(Blog) A Deacon’s Musing|Vulnerability #2

This blog was originally published
September 23, 2016 by Winnipeg Presbytery

Vulnerability's Paradox

Vulnerability’s Paradox

Let’s face it, digging deep and making space to explore our vulnerabilities is not encouraged in our day-to-day lives. Traditionally, media has a tendency to repeat and reinforce a lens that discourages us to ask questions about our selves or one others. Rather than inviting people to share, often the mantra of solace is found in the placebo of purchase this, wear that, replace those: anything to detract us from the soul’s longing for awakening.

There are also three significant ways – or so it seems to me – that our individualised and atomised culture discourages the inner journey.  Such persuasion, which encourages avoiding exploring and sharing our vulnerability, can be named as Shame, Suffering Strength and Fear.

Shame, I have found, is often a way to deflect that for which we long ourselves onto someone else. We are shamed into silence when we reach out to share, because it might create space to have difficult conversations that require compassion. Often in these places, we quickly realise that we are not talking just about the Other, but ourselves. If we are not prepared to go there, therefore, shame is a helpful way to keep all of us silent.

Suffering Strength, often euphemistically summarised as “suck it up,” is another way to not address our own stuff and/or needs. This cultural mantra ensures that we not only stay individualised and separated from one another, but that the ideal way we should look and be is strong. Strong in pain, healthy looking and confident. Regardless of the inner soul weeping, the exterior is all that matters. Of course, consumerism helps with this, since if we have the latest this and hottest that, we must be projecting on our exterior what is occurring in our interior.

Fear is perhaps the most effective of the three. I do not mean to imply, as well, that these are separate phenomena. They dance and weave together, in order to create illusions that suppress our vulnerability. Whether fear is of the Other – Christian, Jew, Muslim, American, Russian, Black, White, Gay, or Straight – you choose the label, fear keeps us further removed. Then there is the interior fear, which sometimes invites shame along for the ride. Interior fear often is connected with rejection or dismissal. So, whether Shame, Suffering Strength or Fear, we find ourselves alone and longing …

Interconnected

Interconnected

As often is the case, when faith communities are at their best, vulnerability is revealed to be a paradox. When communities of faith endeavour to make safe space, people share voraciously and energetically. The reality is that it is not the hurt itself we want to share – solely – but the story of us that connects and sometimes does not arise from it. Yet in the intimate – Sacred – spaces of such story-telling in which Fear, Shame and Suffering Strength are banished, it is not weakness that is discovered, but awakening courage.

Regardless of the way we try to explain it, when places are nurtured to share that which is central to us, vulnerability and flaws, resilience and tenacity, the Holy abides. In these places, therefore, we are emboldened and fortified, awakening to the reality that community can change not just individual lives, but our churches, homes, cities, provinces, country and the world.

We are born tellers of tales, yet I would offer not to self-congratulate or ego feed, quite the contrary. When congregations have got it going on, if you will, we realise that our particular stories speak to a universal connexion or reality. This inter-connexion has many names, in the Christian context some might call it Spirit, Creator God, Wisdom or even Ruah. It is in these moments of inter-connected realisation that we recognise that which we do to ourselves, we do to one another. And in such awareness, rather than oppress into shadowed isolation, how might then we bid one another shine?

(Blog) Everyday Brogues: Walking with Courage

Shelly & Buddy Abe!

Shelly & Buddy Abe!

In a few days’ time I will be heading to Chicago for an event with the Center for Courage and Renewal. This will be the third time I will participate in this larger event and one of many other retreats and workshops I have had the blessing to be part of. I have received gifts of financial assistance directly from the Center and also from the Conference of Manitoba and Northwestern Ontario of The United Church of Canada, to be able to attend these events. I should have written this thank-you note/report much sooner, but I want both groups to know how much it has been appreciated. How much I have learned. How much I have grown. And how much the workshops and retreat-time through the Center have touched my ministry.

At a time in our world’s history when the forces of either/or seem strong and US/Canadian relations are experiencing a sense of ‘pause’ (until we know what happens with certain political decisions), AND, a time when ‘my church’ – the United Church of Canada – and the United Church of Christ USA have begun an agreement of full communion with one another, it seems even more fitting that voices other than those of fear and hatred speak out. At a time when Canadians might be tempted to a sense of superiority and thinking that our history of racially-based treatment of citizens is somehow ‘different’ and when we might be tempted to not see ‘sister or brother’ when we look at US media, the work of the Center for Courage and Renewal is even more relevant. The theme for this years’ clergy event, ‘Liberating the Voice of Courage’, seems especially fitting.

One of the Courage teachings of Parker Palmer (one of the founders of the Center) requires a re-versal, an up-side-down-ness to our usual way of thinking about apparent ‘opposites’. Palmer invites us to hold the tensions between two poles (whatever they might be) and offer another possibility, a third way. Our default habit seems to be that we don’t want to hold paradox in our own lives – it is too uncomfortable. We also know (scientifically, spiritually, physically), however, that this place of tension is painful, but ripe and even necessary for creative generation of life. The type of leaders that are needed for this world we live in, Palmer suggests, need to be able to stand in this place he describes as ‘the tragic gap’. This is the space where we do not have to choose one or the other – right or wrong, black or white, Christian or Muslim, American or Canadian, all or nothing – but with love, patience and hope, invite others to join us there.

Twilight in Cayucos

Twilight in Cayucos

Again, at this time in our history, we might be tempted to despair or to ask why human relationships seems so difficult, but there are others who are also inviting us to creatively hold the space between what is, and what could be. I have seen it, for example, in John Phillip Newell’s works of prayer and peace and even more explicitly so in his recent book The Rebirthing of God: Christianity’s Struggle for New Beginnings (Skylight Paths, 2014). Using the image of twilight as the liminal time between night and day, known and unknown, Newell reminds us that the ability and gift of being able to hold opposites or paradox in a life-giving way is a calling and that it requires continual practice. He writes that ‘the way forward in our lives is to somehow place ourselves in the middle of such tension’ (95). Discussing Carl Jung’s work on the unconscious, he points out that space, or the ‘marriage of opposites’ is where generation occurs, where new birth can happen. “If there is to be a rebirthing of the Sacred within us as nations, as religious traditions, as communities and families, we need to move into relationship with those who are considered unlike us” (98).

We are each being called, I believe, by some of our wisest teachers, to purposely place ourselves in that space between, holding the tension, bridging the tragic gap and offering ourselves to new experiences of ‘other’. Our world is yearning for people full of possibility, of love, of purpose, of peace, of deep listening and deep compassion, beings able to live in this liminal space of twilight. The opportunities I have had through The Center for Courage and Renewal have given me (and many others) a chance to practice doing just that. The model and rhythm of the days (from deep silence to boisterous laughter to stirring music) the way we are invited into a profound listening of the ‘other’s’ story, and the acceptance of all kinds of different expressions of truth, have all been such an important part of the practice or habit-forming work. I am thankful that I have had a chance to experience some of the people who help bring this fullness to others. I am thankful for my Church and my community for the opportunities to share some of my excitement with you, and to help bring to others such promise. I am full, even at ‘this’ time – whatever is happening in the news at this very moment – I am full of hope, possibility, gratitude and perhaps even courage, as I pack my bag for Chicago!

Everyday Brogues Blog

(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|Flow

I really do have great conversations that arise on account of Sisters and Brothers, seekers and questioners who choose to email, engage through social media and/or comment about items that directly or indirectly connect with A Deacon’s Musing. It’s humbling, sometimes surprising, and always wonderful to be invited into discussion I could not have imagined. Otherwise – and I’ll share an inner monologue, a self-knowing doubt, with you – I get concerned that all I do when I muse is navel gaze!

So this week, to my pleasant surprise, a friend and Brother from over the pond sent me an email that contained an excerpt from Judith E. Smith’s article: “This Ground is Holy Ground:”

My final question, ‘How will I know when I have reached the destination?’ brings me full circle, and I face the Mystery again. Perhaps the truth is that we never arrive, not because the journey is too long and too difficult but because we have been there all along. I am coming to believe that there is no final destination except to continue to be on the journey and to know that every place along the way is a holy place because God is present. I believe that God is calling us to stand on our own ground and know that it is holy and let our roots grow deep. And yet at the same time, the journey goes on. It is a paradox, I know, but perhaps we are traveling most faithfully when we know ourselves to be most at home.

Paradox

Paradox
Photo: John Talbot

In that email discussion – and my own reflections as the week has unfolded – we explored mysticism, ego and what some mystics call, ‘the dissolution of self.’ Various faiths have explored this idea and it has always fascinated me. In particular, at what point does a commitment to a discipline allow us to let go of our ego? This is even more important in this time of pluralism and fundamentalism, because confusing ego and faith can and does lead to the suppression, denigration and oppression of human dignity.

I have always wrestled with the question how we know when we have let go of our own agenda and ideology and let the Universe, God, the Holy of Holies guide us to do something far greater, more noble, than our own hubris might imagine. How do we recognise that something we might consider small and insignificant, is in fact the very great and wonderful thing we are asked to sow, plant and nurture?

As a Christian, I live in a paradox that exists between our culture’s arbitrary distinction between head, heart and spirit: my head admires the ministry of a Rabbi named Yeshua, my heart longs for the embrace of a relational God that I often find lacking in human connexion, and Spirit that yearns to let go, follow and inspire others. It’s often a spiral of questions, doubts, more questions and … periodically gifts of insight and revelation. It’s a paradox because too often these facets seem irreconcilable and so I default to one or the other and – frequently – the ego is there to assure me I know what’s what …

Flow

Flow
Photo: Kool Cats Photography

I know – for me – however, that this paradox finds resolution in the letting go part, again what the mystics alluded to as a veil pulled back that reveals everything is one. A revelation in which science and faith are not separated. It’s hard to explain such concepts as they only highlight the awkwardness and clumsiness of words. They really are an inadequate tool, especially about matters of the soul. So, let me leave you with where I have arrived with this musing thus far and – perhaps – you might continue this discussion through email, a comment, serendipity or social media …

In the 1970s a term was coined called ‘Flow.’ For me it speaks to one tangible aspect when I can gauge when I have let go … when I do so, my attention loses track of time and I can flow through a task, a moment, an event and then ‘awaken.’ It’s like I’ve walked into a time machine, come out on the other side with something accomplished, perhaps tired, but there’s a sense of … fullness? Fulfillment? Completeness? Purpose attained?

Words are awkward … but they are also so very exciting when they point to our commonalities that defy quantification, even though we might share their quality …

• What words might you use?
• Have you experienced such a sense of lost time?
• As though by letting go, you were letting in?

Blog links:

(Blog) A Deacon’s Musing|Growth’s Paradox

Growth … it’s a funny tension in the church. As we experience seismic changes in our understanding of our Call – as the Holy Spirit leads us into places of celebration and gratitude – we get stuck in a narrow understanding of the word.

Scattered Seeds

Scattered Seeds

It’s really not a surprise, at least I do not think it should be. We live and breathe in a culture of more is better, of disposable technologies and lives, where worth is not rooted in the purpose of a thing or person, but in the finery that dresses it or us. In other words, growth – as consumerism – is more often than not about quantity and not quality.

As we are in this time of collective self-evaluation of less people in pews, less revenue, less this and less that – we are held hostage. I wonder, though, can we let go of this incomplete understanding of growth? Can we imagine this time as an invitation toward inward work … toward awakening … of enabling even one other person, whom we meet and touch, to awaken to the dignity they deserve as a human being, as a child of Creation? If so, how might we be liberated from chains often of our own making? How might we be freed when we help release another prisoner from his/her own chains?

This last week has been an interesting one. I have sat with Sisters and Brothers as we have recognised the abundance in our midst, which lies before us owing to the work and faith of those upon whose shoulders we stand. Siblings in the faith who have left us a legacy from a time and context that no longer exists. Siblings in the faith who likely were unaware of what their own sowing would produce. As we sat there, we asked: how do we make new things in this paradox?

1Hope Winnipeg

In Winnipeg, my denomination has celebrated many community ministries in the city and currently there are five in which we actively live out our faith. Under the banner of 1Hope Winnipeg we touch lives – so many lives that I find it both inspiring and overwhelming. I have seen some of the numbers and these five ministries affect no less than 50 000 lives each and every year. Lives that confront entrenched homophobia, Aboriginal oppression in the form of systemic racism and marginalisation, and those who live in poverty and find themselves judged and discarded. In this recognition, my heart swells knowing we endeavour to be Light. And in the paradox of growth we now find ourselves asking, how shall we continue this work? As a missional people, how do we continue to go into the streets of a hurting world when we might be paralysed by that simple chain of more is better?

And – here’s one way I recognised a way through this week – we return to embracing God’s abundance. We leverage, use, risk the abundance that we have and declare this is worthwhile. We radically squander and the return may not be in numbers, but it will be in numbers. We awaken to the distinction that it’s not about converting everyone to our vision, it’s about modelling that just one person who awakens to the blessing they are changes the world. In other words, it’s not about numbers, but it is …

Street Pastors

I have a friend – one of those cyber Brothers whom I have not yet met – who lives in the UK. He recently shared he has responded to a new call as a Street Pastor. In the late evening, early morning, he and others walk the streets to help those who have imbibed. As pubs and bars empty, these men and women are present where brokenness might be dressed in the façade of inebriation and addiction in the dark of urban streets and alleys. And – in his sharing – I heard a beautiful story we call the Gospel, the Good News. Without judgement, my friend sits with, listens and ensures people are safe. Though soiled in both the literal and figurative, he is present and sees another human being as someone …

Numbers and growth: there’s a paradox in there. Like those who came before us, we throw seeds into the world as Christians planting that which we cannot imagine. But if we get stuck wanting to know the outcome, the results, whether the soil’s fertile, I wonder to what extent we trust? Do we trust one another, do we trust ourselves … do we trust a God that humbled herself to suffer, bleed and die as a man named Jesus? Do we embrace a message that each life is transformable and that we are actually worthy to name ourselves as Beloved?

It’s not about numbers, dear reader … it’s about a number. The paradox is not that we have to lead, it’s that we get to choose to follow. And – in modelling such discipleship – others may very well awaken to their own intrinsic value … their own dignity … and shine so bright that others will want to know more … after all, faith’s a paradox!

Blog links:

 YouTube: What Light (Wilco)

(Blog) A Deacon’s Musing|Change

A rationale of ‘Cause & Effect’ can distract.
Change is inevitable:
it is the cause that leads to awakening choice.
What follows is effect
(A Pres-bit|@wpgpres)

The Cycle of Life

The Cycle of Life

Well … I’m back! Thanks to everyone for your emails, PMs, tweets and such. Your well wishes, inquires about A Deacon’s Musing (ADM) and general interest have been a gift indeed to receive. This time of transition has been filled with much import, challenge and gift … so thank you!

For those of you for whom ADM is new, I have begun a new journey in respect to my ministry with The United Church of Canada (UCC). For the last six years and a bit, I have walked with the congregation, The United Church in Meadowood (UCiM). That journey has seen moments of joy and celebration, tears and anger, new life and death. The cycle of life has been experienced in multiple ways that though it may possess a rhythm – of sorts – there has certainly been a constant reminder that surprise is more often the norm than our human longing for predictability.

As I pen this week’s blog, I’m in my new office at Winnipeg Presbytery (WPG). This new role is quite different – more organisational in nature and not intimately bound to the life-cycle that one finds within a faith community. This new role allows me to ask questions, help nurture new ministries and explore ways to share the Hope that we Christians call the Good News. It’s certainly been anything but predictable and – obviously not surprisingly – I’ve been wondering about change, control, risk and predictability. And – in some convoluted way – how this speaks to discipleship within a Christian community and leadership in general!

There are certainly many questions we can ask about our experience of change. What strikes me is that regardless of whether change is intentionally planned or happens through the serendipity that is life, it’s inevitable. Careers, birth, relationships, illness, surprises and death: these are the milestones markers about where we have been, what influences our present and affects where we might be heading.

What do we know about change?
What do we say about change?
Do we react to change?
Do we respond to change?

As a faith community, Christians hold this paradox central to our faith. In death, life is possible. In the place of suffering, there is hope. When power seems absent, agency and opportunity flourish. Where there is deficit, there is abundance. It’s what we believe … it’s how we roll … or such is that to which aspire.

And if these binaries and paradoxes frame some of our faith, I wonder whether and/or to what degree we believe that narrative? Life is always in flux no matter the illusion or story to the contrary. We might discuss our organised institution of faith – congregation, Presbytery, Conference or General Council – in respect to change. Or, perhaps, our own discipleship in respect to the inevitable nature of life. We might even explore leadership outside of the walls of organised religion. Regardless of the lens through which we view change, it is inevitable that it will occur and often we will lack control. Yet, what our own agency provides is the possibility to respond differently than what might be our norm or what might be expected of us: In the face of loss, we may recognise celebration; in the place of scarcity, perhaps we awaken to abundance; and, in the possibility of violence, perhaps an option for reconciliation might be borne. And yet – in these few examples – choice lies central. I do not want to deny nor sugar-coat that life’s changes sometimes are painful, require reflection, lament and perhaps even anger. And after we experience what we need to experience, emote the way we need to react, what next?

What Next?

Do our eyes open and spy a new vista?
Do our ears hear a new song?
Does the breeze carry the perfumed scent of something different?
Does touch trace a pattern unfamiliar?
Does an unexpected flavour seize you in the moment?

Questions … and regardless of the answers, do you want to know you possess the power to change your world? Within you, the potential to alter another’s life is intrinsic to your being? We can be tempted to see life as simply the cause and effect to which we are tethered. But … what a great conjunction … but when you, when we, realise choice is possible, well I wonder what might happen next …

Blog links:

A Deacon’s Musing blog

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