Friday, October 30, 2020

Masked Deacons

My wife is a deacon in our church.  The other evening, arriving home from a little errand, I stepped into our living room and received the friendly greetings from deacons meeting-in- progress, all four of them, each in physical distance, seated on separate couches or chairs, each from behind the mask.  Greetings, small talk and smiles as per normal, but alongside a new normal.  No mention of the masks even, as I made my way through.

It is the new normal which gives me pause.   Masks by now are the expected protocol for anybody who appears in indoor public places, including homes if other than cohorts present.  In this case they were brothers and sisters in Christ - cohorts in the spiritual family.  I even remember reading a book on that very topic, The Spiritual and the Biological Family by Paul Lederach (1973).  However in terms of the germs or viruses we share on daily basis they must remain separate from one another. There they were talking and planning. I enjoyed the sound, soft voices, occasional animated comments, chuckles, etc. emanating from our living room.  It is the sound of a church seeking to be supportive and caring in this corona day.  I was comforted knowing that the masks seem not to deviate from task at hand.

I am reminded of similar circumstance in the Bible, Acts chapter 6 to be exact.  In those days when the number of disciples was increasing, the Hellenistic Jews[a] among them complained against the Hebraic Jews because their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. So the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, “It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables. Brothers and sisters, choose seven ... from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.” 

Interesting story, this one.  The church, only recently begun (read Acts 2) was already encountering some challenges.  There had been and there were many ongoing inquiries about this new life which was possible because of Jesus Christ. And among the queries there were misunderstandings and even quarrels.  Imagine that! That would not happen today, would it? 😕  The apostles, those disciples-become-teachers/preachers who had experienced this faith miracle were now very busy!  They were busy preaching and teaching.  There was a need for some who also had this faith, not necessarily preachers, but also full of the Spirit and wisdom, to deal with social and societal implications of the new gospel changing lives everywhere.

Corona time, mask time, is fast becoming the challenge of challenges.  And it descends upon a world ill equipped.  Individualism is the sin now crippling political systems worldwide, as well as religious systems/organizations.  My one comfort these days is knowing that the church - the Church of Jesus Christ - still has a mandate to work with, to count on, to trust the discernment and the service of those who are full of the Spirit and of wisdom (:3).  We need those persons.  It behooves every preacher or teacher or lecturer no matter how self-assured to listen carefully for guidance coming from those who are not the spokespersons but the doers.  We need those who will think deeply, pray deeply, and yield to the depths of spirit as they interpret these times.  Thank you Lord for the masked deacons in my living room.

Monday, October 12, 2020

Hangups and Hangings

One of my least enjoyable experiences is to get hung up on.  It has not happened often in my life, but those recalls are still vivid in my mind.  The fact that you remember those incidents, complete with conjured up emotion, suggests that these are indeed an aggressive form of communication - or perhaps non-communication.  The hang up is an occasion of desperation or at very least extreme irritation.  In my once-upon-a-time trucking world it was mainly dispatcher irritation at my nerve to refuse a certain load or too strong opinion from me regarding some office procedure.  Needless to say on those occasions it was an ace up his sleeve designed to humiliate, usually bringing on my reaction verbal or mental not worth typing here!  The workaday experience of my trucking years, however, pale in comparison to the several times I have encountered same among colleagues/fellow Christians within my community of faith!  Within this community I experience near despair if in conversation with one who apparently shares same faith as I - lives by the same principles - and yet chooses to let their irritation rule the day - ie. an act not only of irritation, but a statement of no further communication. Zilch. Nada.  There are so many scriptures which teach otherwise.  Colossians 3: 16 Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another, or Ephesians 4: 25 Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body.  No further communication needed?  I can only imagine the self-indictment. 

The intention here is not rant on about that.  Instead I present this shut-down image in some further contexts.  Yes, it gets worse especially if we stay with religion!  I have just completed reading a book, Inside the Kingdom, by Robert Lacey (Penguin Group, 2009) detailing  common methods of discipline and enforcement in Saudi Arabia and  neighboring countries like Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and other Middle East countries.  Public lashings, stonings, hangings and beheadings, those consequences are an ever present possibility for anyone whose behavior or even perceived belief does not conform to the norm.  Ironically the extreme 'faithful' are the ones with the least tolerance for deviants (eg Wahhabi, Sharia Law).  Also from the good old 'in-God-we-trust' U.S.A. award winning novelist John Grisham describes lynchings and vigilante acts from within southern states like Mississippi, Georgia, Alabama; this well into the 20th century, well after 1861, end of Civil War and the Emancipation Act.  There have been and there continue to be relational, political and racial examples of prejudicial sinful communications breakdowns often leading to warfare ever since the beginning of time, religion always near center of the action.

Jesus has been there done that.  Even as he lived among us  (John 1:14) he met ridicule (Mark 14:63; 15:20), suspicion (Matt.21:23), and even betrayal from his own followers (eg Peter Lk. 22:61).  We are fortunately still in his presence, the One who came to his own (that's us!) and still available to help us learn a new way.  The way of Jesus not just for little interpersonal grievances, but for international inter-religious skirmishes.  Check out Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ (Penguin, 2019).  I do not fully subscribe to his theology, but his witness to the all-sufficiency of Jesus is convincing.

I posit here not just a gentle Jesus meek and mild, but an inter-faith action statement which I believe could be a game changer.  It begins with my belief in one big and almighty God, and three major world religions claiming allegiance to this One.  Almighty God, Yahweh, or Allah divided and splintered not only three ways but many ways. Muslims fight and kill each other regarding the correct representatives or lineage of The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), Jews continue in disagreement with their messianic cohorts and of course the literal Zionist claim to Palestine, and Christians splinter into endless denominational interpretations of the significance of Jesus Christ, Savior and/or Lord including agreement or disagreement with the Jewish claim to Jerusalem and surrounding Palestine.  History has factions and even wars regarding how to interpret God as three-in-one while Muslims mock that very Trinity while yet following the teachings of Jesus whom they revere as one of their prophets. 

These three monotheistic religions would be well served if there were a review of the teachings of Jesus, Son of God, Messiah, Savior, Lord, Prophet, especially as taught once upon a time to a hungry crowd and recorded in sacred writings, Matthew chapters 5 - 7. "Blessed are the poor in spirit, meek, merciful, etc.  This is wonderful required reading for anybody, even those who claim no faith, and even us faithful ones doing our jobs in churches and synagogues and mosques.  Yes, among the atrocities of enforced religion and among the carelessness with fellow Christians, there are new possibilities.  There is an invitation to study Jesus more.  I would love to have some conversation about this AFTER reading this sermon on the mount together! 😊

Once upon a time while working as a chaplain in a large hospital I was addressing some thorny issues with the family of a patient. My partner in this pursuit was a Muslim social worker. I still recall a certain point in conversation with all concerned, he posited thoughtfully, "So what would Jesus do?"  I well remember this Christian chaplain and that nominal Christian family looking at each other as we recognized the divine wisdom coming from this gentle Muslim.  "What would Jesus do?"  I see here an invitation to a new way which comes from Jesus himself, including a good look at how we get along with one another in our churches and families.  Perhaps a good sermon series about manners from a Muslim imam ... would serve us well.  

Saturday, September 19, 2020

The Civilizing of Hockey

I have never thought of the hockey game as a place of profound life insights.  Not profound perhaps, but in my memory rather pervasive, early years almost exclusively on the 'ice surface of life'.  This sport has yielded hours and hours of fun, a slight twist to my nose and an irregularity in chest cavity, and fairly good sized young muscles - valuable markings for one growing up as a Saskatchewan farm boy.  It also yielded an awareness which I can only appreciate now in hindsight.  It became clear to me that I was not, nor ever would be, as good a hockey player as one of my younger brothers, who was superstar material.  Fortunately for my ego, I had an adequate number of siblings and neighborhood friends also not as good as he, so we all mostly had lots of fun!  It was fun to play with a superstar especially if he also was having fun among us mortals.  Yes, those farmyard games were fun and they were fast.

Perhaps this childhood awareness is what has led to my surprising enjoyment of this 2019-20 NHL almost-corona-aborted-and-then-recovered season.  How do I know this?  Let me count the ways.

Firstly, I thought I could not handle the initial prospect of games canceled due to coronavirus.  Then I made adjustments.  I learned to pray instead of play.  If I couldn't watch 'em play I would increase in church volunteer work, including hours of telephone and text and email conversations.  Busy, still adjusting to retirement I think, also add thousands of steps per day duly commandeered by iPhone to hold Type 2 at bay.  And no television in the evening.  Me not yet having learned to replace hockey games with anything else, that left considerable extra time for my daughter in front of the tube (or screen we might say today).

Then along came a second ingredient, work instead of play.  I built an addition to the front porch of our house, and then a large project.  My wife and daughter and a neighbor friend painted the house by hand - up and down ladders with roller and paintbrush and lots of verbal consultations! Good exercise and no collateral damage!  Although I am not an experienced carpenter or artisan, I do enjoy projects. Git 'er done.  This one turned out well.


Then, thirdly, and mercifully, the NHL came back!   Even as many of us had almost convinced ourselves that we could do without.  In the interest of corona prevention I might indeed pray or paint, but now quickly I resumed old habit, grabbed my chair in front of television and back to the 'good old hockey game' even if no fans in the seats anywhere! Did I fall off the wagon?  Not exactly.  You see, I became a new kind of hockey fan.  First my Edmonton Oilers fell to the Chicago Blackhawks, not even qualifying for playoff round 1. Neither did Toronto or Winnipeg. Then into the abbreviated playoffs Calgary and Montreal were unable to get past first round, leaving one Canadian team standing; Vancouver Canucks scared the Vegas Golden Knights but finally lost that series in game seven!  The new hockey fan?  I became gracious! Oh yes, I admired Travis Green and his fine coaching of his talented players including that dream kid Elias Petterson. Exit round 2; no more Canadian teams.

Now picture this.  No more Canadian teams; my WhatsApp comment to my kids went like this, "Now let the Americans kill each other!"  Ironically this hasty judgement also had to go by the wayside.  I was learning a new way - or perhaps relearning the old way!  Hockey became fantastic, a new game of finesse and skill!  Seemingly with new eyes, and with some old heroes also eliminated, like Sidney Crosby (Pittsburgh) and Alex Ovechkin (Washington), and of course Conner McDavid (Edmonton), I thrilled at the quality of play and excellence of hockey by skilled, disciplined and well-coached hockey players.  Yes, the quality of game has been improving as the playoffs progressed.  Did I mention the coaches of these winning American teams are all Canadian?  In the Eastern Conference finals at one point where a scrum might have ensued  (New York Islanders vs Tampa Bay), commentators Jim Hughson and Craig Simpson opined that the players were unusually restrained.  Why?  Out of respect for one another and their coaches, Barry Trotz and Jon Cooper, close friends hailing from the arenas of Saskatchewan!  I thrilled at this passing commentary.  No Americans killing each other and me remembering some of my childhood hockey where fight was never ever considered part of the game - just shooting and passing and skating a hundred m.p.h!

Now, approaching the final series between Dallas (who nicely beat those big boys 😏 from Vegas who had beat our Vancouver), and Tampa Bay, I am expecting a relatively civilized series. There will be some drama around the possible return of Steven Stamkos (surgery during Corona break), the health of Braden Point (groin), the emotional grit of one ex-Oiler Patrick Maroon, and one of Dallas' tiring work horses named Cory Perry.  The two coaches Jon Cooper and Rick Bowness will juggle and scheme and challenge and face unknown obstacles and lead their highly skilled respective motivated teams until the final bell tolls and the winners bow before Lord Stanley.  This fan will cheer for the best team (and the second best) whichever that will be!

I do not envision bench-clearing brawls in this upcoming series. I stand corrected of my earlier cynical statement.  No more rabid drunk fans, because they're just not there!  The fans are social distancing somewhere.  Good riddance; now back to some excellent hockey.  Maybe Covid 19 has brought a degree of civilization to this important sport.