26 Jan 2019

Making It Work

       I had dinner with my family this week.
       As lovely as it always is, on the surface that hardly sounds blog-worthy. However: my family live some 2,000km away - this was not a matter of just popping down the road to split a pizza. What it was, though, was a fun conversation and a good meal; me in my home, and them in theirs. Over Skype, we had dinner together. We had decided that distance is not going to get in the way of our relationship; we made it work. We found a way to overcome the obstacles so that we could all benefit. It was great!
       In contrast, this week I finally got feedback on some paperwork I submitted to a small organisation not known for being user-friendly. Despite the unusual circumstances of moving (and various equipment being inaccessible for several weeks) they would not allow any discrepancy in their paperwork submission process. It felt as though they were putting up obstacles just for the fun of it; setting my work back several weeks and making me consider removing myself from said organisation. (The work is lovely, the bureaucracy is suffocating).
       Given these two extremes, I pondered what I might learn about church, and how we access the church. For those of us with a comfortable pew, we may not notice that our ways might in fact be preventing the Gospel from being spread. The average person on the street would likely struggle to comprehend a church sign that read "BCP 8 / BAS 10 wSS"[1] and thus may never darken the door. Even writing "All welcome!" may not have the intended effect, despite best efforts.
       If we are not careful, we will be the church community that (intentionally or otherwise) puts up barriers: using insider jargon, leaving newcomers to navigate the service alone, making indistinguishable references (inviting folks to speak to Mary about a luncheon is only effective if they know who Mary is, and how to reach her).
       If we are careful, however, we can be the church community that is intentional about making church happen: Skyping in a godparent for whom distance would prevent attendance at a baptism, providing large-print bulletins and reading lights for those with vision challenges, having volunteers host a Sunday School pizza party so their parents can go out without the (often prohibitive) cost of a babysitter.
       If we want to BE the church, we will find a way to make it happen. We will overcome the obstacles which would give us the easy way out; we will choose to intentionally engage with God and one another in the world as we live it.
       It means thinking outside the box. And it won't always be successful. But it just might be worth it to try.
       And in my opinion, the Good News is always worth it. Let's make it work.

[1] "Book of Common Prayer at 8.00am, Book of Alternative Services at 10.00am with Sunday School" - this was a real sign on a church whose leadership did not understand why there was declined connection to the local community

19 Jan 2019

We Are Known by the Company We Keep

"People" CC BY-SA-NC 2.0 by Marcio Eduardo Rodrigues.
Source: Flickr

            More than once, I have been asked to be a character reference for someone, for employment or volunteer positions. More than once, I had asked others to be character references for me. It's fairly common; we tend to spend our time with people who share hobbies and interests, values and viewpoints. This applies to both positive or negative characteristics; those who spend their time with community volunteers are more likely to be volunteers themselves, those who spend their time with liars and thieves are... less likely to be named citizen of the year.
            We are known by the company that we keep.
            This is not to suggest that we *only* associate with like-minded individuals: in my professional life I've spent time with a host of wonderful people, some of whom are addicted, imprisoned, abusive, etc. God has blessed me with the opportunity to exercise my ministry with some of society's most vulnerable and/or rejected people. I have grown as a result of these opportunities.
            In my personal time, I choose to spend time with people that I admire, with qualities that I aspire to, with practices that impress.  I spend time with people who challenge me to be a better person, who encourage me to be the best version of myself possible. These are people who understand that I may need to cancel plans last-minute to go visit a parishioner; who not only accept but appreciate that I am dedicated to prayer; people who respect and support my passion for justice work.
            Studies have shown that our characters adapt and reflect the five people we spend most of our time with. So it's not just that we are known by the company that we keep: we *become* the company we keep. Our close association with a pattern of behaviours and characteristics will normalize them for us: so spending time with critical people will make us more critical, or spending time with generous people will make us more generous.
            Thus it is worthwhile to consider who we are, and who we want to be. And if those two realities do not align, then perhaps some changes need to be made. However, we are called to follow Jesus, not go with the flow of whomever we find to be popularly attractive.  We are called to shine the light of Christ in the world, not to cast shade. We pray for those being baptized to shine that light to the glory of God, and we are invited to remember that others prayed for us to shine that light. May we surround ourselves with that light!

12 Jan 2019


"Foundations" CC BY Melissa Galvez. Source: Flickr

            A realtor friend of mine from time to time (as with any industry) has stories that are shocking. In a recent case, this friend was selling a house where an inspection revealed something unexpected: part of the floor was being held up by car jacks.
            Apparently, the house had been built as a cottage where the jacks provided enough support, to a weak part of the floor, and when it became a primary residence that solution was forgotten. However, in modern times, these jacks were deemed to be insufficient and repairs/retrofitting was required. Obviously!
            In so many areas of our life, the foundation we start with is adequate: however, over time deterioration may happen, or our needs may advance beyond what the initial foundation can support.
            We rely on foundations: trusting that a floor has enough joists in a state of repair to hold up the floor... using our basic maths skills when planning a budget... purchasing all ingredients before starting to cook a gourmet meal... etc.
            With that premise, I ponder on our spiritual foundations: namely, our faith. I invite us all to consider our faith foundation. Is it strong? Is it strong enough? Do we even know?
            Our faith supports our souls day to day, and like any foundation deserves to be regularly assessed and embraced. If improvements can be made, why not undertake those in a preventive manner, rather than reactive when under duress?  No one wants the floor to collapse during a dinner party; likewise we would not want our faith to be found weak during a time of spiritual challenge.
            Our faith helps us to weather the storms that come at us; it augments our delight in moments of joy. It sustains us in this life, as we declare in our creeds. Our faith is our foundation; may we keep our foundation as strong as possible!

5 Jan 2019

Resolving to relationship

By Leszek Kobusinski, via Shutterstock.
             The first week of January is always a fun time on social media - as so many people publicly declare their resolutions, and then... well. Then the memes begin; the person drinking a green smoothie on Jan 1 and a bottle of wine on Jan 5, for example!
            The challenge with resolutions is that we seem to only make them once a year - I'd guess often done in a hurry on the 31st when we're asked! And of course, in that setting, we want to offer something great-sounding, no matter how realistic it might be. "I'm going to run a marathon!" is not necessarily practical for someone who has never run before, or "I'll read a book every week!" is lofty for someone who hasn't read a book in the previous year.
            Gym memberships are bought in this first week, and often abandoned by the end of the month; dry January can be derailed at the first dinner party, and one cookie turns to two, and... the resolve from the party seems to fade as fast as the glitter. With one 'ooops' moment, that's it for the year. Sorry, running shoes, we'll see you again next January; that library card can return to the back of the wallet.
            How good, then, to remember that those 'ooops' moments in our spiritual journey do not indicate the end, or a failure; in fact, those are the moments of growth. When we can return to our spiritual disciplines, and re-focus on our relationship with God *despite* what's been going on in our lives.
            I know few people who have had a journey with Jesus that is entirely smooth and easy; they share tales of spiritual mountains and valleys, times of prayer dry spells and abundance, episodes where they *knew* God was with them and times when they felt alone.
            The important thing, in my opinion, is that these folks did not give up. They recognised that life is full of good spiritual days and challenging ones; and they always returned. They came back to God, who was always waiting for them, eager to renew and strengthen the relationship.
            Our resolutions don't care if we stick to them or not; but Jesus cares about our ongoing relationship. Still looking for a resolution, or looking for a new one? I invite you to work on your relationship with God; to "grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ." (2 Peter 3.18) - and with that to have a happy, holy, and blessed 2019!