Wednesday, 31 August 2016

Change! We Don't Change, We're Anglicans

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:

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?

Sunday, 28 August 2016

Exploring the Tapestry of the Mind, Body, and Spirit

This point in my life is one that I am enjoying more than I ever have.  I am fortunate and blessed to spend my summersactually stretching summer from the beginning of June to the beginning of Octoberat our cottage in Prince Edward Island.  It is a time and place which are Thin Experiences where the separation of heaven and earth are less well defined than at other times and in other places.

I have had the wonderful experience this summer listening to the tapestry of the archives of Tapestry.  I have always been a fan of the show and particularly enjoy Mary Hines’ discerning and thoughtful interview style.  The depth and breadth of the topics and individuals who are presented on the show provide me with food for my spirit and soul.  Part of the affinity I feel for Mary Hines is one introvert connecting to another.  As she revealed in one of the programs I listened to recently, Mary is an unapologetic introvert. as am I, who revealed her dream is to live in a light house away from the world.  Now I can’t say that I have had that specific dream either in waking life or while asleep. However, I can certainly appreciate her desire.  I have thought that being sentenced to house arrest would be no punishment for someone like me, and perhaps other strong introverts, as it is there that I am at homenot where I live specifically but where I am truly at home.

Tapestrythe program not the spiritual placeis one of the wonders of this life where I can explore the different subject that speak to me in ways that I find make my life more meaningful and make me more the person that God intends me to be. 

In my marathon of Tapestry programs I noticed a number of connections which I would like to share with you.  There were a couple of programs that connected with my understanding of the unconscious forces that are part of the human condition.  Without going into detail the unconscious, as first identified by Sigmund Freud and expanded on by Carl Jung, is that aspect of the psyche that is not readily available to our conscious life.  The energies will most frequently make themselves known to us in our dreams but also in other phenomenon such as waking visions and synchronistic experiences (meaningful coincidences). 
The unconscious forces in people were a connection in the programs ‘Hearing Voices’, and ‘Psychologist Anthony Bossis: Can psychedelic drugs help ease the fear of death’. 

In Hearing Voices, I was struck by the approach taken in the treatment in which the idea of asking the “good voices” for aid the advice for her to “stand up to the bad voices” was presented as an important part of the treatment.  In my understanding the voices which are experienced by people come from the same source as dreams and other such experiences of the psyche.  The idea getting for help from the inner energy is the essence of the individuation process identified by Jung.  In addition standing up to images in nightmares and facing them is a very successful technique in dream work.  The classic way to deal with monsters in our dreams is rather than running from them is to turn around and ask them what they want.  In effect we befriend the energy which is being presented to us.  The maxim that all dreams come in the service of health and wholeness of the dreamer is important in working with dreams.

This approach applies to the experience of people who are participating in the experiment using psilocybin to deal with their fear of their imminent death.  As noted in the New Yorker Magazine article:
The “same force that takes you deep within will, of its own impetus, return you safely to the everyday world,” the manual offers at one point. Guides are instructed to remind subjects that they’ll never be left alone and not to worry about their bodies while journeying, since the guides will keep an eye on them. If you feel like you’re “dying, melting, dissolving, exploding, going crazy etc.—go ahead,” embrace it: “Climb staircases, open doors, explore paths, fly over landscapes.” And if you confront anything frightening, “look the monster in the eye and move towards it. . . . Dig in your heels; ask, ‘What are you doing in my mind?’ Or, ‘What can I learn from you?’ Look for the darkest corner in the basement, and shine your light there.” This training may help explain why the darker experiences that sometimes accompany the recreational use of psychedelics have not surfaced in the N.Y.U. and Hopkins trials.[1]
I embrace the invitation to “Looking the darkest corner in the basement, and shine your light there.” It is very much in line with one of the first steps in dream work which is to engage the shadow.  These are the parts of your psycheyourself which you do not want to recognize and are often not even aware are part of you.  They lurk in the darkest corners of your psychic basement.  However, as with the other aspects and images that appear in your dreams and in your projections, you need to be in relationship with you and discover what you can learn from them.

It is wonderful to hear about the work that in going on in different areas of our culture that will help people to become more fully the people that God or whatever is your higher power intends you to be.
Thank you for bring such inspiring people with wonderful lives and work to all of us. 

[1] New Yorker The Trip Treatment Research into psychedelics, shut down for decades, is now yielding exciting results. By Michael Pollan

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

The Spiritual Journey

On Saturday Lorna and I were at the funeral for the mother of a friend here in P.E.I.  It was a Roman Catholic funeral in the R.C. church in Souris.  The funeral was well done and the liturgy was very similar to the Anglican B.A.S. liturgy so it was fairly easy for us to follow along and join in to the responses.  However, there was no bulletin and was difficult for some Anglican parishioners who attend our local Anglican church as we use the old prayer book; the Book of Common Prayer. 
That being said the homily was very thoughtful and one point which particularly resonated with me was the assurance by the priest that the deceased has come from her heavenly home when she entered this life and had now returned to her heavenly home.  I agree wholeheartedly with this understanding of life.  We come from God and will return to God when our time on this earth has run its course.  It is that journey which we are all on that is our calling.  A quote from T.S. Eliot sums it up very well:
“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.”
T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets

The bible is actually the story of our journey of being with God in the beginningthe Garden of Eden and our journey and eventually returning to that homethe New Jerusalem as shown in the Book of Revelation.  The story of our first parents began in the Garden of Eden paradise where our progenitors were one with the heavenly father.  They walked with “Him” in the cool of the evening.  They were naked i.e. without any personas and were unashamed.  They were in effect in union with God.  Once they became aware of themselves as separate from God i.e. ate of the knowledge of good and evil, they were, in effect, expelled from Paradise. 

The rest of the bible is an account of humanities’ journey of a growing relationship with God.  This goes through the stages of development from a childlike relationship to the teenage rebellion into a more mature yet still imperfect relationship.  The journey goes from union to separation to a new union (reunion).   Indeed, Jesus recapitulates this journey in the parable of the Prodigal Son. 

This journey has been explored and developed by Carl Jung and his followers as the journey of the creation of the ego (the individual semi-conscious person) and separation from God, which Jung represents as the Self or the God-image in our psyches, to a potential reunion with God which Jung calls individuation.  It can be illustrated as follows:

Figure 1 The ego is in union with God

Figure 2 The ego becomes partially separated from union with God 

Figure 3 The person is individuated and in full relation with God. 

Jung was a psychologist and his theory is one of psychological development.  However, it is equally applicable to understand the development and maturing of the relationship between human beings and our creator.  As pictured in figure 2 the ego has the illusion it is in charge and wants to maintain control of how we are in the world.  Manifestations of this include ego-centric people and to more extreme states such as full blown narcissism.  The ego believes that everything, including God, should be in service of the ego i.e. the individual as he or she perceives the world.  The journey is to move to the position as pictured in figure 3 where the person is in service to God and in a new spiritual and psychological union with God.

I understand the journey to be one in which we have the potential of discovering more fully the people God intended and intends us to be when we were created. 

I had Sunday off from official duties and Lorna and I attended St. Alban’s together.  It is nice to be able to worship with her in that way.  Consequently there is no sermon this week.  Blessing on you journey. 


Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Sermon August 14, 2016 12th Sunday after Trinity

Let us put today’s Gospel into the context of Jesus’ ministry.  Jesus has just come from the territory of Tyre.  Tyre was a prosperous Roman port city and was Gentile i.e. non-Jewish. While he was there he healed the daughter of the Syrophoenician woman—a Gentile.  This miracle is well known because Jesus initially rejects the woman’s request to heal her daughter.  He tells her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”  This rejection by Jesus is surprizing as it is not typically how we understand Jesus’ response to people who come to him for healing.  It is particularly harsh comparing the Gentiles to dogs.

However, when the woman persists and asks again despite this rather harsh rejection, she answered him, ‘Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.’ 29Then he said to her, ‘For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.’ 30So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.  Jesus relents and heals the daughter.
One way of understanding this difficult passage is that Jesus had a growing awareness that he had come to bring the Good News not just to the Jews but also to the Gentiles— that is to the whole world.  This is the fulfillment of the visit of the Magi – those non-Jewish wise men who came to Bethlehem to worship the new born King of the Jews. 

With this growing awareness of his divine purpose he returns to familiar territory through the Sea of Galilee to Decapolis.  Here he has another encounter with someone who is in need of healing.  It is both similar and different to the encounter with the Syrophoenician woman.  In both cases he receives a request to heal someone.  However, here he does not initially reject the request.  Rather he does not hesitate and performs the miracle in a very personal way.  He speaks to him in Aramaic, his native language, “Ephphatha”, which means “be open”.   Jesus touches the man directly putting his fingers in his ears and using his spittle to free his tongue and free his speech.

The woman’s daughter was not even present—it was a long distance healing.  Here Jesus deals directly and intimately with the man and heals him of his deafness and speech impediment. It is as if this man is close to his heart.  He has come home to his people with a renewed sense of mission—one that must begin at home but is meant for the whole world—both Jewish and Gentile.  He opens the ears of this man who is one of his people.  He wants them to be open to hear his message and understand the Good News that he is bringing to them and to the world.  Jesus frees his tongue to enable him to speak of that Good News. 

Again he does something which is a surprize.  He tells the people there not to say anything about what he has done. It is as if he is not sure he is ready to have the Good News preached aloud to the world.  Of course the good news of this miracle and what it means cannot be contained.  He had done all things well; he is the one who makes the deaf to hear and the dumb to speak.
This Good News was foretold by the prophet Isaiah:
Then will the eyes of the blind be opened
    and the ears of the deaf unstopped.
Then will the lame leap like a deer,
    and the mute tongue shout for joy.
Water will gush forth in the wilderness
    and streams in the desert.
This is what the Kingdom of God will be like.  We are now blind but we will have eyes to see that Glory.  We are now deaf but we will have ears to hear.  We now are like those who limp through life but we will leap like the deer at the water brook. 

Our lives are now as one thirsting in the dessert but like the Samaritan woman at the well we will receive the water of eternal life and will never thirst again.  That is the Good News for us today as it was for those people in the Jewish world two thousand years ago.  Jesus is giving us the Good News of the coming of God’s Kingdom.  If we have ears that have been opened we will hear his message for us.  But just hearing it is not enough we must loosen our tongues and speak that Good News to our neighbours and to the world.  Amen 

Who is my Neighbour?

Yesterday’s sermon (copy attached) was a reflection on the Gospel for the 12th Sunday after Trinity in the BCP lectionary.  The Gospel appointed is Mark: 31-40 in which Jesus heals a man who is deaf and has a speech impediment.  As discuss in my sermon, Jesus has just returned from Tyre where he has his well-known encounter with a Syrophoenician woman (a Gentile) who begs Jesus to heal her daughter.  At first he rejects the woman saying, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” She persists despite this harsh rejection and responds, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”  As a result of her rather audacious tenacity, probably born of desperation, he grants her request and heals the woman’s daughter.
My understanding (which did not originate with me)  of this rather surprizing episode is that Jesus is beginning to realize that he has come to preach the Good News of God Kingdom not just to the Jews but also to the Gentiles—in effect to the whole world. With this realization he returns to his home territory and the events unfold as told in Sunday’s Gospel.  He receives another request to heal someone and reacts very differently from the request by the Gentile woman.  Jesus responds immediately in an intimate way.  He speaks in his native Aramaic language and touches the man’s ears and uses his own spittle to loosen the man’s tongue. 

From this perspective how do we understand this experience of Jesus today?  I did not explore this in my sermon and would like to do so now.  I think it is particularly relevant how we in how we relate to those who we consider part of our family, however that is defined, compared to how we relate to those who we consider are outside that familial bond.  The impetus for this came from Lorna’s response to my sermon   Lorna is my best critic in the best sense of that word and gives me many good ideas to consider and chew on and even sometimes even digest.  It is human nature to respond to those who we can relate to i.e. who are “family” in the broadest sense whether it is family of origin or extended family or church family or anyone who seem familiar and can relate to.  Even if we do not know the people personally if we can see them as someone who is familiar to us and can relate to we are more likely to respond to them.

This is the whole issue and challenge in responding to Jesus commandment to love our neighbour as ourselves.  He tried to illustrate this to us in his parable of the Good Samaritan.  One approach which stuck with me as to how we have a long way to truly understand and respond to Jesus’ teaching on this was demonstrated in a recent encounter at the Republican Convention to elect/crown their nominee for the U.S. president.  An interviewer engaged someone who identified themselves as a Christian who supported Donald Trump.  The person was asked if they believed if it was important to love our neighbours as Christians.  This self-identified Christian responded that of course it was otherwise how we could know if they were terrorist.  I don’t think this person actually understands what Jesus meant in that commandment.   

A situation has arisen recently which is closer to home.  We have received an appeal to support Erin Dance, the daughter of retired Suffragan Bishop of Huron Terry Dance.  Erin is unfortunately suffering from a potentially deadly form of leukemia.  The treatment she has received in Canada has sadly not been effective.  Erin is, however, a candidate to receive experimental treatment in the United States.  Unfortunately this is very expensive—in the hundreds of thousands of dollars—and the cost is not covered by the Canadian health care system as it is experimental.  The response has been gratifying and over $200,000 has been donated after a relatively short period of time.  It is wonderful to see this generosity and Lorna and I were happy to have the opportunity to contribute.  If you would lie to contribute here is the link to do so
Another situation came to our attention with a request for assistance at about the same time.  This situation involves a family  of Martha and William who have 10 children still living with them who recently lost their home to a house fire and are asking for help to get re-established in a new home.  The goal of this campaign is a modest $5000.  There has been as response to date of $3500 including a donation by Lorna.  If you would like more information on this situation and possibly consider contributing you can go to

The two situations are not directly comparable.  Erin’s situation is a matter of life and death.  While the family of Martha and William are faced with the possibility the family will have to be split up if they cannot find suitable accommodation.  They do not have a broader family with the resources and connections which can respond with help.  However, it does point out that Erin Dance does have a much broader “family” with resources to provide significant support.  Martha and William are not so fortunate.  They are in many ways the “other” who we do not necessarily relate to easily. 
I have in the past related the challenge I experience when considering who I give to.  I give from my bounty to others but is it to the “other”.  I give generously to charity—I tithe as we are told we should to be a good Christian.  Well, I must admit I give to selected ones.  I give to the deserving charities that help deserving people.  If I am asked on the street for a handout I immediately assess the person.  Is she really in need?    Is he trying to rip me off? Will he just go and spend the money I give him on cheap wine?  I really wish Jesus had said to give to those who deserve it.  But he didn’t.

The resources that we have in life are to a great extent a matter of chance.  They depend on the circumstances we are born into and on the resources that we have been blessed with in this world both talents and gifts.  I was born a white male to a middle class family in Canada as part of the baby boom which gave me many opportunities.  I received a good education at relatively little expense and have a good life that is only in part due to my effort and due in part to help from others and circumstances which were beyond my making.  I have been blessed in many ways and I give thanks for that.  Many others have not been as fortunate as I have been.  How then do I decide how I am going to share that blessing with?  I do make choices and make decisions.  That is inevitable and necessary.  The challenge for me is to remember that charity does not only begin at home and that my neighbours can be people I have not even met yet.  Blessings.  

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Religion and Science Dialogue

One of the joys of being retired or at least semi-retired is that I have more time to do some of the thing I would not have had time to do previously (or at least would not have made time for).  One of the joys this summer has been to catch up on past episodes of Tapestry, the wonderful CBC radio program on things spiritual and religious hosted by Mary Hines.  Mary does a beautiful job of delving into the different subjects and people being interviewed to get at the heart of the subject.  The show is often interspersed with humor which I think is wonderful as she delves into the “laughter at the heart of things” (a phrase I must credit to Helen Luke).  I would encourage you to listen in to the program which is on CBC Radio 1 on Sunday afternoons or explore past episodes on-line at your leisure. 
Another program I have discovered which touches more directly on what I want to discuss today is Faith and Witness, a podcast which explores ecumenism in the church today.  It is an undertaking of the Canadian Council of Churches.  Faith and Witness explores a number of big theological issues such as salvation from the perspective of different denominations in Canada.  The goal is understand where different denominations are on major issues and to explore the common ground among those denominations. 

The programs are interesting and ecumenism is a worthwhile undertaking.  However, when I was listening to a couple of the episodes I couldn’t help thinking that the discussion would be completely foreign and completely uninteresting to 99.9% of Canadians.  I believe what is truly needed most today is a discussion of a common basis/understanding between people of religious faith and the religious none’s as they are classified on the census.  A large part of that is, I believe, a lack of common language which will help define what we are talking about.  This hopefully might be used to discuss things religious and spiritual from a common starting point.  We can also begin to address the assumptions (often wrong) that we have about the different perspectives that people bring to the discussion.  This is what the ecumenical movement tries to do with different denominations within Christianity.  

This was brought into focus for me by an article in the Globe and Mail this past week.  The August 5th edition had an article entitled “Magic in the machine” which explored the phenomenon of consciousness from the current understanding in psychology and neuroscience.  Consciousness is a topic which is of great interest to me particularly in the area of dreams and Jungian psychology.  There seems to be a great divide between those studying the brain from a scientific basis and those who approach it from the spiritual/metaphysical perspective.  There is, I believe a consensus that human being are conscious but consciousness cannot be put under the microscope and examined as a physical entity therefore as quoted in the article, “  The scientific and philosophical consensus is that there is no non-physical soul or ego, or at least no evidence for that.”  The implication is that unless scientists can find hard evidence for it, it is not worth discussing.

He article did a good job of exploring the subject given the limits of a short newspaper piece.  However, one statement stood out for me and independently for Lorna as well.  The article stated, “We no longer believe in a numinous life force, an √©lan vital.  So what’s the big deal about consciousness?”  My question is, who is we and what is the statement based on?  If there is no numinous life force then this life on earth is all we get.  There is no continuation of the life force or soul or spirit beyond the material life we now live.  Here we have assumptions and perspectives that are not universal and need to be explored.  This is where Tapestry excels in exploring how different aspect of the experience of the Divine play out in our lives. 

Richard Rohr does a wonderful job of exploring the False Self or Ego and the True Self which is the person God intends you to be.  The ego, despite the lack of evidence for its existence, is a force which often keeps us from God—the ultimate being.  It is exactly this ultimate question, which science will never find what it considers satisfactory evidence for the existence of, is one of these issues that keep us in (at least) two solitudes.  I will close today with a quote from Richard Rohr which explores the True Self.  I may explore this use further if the spirit inspires me to:   
Your True Self is that part of you that sees truthfully and will live forever. It is divine breath passing through you. Your false self is that part of you that is constantly changing and will eventually die anyway. It is in the world of passing forms and yet it sees itself as a central reference point—which is never really true. The false self is passing, tentative, or as the Hindus and Buddhists might say, “empty.” Richard Rohr Daily Meditation August 8, 2016

I don’t not have a sermon to share with you today as I had Sunday off from official duties only providing the music for St. Alban’s in Souris.  Blessings on your journey.  

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

Sermon July 31, 2016 10th Sunday after Trinity

What a bunch of losers!  I hope that didn’t shock you too much.  It may have gotten your attention but it probably didn’t make you more open to my message this morning.  Perhaps I was channeling Donald Trump on his show The Apprentice.  Well you’re not fired.  Let me put it a different way that may work better.  Congratulations you are all losers.  Did that work any better?  Well let me try again.  Congratulations you are all human—we are all human.  We are God’s greatest creation, created in the image of God. 

Jesus Christ is the only begotten Son of God the Father.  Do you know what that means?  He is fully divine and fully human.  The church tends to down play the human part of that formula.  They qualify his humanity.  He may have been fully human but he was without sin.  Given that, it is surprizing that he was baptized by John in the Jordan who was baptizing for the forgiveness of sin. 
Jesus was fully human.  In that he had all the attributes of a human being.  He must have had all the emotions and feelings that humans experience.  I really appreciate the parts of scripture that give us a glimpse into that aspect of Jesus.  Today’s Gospel is one of those accounts.  The Gospel passage begins with Jesus weeping over Jerusalem.  That is a truly human reaction. 

Jesus is foretelling the coming destruction which will befall this beautiful city that he has been travelling to ever since his public ministry began.  I was fortunate to participate with fellow clergy from the Diocese of Huron on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land about ten years ago.  When we arrived in Jerusalem we participated in a ceremony for pilgrims who arrive at that Holiest of cities and given bread and wine. 

We were told of a Jewish saying about Jerusalem, ‘God gave ten portions of beauty to the earth.  Nine of them were given to Jerusalem’.  Jerusalem is a truly beautiful city and wonderful in many ways.  It is a very human reaction to weep over its coming destruction.

The Gospel passage ends with Jesus casting out the money changers from the Temple.  He could see that the House of God had become den of thieves.  Again this is a very human reaction.  It does seem go against what he had taught—turning the other cheek; loving your enemy; doing unto others as you would have them do unto you.  But here he has a very human reaction.  Apparently he is overwhelmed with righteous anger and takes action to cast out those who are desecrating this holy place.

So what does it mean then to be human if Jesus is fully human? It means most of all for me that I am not perfect.  I certainly at times wish that I was and for many years I had a desire to be perfect.  When I made mistakes I did not wat to admit it to myself much less to others. I found it humiliating if that mistake became known to others.  Indeed as hard as I try I still find it hard sometimes to admit I made a mistake or I was wrong—especially on things that truly matter to me—things that are essential to my self-image. 

However, being human does mean that we are not perfect.  We will make mistakes.  As we confess in our service, “we confess our manifold sins and wickedness, which we from time to time most grievously have committed”.  It does not say any sins that we might have committed; It say those we have committed.  It is part of our human condition.

We are going to make mistakes.  We are going to be losers.  That is our human condition, thank God.  I thank God because it is through our mistakes—our sins—those things which we do and do not do which separate us from God that we will learn to be more fully the people that God intends us to be.  We learn much more from our mistakes than from our successes. 
Richard Rohr speaks of this very aptly:
The only perfection available to us humans is the ability to include and forgive our imperfection. But the ego doesn't want to believe that. The ego doesn't want to surrender to its inherent brokenness and poverty. Yet the truth is, realizing your imperfection is the beginning of freedom and grace. There is such freedom in no longer pretending to be something we're not.
So I say to you again, congratulations, we are all losers.  We do not want to admit our humanness—our imperfection but that is what we are called to do as Christian.  We are followers of Jesus Christ who was fully human.  He showed us what it means to be human.  Jesus was by the world standards a loser who died a horrible death on the cross with his closest followers betraying him, denying him and abandoning him. 

I will close with a quote from Jean Vanier, the founder of L’Arche communities for the mentally challenged:

I will tell you a true story, he said.  “A young man with disabilities wanted to win the 100-metre race. And he got to the finals.  And he was running like crazy to get that gold medal, and somebody in the next lane tripped and fell.  And he stopped, picked this guy up, and they ran together, and both of them were last”.
“That’s a true story,” Mr. Vanier confirmed.  It’s the deepest lesson the disabled have to teach.  “It’s not that they can become like us—but how can we become like them and have fun together.  And lift up the chap who has fallen on the other lane, and come in last.  There’s in us all an ego we have to conquer.  You kill the ego so that the real person may rise up.  And the real person is the one who’s learning to love.”
That is what it means to be losers in the eyes of the world.  It is where Jesus calls us where we are called to lose in seeking to follow Christ.  We are called to the place where we will learn to love one another as he loves us. 

We can follow him as best we can, knowing that we will stumble and fall at times—we will fall into sin.  Thank God we can pick ourselves up; we can repent and turn around and attempt to follow Jesus as our Saviour and Redeemer.  Thanks be to God.  

Meeting the "Other"

My sermon on July 31st yesterday focused on what it means to be fully human.  For me it means that we are not perfect; we are going to make mistakes; we are going to fall into sin.  I started out by calling everyone losers.  I think that got their attention and it may not have made them as receptive to my message but I think I redeemed myself and made the point that as Christians we are followers of someone who the world viewed as a loser.  Jesus was by the world standards a loser who died a horrible death on the cross with his closest followers betraying him, denying him and abandoning him. 

I won’t repeat much of my sermon here—a copy is posted if you would like to read it.  However, I want to repeat a quote from Jean Vanier the founder of the L’Arche communities: 
I will tell you a true story, he said.  “A young man with disabilities wanted to win the 100-metre race. And he got to the finals.  And he was running like crazy to get that gold medal, and somebody in the next lane tripped and fell.  And he stopped, picked this guy up, and they ran together, and both of them were last”.
“That’s a true story,” Mr. Vanier confirmed.  It’s the deepest lesson the disabled have to teach.  “It’s not that they can become like us—but how can we become like them and have fun together.  And lift up the chap who has fallen on the other lane, and come in last.  There’s in us all an ego we have to conquer.  You kill the ego so that the real person may rise up.  And the real person is the one who’s learning to love.”
I want to reflect further on the on the “other” in our society—those people who are inconvenient and embarrassing and who many if not most people believe society would be better off without.  A Facts and Argument column in last Friday’s Globe and Mail written by Ann Auld,  the mother of a Down’s syndrome child spoke eloquently about the joys and challenges she had experienced.  She expressed the fear that in the future science will make her experience and people like her children extinct, “Of the numerous lessons I have learned the one I never figured out is that I would be raising an endangered species.”  She ended the article eloquently with the poignant expression of the joys and challenges, “Within a few moments, she will break my heart and patch it back up again.”
Lorna and I also watched on our antiquated VHS player and 20” portable TV, I Am Sam starring Sean Penn.  It is a poignant and moving story of a mentally challenged man who fights to raise his “normal” intelligent daughter.  It is not idealistic or sentimental or fantasy like Forrest Gump starring Tom Hanks.  It does not sugar coat the realities of the disabled in this world.  It does have a Hollywood happy ending but it is definitely worthwhile watching.

These experiences encouraged me to reflect on the reality of the “other” in God’s world.  I do not know what I would have done if I had been faced with the choice of bringing a disabled child into the world.  Ann Auld notes that she does not know what she would have done if amniocentesis had been available to her, “would I have continued the pregnancy knowing what was to come.”  She believes that she also, “contributed to the notion that being different is somehow wrong, not okay, not acceptable.”

How then do I react and respond and relate to the “others” in this world—those who are different and do not fit the idea and ideal of being normal or above normal?  How do I keep aware of my prejudices towards many “others” in this world?  There are many more questions than answers about who the “others” are and what God’s plan is.  However, the bottom line is “It’s not that they can become like us, but how can we become like them and have fun together” and live as God intends us to—in relationship.   Blessings