Another Reformation

Sunday Morning Musings:   An insert recently available for inclusion into Sunday worship programs builds on the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s actions of posting his 95 thesis on the chapel door in Wittenberg, Germany.  To my understanding the actions of Luther were done in that he wanted to begin discussion about “reforming” the Roman Catholic Church (Luther had been a monk/priest at the time).  The insert to which I refer asks the question of us as to how we might want to see reform happening in the church today.

As with many today, I too struggle with this idea of change that is necessary within or around the institution.  Now, as then, some will wonder what is wrong with the church that it would need or want reforms.  Others may have given up on the idea of church altogether and feel as if any attempts at change are not worth the effort. Others still feel the need for the church to become more relevant, not so out-dated.  Some of the arguments that have been around since the birth of the church itself are still not settled in the 21st century (divorce, abortion, equality of genders, the gender issue itself to name but a few).

So what changes will make any difference?  Many of the church buildings still have fixed seating (pews) in the sanctuary.  Some congregations have replaced organs with keyboards and may or may not include a whole “modern” band with drums and guitars and other various instruments. Some congregations choose multi-use buildings that put the chairs away so various sports can be played during the week.  New sound systems are employed. Old buildings have to be brought up to “code” and so elevators or lifts are installed.  With so many options it can become very mind boggling.

Nevertheless, I have given some thought to what I might try to change. Likely, the first change I would like to make (that which was lost due to the reformation movement 500 years ago), is that of the further developing of the “inner self”. Even though there is much talk about the importance of self in today’s world, we have often neglected the spiritual side of things.  Only recently, and still not as fully as possible, the spiritual work of meditation (some say, mindfulness), contemplation (if prayer is us speaking to God, contemplation is the listening part). I think that too often we have equated religion and spirituality and that is not to say there need not be some connection. But for the most part religion has become very legalistic (do what the Bible says) as if the Bible is a rule book rather than a book full of stories, history, teachings and so that can reveal a loving relationship with a non-theistic God.  Too often the Bible is simply held up as “the” Word of God.  I am pretty sure that there are other ways to hear that Word.

I would hope that another change for the church would be around the whole idea of “charity” (a word used in the King James Version of the Bible for love).  Too often either our charity (generous self-giving) is to make us feel better (there I have done something kind) and as a tax break; and sometimes the donation doesn’t really benefit the recipient.  To me, a real gift makes a real and lasting difference in the life of the one who receives.

My reforms would see a church that is accepting and inclusive.  It would put hospitality as a major effort. There would be no hidden agendas, especially around the love that is called God.  I guess I want too much, but am open to working with anyone who will join with me in trying to live a life of love.

Faith Can’t Be Lost

Sunday Morning Musings:   I recently listened to a program talking about ministers who have lost their religion (faith?).  The show was very interesting but I have to admit that I was less than pleased with the idea put forward but these ministers.  My reason for dismay is simply that it seemed to me that to say one has lost something is never a good reason to give up looking for it.  In fact, my experience is that religion/faith (and I am not convinced that these two are synonyms) fluctuates in everyone.  Sometimes we can do anything and other times we can’t get out of bed.

Maybe I need to separate religion and faith now.  There are many who have given up on religion (at least the institution) but still have faith (which includes doubts).  Such an idea has given rise to the newest denomination SNBR (Spiritual But Not Religious).  One of the things the SNBR idea can mean is that people are still believers but are not happy with the institution. Such unhappiness or disillusionment can be traced back to a dislike of the hymn choice, a comment made that may or may not have be taken out of context or misunderstood, a deep hurt to which the person felt let down by the church.  The list is virtually endless and may or may not be considered valid; but then again perception often trumps reality.

Back to the issue of losing one’s faith!  It is my belief, and I only can offer anecdotal proof, that we all have faith.  Some will call themselves “atheist” indicating that they no longer believe in a “theistic” being.  When I hear a definition of the “God” in which they have lost faith, I often would call myself an atheist as well.  Many attempts have been made over the centuries to put God in a box (or book!) and as a result of our attempts we create further confusion in our minds no matter what we might understand with our level of intelligence.

Each of us is imbued with the divine.  Sometimes the spiritual flame burns brightly, often it is only a spark and we sometimes may feel that even that spark is gone out.  A Willie Nelson song says: “Love is like a dying ember, only memories remain”.  Yet faith remains in the memories too.  Even when we cannot feel or believe that faith remains, or that faith even matters, we are never left alone.

It seems very rare to me that there exists anyone who has not experienced the absence of the divine within. Ministers may refer to such an experience as a “dry spell”.  Biblical references call these times as “wilderness” experiences. The bottom line is that even though we may not feel the presence, it doesn’t mean it is not there.  A quote I recently used says: “Absence of proof is not proof of absence”.

I believe that we do not lose our faith but sometimes we just can’t be bothered looking for that presence that is mystery. We don’t want mystery we want something more absolute. Yet that is the very paradox of God – that which we call “absolute” appears anything but. So I have to challenge those whose faith is feeling gone, to keep living, to keep searching.

Risky Business

Sunday Morning Musings:  A long time ago my preaching professor used to tell us to listen for the “ping factor” when preparing to write a sermon.  It was not only good advice regarding listening to scriptures to find what would resonate within for preaching but has been good practise in life as a whole.  And that which has been “pinging” for me this week has been the idea of journeying and pilgrimages and mystery.

I listened to a speaker talk about his time spent on the Camino trail. I was very moved by his reasons for making this journey and his encounters along the way.  There were many things I took away from his talk but the idea of God as mystery is something that I hold very dear to my heart.  The biggest take away for him and me, was the idea that mystery means that it is okay not to have all the answers, not to understand what we might encounter.

Each of us is on many journeys all at the same time.  That is to say, that life has many layers but we have to be open and willing to experience them.  At times, I would like to just drift through life and not have think about anything.  I suppose that this is possible, but like most others I find myself wanting to dig a little deeper.   As my friend reminded me in his talk, risk is the choice that is before us.  We don’t have to risk anything, but without risk we have nothing, at least we will not find any real fulfillment in our lives.

If one “googles“ “risk taking” there seem to be endless quotes talking about how important it is to put oneself out there.  One of my favourites has always been Robert Frost as he talks about two roads diverging “and I took the one less travelled by, and that has made all the difference”. So many times it was easier to go down the familiar way, to do what has always been done before. Only when we step out into the unknown, only when we tell ourselves that it is okay not to know what is there, that we will find that difference.

Yet risk is risky. I prefer not to leap even after looking, but sometimes, (most times? all times?) it means not moving forward, and growing.  This situation is especially true in the area of spiritual growth.  If I am not willing to live with the idea of unknowing, to step forward with a sense of trusting that which I cannot see, I am choosing not to live my life fully.  Now, I am not recommending that anyone, especially me, do straight out foolish things.   I could write a cheque for a million dollars that would help any organization, but knowing the cheque would bounce, that would be foolish.  I can tell you that I will jump from the CN Tower and fly to the earth safely, but we all know that is foolish (and messy).

No, by taking risks I mean that we use wisdom and discernment, knowledge and understanding to its fullest and proceed with that to which we are feeling called.  Sometimes we will be called to make small changes and other times the changes will require a great deal of effort.  We will be expected to move to places that are out of our comfort zones, or do things that will make us seem different to others. That is risk and that requires trust, even trust in that which is unknown, in that which is called mystery.

Time to Give Thanks

Sunday Morning Musings:  In Canada, the second weekend of October is celebrated as Thanksgiving. Over time the name has changed from Harvest Thanksgiving to just a time for giving thanks.  For those of us who live in Ontario’s cottage country (no we are not all rich in money), we have so much for which to be thankful.  It goes without saying (but I will say it anyway) that family is truly number one on my list.  There is no doubt that I love my children and their children, but I am also thankful for my larger family even beyond siblings.  I have always been blessed to be part of a church community as well as the community in which I live.

Sometimes family can make me want to cry over the seemingly silly or downright stupid things they might do.  But for the most part they make me want to cry out of joy.  When they write poems or tell stories of their families, I find myself laughing until I cry.  Just recently my youngest granddaughter when asked about her day broke out laughing and said the funniest part of her day was her mother’s reaction to ice cubes flowing (and flowing) from the ice maker and how it had surprised her mother. Just her laughter as she remembered the incident made my day.

But I realize that not everyone (not even me) has only good days.  Often mixed in with the good are more trying times as well?  No doubt many have been told that tough and rough experiences help us grow.  As the old song reminds me, “No one ever promised me a rose garden”.  What would roses be if it weren’t for the thorns?

In my many years I have experienced both joys and sorrows – who hasn’t?  Of course, what would life be if we didn’t know what seem to be opposites: light/dark; sun/rain; and so on.  What really matters is not so much what happens to us, but what we do with the seeming mess life has given us.  When I drive through Algonquin Park in the autumn and find a thrill in the colours, I am still mindful of the horrible things that have happened in the world as well.  I know that some things may have happened years ago but the effects are still present today. That doesn’t mean that I am not responsible to do whatever I can to help others.  Yet, I also know that those hurt must want to be helped before any good can be found.

I am the first admit that I do not have the answers – does anyone?  Hatred and dis-ease can be eradicated if we wanted to do so.  But, I don’t think we are willing to put others ahead of ourselves.

I have much for which to give thanks and I will, just don’t ask me to do anything else!

Only One Paint Brush?

Sunday Morning Musings:  I have been told that choosing to “walk in the middle of the road” is dangerous because I can be hit by traffic travelling in both directions.  Such is probably true, but being in the middle of the road is not the same as straddling the fence.

Okay, let’s end the metaphors and get straight to the issue.  I read facebooks postings (usually) and I listen to the news and find that depending on the “speaker” I only get part of the story, or almost totally different stories.  I read that some business folk are very much in favour of the tax changes proposed by the federal Liberals.  Yet, I can also find that others feel the proposals will become very destructive.  White supremacists tell us that they are exercising the right of free speech, while others call it hate speech. Progressive Christians and fundamentalists collide over interpretations of the Bible.  Sometimes I think it would better just to throw up my hands in defeat (and disgust) and crawl in a hole somewhere out of a sense of futility.

In the meantime I have noticed is going to require me using another metaphor – if you feel the need to forgive me, please do so.  It seems to me that we are also artists in a way – I could say we are called to be “co-creators” but that might raise a few hackles too.  Regardless, as an artist we are called to use more than one colour from the vast array of those on our pallets.  Yet so often the farther we move to the edges, the fewer colours, the less paint brushes we seem to be allowed to use.  Either one has to be for or against an issue and must use only the paint brush of the “leaders”.

What can be even worse is that bullying can and often results.  Even if the bullying is subtle, it is still just that.  We say we live in a democratic country – yet the majority doesn’t rule (e.g. first past the post in elections). Churches don’t seem to fare very well in this matter either.  Choose an issue and you will find at least three groups – those strongly in favour of the direction, those strongly opposed to it and the rest of us often bullied to join one side or the other.  Here comes the traffic in both directions!

Before I am hanged, drawn and quartered, let me present what I call the third point of view.  Like in most instances, I believe that we must start with listening.  However, listening does not end the matter.  Victims cannot be left as victims nor should they become victimizers.  However, my experience is that there is a huge difference between listening and hearing.  Sadly, my experience is that some are so set in their belief that they are “right” they don’t need to hear let alone begrudgingly listen.  We are very quick to tell someone they are wrong, or that they shouldn’t express the idea that there is more to the story.  As a result, the third way of viewing is usually ignored completely.

I would love to give specific examples, but I might be called a coward, a turn-coat, a weirdo or many other things that I simple choose to stay in the middle of the road and wait.

Thomas Merton wrote in the prologue to Raids of the Unspeakable: “You are not big enough to accuse the whole age effectively, but let us say you are in dissent. You are in no position to issue commands, but you can speak words of hope. Shall this be the substance of your message? Be human in this most inhuman of ages; guard the image of man for it is the image of God.”