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

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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.

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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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A Crack in Everything

Last Sunday at church hearing this reading got me thinking…

ANTHEM    by Leonard Cohen

The birds they sing
At the break of day
“Start again”, I heard them say
Don’t dwell
On what has passed away
Or what is yet to be.

Yeah, the war’s they will be fought again
The holy dove, she will be caught again
Bought, sold, and bought again
The dove is never free.

Ring the bell that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There’s a crack, a crack, in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

We ask for signs,
The signs were sent
The birth betrayed, the marriage spent
The widowhood of every government
Signs for all to see

I can run no more with that godless crowd
While the killers in high places say their prayers out loud
They have summoned up, summoned up, a thundercloud
And they’ll hear from me

Ring the bell…

You can add up the parts
You won’t have the sum
You can strike up the march
There is no drum
To every heart, every heart, love will come
But like a refugee

Ring the bell…

Last Sunday a guest speaker who is a poet and a theologian took us into the depths of faith that exists in the midst of darkness.  He used this reading/song by Leonard Cohen as the scripture. Cohen was a contemplative and an evolutionary thinker.  He understood the unity of everything in such a way that paradox was the mystery where God becomes visible. Two ideas that are poles apart come together in the present moment.  It is a mystery that reveals the holy presence of God.  This was the perfect introduction to Advent for me.  The paradox is: Christ has come and Christ is coming and in this moment, we embrace both realities.  Christ is here, yet still coming.  We have the ancient record and we have our own experience of the one who has come, but sometimes we experience the absence of God and are in the dark looking forward to Christ’s coming again.

The first verse of Anthem speaks of the process of entering life again today.  “Don’t dwell on what has passed away or what is yet to be.”  He doesn’t say ignore the past.  In fact, faith is a celebration, a remembering of what has been; and it is also a promise, a hope, a vision of what is yet to be.  Hold these but do not dwell on them.  Because just when you think you get it, he says “…the war’s they will be fought again, the holy dove, she will be caught again, bought, sold and bought again.”  I think we do buy into wishful thinking, or is it a teaching, that if we have enough faith, if we get it right, everything will be good again and it will stay that way forevermore.  And then we get disappointed and angry when our world shifts again.  Our faith is fluid and flexible and messy.  And when the crack appears it is revelation and we understand that Christ is here in us right now. Continue reading

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