Sermon 889 19 April 2020

Sermon 889 John 20: 24-29 Printed Version
I have lived in many places and officiated at many funerals but some are more memorable for certain reasons, good and bad, and this one will stay with me for a long time.
I was the minister in a small town. A man who we can call “Jerry” passed away suddenly. I did his funeral. He was a farmer who had lived in the community for a number of years and so he was quite well known. The funeral was large. Most of the town witnessed the burial of “Jerry”. The obituary was posted in the local paper and unknown to us it also was mailed to another country. Jerry had an identical twin bro that no one knew about. The twin read the obituary and decided to come and pay his respects. He didn’t make it on time for the funeral but was there a few days later. As “Jerry” had worked on the farm, his wife now needed some help. The brother decided to help out but didn’t have any farm clothes so he borrowed Jerrys’. It made quite a stir when the identical twin showed up at the Co-op dressed in “Jerrys” clothes. Apparently people screamed.
Obviously this is not the same as a resurrection but it does give us a glimpse into the surprise aspect.
In the scripture today Jesus appears in a room with locked doors, twice. To me that is a far greater miracle than walking on water. Possibly even bigger than making 2500 liters of wine out of holy water, but no one seems to remember this miracle. Thomas and the story of doubt seem to overshadow it. For Thomas to doubt, Jesus must have looked very different.
The room they were in was possibly the Upper Room where they had celebrated the Last Supper or a room that had special meaning as Thomas and others knew to meet there. Jesus entered a familiar space but in a most unfamiliar way. Mary seemed to be comfortable with this but Thomas needed more proof.
I think this is an example of what is happening in our churches these days. For a long time the churches have been quite traditional.
For example, the picture of Jesus, through history hasn’t changed much. In 235 there is the oldest known drawing of what Jesus may have looked like. He looks pretty much the same as our present image, but without the beard. It took him until the 4thC to grow a beard, but then some are slower.
One of the most popular pictures of Jesus, is the Last Supper and apart from the question of why he is practicing social distancing between himself and the person to his right, he looks familiar.
In 1940 and artist named Sallaman painted the picture that is in almost every church in North America. The head of Christ was reproduced over 500 million times. Nothing much changed for a long time.
Then the 60’s happened and things changed. Rock and roll became the new music. It was very different from anything in the past. There were many experts telling us how bad it was for our health and welfare. Hippies existed with all the fabricated and true stories about their activities. Men had long hair. Woodstock was certainly a different style of concert.
However one of the real changes was the attitude of questioning authority. Never before had the anti-war movement been so strong, indicating that people were not willing to just accept the statements from the Government – or the church. Everything was up for examination.
The traditions of past were being challenged. The same was true inside the churches. Some will remember the upset when “The Laughing Jesus” picture appeared. It became a very well-known and controversial picture. Interestingly it was drawn by a man Willis Wheatly in 1973 who worked for the United Church of Canada. It was sold to some monks and then moved on to the Evangelical Church in the United States who distributed it widely. Not only was there a laughing Jesus but there was also a Black Jesus, a Korean Jesus and many more.
Worship changed as well. There were Folk Masses, where guitars and drums led the service. Blue Jeans were accepted (women no longer had to wear gloves and hats.)There were many different styles of church and a new found freedom of expression. Theology itself grew new wings with the advent of Liberation Theology. No longer was the church limited to the Top Down style of medieval rule. Liberation Theology gave an alternative concept that Jesus was a poor person and the gospels should be viewed from that perspective.
Rules of the church opened up. While the United Church has been ordaining women since the 1930’s, other churches began welcoming female clergy. Gay ministers were now a part of the leadership and ecumenism (Different denominations working together) became the norm. The United and Anglican Church produced a joint hymnbook.
Posters like this appeared:
While the church underwent significant changes it did still meet in the same building, but the image and idea of Jesus had changed
Some were very excited about new image. Mary welcomed the new Jesus. She didn’t ask much about whether he was real. She seemed to know. She accepted the new Jesus. Others were not so enthusiastic. They were more hesitant and like Thomas they needed more proof or reassurance that this was the same Lord. They needed something they recognized.
We are being forced now into new expressions of faith by this virus. Not having church in real time is challenging. For some it is freeing. For some it is a upsetting
Unfortunately some people have locked doors of their faith. Some traditionalists feel that the old way is the only way while some non-traditionalists believe we must worship in a new way.
The Church needs to, and does, welcome both. Neither is wrong.
There is great beauty from the past. Much of the art and music are powerful tributes to a strong faith. Often at overwhelming moments some of the old familiar tunes bring comfort.
The newer way has the enthusiasm and often unique ideas. The freedom to be adventurous may lead to the message being shared with people who have never heard it before.
The miracle is Jesus appeared through a locked door. Not just the locked door of the Upper Room but the locked door of human hearts. He can unlock the door of people, regardless of their personal preference
We live in a society which tries to build barriers of differences. We are told in many ways that if we are different or have dissimilar views, be that; cultural political, environmental, religious, lifestyle or any number of things we can never co-operate together. Jesus entered a locked room with two very different people proving that the biggest Miracle is – we can all come together with Christ.
God of many descriptions
We pray for those who are steeped in religion
We pray for those who are spiritual but not religious
We pray for those who have no expression of faith at all.
We pray for those who need a new expression of faith
We pray for all who are expressing their faith in their
own languages and cultures and traditions
Wherever we are in our journey, we know you meet us
Wherever the world is, we know you walk with it
In the times of crisis – like now, we come to you for
strength and guidance.
Help us understand you in our own perception that we may all come together
We pray for those in our hearts…….
We repeat together the Lord’s Prayer
Our Father who art in heaven
Hallowed by thy name
Thy kingdom come,
thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven
Give us this day our daily bread
and forgive us our trespasses
as we forgive those who trespass against us
lead us not into temptation
but deliver us from evil
for thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory
forever and ever

Sermon Easter Sunday

Sermon for Easter – will the world stay changed?
Scripture Matthew 28: 1-10
I start with a story – as I often do. This one is about a minister from the Salvation Army who was shaking hands with the members after the service. He noticed a man who rarely came to the church and in order to highlight his lack of attendance said “ Brother, you need to be in the army of the Lord.” The man replied “I already am”. The minister responded, “Well I never see you in church”. The man explained “Well you see I am in the Secret Service”
Right now – we are all are in a Secret Service.
It’s a new world for all of us. Things are changing around us quickly. We watch the news each day to see the updates and the numbers. We look to see what stores and facilities are open or closed. Our priorities are different. Things that seemed important are now just fleeting thoughts. Things we took for granted are central to our lives. Did you ever think you would have a discussion about toilet paper with so many people? Life is different
We’re not in Kansas anymore
How many people will name their dog TOTO after this?
The question is: What will remain after this is over?
The same question was relevant around the resurrection of Jesus Suddenly Mary and the disciples were in new world. They had watched Jesus transform from a local friend to a leader. They had travelled with him and seen his triumphal entry into Jerusalem and then been traumatized by his crucifixion. I am sure they thought everything was over.
Then came the resurrection. Everything they knew about Jesus, in fact everything they knew about life had been overturned. Death was not final.
How much of the new perspective would remain?
This pandemic has highlighted some inadequacies in our world. There are shortages in supplies and delivery systems. There are inequalities in whose job is really the most important. There are questions about what is truly important.
There is an on-line magazine called the Beaverton. It is a satiric look at life. Recently the article was entitled, “Has Doug Ford been infected with Socialism?” The point was a humourous look at how the hard and fast party lines have melted under this situation. Everyone is working together to bring relief to those most affected.
We have been entrenched in the status-quo for many years. The “bottom line” has been used as justification for consumerism and profit. Many decisions are made according to that line no matter how it impacts the people. Now in the midst of this Covid 19 we realize that some old world solutions do not work.
The same was true in Jesus time. There were many inadequacies in Jesus world; from the treatment of people; to the violence; to the social injustices; to the view of God. The status-quo was convinced if it killed Jesus then this movement would stop. They were not counting on a resurrection. The “Christian” movement continued. It continued because it was addressing the inadequacy in the world
I don’t believe that the pandemic was sent by God. In the Good Friday sermon I wrote that I did not believe the crucifixion was sent by God either, BUT – godly things can come out of it.
There are bad things like death, illness, loneliness, fear and anxiety that are were all present in the crucifixion. They are present in this pandemic as well.
But also Life came out of the resurrection. Not just the idea of “life after death” which can bring comfort but the knowledge of the freedom to live fully now. In this world.
Mary would be horrified if she was around today and saw crosses around people’s neck as jewellery or the many other ways the cross is used. In her day the cross was a horrible reminder of the pain and suffering of Jesus. Over time, that cross has grown to represent the hope of new life.
In the 1600’s during the Plague, people would place money in hollowed out stones full of vinegar. Farmers would come to town and trade the money for produce. The idea of the vinegar was to prevent the spread of the disease. Those stones now are a memorial to the horrible life that those people had to live and how they got through it.
Did the world stay changed after Jesus resurrection? Yes, Christianity is the biggest movement in world. It is the largest religion and virtually everyone has heard of it because it implemented the idea of love into society. People welcome genuine compassion and caring.
The world has changed due to this virus. The offers of help are constant. People are concerned about their neighbours. People are offering to shop for others. People are phoning strangers to ask if they are ok. There is genuine concern. Big companies are making amends and raising the wages of front line workers . Banks are trying to make payments easier. Communication companies are reducing costs Restaurants are giving away food to those risking their lives. There are many more situations of concern. People even wave back when I wave at them now.
Other changes are happening as well. People are finding out you can live more simply. We are able to work from home. Pollution is down. The list could go on.
Things should not return to normal
We will get through this.
Every resurrection recognizes that there was sadness and loss. It is only a resurrection because you are raised from something bad.
Every resurrection recognizes new life
We are discovering the resurrection of this pandemic
Goodness, kindness, sharing, caring, love
The same as Jesus resurrection.
The power of Love
May the power of resurrected life stay with us all.
God, there are times when we live I the state of crucifixion. Times when we exist in the darkness of the grave. Covered by layers of death cloth. Times when we can’t see our way to any type of light.
At this time in our world there is much darkness and despair but there are also signs of hope. There are signs of resurrection.
As the disciples felt overwhelmed in their grief, so their joy was all the more joyous.
Help us to find the good, the positive, the joy
Help us to find the resurrection
In this world
In our lives
For others and with others
At this time we remember those who need special prayers……
God we give thanks for the resurrection of your Son
Help us to walk this day in the light of that victory. Amen
Our Father who art in heaven
Hallowed by thy name
Thy kingdom come,
thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven
Give us this day our daily bread
and forgive us our trespasses
as we forgive those who trespass against us
lead us not into temptation
but deliver us from evil
for thine is the kingdom, the power and the glory
forever and ever

Good Friday 10 April 2020

Good Friday April 10, 2020
Scripture: Mark 15: 33-40

This sermon may be disconcerting for some as it confronts some statements of faith that are entrenched in our society. (Disclaimer – lol) My intention is to bring hope.

Good Friday is a very important day for me. It demonstrates the power of real commitment of Jesus. It demonstrates the power of love.

We often hear the words that “Jesus died for our sins,” especially on Good Friday. It is found in hymns, poems and art. I do not believe that statement to be true. I believe that Jesus died because he loved us. He loved the human race.

Years ago I published an article in the United Church Observer with a title “Jesus didn’t die for our sins – he died because of them” The editor said she had never got so much hate mail about anything in her life. I will copy from that article (Which I found out recently that it is being used in theology colleges, but I am not sure how. LOL)

I cannot believe that Jesus was sent by his father (God) to be cruelly tortured and become a blood sacrifice, to pay back a debt that Adam and Eve owed to the same God. If anyone in our society killed their own child for any reason we would have difficulty with that person. There is an exception, which people sometimes quote. It is a story about a railroad worker who sees his son on the tracks with a train coming. He has a choice to divert the train off the track, kill the people and save his son or let the train run over his son and save the people. This story has been used to say that God killed his son to save the people. The problem with that is that the railroad worker didn’t send his son out to the tracks. If a parent set up any situation to have their child killed, we would charge them with murder. I have difficulty worshipping a god who would orchestrate the death of a child.

The theology that this idea comes from goes back to the Creation Stories. The two creation stories have major differences (like the order of creation) and incongruences, (like who created the wives for Adam and Eve’s sons?) but both end with a story where the first couple get tempted by a talking snake. Because they are weak and fall for the deception of a speaking reptile, they eat from the tree of knowledge (there is no mention of an apple) and God gets angry.

God then condemns the human race to pain and death. God then holds onto this grudge for thousands of years until Jesus comes along. Even though in the Old Testament God tells his people he no longer wants blood sacrifices (Psalm 51:16) and especially human sacrifice, ( God prevents Abraham from killing Isaac his son) Apparently with Jesus, God changes views and demands a human blood sacrifice.

It may seem that I am being harsh on this theology but I believe it has done tremendous damage to our understanding of God and the way we treat each other. It also does much damage to Jesus’ commitment if he is merely a pawn in a cosmic argument.

There are other difficulties with this theology. The first is that because Jesus “died for your sins” you must now accept him as your saviour or you will spend an eternity is some type of fiery torture chamber. (Dante basically came up with this idea). The problem is that billions of people don’t qualify. What about the people who lived before Jesus? What about the people who never had exposure to Christianity? What about people who are too young or don’t have the mental capacity to understand the concept? Are all these people condemned through no fault of their own? We are told that everyone is a child of God but it seems that some are outcast simply because of where, when or how they came into this world.
Some churches have come up with bandage solutions to this while others merely state that if you aren’t with us you are condemned. It leads to a lot of judgementalism and prejudice.

Another concern is the type of image that this portrays of God? Jesus says to us that we should forgive 70 times 7, which is another way of saying always. Apparently God cannot forgive. God’s bottom line is not forgiveness and love but rather violence and revenge. If you don’t agree with God then all hell breaks loose – literally. We have been raised with the statement “God is love” yet this theology denies it.

That has repercussions in our social dynamics. The bottom line in our world is violence. After all if God’s bottom line is violence then ours will be too. By saying that God needs a blood sacrifice to right the wrongs, we are stating that love and forgiveness are not the most powerful forces.
During this pandemic I have heard people state that this is God’s punishment, for many different “social sins”. Strangely it turns out that it is never punishment for something they agree with.

A few years ago when we had the tsunami, I heard from some that it was the punishment for those people who were not Christian. I asked about a cathedral in the 1800’s that had been demolished by a tsunami while the people were in Christian worship. The answer was that they were not the right kind of Christians. It’s very handy if you worship a god who is going to punish everyone you disagree with.

We don’t need God to punish us when we do bad things. We can do a fine job of that ourselves. When we abuse our bodies, they will break down. When we abuse the earth, it will be destroyed. If we lie and cheat in our relationships, they will end. That is not God punishing us but rather the repercussions of our actions.

I believe that Jesus laid down his life of his own accord. Matthew 26: 52-54 He says “Do you not know I could call and my father would send legions of angels to protect me.” As he approached that time he prayed “My Father, If it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want” As with any person facing a dire and fearful moment, he wanted a different solution. He realised that given the world in which he lived there was no other solution. He had reached the point of no return. If he backed down now, all he had preached and done would be lost. If you stand up for something you truly believe in, you know there is a point of no return.

So why did this theology develop? It developed because it was safe for the institutions of power. When you look at the life of Jesus, you realise he was a rebel. He fought against authority whenever he felt it was wrong. He challenged the church and the government. He challenged the wealthy and the status quo. He challenged power. That became a problem after the church became the most powerful force in the world. The only way to maintain “Christianity” and power was to move Jesus’ focus into the next life. In reality Jesus rarely speaks of life after death. His directives were all about helping people now; feeding, caring, sharing, forgiving, and loving.

If we believe God to be a judge who would kill his own son – for the sins of some couple, then it is very difficult to turn to that God on Good Friday or on any day when we have been struggling. How can we turn to a god who would inflict pain and death, whether it is this pandemic or some personal grief?

If we realize that Jesus died because he truly loved and wanted, the human race to live in freedom; if we realize that he died because he really believes that love is more powerful than anything else; not to pay back some cosmic debt, then we realize that the Spirit of God walks with us through all our good and bad. God was not satisfied by the death of his son, God was saddened.

I believe that the God of love is always with us and encourages us to live fully.
God, on this day we recognize and remember the love that Jesus has for us. As we walk through difficult times, we recall his commitment to make our lives better, even at the cost of his own.
As we feel isolated, we feel his loneliness on the cross,
As we feel hurt, we become familiar with his pain,
As we feel useless, we understand his feeling of failure,
As we feel cheated of opportunities, we realize he was only 33.
As we cry out in anguish, we hear his fear of being forsaken.
Yet God, we know your Spirit walks with us. We know you share our pain. We know there is a resurrection. Christ rose and we will too.

Sermon on Pilgrimage for April 5

Sermon on Pilgrimage
Scripture: Matthew 21: 1-11
This is the last sermon in the Spiritual Practices series. This one is on Pilgrimage; taking a spiritual trip.
It is also Palm Sunday, the day when Jesus rode into Jerusalem while people waved palm branches and shouted Hallelujah. They tie together nicely.
Recently someone reiterated the old adage “If you don’t get off your backside you can’t get on your feet” I was going to use the original language of that expression but it might get confusing as that is what Jesus rode into Jerusalem.
The idea of a pilgrimage is ancient. Almost all religions have it as part of their beliefs. It is a physical representation of a spiritual journey. In some faiths it is a requirement while others merely encourage it. The three religions that have Abraham as their founder: Islam, Judaism and Christianity all focus primarily on sites in the Holy Land as destinations. Other religions have places around the world where something special happened like the birth or death of an important person or maybe a place where there was some divine interaction . Some people find the journey moving. Some find it spiritual or even mystical. The destination itself is important but the travel and even the preparation are important contributing factors
The pilgrimage that Jesus made was not so much a journey to a holy site but rather a journey to a place of religious and political power. The expression “Bringing truth to Power” works well here. He knew he had to face reality. He knew that if he was going to further his message he would have to face the obstacle that was also the most fearful.
Sometimes our pilgrimages can be a physical journey to a holy site but other times, like Jesus, it may be a journey to a reckoning. There may be a hurdle that we have to face: an obstacle that is also the most fearful part of our life. As Martin Luther King Jr said: “Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle. And so we must straighten our backs and work for our freedom. A man can’t ride you unless your back is bent.
When people take a traditional pilgrimage to a holy site they do so in order to clarify the issues that cloud their life’s condition, so too if we are taking an inner voyage.
The first step is the preparation and the first question is: Are you ready? So often we decide that we need to take that trip. Perhaps it is to start or end a relationship. Maybe it is to get a new job or home. Maybe it is to refocus our personal and spiritual priorities. Whatever the need: are we ready?
Jesus knew he had to take the journey to Jerusalem. He went there as a child but this time, it was very different. This was to be his signature journey. He didn’t take it at the beginning of his ministry because he would not have had things in place to explain the new meaning of his life. His friends would not have yet understood the purpose of his action.
For ourselves if we suddenly embark on a pilgrimage without preparation, we will find we often turn back shortly after we start. Picture Peter, seeing Jesus walking on the water and without thinking he jumps out and stands on the water. Then he sinks. He wasn’t prepared for the new ability that he had. His doubt caused him to sink. If we are not prepared for the new self, we may get scared and fall back. As we take this pilgrimage we will discover new aspects and abilities. We need to be ready to accept them.
Another way that Jesus prepared was he told his disciples to go and find a donkey foal that had never been ridden on.
When Caesar returned from a battle he would ride victoriously into town on a magnificent white horse, demonstrating his majesty and power. Jesus chose a young donkey demonstrating his vulnerability (and his sense of humour), showing that he was not about the power of violence but rather about the power of love.
The same is true of our journeys. How we prepare indicates our intentions. Not everyone who goes to a holy site does so to improve their spirituality. Periodically we read of armies who go to holy shrines to destroy. The Romans destroyed the Jewish temple, but many times since then holy places have been levelled. If you are going to destroy you take different equipment. If you are going on a spiritual quest, you take faith, love and hope.
Jesus took something that was unconventional; a donkey. Taking a spiritual pilgrimage is unconventional. Using love as your means of motivation is equally unique but if you are to succeed it is a must.
The next step is the actual journey. I am sure that as Jesus stepped over that donkey he did so with both determination and hesitancy. He knew he would be cheered and condemned.
As you journey, you will find supporters and detractors. Many times I have heard people say that they were concerned about what the “other people” would think and then they found that there was great support from people they never would have dreamed of. On the other hand you will always find people who think you shouldn’t rock the boat. You should just put up with the status quo. Those are people who are afraid. They are afraid that if you can change, there is pressure on them to do the same.
As Jesus rode along he had tremendous support. There were palm branches and cloaks thrown down. They were a sign of honour. The people were shouting Hallelujah. It was a tremendously uplifting time for him but he knew they were people in that crowd who were plotting to kill him. (If it had been in today’s world he likely would have been fined for littering) (if it had been recently there would have only been 5 people at the parade). The point being that you carry on with your pilgrimage regardless of what others think as it is not their journey – but yours.
Finally you reach your destination which is really the beginning of a new journey. Any successful pilgrimage opens a new door. The author, Henry Miller says “ One’s destination is never a place but rather a new way of looking at things”
When people travel to a holy site or space as a pilgrimage and if they are prepared for the revelation, then a whole new world begins. When you think you have reached a spiritual destination, you have really only reached the bottom rung of a dynamic ladder. When Jesus reached Jerusalem, he conquered his fear and confronted his mission. A whole new chapter was beginning for him. There was no turning back.
When you reach a true destination in your pilgrimage, there is no turning back.
If you have ever been stuck in a relationship, a job or a lifestyle that was unfulfilling and you journeyed out of it, there was no turning back. If you were ever stuck in a religion (as Jesus was) that was unsatisfying and you flourished out of it, there was no turning back.
Right now we are stuck in this pandemic. I do not believe that God “sent” this to us. (more next week on that) There is no turning back. It is a journey that none of us chose so there was little or no preparation. But we can make it into a spiritual pilgrimage. There will be hardships and losses. There will be support from unknown and unexpected sources. There will be divine support. There will be a destination that will be a new beginning.
Life itself is a journey. It can be so much more as a pilgrimage.
Jesus took that pilgrimage to Jerusalem. If he hadn’t, we never would have heard of him.
Each of us faces a road. We have the opportunity of stepping on to that highway or standing beside it. Some of the people who stood along the roadway that Jesus travelled were excited about the opportunity but chose to stand beside it and not follow. They missed “the road less traveled” They missed their chance at pilgrimage and so missed their chance at a new beginning
I hope that one or all of these six spiritual practices: Prayer, Fasting, Almsgiving, Meditation, Solitude and Pilgrimage will lift spirit in this time.
As you travel with God may you find a heightened awareness of the presence of God.
God, today we pray for all those affected by this pandemic. We pray for support for the front line workers who are risking their lives that others may live; we pray for those who have contracted this virus, that they may be strong and healing may occur. We pray for those who struggle to pay bills that generosity may well up and compassion may take the lead.
We pray for those who are struggling with other illnesses and pains: those in sorrow, fear, violence and uncertainty and we pray that as we journey through all of our situations, we may ever be aware of the strength and love you have for us. Amen

Sermon on Pilgrimage for April 5

Sermon for Sunday March 29 2020

Sermon – Solitude
This is a sermon on Solitude. It is the fifth in this series. The first four have been on Prayer, Fasting, Almsgiving, and Meditation.
This sermon may seem redundant at this time in our world, but it really isn’t. When I first wrote this title, I mistook it and wrote Isolation. They are not the same at all. A lot of you are in Isolation with others, but wish you were in Solitude. Especially after you cut your own hair or scrape the “My kid is an awesome student” sticker off your mini-van.
One of the key points in couple counselling occurs when the two people retire and they are both home. Totally new schedules and patterns are needed as life changes. I can only imagine how much more intense it is when suddenly the whole family is home -and can’t go out much. Lots of strain.
But Solitude is not the same as Isolation.
The word Isolation implies that you are alone, physically and/or mentally. Isolation can be created by someone or something else.
One of the great fears of this virus is that you will have to be isolated, when no one can visit you and you will be too sick to use things like social media. At the moment hospital visits are off except in dire situations and even then maybe not.
That is isolation.
Solitary confinement in prisons was the ultimate isolation and was eventually considered inhumane. A couple of years ago the federal prison system was changed from “Solitary” to “Segregated cells” which is quite similar but means the inmate can get some contact for 4 hours a day. But not all isolation is imposed by outside yourself.
Sometimes it is caused by a need to reject other people; a need to cut yourself off from the rest of the human race. This can be from an emotional trauma or just a part of your personality. But this sermon is not about isolation, it is about the benefits and spiritual growth of Solitude.
People often say they can find god in the forest better than church. I would say that both are necessary. Being together with others and sharing the collective wisdom and stories of thousands of years of insights is vital to growth, but spending time in the forest has equal value. We should seek to improve ourselves in three areas of relationship; with ourselves, with others and with God (whatever definition you use for God). Solitude does two of those directly; ourselves and God. Ultimately it will improve our relationship with others as well.
Virginia Woolf, in her book “A Room of One’s Own” gives a long meditation on a writer’s need for solitude. Many other poets do as well. May Sarton says “alone, one is never lonely” and William Wordsworth writes about “the bliss of Solitude” in his praise of the need for it. Marianne Moore writes “the cure for loneliness is solitude”
It is well recognized that Solitude is valuable.
One of the most famous hermits was Alexandra. He lived in the fourth century in Egypt. After his parents died he inherited a vast fortune. He spent time partying and having fun but was unsatisfied. He heard a passage of Scripture where Jesus says, If you want to be perfect, go, sell all your possessions and give to the poor, and come follow me.” (Matthew 19:21)So he sold everything and moved to the desert. He basically became one of the founders of monasteries. Unfortunately for him his quest for privacy became so popular that he had to move several times. People searched him out so they could be like him which really is an oxymoron.
Skellig Michael is an island 11K west of Ireland. It is a desolate place where monks, beginning in the 6th century went to live in order to get away from the world. Some of the writings suggest that they believed that they were halfway to God. The monastery building is extremely remote but, tucked away in an almost inaccessible area is the hermitage. Obviously some people wanted the ultimate solitude.
When I was young I remember a minister coming to visit. He told a children’s story about when he grew up. He said that he could recall when the first radios were put in cars (1930 for AM and 1952 for FM). He ranted for a while about how this was destroying our ability to interact with others in the car and radios should be banned. He also said it was good for us to turn off the radio every so often and just spend time with our thoughts. The last advice may have had some merit.
We have difficulty with Solitude as we are so busy with the constant barrage of noise and info that silence seems unnatural. Often we are scared of being alone with ourselves – someone we hardly know. But every so often it is a good practice. There are benefits.
First: Solitude helps us to get to know ourselves. It gives us time to discover our skills and thoughts. At times we are influenced by the pressure of those around who want us to live like they do, but we can’t live someone else’s life. Each of us is unique. Only we, really know ourselves. If we understand who we are then we can have a better idea of our life’s work and we can plan better. We can make better use of our skills. This will also help us in our relationships with others as we know where we are coming from. Our decisions will be more genuine if we have spent time discovering ourselves.
Second : Solitude allows you to be creative. It allows you to think outside the box. Artists often spend time alone and usually need silence when they are creating so they can search out their inner ideas.
Historically, dominant governments have been wary of artists because a true artist comes from a non-partisan perspective. They often challenge the status-quo.
Solitude also may boost your productivity as there is no one there to interfere. (Providing you are a self-motivator)
Third Solitude helps you to develop your inner resources. You can find the depth of your strengths and realize that you are a complete human. When you are not with anyone else you don’t have to compare with anyone else and you realise that there is nothing wrong with who you are.
Finally Solitude helps you build a union with a larger, higher power that is commonly referred to as “God. Unfortunately the image of God has so much baggage and years of convolution that getting a clear image of your relationship can be difficult. In the Old Testament God says “Be still and know that I am God” There is a lot of wisdom there. This is what happens when people walk in the forest and say they feel God. A non-descript god; a god that is beyond definition. At this point you realize that you are connected to the universe. You realise that you are connected to the power of life. This can be very empowering for you.
Solitude is not loneliness. Solitude is not isolation. When we remove the artificial stimulus and commotion, then Solitude gives you the opportunity and the joy of knowing that you are a complete human being and you are not alone.
Practicing Solitude can be an amazing spiritual exercise. It takes practice. At first the silence can be deafening. It takes planning and it can be difficult to get away. (Unless you ride a motorcycle and take 3 days to get a loaf of bread – just saying)
It does take conscious effort but the alone time will enhance your spiritual and personal life.

Fear mongering a concern

posterboyYears ago I was phoned from a garage by a woman who was very upset. She had taken her car in for an oil change and was told that it was not safe to drive. The repairs would be about $2000.

I knew that her car was reasonably new so I went over to see what the problem was.

This shop was part of a chain. The man in the front office explained that her transmission was about to fall out of the car. I requested to see it.

After much angry hesitation he showed me the defect. It was a slightly worn rubber grommet, through which a wire was running. It had nothing to do with the transmission and was in no way unsafe.

As I left the premises, after explaining my disgust at their attempt to rip off an older woman, the man turned to her and said: “Well, I guess if your minister doesn’t care if your transmission falls out and you are pole-vaulted to your death on the 401, why should I care?

He tried desperately to instill fear in her so he could control her.

We are seeing the same tactic being employed more and more by all avenues of life. Advertisers tell you to be afraid of home invaders and broken sidewalks, etc.

But the major concern I have is the emphasis lately to be afraid of other races and religions. We hear the word “terrorist” more and more. The more we become afraid the more we can be controlled.

Christ calls us to love our enemies and overcome fear with love. Christ calls us to be individuals and think for ourselves. Christ calls us to “Be Not Afraid”.

It is a challenge but it is the only way to raise ourselves and others to an abundant life.

Some Assembly

By the time you read this article, Christmas will be over. Some things will remain, some won’t. Those that don’t remain are the batteries that did not come with the gift in the first place and because you had to buy them at the corner store they only lasted a few hours. The thing that will remain is the effect of the worst three words at Christmas: not “Oh how lovely” but “Some assembly required”.

That statement applies not only to Christmas but to the rest of the year. The god Janus in ancient Rome was the god of passages. He often sat midway in a door or gate, looking both directions. This two-faced god was not an indication of their awareness of bipolarism. Rather it symbolized that we look forward to new beginnings but also bring with us the baggage and experiences of the past. Those experiences are the building blocks of the assembly that is required.

When dealing with the baggage we need to know that first it is ok to question. We have physical, emotional, spiritual and mental accumulations. As we have grown, we have discovered that not all still apply or are useful but, we are afraid to part with them. Sometimes we are afraid because parting with issues leave us with empty bags and it’s scary to search for what is truly ours. Sometimes we have been ingrained with certain restrictions by society or individuals that have kept us limited. Science, religion, education, culture, parenting and even friends have all contributed to the luggage we carry. Some good and some bad.

It is also Ok to doubt. It is Ok to realize that others have not lived your life. It’s your life not theirs. It’s fascinating at weddings to watch and see who is trying to control the situation other than the bride and groom. I always tell them “It’s YOUR wedding. Do what you want.” Same with life.

Some toys like the old model planes come with instructions and while you assemble them, they have your attention. However once they are assembled, you put them on a shelf and occasionally view them. Some toys have endless possibilities. They are the ones that can be reassembled in many different ways. They are the ones that keep your attention. The more you reassemble your life, the more fascinating it becomes.

Finally, look ahead at the New Year as an opportunity. If there is baggage that is holding you back; let it go. Look back at it and watch it disappear in the mists of time. Then turn your head toward the newness and discover who you are and who you can be.

Some assembly is still required.

Christmas reborn

A first blog on a new website and Christmas is coming. If I put those thoughts together it could sound like the beginning of a bad joke.

Hopefully what I write isn’t a bad joke although I am sure that at times you will hope for a punch line.

There is a similarity between these two seemingly remote ideas. It can be summed up in the word “new”.

When the idea of computers, websites, etc., was introduced there was great resistance by many. For some it was the dawning of a new era and great possibilities. It represented new ways to search out and view the world. For others it was a threat to all they had learned.“Why do we need something new?” was often the cry.

That similarity extends to Christmas and the present day churches as well.The birth of Christ represented a new and in some ways different understanding of God. The established church of the day was being challenged. The church of today is being challenged. In recent years there has been tremendous change and challenge to the traditional understanding of God and Jesus.

In the Churchill and Gilford churches we no longer subscribe to a fear-based religion but rather a love-based one that welcomes all. As we welcome Christ at this Christmas time let us also welcome the opportunity to search out old and new meanings of our church and our faith.

Merry Christmas, Glen