This news bulletin just in from “the Un-Associated Press”
At Approximately 7:38 AM on Thursday, March 30, 2006 a man was stopped in St. Clair Beach by the local law enforcement agency. The man reportedly was exercising his Lenten Spiritual discipline of walking every day for exercise and prayer. The police seemed unimpressed with his spirituality. The problems were focused on where exactly he was walking. He had been walking against the traffic has he had been taught since childhood. Problem was he was walking on the shoulder of the road and not the sidewalk located on the other side. The police cruiser came to a grinding halt on Riverside Drive (A Busy Street in that town) and flashing lights were illumined. Witnesses say that the man had walked the whole stretch of Riverside from Manning Rd to Grace. This is a span of about 100 paces. The investigating officer lowered her window and made a quick and terse and quizzical statement – “You don’t like walking on the sidewalk?” The pedestrian told the officer that he was just about to go up Grace Rd which was now about 8 paces from the seen of the infraction. She then said it was not safe for the pedestrian to walk on the shoulder. This was rather humourous to the offender as crossing a busy street twice without a crosswalk for such a short distance is not a safe thing either. Witnesses say that by the time the police cruiser pulled away more than 10 cars were held up behind it. It has been said that the perpetrator of the heinous crime could heard muttering under his breath that “stopping quickly on Riverside Drive is also not safe.”
Local Human Rights people are outraged that this man was being persecuted while in the midst of his practicing his religious freedom. There are plans afoot to lobby local law enforcement to focus time and energy on more serious crimes such as vandalism to vehicles in local neighbourhoods, as well as violence and crime against the vulnerable. Feelings of the locals were summed up by Mr. Appalled who asked, “Who is the victim in this alleged crime? Is it the sidewalk for being rejected?” The thoughts of the community are with the man and hopes are that he will be unconditionally cleared of any wrongdoing. Mr. Aghast of LRW (Lenten Religious Walkers) is planning a sit in at the corner of Grace and Riverside Drive on Thursday Evening from 6 PM until dark. All who are concerned with Religious freedom are welcomed to attend."
Each week in Lent we have been having a special Vespers prayer service or service of evening prayer. The form of that prayer is from a different tradition or place each week. This is an attempt o open our minds to the many and varied ways the people of God pray. It has been a treat to officiate at those liturgies as they have all been moments of great grace and in each and every case I have felt a great sense of peace and a real sense that God is at work in what we are doing. It is good from time to time to step out of our comfort zone and pray in a manner different than we are used to.
In any event, Yesterday was our day. This time I used a number of prayers and litanies from the African American Liberation movement. The spirituality of the civil rights era is wonderful. A big part of each week’s prayer service is images and in this case we used two icons as our focal point. One was of Martin Luther King of Georgia and the other is called Jesus of the people. They are each works of Robert Lentz who is a Franciscan who paints wonderful and contemporary images of the holy and sacred. His heritage is Russian so I guess it is natural that he has an interest in iconography. The images I used can be found at the end of this blog.
The other big part of the worship experience is a reflection that is each week based on a contemporary piece of music that we listen to on CD. This week we heard a great piece entitled Shall Not Walk Alone, written and sung by Ben Harper with The Blind Boys of Alabama. ( Visit http://blindboys.com) It is a haunting and wonderful piece. I was immediately moved by it as I think the words and assurance meant a lot to me. These verses in particular were very close to my heart:
hope is alive
while we’re apart
speak from my heart
break the chains
that hold us down
and we shall be
when I’m tired and weary
and a long way from home
I reach for mother Mary
and I shall not walk alone
we left behind
how shall we
our weight in sin
so that we
can live again
It is not always easy living away from my paternal family. I am sure that some of you are aware of the struggles that I have had of late. There are days when my mind drifts with great regularity to “beauty that we left behind” and wonder “how shall we tomorrow find.”
When I first listened to this last week and I heard the words “hope is alive while we’re apart only tears speak from my heart. Break the chains that hold us down and we shall be forever bound,” I wept. I sometimes feel homesick. That feeling is more intense when I am alone as I have been this past little bit with Catherinanne on course. There are those who are hurting and what really makes me sick for Newfoundland right now is concern for those I love.
As we prayed yesterday I was given great comfort. I felt a great sense that God walks with me as I walk with others from a distance. I do not walk alone. Those of my family who are having some tough days do not walk alone. All who are in despair – we do not walk alone.
If Lent is nothing else it is a journey. On that journey we have companions and those companions bear the light of the Divine. If you get a chance pick up the CD. It is called Holy Ground by The Blind Boys of Alabama. Each track is uplifting and inspiring. We should all be reminded from time to time that we need to be set free. This music has a great capacity to do just that – set us free.
In January our parish adopted a motion at its’ annual meeting giving me a mandate to strake a Parish Growth Task Force which I called The Markus Committee. Why you ask? For those of you who know the parish of St. Mark’s by-the-Lake, you know just how busy it is getting on just about every Sunday morning. That growth brings many great and wonderful challenges. All of them need to be addressed. I prayed about the membership of that committee and after consultation with the Wardens of St. Mark’s by-the-Lake, approached the members that now comprise that body. So what is "Markus?" The symbol of St. Mark is a lion. We have a lion mascot that I have named Markus and the committee is named after him. Markus is an obvious play on the name Mark – our namesake. The lion symbolizes the resurrection, strength, courage and determination. My Prayer is that these ministers of growth will have the strength, determination and courage to be a people of the resurrection.
Tonight they met for the first time as a whole. We very much wanted to get into a preliminary conversation about what church growth is and what we see it to be. It was a great meeting and a really good start. There was a wealth of good input and ideas that already have many of us thinking about what we might be able to do better.
The Markus Committee is tasked with reporting back to the Vestry (The Annual Meeting in our governance model) in January 2007. There may very well be a desire to address our current space and use of it. But more than all of that we have to address the many issues that come with growing from a pastoral size to a program size parish. On most weeks we have more than 150 people in church. It is pretty refreshing to be at a parish discussing problems around seating, parking, newcomer management, ministry teams, and community building in the midst of larger numbers and on and on. I am lucky to be a part of such a dynamic community.
Yesterday I took my vehicle to the Body Shop. A couple of weeks ago somebody decided to key my van. I really was upset when I saw it. The van is not a year old and I really love the thing. On top of it all it appears to have happened in the church parking lot. I am puzzled at why people do such things.
Today when I discovered that this senseless act of random violence will cost us nearly $500, I flipped again. I really was afraid it was not going to "buff out." Turns out it is a deep gouge and will requires some painting and blending to the front fender and rear door. This is all very disconcerting. I am just terribly confused - why do people people engage in this behaviour? There has to be something better to do with time then damaging someone’s property.
In any event it is just a car and it can be fixed. It is annoying that’s all. I hope the fool who did it enjoyed it because I sure am not enjoying one second of this.
In the meantime life marches on and there is much more than that to worry about. It is really nothing a little make-up can’t cure.
Sunday was a real treat at church. There was a lot of energy there. There was nothing special about the day other than we had a great turnout and there was a lot of community in the air, if that even makes any sense. I am so very glad to belong to such a great parish. The music, the attention to each other, the fellowship before and after church at coffee hour, the sense of prayer and care for each other are all great marks of the community and a great sign of a people of the resurrection.
There were as well a healthy number of visitors as is often the case in our parish nowadays. There was among them a surprise. A Woman came who is a senior. She heard the CBC Morning Shift spot that I was on Ash Wednesday. She was a very well read woman and to my surprise was a great fan of Bishop John Shelby Spong. Now for those of you who do not know Spong’s work he is probably the most controversial writer the church as seen in decades. He is a retired Bishop who believes strongly in radical change and renewal. His titles include – The Sins of Scripture, Why Christianity Must Change or Die, Resurrection – Myth or Reality, Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalist, and so many more. In many cases he has turned the church on its ear. He has been in my mind a great gift to the church as he has caused so much dialogue and debate – which is badly needed. In any event – when I noticed our visitor on Sunday the first thought that came to my mind was not Spong. It goes to show how very wrong it is to draw conclusions too quickly. During the peace was when she revealed her personality to me – “I thought you were great on that CBC thing, the other guy was not much.” I was really kind of embarrassed “Do you read Bishop Spong’s work?” She queried. “Don’t you think the church is very slow in change?” She was a firecracker. I had a brief chat with her at the back of church and she was gone. I do hope to see her again as she was truly a breath of fresh air.
If you get a chance pick up a copy of Why Christianity Must Change or Die, fasten your seatbelt and read it. Before you flip think of my new friend Mary and how she has been able to accept that message in her stage of life. It is remarkable indeed.
Time for bed now. Tomorrow is another day. A good nights rest would be good but I sometimes struggle with sleep. I hope that tonight will be different. Tomorrow I have a funeral for a woman who battled cancer for 15 years. How brave! Say a prayer for all families who mourn and say a prayer for me.
A few years ago I met this woman when I officiated at her mother’s funeral. I was taken by her courage then and I am awed by her story of courage as I hear it told by her family now. I have a great deal of respect for all who battle and all who show such strength and courage. As I write this I also am aware that there are so many who a struglling for life right at this moment. I have a few who are on my mind. You will no doubt have someone on yours. We give thanks for their courage and strength and seek to be present to all who suffer in whatever way we can. Even in prayer. You may wonder sometimes what to say …Lord knows I do! Hear these words;
Let us, as we lay ourselves down to rest, pray the words of a beautiful hymn – a favorite of Mother Theresa and a word for those who are laying down to their eternal rest
Abide with me; fast falls the eventide;
the darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide.
When other helpers fail and comforts flee,
Help of the helpless, O abide with me.
Hold thou thy cross before my closing eyes;
shine through the gloom and point me to the skies.
Heaven’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee;
in life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.
Free at last. I have been praying daily, as have so many for our Canadian Hostages held in Iraq. I was awakened this morning by the news of their freedom. What great news indeed. I was so saddened a couple of weeks ago when their American colleague Tom Fox was found dead. These people were on a mission of peace that took great courage. I wrote a few days back about wilfully taking up a cross and heeding the call that those who want to save their life will loose it. Yesterday I quoted Mandela in his assertion that we all need to make a difference. We should be very heartened by people like Canadians James Loney, and Harmeet Singh Sooden, as well as with Briton Norman Kember, and American Tom Fox (R.I.P). These folks knew well what it meant o take up the cross. It is a wonderful gift to all who have prayed that these men are free. For their families this has to be such a relief and such a load removed. These men have already lived their Good Friday and today is their Easter Sunday!
While Catherinanne and I do not know him, Jim Loney did some work for Catherinanne at the University campus a couple of years back. He is devoted and excited about proclaiming peace and by all accounts the students at the University really were drawn to him. We all look forward to hearing in the next days from Jim and from his two peers. Let’s pray in thanksgiving for their release and in thanksgiving for those who secured their release.
Today I nearly caused a bad accident. I was being impatient behind a guy who decided to not turn right on the red but to chat with his friend in the truck sitting next to him in the left lane. I laid on the horn … twice. That caused him some distress. I cursed under my breath. Because he was distracted he moved ahead and turned. Trouble is he did not check to see what was coming. Thankfully the truck barrelling down the road was able to avoid him…all the while sounding its horn. I nearly spit up my heart watching all of this unfold. There was no accident…everyone is fine. But I was being an idiot…or as they say in Greespond Hidiot! Where was I in such a rush to get to? The Funeral Home. A little patience would not be such a bad thing. I really do need to slow down some days. We are all in too big of a rush to get places.
To the guy out there somewhere that I went ape on today…sorry!
Lately I have been reflecting on human suffering, pain and weakness. It is obvious that many people are adverse to pain, adverse to not just their own pain or suffering but adverse to other’s pain and suffering as well.
The last couple of weeks the lectionary readings have been a study in entering in with the other. We are encouraged to take up our cross, to deny ourselves, encouraged to embrace an image which symbolises weakness and foolishness to many. Jesus overturning the tables at the temple was more a statement about people and relationships as it was about pious temple observance. The marketplace in Jesus day was not a place of justice or fair practice. It was a place where people were cheated.
A Cross to Bear
Many people reduce the idea of taking up a cross by implying that any pain, any suffering, any challenge out of the realm of our control is a “cross to bear.” This line of theology assumes, incorrectly, that God is about reward and punishment. Behave the proper way and all is well…piss me off and watch out. We hear the partner of “cross to bear” all the time in “I am so blessed.” Again the implication is clear. Those who have lots and with whom all is well – God has “blessed.” Those who have suffering and pain, those who are grieving, or addicted, or dying with cancer or any other terminal illness – God has given a “cross to bear.” In my mind, nothing could be further from the truth. To take the position aforementioned, one is by extension saying that those painful things are imposed by God. If you read some of the silly emails that get passed around proving God is real and why there is suffering they all imply that people are not doing enough. They are not getting it right. Tell me – What did Jesus do wrong to get “his cross to bear?” I cannot follow a God who would indulge in that kind of punishment at one moment and dole out candies at the next. If one wants to bear a cross he will seek out pain and suffering and be present to it. If one wants to bear a cross she will find a place of oppression and try to change it. If one wants to bear a cross he will find a person hungry and feed her. If one wants to bear a cross she will hold the hand of the lonely. There are plenty of crosses to bear. They all happen to be things we can do something about.
Journey to Easter
The incarnation – God made flesh – should be for us real place of knowing that God knows all about our suffering. We are moving toward Holy Week. We will soon hear the story of the Passion retold. God enters into our suffering. God knows intimately what we go through. Instead of trying to explain away the pain and suffering we experience as a statement that “not enough are coming to the Lord,” why can’t we see that God is weeping with us when we suffer and has come to us? When it is all told and the story is complete we see that light triumphs. The story is a full story. The hard parts are not left out. God comes to us … it is not an easy journey. We ought to journey then to another … even when it is not an easy journey. God goes with us.