(Blog) A Deacon’s Musing|Rituals

This blog was originally published
July 8, 2016 by Winnipeg Presbytery

Rituals & Rings

Rituals & Rings

Though I did not grow up in the church, per se, I do recall attending a funeral in my family’s faith of origin at a young age. I admit I do not remember for whom the ceremony was held, though I have some recollection that it was unusual for children to attend such rituals in the Syrian Orthodox tradition. What I recollect, vividly, are the wailers, who were professional mourners. They wept and cried in what I remembers as an undulated sing-song. The rhythmed cacophony embodied lament in that space that was a visceral part of the ritual. Even now, if I close my eyes with deeply drawn breath, I can still hear those women …

For millennia, the church has provided ritual and ceremony that have marked life’s minor and major milestones. From the biggies – death, birth and marriage – to lesser, though no less important – such as graduations to pet and bike blessings – Spirit has often threaded these events into community. In fact, such events have often created and maintained identity, whether that has been as the dominant faith or as an oppressed and marginalised community of believers.

The church’s rituals have historically made sense, even in contexts where not everyone shared the same beliefs. We know, however, that is no longer the case in this ever growing pluralistic and globalised planet. The richness that can be found in diversity also presents problems for a all organised religions, not just the Christian church, as we attempt to understand ourselves in an ever changing world.

It occurs to me to muse – therefore – in this changing cultural landscape, how might those who find solace in organised Christianity translate these rich rituals for a primarily secular world? How might faith communities offer consolation and celebration for life’s milestones without an agenda intent on filling pews or confusing the Good News with ideologies such as conversion and colonisation? How can the church go out into the world to help those who are hurting and joyfully celebrating, yet who often have to cobble together – consumer-style – practices that speak to the deep import of life and death?

Memory's Lights

Memory’s Lights

We who find ourselves drawn to the rich history that embodies Spirit through the Christian tradition are now finding ourselves innovating and dreaming. We are translating and creating ways that ancient forms of ritual might make sense to the world outside of our walls and with whom we do not currently have a shared vocabulary. This can be anxious making, it can also be exhilarating when we listen to where Creator might be calling us.

In this generative time, therefore, imagination can be unfettered to inspire. What I think this means is that each particular context – whether that’s from a local faith community to denomination and even interfaith friends – will find no cookie cutter solution. But I think there will be common threads that help imagine how historically powerful rituals might find new ways of expression.

I recently sat with a Sister from The United Church of Canada. She shared a group with which she has been working. In particular, locally, she and others are imagining ways to incorporate a Threshold Choir into a Winnipeg context. This choir accompanies those through the stages of grief and dying with dignity and beauty.

The power of this choir, from what I understand is not bound to a particular faith or ideology: nonetheless it speaks to the rich longing that communities of faith have always tried to embrace. If this – but one example – speaks to how institutional Christianity might find ways to go out into the world in ways that honour Jesus’ mandate to go forth into the world to meet people where they are at, then I have great hope … and that seems like Good News!

(Blog) A Deacon’s Musing|Relevant

This blog was originally published
May 20, 2016 by Winnipeg Presbytery

Relevant is a hard word for the church …

I often hear, from those seeking or simply rejecting organised religion, that the church is no longer, if ever it was, relevant in their lives. On the other hand, as if that is not challenging enough, when I work and walk with congregations asking questions about purpose, mission and their role beyond their walls, there is lament about how to be relevant. At the very least, both this challenge and grief help us navigate where the two might meet …

Interconnected

Interconnected
Image: Steve Johnson

For those for whom the institution does not seem pertinent – well, we’re not even on their radar. And – if we are – often the first place we might be a blip is in the realm of social media and – particularly – around topics of social justice and prayer/mediation/centring. For those for whom the question of relevance is a concern, often how to respond requires a shift to realise that the world that has been our normal in many ways no longer exists.

Even in these connexions and differences, I believe the tricky part is the word itself: relevant. The initial or historic meaning of the word comes from a Scottish legal reference to that which is ‘legally pertinent.’ I think this is helpful as a way to ask what is the intention, as opposed to the definition, of the word we are using? What do we mean when we use the word ‘relevant?’

In our consumer based culture, this legal terminology seems telling. As such, here are a few ways we might frame the word in this legal and consumer context:

  • How can you give/convince me what I want?
  • What do you have that I want?
  • What do you have to say to me that allows me to hear what I want to hear/expect to hear?
  • How do I make sure what I am offering sounds like something you want?
  • How do I sell you something I have, which you may not yet know you want?

And – if any of these questions fit – a contract is established, a sale is made and both parties are happy … except in our consumer culture this is always temporary. The product is – ultimately – simply the means by which we perpetually consume.

As a people of faith, with millennia of spiritual practice, we have to acknowledge this is quite different than what we likely mean by being ‘relevant.’ As Christians, we have to realise this is not Good News … this is not a temporary product, but a way of life that invites people to embrace and live love, in order to bear light into shadowed places …

Definition vs. Intention?

Definition or Intention?

As I paused and mused about this tension, I discovered a set several of synonyms, which caught my attention. These alternatives for the term ‘relevant’ seem to create a bridge that connects those seeking and those sharing. Words that might describe a space where those who find something is missing and those who think they have one way to bring meaning, might meet.

  • What might it mean, if we substitute relevant for related? Instead of asking how are you relevant to me, we might ask, how are we related? What binds us?
  • What might it mean if we substitute relevant for mutual? Instead of asking what can I get from you to bring me meaning, we ask how we might mutually bring depth to our lives?
  • What might it mean, if we substitute relevant for reciprocal? Instead of asking what can I get from you to bring me meaning, we ask how might we reciprocally recognise that in one another we are more than what we are told if we accept that we meant to simply consume in isolation?

I’m not sure what the answers might be, but I have an inkling that the conversations themselves would begin to reveal potential and possibilities worth imagining …

(Blog) A Deacon’s Musing: TED|Ep. 5

This blog was originally published
April 22, 2016 by Winnipeg Presbytery

Canadian Museum for Human Rights

Canadian Museum for Human Rights
Image: Diane Hammerling

When I first heard Angela Cassie’s presentation to TEDxWinnipeg (previously TEDxManitoba), I remember being struck by the reflective quality of her voice and mannerism. The invitational cadence of her own story and sharing about her own experience of racism with which she began and the mounting passion, which arises in a flourish near the end, was emboldening. As I have revisited it, I have only been further drawn into the manner in which she introduced the Canadian Museum for Human Rights and its mandate approximately 100 days prior to its opening in Winnipeg.

As with each of the TEDx episodes of A Deacon’s Musing, there is so much richness, challenge and potential to explore that only one blog is admittedly cursory at best. As such, I though I would share two particular items that have drawn my attention during this revisiting of that 2014 experience.

While The United Church of Canada (and Winnipeg Presbytery specifically) endeavours to embrace and live into being an Intercultural Church, underlying this intention is human rights. Furthermore, the place where and how faith communities and the secular meet in celebrating and – just as importantly – protecting diversity and dignity arises. As Angela reminds us, this is not an easy or simple task. It is, however, central to what we (as Christians) call the Good News.

World Peace

World Peace
Image: Aia Fernandez

As a Christian community, we have wrestled with such difficult (and at times polarising) issues that range from gender equality, dignity regardless of sexual identity or orientation to acknowledging the reality of racism, privilege. In these noble – and sometimes horribly faulty attempts – pursuits, we long to help all people shine. In such intention, we are reminded by Angela that not only do we all have a human rights story from our own lives, but that this inter-connexion translates into each of us having a responsibility to ensure that the world is a place open to hearing stories of those who are too often silenced!

The second point that resonates – upon this revisiting – is that when people are allowed to share their story, the power of human resilience and passion in our vulnerability, which arises from stories shadow filled and tear laden, the only response is often humbled silence. In this place of humility, compassion and listening, such a dream (that is this Canadian museum) connects people of faith and the secular in recognising that dignity is embraced not in the wrongs, but in the rights this institution endeavours to highlight.

As with all human institutions, they reflect our intention. At times, our species’ intention has been less than humane – often occurring when we are frightened. But when we choose to highlight the best we have been, in order to aspire to that which we believe might be our best, such collections of stories help us begin to imagine ways to not only avoid such wrongs, but begin to fashion a city, society, culture and world in which we might begin to recognise that the rights are the foundational blocks of a brave new world, which we (as Christians) sometimes understand as the Social Gospel where our collective common good embraces not just everyone, but all of Creation … and that feels like Good News indeed!

TEDxManitoba 2014

TEDxManitoba 2014
Image: TEDxManitoba

I made a promise to TEDxManitoba (now known as TEDxWinnipeg) in 2014. I committed to sharing their important (secular) work in my faith-based context. I have lived into that pledge by creating another recurring feature for A Deacon’s Musing : TED|Episodes (Two others are: 1: Feather’s Fall serial story; &, 2: Vignettes). The intent is to highlight one TED Talk in each episode and muse about connexions (both secularly and internally) to the church.

 

Episodes

Ep. 1: Pilot
Ep. 2: Farming Our Future: The Urban Agriculture Revolution
Ep. 3: Got Bannock? In honour of the village we once had
Ep. 4: What do you do after the bullets miss you?
Ep. 5: What is an inspiring encounter with human rights?

 

Blog links:

 WPGPres: Intercultural Ministry
Wikipedia: Good News
 Wikipedia: Social Gospel
 Wikipedia: TED
 YouTube: What is an inspiring encounter with human rights? (TEDxWinnipeg: Angela Cassie)

(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: Vignette|Techne

Stories, Vignettes & the Archive

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

Please explore the Vignette Archive for more stories.

Hello United Church of Canada,

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

The Making of Harry Potter

The Making of Harry Potter
Image: Dave Catchpole

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

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

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

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

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

Printing press

Printing press
Image: Milestoned

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

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

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

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

(Blog) A Deacon’s Musing|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|#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|#technology

Vintage Technology

Vintage Technology
Credit: Carsten Frenzl

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

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

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

Wearable Technology

Wearable Technology
Credit: Keoni Cabral

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

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

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

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

Blog links:

 Wikipedia: Good News
 Wikipedia: Technology

(Blog) A Deacon’s Musing|By-product

We’re living in funny times. It’s almost as if we’ve forgotten who we were and what that means for who we are. It makes for interesting times. Whether we’re talking about what we mean when we discuss ideals such as ‘universal health care’ or ‘democracy and social responsibility’ there seems to be a disconnect. Maybe (even more worrisome) is that we seem unable to find ways to have the conversations. And – when and if we do – too often they are charged in a way that invites judgement and anger. Then – of course – the cycle repeats with less engagement, more apathy and a sort of self-fulfilling story that no one seems to care or is only seeking what’s best for numero uno …

Lest we imagine that the context in which we find ourselves – church and faith communities – is any better at traversing the changing landscape, listen to Sunday worship conversations that explore generational differences. Or pick up a copy of The United Church Observer and read the Letters to the Editor.

Scars of Many an Age

Scars of Many an Age
Credit: Derek Σωκράτης Finch

What we thought was normal – institutionally – is now marginalised and those who are left behind keep trying to fit this new round world into our triangular one. Those still in the brick-and-mortar church sometimes focus on finding ways to get people back, bring the young people home, or invite others to fill buildings once bustling, which now sometimes only echo laughter and play long since assumed to be absent. If we can just tell people what we believe, we hope they’ll believe it too … and sometimes if experience seems to translate into failure, our own apathy sets in.

So I’m wondering about conversations and intention. I’m wondering about exploring this changed landscape in a new – old way. What if we acknowledged – even if difficult – that our language no longer makes sense outside of the church walls? At the same time, our desire for relationship and community has not changed.

What if we wrestle with accepting that outside of our walls needs have not changed since we were sent out to share the Good News? People are still hurting and in need. Children are still exploited and need a place to be the blessing they are. Women continue to confront violence and people are still judged for who they are, but who our culture would rather shape into something ‘normal’ and non-threatening.

Conversation on Rue Royale

Conversation on Rue Royale
Credit: Lea Duckitt

The funny thing about language is that we often assume it’s the reference point – the go to gauge of what binds us. Sometimes we give preference to our ideas and knowledge at the expense of others. But what if … even for just a moment … we imagine that the early Christian communities did something very different. What if instead of embracing cultural norms and assumptions, they explored understanding one another first? What if – in those difficult and awakening days – our early Sisters and Brothers listened to one another and those around them? And – in those times of deep hearing and awareness of connexion – then they formed words to explain what they saw, what they heard and that new language was the gift of the relationship – or just one of its by-products?

There’s no mould or perfect answer about how to navigate cultural changes that are – in many if not all ways – unprecedented. But what if you, your faith community left the walls and started conversation not geared toward neither changing others, nor converting them. What if you, we, and I asked our neighbours who they were and what they wanted? And maybe, they might ask us too? And … just maybe … without any indications of what the future might look like, understanding began as we saw ourselves as human, blessed and valued? I wonder what would happen next …

(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:

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