Jul 052016

believeRecently, I attended an informal gathering of clergy that formed to ask ourselves one question: Do you believe in God? The reason we did this is because, in case you missed it, one of my ministry colleagues who self-identifies as an atheist recently claimed on a national news broadcast that over half of United Church ministers don’t believe in a “theistic, supernatural” God. In response, another of my ministry colleagues devised a survey to test that claim.

Remarkably, over half of the currently serving ministers in our church responded (which in survey/statistics land is a very large sampling). The short answer is that we are not a godless bunch of heathens! Of those who responded 95% said they believed in God. (I wonder what the other 5% believe?)
But, (and yes, there’s always a but) the overwhelming message received was that it depends on what you mean by “God.”
Definitions matter.
A lot!

What does theistic mean?
What does supernatural mean?
What does interventionist mean?
What does atheist mean?

Can two people have a conversation and use the same words but mean something entirely different? Yes they can!
Does that mean we should stop talking? No, it means we should talk more, and more importantly listen more!

So we got together and shared with one another our understandings of God. We talked, we listened, we learned. I didn’t convince anyone that my way of seeing things was right, but that was never the point. The point was to engage in the dialogue. The point was to wrestle with images and ideas to help us grow.

I encourage you to join the conversation. Here’s how you should start.

Close your eyes, hold your palms open, take a couple of deep breaths, smile, and savour the moment. That is your definition of God! Putting it into words is pretty much impossible, but it is good to try. Be humble, be patient, and be gentle with one another in your conversations, because their words are just as inadequate as yours are. It isn’t easy to do, but it’s very important for our faith journeys. It has been said that people would rather talk about their sex lives or their finances than they would talk about God! Well, whatever gets the conversation started! 🙂

As you spend your summer resting, relaxing, and recreating spend some time pondering what you think about God, and be on the lookout for people to share with. We in the United Church have a reputation for being pretty quiet about God – so much so that some people think we don’t believe in much of anything. You and I know that’s not true. And it’s up to us to change the perception.

 Posted by at 10:40 am
Jul 012016

jesus-textingThe other night I was sitting at home after a long and eventful day of ministry, the dishes were done, the dog was walked, I found a movie to watch, and I had just taken the first sip of a glass of wine when *bzzz* my phone goes off. It was a text message that said, “Are you on your way?” I had completely forgot about a meeting. Happily, I live close enough that I was able to get there quickly.

But it led me to thinking about “noticing” and how hard it is to stay mindful. I go on and on in my preaching and teaching about sensing and savouring God’s Presence, about being mindful, about noticing the sacredness of every moment – surely God is in this place and every place! – we just need to notice. I absolutely knew about that meeting. I talked to people during the day about having to come back for it that night. I was fully mindful of it – until I wasn’t.

Sometimes we just need a nudge to bring us back into awareness. If only Jesus had a cell phone!

 Posted by at 2:07 pm
Jun 262016

pray-open-hands-sunOne of the big changes the Church is discerning is whether to call all forms of pastoral leadership “ordered.” Some leaders argue that since they are functioning as ministers they ought to be recognized as such, including using the honorific “Reverend.” Here’s what I wish we’d do instead.

The professor I had for a class all about “Wonder” had a coffee mug which declared ministry to be an “odd and wondrous vocation.” I believe we would be even better served to see ministry as an “awed and wondrous vocation!” I think that those of us who carry the mantle of pastoral ministry leadership ought to hold much less firmly to our title of “reverend” and instead embrace a related title – reverent. I am certainly not “entitled to be revered” because of my pastoral calling, however I definitely do aspire to be “marked by, feeling, and expressing reverence.”

I recently got my business cards updated with the title “Rev. Dr.” I hope when people read that they know that I intend it to say the Reverent Dr. Larry Doyle! Authentically deserving such a title would be…wonderful. And if we all embraced being more reverent we wouldn’t care much whether anyone ever called us reverend.

My prayer is that you too will live and be known as the reverent (your name here)!

 Posted by at 12:41 pm
Jun 202016

I reached into my bedside table drawer Monday morning and found my rainbow wristband and put it on. It’s a very small gesture, but I just felt like I had to do something. Thoughts and prayers are a good start, and supportive gestures like wearing wristbands or attending a vigil are helpful, and maybe advocacy for laws or initiatives are a good response, but when faced with such hate and horror nothing seems to be enough. Then the blame game starts.
It’s the gun culture.rainbow-wristband
It’s extremism.
It’s Islam.
It’s religion.
It’s mental illness.
It’s racism.
It’s homophobia.
The sad reality is that it’s probably all of the above, in some measure.

The undeniable truth is that “others” were targeted. A group of people was judged to be lesser because of who they were, to be disposable because of who they loved. It’s easy to demonize “others.” They might look and act differently, they don’t always fit in with the dominant culture, they self-identify with all sorts of confusing terminology – like LGBTQ. “They” are different.
But different does not mean inferior.
You are different too, to some people. I am different. Everyone is an “other” to someone. And what did Jesus teach us about the “other?” We’re supposed to love them. Love, love, love!

The Orlando massacre happened in a church. Well, not a formal church, but for many in the LGBTQ communities places like that night club are sanctuaries. For some it’s the only place they can be themselves, because everywhere else they are “othered.” They need sanctuaries like that because traditionally churches have not been safe places for them. Yes, we’re trying to be different now.
I wonder if we’re doing enough?
I wonder if “they” know we’re trying to be a safe space?
I wonder if it’s time for us to stand up and speak up?
For my part, for today, I’m wearing my rainbow wristband. It’s not enough, but it’s a start.

 Posted by at 8:41 am
Feb 132014

Crest-uccan-newOur denomination is in the midst of a ginormous review to find ways to save money nationally and better serve congregations locally. Make no mistake, it’s the budgetary tail wagging the dog, but there are good conversations emerging within it.

The chatter on the various United Church Facebook groups has been significant. I’d like to repost here three things I posted recently in different conversations there. I like the way I’ve said these things and, for myself I don’t want to lose the ideas in the noise of a long and scattered thread.

The first is in response to a question about a claim made in the big “Discussion Paper” – the paper spoke of the clear identity of the UCCan and the questioner wondered what that was. After a lot of back and forth on the thread I came up with this:

Maybe it would help to differentiate between doctrine and theology. Our doctrine is the 20 articles, the two statements and the new creed. Ministers (not laity) must be in essential agreement with that doctrine. Huge confusion about what essential means, but the plain meaning works – I “essentially, pretty much, more or less” concur with the general direction this is going. That’s a pretty wide berth! Doctrine is set. However, one can spin a multitude of theologies out of that doctrine. The genius of the UCCan is that we encourage and welcome diverse theologies spinning out from our doctrine. That’s our identity. It’s an open theology based on a set doctrine that we affirm resonance with, essentially. Conflict and upset come when either core idea is messed with – telling others what theology they must have (the hardcore “conservative”), or telling people that doctrine is irrelevant (the hardcore “liberal”). Our ethos is diverse theology in dialogue with our doctrine.

The second is was about my take on the Discussion Paper itself. I wrote:

I will start by saying that with some provisos I actually LIKE the direction this paper takes. I see amazing potential in the Connectional Space concept. Currently we’re more or less forced to try to accomplish bigger picture things through Conference committees – in connectional space there is much more room for freedom and creativity. Imagine a national spiritual formation network, for example!
I also really like the Association concept – although I see that we will be paying for that support ourselves. (a union by any other name?)
I see an emphasis on “regionally deployed denominational staff” – which sounds a lot like Conference to me – not sure where the savings are there, yet we do need to accomplish certain work.

Now the provisos! ~ As with many others my red flags went up around oversight issues. I kept asking: how will the denomination know if a congregation is dysfunctional? Who will ensure the denominational safety net is used? Who will encourage congregations to form partnerships for mission etc?
And the Denominational Council concept needs serious attention. What about ensuring a balance of lay/clergy voices? Will a 20 person congregation really have the same voice as a 1000 person congregation? Will only rich congregations send people? Will clergy be automatically going? Where could we hold a council with several thousand delegates?
Much to digest and discern…

And finally a comment about the whole Comprehensive Review concept. Many, many commenters have spoken about how the documents speak of wanting to address the vision and mission of the church but have focused on structural solutions. I wrote the following in a thread that was debating that idea:

The best a new model can do is solve the budget problem, and possibly influence some mission stuff. It’s a technical answer for an adaptive challenge. It was always about the budget shortfall first, otherwise we would’ve spent a triennium in prayer first, then talked structure.

The genius of the UCCan is that we have always dared to push forward into new ways and ideas. I pray that will continue…