Monday, 29 December 2014

Sermon 1st Sunday after Christmas 2014

Luke 2: 22-40
Lorna and I were driving somewhere a few weeks ago and we were listening to CBC radio as usual.  We caught the end of an interview with a Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel.  He is among other things the brother of Rahm Emanuel the former chief of staff for President Obama and now the mayor of Chicago.  More on point for today, he is an oncologist, a bioethicist, and a vice provost of the University of Pennsylvania.  He was being interviewed because of an article of his that was published in the Atlantic Monthly.  We only caught the end of the interview.  However, his main thesis was that he did not want to live beyond seventy-five years old.  He premise was dubious at best and Lorna reacted quite strongly against what he was saying.  I tended to cut him a bit of slack believing he might have said something earlier to mitigate this position.  However, later Lorna found the article on line and conformed that he believed that there was no point in living beyond seventy-five.  He even went so far as to state that if he fell ill with an infection after that age he would not want to be treated with antibiotics.  He is an excerpt from the article which elaborates on his position.


Seventy-five; That’s how long I want to live: 75 years.

But here is a simple truth that many of us seem to resist: living too long is also a loss. It renders many of us, if not disabled, then faltering and declining, a state that may not be worse than death but is nonetheless deprived. It robs us of our creativity and ability to contribute to work, society, the world. It transforms how people experience us, relate to us, and, most important, remember us. We are no longer remembered as vibrant and engaged but as feeble, ineffectual, even pathetic.

By the time I reach 75, I will have lived a complete life. I will have loved and been loved. My children will be grown and in the midst of their own rich lives. I will have seen my grandchildren born and beginning their lives. I will have pursued my life’s projects and made whatever contributions, important or not, I am going to make. And hopefully, I will not have too many mental and physical limitations. Dying at 75 will not be a tragedy.

It is rather ironic that this man—who is a doctor and a bioethicist— has such a limited view of human existence.  It is also ironic that he should have the name he does and still hold these positions – Ezekiel, one of the greatest prophets in the bible and Emanuel, meaning God with us.  However, having a name that resonates with the wise and holy does not make someone automatically wise or holy.  Dr. Emanuel is apparently not familiar with today’s Gospel lesson (Luke 2: 22-40) or if he is he hasn’t learned the lessons it contains.  We know that Anna was 84 when today’s events unfolded.  We don’t know how old Simeon was but it is almost certain he was older that seventy-five.  He was ready to depart this world.  Indeed his word are used in many funerals marking the end of a life in this world, “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; 30for my eyes have seen your salvation, 31which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, 32a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”  I do not believe that Simeon or Anna wished after this event that they had shuffled off their mortal coil at a mere seventy-five years old.  If that had happened their lives would not have been complete.

Indeed, I don’t believe Dr. Emanuel is aware the people in the bible who had wonderful events waiting in their twilight years.  The stories of Abraham and Sarah certainly come to mind easily.  He was, coincidentally seventy–five years old when he first received the call from Yahweh.  The story for him and for Sarah was only just beginning.  When Sarah heard the visitors/angles announce that she was going bear the long awaited son to fulfill the covenant she laughed to herself saying, “After I have grown old, and my husband is old, shall I have pleasure?”  Who knows what God has in store for us after seventy-five?  There are other examples: Samson’s parents Manoah and his wife who was barren; Elizabeth the mother of John the Baptist.  Samuel’s mother Hannah was also barren before God blessed her and Elkana her husband.

Now Dr. Emanuel is fifty-seven years old and I think there is hope for him yet.  Of course there is hope for everyone as we don’t know what God has in mind for him or for any of us.  Perhaps he will receive a call from God to go to a foreign land when he is seventy-five.  But more likely when he starts to approach what he considers to be the terminal age, he will begin to see the world and age differently.  I remember when I was a teenager, the popular expression was don’t trust anyone over thirty.  How quaint that sounds now.  Dr. Emanuel may find that seventy-five doesn’t seem so over-the-hill when you get closer to it. 

I can understand and agree with part of the point that Dr. Emanuel is trying to make.  He believes that medicine today can take extraordinary measures just to prolong a person’s life for a few weeks or months when there is no quality of life left and those last days are spent sometimes in pain and agony for not only the individual but also those who love them.  However, he is greatly mistaken that there is no real point to life after seventy-five or eighty-five or even, God-willing, ninety-five.  Only God know what God has in store for us in these years.  God does not give up on us when we turn a particular age or stage in life.  Each age and stage is certainly different but each age and stage is God given and we are to live that part of life seeking to know what God has in mind for us and in seeking to live out that intention.  Who knows we may get to see a child who were looking for to be our redemption. 

Let us praise God and the wonders of all his creation.  And let us praise God for the gift of life and the surprises that God has in store for us at any and all stages of life. Thanks be to God.  Amen


Readers of my sermon might enjoy my book The Ego and The Bible.  It is available on

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Being Truly Humble

I have been pondering what it means to be truly humble as part of my preparation for Christmas this Advent.  I like to think of myself as a fairly humble person but being humble is something I have not been all that successful at it I am being honest with myself.  One of my favourite quotes about humbleness is from Helen Luke, “to be humble is to see things clearly.”   When we see ourselves clearly we will be humbled by what we see—our warts and imperfections; our shadow; our desire to be perfect despite our imperfections.  As we approach Christmas and the incarnation of God among us we are given a wonderful example of humility. 

The birth of Jesus—in lowly estate, in a stable, among animals—does not happen by chance; nothing in the birth narrative does. In the terms of Carl Jung, Jesus, as the archetype of the divine child, is the incarnation of the Self—the God image. Edward Edinger explores the significance of this happening among animals in their abode:

Birth among animals signifies that the coming of the Self is an instinctual process, a part of living nature rooted in the biology of our being. As Jung told a patient, an experience of the transpersonal Self, if it is not to cause inflation, “needs a great humility to counterbalance it. You need to go down to a level of the mice.”

As Edinger proposes, Jesus’s birth is a balance between the humble and the grand. The stable has two sets of visitors who come to worship the new king of the Jews at the call of the divine. There are the humble shepherds—who were the lowliest of the low in those times—and the wise men, or magi, from the east, who are also transformed into kings by the later mythologizing. 

It is very easy for us to not see ourselves clearly.  In fact it seems natural for that to occur and it take a great deal of effort to begin to see ourselves as we truly are which is how God sees us.  God chose to humble himself and become one of us—not as prince born is a palace but he chose to be born in the lowliest of estates.  I hope that each of us will be able to see the Christ child and see ourselves more clearly this Christmas.  

Thursday, 27 November 2014

The Canon of the Heart

The Rev’d Sam Thomas, an Anglican priest of my acquaintance, recently coined the term ‘canon of the heart’ in a bible study I attended.  I understood him to be addressing the desire by some people – best represented by the Pharisees in Jesus’s time – who make the laws as a god rather than being a way to God.  He paused a bit and then came up with the term ‘canon of the heart’ to symbolize the approach that we are called to as Christians. 

The heart is the universal symbol of love and in that sense we need to make love the principle that we follow in all that we do and all that we understand in our relationship with God.  Richard Rohr has written extensively on love as the very structure of all of God’s creation:

The core belief of all the great world religions is that the underlying reality is love. Teilhard de Chardin says that “love is the very physical structure of the universe.” Everything is desiring union with everything in one sense or another. I actually believe that what it means to know and trust God is to trust that Love is the source, heart, engine, and goal of life. (Daily Meditation Nov. 23, 2014) 

I believe that we each are called to develop a canon of the heart.  It will to a certain extent be unique to each of us as we are each unique creations of God.  However, we do need to be guided by the principles that are found in God’s interaction with God’s people in the bible as well as the inspiration found in spiritual writing of the mystics and others who had a deep relationship with the source of all being.  The anonymous author of The Cloud of Unknowing addresses the power of divine love to know God:

Look.  Every rational creature, every person, and every angel has two main strengths: the power to know and the power to love.  God made both of these, but he’s not knowable through the first one.  To the power of love, however, he is entirely known, because a loving soul is open to receive God’s abundance. 

We are called to soul work in seeking the canon of the heart in becoming our ‘true selves’ that as Rohr and others have named.  Our egos, which are one of God’s greatest gifts to humankind and which resists change, is also one of the greatest barriers to experiencing the love of God and expressing that love in our lives.  I do believe that through continually seeking a closer relationship with God we can discover and develop the true canon of our hearts. 

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

A Prayer for Al Who Have Exams at this Time

Celtic spirituality is a wonderful way of being in the world.    I do not know a great deal about Celtic Spirituality and Religion.  However, it was formative in the foundation of Huron Diocese.  A few years ago the clergy in the Diocese received a copy of The Celtic Way of Evangelism by George G. Hunter 111.  It is a good introduction into Celtic religious tradition and, as the title suggests, evangelism.  One of the things that stuck we when read in the book was the way there seems to be prayers for all aspects of life.  One which is particularly appropriate for you at this time of the end of term as assignments are due and exams loom is a prayer for exams:
I bless this exam
In the name of the Designer of truth.
I bless this exam
In the name of the Protector from ill.
I bless this exam
In the name of the Spirit who guides.
Open my eyes to see how this subject
reflects something of you.
Aid me in understanding this subject
With my heart as well as with my head.
Give me
Wisdom to know the nub of things,
Strength to recall what is useful,
Peace to leave the results with you.
I will keep you all in my prayers during the upcoming week.  Blessings.

Friday, 14 November 2014

Remembrance and Hope

 My thoughts today are turning to Remembrance Day.  I had quite a full day on Tuesday as the chaplain of the local Legion Branch in Parkhill.  The various ceremonies – at the Parkhill Cenotaph, one at the Leury community in the country, the assembly at the local High School, a wreath laying at the cemetery, interspersed with a luncheon at the Legion.  It was most rewarding to be a participant and serve as chaplain and have the community come out to support the memory of those who have fallen in war serving Canada.  At the assembly as well as the cenotaph service I read the names of those who from this area gave their lives serving Canada in WW1, WW2, and the Korean War.  Fortunately no one from this area has lost their life in other conflicts since Korea.  I also added the names of Cpl. Nathan Cirillo and W. O. Patrice Vincent to honour their recent sacrifice which was in the hearts and on the minds of so many recently. 

A new and controversial element has recently has begun to enter the Remembrance Day observances.  Recently the white poppy has started to enter the territory which has up to this point been the exclusive domain of the traditional red poppy.  I was first aware of the white poppy a couple of years ago.  It was developed as a focus on the hope for peace while the traditional red poppy is for the remembrance of those who make the supreme sacrifice while serving their country.  When I first heard about the white poppy it seemed to me that there was merit using this symbol in promoting peace as well as the remembrance of those who suffered the ultimate sacrifice because of the opposite – war.  At the time I checked with the Royal Canadian Legion’s national headquarters and received the rather terse response that the poppy was to be used only in the form prescribed by the Legion.  I was not surprized by this as I was aware that the Legion was and is very aggressive in protecting its control of the use of the poppy.  I decided that discretion was the better part of valour and did not pursue the matter further not wanted to cause any possible consternation or hurt to the Legion members that I was involved with as Chaplain and others.

The issue came to the fore again this year with an interview on CBC radio with a retired member of the Canadian military who was promoting the use of the white poppy.  He was fervent in his belief that the white poppy was appropriate as a symbol for the hope for peace – a peace which would mean that no more lives would be lost due to war.  He stated that he would be wearing a white poppy along with his red poppy for this Remembrance Day.  He also stated that he was being attacked by people because of this position.  I did not hear the whole interview so I was not aware what form these attacks took but the impression was that while hopefully not physical they were quite dramatic and difficult for his to deal with.  However, despite the reaction he was – admirably in my opinion – determined to continue.

I am rather torn by this issue.  I firmly support the desire and need for a symbol that will show the hope for peace in the world and encourage people to look for alternatives to war to solve conflict and problems.  However, I am not sure that the white poppy is the appropriate one.  The poppy has a long, honourable and honoured tradition of remembrance for those who gave their lives while serving their country in times of war and other conflicts.  I can understand that people may, rightly or wrongly, react strongly against something that they believe may dishonour that symbol. The red poppy does not glorify or war or promote militarism although it may be seen by some as doing that.  It honours those who are most deserving of honour.  As I noted, when I first became aware of the white poppy I thought that it was a good idea.  However, after consideration I believe that it would be more meaningful for someone or some group to develop a unique symbol for peace that does not utilize the powerful symbol that the poppy has become. I must confess that I don’t have any suggestions at this point.  However, I sincerely hope that someone more creative than I will.  In the meantime let us continue to remember and honour those who have made sacrifices – supreme or otherwise – to serve Canada in the armed forces and let us all pray for the peace that passes all understanding. 

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Sometimes the answer to prayer isn’t what you want to hear

Sunday at church one of the parishioners gave what might be described as a small testimonial.  He had been recovering from a quadruple bypass and was back at church for the first time in many months.  After thanking people for their prayers and general support he told is of an experience he had a couple of days after the surgery.  He was starting to feel more human and he started to pray.  In effect he said to God that he was 88 years old and has never been in hospital before.  He told God that God had better make sure he never was in hospital again.  These aren’t his exact world but that was the gist of what he said.  After that he heard a voice but couldn’t make out what was said.  So he asked that the message be repeated.  He heard it this time, “Sonny boy don’t ever tell me what to do again.”

I don’t know if this can be classified as revelation but it certainly is revealing.  It reveals a lot about our expectations for prayer and the purpose of prayer.  In prayer I believe it is hard not to substitute our will for God’s will.  Sometimes these two things seem to be indistinguishable or at least we would like them to be.  We may not create God in our own image or perhaps it is inevitable that we always do to a certain extent as God is certainly beyond all the ways we can think of God.  However, we certainly do substitute our will for God’s at times whether it is desire for healing when someone we love or we ourselves are in poor health physically, spiritually or mentally.  We pay for peace in times of conflict and that those who serve in our armed forces will not come to harm physically, mentally or spiritually.  We even pray for good weather and for abundant harvests.  In all this we hope and prayer that our hopes and prayers will be answered by God – in the way we would like them to be answered. 

Richard Rohr has spoken about this:

We need forms of prayer that free us from fixating on our own egos and from identifying with our own thoughts and feelings. We have to learn to become spiritually empty. If we are filled with ourselves, there is no room for another, and certainly not God. We need contemplative prayer, in which we simply let go of our passing ego needs, which change from moment to moment, so Something Eternal can take over.

In all this it is good to remember the closing sentence in Anglican prayer which I find helpful, “Loving God, you know our needs better than we know them ourselves.  Fulfil now our desires and petitions, as may be best for us, in this world knowledge of you truth, and in the age to come eternal life.”  Amen

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Are All Heroes Equal?

The tragic events of last week have given me much to think about.  Taking my mind off my new role as care giver and chief cook and bottle washer as Lorna recovers from a hip replacement I have been pondering the events in which two Canadian soldiers were murdered in cold blood.  There are many issues that arise from those events which have been extensively covered in the media including the state of security on Parliament Hill and in Canada in general.  However, in the last few days I have been taken with how the death of the two soldiers has been treated in the media and the response of the public.
Both men died in ways that were similar.  Both were in uniform and serving their country in the armed forces.  Both were murdered by men who reportedly had mental problems and had found meaning in the ideology presented on-line by terrorist groups which claim to be the true though distorted representation of Islam.  Both men were killed in Canada and not serving on foreign shores.  Both men were unarmed.  One was targeted by a deliberate hit and run driver and the other was fatally shot.  Finally, both the murderers were killed by authorities following the death of their victims. 
Despite the similarities the response to the two deaths has been amazingly but perhaps not surprisingly different.  If I was to mention Cpl. Nathan Cirillo you would probably recognize it as the name of one of the soldiers who was killed.  But if I was to ask you the name of the other soldier would you be able to name him or recognize it?  I was not able to without looking it up on the internet.  It is Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent.  There has been an outpouring of grief in the form of memorials and remembrances and comments for Cpr. Cirillo.  However, the response, as reported in the press, to the death of Warrant Officer Vincent has been shall we say subdued. 
There are of course reasons for this.  Cpr. Cirillo was an attractive person – good looking, vigorous, young, father of a young child. Pictures and descriptions of him have been plentiful in the media.  Warrant Officer Vincent, on the other hand, is middle aged, not so photogenic and details and descriptions of him have been generally lacking.  He had served in the military for 28 years compared to Cpr. Cirillo serving in the reserves for a much briefer time.  Despite the similarities the events were very in some ways very different.  Warrant Officer Vincent was killed in a hit and run which also injured another soldier in what could be described as rather less than dramatic circumstances.  Cpr. Cirillo, on the other hand, was murdered in very different circumstances.  He was gunned down at the National War Memorial.  This is in itself filled with symbolic meaning.  His attacker went on to break into the Parliament Buildings, the home of our democracy.  He was killed in a shootout by the sergeant of arms of Parliament in a way that could not have been scripted more dramatically by Hollywood. 
There is nothing intrinsic in the deaths which set the two victims apart.  Both died tragically but not in what could be called heroic circumstances.  It is in my opinion very unfortunate that their deaths are being treated so differently.  The loss of both lives is tragic and sorrowful for all who loved them.  And yet through no action of theirs the loss of Cpr. Cirillo is given much more significance and honour by the media and the public in general.  I do not know how this difference is perceived and felt by the family of Warrant Officer Vincent.  Perhaps they are glad of the lack of publicity but I can’t imagine they do not question why their loss seems much less important than the loss of Cpr. Cirillo to his loved ones and the nation.  This to my mind only adds to the tragedy of both events. 
One more note, it is commendable that in their time of sorrow, the family of Warrant Officer Vincent  reached out to the family of their son’s murderer, saying their thoughts are with them “as they go through these difficult moments.”
I will keep all those who loved Cpr. Cirillo and those who loved Warrant Officer Vincent in my prayers. 

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Gratitude and Thanks and More

Lorna and I attended the Thanksgiving service at church on Sunday at our home parish of St. John’s-by-the-Lake in Grand Bend.  Being by the Lake (Huron) is not the same as being at our cottage-by-the-sea in Prince Edward Island.  However, it is nice to be worshipping there again.  The priest preached a very good sermon on gratitude.  He covered a lot of territory including Aesop’s fable of Androcles and the Lion as well as the parable of the wicked tenants from last week’s Gospel where the master who planted a vineyard and the dastardly servants who not only wouldn’t give the master of the vineyard his due but instead killed the master’s some when he came to them.   Now that another Thanksgiving has come and almost gone my thoughts turn to what I am grateful for.  There is the usual of family, health, health care, hearth and home, security, and the opportunities I have had to worship God in different ways and in different places in the past year.

 I am also grateful that a friend brought to my attention a column by Rev. Bob Ripley who is as retired United Church minister.  Ripley was the senior minister at the most prominent United Church in London Ontario before retiring a few years ago.  Ripley has written a weekly column in the London Free Press for many years.  In the recent column, Ripley proclaimed that, in effect, he no longer believes in organized religion.  Ripley states unequivocally:

Where once I proclaimed the doctrines of Christianity with passion and sincerity, I am now convinced that religion, all religion, is man-made. As with the long line of deities dotting the history of our species, the idea of one God, Yahweh, made manifest in Jesus of Nazareth, is our means to an end — to explain how we got here, for instance, or to avoid looking fate in the face or to gain an edge over our enemies.

The juxtaposition of this column, Thanksgiving, and the Gospel parable of a week ago is propitious.  I am, as I mentioned, grateful that I was made aware of the column.  I am no longer a regular reader of the Free Press for a number of reasons— which I don’t want to get into now— so I might well have missed it.  I am grateful for the column itself as it has caused me to reflect on my relationship to organized religion.  I am also grateful for the parable of the wicked tenants that was the subject of three sermons in the last two weeks. 

In my relatively short career as a parish priest I have said to myself and occasionally to others in a fit of satire or perhaps irony (I’m not sure which) that the only thing wrong with church is the people—they tend to mess things up, make it inconvenient, disappointing at times, and generally not what God intends—at least in my idea of what church should be.  In the parable (Matthew 21:33-46), Jesus is using the parable to criticize the religious authorities for the way they practice their religion:

When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them. They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet. 

I can understand why someone who has served as an ordained minister or priest for many years or even a few years becomes disillusioned about the institution and all its human shortcomings.   Ripley notes that his disenchantment with religion was one of the reasons he retired early from his church position.  Jesus certainly was critical of the religious leaders and many of the people in his day.  There is much to criticise in the church and its ‘cheap grace’ as Dorothee Solle calls it in her book Thinking About God which I am currently reading.  She cites this term of Dietrich Bonhoeffer where the church is coopted by the ruling powers of the society in which it resides whether it is the Germany of Hitler or the economic powers and systems of today.  She notes that Bonhoeffer pleads, “that the church should take the risk of setting out to proclaim God’s commands as being valid today, as concretely, exclusively and radically as can be conceived”.  The church should, as Ripley notes, comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. 

Solle states that because we are fallible does not mean that the gospel of Jesus Christ was not ethics-free and the church should not be either, “That we are fallible people and can make mistakes (in discerning God’s will) did not lead Bonhoeffer to withdraw from a world of action”.  The church is indeed imperfect but Jesus did not come to abolish religion but rather to fulfill God’s command for God’s people.  We are called to discern God’s will and to follow God’s commandments even if our efforts will inevitably flawed.  Let us give thanks and praise the Lord. 

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Describe Yourself - If You Dare

One of the pleasures I have discovered in that last two summers at the cottage in PEI is the mystery novel.  I have never been a fan of this genre — at least in print form having enjoyed the TV adaptations — particularly of the British variety such as Midsomer Murders  or Inspector Morse.  Of course there is the original fictional detective Sherlock Holmes in his many incarnations. 

In the past two summers (or should I say Midsomers) I have found the detective mystery to be the perfect light reading to complement my more serious exploration of Spiritual Direction books, books on dream interpretation, alchemy, and Jungian psychology liberally (small l) mixed with the bible. 

One of the series I have discovered is by Sue Grafton who has written a alphabetical series (A is for Alibi, B is for Burglar down to W is for Wasted) dealing with the exploits of her female Private Eye Kinsey Millhone.  One of the things that makes Sue Grafton’s writing so engaging is the descriptive nature of how she writes.  The scenes and the characters are written so graphically and vibrantly that I have no difficulty picturing the scenes in the stories and the characters which inhabit them.

I would like to give you some examples of the writing but unfortunately all our copies of the books are back in Ann of Green Gable’s home province and so I must limit the examples to a few I found on line:

Beverly Danziger looked like an expensive, carefully wrapped package from a good but conservative shop. Only her compulsive chatter hinted at the nervousness beneath her cool surface. It was a nervousness out of all proportion to the problem she placed before Kinsey Millhone.

He was young—maybe twenty or so—and he must once have been a good-looking kid. Kinsey could see that. But now his body was covered in scars, his face half-collapsed. It saddened Kinsey and made her curious. 

The question I would like to put to you today is, “if Sue Grafton was to put you into one of her novels, how would she describe you?”  This of course could be both the outer appearance as well and the inner person. 
Thinking about what I would write was more daunting that I first thought it would be.  It is a bit like what would I put in my obituary if I were to write it but makes it more immediate.  In effect how do you think other people see you?

Well here is my preliminary effort.  In outward appearance Gregory (Greg) Little is a tall (6’2”) somewhat overweight (215 lbs.) senior citizen (now 65 years old).  You could not describe Greg as tall dark and handsome despite his height.  He is fairly attractive but his years are beginning to show.  He does wear his age quite well but not as well as he thinks.  He is certainly no longer dark as the thinning hair is showing a lot of gray as is his full beard.  Greg peers at the world through myopic eyes and does not see a lot of the physical colours in the world being somewhat colour blind to go along with his short-sightedness.  Greg is, however, very interested in the nuances of people and what makes them tick. He is a person who likes to see the connections with things beyond the physical world however; he doesn’t always make the connections about others as well as himself as he thinks he should.  Greg is not a detail oriented person as anyone reading his emails can attest.  He puts this down to his personality type which is INFJ on the Myers Briggs scale and a 9 on the Enneagram scale.  However he is more attentive to detail than he used to be.  Greg also has a good sense of humour and likes seeing the ironic and paradoxes in life. 
I could go on but I think I will leave it at that — for today in any case.  So how would Sue Grafton describe you on the inside as well on the outside? 


Thursday, 2 October 2014

Recycle That — Maybe or Maybe Not

We have been back from PEI for more than a week now including a stopover in Toronto to visit Lorna’s mother.  We are settling in reasonably well and accepting our life away from God’s country.  Actually there are many things I am enjoying about being back.  However, I wouldn’t dream of speaking for Lorna on that front—or pretty much anything else.  In any case, we are back into the Parkhill routine and things have been surprisingly busy for two supposedly retired people.

I want to talk in this edition of News & Views about recycling.  First let me say up front that I am a strong supporter of recycling.  One of the first things that struck me about being back is the approach to recycling.  I had finished a litre of milk and realized that it went into the garbage and not the recycling.  I found this initially to be a bit of a guilty pleasure.  However, on second thought my better nature kicked in and I realized that we here in North Middlesex and possibly much of Ontario need to go a lot further in recycling.  PEI has a very elaborate system of recycling which has been a bit of a challenge for me to get the hang of.  I’m sure I am not all there yet in becoming a proficient PEI recycler but I am a work in progress as with other areas of my life.  Lorna on the other hand has conquered the system.  Whenever she is in doubt if an item is recyclable or not she holds it up and asks me. 

PEI has a very long list of things that they recycle including milk cartons.  The gods of recycling in PEI fortunately provide an extensive chart listing all the things that can be recycled and how to do it.  Items to be recycled are placed in blue transparent plastic bag—either bag 1 or bag 2—bag 2 being paper or cardboard or other like things and bag 1 being all other recyclables except things that have to be taken to centres for special handling.  They also do a collection of compost material which includes things I would not normally associate with compost.  We compost our own compostables at home so I don’t worry about that.  Everything else is pure garbage.  The compost and garbage are collected alternate weeks in large black (garbage) and green (compost) bins.  The recyclables are collected once a month which is a bit of a problem if you forget to put them out on that day.  It is a very effective and efficient system (other than the infrequency of recycling collection) and we find that we have very little that ends up as pure garbage. 

The system on PEI came about through the Great Mother Necessity as space for garbage disposal and many other things is at a premium on our smallest (by far) province.  As space for garbage dumps is at a premium they have had to develop a sophisticated system of recycling.  It is definitely a case of making a virtue of necessity.  Here in Southwestern Ontario space has not been at such a premium but we are getting to the point where we will certainly need to be more effective and can learn a lot from PEI in this regard and perhaps other areas.  I recall a few years ago when there was a controversy about Toronto garbage ending up at a site near London and there was the case of Toronto gifting our neighbours to the south in the U.S. with its garbage which didn’t raise such a stink (proverbial or literal) with the good people of London.

I thought I would close on a theological point.  Does God support recycling, or to put it another way, what is God’s intention in respect to recycling?  I can’t know the mind of God but if you look at the world it has been created to naturally recycle everything. Scavengers often take care of dead things before they can decompose.  Plants that aren’t consumed die in the fall and new life spring forth in the spring.   Mother Nature is in natural balance and everything that gets used gets recycled one way or another.  Some life may get out of balance sometimes but left to take their natural course the balance will be restored.  This is until we humans started to use the world for our own purposes and in ways that God doesn’t necessarily intend.  That is a rather idyllic view but it is a reminder that we humans have a long way to go if we are to have ‘dominion over’ the world as God intends which as its core means to protect and care for.  

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Whose Prosperity Do We To Serve

Victoria Osteen, who is the wife and co-pastor of mega-church pastor and televangelist celebrity Joel Osteen, has raised a lot of eyebrows in Christian circles by her recent statement.  Victoria Osteen has been reported to have said:
When we obey God, we're not doing it for God...we're doing it for ourself. Because God takes pleasure when we're happy. Do good 'cause God wants you to be happy. When you come to church, when you worship Him, you're not doing it for God, really. You're doing it for yourself because that's what makes God happy.

This is obviously wrong on many levels and particularly when you consider what Jesus Christ taught and what Christians generally profess.  How do you reconcile this with statements such as, turn the other cheek, go the second mile ,  and of course the beatitudes such as blessed are the pure in spirit and the meek shall inherit the earth, blessed are the peacemakers, blessed are the poor.  I probably don’t need to go on.  The statement by Victoria Osteen smacks of the prosperity Gospel which holds that, “financial blessing is the will of Godfor Christians, and that faith, positive speech, and donations to Christian ministries will always increase one's material wealth”.   The Osteen’s are apparently big in the Prosperity Gospel movement (if I can call it that).
The basic problem that I see with this theology is that it gives free reign to the ego and all that the ego desires.  Humans can easily fall into the hubris of creating God in our own image rather than what we are told in Genesis — that we were created in God’s image, male and female He created us.  The ego is our great gift from God and an integral part of being created in God’s image.  The Ego is an integral part of what makes is conscious beings and knowing that we are Children of God and not the centre of the universe.  However, the ego also wants to keep things in our lives just as they are.  The ego hates and resists change.  It wants security and comfort.  As Richard Rohr noted, “if there is one thing that the ego hates more than anything else, is to change. I know that if I keep meditating, it is going to change my worldview, my priorities, and my preferences”. 

That is what we called to do.  We are called to put God ahead of ourselves and to try as best we can to do God’s will and not our ego’s will with my priorities and my preferences.  The Prosperity Gospel emphasizes the importance of personal empowerment, holding that it is God's will for his people to be happy.  I believe God does want us to be happy.  However true happiness for people comes when the ego is in service to God and not in maintaining our self-interest.  I will close with quote from Br. Robert L'Esperance, Society of Saint John the Evangelist, “In the Christian worldview we’re not at the center of everything. God is the center of things: God and God’s creation, of which we’re a small, wonderful, privileged part. John 10:10 reminds us that Jesus, not overconsumption, is the way to “abundant life”.”  Blessings.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Sermon August 31, 2014 Eleventh Sunday after Trinity

Luke 18:9 The Parable of the Pharisee and the Publican (tax collector)

Today’s Gospel invites us into the world of parables.  Parables have been called “earthly stories with heavenly meanings.”  Jesus was not the originator of parable form — however, we can say without a doubt that he was the master.  In using the parable as a teaching tool, Jesus used the things of everyday life — the experiences that those around him could relate to — the lives of people in everyday situations; the actions of Pharisees and tax collectors; home life of the woman who has lost a coin and work places of the shepherd who has lost a sheep; travellers in dangerous foreign lands; problems with troublesome neighbours.  They deal with the nitty gritty of the real lives of real people.  In all these day to day issues it is important to remember that there is a heavenly message behind these stories — “earthly stories with heavenly meanings.” 
How, then do we explore the world of parables to understand the heavenly meaning that is contained in these earthly things?  One way that I have found to be effective is to put ourselves in the role of one of the characters. 

Who is the character that resonates most with us?  Who is the person we relate to most closely in the story?  Let’s explore a couple of the best known of Jesus’ parables.  First there is the story of the Good Samaritan.  I’m sure everyone knows this story.  We have five main characters; the traveller — let’s call him everyman; the priest the clergyman who passes by on the other side; the Pharisee the righteous layman who also passes by; finally there is the Samaritan of the title.  Which one do you relate to?  Of course I think most of us would like to think we would be the Samaritan — the hero of the story.  However, to do that we have to consider what it would be like to be a Samaritan in Jewish society in Jesus time.  Not a comfortable position. 
Let’s look at another of Jesus’ best known parables — The Prodigal Son.  Here we have only three main characters:  The long suffering indulgent loving father who gives his gad about younger son his inheritance when the son decides he want to go out and experience life to the fullest; the older dutiful son who always does the right thing and never hesitates to let people know he is the better son;

and finally the younger son who knows what he wants and asks for it and gets it — a case of be careful what you ask for if I ever heard one.   Which one of these resonates with you?  Perhaps not quite as obvious as the first example.  It may depend on your stage of life.  Fathers and mothers of grown sons and daughters might relate to the long-suffering father who desires nothing more for their children to grow up and see them as people and not just as authority figures to rebel against.  You might relate closely to the older brother — particularly if you have a younger sibling who never seems to have to face the consequences of his or her actions; or perhaps even the young wastrel who comes to his senses. 
This putting ourselves into the role of one of the characters can make the story come alive.  But what if you were asked to put yourself in the role of one of the characters you don’t have sympathy for?  What about the two who passed by the traveller — the everyman of the Good Samaritan parable?   How many of us have walked by someone who stops us on the street and asks for a handout?  How many of us would not stop and help a homeless person sleeping on the side of the road?  I know I have certainly been in the position of the priest and the Pharisee of the story.

How many of us dutiful sons and daughters would secretly like to be the carefree son who never seems to face consequences of his actions?   Here’s where these parables — these stories of Jesus begin to really hit home.  Here is where we get closer to the heavenly message contained in the earthly story. 
Now let’s turn to today’s parable — the story of the Pharisee and the Publican.  Here we have only two characters — the self-righteous Pharisee and the self-berating publican — or tax collector.  Here it is obvious that we do not want to be in the role of the Pharisee.  Who would want to be a self-righteous insufferable person who looks down on the person sitting next to us in the pew at church?  It is very easy to say I would not do that — not to my fellow church goer.  Well here’s a simple test — look at the people sitting around you in church this morning?  Is there anyone about who you have every thought to yourself, “thank God I am not like that person”?  Well perhaps not.  Try this one on for size, “thank God I have been more successful in my life than” — fill in the name.  I must be honest and admit that I have thought that way about some people I have known in church in my life.  Of course I don’t know any of you well enough to make that kind of comparison.  But give me time and I probably will.

Another perspective is from the reverse point of view.  Have you ever looked at someone sitting next to you or in the next pew and thought, “why couldn’t I be as successful as that person” or “why aren’t I as good looking”  or “why aren’t I as ……” — you can fill in the blanks here as well.  The publican doesn’t say to himself while he is at the temple, “why aren’t I a righteous person like the Pharisee?”  No, he deals with what he sees as his own failings — his own sins.
That is the key to this story.  That is how we get closer to the heavenly message.   We don’t compare ourselves to others — either positively or negatively.  We look at ourselves and humble ourselves before God.  We admit that we are sinners — we admit where we have missed the mark.  That is the meaning of sin — to miss the mark that God intends for us.  Where have I missed the mark in being and becoming the person that God intends me to be? 

In response to our inevitable failing — our inevitable intentional and unintentional sins all we can do is follow the example of the publican and pray “God be merciful to me a sinner”.   Indeed this is very much like the Jesus Prayer which I find so helpful in response to day-to-day life.  It is marvellous in its simplicity and its power.  ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God; have mercy on me a sinner.’ 
Let us join together in that prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”.  Amen

Never Say Never: Exploration in Anglo-Catholic Liturgy

Never say never.   That was never truer for me than yesterday when I was presiding at St. Peter’s which is the Pro-Cathedral in Charlottetown.  St. Peter’s is the high Anglo-Catholic church on the Island.  Having been introduced to Anglican worship in mid-life at churches which are definitely not Anglo-Catholic and worshipping primarily with the new liturgy of the Book of Alternate Services — which I though was quite ‘high’ compared to my experience in the United church — St. Peter’s is quite a different world of Anglican liturgical worship.  St. Peter’s uses the traditional Book of Common Prayer which I had a little experience of and less experience of the Anglo-Catholic form of the service.  Finding myself processing into the worship service at 10:00 o’clock behind three servers with candles, a crucifer and a lay reader was something I would have said I would never experience.

How I ended up in this interesting and not entirely comfortable position is definitely a case in point of never saying never.  Lorna and I have attended St. Peter’s a few times in the past during our many vacations on PEI.  Lorna and I (especially Lorna) do enjoy the Book of Common Prayer service as the language — although rather archaic — is beautiful symbolic and complements the mystery that we both believe is an integral part of worship.  St. Peter’s also has wonderful music and a very good choir which we both enjoy.  As I have mentioned once or twice in previous editions of these emails, we have been attending services at the small Anglican Church in nearby Montague and the smaller (smallest) Anglican Church in nearer by Souris.  Both of these churches are missions of St. Peter’s and are served by the clergy from St. Peter’s.  Consequently they both use the Book of Common Prayer liturgy with an Anglo-Catholic (but not as high) form of worship.  In the last two years I have been helping out  by presiding occasionally at St. George’s Montague and St. Alban’s Souris.  I was asked by the priest from St. Peter’s, Fr. Peter Harris (the priests are all referred to as Father which I will discuss later) to preside at St. Peter’s as Peter has traditionally taken some time off at the Labour Day weekend.  His assistant who is the priest at the nearby Milton and Rustico parish was not available for the 10:00 A.M. service. 
I agreed to preside at the service with some trepidation as it was (as I noted) a liturgy with intricacies that I had no experience leading.    In anticipation Lorna and I attended the service the preceding Sunday and I paid particular attention and took copious notes on the up’s and down (lots of genuflecting) and ins and outs (lots of other actions) and the smells (incense) and bells (of the Sanctus variety).  I was planning to meet with Peter (the person not the church) after the service, however, his elderly but vigorous father died unexpectedly but peacefully and the visitation was that Sunday afternoon.  The funeral was Monday and Peter was going to be leaving for his well-deserved and now most necessary mini-holiday on Tuesday.  Peter did send me detailed notes on the intricacies of the liturgy as a sort of Coles Notes for Anglo-Catholic worship.  I must say preparation was very much like studying for a final exam in University.  Fortunately I had my sermon prepared well in advance.

With prayer book, notes, and sermon in hand I headed off to Charlottetown quite early Sunday morning.  When I arrived I found the vestments nicely laid out for me with a note to the Altar guild that the alb which had been worn at the 8:00 service should be replaced as one more suitable to my height.  Well, I was faced with a number of vestment which I was unfamiliar with having used a simple cassock-alb or a cassock and surplus throughout my Anglican ministry along with occasionally a chasuble for special occasions.  I was soon greeted by the member of the altar guild on duty for the morning who unfortunately was not able to shed much light of the intricacies of Anglo-Catholic vestments.  She was a woman of about 70 years of age who was a long service member of the altar guild but had always followed the instructions of her mother (the source of all altar guild knowledge) who had unfortunately died recently and she was soloing for the first time.  However, the lay reader arrived fairly soon after and was able to introduce me to the mysteries of the vestment.  I was able, with the assistance of a dresser, to vest with a cassock and alb (rather than a surplus), a maniple (as far as I can determine), a stole and a chasuble.  I decided not to use the maniple which is carried on the left arm.  You may not be too interested in the details of Anglo-Catholic vestments but I hope you have a taste of the intricacies involved. 

After saying a much needed prayer with the servers, crucifer and lay reader and taking a deep breath I launched into the worship procession.  The choir processes separately from the opposite side of the building.  I won’t go in to many more details of the service itself as it is already too late to make a long story short.  However, I will say that I did not have to incense the altar as occurred on the previous Sunday as it was not a feast day or special service — just the eleventh Sunday after Trinity.  The lay-reader, servers and organist were very helpful and guided me through the service so I didn’t make too many missteps. 

I enjoyed the experience and the people.  However, there is the tensions of the Anglo-Catholic tradition — particularly in this part of Canada which is still in the early part of the twentieth century for church polity and does not believe in women priest.  It would be awkward to call them ’Father’.  However, that is not the reason they don’t agree with ordaining women — St. Peter’s does not have women in any liturgical role including servers.  Of course same-sex-blessing is out of the question.  However, with I have discovered there is often a benefit from living in tension of such things as belief and practice and holding that tension which will produce interesting results.  It is unfortunate that wonderful liturgy and music seem to be incorporated with theology which seems to be missing what I see as the truth that Jesus Christ lived and taught.  That is a whole other issue which I will leave to another day.




Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Becoming Like Children

The concept of becoming like a child has been constellating in my mind in the last couple of weeks.  I can’t say I thought of the bible passage until a few days ago when I realized there had been a number of examples of this that were coming together in my life.  The bible passage that finally broke through into my consciousness was Matthew 18: 3, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven”. 
This started with reading Maggie’s Memories, a book of letters by Margaret Duncan Borden to her grandchildren.  The letters were compiled by Eldon Hay who is a cousin (although I haven’t quite figured out the actual relationship — it’s something like a second cousin once removed.  Eldon and his wife Ann attended our open house (open cottage) a few weeks ago and gave us a copy of the book as a cottage warming present.  The book is subtitled “A Covententer Childhood in 19th Century Botsford Parish, New Brunswick.   The letters are delightful recollections of a child’s life in a very different age.  As Eldon notes in the introduction, “Written as a series of vignettes ranging in time from earliest memories to the first stirrings of womanhood, the letters conjure up a remarkably vivid picture of an extraordinarily happy childhood in rural New Brunswick during the 1860’s, 7o’s and early 80’s”. 

The letters capture vividly and marvellously the ethos of a completely different time and place that existed in Canada at the beginning of Confederation.  Beyond the enjoyment of reading the letters I was surprized by the association which came to my mind which was of Alice in Wonderland/through the Looking Glass.  This puzzled me at first but on reflection I believe because it was written from the perspective of a young girl but also and possible more significantly because both works capture something of the efforts of a child to navigate through a somewhat strange and new landscape.  Undoubtedly there were no Mad Hatters or Cheshire Cats or in Maggie’s Memories but there seemed to be a few characters that could appear that way to a child’s eyes. 
The next adventure in the worldview of a child was watching a video of To Kill a Mockingbird a few nights ago.  We only have a small portable TV and a VCR player (no DVDs in our cottage life) so we are restricted to movies we can get on VHS.  This work also caught the world view of a young girl, Scout.  There were monster who turned out to be friendly giants i.e. Boo Radley and evil demons who were defeated in the end i.e. Bob Ewell, the evil man who was defeated by the friendly giant who rescued the young prince, Jem. 

All these brought back memories of my childhood and how the world could be a very scary place at times.  It was a world that, if not full of monsters, contained monsters under the bed and in other dark places and giants who I was not sure were friendly or unfriendly.   I spent a long time trying to figure out how the world actually worked and what my place was in it.  The reality is that I am still trying to figure those things out.  So what is it that Jesus means when he tells us to become like children — or like a little child?  The next verse does give us a clue, 4 Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.  I find it is a real challenge to be truly humble which requires me to put my ego in the service of the Self as Carl Jung would say or in theological terms — to put the ego in the service of God.  The best perspective of humility that I know is by Sister Jane, an Anglican Nun.  She says that to be humble is to see clearly.  Perhaps that is seeing the world through a child’s eyes with no assumptions about being in control.  Blessings.