(Blog) A Deacon’s Musing|Heaven

Earlier this week, my spouse (in that knowing-someone-intimately-way) told me – not observed or mentioned I might add – that she had found something that would make it into this week’s blog. Of course, I admit, I was busy and not listening fully. When I finally opened the email, which had followed her confident declaration, the link to the video and song (above) by Brett Dennen featuring Natalie Merchant began. At that point, I – begrudgingly with some shared mirth – had to admit she was right!

Heaven is a rich and nuanced word in the Christian tradition. Its range of meaning and potential ways of expressing an idea or concept that (likely) exists beyond the confines of language remains yet (if ever) to be fully explored. Language – let’s face it – immediately limits everything.

Message to the mail man

Message to the mail man
Image: gajman

Words may define or describe with efficiency and/or beauty – and can certainly do so at the same time – but the moment they are used, an idea becomes tethered to what is and not what it might be. I know that I myself have blogged about heaven and the Kingdom more than once and – even then – I admit they are simple glosses of a word that has both united and divided. The concept of heaven has and remains a difficult and rich expression of what might be for those of us who endeavour to live into the Christian expression of faith.

I think what strikes me most in the song is the repeated reframe: what the hell is heaven? How that question might be heard is varied: declaration, challenge, dismissive or rejection all seem plausible as initial possibilities. What I heard unfold throughout the song is an idea that is intimately bound to the identity that is The United Church of Canada (UCC): social justice or the social gospel.

One of the many ways in which heaven has been described (by those who feel a connection with the social gospel) is a place that begins now, but whose ultimate coming-into-being will never be seen. This place-to-be is often called the Kingdom or Kin-dom. What is central to the connexion between heaven and the Kingdom (through the lens of the social gospel) is that it has to begin with the choices I, you and we make in the Now. And – as often the case in any human endeavour and struggle – it is the questions that point to what might be in the context of what currently is.

Now I don’t claim to know the artist’s political or religious affinities or preferences, but I do admit that his questions are important for anyone and everyone who is contemplating and reflecting on living in the world today. In a growing globalised planet, in which our collective diversity intimately shares space in ways never seen before, the final stanza of the song must be taken seriously:

heaven on earth

heaven on earth
Image: Bruce Fingerhood

Heaven, heaven
What the hell is heaven?
Is there a home for the homeless?
Is there hope for the hopeless?
Is there a home for the homeless?
Is there hope for the hopeless?

How any of us – regardless of political, ideological or religion persuasion – begin to individually and collectively respond will point to one way this heaven thing might come to be. Whether it’s a place of inclusion filled with diversity or a place in which who is in and who is out is clearly evident begins with the choices we make in response to the artist’s challenge. The question, at this point, is how do we currently respond? And – if we are beginning to have an open conversation with ourselves and one another – is that how we will continue to respond if we take each stanza seriously?

Lyrics: Heaven (©2008)

Beyond the rules of religion
The cloth of conviction
Above all the competition
Where fact and fiction meet

There’s no color lines or casts or classes
There is no fooling the masses
Whatever faith you practice
Whatever you believe

Heaven, heaven
What the hell is heaven?
Is there a home for the homeless?
Is there hope for the hopeless?

Throw away your misconceptions
There’s no walls around heaven
There’s no codes you gotta know to get in
No minutemen or border patrol

You must lose your earthly possession
Leave behind your weapons
You can’t buy your salvation
And there is no pot of gold

Heaven, heaven
What the hell is heaven?
Is there a home for the homeless?
Is there hope for the hopeless?

Heaven ain’t got no prisons
No government, no business
No banks or politicians
No armies and no police

Castles and cathedrals crumble
Pyramids and pipelines tumble
The failure keeps you humble
And leads us closer to peace

Heaven, heaven
What the hell is heaven?
Is there a home for the homeless?
Is there hope for the hopeless?
Is there a home for the homeless?
Is there hope for the hopeless?

Blog links:

 Lyrics: Heaven
 Twitter: Winnipeg Presbytery
 Wikipedia: Social Gospel
 YouTube: Heaven (Brett Dennen f. Natalie Merchant)

(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!


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|#socialmedia

1994/1995 Flatland BBS Menu Screen

1994/1995 Flatland BBS Menu Screen
Image: Tim Patterson

It really is an honour to be exploring one’s vocation – career – with an organisation (such as The United Church of Canada) that recognises the need to note the importance of social media in our culture. And – in turn – also realise that those in church leadership have a responsibility to understand boundaries in this context. Perhaps – more importantly – such discussions remind us that we need to know our stuff, our stories, and our triggers if we are going to engage in this varied medium

I’ve blogged several times about social media, but I think it is worth sharing some very larger and – albeit – over-arching realities that confront may NGOs, non-profits and (more specifically) faith-based institutions:

  • Those not in church and/or unchurched have the following responses to faith-based organisations: indifferent, irrelevant, perceived as hypocritical and/or judgemental;
  • Those in church can often judge or dismiss social media and those who use them. Such a response is often unconscious and can limit an appreciation of the import of the medium in people’s lives;
  • The United Church of Canada’s core values and those within a secular context of the unchurched are often aligned. For instance: Encourages questioning; Respects personal freedom and choice; Builds relationship with other traditions; and, Celebrates all, including Gay, Lesbian, Bi-sexual and Transgendered persons;
  • Social media, though certainly a tool, is also a medium grounded in a desire for relationship; and,
  • Regardless of how one feels about the medium it is the social milieu in which a majority of people now congregate, meet for the first time, acquire information and explore questions as intimate as sexuality, marriage and death.

So let me briefly share that I have been online a long, long, long time … I think before special effects were digitised 😉 I was doing research in my undergrad when everything was simply links of text and Bulletin Board threads bled downward forever! I have and do manage online communities (the longest relationship is now entering its second decade!). In the time I have been online, I have seen the anonymity of the internet bring out the most generous nature of people that humbles. As well, I have seen that such anonymity also can lead to bullying. In general, I have experienced the internet, online communities and social media as the closest manifestation of true democracy in which those who are in relationship navigate self-organisation, which more often than naught leads to respectful, civil and compassionate communities.

Why this brief sharing is important is that for many in the church this is a completely new environment. As a result, though we may have had the experience of exploring leadership in respect to boundaries and self-knowing, the lines are quickly blurred and – in some cases – even lost in the digital realm. As I have said during leadership training opportunities in which I have had the honour to facilitate: “If you don’t know your stuff (I admit I may use another word), you’re (at the very least) going to hurt someone and there’s the distinct possibility that hurt could be fatal.” And – though I can hear the challenge of ‘melodrama’ – all I can ask is that you trust me: it has, does and will happen.

Theory of Boundaries (1969-70)

Theory of Boundaries (1969-70)
Image: Cliff

I also hope this brief blog exploration is not too ‘preachy’ and ‘know-it-all-ish.’ But (I do often avoid this conjunction) if we do not do this inner-work of knowing about boundaries, what’s appropriate in an environment filled with ambiguity stuff can get very bad, very quickly: for instance, whether that’s of our own doing or missing cues such as bullying, harassment or abuse in others.. And (a conjunction I much prefer) if we do that self-knowing exploration well, social media presents opportunities for relationships that inspire and humble. I have had deep theological conversations, provided profound pastoral care and laughed aloud in ways – which I do not mean to imply are more or less real than face-face – that have led to embodied relationships with people around the world whom I otherwise would never know.

To use church-speak as a way to wrap this musing up: if we are called to model discipleship in a world that is much changed, is longing for relationship, and significantly different than when our denomination formed almost 90 years ago, it would be worthwhile reminding and remembering that Jesus’ commission was to go into people’s lives and not to wait for them to come to us. It really is amazing when you walk into the Stranger’s home: for in such places of humility, we may very well find all of us are changed in the sharing of what propels us into the unknown: the Good News ….

Blog links:

 Wikipedia: Leadership
 YouTube: How social media can make history (Clay Shirky)

(Blog) A Deacon’s Musing|Solidarity

This blog was originally published May 2, 2014
by KAIROS Canada

Solidarity Mural

Solidarity Mural
Photo: Terrence Faircloth 2006

Living and striving to change the world is no easy thing. Living and striving for the Kingdom can be humbling, frustrating, tear making and – let’s face it – exhausting! So, why bother?

Whether you’re reading this from a context of secularity, humanism, faith or agnosticism (perhaps somewhere in-between), social justice requires us to know who we are, why we do what we do. If we don’t, it’s likely that – at some point – your own stuff is going to get in the way. And when that happens, the best of intentions cannot stop the inevitable hurt that will result.

I am rather excited to be writing this blog for KAIROS and – when I was asked – I was uncertain what I might offer from my own vantage as a Diaconal Minister in the United Church of Canada. My particular stream of ministry is commissioned to several aspects of the life of a faith community, one being Service. The work that KAIROS does continues to excite me. As I was reflecting on this time of year, it occurred to me that this Easter Season, in which Christians now find themselves, was an appropriate place from which to muse.

In a previous blog, I explored the connexion between suffering, choice and solidarity as an Easter people. Since then, this opportunity feels like a fitting place in which to further explore the idea of solidarity.

Solidarity has a long and rich history. I think (as a church) the idea of solidarity can be understood as a shift from mission that was connected with conversion and making all people the same to a lens that sees the inherent wisdom and dignity in the Other. This shift, therefore, has allowed us to recognise our own failings and the danger that we now understand as colonialism. And – in looking into this mirror – when we are at our best, we might lament, but we should not be paralysed, whether by apathy and/or guilt.

Eye of the Needle

Eye of the Needle
Photo: Andrew Magill 2006

I think that the Easter moment and this season is so very helpful, therefore, in musing and wrestling with why we do what we do and how we might understand solidarity. In the blog about suffering, I found these three statements helpful in this regard:

  • Jesus CHOSE the path that led to enduring and suffering an execution that is unimaginable to me;
  • Jesus CHOSE to walk with those who do not, did not, and will not have privilege; and,
  • Jesus CHOSE suffering.

Privilege  is one of the key mixing ingredients for the recipe of colonialism and therefore is central to recognise in order to shift to walking with, not directing or leading, others. This reality of the disparity of have and have not is as old as the Christian Sacred Scriptures. There’s a reason that the camel and the needle do not thread well: we (with privilege) create a story or narrative that reinforces our sense of entitlement. But (always that conjunction shows up) Jesus’ ministry was and is founded in the recognition that by letting go of that sense of entitlement, joy and awakening can and do occur. Of course, that means seeing suffering in the world …

There is joy in the Holy. There is light incomprehensible that bathes each of us. And – when we see it, experience it – we cannot but respond. As an Easter people, however, that will and does lead us into difficult places. When we are grounded, that sense of being exhausted, which I mentioned at the beginning of this musing, becomes light to carry. But it is there in the paradox that leads us all to liberation: joy and suffering are connected by the choices to which we awaken and the steps we take in turn.

As a poet often articulates much more succinctly than prose, perhaps I will leave you with this question and let Mary Karr, say the rest: what choices lie before you in which you might be helped to awaken by nurturing another to stand with dignity?

Camel Crossing

Camel Crossing
Photo: Ifni95 2008

Peace, Solidarity

Peace, Solidarity
Photo: Glen Halog 2011



Descending Theology: The Resurrection
By Mary Karr

From the far star points of his pinned extremities,
cold inched in—black ice and squid ink—
till the hung flesh was empty.
Lonely in that void even for pain,
he missed his splintered feet,
the human stare buried in his face.
He ached for two hands made of meat
he could reach to the end of.
In the corpse’s core, the stone fist
of his heart began to bang
on the stiff chest’s door, and breath spilled
back into that battered shape. Now

it’s your limbs he comes to fill, as warm water
shatters at birth, rivering every way.

Source: Poetry (January 2006)

Solidarity (Lyrics)

Blog links:

A Deacon’s Musing blog

Subscription Link

(Blog) A Deacon’s Musing|Suffering

St. Ignatius Loyola (Plate 4)

St. Ignatius Loyola
Plate 4

I have to admit that I have been avoiding writing this blog for a long time. I’m not sure if this is a one-time exploration for this topic. Let’s face it, when we hear the word suffering connected with faith – specifically Christianity – people cringe: I know I do! Whether you’re a person of faith or not, when the word is uttered, we end up anticipating judgement or the use of a theological lens that is less than life-affirming is often the response.

And yet I keep returning to the topic almost every time I prepare to muse. This time, it seems that I have taken the plunge. So – please – be gentle with me if I stumble and do comment, email and/or tweet to continue the discussion. I am pretty certain what I have to offer is not authoritative, but I do think it might be an opportunity for conversation, which arises from our collective experience!

Here’s the stage for this blog: Easter!

We’re in the time and season of Easter. The central message of Christianity is the gift of awakening, of new life, of becoming that which the Universe knows we are: beautiful, holy and a blessing. This Easter message – for me – challenges us to commitment/discipleship, to discern where our energy goes and how/if we model the radicality of Jesus’ ministry. And – let’s face it – that ministry’s high point doesn’t fit triumphalism very well!

But, but, but … here’s the paradox: Jesus’ ministry, the Easter experience is brilliant, inspiring and has and will continue to embolden people to do crazy – some might even be so bold to say ‘stupid’ – things. Sacrifice and solidarity are not what most people would frame as a sellable message. And how this connects with suffering …

I think I will test three statements for the sake of the brevity of a blog. I may even revisit them in more detail as individual explorations. But I suspect this beginning may help me get some of my thoughts down to nurture our conversation …

The Joy of Life

The Joy of Life

  1. Suffering: Is not our natural state. We are not ‘meant’ or designed to endure trials. However you understand the Holy, suffering is not a test, a gift or an inevitably designed plan. Someone’s suffering is not another person’s teacher;
  2. Suffering: Is part of the complicated reality of life; it is connected with the realities and unpredictable nature of life. There will be suffering. All of us will endure the inevitable pain that arises as our bodies travel in a linear line. Whether that’s connected with aging; experiences of loss and hurt; and/or the challenges of finding dignity in contexts of have and have not; and,
  3. Suffering: Has been and will be misused by those who have privilege. And – dear reader – that’s me and most of you who have access to the internet. Those who have had an opportunity to benefit from education, who can read, have access to health care and are nurtured by stable cultures and families. We create the lens through which we see another’s ‘suffering.’ In turn, we can rationalise another’s ‘suffering’ and – in turn – distance ourselves from the Other

Back to Easter …

  • Jesus CHOSE the path that led to enduring and suffering an execution that is unimaginable to me;
  • Jesus CHOSE to walk with those who do not, did not, and will not have privilege; and,
  • Jesus CHOSE suffering.

I am not implying or trying to celebrate suffering as a choice. I feel – I intuit – that these three inklings about Jesus are key for me as I wrestle with the nature of suffering.

Choice implies a path: Jesus’ own awakening, which I see unfolding up to the Easter moment, meant he walked with solidarity with those who suffered (See #3). It was inevitable that by embracing solidarity, he would experience suffering himself (Let’s face it, we just need to read about the Disciples concerns’ and challenges’ in the Gospels: they knew he and they were turning a nest that most just let lie). And – if the story ended on Good Friday – it’d be a hard sell in a consumer culture that equates bang for the buck!

But it didn’t … and so here I am feeling touched by the joy of Easter – it’s rather palpable truth be told. And I also feel a deep awareness of this thing called suffering. I’m not sure if I’ve arrived any closer to clarity, but I do feel like a conversation I may have been avoiding, might finally unfold …

If I Rise (Lyrics)

Blog links:

(Blog) A Deacon’s Musing: Lent|The Promise

A Lenten Collection

A Lenten Collection

Lent: We walk into the gathering danger & doubt surrounding Jesus as he made choices that led to the Cross.
This is a time of preparation & reflection.
Where have you been this year & where might you be going?
What are the things that have kept your journey on pause?
What are the choices you have made that you would like to revisit?
A Lenten Collection

The Lenten journey is long … it can be challenging. We get tripped sometimes, we see things we’ve done, been part of and – truth be told – we would rather not look into the mirror, as we might really see ourselves. Fear of what we might find can be daunting, paralysing and most certainly fear making.

I Came Like I Promised

I Came Like I Promised

What will we see if we look deep? What will we hear if we deeply listen? How will we respond as a tear long held begins as a trickle, picking up momentum until our soul heaves with release? Lent is a time of exile, a time of preparation to see suffering, name suffering, perhaps choose suffering … but why?

The Promise … Easter … it makes even my typing these words seem facile, trite …

How do I share something that moves within me at a fundamental level? That emboldens me to make choices that stretch beyond words, perhaps even the rationalising tendency of our human intellect? How do I impart to another that

though The Promise calls us into places of human brokenness, crafted by us, structured by us, they are also redeemable by letting go of ourselves? How do I share with you that you have the ability to change the world? Not by buying this nor trading that, but by a simple choice to offer tenderness to another, to speak truth to yourself, by claiming solidarity with those who are marginalised and learning that in community – even when difficult – we all shine?

Word Lists

Word Lists

In the world of blogging, one of the traditions is to use one’s own story, one’s own questions to invite engagement, perhaps even reflection. I wish I could share just one pithy story from this last week that would so hook you that we would begin a conversation. To explore The Promise – the beckoning light that calls everyone – to see in that mirror not something broken or corrupt, but beautiful. I wish I could talk about a faith community that takes steps to spend radically to support ministries in a time when there is no way to determine where scattered seeds will bloom or describe a child who chooses for a birthday an invitation for those who want to give, to give to someone else other than her. I wish I could paint a story of friends, family, Sisters and Brothers who put themselves in the way of harm to care for those who are just beginning to stand. I so would love to be able to point to the places where the earth bleeds and where our own hands can and do heal. But words fail … I stumble … tears of joy come with the dawn’s break, so I will leave it to the Bards in our midst … the music-makers and artists … where my words are inadequate to impart import, the gift of harmony and a tune can open the mind to hear the body and – in turn – the Spirit becomes connected.

The Promise began in the choices of the one in whom I commit myself. The mystery of Resurrection is … incomprehensible … the paradox is that each choice since then in the name of a Rabbi named Yeshua changes lives, transforms stories, humbles and encourages me to hold another’s hand … what’s The Promise mean to you?

The Promise
Tracy Chapman

Blog links:

Resurrection @ Wikipedia Wikipedia: Resurrection
The Promise (Tracy Chapman) YouTube: The Promise (Tracy Chapman)

(Blog) A Deacon’s Musing: Lent|Temptation

This blog was originally published March 17, 2013
by The United Church in Meadowood

A Lenten Collection

A Lenten Collection

Lent: We walk into the gathering danger & doubt surrounding Jesus as he made choices that led to the Cross.
This is a time of preparation & reflection.
Where have you been this year & where might you be going?
What are the things that have kept your journey on pause?
What are the choices you have made that you would like to revisit?
A Lenten Collection

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
Matthew 6:13 (KJV)

During the Season of Lent, UCiM will be engaging line by line with the Lord’s Prayer. This week’s exploration has delved into the fourth line of the prayer. I hope, therefore, that these Lenten blogs, honour those faithful conversations, which are occurring within our community of faith.

It’s amazing how a well-paced prayer, engaged with intention, leads us to places that force reflection; perhaps cause us to hold breath tightly as we put our self into the import of the words we utter. The fifth line of the Lord’s Prayer certainly does that! Temptation & evil: words that hold the Christian psyche to account and which – if left unexamined – can lead to bad theology at the least and harm at worst …

This prayer is the beginning of problems we would never have had had we not met Christ and enlisted with Christ’s people. The forces of evil do not relinquish their territory without a fight and that is you.
Willimon & Hauerwas, Lord Teach Us, 89

A blog about temptation and evil is – well – not possible. A book perhaps … so let’s just muse about the word temptation and see where that takes us …

There’s lots of ways to tackle the word. I thought that I would start with the Greek. The Greek word πειρασμός” (peirasmos) has a few translation possibilities that include temptation, testing, trial, experiment. Its traditional use – temptation – however seems to be inconsistent with James 1.12-15 at which point we are told that God does not tempt people as some test to pass.

A Die Set

A Die Set

This insight brought me back to last week’s blog about Forgiveness and – in particular – the question of agency. When this prayer references temptation, what are we asking? To whom are we speaking? If James’ challenge does not point to God or the external, I find myself looking inward and wondering whether the agency or act of temptation refers to the choices we make, as opposed to an external agent – God for instance. The former certainly reinforces a sense of responsibility and self-knowing, whereas the latter seems to lead to a puppet-string reality that does not appear all that life-affirming or loving.

This might seem like an aside, but I’ve been playing Role Playing Games for a while. I was first introduced to them as a young boy at a community centre in an area in Ottawa called the Glebe. Think ‘choose-your-own-story’ opportunity with a group of 4-6 others in which you are the heroes. I was playing a Paladin – think White-Knight type – and he was being tested by some nefarious creature and my character’s perception of reality was not necessarily 100%. In order to stay a White Knight, however, I had to be consistent in my responses to the test or temptations. In other words, the intention of the character was more important than the tests themselves. The agency of that character was internal in nature though he was responding to an external context. Who would have thought that a game as a young teen could have moral and ethical implications!

As I muse about the fifth line of the Jesus Prayer, I believe that temptation does not mean that God may or may not test us and that, in turn, those tests determine our worthiness – vis-à-vis sin – to get a bus pass to heaven! Rather, keeping James in mind, I think it’s about knowing our own stuff and claiming that. Without some intention, we can certainly enter fall into the habitual practices that – small step by small step – lead to bad choices. Choices that eventually compound and can certainly lead to individual brokenness and collective and corporate acts of evil (maybe next Lent we’ll talk about evil …).

Too often Christianity seems to be portrayed in a manner that detracts from encouraging us to claim our full potential as Children of God. To be so emboldened requires work, digging deep and understanding our triggers, the things that we want and keep us from shining. God’s Creation is abundant and – to quote Florida Scott-Maxwell – we are called to be ‘fierce in reality.’ And to do so we must first recognise those temptations to which we are susceptible!

Blog links:

Wikipedia: Lord’s Prayer
Wikipedia: RPG
Wikipedia: Temptation

A Deacon’s Musing blog

Lenten Collection

A Lenten Collection

A Lenten Collection

Lent: We walk into the gathering danger & doubt surrounding Jesus as he made choices that led to the Cross.
This is a time of preparation & reflection.
Where have you been this year & where might you be going?
What are the things that have kept your journey on pause?
What are the choices you have made that you would like to revisit?
A Lenten Collection


Welcome to the Lenten Collection of A Deacon’s Musing. I hope these prose & poetic blogs are of use for reflection and listening during these 40 days. Please choose one of the Tabs to the left to explore further.

Silent Words

Silent Words

Feb 24/12

A Deacon’s Musing: Lent|The Fast
In this first 2012 Lenten blog, Dea. Richard reflects on what introducing a discipline into our lives might reveal.

Mar 2/12

A Deacon’s Musing: Lent|Burden Light
In this Lenten blog, Dea. Richard muses – following the 2012 Annual Gathering – about how thinking we ‘own’ the Good News quickly becomes a burden.

Mar 9/12

A Deacon’s Musing: Lent|Authority & Power
Following the Awards Season during Lent in 2012, Dea. Richard wonders about what we mean – as Christians seekers – in whom or in what we trust.

Mar 16/12

A Deacon’s Musing: Lent|Poetry & Remits
In 2012, as our United Church of Canada reviewed some of its foundational documents, Dea. Richard explored the power of poetry.

Mar 23/12

A Deacon’s Musing: Lent|Heroes
In this Lenten blog, Dea. Richard wrestled with what a hero might be from a Christian vantage and whether that differs from what our secular culture celebrates.

Mar 29/12

A Deacon’s Musing: Lent|Waving Flags
In this Palm Sunday Lenten blog, Dea. Richard mused – with discomfort – whether we are lazy when it comes to endeavouring to live into discipleship?

Apr 5/12

A Deacon’s Musing: Lent|Resurrected Irreverent
In this Easter Sunday Lenten blog, Dea. Richard explored the tension between faith & religion, literalism & mysticism and whether such discussions distract us from the power that is Resurrection

Feb 14/13

A Deacon’s Musing: Lent|Abba
For the first week in Lent 2013, Dea. Richard journeyed with the image of God as Male and explores the tension with ‘constructed’ gender.

Feb 21/13

A Deacon’s Musing: Lent|Kingdom
In the second Lenten week in 2013, Dea. Richard mused about the Kingdom and whether it implies who’s ‘in’ and others who are ‘out.’

Feb 28/13

A Deacon’s Musing: Lent|Bread
As the third week of Lent 2013 unfolded, Dea. Richard blogged about the third line of the Lord’s Prayer and wonders how prayer & bread connect & sustain.

Mar 8/13

A Deacon’s Musing: Lent|Forgiveness
In this fourth week of Lent, Dea. Richard asks for what might we need to be forgiven? What does forgiveness mean for you?

Mar 17/13

A Deacon’s Musing: Lent|Temptation
Dea. Richard explores Temptation from the 5th line of the Lord’s Prayer for this Lenten blog. Anything grab you?

Mar 24/13

A Deacon’s Musing: Lent|Bullying
In this fifth week of Lent, Dea. Richard reflected on bullying, Bill 18, and intolerance dressed in ‘freedom.’

Mar 29/13

A Deacon’s Musing: Lent|Dice
During this final week in Lent, Dea. Richard reflected on Good Friday and expanded on the story of the soldiers @ the cross.

Mar 7/14

A Deacon’s Musing: Lent|Wonder
As Lent unfolded in 2014, Dea. Richard reflected on a visit over coffee and mused about the hurt church can cause and the gift in claiming wonder, even in difficult conversations.

Mar 15/14

A Deacon’s Musing: Lent|Kindness
After hearing a Reflection about ‘kindness,’ Dea. Richard wrestles deeper into the meaning of the word and how – in fact – it may very well be a temptation for those who enjoy privilege!

Mar 23/14

A Deacon’s Musing: Lent|War
As the world seems to square off in Eastern Europe in a way that is reminiscent of Cold War scenarios, Dea. Richard digs into his own story trying to reconcile various puzzles in himself. How might faith address the dangers of global scaled conflict?

Mar 28/14

A Deacon’s Musing: Lent|Lefty
So what does membership mean in The United Church of Canada? Often it’s a point of tension … what if it was a place of wonder? What if it was a process to dig deep into Holy Mystery? Interested? Let’s see where this musing takes Dea. Richard!

Apr 4/14

A Deacon’s Musing: Lent|Poetry
Dea. Richard uses poetry to muse about Lent. What does fatigue mean as you reflect on the path you find yourself?

Apr 11/14

A Deacon’s Musing: Lent|E-Word II
Dea. Richard returns to blog about his ongoing exploration of the word, evangelism? What’s your experience of how the word has been used?

Apr 20/14

A Deacon’s Musing: Lent|The Promise
In this final Lenten blog, Dea. Richard explores Easter as The Promise and how art and music might be the best way to convey this gift.

Feb 19/15

A Deacon’s Musing: Lent|Shadows
In this first Lenten blog of 2015, Dea. Richard attempt to use the images of shadows and light to explain Lent to those for whom the season may be new.

Feb 27/15

A Deacon’s Musing: Lent|Intention
Dea. Richard muses – in this Lenten blog – about how prayer might be understood as a discipline or practice of intention.

March 5/15

A Deacon’s Musing: Lent|Forgiveness 2.0
In this Lenten blog, Dea. Richard muses what might the #Lenten discipline of penance mean if it were explored as an act of forgiveness?

March 13/15

A Deacon’s Musing: Lent|Vignette (Chris)
Dea. Richard explores the last several Lenten blog subjects – intention, forgiveness and shadows & light – through Chris’ story.

March 21/15

A Deacon’s Musing: Lent|Brokenness
In this final Lenten blog for 2015, Dea. Richard muses about what sin might mean if approached as ‘brokenness.’

Feb 12/16

A Deacon’s Musing: Lent|Mindfulness
In this first 2016 Lenten blog, Dea. Richard muses about mindfulness as a an old Christian practice of contemplation and centring.

Feb 26/16

A Deacon’s Musing: Lent|Generations
In this second 2016 Lenten blog, Dea. Richard muses about how appreciative inquiry might help faith-based communities reflect on how their passion can be harnessed to nurture the generations.

March 4/16

A Deacon’s Musing: Lent|Structures & Passion
In this third 2016 Lenten blog, Dea. Richard asks the following question: As change sweeps through The United Church of Canada, how shall we embrace passion & mission, in order to be energised by transformation’s promise?

March 11/16

A Deacon’s Musing: Lent|Faith & Dying
In this forth 2016 Lenten blog, Dea. Richard muses about the tension and potential of the dance between truth and dying. How might these two dancers – central to the Christian journey – lead us into places of embracing solidarity and sacrifice, even in the face of danger?

March 26/16

A Deacon’s Musing: Lent|40 Verses
In this final 2016 Lenten blog, Dea. Richard shares the 40 Verses, which he wrote for each day of Lent. Each Verse was written in Twitter and was paired with an image. Each Verse also reflect the meaning of each corresponding number of the Lenten day. Finally, the accompanying Memes, which are displayed in the 4 galleries, are the result of that poetic Lenten discipline.


(Blog) A Deacon’s Musing|Tension

This blog was originally published January 19, 2012
by The United Church in Meadowood
& was entitled
A Deacon’s Musing: The Tension between Faith & Belief

These two words – Faith & Belief – have always been with me as I have journeyed along my path. How do they fit? Do they fit? Do they compete with one another? Are they complementary? Where do they reside in me?

This last week I have been able to do just one of the things that I find so very feeding in my ministry as a Deacon: I got to visit with no less than four Brothers and one Sister in the faith, who shared part of their stories and I, in turn, also shared a bit of my own. What is amazing in these places of trust, questions and most hopefully non-judgement is how deep people are willing to go, if given the opportunity to explore their journey as a Child of God.

Sometimes – though not always – these encounters are new for people. Sometime a person’s inner monologue may have glossed over some of the questions I ask – So where was God in that for you? Does it feel like you were alone? What does Jesus’ own ministry have to say to that experience? – but until given voice and life, it is easy to be distracted, to avoid those paths that might lead you down the rabbit hole …

A Million Years Later

A Million Years Later

One of the places we often arrive at in these conversations is what is Faith and what is Belief? At this point, I share what has been helpful for me and use my experience to frame where we might go next if there seems to be an impasse or a lack of language to proceed. For me, Faith resides in the body, whereas Belief is in the head. Sometimes there is another pause in the conversation and should it feel appropriate, I would share the following framework …

Faith is intrinsic to every person; it often defies articulation and is something that is simply known in one’s core. When words are applied to Faith or, perhaps more clearly, when one tries to translate Faith through words, it seems to me that poetry might be as close as one can come to transmit that truth. An experience that has been helpful me to describe this sense of Faith is the experience one has after diving a little too deep into the water of a cold, Canadian Shield lake. As one rises with kicking legs and pumping arms to the beckoning light just beyond the water’s edge, you know, you anticipate, your lungs are prepared to draw deeply of the fresh air for which your body longs. And as you break the barrier, there is a pause, your head suddenly warmer than the rest of your still submerged body, and then you draw in what you knew was there to replenish, purify and cleanse your oxygen deprived being … Faith is the trust that drawing in that longed for breath is literally life-giving …



Faith – that intrinsic sense of the Other, something bigger, larger, and yet implying a deep interconnection that defies initial experience – often requires, in a human culture of words, the scientific-method, and the need to qualify and quantify, an explanation! Unfortunately, the human condition is often uncomfortable with ambiguity and, as such, Faith moves from the body into the head as an exercise to explain what that means: Belief. Belief and the systems that arise are simply the language, the coding, the matrix, the framework upon which a collective experience attempts to explain Faith.

Now I can already hear those Orthodox voices – right opinion/true thinking – that would and will reject this critique. Though that might be an interesting and intellectually stimulating conversation, the fact is that most people – especially those who are exploring the Christian experience/language for the first time – would and do not appreciate a nuance that feels more akin to judgement than exploration and dialogue.

This tension between Faith and Belief has become clearly evident since my last blog – A Deacon’s Musing: Christian by Culture or Christian by Choice. The video – Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus – which I used at the end and has now been viewed on YouTube millions of times, has proven challenging because of the poet’s use of ‘religious.’ What I understand by the poet’s use of ‘religious’ speaks to the institutionalised aspect that often occurs as Belief systems evolve. What happens in this development of a system is that the intrinsic aspect – Faith – must be superseded, in order to ensure the clarity espoused by the institutional expression. And it is this tension, when trust is present, in which I get to muck about. When Brothers and Sisters, who are trying to reclaim a sense of Jesus’ ministry in their lives, experience his words being mocked by the institutions that claim to speak on his behalf, it is here that a conversation about Faith and Belief has proven an interesting stepping point …

Blog links:

A Deacon’s Musing blog

(Blog) A Deacon’s Musing|The Journey

This blog was originally published October 1, 2009
by Emerging Spirit & was entitled,
The Journey: Patterns & Choices in the Murkiness of Life

34 ‘Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; 36 and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household. 37 Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; 38 and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. (Matthew 10.34-39)

The Journey

We are all, individually and collectively, on a journey. In our United Church context, we openly name – Confess – the things that separate us from God and one another. We struggle, however, with our own stuff. How do we share our own dysfunction, our own brokenness? I am not talking about some trite opportunity to weep our woes and beat our chests in a competition of whose issues trump the others. I am talking about safe spaces to share what needs to be shared, in order that we might heal, to move toward wholeness.

This journey, when entered with intention, is about Discipleship. Regardless of what you believe or in whom who have a sense of allegiance, as long as it leads you to compassion for others, I do not think it is anyone’s place to judge. For me, as a Christian, the language with which I articulate my faith and understanding of God begins with a Rabbi name Yeshua, whose life pointed beyond itself – the Christ. As I continue on this path of self-knowing, and hopefully healing, I am forced to confront my patterns, whether they are helpful or destructive.

I like the image of patterns, perhaps this is word-smithing, because it is neutral. The neutrality, however, is modified by whether or not they are good for me. If they are helpful, then they are things I should hold onto, to further practice (i.e. communication that allows for dialogue, not debate). If they are unhelpful, however, then they can be paralleled with an addiction (i.e. using money in a way that affirms me by what I purchase): if I repeat the same action that causes me ill, then I need to find ways in which to lessen, to move away from that pattern.

Swirling Patterns of the Wave

Now, the problem for almost all of us is that our patterns are often borne in our Families of Origin. There are indeed cultural influences – that whole Nurture vs. Nature debate – but a lot of who we are, the unconscious ways we respond to life and all its unpredictability, is first experienced in the community into which we are born, whether that is a nuclear family of 2.5 people or an extended family with Great-Aunts pinching our cheeks and Grand-Fathers who show us how to pinch the tomato to know if it is yet ripe.

As we wrestle with what we need to let go of and what we need to hold onto, we likely begin to see the patterns into which we came into Creation. The challenge, the murkiness, is that some of those patterns are so embedded in our families that they are not just named and then discarded. Patterns, even those that are soul-devouring and self-destructive, are safe – something about the devil you know. Once a pattern is named, the opportunity for change occurs. And change comes with choice. And choice is where things get even murkier. That choice, at times, leads us into a place where what we need to be whole places us in a place that feels like either/or, not both/and in respect to our families. If the people we know and love so dearly perpetuate patterns that are harmful, then we are left in quandary – does my health supersede the relationship? And, if so, what are the ramifications of stepping out of the connexions that bind us, knowing that we still love them, but cannot be a part of them any longer?

I would love to say there is a simple, binary solution to such situations. Stepping away from a sister who suffers addiction, such as meth-amphetamine, does not mean that you do not love her, but it might mean that the addiction that damages all of you, may result in it taking her life. Patterns are neutral, what they do to us never are. For us to be whole, requires us to make murky decisions that leave questions more abundant than naught. But to simply remain in a place of inertia, a place of indecisiveness is not, ultimately, about change or transformation. It is in these places and times when wisdom is learned, where it is our stories that are our teachers, not the decision itself.


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