“Ever-Rolling”

August 12th

Today, as I write this, it is August 7th , 2018. That is an absolute, fixed-in-time date. I don’t know when you’ll be reading or re-reading this. It might be August 12th, 2018, the intended publishing date, or August 12th, 2218, if people are still reading things by then. I don’t really know when (or if) these “Thoughts” will be read, but I do know that time will continue to flow without cease long after I’m done writing this week’s offering.
And there’s the rub. It’s August 7th, 2018 as I write this. I arrived here in Coldwater to start my ministry June 3rd, 2018, was inducted the same day, and haven’t looked back since then. Of course, it wasn’t even summer then. Now we’re pretty much coming to the end of that all-too-brief season. Time hasn’t just been flowing; it seems to have gushed out so quickly that it’s been a torrent of activity, a flood of adapting, learning, working, playing and generally trying to make the best of the summer warmth and long days.
The inevitable question arises: where hasthe time gone? How can it be approaching the end of summer when it seems like only yesterday we were freezing and lamenting how long the winter was and how slowly spring seemed to drag along. But it’s a question hardly worth asking. Time flows unceasingly, sometimes in an apparent rush to get to the next moment or day or season, sometimes so slowly that every passing second seems to take forever. But even those apparently never-moving hands on the clock are indeed making their way to the next tick or tock. Time does indeed flow like an ever-rolling stream, as the old hymn reminds us.
So, as I write this I’m aware that it’s getting close to 4:30, and I think, where has the time gone? Well, it’s gone into a Pastoral visit, a couple of chores, some office administration stuff, an interesting lunch-time conversation, catching up on the day’s news, a little prep-work for Sunday, writing this thing and generally living and working and serving God as best I can. That’s my particular ever-rolling stream, the flow of my life, the rapids and smooth waters that make up my moment-to-moment existence.
And time keeps on flowing. Summer is moving towards Autumn. Dinner time approaches for me. The curtain may be setting for someone. A new life is beginning. The ever-rolling stream moves on. Its flow is made up of countless moments of living, of doing, of being. Each moment is precious, a gift from the One who is beyond time. Be an active part of the flow. Don’t let the stream simply pass you by. Enjoy it. Celebrate it. Make the best of the your time within God’s ever-rolling stream.

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“Positivity”

August 5th

My wife, Lois, recently posted a picture of our daughter’s newly acquired dog with the idea of starting a positivity movement on Facebook. Hers is not the first effort to make things more cheerful on that particular bit of social media, and it won’t be the last. Being positive, whether it’s online or in other parts of life, seems to require some poking and prodding.
We humans are funny creatures that way. We get into moods. Sometimes those moods become almost a way of life for people; there are folks who are cheery, no matter what happens and those who are grumps every moment of of their lives.
While I try to be on the cheery side, I don’t mind the odd reminder to lighten up and be positive. Whether it’s by shamelessly posting the picture of a cute dog or just a word of encouragement, getting nudged towards a more positive outlook is a good thing.
When God created the universe and everything within it, we’re told that each stage of the process was marked by words to the effect of: “it was good”. Creation was meant as a positive thing; joy is our intended way of life. The sorrow and troubles we encounter, the negativity and unhappiness? They’re our own fault, the result of poor decision making that separates us from our Creator as we try to make it on our own.
That might sound simplistic; it might seem too easy to be positive and look on the bright side of life, but that’s what God wants for us. Our problem is that we don’t believe a God-centred life can transform us completely. So, we struggle on our own and need to be reminded of the beauty and goodness that is an inherent part of creation as a whole and we as individuals.
On a global scale, if each and every one of us were to love God and care for one another the way God cares for us, the world would be completely transformed. If that’s too big for you, then you can change your own bit of the world by doing your best to follow that simple prescription; it won’t take away every trace of pain or sorrow in your life, but it will make a big difference. Even better, by being more positive, loving and caring, you’ll make a difference in those around you; words and cute dog pictures can help, but there is no more effective way to inspire positivity than by being positive.
Creation is inherently good and beautiful. Our Creator is a being of love who called all that was created, including you, good. Celebrate the love with which you were created. Let your positivity reflect the goodness and beauty of the Creation of which you are a part.

“The Good Atheist”

July 29th

One morning, a Seminary student asked her Christ-like Mentor: “Professor, what must I do to get eternal life?
The professor replied: “What did you learn in Sunday School? What is most important thing Jesus asks His followers to do?”
“That you love God with everything you’ve got and to love your neighbour as deeply as Jesus loves you.”
The professor smiled: “Excellent! That’s how to live forever in God’s heart!”
Wanting to sound smart, the student pushed her Mentor: “but who, pray tell, is my neighbour?”
With a deep breath and deeper sigh, the professor told a little story.
“One day, a homeless woman was beaten to a bloody pulp. Then they stole her clothes to humiliate her even more. The cowards kicked her to the curb and left her there, lying sprawled across the sidewalk and her head in the ditch. They ran away laughing, without a care in the world.
A non-evangelical Christian rushing to his Squash game almost tripped over her naked body, but didn’t want to get involved, didn’t want to miss his court time, so he crossed the road to keep her out of eye-shot, praying that God would send someone to care for her soon.
An evangelical Christian ambling to her Bible study also nearly tripped on her, but, unsure of what she had done to deserve her beating, crossed the street to avoid being sullied by her sin. Thoughtfully, she prayed the sinner would be forgiven and saved, and thanked God she wasn’t nearly as sinful as her.
Then, an Atheist walking to work came to the homeless woman. Immediately dropping everything, she called 9-1-1. While waiting for the ambulance, she took off her skirt and top and draped them over the victim to keep her warm and sat down to hold her bloody hand. She gently comforted her until the EMTs took her to the hospital
Once the Atheist arrived at the hospital, she placed the victim in a private room, covering whatever costs that were beyond OHIP. She also left instructions with the caregivers to send all other bills to her, until she was fully healed. As the victim recovered, they became friends and she visited her every day. When she was released from hospital the Atheist went the extra mile to help her new friend get back on her feet.
Now, my tricky student, who was the Christ-honouring neighbour?”
She answered humbly: “The one who went out of her way to help the homeless woman.”
“Be just like her.” the Christ-like Mentor said.

“Political”

July 22nd

Politics have always been a contentious, fractious thing. We choose parties. We choose sides. We choose candidates. Yet at it’s root, politics is about us, we the people, a roughly unified whole that takes everyone into account.
Religion is about binding us to God. One of its possible meanings (there is no clear consensus regarding it’s origins or original definition) is “to re-tie”, so religion is an act of retying ourselves to our Creator.
Ultimately, politics and religion both have the best interest of “we the people” at heart. While religion points us to a larger picture that includes our Maker, politics keeps things on an earthly, more human level. As a result it’s often suggested that politics and religion don’t mix. After all, not everyone believes in God, or a supreme being. Given that truth, why should non-believers be saddled with things they don’t agree with? At the same time, why should believers be forced to go along with people that don’t share their beliefs?
I kind of agree with the sentiment. I don’t want to impose my faith on anybody. I’ll share it with them if they’re interested, but would never force them to see things the way I do. What I believe, however, at its core, involves more than a belief in God. As a follower of Jesus, I am interested in the well-being of others. Jesus call His followers to love others as we would be loved. Jesus calls them to care for others. In other words, I am interested in the well-being of people, and it doesn’t matter whether or not they believe in the same things I do.
For me, and people who follow Jesus’ way of life, religion shapes and informs our politics. Does a candidate work for the good of others? Does a party operate on the principle of loving others as we would be loved? Does our government promote justice and treat all of its citizens with care and respect? This is how my religion and beliefs play a role in politics. I don’t have to force God on other people. I don’t even have to bring God, or Jesus or the Holy Spirit or my role as a minister into the conversation. What I believe informs how I act. It’s that simple.
Religion and politics can and should mix for the person of faith. It isn’t a matter of what we say or promoting our religious beliefs. When we try to live as Jesus did, loving, serving and caring for family, friend and stranger alike we are political people, simply and naturally.

Who is my Samaritan?

While I come from a religious background, and this writing is based on that part of me, the context is actually beyond religion; it’s about being fully human, recognizing one another as equally weird and wonderful, and loving everyone as we ourselves would like to be loved. So, while I’m using a particular framework, it’s the resulting structure that matters more that the tools used to build it. Read on, if you dare!
In searching for the best possible life, a wise Jewish teacher once asked Jesus a simple question: “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”. The answer eventually boils down to loving God and one’s neighbour as oneself. That’s not really earth-shattering. It’s the Golden rule we learn as children. The teacher, however, challenges Jesus, asking who one’s neighbour might be? Jesus, ever the story-teller, tells of a man being robbed and left for dead. Two good Jewish people, a priest and a Levite, avoid the unidentified man completely. A third man, a Samaritan, is the only one who helps the victim, bending over backward to see that he’s well and truly cared for. There’s a problem, however: Samaritans are virtual scum-of-the-earth to a devout, faithful Jew. But it’s a scum-of-the-earth Samaritan who lives out the Golden rule; it’s the one every Jew hates that upstages the good Jewish priest and Levite and proves to be the kind of neighbour that will get invited into God’s eternal-life neighbourhood. (read the whole story here, if you’d like) Whether or not you believe in God or Jesus, the point of Jesus’ story is universal: being a truly good neighbour isn’t a question of one’s title or place in society; a good neighbour is the one that does the right thing, caring for another even at great personal risk or expense.
End of story, right? We all want to be that person, the one that will be called a good neighbour, who will go above and beyond to help the victim left for dead in the middle of the street, even if it’s expensive and inconvenient. It’s the good and right thing to do.
But there’s more to the story, because Jesus doesn’t just point out who the true neighbour is. According to Bruxy Cavey, in his book,The End Of Religion, this story not only points us to the good within us; it can also help us plunge the depths of our inner darkness so that we might see who we treat as the despised Samaritan.To that end, Bruxy Cavey asks “Who is a “Samaritan” to you?”.

The question is a challenge. It’s not “who is the neighbour you would help?” It’s “who is the one that you would go out of your way to avoid?” The Samaritans in Jesus’ day were the “other”, a people despised and rejected by the Jews for religious, political and historical reasons. If the Jewish Levite or priest in Jesus’ story had known the victim was a Samaritan, they probably would have gone over to him and kicked sand in his face or spat on him. Dirty Samaritan!
But the victim is of unknown origins and background. It’s a dirty, hated Samaritan that turns out to be the hero, which would have truly irritated the Jewish man that had asked Jesus for advice.

Cavey invites us to acknowledge who the irritating Samaritan(s) is(are) in our lives. In doing so, he doesn’t simply ask a simple question; he goes deeper, forcing the reader to really look into themselves.

He writes:

“not in the sense of being a “Good Samaritan,” but just a Samaritan, as the term would have meant to a first-century Jew? In other words, to whom do you feel superior?
Whom do you secretly (or not so secretly) despise? Try to answer with brutal self-searching honesty.”

Then, to ease the task of actually having to speak the names or possibilities for ourselves, Cavey offers helpfully:

“Even if you do not want to feel superior to these people, ask yourself if you do feel superior to:
Liberals☜                                                         ☞Conservatives
Rich people☜                                                   ☞Poor people
Politicians☜                                                    ☞Police officers
Criminals☜                                                     ☞Lawyers
Physically challenged people☜                 ☞Physically superior people
Mentally challenged people☜                     ☞Mentally superior people
Garbage collectors☜                                     ☞Golfers
Truck drivers☜                                               ☞Taxi drivers
Slow drivers☜                                                 ☞Scientists
Socialists☜                                                        ☞Capitalists
Welfare recipients☜                                      ☞Public servants
Telemarketers☜                                              ☞Televangelists
Feminists☜                                                       ☞Traditionalists
Homemakers☜                                                ☞Home wreckers
Homosexuals☜                                               ☞Heterosexuals
Transsexuals☜                                               ☞Metrosexuals
Students☜                                                        ☞Teachers
Street people☜                                                ☞Sales people
Religious people☜                                          ☞Atheists
Blacks☜                                                             ☞Whites
Reds☜                                                                ☞Yellows
Blondes☜                                                          ☞Brunettes
Jews☜                                                                 ☞Arabs
Men☜                                                                  ☞Women
Adults☜                                                             ☞Children
Adult children☜                                              ☞Childish adults
Therapists☜                                                      ☞People who are in therapy
People who should be in therapy☜           ☞People who put you in therapy
Attractive people☜                                         ☞Ugly people
Famous people☜                                             ☞Family members
Fat people☜                                                      ☞Skinny people
Dog people☜                                                     ☞Cat people
Vegetarians☜                                                   ☞Omnivores
Conformists☜                                                  ☞Anarchists
Hippies☜                                                            ☞Yuppies
Virgins☜                                                             ☞Sooo-not-virgins
People who drink☜                                         ☞People who don’t drink
People who drive you to drink☜                 ☞People who like country music
People who like Monty Python☜                 ☞People who don’t like Monty Python”

When I read this, I felt challenged to look deep into my own personal “Samaritan List”; at the same time, I was reminded of the brilliant welcoming statement authored by the good people at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Stittsville, Ontario.

Here it is in full:
“Welcome to St. Andrew’s!
We extend a special welcome to those who are single, married, divorced, lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, trans-gender, trans-sexual, a-sexual, pan-sexual, cisgender, filthy rich, dirt poor, “ne parle pas Anglais” or have no idea what most of those terms mean.
We extend a special welcome to those who have crying babies or are crying new-borns, skinny as a rail or could afford to lose a few pounds.
We welcome you if you can sing like Taylor Swift or if you can’t carry a note in a bucket. You’re welcome here if you’re “just browsing,” just woke up or just got out of jail. We don’t care if you’re more Catholic than the Pope, or haven’t been in church since little Joey’s Baptism.
We extend a special welcome to those who are over 60 but not grown up yet, and to teenagers who are growing up too fast.
We welcome soccer dads, hockey moms, starving artists, tree-huggers, latte-sippers, vegetarians, junk-food eaters, students, teachers and even guidance counsellors.
We welcome those who are in recovery or still addicted.
We welcome you if you’re having problems or you’re down in the dumps or if you don’t like “organized religion”… we’ve been there too.
If you blew all your offering money at the casino in Hull, you’re still welcome here.
We offer a special welcome to those who think the earth is flat, work too hard, don’t work, can’t spell, or are here just because mom or grandma is in town and wanted to go to church.
We welcome those who are inked, pierced cut or all the above.
We offer a special welcome to those who could use a prayer right now, had religion shoved down your throat as a kid or got lost in traffic and wound up here by mistake.
We welcome tourists, seekers and doubters, bleeding hearts … and YOU!
Thanks to Marlene and her home church, the St. Andrew’s Stittsville Youth Group and Frederick Banting Alternative High School Diversity Group for helping to craft this welcome and explaining the meaning of all these terms to the minister!”
In this affirming, all-inclusive and incisive statement, St. Andrew’s, Stittsville turns our personal Samaritan revealed through Bruxy Cavey’s insightful exercise into the most desired and beloved of all people. The question I have, in response, is: are we willing to peer deeply into our prejudice and bias in order to identify those to whom we feel superior, or despise, or generally reject simply because they are not within our comfort zone? To Christians, I ask: Can we shine the light of Christ into the darkest part of our hearts so that we can love our secret Samaritan as much as God loves us? For those of you who have no particular interest in Jesus, the question boils down to this: Are you willing, ready and able to love your neighbour as yourself, even if she is one of those personal Samaritans you identified earlier on?

“Give”

July 15th

Least favourite words for most Ministers: “I didn’t get anything out of your Sermon/Message/Worship/Service”. I get it. I’ve been to lots of movies, plays or other events in which the performance was flat or unexceptional, or, on rare occasions, everything but awful. So, sure, there are times when I or my colleagues leading worship have off days and the Sunday morning experience is nothing to write home about.
But, that’s not often the case. Most of the time we’ve prepared sufficiently, prayed adequately, and offered the best God has equipped us to offer. So where does the disjoint between what’s offered and what’s received arise? Why does a Pastor’s best offering leave a worshiper totally flat? In order to answer that question, there’s a second question that some of your more daring minister-types ask directly, and that most of us just offer silently in the back of our minds. Here’s how that chat goes: Parisioner: “(insert Minister’s name here), I just didn’t get anything out of your Message today.” Minister: “(intert Parishioner’s name here) I’m sorry to hear that; what did you put into worship this morning?”
When we come to worship it’s never a question of what we get out of the experience. Even the most polished and perfectly executed Sunday morning (or whenever) worship service is an gift to God offered by everyone there, from the lady preaching the message to the sound-tech making her sound good. Priest and parishioner alike give something to God, whether it’s leadership or a word of praise. Sure, sometimes we come to worship empty (yes, even ministers…) and need to be fed, or flat broke with nothing to put in the collection plate, but the simple fact of showing up and being there is a beautiful gift, a sacred offering to our Creator. That’s how worship works: we are there to praise and glorify our Maker, to honour the loving God who gives us life, magnify the Holy Spirit, to fall before Jesus’ feet as broken as we are so we can thank Him for all He has given us.
Worship can indeed feed and bless us. For worship leaders, being able to offer their gifts and talents to God in a worshipful way is it’s own reward. For folks in the pews, the message and music and prayers are a can be a source of inspiration and encouragement. But for leader and pew-occupier alike you only get out of it what you put into it. It doesn’t have to be much: an open heart; a worshipful attitude; just showing up for God’s sake. And whatever you put in, no matter how small, our loving God will receive as a blessed treasure.

“Followers”

July 8th

I am a Minister of Word and Sacrament within the Presbyterian Church in Canada. That’s my vocation, my calling. It’s not a job; it’s a life; God has called me to serve His or Her children. Of course, you probably know that I am also a follower of Jesus. That’s what the Presbyterian Church in Canada is all about; it is a particular (and some might say peculiar) way of following Jesus that gets its title from the way we govern our denomination. A Presbuterous is an Elder, and it’s through Elders (Teaching, like myself, or Ruling, who form the Session of every congregation) that we make our decisions and generally organize our church.
Yay. Wonderful. But, there’s a problem. You see, calling myself a Presbyterian masks my primary calling as a Christian. It’s the same with being Roman Catholic, or Baptist, Pentecostal, Orthodox or just about any denominational name we might adopt. The Nazarenes get close, as they point to Jesus’ origins, but they miss out because it’s a reference for those in the know. The Christadelphians have a great name, maybe one of the best, because it puts Christ right out in front, and adds a suffix that means brothers, so that their title tells us right away that they are a family of Christians.
Why does it matter? What difference does it make if I call myself a Presbyterian even if I have tell folks who don’t know what that means that I’m basically a follower of Jesus who also follows a particular set of rules? Well, while I’m a proud and happy Presbyterian, that role must be secondary to my calling as one who serves Jesus. Same thing with Roman Catholics, Baptists, Pentecostals or whatever other denomination one might belong to; the organziation and style must be secondary to the following Jesus aspect. Nothing can get in the way of being His brothers and sisters, His hands and feet and heart and soul working and loving for the glory of God.
So, here’s the challenge for all of us who belong to denominations that don’t explicitly state that they are followers of Jesus. We have to work extra hard to let Christ be revealed through us. And we have to work even harder to make sure that the regulations and traditions of our particular faith systems don’t get in the way of serving Jesus. Being a Minister of Word and Sacrament within the Presbyterian Church in Canada suits me fine. It provides me with a structure and congregation within which I can live out my calling to serve God’s people. But I am, first and foremost, a simple follower of Jesus, and I’m doing my best to honour and share the love Jesus has shown me, and to all humanity. How about you? Are you known by the denomination to which you belong, or by the way you follow Jesus?