Tuesday, 12 December 2017

The Dark Side of Christmas

We are in Advent and the proper celebration of Advent as preparation for Christmas is one of my hot buttons.  However, I want to talk about Christmas this week and acknowledging there is a dark side to the wonderful light that came into the world in that stable in Bethlehem two thousand years ago.  Perhaps I can resolve this apparent dissonance by proposing that we need to recognize the darkness is an appropriate way of preparing for the light of Christ.

Two events recently prompted me to consider the darkness that is part of the Christmas message.  First, I was invited to be the guest musician (guitarist) for my former congregation, St. James Anglican Church in Parkhill for the community Christmas concert which was held December 1st.  One of the pieces I chose for our congregational choir was The Coventry Carol.  I chose it in part because it is a beautiful carol that I have long loved to sing.  Also, it was one that I could manage to play on the guitar―an important consideration I have discovered in my not entirely brilliant career playing church music on guitar.

One of the things that I did not consider when choosing it is the nature of the carol.  For those of you who are not familiar with it here are the lyrics:
Lully, lulla, thou little tiny child.   By by, lully, lullay,
O sisters too, how may we do
For to preserve this day
This poor youngling
For whom we sing
By by, lully lullay?
Herod, the king
In his raging
Charged he hath this day
His men of might
In his own sight,
All young children to slay
That woe is me
Poor child for thee!
And ever morn and day,
For thy parting
Neither say nor sing
By by, lully lullay!

The carol tells the account of the ‘slaughter of the innocents’ ordered by King Herod after he was informed by the Three Wise Men that they were seeking the birth place of the new king of the Jews.  Herod, of course, saw this as a threat to his throne and acted in a completely understandable way for a despot and tried his best to eliminate any possibility of a usurper to his power. 

Of course, we know that he didn’t succeed as Joseph, the Christ child’s step father was warned in a dream of Herod’s intent and the Holy Family fled to Egypt following the biblical precedent of the first Joseph going to that land.  However, that did not prevent the carrying out of King Herod’s proclamation; “he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or younger.”

This is a very dark act and a very dark time of the families who did not receive the warning from God or, if they did, decided not to pay attention to the warning. 

The other impetus to this exploration of darkness that I received was watching the wonderful version of the Christmas Carol staring Alistair Sim as Scrooge.  It was presented on Turner Classic Movies a few nights ago.  It is, to my mind the quintessential movie version of the Dickens classic.  No one has portrayed Scrooge better before and I doubt ever will.  In the introduction, the host noted that the release was held up because of the dark nature of the film.  As noted in Wikipedia, “the film was originally slated to be shown at New York City's Radio City Music Hall as part of their Christmas attraction it was determined that the film was too grim and somber and did not possess enough family entertainment value to warrant an engagement at the Music Hall.”

There is no doubt that the film version and the original story is rather grim and paints a dark side of human kind, at least in Victorian England which Dickens was a genius at portraying.  The ghost of Christmas future is not warm and friendly by any means. 

It is, I believe, important that we do not sentimentalize Christmas as it is so easy to do.  This is particularly true of what I call the cultural Christmas which is all around us with Christmas songs (I won’t call them carols) being played in the malls and the gifts of the Wise Men being transformed into a frenzy of materialism (I guess I am channeling a bit of Scrooge’s bah humbug here).

However, let me close with a quote from the wonderful Good News of the Gospel of John which is the Gospel of the light that came into the world at Christmas:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.
I hope that the light of the Christ will shine for you in the darkness of this world.  Let us remember this Christmas that it is a time to be Merry but also that the forces of darkness are still very much in and of this world.

A blessed and merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

Same Sex Marriage part 3

The last two weeks I have been writing about same-sex marriage.  I want to give my final thoughts, at least for the foreseeable future, this week. 

As I have noted, this issue is not a straightforward one by any means.  People hold positions on both (all?) sides of the issue for many complicated and complex reasons; both heart felt and well thought out.  The reasons for and against can be supported in scripture, history, justice, and the movement of the Holy Spirit.  I believe that most people I have discussed this with, who hold strong views on the issue, do so not because of animosity or hatred against others.  It is because they firmly believe that they are being faithful to a position which is based in their understanding of what is right for themselves, others and society.  Many on each side have their belief grounded in their understanding of scripture as God’s word and God’s created order.

As I noted, I believe in the movement in our culture and in our church which is moving towards the acceptance of same-sex relationships and marriage.  I believe this is a correct understanding of the movement of the Holy Spirit in God’s world to enable people who have been isolated, reviled and cast into outer darkness by society and the church for many years, to live in loving union and relationships as we are intended to by God. 

I also realize that there is no guarantee that I or others can have the absolute assurance that we understand without question where the Holy Spirit is calling us and the church today.  We are called to discern where the Holy Spirit is acting in our lives and in the world through reflection, prayer and thought. 

One of the arguments by those opposing the movement to same-sex marriage within the Anglican Church and other denominations, is that the church is being influenced and led astray, giving into pressures by the culture.  However, it must be acknowledged that there has been, throughout the history of the Christian Church, an interplay between culture and the doctrine of the church.  If this were not so the Christian Church would have remained a religion that required observance of the purity laws of Judaism and required all members to convert and to be circumcised. 

I believe that Jesus showed in many of his interactions with people and his offer of salvation was to give preference to being in relationship with one another in love rather than an adherence to law.  He believed that the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath.  In a similar way people should be supported in committed, loving relationships which can offer people the opportunity to live out more fully who God intends them to be rather than living as outcasts who are condemned because of, in my belief, a mistaken understanding of the law as an expression of God will.

I know from friends and acquaintances, the pain and deep hurt and damage that is caused by people being unaccepted, reviled and disowned by family, society and church, not because of anything they have done but because of who they have been from birth, if not before. 

I recognize that part of the objection to same-sex marriage is that this will change the fundamental meaning of marriage which is and should remain between one man and one woman.  I respect that position but I do not agree with it.  I believe that the church should move to affirm same-sex marriage just as it has other issues including ordination of women and the abolition of slavery.  These have been supported and affirmed in the past based on scriptural understanding which informed and supported the cultural norm.  Same-sex marriage should be understood in the same way.
I want to end this reflection with the hope and prayer that regardless of future decisions by the Anglican Church, its congregations and its members, we can, in the words of the Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, that we approach this issue in loving disagreement.

The Great Commandment by our lord and Saviour is that we love one another as he loves us.  Let us do that knowing that it will not be easy or perfect. 

Blessings on your journey.

Sunday, 3 December 2017

Same-Sex marriage part 2

Last week I ventured into a topic that could be considered one of the “where angels fear to tread” areas―same-sex marriage.  I reflected on the meeting at our church regarding the on-going process to consider changes in the Marriage Canon on the Anglican Church of Canada which would allow marriage between two people of the same sex.

This week I want to continue to consider the issue which has so dominated the energy of the Anglican Church in recent years.  It seems that we have been considering, discussing and, yes arguing and disagreeing, about this issue interminably.  However, it has only been in the recent past in terms of the existence of the Anglican Church.  It is only the recent version of many issues which seem to have consumed the church in the modern and not so modern era. The most recent before this was the ordination of women which seems to have been the dominant issue which consumed the church in similar ways prior to same-sex marriage.  OF course, there have been numerous other issues such as changes to the prayer book as well.  Many of you are aware that same-sex marriage has been front and centre in many mainstream denominations in North America and beyond in these turbulent times as well.  Wherever it is discussed it is one which people take strong stands on both or all sides of the issue.  It brings our the best and the worst in people.  I do not enter this arena without some trepidation.

As I noted last week, this issue is not a straightforward one by any means.  People hold positions on both (all?) sides of the issue for many complicated and complex reasons; both heart felt and well thought out.  The reasons for and against can be supported in scripture, history, justice, and the movement of the Holy Spirit.  I want to briefly touch on some of the issues knowing full well that I cannot do justice to any serious consideration of an issue which is so complex. 

The first, and probably most serious, consideration is based on scripture.  What does scripture say and how do we understand what scripture is saying to us today?  For people who use scripture to support their opposition to same-sex relationships and marriage, scripture passages in both the Old Testament (Hebrew Scriptures) and New Testament are cited.   Beginning appropriately at Genesis, the off-putting cliché is often used that “God created Adam and Eve and not Adam and Steve” to justify their position.  Although the first parents were not married in any ceremony in the story they were created and placed in the earthly paradise by God to be together.  It is unclear whether they had any kind of sex-life in their relationship until they disobeyed God and ate of the fruit of the tree of the wisdom of good and evil and their eyes were opened and realized they were naked and were ashamed.  They did not have any progeny until after they were expelled form the Garden―first Cain followed by Able.  And we know how successful the relationship between the first brothers was.

Many forms of marriage and sexual congress are presented in the bible from the beginning with polygamy being common including to an extreme extent such as King Solomon having 700 official wives and 300 concubines.  There were also cases of the Abraham and the other patriarchs using servants to bear children to ensue the successive generations which was an absolute good in those days.  This was apparently with the approval of God as there was no opposition from on high expressed.  The modern nuclear family is a latter development of the form marriage has taken through biblical history and beyond. 

Another account which is prominently raised in the same-sex issue is the story of the destruction of the city of Sodom.  The story of Sodom is used as an example of the sin of homosexuality.  In the account two angels visit Lot in Sodom.  While they are there the men of the city come to Lot’s house and demand he bring out the visitors so that “we may know them” ―clearly, in the somewhat archaic language, they wanted to commit homosexual rape against the visitors.  God destroys the city as an apparent punishment for this attempted evil act.   It is interesting that it is not the fact that it was a case of attempted rape rather than the same-sex nature of the attempt.  It is also interesting that that Lot, who is presented as a godly man, offers his two virgin daughters to the mob so they will not inflict this act on his visitors, not exactly family values we should hold up as virtuous:
Look, I have two daughters who have not known a man; let me bring them out to you, and do to them as you please; only do nothing to these men, for they have come under the shelter of my roof.’
The alternative understanding of this passage is that the sin for which Sodom was destroyed was the lack of hospitality they showed to the two visitors (who happened to be angels―messengers from God). 

There are many more cases in scripture where a prohibition against homosexual relations are evident.  In some cases, they cannot be put down to misinterpretation as in the case of Sodom.   They can however, be considered in other ways.  Before going there, I want to address the question regarding Jesus’ attitude towards same-sex relationship and marriage.  Much, to the disappointment of those opposed and to the relief of those supporting the issue, nowhere in the Gospels does Jesus address this issue.  I can be argued that there are other issues which the church is facing that is not addressed by Jesus.  However, for one that is so important a one facing the church it can be surprizing that Jesus did not deem it necessary to address it. 
One way of considering scripture passages on the issue is to consider the world view in Jesus’ time―taking an historical critical approach to scripture as it is called by biblical scholars.  In Jesus’ time there was no concept of homosexuality so the it was not considered as a reality for people.  Although homosexuality is no longer considered an illness or a disordered condition by modern medicine, some people, especially those of some religious perspectives, do believe that it is a sinful disordered state which can be healed through prayer and even exorcism; something which is not part of God’s plan for humankind.

Central to the issue is how we understand scripture.  Is it the inerrant word of God which gives us a template or direct understanding of God’s will and a program for how to live today?  Or is it the record of the biblical people’s attempt to document their understanding of God working in their lives based on their understanding of the world.  Or somewhere along that axis of belief?
I have more to say on this issue but realize I have exceeded my unwritten rule on the length of these missives.  I will continue next week―God willing.  I want to close with the hope expressed by Archbishop Fred Hiltz, our primate; that we approach this issue in loving disagreement.

Blessings on your journey,


Same-Sex Marriage part 1

Last week our congregation hosted a deanery (regional meeting) to discuss the changes to the Anglican Church of Canada’s Marriage Canon.  The proposed change would allow marriage between two people of the same gender.  The proposed change is in the midst of the process in the National Church which requires approval in two successive General Synods (national meetings) which are held every three years.  The motion passed the General Synod last year and will receive the second vote in 2019.
The national church has directed/encourage meeting at the local level to discuss the changes and help us prepare for the next vote.  This, as I am sure almost everyone realizes, is an issue fraught with the reality that there will be a great deal of anger, hurt, and disillusionment regardless of the outcome of the next vote.  There has been much negative fallout around this issue in recent history within our Diocese, our national church and the worldwide Anglican Communion.  Individuals have decided to leave the formal church because of past actions and decisions.  In addition, parishes have chosen to leave the Canadian church and the other Anglican Churches; indeed, one Diocese in the United States decided to leave the national Episcopal Church (the Anglican Church in the United States).  I am sure that individual Anglican have left the church because of the lack of change on this issue.
To be up front on my position, I have been in favour and have supported the change, first to allow the blessing of same sex-couples before the civil law allowed same sex marriage, and the marriage of same-sex couples after the change to the civil marriage law in Canada.

This issue is not a straightforward one by any means.  People hold positions on both (all?) sides of the issue for many complicated and complex reasons; both heart felt and well thought out.  The reasons for and against can be supported in scripture, history, justice, and the movement of the Holy Spirit.  I have prayer and reflected extensively on this issue, as I am sure many other people have. There is also fear, biases, misinformation, and yes even prejudice on both sides which can lead to people supporting either side not listening to one another and not wanting to engage with people who do not agree with them.  Many people fear the consequences of any decision that this made and what it will mean for the Anglican church in the future.

With this background, I want to reflect on the meeting that Lorna and I attended last week.  I approached the meeting with some trepidation given the potential for conflict and anger and strong emotions which this issue engenders.  The meeting was quite well attended by our parishioners with about twenty people, including the facilitators in attendance with most from our congregations.; a good representation for our small church.  I was most impressed by the process used and the participation by the participants.  We were asked to answer four questions and given one minute to respond to each.  Participants could pass on any or all of the questions; it was not a case of share or die.  The questions were:
1.       What questions do you still have about the proposed changes to the Marriage Canon?
2.       a. How will the outcome of the vote at General Synod 2019 affect you?
b.  What resources will you need form the Diocese if the motion passes or if it does not pass?
3.       Based on what you have heard form each other, what do you most want General Synod to hear from the Diocese of Huron about the proposed changes to the Marriage Canon?
The responses were varied and from many different positions.  They were heartfelt but they did not attack nor were they condescending.  I found it to be appositive experience which helped me greatly in understanding where my fellow parishioners were coming from on this most difficult issue.  I had not been aware of where most of those present were on the issue and I was surprized by some of the responses.  The organizers are to be congratulated on t what was a very helpful and positive beginning of what I hope will be further discussion.

There is much more that I can address on the issue but I am going to stop here this week.  I will continue with this topic in at least the next edition 

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Remembrances of Hero's PAst

I want to begin with a note of clarification from last week’s edition.  In discussing my struggles with my shoulder, I mentioned that to add insult to injury I was unable to drive my new car.  To clarify it was a reflection of not having the pleasure of driving my new car due to the condition of my shoulder.  I should have added that I was very grateful that I had Lorna to drive me to all my appointment that have had to attend for treatment.  I am able to do some of the driving now but continue to appreciate sharing it with Lorna, especially the longer trips (she does have some reservations about my driving ability at the best of times but more so now with the physical challenges).

This week I want to reflect on Remembrance Day.  I have served as the chaplain for our local chapter 341 of the Legion since I came to Parkhill as Rector of the Anglican Church.  It has been a tradition that the Anglican priest serve that function.  When I retired from parish ministry I thought I should retire from that position as well.  My resignation was not accepted so I still fulfil the chaplain’s duties on Remembrance Day.  It has always been one of the most meaningful duties I have had as a parish priest. 

Usually the services on Remembrance Day involve an assembly at the local high school in Parkhill followed by the service at the cenotaph at the eleventh hour.  There is a lunch at the Legion for members which is followed by another service at the cenotaph at Lieury, a nearby community which is not marked only by a road sign, a few houses and a playing field.     The services this year did not follow the usual pattern as Remembrance Day fell on Saturday.  Consequently, the assembly at the high school was held on Friday.  I have always been very impressed with the amount of effort that has gone into these assemblies each year.  They are often different in focus but always done with sincerity and much planning and well executed by the students.  This year’s edition was undertaken by the grade nine students with the results being heartfelt and heartwarming if not as polished as other years when senior students took the lead. 

An interesting, if rather sad note, one of the Legion members noted that when he was in grade nine at the school the grade nine cohort numbered 240.  That would probably have been in the 1970’s.  Now the total student enrollment in the school is less than 200 and has been dropping for years.  The school has had the specter of closure hanging over it for a while and will probably close in the next few years unless something changes.  That would be a significant loss to the community.

The Remembrance Day services were moving as usual.  The weather was cold but with no precipitation and all went well.  I do find the day to be moving important in the life of this community and Canada.  When the day falls on a week day the children from the elementary schools (there is a Roman Catholic school in town) attend which swell the numbers.  The were noted in their absence this year but the ceremony was well attended by the communities in both places.
The final part in the Remembrance Day events was a concert to commemorate Remembrance Day by the South Huron Community Choir under the direction of Richard Heinzle.  This choir is based in the neighbouring community of Exeter.  The concert was entitled ‘Be At Peace’ an was comprised of a variety of compositions and included pieces preformed by the hand-bells.  The guest artist was wonderful oboist Katrina Lisa Liddell.  We attended with two friends from our church in Grand Bend and it was a moving, inspiring evening.  

We will remember them.

Monday, 13 November 2017

Where is God In This?

I have been dealing with some health challenges for the last few weeks.  Not serious – al least I hope and pray.  I woke up about three weeks ago with my neck badly out of adjustment.  I was not able to get to the chiropractor until the following day and the result was my left shoulder that was very restricted in movement i.e. I couldn’t lift my shoulder above thirty degrees.  There was also a lot of discomfort and pain – especially at night which makes sleeping difficult. 
The time since has been a round of chiropractic adjustment three of four times (I am adjusted well if not well adjusted), a visit to emergency, physio twice including acupuncture, visit to the orthopedic surgeon, x-rays and an ultra sound scheduled.  O yes, and a massage for good measure, not to mention an exercise regime begun. 
There has been significant lessening of pain which I am very thankful for but not much improvement in the strength or movement of my arm. I’m sure I will recover if I am diligent in doing the exercises.  I am thankful it is my left arm as I am right handed.  So, there is much to be thankful for including all the health professionals I have been utilizing and the Canadian Health Care System (note: a single-payer system for my American friends).  One complaint is that I was not able to drive my new car, which I took delivery of last week, until yesterday; Lorna has had that pleasuretalk about adding insult to injury.
I give thanks to God for my life and health even when life throws me a curve if not a cure yet.  However, I must confess that I have not been very diligent and faithful in being open to God and seeking God in all this.  I am finding it a challenge to maintain my daily and nightly prayers and reflection and meditation.  So any neglect in that area has been on my part in all this and not God’s. 
Of course, it is not a cure that I can expect from God.  Rather, it is healing which is not what my ego wants.  My ego wants God or someone to kiss it and make it better and get back to my regular life post haste.  But healing is not the same as a cure.  Healing restores our relationship with God and perhaps even strengthens it.  That is what Jesus offers us and I give thanks for that.
Blessing on your journey whatever it may bring you,

Friday, 3 November 2017

Sermon, Dream Workshop

1 Corinthians 12: 1-11

Which Spiritual Gift have you been given?  We are told in the Epistle today that there are diversities of Spiritual gifts which are given to every man—and I would add every woman in today’s inclusive language. 

We are also told the form in which these gifts can take:  the word of wisdom, the word of knowledge, faith, healing, prophecy, discerning of spirits, divers kinds of tongues, and interpretation of tongues.  That is quite a list.  Do any of them resonate with you?  Surly you have one of them.  After all the scripture does say the Spirit is given to everyone.  You may be saying to yourself, well I certainly don’t think I have received any of those gifts despite what the scripture says. 

Here is what I believe.  I believe that each of us is given the gifts of the Spirit.  However, we have not been taught how to recognize them.  Let me tell you a secret.  I believe that we are given gifts of the Spirit every night.  We are given the gifts in our dreams.  You might say that I don’t dream.  Well, what if I told you that science has confirmed that we all dream every night and if we don’t dream, due to disruption of sleep patterns, for a while we will become mentally disturbed.   You could reply, well I don’t dream very often and anyway when I do, I they don’t seem to be about anything that makes sense.

That is true for many people but the problem is that our culture have for a long time not believed that dreams are important or meaningful and we have believed what our culture has taught us.  Here’s the thing, we often do not remember our dream because we do not believe they are important.  When we start to pay attention to them you will be surprized that you will remember many more of them.  And when we ever work with them by writing them down and considering them we remember even more. 

I believe that dreams are God’s forgotten language.  We have consequently never learned the language of dreams.  Friday night and Saturday some of us have been exploring how to begin to understand the language of dreams.  Dreams will usually occur in the native language of the dreamer—English for us.  Not always as in the case of King Nebuchadnezzar.  You may remember the story in the bible where he had a dream of a hand writing a message on the wall in the plaster; mene, mene, tekel, parsin.  Daniel was able to interpret the meaning for him—he translated the language of the dream:
Mene[e]: God has numbered the days of your reign and brought it to an end.
27 Tekel[f]: You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting.
28 Peres[g]: Your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.”

With a few exceptions, dreams are usually in the language of the dreamer. However, that doesn’t mean that we will naturally understand them any more than King Nebuchadnezzar.  We need to learn how to interpret and understand what the message is in the dream.  Dreams speak to us in the language of symbols and we need to learn how to discern the meaning of symbols which is often not easy. 

Dreams can tell us if our lives are on the path that God intends for us or if we have gone astray.  In the same way I believe that God speaks to us in many different ways.  In addition to my work with dreams and in dream groups, I work as a Spiritual Director primarily with theological students at Huron University College in London.  My goal with my Directees is to help them identify how God is working in their lives—how God is speaking to them. 

In addition to dreams, here are a few other examples of how God speaks to us.   One way is through what we are naturally drawn to, for instance are there ways in which you feel connected to something bigger than yourself?  It may be when you are in nature, I must admit that is not a big one with me but I know many people that feel that connection.

God speaks to us in prayer.  I find it works better if it is a two-way conversation and not just talking to God; although that can also be effective. 

One way that I’m sure all of you are aware of is through scripture.  The regular reading of the bible is a way many people connect with how God is speaking to them.  There are ways in which it can be even more meaningful.  Reading a passage out loud is more effective that reading it silently.  Also, there are methods such as Lectio Divina (which is just a fancy of saying Holy Reading) which help us to find the meaning for us in our lives at the present moment.

I believe that we have generally forgotten how to understand the Language of God however, God speaks to us.  We need to learn and relearn how to listen to those many different ways and to learn how to understand them as we would a foreign language. 

I invite you to pay attention to where you find God connecting with you.  The most important first step is to be open to the possibility of God in any and all aspects of your life.  St. Paul tells us that the manifestations of the Spirit are given to all of us.  Try it out and see what happens.

I will close with the prayer that I use at the beginning of my dream groups. Let us pray:
Holy Dream Maker, Creator of All,
Be with us as we open our hearts and minds to the divine wisdom in our dreams.
We thank you and honour You.
As you guide us in the way to health and wholeness,
may we be open to the blessings of your message                      


Dreams, God's Forgotten language

For those of you who noticed and may be wondering why I did not send out an edition of the News and Views last week, there were a few things which got in my way.  The main one is that I was poorly adjusted―in a chiropractic sense of the meaning.  My I woke up one morning with a pain in the neck which progressively got worse before I could see my chiropractor.  I subsequently developed a frozen left shoulder which I am dealing with.  I will be seeing a physiotherapist today and see how it goes from there. 

Two weekends’ ago Lorna and I were leading a workshop at St. Andrew’s Anglican Church in Alliston.  The title of the workshop was Dream, God’s Forgotten Language.  The goal was to introduce the participants to an approach to working with dreams as a way that God is speaking to us today. The workshop was held on Friday night and Saturday and I preached at the Sunday worship services.  A copy of the sermon is attached.

 I was trained to facilitate dream groups through the Haden Institute and Lorna and I have led a number of workshops to introduce the approach to people.  We are currently involved in an ongoing dream group at Elmwood Presbyterian Church in London, Ontario which came out of a workshop we held there a few years ago.  We are also involved in a dream group that meets by Skype which has recently been joined by a member who is based in Abu Dhabi. 

The title of the workshop is based on a book by the same title written by John Sanford, an Episcopal priest.  As the title suggests we need to learn or relearn how God is speaking to us in our dreams.  As shown in the Bible, both Old and New Testament, the people of the bible understood very clearly that God spoke to them in dreams and they treated them that way.  However, for many reasons, today dreams are generally not understood as being from God or even having much significance in our post-modern culture.  The post-modern approach prejudices the scientific method which requires proof to be weighted and measured.  The approach we use draws on the work of Carl Jung which, along with Sigmund Freud, reclaimed the importance of dreams in the inner life of individuals.  This approach is enhanced by a theological understanding that dream help us to become the people that God intends us to be.

As a teaser on the process used let me give a brief description which I hope will give you some idea of how the process works:
·         One of the group members presents that he/she has had by reading it or reciting it from memory. 
·         The group members clarify the dream content to obtain as clear as possible a picture of the dream content.
·         The dreamer gives the dream to the group and withdraws from the activity but listens to the comments of the group members.
·         The group members give their associations to the dream content prefacing their remarks with the phrase, “if it were my dream” or “in my dream e.g. “if it were my dream the 12-year-old boy in the dream would represent something that happened to me 12 years ago.”
·         Once the associations are complete the dreamer is invited back into the group as given the opportunity to share their experience hearing the associations of the group.
·         The other group members are given the opportunity to comment on their experience working with the dream.

In the process, the dreamer will often, but not always, hear something which is relevant to their life and enhances the meaning of the dream for them.  This will often be experienced by an “aha” realization of the message in the dream for them.  It is a rule that only the dreamer can decide if anything said in the group is meaningful for them.
You may be saying to yourself, “well, that is very interesting, but what is that to do with God speaking to the dreamer”?  When you work with your dreams you will begin to understand that they are giving you information about where your life is on the path that God intends and where you have gone off course.  Above all, it reveals much of the person God created what you are not conscious of or have chosen not to acknowledge. 

I hope that this very brief introduction has given you a sense of how dreams can help you.  Indeed, one of the rules of this dream work is that all dreams are sent by God in aid of the health and wholeness of the dreamer. 

Blessings on you journey,

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Civic Duty and Christian Duty

Last Tuesday I had to report for jury selection at the court house in London, Ontario.  I had received a summons about six weeks earlier while we were at our cottage in P.E.I.  The timing was fortunate because we had planned to return to our home here in Parkhill on Thanksgiving weekend and the summons was to appear on the Tuesday after the Thanksgiving Monday―perhaps fate or the gods were at work in that. 

This was my first experience being called for jury duty and I had mixed feelings about it.  I am very aware that serving on a jury is very important in our civil system of justice.  So, I did not resent being called. However, it did cause some disruption because, as usual, I had scheduled a lot of appointments for the first weeks back.  The information I received advised that I could be involved for two weeks so I cancelled some things and rescheduled other.  It was an inconvenience but not a serious one.  It was not as if I had to serve on a jury and lose wages which some people could find to be a serious problem as it seems more and more people live paycheque to paycheque these day.  The compensation offered by the justice system is limited and no compensation is offered for the first 10 days and then a limited amount after that.

The process itself was quite interesting and enlightening.  When I arrived, and found parking near the court house―which wasn’t compensated for―I made my way to the designated court house.  I did receive mileage (kilometrage?) as I lived over 40 km away.  I sat in the court house with all the other prospective jurors and we had the opportunity to watch an informative video about the jury system and the importance of serving on a jury as a civic duty.  It was all very positive―rather too much so―with (presumably) actors playing people who had served and found it was the most significant experience in the lives.  It was also very informative about the process of jury selection.  After that we were given a live edition of how the system works by the court administrator followed by the judge who was quite informal and who actually had a sense of humor which went against my stereotype of judges. 

We went through a very formal taking of attendance by juror number, which was on the summons along with occupation―Anglican priest in my case.  We had to declare if we were retired or not.  I was somewhat undecided as clergy don’t ever truly retire―but as I decided I was receiving a pension from the Anglican Church I was officially retired.  The jury pool had 160 people and about 140 were in attendance.  As one other members of the pool said sotto voce, I wonder what’s going to happen to the ones who didn’t show.  I imagine there would be some follow up. 

We were then advised that there was only one trial scheduled that day―a civil trial which only requires six jurors―so the odds of being selected were quite small.  There were two jurors who were selected and were peremptorily dismissed without cause and one who tried to beg off for a what seemed to be a somewhat flimsy excuse.  The judge, to his credit, did not let him off without some hard questioning and then not until after the selection process was complete.   I was not selected in the lottery which used an actual bin with the juror numbers which was spun before each ticket was drawn.  I was not selected and had clarified earlier that if we were not selected on that day I did not have to return the next day.  It was unclear if I would be part of the pool for the two-week pteroid indicated.  However, that was not the case, so I and the others were set free.  I was tempted to break out into, “free at last, free at last, thank God I am free at last,” which, of course, would have been a drastic over reaction.  I felt somewhat ambivalent but, on balance, relieved I did not have to serve on the jury of the trial which involved the London Transit System being sued by an individual.  We were not made aware of any of the other details. We were told however, that we should declare if we knew personally any of the individuals involved in the case including the witnesses. 

The process raised for me the principle of what the duty of a Christian is to the civil system.  What do we owe to Caesar and what to God?  In this case there was no conflict of course.  However, that issue has arisen many times in the past and will in the future.   Where are we called to not render unto Caesar the duty of a citizen.  What is the role of the conscientious objector?  What do we do when our duty to God conflicts with our duty to the state?  Jesus was executed by the civil authorities who were administering Roman justice which was brutal an yet was very advanced for its time.  It was done with the cooperation of the Jewish authorities.  He submitted and did not call upon the armies of angels to defeat those authorities―but that is a whole other topic or many topics for another day. 
It was an interesting experience which I am glad I had.  I am not sure I would welcome a repeat with open arms but I perhaps I shall see.

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Be Careful for Nothing

Saturday, we arrived home from our trip back from the cottage in P.E.I.  We arrived fairly late Saturday night but were able to make it to church at St. John’s by the Lake in Grand Bend (thanks be that it was not a 9:00 a.m. service).  The epistle appointed for the day was Philippians 4: 4-9 which begins “Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I will say, Rejoice.”  Whenever I hear that passage I cannot help but hear the beautiful aria from Handle’s Messiah play in my head.  I do restrain myself from breaking into an attempt to sing it out loud, at least in public.
One of the beautiful aspects of the Messiah is that the text is taken from the King James Version of the Bible.  In the NRSV the next verse is ‘Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God’.  The words that come to me however, are from the KJV, ‘Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God’.
For me, "Be careful for nothing" resonate much differently than “Do not worry about anything.”  Putting aside the beauty and poetry of the phase” Be careful for nothing”, the phrase has a deeper and more profound resonance and meaning.  It is interesting that Word prompted ‘be careful’ and suggested I might use ‘careful about’, or carful with, or careful of’.  None of those are appropriate which is not surprizing but then either is ‘do not worry about anything’. 
‘Be careful for nothing’ does not mean that I should not take care or be careless―even though I’m sure Lorna would agree, if asked, that I can be carless about some things at times.  I understand it to mean that I should not let anything interfere with my giving thanks to God in all things.  I do not say that I give thanks to God for all things.  I am not able to go that far but, rather, I try and give thanks to God in all things.  The trial and tribulation and slings and arrows of outrageous fortune that life presents to me are not necessarily sent by God in my theology.  They can be a challenge and sometimes overwhelming, but I give thanks that God is with me on my journey in the good times and the not so good times and even when times are downright bad. 
Therefore, on this (Canadian) Thanksgiving Monday, “Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.”

Monday, 2 October 2017

Where's Your Home

“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

Tomorrow, we are heading back to our other home in Parkhill, Ontario.  I am not sure whether my home is in Parkhill or here at our cottage in Prince Edward Island.  It does seem that I do have a home in both places; a foot or a heart in both camps.  This has its advantages and its disadvantages of course.  To reflect on the statement by Eliot, it does give me a great deal in my ongoing exploration of myself and my discovering who God’s created me to be which will enable me to know the place where I started. 

Whenever I think of “home” I am reminded of my visit to L’Arche Daybreak in Newmarket one reading week while I was studying theology at Huron University College.  One of the residents met me and asked the question that, as I later found out, he asks everyone he meets, “where’s your home.”   This made me stop in my tracks, figuratively and literally.  Of course, asking someone where they are from or where they live is a common why of making conversation when you meet someone.  However, “where’s your home” is an entirely different matter. 

So where is my home?  My answer to this question contains a rather big dose of irony.  Perhaps that is to be expected because questions like this and others dealing with the soul seem to always have irony in the soul.  It seems that finding that place where we started, as Eliot proposes, is really the answer to where your true home is.  You started at your true home and your exploration will involve finding out where that place is.  Therefore, you will not know where your true home is until you reach it at the end of your journey.  You have to make that exploration and after all that, you discover that it was where you left.  Your true home is with God, or the divine, or whatever name you want to give it.

Looking at my exploration so far, it did not often seem that I was travelling on a journey of exploration that would lead to my true home.  There were times when it seemed that perhaps I was on a path that would lead me there.  However, other times I seemed to be completely lost and had no idea what my destination was or even that there was one.  It had more of a feeling of a maze with many dead ends and wrong turns than a labyrinth that had a definite path to follow.  Admittedly, walking the labyrinth seems to take you away from the centre just as you approach it.  But you always know where the centre is. 

Ironically, looking back I can see a definite path my life has taken although it has been anything but a straight and narrow journey.  I do seem to be getting closer to the place where I started and can see glimpses of my true home.  I am also beginning to know in my heart that I will see it again for the first time.  That is what sustains me in those days when it does seem as if the destination or my home is receding into the distance as it does on the labyrinth walk when you approach the centre and then turn a very sharp corner and travel away from it.  However, I am beginning to realize that this too is part of the exploration. 

Blessings on your journey,


Thursday, 28 September 2017

Caught in Sin

I have been reading and rereading an excellent essay by Dr. Timothy Keller on Forgiveness and Reconciliation.  It was brought to my attention by Lorna and can be found at http://www.thrivingpastor.com/serving-each-other-through-forgiveness-and-reconciliation/index.htmlIt is the best exploration I have read on these topics. 

There is much in this essay I would like to reflect on in the coming weeks but today I would like to focus on one phrase that Keller explores, ‘caught in sin’.   In his exploration of forgiveness Keller looks at Galatians 6:1 “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted.”   When you first read this you may understand this statement of St. Paul to mean a gotcha, you have been watching the behaviour of someone and caught him or her in a sin or what you consider a sin.  Perhaps you were hoping that you would be able to catch that person in some misstep or mistake and be able to condemn them as a sinner and lord it over them. 

On reflection you will probably realize quite quickly that this is not the way that St. Paul approaches others.  Although he can be quite critical of the behaviour of others, as in his epistles to the church in Corinth, he is not out to lord it over others.  Indeed he is very quick to condemn himself; as Keller notes, “When Paul says he is the worst among sinners (1 Tim. 1:15), he is not exaggerating. He is saying that he is as capable of sin as the worst criminals are. The gospel has equipped him with emotional humility.”  Keller clarifies that this is “the image is of being trapped in a pattern of behavior that will be harmful to the person and to others.”

Being caught in a pattern of behaviour is putting into sound psychological language what a person may be doing with their life.  There is a danger of psychologizing behaviour these days and not treating the behaviour as sinful i.e. being out of relationship with God and not living the life God intends for us.  However, two thousand years ago Paul addressed a human condition that people struggle with just as much today as when Paul wrote to the church in Galatia. 

Being caught in sin has the essence of what people struggle with in their lives.  It can encompass both conscious and unconscious behaviour (to use more psychological language).  We can be caught in an addiction which of beyond our ability to control by our willpower.  It can also encompass decision we make because of the desire to be in control or to win in a situation which happens when our egos run our lives. 

In all these cases, whether knowingly or unknowingly; whether these things that we do are done consciously or unconsciously, willingly or unwillingly, we are in a sinful state.  As it says in the confession in the Book of Common Prayer, “We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; And we have done those things which we ought not to have done”.  I have deliberately left out the next phrase, "And there is no health in us," because that raises a whole different can of worms that I don't want to address at this time.

Often there is a moral judgement which is made in the context of sin and declaring that someone has sinned.  However, that is the beauty of the phrase ‘caught in sin’.  It puts the emphasis on being in a state of sin and not in the act.  We are caught in a condition or circumstance that leads us to be and do something God does not want for us.  We are called to amend our foolish ways and to repent i.e. turn around and aim once more at living the lives God calls us to.  The wonderful thing is that we are offered and assured of God’s forgiveness. 

Thanks be to God. 

A Life Well LIved

Last Friday Lorna and I attended the funeral of Rev. Dr. Eldon Hay.  Eldon was a cousinyou could say a double cousin as he was a cousin to both my father and mother.  The exact relationship was not that easy to classify.    The funeral was held in the Mt. Allison University Chapel.  Eldon was professor of religious studies at Mt. Allison for many years.  The chapel was a beautiful setting for the celebration of the life of a wonderful man. 
I was aware of Eldon being part of the family for a long time but our paths did not cross until a few years ago.  We connected though this venue i.e. the News and Views that I send out.   Since then, Lorna and I had the joy of getting to know Eldon and his wife Anne Pirie.   We visited with them in their home in Sackville New Brunswick on our way back to Ontario from the cottage.  They also visited us at the cottage when we had an open house to celebrate the beginning of our cottage life on P.E.I.
To do justice to Eldon’s life would take many more words than I can manage here by people that knew him better than I did.  He was much more than a professor of Religious studies; although that would have been enough by itself.  For me, the best indication of who he was, was in the care and support he showed me by always reading and replying to my News and Views without fail—I could say religiously—and always provided a comment on what I had written as well as the sermons I sometimes included with the message (as I am doing today).  I must admit that this was always a bit of a boost to my ego but more, it was an indication of the love and care he held for those in his life.  Indeed, when I hadn’t received a response for a couple of weeks I thought something might be wrong and discovered, sadly, that he was dealing with terminal pancreatic cancer.
In addition to being professor emeritus, Eldon was an ordained United Church minister as was my father.  He was also the author of many article, books and letters.  His letters were, apparently, the source of some consternation to those who didn’t always agree with the position he took.  He was a strong advocate for many causes including PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) begin the founder of the PFLAG support groups locally and was the first national president of PFLAG Canada.  He received many awards in recognition for his committed work in support of justice issues including the Order of Canada.
As it was noted in his obituary, “He made a lasting impression on the lives of many students, parishioners, and persons in the community at large.”  This was very evident in the celebration of his life that we attended. In all that he did, I believe that Anne and his family were most important to him.  The love, warmth, and respect that his family had for him was evident in the eulogies given by two of his children and the music provided by another. 
Two anecdotes that were shared captured the essence of Eldon for meI will give the essence of them to the best of my recollection.  Once he was asked by one of his children why he went to meetings of groups who were opposed to the justice positions he supported.  He replied that once he was able to talk with them they began to be more open to hear what he was saying; and beside they might like him more.  Another time one of his children shared that they could not understand how someone could hold a particular belief or position on an issue.  Eldon replied, “Well, you can try.”  
Eldon was a true gentle-man in every sense of the word.  However, he was also passionate about what he believed and was not shy in sharing that with others.  For me he was a reflection of who we are called to be as Christians.
Rest eternal grant him, O Lord, and let light perpetual shine upon him; well done good and faithful servant.

Friday, 15 September 2017

Who’s in and Who’s Out

King Lear Act 5 Scene 3: Lear to Cordelia

Who’s in and who’s outthat is the question (with apologies to Prince Hamlet).   That question has been resonating with me recently.   I have had three encounters with that question in the past couple of weeks.  The first, and most timely for today, was in an interview with American theologian and Episcopalian Diana Butler Bass on the CBC program Tapestry.  The subject of the talk was Religion and Spirituality.  Bass noted that she first truly realized why people were turning their backs on organized religion was on the tenth anniversary of 9-11 which fell on a Sunday.  She was hesitant to attend church as she was fearful it might turn into a celebration of nationalistic triumphalism.  She was assured by the priest that the service would have very quiet, reflective liturgy.  She decided to attend and was reassured when the liturgy was all the priest had promised and quite appropriate to the solemn occasion.  The preacher, who was not clergy, but rather someone, who had been working at the White House that day spoke in his sermon of the four thousand people who had lost their lives in the decade following that event.  She was at first incredulous and thought, it is fifty thousand; it is a hundred thousand!  Then she realized he was referring to the American lives lost in Iraq.  (Note: a Google search puts the actual count has the loss of life at of up to 190,000 people including 134,000 civilians).  Bass walked out of that service and when her husband texted her and asked if she was coming back to church, she replied, “I don’t know.”

Another example of who’s in and who’s out was in an article in the Globe and Mail on September 2nd which was entitled, Hell and High Water.  It was addressing the seeming resistance to actually preparing for the ever increasing ‘floods of the century’ which are occurring with increasing frequency.  The article noted the example of the Mississippi River’s Great Flood of 1927.  The article noted the official death toll was 246.  However, that was only the people that officially mattered.  It didn’t include the lives of African AmericansNegros as they would have been classifiedwhich brought the death toll to over one thousand.  Who’s in and who’d out; who’s counted and who doesn’t; who’s lives matter and who’s lives don’t.

The last example was inspired when I read the article and I recalled the passage in the Gospel of Matthew regarding the feeding of the five thousand by Jesus, “And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children”.   Oh by the way there were women and children but we don’t need to mention how many.  That is a recurring situation in the bible where women are often not named e.g. the Syrophoenician woman or the woman at the well.  People in the bible are often not named in the bible even when they are central the story.  This is true for men as well as women e.g. the Good Samaritan or the Prodigal son.  However, perhaps we should be thankful for all the people who are named and bring life to the stories.

However, the question I place before you today is, when does a person count and when do they fade into the background of the story of our lives?  We have made progress in recent years to address this question.  The response of Black Lives Matter is addressing the frequent impunity with which the police treat people of colour non-people who don’t count.  This is not restricted to the United States. In Canada deaths by police action is much rarer, thank God.   However, we still have police insisting that ‘carding’ is necessary for them to do their job.  People carded just happen to be mostly non-whites.  In Canada we have the hopeful move of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission which reviewed the institutionalize mistreatment of aboriginal Canadians.  The institutions of the people who were ‘in’ treated aboriginal people as objects rather than as people.

Of course it is easy to sit back and point fingers and judge events and attitudes of actions of the past by today’s standards and values.  How do we examine culture, our governments, and our institutions including the churches, and above all ourselves, in how we view others?  Who do we hold as being in and who is out. Who counts and who doesn’t?   Some years ago I attended a conference on a group of mostly white men who were trying to deal with white middle class male privilege in ourselves and in our society.  Unfortunately the group tended to look mostly at society and not at ourselves.  The conference was attended by two Inuit men from northern Canada.  One of them noted that in their culture they believed that, “no one was bigger than anyone else.”   At resonated with me then and it still does. 

How do we treat no one as bigger than anyone else; everyone as the same importance as everyone else?  As a Christian, how do I treat each person as a child of God?  How do I relate to each person as someone who is “in” and not as someone who is “out”?  If I do not I truly am in the prison that Lear and Cordelia are going tohowever they are aware of their prison walls unlike the rest of us.   I know I am going to fail; in a state if sin; I am going to miss the mark.  Fortunately I am offered forgiveness and can start again.  That is the mystery of things indeed. 

Thank be to God.