Have you ever been at sea in a dense fog, when it seemed as if a tangible white darkness shut you in and the great ship, tense and anxious, groped her way toward the shore with plummet and sounding-line, and you waited with beating heart for something to happen? I was like that ship before my education began, only I was without compass or sounding line, and no way of knowing how near the harbour was. "Light! Give me light!" was the wordless cry of my soul, and The light of love shone on me in that very hour.- Helen Keller
At times, since beginning my Doctorate in Ministry studies at McCormick Theological Seminary, I have asked myself; "what was I thinking?" This of course, always comes at a time when a paper is due or another five or six books need to be read. When stress is at its max, second guessing is also very nearby and doubt and insecurity ready to pay me visits. Studying while keeping up with the day to day life of being a parish priest is not easy. Thankfully I am in a very supportive parish with supportive lay leadership who has encouraged me to continue the pursuit of learning. I am grateful for the parish understanding that I will be on courses for three one week periods over a three year program. I am so pleased at the understanding and support of those who have been patient with me when things are hectic with studies. I am fortunate to be ministering alongside people who ‘get it.’ I should also note here that the studies themselves have resulted in a few parish events and discussions that many have also participated in. The people of this church are playing a vital role in my current course of study.
Thankfully, because of all of that support, those moments of despair are just passing moments. I usually hearken back to the words of Helen Keller and remember that the general pursuit of education is a great cry, “Light! Give me light!” I cannot begin to explain how many worlds have been opened to me because of education. Some view education in a utilitarian manner. “What will you be able to do with your education? Can you get better paid if you complete this degree? What are you going to do with your degree?" I do not see education this way at all. To pursue knowledge is to pursue more learning. I love the image of a boat drifting in the fog that Helen Keller used. Education is the compass, and the sounding line. It is not the ship itself, not the captain, the wheel, nor the rudder. Education is the navigational tool. It is not, as the more utilitarian among us suggest, a bundle of knowledge that can fill a vacant space. Education instead gives a person the courage to ask questions…sometimes very difficult questions? It encourages the learner to declare, “I don’t know. Where might I find out?”
Education is like this: when faced with a bank of fog one reaches for compass and sounding line. We take our bearings and sometimes what we offer is ‘our best guess’ on where where the safe harbour is. As the fog lifts and the day clears we discover that sometimes our guess is pretty good and sometimes we may have been off course. Whether our guess was right or wrong, we take counsel knowing that we have laid hold of the tools that God has placed before us to help navigate that fog as best we could given the situation we are placed in. That is ‘the Light of Love’ that Keller refers to. It is the Light of the one who gives all knowledge, and all wisom, and all understanding. We call upon God to give us light, and God calls upon us to throw on the switch. I am grateful for the opportunities provided by my present DMin studies to search the room for the switch!
We should all seek education, in hopes of embracing learning. We seek education in the hope that we will always hunger to ask the necessary questions, think outside the box, and to move forward using that which God has given us. Not all can attend university, or college. But we can all strive to be educated and to learn. Measure where you are today and set a goal for where you might be tomorrow. Take a seminar, read a book, do an online course, correspondence, join a book club, join a study group, join a bible study…write something…take some time and used the knowedge that you have to teach a class…you get the picture. It is never too late to educate! You are never too old to learn.
My quest continues. I want to be able to ask better questions. God is found in the moment of deepest questioning. So I pray to find new and diverse ways to explore who I am and who we are as a people. I feel badly for those who feel they have all the answers already and who know enough already. They have no need for compass or sounding line when they journey…But I wonder how frightening it must be for them when the fog rolls in?
“The followers of Christ have been called to peace. . . . And they must not only have peace but also make it. And to that end they renounce all violence and tumult. In the cause of Christ nothing is to be gained by such methods. . . . His disciples keep the peace by choosing to endure suffering themselves rather than inflict it on others. They maintain fellowship where others would break it off. They renounce hatred and wrong. In so doing they over-come evil with good, and establish the peace of God in the midst of a world of war and hate.” Dietrich Bonheoffer, The Cost of Discipleship
“Blessed are the peacemakers, they shall be called children of God.” – Jesus of Nazareth
Bonheoffer was a great man who paid the ultimate price during WWII for his stand for peace. While many Christian churches and theologians were silent during the holocaust, Bonheoffer was busy instructing and encouraging cleric and congregations in the ways of resistance. Overcoming evil with good is not an easy task. It is also a costly task. It is a task that requires patience. Ghandi, Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, Dorothy Day, William Booth, The Dali Lama, Elie Wiesel, Mother Teresa, Benizer Bhutto, and Bonheoffer and many more displayed not only patience but courage in their fight against darkness. What all of the above mentioned people understood was the need to take action against violence and words that insight violence. That sense of patience can also come at a great cost as Bonheoffer and many others learned. I think that we often turn toward other solutions when we lose patience. It seems that we feel that we need to speed up the process and advance the cause. Sadly, that process of forcing peace never works. Violence does not bring about peace.
There is a great cost to discipleship. Bonheoffer reminds us that Jesus himself choose suffering over violence. He reminds us that the disciples too were called to peace and to make peace by enduring suffering rather than inflicting it on others. For Bonheoffer, being a peacemaker meant going to the gallows. History tells us that he did so completely at peace. While he died violently, he died prayerfully. What does being a peacemaker mean for you and for me? Are we willing to pay the cost of our modern day discipleship? By in large, the gallows are not waiting for us if we speak in the name of Jesus against violence, hatred, war, prejudice, sexism, racism, homophobia, violence against women, human trafficking, or any form of ignorance in any of its’ major forms. We may have to suffer judgement. Perhaps we might have an uncomfortable conversation. Maybe we won’t be invited back for dinner. But we would know that we are renouncing hatred and violence, which is a call of our baptism. We would know that we are maintaining relationships with those that others would not (Jesus seems to encourage this as well). And as Bonheoffer notes, we would know that we are “over-coming evil with good, and establishing the peace of God in the midst of a world of war and hate.”
“Blessed are they when they persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad for your reward will be great in heaven.” – Jesus of Nazareth
Paul Tillich the great 20th century theologian once said, “I hope for the day when everyone can speak again of God without embarrassment.”
This is a great hope indeed. Nowadays some might try to politicize this statement. Some might write paragraphs or give long speeches about the lack of God in public schools or public buildings. Just check your email inbox and you will no doubt find many a forwarded message about what is supposed to have happened in a given courthouse, schoolroom, football field, or legislature. These messages are usually accompanied by some sort of demand to forward this on to everyone you can think of or risk showing that you don’t love God. I personally get very put off by these emails for many reasons. I think the inability to talk about God is only attributed to ‘those people’ who keep us from living our faith. The truth may be a little closer to home that ‘those people.’ Our own embrassment is not be overlooked. The deluge of email is yet another way to take 10 seconds to defer to another’s often inapportiate and unkind thoughts. I find these emails troubling for a number of reasons.
Firstly, they are rarely true stories. They are often so far out in left field that a simple reading of the details should raise an alarm that what is being offered is ridiculous. Why get excited about urban myth that now spreads at a lighting speed due to the internet?
Secondly, God has no need for us to insure that God is in the schoolhouse, courthouse, football fields, or legislature. God simple is! The irony is that those who scream the loudest about this have a marginal faith practice at best. Most people would acknowledge that God is still fully a part of the activities at most churches on a Sunday morning. Oddly though, many of the people most upset about where ‘you cannot speak about God’ are not too anxious to come to a place where we talk about God all the time. The line of logic here seems to be, rather than accept the deep rooted idea that God is abundantly present in all things and in all places, we believe that God is only honoured if we write those three letters on the wall., chalkboard or wherever else it has been deemed to have been offensively omitted. It may be that we could more effectively display where God is or isn’t with an acknowledgement that God is our Help and our Strength, that God is Lord of our lives. It seems that we want others to speak about God for us. Perhaps we need to have more strength to speak of God without embarrassment. Careful here…I am not suggested that we should feel compelled to force anyone within earshot to accept our theology or be damned. I just wonder if we could display God as present by living the way we are called to live – seeking and serving Christ in all persons and loving our neighbour as ourselves. Loving and following God is not the school’s responsiblity, or the government’s responsbility, or the court’s responsbility – it is OUR responsibilty. Christianty was at its best when we had to find ways to live our faith under extreme persecution. Our ancestors rose above it – we call them saints today! They lived their faith by being active and witnessing. I fear we are trying to live ours by forwarding messages from our laptops.
Thirdly, I have witnessed how if we live without being embarrassed to talk about God how much God can be made present in our daily walk. In the past six months I have witnessed how great it is to be able to speak about God with so many people. Many of the people that I have been privileged to speak of God with have vastly different theologies than my own. Some have been conservative Christians, Some have been progressive Christians, and some are figuring out if they are Christian any longer, some are Muslim, Some are Jewish, some are Baha’i, and some are nonbelievers. These emails, along with emails designed to make us fearful of another religion, are really disappointing to me. In my practice of faith, these things are failure to our faith or at best a good example of how we are not prepared to take ownership for our own walk and our own witness. It is easier to blame our embarrassment about our own faith, our own questions, our own doubts, and our own fears on the fact that somebody ‘won’t let us talk about God.’ It is hogwash. What would our world look like if we were prepared to listen with open hearts to another about his/her faith? My faith has been enriched of late because I have been prepared to speak about God to people I have met who are different than me.
Do God a favour. Rather than forwarding these emails that are angry about what everybody else is or is not doing for God, HIT DELETE. Or in the words of that great email philosopher ‘anonymous’…if you love God you will delete the message… then send a message to someone in your address book and let them know that you are thinking of them, praying for them. Perhaps we could even get away from the email, the facebook, and our igoogle pages and actually step outside and engage in relationship with another – making God very present.
“It’s not far down to paradise
At least it’s not for me
And if the wind is right you can sail away
And find tranquility”
The opening words to the great Christopher Cross song – Sailing.
Yesterday I was honoured to be called upon to ‘Bless the Fleet’ at Southport Sailing Club here in Tecumseh. It is their annual Sailabration. It was a great occasion that boasted a wonderful family atmosphere. While we blessed the many sailboats the kids were busy on their scavenger hunt. To see them interacting with Commodore Bill Frank and with their families and friends was great. It was an indication that the members of Southport have worked hard to foster an environment where children and families are welcome to come and to participate.
Blessing the Fleet is a tradition that some suggest goes back to early church days. So much of what happened in the Mediterranean region was dependent on the sea and those who travelled the sea. It would not be suprising that those who depended on the water would wnat their vessles blessed. It strikes me that growing up in Newfoundland that this was not a custom with which we were familiar. This seems odd really given that each of the communities along the Trinity South Shore were all communities and towns with wharfs and fishing boats. I am not sure if the church there has now harnessed this potential outreach or not. It is a golden opportunity to engage those who depend on the water and to connect the church to a vital and real part of day to day living in these communities.
Being at Southport was a wonderful gift as we recall the many instances of Jesus ministry and how it related to water in the Holy Land. We hear about Jesus stilling the storm, setting out in a boat from the shore to preach and teach, calling fisherman from their boats, displaying to the disciples where to fill their nets, etc. Our prayer yesterday was that those who take to the water would be cared for and protected by the God of all love and hope. Our prayer was for a reliance on God in all things – on still waters and in stormy seas. While we blessed boats we were really blessing the people gathered and reminding them that in the still cal waters of life God is there…and that in the storms that rage through life, God is there. We all need to be reminded to seek God’s presence in the midst of each of our journeys.
We pray that we might lift our mainsail to the freshening breeze that God is blowing amidst all of us a people. We pray that we may look ahead at the vast water ahead, confident that God will be with us in the safety of our harbours and will be by our side in the open and sometimes rough waters.
Many thanks to Commodore Bill Franks, his wife Lee Anne Doyle, to Margaret Enwhistle and all of the members of Southport. It was a great day. Many thatnks as well to Al and Judy for looking out for us!
Here are two prayers from yesterday
God of boundless love,
at the beginning of creation your spirit hovered over the deep.
You called forth every creature and the waters teamed with life.
Your son Jesus calmed the Sea of Galilee, brought his disciples to safety,
and filled the nets of his disciples.
He has given us the rich harvest of salvation.
Bless this fleet, and bless the equipment on this fleet and all bless all who crew on this fleet. Protect them from the dangers of wind and rain and of the perils of the deep. Bring us all to the harbour of light and peace. May the saving power of our Lord guide and protect us all. In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Frail is our vessel, and the waters are wide; but as in your mercy you have set our course, so steer the vessel of our life towards the everlasting shore of peace, and bring us at length to the quiet haven of our heart’s desire, where you, O God, are blessed, and live and reign for ever and ever. Amen. (St Augustine)
Today in the Anglican Church of Canada we commemorate the life of John XXIII.
Regular readers of this blog will remember that last week I referred to Pope John XXIII. I really like his words, “We are not on earth to guard a museum, but to cultivate a flowering garden of life.” This is a call to the church to be more than an institution frozen in remembering the accomplishments of our past. It is a call to embrace life, growth and Light. It is a call to be community. (For more on this you can read my post for May 27)
John XXIII was not just a great agent of change for the Church but was also a deeply spiritual leader who called on followers to search out what God is calling them to do. He was a leader who saw what embraced the idea that Light can and will defeat darkness. This was a Pope who was not governed by fear of what might happen but was driven by the anticipation of what was yet to come. We would be wise to take his advice as offered here:
“Consult not your fears but your hopes and your dreams. Think not about your frustrations, but about your unfulfilled potential. Concern yourself not with what you tried and failed in, but with what it is still possible for you to do.”
We are entirely governed nowadays with ‘success.’ OR we are entirely governed nowadays with what we are sold as ‘success.’ Because of this we are often afraid to take risk and afraid to explore new possibilities. We would do well follow the advice of John XXIII who history has shown was successful at changing the landscape of church and was a watershed leader in the church. Focusing on failure or negativity is demoralizing and can suck the life out of any individual and any organization. God is not concerned with negativism and fear. God is to be found in the light-filled corners of rooms full of hope. In those rooms God is welcoming ALL people as guests and is serving the thirst quenching drink of unfulfilled potential. I am encouraged by these words. I see that God has placed before me grace and courage to put my past failings behind me and embrace the hope that God has laid before me. Can you be encouraged by these words as well? Is there unfulfilled potential that you need to explore? What can you do with God’s help that should be brought to light from the hallways of fear?
It seems fitting that our Church is gathering for day one of General Synod on this day when we Commemorate Pope John XXIII. Their theme is “Feeling the Winds of God – Charting a New Course.” To that end I send this blog post out to all who are gathered at our Church’s General Synod in Halifax. I pray that they heed the call of the late pontiff. This is no time to be focussed on fear, or on what we could not accomplish in the past. This is no time to fixate on what we failed to accomplish at our last Synod in 2007. I am praying that Synod is a room full of hope. I am praying that the delegates would realize their unfulfilled potential and embrace this opportunity to make possible all that God desires for us as a people.
Until with braver thoughts shall rise
The purer, brighter years
If cast on shores of selfish ease
Or pleasure I should be
Lord, let me feel Thy freshening breeze
And I’ll put back to sea
God’s wind will allow us to wipe away the tears of regrets and failings. We will be reminded by the wind of God’s love of the brighter years. We are reminded that we do share in an unbelievable promise. It is a wind that stirs us from our selfish comfort zones to the stand face to the wind looking ahead to waters that are unknown and in some cases are uncharted. I pray that God would let those who are at this Synod know the presence of the Holy Spirit who is blowing a freshening breeze into the church. I pray that they may harness the wind and help us set sail toward our unlimited potential.
Deborah Kapp writes in the preface of her book Worship Frames, “Worship is a congregation’s most important practice. Here a congregation and its members encounter God’s gracious presence and come face to face with frailty, goodness and potential of their humanity. Here they are comforted, corrected, forgiven, healed, challenged, and sometimes even disturbed by the divine and one another. Here congregations and people are morally formed, and from here they are sent by God into the world. Worship is important. Through the action of the Spirit it enlivens congregations and believers.”
Deborah Kapp’s book is one of the books I have read in preparation for a course I will take at The Iona Community on the island of Iona, Scotland. Professor Kapp’s book discusses the importance of frames in worship. “A worship frame shapes the experiential space in which people can, through the action of the Holy Spirit, apprehend God and the meaning of God’s presence in their lives.” One of the most important frames is the opening frame of worship. What is said and done at the beginning of a liturgy is critical in setting the tone and defining the nature of what liturgy looks like in any given community.
I am told that the beginning worship frame at the Iona Community often begins with these words:
The world belongs to God
The earth and all its people.
How good and how lovely it is
To live together in unity.
Love and faith come together
Justice and peace join hands
If the Lord’s disciples keep silent
These stones will shout aloud
The invitational work of this frame is designed to "invoke and celebrate God’s presence, welcome and include worshipers, and help worshipers ready themselves for the service.” (Kapp 2008). I am looking forward to The Iona Community. I love this invitation as it names the theology of the community. That theology clearly is rooted in the knowledge of being God’s own. It is a theology that is open, and ecumenical. It is a community that strives for peace and justice for all people. It is a community that clearly believes in finding a voice to speak for love, justice, peace, and healing. This invitation to worship celebrates God’s presence while at the same time calling the people of God to speak up.
Iona also celebrates a rich tradition of music. One of the hymns in Common Praise that we sing at St. Mark’s is Today I Awake. It is a great opening hymn for worship and one I would use before or after such a great prayer of invitation:
Today I awake and God is before me
At night as dreamt, he summoned the day;
for God never sleeps, but patterns the morning
with slithers of gold or glory of grey.
This first verse is beautiful. The hymn takes a Trinitarian formula and therefore the first verse is focuses on God the Creator. It calls us to remember that God is at work, at all time and in all of creation. Even while we rest, God’s hand is still active.
Today I arise and Christ is beside me.
He walked through the dark to scatter new light.
Yes, Christ is alive, and beckons his people
To hope and to heal, resist and invite.
The second verse again acknowledges the ever present work of God, this time naming Christ as the ever present deity. This verse is a reminder to the singer that she is called witness in hope for things that most have too much despair to hope for, to heal those who are broken and need the healing touch of love, to resist the darkness and evil that we see around us, and to invite others to come into the fellowship of God’s love as known in Jesus Christ.
Today I affirm the Spirit within me
at worship and work, in struggle and rest.
The Spirit inspires all life which is changing
from fearing to faith, from broken to blest.
Now the singer is reminded of the third person of the Trinity – the Holy Spirit. The promise of Jesus was that he would send an advocate, a friend the Holy Spirit to guide us (see John 14: 23-29). He we are assured in the words that we sing that the Spirit is always at work, not just as we worship but also as we work and play. Here John Bell, the hymn writer, declares that the Spirit does some of its best work in the midst of change. The imagination here is wonderful and calls us to remember that God will be present even in the midst of change and that The Spirit inspires change and encourages us to embrace faith over fear.
Today I enjoy the Trinity round me,
above and beneath, before and behind;
the Maker, the Son, the Spirit together –
they called me to life and call me their friend.
This last verse beautifully reworks the words the prayer of St. Patrick. The key line being the final line – we sing “they called me to life and call me their friend.”
Iona worship will be something wonderful to experience and it clearly affirms God in the midst of Justice, hope, healing, friendship, unity, proclamation and forgiveness.
I am excited about the reading that Professor Kapp as pulled together for this course and am looking forward to great dialogue as we learn on that wonderful island of Iona.
“We pray that God will create something new and beautiful in and among us for the good of all creation and to the glory of the living God. What we need is not simply a new way of thinking, although our quest leads deep into and through the mind. We also need a new way of being, a new inner ecology, a new spirituality that does more that make us opinionated or fastidious, but that renders our souls an orchard of trees bearing good fruit, rooted in who we are before God and who we are becoming in God.” – Brian McLaren
Jane Cornett was recently in Kentucky and happened to have opportunity to hear Brian McLaren speak at an Episcopal Church there. Knowing that I like to read McLaren’s books and that we had done a book study just last year with Everything Must Change, Jane brought me a signed copy of A New Kind of Christianity. (Thanks Jane J) While I have not had the opportunity to read it through yet, I have read some parts and really like what I have read. McLaren is calling us to a new way of being church in this latest missive. His call, as stated above, is to a new spirituality and a new way of being that moves us beyond having a thought or an opinion about who we should be to embrace a practice of faith that is rooted in God and our relationship with God.
The church is desperately in need of becoming an orchard that McLaren describes. One of the great surprises for me in moving to Essex County was the number of orchards and the variety of orchards. Also surprising was to witness how the farmer is prepared to trip so extensively the trees. It is in removing the non-fruit bearing branches that the farmer ensures the life, growth and productivity of the tree. The tree never looks the same from year to year. In the tree’s life, change is inevitable. The tree relies on the gardener to take the necessary steps to ensure it is healthy. The church relies on us to do the same. It is not easy to discern where to trim and where to leave things as they are. But we must for the sake of the God who loves us take our responsibility as Christians seriously enough to trim off those old branches of thought that no longer bear fruit, to make room for new and strong branches that will bear beautiful fruit in due season.
In his plea to the church to take on fresh expressions of faith, he is constantly rooting that call in the love that God has for us. As I read I am reminded of the words of St. Teresa of Avila, “The feeling remains that God is on the journey, too.” Discerning what the church can be is not just a job or a duty to take on. It is covenantal. That covenant is with God and God is always beside us and will give us the direction we need if we are prepared to listen. McLaren writes:
“We do not expect ourselves to be capable of completing this quest by our own strength, guided by our own flickering lights, so we pray, expressing our dependence on the gracious and living Holy Spirit, from whom we have received life and every good thing, in whom we live, move, and have our being, and toward whom we move in our journey through life.”
There has been much conversation in our Diocese since our Synod a couple of weeks ago about Fresh Expressions. Born in England, Fresh Expressions is a call to be intentional and incarnational about the leading of the Spirit to open the transforming love of God to people who are currently not members. The Fresh Expressions webpage defines it this way: “A fresh expression of church is a form of church for our changing culture, established primarily for the benefit of people who are not yet members of any church. It will come into being through principles of listening, service, incarnational mission and making disciples. It will have the potential to become a mature expression of church shaped by the gospel and the enduring marks of the church and for its cultural context.”
This call to change is being lead in no small measure by our youth. I am hopeful that our diocese, our churches, and our clergy will heed the call from Teresa of Avila, Brian McLaren, by Fresh Expressions and by our youth to seek to build forms of church that address the changing culture around us. There is a window of opportunity for the church in the rapidly changing culture, were we prepared to throw it open?