Aug 102016

My recent call for sermon topics brought a couple of questions about how to read or interpret the bible. It’s essential reading for us, but in practice it can be very hard to understand, or downright misleading if not interpreted deeply and fully. How do we reconcile the contradictions, the conflicting reports, the portrayal of God that swings from vengeful to unconditional love and everything in between? I have two suggestions.

First, try viewing the bible as reading someone’s diary rather than a historical textbook. A diary is filled with truth, but it is limited by the experience, knowledge, biases, and emotions of the writer. A diary is absolutely true but not necessarily objectively and factually true. Reading someone’s diary will give you insights into their lives that a biography or history text can never give. One day God seems like your best friend and the next day God feels distant and cold. My diary reveals what I have experienced. Your diary might be different. Applying our literal-factual, proof-based lens to the bible turns it into something it was never meant to be. Let it be what it is – a love song, a poem, a diary – intimate, personal, human.

My other suggestion is not to read your bible alone. Discuss it with a friend. Ask me questions as they arise. Or better yet, participate in The Porch (our weekly bible study in-person Monday mornings or on Facebook) or attend a program calendar offering. Jesus said, “Where two or more are gathered in my name, I am there among them!” So gather!

So, when it comes to the bible, don’t think of it as a textbook and don’t tackle it alone. That won’t solve all your challenges, but it may keep you reading!

 Posted by at 2:11 pm
Aug 032016

Have you ever heard of Panwasa Mada? No, it’s not a place I discovered on my trip to Ireland. Panwasa Mada is in Nigeria. I would bet that there is not a single person in our congregation who had heard of that place until just now. And yet, you have already expressed your deep love and care for the people of Panwasa Mada. Do you know how? For the last several years we have made fundraising for the purpose of digging wells in Africa the theme of our Advent/Christmas season. Our efforts in December of 2105 were by far our best yet, raising over $6000. That was enough for not one, but two (!) new fresh water wells to be dug in Panwasa Mada! Wonderful!
You have given nothing less than the gift of life to hundreds of people that you had never even heard of. God’s love works like that. We don’t just help ourselves or those we know. We are moved by the Spirit to respond to the pain of the world in whatever ways we can. It will never be “enough” and we can’t solve all the world’s problems, but we can faithfully reach out in love and help to make life better for some – like our new friends in Panwasa Mada, Nigeria. Thank you! Thank you for all you do in Faith. Surely God is in this place!

 Posted by at 2:10 pm
Jul 282016

I love walking labyrinths. Unlike a maze which invites wrong turns, dead ends, and confusion, a labyrinth has only one single path. It twists and turns and draws you close to the centre and then sends you out to the edges again until you finally end up in the middle, then you turn around and wind your way out the same way you came in. Many people ponder a question while walking, or prayerfully listen for the Spirit to move. I like to hold my prayer stone and simply try to be really open and present while walking, and it never fails that I hear or feel something spiritually helpful.

In Ireland I got to walk a labyrinth at the sacred Celtic Christian site called Glendalough. A dad and his two small boys were also walking it – noisily. I was distracted by them and was feeling a bit miffed for not hearing the Spirit, and I was about to exit the labyrinth in a huff when it happened. In my final few steps, as the boys wanted to give up, the dad said, “Just stay on the path!” Seconds before leaving, even amid distraction and irritation, there it was – the Presence of God in the voice of a frustrated father. “Just stay on the path!” The source of my annoyance became the source of my gift. Just stay on the path! The Spirit speaks in the most mysterious ways. Are we listening?

 Posted by at 2:09 pm
Jul 202016
In the past week Cynthia and I have been travelling around Ireland. Naturally, visiting “spiritually significant” sites has been a priority for us. But what makes something spiritually significant? And just because a place is significant for some folks does that mean it has to be so for all? We have stood in several famous ruins and churches, and they have been wonderful and awe-inspiring, but only one has really moved me – and it’s virtually unknown. Perhaps it was the lack of tourist traffic that gave us the time to really enjoy it!
In the tiny village of Ardmore lies St. Declan’s church, well, and stone – all of which you’ll be hearing about in forthcoming sermons! Being there I experienced what Celtic Christians call a “thin place” – a place where the Presence of God is particularly palpable. It was indescribably wonderful, and emotionally very moving.
Where are your thin places? Where is God’s Presence amplified for you? Where do you really feel your faith in your bones? I hope you have many such places! My newest one is in Ardmore!
 Posted by at 2:08 pm
Jul 132016

After doing some touristy things on our first Dublin day we went to Evensong at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. The bulletin said “God has been worshipped here through the prayers and praises of countless generations.” Indeed! As the choir’s tones and the clergy’s readings reverberated and bounced around the space I imagined those notes and words intermingling and dancing with centuries of sound and that wondrous, sonorous spiritual synergy was bouncing into and around us making us part of the dance too. The sounds hung in the air ensuring that we could not miss sensing God’s Presence in that place…and savouring it.
What spiritual stuff is bouncing around you this summer? Are you noticing? Are you savouring?

 Posted by at 2:03 pm
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