Friday, March 27, 2009

the two i's


For:
The Institute of Contemporary And Emerging Worship Studies, St. Stephen's University, Essentials Green Online Worship Values Course with Dan Wilt

Intimacy and integrity are funny things (laugh here if you like). Yes, of course, I want them in my life. In fact, the best thing in the whole world is to have a friend who totally knows you, can be counted on to be totally dependable in every situation, and does not change their affection for you no matter what. I would like to be that kind of a friend, too, and so I try. I work on my relationship skills, letting people into my life and inviting people on the fringe to get closer. I am not naturally gifted at people skills, especially in group settings, so these things require some concerted and conscious effort on my part, but I work at them. It is worth it.

I am perhaps a bit better at living life in a consistent and unhidden way. Sharing my life lessons and journey is not that hard; being there for people is a bit more challenging. Yep, I am told that I do "being there" quite well. People know they can count on me. It means that my plans often get tossed out the window because someone needs my help or support. It means that I sometimes get stood up. It means that I sometimes wait for people to show up or call or respond, and they never do. Being there for someone does not mean that they are automatically going to be there for you. It means that you hardly ever get asked, "Hey, what can I do for you?" It means that you get awfully used to serving the agendas of others. I am not sure this is all good; in fact, I know it is not. Today is one of those days when I feel the disproportion. I know I am distorting it to some extent because I am tired and in the middle of several assignments and probably need a good meal, but there it is.

I also know deep in my soul that intimacy and integrity are not really supposed to be the result of great effort on my part. We tend to work hard at developing certain values in our faith when in truth, they are meant to sprout rather unexpectedly and spontaneously out of the nourishing soil of a spirit flooded with the baptismal water of the Holy One. It is perhaps less about walking out my values and beliefs and more about lying down and letting as much of myself as possible touch and become surrounded with and planted in the spirit and presence of Jesus.

Lie down and die. Lie down and sprout. Lie down and grow.

This is some funky graffiti near Mont Royal metro in Montreal.

Monday, March 23, 2009

can I borrow your pen?

This is from the brief talk I did on Sunday night which arose from thoughts I had on the subway that morning. Just as a side note, I handed out pens to every person in the room present. You might want to have a pen in your hand as you read this.

I have been thinking about authority this past weekend, mostly because some things happened in the past few days that put me in an uncomfortable position, and when I asked God about it, he showed me that I had given my authority away. I mulled the word "authority" over in my mind a bit and realised that it contained the word "author." [1] An author is one who writes or creates a story. He controls what happens in each scene. We have this author-ity in our own lives. We write what happens. We create our life story. We each have our own pen.

Now, some people may try to grab the pen out of your hands and write what they want to see take place in your life. That's not a good thing. They have no right to do that. Don't let someone steal your pen. However, you can give someone your pen and ask them to write a page in your story, but you want to be careful whom you lend your pen to.

At this point in the talk, I asked Dean for his pen and he gave it to me, a bit more reluctantly than I had hoped, but he gave it nonetheless. And this is what I said I would write in this life: that he would know and experience the presence of God in every moment of every day in every activity that he found himself doing. I wrote that every hole and gap and empty place in his life would be filled with the love of God and he would live in that all the days of his life. And then I gave the pen back. The smile on his face let me know that he was glad he had trusted me with his pen.

Giving someone else your pen can be a very good thing because they can write things we cannot. They can buoy up a weak storyline and get us past writer's block and fill out scenes that needed help. The best thing we can ever do is to offer up our pens to God, because he has things he wants to write into our lives that we cannot even imagine or dream of: dynamic scenes that move the story forward in leaps and bounds, wonderful characters that enrich our lives, and tender intimate love scenes that melt our hearts. God is the ultimate author.

One of the hardest things in life, if not the hardest thing one will ever try to do is to live a life that remains focused on God over the long haul. We tend to have good intentions, but not follow through on them. We run forward, then fall short. We have periods where we feel close to God and everything is going great and a short while later, something has become between us and the connection is weak. It takes tremendous continual effort to stay on the narrow path where communion with Jesus happens every moment of our lives, where life develops in cooperation with God the way it was meant to.

Everything will try to distract us. Everything will try to lead us down a different path. We so quickly turn aside to something easy and temporary instead of choosing the more demanding, long-term option. Everything inside us will groan and complain that this is too hard, and that we just can't do it right now. And in fact, that's true. This is something we are quite incapable of doing. We cannot keep up this pace of staying in step with God. We cannot track with God, but God is always tracking us (what a relief) and we can respond to him. We can always respond to the lover of our souls when he calls to us (which is more often than we realise, I think). We are always capable of writing YES with our pen.

Here's a familiar part of Matthew that talks about authority:

The moment they saw him [Jesus] they worshiped him. Some, though, held back, not sure about worship, about risking themselves totally. (this is where I find myself all too often) Jesus, undeterred, went right ahead and gave his charge: "God authorized and commanded me to commission you: Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life, marking them by baptism in the threefold name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you. I'll be with you as you do this, day after day after day, right up to the end of the age." from Matthew 28, The Message

1. Undeterred: It is not so much that we must remain undeterred in our lives, but that we learn to stick to Jesus who is never deterred and never loses focus and will point us in the right direction. Plus, he was given his author-ity from God, so that means he's got a REALLY big pen and can help us write the ultimate life story.
2. Train/Instruct: If we have learned anything about walking with Jesus, we must teach it to someone else. In fact, everyone we meet should be learning something about this life with God just by interacting with us. This is to be a vital and important part of writing our life stories, and it is how we positively impact other people's stories.
3. With: God is always present with us. He is tracking us. He does not leave us on the blank page alone, trying to figure out what to write next. If we want to stay on track over the long haul, we need to know that he is ever present in our lives (more than we know or feel or understand) and always waiting for us to acknowledge him and respond to him.

Can God borrow your pen?

[1] I checked it out today and it is true, because here it is on http://www.wikipedia.com/. According to French linguist Emile Benveniste, auctor (which also gives us English "author") is derived from Latin augeĊ ("to augment"). The auctor is "is qui auget", the one who augments the act or the juridical situation of another. Auctor in the sense of "author", comes from auctor as founder or, one might say, "planter-cultivator". Similarly, auctoritas refers to rightful ownership, based on one's having "produced" or homesteaded the article of property in question - more in the sense of "sponsored" or "acquired" than "manufactured".

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Walking Prayer


video

For: The Institute of Contemporary And Emerging Worship Studies, St. Stephen's University, Essentials Red Online Worship History Course with Dan Wilt

I love some of the prayers of the saints that have gone before us. They carry a rhythm, beauty, maturity, and depth that I often lack. They say what I have inside my heart but sometimes can find no adequate words for. They remind me of truths and needs that I have forgotten or neglected. I have long loved the prayer called St. Patrick's Breastplate but I have always found it difficult to keep all the words straight. So, I decided to put together some of my most favourite prayers of the saints into a rhythmic melody much like a chant, but with a modern twist.

This song is primarily a memory aid for me, and if it is helpful to anyone else's conversation with God, that's a bonus. I meant it as a tool that I could use to keep my mind turning to God as I walk throughout my day. I wrote it in what I hope is a comfortable walking beat, so that the simple act of taking a few steps would trigger the words and the rhythms of these profound prayers that are suitable anytime and anywhere.

The photos are from Montreal (and surrounding areas), Ontario, New York, San Francisco, Cuba, and South Africa. I borrowed the images of the saints and the praying hands from the good old internet, believing them to be in the public domain.

Thanks to Dean for being my sound engineer and percussion expert and encourager.

Thanks to God who never gets tired of my voice. My God and my All!

Click here for a pdf of the song Walking Prayer

Friday, March 13, 2009

hypodermic

For: The Institute of Contemporary And Emerging Worship Studies, St. Stephen's University, Essentials Red Online Worship History Course with Dan Wilt

Have you ever heard a song or watched a movie or gazed at a painting or let your eyes wander over a sculpture or felt a drumbeat deep in your chest and for some unexplainable reason, you felt like you were in love? We have been discussing the role of art and music in worship this week and from the many stories that people posted, I could see that each person, at some point, has been deeply moved by some simple creative offering by another member of the human race.

Some of these works of art were complex and masterful, some were simple and childlike, others were works in process or centuries old. The creative power of a human soul turned towards God catches us in places where we are not guarded and it pricks us. It gets under our skin before we even realise that we have been invaded and spreads its strong emotion and enlarging vision through our spiritual system and changes us.

We are a thick skinned lot in modern Western civilisation. Our intellects are strong and our wills keep much of life at a safe distance. There is more and more information and media coming at us every day and we have become a people who are not easily moved. But I want to be easily moved by God. I want strength and sensitivity in equal measure and the ability to know when each is appropriate.

I am currently listening to the new U2 project and the song that has grabbed me is "Moment of Surrender." Some of the lyrics are:

Its not if I believe in love
If love believes in me
Oh believe in me

At the moment of surrender
I'm falling to my knees
I did not notice the passers by
And they did not notice me.

I was speeding off the subway
Through the stations of the cross
Every eye looking every other way
Counting down till the pain will stop

At the moment of surrender
A vision of a visibility
I did not notice the passers by
And they did not notice me [1]

The music that undergirds the line, "at the moment of surrender," says something much more than the lyrics. It lifts and pleads and almost resolves but still stays afloat and gets under my skin. And so I listen to it over and over again until I hope I finally get the point, the surrender point.

Yes, I want this whole creative effort of my life to be one that has many moments of surrender. Too often I find myself drawn to visibility instead of vision. The hypodermic needle of music has once again pricked me in a way that I cannot ignore.

This is a picture from the retreat just outside of Beaverton, Ontario.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

picture taking


I have been told that I have the ability to see things in a unique way, which is why I can take some fine pictures. I am able to blot out all the busyness around me in order to see an important and interesting part of life. And by taking a picture of it, I am able to single out these rare moments and show others the things that capture me, that grab my attention, that speak to me of beauty and strength and life.

Dean was speaking this past Sunday at our gathering about using the gift God has given you, and one of the verses he read struck me right in the solar plexus: "...some of us recognize when God's Spirit is present." from I Corinthians 12:10, The Message. Most of the other translations of this particular passage in scripture say something about the discerning of spirits, but phrased like this, I saw it in a new and very relevant way. Yes, I have the ability to see God in situations. I can feel him very near in a tangible way at times; I can sense when there is increased activity in the spiritual realm (often times it comes as a cold shiver or abrupt jerk as if something surprised me); and most importantly (I think), I can find God's living presence and activity in almost any place and any time if I but stop and look for it.

This really is a gift, and I have tried to take care to cultivate and develop it to the best of my ability over the years. Many times I still feel very much ignorant of God's workings in this world of ours, but the "asking and listening and learning phase" is one I never grow tired of and will happily live in forever.

The challenge for me now is to be able to take pictures of where and how I see God at work and show them to people so that they can see them too. How does one do that? Perhaps I can explain it, maybe I can act it out, perhaps it is an attitude or posture that can be caught, or I might just grab someone and take them with me, encouraging them to participate in some action in order to see. I don't fully know how to take spiritual pictures so that others can see them, and I suppose the goal is to have people go there and experience it for themselves, but sometimes a picture is helpful. It says what words alone cannot and it invites people to go there because they have seen it. Now, they want to taste it.

This is the ferris wheel and one of the halls at the Old Port in Montreal, taken at Nuit Blanche. Movement and solidity side by side.

Friday, March 06, 2009

do over

For: The Institute of Contemporary And Emerging Worship Studies, St. Stephen's University, Essentials Red Online Worship History Course with Dan Wilt

This week we have been studying baptism and the Eucharist. If there is one thing that I don't like about baptism, it is that you only do it once. You can take the bread and wine in remembrance of Jesus every day of your life if you want to, but baptism is pretty much a one time deal. And I sometimes wish that I could do it again. Not that there was anything wrong with my first time, a pouring of water over my head at a Mennonite church, but a lot has transpired since then. At times, I seem like such a different person. I have given up many old habits and come alive to lots of new ones. I have corrected my course a few times on this journey with or "into" Jesus. Every day I die to some fear or ignorance and find myself discovering new life in truth and love.

Yes, baptism symbolises that choice of dying to self and living to Christ, being identified with him in his life and death, repentance and turning around, and resurrection into something profoundly spiritual and alive and new. Yes, this is an experience, a decision, a turning point that happens once and lasts and guides a lifetime, but it is also an everyday choice. Everyday I choose again not to go my own way, not to listen to that demanding whiny voice that insists that I please myself; instead, I choose to follow a bigger, more truthful, more grand voice. Everyday I say no to maintaining my own little status quo, or giving in to entropy because it is pressing all around me. Everyday I choose to fight for my life as a follower of Jesus, and that means plenty of death along the way. Simply put, all change is a death to the way things are and a resurrection to something new.

I forgot my book at a friend's house a few days ago, and since I needed it for a class last night, I had to make an unexpected trip downtown to see him. This triggered an old memory of when I was a young lass, and I was visiting my sister in Winnipeg for the weekend. We went to see her best friend's brother who was in the hospital with a badly broken limb. I kind of liked the guy, but I was leaving the next day and would probably never see him again. So I did something silly. I intentionally forgot my glasses in his hospital room. The next morning, early, before I had to catch my bus for home, I made a cold 30 minute trek in the winter snow to the hospital to fetch my glasses. I spent not more than 2 minutes in his room. I put on my glasses, said a quick good-bye to the boy I found interesting, and then trekked all the way back to my sister's apartment and rushed off to catch the bus.

I can see that even then I was a deeply passionate and affectionate person, but I had no idea how to translate this into appropriate and genuinely generous behaviour. Why was it so hard for me to simply say, "Hey, I find you interesting and would go out of my way to see you again." Why must there be an excuse to be extravagant with our affection and show someone that they are valuable to us? It is not cool, I guess, and it means that we put ourselves in a vulnerable position and leave ourselves open for rejection. But I have pretty much died to being cool, and I have come alive to vulnerability and honesty. I try to take any rejection that comes my way and plunge it under the water and come up with humility firmly in my grasp. My affection has gone through a baptism. It is no longer I who lives in need of reciprocated love, but Christ who lives in the joy of love freely given. At least that is where I am trying to live. There is baptism involved every day. I thrust the old, bad patterns under the water and keep them there until they stop struggling and let go. Then a hand reaches down and lifts me up, gasping deep, holy breaths of spiritual grace and peace.

Baptism is a sort of do over. A chance to live life anew, and I need this every day of my life. My morning shower is a good symbol of that daily surrender.

This photo was taken at Fair Haven Retreat Centre just outside of Beaverton, Ontario.

Monday, March 02, 2009

let us pray


This past weekend we took in the annual Nuit Blanche which Montreal puts on: festivities and cultural events all the night long and free breakfast at 5 am if you stay up the whole night. We made it till 2 am, taking in the fireworks, winter bar (a tent erected outside with tables, chairs, beer, loud music, lights, and hockey on big tv screens), the ice slide (see picture above), and numerous shows and museums which were all free that night. Other than getting really cold because I was way under-dressed for the walk outdoors, it was a fun time. Who else would stage an all-nighter on the town in the middle of winter than those crazy Montreal folks? I love this city!

I read an interesting article on prayer today while I was at the hairdresser (an interesting setting to be doing Theology homework). The writer presented two different views of prayer and ultimately, of God. The first was that a perfect being with a perfect purpose and perfect power to accomplish that purpose cannot be influenced in any way by our pitiful requests. He has already set all things in motion, and the best we can do is go along with it, because nothing we do or say changes anything and if we think it does, we are deluded. The second viewpoint was of a God who is changing, who is learning and growing and moving toward his purpose together with us. He loves to be surprised by our actions (because he does not know exactly what we will choose to do next), and incorporates our prayers into shaping his good purpose for this world. The writer sided with the second point of view.

It made for some interesting reading, and though I think he paints two extremes which both carry a seed of truth, my main problem with his writing was that he started from a very human point of view. He assumed that change is good and not changing is bad. But if you are perfect and whole, what is the purpose of change? He seemed to be concocting a god that he could understand and appreciate, a better version of himself, and that is not God at all. Last Sunday, my good friend mentioned that too often we are praying to a god of our own making, a god based more on our biases and desires than on His revelation of himself. And this is basically breaking the first directive he gave which was not to make any idols.

We, as humans, have a very hard time imagining something other than ourselves. We describe God like some grand creature that we can see the underbelly of and with that small snapshot, we assume that we have a fairly good comprehension of the whole being. But we forget that we are only seeing a part, and from a decidedly limited vantage point. God is not like us. He does not change; what he does is reveal. He reveals bits of himself and his ways and his truth and his love and his purpose and his character and his work, and if I grasp any of it at all, I will be the one undergoing change.

"Prayer changes things" has always been a bothersome phrase for me. Prayer in and of itself has no power to change anything. It is not some magic ritual whereby I get what I want. To think that I can bend God's will to mine is a dangerous position to put myself in, indeed. But I can make a request, I can ask for those things that I know he loves, and I can submit my will to his. In some mysterious way, something always changes when I make this choice, and most often it starts in me.