24 Jun 2017


Pipe Organ at Knox College chapel
Toronto School of Theology
            I spent the past 2 weeks back in the classroom, taking an intensive summer course with my doctoral cohort. We started each day as one might expect at a seminary (though ought not take for granted): with prayer.
            Coming from a variety of locations and a variety of faith traditions, we enjoyed a variety of worship styles and formats. One of the commonalities, however, was music. While we knew this from our time together last year, a guest to our class commented "Wow, you folks like to sing!"
            We do like to sing. And sing we did.
            Some of us have exceptional musical skills and talent, some (like myself) less so. Some have training, some do not. Sometimes we all hit the right notes, sometimes we did not. 
            One of the great gifts was the harmony that was created; as we each sang in our range and to our ability, the words began to be so much more than they had been before; the song evolved into so much more than any one of us alone could have hoped to accomplish.
            We sang our worship, and God was present.
            St Augustine of Hippo wrote "cantare amantis est" or "singing belongs to one who loves." This is true; one who is singing hymns ought not worry about having perfect pitch or rhythm or any of the rest of it. One who is singing ought to be focused on the gift of song: the gift being offered to the world, but also on the reception of the gift of music.
            Augustine was indicating that when a song is of praise, the heart of the one who loves changes; the singer is no longer merely a conveyor of notes that can be captured on a page, but one who is expressing the perfect love from Love's divine source.

            So I hope as we all sing our hymns this morning that we too are changed: embraced by the gift of one another as we join in harmony (both spiritual and musical!), delighting in joining with the transformed gift of love and Love that manifests in song.

17 Jun 2017

My Favourite Gospel

Genealogy of Jesus, Gospel of Matthew
from the Lindisfarne Gospels
Folio 27r PublicDomain
     Long ago and far away, as I was discerning a call to ministry, one of my candidate's committee interviewers asked me to identify my favourite Gospel. Being articulate and confident as ever, I responded with something like: "My... um... wait... sorry... what?" (Clearly, not my finest moment!)
     It's a question that has stayed with me (obviously); it's a question I regularly return to in my own reflections.
     I've had many answers over the years: Matthew for the Old Testament fulfillment; Mark for its emphasis on service and justice, Luke for the attention to the humanity through suffering and healing, John for its mysticism and "I AM" statements. 
     It could be just part of my personality type, but I'm not sure I have any one 'favourite' - that seems to suggest that one is more important than others. It's not that I'm easily swayed, but at different times in my life and ministry, different aspects of the different Gospels have spoken to me.
     Something I read a few years back helped me to better appreciate this. There is only one Gospel: The Gospel of Jesus the Christ. We just happen to have 4 canonical "According To"s to choose from.[1]
     So how the stories are shared, the order, the length, the details, &c. all makes an impact, on the teller and on the reader. The emphasis differed based on the intended audience and the writer, to convey a certain aspect that would have the most significance.
     These are all the Good News of God in Christ, proclaimed by word and example for thousands of years (so far!), written and compiled in a way that will touch the hearts of God's people and invite them into God's mission for the world.
     So which author is my favourite? It depends on the day; but which Gospel is my favourite? The Gospel of Christ - may it continue to speak clearly to us all.

[1] see John Dominic Crossan's The Power of Parable.

10 Jun 2017

Bloom Where You're Planted

            I live in a community with a climate where just about anything that is planted has the potential to thrive. "Bloom where you're planted" could have been first written here.

            My garden blooms tend to be pragmatic: vegetables, herbs, and in the corner nearest where I write, my old black lab daily 'plants' himself in the same corner of one of the flowerbeds, having first dug around to make sure the dirt is to his liking. I've noticed much about this habit:
       1. He rests in the garden, and comes out refreshed (and ready to play!)
       2. He is aware of his surroundings, careful to dig in only that one corner and not to disturb the daylilies in the opposite corner; he doesn't try to overtake the rest of the space.
       3. He has neither clue nor care if I may have wanted to plant something there.
       4. He prevents growth (weeds) growing in that space.
       5. He was confused to find my other dog in there one day this week, but took it in stride and went to another place to lay down.

            My dog-as-plant offers much for reflective prayer:
       1. May we all find a place of spiritual rest and repose, that will be simple and accessible.
       2. May we all know where we are, and where others are, complementing one another's ministrations.
       3. May we intentionally collaborate with our communities in our shared ministry.
       4. May our efforts prevent invasive negativity.
       5. May we not be so beholden to one pew or one building that we miss seeing new opportunities to build the kingdom of God.
Photo by Sarah F.
Used with permission

            Furthermore, I pray that we may be inspired by whatever soil we find ourselves planted in. 
       May we bloom where we are, when we have been comfortable there for many a season. 
       May we bloom when we feel transplanted, experiencing change as a potential for new growth. 
       May we accept that not every soil supports every plant. 
      And may we recognise that sometimes our unplanted flowers provide play space for inquisitive and discerning hearts and minds.

       May our spiritual gardens be full of exactly what God intends to grow.

3 Jun 2017

HOLY COW! Or: Why the cookie cutter doesn't work

            The parish I serve has a unique location: this community has a long history and tradition of rowing, and many competitions are held here as a result. The church building is itself right across the street from the grandstand.
            Naturally, we captialise on this.
            Whenever a big regatta is happening, we are a visible presence in the community! Placing ourselves on the front yard, we hold a barbecue. We call it the "Holy Cow! BBQ" - it's become a brand, we try to milk it for all it's worth, herd spectators our way, beef up sales... the puns are udderly ridiculous. I'll MOOve past them.
            The thing with Holy Cow is it works for us; our location, our facilities, our volunteers.  It would not work in other places, or on weekends when a regatta is not taking place.
            And that's fine; it doesn't have to. Likewise, other events at other parishes and other communities and other circumstances wouldn't work here.
            It doesn't mean we can't try them; it just means we have to be realistic in our expectations. Not every effort is going to be a rousing success!
            And, I dare say, not everything *should* be a rousing success. That leads to a cookie cutter mentality, and that is not what the church should be about. The church should embrace being the unique expression that it is and offering the distinct gifts it has. Church ought not be just re-creating some event or programme that someone else has done; it's about discerning the movement of the Spirit, to engage with the charisms of the community, to exercise the best possible ministry for each place and time.
            Maybe it's a praise band on a weekend night; maybe it's a derivative of Theology on Tap, maybe it's a BBQ that helps raise funds for the mission, ministry, and outreach while conversing with the local community.
            And once those things happen, and the Spirit is undeniable, the entire place can delight in the authentic and simultaneous engagement with both the world and with the divine. Not unlike that first Pentecost, the Spirit will move and blow and inspire. And she'll do so differently for each faithful person, congregation, and community.
            Come, Holy Spirit, come: inspire us to your will for this place.