   I think that in the Nativity stories we see the development of a different Christology, one that eventually develops into the classic formulation of wholly human and wholly divine.  I think that in the absence of a fully remembered story humanity tends to fill in the details based on what they have learned/experienced about the person.  [In point of fact I think much of humanity does this even where there is a clear account of an event--they just re-tell the story in a different way.  Memory is a funny, and sometimes unreliable, thing.]

ANd one final thought about the sermon I have not ever preached (I have done Christmas trivia to point out how much of what we "know" about the Nativity Story comes more from Carols and Pageants than what Matthew and Luke actually tell us but that is a bit different).  It is my belief that the real basis, often, behind the question is in fact a much more philosophical discussion about Christ, about how God is active in the faith story, about miracles vs science than about the actual events.  Why do we make the faith claims we do?  This is why the answer we come to is so often pre-determined by our philosophical viewpoint on those issues.

Friday, December 05, 2014

Devil in the Details

For the last monthe we in Canada have been inundated with ads announcing the Federal Government's proposed changes to the Income Tax system that will, in their opinion, be of great benefit to young families.

Now this is nothing new.  Political parties do this all the time.  There is a slight ethical issue in that the ads are funded by the government, not the political party and the changes 1) have not yet passed through Parliament and 2) are expected to form a large piece of the CPC election platform in next year's campaign (especially since the changes have a large bunch of cash arriving in people's bnk accounts just a few weeks before the election). 

But as always the devil is in the details.

To be fair, there is good stuff in here.  The increase in the Tax Credit for child Care expenses is needed.  The increase in the Universal Child Care Benefit is not a bad idea either.  Of course neither those things will do a whole lot to actually make Child Care affordable for lower-to-middle income families but they are a start.

ANd unlike many commentators I am not totally against teh "Family Tax Cut" (aka income splitting). I mean there are a whole lot of families (like ours) who will not benefit one cent from the plan.  But once in power governmensts have the right to support programs that flow with the ideals of their supporters.  Many CPC supporters (and MPs and Cabinet members and PArty staffers) support the idea of one-income families and income splitting is a good way to support that.  And I am sure there are a number of families in Grande Prairie who WILL benefit from this plan.  The inclusion of an upper limit that a family can save made it much more palatable to me.

The problematic point was a little line at the end of the description of enhanced UCCB payments.  And interestingly it got no airplay in the hype around the announcement or even in commentators talking about it (because they were sucked into the debate around income splitting).  Ir reads:
These enhancements to the UCCB would replace the Child Tax Credit, starting in the 2015 tax year

Now here is the thing.  The UCCB is taxable income, the Child Tax Credit is not.  Also the Child Tax Credit is MORE than the enhancements to the UCCB--in our case the difference as far as I can tell would be a negative $240/month.  And that is the money we have been using to build the education savings plan for post-secondary purposes.  Other families are using that money to buy food.  [AS a side note the UCCB was this governments idea of a National Child Care program--of course it comes nowhere near paying enough to make child care affordable.]  So for us, and I assume for MANY other families, these enhancements will cost money--and the enhancements move money from non-taxable to taxable income.

IT does strike me that this is an odd way to support lower-to-middle income families.  But then to be honest I do not think this government has every really been about doing things that will support lower-to-middle income Canadians as a primary goal of their tax program choices.

The devil is indeed in the details.

Friday Five--Because I should really post something....

SOme people marked the month of November by posting every day.  I appear to have marked it by not posting ANYTHING on this blog....

SO I thought for that for the first time in I don't know how long I would do the RGBP Friday Five.

This week's prompt is about Christmas Trees.  Our tree won't go up for t more weeks but here we go.  Let's start with a picture of our tree from last year:

ANd the prompting questions are:
1) Real tree, or “fake?” My preference is real.  But after spending as much on real trees in 2 years as we spent the entire time we were in Atikokn we bought a fake one.  This will be its third year.  Our 10 year old hates it--keeps asking why we put "a piece of plastic" up instead of a tree.

2) White or colored lights? coloured, no question.

3) When do you put up and take down your tree? because we always used a real tree the tradition was to put it up around the 20th and take it down on New Year's Day (in my childhood my mother would often de-decorate the tree while watching the Rose Parade).  Even with the "piece of plastic" we tend to keep to that schedule because we have limited room in the living room for the tree as it is.

4) Tell us about your favorite ornament (share a picture, if you can). Not sure I have a favourite...but I will mention the set of 6 ceramic bulbs that have the Irish "May the Road Rise to Meet you" Blessing on them I was given years ago and then did not use for a while due to using "bush" trees with weak branches.  Now we can use them because the fake branches are plenty sturdy.

5) What goes on the top of your tree (again, share a photo, if possible)? We have an angel and a star, both in the same material and style, that we alternate.  Mind you we have to rely on the girls to tell us which year is which...though I see above that last year was the star

Bonus: Are there traditions about decorating your tree that you’d like to share? Every year we buy an ornament for the girls.  (Soon we will have more ornaments than we have tree but that is another issue)  Here in town there is an annual Ten Thousand Villages sale in mid-November so every year we go to that and this is where the girls buy their, fairly traded, ornament for the year.  For the last three years running our second child has gotten ornaments with nativity scenes on them--says she is starting a collection.

EXTRA BONUS:
There are stories that always get told in families.  Here is one of ours....
One year, I think I was in Grade 10, I had a play rehearsal (for Our Town which we were performing in January) on the Saturday before Christmas.  We had not yet decorated our tree.  At that point in time my father and sister did brunch on Christmas Day.  Often they had grand plans (which over the years faded into simple bacon and eggs but since at that time my grandfather only got bacon and eggs once a year [cholesterol diet] he did not mind) and this year they had a fancy bread they were making.  That afternoon while they were trying to make it and my grandmother was giving helpful advice my mother decided that the kitchen was not where she wanted to be.  SO when I got home from rehearsal the tree was totally decorated.  I was less than impressed that I did not get to help.

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 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.

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).

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Towards Right Relations

Today is the Summer Solstice.  Which means that it is also (in Canada) National Aboriginal Day.  In many places across the country ceremonies have taken place today or will take place tomorrow to honour and celebrate Aboriginal culture (for example).

And that is great.  But it is not enough.

Like in many countries, the relationship between those of aboriginal ancestry and those of other ancestry is very complicated in Canada's history and Canada's present.  And it is my belief that there is a great need for that relationship to be developed.

And to develop that relationship there are areas that need to be named and addressed and accepted.  One of these is the history of Residential Schools.   A start has been made on that front, with the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which had its last public event in March.  Many stories have been told and much history has been revealed but only a start -- both in the discovery/sharing of truth and in the process of reconciliation.

Another area is in the lived experience of far too many Aboriginal folk in 2014.  There are First Nation communities that live in what are routinely described as "Third World" conditions.  Aboriginal people are highly over-represented in the prison system and in the lower strata of the socio-economic ladder (and under-represented in other areas of life).

Another is the very real fact of hidden, sometimes barely hidden, racism in Canadian society.  We may not longer see the "No Indians Need Apply" help wanted ads that once appeared but there is a racism problem in many parts of the country.  A racism problem that leads many to be put out by the "special treatment" (aka treaty rights) First Nations get, or shows up in the still common stereotype that Indians are predisposed to substance addiction, or appears when over and over Aboriginal folk are described as lazy or disrespectful of property or overly demanding, or is evident when it appears that the legal system puts a different emphasis on missing First Nations folk than on other ethnicities or....  And yet many people will deny that this racism exists, or that it is as widespread as it is...

Then there is the whole question of land.  Whose land is it?  Now. Today.  Not whose land was it 150 years ago, but whose is it now?  And who gets to decide how it will be used?   And if we agree that land "ownership" has passed on what are the terms of that transfer?  There are so many shades to this question of land that whole books can be written about just this one issue -- and court cases have already stretched for years in trying to figure it out.

And there are complicating factors.  Complicating factors like the fact that I truly believe some of the European folk involved in negotiating the treaties, particularly the later treaties, were agreeing to terms that they never expected would be actually lived out.  I believe it was a matter of saying/doing what was needed to get the land with the expectation that the "problem" (which was the existence of the Indians) would only last for a little while longer anyway.  Or complicating factors like the fact that the road to hell is paved with good intentions, sometimes because the good intentions of some get run over by the pavers.  I find that to a degree the Residential Schools fall in this category.  There were some who became involved because they honestly believed that this was a way to help the folk adapt to a changed world.  But the pavers were trying to extinguish and assimilate, not assist in adaptation and so overran the intentions.  What are the good intentions in 2014 that will be judged as insanely misguided in another generation?  Or complicating factors like the whole "history is over, we can't change it so lets just live in the present and prepare for the future" attitude -- which is really a (sort of) polite way of saying "stop whining about the past".

So we have started.  We have only started.  Some will say we should be farther along (and we likely should be but that is because we probably should have started a generation earlier).  But we have a long way to go in sorting out this relationship.  And until we do THAT needs to be a part of the discussion around National Aboriginal Day.

Monday, June 09, 2014

Newspaper Column

Twas my turn this week.  This was the third attempt.  I still don' really like it....

Does Everything Happen for a Reason?

Short answer....NO. There may be a cause, but that is different from a reason that gives it meaning.

I had a plan for this column. I was going to talk about how communities of faith have helped build Grande Prairie over the last 100 years, and muse about how communities of faith can help Grade Prairie develop into the future. But then 5 families in our city lost their homes to fire. Then 3 RCMP officers were gunned down in Moncton. And then there was a shooting at Seattle Pacific University. And I remembered the old saying of Karl Barth that we preach with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. And I remembered a question I was asked to preach about last November.

There are certain phrases that probably should be stricken from our repetoire. And the irony is that many people use them in a desire/attempt to be comforting.

"God must have needed another angel"
"God never closes a door without opening a window"
"God never gives us more than we can handle"
"Time heals all wounds"
"It must be God's will"
Everything happens for a reason"

To be frank most people find these statements, when offered in the face of tragedy, generally unhelpful and sometimes downright infuriating.

One of the most perplexing questions in Christian theology is "Why do bad things happen?" [often with the add-on "to good people" and the corresponding "why do good things happen to bad people?"]

If God is in control then why do young children die of illness or accident or willful action? Why do people get cancer? Why does a person have to watch his/her life partner descend into dementia? Why do we see (over and over again) reports of "ethnic cleansing" and genocide? If God is in control, if God is all-loving and all-knowing and all-powerful why do terrible things happen? Is it all part of a grand plan? Does everything happen for a reason?

To make it a more difficult discussion, it is fairly clear that much of the Scripture witness supports the idea that God is in control, that there is a plan, that things do happen for a reason. And the only appropriate response in the minds of some people of faith is to say "it is all a mystery". [Or as I have been known to say, “if there is a plan it is poorly communicated and the implementation needs some work”.]

But what if God is not in control? What if God is not in fact all-powerful? Then what?

That is where I have come to. I don't think everything happens for some deep philosophical reason. I think life is just like that. This I think is what the writer of Ecclesiastes is referring to in chapter 3 “To everything there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven”. (As it happens, my Hebrew Scripture professor once suggested that this passage is a little bit depressing and fatalistic.)

So then what do we make of Romans 8:28 "We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose."?

That verse could easily support the idea that everything happens for a reason, that there is a plan, that "it will all turn out for the best". OR. Or it could mean that the same God who turned the tragedy of the cross into the victory of Easter is willing to transform things. Not to take away the pain, or the tragedy, or the rampant unfairness of life. Just to, as the saying goes, make the best of a bad situation. So things don't happen according to the plan, they happen and we adjust the plan in light of new information.

Does God want houses to burn? Does God let random acts of violence shatter people's lives? Does God plan that girls are abducted from a school with promises to sell them into “marriage”?

No. These things happen because life is not perfect. These things happen because life is not fair. But even in the unfairness and imperfection God is there to help us live through the tragedy. God has a hope. God has a vision. God has a promise of what the world could be. And we will get there someday. As Dame Julian of Norwich (who lived in a violent, unjust, imperfect world) said “all will be well, all will be well, all will be well someday”.

Not a reason for all the stuff that happens, but instead a promise of support and presence. And a promise that some time we will get to a time when life will be better. God is good. Thanks be to God.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Books 8 & 9 of 2014 -- Volumes I & II of The Canadian Civil War

At the end of April, in preparation for my trip to Seattle, I was browsing through Kobo looking for something to read.  And as I looked through the free books section I came across this one.

As I have mentioned previously, history is a long-time interest of mine.  That has always included historical fiction.  This is an interesting book.  I started it on the bus and did not stop reading for most of the next 5 hours.  It is set in a world where the French did not lose their North American possessions in the Seven years War.  Nor did they sell the Louisiana Territory to the US (it also appears that the US had their independence from England at a much later date--logical since the English victory in 1763 was a big part of setting the stage for the American Revolution a decade later.  It appears that Canada remains as a French-speaking nation covering much of the North American continent.  The US is the original 13 colonies plus Florida (because apparently the US still eventually fought Spain and won).  I have yet to determine what happened West of the Rockies on either side of the 49th Parallel, though it seems I might get a bit of that picture in Volume 3.

The premise of the book is that an American historian (a fairly arrogant one I might say) is in Green Bay (the capital of Canada) doing research on the Joliet family.  The first volume alternates between what he is learning from the latest patriarch of the clan, a former President of Canada, about the discovery of the Mississippi in the 17th century and developments in Canada (and in the romantic life of the historian).  This Canada is split culturally between the Catholic North and the Huguenot South, with a focus for the latter on New Orleans.  I am thinking the 17th century history is fairly accurate, but have not enough background to be sure. 

Shortly after returning from Seattle, having read little to none of the book while there, I stayed up far too late and finished the book.  It seemed at the end of volume 1 we were headed directly into the Civil War named in the title.  The South is rising....

Having so enjoyed the first one I got home and went looking.....

Found Volume 2.  And promptly clicked to buy it (for little more than a $).

In this volume we continue to be looking at the history and at the present.  But the stakes are higher.  Is conflict between North and South inevitable?  Will the US be drawn in?  Will the US (who has warred with French Canada multiple times) use the Civil conflict as an opportunity to grab territory?

The historic focus this time is on the settlement of the South.  This history is not aimed at being accurate in the same way the first volume was, though it contains some very accurate pieces.

The twist is that this book builds and builds a sense of impending doom--but does not yet pull the trigger.  Will that happen in Volume 3?

This series is not what one would call great classic literature.  There are places that are inconsistent, where piecing together the alternate history, and how the alternate history links in with/changes actual history becomes really hard to figure out.  There are places where an editor might have needed a more careful eye.

The main character, the narrator, is at time and insufferable bigot.  I grow really tired of the potshots he makes at French/Canadian (though really French in this instance) culture, work ethic, expertise...  Mind you it sounds very much like a stereotypical USan attitude to French stereotypes in the actual present (emphasis on the stereotypes -- which is an interesting literary choice).  But for failrly mindless reading it is just up my alley.  I look forward to volume 3.



Worship Planning Pondering

For the last 25+ years my experience in worship has been centered on the Revised Common Lectionary.  First as a Sunday School teacher using the Whole People of God curriculum, then as a pew-sitter, through my seminary training and internships, and now 12 years in ordained ministry.

There are great reasons for using a lectionary.  It forces us to look at a variety of passages in Scripture -- including some we would rather not explore.  It gives a structure to worship planning, enabling more advanced planning by teams.  It gives a starting point each week.

But using the RCL has drawbacks.  More and more over the years I find myself ignoring it for blocks of time (espcially Lent and Advent when I have often created a thematic series) as well as for individual Sundays/special occassions.  ANd while the principle is that following the RCL has us hear all the "important" stories of Scripture that raises the key question "important according to whom????".  And even in that attempt I find it does not do a great job of actually allowing the stories, particularly the longer, multi-chapter stories of Scripture to fully be told and explored.  Then there is the whole matter of trying to make all the readings for a Sunday link to each other -- a task I gave up on long ago, and seldom do I have all the RCL passages read on a Sunday.

Lately I have been pondering a change.  More and more I read posts about the Narrative Lectionary.  THis is a four year cycle (so each Gospel gets its own year) that is intended to allow a better sense of the narrative flow of Scripture to develop.  I think it would be a good way to help develop more Biblical literacy/familiarity in people.  I think it would be a new challenge for preaching (having now been through the RCL cycle 4 times).

But I wonder.  Would I find the NL to be more of a straightjacket, not allowing easy variation for special occasions (after all to do justice to the concept one sort of needs to stick with the narrative).   Currently much of the worship resources available are for the RCL and that makes life easier for Licensed Lay Worship Leaders who are often providing coverage when I am away.  If we are following the NL do we ask those folk to do so as well?  (not likely, but does that then break the flow?)

The NL year starts in September.  And this September starts Year 1.  So this fall would be the logical time to start.  Which means i should likely make up my mind (and discuss it with the worship committee) soon...

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Book 7 of 2014 -- A Church with the Soul of a Nation

I have long been a history fan so when I first heard about this book I almost bought it immediately.  However, I had other things to do with my study allowance this year and was going to wait.  But I had heard a number of references to it in a couple of FB discussions that made it sound really worthwhile so I went looking for it...

It is rare I read a book and my response is to wish it was added to course syllabi.  This is one of those books.  I think it is essential reading for history of the United Church of Canada courses (and also that those courses are ESSENTIAL for anyone entering ministry in the UCCan).

Not that the picture drawn is always what we would like to see.  Airhart makes obvious the inherent racism/xenophobia that existed in the UCCan as they tried to face a Canada where Anglo-Saxon roots were becoming less and less a majority (note that this racism is also a reality in the history of public education in Canada and probably in many other parts of Canadian life).  She names the rampant anti-Catholicism that marked the Canadian reality for many decades.  This is part of who we were, part of where we came from.  And, just like we have forced ourselves (or been forced) to look clearly at our relationships with our First Nations brothers and sisters, we need to face some of those hard realities.

As we attempt to figure out where we are going, to try and guess where we will end up, it is helpful to look at where we have been.  In reading this it becomes obvious that the discussions we are having now about our identity have been happening and building not for the last few years but for longer than I have been alive.  Sure they have had different faces but they have been the same discussions.  For 50 years we have been trying to sort out what we are all about, because the founding vision at the time of Union is well and truly no longer viable.

I encourage all UCCan folk to read this book, all UCCan congregations should have a copy in the building.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

CHRIST IS RISEN!!!!

He is Risen Indeed!

HAPPY EASTER 

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

A Newspaper Column

What Do You Mean Forgive?!?

....and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us...

They are words heard in many churches every Sunday. Buried deep in the middle of the Prayer of Jesus (aka the Lord's Prayer) is this line about forgiveness. But is that really what we want?

Be honest with yourself. Do you really want to be forgiven just as well as you forgive others? Or do you want a whole lot more forgiveness than you often offer?

Forgiveness is hard. Several years ago I was leading a study on the Prayer of Jesus. The week we were talking about the chapter in our study book “Jesus' Prayer Calls Us to Forgiveness” more than one member of the group shared how much they struggled with forgiveness. I also have struggled with it. How do you forgive people who have harmed you or your loved ones, who have caused physical and emotional damage? Why should we?

Then Peter came and said to him, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times. (Matthew 18:21-22)

Forgiveness is at the heart of living as a person of The Way. Forgiveness is at the heart of how we are able to form civil societies. If we, as individuals and as communities, are unable to forgive then life quickly begins to amount to grudge holding and revenge seeking. And that damages all of us.

But forgiveness is hard. It denies our need (or is it really only a want?) for payback, for “justice”. Telling each other, telling ourselves, to forgive makes it sound like we discount the damage done. And surely there are some things that are unforgivable. Right????

Miroslav Volf, in his book Free of Charge [NOTE see a review I wrote here] describes forgiveness as choosing “To condemn the fault but to spare the doer”. This, Volf argues, is what God does with God's people. God recognizes the wrong done but chooses to waive the punishment. And then Volf has the nerve to suggest that this is what God wants US to do with each other. Acknowledge that a wrong has been done, but don't try for payback, don't hold it against the other, erase the debt, live as though no wrong had been done.

That is hard. It doesn't seem to make sense. Why should we forgive? I don't mean the little things, I mean the big ones, the ones where forgiveness seems impossible. God wants us to forgive those too?

Yes. God wants us to forgive those too.

In the end we forgive because forgiveness leads to health. Sometimes that is the health of the other, sometime it is our own health and well being. After all, there is an old proverb which says “holding on to anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die”. When we are unable to forgive we are holding on to anger and hurt.

For many years I carried a grudge against classmates in my Junior High years. They had hurt me. I couldn't confront them (either at the time or later). But neither could I forgive them. Eventually I had to. Holding on to that hurt was still hurting me. Holding on to that hurt was keeping me from living. (Mind you it took several months of therapy to realize that and find a way to let go.) I will never forget, but I had to forgive. I had to stop letting those words and actions control my life.

As people of faith we proclaim that we are forgiven. As people who have been forgiven, we are challenged to go out and forgive others. We are, in the end, able to forgive for the same reason we are able to love. Because we are loved, because we have been forgiven, we can be people of love and forgiveness. We can make the choice.

It will not be easy. But anyone who promises that life can be easy is probably selling something. But if we are to be the people God created us to be we need to forgive each other, we need to forgive ourselves, and we need to accept forgiveness from others. We do it so that we can be healthy. We do it so that our neighbours can be healthy, we do it so our relationships can be healthy. And we do it because God is at work in us.

Maybe, if we are honest, we want to be forgiven better than we are able to forgive. But with practise we get better. The more we forgive the better we are at it. And our model is God, who has forgiven us already.

Now who do you need to forgive?


Monday, March 03, 2014

Books 5 & 6 of 2014 -- The Two Towers & The Return of the King

And then it was finished....

Barad-Dur has fallen, the Ring is destroyed, the crownless again is king, the Ring-wearers have sailed to the West.

OF course it all works out in the end.  Most classic quest stories do after all.

But there are surprising twists.  I remember it was only after several readings that I first caught the line Gandalf says just before he leaves the 4 hobbits on the journey home, where he tells them that they have been trained to deal with what they find when they get back to the Shire, that this training was one of the points of the whole quest.

In these last two volumes I have always wavered in which parts I preferred.  Is it books 3 and 5 which focus on the "main" battle, the events on the Western front?  Or is it books 4 and 6 which focus on Frodo and Sam, where the focus of success or failure eventually lies?  I tend towards the Western front.  More activity.

BUt then there is the Frodo-Sam-Smeagol/Gollum dynamic.  Smeagol/Gollum is a fascinating character study.  In some ways one of the most fascinating characters in the whole book.  What does it mean to be fallen?  Does it mean you are beyond hope?  Does it mean your contributions are without merit?  I think there is another paper in those questions.....

Then there are the appendices.  Telling some of the backstory, showing the flow of the story/allowing the reader to know what things are happening at the same time, giving more insight into the world Tolkien has created through writing and calendars and languages.

THe question that comes to mind in this reading is who are the essential characters vs the non-essential?  Or who are the most essential or important characters?  Surprisingly I would suggest that there are few non-essential characters.  Most everyone plays a role in the eventual defeat of Sauron--even if that role could never have been predicted (Merry Pippin Sam and Gollum come to mind).

THere are a few books that I think most people SHOULD read.  Lord of the Rings is one of them.


Sunday, February 09, 2014

The Future is...

Like many faith traditions, the United Church of Canada is, well, struggling.  Not all of a sudden, the first signs of the trends that led to where we are now were visible decades ago (as a percentage of the Canadian population the UCCan has been declining since World War 2, only the baby boom bulge allowed our gross numbers to continue to swell until the early 1960's).

Like many faith traditions, changing the culture and structure of the UCCan to meet these changes has been roughly akin to the captain of the Titanic trying to back up when the iceberg was sighted--with about as much success.

It is very easy to argue that the UCCan as we have known it is not only dying, it is essentially dead, with even life support no longer being a viable option.

As a denomination our latest attempt to plot a new path forward was formed at the 41st General Council Meeting in 2012.  That gathering authorized the creation of the Comprehensive Review Task Group, and said that "everything is on the table".  The CRTG will bring forward recommendation to GC42 in 2015.

I'll admit to being more than a little bit skeptical about this work, particularly the "everything is on the table" line. Call me cynical but I truly expected something along the lines of deck chair shuffling.  Or possibly a revisit of an idea from 12 years ago that would have us move from a 4 court (Pastoral Charge, Presbytery, Conference, General Council) to a 3 court model that essentially combined the 2 middle courts and divided the church into a number (40 was one of the numbers suggested) of districts.  That proposal went to a remit, a poll of presbyteries and (in this case) congregations where it failed to garner enough support [this was the first time I had to explain a remit to a congregation--I fear I did not do a great job of doing so without influencing the vote].

Lately the CRTG has released 2 documents.  One was a summary of results from the congregational consultations they held Spring-Fall of 2013. I scanned that one but it was really a "what we heard was" type of report with some analysis.  I should probably find time to read it (very dry reading) more carefully.  The second was far more important and thought provoking.

This document is a Discussion Paper that the CRTG wants all 87 Presbyteries to respond to by June (note it is now February, some of us only have one meeting in that interval and have our own business to take care of--the timelines are far from great--especially since they did not even ask for time until January).

Well I take back some of my skepticism.  Everything indeed is on the table.  This discussion paper suggests a move to a 2 court, essentially Congregationalist, non-connectional polity.  (the .pdf of the paper itself is here)

There is some good in here.  There are also a whole lot of questions.  As a discussion paper it is short (very short) on details.  Partly because this is not yet a fully-formed proposal.  This is a "this is where we are thinking of going, tell us what you think" piece.  And I get the logic behind that.  Why go to the effort and time and expense of crafting a full proposal if the constiuency thinks you are heading the wrong direction.  This round of consultations allows the Presbyteries to weigh in, to raise questions, to give some more direction to the CRTG.  Then they can add more flesh and details as they prepare a recommendation that is set to be released with plenty of lead time before GC42.

When I first read the paper (I got a draft a bit earlier than the public release because I have found myself in a position where I will be helping facilitate this Presbytery's review of it) my first reaction was very negative.  As indeed will be/has been the reaction of many.  This paper simply does not describe the United Church as it has been since 1925.  Indeed I suggest our Presbyterian and Methodist forebears would be aghast at this proposal.  With such major changes a strong reactionary response is to be expected.

Then I read it again.  And I considered it.  ANd yes there is good here.  From a survival point of view (and I do believe this is a survival document with the possibility that it will help some thrive) this is the level of change that is needed.  The structure we have inherited is simply unworkable and unsustainable from both a monetary and a labour point of view.  This document takes seriously problems that have been raised over the years.  It tries to find ways to liberate folk to be the church without being handcuffed by rules and policies.  This document tries to find a new way, to be inventive rather than innovative or improving what is already there.  Tweaking (major or minor) the old simply WILL NOT DO ANYTHING.

There are also grave concerns here.  The document, as it stands, puts ministry personnel in a very vulnerable position.  The document, as it stands, removes all ongoing oversight of congregations from the picture.  The document, as it stands, will increase the isolation felt by some Pastoral Charges and some clergy.  It will also increase the chances of Pastoral Charges going "rogue" (which could be a good thing or a bad thing depending what "rogue" is I suppose).

Big picture, I think I support the vision.  I think there are a lot of details that need to be added.  I think there are things that need to be changed.  I think there needs to be more on how we continue to be a denomination in partnership with each other rather than a collection of churches that share the name "United Church of Canada" (even as I acknowledge that the church seems to be moving into a post-denominational reality).  But I think something is missing.

Structural change WILL NOT SAVE THE CHURCH.  At the congregational level, the regional level, or the denominational level structural change will not save the church.  It might help of course but it is not the "solution".  People catching fire is what is needed.  People on fire for the mission and ministry of that part of the Body.  People with a vision.  People ready to be salt and light, ready to love God, Neighbour, and Self in a full and active way.  People who have been infected and are ready to contaminate the world.

Until we can light the fire we are only shifting deck chairs.

And maybe part of the fire-lighting will be to start telling the stories of our successes?  Maybe part of it will be to stop trying to predict the future, to stop blaming ourselves/each other for the past, to stop trying to understand fully and just be the people God has called us to be?

Can we do those things?

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Book 4 of 2014 Who's Got Time?

I was intrigued when this one came out but it was not then available as an e-book (at least not on KOBO, it might have been on Kindle).  So I had to wait.

Then one day I was browsing and happened to check again.  Bingo!

As it happens, this would have come in really handy last fall when I was leading an adult CE session on spiritual practices (though none of the participants nor the leader would qualify as young adults anymore).

I liked this book.  I could well see myself suggesting it to someone who is searching for spiritual practices that suit their schedule.  While I read it straight through I would actually suggest people pop around in it as the chapter titles draw their attention.

And I am wondering if I can just assign the final chapter to folks to read in lieu of a stewardship program......

Monday, February 03, 2014

Book 3 of 2014 The Fellowship of the Ring

Now be honest, you all saw this coming right????

To be honest I pondered this post.  Is LOTR one book or three (or possibly 6 since each volume is divided into 2 books)?

So what are the highlights of the first volume?

One is the idea of fate/doom/destiny.  Gandalf says the Bilbo was meant to find the ring.  When Frodo offers to take the ring to Mount Doom Elrond it is suggested that this is how it was meant to be.  When the company opts to go through Moria Aragorn foretells the fall of Gandalf.  What is Tolkien saying about fate?  What is he saying about foretelling?

Another is the idea of the epic.  Not only the epic being told now but how that epic ties in with what has gone before.  This story may stand alone, but the characters in it are clearly linking to the epics that have gone before.  This is a wonderful sense and understanding of how we relate with history.

AS I mentioned previously, I first started reading LOTR when I was in Grade 4.  Over the next decade I read it almost once a year.  What fascinates me is that I was always finding new things, making new connections in each of those readings.  Which of course is part of why I can continue to read it.  Earlier today I saw a CS Lewis quote on Twitter:
No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally – and often far more – worth reading at the age of fifty and beyond.

Lord of the Rings certainly meets that description.   (As does Lewis' Narnia series for that matter)

And as it happens, I have used LOTR for two papers.  One was my final/major paper for English 30 in Grade 12, where I explored some of the thematic elements in the novel (I know I gave particular emphasis on the ideas of light and dark).  The other was in my first year of seminary, where I wrote a paper on Christology as found in the book.

And now I should relly finish one of the non-Tolkien books I have going.....

Friday, January 31, 2014

Friday 5 -- Encounters

It has been an epoch since I have done a Friday Five...

Over at the RGBP site we have this prompt:
In this week some of us are preaching about a woman who encounters Jesus at the well, please name five encounters in your life leading to unexpected results. They might include learning a new skill, making a friend, falling in love, discerning a call or anything around or far off from those ideas.
  1. I have told this story before, but it just fits so well.  After all, who goes to a Presbytery meeting to find a spouse?  But that is what happened to me at the first Presbytery meeting after I started in ministry. 
  2. When I was in Grade 5 there was a chance to take part in the production of A Christmas Carol.  I decided I would, had never done anything like it before (and ended up playing Scrooge).  And from then until the end of high School being involved in theatre was one of the things that saved my sanity (such as it is) and indeed my became my major in university.
  3. I needed a summer job.  ANd I had fond memories of having gone when I was a child.  So I applied for a job at Camp Maskepetoon.  There is a very direct (if not exactly straight) line between that choice and where I am now.
  4. It was for Integration Seminar, a class in social ministry in my 2nd year at St. Andrew's.  Part of the class was to volunteer at a social agency.  I met with the Placement Co-Ordinator and we decided a good place for me was the Saskatoon Crisis Nursery.  In the end it may not have been the best placement for me to meet the goals of the place and my own learning needs (though those learning needs may not have been met in any placement as it is probable I was not yet ready to face my demons), but that experience prepared me for the time two years later when I needed a job and got a job at an equivalent agency in Edmonton -- Kids Kottage and spent almost 3 years there.
  5. Wandering through the mall in Atikokan during my first 6 months of ministry the Catholic Deacon called me over to have coffee.  Did I know that that coffee group would become my main non-church contact point for the next 9 years? But it did.