Saturday, 29 August 2015

Raanujärvi - Luukonniemi, Finland Noir

Just returned to Helskinki after a wonderful weekend north of the Arctic Circle in Lapland where, with Jude's sister Eleanor and her husband Dave we enjoyed a delightful Finnishing school under the most hospitable tutelage of Lasse and Marja-Leena Niemi. We experienced friendship, sauna (both smoking and non), reindeer and other Finnish culinary delights. 

Saturday, 22 August 2015

You Get the Stars Thrown In: By the Way for the Medicine Hat News

This November I get to join a very talented and lively intergenerational group of Hatters in Medicine Hat Firehall Theatre’s production of Mary Poppins. I’ve never seen a stage production of it. Like most people I saw the Julie Andrews movie aeons ago. It would be easy to think of it as a rather frothy, frivolous tale if wasn’t for the more recent 2013 movie Saving Mr Banks starring Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson which includes something of the story of Mary Poppins author PL Travers’ complicated and sad relationship with her own father.

Also, as I’ve burrowed into the script to ready myself for rehearsals, underneath the fun and fantasy I’ve discovered a rather moving story of delivery from a repressed, joyless past, thwarted dreams and cold, calculating materialism to new life-giving relationships as Mr Banks rediscovers what really matters in life, especially Winifred, his wife, and Jane and Michael, their children.

These words from the finale capture something of Mr Banks’ transformation and resonate for me in my own life and as a follower of Jesus: “If you reach for the stars, all you get are the stars, but…If you reach for the heavens, you get the stars thrown in.”

Peter Kreeft, professor of philosophy at Boston College and a noted Catholic apologist and philosopher, once wrote: “In an age of hope men and women looked up at the night sky and saw “the heavens." In an age of hopelessness they call it simply “space.” What was once the heavens inhabited by God and the Angels is, for many, now simply space; full of stars, even fascinating, but an endless, lifeless vacuum. That to which humanity once looked for direction; the Magi, for instance, who followed a star to the Christ Child; is now just space.

When the heavens become simply space in those areas of our lives where we most need hope and guidance, we are the poorer for it. In Mary Poppins Mr Banks is delivered from his joyless, cold, hopeless space full of nothing but numbers when he learns to reach for a hope-filled heavens where he can learn to love his family again.

Jesus entered the world’s stage to do the same for you and me. He came to re-enchant our world and deliver us from the hopelessness, sin and death of simply space. Jesus is the way to reach for the rich, hope-filled Heavenly joys of loving relationships with God and one another—and we get the stars thrown in.

(Mary Poppins runs November 20, 21, 26, 27 and 28th at the Esplanade. Tickets are on sale now.)

Monday, 17 August 2015

Decline or Renewal in the West?

Some sobering stats including the graph above and an interesting read at the Church Growth Modelling blog here. I wonder where the Anglican Church of Canada would fall on the chart.

Interesting thoughts on the matter in a different post on the same blog where the writer wonders why the Church of England's decline is less precipitous including this:
Of the four denominations the C of E has been influenced more by Charismatic Renewal than the others, despite the “Renewal” starting with a US clergyman [10]. Additionally The C of E’s expression of charismatic renewal has also  been more evangelical, including a revival in expository preaching. Perhaps the C of E has been more open to revival than the others. (The rest here)
Something that blesses my Anglican Renewal Ministries heart and something for which to pray—that the Anglican Church of Canada would be not only influenced by Charismatic Renewal, but thoroughly refreshed and revived by it. Oh, yes!

Saturday, 18 July 2015

The Secondary Waltz

Apple Music delivered up one of my favourite Mark Knopfler tunes the other morning—Secondary Waltz. I love the line, "Waltzing with fear in our hearts," and the impending "final manoeuvres," "heads awhirl" as D-day approached when "we're going to do it with girls." Actually, I got to do my learning with girls—co-ed school, a most uncomfortable experience, especially when we just got who we got as a partner.

Every time I hear it I am transported more than fifty years back in time and half a world away to school dances at Kuranui College in Greytown, New Zealand. The legendary Sam Meads was the Headmaster. Our disgrace wasn't so much the waltz, as it was the Gay Gordons. To begin, Sam would use his best parade ground voice to get us onto the dance floor and into position in the circle—was it by form (or grade for you Canadians)?—it seems like something he would do. And there we would all stand, not necessarily with a girl with whom we really wanted to dance, or who wanted to dance with us, while Sam's voice and temperature rose and the veins stood out on his forehead. Romantic, it was not. It was more "one, two, three, two, two" we were "all a disgrace," but eventually we'd all be in place, more or less, the music would start and off we'd go around and around, from one girl to another. Some were a secret delight because I knew I'd never get to dance with her for a whole dance, having asked, so I'd revel in the brief steps and twirl before moving on to the next. 

Speaking of whole dances and the asking—"May I have the pleasure of this dance?" was the standard expression we were taught. This after that agonizingly long and exposed walk across the gym from where all the boys sat against the wall, to the opposite one where all the girls—those most mysterious and delightful creatures—sat. They were supposed never to refuse, but some did, which meant an even more agonizing return across that vast gym floor. I know there were matching agonies of being asked, and not, on the other side of the gym. Ah, adolescence. It's a wonder any of us came out of it anywhere near normal. Perhaps I didn't. 

Friday, 17 July 2015

Trusting: a Short Funeral Homily with Reference to Revelation 21.1-7, Psalm 139 and John 14.1-6—for Carmen Codding

Jesus tells his disciples not to let their hearts be troubled at times like this in our gospel reading from John (John 14.1). Right. How on earth are we supposed to do that! How can we not be troubled when Carmen, and others that we’ve known, suffer and die too young, too soon, and especially, with Carmen, when she served God with such energy and passion for so long. Surely people like Carmen should be healed when we pray for them, should have been spared. Troubled is, perhaps, not a strong enough word for what Ed, their family and many of us are feeling right now. Some of us are downright, insert expletive here, angry.

So let’s dig a little deeper into what Jesus said and see if there’s anything that could help us not to be so troubled. Jesus said that to his disciples because he knew how grief-stricken, bereft and angry they’d be after he’d been arrested on jumped-up charges, tried in a kangaroo-court, and executed. He knew they’d be feeling something like we do and he loved them and wanted to help, comfort and encourage them.

So don’t let your hearts be troubled (John 14.1), he said, instead, “Trust in God; trust also in me.” (John 14.1) What exactly would we be trusting in if we decided to do that?

We’d be trusting that Jesus was telling the truth when he said there are many rooms in my Father’s house (John 14.2). It is a big, warm, comfortable, welcoming house to which Jesus says he has gone on ahead to prepare places for those who wish to join him (John 14.2). The house where God, himself, the Father of our LORD Jesus Christ, will have made everything new (Rev 21.5), as we heard in the reading from Revelation, and will live with his people, people like Carmen (and you and me, if we want) in a new way, where very tear will be wiped from our eyes, there will be no more death, no more mourning, no more crying, no more pain (Rev 21.4).

We’d be trusting that, as bad as we may be feeling just now, there is a being, a perfect Father, a God who, as King David wrote in our reading from Psalm 139, knitted Carman, each one of you, and me together in our mother’s wombs, all fearfully and wonderfully made, each of us one of his unique, wonderful works (v14), of infinite value, and never hidden from God from before we were born, through all the days ordained for us and written in God’s book even before any of them came to be (v16), and all the way to the grave. Your knowledge, King David wrote, of Carmen, of each one of you, and me, is too deep. It is beyond understanding. O God, how difficult we find your thoughts. How many of the them there are. We don't understand all of them. We don't agree with many of them. And we have to suffer losses like this. We have to see loved ones and friends in pain and we can't fix them or make it go away. It hurts and we wish we could escape, run away. We'd like to just go to sleep or take something so we can skip all the pain and anguish. But even if we could do that, David writes, when we awake, and wherever we try and hide, we are still with You.

The Father of our Lord Jesus Christ was present with Carmen when she finally went to sleep at St Joseph’s, whether she or Ed or anyone else felt it, or not, and he was present when she awoke in his house now completely and unassailably, out of harm's way. Think of it: Carmen went to sleep a sick, tired, weakened woman and when she awoke, an instant after, she was still, and even more wonderfully, with God, himself, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, with angels and all the host of heaven—and the laughter level went up, no doubt.

But still it hurts.

Trust in God? Trust also in Jesus? We trusted and look what happened! Some of you might have a question something like we heard from Thomas in John’s gospel reading: “Lord, we don’t know where Carmen is and why she had to go there at this time, and not only that, we don’t know where you went, so how can we know the way?” (John 14.5) To which, I believe—so did Carmen and so does Ed—Jesus still replies, “I am.” If you want to get out of this life alive. The only way is through me. I look after the reservations for those rooms in my Father’s heavenly home. I’m easier to find than you might think.

How do we find Jesus? Well, we could follow Carmen’s example in life. She knew the way. So does Ed. Carmen knew where Jesus is to be found. In His church; yes, the one full of hypocrites and sinners just like this one, and also, and more importantly, people like Carmen and Ed Codding. Jesus is also found in the Bible and in the people, like Carmen and Ed, who follow Him. To explore The Way, The Truth and The Life Jesus represents would be a good way to honour Carmen’s memory.

Let’s pray:
Lord Jesus, you claim to be the way, the truth, and the life. If what you claim is true, please guide me, teach me,  and open to me the reality of who you are. Give me an understanding that is coherent, convincing, and leads to the life that you promise.

Monday, 29 June 2015

Some High Def on St Peter and St Paul, Apostles, Day

Thanks to The Prayer Book Society of Canada
Today started with several disturbing reminders that my Christian faith, worship and living are so not about me feeling comfortable and content. Sigh.

It’s the Feast of St Peter and Paul, Apostles (HD) says the church calendar. That HD does not stand for High Definition, by the way, it means Holy Day. Mind you, a little higher definition probably wouldn’t hurt this comfortable retired guy’s perception of reality just now. So here are some uncomfortably high definition shots for the day:


In my Fellowship of St James Summer 2015 - The Devotional Guide notes for the day, Patrick Henry Reardon points out how this is a double feast day because these two apostles are “linked in a special way by their martyrdoms in Rome.” He adds that Peter’s wife was also martyred and that Peter was a witness to it. I did not know that. How awful.


In one of the Devotional Guide lectionary readings Jesus is telling Ananias that he wanted him to go and lay hands on Saul, “For I will show him,” not how famous he was to be and that he would write most of the New Testament and how amazing signs and wonders would be done through him, but “how much he must suffer for the sake of my name” (Acts 9.16 ESV). No seeker-friendly pitch there.

Hudson Taylor

This morning I shared this Facebook post from my friend John Rye:
150 years ago this weekend, Hudson Taylor was walking on the stony beach at Brighton, south of London, when he decided that God was calling him to set up the China Inland Mission, now Overseas Missionary Fellowship. This differed from other Victorian missionary societies in making its needs known by prayer alone (no appeals for funds), by adopting local dress and culture as much as possible (no ties in school), by being headquartered in a Chinese city, not London,(currently Singapore), by being non-denominational, and by not accepting compensation from the Opium trade (which it consistently denounced) or from colonial treaties ( ie it ministered in places away from military protection). It is best known in the secular world as the mission which Eric Lidell, the runner in 'Chariots of Fire' was a part of until his death in 1945.
Peter Passchier, who serves in Thailand with Overseas Missionary Fellowship along with Kelly, his wife (and erstwhile parishioner at StB), and three small children, commented that he had been particularly moved by Hudson Taylor’s story when he read how Taylor was “unable to bear the sight of a congregation of a thousand or more Christian people rejoicing in their own security, while millions were perishing for lack of knowledge.”

Suffering, martyrdom, security, rejoicing and lack of knowledge. They continue. In high definition video these days.

LORD, have mercy!

Saturday, 27 June 2015

On Being (Quietly) Charismatic

The following was published in the Summer 2015 issue of the Anglican Renewal Ministries magazine, Anglicans for Renewal. Subscriptions available here.

Hi, my name is Gene and I’m a charismatic. I’m not a very loud one. Pretty quiet, actually. I’ve not shouted, rolled (as in Holy), shaken or stomach-crunched yet.

A few people have been blessed, a couple even healed when I’ve prayed for them. Quietly. No sparks or gold dust. Hardly anyone seems to have noticed, which is probably a good thing.

The LORD gave me the gift of tongues—a prayer language. Nobody has come up to me and said, “I didn’t know you could speak Mandarin (or Thai, or Hungarian or whatever)” yet, but I know it’s real because after being prayed for many times and trying to make noises myself all of a sudden one day it just took off with a fluency that surprised me. Again, no lightning or spectacular manifestations, just a switch thrown somewhere in my spirit or soul or heart and off I went. It took about two years of praying with various degrees of intensity for that particular gift until that switch was turned on. Reading Dennis Bennet’s Nine O’Clock in the Morning was what really got me going on it. But I know that the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ touched me with the power of the Holy Spirit. Amazing. A reminder for me when doubts assail.

I’ve been “slain in the Spirit” a couple of times. Gently and quietly. I could have remained standing. I felt a weight pressing down through me—the weight of glory someone said. I found myself swaying and let go to fall back as if into pillows, but I’ve not yet experienced going down involuntarily as if shot. I’ve seen it but I haven’t had it happen to me yet.

The LORD also gave me some prophetic gifting; the 1 Corinthians 14.3 strengthening,  encouraging and comforting kind. I’m certainly not a capital P Prophet. Nobody is today, in my opinion. Nobody carries the office, but many people exercise the 1 Corinthians 12.10 and 14.1-5 gift. Every now and then somehow the Holy Spirit puts things into to my mind that I could not know about the person for whom I am praying and it blesses them because they know I couldn’t have known and their faith grows because they realize that God does know what’s going on their lives and cares for them. It’s amazing to be a part of God doing that.

My priest used to say we’ve drifted away from believing that God can or will really act these days and that the Holy Spirit has been lost in the ecclesiastical shuffle somehow. Today’s Holy Trinity is God, the Father, God, the Son, and God, the silent partner. One of the reasons that has happened is fear, I suspect. People are afraid of extremes—people falling over, or laughing, or shaking, or saying, “Thus saith the Lord!” Some feel left out when nothing seems to happen to, or around, them when they pray, so they give up. Some feel criticized or abused by over-enthusiastic charismatics or people who have got charismatic things just plain wrong. The trouble is that all of church, charismatic or not, includes a fair dose of the world, the flesh and the devil. There will always be unhelpful disturbing behaviour.

Despite it all, however, the Holy Spirit is a major player in the Scriptures and in the Church. From his first creation appearance in the second verse of the whole Bible, to his last mention in the fifth to last verse, the Holy Spirit blows throughout and continues to do so. Most often he is a gentle, barely perceptible breeze, these days it seems, yet every now and then he blows things over and sets the church bounding across the waves.

So, my name is Gene and I’m a charismatic retired Anglican priest. I’ve not experienced anything that has been particularly spectacular. I suspect that’s because The LORD knows only too well how easily I could get full of myself. But I believe in it. I believe in it all. I believe that without the power and the gifts of the Holy Spirit working in me, I can do nothing worthwhile. I believe that Jesus still miraculously heals and changes lives. I wish he would do it more often in ways that I can see, but that’s up to him. I believe that people really are strengthened, encouraged and comforted by ordinary Christians exercising the spiritual gifts God has given. I believe that every now and then God still even raises people from the dead. I haven’t seen it myself, but I’ve read about it. I believe in revival and hope to see another one soon—especially in the Anglican church. And that’s why I serve on the Anglican Renewal Ministries board and write for this magazine.

UPDATE: since this article was published in the magazine a couple of good folk have taken me to task over what I've written above about the office of Prophet with a capital P. Citing passages such as 1 Cor 12.28, Eph 4.11 and others they believe there are still Christian prophets and a prophetic ministry operating today  I have to confess that I had missed these rather obvious references to there being an active Christian prophetic ministry in addition to the gift. I agree that some people do exercise the ministry today. It would have been better if I'd included that, but I'm still uncomfortable with the idea of a capital P Prophet as an office in today's Church.