(Blog) A Deacon’s Musing|Rainbow Weeps

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

I wish I did not feel Called to blog this week …
I pray that the narrative of hate did not exist …
I find my soul torn asunder knowing that the marginalised continue to suffer in a politicised world in which power and violence violate the sanctity of life …

The recent assault on life, dignity and diversity in Orlando has been numbing. Not just for the violence that exterminated sacred lives, but the ensuing political discourse has been horrible itself. This account, which intends to seek blame and polarise, has been abhorrent.

As I listen(ed) to this blame game –  whether about religion, gun violence, political choices, or strategies to address terrorism it has been tempting to engage. This detached and – at times – abstract debate so easily removes us from wailing lament. It also silences compassion, which invites (those of us who inherit a new world filled with death and the potential for new choices) to reply.

The reality is that – from a perspective of faith – there is no easy answer. No analysis or critique, which is shaped in a sound byte, can address the complexity of an interconnected world. A world in which mental illness, racism, geo-politics, gender and sexual identity – to name only a few of the strands that bind this tapestry of pain – are constantly defining what and who is normal.

Rainbow Weeps

Rainbow Weeps
Image: Affirm United

What I do know is that this ministry, which Christians constantly endeavour to model, is grounded in a radical compassion. One that seeks to hold all involved with love. Any knee jerk response, without first offering unconditional love to all who weep, hurt and suffer, simply leads to a world further entrenched in violence: whether that is punctuated by a word or bullet. Bullets and words, after all, are not semantic talking points, they are as interconnected as an immune system virally under siege.

The work with which Jesus left us always points not to power, but to the oppressed and hurting. It is in that possible response, that new relationships might lead to that which we cannot yet imagine. Looking to power simply and always reinforces what is.

No matter the work toward embracing (a theology) diversity as a model that recognises ever persons’ (inherent and blessed) dignity that we might assume has been done and accomplished, we have been reminded that an assault on the GLBTQ community affects all of us. How we respond, is a reflection for how we care for ourselves. How we hold the Other, as tears bleed, stands before us as judge. What we do, in respect to the root causes, eventually reflects whether or not that which is (capitalize?) becomes that which was (capitalize?) or continues to be that which will be.

I wish there was a neat and profound way to wrap this up. It would be nice if words could fix the fibre, which collectively binds us, by knitting it back together. But there are no such words, just action  …

maybe, as more than one survivor has shared, how we love one another is a helpful way to imagine a different story …
maybe how we see love in this horror that defies logic of binaries such as right and wrong, it might point us to an old narrative …
maybe, seeing Jesus sitting with the demons and criminals, holding the marginalised and feeding the despised offers us a way to pause …
a way to let go of solutions …
a way to simply hold the dying …
care for the living …
walk with the healing …

For now, maybe, that is enough …

(Blog) A Deacon’s Musing|Words

This blog was originally published
May 13, 2016 by Winnipeg Presbytery

Words in Progress

Words in Progress

Words … aren’t just words. No matter what the intention – or lack thereof – words have, do and will hold power. They shape our stories, define this and explain that. They’re never neutral for they are intrinsically shaped, specifically moulded and actively nurtured to have meaning. Thread, pull and draw them together and you begin to create reality. When meaning and knowledge, understanding and learning dance amidst the edges and boundaries, breadth and confines of the defined, those who have and those who do not often find themselves looking across walls and barriers, blades and barrels.

You may be apolitical, may not like democracy, socialism, communism, capitalism, this ‘ology or that ‘osophy, but the act of speaking is political. The ritual of writing and the practice of reading are laden with depth that too often goes unnoticed.

We live in a world never so inundated by grammar and letters, characters and letters, words and syntax. Whether you’re twirling from one digital device to another, flipping through this magazine or that paper, words are everywhere. Literacy has never been more important so as to make sense of the cacophony of voices bidding, cajoling and tempting you with the illusion of time’s deficit.

In this privilege of required sense making, as words cascading everywhere, we’re losing our span to attend to trending videos, reality TV, political discourse now become sport sound byte and meaning confined to 140 characters and even less when retweeted. In the discord of competing meaning, it is often easy to not drill down, dig deep or critique and analyse voices that are intending to convince of you this when what they mean is that.

  • So why this bramble and brumble, rumble and stumble through words, meaning and making in a world filled with frequencies?
  • Why point out the obvious inundation of channels that you can surf, yet still feel content deprived?
The Mystery is Afoot

The Mystery is Afoot
Image: Zhang Wenjie

It’s simple, well at least from my perspective. I’m trying to ground myself in a narrative, story, vision offered by a rabbi now long dead, who continues to challenge us to awakening. A guy who didn’t downplay, patronise or paternalise when speaking.

Where your words go, your mouth follows. And when your mouth stops flapping, action unfolds. When the words we use and the actions we take do not jive, shimmy, grind or trot, not only is our intention in question, but the very message we care to transmit comes under scrutiny.

They’ll always be with us – he taught – the marginalised, the oppressed and the weary. How we respond and reply, let go and lift up is the mirror into which we gaze. Others may seek glory dressed in bills and stocks, coins and bling, but what we do when we stop using words is the gauge to which solidarity is lived and liberation is experienced.

For I’m never going be free if what I say binds you to the deck. I may find myself standing atop your chained self, thinking this ship isn’t going to sink, even though the water’s ankle lapping as the engine groans, sputters & drowns. This isn’t a game, but it’s one hell of an adventure:

  • When that chain breaks and water we tread leads to a shore unmet …
  • When our hands entwine and I realise I’m not me and you aren’t you …
  • When our feet stand in warm sand as we face one another …
  • We may just realise liberation’s land beckoning us to realise that you is I and me is we…

(Blog) A Deacon’s Musing|Politically Correct

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

Only the chaste may enter

Only the chaste may enter
Image: Simon Harrod

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

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

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

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

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

Queen of the Missions for its graceful beauty

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

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

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

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

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

(Blog) A Deacon’s Musing|Camelot

This blog was originally published
October 16, 2015 by Winnipeg Presbytery

Camelot

Camelot
Image: Gustave Doré

As I reflect on my own story, I realise that my growing up in Ottawa (during the 70s and 80s) was part of a larger story that I have come to call my Camelot years. A time in which the multicultural ideal, the entrenchment of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and Canadian Blue Berets serving on Peacekeeping missions with the UN (as opposed to ‘peacemaking’), created a tale of more than simple tolerance of the Other. This wonderful and ideal laden tale was one in which all people were respected and accepted. One in which diversity was celebrated, as opposed to a culture that found security in a melting pot recipe that led to stability.

My telling of this story, however, was first challenged when I visited Montreal and Toronto at the age of 16. Though I had heard racial slurs – via pop culture – I do not think I registered their use in my Ottawa Camelot until walking the streets in the Old Quarter in Montreal or around the CN Tower in Toronto, when the racially charged word nigger was wielded violently. It was not until my service in the Canadian Armed Reserves that my own ethnic background (Syrian/Lebanese) was racialized with the derogatory sand nigger! And since those experiences, in particular influenced by feminist and liberation critiques of culture and history, I have done some intentional examining of my own story.

Even with that evolving awareness, I admit I hold onto those early ideals. That sense of hope has only increased as I have made choices to live into a faith that I know calls us into an egalitarian way of being. One in which, regardless of all the ‘isms that divide and separate, we are all Beloved of the Holy and that we make choices to embrace one another as a sibling of the Creator. Not always easy, but a worthy and noble calling. In these choices of vocation, I hold on earnestly to the ministry that Jesus modelled and which I believe echoes through the intention of those Camelot years.

Now, you may ask why I am taking you down this wee memory lane jaunt. And – I admit – I had not anticipated musing further about the Federal Election in which we now find ourselves, following the writing of Politic(al)s 02. I have shared previously the tension I know that people of faith confront in relationship to the mechanics of state. And – as with all tensions – sometimes they coexist in a state of paradox, defying resolution and that is not necessarily a bad thing.

The Cultural Iceberg

The Cultural Iceberg
Image: The United Church of Canada

What has led me to this musing – however – has been the unexpected racism that has been injected into the narrative of this election. The devolution of talking points from platforms that should be discussed – such as climate change, the economy, and democratic reform – to what feels like a single focus on the role of the Niqāb.

I do not feel the need to revisit who said what or wade into the politics of racism. I do, however, find myself raging from a faith perspective. I can hear and imagine Jesus standing at the tables of the moneychangers, when frustrated by an inappropriate use of power and authority, the only way to communicate how unsuitable that was by overthrowing those stands and stalls.

My secular upbringing and current faith context find commonality as we collectively engage in this democratic process. As The United Church of Canada (UCC) has moved from conversations about multiculturalism to interculturalism, I wonder whether civil society will revisit what it means to be tolerant? What does it mean to move beyond tolerance to embrace mutuality? What does it mean if our electoral system possesses the capacity to divide its citizens into us and them? What do communities of faith, in particular the Abrahamic traditions, that have clear mandates to welcome and protect the Stranger and the Others, do? How do we – as Christians – respond to secular developments that pit the majority against the minority?

As this musing pauses – for I do not think such conversations do or should end – Canada goes to the polls on Monday. I certainly pray after exercising my vote during the Advance Polls – that those ideals from 30 years ago find expression collectively that we choose to embrace one another with care and compassion. This Canadian experiment continues to evolve and address questions of racism and acceptance, though not always easily or effectively, it is in the struggling together that we fashion the social good: we are more resilient when we embrace one another than when we are divided from sharing our gifts mutually.

May it be so!

Blog links:

 Wikipedia: Interculturalism
 Wikipedia: Niqāb
 Wikipedia: Peacekeeping
 YouTube: Our Canada: Are We Racist?

(Blog) A Deacon’s Musing|Trap

It's a Trap

It’s a Trap
Image: Newtown grafitti

We live in a phenomenally vibrant, exciting, and emergent time in which change, technology and uncertainty dance an intimate movement. And this party shows no choreographed pattern of ending anytime soon. In this place, some of us thrive, some of us doubt and challenge, and some of us are anxious and threatened. None of these – on their own – are (in fact) bad things. Actually, likely a healthy balance of both/and is a useful response.

The challenge, however, is that there has been and is an evolving progression – in some quarters and areas – that seeks to simplify, minimise or detract this reality with binaries: right or wrong, us vs. them, black and white. I am suspicious this is not a healthy way toward balance: once you choose one, you find it necessary to lay traps, in order to draw a line in the sand over which the other may not pass.

As I write this blog, I find myself smack in the middle of this crazy paradox in the Christian calendar called Easter: it’s miracle time for half the world’s population and the trap is that people of faith are often implicitly (sometimes explicitly) challenged to choose: faith or science: proof or intuition; experience or a study. It’s all a bit nutty and … somewhat worrisome.

I have never seen science’s – one aspect of our human adventure by reason – exploration of the physical world with a rigorous methodology as existing in conflict with my faith. As with most of our pursuits – individually or collectively – it’s always in a state of refinement and subject to our own ‘stuff’ getting in the way. This way of answering questions, however, has provided us with technology, tools, insight and understanding that look a lot like miracles to history.

Faith – as that sense of something larger, binding and weaving everything together – when grounded in confidence (but not ego) is releasing and freeing. It can – in such places of liberation – shift an intellectual definition of miracles to actually perceivable and tangible events in our lives.

The Big Bang Theory

The Big Bang Theory
Image: Samuel Santos

C.S. Lewis has claimed that “Miracles do not, in fact, break the laws of nature.” He continues in the book Miracles: “In Science we have been reading only the notes to a poem; in Christianity we find the poem itself.”

As a Christian who also has an affinity for science, I admit I can feel the pull of our culture of having to choose: I will always be loath to make an either/or choice. As such, I admit to not seeing a tension, paradox perhaps, but not a binary. It’s certainly also somewhat exciting to know that paradox and chaos find good company in our scientific pursuits.

Jesus – great teacher and Rabbi, justice seeker and prophet – was a lot of things in the mortal coil called life. But we’ve had lots of those and thank goodness we’re likely to have more. But there’s that Resurrection miracle thing – ask me to explain it and … well all I know is that with our current understanding of the (meta-) physical and quantum world, it’s certainly possible … just not probable. Ask me to get into the nitty-gritty of the debate and … I likely won’t. Faith emboldens me into conversations that awaken wonder mutually. Debates are binaries that lead to traps for one another.

So as I take a step into this season in which bunnies and chocolate abound, I’ll certainly look into the morning mirror. As I walk into the day, passing through my neighbourhood, I’ll look at the people, who are sometimes smiling, frowning, crying or laughing in my community. And, as I pull the office door open, I’ll be certain to remind myself … I’ve seen nothing but miracles since my day began …

Blog links:

 Image: It’s a Trap
 Wikipedia: Chaos Theory
 Wikipedia: C.S. Lewis (Miracles)

 Wikipedia: Easter
 Wikipedia: List of Paradoxes
 YouTube: Bono (Who is Jesus?)

(Blog) A Deacon’s Musing|Addiction

I was 17, thought I had all of the answers, and I had already started smoking. Of course, once I enlisted in the Canadian Armed Reserves, I started two things in earnest. First, I progressed from the experimentation of youth and started to wear a pack of cigarettes as a sign of maturity. After all, we were told that the average life expectancy (and remember this was over 2 decades ago) of a person serving in a modern infantry unit was not much longer than several minutes. This was – of course – tempered by the fact that it was also noted that this prognosis would only come to pass if the entire arsenal of biological and chemical weapons were utilised.

I was 17 … invincible and smoking seemed to make sense! The second thing that I started when I was 17 as I endeavoured to endure the weight of a hundred pound kit was running. Over three decades later, I am happy to say that I stopped the former and I am now a non-smoking smoker and I continue to be an avid runner. In my discipline of running I am constantly humbled by one canine pack member or another who endures my slow bipedal gait!

Addiction is a funny thing. I do not claim to be an expert on the matter, but from a perspective of personal experience and pastoral ministry, I have learned a few things. One, whether chemical dependency, mental or physical health challenges or even the malaise of the soul through repeated habits, every single one of us constantly walks the line where repeated behaviour might transform into ritualised performance. This behaviour – in Christian-speak – might look like a turning away from the Source of all Creation, which some might call God, the Universe, or Creator. It took me two years to journey to finally being able to count sequential days without a cigarette, which now stands at 4591. With that long journey in mind, I now find myself reflecting on the ministry (which has been left to us a model by Jesus) and how it may or may not connect with addiction.

There are many central themes and motifs in Jesus’ entire ministry, life, death, and what we call the ‘Resurrection’ that might speak to addictions. I also think it is important to note that there is nothing explicit – at least from a scientific-paradigm informed culture – that looks like addiction as we understand it in the tradition that we have inherited from the early church record. For the sake of this blog, let me highlight just one: Wholeness.

Jesus’ legacy (one of them) is the constant reflection and challenge that asks (those for whom his message of Love resonates) whether we can repent of that which separates us from the Divine Source. Do we struggle to move back toward wholeness with Creation? I know that the word ‘repent’ has been misused. In particular, its use has sometimes been wielded as a weapon of judgement and not an invitation to wholeness. I think that too often, it is easy to relinquish rich traditions in the face of conflict when trying to find understanding. In this case, we can explore what the word ‘repent’ might mean. So, I hope the following might be one step to translating the word into one that inspires …

Light through the smoke

Light through the smoke
Credit: Beatrice Murch

To repent, or to face toward/return to, is a difficult journey when we are disconnected from ourselves, let alone a greater reality, which has many names in many faith traditions. But I think that it is this journey of healing that begins when we acknowledge our own stuff, because our own stuff keeps us from knowing ourselves. I mean really knowing ourselves, not in a superficial, consumerised context:

• What are my triggers?
• When do you fly off the handle?
• Why do we tend to hurt others?
• Why might I hurt myself, before asking for help?
• Why don’t we wonder about our knee-jerk responses?
• Why don’t you ask why it’s seems easier to lash out?

The Healing Arts

The Healing Arts
Credit: Artotem

As I understand it, the journey toward wholeness or healing, with each small step, leads us to become both more self-aware … but also less self-centred. Some might call this awakening. Awakening to the self as simply part of a larger whole is no easy task – it means confronting ourselves in the space and time in which we live. It means confronting the things we do to ourselves or the things that cause us pain and hide our vulnerability for fear of being further hurt.

And here is just one paradox I have learned as I have walked away from addiction’s path … facing my vulnerability has been the hardest thing I have ever had to do. It was not weakness that fortified me to look into the mirror, it was being emboldened to the waking realisation of a Universe that longs for me to be whole. That our nature – yours and mine – is not to self-shine, but to embrace the vision that collectively we might illuminate a way out of shadows in which too many find themselves. That in our embracing of our diverse nature, we might help others to throw off the shackles that too often bear down upon us as a yoke and anchor. What I have seen in the mirror gives life a lightness that allows me to want to know more about the Other – you – for in so doing, our connexion with the Holy becomes both richer and more tangible. And – to me – that sounds like a good thing to share …

Blog links:

 Wikipedia: Addiction
 Wikipedia: Mary Oliver

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

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

This year is very different for me than the last six! It’s been awhile since I was not directly connected to worship involvement, in particular during this Lenten season of preparation and journey. In this new space, I will be travelling throughout Winnipeg, where I get to worship at different churches and congregations. As I was worshipping this last Sunday (at a church called St. Andrew’s River Heights) the Talk or Presentation (Church-ese = Sermon or Reflection), the minister discussed Jesus’ time in the desert. What hooked me during the discussion was the exploration of Jesus’ temptations (Matthew 4.1-11):

  1. Stones into Bread (Lust): The temptation for fame or fortune. To live beyond his own means at the expense of others;
  2. Pinnacle of the Temple (Doubt): To rely on himself, as opposed to trusting in God. In particular, rather than act faithfully – even when in doubt or with questions – Jesus was tempted to test God as a magician who grants wishes; and,
  3. At the Mountain (Power): To believe that that by one’s own actions or efforts, he alone could ‘save the world.’

All of the temptation seem connected with a tension between obedience and disobedience. The danger of ego was glaring to me. As the Talk continued, I admit I heard something that sort of floored me: these temptations were neither static, nor one off: they are constantly in play. And – more specifically – what if we hear them as the temptations with which the institutional church must constantly wrestle? What if we looked into the mirror – those who park our faith journeys in a religious organisation – and actually looked, what would we see?

What I heard was this: we must confront institutional temptation and ask whether our mission in the world has become a two-dimensional faith of kindness! When we are more concerned with being nice, are we living into the radicality that is implicit in Jesus’ confrontation of the human world’s temptations?

I have been musing about this since then … I am not sure that I have arrived at anything definitive, but I do have a few observations, which likely lead to even more questions and images to confront in our mirrors …

  • Kindness & niceties: I do not think the implication is dismissive of such concepts when they lead to deeper relationships with one another and our faith. I think the temptation is when kindness becomes a reason to not dig, to not name inappropriate behaviour or injustice. When we have stumbled and are unwilling to ask what do we idolatrise, have we fallen into temptation? What (un)conscious choices have/does institutional church make that ends up causing harm or exclusion?
  • The temptations of Jesus in a desert over the course of 40 days remain a helpful lens for reflection and preparation during the Lenten season. What do they say to us as church? What is our relationship now and previously to authority? Are we able to hear that a saccharine embracing of kindness is unfaithful? Disobedient? If we are able to hear that difficult message, what are we to do? How do we reorient ourselves as we also acknowledge our injustice? How do we – ultimately – celebrate God’s abundance, in order to liberate those with whom our own healing is bound: the Other? The Stranger? The Captives? The Widows and Children who long for liberation that stepping into solidarity might begin …

Blog links:

(Blog) A Deacon’s Musing|Questions

Questions

Questions

Sweet berries ready for two ghosts
are no different than you.
Ghosts are now waiting for you.
Are you…
Sweet berries ready for two ghosts
are no different than you.
Ghosts are now waiting for you.
Are you…
Dreaming! Dreaming the night! Dreaming all right!

Do we! Do we know, when we Fly?
When we, when we go
Do we die?

~ System of a Down, Question! ©2009

Questions: I admit that I am infatuated with them. The answers are great, but finding the right question for myself, a group with which I walk, or with a gathering of a people of faith is energising. Have you ever been in a space or place, with friends, family or at work, and find yourself stumped? Perhaps even frustrated? Then … you feel something coming, emerging, blooming … someone’s eye light up, at first tentatively, the words are formed, and then you all know: “What if …. ?”. The key – the question – has turned the creativity on … what was a block is now a goal, what seemed impossible, is now probable. A good question changes the world …

The above quote (from the band System of a Down) can be interpreted as an age old question for people of faith. What does death mean? What happens after? Is there something? Nothing? And more pointedly – from a Christian context – the lyrics refer poetically to Adam & Eve eating forbidden fruit and what are the implications of that story of curiosity and choosing to do something about which one had been warned …

“Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blind-folded fear.”
~Thomas Jefferson (1787)

We live in a world that desires absolutes. We walk within a culture where questioning and doubting is no longer celebrated. The child’s mind of curiosity is a gift – something that Jesus celebrated. In most places – whether a group or institution – that is grounded in an identity, that is invested (even if only partially) in self-preservation raising a question is shunned. And the moment the need to entrench occurs, questions do not open doors, they create fear. Even in places where we know we should not be, even if we know that change is upon us, habitual dysfunction can be very attractive as opposed to the possibility of unknown well-being. Even in systemic hurt, the illusion of safety can be woven.

As this muse wanes, I want to extend an invitation. After several years of writing A Deacon’s Musing, I would love to hear what your questions are? What stumps you? What energises you? What faith doubts do you worry about, yet have not given voice? Maybe you have institutional questions and how/if religion and spirituality fit?

My invitation, therefore, is for you to share your questions with me. And, as a new feature, I will muse periodically with them. I certainly do not claim to be able to answer them, but it’s been my experience that it’s the discussion – the in-between space – that real learning and awakening occur. So … share ‘em if ya got ‘em …

Sometimes reality can be reframed by the way a question is asked. Sometimes reality gets reframed because the person we are listening to is telling us something very different from our stereotypes or assumptions.
~ Gervaise Bush (2012)

Blog links:

 YouTube: Question! (System of a Down)

(Blog) A Deacon’s Musing|Canadian Jesus

Get out of jail free!

Get out of jail free!

Last’s week’s blog – The Doing – created some great conversation both through social media and here. In fact, one of the regulars who engage in discussion helped plant the seed for another blog: joy and suffering. In fact, that’s about what I had intended to write. Still a good idea, but I got derailed by my constant wrestling with the affairs of the Mayor of Toronto

I do not think this is a political blog. I know there’s always a tension when faith and politics mingle. Though I have no problem – in fact, I believe people of faith of are called into the political – there does nonetheless remain a tension. Now I would love to engage in such a discussion, but I have been struck by two things that also connect with faith: Pastoral Care & the ‘Jesus’ card.

Pastoral Care

The media has – without a doubt – had lots of material offered to them by the fallout that has been occurring by the choices and actions of Rob Ford. The late night pundits and comedians have had no shortage of options about how to make them funny and offer critique.

Recent coverage is not dissimilar to what happened with Charlie Sheen. There are clear indications that substance abuse has been present for both men and I wonder – in all of the merry making that is and will occur at their expense – what that says about our own acceptance about people’s brokenness? I am as guilty as the other person in finding mirth in many of the comedic critiques, but I wonder: am I amused because humour is being used to point to deeper issues or am I laughing, in order to keep the Other far enough away that I do not have to look in the mirror?

The Jesus-card

To say that there is cynicism in our culture about organised religion, faith platitudes and Christianity and Jesus would be redundant. What does it mean to have a Jesus moment? To find faith? To be transformed by moments of insight and revelation? These questions are central to the faith journey and … it seems that it’s become – in pop culture – a possible ‘get out of jail free’ card.

It is not my place to judge whether or not someone (in the throes of what looks like a spiritual and life-changing spiral) has experienced epiphany. I do wonder, however, what it means if that has occurred? What does change actually look like? I cannot address the appropriate cultural cynicism in a blog, but I think I have some authority to speak about matters of change, of transformation. I may not know the answers for anyone who claims awakening, but I will leave this blog with questions hanging …

  • Has finding faith led to a place to address the temptation of ego?
  • In moments of awakening to a larger Truth, do you speak with humility to others?
  • In discovering your own fragility, is there space for compassion where (perhaps) there was none previously?
  • When discovering a spiritual and transformative faith, of what are we called to let go?
  • As revelation dawns, what power must be let go in order to honour the path ahead?
  • When epiphany smacks us to the ground and we struggle to put together new pieces called life, to what extent are we emboldened to confession and seeking forgiveness?
  • When we see with new eyes, does that also mean that new life means letting the old die?

Blog links:

 Wikipedia: Epiphany
 Wikipedia: Get out of jail free card
 Wikipedia: Revelation

(Blog) A Deacon’s Musing|Bedside

This blog was originally published June 19, 2012
by The United Church in Meadowood

Bedside

Bedside

We like to talk, we are wont to hear ourselves think aloud, and we use a lot of words in our everyday lives. We turn on our iPods, MP3 players, Netflix, YouTube and fill the silent spaces with noise and distractions. It’s part and parcel of our context. It’s neither good, nor bad: yet, it’s important to explore the need for balance when one thing is more predominant in our lives than another. The reality is we live in a fix-it, extroverted world that often does not leave space to simply be in days that moves through the continuum of joy -> challenge, tears -> laughter and happiness -> anger.

And into this human conundrum, the Christian experience names and walks into moments of illness and death. With all of our different and competing doctrines and theologies, in all of our ecumenical imagined or real dissimilarities about ideas like Grace and Atonement, liberation and exile, and who we experience Jesus to be – fully human and fully divine – we endeavour to be present throughout the full cycle of life. That cycle inevitably ends in death and, not infrequently, with doubt, anger and gnashing. And just as inevitably, it is often those of us who are left behind that must wrestle with those sweeping emotions that threaten to lift us up, unmoor us from the known & predictable: times of tempest when we are tempted into places of isolation, fear and discord.

Grip

Grip

Our Sacred Stories are filled with images of these experiences: ones that remind us that suffering, though not inevitable, is consistently present in our shared experience and journey. And in all of the tensions that brokenness and hurt bring, we are called to be with the ill, the harmed. We are invited to live out this sense of God-Among-Us by walking into places that most would avoid, would rather not experience, and would prefer to deny lest one’s own mortality be considered. We live in a human world that has sanitised the cycle of life. Whether through an idyllic advertisement, an over-the-counter antibiotic or antiseptic wipe that make everything seem to glisten with the illusion of constancy, sameness and eternal predictability, we are removed from dirt stained finger nails and the septic tanks that need emptying on a regular basis.

For all of the finery of institutionalised religion, for all of the significant social justice work before us, the advocacy that must and will occur, it is at the bedside – in the moments when death hovers – that the Holy is clearly manifest in the heavy, sacred weight of silence. Words are saccharine when breath is shallow. Touch speaks more than poetry, and a smile conveys grounded presence in the midst of uncertainty.

In those moments of witness, when ear bends to hear the whisper of regret, an intuitive jest at the folly of it all, a message to share, that we become more than simply two people embraced in the final dance. In the intimacy of the passage of birth and death, trivialities are abandoned; the moments that hang for an eternity (when there is clarity beyond a Creed or pro-this or anti-that) where we are united in the midst of God’s presence. Where tears fall unashamedly, when grasping breath lets go the journey, death passes and at the bedside, those left behind hover and wait in the midst of the Holy …

Feathers worn, feet calloused, paws parched.
Eyes weary long for respite. Breathe deeply, sit in silence & let go …
UCiM-ism (120503)

Blog links:

Wikipedia: Jesus
Wikipedia: Liberation Theology

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