(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|Who … 4/4

There are many questions before us as a faith community that endeavours to live into celebrating God’s diversity in a pluralistic, interconnected culture

There are many challenges before us as a Christian expression of faith that endeavours to hold onto to the integrity of our understanding of the Divine, while recognising that the Holy is not defined or owned by any one truth. All truths point beyond themselves to that which is incomprehensible.

This four part blog series begins with a different question that is informed by the following question Jesus asked: But who do you say that I am? (Mark 8.29)

 

Icon: Link(s) 1. Who do they say that we are? (Sept 20/13)
Icon: Link(s) 2. Who do you say that I am? (Sept 26/13)

Icon: Link(s) 3. Who do I say that you are? (Oct 4/13)
Icon: Link(s) 4. Who do we say that we are? (Oct 12/13)

Who do we say that we are?

Compost

Compost

This 4-part series has been grounded in questions that begin with the question, “Who … ?” Throughout this journey, it seems that the use of vignettes or snap-shots has been a helpful way to muse through the questions. I guess, true to that form, I will end this last Who-blog in that manner.

The following two responses to the question are offered as story-lines or narratives. I do not claim that they are in any way authoritative, but I do pray – at the least – they are provocative enough to stir the imagination and may very well lead to discussion.

Each of the images – cremation and compost – that grounds the following discussion, have been borrowed by me for this blog from a recent time of listening and learning from Nadia Bolz-Weber during her time here in Winnipeg. I hope that my presumption honours the passion with which she shared.

Icon: ImageCremation: We are a church that comes out of a context that honours ideas such as behaving, commitment and discipline. This milieu now finds itself confronted with a changing landscape to such a degree that we feel ill-equipped to respond and/or change. And – even when there is energy to consider such a shift – the task can feel overwhelming. Distrust in one another, interpersonal angst and uncertainty leads to an inward gaze that can distract us from the need for the Good News outside of the walls of our faith communities. And – sometimes – those literal walls only reinforce this sense of being a stranger in a land that we once called home. And, in exile, there is the distinct possibility that we may die, be cremated and the footprints we once followed with certainty may fade as our memory recedes.

Cremation

Cremation

Icon: ImageCompost: We are a church that finds itself surrounded by a context that longs for belonging, community and trust and yet is distrustful of institutions that value ideas such as behaving, commitment and discipline. Into this emergent time, we know that the way we once walked and the manner in which we once talked no longer translates into the world beyond our walls. New tools, new words, and new metaphors are needed to share that for which we long and know to be true, that the Holy One reminds us:

I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert.
Isaiah 43.19

Into this time, we walk out into the world, ask what is needed, discern what needs nurture, how we might harness the abundance which we have inherited from those upon whose shoulders we stand and begin to plant seeds anew. And as we begin to do the doing in a new way, it may very well happen that we may never see the new thing.

I am not sure where we are going; both stories may contain truth and are not intended to be seen as binaries. They – however – hopefully stimulate the mind to realise that we have choices to make and that agency is ours to live into, because no matter what we end up doing the breath of God – the Spirit will and does fly – she will touch lives and transform them. Who might be the agents of Ruah, however, is only know to that which we call the Wisdom of God … may it be so!

Blog links:

A Deacon’s Musing blog

(Blog) A Deacon’s Musing|Who … 3/4

There are many questions before us as a faith community that endeavours to live into celebrating God’s diversity in a pluralistic, interconnected culture

There are many challenges before us as a Christian expression of faith that endeavours to hold onto to the integrity of our understanding of the Divine, while recognising that the Holy is not defined or owned by any one truth. All truths point beyond themselves to that which is incomprehensible.

This four part blog series begins with a different question that is informed by the following question Jesus asked: But who do you say that I am? (Mark 8.29)

 

Icon: Link(s) 1. Who do they say that we are? (Sept 20/13)
Icon: Link(s) 2. Who do you say that I am? (Sept 26/13)

Icon: Link(s) 3. Who do I say that you are? (Oct 4/13)
Icon: Link(s) 4. Who do we say that we are? (Oct 12/13)

Who do I say that you are?

As I begin this third blog in this series, I realise that the questions – as I guess whenever one is asked – are not just about the exterior world, but also reflect one’s own interior. I wonder, as this series continues, how much the questions are as much about the context in which the church finds itself, as well as about me? As a person who – I believe – is able to ask helpful and useful questions, what is my own responsibility in being able to answer them for myself, as both a hallmark of my discipleship, as well as an indicator of my commitment to self-reflection and growth? I might even muse, do I walk my talk, or just talk the talk …

Icon: ImageFor those who are seeking, I experience you as someone who is wary of institutional faith, yet is longing to find a place to talk about the ‘big stuff.’ You know (for instance): life; death; illness; and, the inequities you see with each media clip from the TV news or a YouTube video, which has gone viral. And in that longing to find places to dig deep and ask questions that are perhaps vulnerable making, institutional religion, just does not seem safe …

Icon: ImageFor those in the institution, who have made a commitment to find ways to wrestle with faith in an organised body, I worry that you no longer trust. I sense a deep sadness that sometimes seems to lead you to places where there is not enough, where lament has forgotten the Psalmists reminder of Gratitude. I pray for you that, in these places of melancholy and despair, we do not begin to hurt one another, whether consciously or not. It sometimes seems that the structures – whether brick and mortar or polity and process – has become a block to asking the question: Where are we being called to be the Good News in a changing landscape …

Icon: ImageAnd then there’s those who are angry, hurt and – often – appropriately so distrustful of anyone who broaches topics from a faith-based lens. And in these places of dis-ease, all religion (especially Christianity) is the place where those tumultuous experiences and emotions get parked. You use broad strokes and paint us all as complicit. We may certainly need to recognise our culpability, but the rawness of your ire does not allow me to have a conversation with you … and with humility … I need to recognise you may very well never want to …

Whoever you are … or at least the story I try to tell about you, I must find ways to let go of my assumptions, prejudices and phobias. I cannot force you through a door, I cannot convince you of something and I must be clear that my faith journey is not a one-size-fits-all … What is clear to me, is that I cannot do anything other than to wait and be present for when those conversations bloom that possess the potential for mutual transformation. One of the things that is key to my understanding of this journey of faith, is that it is only when listening begins that things begin to change … and that change is never one way and that is both a gift and – at the very least – anxious making …

A Deacon’s Musing blog

 

 

(Blog) A Deacon’s Musing|Who … 2/4

There are many questions before us as a faith community that endeavours to live into celebrating God’s diversity in a pluralistic, interconnected culture

There are many challenges before us as a Christian expression of faith that endeavours to hold onto to the integrity of our understanding of the Divine, while recognising that the Holy is not defined or owned by any one truth. All truths point beyond themselves to that which is incomprehensible.

This four part blog series begins with a different question that is informed by the following question Jesus asked: But who do you say that I am? (Mark 8.29)

 

Icon: Link(s) 1. Who do they say that we are? (Sept 20/13)
Icon: Link(s) 2. Who do you say that I am? (Sept 26/13)

Icon: Link(s) 3. Who do I say that you are? (Oct 4/13)
Icon: Link(s) 4. Who do we say that we are? (Oct 12/13)

Who do you say that I am?

G33ks r0x0r

G33ks r0x0r

This Who is a little harder than last week’s: if I do not know you, how might your own story fit me as a new character?

I believe that in the turmoil and gifts, challenges and joys, grief and blessings that is life, we are not only – obviously – at the centre of the stage, but we are the play’s protagonist. As a result, regardless of how much self-reflection one has done, the Other has to fit into the story we tell ourselves.

One Christian aspiration is to see the Other – the Stranger – as a Holy Guest, as a mirror of one’s own openness to the movement of God in the world. A lofty aspiration, but sometimes it’s easier said than done. Somewhere in-between these two poles – the aspiration and where one is at – is the me you have met.

 

Icon: ImageSo – for some – learning I am a male, heterosexual, educated leader in a Christian denomination, might mean I am that judgemental guy who wants to tell you what to do. That no matter how genuine I might seem, I’ve got an agenda and that plan stands in direct opposition to your understanding of another guy named Jesus. I could very well be a person who uses words like love, blessing and joy, but actually those are just code for hate, burden and suffering ….

Icon: ImageYou might be someone from within the denomination in which I find myself living out – in a formal and institutionalised manner – my faith. Perhaps knowing I am an outsider to The United Church of Canada leads you to wonder what I am doing, whether or not I have the capacity or credentials to actually be a leader or (in church-speak) offer faithful discipleship.

Icon: ImageMaybe for those who are seeking, who see me on my daily run – when the ink that adorns my skin is clearly visible that tells part of my tale – your assumptions about what a Christian looks like or sounds like might be jarred. Perhaps as one who wrestles with doubts, discovering that this faith community, in which I too was an outsider, wrestles openly and honestly with questions of human dignity might offer you pause. Maybe the idea of an intercultural church – where regardless of sexual orientation, gender, race, language, or any of the long lists of phobias that scar souls – gives you a reason to take my hand offered in greeting. Possibly, as you take my hand, you may be willing to indeed trust that my embrace is genuine and curious, but not judgemental …

This Who is a little harder than last week’s: if I do not know you, how might your own story fit me as a new character? Until we meet one another, it’s all conjecture and the potential contained in our knowing one another remains unrealised …

Blog links:

A Deacon’s Musing blog

(Blog) A Deacon’s Musing|Who … 1/4

There are many questions before us as a faith community that endeavours to live into celebrating God’s diversity in a pluralistic, interconnected culture

There are many challenges before us as a Christian expression of faith that endeavours to hold onto the integrity of our understanding of the Divine, while recognising that the Holy is not defined or owned by any one truth. All truths point beyond themselves to that which is incomprehensible.

This four part blog series begins with a different question that is informed by the following question Jesus asked: But who do you say that I am? (Mark 8.29)

 

Icon: Link(s) 1. Who do they say that we are? (Sept 20/13)
Icon: Link(s) 2. Who do you say that I am? (Sept 26/13)

Icon: Link(s) 3. Who do I say that you are? (Oct 4/13)
Icon: Link(s) 4. Who do we say that we are? (Oct 12/13)

Who do they say that we are?

<rant>

I am not going to quote the literature, nor am I going to link to a bunch of sources on the internet. I know it’s my want, but I’m sensing a rant and it’s informed by a context that is not one new to our United Church of Canada, it’s information we have heard, with which we have wrestled and – admittedly – I wonder if we have ears to hear.

Whoever they are, they’re most likely not worshipping with us on Sundays, some of them might make use of our various community ministries, might attend a group that is hosted or subsidised by one of our local congregations throughout Canada and there is most often a definite binary as to who they often say we are and who we believe we are.

We know ourselves to be a people who wrestle to be comfortable with the Other, we long to live into being an Intercultural Church, we pray we can see past the phobias and stereotypes with which we have been indoctrinated, in order to help people awaken to the Gift of the Light that they are! And each one of those clauses contains a challenge to how the Christian – large ‘C’ – church is seen by a secular and distrustful culture that sees religion – our faith in particular – as anything but welcoming, loving, patient or accepting.

I recently heard Slash from one of my favourite growing-up-years bands – Guns & Roses – basically reiterate the danger of religious organisations that fit better in his most recent horror movie than in a story of redemption, resurrection or Grace. Christianity wears the clothes of intolerance, genocide, and violence in a way that would and should make us cringe (and many of those challenges – if we’re honest with ourselves – are not inappropriate). Too often – however, I wonder if we are more akin to the ostrich who was mothered by Foghorn Leghorn. When we hear that which makes us uncomfortable or frightens us … into the sand goes our head.

I really do not mean this rant to be judgemental – hey, I’m living the gift and blessing of being able to have my faith and vocation intertwine. I genuinely believe we need to hear this reality, in order to change the story. If we do not hear, accept or recognise who they say we are, how can we expect to model an alternative and subversive challenge to share who we know we are?

Answers, well I may have way more questions, but I do know that until we start to really hold up the question – like a Rubik’s cube puzzle – we’ll still find our ears full of sand. And that – friends, Sisters and Brothers – makes me sad because we’ve got a lot of awesome stuff to share that I know has allowed me to shine and will certainly do the same thing for others … after all the Good News has been transforming lives for over 2000 years, no need to think it’s going to stop now, even if in spite of ourselves …

</rant>

Blog links:

(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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