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
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
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
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
“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
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
“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