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.

Happy St. Aidan’s Day: We Really Need Him Today!

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Around 590 CE, Northumbria was considered by the Christian church a pagan mess.  Not that the pagans were particularly messy or cruel or malicious, but they represented a growing population that simply did not want convert.

Rome left England about a century before, no longer concerned with being a world leader and focussed on itself, like a collapsing star singing to itself, “Fac Roma magna again!”  Nonetheless, the Roman Church hated the idea of all of those pagans who lived in Northern England who had rejected the one, true faith.

The Roman Church went through their playlist of solutions.

First, they obtained a Christian king for the area, King Oswald, and they figured if they ruler was a Christian, the people would automatically become Christian.  This didn’t work and Oswald himself saw Christianity losing it’s radiance.

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Next, they built a wall.  Hadrian’s Wall (actually it was built 400 years prior), but it stood as a monument for bad ideas.  The pagans could cross it, good Christians could see over it all of the fun pagans were having without them, it grew holes and breaches, and soon became just something to pen in sheep unsuccessfully as farms shared the wall’s space. It was meant to keep all the bad people out and keep safe all of the good people, but crime and pillaging took place equally on both sides and it soon was abandoned.

They tried missionaries, preaching sermons of Hell and repentance.  If possible, they held big shows in sport’s arenas with Roman Catholic celebrities and famous bards and got people to chant creeds led by long haired evangelists…okay, that part might be a little extra I’m adding to history.  It just didn’t work.

Luckily, around 590 CE, St. Aidan of Lindisfarne was born.  At the time of his birth, he was neither a saint or from Lindisfarne- this should be noted (he was born, maybe, around Connacht and was raised in the monastery from the Isle of Iona).

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Aidan was sent to Christianize northern England.  He did so without the aid of an army, preaching, being a celebrity, passing around tracts, or any other tricks from Rome.  He didn’t require kings or politicians to make people listen to him.  No force, no power.

Aidan just walked.  He walked from village to village, talking to people.  Listening to their stories.  Learning what people needed and offered prayers.  Or help, if he could.  He did this for years.   His walking tour wasn’t just a single event, a short dare until he worked up to his “real ministry”.  No, walking and visiting was his ministry.

He was known as a kind man, a good listener, and someone who could use a tree, a rock, or a cloud as a way to convey the Gospel, by offering “them first the milk of gentle doctrine, to bring them by degrees, while nourishing them with the Divine Word, to the true understanding and practice of the more advanced precepts.”

There is an old saying: “If you want to change your world, spend time with the people who live in it.”  This seems to be Aidan’s motto.  Bede, the ancient writer, recorded Aidan’s adventures which usually centred around the Saint’s visits and walks.  Taking care of the poor, buying slaves in order to free them, taking care of the orphans- this was the product of his walks.

King Oswald heard about this and wrote letters to this missionary, praising him as he did what others could not do.  Aidan did not speak English, only Irish- so their correspondence had to be translated.  They saw a kindred spirit with each other, the king and the monk inspiring each other to do good in their world.

Aidan’s converts grew and grew, demanding the need for monasteries.  Enter Lindisfarne, along with many others.  He soon became Bishop of Northumberland and he encouraged those under him to walk, to get to know their villages.

King Oswald finally met Aidan.  One night, the king held a great feast and word came to the crown that there was a sudden famine in the land.  The King wanted to make a really good impression on the visiting monk with a lavish feast, but he also couldn’t ignore the needs of his kingdom.  He ordered that all of the food for the feast would be packed up and distributed in amongst the poor.  The King was readying himself to apologize to his guest, but Aidan stopped him.  He grabbed the king’s right hand.  “May this hand never wither or grow old, for it has been used by the poor to feed the poor.”

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As legend goes, King Oswald’s hand never aged.  I have NO idea what that means, but he had a young man’s hand when the rest of his body aged.  His hand was considered holy, for it fed the poor.  Hopefully, the king fed more poor people every time he looked at his right hand.

St. Aidan is the patron saint of firefighters.   Let me explain.  A few weeks before he died, pagan armies were raiding his lands.  They set fire to one of his monasteries.  Aidan knelt and prayed.   While he prayed, the smoke simmered and settled and the fire disappeared.

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He died on August 31, 651 CE.   After his death, he became a saint.

This Saturday is his saint day, according to the Anglican calendar.  And as I reflect on our day and age, I think we could have a bit more St. Aidans in our land.

“Augustine was the Apostle of Kent, but Aidan was the Apostle of the English,” was said about him by Bishop Lightfoot.

 

Links:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aidan_of_Lindisfarne

https://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/basis/bede-book3.asp

https://www.undiscoveredscotland.co.uk/usbiography/a/staidan.html

Five Things to Know About St. Aidan of Lindisfarne

 

 

My Latest Assignment

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I got back to work in the Summer after my hip replacement surgery to work with a church just outside of Wabumum, Alberta.

However, just at the tail end of July, I’ve been assigned to a 2nd church, literally in my own neighbourhood.

St. Matthias Anglian Church, under the rectorship of Rev. David Theissen, is a thriving, growing congregation.  However, in the afternoon when the congregation clears out, another congregation steps into their church’s building and runs a Filipino service.

Those who attend this service are Igorot, the indigenous peoples of the Philippines.

As the story goes, the Philippines was colonized and Christianized by the Spanish.  The country became mostly Catholic, however the Christianization never went north to the mountains, where the Igorot people lived.  It was only when the Americans took over that Episcopalian missions took place and brought the Gospel to the north.

Zoom to the present day.  As many immigrant to Canada’s welcoming, many Igorot people have come to Edmonton, looking for a home and a place to worship.  St. Matthias graciously has welcomed them and a service grew.  The service is now grown to where there has been a question posed to them by our Bishop Jane Alexander, “Do you want to become a Parish?”

Is that what God is doing?  I’ve been sent to find out.  It is an interim position, officiating the services, getting to know the people and their stories and their experience with God in Canada.

If you have the chance, please pray for this congregation.  And also pray for me, as I sound out what God is doing in our neighbourhood.  Pray, as I dream about the possibility of another church plant.

But that is for another blog…

The Parable About the Church that Wouldn’t Grow

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I write about churches, it’s the vehicle for my metaphors.  Wendell Berry had the farm, Stephen King had monsters.  I’m stuck in churches.  Of course, I’m talking more than just the church.  This can be taken politically or as familial issues or personal choices.  So when I think, usually churches pop into my mind.

Once upon a time, there was a church that didn’t grow.  They sat on the corner of their town’s Main Street.  About a hundred visitors came to their church every year, but never stayed.  The building was nice, clean.  The music was current.  And the preaching wasn’t too bad.

But it never grew.

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So the church hired an expert in church growth.  The young man, an expert, wandered around the church with an I-Pad for three weeks, taking furious notes.  He interviewed people, had coffee every day with the pastor and administrator.  Took pictures.  And walked around in every room.

At the end of his time, he pulled the elders together.  “The thing on everyone’s mind is that you’re not growing.  You want more people to come into the church,” he began.

He then was interrupted.  The elders chimed in, talking about how worried they were that the church would end in their generation.  Young people, another said, weren’t coming to church.  Another said that culture had turned against the church and it was no longer “cool” to go to church.

The expert waited for the lengthy comments to end before he continued.  “You can’t control growth, but you can change some of the ways you do things.   And those changes can make you more healthy.

“First of all, greet new people who come to your church.  Don’t just say ‘hello’, but get to know them.  Don’t sit with just your friends.  Sit with people you don’t know.  Your next potluck, sit with people you don’t know.  The elder board should know everyone in the church: it’s small enough you can do that.  Visit.  Talk to people.  Invite new people over to your home for a meal.   Make new friends.

“Secondly, try new things.  Allow new things to happen.  There are only four people who run ministries here.  Let other people try things.  Don’t get mad if they go wrong or what you see as going wrong.  When you hear a new idea, don’t rush to tell them what’s wrong with the new idea.  The old ideas you do now were once new.  Let others into the leadership huddle.

“Lastly, you are very proud of your building.  Try to let others enjoy it.  Share your building.  Allow rentals to use the space.  When a quilting group spends the day in your building having a good time, they associate your place of worship with happy memories. And maybe even, every once in a while, let someone use your building for free.  Give it as a gift to your neighbours.”

After this presentation, the pastor ended said that his recommendations weren’t anything new and they have heard it all before.  Rather than this being a way to dismiss what the expert said, the pastor said, “I think God is trying to tell us something.  For all of your ideas can be done and are reasonable.”

For most of the elders, this was the worst thing that could have been said.

Later, the administrator remarked, “I think the elder board was hoping the problems were complex and the solution were almost impossible to accomplish.  If that was the case, they could do nothing and have the church the way they like it.”

The pastor, the next Sunday, became a new man.  He visited everyone, going from pew to pew.  He drafted a rental policy.  He invited some new musicians to lead in worship.  And things looked like they were going to change.

This caused anxiety.

It first began with parking lot meetings, people talking about “something’s wrong” with the church right after they attended a service.  Next, it came in the prayer cards that would be given in the church’s offering.  “We’re losing our vision”, “A lot of people are hurt by what is going on”, or, “The church is changing.”

The Pastor could not get a straight answer from the elder board.  However, he could read what was happening: someday, something upsetting would happen and the entire board would explode.

The Pastor came up with a solution: have a membership meeting and invite the former pastor, retired now, to chair the meeting.  The former pastor was a kind, wise man who was known for being a great listener and then, when least expected, would sum up all of the problems with a well-placed, carefully measured sentence.

The meeting began and comments were flung around the sanctuary:

“There are new people here.  And some of them are now doing worship, with songs we don’t know and they’re music is different!  We can’t sing new songs.”

“The pastor is running around.  Making new policies.  Changing things.  The board can’t control him!”

“The Pastor seems to care more about new people than us, the original people.”

“We’re just giving away our building!  And sometimes, for free!  What if it gets wrecked?  Or worst, what if we can’t use it for our programs because someone else-who doesn’t go here- is using it?”

“We wanted to grow, not change.”

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The last comment made the pastor emeritus’ brows lift as he suppressed a grin.  He stood up, after the room exhausted it’s complaints, and he said in a quiet, kind tone, “It sounded like, before you hired this expert, that you were in some trouble, some pain.  It sounded like you couldn’t grow.”

The chairmen of the elder board interrupted: “Yes, we are getting fewer and fewer members every year.  People are giving less.  Our budget has a deficit.  Soon we won’t be able to pay our bills.  We need more people to come to our church.  Our numbers need to increase!”

“I know that pain,” the retired pastor said with a chuckle.  “And now, you are in pain because you are doing some new things and you don’t know what’s going to happen.  Pain in your present set of problems and perceived pain for your future.  You were worried that your church would end.  You are worried that you may not like the church anymore if it changes.”

The pastor emeritus then did something he never did while as a pastor.  He reached into the pocket of his tweed coat, pulled out a pipe, packed it full of tobacco, lit a cherry, and took a puff.   The congregation all turned to each other with the wordless question, Is he smoking indoors?

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“You face a question, dear children,” the elderly pastor said.  “Which is the greater pain: the present pain of your problems or the perceived discomfort of the changes you do to fix your situation?”

The church was silent, unable to answer his question.

Today, we live in a changing world.  New things are taking place that require new ways of thinking.  This can create a culture of anxiety, fearing that “the way we used to do things” can no longer work.  With new ideas mean new people might be in charge, doing new things and the deck of the powerful gets reshuffled.

Which is a greater pain: the way things are or the change to solve our present situation?

 

 

 

The Game is Afeet: Summer Camp at Pioneer Lodge

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Abstract conception alert:

Every group, every team, every church, and every workplace has a social ladder.  Those on the top rung have the most influence, those at the bottom have the least.

Every ladder has a currency to buy one up the ladder.  If the group is healthy, that currency is talent, gifting, trust, and-since I’m a Christian mystic-the calling of God.  However, if the group is unhealthy, the currency can look horribly wrong- time, money, race, intimidation, anxiety, etc..

The goal is not to climb the ladder and whomever gets to the top wins.  Rather, it’s to find your place on that ladder and have as much influence as you need to enjoy your gifting, calling, place, and job.

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Since, as humans, our knee jerk reaction when we feel anxious is to have as much control as possible, one must fight the urge to wrung hop past one’s calling.  A disastrous effect can be a church led not by the gifted, but by the most anxious, who have bought their way up simply either because they have been there the longest or they tithe the most.

Or we climb the ladder because we feel being in charge will give us fulfillment, love, or a sense of accomplishment.  Again, this is very human and can be very, very exploitive.  To climb something we shouldn’t because we feel we must is a recipe for disasters.

But when it works, it works.   Community becomes a joy.   You are less worried about your status and mostly worried about enjoying your purpose.

Abstract idea ends.

 

I returned for my third year helping out with InterVarsity Pioneer Lodge Summer Camp, their Discovery 2 camp.

My job was to help lead games, run the morning Bible studies, and then tell stories at a campfire.

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This year, the Camp Director and his wife came to our house and we were playing the game “Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective”.   In this, we came up with the camp’s theme being one of mystery.   I wanted the camp to have a Sherlock character try to solve a mystery and the detective was terrible, so the camp had to figure things out.

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We crafted that a map was stolen to a treasure.  Four characters would be interviewed during meal times, giving really bad alibis (Ex.: “I was in the washroom for four hours”, “I was signing autographs in absolute darkness”, or, “I cooked deer meat so long it turned into hamburger.”).

Games would happen in the evening to tie the story together.   The first night was a massive wide game, the second was a sock war in the woods (the first two games did not advance the plot any), and then we drew to the last two games.

The third night was a 3D live action Clue! game.  I got this idea from a volunteer back in my youth ministry days at Chino Valley Community Church.   The kids, through process of elimination, discovered the thief, the location of the theft, and the object used in the theft (the chalet, a copy of the book “Ramona and Her Mother”, and Welbodor the Magician).

When it was revealed Welbodor was the baddie, a great impromptu line was given by one of the cabin leaders: “You’ve done your last trick, Magician!  Take him away!”   Knowing this leader, he probably had a line for each other suspect.

The last day was the treasure hunt.  This is when things got redemptively out of control.

One of the cooks approached me in the morning and asked if the character “Swiper” from the Dora cartoons could steal the map.  This was such a brilliant non sequitur that we had to follow it.  We had one of the cabin leaders dress up as the character and the cook ran into town for her costume.

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The bit went that the Sherlock character held up the wrong map to the treasure as the right one, with Swiper bursting in and stealing the map from Sherlock’s hand.  He then yelled, “Swiper, No Swiping!”   The music played and it was from the cartoon.

The kids then yelled that the real map was in the room and all was not lost, but the detective couldn’t see it.  A cabin leader then told me we, as the staff, should pretend that none of us can see the map and only the kids could: kind of a dysfunctional version of the golden bell from “The Polar Express”.

I was feeling not a 100% this year, so I had to lean on the rest of the team.  Plus, for the treasure hunt, they had all of the great ideas.  One of the staff spent 3 days making the map, another crew buried treasure, another group came up with the “where” and “how” of the game.  My job, at the end, was to be Sherlock again and try to not solve the mystery.

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The reveal of where the treasure was found was through invisible ink revealed by black light (my wife’s idea).   When the treasure was unearthed, it was maps to where the individual cabin’s mini-chests were hidden.  Inside those boxes, were personalized coins with the camper’s individual initials stamped on along with the name of the camp.

During the camp, I felt wonderfully goofy and could be myself.  I also saw other people come out from their shells, step aside from their roles as responsibly adults and just play. I hope everyone got a chance to play, to jump into the circle of fun (fully realizing that those who find themselves on the ladder sometimes are blind to those still stand on ground level, trying to find their place and voice).

But this was a gift for me, to find my rung and watch others climb up and down to do the same.  This, of course, could not have been accomplished unless it was for the camp director’s great skill to juggle, listen, and bring people up and down the ladder.  His leadership allowed others to be themselves.  And for me, it allowed me to throw out all of my crazy ideas for ministry.