Category Archives: progressive christianity

If trees could talk

I live in a land of timber. How could a simple tree impress a Canadian? But many times on our recent trip to England we stopped to marvel at the wonder of a tree.

Like this giant one at Winston Churchill’s Chartwell estate.

Giant Japanese cedar at Chartwell

We asked the gardener to repeat the name of this tree several times. She stuck with the Latin, which we think was Cryptomeria japonica. (Would it have been too much to ask for her to say simply Japanese cedar?)

And this scenic one at Hampstead Heath.

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But my favourite was this one. This tree could begin talking to me at any second and impart to me grand wisdom about life. I think this tree is telling me to stay rooted in what’s important because I already have everything I need, and to breathe.

What do you think?

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Christmas in July: Unexpected gifts

On a trail, an ordinary trail . . .

wooded path

. . .through the National Capital Commission Greenbelt near my home, we encountered an unexpected surprise.

Christmas!

Evergreen tree decorated with coloured Christmas balls in the summer.

The trail is popular with cross-country skiers in the winter,  so I imagine the trees got decorated by someone in the festive spirit last December. Theirs was the gift that keeps on giving, because I enjoyed the happy surprise in July.

Close up of a red Christmas ball against summer greenery.

After I had soaked up the gift and carried on, I took about two steps before I was brought up short by the next “gift” on my path: a garter snake. I was too busy going into a full-body shudder to take a picture, but if I had, it would have looked something like this.

That’s what a full-body shudder looks like.

I like snakes—far away from me. I know they are good for my garden and nature and all that, and that’s wonderful—far away from me.

While I was shuddering and peering into the undergrowth to make sure the snake was well and truly gone, a jogger happened along. To explain why I was standing still and looking creeped out, I used one word.

“Snake.”

The jogger broke into a big smile. “Sometimes you just get lucky like that,” he said, and carried on.

I had to laugh. I hadn’t considered myself lucky to have seen a snake before he changed my perspective. He made me think. I remembered that snakes represent transformation and creative life force. I remembered that they are part of the medical symbol, a symbol of healing. For me personally, they are a symbol of unnecessary fear. That is, fear of something that is NO BIG DEAL, and how I conquer that fear simply by recognizing it.

Come to think of it, those ideas are tied into what Christmas is all about too.

I like these Christmas gifts. They didn’t cost a penny, I didn’t have to wrap them, and there was no baking involved.

If only the real Christmas were a little more like that. 

 

 

 

Kids know: Sharing and including is way more fun

A surprising lesson from a kids game:

I played musical chairs with my Sunday school kids in two ways. First the traditional version with chairs numbering one less than the players participating arranged, music played, and when the music stopped the children scrambled to claim a chair. One sad-faced child did not find a seat and skulked away, excluded to watch forlornly while the other children played. One more chair removed, and so on.

For the second version, we started out with one less chair at the beginning, same as always, and we removed one chair on each round, same as always. The difference was no child was ever eliminated or excluded. When the music stopped, the children found chairs BUT everyone had to have a place, even if it meant sharing.

What warmed my heart more than anything? The kids shared their chairs even when they didn’t have to.

They didn’t evenly distribute themselves to claim space and only share when there were no more empty chairs. We removed one chair per round and when the music stopped there would be two or three left over. Kids reached out to take other kids by the hand to say, “Sit with me.” They were smiling and laughing and hugging. It was wonderful.

Including everyone was happier than excluding and rejecting. Sharing was more satisfying than staking out space alone.

The first time the kids played they did as they were told and followed the rules of the game. They didn’t question the dog-eat-dog nature of the game. The second time they also followed rules, but they were better thought-out rules, and it was way more fun. Inclusion is important in our affirming church. The kids lived that intuitively when playing a game.

How often do we follow dog-eat-dog rules without question when we could easily change the rules to a much more fun, satisfying option?

We must be careful and mindful of the rules we teach our children. What an awesome responsibility.

The weight and clutter of beliefs we carry

“When we carry a belief, it has a certain mental weight attached to it . . . The heavier the investment—such as religious loyalty, abortion, politics, patriotism, good versus evil—the heavier the weight of belief.”  —Neil Kramer in The Unfoldment

In my work at a local library hundreds of books pass through my hands every shift. Most times I don’t pay too much attention, except to note where to place the book correctly. Sometimes a book stops me and says, “Made ya look!”

This week it was The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter, by Margareta Magnusson. I have not read the book yet (if only I could read every book) but I gather the principle is this: clear out your crap before you die and make someone else clean up your mess.

I’m sure Margareta is more polite about it.

Speaking as someone who has had to clear up some such clutter, I endorse the idea. And I think we can go a step farther and clear out some of our mental and emotional clutter too.

In his book, The Unfoldment, Neil Kramer talks about the cluttery weight of beliefs we carry around with us. Some beliefs weigh more than others depending on how invested we are in them. Casual or lighthearted beliefs, like believing a four-leaf clover might bring us good fortune, are light and don’t bother us much to tote around. If we add on a lot more of those little beliefs (knock three times, don’t turn the calendar page until the new month starts, don’t step on a crack, don’t shave during playoffs, don’t wash your lucky socks . . .) the pack gets lumpy and awkward.

Big problems arise when we lug around sandbag-heavy beliefs. Those become a real burden because, even though carrying the weight is hard work, we don’t want to set those burdens down.

“Strangely, the heftier the belief, the more proudly people will sometimes bear its weight. If someone has carried a belief-anvil for 40 years, she is not going to react too kindly to someone telling her that it’s been totally unnecessary. All that effort and martyrdom would have been for nothing. So people hold fast to their own obstinacy, mentally staggering around under this peculiar encumbrance.  —Neil Kramer in The Unfoldment

And a disbelief can be just as heavy. “Disbeliefs require the same maintenance, egoic investment, and channeled consciousness as their positive counterparts,” Kramer writes. (So that’s why so many atheists look like they are a day past a good bowel movement.)

I think we need to think about death-cleaning our minds, clearing out the clutter of beliefs we shouldn’t pass along for someone else have to deal with.

Lately I have found myself avoiding conversations with certain people on particular topics if I know they carry a heavy belief, or if I know I do: Politics is a mine field, the #metoo movement has pitfalls galore, and even Easter has potential for controversy. I’ve started to think, “I need to lighten up.” The weight is getting heavy.

The benefit of death cleaning, I suspect, is keeping only that which serves life, for the benefit of health and happiness and the good of others. Sounds good to me.

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It was fun when my daughter found this four-leaf clover, but I don’t REALLY believe it brings us good fortune.

 

 

En-Joy 2018

The JOY ornament I created at my friend, Diane’s craft party. Diane brings me JOY.

On the third Sunday of Advent we lit the JOY candle at our church.

This year a woman who I greatly admire lit the candle, and she spoke about what JOY means to her. Shirley talked about the many JOYous times her family—now grown—spent together in their back yard and down by the Ottawa River. The husband she’s been married to for 67 years brings her much JOY. She told us how much JOY she derives from volunteering and from the work she does with the church.

Then it came time to talk about her sister.

Shirley’s sister had passed away in mid-December and the celebration of her life had been held a few days before.  Tears came to my friend’s eyes and she took a moment to collect herself.

I thought, “She’s crying during a talk about JOY!”

As she went on to talk about their close relationship and the smiles and laughs the sisters shared over many years, tears did not seem incongruous at all. Deep down at the heart of the grief over the loss of her sister was JOY. Happy memories.

I thought, “She’s en-JOYing her grief.” Actively choosing to see the JOY below the surface during a difficult time. Injecting JOY into the moment.

En-JOY 2018. May you choose to let the JOY that is at the heart of any sorrow bubble up.

“Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.
And how else can it be?
The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.
. . . When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.”

—Kahlil Gibran On Joy and Sorrow

 

Christmas: Because we all have the Light

At the Christmas Eve service at my church, I read this short piece before I lit the Christ candle in the Advent Wreath. This is what Christmas is all about for me.


We all have the Light

Christmas is a birthday party.

We celebrate the birth of a man who, because he knew the light of God‑ness shines in all people, inspired us to live with compassion and to pursue justice.

Through stories of shepherds, Samaritans, widows, lepers, prodigal sons and mustard seeds, he embodied the idea that regardless of how we look, where we were born or whom we love, we all have the same shining Light—from the same Source—within.

Christmas Eve is also a birthday party for our daughter. She was the one who reminded me of this Light when she was born 23 years ago today. At the time of her birth I had dismissed God from my life as unnecessary, a figment of the imagination. We are all just atoms and molecules, I thought. And then she came to us with her individuality, her spark, her vibrant spirit, her Light, and I had to re-evaluate. And then our son came along—so different from our daughter—and yet shining with the same Light.

The Christ candle represents how beautiful and perfect and valuable we all are and how, because of that, compassionate justice is the only answer.

We light the Christ candle because more than two thousand years ago a man was born who showed us that deep in our hearts we have a common vision, purpose, longing and goal. Deep in our hearts we have the Light.

 

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