Wednesday, April 24, 2013

They rush in where angels may fear to tread ...

My colleague/friend and former class mate Rev. Audrey offered a reflection this morning on her blog 'Am I The Rev in black?" about the recent sacrifices experienced by First Responders in West Texas when a fertilizer plant exploded, and even when we consider the First Responders who were part of the tragic events in Boston ... as I read her words my mind wandered to the Memorials dedicated to Fallen Peace Officers that I have visited - Memorials where I find the name Constable S.E. Ankenmann, etched in the stone or glass ... The fallen First Responder, whether they are Police, Fire or EMT - reminds me of the sacrifice my family made when Dad died on duty with the OPP.

I still remember a 'good' church member in Manitoba telling me after the shooting of four RCMP officers in Alberta, that "you really need to get over it, it was a long time ago that your dad died ..."

It was a long time ago ... but it is something I am reminded of every time I read or hear of another First Responder who dies doing what they are trained and called to do.

The firefighters who died when the fire at the fertilizer plant exploded reminded me ... Audrey's words today reminded me ... watching the footage of the funeral in Boston for a fallen officer reminded me ...

I take solace that despite the every increasing number of names on memorials scattered across the country that acknowledge the sacrifice of the few, there are many officers who put on the uniform and step out the door each day willing to do what they do, and willing to face what ever danger or risk may be inherent in the job.

We can make fun of our police, fire and EMTs, and poke fun at the stereotypes that they often embody - but at the end of the day, we can't escape the simple undeniable FACT, that when there is danger, it is the First Responders who are rushing in while others are running out.

If there is an accident, a bombing, a fire or any other happening that shatters lives, it is the men and women in uniform who are the first one scene, and who try to bring order out of chaos and ensure the safety of all involved - and for that I remain grateful.

My prayer today is that perhaps fewer names will be etched and carved on the memorials as we begin to value not only our first responders, but each other, and we move away from a predilection for violence, and chose instead a desire for respect and peace ...

... maybe one day ... in the meantime, I offer grateful prayers of thanksgiving, and continue to pray for our First Responders and their families ...

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The more time I spend with people ...


Mind you, it's not ALL people ... just some ... but increasingly that latter category is fast outstripping the former!! More and more people I met strike me as more than slightly challenged!!

My observations of late have caused me to conclude that the word "NO" is truly an anathema to some people. They can't bear saying it, and they never want to hear it - yet, if we learn to say it properly and appropriately, we could spare ourselves many irritating and aggravating moments. 

I've also noted in the Church circles that too often we want to avoid even the slightest hint of having to hurt someone's feeling. The pendulum has swung too an extreme where we've become so warm pink and fuzzy that we can't bear the thought of offending or hurting people ... this is connected with our unwillingness to offer a firm "NO!" ... When I consider this I ponder the whole "What Would Jesus Do?" thing and wonder if he would just shake his head in bewilderment at the wishy washiness that has embraced his church. 

Why have we lost the ability to stand on firm and solid theology, while living the radical inclusivity that is inherent in the Gospel??

Yesterday I spent some time with my Great Aunt and Great Uncle who live not far from here and as I left Uncle F's words resonated in my ears - he said "People are SO selfish today ..." 

I think that is the heart of the dilemma that brings such cynicism to my heart. People are increasingly selfish. They have grown fearful of change and the rapid change by which it seems to be happening, and so they look inwards and focus more and more on them selves ... Fortunately, I continue to stumble upon people who are not selfish, but wonderfully and lovingly self-less. 

Thus far in the Church, and in the circles where I live and move, the self-less still out number the selfish ... but my bumping into the stupidly selfish when I move beyond my circles causes me great concern. 

BUT, that concern thus far, doesn't drive me to despair, but instead inspires me to hang out with my dogs, and then head back into the world more determined to be the change we seek!! 

I'm far from perfect, but today, like yesterday and like the days before that, I will continue to do the best job I can living out the idea that together we can make the world a better place, one step, one breath, one small action at time!! 

And when my cynicism increases, I'll spend some time with my dogs and regain a much needed perspective!!

Friday, April 19, 2013

Our ONLY response to fear ...

I have always liked the oratory and writings of Martin Luther King Jr.

In high school I remember discovering the book "A Testament of Hope: The essential writings of MLK" and devouring his words. My introduction to King came earlier, when in the basement of Centennial United Church in Stratford, our then minister Rev. Ross Cumming played a vinyl album of King's Christmas Sermon on Peace, that was recorded then broadcast, as part of the Massey Lectures on CBC.

I can still remember listening to the slightly hissy sound of King addressing his congregation in Georgia on Christmas Eve in 1967, and offering profound words that touched on so many topics, and offered an message of HOPE.

I was hooked. Ross opened the door, and since then much of what I've offered in my preaching, my reflections and my writing has been deeply grounded in the teachings and theology of King and his Gospel of Non-Violence, his Gospel of Justice, and most of all his Gospel of Hope.

In the last couple of days, I find myself revisiting King and his teachings. And I have noticed on Facebook that I am NOT alone in that - over and over since the bombing in Boston, quotations from MLK Jr have popped up on memes and postings, as people strive to make sense of the fear that has settled in.

King reminded us and continues to remind us that Love IS stronger than hate, compassion is stronger than apathy, and peace is stronger than anger ... we, like we did in the late 1960's, stand in a bewlidering place. The news is full of grim and horrendous happenings that leave communities and lives shattered. Our screens are full of bloodshed and suffering on a scale that is staggering. It is too easy to become fearfilled and lock ourselves behind closed doors ...

But, in that moment we have a Biblical example ... the first disciples locked themselves away behind closed doors for fear of the violence that could be directed at them and the harm they could experience ... they sat shivering in fear when suddenly the Risen One appeared before them and said the simple yet profound words: PEACE BE WITH YOU!! Shalom alakium!!

And in that moment the world changed!

We are no longer prisoners to fear. We are no longer people without hope.

We are the ones called, commissioned and sent out into the world to proclaim that gift of peace and to embody that hope.

We are the ones who go out into the corners of the world where fear is so thick that people lurk behind closed windows and locked doors, and we LIVE the HOPE that people like Martin Luther King so eloquently spoke and lived.

We are the ones who turn off the screens and fold up the newspapers when they are overflowing with terrible stories and happenings, and celebrate that our world is awash in goodness, revelling in the smiles and the community around us, and daring to proclaim that ONE DAY THE WORLD WILL CHANGE.

It is too easy to give into fear. But as people of faith - whether you are part of an organized faith, or just in touch with your own spirituality, our job is to go into the world and not let the darkness overwhelm us. We are to go into the world and BE THE HOPE and THE CHANGE we seek!!!

By sharing our care, our compassion, our understanding and our love, we will wear down the anger and fear and hatred that seems so prevelant. AND more importantly, by not giving into our fears, we will show others that the GOOD people out number the bad, and that as we fumble along in the darkness we will find more and more people yearning for the same thing, and soon the two or three that started the journey will be ten then twenty, then fifty, then a thousand ... and the strength of GOOD will grow, and those who preach messages of hate and try to beat us down with acts of terror will find themselves not only out numbered, but overwhelmed with the power of LIFE, LOVE and PEACE offered in HOPE.

As the British government said in the deep dark days of World War Two - "Keep Calm and Carry On!!" Today we Keep Calm, Carry On and embrace Hope rather then give in to fear.!!!

If our leaders can't offer that message, then we need to offer it ourselves!!!

We need to LIVE IT!!

We are a Hope-filled people - let's go and embody, embrace and share it !!!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Thankful for my community cyber and physical ...

I will start this with a thank you ...

Thank you to Pastor Blake, to Katie, to CandyGirlFlies, to Rev Audrey, Tia and to the other bloggers that I read regularly and who today offered a much needed and much appreciated breath of fresh and hopefilled air into my world ...

I feel like I've just thrown open the windows after a LONG and DREARY winter, and have had a refreshing breeze roll through ... I did THAT physically in my home a few days ago, and I suppose today I did it in my heart and mind as well ...

I can't put my finger on it, but today I feel a profound sadness ... it may be the headlines filled with the suffering and carnage of Boston, the Middle East, Texas and elsewhere where lives have been so tragically and so needlessly shattered ... it could be the constant stream of raw emotions I seem to be encountering lately ... or it could just be the stress of going in too many directions all at once ... Whatever it is, it is tiring and it has worn away at my optimism to the point where I truly wonder if being hopeful is nothing more then a foolish undertaking in the face of what seems to be an increasingly mean and nasty world ...

But then, I visited my blogger friends ... Blake and his poetic words of beauty ... Katie and her sharp NYC observations of life ... CandyGirlFlies (one of my long standing friends) and her humourous and pointed reflections of life's fullness ... and Rev Audrey a former classmate and colleague who inspires me with her candor and her questions ... my list goes on ... I have several favourite blogs - but this will suffice ... As I read their words, and reflect on their observations and journeys I feel the dreariness lifting ... I find myself smiling, even amid tears from time to time ... and my heart reclaims its hope.

Hope is a precious thing ... even when we think we've lost it ... it comes back stronger than ever.

Today, despite the sadness and the heaviness in my heart ... I have found the glimmer of hope I needed and yearned for ... and it came (like this should surprise me) from the hands (or more appropriately the keyboards) of my friends!!

Onward and upward as they say ... Hope is not only alive - it is what motivates us to face challenges and to engineer and experience TRANSFORMATION!!!

Somewhere over the rainbow ...

I have watched it countless times ... I have a collection of memorabilia, books, and collectibles about it ... I have multiple copies of it on VHS, dvd, and blu-ray ... I know it almost by heart ... and I LOVE this movie.

But until last night, I had never seen it way it was produced to see - ON THE BIG SCREEN!!

Thanks to a special "Classic Movie" screening in Owen Sound I can finally say I've seen The Wizard of Oz on the big screen the way it meant to be seen.

It may not be a glitzy or glamorous as the latest CGI driven offerings from Hollywood, but this simple story of a journey through a strange and wondrous land full of memorable characters, and timeless scenes is and remains one of my favourite films, and I thoroughly enjoyed seeing it on the Big Screen for the first time.

... Just had to share this ...

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Peeling back the layers ... adding to the stories ...

Work in Highland Grounds future homes continues in fits and starts. Last week the wiring and the plumbing was transforming the former Hardware Store (it has been a hardware store since Mr Duncan first turned the key in the 1930's), into a community place to gather, enjoy a coffee or tea, and just hang out ...

At times it seems infuriatingly slow, while other times I feel breathless trying to catch up to what is happening. This morning my cell phone rang to tell me, via a phone tag relay, that a semi was sitting out front wanting to drop something off ... I returned home to find a Facebook update about the truck blocking downtown Flesherton (for those who haven't been here - a semi parked awkwardly on the road in downtown Flesherton pretty much blocks about 1/3 of the downtown!!!) The joy of Small Town Life!!!

In time, we'll look back on this busy, chaotic, hectic, frustrating and bizarre chapter with fondness. When the key officially turns on the grand opening of this long awaited coffee shop, it will be with great joy that we embark on this new chapter ... In the meantime, I find myself periodically overwhelmed with the events happening around me, and so I have to pause and seek a quiet place to find my centre again.

Last week one afternoon I went into the shop and surveyed all that was happening and sat down with a notebook and a pen and wrote the following reflection on where things are at, and what is happening. Amidst the new roughed in walls, the piles of furnishings, equipment and other assorted assundry, and with exposed bricks that have not seen the light of day in 80 years, I thought about what was unfolding and penned these words that I would like to now share:

Ah, the smell of freshly cut timber, the twang of new plumbing, and the chemical scent of wiring and other assorted stuff that goes along with renovations ... 

All around me are the very obvious signs of something new coming into being. 

Piles of furniture awaiting their final placement. Vanities, sinks, toilets and assorted assundry waiting for their installation.

Paint, rollers, brushes and tarps, bare stud walls, exposed wiring and new plumbing. 

Simultaneously, this venture that will be Highland Grounds is both exciting and terrifying. I've only dreamt of such an undertaking, I've never truly envisioned doing it. Yet here we are in the middle of making it happy. 

Like a mythic phoenix rising from the ashes of what once was, this simple coffee shop (Highland Grounds) is emerging from the last 36 months of transition, loss, grief and struggle. It will not replace what has been, but will open a new chapter of what WILL be. 

After a half a dozen long years of life bouncing from place to place, and wondering where I fit in with my life and ministry, I feel blessed and privileged to find myself in a place that feels right, and that has supported and encouraged me in dreaming beyond the mundane of this moment. 

As I stand, or rather sit on a wooden stool, in the middle of this work space - the renos begun - the bones of what will be in place - I realize that this Tent Making (to use a Biblical Allusion) is more than just a new job or a new business venture. 

It is a new expression of ministry, it is a form of outreach that embraces many of the values people of faith and people with a deep spirituality hold but have failed to find in the confines of Traditional Church. 

The very nature of Fair Trade, is about JUSTICE and helping people realize their full potential economically and socially. On a more local scale, the very act of pouring a cup of coffee, and offering the gift of hospitality is the very foundation on which our culture and our faith rests. 

The centrality of the kitchen table began with the hearth of the First People, continued in the settlers cabins with the rough hewn boards slapped together and standing before the warm wood stove, and it continues to the islands, tables and and counters around which much of the life within our homes focuses. 

The kitchen is the very heartbeat of our homes, and the kitchen table is where our family sits in fellowship, and offers hospitality to friends, strangers and even foes without hesitation. 

In recent days, I've come to realize how deeply imprinted the actions of my Great-Grandmother (a resident of Grey County) are impressed in my being. Our visits to the farm house just outside of Desboro were marked with an abundance of coffee, tea, juice and an INCREDIBLE assortment of baked goodies that seemed ENDLESS. 

Looking back, I remember the barn, and the outbuildings, the apple orchard and the path out to the woodlot, but I have NO MEMORY of the house itself beyond the kitchen!!!

We visited in the kitchen with its table and chairs and Uncle Newt's couch under the window looking out to the road. 

The kitchen was the very heart of the home, and it was where Grandma Cain offered her hospitality in ABUNDANCE!!! 

It is my hope, and dream that Highland Grounds will become the kitchen table for Flesherton, Eugenia, Ceylon, Maxwell, Priceville, Feversham, Proton Station, and beyond. 

 Like the many kitchen tables, and the table that sits central in the life and ministry of every Church, our tables will be where friendships are nurtured and forged, where life is discussed and shared, where the world's problems are solved with some simple common sense, and conversations about everything imaginable are exchanged and encouraged. Highland Grounds is about building community and seeking justice, and caring for one another ONE CUP OF COFFEE AT A TIME!!! 

I hold no illusions that this will be easy. But I know in the core of my being, that like everything in ministry, it will - looking back - be rewarding and joyous. 

Soon the coffee will be ready, and the mugs will be filled in the name of Community, and ALL will be WELCOME !!!! 

Join us !!!