(Blog) A Deacon’s Musing|Easter Mercy

This blog was originally published
April 01, 2016 by Winnipeg Presbytery

Mercy

Mercy

It’s funny how we anticipate that rising dawn sun 2000-and-change-years later: an event/time/story/experience that Christians call Easter. This Lent – the season before Easter –  has been a difficult, sad and weary making journey. We have seen violence used with intentional precision, experienced our own denomination wrestle with the reality of orthodoxy and its inherent temptations, and heard xenophobia and misogyny positioned as political platforms by some of the so called leaders of the ‘free world.” It has, indeed, been a shadowed season and the longed for arrival of light’s piercing clarity has been a blessing.

As I prepared for this week’s blog, knowing it might wander from one disconnected note to another, I was also aware that I recently returned from an Intercultural Ministry gathering, in which Sisters and Brothers from throughout The United Church of Canada gathered. In our time of play and pray, learning and sharing, there was the undercurrent of how to challenge privilege and name that racism remains embedded in our structures, regardless of the narrative to which we long to cleave.

  • How do those who so often carry difficult messages of change, look, sound and behave differently than those to whom such missives such sharing is intended?
  • How do we help a church, which is grounded in Anglo-Saxon privilege that sees abundance as deficit, hear the Spirit’s call?
Easter's Dawn

Easter’s Dawn

I have also wondered how tired those first Disciples must have been. Perhaps they were even irritated on that first shock-inducing resurrection Easter-morn, when all they wanted to do was hide and grieve. Men and women, most likely assuming leadership roles for which their birth station should have denied them, whose dear Rabbuni had been cruelly – hell inhumanely –  tortured and executed. Yet upon death’s doorstep they were being summoned by invitation to bear Light into the very Empire and world from which they had and would (are and will) suffer …

As this musing moved to another note, I also continue(d) to hear a repeating song of mercy. A word for which I have always imagined that it is one of the few responses specific to those with privilege. We – the bearers of this institution – who can choose to dress in the garment of white are often resistant, perhaps even intentionally oblivious, to the power we actually have. Like Joseph of Arimathea, when he chose to use his authority to request the body of Jesus of Pilate, we must confront that letting go of our assumed influence often begins with one step: mercy.

  • Whether we hold onto the institutional structures and its explicit and implicit underpinnings will be telling to the extent to which we live into this theology of diversity toward which this denomination has been aimed for almost 100 years.
  • When those whom we have colonised, exploited, and dehumanised strike back at us, how we respond will be the plumb line upon which reconciliation is gauged as either an intentional commitment or simply lip service.

Easter mercy: for those who have and do benefit from the systems in which we live, it is a choice. One difficult and challenging. It is in the letting go, the emptying of the ego, that – perhaps – we begin to see ourselves for who we truly are: interconnected and beautiful. We begin to see – perhaps – that the illusions that separate us are infinitesimally inferior to the abundant rich threads that not only connect us to one another, but that speak to a Creation in which miracles happen in every moment if we but have eyes to see them and ears to listen to the harmony that is everywhere and everywhen …

Blog links:

 Wikipedia: Easter
Wikipedia: Lent
 Wikipedia: Mercy

 Wikipedia: The United Church of Canada
 Winnipeg Presbytery: Intercultural Ministry
 YouTube: Mercy (Dave Matthews Band)

(Blog) Verses: Lent|40 Verses

This blog is a collection of our tweets from various accounts! In 140 characters, they are part prayer, thought, reflection, challenge or something in-between. We look forward to updating them on a monthly basis and we provide them with the hope that they may lead to reflection, musing and perhaps even discussion!

Icon: twitter

This blog was originally published
March 26, 2016 by Winnipeg Presbytery

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

1/40
Within the finite
chaos whispers
amidst division’s illusion
Beyond the finite
harmony beckons
amidst unity’s reality


1=Unity
Posted: 160210 Original

 
2/4
Monologue shapes
what I want to hear
into what I see
Dialogue invites
what we might want
into becoming what will be


2=Dialogue
Posted: 160211 Original

 
3/40
Upon 3 points
foundations stand
From singular
to dimensional
that which is rigid
in beauty
births Creation’s dance


3=Triangle
Posted: 160212 Original

 
4/40
Seasons dance
from one to another
variations in colours hue
& birds’ songs
model that in diversity
creativity thrives


4=Creation
Posted: 160213
Original

5/40
Good Morning #Winnipeg
Each day begins
sometimes well
others poorly
in shared humanity’s embrace
may we Grace extend


5=Grace
Posted: 160214 Original

 

 

6/40
By rote & rite identity interrupted
diversity diminished0
With creativity’s rebellion
pen in hand
cast the tale anew


6=Rebellion
Posted: 160216 Original

 
7/40
Perfection’s attainment
not blemishes’ freedom illusion
It is in fulfilment’s embrace
when we claim the gift we are


7=Perfection
Posted: 160217 Original

 

 

8/40
In fallow
shadowed parched soil
death dormant appears
In day’s longing
warming awakening humus
sleeping seeds birth


8=New Birth
Posted: 160218 Original

 
9/40
Life paradox unfolds
as fragile & tenacious adventure
As journey’s path shortens
our final sum lies in choices made


9=Finality/Sum
Posted: 160219 Original

10/40
In circles & spirals
our page turns
revising stories
discerning learnings anew
ever toward completion
we strive


10=Complete
Posted: 160220 Original

 

 

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11/40
Good Morning #Winnipeg
As imperfection’s dirge
overwhelm tempts
In its din
hearken to voice still
whispering Beloved


11=Imperfection
Posted: 160221 Original

 
12/40
From kitchen tables to Senate’s floor
how we gather reflects decisions’ course
Voices heard depends on power shared


12=Government
Posted: 160223 Original

 

 

 

13/40
In Fear’s discord
omens bloom
conspiracies sprout
In Hope’s harmony
choices agency nurtures
prayer potential births


13=Fear
Posted: 160224 Original

 
14/40
Upon awakening path
spirit flies
slumber to awareness
self-knowing dawns
& compassion’s care
transcends
habits’ harm


14=Spiritual Perfection
Posted: 160225 Original

15/40
Assumptions narrate
stereotypes tale tell
Does what we see
mean what we get?
With curiosity’s wonder
may Grace guide


15=Grace
Posted: 160226 Original

 

 

16/40
Betwixt nightmares crafted
Love every embrace enters
Amidst horrors perpetuated
Love’s capacity compassion curates


16=Love
Posted: 160227 Original

 
17/40
Good Morning #Winnipeg
Intolerance’s mantra ingrained
& dignity trampled
May we solidarity united
diversity defend


17=Victory
Posted: 160228 Original

 

 

18/40
As twine binds bale
doubt dreams constrict
fear imagination fastens
In fright’s anxious shade
light promise glimmers


18=Bind
Posted: 160301 Original

 
19/40
In the sand
lines draw
boundaried binaries
good & bad
right & wrong
As ambiguity arises
may diversity’s lens guide


19=Judgement
Posted: 160302 Original

20/40
Sun meets new horizon
shadows & light embrace
In dance’d pause
waiting’s pending potential ponders
purpose’s passage


20=Purpose
Posted: 160303 Original

 

 

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21/40
Amidst
no’s
can’t do that
never been done
rebellious creative spirit walks
with mischievous smile
possible reveals


21=Rebellion
Posted: 160304 Original

 
22/40
On shoulders we stand
spying beyond them
yet not as far
as they who shall follow
May choices now
generations nurture


22=Generations
Posted: 160305 Original

 

 

23/40
Good morning #Winnipeg
In isolation’s tale
division dare dance
As Poet story retells
in hands held
alone we are not


23=God With Us
Posted: 160306 Original

 
24/40
As spring budding branch
blesses playful passing cloud
We together anoint
diversity’s dream
as rainbow hands enfold


24=Priesthood
Posted: 160308 Original

25/40
As mote’d eye
obscures wonder’s grace
So too judgement
fragments healing invitation
In letting go
liberation invites


25=Forgiveness
Posted: 160309 Original

 

 

26/40
In reflection’s time
love hubris humbles
In action’s moment
love compassionate grounds
In life’s unfolding
Love Is


26=Agape
Posted: 160309 Original

 
27/40
For those
who wield sticks
& who laws craft
power dehumanise tempts
In privilege’s place
mercy compassion invites


27=Mercy Seat
Posted: 160311 Original

 

 

28/40
Life eternal whispers
Choices now
bind what shall be
Intention’s focus
tomorrow’s fabric threads
children yet to be


28=Eternal Life
Posted: 160312 Original

 
29/40
Good Morning #Winnipeg
The world to which we aspire
where diversity’s dignity delights
in this day’s decisions dawns


29=Promised Land
Posted: 160313 Original

30/40
Upon shared path’s purpose
toward aspiration’s goal
how might passion
balance seeking
embrace dedication’s wisdom?


30=Dedication
Posted: 160315 Original

 

 

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31/40
Universe inhales
Poet, Holy Mystery, Parent or El
Names innumerable countenance alight
In metaphor
as One
we exhale


31=El
Posted: 160316 Original

 
32/40
Wisdom’s revelations
reveal’d in wistful play
meditative prayer
mindful reflection
ever toward awakening
she guides


32=Wisdom
Posted: 160317 Original

 

 

33/40
In narrative mundane
temptation strips everyday awe
With eyes wonder-wide
in our reflection
Connexion’s promise lies


33 = Promise
Posted: 160318 Original

 
34/40
In child’s journey
guide, mentor & Elder
nurture whom we might be
With gentle & courageous care
may we wisdom offer


34 = Son
Posted: 160319 Original

35/40
Good Morning #Winnipeg
Hope:
In oppression’s origin
depression’s depth
grief’s gathering
She whisper waits evermore


35 = Hope
Posted: 160320 Original

 

 

36/40
In anger’s grip
amidst fear’s shrill
you becomes them
we becomes us
In enemy’s retributive mantra
may mercy temper


36 = Enemy
Posted: 160322 Original

 
37/40
Language & syntax
paradox walk
With intention to unite
parsed grammar divides
For in trust
does Word community bind


37 = Word
Posted: 160323 Original

 

 

38/40
Habits habituate
Temptations torment
Unconscious patterns perplex
Slavery’s shackle
intention’s awakening shatters


38 = Slavery
Posted: 160324 Original

 
39/40
In laugher’s lilt
amidst play’s pleasure
& creativity’s change
Solidarity
division’s dis-ease
treasure transforms


39 = Disease
Posted: 160325 Original

40/40
Upon jubilation’s cusp
& celebration’s joining
Trials taken
disciplines discerned
proving passed
Wisdom gently dawns


40 = Trials
Posted: 160326 Original

 

 

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Checkout other Verses that have been tweeted in 140 characters or less!

(Blog) A Deacon’s Musing: Lent|Faith & Dying

This blog was originally published
March 11, 2016 by Winnipeg Presbytery

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

Faith & Permanence

Faith & Permanence
Image: Meena Kadri

“For what are you willing to die?”

I think that’s one of the central questions that dances in and amongst a discernment of the Christian faith. Where is the line in the sand, where is the place when you say ‘too much’ and stand, knowing – let’s be clear that this means literally – in the way of danger?

This central tension often helps people discern what it means to follow as a disciple of Christ. I also think (too often) it is sensationalised to a point that makes sacrifice look mandatory. I think that is an interesting debate and I offer that I do not think it is mandated. I feel, however, it is the inevitable outcome of embracing a love so radical that injustice and inequity become evidently apparent. It is in that clarity that it becomes a ‘no brainer’ to help others, because love – not that romanticised-Hallmark-five-dollar-card-kind – makes us radical, it makes us mavericks!

At one time, these are the one-on-one conversation I would have when I was in pastoral ministry. What is an individual or the community’s call? Where in the neighbourhood are the marginalised suffering and how does walking into solidarity affect everyone? Another interesting question in this context was: what are you willing to sacrifice? Of what do you need to let go, in order to be that radical love?

Not easy questions, certainly often without trite or simple answers, but the excitement that they create engenders discussions of Jesus among us, the Kingdom now and fully living in freedom, for which I believe we all long. And – getting to that place – is grounded both in trust and vulnerability: another difficult dance, though well worth the commitment. But – of course – I am biased …

twilight near!

twilight near!
Image: Nick Kenrick

My context – in the last few years – has shifted from the pastoral to one that is more structural or administrative in nature. In turn, as I began this year’s Lenten blogs, I was again wondering how would these musings translate into this new experience.? As I was sitting at a recent monthly gathering of church in Winnipeg, it became clear that the questions are just as appropriate individually, as they are collectively.

Let’s not sugar-coat the discussion and – as we are in Lent – wrestling seems appropriate. Whether as an individual or collective, which endeavours to follow Jesus, faith and dying are companions with whom we must walk. There is no doubt there is beauty in this ministry we have inherited. It often it comes in the awakening to the dream and an awareness of another person’s intrinsic beauty as a fellow Beloved of God. But this beautiful dream confronts – and likely always will – a dominant story of brokenness, inequity and oppression. As such, choosing to help others inevitably places a person of faith in direct tension with this ubiquitous story. If Jesus left us with anything, it is that faith and dying are intimate partners and in shadowed times, resurrection seems like a pipe dream of milk and honey that will remain a fairy-tale.

In the midst of this Lenten journey, therefore, how we – as The United Church of Canada – respond to such questions, may illuminate how we might describe our mission in the world as we await Light’s dawning:

• For what are you willing to die?
• What is our Call?
• Where in our neighbourhoods are the marginalised suffering and how does walking into solidarity affect everyone?
• What are we willing to sacrifice?
• Of what do we need to let go, in order to be radical love?

Blog links:

 Image: twilight near
 Image: Faith & Permanence
 Wikipedia: Lent

 Wikipedia: The United Church of Canada
 YouTube: Dream (Priscilla Ahn)

(Blog) A Deacon’s Musing: Lent|Structure & Passion

This blog was originally published
March 04, 2016 by Winnipeg Presbytery

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

“Structures and passion? A church blog, Seriously?”

As we are close to halfway through the Christian season called Lent, reflection is a constant touchstone. It seemed to me that these two realities – structure and passion – would be an appropriate matter about which to muse …

Think of these two ideas as dance partners and – right now – it seems that our wee The United Church of Canada (UCC) is trying to find the right harmony, the right tune, rhythm or rhyme to get this party started! And – if we are to be honest – that’s proving to be somewhat of a challenge.

broken structure

broken structure
Image: Scott Swigart

In the world of organisational change and culture shifting, whenever any group of people are together – whether they gather as a church denomination, non-profit group, business or family – change is inevitable. How we live into that, however, can unleash creativity, playful wonder, and curiosity or entrench a sense of oppression, cynicism, and even apathy. How we do that with intention can propel our imagination or quench the fire within. I think it is fair to say that for many – in the UCC – we know the stage has been set, we’re just waiting to see if anyone will show up with their invitations in hand!

Part of the disconnect I have experienced, is that our structures are grounded in a time called modernity. A time that began to shift in the late 1950s. In a modern context, answers and binaries are valued. Certainty and identity are found in affiliations, degrees and designations. Though our structures and the way they operate – sometimes called governance and polity – have a long history, they are confronting values and ways of being sometimes described as the postmodern.

Through a postmodern lens of the world, there is comfort in paradox and uncertainty. There is often a sense that change is the new norm and that embracing it can be exciting. Often the relationship between the modern and postmodern is tense, anxious feeling and disheartening. For those who long for certainty, postmodernity seems wishy-washy and ambiguous. For the postmodern, the binaries and right & wrong of the old structures feels judgemental and stifling. Needless to say, these eddies and waves, undercurrents and tides are awash in the UCC. And – unfortunately – these two partners often find themselves looking at one another from across the dance floor dressed in differing generational costumes. The music’s playing, the party is started, but no one is dancing.

purple passion

purple passion
Image: Anthony Easton

For the last few years, the UCC has been focused on structures as a way to address this tension. Though there is certainly value in figuring how to do things that might release energy and time, often the underlying motivation has been fiscal in nature. Such a rationale, however can be a challenge, if that for which people long is passion’s embrace: a desire to connect with the underlying mission that emboldens people to do wild and weird stuff called ministry. In Christian speak, the passion for which we long is intimately grounded in the ‘Good News.’

As I pause near the end of this week’s blog, I am sitting in a gathering of Sisters and Brothers who have gathered from throughout the Conference of Manitoba and Northwestern Ontario. Needless to say, the geography those of us gathered represent is vast and diverse. Needless to say, these structure conversations have arisen. Needless to say, that the uncertainty implicit in structural change has not been – necessarily – life-giving. I would not claim that is a universal experience, but I am struck by the idea of ‘flow.’

Flow is one of those ideas often associated with passion. It’s that synergy or connexion when time seems to disappear. As flow recedes, often the clocks hands have shifted dramatically, there’s a sense of fatigue and – ultimately – a sense of accomplishment. I hope – as this gathering draws to an end – there will be a sense that this was faithful time well-spent.

  • As we – as a denomination – realise we are now walking into structural change, and regardless of how we have arrived at this juncture, where is your passion?
  • Where is our sense of collective mission?
  • How might we tap into memories that connect with the transformative potential called faith?

These are the questions and encouragements that now invite us into dreaming dreams. Hopefully these new ways of being as the UCC tap into and honour our stories, as individuals, congregations and as a denomination. Stories that may be particular to our context, but speak to a universal thread that helps us shine bravely in the midst of shadows that gather in this time called Lent

Blog links:

 Image: passion
 Image: structure
 Wikipedia: Flow
 Wikipedia: Lent

 Wikipedia: Modernity
 Wikipedia: Postmodernity
 Wikipedia: The United Church of Canada
 YouTube: Flow (Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi)

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

This blog was originally published
February 26, 2016 by Winnipeg Presbytery

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

Appreciative Inquiry

Appreciative Inquiry
Image: Appreciative Inquiry Commons

There I was, surrounded by 60+ people who were sending one another off into the world. We were holding hands and had named ourselves as a family. The synergy and energy that connected us was palpable and the gratitude for that was clearly evident.

As we checked out with affirmations, we recognised the innovation that had been created, imagined the creativity yet to bloom and honoured the wisdom of the elders in our midst. I thought to myself how amazing and humbling it was to be surrounded by a room of “teenagers” – though dressed in different ages and stages of life – who not only passionately held on to the ideal of changing the world, but who were making conscious choices everyday to do that very thing! It was a rather remarkable gathering!

Now it might make sense if you assumed I was talking about a gathering of United Church peeps, perhaps a spirituality exploration or study, or even a missional dreaming opportunity. And – though that could make sense – the reality is that I was being embraced by fellow practitioners, from across North America, Europe and Nepal, of Appreciative Inquiry (AI)!

Each of us, who came from different contexts and places, gathered to explore, reflect and embolden one another with this philosophical outlook that takes very seriously the idea that the groups, families and systems in which we walk everyday possess the wisdom to embrace change with vibrancy and generativity. In particular, it emphasizes that the wisdom in our stories contains rich resources, which will allow us to transform what was good in the past into what is great in the future.

Anishinabe

Anishinabe
Image: Seven Generations Education Institute

As one Sister in the Christian faith who is also an Indigenous Elder describes, AI is like standing in between the generations. Looking to your left, you see those from whom you have travelled and those to your right those toward whom we are journeying. The gift, with such a breadth of view, is being able to make choices now, grounded in what was, so that they will positively impact children whom we will never meet!

As I returned from this time of learning and community, which is part of my own ongoing PhD journey, I began to reflect on the changes that lie before us. As we who call ourselves The United Church of Canada confront structural changes that can seem daunting, it is sometimes easy to feel like we are unmoored from identity. As the structures that once moored us become loosened, perhaps even obliterated, it is easy to lose sight of how we might ensure that the generations before us are nurtured and stewarded well.

I do not think there is any right or cookie-cutter answer for us, no matter how tempting it might be to desire a quick fix. I think that what this experience reminds me of is that in each of our lives and stories, the passionate past can embolden a life-giving future, if we recognise that it is in God’s abundance that we are sharing. And – as those called to bear bushels of wheat – we are called to share that abundance extravagantly, even with abandon!

For me, AI is a constant teacher, reminding me that our passion takes us into places unknown, sometimes even that are dangerous. In Christian language, this sometimes is referred to as bearing the Cross. In this Lenten time, when shadows gather, remembering the core of our passion promises to enable us embrace the choices that will ensure that the children whom will never know will awaken to the Blessing they are. Sometimes, even if sacrifice, loss or sorrow are the places into which we walk, it is that passionate core that continues to remind us we not only can, but that we are called to be co-creators of the Kingdom, which is constantly coming and which we will never fully see in this mortal journey called life …

Blog links:

 Image: Appreciative Inquiry
 Image: Anishinabe
 Wikipedia: Appreciative Inquiry

 Wikipedia: Lent
 Wikipedia: Seven Generation Sustainability
 Vimeo: On Leadership … with Christien Oudshoorn

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

This blog was originally published
February 12, 2016 by Winnipeg Presbytery

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

Contemplation

Contemplation
Image: Simon Powell

Mindfulness is a great word – especially in context of exploring the Christian practice of Lent. It’s a helpful word particularly because it enjoys a general acceptance in popular culture. As a result, it does not suffer from the assumptions that often limit conversation about religion. In other words, conversations about mindfulness are not associated with organised religion, which in our current cultural context often leads to awkward conversations.

However, one of the challenges is that often there is a sense of competition or either/or between spirituality and religion. You can’t be mindful if you’re a Christian, since the media often portrays of Christian spiritual practices as being judgemental others or as advocating in ways that are framed as politically conservative: even prayer can become a tool for public control, as opposed to an inward journey to awakening.

These challenges often detract from mindful Christian disciplines that stretch back to the third century, if not earlier, where they were practiced by those who are known as the ‘Desert Fathers.’ One of these mindful practices – sometimes called contemplative or centring prayer – is grounded in the intention of inward reflection and connecting beyond that which tempts our ego, a challenge in a consumer culture.

There have been different historic expressions of what this Lenten journey is about and how to practice its invitation to walk into the shadows. These rituals and disciplines have been and should be both an external/communal exploration, as well as an inner/personal one. The difficulty, however, is when one is preferenced. Or, as we have discussed, when there is a perception that only an external practice is pursued.

For Christians, this time is about preparing for a difficult exploration in which we acknowledge that the human choices that surrounded Jesus ultimately led to his execution by the Roman Empire. This political act, intended to undermine any resistance through the brutality of the spectacle, left the disciples feeling lost, disarrayed and fearful. There was no Good News the first time those 40 days unfolded – there was no awakening or resurrection. There was no miracle … yet!

Desert Fathers

Desert Fathers
Image: Fra Angelico (1420)

I think that mindful or contemplative practices allow a way for deeper digging and exploration that gets us away from the distractions around us. They allow us to be in the Now, the present, in a way that can lead to curiosity. When we wonder, it often allows us to wrestle with difficult questions, which might otherwise lead us to judge and shame one another and/or ourselves. Shame and judgement ultimately do not motivate us to compassion, self-sacrifice or hope.

Often – from a secular vantage – Christianity does not appear to be a compassionate religion. And – as with any system, person or organisation – when one experiences a negative appraisal, it is easy to become defensive. This sadly creates a feedback loop, in which a sort of self-fulfilling-prophecy occurs when defensiveness leads one to enact those initial critiques. Often one responds by debating the critique or by withdrawing from the conversation. If we are mindful, however, perhaps using the ancient disciplines of contemplation and centring, we might hear those challenges in a way that leads to unexpected generative responses. If we get out of our head, making space for silence, we might hear the Holy speaking to us; to the church …

• As we walk into this Lenten season,
what practices might you consider that could allow you to take a step back and listen?
• How does imagining doing that feel to you?
• Where in your body is that sensation?
• If you take a deep breath, and focus only on that sensation, what happens?
• And – as you let that breath go – what might you hear?

Blog links:

 Image: Contemplation
 Image: Desert Fathers
 Wikipedia: Centring Prayer

 Wikipedia: Lent
 Wikipedia: Mindfulness
 Vancouver Sun: Prayer versus meditation?
 YouTube: The Practice of Mindfulness

(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|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: Lent|Shadows

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

Lent means lots of things to many people. There are different Christian understandings and kinds of practice (Church-ese – discipline). I was trying to wrestle what this first Lenten blog (for 2015) would look like, to whom I would be speaking and (ultimately) what the intention would be? Then it occurred to me – perhaps I was reminded – that the entire concept of Lent is pretty foreign to the secular world in which the church finds itself. And – rather than worry or bemoan this (Lament in Church-ese) – it occurred to me that I might take this as an opportunity to explore and share how Lent might actually speak to the world outside of a faith-based environment. And – this won’t come as surprise to regulars of A Deacon’s Musing – often when we talk to the Other, we actually find we may very well be speaking to ourselves …

So, how do I share what Lent might mean for someone for whom the concept is totally new? I’ve already provided the link to Wikipedia (above and below). If it’s simply information that might be needed to explain it, I humbly recognise that’s likely a much better resource. In fact, just Google Lent … no doubt one could read for a very long time and still not exhaust the amount of data that’s out there in the land of cyber …

Path to Doney Mountain

Path to Doney Mountain
Image: Daina Dajevskis

But what I thought I might offer – as way of sharing my own appreciation – is by using an image: shadows. We walk – throughout lives – in the midst of light and shadows: sometimes at the same time! I think of light as the good stuff. For what I’m grateful. The people and events that make me laugh – the creatures and days that lead me to marvel and wonder. It may not always be easy, but there’s a simplicity when in the light. And – rather than create a ‘one’s better than the other’ – light can also seem uncompromising, perhaps even harsh if we see it as one way to reinforce ‘right = light’ and ‘wrong = shadows.’

Shadows are often not easy and (too often) definitely not simple. From the realities of aging to living, dying often unfolds in shadow spaces. Pain and sorrow too. There’s no doubt that what often gets broadcast through traditional media is shadow-laced. Violence, war, and dignity violations of the soul-wrenching kind. This is only more difficult when there’s a constant sense of guilt around the environment, consumerism, feelings of inadequacy and powerlessness … To be clear, however, being in the midst of shadows is not necessarily ‘bad,’ but it is also a place and space in which it is difficult to shine.

Namibie - Dead Vlei

Namibie – Dead Vlei
Image: Panoramas

Light dances through shadows, but sometimes when we’re in the places where grey-monotone dominates, it’s hard to see the path illuminated before us. And – the connexion with Lent – is that it is part of the Christian calendar in which we intentionally sit in the shadows, sort of like in exile. It’s the place we ask tough questions, often looking into the mirror with discomfort. It’s certainly not an easy 40 days!

The reason 40 is important is that – for Christians – that is the amount of time Jesus (the one whom we endeavour to follow and model) was in the desert. It’s also a time of old pedigree in the larger Jewish story (in which Christianity is intimately rooted) about wandering and doubting, questioning and even raging against one another, though ultimately at God. Lent then makes space for those questions and longings that we all have. In faith-based contexts then, such searching is not only encouraged, but time is set aside for it. Particular to the Christian calendar, one stretch of time where (with intention) we make space is Lent.

Dwelling in the shadows is never easy, and far from simple. Being in their midst, the clarity of what’s right or wrong gets blurred. Certainty of values and beliefs can become skewed. But if we do not make space for such practice – this is the Christian experience talking – then when that proverbial fan gets hit, we’ve at least done some preparation. Doesn’t mean we’re ready for those unexpected trials (whether that’s death, dis-ease, financial concerns and/or violence: to mention only a few things that lead into shadows), but we have nurtured some resilience, some capacity to remain clear on what’s important in the inevitable moments of anxiousness and – even – fear.

Light and shadows dance … the gift that Lent presents is being able to see the path illuminated even when all seems shaded-grey …

Blog links:

 ADM: Lenten Collection
 Google: Lent (Search)
 Image: Namibie – Dead Vlei
 Image: Path to Doney Mountatin

 UCC: Winnipeg Presbytery (Twitter)
 Wikipedia: Lent
 YouTube: Exile (Kate Rusby & Kathryn Roberts)

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