23 Feb 2019

"I Had An Idea..."

"Toque 3"
Copyright Coldest Night of the Year
Limited Use: see https://cnoy.org/terms
     About 10 days ago, I got a message from a member of the parish. It started with "I had an idea..." She went on to suggest that we put together a team to walk in the Coldest Night of the Year fundraiser (held yesterday), benefitting a local agency that assists with our community's most vulnerable people. Thus, the Holy Walkamolies team was formed. We had a great time.
(Still accepting donations until 31 march: https://secure.e2rm.com/registrant/TeamFundraisingPage.aspx?teamID=845294 )
     Aside from the obvious attraction (supporting the agency, raising awareness that social inequality is a major factor in our home towns, &c.), I really liked the question. It implied a comfort level with trying new things: it was a willingness to take a risk into a previously unknown area of ministry.
      This willingness is not always common in the church: I often ask groups to dream big when it comes to ministry opportunities, and identify what they would do if they knew they could not fail. (It's a positive perspective on asking what fear is preventing them from doing). In my experience, many have not considered anything new; some are limited by a desire to relive a myth of a utopian history; some have painfully overlooked mission as they focused solely on numbers or buildings.
       Another part of the joy of this particular idea was not just the willingness to try, but the support given by the other members of the congregation. I did not hear a single utterance of "we've never done it that way before" - rather there were questions of clarification and awareness. Some folks had limited knowledge of the social service agencies within our own region. I heard words of encouragement, offers of prayer, and a (delightfully) generous level of financial support for the cause. The church came together to encourage and support a new idea, and the person who brought it forward.
       This has been a celebration of church, as we are encouraged to build one another up in Christ, as we are called to servant leadership, and as we are commissioned to love. A simple "I had an idea" that wasn't ignored or dismissed led to a successful event, and demonstrated to the next dreamer that ideas are valued and desired, and appreciated by the community.
       So how do you dream big? What ideas do you have? What ideas have you supported in others?

16 Feb 2019

Does It Bring Joy?

RAK valentines

            A recent trend in decluttering has people considering what objects bring them joy, and reducing or eliminating those things that do not.
            A recent trend in the parish I serve asks a different question: How can *I* bring joy?
Each month, a group of intergenerational folks gather merely for the purpose of bringing joy. The Random Acts of Kindness group, or RAK, finds ways to bring joy to our community. It's run by church volunteers, but is not limited to church people, and demonstrates to all the joy of giving.
            There have been a variety of activities: a stealth library visit to deliver bookmarks and tea bags for patrons... a Remembrance Day venture to the Veterans ward at the local hospital... this month, the creation of valentines: some delivered to people around town who were working that night, some delivered to the care home for the patients and staff to enjoy.
A bouquet of kindness (and kisses!) for the care home 
It's a simple exercise, yet is deeply meaningful: for those who are being RAK'd (receiving a random act of kindness) there is joy in the act of receiving. For those who are preparing the RAK, there is joy in knowing that the act will bring joy.
            It's also a time when all ages come together, working together for a common goal. It is a teachable moment for all that the blessing of joy is amplified in both the giving and receiving of kindness.
            In a world that can be cynical and negative, it's a delight to share joy in such simple and random acts, knowing that even the smallest gestures can bring joy. It is a beautiful opportunity to love outwardly, as Jesus has loved us: fully, joyfully, randomly, actively.

9 Feb 2019

Was It Someone Important?

"Office Phone" CC BY-ND 2.0 by Karolina Kabat. Source: Flickr 

             Some years ago, a man arrived unexpectedly at my office, and as I was on the phone he had been asked to wait. He was quite indignant at this, and once I was available he loudly demanded if the person on the phone had, in fact, been "sufficiently important" to justify his waiting.
            If I recall correctly, I was stunned, and silent.
            "WELL?" the man yelled. "Was it someone important?"
            "Yes," I said. "Quite." I stately, quietly but firmly.
            We then sat in a stalemated staring contest, while the man in front of me expected an impressive identity to be divulged.  I did not oblige: partly as it was none of his business, partly as he was a character who could make name-dropping a competitive sport (always practicing the one-up).
            Mostly, I did not give the caller's identity as the person was important -- in the way that we are ALL important. Recognizing this importance and dignity is part of our baptismal vows; as is seeking the Christ in all people. So I was trying to behave, for my own spiritual discipline and practice, that the person on the phone was important, and a few moments later, the angry man in my office was important.  I aimed to give my full attention to the beloved child of God that I was privileged to interact with at each time.
            This is not always easy; in a society where our basic humanity is often overlooked and our perceived value can be linked only to titles or transactions, prestige or power. Many of us, like the man in my office that day, seemingly rank another person's importance compared to themselves, and expect preferred treatment over those deemed of a lower status.
            Yet this is not the Christian way. Our way is to see everyone as important: for they are. Whatever their station or situation in life, they are important. They are deserving of kindness and compassion. They are worthy of Christian love, as they are made perfectly in the image and likeness of God.
            And we, as the church, have the privilege to respond to that reality.
            I was reminded by this a few weeks ago, as I was invited to spend some time with a man in his final days in this life. As we spoke he shared wonderful uplifting stories of his interactions with people at the church. "I always knew I mattered there" he shared with me. "People treated me like I was important."
            What a beautiful reality to carry from this life into the next: that his life mattered, that he was appreciated, that he was important. What a wonderful expression of church at its best, that someone who had fallen on hard times could believe that truth.
            Would that we would all find ways to express to everyone we meet that they matter - to us, to the world, and to God.

            Was it someone important? Yes. Quite important. It always is.

2 Feb 2019

A season of "We've Never Done It That Way Before"

published in the Feb 2019 edition of the Diocesan Times (NS/PEI)

            As I write this, we have just celebrated the Feast of the Epiphany, that joyous occasion of revelation of Jesus' divinity. So here we are in this Epiphanytide, or Ordinary Time, until Ash Wednesday. This year we will have a later Easter, meaning a later Lent - and thus we have opportunity to pray and celebrate in this season for a longer-than-average time.
            With this extended period, we have the opportunity to journey through an exciting arc in the Gospel narratives.  It's a whole season which could be labeled "But we've never done it that way before..." For each of the passages we will hear proclaimed on Sundays, we are being given an example of how Jesus challenges the status quo, breaks the mold, re-educates the people what it means to be followers of God. And in every instance, the power of God breaks through in an astonishing way.
            In the special feast days, we see John baptizing Jesus despite acknowledging that this is an unnatural order; at the presentation at the Temple Jesus' divinity is proclaimed by unknown elders; in the Transfiguration divulging his true nature to his friends yet requiring their silence.
            In the "ordinary time" readings we are equally baffled by the extraordinary expressions of atypical moments: wedding guest Mary coercing Jesus to be revealed in the water/wine miracle; Jesus openly declaring that he fulfills the prophet Isaiah; an unlikely disappearance as target of an angry mob; an unlikely catch from the other side of the boat; the beatitudes challenge all levels of earthly 'authority'.
            In each of these narratives, the message comes through the abnormality of events. Jesus is showing his friends that the possibility for the revelation of God goes beyond human knowledge and expectation and experience. It is not arrogance that has this carpenter telling master fishermen where to cast nets, but an invitation to try something a little bit different - and thus to reap the reward. It is not to reject the law that Jesus offers the Beatitudes, but as a means to confer grace and blessing to a people who are seeking compassion.
            Jesus is not aiming to stir up trouble for the sake of rebellion, but to embody kindness and to inspire faith-based action. And now, some 2 millennia later, Jesus is inviting us to the same ministry: to move beyond our patterns and practices and try to discern ways to live the Good News in our communities.
            What an exciting invitation! What a privilege to have this time for these lessons! What a beautiful reminder that sometimes the most exciting and fruitful ministry can happen when we move (and are moved) outside the box, being sufficiently nudged and guided by God's Holy Spirit in ways that may scare us, with results that we are not anticipating, but always in ways where God is profoundly at work in and through us. How exciting to see the glory of the Lord revealed!
            Just as the magi used their courage and faithfulness in the great revelation of Epiphany, I pray we all may be emboldened by the Spirit to embrace new opportunities in ministry, that God's glory will shine even brighter this extended Epiphanytide. As the New Zealand Prayer Book invokes: "Let us look expectantly to new days, new joys, new possibilities."