task, process and vision

People often ask me how I jam as much as I do into every day. The short answer is that I plan. Planning allows me to be considerate of others when they drop by the office. If I did not have my work done, or even have work done that is not needed until later, I would be in a pickle when someone drops by unexpectedly. I try my best to do three things in every day; do the tasks that need to be done, the day by day duties that are required, look a week ahead, a month ahead, to make sure all of the events on the horizon are attended to, and “think big”, what are the visioning things we are not currently attending to, the big picture of church life, that get lost when we are too focused on the “weeds”. Every day I try my best to get the tasks done, to plan ahead and to think big.

In the midst of funeral planning and large fundraisers and sermon preparation and pastoral care and connecting with volunteers and staff it is very important not to miss either the short term or the long term horizon. I know many gifted Ministers who dream big and have the big picture of church constantly in their sights. I so admire them, they push we task folk to look up and see that when all is said and done if we have not attended to the larger questions many of our people will feel we’ve become a small social club. The church is more than a social club, there are larger issues at stake, and if we are not pushing ourselves to think and act with vision we are not being the church of Jesus the Christ.

Likewise I know Ministers who are excellent at the immediate tasks. I admire them too, they attend to the things people notice, when persons show up at our churches they notice the details and details matter to more people than the vision-stuff. Ministers who spend too much time in their office in prayer and in vision-mode and not enough walking around the building, the outside of the church, out visiting the people, lose touch. One cannot really do vision without a firm grasp of the people who are the church. Without a grounding in and through the people the vision is lost.

So my goal is to be both; a task person and a vision person, to have my boots on the ground and my eyes on the prize, to look where my feet walk and my eyes find beauty and purpose. My own weakness is the need for process, to allow persons in a group to find their voice. I get frustrated with process because I find it often does not include as many people as I would like, that it is sometimes more a function of the one leading the process than the people who are trying to find their voice. I also find process tends to value those who like to talk in small groups and overlooks the majority who only talk one on one. Still process is important, it allows groups to find their voice in a moment and validates that voice. I wish I had more patience with process.

I also find it hard to acknowledge when people tell me they are concerned about my pace and workload when their next breath is “so are you in the office tomorrow…can we meet tomorrow night (even when they know I am at a meeting the night before and the night after).” This also speaks to a weakness of mine, that I tend to value more what people do than what people say. The task and vision parts of me are triggers by where people stand rather than the words people speak.

 

Task, process and vision. Two out of three isn’t band.

dandelions

Dandelions. Just that word makes the urbanite and suburbanite twitch. For reasons I simply cannot comprehend local home owners loathe the dandelion. Why? I am no granolaite, I don’t drink dandelion tea or wine, I don’t eat dandelion soup or put it in salads. It is purely a visual thing, and frankly I don’t understand how people make a distinction between a field full of dandelions and a field full of any other flower. When I see a bright green lawn full of bright yellow dandelions my heart soars. That seems just natural, like looking a little baby and feeling affection or a sunset and feeling hope. How can a human soul not be inspired by the beauty of a field full of dandelions? How?

Is there something about this that is more about order than beauty? I think so. One person’s weed is another person’s house plant. Take the Hosta plant. I think it is possibly the ugliest thing God ever created, unless you factor in rats and snakes. And UGGS were not made by the Creator so we can’t blame Her for those. Hostas are just plain unattractive, they offer nothing to inspire, not the shape or the colour or the way they grow. Hostas are to garden as mold is to shingles, they just make you wish they weren’t there. And yet almost every gardener I know covets the Hosta, plants it, encourages it to grow, puts it in the front and the back yard. I just don’t get how the dandelion is considered such a nuisance and a bane to home life and the Hosta is considered a “must have” by every city and suburban home owner.

Obviously beauty is subjective, but try telling that to ordinary folks who have absorbed the norm of household life. I once showed a picture of a front lawn with a large number of dandelions to a group of Sunday School children and asked them what their reaction was. They shouted out, “lazy man who lives there!” The enculturation starts young. Similarly when we moved into our new home in 2006 one close relation came to the property before we arrived and planted a series of Hostas assuming we would love them. “Normal people like Hostas Kev!” was the reaction to my less than thrilled facial expression.

Why do we allow the culture we live in to influence our definition of beauty so much? This goes so much deeper than the covenants of the suburbs, what you as a home owner can and cannot (read clothes lines) do with the outside lawns and driveway. Obviously we are all influenced by popular opinion, otherwise there would be no UGGS or mullets, but it seems so sad that this has such a profound effect on our appreciation of natural beauty. Think of all the flowers we call weeds that grow naturally in our climate, these are indigenous to our context, and yet there is such a fierce revulsion to their existence. Slowly but surely we are trying to wipe out what is natural to where we live and replace it with plants, trees, and flowers from God knows where. I have nothing against those pieces of creation, if I was visiting the place where these flowers, trees and plants came from I would be delighted to see them and be inspired by them. But why does ever part of the world have to look the same, look like southern California or Florida?

My Dad used to dig up various flowers, plants and trees from the ditches of Nova Scotia and plant them in our backyard. It was amazing and every single thing he transplanted was indigenous to Nova Scotia. You don’t need to create beauty when it is all around you. Thanks be to God.

The Advocate

In a sermon by The Rev’d Alisdair Smith of Christ Cathedral in Vancouver on this very text we hear about General Romeo Dallaire and his impossible mission in Rwanda. “While he did all he could to save lives, he was forced by inactive governments and the UN to face this genocide with a small band of lightly armed soldiers. He was forced to stand by as 800,000 people were hacked to death. The population of Vancouver proper is about 600,000 people. Dallaire tells the story of standing in a dark office, lights out to hinder snipers. Extremists were about to attack and Dallaire and his men had enough ammunition for a 2 – 3 minute firefight. He stood at the window, reflecting on his almost impossible position and a slight breeze blew by his nose, just as he breathed in. And breathing in that slight breeze, he found a shift in his thinking. He chose to be positive. His paradigm shifted. He had experienced the Presence of this creative, comforting, courage-building Spirit. Now this is not a pollyannish kind of positive thinking. Dallaire is the first to describe his subsequent battles with depression and has attempted suicides. His mental and psychic wounds have scarred him deeply. And he stands as someone who has experienced, first hand the Advocate, the Spirit, the Breath of Life, the courage-builder.”

Wes Howard-Brook’s provocative Becoming Children of God offers a fresh and original commentary on the Gospel of John as a narrative inviting readers -- both in the evangelist's time and our own -- to a radical commitment to follow Jesus from within a spirit-filled community. Howard-Brook says that the Gospel was specifically written for the collective church, much less individual disciples. That’s quite a shift for believers today who are so used to seeing the text exclusively through their own perspective, as if the Bible were written just for them. In point of fact that interpretation of the Bible is very, very recent, that is seeing faith through our own eyes as opposed to seeing it through the eyes of a person intimately connected to a community.

I think that is why Dallaire experienced the Spirit as Advocate in that specific moment in Rwanda, he was part of a community that was collectively trying to sort out their response to evil. The Spirit as Advocate came to Dallaire, but it also came to all of those trapped in that moment, defending the innocent and the vulnerable. And the Advocate gave them peace and it gave them courage.  

Hear the text again.                                                                                               

1) If you love me, you will keep my commandments.                                                  

2) Know the Spirit of Truth, because she abides with you, and she is in you.                                                                                                           

3) I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you.

Whenever I have spoken to people who have been involved in causes to defend their community in times of crisis they describe a moment of profound stillness, a moment when things move into a slow pace and they are reassured of the rightness of their effort, they feel a peace in spite of the risks they face and they are suddenly stiffened in resolve to move forward.  People often ask me “where does the church go from here?” We look around us and we see decline; fewer people, fewer churches, fewer leaders, fewer resources, fewer younger people… And we get discouraged. Traditionalists in our church say, “if only we stick to the way we did things in the 1950’s, when we were building new churches every month, all will be well. Conservatives in the church say, “if only we believe what they believed in the 1950’s, when everyone went to church, all will be well.” Progressives in the church say, “if only we change everything to how we do things in 2017, what we believe in 2017, all will be well.” But my friends the early church certainly did not believe or organize or worship like we did in the 1950’s or in 2017. Instead they were small, they were passionate, and they believed they were all in it together. We can’t go back to the year 70 AD, when the Gospel of John was written. Nor do I believe that is what God wants. But I do believe God is calling us to a more courageous path, not a more comfortable or nostalgic one.

I believe the Advocate is among us. But we need to meet the moment, discern the Advocate’s call, and be prepared to be wise and to be courageous. So let me be blunt. I don’t think trying to go back to the 1950’s is going to bear any fruit for this church. Churches that are comfortable museums are churches that close and no one other than the members of it even care. Nor do I think looking around at other churches with a spirit of envy and saying, “if we did that, we had that, if we had a shiny church, with shiny things, with shiny programs, all would be well” as if being the church was like going to Home Depot and picking out the right colours and furnishing. Churches that live have a reason for being, they have things they believe God is calling them to do and be, they believe God has called them together to be more than a social club and more than a Holistic Wellness Centre that caters to your every need. A church is a place where people feel the presence of God, together, and in solidarity and mutual care feel compelled to share with others a love that knows no end, a love that knows no boundaries and a love that can cost, even hurt.

When Jesus died he did return to a select few and gave them courage. But he also sent the Advocate to encourage the rest of us, to embolden us to not give up, to press on, and to make real the Kingdom of God we know is here even if the world around us does not. Whether we are large in number or only a few, whether we are young or old or somewhere in between, whether we have plenty of resources or only loaves and fishes, we can make a difference. Together with the Advocate we have courage, we have commitment and we have a vision for the way things ought to be, now. Let’s get to work. Amen.                        

landscapes

I love landscapes, urban and rural especially, not so much suburban or towns. In an urban environment the landscape is 100% human creativity or efficiency. The natural part of the landscape in an urban centre has to fight to be present, and these days it is being manufactured as never before by the choices of trees, vegetation and flowers that almost never have anything to do with what grew in that area for centuries. Still...

rest

Rest. It means different things to different people. For many people it means stopping, moving away from what they normally do, getting away from the routine and presumably the stress of what was their usual life experience. I think this explains what to me seems utterly contradictory; going on vacation to a camping site...

A shift in approach

I think differently about my shared experience of talking/doing theology in a congregational context than I did when I came out of seminary. I think then my goal was to move folks, there was a point-of-view I had in mind, a place on the theological spectrum where I was, where I was headed, where I wanted to be. Even if I wasn’t there yet I knew that was the gold standard, and therefore my studies, my preaching...

Stompin' Tom as the Advocate

In a sermon written and delivered by The Rev. Alisdair Smith of Christ Church Cathedral in Vancouver referencing the Gospel text John 14:15-21 Smith digs into the word “Advocate”. “It comes from the Greek Parakletos, meaning ‘one who consoles or comforts, one who encourages or uplifts, refreshes, and/or one who intercedes on our behalf as an advocate... 

Courage

“Courage, it couldn't come at a worse time.” The Tragically Hip wrote and sang these words in a song that was later used in a movie The Sweet Hereafter. That movie is a powerful reminder that having and living out courage comes at a cost.

In a nutshell the movie surrounds the outcome of a tragic bus accident...

Preaching

Tonight I attended a discernment committee for a candidate for ministry. We talked about “a call to Ministry” and how he experienced that vocational affirmation. He and I had one thing in common, our sense of call began with a visit to the pulpit. Whether it is because most United Church clergy are introverts or some other reason the fact remains that most of my colleagues did not come to this “calling” while standing in the pulpit...

God's people

I wish all of our mothers a happy Mother’s Day. I also want to wish all of our families a meaningful Christian Family Sunday. Family is a word that is being defined in a more open and fluid way these days. I am not speaking specifically here about marriage, though that obviously is part of that evolution. Here I am making reference to the way we define who is and who is not our kin...

Big Night

I had a flashback at the Annual Spring Gala Auction last night. I remember one Christmas Eve service at a previous church, about twenty years ago. People then were exhausted, excited and full of pride. It had been the most well attended Christmas Eve service, likely the largest church service that was not a funeral, ever held in that church. Understandably the long-serving leaders of that church were thrilled...

delight and thanksgiving

There’s a development I have witnessed in those between the ages of 35-60. They are not passive, they do their research, they know what they want and they know how to get the best price. Unlike those older than themselves they don’t sit back and spend as little as possible, go to the familiar and do with less as a means of stretching their dollar as far as it will go...

knowledge and certainty

As is our practice my wife Kim and I drove to the bus stop this morning for my ride to the city. During this morning’s conversation we discussed something a person had said about cultural influences on our character. We both agreed that the observation made was given without understanding of the culture or the expression of that culture in community...

"shakey" worship

I remember reading the Neil Young biography Shakey. There was a reference to the sound that Neil and his bands would create. The aim was not perfection, the musicians were not chosen because they were the best guitarists, drummers, keyboardists, bassists, etc… Of course they weren’t, look who was doing the singing! Neil Young is not a pure singer....

consequences

Consequences. Yesterday on my bus ride home there were three men, all my age, discussing union business. I tried not to listen but they were almost as loud as me. I think all of us on that small Metro X Shuttle bus heard every word. In the conversation there was reference to the provincial election and the issues that have arisen. In the 30 minute ride I heard on one hand...

blanket exercise

Yesterday our church participated in the KAIROS Blanket Exercise. KAIROS is an ecumenical Christian group that focuses on social justice as an expression of faith. Bethany has not previously participated in education events that lift up the Aboriginal experience in Canada. So we were not sure what kind of response we would receive when we advertised this opportunity in the bulletin...

early church worship

I have never taken any formal courses in Marriage Counseling, though I have read several books and attended a few workshops on the subject. One thing I do recall from both text and lecture is that in the early stages of the couple’s work it is important to ask what it was that originally kindled their romance, what it was that brought them together, how did they fall in love... 

funerals

When we gather at a funeral we are present for at least a few reasons. We come to express our heartfelt sorrow. We need places to express our true feelings. It is one thing to sit in front of one’s computer, read an obituary and cry till there are no more tears left. But there is something about gathering in a community to express our sorrow that is not only cathartic but also allows us to share with their loved ones what that person has meant to us... 

Mistakes

We all make mistakes. The question is what we do when confronted with our mistakes. There are two very common responses to our mistakes that further remove us from correction and getting it right. 1) Is to beat ourselves up and become so frustrated with ourselves that we miss what is going on at that very moment. Buddhists would say this baggage would be blinding us to the now, we can’t see what is because we are caught in what was...

Kim

Today is my wife Kim’s birthday. She was born in 1966 so you can do the math to figure out how old/young she is. Kim was raised in Timberlea, her grandfather and his brothers named the village and ran the mill. They sold the land before it was worth much but they did manage to hold on to lots for all of the children, including Kim’s mother...