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.

2015/01/img_0238.jpg

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.

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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.

Invocation for Whitchurch-Stouffville Prayer Breakfast

On May 15 I was honoured to pray the opening prayer, “Giving Thanks” for the Whitchurch-Stouffville Prayer Breakfast. Here is the text:

Blessed are you Creator and Redeemer of all

You have promised to accompany your people
As we gather to pray, to worship, 
To greet one another in Christian love and fellowship
To share in good food
And to learn more about Your Love
For those we have imprisoned.
 
We acknowledge and remember 
That our feet are on traditional Ojibway land 
And remember the disproportionate number of our Indigenous people
who are serving sentences in our prisons.
 
We ask your forgiveness
For those times we have imprisoned
Our neighbours and those far from us
With our greed, prejudice, lack of concern for the earth
And our craving for safety, isolation and security
Which all rest in our lack of trust in You.
Every time we have neglected the least of us,
Whom You love the most,
We add another link to their chains.
 
Forgive us, Mother and Father of us all,
In your love and compassion
As You unlock the gates of our hearts
Fill us with Your passion
To speak and hear words of prophecy
To resist violence
To share all that we have
To love the unlovable
To live in solidarity with all who struggle
To add our voices to those of the oppressed
And to be agents of your transforming love
In the lives of people and the governing systems of this world.
 
We bring before You this morning
The concerns of those who weigh heavy on our hearts
Of those who are sick, grieving and living in despair.
We entrust them to your care
And open our hands and hearts
To bear your healing grace
 
As followers of Your way
We have promised to bear your light in our community
To be the voice of the poor, oppressed, vulnerable and struggling
And to bring good news to the discouraged.
Grant us courage and wisdom to take the risk of faith
Entering into the dark and unknown places
Trusting in your Gospel.
 
As we feast this morning
We pray for those who do not have food
And children who are going to school without breaking their fast.
Every time we break bread together,
Remind us of those who work many times as hard
To put bread on their own tables.
We bless and thank You
Vine and Vinekeeper,
For the bounty of your Earth.
And for the food which we enjoy.
We thank you for the work of farmers and factory workers
Whose toil produced the fruit on our plates. 
For the animals who lived to nurture our bodies
For the cooks, servers and cleaners
Who have prepared this meal and this place
Make us ever grateful and humble.
 
We bless and thank You
Great dance of the Trinity
For the fellowship we enjoy here
The opportunity to build bridges across faiths
To celebrate differences
And the growing diversity of our community.
Your beauty is known 
In the listening, speaking, wrestling 
Laughter, comraderie and sisterhood
Around these tables.
Stretch us in our understanding
That we might share a greater piece
In the Body of Christ.
 
As we celebrate our shared desire
For peace and redemption
We ask your loving-kindness on all of us
On Stacey as she prepares to share her words
On all who have organized this event
And the staff of Station Creek
Who have shared their hospitality.
 
In the name of God, 
Source of All Being
Eternal Word and
Holy Spirit.
 
Amen.

9 signs you’re not ready to hire a youth minister

not readyI believe in youth ministry. In the same way we are called to minister to senior citizens as they make the transitions of old age and help those living in poverty find ways to live with dignity and help young families with the challenges of modern parenthood, the Church has an opportunity to serve young people as communities of elders, parents, singles and professionals who can usher young people through the transitions in their lives.

For many churches, the pivotal accomplishment of youth ministry is hiring a youth minister: An individual with the skills, faith, experience and, most importantly, “gifts with young people”. Unfortunately, for many, hiring the youth minister becomes the end, not the beginning of an exciting ministry.

I work with and support many fantastic youth ministers serving God faithfully and, through a lot of hard work and prayerful support from their parishes, are doing some great, creative ministry with young people. I have also sat with too many others who have felt caught in a “bait and switch”. They were excited to accept an opportunity to serve in youth ministry, expecting a community that would support them, only to find that they were expected to create a youth ministry from scratch with no financial, prayer or volunteer support. Not only that, but after a year when they have done some important foundation building but there is no increase in the “bums and pews”, the rumours are now starting that, in next year’s budget, their position will be cut.

You can expect a follow up post about when to know you are ready to hire a youth minister but, more urgently, many churches need to consider the possibility they are not ready. The good news is that none of these are final. These are not signs that you will never be ready to hire a youth minister, but things to start working on within your community before you start writing up that job description.

1. There is no long-term congregational development plan or, worse, hiring a youth minister is your long term plan

If you get nothing else out of this post, read this: youth ministry does not happen on its own. A common solution is, “if we just get more young people, then we will grow.” Any sentence that starts with “If we just…” is oversimplifying and simply isn’t going to work.

Youth ministry is too vulnerable and unpredictable in its early stages to pin an entire community’s hopes on. The pressure of being your only congregational development strategy will stifle any possibilities out of fear that it will not work. A healthy youth ministry exists as part of a longer plan which includes faith development of the whole congregation, stewardship and reaching out to the wider community.

2. The lead cleric has said, “I am not gifted with young people”.

Speaking as a priest, I know I am not fully competent in many areas of running a church. None of us are. Hiring a youth minister does not replace the vocation of every cleric to care for every member of the congregation, “…old and young, rich and poor.” A good youth minister can support leaders in building relationships with young people, as long as they are willing to learn and grow. In the meantime, seek opportunities to learn more about relating to young people. I don’t mean learn how to use the latest technology; I mean learning how to listen to and support them through their transitions and challenges of adolescence.

3. You have calculated the salary based on minimum wage

You may not be hiring an ordained person, but you are hiring a minister; a professional with training, experience and qualifications. Whether or not you have a payscale system, there are many guidelines you can use. Consult with other churches in your area. Start with the average income in your parish, then consider the education level and experience you expect. And do not forget to budget enough in the long term for raises in cost-of living and merit based on increased experience.

4. You have enough funding for salary (more than minimum wage, even) but not program

We can talk about relationships being the foundation of youth ministry all day. I can also talk about the dangers of relying too much on program (in short, without relationships they do not nurture lifelong faith in Christ) but every youth ministry needs a program budget. Mark DeVries of Youth Ministry Architects suggests, between salary and programming, you should budget $1,000 per student. The lower the income of the families in your parish, you want to invest more per student to cover the costs of outings, retreats and supplies.

Another part of programming is continuing education for your youth minister. Make sure time and money is available for her/him to attend conferences, network with other youth ministers and keep up with the latest research.

5. Parishioners and lay leadership express no interest in getting to know your young people

Let’s be honest. Teenagers can be intimidating. They insist on dressing in their own style, they stick their heads into devices we don’t understand and, according to what we see on TV, know way more about sex and drugs than we ever will (this is not true, by the way, but it feels that way). Wouldn’t it be easier to hire someone who already understands all this to deal with them?

Well, maybe easier, but not effective. The Christian faith has survived for over 2,000 years because it is lived out in community. Jesus was always drawing his disciples into relationship with those who made them uncomfortable. As isolated as they sometimes appear, teenagers need community. They need mentors. They need nurturers. They need to be invited to help with dinners and taught how to use the 40 year old coffee urns. They need to know they are loved.

Do you have a prayer team? Ask them to start praying for your young people daily. Try a secret grandparent where older volunteers are paired up with a teenager to pray for them and write them letters. If you start to build relationships across generations, you may even find you don’t need a youth minister at all!

6. You do not take Screening in Faith or your safe church programs seriously

I am getting dangerously close to blaming and shaming churches who are trying to find ways to get around these requirements. I would go so far as not recommending such a church to a family looking for a church to call home.

Every time you try to cut a corner with insurance or screening, you are putting everyone at risk–your youth, your volunteers, your staff and your new youth minister. Youth ministers are not contractors. They are staff. Youth ministry is a community responsibility. Do not look for ways to not have to deal with your insurance broker or police background checks. Don’t think of it as going through the motions. Imagine your church as a place committed to keeping people safe. And don’t make your youth minister solely responsible for the safety of your most vulnerable people. Make it a community responsibility.

7. You expect young people to fit seamlessly into your way of doing things

I remember serving on a parish council as a young person. When I would ask a question or make a suggestion, I was often told, “We already dealt with that months/years ago.” It was suggested I refer to the minutes from years before I was even capable of sitting on a parish council. The other line I heard a lot was, “Are YOU going to do it?” In other words, we’ll let you screw it up so we don’t need to take any responsibility for it’s failure. It seemed no one thought I had anything new to add to that conversation, or maybe what I am suggesting could be worth the risk.

Youth are not the church of tomorrow, they are part of your church…today. The Holy Spirit is speaking through them. Rather than building a church where our older folks are comfortable to hand down to our young people, Christian community means everyone has a voice and an opportunity to serve God with the gifts we have at this moment.

Don’t hire a youth minister if you are not interested in hearing what young people want to create with you in your church.

8. You think your worship is just fine and doesn’t need to change

By hiring a youth minister I can only assume you want to open up your worship to a whole new demographic. You don’t need to immediately invest in guitars, drums and screens. But have you considered what it is like to come to your service for the first time for someone who has never been to church? How easily can a young person understand why you worship God the way you do? You may be surprised to find young people have few complaints about your service except that they are not really a part of it. Can they hear their language and concerns at all in the liturgy? Do you expect them to come just because it is Sunday morning? If so, hold off on hiring a youth minister until you have listened to your young people’s perceptions of your worship service and your leadership is ready to take them seriously.

9. You have not consulted with wider church youth ministry structures

Most churches that are part of a denomination will have some staff or wider network of youth ministry. There is a wealth of resources for your parish at this level. I can’t count how many times I have heard regional youth ministry staff say, “If only they had called me sooner, I could have helped them avoid this.” With only a few exceptions, I’d be willing to bet your denominational authorities who take calls about money and buildings all day would be happy to share some ideas about how to build a ministry with young people.

Don’t be discouraged

If you have reached this point and are beginning to think you have to go back to the drawing board, don’t be discouraged. Just like a new building, a youth ministry needs a solid foundation. Dealing with these issues before you start on that job description will give your youth ministry a much better chance to grow.

Finally, consult, consult, consult.

Talk to your neighbouring churches. Talk to your denominational structure. Most importantly, talk to your young people! And if you are ready for the possibility that they already have all of this figured out, they are just waiting to be asked, then you are even closer to being ready to hire a youth minister.

 

All this hopey changey stuff: How did Conversation 2014 work?

It has been a blast over the past 6 months or so being part of the planning team of Conversation 2014: Clergy under 40 talk to God and each other. Being the first of it’s kind in the Anglican Church of Canada, and including many of our most recent ordinands, it was clear this was going to look different from our typical clergy conferences.

And that’s what I was excited about. Ask anyone and they will tell you I have never been to a conference I didn’t like. I am, though, starting to get a little bored with the processes-flipcharts, post-its, knee groups, speakers all starting to look and sound the same, knowing that someone somewhere was expecting something out of me but not always knowing what it was.

In 2011 I attended my first unconference, UNCO, at Stony Point Retreat Centre in NY. We used a model called open space (you can read more about it here) which meant I was given no agenda before I arrived, no list of workshop topics, no biographies of speakers with professional photos; just church leaders meeting in a space to have some conversations. I also attended in 2013 and then started using open space technology in some settings here in Canada.

Conversations 2014 came along and it seemed we all wanted the same thing, “We’re going to be working together for a long time (God willing!)–so let’s get to know each other”. Simply providing a schedule of conversations and leaving the content up to the group is what we came up with.

Even though I am a huge fan of this model, it always comes with anxiety. What do we report back? How do we make sure we cover everything? If I was asked how we made the decision to this route, I would say, “We decided to trust…no, not trust the process! We decided to trust one another.”

So, how did it work? It began with The Wall, both virtual and physical. A few weeks before the conference we used our facebook group and the event page to start sharing possible discussion topics. It ranged from social media in the parish to clergy families to land and buildings to the relevance of mid-week masses. All these topics were added to a physical wall–butcher paper on the wall of Fulford Hall. As we arrived we added to the wall.

The Wall
This is the core of our conversations, The Wall or, in open space terminology, the bulletin board. Did we miss anything?

On Tuesday afternoon, we started to fill in the schedule. Out of everything on the wall, we scheduled several conversations. Unlike a typical distilling process where you look for themes and try to include everything in broad conversations, we honoured each topic’s right to have it’s own conversation and were limited only by meeting space, and thanks to the generousity of the Diocese of Montreal, even that was almost limitless. Some topics were easily shared with others, but many stood alone. Some conversations had over 20 participants, some only 3 or 4. “36 people worked out an entire conference agenda in an hour and a quarter?” Well, with a frame, but yes, yes we did!

The sked 1.0
There was a cleaner version of this. On our last day, we reviewed the schedule and added conversations that needed follow-up.

Most of the content of Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday consisted of these small groups with a few plenary check-ins to explore emerging themes. By Thursday, the last conference day, some ideas for further work started to emerge. Some were conversations that may continue in our own dioceses, among other young clergy, or in our parishes. Some were actual projects that a few will work on together.

For example, I participated in many conversations, not just during the scheduled small groups but at meal times and in the evenings, about clergy and mental health. I talk a really good game about mental health and boundaries, but I also cave to pressure from a wider church that says, “You have more than anyone before you, so stop complaining”. But what if it is still inadequate to deal with the stress this vocation has on our mental health? What about the stigma that keeps clergy from talking about our own mental illness within our college for fear of repurcussion? Why do we continue to increase benefits for eyecare, prescriptions and dental care but our psychotherapy benefit remains at $300 a year in a profession where it is recommended we be in a regular therapeutic relationship, no matter how mentally healthy we are? I want to have this conversation with the wider church. This would never have emerged for me without the freedom of uncovering content with this incredible group of people.

There is much more to come out of this conference. I’ll reblog what I can, and, eventually, these posts from participants will appear in one place. Stay tuned. In the meantime, if want to have a conversation, here’s a wall to get it started

Don’t decline your vote. Just…don’t.

ImageWhat an insult to those who travel hundreds of miles and face violence to vote when their only choice is who is the least corrupt. What an abuse of privilege.

Get out and vote. Read the platforms. No party will give you exactly what you want, but if you don’t vote then the whole agenda is only directed by those on the extremes. 

Don’t baulk at the possibility of returning to the polling station in a few months time. It’s how a divided province works out its differences.

So vote.

How about looking at the platforms of the lesser known parties? Give them a boost, at least to give them a pat on the back to say, “Good for you for not just sitting back and waiting for the big 3 to come up with a platform that suits you.”

In fact, take a note from those lesser known parties. If the current parties are truly not presenting the best platform to help the people of Ontario, then get involved. Either join a party and become a voting member where you can affect change from within, or boost a smaller party, or join with others and start your own political group.

Or, how about asking someone who can’t vote, a landed immigrant for example, or a politically engaged teenager, who they would vote for and give them your vote.

So that’s your choice, as far as I am concerned. Vote or run for office. There is no decline.

From A Pilgrim in Narnia: Truth Claims ≠ Violence

The past several months have been…distracting…and so my work on non-violence in the church has been stalled. I am looking forward to posting soon, but, in the meantime, here is a post by my cuz, Brenton Dickieson, on absolute truth and violence, although this post would object to that particular phrasing, I expect.

I take this one step further and add this: it is an absolute truth that we are all capable of violence, and if we do not resist the violence in ourselves, then we will seek a way to commit it, and truth claims can become a justification, but are not the cause of violence. We are.

A Pilgrim in Narnia

Truth be told, I am a false positive extrovert. At least at parties. Even when I know the people and place pretty well, I have great anxiety at breaking into conversation circles. But this was a faculty event, a room full of smart people with interesting stories. I took up courage in both hand and slid into a group.

I was immediately pointed out as the “religion” guy. Someone was working on a public health project, and was missing the religion element. I thought it was pretty bright of her to target faith perspective as a step in the process. As we were talking about how people live as religious people in the world today, another one of the profs piped in:

“There’s really no such thing as truth,” she said.

“That there is a truth claim,” I responded. She took the beat that I didn’t miss and thought about…

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