(Blog) A Deacon’s Musing|3S + 1R

Ultimate Self-care

Ultimate Self-care
Image: Celestine Chua

I love alliteration … I also had not anticipated blogging with 3S & 1R: Spiritual, Sabbath, Self-Care & Religious. In fact, I had thought I would be adding a new addition to the Serial Story Feather’s Fall (thanks for the recent inquiries about an update: next week … I hope J )! But then a great twitter conversation occurred about Sabbath and Self-care, which then moved onto the ongoing faith discussion about a person being spiritual but not religious … and thus a blog was born!

My take away from this twitter conversation is that we – as church – have done a rather poor job of translating our words into a context – the secular – that pretty much is longing for them. So (for instance) in this 24/7 economy, in which temporary and part-time jobs mean less financial security, there is often little time for family or self. As a result, the idea of self-care is gaining in importance.

Now in church-ese we call that Sabbath. This rich and nuanced word contains rich history of social and economic justice, which is tied to the earth and agriculture (Creation in church-speak). And we know from multiple studies, these church values are shared by the secular context that talks about self-care. Problem though – here’s the rub – is we’re not even in the conversation (often). Self-care often is individualistic and self-focused. In fact, it mirrors the consumer culture in which we live and is often approached as a product in and of itself. And – since we are not in the conversation – we have little space to connect that the church language of Sabbath carries another shared value: community and corporate well-being!

Snoopy's Theology

Snoopy’s Theology
Image: Charles Schultz (1976)

From Sabbath and Self-Care, the conversation that inspired this blog then moved on to discuss the phrase/movement of spiritual but not religious. A phrase that often irks those in the church and too often gets dismissed and/or judged. And I think this is unfortunate.

Since we are often not in the conversation or find ourselves only speaking to one another (within our context) and not those who are seeking (the spiritual part), we have done a poor job to address this reality: spiritual seeking itself has been turned into a commodity and leaves it to the individual to put together a system of ritual, practice and discipline: in essence people are creating their own religions (often individual in focus). And – often – without an anchored tradition, sometimes such religious formation leaves a spirituality that is unable to weather some of life’s very real and traumatic realities. I do not claim that formal or institutional religion always does this well – but the communal tradition leaves space for support individualism cannot (in my experience).

As this twitter chat came to an end, I was excited both by the trust being shared and the public nature. For those who aren’t familiar with Twitter, this is all public. Currently the Presbytery has a reach of 1200+ Followers and the person with whom I was exploring these great ideas and appropriate challenges has many as well! Public discussion of faith is great!

And here’s the final take away: if we are currently not in the conversation, need alone participating publicly (Church-ese might go as far as calling this Evangelism) then not only do we need to ask whether we are relevant, but do we have any moral or ethical stance on which to judge? I think that reality is we do tend to judge – and I’d challenge that’s easy to do when you aren’t in the game, need alone even on the sidelines …

Blog links:

 Twitter: Winnipeg Presbytery
 Wikipedia: Evangelism
Wikipedia: Sabbath
Wikipedia: Spiritual but not religious

(Blog) A Deacon’s Musing: TED|Ep. 2

In this second TED|Episode of A Deacon’s Musing, I am excited to explore David Gingera’s presentation TEDxManitoba 2014 presentation entitled Farming Our Future (The Urban Agriculture Revolution).

There are several things that drew me to highlight this particular presentation as the first one by which I honour my commitment to TEDxManitoba. Three words (specifically) that I think translate well between the secular context of TED and a faith-based one such as The United Church of Canada are ‘adventure,’ ‘community’ and ‘nature’ or (in church-ese) ‘Creation.’ I admit there are many more, but for the sake of a blog, I thought I would start here!


Image: Janet Ramsden

I remember watching David present. As he did so, he first grounded the experience in the theme of adventure. As people of faith, adventure really should be our middle name! It doesn’t mean the experience is always fun or easy, but its a journey that often leads to awakening, revelation and even innovation! Walking the path of adventure – when done with intention – allows us to see everything anew, potential-filled and wonder-abundant.

The second word ‘community,’ which David used, instantly reminded me of friends who are already urban farming, running/involved in Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) initiatives or are reflecting upon food security from a faith-based context. Furthermore, David reminded us that what was central to the experience of food production 200 years ago was ultimately the community. Not that the product wasn’t important – let’s face it life gets dicey without food! – but it was in the relationships, the shared sustenance, the knowing of one another’s story that food was less a consumable commodity and more like the binding threads that form a tapestry. I think David demonstrated well how – 200 years later – food production has moved away from the community and the stories that make us who we are. We have become removed from the intimacy of food production and the mutuality that can arise when you know the person from whom you have acquired the day’s meal and the reciprocal gratitude for valuing such labour.

The other word that I want to explore, which seems important to me, is the ‘Creation.’ For David, this removal from the system of food production has been detrimental to the environment. As he asks (perhaps rhetorically): is it okay that those who grow food must wear hazmat gear in order to fertilise and harvest? What are the implication for the quality of the food that arrives on our table, the health of those who grow and prepare it and (ultimately) well-being of the environment? As a people of faith, if we understand ourselves as Stewards of Creation – that we are meant to nurture and care for something that does not belong to us – does this reality of food production honour that role to which we understand ourselves to have been called?

Prairie Homestead

Prairie Homestead
Image: Shelly Manley-Tannis

There’s an old Christian concept called Jubilee and – connected to it – is the idea of Sabbath. Both of these very old ideas (in Christian-ese: theologies or ways of understanding God) reach back to a time in which agricultural health, economics and justice were intimately connected. A time in which people and the land were exploited and some had more to such an extent that indebtedness, slavery and oppression were the results of a system out of whack. In our Christian story, the response to this inequity was the idea of forgiveness of debt (Jubilee) and the fallow of land, in order that it might recharge and heal (Sabbath). These literal and metaphorical realities of our theology – I believe – speak well to the urban agriculture movement’s critique of mass farming production and its implicit challenge: and that question is who actually benefits?

I would not imply that the challenges before us are easy. It is also important to name that for many the idea of an ‘Urban Agricultural Revolution’ only highlights the realities of privilege. For many in our cities and towns, urban farming is simply too expensive to even contemplate. And, yes, this is also a justice issue. The larger connexion with Creation and our role as Stewards (I suspect) might lead to the possibility of naming common ground in this tension. Common ground in which both secular and faith-based individuals and organisations realise that the status quo – the consumerisation of food – can be navigated better when we walk with one another to seek solutions.

I believe that David’s particular focus highlights a more general theme of commonality that exists between state and church: the real question (well one of them from my/our faith-based location) is how might the church might listen to secular voices with humility, in order to begin to hear something which might invite all of us into a new adventure?

TEDxManitoba 2014

TEDxManitoba 2014
Image: TEDxManitoba

I made a promise to TEDxManitoba (now known as TEDxWinnipeg) in 2014. I committed to sharing their important (secular) work in my faith-based context. I have lived into that pledge by creating another recurring feature for A Deacon’s Musing : TED|Episodes (Two others are: 1: Feather’s Fall serial story; &, 2: Vignettes). The intent is to highlight one TED Talk in each episode and muse about connexions (both secularly and internally) to the church.


Ep. 1: Pilot
Ep. 2: Farming Our Future: The Urban Agriculture Revolution
Ep. 3: Got Bannock? In honour of the village we once had
Ep. 4: What do you do after the bullets miss you?
Ep. 5: What is an inspiring encounter with human rights?


Blog links:

 Wikipedia: Jubilee
 Wikipedia: Sabbath
 Wikipedia: TED
 YouTube: Farming Our Future

(Blog) A Deacon’s Musing|Old Seeds, New Soil

Old Seeds, New Soil

Old Seeds, New Soil
Credit: Richard Manley-Tannis

This week’s blog offers the fruition of the musing of two previous blogs: Seeds & The Word. Both of these blogs were used to prepare for an opportunity – for which I remain humbled – to share the Reflection at Westminster United Church on July 20, 2014. The audio and a somewhat cleaned-up transcript can be found below.

Reflection (Audio: 16:28)
Westminster United Church
(July 20/14)
Reflection (Transcript)
Westminster United Church
(July 20/14)

As well, I will be enjoying a time of Sabbath beginning next week. As a result, A Deacon’s Musing will likely not be updated until my return in September. As such, I thought that I would highlight two previous blogs that speak to the idea of Sabbath and Lifelong Learning. Both feel contextually appropriate to share once more. I pray that they are of interest and – Dear Reader, friends, family, Sisters and Brothers – I pray that the rest of your summer is filled with the gift of surprise. In particular, when the unexpected becomes a blessing may you be aware of potential in your midst. I sincerely look forward to musing with you once more upon my return from Sabbath & Holy Days.

Icon: Link A Deacon’s Musing|Lifelong Learner

 In this previous blog, I was exploring my own connexion with lifelong learning: both as a  facilitator in adult learning contexts and I was also about to embark on my own return to study in a Doctoral programme. In between my acceptance and attendance, the programme shifted, however, and I found myself six months later withdrawing.

At this juncture, I have again enrolled in a PhD programme, this time at Tilburg University in the Netherlands. It has been quite a journey since 2012 and rest assured there have indeed been many gifts that were born in surprise!

Icon: Link A Deacon’s Musing|Control

 This week’s musing – in its variation – is indeed an interesting way to begin a time of Sabbath. This blog was written prior to my Sabbatical in 2012, which was connected with the previous Doctoral exploration I have mentioned. Little did I know how significant the idea of control would be and what letting go might mean. As I finish this musing, I am struck by the power of surprise and what happens when we find a way to navigate through it and discover how old seeds do indeed grow in new soil!

Blog links:

 ADM: Control
 ADM: Lifelong Learner
 ADM: Seeds
 ADM: The Word
 Reflection (Audio) July 20/14

 Reflection (Transcript) July 20/14
 Tilburg University
 UCC: Westminster
 Wikipedia: Sabbath

(Blog) A Deacon’s Musing: Advent|Peace

This blog was originally published December 8, 2012
by The United Church in Meadowood

An Advent Collection

An Advent Collection

Advent: It’s time to wait.
For whom are we waiting?

As Christians, we say that is Jesus! This is a Holy Time in our Christian calendar when we might make space for reflection, silence and – hopefully – confront some of the import of the choices that lay before us.

An Advent Collection


It is not the outer display that brings about change,
it is the inner grounding in which ego sits lightly upon serenity

̶ UCiM-isms (Dec 5/2012)

For many who read this week’s blog, you will know that I have been away from UCiM and have just returned, as I have been journeying apart from the congregation during an intentional time of Sabbath. Some of the reasons for Sabbath, from a Christian perspective, are to explore one’s relationship with God and (hopefully) deepen that connexion with the Holy, to seek rejuvenation, to recharge and – in my case – to explore topics and practices, which I would not have be able to while actively involved in congregational life. One of the ways that I had intended to structure this time was through the beginning Doctoral studies, and that is indeed how Sabbath began …

Deep peace of the running wave to you …
̶ Traditional Celtic Blessings

The funny thing about life is, as John Lennon once said, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” As the Fall academic year unfolded, I began to wonder whether this programme was the best place for me to accomplish that to which I have felt called. In another time, as another person, I admit that I would have found myself embraced by an energy that has often crippled me. Call it anger or frustration: I, however, have learned it is called rage.

This visceral emotion has been a long companion of mine and, as I have journeyed on, I have begun to learn from it rather than be swept away in its wake … as my intention for Doctoral work began to unravel I found myself digging deep. Not to blame, nor seek some sense of justice or retribution, but, instead I sought peace. I knew I needed to discover a sense of tranquility or serenity if I were to be able to choose ‘what next,’ as opposed to being controlled by the emotion that has – often in my past – controlled me. Rather than devolve into habitual responses, I knew intuitively I needed to transform or harness that emotion into placid clarity.

Make me a channel of your peace
̶ Prayer of St. Francis

And – as often happens with insight or an ‘aha,’ – clarity it hit me like a wave. I had not failed, nor did I have to fight a fight that was, ultimately, counterproductive. I am – as we all are – endeavouring to discern the path upon which we might tread: to walk in a manner that most authentically honours the child of God that you and I are. The work to which I have been called for more years than I have worn a ‘Christian’ hat remains the path upon which I still walk. The clarity was not that I had made a mistake, but that – in that moment of Grace – there was a more holistic way to live out, in a life-giving way, this work that I believe is part of my own Call. Without intentionally seeking, meditating and praying to be peace, however, no matter how my outward actions might be experienced, I would know the intent of them would be grounded in a place that dishonours my potential.

As Christians, we walk into the second week of Advent and often we discuss the idea of peace as our actions and choices that lead to a perceived lessening of war or where there is an absence of violence. Often there is a sense of (self-) righteousness in some quarters within our fold.

And though I appreciate the outward actions that aspire to peace,
I truly wonder,
from where does that passion derive?

Anger, Lust, Passion?
Pride, Deceit, Envy?
Avarice, Fear, Gluttony?

And – once more – have those energies been transformed
in such a way to help others awaken to real peace?

Innocence, Action, Serenity?
Humility, Authenticity, Equanimity?
Detachment, Courage, Sobriety?

Without knowing our motivations,
our triggers and habitual responses,
can we truly describe ourselves as serenely being peace?

Can we truly be humbled by gentle waves that remind us that the work we do,
in the end,
is not our own, but that of the Creator?

Until we awaken to the paradox that peace and conflict actually complement one another, in fact are intimately bound to one another, we will ironically seek to eliminate one without realising its dependence upon the other.

Peace be with you … and also with you
Traditional Christian Salutation

Blog links:

Wikiquote: John Lennon
YouTube: Deep Peace

(Blog) A Deacon’s Musing|Control

This blog was originally published July 12, 2012
by The United Church in Meadowood

I have been thinking a lot about control and what it means for communities of faith? What does it mean for Christianity as it enters a time and context when we are no longer at the ‘centre’ of it all? Some call this previous centre ‘Christendom:’ a time when the Christian faith was taken for granted and everyone was (by implication) Christian, even if they did not necessarily believe.

This Christendom phase, if you will, was particularly prevalent in the ‘western’ world. It has left many legacies that range from those which can be celebrated to those that continue to stand and implicate us. In particular, such implications have been expressed in the manner in which Christendom’s assumptions led to a misuse of privilege and power. What we thought was normal, and what we therefore tried to change if it was deemed abnormal, has caused harm. These injuries remain as open sores and scars, which are still present and continue to require healing.



I have also been thinking about control more particularly in my own ministry context. Shortly, I will begin holidays and then enter a time of Sabbatical. A time in which Christians endeavour to rejuvenate, reflect, relax and renew. Sabbath is a gift that is grounded in our Sacred Stories. It is a time in which God encourages people to let go of control and simply be, in order to experience the ever-present-whispering that is the Holy. In this place, we may learn, we may confront our own assumptions; we may very well be transformed …

Approaching this Sabbath, therefore, has me thinking of control. Personally, it means letting go of some stuff in my ministry at UCiM that might feel … well – challenging! Living out one’s faith means – often – that one’s identity can become connected with the ‘visible’ signs of our faithful and good works. Whether that is the social media aspect of UCiM’s ministry, technology components of worship, or the people with whom I have had the privilege to journey and share their stories, I will have to let go and trust that what will be, will be. Acquiescing is a choice and – hopefully – when done with intention – new things begin …

I have also been thinking about control in respect to UCiM’s choices and responses as I approach Sabbath. Part of me thinks there is a connexion (or parallel) with the idea of leadership. The areas in which I have offered ministry are models – I hope – of leadership. This does not mean that I have the answers or it’s my way or the highway. Rather – again with hope – ministry can be seen as the gift of claiming individual strengths and passions, in order to share what Christians call the Good News. The message, at its simplest, is the radical idea of love. Not love as a way to control, but love in the freedom that comes with recognising that we are all a gift, a blessing and waking to that reality means finding ways to share that with others who are at a point on their own journey to hear that. It’s not about forcing, converting or coercing. I wonder what leadership will look like as I begin to journey into Sabbath and what new things will be present when I arrive?

The model of Christendom grounded in hierarchy, patriarchy, and paternalism led to a skewed vision of colonialism. Perhaps there was some core intent that can be reclaimed, perhaps even redeemed, but the explicit damage that came with millennia of the illusion of having the right answers remains a testament to the challenge of what leadership looks like now as we embrace diversity and the potential freedom in letting go of control.

I do not know what a post-Christendom Christianity looks like. I do not know what UCiM might look like when I get back from Sabbatical, but I do know that letting go of control means people will have to make choices: Choices to continue this; stop that; and start that.

• It means choices where people of faith will have to decide whether or not this aspect of their ministry is important or not.
• It means UCiM and its leaders will have to claim their authority in sharing their faith that is not reliant upon someone who is Paid and Accountable.
• It means, that when I get back, I will have the gift to sit at Table with a group of men and women who have had the opportunity to choose what leadership means
and I, in turn, will walk into something completely new come Advent 2012 …

A Deacon’s Musing blog

Blog links:

Wikipedia: Sabbath
Wiktionary: Control

A Deacon’s Musing blog

(Blog) A Deacon’s Musing|Do-ers & Be-ers

This blog was originally published December 2, 2009
by Emerging Spirit & was entitled,
Advent: Do-ers and Be-ers of the Word!

22 But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves.
James 1.22

The Beatitudes

Advent is here and I have to admit that I am feeling some melancholy. This time last year I was in Israel-Palestine with Christian Peacemaker Teams. It was easy, I am aware of the irony, in that place to be a Do-er and and Be-er at the same time. Each day began and was framed by worship that was grounded in using The Beatitudes as a way in which to experience the Holy in places that were not always easy and in which the temptation for apathy and cynicism was always present. Using our hearing of The Beatitudes made it possible to be fully present as a Do-er!

As I walk into Advent this year, however, I think James’ words might be reframed to Christians in the 21st Century to read, “But be hearers of the word, and not merely doers who deceive themselves.” As opposed to, “But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves.” It seems that we stand in a bit of a tension with our consumerised holiday season to be always doing something: where every moment is filled with a meeting or party to attend, a gift to buy or a charity, NGO, Social Justice cause to support – all this doing is bloody exhausting! Furthermore, it seems we have stopped, been tempted, distracted (however you want to frame it) to let go of the Be-er, hearers, simply Being a people of faith.

Advent is a time for reflection, a time when Christians consider what the coming of the Light means: the coming of a human babe, who had and will inspire us to walk into places that are dangerous and challenging. The party is great; in fact it’s transforming, shattering and liberating! But … and yes this is an either/or situation, not a both/and, if we do not hear what should fill us to do, then can we truly claim to be living authentically as a people of faith?

This last Sunday, during UCiM’s weekly worship, the question occurred to my teammate after the Choir Anthem: Do we really want the Messiah to come? Do we really want to let the Light, which we see in Jesus’ ministry, interrupt our lives? If we do, do we consider what that in fact means? What would it mean for you as an individual and, perhaps more pointedly, what would happen to your community if the answer was YES?

Skid Mark

I am not sure if these questions are asked or offered rhetorically, but I hope they are, at the very least, heard reflectively. Perhaps they are questions of commitment, where the rubber hits the road, but if anyone of you/us feels/believes/longs for the answer to be YES, then these are questions that fit perfectly – in fact they are more than appropriate.

One of the reflective conversations that often occur in my networks, where people discuss Sabbath, revolves around Jesus’ constant hope and attempts to get away from the Crowds, to find some space to Be. The cynical side, as most of us teeter back and forth, says, “See even he couldn’t get away from them, from the demands, from the Doing!” As I have thought about the Blog, for this month, it occurred to me that the narrative of the stories, where Jesus tries to get away, have a nuance that perhaps we overlook – perhaps the Crowds did follow him, but it seems that if Jesus needed to reflect and simply Be, in other words he needed to recharge, he must have actually been able to do so just enough to continue to Do.

How do I know this? How can I imagine this? Well, perhaps I am projecting myself into the story (of course, that’s what makes a good story), if I never found time to Be, I can guarantee I would not be Doing for very long. I would get short and likely say something in my fatigue that would hurt another person seeking their own way and who came to me in trust. And, in most of those getting away stories, Jesus is not only present, some of his best ministry is modelled as the Crowds catch up with him!

So, as you need to in this season of Advent, I pray that you will find just enough space to consider the Light that we are all Called to Bear into the world, for which we are all called to be Do-ers. I pray that you may find the calm that is offered by reflection, just prior to the dawning of Hope that we call the Light – the Christ – and allows us to enter into places that can be dangerous, difficult, challenging and, ultimately, transforming.

Blog links: