Sacred Spaces (vol. 1)

I have shared here on numerous occasions my intention to follow the Spirit’s voice across the pond where we will serve with Serve Globally somewhere in Britain. This call has percolated in my wife and I for many years and we are finally ready to pour whatever heady liquid is forthcoming into frothy mugs of Gospel peace for all who need it.

Rae and I, Llanthony Priory, 2016

A big part of that process is…gulp…fundraising. An unsexy word if ever there was one. But, alas, despite whatever stigma is attached thereto, I muscle through it to enjoin all within earshot to join us in this venture. Follow along as an interested witness to what God is doing. Follow us by way of joining our prayer community. Or, follow us by joining our finance community.

What I post here is a new offering, not just for our Serve Globally family, but for this blog as well. Along with our regular semi-monthly newsletter, I have added “Sacred Spaces,” (I apologize for the exterior link! It keeps things tidier) a page uniquely dedicated to encouraging hope and nourishing the spiritual imagination.

My regular readers will recognize much of the material. It comes from here! But it is placed into a readable Mailchimp design for easy email distribution.

You are my precious blog family, equally dedicated to the mysteries of the spiritual journey. And, of all people, I want to invite you deeper into this adventure, this coddiwomple, with us.

I love you all. Come, let us journey together…

Thanks be

Thanksgiving, 2020.

Me and my wife

Rarely has anything been so easy for me as giving thanks this year. Rae and I continue to see plans unfold to pursue life and ministry in Britain. We are now both citizens of the US, complete with passports and the added blessing of participation in the democratic process. And, not a moment too soon!

New citizens of a viral America!

With the help of our son, Calum, a host of other blessed volunteers and contractors, and moneys from very magnanimous congregants, we spent half a year refinishing floors, painting every available surface both inside and out, adding new carpet, a new HVAC unit, hot water tank, oven, and rebuilding an underground sprinkler system.

We sat, biting our fingernails, for four very tense months. But, with mere moments to spare, we finally sold the house we’ve called home for fourteen years to an utterly delightful young family. We got the exact figure we’d known all along we’d receive. And, best of all, we sold to genuine people less interested in bricks and mortar as emotionless investment than they are in growing a family in a house uniquely designed for such a thing.

I write this not from typical chair but from a lazy-boy recliner not my own in a basement suite kindly offered us by good friends as we prepare ourselves for UK living. 3400 square feet to about 800. We love it! We’ve become rabbits, rather comfortable in a small burrow – safe, well-lit, warm, and wonderfully cozy. We say we’re “practicing Europe” right now.

Despite being officially unemployed for ten months, my wife’s job continues uninterrupted. I’ve never been more thankful to have a desperately over-qualified life partner to help make the trains run on time as I putz around town pressing flesh (more virtual these days), writing, studying, reading, or doing important stuff that often doesn’t look important. She has single-handedly kept us afloat since January. Thanks, babe!

We’ve stood back in wonder, COVID-19 obstacles notwithstanding, as our sons have become young men of character, maturity, courage, and integrity. Their lives aren’t perfect, which places them in good stead with the rest of humanity. But, they’re content – and intent – on building their own futures, eyes cast on their own horizons. They may be our sons. But, they’ve become our friends.

A slightly crazed family Rife with Graeme, left and Calum, right.

I continue apace toward my late-in-life milestone of ordination. It never really interested me before because I hadn’t found a collective sufficiently aligned with sufficiently enough of me with whom to marry. That marriage will happen, virtual of course, by the will of God and if the creek don’ rise, sometime next year.

The multiple contingencies required of viral lockdowns have forced a certain quietude upon my otherwise taut persona. Long coffeeshop days spent poring over my journal, whatever book currently captivates me, and various meetings with friends and colleagues has deeply simplified. Now, it is hours spent sitting in my chair cyber-reaching out to potential global ministry partners and investors. Telling our calling story. Sharing our vision, our hope for the future.

Let’s be honest, it’s always a much simpler affair to offer thanks when one sits in a place of relative comfort, devoid of excess chaos, and brimming with possibility. I write as one healthy enough to do so, without the pressing concerns many are forced to endure.

In this unprecedented (a word very much overused, but still helpful) time, many have lost loved ones to something unseen, insistent, insidious. Others, through measures taken to curb this invisible enemy, have lost livelihoods, family businesses, self-respect, and more.

The socio-political timbre of our age has turned watercooler conversations into sparring matches with those we once thought odd, but still our neighbours. Friendships once held together by something much deeper have been rent asunder through clouds of suspicion, name-calling, or suspected ideological “abnormalities”.

“As for me and my house,” said Joshua so long ago, “we will serve the Lord.” Sounds straightforward enough. But, if the past few years have taught us anything at all, it’s that how this looks in real time can be quite different for each of us.

This Thanksgiving I am choosing to revise Joshua’s statement of intent, weaving it with an even better statement of Jesus. For the manifold blessings of this year and the still greater currency of God’s ongoing presence, I submit, “as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord by loving God completely, and our neighbour as ourselves.”

Will you join us?

On this Thanksgiving Day, 2020, I wish much love and light to you, my dear reader community!

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*If you’d like more detailed information on our pending ministry ventures in Britain and/or would like to join our prayer/financial team, message me on Facebook, or email me at robert.rife@covchurch.org.

*To become a financial partner, go here.

These things I remember

First published three years ago. It still shares accurately both my heart and my thoughts. I hope it does as much for you as well.

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remembrance_day_poppy_day_by_daliscar.jpgNovember 11. Remembrance Day.

Such a sad irony given the need to remember when I recall so little so much of the time. But, I remember as much as I need to for right here. Right now.

I remember all that I’ve been given – and I smile.

I remember that I get to sleep with someone who loves to be with me, who chooses to share my life, even the dark places – and I smile.

I remember, through that same love, two babies, now young men, came into the world if for no other reason than to taunt my lesser joys with still greater ones – and I smile.

I remember the man I call brother, the woman I call sister, the man now dead we call father, the woman upon whose shoulders and within whose heart we all dwell, we call mother – and I smile.

I remember…

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A Prayer On the Edges of Things

Global pandemic. Tribalism. Brutality. Racism. Denial. Fear. If ever there were a better time to cry out a collective cry for help, it would be now. Here’s just a small beginning.

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A Prayer on the Edges of Things

O God of our breathing, Lord over our chaos,

here is the moment of our surrender.

Not to the polarizing shouts of tribe or camp,

but to the voice of he who bids us come and rest.

 

We refuse to succumb to the sharp, hacking cough of despair.

Instead, we acquiesce to the lifting breeze of faith.

 

We refuse the gnawing insistence of our own frailties.

Instead, we acknowledge that in our weakness we find our strength.

 

We refuse the crowing gasps of those unfit to lead, unwilling to listen.

Instead, we submit to your higher calling of courage and empathy.

 

We refuse the darkening hatreds now brewing in our hearts.

Instead, we cry out in darkness for the light, found in love.

 

We refuse the wedges introduced to drive apart life from truth.

Instead, we seek the nails, once in flesh, now in the coffin of our sins.

 

We refuse the temptation to teach through haughty insistence.

Instead, we reach out to embrace the unconvinced others.

 

We refuse the over-simplified reasons to dismiss the other.

Instead, we earn their trust through our death on their cross.

 

We refuse to diminish life, relationship, truth, and community to a meme.

Instead, we reach beyond such dismissals and, in so doing, find each other.

 

We refuse the notion of our own anticipated demise, “the new normal.”

Instead, we embrace a better today toward redefining a still better “normal.”

 

We invite your calming presence into the midst of our haze and craze.

And we cast aside any remaining doubts of your strength and our belovedness.

 

We welcome the respite of your soothing voice, your cooling wind.

And we sit, still and quiet, awaiting your words of comfort.

 

We harbour any and all who look to us for shelter and repose.

And, in so doing, recognize our complete inability to do so without your help.

 

We delight each day in the laugh of children, the smiles of our elders,

And, we’re moved thereby to respond to the silenced cries of the poor and oppressed.

 

We hasten to press into God’s kingdom vision of lions and lambs, songs and sighs.

And the eschaton, yet to come, compels us toward generosity and sacrificial love.

 

To thee, O God, we bring this prayer on the edges of things.

When the borders of our broad world seem stifling and small,

we reach our hands toward (S)he who lives well beyond those borders.

And, in these days of uncertainty, fear, chaos, and cosmic randomness,

we acquiesce to the vision of God whose crucified arms are strong enough

to embrace the whole world.

 

Teach us to do the same. Amen.

A Pandemic Prayer

I found this prayer on a favourite Facebook chatroom this morning, “Society for the Study of Christian Spirituality.” It comes from Dr. Lou Kavar. I don’t know Dr. Kavar, but if the following gorgeous prayer is any indication, he’s likely one we should get to know! Read this prayer slowly, intentionally, communally, and often, especially as we struggle together in difficult times.

Sir, I thank you for this. My readers will as well I am sure.

A Prayer in the Midst of the Pandemic
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Author of Life:

In your wisdom, the cosmos was born filling the expanse with immense diversity.

In your creativity, a blue planet with unique life sustained by water and a perfect atmosphere came together from particles of cosmic dust.

In your compassion, life evolved to enable human beings to be conscious of the great expanse of the cosmos and to stand in awe at the wonder of being alive.

Sustainer of Our Being:

In this pandemic, we’re facing the fragility of life in a new way.

In this health crisis, our concerns for our future have confused us as we’ve struggled to respond to a new illness and, at times, have diminished our own well-being.

In this global crisis, our desire to maintain the ways of life we have known has prevented us from acting wisely.

Source of Compassion:

Today, I am mindful of all those who suffer because of COVID 19, who fight coronavirus infection in their bodies.

Today, I mourn the loss of hundreds of thousands of people who have died alone struggling for breath because of this strange illness.

Today, I join with those in grief who have lost loved ones, often without the opportunity to be with them as they passed or to bid them farewell.

Pillar of Justice:

Move the hearts of lawmakers whose desire for political gain prevents them from acting to promote the common good.

Bend the hearts of those who scheme of ways to profit from the suffering of others.

Melt the hearts of those who in their fears and uncertainty cling to conspiracies that endanger them, their loved ones, and their communities.

Fount of All That is Good:

Give us wisdom to protect ourselves and to live healthy lives during this pandemic.

Give us reverence for the lives of others as we wear masks in public to lower the rate of viral infection.

Give us patience as we adapt to new ways of living, working, learning, and sharing in daily activities.

Give us the faith to understand that you are with us through every moment of life, both in the blessings and in the challenges.

It is in trust of your goodness that we pray this day, affirming that life itself is truly an amazing gift, both today and every day.  Amen.

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Photo by Serenae on Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

© 2020, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.

Easing Pandemic Pandemonium

I say lots of stuff in this blog.

Some of it reasonable I suppose. Some of it, well, shit. Not because I’m stupid or otherwise callous. Maybe because I’m oblivious to all the information required to make believable judgements on things. Perhaps I just like the sound of my own voice. Either way, I muster the faith available, mix whatever humility might be kickin’ around, and offer this hopeful scenario and prayer to help ease our collective pandemic pandemonium.

After weeks of isolation, riots, racism, growing suspicions, job losses, and a general fear of everything, it is hardly a surprise that the faith of many grows cold. Two things should, by now, be evident: humanity is more blind and broken than we’d even suspected. And, two, if God is sovereign, where the hell is (S)he?

In such a broken, sick, divided hour, can hope still be on the table as a viable option? When everywhere one looks the gloves are off, all manner of gauntlet thrown down, ideological lines drawn in neighbourhood sand, trigger fingers itching and ready, ideological (and, for some, real) guns cocked, barrels loaded and pointed, each of us in someone else’s crosshairs, can we still see another human being as worthy of concern? Equally broken? Equally beloved?

These days, our days have intrinsic meaning not because we can count on them for all the reasons we once did – a routine, a schedule to keep, pants awaiting your legs (not a given during lockdown!), coffee waiting to be made, a family awaiting their breakfast, a job awaiting our attention, responsibilities, decisions. Instead, these pandemic days must find their meaning in more faith-led ways; because of their place in the God-created, God-loved cosmos.

We could choose to do nothing at all from beginning to end of day and it would still be sacred. But how creative, how “productive”, how formative a day can be rests in our hands. Each day can move from intrinsically meaningful to prophetically responsible as we awaken to its possibilities.

Let today, this day, be instantly recognizable as a gift. Are we grateful to arise to its potential? Can we place ourselves at God’s disposal to hear and delight in whatever we hear? Can we trust enough in the Divine initiative to carry our lack of it into good places of prayer and friendship and encouragement? Can we lay aside the weight of our own pandemic pandemonium enough to hear that of another?

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“Let my love, demeanour, and trust carry the wonder of these days to others. Let my faith be the harbour into which lonely, fearful souls find safety and rest, a place to rebuild. May there be enough faith in me today that, after it spills out to those around me it may grow to encompass my own fears and insecurity. Today, I choose to sublimate all fear under the embrace of a much greater God whose arm remains strong against every storm.

Lord, in your mercy, hear my prayer.”

Do the Little Things Even in a Time of Pandemic

Justin Coutts is becoming a friend. At least I believe this to be true. At least not in the “pick me, pick me” kind of way, but because we share a deep love for ancient, Celtic wisdom and spirituality. His New Eden Ministry is uniquely devoted to mining the riches of this tradition and he does so with what I call “balanced progressive” approach.

In this post, he shares words from Celtic writer, Kenneth McIntosh. They are words from which we can all benefit. To wit…

In Search of a New Eden

Today I would like to share with you a guest post from my friend Kenneth McIntosh. He is a wise teacher of Celtic Christianity, a minister in the United Church of Christ, and regularly leads forest church gatherings where he lives in New York. Kenneth is the author of Water from an Ancient Well: Celtic Spirituality for Modern Life, the Celtic historical-fantasy novel Magic Reversed, recently published Hope in an Age of Fear: The Wisdom of the Book of Revelation, and soon-to-be-published The Soul of the Green Man.

All these titles are available on Amazon in print or Kindle format and I highly recommend finding them. Kenneth and I are both contributing chapters to a book on Celtic Christianity and racism tentatively called A Celtic Witness to Racism being published by Anamchara Books. It’s a really fun project.

I hope you enjoy his reflection as…

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Covenanting Forward

Finding the Covenant took a long time. In fact, landing anywhere with conviction or at least lasting interest has taken a lifetime. My circuitous journey of faith has seen me duck, dodge, weave, skip, and sometimes trudge my way through Canadian Presbyterianism, the United Church of Canada (where I was baptized as a child), four brands of Baptist, two of Anglican, the ELCA, the PCUSA, and finally, the ECC. Moreover, as distinctly post-modern and, what I like to describe as post-evangelical, my theology doesn’t sit sufficiently still to be any denomination’s well-behaved child. Finally, I am a reluctant Protestant, lay-Jesuit with a distinctly Celtic-Catholic spirituality that has a whiff of Pelagius, Julian of Norwich, and Scotch Whisky about it (in terms of character. I don’t drink).

I.e. I’m a hard person to please.

Voracious reader. Voluminously curious. Virulently skeptical by nature, specifically of the easy answers typically afoot among American evangelicalism. My ENFP, Enneagram 4-ishness denies me the simplicity of no-questions-asked membership in anything. It makes me a delight at dinner parties, full of jaunty esprit, self-effacing humour (ha!), and fun stories, but impossible to get along with, since I’m forever challenging some portion of something.

I’m a team player but not a company man. In other words, I’ll rarely act outside the parameters of the given protocols of any collective into which I have committed myself. However, I’m not a candidate for “my country, right or wrong.” Ideologies, protocols, approaches, and resources supplied by an organization, even one in which I am deeply invested, will generally be the starting place only for what I sense is invitation for my own fingerprint on the work of God both in, and through, me. I see myself making consistent use of the Covenant’s vast resources available in every corner of the kingdom landscape, albeit in uniquely Rife-ian ways.

I say all of that to say this. In large measure, the Covenant is also these things. In the short time I’ve been lurking around, loitering in Mission Friends’ hallways, I’ve discovered reams of others just like me. Dispossessed of (E)vangelicalism but not so dishonest or disingenuous as to deny it entirely. Weary of the religious empire ass-kissing “give us Barabbas” impetus that sent Jesus to the cross and, two thousand years later, booted him from American life. But, still socially invested enough as to seek fresh iterations of Christian citizenship that cares for the least and left behind.

In its desperation for relevance over depth, evangelicalism often attracts and nurtures a culturally-derived shininess to its approaches at times poisonous to the very spirituality it seeks to discover and facilitate. Therefore, it has the expected wow-factor with little depth to recommend it for the long-term indefinables of Christian spirituality. The Covenant however has proven a willingness to do both: enshrine a polished, corporate modus operandi, utilizing well its culture of leadership, while paying more than just lip-service to older and richer veins from which to feed.

Speaking playfully, we are newer denomination still linked to its distant Lutheran past that badly wants to be cool. It’s the playground kid from a simple family but with natural leadership skills, a twinkle in his eye, and enough savvy not to play shirts and skins with the adult football team. To this late middle-aged advocate for building bridges, Protestant and Catholic, liberal and conservative, old and young, this is of epic importance.

When I think of the Evangelical Covenant Church, I perceive three things:

A connectivity born of joyful living in the Gospel.

A generous orthodoxy giving birth to wholistic ministry.

And, a fresh-faced entrepreneurialism rooted in a Lutheran evangelicalism.

It is the very essence of a covenant: a mutual partnership of equals toward an agreed upon end. That end? God’s glory. Neighbor’s good. Indeed. The goodness of these things in total makes a happy enough family with whom to dine, a river deep and dangerous enough into which I commit my swim.

Joyful Connectivity

I’m Canadian by birth. There are numerous similarities between the hopelessly broad girth of Canadian geography, religion, and socio-politics with that of her southern neighbo(u)r. But one major difference colours/colors our respective histories. America was birthed in revolution, the upraised fists and passionate cries of those who believed themselves oppressed who sought something better elsewhere. Canada was born as bureaucrats politely signed documents over whisky, cigars, propriety, and well-wishing. “Here, here. What, what” versus “give me liberty or give me death.” The latter has brought a certain bluster, love for conflict, and over-confidence; but keen sense of collective identity. The former, a constant quest for identity by means of the via negativa, what we’re not.

Ecclesial groups are born in similar ways. Another renewal movement among many, the Covenant is a few generations removed from the overly self-conscious Martin Luther who felt theological debate following an act of defacing public property the best way of addressing issues. We Covenanters are much more genteel by comparison.

What I have witnessed is a group of happy, post-Lutheran hipsters driven by their mutual love for Gospel and community, but without Luther’s moody self-importance or need for withering banter. We’re just happy being together. My limited experience has shown that, if corporate websites ever needed stock photography of happy, diverse, smiling, beautiful people with whom to populate their online branding, the Covenant is where to come for prospects.

Generous Orthodoxy

If stuck in evangelicalism I must be, then the Covenant represents for me a biblically-derived iteration capable of growth, imagination, and maturity. Her historic battles over the role of the church and war, baptism, Gospel multi-ethnicity, matters of social justice, and women in ministry, give her an enviable track record among Protestants, whose primary legacy is division at almost cellular level. It bespeaks a generous orthodoxy[1], a Word-centered faith powered by the creative energy of the Holy Spirit more than the soul-stifling literalism of populist religion or the polemical erudition of the academy. She has stumbled of late regarding the full inclusion of LGBTQ persons. But, if history holds true, this is a hiccup more than a rule (I pray).

Ecclesial Entrepreneurialism

The five-fold mission of the Covenant reveals two things not necessarily in opposition: a breezy, simple pragmatism easily relatable to anyone anywhere. For me, spiritual formation requires a language a bit more inspiring than “Make and Deepen Disciples”, which falls far short of the soulish electricity at work in A Cloud of Unknowing, Pensées, or The Dark Night of the Soul.

But nor are we afraid to enlist the older and better voices in the process either. Yes, we’re likely to hear from Max Lucado, Brené Brown, or Rachel Held-Evans. But, in any given Sunday School or pulpit we’d also be confronted with Henri Nouwen, Thomas Merton, Dietrich Bonhoeffer or Teresa of Avila. Despite its Lutheran roots, for the Covenant, the Church is still born at Pentecost, not the Reformation.

A few years ago, the Presbyterian church I was serving as Music Minister voted 98% in favour of adopting into the ECC. The PCUSA was, at the time, in meltdown over matters of governance related to human sexuality. Presbyterians worship process as much as anything and, at the level of General Assembly, had become boorish and unsophisticated, bullying many of its congregations into making choices (either for or against) they were not prepared to make by means of decree. It was classic hierarchicalism at work.

We have a number of gay and lesbian folks associated with our congregation. For us, sexuality and inclusion were never the issue. We wanted to throw in the towel, not because we felt the need to adopt some different ideology regarding LGBTQ, but because the stifling network of top-down ecclesiasticism at work was the last straw for a church who needed to have the freedom to stretch its leadership legs in directions current administration couldn’t, indeed wouldn’t, allow. 

We voted to leave a tradition that had fallen prey to its own self-importance for one, by comparison, still in its youthful infancy. We joined the ECC for uniquely entrepreneurial, congregational-leadership reasons. It has served us well ever since. At fifty-six I was one of the younger full-time music personnel in the PCUSA. In the Covenant? I’m ancient. As it should be!

In coming months, my wife and I are planning a ministry move to Great Britain. We do so as a tentmaker couple. This video gives a sense, in general terms, of our hopes and intentions. It marks the fruition of a vision planted in us over thirty years ago when we first lived as missionaries in Edinburgh, Scotland. Then, it was as two fresh-faced, inexperienced, fearful newlyweds under the auspices of the Southern Baptist Convention. Now, together with my geographer wife, it will be as a fully licensed minister in a denomination we’ve come to love.

We go not merely to preach the gospel. We go to be a Covenant voice in that gospel. It is a voice Britain can really use right now. Indeed, it is one all need to hear. I’m still hard to please, but at least I’ll be so in a place I can call home. Ironically, they seem okay with me.

I can ask no more than that. Thanks be to God.

[1] McLaren, Brian A Generous Orthodoxy ©2004 Zondervan Publishers

Britain or Bust: An Update

I haven’t written here much over the past while. It’s certainly not for lack of interest or desire. I’ve missed all of you, more now than ever during our shared COVIDays.

A few months back, I hinted of our upcoming Coddiwomple – an adventure into something only vaguely known and little understood. In the past year, based on what we firmly believe to be the call of God, we’ve taken action steps in that direction. 

My thirteen-and-a-half year tenure as Music and Worship Director at Yakima Covenant Church has come to a close. Now, we are enlisted to serve as “missionaries” (old language, thankfully on its way out) to Britain. 

We have before us a clear sense of call, the dis-ease but faith to begin fundraising, and a desire to build a community of likeminded individuals with whom to sojourn. Many more details are forthcoming.

For now, here’s our latest YouTube update. I invite you to watch. Consider. Pray. Consider some more. Then, join us on our adventure. My email is in the update if you’d like to be added to our mailing list. Most of all, thank you for taking these moments to poke your head into our world!

Peace to you all!