Thursday, October 15, 2015

My brother's eyes ...


I'm on a journey ... it is a journey I've spent an inordinate amount of time making while I was insisting that I was "fine" when I wasn't fine at all ... in truth I have been disconnected from myself more and more as I traveled farther along the path ... 

This past week has become a radical turning point for me ... the time has come to find my balance and reconnect with myself ...

Today I was reading Eckhart Tolle and found the following quotation:
 "... people with strong pain-bodies often reach a point where they feel their life is becoming unbearable, where they can't take any more pain, any more drama. One person expressed this by saying plainly and simply that she was "fed up with being unhappy." ... they know that neither their unhappy story nor the emotion they feel is who they are ..."

These words caused me to say "Oh shit ... that's me ..."

I'm unhappy 
I'm tired 
I feel totally disconnected with myself. 
I look around and wonder how things have become so cluttered and out of control and I don't feel like I'm being authentic in the life I'm leading ... I've grown angry and resentful, and a lot of ugly emotion is bubbling just beneath the surface ... 

To be blunt and honest, I DON'T LIKE THE PERSON I'VE BECOME. 

I know inside there lurks a happy, enthusiastic, passionate, inquisitive and fun loving person who has been lost and hidden away for too long ... I know that since the deaths of Mom, Mr Baumbach, Scott, Indigo, Anfinn and Uni, I've lost my connectedness to THAT me ... In the wake of Mom and Scott's deaths I tried to be strong and to be there for my kids. I tried to pick up the pieces and carry on. I tried to heal and resume my life ... 

I FAILED 
I failed on an epic scale!!! 

I broke and I instead of healing I buried the hurt.
The hurt turned to resentment
The resentment grew into alienation 
And the alienation fed a deep anger that coloured everything and left me feeling worthless and unworthy ... 

I pushed EVERYONE including my children away ... 

... and with each push the anger grew ...  

This past week I've come to realize many things. Foremost is the need for me to heal myself and to let go of the unhappiness that has weighted me down ... I need to reclaim me and my life and shake off the STUFF physical and otherwise that is dragging me down ... but my greatest realization comes from the moment when the hearse pulled away from the funeral home carrying mom's body that cold January day in 2011 ... 

As it drove away, I remember turning and looking at my big brother ... he was always the BIG, STRONG, TOUGH one ... he was the one who despite our long history of scraps and fights, could be depended upon to be there to help me through whatever life might throw my way ... he was in EVERY WAY my BIG brother ... but in the wake of mom's death I watched him struggle ... 

That day standing in the parking lot in Tavistock, I turned and I saw in his eyes a depth of pain and sadness that tore my heart out ... he looked so sad, so vulnerable and so lonely ... For the first time in decades I hugged him ... and he hugged me and I felt his body shudder with tears for the first time in almost a week ... 

With ALL of our busy-ness and activity after Mom died, I watched Scott move through many emotions - emotions I shared - but I hadn't witnessed him cry ... 

Until that moment ... wrapped in my arms I felt him weep ... not for long ... for a moment ... but he wept ... 

The look of sadness and pain that I saw in his eyes stuck with me since ... in the short days we had before I found myself burying him too, I prayed that he could find freedom from that pain and sadness ... 

On a brutally cold night in February, I know he did ... as his earthly journey ended, he claimed freedom and peace from the suffering of his mind, body and spirit that had dogged his path for years ... 

But on Monday night, I looked into the mirror and I saw Scott staring back at me ... not a ghostly apparition but rather I saw in my own eyes the SAME pain and sadness that I had witnessed in my brother's eyes ... I saw Scott looking back at me, because like the little six year old boy who struggled to make sense of a world turned upside down by the death of his beloved Daddy, I was struggling to make sense of a world that had been turned upside down over and over and over ... 

On Monday night ... I looked into the mirror and didn't see even the slightest spark of joy and I knew in that moment something was wrong ... something was wrong and it was time to stop pretending "I'm fine ..." 

I'm NOT fine ... like my brother, I carry deep hurts and deeper sorrows ... like Scott I yearn for peace ... but on Monday I made a choice to stop the direction of my journey, and to find my way back to a place of balance, a place of wholeness, a place of true joy ... the joy I have long said motivates me, but that I have lost my connectedness with ... 

I looked into my brother's eyes, and committed to healing myself and living whole ... Scotty ALWAYS smiled ... looking back it was his coping mechanism .. looking forward it will be my goal to smile more, and to allow the joy that lies within to overwhelm and dominant my being ... 

In my healing I will choose to let go of the unhappiness and instead choose joy ... the true joy I've celebrated frequently, but struggled to experience myself ... this week, I looked into my brother's eyes and out of love for him. for my children, for my friends and most of all for ME, I have chosen to reclaim the spark of joy and fan it back into a raging inferno ... 

The journey has begun - one breath at a time ... one conscious, mindful breath ... 

TO LIFE !!! 
TO JOY!!!!

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Transformation ...


Alienation means you don't feel at ease in any situation, any place, 
or with any person, not even with yourself. 
You are always trying to get "home" but never feel at home. 
- Eckhart Tolle 

Damn ... that's me ... 

Now to find my way home ... it starts with reclaiming the present moment, and finding balance within my self ... 

I need to begin to care for myself 

I need to learn to like myself 

I need to learn to love myself

I need to find balance in my life and it begins with taking the first small steps ... 

I need to do this for me to find my way home ... 

 

Sunday, January 11, 2015

The still small voice whispers ... it is perhaps time to listen ...


Today I stepped back into familiar and for me, comfortable territory for the first time in a very very very long time ... I've long felt my calling in ministry has been to the prophetic side of the church.

My library shelves groan under the weight of prophetic writings, and I've often reflected here on issues of economics, poverty, hunger and social inequity ... my sojourn as the Homelessness Coordinator for the City of Brandon six years ago was simultaneously rewarding and frustrating ... but out of that time, I found a voice to bring concerns from the margins to the centre of the Church and the life of the community ...

I count many amazing and astounding people from agencies like Brandon's Samaritan House Ministries through to Winnipeg Harvest and now Flesherton's Food Banks as friends that I continue to cherish and keep in touch with ... but lately that prophetic voice fell to nothing more than a whisper ...

Other concerns had broken in and pushed it to the sidelines ... my focus has been so much on the issues facing my family in the last four years, the Coffee Shop, and countless other issues ... I still visited the prophetic territory, but I haven't preached from it ...

Over the days since Christmas, I have had too many conversations with people who openly asked me if I still felt my calling was in the day to day life of serving a pastoral charge ... I couldn't honestly answer the question with a yes or a no ...

Then, I have found myself immersed in articles, studies and books focused on the issues of poverty, income inequity, food security, homelessness, precarious employment and the multitude of issues that face us as a society, and fuel the fear and distrust that marks far too much of our social interactions ... I searched for hopeful AND CURRENT voices in the Church beyond my usual culprits of Wallis, Brueggemann and the few that speak with prophetic resonance ... alas, the search has largely been in vain ...

This weekend as I sat down to write my reflection, I found the prophetic whisper growing in volume and intensity until, as I penned the words I spoke this morning, they spoke strongly, passionately and emphatically from the prophetic territory I had so long avoided ...

This morning, as I offered my sermon (posted over at: http://fleshertonunited.blogspot.ca/) it felt right and it felt good and it felt familiar ... I've avoided the prophetic for a number of reasons and as 2015 begins to unfold I feel called to go back to that territory and drink deeply from the wells that lie there ... It is time to reclaim my prophetic voice once and for all ... and perhaps with it, will come the voices of my puppet friends that Sharon United in Langley beat out of me in 2000 ... and perhaps the answer to my discernment will be revealed as well ...

I know I am called to ministry ... maybe redefining the role of the Church in public dialogue about social, political and economic issues is part of what I've been overlooking ... I'll leave the journey in the hands of the Spirit and see where she leads ...

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Sermon for December 14th 2014 - Joy is ... admitting I am broken ...


Below is my sermon delivered this past week at the Flesherton Pastoral Charge - it was perhaps my most intimate and personal sermon that I have delivered ... I am humbled by the responses and feedback, and today feel the stirring of joy for the first time in a very long time ... 

Entitled: "Joy is ... admitting I am broken ...":

This past week on Facebook, a colleague posted the request for this Sunday’s sermon – “finish this sentence: Joy is …”
            He received a wide range of replies and answers – many of them external experiences crafted and created by things outside of ourselves … as I thought about What Joy is or isn’t my mind wandered to a piece I wrote,  had published and have used repeatedly since I first wrote it 15 years ago … It was entitled simply “Joy is …” and has taken on a strange life of its own … one year I was reading through the summary of Hamilton Conference’s Annual General Meeting and was shocked to discover that my “joy is …” was referenced during their worship services by clergy I didn’t know …
            But this week, I took time to revisit my own words and I found myself with a diverse range of emotions … I could and still can say “amen” to some of the proclamations I wrote what seems like a life time ago, while others make me cringe in sadness at what I have lost along the way … What really stood out for me today, in this moment is that even though I have always lived and ministered my life with a sense of Joy, I have in the last few weeks truly struggled to feel and believe in that joy …
            As I answered my colleague by sharing MY words, I realized with each stroke on the keyboard that I am broken and this joy was an elusive reality that needed to be addressed … What I wrote some 15 years ago is this:
My Theology of Ministry:
I would describe my theology of ministry in one simple word: JOY.
The definition of Joy in a dictionary refers to great happiness, or a source of great delight, but I want to be clear: I do not see joy as pasting on a happy face and pretending that everything is lovely. To me, JOY is embracing life in its fullness and proclaiming with certainty that we are never separated from God’s love.
Among many things:
Joy is being a child of God.
Joy is being a husband and a dad.
Joy is being welcomed into the most intimate moments of life and being asked to pray, of just be present with family and friends.
Joy is the opportunity to hold someone’s hand in a moment of tragedy.
Joy is holding a new born baby, or baptizing an adopted child.
Joy is weeping with the hurting and laughing with a Bible Study group.
Joy is watching a baby discover, for the third time today, her hand.
Joy is seeing the world through the Holy Wow of a three year old child, who is discovering what a wonder creation is.
Joy is building Lego sets with a five year old, and wiping away his tears when he scrapes his knee falling off a bike.
Joy is crying over injustice and rejoicing that we have a community that truly cares about us.
Joy is having tea with an elder who shares her memories of a world seven decades away.
Joy is having a pop with a group of teens who think everything is “cool” or “awesome.”
Joy is struggling to find our way, and enjoying the journey as much as the destination.
Joy is leading a worship service erupting with the noise of children and quiet with the reflective wisdom of seniors.
Joy is the quiet presence of the cognitively impaired in a care home.
Joy is knowing that sometimes life just isn’t fair.
Joy is the enthusiasm of welcoming in the visitor or the newcomer.
Joy is asking the tough questions and sometimes agreeing only to disagree, but knowing that we love each other anyway.
Joy is sharing the Gospel with the help of my puppet friends.
Joy is love eternal and everlasting.
Joy is knowing God’s love and being able to share it every day in some little way.
Joy is breaking bread and sharing the cup, then having a cup of coffee and a good chat afterwards.
Joy is planning a memorial service of a cancer victim, and sharing laughter and tears as a life is celebrated.
Joy is trusting one another enough to share life’s joys and sorrows, knowing that together we share God’s love.
Joy is embracing the homeless.
Joy is loving the unlovable.
Joy is praying for the sick and visiting the hospitalized.

Joy is making worship relevant, exciting and fun.
Joy is communication and community.
Joy is facing controversy and conflict and journeying to reflection, resolution and healing.
Joy is the ministry of all of God’s people.
Joy is being a servant of God journeying with God’s children and sharing the ups and downs of everyday life with openness, with honesty, and most of all with love.
Joy is making a difference in one life everyday.
Joy is the church, the children of God in action.
Joy is the journey of faith through all the twists and turns of life.
I could go on. But suffice to say, to me the theology of ministry is about doing, not talking. It is about using the gifts and talents which God provides to care for those around us and to welcome in all of God’s children.
A friend recently described my approach to ministry as “hospitality” and observed that I move to the periphery and work very hard to draw the circle in. He may be right. I value the outreach of the church, but sometimes we need to look close by and embrace those who are hurting right beside us in the pews, and that may be the toughest challenge we face, but it is a challenge I embrace and value.
To me, ministry is about action. It is doing, not theorizing. I’m not afraid of facing issues head-on, but at the end of the day, we must, as God’s children, be able to break bread and share the cup in faith, and if conflict prevents this, then we have to roll up our sleeves and work. I am not afraid of that.
It is not easy to summarize my theology of ministry on a couple of pieces of paper. Instead I am most comfortable going out into the world and living out my faith and ministry with JOY.
My understanding of ministry is living out the word JOY in all its infinite fullness.

            As I read these words … earlier this week … yesterday in preparing this sermon, and even today here … I come to realize that Joy is very much a work in progress for ALL of us, but even though I have long said “ministry is about joy, and joy under girds much of what I do, I had to admit that true joy has been elusive and absent in my world …
            I have sought the affirmation of JOY from outside of myself … and it has never been there … instead I have carried baggage from my childhood, from my marriage, from my failings as a parent, from the failings of my relationship, and the failings in ministry … my insecurities and my self-doubts have pushed back against feeling joy to the point where joy was wholly absent … I have tried to address the brokenness and the hurt and the loneliness within by seeking affirmation from outside of myself …
            I have sought joy in the affirmation of others because I couldn’t affirm myself from within … I came to realize in the last couple of weeks that I am broken, and healing will NOT come until I address my insecurities and my self doubts …
            Joy is about wholeness and wholeness comes from within … owning our failings and shortcomings and being able to stand tall and say “I am me … and I like who I am …”
            Writer and self help guru Eckert Tolle has written of Joy:
Joy is the dynamic aspect of Being.
When the creative power of the universe
becomes conscious of itself, it manifests as JOY.
-----------------
Joy does not come from what you do,
it flows into what you do and thus into
the world from deep WITHIN you.
- Eckhart Tolle

It has perhaps taken me most of my adult life to come to that realization – Joy is never an external thing … Joy comes from within … Mary’s song of Joy this morning in our readings is NOT about what God has done for Mary, but rather it is an outward expression of what Mary has come to experience within because of her encounter with the HOLY …
            We can spend our lives angry and unhappy because we are not getting the affirmation we deserve and want from our parents, our partners, our friends, our community … or we can learn to accept and love ourselves and allow joy to stir and grow within us and spread outward …
            For me, joy is still the dominant fuel driving the engine that is my ministry and my life … but today, for the first time in my life journey, I’ve come to realize and accept and celebrate that joy does not derive from what my parents have said to and about me, it does not come from what my partner has or has not said nor done for me, it does not come from outside of myself at all … it comes from within, and it spreads out into the world THROUGH my actions and words and MY life … and if I am to feel and live that happiness and joy, it must start here …
            This Sunday of Joy is about standing in the darkness, seeing the glow of Bethlehem ever nearer on the horizon and knowing, perhaps for the first time, that to fully experience the joy of the season and in our lives, we must open ourselves to OUR pain and OUR burdens and set ourselves free from within …
            It is a realization I have personally stumbled upon this Advent season … I have hungered and longed for something throughout most of my adult life, and this week I awoke to the realization that it has been within me the whole time …
            From the darkness, we journey into the light … and the light of Joy is within us every step of the way …
            Thanks be to God … let us pray … 
 

Monday, October 27, 2014

Sermon from October 26th 2014 - Choosing Love over Fear ...









German Theologian, Karl Barth suggested that the proper way to preach in the Church is with the Bible in one hand, and the newspaper in the other. Our task in the pulpit is to engage the issues swirling around us in a meaningful way, while seeing and framing them through the lens of scripture and theological discourse … Today makes for a challenging moment if one is to honour Mr Barth and preach in the context of events this week in Montreal and Ottawa …
          Happenings in those cities were indeed tragic … the death of the two soldiers in random acts of violence were horrible and troubling … but … wrapping everything in a patriotic flag and painting these happenings as proof of the danger of radicalized Islam fails to grasp the many nuances at play in these events …
          For me personally, I frame the tragic deaths of two soldiers in isolated and troubling incidents along side the fact that behind the parliament buildings in Ottawa stands a memorial etched with the names of over 700 men and women who have fallen on duty as Police and Peace officers serving our country. Wearing a uniform puts them at risk … the video tape from Ottawa of various security and police officers rushing into the maelstrom of gun fire while everyone else ran the other way, speaks volumes about the risk they face every day as part of their job.
          The deaths of Corporal Cirillo and Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent are indeed tragic, but they are no more tragic than the deaths of the RCMP officers in New Brunswick a few short weeks ago, or the shootings of Four RCMP officers in Alberta a few years ago, or the death of any man or woman wearing a uniform protecting our nation and its values whether that happens in distant corners of the world, or in our nations capital …
          The handwringing and fear mongering has taken a tragedy and turned it into a political circus … if we are to honour one soldier, we are to honour all … if we are to honour one uniform we must honour all equally. The shootings in Ottawa and the ‘attack’ on the Parliament Buildings is more about the failure of our health system to address deep mental illness, then it is about radicalized Islam.
          The connection to radicalized Islamic teachings is tenuous and marginal at best … the connection to an untreated largely neglected mental illness is clear and is being overlooked in the frenzy to ‘protect ourselves’ and ensure security … events in Ottawa are really no different from the events in Manitoba a few short years ago when a deeply mentally ill man took a life on a grey hound on the transcanada hwy …
          What troubles me most deeply today, is the insistence from some corners that something changed on Wednesday … I have said since the events of 9/11 in NYC that nothing has really changed in the world – it is and remains a deeply violent place. But that violence – violence we read about every day in the media – violence that tears communities apart and destroys lives – that kind of violence has finally come to North America. We are no longer immune … we have it here too …
          Further contributing to my concern and worry are the calls for tighter security and the stripping away of freedom and rights and access in the name of security and safety … one does not make things safer by feeding fear and paranoia and encouraging the breakdown of community and common good … or worse, calls for freer gun laws – I’ve read on line opinions saying “if Canadians were armed with side arms, none of this would have happened, someone would have dropped the shooter, or stopped the driver before those soldiers died …” … or … more could have been wounded and killed in the ensuing mayhem of a shoot out … lost in the shuffle this week is the coverage of the trial for the shooting at the food court in the Eaton Centre where two died and a dozen were injured and a city was traumatized … violence is violence … suffering and death is suffering and death … events like those in Ottawa are far from unique or new – everyday our newspapers are filled with horrific happenings – nothing has changed this week we’re just waking up to the simple fact that as a society we have actively chosen to overlook such happenings and instead frivolously focus on other things … dozens of native women are missing and dead, but we look to find last night’s scores … hundreds of thousands of Canadians suffer with poverty and inadequate shelter, but we look for the latest sale at Target or WalMart … various isms run rampant in our society from sexism to racism and we chose to check our stocks rather than be outraged at the depth of hatred around us …
          This week – the newspaper in my hand speaks of an attack on our Nations’ capital and on a symbol that has significance for generations of Canadians … but it also offers a clarion call to embrace this idea of love that a radical Jewish preacher whispered into the world and in the process managed to bring HUGE and dramatic change into being …
          Speaking of Jesus’ message The Reverend Martin Luther King noted at Christmas in 1968 in a sermon broadcast on CBC as part of the Massey Lectures that:
          This Christmas season finds us a rather bewildered human race. We have neither peace within nor peace without. Everywhere paralyzing fears harrow people by day and haunt them by night. Our world is sick with war; everywhere we turn we see its ominous possibilities. And yet, my friends, the Christmas hope for peace and good will toward all men can no longer be dismissed as a kind of pious dream of some utopian. If we don't have good will toward men in this world, we will destroy ourselves by the misuse of our own instruments and our own power.
          In the context of preaching a message of peace King went on to note of love:
          There are three words for "love" in the Greek New Testament; one is the word "eros." Eros is a sort of esthetic, romantic love. Plato used to talk about it a great deal in his dialogues, the yearning of the soul for the realm of the divine. And there is and can always be something beautiful about eros, even in its expressions of romance. Some of the most beautiful love in all of the world has been expressed this way.
          Then the Greek language talks about "philia," which is another word for love, and philia is a kind of intimate love between personal friends. This is the kind of love you have for those people that you get along with well, and those whom you like on this level you love because you are loved.
          Then the Greek language has another word for love, and that is the word "agape." Agape is more than romantic love, it is more than friendship. Agape is understanding, creative, redemptive good will toward all men. Agape is an overflowing love which seeks nothing in return. Theologians would say that it is the love of God operating in the human heart. When you rise to love on this level, you love all men not because you like them, not because their ways appeal to you, but you love them because God loves them. This is what Jesus meant when he said, "Love your enemies." And I'm happy that he didn't say, "Like your enemies," because there are some people that I find it pretty difficult to like. Liking is an affectionate emotion, and I can't like anybody who would bomb my home. I can't like anybody who would exploit me. I can't like anybody who would trample over me with injustices. I can't like them. I can't like anybody who threatens to kill me day in and day out. But Jesus reminds us that love is greater than liking. Love is understanding, creative, redemptive good will toward all men. And I think this is where we are, as a people, in our struggle for racial justice. We can't ever give up. We must work passionately and unrelentingly for first-class citizenship. We must never let up in our determination to remove every vestige of segregation and discrimination from our nation, but we shall not in the process relinquish our privilege to love.
          I've seen too much hate to want to hate, myself, and I've seen hate on the faces of too many sheriffs, too many white citizens' councilors, and too many Klansmen of the South to want to hate, myself; and every time I see it, I say to myself, hate is too great a burden to bear. Somehow we must be able to stand up before our most bitter opponents and say: "We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We will meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will and we will still love you. We cannot in all good conscience obey your unjust laws and abide by the unjust system, because non-cooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good, and so throw us in jail and we will still love you. Bomb our homes and threaten our children, and, as difficult as it is, we will still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our communities at the midnight hour and drag us out on some wayside road and leave us half-dead as you beat us, and we will still love you. Send your propaganda agents around the country, and make it appear that we are not fit, culturally and otherwise, for integration, and we'll still love you. But be assured that we'll wear you down by our capacity to suffer, and one day we will win our freedom. We will not only win freedom for ourselves; we will so appeal to your heart and conscience that we will win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory."
          We have a choice today as people, as a community of faith, as a nation – we can give into our fears and build the kind of walls that see far worse than just hateful graffiti scrawled across the front of Islamic Mosques, or we can commit ourselves to a path of compassion, care and love …
          As people of faith, there really is no other option … the call is for us to stand in hope that our world WILL be transformed by love … we can live by the newspaper, or we can live by the Scriptures … one is about fear and selfishness … the other is about love and building community …
          There really is no choice … Jesus boldly offered one simple commandment if we dare to listen …
          Thanks be to God … let us pray …