Thursday, May 31, 2012

Something from nothing (sort of ...)!!

I enjoy gardening ... it is a good and healthy way of releasing and responding to stress ... it produces a tangible result that is pleasant and enjoyable ... it is hard work, but sooooo worth it.

Last year I started gardening in my front yard by digging a small corner plot for dahlia tubers and some perennials and I started a flower and herb bed by the front door, then lastly I put in a small vegetable plot alongside the driveway.

This year, the corner plot has stretched across half the front yard to include more dahlia tubers, more perennials and a scattering of flowers, seeds and other flowering plants. The veggie bed has more than doubled in size, and the flower-herb bed has been joined by a peony bed in mid lawn (where the bed frame is standing).

It is such a rewarding moment to stand and look at the progress and see plants growing and blooming, knowing that with a little bit of yard work, I've been able to make it happen.

Gardening is truly a gift that gives so much ... my only regret is not having the time AND energy to do it more.

Stay tuned - updates as needed!!

Friday, May 25, 2012

Can These BONES Live?????

The phrase keeps ringing in my head: "If there were more ministers like you, I'd actually come to church".

I've heard it a thousand times in my journey as minister. I've heard it in a myriad of contexts, but almost always from people who have found the courage to share with me the "WHY?" of their absence from Church.

Frequently, the reasons for this withdrawal has been struggles with hypocrisy, bad behaviour on the part of fellow church members, or just flat out power struggles that have left congregations and people devestated and in ruins.

Yet, over and over, I have also heard sharp rebukes to "tow the line" to "mind my p's and q's" and to "be more minister-like" ... and having been fired twice, and gone through a disciplinary process, I am left scratching my head in bewilderment at the inability of the United Church (and likely ALL mainstream Churches) to think and minister and LIVE outside the box.

Yesterday I read the posting over at Maritime Preacher entitled "Let Us Die" and I wanted to weep.

Too often the prevailing attitude in the Church - the United Church - is to maintain the status quo and to never take chances or risks. It's easier to quietly slip away, then to risk offending the old guard by reaching out beyond ourselves and trying something NEW.

That's where clergy like ME have a hard time.

I don't want the Church to die.

The Church is too filled with potential and possibility to simply let it slip away. I want to share the Hope and Joy that I have found in the Church. I want people to know what the transformative power of the Resurrection can really do. I want to throw off the shackles of tradition and dogma and instead let the winds of The Holy Spirit blow through and around us ... I want to stand in a place where we answer Ezekiel's question: "Can these bones live?" with a resounding "YES!!!!" Followed closely by a thunderous "HALLELUJAH!!!!"

Can these bones live?

From where I sit - YES they can!!

The only thing preventing them is a dogged determination to maintain the status quo and keep things the way they are on into AMEN!!!

What we need are MORE clergy like Nick, and Blake (aka The Laughing Pastor)  who are willing to speak up and speak out and boldly proclaim the transformative possibilities offered by the Holy Spirit.

I think, that if the Church, rather than trying to get folks like me to tow the line, instead asked itself if the so-called "line" was faithful to begin with, we may see more Spirit-filled growth in our congregations ... but then, at the end of the day that's EXACTLY what the powers that be are afraid of. The kind of growth that comes when the Spirit is allowed to move freely, is growth that threatens the status quo and the power of those happily entrenched in positions of privilege and THAT IS WHAT THEY ARE AFRAID OF.

You can't control the Spirit.

You can't control the Prophetic.

You can't stop GROWTH.

But you can make it inhospitable for those who dream of more ... fortunately, the Holy Spirit will never be thwarted, and in the face of hostility and reluctance and outright opposition, SHE WILL FIND A WAY!!!

In my thinking the phrase - "if there were more ministers like you," is a call to think outside the box not draw a target on those like me who dare to colour outside the lines!!!

Come Holy Spirit, COME !!!!

Monday, May 21, 2012

WOW !!!!

I find it hard to believe that it was 18 years ago today that I was telling people in Bella Coola that our son had arrived safely through the night ... his first visitor, aside from the staff on at the hospital was our Church Organist/Pianist Elma who was in hospital having been diagnosed with cancer a few days earlier ... in the darkness as I wandered down the hall holding and admiring my new born son, I heard a voice whisper from the room "Is it a boy or a girl?"

"A BOY," I said proudly, then I took wee Noahkila in to introduce him to Elma.

"Oh what a beautiful boy," she said smiling.

A few minutes later one of the local RCMP officers stopped in. He had noticed our van there earlier and figured the big day must have arrived. Tim M, in full uniform took Noahkila from my arms and said softly "Hello little man," and smiled at the very new born boy.

It seems like only yesterday Noahkila was an infant, then a toddler, and then a bright eyed school boy heading off into the grand adventures his mind could conjure up ... along the way he has taught me much about dinosaurs, pirates, parenting, and perhaps most of all being a proud father.

I have sssssooooo many memories of my kids and what they've taught me ... I have indelible images of Noahkilla chugging up the aisle at Augsburg Church in Hagesnborg to help himself to 'MO BREAD!!' after communion and showing us all what Communion SHOULD be about ... I see him asking the Kemodo Dragon keeper tough questions one wintery afternoon at the Metro Zoo ... I see him boldly exploring the beaches of Port Hardy and fighting off Ninjas, Dragons, Bears and all manner of monsters that would dare to attack his fortress ... I see him heading off to school ear puds firmly plugged in, shoulder slightly hunched and his head full of all manner of ideas both strange and wondrous ... in a single instance, I see and remember these images and so much more ... and I am filled with awe at what a wonderful young man he has become.

We have our differences, and there are moments I lose my temper and rage at him ... but under it all, beyond the frustrations and the aggravations, I am proud of my son ... and I am proud of my daughters ... and I am delighted that I have them in my life ... with everything we've wandered through and endured in the last year, I know that my world would be a lonelier place without my three marvelous children ... and 18 years ago today, I became "Poppa" for the first time, and I have loved EVERY moment of the journey.

I love you so much Noahkila!! And in case I don't say it enough - I am proud of the young man you have become!!

Happy Birthday my son!!!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Today ...

It is hard to believe that my darling Beetle turns 13 today !!

Yes, 13 - I made an error on my facebook prior to having my coffee, and I may never get to live it down ...

The years since her arrival have slipped by so quickly it is truly breath-taking ... She has gone from a wee infant to a rosy cheeked toddler to a beautiful young woman far too fast ... like smoke through a keyhole, as the characters in "The Bucket List" so eloquently note!!

My baby is growing up and I'm left wondering where the years have gone so quickly ...

With all my love: Happy Birthday (your 13th - now you're a teen!!) my darling Beetle!!!!

love you!!!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

In a world of fear ...

It may be the cynic in me, but I'm increasingly becoming aware of the prevasive fear that has touched just about every aspect of our society ... our politics are RIPE with fear. Here in Canada the mantra of 'justice' has driven the agenda of our Federal ruling party to expand our jails, tighten up sentencing and impose draconian measures for a wide range of crimes despite the statistics that tell us that crime rates are dropping and we are a safer society.

Meanwhile, poverty - perhaps the most incideous violence of all - is on the rise and the demand placed upon shelters, food banks and soup kitchens is growing exponentially while our talking heads tell us the economy is rebounding and things are fine ... FINE??? The Canadian Banks quietly took Government hand outs that grossly exceeded thier total cumulative value while thier executives continued to be paid extraordinary salaries and bonuses while the banks were utterly bankrupt, and we're to accept the premise that things are fine?!? I think NOT!

Fear has permeated EVERY aspect of our society ... from kids who live in anxious fear of strangers, through to politicians who fear immigrants, terrorists and same sex marriage ... over and over our media, our leaders and sadly, even our Churches engage in this perpetuation of fear by lamenting the state of our world, while trying to impose simple solutions that offer only the illusion of security.

How can I be secure when basic rights are being denied to another? Whether it be the right to food, the right to shelter, the right to marry, or even the right to speak up?

Somehow, our leaders have convinced us that this ongoing erosion of freedoms and rights, all in the name of security - whether that security is economic, political, military, or otherwise - is the only option.

Then, most appalling of all, they distract us by having us debate some minor little thing, while they continue to widen the abyss between the have's and the have-nots, and lessen our ability to have a say much less any input into the day to day workings of our world ...

EVERYTHING IS FINE, they offer in reassuring tones, while they suggest we turn on the 500 channel universe, explore the internet, or continue shopping ... meanwhile, our world crumbles ... 

Today, like perhaps never before, we need Prophetic Voices to speak up and speak out about the reality unfolding around us, and those voices - in the Churches and faith communities of our world, and beyond - need to boldly and courageously offer a message that is not about pouring a balm over the hurts and alienation, but that proclaims the Holy Message of Transformation and Hope that is promised.

In a world of fear, the prophets speak of Hope ... dare we listen??

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

"Leaving Alexandria" - A Memoir that looks forward in HOPE!

On Sunday morning, I had the opportunity to listen to the entirety of Michael Enright's Sunday Morning programme on CBC radio ... it has been YEARS since I've been able to take in all three hours of that programme ... and what a wonderful three hours it was!!!

One of the highlights for me was the delightful interview with Richard Holloway, the former Bishop of Edinburgh and Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church. The focus of this interview was the recently published memoirs of Bishop Holloway entitled "Leaving Alexandria".

The interview (and the memoirs) focused on the hopeful and hope-FILLED journey of faith and life that Bishop Holloway has made in his seven plus decades. Holloway acknowledged that he has moved from a fervent and very evangelical understanding of faith, to a place that affirms the necessity of doubt and uncertainty while placing our trust in some kind of Holiness that permeates all of Life and the Cosmos while filling us with JOY.


What a concept in a faith journey. Instead of focusing on certainty and fear, Holloway stressed the necessity of celebrating the awe and wonder that comes with allowing Joy to define and motivate our faith.

In the interview and in his memoirs, Holloway also notes the dire need to proclaim, embody and share this Joyous Hope in our world today ... we live in a time ripe with shadowy darkness and overwhelmed by paralyzing FEAR. And instead of offering the Gospel that counters that fear and darkness, the Church has in its complacency accepted and adopted that stance of fear ...

Fortunately, voices like Holloway's continue to speak of the maturity and progression of Faith that chooses actively to focus on Hope, and Joy, and Love rather than negative spiritual values that deny life ... Holloway's book is a refreshing breath of fresh air that not only offers hope, but affirms the ministry that sometimes seems so damned futile ... Being willing to stand up and proclaim the Gospel of Hope that we have been entrusted with means facing the fears that run rampant in our world, and daring to dream of a different way of framing not only our faith, but our lives as well.

Holloway reminds us that there are no easy answers to the complex questions of life and faith ... but starting from a place of Joy rather than Fear means many of those complex questions are suddenly rendered meaningless ... after all, aren't most arguments and disagreements ultimately about vociferously defending our point of view because we FEAR the possibility of being WRONG? When we remove fear from the equation, suddenly being wrong isn't a negative, but an opportunity for enlightenment, growth and maturity.

Holloway's book is worth finding and reading ... and his wise counsel is worth heeding ...

Along the way, in Holloway's book I read the ABSOLUTE BEST quotation about Human Sexuality that I have encountered since reading Canadian Catholic Theologian Fr. Andrea Guindon's writings on sex while I was a student at Queens' Theology. Holloway quite astutely observes:

Sadly, Christianity has been more intent on repressing and misrepresenting sex than on helping people manage it wisely. It wouldn't have been so bad if the Church had said to the children of the earth: "We know you are going to be enthralled by the mystery of sexuality, which is hardly surprising since it is the energy of life itself. We know it will have the power to take you over for its own purposes, and we know you won't always be able to resist it. Try at least to think about its possible consequences. Recognize that sex has the potential to hurt and devastate, as well as the capacity to thrill. Understand that it will get all tied up with your need for consolation and acceptance. And never forget the sheer fucking insanity of it all" Sadly, that's not how they put it, and their response has bedevilled Christianity's relationship with humanity ever since. 
 (Page 74 - Leaving Alexandria by Richard Holloway)

For a review of Holloway's book - click here.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Yes WE Can !!!!


President Obama uttered a long overdue truth, and segments of American and Canadian society are having a fit because of it ... ALL because as a father, Barack Obama looked into the eyes of his daughters, and like Rev. Martin Luther King Jr 60 years ago, saw the necessity of speaking out against an injustice and speaking instead a truth - that ALL people are of equal value, and sexuality is not an issue that should divide us!!

In the days since President Obama spoke his conscience and offered his support to same sex marriage, I've gained EVEN MORE respect for him as a person, as a leader, as a father, and as a President.

I've been a fan of Obama since his election victory, and I've worried that he may become a one term president because of the fear that  is gripping North American society. But I think the strength of leadership Obama offers is much needed in our world today.

We need people like him who are willing to speak up and speak out, and stand for true justice.

In 2008, the Obama campaign spoke daringly of 'Hope' in a world dark with fear. His chant "Yes, We Can" was about more than just American Pride - it was about revisioning the world in an audacious way, and opening wide the doors for ALL people.

This week, Obama stepped up and did the right thing ... unfortunately, there are still many who fail to see that hate, prejudice and fear have too much say in our world, and hinder and limit the Children of God in hurtful and abusive ways.

My one regret is that the leadership in my country has chosen a path of fear rather than hope ... and I continue to hope that our southern cousins continue on this marvelous path of Hope being guided and inspired by a remarkable man named Obama!!!

(Check out what Pastor Blake has to say about President B. Obama by clicking here)

A stop in one of my favourite places ...

This past week I had a fast round trip journey by road back to Brandon ... along the way I was able to stop by one of my favourite places and have an all too short visit with some of the most amazing and incredible people I have been blessed to meet in my time upon this planet ...

I can not say enough about the work that the staff and volunteers at Brandon's Samaritan House Ministries do day in and day out ... they are standing on the front lines of a battle that at times seems lost long ago ... they continue though, to offer Hope, Encouragement, Care and Help to those who others would so easily dismiss and ignore.

Despite the set backs and frustrations that Marla, Marcia, Marlene, Brian and the others face EVERY SINGLE DAY they continue to do the work that needs to be done, and offer a much needed whisper of Hope to those who live and die on the margins of society.

My first involvement with Samaritan House was delivering food from Minnedosa Churches when I served as Minister ... then my involvement deepened as I began to help in the expansion of the food cupboard held in Minnedosa United to a full blown food bank ... next came our partnering with the annual visits of the Holiday Train, and one glorious afternoon hosting a lunch time Tom Jackson Concert in the packed auditorium of Tanners' Crossing School.

Along the way, these folks became friends ...

When I lost my place as Minister in Minnedosa, their care and support kept me going ... and lead to me applying to the job of Homelessness Coordinator in the City of Brandon. Now, rather than being a community partner, I was part of the team seeking to secure and implement the much needed funding this important community service needed ... my visits to Samaritan House became more frequent, and involved leaning more and more about the mechanics of the work they do, and the ever increasing needs they were addressing ...

When my contract as the Homelessness Coordinator ended, I soon became a client of Samaritan House, relying on the day old bread to supplement the food my family needed to survive ... I also became staff by driving their truck periodically and seeing first hand the places where the food and cast offs that feed people (or to use Marcia's term - the "garbage that is used to feed people"). But more importantly the folks at Samaritan House offered support and encouragement that allowed me to keep moving forward and imagine a day when I would once again be living, working and engaging in the ministry I was called to ...

It was a sad day when I left Brandon, but the last place I visited that morning was Samaritan House, to say farewell (for the moment) and to thank them for ALL the support they have given so freely to me over the last 12 years of my life.

On Friday morning when I stepped through the doors of Samaritan House, I was welcomed with huge smiles, warm hugs and the ever presence teasing that is part of them circle of care they offer ... and I felt like I had come home ... home to a place of limitless and unbounded love ... home to a place that welcomes in the most marginalized and most downtrodden and with patience, care, love and FAITH, affirms the heart of the Gospel that tells us that we are ALL the Children of God.

Oh sure, the staff are not perfect ... they get frustrated and catty at times ... but they are doing the best they can with what they have ... and this past week as I walked through the facility and realized how thin the stocked food was, and saw exhaustion and frustration in the beautiful faces of my friends, I felt great sadness that our society has shifted to a place where that care for others has become so rare.

The state of the city in Brandon today is pretty bleak ... even with the pending (and exciting opening) of the Massey Building with its 50+ new units, the situation is dire for many ... rental costs are skyrocketing upward by the week ... the availability of safe, affordable and secure housing is lower than zero ... and the gap between the haves and the have-nots is like a yawning abyss into which the vulnerable and the most marginalized fall like lemmings ...

All the while, the elected leadership and those who sitting in offices of responsibility keep talking about what should and could be done, but then bicker amongst themselves over who should do what and are more concerned with preserving their turf and claiming press coverage instead of just doing what needs to be done ...

Thankfully, on Friday I spent time with people who don't have time for the press conferences and politicking and jostling for position ... instead the wonderful folks at Samaritan House, people I am truly blessed to call friends, are too busy trying to make a difference one life at a time to worry about the nonsense ...

Today, I wish I could do more for the folks at Samaritan House and the folks in Brandon who are being washed away by the economic tide that supposedly lifts all boats (according to a conversation on CBC radio this past weekend, this metaphor has been proven false - the ONLY boats the tide raises are the luxury yachts of the already wealthy - the rest of us are left to bail or sink!!!).

So, for what it's worth - I offer this humble post a long overdue thank you to a wonderful group of people who have for too long worked to change things in Brandon by doing whatever is needed,
- reclaiming food that would otherwise be tossed out,
- creating community gardens
- handing out food baskets
- offering education and training opportunities
- lending a listening ear
- breaking bread and sharing coffee
- offering clothes, furniture and other needed items
- raising awareness
- whispering hope
- feeding the hungry, and caring for the neglected
- offering a refuge for mind, body and soul in a troubled world
- living their faith and refusing to take NO for an answer
- building networks and connecting people
- challenging people in their faith and complacency
and perhaps most importantly:
- daring to actually dream that the Kingdom of God, where all these problems are gone once and for all may actually be possible if people would simply open their eyes, their hearts, their minds and their souls to the possibility that eliminating poverty, hunger, sickness and marginalization can happen if we take seriously the call to action embodied in this simple notion "Love your neighbour"!!

What would Jesus do??

If you want and answer to that question stop by Samaritan House in Brandon and see it first hand ... your life and world will be forever changed - Mine was!!!

 Samaritan House is a beckon of Hope in a world full of shadows, and I for one am glad it is there!!!

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Another Voice in the Struggle ...

Today a discussion thread on Facebook about the present and future of the United Church lead me to offer the posting from earlier today, then I received a message from a ministry colleague in the Maritimes inviting me to check out his blog ... I had previously encountered one of Rev. Nick's posting via Facebook where he offered an open letter to the United Church writ large that named some of the realities we're facing and questioned why the status quo is being maintained when it so clearly isn't working ... as I read Rev. Nick's musings and postings I found myself exclaiming - AMEN!!!!

I had found another pilgrim on this faith journey who is feeling similar frustrations with the current state of the Church and who is being called by the Spirit to be part of something bigger than we can imagine ...

I also chuckled at the thought that his blog was called "Maritime Preacher" ... hmmm, Prairie Preacher approves, even though I have been more of the Highlands Preacher of late ... but Prairie Preacher was born on the Prairies, and the name remains ...

For now though - I would like to invite MY readers to check out the offerings of another cyber-scribe who has taken the time to share his wisdom and observations via his blog:

CLICK HERE TO CHECK OUT Maritime Preacher. 

Then come back and let me know what you think!!


And the band played ... (Lessons for the Church)

When I was settled in Prince Rupert Presbytery in the North-West corner of BC I found myself in a context that was radically different from anything I had ever experienced before in my life ... yet, the collective approach and wisdom of many in leadership roles in that Presbytery offered a comforting place in the midst of a challenging milieu.

The Conference Officer serving out of Hazelton at the time was a character by the name of Gordon Pokorny ... There are those in the Church who will wince at the recollection of Gordon, while others will herald him as a prophet and a prince ... I think the truth lay somewhere in the middle, but I also think Gordon really didn't care one way or another what people thought about him. He was called to serve The Church and to support the ministry personnel within it ... his words could be harsh and sharp at times, but he also was incredibly caring and warm at times. He was an enigma, but a loyal servant of the Church ... and whether you loved him or hated him, you had to respect his words when they were uttered ...

One of Gordon's favourite phrases, particularly when we were bogging down in discussions about issues before us was "we really need to stop shuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic here, and get on with dealing with the real issue ..." I remember him adding a variety of different observations, but the gist of them were: "the ship is sinking, we either have to man the pumps and plug the leak or get into the life boats and abandon ship ..."

Regardless, Gordon was right ... and along the way he taught me a few things about ministry that have stuck with me for the last couple of decades. He and I had many chats in my time on the west coast as I struggled to find my feet in ministry ... and his snippets of wisdom have educated and informed me since.

It was Gordon who pointed out what an incredibly political place the Church is. He noted that most of the leadership positions are people who have been groomed within the Church and who have never really been outside of it. They are what he dubbed "professional" church members who aspire to promotions to leadership position in the same way folks in the business world aspire to promotions that lead to the corner offices ... instead of new thoughts and new perspectives and new blood, we rely on the 'tried and true' or more aptly the "TIRED and true", and then we wonder why we wallow in mediocrity.

Gordon lamented the lack of passion in many leaders within the Church noting that often folks coming forward claiming to be called to Order of Ministry roles may well be called to a deeper commitment to their local congregation, or even to the broader church activities, but they may not be called to Ordained or Commissioned ministry (he said this most clearly about ex-spouses of ministers who after a nasty divorce enter ministry as what he defined as a means of proving to their former partner that they could do ministry BETTER ...).

Gordon also noted that the centralizing of our various bureaucratic offices may serve to facilitated the ingathering of the dispersed corners of the Church, but the vertical vaticans we create in urban centres lose complete touch with the fringes of the Church. He would note that what works for Toronto or Vancouver, or the issues facing the church in a downtown setting are not what a rural church in Northern BC or rural Saskatchewan are struggling with. Moreover, it was Gordon who opened my eyes to the peopling of those offices ... he asked "how many times do we see people campaigning for those positions and offices in Conference and GC offices, in the same way we see politicians campaigning for election? It's a popularity contest based on connections and family ties more than competency ..."


Crusty old Gordon, uttered an uncomfortable truth ... respect he pointed out, is earned not simply granted because of who your granddaddy was, or what office you occupy ... competence is revealed NOT by the title you bear, but by the life you live ... ability is NOT limited only to the connected and the popular ... over and over, Gordon in his curmudgeonly wisdom offered TWENTY years ago lessons that the Church continues to ignore at its peril ...

We stand in a place where we wonder why the Church is in decline and wring our hands over it ... yet we have done very little beyond changing the colour of the wall paper and changing the type of music we listen to ... what is needed in the United Church is an abandonment of the 'way things are'.

We MUST stop shuffling the deck chairs and the band needs to stop playing so we can actually address the issues before us ... most churches are struggling just to get by and keep the lights on ... yet, we're being told that if we try this new model we'll have crowds of people beating a path to our door ...

Hmmmm ... from my experience, Church growth is nurtured by the one on one relationships that happen EVERY DAY in small towns ... over a cup of tea or by visiting in a grocery store aisle, we extend the circle of welcome that allows people to reconnect with our Church Communities. With a smile, a kind word and a bit of time, we build our community one encounter at a time.

Church meals, special events, and personalized invitations that live the words "All Welcome" on the front doors of our buildings, are the ONLY way our Congregations will survive. AND, in my personal experience, when this growth begins to stir it poses a DIRECT threat to the powers that be, and the established order, and it must then be squashed.

The bureaucracy of the Church plays the political game and demands that the band plays on, lulling people into a false sense of security, while the growth is rooted out and destroyed ... the threat to the way things are is too strong, and must be stopped. Instead of being open to the Spirit and the potential it offers, the political nature of the Church insists that the way things are is good enough ...

"There's no problem ..." the voices will counsel.

They will point fingers of blame and ignore the listing deck and the cold icy water swirling around their ankles.

The Church is sinking fast ... and the first thing we NEED TO ABANDON is the political machinations that exclude many, and herald the few ... instead of shuffling the deck chairs we need to take the peril we're in seriously, and begin to address the crises before its too late ...

Step one - deal with the reality we're in, and decentralize the power of the Church ... next we need to let the Spirit inspired growth happen ...