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

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

Sin Will Find You Out

Sin Will Find You Out
Image: Heath Brandon

I have been doing some thinking about this last Lenten blog for 2015. I have sincerely enjoyed exploring some of the traditional language and concepts for this season and attempting to find ways to translate them in a manner that might frame them as a practice and/or a discipline. Primarily, I thought this would be a helpful exercise for those for whom this season is unknown or those who might be exploring it for the first time or are trying to see it with new eyes.

I started these Lenten blogs with an exploration of using the metaphor of shadows and light to describe the season. After that I offered a few ways to understand the following traditions: Prayer as intention and Penance as forgiveness. Finally I tried to share Chris’ story as one way to connect them. In this blog, therefore, I thought I would go large or go home … so let’s try on sin for a challenge!

Sin – it’s perhaps one of the biggest trigger words that is connected to Christianity. It shuts down conversation, is instantly heard as judgement and often conjures images of fire, brimstone and creates a general sense of inherent badness that must be addressed by punishment. For the majority of most Canadians – for whom organised religion is not a way of life – the word simply reinforces assumptions about what it means to be a Christian. And – unfortunately – traditional media’s usual portrayal of Christian faith communities does not do much to dissuade that image.

I admit that it’s one of those words with such a rich history and depth that it is worth considering reclaiming. I also know that such an endeavour is merely an academic imagining: sin will never be accessible and it will certainly never be used to invite people to consider reflection and change, transformation and awakening as something that a discipline of faith might invite. Nope – it’s out with the sin … which becomes problematic for Christians during Lent as it’s a pretty traditional anchor to the season!

Roman Amphora

Roman Amphora
Image: www.bankofengland.co.uk

• So … what if sin were framed as both an individual and collective (a personal and a corporate) sense of brokenness?
• What if reflection around sin actually meant we were able to confront – even if most uncomfortably and awkwardly – our own brokenness?
• What if taking those steps of self-knowing were not about judgement or punishment, but about opportunities for integration and healing?
• What if sin’s intention is not grounded in a blanket of inevitable and intrinsic malaise or dis-ease, but foreshadows a longing and desire to move from fragmentation to wholeness?
• What if the intention is to find ways to look into that reflection and imagine that we are not only enough, but that we are each meant to shine brightly and passionately?

I think that might be a pretty great way to begin to appreciate Lent as a journey of difficult choices that possesses the potential to transform lives – mine and yours – when we realise that without a sense that we all are connected, we too easily fall down with no one willing to offer a hand … I’m not sure if this brief exploration has opened a door for you Reader, but I hope that it begins a process of your own questioning that might allow us to ask what our assumptions are when we experience language and words with which we feel discomfort. I don’t think sin is any longer (if ever it was) an invitation to begin a spiritual practice: perhaps the idea that we are all on a journey that longs for us to move from our individual challenges and brokenness toward a shared sense of holistic and integrated being might be worth considering …

Blog links:

 Image: Roman Amphora
 Image: Sin Will Find You Out
 Wikipedia: Lent
 Wikipedia: Sin

(Blog) A Deacon’s Musing: Lent|Vignette (Chris)

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

Intention

Intention
Image: Cassidy Lancaster

Hi again, it’s me. I spoke with the Pastor Meadow again. I wasn’t really sure I was doing this right: you know praying … she told me to think of it more like talking or having a conversation. I thought that was funny, but it sort of made sense after she explained it. She said that I could imagine talking to my safest person, the one who I could tell anything to. She said I wouldn’t get in trouble. I had to think about it – I think she knew I was. It was quiet awhile, then she asked me what I was – you know – kind of thinking about.

I was a little scared at first – I told her that. She just smiled, not in a I ‘did-something-stupid’ sort of way, more like everything-will-be-okay sort of way. So I took a deep breath and told her that if I talked to you it would feel sort of weird to like ask you for stuff. I mean you can ask your friends to play or trade, but if you just want something, they really don’t stay your friend too long, you know?

She kept smiling and then asked me what it was that I want to happen if I asked you for something, she said what’s my ‘intent?’ I wasn’t real sure what that meant, but then she said when we ask for something there’s usually something we want to happen. Like if I want that park down the street fixed, maybe I want to have fun or play. Or if I feel really sick – like with the flu – what I want if ask to be better, is I want to feel good again. I think I got it. Then she said something about if we know what we want to happen, then sometimes talking to you can help us figure out how we might be able to do it. And – if there’s no way to fix something – maybe how to still have fun, even if things aren’t really shiny. I said like brainstorming! She smiled and nodded …

Okay, so what I want to talk to you about is my parents. They’re usually pretty great, but the last little while has sucked … oh sorry, can I say that? I guess so, if not sorry again: just remembering gets me … angry? Maybe that’s the word?

Lock out

Lock out
Image: Vassilis

It’s it in my belly and eyes when they yell. They’ve been doing that a lot … mostly because the jobs are gone … crap the whole factory is gone. I don’t understand how that’s possible – how’s a factory just close and stop making stuff? What about people like my folks? You know, it’s not fair! And yeah that’s mostly what they’ve been yelling about, though I am not sure they hear each other and then it just happened …

Sorry – I don’t usually cry … okay yeah I do, but I try not to let them see. I’m not sure who hit who, but one of them did and then the other one did. It got really quiet. When I came out of my room they both just looked at me. They were so … white? I think pale – yeah pale, right?

I had really bad thoughts then, like really bad. About hurting them, about running away, about saying the bad things in my head at them … I guess I want to hurt them … you know so I would feel better? I think I am still having them …

So, I’m locked in my room now and I don’t want to let them in. But I do … I wish you could make it better, but I don’t think you can … and if the Pastor’s right … well what I want is everything to be normal, but I can’t do that. I don’t think I’ve got enough allowance and snow shovel money to help with the factory-thing. It all seems so bad … so heavy I just want to get out of here. That’s why I’m really talking to you … I guess …

If I open the door, I think I got to tell them how I’m feeling. I don’t think any of us want to feel this way. I know we can’t do anything about all that other stuff, but I do think we can treat each other different: that’s what we can do … you know be a family? I’m scared to tell them about the dark ideas I’m having, but maybe just saying it will help them too? Maybe they can say what’s in their belly – like me? I’m not sure this is a great idea, but I don’t want to run away … I can try, right? I think I can … thanks for listening … talk soon …

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.

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

A Lenten Collection

A Lenten Collection

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

Forgive Yourself

Forgive Yourself
Image: Matt Forcey

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

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

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

Shine

Shine
Image: Rodnei Reis

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

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

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

Blog links:

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

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

A Lenten Collection

A Lenten Collection

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

Morning Prayers

Morning Prayers
Image: Don Christner

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

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

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

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

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

Farewell Discourse

Farewell Discourse
Image: Duccio di Buoninsegna

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

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

Blog links:

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

(Blog) A Deacon’s Musing|Goodbye

Death and goodbyes are numbing experiences. Regardless of any sense of preparation, once life’s inevitable dance comes to an end, those of us left behind must figure out what this new reality looks like, feels like and lives like on a dance floor now emptied. I totally get the brain science about why grief and goodbye saying is hard. Our memories, habits and living day-day are intertwined with those who have died. Those networks, which are hardwired in our head, that formulate our sense of being, therefore, begin to break down. Somewhere in there is where our rational mind and emotional being wrestle.

But just because the science makes sense, it doesn’t ever or in any way make death pleasant. In fact, knowing too much can distract from the need to be in the loss. Over the last week, my household has had to say goodbye to a matriarch of our family and to also help one of our dog companions die. It’s been a difficult time and one that has led me to wrestle with death’s presence.

A Faithful Companion

A Faithful Companion
Credit: Shelly Manley-Tannis

• What do we do when we are left behind?
• How do we find anything hopeful when our identity
loses those central to how we understand ourselves?
• How, as Christians, do we find comfort in what we all know is part of life’s cycle
and what we would nonetheless rather not confront?

The history and understanding of death and the hereafter or heaven is rich and speaks to the beautiful subtlety that is our human capacity to describe that which we will never know while alive. The Christian journey has told many stories to try to understand this inevitable mortal cycle. Whether that’s being reunited with those left behind in some sort of party or festival. Pearly gates and big clouds is another image in which we might find comfort. Another Judeo-Christian understanding describes the hereafter as a void that is beyond understanding. A further metaphysical tale might be adapted from quantum mechanics, in which we are all interconnected and consciousness may not be understandable at the foundations of where myth and science meet.

Regardless of what’s true, I think there is more than the need to understand and to find comfort with death. How we say goodbye connects us to central ideas and the ethics of our mortal lives. After all, if what we believe creates reality then our intention in those beliefs must come into play. Our intention becomes central to understand the ways in which the living interact with one another since the dead – without being callous – are free from the considerations that govern this life. A life that is bound to time is an arrow let go from a bow.

Goodbye

Goodbye
Credit: Dennis Skley

And so, with goodbye saying begun, I find myself most drawn to the wisdom of an elder now gone. I remember her sense of humour and her own willingness to grow and learn, when our understandings of age might lead to assumptions. I find myself pining for my lost furred companion, who would work tenaciously and offer love unconditionally. Who would demand to be loved and return such offering tenfold. In the grief that is present, I am reminded (ultimately) that no person or creature, that no aspect of creation is mine. I do not own you or those who with whom I have the honour to walk in this life. I get to choose how to praise you, honour you and, if in some way I am fuzzy about the specifics as to what’s on the other side, I do think that a certain line, from a certain movie that paraphrases the Roman philosopher and Emperor Marcus Aurelius, rings true to me in these dark cloud gathering moments when all I can do is lament and let certainty and answers go: “What we do in life echoes in eternity.”

Blog links:

 Image: Goodbye
 Wikipedia: Heaven
 Wikipedia: Lament

 Wikipedia: Marcus Aurelius
 Wikipedia: Quantum Mechanics
 YouTube: Gladiator (Clip)

(Blog) Everyday Brogues: Walking into Lent

Do other creatures have the physiological  need to swear?

Do other creatures
have the physiological
need to swear?

When I decided within the last few days that I would try to ‘give up’ swearing for Lent, I had no idea that it actually has a physiological function; cultural, I knew, but helpful? Really?! Apparently yes. Swearing can help release tension, it is described as a built-in anger management technique and according to one writer certain words, ‘can help wash away stress and anger. In some settings, the free flow of foul language may signal not hostility or social pathology, but harmony and tranquillity.”*

First, when I read this I thought I had better try to figure out what actually qualifies as a ‘swear’ word – just in case I really might need to use one! English speakers know that the words that are best used as expletive and are helpful for releasing pain, tend to be scatological or religious – or even better, some combination of the two (‘holy s@#!’ comes to mind). But what about words that have replaced so called swear words precisely because they are not censored (as the symbols in the above word are a type of censoring). And in almost all English-speaking countries the ‘f-word’ is censored on tv and radio. But apparently it IS ok to say, live on air, words such as ‘friggin,’ ‘frickin’ ‘shoot’ or ‘darn,’ and many religious-based terms are not censored at all. And what about ‘ass’ or words that refer to certain parts of the anatomy as though they are ‘lesser members’ as the apostle Paul suggested? Or may be a name for a type of animal in other usage? And this is just a brief first look!

Sometimes it is AWE that inspires such a word … is it still blasphemy

Sometimes it is AWE
that inspires such a word
… is it still blasphemy

To ‘swear’ originally meant to make a promise, to vow or pledge. But, it seems, when those honourable words get used for dishonourable purposes, ‘swearing’ takes on a new meaning. Our scripture tells us that one of the guidelines of good living is to not take ‘the Lord’s’ name in vain. But saying or writing or texting OMG doesn’t even seem to get the least response anymore, and I have heard the names for the one I try to follow (Jesus Christ – as though ‘Christ’ was his last name) used more outside the church than inside! And while on the subject of ‘outside and inside’, this differentiation is where the word ‘profane’ comes from. Something not allowed in the temple, so literally ‘outside’ the temple was pro-fanus. We often use the term profane as representing the opposite of ‘sacred’. So, sacred names and words become profane or blasphemous when used in vain, when used as expletive or to curse someone else. The line between sacred and profane seems to be much closer than we think. Wikipedia even refers to such phrases and ‘holy s*&*%$t’ and ‘holy f*!@#k as ‘liturgical profanity’. Perhaps it is intention that is what it’s all about.

Tempted

Tempted

And this brings me back to my Lenten promise. I try, really hard, to make sure when I say ‘O my God’ that I am aware, that I am calling on Creator, the one who I believe surrounds and loves and desires me. And if I’m not sure I’m really, actually, seriously calling on God, maybe I say ‘O my gosh’. But it’s pretty obvious how that phrase came about….So my question remains does substituting another word for the swear “count” as swearing or cursing? And do I get a free pass if the expletive I choose is one that is allowed on air? Because if swearing actually has a purpose – then maybe I shouldn’t have picked this habit to ‘give up’ for Lent? And if I yell ‘dumpy buckets’ inside the car when someone cuts me off, is that getting me off the hook for saying bad words, but still do the physiological job of releasing my anger? I don’t actually know the answers, but I think I’m still going to try to stick to my plan. At the very least it might help me be more aware of the power of language, and perhaps help in my creativity. If it’s about a quick, helpful, colourful response then that should be a healthy new habit to develop, shouldn’t it?! Well, anyway, I’m going to try my best for the next 40 days or so. I swear.

Blog links:

 Wikipedia: Profanity

Everyday Brogues Blog

(Blog) A Deacon’s Musing: Lent|Abba

This blog was originally published February 14, 2013
by The United Church in Meadowood

A Lenten Collection

A Lenten Collection

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

Our Father, in heaven, hallowed be your name
Matthew 6:9b (NRSV)

As I mentioned in last week’s blog, A Deacon’s Musing: Intention, UCiM during the Season of Lent will be engaging line by line with the Lord’s Prayer. So, for instance, two groups of Brothers & Sisters came together this week to wrestle with just 8 words! Yep – 8 words! I hope some of these Lenten blogs, therefore, honour those faithful conversations, which are occurring within our community of faith.

Before continuing, I have to admit some of my stuff. It was not until 2005 that I was actually able to embrace the image of God as male, need alone as a Father – or Abba – as is transmitted through our Sacred Scriptures. There are lots of reasons, but central is the reality that from my family of origin, the figure of ‘father’ was one that was both non-existent and the stories that surrounded this absent member of my family were dressed in tears, loss, hurt and abuse. Growing up with that filter, I was sensitive to the debasing nature that groups of boys and men can model: whether in a locker room or in a barracks, the language that was used, and the implicit violence of domination always left me feeling like an outsider. As a result, though my faith has been always been core to me, I just could not wrap my mind around God as ‘male.’

Little Daddy Bottle Feeding Baby Doll

Little Daddy Bottle Feeding Baby Doll

I have also journeyed to a place in which I cannot BUT see God as relational. There are indeed many metaphors for God, from stars to an eagle, from dust to Cosmos, but the reoccurring one for Christians is a God of relationships. The image – the metaphor – is often intimate and caring, like a father …

For some within the Christian fold there has been a developing non-theism. Though this non-theistic Christianity poses many appropriate challenges and recognises the damage done by idolatrising God as relational, in particular male, the resulting theology feels – to me – passionless, intellectual and most difficult to feel intimately incarnational.

So, as this first line of the Lord’s Prayer has been core to this week’s discipline, I have had to reflect on my own (previous) block to God as Abba. In 2004, in the intensity of a 3 week Learning Circle during my diaconal training as a Deacon, I met other men, strong men who were motivated by social justice, had been in the trenches, faced the misogyny of a patriarchal system and also possessed compassion, gentleness and offered care. When my own tears were shed during times of intimate faith sharing, they held me, nurtured me and emboldened me to embrace an image of the Holy that could reflect the maleness of God.

Our Islamic kin pose a powerful reminder to those who journey the Christian way. Any image, word, sound or let’s face it sensory or intellectual thing can be idolatrised. When the image BECOMES God, we’ve simply projected our own stuff and boxed the Creator in … with some sarcasm I’d offer it makes creating black:white trite solutions and binaries much easier than recognising the inadequacy of our attempts to comprehend the immeasurable and incomprehensible reality that is the Holy.

As I have come to realise that men can nurture and women can defend, as I realise that the gender roles we construct are quite different than the scriptural understanding that we are all God’s Beloved, I choose to model for the men and boys in my life – as Guardian, as Uncle, as Cousin, as Nephew, as Friend – that my maleness does not mean I have to be the man too often projected onto us. That we – through prayer and intention – can experience Grace to be Love …

Prayer – that’s what UCiM is focusing upon for the next 6 weeks. A prayer central to the Christian experience and one that reminds us that Love is at the very core of our discipleship. As you walk into the Lenten Season, I hope you find ways to be the prayer you are meant to be and not the illusion in which our human world too often traps us …

It’s a mind blowing concept
that the God who created the universe might be looking for company …
Love interrupts, if you like, the consequences of your actions
-Bono, U2 (Christian Century, Sept. 6, 2005)

Blog links:

Wikipedia: Nontheism
YouTube: Bono (Interview)

Pages: