“The message of hope the contemplative offers you, then, brother, is not that you need to find your way through the jungle of language and problems that today surround God: but that whether you understand or not, God loves you, is present in you, lives in you, dwells in you, calls you, saves you, and offers you an understanding and light which are like nothing you ever found in books or heard in sermons.” – Thomas Merton
I have not been well the last few days. Spring colds are a great annoyance. In the meantime I have been reading and I have been reminded of greats like Merton. I love the profound nature of what he offered of himself to the world. It is great to read again his words of comfort as I wade through the jungle of problems that surround us all – “whether [I] understand or not, God loves [me], is present in [me], lives in [me], dwells in [me], calls [me], saves [me], and offers [me] and understanding and light which are like nothing [I] ever found in books or heard in sermons.” I do not always understand how God is at work in me. Do you understand how God is at work in you? Is understanding how God is at work in you or in me really what matters? According to Thomas Merton God’s love and God’s presence and God’s saving help are bigger than our understanding.
This afternoon I had the privilege to spend half an hour in the Walk Through Holy Week program at St. Mark’s by-the-Lake. The kids learn about each of the key days in Holy Week from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday. My part was to sit with them and talk about the Last Supper and what Jesus was doing on that night with his friends. Before they came to the table (a rug on the floor) they were taught about the foot-washing. As a visible symbol they kids all placed their feet in muddy paint and walked across a canvass. Their first footprints were bold, dirty and dark. As they neared the far edge of the mat their footprints were fait and nearly clear as the dirt had worn away. What bit of dirt was left was then washed off by one of their little friends. They created a beautiful painting with their feet that displays well the nature of how God helps us be cleansed for all the muck and grime as we walk on our journey. As we sat around the ‘table’ afterward and shared bread and ‘wine’ I was really taken by the little faces and their awe with the story of the Last Supper. Had me thinking – do they understand this? Then I thought – wait a minute – Do I understand this? That got me thinking about Merton and the notion that the love which is poured out in Jesus is beyond our comprehension and beyond our understanding. The Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Jesus is not about understanding. If it were most of us would be refused at the table. But the Sacrament is about Love! It is about a saving love that is broken and shared. A redeeming love that is offered each time we quench the thirst of a sister or brother who is parched.
I was feeling pretty parched this afternoon — and 30 or so children quenched my thirst with the love of Jesus. I do not understand it — but I am pleased to know that God is at work in those children and that God may be at work in me too!
Congratulations to Jane on a day well organized and very instructive for the Children of the church and of Essex Deanery.
In 2006 the Nobel peace Prize was awarded to Muhammad Yunus for his efforts to eradicate poverty in the poorest regions of our world. His work with micro-credit is well-known and he understands well the challenges of societies where poverty is unaddressed. Yunus insists that “Poverty is the absence of all human rights. The frustrations, hostility and anger generated by abject poverty cannot sustain peace in any society. For building stable peace we must find ways to provide opportunities for people to live decent lives.” I read this quote of his in a book entitled What Makes Great leaders Great written by Frank Arnold. Yesterday I was reading a chapter in that book ‘Commit Yourself to More than Your own Wellbeing.’
With those words fresh in my mind I reflect here on the week that was politically in the province of Ontario:
We have had the ‘great pleasure’ of having a provincial and a federal budget rolled out for us this week. I had opportunity to sit under a blanket and listen to endless analysis of the Federal budget yesterday – it further aggravated a headache that I already have. Thankfully on Tuesday I was unable to listen to all of the prognosticators drone on about what all of this ‘will mean.’
Let me preface what I am about to share with these words:
These budget exercises are no doubt difficult for the governments involved and I would hope that the decisions that drive them are not taken lightly. I understand the value of ‘a tax break,’ or the need for ‘belt tightening’ in difficult times. All that being said, here comes the but….
There are a couple of key things that leapt out for me this week in both these budgets that trouble me.
The first came on Tuesday when the McGuinty Liberals froze social assistance benefits. The Ontario budget must get to balance our local MPP and Minister of Finance, Dwight Duncan tells us. And I ask, why is it being balanced on the backs of those who can afford it the least? Last year I was part of a group that took part in the ‘Do the Math Challenge.’ I lived on food bank rations for a week. A single person on social assistance in the province of Ontario receives $572 per month. We were seeking a ‘healthy food supplement’ of $100 per month to help provide a better standard of living for the poorest among us. The McGuinty government is being very short-sighted. As Yunus rightly points out, the hope for any real stable peace in our communities rests squarely on finding opportunities for people to have dignity. The cost on the other side of poverty far outbalance the costs of providing a better standard of living for the poorest among us. This jab was followed by a right cross announcing that the planned increase to the Ontario Child Benefit was also being delayed. Ontario Campaign 2000 reports that 1 in 7 children in Ontario still live in poverty. That amounts to just under 400 000 youngsters. All of this while the provinces has maintained planned tax cuts for corporations. How can we not see the cost of keeping people in poverty?
The second blow came from the Federal Budget. The Harper Conservatives have rolled out a plan to increase the age of eligibility for Old Age Security from 65 to 67. It is set to begin in 2023. So if you are under the age of 54 today, it is you this change will affect the most. Here again we see cost savings on the back of the poorest of our seniors. Here again, this is sold on the logic that we must balance a budget and this is one of the few ways that we can get there. I was pleased to see that the Harper government is also making changes to the most lucrative pension plan in the country – the MPs Pension plan, but I am cynical about the fact that none of those changes will take place till after this parliament. One of the sad realities that I face in ministry is that many of our seniors are working to make ends meet. Many that are not have to make choices that are difficult in their monthly expenditures. Many seniors live below the poverty line today. Can we see this getting better in the foreseeable future? Never mind that people are fixated on the increased age eligibility for OAS, I am wondering why there is not something the budget to help the plight of seniors today?
Neither of these budgets is overly controversial. Nor does either do much but try to offer the appearance of fiscal prudence. But sadly, the fact remains that we are not being fiscally prudent when we make no effort to address poverty in our communities. What worries me is not in the black and white of the numbers used in these budgets. What troubles me is where money is spent and where it is cut or where it is not spent. Consider our own budgets – they will tell a story about where our priorities lie. So it is with each of these budgets.
As a people of God we are called to remember that Jesus offered this:
‘Come, you who will receive good things from my Father. Inherit the kingdom that was prepared for you before the world began. I was hungry and you gave me food to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me. I was naked and you gave me clothes to wear. I was sick and you took care of me. I was in prison and you visited me.’
“Then those who are righteous will reply to him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you a drink? When did we see you as a stranger and welcome you, or naked and give you clothes to wear? When did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?
“Then the king will reply to them, ‘I assure you that when you have done it for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me.’
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Get away from me, you who will receive terrible things. Go into the unending fire that has been prepared for the devil and his angels. I was hungry and you didn’t give me food to eat. I was thirsty and you didn’t give me anything to drink. I was a stranger and you didn’t welcome me. I was naked and you didn’t give me clothes to wear. I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.’
“Then they will reply, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison and didn’t do anything to help you?’ Then he will answer, ‘I assure you that when you haven’t done it for one of the least of these, you haven’t done it for me.’ And they will go away into eternal punishment. But the righteous ones will go into eternal life.”
We might agree with many of the measures in both or either of these budgets. At the same time, as a people of God, we must be concerned about the greater costs of not addressing poverty. So let us speak if we can – Speak to your MPP and speak to your MP, Write letters to the Ministers of Finance. Let them know how you feel. Praise and congratulate them for what is right and good. Take the opportunity at the same time to let them know what Christ compels you to say about the poor. In the meantime let us act. We can find a multitude of ways to contribute our time and energy to bring dignity to those who live in poverty.
I did have a very simple idea after hearing the budget yesterday. I was pleased to see the end of the penny as we know they cost more to produce than they are worth. Production will cease in the Fall of this year. I wondered if instead of cancelling, what if the government had recalled all of those pennies that are in circulation and applied those monies to programs to address poverty. That is not in the works for government – but what is stopping us? The work of our Downtown Mission was highlighted here at St. Mark’s during our Lenten Justice Series by Ron Dunn. I would like to invite us all to bring all the jars and bags of pennies that we have lying around to St. Mark’s by-the-Lake. There will be a LARGE container at the church to collect all of those pennies. When it is FULL we will contribute to the work of those who are trying to give dignity to those who live with little. The penny may be worthless in some circles but a BIG container full will be worth a great deal to the Downtown Mission. Let’s see if we can collect enough to call in the strongest people we know to lift those containers and deliver them to the Mission.
If you have other coins you would like to drop in this BIG container – that would be ok too!
In reading a book of quotes compiled by Roy Zuk, I came across this gem:
“Martin Luther once said that God’s truth is like a drunkard trying to ride a horse: prop him up on the one side, and he topples over on the other. Balance is indeed hard to achieve in applying God’s truth no less than understanding it. We are always in danger of pushing some biblical principle to an extreme.”
This is brilliant! When we become too literalist or too hard-line and we push either biblical principal or church tradition to any extreme we lose sight of how very tricky balancing the truth of God really is. Extremism will always cause us to fall over on that horse. Balance is hard to find when we are carrying too much baggage on one shoulder or another. Sadly, this sort of stubborn and drunken approach to applying truth can have devastating consequences. We have all seen those ‘Christians’ who demonstrate with signs of hatred toward gays and lesbians at their funerals. We all witnessed the thousand who gave away their livelihoods in preparation for the end times which were to take place last May — er…was it October….no wait….It was both!
One of the more bizarre examples of this behavior of late is exemplified in the behavior of the pastor of The Glad Tidings Assembly of God church in Middletown, PA. In an attempt to ‘make the point’ that Christians in Muslim lands are persecuted, the Pastor of ‘Glad Tidings’ had members of the youth group kidnapped by gunpoint. Their heads were bagged, hands bound and they were thrown into a van and delivered to their pastor’s house where they were led to believe that he was being beaten. But it gets worse – This abduction was carried out by a member of the church who is a Police Officer who was off duty who was happy to take part in the ‘teaching exercise.’ The pastor insists that the only mistake in this was not getting parental consent. He insists that these experiences are valuable and will continue. Did someone say something about falling off a horse? You can see more about this story by clicking here
As a faith leader and pastor of a church this stuff frustrates the “H-E- double hockey sticks” out of me. How are we to be taken seriously in this world when some ‘Christians’ behave this way? What is God’s truth to these people? It is certainly different from God’s truth as I see it. How do these folks see Jesus? Certainly they do not see the Jesus who has embraced me and loves me. The God of Love that I am glad to call Lord of my life is tolerant and nonviolent. The Jesus that I follow respects children and young people and would denounce such abuse of aggressive behavior by these ‘people of faith.’
What might happen if we looked for balance by asking ourselves what we wanted/needed when we were at our worst? I mean, there must be times when we knew that we have strayed mightily from the path that God wishes for us to tread. When those times have happened in our lives what brought us back? I am venturing a guess that it was not a brow beating, angry, aggressive, judgemental Christian. I suspect it was God’s love, perhaps expressed through the tender, loving, kind and gentle approach of a servant who lived the humility of Jesus. There are people in my life that I admire so much because they seem to manage that balance so well and are not falling all over that horse. Perhaps you have some of those people in your life too. Lent is as good a time as any to tell someone who exudes the charismatic kindness of Jesus that you appreciate him/her. It is also a good time to ask ourselves how we are doing with holding truth in the tender balance that it deserves. How are we doing at using the truth that God has given us in a balanced and loving way so that we are not like a ‘drunkard on a horse?’
If it be your will
That a voice be true
From this broken hill
I will sing to you
From this broken hill
All your praises they shall ring
If it be your will
To let me sing
These words are from Leonard Cohen’s song Anthem. On his Live in London Album they are sung by the Webb Sisters — an absolutely beautiful piece of music.
This is a cry to God to seek the will of the Creator to speak the praises of the Holy. And what shall I cry? If it be God’s will that we should sing our from our places of brokenness what shall our praises look like?
We are just days away from Holy Week. In a few days we will celebrate Passion Sunday also known as Palm Sunday. We will sing our praises in the form of Hosannas! We will lay down our robes, lay out our palm branches and we will welcome the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
Yet just a few short days later we will we will stand atop another broken hill. In that place the praises that we sing echo of the violence of Crucify Him! In that place we long for an end to the long dark night that sometimes besets our souls and leaves us feeling less than complete and less than beloved. Another verse from this great piece of music:
And draw us near
And bind us tight
All your children here
In their rags of light
In our rags of light
All dressed to kill
And end this nightIf it be your will
Sadly we sit at times with our rags of light flashing as we are dressed to kill – kill all that which is good and all that which threatens us. Fear often motivates us to lash out at others and the consequences are dark. It is in those moments that what we sing is really ‘Crucify Him!’
But we can enter into that space with a sense of security as we know what follows our dark song. It is a New Song and it is a song of great redemption. Another verse:
If it be your will
If there is a choice
Let the rivers fill
Let the hills rejoiceLet your mercy spill
On all these burning hearts in hell
If it be your will
To make us well
Just a little over a week away we will embrace the song that is – ‘Praise God – Alleluia!’ It is a Song of hope that sings of the abundance of overflowing rivers of justice and peace. It is a river of great mercy and of overwhelming well-ness. It is a river that allows us to sing a song of great praise.
Lent really is that time that we ask that question, “if it be your will?” We seek to find the will of God in our lives and do what we can to live that out with a sense of purpose. I love this song of Leonard Cohen…then again — I love all of his music.
A little boy was overheard praying: “Lord, if you can’t make me a better boy, don’t worry about it. I’m having a real good time like I am.”
Among the reading for the daily Office today are found these words from the Gospel of Mark.:
“Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, ‘What were you arguing about on the way?’ But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, ‘Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.’ Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, ‘Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.’”
This past Sunday, at the beginning of the Eucharistic prayer, the children from our church made their way back into worship from Sunday school as they do each week. From where I stand at our celebration, I have a great view of the children as they make their way up the short ramp into the sanctuary from the Church Hall. Most worshippers in the church do not get to see those young faces as they approach the church from the classroom. What is so wonderful to see is the anticipation and joy in their faces as they are welcomed back into our worship setting. Certainly leaves me asking how we can send them out in the first place? These kids love getting back to church and joining their families and their church family!
Now I know, there is a great value in Sunday School and in Christian Education for our youngest members. That said, there may be more effective ways to offer that education. I guess we need to be asking ourselves, do we send the kids out to SS for their benefit or for ours? Before we get to excited here let me say, I believe that we have the best interests of our young members at heart at St. Mark’s by-the-Lake and I am not suggesting that we need to halt Sunday School as we know it. I guess I am simply encouraging us to ask some deep and difficult questions. We know that our children are nothing less than full members of the Body of Christ. I wonder what might happen at church if we started the Mass by inviting everyone over the age of 12 to go to the parish hall for some Christian Education (we could all use some) and to come back when we have set the Table?
The words of Jesus serve to remind us of that. If scripture does not motivate us to see that perhaps the children themselves might move us. Jane Cornett and the Children and Youth Ministry Team at St. Mark’s by-the-Lake are constantly giving us opportunity to learn from and be ministered to by our children and our youth. An example – just a couple of short weeks ago we lost one of the most active members of our church in Ray Hinton. He was present weekly at St. Mark’s and he interacted with all members of our church – including the children. Appropriately, the children took time during Sunday School to talk about Ray’s death and to pray about how to be present to Marion who was left to grieve. They returned to our Table Worship that Sunday with a shirt adorned with hand prints and hearts and messages of love to be delivered to her at the funeral home. They taught us all about how small gestures of love can make such a large difference. The children of St. Mark are we actively providing Pastoral Care to Marion and to her family. Yesterday Marion was at church and she looked beautiful, hand prints and hearts painted all over her!
Take opportunity to interact with the children in your church. They have something to teach us. They will minister to us. If you are tempted to get annoyed by the sounds that come from excited children or upset children or anxious children when they are at worship, remember the words of Jesus – ‘Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.’
PS – if you are looking for an opportunity to interact with our youngest ministers, join us this Saturday. There is a “Walk through Holy Week” beginning at 1 pm. There will be a Pasta Dinner for people of all ages at 5 pm – come out and hear about Holy Week through the unfettered lens of our youngest disciples!
Today is the first full day of Spring – and in Windsor what a beautiful day it has been. The temperature reached over 30 C with the humidex. It was not a good day to be trapped inside, unless your office is air-conditioned – in which case it might be just fine.
The great poet Rainer Maria Rilke wrote, “Everything is blooming most recklessly; if it were voices instead of colors, there would be an unbelievable shrieking into the heart of the night.” As I look around at the magnolias in full bloom, the crocuses that have bloomed out, the daffodils that are so brilliantly yellow, and the tulips about to show their colour, all against a lush green backdrop, I am certain that Rilke’s thoughts were penned on such a spring night – although probably in April not mid March. Thinks are blooming and at a rate that seems most reckless for this time of year. That said, we all love this early dose of summer weather on the first day of spring. Now we need not fret. We will see cooler weather very soon I am sure. But the last week or so has done wonders for everyone’s spirit. It is hard not to have an extra jump in your step when the warm and sunny weather brings colour and growth and new life. What new life can we give thanks for? Perhaps today can be for us a reminder to seek to offer gratitude for what springs anew in our lives.
Today also happens to be the anniversary of the printing of the first book. It was a Gutenberg Bible and it was printed on this day in 1457.
As we celebrate spring, as we see new life popping up all around us with its new opportunity and new graces, as we marvel at God’s created order and its ability to regenerate, let us also give thanks for the Word which also lends words of new life, new opportunity, regeneration, forgiveness and healing. The Old Testament reading in the Daily Office Lectionary for today is apropos:
Then he said to Moses, ‘Come up to the Lord, you and Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, and worship at a distance. Moses alone shall come near the Lord; but the others shall not come near, and the people shall not come up with him.’
Moses came and told the people all the words of the Lord and all the ordinances; and all the people answered with one voice, and said, ‘All the words that the Lord has spoken we will do.’ And Moses wrote down all the words of the Lord. He rose early in the morning, and built an altar at the foot of the mountain, and set up twelve pillars, corresponding to the twelve tribes of Israel. He sent young men of the people of Israel, who offered burnt-offerings and sacrificed oxen as offerings of well-being to the Lord. Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and half of the blood he dashed against the altar. Then he took the book of the covenant, and read it in the hearing of the people; and they said, ‘All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.’ Moses took the blood and dashed it on the people, and said, ‘See the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.’
We take our example from the prophets. It was important to the people who were led by Moses to gather around the word, to hear the word and for the leader to proclaim the word. Thanks to the Guttenberg Bible we now all have the Word readily accessible and at our fingertips. As we give thanks for the gift of Spring, as we ponder God’s creation, as we journey through our Lenten pilgrimage, let us commit to gather around the Word and hear God’s love proclaimed. Perhaps we ask today what the Word means in our lives and how we might better live according to that Word on our Lenten Journey!
PS > If it seems too much to have to pick up a book, not to worry you can download a Bible App for your iPhone, iPad, or Android. The Bible is also available for Kindle, and all other digital book devices. If Gutenberg could only see us now…..
“Few minds wear out; most rust out.” ~ Christian Nextell Bovee
Three years ago I started a Doctorate in Ministry at McCormick Theological Seminary. It has been a great journey. Today and tomorrow I am engaged, along with my peers, in Oral Examinations (Often called a Defence) of my Thesis. Conversation not Conversion: Deepening Christian Faith and Commitment Through Interfaith Dialogue is a paper that argues that we can become more faithful to our baptismal covenant when we engage those of other faiths. I am looking forward to having a conversation with the panel tomorrow and learning more about my subject matter. The collective wisdom of the group will, no doubt, give me more clarity on my subject matter. It is hard for me to believe that these are my last two days!
At times I have been asked by others and at times I have asked myself, why it was necessary for me to ‘go back to school?’ Tis a good question for sure. I think Christian Nextell Bovee was on to something. Minds are apt to rust out and not wear out. No matter what our vocation is, we all need to be learning, always! It was 15 years ago that I graduated from Huron University College. At that time, I wanted nothing to do with education. At 27 I had been in school for 22 years of my young life. Naively, I thought that I was done with learning. I discovered very quickly, that if I was going to get anywhere, I had better accept that my schooling was far from complete. Every day, we have opportunity to open our minds to the Great Teacher who is offering teachable moments as we journey. Learning has become an important part the journey for me. Every opportunity to learn is an opportunity to be a more faithful follower on the way. So after thirteen years away from institutional learning, I found McCormick. It has been a place where I can engage in the day-to-day place where learning is most profound, the people of God – the Church. While we are together three times a year for residential learning, the program at McCormick really focuses the practitioner of ministry on the local faith community to which he or she belongs. Therefore, while I have been busy studying etc, the people of St. Mark’s by-the-Lake have also been engaged in learning. It is a great model. The DMin. Program at McCormick is having a direct impact on ministry at the grass-roots level, while at the same time allowing practitioners like myself to try to ward of rusting minds.
The relationships that have been forged in interfaith circles in Windsor Essex will provide many opportunities for our church to continue to faithfully follow Jesus by being in better relationship with people of other faiths. The learning continues, and I am grateful for the opportunity that I have had this past three years to focus my learning into a program at McCormick which is helping Christian communities find a richer expression of being pilgrim church. I am thankful top God and thankful to so many….
To that end I thought I would share the ‘Acknowledgement’ section of my paper!
These past three years have been the most rewarding of my ministry. My time at McCormick has been a great gift. My gratitude begins with the Dean of the Doctor of Ministry Program, the Rev’d Dr. Jeff Japinga, for his patience, guidance, and direction in finishing this doctoral thesis. I would also like to thank the faculty, guest lecturers, and the staff of McCormick for their instruction, for their support, and for challenging me to be a more effective practitioner of ministry. I offer my gratitude to my colleagues from “The Bridge.” Your support and shared learning has been a gift that has allowed me to see different faces of Jesus. I wish to thank Dr. Wayne and Ms. Susan Paprosky for opening your home to me in Chicago and for your kindness, generosity, encouragement and hospitality over the past three years. Support away from Chicago has also been tremendous. The people of the parish of St. Mark’s by-the-Lake have been a constant support and willing participants in the many activities that have been planned after each course. Thank you for your patience with me and more importantly for your unbelievable ability to bear witness to the Gospel. A great deal of my writing was done at Boston Pizza, Tecumseh, in booth 113. To Rob, Kirsten, Chris, Kelly, Jessica, and your staff – thank you for giving me space, food, and cheerful support as I wrote. I wish to express my gratitude to my father Robert J. George and my mother Vivian for instilling the gift of faith in me, and for giving me a great love for the Church. Dad, I miss you terribly and know that you are with me always. I am grateful to my siblings, James, Helen, Elaine, Lloyd, Robert and Darryl and to their spouses for the love and support they have shown me over the years. Throughout this time of study, I am particularly grateful to Helen and Darryl for the hours of listening and offering advice when it was needed most. To my wife and confidante, Catherinanne ~ those closest to us see us at our best and at our worst ~ I am forever indebted for your love, attention, advice, patience, reassurance, and for your countless hours of editing. Thank you for giving me a friend in “Back to School George.” Curious George has been faithfully by my side from start to finish. I am fortunate to have a wife who shows such wonderful love and support.