Sunday, 25 January 2015

On the Merits of Liturgy and the Church Calendar

I've written about liturgy before. Here's another lovely take on it:
Liturgy, at its best, is more like the tracks of the train than the whistle. It’s silent and sturdy and, though almost unnoticed, it leads us to where our hearts long to go. In perhaps the most quoted address on liturgy, C.S. Lewis states, that liturgy is most useful “when, through long familiarity, we don’t have to think about it. As long as you notice, and have to count, the steps, you are not yet dancing but only learning to dance. A good shoe is a shoe you don’t notice. Good reading becomes possible when you need not consciously think about eyes, or light, or print, or spelling. The perfect church service would be one we were almost unaware of; our attention would have been on God.
…from Tish Harrison Warren, a priest in the Anglican Church in North America, in a piece on her discovery and appreciation for the church calendar in Christianity Today's excellent "Her.meneutics" here.

Liturgy's trustworthy tracks, along with the church calendar, keep our worship and personal devotions on course as, year after year, they carry us along through the story of Jesus from Advent through Easter and a focus on discipleship for the rest of the year. The accompanying lectionary ensures that we are all, including preachers, at least exposed to themes with which we might not otherwise be inclined to engage.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Meeting Together

Church. The best place In the world to consider how to stir one another up to
  • love 
  • good works
  • not neglect to meet together
  • encourage one another
…all the more. (Heb 10.24-25)

Sunday, 18 January 2015

One Side to the Other: New Beginnings and Thoughts on Worship

This morning the missal stand (which holds the big prayer book at a convenient angle from which to read on the altar) had been moved from one side of the altar to the other at StB. I noticed it as soon as I settled into my pew. 'Tis an outward and visible sign of the fact that we now have a new presider. This next stage of our journey to meet Jesus when he comes again has begun. Our new and very welcome priest, The Rev Dr Dustin Resch, now has the con. This morning he presided and preached (praught?) for the first time. It was grand. 

Keep Calm and Worship On

Here are some thoughts and discoveries about worshipping on the other side of the rood screen (supposing we had one) from that most peculiar and sometime irksome personage; the previous rector. These have been bubbling up and mouldering as Jude and I wandered at first without benefit of flock in the early months of retirement and more recently when it felt right to return to StB.

All Circumstances

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thessalonians 5:16–18 ESV)
What we Anglicans (and Roman Catholics and most Lutherans, too) do most Sundays is celebrate Eucharist (more on that later). The word comes from the Greek word for thanksgiving. As as lover, follower and worshipper of the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ I ought to be able to give worshipful thanks for what God has done, is doing and will do, in all circumstances—especially on Sunday mornings at church no matter where I am, who is presiding, how loud the children are, whether or not I like the music, or denominational peculiarities, or style, or the people up front, or around me. This was impressed upon me especially during our wanderings. I was reminded that I have a job to do among God's people at worship wherever I go. My job is to apply myself to the task, or the work, in liturgical terms (the word liturgy means work of the people) allowing nothing to distract me. In all circumstances. It is my responsibility. If I let some real or imagined failing of a leader or anyone else deflect me, the devil wins. If something bothers me, I just have to work harder. Sure, my mind wanders. Less often than it used to, perhaps. If it does, I just catch myself and refocus on what's being said, sung and prayed. Over and over again, as necessary.

Bible Delight

I love the Bible. I love the way we hear three passages read aloud every Sunday. I believe God's written Word read out loud gradually salts us through and through so it will not return to Him empty. It will succeed in the thing for which He sent it (Isa 55.11). 

When I led worship from the other side of the rood screen, I used to encourage people to bring their Bibles to church so they could follow the readings. I thought that doing that helps us learn where things are in there. I used to feel a little impatient with people because most didn't. On this side of the screen I find myself repenting of that. I find that I don't want to read along as the passages are read, I'm enjoying listening to them. I have to concentrate. My monkey-mind can head off on tangents very easily. But I find watching the face of the reader helpful in listening deeply. I've seen some folk close their eyes to listen, but I find the watching helpful for some reason. 

I still have my Bible handy in some form in case I need to look at a phrase or a verse more closely and I think daily Bible reading in the context of The Daily Office (Morning and Evening Prayer) is important to help keep my faith and spiritual self alive, but Sunday listening has been the thing for me—somewhat to my surprise.

Worship in Song

Sometimes when I don't know a song I'm tempted to zone out and wait until it's over. But if All Circumstances above is valid, there are several ways I can be a part of the worship at all times. For example: 
  1. I can silently pray the lyrics as those who know the song sing
  2. I can harmonize by quietly singing or reciting appropriate Bible verses, for example, "How glorious you are, more majestic than the everlasting mountains!" (Ps 76.4) or "Be exalted O Lord above the heavens, let your glory be over all the earth!" (Ps 57.11) or I can pray "Glory to the Father, and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end!" Watch for verses you can use in this way in your daily Bible reading. 
  3. I can harmonize by singing in the Spirit as I pray in tongues (1 Cor 12.10) if I have that gift.
There is no reason why I should allow myself to be left out of the worship whether I know the song or not or how well it is led.

Making Eucharist

I love the drama of the Lord's Table. The story of our salvation is told Sunday after Sunday. The bread and the wine are presented, prepared and prayed over. The Lord is remembered until he comes again. I enjoyed presiding, but I also now love being a part of the parade of humanity that goes up to receive what Jesus has provided; old and young, male and female, all shapes and sizes, Sunday by Sunday; we approach, receive and return; a graceful altar call and response. I miss it whenever we're away, but I can still worship when I put my mind to it. 

The most important thing is that the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is worshipped and enjoyed in the power of the Holy Spirit no matter what and in all circumstances. 

It is SO good to be home.

Monday, 22 December 2014

The Anglican Communion's Inter-Anglican Standing Commission on Unity, Faith and Order Has Urged The Anglican Church of Canada Not to Amend Its Marriage Canon

Something of which we Anglicans need to be aware:
The Inter-Anglican Standing Commission on Unity, Faith and Order (IASCUFO) has urged the Anglican Church of Canada not to amend its marriage canon (church law) to allow the marriage of same-sex couples, saying such a move would “cause great distress for the Communion as a whole, and for its ecumenical relationships.” 
The IASCUFO’s statement came in response to a request from the Canadian church’s Commission on the Marriage Canon for an opinion about proposed changes to Canon 21 that would allow for same-sex marriages. Canon Kenneth Kearon, secretary general of the Anglican Communion, decided IASCUFO would be the “most appropriate” body within the Communion to deal with such a question. (See more here.)
Back in September I posted some information on The Anglican Church of Canada's Commission on the Marriage Canon to which IASCUFO refers. That post included a link to the more than two hundred submissions received by the Commission (including my own) here.

Please pray that the Holy Spirit's direction would be clearly heard and obeyed concerning this difficult and divisive matter and that The Anglican Church of Canada will respond humbly and wisely.

Sunday, 21 December 2014

"Who by Fire": a Novel by Fred Stenson—a Biased Review

I like the bon mot and the turn of phrase that's just so. There are always some tasty ones in Fred Stenson's books. Who By Fire is no exception. I've read them all. I still remember his grass baked to a "thirsty tan" in The Trade (I know exactly what that looks like, that's exactly what it's baked to in Medicine Hat by mid summer). Here are some of my Who by Fire favourites, with some biased-by-friendship thoughts and memories attached, in a bit of a stream of consciousness review.

A work dynamics expert dropped by weekly with a box of doughnuts, from which they fed like a peewee hockey team. (p30—page numbers from the Kindle version)
Fred and I began our friendship while feeding at Denny’s on 16th near Calgary's Foothills Hospital in the August of 1980. We’d just been hired by ACCESS Television—he as a writer, me as a Producer/Director—a bit of a peewee production team of two at the time. Our boss was on holiday for the month so we had nothing much to do except enjoy long lunches and conversations together over Pattie Melts. Those conversations included stories of his childhood on the Stenson family farm near Pincher Creek. I could hear the echoes in Who by Fire. 

Fred also fed on pancakes at Phil's for his writing at the time—longhand in black ink from fibre tipped pens in school exercise books. I don't know where and how he does it now but I'm pretty sure keys are involved.

To earn his daily bread, in addition to his television and fiction writing, Fred also did a fair amount of work for the oil patch. I remember being impressed that he would abandon his more casual, television writer attire to suit-up, tie and all, for his meetings with those clients. I can see the grist those days provided for the Who by Fire oil and gas industry story mill.

The engine kicked off easily but he sat for a while in sympathy for the engine parts, beating in their taffy. 33
Fred and I had a taffy moment or two in our collaborations. Times when clients weren't as impressed by our capabilities as we were. Times when making television programs felt like running through molasses.

I ached for Who by Fire characters Ella and Tom and their children as their relationships beat in the taffy of the circumstances Fred describes so well.

Behind the bar, a guy with a face like an open wrench was yelling. 36 
On the street outside, the air was so cold it breathed like metal. 38
Who by Fire is about what happens to ordinary people and their relationships when they are subjected to an open wrench faced industry producing air that breathed like metal.

I happened to read Who by Fire during Advent. The Daily Office readings of the season can be dark and full of the cries of prophets with the Biblical version of open-wrench faces and metal-breathed judgement. This verse caught my eye one morning:
For a burning place has long been prepared; indeed, for the king it is made ready, its pyre made deep and wide, with fire and wood in abundance; the breath of the Lord, like a stream of sulfur, kindles it. (Is 30.33)
Sulphur features heavily Who by Fire. Not that I'm suggesting that sour gas plants are necessarily an expression of God's judgement, but when humans, including oil and gas people, break bad the breaking can be very bad indeed. The Bible calls that kind of breaking "sin." We moderns don't much like the word any more, but acknowledging sin and putting it right is what makes guilt that leads to reconciliation a good thing.
Speaking of guilt and reconciliation, I appreciate the way Fred portrayed the Catholic Church in this book. As an almost Catholic cleric (we Anglicans are Catholic but just not Roman) I am somewhat sensitive to how she is portrayed. Many writers, both print and media, succumb to the temptation to take the cheap shot. Fred's treatment is fair, realistic and respectful.

The stream sluiced along below him, brown with its burdens. 325
Any novel or work of art comes brown with the burdens of history and the life of the artist. Who by Fire is its own such tea. There was even a reference to Moby Dick in thereBill's sister, Donna, appears at his door unexpectedly and tells him he looks like Queequeg. That made me smile because way upstream and many years ago I can remember Fred announcing he'd read somewhere that a writer can learn deep things from reading a particular classic over and over again giving it a chance to get into his bones. At one time Moby Dick was the classic for Fred. I wondered if the reference is because of it.

The wind started up in the night and blew fiercely. Morning arrived with a bend in it. On days like this along the mountain flanks, things blew down and things blew up. School buses fell over sideways. Roofs de-shingled themselves like a card trick. Sometimes people went crazy and did things they would never have done otherwise. 330
Fred grew up in that wind. It blows him along still. Who by Fire is evidence of that and a good read.

UPDATE: my calendar has just reminded me that it's Fred's birthday today!!

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Preaching on Christmas Eve

This year, for the first Christmas Eve in twenty-four, I'm not preparing an homily for worship. As the years I was preparing one went on I remember wondering to myself, with varying degrees of anxiety, what on earth I could possibly say that would be new and fresh and engaging about the same story from the same readings to a church full of exhausted parents wrangling kids and relatives or were there out of sufferance for mum's or granny's sake. And how could I reach the people I saw in the pews only once a year (or twice if they were full C and E's) and for whom I secretly harboured the hope that that year I would finally nail them with the brilliant and incontrovertible observation that would finally cause the light of incandescent, church-going faith to come on?

The Year I Dried

One year, at St Francis, Airdrie, I dried. I stepped into the pulpit, looked at my notes, found that I had somehow, with my own hand, written them in a strange language which made no sense at all to my fevered Christmas Evish eyes. I'm not sure whether that was the year when the acolyte fainted, full-length, like a felled Christmas tree, beside the altar because of too much inhaling of the blue fog of experimental incense that hung over us all. No matter, after she had been removed (if that was, indeed, the same year), there I stood, struck dumb before the waiting, expectant, albeit writhing throng. No-more-shopping-days-left, no more time to prepare and, alas, no more coherent synapses twinkling in my sugar-plummed mind. Desperate, I stammered something out about how could I possibly add anything useful to what we had already heard in the Scriptures and the worship so far and stumbled back to the table to continue with the Eucharist. The rest of the service was a blur as I imagined a delegation from the Vestry petitioning the Bishop to have me moved on to some ministry far removed from having anything to do with people and important events such as Christmas Eve. But then, after the service, no one seemed to have noticed my public homiletic nakedness, some even thought it was profound. Sigh.

Some Things I Learned About Preaching on Christmas Eve

  1. Tell them about Jesus.
  2. It's not entirely up to me. See above…
  3. Put it all on paper or on the iPad screen. Always write my Christmas Eve (and Easter) homily or sermon out. For me, the season is too fraught for attempts at extemporaneous cleverness. 
  4. Keep it simple. Most people in the room, especially those with kids, are seriously distracted. 
  5. Keep it short. See above…
  6. Encouragement is better than guilt. That they are there at all is a wonder these days. Try and make them feel welcome—welcomed home.  
  7. Tell them about Jesus.

Some Christmas Eve Attempts That Did Get Delivered 

I can't remember why I didn't post 2009 and 2010—maybe I didn't like them.


(Not Really) A Sermon for Christmas Eve: What Would Jesus Say?


A Sermon for Christmas Eve: with reference to Isaiah 62.6-12, Titus 3.4-7 and Luke 2.1-20


What If God Loves You?: a Short Sermon for Christmas Eve - with Reference to Isa 9:2-7, Titus 2:11-14 and Luke 2:1-20


Registration: a Christmas Eve Homily with reference to Luke 2:1-7


Jesus and Why You and I Are Here Tonight: a Short Homily for Christmas Eve

Saturday, 22 November 2014

On Jesus Being The Way, The Truth and The Life: a Funeral Homily for Olive Burles with reference to John 14.1-6

JESUS Christ, and him risen from the dead, is the way, the truth and the life of what I have to say to you this afternoon.

Jesus is the way in to our celebrating Olive's life because by him, all things were created in heaven and earth, visible and  invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers of authorities—or Olive Burles, or you and I—all things were created through him and for him. And I'm fascinated by the way it was the tragic and sinful tangle of thrones, dominions, rulers and authorities resulting in the Second World War also caused Olive, and so many other young women (including my mother), to meet, fall in love with and cross the seas to wed or raise families with young men from other countries. Amazing and courageous behaviour in the days when you couldn't just jump on a plane for a cheap flight home if you were homesick. Yet that was the way of it those days and Jesus was involved with all of them, whether they knew and acknowledged it, or not. His way was, and is, always to love; Olive, my mother, all their husbands and kids; all of us; always inviting us closer, never forcing, but always there offering a way, the only way, of getting out from under the sin and sorrow and darkness and death that life brings, alive. That is His way. And His is also the only way to one of those rooms in His Father’s house. I am the way, Jesus said, take it; take me.

Jesus is also the truth; The One who gives real meaning and hope to anything I, or anyone else, could ever say on an occasion such as this. Even though we all have kind and wise family members and friends who provide comfort and help, Jesus provides something more; a unique and trustworthy frame-work made up of divine, yet practical, teaching and the example of a selfless life which light our way as we go through the joys and sorrows and mysteries of life and death. Jesus is the truth in which we decide to believe, or not. For example, I can decide to believe that it is true that Olive was created through him and for him; that it is true that Jesus died on the cross and was raised from the dead; that he went on ahead to places for Olive and you and me (if we want one) and that Jesus is the only way to one of those rooms in His Father’s house. There is no other system of belief or code of behaviour that can get us there. Jesus is the truth and the truth sets us free (John 8.32). I am the truth, Jesus said, believe in it, believe in me.

And Jesus said he is the life. “I have come that you may have life," Jesus also says, "and have it abundantly“(John 10.10). “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, Jesus, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3.16). That’s where the way and the truth that Jesus is takes us. To abundant and eternal life. I am the life Jesus said, live in me.

But “Lord, we don’t know where you are going,” said Thomas, “so how can we know the way?” (John 14.5) That’s true for most of us at some level or other at some time in our lives; perhaps especially when we come face to face with the reality of death. If Jesus is the way, how do I find it and get on it? That’s where the leap of faith comes in. Olive took one when she decided to risk leaving home and all that was familiar to marry Clarence and start a new life in Canada. She also would have had to take a leap of faith into Jesus at some stage in her life, just as you and I must do, when we decide to believe in God and believe also in Jesus (John 6.1); that Jesus is the Son of God, sent to save us from sin and death, that he has gone on ahead to prepare places for us in His Father’s heavenly home (if we want them enough to believe it’s true) and that when our time has come He will come back and take us to be with Him that we also may be where He is. And that, wonder of wonders, The Way, The Truth and The Life is, indeed, our risen Saviour and Lord, Jesus.