Thursday, 8 February 2018

Listening to God in Times of Transition


I find that I am in transition once again.  Perhaps I should have expected it but, on some level at least, I am surprized by this development.  I have accepted the offer to be Honourary Assistant in a neighbouring parish which has three congregations including St. James, Parkhill where I was rector until my retirement.  In the five years since I retired as a parish priest, Lorna and I have been worshiping at St. John’s-by-the-Lake in Grand Bend Ontario.  After this coming Sunday I will be beginning a new phase of parish ministry at St. John the Evangelist, Strathroy, St. James, Parkhill, and St. Paul’s Kerwood (amazing how many Anglican churches are named St. John’s).  It will be a new experience being an Honourary Assistant to the rector Rev. Karen Nelles, but one that I am looking forward to. 

One interesting development is that Lorna has decide to continue to worship at the St. John’s in Grand Bend.  She doesn’t want to embrace another change at this point in her life enjoying the congregation and the parishioners.  I am pleased she will be able to continue to worship at our current congregation and we will continue to schedule around the transportation issues of having only one car. 

It is an interesting coincidence (if you believe in them) that yesterday’s Gospel reading, Mark 1: 29-39, dealt with a transition for Jesus.  He was in Capernaum, his home territory.  He was given the honour of teaching in the Synagogue and was successfully healing people and casting out demons.  The demands on him were great to continue as the local hero and doing the wonderful, miraculous work of relieving the suffering of many.  However, after what I believe must have been a sleepless night, he rose early in the morning and spent some time in prayer.

His prayer was answered and he arose to a new realization about what his heavenly Father intended him to do.  His disciples had other ideas about what he should do, “When they found him, they said to him, ‘Everyone is searching for you.’  He answered, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.”  I don’t know how Jesus felt about the path his Heavenly Father had set for him, however, he had no doubt about what it was.

One of the lessons I take from this passage is the importance of prayer.  This is always true for us but particularly in times in transition when there is more than one path ahead.  I particularly lie the fact that Jesus withdrew to a quite place to get away from the demands of people around him.  As an introvert who needs to retreat regularly to my small corner and recharge my batteries, even when retired, I find it affirming that Jesus did just that at different times.
 
The lesson for me from this passage is, as I noted, the importance of prayer, particularly in times of transition.  I use the term “prayer” very broadly.  Prayer can take many different forms as God speaks to us in many different ways.  Our calling is to be intentional about listening to God speaking to us in different ways.  For me one important way is through my dreams, which for me and many others are, God’s Forgotten Language.  It is significant that last night after the decision to become Honourary Assistant was announced, I had a dream which seems, at least at first consideration, to affirm my decision. 

I hope that you
 will be blessed to hear what God is saying to you in times of transition in your life.

Greg

Thursday, 25 January 2018

Spiritual Formation or Spiritual Unformation?

Are you spirituality formed or unformed?  Perhaps I could also ask if you are spiritually uninformed.

I believe that the Anglican Church―at least the part I am familiar with―has been left behind in encouraging and assisting our members in spiritual formation.
An article in the current edition of the Anglican Journal by Bishop Mark MacDonald hit the nail of the head when addressing this situation; the article was entitled A Return to Spiritual Formation.

In the article, Bishop Mark notes that the Anglican Church has never completely given up on Spiritual Formation focusing on the preparation for baptism and confirmation.  There have been elements of it in the Proclamation of the Word in services especially in the preaching.  I would also add that it has always been a part of Christian Education; however, that has been to a great extent restricted to Sunday School for our children (where our congregations still have children). 
Bishop Mark notes that Anglicans have taken this rather laissez faire approach to Spiritual Formation because Christianity was to a great extent the foundation of our culture:
We leave much of the formation of attitude, spirituality and daily practice to our participation in the larger culture. It is not hard to understand why this is so. Our contemporary church is only a short time away from a period when the broader culture was much more influenced by Christian thought and practice. During those years, formation happened through regular and common participation in a number of different societal organizations and institutions. It was possible to approach spiritual formation in the church as a kind of finishing school, affirming much that was already there in the culture and adding a distinctive, often denominational, flavour to the whole.  Bishop Mark MacDonald February 5, 2018
As a result of our relationship to culture, in which we did not need to take a proactive approach to Spiritual Formation or evangelization, our church finds itself in in the position we are in today with dwindling, aging congregations which are closing in shocking numbers.  Our Diocesan announcement seem to have a notice about the deconsecrating of a church building most weeks. 

There are, of course, many reasons why this is happening beyond the lack of Spiritual Formation.  The forces of modernity and secularization are driving much of the change.  We Anglicans, as well as other mainline denominations, have not responded to these forces quickly and adequately enough.

As a Spiritual Director what I do is to offer companionship and guidance to my Directees in their spiritual journey in which their spiritual life will develop more fully and their relationship with God (however, they understand God) will become richer, deeper, and stronger. 

I believe that is the journey in which God invites each person to take regardless of their tradition or lack of tradition.  It is a journey which we are all intended to take.

Blessings on your journey.

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

God knit me together in my mother’s womb.

13For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. (Psalm 139)

This verse is from the psalm appointed for yesterday which was the 2nd Sunday after Epiphany.  The theme for the day was “follow me”.  The Gospel tells of the call of Phillip by Jesus to follow him and Phillip’s response to that call.

For many years I have been engaged by the idea that God knew me before I was knit together in my mother’s womb.  In effect, God created me as a unique individual with my unique DNA.  The implication of this is that I was created to be a and live this life in a specific way.  I does not mean that I have only one specific calling in life. The possibilities for living out that calling are too diverse to restrict it to one specific path.  However, we are called to find the path that will best fit the purpose that God intends for us.  If you answer the call to follow Jesus you will have the opportunity to discover each day where Jesus is calling you and how you can best follow him.

The opening verses of the psalm states it so well:
1O Lord, you have searched me and known me.
2You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away.
3You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways.

God does know all my ways; my going out and my coming in.  That is truly awful; awe-full in the sense that I am filled with awe when I realize it.  Of course, there are many days and many times in most days when I forget that awe-full reality. 

The challenge for me in following Jesus is to become a bit more the person that God created me to be when God knit me together in my mother’s womb.
Responding to Jesus’ call to follow him is only the first step.  It is to begin a journey that will have many rough places as well as some smooth places.  It will have its highs and its lows.  There will be dead ends or at least what seem like dead ends. However, Jesus will always be there as my guide and my comfort, my strength and my shield.

If I follow him goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life (to quote another psalm).


Blessings on your journey,

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

The Divine Child Born in Us

O holy Child of Bethlehem
Descend to us, we pray
Cast out our sin and enter in
Be born to us today
We hear the Christmas angels
The great glad tidings tell
O come to us, abide with us
Our Lord Emmanuel
Merry eighth day of ChristmasI trust the maids are milking and the cattle are lowing.  As you can see my thoughts are still on Christmas being a traditionalist when it comes to that season of the church year.  It is a time to enjoy the Christmas decorations and sing the Christmas carols.
Advent was a time of kenosis, of emptying as I wrote two weeks ago, in preparation for the coming of the Christ Child.  Now the Holy Child of Bethlehem has been born in us once again.  How are we to respond to that gift and live in this world on sin?  How are we to cast out our sin and allow Jesus to enter dwell in us today?
What does it mean that the Christ Child was born in a lowly stable amongst the animals and was laid in a manger? What does it mean that there was no room for Mary and Joseph in the Inn?    I believe that many of us do not recognize that if the Christ Child is truly born in us today, it will be in the places where we don’t expect it and where we don’t recognize it or even want to acknowledge within us.
Don’t expect much from the Christ Child what you will receiveat least at this point.  After all every new baby must be given a great deal.  It is truly in our care and need to be nurtured and loved.  Even though we do not receive much directly we find that love is reborn in us when a child is born to us.  This is as true of the Christ Child as it is with any ordinary baby.  Of course there is no such ting as an ordinary baby; in the eyes of its parents and others each one is a reflection of the God being born in us.
To love and nurture this divine child which is born in us we must nurture those places in which it is born.  We must nurture those places which are not proper for an infant to reside; the stables amongst the animals with the less than nice smells.  These are the places which do not please our egos and those places in us that we find less than acceptable.  There is often no room in the places which are near and dear to us such as the comforts and gratification which we seek and desire so desperately.
However, it is into these lowly places, these stable places, that the divine child is born and offers us an opportunity to love and nurture what we would otherwise neglect, or ignore, or even despise.  These are the places in which the Christ Child comes to us and abides in us and invites us to nurture and embrace.
God bless us everyone; O yes and a Happy New Year,


Tuesday, 12 December 2017

The Dark Side of Christmas

We are in Advent and the proper celebration of Advent as preparation for Christmas is one of my hot buttons.  However, I want to talk about Christmas this week and acknowledging there is a dark side to the wonderful light that came into the world in that stable in Bethlehem two thousand years ago.  Perhaps I can resolve this apparent dissonance by proposing that we need to recognize the darkness is an appropriate way of preparing for the light of Christ.

Two events recently prompted me to consider the darkness that is part of the Christmas message.  First, I was invited to be the guest musician (guitarist) for my former congregation, St. James Anglican Church in Parkhill for the community Christmas concert which was held December 1st.  One of the pieces I chose for our congregational choir was The Coventry Carol.  I chose it in part because it is a beautiful carol that I have long loved to sing.  Also, it was one that I could manage to play on the guitar―an important consideration I have discovered in my not entirely brilliant career playing church music on guitar.

One of the things that I did not consider when choosing it is the nature of the carol.  For those of you who are not familiar with it here are the lyrics:
Lully, lulla, thou little tiny child.   By by, lully, lullay,
O sisters too, how may we do
For to preserve this day
This poor youngling
For whom we sing
By by, lully lullay?
Herod, the king
In his raging
Charged he hath this day
His men of might
In his own sight,
All young children to slay
That woe is me
Poor child for thee!
And ever morn and day,
For thy parting
Neither say nor sing
By by, lully lullay!

The carol tells the account of the ‘slaughter of the innocents’ ordered by King Herod after he was informed by the Three Wise Men that they were seeking the birth place of the new king of the Jews.  Herod, of course, saw this as a threat to his throne and acted in a completely understandable way for a despot and tried his best to eliminate any possibility of a usurper to his power. 

Of course, we know that he didn’t succeed as Joseph, the Christ child’s step father was warned in a dream of Herod’s intent and the Holy Family fled to Egypt following the biblical precedent of the first Joseph going to that land.  However, that did not prevent the carrying out of King Herod’s proclamation; “he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or younger.”

This is a very dark act and a very dark time of the families who did not receive the warning from God or, if they did, decided not to pay attention to the warning. 

The other impetus to this exploration of darkness that I received was watching the wonderful version of the Christmas Carol staring Alistair Sim as Scrooge.  It was presented on Turner Classic Movies a few nights ago.  It is, to my mind the quintessential movie version of the Dickens classic.  No one has portrayed Scrooge better before and I doubt ever will.  In the introduction, the host noted that the release was held up because of the dark nature of the film.  As noted in Wikipedia, “the film was originally slated to be shown at New York City's Radio City Music Hall as part of their Christmas attraction it was determined that the film was too grim and somber and did not possess enough family entertainment value to warrant an engagement at the Music Hall.”

There is no doubt that the film version and the original story is rather grim and paints a dark side of human kind, at least in Victorian England which Dickens was a genius at portraying.  The ghost of Christmas future is not warm and friendly by any means. 

It is, I believe, important that we do not sentimentalize Christmas as it is so easy to do.  This is particularly true of what I call the cultural Christmas which is all around us with Christmas songs (I won’t call them carols) being played in the malls and the gifts of the Wise Men being transformed into a frenzy of materialism (I guess I am channeling a bit of Scrooge’s bah humbug here).

However, let me close with a quote from the wonderful Good News of the Gospel of John which is the Gospel of the light that came into the world at Christmas:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
I hope that the light of the Christ will shine for you in the darkness of this world.  Let us remember this Christmas that it is a time to be Merry but also that the forces of darkness are still very much in and of this world.

A blessed and merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Same Sex Marriage part 3


The last two weeks I have been writing about same-sex marriage.  I want to give my final thoughts, at least for the foreseeable future, this week. 

As I have noted, this issue is not a straightforward one by any means.  People hold positions on both (all?) sides of the issue for many complicated and complex reasons; both heart felt and well thought out.  The reasons for and against can be supported in scripture, history, justice, and the movement of the Holy Spirit.  I believe that most people I have discussed this with, who hold strong views on the issue, do so not because of animosity or hatred against others.  It is because they firmly believe that they are being faithful to a position which is based in their understanding of what is right for themselves, others and society.  Many on each side have their belief grounded in their understanding of scripture as God’s word and God’s created order.

As I noted, I believe in the movement in our culture and in our church which is moving towards the acceptance of same-sex relationships and marriage.  I believe this is a correct understanding of the movement of the Holy Spirit in God’s world to enable people who have been isolated, reviled and cast into outer darkness by society and the church for many years, to live in loving union and relationships as we are intended to by God. 

I also realize that there is no guarantee that I or others can have the absolute assurance that we understand without question where the Holy Spirit is calling us and the church today.  We are called to discern where the Holy Spirit is acting in our lives and in the world through reflection, prayer and thought. 

One of the arguments by those opposing the movement to same-sex marriage within the Anglican Church and other denominations, is that the church is being influenced and led astray, giving into pressures by the culture.  However, it must be acknowledged that there has been, throughout the history of the Christian Church, an interplay between culture and the doctrine of the church.  If this were not so the Christian Church would have remained a religion that required observance of the purity laws of Judaism and required all members to convert and to be circumcised. 

I believe that Jesus showed in many of his interactions with people and his offer of salvation was to give preference to being in relationship with one another in love rather than an adherence to law.  He believed that the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath.  In a similar way people should be supported in committed, loving relationships which can offer people the opportunity to live out more fully who God intends them to be rather than living as outcasts who are condemned because of, in my belief, a mistaken understanding of the law as an expression of God will.

I know from friends and acquaintances, the pain and deep hurt and damage that is caused by people being unaccepted, reviled and disowned by family, society and church, not because of anything they have done but because of who they have been from birth, if not before. 

I recognize that part of the objection to same-sex marriage is that this will change the fundamental meaning of marriage which is and should remain between one man and one woman.  I respect that position but I do not agree with it.  I believe that the church should move to affirm same-sex marriage just as it has other issues including ordination of women and the abolition of slavery.  These have been supported and affirmed in the past based on scriptural understanding which informed and supported the cultural norm.  Same-sex marriage should be understood in the same way.
I want to end this reflection with the hope and prayer that regardless of future decisions by the Anglican Church, its congregations and its members, we can, in the words of the Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, that we approach this issue in loving disagreement.

The Great Commandment by our lord and Saviour is that we love one another as he loves us.  Let us do that knowing that it will not be easy or perfect. 


Blessings on your journey.

Sunday, 3 December 2017

Same-Sex marriage part 2

Last week I ventured into a topic that could be considered one of the “where angels fear to tread” areas―same-sex marriage.  I reflected on the meeting at our church regarding the on-going process to consider changes in the Marriage Canon on the Anglican Church of Canada which would allow marriage between two people of the same sex.

This week I want to continue to consider the issue which has so dominated the energy of the Anglican Church in recent years.  It seems that we have been considering, discussing and, yes arguing and disagreeing, about this issue interminably.  However, it has only been in the recent past in terms of the existence of the Anglican Church.  It is only the recent version of many issues which seem to have consumed the church in the modern and not so modern era. The most recent before this was the ordination of women which seems to have been the dominant issue which consumed the church in similar ways prior to same-sex marriage.  OF course, there have been numerous other issues such as changes to the prayer book as well.  Many of you are aware that same-sex marriage has been front and centre in many mainstream denominations in North America and beyond in these turbulent times as well.  Wherever it is discussed it is one which people take strong stands on both or all sides of the issue.  It brings our the best and the worst in people.  I do not enter this arena without some trepidation.

As I noted last week, this issue is not a straightforward one by any means.  People hold positions on both (all?) sides of the issue for many complicated and complex reasons; both heart felt and well thought out.  The reasons for and against can be supported in scripture, history, justice, and the movement of the Holy Spirit.  I want to briefly touch on some of the issues knowing full well that I cannot do justice to any serious consideration of an issue which is so complex. 

The first, and probably most serious, consideration is based on scripture.  What does scripture say and how do we understand what scripture is saying to us today?  For people who use scripture to support their opposition to same-sex relationships and marriage, scripture passages in both the Old Testament (Hebrew Scriptures) and New Testament are cited.   Beginning appropriately at Genesis, the off-putting cliché is often used that “God created Adam and Eve and not Adam and Steve” to justify their position.  Although the first parents were not married in any ceremony in the story they were created and placed in the earthly paradise by God to be together.  It is unclear whether they had any kind of sex-life in their relationship until they disobeyed God and ate of the fruit of the tree of the wisdom of good and evil and their eyes were opened and realized they were naked and were ashamed.  They did not have any progeny until after they were expelled form the Garden―first Cain followed by Able.  And we know how successful the relationship between the first brothers was.

Many forms of marriage and sexual congress are presented in the bible from the beginning with polygamy being common including to an extreme extent such as King Solomon having 700 official wives and 300 concubines.  There were also cases of the Abraham and the other patriarchs using servants to bear children to ensue the successive generations which was an absolute good in those days.  This was apparently with the approval of God as there was no opposition from on high expressed.  The modern nuclear family is a latter development of the form marriage has taken through biblical history and beyond. 

Another account which is prominently raised in the same-sex issue is the story of the destruction of the city of Sodom.  The story of Sodom is used as an example of the sin of homosexuality.  In the account two angels visit Lot in Sodom.  While they are there the men of the city come to Lot’s house and demand he bring out the visitors so that “we may know them” ―clearly, in the somewhat archaic language, they wanted to commit homosexual rape against the visitors.  God destroys the city as an apparent punishment for this attempted evil act.   It is interesting that it is not the fact that it was a case of attempted rape rather than the same-sex nature of the attempt.  It is also interesting that that Lot, who is presented as a godly man, offers his two virgin daughters to the mob so they will not inflict this act on his visitors, not exactly family values we should hold up as virtuous:
Look, I have two daughters who have not known a man; let me bring them out to you, and do to them as you please; only do nothing to these men, for they have come under the shelter of my roof.’
The alternative understanding of this passage is that the sin for which Sodom was destroyed was the lack of hospitality they showed to the two visitors (who happened to be angels―messengers from God). 

There are many more cases in scripture where a prohibition against homosexual relations are evident.  In some cases, they cannot be put down to misinterpretation as in the case of Sodom.   They can however, be considered in other ways.  Before going there, I want to address the question regarding Jesus’ attitude towards same-sex relationship and marriage.  Much, to the disappointment of those opposed and to the relief of those supporting the issue, nowhere in the Gospels does Jesus address this issue.  I can be argued that there are other issues which the church is facing that is not addressed by Jesus.  However, for one that is so important a one facing the church it can be surprizing that Jesus did not deem it necessary to address it. 
One way of considering scripture passages on the issue is to consider the world view in Jesus’ time―taking an historical critical approach to scripture as it is called by biblical scholars.  In Jesus’ time there was no concept of homosexuality so the it was not considered as a reality for people.  Although homosexuality is no longer considered an illness or a disordered condition by modern medicine, some people, especially those of some religious perspectives, do believe that it is a sinful disordered state which can be healed through prayer and even exorcism; something which is not part of God’s plan for humankind.

Central to the issue is how we understand scripture.  Is it the inerrant word of God which gives us a template or direct understanding of God’s will and a program for how to live today?  Or is it the record of the biblical people’s attempt to document their understanding of God working in their lives based on their understanding of the world.  Or somewhere along that axis of belief?
I have more to say on this issue but realize I have exceeded my unwritten rule on the length of these missives.  I will continue next week―God willing.  I want to close with the hope expressed by Archbishop Fred Hiltz, our primate; that we approach this issue in loving disagreement.

Blessings on your journey,

Greg