Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Thoughts on Eulogies and Resumés

My thoughts have been on life in this world and the next in the past week.  My mother-in-law, Gwen Noble, died a week ago and Lorna and I have been much occupied in all that has involved since then.  We travelled to Toronto on Monday when we had the new that she was failing quickly.  She died just before Lorna arrived at her bedside.  After that we were focussed on all the details that inevitably follow—clearing out her room at Christie Gardens; completing the funeral arrangements which she had thankfully prepared years ago, and attending the funeral on Saturday and interment which occurred yesterday. 
Lorna had the lion’s share of duties in arranging for all this, holding her mother’s power or attorney and serving as executor.  I was also otherwise engaged with doing pulpit supply on Sunday at the same three congregations I was at on Easter Sunday.  All in all with other minor activities such as a Legion service yesterday for a beloved legion member whose funeral is today. 
To put this all in context—I heard an interview on NPR radio as I was returning from a retreat in the U.S.  at the end of the previous week—which is another story.   The interview was with David Brooks who is a columnist with the New York Times.  He has written a new book, The Road to Character.   Brooks expounded on a number of engaging themes but the one that stuck with me was his discussion of what really matters to people when life is summed up.  He put it in terms of “Resume Virtues” and “Eulogy Virtues”.   The resume virtues are what many people strive for i.e. accomplishments that you will put on your resume.  The eulogy virtues are what is truly important to you and want to be remembered for.  I don’t believe that Gwen ever actually wrote a resume for herself but she had three eulogies at her funeral by Lorna’s son Tony, Lorna and me.  Below is a quote from Brooks on the difference between them:
So I've been thinking about the difference between the résumé virtues and the eulogy virtues. The résumé virtues are the ones you put on your résumé, which are the skills you bring to the marketplace. The eulogy virtues are the ones that get mentioned in the eulogy, which are deeper: who are you, in your depth, what is the nature of your relationships, are you bold, loving, dependable, consistency? And most of us, including me, would say that the eulogy virtues are the more important of the virtues. But at least in my case, are they the ones that I think about the most? And the answer is no.
I have not read the book but I gather the idea is for each of us to discover what is truly important in our lives which will also contribute to the development of character in a person.  The clichéd line is that at the end of a person’s life no one ever regretted not spending more time at work.  That is probably true unless you spend a life of service to others.  But perhaps you might regret not having spent more time in relationship with you the most important people in your life.  What is it that makes life meaningful?  What is it that we are truly in search of?  What do we want in our eulogy at our funeral?  In my eulogy for Gwen, I noted that in my view she had three things that were important to her: service to others, church, and family.  To a great extent she lived her life accordingly.

Monday, 13 April 2015

Easter Thoughts and Rants

The current edition of my local Parkhill newspaper, The Gazette, has nicely juxtaposed the conflicting approaches to Easter that exists in our culture.  Although the culture in and around Parkhill is quite traditional in many ways there is a conflicted and conflicting approach to  how Good Friday should be celebrated.  The front page had a large colour picture of the Procession of the Cross celebrated in a joint service of Parkhill United Church and St. James Anglican Church.   The tradition of a joint service was started about ten years ago when I was the rector of St. James (prior to my retirement) along with the United Church minister, Rev. Doug Wright, who is still serving that church.  The service begins at one church and midway a large wooden cross is processed to the other church where the service concludes. 

This is a service that is appreciated by members of both congregations.  In past years we used an adaption of the Stations of the Cross at various points between the two churches.  This is very appropriate for the solemn occasion marking the crucifixion of the founder of our faith; all well and good.  However, the interior of the paper reveals a competing celebration.  The caption over a picture of a group of little children and supervising adults read, “Chocolate galore as Parkhill youngsters enjoy Easter Egg Hunt”.  Of course tradition of the Easter Egg Hunt has been long established in Canada and elsewhere.  The Easter bunny leaving eggs has been a part of Easter celebrations which with its symbol of new life and breaking the Lenten fast and other symbolic aspects tied to Easter.   Some of these include the Eastern Orthodox tradition of abstaining from eggs during Lents and there was (according to Wikipedia) an ancient belief that the hare was a hermaphrodite and “The idea that a hare could reproduce without loss of virginity led to an association with the Virgin Mary, with hares sometimes occurring in illuminated manuscripts and Northern European paintings of the Virgin and Christ Child”.  I could go on but the point is that The Easter Egg Hunt is a well-established Christian tradition. 

Now the problem with the ‘Easter’ Egg Hunt in Parkhill is that it occurs (I won’t say celebrated) on the morning of Good Friday.  This of course is completely in opposition to the meaning of Good Friday when Christians celebrate the death of Jesus Christ and Easter Sunday when the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is Celebrated and where the symbol of new life belongs.  Now only that but with Good Friday services being celebrated the same time as the Easter Egg Hunt it means that families must choose between the celebration and the activity.  The secularization of Christian symbols is well established with the materialistic excesses of ‘Christmas’ gift frenzy so I should not be surprized that secular ‘Easter’ celebrations occur.  However, it might be considerate on the part of the organizers at least to celebrate it at a time which doesn’t conflict with the traditional Christian celebration.  The Gazette notes that a neighboring community holds its Easter Egg Hunt on the Saturday between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. I believe that it would be a good idea if Christianity separated the celebration of Christmas from the secular in some more specific ways.  This obviously applied to Easter as well.  Just a reminder of how secular and Christian Easter differs from secular Easter, we are still celebrating Easter as we Christians are in the season of Easter which celebrates the period in which Jesus Christ was on earth following his Resurrection.  I will end with the Easter acclamation which is used during the Easter Season:

Celebrant:      The Lord is risen!

People:           The Lord is risen indeed. Alleluia!

Celebrant:      May his grace and peace be with you.

People:          May he fill our hearts with joy.

New life indeed!  Alleluia! 





Monday, 6 April 2015

Sermon Easter Sunday 2015

Was there anything in the Gospel reading that was a surprise for you?  Everyone here knows that we have gathered here today to celebrate the empty tomb.  Jesus Christ is risen today; Hallelujah. In fact I invite you to join with me in that wonderful declaration: Jesus Christ is risen today; Hallelujah.

That being said was there anything contained in the reading that surprized you?  One of the principles I attempt to follow in my biblical study and reflection is; the Gospel should surprize you every time you encounter it—either reading it yourself or hearing it proclaimed.    I first heard this approach to engaging the Gospel from Fr. Bill Cliff, the chaplain at Huron College.  It is one that can be challenging but can be very rewarding.  The idea is to approach the bible with fresh eyes and let it speak to you anew each time—to make it the living word of God and not just an old, old story which does not speak to you.

Given that approach, how can we make this old, old story of the resurrection of Jesus Christ surprizing to us?  I heard an interview on CBC radio a few weeks ago that I believe may be of help exploring some surprizing aspects of the Resurrection story.

The person being interviewed spoke about how his son was completely enthralled by a video of the movie Pinocchio.  His son was five years old and he must have watched it fifty times. Now this is not terribly surprizing as any parent knows the experience of having to read a story to their child innumerable times and God forbid you try to skip any part of it.  The surprizing thing in this account was that the child was terrified by the part of the story where Pinocchio was swallowed by the whale.  As I recall. the Disney version of the story—which is the one the boy watched—it is easy to see how a young child could be scared by it.  The father, who is a professor of psychology, noted that his son was compelled to watch it despite being scared because the story was one which was archetypal in its structure and meaning.  It held meaning which resonated with his son on a very deep level. 

I believe that this is in large part what brings us back each year to travel the journey of our Lord and Saviour from his journey to Jerusalem, to his triumphal entry that we celebrated last Sunday, to his agony in the Garden of Gethsemane and the passion of Good Friday, and now the triumph of the glorious resurrection that we celebrate today.  In this we have an eternal truth that resonates with us on a deep level.  We know that our Redeemer lives; the power of death has been defeated.

What then is the deep truth that compels us to hear the story and journey with our Saviour each year?  Again, let us turn to that story of Pinocchio.  To remind you this story is an account of an animated puppet, a puppet that is alive but is still a wooden puppet, and his journey to become a real boy.  This is the key to the surprize in today’s Gospel and for us in the Easter story.  The surprise is that Jesus has shown us what it means to be real people just as Pinocchio learned how to be a real boy.  Jesus revealed to us what it means to be fully human.  We have been journeying with Jesus in this Easter journey.  This is an introduction to becoming truly human.  To do that we must do as Jesus commanded and pick up our crosses and follow him.  This is not an easy journey that Jesus showed us.  It led him to the cross.  However, if we are to become the people that God intended us to be when God created us we must pick up our cross and follow him.

How can we possibly do that? Does it mean that we are all to be crucified as Christ was?  I believe that in symbolic ways we are called to that.  Again the key is contained in the story of Pinocchio.  Pinocchio was faced with the reality that when he told a lie—when he did not live the truth of who he was it was evident to all who had eyes to see.  His nose grew longer with every lie he told.  As followers of Jesus Christ our risen saviour we are called to live the truth just as Jesus lived out the truth of who he was. 

We are called above all not to lie to others but more importantly to ourselves.  If we tell ourselves that it does not matter how we treat others—that is a lie.  If we tell ourselves that it doesn’t matter if we cheat on our taxes—as long as we don̓ t get caught—that is a lie.  If we tell ourselves that I am not my brother’s keeper—that is a lie.  If we tell ourselves that the there is nothing I can do to help someone in need—that is a lie.  If we tell ourselves that it doesn’t matter that we don’t pray and read scripture regularlythat is a lie. 

If we live the truth of Christ in our lives we will become fully human well will become a real person as Pinocchio became a real boy.  We will know more fully the love of Christ in our lives.  We will know, truly know, that the power of sin and death has been defeated and we will live our lives free from that fear of death, the death of a thousand lies which holds us captive in its thrall.  That is the surprise and the wonder of Easter.   Jesus Christ is risen today; Hallelujah.