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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.

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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.

 

Is it about you?

Last night, at All Saints Anglican Cathedral in Edmonton, Bishop Jane Alexander ordained three people to the priesthood and seven (!) to the diaconate. If I’m not mistaken, it was the largest ordination in this Diocese since at least 1986. The Cathedral was almost full, and there was a large turnout of the diocesan clergy. Some of us had speculated about how long the liturgy would take, and we were agreeably surprised when it came in at about 2 1/4 hours. I didn’t hang around too long afterward.  Bun fights in tight spaces make me a bit anxious, and my hearing issues (hypersensitivity to crowd sound at voice range) make it difficult to function in that kind of noisy environment. Nonetheless, I did have time to greet one of the ordinands, a person with whom I have had a long and special relationship.

I don’t ever recall being at an ordination service for so many people. Most of the ordinations I participated in during my time in the Diocese of Brandon were for individuals. I have no problem with the church celebrating the new ministry of a person who has been raised up for ordination. What has often troubled me is that these celebrations often become about the individual. Ordination should not be about a person having “made it,” but about the church renewing its leadership.

Last night’s service filled me with joy. I knew three of the ten ordinands personally, one better than the other two, but that’s not really the point. I saw ten (count ’em – 10!) people being affirmed in ministries that we prayed would be of benefit to the church and the world. It wasn’t about any one of them, but about the church engaged in the continuous and joyful renewal of its leadership. It was wonderful! I give thanks for the privilege of being present for all ten, even if seven of them were previously totally unknown to me except as names on a list.

On Holy Cross Day, our preacher recalled for us the love displayed and exemplified by Christ’s death on the cross. It doesn’t make sense to some people, but that’s okay. The ten who were ordained last night will share in proclaiming that truth, in their lives and their ministries. (Is there really any difference?)

Today, I welcome three people to the fellowship of the Holy Priesthood and seven people to the company of Deacons. May they continue to proclaim the love of God at all times and all places.

Finally my question to anyone who may be considering ordination in the church. Is your call about what YOU want to do, or about what GOD needs in the world. Is it about the church (God’s people) or about you? I pray that you may be able to answer that question prayerfully and honestly.

Broken-hearted, but prayerful

I have been watching the news this past week with a growing heaviness of heart. Tensions between the USA and North Korea have escalated. Political divisions in Venezuela have increased. Questions about the use of Canadian-supplied military vehicles in Saudi Arabia have come to the fore.

And this weekend? Charlottesville, a name which will surely become enshrined in popular history like the names of Selma, Soweto, and so many other places where the fight for human rights has been fought.

Charlottesville. The home of Thomas Jefferson, the site of the University of Virginia, a small, otherwise unnotable city in the west of the state of Virginia, has become this weekend the site of one of the most egregious battles in recent years. The origin: white supremacists moved against the removal of a statue of  Robert E. Lee, the most important military leader of the Confederacy in the US Civil War. Lee certainly deserves some credit in the realm of military leaders. Without his tactical genius, the Civil War would probably have been over long before it actually ended.

Lee was a great general. Few would dispute that. But many today would dispute the morality of the cause for which he fought. It is clear to me and many others that the Civil War was fought to establish the southern states’ right to continue the practice of slavery. That fact, if no other, discredits the cause of those who would enshrine the memory of Gen. Lee. (For a more detailed analysis of Lee’s career, see this article from the Atlantic.)

What happened this weekend? I can only repeat what I have seen in a variety of news media. One group gathered to protest the removal of Lee’s statue. They marched with torches and slogans reminiscent of ones used by Hitler’s supporters in the ’30’s. Another group gathered to oppose the first group’s protest. There were clashes between the two groups, with some presence of police, whose actions are a matter of dispute. Clergy of many denominations marched silently to call all to a peaceful solution, respecting the rights of all people. Then, the next day, as people continued to demonstrate for their various points of view, a car was driven into a group of people who had gathered to promote the equality of all people. A woman was killed and many others were injured.

Those are fact as I understand them. I stand to be corrected if I have made any egregious errors. Nonetheless, the fact remains that a woman (#HeatherHeyer) who had worked all her life to promote the equality of all people under the law has been killed for her dedication to what she understood to be the purpose of her country: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” (from the US Declaration of Independence).

It breaks my heart that the nation to which my own country has the closest ties has descended to such depths that a person who dedicated her life to the founding principles of that nation could be killed for simply standing up for those principles.

As the United States of America works through this most grievous incident, it is my prayer that my country of Canada and every other country may come to see that racial, religious, ethnic, and all other divisions must be overcome, and that may all of us may live in peace, unity, and concord.

My heart is broken for the people of the USA. May you come to know God’s peace in all your doings.

4 years — and not counting

number4_PNG15034Tomorrow is the 4th anniversary of my retirement. I left my last parish on June 23, 2013, taking 5 weeks of accumulated vacation time before the mandated date: the first day of the month following one’s 65th birthday. So, August 1 is the date I left the employ of the church and began collecting the various pensions that continue to support me and my wife. Four years have gone by remarkably quickly, although as I look back, the first one seemed very long. I wasn’t really ready to quit, plus I had some “unfinished business.” Some time into the second year, I realized I had finally let go of the stuff that had been occupying my mind, and I was able to relax and enjoy my freedom.

The freedom of the retired person is the freedom to choose how you’re going to spend each day. I can listen to the traffic reports most mornings, and feel grateful that I don’t have to be anywhere in particular. The clock isn’t running, and the telephone is no longer my master. Not that I’m sitting around doing nothing — I have several activities I have chosen to do — but it’s my choice, not an employer’s dictates.

I am grateful to be in good health. To be sure, I’m a step or two slower than I used to be, and I do have the occasional “senior moment,” but my doctor said that everything looked good after my last physical.

Four years into retirement, and I’m enjoying myself. Again, it’s not that there weren’t times of great enjoyment in my time in parish ministry, but there were also some very “interesting times,” which I would not choose for myself (or anyone else for that matter). I don’t need to dwell on those experiences again.

For the moment, I’m as busy as I want to be. There’s plenty of time to do crossword puzzles, read novels, and play hearts online. I’ve been thinking about picking up my guitar again after a long hiatus. There are projects still waiting for me to get to them — digitizing many of my 300+ LP’s, scanning and saving many of my film-based photos. There’s over 10,000 of those, so it’s a big job just deciding what to preserve. I think about it from time to time, but it should be done: they hold a lot of stories. When my mother died, many of her stories died with her. Her photo albums had very few captions.

I have some commitments outside the house: the condo board, two choirs, Education for Ministry, occasional Sunday supply at other churches, Thursday morning study group at Holy Trinity. Plenty! And all of my own choosing.

Life is good. Thanks be to God.

round tuit

 

 

God bless my country?

I live in Canada. Tomorrow, July 1, is our national holiday, Canada Day, the day when we celebrate the inauguration of the Confederation that is still our defining constitutional reality. It’s 150 years since our country became a defined national entity. There will be parties tomorrow, and we will participate in them, with joy and thanksgiving. This is a wonderful country.

And yet….

As I write, members of our country’s First Nations are protesting on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, erecting a teepee as a sign of “reoccupation” of the land on which the seat of our government stands. They are not celebrating “Canada 150” in anything like the way we settlers are.

I am an immigrant. My passport declares my place of birth to be “Richmond UK,” at that time in County Surrey, and now a part of Greater London. My family came to Canada in the early 50’s, in the great exodus of medical doctors that happened after the introduction of Britain’s National Health Service. Our life in Canada was challenging for my parents, far away from family and the familiarity of home territory. Nonetheless, they made a firm decision to stay here, to put down roots, and to build a life for their family. We use to sit around the dinner table and hear stories of the old country, but on one occasion I remember my father saying that he was so glad he had brought his family to this country. He talked about it as if it was the promised land — and very likely for him it was just that.

I learned some years later that he had a choice of jobs when he left the UK. Instead of Canada, we could have ended up either in the USA or South Africa. Events of the past quarter-century have made me very glad that he chose Canada.

And yet — as the current events in Ottawa make very clear — this is not a perfect country. I came to Canada aged not quite four, and have had a good life here. Nonetheless, I am very conscious that what I enjoy is not enjoyed by many others, and that the original inhabitants of this land have paid a heavy price for the blessings which I have received. I am in their debt.

This is a wonderful country: we have incredible landscapes, rich resources, a wealth of great people. But we have built a lot of what we have on the backs of the people who were here before us, and who do not share much of the bounty of the land we now call Canada.

I celebrate my country. I give thanks for the people who have made it what it is, knowing that those people are both indigenous and settlers. I pray that the years to come may continue to be a time of reconciliation between our peoples; and that the original inhabitants of Turtle Island may find a full role in the unfolding of our country’s future.

No nation is perfect. We all have stains on our history, which we cannot remove. What we can do is acknowledge our part in inheriting those stains, and continue to work towards reconciliation between those who are historical enemies.

God has blessed this country richly. May all of its peoples come to rejoice in our mutual blessings, and so help to build God’s Kingdom in this place

Honesty isn’t the best policy…

It’s the only policy.

I’m in my first year on my condo board. I said when I retired and we moved in here that I would never do this: condo boards deal mainly with finances, building issues, and complaints, the three aspects of church vestries that I found most tiresome. The missional aspect of church life helps to put these matters in some perspective. Not so in a condominium.

Nonetheless, I found myself drawn to this service, in part because I felt that things were not altogether right in how our building was being run. Somewhat to my surprise, I find I’m enjoying the work, or I was, until this week. Back-story: earlier this year we embarked on a project to revitalize a common lounge by the main entrance. After some months, and an expenditure of a reasonable but not huge amount of money, the project was finished, and many people commented on how much better it looked now. But — boom! — we received a package of 11 letters of complaint at this past week’s meeting. The writers didn’t like what was done, and they didn’t like the way it was done. I can accept that some mistakes were made. I also know that you can’t please everyone in matters of taste. People are entitled to their opinions, and if some feelings were hurt, as seems to be the case, some kind of apology could be made.

Dear_Sir_formal_letter_iStock_000004683049XSmallExcept…

Only one of the letters was signed: the property manager had removed the other signatures at the writers’ request. They apparently didn’t want to be open to recriminations, wanting to keep the building peaceful. For me, this just makes things less peaceful, because anonymous complaints make any kind of meaningful response and reconciliation impossible. It’s a matter of community building, which requires openness, honesty, and taking responsibility for one’s own actions and feelings.

In one parish where I served as Rector, we had a spate of critical anonymous letters, very often placed in the collection plate. They bothered me mightily until I realized that I could not respond to them without being in dialogue with the writers. The trouble was less the (sometimes valid) content  than the one-sidedness of the process. I announced a policy of refusing to acknowledge anonymous communications, inviting people who had concerns to come and see me in person. Over the next several months, I had a number of very worthwhile conversations with parishioners. The dishonest communications stopped and the parish never looked back. We discovered the benefits of openness and honesty.

Why would I call anonymous letters dishonest? Simply because they allow the writer to hide behind a veil, covering up any other matters that might pertain to it. The letter may be the truth, but there is no way of knowing if it’s either the whole truth or nothing but the truth. Lies of omission disrespect the recipient, and are every bit as dishonest as lies of commission.

In another parish, I encountered a more straightforward kind of dishonesty. A parishioner had donated a couple of buckets of soup for a church lunch. Somehow, someone had set them on the back steps, where they were forgotten for long enough that they went rotten, ruining the ice-cream pails they came in. A group of people came to me to ask what they should do. What should they tell the donor, who had a sharp tongue and a habit of holding grudges? They wanted a plausible story which would save everyone’s face, but they were rather taken aback when I suggested they simply tell the truth and suffer the consequences.

It worked. The doPrintnor was annoyed about the waste of her gift, and also about the loss of her pails, but the fact that her friends gave her the respect of the truth served to smooth the waters. Trust had been damaged, but if a lie had been told, further trust would have become impossible.
In the church, even more than in a condominium, we are concerned about the building of community. Let’s remember that true community can only be built on trust, and trust can only be built on honesty. And, of course, dishonesty destroys trust.

Jesus said “…you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” (John 8:32)

 

 

 

On the journey to…

A sermon this morning on Genesis 12:1-4a (the call of Abram) started me thinking about various times in my life I have stepped out of what might be expected, and gone where the call has led.

The first was not of my own volition, but my parents’. When I was only three years old, they decided to pull up roots in England and transplant our family to Canada. We settled in Drumheller, Alberta, a far cry from the great metropolis of London where I was born. I don’t know exactly how my parents felt about it at the time, but it became clear over the years that being so far from family and old friends was difficult for both of them, especially my mother. My early years in this country were marked by a sense of being “not quite at home,” a feeling that has stayed with me throughout my life.

The second such event came when I left teaching school to return to Edmonton, and to do… I wasn’t quite sure what! All my spouse and I knew was that we couldn’t stay where we were, and the opportunities were far greater in the city where we had both attended University. Some family members were horrified that I would give a seemingly secure and respectable job to search for something different.

That move led to a graduate degree, a job with our Provincial Government, and us settling down as a family. But God had other ideas. After nine years in that job, we again pulled up stakes and left for Saskatoon for me to enter theological college. I had no real idea where this was leading, except for the conviction that I was called to go down this road.

The road led to ordination and the call to be the pastor of a small-town parish. It was a great adventure, but not without its problems. After a few years there, I moved on to a suburban parish, where I stayed almost thirteen years. In time, I felt the need to move on: I accepted a call to become Dean and Rector of St. Matthew’s Cathedral, Brandon, Manitoba.

This was another move into the unknown: a new parish, a new city, a new province, and a new diocese. I didn’t realize at the time just how big a move this would be. Local customs are different, even at the relatively small remove of a couple of Canadian provinces. But we persisted, through some great years, and some not-so-great, until my retirement in 2013.

Each one of those moves required a measure of faith. In every case, I had the sense that I was going where I had to go, except perhaps the first one, when I had no choice in the matter.

In two of the places where I served the Church, I had conversations with people whose whole lives had been centered on that place. Many of them were puzzled why I might want to live somewhere else: “[town] has everything a person needs.” That may have been true, but going elsewhere was not contingent upon needs, but upon a call, just as Abram heard God’s call to leave home and family and travel to “a land which I will show you.”

I have been on this journey all my life, and now God has brought me to a place where I might reasonably hope to live out my days in peace and reasonable comfort. Sometimes, though, I find myself wondering…