Friday, 30 August 2013

On going home

Just before I pulled out of the driveway, my son Will came running out the door and presented me with his red hat saying "here Mom, take my hat so you won't miss me. You can cuddle it." I almost left it at home, but how could I do that? So I brought his hat with me and took pictures of it in all sorts of interesting places. It was like he was travelling with me. It was like a reminder that pieces of home go with us even as we go on pilgrimage. I know as I learned and listened at Geeenbelt both my family and my church family stayed with me as I pondered how every new ideas can be used at home and in church. Even when we taking time away, we bring with us pieces of home because that is where all that we've explored and learned gets lived out in ever new ways. 

On Tuesday morning we gathered once again as United Church pilgrims and what we take with us is certainly on our minds. Many of us weary after so much going, listening, doing and learning. I certainly was. We opened wit worship. One of the songs we sang was "take, o take me as I am. Summon out what I shall be. Set your seal upon your heart and live in me." It is a lively John  Bell song. In many ways it is what I've taken from this pilgrimage. God takes us we are, uses our gifts and skills, inspires us to go on new directions and lives in us as we live out our calling.  

If I were to summerize what I learned it would be "love God, love neighbour." Many of the speakers emphasized the importance of how we live out our faith. Loving our neighbour is one of the ways that we do that the speakers all came at it from different ways. It reminded me that it is so important that in the church we look beyond the walls if our church and be engaged in our community. 

Our moderator quoted St. Augustine reminding us that without God wr can't and without us God won't. The gospel message is alive in so many ways and can be communicated in many ways. At Geeenbelt there are a hundred different styles of worship whether it is rock worship, Taize worship, nursery rhyme Eucharist or U2charsit. There are many ways to sing praises to God. It reminds me that as we gather for worship we to can praise God in many ways with music, in silence, through movement or in our creative endeavours. 

The blessing of this time apart is to be remind that God takes and uses me just as I am. At the first gathering Gary asked to go and gather pollen so we could make honey. Well I gathered lots of pollen. I'm not sure what kind of honey will come from it but I'm pretty sure that honey is always sweet.

Reflections on day 4

This last post is long overdue. I was supposed to write on the train back to London or on the plain on the way plane on the way home. But I'm home already. The last day of Greenbelt was a full one. I started the day at a lecture by Peter Rollins. I'll post a video later.he is a radical theologian. I'd never heard of him or radical theology before. When I asked who Peter Rollins was a friend says, "he takes you to the cliff and pushes you off." Now it wasn't that radical. It was a different way of talking of God and faith. He starts from the place that we are all broken and we keep ourselves busy to escape that feeling of brokenness.  He talks of the death of the "God Product" that guarantees our place in the heavenly realm if only we believe enough. The role of the church is to provide a place where people can work through their inner brokenness and this is done through liturgy, community and prayer. We need the community because we are the body of Christ.  

Peter Rollins also spoke on death and decay and the importance of memory and mourning. While he was speaking I remember being at the funeral home at the first viewing of family embers and over the years I've often heard people say "doesn't she just look look like herself." The first time I heard it I was stuck by how strange it was. The person is dead so the most important parts of the self have already left us. Yet it seemed to bring comfort to the family to have one last look and memory before the process of telling stories, celebrating their lives and finally saying goodbye. It made me think about The United Church which is struggling in places all across Canada. There are parts of our tradition that no longer work for us a church but we hang I to them saying, "doesn't the church look like itself" even though it no longer has life in it. I wonder what parts of this church of ours we need to let go of, tell stories about, celebrate and say goodbye too. I'm not sure what the answer is. 

The next talk was Steve Chaulk who talked about the importance of the church engaging on the community. His church has purchased community libraries, and runs schools. He talked about the importance of loving God and neighbour. I'm not sure we will go down the road of runIng schools and libraries but I do that we are called to. Engaged in the community outside the walls of our church buildings and finding ways to ensure the well being of our neighbour.

My next stop was Forest Church in a place called the Grove 
 The forest church mixes Druidic/ Celtic practices with Christian Faith. I attended the festival of the first fruits it was a new experience for me. I appreciated the time to consider the blessings if this year, what I needed to let go of, and what I am looking toward in the next year.

The next event was called Beer and Hymns. The name says it all. People had a beer and we sings ton of hymns. It was a crowded event you couldn't even get in the tent.  Amazing to hear so many people singing hymns.

Then I went to hear Hip Hop Shakespeare. It was Shakespeare re-imagined. It was great. I love the diversity of the day. I closed the day by gathering with my fellow pilgrims and talking about the highlights of the event. 

I even got my picture taken with the moderator. Before I left Will gave me his hat so I wouldn't miss him. I took pictures if I everywhere I went and sent them home with him. Thanks to our moderator for putting on Wills hat! A great way to end Greenbelt. 

Monday, 26 August 2013

Reflections on day 3

I begin today's reflection by admitting that weariness is setting in. I'm tired so please forgive the many typos that are bound to come! I started the day at Quaker worship. It was beautiful. There was a reading and then silence. As the Spirit moved people spoke. So much of what I've attended at Greenbelt has involved speaking or music or sound it was wonderful to rest in silence and just wait for the movement of the Spirit.

Then I went to the Big Communion. And when I say big I mean at least 15 thousand people. It was a beautiful service with powerful reflections of people sharing not only the areas of our world where injustice lives but how it has changed for the better and hoping for more change. How you might ask do you serve communion to 15 thousand people? People were given little bags with bread that was made on site by people gathered at the event and a small bottle of wine and groups of sat in circles and served one another. It was beautiful. I was invited along with 3 other United Church pilgrims to join with them. We may have been strangers but in the moment we were united. 

After some lunch it was on to listen to Jim Wallis speak on 10 personal things we can do to change the world. He started small. Live your children and make them the centre of everything you do. If you don't have children find a child who would benefit from your care and attention. Then the circle widens because if you love your kids, then you can't help but to love other people's kids and then what about all the children. It was a message that followed on his first talk that reminds us that we can change the world so that all the children of the world have better lives.

From there it was a visit with dear friends my roommate from school. How great it was to catch up with her and her husband. Then it was my last talk of the day. One of my personal favourites, Barbara Brown Taylor. She spoke on the language of darkness. She said that all too often the darkness is associated with what we fear but the darkness is not only about what we fear but that there are lessons of faith and life that can only be learned in the darkness. She said that people who only want the light are like solar Christians and so when terrible things happen, when doubt creeps in then they don't know how to function. It was a wonderful reminder that our God walks with us in all our days.

After she finished we sprinted across the site to get to the U2charist. It was wonderful. It was worship to U2 music. There was great music and powerful silence then we shared in the bread and wine. One body of Christ in all of our uniqueness. Beautiful worship.

Although my body is tired from lots and lots if walking and my brain is so full from hearing so much, it is a blessing to be here. I started yesterday writing down what I called Grace moments. There was the woman who found out that there was no toilet paper and she went and got some and started hand out pieces to all the women in the line. To her I say thanks. There is the Dad who tenderly lifted his sleeping daughter of his shoulders, laid her on the ground and wrapped her safe and sound. After 15 thousand people shared communion there was jot one piece of litter left on the grounds. Everyone had taken their own litter and picked it up. There are the 1500 volunteers who give their tome to help make this event happen each year. I spoke to one today who has been volunteering for 10 years. Wow. There is the wonderful group of people I walked home with last night. We talked, shared stories from the day,ate together at MacDonalds of all places, laughed so much, got a little lost but found our way home. Not to mention the girl on the bike who gave us directions and the fellow from Scotland who tried! God is indeed good all the time.

I wonder what lays ahead on day 4.

Sunday, 25 August 2013

Reflections on Day 2 @ Greenbelt

If I were to pick a theme for the day other than saying it was awesome it would be light. So many of the talks and workshops mentioned light or it was like a light was going off in my mind when I listened to people talking. am notsure that   even writing down what i experienced today can convey what i took in. talks are part of the experience but so is seeing every kind of person gathered in one place with a common cause. there are babies and seniors, people of all abilities, every kind of hair  colour and all sorts of different styles of dressing. One person described it as a huge carnival except that it is all for Jesus. 

I started the day at a talk by an American speaker named Jim Wallis. He talked about the common good. He said that as a people of Faith it is not about God being on our side but us being on God's side. We are on God's side when we seek the common good which means caring for the most vulnerable people in society.  Our life together can be better. Another thing that he said was that when people are cynical it is because the church does not live out what says, people under 30 are about the common good.  He finished his talk with a powerful story about a church in a small town in Tennessee how found out that the Muslim cultural centre was moving to their community. The church put up a sign to welcome them. When the Imam saw the sign he asked the pastor why they did this. The pastor said that the bible says to welcome strangers. The two communities became friends. Their story appeared on CNN. A group of people in Pakistan saw the program and called the pastor and told him how moved he was by the friendship between the two communities. They promised that they would always protect the Christian Church in their  community. What works better, he said, drones or love thy neighbour. 

The next was a workshop on dance. It was great to dance with be of all ages and abilities. We learned a choreography and did a little improv. It was all about sharing our light with others and passing the light fro one person to another. The words to the song are "I can beat the night. I am not afraid of thunder. I am full of light. I am full of wonder."  

The next was a talk about being real in a technological age. It was an interesting talk about how church and technology can blend. The speaker Vicki Beeching said that the church can use technology as part of our prophetic voice. She also said we are now living in the interactive world of Web 2.0 and the church should move in that direction. This means that instead of one person providing content the worship and community life is driven by all the contributors.

Next I was off to the big top for some music. It was called last orders the village fete and it was a celebration with music by Folk On and Grace Petrie and some beer and hymns. It was amazing to sing with so many other people .

After my supper break I took in some of Graham Kendrick the writer of Shine Jesus Shine and other pieces. It was amazing to stand and sing with so many others wow. The last act of the night for me because i could have stayed longer and gone to Goth Eucharist or a dozen other things was the London Community Gospel choir. They were fantastic. I was this little light of mine with thousands and thousands of other people! Wow. They lifted my spirits and sent me home dancing. 

So here in ends day 2. I wonder what treasures lie ahead of me on day 3, I'll keep you posted.  The Spirit is indeed alive!

Pictures of Greenbelt

The scope of the place

All of the Newfoundland and Labrador people

Friday, 23 August 2013

The Pilgrimage begins

Our Moderator, Right Rev. Gary Patterson

woke this morning to the sound of church bells. It is too early to be awake but I somehow that bell reminded me that all the preparation everything that had come before today leading to the start of Greenbelt. Our moderator Gary Patterson lead us in some reflections on what it means to be on pilgrimage. What stood out for me was that it was not only about the journey to the place but about returning home. It is our calling as pilgrims to gather up as many ideas, as many new insights as we can so that we can lead to church in ever new directions but also care for the church as it currently is.  In my cohort group we talked a lot about the fact that the church is no longer what it once was and we need to grieve that loss but we also need to embrace the new ways to gather as faith communities. Not an easy task.

Another thing that stood out for me was talking about the narratives of church life. One of the prevailing ones is that the church is dying. That people have no interest in the church and the other Is that the Church is showing signs of life and that the Christian faith is being lived out I ever new ways. I believe that the latter is true. From the time I first entered seminary, now over 15 years ago people have been telling me that the church is dying and that I won't have a job in 20 years. I didn't believe it then and I don't believe it now. Church is going to change and it may not look the same but there is a core, the good news of Jesus will remain. So I hope and I continue as our moderator today said to collect pollen in the hope that the message of God's live continues to be shared and lived out.

After gathering as a group and sharing stories we headed out to the racecourse for the first talk of the day. I went to hear Barbara Brown Taylor speaking about  the importance of the language we use when we speak in the church.  That we are In danger of setting up things in opposition to one another that really need to co-exist. We need to find the sacred in the everyday act of living. There was a lot to digest in speech. 

The next talk I attended was a panel discussion once purpose of marriage. There were thoughts shared on the difference between a wedding and a marriage. A marriage is a process that we grow into over time and a wedding is the day we mark it. Many commented this the church could do better in equipping couples with the skills needed for good marriages. The image that stays with me was when John Bell quoted from Ecclesiastes saying they we are meant to live in relationship and it is a three strand cord between the couple and God. 

The day closed with the tolling of the bell reminding me that it is time to rest.

Thursday, 22 August 2013


Reflections on the way to Stonehenge

This morning I woke with a gift the blessing of rain. Not that I really want it to rain on my holiday. Rather because it allowed me to consider the day ahead. We'd planned a long journey to Bath then from there to  Stonehenge. It would have been another day if non stop action. As the raindrops fell on the roof I thought,"we won't have to go to Bath today" and I was relieved. We've had busy days and more busy days tomorrow as we gather with the rest of the United Church Pilgrims and then into  long days at Greenbelt. The rain helped me to slow down, to remember that pilgrimage is more then the need to fit everything into a short time because I'm only here once. So we are only going to see Stonehenge. Pilgrimage is about taking the time to rest and reflect on what we are doing. So I'm sitting on a train to taking in the countryside --the lush greens of pastures and rolling hills as the train glides past cities older than my home. The blessing of rain helped me to slow down. Mind you the first clue  of my exhaustion might have been those little words "have to."  I'm looking forward to the day ahead-- the slow pave of the train and standing on ancient holy ground.

Thoughts upon return

It was amazing! It may as my fellow pilgrim Rob said be a pile of rocks, but is amazing to think that we were in a place that was built long before Jesus was born. The reason for the standing stones is a mystery but is at the least an amazing feat of engineering. The day has refreshed my soul and now I'm ready to experience Greenbelt.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Suffering and faith?

This is the last “Stump the Preacher” topic and I think it’s taken me most of the summer to wrap my head around it. Why is being seen as longsuffering framed as noble or a good or a mark of faithful living? It is not an easy question especially on a day we celebrate baptism. Somehow over the years since Jesus first taught we’ve glorified suffering. It comes out in a variety of ways. I’m guessing you’ve probably heard it “God doesn’t it give you any more than you can handle.” I usually hear it when people are trying to comfort someone who I grieving or are experiencing a difficult time and usually follows right on the heals of this is a part of God’s plan.

            They are loaded statements and every time I hear it, I quietly cry out, “No, no, no” I know it is said with the best of intentions – to remind people that they can get through whatever they are going through and that there is a bigger picture. But here is the problem. Some people do have more than they can handle. Sometimes it can seem like there is no reason to have hope. It reminds me of the lyrics of one of Pink’s songs, she sings “Just give me a reason. Just a little bits enough. Just a second we’re not broken just bent. And we can learn to love again.”  Sometimes we are bent and we can learn to love and live again. And sometimes people are broken by life’s circumstances and they have more than they can handle. They don’t know how to get through so turn to things like drugs, alcohol, gambling, food or whatever helps to numb the pain of their current reality. Life can be hard and terrible unfair.

But maybe worse than the fact that sometimes people do have more than they can handle is the notion that God sits up there in the great heavenly realm accessing who can handle what level of suffering. It makes it seem like God gives us the suffering as some kind of test of our faithfulness. I refuse to believe that God says, “I think Miriam needs a little test of her faithfulness so I’m going to dole out a little tragedy here.”  If the God who gives his very life for us, the one who loves us more than we can imagine takes the time to plan out what kinds of suffering people can handle, then I do not believe. God just does not work that way.

            Another and perhaps more sinister way the idea that suffering is something that shows faithfulness comes out in the council that is given to people in abusive relationships. The argument goes something like this Christ suffered on the cross, so you must suck it up and suffer because Christ suffered for you. So stay where you are – don’t leave. Just accept this as a part of life. Doesn’t it just make you cringe that the God who loves us can be used to inflict such harm?

            Talk to anyone whose walked through the valley of pain and they will tell you suffering is not noble or great. So how did we as a church get to the place where somehow suffering is equal to great faith? Some of it stems from interpretations the writings of St. Paul. We heard readings from two of his letters. He writes, “And not only that, but we boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured in our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has given been given to us.” (Romans 5:3- 5)

            Over the years somehow we’ve taken Paul boasting in his suffering which produces endurance, that endurance produces character and character produces hope to mean that suffering is a mark of faithfulness. Context is everything.  Hope was in short supply for Paul and his fellow Christians. They lived in a time when Christianity was in its infancy and the Christian community had to gather in secret to avoid being persecuted. Paul spent time in prison for his faith. If he was not a Christian he would not have found himself in this place of suffering. So Paul encouraged the Christian community to hold fast to their faith even though the present is bleak. He writes, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38 – 39)

            As church we’ve distorted Paul’s words and taken things like, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing to the glory about to be revealed to us.” (Romans 8:18) to mean that our suffering is somehow expected or God given. Paul was pretty clear that God’s wish for us is abundant life – filled with God’s love.

            We live in different times. We do not know what it is like to have to defend our faith as Paul did. But we do know what it is like to encounter life’s tragedies – to be bent and sometimes even broken. Great suffering does not mean we have greater faith. Suffering is a part of all human life. It is not noble or good or a sign of faith. The gift of faith is that when pain comes, and it comes to us all at some point in our lives, we are not alone as we find a way to put one foot in front of another.

God loves us parent teaching a toddler to walk. It says in our reading from Hosea “Yet it was I who taught Ephraim to walk, I took them up in my arms; but they did not know that I healed them. I led them with cords of human kindness, with bands of love. I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks. I bent down to them and fed them.” (Hosea 11:3 – 4) God loves us tenderly like a parent steadying us in the midst of chaos, holding our hand and wiping our tears when we fall. God’s wish for is, is the wish that parents have for their children – to be blessed with all good things. As Paul said, there is nothing on earth or in heaven that can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Thanks be to God. Amen


Sunday, 11 August 2013

Ready, set, go

As I read this week’s gospel reading all I could think about were the words, “Ready, set go” and my mind was filled with images of runners at the starting line of a race in the ready position waiting for crack of the starters pistol. They are so still, not wanting a muscle to move in – no one wants a false start. Depending on the race, it is high steaks. Whether it is setting an Olympic record or running for a personal best time. Hours, probably years of training go into making this one moment.  

Jesus is gathered with the crowds teaching. He starts with the parable of the man who surveys his crops and his holdings. He is quite pleased with himself and puts everything into storage. “Fool” says Jesus. “And these things you have prepared, whose will they be? So it is who store up treasure for themselves but are not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:21) Then Jesus reminds the crowds that they are not worry because God has counted every hair on our heads. So instead of striving for clothes and money, strive for the kingdom of God, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Luke 12:31)  

It is after these two teachings that we pick up our story. It is all about being ready just like the athletes in the ready position at the starting line. But unlike runners in a race, Jesus begins with a promise. “Don’t be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” (Luke 12:32) Racers don’t start a race knowing that the prize is theirs. They run the race hoping to get a metal or make their time.  Jesus does it using words we’ve heard before, “Don’t be afraid.” God tells Abram as he continues to wait for his promised heir, “Do not be afraid, I am your shield your reward shall be very great.”  The angel tells Zachariah “Do not be afraid, Elizabeth will have a son.”  The angel tells Mary, “Do not be afraid for the Lord has found favor with you.”

Here is what else is true about the words don’t be afraid – you can count on the fact that God is asking you to do something big. Elizabeth – she had a child late in life who prepared the way for Jesus and Mary gave life to the son of God. The same is true for Abram. In the reading from Genesis, God asks Abram to do something big. Something huge – to leave the land of his ancestors, to leave behind all that is familiar to follow God to some unknown land. Now if any of you have tried to count the stars in the night sky you know that this is a promise that is much bigger than anything we can imagine. The poet Killian McDonnel tells Abrams story this way:

Talk about imperious.
Without a by-your-leave,
or, may I presume?
No previous contact,
no letter of introduction,
no greeting,
just out of the blue
this unknown God
issues edicts.

This is not a conversation.
Am I a nobody
to receive decrees
from one whose name
I do not know?
And at our first encounter!

I have worshipped my own god.
To you I had addressed no prayers,
offered no sacrifices.
asked no favors,
but quick,
like sudden fire in the desert,
without the most elemental ritual,
I hear "Go."

At seventy-five,
am I supposed to scuttle my life,
take that ancient wasteland, Sarai,
place my thin arthritic bones
upon the road
to some mumbled nowhere?

Let me get this straight.
I will be brief.
I summarize.
In ten generations since the Flood
you have spoken to no one.
Now, like thunder on a clear day,
you give commands:
pull up my tent,
desert my home,
the graves of my ancestors,
my friends next door, leave Haran
for a country you do not name,
there to be a stranger,
a sojourner.

God of the wilderness,
from two desiccated lumps,
from two parched prunes
you promise to make a great nation.
In me all peoples of the earth
will be blessed.

You come late, Lord, very late,
but my camels leave in the morning.

So Jesus, like God with Abram, makes the big ask. He says, “Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.  … Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he knocks.” (Luke 12:32 – 33, 35 – 36

            Not so easy to ever ready. I wonder today what it means for you and I  in our daily living. The urgency that Jesus had, is it still here? He was telling this to the disciples over 2000 years ago to be ready because the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour – like a thief in the night. Be ready. Sometimes when we get to these passages that talk about the kingdom of God we get caught up in images from the movies of the end of time or what happens with the apocalypse and the return of Christ. Movies such as Left Behind have engrained images of heaps of clothes sitting in a pile while their neighbour is miraculous lifted up to heaven. Or maybe we start thinking that kingdom of God is for when we’ve died and traveled to meet St. Peter at the pearly gates. The kingdom of God is not about a time or place so much as it is living here and now in ways that make God’s kingdom a reality.  

            Jesus urgency wasn’t about the end of days. Jesus urgency was because the kingdom of God is both something we live into now as well as a future hope. We catch glimpses of the kingdom of God whenever mercy is shown, when we work for justice for all, when there is compassion. We can talk about the people who’ve lived this into the kingdom of God big ways like Mother Teresa or Martin Luther King or Ghandi. But that makes it seem like it is something too big for us to do or somehow beyond our reach. God’s kingdom is in our midst in our daily living – it is being kind to strangers, it is praying for others, it is forgiveness, it is justice for all, it is compassion.  It is about making God’s love real in our world today.

If the kingdom of God is now then is it any wonder Jesus is trying to get his disciples ready? It means that every moment of our lives is important. The kingdom of God changes how we live not just in Jesus day but today. We are runners at the start of a long distance race with one difference – we know that God wants all good things for us. So it makes it easier for us to store our treasure in heaven, to show kindness, to seek justice. We do all this in the good company of our brothers and sisters in faith.

Today we are going to start in our own way to make God’s kingdom real. Take out the piece of paper you were given at the beginning of church. On one side it says “God wants all good things for you.” On the back of the paper write down one fear, worry or concern that you are willing to share. You don’t need to write your name down. In a minute all the papers are going to be collected. As you leave church today take one of those papers with you. Your kingdom task this week is to pray for the person whose card you take home and as you pray for that person you know that someone is praying for you. Promise in hand… runners take your mark, ready, set go …