Some Tim Horton’s Ontario franchises seem to be giving us a lesson in how not to do business, especially when Canada’s economic recovery is strengthening (although not as much in the East as in Alberta). The optics alone are so bad that their parent company refers to (dismisses?) the franchisees as “a radical group”. How can it look good when an employer makes employees pay for their own raises by cutting pay for breaks and adding charges for previously free uniforms. But then the corporate bosses that criticize their own franchisees are really just trying to deflect from their refusal to allow price increases to cover the wage increase. And they certainly don’t want the workers increase to cut into their own hyper-inflated salaries (2000% over the last 10 years for CEOs), or the massive, billion dollar returns to HQ. Shareholders (including pension plans) would demand executive blood were that to happen. I do receive a non-governmental pension so I have a smidgen of sympathy for those shareholders.
Still, the Tim Horton’s fiasco brings home the brutality of our increasingly dysfunctional economic system, where everyone at the top of the financial pyramid expects and demands their perceived entitlement of increasing salaries, perks and profits every year, no matter what impact it has on those at the bottom. And that impact is about the only thing that “trickles down”.
Capitalism works somewhat better when the marketplace has some ethical controls in place. Currently those at the top of the corporate elite seem incapable of moral and ethical decision making. The “free” market has become free of ethics and morality. “Maximizing profit”, the holy grail of the market, is a morally bankrupt principle that dictates that financial decision makers must focus only on having increasing profits every single quarter. Family and community are minimized or ignored, except when there is a good PR opportunity. To squeeze the most out of the system individualism and productivity are glorified and in the end, most of us will be working 18 hours every day for pathetic wages, with only enough time off to ensure survival and the production of new workers. Don’t believe it? Look around. The point of unchecked capitalism is to create an empire that funnels all wealth to the top.
Community is the counter to this dysfunction. When families and communities are strong people band together for their own interest, form worshipping communities to pass on the value of the person and persons beyond person hours for the corporation, governments to pass legislation to keep the workplace humane and healthy, and educational and cultural institutions to speak to and uplift our humanity. Can you see how this might aggravate those who only see us as individual worker units? A functional form of capitalism would honour people as persons, and what we have today is simply not working for too many.
As a minister I believe the church has to become aware of its complicity in our economic dysfunction. We are too easily co-opted by an individualism that says our job as Christians is simply to get ourselves into heaven by going to church, weekly or weakly, and assenting to a list of dogmas whether we understand them or not. Social justice and community building are no longer our strong suits and we are losing our impact on a society that sees us as increasingly irrelevant.
So, if you are interested, let’s have a sacred conversation about it, especially if you disagree with my point of view. I am open to being shown how wrong I am and I hope you are too. Let’s meet over coffee or a meal and see where it goes. You can reach me through our church office, or talk to me after church – we are open Sundays for your worshipping convenience.
“Interim Ministry is a way for a congregation to take an intentional ‘time out’ to seek renewal and make a significant change in its organizational structure, its mission, or its pastoral life.”
Introducing Interim Ministry A Process of Change for Congregations Copyright © 2010 The United Church of Canada
We have started our Intentional Interim Ministry time here at Living Spirit United Church. I will sometimes use the blog and newsletter space to talk about different aspects of this unique journey that we are on together.
Intentional Interim Ministry is all about walking through a time of change, or transition with our eyes, and our hearts open to God’s guidance. There are lots of different circumstances in churches that suggest that an Intentional Interim time would help:
- a pastor has served a congregation for a long time, especially pastorates of 15 years or more.
- the missional direction or financial viability of the congregation is unclear.
- there are major changes in the demographics of the congregation or in its surrounding community
- the congregation is struggling to deal with the loss of a beloved minister
- there is a boundary violation on the part of the pastor such as an incident of sexual misconduct or financial malfeasance.
- disagreements and tension permeate congregational life and block effective decision-making
This is not an exhaustive list. When any one or more “complicated” circumstances are a part of a congregation’s life and these result in a minister leaving, the congregation’s natural desire is to just hire their next minister as soon as possible and “get on with it”. The set of “complicated” circumstances may seem to leave with the minister, but if a congregation does not take an intentional time out, the next one or more pastoral relationships often fail, with new ministers and congregations ending up living through painful un-intentional interim periods. Choosing to take an intentional time out gives the congregation the space to work through their “complicated” history.
Here is what we can expect to gain from an Intentional Interim Ministry time:
- a renewed sense of itself and the relevance of its mission
- new energy, plus the knowledge and skills to make decisions about its future
- discernment of God’s call into new life, and renewed faithfulness and confidence to follow it
- an understanding of the congregation’s identity within the wider United Church community
Intentional Interim Ministers are specially trained in:
- facilitating and enabling change
- restorative justice: resolving conflicts and healing old issues
- being a listener, a consultant, a teacher
The Intentional Interim Minister does not do this work “for” the congregation- she/he works in “partnership with” the congregation. The most important leadership for the Intentional Interim Ministry time comes from the congregation’s Transition Team, that is made up of members of the congregation, a representative from presbytery, and the Intentional Interim Minister to achieve agreed-upon goals during the interim period. Please start thinking and praying about who you want as members of the transition team, and pass along their names to me so I can talk with them about this important work.
After celebrating Jesus’ birth and the beginning of a new calendar year we should be in a different space than simply tired and possibly hungover. As people of faith, having revisited the beginnings of the Jesus Movement two millennia past and facing a new year with its uncertainties and possibilities, we don’t look for a crowd to follow – we look to the light and the lights that have led us and lead us not to becoming the best we can be in a quest for idealistic perfection but to become more fully our true selves, all that we were created to be. This is one reason I like to spend some contemporary time with ancient scripture. In light of today’s realities what light shines for us in the dark of night or the brightness of a new day. This week I have “mulled” Isaiah 60: 1-6 with this in mind.
First, Isaiah 60: 1-6 from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible:
60:1 Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the LORD has risen upon you.
60:2 For darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the LORD will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you.
60:3 Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.
60:4 Lift up your eyes and look around; they all gather together, they come to you; your sons shall come from far away, and your daughters shall be carried on their nurses’ arms.
60:5 Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and rejoice, because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you, the wealth of the nations shall come to you.
60:6 A multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come. They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praise of the LORD.
Now, Isaiah 60: 1-6, Mulled:
Wake up, God lover, Jesus lover, life lover
Roll out of bed
Salute the sun
The rising sun
Greet its warm glow
With all the earth
With all the earth
You slept in darkness
Holiness rises on you
A new day
A New Year
From places you fear
Countries you dread
With different names
A great round up
Of strange gifts
For this first Sunday in the season of Epiphany, I have worked my mulled version into the worship service. I hope you can be there as we, like the Magi of old, enter into the work of worship, fermenting, spicing, tasting the tangy savouriness of life in a new light as together in this time and in this place we journey home a different way.
Christmas this Sunday is both not yet here and here! For many this Sunday is simply Christmas Eve, and that is well and good. For the church though, this Sunday is the Four Sunday of Advent first and Christmas Eve later. To be a little more clear our 10:30 am worship service will mark the last Sunday of Advent by lighting the first three candles (Hope, Peace, Joy), then lighting the fourth candle and lifting up the theme of Love. HOWEVER! Because it is also Christmas Eve Day our Sunday School and any children and adults who want to help, will present the Christmas Story (the one in the Bible) using Puppets! A wonderful story and a good time. And yes, there will be carols and lots of music.
Then, because it is Christmas Eve, we will be celebrating Christ’s birth at 7:00pm with carols, communion and candle lighting. A quiet service of beauty, remembrance, and peace.
We hope you can participate in one of these services, or perhaps both. Each will offer an experience of the holiness of the day, with the added zestiness of good company and eager anticipation.
Although it is infrequent that Christmas Eve falls on a Sunday, it has its own flavour – Not yet here and Here! In the darkness of the longest nights, when it seems morning will never come, it arrives with a ray of light blossoming into full blown sunrise. So in life it can seem like the night will never end, then suddenly we realize, often in mysterious ways, that we are not alone and that the light has always been there and always will be.
Whether you are able to attend our services or not this year, on behalf of the staff and congregation, I wish you all the spiritual goodness that is Christmas, and a New Year of happiness for you and all those you love.
Fred Craddock, a teacher of preachers, has this to say about the story of Mary and Elizabeth:
“The two women, [Elizabeth and Mary] not only kin but drawn by a common experience, meet in an unnamed village in the Judean hills. The one is old and her son will close an age; the other is young and her son will usher in the new. Even the unborn John knows the difference and leaps in the womb when Mary enters.”**
Elizabeth’s baby, John the Baptist, has the honour and responsibility of closing out the old age. Mary’s baby, Jesus, the Christ, has the scary and ground-breaking task of inaugurating the new age. It is not a gradual change, the birth of one child ends the old age, the birth of the other child begins the new age. For both Elizabeth and Mary, the news of their epoch-shaking pregnancies was delivered by an angel visitant, but the responses to those visits were as different as the children they would bear.
The announcement and birth of John the Baptist was delivered to John’s father, Zechariah, a priest. As a trained, professional religious guy he fell into the trap that a lot of us trained, professional religious types fall into: he figured that his own experience and intellect trumped what God was trying to tell him. When Zechariah was visited by an angel while performing his duties at the Temple, who announced that Elizabeth would conceive and bear a child who would “go ahead of the Lord” (1:17) and “bring back many of the people of Israel to their Lord their God” (1:16), Zechariah could barely suppress a scoffing laugh. To the angel, Zechariah “mansplained” that the news was nonsense: Elizabeth had been barren all her child-bearing years and now was well beyond the capacity to become pregnant. Lesson alert!! Don’t try to mansplain to an angel!! The angel did not waver from the original message, but did take away Zechariah’s ability to speak until the child was born – if Zechariah could not respond to a visiting angel bringing amazing news with words of faith, he would not speak at all.
The Gospel of Luke also has the story of the angel arriving to announce to Mary God’s invitation to be the woman to shelter and grow God’s beloved child in her womb and to bear the chosen One into the world. Once she got over the initial shock of an angel visiting her, Mary uttered these unforgettable words (1:38) as recorded in the King James Version: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word”. Unlike the response of Zechariah, who put reason before proclamation, the young, frightened Mary was able to literally open herself to God’s possibilities, whatever that would entail.
Mary and Elizabeth: too young and too old, both women who were too unlikely to be God’s choice in bearing the child who would end an age, the other who would bear the child who would being the next age. Once again, our God is a God who chooses the last and least: the most unlikely of candidates to bear the Word into the world.
Mary and Elizabeth, our mothers of the faith, model for us the way to respond to the Good News that we, who are also the last the least, continue to be bearers of Jesus Christ into the world. We are always on the cusp of the old age passing away and a new age about to begin. The Good News of Christ is that we are continuously invited to let go of the things in our past that are no longer life-giving, but carry those things from our history that enhance our lives, and the lives of others into the new age that is forever opening before us.
As we approach the old/new story of Jesus’ birth, consider what God is bringing to birth in you, today.
** Luke: Interpretation; A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching, John Knox Press, ©1990
What do you think of when you imagine ‘wilderness’?
Is your image of a bleak and barren place?
Or is your image of wilderness a rich natural setting free of other humans?
In Jesus’ day sane, normal people avoided the wilderness. It was a place of dangerous wild animals and dangerous people- both outlaws and those possessed with demons who had been cast out of their communities. And, at the same time, the wilderness played a profound role in many of the ancient Hebrew stories as a place where individual persons, and large groups of people could meet God and be transformed. Moses met God in a burning bush in the wilderness. The Hebrew people needed forty years of wandering in the wilderness to learn how to be God’s people and truly leave behind their lives as slaves in Egypt. During times of Exile, the Prophets spoke of the Hebrew’s captivity as a time in the wilderness and offered the people messages of hope that God had not abandoned them.
On Sunday we will spend some time with John the Baptist who appeared in the wilderness and called the people of Judea and Jerusalem to “Repentance”- to receive a Baptism by water and turn their lives around in anticipation of the One who was coming. People flocked to John “IN” the wilderness to hear his message and receive Baptism in the River Jordan without regard for the ancient prohibition against going into the wilderness. In early Jan. we will watch Jesus go into the wilderness for forty days of fasting immediately following his baptism by John. Wilderness is where Jesus went to prepare for his ministry.
Living Spirit United Church has been living in a wilderness time. I have begun to hear honest stories about the difficult and the good coming from this time: the painful departures and the blessed gifts of this time. Our wilderness time is not over. There are more gifts yet to be found in wilderness time together. Our remaining wilderness time will benefit from the tools available through the Intentional Interim Process.
Over the next two years we will map our way as we explore Five Focus Points:
Heritage- Leadership- Connections- Mission- Future.
We’ll explore each of these areas and discern together what the future is that God is calling this community to. Sometimes the way will be bleak and barren. Sometimes the way will be rich and nourishing. The Good News is that we travel this way with Jesus, our brother, God our Creator and the Holy Spirit, the one who will comfort and teach us. I am blessed to be on this journey with you.
Over the years churches and other institutions like funeral homes and grief counselling services have been offering special services at this time of year for people who are grieving the loss of a loved one or a profound change in their life situation. These are often called “Blue Christmas” or “Longest Night” services. This practice emerged from recognizing that not everyone is in the emotional place where they can be cheerful and upbeat, often fearing they will “spoil” Christmas for others by letting their grief show when others are at least trying to be happy. Living Spirit has been a part of the Blue Christmas Service trend, and rightly so as the need is as real as people’s pain.
In recent years, Christian churches have started to realize that our view of Christmas is not about parties, presents and perfection. While preparing to celebrate (ie, lift up) Jesus’ birth we know the story’s end. The Holy Child is born in the shadow of the cross and the reality of death at the hands of brutes. Blue Christmas, then, need not be apart from our Advent preparations, and can be a meaningful addition to the season. As a result this year our Advent services will have a blue note – a recognition that all is not well with individuals, communities, nations or the world, and that tears are healing, not shameful, and a source of healing and strength. Yet we don’t stop celebrating because things aren’t what we hoped they would be. We celebrate that it was in a very dark time in history, a time of persecution under the glittery yet violent “success” of the Roman Empire, that the Christ child was born. God digs deep into our lives, knows our sorrows and our joys, and brings hope, peace, joy and love. So we will decorate the Sanctuary in a more muted way, we will light the blue candles and a pink one too as we prepare our hearts for something great to be born in them and remember those whose hearts are hurting.
If you would prefer to attend a separate Blue Christmas service the following places are offering them:
Deer Park United Church – 77 Deerpoint Rd SE – www.dpuc.ca
Wild Rose United Church – 1317 1st Street NW – www.wildroseunited.ca
Mountain View Funeral Home – www.arbormemorial.ca/en/mountainview
(their’s is Dec 3 at 2:30 pm )
One thing about our faith is that we never run out of hope! The bible is an accumulation of stories about new beginnings and the love that accompanies us and the spirit that leads us as we venture forth together. Even through suffering and death hope is raised, the story is not finished as we cannot be separated from that ever present love which permeates our being and all creation. In the bible and in life, God speaks to us in times of despair saying, “Don’t be afraid!” and “Look, I am doing a new thing!” To which we (too often) respond, “That’s great, God, but I am just getting (or am quite) comfortable with the old thing!” Yes in some ways God and life can be just as irritating as computer and software companies with their new models and constant updates – yet slightly more cosmically. At Living Spirit UC we are entering into a re-tooling time as our reality has changed locally and everywhere churches are confronted with the need to find new life. The heart (software) of our ministry and mission is essentially the same as it has been for 2000+ years, but needs an upgrade to be effective and efficient as new ways of being church emerge. I invite you to click on the blue link below, and at leas read summary of the interview and take five minutes listen to the recorded interview, it gets better toward the end. See how one Calgary church is upgrading its ministry to fit its mission.
Our situation is different, we are not a downtown cathedral, we don’t have thousands of people passing by each day, but we do have an open future if we take some time to work it out. I believe re-engaging the surrounding neighbourhoods is essential and isolation and loneliness are huge and problematic needs that are calling for ministry. I believe our mission is not about filling pews with people but filling people’s hearts with Good News. I also believe that God has great hope for Living Spirit UC and what we can do and be together.
Whether it is an earthquake, flood, famine, terrorism or some other cause of death and destruction for numbers of people, the most common responses in social media and from political offices contain the phrase, “thoughts and prayers”. So over used and hypocritically stated are “thoughts and prayers” that many are reacting negatively to the phrase claiming it is a trite excuse for not even trying to help, and an insult to the victims. Most recently in Texas when 26 church attenders were killed by a heavily armed man, it seems pathetic, to say the least, that US legislators were only willing to send “thoughts and prayers” when they have the power to control the sale of guns and won’t. It is lame as well for those of us who have the resources send “thoughts and prayers” instead of a donation, or a visit where needed and possible, or to stand with victims in public protest. I have nothing against “thoughts and prayers” but too often they could lead to some kind of action . . . . . and don’t.
The end of November brings not only the Grey Cup but also the end of the Season of Creation and the end of the church year. December brings a new church year with Advent and Christmas, and an opportunity to contemplate the meaning of those seasons from a faith point of view. Through Advent the excitement builds. God is going to do something new with Creation. Most don’t believe in a clockmaker God who started creation running and then left the scene, even though we can expect at times to rightly feel abandoned by God. Christmas is about the idea that God not only cares about creation and its fulfillment but actively and creatively engages an on-going, always unfolding creation ultimately leading to restoration and reconciliation. In the cry of a newborn infant we can hear the voice of a God that does more than send “thoughts and prayers”, an engaged voice calling us to be the hands and feet of God moving us into right relation with all creation.
This Sunday at Living Spirit United you are invited to “Dig Deeper” as we worship together and explore that call. Can our own talents and Christmas be more than “thoughts and prayers”? Something to think and pray about!
“War: first, one hopes to win; then one expects the enemy to lose; then, one is satisfied that he too is
suffering; in the end, one is surprised that everyone has lost.” Karl Kraus, Austrian writer, 1874-1936
“Those who dare to interpret God’s will must never claim Him as an asset for one nation or group rather than another. War springs from the love and loyalty which should be offered to God being applied to some God substitute, one of the most dangerous being nationalism.” Robert Runcie, Archbishop of Canterbury from 1980 to 1991
While tempting, it is too easy to write a diatribe condemning war or a puff piece promoting peace. If avoiding war or achieving peace were easy, simple and uncomplicated we would all be living in blissful (if perhaps boring) harmony. Having done some scholarly study of world religions I believe it can be said that all of them (including ones that make us uncomfortable and/or afraid) promote a path to peace. As Christians we know that Jesus was and is called the Prince of Peace. At the same time he said, “I have not come to bring peace but a sword.” (Matt 10:34) and spoke of how his message of peace would bring conflict within families and between nations. If everyone in the world would just . . . Well I’ll stop myself there because there is no way that all seven billion people on this planet “would just . . .” anything! And that is the problem.
The diversity of people, thought, lifestyle, need, belief, fears, grudges and resentments in this world is infinite in its complexity. Trying to get everyone to think, feel and live the same has been tried again and again and inevitably fails – usually with horrifying results. As a Christian I believe that peace is not a goal but a process of living with respect in creation. Respect for God and God’s creation, our global neighbours and ourselves. So simple to say, so difficult to do. Yet it is at the heart of all the great religions – treat others as you would have them treat you. The “Golden Rule”.
To paraphrase G. K. Chesterton, the path to peace has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.
My Remembrance Day challenge is to try once again, each day, every day, to live with love and respect for everyone and everything. It will be difficult. Of course you will fail. Try again. And again. And again. The proverbial glass is neither half full nor half empty and we all thirst.
Shalom, God’s peace through justice and healing, is with you each step of the way.