St. George: Eric’s New Gig

x240-6re

This is an odd bit of joy.

My experience as a Baptist and Evangelical Pastor has shaped me to leave/enter a congregation in much the same way, despite the fact that every church is unique in their own imprints.  The usual story is that I am contacted by a church based on a resume I sent them, a reference made, or some third party makes an introduction.  They have been without a leader for sometime and usually seek a different kind of leader than the one that they had previous to my pastorate.  When I get there, I settle for a few months, listen to the stories of my predecessor, and hold back the reality that things, pretty soon, will be much, much different.

This is the way of the congregational led, anabaptist, evangelical world.

Not so with Anglicanism.

My new parish will be starting September 4th and, after a long wait, will be…

St. George’s Anglican Church in Fort Saskatchewan.

2017 St. George Fort Sask

If this sounds familiar to you-then you’re right-it is where I first was placed as an intern when I first started this adventure back in November.

I will be their interim Deacon-in-charge.  This interim season will be no less than 6 months and no more than a year.  The plan is that during this time, I will be ordained from Deacon to Priest.

33450290492_e6e77b44c3_z

This congregation was a place of great joy and healing, as the people received a fairly hurt intern who had a very long backstory.  I learned the ropes of Anglicanism there and really jived well with the vision set by Rev. Chelsy.  As an intern, I wasn’t biting my tongue and holding back my words, pining for the day I could be in charge of my own parish so I could “finally do things right”.  Quite the opposite: there was a concrete vision being given by people who were getting on board and it was a pretty inclusive strategy.

I now mean what most priests/pastors say when I begin with the words: “We will be continuing the vision.  We’re on our way to becoming a neighbourhood church, a place of cooperative ministry and leadership, and a people who follow God’s mission.”

220px-CN-Train-Station-Fort-Saskatchewan-Alberta-Canada-01A

These are good people who have benefited from a strong leader.  Rev. Chelsy, ironically, will be the assistant priest at Christ Church (another familiar name: it was the location of my second internship).   Still in the area, just in a new neighbourhood.  It is an honour to be asked back and I am very excited to continue with the parish’s story

For those who pray, please keep me in mind as I start this new chapter in the Kregels journey.  Also, if ever in the Fort, look me up.

You can read about it in the Synod Scene:

http://www.edmonton.anglican.org/newsletters/94/display

 

Advertisements

Synergy

 

Synergy:syn-er-ji//noun: cooperation of two or more people or things to produce a combined effect that is greater than the sum of their separate effects. 

Once upon a time, there was a youth pastor, Arty Williams, who ran a Summer Camp.  His church’s insurance required him to have at least 1 adult to 8 kids for his program, yet only his girlfriend and roommate ran the youth group.  When asked where he was going to find the other staff, his answer was the same, “I don’t want to trust in my own strength.  God will bring the staff.”

On the morning of the camp, his senior pastor met Arty in the parking lot to only find his girlfriend and his roommate as adults on the bus.  Sadly, the camp was cancelled.  When Arty met with the elder board, he informed them he never made any calls, never visited any of the Bible studies of the church, or even invited any of the parents to the camp.

9633702

An older gentleman summed up the board’s feelings concerning Arty, “I know you didn’t want to use your strength but God’s, yet I think it’s okay, every once in a while, to break a little sweat for the kingdom.”

This describes on extreme view on God’s Mission: He’ll do it all, we just have to sit back and watch.

The other extreme is that the goal of following God is to make everyone go to church, whatever it takes, and make them into people just like yourself.  The one who makes the most Christians is the best at following God and the church with the most converts…wins.

On this extreme, it is the brow beating and hyperactivity that makes people into Christians and saves the world.  God can help out, so long as he sticks to the plan.

Either extreme shall make one nuts.  Either side, you’re all alone.

No, God works in community and in relationship.

“It is surely a fact of inexhaustible significance that what the Lord left behind Him was not a book, nor a creed, nor a system of thought, nor a rule of life, but a visible community,” writer Lesslie Newbegin asserts.

Unknown

If what God left behind was a community to change the world, then why do we either think we have to make it happen or stay in isolation, a lonely despair waiting for “God to do something…anything.”

The solution is that God is already at work and wants us to walk alongside Him, to cooperate and participate.  To share in the invitation of following Christ…with Christ.

Karen Wilk wrote an amazing devotional called “Don’t Invite Them to Church”.   “The disciples experienced the power of with. I think that’s what loving our neighbors is all about…The risen Lord showed up, not in the temples, but in cemeteries, on beaches, at home gatherings, and on the road.  He ate a lot of fish and bread.  Sometimes I wonder if the church has made everything too complicated.  What if we all just did what Jesus did: walked alongside, listened, empathized, told the story, broke bread?”

He is the God who shows up with those who follow Him and is there before they come. It is a blessed synergy: God’s activity and our partnership.

synergy arrows

The presence of God is found with those who follow Him, not in data, celebrities, digitally recorded sermons, books, exclusively in church buildings, or products.  When people cooperate with Christ, the glory of their witness shines.

Kind of like John 17: 20-23, “I pray not only for these but also for those who believe in Me through their message.  May they all be one in Us, so the world may believe You sent Me.  I have given them glory You have given Me.  May they be one as We are one.  I am in them and You are in Me.  May they be made completely one, so the world may know You have sent Me and have loved them as You have loved Me.”

Grace is Like…

Years ago, I brought my 4 year-old daughter to a camp I spoke at and she listened to one of my messages.  I attempted, in my message, to communicate the style of Jesus’ teaching.  He rarely used a lectern or formally taught, but would be walking with his disciples and point to things near them, stating, “The Kingdom of God is like…”   I did this in the chapel and, comically, ran out of things to point at.

CR-OV-SOCIAL-Health-Cereal-v2-9-17

“You see,” I concluded.  “You’ve got to leave the chapel to find the God-metaphors in your world.”

A few days after the camp, my daughter woke up and came to the kitchen for her breakfast.  I poured her some cereal and went to get some milk.  She pointed at the bowl and declared, “The Kingdom of God is like cereal…”

She expected me to finish the sentence. This, my friends, is a metaphor for parenting.

Christ loved metaphors and used them to reveal himself to the people around him.  Such words like “sanctification”, “incarnation”, “propitiation”, and the like would be drowned in legal language and scientific babble if not surrounded by metaphors such as coins inside fish, a lost son, a mustard seed, and other such tales.

This is especially true for the abstract notion of God’s grace.

Let me give you, gentle reader, some metaphors:

 

The Grace of God is like…

MV5BMTc0Njc3NDc2OF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNTkzNTgxMw@@._V1_UY317_CR30,0,214,317_AL_

The Marx Brothers.

In these old movies, there is a perfect plot going on that you would find common to most stories from the 1930’s to the 1950’s. Baddies are in charge, the goodies are being persecuted, and everyone takes a break to sing a Broadway-like song. Then the Marx Brothers enter and everything was turned upside-down.

The proud are humiliated, the innocent are empowered, the lovers united, and there’s more singing (but the songs are now strange and possible parodies of something else and totally unique to the Marx Brothers films).

Margaret Dumont was in a lot of these, always looked shocked, aghast, and disgusted by their anarchy.  There’s a rumour in Hollywood that she wasn’t acting, but her career with the Marx Brothers was a prolonged sense of genuine outrage.  Why did she coming back for the next film?  No one knows, but her outrage seems to only make their humour only funnier.  They were breaking all of her rules!

There are times, in their movies, when the humour defaults to the hostilities and limited perception filters of their time.  Yes, some of their scenes make us rightfully cringe as a 21stCentury movie watcher.  However, the base idea of the Marx Brothers is essentially grace.

James 4:6 asserts, “But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: ‘God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.’”

You cannot be proud, be in control, and be right and, equally, be able to fully grasp, exude, and relate to God’s grace.  Why?  Grace will always be the Marx Brother to your status.

Writer Philip Yancey argues that there is nothing you can do to make God love you more; equally, there is nothing you can do to cause God to love you less[1].  We like the last bit- we’re loved no matter what.  However, what about the first?  That if I live a way where I see myself with the criteria that God sees me, then I don’t play the game of earning my status, levels of superiority, or control?

Another writer, Richard Rohr, says something similar when he says that the opposite of faith is not doubt but control.  According to this passage is James, we don’t understand grace when we seek for things to be under our control.

When we are in control, God lovingly sends us the Marx Brothers as a grace.

 

Blackberry-Chester

The Taste of Berries.

Another writer, Frederick Buechner, describes God’s grace as the taste of berries[2].

You don’t earn the taste of berries.  You could be the greatest Dad in the world that morning, making your kids breakfast and picking a flower for your spouse…and the backyard berries will taste every so sweet.

Or you could be an absolute animal of a being, burning down orphanages, using shopping carts without returning them to their port, and discarding garbage without separating them.  And the backyard berries will taste equally sweet.

The metaphor helps me because the state of grace one has is not about who eats the berries but about the berries themselves.

If, by the grace of God, I am loved by the Almighty, then it is less about me and more about the goodness found in the Spirit of God.  This worth is not my own, but given from Above.

 

WB9XXXXXX-P.fpx

A banjo.

As a child, I was instructed in the piano. I hated every moment of it.  For 7 years, I took lessons and played and suffered. Left alone, I had to just make noise on the piano.  My parents just listened for something, anything.  If it went quiet, I’d get a holler.

The clarinet was the same story.  That lasted a year.

Then, in University, I worked with youth ministries in an Evangelical Church.  I was told that ALL youth pastors could play the guitar.  I needed to because, let’s say, we’re sitting around a campfire in the woods I shouldn’t just talk to the kids, I needed to start playing music and turn it into an organic, spontaneous church service (a la Calvary Chapel).  And I hated the guitar when I was learning it.

One day, I good friend gifted me his banjo. I played with no ministerial or familial demands.  The machine existed just because and for no other reason than to be enjoyed.

I plucked and claw-hammered and frailed on the machine way back in 1996.  I still play it today.  From that state of grace, I have led worship at camps and church services (when asked), but I have also used it as my machine of grace.

fe46d478719b674cc36835169f90bca2

As a young man, I wrote on the front skin of my banjo: “THIS MACHINE SHARES GOD’S GRACE.”  The words are a loving parody to Woody Guthrie’s words “THIS MACHINE KILLS FASCISM.”  I figured God’s grace was closer to my heart than politics.

The banjo reminds me of the passage in Ephesians 2:8, 9: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9= not by works, so that no one can boast.”

God is the greatest gift giver  we might ever know and the LORD invites us, as Christians, to share in this spirit of gift giving.  Not because we must or are told to or will get yelled at if we don’t or because we want to build our own empire, but because it’s a way of sharing in it’s goodness.  There is a joy in sharing of grace.

This is God’s grace.

[1]What’s So Amazing About Grace?  Yancey, Philip, Zondercan, 1997.

[2]The Alphabet of Grace. Buechner, Fredrick, Harper One, 1970.

2018: My Week At Summer Camp

forbiddendesert

I have just returned from an amazing week at Inner-Varsity Pioneer camp.  My daughters were campers; my wife led crafts; and I did the big games and the storytelling for the nights while leading Bible classes during the day.

Last year, I brought back an old game from my days as a youth pastor, the Black Gong.  You can read about it here:

https://ericjkregel.wordpress.com/2017/08/11/the-black-gong-returns-what-this-summer-taught-me-about-living-in-a-redemptive-community/

The leadership of the camp wanted to do something a little bit different, so we went with a new metaphor and a new game and a new story.   I wanted the kids to experience the ever-presence of the Kingdom of God, seeing that it doesn’t reside in a particular building or only within a specific kind of person.

The working definition we had for the Kingdom of God/Heaven was: it is wherever, whenever, and by whomever follows Jesus as King.  

This theology is from Leo Tolstoy (“The Kingdom of God is Within You”) and perfected by N.T. Wright.  However, it’s all over the four Gospels.

But how you do translate that into a game?  A game for 6-10 year olds?

One night, my struggle with an image was so intense that I had to take a break.  I played the game “Forbidden Desert” with my wife.  Suddenly, as I looked at the pictures of alien ruins and all of the sand, I got the idea that the campers come into ruin of a lost civilization.  They’re dying of thirst.  So they make a thing that promises to get them out but instead the thing transforms the ruins into a living, actualized city filled with people and everything they would need to live.

The challenge wasn’t location but perspective; are we willing to see that God is here, God is present now?

Sometimes when it comes to telling stories to children, I get lazy.  I take references and names from pop or past culture and put them recklessly into my stories.  My daughter’s bedtime stories have Alf, Daleks, the Blue Meanies from the Beatles, and so forth all making cameos in their tales.

I did the same for this camp.

The lost kingdom was named “Skaro” from Doctor Who; the stations where they got supplies were called “Groucho”, “Zeppo”, “Chico”, “Harpo”, and “Gummo”; the thing to get them out of the desert was called the “Aedefecium” (borrowed from Dr. Umberto Eco); and the baddies were the “Gwar” Monsters.

cocoanuts-the-1929-002-four-marxes-cross-purpose-handshake-00m-y71e8198a5c7d1925fc7caaed12a4992445maxresdefault

“Gwar” is a heavy metal band that dresses up like monsters and shoots things into their audience during live concerts. I’m not a fan, but I have enjoyed a video or two sent to me by friends.   Honestly, I just loved the name and meant, by no means, as an advertisement for the band.  If anything, I’d rather have kids read Umberto Eco or watch the Marx Brothers…but that won’t be happening anytime soon, if at all.

GwarScottMurry2

The Gwar Monsters were supposed to be a simple plot device in the game: the kids would be searching for things but the Gwar Monsters would give them chase, creating an urgency to the game.

The first night was a relay race where kids got into refrigerator boxes and traveled through Gwarland: the grass, we claimed, was full of disease and radiation and, quite possibly, invisible hot lava.  The only thing that would protect you from such nastiness would be…cardboard.  They believed us for gaming purposes and the Gwar Monsters would stand in the middle, being living obstacles for their game.

(I got this idea from my days at Granada Heights Friends Church, back in my days as a youth director in California.)

The Gwar Monsters were a hit!  Their success, so big, that the next night the kids couldn’t play the game because they were chasing the Gwar Monsters.  Enamored by having a visible enemy, they threw soccer balls at these staff member’s heads or they would hurl an insult, only to retreat back to the safety of wood’s tree-line.  Kids would run, tackle, poke, and wrestle these leaders dressed in twigs, moss, and body paint and they couldn’t stop.

The Gwar Monsters, during every meal after the game, were the rockstars at the camp.  Like if a Beatle walked into a Baptist church around 1964, the three leaders would walk into the camp and their names would be shouted by campers, begging to sit at their table.  The fixation with being an enemy translated into Gwarmania.

It didn’t help things that three staff people playing the Gwar Monsters were kind folks, highly magnetic in their personalities, and great hams.  They laid it properly thick and the kids ate it up like chocolate cake frosting.

We decided not to invite back the Gwar Monsters for the final game (mainly because we wanted the kids to play it).  They had to go to the five stations to find parts of the Adefecium and the build it in the middle of Gwarland.  Then: Gwarland would be magically transformed into the living glory of the Kingdom of Skaro.

One of the staff members had a vision for what the Adefecium should be and that was a cross that could only be assembled the right way, with the right dowels and base in it’s proper use.  The metaphor went that we come to the cross not on our terms, but on God’s terms.  We wanted it built in the poison land, in the heart of wherever everything went wrong and was it’s most dangerous.

camp-gathering-cross-foreground

The game ended.  We unpacked all of the meaning through the afternoon classes and the evening stories.   When the game was over, a staff person then asked, “What about the Gwar Monsters?”   I was content to say they were vacationing in Vermont and we wouldn’t see them again, but the kids wanted one last confrontation.

bfcf48a316ec21346a69ce085ab0c3db--outlander-the-battle

We decided to have a 7am wake-up, where the Gwar Monsters would attack the camp and the campers would defend their homes by pillows.  I cabin leader brought his bagpipe to camp (Wouldn’t you?) and played a war ballad, accompanied by another staff member beating on his bongos.  With the pipes blaring, the Gwar Monsters attacking, and the drums thumping it was absolute pillow fighting bedlam for fifteen minutes until the breakfast bell rang.  The Gwar Monsters were repelled and the camp safe again.

But it didn’t feel complete.  Not wrong, but something was missing when it came to our description of the Kingdom of God.

One of the staff members on the last morning of camp sharing his feelings while proposing an idea: “What if the Gwar Monsters came back, singing one of the camper’s praise songs to God?  What if we showed the campers that Gwar Monsters could be part of the Kingdom of God too?”

I agreed.  We planned that during our last meal the Gwar Monsters could make an appearance.  I then was given a strong challenge: “Eric,” the staff fellow whose idea this was and also one of the Gwar Monsters.  “You need to pray for the Gwar Monster’s salvation.  It doesn’t work if you don’t pray.”

I struggled with this.  I mean, Gwar Monsters were fictional characters.  I love Disney cartoons, but I don’t pray that Donald Duck doesn’t come to a nice, compassionate Anglican Church.  I don’t pray that Captain Hook would repent and attend a support group with Darth Vader.

But then again, the kids-on a certain level, believed in the Gwar Monsters.  They knew it was a game, but they also were willing to suspend this belief for jumping into a story.   The camp leader was asking me to enter into the camper’s minds and pray from that point of reference: go into their story so that God’s story could reign.

I then prayed at the beginning of the meal for the Gwar Monsters to enter into the Kingdom of God.

Halfway through the breakfast, the Gwar Monsters carried the Adefecium and sang songs of praise.  They then joined the kids for breakfast in character.  Kids ran up, welcoming them like one does a visitor at a church’s potluck.   Hugs were shared between camper and monster.   The camp ended happily as everyone was included into the Kingdom (even fictional villains).

Everything came together in the Kingdom of Skaro.

(Sidenote: If you want to find out more about the amazing place of Pioneer Lodge InnerVarsity Camp, follow this link: https://www.pioneercampalberta.ca).

 

It’s The End of the World As We Know It and I Feel Fine

“Keep Santa Cruz Weird” is a slogan to encourage busking in this coastal Californian city but the slogan didn’t make the town weird: it had a long history of eccentricity.

Free summer concerts delight crowds of beach goers and Boardwalk guests Photo courtesy of the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk

In the 1980’s, we were proud of our town because it was the setting of the film “The Lost Boys”.  The city, hugged by mountains and a beach, stood as a solid sliver of art, wildness, and freedom for its citizens.  In the 1990’s, it was where old hippies went as their final resting place.  I saw, one night on an open stage, the band “Camper Van Beethoven” play their music and they created little stir: it was the kind of thing you’d expect in Santa Cruz.

So, in December of 1999, the end of the world mania gripped the west coast.  In the town I was living in at the time- Whittier- people were buying water, guns, canned goods, and generators like there would be-literally- no tomorrow.

A senior gentleman who owned our local liquor store camped atop his roof for an entire week before the new year.  He clutched his rifle and was willing to shoot any looters.  He did this during the Rodney King Riots of LA and found this emotionally satisfying the last time.  No one was hurt, but he still felt a bit more in control of his castle.

My mom’s next-door neighbor filled up his bathtubs and sinks, expecting that when the computer glitch in the system- unable to transition the count from 99 to 2000- would happen, he would have water for his family. He told my mom to do the same thing.

I didn’t do any of these safety precautions.  Instead, I headed to Santa Cruz.

I figured that if the world was going collapse, the computers would stop working, and the end was nigh- I mine as well be surrounded by hippies and socialists and flower children.  When natural disaster strikes, one should pick a good neighborhood.

My older brother and some friends from his days in the Peace Corp were vacationing in Santa Cruz, so I decided to join them to ring in the new year.

We watching the live news feed from Jerusalem.  I can remember the late Peter Jennings droning, “Many…believe that this would be the site where Jesus Christ would return…he is not here…nowhere to be found…these people, evidently, are wrong…again, Jesus has not returned…He is not in Jerusalem…”

After a dinner that couldn’t be beat, we headed off to the downtown of Santa Cruz.   Some free shows were provided, but for the most part people milled around the streets.

Unknown

Then it happened.  From stage left behind two dumpsters and an alley, emerged a group of Hare Krishnas banging on drums.  Their beat intoxicating, a steady ta-dum-dum-dum, ta-dum-dum…

All smiles, they led the displaced and dissociated crowd of strangers down the main street.

Soon, we were a mob!  Joining us was a man dressed like a banana, handing out fruit to people.  A group of black clad teenagers marched behind me.  People danced.  Those of us who didn’t know why- the majority- just marched.  Where were we going?  No one knew.

pics-image-3-711317934

If you ever wondered- what would a group of people partying who were convinced it was the last night of their lives do?- the application of this thought took place on the streets of Santa Cruz.  It was as if Ken Kesey, Hunter S. Thompson, and the Catholic church all worked together to engineer the apocalypse.

We marched.

We got to the end of the street, the masses stared at the city’s clock tower.  The countdown began:

IMG_20150101_240044428-432x768

10…9…8…7…6…5…4…3…2…1…

 

A silence fell on the entire city.  All eyes were fixed upon the street lights.  Time passed.  Without apology, time progressed to 12:01 and civilization had indeed survived.

In unison, the entire mob booed.  Some shook their fists at the lights.  Others just threw up their hands in disgust.

Commerce, capitalism, debt, time, and computers had all survived Y2K.

 

 

My kids, the other night, asked me if people actually believed that the world would end in the year 2000.  I said yes and this answer seemed silly.

Storytelling is often limited in the first person because you can’t convey the tension when it comes to your possible demise: “And that was the day, a long time ago, I died…”.

It’s hard to tell two kids born well into the 21stCentury that people believed, just maybe, things would fall apart. Why?  They are removed, by time, from the tension of the story.  This can be a problem because in tension is where we find our life’s lessons.

When I think of the Ark and the Covenant, we forget sometimes what was inside this Holy of Holy container.  Three common objects: Aaron’s staff, manna, and the 10 Commandments.

Why did the ancient Jews have to carry that around? Why was that part of their worship?

They did so that they would always remember the tension of their own story.  They, at one time, were slaves of Egypt.  God led them back to their own land through Aaron.  “Don’t ever forget that,” an elder would say.  “And, also, don’t make anyone your slave!  Learn from this story!”

792521483085381518

Manna was what God gave them to eat.  “Don’t ever forget that God takes care of you if you do what He wants,” the elders would say.

And the Law, the rules of good living.  “Keep these, don’t break them.  Besides, you can’t break these Laws!  You can only break yourself against these laws.  Follow them!”

We tell these stories to remind us of their tensions, struggles, and resolutions.   We enter into these stories because they’re good for our hearts and remind us what we’ve inherited.

And we tell stories to find our place in God’s great story.

Spoons That Are Too Long and Farms that Are Too Wide

Once upon a time, there was a Heaven and a Hell.  Both places had a long table full of wonderful food, both places had extra-long spoons, and both places had hungry people in front of the food. However, in Heaven they filled their bellies and in Hell they starved.  What was the difference?

Watch this video to find out:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7mGVOekKMRs

Hell grabs; Heaven helps.

Author Wendell Berry writes, “We have lived out lives by the assumption that what was good for us would be good for the world.  We have been wrong.  We must change our lives so that it will be possible to live by the contrary assumption, that what is good for the world will be good for us.  And that requires that we make the effort to know the world and learn what is good for it.[1]

look-and-see-2_1280x720

A good friend of mine, a while back, asked me what I thought were good, Christian politics as a “soon-to-be” Anglican priest.  This was born out of the current state of US politics: where so much of the political dialogue is based in opposition: people opposePresident Trump who was elected by people who opposedObama and did not want Hillary Clinton who rose up in opposition to President Bush who was in opposition to President Clinton…

Although I strongly believe it is not a sin to oppose to oppose a leader when one lives in a Democracy-and, yes, I oppose President Donald Trump’s policies- the question is not what I’m against but what am I for.

What is a good, righteous, healthy political dream?

A good political dream is like the banquet table it Heaven or the quote from Wendell Berry.

Or like a breakfast table at a summer camp.

e9e8d46aaf884a99e0f99d8544e90373

Years ago, the camp I worked at was in the middle of staff training.  One morning, we came down for breakfast and found a sign with some rules:

 

  • You cannot serve yourself. You cannot get your own cutlery, plate, or food. This includes seconds.
  • You can offer anything to someone else. The offer has to be specific based upon what you believe that person wants/needs.
  • If you make an offer, they have the right to refuse. You cannot bring them something that has not be agreed upon.  You have a right to eat what is best for you.

 

The anxiety arose in the staff: what if I go hungry for breakfast because I’m too busy

feeding someone else?  Shouldn’t I feed myself firstand then take care of everyone else around me?  What if I’m skipped?

However, that morning, people enjoyed one of the largest breakfasts we had at camp.  With the staff, the camp was seeking to instill a new, uncommon awareness of other people’s needs and wants.  This awareness- much like the prowess a basketball has when reading the court and looking on how to set up someone else’s shot- cannot be achieved the moment “me first” is in one’s priorities.  Rather, when the stranger, the outsider, the outlier, the displaced, and the exploited is considered…then resources can be considered in their right and proper place.

This is at the heart of basic, Christian theology.  What these 3 passages have in common (Good Samaritan Luke 10:25-37 , Least of theseMatthew 25:31-46, Body of Christ1 Corinthians 12)? They are an invitation to prioritize the needs/purposes/success of others first and trust that your own needs will be taken care of by your higher powers.

This type of awareness is difficult because it requires trust or faith in the religion we espouse.  Sure, we attend a temple or mosque or church: but do we believe and trust that those higher powers will take care of us when they invite us to be our brother’s keeper? When we feast at Ramadan, will there be food for everyone at sundown?  Or should we hold back on our charity?

As an Anglican, I have been taught to pray “Your Kingdom come, your will be done; on Earth as it is in Heaven.”

On Earth, we are given spoons that are much too long to feed ourselves and a farm that grows so much food my family cannot eat…and a hungry world around us.

2013-11-Chicago-Recovery-Alliance-spoons-uncaptioned-heaven-1200

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1]Berry, Wendell.  The Long Legged House. 

What Would You Have On Your Tombstone?

Image-272

What would you have on your tombstone?- it’s a fantastic question, once you get past the morbid quality of thinking about one’s death.

We, as humans, don’t like thinking about death.   Bob Hope, late in his life, was being pestered by his wife about her plans for his funeral.  She wanted to know who to invite, what hymns should be sung, and who should speak.  Hope simply shrugged, tiring out by this discussion, and simply remarked, “I don’t know what should happen at my funeral.  I don’t know.  Surprise me!”

maxresdefault

As a minister, this has been a great crowd breaker question in small groups or committee meetings- especially if I wasn’t too keen on getting to the business of that particular meeting:

What would you have written on your tombstone?

My “go to” answers were two engravings.  The first:

“And another thing…”   

I would add that I wanted a two-year plan for a cell phone that would be buried with me.  People could call and leave messages.  My outgoing message would be a formal statement that I was otherwise indisposed and that I’d do my best to return their call.

The second is like unto it:

“To change the subject abruptly…”

This is more of a life-long mantra, really.  As a young teen, I had the habit of replying to a series of stories or proposals with a totally unrelated thought.  People would be talking about the 49er’s and I related a story about the Holocaust; my youth leader would be leading a Bible study about chastity and I’d ask why skateboarding wasn’t an olympic sport; and my mom would be trying to find out why I misplaced my house key and I asked her what we call the wetlands during a drought thereby making the lands no longer wet.

I would be asked if I was paying attention to the conversation and I assured them that I was listening; listening-so quickly- that my mind had moved ahead to several ideational box cars further down the strand to where I was now living and thinking, beyond the groups present lagging.

My parents tried correcting me on this bad habit, but gave up.  Instead, they instructed me to just tell everyone I’m changing the subject as a pre-emptive confession and, perhaps, people might be more willing to forgive me.  It mostly worked and stuck with me.

But this quote is more about life than dialogue.  How often do we plan our day to be about grocery shopping and it’s become something so much more?  We begin our story in one genre and it morphs into an entirely different one.  Life isn’t interrupted, but exists as a steady stream of interruptions making it something more than just living.  Death included!

Make sense?  Probably not.  Let me change the subject abruptly…

My childhood friend had this as his answer to the tombstone question:

“I told you I was sick”

Simple, to the point, and poetic.  I asked him if he was planning of dying from sickness.  “It doesn’t matter,” he said.   I like that.

“Why not?”  

7P5PECWAZVGSPLAUG5DXCL4QBA

This is from a fictional rock star found in the movie “This is Spinal Tap”.

“There goes the neighbourhood”

This is on Rodney Dangerfield’s tombstone, more about the cemetery than his present occupation.

“Died from not forwarding that e-mail to 10 people”

This came from a girl in a college/career group I led.  It stuck with me because she was an incredibly logical, scientifically based person who loved reason.  Why she wanted to leave the earth on this tone of anti-reason was surprising to me.

“Wait!  Wha-a-at?  Ah, no way!”

This came from an 8th grade boy who said this a lot when he was living.  He was perpetually shocked, confused, and in wonder whenever an adult spoke to him.   He did his best to make his world feel crazy and absurd for trying to talk to him.  It worked with his friends, giving him a mystique so much in need for the LA skateboard world of the 1990’s.

It surprised me that he not only knew that his catch phrases in a series of interjections to communicate bewilderment, but that he foresaw this was going to be his last words.

“Participent.”  

This is from a good friend of mine who was a painter-turned-drummer.   He offered me no explanation for this answer and, therefore, I can’t give you one either.

 

To change the subject slightly, I would probably have my life purpose statement on my tombstone mainly because I think my surviving family wouldn’t be comforted by my sense of humour at that time.

When I first started church ministry, a group of consultants worked with the staff to do life-mapping, gift assessment, and Biblical teaching on one’s life purpose statement.  It was based a lot of Robert Clinton’s work “Refocussing Leaders”.  My purpose statement was made then and it stuck with me, throughout the decades afterwards:

“Share God’s grace”

Sharing is a key concept because I think it’s a more direct word than things like “love” or “care”, yet it can mean the same thing.  You can tell when people aren’t sharing or when they refuse to share; you can tell, on the other hand, when you come into a church, family, or company that sharing is a constant reality.   Sharing can be felt, measured, and enjoyed.

Grace has been the stuff of my faith and religion that I keep coming back to.  Sure, sure: there’s truth and calling and everything else.  Grace, though, is the one constant.  It’s theological, personal, practical, political, and psychological all in one big heap of meaning.

God is in the centre, which is a big honour that directs all of my steps that march to the grave.   At the end of everything, wouldn’t be great if it was He who lingered behind and not me?

2788-ptamrwcgmc-1488015836

What do you want on your tombstone?

 

 

 

 

 

O Canada

40df535de1715def8161c9501c6c72cc

The first time I have been to Canada was a rainy day in August on 2005.  Sunny, bright when my wife and I got off the plane, but by the time we checked into our hotel and grabbed a dinner at Tim Horton’s, the sky dropped a blanket of rain so thick you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face.

This was my baptism into this new land to us, this land of 11pm pick-up hockey games in the street and smokies over fire pits and impossibly wide horizons.

We were picked up, the next morning, to be taken to a small farm town, four hours north of Edmonton.   It was a week where I met a church looking for a pastor and I was looking for something similar, mainly a church that would have me.  After a week, we both agreed and I served in High Prairie for 9 years as a Baptist pastor.

I know Canada from the farms, from a small town, and a tiny community.  Refugees can be adopted by a family or a church or a town- here, in Canada- and my immigration was similar.  A small town took me under their wing and taught me about Canada.

Don’t be fooled: Canada has a culture and it isn’t just a borrowed, distilled version of England or the US.

1297954830923_ORIGINAL

I learned this culture.  It took me a while, for it’s like the Canadian accent: you don’t notice it right away until, after a while, a word is pronounced differently or the cadence slows when you think it should speed up.

“Goin’ fer a rip”, “giver”, “sorry”, “shut the front door”, “I’m bagged”, and other expressions I learned from Alberta all sound like the English language, but they mean different things than I would say as an American.

Patriotism is a funny thing in Canada.  Most everyone rises for the national anthem, the maple leaf hangs on all available flag poles, and kids start their morning singing “O Canada” (some schools mix up the language in either English, French, or Cree in Alberta).   However, there is a difference.

Most Canadians will say they love their country, but aren’t going to gloss over all that’s happened in the past.  Canadian patriotism is the kind of the love a parent has their for their children rather than a child has for his/her parent.  Canadians love it when refugees are brought into the fold, when hockey is a win for the country, or when facing the northern portion of the Rockies; but Canadians are also willing-like a loving parent- to be called into the principal’s office if the child has a problem.

In Canada, there’s room for all kinds.  I found this out the hard way, running out of gas in between my small farm town and Alberta’s capitol, Edmonton.  There can be hours of driving when you don’t see a soul in this country.   There’s room; Canada won’t fill up anytime soon.

maxresdefault

This informs the thinking of the stranger, the newcomer, the foreigner, and the immigrant (or, as a term used by many here “New Canadians).   I first experienced this in 2005 and have experienced it in a steady stream throughout my stay.

I live now with three Canadians- my two kids and dog- and citizenship might be in my future.  In the meantime, patriotism to me looks like thankfulness: I’m so glad there’s room for me in Canada.

canada-vintage-map

I Taught Language Arts at Hogwarts for 26 Years.

HogwartsCastle_WB_F4_HogwartsThroughTheTrees_Illust_100615_Land

I taught Language Arts at Hogwarts Academy for 26 years.  I’m not in any of the movies about Harry Potter, but that’s because in scenes with the faculty I’m usually 6-9 inches out of the camera’s view.  When I watch the films, once in a while I’ll see the back of my head with my bald spot: there I am!

One of the main reasons why I’m not in the movies is simply because nothing exciting happened in my Language Arts classes.  I was pretty upfront with my students on the first day.

They would ask: “You’re a storyteller, right?  We get to read the great stories of wizards, right?”

“No,” I’d say.  “Just the rules of language.  And spelling.”

I would stride into the class like I was being chased by Dementors (a trick I learned from my bridge partner, Professor Snape) and pull out my wand.  I declared, “Extemporaneous!”

The older kids would, quickly, scan their spell books for this command; it wasn’t there.  They’d ask me what’s the power behind this new wand command.

I’d tell them, “There will be no spells in my class, no poems, and no quick magic.  I want you to use your brains and tell me what you’re thinking.  That is my only wand command.”

Yeah, I was probably the least popular teacher at Hogwarts.

Harry Potter, by now, has probably forgotten my name.  I had him for his first three years.  The boy was convinced that the world was going to end unless he saved it, so he did very poorly at spelling tests.  His penmanship was awful, his essays were always late, and he never knew the difference between “their” and “there”.

I told him grammar mattered and I knew he didn’t believe it. (To be fair, his best friend Hermoine was in a coma because of some spell.)

 

 

For a few years, I also taught PE at Hogwarts, which was really hard.  All of the PE students were kids who didn’t make it into the Quidditch team and were often so uncoordinated that they couldn’t stay on a flying broom for more than five minutes.

For those who couldn’t fly in the air, there was flag football.

Playing flag football at Hogwarts was always depressing.  First of all, it was next to the Quidditch fields so other kids would be flying around, doing mythic moves and historic plays while we were running around in polyester shorts and shirts, shuffling around the field trying to pull each other’s flags.

I had two rules: 1) No magic while playing flag football. 2) You have to run at least three times during a period.

Most of my PE kids just formed a line – quite slowly – and then shuffled towards each other.  At the end of my time, we lost the football and continue to play: no one noticed.

When you watch the movies and they show the Quidditch tournaments, everyone is into the game.  They’re cheering, casting spells, and rooting for the team.  If only the camera could do a wider shot it would reveal a group of slumping students, working on their homework, and facing in every direction except the Quidditch game.

pittsburghflagfootball

Yeah, those were my PE classes.

 

 

 

I liked Dumbledore and I think he liked me. He once asked me to proofread one of his convocation speeches.  Half the sentences were grammatical impossibilities and the other half read like someone talking in their sleep.  I made the corrections and sent it back to him.

“My,” the Grand Wizard said.  “That’s a lot of red ink!”

Unknown

“Sorry,” I said with a shrug.  “That’s just me, practicing my magic.”

He laughed at this. His laughter was something I always kept with me.  Whenever I ate my lunch alone or struggled with the bored looks on my students’ faces, I heard Dumbledore’s laugh and it kept me going.

When there were nasty words written in blood on the halls of Hogwarts, I mentioned that there were a couple of dangling participles in the warning.  My comment didn’t make it into the film.  Dumbledore turned to me and looked at me above his glasses.  “Talk to me in the morning.  That might be the clue we need,” he said.

dumbledore

Turns out, it wasn’t.  By the time I met with Dumbledore, Harry had already made his way to the Chamber of Secrets and fought a dragon and saved the world.   However, it was my idea, once everything was cleaned from the Chamber, to turn it into storage for our Christmas decorations. That recommendation also didn’t make it into the movies.

When Umbridge took over, she left me alone.  I was the only teacher who didn’t get a visit from her in my class.  She was a bully and nasty and horrible, but she paid me the greatest disrespect by ignoring me completely.  In fact, I don’t think she knew I was on the faculty.

Dumbledore returned and his final year was spent visiting my class often.  I’m not sure why, but his presence became less of a supervisor and more of a friend.

At his departure, the school raised their wands in honour of him.  I didn’t have my wand; instead, a laser pointer.  It worked.  It also was Dumbledore’s favourite gizmo of mine.

“Yeah, the batteries last forever,” I said to him one day when he was admiring it.

“Eternal batteries?” he asked in wonder.

51BEPJGRXGL._SL1500_

“Not really.  They’re just well built, small, and last a long time.  Hard to find, though.”

He laughed and I heard his laughter when I raised my laser pointer on that cold night at Hogwarts.

landscape-1452881068-dumbledore-tribute

 

 

I love to garden and I grow food.

One day, when things were getting really bad at Hogwarts, a group of students visited me and asked why I didn’t use any magic to grow my plants.  “It would be faster than all the work you’re doing,” a little girl said.

“I know,” I said.  “But that would be missing the point.  Most good things in the world take time, take work.  Sure, a bit of magic is great and wonderful.  And yet, to live off of that would miss labour, mistakes, and working with things and people.  When you work at something and with someone, there’s more of a chance to love what you do and who you’re with.  And isn’t love the greatest form of magic?”

85e80e30d92f3d4860ba64835416c9ef

“Who said that?” one of the students asked.

“Dumbledore,” I answered.  “And magic isn’t just in the instantaneous or the dramatic, but the everyday things of our world.”

“Did Dumbledore say that?”

“No, I think Wordsworth did,” I said.

“Is he a wizard?”

“No, he was in last week’s reading.”  They left me to work in my garden and that year, I grew hundreds of carrots.  I shared them and everyone asked me what kinds of spells I used to grow them.   “I cast the spell ‘Extemporaneous’.”

 

 

 

When Voldemort had his showdown against the school, I wasn’t there.  Instead, there was a gas leak in the school’s basement I had to get to.  It was absolutely scary: the whole building could have been flooded with gas.

I repaired the pipes and fixed everything right about the time someone found me and told me the story.  I was glad that Neville got to play a part in saving the world, I was proud of Harry, and glad that the baddies didn’t win.

It took several months to clear the rubble of Hogwarts and get it rebuilt. Many of the builders didn’t use magic, at least when I was working with them.  For some things, there wasn’t any other way: we had to raise our wands and cast a spell.  But for most everything, we wanted the school to be rebuilt by love and that’s how we worked. If Hogwarts went up again, magically, the next day, I don’t think we would have loved it as much.

No, we wanted to use the strongest magic we knew: love.

I came back to teach one last year before I retired.  I began my class without a wand, but a laser pointer.  I commanded: “Extemporaneous!”   No one laughed.  Instead, they searched their books for the spell.   Somewhere in the halls where they hang their portraits, I heard Dumbledore’s ghost chuckle.

HogwartsCastle_WB_F5_HogwartsCastleIllustration_Illust_080615_Land

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cognitive Landscaping Inc.

BRAIN-BENEFITS-OF-DREAMING

This past year, I wrote a short story about a woman who woke up in a world that kept changing.

She’d walk through a bedroom door only to find herself in a shopping mall from her childhood home and then walk outside to find herself in a backyard of a friend.   Every setting was linked to another setting not by geography, but emotion.

Dreams are like this.  Ever have a dream that took place in California and Germany at the same time?  Or something similar like these two mismatched settings?

Things-You-Probably-Didnt-Know-About-Dreaming-RM-722x406

Our brains/minds/souls are funny machines.  When we dream, we match the setting with our mood.  Let’s say we’re in a nightmare, our brains usually don’t put us in something universal (EX. a haunted house, an abandoned hospital, a graveyard, etc.), but somewhere stressful that’s personal to us (EX. our Aunt’s kitchen, our Middle School hallway, our dentist’s office, etc.).

This, of course, is the difference between myth and dreams.  With the settings of mythology, we can all agree that a labyrinth means mystery; in a dream, a mystery can be conveyed by a trip to our father’s den or at the library of the University we attended back in the 1990’s (or whenever is for you…or not).

In his book “Hero of a Thousand Faces”, Joseph Campbell puts it best:

“Dream is the personalized myth, myth the depersonalized dream; both myth and dream are symbolic in the same general way of the dynamic of the psyche. But in the dream the forms are quirked by the peculiar troubles of the dreamer, whereas in myth the problems and solutions sown are directly valid for all mankind”

I’ve called these places in my dreams “Cognitive Landscapes”.   In my short story, the heroine travels through her own Cognitive Landscapes to escape a peril in that world.

Dreams are personalized myths.  What is interesting is that the symbols then are personalized, in dreams.  For me, I might be visited by a clown and that might be an image of whimsy, joy, and celebration; for others, pure terror.  Some might then wonder- “Are cognitive landscapes part of every human brain?  Are they the same?  Like what Carl Jung would have us believe?  Or are they all part of the power of nurture, shaped about experiences and travels through this planet Earth?”

I’m not sure; beyond my pay-grade as a minister in the Anglican Church of Canada.  However, my encouragement is to first listen to your dreams and that journey might take you closer to the answer to these questions; ignore your dreams, you won’t find the answers in books alone.

Myth and dreams are funny because part of our job, as humans, is to listen to our dreams and myths to pick out what are shadows of truth and which is just unlabelled fears or shadows.  C. S. Lewis, in his book “God in the Dock”, argues that the story of Christ is “myth that became real”.

I mean to bring this up not to create a tent meeting on-line or to evangelize to you, but to propose that myths and dreams can be arrows to which we can understand truth.

For further peaks into this interchange, follow this link: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/evangelical-history/85-years-ago-today-j-r-r-tolkien-convinces-c-s-lewis-that-christ-is-the-true-myth/

But a key question to ask is “Why do I feel the way I do?” when you see a place or dream a setting?  Does that place remind you of a Cognitive Landscape from your past?  When you revisit a place, what are the ghosts?  The memories?   How does that particular colour of blue effect you?  What does the wind taste like?

Here are some of my Cognitive Landscapes:

35077220_10156324352814030_6929372073542287360_n

This is not my actual fireplace, but one that exists in my mind. Fireplaces, for me, are a vivid image of hospitality. If done properly, the furniture near the fireplace either faces each other or the flames from the hearth. Implicit in the design is that human conversation and the comfort of the fire is the main interest, not a wide screen TV or a home entertainment system. It’s also designed to still be a functioning room in darkness, that people will stay even though it gets later and darker. This design relies on storytelling to be it’s engine behind function.

33299862_10156278017149030_1157014050094186496_n

Basements still feel new to me. In California, few houses had them as they were considered a hazard in our earthquake country. In High School, I bicycled with my father across Iowa and was billeted in homes that had basements. “Finally!,” I thought: these homes have a basement, a proper soul. Back then (as I feel today), a building that has a basement is a structure with a soul. It’s the underneath of a building, the room(s) of identity that support the main floors, the showcase rooms of the rest of the house. Basements are the subterranean heart of a place.

30415132_10156169580594030_158072483232432738_n

I couldn’t pass up the chance to include the river valley of Edmonton. In order to hike and see a view, you have to go down and not up. There’s something mythic a primordial about having to travel down and even using a staircase. Like fishing for a a great idea or reaching into one’s self, you’ve got to go down a staircase. But where does it lead to? What’s around the corner? Does it even end? No promises, just a descent.

32590506_10156255211119030_245417390525906944_n

I grew up in Northern California, thinking that all trees were huge and near eternal and that a forest only had one kind of a sweet, conifer smell. I thought every home could take a small drive to the ocean and, in fact, all creeks lead to an ocean. I took the all for granted until I moved to the urban world of LA and then the poplar world of Canada. However, when I dream, all the lakes feed to the ocean and a sequoia costal redwood is always sharing a forest with a cactus or a birch. In dreams, things are connected.

The most important thing with this post is for us to listen to our own cognitive landscapes.  Share them.  And find the meaning for they could be the ambassadors to a greater truth just beyond our dreams and myths.