14 Jun 2018

What a Miracle!

            One of the great opportunities of serving in a parish is the privilege of officiating at baptisms.  Not only is there the joy of formally welcoming someone into the household of God, but also of our shared commitment to uphold one another in the Christian lifestyle. We share the ministry of the Body of Christ!
            Also (and this part is entirely selfish): if the person being baptised is an infant, it means I get to hold a baby.  And who doesn't love that? Tiny toes and fingers, adorable outfits, that perfect scent. Plus, they're the only ones who are allowed to sleep through my sermon.
            One of the comments I often hear about such infants (often from my own mouth) is "what a miracle!" There's truth there. It is miraculous to celebrate life: the beauty, the joy, the potential, the love. It's a miracle!
            So my question is this: when does that gorgeous baby *stop* being a miracle?
            Answer: never. Our status as miracle doesn't dissipate, we don't grow out of it like our first booties, or lose it like our milk teeth. I think what happens is that we forget it.  
            We forget that we are loved and loveable, that we are wanted, that we are special. We forget that we are precious in God's eyes: it's why there are memes that read "Never forget that the God who made the sun and stars, the mountains and lakes, everything great, also decided that the world needed one of YOU."
            We forget that God wanted a miracle, and so breathed life into US. We can forget that our friends and family are also God's miracles. And, too easily, we forget that the people we don't like - the ones we would rather ignore, or forget, or never have met - are also God's miracles.
            But we are called to remember.  Because of our baptism, we are called to remember that we are a miracle of God's creation, and live as the beloved member of the Body of Christ that we are. Because of our baptism, we are called to remember that everyone else is a miracle of God's creation - and thus respect their dignity, and seek and serve the Christ within them. Because of our baptism, we are called to remember that the whole earth is a miracle of God's creation - and so find ways to sustain and renew it.

            I hope that when we renew our baptismal vows, when we live into our baptismal ministry, we celebrate that we are doing that because God has made us all a miracle in the miraculous creation.  What a miracle God made you to be!

9 Jun 2018

The Power of Vulnerability

CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 by Andi Jetaime Source: Flickr
            As a society, we reduce our vulnerabilities (through risk management strategies and disaster response plans). As individuals, we avoid physical vulnerability (being vaccinated against diseases, maintaining healthy lifestyles, and limit exposure to high-risk circumstances).
            Generally, we've come to believe we should extend this avoidance of vulnerability to our emotional and spiritual selves. Culture presents vulnerability as a weakness, something wrong, a negative. To be vulnerable is to leave oneself ”exposed to the possibility of being attacked or harmed" (OED). To be a vulnerable population is to need special care or protection.
            Yet, our faith calls for us to be vulnerable. It invites to be completely open DESPITE the risk of being hurt. It is this full openness that allows a deeper love to enter and engage in our hearts, and in our relationships.
            It's not easy to be vulnerable, it depends on trust. And that trust is not something that is to be taken lightly.
            That trust was extended to me several times this past week, as I had the privileged opportunity to engage with a people at their most vulnerable. People who wanted to connect with me as their priest, people who put their trust in me to be especially careful and gentle with their emotional and spiritual selves. These people were dealing with pain, hospitalisation, mental health concerns, grief, transition, uncertainty: people dealing with the harsh realities of life.
            Having been gifted with the invitation and trust to accompany others in their most vulnerable moments, and taking seriously that privilege and responsibility, I was reminded of the value of connecting with one another through our exposed, vulnerable moments.
            Part of my spiritual journey is the choice to open myself up to the same type of care and affection that I hope I was able to give, and that I hope we are all willing to receive from Jesus. After all, we know that this is the God who loved us so much, and was so desperate to assure of us salvation instead of condemnation, that God made manifest in human form to share in our vulnerability, to model for us what vulnerable love is.
            I know that by making myself vulnerable, I am giving others the chance to hurt me. I have been hurt in the past, I will likely be hurt in the future. However, by making myself vulnerable, I am opening myself to the possibility of radical hospitality, profound grace, and extreme love: the love of divine proportions. And what love I have received, that I may have missed had my heart been hardened in risk-avoidance.

            Being intentionally vulnerable is a risk, it's an act of faith, it's a counter-cultural spiritual discipline. And it is entirely worthwhile, especially when we remember who will always protect us, for our 'God of Power and Might' is also the 'God of Vulnerable Love.'*

*from a conversation with fellow theologian

3 Jun 2018

Paddling in the Presence of God

Paddle, paddle, repeat.
Pray, pray, repeat.
     I went for my first paddle of the season on Saturday. A dear friend was visiting, and we loaded the canoe on the car, drove to the local watering hole, and went out paddling.

     We've had many adventures in canoes, and many conversations, and many silences.

     Canoeing is, for us, a sacred experience. It's (as we have often articulated) our happy place.

     Part of our conversation was about where we feel closest to God. For both of us, it's not a location on a map. Feeling God can happen anywhere, at any time, in any way. It's the sun dancing on the water, it's the heron gliding past like the Holy Spirit, it's the sound of the water dripping from the paddle. God is present for us, in those moments, as the still small voice of the created order begging to be heard; as the surprise of a sunfish suddenly leaping in the air beside the canoe, in the soreness of muscles long unused serving to remind of an adventure that was peace-providing.

     It was an extraordinary afternoon on the water; and it was an ordinary paddle on the lake. God's presence was undeniable, and we celebrated it. We chose to see God, and to be with God, and to hear God. We chose to dance with the divine, to embrace the unknowable, to find joy in the inexplicable. We laughed and chatted, we reminisced of the past and dreamt of the future. God was with us and we made extra effort to seek out that presence.

     How do you find God this day? Where do you find your rest in God? Is it from a piece of fine art, or in the lines of a poem? Is it a particular scent, or the distinct notes of a tune? How does the presence of God sound to you? How does it smell, how does it appear?

     I pray that you can realise you are in the presence of God, that you can find the sacred amid the ordinary, that you can delight in the simple realities that offer glimpses of an eternal delight.

26 May 2018

How Can I Make Your Day Better?

Guinness, my happy-licky lab frolicking in the park
            After a week of hearing and overhearing a plethora of unhappy people, I decided to intentionally focus on making situations and relationships better.
            Summary results: it's been a fun week.
            In phoning a call centre, I used the agent's name, asked how he was, and after he helped me I commented that I hoped his supervisors recognised his good work.  In a store line-up, I offered the deep-sighing, watch-checking man behind to go ahead of me.  At the hospital coffee shop, I offered to buy the coffee for a woman was holding back tears as she counted her change before ordering.
            More than random acts of kindness, I explicitly asked people I know how I could make their day better.
            A parishioner leaving my office requested prayers for an unrelated but worrying situation; a colleague cancelled a meeting, but asked if we could still meet for coffee and conversation; a friend, after a fun and long chat, asked me to proofread his resume.  A neighbour (who enjoys giving my dogs cookies on our walk) admitted missing his dog, and that a moment of furry attention was exactly what he wanted. (My happy black lab reacted with many licks).
            Making someone else's day better often doesn't take much, and it makes our day better, too.
            We may need to ask outright, or we may need to start paying more attention. The response may be what we anticipate, or might be something completely unexpected. Our offers may be refused or rejected. The rationale may be explained, or we may never know.
            Whatever it is, we need to follow through on our offer (within reason!), and how the person has asked. We don't need to ask for details, or cast judgement, or change what we offer based on our opinion.
            It's communication, it's community-building, it's kingdom-building.  It's loving neighbour as self.  It's making ourselves vulnerable and available to someone else, indicating that they matter to us, that their happiness brings us happiness, and that we genuinely want their day to be better.
            I hope your day is going well; I hope someone finds a way to make your day better; I hope you find a way to make someone else's day better.

19 May 2018

Putting/Keeping God First

         This past Monday the parish I serve had it's monthly Parish Council meeting. Obviously, there was much rejoicing, because there's nothing more fun that can happen on a Monday night!
         All kidding aside: our Parish Council is a great group of people, and I thank God for them. They are committed to being the church, and celebrating their ministry as we muddle through the realities of the business of the church. Summary: we put God first.
         This past Monday coincided with another occasion: a playoff hockey game, where my team was participating.
         So the mental and moral debate happened: call in sick? Reschedule the meeting? Bring a computer in to stream the game?
         The answer: none of the above. We held the meeting at the original date and time, with me in attendance, without dividing my focus. Not even score-checking on my phone: I was dedicated to being fully present at the meeting.
         I will admit: I was attired to provide a subtle cue that the puck dropped 30 minutes after our meeting started: just to non-verbally remind folks of the benefits of brevity. (And hey, a Winnipeg Jets jersey goes really well over clericals. Just saying.) We all had a giggle about it.
         The meeting was a good one. We had much to discuss, much to consider, much to remind ourselves about: from committee updates to worship schedules to finances to planning our annual feast day celebrations. We laughed, we shared, we brainstormed, we prayed.
         We *did* have a slightly shorter meeting than normal, but we didn't skip over anything in the meeting. Because we, as a parish council, put church first. And that happens because we, as individuals and as a community, put God first.
         There will always be something else that is happening: a game, a show, a guest, a [whatever event]. There will always be someone who is making a choice. But when we keep our focus on who and whose we are, we make the right choice.

         So we put God first. We made the meeting our priority that night. We live our faith in all we do. We exercise our ministry. We find ways to love the world the way that God first loved us. 
         Sometimes that means missing the first period, or the ninth inning, or the cliff-hanger, or the [whatever event]. But when it means keeping our focus on the God who never lets us out of their sight - it's a decision well made.