28 Jul 2018

What does God look like?

A Sunday School teacher asks a child what she's drawing.
"God" the child says, colouring enthusiastically.
The teacher says "But we don't know what God looks like."
The child replies, knowingly: "That's because I'm not finished yet!"

Watching a storm approach
     Have you ever noticed that we often speak about what God looks like? For some, it's nature - a sunset or a flower blooming. For some, it's in peace and justice initiatives - UN peacekeepers or Doctors Without Borders. For some, it's in community-builders - Habitat for Humanity Volunteers or the neighbour who coordinates book club.
     God is easy to see, when we are willing to look. What a blessing that is! I imagine we all have an answer to the question of what God looks like for us.

     But sight is not our only sense; far from it. But we don't often challenge ourselves to think about how we experience God through our other senses.

     What does God sound like? An early morning birdsong, a perfectly performed piece musical score, a welcome silence after a day of urban cacophony?

     What does God taste like? The sweetness of a just-picked cherry still warm from the sun, the velvet bitterness of the morning's first coffee, the decadent complexity of a sharp local cheese?

     What does God feel like? The effervescence of champagne bubbles as they dance on the tongue, the all-encompassing refreshment of jumping in a cool lake on a hot summer's day, the delicate warmth of a child in our arms?

     What does God smell like? The steamy and yeasty delight of fresh bread coming out of the oven, the crisp saltiness of sea breeze, the pleasant earthiness of rain that ends a dry spell?

     We are privileged to have the divine presence all around us, making itself known in all areas of our lives. And we are given the senses with which to do so.
     Today, as we go about our lives, I invite us to spend time being aware that God is not limited to our vision alone, but to all of our senses.

     As we love God with our whole selves, may we open our whole selves to the love of God.

21 Jul 2018

Pink Elephants on Parade...?

Elephants playing in the mud; Selous Game Reserve (Tanzania)
CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 by Laura Marie Piotrowicz
       Recently, on social media, I saw a number of posts about elephants and rhinoceroses. They had bright pink tusks, as though someone had dipped them in paint. The premise is great - by dying the tusks pink, the black market collapses, the poachers leave the animals to live happily ever after.
       The challenge: a simple fact check indicated that this was not accurate. (see: https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/rhinos-elephants-getting-pink-horns-prevent-poaching/)
So while it seemed great, and sounded plausible, and fits with our personal preference (who doesn't want elephants to be safe?!)... hitting "share" may not actually be helping. At times, we might be playing into someone else's agenda, for good or for ill. (see https://www.facebook.com/RCMPKindersley/posts/1955807267988185)
       I trust that we want to share good news, to spread happiness, to extend care - especially in Christian community! Yet while we can't help what we hear, we are responsible for what we decide to share or promote. When we click on a post from a highly political party, no matter what it says, it shows support for that source. When we forward a story, we are promoting it. When we do this without doing a little bit of research, we are attaching our name - and our reputation and credibility, to that story.
       If it's genuine; wonderful. If it's not however; our best intentions can backfire significantly.
       This is not limited to our social media time, either. In community, we share news and stories as we share our lives and faith journeys. Which is fine, most of the time. The challenge begins when we forget to fact-check first. If we share a medical diagnosis that we heard as a private prayer request, then a very personal matter has become public knowledge - and relationships can be fractured. If we misunderstand part of a story and fill in our own blanks, then a very different 'truth' might be broadcast - and trust breaks down. If a hardened heart won't address concerns in the church but then criticizes the leadership in public - the community as a whole suffers. If an accusatory question is posed in an unrelated gathering as a means to plant seeds of doubt - the accuser's agenda to discredit becomes a group effort.
       Or: if we hear about a successful medical procedure, we might call the patient to offer our best wishes. If we learn of a forthcoming life change, we can privately check with those involved, and let them share their good news (as it's not our story to tell). If we hear of an opportunity to pray, we can take it to God, not to the gossip chain. If there is gossip happening around us, we can choose to ignore it, to not continue it, to tell the gossiper that we don't like the practice.
       It's not always easy; but as we would not want to be the one stories were told about, as Christians we should not be ones telling tales.
       A quick way to consider: would Jesus be happy for me to share this news?
       If yes: spread the good news!
       If no: we should break the chain and let the story end with us. 

       Otherwise we end up following a long line of pink elephants - stepping into whatever they might leave behind.

14 Jul 2018

Air Conditioning

"Air conditioning units outside a building"
Some rights reserved CC BY-SA 4.0 by 
Ildar Sagdejev. Source: WikiCommons
            In the parish I serve, as soon as things start heating up outside, there's a conversation that starts heating up inside as well: the air conditioning. Worshiping in an old church building, in a humid locale, without air ducts (thus preventing central air), with 2 (inadequate) wall units... any given Sunday I hear how the space is simultaneously too hot, too cold, too stuffy, and too breezy (depending on which uncomfortable wooden pew you sit).
            The gist is this: people just want to be comfortable. They want to come and sit in their comfortable pew and sing to comfortable hymns and hear a comfortable sermon and engage in comfortable conversation and have a comfortable experience.
            The challenge is this: the church - the body of Christ living its part in God's mission for the world - isn't always meant to be "comfortable." A great mentor of mine taught me that great liturgy will comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable. (And for those who are afflicted, I hope and pray that they find the spiritual comfort of Christ's love in and through the body of Christ, the church.)
            For those who are not afflicted, however, the church building should serve as more than a climate-controlled spiritual warehouse (or worse, a 'comfortable Sunday social club'): it should be the home to (pardon the pun) HEIR conditioning.
            WE are those heirs. Jesus declared us as God's children and heirs of God's Kingdom. There is no greater gift.
            So... how are we conditioning ourselves as heirs? Do we take this heritage seriously? How are we engaging with our community? How are we living the mission? How are we keeping the church as a movement (not a monument)? How are we living our baptismal vows?
            And taking it onward; how are we teaching our heirs - our children, our grandchildren, our godchildren? The literal generations that follow us, are dependent on us to learn the good news of Jesus Christ. If we don't teach them our Christian heritage, who will? So how are you teaching the faith? Have you taught our tradition? How have you shared the love of Jesus with the future generation?
            I fear that if we are not taking this ongoing conditioning seriously, we will forget how. We will no longer comprehend its significance. We will lapse in our most basic faith experience. Just as we exercise our bodies for physical conditioning, we need to exercise our faith for spiritual - heir - conditioning.
            How is the heir conditioning today?

(Ironically, while on vacation the parishes I've visited have no air conditioning - and no complaints. Lots of heir conditioning though - it's beautiful!)

7 Jul 2018

What Brings You Joy?

"Joy" CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 by Dugg Simpson. Source: Flickr
What brings you joy?
            And by 'joy', I don't mean something that makes you happy. I think those two words are often used interchangeably, but convey a different meaning.
            For me, happiness is the feeling I get when things are going well. When I am with friends, when my dog licks my hand, when I open a new book, that sort of thing.
            Yet joy is much deeper. Because for me, joy is rooted in the love of God. It is not sentimentality, but a visceral response to knowing that the deepest part of me has in some way connected to the expression of God's grace in the world. Sometimes (often?) joy and happiness overlap - and what fantastic moments those are!
            But focusing back on joy; my first question is itself a bit misleading, for what brings us joy is Jesus. A more accurate (though less simplified) question could be: What happens in this realm that makes your inner being celebrate the glory of God? What is happening when your essence delights in love?
            This is definitely a more thought-provoking question, and requires more time in prayer and reflection. But I believe that it is time well spent, as that reflection gives us the privilege to acknowledge how we best connect with God. In my own examples, every joy-provoking experience is also an exercise of ministry. It is the delight of community with friends and family, it is the celebration of the Eucharist, it is the nourishment of prayer, it is the stirring of souls as the peace is extended. When the joy of the Lord is in you, you know it!
            Spending time discerning this joy also identifies for us our unique opportunity to re-engage with that divine presence when we re-engage with the ministry that brought it to our awareness in the first place. For example, I know I feel joy when I worship with folks at retirement communities, so I make that a priority in my ministry. I know I feel joy when I spend time with my godson (and his family), so I make efforts for that to be a regular occurrence. I know I feel joy when I spend time in nature, and my dogs (furry demonstrations of divine love) help me maintain that daily connection as we wander the trails. These events help me delight in the truth of God's love, and thus bring me great joy.
            So: what brings you joy? And what are you willing to do to re-engage with that joy today?
Whatever today brings, I wish you happiness; but more importantly, I wish you joy.