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God Loves Who???

Some popular theologies insist that good Christians (ie. Heavy donors) are blessed with “prosperity.” Money and luxury are seen as signs of God’s blessing and you get God’s blessing by giving, no matter how poor you are, a substantial donation to their “ministry”. If your bank account doesn’t start bulging and your diseases start healing it is because you are not doing it right and or enough. So give more and you will be abundantly blessed with money, power and goodies. Apparently for this way of thinking God only loves the rich and the poor and sick are cursed by God. Apparently too, God has no love for the poor because they don’t have enough to donate to earn his favour. Churches that promote these highly questionable if not totally repugnant ideas about God and faith end up with massive amounts of money to go on TV and ask for more, proving to themselves and their followers that God really does love only the rich.

On the other hand, in many more traditional, mainline churches, too many think that God really doesn’t love the rich. After all the rich are spoken of as the One Percent – a small group who have amassed a massive, excessive portion of the world’s wealth (more that 80 percent) and appear to be causing or aggravating most of the worlds problems. It does make sense that if the economics of the world have enabled you to have multi-billions that you would want to maintain that system even if it is harmful to others and the environment. So how could God possibly love the rich? Aren’t they supposed to give their wealth away or have a tough time getting into heaven?

The Bible does have a story about Jesus telling a rich man that in order to enter the kingdom of God he would need to give away all his wealth. This was not just any wealthy person. This was one who is being very strict about obeying all the commandments and yet still feels alienated from God. On hearing the man’s frustration, the Bible tells us that “Jesus loves him.” Here was someone who wants a close relationship, a right relationship with God but finds that playing by the religious rules and banking a fortune has left him feeling more distant, not less. Jesus knows that the man’s wealth was giving him a spiritual problem. Much to the man’s chagrin, Jesus tells him that the antidote to his problem is to free himself from his wealth by giving it away. A pill too tough to swallow.

Easily we find ourselves agreeing, “Right on! The rich should give all their wealth away!” The unspoken subtext often being “So I, and of course those like me, can have more!” However – and it is a big however – most people living in First World Countries like Canada are by world standards fabulously wealthy. We may not all be in the top one percent but we are all in the top 10 percent. And, if we are honest, we don’t want to have any less than we have. More would be nice, right? Not to be greedy, but just a small fortune would be great. How much is that mega-lottery this week? The real question needs to be, “Does God love me as wealthy as I am” or, more acutely, “Is what I am doing with my wealth creating distance from God or bring me into right relationship with God and all God’s creation and creatures?”

 

What did we learn from our Angels of Congregations Past?

Last Sunday, September 30 we had our first congregational interim event called Angels of Congregations Past. After a WONDERFUL pot-luck brunch we separated into table groups representing the amalgamating congregations of Southminster, Westminster and Riverview United Churches along with a Living Spirit United Church table with folks who have joined the church since the amalgamation.
Members of the Transition Team joined the four tables to assist with facilitating the conversation and making notes on four large Angels at each table. Just by looking at the tables we learned that most of the people who attended on Sunday were made up of people who originally came from Westminster United Church and those who have joined Living Spirit UC since the amalgamation, with just a few folks at the historic Riverview and Southminster United Church tables. There were great conversations that took place at the tables with fewer people and important information shared and recorded.
The Angel of Westminister United told us that they were the congregation most invested in the success of the amalgamation since they were facing BIG building problems and really had to discern a new future direction. They were also a congregation that was used to dealing with conflict directly, so they dealt openly with the challenges posed by the amalgamation process.
The Angel of Southminster United shared that they were a congregation deeply aligned with the United Church of Canada with a heart for social justice and they provided a home base for the Calgary Presbytery Office for many years literally having the members of Presbytery coming and going through their building every week. The Angel shared that the congregation knew that they could not sustain their building and ministry and they knew they needed to make a change but many of the members of the original congregation did not catch the amalgamation vision.
The Angel of Riverview United Church told us that the congregation had been viewed within and without as a church of excellence, both in their staffing and ministries. We learned that there was some confusion about the amalgamation process and some in the congregation were not prepared to have their beloved building sold, while others were keen about the vision of building a new church campus that would include affordable housing. We learned of one particularly distressing meeting about the amalgamation where a leader of the meeting made a very bad impression that influenced some members to abandon the amalgamation dream.
The Angel of the historic Living Spirit United Church shared some poignant insights into their history  giving us some new terminology- when discussing whether there were ‘skeletons in the closet” and  how the congregation managed conflict, the Angel expressed that they had moved from having ‘skeletons in the closet’ to having an ‘elephant in the room’—so we now have our very own “Skelephants” keeping us company. We also heard a new term regarding the role of the music ministry at LSU- that it has been the ‘glue’ holding the place together through difficult times—so “Glusic” is an important part of our current life together. The Angel also graphically showed us on their time line that there have been periods of ‘instability’ and periods of ‘stability’ that have seen the size of the congregation grow and diminish.
These Angels of the Congregations will come to live on the wall in the fellowship hall. If there are further stories and insights to add to them- please do! We will try to have markers available to continue to tell the story.
Your Transition Team took an important lead from the Angel of Living Spirit United in the planning for the next congregational event on Oct. 28 in highlighting the “Skelephants” in our collective room. Human beings don’t just ‘get over’ painful times in their lives- tragedies, losses, grief and deep disappointments without taking some time to heal and find meaning. It is the same for congregations. We don’t just ‘move on’ from difficult times without doing our healing work and inviting our God into our struggles. If we try to ‘just get on with it’ and move into our future without doing the healing walk, the painful parts of our lives impact each of our decisions in “unintentional” ways. So, let’s take some time to get to know our Skelephants— and allow our own Dark Angel to speak to us and for us as we intentionally walk a healing path with the help of the Holy Spirit and healing power of Jesus. On Oct 28 plan to join the conversation where we let the Dark Angel of Living Spirit United Church speak.

Transition Team Update For Sunday, September 23, 2018

Your Transition Team has been meeting since last spring, and this is an update about what we have been up to over the past few months. Let’s call it ….A Moment for Transition.

You may have noticed that there is a new bulletin board in the Narthex with our pictures, in case you do not know who we are, as well as a suggestion/question box. We really do want to hear from you! You are encouraged to contact any one of us with your questions, concerns, feedback and ideas, as we move through this process.

We have been engaged in Team building! We have shared why we are here and why we are passionate about finding a new way for LSUC to continue to exist.
We begin each meeting with a Bible reflection. Whether it be Jesus direction to his disciples to “cast your nets on the other side of the boat”…to be courageous enough to try something different….or whether it be Paul’s letters to the early churches urging them to stand strong, stand together, to focus on the light. Now we are not in their exact same position…ie that of being persecuted ….but the message is there for us too…. to stand strong together in our mission to bring Christ’s light and love to this small corner of the world.

We have been identifiying goals and direction for the work.
One important goal has been to reach out to those who left the church over the past 2-3 years, to inform them of the process of intentional interim ministry, and to offer them the opportunity to meet with Shannon if they would like to talk through their experience, whether they wish to return to LSU or not. In fact, this invitation is open to anyone in the congregation who would like to meet with Shannon, if you too wish to share your feelings around what has occurred over the past 2 years.

Now begins the important work of engaging the congregation.
So, this fall, we are planning 3 sharing events on the last Sundays of the next 3 months:

September 30 – Celebrating our History and Honoring the Gifts of the Past
There will be a shortened worship service, where you will meet the ANGELS of the Churches past. This will be followed by a Potluck Brunch and then an opportunity for this community to share and celebrate together…..We want to hear each others stories. Where did you come from and why have you stayed? How have the events of the past 2 years affected you? What are some of the positives/highlights of LSUC ministry thus far.
So next Sunday, come and worship, meet the angels of the churches past. This is a loaves and fishes event. In other words, bring a potluck something to share for the feast, and bring yourselves to share with each other.

Looking ahead:

October 28 – Celebrate who we are now. Celebrate our relationships with one another and the ministry we have at this point. What is our identity today? A realistic look at what LSU looks like today? What resources do we have to work with? Our financial position, our building and our people…. Our “Talents and Treasures”.
What do we have rather than what don’t we have.

November 25 – Celebrate the vision and commitment! Where are we going? Can we build a new vision that is realistic, yet attainable. And how can we get there?

For each of these visioning events, WE NEED YOU. Your experiences, your commitment to the work of LSUC and the hope you bring for the future.

One goal that we identified as a team was to HAVE SOME FUN.
We hope that each of these events will be ENRICHING and FUN as well as productive.

On behalf of the Transition Team,
Anne Cunningham

A Breath of Fresh . . . Challenge?

For too long our church although in hope named “Living Spirit” has been on life support! Deficit budgeting is one form as we draw on reserves to see us through from one year to the next. In conjunction with deficit budgeting relying in hope that someone will come through with a large enough donation to fill the annual financial hole has kept our heart beating and our lungs breathing. We don’t want Living Spirit to breath its last. We do not want Living Spirit to die. We are afraid we can’t keep it alive much longer. This note, however, is not about money – it is about what fear, anxiety and despair can do to us.
Fear changes us to where we can only do one of three things: fight, freeze, or flee – none of which are particularly helpful and all change our attitude and change how we breathe. Our attitude changes to reacting from responding and that change itself affects our breathing. The panic reaction, strong and intense or mild and chronic, makes our breathing go shallower and faster. That is why when we want to calm someone we encourage them to take a few deep breaths, and meditation methods focus on breathing. Psychiatrist Fritz Perls came up with a formula of sorts which is “anxiety plus oxygen equals excitement. Over the years we’ve heard that certain behaviours and actions “suck the air out of the room.”
So how does a church move from reacting to negative thoughts and fears to responding in faith? Responding in faith cannot happen in a fearful, anxious, despairing context. We need to keep our heads and hearts involved as we explore past and present realities and future possibilities. Remembering we are a church called to serve not just ourselves but the community around our building and where we reside can help us to pause and breathe more slowly deeply. Responding and acting are counters to reacting and help us be more connected and creative.
We are in a process of analysis with the Transition Team and our Interim Minister which will soon involve and engage the congregation in the work we need to do before we can determine our response. May all of this fill your lungs, hearts and muscles with the Holy Spirit, God’s healing, creating, enlivening breath.

Why We Covenant Together

This Sunday is Lift Off Sunday. We are welcoming everyone back to another program year at Living Spirit United Church. This Sunday we are including a Covenanting liturgy in our service as we make promises with our current Council and our current staff team. Ordinarily there are covenanting services shortly after a new staff person comes on board in a congregation but in Shannon’s case, the paperwork affirming her position of Interim Minister with Living Spirit United Church was just recently completed.  We felt it was timely to have a Covenanting liturgy now with the whole team since we have come to know one another well in the past several months and the Interim work is well on its way.
In church circles we use the term ‘Covenant’ instead of ‘contract’ or ‘agreement’ because there is a faith component of the relationship between members of a faith community, and staff and volunteer leaders. When we make a conscious ‘Covenant’, we are committing to support and uphold one another for the good of the whole community, and for the overall mission and ministry of the church. We generally take these relationships for granted—so it is helpful to lift up the importance of the complex web of relationships once in awhile and recommit ourselves as a community to bring our best to this work that we do together. Covenanting also reminds us to invite the Divine into our complex web of relationships in this community. God is the foundation of the work we do together, and it is good to remind ourselves of this. Being Followers of the Way of Jesus in the world today is our mission and the reason we are compelled to bring the healing work of Jesus to our neighbourhood— so it is good to say this out loud on a regular basis. And… it is the work of the Holy Spirit to enliven our community and inspire us to see the way forward …. so, asking for the guidance of the Holy Spirit is also a good thing to do, out loud. We do all these things in a liturgy of Covenanting together.
This Sunday is also an opportunity to introduce the congregation to Brenda Watt, our interim Chair of Council. One of the recommendations of the Review that Living Spirit United Church underwent last year was to have an external person come to chair the Council during the Interim period. Bruce Lukey has been the Acting Chair of Council for a time, stepping in when Lane Baker had to leave the position early. We are so very grateful to Bruce for being Acting Chair through a challenging time. Bruce will continue in the role of Past Chair with the Council and will assist Brenda as she becomes familiar with our community.
We hope that you will join us this Sunday for our Lift Off, and to take part in our Covenanting time together.
Blessings,
Shannon

Acknowledging the Territory at the start of Worship

Territorial Acknowledgment is an age-old practise—but it is new to many of us who now hear it at civic gatherings, special events… and worship here at Living Spirit United Church. Historically, many indigenous cultures would name out loud the unique relationships of nations, and clans and families with the land at the beginning of a gathering, and they would offer thanks. It is a now a practise that is a part of the on-going work of reconciliation between First Nations and ‘settler culture’ (all of us who do not identify as indigenous).
At the end of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 2015 there were 94 Calls to Action to help bring about true reconciliation between settler culture and First Nations. There are several of the 94 Calls to Action that are directed towards churches who participated in Residential schools (see Calls to Action # 48-49; 58-61 Calls_to_Action_English2.pdf). Acknowledging the Territory is one small step towards reconciliation on the part of United Churches across Canada. When we acknowledge the territory at the start of worship each Sunday we are reminding ourselves that there were people on this land that we call home long before our ancestors arrived. They called it home and they took care of the land and creatures seeing themselves a part of the whole of creation. These people are still in relationship with the land, as are we, and together we are called to take good care of it. As you hear the Acknowledgment of Territory each Sunday, try not to just ‘turn off’ as you hear the words. Rather, challenge yourself to learn the ancient, and the new locations of the different nations named; if you have indigenous friends and neighbours, make a point of learning about their families and where they have come from and start a conversation about your church starting to acknowledge the territory each Sunday and ask them how Territorial Acknowledgment impacts them.
Next week there is a new documentary series called First Contact that will be shown on APTN on September 11, 12 and 13 starting at 5pm MDT (7pm ET) and all 3 episodes will be repeated on September 16 at 6pm MDT (8pm ET). This series will follow 6 ordinary ‘settler’ Canadians on a 28-day journey to Indigenous communities across Canada.
From the website: First Contact is a journey that will turn the six participants’ lives upside down. Challenging their perceptions and confronting their opinions about a world they never imagined they would see. It is an experience that will change their lives, forever.
Watching this would be another small step in fulfilling one of the calls to action in the church that asks us to find ways to intentionally learn about our First Nations sisters and brothers and their cultures.
Blessings,
Shannon

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