Tuesday, February 28, 2012

If I knew THEN, what I know NOW !!!

I remember the first time I watched the movie Monsters Inc ... I howled with laughter at the character of Roz, who rain the Scare Floor.

Roz was the SPITTING image of my memories of our grade 7 homeroom teacher in Stratford. Right down to the glasses and the voice, it was Mrs. E!!!

Mrs E. was an interesting teacher. She was tough as nails, but she cared about her students. She might have been 5 foot 2 on a good day, but ALL of us where scared of her. She could and would stare you down in a heart beat, but could also embrace you with laughter when you weren't straying to the darkside of her temperament.

What I remember most about Mrs E, aside from her periodic tobacco induced coughing fits that necessitated the opening of the huge sash windows in our old school classroom, was her dedication to teaching me better penmanship.

She tried for almost two years to teach me better penmanship ... she failed !!!

In exasperation she FINALLY gave up 3/4s of the way through my grade 8 year.

Her exact words were, "You're hopeless. You're writing is terrible ..."

In the ensuing conversation I said that I wouldn't need to have good penmanship because "one day we would be doing ALL of our writing and work on small portable computer devices that we carry with us."

Her reply - standing in the hall of the school not far from the office - was a shrieked, "You're f----ng, crazy if you believe that!!"

She then tossed the workbook I'd been struggling with at me and stormed away.

To put this in context, I graduated from High School in 1986 ... I graduated from University in 1990 ... I bought my first PC in 1992 ... Mrs E and I had our confrontation almost ten years earlier ... the era of personal computers hadn't even begun when I made the grandiose claim!

Oh, if I only knew then what I know now !!!

The day I started working on my first lap top (by my and Noahkila's count the other night, I'm on my sixth lap top since 1998 or so), I thought of Mrs E, and wondered if she remembered the exchange we had.

I think of Mrs E. every single time I use my iphone or ipad. The Steve Jobs inspired technology is what I dreamt of that day in the hallway of Juliet School ... if only I had known where things would develop.

Today I thought of Mrs E. after reading a post by my long time friend, fellow blogger, and newly minted teacher, who was reflecting on her experiences in Stratford. Our teachers have an impact on us both good and bad, and sometimes it takes decades to realize how profound that impact may have been !!!

(to read candygirlflies' posting click here)

Accidents and Tragedies: The New Form of Lottery ???

Today I read the story from CBC online about the call from not ONE, but TWO law firms in Ontario for passengers who were on the VIA train on Sunday that derailed in Burlington and tragically killed three VIA employees.

(CBC.ca story: VIA derailment passengers sought for class action)

While part of me remembers the old example of a bus accident in the US that had dozens upon dozens of people stepping up in a class action lawsuit following an accident. I don't remember the specific story, but it was essentially a bus with a dozen or so people was involved in an accident, but when the EMT folks showed up there were several dozen people on board the bus, and ALL of them had 'injuries' requiring attention. The fly in their lottery dreams was the onboard camera that was able to identify the actual people ON the bus when it had the accident, and those who rushed on following the accident ... I've never read how the class action suit turned out on THAT one, but I would hope the Bus Company launched one for FRAUD.

But in this case, a tragic accident has happened, and even before the tracks are cleared and restored the lawyers are circling ... they truly illustrate the bad joke about lawyers chasing ambulances !!!!

People are entitled to some level of compensation for their suffering and losses they may experience from their injuries and the trauma the event represents. BUT, too often though, these moments become like a lottery with people wanting to sue for HUGE cash settlements that are out of proportion with the actual accident itself.

We have moved into a very litigious era in our human history. Years ago when someone slipped and fell they would get up and walk it off. But today when someone slips and falls the threat of a law suit is real and immediate ... the potential for devestating court findings is no longer a remote possibility, but increasingly it is becoming a certainty.

Am I the only one who thinks that this is just WRONG???

If there is negligence, I'm all for ensuring it never happens again. But too often these class action suits help ONLY to put money in the pockets of the law firms, and don't do much other than leave some people wealthy and others losing services as settlements bankrupt businesses and organizations AND drive insurance costs through the roof.

These class action suits are NOT a lottery.

When it comes to something like a plane, a train or a bus, we ALL end up paying when the business passes its losses on to the consumers.

When it comes to a business or an organization, we ALL end up paying through the loss of services, and/or the increase in the cost of insurance which drives up what we pay ourselves, and drives up what we pay for goods and services as business models require that cost to be passed on to users.

The bottom line is simply this: THIS AIN'T A LOTTERY, why do we continue to allow class action law suits that are clearly about cash rewards, not addressing dangerous situations and preventable tragedies?????

Makes me think about the old joke: What do you call 100 lawyers drowning at sea??


I have respect for many in the legal profession - but modern ambulance chasers deserve ONLY contempt !!!

Proof our World is seriously messed up ...

I know I've becoming increasingly cynical about life, the universe and everything, but today I had a convergence of discoveries that has lead me to the irrefutable conclusion that our planet and our western culture is seriously messed up!!

For starters I read a quotation from Jeb Bush former Governor of the state of Florida that was openly questioning the current Republican Presidential candidate race ... While I agree with what Jeb said and actually found myself saying "Wow, as SMART Bush!!!" the focus of his comment saddened me ... Bush said:

"I used to be a conservative, and I watch these debates and I'm wondering, I don't think I've changed, but it's a little troubling sometimes when people are appealing to people's fears and emotion rather than trying to get them to look over the horizon for the broader perspective."

I've long and frequently said we live in a world of fear ... most of it is fear born of ignorance and misinformation, and fed by the narrow minded amongst us who use hot button issues to stir the pot and create controversy.

Shortly after reading the Bush Quote on Facebook, another friend posted a link to an article from the Globe and Mail commenting on a Christian ministry in the US who is calling for a boycott of the Coffee juggernaut Starbucks. The reason for this boycott?

Because Starbucks supports Gay Marriage.

Aaron, a fellow blogger and a digitial techno-weinie within the United Church observed of the article:

"For most people, it's going to be easy to understand that Starbucks position on gay marriage is the right thing to do in a pluralistic society. The boycotting pastor, and all the others trying to use boycotts to limits the rights of gays and lesbians, are only contributing to the marginalization of the reputation of the church and Christians in general. It's a losing strategy. This is why it's very important for Christian supporters of marriage equality proudly share what we believe."

While I agree with Aaron that such silliness makes ALL Christians look marginalized, I think we could learn from those within our Christian Family who are marginalized for another reason.

In ALL of my reading lately I have come to the conclusion that we of the Church who want to live our faith must consider opting out of the rampant consumerism that has gripped our culture. For me the issue of Boycotting Starbucks should be primarily for the use and promotion of FAIR TRADE products within that corporation and better working conditions for its employees.

BUT, overarching ALL of this is the realization that we in the Church should be boycotting the whole consumerist lifestyle that sees a Starbucks, or a Timmie's or a coffee from any franchise outlet as a necessary part of our day.

Why are Christians, that is FOLLOWERS of Christ so blithely participating in the market place in the first place?

This past week our study groups here in Flesherton read through the Song of Faith put out by the United Church in 2006, and under consideration in a remit today, and we read the words:

Sin is not only personal
but accumulates
to become habitual and systemic forms
of injustice, violence and hatred.

If we read and take seriously the words of folks like Jim Wallis, Walter Bruggemann, and others who stand on the prophetic margins of our Church and society today, we would recognize that the consumerist culture we so easily move within is a systemic sin ... Starbucks is part of it, not because it supports Gay Marriage (that idea is a redeeming quality of the super corporation), but because it is part of the problem.

The current economic system is BROKEN.

It destroys communities, misuses resources, values profits over people, values short term gain over long term values like health, safety and the environment, and perhaps MOST reprehensible of all - the current Market Economy and its reliance on Consumerism has erroneously bought into the belief that growth is unlimited and necessary. To my reckoning, the ONLY biological process that holds to THAT particular belief is what medical folks call CANCER.

The place of the Church - the followers of Christ in our world is NOT boycotting a company because it support Gay Marriage, but boycotting the ENTIRE SYSTEM that places too much importance on shopping, consuming and living beyond the means of our budget and our planet.

Our planet is in trouble if we don't wake up soon and see the fallacy of the consumerist culture that so enraptures humanity ... we're messed up ...

The final piece that fell into place for me today to underscore that realization was finding out that someone sued PepsiCo (the parent company of Cap'n Crunch cereal) because they had been eating Cap'n Crunch cereal with Crunch Berried for FOUR years believing they were consuming real fruit.

According to what I read, in their affidavit, they felt betrayed, mislead and humiliated by the realization that crunchberries were NOT REALLY fruit, but simply coloured balls of cereal.


That realization was humiliating??

I would have been humiliated by the realization that I was THAT dumb ...

Today I hear the old song by Christian Gospel/Contemporary musician Randy Stonehill who sang "Stop the World I want to Get Off" back in the 80's ... though I don't agree with everything he sings about, I DO agree with the sentiment ... today I'd like to find a quiet little planet with some intelligent life !!!

Check out Randy's song here: (click for 'Stop the World I Want to Get Off")

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Lessons from Scriptures ...

The modern Church could learn from King David ...

When the Prophet Nathan confronted the King about his behaviour in regards to Bathsheba and her loyal husband Uzziah, the King could have responded in anger and defensiveness. But instead the King was open to the prophet's words and not only heard the harsh judgment being offered, the King accepted the condemnation and begged for forgiveness.

Today in the Modern Church when you dare to suggest that we could do better when it comes to any number of issues, the response is not like that of King David's.

Looking back over my own experience in the Church and reflecting on it and that of others who dared to be outspoken and even slightly controvertial, and I've come to realize that if we dare to:

Suggest that we could be doing more to address issues of living our welcome and you will experience a response of anger and defensiveness.

Suggest that we could be doing more to address issues of poverty and homelessness in our midst and the response may put your job at risk.

Suggest that a pastoral charge may have issues that need to be addressed and faced, and you could be putting more than your job at risk ... I've had my house shot at, my tires slashed, my children threatened, and my job abruptly terminated - other colleagues have experienced firings, intimidation and threats, and in at least two cases FIRE BOMBINGS.

What saddens me most of all is that in the greater Church there is a tendancy to do two things when such issues are raised - the first is to blame the victim and question why they would foolishly put themselves in such a scenario, and the second is to poo poo the experience and try to deny ANY connection to the Church at all.

To turn back to the example of King David - perhaps it's time for the Church to look back and learn from its own history and heritage.

Instead of pouncing on the folks who dare to speak up we should instead listen to what they are saying and ask ourselves the tough questions about whether or not there is truth to the accusation, and what we could and should be doing better.

To cite one last example - I remember being at a Conference AGM where the issue of being an AFFIRMING Community was under discussion. Speaker after speaker noted that 'we' already were a welcoming, accepting and AFFIRMING place.

Then one of the visible and outspoken voices in the Gay, Lesbian, Bi-Sexual and Transgendered Community stepped and said "You think we're welcoming? Sorry think again ..."

What followed was a litany of ways in which Gay, Lesbian, Bi-Sexual and Transgendered people feel excluded and shut out in the United Church of Canada. The speaker offered a thoughtful, respectful and insightful list of observations and experiences ... a prophetic and necessary voice had spoken. The observations offered were uncomfortable but TRUE. And came from the very people who were to be welcomed in by the conversation being undertaken.

Next up to the mike were a number of people who stood and said essentially - "No, You're WRONG."

Instead of hearing the prophetic voice as an opportunity to address an issue in a constructive and welcoming way, the speakers who followed spoke from a defensive and borderline angry place what rejected the suggestion that our reality was somehow different from the perception we've created.

The Church is not, and was not what we thought it to be. Instead of addressing that simple truth, the response was defensive ANGER that tried to denounce and reject the speaker who dared to utter a prophetic truth.

Today I continue to marvel at the unwillingness of the Church to take its lumps and deal with the FACT that there continues to be a vast disconnect between what we say, what we believe and what we do ... not everywhere, but in enough places that we should be concerned.

Instead of responding to the prophetic observations and proclamations with anger and defensiveness, we should be willing to take a page from King David's book, and respond with some humility, some contrition, and a willingness to BE THE CHANGE WE SEEK.

The world expects more from the Church than empty words ... and that alone should move us past our critical defensiveness !!!

The Prophetic Voice ...

"Get a job!!"

"Stop abusing the system."

"Get off welfare."

And on and on the rhetoric goes ...

Yesterday I was privileged to share some time with the folks who are trying to run the Food Banks across Canada that provide food, opportunity and most importantly HOPE to the marginalized in our urban communities from coast to coast.

What struck me was the commonality of the frustrations they face in trying to do the work they are doing. Work that no one else really wants to do, and work that too many seem to criticize and condemn without an inkling of what they are really doing.

The notion of arms length charity comes to mind ...

But what struck me was hearing the executive director of a Food Bank (and remember that Food Bank here is about more than just the daily distribution of hampers out of a facility - NO Food Bank is limited ONLY to hamper distribution. They do SO MUCH MORE!!), here in Ontario who said that along with incredibly giving and generous people in her community are ALSO the standard conservative folks who refuse to donate a thin dime because they've worked hard for their money and see no reason why others can't just do the same, and their circle of friends in various service clubs and country clubs feel EXACTLY the same way and support the political candidates who see the world through the same narrow point of view.

Not surprisingly, this experience is echoed EVERY COMMUNITY from coast to coast. Anywhere there is a food bank, a soup kitchen, an emergency shelter or people on welfare or any form of assistance, there is the same hollow, hurtful and selfishly defensive rhetoric.

Then one of my personal heroes, David Northcott from Winnipeg Harvest shared his experience of trying to involve the Churches of Manitoba in addressing the issues of hunger, poverty, homelessness and the other urgent needs that accompany these challenges. He used the example of speaking to a UCC in Manitoba where he shared the work that Winnipeg Harvest does, offered examples of how the work they do makes a difference, then David cited the Biblical call to care for the widows and orphans among us only to hear THE MINISTER scoff at the suggestion that the Church COULD and SHOULD be doing more in addressing poverty issues in our midst.

David then said - "I don't get it. Why is this so hard. People are hungry. Feed them. Why is it so complicated ?"

Why indeed David.

Why do we make it so complicated in the Church?
Why do we make it so political?
Why do we deny the prophetic calling from within and without the Church that tells us that what we're doing is nice, but it's NOT ENOUGH.

Today I posted a comment on Facebook based on David's comment, and have been thinking about it since ... and I've realized that this dillemma is EXACTLY why the esteemed J.S. Woodsworth left the Methodist Church.

Woodsworth was deeply involved in addressing issues of poverty amongst the immigrant and inner city people of Winnipeg. His thinking came down to one simple idea: HELPING PEOPLE IN NEED. To Woodsworth, the politics and the posturing had no place. People were in need, and they NEEDED help. The role of the Church Woodsworth was simple: address that need and stop defending our complacency and our self serving justification of wealth.

Were Woodsworth's words and proclamations comfortable to the fine old Methodists like the Eaton family of Toronto who had amassed considerable wealth? Probably not ... and if the Church then is ANYTHING like the Church now I have no doubt whatsoever that the Eaton clan and others of similar ilk who had considerable wealth, power and influence sought to silence the prickly voices like Woodsworth in the name of a welcoming Methodism.

Today we have few prophetic voices like Woodsworth.

Today those of us who dare to question the status quo and ask if there is MORE that could be done face the harsh judgement of our colleagues and our denomination.

The criticism is frequently couched in softened language that points out our successes and tried to temper the judgment being offered out of a fear of offending those who are involved in the first place ... it's an interesting conundrum really. Why should the people who are deeply involved in supporting food banks and soup kitchens and outreach ministries be offended when a prophetic voice - be it mine, or ANYONE else's dares to suggest that there could and should be more that we can do???

Why is the response from THESE involved people defensive rather than a relieve "whew!!"

To my mind, the folks who are deeply involved in the needed outreach should appreciate the willingness of someone to step up and speak out about the needs around us.

The prophetic voice is not about popularity, it is about truth.

The truth is - we have many people doing amazing things, but we have TOO MANY people NOT doing anything, and too many people NOT doing enough, and the pulpits in our land have fallen into a place where the messages being delivered are warm pink fuzzy proclamations that offer few challenges and fewer uncomfortable moments to those sitting in the pews.

If we look back on the writings and research done since Pierre Burton penned his tome "The Comfortable Pew" almost three generations ago, and followed the thread through the work of Gordon Turner, Reg Bibby and countless others, why is it so damned hard to accept the fact that the United Church today has become a pale shadow of what it once was.

Our spiritual forebearers were folks like Ryerson, Woodsworth, Crosby and others who lived the idea of the Social Gospel, which was embodying and sharing the Kingdom of God in TODAY'S world. Today, we nod to the Social Gospel heritage, but we're more concerned about NOT offending people then we are comforting the marginalized.

There are fabulous people out in our communities who are embracing and living the values of the Social Gospel movement in the name of the Church, but I will continue to maintain that many of those who could and should be doing the same AREN'T, and many more are actively discouraging any hint of the Social Gospel movement in the Church and Society, and that must change if we are to remain relevant AND FAITHFUL to the Gospel that calls us.

AND, like the broken record that I have apparently become, I will say again - the first step in this needed and looming renewal demands the presence of Prophetic Voices that come out of the wilderness and call us back to faithfulness.

People like Amos, Jeremiah, Micah and Isaiah were not well liked, and modern Church history shows us that heroic figures like Ryerson, Woodsworth, King and others who called for FAITHFUL change were seldom liked or respected in their own time, but when you are letting the Spirit speak through you the TRUTH WILL PREVAIL.

Faith is not a popularity contest. It never was ...

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Random Thoughts on a Tuesday Afternoon ...

On Saturday, while Ms H was playing Hockey in a tournament in Sarnia, I was blessed and privileged to have a coffee with my friend, mentor and inspiration in ministry Rev. Bob.

Rev. Bob arrived at my home church of Centennial United in Stratford when I was in my teens and was struggling with life, the universe and my place in the Church. He became my confessor, friend and confidante. He has inspired and challenged me over the years, and most of all, he has ALWAYS taken the time to sit and listen and talk when I most needed it ...

I look back on numerous fabulous conversations over the past three decades that have covered everything conceivable topic, and that have helped me wrestle with big issues and concerns in my life.

On Saturday we sat down and talked for the first time in almost 10 years ... we had reconnected briefly last year when he came to Mom's memorial ... our conversation involved getting caught up on our respective kids and family, and touching base about the people and places that had influence on both of us in our respective journeys.

But what stood out most of all for me, was the re-affirmation of my core beliefs and values, and the importance of what it is I have sought to be about in ministry over the last 20 plus years. Bob shared his experiences of being bruised and wounded by the toxicity within the Church, and the utter failure of our Denominational leadership to deal with the bad behaviour some people (both lay and ordered) are capable of.

We talked about being pummelled by people hiding behind their faith and trying to recreate the Church in their narrow minded outlook on the cosmos.

And we talked about the appalling cowardice of the Church to truly address the issues before us as people of faith ... "There is no place for prophets ..." Bob said over and over.

I remember being a teen and hearing Bob say, "what the Church needs now is a prophetic voice willing to address things ..." He like my other mentor Mervyn Reuber (whom I've cited previously) has often said the Church has become a wishy-washy organization that is more concerned about appearances, and not offending anyone, than being a Church.

Rev. Reuber put it bluntly when he said The Church needs to be the Body of Christ Risen and Incarnate and VISIBLE in the world, not some namby-pamby social group that gives you a warm pink fuzzy for attending.

Both Bob and Mervyn have expressed the need for the Church to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable, yet despite their voices and that of countless others echoing the same things, at heart the Church - the United Church - has become a Church that values peace and good governance over living and sharing the True Gospel.

We lack the prophetic voice.

Sound familiar??
I think I've said this before here and elsewhere.
I've been criticized for self identifying as a prophet (something I haven't done by the way - I've identified my preaching as prophetic, but like the Biblical Prophets of old, I take no credit for that, I am merely echoing and amplifying what has been placed within this vessel by the Spirit).
AND, I've been battered, beaten and rejected for daring to speak up and speak out.

Today I've been reading about the life of St Francis Xavier, and the chronology of failures and rejections he endured in his life ... yet, despite ALL of this, and his poor standing in the values of the Church of his day, he is now regarded as a Saint.

Francis didn't play well with others. His ministry was not one that was well received by the people in places of position and power, and ultimately he died rejected and marginalized by the very Church he served ... yet today a few Centuries later, he's heralded as a Saint while his critics (those who claimed to be right and just) are forgotten.

This simple reality alone should be ALL that we need in the Modern Church. The voices that have the lasting impact and that embody the change and dynamism of our faith are NOT those voices that speak from the corridors of power, or the offices of prestige and honour. Instead, real change - meaningful and FAITHFUL change comes from the margins where the prickly, the uncomfortable and the marginalized voices speak.

The SAME voices those in places of power and position desperately want to silence !!!

So, today I know in the fibre of my being that the path I've trod in the Church, even though it has been uncomfortable at times, is one that I can faithful continue to follow ... though, like anyone else I like to be given words of support from time to time, I would by far rather spend my life living and proclaiming the Gospel I find when I open my Bible and read with an open heart and mind, than spend my life grasping and grappling for approval and advancement.

The Church is not a corporation. It is however what Reverend Reuber described so aptly a decade an a half ago when he said - "it's the Body of Christ Risen and Incarnate and VISIBLE in the world, not some namby-pamby social group that gives you a warm pink fuzzy for attending"

The Church is where the Prophets need to speak out again ...

The list of topics is pretty big:
- closing of manufacturing plants in Canada and the loss of jobs

- people losing jobs and hope in the name of excessive profits

- CEO's and executives making HUGE salaries while workers struggle to put food on the table

- an impulsive consumerist culture that values stuff over people and relationships

- an environment that is collapsing under uncontrolled development

- a society obsession with a fast food diet that is anything but healthy

- the failure to pay and compensate people adequately for their work and employment

- the rising tide of hunger and poverty EVERYWHERE

- the growing wealth of the 1% and the total lack of power by the remaining 99%

- the need for housing, education and health care by more people that we can count

- the distraction from these and other issues by a media obsessed with celebrities and bling

- the lack of vision and hope ...

The list goes on and on and on ... and under lying it all is a realization that 20 years ago an American Comedian named Bill Hicks was warning us that a steady diet of KFC, McD's, and American Gladiator was an intentional attempt to distract us from reality and lull us into a place of complacency

Hicks was a prophet whether he knew it or not ... it could be perhaps because of his relatively religious upbringing, or his uncanny intelligent observation of the world around him, OR it could be because the Spirit was working through him to share with the world a message that needed to be heard.

Regardless of why - the message Hicks carried was smack on, and we ignore it twenty years later at our peril.

The prophetic voices are speaking ... and it would seem that the one place place they are not welcomed, is the one place they should be speaking the most clearly ...

This weekend, for the first time in a very very very long time, I have hope that one day the prophetic voices will once again echo from the pulpits of the United Church ...

One day I won't feel like the lone voice in the wilderness calling !!!

One day ... it will happen !!!
Thanks be to God !!