Monday, February 28, 2011

Book Review -- Faith in a Time of Change

Faith in a Time of Change: Selections from Edited by Michael Kooiman. ©2010 United Church of Canada 127 pages.

This book was created as the United Church of Canada's Emerging Spirit project reached the end of its lifespan. In addition to the magazine ads and the WonderCafe website (the most visible parts of the campaign) this project included the website One of the features of that site was a series of daily blog posts, a selection of which have been put into this book. In an Introductory piece Michael Kooiman describes how the selections were made and how the book was put together.

In editing the book Kooiman has attempted to group the entries by topic (although he also admits that this is in some ways a futile effort). And so we have sections: The Church in a Time of Change, Seeking a New Vision, Hospitality in the Emerging Church. A Call to Be Stewards, Worship and the New Church, Reflections on Leadership, and Emerging Theology. Writers for the book all have brief biographies at the back and are a mix of ordered and lay, male and female, young and old (just as one might expect in a United Church of Canada publication)

As I sit down to write this review it strikes me how difficult it is to review something like this. There is no one coherent argument or topic being addressed, instead there are all sorts of related and not related topics. There are posts that openly contradict each other –such as in the leadership section where one post ponders the creation of “A Program for Excellence” such as we find in elite athletics and two pages later another post calls us to consider “Rejecting Excellence”. Both well written, both worth reading, both raising salient points.

And yet it strikes me that as we try to listen to where and who God is calling us to be as a church this is the very type of volume we need to read more often. One that intentionally has no one clear, coherent argument or vision, one that does not claim to give us the “right” answer (when first typing this I mistyped and wrote fight answer – a Freudian slip perhaps?). This is a book that makes the reader think, both about the church as it is and the church as it might/could/will become.

When I started reading Faith in a Time of Change (thought it would be nice to get the title in again) I thought I would try and note my favourite entries to include in this review. I couldn't. Every time I pick the book up and flip through it again a different entry jumps out at me. Luckily it is a fairly quick read because I may find myself revisiting it over and over again. And more than likely I will highlight different things in my heart and soul each time.

Did I agree with everything I read? No. Did I disagree with everything? No. But I repeatedly found myself wishing I could sit down for coffee and discussion with the writers. “What did that mean? “ “How did the trial work?” “Could you say more about...?” “Why would you say...?” were questions that I heard myself asking in these imagined discussions. And in the end that is why I liked the book so much.

If you want a book that will tell you how to be a “successful” church (and I have no idea what successful means in that phrase) in today and tomorrow's world look elsewhere. And, might I add, good luck since personally I doubt such a thing truly exists. But if you want a book to spark discussion, something that could be shared with your Board or Study Group and get people talking then you would be well served by Faith in a Time of Change. The writers ring out as being honest and faithful, occasionally wrestling with hard stuff and trying to find comfort with a degree of ambiguity. And that, in my opinion, is just what we need as the church today –in fact we need it more than someone claiming to have the quick fix.

Finally, as a child of the Star Wars generation (who still thinks we were best served by the original trilogy) and who has often used the Force as a theological image, I have to say that any book whose cover photo appears to have Force lightning shining from a stained glass window is worth a look.

Rev Gord Waldie
Remember, the Force will be with You – always.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

March Newsleter

Fat, Ashes, and Giving Up:

A new month begins. And early in this month a new season begins. No, not Spring (that will have to wait until March 21st). But Lent does begin soon. A time of preparation for the retelling of the Easter story of Triumphant entry, arrest, trial, execution and then new life.

Lent begins with Fat and Ashes. Well sort of. (Incidentally, I seem to remember reading somewhere that you can use fat and ashes to make Lye Soap, but I digress.) The day before Lent is Mardi Gras, which literally means Fat Tuesday. Traditionally it was a time to use up things like fat and eggs before the long fast of Lent began. Now it is either a time to have Pancakes (remember to come to our Pancake Supper on March 8!) or, if you are in New Orleans or Rio de Janeiro, have a great big blowout party. And the Ashes?

The first official day of Lent is Ash Wednesday. Traditionally Ash Wednesday is a time to begin the Lenten time of reflecting on our lives. We mark our foreheads with ashes to remember the fact that we do not always live as God would have us live. It is a service of repentance. Traditionally the ashes for this service come from burning the palms from last year's Palm Sunday celebration. Where once the Palms were signs of hope for a changed world now they remind us that we and the world are still in need of being changed.

And then we are into the 40 days (not counting Sundays) of Lent. This is a season of reflection. There is a tradition of “giving something up” for Lent. This maybe a food item, or an activity, or a habit. Some see this as an onerous obligation. Some see it as remarkably freeing. Why give something up? Well maybe as an act of personal discipline. Maybe pushing ourselves to go without something for a period of time helps us get control over our lives. Maybe we give something up to remind ourselves that not everyone gets all that they want or need. Or maybe we give something up because it is something that God is telling us we don't need at all.

Other people “take something on” for Lent. This could be a spiritual practice like daily prayer and Scripture reading, or doing “Random Acts of Kindness” each day, or some other way of changing how we interact with God and our world. This too can be onerous or liberating.

As we enter into this season of preparing for the festival at the heart of our faith I challenge you to ask what you may need to give up or take on. How do we need to prepare ourselves, as individuals and as a community, for the story of death and new life? Between the ashes (symbolic since we are not having an Ash Wednesday service this year) of last year's hopes and the waving of new palms what needs to be changed?

As Jesus walks the road to Jerusalem and the cross we walk with him. This Lent, may the journey to the cross and beyond to the empty tomb change us.. And through us, may it change the world.

Fat and ashes and giving up (or taking on). A strange combination. But then God works in mysterious ways.


Study Leave

I am not leading worship this week.  Instead I am off to Saskatoon for St. Andrew's College Annual Winter Refresher.

For details of this year's event see here

See you next week!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Looking Forward to February 20, 2011 -- 7th Sunday After Epiphany

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • Psalm 119:33-40 (VU p.839 Part 3)
  • Matthew 5:38-48

The sermon title is Go Deeper, Go Further

Early Thoughts: OK, that makes little to no sense.  Are we supposed to be some sort of passive doormat?

In a word---NO.  Not a doormat.  Instead of saying "do not resist an evildoer" a better translation is suggested by many as "do not violently resist an evildoer".  The actions Jesus describes are in fact actions designed to shame the other, and so are acts of resistance.  In an honour-based culture such as 1st Century Palestine to shame an oppressor is is to resist them, it makes them lose face and status.

Jesus is calling people to live out the love of friend and enemy.  Acting for justice is a key part of that.  Jesus calls us to look past retribution, to put aside ideas of "an eye for an eye" and seek another answer.  As it has been said--following eye for eye and tooth for tooth leaves the world blind and toothless.  And that is not what God's hope for a just and loving world is all about.

So how do we live out the love of friend and enemy?  How do we non-violently resist injustice?  How do we respond when we are resisted?  These are the questions I will ponder between now and Sunday.  I invite you to do the same.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Looking Forward to February 13, 2011 -- 6th Sunday After Epiphany

This week we will celebrate the Sacrament of Communion.
We will also be joined by the members of Northern Lights Presbytery who will be meeting at St. Paul's on Friday and Saturday.

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • Deuteronomy 30:15-20
  • 1 Corinthians 3:1-9

The Sermon title is Choose God, Choose Life!

Early Thoughts: Do our choices matter? You bet they do!  And so we are called/urged/commanded to choose life, and that in abundance.

Chapter 30 of Deuteronomy contains one of my favourite passages in all of Scripture.  The book of Deuteronomy is written as Moses' farewell discourse to the people of Israel, ending with his death.  Here Moses tells the people that they have a choice.  Choose wisely and they will be blessed, chooses foolishly and they will be cursed.  Life vs. death, blessing vs curse, abundance vs. scarcity.  Choices matter.  Choices matter not just for the present but for the future, not just for us but for our children.

And then we have Corinth.  Poor, divided, conflicted Corinth.  Paul seems to have had a challenge with this church.  At the very least they have divided loyalties.  But Paul tells them that they have made the wrong choice.  They have chosen the man who taught them instead of the One they were taught about.

So how shall we choose?  When we have options, can we see which way lies the path of blessing and which way lies the path of curse?  It sounds easy to say, but how easy is it to make that choice?  This essay speaks to that (here are the opening paragraphs):
"Choose life!"
           Just two little words from Deuteronomy 30:19. They sound so simple. The Deuteronomist even says that the choice between life and death, blessing and curses, is "not too difficult for you or beyond your reach" (30:11). The apostle Paul makes a similar appeal to wealthy Christians: "Take hold of the life that is truly life" (1 Timothy 6:19). And then there's Jesus, who says, "I've come that you might have life, and have it abundantly" (John 10:10).
           These words sound simple, but our human experience proves otherwise. After all, we're only "poor creatures, now a wonder / a wonder tortur'd in the space / betwixt this world and that of grace" (Herbert). In the most mysterious book of the Bible, Ecclesiastes, Qoheleth describes his search for true life. He pursued all the obvious pathways — intellectual study, work, every imaginable pleasure, civic projects, and even righteousness itself. In the end, it all felt like chasing after the wind, a meaningless "futility of futilities."
 Talk to you on Sunday --if you choose to attend that is ;)