You may or may not have heard of an initiative in our community called Pathway to Potential (P2P). It is a working strategy to make our community stronger. P2P’s web pages says that theirs is “a strategy for reducing poverty in Windsor and Essex County. Poverty reduction is a critical first step toward creating a strong, healthy and vibrant community” Hosting roundtables and engaging leaders in our community to take action against poverty, is all a part of the good work being done by Adam Vasey and all the folks at P2P.
This week P2P have asked me to take part in a programme called “Do the Math Challenge” and I have accepted the invitation. The challenge is for me to rely on a 3-day supply of food that a person on social assistance would receive from a food bank. A number of community leaders in Windsor-Essex have been asked to participate. The goal is not just that we might better identify with the needs of those who hunger, but also that we speak, blog, and educate friends, family and colleagues as we live in the moment.
Here is what the “Do The Math” challenge looks like:
Try and eat only what’s on the list (along with five standard pantry ingredients – for example oil, flour, salt, coffee, tea, margarine, soy sauce, ketchup, garlic, spices) for at least 3 full days, and longer if you can, as it is the experience of people who use food banks to have to make the food last for a week or more.
Single person —
2 boxes Kraft Dinner (or substitute extra rice if gluten-intolerant) —
3 juice boxes — 3 single-serving-size scoops dry rice —
2 small cans soup —
box of dry cereal or 3 packages instant oatmeal —
any TWO of: 175 g tin of tuna, chicken or turkey; small jar peanut butter; 3 eggs —
2 small cans of tinned vegetables, or 1 tin vegetables and 1 fruit —
1 potato —
1 onion —
1 can plain beans or chickpeas, or 1 can pork and beans —
3 granola bars or 3 fruit chews —
1 quart milk —
1 loaf bread (or substitute extra rice)
I am blogging today to invite you all to pray for me as I get set to do this. Over the next few days I will be doing what I can to raise awareness of the needs of those who rely on food banks in our community. I am looking at this as a very important spiritual exercise. It is not always good enough for us to simply imagine what someone else is going through. The Christian is called to enter into it. This can be difficult for us as it requires choosing to take on discomfort or pain for another’s sake.
“Let us not underestimate how hard it is to be compassionate. Compassion is hard because it requires the inner disposition to go with others to place where they are weak, vulnerable, lonely, and broken. But this is not our spontaneous response to suffering. What we desire most is to do away with suffering by fleeing from it or finding a quick cure for it.” – Henri Nouwen
While supporting the food bank is a no brainer for me, I am praying that this exercise will give me a new level of understanding and a renewed compassion for those in our communities that hunger. I plan to blog throughout my 3 day sojourn and as I get ready for it. As you read my reflections perhaps you might consider how we might together work to address this issues of hunger in our community. Pray that together we might find the will to enter into another’s journey in the sincere hope that we might discover ways to be attentive to the needs on that journey.
Today in Toronto, the Dalai Lama spoke to a gathering of over 15 000 people.
During his speech he remarked that the next Dalai Lama could be a woman. He noted that the advantages would include the fact that she would be better looking than him. He expressed joy at the notion that the time may be coming for that kind of change expressing that he felt women are more in tune with feelings. He remarked that women are”biologically more sensitive about others’ pain than males.”
In reflecting on peace this holy man offered this, “At 16, I lost my freedom, at the age of 24 I lost my own country. Now, at 75, what I learned is the power of talk. In the spirit of dialogue, you can’t have one side that is defeated and one side win. Open your hearts; consider others.” This is a message that desperately needs to be heard in this world. There seems to be a real lack of willingness to engage in conversation and dialogue. In many ways our society has moved to place of respond now and usually without much thought, and then talk about it all later to try to work it all out. Our nations have lost the art of dialogue and conversation and we as individuals have also seem to have forgotten how to talk with and to each other. It seems easier to avoid the difficult conversations. Deciding to open our hearts and ‘consider others’ is not always our first choice and it is not the easy choice. Winston Church reminded said that, “courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; [and] courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.”
The follower of Jesus is summoned to heed the words of Churchill, and heed the words if the Dalai Lama. The follower of Jesus is also called to embrace the words of Scripture. The first lesson appointed from scripture yesterday was from the book of Sirach.
Question a friend; perhaps he did not do it; or if he did, so that he may not do it again. Question a neighbour; perhaps he did not say it; or if he said it, so that he may not repeat it. Question a friend, for often it is slander; so do not believe everything you hear. A person may make a slip without intending it. Who has not sinned with his tongue? Question your neighbour before you threaten him; and let the law of the Most High take its course.
This seems to be good advice. The Dalai Lama is correct. We do need to talk to one another. How much trouble do we get ourselves into by negative gossip or idle chat about another? These words from Scripture remind of how important it is to talk with one another instead of talking about one another. How many difficulties might we be saved from if we were not busy avoiding difficult conversations? It takes courage to speak up and ‘question and friend or neighbour’ and it take courage to sit down and listen to where another is coming from and let ‘the law of the Most High take its course.’ That difficult way of being, is indeed opening our heart. It is called loving. Even when it is difficult, Jesus asks us to ‘love one another.’ We are called in the Gospel of John to ‘a new commandment.’ Jesus says “love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” Let us regain the art of talk and dialogue – let this be an act of love.
Thomas Merton wrote, “You do not need to know precisely what is happening, or exactly where it is all going. What you need is to recognize the possibilities and challenges offered by the present moment, and to embrace them with courage, faith and hope.”
For me this week has been, in many ways, an opportunity to recognize “the possibilities and challenges offered by the present moment.” For the past eighteen months I have been studying to complete a Doctorate in Ministry at McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago. This week Professor Douglas Tracy moved me and five other colleagues along in the journey to acknowledge the possibilities that lie before us as we now prepare to embark on the process of thesis writing.
If we take the advice of Thomas Merton we will look at possibilities that lie before us and ‘embrace them with courage, faith and hope.’ Engaging on a sojourn with others who are discerning the will of God in their lives and in the lives of their communities is a great privilege for which I am very grateful to God. While in Professor Tracy’s class I have again been reminded of the multifaceted nature of God’s work in creation. In each member of our group, and indeed in Professor Tracy, I see hope made manifest because of what God is doing in their particular places of ministry.
One of our texts for this course was a book entitled Holy Clarity. Sarah Drummond writes; “The work of pastoral ministry is rich and complex. It calls upon us to interpret, communicate, lead, cross barriers, counsel, speak truth to power, and educate. One of the exciting aspects of ministry for me is the diversity of the work and the fact that no two days in ordained ministry are ever exactly the same.” This is an honest appraisal of ministry and the wonder that we enjoy being a part of it. Being with my McCormick colleagues is a great reminder of how rich and complex pastoral ministry is. In being together around the table, the seven of us have ‘interpreted, communicated, lead, crossed barriers, counselled, spoken truth to power, and we have educated.’ It is also true that each and every day brought its own surprises.
This has been holy ground. A couple of weeks ago I included these words at the beginning of my Thanksgiving Blog.:
“Earth is crammed with heaven,
and every common bush afire with God,
but only he who sees
takes off his shoes.”
–Elizabeth Barrett Browning
This week with Rick, Cynthia, Doug, Julie, Dudley, and Kathryn reminds me indeed that every common bush is afire with God. This is holy ground.
Last week, quietly, an enormous but diminutive man walked into the sunset of retirement. Desmond Tutu who has been so important in our world for so long retired on his 79th birthday on October 7. I was reading the Time Magazine article about his life and retirement (click here to view), and was taken by these words of his that are quoted, “God is biased, horribly in favour of the weak. The minute an injustice is perpetrated, God is going to be on the side of the one who is being clobbered.” How important that must have been to those in South Africa and those around the world who suffer at the hands of injustice. It is perfectly good keeping with what St. Paul writes in 1st Corinthians;
“God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God.”
Time rightly points out that “a world without Tutu will be a bit darker, a little more dull.” This man has been a spiritual leader to whom so many look for guidance and strength. More than that, the world counted on Tutu to speak out when people suffer injustice. His words, his humour, and his infectious smile are all a gift to the world.
Perhaps there is a chance that he may sneak out of retirement from time to time. There will no doubt be moments that we need a word from one who is so willing to speak his convictions and whose words call the world to action.
Archbishop Tutu once said, “Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.” In a lifetime of working for justice the little bishop with the large heart has proven that these words are indeed true. His life-long Christian witness has been a witness to the fact that the many good acts of one person can indeed overwhelm the world.
We all have the capacity to make a difference in the world. Desmond Tutu has overwhelmed the world having come from the most unlikely of circumstances and having overcome the greatest odds. How much may we change the world with ‘our little bits of good?’
Hope is faith holding out its hand in the dark. ~ George Iles
The images these past couple of days from Chile are remarkable. I watched live as a rescuer was lowered 23oo feet into the earth on Tuesday evening. When he stepped out of the capsule into the dark cavern that had become home to 33 miners it was a tremenous sight. The words expressed by George Iles really sum up what was happening in that moment. Hope really is faith holding out a hand in the darkness.
One by one we watched hope birthed from the earth is the past two days. The most powerful image for me was that of 63-year-old Mario Gomez who emerged from the capsule and fell to his knees in prayer. I was moved to tears as I watched. I noted that the Name ‘Jesus’ was on his sleeve as it was on the sleeve of each miner as they emerged from their two month entombment. Gomez had become somewhat of a spiritual leader while underground. I listened intently as his partner of over 30 years Lilainett Ramirez told reporters that the faith he displayed below ground was not something that she had seen in him in their 30 plus years together. “When I was ask him to say our prayers, he would answer , I pray in my own way,” she told the CNN reporter. This faith was a new expression from Mario who had always professed belief but was never quick to express or articulate that faith. One of the more touching parts of his story was the fact that this couple had never had a church wedding and Mario was now anxious to make that a reality. His love letters from underground in the past 70 days have touched many people.
The very first of those letters was also a great message of hope and faith. It was read aloud on TV, having been retrieved from the drill bit that had broken through to the men after they had been underground and unheard of for 17 days. In the letter to Lila he wrote, “Even if we have to wait months to communicate … I want to tell everyone that I’m good and we’ll surely come out OK… patience and faith. God is great and the help of my God is going to make it possible to leave this mine alive.” These are powerful words that have come from a deep place in the earth and a ddep place in Mario’s soul. Mario was holding onto hope. Hope is what sustained him and the 32 others and he was determined to share that hope with his fellow prisioners in that hole. The hope that he held was a faith that was reaching to him in his darkness. The promise of John 8:12 was a real promise of hope for him. He knew that “whoever follows (the Lord) will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” His faith reached out to him in through the darkness to give him hope. When he ascended from the darkness of that earthen pit to the lights of the world which were cast upon him, Mario assumed a posture that should be instructive to us all; he knelt and he prayed. We are told he gave thanks to God and to the Virgin Mary for seeing hope now materialized into new life for him.
What can we take from this? Perhaps this is a good time for us to ask ourselves about the dark pits that we find ourselves in from time to time. For some that may be depression, for others it may be a loss of a marriage. Yet others are suffering job losses, the death of a close friend or worse a relative. Some of us are feeling judged and some of us are harbouring resentment and withholding forgiveness. Some of us are in need of being forgiven. Only you can determine what dark pit you find yourself in. Whatever it may be, the hope and faith expressed by 33 miners who were trapped for 70 days should be a reminder to all of us that we should not give up hope no matter how dark things may seem. Faith is holding out a hand in the dark – are we prepared to reach out and take that hand? It is a loving and a redeeming hand. It is a hand that will lead us toward the light that we so desperately long for. Also, are we prepared to hold out a hand to another who is living through his/her dark night of the soul. Perhaps we can make Mario’s words a prayer when we find ourselves in the darkness…. “God is great and the help of my God is going to make it possible to leave this [dark hole] alive.”
Praise God for the success of the mission at a place that has become known as “Camp Hope.” Let us take heart to set up our own hopeful camps of prayer in anticipation of being released from any darkness that we may know.
Earth is crammed with heaven,
and every common bush afire with God,
but only he who sees
takes off his shoes.
–Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Thanksgiving is a great time of year. It is fall and that alone is reason to be thankful. The sights, sounds and feel of this time of year are tremendous and serve to remind us of how very much God has created and how very beautiful that creation is. We look about us and take in the colour of this time of year and it is as if there is a renewed vibrancy to our sense of sight.
Looking at a tree yesterday with such vibrant reds and oranges in it I was reminded of these words of Elizabeth Barrett Browning. “Earth is crammed with heaven and every bush afire with God.” How true indeed. About us daily is the tremendous power of God’s presence. But we often miss it. Her point is well taken that many fail to notice, “Only [she] who sees takes of [her] shoes.” This holiday that we enjoy today serves to call our attention to those things that we are grateful for. In broad terms, I suggest that it is hard for us to do that without at first acknowledging how very much God is a part of so much creating that is developing around us daily.
Can we see around us daily how God has crammed love and hope into so much? We can hardly be blamed for missing it, when we are bombarded with images of negativity and fear on a daily basis. But if we step back from that we might see something extraordinary. If we look around us and embrace the nature of God and how it is crammed into creation, our relationships, or encounters and our journeys we might actually feel compelled to take off our shoes and realize that the ground on which we stand is holy ground. We can appreciate the awesomeness of God in the beauty of a colourful tree, the babbling of a brook, the freshness of a rainfall, the warmth of the sunlight, the unbelievable blue of the sky, the power of a lightning storm, the majesty of a mountain, the wonder of the ocean, and …..(you can complete this list!) We also see that awesome nature of God when we hold a toddler and see her eyes light up when playing peek-a-boo, when we embrace a child who needs attention, when we hold a hand of a friend who is ailing, when we are offered an embrace or a gentle caress because we need attention, when we forgive a friend, or when we are forgiven, when a couple after so many years still take each other’s hand when walking in the park, when friends share pain at a time of death, when…(you can complete this list!)
What we often fail to do is remember that God is so alive in those moments and is at work in making the Kingdom real. I often remind people that if you want to know where God is most present you just need to remember the moments in your life when love was expressed. This is sometimes in the simplest of moments and sometimes it means making the choice to love even when it is difficult to do. That is the challenge really for us as a people. We need to realize how very much God is in us, in each other, and in our created order and offer love. This can be best embraced once we accept that God is love. Marcus Borg wrote;
“People who think of God as a warrior may become warriors themselves, whether in a Christian crusade, a Muslim jihad, or an apocalyptically oriented militia. People who think of God as righteous are likely to emphasize righteousness themselves, just as those who think of God as compassionate are likely to emphasize compassion. People who think God is angry at the world are likely to be angry at the world themselves.”
‘People who see God as compassionate are likely to emphasize compassion.’ It stands to reason then that is we see God as loving we will emphasize love. My prayer today is that we find the wisdom and insight to see that God is crammed into all of creation. Once we can see that, I hope we can embrace the notion that God is, above all else, LOVE. If God is LOVE than we must emphasize LOVE to each other and to all of God’s created order. We might take off our shoes and come to realize that we are standing on Holy ground.
“We’ve got this gift of love, but love is like a precious plant. You can’t just accept it and leave it in the cupboard or just think it’s going to get on by itself. You’ve got to keep watering it. You’ve got to really look after it and nurture it.”
Those are the words of John Lennon who would have been 70 years of age today. As those of us in Canada mark the Thanksgiving weekend, these are words worth reflecting on. As we sit around our tables in the days ahead we will no doubt give thanks for many things. There will be talk of food, employment, our freedom, and our families. When we break it all down we come to realize that what makes us feel thankful or grateful are those things that make us feel cared for, embraced, and fulfilled. In short we are most thankful for the things that make us feel loved.
There will be much attention given to food over this weekend, in the meantime turkeys across the nation are bracing for the worst. We give thanks as we eat well for the food that we enjoy and we often focus our attention to giving to food banks as there are so many in need of food. At the same time we need to be reminded that what people also need is the gift of love that God gave so freely to us. Mother Teresa reminded that “being unwanted, unloved, uncared for, forgotten by everybody, I think that is a much greater hunger, a much greater poverty than the person who has nothing to eat.” We have words of wisdom offered to us from two prophetic voices that have gone on from us.
As we offer our thanks this weekend, let us remember that what God has given to us all is an unbelievable gift of love. A time of thanksgiving should be a reminder to us that we cannot ‘just accept it and leave it in the cupboards’ of our lives and do nothing more with it. Moments like this serve to remind us that we need to water and nurture the love we have been given. What is more, we need to be prepared to share the precious plant that we have been given. The love that God has offered is a wonderful plant that can easy be clipped and shared. Unlike some plants which do not transplant very well, the love offered to us flourishes and is at its best when we share it with others.
Perhaps this weekend will be a great time for us to discover new places to share that plant with others. We may need to do a better job of sharing love in our family, with our friends and with those with whom we work. But it is more likely that we have already figured ways to share that love in our closest circles. We can turn our attention to sharing the forgiving, embracing and hope-filled love of God with those that are strangers to us. Theologian Jonanthan Sacks reminds us that in the Old Testament we are reminded no less than 67 times to love the stranger. Let us look at just one of those instances – Deut. 10:17-18;
[T]he Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, who loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing. You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt
Let us then take the opportunity to take the love that we are so grateful for and share it with the broken, the oppressed, the lonely and the forgotten. Let’s love by seeking out those that need the hope that love proclaims. Let’s address that poverty that Mother Teresa spoke of. We can be present to ‘the unwanted, the unloved, and the forgotten by everybody’ and share that love that Lennon spoke of. As we go into our cupboards to get a canned item for the food bank, let us go into our spiritual cupboard and take time to water, to nurture and to share the love that god has given us.