“Despite everything, life is full of beauty and meaning.”


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Vacations are, for me, a wonderful time to catch up on reading. I was recently off for three weeks and was afforded the opportunity to dive into the pages of some books that I had set aside for reading, some suggested books, and a couple of newbies that I discovered while away. Here, in no particular order, is my suggested reading list. I will add a comment or two about each book:

A Blue Puttee at War (Sydney Frost) FullSizeRender(2)
Every Newfoundlander is aware of the Blue Puttees. The Royal Newfoundland Regiment was brought together in 1914 to join Allied efforts in WWI. The first 500 of these men were known as the Blue Puttees. They were so named because of the unusual colour of their puttees. A fabric shortage saw them supplied with these lower leg coverings by the Church Lads Brigade – an Anglican organization which is still operational in NL. One of the first 500 to sign up was Sydney Frost, an employee of the Bank of Nova Scotia. Frost was a Canadian living in the Dominion of Newfoundland. He became a very well decorated soldier. He was one of the few Blue Puttees (original members) to survive the entire war. This book, edited by Edward Roberts, is a personal account of his time in the RNR. Frost kept a remarkable amount of notes and accumulated notes and paperwork over the years. This book was his memoir and was not written to be published – but his family thankfully decided to have this remarkable story told. This book gives the reader a first hand account of the slaughter that was Beaumont Hamel. On July 1, 1916 there were 767 Newfoundlanders sent over the top in an impossible situation. They next day only 58 men answered the roll call. Over 300 were dead. The Dominion of Newfoundland has suffered a devastating blow. To a small colony, whose population in 1916 was considerably less than the City of London, ON., July 1st became formative it its peoples cultural memory. If you are interested in the collective Canadian History and are unfamiliar with the contribution that Britain’s oldest Colony had paid before it became a part of the Dominion of Canada, this book is a must read!

Detroit: An American Autopsy (Charlie LeDuff)FullSizeRender(4)
Charlie LeDuff is a journalist who grew up in Motor City. He left his home to pursue a very successful career ad a writer fir the New York Times. LeDuff finds himself returning to his natal city after leaving the Times and looking for employment. He takes a job with the Detroit News, which is a limping remnant of the newspaper business. LeDuff offers his personal experience of pain tragedy and loss as experienced by his own family and in the lives of the people of what was the heartbeat of American industry and culture – Detroit. LeDuff, is raw and unfiltered. He does not sugar coat the ills of Detroit and by extension the ills of a nation. He challenges everyone from corrupt Mayors to Union Bosses. LeDuff posits Detroit is a city whose future is a litmus test for the future of the nation. For those of us who love ‘The D,’ this book is both gut wrenching and hopeful. A terrific read. Thank you Jim Townsend for lending me this before my break.

The Bible Tells me So: Why Defending Scripture has Made us Unable to Read it. (Peter Enns)Screen shot 2015-07-28 at 10.38.53 AM
If you are a Christian or even interested in Christianity this book is a must read. We Christians are a people who have The Bible as our guiding text. Enns makes the bold assertion that church has spent too much time and effort trying to tame and sanatize scripture. He insist that our efforts to make the Bible behave is crippling to our faith. This professor of Biblical Studies is a great writer. His use of humour and sarcasm make this book not just an important read, but a fun one as well. He exposes fear based beliefs that are often at odds with one another and challenges the Christian to wrestle with scripture and to do so knowing that God would expect as much from us.

 Here is a taste:
“If we let the Bible be the Bible, on its own terms—on God’s terms—we will see this in-fleshing God at work, not despite the challenges, the unevenness, and ancient strangeness of the Bible, but precisely because of these things. Perhaps not the way we would have written our sacred book, if we had been consulted, but the one that the good and wise God has allowed his people to have.”

The Pastor: A Spirituality (Gordon Lathrop)IMG_6088
Primarily through examination of the Lord’s Prayer, the Creed and the Commandments, Gordon Lathrop provides a life-long catechumenate for those who pastor. In this book Lathrop calls on those who pastor in Liturgical settings to pay heed to the words they are saying weekly. Through an examination of the Lord’s Prayer he calls the pastors to embrace the communal nature of who we are at what we do. He nails it in suggesting that the the Lord’s prayer images ‘a strong center and an open door.’ “Open door to the reality of the condition of the world. Strong center in bread and forgiveness. Open door in the priestly identity of the assembly for the sake of the life of the world. Passing on the skills of the community involves helping people know themselves as marked by both these themes of the prayer. And passing on the skills of the community is one important way to prepare for assembly leadership and live the vocation of the pastor. So, ‘let us pray with confidence,’ as the old invitation says, giving others access into the heart of the prayer, helping others be held by prayer.” I recommend this book to all who are pasturing in Liturgical traditions.

Our Scandalous Senate (J. Patrick Boyer)FullSizeRender(6)
In this very well timed work, Former MP and member of the Mulroney Government makes the case for abolishing the Upper House. I picked this book up in a little store in Bracebridge, home of the author. Now I must confess that I read this book thinking I would disagree with much of what was in it. As a socialist I did not think I would find my opinions to be in concert with the conservative professor. I was wrong. The author is honest and fair to both liberal and Conservative parties in his assessment of how the Senate has been used over the years. I began reading the book as one who bought the argument that the Senate was a place of ‘sober second thought.’ I finished the book feeling that the upper chamber us anything but a place of sober second thought – or sober anything for that matter. Boyer is very knowledgeable and has built many relationships with legislators and with senators over the years. I have valued his counsel on this matter as we journey toward a fall election. Boyer argues that the provinces managed to eliminate their ‘senates’ with no discernible negative consequence. The Senate of Canada has been abused for political gain by Liberal and Conservative Prime Ministers over the years, says Boyer. “…it was inevitable that, over time, and by extension, those whom they ensconced in the place would evince similar behaviour.” Great reading for Canadians as our Fall election approaches . [As an aside I understand PM Harper was to announce policy to abolish the Senate today, but backed out upon the announcement being leaked – I wonder what Boyer thinks of that.]

Breathing Space: A Spiritual Journey in the South Bronx. (Heidi Neumark)IMG_6085
This was one of my favorite books over the summer —- so far. Neumark’s memoir recounts her 20 years as a pastor of a struggling Lutheran Congregation in the South Bronx. The principal thesis here is the need for breathing space for new life. She writes about the need for the congregation to find breathing space, the need for the neighborhood (choked by pollution) to find breathing space, the need for desperate people to find breathing space, the need for her as a pastor to find breathing space, the need for her family to find breathing space. It is beautifully written and a really meaningful piece of work. The stories of poverty, violence and loss are gut wrenching and heart breaking. At the same time, reading about a church which renews itself by finding its mission in the community is a very heartening and hopeful promise for all who minister in parish settings.

Here are just a few of her words that just leapt out at me:

As a pastor, I keep wanting to build something stable, solid, and lasting and often I seem to be failing. Things progress and then seem to fall back. I’ve always like the phrase “burning patience” quoted by Pablo Neruda when he received the Nobel Prize for literature:

‘I wish to say to the people, of good will, to the workers, to the poets, that the whole future has been expressed in this line if Rimbaud: only with a burning patience can we conquer the splendid city which will give light, justice, and dignity to all.’
… Impatience with my private failures too — feeling constantly torn between family and church responsibilities, never enough time to do anything right, feeling that everything is so fragile and might collapse at any moment….and it will be my fault as the pastor who should oversee it all — and knowing that such thoughts give far too much importance to myself. Lack of perspective, lack of breathing space.

Pegahmagabow: Life Long Warrior (Adrian Hayes)IMG_6089

This book was also a purchase in the little store in Bracebridge. Francis Pegahmagabow is Canada’s most decorated war hero. He was also a great political leader in the years following the World War I. He is simply a Canadian Icon – but one I have never heard of. This speaks to the injustice to First Nations people in terms of how their story is retold.

If you are not family with this great Canadian I might suggest your interest might be piqued by this CBC piece. Click Here

Adrain Hayes writes well and this book reminds all who read it that Pegahmagabow was more than a war hero – He was also tireless in standing up for the rights of Canada’s First Nations People.

This is book that should be a text book for all teenagers in this country. A Quick read.

Where the Edge Gathers: Building a Community of Radical InclusionScreen shot 2015-07-28 at 11.03.33 PM
(Yvette Flunder)
Flunder is a United Church of Christ Pastor whose life experience minister with and to people who are on the edges of society provides a memoir that challenges the church to remove the barriers that we have placed before people and provide radically inclusive communities that address the needs of those within them. As she puts it;

There can truly be no Lord’s Supper, no communion, no Holy Eucharist, in a community whose members do not love each other. We may as well call it a poorly planned dinner party.

He book is part story telling about community and part sermon. In section one she writes about creating community , sustaining community, celebrating community, and preaching to community. In part two she offers a sampling of her preaching. It’s a great book.

Of the many bits of great advice in this book I found these words most helpful:

Yesterday’s kindling and logs were for yesterday. Keep an eye on your fire, protect it and watch the character of it, what feeds it, what works and what doesn’t. Become intimate with the gift of God in you. Honour it and add some fresh fuel to it daily; minister to your gift according to the need….

Appreciate the fact that the original flame, the original gift, came from God. God is making you responsible to steward over it. Don’t take it for granted. God gives the fire… We tend it. Tend it like it is precious and priceless. Don’t be afraid to say, “No, I can’t do that or I can’t go there, it will disturb my fire.”

The Future of Faith (Harvey Cox)Screen shot 2015-07-28 at 10.58.20 PM
This is a book I would recommend to all who are engaged in the practice of ministry. Cox offers the thesis that there are three ages of the church’s life; The Age of Faith, The Age of Belief, and The Age of the Spirit. He argues that the Age of Faith began with Jesus and his immediate followers and was propelled by faith that he initiated. This ages was marked by growth and persecution. Faith provided hope and assurance to those working to user in a new ear that was marked by compassion, justice and healing. The Age of Belief took root when the church leaders began formulating orientation programs for those who had not know Jesus and his followers directly. The Age of Belief replaced faith in Jesus with believing proper tenets about Jesus. This was exacerbated with the development of an elite clerical caste who became specialist who distilled all that had been written into a list of beliefs. Then along come Constantine and Christianity becoming the religion of the Empire. This followed by councils to determine what right belief looked like set us firmly in an age that lasted for over 1500 years. In fact, Cox argues we are still shaking it off as we move into The Age of the Spirit. This age which is now being birthed relates strongly to The Age of Faith. This new age is

“less focused on creeds as were those who live in the Age of Faith. Hierarchies had not yet appeared then; they are wobbling today. Faith as a way of live or a guiding compass has once again begun, as it did then, to identify what it means to be Christian. The experience of the divine is displacing theories about it.”

This is a great read and offers hope to those practicing ministry today that we are living in an age closely akin to the days following the life and death of Jesus of Nazareth. There is life in the church.FullSizeRender(7)

An Altar in the Wilderness (Kaleeg Hainsworth)

This is a beautiful book about spirituality, ecology, and God’ created order. I read it in one good sitting. Hainsworth writes this manifesto as an expression of his love for spirituality and how it is lived and expressed.

“Spirituality is not for hobbyists. We engage with the spiritual world every time we reach beyond ourselves, every time we encounter and form relationships with other people…we belong to a complex, platitudinous ecosystem that extends beyond us limitlessly in all directions. If it’s possible to say that spirituality begins the moment we enter a relationship (with God, with each other, with our per, a garden), then how great is the need for spiritual ecology? We are after all in relationship with every living thing on the planet, even if we can’t see so far as to know it.”

This book argues that we get closer to God when we come closer to creation, when we do our best to protect and restore it, and when we seek forgiveness for how we have harmed it. Great Read!

Introducing the Missional Church (Alan Roxburgh and Scott Boren)IMG_6121
What is Missional Church? This book lays out the challenges of answering that question. It’s authors argue that we have too long been fixated on attritional models of ministry. Build it and they will come. In the very well written book on Missional Church, Roxburg and Boren give great direction on how to help congregations move from putting out fires and building programs to get them to come to outlining how to create space where people can honestly talk about our fears with the change we all face in the church and then work to discern how God is at work in the neighbourhoods around us and become present and active with God.

They write:

What would it be like to cultivate a church in which people ask deeper questions without strings attached? What is important to emphasize is that we don’t need to have answers in order to create this space for people. In fact, having all the answers and bible verses on hand runs contrary to what we [should be doing]. We need an environment in which people feel safe to give voice to what is happening inside them right now.

This is another book that should be on every pastor’s reading list

An Interrupted Life and Letters from Westerbrook  (Etty Hillesum) Screen shot 2015-07-28 at 11.17.08 PM

“Despite everything, life is full of beauty and meaning.”

This is a powerful book. Etty Hillesum’s dairies and her letters tell the story of her life as a Dutch Jew during WWII. Her letters from Westerbrook show the unbelievable resolve of a woman who would not let violence and hate kill her spirit.

“Sometimes the most important thing in a whole day is the rest we take between two deep breaths, or the turning inwards in prayer for five short minutes.”

There are countless pearls of wisdom from this woman who is often referred to as the adult Anne Frank.

“Ultimately, we have just one moral duty: to reclaim large areas of peace in ourselves, more and more peace, and to reflect it toward others. And the more peace there is in us, the more peace there will also be in our troubled world.”

It is impossible to read Etty’s word’s and not come away having reclaimed large areas of peace within. I pray that what I have been given in her words, I may reflect to those around me.

A Walk in the Woods (Bill Bryson)FullSizeRender(5)
This book is REALLY funny. Lots of moments where I laughed out loud. Bryson writes about his experience of walking the Appalachian Trail. He offers insights into himself, his friends, strangers he met along the way and the nature of awesomeness of forest.

One of the funniest lines:

“What on earth would I do if four bears came into my camp? Why, I would die of course. Literally shit myself lifeless.”

And a thoughtful quote….

“In America, alas, beauty has become something you drive to, and nature an either/or proposition–either you ruthlessly subjugate it, as at Tocks Dam and a million other places, or you deify it, treat it as something holy and remote, a thing apart, as along the Appalachian Trail. Seldom would it occur to anyone on either side that people and nature could coexist to their mutual benefit–that, say, a more graceful bridge across the Delaware River might actually set off the grandeur around it, or that the AT might be more interesting and rewarding if it wasn’t all wilderness, if from time to time it purposely took you past grazing cows and till fields.”

That’s a short snapshot of some of the reading I have been doing. I am now on to Harper Lee’s book – Go Set a Watchman — I’ll keep you posted….

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As always – please feel free to offer your comments and feedback. If you have read some of those – let me know your thoughts. Just vote at the top… and click on “Leave an Comment” 

Eucharist in the Great Outdoors ~ the Caress of God 


In his book Exodus, Peter Enns writes:

[The Lord’s Supper teaches that] Rituals are good, and they are instituted and used by God to ‘connect’ his people with him. We learn through ritual that the church is not just made up of individuals, but is a corporate body. It is not just about personal salvation, but a group of people, the people of God, who are bound to one another and to the faithful through the generations. [Exdous, p. 283]

The church is a corporate body. The church is more than a collection of individuals. We are connected not just to each other but to generations who have gathers around tables and broken bread from one generation to the next from the time of Jesus. We are cosmically linked to the people,to God who have gathered before and who will gather in generations to come.

The Eucharist is not just a ritualistic act that is repeated each time we gather, but a live giving, nourishing, healing feast that offers strength for the pilgrimage. Moreover, it is a feast at which each person present is an offering. It is a gathering of God’s own – bringing all that they are and offering it to God our Creator. Each time we gather we are called to bring our broken, tired, and sometimes weary selvesaroudn the table to declare – Christ has died, Christ is Risen, Christ will come again! Together as a community we declare that we are one body for we all share in the one bread. 

As a priest I experience each celebration of the Eucharist a new call to conversion. It’s powerful! All the more powerful when we can find ways, spaces, places, and times to celebrate Eucharist that affirm that we can do that which is comfortable and known to us in new, diverse and different ways. How wonderful when we experience God in the sacrament in a new way.

Earlier this month our St Aidan’s community celebrated communion on the Sifton Bog. This early morning celebration of the ritual that brings us together as community with one anther and with generations of Christians before us and with generations yet to come, in th context of a quiet morning in the wilderness, allowed us to also be reminded that we are also in communion with all of God’s creation. 

I confess that I am not an early morning dude. I, in fact, detest early mornings. But — standing with more than twenty others in the midst of the big, the Lilly pads, the frogs, the ducks before the day got started was really wonderful. It was, for me, what the Celts called a thin place where there was very little separating us from the divine. In his recent encyclical Laudato Si Pope Francis wrote:

Our insistence that each human being is an image of God should not make us overlook the fact that each creature has its own purpose. None is superfluous. The entire material universe speaks of God’s love, his boundless affection for us. Soil, water, mountains: everything is, as it were, a caress of God. [Laudato Si, 84] 

Worship outside in the Sifton Bog allows one a glimpse into the caress of God. It was meaningful for all of us. All gathered were in agreement that we should take opportunity in the summer to do this again. And do it again we will, tomorrow morning in fact!  

 If you would like to come join us please do. We worship at 730 for 30 minutes – NO SERMON!! It’s a 5-6 minute walk (on Boardwalk) from a parking area just west of Remarks a Farm Fresh Markets. Come start your day being reminded that none of us journeys alone. Come and commune with one another and God’s  creation. Join us in the journey. 

   

 

Keeping an Eye on the Ball – Christ is our Bop!


“People need an intellectual understanding of the significance of their community.
They need a clear reminder of the meaning and place of the community in today’s world. It is important to be reminded of the precise goals of the community, its call and its origins. In too many communities the essentials are obscured in a thousand and one activities. Their members no longer know why they are together or to what they should be witnessing. They discuss the details but forget what brought them together.”[1]

 

 

These words of Jean Vanier serve as a powerful reminder to the people of God to not lose sight of why we gather and Whose we are in the midst of our busyness as a community. Each week we all find IMG_4572ourselves filling our calendars, fussing over details, planning the next event, and generally making certain we have not a moment to just sit and BE. In all of that we lose sight of the fact that what has brought us together is God and the call to love! We see, experience and know God through love. We are incapable to experiencing that love when we are busying ourselves so much. My prayer for us all is that we understand an know the importance of God and God’s love.

IMG_4570Last week I had opportunity to meet Connie Schritt! Connie lives in Selkirk, Manitoba and regularly comments on this blog. Catherinanne and I had dinner with Connie and her husband Henry at her sister Katherine Keeling’s hIMG_4568ome where she was visiting. It was a joy to meet Connie and to finally meet her mom Mary. At 96 Katherine and Connie’s mom is a real treasure.

Along with great hospitality and a wonderful meal, we were treated to Harold and Katherine’s collection of cross-stitch samplers that they have collected over the years. I confess that I knew nothing about these beautiful works till seeing them for the first time last week. These fine works were the labour of young girls who would stitch the alphabet, perhaps a depiction of their house, and almost always a bible verse, or a reference to God. As I examined the detail in each one I was moved by notion that what I was looking at was fabric that over a hundred years earlier were held in tiny and busy hands. The reference to scripture or God in each one moved me. In 1798 little Sarah Iceley stitched –

Jesus permit they gracious name to stand,
As the first effort of my youthful hand,
Engage my tender heart to seek they love,

 With thy dear children let me share a part,
And write thy name, Thyself upon my heart.

Then this very sweet stitching has this inscription at its center…

‘Christ is our bop.’ IMG_4569
Christ is our bop? I didn’t get it at first. Katherine helped me. Invert the first and last letters – Christ is our GOD! It’s imperfect and it’s beautiful! It is an effort of the heart and at the heart of the effort is God. No doubt it was different day. That said – it left me wondering how much we place ‘our bop’ at the center of what we are doing? How often is ‘our bop’ forgotten in our frenetic and busy day-to-day planning, doing, improving, accumulating, impressing etc.?

Let us take time to place ‘our bop’ at the center of our loves, our activities, and our communities. Perhaps instead of fussing over details we might remember the origins of our community are all follow from the fact that ‘Christ is our bop!’

Thank you Harold and Katherine for introducing me to this great expression – and for a great dinner and tremendous company!

[1] Jean Vanier, Community and Growth, p. 176

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Time – a Gift to come close to God


“All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking.”
― Friedrich Nietzsche

 

Back in February I took to walking thanks to my friend Canon Sue Paulton, who had a troop of us walking to Jerusalem. It was challenging walking in winter – especially since this was a particularly cold February – March was not a lot better really. But, it was life giving for me. I needed to get moving – exercise is important for good health and I have been trying hard these past eight months to get healthy again.  Sue’s encouragement to walk a couple FB_IMG_1423713493919and a half kilometers a day from February 5 till Easter Sunday in an effort to figuratively walk from Capernaum to Jerusalem was just what I needed when I needed it. I did not get the nearly 200 km done before Easter. I managed to get over half way, but for a variety of reasons I slowed in Holy Week and it took a few weeks afterwards Easter to get back up to speed.

After reaching my goal, I began hiking in some of the wonderful trails in the Forest City. I must say it has been an enriching experience. I have been walking in Komoka, The Sifton Bog, and Warbler Woods and look forward to trying our other trails over these next few weeks.  I have found my time in the trails to be good not just for my physical health, but good for my mind and soul as well.

 Time on the trail provides great opportunity to think. Time is something that I often waste – as most of us do with frivolous things. The walking has reminded me that I need to take time, not just to look after my physical health but to tend to my spiritual needs as well. Walking is a good contemplative space. It provides much needed solitude.  Thomas Merton asserted that “the greatest need of our time is to clean out the enormous mass of mental and emotional rubbish that clutters our minds,” and that was over 50 years ago! I think the need for that has only intensified.  Today I spent almost five hours in the Komoka woods. It was a wonderful way to clean out the mid of what I am know is a gi-normous amount of mental and emotional trash! Among other things I brought in my bag today, was a book with stories and sayings from the Desert Fathers.  Among the words I read were these:

“What is more precious than anything in the world? Time! And what do we waste uselessly and without being sorry? Time! What do we not value and what do we disregard more than anything? Time! When we waste time, we lose ourselves… Time is given by God to use correctly for the salvation of the soul and the acquisition of the life to come… The Lord will call us to account for having stolen time for our own whims, and for not using it for God and our souls.”

St. Sebastian of Optina

I shall rest tonight feeling that I took the time given me for Sabbath this Monday and have honoured it as a gift. The gift of time offered me allowed me to commune with God in solitude.

 I would be interested in reading your stories of walking. Where are your favourite places to walk? Do you like to walk alone? Do you walk in a group? Tell me about your walking and how you commune with God…..

 

 

Elvis For The Streets


Last Fall The Deanery of London decided that coming together to support a Sacramental presence on the streets of our city is a priority. Currently, The Rev’d Matt Arguin is working on the streets of London. While he has other priestly responsibilities in his Parish Community of Bishop Cronyn, Matt is also engaged with the most vulnerable in our community as he makes his rounds in the East End and Downtown.  

The Rev’d Matt Arguin

 That ministry was in danger of having to be let go as funding became increasingly a challenge. The Deanery decided that we would budget $5000 toward that ministry this year. A part of the plan was to bring our deanery together for a fundraiser to raise $2100 toward that total.

Last night the Rev’s Matt Martin contributed his award winning talent as an Elvis impersonator to help us well exceed that goal. Along with the incomparable Stephen Holowitz, Matt had the sold out crowd of over 300 in the palm of his hands. It was incredible show. It was so wonderful to see the joy in the faces of all who came. All parts of this show were awesome – but the real highlights came when Stephen played the Hammond B3 and the Grand Piano. WOW! At one point the audience was convinced that Jerry Lee Lewis was in the house! Matt Martin has been doing concerts like these for many church causes. He is making a tremendous contribution. Thank you hardly seems adequate.

The Deanery extends its thanks to Dr Gary Nicolosi and the people of St James Westminster for being such wonderful hosts. Our Lay Co-Chair John Sizeland assembled a great team of volunteers – Including our own Archdeacon Sam Thomas who as taking tickets at the door. Thank you one and all.

Here are a few shots of the evening!

PS – Being a Roadie is really hard work!

 

  

   
                      

Family IS …


I have tired of anemic and hackneyed sayings.  At least four or five times in the last week I have seen various iterations of this image circulating on social media. 

family1

I am trying to discern what the name of Joe Batts Arm it means! Every few weeks it resurrects itself, and it has become and increasing annoyance to me.  At the very best, it is a banal platitude attempting to say something ‘special’ about ones acquaintances or friends. At its worst it’s a repudiation of one’s kindred and an attempt to make some poisonous proclamation about one’s family. Either way – it seems either very trite and weak, or very insensitive and harsh.

Family are indeed the people in your life who ‘have you in theirs’ – like it or not. Family are those who may very well accept you for who you are but who care enough to not simply be concerned with seeing you smile. Family should love one another through thick and thin – no doubt. There are no replacements for my family. They are mine. No friend and no acquaintance can take on the role of family. Why you ask? Because we choose our friends – we do not choose our family.  As Archbishop Desmond Tutu said – “You don’t choose your family – They are God’s gift to you as you are to them.”

Family is not about what we want, or what we might like. It’s about what God gave us. It behoves us then to honour that gift by working through our crap. We are called to celebrate that which is good in family and reconciling that which is not. Rather than wishing for family that would simply ‘make us smile’ I pray that we all might learn to love the families we are given – a true gift, knowing full well that loving may be very difficult work. Loves risking vulnerability. It calls us to step in, to move toward another and that may mean taking on another’s hurt, pain, another’s suffering. Love also is difficult because we are all broken, or as author Anne Lamott reminds us –

 “Family business can be so stressful – difficult damaged people, showing up to spend time with other difficult damaged people.”  

 Stressful yes – and also a part of loving. Lamott’s also offers this –

 “One secret of life is that the reason life works at all is that not everyone in your tribe is nuts on the same day. Another secret is that laughter is carbonated holiness.”

I know that in my own tribe – the laughter part has served us well. Families find themselves in deepest trouble when they forget to laugh and forget how we can all be a little nutty. Laughter is indeed good medicine when it comes to loving family. 

So having said of that – I offer my amended version of this social media meme…

Family is always blood. Family are the people we have in our tribe because God gave us to them and them to us. They are the ones who accept you for who you are, or perhaps not – but stick with you anyway. They are the ones who are happy to see you smile but also care enough to tell you the truth in love, even when it hurts. They are the ones who also don’t run when you are no longer smiling. They are those who step toward your collapsing life while others are running in the other direction because it is to hard for them. They love you no matter how difficult and nutty you may be.  

 It’s a little longer I admit, but these words, are authentic and honest reflect well how I see family. Here is my own meme of that catchy quote of mine…….. ;-)

Family Meme

Mother – the Beginning of Our Story


“My name is Vivian”

It is hard for me to put into words how very grateful I am for my mother. Also hard to say how difficult it is that I cannot just pick up the phone and give her a call to try and express my feelings, because as hard as it would be for me to articulate my thoughts, it would be harder still for her to understand them. The fog of dementia has robbed my mother of most all ability to interact and converse.

That said, I am keenly aware that she is there and I daily offer prayers for her and wish to be able to see her – regardless of whether she is aware of my presence or not. As a storyteller, I am aware that my story is so intricately connected to my mother’s story. I am also aware of how much our collective story is woven tightly with God’s story. God gifted me and my six siblings with a hardworking and loving mother. She is a great sign to me of God’s generosity toward me and her many acts of generous love are a great example of how much God loves us.

In his novel For One More Day Mitch Albom writes:

“But there’s a story behind everything. How a picture got on a wall. How a scar got on your face. Sometimes the stories are simple, and sometimes they are hard and heartbreaking. But behind all your stories is always your mother’s story, because hers is where yours begin.”

I was deeply moved when I read those words the first time. The stories my mother shared over the years about her childhood, her youth, her meeting dad, her hard working years of childrearing and homemaking, of grand-parenting, of care-giving, of ministering in her church, all of these stories are really the beginning of my story.

Over the years, there have been times I broke my mother’s heart, and there have been times I made her proud. There have been times I made mom weep and times I made her laugh. There have been times I made mom worry and times when I reassured her. My mother has lived many highs and lows in loving her children. She has celebrated all of our highs and has been a comfort to us in our lows. She has celebrated and she has grieved. Mom does not say much nowadays, but trapped in her mind are thousands of stories – most of which are about her children and their children and their children’s children. In that same novel, Albom writes  “I realized when you look at your mother, you are looking at the purest love you will ever know.” While I know this is not true for everyone –  I can say that I rings very true for me.

So If I could sit with her today, even if she were unable to say much to me, or even take in what I might say, I would offer a prayer of thanksgiving for that in her precious story is the beginning of my story – and six others stories.  I love you Mom – Thank you!