Saturday, December 31, 2011

Mementos ... a reminder of what is really important ...

I'm becoming increasingly cynical about our culture and society lately ... As I drive to and from the larger urban centres I can't help but wonder (bordering on a rant) why we (speaking collectively) keep building such MASSIVE houses.

I honestly wonder what the appeal of having a 4000+ sqr ft home really is ... I can barely keep up keeping my little 1900 sqr foot house clean ... twice the space makes me wonder what these people do to have that kind of time ... or income to hire cleaning services ...

Really though ... when will the realization be made that ALL of this consumerism is a dead end street move beyond the Occupy Movement and the few voices that stand on the margins lamenting what we as a society and culture have lost?? When will people wake up to realize that shopping will never ease the ache within, and bigger and better just means running on a treadmill that has no end ... as I ponder this I can't help but picture George Jetson on the treadmill that he and Astro hop on at the end of the Jetson's ... once you buy into the consumerist model of "shop, shop, shop" you can't hop off until it destroys you. And the rise of shows about consumers overwhelmed by debt and spending combined with the economic meltdown in our Southern Neighbour a few short months ago, would suggest that destruction is already being felt ...

This Holiday Season, what I've come to appreciate is the value of the intangible things in our lives ... our family ... our relationships ... and the connectedness to things that money can not buy.

The picture above is the inscription in a tiny black leather bound Bible that I found amongst the detritus and mementos from my Grandparents' house that my Aunt had put out on Boxing Day for the family to choose from ... for the last few years the various items had been stored in boxes in a basement, and my Aunt and her family decided the time had come to clean some of the stuff out and let us chose our mementos and tokens to remember Grandma, Grandpa and Uncle Drake ...

Oh what a trip down memory lane it was ... pictures and wall hangings invoked recollections about where in the house they once stood ... glasses and mugs called to mind family gatherings and favourite beverages (one set of glasses had me laughing at the recollection of Uncle Drake enjoying his 'garden cocktail and rum' at Work Day, or Christmas, or Thanksgiving ...) ... and over and over the comment was made - "I remember this ..." and a story would follow.

For a brief shimmering moment, Grandma and Grandpa were there ... smiling and joining in the fun as we were once again at HOME at 58 Austin Drive, even if we were still very much standing in a basement in New Hamburg !!

Such are the power of our memories and the mementos that connect that thread of thought and recollection that we might so easily overlook in our busy consumerist lifestyle ...

What I've come to realize lately, is that one can be overwhelmed with stuff, and need to build bigger shelves, larger rooms, and even rent locker facilities to tuck it ALL away ... but in the process, you lose touch with what it is, and you no longer are able to use nor appreciate it. The extreme of this collecting is the folks we see on the Hoarder shows who are utterly and totally overwhelmed by their "STUFF" and no longer can function ...

Alas, our culture though has become oriented to this acquisition cycle that sees people shopping and collecting and amassing huge amounts of stuff ... the newest and the best ... the biggest and the brightest ... over and over we measure the value of our existence, not by the relationships we have and value, but by the standards of how much, how big, how many and how valuable our STUFF is ...

Fortunately, there runs underneath all of this a current calling on us to simplify our lives and to declutter our world. We don't need to have the biggest house, the fastest car, the most up to date tv or computer ... instead we can and should find our contentment with a simple word: ENOUGH.

Having a warm comfortable bed is enough.
Having food to eat and share is enough.
Having a safe place to sit and enjoy the circle of family and friends is enough.
Having adequate clothing that is comfortable and clean is enough.

Over and over the self-help gurus are challenging us to realize a simple truth that is ALL around us if we simply dare to look.

We don't have to opt into the rat race of buying, shopping and collecting ... instead we can opt out and look back at the simpler times when having enough was a the ULTIMATE goal.

My Grandparents' home was never huge. But it was always comfortable.
Grandma and Grandpa always had enough to look after all of us and any visitors who came along, but they also lived very simply. There was little extravagance in their lives or in their home, but there was ALWAYS quality. Quality in the food consumed, in the furniture and household goods used, and in the clothing worn. But they never flaunted, nor did they live to excess ... they epitomized the very word ENOUGH.

There is a lesson there ... one that we've lost as a culture.

We've come to think that it is the normative way of living, to have a lifestyle that EXCEEDS that of our parents. Maybe, the lesson is to seek a lifestyle that matches that of our parents and grandparents.

My grandparents lived well ... they owned a car, but often walked ... they owned a single tv, but usually spent time reading ... they owned a single black phone hanging on the wall, but usually communicated by face to face visits and hand written letters ... they owned a house with lots of space, but never filled with with clutter and stored items ... they owned a yard and had gardens producing flowers, vegetables, and fruit that was used to pass on joy and delight to others ...

My Grandparents valued the good things in life ... but never let those things supersede their family and the wonderful relationships that were nurtured over time between us ... and maybe that's the greatest lesson they have left for us: that we should and must value each other more than any of the mementos, items and things that clutter our lives with stuff.

When I look at some of the things I've gained from mom's house, and from that of my grandparents' what I see is not their momentary value, but rather the memories that lie behind it ... the Irish coins from Grandpa remind me of his War stories about the places he'd been and the sights he'd seen ... the old green fountain pen of Grandma's reminds me of the letters she wrote and the hours spent poking through her brown writing desk in the corner of the living room ... and the celery vases and other items from Mom's remind me of how Mom loved to buy beautiful things to pass on to others in the hopes they would share her appreciation of them ... but over and over, I realize that ALL of these things are just stuff. The value is within me, in the stories and memories and recollections that come to mind when I see and touch those items ...

In 50 or 100 years, the true value of the stuff will be gone when no one is left to tell the stories. The stories, crafted from memories and recollections of what was, are what are truly important, and these stories will never be held within massive houses, or distant storage lockers, and these stories will never be found in a shopping mall, or at the big block store's latest sales. Instead these stories are found when we nurture and refresh the bonds of relationships that exist within and between us as family and friends.

One day, I truly hope our society and our culture will finally realize the foolishness of our consumerist ways, and take a step back physically, economically, spiritually and emotionally ...

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

I'm a TRUE Canadian ...

NOT once, but TWICE over the holiday shopping I got clobbered by someone pushing a shopping cart and BOTH times I said "Oh, I'm sorry!" in response.

To recap: THEY clobbered ME, and I apologized !!!!

I am SUCH a true Canadian!! It's a Canadian thing to say "Sorry" - and when someone hits you with a cart it's almost force of habit (though, it would appear this is a Canadianism that is waning - but that's a reflection for another day).

Looking back, I have to marvel that I did it not just once, but TWICE !!!

Only in Canada they say!!

Reflection on the year that has been ...

It was a year ago that Scott called first thing in the morning and said "Mom's coming home ..." I headed off to Stratford and with the help of our Aunt and cousins, Scott and I got home and settled back where she wanted to be ... we got her bed made, laundry taken care of and her meds readied ... She wasn't happy, but she was home ...

Less than two weeks later Scott would again phone first thing in the morning to tell me Mom was gone ... she had slipped away in her sleep that morning ...

Three weeks after that I made a late night drive after being called by one of his friends who said, "We haven't heard from Scottie since Monday ... and the snow at the house isn't shovelled ... something's wrong ..."

Wrong indeed.

In a little over a month I moved from the wonder of having a Christmas at home in Ontario for the first in over 20 years, to the profound sadness of standing in the funeral chapel twice in three weeks to say good bye to my Mother and my only sibling ... in days my family dwindled ...

Looking back, I still struggle to put into words the wash of feelings that continue to ebb and flow through my being ... some days are relatively easy to move through and are punctuated with joy and laughter ... other days drag on with the burdens of memory and sadness ... overarching all of it is a sense of relief that the physical suffering both Mom and Scott endured in recent years has come to an end, and whatever lies beyond this life is a place free of sadness, sorrow and the things that burdened them.

Words can not describe how much I miss them ... I still want to pick up the phone and call Mom to tell her what the kids have been up to, or to ask her a question about something ... and as I clear through the things from the house I wish I could ask her about the history of this item or that one ... and then there are the pictures, the cards, the new paper clippings and the countless other mementoes Mom put aside for a reason ... WHAT REASON??? Many of them are a mystery to me ... and in that moment I want to ask her ...

It's been a hard year ... but it's been a rewarding year in that through my cleaning and sorting of Mom and Scott's stuff, I've learned a lot about both of them and the challenges they faced in their lives ... I've learned how much Mom and Dad loved each other (the notes and cards exchanged by them in their marriage are legion) ... I've learned how hard it was for Mom to get ANYTHING from the OPP and the various levels of Government following Dad's death on duty ... and I've learned how incredibly difficult Scott's battle for adequate compensation was following his truck accident in the early 90's ... admittedly, he didn't help himself at times, but having read through the documentation of his physical injuries I can't help but wonder if he sustained for more injuries to his person than just the aches and pains of his bones and joints ... given the dent I remember seeing in the ROOF of the truck after the accident I think it's a given that he took a debilitating WHACK on the head too ...

As I read through the bits and pieces of their lives, I'm thankful that they were and will continue to be part of my life, I'm thankful that my kids got to know them both better in the six months after our move to Ontario, and I am very thankful that they are no longer burdened by the many hassles and aggravations that were so much a part of the last couple of decades of their lives.

I miss them ... but I take solace that they are at peace ...

This Christmas I approached the season with some hesitation and reluctance ... I knew that it would be a tough time emotionally, but I was looking forward to gathering with my extended family for a good reason. Our Boxing Day gathering, along with the traditional phone calls from those family members in the diaspora, brought a soothing balm to my soul ... I may have lost Mom and Scott, and then in the subsequent weeks Mr Baumbach Indigo and my friend and Mentor Rev. Don ... but I still have a strong circle of family and friends who have blessed me with strength and care through the last few months ...

Looking back, it's been a tough year, but a good year ...

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Twenty Comments about God's Love for Goths ...

It will soon be the 6th Anniversary of the fire that destroyed the Building housing the congregation of Minnedosa United Church. A new building has replaced the old, but the congregation has never been allowed to truly heal ...

I marvel at how prophetic the advice received by an American pastor I contacted after reading his book about a Church fire he experienced truly was ... he cautioned that the fire would, if handled poorly, be the least of the problems the congregation and I faced ... hmmm, six years on I look back and see the painful truth in those words - words offered in love and care and faith ... words that the leadership waved aside and ignored.

In 2007, in response to an internet site that claimed God condemns and hate those with Goth leanings, I offered a reflection on what I believe in this regard. This posting (found here) continues to generate responses from people who follow the links from that hate-filled (and unfaithful site) through to my reflection. This past week I discovered the TWENTIETH comment offered. The comment (copied at the bottom of this posting) reminds us that issues of faith are seldom easy, and challenge us to grow past the status quo.

Yearning for things that are comfortable and familiar is not in itself a bad thing, but when we stand in a place of trauma we need to embrace the fragments of the comfortable while being open to the dynamic change that is possible when we experience the transformation faith promises. God calls us to much more than we can imagine ... in Minnedosa six years ago, we were offered the opportunity to cast aside the past and embrace the future ... but anger settled in, and the response within the community was often not that different from the nonsense sputtered by web pages that claim that God hates Goths or anyone else who is different than the writer. In the case of Minnedosa, the hatred was masked with a civil smile and couched in the bureacracy of the Institutional Church ... the end result remains the same - some are acceptable and accepted, while others are rejected and discarded ... In both cases though, God weeps and trusts in the work of the Spirit to continue to transform our world despite the best efforts of humanity to the contrary.

Over and over, I continue to marvel at the truth held in the simple statement: "With God ALL things are possible."

Comments like the one that follows reminds me to trust in God not in human creations like the Church ... thankfully, the Gospel calls us to embrace all, not just a select few. Regretably, this sentiment is too often forgotten in the Church ...

I do not consider myself emo but many if fellow students call me emo. I am a strong Christian. I feel that when many people who claim Christianity don't reach out to the other gothic and emo kids they are not dong there duty to share the love of God. Infact most "Suburban Gangsters" and "normal kids" make fun of me for not listening to Eminem or Lil Wayne. These kids normally cka Christianity. I try to explain that I don't worship Satan, cut myself, or any of that stuff. I just don't like dressing Un neon colors and listening to Hip-Hop. I'm glad that a minister (other than my dad) thinks I'm (not) just going to hell. And GOD BLESS YOU REV.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Bah Humbug ...

Right now I find myself struggling with the Season and all that it represents ... some days I really don't want to get out of bed, and even on my good days I'm not really looking forward to Christmas and all that it brings ...

I am looking forward to having all three kids here, and I am looking forward to gathering with my extended family/clan for something OTHER than a Funeral ... but I enter the Holiday Season acutely feeling the absence of Mom and Scott ... and that colours everything I do, think and feel.

I am feeling particularly Scrooge like ...

What bothers me though is the response I often get to admitting that I am not feeling very Christmasy.

"Oh why not? It's a great time of the year ..." is met with a deep sigh and a struggle to unload the sorrow I feel within.

"But it's Christmas. No one should be sad at Christmas ..." brings forth the urge to say that MANY people, myself included really don't like the Holidays and this year is even more burdensome.

Overarching this I have to wonder why people feel so insistent that the Holidays MUST be joyous and happy ... Even at the best of times I have never really enjoyed Christmas and have struggled to throw on a happy face ... this year at least I can stumble into the Season with those around me knowing and ACCEPTING that it will be a difficult journey for me, and that makes this more bearable.

This year, instead of wishing folks a facetious "Merry Christmas", I for one, will unapologetically be amongst those who stand in the deep darkness and know in time the words of the ancient prophet will come to pass, and we will once again find ourselves bathed in light ...

... and that is perfectly acceptable!

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Pondering life behind the snow blower ...

I took another step down the road to being a true blooded Canadian today:

For the first time I cleared snow with a snow blower!! Oh sure, I've cleared snow with a tractor, an atv, a THOUSAND shovels, but this year thanks to the generous gift of a friend, I have a snow blower to clear our driveway !!! And today after the dump of cold, very WET white stuff, I decided it would be a good day to do a trial run to figure out how to work the beast!!

It went well ... it took a little over an hour, but I got the drive way and the back yard parking areas cleared without too much difficulty or stress. AND, I had some fun along the way.

But like other times in my life when I've used power equipment, I had time to think about things as I walked along behind the blower.

Today I was thinking about how incredibly thin skinned people in the Church often are, and how over the top serious they can be ... I was thinking about a tongue in cheek reply I put on the facebook posting of a colleague and friend.

Gord (a fellow blogger) had posted a link that cited the "I am Christian, unless you're gay" an article I cited here previously, and an article I WHOLEHEARTEDLY endorse as an eloquent and wise reflection on the struggle the Church often has when it comes to differences.

My comment on Gord's facebook page was asking (facetiously) if Gord had taken an unexpected and slightly irrational sharp turn to the right ... I know Gord ... I respect God ... and Gord, like me is an unabashed liberal in his theology, and inclusive in his ministry. I was offering a humour comment about the TITLE of the article, not offering a comment about Gord ... or at least that's how I intended it.

In a subsequent comment, another colleague in Ministry replied with a fairly involved statement about the article and its intrinsic value and blah ... blah ... blah ...

I hold no offense toward the other poster. His answer IS right ... but it is also typical of how folks throughout the United Church respond to things.

To be blunt - WE'VE LOST OUR SENSE OF HUMOUR !!!!!

We take EVERYTHING so seriously it is at times truly frightening.

We no longer encourage or even welcome humour in the Courts of the Church. I know of instances when a light hearted comment or a joke was ruled out of order in Presbytery meetings because it was deemed inappropriate.

The bottom line seems to be that we've moved away from spontaneous humour and laughter that it causes us PAIN when it actually happens.

Yet, there is EVERY spiritual indication that laughter is a gift from God, and that not only did Jesus have a sense of humour, his disciples did too. (does anyone else recall the introduction of Jesus to Nathanael in the Gospel of John? How can the comment "can anything good come out of Nazareth?" be taken as anything BUT a humourous quip?!?!?!?!)

Yet in the modern Church we've abandoned our funny bone and become painfully serious just when the world needs the gift of Holy Laughter.

I guess that's why I truly value the contribution of friends like Blake over at The Laughing Pastor, and others who have maintained a sense of humour in the face of a world gone mad.

The ability to stand and smile, and even laugh is truly a gift from God. The incredible feeling of waves of laughter passing over our person is truly Holy. Yet, when I look around the Church I seldom see people who reflect that gift of JOY.

Churches are often filled with dour serious people who look angry and frustrated. Yet we purport to be a place overflowing with Grace and Joy.

Can no one else see that disconnect??

I've marvelled at the number of colleagues I've met along the way who rarely crack a smile and who are pharisaic in their adherence to the rules, regulations and polity of the Church, and overwhelm any expression of joy with frowns and scowls.

I can name people who seem to offer smiles only when their personal egos are being stroked by the suffering of another ... they are almost like Disney villains who smile when they are about to launch their devious plans ...

I can't help but wonder if this is even remotely faithful?

How can we deny joy in the face of a God who has given us SO much, and who pours out blessings, Grace, and an abundance of LIFE???

I for one think there is amazing and profound wisdom in the comment by George Carlin's character Cardinal Glick in the movie Dogma. When Glick introduces the figure of Buddy Christ (pictured above), he says "Jesus didn't come to give us the heebie jeebies". To that ALL I can offer is a hearty AMEN !!!!

Jesus came to offer Love, Compassion, Care, Grace and Life in ABUNDANCE. The heebie jeebies are a human creation, not one from God ... it's time to return to our roots, so too speak, and reclaim the gift of joy and laughter in the Church and celebrate it !!!

If we are truly a child of God frowns and scowls have no place on our faces !!!

It's time to lighten up and truly dance with JOY !!

(Oh, and for the record - I DO have a Buddy Christ in my office, along with the infamous Bobble-headed Jesus AND a Bobble-headed Buddy Christ too !!! It's ALL about the fun!!)

Lessons from Looking Back ...

It's funny (and sad) how many people in the Church fear technology and fail to see the potential it offers. And yet, if we look back in Church history we know that the Protestant Reformation would never have happened had it not been for the technology of the printing press that allowed for the wide spread dissemination of the writings and reflections of the Reformers like Luther and Calvin who forever changed the Church.

I can remember when I started in ministry in Bella Coola BC seeing the potential of the Internet for communication and committee work. I suggested that we use the Ecunet forum that almost ALL of us in the Presbytery were members of, to conduct a committee meeting. To my thinking the confidential bulletin board format of the Ecunet was a perfect means to 'meet' as a committee. The four of us who were members could each sign in from our respective corners and we could have our discussions online, thereby saving THOUSANDS of dollars in travel costs that would be needed to hold face to face meetings.

I was ridiculed and the idea was soundly rejected. The spending of travel money was opted for instead and what could have cost us a few dozen dollars instead cost THOUSANDS and took months longer than needed.

Today most of our Church business is conducted by email. On a local level our Council and Committees do much of their communication via email, and we have had no less than two Council 'meetings' via emails.

When I worked for the Federal Government in Brandon we regularly held online consultations and workshops via a wide range of technologies and gizmos.

And for the last half a decade I've maintained this and other blogs as a means of Church outreach. Today though, as I snapped the picture above with my iPhone, I couldn't help but think about the amazing changes that I've witnessed even in the last five years when it comes to our online communicating.

In the past when I wanted to post a picture here I had to pull out my camera, tether it to the computer via a cumbersome cord, wait for the camera and the computer to start talking, then download the picture to the computer, then upload the picture from the computer to the web page and HOPE everything went according to Hoyle.

Today I point my cell phone camera, snap the picture then with the touch of a couple of buttons I have sent my picture to my computer. The next step is to simply load the picture to the webpage and within minutes I can post a picture of what is happening around me. I know there is a way to do it DIRECTLY from my camera to the blog much like Facebook, but so far I haven't explored the technology ... one day I will though !!

What struck me though, was the amazing possibilities that this technology has for The Church, and yet in many corners people approach this technology with fear and apprehension. The first three years of blogging was met would outright opposition by folks within the Church and even inspired the Presbytery where I served to propose a BAN on Blogs by Church Ministers. The fear was we might make people uncomfortable, or reveal some deeply hidden secret and violate the sanctity of the minister-congregational relationship.

Yet, at a National Level we have staff who are acting as consultants and teachers to show us how to better use the many modern technologies as a means of outreach and evangelism.

The profound disconnect is striking.

On one hand, people get the new technology, and like our forefathers see the potential of sharing the Good News. While on the other hand, others fear change and see in the technology uncontrollable change and want to shut it down ... it makes me realize that today, those of us who have pioneered the use of Blogs, and Social Media as a means of communication within the Church are very much like Luther standing on the steps of Wittenburg nailing his 95 questions to the door of the Cathedral.

Some will and do embrace change, while others fear change. Hopefully, we will have an experience like Luther that sees powerful allies stepping up and holding back the violent backlash that comes when people are scared by something they fail to understand.

Today taking a simple picture of the snow outside my window and choosing to post it here, I realized that my actions are not in and of themselves all that remarkable, but in the context of The Church as it struggles in the opening years of the 21st Century, my actions are part of a greater revolution (or to be theologically appropriate a REFORMATION) that will and is profoundly changing how we function as Church, and how we get the Word out to others.

In 20 years of ministry the Church has made leaps and bounds technologically, and I for one am delighted to be able to say that I have tried to stay current and ride this amazing wave of change as it sweeps through our communities and our world.

The Internet and the many new media formats it offers are not things the Church should fear, but rather they are tools the Church MUST embrace if it is to continue to proclaim and share the Good News!!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Some reading to enrich your heart and soul ...

I've been doing a fair bit of reading articles and postings online lately, and thought it would be worth sharing some of them here ... so here we go:

An elqoquent and powerful statement about living our faith:

I'm Christian, unless you're gay.

A very good and apt commentary about the recent Black Friday happenings:

Pepper Spray Cop Begets Pepper Spray Shoppers

And of course there is the photoshop versions of the Pepper Spraying Cop:

Pepper Spraying Cop.

And, there is the whole issue of our consumerism running wild:

Will Shopping Save Us?

Now that I've mentioned the Occupy Movement, here's an article about the impact it has had:

How Occupy is Transforming the National Conversation.

And I've saved the BEST for last. Here is a Baptist Pastor's reflection on the role the Church SHOULD be playing in the Occupy Movement. Going straight to the source, he hits the nail smack on the head !!! Thanks to Rev. Bess for this:

Would Jesus Join the Occupy Movement?

Happy Reading !!!

Making a difference in our world ...

After a three year absence from my life, it is BACK !!!

I just got an order off to the Raising the Roof folks to participate in their annual Toque Campaign. This year the toques come in a lovely red and beige, and will be sold here in Flesherton to help support a youth homelessness programme in either Stratford or the Kitchener Waterloo area!!

We will have them available at the Church office, or at our Indoor Market-Bazaar for the affordable price of $10.

I have no doubt that the Toque Campaign will achieve the same startling success as our ongoing sales of Fair Trade products. Along with the Pastoral Charge cookbooks, we have a wide variety of gift items that carry a social conscience and involvement along with their affordable price.

To revisit our 2009 posting (and the various links to Raising the Roof) click here

Sunday, November 20, 2011


Scott Edwin Ankenmann
November 20th 1961
February 3rd 2011
A brother,
an uncle,
a nephew,
a cousin,
a friend,
a pain in the ass (sometimes),
one helluva guy.
Love him or hate him,
you never forgot him.

Rest in Peace Scott,
and Happy Birthday wherever you are!!

Miss you bro !!!

The 50th that should have been ...

Happy Birthday Big Brother ... today you would be turning 50, and my plan was to take you out for dinner, a few drinks, and just a helluva good time.

But life is what happens when we're busy making other plans.

As it turned out, you never made it to the big 5-0, and we'll never get to crack that 1947 bottle of Crown Royal to toast Mom and Dad and Mr Baumbach and Uncle Drake, and ALL the beloved people who helped make us into the men we are and were ... one day I'll crack that bottle and raise it in a toast to you and to all you meant to me as my big brother.

To say that I miss you would be an understatement.

There is not a day that goes by that I don't think of you and your damned grin.

And when a tear pools in the corner of my eye I hear you ... I hear your voice saying "Oh my gawd ... 'pfffft' ... just give your head a shake." Then you laugh ...

I miss your laugh.
I miss your teasing.
I miss you ...

So, with a heavy heart I wish you a Happy Birthday any way. You may not be here to enjoy it, but I will remember you.


Saturday, November 19, 2011

Time ...

I'll admit to watching the Hoarding shows on tv ... I watch them and give thanks that as bad as things are in my life, they are not as bad as what I'm watching ...

I do however understand the strange world that hoarders inhabit a little better now.

My brother and I used to tease Mom that she could be the star of an episode of Hoarders. Her response was to get angry and tell us to 'shut up'. There is unfortunately an element of truth to our teasing, and I honestly believe that Mom would have made Hoarders had it not been for Scott living in the house and keeping things clear in many of the living spaces.

Admittedly, Scott had his own hoarder like tendancies ... the stacks and stacks and stacks of "Old Auto" magazine were the most obvious trait that betrayed his hoarding ... but as I've dug into dressers, closets and other nooks and crannies at Mom's my discoveries have left me laughing and shaking my head - sometimes simultaneously.

How many tea cups, platters and celery vases does one person really need?

Is keeping EVERY note, letter and card really necessary?

And, I don't think you have to keep your financial records forever ...

But in amongst the clutter were (and remain) treasures waiting to be recovered ... I've found toys and books from my childhood, I've lost track of the coins and other money I've found tucked here and there, and I've continued to discover beautiful antiques and collectibles that are often hidden in plain sight ...

As I've sorted and cleaned and decluttered, I've also struggled with the very issues that often come up in episode after episode of Hoarders (and the other related shows).

How do you decide what to keep and what to get rid of?

How do you know what is junk and what might be valuable?

and on and on it goes ... the biggest challenge I encounter though is the waffling back and forth between keeping everything, and just walking away and letting go of everything ... at times it is paralyzing. I understand why people end up being overwhelmed with STUFF after losing a loved one, or having a traumatic event.

Some days I want to hold on to everything, while other days find me wanting to load everything from the house and just dump it ... it would be easier to do nothing then to face the emotional roller coaster of sifting through memories and mementoes of what was, and has been lost ... over and over I find something that takes me back and brings a smile and tears ... it is both inevitable and difficult, and it is what I have to face.

For the moment, even though I joke about it, I have no real desire to be on a future episode of Hoarders ... I will in time make my way through the stuff that has crammed Mom's house, and I will deal with the treasures and the junk.

When I think about it, instead of Hoarders, I'd rather appear on Canadian Pickers ...

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

All Saints and All Hallow's Eve ...

I realized today I haven't been blogging much in the last year ... I have posted periodically about things, but my regular blogging has fallen away, replaced by the periodic visit to see what's new on the blogs I follow, and instead I tend to post my thoughts on facebook instead.

I can't really offer an apology for that, because there isn't really anything to apologize for.

I just haven't been compelled to blog.
I haven't been compelled to read much lately either.

Most days I just plug along trying to keep the ghost and memories at bay, and trying to focus on the tasks at hand.

Some days I do well. Some days I don't do quite as well. But every day I try to get through it.

This year my birthday came, and for the first time since I started this blog I missed it. I was just too busy doing other things to take time to post here. On Sunday we had a fabulous gathering of family out at Scott's Bush. We roasted marshmallows, played on the ATV's and walked through the bush that was as my cousin Michael observed "Scott's sanctuary."

Then on Monday we decorated the yard in an hour and a half for the tricker treater's, and had pizza for dinner.

All in all it was a good way to celebrate my birthday, but as I crawled into bed that night I realized that I was deeply missing two important pieces of my birthday celebrations over the last fifteen years ... This year there was no call from Indigo, and no call from my mom ... I went to bed very aware of their absence, and grieving their loss.

There would be no more calls from my brother saying "It's your brother ... you know - Scott" (he always said it more like a question than a statement - like I have another brother somewhere!!)

There would be no more calls from Indigo wishing me a Happy Birthday on the date we share.

And there would be no more rambling two hour calls from Mom filling me in on all the minutiae of life, the universe and family happenings.

While on one level it is no big deal, on another level it is another reminder of how many losses I've tallied this year ...

I went to bed reminded of those losses, but woke up the next morning knowing that Halloween gives way each year to All Saints, and with All Saints comes the reminder that those souls we've lost in this life are with us in the next.

All Saints is about the great cloud of witnesses that the medieval scholars spoke of so eloquently. But it is about so much more ... All Saints reminds us to celebrate the legacy and lessons that our departed saints have left for us.

My Mom, Laverne Baumbach, Scott, and Indigo have ALL taught me much in my journey, and even though they are gone from our lives, they are not fully nor completely gone ... they and the impressions and lessons they left remain ... I miss them, but I truly haven't forgotten them.

This year I have come to appreciate All Saints in a WHOLE new way.

And for the Saints and their lives among us, I am deeply thankful ... for such is the path of faith.

Friday, October 14, 2011

I'd rather be ATV'ing ...

I'm sitting in my office getting caught up on paper work, computer updates, newletters and a variety of other things that had slipped to the bottom of the pile ... while I value a grey, rainy day as much as the next person to finally tackle the ever growing '2 Do' list that seems to be an inevitable part of ministry, I would by far rather be doing something else ...

I would love to be out in the Bush ATV'ing, and exploring more of the 59 acres that Scott dearly loved, and that I have come to appreciate more and more each time I spend time there ...

I would love to be home curled up on the bed reading one of the many books that are in the pile of 'to read' selections on the floor beside the bed, or down in my study ...

Or, I would love to just be sitting listening to the rain patter down with a mug of tea ...

I think one of the reasons for this laissez faire attitude has been the updating of the Church Webpage, and the inevitable look back that happens when you edit and change something that has been untouched for over six months !! You begin to think about ALL the things that have happened since you last visited, and you begin to wax a tad nostalgic about what has gone on ...

I found myself looking back, not only over the last six months, but over the last year and a bit that have elapsed since I arrived here ... I have often used Dickens' opening line from 'A Tale of Two Cities' when I pen my year end reflection for the AGM reports as minister. But looking back on 2011, I can't help but think that for the first time those words "it was the best of times, it was the worst of times ..." ring far too true.

There are moments lately when I feel overwhelmed with sadness at the realization that Mom and Scott are gone, and I am left to clean up what remains of their earthly legacy.

Some days are easier than others, while some days are incredibly hard just to get through ... Over the last ten months (and yes, it is hard to believe it has been THAT long), I have had good days and bad days and everything in between. I have wanted to pick up the phone and ask mom something, or share a bit of good news with her, and I've struggled with feelings of anger at the realization that I can't do that any more ...

I miss them. I miss Mr Baumbach, and I miss Indigo ... losing the four of them in such short order made for a hard start to 2011, and I still struggle to make sense of it all.

Intellectually, I know ALL of this is a normal part of the journey ... but it is in moments like this that my heart and my head are on two very different planes. And when that happens, I would rather be off doing something like ATV'ing in the Bush, exploring the beautiful corner of creation that Scott wisely bought some 20 years ago and has left for us as his legacy and his gift ...

Sunday, October 02, 2011

It's ALL about the context ...

It's ALL about the context !

Over the last fifteen years I have tried over and over to encourage and promote the use of Fair Trade products in the various Churches I've served. I long ago gave up using anything BUT Fair Trade when it comes to my coffee and tea - I will not claim the high ground of saying I ONLY use Fair Trade coffee and tea and nothing else, but I try to consciously use Fair Trade most of the time including when I'm travelling or out and about. There are times when there is none available, but at home my coffee is 100% Fair Trade and our tea cupboard is about 75% Fair Trade.

SO, having said that - I find it fascinating to look at the last six months or so and realize how successful our Fair Trade promotion has been here in little old Flesherton. Not only have we claimed a niche at the Farmers' Market with out booth, we have managed to do far more than simply sell Fair Trade coffee to a handful of customers.

We have coffee, tea, sugar, dried fruit, chocolate, hot chocolate powder, and a variety of merchandise products available. Since we began in May, our selection of coffee and tea has grown from about a dozen varieties to the full catalogue of Level Ground products, well over a dozen teas from Just Us, and a wide range of other items.

Our sales have proven to be very strong with over 1000 individual items passing through our booth and displays in the last six months. This has resulted in a number of achievements worth touting.

First off, it has raised close to $1000 for the Pastoral Charge, which is not insignificant.

It has also, and perhaps most importantly, raised awareness in the community of our existence and our commitment not only to justice causes, but to our greater community as well. In addition to people saying over and over "Really? There is a United Church in Eugenia? (or Flesherton?" we've had new faces pop up among us from the contacts at the Farmer's Market, AND we've managed to help be a conduit for the local Food Bank receiving day old baking, fresh unsold produce and other donations to help those in need.

The United Church Congregations through the sale of Fair Trade products has managed to achieve the very vision of community involvement I have, for the last 15 years held out as a very attainable goal. We are no longer simply the Congregation that once was, today St John's and Eugenia United Churches are standing proudly as contributing and committed members of the community, doing more than just supplying lovely Sunday morning Services.

People know who we are. People know where we are. And people feel that we are part of the community and they are welcome to be part of our's.

The simple question while standing over the table of Fair Trade products - "what time is Sunday Service?" tells us that our outreach is working. Comfortable with our presence in the Farmer's Market, people feel welcome enough to consider attending our worship services.

It is amazing to stop and reflect back on the decision by the Church Council to join the Farmer's Market with a regular booth. I will admit I was skeptical, but supportive. I was willing to make it happen, but feared a negative outcome. But the Council made the suggestion, supported the decision and now is clearly reaping the benefits of this bold initiative.

For my part, I'm delighted to see what can happen when a faith community takes seriously the challenge of thinking outside the box.

At no point did we see our involvement at the market as a means of proselytizing, but instead wanted to engage in outreach by simply selling Fair Trade products and letting people know it was important to us.

The enthusiasm proved contagious ... we have a large pool of loyal customers, and we've gained and benefited in many, many ways.

I've long said, the Fair Trade movement is about changing the world "one cup of coffee at a time", today after seeming to beat my head against an immovable wall for almost 15 years, I stand in a place where a faith community not only embraced that notion, but took it to a whole new level.

The people of Flesherton Pastoral Charge can and should be proud of this ministry, and what they've achieved thus far. They opened a door and boldly stepped through benefiting themselves, their community, and dozens of other communities around the world who know have a connection to the Grey Highlands.

AND, best of all, this commitment is not ending, nor going on hiatus over the winter. Taking the example of the Wonder Cafe coffee houses suggested some time ago within this United Church of ours, we are hosting regular Coffee Cafe and Bazaars throughout the winter months to provide our customers and communities a Souk-like place to gather, buy coffee, and hopefully be joined by other vendors, artisans, and crafters who want to sell their wares.

No longer a place that is just about Sunday Morning Services, St John's and Eugenia United Churches are boldly and faithfully reclaiming their roles as hubs in their communities.

The doors are open like never before, and they are ready, willing and wanting to welcome in their community.

It is from where I sit today, simply breath-taking ... It's all about the context. When a community is willing to live and grow and share it's faith, ANYTHING can happen !!

I've said this countless times in my ministry. It's nice to stand in a place where it is actually and FINALLY happening !!! It is truly ALL about the context in which you live and move and share your faith !!!

Dayenu !!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Four More Names ...

Today in Ottawa they gathered to add four more names to the Memorial to Fallen Police and Peace Officers in Canada ... among the crowd gathered was the young man pictured above - 2 1/2 yr old Nolan Russell, whose father died in the last year serving this country.

I have tried each fall to remember and acknowledge this National Day by beginning our worship services with a prayer for the fallen, and an act of Remembrance ... this year I just plain forgot ... But given the events and happenings over the last few months I think its understandable, and really not a big deal.

Fortunately though, in Ottawa, behind the Parliament Buildings, over looking the river, there was a crowd of people who gathered and who didn't forget. They didn't forget the seven hundred men and women who are acknowledged on the memorial, and regrettably, they added four more names to the Honour Roll.

Today, despite my liturgical oversight, my thoughts and prayers go out to the families of the fallen, and to the little people like young Nolan, who is on a journey I know only too well ... He will know his father through the stories and memories who take time to remember Sgt Russell. There is much he will miss, but today he will know and will be reminded over and over that his father, and others like mine, died as Heroes in Life not death, and that together we are family bound together by a ribbon of acknowledgement, memory and care.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Happy 116th Anniversary at Eugenia United Church!!

Diane Leith sang beautifully, Chris Patterson rocked the place on the organ and piano, and the congregation truly sang their hearts out to the old familiar hymns we chose for our special Anniversary Service at Eugenia United Church.

All in all, it was a fabulous morning celebrating the many gifts and talents that continue to craft the history and legacy of this delightful little country Church.

In 1895 the corner stone was set down and over the next two years stones, pews, furniture, wood and stained glass was donated as the work on the little Presbyterian Church brought into being a beautiful sanctuary that continues to ring with life.

Looking back on the last 14 months that I've been part of the journey here in the Flesherton Pastoral Charge, I can cite the amazing dedication and talent of the musicians who help create sacred worship space, and the commitment of our congregation to the ministry that not only simply continues, but with each passing week expands and finds new corners of our community to share Grace and care within.

Today was about celebrating the history of a neat little Church, but more importantly, it was about daring to look into the future and celebrate our sure and certain hope that God has not finished the work that began here long before a Building housed this congregation ...

Today was dreaming of what we can do tomorrow and in the days that follow, because we are called by God to carry the Good News into our community and our world !!!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Role of the Holy Fool ...

I've always loved comedy.
I remember as a kid watcing shows like Carol Burnett and rolling on the floor laughing. To put it in context, as a kid we had tv pillows made by our neighbour Mr. Baumbach that we laid on on the floor right in front of the old console Zenith in the living room. So, rolling on the floor was just part of a normal night of tv viewing.

Having said that though, comedy has been an important ribbon running through my life since childhood. I love to laugh, and I love to laugh at the comedic genius of anyone from Laurel & Hardy through to modern comedians like Russell Peters, George Carlin, Ron James and the late great Bill Hicks.

I'll openly admit that I had never heard of Bill Hicks until Katie (of the blog At the Half Note) suggested then sent a cd of his comedy to me. I was awestruck ... I listened to the cds of this comedic genius over and over and over ... I searched out a book of his musings, and I managed to find a dvd of his routines. I've referenced him numerous times around here, and I'll even proudly proclaim that I've referenced him in my sermons on several occassions.

Most recently was today ... I used Bill's wise statement about the world being nothing more than a ride, as the opening salvo in my 9/11 Anniversary Reflection.

My motivation was and remains simple - I wanted to use something that challenges us to look beyond the fear and insecurity that grips our modern era, and instead hear words of HOPE that challenge us to move PAST our fear and embrace more positive feelings and thoughts like love ... and Mr Bill Hicks, a man who harshly (and perhaps rightly) criticized the Church, offers those words for us ...

So, I quoted from him, and celebrated the necessary role of 'The Fool' in our midst, particularly in times when we seem intent on other things ... The role of the Fool in Shakespearean literature is that of the wise man speaking the truth that no one wants to hear ... Today in our post-9/11 world I would dare to suggest that Bill Hicks represents such a Holy Fool who speaks the truth we need to hear.

I'll be posting my sermon shortly over at my blog "United Church in the Grey Highlands" ... let me know what you think ...

In the meantime ... thoughts and prayers for our troubled world today and always!

Call to Worship for Today's Service ...

Our worship services began with our organist/pianist playing the hymn "O God, our help in ages past" in the background as I shared the following Call to Worship/Act of Remembrance that ended in the lighting of the Christ Candle in the front of our Sanctuary:

Call to Worship/Lighting of the Christ Candle:

One: It happened on a Tuesday. The sky was clear and blue. The smoke was thick, dark and ominous. Images are now forever etched in our minds, losses forged into our souls, and fear made real.

ALL: O God our help in ages past, our hope for years to come.

One: We remember the moment. We remember flames, explosions, falling debris, tumbling towers, wailing sirens, crying voices, and the still silence of death.

ALL: our shelter from the stormy blast, and our eternal home.

One: They say the world changed, yet in our world of violence this moment is far from unique … the change is in us … realizing violence can happen here and not just somewhere else.

ALL: Under the shelter of thy throne, they saints have dwelt secure.

One: We remember the dead. Those who died that day, and the soldiers and civilians who have died since. We remember the dead and we continue our prayers for the living …

ALL: sufficient is thy arm alone, and our defence is sure.

One: We pray for peace in a world rife with violence and strife. We pray for Shalom in a world enveloped in darkness. We pray for Salaam in a world filled with fear …

ALL: O God our help in ages part, our hope for years to come.

One: It happened on a Tuesday. The sky was clear and blue. The world changed because for the first time we came to see it as it is …

ALL: be thou our guard while troubles last and our eternal home.

One: Be with us in our memories O God, and send us forth as a people touched by our past, but motivated by our future to recreate what is into a place of abundant Shalom …

(Lighting of the Christ Candle)

One: We light this candle remembering the words of the prophets who boldly and audiciously proclaim their sure and certain hope that the light will shine in the darkness: (Isaiah 9:2-3)

One: As this light glows we pause to remember … we remember the dead, the broken, the wounded … and we remember the Living

Observation of a Moment of Silence in Remembrance:

*Hymn: Make Me a Channel of Your Peace. VU 684

Thursday, August 11, 2011

British Riots and reflective feedback ...

I can't help but wonder if the London Riots are simply the tip of a bigger more ominious iceberg that is about to tear a whole into the heart of our culture and society ...

Last night on CBC Radio as I was driving home from Stratford I listened to the many bits and pieces they broadcast about the ongoing riots in Britain. I found myself nodding in agreement with the politicians who posit the blame for much of this on the shoulders of parents who have failed miserably in providing their children with quality time, value as people and citizens and most important of all: a moral compass. When I heard the clip on "As it Happens" from the BBC interviewing rioters in Birmingham who were proud that they had looted a store for things they could afford, but didn't want to spend money on a penny dropped for me ...

The problem is societal. For the last twenty years we've valued and dare I say as a theologian, worshipped the consumerist lifestyle, falsely believing that commericalism will cure all that ails us. The most chilling example of this might be George W. Bush in the smouldering wake of 9/11 telling American to 'continue shopping' as though nothing was wrong ... somewhere along the line we've sold our collective souls to the company store, and our company store bears names like Nike, Wal-Mart, McDonalds, and so on ...

We've displaced real relationships with people for our relationships with stuff ... we marvel through shows like Hoarders, at people who have too much stuff, and we rail when people with too little stuff seem to abuse food banks and charities ... yet, the effect of placing our emphasis on STUFF is most harshly revealed in places like London, Birmingham and the other city centres across England that are smouldering in the wake of these ongoing riots.

The problem is not solely disenfranchised and alientated youth - the problem is our SOCIETY.

We've lost our moral compass.

We value massive houses on acreages as the symbol of wealth while failing to recognize that many in our communities today can barely put food on the table while others doors away live with such abundance that they think NOTHING of building a 400 000 dollar house with a 7 car garage and filling it with the newest electronics and latest gadgets, all the while ignoring the profound and devestating effects this unchecked consumerism is having on our community, our region, our country and our planet.

We've bought into a flawed idea that happiness will be found wearing the right clothes, using the right gadgests, eating the right foods, driving the right car, and hanging out with the right people ... what we've failed to acknowledge is that such pursuits eventually need, nay they demand, that only the newest and the latest will suffice.

The rat race we're on as a culture is offensive on EVERY LEVEL and we close our eyes to it ...

Want to stop the riots in England and prevent them elsewhere?

My solution is simple - turn off the crap on our screens like Jersey Shore and the other shows that stress bad behaviour, an indulgent lifestyle and a lack of responsibility ... next, take these young people and sit them down with the folks who's lives they've disrupted and let them listen to how their selfishness has effected others ... then finally, as parents and citizens, let's insist that our kids need to take off their caps as a sign of respect, pull up their damned jeans, stop talking the jibberish that passes for 'street talk' and start being RESPONSIBLE and most of all RESPECTFUL members of society.

Let's start teaching our children the meaning of the word "NO" and stop indulging them ... if we fail to heed the warnings the riots in Britan are simple the start of a new troubling trend !!

P.S. I find it funny that there was a timely article on parenting in a recent Atlantic magazine - check it out by clicking here!!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

It hit like a wave ...

Today I spent some time at Mom's sifting and sorting ... I went through accumulated piles of newspaper clippings, cards, notes, photographs and other assorted items that have been tucked away over the last 40 years ... it was a process I have done a dozen times since Mom and Scott died ... some days it goes well, and other days it crashes in on me and I have to retreat ...

Today went well ... I even had an unexpected visit from a high school friend ... with laughter tinged with a few tears we got caught up and marveled at how quickly two and a half decades had passes, and how easy it is to resume our friendship where it left off ... as she left, I returned to the task smiling at the strange twists and turns life frequently takes.

I kept sorting and sifting, then decided that the errands I had decided to do while in Stratford should be done while I still had the 'oomph' to face people ... When I got back I couldn't bring myself to do any more work ... I can almost point to the precise moment when the wave crashed over me and robbed me of the ability to muddle my way through ...

I was left staggering around like a wet survivor of a tropical storm, a tsunami or a hurricane ... I felt overwhelmed and alone ... I didn't know where to turn, or what to do next ... I felt lost ... SO, I sat in a chair in the living room and listened ...

I listened to the hum of the house that for 43 plus years has been home ...

I listened to the whisper of memories that has for almost 50 years been my family story and our history ...

I listened to the echo of laughter and tears that have marked every step of our journey ...

I listened to the voices of mom and Scott that I dearly miss, but that I hear within every time I close my eyes ...

I listened to the hum of conversation around the kitchen table that often lulled me to sleep while mom visited quietly with family and friends in the evening ...

I listened to the voices of extended family and the many friends who filled the now quiet walls of our house with laughter, conversation, and a myriad of memories that give me the courage I need to face what lies ahead ...

I sat and a second wave washed over me ... this one was comfortable and familiar and helped me shake the chill of the first wave ... as it ebbed away I had a vision of what I need to do to get Mom's house cleaned out, and our home packed up and moved ... there are things that need to come home, things that need to go to other family and friends, things that need to go out to the Bush, and there are things that need to be passed on to others through sales, auctions and donations ... as I sat I knew it was possible despite the feelings of being overwhelmed I get when I move from room to room in the house that is empty of people but far from empty of stuff ... the stuff has intimidate and scared me ... some days I feel there is too much, and I would be better off to lock the door and just leave it for some day in the distant future ...

But today, I know for the first time that it is not only possible, it is necessary to my healing ...

I will always carry a void in my life left by Mom and Scott, and the others I've loved and lost ... but with each step forward, this scar brings strength and helps me continue on my journey ...

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

A day of reflection ...

It's funny ... and it is also sad at the same time ... in the last few days having time to rest, read and reflect along with hanging with some of my extended family have revealed a few things to me ...

First off, I miss my Mom, my brother, and the members of my family who have passed on in recent years. I find it hard to believe it has been SO long since Uncle Drake and my cousin Duane died. (they were the start of the losses) Along the way with the passage of time I've said good bye to my Grandma, my mom, my brother, Mr Baumbach and my friend Indigo (among others) who were meaningful and important to my journey. That sadness ebbs and flows throughout my days, and touches every aspect of my life ...

Last night watching an episode of one of the many 'hoarder' shows on tv, I realized that I could easily spiral into a similar place by holding too tightly to the 'stuff' that carries memories of these folks and others who have graced my journey along the way. While I'm striving to balance the fine line between preserving my memories with a selection of mementos, and not being overwhelmed by the urge to save everything, I find that it would be easy to stumble off into a deep dark place ...

However, I don't fear tripping into the darkness ... I've been there enough to know the warning signs, and I am very fortunate to have a strong circle of family and friends who help keep me level ... for THAT I am thankful.

But what I realized in the last couple of days is how little the Church has really done to help me along the way. In recent months I've been overwhelmed by the care and support of the folks here in the Flesherton Pastoral Charge who have helped get me through the tough spots, and who continue to uphold me through their respective ministries. I've come to realize that they (whether they consciously realize it or not) embody the very virtues and principles of faith and the Christian Calling.

Over and over as I've resumed my reading of church and theological works, I find myself saying "Flesherton and Eugenia do that ..." when I find a passage about faith in action.

I will not say they're perfect - no church is - but the Congregations of St John's and Eugenia don't try to hide their flaws and foibles. They don't slap on a happy face and pretend 'all is well', but rather with a smile and a loving heart they try to wrestle with the issue before them, and they try to offer the best solution they can ... laughter and joy mark the ups and downs.

What I've drawn from this is a realization that this ethos is what I've expected in the life and ministry of a Congregation claiming to follow Jesus. I found this ethos in Portage with the Presbyterian Church I was blessed to serve for a year and a half and I can identify this ethos within individuals in EVERY congregation I've served in my ministry, but I haven't found it as the community ethos in the Congregations I've been called to since the late 90's ...

While I have colleagues and associates who have openly rejected my use of Friedman's book "Generation to Generation" in explaining and understanding the happenings in Langley and Minnedosa, I now stand in a place where I can see how invasive and debilitating the toxicity Friedman identifies has been in EVERY LEVEL of the Church in those areas. Lacking a cohesive and healthy ethos means there is nothing to unify and strengthen the faith community ... dysfunction deepens and strengthens!

This is not to preclude the presence of good and faithful people - I can list by name the people who are not part of the proverbial problem ... the issue is the extent to which the problem is systemic and hidden from view.

Reading Diana Butler-Bass' most recent book "A people's history of Christianity", and the book "There Serenity Prayer" by Elizabeth Sifton helped me see how voices that speak outside of the comfort zone of the status quo will NEVER been given support nor encouragement, but will ALWAYS be rejected and sent packing. In moments of great societal stress, when the Church is called most strongly to speak up and speak out, the lack of a faithful ethos means silence and simply 'going with the flow' becomes the dominant trait of the Church. Those who reject silence and see the need to faithful staunch the flow, are pushed aside and pushed out.

When the voice is shrill, and is coupled with other factors, the situation demands that the easiest solution be sought ... in my case instead of helping me wrestle with my baggage and my stuff, it was easier to send me packing and to (erroneously) announce that everything was all better. For those who remain, and who were in favour of the simple solution things are better, but failing to address the hurts and the unresolved (and in some cases generational) issues that linger, things are NOT all better. They are anything but.

Over and over in the history of the Church we see the triumph of the so-called majority, who want to define the Church on their terms and their conditions, and who will stop at nothing to attain that end. When it comes to small towns and church communities, the majority is usually silent and acquiesce to what the outspoken power brokers want. It is simpler to go along with the squeaky wheels, then stand in their way. And when the squeaky wheels are well heeled, well connected and politically positioned for power and influence, the truth becomes irrelevant, and the ONLY outcome is what they want whether it is right, healthy, appropriate or even moral.

Over and over might trumps right !! History bears this out ...

So, as one who has endured, and in some ways survived the slings and arrows lobbed by the "good church people" over the last fifteen years who have been threatened, offended or otherwise made uncomfortable by my ministry and the challenges (both positive and negative) contained therein, I can look back with bewilderment that the United Church, the denomination that has historically prided itself on being open, inclusive and welcoming, has proven to be anything but when it comes to voices from within that are shrill, sharp, pointed and most of all hurting ...

I will openly admit that I have spent much of my ministry in a place of hurt and loneliness.

I moved far from my family to serve the Church, and was unable to get back when I needed or wanted to ... visits were few and far between ... important people died, and I had to mourn their passing alone and far from the circle I needed to be enveloped within to help my healing and wholeness ...

My calls for help and support were heard and heeded by individuals within the various Congregations I served, but the leadership failed miserably to live the simple principles of love and care and compassion that are central to our faith.

One night many years ago I was called to the bed side of a Church member who was dying ... throughout the night I sat with the family as a life slipped away ... in the pre-dawn hours, we prayed as the final breath was drawn. I went home exhausted and sad at the death and the depth of emotion that had filled the room ... my head had barely hit the pillow when the phone rang and the Board Chair asked why I wasn't in the office.

My explanation of having been up all night with a family was met with "We have office hours for a reason, and as our minister we EXPECT you to honour them ..."

I was, and I remain dumbfounded ...

Looking back, I see the immense abyss that lies between my expectations of ministry and the ethos of the Church, and their operating expectations and ethos ... I draw mine from my readings of theology and Scriptures ... theirs sounds like it came from an MBA text somewhere ...

The Church is NOT a business.
The Church is NOT a business.
The Church is NOT a business.

Can we say it enough??
Can we comprehend what this means?
Can we return to the values, principles and ethos that are found in the teachings of the one who looked up into a tree where a reviled tax collector sat and said "Come down, we need to talk?"

Jesus was not about keeping office hours, or maintaining the status quo. Jesus was about proclaiming, highlighting and embodying the Kingdom of God in our world.

The Kingdom of God welcomes people as they are and helps them strive to be better.

The Kingdom of God welcomes in the sinners and the broken and offers wholeness.

The Kingdom of God welcomes in the dirty and wounded and offers limitless LOVE.

The Kingdom of God is about moving past comfort and safety and embracing our calling.

Sadly, the Kingdom of God is absent in many corners of our world where it is desperately needed, and where it is openly called for ...

We will never find the Kingdom of God amongst the scribes and lawyers and their rules and regulations ... the Kingdom of God is found out where the wounded and the hurting find help and care.

Looking back, I can see that one of my biggest problems is that I, like my brother, operate with an expectation of TRUST and Good Faith. If you say "x" I foolishly expect you to do "x", and get hurt and angry when you DON'T.

Unfortunately, like any good bureaucratic institution, The Church is about saying "X" and doing anything but.

I also foolishly believe that within the Church people will be judged by their ability and their character not by their political or familial connection, and definitely NOT by their economic clout, and not because they have screamed the loudest.

Today, I can see that I carry a fair bit of anger about the path I've been on since my ordination in 1993. The funny thing for me today is the realization that I am most angry at myself for being such a damned fool for believing that the Church would be different from a legalistic bureaucracy that is more interested in preserving and defending itself, then in actually caring for people.

The bureaucracy of the Church saddens me.

In the last 15 years I've struggled emotionally, spiritually, economically, and in a myriad of ways, and my cries for help have been not only ignored, they have been met with actions on the part of the Church that deepened and worsened that spiral ... I will never say I've been blameless, nor will I ever suggest that I wasn't offered care ... however, in the moment when I most needed help, the response from the various Courts of the Church was to shun and ignore me, rather than listen to what was really happening ...

Along the way my hurt and anger deepened, and my loneliness caused me to lash out ... Rather than trying to address the hurts and tend the wounds, the easier path was to push me out the door figuratively AND literally. My hurt offended people and exacerbated PRE-EXISTING problems in no less than TWO congregations and managed to lay bare the dysfunction that was accepted as normal, and that masked the toxins - and rather than trying to solve the crisis in a faithful and just way, the easy route was taken (straight out of Friedman): reject the Clergy and continue with a 'business as usual' attitude.

Again: The Church is NOT a business.

Things were NOT business as usual ... the voices that speak of their hurts, their isolation, their anger and their feelings of rejection show us (if we dare to see) that all is not well in the life and ministry of the faith communities that fail to face the truth. If we are to be an open, welcome, inclusive and faithful community we MUST hear the voices of those who stand on the margins and weep at the actions of the "faithful few".

As we heed and hear and respond to those voices on the margins, we will have to wrestle with the simple realization that we CAN and we MUST do better in the future. Just because the dozen or so people left are happy, doesn't mean the right path was chosen. We MUST hear the stories of the other three dozen people who no longer feel welcome or accepted by the few who remain.

The Spirit calls us to welcome ALL, not just a select few.

My anger and my deepest hurt is the realization that in many cases, the Institution that is the modern Church simply doesn't care about people like me ... my hurts and my wounds and my burdens are mine alone to carry ... If I came from the "right" family, or had the "right" friends and connections, and if I wasn't so prickly, my path in the Church might be easier and less fraught with trauma and rejection, but that realization alone lays bare the most glaring weakness of the Modern Church.

The treatment of people in the Church, both lay and clergy, should NEVER vary, and it should never be influenced by who you know, or who you are related to. The Church is a place for ALL people without condition.

I will never understand why it is so hard to live that principle.

Looking back, I can see now where my choices and my actions lead to negative consequences and very negative outcomes. But I still marvel at the propensity of the Institution to scape goat the minister rather than working at addressing the REAL issue. (This is STRAIGHT out of Friedman)

Over the last fifteen years, I've went through a bewildering spiral of happenings and events that affected and effected my life ... and through it all, the one partner in my ministry that utterly failed in its Covenant, has been the greater Church ... Call me a fool for taking those words of Covenant that mark our Pastoral Relationships seriously, but I will, until my dying day, believe that when you give your word you live by it.

I will not claim to be perfect, but I have tried to live by the promises made in June of 1993 when I was ordained, and that were re-iterated several times since. A Covenant is not 'just words' - it is a binding promise, and because of that, I carry a great deal of sadness about the failure of the other partners to live by THEIR words.

Today, after realizing that my brother struggled with the same issue in his life, I've come to realize how strong my expectation is in regards to living up to one's words. We were raised with the simple ethos of: "If you say it, you do it." There were no exceptions to this rule - it was a sacrosanct thing. And when it came to faith and Church and living out what we believed, it was stronger still.

My brother saw the hypocrisy in the Church long ago ... I've ran hard and fast against it repeatedly ... fortunately, those moments when I have been battered and bloodied by the Institution of the Church, I have been tended to by faithful "Good Samaritans" who like their Scriptural role model rise above the nonsense and address the needs of others in faith, and care no a whit about 'keeping up appearances' or maintaining the status quo.

I hold no illusions that the Institution will ever change. But I thank God that over and over in the last 20 years of my journey I've met people who take their faith seriously, and who in response to the hypocrisy of the Institutional Church, actively chose to live their faith counter to the prevailing ethos of their Church ... and today, for the first time, I can honestly look around and see that I am within a Faith Community that within its diversity has found a commonality in living out their faith TOGETHER in a myriad of caring ways.

I'm still hurt and a bit angry about how the Church has treated me ... but as I finally have the time, the space, the care and the support to tend my wounds and lay aside my burdens, I know that I am a stronger person for the failure of the Church to live its faith thus far ... as they say: what doesn't kill ya, makes ya stronger!!

I'm strong today because the Church consistently failed me, and those who in faith called for change ... the status quo may be comfortable for a select few, but it is far from faithful, and as many wise and prophetic voices have counselled over the centuries: those things that are not faithful, nor inspired by God or the Spirit are doomed to fail!!

Change is inevitable ... and change begins by tending the wounds of our neighbours. It's a simple lesson really, but in its simplicity it has been overlooked ... fortunately though The Kingdom of God will prevail whether we want it or not!!