Saturday, 31 December 2016

A Confessional and Aspirational Farewell to 2016

Haven’t blogged in quite a while.  
So much going on, so little “extra” time… 
and perhaps, I haven’t really figured anything out worth sharing.   But as the year comes to a close, I figure I should say something.

Apparently, 2016 sucked.  
A lot of bad things happened.  
Yes, they did.  
But, and this is not an blanket endorsement of the Federal Government, the politics of hope and possibility still stand above the politics of fear and division in our country.  I am disappointed in our Federal Government for a number of things done and NOT done, but in a democracy I expect to be disappointed  (if I got everything that I wanted, that would likely be a dictatorship.  Run by me.  And I don’t have time to blog, let alone run a country).     So, I will be glad that the Government has admitted many mistakes (rather than deny them); I will be glad that we have an inquiry into murdered and missing indigenous women, we have and continue to welcome refugees and have begun some measures that will have a positive effect on our negative environmental impact.

2016 was terrible, but I am glad to hear the emerging voice of Black Lives Matter and the impact that they are having on public awareness and policy.

2016 was lousy, but I give thanks for the Water Protectors in North Dakota; their passion, resolve and a measure of victory (I don’t imagine that this is over, yet).   Non violent protests made a difference in South Korea – actually led to the impeachment of a president.  Non-violent!

The ozone layer is repairing. 
The tiger population is on the rise. 
There is peace in Colombia.
I got perform in a concert with my son and didn’t embarrass him. 
All three of my sons are excelling in the lives that they have chosen; I often find myself marveling at the great choices that they are making and I see real joy in their lives.    

Yeah, it was a lousy year, but I started a new ministry partnership with a minister who exhibits such grace and imagination, devotion and knowledge, imagination and insight that I feel like I’m just starting in ministry myself, rather than celebrating 25 years since my ordination.

It was hard year on all of those who lost loved ones, found their own abilities diminished and opportunities restricted.  According to the media, a lot of celebrities died in 2016, but so too, did mothers and fathers, children and best friends… partners and anchors.  And in the midst and wake of such loss, I have seen people shine.  I have seen love poured out to fill the spaces emptied by grief.  I have seen faith shaken and restored, rebuilt stronger and even made available to share and support others.  I have seen such light shine in the darkness, that I have had to avert my eyes.

As cultural icons have left us, I see the invitation for us to start writing our own songs, telling our own stories and shaping a future as inspiring as the past.  Culture is not meant to be a museum, new things have to be created, supported and celebrated.  I suspect that David Bowie has made me lazy and complacent, rather than just be satisfied playing my old vinyl, it might be time for Siggy Normdust.

Of course, through all of this I have ignored the elephant in the room
The great big red and blue elephant that escaped from the Republican Circus and hoodwinked a nation:   Donald Trump.  

I am not a fan.  

In the interest of full disclosure, I was not a fan of Hillary Clinton.  I found HRC to be too often dismissive of those upon whose support she relies; she is too much of a "hawk" for me to fully support. Having said that,  I would have voted for her repeatedly over Mr. Trump (if the Russians would have allowed it).    I also believe that had the DNC not been so duplicitous and manipulative with the Bernie Sanders campaign, he would have probably lost to Hillary, but his supporters would have stayed with her and swung the election.  Of course, I am also the same guy who bet friends that Donald Trump wouldn’t survive the February primaries.   So what do I know?

I know this: I learned a lot from Donald Trump. 
Watching and listening to Donald Trump, I became aware of how my humour, my tolerance and my language have contributed to a “rape culture” that appalls me. 
Seeing Trump’s bombastic example  has made me aware of my own, more subtle, contributions to an oppressive, sexist reality.   Watching him debate Hillary Clinton, I became aware of how I use my body mass to sway an argument or dominate an adversary, effectively bullying my opponent.  I honestly didn’t see it before… I recognize the language that I use that can 

But my learning is greater than that:  The election of Donald Trump has affected me at a fundamental level. I have watched a man, with very little substance, lie to the world and be rewarded for it. I have watched a bully win... even though all of the stories that shaped my youth assured me that bullies lose in the end.  Every western, every action movie, every detective story that I have read throughout my life, assured me that in the last chapter; in the final reel, Trump would lose.  Billy Jack might go to jail, but the bad guys would always lose!   It was so obvious that Trump had to lose… But he didn’t.  And this is devastating to me at an almost spiritual level.  (I am still hoping that Bruce Lee will defeat Trump in a hall of mirrors just before the inauguration). 

In my privilege, the historical narrative has always offered me a win.  I have had the comfort of trusting in institutions:  All police officers are my friends; doctors will always do what’s best for me; the Government will protect my interests… officials will always be reasonable and once they recognize the reality of my situation (whatever it may be) they will assist me.   

The election of Donald Trump, has brought all of that crashing to the earth. 

I can’t trust the institutions that shape my life.  For me, in my privilege, this puts everything at risk: Maybe my mother doesn't really love me... maybe chocolate doesn't really taste good... it's possible that a little dab won't do me. 

For the first time in my life, I begin to understand what my brothers and sisters have been talking about so passionately.   A great many of my friends have NEVER felt that institutions were on their side; they’ve had no reason to trust the police, or the government… they’ve never felt respected or supported by the “powers that be”.   I have sympathized and understood intellectually with what women have told me about their experiences; I have appreciated and nodded with understanding when racialized friends have told me about injustice – I have responded in supportive ways, but never really got it at a gut level.  I have always been able to believe that if we fixed this bit of corruption or accepted this small compromise, it would work out – because I trust the institutions my ancestors built and that I support.   
But that’s not reality for most people…   
  and I am beginning to come to grips with that.  

Right now, it’s still a kind of numbed shock… but I can fill the gnawing inside me; the unrest.  It’s kind of like hunger or quiet rage.  It puts you on edge and makes many social or official encounters a competition where you have to push to win and always watch your back.  Holy shit… how have people lived like this for so long?  To my brothers and sisters who have lived this way for most, if not all, of their lives... I am in awe of your strength and humbled by your patience and tolerance. 

So, I suppose that I am grateful for the election of Donald Trump, because it and he have certainly made me far more aware of the breadth and depth of my own privilege; the reality of living in the 21st century like a “normal” person.  It has awakened in me an urgency and a need to support others in my life.  When I talk about support, I'm not talking about providing solutions - I'm talking about listening and following; doing the things that are directed by and of value to those who are asking for my support.  They don't need my solutions - but they can sure use my trust, strength and hope.  

The American election, Brexit and the empowering of racist voices and sentiment in my own community, has also made me aware of my need for Grace and the persuasive love of God.  In my privilege and arrogance, I kind of thought that I could (or we could) figure this all out by ourselves:   We just need to make better choices.  Today,  I am more convinced than ever that I (we) need the persuasive love that bends the arc of the universe toward justice to be active in our lives and decisions.  I, personally, need more than holy teachings,  I need a sense of presence as I stumble forward into 2017  - ready to write new songs, tell new stories, shape my life and the life of my community.   My faith assures me that I will not be left bereft…  and  in that promise,  I have hope.  Real hope.   Because I am aware and awake… I am less complacent and arrogant… and most importantly, I am not alone.

2016 may not have been a good year for many, but it has served a purpose for me… so now, let’s get on with 2017 with a little more daring, a lot more loving, a fearless hope and the knowledge that we are not alone.   Together, we will make a difference... alone, we'll mostly post on Facebook. (not that there's anything wrong with posting on Facebook).  

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

What bugs me about West Hill United Church, Rev. Vosper and the United Church of Canada

Hopefully (but probably not) my final thoughts on Rev. Gretta Vosper, Westhill United Church and the joys of being United Church.   These have been challenging times from all of the above.
I will preface these remarks by noting that some of my friends and colleague will NOT agree; and some of the same may not be happy with what I am saying.  To them, I am sorry if this puts a strain on our friendship.  To others, these are simply my current thoughts and I may very well have different thoughts next week. 

I will also note that Rev. Gretta Vosper’s interview with Toronto Conference Interview Board has been concluded, but the recommendations of the Interview Team are not yet known.  It is my understanding that the report may well be concluded, so my remarks will no effect on the report in any way.  

As Rev. Vosper’s views and this specific review have played out throughout the church and the media over the past couple of years, a couple of things have bugged me and I think that I'll express them and then (finally) shut up.    

It bugs me that we think that this is such a big deal, the theology/philosophy is not particularly novel and as big a deal as we may be making this – that an Atheist minster serves a United Church of Canada congregation, or that others in the church would have the church courts act to remove her from that pulpit – the rest of the world is not all that interested.   In the face of growing intolerance, a worldwide refugee crisis, violence against the LGBTQ community, terrorist attacks, polarizing de-humanizing politics around the world and the fractured and devastated relationship that main-stream Canada has with First Peoples – an internal squabble within the United Church of Canada doesn’t really make it very high on the leader board.   Outside of church circles, in a week where Rev. Vosper is not interviewed on CBC, mention her name and most people give you a blank stare.   So, everybody, dial it down… and let’s talk like calm adults, not like children running from a burning building.  For those who maintain a more traditional Theistic faith, do you really think that this is the thing that will thwart and inhibit God’s love?

It also bugs me that we carry on like this shouldn't be happening.  Of course it should... nothing every grows or develops without challenge or controversy.  This is the very thing that we should be doing - questioning and daring our faith to reach further than it did yesterday...
But, just because something seems new or novel, doesn't mean that it is better than that which came before.  It might be... but it deserves the same scrutiny, examination and challenge as the faith it desires to replace.  It bugs me when we carry on as if Rev. Vosper must be right because she is modern and her views were not common currency 30 years ago. 

It bugs me when theology becomes binary as if we must choose between Anselm and Vosper... as if there aren't thousands and thousands of profoundly spiritual and brilliant theologians inviting us to grow our faith and vision.  For me, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin would be a great place for many folks to start.

There are some wonderful people in the West Hill United Church Congregation, I have sat with them at table, enjoyed their company and consider them to be great companions on any journey – faith or otherwise.  Having said that, it bugs me that the don't seem to appreciate the actual polity of the United Church of Canada:    Gretta does not belong to them.

When they wear the T-Shirts bearing the slogan, “My United Church includes West Hill” they should be aware that nobody is suggesting that West Hill United Church should be removed from the United Church of Canada.  Nobody has a quarrel with the congregation.  There is a question as to The United Church of Canada’s responsibility in providing a leader who is appropriate for a community wishing to be included in The United Church of Canada.    When an ordained person from another congregation joins The UCC, we make sure that they are properly educated in the practices and ethos of the UCC before letting them lead a congregation; we supervise them as they prepare for Admittance into the leadership of the United Church of Canada - this is to support the minister AND to be sure that the congregation is well served.  We don’t simply accept any ordination or faith position as sufficient, we do our due diligence and strive to share and nurture the “ethos” of the United Church of Canada.   By reviewing Rev. Vosper, we are doing our due diligence, and also taking the opportunity to review our “ethos” and perhaps redefine it.  It bugs me that people assume that we are simply trying to get rid of Rev. Vosper. 

It is important to note that, in the United Church practice and polity, Rev. Vosper doesn’t work for West Hill United Church.  In practical terms it may seem so, but in reality she works for the United Church of Canada.  West Hill United Church doesn’t hire or fire any minister, they request Presbytery to place or remove the minister that they desire and Presbytery acts in the best interests of the Congregation, the broader community and The United Church of Canada.   If a congregation voted overwhelmingly to hire a rodeo clown, a firefighter or Joel Osteen to lead them, the United Church of Canada would say “No”.  The congregation, community and The United Church of Canada would not be well served – in short, just because you want to hire or keep someone, doesn’t mean that you get to – that’s not how the system works.  I’m not saying that we shouldn’t change the system, only that as it stands right now, the system does not responsibly acquiesce to “but we want her to stay”

I note that Rev. Vosper and many of her supporters speak of a radical change needed in the church; almost a revolution of thought, speech and practice.  I don’t recall Luther’s supporters, at the time of the Reformation, insisting that he be allowed to remain an Augustinian Priest.  If Rev. Vosper’s assessments of the needs of the religious community are accurate then perhaps insisting that she remain in the United Church of Canada is simply denying a much needed revolution, let something new be birthed rather than constrained. It bugs me that some people seem to call for a revolution, but don't want to give up anything to have it. 

But, let me get back to the T-shirts and something that has bugged me since I first saw one.  The shirt includes another slogan:  My United Church includes Gretta Vosper”.  To this, I say, “Yes, it does!: Truthfully, my United Church does include Gretta… but it also includes Jesus, God and a variety of expressions of faith that challenge and occasionally offend my own faith.  It is Rev. Vosper who insists that the United Church NOT include that which is important, even essential, to me.  I have been at Conference AGMs and heard Rev. Vosper comment on a given motion before the whole court, “if we would just remove Jesus from the wording, West Hill United Church could vote in favour”  But if my United Church includes Gretta Vosper, why can it not also include Jesus?  It was Rev. Vosper who admonished our Moderator for praying in a time of hurt and crisis – but that prayer brought such comfort and light to a dark situation for me… if my United Church includes Gretta Vosper, why can’t it include prayer?   Why can’t it include me, with my less evolved theology and desire to stay connected to the nurturing stream of tradition?  Who is that is actually trying to narrow our view and shrink our large tent? It bugs me... 

Personally, I don’t think that Rev. Vosper is a danger to the Church or to Christian faith – I think that she enhances both, but she does it best when both sides are listening.  Right now, we're not listening: We are glaring, seething, championing and competing.  The many people who came out to support Gretta at her Interview last week, were no doubt a balm and embrace to her in her time of challenge… however, for others, it felt like intimidation and bullying.  I am quite confident that nobody involved directly in the interview had any desire to railroad Rev. Vosper or support injustice – they came trying to discern God’s will in a time of challenge; to discover together what love for the individual and community looks like in this moment.  Do you have any idea how hard it is to pray when people are glaring at you and demanding that you pray correctly?   It would have been entirely inappropriate for 50 people who want her removed from the United Church of Canada to show up with signs demanding her expulsion – we would have called that bullying and asked them to leave.  If an Ordinand brought such a group to his or her interview, it would have deemed in appropriate.   But there they were and they were afforded courtesy and kindness – because the United Church of Canada will always include West Hill United Church.   It bugs me that they wouldn't do their best to help the dedicated loving people do they job and ministry that has been assigned them. 

So… now that I’ve got all of that off my chest… I wonder how I will react when the recommendation is made public; when things unfold as they will…?  I hope that neither side will cheer, but instead lovingly and respectfully try to find a way forward that is gracious and supporting of both sides.  Through it all, I will trust and love… as I have been enabled by the one that I still desire to name as God.    

Sunday, 12 June 2016

After Pulse... I'm sorry. I can't keep doing this.

At least 50 dead and another 50 injured by what is being called an act of domestic terrorism.  Over 100 members of the LGBTQ community targeted and executed by a man who may or may not have had a political or militant agenda.  I don’t know all the facts; I suspect that it will be some time before any of us do.  We will do a fair bit of posturing, pontificating and distancing.  Each of us doing our best to convince others and ourselves that we had  nothing to do with this.

But for me, it won’t work.

I have everything to do with this.

I have no sympathy for Isis or Daesh; I have no cultural, religious or political zealotry that makes me target the LGBTQ communities.

I don’t think that I exhibit or am influenced significantly by homophobia.

I would love to make this shooter out to be a crazed man bent on terror, because than I can distance myself from this crazed killer, pretend that I had nothing to do with this and so, do nothing in response. 

But I am part of this. 

I am part of this because I have let my brothers and sisters worry about themselves; take care of their own problems.  I have walked and celebrated in Pride parades, signed some petitions and worked to make my church an Affirming Ministry – but I’ve done those things for you and not for myself.   Strange, but until I do these things for selfish reasons, I suspect that I am part of the problem.  As I support my brothers and sisters in the LGBTQ community because I like them… love them… wish them well… I continue to marginalize them as community while I remain situated in the larger, normalizing, privileged community into which I was raised.  My love is an act of charity, not solidarity.

What happened in Florida at the Pulse Nightclub shouldn’t have happened to the LGBTQ community, it should have happened to me… but that’s not how I read the story when I first saw it.  I read about this terrible thing that happened to the LGBTQ community… not to me.  I was sad for them... but not for myself.  And that realization broke upon me like a wave.  
It's my thinking of you as "them" that helps to make you a target... you're not the "norm"; you're not "me", you are "them".   Like Jews, Gypsies, Serbians, Tutsis and so many other people that are NOT in the majority and therefore able to be separated out and targeted.  As long as we're not attacking the majority, we can wring our hands and declare how terrible it all is... but it's not our problem. 

As a Christian, I believe that the Divine became flesh to live in our midst and show us that the Divine/Human separaton is an artificial construct... and so is, "Us" and "Them".  There is only "Us" My faith also assures me that nobody can go to the cross alone.. we are all there.

I am sorry.
I am not asking for your forgiveness... this isn't about my being forgiven or excused for the past. This is about how I intend to go forward.  I will not let people do this to me... I will not let people hurt me like this and pretend that it will get better. 

To my brothers and sisters in the LGBTQ communities… I love our diversity, uniqueness and different ways of being human  - but I am also sorry that I have ever allowed
 you to be “them” in my heart or my life.  You are not "them" - You are me… what happens to you, happens to me.  Those bodies that were taken out the Pulse nightclub were members of my family… they were me…. And I am sickened, hurt, devastated and outraged by what has been inflicted on my family; what has been  taken away from me… And I will not leave you to your grief.  We grieve together; we face this and change this together… Not because I have a solution or some special power that will fix this - but simply because we can’t afford to be “us” and “them” any longer: It's not working.   We are one and together let us be so strong, and so united that nobody would ever dare to target us again.

I do apologize for rambling... but what happened to me early this morning, has left me in pain... and I'm not myself today.   

Sunday, 22 May 2016

Saturday in the Park...

I have no patience for ridiculous traffic, and so I make it a policy to NOT go away on long weekend.  Not Labour Day, Simcoe Day, Canada Day or the glorious Victoria Day weekend, presently upon us and better known as the “May 2-4” weekend.

This weekend was no exception.  The Boo, (my better half who would rather not have an on-line identity – and may be the only person I know that cannot be found by Google) and I started out day with our planned Hair Styling at the Loft Toronto at Queen and Bathurst.  (Sylvie is a genius and an awesome woman… go there for all of your hair needs, concerns, aspirations and dreams…  just saying).  After our appointments we were released onto Queen West about 1130 and we began to walk… we walked west to Gladstone, north to Dundas, back East to Ossington, south again to Queen… stopped for branch and cocktails at County General and then slipped over to Trinity Bellwoods park where we walked some more, sat a little and become more human.

Let me back up… we walk because we like to look at people and at life.  The shops along Queen are fascinating, the people with their babies… and their dogs… and their coffees… and their smartphones… and their beards…. and their yoga pants…  It’s a cavalcade of Torontonians.  Walking through the residential areas  watching octogenarians tending to tiny perfect lawns and elaborate gardens with blinding white statuary, fountains, artificial and very real flowers – just makes me smile from deep within my very being.  The cultural integration has exceeded the vision of a Russian Orthodox Church in the midst of a Little Portugal to include Chinese, Vietnamese , Italian and Hipster (surely their culture has a distant national origin?) and it is glorious.   The Boo and I would have been satisfied with our walk had we headed home after brunch at County General. 
But instead of moving on, we decided to hang out at the park.  Not just any park – the spectacular Trinity Bellwoods Park.  Having passed through the gates we were greeted by hundreds upon hundreds of people – a woman in an insulated coat with a wool hat making her way around two women sunbathing in bikinis… dogs of every shape and size known to creation… children running and squealing; playing on slides and swings; digging in a giant mound of dirt… some vulnerable seniors from John Gibson House getting some air and enjoying the day… picnickers… a young man taking pictures for a George Brown College Photo Exhibit  (he asked, I posed… I’m no Bieber or Schumer)… young people walking (or attempting to walk) slack ropes strung between posts, there was every hue and colour imaginable, every shape and style of hair and beard (including the ever popular, forked beard).  If there is an objective scale for beauty, we saw some very beautiful people, some less beautiful folk and some down-right ugly people – but they were all radiant, glorious and attractive.   We walked and watched… we sat and watched…  and my dry parched soul become supple and moist; it grew shoots of new life and I began to be Spring.

When I am busy or shut in by winter, I have little time for the superfluous, so I tend to focus on the people that I need and the people that I know.  Most of them, tend to be like me… similar tastes, skills, looks… take a picture and you’ll note that “He looks different”; “She’s a ginger” – but, like Taylor Swift, I have a Squad (although most of them probably don’t know that they are in my Squad….  Hey, maybe I’m in Taylor’s but just don’t know it??).   A day at Trinity Bellwoods, for me, reminds me that there is more to humanity than the people that I typically prefer and to whom I usually defer: More than my squad.   There are all sorts of people out there – humanity is vast and awesome…   (but seriously, Tay-Tay, if you're reading this, I am Squad available)

Walking, sitting, soaking it in, I didn’t notice one Trump Supporter, I didn’t recognize one Wynne Detractor or Pipe-Line Protester… I saw lots of elbows flying, but no assaults were announced… I didn’t notice one Christian, Muslim, Jain, Atheist, Cavalier or Raptor…  it was just a sea (or a lake) or humanity and it made me feel connected.   I have no doubt that all of the above sub-groups and individuals noted above were in the Park with me yesterday… but it would seem that we all decided to let down our walls, fill in our moats and just be human.  Ridiculous, Glorious, Hilarious, Amazing… human.   From time to time, I need to be reminded that humanity is vast; I do not exclusively define it... and I am not alone.  Even if I want to be.   I am part of something so grand, so diverse and so joyous that the only fitting response is "Awe".    You may remember that last week it snowed and it was awful... yesterday, in the park, it was "Awe-filled" and I'm glad that I didn't miss it.

Saturday, 26 March 2016

One size may NOT fit all... Something that I'm thinking about on Easter Saturday.

Like many Christian clerics on Easter Saturday, I am reviewing tomorrow’s sermon.  What do I say to the folks on Easter Sunday?  What challenge, what comfort, what truth do I strive to lay bare… what inspiration to Transformation dare I offer to the faithful who come every Sunday (or 3 Sundays a month, anyway) and how do I combine it with a message to those who will be there under duress  (you promised that you’d come to church with me this Easter!     
No Easter Egg hunt until after church!       
Maybe, I should go just to be safe…)?

Old School? New School? Out of School? 

This year, as with many years, I have some media features trying to shape my narrative – a national magazine wondering if Jesus really existed and another colleague featured in interviews decrying the stupidity of the “Old Man in the Sky” and professing to know that most clergy are in agreement with her position, just lacking in courage and support.

Allow me this confession – I am progressive.  I am personally persuaded by what most would call Process Theology.  I am in agreement with Gretta Vosper on many many points.  Not all – but many.  One might say that I am in “Essential Agreement” with her, but still end up in another place entirely.  (United Church clergy inside joke).  I have no reservation seeking personal wisdom or relying on the compassion of many of my Non-Theist and Atheist friends in a time of crisis.   But, I still want my Jesus.

I still adhere to a discreet Divine presence in the universe (throughout the universes, even) that inspires me toward justice and beauty, that loves me and persuades me in all aspects of my life.  I pray and I think that it matters; I hurt and I believe that I am not alone, even when nobody knows about my pain.  That’s me.  I also find that the teachings and the event of Jesus connect to me on all levels of my being: Intellectual, Spiritual, Emotional and even, Physical.   That’s me.  

Enough about me. 
   (egad! I barely know how to type that sentence)

Here are the two things that struck me today, as I was reviewing my notes for tomorrow.

1.      My Great Grandmother has a framed picture on her wall declaring that: “God couldn’t be everywhere, so He created mothers”.     It was likely a gift from one of her many children, but it also matched her theology:  A theology that wouldn’t have lasted 5 minutes in seminary.  She was the kind of woman who sang “In the Garden” quite happily and had no doubt that Jesus walked with her, talked with her and called her his own…. Rather like a boyfriend.

How arrogant would I need to be to run back from Seminary and tell her that her faith was wrong… that it couldn’t stand up to real critical thinking and that it would not be sufficient to carry her through her life? A life in which she raised 7 children and even more grandchildren; buried loved ones, both adult and child; created a life with her husband and community that touched more people than I have touched in 25 years of Easter Sermons.  Hers was a faith inspired her to be kind and compassionate, understanding of the failures of others and unafraid to live even to the very end of her life (and beyond). 

I read Tillich and Moltmann; reveled in Whitehead and Cobb; worked through Calvin and found light and joy in De Chardin, discovered Von Balthazar and rarely put down Hall… I could enumerate most (if not all) of the things that were wrong with her silly hymns and ridiculous wall hanging..  
And I haven’t lived a life half as loving or nearly as authentic as was hers.  

Faith is meant to embrace us, it fits us and inspires us… it is not a “once size fits all” reality and just because you may wear a size 2 is no reason to insist that my size 14 is unhealthy or wrong.   It just fits me better.

2.      Back in the late 18th century, Residential Schools for “Indians” were opened in Canada.  We closed the last one in the late 20th century.  For two centuries it was our policy to give these Native people what they needed to live in the world as we imagined the world.  We knew that their ideas were silly and not realistic (imagine living on the back of a Turtle)… we knew that their language would never say anything meaningful in world dominated by English and French. We knew that their faith wouldn’t be enough for the real challenges of the “modern” world… so, we insisted that they learn English or French for their own good;  that they accept Jesus Christ as their Saviour and come to know the God of Abraham, the one true God, for their own peace and salvation.   And because we were so convinced that this was the right thing to do, we took away their language and rituals, we forbid any talk of their out-dated faith… we insisted that they talk and believe as we did, we wrested them from their families so that there would be no going back – after all, they were wrong and in our superior thinking we were so very right.

I am not suggesting that Non-Theists, Atheists or A-Theists are running residential schools – that would be an incredible disservice to those whose lives were lost and devastated; whose culture was almost murdered… but I would remind myself and other progressive thinkers and preachers that our arrogance can sometimes takes us down paths that we may not have intended, or certainly would not have chosen had we the privilege of foresight, or the wisdom of hindsight. 

  Your faith might be perfect for you… it might even be objectively “right”; so, too, might your culture and language be perfect, even “right”… but before you insist that others abandon their rituals, language and beliefs; give up their comfort and familiarity... think about my Great Grandmother and consider he truth of the Residential Schools with which we now struggle to reconcile. 

Please, be ready for the questions and the growth as it comes to be – allow people to let go and hold on as they choose, strive to find a common language or at least a way that we can speak together without insisting that either side stop talking their native tongue... but don’t for a moment imagine that you’ve got it all figured out…because one day, you might realize that a size 8 is a way better fit than you imagined. 

Saturday, 19 March 2016

Living in a world gone mad

For the moment, we’ll pretend that it hasn’t been over 7 months since I last wrote.  
Join the ranks of my parents, friends and earliest sweethearts to whom I have often provided the gift of opportunities for forgiveness.   Perhaps, in a later missive, I will explain myself.

For now… let us thank Donald Trump for motivating this current phillipic. 
 (we’ll wait while you google it…)  
Actually, I’m being somewhat misleading.  1.  This blog will not be particularly “fiery”.  
2.  There is NOTHING for which to thank Donald Trump.  

And Ever. (Amen).  

But he has got me thinking.  
What does one do when one discovers that he/she is living in a Reality Television show?  Because that’s how I feel as I watch the surrealist theatre and listen to the rhetoric of the Presidential Primaries in the U.S.    Can I simply swear at Gordon Ramsay and turn in my apron? Refuse to shower and get voted off Big Brother?  Is there any way that I can beg the Tribe to speak or simply dance away from the stars?

It seems not. 
This show will not turn off - like “Two Broke Girls” or “Saved by the Bell” no matter how poor the writing, acting or embarrassing the situations, it’s always on!

Living in a world where public figures re-write history on a whim (Donald Trump’s business acumen; Hillary Clinton’s lionizing of Nancy Reagan and her support for people with Aids; when Bewitched brought in a new Darren) I find myself wondering what to do when the nuts are in charge.  How does one live in the midst of evil, stupidity or just plain wrong-headedness?   I respect democracy and I have bought into the idea that the majority have the right to determine their shared future – but how does one live quietly in the midst of those who have been fooled or hoodwinked; lack the capacity or information to make an informed and just decision?  
Do I just grin and go along with it?

As teenagers, sitting in school cafeterias or basement recrooms we would often profess that, had we the ability to time travel, the first that thing that we would do is go back and assassinate Hitler before his rise to power.  We knew most assuredly that the best way to deal with evil was to kill it before it could spread.  However, with commitments to life, justice, the rule of law and the priority of democracy, I have to confess that I would be unlikely to assassinate anyone.  
(I had always believed that there we only two assassination attempts on Hitler, but having recently been informed that there were as many as 47, I’m beginning to wonder if some or my teen age friends haven’t figured out how to time travel and are simply bad a assassination) 

Of course, I could just bitch, moan and post constantly on Facebook how funny, stupid, useless or disappointing everything is.  But, much like my plans to assassinate Hitler, I would like leave my teenage attitudes and practices behind me.  
(Seriously… how ‘bout we give the new Prime Minister a little more than 6 months to fix everything that needs fixing and stop blaming him for looking good in a suit?)

So, what am I supposed to do?

I’ve ruled out assassination.
I’m trying to let go of whining.
I don’t want to live angry.
I’m not moving to Iceland.

French’s Ketchup aside, I’m not convinced that yelling and screaming at the Parliament Buildings, a Trump Rally or Loblaws is really going to affect much change in me or in the world.  But I can’t do nothing, can I?

This Sunday, the Sunday before Easter, most churches will be commemorating the Palm Sunday parade of Jesus.  And thinking about it, has inspired me and will help to inform how I will live in a Trump World… and you may live in a Trudeau world…. How we can live together in a world where we may not be entirely “at home” living with idiots. 

Historically, it is likely that Jesus' little parade happened on the day of or very close to the time of larger parades.  Parades that celebrated the Roman Empire; a least one parade that would have been notable for horses, chariots, loud noises, big crowds and raucous cheers in the name of Rome.  A reason for celebration, but also a reminder to the local folks as to who was in charge, and how they would deal with unrest and disobedience.  It’s all cheers and balloons, unless you step out of line and then these same horses, chariots and soldiers could be turned on you.  

Having been born and raised in Southern Ontario, I’ve never been to parade that frightened me or carried any undertones of violence in my mind – but go to the Airshow with some Refugees some time and you may see a very different reaction to the spectacle of military jets flying overhead in formation.

In the face of this militaristic, double speak world of violence and Empire, Jesus cannot remain silent.  However, he does not go to the parade and throw tomatoes… he does not scream “Fascist” and speculate as to the size of Pilate’s penis (thank you Republican Presidential hopefuls for raising the bar so high…)  He simply lives and presents an alternative.   He puts on another parade at the other end of the city… one with a donkey (or two) and people throwing clothes and waving palms.  There are no clowns, no banners,  no horses, no chariots or soldiers; there is no military or commercial might on display whatsoever.., instead, a parade of people cheering and crying out “Hosanna”.  An alternative to Empire; an appeal to God and peace, hope and love… a simple act that doesn’t dazzle or manipulate, but provides another way.  Kind of like the first the best of Pride Parades. 

images may appear whiter than likely... or even, possible.
I think that this will be my best way forward should I find myself a minority awash in a sea of idiots… or a morally responsible person in the midst of a world gone mad.  I will live and demonstrate an alternative to corrupt privilege of those who rule. I work diligently at loving the stranger, opening my hands and heart to those in need, I will seek peace rather than victory, I will pray rather than deride, I will keep doing what it right and trust God… and I will have a parade - many parades! I will make visible my choices, so that others may be inspired to come out of the shadows and live authentically, even if it is not endorsed by the majority;  I will live and parade in loving opposition to the “common sense” choices of the masses.   And maybe, just maybe… someone will recognize that “Hosanna” actually means “save us”… and our daring to hold true to what is just and loving will eventually be enough to change "common sense" and save us all.

Or we all move to Iceland.

Thursday, 3 December 2015

I believe in Prayer

I haven’t blogged in a very long time.
  and I'm going to be hackneyed and awkward today... blame on lazy blog muscles. 

I was silent during the Canadian Federal Election, because I was reminded by the government of the day that I was not allowed to be publicly partisan as a “minister”,  lest my church’s Charitable Status be in question.  As my blog is linked to my church Website and Facebook Page and because I agree that in my role as pastor/minister/priest there is no place for political partisanship,  I stopped writing.
Then, it seems that I forgot how to write.
Then, there just seemed to be too much about which I could write.
And I was crazy busy.

BUT then, the anti-prayer backlash became a thing.
After the horrific shootings in San Bernadino California yesterday, public figures who offered prayers were criticized for the weakness of their response.  It was suggested that Prayer is an easy way out.   I agree that many people say “I’m praying for…” as a way of doing something when they are unable or uninclined to do anything else… and I do feel strongly that water is the best response to a thirsty person, even before prayer.   But I also think that people have the wrong idea of prayer.   (practitioners and critics alike).

We’ve all heard stories of the power of prayer, people who have prayed  and seeming “miracles” have ensued; but we also know of lots of people who have prayed and “nothing” happened.   Prayers have not been answered  and please don’t tell me the “but the answer was ‘No’” story... ‘cause I pray for peace every day and I find it hard to imagine that God is saying “No” and millions of others every day.
The thing about prayer, is that I’m not exactly sure that it’s a conscious decision.

Most of us recognize hat prayer that comes out in desperation… even before we know it;  without our thinking…
“O God, no!”
“Please, please… God”

Even those who don’t believe in prayer… those who are non-theist, atheist, post theist… “beyond all of this”-ist… modern, right thinking rational people…  In a desperate moment, it comes out.

I talked to a modern non-theist, non-religious friend recently.  She told me that she stood in the shower early on a Saturday morning, after a night of hearing about the violence in Paris (a place that she loves to visit) and she found herself talking quietly to herself in the shower, asking for peace and comfort for everyone in Paris;  an end to the violence and that people would be okay… that a better day would come… 
I asked her why she did it… she said, “I didn’t know what else to do…”
I asked gently, “were you talking to yourself…?”
“No… I don’t think so… maybe… no”
My friend is not much different than most of us.  We’re modern, intelligent people and we’re pretty sure that we’re not talking to ourselves… but… but…
As we talked further we agreed that there is something special about those quiet conversations,  those hopes or fears that we speak in the shower, in the silence of our minds, or in the intimacy of church.  Those words have meaning and we do it because deep down we know that they matter.  It’s just that we don’t know how to describe it… we lack the vocabulary… and we don’t want to seem like idiots.   So, we don’t talk about it.
But we do it.

Most are very clear that we don’t  believe in a Cosmic Concierge, who gets us what we ask for because we’re on the team… or we asked the right way… or so often, or with so many people that we win him over to our wishes.  I think many of us are afraid to talk about prayer because we don’t want to endorse a partisan, petty god who works for us and not for others; who smiles upon Hannah, but doesn’t seem to care about Abigail.   We don’t believe in a god who allows us to abdicate responsibility by simply handing it over in prayer.

So let me say this:  I  still believe in prayer.  
I believe that it matters and that it makes a difference.   I learned about prayer from my parents:  As a little boy saying grace before dinner and prayers before bed, I told God what I had done that day and asked God to take of the people that I knew and loved.   In Sunday School and in Church the tradition continued.  Years later, experiencing the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous with a someone with whom I felt connected, I experienced prayer in a very real way. I met people, became dear friends with people who prayed like drunks in church  (a fine tradition if 1 Samuel 1:1ff is any evidence).  These people prayed for a new way of living, prayed out of their torment, prayed out of need… prayed like their lives depended on it… also prayed without abdicating responsibility, but recognizing the limits of their own power.    I’ve seen prayer work, but it works in on-going relationship. 

At the risk of repeating myself, I don’t endorse a theology of the Cosmic Concierge who waits for me to ask politely before doing my bidding.   I do endorse a living God who dwells within me and throughout all of creation.   And in relationship with that living God, I find strength that I never thought I could have, I find peace that comes with the knowledge that it’s NOT all about me.  
When you read about prayer in most of the Abrahamic Scripture, there always seems to be a bit of negotiation. “   If you do this for me, I will do something for you”  “We will be your people, if you will be our God like this….” 
Again, that’s the problem for some people.  It makes God a petty despot who needs to be assuaged, cajoled or flat out “bought”.   And yet.. I’m not sure that it’s God as much as it is us.  Surely you recognize the familiar prayer:  God, if I get through this, I promise that I’ll never do it again!
God, if I could just win that lottery, 
get that raise, 
find that job, 
have this thing that I want to so much… 
I promise that I’ll give some of the money to charity; 
I’ll go to church more often; 
I’ll be nice to my neighbour.

What I hear in these ‘negotiations” is not the buying and selling of favour, but relationship.  Give and take.  Conversation.  Real sincere prayer, for me, is about relationship and so there needs to be an honest conversation.   This is who I am God…  I’m not great.. parts of me are pretty fair, but other parts… well, you know.. we talk to God sincerely; we get rid of the artifice and falsity and speak the truth.
When I pray – I joke with God (seriously, I do) because that’s who I am and somehow in the absurdity of humour, I feel authentic…  God, remember that I’m the guy who still prays for the Leafs, like it might make a difference, so you know that I am hopeful… please help me raise money for Refugees and those who are so vulnerable that my efforts might actually save their lives…
I’m in real relationship with God, so there’s no point in my trying to sound like the Pope or Richard Burton or Taylor Swift. (now, that would be a dinner party).
And being me, I pray for my children and my wife… and my sports teams… and for Paris, Beirut, Syria, San Bernadino...  not necessarily in that order, or under the impression that my children are more important than your children or that my wife is of greater value than a woman in the Sudan or that San Bernadino is the only place visited by violence and traged..  but because that’s who I am right now.. I am those worries and those pains.

And in the midst of such concerns, I also give thanks.  Because, I had a great afternoon yesterday, and  if we’re in a relationship you should know that.

And I listen.  
Because it’s a relationship.

I listen to the Cosmos Intoning… I listen to that still quiet voice within… and it provokes me, beckons me, invites me into new ways… new insights… I can feel my pettiness and fears lifted up into the light and I let them go… I face my cowardice and dare to try… I experience my humanity and recognizing the mystical humanity and divinity of Jesus, I am assured that God and I are not separate;  we are together.. in relationship… I am not alone.  I also find that prayer takes me deeper - if I give a thirsty person a glass of water, I will quench that immediate thirst - good for me! But if I also take the time to pray, I might also find myself engaged in that person's other needs; I might find that I need to consider justice and why it is that the person in front of me has no water... In this situation prayer does not make it easy for me, it makes it harder because it invites me into deeper relationship with this person as I recognize that we are connected through God with whom I am in deepest relationship. 

Prayer is relationship for me - not request, not abdication or passing the buck. 
In a relationship, I am influenced by the other.  
I am who I am because of my wife… and my children… and my friends…   and I am influenced by God.   I don’t do everything that my wife asks of me (I should); I am not at my children’s beck and call – but I love them, ache for them, hope for them and let them into my life;  I do not do everything that my friends hope that  I will do, but I hear their concerns and your worries, I smile at their joys and rush to their side in times of grief and pain… because we are in relationship.  Similarly, I listen to God… often, I follow bravely, sometimes I drag my feet… Occasionally, I pretend  that I didn’t hear.  All of these relationships make me who I am.

But relationships are two way and so just as I am influenced by God, so is God influenced by me… and others.  God does not do everything that I ask.. God is not solely at my beck and call… but God loves me, aches for me, hopes for me and invites me into God’s life.  God doesn’t do everything that I ask; God sometimes disappoints… but God hears my concerns and worries, smiles at my joys and rushes to my side in times of grief or pain. And it's not just me... it is all of us.   We are all in relationship.  And so, we know that God is influenced by us.  As a Christian I am assured because in Jesus we are promised the permanency of such a relationship – Jesus is both Human and Divine.. now and forever.   God and us, we are in relationship and that cannot be changed.

So, for me, prayer works.  But mostly because it affirms a relationship that makes me more daring and more loving and never lets me abdicate my responsibility as a human being to all of creation... and like any good relationship, it is anything but "easy".