I Don’t Know How the Angel’s Woke Me Up This Morning Soon

Here I am again at 5:15 am, an hour later than I first woke up.  This has become a regular wake up call and I can’t get back to sleep.  What am I thinking?  Why can’t I stop thinking?

These are the words going through my mind today – a song from Sweet Honey in the Rock.

I Believe

I don’t know how my mother walked her trouble down
I don’t know how my father stood his ground
I don’t know how my people survive slavery
I do remember, that’s why I believe

I don’t know how the rivers overflow their banks
I don’t know how the snow falls and covers the ground
I don’t know how the hurricane sweeps through the land
Every now and then
Standing in a rainstorm, I believe

I don’t know how the angels woke me up this morning soon
I don’t know how the blood still runs thru my veins
I don’t know how I rate to run another day
Standing in a rainstorm, I believe

My God calls to me in the morning dew
The power of the universe knows my name
Gave me a song to sing and sent me on my way
Raise my voice for justice, I believe

It started with the death of George Floyd.  And the eruption of anger.  The marches. The violence. And the spread of these protests all over the world.

I have been through this before in the 60’s civil rights movement with Dr. Martin Luther King and the relentless demonstrations and push back, and finally the killing of Dr. King. White students and activists from the north going south to sign up black voters.  The federal government finally weighing in to open up schools and begin to dismantle the systematic racism in the segregation system that kept black people out of the mainstream promise of equality, and the possibility of a good life.  That opened the door – but only a crack.  It was a beginning.  It was almost 50 years later that a black president was elected.  Twice.  The door opened another crack, a little bit wider but so did the strength of those holding the door.  The opposition almost shut down the president’s ability to get legislation passed that would guarantee health care for all.  Too expensive. Communist.”

Old fears were not old, they were and are still alive and well, hiding in the system.  2020 and COVID 19, a worldwide pandemic began to lift the veil of oppression that kept an economic system alive and well, mostly benefiting the rich.  Slavery under a different guise. And not only people of colour and minority groups. All of us slaves to the system. Until it became apparent it was not working for all.  Not even for many.  It had gotten out of control.  And the death of another black man, blatant, on camera, 9 minutes of smug pressure on George Floyds neck as he was saying, “I Can’t Breathe”.

Very quickly we became aware that these words were our words. Those who seek equality and justice.  We can’t breathe.  We can’t breathe in this system of oppression and violence.  Not just oppressed people (indigenous people, blacks, minority groups, poor people) but many of us privileged people–white people of privilege–woke up to the fact that the time has come, the opportunity is here to right the wrongs, expose the racism, and change the world.

Powerful voices. Young voices. And some Christian voices.  At a Spiritual Nurture meeting Monday night, they showed a 23-minute sermon, The Cross and the Lynching Tree, by Rev. Otis Moss. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l6985UG0Z3k&feature=youtu.be  My reaction was, “The white church is so tame.”  Where is our passion?  Where is the Spirit?  We are in the season of the Spirit.  I am involved in three groups at the church and they are all about connecting with God, each other and our soul.  I get it.  We need to find the voice of the Spirit speaking in our heart.  But we seem to be blind and deaf.  The voice is loud and clear.  The agenda is obvious.  But we struggle to see and hear.  Who said that 2000 years ago?  Most of us white people at Spiritual Nurture Monday night were at a loss as to how we can be involved.  What can we do? Wake up now. Listen now. Act now.

Another Pentecost sermon (https://episcopalchurch.org/posts/publicaffairs/presiding-bishop-michael-currys-pentecost-sermon-live-streamed-service) by Bishop Michael Curry at the Washington National Cathedral was about the pandemic of selfishness that has infected human nature. In the Bishop’s words, “…this pandemic is not of the viral kind, but of the spiritual kind. It is a pandemic of the human spirit, when our lives are focused on ourselves, when the self becomes the center of the world and of the universe. It is a pandemic of self-centeredness. And it may be even more destructive than a virus. This pandemic of self-centeredness, if you will, has been the root cause of every humanly created evil that has ever hurt or harmed any child of God or even the earth itself.”

Will we have a sustained response to address inequality this time?  Can we open that door all the way to freedom and equality?  There is a new energy.  There already has been a quick response with local governments promising reform for the police system.  But what about an attitude adjustment for all of us?  Repentance for our own self-centeredness?  In the first civil rights movement it was necessary for white people to march and act along side black brothers and sisters to get things done.  White lives also matter here, not in opposition to black lives but in support of black lives–in support of indigenous lives.  We need to share our world and use our power to invite others into our privileged world.  We can do this.

That’s what I was thinking at 5:15 this morning.  Now I have said it out loud.  But I can’t go back to sleep. There is another day and it is not all about me.  The power of the universe knows my name.  Your name too.  And gives us a song to sing, a task to do, a call to fulfill.  The Spirit is moving, and we let it move us.

This is not a victory dance.  This is going to be a long and unpleasant experience, but we are not alone. We do not have to be alone.

Posted in Black Lives Matter, Evolutionary Thinking, Indigenous Relations, Justice, Spirituality | 1 Comment

The Way to Emmaus and Back Again: Reflections on 41 Days After Easter:

I am wondering how you are as we move into the third month of self-isolating. Sylvia and I look out the windows of our sun room and say to each other, “It doesn’t look dangerous out there.”  And then we remember the news and tell each other that we feel safe on our own property and in our own home.  And we continue to self-isolate.  With the nice weather, we are out in our garden daily and so are our neighbors.  So that gives us an opportunity to meet with people over the fence.  Our family dropped by with flowers for Mother’s Day, respecting the 6-foot distancing, and we enjoyed face to face conversations.

I spend a lot of time reading, attending Zoom seminars, and reflecting on my place in a changing world. I have begun to live into the Easter and post-Easter Christian scriptures.  In my imagination I think this must be similar to the disciples in the upper room after they experienced a world-shattering event (the death of Jesus and then rumours he was not dead).  Confusing information and personal experiences led them to believe that waiting together was the right thing to do. This would lead to the fulfillment of the promise that the Spirit would come to them and lead them out of their current situation.  I am sure they did not have a clue what that would look like, as they wondered, waited questioned and encouraged one another.

Coincidentally (are there really any coincidences?) I was reminded of Mark Nepo’s book, The Exquisite Risk, and read a few pages from the chapter by the same title.   A portion from the first paragraph says, “At any moment, if quiet enough and open enough, we can drop into the fabric or existence in which everything, even pain, has its vivid signature of energy that we call, at different times, truth or beauty or peace.  It is from this ground of being that we know and feel the unseeable web of connection between all life…. The exquisite risk that St. John speaks of is twofold: the risk to still our own house so that Spirit can come through, so that we might drop into the vital nature of things, and the risk to then let that beautiful knowing inform our days.”

The pandemic is the backdrop of our life right now, wherever we are in the world.  I find more people writing about this time with hope that this just might be the way our life is re-shaped and renewed.  If we can still our lives long enough to be in the moment, if we spend time contemplating what our lives are about and what is wrong with us as a society, and the ways we can be different, it might just be the catalyst for the emerging of a more just society.  I read an article (but I didn’t keep it unfortunately) about how the plagues of the 13th and 16th centuries changed the social and political order of the day.  The question now on the lips of many people is “How do we make our world more equitable and how do we make the changes that seem so needed yet so impossible?”  And then, all of a sudden, our world is torn apart.  And there is an opportunity to create a new normal.  There is more awareness of us being in this together, and about caring for each other rather than fighting with each other.  I hear more people saying they appreciate the slowing down.

I am part of a group in Calgary called The Calgary Alliance for the Common Good.  We have become an influential alliance of 39 agencies, spiritual communities and unions who are working for solutions to community concerns in the areas of social isolation, seniors staying in their homes, indigenous relations, mental health and addictions.  And now we have a task force working toward encouraging the federal government to establish a basic income in our country.  There is a growing movement of political, social and business groups that understand how a basic income would save governments a lot of money and improve the lives of many vulnerable people.  The end of this pandemic may be a long way away, which gives us time to embrace changes in the way we show up in this world.

Waiting for the Spirit is waiting for the energy for a new life that will send us out the door in a new way with a new message of love and understanding.  It is not something that we can invent, it is not cobbling together the hopes and dreams of yesterday.  Rather, it is a light coming from the future showing us who we can be, along with an energy to be a part of what is to come.

The disciples waited for 50 days and I am sure on day 37 and 49 some of the disciples were complaining and getting restless, “How long are we going to wait for something to happen?  This is boring and we are tired of waiting.”  I’m sure the disciples got on each other’s nerves living together in a small area, yet I am also sure they took time to pray, reflect, and talk about important things, preparing for the time when they would be moving on.

Posted in Covid-19, Justice, Progressive Christianity, Spirituality | 1 Comment

A Template of a Spiritual Journey

Using Lent as a time of contemplation has been a long tradition for me, in which I commit to a daily time of reflection and prayer. My current question is, “What does this season mean to me this year?” Usually my discipline wanes over time. But this year the universe conspired to see that I had plenty of free time for contemplation, prayer and meditation.  The pandemic has my wife and me self-isolating for the past month. Zoom allowed me to visit with friends and attend seminars at our church, which all helped me in my time of reflection.

My first significant awareness came after a Spiritual Nurture evening three weeks ago. The theme was reflecting on being and doing. The presenter used Cynthia Bourgeault’s 20-minute video Being is Not Something You Are.  Cynthia teaches that, “Being is life experience beyond words, it is visiting the energetic centre of presence, the heart space” —the place in us where we experience the unity of all things.

After the presentation I talked with two other participants about missing physical touch which Is so important to all of us. As we do many things on-line these days, including church, we are missing physically being with people. I commented that I missed the passing of the peace at our Sunday on-line church service. The touch, the experience of connection was absent. Another woman in the conversation suggested that we use chakra balance, a type of energy balance, to bring us into unity.

The place of touch in this time of physical distancing raises the question, “How do individuals experience touch when we are at a distance? I suggest that passing the peace on-line could include putting your hand over your heart, closing your eyes, visiting the energetic heart centre, where all are connected. Maybe you heard a prayer request that moved you; remember that person, bring them close to you in your heart centre where all is one. Allow yourself to be with them. Perhaps you then think of someone you are missing, a friend, a neighbour, a colleague. Bring them close for a moment, touch them with the invisible hand of love. Do this by remembering your experience with them and the gift that they are in your life. We often share the passing of the peace with people we do not know; we welcome the stranger. Let your heart be open to the unknown person who comes to you (perhaps it is a first responder, a medical person, a refugee). Finally, as you feel the touch of your hand on your heart, hear the words “Lay your hands gently upon me, may their touch render your peace.”  Take it in.

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Posted in Covid-19, Justice, Spirituality | 1 Comment

What’s Going On?

A question that has come up consistently throughout my ministry is: “Do we always have to go through trouble to learn and grow”. My answer has always been: “Yes, it seems to be the only way we really learn what we need to learn”.

The belief that if we really were faithful enough we would not get into trouble is not biblical.  Trouble is not a punishment, but it may be a consequence of a bad decision.  Richard Rohr recently posted: “We are not punished for our sins, we are punished by our sins”.  Life has its ups and downs but we are constantly told that if we are good life can be just a movement from one good thing to another.  And if life is complicated and difficult it’s our fault and someone has a product or a course that can fix it.

The place of good religion is to keep us centered and hopeful when life gets hard and the challenges threaten to overwhelm us. The place of good religion is to help us keep moving to deeper levels of consciousness and understanding of our place in the universe.  I want to share with you Richard Rohr’s blog that came two days ago. He talks about the patterns of life that lead us through the valleys and show us the path to new life.
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Posted in Covid-19, Evolutionary Thinking, Progressive Christianity, Spirituality | Leave a comment

What Was I Thinking! Mostly About COVID-19

It seems I have become obsessed with numbers, movement, self-isolation, symptoms, etc. etc. Watching the pandemic spread around the world and now to Alberta with 70 cases in Calgary.  We have done well here in preparing for the arrival of the virus, but it is here now.  I am 76 and my wife and I have decided to nearly self-isolate.  Our church, Hillhurst United Church, has cancelled all in-house services, meetings and activities and we had our first on-line worship service Sunday, March 15.  I have attended two zoom church groups: one on spiritual nurture and the other a 7am group meditation.  It’s a good way to stay connected and still stay at home.

I went from thinking “This is still far away and I am a healthy person; it won’t happen to me” to “It is now around town and maybe around me and I am still a healthy person and I want to stay that way”.  It has finally sunk in that my immune system can not protect me from catching COVID 19 because it is completely unfamiliar to the human body. None of us has built up any immunity to it.  Depending on our health we can, of course, recover from it easily or not so easily.  I am not panicky, haven’t bought toilet paper yet; nor am I fearful.  But I want to be careful, take this threat seriously and do my part to flatten the curve and keep hospitals from becoming overwhelmed. Continue reading

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A New Time and Place: Transformation

Lent has always been a special time for me because I use it to reflect on my time and place in this world and prepare for the experience of Easter.  When I was putting together a two-minute talk to advertise a Lenten program at Hillhurst United, I read the first chapter of Terry  O’Reilly’s book, This I know, a delightful book about interesting stories of successes and failures of various marketing plans by this CBC host of Under the Influence.  For instance, what is Molson Brewing’s product?  It’s not beer; it’s partying.  Michelin Tires doesn’t sell tires; they sell safety: “Someone special is riding on your tires.”  So, I asked myself, What am I selling?  Is it a program for lent?  What business is the church in?  Some would say salvation but, being an evolutionary thinker, I would say transformation.  So, I began my two-minute announcement like this:

Wow, what a week: Alberta budget, rail blockades, stock market correction and the threat of the Coronavirus.  I wouldn’t be surprised if you missed the other big event that happened in our lives this past Wednesday when we slipped into another time and place in the rhythm of the Christian year. We are in the season of Lent, the 40 days before Easter.  It is a time to reflect on our values of spirituality and social justice.  It is a time when we Christians choose some particular discipline that will help us grow in our relationships of love – with God, with each other, with ourselves and with the Earth.   Give It Up for The Earth is a discipline that can help us focus on what it means to live in a world where a climate emergency is real, and our response is difficult. There is a brochure in front of you that is an invitation to be a part of Give It Up for The Earth.

After connecting lent and this program I needed to connect the program to the listener. Continue reading

Posted in Climate Change Controversy | 2 Comments

A Crisis Made In Canada: Here’s What I Was Thinking

We are experiencing an Indigenous blockade of our rail lines.  The Conservatives want to use force to open up the line and the Liberals are taking another path – negotiation.  What do the indigenous groups want?  Do they want Canada to starve?  Do they want to destroy the country?  What is the solution here?

I think Trudeau should tell this story to help us understand.

The Indigenous people came to this land a long, long time ago and they built a house and lived on this land, in this house for a long time until white visitors came.  It took a while, but these visitors were eventually invited to stay in the house and share the land.  But the visitors brought more family and friends –more people until there were too many for the size of the house –not enough room for everyone.  So the white visitors threw out the indigenous people and gave them a shed in the back yard to live in.  No running water and few amenities and not enough land to make a good life.  As many years went by the distance between them grew, and the white people tried to get them out of the shed as well.  But that didn’t work.  And here we are.  So, if you are mad about the blockades then you understand how indigenous people feel about someone else restricting their lives and threatening their livelihoods.  And here we are.

The issue is not just about a piece of land to build a pipeline on, it is about building a bigger house so indigenous people can have a place In Canada.  It is about respecting the land and the people. Even bigger than that, it is about respecting the whole Earth as a sacred place that will support us if we use it properly.  It is about an understanding and a respect for other each other.  We have to elevate the conversation and we white people must be willing to share the abundance if we hope to have a future here.

We don’t just need the permission of the indigenous Chiefs; we need to include them in making decisions that effect all Canadians, and open a door that allows them back into the house.  Show them, not just tell them, we respect their right to manage the land.  That is hard for us because we think in terms of contracts, not relationships.  “When will we ever learn?” (Pete Seeger)

Posted in Indigenous Relations, Justice, Spirituality | 1 Comment

Awe and Wonder

I was preparing to write my first blog for the new year on “2020, the Year of Perfect Vision”. I have been saying this as we approached 2020 because it seems to me that faith gives us a different perspective – a new vision to guide our life. Humanity needs a new vision to save us from chaos and destruction. Jesus often talked about blindness being a problem for human beings.

However, two days after we got back from two weeks in Mexico my wife and I went to church to begin to re-connect with our life back in Calgary. One of our ministers, Don McLeod, chose Awe and Wonder as the theme for the service. I could feel myself wondering and anticipating as the service began. It felt different. There was no pulpit. The usual pattern was altered slightly. It was even more informal than usual, yet connected. Mary Oliver’s poem “Instructions for Living a Life: Be Aware, Be Astonished, Tell Someone” was read. And the choir anthem was “Everyday Miracles”.  The scripture was from the Gospel of Thomas, second teaching: 2) “Jesus said, If you are seeking, continue seeking until you find it. But when you find it you will become troubled. And your troubling will give rise to astonishment. Being astonished, you will have power over all.”

Don began his sermon with a conversation with a young boy with whom he has been having conversations about God for over a year. The conversations began when the boy asked Don, ”Is it illegal for someone to come to church who doesn’t believe in God?” The conversation continued about the boy’s belief in science and there being no proof of God’s existence. It was about a seven-minute conversation that ended with the thought: Science is a new tradition that is introducing us to the universe we live in and are a part of. In this new way of looking we discover the everyday miracles of the sacredness of life. The universe really is a part of us, in and around us, and the more we pay attention to it the more we understand that it is a sacred body where we live and breathe and find our being (my summary).

Then Don told us the purpose of the sermon: “I want you to leave today with an inkling of awe and wonder; to be on the edge of your seat enough for you to be able to re-connect with the sacred in all things. Is that too much to ask?” My first response was “Yes it is”. This reaction surprised me and when I explored it, I realized that I felt that this focus on only the positive was too easy. Awe has both a negative and a positive side. Continue reading

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The Christmas Story, Santa, Carols and the Ones I Love

Christmas messages have come to me again this year as I spent time reflecting on the story that has directed and supported my life for 76 years.  In my early years my parents introduced me to the Christmas story and church.  Parents play an important role in what a child comes to believe.  Not only by what they say but also what they do – how  they model or live the Christmas story or the gospel story.

For most of my life as a Christian minister I asked the question, “What does the Christmas story mean to me this year?”  I knew the story was not factual; but I knew it was true!  So how do I share this story and make it come alive for people this year.  I use Advent as a way of listening for the answer. It is my contemplative practice.

This year I used the prayer which I shared in my last blog that begins: “Now, O Lord, calm me into a quietness that heals and listens…”  In the carol, O Little Town of Bethlehem, the words and music draw me into this prayer space of reflection and connection.

1. O little town of Bethlehem,
How still we see thee lie.
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep
The silent stars go by;
Yet in thy dark streets shineth
The everlasting Light.
The hopes and fears of all the years
Are met in thee tonight.

3. How silently, how silently
The wondrous gift is giv’n!
So, God imparts to human hearts
The blessings of his heav’n.
No ear may hear his coming;
But in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive him, still
The dear Christ enter in.

At a recent family gathering an anxious mother brought up the dilemma: What do we tell our children as they get older and want to know if Santa is real?  Her dilemma was, Will they still be able to trust me when they discover I have lied to them for 10 years? This mother also put it in the context of a previous experience with her children’s discovery that the Tooth Fairy was not “real”. It was just their parents. Continue reading

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The Great ADVENTure

The cycle of the Christian year begins again.  I like beginnings.  It is a sign of hope and new possibilities.  At the beginning of the Christmas season, Advent gives me the opportunity to explore the depths of the mystery at the foundation of my life.  There is the literal story of Mary and Joseph and the birth of Jesus.  Then there is the bigger story of spiritual connections that embrace my own story and how I participate in the life of the universe.  My journey has been a long road of continuing to find meaning in the religion I grew up in.  And there have been challenges all along the way, as new information (other religions) and new traditions (science) have showed up to be included in my big picture of life.

As I dig deeper into the meaning of this sacred season, I have sometimes created poetry.  For a few years I selected a poem form and let my heart and mind freely associate around the question:  “How do I express the deep truth of the Christmas story this year?”  These are two of my poems from previous years. Continue reading

Posted in Justice, Progressive Christianity | 5 Comments

White Privilege and Retirement

The first weekend in November I attended a workshop led by Brian McLaren who wrote the book, The Great Spiritual Migration, noted in an earlier blog.  He first addressed the question, “Should I stay in the church or should I leave?”  It was ground-breaking and foundation shattering to me. I have never thought about leaving the church.   His assessment is that many people cannot stay in the church because it does not support their integrity and does not offer them a future that has hope.  His reasoning went a lot deeper than the fact that some people get hurt by the church or the church is not keeping up with the times for young people.  He offered us a history of oppression that began very early by establishing a male domination system, and then cited a 1452 Papal bull (https://doctrineofdiscovery.org/dum-diversas) that gave the kings of Europe a mandate to go into the world and kill or capture (as slaves) anyone who is a Muslim or a pagan (all non-Christians) and seize all their goods (wealth) for their own profit.  This was the ”Age of Discovery”, the beginning of the era of colonialism that continues to today.  The control of the interpretation of Christian scripture by the educated elite allowed a misinterpretation and a misuse of scripture to undermine the gospel message of what loving one another means.

The Christian Identity should be one who stands against violence and stands for the building of community (the Kingdom of God) where all people have a place.  McLaren cites white privilege as the most insidious power to plunder the earth because we have the most guns and money to do it – and it was sanctioned as a divine right by Christianity.  We are waking up to this truth today, but this belief has become the operative way of life in the western world. Continue reading

Posted in Evolutionary Thinking, Justice, Progressive Christianity | 7 Comments

Random Thoughts and Rants

My last post was August 26th.  What was I thinking in the past 7 weeks?  I have been stuck in a negative rant about how bad things are in the world and what can one person do anyway!  When I say stuck, I mean going over actions by Donald Trump like pulling U.S. troops out of Syria so fast that they had to bomb their own bases there to prevent others from getting the equipment they had to leave behind.  Pulling out so Turkey could bomb their allies.  I get so angry when I read news like this that my mind goes on a tirade for days. Where is the sanity when he gets no push back from world leaders?

Then there is the Canadian election. Where is the good thinking?  Where is the leadership?  Trudeau seems to have lost his edge, my total dislike for Sheer, and living in a riding where a conservative win is a foregone conclusion, pushes me to search for an alternative way to send a message to Ottawa to do some new thinking.

I ruminate about stuff.  I want Trudeau to pull the liberal candidate from the riding where Jody Wilson  Raybould is running as a sort of apology for the way he treated her.  I want someone to speak about issues that matter – which means I want some candidate to treat me as a person who can think and understand big issues.  Instead I get a tax break or drivel or name calling.  Elizabeth May is one bright light who has a history of intelligent debate and is calling for doing politics differently. I will probably turn Green this election. Jagmeet Singh has shown good leadership but I want radical. Continue reading

Posted in Climate Change Controversy, Justice, Science and Religion | 2 Comments

Back From Holidays

“As much as summer should remove the burden of “should” and give an invitation to rest and frolic, the world is rarely a respecter of the calendar’s mood. It’s been deeply disturbing to watch, yet again, dozens of innocent lives lost in multiple mass shootings, knowing that collective trauma has now been unleashed on three more cities and states, to say nothing of the numbed-over fears layered on a nation already resigned to waiting for the next horror. These dark events, paired with a week spent in Paradise, California, where 95 percent of the town’s residents lost their homes in the state’s deadliest fire last fall, have me searching for voices that are in tune with shock and stripping. It’s like an ache for the appropriate chord, one that’s scarred and wise, vulnerable yet steely-eyed.”
Comment Magazine, August 9, 2019

This piece motivated me to write something this month. My first plan was to say, “Not yet back from holidays”, because I have not been in the mood to write.  I took a holiday from deep thinking and just wanted to garden, hang out with friends, listen to good music and not worry about the state of the world.  I wanted to bask in John Denver’s song, Season’s Suite (Summer). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4q5197B_7iI

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Thinking About Love

It is spring (you can see I have been thinking about writing this for over a month) and my thoughts always turn to gardening, weather, having more time to be outside, and re-engaging with the neighbours.  The cycle of the seasons is about change, new activities (at least in the northern hemisphere) and with the longer daylight it seems like there is more time to do things.  But the regular activities of keeping up with family and friends, keeping fit, holiday time, outdoor activities like attending festivals, concerts, Bar-B-Q in the back yard and entertaining in our garden as well as having a few things to do that share the life and beliefs I have, are things that fill my time.

About two weeks ago I presided at a wedding for the daughter of a good friend of mine, and preparing for the celebration my thoughts turned to love and the spiritually of relationships.  The couple does not have any connection to church but there is a spiritual awareness in their worldview.  How do I tread that fine line of being appropriate and introducing the invitation to a deeper experience of life and love but not be preachy? Continue reading

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He Doesn’t Have a Prayer

“He doesn’t have a prayer,” is a phrase that I have heard from time to time meaning that the situation is hopeless.  Like many people at my age and stage of life, I have been thinking about my life and my legacy.  My wife and I are updating our wills.  What do we have and what do we want to do with it when we die?  Secondly, the church that brought me to Canada had it’s 50th anniversary two weeks ago.  I was the second pastor of this church, only 18 months out of seminary when I came to Canada in 1971.  My task was to build and shape the ministry of this new congregation.  I think this situation fits nicely under this blog titled, What was I thinking? (And perhaps “What was the denomination thinking” as well.)  A young, inexperienced minister with such a challenge!

Yet, we all felt like it was a call, and in hindsight that was accurate. I was at Christ Moravian Church for 9 years with the task of building the church and shaping its ministry. I recently spent a wonderful Fiftieth Anniversary celebration reflecting on that time, renewing connections and celebrating the life of the church.  I spoke about the nine years I was pastor of Christ Moravian.  I was also asked to open the Sunday worship celebration with a prayer of gratitude that would emphasize the past and the future.   One would think this is a no-brainer for a minister with 50 years behind him.  Yet this was a challenge for an evolutionary Christian to pray at such a pivotal point in the church’s history.  In this now moment the past and the future stand on a platform where experience and opportunity meet.

This a challenge for an evolutionary who has a strong belief in God in a whole different way than seeing God as a being directing life from above.  I saw my task at the beginning of this service was to ground people in their past, to place them in the flow of divine history, and energize them for the future.  I didn’t have a prayer.

As I sat (in a prayerful mood) I began to reflect on my history and my hopes; I began to understand what prayer meant to me.  As this was working for me, I understood that my task was to bring the history of love, ministry, hope and dreams together creating a sacred time of possibilities.  This is the prayer I offered. Continue reading

Posted in Evolutionary Thinking, Spirituality | 4 Comments

I Have Been Feeling Blue

The election in Alberta has been on my mind for months.  I was away on a holiday for the last two weeks of the election campaigning.  I heard the polls and yet held on to hope that the NDP would be re-elected because they showed strong, positive leadership and vision for the Province of Alberta through 4 years of the worst economic climate and challenges (like the devastating fires of 2016 that burned part of Fort McMurray).  Yet all indications were that the United Conservative Party would win a majority.  This is what happened.  I am truly disappointed that the government that showed forward thinking could not reach the general public who were focused on their own immediate agendas.  It was only 4 years to save the world, I know.

Now the UPC has committed to tearing down much of the infrastructure that was created to provide a future for Alberta that would be “world class” in its vision.  My little joke to my conservative neighbours when we got back from holidays, the day after the election was: “I am really feeling blue today.”  It took them a moment to get it – the colour of the UPC party is blue.  It was just a joke, and it was true. I am deeply disappointed that now we have a “Trump-like premier” who rose to power in the UPC by using a third candidate as a foil to get himself elected as the head of the party. This and using third party funding organizations to get around donation rules reveal serious moral flaws. These are serious accusations that are backed by evidence according to major newspaper reports. These character flaws will drive our political process for the next 4 years.  I predict he will follow the leadership pattern of our neighbour to the south, being committed to destruction of all that has been created by the previous administration with no plan forward – just words and promises that everyone wants to believe.  This kind of faith, called “wishful thinking”, believes that someone is going to save us.  Someone will build a pipeline in a day, put us all back to work, pay all our bills and the poor and marginalized will be helped by big business.  I am truly afraid as the world votes in more short-term thinkers with narrow-minded, selfish goals, which to me is a withdrawal from faith. Continue reading

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Procrastination has been a strategy I have practiced most of my life. That is why this blog has been in my journal and half-finished on my computer for over two weeks. It is true that in that time new ideas have emerged, and others have dropped away. I hope it is a better blog. But I still don’t feel good when I watch myself procrastinating.

I didn’t save any money, none, until I was 45. Then I established an RRSP and created a successful saving plan. I didn’t write a will until I was sixty. I knew I should but just didn’t get around to it. The past two weeks my wife and I have reviewed our financial situation with our advisor, seen a lawyer about updating our wills, almost finished our Personal Directive and Power of Attorney forms, talked to a funeral director and pre-paid our funerals. Planning for the next stage of life has not been easy and it’s almost done, but not quite. The downside is that it will not get finished now until we return from holidays in mid-April. Hope our plane is a good one!

Ash Wednesday and Lent provided some inspiration to get me down to taking care of business. This Christian festival or tradition has always been important to me. I take it as a time for reflection on my life (mortality) and what this time of my life is all about (purpose) all in the context of God’s will and the evolving purpose of humankind. That’s a fancy way to say I intentionally think about stuff during lent. Continue reading

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The Great Spiritual Migration

It is already mid-February. I seem to always be wondering about my faith and how the Christian message relates to the world I live in, a world which seems out of control right now.  There seems to be no limit to the number of people analyzing the world situation and trying to make sense of it. I read these cultural analysts because they help me get a handle on how to live in this fast paced, changing world.

The church has not been spared by the rapid pace of change.  The church used to be considered a solid rock which would give us something stable to hang on to and enable us to cope in the midst of life’s storms.  Now the church is being rocked by a huge storm of its own that is closing an unprecedented number of churches every day.  We are seeing people leaving church or questioning their faith.   I am in the latter category — re-thinking my faith.  But this is not new for me.  I have been doing this my whole ministry.  In fact, I think this is the job of a minister, to continually ask how the gospel relates to our world and helps people search for truth and live a more purposeful life.

I am currently in a book study of Brian McLaren’s latest book: The Great Spiritual Migration: How the World’s Largest Religion Is Seeking a Better Way to Be Christian.  McLaren has been writing on evolutionary theology and the emerging church for over 20 years.  I am reading his latest book for the second time because I am involved with a group of people who are bringing Brian McLaren to Calgary in November.  This book summarizes a lot of my own journey in faith and has reaffirmed why I remain a Christian.

His introduction delineates the reasons why Christianity needs to move on from the baggage it acquired over the years. He goes on to specifically identify acquired beliefs that are not rooted in Jesus’ teaching.  These are beliefs that have led us to an image of God that is less than the God Jesus reveals in his life and teaching. The migration that Christianity needs to make is a “back to the future” movement, a trip back to the teachings of Jesus before the church took hold of them, shaped them into creeds that had to be believed and interpreted scripture in a narrow, self-serving way.

In chapter 3, Learning How to Love, McLaren spells out his fundamental belief which is the foundation of this book.   He had just left the pastorate and moved to a new city. As he wondered what kind of church he wanted to go to he realized: “I wanted and needed a church that would help me live a life of love. …I need sustenance, encouragement and help in loving God, loving myself, loving my kids and grandkids and extended family, loving my neighbors, especially people I might struggle to love, and loving the earth.” p. 50.

In chapter 4 he describes the history of Christianity based on a judgemental God who only really loved those who loved Him.  The church became a group of people who believed that loyalty to this God was the only way to reward/heaven.

In chapter 5 he speaks of a migration of belief from God 1.0 to God 5.0.  He shows how our perception of God changed through history until it arrived at God 4.0, who moved beyond selfishness to compassion. However, it was still only compassion for those who believed, looked and worshiped as we did.  In the next migration to God 5.0 we must move to a religion that is global (universal?) and does not believe that Christianity is the only way.  “Only a bigger, nondualistic God can unite us and them in an inclusive identity that is not limited to a tribe or nation, but that extends to all humanity, and not just to all humanity, but to all living things, and not just to all living things, but to all the planetary ecosystems in which we share.  We need to migrate to a grown-up God….” p. 102.  This resonated with me and my evolutionary Christianity.

The rest of the book addresses our fears about losing our faith, losing Jesus as our saviour, and losing the Bible as our book. McLaren and I know that this “leap of faith” is attended by dark periods of uncertainty.  That is why it is call a leap of “faith”.  McLaren states that we must live in faith, not in fear.  We must let faith draw us forward, not allow fear to hold us back.  As we get in touch with the new reality that science is putting before us, we find that our faith has a deeper purpose than describing how God created and runs the world.  God, through us, is shaping the world into a more holy and human shape.  Are you, am I, on board with the task of loving more intentionally the life we have in and around us? This is our holy purpose.  McLaren calls for us to join or create a movement — a group of people who rise up, organize, and confront institutions by pointing out what is wrong with them and proposing how to make things right.  When institutions go wrong, they create more harm than good and fail to provide the life enhancing benefits they were created to give the community.

The old-time religion is just not good enough for me.  At 75, I still have an important place in sharing the love of God and creating a community where love is the basis of our relationships.  Right now it seems nearly impossible for us to get out of this mess in any reasonable fashion.  That is where faith has its grab — to raise up hope and belief that there is a way forward and it is a holy path.

I will follow-up with a final comment when I finish the book study.  I am looking forward to your comments and hope you will read the book.

Posted in Evolutionary Thinking, Science and Religion, Spirituality | 4 Comments

On the Brink of Everything

I wish you many blessings for this new year.  Some people make New Year’s resolutions because there is something about new beginnings that gives us a second chance to renew our commitment to whatever or whoever it is that brings meaning into our life, and another opportunity to connect with our purpose.

Over the Christmas holiday I read Parker Palmer’s latest book, On the Brink of Everything: Grace, Gravity and Getting Old. The book is a reflection on his 79 years of life.  Essentially it is about his understanding of what makes life meaningful. I resonated with the title as I slipped into 2019.  The phrase, “on the brink” is usually used to denote impending disaster, but Palmer uses it to say that no matter how old we are we are always on the brink of everything. He writes, “… being old is no reason to wade into the shallows.  It is a reason to dive deep and take creative risks.  I like being ‘On the brink of everything’ because it gives me new perspectives on my past, present and future, and new insights into the inner dynamics that shape and drive my life.”

I too like the feeling that I am on the brink of everything in 2019.  In 2004 I began a yearly reflective process.  The first years it was fun and interesting, but not very meaningful.  But in the last 10 years I have taken it more seriously. Each January I pick seven cards from a deck of 74 concepts (ancient and modern) that pertain to these categories: Essence, Past, Present, Future, Possibility, Blessing and Synthesis. In 2015 my Essence card was Exhaustion.  It shocked me. I would have said that I was too busy for a 73 year old, or I was tired a lot, but exhaustion was a word that suggested I needed to consider retirement.  I took 6 months to unburden myself of teaching, offering spiritual direction, and many other “jobs” that I picked up because they didn’t take much time.

June 9, with my teaching job at the FCJ Spiritual Life Centre finished, I began a work sabbatical which I defined as:  No Work for a Year.  And I did that. The next June I felt comfortable saying, “I am retired” and I got another message (and to me it seemed like it came from a divine source).   Now I understood that it was okay to say No or Yes to a request, but “yes” only if my heart responds to it and it is not “work”.  I have done that for the last 3 years.  I still spend one day a week contemplating each of the seven concepts.  My life has become a more contemplative adventure, reorienting my physical and spiritual life.  It is my way of delving more deeply into the question, “What is my life about now, in retirement?”

This year my Essence card was Maturity.  This was also my Synthesis card from last year which suggests to me that my maturity remains a primary focus.  Maturity refers to inner connection with one’s divine self/purpose.  I will be 76 this coming summer.  I felt withdrawn over the past summer and in the fall I felt restless and yearning, not for work but for engagement, as if something was coming.  This year I do feel I am on the brink of everything, but not yet sure what that everything is.  However, it does feel like a sacred adventure and I now have the tools to know how to say “yes” and how to say “no”.

Do you have a ritual or practice that helps you hear the voice of God in your life?  Does the new year hold a gift for you?  Does your faith feed you with gifts for the journey?

I heard an interview on the radio about a week ago about “luck”.  The person being interviewed is not a fan of luck. He is a statistician and used the lottery as an example of belief and reality not being the same. He said some people think they are lucky and have an inside track, scheme, or way of winning. In the end he said it is just a happy coincidence if one wins anything.  But he did acknowledge that those who believe they are lucky are more likely to be successful in their life and have more positive experiences and feelings.  Their belief in being lucky gives them a sense of self-esteem and allows them to take on more challenges and risks that lead to good things.  Whereas, pessimistic people are more cautious and do not open doors to growth and new possibilities as easily.  I would say, not that I am lucky, but that I am blessed.  Not that God has chosen me over other people to give me more life and gifts, but that through faith and spiritual practices, I am able to follow a path that leads me to more growth, more life.   I believe there is a positive impulse toward growth in all of life.  There are challenges and disasters that interrupt that process and it is how we deal with these that creates the way forward.

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The Advent-ure of Life

This adventure began when I was invited to lead a contemplative service during Advent.  I said “yes” and was assigned the second week, which traditionally has the theme of Peace.  John 14:27 came first to my mind, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”  Paul calls this the peace that passes all understanding in Philippians 4:7. And then a second scripture, Matthew 10:34, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, …a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household”.  There it was – the paradox. This became my focus: Peace and Conflict coming together in our life experience.

Parker Palmer, in his new book, On the Brink of Everything, says that he envies people who practice contemplative disciplines to see the truth about themselves and the world, and in doing so often avoid the train wreck. Then in his words, “I’m a contemplative by catastrophe.  My wake-up calls generally come after the wreck has happened and I’m trying to dig my way out of the debris. I do not recommend this path as a conscious choice.  But if you, dear reader, have a story similar to mine, I come as the bearer of glad tidings. Catastrophe, too, can be a contemplative path.” (P. 59) I agree with Palmer that when we are able to embrace conflict we can often find the path to peace.

In the service I had two Christ candles. The first one, standing by itself was burning when people came in, indicating the One who came with the message of good news, glad tidings.  The second Christ candle remained unlit in the Advent wreath for the One who is yet to come.  This is Advent for me, living in the tension of what has come and what is yet to be.  In expectation we prepare for the Christ who is yet to come, and in so doing we experience the presence of the holy in the gifts of Hope, Peace, Joy and Love.

In preparing for the service I asked myself “What is Peace for me?”  I didn’t give up after the first few easy answers came to me.  Staying with the question is the contemplative way.  Stay with it until you get the answer your heart, God or the Holy Spirit has to offer.  Then I looked for the experience of peace in my memory, in the world or in people around me.  How does peace happen? Leonard Cohen’s words came to me from his song, Treaty. “I’m angry and I’m tired all the time, I wish there was a treaty, I wish there was a treaty, between your love and mine”. Thinking about the words ‘Peace that passes all understanding’ I wondered how do I/we get there.  I have a graphic with the word PEACE In large bold black letters and the word conflict is printed in small letters right in the centre.  There it is.  The dynamic of life, the paradox, the way forward, you can’t have one without the other. Peace and the Sword.  The promise and the conflict. Continue reading

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