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 ( 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.