Month: March 2009

Lent – Day 30: Embracing Diversity

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The late, great Archbishop Ted Scott talked a lot about ‘unity in diversity.’ The former primate of the Anglican Church of Canada had a keen awareness of who we are as church. The defining feature for Archbishop Scott was really all about diversity. Suggesting that we should all be the same to him was tantamount to failure. The very roots of Anglicanism are embedded in the rich soil of diversity. In its’ earliest manifestation the church took on the climate and culture in which it lived. For Ted Scott part of what made us so unique as a church was our ability to embrace the notion that we did not all need to be the same. Archbishop Scott was a visionary and was instrumental in the freeing of Nelson Mandela and also was Primate of the church when we began the ordination of women in Canada. Ted Scott saw the importance of diversity in the church. Sameness is not always a good thing.

Sally Morgenthaler is an innovator in Christian practices and has written about the need for an end to the CEO model of ministry in churches. She has contributed to the book AN EMERGENT MANIFESTO OF HOPE, which I have been reading throughout Lent. Here is what she has to say about sameness. "…sameness is eventually terminal. Ask any biologist and he or she will tell you that diversity and the adaptability necessary to sustain it are exactly what is required for living systems to thrive. Eliminate even a few species from an ecosystem, and the system begins to fail. So it is in human systems. We need difference, not because it looks good to the outside world, not because it is mandated at some denominational level, but because it is healthy. We think, work, learn, respond, and create better in the midst of a rich tapestry of the human family." Now this is a fresh approach indeed. It occurs to me that we need to heed these words as a community. Part of what makes any congregation or any church effective is the radical acceptance of the diversity of gifts and talents in it. At the same time, it also means embracing the attitudes and theologies that are inherent where groups of people are collected together. The church has tried hard over the years to force people into homogeneous groups and it has failed – miserably. It is time to look to embrace the heterogenous nature of the people of God. 

Morgenthaler goes on to quote a man named James Surowiecki who wrote a book entitled, THE WISDOM OF CROWDS. There is some great wisom in this book and I intend on picking it up to read as well. In it he says;

"Groups that are too much alike find it harder to keep learning because each member is bringing less and less to the table. Homogeneous groups are great at doing what they do well, but they become progressively less able to investigate alternatives . . .[They spend] too much time exploiting and not enough time exploring … But, if you can assemble a diverse group of people who possess varying degrees of knowledge and insight, you’re better off entrusting it with major decisions rather than leaving them in the hands of one or two people, no matter how smart those people are."

The possibilities for who we can be as church are endless when we embrace this idea. I think we can see in our institution how our zeal for a homogenous and in many ways unvarying church has given rise to exploitation instead of exploration. I am convinced that if we explore the bedrock of our communities we could discover mineral deposits rich with Christian talent and soil teeming with seeds of good leadership. On this 29th day of Lent I am praying for the courage to be a leader who will look to tap into those rich deposits of grace that are alive and well in our communities. I am praying that we as church would embrace the idea that it not what is the same in us that we should celebrate, but the diversity that we bring to the table.

 

Lent – Day 29: A Reflection of Love

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I love the wonder of a child. On Sunday I was so happy to see our little Godson Peter at church. He is such a precious treasure. Having even a few minutes with Peter is a gift. Have you ever noticed that being with a child does something special to us? Oddly, children help us but our inhibitions aside. It seems that when we hold children, it seems that we are holding life itself. Perhaps little cuties like Peter remind us that we were children one day too. It occurs to me as I make this 40 day pilgrimage to Easter that we often forget the innocence of our childhood. Life has helping us forget that we are as precious in the eyes on God as Peter is in the eyes of his loving parents. I also think that in our earliest moments we knew better what a wonderful part of the created order we are. The quest now is to get back to knowing how beloved we are.

Take a look at this image that was taken by Peter’s Grandfather, Pat. Take a look at the sense of wonder in Peter’s eyes as he looks at his own image. There he sits in the tub totally in awe at his own reflection. I would like to think that he sees himself they way God sees him – beloved.

 

Henri Nouwen wrote, "But what I would like to say is that the spiritual life is a life in which you gradually learn to listen to a voice that says something else, that says, "You are the beloved and on you my favour rests." … I want you to hear that voice. It is not a very loud voice because it is an intimate voice. It comes from a very deep place. It is soft and gentle. I want you to gradually hear that voice. We both have to hear that voice and to claim for ourselves that that voice speaks the truth, our truth. It tells us who we are. That is where the spiritual life starts – by claiming the voice that calls us the beloved."

I want to claim that voice, don’t you? That is what came to mind when I saw the image above. When we look in the mirror what do we see? Do we smile with a great sense of wonder when we look into ourselves? God sees so much in us and wants for us to see how beloved we are. I want to see myself with the joy with which Peter sees himself in this picture, don’t you?

Lent – Day 28: When the Priest Turns Purple, we have Bishop!

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I was taking note the other day that I have beer in my fridge that has mountains on the label that turn blue when the beer is at the proper temperature for consummation…..hmmmmm….then I noted that my razor has a blue strip that turns white when it has dulled to the place of plucking each follicle from my tender face instead of cutting smoothly with one of its 5 blades. (By the by, having shaved with it for over a month I still cannot hit a golf ball like Tiger Woods!)…. Hmmmm….then I went off to London with over 400 friends to elect a Suffragan Bishop. I looked about the room and there were two guys wearing purple, our diocesan Bishop – Bob Bennett and Bishop Ed Liedel who is our Diocesan ‘Small Congregation Coach." All the rest of the clergy were wearing black. Well mostly…I mean some wear blue and some denim etc but for the most part the 10 candidates all wore black so for the purposes of this story – Black it is!

"So how do we get a Bishop?" I thought to myself. From my observations in the beer fridge and having just leering into the face of my Ford Fusion Razor I deduced we have to wait for the black to turn purple, and then we will know! To say that it got embarrassing, walking around staring at my colleague’s clergy shirts would be an understatement. Those shirts were black and the longer I looked at then the blacker they got. At one point when I looked at one candidate’s shirt I thought I saw a hint of purple, but upon further examination it was a stain from a Mr. Freezy consumed that morning to bring the temperature down from all the stress. It took four ballots to elect our Suffragan Bishop. The Very Reverend Terry Dance was in the lead from the start, so I looked at his shirt more closely than most. I am embarrassed now to admit that could even believe that we would tell who was bishop by a change in shirt colour.

 

Apparently, the way it works is a candidate has to receive 50% plus one in the house of clergy and the house of laity. After that – he/she could change his/her shirt colour by wearing purple. After four ballots, Terry prevailed. As a church we believe that electing a bishop is really about calling and about discerning the will of the Holy Spirit. At St. Paul’s Cathedral in London we prayed and sought to raise up a leader for the church in these very difficult times. My prayer now is that Terry and his wife Dianne will know the presence of God as they prepare for this transition. The Bishop is the chief pastor in a diocese and a Suffragan Bishop is a full time assistant. In some diocese, including Huron, the Suffragan Bishop is afforded a large degree of autonomy and latitude within geographical regions of a diocese. The process of choosing a person who will offer that oversight is an important one. We are now holding up a Terry Dance to be one of the chief pastors of this diocese. We have poured a lot of resource into the synod office to provide good administrative care – what we seek from Bob Bennett and now Terry Dance is strong shepherding and pastoral care of the people of God.

Terry’s shirt was still black when we left the cathedral on Saturday. I suspect that it will turn purple on June 6th when he is consecrated as a bishop. We now trust the guiding of the Holy Spirit who has called Terry to be bishop that She will provide all that is necessary to support him on this journey. One could see how very humbled Suffragan-Bishop Elect Terry was on Saturday. We pray that Terry’s life of service to Christ in the church which has now called him to this office bear witness to the love, hope, healing and forgiveness of Jesus Christ. I also pray that we may be a people who strengthen the bishop in his ministry. Each priest is rector for the bishop in each parish. I pray that we may serve our people and our bishops well, by serving the One who called us to this life of humility and service.

 

Lent – Day 27: If God is with us, Who can stand against us?

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Are we aware of how very much we are cared for by the love of God who holds us in the midst of all things?

Can we comprehend how very deep Gods love for us is?

It can be hard for us to accept that love sometimes, given our own state of being and how we see ourselves.

 

Yet we know that God has loved us entirely and God looks past our own shortcomings and our own fears to love us fully and without reservation. This is hard for us to accept because we are used to human love which is provided with human standards. We become accustomed to a love which sometimes lets us down and falls short of our expectations, sometimes because people fail us and sometimes because our expectations are too high. But with God we should know that the love offered is complete and it surpasses all of our human conditioning and expectation.

 

When we feel that the weight of the world is too much, or that no person understands what we are going through or what we are thinking we should reference the reading from Romans which is appointed for today:

 

So, what do you think? With God on our side like this, how can we lose? If God didn’t hesitate to put everything on the line for us, embracing our condition and exposing himself to the worst by sending his own Son, is there anything else he wouldn’t gladly and freely do for us? And who would dare tangle with God by messing with one of God’s chosen? Who would dare even to point a finger? The One who died for us—who was raised to life for us!—is in the presence of God at this very moment sticking up for us. Do you think anyone is going to be able to drive a wedge between us and Christ’s love for us? There is no way! Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing, not even the worst sins listed in Scripture:

   They kill us in cold blood because they hate you.
   We’re sitting ducks; they pick us off one by one.
None of this fazes us because Jesus loves us. I’m absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us.

Those words are accurate and true. God loves us when we cannot even love ourselves. God loves us when we cannot let others do so. God loves us when we do not love others as we should. In short – God Loves us and has laid it on the line for us. If we take heart what is offered here that nothing, not even living or dead, nothing that is dark or light, nothing big or small can separate us from that love that God has for us, who will we become? Perhaps if we understood this better there would be less jealousy, less fighting, less envy and greed, less completion for attention and so on.

If God is with us, who can stand against us?

 

Catching Up

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Well I had a good run. Right up to Day 20 of Lent without breaking the discipline. Truth is, I had my sister Helen and her husband Gary for a visit and took of Days 22-26 from the blog. But fear not – I have thoughts for each day.

MARCH 21

Lent – Day 22: LIFE IS NOT FOR BEGINNERS

One of my favourite poets, Rainer Maria Rilke writes, “There are no classes in life for beginners: right away you are always asked to deal with what is most difficult.” There is a lot to be said for that.

Catherinanne and I are pleased to have with us for the next few days a couple who have been strong and have shown courage when so many more would have crumbled. I cannot believe that my sister is finally here visiting with her husband Gary. As I reflect daily in Lent on being better and navigating life, I look to them as a living witness that sometimes we are asked to deal with the ‘most difficult.’  Life does not allow us to choose easy road or tough road. We do not get a manual to explain what to do in the difficult moments. There is no reference book to quickly check and see what we do when…

(Left to Right: Gary and Helen Sparkes with our Friend Fausto Volpatti)

What we have is an unbelievable ability to be pushed and stretched. We have an amazing capacity to stand tall in the midst of great storms. We have friends and family, we have laughter and joy, we have gifted people with new insight for us, and we have God ever present with us who strengthens us in all things. In John 16 Jesus promises that the Advocate will be present to the people in the midst of all things. We have inherited that unbelievable promise.  

There are no classes in life for beginners. This is true – but we do have people beside us in life who can show us how to live through the most difficult of situations with dignity and with love. I will always look to my sister when I face difficulties. We all need to find someone to look to, God gives us each other and we should lean on those around us. We came without an owners manual, but we also came with the power to discern.

MARCH 23

Lent – Day 23: HOSPITALITY

 

In Lent, Sundays are days of feasting and a break from the Lenten sacrifice and discipline. Every Sunday is, in a manner of speaking, a celebration of Easter. We may try liturgically to fashion the liturgy and our surroundings in such a way to accentuate the Lenten theme but we cannot avoid the celebration of resurrection in the Sunday Mass – so we Feast on Sunday. [I pause to add here that we do all we can with the space at St. Mark’s to give the Lenten feel. This year we removed the heat and the walls and had church in the midst of a construction zone. – It was really cool! J)

 

Yesterday’s feast was a great display of hospitality. We read in 1st Peter – “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling (1 Peter 4:8-9).” We witnessed again yesterday the great spirit of hospitality at St. Mark’s by-the-Lake. Knowing that my family were paying a visit, the Parish planned a luncheon. Not only did we eat – we were entertained with good Newfoundland music performed by Bob Cooper and Christian Paulton. Helen and Gary were blown away by the kindness and hospitality shown them. We owe a debt of gratitude to the parish for all that they did, not just on Sunday but indeed over the course of the past few years offering prayers and love and support for a family that they did not know personally until yesterday.

 

As Lent moves on we can all seek to find ways to offer hospitality in our homes and in our lives. 

What is the call to hospitality calling us to – Henrietta Mears said it best – “Hospitality should have no other nature than love.”

 

MARCH 24

 

Lent – Day 24: PART OF THE OCEAN

 

Albert Schweitzer mused:

“Just as the wave cannot exist for itself, but is ever a part of the heaving surface of the ocean, so must I never live my life for itself, but always in the experience which is going on around me.”

 

Today we took a drive into the county. We stopped in a couple of places along lake Ere and the Detroit River. There was a brisk wind and the lake looked to be alive. The repetitive motion of wave over wave is an image with which those of us who grew up on the ocean are quite familiar. It is an image which I find very calming – even when the seas are quite rough.

 

Looking at the lake I was reminded of those words of Albert Schweitzer above. One wave will not live on its own. We cannot live on our own wither. We have to be cognizant of that which is happening around us. Put biblically it sounds like this

 

One Body with Many Parts

 

“The body of Christ has many different parts, just as any other body does. Some of us are Jews, and others are Gentiles. Some of us are slaves, and others are free. But God’s Spirit baptized each of us and made us part of the body of Christ. Now we each drink from that same Spirit. [b] Our bodies don’t have just one part. They have many parts. Suppose a foot says, "I’m not a hand, and so I’m not part of the body." Wouldn’t the foot still belong to the body? Or suppose an ear says, "I’m not an eye, and so I’m not part of the body." Wouldn’t the ear still belong to the body? If our bodies were only an eye, we couldn’t hear a thing. And if they were only an ear, we couldn’t smell a thing. But God has put all parts of our body together in the way that he decided is best.

A body isn’t really a body, unless there is more than one part. 20It takes many parts to make a single body. That’s why the eyes cannot say they don’t need the hands. That’s also why the head cannot say it doesn’t need the feet. In fact, we cannot get along without the parts of the body that seem to be the weakest. We take special care to dress up some parts of our bodies. We are modest about our personal parts, but we don’t have to be modest about other parts.

God put our bodies together in such a way that even the parts that seem the least important are valuable. He did this to make all parts of the body work together smoothly, with each part caring about the others. If one part of our body hurts, we hurt all over. If one part of our body is honoured, the whole body will be happy.

Together you are the body of Christ. Each one of you is part of his body. First, God chose some people to be apostles and prophets and teachers for the church. But he also chose some to work miracles or heal the sick or help others or be leaders or speak different kinds of languages. Not everyone is an apostle. Not everyone is a prophet. Not everyone is a teacher. Not everyone can work miracles. Not everyone can heal the sick. Not everyone can speak different kinds of languages. Not everyone can tell what these languages mean. I want you to desire the best gifts. So I will show you a much better way.” – 1 Corinthians 12

We all play a part in the larger picture. Today there are people who need what we have to offer by way of our love, our talents and our giftedness. We need to all seek to reach out and find ways to be a part of the Body of Christ doing what we can do to bring about dignity for all persons and respect for every human being.

 

Each wave rolls in, one after another – all of them one movement on a large sea of activity. We can all be a part if the wave!

 

MARCH 25

Lent – Day 25: GOOD-BYE

I always feel that I have two duties to perform with a parting guest:  one, to see that he doesn’t forget anything that is his; the other, to see that he doesn’t take anything that is mine.  ~Alfred North Whitehead

Now that is not how we felt today. No! Having had a great 6 days with Helen and Gary we were saddened to have to say goodbye. I have learned over 15 years of living away from home that it is never easy to say goodbye.  Parting ways when you know it will be a while before you get to see each other is hard stuff. It is made that much harder when the persons we say goodbye to are those that we love and respect so much.  

Life is enriched greatly because of those people in our lives who love us and care for us. Our lives are enriched by having relationships with people who see past our insecurities and our fears to embrace the person that God has made us to be. Those relationships are a gift of God and are a means of God’s undying love for us. When we feel the need for a laugh, we usually know the friend to call. When we need to be embraced, we know who to call. When we need someone to be silent with us, we know who to call. When we need to celebrate, we know who to call. When we need to be consoled, encouraged, challenged, etc, we know who to call. Into our lives walk those who have the gifts that God has given them to be present to those around them. At the same time we should know that we might be the consoler, confessor, protector, joker,  the challenger, etc. for another.  

Helen and Gary have been great house guest excellent company and what is more they loved us well while they were here. We enjoyed having them in our lives gain this week. There is always the phone and internet but nothing is like being with each other. Charles M. Schulz wrote, “Why can’t we get all the people together in the world that we really like and then just stay together?  I guess that wouldn’t work.  Someone would leave.  Someone always leaves.  Then we would have to say good-bye.  I hate good-byes.  I know what I need.  I need more hellos.” 

I think we all have days that we feel like we need more hellos. Today is one of those days.

MARCH 26

Lent- Day 26: BAPTISMS FOR ALL

Reading the BBC’s webpage I discovered a new and exciting way of church evangelism. It is the oldest of programs for getting new membership – encourage people to have more babies. According to the BBC, “At the end of 2007, in a move to reverse the country’s dwindling birth figures, the head of the Georgian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Ilia II, came up with an incentive. He promised to personally baptise any baby born to parents of more than two children. There was only one catch: the baby had to be born after the initiative was launched.”

How did it work? – The birth rate in 2008 was four times that of the previous year, with births up 20%.  While stronger economic conditions have no doubt played a role in the increase, it is clear that the Patriarch’s encouragement has also played a huge part in this recent growth in the birth rate. One mother said that, "I am sure that most parents decided to have more babies because of him. If his Holiness baptises your child it means he becomes his or her godfather and that is such an honour."

What is impressive is the role that the church has in that part of the world where just a few years ago when Georgia was part of the former Soviet Union, the Orthodox Church was pretty well banned. I wonder if we can enjoy the same potential as church here in North America. There is the potential that perhaps if we stepped up to be relevant in the communities in which we exist that we could have some influence. BUT we would need to change. We have to become an institution which really plays a role in the lives of those we serve and we have to play a role in the wider communities in which we live.

How did it happen for the Orthodox Church in Georgia get to that place? Well, for 50 years or more they took risks. They decided to be present to the people they serve, even when it meant risking serious punishment. They risked seeking and serving Christ in an environment where there were real consequences to speaking up for those who were hurting and vulnerable. In short – they took the costly road of discipleship. I dare say we too can take on that role. There are those out there today who have no voice who need us to speak for them, that may mean being ridiculed by the establishment. There are those who others do not want to serve who we could choose to serve, knowing that it may mean we pay the price with others.

I would suggest that if we step up and do more to be church – there will be a day when a church leader speaking up in our neighbourhoods might get noticed. But we have some work to do before most people will listen to our church leaders today.   

Lent – Day 21: Stillness

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This note comes late for day 20 of Lent.

It is word from Henri Nouwen:

"Be still and acknowledge that I am God" (Psalm 46:10). These are words to take with us in our busy lives. We may think about stillness in contrast to our noisy world. But perhaps we can go further and keep an inner stillness even while we carry on business, teach, work in construction, make music, or organise meetings.

It is important to keep a still place in the "marketplace." This still place is where God can dwell and speak to us. It also is the place from where we can speak in a healing way to all the people we meet in our busy days. Without that still space we start spinning. We become driven people, running all over the place without much direction. But with that stillness God can be our gentle guide in everything we think, say, or do."

Lent – Day 20: Sister Crabgrass

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Last spring and summer I had to put some work back into the Rectory lawns. I had something called grubs in the front lawn that pretty much decimated the lawn. In the back, things were a little better but I have developed something back there called crabgrass. I did not know a lot about crabgrass so I asked the "Weed-man" about the stubborn stuff. What should I use to get rid of it? "Forget it!" was the swift response that I got. "There is no way to rid yourself of crabgrass. It is green, it does not look bad if you look after it and keep it cut." So I resigned to the idea that crabgrass was permanent part of my life. I watered it along with the rest of the lawn and I cut it regularly and I can say that he was right. It has stayed and will stay forever and it may stick out a little – but in reality it is stronger than the regular grass. When the rest of the grass was turning brown, the crabgrass was still green and standing tall.

Why is Kevin writing about crab grass on day 19 of Lent? Well I read a quote Charles Schultz today that got me thinking all about it. "Big sisters," he says, "are the crabgrass in the lawn of life." Now that is pretty good. I have two sisters and I am not sure if either one really wants to be compared with a grass, especially one that a lot of people try to get out of their lawns. I personally think it is a good thing that our sisters are like crabgrass. I am told that Sister Elaine has made a surprise visit to NL from Alberta today. While she has been living out there now for a few months and people back east were thinking she was ‘gone away,’ she pops up like a tuft of crabgrass. And I can assure you that everyone there was delighted to see her. I would love to have been there myself to look out and say, "that crabgrass keeps coming back. Thank God!"

Sister Helen is boarding a plane with her husband Gary as I write this blog. Where is she headed? HERE! Like the crabgrass I was examining when raking my lawn the other day, she is planning on popping up in my backyard – and I could not be happier. Helen and Gary are, among other things, great fun and will be a lot of fun to have around. I have four brothers and two sisters. All my brothers have made it here, this will be the first sister to make it and Helen has been threatening to make this visit for 10 years. Today is a big day indeed.

Helen has been very close to me over the years and has provided a listening ear when I needed one. Lady Mary Montague said, "There can be no situation in life in which the conversation of my dear sister will not administer some comfort to me." I have found that to be very true. Helen is a comforting presence for me and always a strong compass on foggy days. Now I get to have her with me from morning to night and that is a great gift indeed.

Family is really important. Mine, is a big family and despite our varied lives and interest we are close. Helen’s husband Gary is ‘the Godfather’ – to me at least. My other sister Elaine married ‘the other Godfather’ Jack. I was fortunate to be born when my sisters were 19 and 20 years old and had by then settled on men. To that end Gary and Jack have been around forever for me. That is true of Clara as well. My oldest brother was 21 when I was born and he had already started his family. There has not been a time when they have not been family for me. My other siblings all married great people as well and I have been fortunate to have a family that has loved and cared for me when I was sometimes hard to love and care for.

I guess the moral of this rambling today is rooted in gratitude. Helen and Gary’s visit coupled with daily Lenten prayer discipline has me realizing that sometimes we take our families for granted. I encourage us all to take time this week to thank our siblings, our parents, our in-laws etc and to express to them in some small way how much they mean to us.

So to Mom and Dad

 

And to James and Clara and:

  • Roger and Debbie (Lauren and Leanne)
  • Sherrie and Sheldon (Vanessa and Brent)
  • Angie and Rob (Samantha)

And to Helen and Gary and:

  • Gary and Annette (Leah, Becky and Andrea)
  • Jennifer and Chad (Joy)

And to Elaine and Jack and:

  • John and Sandra (William and Peter)
  • Jason and Kristen (Gabrielle)

And to Lloyd and Jackie and:

  • Christopher and Jennifer (Tyler and Hannah)
  • Adam and Lisa (Ryan and Brooklyn)

And to Robert and Jo-Anne and:

  • Jessica

And to Darryl and Karen and:

  • Matthew
  • Sarah

Please know that today I am thinking of all of you and I am grateful that I was born into this family.

Now it’s off to be ready for a visit from my crabgrass sister.