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Tuesday, 27 November 2018

Gratitude from the Heart.

We've survived Black Friday and Cyber-Monday and Tuesday.  Black Friday is also known as Buy-Nothing-Day and was started by Adbusters magazine some years ago to counteract the consumerism of our modern society; I lament that we are such a consumer-oriented society.  However, in this blog I want to focus on gratitude and the power of gratitude to ramp down our consumerist tendencies and cultivate a sense of awe.

Two of the elders that I have long respected—both now in their 90’s, one a Roman Catholic monk—Brother David Steindl-Rast—and the other a Quaker—Parker Palmer—have spoken and written about gratefulness.  Brother David started the website and movement and Parker the Centre for Courage and Renewal.

In a play on words, the administrators of the website have suggested that instead of buying, buying, buying, we give a gift from the “great fullness” of our lives.  There has been a lot of research that has shown that cultivating gratitude can change our brain patterns, change our habits, and change the way in which we view the world.

Part of Parker Palmer’s great work on courage is to remind us that courage is about living the convictions of our heart.  The word courage comes from the Latin “cor,” which means heart.  We live from our heart outwards; we live the convictions of our heart—generosity, love, compassion, peace, justice, hope—and participate in the renewal of our world.

The heart is where Brother David and Parker’s life-work overlap.  Parker takes it in the direction of courage and Brother David in the direction of gratitude, but both are heart-centred in their call for the renewal of our societies, communities and interactions.

Scholars with better knowledge than I have researched the major ethical and religious movements of history.  All these movements give expression to gratitude, abundance, hope, and the renewal of our lives and communities from the heart outward.

The World Parliament of Religions met in Toronto, ON, November 1st to 7th.  The theme of the recent parliament was “The Promise of Inclusion, the Power of Love: Pursuing Global Understanding, Reconciliation and Change.”  I haven’t heard much in the news media about this gathering, but the theme certainly is heart-centred.

Instead of giving-in to our need to acquire more, why not focus on expressing gratitude for the people in our lives, the things we do have, and simply just for this day.  From the heart outwards, gratitude can grow and life can be lived more fully.

Closure Is Over-rated

It’s been a difficult time for our church community the last while; we’ve had several deaths.  After a recent memorial service, I spoke with someone who asked me what I thought about closure. This person defined closure as the end of grief and moving on with life.  I offered my response and we had a good conversation.

My opinion of closure is that it is a myth.  It is related to the many myths of our society that demand happy endings, answering all questions, or having things tied in a neat bow.  Closure usually implies that something is tied off and set aside as being complete.  In my opinion, grief at the death of a loved one or grief that comes with a serious loss never gets tied off in the way that closure implies.

My father died over 30 years ago and to this day I still grieve.  It isn’t a debilitating, crushing grief, but his loss still affects me today.  We are human beings who feel and remember.  We can’t package up those memories and feelings that are painful and put them inside a box and close the box.

One of the privileges of my vocation is that people talk to me about their grief.  A common challenge that grieving people face is that they feel constrained to grieve only for a short while and then seek closure.  However, when we don’t grieve for an adequate period, we can begin to repress our feelings of grief; when we pass some threshold of what society sets as a grieving period, we begin to worry that other people will think we aren’t strong and then often we begin to pretend that we are fine.

Telling people that closure is over-rated and that everyone grieves in their own way and takes whatever time is necessary can often lead to an opening of the floodgates—a good thing.  Tears flow and stories come, and people feel free to talk and let their bottled-up feelings out.

Closure implies that there are no open question, that everything is solved.  As a liberal, progressive Christian, I follow Jesus of Nazareth who raised questions and invited reflection.  Rainer Maria Rilke, in Letters to a Young Poet, once said, “… the point is to live everything.  Live the questions now.  Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”  Life is messier when living the questions, but it is more real.  We are more real.  We are more human.

When you experience loss, take whatever time you need to grieve, and grieve your own way.  Don’t worry about closure; it’s over-rated anyway.  Live your way into the answer of love and that will sustain you.  And seek out help if you feel overwhelmed.

Thursday, 8 November 2018

United Church Supports Proportional Representation

With the recent mid-term elections in the USA, it is readily apparent why first-past-the-post voting systems don't work.  I believe that this winner-take-all mentality leads to the kind of partisan, polarized politics we see south of the border, and are beginning to see more and more in Canada.  With the stakes so high around the world--climate change and people on the move--we can't afford the authoritarian, narrow-minded politics of fear (which first-past-the-post can heighten) any longer.

I often get asked about my political and economic stance with respect to my beliefs as a progressive, liberal Christian.  Often the question is posed as a means for the questioner to argue that religion has no business in the political or economic realm.  The first paragraph I wrote above will rile some who feel that the church has no place speaking about politics or economics.  I beg to differ.

I grew up in the United Church and learned early on from my father that when I vote, I bring all that I am to the voting booth.  I can not suspend what I value and believe when I vote for a party or candidate.  As a whole human being, how I make economic and political decisions is part and parcel of who I am as a person of faith.

Advocating for justice is an important tradition within the United Church; along with people of faith and peace-advocates, the United Church is rooted in concern for the marginalized and disenfranchised.  Seeking an end to poverty, racism, and discrimination is part of what we believe Jesus taught with respect to the Family of God, the Realm of Peace.  Seeking climate justice and the mitigation of global warming as well as pursuing justice and reconciliation in Canada’s relationship with Indigenous people continue to be part of our work of peace and hope. The KinDom of Heaven is making the world a better place here and now.

To try to change the narrative of how we do politics in BC, the BC Conference of The United Church of Canada endorsed proportional representation at a general meeting held last May. 
BC Conference is the regional body of the United Church and is comprised of more than 400 delegates from urban and rural congregations of BC.

Some of the reasons why I support proportional representation from a spiritual perspective follow here.  I want to vote for a system that encourages consensus building and people working together.  Proportional Representation values the contribution of everyone and all voices have a chance to be heard.  Proportional Representation is inclusive and invites people to move beyond partisan politics to understand other perspectives.  I believe in mutual respect and people working together.

My grounding in the Jesus tradition—so full of compassion, hope and love—leads me to bring all that I am to political decisions and for that reason, I support proportional representation.

Wednesday, 7 November 2018

“We Mourn the Deaths in Pittsburgh”

(I wrote this op-ed piece for the Nelson Star last week and include it here.)

Do you know the significance of April 4th, 2018?

If you answered that it was the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., you’d get a gold star.  Dr. King was murdered on April 4, 1968.  Sadly, it doesn’t seem that we’ve come very far since then in terms of peace and race relations; we certainly haven’t achieved the dream that Dr. King articulated more than 50 years ago!

What was that dream?  In 1963, Dr. King delivered his “I have a dream” speech in which he said near the end, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character.  I have a dream today!”  The interesting thing about this speech is that some of it was delivered in an impromptu fashion; when Mahalia Jackson, the great Gospel singer, said, “Tell them about the dream, Martin!”, he diverted from his text and articulated his dream of freedom and equality.

I despair that we will never see that dream come to fruition.  The murder of 11 Jewish people in Pittsburgh a few days ago, the latest incident of how Dr. King’s dream is still unfulfilled, is a deep tragedy that affects all of us around the world.  It highlights again Dr. King’s famous words that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere!

I don’t have any easy answers to solving the problems of injustice and violence in the world.  I do know that we have to give tangible expression to King’s dream.  We have to speak against the purveyors of hate and authoritarianism that are gaining political power around the world, the latest of which is in Brazil.  We have to continue to march, to speak out, to not let hate speech become normalized, to speak against anti-Semitism, racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia and anything that threatens to destroy communities, eco-systems and neighbourhoods.

For the sake of our planet, for peace, and for the sake of the many species that have been driven to extinction by our inhumanity, we must not be idle.  “For what does God require of us, but to seek justice, love compassion and walk humbly with our God.”  (Micah 6:8)