Being a healing community-7 ways to heal without your healer

I am currently between parishes, having returned to Toronto after 8 1/2 months serving in Nova Scotia. I was responsible for 6 churches grouped into three parishes. In my last sermons, I offered ways for each congregation to continue to be Church while they wait for their new priest coming this winter. While I don’t have the whole text, I made 7 suggestions on how to remain a healing community. They were inspired by our lectionary readings from the book of James in year B.

The New Testament contains stories of and instructions for healing carried out by all who call themselves Christians. When James speaks of “the elders” to whom members of the congregation are to go for healing, he is not speaking of a professional leader or healer (deacon, priest, pastoral visitor, parish nurse) but of those who are mature in the faith. That means most of us who are Christians.

Over the past 50 to 100 years the vocation of priesthood has become synonymous with the administrative role of running a legal entity and a community organization. With this, the vows we have taken have become, to a degree, professionalized, and this is no more evident than in the ministry of healing. Who do we call when someone gets a diagnosis, or is rushed to hospital? Who visits those in long-term care on a schedule that treats all as equally as possible? Who is called on to pray and counsel in times of distress? The priest.

The ministry of healing is a sensitive and difficult thing, not to be taken lightly. So, how do we continue to be a healing community when we do not have our priest (professional healer)?

  1. Be kind It’s so simple. We were taught as children, we teach our children and grandchildren, and, yet, we neglect this simple act every day. Kindness is a choice. It rarely comes naturally. It requires being aware of the needs of others, sometimes as simple as the words we say. We have all had a day where one kind word or action has completely transformed us. Always accept the invitation to be kind.
  2. Be reconcilers In the Canadian church as we come to terms with our history with the residential schools, we are learning the depths and power of reconciliation. First, to be reconcilers, we must acknowledge pain-the pain we have inflicted on others and the pain inflicted on us. We can not pretend the pain never existed, as it never goes away. Second, we must forgive. We often reserve talk about forgiveness to the big hurts. There are little annoyances and betrayals every day that we should also forgive. Forgive the coworker who spilled coffee on your keyboard. Forgive the woman at the coffee counter for taking a long time with her order. Forgive your kids for making a mess at dinner. Finally, we need to apologize fully. An apology is a statement that says, “I recognize my actions have hurt you and I will do my best not to hurt you in this way again.”
  3. Be bold Reach out, make a call. They may tell you they don’t want to talk about it. That’s ok. Some choose to endure distress alone or may have others on whom they lean for support. In Christian community, no one should ever feel they must suffer alone. Pray with people. It doesn’t have to be perfect. I screw up prayers all the time. God is patient. Even bring a prayer book along and read it. I have messed up any prayers but every time I have prayed with someone it has brought them comfort, even to recite the Lord’s Prayer together. I promise you it means so much.
  4. Be silent This seems like the opposite of no. 3, but it also requires the courage that you need to be bold. Wait on the Lord. Healing is God’s work, not yours. Keeping someone company does not mean talking to fill space. Sometimes a person needs permission and support to be silent. Don’t answer every question. Instead, accompany someone in the face of mystery.
  5. Be hopeful Healing happens when the afflicted person can see God’s own healing action in their own lives. It is not to us to offer an easy answer, simply to trust in hope. The first person I knew who was ever hospitalized for depression was an extremely faithful person. One day, a friend came to visit. The patient said, “I just can’t do it anymore. I can’t pray. I can’t believe. I have no faith left.” The friend responded, “That’s alright. That is why we are here, to have enough faith for ourselves and you.” Our hope-not in a solution or cure, but in the sustaining comfort, strength and love of God-is far more than solutions.
  6. Be healed We are so generous when it comes to others who are sick, but how hard it is to ask for prayer and help when we are in distress. To ask for healing as well as offering it is critical. We are all vulnerable, and we can not bear witness to the healing power of God unless we have experienced it. We will not experience it fully until we ask.
  7. Embrace mortality Cure is but one form of healing. Death is also a form of healing. Recovering with or living with a disability is a form of healing. The gift of mortality offers us the chance to live each day fully, as if it were our last. In this interview, the Rev. Dan Graves, editor of  Prayers for Healing from the Anglican Tradition says, “Hope comes when we, in all our brokenness and pain say, “whether I live, I live unto the Lord, whether I die, I die unto the Lord; whether I live or die, I am the Lord’s.”  I am the Lord’s if I am sick or well.  What I acquire and achieve in this life is no more my story than cancer or a terminal illness.  Jesus Christ is my story, and his love for me.  This is healing.

Participating in the healing power of God is a privilege of the Christian life. Being part of a Christian community is meant to root us in a context of healing that pervades every area of our lives. It is not a gift set aside with special hands or gifts, but an act that is ongoing in which we all participate by acknowledging that, whatever happens in our mortal life, it belongs to God.


Welcome does not equal naivete. On the refugee crisis.

This morning alone I have participated in 4 facebook conversations about the refugee crisis in Europe. They are really important conversations, but I have to get to work, so I am going to post a few thoughts here so I can feel like I have said what I need to say and try and get some work done.
Note: when I use ‘we’ and ‘us’ I mean those of us privileged to leave in Europe and North America and the governments we have elected.
1. I do not doubt there are fraudulent refugee claimants in Europe and all over the world. When we keep our borders closed for years until a flood comes and we open them all at once in a way that overwhelms our systems, we have left the door wide open (pun intended) for fraud. That’s our doing.
2. I will not judge all refugees on the actions of a few. Just because one group of refugees cramming themselves into leaky tents in the pouring rain stand in the mud behind barbed wire and send fully armed police away with boxes printed with a red cross on them-a sign to many of western oppression-does not mean we stop providing for or caring about all refugees.
Also, if I had just left a civil war by boat to make it to land and abandoned my family and friends and was then faced with barbed wire behind which people live in lavish safety and privilege, I may find it hard to express appropriate gratitude. I won’t judge all refugees because some of them, even many of them, may be “rude”.
3. Like most crisis moments, this should be opening our eyes to the fact that Syrians are not the only refugees in the world. The fact that other refugees are taking advantage of this crisis is a message to all of us that we have rejected refugees for way way too long.
4. We all have to open our borders and we have to help relieve the pressure on Syria’s border countries or we will have more conflict and refugees to deal with. Canada and many countries refused boatloads of Jews before WWII. We have capacity. Our security is enough. I was a child when we took in 70,000 Vietnamese refugees in less than 5 years. We did it. No one blew up our country. We have the security in place. We can do so much more.
If you want to hear more from me on this, here is a post I wrote two years about about the civil war in Syria when Canada was beginning our military intervention. As world powers we can stop jumping from crisis to crisis. If we voters stopped focussing on what we can get this election cycle and start demanding a stronger arc of justice, we might be just create the political will we need to end these crises.

Stephen Colbert and why I am uncomfortable with full communion with the Roman Catholic Church

150909075125-late-show-colbert-0909-super-169Let me start by saying I adore Stephen Colbert. I really do. I watch the Late Show now, which I never did. My heart grows 2 sizes when he says, “Nation…”, even though I am Canadian. I also deeply admire his public statements of faith, and how he talks about his faith wherever he is because it is so ingrained in his life that it can’t help but be visible.

There. Have I disqualified myself as a Colbert hater?

On Sunday night (September 13, 2015) Witness on Salt + Light aired an interview with Stephen Colbert and Fr. Thomas Rosica, CSB. It was clearly pre-Late Show airing because of the Santa beard. He does a beautiful piece around minute 6 about the difference between an idiot and a fool. He also quotes CS Lewis on humour.

One portion was posted on Sojourners under the headline Stephen Colbert, LIfelong Catholic, on Hearing a Female Priest Celebrate the Eucharist. In this particular portion, he describes a time when the Eucharist “was most real to me…a time I didn’t receive it.”. He describes a high Anglican mass celebrated by a woman where, for him, hearing the words of consecration from a female voice opened up yet another perspective through which to view the action of the Eucharist, that all of our bodies are included in the Body of Christ, and we all give our bodies to the Body as Christ gave His. The fact that it was a woman made it more obvious to him because the words were clearly being said by someone who he did not perceive as a priest.

I am an ecumenist, and I firmly believe that, when we come to the table, we can not respect difference if we are all trying to be the same. I grew up Baptist in a Baptist-Roman Catholic community. The rules for going to a Catholic church, according to my mother, were “When they stand, you stand, when they kneel, you sit, and when they go up for communion, YOU STAY PUT.” As an Anglican, I kneel now, and I go up to receive a blessing rather than staying put. I respect the boundaries as much as I am able.

When Stephen Colbert said, “someone I don’t perceive as a priest”, it hurt. I know it is true for him. I know why it is true for him. I can not be dogmatically academic about it. Being a priest and being a woman is who I am. It is who God created and called me to be. He is not, as some are saying, promoting woman priests, or even questioning the Roman Catholic doctrine on ordination and the place of women in the church. So, I feel it is important to point out, when someone like Stephen Colbert, such a witness of the social gospel, makes that distinction, because we are quick to align him with equality under Christ. And that is not where he is.

I respect that. We are separate churches. My husband’s family is Roman Catholic so sometimes, in my life, the two churches intersect, but otherwise, for most of us, they are two different expressions of the same faith in Christ.

The Anglican Communion around the world is in the midst of discerning the work of the Spirit around a few things. It causes conflict and, sometimes, it puts us out of joint with our ecumenical partners. Sometimes, when we make a controversial move, we receive a letter from one of our partners, including the Roman Catholic church, warning us that, if we proceed, it will damage our relationship and force the other to create more boundaries.

Now, first of all, these kinds of pre-emptive strikes are harmful to dialogue that is truly based in discernment of the movement of the Holy Spirit. As long as we are working things out, the role of our partners is to pray for us, offer us insight and then, when our decision is made, to enter into prayer about their relationship with us.

But every once in a while, when we get one of these pre-emptive strikes from the Roman Catholic Church, some of us respond with regret; “We are now further away from full communion with the Roman Catholic Church”. For many, the goal of our dialogue with Roman Catholics is to enter into a fullness of unity which includes the Eucharist. Because of the centrality of the Eucharist in Catholicism and Anglicanism, there are many doctrines we need to reconcile before that can happen. How do we do that when the Roman Catholic church denies the possibility of women presiding over the Eucharist? Do we then make women priests simply an addendum?

I can not not take that personally as an affront to the work that God is doing in and through me. Being a woman and being a priest are not separate beings. I realized this when I was first in discernment and I received an email from a dear friend who did not believe in the ordination of women. He wrote, “I do not doubt your call, but I can not find support for the ordination of women”. Until that moment, I didn’t think about how I would be a woman and a priest. I was just going to be a priest. But the logical disconnect of my friend’s words made me reconsider. I responded that he could not believe what he stated. He was either denying my womanhood or stating unequivocally that I was mistaken in my call because God simply does not call women to the ministry.


I am not going to use historic examples of discrimination to express the disconnect of full communion with a church that denies the ordination of women. Let me try a new one. Let’s take the Church of Cheetahs (CC), and the Church of Elephants and Cheetahs. These churches want to work more closely together. The CC invites the CEC into a deeper relationship that means working together in all things (full communion is a little more complicated than this but bear with me). But the CC does not believe the elephants can participate in church leadership.  Imagine a presentation of the CC/CEC delegation to the elephants.

Cheetah: We will be stronger together, and able to create a more co-operative system, in the unity that Christ wants for the church.

Elephant 1: Wonderful. But the CC doesn’t have elephants in its leadership. Will we be included in the leadership?

Cheetah: Oh yes.. You can remain in leadership in the CEC, and you can be part of committees. You can write letters and even submit your thoughts online. And you can pray for us.

Elephant 1: But the final decisions will be made by Cheetahs…

Cheetah: Well…yes…but we will need your input. And you can always influence the Cheetahs behind the scenes. Remember, those who are least are the greatest.

Elephant 2: Cheetahs from the CC will be able to lead us in worship. Will we be able to lead worship in the CC church?

Cheetah: The CCs believe that elephants can not be called by God to lead in worship because Jesus didn’t name elephants as his disciples, so you can continue to lead worship in the CEC but not in the CC.

Elephant 3: But…we are called by God to lead worship. The CEC has affirmed our call to lead worship. Is the CEC changing it’s decision about elephants leading worship?

Cheetah: Uh…no. Of course not.

Elephant 1: When we meet together, does that mean only cheetahs can lead worship because the CC won’t accept our leadership?

Cheetah: Well…yes…The CC accepts elephants, just not in leadership.

Elephant 3: But I am an elephant, and a leader. God created both in me. How do I accept one and deny the other?

Cheetah: …well…pray about it…

Elephant 2: And if the CEC agrees to this, you are asking us to choose between being elephants and being worship leaders. Except, for us, they are one and the same. That is unity.*chalice

God created me woman. God called me to be a priest. God’s call was affirmed by my local parish, two bishops, professors, supervisors, classmates, a panel of examiners, my national church, many churches around the world and continues to be affirmed by my parishioners and, yes, it is Biblical.

As a Christian for whom the Eucharist has a profound place in my life, I am moved by Stephen Colbert’s revelation about his part in the Eucharist. As a woman priest, I feel diminished. His revelation was not because of a woman priest, but because hearing a woman separated the words from the office of priest and he was able to internalize the consecration in a new way. So, while significant and beautiful, his revelation also diminishes my vocation, that I am the same as him. And I am not. I am not above, but I am set apart.

Why does this distinction matter? Because, in many parts of the world, women are excluded from ordained ministry. We are also excluded in the midst of a national (Anglican Church of Canada) and international church (Worldwide Anglican Communion) whose canon laws state that women are also called by God and yet tolerate those who do not believe this. In many places, I am expected to step aside from celebrating at the altar for the comfort of those who theologically disagree with my ordination. Point being, equality is not universal. It is only visible where it does not make people uncomfortable. We mustn’t assume there is equality when there is not.

We experience celebrity in a dichotomy. They are either completely awesome and always to be followed/retweeted/shared, or they are completely reprehensible and must never be uttered or shown or even considered for debate. Stephen Colbert is well loved, as is Pope Francis, and for good reason. They also believe in doctrines that, despite their affection and respect for women, keep women in a subservient relationship to men. And I don’t raise this because I want all feminists and those who love women to boycott Stephen Colbert or to reject Pope Francis. I raise it so we do not neglect the complexity and inequality that exists within our churches and in our relationship with other churches.

There is no need for us to sweep our disagreements under the rug in order to work towards unity. Our unity already exists in our faith in Christ. Colbert and Francis are no more or less my brothers than the men I lead, follow and work alongside. We are unique, and the Holy Spirit moves in and among us and expresses Herself in various ways to various peoples and places. Dialogue should enrich our faith by being exposed to more expressions of the Holy Spirit, not to limit the work of the Spirit to something that can be agreed to and published.

So I continue to serve in this complex institution. I stay not because we have it all figured out, but because none of us do, so I stay to work it out with my friends and sisters and brothers and, yes, even enemies. I’m glad Stephen Colbert is in the work with me.

*Please accept this ridiculous scenario as an oversimplification of ecumenical dialogue to make a point.

Spoiling the spoilers

spoiler_alert_300_w2This post is not my usual theological fare but it is a question that is annoying me. What constitutes a spoiler?

There is a general social rule that says don’t talk about what happens in a TV show until a week has passed, in order to give those of us, like me, who watch shows online (legally, thank you very much) or who record it to watch it later enough time to watch. I am ok with that although I won’t insist on it. I’m not talking about timing.

I mean, what can we talk about?

I’ll start by saying I don’t mind spoilers. I don’t mind knowing the ending. I’m one of those who believe the getting there is all the fun. Walter died at the end? OK. Even if I know that, I can still enjoy watching the events leading up to that death. Will everything be resolved? Will he make peace with his family? Is he leaving someone holding the bag? How will the other characters respond? See, there is still a lot to enjoy when you know the main event.

I appreciate that others are not like me and the element of surprise is a critical element to a good ending. So we don’t reveal those. We learned our lesson from “Saving Private Ryan”, didn’t we?

I want to know what we can talk about. I want to talk to people on facebook without big capital letter warnings. I like live tweeting with friends across Canada and the US to discuss the finer points in real time.

Let me give you two examples of conversations that are not, in my opinion, spoilers.

1. At the beginning of last season’s The Walking Dead, I posted a facebook status about Rick’s beard. A friend freaked out. Said he was only at season 2 and not to spoil anything. Really? A change in hairstyle is a spoiler? What about the plot arc of that season of The Walking Dead did I reveal by making a note soliciting conversation about Rick’s beard? Anything you read that season about The Walking Dead had a picture of bearded Rick. So, in my books, not a spoiler.

2. This one is a bit more slippery because it is a bit more detailed and is about this past Sunday’s True Detective. Here is the dialogue I am participating in on a friend’s facebook wall. Does this constitute spoiler?

Friend: So……….four episodes in……it’s not quite as dark nor organic as season 1 but True Detective’s got me interested…..I also will be tracking down that song from the dive bar when it arrives on iTunes…I dig the melancholy 🙂

Me: Oh yeah. New episode. I think I will bring that to bed with me. The first 5 minutes of last week totally messed with my head.

Friend of friend: So good, eh. Last episode was awesome.

Now, clearly, no debate about spoilers here. We have not revealed anything about any events of the show. Simply aesthetics and reaction. We continue the following day–

Me: So somehow last night I fell asleep during that whole mess at the end. I watched it this afternoon. How strange it was to actually see remorse and trauma after something like that. Well, for some. We never see that. That last moment was beautifully done.

Friend of friend: I was thinking the same thing. Like, they look in shock and definitely afraid of the consequences. I was thinking, in other shows the cops look completely fine, just sorta tired. I was trying to think of CSI or something and how they look when guns go off. This was so different.

Me: Exactly. It is always treated as another day at the office. Definitely afraid of the consequences, but the shock was powerful.
Except for Paul. That was just plain chilling. Wow. And I loved how they made it a still at the end, as if to say, these are images that will never leave them. Just amazing.

Spoiler? Yes or No?

Many would say yes. We have revealed there is a “mess” at the end, probably something loud since I am surprised I slept through it, likely something violent since we talk about the trauma. Friend of friend mentions guns going off.

I say not a spoiler. Here’s why.

There is nothing surprising about the fact that something violent and traumatic happens in an HBO show about detectives. Or any HBO show for that matter. That is to be expected. If you haven’t figured that out by now you need to watch more HBO. And you should. Because their productions are amazing.

How can there be spoilers when we aren’t even halfway through the story? This is a 10 part story, not self-contained episode stories. When we are discussing a book events in the first half are fair game, aren’t they? We are still building the plot. None of us know where this is going so how can we be spoiling anything yet? When the direction towards the ending becomes clear, say episodes 7-9 then, I promise, I will be more careful, but at episode 4? Come on. Trust me, I have read George R.R. Martin’s books and didn’t spoil the Red Wedding for anyone and I managed to keep Joffrey’s death a secret from a friend for 2 years.

Let’s talk about the word, “spoiler”. It means something that spoiled the surprise. But does it really spoil your entire enjoyment of the show? If the only quality of the show is in the surprise and plot twists then I would argue the writing is poor (Which may be the case. Does anyone want to discuss that car scene between Paul and Velcoro? Good grief that was terrible!) and this show may not be worthy of your time and space in your brain.

Another thing. The conversation we are having on my friend’s wall is not exclusive to those who watch True Detective. We’ve opened it up. This scene leads us to discuss something much broader, the lack of traumatic or emotional response in police characters following a violent scene. And how Nic Pizzolatto manages to throw a critique at the whole genre of police drama in those last 20 seconds. You don’t have to know the show to engage in this conversation.

So, friends, if you are going to follow me on social media, you need to know I do not consider the following things “spoilers”:

  • Most events that happen before the halfway point of the series. There is usually a turning point which is obvious beyond which the conclusion of the narrative begins. It’s not necessarily the climax, but it rarely happens too early in the series. Anything before this is plot development is fair game, with a few exceptions.
  • Dialogue regarding topics other than events that push the plot forward. There is much that happens in a good story that does not directly push the plot along. And it is intriguing. We get to talk about this in real time.
  • Wardrobe and appearance. See above.
  • Anything based on historical fact. Discussing Alan Turing’s suicide does not spoil The Imitation Game. In fact, it is an important conversation that began long before the movie came out by people who were actually paying attention.

Finally, you get a year. If you haven’t watched a season before the next season begins, I won’t intentionally tell you the ending, but I am not going to keep it off my wall, either. The same goes for films. A year gives you enough time to see it in theatre or, if you missed it, to rent or buy a copy. If it takes you a year, were you really that invested in it?

You are the one who decides what spoils a show, but I would urge you not to disregard an entire season because you now know one event. Any good story is so much more than the ending.

What do you think? How do you determine what makes a spoiler?

Not giving up-Lent 2015

lentAh Lent. No matter where you fall in the Christian year, you are always too soon. This year we have good cause after only 5 weeks of Epiphany to have neglected your arrival, but we always find cause, and for that, I am sorry.

I have always benefitted from our time together. Many years ago when I gave up meat for Lent, I stayed vegetarian for about 4 years. And I learned a lot about the impact of our ridiculous consumption on the rest of the world. And then, remember last year, when I gave up complaining? Yeah, that was hard. You got a kick out of that one. But you know what? Now, when I start down that griping road, a little buzzer goes off in my head. That didn’t happen before, so thanks for that.

And even when I have failed, that has always been cause for reflection. You really are quite forgiving, which shouldn’t surprise me since that is one of the big themes of the season.

And none of this, “Don’t give something up, take something on” stuff. No, no, not for us. Because the taking something on is already part of the whole journey. It’s “self-examination, penitence, prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, and by reading and meditating on the word of God.” And, not or. Oh yeah. You and me, Lent, we know what we are doing.

So, it is with regret that I need to ask you for a pass this year. Not on the almsgiving and prayer and lent-symbol-blkself-examination and study. I’ve got that. I really need a pass on the fasting.

I’ve tried to come up with something to give up. I’ve prayed. I’ve thought. I’ve read the ideas of others. And last night, as I was lying in bed trying to figure out what it would be this year, I realized something. The figuring out was making me tired, and the idea of giving anything up made me sad.

Tired. Sad. Two things I do not need to nurture in my life right now.

I have given up a lot these past few months. I gave up a community I love from the pressure of a few and sacrificed my mental health in hopes of reconciliation which never happened. I moved away from my amazing husband to take care of my mother. I gave up my own recovery time to take care of her. I am giving up significant income and social interaction with people who have seen me through a lot of shit.

And I regret nothing. God has guided me through it all, sustained me and been faithful to me even when I couldn’t be faithful to Her.

I just can’t give up anything else.

I need my comforts. I need the anticipation of a warm cup of coffee in my hands to get me out of bed. I need TV to keep me from ruminating on my loneliness in my cozy but cold house. I need the occasional sweet treat to remind me that I deserve to enjoy special things. I need facebook and twitter to stay connected with those I love.

I know there are others who have soldiered through worse and still done their Lenten fast. But I’m not them. Maybe the fasting would bless me more, reminding me that it is in my absolute weakest moments that God is strongest (2 Corinthians 12:9). You know what, though? I’m figuring that one out right now. I don’t need to push it.

I’m still here. I’m not going anywhere. I’m sitting here with ashes on my forehead remembering that I am but dust. And right now, a lot of the time, I don’t need that reminder, because dust is about all that is left of me.

Keep on being that beautiful season, reminding me of my beginnings, and how God forgives the absolute worst in me. Robe me in your rich purple and smells of smoke. Convict me with your Gospel and nurture my soul with your psalms.

But please, give me a pass on fasting. I’ve already given up too much, and I have to get it back.


Surviving the Haunted House

This is the last sermon I preached at Christ Church Stouffville on January 18, 2015. I had completed 10 weeks of sick leave and returned for one last Sunday before moving to another appointment to move closer to home and my mother as she was dealing with cancer. In it I tell about my experiences with mental illness and share some final farewell thoughts on the readings.

1 Sam 3:1–20
Ps 139:1–5, 12–17
Romans 8:18-28, 37-39
Jn 1:43–51

When I look back at the sermons I wrote 8, 12, 20 years ago, I am first of all very grateful for how much I have grown! My first listeners were so, so generous.

I also notice that, as I proclaimed each text and wrote my sermons, I had so much to say. That won’t surprise the clock watchers among you! What I mean is I wanted to preach about 6 sermons in one. I was amazed at how much was in the Scriptures as I unpeeled layer after layer and I just wanted to share it all.

I was able to restrain myself by remembering I have a full life of preaching ahead of me. If I don’t say it this time, it will still be there in three years’ time.

After 10 weeks out of the pulpit and away from the altar, I feel that same overwhelmed wonder. There is so much to say, so much I want to say, and just not enough time. So, I’ll keep it simple. What happened? What is happening? Some final thoughts.

2015/01/img_0236.pngWhen was the last time you went into a haunted house? Not a real one, one that is constructed so you follow a group through the rooms and you brush by gross feeling things and skeletons and witches come flying at you from nowhere. And you walk in knowing it’s all fake, and it’s completely safe and no ghouls are really going to jump inside your body and steal your soul. But…you are still scared before you even step inside the door from the anticipation of what is coming. And just as you are about to step over the threshold, someone trips and bumps into your shoulder and you are sure your body just separated from your skin and jumped 8 feet high! It’s irrational. It makes no sense.

And that’s the difference between being in a genuine, real situation that make any healthy person exhausted, or scared, or stressed or hurt and dealing with a mental illness.

That feeling you get when you walk through that haunted house, just starting to calm down and feel secure, and then the spiders fall on your head and you jump and then…you laugh because the spiders are plastic.

Well, 3 months ago, that’s how I felt when I went to the store, came home, got an email, had to send an email, go visit someone or go to a meeting. Except I didn’t laugh. I was just…scared.

Of course, like most of us, it didn’t occur to me that something was wrong until the physical symptoms started-not sleeping, not eating, hot and cold spells, pounding blood pressure. I saw a doctor and a specialist, and options were given, but none of them would do me any good without rest.

I am as guilty as imposing stigma on others as anyone, including myself. We talk about “just stress” as if it is normal, and everyone should expect to be stressed all the time. It’s not. We all endure, and isn’t it strange that now that we live in a world where we have so much knowledge about emotional and mental health, we still believe so many myths, that it isn’t real, that only weak people suffer from it, or strange people, or, just, people who don’t think the same way as us. We throw labels like personality disorder and bipolar and “mental” or “has issues” around as if we are all experts when, really, we are just trying to find a reason to dismiss someone who isn’t like us.

So, no wonder we don’t openly talk about our emotional and mental states with anyone but our closest loved ones, if at all. Mental illness is, in most ways, invisible. We look for signs to judge how well someone is. It is usually with good intentions. But the only way to really know how someone is doing is to ask and know that, like with physical illness, you may only be told what the person wants to tell. And that’s ok.

How I spent my time on sick leave is complicated and, frankly, pretty dull. Suffice it to say the rest and medical support were huge to my healing. I was also uplifted by so many messages, calls and prayers from all of you. If I needed to state one reason why I belong to a church, why I don’t believe in being spiritual without being part of a church, it is this: Because I need people in my life who challenge me to dig deeper into my own faith and assumptions, and who will hold me up when I can’t do it on my own. Thank you for standing by me in prayer and love. You were never far from my thoughts or prayers.

So now I am returning back to my roots, to the Diocese of Nova Scotia and PEI. It was a sad decision, but not a difficult one. On behalf of my mom, thank you for all the prayers and good wishes. She has been through a rough few months. However, we got some good news just this week. At the end of her first cycle of chemo her cancer has reduced, more than the doctors would have expected. She is still pretty weak, but we look forward to her getting stronger with this new hope we have been given. Jason, Bishop Peter and Bishop Ron Cutler have been very compassionate and generous as I have made this decision and I am very thankful to have a place to serve and be closer to Mom to support her.

I’ll be serving two parishes-Parrsboro/Port Greville and Springhill-who are working towards an agreement to share a priest. I still don’t know how many churches there are between the two parishes. I have counted 4, although I’ve also heard 5 and 7. They are quite a distance apart, and each parish has had their own full time priest for over 100 years. There is a great deal of hope and possibility for these small places. The communities are strong and faithful, but it is time for new and creative ways of serving God with reducing populations and incomes. Whether you are an urban or a rural church, that is a difficult place to be, and the only thing to lean on is God’s faithfulness.

Last week we celebrated the baptism of Jesus, the beginning of Jesus’s ministry. As with Jesus, our call to the Christian life, our ministry begins with the moment of our baptism. Whether we are baptized as babies, or teenagers or later in life, in that moment we are baptized with water and signed with oil, we are called by God. Think of all the words and all the phrases that could have echoed over that river in the heat of the day as Jesus was raised from the water: “This is the Messiah,” “He will save the world from sin,” “He is and will proclaim the Word of God,” or “He will raise up the downtrodden and free the captives from prison.” Of all of that, instead, the voice said, “This is my Son, my beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

For those who follow our lectionary readings you may have noticed I changed the second reading for today. The chosen reading was from 1 Corinthians and warned against fornication. Now, I have no problem talking about sexuality, but didn’t really want to leave here on that note, so I picked up on another theme in our readings: From the beginning of time to end of the age, from the worst of us to the best of us, God knows and loves each one of us equally and profoundly. And there is nothing we or anyone else can do to change that.

When we read stories of calling, like this morning with Samuel and Nathaniel, it often draws us to reflect on the actions of following Christ-the sacrifices we make, the words that we speak. All you have to do is take a look around this church to see that we are a community of action oriented people!

Deborah Krause describes the call of Christian life in this way: “an invitation to a lifelong relationship with God that, in the midst of life’s challenges and adversity, is charged with the assurance of God’s presence and is connected to a deep awareness of God’s sovereign purposes of justice and peace for all creation” (New Proclamation Year B 2006).

When Yahweh called Samuel, Samuel did not yet know God. But Yahweh knew him, knew him before he was planted in the infertile womb of his mother, Hannah. Jesus knew Nathaniel from under the fig tree and before Nathaniel knew there was a Messiah.

2015/01/img_0237.jpgAnd when I say “knew”, I don’t mean their facebook profile-birthday, status, what they ate for breakfast. The way we claim to know one another. God knew all of Samuel and Nathaniel, their blessings and their faults, the things they were ashamed of, the things they took pride in, who they loved and who they hated. They were not called to perform a task. They were not hired. They were invited into a relationship where they would be loved by a God who is pleased with them entirely. They were promised God’s presence with them always. For our offertory hymn this morning we are singing an old hymn that has been in the back of my mind almost daily these past 3 months: Great is Thy Faithfulness. As faithful as we are to God, God was faithful to us first and will always be faithful to us most

We rarely spend time reflecting on the psalm, but Psalm 139 really is one of the most beloved. In fact, the reading from Romans and this psalm are often read at funerals. They are both read near the beginning of the service to remind those who mourn that, no matter how they felt about the person they are burying, no matter what has been left unresolved, how abandoned they may feel, God will never, ever abandon their loved one and will never abandon them. It is a psalm that has always been close to my faith and I share often.


We can do our best to obey the call to love others, but without love, a profound and honest faith in how much God loves you, those you love, and those you find difficult to love, then actions are a clanging gong and a clashing cymbal. God’s love is not selective. And when you recognize God’s love for you in all things, it is only then that you can cease to hate others. The resentment and anger in our hearts is only healed by recognizing that God loves and knows every part of us, the beautiful and the ugly. When we fail to see others as God created them, then we fail to know that we are also loved by God.

There is a parable about a young rabbi, Zusya, who approached an older rabbi about his discouragement in the face of his sins and failures. The older rabbi said to him, “When you walk into heaven, and you come before God, God will not ask you, ‘Why weren’t you Moses?’ No. Instead, God will ask, ‘Why weren’t you Zusya? How about you stop trying to be Moses, and start being the Zusya God created you to be?'” (Psalms, Westminster Bible Commentary)

We have been created in love, to love and be loved. Nothing less.

Over these past two and a half years we have been challenged as a church in a community growing in numbers, diversity and needs. The temptation to focus on the numbers of “bums in pews” is so great in this day and age of the biggest being the best. We aren’t called to be bigger and bigger. We are called to be faithful, not just to programs, but to one another. Commit to being reconciled to one another, to encouraging and holding up one another in prayer.

And keep your vision outwards. Whether it brings people in on Sunday mornings or not, God has called each church in every community, large and small to love and spread the good news of Jesus Christ. Every church and every Christian in them. Since I arrived I have called Christ Church the best kept secret in Stouffville. Each one of you have great opportunities to share with your friends, your coworkers and your families the good works that God is doing in our midst. The church is not this building, nor the programs in it, nor Jason or Jane as “the ministers”. The church is you, and you and you and you. Young and old. Rich and poor. And the love of God is not just shared here on Sunday mornings to those who chance in. It is shared by each and every one who has the sign of the cross on our foreheads as we love one another. That’s the church.

May the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in the love of God, and in Jesus Christ, and the blessing of God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit be with you all and remain with you always. Amen.

Just got my mind blown about prostate cancer

And not only was my mind blown, it was by a book that’s not even all that compelling. But I am a reading addict, and no matter what I think of a work of fiction, I have to finish it. I can’t stay away from a story.

18406692I’ve been reading When is a Man by Aaron Shepherd. It is about Paul Rasmussen, a 33 year old ethnography graduate student who is recovering from treatment for prostate cancer. His friend finds him a job in the remote Immitoin Valley counting trout in a reservoir created by the flooding of a massive tract of land by a power company 40 years earlier.

The whole first half of the book is really about him getting there and counting trout. Even with an undergraduate degree in Geography I was only mildly interested. Interwoven in his wilderness adventure Paul is dealing with the realities of recovering from prostate cancer treatment, mainly incontinence and erectile dysfunction.

Then, while driving the other day, I was listening to this Moth podcast by Amy Cohen. Amy tells the story of coming to the decision and going through a double mastectomy and reconstruction because she carries the breast cancer gene. Her mother and sister both had breast cancer, and she chooses this surgery as a preventative measure.

Now, I know, have known for a long time now, that prostate cancer is woefully underfunded and gains too little attention. When I worked in fundraising, I consulted with a cancer organization trying to find a male celebrity to be a spokesman for getting PSA tests. He didn’t have to talk about the details, just encourage men to get tested. They tried for a year and gave up. We watch our male friends grow strange facial hair in November and we know that it is ridiculous that they have to go to that length to raise money for men’s cancer compared to how easy it is to raise money for women’s cancer. What was the last pink thing you bought?

As I listened to Amy’s story, so much of it was familiar-the fear, the body image questions, the sisterhood of survivors. And that’s when I realized it. There was nothing familiar to me about Paul’s story.

I had no idea.

92874659_prostate-screening_377x171And that’s strange to me, because I have visited with men post-surgery, I’ve prayed with men and families post diagnosis. I know many men who have had surgery and treatment. I can’t wait until my husband is old enough to be getting his PSA checked because I wonder if this could be happening to him and we don’t even know it. But while I have had men bare all to show me surgery scars, they do not talk about the after effects. And I don’t ask. I don’t need to know the particulars of your “waterworks” (as my uncle Claude called it when I visited him pre-surgery) to sit with you, be aware of God’s presence in your fear and pray with you.

And when I did a quick search to find stories of living with prostate cancer, well, there wasn’t much. There are websites for patients and I won’t enter those because I don’t belong there. But now I know something, and I can’t unknow it.

To all the men I know who have been treated, had surgery, or wait for PSA test results every year, I love you. Even though you will likely choose to recover and wait in silence, I now know in a new way that it takes great courage. You are heroes. Bless you.