Wednesday, 26 October 2016

A Time of Spiritual Renewal in Huron

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

The HOly Spirit 'Don't Get No respect'

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

Questions about Operation Christmas Child Shoebox Campaign

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,
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 supported North Carolina Amendment 1, which was passed by a voter referendum on May 8, 2012, prohibiting same-sex marriage and all domestic partnerships
  • 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[1].
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.”[2] 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
  • Canassist African Relief Trust which funds infrastructure development in East Africa
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

Sermon October 2, 2016 19th Sunday after Trinity

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 Underwoodperhaps not many take as extreme a position.  However, many people find the Old Testament Godat least the popular version of that Godwho is not considered the God of lovea 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 

Farewell to P.E.I.

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.