Sunday, June 17, 2007

A jumble of thoughts

The “old language” communion service contains a prayer referred to as the Prayer of Humble Access, which includes this line:

We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under this Thy table, but Thou art the same Lord whose property is always to have mercy.

I have always liked the poetry of this line – it’s a fascinating, humbling image. Of course, the theology I have been exposed to has always been one that was primarily built around boundless, unimaginable and yet personal love. Recently, a new acquaintance of mine argued quite convincingly that used the wrong way this could be a very hurtful and/or damaging prayer – that people who are hurting do not need or want to be reminded that they are particularly broken or unworthy. This concern is very valid; certainly, any penitential liturgy needs to be firmly grounded in the idea that we are all loved and perfect in our brokeness.

When I was younger and just starting to play the piano, my mom acquired a notepad with various amusing sayings, along the lines of “Today I practiced perfectly – even the mistakes were good!” and “I’m great – just ask my mom!”

In many ways, God’s love for us is exactly like that – we are perfect. Even our mistakes are good. Loved. Healed. Forgiven.

I was reminded of this debate after reading Sarah Miles’ book Take This Bread. In it she describes her unexpected conversion to Christianity and her work in starting a food pantry, and through it she weaves her theology. It was a supremely enjoyable read (highly recommended!) and she has very interesting theology, highly influenced by her experiences in South America during the rise of liberation theology but also uniquely her own. One of the main threads that runs throughout her book is the idea that truth is to be found in the margins, namely from the least powerful – truth is not found in what politicians or those is power say, but in the day-to-day lived experiences of the marginalized.

In light of this, she mentions at one point that she thinks that God uses not the polished, pious, “perfect” parts of us, but our broken, messy, more human side. True “Godly” community comes from people building something together out of their brokenness. Truth is found in the margins.*

I am really drawn to this idea. Communities that allow for the true range of humanity – not just the prettied up “pious” parts – have in my experience been much more authentic reflections of Christianity. And it is a true miracle that imperfect people can minister to each other so well – as often as not through these very imperfections. Furthermore, it is important to remember that we are all broken – whether it is visible, like in a drug addict everyone shuns, or invisible, like a secret compulsion or an unforgiving attitude.

I find that prayers like the prayer of humble access cited above taken on a very different light when viewed through the prism of a community that acknowledges that no one is perfect – “We are not worthy” – not a single one of us. We’re all in this together, we all mess up.

But thou art the same Lord whose property is always to have mercy.
Thanks be to God!


* This idea also ties very interestingly into that of a “post-Empire Church,” a term currently being used by people in the United Church in Canada and one I find very appealing (c.f. for example Richard Horsley, Jesus and Empire). However, there are already too many ideas mixed into this one post...

Monday, June 04, 2007

The weakest of these

(Blogging for LGBT families, one day late.)

“Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”"
There are many arguments to be made for and against inclusivity in the church (and in the rest of the world as well). On the one hand, there are many prooftexts one can point to, some easier to reject or interpret in context than others.

The gospel speaks to us of many things - but one of the key ideas that comes up consistently and repeatedly is the idea that Christians are to have a very special vision of the future potential of the world - what the world could be.

What are we to do?

“Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”
We are called to a radical mission of healing the world through love, and we are told to pay particular attention to those who are ignored or abandoned by the rest of the world - the one lost sheep.

In that context, exclusion is perverse. Exclusion hurts those who have the fewest resources best, even as those most hurt are also those with the least ability to defend themselves or otherwise deal with the exclusion.

Thus, when we are faced with people who are standing up for themselves, we need to remember that these are the exceptions to the rule. These are the folk who expect to be taken seriously, who can justify taking the risk they do in order to make things right. People with less privilege simply can't afford to pay the price that comes with standing up for oneself.

Two friends of mine - a queer couple - have told me how having a child completely changed the way they dealt with being out and with homophobia. Suddenly, the equation was more complex: they refused to take the chance of exposing their child to people who might give this child the idea that his family is somehow less ok or broken, and they couldn't through their own behaviour suggest this might be the case. Being out and honest with the world, but simultaneously more careful about the environments they were in, became the new normal.

Exclusion hurts most those with the fewest resources.

How can an organization built for a marginal people struggling to forge an identity in the face of empire justify aligning itself with oppression?

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Fears

[an old draft. published as-is because, well, it's interesting]

One of my biggest current fears or worries is whether the faith I have is sufficient to do the task I have set out for myself. Do I really believe enough to set myself up as a leader?

How does one measure faith?

This fear is particularly insidious because it is so hard to discuss. In fact, I wouldn't even post about it on here were this blog not (more or less) pseudonymous. What would people think??

Of course, these thoughts all seem a bit ridiculous when written out - how much faith does one need? Well, one could link to an obvious answer:

5
The apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith!’ 6The Lord replied, ‘If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, “Be uprooted and planted in the sea”, and it would obey you.

It's a fairly non-answer kind of answer, as these things go. I can't really put my faith on a scale, and see whether it measures up. As "just" a church-goer, this isn't really an issue - I have found that my faith can be somewhat cyclical, and I certainly have some doubt-filled days, but it's not particularly difficult to ride them out. Even in my most questioning days, church is very valuable, so the waxing and waning is more of a philosophical issue than anything else.

However -

Monday, May 28, 2007

School days are back again


The job change (which is not yet official) has forced me to do some serious thinking about where I'm at now and what the next step seems to be.

In Landmarks (the book, not the cultish self-improvement group), Margaret Silf describes how prayer can allow us to see the way forward, but that this way forward is rarely a clear path. Instead, through prayer we can illuminate a small patch of ground ahead, and once we step into it in faith we can then work on figuring out where the next island of light will be. The image is that of stepping stones across a river - the next best stone is not always clear from the shore.

This image has stuck with me, and I find myself turning to it now - I am not sure how I will make this next step work, but I have the sense that this is where I need to go.

When I first found out I was losing my job, I was frustrated and angry - how dare they drop such a change on me so suddenly?? I had made plans assuming the job would remain! Even though I often spoke about not particularly liking my job, I was counting on it. How rude to just take it away!

Then I was scared and worried - what would this mean, practically speaking? How would we make ends meet, given that my spouse is still in school? I am the sole breadwinner at the moment! Of course we have no dependents (which certainly makes this situation easier less stressful), but we do have non-negotiable obligations like rent and utilities and a need to eat. Unemployment insurance is only 55% of pay, not very helpful when we are not doing much better than scraping by already, with every penny carefully counted and every expense examined.

Worry gave way to more practical concerns - we can qualify for loans (hooray for spouses who study practical things that bankers are happy to fund like law). We can find other jobs. Friends and family were supportive - oh, here's a job! Here's another possibility! There is a clear sense that if things got worse instead of better, there would be people around to help us out.

Practical concerns also included school: my plan had been to start part-time, as I have (had) a flexible job that would allow me to simply work around my class schedule. Finding a new job that was as flexible was highly improbable, and there seemed to be two true options to consider: defering school for another year, until The Spouse was finished law school, or starting school full-time and hoping the government chose to be generous in awarding student loans.

Having "mijoté"* these two possibilities for a few weeks, I found that I was being drawn to the idea of full-time study - there are really really neat people also starting their studies this year, and studying with them would be amazing; the people involved in my discernment work are quite encouraging, suggesting that starting classes at this point (early!) in my discernment process is fairly normal and even recommended, since liking or not liking studies could certainly impact the process itself; even the principle of the college (a wonderful, sweet, obviously brilliant but soft-spoken man) encouraged me to start and mentioned the possibility of bursaries if financial concerns were the main stumbling block.

As the magic 8-ball says so well: "all signs point to yes." Do they ever!

Most encouragingly, having decided that I would attend school full-time, I am feeling comfortable and excited and at peace - all signs of a good decision. It's so strange to try to reconcile my self-image of myself from a year ago, when I thought that I might "some day" want to be a minister but hadn't yet found the courage to speak it aloud to anyone beyond my circle of intimates, to now when I am enrolling in seminary and being introduced to people at church functions as a future seminary student. Eeek! But yay! but eek! (hence the blogging. "Eeek" translates to good blog output!)

If I complete this degree full-time in the expected manner, and my various discernment committees all decide this is indeed the right path for me, I could be finished seminary and ready (?!?) for ordination as a deacon as early as three years from now - wow.

I think that for now I will continue to contemplate the small circle of light I see before me, and see where that leads.

*Mijoter = french word literally meaning "to simmer" (i.e. cook at low heat for a long time); used figuratively to mean "to ponder", but generally not in the active way suggested by that english term. A semi-conscious, sometimes quasi-passive "allowing to sit" (simmer!). But my english intuition is that "Having simmered these ideas" isn't really appropriate.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Applicant!

Since I have a committee (and have been officially approved by the Bishop's Commission on Ministry, aka diocesan committee), I am now no longer an "Inquirer" but an Applicant.

The initial committee meeting/training was wonderful. The overall process, especially when laid out on paper, is incredibly daunting, and it can really feel like there are many levels at which people will be judging me and deciding whether I "pass." This meeting was very much about dispelling those ideas, and making it clear to the committee that they are, in many ways, my cheerleading team (my words, not theirs!). They will walk this path with me, helping me find words to express my call, noticing and building me up in areas in which I am weak, and working with me to figure out whether my call is to ordination or to other work, inside or outside the church. This is very much a positive process, not one where they will be checking off a list of "must see"s or seeing whether I fit into some pre-existing mould.

One point I found particularly interesting was that the committee should be very careful not to judge me based on whether they could envision me as a priest in this particular congregation - a very valid and interesting point.

I also noticed the way in which our visiting committee member prayed - I quite liked it. A bit "old fashioned" but in a comfortable way - the prayer language was exactly the kind I was used to hearing while growing up. I think that is the kind of language I am most comfortable using in public prayer - now I just need to find the words!

One last completely unrelated point, jotted down here because it's timely: I have been speaking to our rector about starting a prayer service in the Taize style. I think it would be an interesting change for our congregation, and the rector agrees. We are also situated close to various institutions of higher learning, so perhaps we can draw some students from there as well. I experienced "real" Taize worship at the North American Taize gathering in Montreal, and loved it - I am excited about building a space that can capture some of that peace and meditativeness.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Committee!

It's official - my parish discernment committee now exists, and will be meeting for the first time this coming week to be trained by a representative of the diocesan committee. The members are an interesting mix of people (there are 4 members, including one from the university community which I have attended for 7+ years now). I look forward to exploring my call with them and figuring out how they see me being of service to the church - they are all people whose opinions I respect, and I am honoured that they will be spending so much time, voluntarily, to talk and explore this with me.

This last point hit home as I was pondering this development while transiting home. These people are enthusiastically volunteering their time to be on this committee - simply because I am interested in exploring this call! Incredible.

I hope that I will be receptive to their help and make the most of this time of discernment.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Words words words

One of the things that I have realized I need to work on as I travel this path of discernment is my ability to put into words my understanding of that which is beyond understanding.

I have what I like to believe is a reasonably well-thought-out faith, but I struggle with finding the right words to express what I feel. Furthermore, I am fairly sensitive to the power of words both to hurt and to harm as well as to mark belonging to a group or faction. This is no less true within the church, and I am particularly reluctant to fall into speech patterns which to me seem to indicate a more "evangelical" or "fundamentalist" take on Christianity. My reluctance is deep set (due to various past experiences which I may latter detail on this blog) but these patterns of speech are ubiquitous and familiar: "in my youth" (hilarious phrase considering my considerable current youthfulness) I had evangelical leanings and adopted these speech patterns in order to fit it.

Thus, one of my goals with this blog is to talk about God and faith and theology, to find ways of expressing myself which are honest, accurate, and comfortable. I love the common prayers we use, both in the Alternative Services book and the Book of Common Prayer, and I am very much drawn to their poetry and beauty. However, this appreciation makes me unfortunately afraid of speaking myself, since I want to be able to pray (for example) in a way that is of similar beauty. Hardly a reasonable standard to set for myself, but reasonableness is not aways my strong suit. I hope to overcome this reluctance by practicing in this (nominally) public but also anonymous space.

The converse of new prayers is of course giving new life to old prayers. Jared at Scribere Orare Est is in many ways an inspiration in this sense - in many of his posts he sprinkles everday language with the old-fashioned prayers of the church and thus gives them new depth and meaning; the whole post becomes a prayer. I experienced a similar phenomenon durring Taize prayers, where a sung refrain (e.g. Kyrie eleison) became a response during prayers; we use this response pattern during the prayers of the people, but the meaning of the words seemed different after singing them as a prayer on their own and in Latin. (This doesn't make sense when I explain it like that; perhaps the difference in experience was more contextual. Taize-style worship is in any case quite unique and ought to be experienced by anyone who has the chance.)

This is the context in which I am drawn to write a few reflexions on Mother's Day.

Strong mother God, working night and day,
planning all the wonders of creation,
setting each equation, genius at play:
Hail and hosanna, strong mother God!

I first discovered this marvellous hymn at Holy Trinity, Toronto, which I attended on "Pride Sunday" (i.e. the Sunday on which is held the Pride Parade) one year. It was a very touching service, with the Sunday school children handing out rainbow bracelets to everyone in attendance and the sermon delivered by two teens raised by a lesbian couple. My favorite aspect of this hymn is the way the various verses (mother, father, old, young) do not resort to the "expected" aspect of the position - instead, we sing of strong mother and caring father. It is so easy, especially with Mother's day, to fall back on otherwise outdated notions of motherhood. They are, afterall, familiar and easy. Thus mothers are gentle and pink and loving. Churches too are guilty of this (some purposely). The children's sermon I heard this morning, for example, talked about how a mother's love is always there without us needing to think about it (like breathing), and compared this to God's love.

Now I don't want to cast doubt on the idea that we use human relationships to attempt to understand God. I will never forget the feeling of awe I felt when, in the throes of a new relationship, I went to church and sang of God's love - and was suddenly struck by the thought that God's love was similar to what I felt for my love, yet bigger and more wonderful. It was a startling feeling and one which has stuck with me.

Of course, human relationships are messy. None moreso than motherhood - and that's even when you move beyond the poop-and-puke image. Holding up one relationship above all others is tricky at the best of times, and few relationships engender such strong emotions as motherhood - good or bad. Those who were hurt by their encounters with motherhood, either in absence or presence of their own mother, or in the search for or experience of motherhood itself, cannot but be troubled by this holiday. Even moreso because of the fairly intractable nature of the relationship; unlike Valentine's Day, for example, where coupledoom is exhalted, a person who had a poor experience with their mother cannot even hope for a second chance, a good mother to allow them to experience this ideal of our understanding of mothering.

Yet we do have a collective understanding of mothering, and what it means to mother, one aspect of which is described in that hymn I mentioned. And as a faith body we can grow in our understanding of God's love when we ponder this incomprehensible love in the context of our yearning for mothering.

We can sing into Big Momma's arms, place our hurts, fears, worries and inadequacies on the ground, and just be.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Set back?

Unfortunate news: it seems that the flexible job which was going to allow me to study part-time while still earning enough money to support me and my partner is going through layoffs, and the job will be no more.

Not entirely sure where that means I'll be going or how it will work out.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Application

I am putting the finishing touches on my "personal statement" for my application to a BTh/MDiv program. Since I am in the early stages of my discernment process, and since I am supporting not just myself but also my partner, I am not planning to start full-time studies next year. However, I figure I can start part-time studies (I am hoping to start with New Testament Greek) which will both allow me to focus on the class I am taking and will put me in a better position when I take other courses. More than one person has suggested doing Greek as a course on its own - I gather it's a bit of a challenge! Furthermore, I have heard that the final step of the discernment process (a meeting with a committee at the Provincial level) is generally only considered for people who are already pursuing studies, so I figure there is no harm.

Not to mention the fact that I am fascinated by languages. I look forward to being able to do exegesis in Greek - now won't that be fascinating??

Of course, this requires finishing my statement. Back to work!

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

First step

Recently I handed in a form which officially starts me on the road to a public process of discerning a call for me to ordination in the Anglican Church. Like many things, this process is about small steps which are nevertheless significant - the first meeting with my rector when I managed to spit out the fact that I felt a call, the first time I mentioned this to a trusted friend, the first time I discussed this with my spouse in a real "let's make this happen" way. Each was significant. This time, I later found myself in church, contemplating the step. Taize chants do lend themselves to such contemplation particularly well.

Fiez-vous en Lui, ne craignez pas.
La paix de Dieu gardera vos coeurs.
Fiez-vous en Lui.
Alleluia, alleluia!


Discernment is a strange process, unlike most of my previous life experiences. Here, my life is laid bare - I am offering my life up to my community in a much more direct way than most people do, and certainly more than I have ever done before. Here is my life - can it be of use? Do you see me working in this way?

La paix de Dieu gardera vos coeurs.

Incredibly (to my mind) people have been almost entirely supportive. Everyone is so nice and so happy for me! It's strangely unexpected - I feel buoyed up by love I didn't even know was present. Yet despite this it is a fundamentally terrifying process, especially for someone who fears rejection as much as me. Will I be deemed lacking? Will I not "make it"? There is a long road ahead of me in the Anglican Church before I can know whether my life will in fact be headed this way. I hope to use this blog to journal my experience, my thoughts and fears and challenges. Perhaps you wil share my journey with me for a while.

Alleluia, alleluia!

Moving... on?

I have been deciding this for a while, but the walrus has spoken: the time has come. I don't intend to update this blog in the future unless there are things I want to blog that I don't mind having tied to my real-life persona. This blog isn't really annoymous enough that I am comfortable pouring out my soul, though I do like some of the things I have posted here (and I love the folks who have been kind enough to comment!). Between a livejournal blog that I use to keep abreast of old friends and a lack of pseudonymity that would allow me to blog the things that I worry about, this blog simply doesn't get any attention. Perhaps I will try to start afresh - perhaps not. That's the beauty of the Internet - even I can have a fresh start!