Needs verses Wants...

This picture was posted a couple of times on the networking site that I frequent and I wanted to share it in light of my mounting frustration with Christmas. This picture says it all and I feel as we watch the occupy movement as it makes the point of rich verses poor, we can maybe think about our own households and what does it mean to be poor? Poor in money, poor in things, poor in spirit? Many people have lots and lots of money and are poor in many other ways. Many people are poor financially but barely notice because they have their eyes focused clearly on the cross and how Jesus can enrich one's life. Lessons Jesus taught and the fight Jesus put up in the first century of the common era are no different than the lessons we can learn today.

Take a look at this picture and remember what it is important in your life. Stop, look and listen to those around you in your own culture and your own context. Make this Christmas the year that you really find the true meaning of Christmas in your household.

Merry Christmas


Where is Jesus in Christmas?

As another Christmas season gets closer and closer, I am once again angered and frustrated at the plethora of emails and the disgruntled mutters about taking Christ out of Christmas. As I watch these people tie up their homes in lights and bows and weigh down the Christmas tree with hundreds of dollars worth of presents and they wonder when Christ went out of Christmas.

The humble story of the birth of Jesus is written in Matthew and Luke, two of the synoptic gospels. Mark, the earliest of the Gospels, has nothing about the birth of Jesus. Interesting... The observation of Jesus’s birth did not begin until long after his death: it was when the writers realized who Jesus was that they pondered His birth narrative. The birth observance is in light of His death.

I find myself pulling further and further away from "Christmas" because of the consumerism and the expectations of those who call themselves Christians. They piggyback on the holiday in order to have extended and paid time off work, and use it as an excuse to buy gifts and support the corporate structure that the rightful target of, among others, the occupy movement.

So what to do? Often when I tell people that my family and I opted years ago not to "do" Christmas they look at me as if I have just told them I ran over the Easter Bunny with my bicycle and sent him rolling into a ditch! They cannot fathom how one does not "do" Christmas. I tell them how I took the pressure off my children years ago. When they were young teens by not telling them, "Oh honey, I don't need a present, but here is a $300 whatever for you!" I told them instead that, by not buying them gifts at Christmas, we had -- and still have -- family time and we have family time and celebrate Christmas all year, because we believe in Christ all year. Not just in the bustle and bows of December.

During the holidays, I gather with extended family and we have meals together, visit and share in gifts for the little ones (who are too young to understand the difference). I hug my brother and my sister-in-law, I call my sister and wish her a safe trip as they migrate south for the winter, and I look at the bare apple trees in my brother's orchard and stand in awe at the presence of God's creation and love that was in the first garden. I "do" Christmas all the time. I "do" Christmas by rebelling against the commerce of Christmas, and spend Christmas day with a turkey which I prepare for those who are "alone" for Christmas, and who join us for dinner at church. There are no gifts; just the love of God and the lessons and teachings of Jesus Christ, whose birthday we celebrate on December 25, a day which was once a pagan ritual day and co-opted by the Christian faith. I remember and share the grace of the One who saves us, the love of God and the communion of the Holy Spirit without throwing money at a gift-buying whirlpool.

So it matters little to me if Walmart says “Merry Christmas,” because Christmas is a state of mind and heart. Instead, all year long I say "As-Salāmu `Alaykum (السلامعليكم)" to my Islamic friends as I greet them, and I will say it to you. Peace be upon you! And may God bless your journey!


Islam, Jewish and Christian Faiths

It is that time of year when emails fly around about taking Christ out of Christmas and prayer in schools. I recently received an email asking me to vote "no" for a poll that no longer exists. The media has moved on to something else contraversial but the fallout is still hanging around. Here is my response:

Thanks for this email. I researched and researched and cannot find a poll to vote, so CTV is on to something else to rile people up. I believe it was a limited question that was posted to the CTV website and is now gone. There is very hot debate over this question (should schools provide a space for Muslims to pray?). I do believe it stands that Islam is not going to be taught they are strictly looking to provide space for the children to pray so they do not have to leave the school grounds. (Do you think if we provided chapels in public schools Christian children would be there 5 times a day? Few Christians pray in their homes let alone children doing it on their own at school) A devout Muslim prays five times a day, silently under their own volition. The Christian prayer removed from school was in respect of all faith traditions, not strictly Islam. At Emmanual College, the seminary where I am attending, there has been provided a small room for the Muslim student to pray. The chapel is available to all people as is this small space with a door for privacy. Emmanual College is offering a stream of study devoted to better understanding our Muslim Brothers and Sisters and I am in classes with Muslim students most days.

My concern here is the "we/they" attitudes. It is frightening when there is this distinction. We are Christian, you and I, but Canada is a pluralistic society made up of immigrants from all over the world. Many who follow Islam have been in Canada for generations so when are they allowed to become "Canadian"? Canada's original immigrant population was Euro-centric settlers who practiced Christianity so it appears Canada is a Christian nation. The missionaries did what they did to the Native people in order to force Christianity on the Native people. The time is coming where Christianity cannot bully its way into the hearts of people.

You and I will continue to say Merry Christmas and pray. We will continue to believe that Jesus is the revelation of God as the Messiah and the way, the truth, and the life. But as I study and work and pray with my brothers and sisters who are of the Jewish faith and Islamic faith I do so with reverance in my heart. We are all followers of the same God, we are all stemming from Abraham, and we all have faith that the world will one day be united.

Canada is a country of immigrants, historically and now. There are fanatical Christians (Waco Texas, the man who wanted to burn the Qu'ran, and the Jamestown suicide masacre) and there are fanatical Muslims (World Trade Centre). Try not to let the hatred of humankind taint your Christian heart. Jesus is the centre of Christianity as the revelation of God, a God who is central to other faiths. Islam honours Jesus and speaks of him with love. The Jewish faith honours him as well.

Solid faithful people can live together and find God together. Shout your prayers from the roof-tops, be a Christian with purpose and do so with the love of Christ in your heart. Pray as you want to and if you can get young people to pray then you are doing a good thing. If we put our efforts forward in love, emails like this would not be necessary. They will know we are Christians by our love, by our love, they will know we are Christians by our love.


Countdown to Advent

It has been a while since I wrote anything and I think that is because I have been in somewhat of a chaotic state myself, so in that chaos we find God and journey on. I have decided to finish my theology degree at Emmanuel College in Toronto, a different college of the Toronto School of Theology. The move from Knox was prompted as I withdrew from the discernment process in the summer.

This chaos I am facing stems from a denominational understanding of what it means to be "church"? Living the Questions, a DVD study, which is an introduction to Progressive Christianity, is on my desk at this moment beckoning to be listened to. Where is God in our lives today? How do we understand scripture? What does sola scriptura mean? Can we take the bible seriously, but not literally as prompted by Marcus Borg?

As we count down the weeks to Christmas the emails begin flying around that Christ is being removed from Christmas. I believe Christians removed Jesus a long time ago, and in that our souls are lost and wandering. "Teach me God to wonder" is a hymn we sang last week in church, I asked the congregation if we could also ask "teach me, God, to wander" as in wandering and wondering we learn.


Does prayer work?

What does it mean to pray? Why do we pray? Do you pray the same way today as you did as a child? What form of prayer invites you to listen instead of talking?

I have people in my life who are ill. I have people in my life who are grieving a death. I have people in my life who are happy. I have people in my life that haven't got a clue. So where does prayer come in?

Is it saying one does not trust God if one realizes that God really doesn't answer prayer?You ask here whether people mean prayers? When people pray, I believe they mean prayer as they are able to or in the capacity to which they see God. They pray with a wish list and if it isn't fulfilled then they look at it that someone "deserved" it. This archaic way of looking at God stops people from really feeling the depth and the breath of God. Like a child on December 1st making the Santa wish list. All through the month they are told, "be good or Santa won't bring you what you want."

In the book I am reading, Praying in the Messiness of Life by Linda Douty, where I found the prayer by Garnass-Holmes, {previous post}, Douty says, "Maybe to say prayer works really means that we trust God to be with us in a profound and sustaining way, regardless of how things turn out..... prayer is more about [the] relationship than results." But that is Douty... most people will say they pray looking for God to do something. But when they do not trust God's presence in their life and do not see the authentic presence of God these prayers can sound empty.

Here I am preaching this and not following God's presence myself ... showing my humanness of anger, frustration and arrogance in order to hide my hurt and fear. But I take great comfort in the fact that I come around. Most people don't ... they live this fairy tale existence, trying to believe something that is impossible to understand and believe, instead of getting to the ultimate truth; as opposed to teenage truth as per Marcus Borg, truth as that wich is factual.

It is scary for people when they face down that the God they are praying to really has little control over the future ... that life is what it is. That is not cynicism, it is great faith in its essence and a true understanding of God's plan. I was chatting with someone who made the comment I am usually in the right place at the right time.... I corrected her and said no, that I simply trust that there is an ultimate plan and when we choose not to fight and manipulate our lives but let life happen then it works. I told her not that I think there is someone in "up there" playing chess and we are the pawns but that there is a pattern and cosmic life's journey that we have to trust.

Toto, I don't think we are in Kansas anymore!!


Where is God?

This is usually the question of a child as they ponder the greater picture. So where is it that we grow into a point to which we think we really know where God is? At what point in our lives can we finally say, "I have it all together..." I think never. Truthfully, those who think they have it all together are in for a great shock. Most recently I have been introduced via the community events page of the local paper to a man by the name of John Bevere through a video series being offered at a local church called "Driven by Eternity". So I did some research and checked him out. He scares me, really he does. He scares me that there are people who actually follow his lead and attempt to learn from his teachings. Is this God? Does John Bevere have it figured out? I hope not, but in absolute truth, I really can't dispute if he does or doesn't because I do not have the answers about eternity and I don't know anyone else who does either.

I have a friend who is struggling with some health issues. I think of him and his family every single day. That is their reality. Are they concerned with eternity? I don't know but I think they just want to get through today, here on earth. I also have lots of questions ... things that I ponder about this afternoon, tomorrow, next week, the fall. I tend to think about life on earth and how God is present in my life here and now. Eternity seems so far away and when I don't know what is beyond I think I will leave it up to God. To quote my good friend Gord, "Our message {as pastors} should be focused on this world, what happens after that we leave in better hands than ours." By focussing on this world in a healthy and prayerful way God will be present and we need not worry for our eternity.

Let me share some affirming words:

As you sit in prayer
and try to remain mindful of God,
failing because your thoughts wander,
remember this:
that God is perfectly mindful of you always,
attentive to your being and your doing,
never straying from your heart,
not missing a single breath,
or forgetting a single heartbeat.
God is never distracted, never forgets.
Without neglecting anything else in Creation,
for all of Creation is present in God,
God is fully present to you,
seeing not from afar but from within
your journeys, thoughts and feelings,
holding tenderly your sins and wounds,
delighting in your gifts and beauties,
fully aware of what you yourself
only dimly suspect deep within you.
God is in all that you see, and in your seeing,
in what you hear, and in your hearing,
in your wondering, in your sorrow, in your awe,
God is grateful for you, and delights in you.
God longs in you, grieves in you, exults in you.
God gives full, peaceful, loving attention to you
all your day and all through the night,
not controlling or manipulating,
just beholding, blessing, loving
and breathing life into you,
powerful, joyful, beautiful, infinite life,
granting you mindfulness
and mindful always of you.

........written by Steve Garnaas-Holmes

Have a wonderful day and may you find peace and hope in your prayer life.


Climb that mountain...

Today is a big day. It is the 173rd Anniversary service at church and we have been planning it for a few months. There will be a Gospel Trio to provide music, strawberries, shortcake and ice cream and it will all take place on the church lawn under two large tents. What a great opportunity to share in God's creation and enjoy the summer weather.

Funny that the signature piece that brought my attention to the Trio is called, "I'll meet you on the mountain" so I chose to make that the theme of the worship. This past week I went to the lectionary and the scripture is Genesis 22:1-14 the story of Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac. Not a pretty piece of scripture for an anniversary service, or is it? What more glory and passion can we take from a father who trusts in God so deeply that he will do the unthinkable. Sacrifice his own son. Is your faith that deep? I likely could honestly say no, but then again I have the witness of the sacrifice of my own son. It was a few years ago when my boy was on the street, struggling with life out west. I had given all could give. I had no money left and he was still in the gutter. In the golden land of plenty, oil country, where if you trip over a rock you have a job. Where you could change jobs as often as you changed your underwear, he was claiming he could not find work. Was he on drugs? I suspected so. After trying an intervention and flying out to "save" him I returned realizing he was his own worst enemy. It was then that I gave my son over to God. I tried to sacrifice him on that mountain I took him up and layed him on the alter and gave him over to God. My heart was breaking and I was in the depths of despair, but God said, "Do not lay a hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me" (v.12) God saved my boy. God brought him back to life, on the mountain that day. But I had to trust enough to take him there. It was my trust in God that saved the boys life.

I pulled a book off my shelf this week and tossed it on the table thinking I would get around to reading it. I had pulled it from a rack at the thrift store just because it spoke to me. It is called "Into Thin Air". So this morning I looked at it a little closer to begin reading it and it is "a personal account of the Mt. Everest Disaster". How fitting on this mountain top Sunday. How fitting that God has put this in my hands on the day I am taking the people to the mountaintop to face their own fear of God and asking themselves, "how much do I trust?" How fitting that I am experiencing my own mountaintop experience.

Do I trust God? You bet I do. I have had enough mountaintop experiences to know that God will always save us, but it is only in the moment of fully trusting do we see God's face and hear God's voice. As long as we hold on at all God may remain silent and let us kill our only son.

Trust, my friends, fully trust in God!


Jesus is always ahead of us waiting...

Matthew 28:7 from Eugene Peterson's The Message: "Now, get on your way quickly and tell his disciples, 'He is risen from the dead. He is going on ahead of you to Galiee. You will see him there' That's the message."

I love how Eugene Peterson captures the gospel in such a way that it is present and alive. "That's the message." Jesus is always slightly ahead of us and waiting for us to arrive, but in our faith we have to trust that. Most recently I was facing challenges and decisions that were difficult. I was scared and I was confused and I really wanted to stay where it was safe and, although I was not happy, I was safe in my despair, so that despair was my comfort. I was not ready to face the unknown. However, I prayerfully considered everything took the leap and trusted God to carry me through. When I arrived, Jesus was already there. The risen Christ, smiling reminding me that in order to live sometimes something must die!

Resurrection. Transitions and neutral zones are difficult but it is through these times that a person grows and finds the strength of God within. Often early church teachings lead us to understand that God is "somewhere out there" like over the rainbow. The early Christians had no understanding beyond the sky above their heads. They were steeped in Hebrew Scripture with Genesis' account of creation and, knowing no better, it was within their scope to believe God lived above the firmament or the dome, beyond the stars. But how does that work for our scientific mind today? We are witness to space travel and pictures of earth from beyond.

The mystery of God is all around us. As we gather this mystery close to our heart and listen quietly we hear the voice of God within guiding us and caring for our very soul. I have heard it said, and I cannot find the quote to credit it, but I have heard it said that there was a man who said:

"I have searched the universe over and I am witness to say there is no God." A wise response came back, "I agree, like this violin, I have tore it apart and can attest there is no music."

Come and be witness to the mystery. Do not ask questions, just simply be, trust and share in the beauty and wonder of God, as Jesus saw it and as Jesus died for it ... You to can be resurrected from a painful life, if you simply take the first step!


Spring offers up new life and sprouts of hope

Are you watching as all the trees, grass, flowers and critters are exploding with spring? It is wonderful to see Mother Nature come to life and feel energized again. In being away over the long weekend at a wonderful women's conference it was a chance for me to regroup and really search my heart. Being in community with 600 women speaks to me. The presence of God was alive and well in each and every moment of the weekend.

Dynamic speakers, healthy plenary sessions, one on one chatting over a glass of wine and sharing in a meal. Reconnecting with women who have been lost to us and sharing with young and old. All good stuff.

I am at a cross roads of my life. Many changes are on the horizon, some I have control over and some I do not. What I do know is that God is in charge of my life because I choose to listen to my heart; I listen to the love of God guiding me. As I watch the revelation of God before me and put one foot in front of the other, I listen to the voice of God in people I work with, visit with and share in Sunday morning worship. I hear God in music, the heart beat of my cat and the cry of my grandson.

Where does it all lead? I really don't know yet, I am waiting and watching. So come on a journey with me as we watch and wait together.


Spring brings us such hope for the future....

Picture from: http://www.theseedofhope.com/

Luke 24:13-35 On the Road to Emmaus was the featured scripture yesterday and I believe I have shared how much I love this passage. However, like always as I was reading it yet again to preach it I found a verse I had never realized before.

Verse 27 "Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures." After asking questions and getting to know what these two were all about and allowing them to tell their story, Jesus taught.

How often do we never allow those we are trying to teach to tell their story. Shania Twain has just released her book and is telling her story. She said today on Canada AM that right now today she cannot sing. She is in physio to help correct this. It is an emotional block that she needs to deal with. She needs to tell her story. Do we not all need to tell our own story in order to empty the cup, open the void so that Jesus can then teach us anew?

On Monday's I often feel a little lost or in the midst of turmoil, wondering is this all God has planned for me. Preach and empty myself on Sunday, share with those in the pews and then find little to fill myself up with. What can I fill the void with? God is showing me.

This morning I went for a two hour bike ride. I enjoyed the spring sunshine, rode hard on rough terrain and was blessed with God's voice in my ears. "I love you", "you are wonderful", "keep up the good work" ............. "begin with Moses and all the prophets and interprete for them the things about Jesus they need to know........." "Love my children and share me with them." God is in charge of my journey I know this to be true.

Each day is a new beginning. A new day with another opportunity to be a beacon of God's love. Like on the road to Emmaus I can be Jesus in disguise, if I listen and teach then those I touch will suddenly see the presence of our Lord in their own lives.

Where is Jesus in your life? Is he there and you haven't noticed? Listen to God's voice in your life and you will start each day with a renewed sense of hope. Hope in this life and beyond this life.



Good Friday

Today for many Christians they acknowledge the death of Jesus on the cross but fail to see the saving grace that the cross offers to each of us. The revelation of God through this death, the brutal crucifixion, is our reminder that through an unbelievable level of pain comes an opportunity for us to really see God.

By suffering with Jesus and seeing our own pain we rise again to a better life with God. Bearing the pain is the ultimate truth of our relationship with God. Jesus died for us on the cross but he died on many levels and we can find God through this death in many ways. That is the beauty of the scriptures and the various gospels we have to ponder. Each writer shares with us a different way to be present with the eyewitnesses of that day.

The re-discovering of the events of Good Friday and pondering this death on this day is a perennial event (N.T. Wright: The Challenge of Easter). With each layer unveiled one can see more clearly that Jesus is God and faithfully celebrate the empty tomb.

Bring yourself to the foot of the cross and see it in all your pain. Bring your ego and your stresses to the foot of the cross and let Jesus bear it for you. In this, the finding of your personal relationship with Jesus, you will celebrate the empty tomb and the resurrection of God in your life. This is a blessed day.

Later on Good Friday....

I just returned from the morning service where we shared in the loss and death of Jesus on the cross. As we bear our burdens and bring them to the cross it is there we find Jesus in his fullest. As he suffers for us on our behalf, we are reminded why he died on the cross for us. We can better understand through the Good Friday experience what it means that he "died for our sins". We can witness and leave our burdens there as we wait on Saturday for the Risen Lord to return to us in his divinity and bringing to us God's love.

It is through my study of scripture, theologically thinking it through, sharing it with others through means like this blog and my own sharing of God's love that I better understand God and the presence of God in my life. Today many others brought themselves to the cross and as we meet on Sunday morning to celebrate we will do so with glad hearts and a lighter load!


5:00 AM revelations ...

Open the doors for me O God as I walk through
this life with you by my side.

For the past hour or so I have been tossing and turning in my bed. Streams of data being downloaded into my brain is keeping me awake. Is it God talking to me or just my own stress? I am thinking this is what a computer must feel like upon us pressing the power button and firing that processor up. The internet automatically connects and all the software comes alive spidering out into cyberspace to check for the latest and the greatest updates. I do not need to tell any of you that we live in a constant age of new information at our fingertips. Just in the evening hours I was preparing a presentation for the service I enjoy monthly at a senior's home, and, upon request, instantly my daughter sent me a photo I needed during the 30 second break in her online TV watching. As I now sit in the semi-darkness, one light burning at the edge of my desk, kitty taking her usual position, which is to curl up in the tossed back duvet, I await the coming of the dawn. The moment when the light of the sun will begin to illumine the darkened sky. Drinking my tea, I wonder is this how our mind works as well? All this in the light of my Anne of Green Gables marathon; two worlds which seem so far apart.

It is a time in the Christian year when we are pondering the darkness of the crucifixion. Asking the hard questions. Do I believe in what the gospels have recorded? What does it all mean? What is it about scripture that keeps me coming back for more? Every year, as a Christian, I revisit the depths of my faith and peel back another layer of myself.

Last week I wrote the final exam for the course I took at Huron College this winter. The course was called, "Interpreting the Qur'an" and it was one of the best courses I have ever taken. After this study I see the Bible in a new light, having studied our Lord Jesus Christ in a different context and it has opened my eyes so that I might see. Sacred scripture is sacred scripture and it all is relevant in our world. As I ponder about the final exam I have come to realize my final mark means nothing to me. I gleaned more than I ever could have imagined by simply allowing myself to be lead where I had not gone before. It was God driven and the revelations of Godself into my life through this study is simply amazing. I have spent over 50 years hearing about the Bible and reading scripture, and after one semester of Qur'anic study my senses are more keenly aware of my deeply embedded love for Christianity and a stronger faith in a living God.

The sun must be just below the horizon, there is no light in the sky at this moment but I can hear the robins beginning their day. Chirping and singing outside my window calling to me to say, "Good morning, the sun shall rise again" ... as I listen and ponder my Palm Sunday resources I listen to the robin, God's messenger, that reminds us, "The Son shall rise again; get up, get up and pick up your life, I am here for you!"

Blessings to all of you who may be in darkness. May you know that God has revealed Godself to us yet again in the greatness of Easter. The Son shall rise again to bring us light and life. Ask and the doors shall be opened for you. Walk knowing there is hope in all darkness just before the dawn.


Heaven or Hell?

Do you know where you are going? Gee I sure don't. Actually I do not believe that heaven or hell are places we go after death, I think we live them here on earth. The early Christians looked at the big yellow thing in the sky and wondered where it went at night. They also thought the world was flat and that that women were property, all reflected in the Bible as cultural and contextual. So where does that leave us in a 21st century world?

Rob Bell has a new book, Love Wins of which I am going to read and would enjoy doing a book study with a group of people. We can do this online through this blog should there be interest. Wrestling with concepts such as this bring us closer to God and helps us to understand Jesus and the biblical text.

Have a look at Rob Bell and please comment telling me your thoughts.

LOVE WINS. - Available March 15th from Rob Bell on Vimeo.


The signs of spring

As I sit under the skylight in the part of the room I call my office, I am blessed with this sun on my shoulder. It feels warm like the hand of God reminding me that the sun always comes out even after the darkest hours.

I have been reading and re-reading the Presbyterian Record this month because the articles all seem to speak to my heart. I am especially warmed by Elleana Hoekstra's journal article about her work as a midwife in Malawi. Her father, Rev. Ed Hoekstra and her mother Jackie have been there for three years ministering in the Blantyre area. This real journal brings to life what it means to resurrect Christ to all people. Take the time to have a read.


It is also the most significant season for the church. Lent and Easter take us to the heart of our beliefs and can sometimes be a time where we question our faith and understanding of the resurrection.


Giggy Confusion: Embracing the meaning of the resurrection speaks to the mystery of it all. I find such wisdom in the quote "Like gazing at the sun, we are better not to look directly at the resurrection to think that we can solve it. Instead look around the edges." What does it mean to look a the edges of the resurrection? How can we bring the hope in the empty tomb to every person's life? That is a deep and probing question. I believe first we have to reconcile in ourselves what it means and be open to hear all possibilities. It is through absolutes that we are ridged and take the risk of being broken or at odds with others in this question.

Being our authentic and true selves we reconcile what the empty tomb means for us and it is in looking at the edges that we have enough mystery to allow for all mysteries to unfold.

Let God be that hand of sun on your shoulder guiding you to better understand the empty tomb and the significance of resurrection in your life. This week Ezekiel was in a valley of dry bones .... how can you put flesh on the bones of your life through the resurrection of Jesus Christ?


John 4:5-42 The woman at the well....

As we journey we must look at the events of our lives to see God and be witness to the love of Jesus Christ. This past weekend's events have so many components of awareness that is part of our ministry. As each of you may know I am engaged 1/3 time at St. James PC and have a field placement on top of my paid time. This gives me opportunity to preach every Sunday, engage with the interim moderator who is also my supervisor, while engaging in new and exciting programs to help this rural congregation feel inspired.

This weekend was no exception to the greatness of rural community and the rural family. In January I had approached session about bringing in a Christian youth band that I am familiar with to perform at St. James on a Saturday night. It was approved and this past Saturday was the night. The congregation had never heard of this group before and were not familiar with the music or the experience. I have known of this group many years. I have watched as the youth come and go from it; this June the group celebrates their 25th anniversary with over 150 alumni.

The social club took on the challenge of the meal prep, as this group consists of 14 youth between the ages of 11 and 18, 4 to 6 parent volunteers and a conductor. They arrived at the church at 2:30 pm set up for the concert, practiced for an hour and then it was our responsibility to have a meal ready and then they performed at 7:00 PM. We also invited other congregations to bring youth and have dinner; so all in all there were about 40 people who had dinner. (we get about 20 out on Sunday morning to worship)

The concert was well attended (over 100 ppl) and almost $400 was collected through a free will offering for the group and there was $100 in CD sales and donations for cassette tapes. Then the group packed up at 8:45 pm loaded into vehicles, and lead by the truck and trailer, went to a church in London set up before they were billeted and returned for the 9:00 AM contemporary service. This group of inspired young people then broke the equipment down once again to move to a third church where they performed at 2:00 PM as a mission fundraiser for a country church just outside of London. This group much like our congregations have seen people come and go, participate then wane, grow into it and die out of it (retire).

On Sunday morning I had a pew full of young people. They were all present the night before and were inspired by this group of singers. Young people praising God in song is, to some, an unorthodox way of worship. The sanctuary of the church was still ringing with the sounds of Chaverim (means ‘good friends’ in Hebrew) and the people were all talking about them and asking when they would be back. The outlying churches have reported that they went away with a fresh feeling of hope and all are hoping to book this group into their church.

It warmed my heart that I was able to facilitate this meeting of two worlds. Then on Sunday morning the scripture was John 4:5-42, the woman at the well. In my undergrad I had presented a paper in which we were to take on the persona of a woman in the bible and I had chosen the woman at the well. So I dressed the part and while the congregation was singing the hymn ahead of my reflection. I stepped out and came back in costume. I presented the story from the woman’s perspective. A conversation with Jesus in a place that most people of the day avoided (Samaria), detoured around for fear of their lives or fear of encountering a despised people. An unorthodox approach perhaps but my message was simply how many people avoid our churches, detour around and miss having a conversation with Jesus.

These two events on the same weekend raised a personal awareness that we must be somewhat unorthodox, but not to the detriment of our roots, traditions or heritage. We must listen first to the congregation’s heartbeat and get into its rhythm. While taking the time in pastoral care to place the stethoscope, listen carefully, trust is built and we then can hear God’s voice directing how and where we should go. In taking on the role of the woman at the well those in the pews had a feel for what it might have been like for her. I wanted them to have this experience because I feel like the woman at the well all the time. I have great conversations with Jesus and yet feel sometimes the world despises what I am or detours around me in fear. I was out for a beer and a social time with my daughter on Friday night, engaged conversation with a couple over the pool table and when they asked what I did it was interesting to see the change in them. A pastor having a beer and shooting a game of pool just seemed to be something that did not comprehend. I am aware that I must be where people are; I must meet them at the well like the woman met Jesus.

This praise and worship and unorthodox way of delivering a sermon both were accepted because I have built a trust with my congregation. This rural community is hungry to see what is going on in the world. Contemporary music to them is “Open the eyes of my heart Lord” which is a piece that is 20 years old or more and contemporary music has exploded since then. This small area of the world has been like the woman at the well, the world has been detouring around or avoiding the rural life in search of a more modern life in an urban setting. The context of rural life is no less hungry for new ideas and they are willing to ease into the community at large, but unlike the fast pace of urban contrast it must be done slowly and carefully, allowing time for it all to sink in and feed their very soul.

Theological Reflection

In the voices of the youth and acting the scripture I felt breath of the Holy Spirit weaving its way through all who witnessed. God was present and I feel God said “it is good” as thunderous applause and hearts were joined through praise and worship. From the 82 year old man who has been part of St. James since he was 18 (1948) to the 9 month old who was watching intently God was bridging the generations through our common heart of music and visual. On Sunday morning, all the children could name all three puppets used the previous evening and were abuzz as they went down to the lower level to paint God into their picture during lessons on Sunday morning. God is ever present we just have to find ways to bring people to the well in the heat of the day and they too can have a conversation with Jesus.

At 8:30 pm on Saturday night we honoured God and Mother Earth for Earth Hour and Chaverim sang Point of Light. A song about volunteers and they link it to the great mission of the church. It was moving and the electricity of God was in the air. As we darkened the sanctuary and the members of Chaverim held candles there was a hush over the crowd as this prayerful song reminded us of our responsibility to God’s creation.

In taking risks we probe and poke at our faith. We probe and poke at the faith of others. By building a trust and honouring each and every person where they are they will let you lead them into unchartered waters in faith and be open to where they might see God for the first time. God will speak to them if you take the time to help them listen. As Jesus walked into Samaria, to be with the woman at the well we must watch for Jesus in places that we do not expect him. It is the human who thinks him not there. It is not because he is absent. I have seen great growth in myself this year. With the help of the TFE requirements and the congregation opening their hearts to a student, with all her flaws, God has blessed us all in many ways.

A colleague of mine said, “I'm wondering what God really wants us to do.” I believe God wants us to listen and then act in faith. Blessings, Cynthia.


Conversations with Jesus from the eyes of a woman

I am a woman from Samaria; my land is east of the Mediterranean and west of the Jordan River. To the north I know there is Galilee and the south I understand is Judea. I do not travel but I have heard from others who have been there. My home is near the city of Sycar which is hot, dusty and dry and centrally located in Samaria.

I am of mixed race; a Jewish sect which accepts the Torah as its scripture and am part of a despised race. The relationship between true Jewish people and Samaritans has been one of hostility for many generations. Being a Samaritan we follow Jewish law and being a woman I keep to my chores and do as I am told. I know we are bound by Jewish law and I do not question, however, my people are outcasts and hated especially by the Jews. Samaria is mostly avoided by travelers and few venture through Samaria. It is safer to detour around.

I have my own demons to deal with so I am especially careful in where I go and what I do. I am currently living with a man who is not my husband. I have had four husbands before him so feel somewhat vulnerable. However, I recently had an experience which gave me hope and a renewed sense of faith. I have learned from a great teacher about God and, as a woman was allowed to drink of the living water. Let me tell you the story.

It was a hot day like most and I needed to draw water, like I do every day. I gathered up my vessel and headed to the well; our ancestor Jacob’s well. It is a deep well and provides for us as it provided for Jacob’s sons and his flocks. We are thankful for this well. It was in the heat of the day, around noon. For most it is an odd time to draw water. No one draws water in the heat of the day, but I like to go at noon as I can be alone. For others, it is a time of siesta.

As I come to the well to draw my water, there is little activity. Few are around, for as I say it was about noon and the sun is hottest. I notice there was a man, all alone, quietly resting, obviously dusty and dry from traveling. Knowing I am not to speak, I keep to myself, my eyes lowered and I began the task of my drawing my water. Carefully without being noticed I look at the man and I can see plainly he is Jewish. I was very surprised to see him there. But I speak not and go about my business.

The man says to me, “Give me a drink.”

I am very surprised he is speaking to me and with some fear I reply, “How is it that you a Jew ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?” I plainly and rightly know of our people’s past history. Since he is Jewish I know he should not be speaking to me. We share nothing in common and our history of hostility is known by everyone.

This man answered me saying, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘give me a drink’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.” I am not permitted to ask any questions, let alone to ask anything of a Jew.

I looked around and saw he was carrying nothing. He had no means of getting water and no vessel to carry it in. I was puzzled. So I asked him, “you have no bucket and the well is deep, where and how do you get this living water?” Water is a blessing and truly necessary and there is no other place that I know of to get water. I am unsure of what he means by “living water”. So I carefully inquire further.

“Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob who gave us this well?” I asked him with caution as I remember my place but he has engaged me so I feel compelled to continue our conversation. The ease to which he puts me is comforting and grants allowances I would never have taken with any other man.

The man answered, “everyone who drinks of this well will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I give them will never be thirsty again. The water I give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”

He must know of a different well and water of another source. So I asked him to tell me where I can get this water so I will not be thirsty and never have to come back to the well to draw water again. It would be wonderful to never be thirsty and never have to carry heavy water again. I wait for his reply. He instructed me, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” Getting my husband would be one task but to be allowed to come back with him seemed odd. I wondered if I should be frightened. I had to reveal my living arrangements and I say to him, “I have no husband” and I step back and wait for his reply. I was shocked by his next words. He tells me, with certainty, he knows I have no husband and he also tells me that I have had four husbands before this. How could he know? Mixed feelings overcame me as I realized at that moment this man is a prophet.

I ask about worship. Our ancestors worship. We talked about the mountain where we worship and that the Jewish people are telling us to worship elsewhere. Who is right?

This man tells me, “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” He goes on to tell me that the Father we will worship will be neither on the mountain or nor in Jerusalem. I have heard teachings from the Torah but nothing like this. I know from the Jewish law and teaching that the Messiah is coming. He who is to be called Christ, and I tell the man so. I feel good I have worshiped and understand some of the teachings and this man makes me want to know more. I tell him with the coming of the Christ, he will proclaim all things to us. And the man said, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.” Could this be? Could this be the Messiah?

Before we could talk any further, I was then frightened as some men returned and joined him. They appeared shocked the man was talking to me. Although nothing was said I could see the surprise in their faces. They spoke not a word to me so before anything could come of it I quickly dropped my eyes and left. Leaving behind my precious water vessel but I was too overcome to care. I wanted to share my story with others. I wanted to bring them to hear and see the man. I wanted to share the good news he had shared with me and have them see him for themselves so they would believe me.

I told the villagers, "Come see a man who knew all about the things I did, who knows me inside and out. Do you think this could be the Messiah?" And they went out to see for themselves. I told everyone in the city and many came to hear him. When asked to stay, he remained for two days making believers out of many. Many told me they now believed because they had seen and heard his teaching for themselves. Many of my people were committed to him those two days. He brought us faith. Many told me it was not my word they needed any longer but still I was the messenger who brought them to him and it was me who the man spoke to at the well. No man had spoken with me the way this man did, it gives me hope and faith. It was a great day, a great day for a simple Samaritan woman.

John 4:5-42 When you encounter Jesus do you have a conversation? Do you challenge what it is he is offering you? Do you drink from the Living Water? Do you challenge him in order to understand him better? Have a conversation with Jesus today...


God's Glory in Creation

Psalm 19: 1-4a ~~ The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night declares knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard; yet their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.

The sky is hidden today with the snow that is falling. The ground outdoors has covered over the rains of the past few days. There is silence here in St. Thomas Ontario. But the cry of the people is the cry of God as the people in Japan and surrounding areas struggle in the aftermath of the tsunami. The heavens are telling the glory but on the ground is fear and anxiety. Where is God when this happens? How do we reconcile a loving and caring God of God's people when the earth shakes causing such devastation? This is an eternal question that has been asked since the days of the Hebrew scripture. Where is God when we are suffering? My short answer... right beside us, crying with us. Jesus is wrapping his loving arms around us telling us not to give up, keep on going and trust in those around us.

The God I believe in does not bring suffering into the world. The God I believe in does not let anything happen. The God I believe in carries me when I do suffer and when I struggle.

Day to day we listen to the world and by night we gain knowledge processing what we have heard. Take the time to stop and pray for others today. Be with them in their grief and lend a hand however you are able.

Blessings to all my friends and neighbours in this world.


Shall we gather at the river?

A wonderful old hymn that I have known since childhood. I remember the voices strong and in harmony since the church I was raised in only sang accapella. This hymn about gathering at the river is in reference to John the Baptist baptizing Jesus. Strange as it seemed Jesus felt blessed to be baptized by his friend John.

In light of this I preached this morning referencing the text Matthew 3:13-17. As Jesus was baptized the presence of God was so very real. So I ask, "where does that leave the unbaptized or the one's who do not believe?" I believe our faith carries those people.

My 56 year old brother died this week. Suddenly and alone in his home. He was found in his livingroom in the midst of daily life. He did not go to church, nor did he openly believe. I could go so far as to say he was skeptical about it all. So does he go to heaven?

I believe he did. I believe it because of what happened this week and how I sense the presence of God in the death of my brother. Earlier this week (before we knew my brother had died) I was getting my resources for this morning's service. The resource I use always suggests hymns. So on Tuesday I sent them to my pianist with a star beside a couple of my favorites that were in the suggested list and promptly let it go. He sent me the list of chosen hymns for worship. It was not until I was pulling the service together last night for this morning I had an epiphany. I didn't remember that one of the hymns I had starred and as an old favorite was "Shall we gather at the river" an old Church of Christ hymn. This hymn for this mornings service was so fitting since we hear my brother's wishes are to have his ashes scattered off a bridge into the river.... and people say there is no God....

Matthew 3:14-17 says, .."just as he (Jesus) came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. A voice from heaven said, "This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased." I told the congregation that although my brother was not baptized or a church person it is our faith and the faith of those who love him that would take him home. And I believe that in the moment of his death he witnessed just what Jesus did ... I believe the heavens were opened and Brian went home... and God was pleased ...