Friday, March 30, 2012

The journey ahead ...

It is tiny. It is less than two inches from top to bottom.

It is anything but fancy. It is a piece of cardboard like wood, some cheap metal and too much glue.

It is simple, and was cheap. I bought it from a Coptic Monk kneeling behind the Tomb in the Church of the Holy Sepluchere in Jerusalem for a shekel.

But in the coming days I will think of it because it offers a connection and reminder of the Resurrection that is so much a part of this season in the Church.

The connection is that I bought it, and brought it home to give to my Mom after my study tour trip to Israel in the late 1980's ... she tucked it away in a little wooden jewelery box that I had given her from the same trip, and there it sat for almost thirty years until I rediscovered it this past year sorting and cleaning Mom's stuff ...

And the reminder is of her, Scott, and my trip to Israel as well as the Theology of Resurrection that over arches all of life ... it came from the very place we are told the Resurrection of Christ happened, and in the coming days as we journey into the shadowy corners of Holy Week, this simple little crucifix will help remind me that no matter how dark the world becomes, no matter how hard it is to see the path, and even if ALL seems hopeless, the Resurrection WILL COME!!

This little crucifix will help remind me of what my faith is ALL about ... Thanks be to God!!

(click here to share the prayer I have offered for the coming week)

The Small Treaures ...

It's funny, the most cherished things in my house right now are not necessarily things that have any real or meaningful monetary or collectible value.

They are things like the 'piggy' bank pictured above, that have connection to, and meaning from the lives and homes of my grandparents, my mom and other members of my circle of friends and family who have ended their earthly journey.

The frying pan bank above hung in the kitchen of my Grandparent's home in Waterloo, and even though it has little value, I see it every time I come down the stairs into the kitchen, and I pause to think about them and ALL that they meant to my life and my world ... a resonance that continues even years and years after they've gone ...

Such are the vagaries of those mementos and touchstones we cherish. They remind us of loved ones who touched our lives with meaning and care, and who have passed on.

We cherish such tiny treasures not because they are valuable to anyone else but us, but because they help to reconnect us to the memories of our past that inform and inspire our future.

My Grandparents had a big impact on my early life, and I still find myself reflecting on things they said as I struggle to parent my children, and live my life in a sometimes confusing and stressful world ... the quiet asides Grandpa offered are frequently deeply profound pearls of wisdom that are worth passing on while also living them out ...

It may seem cliche, but Grandpa and Grandma knew a few things!!!

Our lives are a balancing act of past lessons and learnings, and future decisions and choices ... the tiny treasures that hang inconspicuously on the wall, or sitting on a shelf are often reminders of that interconnectedness, and a way of making our life journey with care, wisdom and more than just a little inspiration.

We cherish things for a reason ... the most important part of that process is to allow that reason to inform and inspire our lives as we continue to grow and mature !!

Monday, March 26, 2012

Walk With Me !!!!

One of my favourite hymns is "Walk With Me" written by John S. Rice.

The tune is beautiful and the words are amazing. Whenever I hear it, I think of its history and the call to faith that it offers.

On Sunday we used "Walk with Me" in our worship service, and as we sang it (in both services) I thought to myself, there is a blog posting in here somewhere ... little did I know where that thought would lead me ...

Over the last few years Blogging has at times been my salvation. Here I can share my thoughts and frustrations, and along the way I have been inspired and uplifted by postings of others whom I am delighted to count among my friends.

One of the blogs that I have followed with great delight has been the posting of my friend and colleague Blake, who was in ministry in Texas when I first encountered his blog.

My first exposure to Blake's Laughing Pastor came when one of my friends and congregation members asked if I was posting in another Blog ... she thought the Laughing Pastor was either me, or a kindred spirit and thought I should check it out, that is IF I wasn't actually the Laughing Pastor.

I followed the advice, and was hooked by the mix of wisdom, laughter, silliness and incredible reflections on life, the universe and almost everything in between ... along the way Blake and I became friends and have exchanged emails, texts, phone calls and now are Facebook friends. We have even tried to co-author a book - a project I am still willing to try. AND, I have a beautiful cross in my office that came to me thanks to Blake. (see the posting: Blogger Connections)

Along the way, I have valued Blake as a mentor, a confidante, a colleague but most of ALL a friend.

Together we've both experienced the ups and downs that life and ministry can offer. And from our friendship, laughter, inspiration and loving care has been offered back and forth.

Today though I have found myself weeping tears of laughter and joy as Blake celebrated his Installation as Pastor in a new Congregation, and was able to ALSO celebrate his "coming out" as a glorious child of God who happens to be Gay.

I can still remember vividly the day Blake made that admission to me via a text message ... we were chatting back and forth about some stuff and he said "Don't you get it? I'm gay."

My reply then and now remains the same - one word: AND?

Sexual orientation has never concerned me, and I believe that it has never really concerned God either ... I'm pretty sure looking around this world of ours that God has bigger things to worry about!!!

Today as I read the posting over at The Laughing Pastor that celebrates this moment in Blake's Life and Ministry, I not only found the answer to that long lingering query, I ALSO had something to post that was worthy of John S. Rice's beautiful hymn.

Today, I know that Blake and his ministry is helping to achieve the vision that John S. Rice offered so eloquently when in response to a nasty and heated debate about the role of Gays and Lesbians in the life of his Presbyterian Church. Having heard the vitriol offered by so-called "faithful" people John Rice wrote the words:

Walk with me, I will walk with you
and build the land that God has planned
where love shines through

Tonight, I celebrate with Blake the place he has found in his life where he can be truly and fully himself, and I celebrate that God's Love is TRULY shining through !!!!

L'chaim to The Laughing Pastor !!

L'chaim to the Folks in Pleasantville as they begin their ministry together with Blake!!


L'chaim to that land that God has planned, that is shining through tonight !!!

Thank you Blake, for inviting me to walk this journey with you as a friend and colleague!!

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Where two or three are gathered ...

Perhaps one of the wisest things ever posited on the lips of Jesus was the statement: "Wherever two or three are gathered in my name, I am there ..."

In the modern rural Church, two or three is sometimes the full congregation.

In an article from the Winnipeg Free Press (click here to read it), the author, Randy Turner examines in a fairly even handed and upfront way what the implication of congregations numbering less than a half a dozen means for the future of the Rural Church. In Turner's case, the issue is focused on Manitoba, highlighting congregations west and south of Brandon, but the future of Rural Churches in the 21st Century is precarious at best.

The biggest challenge Rural Churches face is Denominations that really don't care about them. By and large, we live and minister with an unspoken, but very real ethos of measuring our 'success' in ministry by moving 'UP' to bigger and wealthier and MORE urban Churches.

In the last 20 years of active ministry I've witnessed dozens of students settled in to small mult-point rural Churches only to blast off to bigger more urban charges as quickly as they could ... the comment is often made that it is a three or four year stop by these students before they head off to bigger and better congregations.

What does this expectation say of Rural Ministry?

What does the shift away from settlement in the United Church mean for these struggling multi-point Pastoral Charges?

What care does the greater Church really show towards Rural Pastoral Charges when a rural church an hour and a half outside of Toronto (and less than 30 minutes away from a larger centre) is regarded as 'remote and isolated' by most of the Church? What does this say about the isolated and remote centres like Inglis, Ninette, Nipawin, Bella Coola and countless other points thousands of kilometres beyond the shadow of the GTA????

Rural Ministry is the very heart of the Canadian Church. Many of the great leaders of our storied past came from rural places, and the conversations that gave our nation things like the Social Gospel, Universal Medicare, and countless other social safety nets, began at the kitchen tables and Church basement gatherings of RURAL folks who shared coffee or tea and started discussing solutions to the problems that ail us.

Even things like clergy car allowances, and appropriate renumeration for housing started in the backwoods of Rural Saskatchewan when young clergy listened to the struggles of their older counter parts who couldn't retire because they had nothing to live on ... the youngsters saw and injustice and worked diligently to rectify the situation, not for themselves, but for ALL of us ... I was privileged to meet and become friends with one of the ring leaders of this when I was in ministry in BC. Rev. Jack walked away from the United Church later because he couldn't tolerate hypocrisy and b-llsh-t, but he remained a dedicated servant of Christ even outside the tent we call The Church.

The bottom line to me when I read articles like Turner's is that we need to reorient our thinking about Rural Churches, and stop seeing them as something that needs to be closed, amalgamated, or dismissed for the good of the larger Church. Instead, we need to step back and reorient our focus and realize that when there are two or three dedicated and committed people in a community who are willing continue live their faith, there is HUGE potential.

The article itself dances along that acknowledgement when it notes the tragic death of two young women in Boissevain ... in those moments, when communities are brought to their knees and struggle to comprehend what is happening around them, the strength of the Church becomes an invaluable resource.

Not only can we put words to the grief, we have the tools to help move people from the darkness into the light of the Resurrection. When a community struggles to make sense of a tragedy like the loss of the two young women, the history, heritage, theology, and mere presence of the Church offers a balm to the soul of the grieving ... it may not seem like much, but those tens of thousands of egg salad sandwiches prepared and shared, are about more than just lunch!!

AND there in lies the potential of the Rural Church ... we have the tools and the means of engaging and enhancing our local communities, we just need to stop our lamenting, and use our faith to move forward.

There may only be two or three gathered on a Sunday, but instead of weeping and saying "there are only two or three" we need to celebrate that there are still two or three, and use the gifts, talents, enthusiasms and faith of that small group to touch positively the community around them ... people may think The Church is irrelevant and a thing of the past, but that is the very moment when the Spirit can do her best work !!!

It's time for Denominations like the United Church (and others) to value Rural Churches by investing, time, money, resources, skills, and PEOPLE into them, and stop buying into the cultural value that erroneously claims bigger is better, and urban is better than rural ...

Remember, when Jesus sought out the very presence of God, he didn't do it in the city, he did it in the remote rural places!!!

If rural was good enough for Jesus how can we even think about dismissing it today???

Peace !!

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Place of a Prophet in the modern era ...

As I read the words of Jeremiah for this week's Lectionary I hear the voice of the late Gordon Pokorny rattling through my mind ...

Gordon was the Conference Officer for Prince Rupert Presbytery in BC Conference when I was settled in Bella Coola back in 1993 ... Gordon was to say the very least a character. Love him or hate him, you couldn't ignore him.

Gordon was renown for his quips that cut through the b-lls-it and nonsense at Presbytery meetings and managed to lay bare the issue being discussed.

One of my favourites that he offered frequently was: "We really need to stop shuffling the deck chairs on Titanic here and either fix the leak or get the hell off the boat!!"

As I read the words of Jeremiah and do some reading on the place and role of Prophecy, and the historical context into which Jeremiah lifted his voice, I hear Gordon (and others) calling us to stop shuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic!!! (It's ironic given that we are approaching the 100th Anniversary of the sinking of this mythic vessel!)

Then I turn to the various places where happenings and events about the United Church are posted, and that sense of cynicism is deepened ... there are page after page after page of the ubiquitous "good news" stories and things that I honestly feel are intended to distract us from the big picture issues confronting us as a People of God ... instead of listening to the prophetic voices that are warning us , we continue to blithely go about our business like there is NOTHING wrong ...

There is lots wrong ... and as a Church, we are stangely silent ...

I weep for the Church today ... we're so caught up in avoiding offending anyone that we've become a pale incipit shadow of ourselves ... we stand up for justice 'over there', but won't confront our hand in creating that injustice right here ... we'll engage in acts of charity for the needy 'over there', but we won't admit to our involvement in oppressing the needy by our life choices here ... we are very good at standing up for what we believe in, but we are less good at looking more closely in that mirror and OWNING what we could and should be doing about it in our day to day lives!!!

In short, the Church today lacks a Prophetic Conscience and Voice that calls us to faithful action ... we're busy readjusting and moving the proverbial deck chairs, nodding politely when we hear the prophetic readings and giving thanks that the words are historic and quaint ... when it truth the words still resonate in our modern era and the warnings still echo in our souls!

The readings this week, as Lent draws to a close are a stark and startling reminder that we in the Institution called the Church need to STOP shuffling the deck chairs on this Titanic we're sailing on, and instead start dealing with the reality around us by LIVING our FAITH!!

The prophetic voices are speaking ... we've just chosen NOT to listen ... and that my friends is anything but faithful !!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Is it just me or ...

I think I'm officially a curmudgeon ... the other evening I saw an ad for Cheerios Banana Nut cereal and was struck by the absolute absurdity of the tag line ... after hyping that it has the same nutritional value as the original cereal, and convincing the viewer that it was/is a cereal we must absolutely have, the commercial tossed out what I think is one of the most innane lines I've ever heard in commercials.

The voice over said "with the real taste of bananas" !!!

That caused me pause ... since childhood, I've frequently sliced up a banana on my morning cereal for an added something ... it's simple, easy and tasty.

But when I heard this line in the commercial I couldn't help but wonder two things:

First off, how lazy have we become that we can't slice up a FRESH banana on our cereal in the morning, but have to rely on a process banana puree to provide us with the 'fresh banana' flavour??

And secondly, (which may be why this cereal is needed) is the demographic of this cereal people of ALL ages who have yet to master the intricacies and safe usage of the common kitchen knife? Is General Mills marketing this cereal to the lowest common denominator in our society - those who can't safely use a kitchen knife or who are perplexed by peeling a banana in the first place, and are thus reduced to processed cereal to obtain the taste of 'fresh bananas'?

I know this is not really a big deal, but to my thinking (call me a cynic if you like), it is a symptom of what ails our modern culture ... laziness, stupidity and the blind obedience to the consumerist culture ... As for me, I'll continue to risk life and limb by peeling and slicing up a banana on my bowl of breakfast cereal with my 'deadly' kitchen knife !!!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Is it just me ...

Is it just me, or has our society become obsessed with convenience items to the point that we're now creating and promoting absolutely USELESS items in the guise of 'health and safety'?

On the surface the new 'no touch' soap dispensers seem like a reasonable idea for our homes, afterall we have them in most public washrooms now.

But when it comes to cleaning up, even after a kitchen mess with raw chicken like in the tv commercial, do we really need another gadget when for CENTURIES another simple item managed to do the same job without all the electronics and batteries and so on?

Not only was a bar of soap convenient and portable, it is ACTUALLY self-cleaning:

One day I hope we wake up from this consumerist nightmare we've emeshed ourselves in, and stop buying silly crap and get back to the basics that tell us people are far more important that profits, and a life well lived is a life worth living!!!

We don't need all the stuff ...

Monday, March 19, 2012

Happy Birthday Mom

Happy Birthday Mom ... today she would be turning ___.

(Does anyone seriously think I could or would publically acknowledge how old Izzy would be?? ... Not likely. It was something she never talked about, and I'm not about to change it now !!!)

It's been 14 months since her earthly journey came to an end, and we still miss her.

I know wherever Mom is now, she's with Dad and Scott and the circle of love remains strong.

So, Happy "29th" Birthday Mom !!

(and I won't even say how many times she celebrated her '29th' Birthday !!!)

Friday, March 09, 2012

Dear Churches Seeking New Members ... (words to consider!!)

Today on Facebook a friend posted a link to an 'Open Letter to Churches Seeking New Members'.

The posting is found here (See Lyda Run), and is worth checking out.

It is a powerful and very blunt reminder that Churches can and should be doing a better job at welcoming and including new folks.

Among the sage counsel offered Lyda, the Blogger, notes that comfort and inclusion rank VERY VERY high on what Church 'Shoppers' are looking for. Her insightful note echoes the research of folks like Bibby, Turner, and others who have looked critically at Churches and how they successfully welcome in new people or turn them away ... 99% of success rests on being warm and welcoming without being smothering or embarassing. The ability to find the balance is challenging, but necessary.

I think this letter is worth sharing widely within the Church because it dares to utter a truth that we may otherwise avoid because of the discomfort it causes.

Honesty, openess, and providing AS MUCH INFORMATION as possible is vital. Acknowledging and welcoming the people without embarassing or scaring them is equally important. If the Church is to live its mandate to welcome those who happen our way, keeping this article handy and referring to it once in awhile wouldn't be a bad idea.

At the end of the day, it's about living our faith and inviting others to share in the journey !!