Eric’s 47th Birthday Wish: I’d Like to Visit the Younger Versions of Me.

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For the longest time, I’ve wanted to write a story about a man who visits different versions of himself throughout time.  The 20-year would meet the 30-year old who is getting drinks with the 73-year old.  All of them would step out from their time-line, for an afternoon, and visit the different men who are separated only by age.

The idea behind this short story would be that we are different people at different times.  That’s okay.  Of course, this idea is shaped by Doctor Who: a Time Lord who is played by different actors and actresses who retain the character’s memory and basic life’s essence.

Doctor Who, in my mind, brilliantly embraces the passage of time.  We change, we grow; that’s okay.  Just so long as you remember who you once were and embrace who are now, to quote Matt Smith’s incarnation.   We change; yet things remain the same.  The tension is time travel.

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Back to the story.  What would it look like if I visited my 26 year old self?  This young man who ran a Jr. High Ministry and Skateboard park, full of energy and vision and discretionary time?   Or my 26 year version met my 40 year old self?   In my early forties, I was a rural pastor in Northern Canada who has a wife and two kids and no discretionary free time.  Would the 40 year old me and the 26 year old me get along?   I would hope so because the 47 year old me really likes these two incarnations of myself.

This is what a birthday, I guess.

This week is my 47th birthday.   I’m celebrating by buying a Lego set and reading really hard to see books.  You see, for three months my eye sight hasn’t been what it’s used to be and there have been large sections in my basement’s library off-limits to me.  Yesterday, my first ever reading glasses arrived and I’m having a party.   With Legos.  And my girls.  And wife.  And dog.

I wonder what my present self would say to my 32 year old version of me?  I know I’d first have to begin with a disclaimer: “Look, you are not going to believe what’s around the corner.  Trust me, it’s good.  It’s going to be scary and weird and the jury is still out that we made the best decisions, but the me you become is something to look forward to. Mostly.”

But how much would I say?  If I gave away too much of the plot, it would take away some of the wonder and terror.   Not knowing has done so much good for me.  I had to trust God to see me through, I had to focus on what mattered, and I treasured the things I knew wouldn’t change or go.  If I knew then what I know now, would I celebrate what I had then?  Or would I be cavalier, hoping to rush through the then to get to the now?

Perhaps this is why I never wrote the story.   Every ending I could imagine would be the older characters being silent, cagey, and misleading to the younger.  When asked why, they would shrug and admit, “Not knowing is half the battle.”

The more we know the less we trust or try or invest, which is a veiled indictment to higher eduction…but I’m okay with that.  The point being, I couldn’t write the story because it would be essential 4-5 characters without any back story, character development, or resolution.

Essentially, it would be:

A young man meets older versions of himself and they tell him nothing.

That’s life- so mad and wonderful and terrifying and joyful.   We don’t know and we won’t know and when we do know, it’s too late because it has already happened.  Instead, we live in mystery and we enjoy our former versions of us.  We visit them on our birthdays, wishing they could get messages from the future but can’t due to the unknowing of time travel.

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Lingering on my birthday, I have just one message that will never be sent.  Like an e-mail forever lingering in DRAFT or a postcard lost on a train in Belgium, it’s an unsent message to my young self.

Simply: Stay in the moment and trust God.  And don’t worry: the best is yet to come!   

A Christmas Ghost Story

I will be telling a version of this story for Sunday’s Eucharist because it matches perfectly our Advent Readings from our Lectionary.  For now, I decided to share the original that appeared in the South Peace News and was a favourite Christmas story in years past.  Enjoy!  

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Our family’s Nativity set was incomplete for years.  When asked why, I usually replied by telling the story behind the missing piece.

My grandmother, Henrieta, had gotten in the habit of stealing the figurine of the baby Jesus any chance she could get and would have the baby show up throughout people’s errands or daily activities.

She picked on me most with this figurine.  I can remember going to school and finding the baby Jesus in my coat pocket; once, while I was playing an away game with hockey, the baby Jesus was found in my skates; and there were a couple of times he was laying in our family’s pew at the Baptist church I attended throughout my childhood.

When confronted on her “messing” with the set, she would coyly rebuff these accusations by saying, “Oh, I think it’s nice that Jesus is going to his school,” or , “I didn’t know Jesus was a hockey fan!”

She was not alone in this little stunt.  Rev. Hans Lubbick, her close friend and the Baptist pastor of my youth, would often ask me around Christmas, “Hey, did you bring Jesus with you?”  I would dig in my pockets and find the figurine my grandmother planted.  I’d show it to him and he’d grin.  “Good,” he’d say.  “Can’t start the service without Jesus.”

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I grew up and my grandmother got older resulting in the baby Jesus’ theft became less and less.  I got a family of my own and we grew out of the habit in going to church regularly.  There wasn’t a good reason.    Really.   It’s just that it seemed to take a lot to get dressed, get in the car, and drive to hear a sermon preached by the now elderly Rev. Lubbick.

Grandmother as well stopped bringing up the subject as she had spent her final years living in a nursing home.  When she would ask about our family and didn’t hear anything of church mention, she’d simply say, “Oh, it sounds like your family is really busy.  Perhaps too busy.”  She never saw that going to church every Sunday would make us busier, but, in her indirect way, she was making her feelings known.

She died three years ago in her sleep and with it, the figurine of baby Jesus went missing.  Her passing was a month before Christmas and I faithfully pulled out the set, with everyone except Jesus present.  I got away with it that Christmas, but the next one was when I started getting a bit more in trouble with the wife and kids. And the one after that, everyone assumed that our Manger set would still be missing baby Jesus.

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And missing church.  Once in a while, one of my kids would mention going to church and I shrugged it off.

This Christmas Eve, the subject came up again.  My oldest daughter asked and I told her that we were really busy, with Christmas coming the next day.  She then, in the same breadth, asked where the baby Jesus figurine was and I said I didn’t know.  Again.

She left the room.  I heard the back door open and slam shut.

Suddenly, it struck me: she wasn’t wearing a coat or toque.  I leapt out of my chair, making my way to the back door in the kitchen.  Suddenly, I heard her laughing wildly as she bounded through the snow.

Shooting to the back window, I saw my little daughter speaking to a stranger in our backyard.  The face obscured, I could only see the small frame of a woman and a shock of snow white hair.  My daughter laughed as she spoke to this silent shadow.

I swung open the door.  “Hey,” I hollered to the darkened figure.  “What are you doing here?”   I then yelled to my daughter.  “Come away!  Come away!”

The shadowed woman handed my daughter something and quickly turned away.  The figure disappeared in between our shed and fence, never to be seen from again.

My daughter came back to me, her face wet with tears and ripe with giggles.  Before I could chew her out or find out who broke into our backyard, she put something in my hand: the figurine of the baby Jesus that belonged to my family’s manger set.

“Where did this come from?” I asked.

“It’s a secret,” she said in a teasing voice.  “All she said was that we needed it this year.”

She.  A sharp, silver shiver shot up through the back of my legs and up my spine.  For a second, I didn’t dare put to words what I was thinking.  I felt the blood drain from my face as I stammered, “Who was that woman?”  My daughter seemed all the more in delighted by my discomfort.

Finally, I said what I was thinking.  “Grandmother?”

Without anything else said, we headed inside the house, got on our coats, our hats, started up the car, and made our way to my childhood’s church for the service.  With my entire family being led by my daughter, we made our way inside and to my family’s pew.

Rev. Lubbick saw me and quickly charged over to me, before the service started.  “Do you have Jesus this year?” he asked and I wordlessly showed him the figurine.

“Good.  It’s good to see the Baby Jesus bringing friends with him.   Welcome.”

Forever, that was the Christmas that changed for our family and for the better, I might add.  For it was the Christmas that Jesus, with my grandmother partnering with him, brought my family back to church…completing our Christmas Manger set.

A Grandfather Finishes Watching Fellowship of the Ring With His Teenage Grandson…

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(The scene begins with the familiar end credits of Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings showing on a flat screen tv.   The Grandfather wears a dubious expression; the grandson, 15 and wearing a Tolkien fan t-shirt, is joyfully smug, sharing a bit of his world to his grandfather.)

G.Father- That’s it?  Your favourite show.  It seemed kind of sad.  Although, Shakespeare and the Opera are sad.

G.Son- Well, it’s sad now.  But it gets happier later.

G.Father- How?  Is there one of those end credit scenes that’s going to make sense of the movie?

G.Son- No, there are more films.

G.Father-(Ontological terror) There are MORE films!  Not just this one?!

G. Son- There are two more films and three more prequels.

G. Father- Great Scott!  Really?!?!  I mean, that isn’t it?  They kept making movies?  How?  Didn’t they run out of ideas?  What more do they want to say?

G. Son- (Lovingly, in a way known only to Millennials who take it upon themselves to teach Boomers)  Grandpa, what do you think happened in this film?

G. Father- Well, first there are a bunch of short people from Manitoba who live in holes in the ground.  They’re happy until some guy who dresses like an un-red Santa Claus comes and tells them to scram.  They do.  And then they’re rescued by some bearded hippy who dies in the end.  And Manitoba is taken over as well.  So it ended poorly.

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G. Son- Only one of their team members dies.  Aragorn lives.

G.Father- No he doesn’t!  He gets struck with a million arrows.  Takes a half hour to die.  And then they put him in a canoe so his carcass can be found by picnicking tourists from Toronto.

G.Son- That was Boromir.  He died. Aragorn lived.

G. Father- But Aragorn had a beard.  The man with the beard and long hair who got killed by heavy metal kids coming out of a club.

G. Son- (A pause long enough to consider the Universe)   Grandpa, there were two men with beards and long hair.  One died, one lived.

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G. Father- Why do people do that?  Why do they hang out with people who look like themselves?   I tell you, if there was a party with some old guy wearing red flannel, John Deere green, and bald…I’d be clear on the other side of the room.  Don’t confuse the world marching around with your twin!

G. Son- And you thought the film began in Manitoba?

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G. Father-  Yeah, it was some sort of colony off on the highway.  Where they were all short people with curly hair.  And their town got sacked.

G. Son- When?

G. Father- Probably when I went to the washroom.  It was a long movie and I had a lot of fluids.

G. Son- It didn’t get sacked.  It’s fine.  Nothing happened to the Shire, which is what it’s called.  It’s not Manitoba.  It’s where the Hobbits lived.

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G. Father- Well, that’s good.  (Empirically snorts)  I liked those people.  I was feeling bad that they all had to die.   (Looks up to Heaven)  Why didn’t they go back to this Shire?  Why did they quit, right when the Supermodel in the Horse saved them?

G. Son- They have to destroy the ring.

G. Father- But they didn’t.  They got attacked on the beach and ran to everywhere else but the Shire.  They should have gone home.  The film ends with them still having the ring, which-I might add-makes it a very sad film!

G. Son- There are two more films!

G. Father- Oh, so in those films they meet the Lords of the Rings and destroy the thing.

G. Son- Kind of.  They destroy the ring, but they don’t meet any of the Lords.

G. Father- Why not?  That’s kind of the point, isn’t it?   The movie is named after them!  You mean, they never meet the Lords of the Rings?

G. Son- There’s just one Lord and they don’t meet him or her.

G. Father- Why not?  That’s false advertising!   Have their name in the picture and, in all six films, they never meet the Lord of the Rings!  Plus, there’s only one ring!  Did the Lord lose all of the other rings?   When do we see those rings?   Probably they same time we see the Lord, which doesn’t happen.

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G. Son- The Rings and the Lords existed before the movies began.   They either died, moved on, or because Ringwraiths.

G. Father- So all of the main characters of this film were alive, well, and playing Crib BEFORE this movie began.  (Cosmic Incredulity) What’s the point?  If I see the movie “Superman” and find out he isn’t in it, will not be in it, and only existed before the movie began would be a rip-off.

G. Son- That problem isn’t in “The Hobbit”.

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G. Father- Good.  I’m glad someone listened to some feedback.   The Hobbit is in “The Hobbit”?   (The Grandson reassuringly smiles and nods at his Grandfather, de-escalating the conflict.)    The rest of the films are about what?  Hiking somewhere to get rid of a ring?

G. Son- Yes.

G. Father- And the world will be a better place because of this hike?

G. Son- Yes, Grandfather.

G. Father- Okay, then.  Put another film in.  Let’s give ‘er a rip.

(End scene)   

 

A Beard of Grief

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I used to live with a beard, my whiskers being my smile’s companion.   I did so before it was in fashion; I lost it right before it became cool.

For about 12 years, I had a beard until it started turning gray, fading from my face like a snapshot belonging to the 1970s.   Two events shaped the loss of my beard.  First, my eldest daughter, who was about 8 years old then , wandered through our church one day, telling everyone I wasn’t as old as I looked.  A few weeks after that incident, a new comer came to our church who spoken broken English.  She met me and then my wife.  When she figured out my wife was married to me, she declared, “Not you!  He is so old!  You are so young and beautiful!”

The beard then left my face.

Until recently.  My Mom passed away in June and we held her memorial service on the last Sunday of October.  Here are two links about that experience:

 

https://ericjkregel.wordpress.com/2019/06/17/to-my-mother-the-flight-attendant/

 

https://ericjkregel.wordpress.com/2019/10/30/sacrosanct-grieving-at-disneyland/

 

The day of the memorial service was the last time I let the razor touch my face until the November/Mo-vember advent where men grow facial hair to bring about awareness of men’s mental health.   This season matched my own as I wanted a subtle reminder concerning my grief.

The beard came back.

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At first, I told people who were surprised to see how much older I looked, “Yeah, I have premature gray.”  My wife, after the fourth time hearing this, corrected me: when you are in your late forties, gray is notpremature.

 

 

The beard came on around my face the way grief grows in one’s life.

Before my Mom passed, I thought grief was kind of an event.

The death happens, one is shocked and sad.  The season is sharp. 

The planning of the memorial undergoes, one is fragile and shaken.  The season is raw.

The memorial occurs, one is at peace and there is closure.

Grief isn’t like this.  Rather, it’s like a weed that grows up through the cracks and corners of the cement of your life.  It can overpower the cement, breaking a part all of the stability and structure of your days.  But it rarely does that.  Instead, it lingers and colors and grows and hugs and prickles the path.  You know it’s there and, even if you try to pluck it from the ground, it grows back.   You can march along the cement pathway like everyone else, but yours has the weeds of grief.

Grief is like weeds.  Grief is like…a beard.

 

 

 

Men, today, find themselves in places where that are in roles of resolve, charging forward with the mantra, “Onward!”   Luckily, because we are growing as a society, women are taking this place too: women cry out “onward!” and it’s no longer seen as a novelty.  This is good because there’s always been gaps and craters and cracks in our world because men and women have not been allowed to share in these roles of resolve.

But for everyone in the role of resolve, there are those around that individual who can feel the sharp edges, who see the pits and the mire, and who possess the role of hesitation.  These are those who know that “happily ever after” is a goal but not a promise, that dragons do sometimes eat knights, and that things are not always as they are supposed to be.

In my world of church leadership, we use the metaphor “brakes” and “gas pedals”.  There are leaders who are great at pressing on the gas, getting things to move and zoom down a highway.  Likewise, there are those who are blessed “brakes” who can slow down a church’s change enough to where the process is better maintained, people are including, anxiety isn’t raging, and the church can get to their destination in one piece.

You need, in a healthy church, both “gas pedals” and “brakes”.  If you have a church full of gas pedals, things will happen but there will be scores of people alienated by the process; if you have a church full of brakes, nothing will ever get done and needs won’t ever be met.

For centuries, men were expected to be “gas pedals”.  To scream, “Onward!”

And a beard of grief can be the thing to slow down that charge, to remind oneself and one community that all is not well and it’s well that all is not well.  A beard reminds one that there is a deficit, an absence, a hole.

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When my father lost his mother had died the same week his dog died.  My mom asked him how he was doing.  Usually, my dad kept strictly to a nonchalance resolve, borrowed from the likes of Gregory Peck or Gary Cooper.  However, he broke from this and admitted, “I feel I have a hole in my heart.”

For the last couple of years, I did not have a mother.  First it was dementia that caused the distance.  I wrote about it here:

 

https://ericjkregel.wordpress.com/2018/09/21/autumn-and-dementia/

 

And now it’s death.

I cannot call her on Monday mornings for my weekly appointment.  There are no longer updates to give about her grandkids, adventures with my life as a priest, plans to see each other, or questions about how to navigate through life’s domestic mysteries.  When my girls have recitals, there is now one less to invite.  When people ask about my Mom, it now must begin with the preface, “She passed away in June…”

I am in a state of “without”.  This is a lesson of grief.   And it grows, through the laugh lines and wrinkles of one’s face.

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This is why so many cultures have rules to remind us about grief, to brake our tendency for onward.  For many cultures, widows would wear black for an extended period of time.  I had a friend who found herself exploding at a McDonald’s employee for getting her order wrong.  She wondered why she was so touchy, so angry.  She drove back the next day after the incident and apologized.  “I’m sorry for my over-reaction, but my husband just died a week ago,” was what she heard herself saying.

The employee was kind and offered, “Had I known, I would have been a bit more sensitive.”

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My friend then realized she needed to wear black, to not march “onward”, and to give some signifier to the rest of the world that “all was not well.”   This is why some sort of outward demarcation makes sense: we are in a season that is about grief.

In the Cree culture, one grows their hair long when a close relative past.  Same reason.

For me, it was a beard.  A beard to remind me every day that I can’t call my Mom, that I don’t have a parent anymore, and that I’m now by myself.

 

 

Grief makes one older.   The grief I’ve entered into is the state when one realizes that your elders have passed, that you are now one of the old ones.

There’s a strange moment that happens in most adult’s lives.  They’re in a room and kids go crazy.   The insanity is so obvious, so intense that you panic.  And a thought strikes you: “Where is the adult in charge?  How could he/she let this happen?”  And then the moment occurs: you are the adult, you are the one in charge.

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Grief is the process of you burying your parents, your grandparents, and saying good-bye to all of the bulletproof, invincible adults over your life.  This makes you older.

Being older is a new thing; being old is a new experience.  We’ve had experience being young, that’s something we’re used to.

The mark of an older person is they fear new things, which is ironic because this is reality of being old: you are entering into something new.  A new, old body; a world aged for the first time; and the new reality that you are now older than you’ve ever been.

Think about it: when you are ten, you have a whole year experience of being ten.   Being eleven was a mystery.    Old age is new to our experience who may have had 45-years experience of being young.

And yet being older is what is always happening.  Consider this song:

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZnT5JkGydVY

 

It’s a new day that I have gray in my beard, it’s a new season to be without my parents, and it’s a new thing to be living with the loss.  This isn’t a positive spin on growing old or grief.  New is not always wonderful, which is an underlying reality of grief.  It is what it is.

But it in the newness is a chance to celebrate, to reflect, to slowly move onward as life continues.

And as we go onward, we reflect as we enjoy the music of the Grateful Dead.  This may seem like a non sequitur until you hear this song:

 

Suddenly when one embraces the grey and the grief and the beard and the age, it becomes something of a guide.  But to what end?

Rather, it is a guide to someone.  Who?  The one who knows the count of every hair on one’s head, every loss endured, every black that’s turned to grey, and every beard ever grown or shaved.  When we wear black, grow our hair long, or have a beard it is a signpost to the one who is Lord over life and death, age and youth.

Our grief can be a brake, but also a gas pedal causing us to go onward to the one who is the author of our lives.  And id begs us to ask the question, “Where are we in God’s story?”

Eric’s Most Controversial Statement About Christianity…Ever

I have never met a growing Christian who avoided church.

There.   I said the most controversial statement in my ministry.  I have used this statement to start of classroom discussions, camps, and small groups- all of which have produced a wake as soon as say this line.

Sadly, based upon my experiences, I’ve never met someone who had an active, changing faith.  A faith that was growing, more and more each day, to make that person resemble Christ and did not have a church home.

There have been some exceptions.   One instance was a friend of mine who got really hurt by doing a church plant and for his own recovery couldn’t attend church…for a season.  After he spent time healing, though, he returned as part of his restorative process.  Another instance was when a friend of mine served at a Christian Summer Camp, hours away from a church.  Finally, there are times when a group of Christians meet in a small group in a home and that small group becomes a church (it’s only a technicality that they don’t meet in a church’s building).

But for the most part, I’ve never known a growing Christian who was “unattached” to a church.

The key word is “growing”.   Sure, you can have a conversion experience and be “saved”.   Becoming a Christian has nothing to do with church attendance or your activities on Earth, but about placing a faith in Christ and trusting His works.  However, growing day by day, step by step is a process you need other Christians for and you can find them in a church.

This why the writer of Hebrews urges, “2Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Hebrews 10:25.

As human beings, we are designed to learn truth through relationships.  Ever tried to learn a new skill by yourself?  Let’s say you wanted to learn waterskiing, so you checked out books from our library, watched some TV shows, and downloaded some instructional videos.  After you gained enough confidence, you went to Lesser Slave Lake and got into the water with skis, a life jacket, and a positive attitude.  How far would you get?  You would need a boat, other people, and a community, right?

The same is true for growing in Christ- we need other people to learn how to follow God.

Am I saying Christianity is just a building, just a program on Sunday morning, and just a scheduled show that you attend, to tick off a box for the sake of being a “growing Christian”?

The Church is defined by those who Christ indwells and they follow God as the Lord is busy in their neighbourhood.  The Church does not need to have a building, meet on Sunday, or have an institutional label.

However, these things (IE. Building, service time, altar, etc.) aid by the power of intention.

A good friend of mine once stated, “I love that I’m growing in faith, but I’d like to once do it on purpose.”

For my friend, God connected with this individual through crisis intervention, miracles, and gracious encounters.  He didn’t plan any of it.  But it came a point when my friend didn’t want God as an interrupter, but as a friend that would be a regular visitor.  He wanted to intentionally follow God.

Those who grow in their relationship with God intend to do so; and God then does the rest.

Can we claim that we have the noble intention to follow God and then refuse to go to places and be with people who have been set aside to help people with that very intention?

But what if one intends to grow in God, goes to church, and nothing happens? What if you don’t have a special connection with God because of the church service?

  • First of all, God meets us wherever our intentions aim towards the Kingdom of Christ .  It may not be immediate, it may not be on our terms, and it might be invisible to us…but something always happens.  An intention to meet God never is never wasted.  I believe something happens to a Christian who comes to church, however invisible.
  • Secondly, what if the thing that happens is not given to you but to someone else?  A priest friend of mine once was asked why he went to church, even if my friend wasn’t robing and officiating that Sunday.  “I go to church even if I don’t have to because someone might need to see me,” he said.  The parishioner rebuffed his reply, saying the priest was different because that person was a priest.  “But aren’t we all priests if we are part of the church?” was my friend’s answer. What I like about this answer is that it does not have the idea that churches are horrible and you shouldn’t waste your time with horrible things.  Churches are dysfunctional; Christians do hurt people; and things get really, really messy even if they are part of organized religion.  However, abstaining from this impurity does not do anything to tangle the mess that is what we call church.  It might be you have been called to untangle Christians…by going to the very place you know you can find them.
  • Lastly, what if God hasn’t called you to that particular church?   There is a measure of grace that helps Christians work with other Christians.   It’s the question: “Am I called to this good thing?”  Running orphanages in India is an amazing work and so good, but I am not convinced-at this time- God is calling me to this ministry.  I am called to Edmonton, Canada and to be a priest.  Possibly tell stories.  Each of us has our own priestly ministry, tailor made for us by God.  The church you attend might not be the community God has called you to.  That’s okay.  God may have another imperfect church filled with highly imperfect people that is perfect for your calling. You test the calling by praying.  And showing up to your church or other ones that match your calling.  You do not reconcile this by default. 

This is my most heavy-handed post, admittedly.  Perhaps because I have seen wonderful things happen in the church and I want to share that with people.  And perhaps, I’ve seen amazing things happen in the neighbourhoods surrounding good churches…and I attribute most of those happenings to the work in the church.

I guess I’m like some former Olympic star who was asked if everyone should go to the gym.  Except, for this metaphor, it breaks down in realistic comparison: a church is not a gym and I don’t have the body type to be a former Olympian.

 

 

Sacrosanct: Grieving at Disneyland

The term “sacrosanct” is something I learned from violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter.

She got into the news for stopping her performance in the middle because an audience member, sitting in the front row, held up her phone to film the moment.  She addressed the audience member by inviting them to either put their phone away or she would leave the stage.

Her reason: we must do everything possible to keep ourselves available for sacrosanct moments.

Here is a link to the story and a conversation with Anne-Sophie Mutter.  WARNING: the video is long and Mutter is very cool.

 

https://www.classicfm.com/artists/anne-sophie-mutter/phone-filming-controversy-keep-live-moments/?fbclid=IwAR0k9EdtZVzSrWNBgX9Q0k2JbBp_FMuL3IDXpbq4gcJc3-lRf7N9mAyfM5o

 

It’s meaning is when the sacred and the human sync together in a moment.  Therefore, these things/moments/places must be highly protected and must be treated with the utmost respect.  For Anne-Sophie, the concert hall has the possibility for the audience and the performer, through the experience of Great Music, can experience a Holy moment.  Churches can also be a place where the Divine and the Common connect.

The problem with these sacrosanct moments is that you can only plan to allow, do the work for the possibility of these moments.  If you seek to control, duplicate, engineer, or mastermind then you would be tempted to produce more, commodify, and make all moments Holy…thus cheapening the moment when God does decide to make an appearance.

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Disneyland used to have a sign outside of its parking lot promising it to be “The Happiest Place on Earth”.   This is an example of when a corporation seeks to control, mass produce, and commodify sacrosanct moments.  For it is promised: every day here will be the most important memory of your family’s history.

Of course, in my profession (an Anglican Priest), there is a temptation to engineer and control sacrosanct moments.  As a youth pastor, I used to hate going to retreats, conferences, or concerts where the person on stage would declare, “God is going to do something big in your life!  Who believes God is going to do something big tonight?!?!”

The audience would cheer.  I would mumble, “Probably not.”

It wasn’t because I lacked faith, but that promising God would do something amazing robbed Him of being Lord and boss.  What if God just wanted me to hear some fun songs and spend time with my teens?  That’s not something big, but important nonetheless.

Of course, the other extreme attitude towards the sacrosanct is that we must do nothing to arrive at these moments, that God will show up when God does, and that we just need to do more of more of the same to have these encounters.

It’s kind of a “spirituality by default”.   It’s an “accidental blessing”.  It requires no intention, no lifestyle change, and no work on the part of the believer.
This is a default, I believe, we struggle in Western Spirituality.  We know God can “meet me where I am” so therefore we expect God always to show up when it works best for us.  And yet, this isn’t found in the Scripture.  Nowhere does it say, “Sit and watch God come to you.”

There has to be effort.

Here’s an old story from the Korean church in North America:

Once upon a time, a man was led by God to climb the mountain near his house and pray for an hour before the sun rose.  The first morning, he got up in darkness and hiked up the mountain.  He prayed for an hour.  And God spoke to the man.

The next morning, the man hiked up half of the mountain and had a thought: “If God could speak to me at the top of the mountain, then surely God can speak to me halfway up the mountain.  The distance of a mountain does not matter to an all-powerful God?”  He prayed halfway up the mountain for an hour.  And God spoke to the man.

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The next morning, the man stood at the foot of the mountain. “If,” the man reasoned.  “God could speak to me halfway up the mountain, then surely God can speak to me at the base of the mountain.  The distance is no different to God.”  The man prayed…for fifty minutes.  And God spoke to the man.

The next morning, the man slept in and did not rise until the sun did.  He did not pray.  And God did not speak to the man.

This is the balance of the sacrosanct moments: we cannot make them happen and we also must do something to be available when they occur.   God enjoys cooperation, sharing, and collaboration.  This is the heart of these moments.

I experienced this as I came down to California to participate in my mother’s memorial.

 

 

My Mom passed away on June 10th of this year.  She was shy of her 83rd birthday by 3 days.

We couldn’t participate in any kind of memorial service back then because I had a blood clot due to a hip replacement, so we had to wait for the “all clear” from the doctors…which was for October.

I wanted my family with me.  Primarily, I felt I needed the support during this time.  Secondarily, I wanted them to be connected to the remainder of my family.   Lastly, I thought going to California.

We, like most Canadians who visit California, overbooked and over-planned our trip.  We packed too much in, removed a couple of days, and then added some more.

We added Disneyland and a day at Universal Studios.   Also the beach at Santa Cruz.  Maybe some redwood forests.  With a dash of coastal driving.   Oh, by the way, we’d attend my Mom’s memorial service.

Why Disneyland?  My kids can’t think of California without thinking of that place.  Plus, my Mom used to take me and my brother there when she would come and visit her mother in La Habra.  The same thing for Universal Studios, although my girls had never been and was anxious in visiting Harry Potter.

Everything else was, well, everything else.

The night before we were going to fly down, I prayed to God.  “I don’t think I’m going to accomplish any of my goals.   I think we’re just going to be busy.  That’s it.”

We flew down late, shuttled to our hotel, and spent 2 days in the Disneyland parks.   We had been there two years prior, when I was still an Evangelical pastor and I desperately needed a hip replacement.  I was unhappy then, trying my best to be there for my family.  Now, two years later, I was healthy, happy, Anglican, and the only thing held me back was my “Grief Brain”.

“Grief Brain” is a thing that happens to us when we experience loss, however sudden or expected.  Your brain, dealing with the cognitive reality of being without someone (or something) spends more of its time compensating instead of the usual, day-to-day operations.  The greater the grief, the more difficult the bereaved has to operate simple, quick decisions.

For me, I forget names and simple habits that I usually do.  As an Anglican Priest, I found myself forgetting a prayer or a certain hand movement in my church’s liturgy.  For those whose loss may be significant, so the forgetfulness is significant (IE. showing up to the funeral and forgetting to wear pants).

The good news is that the brain finally stops compensating and adjusts to the new normal when it comes to habits, reactions, and procedures.  The bad news is that life is more than just habits and the bigger issues of who we are can be forever different due to loss.

I’m naturally forgetful when it comes to procedures, so my family didn’t notice anything too out of the ordinary.  I had a co-worker once ask me if I had fallen in-love.  I looked at her confused and told her no.  She then asked, “Then why did you leave the door open?”   This we 25 years ago and we were security for a Middle School.  We had one job to do: keep the doors closed.

However, “Grief Brain” is funny.  It’s that sense, relationally, when you are spending time with someone grieving and they don’t feel like they’re “really there”.   Neurologically, they’re not.  Most of their brain’s RAM and memory is being spent configuring a new program.  And while the gears are spinning, they may be 52% available.

Here’s a link:

 

https://thelifeididntchoose.com/2017/02/22/grief-brain-its-a-real-thing/

 

This spooked me because I wanted to be fully present for my family and, also, fully present in the moment of grieving for my Mom.  I, in other words, did not want to miss a moment of the sacrosanct experience.

How do I cooperate with my “Grief Brain” while at Disneyland with the kids?

I had to pray.  “God,” I asked on the first day.  “I can’t do this.  I can’t take the space I need to be with my family, grieve my Mom, and be here as I am unless you do something.  Like I pray in the ‘Lord’s Prayer’: ‘Give us our daily bread’.   If this is going to work, you will have to give me these grief moments like you give me my daily.  I will watch and wait, but I can’t make any of this happen.”

Two sacrosanct moments happened:

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On the first day, we went to the new Star Wars Land.  We stood forty-five minutes in line to pilot the Millennium Falcon.  In the last ten minutes, my youngest got scared and wanted to leave the line.  My wife took her out while the eldest had to use the washroom.  I sat there next to a worker for twelve minutes, waiting for my eldest to return for the ride.

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A memory flashed, it was me playing with my Star Wars action figures.   Most of my Christmas presents were around this toy line.  I had the Millennium Falcon and always felt a bit robbed because it only had a section of the ship and a cardboard backdrop for the rest.  I had always wanted to get, with my action figures, into more of the ship.

And, by the way, they were action figures; not dolls.

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My Mom called them dolls.  She tried her hardest to understand this world of the rebellion, spaceships, and creatures.  She’d find my action figures throughout the house, have names for some of them, and had her clear favourites.  One time, I found some of her favourites on our kitchen table.  I asked her why and her response was, “Oh, some of my friends were over for drinks and I had to show them how neat some of your dolls were.”

They are Action Figures, Mom.

Suddenly, through the magic of Disney, I was stepping into one of my favourite toys ever.  And if my Mom could be there, she would be excited with me.  Instead, I was doing this with one of my kids.

That realization was a sacrosanct moment.

The second happened after our stay at Disney when we went to Universal Studios.  After a day, running around in Hogwarts, we left and had dinner.  Everyone was tired, except my youngest.  In a mall just outside of the park, there was a bunch of ground sprinklers shooting from the concrete illuminated by coloured LED lights.  The water and the lights worked together to make shapes patterns.

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My daughter, along with a group of bored children, ran and danced through the waters and lights.   I volunteered myself to be her lifeguard during the time, as we waited for our name to be called at the restaurant.

I started crying.  There was a joy to her, as she danced and jumped and splashed.  It was the moment that was joyful, nothing leading to it and it wasn’t building up to anything.  Simple, uncoerced joy.   Much like what we, as Anglicans, teach about Heaven: there will be joy in the afterlife simply because we are the presence of the Lord and no other reason.

My Mom, at that moment, was in that joy; my daughter, in Universal City Walk, was also in that joy.   I was in between the two, feeling grief.

I cried and laughed and watched and listened and cried again.

 

The day of the memorial service was one of many sacrosanct moments.

We decided not to do a church service.  My Mom did not attend any church and had her greatest moments with God through her AA meetings.  We decided to run it like a meeting.  No one was in charge (although my brother and his wife were the one who did all of the crazy work behind the scenes so it didn’t look like anyone was in charge).  We had an open microphone time for sharing.  Our kids read some of the prayers from “One Day at A Time”.   And my brother and I did the eulogies.
I performed a shortened version of this as my eulogy:

 

https://ericjkregel.wordpress.com/2019/06/17/to-my-mother-the-flight-attendant/

 

We released doves.  We had a slide show.  And we showed the video of scattering her ashes.

The scattering of ashes had a lot of meaning.  It was my brother’s idea.   We went up in a plane and passed by the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.  Along the bay that emptied into the Pacific Ocean, the airplane scattered them from a device we could access in the cockpit.

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I poured the ashes and gave a blessing from the Book of Common Prayer.  I then cried again.

Here’s the link of Mom’s last flight:

When the ashes were scattered, the pilot then began to point out all of the cool features of San Francisco Bay: Alcatraz, Muir Woods, the ocean, boats, etc..

At first, I didn’t want to enjoy it.   Then I remembered what this place meant for my Mom.   She was a Flight Attendant with TWA and this was one of her hubs.  She loved looking at this place through her cabin’s window.  And she always wanted to share this view with us kids and with anyone who could be in this position.

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I stopped grieving and enjoyed the “ain’t it cool” moment of flying in a Cessna over the ocean.

That moment was shared.

When I delivered the eulogy, I was afraid.  I didn’t want to break down, collapse in a fit of “ugly crying” and be unable to finish the stories.  I prayed, once again, “I can’t do this, God.  You make the moment.”

I delivered the message and did fine until the very last paragraph, where I talked about her passing peacefully and joyfully.  I couldn’t take it.  The sharpness in my throat, the shake of my shoulders…it all took over.

Looking back, the tears were part of the eulogy.  My words were bright, brave, and hopeful; the grief was something else, reminding us that hope and sadness synchronize together in humanity.

The stories shared became a reflection of other’s sacrosanct moments concerning my Mom.  Together, they formed a mosaic of what God did with her, what she left behind, and what we do now as a result.

 

 

Sacrosanct moments exist as God shows up to commune with people.  The moments these happen shape, direct, guide, and allow us to treasure them because, in all honesty, they don’t come every day and they don’t come when we demand from them.  If they were common, ordered, engineered, and insisted upon, they would neither be sacramental or in sync with our needs.

 

 

My Work With the Mustard Seed

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As a young man, I volunteered at a church youth group local to my university.  One night, I asked the junior high pastor: What makes a healthy group?  He told me to walk around our group and take it in.

I did.

I walked by a gaggle of girls 15 feet from a murder of boys, all not noticing each other and not looking at each other and not giggling and not hoping one member of the one group would go to the other and not spending their entire time worrying about the other group.

There was a group of rollerbladers (this was in the ’90s) practicing a trick that was absolutely amazing, five minutes before I came.

A small group of boys were standing under a street light, talking about an amazing show that now, in 2019, none of us can remember.

Behind our building was a group of girls playing soccer.  Beside them was a group of boys playing a version of field hockey but with a soccer ball.  The two games looked identical.

There was a boy talking to a male volunteer staff about bugs.  Another staff was talking to a girl about going to university.

I came back to the junior high pastor and told him what I saw.  His reply: “This is as healthy as it will get.”

 

As many of you know, I started work with the Mustard Seed church a few weeks ago.  This is their vision and mission:

Vision: To eliminate homelessness and reduce poverty where we serve.

Mission: To build hope and well-being for our most vulnerable citizens through Jesus’ love.

 

The Mustard Seed is a drop-in centre that serves dinner.   If there’s a special event (like Thursday night Karaoke), it will happen after dinner.  The drop-in opens about 3-4 pm for coffee; it promptly shuts down after all of the events are closed.

I’ve been asked what it’s like and my answer is simple: it’s like going to a youth group every night.  A youth group for mostly adults.

When I say this to churchgoers, they laugh and realize I’ve just given them a totally incomplete answer.

Yes, there are radically different needs among Junior Highers in a suburban/urban environment, compared to vulnerable people who experience poverty. Yes, there are different protocols in working with street people who may not have a home, as opposed to kids brought to the church and picked up by their parents.

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But then again, the image I first described of a “healthy” youth group bears a pretty sharp resemblance to the church location in downtown Edmonton where I do my part time work.

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There are groups, visiting and seeing each other.  Some groups pretend not to notice other groups.  Some play cards.  At 6 pm, the first event happens: the News (the thing on TV with people dressed nice, telling everyone what’s wrong in the world today).   Dinner is at 7 pm and most of our guests are anxious about what is being served, when it is being served, and if there will be seconds.  Staff members like me wander around and visit with people.  We also offer supplies (socks, coats, blankets, bandages, toothbrushes, reading glasses, etc.).  And if things go south, we enter into a conflict to de-escalate the situation.

 

“The Homeless Are Like Ping-Pong Balls”  

Years ago, when I served in youth ministry, an older woman once tried to condense all of what we did in a simple, quick metaphor:  “Junior Highers are like ping-pong balls.  They bounce around.  Like ping-pong balls.” My supervisor, the junior high pastor, related that comment to us volunteer leaders.  He looked toward heaven and cried, “What does that even mean?”

Twenty-plus years later, I still don’t know what that comment means. I do know that it reminds me there is a futility in a one-sentence answer for why people do particular things. Homelessness, poverty, and social vulnerability do not have one reason for their existence.  There are many reasons.

Those who join us for dinner are not like ping-pong balls.

I was told on my first shift at the Mustard Seed:  “Some can’t help being homeless, some won’t accept help for being homeless, and some will accept help and soon won’t be homeless any longer.  And then there are many who don’t fit into these three groups.”

There are some who come for a meal because they are hungry; some are pretty well fed. Some live in tents, along a street close to the church or down in the river valley; some live in a shelter. Some are lonely, but have a home; some have lived on the streets for 20 years; some have lost their home and are waiting for affordable housing to open up. Some of have addictions; some have mental health issues that complicate employment or stability. Some suffer from PTSD from a trauma deep in their childhood or from the streets or from abuse; some are in a rough patch, as they are in between jobs; some are on medications that haven’t been figured out yet. Some are healthy and of sound mind. And some have made choices and have suffered from the choices of others, that do not fit into any of the categories I listed.

The point: there are a million and one stories as to why someone comes to dinner at the Mustard Seed.

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I did a week of shift work and then did a day of Human Resources training.  I was asked by one of the leaders of the Mustard Seed: “Have you been cussed out yet?” Sure enough, I had, on my first day.  A woman asked for gloves and I told her I’d look among our donated clothing. I found her our last pair of gloves and gave them to her.  Then she wanted to a toque.  We didn’t have any so I shrugged and said this is what we have.  She then cussed me out.

The leader laughed at this, as if to welcome me aboard to the Mustard Seed Ship.  He then explained a concept called “Poverty Brain.” It’s the result of the stresses of poverty as it decreases the brain’s cognitive ability to make long-term plans or see beyond immediate needs. (Here’s a pretty good link on the subject:

https://psmag.com/magazine/this-is-your-brain-on-poverty

If you do not know where you are going to sleep for the night, this becomes your chief concern.  If you live everyday with this worry, your brain will soon adapt to base all perception on this immediate, constant stress that you might not have a place to sleep for the night.  Without a home, everything becomes an immediate need.

The woman who didn’t get a toque might see this as never having a toque again.  She could not see beyond her afternoon’s conversation with me because she could only see that day.

This how someone acts with “poverty brain.”  Or not.  She could have just been grumpy.  Or tired.  Or taking the wrong medication.  Or there could be a whole host of other issues.

I wish there was one cure that my friends at this ministry could get that would solve all of their issues.  It would be great if we could end hunger just by feeding people; cure homelessness by giving someone a bed; and end poverty by just giving money.  But if that were the case, poverty would have been stopped long ago.

It isn’t SO complicated that it can’t be solved; but it isn’t SO simple that there is a “one-size fits all” reason for why someone is poor.

At the end of the day, 200-plus people come to the Mustard Seed to get dinner with their own reason why.  Some reasons are sympathetic, others maybe not so.

If we try to figure out why people come and if they should get “free food,” it’s missing the point.  The job is to feed those who need dinner without understanding, entirely, why.  If the homeless were like ping-pong balls with a simple reason why they do what they do, then we’d be in charge of them and their care.  And we might get the care wrong.

But if the answers to their needs lie within listening to people’s stories, then someone else – namely God – might be in charge.

Our job is simply to feed them dinner.

 

Dinnertime: It’s More Than Just Food

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When I did my first shift, I not only couldn’t get a bearing on all of the stories that led to homelessness, but I couldn’t understand why dinner time was so important.

Every five minutes, before 7 pm, I was asked when was dinner, what was dinner, and would there be seconds.

Some of this made sense: the church doesn’t have room for everyone and there usually is a line outside the door.  This wouldn’t be much of a problem for the summer months, but Edmonton can face winters below -30C and the outdoors could kill someone.

But the persistent questions of the what/why/how/when of dinner reminded me of the days of youth ministry.

When I was working with junior highers in the 1990s and early 2000s, the game was the crown jewel of the evening.

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Was it Capture the Flag?  If so, what were the teams?  Will we be playing it for a long time?  What about indoor games?   Would they be any good?  Would we waste our time with a stupid indoor game and not run an outdoor one?  Could we skip the Bible study and just play games?

There is a danger in boiling down into a mash all of the diverse issues of poverty by comparing them to junior high students from the suburbs and urban areas.  Still, there is a common link: mealtime does function the way games did back in the “youth ministry days.”

I asked the junior high pastor once why the mania for games.  “They’re fun,” he said.  And then we talked about some of the deeper ideas behind games.  It was play, but with a structure.  If successful, the games were fair: no one cheated or got a dramatically unfair advantage over someone else.  They had a clear goal: to win.  And you never played a game by yourself, you had a community around you.  If you were hurt or frustrated, someone would notice and take care of you.  When you felt better, there was something to jump back into.  It had a beginning, a middle, and an end: so, there were boundaries for that time.

Why do so many of the Mustard Seed participants have a mania for dinner?  “They’re hungry,” was the answer.

Certainly, they were hungry. Hungry because it was dinner time, the meal after lunch.  Many of them may not have had lunch. Or breakfast. Or much food the day before.  Or any for a really long time.

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Perhaps, like games, dinnertime is a place for fairness: the food is shared in a way that there is opportunity for everyone to eat.  It’s also a place for boundaries: there’s a line, there’s a time limit, you eat what’s on your plate, and you take care of yourself.  And you’re not alone: you sit, around a table, family style, and can visit while eating.  Around the meal, there are workers whp will have their meal with you and will be watching, keeping everything fair and safe and communal.

When you eat on the streets, you quickly can become invisible.  By yourself, food can be stolen.  You eat in silence.  As well, there is no structure or community or rules or safety. But when you eat at the Mustard Seed, the curse of invisibility is reversed.

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So we feed them dinner.  And dinner becomes its own ministry to our city.

Ever thought about joining the Mustard Seed?  As a volunteer?  As one who gives?  Or in other ways?   The idea of helping would be best summed up as the idea of coming for dinner.

Check out their website:

The Mustard Seed – Home

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Plastic Straw Test; Or Why I Don’t Like Using Straws or Lids in My Drinks Anymore

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In recent times, the plastic straw has been linked to needless population and increased waste.

Many are saying that an easy aid in taking care of our environment is to go without the straw. It won’t solve all of our problems, but it could help.  Here is a link behind the science of this ban:

Using plastics means less waste in the first place

Many, on the other side, have defended the straw and have claimed the world is fine, it’s not polluted.  They speak of nostalgia when kids could sip their pop in peace.  They will often site conspiracy theories behind this ban (IE. “They take away our straws now, next they’ll come for our FREEDOM!”).   And, from this argument, there is no science behind any of these claims so I can’t provide for you a link.

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I don’t like straws anymore.  Furthermore, I don’t like plastic lids.  I like drinking things like I do at home.  And if I’m in a hurry and need to go somewhere, perhaps I should rethink drinking something in the first place: my life is to hurried.

At home, I drink without lids and caps.   In public, maybe I can try to live with the same comfort as I do at home.

Why?  Here’s the axiom:

The plastic straw is kind of a test. Someone, somewhere has asked you not to use it because it may litter someplace else. Do you go without? Or do you complain about the inconvenience, decry their answer, ramble off statistics only to invalidate their request, and wax eloquently about the “good old days” when people could sip straws without being hassled? If you are willing to go without a straw, then you’re more apt to change some other things in your life to make room for that someone else who lives somewhere else who wants you to help someplace else.

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This is the straw test, which could easily be the “hand washing test”.  Here’s how it works:

Let’s say you have just learned that washing your hands has been studied and an easy way of breaking the chain in viral infections.  But you don’t want to wash your hands.  For you, it’s a waste of time.  As a kid, you didn’t wash your hands and you were fine.  Plus, aren’t there other ways of getting viruses?  Aren’t some airborne?  Can’t you get a virus from a drinking fountain?  Why isn’t anyone banning those?  It’s a conspiracy to control people!!!

You don’t wash your hands, then.  And you make everyone around you sick.

This is the same logic.

You may not want to believe in climate change, pollution, global extinctions, or any of the other crisis connected to our environment.  With that steadfast unbelief, the straw is an emblem of pride and honour and “the way it used to be”.

When I saw that I don’t like them anymore, this might challenge your disbelief.   And I’m okay with that.  For me, someone somewhere has asked me not for the sake of benefiting someplace else and that’s enough for me,

What if…there was a new Church?

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For years, I’ve fought the dream of church planting.  I’ve seen so many great attempts fail and wondered why.  When you see someone else’s dreams get crushed by reality, you tend to hold back on your own dreams.

But it is still there, the dream.

Here it is in a nutshell: what if there was a church that tried to invest half its resources, time, programming, and talents to help out its local neighbourhood?

One reason why I’ve seen church plants not be successful is that the emphasis is usually on the Sunday morning gathering.  The push is to make a really neat and amazing and brand new expression of a worship service happen, as quickly as possible, and all community engagement is based around that goal. The service happens and then the plant becomes just another small church. 

Another reason I haven’t listened to the dream is that church planting looks to be ministry in isolation.  The model is, typically, you parachute a highly charismatic minister into an area where there are no churches, he/she creates a following, and this minister is the one with the brand new, amazing vision of church.  Then, BLAM!  A new church is born.

This is a fine model, other than the fact that I’m not a highly charismatic leader and I actually really like the model given to me by my Anglican family as to what happens during a service.

So the dream has been put on hold. Until some of my friends, with Fusion Canada, started chatting with me.

What if, we dreamed … we could put all we have learned, researched and done for neighbourhood engagement and made a church?

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Fusion Canada exists as a non-profit organization for the purpose of networking churches with their neighbourhoods and the neighbourhoods in network with each other.  “Together is always better than apart” – would be an expression for their roles. 

I’ve worked with Fusion for about 7 years and have seen a lot of good from their ministries, festivals, block parties, and other ideas that have worked for people to get to know each other in the neighbourhood.

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What if… a church, an Anglican Church, worked to do this?

Come to find out, there’s a small group that has been meeting faithfully to where the next step could be their own parish. The idea is to explore the notion of a team approach between the Anglican Diocese and Fusion Canada.  The services, leadership, structure, and ethos would be entirely Anglican; the neighbourhood engagement would be from Fusion Canada.

I approached the Bishop (since it is the Bishop, in the Anglican churches, who erects parishes) and she has given me permission to explore this idea.

That is the stage we are in, exploration.  Right now, the idea would be West Edmonton – just south of the mall. There is a vibrant, healthy church next door to this neighbourhood (St. Matthias Anglican Church) that could be our neighbour and help us out as we grow alongside their ministry.

 If you think of us, pray.   And consider this might be something God is calling you to.

Rest in Peace: Terrance Dicks Taught Me How to Tell a Story

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Terrance Dicks has passed away.  His fans know him from the classic era of Doctor Who, mainly the Tom Baker era stories.   He wrote for other shows, had other stories to tell, and was know for being more than just a script writer: it’s just that most of us know him through his Who stories.

What Terrance Dicks taught was was wisdom in storytelling.  That you can’t wait for the perfect moment and the perfect place and the perfect time to tell a story.  Instead, you tell a story while working with the medium, the tropes, the setting, and what is right in front of you.

Born in East Ham on 1935, he great up under the shadow of WW2 and entered military service during peacetime.  He left the military and came into writing for advertising, writing radio scripts on the side.  One thing led to another, so he was writing from the BBC by the time Doctor Who came onto Britain’s airwaves.

Robert Holmes, Douglas Adams, and other names were often seen right before the show started in the credits about the time, as a boy, when I picked up the show in the 1980’s in California.  This was during the Tom Baker era when-for many-the show was at it’s zenith (before, of course, the 2005 reboot).

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Dicks wrote “The War Games”, “Seeds of Death”, “The War Games”, “Robot”,”The Brain of Morbius”, “Horror of Fang Rock”, and “State of Decay” amongst other stories.  During this time, he also wrote for Target books that novelized many of the Who stories (he wrote over 50 titles).   He worked on some Who projects in between “the desert years” of the 1990’s when the show wasn’t making new episodes.  He was a script editor for a spell, so he probably left his mark on several uncredited stories.  He did many other scripts  (Charles Dickens adaptations, the Avengers TV show, Space 1999, etc.) and they remain part of our library of appreciation.

Here’s what he taught me: work with what is in front of you.

Doctor Who was considered, at that time, a show for smart children.  However, he told some very, very scary stories.  He also worked in some great, adult jokes (not crude or lewd, but you had to be well-read and educated to get them).

The sets were cardboard, Mary Whitehouse was breathing down their neck to keep things dull and moral, and the stories had to be cranked out super fast.

And yet, there was an elegance and a wit to the stories.  Yes, they were for kids…but also really frightening.  Yes, it was just science fiction…but something more was going on.  The production struggled…but something was compelling.

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“I will not work in this kind of conditions,” would have been the death knell for us hearing these great, Dicks’ stories.  I mean, think of “Horror of Fang Rock”: the monster was rarely seen, it was a single set in the claustrophobia of a light house, and all of the characters (except the Doctor and Leela) died.  And yet, the story worked!

I’ve mentioned before the Tom Baker effect, but it came from Dicks.  The effect simply is you start an episode of Doctor Who expecting campy, goofy pantomime.  The sets’ paint seems to still be drying on them as the story begins, the actors walk lightly so they don’t shake the fabric walls of the cave, and there is an air of “after school production” to it.

And then the acting becomes intense, believable.  The story takes over.  You start believing in the lie from the BBC.  You’re scared.   And then, right before the show ends, some horrible fate falls upon either the Doctor or one of his companions.

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It was the cliffhanger idea that was perfected by this era of Who.  Certainly, it existed before but they were never as elegant, stressful, or sharp until Dicks and his crew took over.  There were great moments before Dicks, but he began the succession of one sharp ending after another after another after another.

Which is the lesson of great story telling: use what is right in front of you to really panic and stress out your audience.

For this, Mr. Dicks, thank you.  May you rest in peace.