Top 5 in 2005

Bob Carleton over at The Corner has invited people to look at their year’s posts – and name their Top Five for 2005.

Sooo… the judges looked over the various and sundry posts from Looking Back… Looking Forward, and came up with the following candidates (in chronological order):

Having Fun with Stewardship;
Same-Sex / Equal Marriage… another suggestion ;
– F*$@;
– I put forward this Proposal to London Conference…;
A Personal Statement of Faith;
A Call to Worship & Prayer of Approach;
– Word-Wide Communion Sunday;
– Do Not Call. Please. Really. No. I Really Mean It.
– One Christmas Night;
Last Night’s Dream

After a great deal of consideration Looking Back… Looking Forward’s Top Five for 2005 are:
(5) Word-Wide Communion Sunday
(4) F*$@
(3)I put forward this Proposal to London Conference…
(2) Do Not Call. Please. Really. No. I Really Mean It.
(1) One Christmas Night

Comments on the above would be much appreciated!

Hopes and dreams for 2006…
a. That I will continue to watch my daughter grow in joy and excitement.
b. Ditto my relationship with my partner.
c. That Call will sound, in a louder, clearer, fashion.
d. That the Christian Peacemaker Team currently being held hostage will come home safely.
e. That the occupation of Iraq will come to an end – and its people find a way of peaceful co-existance.

Blessings and peace, all!

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Christus Natus Est

(I wrote these a couple of years ago. Richard Hall asked if I would re-post them.)

Quintus a graph of curves

I like times like this. Nobody around.
I can pound on the keyboard
   fight with that recalcitrant piece of code
      or turn the music up as loud as I want.

Computer says that the runs are done.

I’ve never seen curves like that before…
      oh c’mon… that doesn’t make sense!

Gotta check this. Gotta check this data.

Who could make sense of this?
Rightrightrightright… Malc and Cas.
They’ll know what to do.

And they’ll keep they’re mouths shut.
If it’s garbage, we can’t let anybody know!
If it’s true… my god.
If it’s true…
      the world is going to…
   my god.

Quartus parliament

I don’t understand why they are so upset!
   We don’t have the money to pay for the doctors.
      (That’s why the hospital emergency rooms are closing.)
   We don’t have the money to pay for the books.
      (That’s why the schools need to be amalgamated.)
   We can’t afford to look at each person as an individual.
      (That’s why we practice “zero tolerance” welfare programmes.)
   The feds won’t give us more money.
   The municipalities won’t give us more money.
   The people won’t give us give us more money.
      “We don’t have any choice.”
         It’s only “common sense”.
            If we don’t have the money, then something has to go.
   The things our critics are saying will never happen.
      If people just worked harder, they wouldn’t need welfare.
      If teachers just stopped with their demands, the schools would be fine.
      If everyone would quit opposing privatized health care,
      there would be services enough for all.

   Babies born in bus shelters? Bah! It would never happen here.


I won’t allow it.

Tertius monitors

The only one on duty.
Everybody else is sleeping, playing cards, or drinking day old coffee.
But I’m here, watching the monitors.
The light flickering, monotonously, as I look from screen
   to screen…
      to screen.
When I begin to see –
   no – to hear –
      no! – to feel –
      hundreds of wings flapping around me,
         the movement of the air battering my body.
And we begin to see –
      no – to hear –
         no! – to feel –
      thousands of eyes watching our movements.
A schizophrenic’s nightmare of voices filling our minds…
      trying to tell us something important.
The awe in those voices, those eyes, those wings, nearly burning
      away our flesh with their intensity.
“Be not afraid, for I bring you good news of great joy!”

We leave behind the flickering, the bunks, the cards, the coffee…
   and move towards the angels’ song.

Secundus bus shelter in the snow

She’s fourteen years old… and looks it.
Nine months pregnant,
with a face that says that she’s more than ready to “have this baby now!
The man beside her, the one with the huge hands…
   the one who’s old enough to be her father…
      the one who has hitchiked with her, walked beside her, protected her…
         has no idea what to do.
Nowhere to go.
No ambulance on its way.
No one to offer support or warmth or love
No one but each other.
    in a bus shelter.


Close your eyes, imagine the stars… and listen.

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Letting Go

Something happened yesterday that I really wanted to post on, but let slip from my mind until now.

Come to think of it, that’s probably pretty telling.

St. Marys has a wonderful group of storytellers. In fact, the storytelling community has hosted two major storytelling festivals, a number of one-off evenings, a series of workshops, developing storytellers for the schools… and a monthly storytelling circle.

There are a number of storytellers in the congregation I serve – including me. Some of the area’s more accomplished storytellers are active members of the congregation.

So, I really shouldn’t have been surprised when it was suggested to me that one of the storytellers had a story to share – one that would be extremely appropriate for Christmas Eve worship. I shouldn’t have been surprised.

I hemmed.
I hawed.
I suggested that Christmas Day would be better.
When we hung up the phone, that’s where it was left.

And then I got to thinking.
Then I got to praying. You know… that “conversation with God” stuff.
Then I got to the “oh… oh my,” part of eureka.

Richard Bott – the-guy-who-is-so-into-helping-people-develop-their-God-given-gifts-so-that-they-might-share-them-with-the-world – didn’t want to let go of the “biggest” (in attendance, at least) worship service.

I had “great idea – A” and “wowzer idea – B” already planned out. First of all, we would…

No. If I’m being honest, the best way for me to put it is – “First of all, I would…”

So. I picked up the phone, dialed N’s number and said, “You know… I’ve been thinking about it. What you shared with me would be extremely appropriate for Christmas Eve… and I’d be honoured if you would share it with the congregation.”

Learning, I am. Slowly… but… getting it.

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Longest Night

Its 6h47. The sun isn’t going to show itself until 7h47 – and will be crawling into bed at 16h44.

So, this afternoon, I’m going to gather with my colleague from the Anglican church, along with the 15 10-to-13-yr-olds in our Jr. Youth Group… and we’re going to go in search of a Christmas tree.

After we find said tree, we will remove it to my home, where lights, decorations, hot chocolate and munchies will await our combined pleasure.

For two weeks my family will enjoy the beauty of that tree, standing in the corner of our house. And when Advent-tide, Christmas-tide and Epiphany have passed, I will take that tree out back, remove its branches, and begin to prepare its wood for some kind of use.

I’m not sure what I’m going to do with it this year. Perhaps, after a bit of waiting, it might become a talking stick for the congregation. Some of our meetings have been moving away from the more traditional Bourneault’s Rules of Order (that’s the Canadian version for all of you Robert’s types *grin*).

On this, the shortest day of the year – and thus the longest night – may you find beauty in the darkness and truth in the light… and may all of the gifts the Divine has shared with you carry you, and the world, into a new dawn.

Blessings and peace, all.

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Ringing Phones and Wide Awakeness

At 4h17 my cellphone rang.

I keep that phone beside my bed – because its the emergency contact number for the church.

At 4h17 my cellphone rang. I threw my hand at it, knocking it to the floor, causing the battery to pop out and… ultimately… missing the call. So I quickly throw the battery back in, contact the voicemail number to see if a message has been left – nothing there. Then I call the church telephone, to see if a message has been left there. Can’t get the dratted machine to accept my passcode.

Lay in bed. Wait for another call.

Get out of bed. Wander around house.

Finally give up on even the concept of falling back asleep and head to the computer.

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Defining Torture

Over at the evangelical outpost an interesting discussion on Christianity and the use of torture is developing.

My favourite comment to this point is from a commenter – The Raven – who writes,

“First point: What is torture? Answer: Anything you wouldn’t want somebody to do to you or your kids. Simple enough? That means no forced nudity. That means no stress positions. It means treating your captives the same way you’d want them to treat anybody they capture from your side.
“B-b-b-but Raven!” you blubber, “These evil Islamofascists don’t treat their captives with respect, they saw off their heads and…”
Ohfergawdsake put a damned sock in it, wouldja? It doesn’t matter what they do to us. Don’t you get that? It doesn’t matter who they are or what they believe or how they behave. All that matters is who we are and how we act toward others. We define ourselves. That’s our responsibility.”


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Jordon Cooper, one of the two bloggers that I credit with me starting “looking back… looking forward” just announced a time of transition in ministry – he’s moving on from Lakeland Church, where he has been pastor for almost nine years.

Such a transition is never easy… I’m sure that this one will have its ups and downs as well.

He and his family will definitely be lifted in prayer by much of the blogging community.

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Sunday is A’ Comin’

and its going to be an exciting one!

Tomorrow morning, the congregation will gather and celebrate the fourth Sunday of Advent. I’m still not totally sure what is going to happen meditation-wise… though I keep coming back to an exploration of the various ways that Mary has been characterized comes to mind.

In the afternoon we have our first of five Christmas worship services. At 3pm, with readers from the congregation and community, and the voices of our choir, St. Marys UC will have a Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, in the tradition of King’s College Cambridge. It is something we started doing eight years ago… and – as much as I am into “experimental/innovative” aka “weird” worship, this service, with the scriptures from the “Authorized Version” and old English carols and hymns is my absolute favourite. (It may be because I tend to worship through music – and this is an hour and a half of wonderful sound.)

Then, at 5:30, various families – children, parents and grands – will come together for our monthly “Family Time – Together Time” potluck supper and child focused worship.

Yeah. It’s going to be a great day!

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Accountability. Stewardship

During my meditation time today, a thought kept buzzing back into my head. So I did the “realized I’ve moved away from centre, let the thought be, come back to my breathing thing”… so the thought wapped me a couple of more times. I finally said, “Ok – listen – if I promise to write a post about you tonight, will you let me be for fifteen more minutes?” It nodded and perched itself on my desk so I wouldn’t forget about it.

Its about being a good steward… and accountability of that stewardship.

Now, I’m not talking about a congregation’s “Stewards” – one of the decision making bodies (in some denominations). One way or another, they’re accountable to the congregation, to the denomination and… ultimately… to God.

I’m talking about me. About my stewardship of the gifts that God has given to me.
I’m talking about you. About your stewardship of the gifts that God has given to you.

That ultimate accountability – to God – is definitely still there.

I’m not sure (in my case, at least) that that accountability is good enough.

Sounds strange, doesn’t it.

Being accountable to God isn’t “good enough”.

But – for me – it isn’t. I need someone I trust, who will hold me to the baptismal covenant. I need someone I trust who will help me to look at those gifts God has given me… and asked that I share… and help me to see where I’m using them… and… even more importantly, where I’m not.

I need someone who will sit down with me, and go through my day planner… and ask me to explain how I am being a good steward of those seconds and minutes and hours and days that God has shared with me. (And I’m not talking about someone who will sit down and show me how I can be more productive… but someone who will look at the time and the energy and celebrate where I’ve ‘given God the grace’ – and help me to see when I’ve not.

I need someone who will help me to look at my relationships.

Let’s not even get into finances.

Wait a second. Let’s.

I need someone who will walk through my finances – not just the numbers – but how I use that gift of financial resources. I need someone who will challenge my scarcity mindset and help me to recognize the abundance I have… and the abundance that I need to share.

I need to be able to lay all those things out – not to boast – but for loving companionship and challenge and care.


But I’m from a tradition and culture that values personal privacy highly.

I’m from a tradition that has rules of “confidentiality” (when what is meant, really, is “secrecy”).

I’m from a tradition where, if you talk about how you’re using the gifts – or how you aren’t – its seen as boasting… shameful (and shame-able) behaviour.

I wonder if there are others in a similar place?

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A Congregation is Searching

For the past six-months, I’ve been working with the Joint Needs Assessment committee of a rural congregation about half an hour away from where I serve.

Their Needs Assessment was approved by Presbytery a couple of weeks ago – so I’m trying to get it out to minstry personnel in the UCCan who might be interested in working with them.

I’ve got to tell you – I’m really excited with the directions that this congregation is feeling itself called to move. Through the assessment process, they began to realize that a big chunk of their focus needs to be on young families who are only peripherally connected with the congregation right now.

This is a vibrant group of people. I’ve really enjoyed working with them

Check out their Joint Needs Assessment Report!

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It Takes Time

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been seeing a whole lot of things happening at St. Marys United Church. Things that I have hoped for – and prayed about.

A lot.

Things I’ve had to walk away from have returned.
Things I’ve had to let lie fallow have started to grow.

Things that I’ve been afraid to face have been facing me.

People are taking on the mantle of leadership.

Part of me is afraid that this is just a momentary blip.

But part of me believes, deeply, that something is going on here.

But it takes time. It takes being willing – not only to challenge – but to know when to shut up.

7 years, 3 months, 1 week… and more to come!

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A Prayer

You are great, O God!

Holy One –
you who are a part of all moments in life –
I lift up my prayer to you today…
for all who work for peace and justice –
remembering especially James, Harmeet, Norman and Tom.
I pray for their safe release.

You are great, O God!

I pray for their captors.
As they listen to many of Abraham’s children call to them,
may they hear that they are your beloved as well.
Help them to find a peaceful solution in this moment.

You are great, O God!

Divine Wisdom,
fill us all with your love and guidance.
Help us to work – wherever we are – for peaceful relations…
relations of understanding…
relations of hope.

You are great, O God!.


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Back In That Place

where most of my creative energy is focussed on the congregation.

Tomorrow, the congregation will be celebrating the life of a member of the congregation who died after illness. D. was a vital and life-filled woman… and many in the congregation and community are going to miss her. There will be a great deal of music in this service – five hymns and a soloist.

So I’m thinking about her.

On Sunday, the church school will be leading us in worship. One would think that this would make for a quiet Sunday for me. Ummm… no. *grin* I was asked to write the pagaent for this year. (Which was fun to do.) However, one of the kids with one of the two main speaking parts… can’t be here on Sunday. Soooo – I get to play a 10-year-old.

Not a problem. Some people think I stopped growing up around that time. So I’ve got lots of practice.

The thing is, this year, the Sunday School co-ordinator wanted everyone to memorize their lines. (I’m *much* more into readers’ theatre. *chuckle*) Oh, well… crib notes written on my arm will look just fine… won’t they?

I’ll be looking forward to Monday (and Tuesday) next week.

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asks a question.

Sorry… didn’t see the email!

So –

1) Have you been following the November 26th kidnapping of four members of Christian Peacemaker Teams – Iraq – Yes

2) Have you posted about the above event on your blog? Yes

3) Why/why not? Because of the nature of the hostage-taking… and because a member of CPT is in the congregation next door. He’s been to Iraq twice, and was expecting a third tour next month.

4) Anything you care to add? I found two things interesting – first, I didn’t post anything about it until after CPT had releasted the names of the hostages… and I’m not sure why. Perhaps the names made them more “real”? Second… there is a bit of fatigue setting in… not simply about this, but about the whole reality of Iraq and the western world’s complicity in what has happened.

I’m part of a prayer group who prays for hostages and their captors, and prays for the victims of this war, and their families – Iraqi, American, British, and prays for the leadership of all of the parties to this conflict.

As the numbers of dead continue to mount, it gets harder and harder to see faces instead of numbers.

That’s what I would have written in.

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“First We Mourn. Then We Work for Change.”

names of the women who were killed in the Montreal massacre

The mourning will be a part of us – always…
thus, with our mourning, we work for change.

For me, as a man, part of my task is to root out the sexism that is within me.
For me, as a man, part of my task is to challenge the sexism in my “fellows”.

As a man, I need to both say and show that violence against women is wrong.


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One Christmas Night

I wish I could tell you how it happened.

It certainly wasn’t my idea. I mean, I know that I’m known as being slightly “off-beat”… but even I, at my best (or worst, depending on your perspective) couldn’t have put together something like this.

Christmas Eve.
In a pretty typical Christian church.

You know – stained glass, dark wood, colourful wall hangings, and a creche; mingled in with Christmas lights, Christmas trees, and a whole lot of baubles and glitters.

And a load of people. The “regulars” mingled in with the “visitors” – with many of the empty spaces filled in by the “doin’ it for Gramma” folks. Looking out at them, I realized that I wasn’t particularly worried about why they were here… but I hoped – in the few minutes we had with them- that a bit… just a bit of the wonder and awe and love of the Christ moment would touch them. Maybe – I thought – mayby, this year – just for one second, someone in the congregation would get a glimpse of miracle.

Ah… who was I trying to kid? This year was going to be like all the other years.

Sing some carols.
Read the scriptures.
Wish a “Blessed Christmas”.
And wait for folks to start showing up for the late service.

Deep breath taken.

And… “Good evening. A warm welcome to each and every one of you, in the Name of Jesus the Christ! Take a moment to look around you. Do you see someone that you don’t recognize? Or, perhaps, someone who is back with us – from school, or visiting? Maybe…”

That’s when I heard it.

Jingling bells.

The crack of a whip, snapping in the air.

The thud of hooves, moving across a snow-packed surface.

And all of it… above my head.

Every head in the room swiveled up and back. Three-hundred or so pairs of eyes lifted up to the ceiling.
Three-hundred or so pairs of eyes, tracking the sound of footfalls as they moved across the roof.
Chins returning to ground level, as a shadow dropped from the top of the stained-glass wall to the bottom.

Those same chins bounced off the floor, as the door opened and…
in walked…
Santa Claus.

Red hat, puff-ball pom-pom.
Rosy cheeks. Glasses.
A “round little tummy, like a bowl full of jelly”.

You know… Santa Claus.

He came through the door, bag over his shoulder and – with a certain kind of majesty – walked down the aisle to the front of the church. When he got to the front, he looked at the choir, nodded to me… and gave a kind of a bow over to one side.

He looked at the congregation – children, elders, teens, and others.

Then he said, “Ho. Ho… ho.”
He didn’t laugh it.
He didn’t chuckle.
It was flat… like all of the emotion had been leached out of his voice.

And then I saw it.

A tear.
One tear.
One tear rolled down that wind-weathered cheek.

And then – roaring up from the depths of his soul – “WHAT HAVE YOU DONE TO ME?”

A thick, sound-sucking, silence.

Quieter… “What have you done to me? This isn’t who I am.”
One arm dropped from his red hat to his black, black boots.
This isn’t who I am.”

As he ripped off his hat and tossed it aside, he cried, “I am not a ‘jolly old elf’.”
As he pulled off his jacket and threw it away, he called out, “I am not ‘the Spirit of Christmas’.”

He stood there, in his shirtsleeves and jeans, looking at us as we looked back at him.

He reached into his bag, pulled out a white gown, and threw it over his shoulders.
He reached into his bag, pulled out a rope, and cinched it around his waist.
He reached into his bag, pulled out a mitre, and placed it on his head.
He reached – deep – into his bag, pulled out a crosier… and held it in his hand, standing tall and proud.

This is who I am.
Not that… that… characature!
just… a simple man.”

Sighing deeply, he continued, “Not Santa Claus… but Saint Nicholas… better yet – Bishop Nicholas – or, best of all, just plain Nicholas.

In my entire life, all I wanted to do was to share with those who were without, the gifts that God had given me.

Not become the patron to an orgy of ‘bigger and better’ and ‘more and more’.

Never that.”

For a time that seemed like a thousand nights compressed into a few seconds, he looked at us.

No. He looked at us.
At each of us.
In each of us.

He saw how we had fallen short… and he loved us anyway.

He closed his eyes for a moment. When he opened them, he whispered, “The only gift I ever wanted to bring to people isn’t even a gift of my own making.” He stopped – and then nodded. “Tonight… that is the gift I want to share with you.”

He reached deep into his bag… as he moved to stand, he cried out, “The Lord be with you!”

And placed a loaf and the cup on the table.

Then Nicholas… Bishop Nicholas… Saint ‘Claus… welcomed us to Christ’s table, to share in the feast of Remembrance.

To share in the Communion of our Lord.

His face to the heavens, with tears streaming down, he cried out, “The gifts of God, for the people of God.”

With one voice, we replied, “Thanks be to God!” and we came to the table, to receive The Gift from one of God’s Messangers.

We returned to our seats – heads bowed – eyes closed – deep in prayer.

When we looked up… he was…

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