Sunday, November 29, 2009

Happy Holidays!!

The following was an article I wrote for the Trident paper this past September:

Happy Holidays!

Merry Easter?! or something like that.

Each morning from August 17 to 21, a group of children and volunteers gathered at Shearwater Chapel to take part in our 2009 vacation bible school (VBS). Our theme this year was “Holy Holidays!” and we took time each day to learn about and celebrate some of the more famous (and
infamous) holidays of the Christian year: Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving, Valentine’s and Pentecost.

That got me thinking. It is an important part of human nature to commemorate events, from birthdays to harvest days, from national holidays to wedding anniversaries from great military
victories to days of solemn remembrance. These annual events aren’t just celebrated for their own sake; however, the act of remembering is important. The word remember is vital here. By remembering the most significant moments of our history we remember who we are and what is most important to us.

A helpful journaling exercise I have used from time to time when feeling a little out-of-touch or overwhelmed is called Stepping Stones. It simply involves taking one aspect of your life and naming the six or seven most important events that define it; for example, in my relationship with my son, William, the stepping stones might include: A positive pregnancy test, pre-natal
classes, William’s birth, first steps, first day of school, tucking him into bed last night. After naming each stone you can then take the time to write some reflections on each. You will be amazed at what you can remember. The final result is to put things into focus and perspective—to re-member yourself and what is really important.

Are there aspects of your life which feel unfocused, relationships that are strained, goals that seem overwhelming? Make some stepping stones, remember yourself, and celebrate the holy days of your life.

The Dance of Life

The following is an article I wrote for the Trident paper this past Easter:

The Dance of Life

Easter is a time to celebrate new life and new hope. For the ancient and modern Jews, who celebrate Passover at this time of year, it is a reminder of how the angel of death passed over their doorways in Egypt to finally free them from slavery and give them new lives in a promised land... you remember, from the story of Moses? For Christians it is expressed in the story of Jesus’death and resurrection—a resurrection which brings new life to all who believe. For the ancient Celts, from whom we get the word Easter, it is the time of year to witness the new life bursting forth after the cold darkness of winter.

But what if I’m having difficulty seeing new life right now? What if there seems to be a lot of death and dying and loss around me? From funerals to memorials, from suicides attempted to suicides completed, from grief at home to deaths overseas... new life can seem a long way off. There is no easy answer, so I warn you, don’t read any further unless you’re willing to actively seek the answer yourself... with a little guidance. There is a saying of which I am very fond—”Don’t give a sword to a person who can’t dance.” Though some people are confused at first by this saying, its meaning is really quite simple. The sword refers to anything of importance that we must wield or carry in this life. It can mean our jobs, it can mean our responsibilities towards family, friends, or community. For those of us in uniform it most certainly refers to the tools of life and death we wield on behalf of our nation. The dance, on the other hand, has no deeper meaning. It simply poses the question, in the light of the sword you carry, can you dance? Can you laugh? Can you find joy?

The warning inherent in this saying is that we must find the joy, the hope and dare I say new life in the midst of our burdens—otherwise, why bother?
So (at least for a little while this Easter season) slip off your shiny oxfords, your glossy parade boots or your dusty Goretex boots and take the time to remember what is really important... and dance.
“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.” from Ecclesiastes 3:1-8.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Gentle Jesus – Meek and Mild?

I’ve been struggling with a question, an idea, a challenge which was shared during a meeting earlier this past week.

“Is servanthood really a good model for Christian Leadership?”

As an ordained priest within the Anglican Church of Canada I have often been reminded that my life is one defined by ‘service.’ During my time at seminary I gained deep insight into my gifts for ministry through prayerful study of Isaiah’s image of the ‘Suffering Servant.’ As a Chaplain within the Canadian Forces I have embraced the Branch motto – Called to Serve.

So, as you can well imagine, a question challenging the effectiveness of the model of servant ministry took me completely off guard. Though further comments went on to highlight the models of ‘friendship’ and ‘mentoring’ – two very noble models – I still felt my cherished ideas of ‘servant ministry’ were being unfairly treated in some way…but I could think of nothing to say. That was until I read this Sunday gospel reading and was reminded that Jesus’ ministry was itself often marked by moments when his actions and deeds made is clear that he refused to be treated like a servant – like a slave.

Let’s be clear here. ‘Servant’ and ‘Servanthood,’ as they appear in our politically correct versions of the Scriptures are really nothing more than more thinly veiled references to ‘slave’ and ‘slavery.’ Slaves are, by definition, subservient, passive, and less-than-human commodities. Sounds kind of harsh, doesn’t it? But that’s the whole idea. Slavery is a cultural method of devaluing people so that they do as they are told, when they’re told and think of themselves as a lesser order of being than those whom they serve.

If Jesus is our ultimate model for ministry, especially for those of us in positions of leadership within the church, we must ask ourselves whether this is the example he has set for us.

There is a very popular image of Jesus out there (which I’ve heard called the ‘Florida Jesus’) who appears in gentle, softened colours, long, blonde hair and large doe-like eyes. This image of Jesus seems to be a visual expression of “Gentle Jesus, Meek and Mild” – one of Charles Wesley’s least inspiring compositions. This Florida-Jesus looks like he might cry if you looked at him the wrong way. Is this the Lord of Lords and King of Kings? Is this the model to which we should aspire? I sure as hell hope not.

Let’s get back to our gospel reading.

In order for us to appreciate the full significant of what is going on in today’s gospel reading, we need to remember that Pilate was THE presence of Caesar in Palestine – the wielding all the power and authority of a man who considered himself a god. Pilate was a ruthless military leader and governor who once massacred an entire crowd – men, women and children- when they protested against one of his judgments. It is in front of this man, in his Judgment Hall, surrounded by his soldiers that Jesus is questioned.

“Are you the King of the Jews?” Pilate asks.

Does gentle Jesus, meek and mild, take the stance of a slave before his master? No. Jesus stands before the most powerful man in Palestine and challenges him. Basically, what Jesus asks is, “Is that your question or did someone else put those words in your mouth?” Wow! Jesus does not bow before Pilate, but instead does what he always does when he encounters someone – he teaches, he challenges and he invites him to listen to him.

A slave is subservient, putting the will of others first. Jesus stands on equal footing before Pile, challenging him to talk to him as an equal.

Are we called to be people-pleasers or example-setters? One way is the path to slavery and the other the way of the king.

A slave is passive, always being told what to do and waiting for others to lead the way. Jesus listens with great compassion to all who would engage him (including Pilate), but he is never told what to do. He makes his own decisions and takes the lead.

Are we called to be passive and reactionary or engaging decision-makers? One way is the path to slavery and the other the way of the king.

Slave sees themselves as less that those whom they serve. This attitude is often justified in the church today through a gross misinterpretation of Jesus’ sayings about the first being last, the last being first, and the greatest of all being the least and servant of all. Jesus’ kingdom – the great hope which we celebrate Sunday – doesn’t just flip everyone’s lives and positions in society upside down. Jesus is actually the great level-er. When the scriptures speak of mountains being brought low and valleys lifted up we are invited to see a great plain – an image of the revelation that we are all on the same level in the eyes of God. Sure the powerful will be brought low and the lowly lifted up…but we all meet in the same place. No one is worth less or more than any other person. The sad reality in our world is that some do take this misinterpretation very seriously. There are countless numbers of people who suffer abuse and degradation and who allow others to push them around and use them because they believe that this is what God demands of them.

Jesus’ ministry is filled with moments when he through word and deed contradicts this idea. He touches lepers, he speaks with women, he eats with tax collectors and in today’s gospel he looks Pilate in the eye and holds his ground. He lifted up the lowly and treated with respect and brought down Pilate to the level of a carpenter’s son.

Are we more or less worthy than the person sitting next to us? Or are we a people who work towards the building of a kingdom where each person in valued as an equal child of God? One way is the path to slavery and the other the way of the king.

Let me go back to the idea of ‘servanthood’ one more time, though, because I still feel there is a place for it; namely, in our relationship with God.

The only person to whom we are called to be slaves is God. When we surrender our lives to the God who loved us into being and walks with us though the journey of life, we need not be slaves to anyone or anything anymore. We simply claim our place as children of the Most High, fellow citizens in the Kingdom of God. Amen.