(Blog) A Deacon’s Musing|Online

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

Online

Online
Image: Martin Fisch

Funny … this last blog until September is called ‘Online’ even though I will be going offline for a bit … irony 🙂

I have been musing about lots of things as I move toward a time of Sabbath and study, for which I am VERY enthusiastic about what lies ahead in August. Though there have been many threaded thoughts, some not necessarily yet wed to any tapestry, I keep returning to the fact that one of the larger projects upon which I have been working (for the last 18 months) will be launched nationally this coming August. In fact, it is being coordinated to go ‘live’ with the gathering of The United Church of Canada’s (UCC) 42nd General Council.

As Sisters and Brothers gather at our triannual gathering in Corner Brook, NFLD, a denominational WordPress project will become available nationally. For those for whom WordPress is new, think of WordPress as a mannequin and this project will provide templates – wardrobes – with which to dress the mannequin.

This is very exciting for me. Since I have been in the denomination (1997), there have been a multitude of things that have endeared and emboldened me about the UCC. It has been my experience that the UCC shines most brightly when it/we speak confidently when we are living justice, working cooperatively with ecumenical and interfaith friends, and making difficult choices that are not always popular. These are just a few of the institutional values, which I have found align most intimately with my faith.

What has been a challenge is seeing the digital milieu – such as social media, websites, or smartphone apps to name but a few – as a secondary way to share the Good News. And – when done well – often this has defaulted to a local ministry group or congregation in which the gift and skills are present to utilise these emergent and emerging media to share mission and vision.

What I hope this new initiative will allow – to borrow from the secular – is an opportunity to present our brand from Coast-Coast-Coast with an online website presence that is recognisable as UCC, yet flexible enough to add the flare (think boas and lots of bling), which reflects the particularity of any ministry that decides to use one of these wardrobes! In fact, if you are reading this blog, which I sure hope so since I am not sure about how the ‘tree-falling-in-forest-scenario’ works in the cyber-realm – you are seeing it on wardrobe (template) #3!

As I sign off, I thought – therefore – that I would offer three things for consideration. Why three? Well it’s a pretty solid Christian-go-to. I am not saying these three things are more important than one another or that those that are not listed are less so – they are offered as what feels important to name at this moment. Feel free, however, to continue the conversation here or through Facebook or twitter.

Bling Bling

Bling Bling
Image: stephen boisvert

  1. The Good News: It doesn’t matter whether or not social media or being online is important to us. It’s where a majority of the secular world gathers. And – in our Western democratic context – that means most people.
    Jesus sent the disciples out into the world to share (evangelise), not expecting people to come to him either on a mountain or in a synagogue. The Good News has lots to offer those who know nothing about church. In secular-lingo: our values align. If we’re not there, then, there’s not going to be a conversation;
    This digital milieu – which includes social media, apps and, websites – is a communication technology. Whether it’s papyrus, hieroglyphics about a character named sphinxie, a velum bound book, a newspaper or radio (to name only a few traditional modes), these examples have been how messages have been imparted.
  2. What is DIFFERENT now – however – is that these tools are also the ways from which relationships and community sprout. Whether you’re a restaurant, charitable NGO or NPO organisation or faith community, more often than naught you are checked out online before anyone ever decides to walk through a physical door. If your online house, wardrobe, or bulletin board (choose your metaphor) is outdated, poorly presented, and/or aesthetically under-whelming, no one’s coming over to debate, eat or prepare to march in a rally. How you look is perceived as who you are; and,
  3. If this media is where people find their life-partner, favourite salon, dentist, political party and possible faith community, it has to be interactive. Static and passive is not what happens online. You can build the brightest barn, shiniest-sparkling-disco-ball-club or most swanky fusion cuisine food truck, but if nothing is happening, then that reflects what’s going on in your brick-and-mortar location.
    Finally, I suggest it’s not just about posting content, it’s the nature of the content. And I also offer, it’s not just the nature of the content – it’s the interaction with it. If no one is sharing, liking, talking or commenting, you’re going to face an uphill battle.
    If your own people are not seeing this as a way to share the Good News – to discuss publicly why anyone should care – the other assumption that follows is that something may be happening, but no one really seems to care. To engage others, it’s good practice to make sure you are actually modelling engagement!

So … until September, be well and imagine ways to share your Call – both personally and/or congregationally – online. Whatever happens after August is any one’s guess … we know (regardless) that the Spirit keeps moving and Jesus’ ministry does and will find ways to inspire, challenge and change lives! After all, it’s the same Good News simply spoken with new tools …

Blog links:

 Image: Bling Bling
 Image: Online
 UCC: 42nd General Council
 UCC: Winnipeg Presbytery (Facebook)
 UCC: Winnipeg Presbytery (twitter)

 UCC: WordPress Project
 When Harry Met Sally: Sphinxy
 Wikipedia: Good News 
 Wikipedia: Trinity
 Wikipedia: WordPress

(Blog) A Deacon’s Musing|So What?

So (rather than assume you know the church calendar) this is time when church-life begins to peak prior to the summer lull. The May-long-weekend marks its beginning and often – in The United Church of Canada (UCC) – the gathering of our regional bodies (church-speak Conferences) is the pinnacle and then people often disappear until the fall! I think it’s partly connected with an agrarian context that is still part of our story and also the reality that summer – especially in the Canadian Prairies – is rather short!

JPL Flight Operations Mission Control Image: Kevin Stanchfield https://flic.kr/p/rZ4nFK

JPL Flight Operations Mission Control
Image: Kevin Stanchfield

Last week, I had the geeky-goodness (and often resulting exhaustion) to be in the tech booth: you know Power Point, videos, tweeting and doing a lot of stuff on the fly. People often think tech people are grumpy. I think, however, it’s more because we’re in a shared collective Flow, meaning we’re not completely playing on the same field of reality as others … Regardless, for the 90th gathering of the Conference of Manitoba and Northwestern Ontario, I got to be in one of my happy zones!

Being in that happy place means been pretty sedentary and sitting for vast amounts of time through the entire day of learning, business, and worship. So – during one of those moments – I was privileged to hear the reflections and speeches of those who are walking into a new stage of their ministry: retirement!

One of the retirees – during his sharing of experience and hopes, challenges and dreams – offered the following: when he starts looking for a faith community in which he will begin to worship, the worship experience and the Reflection have to answer a simple question each time he leaves: so what? Easy, right … I mean no pressure on the musicians, worship leaders and faith community … Joking aside, it certainly is both thought provoking and appropriate to want something other than to be merely entertained …. Need alone bored!

So what?
Why bother being the church?
Why’s it important?
And – even if it is – is it even relevant?

When we talk about what it means to be the church and what’s church’s role, in church-ese we’re talking missiology. What’s the mission of the church? What’s She called to be both to the faith community and to the wider world?

There have been times (in the last 2000+ years of journeying) that Christian communities have been able to answer that well and succinctly. Not always to the benefit of others, but the clarity has often been grounded in a well-meaning intention. Though – admittedly – not always lived out in ways that have been generative for everyone. Some might even challenge whether Christians simply hide behind ‘good intentions’ …

Flow Sweetly

Flow Sweetly
Image: marianna fierro

So What? Well I’ve been musing ever since then. And here is where the question has taken me:

As many know – whether UCC particularly or within the larger Christian milieu – we’re facing changes that are huge and have not been seen in generations. Even at the time of the founding of the UCC denomination 90 years ago – though it occurred in a time of shifts and change – culture and Christianity were still (generally) not differentiated in Canada. That – most certainly – is no longer the case.

So … here’s the so-what-punchline: if Culture and Christianity have been intimately intertwined for some time, what does that mean when they begin to unravel and gratefully so (in my opinion)? And – in this untangling – it seems we are presented with binaries that at one time seemed able to coexist:

  • On the one hand church (when internally focused) creates a cohesive identity, while on the other the church is called to go out into the world;
  • Sometimes the church (in the safety of community) nurtures and transforms members to attain their potential, while at other times, the church must walk in the midst of suffering caused by human systems. In these difficult places, we leave safe places in order to offer liberation from the oppressive realities all people face (regardless of race, creed, gender, sexual identity to name only a few of them)
  • And in these binaries, how might we imagine new ways to begin to reconnect that which now seems asunder?

Here – ultimately – is where this ‘so what’ musing has gotten me: regardless of the ‘truth,’ the Good News we long to share (thought certainly relevant and longed for) is seen (from a secular vantage) as simply a judgmental and manipulative tool. Church is seen as a particular social institution that has forced religion on people in ways that have not been transformative, but destructive. How we choose to respond to that critique, ultimately, begins to address whether we can adequately answer: So what?

Blog links:

 ADM: Flow
 Image: Flow Sweetly
 Image: Flight Control

 UCC
 UCC: MNWO
Wikipedia: Good News
Wikipedia: Missiology

(Blog) A Deacon’s Musing|3S + 1R

Ultimate Self-care

Ultimate Self-care
Image: Celestine Chua

I love alliteration … I also had not anticipated blogging with 3S & 1R: Spiritual, Sabbath, Self-Care & Religious. In fact, I had thought I would be adding a new addition to the Serial Story Feather’s Fall (thanks for the recent inquiries about an update: next week … I hope J )! But then a great twitter conversation occurred about Sabbath and Self-care, which then moved onto the ongoing faith discussion about a person being spiritual but not religious … and thus a blog was born!

My take away from this twitter conversation is that we – as church – have done a rather poor job of translating our words into a context – the secular – that pretty much is longing for them. So (for instance) in this 24/7 economy, in which temporary and part-time jobs mean less financial security, there is often little time for family or self. As a result, the idea of self-care is gaining in importance.

Now in church-ese we call that Sabbath. This rich and nuanced word contains rich history of social and economic justice, which is tied to the earth and agriculture (Creation in church-speak). And we know from multiple studies, these church values are shared by the secular context that talks about self-care. Problem though – here’s the rub – is we’re not even in the conversation (often). Self-care often is individualistic and self-focused. In fact, it mirrors the consumer culture in which we live and is often approached as a product in and of itself. And – since we are not in the conversation – we have little space to connect that the church language of Sabbath carries another shared value: community and corporate well-being!

Snoopy's Theology

Snoopy’s Theology
Image: Charles Schultz (1976)

From Sabbath and Self-Care, the conversation that inspired this blog then moved on to discuss the phrase/movement of spiritual but not religious. A phrase that often irks those in the church and too often gets dismissed and/or judged. And I think this is unfortunate.

Since we are often not in the conversation or find ourselves only speaking to one another (within our context) and not those who are seeking (the spiritual part), we have done a poor job to address this reality: spiritual seeking itself has been turned into a commodity and leaves it to the individual to put together a system of ritual, practice and discipline: in essence people are creating their own religions (often individual in focus). And – often – without an anchored tradition, sometimes such religious formation leaves a spirituality that is unable to weather some of life’s very real and traumatic realities. I do not claim that formal or institutional religion always does this well – but the communal tradition leaves space for support individualism cannot (in my experience).

As this twitter chat came to an end, I was excited both by the trust being shared and the public nature. For those who aren’t familiar with Twitter, this is all public. Currently the Presbytery has a reach of 1200+ Followers and the person with whom I was exploring these great ideas and appropriate challenges has many as well! Public discussion of faith is great!

And here’s the final take away: if we are currently not in the conversation, need alone participating publicly (Church-ese might go as far as calling this Evangelism) then not only do we need to ask whether we are relevant, but do we have any moral or ethical stance on which to judge? I think that reality is we do tend to judge – and I’d challenge that’s easy to do when you aren’t in the game, need alone even on the sidelines …

Blog links:

 Twitter: Winnipeg Presbytery
 Wikipedia: Evangelism
Wikipedia: Sabbath
Wikipedia: Spiritual but not religious

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

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 can feel the tension as you hold my old, frayed binding. Your fingers grip me with frustration? Worry? Powerlessness? I can hear your prayers, as you seek answers to a very complex reality.

For so long you have looked to me for direction and discernment. In troubled times, you’ve flipped through my pages, dog-eared this, under-lined that and studied. When others were hurting, you’ve been emboldened by my words to care for others, to reach out, let go of your own assumptions and prejudice, in order to help another heal. When others have suffered inequality, you confidently held me in a position of authority as you spoke about justice, diversity and the varying shades of what equality actually means.

Into the Promised Land

Into the Promised Land
Artist: Patrick Feller

And yet, this time, I worry that your concern about the future will lead you to places in which you might not hear me. This has happened before and some of those wounds are still fresh. As you’ve wrestled with choices and made mistakes that have hurt others: whether people of other faiths or your indigenous Sisters and Brothers, it’s hard to recognise and accept how my ancient pages have sometimes been used to confirm the ego, as opposed to reflect the humble faith’s confidence.

And so, as I know you’re discerning, perhaps even afraid and even very tired, I think of some of our stories to share once more. In some, there’s the image of Samaria, one of those places deemed unholy, dirty, on the Outside. Samaria was often judged as impure, where just enough was known about Judaism: ‘a little knowledge can do a lot of damage’ would be the tag-line. In Samaria, the Judean religious leaders were concerned what harm the ignorant Samaritans might do to the faith. And yet, Jesus’ ministry always seemed to run right into its/his own assumptions. Whether it was the Samaritan woman at the well or the hemorrhaging woman in the crowd: when he stopped and listened, he was challenged to change, to open the doors, to let in those whom others would exclude.

Another old story is that of exile … poor Moses walked, and walked and walked. The people always wanting to stop, to build walls, establish rituals, to turn back to what they thought was safe. In this wandering, people can feel like they are even further isolated and alone when they feel called to offer something new, to share a different path in which the crowd might want to go. It’s not an easy journey – faith, it’s even harder when you might have to let go of control, privilege and confront arrogance’s reflection.

La samaritana al pozzo

La samaritana al pozzo
Image: carulmare

I wish I had the answers for which you so desperately long. I wish that you might find the rest you need and the passion for whatever lies ahead. But I worry that as you continue to look into my pages, you might forget that they were never about the inward gaze. They should point beyond and offer direction, a formula, perhaps even a map as how best to go into the world. Maybe now is the time to close me for just a little while, and go out into Samaria to hear what others are saying and doing. Maybe in that experience you might hear the beginnings of how you are called to do new things with old seeds. Jesus – I imagine – at that well was not ready to hear the voice of an outsider. But he paused and listened. When Philip the Deacon, on that long ago road, was asked by the Eunuch to tell him about Jesus, I wonder if he remembered the story of Jesus and the Samaritan. I wonder if – at first – he judged this foreigner, perhaps even dismissed him. But then – he did something amazing – he took the outsider, the Stranger (who others would consider defiled) and taught and baptised him by the river. And then … after he had listened and acted … Philip disappeared! A seed had been planted and whatever the story is or was to be of the Eunuch passed out of my pages …

(Blog) A Deacon’s Musing|Sharing

Facebook: Like & Share

Facebook: Like & Share
Credit: Richard Manley-Tannis

This last weekend, I was pretty excited to hang out with a congregation here in Winnipeg (John Black Memorial United Church), which was celebrating 100 years of ministry! It was amazing to realise how much has changed in that time. Four generations have come and gone, the fifth is en route and the minister who started it all – John Black – apparently had some misgivings about the Kildonan area. After all, it was pretty rustic – to say the least – especially compared to his New York at the time! The amazing thing is that after he left – you know did ‘his time’ – he CHOSE to come back! The ‘pegs always been a great well-kept secret 😉

Well, I’m there and as the time for the discussion part (Reflection or Word in Church-ese) began I knew a Muse was beginning. It began with one of the Bibles that was central to the worship. It was an old one – in fact going right back to John Black himself – and it is written in an English that is not easy to read 100 years later. Not because it’s damaged or anything, simply because language has done what it does: it’s changed over time. So, I got to thinking about words, change and where we find ourselves now as an institution called Church that’s really trying to find ways to share what we call the Good News.

This Good News is often how Christians understand our role in the world. It’s our ‘mission,’ if you will. Lots has been written and more will be (of that I have no doubt). My own understanding means bringing a message that celebrates life, diversity, people and creation in a way that is different than what you see in movies, TV, radio or on the ‘net. In essence, the Good News allows me to see you, me and others as a true gift. I don’t care what you believe or do for a living, what you drive or wear, who you love or hang with. The gauge of the Good News is what you choose to do for yourself and others and what your intention is when you do it. The rest always leads to a great conversation!

Twitter: ReTweet, Favorite, & More!

Twitter: ReTweet, Favorite, & More!
Credit: Richard Manley-Tannis

When John Black came to Winnipeg, he was entering a totally different world. As the church begins to navigate and accept its way in a new digitised and interconnected world, we too are going to have to find ways once gain to translate our words and mission to make sense. When people do not come into buildings anymore – well not first of all – but find you online, we are facing questions about how we share Good News in this space. Because let’s face it, if we’re not there, we don’t exist.

Last week, I met one of the friends with whom I am continuing to further my own studies. During that conversation an appropriate challenge was raised that social media and networks can be superficial places. Places that actually reinforce that none of us is good enough or worthy unless we acquire, consume, buy, sell or find something to add value to ourselves. Since we are not great to start with – the message goes – you/we/me have to supplement somehow! And – as I heard that challenge – I realised that finding some way to share the Good News in this medium is more important than ever.

As a blog is never the best venue for conversations that are nuanced, let me end by identifying a challenge with you. The you to whom I am talking aren’t those who come seeking and doubting and always raise important questions, many of which I often cannot answer but so enjoy the dialogue, but those who have experienced the Good News and want to pay it back. If you’re online – whether Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, or LinkedIn for instance – starting liking, sharing, favouriting, retweeting, and posting items that connect with your faith. It’s one way – small way – to begin to stand-up in this medium where a significant portion of the human experience gathers (Facebook alone – as of 2014 – has a population of 2.2+ billion people!).

Blog links:

(Blog) A Deacon’s Musing: Lent|E-Word II

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

Well look at that, I am returning to one of those words that really excites me: Evangelism! I blogged earlier this year about the ‘e-word’ and (throughout my musings) you can likely find a lot of content about the topic! I am revisiting this topic as a continuation – or reflection – of the recent blog, Lent|Lefty.

OT: I think I have the longest title in the denomination

any UCC-peeps who can confirm this?

To recap, I was recently asked to be part of a Panel for the membership exploration at Westminster United Church. To say that this invitation was a real gift does not really convey how I felt (and feel) about this opportunity. To sit with men and women, Sisters & Brothers who are asking questions about faith and where it meets their own personal lives and the larger context of how we all live together is brilliant! During my introduction, I shared the VERY long title of my current role with The United Church of Canada: Minister of Evangelism, Mission and Church Development.

Choose Your Own Adventure

Choose Your Own Adventure

One of the things I did during this time was to share some of the stuff I do: help congregations vision, imagine new ministries that may be emerging in their midst, and to ask and wrestle with questions about where the Spirit might be guiding them. I also named quite clearly how passionately I believe that we are in a new/old place in the church: those who are seeking and exploring discipleship (membership) are one of the first generations in a VERY long time that get to choose to do so. The power of choice – or agency – can be both freeing and daunting. Making this choice, therefore, is full of import that literally affects lives. And – I feel – that’s a humbling recognition for me as I sat in their midst.

During the space for questions, I was asked about the e-word. As the person shared the context of their question, I was once more humbled and touched by the trust that can and does occur in faith-filled spaces. The challenge revolved around a context and experience where ‘evangelism’ was used to exclude and harm. And – I believe implicit in the experience’s challenge – how can we reclaim – maybe even celebrate – the word when we know that it has been experienced harmfully and (too often) in a life-devouring manner.

I do apologise if you have heard me say this before – the balance is the intent when someone evangelises their faith. What motivates us when we share the passion of our faith in an evangelical manner, in a way that shares our passion? I feel that the question and challenge raises the question: do we evangelise from a sense of ego or confidence? Do we share our belief knowing we have the answer or a desire to share our own experience? Do we believe that evangelising faith is about conversion or conversation?

Greatest Crime in Christendom

Greatest Crime in Christendom

These questions are important and I believe need to be addressed and spoken. There are many reason for this and I believe – for the sake of this blog – what I do hold up is the choice piece in which we now find ourselves. We have lived through millennia of Christendom and the inherent danger of orthodoxy when we assume everyone is like us and – if they are not – how do we ensure they will be?

We now are in a place of pluralism and inter-faith contexts where one truth might point to universal connexion, but which still have an integrity of their own. In this post-Christendom context, evangelism must and should change. And … one way to navigate this change is discern whether we are seeking dialogue or whether we carry an agenda.

• So, what’s your experience with the e-word?
• Does it excite? Send off alarm bells?
• What does it mean to someone seeking to be part of The United Church of Canada?
• How do you share faith with passion, yet without judgement?

Blog links:

 Wikipedia: Christendom
 Wikipedia: Lent
 YouTube: I Believe in You (Sinéad O’Connor)

(Blog) A Deacon’s Musing|In the way?

Knox Community Kitchen Opening

Knox Community
Kitchen Opening

What a week this has been for me in this place called Winnipeg Presbytery. It’s been pretty energising and I have noticed another one of those paradoxes that – in a previous context and/or time – would have been experienced as conflict. In this time of change, which is running through secular, faith-based, NGO and government institutions, I have seen another glimpse of one of the many paths through which we might walk toward the future. One that beckons us to both shine and to help others awaken to that transforming message!

Vignette: Paradox #1

There’s this old church called Knox United Church in the heart of Winnipeg. It is smack in the middle of all the tensions and blessings that are a post-modern city: crime, oppression, mixing people from here and there, people who laugh, children held in community and a Western culture that both wants to welcome and assimilate: pretty much the multicultural reality that you expect and in which we both celebrate and stereotype.

Social Media: The 2013 Neighbourhoods

Social Media
The 2013 Neighbourhoods

In this context, the worshipping community seems to have found a balance. One that likely has not been easy and most certainly has been touched by moments of Grace. It has opened the building in more than simply a space paternally shared. What I saw on Friday was a community that has swung open its doors to a community and said, ‘Hey, we’re here, you’re here, let’s see what we might be if we listened to one and made use of this space for the social good.’

On Friday, Knox celebrated opening its Community Kitchen. A physical space with a modern and shiny kitchen that allows men and women from the community to use a commercial and up-to-code facility to pursue entrepreneurial endeavours. In that room, we were dressed in the gift of multiple variations of skin tones and colours: akin to a rainbow flag waving with invitation. Also present were members of the Winnipeg Police Service. Previously (I was told) they might have looked on some of the youth in the community with a lens of colour or race. On this day, there was a sense, an inkling, a promise perhaps being realised, that we make community if we but choose to see one another as other than ‘them …’

Vignette: Paradox #2

The following day – we’re now into Saturday – the General Gathering of Winnipeg Presbytery happened at a congregation called The United Church in Meadowood. I got to talk about social media (which is awesome!). None of this was new – per se – to our denomination: we discussed social media (i.e. Facebook, Twitter, Google+ …) as neighbourhoods. The potential to enter into these communities and share that our denominational values echo those who see ‘church’ as places of judgement. In other words, we know that what we believe – such as justice, ecological harmony, gender equity, embracing diversity regardless of ‘isms that range from race to sexual orientation – are in fact compatible with a significant majority of those born since 1970 and who do not or have never walked into a church.

The School of Athens

The School of Athens

So what?

We then discussed if we are to enter into these digital places – to set up tents, parks and gazebos or ice fishing huts – are we doing it to share, listen and learn from one another or simply to address numeric decline? And in such discussions, a Sister in the Faith pushed and asked me:

• So what?
• Are we relevant?
• What do we believe?
• Have we so watered down our beliefs that we have become unimportant?

Hmmm …

I don’t think the message we claim to be called to share – the Good News where lives are transformed when someone awakens to their inherent human dignity – is ever irrelevant. Now whether or not our institution is …

Perhaps we are simply getting in the way of the work to which we are Called?

The funny and wonderful thing about paradox is that I do not think we need to address the implicit tensions. I do feel – however- that when we recognise it we have a responsibility to use them as touchstones, as gauges about whether or not our next decisions are informed. If we do not take seriously the discernment that recognising these paradoxes invite us, perhaps we are simply getting in the way of the work to which we are Called? At what point does our institutional ego get in the way? Though difficult to ask, this feels like an important challenge to face. As we do so, dear reader, friend and perhaps Sister or Brother in Faith, I will hold these two vignettes and offer that in them I not only see, I FEEL, hope shining. Like a flicker in the grey tones of dusk, I will simply follow toward that which is constantly inviting me to both shine and alight anew another …

(Blog) A Deacon’s Musing|E-Word

Here we go … for many Mainstream Protestants the e-word – often known as evangelism – is one certain to generate a response. Depending on age, context and church experience this can range from rejection, flight-taking, intellectual distractions to the point or irrelevance making or even curiosity. It’s a word – friends, Sisters & Brothers – that I really do feel we need not only need to (re)embrace, but to actually begin to do …

Evangelism of Christus

Evangelism of Christus

A Few Provisos

1) I am well aware that part of our resistance to the word has been that it has been co-opted as Christianity became not only influential, but the religion of power and privilege;
2) This reality has led – therefore – to a sense of rightness and entitlement. This has resulted in horrors perpetuated and atrocities committed in which we must confess our involvement (i.e. the lessons that we continue to glean from the Truth & Reconciliation Commission here in Canada); and,
3) Christianity in Canada has not only been the dominant faith lens, but it has also precluded the need to embrace the richness of the historical word – evangelism – as everyone has been assumed to be ‘one of us.’ Of course this is in and of itself problematic, but the general reality is that up until fairly recently whether or not one acknowledged oneself as Christian, it has been assumed and – therefore – why evangelise?

These 3 points – as Apologetic – are necessary (likely there are many more that also could be named) to acknowledge, if we are to confront the invisible elephants facing a denomination such as our United Church of Canada. We do not share who we are, what we believe with others – often – for fear of causing hurt, being seen to judge or fear of being judged or dismissed and even rejected. We do not know how to say to a stranger, “I do what I do because I believe in this guy named Jesus …”

While we confront our own tension with the word, we also are experiencing a decline. Sometimes this sense of loss is equated with numbers. For me it’s not about the numbers, it’s about the passion, the energy that’s life-giving and – if we are not sharing it – is it any wonder that we continue to experience ongoing diminishment?

And – should you doubt whether or not we are evangelising – a recent Christian Today study has shown that 78% of people who believe that the Christian faith is about sharing the Good News have not in fact done so with even one person in the last 6 months! Furthermore, for those for whom church attendance is a ritual, 58% have not invited someone to join them. The nuances and discomfort in these statistics are many and are much too dense for a blog. But (I often do not use that conjunction BTW), if we are in fact not sharing what feeds us with others, how can we expect to help others transform and awaken?

C.S. Lewis Plaque on the Unicorn Inn

C.S. Lewis Plaque on the Unicorn Inn

Another Apologetic Moment

I am not implying that one must be ‘converted’ to Christianity to be awoken and transformed. I am – however – certain that without speaking with confidence as to what this Christian things means – if you so identify – we are not helping others begin their own understanding that might lead to transformation, regardless of what that might look like. As we find our ‘t’ruth I believe patterns will and do emerge that highlight our interconnectedness. Regardless of the words we might use to describe our faith/philosophy/ideology, when we listen to one another, the things that bind us intimately to one another become self-evident.

I sincerely believe that evangelising is NOT about converting or entering into a debate as to whether my faith’s better than yours or which one is the right one. I DO believe it’s about sharing it honestly in a way that feeds you and someone else. When the sharing is part of our story, it allows others to look into their own. Perhaps that might mean they find connexion from their own faith of origin, perhaps if they are seeking, their eyes might open. This evangelising thing is about allowing all of us to awaken: we are God’s Beloved. We are meant to shine – but if we do not share that transformative message, how then shall we – collectively and as a species – shine? Without telling our story, I worry that we might lose our way.

• How then, might your sharing – evangelising – help you to shine?
• How might your Light be a beacon for another lost in the greyness of human ambiguity?
• How might we all be healed, if we knew one another as interconnected?

Blog links:

 Wikipedia: Evangelism
 Wikipedia: Good News

(Blog) A Deacon’s Musing|Who … 4/4

There are many questions before us as a faith community that endeavours to live into celebrating God’s diversity in a pluralistic, interconnected culture

There are many challenges before us as a Christian expression of faith that endeavours to hold onto to the integrity of our understanding of the Divine, while recognising that the Holy is not defined or owned by any one truth. All truths point beyond themselves to that which is incomprehensible.

This four part blog series begins with a different question that is informed by the following question Jesus asked: But who do you say that I am? (Mark 8.29)

 

Icon: Link(s) 1. Who do they say that we are? (Sept 20/13)
Icon: Link(s) 2. Who do you say that I am? (Sept 26/13)

Icon: Link(s) 3. Who do I say that you are? (Oct 4/13)
Icon: Link(s) 4. Who do we say that we are? (Oct 12/13)

Who do we say that we are?

Compost

Compost

This 4-part series has been grounded in questions that begin with the question, “Who … ?” Throughout this journey, it seems that the use of vignettes or snap-shots has been a helpful way to muse through the questions. I guess, true to that form, I will end this last Who-blog in that manner.

The following two responses to the question are offered as story-lines or narratives. I do not claim that they are in any way authoritative, but I do pray – at the least – they are provocative enough to stir the imagination and may very well lead to discussion.

Each of the images – cremation and compost – that grounds the following discussion, have been borrowed by me for this blog from a recent time of listening and learning from Nadia Bolz-Weber during her time here in Winnipeg. I hope that my presumption honours the passion with which she shared.

Icon: ImageCremation: We are a church that comes out of a context that honours ideas such as behaving, commitment and discipline. This milieu now finds itself confronted with a changing landscape to such a degree that we feel ill-equipped to respond and/or change. And – even when there is energy to consider such a shift – the task can feel overwhelming. Distrust in one another, interpersonal angst and uncertainty leads to an inward gaze that can distract us from the need for the Good News outside of the walls of our faith communities. And – sometimes – those literal walls only reinforce this sense of being a stranger in a land that we once called home. And, in exile, there is the distinct possibility that we may die, be cremated and the footprints we once followed with certainty may fade as our memory recedes.

Cremation

Cremation

Icon: ImageCompost: We are a church that finds itself surrounded by a context that longs for belonging, community and trust and yet is distrustful of institutions that value ideas such as behaving, commitment and discipline. Into this emergent time, we know that the way we once walked and the manner in which we once talked no longer translates into the world beyond our walls. New tools, new words, and new metaphors are needed to share that for which we long and know to be true, that the Holy One reminds us:

I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert.
Isaiah 43.19

Into this time, we walk out into the world, ask what is needed, discern what needs nurture, how we might harness the abundance which we have inherited from those upon whose shoulders we stand and begin to plant seeds anew. And as we begin to do the doing in a new way, it may very well happen that we may never see the new thing.

I am not sure where we are going; both stories may contain truth and are not intended to be seen as binaries. They – however – hopefully stimulate the mind to realise that we have choices to make and that agency is ours to live into, because no matter what we end up doing the breath of God – the Spirit will and does fly – she will touch lives and transform them. Who might be the agents of Ruah, however, is only know to that which we call the Wisdom of God … may it be so!

Blog links:

A Deacon’s Musing blog

(Blog) A Deacon’s Musing|Who … 3/4

There are many questions before us as a faith community that endeavours to live into celebrating God’s diversity in a pluralistic, interconnected culture

There are many challenges before us as a Christian expression of faith that endeavours to hold onto to the integrity of our understanding of the Divine, while recognising that the Holy is not defined or owned by any one truth. All truths point beyond themselves to that which is incomprehensible.

This four part blog series begins with a different question that is informed by the following question Jesus asked: But who do you say that I am? (Mark 8.29)

 

Icon: Link(s) 1. Who do they say that we are? (Sept 20/13)
Icon: Link(s) 2. Who do you say that I am? (Sept 26/13)

Icon: Link(s) 3. Who do I say that you are? (Oct 4/13)
Icon: Link(s) 4. Who do we say that we are? (Oct 12/13)

Who do I say that you are?

As I begin this third blog in this series, I realise that the questions – as I guess whenever one is asked – are not just about the exterior world, but also reflect one’s own interior. I wonder, as this series continues, how much the questions are as much about the context in which the church finds itself, as well as about me? As a person who – I believe – is able to ask helpful and useful questions, what is my own responsibility in being able to answer them for myself, as both a hallmark of my discipleship, as well as an indicator of my commitment to self-reflection and growth? I might even muse, do I walk my talk, or just talk the talk …

Icon: ImageFor those who are seeking, I experience you as someone who is wary of institutional faith, yet is longing to find a place to talk about the ‘big stuff.’ You know (for instance): life; death; illness; and, the inequities you see with each media clip from the TV news or a YouTube video, which has gone viral. And in that longing to find places to dig deep and ask questions that are perhaps vulnerable making, institutional religion, just does not seem safe …

Icon: ImageFor those in the institution, who have made a commitment to find ways to wrestle with faith in an organised body, I worry that you no longer trust. I sense a deep sadness that sometimes seems to lead you to places where there is not enough, where lament has forgotten the Psalmists reminder of Gratitude. I pray for you that, in these places of melancholy and despair, we do not begin to hurt one another, whether consciously or not. It sometimes seems that the structures – whether brick and mortar or polity and process – has become a block to asking the question: Where are we being called to be the Good News in a changing landscape …

Icon: ImageAnd then there’s those who are angry, hurt and – often – appropriately so distrustful of anyone who broaches topics from a faith-based lens. And in these places of dis-ease, all religion (especially Christianity) is the place where those tumultuous experiences and emotions get parked. You use broad strokes and paint us all as complicit. We may certainly need to recognise our culpability, but the rawness of your ire does not allow me to have a conversation with you … and with humility … I need to recognise you may very well never want to …

Whoever you are … or at least the story I try to tell about you, I must find ways to let go of my assumptions, prejudices and phobias. I cannot force you through a door, I cannot convince you of something and I must be clear that my faith journey is not a one-size-fits-all … What is clear to me, is that I cannot do anything other than to wait and be present for when those conversations bloom that possess the potential for mutual transformation. One of the things that is key to my understanding of this journey of faith, is that it is only when listening begins that things begin to change … and that change is never one way and that is both a gift and – at the very least – anxious making …

A Deacon’s Musing blog

 

 

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