Nov 022016

You would think a 10 minute commute would not be all that interesting. What could you possibly see in just 10 minutes driving from Bowmanville to Courtice? I start in suburbia with row upon row of houses waking up to start their day. A dog is playing fetch in the park, which has a light fog hovering over it. I glance up to the horizon and see the tops of hundreds of homes and trees peeking out of the mist on the hillside beyond the park.

I turn left and I am immersed in big box stores and the construction of more. A sure sign of growth and prosperity for some, and the epitome of soulless, characterless corporate blight for others. I notice that I am now in the midst of dozens upon dozens of other cars all making their own morning commute. Most of us alone. Few of us smiling. Open fields bring more foggy mist and stunning beauty, and then there is the stark sea of nothingness and dirt as I reach the 418 highway construction area with trucks and cranes and bulldozers springing into action.

A right turn and I am alone on a quiet country road, surrounded by trees, reminded to watch out for vulnerable turtles crossing the road in season, as students joke around waiting for their bus. Suddenly, the pace feels slower. A left turn and suburbia appears again up ahead, but juxtaposed beside it is a pasture for cows. I turn into the church parking lot and take in the beautiful scene of our unique modern building nestled in among trees with a fancy digital sign and acres of lush unspoiled nature and I realize that I am utterly surrounded by diversity. The old and the new, the natural and the manufactured, the fast and the slow, the quiet and the busy, all fit together to fashion this world we live and move and have our being in. Such wondrous diversity. And if you take the time to notice, it’s all beautiful in its own way, because surely, God is in this place!

 Posted by at 2:26 pm
Oct 262016

There have been two occasions in the past week where I have been deeply grateful for our United Church creed. In particular, the words that begin and end the creed: We are not alone. I’ve drawn on those words to bring comfort to people in two very sad situations. One was for the funeral of Justin James last Friday. The loss of a younger person seems to amplify our grief and leaves us grasping for meaning. There is no making sense of these things. And when explanations fail us and our minds cannot fathom why such things happen we can collapse into the strong, loving arms of God’s presence and find peace in these powerful words: We are not alone!

The second occasion came with the sad news that one of our university friends, a former housemate of Cynthia’s, who has been dealing with cancer for years has finally moved to a palliative care hospice. She shared her news on Facebook with us. The responses came pouring in and the thread filled with dozens upon dozens of virtual hugs and prayers and warm thoughts. Despite great distances of geography we surrounded her with community and care. Again I was grateful that I could offer these simple words that convey such deep comfort: You are not alone!

All of us deal with struggles, heartbreaks, challenges, and sadness from time to time. It is part of being human. When those times seem to gang up on you and you are feeling overwhelmed by life I hope that you too will remember these words and trust in them to get you through. God is with us. We are not alone! Thanks be to God.

 Posted by at 2:25 pm
Oct 192016

The landscape looks different now. One of my favourite photos of Faith United is of the front of the church on a sunny day and in the background you can see the leafy green tops of a stand of towering trees that are rising above the roofline. Lately the tops of those trees haven’t been as leafy, and the trees have died. This week those trees came down, and the landscape of the church changed.

At our Presbytery meeting last night we heard the story of a church that is celebrating its 150th year. It is located in a town that was once a hub of commerce and activity, but now all those businesses and people have moved down the road to the larger centre and the once bustling little church is virtually empty. They likely won’t see year 151. The woman who told their church’s story to us had been a member there for 63 years. Her emotions bubbled over as she spoke proudly of their ministries over the years and tenderly about how she was heartbroken by their looming closure. The landscape of their church changed.

We should feel sad when long treasured things come to the end of their season. But we should also remember that while one thing ends another is given new life. In church we call that resurrection! Those fallen trees will become firewood warming houses and soothing spirits. Those closed churches will become someone’s home or business and the remaining members will move on to share their spiritual journey with new friends. The landscape is constantly changing. That’s how life works. We cannot hold onto what was forever. But we can honour the end of a season and embrace resurrection. Has your life landscape changed? Can you see signs of resurrection?

 Posted by at 2:24 pm
Oct 122016

I cleaned out the inbox of my email this week. I take pride in keeping it to under 10 messages at a time. There were over 60 in it. And the telling thing is that about 50 of them were daily devotional emails that I subscribe to. I have 3 come in every day, I read them, and I delete them. But here were more than 50 – unread. I’m the guy who constantly encourages people to carve out time for regular spiritual practice. It’s very good advice, and clearly I need to hear it too. Luke 4:23 says, “Physician, heal thyself!” My problem isn’t intentionality or lack of desire – it’s consistency. Some days I’m right on, other days I’m a write off!

It’s just that life sometimes gets crowded up with stuff, and ironically it’s the things that would actually help us the most that get pushed aside and forgotten about. Things like exercise, healthy food, and especially prayer. I teach that people should be gentle with themselves when they fall short of their spirituality goals. Again, good advice! Again, physician heal thyself!

There is a fantastic book by a pastor named Bill Hybels called Too Busy Not to Pray. Read that title again. And again. Similarly, they say you should pray for 20 minutes a day, and if you can’t fit in 20 minutes pray for 10, and if you don’t have time for 10 minutes of prayer you should do 60! Of course, that means something else needs to go undone. But the truth is, as much as I hate to admit it, it’s not work or commitments that are stealing my prayer time. What’s stealing yours?

 Posted by at 2:23 pm
Oct 052016

Christianity is a profoundly counter-cultural movement. That may seem strange to say because here in North America Christianity has been the dominant cultural identifier for many decades. We’ve even called it Christendom to indicate that Christianity is in charge of things – a kingdom of Christian ideals and ethics. However, what we’ve noticed lately is that Christendom is pretty much dead. While Christians are still in the majority in the western world the centrality of the church has surely faded. What I’m about to say might surprise you: I think this is a very good thing!

As I’ve been preparing for a three-part learning time called “Into the Mystic” (the first Wednesday evening of the next 3 months starting tonight) I’ve been reminded of how foundational to our faith words like surrender and humility are – and how far from those words too much of Christian practice is. For North Americans like us, surrender and humility are definitely counter-cultural concepts! And yet unless one starts there our grasp and understanding and practice of Christianity will be hopelessly and utterly flawed. Strong words, I know. Maybe even “humiliating” to some of us. But that’s kind of the point. “Christians” believe things. Mystics practice surrender, humility, and personal experience of God’s presence. Karl Rahner famously said, “The Christian of the future will be a mystic or (they) will not exist at all.” I’m certain that he is correct.

 Posted by at 2:21 pm
Sep 282016

Yesterday was a pretty disconnected day for me. It would’ve been my brother Rick’s 60th birthday, so I started the day in not the best of moods. I went for a run by myself, and it wasn’t great. I worked at home alone for the morning and then drove to Toronto by myself through all that lovely traffic for a meeting. The drive home was worse, of course. All those people in all those cars – disconnected. Cynthia had to work through the evening and the kids are away so my evening was kind of disconnected too. It was a pretty disconnected day for me.

But as I sat there reflecting on the meeting I went to I realized something. There were 5 of us in the room, 2 joined via video from Winnipeg and Saskatoon, and 3 joined via phone from Cornwall, Belleville, and Winnipeg. One of the people in the room usually joins us from BC. So in that room we 5 were disconnected physically from the others, but we 10 were also dynamically connected from all over the country using a variety of means. So in the evening I connected with my sister, and nephew, and sister-in-law via social media and email just to let them know I was thinking about them, and an amazing thing occurred to me. It was a pretty connected day for me after all!

Who do you need to make a connection with? Who are you more connected to than you realize? And how’s your spiritual connection? I bet it’s more dynamic than you think!

 Posted by at 2:20 pm