31 Aug 2019

Community living: a messy reflection

Many clean-up bags for many messes:
the life of a canine companion!

            One of my dog's many skills is input: he's a good eater! By extension, he's also good at... output. So good, in fact, that (as a responsible canine companion) I purchase the mess-removal bags in bulk.
            Clean-up is not my favourite part of having a dog, but it's the right thing to do.. Leaving a mess is ugly, unsanitary, un-neighbourly, etc. Yet there are people who do: when they are distracted/ ignoring/ oblivious to the mess being made; when they can't be bothered attending to the mess; or (in extreme cases) when they delight in seeing a pile in the yard of someone they don't like.
            Poop happens. Literally, and metaphorically.
            So what happens when the poop isn't something that fits into one of those little bags? When the mess is the brokenness in a relationship or a community?
            An extreme example from a friend in church-land: a group of intentional mess-makers cruelly (and remotely) caused division in a parish, with many leaving the church. Pleased with the resultant mess, this group proclaimed a generic "mistakes were made" to the remaining community. They did not take ownership of the mess they had so careful curated, and they did not reach out to the individuals whom they had made effort to offend.           
            In the dog analogy, it was piling poop in someone's yard until the person moved, then proclaiming to the neighbours that the mess shouldn't have happened in the first place.  The mess is still there, however, and now more unpleasant than before; and without taking ownership of it, there is significant potential for the mess-makers to return to the same poopy behaviour.
            While messes are inevitable, as Christians we are called to put aside our egos and to seek to make things right - to clean up our messes - before they reach excremental levels. It is not a time for shaming, but for being accountable for our actions. It means apologising with intentionality, and engaging in reconciliation. Like using a bag, it can be unpleasant, but it is essential work. A mess left alone will not clean itself up, and may in fact get nastier. But once a mess is cleaned, and any resultant stink is past, a community can go on to flourish and grow - mess-free. Communities that are based on truth and respect and love - the values of our faith - are worth the efforts of cleaning up the mess.

24 Aug 2019

You SHOULD go there!

"Cape Breton Island Map"
(CC BY-SA 3.0) by "Canadian"
Source: Wikipedia

            I was recently reminded that I haven't taken my vacation for the year, and so am in the pleasant reality of getting to do some planning. It's fun living in a new region; there are lots of places I've not visited, so there is ample opportunity.
            For example, I've not been to Cape Breton - yet! I've shared this fact with some people. The responses have been consistent in the affirmative, but the way the message is conveyed has varied. The majority of answers have been encouraging: offering a positive perspective on the area, the fall colours, the music festivals, the time to visit, etc. I've gained a large number of pointers from the positive experiences that others have had: from food to accommodations to which way around the Cabot Trail one should drive. "I think you would really enjoy it" one review came, basing their opinion on a conversation of what I like to do while on holiday.
            In a few cases, when discussing my vacation plans, I've had the less inviting "You HAVE to do X" or "You SHOULD do Y". When querying why these statements are so prescriptive, the answers have one thing in common: it's what the speaker wants to do, without taking into consideration what my goals or preferences might be. This approach, while meaning well, can actually deter an interest in a place or event.
            I like to feel encouraged, inspired, invited, and supported when I'm considering heading somewhere new; with enthusiasm and positivity and ideas as to what may feed my soul. I like to know others  (whose opinions I trust) have made a similar journey and are so positive that they want to share it.
            Imagine if we treated church like this: inviting guests to come and see what it is that we do, because we have enjoyed it immensely. If we tell someone that they HAVE to come because it's what we want for them, they are likely not going to respond well. But if we can instead share why we choose to come to church and be part of Christian community, we might inspire them to come and see for themselves.
            So... let's consider the possibility of sharing a good review of church with our family and friends. Let's encourage people to try church based solely on the happy and fulfilling experiences we have had!

17 Aug 2019

The Problem of Free

          Our parish hosts a 'Random Acts of Kindness' (RAK) group. Once a month, we gather together and undertake a project that will benefit the community. We get folks of all ages and affiliations coming out (we're not just Anglicans); and each project is completed in an hour. It's fun, it's free, it's mission!
            This month, however, we hit a snag... our project was to hold a lemonade stand. Free lemonade! No cost, no expectation, just yummy sweetness on an evening when the whole town was engaged in a large-scale music festival.
            The problem: it was free.
            A lot of passers-by didn't believe it was free; and even when we told them there was no cost, they anticipated us to suddenly pop out a donations basket. We live in a society that firmly believes that nothing comes for free.
            But... it was free. We weren't accepting donations. We were just handing out lemonade, to make peoples' day a bit better.
You've been RAK'd!
Random Acts of Kindness
            For those who did stop by, we received a LOT of compliments and thanks. They were grateful, they were kind, and (sadly) they were surprised. But there were many who missed out on the opportunity - because they couldn't fathom 'free'.
            What does it say about our society that we view kindness and gifts with suspicion? That we look for the 'catch' when something is given to us, that we would rather divert our eyes when offered something rather than engage in conversation to better understand what it is we're being offered?
            I wonder when our society became so suspicious of receiving something, that it is now laden with an expectation of reciprocity; that we have forgotten how to accept without an anticipatory quid pro quo. I wonder how much time and generosity it will take before we (collectively) move from fear and reluctance into acceptance and interaction.
            I dream of the day when a culture that is reticent to receive free lemonade will have such open hearts and positive interactions that we can receive the free gift of God's grace.
            I pray that day will be soon.

We even offered drive-thru! 

10 Aug 2019

Worship the Lord in the Beauty of Holiness

            My regular dog-walking adventures are a bit different now with only one dog. While no longer needing to keep eyes peeled in two directions, when my boy pauses, I get to pause too... and to look around at what is happening around me.
            The world is a beautiful place, after all, and it is a gift to be able to see it - smell it - hear it - touch it.
            I noticed, one day, some dew-covered spider webs in the grass. It was easy to imagine them as otherworldly: fairy-blankets, perhaps; somehow their delicate and fleeting presence (gone once the sun dried the dew) made them mystical and special.
            I can check in on the status of the day-lilies and morning glories, as their charming vibrance is revealed in the sunlight yet hidden during the darkness; all the while wondering what treasurers are concealed beneath their leaves (in which the dog takes considerable interest!)
            I pause and appreciate the unique rustling of the leaves as the salty sea breeze moves through town, an invisible force leaving a distinct scent and taste while it beats a gentle percussion for my canine procession.
            I relish a fresh-fallen rain, the tingling of charged air and gentle mist on my skin, the sound of the droplets hitting the ground, the unique petrichor scent of new rain on dry soil. 
            The world is a beautiful place, after all, with no end of surprises. What delight that God has given us such abundant gifts to enjoy.  "O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures." Ps 104.24