Remembering…

I was recently invited to take services at another parish on Nov. 10. For those of you outside Canada, this is the Sunday right before Remembrance Day, Nov. 11. It’s a major secular observance, recognized differently in various parts of our country, but nonetheless a significant annual event. As it happens, I won’t be taking these services, but that doesn’t change my feelings about the day.

The date goes back 101 years, to the declaring of the Armistice that ended World War I. It was known as Armistice Day for some years. After WWII, the new name was necessary, because the Nov. 11, 1918 Armistice was no longer the date when peace came to the world. The second world war had put paid to that notion, in spades.

The day became particularly known for remembering the “ultimate sacrifice” paid by men (and women) who had given their lives in the two wars. I will never disparage what that may mean to anyone. As I will relate later, one war death touched my family very greatly. What I have long felt about the day is that it tends to look backward, mourning what was, rather than looking forward, seeking to build the peaceable society for which our war dead died.

Why do people wage war? It seems to me that warfare and the things that make for warfare are signs of our fallen nature. I believe that God intended that people would live in peace and harmony. War is a sign that humankind has failed to live up to God’s wishes for creation. We arm ourselves against enemies, not because God desires it, but because we and our enemies have failed to live as we ought. War may sometimes be necessary, because evil sometimes seems to get the upper hand. But war is only a way of stemming the tide of evil, not of building the peace which is God’s plan for all humankind.

William Boyd Jack, M.C.

My grandfather went to war in the early years of WWI, a medical officer attached to the Royal Leicester Regiment. He was known for his good humor and his ability to bring hope to every situation. About six weeks before the 1918 Armistice, he went forward to help rescue a wounded soldier. He and another man were pinned down by machine gun fire, and he died in the field. For his heroism he was posthumously awarded the Military Cross. My grandmother wore the ribbon proudly for the rest of her life, but what a life that was! She was left with three young children, and one more born posthumously. She never remarried (which was a rare thing in those days, given the number of men who had had died in the war), and her children grew up with no father, overseen by uncles who tried to manage their lives.

The toll taken on our family is incalculable. My mother grew up with a horror of war and things military. After my father graduated from medical school in 1941, he did his duty, and enlisted in the army, going overseas while my mother was pregnant with my older sister. My mother lived the the rest of the war years in terror of being left alone as her own mother had been. I didn’t understand much of this until the sixties, when I was at university and the Viet Nam war was underway. I had been aware as a child that Remembrance Day was difficult in our house, but I had never realized why.

During the Viet Nam war, many draft-age men came to Canada from the US, because they could not or would not agree to fighting in that conflict. I learned around that time that my father had considered taking a medical position in the US when we were planning on emigrating from the UK. My mother told my father that if we had ended up in that country, she would have expected my brother and me to come to Canada. My father’s position, quite consistent with why he went overseas in 1942, was that he would have expected us to do our duty. It was not a happy time for them — or for me, once I realized what the story was.

I was involved in the ’60’s student peace movement. I became used to being attacked for being a Communist, a pacifist weakling, an enemy of our people. I reject all of those: what I am and what I remain is a follower of Jesus of Nazareth, the Prince of Peace. In the ensuing half-century, I haven’t changed my position in any material way. I still believe that peace is what God intends for God’s people. I still believe that peace is built through people acting peaceably, not in anger. I still believe that war, however necessary it may seem at times, is not part of God’s wishes for us.

We rightly remember on November 11. Many sacrifices were made in the wars of the last century, and we have much for which to give thanks in that regard. Nonetheless, this giving of thanks is done is sadness, remembering the loss of so much human life, the disordering of so many families, and the waste laid to so much human accomplishment.

When we remember on November 11, let it be with a ever-new commitment to building a society in which God’s peace is real and visible in all things.

We remember best by working for peace.

Thanks be to God for those who died to make this world a better place. We owe a great debt to them.

Thanks be to God for those who continue to work to keep that hope alive. Our children will be in their debt.

Old habits…

Six years into retirement, one might think that I had lost many of the habits of the full-time cleric. Last weekend proved me wrong. While holidaying, we took the time to attend church on Sunday morning. It was a lovely little church in a charming setting, with a small but friendly congregation. So far, so good!

I was puzzled to see that the liturgy as mapped out in the bulletin that day was to be a mash-up of two different rites. Trying to please everyone? Who knows, because what happened was a reasonably straightforward use of a single rite. The priest (who I assumed had put together the day’s liturgy) blithely ignored most of what was printed in the bulletin.

Without going into a lot of detail, let’s just say that I was disappointed in the service. My spouse heard me sigh several times during the long rambling sermon. The liturgy stopped and started several times, while the celebrant appeared to be either trying to find his place or deciding what to do next.  My “trainer mode” clicked into full ON, unasked and unwanted but apparently unavoidable.

I meant this post not to criticize someone else’s work (he might just have been having a bad day), but rather to reflect on my reaction to it. Being critical this way doesn’t help the experience of worshiping, but it seems that it doesn’t take much for my critic persona to emerge. When I was in full-time ministry, it served me in good stead at times, because I was the usual object of my own criticism.

At a course on clergy self-care some years ago, the leader told us that clergy need to find their own means for spiritual feeding. The traditional triad of prayer, bible reading, and worship work well for lay-people as spiritual disciplines, but less so for clergy, because they are too closely tied to our professional lives. Since retiring, I have spent most Sundays in the choir rather than pulpit and altar. In that time, I have found it increasingly easy to worship wholeheartedly in our parish church. Even so, at times I find myself worrying about liturgical details that are Not My Problem. Also, other people’s sermons can at times trigger “trainer mode”.

Those things came back in spades last Sunday. I am left wondering: will the “professional preacher and presider” in me ever go away? will I ever really be able to relax and just participate in a service of worship in the spirit in which it is offered? We’ll see.

In the meantime, even after six years out of the saddle, I know that I haven’t quite let go of the priest-persona. The other question is, of course, whether I want to do that. But that’s a question for another day.

Safe, legal, and rare

Much internet bandwidth has been taken up over the last few days on the matter of abortion, after some legislative initiatives in a couple of states in the USA. It’s a fraught issue, no matter on which side of the divide you find yourself. Do I dare wade into the issue? I have a feeling that whatever position I take, I risk losing the affection of some friends.

Nonetheless…

When abortion first became legal in Canada, my father was deeply distressed. He was a dedicated doctor and committed Christian, regarding abortion as murder. He could not at first reconcile himself to its legality in this country. A few years later, somewhat against his wishes, he found himself as a member of the local “Therapeutic Abortion Committee” charged with reviewing abortion requests, as was then required in Canada.

His time on that committee changed his position dramatically. He told me that he had never before really encountered women seeking to terminate pregnancies, but now he was required to hear their stories first-hand. What he learned was that in almost of all the cases they considered, the “applicants” had no good choices. Desperation was the rule, and if they could not get a legal abortion, many women intended to procure one by any other available means.

In other words, these abortions were going to happen, whether my father liked it or not. If the committee did not approve a request, the procedure would likely happen in unsafe and illegal circumstances, putting the mother’s life at dire risk.

This was in the 1970’s. Unsafe and illegal abortions had been happening for centuries (millennia?) before that. Untold numbers of women had died seeking to assert some control over their lives and what was happening in their bodies. The new legislation in Canada sought to make abortion safe and legal, reducing the death toll. Surely that was a good thing.

But (again) nonetheless…

Whatever the legislators of the world may decree, women will continue to assert their right to reproductive choice. The decision whether or not to terminate a pregnancy should be up to the woman in question — and to no-one else.

Every abortion is in some way the ending of a life, however we understand it. No abortion is a good thing, but it well may be the least bad outcome of a bad situation.

I believe that abortions should be safe and legal, and that women have the right to choose when and if they will bear a child. I also believe that abortions should be rare.

Current moves to re-criminalize abortion focus only on the act. In economic terms, they are supply-driven. The thinking seems to be that if you cut off the supply of the service, the act will disappear. History and human experience such as my father’s tell us that this is a vain hope. Sending an Alabama doctor to jail for 99 years will never eliminate the desperate need experienced by many women.

Speaking again in economic terms, to make abortions rare, we should address the demand. What kinds of situations lead to women needing to terminate pregnancies? Incest and rape have been widely adverted to as particular circumstances, but they are in fact the exceptions. There are many others: poverty, domestic violence, illness, unemployment, lack of appropriate housing — all of these factors and others contribute to the demand for abortion.

To make abortion rare, we must build a society in which every child is wanted, every child is cared for, every child is safe in his or her home, every child has an equal prospect of growing up in peace and happiness.

Banning abortion will do none of this.

To be truly “pro-life” means to me to promote quality of life for everyone. To be truly “pro-choice” means to me to give the possibility of a real choice for a decent life for everyone. I can see no real conflict between these two positions.

Abortion should be safe.
Abortion should be legal.
Abortion should be rare.

As a man, I relinquish all supposed authority over what choices any woman may make about her sexual and reproductive choices. That’s not my right.

Here I stand.
I can do no other.

The clay and the potter

In the fall of 2008 I was going through a vocational crisis. One of the ways I used to deal with it was to go on an week-long solitary retreat. I booked time at a retreat center that offered a hermitage, and began preparing myself. I got a lot of advice from friends about how to spend my time, some of it helpful, some not so much, but all were well-meant.

Perhaps the best advice I was given was from a friend who just handed me a book, with the words “I think you might find this helpful.” Truer words were never spoken. The book was “Let Your Life Speak,” by Parker J. Palmer. Over my time on retreat, I read and re-read this little book, devouring and meditating on every word. I wrote to Parker afterwards, thanking him for the book, and telling him that it might just have saved my life — at least in the vocational sense!

More than ten years have passed. The crisis came and went over the ensuing year or so, and in due time I retired. Retirement poses its own vocational issues, some of which I have written about previously on this blog. I have come to a place where I seem to have things more or less in place for a decently comfortable and engaging retirement. I like to tell people that “I am as busy as I want to be,” adding that sometimes I really don’t want to be busy. That’s really quite OK — for the most part I find myself content with life as it is now.

I decided recently to re-read Palmer’s book on vocation, for reasons that are not immediately apparent to me. I’m reading it slowly this time, perhaps because there’s not such a sense of crisis, and I’m finding things I either didn’t notice then or had forgotten. This morning this passage struck me:

Making pottery … involves more than telling the clay what to become. The clay presses back on the potter’s hand, telling her what it can and cannot do–and if she fails to listen, the outcome will be both frail and ungainly.

Let Your Life Speak, p. 16
48313072 – pottery.

The point he’s making here has to do with vocation being more a response to our true inborn nature than to an external call. If we are clay, we are called to be as “clayish” as we can be. What struck me today was the role of the potter, allowing the clay to live into its true nature, working with what is available, and not cursing the clay for not being something else.

I’ve been on both sides of the table in dealing with vocational issues. I’ve wrestled with my own sense of calling, and I’ve walked with others in the same process. I recall one young man seeking ordination who responded to the question “Why do you want to be a priest?” by saying “Everyone says I should be.” Well and good–he had great gifts. But he was unable to say with any clarity how he experienced this supposed call in terms of his own self-perception. When we asked him “What else could you do?” he came to life, describing some of the academic work he had been doing, and the possibility of a doctoral dissertation coming out of it. It was very clear where his “clayness” lay. As the potter in this situation, my colleagues and I had to try to point the candidate towards his true being, and to encourage him to live into it.

I have worked with more than one superior who had very clear ideas about what constituted a good subordinate. I found these relationships difficult, because sometimes I found myself devalued for not quite being what they wanted, and also for having gifts that they did not seem to value. To use the clay metaphor, I sometimes felt like a piece of wood that refused to become a pot.

As a retired priest, I am less accountable for my time and work than before. Even so, I hold my current license as an honorary assistant at the pleasure of both the parish Rector and my Bishop. There is more freedom in this situation to live into my own unique clayness than I experienced when in stipendiary ministry. I wish for all my colleagues in ministry, as well as for all people dealing with vocational questions, that they may find similar freedom in their life and work.

Messiah – a credal oratorio

This article was first published in 1998 in the newsletter of Edmonton’s Richard Eaton Singers, with whom I sang from 1988 to 2002. I am reviving it in response to a conversation with a friend about Messiah, and its place in contemporary traditions, particularly as a fixture of the Christmas season.

Although by far the best-known of Handel’s (or anyone’s) oratorios, Messiah is not typical of the form. Most of his other oratorios are more like operas, with dramatic scenes, and characters portrayed by soloists. The choir often takes a lesser role, in some cases substituting for the action of a fully staged opera. (Mendelsohn’s Elijah is a good example of this type of work.) Israel in Egypt, almost without solos, was Handel’s other notable departure from the norm—and it was unsuccessful in his time.

Messiah is different. Apart from the “angel” scene (from the “Pastoral Symphony” through “Glory to God”), there is neither character nor action. In the libretto he put together for Handel, Charles Jennings drew on Biblical texts reflecting on the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, known as the Christ or the Messiah. (The two titles are the Greek and Hebrew words meaning “anointed one.”)

If there is no dramatic development in its layout, what then is the organizing idea behind its structure? In the middle of a performance of the work, it occurred to me that Jennings’ choice of texts has close parallels to the Nicene Creed. It draws our attention to the whole of the Creed’s second article and part of the third. On reflection, this should be no surprise: the Creed is simply a summary of the Christian faith, and Messiah aims to depict and reflect musically upon the “kernel” of that faith, particularly with respect to the person and work of Jesus.

Each of the Creed’s three articles corresponds to one of the three persons of the Trinity. The first expresses faith in the one God, the creator of all. While this belief of course underlies the entire work, Messiah makes no specific reference to it. The second article deals with Jesus, telling of his birth AND making theological statements about his divine and human nature, his death by crucifixion, and his resurrection. It ends with an expression of faith in his return to judge “the living and the dead.” The first two sections of Messiah deal with Jesus’ birth, his passion and resurrection, ending with “Hallelujah,” whose text exalts the eternal Lordship of Jesus the Messiah, closely paralleling the credal statement.

The theological heart of the Creed is the proclamation “on the third day he rose again.” (Lat. et resurrexit tertia die). Mass settings typically make much of this text. For example, a critical turning-point in Bach’s B-Minor Mass is the joyful outburst of “Et resurrexit” after the darkness and grief of the “Crucifixus.”

Although not perhaps presenting it as vividly as does Bach, Handel gives us a similar turning-point at the tenor solo “But thou didst not leave His soul in hell.” The oratorio’s first reference to the resurrection, this aria brings relief and lightness after the stress and drama of the passion section, breaking in on the somber recitative “He was cut off out of the land of the living.” The change of mood is immediate and notable, and the sense of joy increases as the section progresses. Even the somewhat stern selections from Psalm 2 (“Why do the nations,” “Let us break their bonds,” and “Thou shalt break them”) are properly seen as expressing thanks and praise in anticipation of God’s victory. “Hallelujah” is a fitting response to these pieces, releasing the tension in a way that does full justice to the Creed’s affirmation “He shall come again in glory to judge both the living and the dead.”

The third article of the Creed speaks of the Holy Spirit and the church, ending with the assertion of hope in the “life of the world to come.” (Lat. et vitam venturi saeculi. Amen, set especially dramatically in Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis) Rarely performed in its entirety, Messiah’s third section is an extended meditation on the promise of resurrection through Jesus Christ. The link to the Creed’s closing affirmation is clear. For Part III Jennings drew heavily on 1 Corinthians 15, arguably the New Testament’s most important statement about the hope of the resurrection.

The final chorus “Worthy is the Lamb … Amen.” sums up the promise of the first section, the drama of the second, and the hope of the third.

In Messiah, Handel and his librettist have brought theology and music together in an unparalleled and happy union.

From 1965 to today

Think back to 1965 if you can. I suspect some readers of this post weren’t even born then. But in that year I was seventeen, a first-year student at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. I had skipped one year of school, so I was a year younger than most of my fellow frosh. I had also graduated at the top of my high school class, and was headed into the first year of an Honors program in Mathematics. I loved music, and was devoted to my church.

U of A logoSome of my high school colleagues were “rushed” by fraternities at U. of A. Not wanting to be left out, I went with them to a couple of rush parties, and experienced something close to outright disdain, as in “Who the heck are you, and what are you doing here?” It wasn’t a lot of fun. Some of my friends ended up as frat members, and for a while I was deeply envious. Until…

I started hearing stories about how they behaved at their parties, and how women were treated there. Do you know what a “Purple Jesus” is? Neither did I, but apparently it was a standard ruse to get young women drunk and take advantage of them. (It’s a mixture of port wine and vodka, BTW).

As I started to get into U. life, I found friends and like-minded people in choral, religious, and political circles. I sang, I prayed with people, and I was drawn into the peace movement of the late ’60’s. I lost touch with my high school friends who had joined fraternities, most of them with the avowed aim of making connections to get ahead in the future.

Clearly, I wasn’t welcome at those rush parties, and I couldn’t figure out why at the time. It seems I was a bit too much of a nerd, although that word wasn’t current at the time. I suspect also that my family didn’t have the “right” connections. My father was well-respected in medical circles, but we had no real roots in Alberta, having only arrived in Canada from the U.K. in 1952.

And now…
I have come to see the culture of those fraternities as part of the disease infecting our society. It’s a culture of entitlement: male, white, and connected. It is full of misogyny, racism, and “good-ol’-boy” thinking. I went my own way in University days and afterward, and ceased to have any real connection with that part of life. I have no regrets, as I have worked to build a life based on respect for ALL people, which eventually led me into the vocation I followed for most of my adult life.

I retired as a priest of the Anglican Church of Canada in 2013, having held a number of responsible positions in that church, but all the while refusing the attitude of entitlement that I found in many of my co-religionists.

brett-kavanaugh-1026586Which brings me to this past couple of weeks, watching the spectacle of the confirmation hearings for Brett Kavanaugh, now sworn in as a Justice of the Supreme Court of the USA. The process made me glad that I live in Canada, where the judiciary is far less politicized than in the U.S. The way the process worked out both astonished and appalled me: the duplicity evinced by partisans on both sides was almost beyond belief. But what struck me more than anything else was the attitude displayed by the nominee. He’s a frat boy, I realized. And in some ways that says it all. He is there because he’s entitled to be there, whether or not he has abused other people on the way to where he has arrived. For the record, I believe Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony to the Senate committee.

These events took me back to the humiliation I experienced at those rush parties, where the people in charge looked at me as less than them, and derided me for who I was.

Does Brett Kavanaugh deserve to be where he is now? Many people seem to think so. But for me, his elevation to such a high office is further testimony to how warped our society has become. I know I’m writing from Canada, where we do not have such a process, but it is clear to me that we are not immune to this kind of entitlement thinking.

I look for the day when our courts are visibly representative of, and speak to, all segments of our society, especially those who have been seen as underclasses in the past and still today. I think particularly of women, Indigenous people, the poor, the LBGTQB2+ community, religious minorities, racial minorities, immigrants of all origins, and all who have felt the sting of not being entitled.

I follow the way of Jesus, the one who came to invite all people into the Kingdom of the God whom he called “Abba.” No-one should be excluded, just as no-one should believe themselves entitled to inclusion.

We are all here and beloved by the Grace of God. May our courts and our legislatures live by that truth.

An Interesting Number

Many Math. majors (like me in a former life) will have heard the “proof” that all numbers are interesting.

  1. Assume there is a non-empty set of natural numbers (i.e. 1,2,3,…) which are uninteresting.
  2. This set must have a smallest member.
  3. Being the smallest uninteresting number is itself interesting.
  4. Since a number cannot be both interesting and uninteresting, the assumption in 1. must be false.
  5. Therefore, all numbers are interesting.

But then, to riff on George Orwell (cf. Animal Farm), all numbers may be interesting, but some are more interesting than others.

70Today I encountered a number which for me is very interesting, the number 70. What’s interesting about it? Only that age 70 sounds to me a lot older than age 69. Maybe it’s the change in the first digit, something that’s only happened to me 6 times before. Age is a physical reality, but it’s also a mental and emotional reality.

A friend once said of a mutual acquaintance that he had been “born 80 years old.” Even in middle age, he presented as tired and crotchety, often harking back to earlier days. I hope no-one ever says that of me, although I recall that someone once described me as “stuffy.” My rather warped sense of humor tends to hide when I’m in a public role. People who know me better know that my wit sometimes gets the better of me.

passing-days-3292952 greyI’ve now been retired for about 5 years (Since June 23 or July 31, 2013, depending on how you reckon it.) I’ve enjoyed most of those years, especially the last two or three. It’s good to be free to make your own decisions about what to do with your time, without too many occupational restrictions. I had some plans when I retired. Some have borne fruit, others have been deferred, still others have been put away permanently, and some new things have arisen. I’m not making many new plans at the moment, except for our 50th wedding anniversary celebrations in just over a year.

When I was in school and looking forward to the great challenges of University and adult life, anyone older than my parents seemed absolutely ancient. I’m much older now than they were then, and I don’t feel old at all … at least not most of the time!

The interest of this particular birthday is that it the first one in a long time that has turned me to thinking about the future. Not the past — there’s still plenty of time for that — but what is to come. If my parents’ and grandparents’ lives are any indication, I should have 15 years or so to look forward to. I don’t look forward today in the same way I looked forward at age 16, which was filled with both eagerness and anxiety. Rather, I welcome each day as it comes, with new light in the window, and both new and old things to do.

Life continues to be good.
Thanks be to God.

A Royal Wedding – and the Gospel

Disclaimer: I have not watched all of the wedding of the Duke & Duchess of Sussex. I have listened to some of the music, and I have paid close attention to the  homily. As with any couple setting out on the adventure we call marriage, I wish them well, and pray that their union will be long and fruitful, in many ways.

Nonetheless, I must declare myself as a non-Royalist. That’s not to say I want to get rid of the monarchy, but rather that I am mostly indifferent to the institution as we have received it in Canada. There’s a good argument that having a monarch helps to keep our politicians honest, and I’m OK with that. But the actual practice of constitutional monarchy in Canada is largely conventional. We nod to the Queen in many ways, but in reality, a nod is about all we do.

QEIIQueen Elizabeth II is a remarkable woman, a person for whom I have great respect. She has negotiated the demands of a more-or-less impossible job with grace, dignity, and resolution. She will be greatly mourned by many, including this writer, when she dies.

What will happen then? Will people and nations who have given their allegiance to QEII for more than 60 years immediately and unreservedly transfer it to her son? Some reports have suggested that Charles will have a great deal of work to do to win over the affection of many people. His time to do this will be limited: he is only 5 months younger than me, and I’ll be 70 in a couple of months.

What this is all about is the parlous state of the monarchy, both in the U.K. and the rest of the Commonwealth of Nations. I note that the Commonwealth was invented in QEII’s reign, so this grouping of former British dependencies has known no other head than the current one. Several Commonwealth nations have removed the Queen from being head of state, and others have had significant debates about it. It is unlikely that my country, Canada, will enter into such a debate, because that requires re-opening our Constitution, and that carries a whole mess of problems.

Anyway… this was supposed to be about a wedding. The groom is now 6th in line for the throne, which essentially means that he is in very little danger of ever having to move into Buckingham Palace. He can do what he likes, and he has done so, by marrying a woman he clearly loves, but whose background is so far removed from the traditional world of the Windsors that she might as well have been born on a different planet.

prince-harry-meghan-markle-engagementI congratulate Prince Harry and Meghan. Love has brought them together, and I pray that love will see them through the years ahead. It will probably not be easy for either of them, especially her, although she does seem to have her eyes wide open.

The part of the wedding that seems to have gained the most notice is the homily by the Most Rev. Michael Curry, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church. I watched and listened as Bishop Michael preached. I rejoiced in the strength of his message of love and the centrality of love. I tried not to giggle as the camera panned over the assembled guests, revealing various levels of stiff upper lips, amusement, dismay, joy, and discomfort.

bishop-michael-curry-via-episcopal-digital-networkBishop (no, Brother!) Michael preached the Gospel. He reminded us that love IS the answer, and that “If it’s not about love, it’s not about God.” He asked us to imagine a world where love rules. He mostly didn’t address the marriage couple directly, which some friends of mine have criticized, but his attention was very clearly on them at most times. What this implied to me was that their marriage was to be evidence of the love by which God created the world, by which God redeemed the world, and by which God continues to renew the world. I don’t think they are stupid people: I believe they got the point!

Bishop Michael’s sermon got people’s attention, and that’s a very good thing. He preached the Gospel of Christ to at least a billion people, an opportunity which comes to very few preachers. He did his Church, his Country, his people, and his Lord proud. I am glad to call him a fellow priest of the Anglican Communion. He knows and lives and preaches true evangelism.

The traditions of royalty are not a bad thing. But we were reminded this past Saturday that they are not the whole thing, nor even the main thing. The main thing is the proclamation that “Jesus is Lord,” and that therefore no one else can claim that title. And as Michael Curry reminded us, Jesus’ lordship is not about power, it’s not about prestige, it’s not about titles and dignities. No, it’s all about love: love of God, and love of neighbour.

Best wishes to the newlyweds: may their marriage be to all us of a sign of God’s love.

Doing it again

Today I had the privilege of preaching and presiding at the Eucharist at Holy Trinity (aka “HTAC”). I had been scheduled to preach for a while, but other commitments took both our Rector and our Assistant Priest away from the parish. So…

Yours truly got to do what I used to do most Sundays for a quarter of a century. They say that riding a bike is easy once you learn how to do it, and once you have learned, doing it again is simple. You just get in the saddle and pedal.

That’s rather how today felt. HTAC is not “my” parish, at least not in the sense that St. Matthew’s Cathedral and St. Augustine’s-Parkland were. There, I was the Rector, expected to be present and available every day, and to do what had to be done at pulpit and altar most Sundays. Most Sundays at HTAC, I’m sitting in the back row of the bass section in the church choir, and happy to be there.

Today was different. I prayed with the choir before the service as usual, but today I led the prayers. I sang the psalm with the choir, but today from the presider’s desk. I proclaimed the Gospel and preached, and then went to the altar to preside at the sacrament.

These things happen every Sunday at HTAC. But today I assumed roles that other people usually take. And (I have to confess) it felt good.

Readers of this blog may have intuited that I wasn’t really ready to retire in 2013, but rather that the situation was forced on me. Today reminded me that I still feel most alive when I’m ministering in the pulpit and at the altar. I still believe that this I what God made me for, but I recognize that other people have similar calls, and that I have to let go as I am able.

I am truly grateful for today’s experience. I hope that my ministry today helped at least someone. That’s all I can expect, and all any ordained person can hope for.

Thanks be to God for this day. I have posted the text for today’s sermon under “Sermons and theological discussions.” Read it HERE.

Holy_Trinity_Anglican_Church_Edmonton_Alberta_Canada_01A
View from the Northwest – 100 Street and 84 Ave.

Forgiving the church

It’s been a while since I posted to this blog. I started a couple of posts recently, but then abandoned them. Somehow what I was trying to say wouldn’t come together, probably meaning that I didn’t really need to say it. Cyberspace is clogged up enough without another maundering and meandering blog post!

I started thinking about forgiveness once more after reading a post by a good friend. Read it HERE. The writer is living with the ongoing business of forgiving hurt caused by a church community several years ago. I know whereof she writes, having been through my own time of hurt coming from within a church. I’ve posted about that before: there’s no need to rehash the event.

The issue that presented itself this time was how much pain comes from a hurt caused by a church. I have spoken to many people who have harbored deep sorrow or anger after some event. It seems to me that this pain is often out of proportion to the actual offense, and I have had cause to wonder why. Here’s what I have come to conclude.

The church is called to proclaim good news: love, peace, mercy, healing, welcome, kindness, compassion, caring … the list could go on until tomorrow morning! When we choose to make our spiritual home in a congregation, we expect that we find all of these things in its midst. In contrast to other groups, the church easily becomes the object of higher expectations, shaped by the message it seeks to proclaim. When it fails, the failure is harder to take, and the source of greater pain.

All this is a reminder that churches are human organizations, populated by ordinary people who share a calling to seek something better. We sometimes fail in that calling, and act in ways thapeace beginst belie the goals with which we have been charged. We fail because we are human, but our failures are inevitably held up against the strong light of divine ideals. There’s nothing wrong, and everything right, about those ideals. Nonetheless, we should temper our expectations with the knowledge that people can and do fail.

As I noted in my previous post, forgiveness is hard work, but it is at the heart of Christian life. We cannot find God’s peace when our hearts are at war.

I still choose to forgive.