Tag Archives: Religion and Spirituality

It’s not about me, but there’s something for me here

There are days when I wish more people could say, “It’s not about me.”There are days when I wonder why people think life should only be about what they like.

I am guilty of it too. But I try to think: “It’s not about me, but there’s something for me here.”

I use it at the grocery store when I’m in a hurry and the person ahead of me is paying cash, counting out every nickel. Patience.

I use it in tense meetings. Conflict resolution lessons.

I use it at church every week.

I’m a member of a progressive, affirming congregation. The foundation of our group is that love and grace are available to all people, but beyond that we don’t dictate what anyone should believe. On any given week an atheist could be sitting down the row from a person who believes in the virgin birth. It’s fantastic!

Our conversations are authentic, and deep, and heartwarming,

And challenging. How to balance the content of a church service for people on such different places on a journey?

  • A service about an Old Testament story:
    • “Why do we even use the bible (small b) anymore? It’s thousands of years old, written by men in a patriarchal time. What does it have to do with me? “
    • “Thank goodness we’re finally talking about the Bible (capital B). It has timeless lessons, and it’s the foundation of our faith.”
  • Communion:
    • “It’s a sacred ritual for me. A reminder that I’m not alone and that I have purpose.”
    • “It’s meaningless to me. A little creepy if you want to know the truth.”
  • The cross:
    • “It’s barbaric. I would never wear one because it brands me as something I don’t want to be associated with.”
    • “It’s a symbol of connection with something greater than myself, the reaching and the grounding.”
  • The organ:
    • “The music resonating through the pipes moves me to the depths of my soul.”
    • “How can people endure that horrible screeching?”
  • A short sermon:
    • “It’s about time. No need to go on and on about things. Just get to the point. “
    • “The minister needs to delve more deeply into the topic.”
  • Children in church:
    • “Oh, the noise, noise noise!”
    • “It’s good to see so many children. They bring the place to life.”
  • The hymns:
    • “We need to sing more of the old, familiar hymns.”
    • “Enough of the blood and the sin songs. Let’s sing something new.”
  • The prayers
    • “Oh my God, the prayers are long. My mind drifts off.”
    • I need prayers. They are my time of centering. It’s when I connect with God, and when we connect with each other and the world.”

Every Sunday something happens that I would not choose to include if I were a member of a church of one. (And what fun would that be?) Every Sunday I have to remind myself that the thing I dislike is exactly the thing that someone there—maybe right beside me—is needing. Every Sunday I say to myself: “It’s not about me, but there’s something for me here.”

There always is. Something authentic, deep and heartwarming.

A pewter communion cup beside bread and a candle
The cup of hope and bread for the journey.

What is The Divine?

Last year I was part of a group that drafted a new mission statement for our church. One of our biggest questions? What word to use to describe the “awesomeness.”

God? A turn-off to too many people. The Holy? People said to us, “What does that even mean?” Spirit? Conjures up images of ghosts. Source? Doesn’t quite cover it. Creator? Edges into the whole evolution/intelligent design controversy.

We settled on The Divine. This did not go unchallenged. Grammar purists argued, “Divine is an adjective.” Others thought it too vague. It’s not perfect, but it was as close as we could come to capturing the elusive, thin-place feeling of Perfect Moments.

And what is a Perfect Moment? 

It’s different for everyone, and never the same twice. If you try for it, it escapes your grasp. But you know it when it descends upon you unbidden. It doesn’t have to be in an Ashram or in deep meditation, although it can be. It happens in grocery stores, restaurants or (often) on a walk in the woods. Usually it is deceptively simple, so that when it’s over, people wonder, “Did that really happen?”

We celebrate New Year’s Eve with a group of friends. One New Year’s Eve, many years ago, we met as usual, relaxed together, and our children entertained each other in the play room. We gathered around the kitchen table. Through ceiling-high windows that lined one wall of the room, I watched inch-wide snow flakes drifting down and settling into fluffy banks. Christmas tree lights reflected in the glass. Children’s laughter wafted to us from a distance. The moment began to take on a special quality of timelessness, almost a buzzing. I felt part of the scene and apart from it. A witness. I looked at the snow, the lights, my friends, and I thought, “This is a Perfect Moment.”

I savoured it until the special quality dissipated with that noticeable shift back to reality and then moved on. I thought the moment was mine alone.

Later, one of my friends told me, “You know, I remember one New Year’s Eve, we were in the kitchen and the snow was falling, and the kids were playing and for a short time I was struck by how perfect the moment was.”

I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t believe that we had shared the Perfect Moment, the thin place, the awesomeness, together.

It might have come from God, Spirit, Creator or Source, and it felt Holy, but it was above all, Divine.

_______________

Read our mission statement here: http://www.trinityunitedottawa.ca/about-trinity/momentum-for-mission/

DSC_0647

Birth-mas

birth-masI received the best stocking stuffer ever 19 years ago today.

My daughter fit nicely into this stocking on the day of her birth. She’s much bigger now—old enough to dub this time of year “Birth-mas” for herself.

Not that we ever gave her combined “birthday/Christmas”, or birth-mas gifts. No, never. We always reserved one room in the house for birthday decorations, and she received separate birthday presents wrapped in birthday paper.

We always thought this was an important thing to do, but we had no idea how important until she got old enough to communicate. Then we learned that months after the events had pass she clearly remembered which gifts were for birthday and which were for Christmas. In our minds those gifts were all jumbled up, but she had them carefully categorized.

We’ve made every effort to separate the two events, but the overwhelming entity that is Christmas interferes with the birthdays of those born any time near the event. So, birth-mas it is.

It’s not so bad really. After all, what is Christmas if not a big birthday party?

Christmas: Exceptions to the rule make the best stories

soul-eyesWe have faith in the unexpected. After every earthquake, for example, we pray for the exceptions—for people to defy the odds and survive under the rubble for days.

We hope for miracles. We pray the person we know with cancer will be the one to beat the odds.

We love exceptions to the rule, the people who make good against all odds, like a baby worshipped in spite of being born to an unwed mother in the harsh culture of patriarchal society.

That’s why we can’t stop telling the Christmas story. No matter how you interpret it, the story is about faith in the unexpected, hope for miracles and love for exceptions to the rule—all the things that captivate us. Now matter how you feel about it, we can learn from it.

No matter what you believe about how Mary came to be pregnant, she was an unwed mother in a time when unwed pregnant women were shunned or stoned. Neither happened to her. She was an exception to the rule. No matter what you believe about who Jesus‘ real father was, he was an illegitimate child at a time when such children would have few prospects. Even before he could walk or talk, Jesus broke the rules.

Jesus captivates us because he lived making exceptions to the rule. He ate with the unclean, walked with the lepers, preached on the Sabbath, and turned the tables on religious rituals that prevented everyone from participating. If there’s anything we can learn from his life, and it’s a lesson too many Christian churches today forget, it is that love is more important than rules.

When forced to make a choice between the most compassionate option and the most obedient option, Jesus chose compassion.

A woman gets pregnant out of wedlock? Love her anyway. A child is born out of wedlock? Love it anyway. A man is disenfranchised from society? Eat with him anyway. A woman has a communicable disease? Walk with her anyway. Someone wants to learn or play or work even though it’s a holy day? Teach them, laugh with them or help them anyway. And, for goodness sake, open your doors and your ceremonies with unrestricted compassion for all people.

The Christmas story, no matter how you interpret it, reminds us to value exceptions to the rule. They make the best stories, and who knows what greatness a compassionate exception might lead to?

____________________

1 Corinthians 13:13

13 And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

The power of one, for outreach or for disturbance

2012 Habitat Bolivia 255The Sunday school lesson I taught the kids at my church this past Sunday focused on the affirmation “What I believe in my heart is what I show in my actions.” The quote came from the A Joyful Path curriculum; their way of saying “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:21)

We talked about kids who had accomplished remarkable feats of social justice and outreach. Ryan Hreljac, for example, at the age of 6 planted the seed for Ryan’s Well Foundation. One six-year-old believed in his heart that all people should have access to clean water, and his actions helped to build more than 803 water projects and 1012 latrines to bring safe water and improved sanitation to more than 769,558 people.

Wow.

Imagine if all of us believed something so simple in our hearts and took actions to help bring it about.

When I returned home that day, I clicked into the Poetry to Inspire blog to read Jean Kay’s poem “The Power of One.” She included a series of pictures of thousands of snow geese gathered in a farmer’s field enjoying tranquil peace, only to be disturbed by an eagle. (See it here: http://poetrytoinspire.wordpress.com/2013/11/03/the-power-of-one)

Wow.

Do you remember a time when one disruptive presence barged in to destroy the productive peace of a large contented group?

Sometimes I feel I don’t have much power to affect change in the world. What can little old me do to make a difference? But we all hold much more power than we realize—to help others or to disturb others.

If I ever forget this, or on those days when it feels like a far-out, crazy notion, I’ll click on Jean’s pictures again as a reminder.

“All heaven breaks loose”

look-upA man I know volunteers his time visiting people in hospital. He’s a member of the United Church of Canada (as am I), and he visits people who designate themselves as United upon their admission to hospital. Sometimes he knows the patients he visits, but often he has never met them before.

When he visits people he doesn’t know, he’s usually met with a wary reaction. “The people,” he says, “want company and comfort, but they are afraid I’m going to preach at them about Jesus or insist they pray.”

He begins his conversations gently. He makes it clear that he has no expectations about beliefs, or prayer, or hymn sing-a-longs. He says, “As soon as they know we can have a real conversation without judgements or preachy expectations, well, all hell . . .” He pauses to correct himself. “. . . all heaven breaks loose.” Quite often, in the end, they do pray, but on their own comfortable terms.

This man and I belong to churches that nurture us with joyful celebrations of spirit. Our churches don’t exclude people based on gender, race, or sexual orientation. These churches welcome questions and doubts. In our faith communities, we find heaven on earth.

We find it sadly ironic that the patients he visits don’t expect to find this in every church. We find it sadly ironic that so many churches, temples and mosques that purport to help us find heaven in another life have so many expectations, exclusions, and, worst of all, judgements that they rob us of heaven in this one.

Live joyfully, love expansively, laugh outrageously and, lo and behold, all heaven breaks loose.

_______________

Here’s my joyful church: Trinity United Ottawa

Here’s my Top 10 reasons to go to church: Top 10 reasons to go to church