(Blog) A Deacon’s Musing|Politically Correct

This blog was originally published
April 15, 2016 by Winnipeg Presbytery

Only the chaste may enter

Only the chaste may enter
Image: Simon Harrod

In my pastoral experience of walking with others – through the traumas and hurts that do occur on life’s journey – words stereotype, pigeon-hole, typecast, flatten, and limit who we long to be, who we know we truly are. As well, in my academic endeavours, I am quite comfortable stating that what we say, how we say it and why we say it create the reality in which we live our lives.

When Jesus wrestles with the challenge that a ‘Samaritan’ woman throws in his way of certainty, she could just as well have been called a ‘whore.’ A harsh and most uncomfortable word we would rather not hear, which ironically still does not fully illustrate the vehemence with which being labelled ‘Samaritan’ carried some 2000 years ago.

We actually prefer ‘Samaritan,’ since it is so far removed from its connotative meaning, we can – in essence – sanitise scripture and insert whatever we want. Jesus – however – keeps us unsettled if we try to follow him as disciples. So, as Jesus himself experienced, those who follow are reminded that the Other will push and challenge us, especially when we might get complacent with what we think is the ‘right’ way to do things or assume we know what God ‘wants.’ In fact, throughout his ministry and the Gospels, which form a central tapestry of the Christian tradition, words are subversively utilised to undermine the power they hold in the dominant Roman culture, in order to create something new: The Kin(g)dom now!

This week, both in Winnipeg specifically and within the larger North American political discourse, the reality of words import and authority to tell our stories has been clearly evident. In the ongoing electoral process in the United States of America, the use of ‘whore’ has been used to silence and undermine political opponents. Here in Winnipeg, stereotyping of women (based on geographic locations within the bounds of the great city we call home) has been grounded in misogyny. The use of labels, which limits female agency, has ranged from sexual identity to sexual promiscuity.

As is the wont of those who benefit from systems of power and oppression, privilege and gender, there has been a chorus of charges that range from ‘political correctness’ to such off-handed claims of being ‘too sensitive’ or people need to ‘lighten-up.’ I indeed wish that such challenges were helpful, I even confess I wish they could be true …

Queen of the Missions for its graceful beauty

Queen of the Missions for its graceful beauty
Image: Kevin Cole

I cannot deny that humour and satire can be used to point lights into shadowed places that sometimes are too difficult to tread. I admit that mirth and sarcasm can sometimes create spaces for political discussions that ideological entrenchment silences. I cannot and will not, however, broker when it comes to the use of stereotyping that uses coded humour to hurt and maim. Whether explicitly referenced – such as ‘whore’ – or in instance when women are diminished, denigrated and limited by such lyrics as, “passed around this great big town and they just don’t seem to care,” there comes a point when we must collectively realise there has been, and is, a shift in our public discourse.

If we stay idle and allow such language to remain unchallenged, then the silent remain complicit. I also think we need to be just as careful not to single out individuals as being culpable – responsible indeed – but we collectively must challenge the discourse that is utilised in our public and private conversations, otherwise we stand upon the precipice of tribalism and intolerance.

As a person who most certainly falls into the category of benefitting from the systems that define who is in and who is out, I also have sat with those who live with trying to actually claim this Easter promise, which Christian are called to share: that we are all loved, that diversity is the way in which we experience the Holy and that dignity is a God-given-blessing. We may establish and create human systems that deny this Holy decree, but it does not undo Creator’s mandate.

As an Easter people, the Christian journey in our Gospel stories constantly reference that Christ was present and in front of the disciples, yet was not recognised. When we flippantly and irresponsibly find ourselves using words as weapons, may we realise that it is to Christ to whom we may very well be speaking …

(Blog) A Deacon’s Musing|#ABVotes

Ready? This week’s blog is about politics, but not about politics …

Funny how you can use the same word twice and mean two totally different things. Nuances of language are indeed rich and often lead to tension and disagreement. So let me take a breath and start this musing …

Regardless of your political persuasion or affiliation, I think any Canadian would be hard pressed to say that this last week has been anything but electric. Majority governments elected in two provinces and – in Alberta – a generational dynasty has come to an end. Imagine, a politically elected democratic party that has been in power to such an extent that three generations have never seen another government! Wow!

Elections Canada

Elections Canada
Image: Dennis S Hurd

Political bodies and organised institutions are one way that we have chosen to organise ourselves. In our Canadian context, we have embraced organising ourselves within a Parliamentary democracy and – in general – this has historically afforded a great deal of stability for a majority of people. This firm ground for many, however, often means that others have suffered: another musing for another time …

Political communities – whether of faith or secular in nature – are often relational and reflect core beliefs or ideologies, philosophies or precepts. How we live within these communities often mirrors how we engage in the larger world and (often) within those large political institutions. As individuals, we gather collectively and within this pluralism and diversity certain values percolate to the top: what I am struck by – therefore – is ‘what happens when those values do not necessarily reflect what might be central to you, me or the communities within which we find our meaning’?

Now I know that what the media reflects as newsworthy occurs in a sort of ‘chicken-and-egg’ paradox. Does what we hear reflect what we believe or is what we believe informed by the messages we hear? A great question … and maybe a seed for future musings. What I have heard – however – this last week, is the centrality of the economy, the reality of stability grounded in resource maintenance and management. In general, fiscal concerns seem to have been the dominant story that the media has suggested has been discussed by our political institutions.

Now I am not going to try to sell you an ideology or endeavour to convince you that this party is better than that one. Though I would be dishonest to say I do not have my own political lenses – in respect to institutional politics – I do not think that is the central place from which I operate. My faith informs my politics and I think that is fair to say of all of us. Regardless of secular or faith-based identity, what we believe determines what we do and to what we gravitate … and this week I am not sure I explicitly saw my beliefs reflected well in any of the political narratives that have flooded the proverbial airwaves …

Adam Smith

Adam Smith
Image: James Tassie (1787)

What I have longed to hear – and still have not – is a shift from preferencing matters of the economy to that of people or citizens (in the language of politics) and the environment (Creation in the language of faith). Now I know that the two are intimately connected. Even for Adam Smith – in respect to his nurturing of Laissez-faire economics – it seems clear to me that his faith was bound to the idea of capitalism. His faith led him to develop an economic system and structure, which was intended to bring wealth to everyone. With all of the provisos of privilege and class that were and are Adam Smith and capitalism, I still wonder whether he would recognise the consumer economics that have come to influence our political institutions and the manner in which we create the story we call Canada.

This is the crux: it seems to me that most of the recent political discussion has been about matters of wealth and economics. And though people – you and me – are implicit in that discussion, it seems that the dialogue has lent the economy its own value to such a degree that we have been removed. In fact, it seems that people have become simply a factor in ensuring that our consumer economy is supported by the body politic.

As a person who endeavours to follow a ministry modelled by Jesus and whose discipleship embraces Christ in you and me, I am wrestling. I have questions, which arise from the frustration some have felt and the euphoria others have experienced in this last week. I do not think I am judging those emotional responses to these political events as much I am wondering how to discern where it is that the Spirit might be present.

As I wrestle and muse, I know that history reveals repeatedly that the moment we – as individuals and collectives – become components or widgets, bad things happen. When we choose to elect those percolating values that dehumanise, history looks to us with worry. The story I heard being told this last week is not about our quality of life – and how that is connected to many factors and not just the number to the left of the decimal point – but about the quantity of stuff. And that tension feels like it needs further pause for reflection …

Blog links:

 Image: Adam Smith
 Image: Elections Canada
 CBC: Alberta Votes
 CBC: PEI Votes

 Twitter: #ABVotes
 Wikipedia: Adam Smith
 Wikipedia: Politics

(Blog) A Deacon’s Musing: Lent|Forgiveness 2.0

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

Forgive Yourself

Forgive Yourself
Image: Matt Forcey

Penance: it’s a concept or idea that does not have a lot of traction in the secular world. And – for those for whom there is some awareness – it can be a huge trigger, especially when connected with faith communities and Christianity in particular. It’s a fair challenge to acknowledge – and one which The United Church of Canada has known for a long time – that this old theological underpinning of Lent is symptomatic of how Christianity can be experienced as neither welcoming, nor loving. If anything, it reinforces a generational experience of church as a place of judgment and brimstone. Whether we’re even relevant is – of course – an entirely different conversation.

As someone who was neither churched growing up, or generationally predisposed to trusting institutions (need alone communities of faith) I totally get how penance is a word from which I would rather walk away. It’s just as important to recognise that even within the walls of this religious institution into which I have opted, it is a word that can polarise, just as much as confuse. I have also found that penance is important enough to explore – if I am going to find a way to translate its intention to those who might be seeking, doubting and journeying – in this adventure called life!

In last week’s Lenten blog – Intention – I tried to explore how the idea of prayer (another aspect of the season) might be understood as a practice of intention. And intention is an interesting way to connect the concept of penance. First of all, I think what is important for those for whom Lent might be new or about which you might want to know more, the meaning of penance (in its original Latin) connects with the idea of forgiveness (See a previous exploration of Lent & Forgiveness). I think that though forgiveness is often appreciated as being explicitly about the individual, it is fair to say it’s also about the Other, the Stranger or those from whom we have experienced hurt or pain, loss or grief. It’s not just about you or me, therefore, but our collective relationship and how we choose to interact with one another after we have done something for which we might regret or from whom we have experienced trauma.


Image: Rodnei Reis

The connexion, therefore, with forgiveness and intention – penance and prayer – is that the latter makes space for the former. Through a practice of intention, we might realise prayerfully the things we have done or acknowledge the difficult things we have experienced from others. As any faith system will encourage, however, recognition is not enough. Awareness becomes simply navel-gazing if action does not follow. With choice to change or grow, no amount of reflection by itself is actually transformative. And – should the Lenten journey be about actual internal and external (individual and corporate) change – looking into the mirror means that our feet must take us from where we’ve been to where we might be. And – I believe – that penance as an act of forgiveness begins to make some sense of the difficult term.

Making amends isn’t easy, forgiving is not done lightly, and asking for it can even be harder. And – what’s even more difficult – is that it may never be enough in a consumerised world of the quick fix, easiest pill to swallow, and the newest fashion to define who we are – even if momentarily. Central to Lent is how we prepare as leaders (disciples in Church-ese). The journey of faith that looks to Jesus as a model recognises that everyone is called to lead in their own way and context. And healthy leadership has to be reflective in order to learn from the past. Even more so, leadership has to be reflexive: to learn from those difficult moments means – often – doing something different in the moment when history might repeat itself.

Lent, I would offer, is about helping others shine, to be whole and heal. And – if we have not done that inner work ourselves – then we will likely be unable to do that. Intention and forgiveness, prayer and penance, are just a few practices that help us embrace the blessing that we are, in order for us to help others do the same.

Blog links:

 Image: Shine
 Wikipedia: Lent
 Wikipedia: Penance
 YouTube: One (U2 f. Mary J. Blige)

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

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

Morning Prayers

Morning Prayers
Image: Don Christner

In last week’s blog – Shadows – I had this notion that I would explore the idea of Lent in a way that might make the season and practice more accessible for those for whom it might be new, perhaps even unknown. And the reality is that for a majority of people in our Canadian mosaic of diversity this is the majority!

As I completed last week’s blog, I began to muse about this one and it occurred to me that all of the focuses or practices that unfold for Christians during Lent may very fall into that same basket: unknown and/or (if we are to be honest) even irrelevant beyond our island of formal religion known as The United Church of Canada. Since I think this stuff is important to me, I’ve been wondering how I might explain some of the ways that we prepare during this time of year. So, I’ve decided to try to try to translate prayer in a way that might make sense for someone looking, someone who is searching and even doubting …

There are many understandings or approaches to prayer. These can range from asking for something (Petition) to the potential for personal or collective change (Transformative). What I have been interested in exploring – this time – is prayer as a way of intention. If Lent is a time of preparation and reflection, I have found that knowing my intentions is very important. The manner in which we explore them, therefore, even more so.

The reality is that you do not need to be a person who identifies with organised religion to recognise that sometimes we hurt ourselves and other people. More often than not, that is not consciously done. And – in those cases – it’s easier to create a story that allows us some relief from feelings of shame or blame. And – when actually intentional – the burden can be even heavier. Prayer – as way to look at our intentions – can help us to look into the mirror and name the difficult things we might rather avoid:

• Did I mean to hurt myself?
• Did I set her up so she could fail?
• Did I judge him, in order to feel better about myself?
• Did I dismiss their tears for fear I might have look into my own stuff?

Farewell Discourse

Farewell Discourse
Image: Duccio di Buoninsegna

The reality – I think this is a fair challenge – is that our modern, fast-paced culture of bling and bang does not encourage introspection. And – if we are aware of uncomfortable eddies below our surface – consuming and buying are often the only options that seem possible. For Christians, however, there is a relationship to which we are called and the health of that connexion is directly tied to how we treat ourselves, one another and Creation. In other words, without being grounded in who we are, it becomes too easy to live in the illusion that our actions do not impact those around us.

Ultimately, prayer as a practice of intention allows us to be better leaders (Disciples in Church-ese). Prayer as a discipline makes space to explore both our blessings and mistake in a way that leads to learning. And that learning helps not us grow and translates into better relationships when we claim and own choices that might have once been seen as ‘wrong,’ ‘bad,’ or ‘harmful’ but can now be understood as teachers from whom we have inherited a gift that allows us to do it differently, better next time. Prayer may not be easy when understood as intention, but as a 40 day practice it certainly possesses the possibility to embrace ourselves with compassion. And – such care – surely is what we all long to experience when we meet the Other …

Blog links:

 Wikipedia: Disciple
 Wikipedia: Lent
 Wikipedia: Prayer
 YouTube: Quantum entanglement: Power of Intention

(Blog) A Deacon’s Musing: Lent|Lefty

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

Lefty the Salesman

Lefty the Salesman

Psst … anyone remember Lefty the Salesman from Sesame Street? Well, come over here, and let me tell you a secret … just let me check if anyone is over there, or there, or there … okay no one’s watching. So, you wanna know a secret? Well … I love this United Church of Canada (UCC)!

It’s true, you may have noticed after all of these blogs it’s true. Now don’t get me wrong, we’re a collection of people with all of our own stuff, challenges with listening, sometimes impatient or distracted by our egos, hey we’re human after all! But here’s the gift, the joyful part of belonging to this closing-in-on-100 year journey is that when we shine, do we ever shine!

I could list beyond the length of a blog the things that impassion me about this organised institution of religion. From the very outset we have endeavoured to make space for the Other and to learn from diversity. We have confronted misogyny, homophobia, sexism, social injustice, the list is rather extensive. But I’ll not be tempted to travel down that road. Here’s a snippet of mine, a collection of stories that share a similar thread, which I hope encapsulates what we do so very well when we are on our game:

A shy girl – maybe 4 or 5 – arrives in a congregation as her family seeks a place to listen and learn about God, Jesus and faith. At first, whether with brown hair or blond, tall or short, shaded this or that, she understandably finds this new community overwhelming … but as time passes, as she is embraced and celebrated, you can see her spine straighten: she meets your gaze inquisitively. As the years pass, this community emboldens her, nurtures her and with that support she can be found to speak publicly, to walk prophetically and advocate for the marginalised, to name injustice and – maybe even more importantly – to live joyfully, laugh heartedly and to walk with confidence grounded in humility.

The United Church of Canada

UCC Crest

So the really great development this week – sort of the point of this musing – is that I have been invited to be part of the membership journey at Westminster United Church here in Winnipeg. I get to sit on a panel, share some of what I do with the church and – more excitingly – share why this denomination matters. And trust me … it does!

Membership classes during Lent in the UCC are often a part of our journey, our faith ritual. There is also sometimes a tension for a denomination that often questions authority. It’s not uncommon to hear challenges about why membership is important. In fact, there are often a significant number of people in any UCC faith community who are not members and clearly feel at home. So – when questions of membership arise – people can be … terse with one another.

Now – as Lefty might try – I’m actually not going to try to sell you on the idea of membership. I acknowledge and resist any membership process that excludes others or creates systems of power over or marginalises. I accept that exploring membership is often difficult in a culture where commitment, time and competing obligations compete.

I will – however – invite you to consider that membership (as those who long to disciple to others, to continue this ministry thing that Jesus modelled way back in the day) is about preparation. Grounding oneself in a discipline that helps deal with the inconsistencies, challenges and inevitable suffering that is life. This intention – if you will – is a constant movement toward embracing Love as more than a word to sell a product. It’s a movement toward seeing life as joy-filled, abundantly audacious and firmly rooted in a God, Creator, Holy Mystery that longs for you, me and Creation to shine! And – to do that and live into – takes time, it takes a covenant to hold ourselves, others and God in relationship.

Now – perhaps – the way we do membership may be worth exploring. Asking tough questions and listening even more earnestly. Membership, however, as a path toward liberation and freedom is – well – pretty awesome! That all children of the Holy One continue to prepare to tell another story – one of radical inclusivity in a culture of buy-this, discard-that – is brilliant.

So – next Sunday afternoon – I am sincerely looking forward to sitting with a group of people and exploring why this matters for them, because their answers will likely help me continue to refine my own sense of discipleship. And – as we journey through Lent – preparing all of us for the essential paradox of faith … life in death, resurrection and awakening!

(Blog) A Deacon’s Musing|The Review

Emerging Spirit

Emerging Spirit

My blogging with The United Church of Canada (UCC) started over 7 years ago. It began during a programme called Emerging Spirit. At that time, we were trying to understand the ripples of transformation that were – and continue – to affect most institutions that have been traditional anchors: Churches, NGOs, benevolent and community organisations, non-profits and even our governments have had to wrestle with the tensions that exists between what are called modern and postmodern cultures. Since then, we have continued to try to navigate these shifting waters and figure out how best to share a message that we believe remains most relevant.

As my denomination – in which I walk and work, in which I try to find ways to live out a life grounded in faith – continues to discern a path, we have begun to make decisions and some possible direction has begun to emerge. A significant part of this possible direction comes from The Comprehensive Review:

The Comprehensive Review Task Group believes God is calling The United Church of Canada to the threshold of something new. Beginning in 2013, the task group will engage our church in a broad conversation about how best to nurture a range of vital faith communities to embrace God’s mission. Together, we will listen to the Spirit, discover anew what it means to be followers of Jesus Christ, and reshape our church for the future.

Prior to my current role in ministry, I was involved in secular contexts such as conflict resolution, restorative justice and organisational development and transformation. I appreciate our current intention to imagine anew, to ask difficult questions and to look into the mirror and embrace renewal even when it is difficult. I also recognise that – in many ways – I am outside of this process. I have not, nor have I, facilitated the unfolding gatherings of UCC folk. I am also not in a place to know the nuances within this larger conversation.

"People help the people"

“People help the people”

It has been my experience that any culture change – from as intimate as a family to as large as an (inter)national organisation – must begin from a place of values and identity. From the stories that we use to describe ourselves, we discover shared motivations and drives. In such places of story, what is life-giving and passion-filled is discerned.

Without these – often intangible moorings – no amount of process adjustment, changes in structure, or shifts in responsibility are enough to nurture that which may emerge. In fact, sometimes investing in the how-things-work as opposed to why-do-we-do-what-we-do has – in my experience – often only fed inertia and apathy. This stumbling block occurs even when there is a collective recognition that something is afoot, yet there is uncertainty how to harness the shifting energy.

As I share some of my own questions, I would love to hear from those who have journeyed through institutional transformation. I would love to listen to your stories about being revitalised. I also know it would be a gift for those who have been part of The Comprehensive Review to share reflections about where you have been and how you have found this experience energising. I do not know where we may be going, but I do know that the questions we ask determine the path upon which we shall tread and – ultimately – the future at which we shall arrive …

• How do we proceed through this time of review, when often we distrust one another?
• How do we name – even when there is fear – that though we long to see one another as a Sister or Brother we are sometimes subsumed by the lens of ‘us’ and ‘them?’
• How do we thrive in the tension between collective wisdom and decision making that can feel removed?
• How might our shared stories be harnessed to discern something new?
• As we long to embrace something new, how do we ensure that sustainable culture transformation is fuelled by a shared passion?
• How might we see we are blessing, when the world’s story is one of competition and experiences privilege through a lens of deficit?
• How do we embrace the reality of God’s abundance with gratitude?
• How do we ensure that we claim our agency – discipleship – when we are lulled by the illusion of individual powerlessness?
• How – in this time of change – do we continue to shine brightly (even in our own acknowledged stuff) that ‘people help the people?’

Blog links:

 Wikipedia: Postmodernism
 YouTube: People help the people

(Blog) A Deacon’s Musing|Unhurried

The day has been breathless, Lord.
I stop now for a few moments and wonder:

is the signature of the holy over the rush of the day?
Or have I bolted ahead,
anxiously trying to solve problems that do not belong to me?

Holy spirit of God, please show me:
How to work relaxed,
How to make each task an offering of faith,
How to view interruptions as doors to service,
How to see each person as my teacher in things eternal.

In the name of him who always worked unhurried.

Richard Foster, Prayers from the Heart

This week’s blog’s catalyst – touchstone or third thing, if you will – begins with this prayer. This prayer was used to centre a monthly gathering with a group of Brothers who had gathered to continue the work of communication and – specifically – how to share the Good News through social media. The lens through which that conversation has unfolded is, ‘how do we minister to the City of Winnipeg, the place which we call home?’

My initial response to the prayer was being jarred by the last line – before the Amen! I have never thought about God’s movement as unhurried – I admit it. In particular, as I have wrestled to discern what Jesus’ ministry means to me as a person of faith, I have always seen him trying to slow down – you know the going to the mountain scenes to get away from it all – but really never getting there!

I do not think the abruptness I experienced by the prayer creates an either/or, it actually feels like things have deepened. In particular, Jesus’ ministry, life, death and resurrection seem to fulfil the unhurried nature that Richard Foster names: God’s movement is beyond time’s reproach. Within our Sacred Stories, from the Hebrew Scriptures to the New Testament, we’re talking several thousand years of our faith community’s history, give or take … and since then time has just kept on ticking along.



So from here, during my daily running prayer time, I was then struck by ‘so what?’ I have had several responses to that, but the reflection that still resonates is the anecdotal experience from several faith communities when leadership feels challenged to let go and to let those who will follow model discipleship, even if it might be new. In particular, the catch phrase that seems consistent in these places is, ‘we have to keep doing [whatever it is] because no one else will do the work.’ The hurriedness is … perhaps … another idolatry?

This prayer feels like an invitation to let go and for those in leadership that’s pretty hard to do. There is indeed lots of analysis that can be done with this catch phrase I have heard more than once and it is indeed a worthwhile consideration when discerning whether the time to let go has occurred. And I also wonder if it’s self-fulfilling prophecy to not let go – because then any new disciple that might be called to leadership might feel unwelcomed and then withdraw or never be nurtured in the first place. The result, therefore, is often that nothing shifts or move: the status quo is maintained.

Both the prayer and reflection seem to mirror the other. Of what am I called to let go? To what are you holding that might need to be relaxed? And – when we are unable to answer the question – what are we getting in the way of thinking they are problems we need to solve?

While I ponder these, I think I’ll take a deep breath, watch the birds on the feeder and try walking toward a response unhurried ….

Blog links:

(Blog) A Deacon’s Musing|Change

A rationale of ‘Cause & Effect’ can distract.
Change is inevitable:
it is the cause that leads to awakening choice.
What follows is effect
(A Pres-bit|@wpgpres)

The Cycle of Life

The Cycle of Life

Well … I’m back! Thanks to everyone for your emails, PMs, tweets and such. Your well wishes, inquires about A Deacon’s Musing (ADM) and general interest have been a gift indeed to receive. This time of transition has been filled with much import, challenge and gift … so thank you!

For those of you for whom ADM is new, I have begun a new journey in respect to my ministry with The United Church of Canada (UCC). For the last six years and a bit, I have walked with the congregation, The United Church in Meadowood (UCiM). That journey has seen moments of joy and celebration, tears and anger, new life and death. The cycle of life has been experienced in multiple ways that though it may possess a rhythm – of sorts – there has certainly been a constant reminder that surprise is more often the norm than our human longing for predictability.

As I pen this week’s blog, I’m in my new office at Winnipeg Presbytery (WPG). This new role is quite different – more organisational in nature and not intimately bound to the life-cycle that one finds within a faith community. This new role allows me to ask questions, help nurture new ministries and explore ways to share the Hope that we Christians call the Good News. It’s certainly been anything but predictable and – obviously not surprisingly – I’ve been wondering about change, control, risk and predictability. And – in some convoluted way – how this speaks to discipleship within a Christian community and leadership in general!

There are certainly many questions we can ask about our experience of change. What strikes me is that regardless of whether change is intentionally planned or happens through the serendipity that is life, it’s inevitable. Careers, birth, relationships, illness, surprises and death: these are the milestones markers about where we have been, what influences our present and affects where we might be heading.

What do we know about change?
What do we say about change?
Do we react to change?
Do we respond to change?

As a faith community, Christians hold this paradox central to our faith. In death, life is possible. In the place of suffering, there is hope. When power seems absent, agency and opportunity flourish. Where there is deficit, there is abundance. It’s what we believe … it’s how we roll … or such is that to which aspire.

And if these binaries and paradoxes frame some of our faith, I wonder whether and/or to what degree we believe that narrative? Life is always in flux no matter the illusion or story to the contrary. We might discuss our organised institution of faith – congregation, Presbytery, Conference or General Council – in respect to change. Or, perhaps, our own discipleship in respect to the inevitable nature of life. We might even explore leadership outside of the walls of organised religion. Regardless of the lens through which we view change, it is inevitable that it will occur and often we will lack control. Yet, what our own agency provides is the possibility to respond differently than what might be our norm or what might be expected of us: In the face of loss, we may recognise celebration; in the place of scarcity, perhaps we awaken to abundance; and, in the possibility of violence, perhaps an option for reconciliation might be borne. And yet – in these few examples – choice lies central. I do not want to deny nor sugar-coat that life’s changes sometimes are painful, require reflection, lament and perhaps even anger. And after we experience what we need to experience, emote the way we need to react, what next?

What Next?

Do our eyes open and spy a new vista?
Do our ears hear a new song?
Does the breeze carry the perfumed scent of something different?
Does touch trace a pattern unfamiliar?
Does an unexpected flavour seize you in the moment?

Questions … and regardless of the answers, do you want to know you possess the power to change your world? Within you, the potential to alter another’s life is intrinsic to your being? We can be tempted to see life as simply the cause and effect to which we are tethered. But … what a great conjunction … but when you, when we, realise choice is possible, well I wonder what might happen next …

Blog links:

A Deacon’s Musing blog

(Blog) A Deacon’s Musing|The Why

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

I have just recently returned from the gift of planning for a national training programme with the United Church of Canada (UCC) for Designated Lay Ministry. There is much that has drawn me to this opportunity to be involved in the formation of future ministers within our midst and I would say that one of the primary motivations has to do with the idea of leadership – sometimes understood within a Christian context as discipleship.

Question Mark

Though this is not a new area upon which for me to reflect, I also had the pleasure of watching a TedTalk recently by Simon Sinek, How great leaders inspire action (see below). I recently hinted on Facebook that the video would be central to a Blog and the connexion for me has to do with our current denominational angst about who we are, where we are going and the paralysis that seems – at times – to take hold and we forget about how we might lead, how we might embolden, how we might inspire.

Regardless of organisation – corporate, entrepreneurial, NGO, government or faith-based – Sinek’s TEDTalk has me stirred in thought about the difference between leadership and one who leads: the difference between management and creativity; and the difference between maintaining what is and inspiring what might be. I will not try to offer an overview – watching the video does a much better job of sharing his articulate exploration – but what is most present is what he calls ‘The Why.’

At the centre of one who leads is confidence in one’s motivation, the intent for action, The Why they do something. Everything else The How or The Why that happens, whether that’s the production line of a product of the processes that help disseminate a message or brand, without The Why mediocrity ensues. After mediocrity, I think apathy arises with inertia holding people back from truly life-giving opportunities because The Why is missing.

Christ Taking Leave of the Apostles

At times it feels like that churches – large and small – our larger denominational body and the ancillary NGOs and justice groups within the UCC have begun to forget our Why. In Christian language we call that Why the Good News – a sense that there is in fact freedom from the oppressive nature of human society, whether that be such structures that range from misogyny to homophobia or from racism to ageism to mention only a few of the ways we devalue one another. The belief that – with compassion and humility – the world can begin to change to reflect a future (we call that the Kingdom) that begins in the Now. This future world possesses the potential to recognise that all people are meant to shine and that we each possess a light that can inspire another if only it is nurtured and cared for.

I have experienced this more fully as we get mired in the illusion that there is not enough, that if we tweak this process all will be well, that if only this group or that group came more regularly all would be as it had once been or any of the myriad ways in which we do not acknowledge that life is abundant-filled and that it is to the Creator that all belongs. If we hold onto control, we become leaders or managers intent on maintaining that status quo, as opposed to leading with a passion and dream that is only limited by the degree to which we think all things are possible.

I have just recently returned from the gift of planning for a national programme with the United Church of Canada (UCC) for Designated Lay Ministry. The gift of this group of men and women – Brothers and Sisters – is that many are in their second or third careers and yet not only have they lived a life of ongoing learning, they have responded to a whisper, a Call to lead. To walk into people’s lives and share the Good News: news that challenges and is radical, a message that breaks down assumptions and stereotypes, a faith that encourages love in the face of human hate. They may not know why they are finally making this decision, but they have indeed grounded themselves in The Why to lead …

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(Blog) A Deacon’s Musing|Lifelong Learner

This blog was originally published June 11, 2012
by The United Church in Meadowood

Okay, I admit it … last week’s A Deacon’s Musing was somewhat of a rant. I am not apologising for The Disciple’s Path blog as much as recognising that, for some, it may have been experienced in that manner. I am also not certain that is a bad thing … especially if it has opened you up to questions, digging and perhaps reflecting about where you are and, more importantly, not only about where you might long to be, but perhaps where you suspect the Holy might be guiding you. And, to be even more pointed, where the Creator might be guiding you, but you are aware that you are – at some level – perhaps resisting …

While I was musing about this week’s blog, I have recognised that I am also blessed as I enter a Learning Circle for the Designated Lay Ministry programme of the United Church of Canada. It is both gift and honour to sit with these men and women who have responded to God’s ever-present whisper. A response that for many that means a second, third or even fourth career! A response that means learning new things, confronting assumptions and maybe even one’s own complicit connexion to human choices that hurt and harms others.

Lifelong Learner

Lifelong Learner

As well, as I walk into the next two weeks, I also note that I myself have gone back to school – perhaps news to some – to pursue Doctoral Studies in a topic that is core to my own Call to ministry: a journey that has and continues to find ways to address the violence that is constantly present in the realities of human choices. For me, responding to this has led me into areas of Restorative Justice and seeking alternatives to processes and systems that often leave one person a loser and another the winner; where one person is a victim, the other the perpetrator; where one is oppressed; and, the other oppressor.

The connexion between the first paragraph and the beginning of this fourth one lies in something that is echoed more and more within the circles in which I walk: lifelong learning. Lifelong learning, as a lens to understand our lives, recognises that this practice is good for us both pragmatically and spiritually. In a time and age when technology continuously reinvents itself, we are constantly forced to do things in new ways. The reality is that necessity leads us to be engaged in ongoing education. What we thought was the way to do it, really is no longer a helpful response to change. And if we are not utilising our grey matter, we can not only become obsolete in an increasingly globalised economy, we get left behind …

Obviously my own slant, however, tends toward the spiritual benefits. The opportunities that arise as people of faith engaged with learning as a discipline are many, perhaps even unquantifiable. The all-ready named pragmatic reason for embracing our journey, as a lifelong-learner, reinforces what has often been a traditional practice for people of faith. Digging into our selves, spiritual practices, faith traditions and Sacred Texts does not stop once you finish Confirmation Classes, though often it might mark a pause for many Mainstream Protestants. The pragmatic reasons for ongoing learning, as people of faith, I believe is required because the tapestry of our culture is constantly changing by the technologies that force even the resistant to learn afresh.

Consider, for instance, the following questions and tensions, which arise for us as a Christian community:

  • Where does life begin? When does life begin? What are the ramifications of our understanding of such questions when it leads some to ask questions about a woman’s agency over her own body? How do these very questions, lead us – possibly – back to the temptation of patriarchy and control?
  • What is life? How do we measure quality? What do we do when quantity and quality come into tension? What are the ramifications of our understanding of such questions when it leads some to ask questions about a person’s agency over his/her own body? How do these very questions, lead us – possibly – to the temptation of authoritarian governance??
  • Where does our species’ well-being meet the well-being of the planet? What does it mean when our technologies implicitly affect our own journey by harming the environment in which we live? How do we address awakening to this interconnected reality, but temptations such as greed and control threaten to only increase harm to God’s creation?

I do not purport to have the answers to these and many other questions that begin to arise as we live into a life of ongoing learning. But I do know that if we are not in fact engaged with intention upon such a path, someone else will make those decisions for faith communities and they may be decisions that stand in complete opposition to who we purport to be as Disciples of Christ …

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Wikipedia: Restorative Justice

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