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Oh-Oh Canada

Although I never got off this continent until about 10 years ago, and have lived in Alberta for pretty much all of my life, I have travelled enough and experienced enough recently to confirm what many travellers say. Canada is one of the best countries in the world, if not the best. We have our problems but most seem manageable. We have made mistakes in the past and are willing to face them and try to do better. Our economy has been stable enough to avoid a depression for over 80 years. We have single-payer health care. We don’t squelch diversity and even celebrate our differences. We have some long and strong traditions which are allowed to grow and develop, like Dominion Day . . .  oops, Canada Day, and our National Anthem which is now for each of us not all our sons only. We are the North. We are strong. We are free.

 

Canada Day is not about celebrating our perfection however, as nothing is perfect. It is not a pep rally about pseudo-greatness – past, present or future –  that lives only in our imagination. Canada Day is a celebration, a lifting up, of a community that strives to stay a community in spite of the many challenges that confront us. There have been many and there will continue to be many as we work and grow together. Right now there are threats to our international trade. There is a rise in individualism and exclusivity. There is chronic economic disparity. The relationship between indigenous and non-indigenous people is far from reconciled. The list is longer to be sure. The main threat I see is the rise of fear as the basis for our decision making. Too many individuals and organizations are exploiting mass media, new and old, to generate fear in order to gain power and wealth. As a nation we need to find ways to step back from what is becoming a state of perpetual fear and anxiety that encourages impulsive, usually regrettable decisions, and encourage deep, respectful conversation. We also need to find the courage to challenge those who use blame, name-calling, exaggeration, and out-right lies to move us from dialogue into attack against others.

 

Canada does have its own version of greatness which has developed for over 150 years, which is truly wonderful. Let’s be grateful for what we have and what we can be when we respect one another and aim for the good of the community and creation as we move forward together.

Facing Down Goliath

Even though many in our secular society are not familiar with the Biblical story of David and Goliath, if asked to name a Goliath or giant Canada is facing many would point to the United States. With ten times the population and incredible wealth and military might, the US can pretty much do as it pleases in the world and has many weapons, economic, social and military, to “deal with” any opposition. The emphasis on individualism, personal liberty and free trade has left many of their governments myopic, unable to see beyond their own interest. In a trade skirmish with them back in the ‘50s, Tommy Douglas is remembered as characterizing the US position as “’Every [one] for themselves,’ said the elephant as he danced among the chickens!”

More currently, in the face of the US authorities taking children from asylum seekers and placing them in detention cages, many outside the US are left feeling relatively helpless to address their neighbours cruelty. While there are always some ways of protesting from a distance, their effectiveness is limited to say the least.

Facing Goliath the army of Israel was terrified and none of their soldiers were willing to accept the challenge to fight one on one. Finally the small, young David volunteered to take on the giant, and eschewing King Saul’s in appropriate armour, took his frail sling and one of five smooth stones and brought Goliath down with one well aimed shot! Victory was claimed by Israel as the Philistine army fled.

There are some clues here to facing down our own fearsome giants – each of us has our own and they leave us feeling helpless and defeated. David tossed aside Saul’s armour as it did not fit him. How often do we look to others for “armour” and “arms”? Instead of fighting Goliath on the giant’s terms, David goes with what he knows: skills he has learned and tools he is familiar with. The main “weapons” David has are faith in God who has been his companion while tending and protecting the flocks, alone and in the wild and his love of God, his life and his people. Faith gives us courage and, as the First Letter of John points out in the Bible, love casts out fear.

Facing down our giants is never easy and there are many approaches that may or may not work. When we look to what we have, who and whose we are, our beliefs and values we can discover that we are better equipped that we think. I heard the other day that President Trump had to back down (although not completely) from his stand on taking asylum seekers children from them not because of street protests or Facebook rants but when he realized that he was losing support from Republican women. Because it was about children, women in particular were able to step outside their party line, see beyond the rhetoric and threaten to vote with their feet. Giant killers? Perhaps not but they were at least able to bring about some change from a President who usually becomes more defiant and determined in the face of criticism.

Spring into Summer ( into Fall!)

In a few days we will be marking the transition from spring to summer as the sun appears to pass over the equator and we have our longest day and shortest night of the year. Many look forward to the warmer days of summer, a time of outdoor activities, gardens, festivals and vacations – with or without travel.

However it is not quite summer yet! This far north Spring is still in the air, although some days have felt like Fall. We have seen the dormant time of Winter fade before our eyes as snow has melted, ground has thawed, leaves have appeared on trees and shrubs, perennials have poked through the ground and Spring flowers have appeared everywhere, even in places where we had forgotten they were. So it is with our church life here at Living Spirit. While our work and worship have continued over the winter it has been a time of dormancy, a time of healing and rest, a time of reflection and re-assessment. It has also been a time for planting seeds of possibility in worship, conversations and the establishment of our Transition Team. It is a bit ironic that as Spring ends and Summer brings the most active growing season, church activity everywhere slows down or stops! And yet that is OK as the church tend to be a “late bloomer” with life blossoming in the Fall – and even into and through the winter.

That is not a reason to avoid worship in the Summer! Why? Because we are going to be worshipping outside again! We have had such a good response to last year’s summer outdoor worship, in the shade of our beautiful trees and surrounded by shrubs and flowers, that we are going to do the same this year. Starting July 1 (yes, that July 1) and as weather permits, our worship services will happen on the front lawn up to and including the Labour Day weekend. Although we will have the picnic tables set up you may prefer to bring your own chair, and remember to bring a sweater, coat or blanket as it can be a bit cool in the shade. Being outside adds an extra dimension to our time together as nature speaks to us in a deeply spiritual way. Pat Massey will be leading the service on July 1, and for July 8 we are arranging BBQ for lunch after the service. Good things are happening, don’t miss out! A warm welcome awaits!

Remember the Sabbath

It’s a commandment, not a suggestion.

Having no other gods, not taking the Lord’s name in vain, honouring our parents, not killing, not cheating on our spouses, not stealing, not lying… this is all serious stuff- none of these commandments are suggestions… and remembering the Sabbath and keeping it holy is the third commandment.

How have we come to place in our culture that few seem to know what Sabbath is, let alone practise it?

I am grateful that I began to learn Sabbath lessons about twenty years ago- continuously unpacking the gifts of Sabbath keeps me from going off the rails spiritually and physically and emotionally…and I’m still feeling as though I’m just a beginner. I was a minister and a mom and a wife who had a hard time taking time off. I worked in a church culture where many of my colleagues were also not taking time off and it was a point of pride to talk about the crazy hours we were working and to compare how many weeks had gone by without having a day to rest…and none of us were calling one another out on this blasphemous practice—in the church- it was commonplace to break the third commandment- week in and week out.

I cannot remember specifically how I came to realize that ignoring the Sabbath commandment resulted in doing real harm to myself, my family and my church by never stopping, but I thank God that I did come to that realization. Sabbath rest grounds me. Sabbath rest reminds me that God is God …and I’m not. Sabbath rest reminds me to take delight in my Beloved, and in creation. Sabbath rest does what it is meant to do— it fills my spiritual well.

Sabbath practice is great for individuals, but it is meant to help build up the whole community of faith. Congregations that engage in Sabbath practices together become healty places. Sabbath for communities is all about worshipping together, eating together and taking delight in being in each other’s company. Let’s recommit to practising Sabbath- together and on our own.

Sabbath time can be a revolutionary challenge to the violence of overwork, mindless accumulation, and the endless multiplication of desires, responsibilities, and accomplishments. Sabbath is a way of being in time where we remember who we are, remember what we know, and taste the gifts of spirit and eternity.  -Wayne Muller from Sabbath: Finding Rest Renewal and Delight in Our Busy Lives

Royal Wedding Blues

While the wedding of Prince Harry and Megan Markle was news last week negative reaction to it has been news this week, although you are forgiven if you are not aware of that. The reactions have mainly been from conservative theologians, atheists, traditionalists and anti-monarchists. The latter, of course, hate anything to do with the monarchy in any form, so . . . Meh. Traditionalists hate anything that has never been done before, so again . . . Meh. Atheists don’t seem to have a clue about anything religious but love to beat up on their strawman in the sky. As for conservative theologians I am a theology geek so I am compelled to comment! Most negative comments from theologians of the conservative/traditionalist type have been about the lack of Gospel in Bishop Curry’s sermon. If you are taken aback by that you probably listened to the sermon and are aware that it was about the transforming power of love – what many Christians actually believe is the Gospel of Jesus. For those critical of the sermon, however, the Gospel is about being judged, condemned, forgiven and saved by Jesus’ death and resurrection – but only if you have repented from your sins. For these critics Curry blew the opportunity to reach over a billion viewers with the message that they were bound for hell for just about everything unless they prayed the right prayer and agreed to the right thoughts about God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

I, for one, think that most of the critics need to repent of their exclusive and alienating judgementalism that disables them from experiencing the transforming power of love of which Bishop Curry spoke so eloquently. While it is true that the word love has been trivialized and watered down to mean feeling good until you feel bad about something or some one, that is not what the good Bishop was referring to. The way of love that is the Christ of God is not wishy-washy, namby-pamby, theology lite or any other dismissive labels you can think up in order to cling to your judgementalism. The way of love is too difficult and dangerous for most of us to seriously try. It can lead to all kinds of difficulty with the established order and the invisible power of those who manipulate and maneuver the market empire. It can lead to crucifixion and most get reluctant at that thought, which is why we are invited into a community of faithful people for support and encouragement. This is why only love can end poverty, slavery and a host of other social problems when fully engaged by enough people.

Whether the deepening of our personal experience, understanding and expression of God’s love will transform the world or not, we are still invited into an awesome relationship with the Love that brings the world into creation and calls us into healing and wholeness that can transform our small part of creation, and who knows what else when we join with others who endeavor to live that Love.

 

Paul

Minister reCall: A Time Apart for Ministry Personnel : Inspiring Speakers

Paul and I were away last week to Edmonton. The first two days we were attending an event just for ministers meant to be a time of reflection and inspiration— and it was! There was time to absorb important messages from the three speakers; time to worship; time to reconnect with colleagues and be inspired with all that is going well in their ministries and there was time to rest. Such a well-balanced event is rare, and it was so very welcome.

All of the three speakers, spoke of creating ‘space’.

Rev. Dr. Amy Butler from Riverside Church in New York City spoke of the need for churches and church leaders to enter that most frightening ‘space’ in-between groups of polarized people, recognizing our essential humanity and not the politics that dangerously alienate groups from one another.

 

Rev. Dr. Jennifer Janzen-Ball from Saskatoon spoke to us about the creative natural spaces in nature where the edge of ecosystems meet and create ‘edge habitats’ that incorporate characteristics of multiple naturals spaces into one another. She used this as a powerful metaphor for the spiritual spaces that we are being called to create now.

 

Rev. Dr. Russell Daye from Halifax spoke to us through the study of Anthropology – explaining that religious practises from all over the world have common characteristics of ‘spirit space’. He spoke of how Western Christianity stopped valuing its own expressions of spirit space and imposed a form of Christianity on colonised peoples that denied the very soul of their experience of the Divine.

It is good to have time apart as ministers and come back to our beloved communities refreshed and renewed. I’m looking forward to exploring sacred, holy spaces with the congregation of Living Spirit United and the Transition Team in this special ‘Interim space’ that we are in.

Life After the Copy-Cat Nightmare

PICTURE – (Sean O’Keefe and his son Fionn, 16 months, bring flowers to a memorial on Yonge Street Tuesday, April 24, 2018, in Toronto, the day after a driver drove a van down sidewalks, striking and killing numerous pedestrians in his path. Image Credit: THE CANADIAN PRESS/Galit Rodan) 

This week we are trying to make sense of another copy-cat nightmare after a young single angry man used a rented van as a weapon on a Toronto street to kill 10 and injure 14 strangers who were just going about their day.

Another young single angry man has copied the actions of other young single angry men before him and has left a crowd of broken, disbelieving victims in his wake of hate and revenge seeking. The Canadian public heart aches once again after the national heartbreak of an accident a mere three weeks ago that ended far too many young lives; and living day by day with the news coming from the legal deliberations of how to punish another young single angry man for the senseless murders of six, and the injury of  nineteen faithful Muslim worshippers at Friday prayers in Quebec City sixteen months ago.

The two Canadian young single angry men who caused terror and destruction in Quebec City and Toronto are not being called “terrorists” as they were not acting for a larger cause, or an ideological stance other than their own egotistical need to lash out. They were emulating previous “heroes” wanting their own 15 minutes of fame at far too high a cost. In an interview on CBC, (http://www.cbc.ca/player/play/1218434115769/)  Sociologist Judith Taylor of the University of Toronto, said that both Canadian men fit a disturbing profile that is growing in on-line communities that allow young single angry men to connect and stew in their collective despair, and sense of rejection.  Instead of offering a place where they might find collective strength to take hope and courage to rise beyond their despair and rejection, as a group they tend to blame women and immigrant groups for their suffering. The solution offered by these online groups is to lash out in revenge. (see also http://www.cbc.ca/player/play/1219360835736/ about toxic masculinity)

I know and love a number of single young men, first among them being my 25 year old son. We are living in a time that is particularly challenging for single young men. Job prospects are not guaranteed through university degrees or tech training programs- and finding meaningful relationships is much harder than it used to be. The online dating phenomenon does result in satisfying relationships for some, but my son tells me that for most of the young men on those sites… who make up the majority of profiles, it is a painful exercise in rejection- over and over again.  Our young men are a large portion of the even larger group of North Americans under the age of 35, most of whom who are living alone. For the first time since we started keeping track of these sorts of things, more under-35’s are single than partnered. Social isolation is a crisis across all age demographics and gender identity and sexual preference spectrum…. but the mixing young men’s anger with their social isolation is turning toxic and deadly.

Jesus’ ministry, and his resurrection were all about relationships and new life. What is being called into life after this latest copy-cat nightmare?

Let’s start having conversations. Let’s start by reaching out to our sons and nephews and neighbours who we know are isolated and build up those relationships, so they know they are valued and valuable people. Let’s start having conversations in our faith communities about how we might respond to this epidemic of isolation around us. Let’s be the hands and feet of Christ, and his heart and his eyes as we walk our walk of faith: let’s extend the life-saving love of the Divine One to all who are isolated, and in particular, to the single young angry men whoso badly need this life-saving Love.

Introducing Your Transition Team

The Transition Team for Living Spirit United Church’s Interim time met for the first time on Wed. April 11. The members of the team were mostly selected by your Council who spent time considering people in the congregation who regularly attend worship on Sunday mornings, or were folks in the congregation who accepted the invitation to consider if God was “nudging” them to be a part of this process. Most of the team took time to consider the request and carefully weighed if they could give the time and energy to the work of the Transition Team. The team also includes a person from outside of the congregation representing the United Church and your Interim Minister. Two of the people who were approached to be on the team did not feel that they could be a part of the regular team but were very interested in the process so they have volunteered to be our “go to” people for support as we plan congregational gatherings and other events over the next two years.
Here is your team:

John Bacon

Teresa Boughen


Anne Cunningham

Shannon Morey

Cameron Nicholson

Carrie Ried

Rev. Jan Craig

Rev. Shannon Mang

This group will meet about every two weeks on your behalf to steer our Interim time together. You will hear from us regularly and see all of us in leadership in different ways over the next two years. The congregational members of the team have intimate knowledge of the history and culture of this congregation, while Rev. Jan Craig and Rev. Shannon Mang bring years of congregational experience and wisdom around how to help congregations heal following difficult times. We are so very blessed to have this group of people to guide this family of faith through a healing time together.
Our “go to” support people are Gillian Aiken and Jocelyn Massey. If you feel that you too would like to join Gillian and Jocelyn in offering support to the Transition Team do let them or Rev. Shannon know and we will build a larger team, as the Transition process can use as much support from the congregation as possible.

April Fools Easter!

 

This Sunday there is a rare convergence- Easter happens on April Fools Day. This last occurred in 1956. It will happen again in 2029, and then in 2040, and then not until 2108. That is too bad really. Looking at the celebration of Jesus’ Resurrection through the lens of humour is great: God played a wonderful cosmic joke on the powers that took Jesus to the cross. The religious elite in Jerusalem and the Roman occupiers needed to be rid of this pesky Galilean who was stirring up trouble with seditious teaching about equality and having outrageous claims made over healings— lots and lots of healings … so they crucified him in one of the most torturous ways on a cross. …. but he didn’t stay dead….

Diana Butler Bass tweeted Mar 27:

God did not send the “gift” of a dead child for salvation. God gave the gift of a child to the world to embody the way of shalom and to upend the empire of death. The Empire killed that child. But God wouldn’t let that execution be the last word. That’s the Easter story.

 

Jesus was a master joke teller in his teaching so it fits that he would play his part in a masterful prank that denied the death-dealing powers of his time- they could kill him but they couldn’t keep him in the grave!

What made Jesus a great teller of jokes is that he crafted stories and images that pointed out the space between who we are and who God calls us to be. That is the strength of all good joke telling*. Amid terrible oppression there are really funny jokes, often shining a light on the absurdity of the oppression. We saw this in the Occupied Territories where the lives of Palestinians are drastically curtailed and controlled by the policies of Israel and the army. The graffiti artist Banksy has made some of his most poignant art on the separation wall in Bethlehem:

 

Laughter- jokes- cat videos- cartoons -giggles- stories- all help us put our lives into perspective, even our failures and tragedies. Even those who are suffering often find humour and hope in the middle of the pain and the grief. This is the power of walking through Lent, and particularly the pain of Holy Week right to the cross of Jesus, so we might fully enter into the crazy joy of the resurrection.

There are stories of communities of monks who let loose on Easter Sunday afternoons after the celebrations of Easter morning; they party! They enjoy good food and drink… and they tell jokes! They laugh and laugh… right along with God and the rest of the creation.

This Sunday celebrate the mystery of Easter- play pranks- tell jokes- have fun!

Blessed April Fools Easter- Shannon

* https://www.christiancentury.org/article/critical-essay/when-easter-sunday-falls-april-fools-day

Where the Holy One Walked

There is a time for stillness, for waiting for Christ as he makes his dancing way toward us. And there is a time to be in motion, to set out on a path, knowing that although God is everywhere, and always with us, we sometimes need a journey in order to meet God—and ourselves—anew.

—Jan Richardson,  from Palm Sunday: Blessing of Palms
The Painted Prayerbook, April 2017

Travelling to the land where the Holy One walked, to be a pilgrim during the season of Lent has been a most humbling experience. Every year all Christians become pilgrims in Lent as we walk with Jesus to Jerusalem and through the events of Holy Week.

This gift of the past two weeks, experiencing the landscape of modern Jerusalem, Israel proper and the Occupied Territories has been a journey of meeting God and catching glimpses of Jesus in surprizing ways. Jesus and his first followers are much more human to me from this new vantage point. Seeing them from this modern place, looking back 2000 years, they are real people with real histories living in a complex time of political turmoil.

The Gospel stories of Jesus are now grounded for me in a geography that is sometimes countryside or lakeside, ancient village or city. They are also more clearly grounded in a historic context of Roman occupied Palestine.

I look forward to sharing my journey with you in our time together in the coming months.

Our pilgrim group was made up of many members of an Episcopal congregation from Cashiers, North Carolina who were there with their priest Rev. Rob Wood who faithfully did a photo blog of our time together. Please look at it to get a sense of our journey: https://goodshepherdcashiers.wordpress.com/blog/

This Sunday is Palm/Passion Sunday where we will listen to the story and walk through Holy Week together. I will share some of the pictures of Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives, but we will let the Gospel of Mark tell the tale.