Wednesday, 21 December 2016
Love cannot be a means to any end. Love does not promise success, power, achievement, health, recovery, satisfaction, peace of mind, fulfillment, or any other prizes. Love is an end in itself, a beginning in itself.
This quote is from The Awakened Heart by Gerald May which I finished reading a few days ago and I have begun reading again. I do not usually reread a book right away but there are so many things in this work that touched my experience of God and of life that I want to delve into it once more with to see how it speaks to me a second time.
The above quote resonated with me because it holds a deep truth about our relationship with God. If we understand God as love, the essence of love, we can see how it applies to the Ground of Being—to use Paul Tillich’s term.
There is a great danger in wanting to relate to God in terms of what God can do for us; for our loved ones; or even the world. It is natural to pray to God that God will give us what we desire and believe is right. Those things may be reasonable from our personal ego driven perspective; we may want healing for ourselves and others. Indeed my daily prayers and our collective prayers ask for just that. However, what happens when God does not deliver on God’s part of the implicit contract. We are told we are God’s people and if we are God should give us the things we ask for.
We often end our prayer with the phase, “if it is your will” which is a reminder and declaration that God is supreme in this relationship. However, behind that can be the belief that if God is just we will get what we ask for and what we deserve; well not necessarily what we deserve but what we should receive as God’s children. This can be misleading and the darker side of this is the prosperity Gospel which preaches that if you have success in life, as the world defines success i.e. material possessions, a nice home, a good job, and a happy family etc. it is a sign that God is rewarding you because you are a good person.
This view is summed up in that wonderful song recorded by Janice Joplin, O Lord Won’t You Buy Me a Mercedes Benz. There is a wonderful phrase which captures this approach to God, ‘God the Butler’. We believe that we can keep God down in the servants’ quarters a la Downton Abbey, and call on God to come upstairs when we need something.
That is what happens when we make God a means rather than an end. This can happen when we use our spiritual practice for a personal means rather than making space for us to recognize God’s work in our lives. We can use contemplative prayer, centering prayer, meditation and other spiritual practices to make us feel better and to give us physiological and psychological benefits such as lower blood pressure and feeling at ease with others. However, when we do that we are placing ourselves above God. We believe that we know what God should do for us. We are indeed using God as a means and not an end.
Gerald May addresses this, “beware if turning it (spiritual practice) into a psychological method… I caution you not to “use it” to cope with stressful situations or to increase you efficiency.” In my experience this is certainly tempting and I have turned to contemplative prayer to deal with stressful situations. The trap is that it seems to work at times. In my experience what seems to be the key is intention. Do we open ourselves to the love of God or do we substitute our will for God’s and demand my will not Thine be done?
In the end we are called to make God the end, the goal of our existence and not to means to the existence that we want or believe we deserve. Thanks be to God.
Wednesday, 14 December 2016
Last weekend Lorna and I were in Toronto visiting family. On Sunday we attended St. Thomas’s Anglican Church to get our fix of High Anglican smells and bells which we seem to need once or twice a year. Actually it was not as high as usual. Due to our schedule we attended the 9:30 B.A.S. service of Holy Eucharist rather than the usual B.C.P. service. However, it was still a lovely service with good music.
After the service we attended choral concert at the Royal Conservatory in which our granddaughter, who is six years old, participated. We were glad to discover that there has been an explosion of interest in choral music recently. Following a very enjoyable concert with many children of various ages, we had lunch and other activities with the family. We went with some of the family to the ROM as we had lots of time before our train left later that afternoon. Actually, I sat in the lobby and dozed while the rest of them spent about an hour with the exhibits.
We then went to Union Station and had some time before our train left so we sat for a while reading our books. I was approached by a young man who wanted to ask me some questions he had about the Ark of the Covenant. I was initially surprized to be approached until I remembered I was wearing my clerical shirt and collar. In any case we had an engaging, if short, conversation about faith and the need for proof in relation to faith.
One of the things that the young man inquired about was the belief that the Ark contained not only the tablets on which the Ten Commandments are written but also a jar containing manna that fed the Israelites in the wilderness. I must admit I had forgotten about that aspect of the story. On checking with the source of all knowledge (the internet) I was reminded that the Ark also is purported to contain not only the jar of manna but also Aaron’s budded rod. I confess my poor memory about those aspects of the story of the Ark.
In any case the encounter got me thinking more about faith and the need for some people to have proof in order believe as opposed to faith which one source defines as, “strong belief in God or in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof.” In this context the idea of the jar of mana being contained in the Ark is very apropos. The manna which YHWH (God) provided to the Israelites in the wilderness was the daily bread that they needed. It could not be stored up for more than their need for the day it was harvested. Being human they tried to store up more than their need for the day but it became spoiled overnight. The exception was the supply for the Sabbath which could be collected the day before to uphold the commandment not to do any work on the Sabbath. They were required know that God would give them each day their daily bread which the biblical account affirms.
Throughout my adult life I have had personal challenges about what to believe and how to understand biblical miracles. I have gone back and forth and up and down about what I believed and how to understand them. I have also had quite a few discussions with people who had absolute faith in the literal truth of the biblical accounts—the story of the other Ark, Noah’s, is one that comes up frequently.
I find that the best approach to the biblical miracles in such discussions is not to explore be literal truth of the accounts. Rather what I believe is important is to understand the capital “T” truth that is contained in the stories. What do the stories reveal about the truth concerning about the relationship between God and the people of God for which they were told? We will probably never know with absolute certainty or have absolute proof of the literal facts of the biblical account—at least in this life. However, just as the account of the manna from heaven tells us that we need to live our lives in the understanding that God will give us what we need for our spiritual lives to be fed, we need to do our best to understand what the biblical accounts are saying to us in our lives as we live them and how God is at work in our lives today.
I will close with a quote from Richard Rohr, the Daily Meditation for today—perhaps a bit of synchronicity or the reality that God provides what we need in many different ways:
Faith is not simply seeing things at their visible, surface level, but recognizing their deepest meaning. To be a person of faith means you see things—people, animals, plants, the earth—as inherently connected to God, connected to you, and therefore, most worthy of love and dignity. That’s what Jesus is praying for: that you could see things in their unity, in their connectedness.
Keep the faith,
Wednesday, 23 November 2016
The Saturday edition of the Globe and Mail carried and most interesting article which had the headline “St. Paul’s rises from the ashes with a more conservative approach to prayer”. The article looked at the “success” St. Paul’s Leaksdale, a Presbyterian church north of Toronto.
Twenty years ago St. Paul’s was facing a future familiar to many mainline protestant and Anglican churches with a future of slow decline and inevitable closure. A new minister proposed a new approach to worship which took, “a more conservative approach to Bible.” The article identified a conservative approach as, “taking a more literal interpretation of scripture and a great openness to the idea that God intervenes in the world”.
In the 20 years since that transformation St. Paul’s has a weekly attendance at worship of 400 to 500 people. It has expanded its facility to include a massive gym cater to young families in their 20’s and 30’s. Worship has done away with all the old trappings; no more organs or vestments. Rather there are drums and guitars and casual clothes.
This article made me wonder once more about what the future of religion generally and the Anglican church specifically. Is the future of religion to be one in which provides easy answers in black and white to its flock? Is it going to be more fundamentalist in line with many other religions and in line with how the world seems to be moving? In this postmodern world or post-postmodern world people are losing their faith in the traditional institutions as we have seen in the Brexit vote in Britain and the election of Donald Trump. People seem to want black and white answers to complex questions as the world becomes more complex. They want to know without a doubt that this is right and that is wrong. They want to be able to give easy answers to problems and identify the problems as being out there and not within us. The search for scapegoats is becoming more frenzied every day.
I believe that there is much that mainline Protestant churches can learn from churches such as St. Paul’s. Fundamental/Evangelical Christians do put their money and their talents where their collective mouths are. They know what they believe in and are generally not shy in sharing that with others. The make a concerted effort to evangelize and spread their understanding of the Gospel. This is not something that Anglican churches and Anglicans generally do well. We Anglicans often do not know clearly what we believe in and do not have the language to be able to share that with others. That it something that we need to be better equipped to do. It is certainly something that I was reluctant to do for much of my life growing up in the United Church and now being an Anglican for the last thirty years.
The Anglican and mainline Protestant churches need to become better at evangelism. However, to do this we need to develop a new understanding evangelism which is right for this time and place. The article considered St. Paul’s to be a “success”. I put that in quotes because we need to redefine what it means to be successful. We need above all to continue to explore what it means to be a Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ as revealed in scripture and in the world. That does not mean that there are black and white, easy answers to the complex reality of God’s world. It does not mean that we look for scapegoats to drive into the wilderness carrying all our sins.
Last Sunday we celebrated the Reign of Christ. I had the opportunity to preside at my former congregation of St. James Parkhill. I proclaimed in my sermon that as we start Advent next week we have the perfect opportunity for a “Do Over”. We have the opportunity to prepare for the again for the coming of the incarnation of God in this world and in each of us. It is a God given opportunity to learn and to explore and to prepare ourselves to share the love of Jesus Christ and to love one another as Christ loves us. Thanks be to God.
Monday, 14 November 2016
Today I am remembering and mourning the loss of Leonard Cohan. His songs have spoken to my heart and soul all my adult life. Below is an Ode to Leonard which is my attempt to say a little of what he meant to me and so many others. As Leonard he "got us singing even though the news was bad. Blessings on your journey.
Now, so long, Leonard, and
It truly is time that we begin
To laugh and cry
and cry and laugh
about it all again
You were my man
You were my muse
In a famous blue raincoat
You slyly revealed
Glimpses of your wisdom
and the mysteries you
gave your voice to.
The gift of your golden voice
Which we were blessed to hear
So loud and so clear.
Will now longer ring
The voice of the midnight choir
Will no longer sing.
You have danced to the end
Of Life but not love.
You have danced to the end
Of life but not of your song.
You music will go on
From beyond the grave
From beyond the great beyond
For us here to sing along.
May the Sisters of Mercy
Escort you to a heaven
Which will not be dead
On the Saturday nights that lie ahead.
The Gates of Love have opened wide
To dance you to the end of love inside.
You sang that democracy
Was coming to the U.S.A.
It has revealed foremost and first
to be the home of the best
and the home the worst.
You were the little Jew
Who wrote the bible of songs
Of love and faith.
Of life both right and wrong.
You showed us Jesus there on Calvary’s hill
Who told us all to love, not hate.
He knew that we could still be true
But there was lots left, it is not too late.
You told us of the Jesus
In the lonely wooden tower
Who was a sailor bold and true
Water walking on that sea of blue.
You sang the song of Isaac brave
Sacrificed to the vision holy.
And Bethlehem who inflamed us there
Like the shy one at an orgy
The crack in everything
That let the light come in
Like the temple veil is now torn
And our hearts are rent in two
That light has returned from whence it came
To leave us bereft and shorn.
That golden voice so pure and true
Has left us here sad and forlorn.
The Tower of Song where you reigned
Is empty now inside
That other tower is waiting on high
With its gates flung open wide
Waiting arranged in sweet array
Are Hank and all the lords of song
To sing you on your way
To your new Tower of Song.
You no longer ache in the places
Where you used to play
The voodoo dolls have all been
Safely stored and locked away.
We will not be hearing from you now
That you are so far away.
There will be no new songs to sing
No more music to love and play.
So toll the bells that still can ring
The gates of heaven are now opening.
We will not forget that you gave
to each of us a perfect offering.
It is now truly closing time
So let us sing out loud and strong
One last and glorious Hallelujah
To our patron saint of song.
May the Sisters bend to comfort you
In your heavenly new home
And sing one more Hallelujah
To the patron saint of song.
Wednesday, 2 November 2016
Back at the beginning of the millennium I was trying to discern if I had a call to the ordained priesthood. I thought that it would be great to have a “Road to Damascus” experience i.e., hearing a voice from heaven perhaps with even a heavenly light show to make sure I was paying attention. However, I can say that I did not receive a message in any way that was like that. In the end I decided that the only way to test out a calling was to make a commitment to the journey to ordination. Talking to fellow students during my years at Huron College, I discovered that no one had that kind of a message either. Looking back I think that I am grateful not to have gone through what Paul experience on that road including being knocked off my mode of transportation and having scales cover my eyes for three days.
I did receive affirmation of my decision in many ways but not specifically in a Road to Damascus way. God does speak to us in many different ways which are not necessarily as dramatic or as clear as what Paul experienced. One experience I had which I believe affirmed my decision occurred just after I had an interview with the Dean of Theology, John Chapman (now Bishop of Ottawa) as part of the process to enter the M. Div. program. The interview went well and when it was finished I got into my car to drive home. The car radio was tuned to CBC as usual and the program involved an interview with three clergy who had been ordained later in life. This certainly fit my experience as I was in my early fifties at the time.
This experiences was for me synchronistic—a term coined by Carl Jung. Synchronicity is, simply put, a significant coincidence. They can be easily dismissed by skeptics as mere coincidence and of no significance other than pure chance. However, I understood it as a pointer from the divine that I was on the right course. By itself it would not be enough to make a serious life-changing decision in life. However, it was one indication that I should continue on this new path and see other signs God might send me.
I believe and have faith that God is speaking to us in many different ways today as God always has. However, we have not been taught to recognize them. Our culture does not generally recognize many of these ways. We need to relearn as a culture and individuals how God does speak to us and how to interpret what might be called the language of God. One way which I particularly favour is the language of dreams. Dreams have been called “God’s forgotten language”—a phrase of John Sanford’s, an Episcopal priest and Jungian Analyst and also a title of his very good introduction to dream work.
There are many other ways such as Contemplative Prayer, Lectio Divina (Holy Listening), and walking the Labyrinth. My approach to Spiritual Direction is to help directees to identify how God is speaking to them and to help them more fully experience and understand how God is working in their lives. We are each unique children of God and so we are each more receptive to different way in which God is speaking to us. For instance, my wife Lorna, whose primary way of receiving information is through the five senses, uses that outer input in her inner world. She is an ISTJ on the Myers Briggs Type Scale i.e. Introverted, Sensing, Thinking, Judging.
I, on the other hand, am not as in tune with the outer world as many who know me will attest—especially Lorna. My primary way of receiving information is by intuition, being an INFJ on the Myers Briggs Type Scale i.e. Introverted, Intuitive, Feeling, Judging. This difference means that we are naturally oriented differently to how God is speaking to us. For instance, Lorna finds walking the Labyrinth to be very meaningful as a form of walking prayer. The experience of walking the labyrinth does not resonate with me to the same extent. Rather I find Centering Prayer to be a very meaningful way.
This does not mean that we do not use both forms as a part of our spiritual practices. I do walk the Labyrinth and Lorna does Centering Prayer. However, it is not the preferred method in each case. We both pay attention to our dreams as a way of see if our lives on the course God intends for us. We both keep dream journals and try to understand the meaning of our dreams or as Lorna says, “don’t you mean the message”?
The most important thing in all this is to be open to how God is speaking to you and pay attention to the things that you believe God is saying. This is not always clear and it can be helpful to have someone to help you in that journey such as a clergy person, spiritual director or counsellor. Blessings,
Wednesday, 26 October 2016
As reported in the Huron Church News (June 2016), in her address to Synod Bishop Linda Nicholls declared that there are no “quick fixes” for our diocese or the church. She declared that, “We do need spiritual wisdom and revelation. My prayer is that God will provide that wisdom as we come to know him as we pay attention to our own spiritual lives”.
To put this in action Bishop Linda encouraged each person in the room and by implication every Anglican in Huron, “to commit to one new way of deepening your knowledge of Christ this year!” Bishop Linda suggested ways of doing this such as joining a bible study, participating in an Education for Ministry group, and going on retreat. Bishop Linda also suggested that people find a spiritual director. It is my experience that many people in Huron are not familiar with spiritual directors and spiritual direction. I thought it would be helpful to some readers to provide an introduction to the practice of spiritual direction which I hope will encourage people to explore this spiritual practice as a way of enhancing their experience of God.
First I will share with you a bit about my background which is relevant. I am an Anglican priest in Huron who retired from full-time parish ministry a few years ago. I am a graduate of the spiritual direction program offered by the Haden Institute through the Mount Carmel Spirituality Centre in Niagara Falls completing the program in 2013. Through the auspices of the Rev. Canon Todd Townshend, Dean of Theology at Huron University College and working with Rev. Canon Greg Smith, Director of Field Education, Worship, Community & Formation I have been offering spiritual direction to students in the faculty of theology beginning first as part of training and continuing once I completed the program. I also work with lay and ordained people outside the Huron College context.
With that let me give you some information about spiritual direction and spiritual directors. A spiritual director is somewhat misnamed as a spiritual director doesn’t actually direct. It is the Holy Spirit—the third person in the room who directs the session. A spiritual director is a companion on your journey as you deepen your relationship with God. Here are some of the things which a spiritual director/companion may help you with on you journey:
· Identify and trust your own experiences of God recognizing God’s unending love for you
· Acting with continued integrity and participation in your religious tradition
· Integrate spirituality into your daily life
· Discern and then make difficult choices
· Share your hopes, your struggles and your losses
· Develop a sensitivity for justice and the concerns for the poor and compassion for those you meet in everyday life
Most important thing in your journey is LOVE. The spiritual companion can help you to understand and appreciate how the love of God in Jesus Christ can be recognized mire fully and shared with others.
As St. Paul tells us there are many members but one body. Each of us will have different ways in which we are open to the Holy Spirit. A spiritual companion can help you to identify the ways in which God through the Holy Spirit is active in your life and how you can be open to deepening and expanding your experience of the divine. Blessings of you journey.
Tuesday, 18 October 2016
Last Wednesday I returned to Huron University College to do a short introductory presentation on Spiritual Direction to the theology students. I will again have the wonderful opportunity to provide Spiritual Direction to the students under the auspices of the Theology Faculty.
I attended the Wednesday Eucharist prior to lunch and the community gathering. The excellent homily was preached by The Rev. Dr. Lizette Larson-Miller, a faculty member. In the homily Dr. Larson-Miller used a wonderful phrase from the prayer of Confession in the Book of Common Prayer (I am paraphrasing what she said) of the tension between “the devices and desires of our hearts” and the action of the Holy Spirit. This was a wonderful lead in to my talk on Spiritual Direction.
The goal of Spiritual Direction is, in my view, to help identify the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Often this seems to be in conflict with the devices and desires of our own hearts. The Spiritual Director is more accurately a Spiritual Companion on the journey with the Holy Spirit and will help the Directee identify where and how the Holy Spirit is with them. Indeed I prefer to think of the devices and desires of our heart as the devices and desires of our egos. The ego wants to be in charge of the show and run things—our lives and our world to ensure that any control it believes it has is not threatened. The ego believes that God should be serving the ego. However, the correct relationship is for the ego to be in the service of God. This for me is the central message of Jesus i.e. to love God and your neighbour as yourself.
I have said before that the Holy Spirit been held by the church to be the Rodney Dangerfield of the Holy Trinity i.e. it don’t get no respect. As it says in the Gospel of John, “The wind* blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” As such it is unpredictable and cannot be controlled by hierarchies and doctrine. The action of the Spirit can be difficult to identify as it can and will be confused by the devices and desires of our hearts and egos. However, I believe we are entering the age of the Spirit in which the work of the Holy Spirit will be recognized more fully.
In a Spiritual Direction session there are three persons; the Director/Companion, the Directee and the Holy Spirit. The goal is to allow space for the Holy Spirit to be recognized and affirmed in the life of the Directee and to help the Directee to recognize where the Spirit is moving in his or her life. That is my wish for everyone. Blessings,
Saturday, 15 October 2016
Too early to think about Christmas? Yesterday our church launched the first foray into the Christmas activity. I must say I was surprized as it is only Thanksgiving and there isn’t even Christmas music in the stores yet. However, it wasn’t truly a launch of the Official Christmas activity. Our congregation launched its Operation Christmas Child Champaign where parishioners are given the opportunity to fill a “shoe box” with toys and other items for a needy boy or a girl in a faraway land.
I must admit that this caught me a bit off guard as I hadn’t expected the campaign to start so early. My mistake, as the campaign will end on November 20th which understandably allows time for the shoeboxes to be collected and sent to those children in faraway places. The reality of the start of Operation Christmas Child motivated for me to share with you some of the strong reservations that I have about this project. Now you may well be wondering how anyone could object to what seems like a wonderful effort to send some Christmas cheer to needy children. That is exactly what my thoughts were about the undertaking until recently. Indeed I joined in the activity and had fun selecting what I thought were appropriate items for the shoebox and adding it to the growing pile at the front of our church.
My first doubts about the campaign were raised when I read a news item about an Operation Christmas Child volunteer coordinator of seventeen years who was not allowed to continue because she would not sign an “updated statement of faith” from Samaritan Purse which included statements that that marriage is intended to be between a man and woman only, and that abortion should not be permitted. Here is a link to the news item if you would like to read it in full, http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/
newfoundland-labrador/burgeo- woman-samaritans-purse- beliefs-1.3580597
After reading this rather unsettling piece I decided to do some research into Samaritan Purse and the Christmas Child Shoebox Campaign. What I found out left me with even more questions about the appropriateness of supporting such a program.
First, I have strong reservations about the parent organization, Samaritan Purse. It is the run by Franklin Graham who is the son of the renowned evangelist Billy Graham. I discovered that Franklin Graham has an understanding of Christianity which is much different from mine. The Wikipedia article on Franklin Graham include disturbing items such as:
- Graham has made controversial remarks against Islam saying "True Islam cannot be practiced in this country,"
- In the August 30, 2010 issue of the Time magazine, "Does America Hate Islam?" Graham reportedly said that Islam "is a religion of hatred.
- On August 19, 2010, when asked by CNN correspondent John King if he had doubts that President Barack Obama is a Christian, Graham stated, "I think the president's problem is that he was born a Muslim, his father was a Muslim. The seed of Islam is passed through the father like the seed of Judaism is passed through the mother. He was born a Muslim, his father gave him an Islamic name."
- Graham claimed that Obama had "allowed the Muslim Brotherhood to become part of the U.S. government and influence administration decisions,"
- In a March 2011 interview with Newsmax, Graham said the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan "may be" the second coming and Armageddon.
- Graham has commented on Hinduism as well, saying, "no elephant with 100 arms can do anything for me. None of their 9,000 gods is going to lead me to salvation"
There have been troubling accusations regarding the Samaritan Purse relief efforts accusing them of tying relief aid to attempts to convert people to Christianity. One example quoted below states:
Other relief organisations were scathing of Samaritan's Purse's actions in Nicaragua in the aftermath of Hurricane Mitch in 1999 which left over ten thousand people dead or missing and considerably more homeless. Rather than focus on helping people, Samaritan's Purse used up potential relief money arranging an evangelical concert at the national baseball stadium in Managua. 50,000 children - mainly Catholics - were whisked away in rented buses to the stadium to listen to Graham, who flew in on a private jet, preach his brand of Christianity - asking them to accept Jesus as their saviour and be born again, and be rewarded with a shoebox of gifts and a Bible - the Catholic church was furious.
Samaritan Purse also includes religious tracts with the Shoeboxes. This is not made clear to donors. These are also included without the knowledge of the recipients. These promote Samaritan Purse’s particular brand of Christianity which I find problematical. As noted in one site critical of the activity, “The booklet is not a "simple booklet of Bible stories" but is designed specifically for converting young children into Christians and comes complete with a "sinner's prayer" of conversion and a pledge card.” In addition this is part of the attempt to convert children by stealth which can be against the wishes of the parents.
Finally and for me most telling, is the inefficient form of charity that this takes. It may allow the participants in Canada to feel they are doing good works of Christian charity as we are called to in following Jesus. However, it is not the best use of our gifts if the goal is to help the recipients. As noted in one critique these types of schemes, “are not good value for money, they waste resources, don’t meet local needs or help solve local problems, and don’t support the local economy”. They are imposing our understanding of what the needs of others are without consultation.
There are numerous alternatives to the Operation Christian Child Shoebox campaign if you would like to consider an alternative. Here are some suggestions:
- The Primates World Relief and Development Fund (PWDRF) is the Anglican Church of Canada arm for aid and relief in different categories including Food Security, Health Care ,Poverty, Relief/Refugees, and Human Rights/Peace. There are many different worthwhile project such as:
- Water Project Pikangikum Ontario First Nation
- Nanganga, Tanzania health clinic
- Canadian Foodgrains Bank which has the goal of a world without hunger. They do this by working “ toward this goal by: providing food in times of crisis for hungry people in the developing world; helping people grow more food to better feed themselves and their families; and providing nutritional support to malnourished people with a focus on pregnant and breastfeeding mothers and young children”.
- Oxfam where you can donate a flock of chickens or a camel, or textbooks or dinners for a third world school. For these and many other life-changing or life-saving gifts go to www.oxfamunwrapped.com.
- Canassist African Relief Trust which funds infrastructure development in East Africa http://www.canassistafrica.
The spirit of Christmas is one of generosity and giving to others to show the love of Christ to the world. I hope that you will express this love in your lives this coming Christmas and every day. It is my hope that you will consider ways which will best do this. Peace.
Tuesday, 4 October 2016
Lorna and I have been rather old fogies in terms of video technology. At our cottage we do not have a TV hooked up to cable or even an old fashioned antenna much less a satellite dish. Until this summer our movie viewing at the cottage was restricted to whatever movies we could find on VHS to watch on our VHS player and 20” portable TV – now I must reassure you it is at least a colour TV. We certainly have fun locating second hand VHS tapes at Value Village and yard sales.
Well this year we were forced to upgrade as the VHS player gave up the ghost. Lorna was able to fine an updated player through Amazon which played both VHS tapes and DVD. After buying an adapter so it would work on our ancient TV we were launched into the wonderful possibilities of DVDs.
Well we plunged headlong into the DVD world by purchasing all the seasons of Six Feet Under, a series we were introduced to many years ago when we were staying at a cottage here on PEI that had satellite. It is an excellent series that deals with many issues of dying and the aftermath of death. We also purchased the first three seasons of House of Cards. Lorna was introduced to this series but I had never seen it. It is the story of Francis Underwood and his over weaning ambition to become President of the United States. Frank, as he is called by everyone except his wife Clair, is absolutely ruthless and will do almost anything to achieve the end he desires. Indeed up to this point I haven’t seen anything that he would not do.
At one point he is talking with a Bishop who has presided at the memorial for three Navy Seals who were killed under Frank’s watch as President. The Bishop tells him that what God requires of him is to love God and to love everyone. Frank tells him that he can’t do that. He can, however, relate to the Old Testament God who is the God of vengeance. When the Bishop leaves he looks with distain on a life-size Crucifix and says something nasty and pushes it so it comes crashing down and breaks into many pieces. No loving everyone for Frank.
Many people are in the same position regarding which God they serve as is Frank Underwood—perhaps not many take as extreme a position. However, many people find the Old Testament God—at least the popular version of that God—who is not considered the God of love—a preferable God to follow. They can’t imagine loving your neighbour much less your enemy. They have no possibility of doing what Paul tells us in today’s epistle from Ephesians, “31 Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: 32 And be ye kind one to another, tender hearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you.
The Old Testament God really is more attractive to many people. The idea of “Vengeance is mine” can be appealing and it feeds into our feelings of anger, rage, hatred and even our desire for justice being done. Of course they do not complete the sentence, “says the Lord”. What Jesus is calling for us as his followers to do is not easy. Indeed it seems it goes against our natural instincts. It certainly goes against our baser instincts. Perhaps that is a part of our fallen nature. We can easily give in to those thoughts and desire for revenge and getting our just deserts.
To forgive seventy times seven as Jesus tells Peter seems impossible. Indeed the idea of forgiveness is made to seem too easy. We come to believe that if we say the words, “I forgive you” that is all it takes. However, the words are easier than actual forgiveness. We can say the words to someone who has wronged us but the hurt and anger and pain will still be in our hearts and we can find those feelings coming to the surface much later when we thought they were long gone. Given that it seems that forgiving someone seventy times seven is asking too much of us as is asking us to love our enemies or everyone as the Bishop said to Frank.
So what are we to do with all these seemingly impossible requirements of being a Christian? Let’s not kid ourselves, Jesus is very clear. We heard in the Gospel last week that Jesus tells us the greatest commandment is to love God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind and with all your strength. The second is like it, to love your neighbour as yourself. That does not mean as one of the followers of Donald Trump said well you have to love your neighbour so you know he is not a terrorist. It means loving the Samaritan who is the outcast, the unacceptable, the one you don’t find it possible to love.
It may seem impossible to do this but it is not impossible. Otherwise Jesus would not have commanded us to do it. I don’t find it any easier to do this than anyone else. The only thing I do is to remember that to love someone doesn’t mean you have to like them. You can love them and pray that God is with them even though you don’t want to be with them. And when you fail to do that, as we all will at times, remember that God forgives you when you sin and fall short of the mark. You can repent and turn around and try again. Thanks be to God. Amen
Yesterday, Lorna and I wrapped up our time this summer with our church community at St. Alban’s, Souris and St. George’s, Montague in a very satisfying way. I presided at a Holy Eucharist (Book of Common Prayer of Course) at St. Georges which Lorna attended. They surprized us with lovely framed sketches of the two churches as a farewell and appreciation for our contributions to the community this summer. I was quite moved and appreciate the gesture. They will be lovely additions to the cottage and bunkie.
In the afternoon I presided at the second annual Blessing of the Animals at St. Alban’s. This was attended by some live people and live animals and many stuffed animals that had arrived at the church earlier in the week and had taken up temporary residence around the church at various places such as the organ, the pulpit and in every window ledge. I blessed all the animals, included the inanimate ones and we remembered some who had departed this life including a long list of animal companions (pets) that Lorna has had up to it point in her life. Lorna would like to have discussions about a new animal companion but I have so far resisted spreading my Christian charity that far.
Following the service we had a pot-luck at our cottage and had a very congenial time with people from St Alban’s. It was a wonderful day and way to wrap up that part of this year’s P.E.I. experience. We are heading out for Ontario later this week and have a lot of food and drink to consume before we leave as well as some packing up to do indoor and outdoor—I will do my part with all the fervour I can muster. We will be sorry to leave this part of God’s creation but Ontario does call with our other church family at St. John’s by the Lake and our new Rector Jim Innes, as well as our choir, the Ausable Singers, and Spiritual Direction at Huron University College plus, plus.
I hope everyone has a happy and blessed Thanksgiving next Monday.
Wednesday, 31 August 2016
One of my favourite radios programs is This American Life on National Public Radio in the U.S. I was listening to an episode from their archives last week about how people change their minds.
The program reported on the rather surprizing results of an experiment in which had canvassers who went door-to-door and spent some time talking to people about controversial issues such as same-sex-marriage and abortion. The results were quite amazing as they showed that after a relatively short period of time the people interviewed changed their minds on the issue. More surprizing is that the change remained over a significant time period i.e. it was not just momentary. If you are interested in listening to the program here is the link: http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/555/the-incredible-rarity-of-changing-your-mind.
One of the key factors in this result that they identified was that the interviewers had to be identified with the issue e.g. a woman who had an abortion of someone who was self-identified as LGBT. Another significant factor that was identified is that people do not change their beliefs based on facts and data. Where people change their minds is on the level of the gut; of visceral reactions; of emotions; of feelings (which by the way are not the same as emotions).
They found that the most important thing that the interviewer could do in this process was to stop telling people things and to listen. The interviewer needed to let them talk about their own lives and tell their own stories. I would qualify that this doesn’t quite match the first finding i.e. that the interviewer needed to be identified with the issue personally. Their experience was important. However, that information needed to be revealed in the course of the interview in context of the discussion. The focus needed to be on the experience of the person being interviewed.
These findings were quite unexpected and surprizing because they completely overturn the expectation and common wisdom held by experts in the field. I am wondering how these finding can be applied to that thing which Anglicans are particularly struggling with these days as we increasingly find ourselves out of step with our culture which is increasingly secular and disconnected with anything religious; That thing is evangelism.
Today Anglicans particularly do not have experience in evangelism; in spreading the Good News of Jesus Christ. Many other denominations have had greater experience and success in this. It was not something which, I must admit, I am very comfortable with and did not receive any training specifically on how to evangelize in school. However, as they number of people in the pews dwindle; as our parishioners get older; and as more and more churches close it is something we need to turn our attention to. It is not just a case of survival as the Anglican Church in Canada and perhaps all the Western world. It is also an imperative as Christians. We are called to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ to the world.
I must qualify the above by saying that I am not comfortable about evangelization when I think of it in traditional way of thinking about evangelization. The picture I have is of the T.V. evangelist who would play on the audience’s fears and desires and prejudices, or the people at the door who ask if I have been saved or born again. That is key to the issue and where it intersects with the findings discussed in that radio program. We need to redefine what evangelism means. We need to share the Good News by approaching people where they are and listening to their experience. We also need to be able to share our stories and how being an Anglican is part (hopefully an important part) of our stories as Christians.
Actually that is pretty much what I do as a Spiritual Director. I listen to the experience and stories of my directees and share how my experience has helped me to have a closer relationship with God. This week I invite you to reflect on your experience of being an Anglican or Roman Catholic or United Church member or as a spiritual person unconnected to organized religion and how that has affected your life. What would you say to share that with someone you just met?