(Blog) A Deacon’s Musing|Advent: Vignette|Shepherd

This blog was originally published
November 25, 2016 by Winnipeg Presbytery

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.

The Flock

The Flock

I can only watch now. Too much pain in my right hip. I suspect it has everything to do with trying to hobble that wayward lamb that kept running off. We never like having to do it, but they’re just stubborn … I guess sort of like us, like me …

I rolled down that valley wall. It didn’t hurt too much when I slammed into that boulder! I was young: weren’t we all! But, as the years have passed, first the rains would make it flare and now, well, I watch the flock go and am left simply to remember.

I’m old, though my memory reaches back. We didn’t have it then. I’m not even sure we knew to look for it, need alone where. And now, years since he died, even further since he was born, people are writing stuff down, they say.

Never had much use for those who thought they were smarter with word keeping. Those who have, always will, Abba told us as we tended to flock. Sometimes, after weeks away from the markets, we took what we needed. The Centurions wouldn’t let us feed or water the herd. If they didn’t allow us to market, well, like I said, we didn’t have it before then so we did what had to feed ourselves, our kin and flocks.

I hear some are saying there were lights and stars, singing and rejoicing, even word keepers from afar. I don’t remember it that way, but then I’m old and does it really matter? We all got the same thing that night, so long ago, who cares how you dress the goat? It’s the quality of it’s health that matters!

Nothing seemed special that night. Those in Caesarea told them to round us up – a census or some such thing. We knew what it was. Gather them, brand them and hobble those who might wander. Hobble, of course, was code to make sure the trouble makers were under Caesar’s thumb!

Oh and it smarted. Already there were those who thought revolution was ordained, that to tolerate this was blasphemy. For most of us, though, it’s all we knew. Whether Greek or Roman, Egyptian or others who came before, we had always known the yoke. Sometimes we wore it, sometimes we didn’t, and we always found ways to celebrate Yahweh in our own way. If it wasn’t Caesar, it would be someone else, Abba used to say.

But that night – sorry these memories have a habit of taking me afield – it was normal, nothing special. Yet … there it was. Like when we would sing when we met other flocks. After the night settled, we’d gather, share the news. Then, if we sang and found that shared note, it was in you: harmony some call it. That was what that night was like.

Too many people everywhere – shepherds will take wolves over people. People are trying at the best of time, worse when they’re forced together. The town was crowded, so we waited outside. Soldiers had herded us too – they were watching. Sure, we were afraid, sometimes when the Romans gathered us, a little example could keep the yoke tight. That night, they watched.

Then there it was – birthing cries. The people kind, she was in pain and just outside of the town. So we went – when the mother cries, you reply, was another of His lines. There they were in one of the caves – they were lucky the Centurions had cleared it for the census or no one would a been born that night. As it was, there they were.

The Cave

The Cave

Nothing special, just like us. An abba and an imma. She was bearing – with those screams you would of thought the babe was breached as she straddled the cave entrance. Her arms holding her as she squatted. As we arrived, he looked worried as we approached – and why shouldn’t he? We were those people everyone avoided …

But … but she stopped screaming, boy popped out, a snip, a slap … a pause then he cried. Nothing special. So help me nothing special. We might have been singing before her screaming called us, but none after. Just silence, just normal nothing …

But … in the silence, we knew, but we didn’t … like that song thing again. We felt it, but there are no words. That wee baby, all covered in the muck of birth, was … special? Holy? Words, did I mention that I’m not really a fan?

Ah well, here’s the punchline. The hips flaring and I need to do something today other than sit, but before I go, are you wondering what it is we learned? I’ve thought about it for awhile, you know to get the right word, even if only for words sake.

In that desolate cave, outside a town where we were being gathered like sheep, where fear like sweat beads as the hot days gives way to the desert’s cool embrace, this little nothing baby had it: Hope.

Even now, while everyone it trying to figure it out, use words to make sense of it all years after his death, Hope abides. I don’t know what you need or where you are, as you listen to the words of an old man, but know this:

  • Hope means you got choices.
  • Hope means when you gather, you’re not alone.
  • Hope means, that even in fear, light comes in the morning.
  • Hope means when you hold one another, not only are you made whole, but your dreaming dreams shapes the future.

The rest, well let the word-keepers do as is their wont …

(Blog) A Deacon’s Musing|Trust & Hope

This blog was originally published
September 11, 2015 by Winnipeg Presbytery


Image: UCC

Hope can exist without trust,
but trust cannot exist without hope.

I think this leads to a very difficult set of assumptions and – especially in context of change –reveals a stark set of implications. Most of which are too often life-draining and – in respect to faith communities – can be soul-devouring.

As many who will be reading this first blog following General Council 42 will already know that – as an institution – The United Church of Canada has been exploring change with some intention for the last several years. In our context, this has been carried out under the leadership of the Comprehensive Review Task Group (CRTG). Regardless of the many differences of opinion around this process, the reality is that substantial imagining has and is occurring in our midst. In turn, this has led to a series of steps to change the church structurally and culturally.

Though there are many rationales for this change – for me – the one that is most energising is to imagine how the church might become more nimble and responsive to a culture that changes as quickly as the next YouTube video or cell phone release. In a disposable culture, I believe the church has a mandate to find ways to allow people to embrace that they – as just one part of Creation – are blessed, valued and NOT DISPOSABLE.

So after several years of exploration and study, listening and dreaming, the CRTG work was passed onto GC42. The gathering of this Court had the mandate to approve, change, tweak, or modify the work. With over 400 decision makers present, it obviously created an interesting way to move an institution forward that finds itself 10 years from its centennial birthday.

So – as I listened to most of the live broadcast and subsequent conversation with others who were in attendance – I am struck by two reflections:

GC 42 Worship

GC 42 Worship
Image: UCC

  1. There is a real love and passion for this faith expression that is lived out as The United Church of Canada; and,
  2. The model of decision making that we use is not grounded in trust: in fact, its birth and evolution arise out of a place of distrust that was intended to ensure that change was VERY difficult. The context comes from an era in which debate and adjudicative language preferenced a particular gender, educational experience and societal class. We have moved far from those days with much to celebrate – much that defines an egalitarian movement of justice-living, as opposed to justice-talking – and yet we must acknowledge that much of that system remains in place.

As one who loves organisational change and development, in particular from an appreciative perspective, here’s the challenge: if you always do, what you’ve always done, you’re gonna get what you’ve always got. As we endeavour to change, if we continue to use the same decision making processes that have formed us, then we will likely not experience change that is transformative.

The questions with which I am left, therefore, at the end of this blog are also assumptions that I think would be helpful for us as church – and anyone experience change in general – upon which to reflect. I offer them as neither final nor authoritative: rather to continue to move us into that which we might be through the catalysts of dialogue and story:

  • We are longing for change: what ways might that occur in order that all might share their very best experiences of transformation?
  • We are longing to trust: if we know that where we are is not where we imagine we might be, what ways might we explore new ways to make decisions that includes everyone?
  • We long to be embrace diversity: what might need to be changed in how we interact with one another, in order to not silence voices that long to speak? How might we shift a preference for debate and argumentation to one in which consensus is generative? And,
  • We are a people of hope: as Christian community, we are informed by a way of looking at reality through the lens of Easter. If we are seeking renewal – resurrection – what is it that is keeping the old alive and keeping us from dying into that which will be? How might we find ways to honour that which is without judging those who have come before us?

Blog links:

 Image: GC Logo
 Image: GC Worship
 UCC: 42nd General Council

 UCC: Comprehensive Review Task Group
 Wikipedia: Appreciative Inquiry
 YouTube: The New Moderator: Rev. Jordan Cantwell

(Blog) A Deacon’s Musing: Advent|Poetry II

An Advent Collection

An Advent Collection

Advent: It’s time to wait.
For whom are we waiting?

As Christians, we say that is Jesus! This is a Holy Time in our Christian calendar when we might make space for reflection, silence and – hopefully – confront some of the import of the choices that lay before us.

An Advent Collection


In places dim
potential awaits

In times difficult
promise foretells

In present grief
trust perseveres

In confusion fugue
faith clarifies

1. Advent 2012

1. Advent 2012
Artist: Barbara Müller-Walter

In violent grip
amity attends

In storming turmoil
tranquility dawns

In boundary violated
accord divined

In agitated discord
serenity calms

2. Advent 2012

2. Advent 2012
Artist: Barbara Müller-Walter

In depression’s midst
comfort embraces

In harmony sad
wonder replies

In sorrow deep
mirth meanders

In words discouraging
affirmation abides

3. Advent 2012

3. Advent 2012
Artist: Barbara Müller-Walter

In tempting apathy
Passion present

In will ill
ardor emboldens

In betraying treachery
affection reconciles

In hatred chaos
Tenderness tames

4. Advent 2012

4. Advent 2012
Artist: Barbara Müller-Walter

Another Christmas day comes to an end

Another Christmas day comes to an end
Artist: Jamie In Bytown

In hours haste
home soothes

In moment impatient
hospitable welcome

In outlook impetuous
harbour beckons

In death dirge
life renews

Blog links:

 Image: 1. Advent 2012
 Image: 2. Advent 2012
 Image: 3. Advent 2012

 Image: 4. Advent 2012
 Image: Another Christmas day comes to an end
 Wikipedia: Advent
 YouTube: O Come Emmanuel (Future of Forestry)

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

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.

Start Me Up

Start Me Up
Credit: Jeff Golden

He knew the car was idling … he could smell the petrol wafting through the hallowed rust. The car was just another issue. A sieve that he knew would do little to protect him should he follow through with the dark thoughts that sometimes overwhelmed him. Right now, though, the light was out and he was belching carbon dioxide into the already compromised air. Another sin he guessed …

He looked up the long, grey column that rose into a steeple. The bell tower overlooked the village and he could imagine that sound. Cleansing, beckoning, perhaps even encouraging? He wanted to get out. Naomi told him, if he came here, the Pastor would listen to him – listen deeply she had said more than once. That was still intriguing to him. Naomi had said she had helped her. Not that he had any reason to distrust Naomi! Hell, he knew on more than one occasion (if she hadn’t held him with tear-wracking-convulsions) … well that was the darkness inviting him back …

His hand went to the keyed ignition, but again he stopped and looked at the church. Clad in limestone, big, imposing and noted the scaffolding. It betrayed that the building was in trouble. Sort of like him, he wondered?

Hand hovering, he knew he was wrestling.
Could he trust someone else?
Could he let go?
Could he actually cross this turbulent river finally?

The hurt … well it really hurt! It was like a cold fire that sliced through and rose out of him. Sometimes – when he could hold it no longer, when the bottle couldn’t numb him any further – he was sure that he could smell it. Creeping, seeping and oozing out of him and all he wanted was to be whole … or to finally sleep the long one he heard as dusk kissed the receding dawn!

He really didn’t know what being ‘whole’ might look like, need alone feel like, but again Naomi had shared the Minister-person here could help. She had even suggested the community was part of that, but he was not even ready for one more person to know, need alone a community of strangers! What they would do with someone like him … his hand pulled back from the ignition.

Mysterious Island

Mysterious Island
Credit: Joel Penner

The steeple looked … broken now that he examined it further. There was the sign that had drawn Naomi. A rainbow beckoned to her and he was happy for her and Ruth. They deserved to find someone who would help them shine! But his hurt was not theirs and he just didn’t know what to do.

He had to admit, the smell of petrol belching once more, that he assumed he’d be judged and that the church that he’d been sent to would be a big-shiny-mega-monstrosity … you know like in the news? Ushers, parking lots and that would have been too easy to judge, because he knew he would be judged. And if wasn’t judged, he also wondered whether or not this was even a choice that would help or even be relevant? The reality – in that moment – was that he wasn’t sure whether or not he would be judged, he wasn’t even sure whether they would have much to say to him. As he soaked in the old church, older cemetery, and a rainbow flag, he heard it … a bird … singing clearly, with invite.

White throated?
White throated sparrow?

It was a sound that brought him quickly back … lost, trees surrounding him and then the break in the treeline and there the Whiteshell revealed a placid lake, calm … what was the word? Safe? Serene? Solace?

As his hand moves to the gear … toward the ignition … he didn’t know if he wanted what he knew he needed. As the car idled, with potential and loss dancing their dance of lament and pain, birth and hope, he took a breath. The next step … well, he exhaled, would lead to just a few more or many … he just wasn’t sure which as the car idled out of the story …

Blog links:

 Image: Start Me Up
 YouTube: Mighty Glad You Came (Red Moon Road)

(Blog) A Deacon’s Musing|In Memoriam

I was 17, the wind was sweeping across the War Memorial in Ottawa and I admit I was momentarily distracted that my Erracht kilt might flip upward to demonstrate (on the long-ago Remembrance Day) that I was in fact wearing my dress-kit authentically. At attention, as dignitaries and politicians laid wreaths, I watched those eyes, flit back and forth far from the Now. Eyes housed in bodies that had moved beyond the youthful memories in which they were inhabiting on that blustery day. Though the pipes played around me, embracing all of us, they were back on fields, riding mechanised armour, watered flotillas or air-swept horizons in and upon which men and women died.

The memories of war surrounded me and – as I anticipated the possibility of going Reg Force, imagining wearing a Blue Beret to honour those who kept the peace – the tears fell speaking a language that words articulate improperly and inaccurately. Words once given voice too often lead to paradoxes. Words lead to binaries – right and wrong – that requires them to be defended in ways that may not honour the tears of those who have seen horror. Ones which we long that none of the children in our lives will ever experience.

The recent events in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu and Ottawa have appropriately forced us all to pause with breath seized. The sadness, the mourning that has and will unfold feels Sacred. Some of the words that are being spoken, uttered and preached also feel dangerous. As I sit here, watching the cursor blink, I realise the tension in which we find ourselves. I note that reflecting upon these tragedies is … perilous to pen.

There is a connexion, a thread that links this moment in time – in which the Maple Leaf is being reflected upon – with an unfolding discussion about peace and war.

• Who are we as a country?
• What is it others think of us?
• Who do we imagine we are in this
globalised & interconnected world?
• What do others, who make up
the global family, think of us?

War Memorial in Ottawa

War Memorial in Ottawa
Credit: m_rocs

War Memorial Ottawa

War Memorial Ottawa
Credit: Mike Foote

The 17 year-old I was – if I were to be honest – does not recognise the lens through which we now see ourselves. At one time, we were invited to help neighbours to make space. Perhaps even only to allow silence to nurture peace that the din of words might stunt. As I watched memorials unfold this week, I no longer sense the wisdom of Lester Pearson resonating. Words that seem more important than ever before:

The stark and inescapable fact is that today we cannot defend our society by war since total war is total destruction, and if war is used as an instrument of policy, eventually we will have total war.

I do not have ready or simple answers or solutions to the malaise that now grips our global narrative. Since 2001, we seem to have found ourselves telling stories of who is right and who is wrong. We seem to live in a plot where it is tempting to dismiss the difficult issues of mental illness, economic injustice, environmental degradation and racial profiling. By drifting toward a monotone tale, a one-dimensional and flattened chronicle, we seem to have arrived at seeing the Other as the enemy. We seem frightened to engage in collaborative opportunities that – though difficult – offer understanding. Without understanding, it is too easy to dehumanise one another.

As a Christian reflecting during this sad week, in which our Canadian and collective soul is in turmoil, I must hold on to this simple truth: it is only in relating to the Other that I know who I am. Without a relationship, we take steps toward a future that emanates grieving and loss. Moving toward relationship with the Other – myself – space might be made for lament and tears, anger and mutual forgiveness. It is there that I spy Hope, even if only distant as these words come to a cursor’s pause ||||||

(Blog) A Deacon’s Musing|Shadowlands


Credit: Harry Koopman

“‘There was a real railway accident,’ said Aslan softly. ‘Your father and mother and all of you are – as you used to call it in the Shadowlands – dead. The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is over: this is the morning.’”

The Last Battle (The Chronicles of Narnia), C.S. Lewis

We walk through Shadowlands. On darkened streets, though exposed to Light ablaze, we see but a fraction of who we are. Messages ring from phone, whistle out of television and uttered by radio: inadequate, broken, hurting, ugly, ineffective, unloveable …

In front of mirrors, obscured by webs of doubt, we stand reflecting paralysis. Inaction feels safer, apathy more secure with truth suppressed. With vacant stare we avoid the likeness of who we truly are from illuminating the vista of shades in which we walk.

Stability's Semblance

Stability’s Semblance
Credit: Richard Manley-Tannis

To our buildings we cling, as memories hold us fast and create a tense illusion of stability’s semblance. We hear – imagine – the crying voices of those who have gone before. Fearful of change, they describe opaque portraits of what was, though never has been. Rather than peering further upon those shoulders on which we stand, we fixate with downward gaze into closets, filing cabinets, bookshelves and registers now cold. Though the Beacon beckons and longs for us to step outward, we know these dusty parlours, foyers, hallways and narthex with an intimacy of a tooth long once maimed.

In Shadowlands, we repeat words that fall hollow to ground. Though part longs to lift them up, brush them off, feel them enliven and share them, we acquiesce to the mirage of what we think we know, rather than embrace the Dawn of something new, something awful, something wonder-formed.

Yet even here, in byways and highways of rote, where dusk dresses cobalt in clothed dimness, the Lamp greets us from beyond the Bushel. When stories of what might have been remind of what can be, eyes long slumbering awaken to what is. Around us, embracing us, beyond this self-imposed dimness is a Creation that cries with joy, weeps with ecstasy and knows we are star-stuff.

We walk through Shadowlands, yet even in a single moment of awareness, we realise we are meant to shine, to blaze bright, to gleam long, to hold aloft a signal of Hope that no darkness can swallow. Whether this journey is inspired as the Poet writes each of us as a letter forming words and soliloquy or we are emboldened by one Anointed who models fearful compassion and vulnerable courage, we bear the gift to mutual healing. In choices – within darkness’ midst – we each carry a particular blessing to offer. With arms upheld, with humility offered, that which vision cloaks reveals the Divine reflected in my eyes back to yours … and together the world begins to spin upon an axis new …


Advent Collection

An Advent Collection

An Advent Collection

Advent: It’s time to wait.
For whom are we waiting?

As Christians, we say that is Jesus! This is a Holy Time in our Christian calendar when we might make space for reflection, silence and – hopefully – confront some of the import of the choices that lay before us.

An Advent Collection

Dec 2/11

Icon: LinkA Deacon’s Musing: Advent|Waiting for Crackpot Jesus Dea. Richard reflects on this child for whom we wait, where he might be found today and what choices lay before us as we endeavour to live into our discipleship.

Dec 8/11

Icon: LinkA Deacon’s Musing: Advent|Gifts Dea. Richard blogs what the word ‘gift’ might mean to Christians as we enter the Advent Season of reflection.

Dec 15/11

Icon: LinkA Deacon’s Musing: Advent|Rattling of Swords In this blog, Dea. Richard muses about the world’s tendency to seek solutions through the use of violence & war and whether or not that is a compatible choice from our Christian vantage.

Dec 21/11

Icon: LinkA Deacon’s Musing: Advent|Cacophony of Sound Dea. Richard explores the tension of this time of year that is filled with noise & distractions, while the Christian Advent Season encourages us to reflect from a vantage of waiting.

Nov 29/12

Icon: LinkA Deacon’s Musing: Advent|Poetry Dea. Richard blogs using poetry as we begin to walk into this season of Advent Waiting.

Dec 8/12

Icon: LinkA Deacon’s Musing: Advent|Peace Dea. Richard blogs about some of his experiences during Sabbatical & how it connects with Peace!

Dec 14/12

Icon: LinkA Deacon’s Musing: Advent|Joy Dea. Richard explores Advent Joy within a poetry-slam genre/performance approach. If you’re reading this – maybe try speaking it to see if the spoken cadence translates from the written word.

Dec 21/12

Icon: LinkA Deacon’s Musing: Advent|Love In this final 2012 Advent blog, Dea. Richard reflects on love through the lens of Tina Turner & Christian Anarchism!

Dec 5/14

Icon: LinkA Deacon’s Musing: Advent|Poetry Dea. Richard blogs using poetry the season of Advent Waiting to the arrival of the Christmas moment.

Nov 25/16

Icon: LinkA Deacon’s Musing: Advent: Vignette|Shepherd Dea. Richard explores Advent through a Vignette from the perspective of a Shepherd from first century Judea.


(Blog) A Deacon’s Musing: Advent|Gifts

This blog was originally published December 8, 2011
by The United Church in Meadowood
& was entitled
A Deacon’s Musing: Advent & Gifts

An Advent Collection

An Advent Collection

Advent: It’s time to wait.
For whom are we waiting?

As Christians, we say that is Jesus! This is a Holy Time in our Christian calendar when we might make space for reflection, silence and – hopefully – confront some of the import of the choices that lay before us.

An Advent Collection



I have been thinking about gifts a lot lately. In particular, what does that mean? Is it something we give? Is it something we get?

One of the answers that has become clear to me is, this week, is that part of it begins in an affirmation of choices that one makes to heal, to move beyond habitual responses and to embrace life fully awake. This has become particularly clear as the gift that has utterly and completely changed my life is that I have finally met my sister!

For the 40 years of my journey around our sun, I have been an only child. For the first 16 years, I thought I was alone and for the remaining 24 I have known I was not as I learned somewhere in the universe was a sibling and all I could do was wait and pray. Why I have a sister, whom I am just joyfully meeting for the first time, is connected with the complexities of life, realities of difficult choices and trying to find balance in places of oppression and abuse and, in the end, choosing balance in a human world filled with greyness.

As this gift has come into my life, I have also recognised we are in the Season of Advent. This time for silence, reflection and to ask questions: what does this mean to me? What does this say to me about this boy I am anticipating coming into the world with a message of unconditional love even though death stalked? How do I welcome this child and … in turn … how do I welcome this utter stranger of a sister for whom I feel an instant and intimate connexion?

In these places of questions, during my daily 10k hither and thither, it occurred to me as Boomer endured my two-legged pace, that I get to be whoever I want with my sister! I can present the hurts and baggage that are part of every life. The patterns that can, should we live there, reinforce our individuality and the narrative that we are the heroes of our own stories or, I can choose something different. I can finally be – or endeavour to do so – who I truly think I am meant to be. I can be honest without judgement, I can be compassionate without smothering, I can be humble without pretension, and I can be vulnerable without apology. The gift of meeting my sister in my 41st year is that I can be to her, what I have longed to be for myself. And, in so doing, I can let go of the patterns and distractions that make up the every day and be born again into a life that is filled with potential.

Now do not get me wrong, I’ve got warts, she probably does to. I have done a lot of my own work and I suspect she has too. The everyday necessities will likely be present to tempt me back into a sense of slumber – but right now I get to choose to be alive, awake and present to someone who is in this mutual state of WOW and that is awesome!

I have sat with more than one Aboriginal Elder over the years and one of the consistent challenges I have heard asked is: “What do you need to learn now, in this moment?” As Advent allows for such questions to be mulled, I think I am realising that my sister’s arrival reflects the degree to which I am prepared to welcome this wee child, born into a place of the lowest order and for whom I struggle to be a disciple. A boy in all his frailties offered a broken world something we continue to need: Hope.

How I choose to respond to the gift I have received/can give is ultimately a mirror: do I reflect and embrace the Hope mutually or do I get stuck in distractions and lose sight of what has been offered to me? One’s life doesn’t completely change and transform in an instant too often and I pray that I embrace the Hope that always arrives with new life!

Blog links:

Wikipedia: Advent

(Blog) A Deacon’s Musing|Temptation!

This blog was originally published January 8, 2009
by Emerging Spirit & was entitled,
Temptation: Punching with Love!

1 At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ 2 He called a child, whom he put among them, 3 and said, ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. 5 Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me. 6 ‘If any of you put a stumbling-block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea. (Matthew 18.1-6)

Allegory of Hope

The last time I wrote a blog was prior to my trip to Israel-Palestine with Christian Peacemaker Teams. To say that it seems a long time ago that I wrote those words or that the intervening days since my return have been full of challenge and reflection would be an understatement. With the recent escalation of violence and political double speak coming out of Israel and Gaza, it would be fair to say that my cynicism with our human institutions and endeavours has been fed well.

My initial reaction to all this, the questions and the back-and-forth ‘it’s not us, it’s them,’ has been to simply punch someone with love! Yes – there you have it – I have been in a frame of mind as of late to simply shake my head in exasperation and put the smackdown on the use of words that lack any culpability or what seems like a disregard that children are dying!

Of course, being somewhat flip aside, I realise that punching someone really only perpetuates our collective addiction to violence as a solution to the problems which we have created ourselves. Let’s face it, there is NO way that God, Creator of subatomic particles to shiny sundogs, of children’s laughter and the glint of wisdom in an Elder’s eye, has ANYTHING to do with our predilection toward self-annihilation. Now it could be glib, but the violence that occurs in Gaza, right now, is not only occurring in a foreign country, but in our homes and streets here in Canada. The oppressed people of Palestine, in my experience, want the same peace that Jewish parents in Tel Aviv, a grandmother in Winnipeg and an Uncle in Iqaluit does. Of course, our systems, our human processes and policies at institutional levels seem, paradoxically, opposed to enabling this desire.

I met with a lot of people during my time in the West Bank, with people from both sides of the apartheid-like system that is in place within Palestine and there were consistent things that I heard and experienced:

  1. The first was Hope – obviously not at all satisfactory to my Western assumption of Despair;
  2. In turn, there was a Hospitality that was phenomenal. In the midst of demolished homes and tents that would in no way hold back the cooler rainy season, tea flavoured with fresh mint and sugar, hummus and pita were served with joy;
  3. I was asked to share what was happening, to tell stories entrusted to me;
  4. That regardless of how long, 10, 25, 50 or 500 years there would be peace and all – Jew and Palestinian – could live in harmony as has occurred in the past;
  5. No one seemed to trust their elected officials – there was an apathy. Whether it was with the Knesset in Israel, the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank or Hamas in Gaza, people seemed not to trust the people who represented the institutions of governance; and
  6. The children … they were everywhere and everyone seemed to place them forward as the reason for peace.

Nouri al-Ukbi on El-Arakib Lands

As a Christian struggling with Discipleship one thing is most clear to me from the ministry that Jesus offer as a model – children are the gauge by which we measure the Kingdom to Come. If children suffer, if we block their development into recognising that they are God’s Beloved, that we are God’s entrusted Stewards, then we are failing. As long as children die, from poverty or violence anywhere in the world, not only do I believe that God weeps, I believe we stand in judgement in the truest sense.

So … yep likely a wee bit too preachy … but it is simple … of course we like and are tempted by nuance and context, the whys and who’s to blame … distractions really, imo. But, as I take a breath, it is not the why or the history that matter, I met children in Israel and Palestine who are just as special and precious as my niece and nephews – children who demand of us care and peace. Our role as leaders in our communities is to recognise when they suffer and to take action to change the systems that cause suffering and not to perpetuate them. Until that radical message is heard, I believe that children will die and we all need to take a moment to reflect on our role in this system …

And, in moments of darkness, I will remember the light of a Bedouin man, who showed us his demolished home and yet his face glowed as it was framed in a red keffiyeh with gratitude to simply share his story. In the sharing of the story, we were invited to listen and the blood flowed from my knee jerk smackdown reaction into my brain, into the creativity that comes when people pause to hear one another and now I share that moment with you, the Reader. We create the narrative and perhaps we might begin to write one where it is the children who are the plot and not the geo-political manoeuvring of a species always tempted with destruction, as opposed to creation.

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