Corona-daze, chapter one

Uncertain times.

Unreliable emotions.

Unreasonable expectations.

Unfair xenophobia.

Unrealized dreams.

We are living in a strange day, and with no way of really knowing what direction the wind will blow next. As a writer, poet, musician, and pastor, it is my job and my joy to speak truth to falsehood, love to hate, light to darkness.

So, in our current Coronahaze, rather than load up the Internet with more data, as helpful as it is, I thought I’d leave you with a daily dose of hope, some of it backdoor, some overt. 

Today’s is brought to you from the queen of quirky gospel truisms, Nadia Bolz-Weber. Our responses to fear are not always our best selves. Trust me, as a recovering alcoholic, I know of which I speak. Let’s begin from via negativa and see what light may come before long, shall we?

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Friends, be wise.

Stay kind to others.

Pray and hope.

Let healing begin…

Negative capability

In my last post I shared a gorgeous prayer poem written by Richard Carter. It is one of many in a deeply satisfying spiritual treatise written by the same. My lovely wife bought it for me when last we were at St. Martin-in-the-Fields in London’s Trafalgar Square just last November. This is the book in question: 49098535._SY475_.jpgWhat follows is from the penultimate section of the book entitled “Staying with,” in which he outlines the Rule of Life for the recently established Nazareth Community. I found it especially poignant give our current situation in which we find ourselves – in much that is unknown.

Exhilarating, yes. Motivating, to be sure. But…uncertain. I find this little segment encouraging to say the least. It is, in a word, inspiring.

I’m sure you’ll love it as much as I did! Enjoy (then, buy the book!).

Negative capability

“The phrase was first used by the poet John Keats to characterize the human potential to pursue a vision of beauty even when it leads through intellectual confusion or uncertainty: ‘when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason’. In fact, the sense of unknowing becomes the catalyst or the very thing that focuses, intensifies and enhances the search for a greater truth. There is an importance in staying with the discomfort of the unknown, fear and the unresolved, because it is in that place that we reach the borders of what we are and discover what we could become. Thus this uncomfortable place, or place of trepidation where there are no quick fixes or easy answers, can become the place of transformation. It is often the very things we fear and our own lack of certainty that help us to break through all pride and discover the truth of living at ground zero. Perhaps it is here that we will learn what it means to live by faith and by love. It is in this hard place that the face of the unknown can reveal to us the face of the beloved.”

I want to go home

I’ve been reading a wonderful book, “The City Is My Monastery: A Contemporary Rule of Life” by Richard Carter. My wife bought it for me when we last visited St. Martin in the Fields in London last year. It outlines the Nazareth Community established by Richard Curtis, a place where all may come, whether rich or poor, whatever their background, to participate in the common life of Jesus. Curtis, on staff at St. Martin’s and a former monk, reveals his personal journey of discovering community, contemplation, and peace in the heart of London.

What follows is just one of many gorgeous prayer poems found in its pages. A highly recommended read.

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Gorgeous photo thanks to Mr. Roan Lavery

New Year’s Eve: What does Auld Lang Syne Actually Mean?

From friend and fellow seeker, Justin Coutts, comes a short but timely exposé on our favourite New Year’s Eve song tradition. A happy and prosperous 2020 to all of you. “Should auld acquaintance be forgot…”

In Search of a New Eden

two people standing beside body of water watching fireworks

Every year, on New Year’s Eve, people all around the world sing a few lines in Scots which most people don’t understand. Those lines are:

“Should auld acquaintance be forgot, and never brought tae mind. Should auld acquaintance be forgot, and the days of auld lang syne.”

I bet you always wondered what that even means. Well, I’m about to tell you.

The phrase Auld Lang Syne is in Scots. Now, Scots is a language which is very similar to English but is different enough to confuse people who aren’t familiar with it. It evolved at the same time as English did and was the main language of the Scottish lowlands for a long time. It is still spoken there today.

Many people think that Scots is just a weird accent that makes English hard to understand, but it is actually a language in its own right with similar…

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Carry Each Other – A Prayer

I love when my wife brings the Prayers of the People in our liturgy. They are prayers that live in that uncomfortable space between pastoral nurture and prophetic nudging. This was her prayer from our service this morning, Sunday, December 29, 2019.

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Preamble

The first time I stepped into a Covenant Church in December 2003, I was struck by how it felt both evangelical and liturgical, like a Baptist Oreo cookie with a Lutheran Center. Afterwards, a man explained that one of the denominational distinctives is the reality of freedom in Christ. Essentially, what that means is that, on many issues we can agree to disagree agreeably. Our new Brazilian friend, Fabio, on the Serve Globally Europe team, calls the Covenant, ‘the Dog with the least fleas.’

This morning, instead of the Lord’s prayer, we’ll close with lyrics written by U2. Bono, the lead singer grew up in Dublin in the Catholic south of Ireland the product of a scandalous marriage during the height of IRA terrorism. His father, Catholic. His mother Protestant.

From our side of the pond, we can see the fighting has little do with Christianity, and everything to do with religious tribalism. Because he’s seen the human cost of not seeking peace, his background uniquely shaped him to write songs about it.

“One” was written at a time when the band were fighting over their direction. The core lyric, ‘we’re one, but we’re not the same, we get to carry each other, carry each other.’  It makes Bono an ideal Covenanter!

Will you join me in prayer?

Carry each other – a prayer

Our beloved Father in heaven,

We’re closer than ever before in history to people all over the world, and yet there are growing divisions and the rise of tribalism where once there was peace. Help your church in the world to answer conflicts and divisions with love and justice. Send workers where needed to bring physical and spiritual healing, and help Christians who live in places with surplus to provide for those who go without. May the smallest pinprick of light we bring swallow much darkness (thanks to my hubby for that line!).

It seems each time it’s my turn to pray, our nation is more divided than the previous time. Across our nation, churches and communities, Lord, we thank you for those who serve graciously and honestly. We pray that where leaders fail to do their tasks well, or uphold the oaths they take, may they be replaced.

Whether we identify as conservative, moderate or liberal, let us each conserve the rule of law, be moderate in our judgement of others and wise of those who seek to use the church for their own political ends. Let us be liberal in our love toward each other, especially those who aren’t part of our tribe.

Lord, in this time of division, let us hold onto hope and not be hijacked by our fears. Let us be wary of those who tell us who is out to get us and who we should blame. Let us remember those who seek to froth up our grievances with a paycheque attached to promoting those views. Help us to remember that conflict sells.

Lord, let us remember our nation is built upon the separation of church and state and that history shows us again and again when the church gets too close to power it is weakened. Therefore, help us to be cautious of Christian leaders who have become intoxicated by the proximity to power.

And we pray for those in our own church across the nation who once attended but have lost their way. Many see the church being committed partisans, blaming others, instead of committed Christians. May we show them, Lord, that our allegiance lies to Christ above all else, and that despite our differences, in you we are one. We are not the same. We get to carry each other, carry each other.

Amen.

 

Thank you, Yakima Herald!

I’m especially grateful to Tammy Ayer at the Yakima Herald who thought our story interesting enough to include the following piece about our final Celtic Christmas Eve. 

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Details for how you may choose to support our venture are found in the article. The link goes live tomorrow. Blessing and peace to you all as the Yule is once again upon us and the smell of food fills the air to meet with laughter, fellowship, hopefulness and gratitude!

A Coddiwomple for Two, Please

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Brits are known for many things. Damn the torpedoes orthodontics. A right saucy sense of humour. Screw-you driving habits. Heavy, beige food. Winsomeness. Fierce loyalty. They’re at their best however as purveyors of tasty wordplay. Oh, to have the presence of mind to adjure someone with the following Shakespearean finery: “thine face is not worth sunburning” from Henry V. Or, perhaps, “Methink’st thou art a general offence and every man should beat thee” from All’s Well That Ends Well.

Given God’s calling on our lives it seems the title word is particularly appropriate. To coddiwomple is to “travel purposefully toward an as-yet-unknown destination.” A coddiwomple is a cute, polite way of expressing the often anxiety-inducing path of faith outside of all peripheral comforts, a kind of Abraham out of Ur thing (read Genesis 12 which recounts Abram and Sarai’s exodus out of wealthy, middle East suburban life). It captures well our overall venture of pursuing life and ministry in the UK. Specifically however it offers a rather fun snapshot of our recent fact-finding mission.

This journey took us first to France for the Serve Globally Euro Retreat and then to Britain for countless meetings and conversations. We landed in Paris where we were met by Francisco, the quintessential French man (although Portuguese by birth). He and his Minnesota-born wife, Stephanie, would become our soul-friends in minutes and were our hosts, guides, and interpreters throughout our brief time in France.

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Francisco and Stephanie Ramos

Francisco would use these skills well a couple days after our arrival while trying to help me file a report for my missing computer bag (an embarrassing story for another time).

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Ain’t she perdy?

 The Ramoses live mere blocks from the iconic Eiffel Tower, her long, bedazzled neck stiffly projecting into the French sky. This took a back seat to an even more pressing fun fact: they lived across the street from a chocolate bakery, “Chocolate Boulanger.” Our son’s insistence to the sonic similarity to chocolate lingerie makes the mind boggle. Let’s take a moment to catch our breath and move on______________.

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There were two primary reasons for this trip. First, it was an exploration of possible ministry partners for me. Before I can begin the formal process of fundraising, I need to secure a partner who will effectively invite me to join them in ministry. This is crucial given the fact that our denomination, the Evangelical Covenant Church, (well, and most foreign countries), don’t simply welcome self-proclaimed evangelists helicoptered in to cultural environments, not unlike the U.S., already drenched in religious chicanery, charlatans, and cross-talk! 

Secondly, Rae hopes to secure a job in her field of expertise, digital mapping. She’s good at what she does but, in weaker moments, squints her eyes at her chances given our place in the mid-fifties club. Thankfully, heaven cares less for these things than potential employers!

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Rae’s dream job is with ESRI UK, the “Microsoft of digital mapping” as she calls it

Although at times a bit scattershot, the journey was purposeful in every way. We believe it was highly successful in establishing much-needed relationships – just the right conversations with just the right people at just the right times. Some of the best of those conversations began at a 150 year-old retreat centre in Sète, at the bottom of France. As in, the Mediterranean.

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I muscled through…somehow.

There is the lovely Serve Globally Europe team, all of them doing incredible work in a post-Christian Europe among artists, the poor, refugees, and/or victims of sex-slavery and violence; in spiritual formation, leadership training, and much more. They are as dedicated a group of servants as we’ve yet seen. The place these folks have in our hearts is now forever secure. It will be an honour to be counted among them.

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Serve Globally’s Euro Team

There is Kayla, a vibrant young woman from Manitoba sporting a Julia Roberts smile. She serves in London with G.E.M. (Greater Europe Mission) establishing bakeries as a means of moving women out of the sex trade and into meaningful employment. The week before our visit, Meghan Markle, wife of Prince Harry, officially opened their most recent location.

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Kayla, wise and brave beyond her years

 

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Meghan Markle officially opens The Luminary Bakery

There is the talented Elizabeth, an ordained Covenant pastor living in Edinburgh but working in Stirling where she teaches music to under-served children and youth. She brings discipline, hope, self-esteem, and structure to those with precious little of either and does so through music. While in Edinburgh we had lunch with retired pastor Andy Scarcliffe with whom we worked back in 1989. His wit, wisdom, presence, and insights helped immeasurably toward focussing our thoughts and efforts.

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Old school 60s rocker and devoted holy man, Andy Scarcliffe. Edinburgh.

Among the more “serious” conversations were numerous others directed at family members and friends, all of whom shared their own fascination with the adventure. We coddiwomple on as we share these stories with friends, family, interested onlookers and, of course, all of you!

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Cousin Jill and her daughter, Sally. Newcastle

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The best stories, like good wine or tea, steep over time. Bits get added or embellished. Other bits become the conquest of interlopers wanting in or rolling their eyes at the bad jokes; insiders peddling their forbidden commentary over too much Guinness and too little honesty. Most bits are known by heart and fiercely guarded for veracity and tone.

Predictably, stories are a shared phenomenon. They’re a personal and communal catalogue, timeless performance art, and living anthropology all rolled into one. They recount as they redeem, review as they reconcile, astound as they amuse. A well told tale is both invitation into the domain of another and initiation ritual into the shared experiences that challenge and change us all.

The power of narrative, especially when it is one’s own, is the constancy of its message and the insistence of its formative qualities. We tell our stories to be moved and changed by them. Ironically, we are often blind to that very change in the midst of our own journeys. We’re tempted to gaze into the rearview mirror of our lives a bit askance given our propensity for self-doubt, or worse.

Don’t believe me? Go back and read old journals. You’ll be struck immediately by how much and how little you’ve changed! 

Friends and family, as dangerous as their proximity can be to our sense of autonomy and safety, are still best poised to see what we cannot about ourselves. The friends and family to whom I owe much of our recent and ongoing coddiwomple will understand what I mean!

Our story is changing. Evolving perhaps. But, a new page is turning, one thirty years in the making. It is in many ways the crest of a wave of long-held yearnings, discernings, considerations, conversations, tears, laughs, and a whole ton of writing.

If I’ve prattled on endlessly about anything (and prattling is how I roll) it has been about home and belonging, coupled with the spirituality of longing. The hiraeth of disaffection that keep those two separated from so many for so long has been where we have lived much of the past thirty years.

What happens when these actually begin to merge, however? There are key scenes in our unfolding drama wherein what we long for most meets the object of that longing and the possibility of ‘home’ emerges. Although this tale is one that will require more space to tell than I can allot here, it begins its forward life in this telling.

In these Advent days, just after Thanksgiving, I am reminded of how grateful we are to be included among such good and gratuitous souls. We’ve been loved and supported by many folks for many years. Our story continues to unfold. That story involves all of you. More of the story is still to be written. But, I promise to keep you informed along the way of God’s penmanship of it.

Come, fellow sojourners, let us coddiwomple together.

From Grateful to Giving

It might seem predictable, a little banal even, to prattle on about those things for which we’re most grateful on a Hallmark holiday. Be that as it may, the spiritual fruit of joy and humility find their taproot in the spiritual discipline of gratitude.

Therefore, along with so many others, I add my voice of thanks for all things bright and beautiful, great and small – the Lord God made them all (thank you, Cecil Alexander). The Lord God has indeed made them all and designed us favourably so as to create in kind and be grateful in so doing.

If there is a time given for gratitude, take it, no matter how manufactured or marketed. Perhaps in our giving thanks we can be open to hear about how we came to have what we have at others’ expense. Perhaps in our gratitude may be birthed genuine honesty, compassion, and sense of justice for those who live in squalour, darkness, fear, and despair who help create our Norman Rockwell illusions.

More than anything else, true thankfulness of necessity aims itself at true justice. They walk the same road. They must. If they do not, what we’re experiencing is not gratitude, but gloating; not thanksgiving, but a dull acquiescence to the prevailing culture of excess, entitlement, and acquisition. If our intake of good things doesn’t lead to intentionality to provide the same for others, we’re missing the point.

Let us strive to enter into sacred gratitude this year, a deeply rooted praise to God whose heart ever pounds most for those who have least. Only then does Thanksgiving become more than a national holiday, feast to St. More, ghost of Granny Gluttony – prelude to the biggest parade in honour of covetousness: Black Friday.

Instead, may it become something transformative, awakening us, through gratitude, to the plight of others more than happy to lick the leftover gravy from our china plates.

“Lord of all good things, in all things we give you thanks. But, in our gratitude, open our eyes and hearts to our neighbours, forced to live with less because we have demanded more. We offer ourselves as vessels of love and justice by means of the very gratitude we feel. Let our gratitude lead to giving. Amen.”