Dogs at the Table

...or to put it another way, "Perish, priest!"

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

So Why Should You Listen to a Blowhard from Lower Armpit, Nova Scotia

Two and a half years since my last entry.  Busted.

But it isn't like I haven't been doing anything.

One year was self-imposed silence. A long, and (frankly) irrelevant story, but it involved the direction of leadership in our Diocese.  Financial consolidation, traditionalist views about ordained ministry, a flawed episcopal election process (and not because I wasn't part of it, although I have been part of two electoral processes (Nevada 2000, Qu'Appelle 2013) but because there was neither grace nor excellence in what we did here),  Given my frustration, my Spiritual Director suggested that I take a year away from speaking publicly about policy or leadership in the church -- we called it my "Matthew Fox" year...you may recall that Fr Fox was a Dominican, wrote extensively about Creation Centred Spirituality, and after an article in 1988 (Is the Catholic Church a Dysfunctional Family), was silenced for a year by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (later, Pope Benedict), and subsequently expelled from the Dominican order (after which Fox was received into the Episcopal Church).

It wasn't easy -- I am a person of strong opinion, especially when I see something that is wrong or foolish -- but it was time well spent.  I read Matthew Fox and listened to several of his talks on YouTube and other sites.  I reflected on what was really bothering me.  And came to the conclusion that I might just be ever so slightly right.

My conviction runs to the difference between education and formation.  I used my first occasion to speak after my "Matthew Fox Year" at an ordination on December 3, 2014 (St Francis Xavier).  I pointed out the difference between the two disciplines.-- education and formation -- and coming down clearly on the side of formation.

What, might you ask, is formation?

Formation is the discipline that builds identity, not knowledge; it is about being rather than doing; it is about competence, not capacity; it is about community rather than the individual.

Think about it!

Today's weigh-in: 218 Some things haven't changed.

Monday, December 03, 2012

And so now I'm praying...

People who know me well know that my theology of prayer goes something like this:  Prayer is not magic, and the purpose of prayer is not to instruct God, but to be open to God's purposes as they may unfold in my life.  When I intercede on behalf of others, it is not as some sort of lobbyist to the divine, but to open myself to being some sort of an answer to the prayer that I dare to ask -- for instance, I think it hypocritical to pray for healing unless one has signed a donor card or donated blood or contributed to a hospital foundation or volunteered as a visitor or driver for someone who is ill or infirmed.

But I find myself as a candidate in an episcopal election, living in the few days between the "walkabout" -- a visit to the diocese to greet the synod delegates, tour the diocesan office, meet the staff, and spend some time on the road to develop a sense of what the diocese is like -- and the election itself which will take place in five days.

And so I am praying.  But I am empty as to the purpose of my prayer.  And I am fearful of the outcome.  If I am not elected, I fall back into the easy comfort of my present incumbency, where I fear I am past my best-before date.  If I am elected, I will be pushed far past any expectation I have had of my life in the church, and fear my inadequacy.

There's a huge bit of reality about to touch my life, one way or another.  And while I don't know know what the future holds, the only prayer that I can dare to pray with confidence is that God will be with us through it all.  And that the future will soon be the present.

Today's weigh-in: 218 Working to answer my doctor's prayer.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Stay calm, be brave, wait for the signs

These words to live by were the sign-off line from the rather imaginative CBC Radio comedy spot called, "The Dead Dog Cafe." 

On our road trip, we also live by the phrase, "the signs don't lie."

We navigate without a GPS.  We usually check GoogleMaps or MapQuest for specific directions which we sometimes write down, but more often than not, we'll see the sign.  In the middle of sixteen lanes of metropolitan rush-hour traffic, I'm not sure I need the mechanical annoying voice of the GPS to tell me to move-to-the-right-hand-lane-move-to-the-right-hand-lane-move-to-the-TURN AROUND-TURN AROUND.

But in most  cases the signs are clearly posted above the driving lanes or along the side of the road.

The written instructions to find Progressive Field in Cleveland last night were a bit obscure, with several turns within a few hundred meters, according the directions.  But the signs were clear -- and more direct than the instructions had been.  The baseball game (Twins beat the Indians 6-5 in 12 innings) was cold and, frankly, dull (the 'Tribe' were excoriated in the morning press for badly managing and executing), but not without its moments.

It's a metaphor for life.  The signs don't lie; life can be cold and dull, but not without it's moments.

And at this point we need to go back to the Dead Dog Cafe, because it is far easier to engage with life when we are calm, brave and patient.

And that's why road trips are important.  The only way to enjoy it is to be calm -- getting agitated on a road trip is (as my doctor would say) contra-indicated.  And you also have to be prepared to travel new roads -- we can now drive four or five hundred kilometers before we see things that are new to us, and boredom erodes satisfaction, at least in my experience (that's why we've been known to do the first part of a long drive in the dark, so it doesn't matter what's out the window).

And the signs don't lie.  We've learned to trust them.  Yes, we've gone places we haven't expected to see, but mostly because we missed the signs.  Sometimes I'm so involved in driving that I can't look around, and need someone else to be aware on my behalf.

I am not particularly metaphysical or pious, but there are times that others have clearly pointed to the presence of God in my life.   I get so involved in 'driving from day to day' that I miss the signs.

And so a road trip, from my side of the steering wheel, is a good way to reconnect.

Today's weigh-in: Unknown Waiting for a sign (or at least a scale).

Monday, September 17, 2012

It's Not Jack Kerouac...

...but it's a road trip.  People in my life had better like seeing the world from the highway.  When my parents were alive, living in Burlington, Ontario, the summer vacation was always a road trip from Nova Scotia, often punctuated by side trips to amusement parks, museums, stadiums, and attractions.  When my daughter was older, I used to fly her to Chicago while I was studying there and we would drive back to Nova Scotia together (which led the way to two dad-and-daughter trips by car to New York -- twelve-and-a-half hours, by-the-way -- and  when my partner and I first got together, the litmus test for the possibility of a continuing relationship was a road trip to Washington in October, 2001where we stayed with a friend who worked at the Pentagon.  It was a profoundly emotional experience for both of us, being a month after the attacks of September 11.  Even now, we consider Boston (eleven hours) little more than a day trip.

We continue to see the world by car (although we have been know to fly to one destination and do a circular drive from there, the Sierra Madres and Death Valley trip from Las Vegas to Reno and back is still my favourite).

So yesterday, we packed up the car and set out for Chicago.  It's a solid twenty-five hour drive.  Day one:  eight hours, non-stop to Lewiston, Maine, watching the range on the fuel gauge edge down to less than ten kilometers.  Tacky motel.  Delivery pizza.   Woohoo....Road Trip!

The point is, that you can see the world go by.: The experience of the Customs interview as you enter another country and wondering if you're the car that is going to be searched;  An accident near Bangor that sent us on a blind expedition of municipal streets and secondary highways with nothing more than a sense of left-and-right turns to get us back to the Interstate; Trying to figure out if we really wanted to risk running out of diesel before we get to our motel;  Eating car candy in place of meals.  These are the things that make you live in the moment.

This is different, frankly, than air travel.  Once you have consigned yourself to the care of the airline, you are no longer in control of anything.  Yes, it's faster.  Once upon a time, it used to be kind-of classy too.  There is a level of sophistication, and paradoxically mindlessness, to the experience.  You can't improvise as you go along.

Today we noted a couple of traditional events:  breakfast in the car; a stop at the New Hampshire State Liquor Store; trying to recollect some of the details of our previous trips; remarking on the difference in topography between states that seems to take place in the traversing of a few miles; the colours of the leaves or the lushness of the green foliage; seeing a manicured golf-course with no-one playing; seeing the billboards advertising things in which we had no interest.

This is a road trip.  We punctuate it with bourbon in a motel room, and celebrate it with simple delight in seeing something we hadn't noticed before.  We don't use enough drugs (or bourbon, for that matter) to be Jack Kerouac.

But there's something romantic about a road trip.

Yesterday's weigh-in: 215.5 On the road to 200

Saturday, April 28, 2012

So it's tax time

Many of you know that I strongly believe that the church has a voice in the public forum, especially where governments are concerned.  It is especially true at this time of year, when our taxes are due (or at least reviewed for refund).

One of the benefits that the church holds in this country is a charitable tax status.  In other words, the work of the church – usually as a community presence, provider of pastoral comfort, and representative at public functions – is acknowledged by the ‘state’ as a tangible good which enjoys some level of privilege, including its status as a charitable tax exemption.

Recently, several environmental organizations have surrendered that charitable status in order to speak out more openly against policies and prerogatives of the government.

I sometimes wonder if I might be guilty of some level of complacency by enjoying the benefits of a tax refund of about half my charitable giving while at the same time holding strong opinions about the nature of government.

∙    In both Canada and the United States, women’s health issues (including reproductive choices, and access to abortion and specialized health care providers) are still not provided on an equal basis depending on where one lives
∙    the environmental concerns that have been clearly identified through years of government-funded research are being shelved, or, worse, dismissed (sometimes by dismissing the scientists)
∙    the role of the public broadcaster (ie. the CBC) as steward of journalism, creativity and the arts is being gutted
∙    the sheer arrogance of the Prime Minister in stating in the House of Commons that the party of the official opposition had not spoken against Naziism in 1939 shows the contempt of the government for any that disagree.  Just for the record, I said nothing about Naziism in 1939 for the exact same reason that the NDP didn’t – we didn’t exist in 1939.  Perhaps the Prime Minister holds me and my views with the same contempt.

...and if you want to read an even stronger ecclesial voice, check out Dennis Drainville's (Bishop of Quebec) latest blog entry:

The Bishop's Views


Today's weigh-in: 237 Taxing.

Friday, March 02, 2012

A Sermon for the First Week of Lent, preached at King's Chapel, Halifax

In the name of the One God, who creates us, who calls us, and who makes us holy. Amen.

I have a confession to make: I am far more orthodox than my reputation apparently suggests. I have been known to disparage the mystique, privilege and presumption that surrounds ordained ministry, finding more of my personal identity in the vocation and dignity that we all share in baptism. I have been told that I want to reduce the whole notion of ministry to function, although I do, in fact, place a high iconic value on ordered ministry...and there is some perception that those branded “modern,” “liberal” or “progressive” in the church are somehow lacking in their knowledge or awareness of sin. While I am not discomfitted with the label, I need to make argument and take issue with my supposed ignorance and unawareness of what sin is, how it touches my life, and its implications with regard to both the church and the world. As the criticism flows, apparently unable either to identify sin or confess to it, my faith is supposedly rooted in the core values of tolerance and acceptance with a healthy emphasis on secular humanism to leaven the mix. Given this evening’s gospel, it might be a good time to set the record straight.

The temptations of Christ in the wildness of desert, city and mountain are not unfamiliar to any of us. As Mark describes in a parallel gospel, Jesus is in the wilderness with both beasts and angels. Like the leopard, the lion and the she-wolf that confront Dante on that medieval Good Friday night, we live in the physical and spiritual realm of the gut, the head and the heart; and with the unholy trinity of self-indulgence, indolence and violence.

Of course, the great difficulty that we have with sin is that we always try to make it personal, because as long as it's just about me, then at least no one else gets hurt. As long as we’re at the centre of our own universe, then sin doesn’t really matter, except insofar as it affects only me.

And let’s be clear – we’re talking about sin. Not mistakes, not errors of judgement, not peccadillos, but sin. That deep-seated, in-bred, natural, instinctive measure of self need equaling self worth, and some sense that if our needs are well met, then our worth is well measured.

But there’s the rub...Because it is right about here that we need to learn about the true nature of sin. That truth is, sin is never just about me. And it's never just about you. Even if your sin does not involve me, you are deceiving yourself to think that I am not in some way affected. And even if I don’t think my sin has some level of butterfly effect, in fact, my actions do have some influence and impact on others.

And then we want to graduate sin in some way -- one sin is worse than another, don't you think? Even Dante suggests that the sins of lust and appetite receive far less torment in hell than those of pride and betrayal. Is that just because they are more self-involved? Is that really what we think about the nature of sin? It seems to me that there is really only one distinction, which becomes clear in the gospel – there is either sin, or there is not sin.

So let us look at the temptations and see what it is that separates us from God and from one another.

The temptations teach us about the nature of sin, and, I suppose, some speculation on the nature of the tempter; we are to draw out the consequences. So let us examine them each in turn.

The first temptation seems simple. You’re hungry. You can feed yourself. Just do it. What does it matter? Nobody gets hurt. You need to eat. The question of sin doesn’t seem to enter into it. It isn’t sinful to provide for yourself. Victor Hugo wrote hundreds of pages about the theft of a loaf of bread. There’s no theft involved here. A stone...a loaf of bread. Presto - changeo...or should we say, hocus pocus. Nobody’ll notice.

Except the leopard. Ah yes, the leopard. One of those beasts in the wilderness.
Symbolizing the sin of “incontinence” – no, it’s not what you think – this first temptation invites Jesus to dismiss his self-control; to exercise a lack of restraint seemingly inconsequential in the grand scheme of things.

But let’s be clear about this. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should do something. That is the lesson of the Garden. Just because you can eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil doesn’t mean that you should. And now having the knowledge in humanity of what is good and evil – right and wrong – can’t we recognize what is truly wrong here?

What happens when Jesus tampers with the natural order of creation? As the agent of creation, to alter the order itself Jesus would be at best, ironic; at worst, duplicitous. If Jesus is disingenuous about something small, how is his message to be trusted? He himself will tell us that the one who may be trusted with very small things may also be trusted with very great things. In the course of Jesus’ ministry, a loaf of bread in the wilderness may seem a small thing, but it is only when Jesus is true to the Father and to himself that he is then able to teach us about the bread of life. When Jesus promises to feed us with the Bread of Life, we trust that he is not feeding us stones.

And then there is the problem of what we might call “instant gratification.” Again, the lesson of the Garden teaches us in our humanity that work has worth, that we must labour for that which will feed us. Turning stones to bread, without the wheat, the egg, the water – what value has that?

This leads us into the ethical consequences of turning stones to bread. This is not simply about the individual. When we satisfy ourselves without thought, what does that say to others who are starving? When we skip over those steps which are requisite and necessary as well for the body as the soul, we devalue both the body and the bread, taking food for granted and not cherishing the process that brought it into being or to our table.

And even the leopard cannot live on bread alone.

So now we find ourselves on the parapet of the temple. “Cast yourself down – God’s angels will save you. It says so in the Psalms.” This time we hear the lion, not roaring, but purring–seductive. The lion who brings us the sin of violence. The lion who will not tear us apart, but watch as we do it to ourselves.

In the good old days, there used to be eight deadly sins, you know, and the sin that got dropped from the list is the sin of our time and age. It was called acedia: A deliberate and intentional lack of care, or forethought; a profound indifference that grows as a cancer to the point that, as Kathleen Norris suggests, “we cannot even care that we do not care.”

This is the second temptation in its raw form. Don’t worry about yourself; let somebody else carry you, hold you up, do those things for you that you ought to be able to do for yourself. Just throw yourself off the temple; nothing bad will happen.

Do you recognize this as the sin of negligence in our age? We don’t need to care about the earth, or the environment, or the poor, or the disenfranchised, or the starving in other parts of the world, or the peasant that picks the beans that make our coffee, or the seamstress that sews our hundred-dollar shirt together for pennies an hour in Indonesia. We don’t need to hold governments accountable. We don’t need to vote. We don’t need to worry...just be happy. There is surely an exhilaration to throwing oneself off the temple.

But the lesson of adolescence is the often tragic and hard-learned lesson that to engage with life does, in fact, require some level of thought and concern. Stupidity is still punished by consequence, and yet we still don’t care.

Jesus rightly recognizes that God’s angels, frankly, have better things to do. To impose one’s negligence as another’s responsibility is a denial of the dignity of creation. God gave us free will; we exercise free will; there are responsibilities that come as a result, and to ignore the consequences of our actions is nothing more than throwing ourselves off the temple parapet.

And that is the sin of acedia, testing the limits of our apathy.

And in our world today, it seems that human foolishness is so often praised that whole industries are prepared to watch us make jackasses of ourselves. Let us do violence to ourselves and others because no longer care.

And in the end, only the lion is laughing.

Which brings us to the mountain top. Not the mountain of the Transfiguration. Not the mountain where the law is given. This is the mountain where the tempter invites Jesus to forsake the Father for all the world’s riches. This is the mountain where to give in is to become prey for the wolf.

The wolf, you see, represents the sin of malice where the intention is to hurt someone else. This is not simple lust, nor the gratification of a whim, nor the lack of thought or concern. When we encounter the wolf, we knowingly hurt another person. Not only do we come to the centre of our own universe, but we are willing to hurt or destroy others to stay there. We are blind to the presence of the God in our life, to the promise of the good promised in creation and in Christ. For Dante, the sins of the wolf take us to the frozen pit of hell where, completely absent from the warmth of divine love, we find encased in the ice those who betray the ones for whom they have first professed their love or loyalty: Judas...Brutus...Cassius. It is paradoxical that in this mountaintop moment, Jesus, perhaps, glimpses the pit of hell.

And Jesus faces the tempter – the wolf. There is no longer seduction, as might be suggested to the appetite. There is no longer teasing, as might be suggested by careless action. Here, the cards are on the table. The agenda is out in the open. Satan lays claim, if only Jesus would allow, to his relationship with the Father.

Enough, Jesus says. You shall not–no, you cannot tempt the Lord your God much in all as you may try. Neither appetite, nor carelessness; neither violence nor betrayal; neither seduction nor confrontation will move Jesus from his mission, or take away his dignity, or violate the relationship with his father. Jesus confronts the beasts, and bests them at their own game.
Leopards, lions, wolves...fanciful stuff, perhaps. Metaphors to make us think. The wilderness is a place of beasts and metaphors, but have we grasped what this story says about God? It is easy stuff to look at sin, to see ourselves in it, to recognize the foibles of the human condition, and perhaps even the innate and inbred predisposition to have the world rotate around us.

But what of God? How does the profound nature of human sin affect God? If we don’t give some consideration to the affect of our lives on God, then we are still living as the beasts. This sin of which we speak – it does indeed separate us from God and from one another. It divides the temporal and the infinite, the physical and the metaphysical, the kairos and the chronos of history. Sin separates life from life, placing death in our midst – back to the Garden we go, reminded that because we now know the difference between good and evil, we may no longer partake of the tree of life. St. Paul reminds us that the wages of sin are death.

Over the ages of our existence, as we continued to separate ourselves from God, God tried, again and again, to restore the relationship. Delivering us from the flood, from the oppressor, from the hostility of others, by mighty acts, by subtle prophets, by both the profound and sometimes the profane, God could not show us how to restore the relationship with the divine, the created order, or one another. But God so loved the world...so loved us...that he gave us his only begotten Son, to the end that whoever believes in him should ... have eternal life. The Father sent the Son into the world not to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be redeemed. In Jesus, then, the temporal and the eternal are met together. The physical and the metaphysical become one. And we become one with Christ in his temptations, in his sufferings, in his death, and in his resurrection. As a foretaste of the eternal we share in the sacraments. As a foretaste of the Kingdom, we share with each other.

Because as we return to this evening’s Gospel we remember that Jesus not only overcame the beasts to show us that we too, out of the depths of our humanity, could recognize our separation, our frailty and our need, but was also ministered to by angels. Without going all “Della Reese and Roma Downey,” we are well reminded that these messengers of God whom we call angels are as real as our limited world view will allow. I have not seen the winged creatures that push us from the tomb or herald the moment that changes history, which, perhaps, says more about me than about angels, but I know the circumstances of my life have been changed because something or someone has be able to confront or challenge or console or confide in me in an instant, the reality of God.

I am, like St. Paul, as much a sinner and perhaps even more than anyone else. But my prayer is that of the tax collector in the temple–have mercy on me, a sinner. My prayer is that of the cleansed leper who is able to express gratitude. My prayer, in my doubts, is that of Job or Thomas asking just once for something more than faith. And perhaps the most dangerous prayer of all is that left to us from our Lord himself, that if I do not forgive others their sins against me, then God cannot forgive me my own sins. It is to recognize that in my own hubris I could constrain the actions of God, and be kept from participating in the gracious invitation to Salvation offered to us by God in Christ.

And that is the true nature of sin. Deliberately, intentionally, maliciously, violently, slothfully, carelessly thwarting the will of God. Distracted by the temptations of ease, of acedia, of betrayal, centering my world around myself, and forgetting the example of Christ. I am grateful for this annual recollection of the story of Jesus in the wilderness to set my own experience into the larger context of what could be.

But for now, I am left in the dark of Lent, with the beasts and the angels. Pray God, that the “light of the world” may show me the difference, that the presence of Christ may mirror to me the redeemed humanity of my neighbour, that the Spirit of God may strengthen my resolve to imitate more closely my Lord and Saviour.

And for you–may you overcome the beasts and embrace the angels as we walk through the wildness of the world.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Xmas Xeep

A number of newspaper articles and broadcast pieces have started to name “Christmas Creep” as a commercially driven attempt to ramp up indulgent spending at this time of the year.

One of the reasons that we promote “The Season of the Kingdom” is to push back against two months of Christmas hype. The Incarnation, which we celebrate at Christmas is truly important as a matter of faith, but Christmas ought not to be an end in itself. When we think about God’s Kingdom, we are prompted to consider the consequences of following Christ. The Kingdom’s standards are, in fact, high, and there are expectations of each of us. The Gospels for the three weeks before Advent all describe some people being included at the banquet, or the master’s favour, or those commended in God’s eyes; and some people not being included. While this seems harsh, and we would like to think that God would include everyone, it becomes clear that those who are excluded are those who don’t care enough to look after themselves or never spare a thought for others – in other words, they are not participating in their own salvation.

So instead of giving in to Christmas Creep, focus on the things we can do to make necessary changes in our lives, care for others (and especially those in need), and remember that our faith is about preparing the world for Christ to be seen again, first and foremost in our own lives, and our community, and the world.

Today's weigh-in: 228 Creeping along.