1 May 2021

I Didn't See That Coming!

Wednesday's Lockdown

     This past week has meant a lot of change for Nova Scotians, in a relatively short amount of time. It’s made planning a bit more of a challenge: we have shifted gears with restrictions and limitations being adjusted as the COVID outbreaks have increased dramatically.
     And yet, with just about every conversation I’ve had, people have commented: “Well, we kinda saw it coming… didn’t we?”
Indeed, we did. 
     Because life is unlike the whodunnit mystery novels I enjoy reading, with sudden shocking plot twists. Life tends to have signs and patterns, we can track trends and likelihoods and possibilities. So while a week ago we were hoping to avoid a lockdown, as we watched case numbers and listened to experts, many of us started to recognise and guess that this current situation was on the horizon.
     Paying attention to patterns and trends is important: for easy things like tracking weather or monitoring social media content, to more difficult areas like creating a budget or predicting immigration trends. 
     This, perhaps, is why Jesus was so often inviting us to pay attention to the world around us, to notice the nuance, to recognise the changes as they happened. We watch the changing of the seasons in the world, as magnolias bloom and dandelions burst forth (wow do they burst forth!) and birds return. 
     So too we are invited to pay attention to the rhythms and patterns in our spiritual lives; so that when our hearts speak and our prayers change and we recognise we are in a different spiritual footing than we were previously, we feel firm in that footing, comfortable, and expected – and we don’t have a moment of exclaiming “I didn’t see THAT coming!”

Mt 24.36: 
But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.

24 Apr 2021

"...tell me what you re-read"

'Tell me what you read and I'll tell you who you are'
is true enough,
but I'd know you better if you told me what you reread.
~Fran├žois Mauriac

     
In re-reading a book (or re-watching a movie, or re-listening to music, et c.), we are invited back to a familiar world, with known spaces and pre-existing relationships. We know our favourite characters, settings, moods, and something about that draws us back in. 
     But… when we re-read a book, or re-watch a program, sometimes different things pop out to us. We notice new nuances, we consider new perspectives, we relate differently to the personalities and spaces and movements.
     The text or script or score has remained the same; what has changed is us. 
     As we have lived, we have encountered new people, new ideas, new perspectives – and we have (ideally) grown. We have changed; so when we re-enter the world we knew, we are doing so as a different version of ourselves. 
     A prime example from Blane last Sunday is Lewis’ Narnia stories. Our first time through the wardrobe we may be the age of the Pevensie children, and are enthralled by a lamp and a faun and a lion… perhaps we re-visit the tale as a teen, and see deeper meaning to the Turkish delight, stone table, and the Beavers’ hospitality. As adults, we may read the story to a child (enthralling them with wonder!) while personally delving deeper with the messages of trust and companionship and historical contexts and allegories. As mature Christians, we see the spiritual journey of a never-ending winter, sacrifice, statues.... (If I’ve lost you, please go read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. It’s gorgeous!)
     The point being: we engage with the narrative based on what we bring to the narrative. We are influenced by the story as much as we are willing and able to be by our experiences, our histories, our openness, our presence. 
     It is helpful to remember this when we engage with all manner of media over and over again. What do we read? What do we listen to? What do we watch? And why – what is speaking to us in these constant messagings that we dive into? This is especially when we consider our engagement with sacred texts, and music, and spiritual offerings today. Many of us engaged the Bible stories as children, and possibly as teens, and that's where our studying and questioning stopped. So what does it mean to re-read these stories now, as adults, at a different time our lives and in our shared histories?
     I invite us to be intentional this week with our spiritual and biblical literacy, and revisit a text with new eyes and an open heart. As we go back to a favourite passage or prayer or practice, let’s be aware of who we are going into that relationship now – and delight in the way that God continues to speak to us through it. 



17 Apr 2021

Hungry

Screenshot from Carnegie Museum of Art; 
https://cmoa.org/event/performers-at-play-ceremonies/
      There’s an apocryphal story of a group of hungry people with long spoons, all gathered around a stewpot. When they try to feed themselves, they are unable to, as the handle of the spoon is longer than their arms. However, when they try to feed the person on the opposite side of the table, because the distance apart is the length of the spoon, they are able to offer nourishment to one another. 
     We are fed, my friend Chris reminded me recently, when we feed each other. 
     As we are still in this COVID time, we are getting tired and annoyed by the isolation, the distancing, the lack of contact – all of it. And in many places, restrictions are increasing; draining our energy even more than ‘normal’ as we can’t go to our tried-and-true practices of getting together, hugging, breaking bread together, etc. 
     This week, it would be easy to be caught up in the sadness; as we have seen royal grievers sitting alone (and lonely); as we have felt absences in our own lives. 
     We are hungry. Individually and collective; emotionally and spiritually. We are hungry, and the metaphorical spoons we need to feed ourselves remain obstacles. 
     But we are not alone. We are distanced, but not hermits. We have the opportunity to use what we have to reach across the 2m table (as it were!). We can offer nourishment: through prayer, friendship, random acts of kindness, compassion. Through phone calls, letters, distanced walks, grocery pick-ups. Whatever we do to help and connect with one another is a way that we reach out to feed someone else, and we can trust that we too will be fed – by the action of feeding each other, and trusting that we are in this situation together. 
     Perhaps this is why so much of Jesus’ teachings have to do with food; he was regularly feeding and being fed, and highlighting the power in that relationship. What a great reminder for us to consider our own hunger and our opportunity to nourish.

27 Mar 2021

Stuck!


            This week, we all watched the news as we learned of the cargo ship that got stuck in the Suez Canal. It seems to me that we have all noticed this because this impacts all of us – our modern economic structures and systems that are dependent on fast trade and exchange… and so a pause in one shipping route – even for a few days – can cause a disruption to the system.

            And yet: the ship is stuck. Several attempts so far have not been successful in dislodging it. No one’s quite sure how it got stuck, no one’s quite sure how to get it unstuck. It’s just … there.

            It can be quite an analogy for our spiritual lives, if we’re not careful. Somehow they go a little bit off-kilter, and suddenly: we’re stuck. We can’t move – our emotions get jarred, our prayer life suffers, our connection with God seems to be at an impasse. We can become as stuck as the MV Ever Given – and it can be just as baffling. We aren’t sure how we got there, but we did; we aren’t sure how to get out, but we know we need help.

            It’s a good summary for Lent. The season of reflection and repentance, the season of trying to journey more carefully through our spiritual lives, the season of doing our best to prepare our hearts and minds and souls for the seasons of life. Lent is the season where we try to traverse the straight and narrow, and yet – sometimes – we’re stuck. 

            As we enter this Holy Week, humbly with palms and Hosannas, it is my hope that we will not rush towards Easter, even as desperate as we all are for a celebration of new life and renewed faith. For if we hurry to much, we may inadvertently shift off course, and end up stuck. Rather, I hope that we can continue the journey carefully and intentionally; with careful consideration of each day and each prayer. And should we notice that we’re getting stuck, being gentle enough with ourselves to recognise where we are, and to ask for help in re-directing our path, so as to continue not only for ourselves, but for all others who come alongside and after us.  



20 Mar 2021

Picture This...

Connecting via Photo Challenge of the Day
      A year ago, as COVID lockdowns were commencing, many were wondering "when will things get back to normal?" A year on, we recognize a few things... first, that the "normal" we were experiencing may not be idyllic (and a re-boot might be a good thing!) Secondly, we've realized that we have the opportunity to be creative in how we interact!

     Obviously, this creativity is showing in how we do things like church - a hybrid in-person and on-line Sunday worship means multiple devices sitting on the altar. "Zoom-wear" may mean professional attire on the top, and casual jeans and snow boots on the bottom (unseen, of course!). Music performances (like Lenten Music and Meditation ) are recorded and online. 

     It's a different means of connection. And while it may feel strange, we are also finding new ways of expression. This past week highlighted one such ways for me, as an annual conference I'm often involved with has had to shift to entirely on-line format. It has necessitated outside-the-box thinking as we're juggling how to offer engaging worship online, how to provide pastoral care for those who seek it, how to reach out for folks with limited internet accessibility, how to coordinate advocacy strategies. 

     And while meetings are feasible, the social connection is again different. So we are trying new things - we initiated a photo challenge of the day, for example, inviting people to share on a theme from wherever they are - Friday asked for favourite bible verses, and yesterday celebrated finding joy. This has led to a great number of connections and conversations that likely would not have happened were we all together, as our attention would have been elsewhere.

     It's been lovely: sharing pictures that reflect ourselves, embracing the creative side, revealing a new imagination of what can be.  

     So here is our picture challenge: imagine if we can re-focus our attention away from feelings of missing out, to feelings of new opportunity; a sense not of being restricted, but of being liberated from previous expectations. What a picture we can share of faith in action!




13 Mar 2021

Time Zones and Time Changes

"Clock" CC2.0 by Ken Unger (Flickr)

      I’ve had a number of conversations this week that have spanned several time zones. The planning emails tend to offer the multitude of options… and trying to figure out if one person’s ‘do-able’ is encroaching on someone else’s ‘not-do-able’. 
     The planning for today’s conversation considered not only the various time zones, but today’s time change. Were we moving clocks forward? (Yes.) Was everyone going to be impacted by the time change? (No.) Did our computers automatically adjust for the changes? (Maybe?)
     Late Saturday, our conversation devolved into laughter. Our group consists of intelligent but overtired people, all wanting to offer our best but also knowing that our bodies are already telling us that we need more sleep. 
     If the topic of our conversations was not important, we would not have done this, this weekend. We would have likely waited until a few days after the time change, when such a transition didn’t matter.
     But we are a group of volunteers, planning worship, coordinating pastoral care, discussing advocacy. We are folks who know that our work will make a difference, and that it will span time zones and time changes. And so we do it: with grace, with laughter, with compassion. And we do it imperfectly, and with our limitations, and lots of yawn-induced typos. 
     But we do it: for the love of God, and with the support of each other. And as one beloved said this afternoon – we do it, letting the word of God wash over our hearts. 
     Within that framework, the time zones and time changes seem less impactful… besides, we can nap tomorrow!
*How will the time change affect your time of prayer and praise? 


6 Mar 2021

Don't (Just) Blame the Goalie

            Last night was not a great night for watching the hockey game. Normally, I’m chatting with friends about goals and shots and saves and footwork and strategy and all manner of the game. Last night, however, our comments were along the line of “Good grief” and “you’ve GOT to be kidding!” – as goal after goal was made against our team. 
            When the score was 4-0 for the other team, our goalie was taken out and replaced… and almost immediately another goal was scored. “UGH” was the next text! And then came… “the goalie deserves better than that.”
            How true… the goalie is the last stage of defence in a hockey game! The offense should keep the puck at the other end, the defence should defer the approach. Yet, despite these 5 other players on ice for the team, the blame often lies solely on the goalie. 
            While we know that the responsibility for a good game lies with the entirety of the team, we also know that the responsibility for good ministry lies with the entire church. It is not just the clergy, or the leaders of the particular groups or committees, who are holding responsibility: we all have a part to play, we all have a role and a calling to be a part of the community. Sometimes we do this in creative and innovative expressions of grace, sometimes we do it by preventing hurtful outbursts of non-Christian behaviour. 
            And following the hockey team analogy, in the church we know there’s a captain, and there’s coaching, for the decisions do need to be made. Yet we also know that there are companions on the journey, and helpers in the role, and the skill to build one another up in the work that we do. 
            However we see ourselves, we know that we are in this together: on our good days and on our less-than-great days. Because God calls for us to be together, to work collaboratively, to live in the community of the faithful.