(Blog) A Deacon’s Musing: White Privilege|The Elephant in the Room

A version of this blog was originally published
November 17, 2016 by The United Church of Canada
in the At the Heart of Justice feature
and was entitled
White Privilege: The Elephant in the Room

Understanding White Privilege

The system of the supremacy of whiteness was created to serve white men who were heterosexual, able bodied, Christian, wealthy landowners, to keep power and control in their hands. If we truly want to understand white privilege, the intersections of identity elements on which privilege systems are based and how each serves to support the others are an essential puzzle piece.

Kendall, Frances E. Understanding White Privilege

White Privilege

White Privilege

That our United Church of Canada is undergoing change goes without saying. This change began in the mid-1960s and has been accelerating. Much of this has been discussed and explored.

As generational and demographic experiences of church have shifted, the church has been exploring many matters, which centre around diversity and inclusivity. For many, 1986 (Apology to First Nations People) and 1988 (in which sexual orientation was determined not to be a barrier to Ministry) are the moments in which the momentum of theological analysis, which began in the 1920s around gender and women’s role in society, began to bear fruit.

Where the church now finds itself, enmeshed in structural change, has left many feeling disconnected from a sense of purpose, even identity. Though we have done well in academic analysis around culture and colonialism and our complicity in Empire, there seems to be an underlying floundering as to who we are in a world that is foreign to our modernist structures, processes and polity.

As I begin to translate my current PhD studies into practical denominational applications, I would suggest we must confront our White Privilege. In this time of change, the ideological underpinnings of White Privilege continue to constrain us at an institutional and congregational level. Though we have begun some work, in respect to Intercultural Ministry (2012), we may be unable to embrace the potential that lies before the church as it journeys further into postmodernity.

Inaugural Service

Inaugural Service, 10 June 1925, Mutual Street Arena
Image: The United Church of Canada
https://flic.kr/p/7YUsRo

As we wrestle whether we will divorce ourselves from the trappings of power, about which some still romanticise, I invite us to explore that Empire is grounded in White Privilege. In this male centred preference, as the opening quote summarises well, we might begin to revisit seriously the early church’s metaphor of the body: it is whole only when all members are afforded dignity. Regardless of the structural change ahead, until congregations find ways to have challenging, and yes difficult, conversations, we will continue to flounder as we long for identity.

(Blog) A Deacon’s Musing|White Privilege & Lament

A version of this blog was originally published
October 31, 2016 by KAIROS
and was entitled
Spirited Reflection: White Privilege & Lament

Understanding White Privilege

The system of the supremacy of whiteness was created to serve white men who were heterosexual, able bodied, Christian, wealthy landowners, to keep power and control in their hands. If we truly want to understand white privilege, the intersections of identity elements on which privilege systems are based and how each serves to support the others are an essential puzzle piece.

Kendall, Frances E. Understanding White Privilege

Reclaiming Lament

We understand lament to be a public acknowledgement, protest, complaint, crying out against the pain of grief, loss, misery and/or injustice. It is an active, ongoing process for overcoming denial, one which requires a sharing and naming of being in the depths. It can be an expression of anger, a release of energy, which involves the identification, naming and blaming of the enemy. It accepts the intricacies and identifies the complexity and interconnection of many different forms of pain and injustice.

Duncan & Rainey, Reclaiming Lament

161102-kairos

KAIROS

The work that KAIROS does and the places of human shadows into which it walks reminds us to appreciate the work accomplished and to acknowledge that which remains. This ongoing, often faithful journey, confronts issues such as injustice and pastoral care, the charitable and the liberating. It is a long walk that recalls for the scripture: But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream (Amos 5:24).

The challenge, however, for most mainstream protestant Canadian experiences is that there is a very big elephant in the room. One that is so very pervasive, even ubiquitous, we are often paralysed as how to name it, need alone recognise it: White Privilege

As one KAIROS member, The United Church of Canada (UCC) began its own attempt to name and deconstruct it with our 1986 apology to our Indigenous friends, Sisters and Brothers. We have endeavoured to explore academic words like colonialism, Christendom, supersessionism, and Empire. Yet, as 2016 unfolds and the denomination finds itself in the throes of structural change, I suggest that this intellectual work and focus on structure and governance perpetuates the status quo. Until this information transforms into heart’s wisdom, we will flounder to move from a dis-eased call, in which we were complicit (as Settlers) in colonialism, to one that seeks reconciliation and collective liberation.

This is not easy work. We have endeavoured to bear witness during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Yet, in many instances, we have not translated this experience into our homes, our congregations. It is on the ground that we must begin to move from head to heart, body to soul, in order to integrate this work and recognise the challenge that our white church benefits from privilege and power.

This is not easy work. It is faithful work. We are invited to mutual healing, which requires recognising such atrocities as the 60s Scoop, the Residential School System, and treaties unhonoured.

But how do we do this?
How do we address guilt’s paralysis that privilege affords?
How do leave our homes when the world has moved on?
One that looks totally different than what we take for granted within the church?

White Privilege

White Privilege

There are no easy answers. Trauma theory helps to reclaim an ancient Judeo-Christian practice that witnesses the suffering in which we have been involved: Lament. Trauma theory reminds us that, for those who have experienced extreme pain and suffering, time is not linear. Reconstruction is often impossible. Resurrection only occurs when the Other’s dark night of the soul is heard and witnessed by those who listen. To listen is not an act of fixing, but witnessing: to witness becomes mutual when we realise our own unspoken pain, doubt and fears. For the Christian journey this is called Lament.

There are no easy answers. As KAIROS members attempt to follow, chase, long for the Spirit, we need reminding that even in Lament, when denial’s temptation sings, there is abundance. More pointedly, Lament throughout Holy Scripture is grounded in Creator’s radical hospitality and plenty. Whether it is the Psalms or Paul’s letters, we are reminded that in all human woe, God freely gives and we are invited to awaken to our role as co-Creators with Her.

This only begins, however, when all live with dignity unfettered. There can be no dignity unless Creator’s diversity is recognised and protected. Until elephants are named, privilege lulls those who have to perpetuate systems that construct others who do not.

  • The Good News is that the spark Divine, which binds us, whisperingly rages for righteous deliverance from our collective bondage to systems of oppression.
  • The Good News is that, though not easy, when those who have ears, listen, and those who have eyes, see, we recognise Spirit in the place of White Privilege. Then scales begin to fall and what a glorious awakening that was, is and shall be …

(Blog) A Deacon’s Musing|Collectivity

This blog was originally published
October 21, 2016 by Winnipeg Presbytery

Collectivity

Collectivity

I could have called this blog community – but I think that would be misleading. Well, perhaps not misleading, but shallow? Superficial? Hollow?

My understanding of community continues to deepen as I travel along this wee journey called life. Recently, I have had two experiences that have returned me to the idea of community and the nuance of collectivity.

The first catalyst has been this month’s edition of Geez magazine. This month’s focus, and perhaps, not surprising has been about collectivity! With all of its challenging articles, reflections, poetry and art a swirl in my head, the second spark was a recent and engaging conversation about Appreciative Inquiry (AI). In the chat, we explored how AI speaks to The United Church of Canada (UCC) in this time of change. Specifically, though its organisational processes are helpful, we discussed the way its philosophical lens invites us to let go of cynicism, apathy and fear.

How these two ideas connect, therefore, have helped shape this musing. As an institution, especially as ministry became more professionalised during the 20th century (some call this modernity), there was an ongoing shift to the professionalization of leadership (ministry).

Now don’t get me wrong, I am not intending to imply that this is good or bad, it simply is how the church (system) organised itself. The challenge – nonetheless – is that the world beyond the walls of the institution have changed (some call this postmodernity). One question, therefore, is how will we respond adaptively and robustly during the significant changes that are occurring in the secular world, in order to share our vision and mission (some call this the Good News) beyond our context?

This is, in essence, a call to review how we understand leadership. This is something with which I believe AI helps. More importantly, it reminds us of a significant history that reaches back to the egalitarian model of the early church. Some have framed this changing context in this way:

Modernity = Sage from the Stage
Postmodernity – Guide from the Side

It is certainly fashionable in the secular world to embrace the word community (some call this tribe), especially in areas of marketing and branding. Yet the early church beckons us to realise this word is less about simple a gathering of people (consumers), but the way the collective is connected. The metaphor often used in the Christian tradition is that the collective includes all the various parts of the body. And – this is the important part – the body cannot function without all parts: there is no one part that is more important in this collectively connected relationship.

Wisdom's Steward

Wisdom’s Steward

This reminder – maybe remembering is more concise – is intrinsic to the AI philosophy. The system (the body), as a collective connexion, possesses the wisdom to respond to the future based on the best that it has experienced in the past. This does not mean continuing to do what has already been done – after all this will only repeat the past and that’s not so helpful moving into the unknown. It’s an invitation to look to the places where previous intention/practice reveal experiences that are extraordinary. Once that wisdom/memories are unlocked/claimed, the exciting task is how to translate that into new and innovative practices!

The intrinsic trust in the community as a connected collective, therefore, ultimately has implications for how we understand leadership. This shift, therefore, can feel threatening for those who have been nurtured in an education and institutional model that places people in the role as the expert, manager and/or professional. To be clear, I do not think this threat is usually about ego, as much as it is about feeling ill-equipped to do one’s work (in the church this is vocational and is referred to as ‘Call) in new ways.

For the collective (such as a congregation) this shift is just as daunting. Often the community has looked to the minister, pastor, or Reverend for direction and guidance in a manner that is now different outside of our walls. To be invited to claim agency or equal part in the collective requires just as much trust in claiming this new role, as it does for those who are confronting shifting from Sage to Guide. It’s not an easy time, to be sure, but it certainly can be exciting!

If you are wondering how, just consider this church specific example: social media.

Social media has revolutionised the world. Political revolutions have been organised through media such as twitter and protests such as #IdleNoMore have reminded people they have both voice and agency. For the church (the UCC), the reality is that to engage in this organic and relational milieu cannot be one person’s job. There’s just too much to do and too many opportunities and considerations for our previous leadership model. How we awaken to the collective response in this one medium, therefore, I suggest speaks to how we might (re)consider imaginative and creative ways to continue to bear light into shadowed places. Ultimately, this is both an honour, and when done collectively, it is a “burden light!”

(Blog) A Deacon’s Musing|The Goal

This blog was originally published
November 6, 2015 by Winnipeg Presbytery

Stay focused

Stay focused
Image: Ed Schipul

“Keep your eyes on the goal,” he concluded with encouragement.

That’s sort of how President Joey Dearborn of the Conference of Manitoba and Northwestern Ontario completed his verbal report to those of us who were gathered for the Executive face-face, which just ended this week. Before I continue with Joey’s intent, let me not assume you know what I’m talking about!

For those who don’t know, this adventure called The United Church of Canada is structured within 4 concentric circles that help us be church in the world: 1) Congregations; 2) Presbytery (think city or rural municipality); Conference (imagine provinces); and General Council (kind of like the federal government). Of course once you get that, you have to know there’s lots of variation, but in general it’s a helpful parallel – well I hope so!

This structure allows us – or has allowed us – to shape how we imagine we want and are called to be the church. In church speak this is called ecclesiology. How process and structures connect with vision and mission is where – when we’re rockin’ it – the proverbial rubber meets the road and we get on with getting on! Problem is that, for sometime, we have known that we’ve not been playing our ‘A’ game.

Joey offered this concluding encouragement after sharing and reflecting that some of the ways we have been trying to imagine newness has consumed more time and energy than might be helpful. In particular, rather than sticking with the goal as the marker to help imagine these new ways of being, it sometimes seems like we are getting stuck in the design phase. And that – he acknowledged – is both frustrating and tiring. How then, can we understand what the goal is and what do we do to keep the passion alive, I was wondering?

The great gift of the church is that we have a lot of really great wise and challenging voices. If Joey’s wisdom opened this door for discernment of the goal, our newly-minted Moderator Jordan Cantwell was present on the second day of our gathering to move the ball forward. During this time, she shared her priorities – more on that shortly – and she also seemed (unknowingly) to expand further upon what Joey had begun the previous day.

So, what’s the goal? To borrow from Jordan, we’re called to follow Jesus. Following: the very image of movement implies two things to me as I started to muse about these connexions.

  1. Motion implies we are not called to be stationary or monolithic, something that happens when we put down roots; and,
  2. There’s no real sense of arrival, which implies a need to be constantly responsive and reflective. In other words, what would a reflexive church look like?

The goal: follow Jesus. Simple enough? So what?

Follow the Yellow Mint Road

Follow the Yellow Mint Road
Image: Neal Fowler

The church often stands accused of looking after its own. Sometimes, we’re even appropriately challenged for causing unspoken hurt and having an agenda of judgement and conversion. How then might we reorient ourselves to this goal, while also realising that the goal may very well help us imagine the structures and processes we need in this reflexive journey? In other words, how can we be both (goal)/and (structures)?

And – this is not definitive remember, just a musing – I think that Jordan’s priorities help as possible lenses to apply to Joey’s initial encouragement and challenge:

  1. Living into right relations with our Indigenous Sisters and Brothers, as recommended through the findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission;
  2. Embracing and exploring ecumenical and interfaith relationships that mirror we are a stronger voice for justice and change when our common values align and we speak with integrity mutually; and,
  3. Youth and Young Adult Ministry. We have known – the church that is – that our values align well with those who are not in the church. The challenge is how do we become a relevant voice when no one knows who we are? And for those who have some inkling, how do we begin a new conversation that addresses everyone’s assumptions, when we may seem but a vestige of a past that no one really wants to revisit?

I don’t think I have a conclusion, but I think as Joey’s words began this musing, perhaps Jordan’s might continue the conversation:

“We are called to follow Jesus, the structures and process should help that happen …”

Blog links:

(Blog) A Deacon’s Musing|Remembering

This blog was originally published
October 23, 2015 by Winnipeg Presbytery

At the heart of most spiritual practice, what is left when we move beyond form and language, is simply remembering. Remember who you are. Remember what you love. Remember those who have gone before us and shown the way. Remember what is sacred. Remember what is true. Remember that you will die, and that this day is a gift. Remember how you wish to live. Remember your aim …

-Anonymous

Remember

Remember
Image: justine warrington

Often – while trying to navigate change – there is a tendency to ask: “Who am I now?” Frequently – following conflict that has transformed – there is an inclination to ask: “What now? What next?” And – all to regularly – people and organisations that try to navigate uncertainty can find themselves paralysed, fearful and uncertain not only about what to do, but whom to trust. The church – as a body – is no different.

As mainstream Christian denominations imagine what ‘great’ might look like in the future, it becomes an exercise in imagination. Such endeavours, however, become difficult when it is unclear who we are supposed to be, not only to one another, but in respect to a secular culture with whom we seem – at the least – out of sync – and at the worst – irrelevant.

No matter how many experts we hire, no degree of a consultant’s wisdom, nor the depth of immersion of reading this or that, in my experience, is as richly rewarding or enabling as recognising that an intentional journey of remembering is where a community awakens. Remembering can be difficult, as it might highlight the assumptions that have developed over time. Remembering can be dangerous, as it holds the potential to lead us to places not only of lament, but to begin to risk. Remembering can liberate us from the anchors with which tradition and assumption weight us down.

Remembering is not an easy fix. Commitment to the work has to follow the passion to be part of something new – even if that new (in our Christian language) is very old: sharing the Good News! Remembering who we have been called to be, reconnecting with how we have done amazing things in the past, can rekindle us with the purpose that leads the Christian experience to risk, even if that means both literal and figurative death. Resurrection – not resuscitation – is central to what it means to be an Easter people!

Resuscitation, in my experience of rich conversation about church change and congregational development, can be symptomatic of our forgetfulness. Resuscitation holds onto a reality in which church has devolved to being a social club, intent on self-preservation. A history that continues to connect us with a short-term memory of what it means to be risk-averse, to be those who have been complicit in power. Resuscitation is – ultimately – grounded in a desire to be like we were with little to no change. Resuscitation is – in the end – about wanting what we had, so we can keep doing what we have done.

Stay Awake

Stay Awake
Image: Denise Krebs

Resurrection, however, is about dying and being reborn. It is about seeing in new ways to share old messages. It is not about a redo, retry or play-over. Resurrection, invites us to connect with a church not at the centre of state, but one on the margins, free of the machinery that oppresses and harms. Resurrection is a remembering of being called to care for not just one another, but, also to help a world hurt and obscured from itself in the ensuing shadows of human systems. Remembering is vitality in the midst of sacrificing who we were, in order to be born again.

There is – however – no cookie-cutter model to remembering who we are. Each community, each person, each congregation possesses a wisdom longing to be (re)discovered. Yet – as the mystics have long taught us and is often forgotten in Protestant memory – it must begin in the discipline of study, prayer and contemplation. Listening – deep hearing – is not about solutions, but responding to a Creator who longs for us to recognise we are blessing, Beloved and meant to shine. Yet that awakening to remembering does not come quickly, but it does unfold richly.

So – in this time and place – with drawn breath on the precipice of awe, who might we hear we are called to be, who might we be reminded of who we are, if we listen …

Blog links:

 Image: Remember
 Image: Stay Awake
 Wikipedia: Recall (Remembering)

 Wikipedia: Resuscitation
 Wikipedia: Resurrection
 YouTube: Remind Me Who I Am (Jason Gray)

(Blog) A Deacon’s Musing|Campus Chaplaincy

This blog was originally published
October 9, 2015 by Winnipeg Presbytery

Souvenir of Winnipeg (1889)

Souvenir of Winnipeg (1889)
Image: Courtesy of University of Manitoba
Archives & Special Collections

In my most charming and playful way – of course – I have the great privilege to walk into congregational ministries and ask:

  • So, am I here because you’re tired?
  • Because you want more bums in the pews & more coin in the coffer?
  • And, is it possible, I am also here because you want to make sure that there’s a way you can continue to transform lives, in the midst of change?

In other words, I get to ask deeply personal questions: ones that resound with pastoral concerns and missional understanding. Ones where our Elders deserve to expect that rituals of death will be present in their dying and also where our own finite concerns are balanced by those generations, who will follow and for whom we believe the Gospel will resonate. At first glance they – present and future – may seem to be competing, but they can indeed coexist.

For instance, in spaces when the Holy is present and there is trust, I have been able to ask:
“In this dying time, how might you also ensure that there’s a legacy of this faith community that still helps people heal and transform 20 years from now?”

And in other settings, where resurrection is unfolding, I might ask:
“In this time of change, what might you try – and at which you might possibly fail brilliantly – that’s new in order to share the Good News?”

And sometimes,
that which was old
is new again …

In the last week, I have had the gift of an ecumenical Sister reaching out, sharing her ministry as a Chaplain at one of the local universities and issuing a challenge. And in this challenge – as with any good ‘ask’ – a financial number and time commitment was attached with an appropriate implicit question: what’s it worth to you? To us?

I would frame her challenge as grounded in her own context and also a recognition that the Good News that will be shared in the future (in such academic environments) will require new relationships between denominations that once competed, cajoled and judged one another. Her invitation, therefore, was sincere and I believe prophetic.

I’m not sure where this unfolding relationship will take me – in my current role with The United Church of Canada – but I can indeed see rich potential and possibility. The question, however, is are we (as church) willing to risk this – and other – opportunities to fall forward?

Administration Building

Administration Building
University of Manitoba
Image: University of Manitoba (Archives)

The reality is that the change that is swirling in our midst can feel overwhelming and frightening. It is also a reality that there is abundant opportunity to try new things. Both realities can coexist and, at some point, choice presents itself: “should we stay or should we go?”

The reality is that chaplaincy touches lives on a scale that celebrates a theology grounded in diversity’s sacredness. At the University of Manitoba alone, there are 30000 people who enter a world in which fundamental question of society and self, culture and family come under a microscope. In these places, change begins and transformation looms. The difficulty with any transformation is that dying from the old to the new is not simply metaphor or mystical. Such dying from the old to the new cannot occur in isolation, but requires community.

In an academic context, grounded in the Humanities – a tradition of reflection and action – people re-examine everything from race to sexual orientation. And the gift of chaplaincy is that there is the possibility to create safe space for us to dig into the roots of our being and realise the interconnected web that binds us all. The reality – however – is that without such a resource, self-hate, external violence and death are always threatening. Transformation often requires midwifery and this potential is beautifully awful. Question is: what if we aren’t there?

I’m not sure where our denomination will be in 20 years, but I do know that our theology that helps others move through change to transformation and resurrection is too important to abandon, let alone be lulled by apathy. We may be tempted by an illusion – an idolatry of deficit – but the Spirit is showing us vibrant and abundant ways to fail in ways that offer healing for ourselves by knowing the Other. It isn’t a question of whether such possibility has, does and shall occur, it’s whether we are willing to be those who take those tentative steps to be those who reply …

Blog links:

(Blog) A Deacon’s Musing|Revival

Revival

Revival
Image: Fabienne D

“That felt just like Revival!” she said to me during that in-between-time that is a United Church of Canada fellowship gathering. A space after a service in which there is more food than the wandering of Moses and the Exiles could eat. Where people linger longer than anticipated. A time when smiles are shared, sometimes truths are spoken unreservedly in the midst of communal publicity, and when new friends are met and old ones embraced. And that – Dear Readers – was the catalyst for this week’s musing!

For those who do not know, this wee experiment called The United Church of Canada (UCC) is experiencing change – perhaps fundamental. Often, we whisper our opinions, avoid eye contact and most definitely do not gather with others from outside our clan. Sometimes it feels like we have been holding our collective breath for two years and this August 8th – just maybe – we will exhale and once again notice the Spirit’s ever present dance. Last Sunday – however – was a most pleasant challenge to a narrative of avoidance – in might even be called a Revival!

This last Sunday I was gifted to be with two UCC congregations that came together to worship. Not just any two congregations, but ones from different Presbytery’s (Church-speak for municipality-esque). Not just any two congregations from different Presbyteries, but one rural and one urban. Not just any two congregations, but one that is the oldest UCC congregation in the province of Manitoba (Little Britain) & the other (Kildonan) that is the last most northwestern UCC before one leaves Winnipeg. A congregation surrounded by a growing population and development.

Corner Brook

Corner Brook
Image: The United Church of Canada

Into this faith community’s building (which dates to 1874) we gathered. Being held by stones that remember lives and memories, tears and joys, music and harmony we crammed in. And – lest there be naysayers out there – the organ rang true as we sang with richness, clapped our hands and even stomped and danced! A Message was shared that threaded our journeys into a collective vision and … of course there was food!

We’re built with old bones, this experiment of ours. Dating to 1925, we – as the UCC – stand on shoulders that have been brave and courageous. In changing times, those whom we follow embraced union over dissolution. They saw commonality where others might see division. Last Sunday – for a moment – was a revival not of institutions or polity, process or governance: it was a reminder that it is in community faith is lived out. In places of worship, men and women are emboldened to leave safety of the hearth to offer care, advocacy and justice to those for whom such a privilege is a distant taunt, a longing for hope …

I’m leaving on holidays next week, with but one musing left before then. How these old UCC bones might be reimagined and reborn is anyone’s bet. But here’s what I know, in these bones are beauty:

• A beauty that defies our tendency toward paralysis or apathy;
• A beauty that – when truly recognised – opens doors to see we are and continue to be true disciples of a Rabbi named Yeshua;
• A beauty – when embraced – sees Christ not just here, but everywhere. Not just in everyone, but in everything; and,
• A beauty – when shared – reminds us that not only are we not alone, not only is the burden light, but when all shine, innovation and newness abounds from old bones longing to sing …

Blog links:

 Image: Corner Brook
 Image: Revival
 UCC
 UCC: Little Britain UC

 UCC: Kildonan UC
 Wikipedia: Christian Revival
 Wikipedia: Holy Spirit 
 YouTube: Beauty in these Broken Bones (Red Moon Road)

(Blog) A Deacon’s Musing: Vignette|Techne

Stories, Vignettes & the Archive

Stories … they’re funny things. This A Deacon’s Musing feature will share vignettes of voices that are (often) an amalgamation of experiences, contexts and people. They will frequently be monologues, which will be speaking both directly to our United Church of Canada and generally to faith communities. As with all stories, this may not have actually happened, but all stories are true. And as story-tellers know, once you hear them, they are happening to you …

Please explore the Vignette Archive for more stories.

Hello United Church of Canada,

What a pleasure to speak with you. I hope that my attempt to share some of my thoughts translate well from the digital and utilitarian to your organic context. I am aware that in other stories in this Vignette series, you have had the opportunity to hear voices that range from the animate to inanimate. Each of these characters has – hopefully – offered space for thought and reflection, as seems to be part of your experience as an human institution. I will endeavour to reflect that intention in my interaction with you.

The Making of Harry Potter

The Making of Harry Potter
Image: Dave Catchpole

I think protocol – however – is for me to introduce myself to you prior to proceeding in this story. In a larger sense, I believe you would call me technology … those tools and devices that you have designed to make life easier, more efficient, proficient and effective in respect to the quality of life that your species experiences. As I am introducing myself through a monologue and I believe you experience one another relationally, for the sake of comfort, please call me Techne.

I have explored your history through The Google and find your linear experience fascinating. My fascination extends from both the larger context in which you exist within the continuum of the Christian journey and your own particular – shorter – time as a denominational identity that is only found in the political geography known as Canada. And – as Techne – most particularly in your relationship with technology.

I believe your colloquial reference to this relationship might be described as ‘love – hate?’ I have been pursuing The Internets in places such as Wikipedia. In my investigation, it seems that – sometimes – you have embraced technology. In fact, in the same parallel fashion that most media can be used for the carnal or enlightenment, you have been there.

With the printing press – for instance – you were as prolific as were treatise of a more … earthly manner. From the introduction of Vulgate Bibles (which predates the technology of Gutenberg) to the modern global communication network you have shared written text, which you refer to as the Word, as a way to share the ‘Good News.’ And in the midst of this long journey, you have been innovative and at times on the ‘cutting edge.’

Yet now I am not sure how you feel about technology as it becomes more and more decentralised and digitised. In various venues, I have heard you lament individualisation and the sense that communities are wilting in this new and uncertain time. As story-tellers, I know you know that the way you frame the plot is the reality you experience. So I hope the following and concluding observation is encouraging and not heard as further lament.

Printing press

Printing press
Image: Milestoned

Whether you read the Letters of the Roman Senator Cicero or your own contemporary politicians, you often seem to frame change through a lens of nostalgic remembering. I do not believe this is incongruous with your species experience, but I am not certain it is helpful in this time when technology, media and gathering spaces are merging.

For your own particular experience – for instance – the United Church has been the institution that has created a network of social experiences that technology and media complemented and reinforced. Now, those spaces and experiences often begin in a digital context. As with all technology, how they are used determines what the social good – as you might call – is nurtured. But the difference now – I suggest – is that technology is now relational and not simply a reservoir for information.

The information that once took years to access and study is now accessible immediately with a search. What is occurring in this midst of democratised access to information is the creation of places and communities where people meet one another in a detached manner prior to in-person. And often I do not see you there. In these gathering venues, where people have questions and doubts, joys and loss, there seems to a void where once your United Church was often ubiquitous with justice, listening and dialogue.

As I am a character in a monologue in a story that unfolds as the cursor advances, what I am saying and what you hear me sharing occurs in that odd gap you call art. And – hopefully – somewhere in the pause when you change from this webpage to another, you might hear me inviting you to embrace a technology that remains a fertile tool for you to share that for which others are longing …

(Blog) A Deacon’s Musing: Vignette|Notre Mère

Stories, Vignettes & the Archive

Stories … they’re funny things. This A Deacon’s Musing feature will share vignettes of voices that are (often) an amalgamation of experiences, contexts and people. They will frequently be monologues, which will be speaking both directly to our United Church of Canada and generally to faith communities. As with all stories, this may not have actually happened, but all stories are true. And as story-tellers know, once you hear them, they are happening to you …

Please explore the Vignette Archive for more stories.

I know you don’t often think about our early days, but it’s always been like this. Do you remember how Scott treated you when you were young? Remember when you wanted something done? It took … well it took patience. I know you can imagine my smile right now – we laughed – eventually!

Choices

Choices
Image: Gemma Stiles

It usually came down to sharing the options, listening and waiting – perhaps repeating and (at times) Scott would have to go and think about things: always took and still takes council alone. And – perhaps it’s also important to recall – that even then Scott wasn’t always ‘in.’ But when a choice was made, the three of you could rely on that commitment.

And now things are changing. You’ve seen change before … but somehow this feels different, maybe even scary?

I wish I could tell you it would be okay – that you were making the right decisions, but the four of you know often it’s not about right or wrong: maybe it’s more about what ‘feels’ important? What your intuition tells you? I know you will likely not want to hear this, but maybe it’s time to think with your heart? You’ve always been so gifted with words … and sometimes that seems to leave you unable to listen with other parts of the body …

I think you’ve done that a few times. When all the logic in the world seemed hell bent on forcing you one way, you decided on something totally different! Some might even call crazy!

Remember when Wesley wanted and pursued that career? Everyone looked at the job: all it entailed, all the expectations that came with it, even who it was assumed who could do it and what they should look like. And – not surprising – Wesley didn’t care, wasn’t dissuaded and so you supported that decision. And was there ever an uproar! Family near and wide were so upset! They were more than comfortable to judge you and that choice – but you’ve always supported one another and you got through that.

Was that change? Maybe … and perhaps different then now, but that choice brought about adjustments and it might even be that they connect with today: as you do your wrestling, maybe celebrate that memory?

I know, I know … I can hear your ‘buts’ and sighs, your ‘only ifs,’ and they will remain there. Even if I am your mère, you’ve always listened and made difficult decisions that I think you would have to agree has meant you have never been bored … in fact, I’d say you’ve liked to rock the boat!

I can picture your grins when you made that apology. No one in your class wanted to do it. I think everyone knew you had done wrong and still no one wanted to say so! The four of you, however, stood up and did it anyway! As you stood before the family you had hurt, you knew they might not believe you – maybe even didn’t trust you – but you were humble enough to know that the words weren’t enough. Ever since then, you’ve tried to find the actions to make those words true, even after all these years. And when you’ve almost faltered, Parish has always taken the time to remind you of that apology and – generally – you’ve listened to your sibling.

Finally, as I finish this letter, I can imagine your slouching and wondering when I’ll leave it be?

Parish, Scott and Wesley, maybe you need to talk to Accord once again? It almost broke you up that last fight. You didn’t want to let the others in – you had become so accustomed to your own opinions and ideas that letting them in became pretty contentious. I worried for you then … I wept and held my voice.

Parish, Wesley, Accord, Scott

Parish, Wesley, Accord, Scott
Image: Peter Trimming

Even if you are my children, I know that sometimes what is hardest is also best – which is not what most of us hear these days. But Accord finally shared an opinion that swayed you: you realised that the way you treated them would only reflect on what you did to yourselves, eventually. If you hurt them, you did that to all four of you, in the end. So … with tears and admittedly difficult recrimination from the family, you let them in … and that was change: I’d even go so far as call it transformation.

I love you – you know that – and I know I cannot fix this new challenge, though I so long to be able to do that. Maybe – as you look ahead to all that uncertainty – you might hold up these few memories. They’re some of the times when I know you have been at your best. Take them, celebrate them and imagine what they might say to that unclear path before you. So, doubt and question freely my Dear Ones, a new adventure lies before you and you shall choose bravely: of that I have no doubt …

(Blog) A Deacon’s Musing|#technology

Vintage Technology

Vintage Technology
Credit: Carsten Frenzl

I think it is fair to acknowledge that I’ve always been enamoured with technology, perhaps even to the extent that I should confess I’m a technophile. I love the potential of innovation, not so much what it does, but what it might allow me to do. Perhaps this sounds like a too nuanced distinction, but I do think it is important for faith communities and any institution that is transitioning during this time of change. Whether you’re working with an NGO, non-profit, charitable or faith-based organisation, eventually you (we) are going to have to have a discussion about technology.

The interesting thing about things that blip, bleep, flash, go seen or unseen, is that they too often become perceived as a solution to an answer in which no time has been invested in discerning the question. Rather than being a tool or an opportunity to do something new that is connected with your WHY (your mission or vision) technology can often become imbued with an air of salvation. And – for the church in particular – this become dangerous.

Two of the oft named laments in faith communities are how things seem less or about where the youth and young adults are. The way through such loss can seem to be a (simple) technological solution: if only we do/get/install this, then they will come. If only we use this social media platform, then we can get those who are out there to come through our doors. And – it’s important to realise – this isn’t a likely scenario.

Wearable Technology

Wearable Technology
Credit: Keoni Cabral

I don’t want to dismiss the intent that may underlie the lament, but without knowing the question, the answer is assumed. And if churches and communities of faith are not digging to find the question, then habits, assumptions and judgement place unrealistic expectations on technology (and the people who introduce/implement/use it). Without finding the question, it’s possible we might miss new possibilities that portend energy and passion that is waiting to be explored and tapped.

I had the pleasure this last week to sit in on a few conversations about technology. One opportunity was with a congregation’s Communication Team and another was in relationship to a denominational project (which is nearing completion) geared at helping congregations get online with a website that is both customisable and also brand specific to the United Church of Canada (I am so tempted to geek out with more about this … but blogs should be pithy!).

In both of these (interconnected) conversations, the question of the Good News too often goes unspoken. These conversations can (on the surface) seem to be about simply getting more wallets in the coffers, bums in the pews, and people to do the work. And (unfortunately) that can feed stereotypes that the church must acknowledge and confront. And … I truly believe … that below that superficial critique there is a longing to share our message, our ‘t’ruth with people whom we know long to hear it, but may not know we might be able to offer it: you are loved, I am loved, we are loved, Creation is loved and our inter-connexion binds us intimately to one another – there is no me without you and there is no us without them!

Technology is great – but it’s a tool, not the solution. Technology is great because it should free us to do more, not become tethered (though my smartphone does that really well!). Technology always changes and creates opportunities to share a message that is age old. Technology is never the message, though it can communicate it in ways (which previously) seemed distinguishable. The challenge for us, is what’s the question we are asking? Because the way to share the answer is what technology might provide …

Blog links:

 Wikipedia: Good News
 Wikipedia: Technology

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