Thursday, June 27, 2013

July Newsletter Piece

I know it is summertime and we are all want to coast into the lazy hazy days of light topics and beaches and cold beverages but this is what is on my mind this week....

Poverty. Specifically poverty in Grande Prairie and what we can do about it.

A couple weeks ago I received an invitation to attend 2 half-days of meetings to do some visioning on that very topic. And because this is a very important issue, and because it is an issue the faith community needs to be involved in, I went.

If you were to describe the reality of poverty in Grande prairie what words/phrases/pictures would come to mind? If someone asked you what we could do about poverty in Grande Prairie would you have suggestions?

We started out by defining poverty as (working from memory so the wording might be a bit different) “The lack of secure and sustainable access to basic rights such as food, shelter, education, clothing health, and safety” [I pushed for the use of 'rights' instead of 'needs' because that language pushes us to action]. And then we talked about who in Grande Prairie is impacted by poverty.

Some are directly impacted: those who live pay cheque to pay cheque, those who live on set/fixed incomes, those who experience episodic poverty because of seasonal fluctuations in work (such as break-up). But we also recognized that in the end we are all impacted by poverty. Not only are many (most? all?) families a missed pay cheque or two away from real financial hardship but when we find ways to lift the least of our community out of poverty then we are all healthier.

After defining a vision and mission statement for the Community Action to End Poverty (CAEP) group in Grande Prairie we started to develop a plan. I left to go to another meeting before this was done but I know there were some great ideas out there about what can and needs to be done.

My question now is where do we fit in. Lisa Watson from the City was very clear that she wants the faith communities at the table as this moves forward. There were 3 ministers present this week. At least one of us will likely end up on the committee moving forward. What do we have to share?

I think we have a role in two ways. One is that we are a place where issues get discussed, where hard questions get asked, where information gets shared. Poverty-reduction work is often hampered by assumptions and mis-information, and pre-conceptions so a place for open discussion is vital.

The other big gift I think we have to offer is that we believe in two very key things. One is the possibility of transformation. Repeatedly in our discussion I mentioned that we are taking about transformative work if we are serious about this task. Transforming the culture, transforming the society, transforming the way we interact is the way to eliminate poverty. As followers of the Resurrected One we know that transformation is possible.

We also believe in the centrality of a call to justice. Not just fairness, not just equality but justice. Justice is what makes us demand (and demands of us) that all people have those basic rights met. Justice is not treating everybody the same. Justice means that sometimes you give one person more support to compensate for something else. As spiritual descendants of Amos and Isaiah and Jesus we are people who live into God's justice. This helps us (and requires us) to work to reduce and eliminate poverty.

CAEP is going to continue to work. I am sure we will hear more about what they are doing over the next few months. Governments at all levels will be part of the work. But citizens need to be as well. Only as a whole community can we embrace transformation. Together, we can reduce poverty. I trust that the people of St. Paul's will pray for and support this work as best they can.

A final reflection on these meetings. In our discussion it was noted that when something sudden happens when a major disaster strikes and 1000's of people are left without the basic rights in our poverty definition because of, say a historic flood in Southern Alberta, there is a massive push for voluntary and governmental relief. It can be argued that people living in poverty is an ongoing disaster across the country. Where is the same push for relief?

Monday, June 24, 2013

Looking Forward to June 30, 2013 -- 6th Sunday After Pentecost, Proper 8C

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • Galatians 5:13-26 
  • Matthew 7:12-20
The Sermon title is What Fruit Are You?

Early Thoughts: How do we judge something? By appearance or by substance?  How do we judge ourselves and each other?  By our words or our deeds?  By our appearance or our substance? By our beliefs or our actions?

The passages we read this week make it clear that substance, actions and deeds count more than appearance, words (although to be fair words can be counted as deeds or actions), or beliefs.  And this is hardly news to most of us.  Remember the old adage about not judging a book by its cover?

Now of course we all tend to judge books by their cover.  For me the thing that will make me take a second look at a book is usually the title, possibly along with the author's name and the cover art.  And in the end we tend to do the same with people.  Just watch how people react to a picture shown of a "person of interest" in a crime story.  If the picture makes them look slovenly or dis-sheveled people jump to the conclusion that they are somehow in the wrong.  (I would point out that many of us have pictures of ourselves where we may look like less than prime citizens)

In the same way people make assumptions about how we will react to issues based on our membership is certain groups.  Or because of our position in society.  Or because of our age/skin tone/gender/sexual orientation....

THe passages this week tell us to look beyond all these things.  Yes where we came from, who we hang around with, our place in society are important.  Yes they help shape who we are.  But they do not necessarily define us.  What should define us (for both our self-definition and how other define us) is the fruit that we bear.

So what fruit do you bear?

Monday, June 17, 2013

Looking Forward to June 23, 2013 -- 5th Sunday After Pentecost, Proper 7C

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • 1 Kings 19:1-13
  • Matthew 14: 23,24a
  • Mark 1:35-37
The Meditation Title is The Sound of Silence 

Early Thoughts: To misquote Simon and Garfunkel: "Hello silence my old friend...."  But is that really how we approach silence?

How much silence do you find in your life? How much silence to you invite into your life?

Silence is more or less an urban legend for most of us these days.  Many of us always have the radio, or a CD, or the television on to provide background noise to our lives.  And then there is all that other background noise that we just can't escape.  But what would be the benefit of more silence?

Would more silence be oppressive or freeing?  Would we welcome it or fear it? (or possibly both)

It is my belief that we need more silence, we need more times to sit and listen and reflect.  All too often the constant background noise contributes to my busy-ness, it reduces my ability or inclination to sit and reflect and ponder.

Scripture (which was written in a time when silence may have been easier to find) is clear that silent times are a good thing.  Silence times are part of how Jesus re-energizes himself.  Silence times are sometimes how we become aware of God's presence.

I encourage us to find silence times.

Now of course there would be something highly ironic about a service that talked about silence but did not include it.  (Let us be honest and admit that most United Church, most Protestant churches for that matter, have very little silence in our worship -- we seek to fill almost every minute with words of some sort)  So this week we will have a time of silent meditation interspersed with the Lord's Prayer.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Looking Forward to June 16, 2013 -- 4th Sunday After Pentecost Proper 6C

The Scripture Readings this week are:
  • Psalm 32 (VU p.759)
  • Galatians 2:15-21
  • Luke 7:36-8:3
The Sermon title is Forgiveness, Justification, Grace 

Early Thoughts: For many people these words lie at the very heart of Christian theology.  And of course there are several sermons that can be spun out of each of those words.

One of the meta-stories of Scripture is the story of the God who forgives us when we miss the mark.  Some people will try to claim that this is THE story of Scripture.  I disagree.  There are other meta-stories about being released from bondage, about being made well/whole, about being in exile and coming home.  These are all images on par with forgiveness when it comes to talking about renewing our relationship with God, with being the people God would want us to be.  But certainly the question of forgiveness is a key point in Scripture.

God is one who forgives.  In both Jewish and Christian Scriptures God is one who forgives.  Jesus proclaims that fact in his ministry.  Paul proclaims that fact in his ministry.  The writer of Psalm 32 proclaims and celebrates that in his poem/song.

God forgives not because of anything we do.  God is not bought off by good or merciful acts.  God does not forgive because of what we believe.  Nor, in my belief structure though others will call what I am about to say heretical, does God forgive because the death of Jesus on the cross paid a blood price on our behalf.  God forgives because God is gracious.  God forgives through the Grace of God.

In his book Free of Charge (see a review I wrote of this book here) Miroslav Volf describes forgiveness as acknowledging that a wrong has been done but then setting it aside without punishment.  This is an act of grace.  The challenge for us as people of faith is that we are called to forgive as God forgives.  God's grace is abundant enough.  Is ours?

Monday, June 3, 2013

Looking Forward to June 9, 2013 -- 3rd Sunday After Pentecost

The Scripture Reading this week is Psalm 146 (VU p.868)

The Sermon title is Whom Shall We Trust??? 

Early Thoughts: Trust.  Some of us would claim that trust is the foundation of human society.  Imagine life without the ability to trust (admittedly some do not have to imagine this).

The Scripture story is clear in many places that even when other humans prove less than trustworthy we can/should trust in God.  Now I am the first to admit that there are times in the Scripture story where trusting in God seems a dubious activity.  I will also admit that there are times in the life of faith where I forget to trust, where I can't "let go and let God".  But in the end we need to trust.

We need to trust others, we need to trust ourselves, we need to trust God.

The Psalmist gives us reasons to trust God.  Sometimes life gives us reason to be wary.  How do we reconcile the two?

Trust.  An easy word to say.  Pretty easy to spell.  A good and needed thing to do.  But sometimes very difficult.