As you write your Christmas cards….

And whilst pondering the fall of Aleppo……

 

He takes such small steps

To express our longings.

Thank you, Schubert.

 

How many hours

Do I sit here

Aching to do

 

What I do not do

When, suddenly,

He throws a single note

 

Higher than the others

So that I feel

The green field of hope,

 

And then, descending,

All this world’s sorrow,

So deadly, so beautiful.

 

 

Mary Oliver

 

So, what happens next?

So, what happens next?

We’ve had a week to begin to absorb the results of the US elections. Like a stone thrown into the middle of a pond, ripples of concern are moving outward. What will happen around climate change, trade, international relations, basic human rights? The feeling of having been robbed of the promise of a secure future isn’t restricted to residents of the US “rust belt”. Will the alt-right* movement in the US and Europe continue to grow as the only seemingly viable expression of disillusion? My European roots make the potential impact on it of a Putin/Trump alliance particularly significant: what about the people of Latvia, the country to which I feel viscerally bound? Tobias Stone’s blog “History tells us what may happen next with Brexit and Trump”** felt like a giant boulder being thrown into the middle of that pond.

We can’t predict what will happen next. Hoping it will all go away and grabbing a handful of popcorn as we watch yet another hour of comfort TV isn’t really an option, other than increasing the possibility of developing type 2 diabetes. The populist response in the tabloids and alt-right driven social media will not help build a more just society, nor will pretending there is no such thing as climate change when scientists tell us the last two years have been the hottest in recorded history.

One of the fundamental premises of the Christian message is that we are all connected one to another. It’s not only the solitary butterfly fluttering its wings in the Amazon rainforest that echoes across the planet, but our thoughts and actions, too. There is an intricate web of reciprocity that we all depend on for our existence; it can enrich our lives and the lives of others as well. It’s called love of neighbour: respecting each person’s worth, valuing the labour and needs of others, being available.

Another is the one in the Magnificat, Mary’s song of praise when she becomes aware she is carrying the saviour of the world within her womb:

            You [God] have shown strength with your arm,

            you have scattered the proud in their conceit;

            you have deposed the mighty from their thrones

            and raised the lowly to high places.

            You have filled the hungry with good things,

            while you have sent the rich away empty. (Luke 1:51-53. The Inclusive Bible)

The principles of fairness and equity, of justice and mutual support are God-like. The message that Jesus conveys in word and action reflect this. The call of the Christian message is to help build this into the fabric of society.

Be it the safety-pin you put in your lapel, the support shown to someone experiencing bigotry in a public place. Be it the respect shown to staff when those who manage companies recognize their primary responsibility is less to shareholders and their own bank-balance than the well-being of their employees, and their families. Be it the shareholders and stakeholders who affirm their critical role in ensuring the health of the planet, everyone builds a healthy society in a healthy world.

The Christian message isn’t just words, it’s a way of life. For everyone.

 

Ilze

 

*https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alt-right

**https://medium.com/@theonlytoby/history-tells-us-what-will-happen-next-with-brexit-trump-a3fefd154714#.169cg1y26

View at Medium.com

View at Medium.com

 

 

 

 

Stupid Phrases for People in Crisis

A very worthwhile read. Cliches seem to be all about feeling out of your depth in the face of someone’s pain and feeling the need to say something. But this is not a time to reassure us in our sense of helplessness! Marilyn’s suggestions for how to respond, listed at the bottom of her blog, are very worthwhile.

Marilyn R. Gardner

crisis

  1. God will never give you more than you can handle. While some may believe it is theologically correct, depending on your definitions, it is singularly unhelpful to the person who is neck-deep in a crisis, trying to swim against a Tsunami. A wonderful phrase recently came from Support for Special Needs. They suggest changing this from “God will never give you more than you can handle” to “Let me come over and help you do some laundry.” This strikes me as even more theologically correct.
  2. It gets better. Yes, yes it does. But right then, it’s not better. And before it gets better, it may get way worse.
  3. When God shuts a door, he opens a window. Maybe, but maybe not. Maybe he just shuts a door. Maybe there is no window. There was no window for Job. There was a cosmic battle that raged as he sat in distress. There…

View original post 1,124 more words

It’s Sunday.

 

It’s Sunday. Confession time.

I have a confession to make: I haven’t been to church on a Sunday since my sabbatical began on July 10.

“And you, a pastor!” I hear you.

On the first Sunday I was in the airport waiting for a flight. And for the other Sundays? I have no excuses.

Instead, I did what probably most of you did on this fine summer’s day. I stayed home.

It was a beautiful morning. I took my coffee outside, sat down on the shaded deck and listened to the birds singing as I inhaled the scent of a fresh morning and wondered what the day might hold. After a while I got up and took a stroll around the garden checking in on the vegetables and spoke sternly to the birds fighting around the feeders: “Play nicely, children. There’s plenty for all of you.”

It really was lovely. The glory and wonder of creation was all there and I thanked God for the blessing of being able to experience it.

I started to read through the lessons for the day, but stopped.

Something was missing.

I missed going to church.

Being a pastor on sabbatical means that I’m meant to use this extended time to rest, refresh myself, and be restored so I can come back re-energized for the next stage in our joint ministry. The unwritten rule is that you find somewhere else to worship so the boundary is maintained.

During my last sabbatical, ten years ago, I made a point of worshipping in as many different churches as I could. High Church Anglican, Pentecostal, multi-centre Evangelical, I went to them all. Yet this time the idea of going to a different church every Sunday and experiencing “coffee hour” after worship filled me with dread. I couldn’t see any point unless it was information gathering. But that wasn’t what going to church is about.

I realized today that I didn’t want to observe worship as an experience. I wanted to worship. I didn’t want to be a passive observer looking on, I needed to be in community. In the community to which I belong where Inta is in charge of coffee hour, Guntis takes care of the rota for the communion assistants, and Davids plays the organ. The one for whom Sarma prepares the Sunday bulletins and Andris ensures the sanctuary and fellowship hall are welcoming to all who come. I didn’t want to feel like the solitary chickadee at my bird feeder. I wanted to be with those to whom I belong and worship God with them.

We moved in to share with another congregation a year and a half ago having sold our glorious heritage building that was now far too large for us, but just the right size for a burgeoning new church plant. Yes, there have been the inevitable tensions as our two congregations learned not only to share but to reassess the validity of seventy years of assumptions about one another. Yet we have begun to experience the new possibilities that seem to have appeared out of nowhere.We are beginning to see that we truly become one as we gather to worship. As we meet at the altar. That we, a motley crew, are united in and by the bread and the wine and transformed by the presence of Christ. That Jesus can be experienced as alive in, through, and among this community. The one to which I belong.

And that’s what I realized I was missing this Sunday. Not our old church home so much, but the community that is the real “home”. I recognized it doesn’t matter how good the sermon is, whatever that means; it doesn’t matter if someone always sings slightly off-key. That’s not relevant. When I’m in that community I’m not assessing, I’m participating. All that matters is that this is where I belong, a community whose members have questions, doubts and convictions, one where people have experienced the brush of God’s touch, or yearn to know it.

So when I’m next in town on a Sunday morning during my sabbatical, I will go and sit as one of the congregation and just let go so I can feel the Spirit moving among us. I will gather with the others to receive the sign of God’s endless love for us, of God’s becoming human like us, receive the bread, and take the cup. And I will know that Christ’s hands are outstretched towards all of us as he says: “come, my beloved, this is home. Rest, be refreshed, and feel yourself restored so you can live your life in joy.”

 

“Though there are many of us, we are one body in Christ, and individually we belong to each other.” Romans 12:5

 

A recording of the remarkable contralto, Kathleen Ferrier (1912-1953) singing “O, rest in the Lord” from Mendelssohn’s “Elijah”.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bIQ3Jehiy4E

 

Please note: all opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author alone and are not to be seens as reflective of any one denomination or congregation.

© Ilze Kuplens-Ewart 2016

 

 

 

Einstein’s enduring gifts

EinsteinE=mc2

We all know the equation, combined with the image of Einstein with wild hair from our college days: posters, T-shirts. But what the heck does it mean, other than that Einstein was undeniably brilliant, and approachably crazy?

I wanted to know more.

WikiHow (thank you wikiHow: much of what follows is taken word for word from this source), told me that energy (E) can be neither created, nor destroyed. It becomes transformed into a different kind of energy.

Mass is the amount of matter in an object. Invariant mass is, as you might expect, the kind of mass that never changes no matter what. Relativistic mass is dependent on the velocity of the object. In Einstein’s formula, m (mass) is the invariant kind.

Like energy, mass can be neither created nor destroyed, but can also change its form. So the ice-cream you’re eating on that hot summer’s day still has the same mass, even though it’s melted, and is in the process of being transformed into a different kind of mass as it makes its gloopy way through your digestive system. Your initial scoop of ice-cream has stretched out and got mixed with other stuff and, – we know the details.

The “c” piece is about the speed of light. But the main point is that there is a link between energy and mass, an “equals” sign. They’re not two separate things: maybe one is “contained” within the other.

The cogs started moving inside my head.

What this mean for the language I use to describe the interrelationship between all things and what we call “God”?

Everything is composed of mass and energy. Neither are destroyed. Energy is transformed, as is mass. Mass can change.

As I reflect back on my day, and pause at moments to give thanks, I become reconnected with the presence of God. It doesn’t mean that God somehow disappeared in the intervening periods; I just wasn’t connected. But when I recall the thing, the person, the moment in the course of the day that lifts or reassures, the awareness of God’s presence is awakened within me. It’s as if the “equals” sign appears. And this then bounces off into an awareness of God “speaking” to me through my interactions with others, and the world around me. The nature of the “mass” has shifted, but is undoubtedly there.

This is particularly so when you contemplate the idea of the grace of God: unconditional, unearned loving-kindness, with more than a sprinkling of joy and delight at times. You become aware of it working within and around you. Just because you may have been unaware of it, doesn’t mean it didn’t exist; it is there. After all, when you eat your ice-cream you don’t think about the continued “life” of its energy and mass. Well, not until you step on the scales…

So, as a good Lutheran, I’m going to put myself out there and say that God’s grace is another example of E=mc2 at work. It is there as energy, active, engaged. It is there as mass – a concrete, nameable person, an experience. It is at the heart of who we are. And it will never disappear.

What a wonderful thought. Thank you, Einstein.

 

 

One of the tranformative moments of my sabbatical happened during the first week: attending the Kenyon Institute’s “Beyond Walls” programme. We had each been asssigned to a home group; mine was “E”. On our last morning those of us from the “E” group who were still there agreed that we had experienced something profound. We wanted to honour it by encouraging one another to continue writing, and to read one another’s work in the same respectful and gracious way we had done all week as a way of building on these newly-acquired skills.

Our first assignment on returning home was to write a piece based on the letter E. Thank you, dear colleagues and friends, for your continued encouragement.

http://www.wikihow.com/Understand-E%3Dmc2

Image of Albert Einstein with text taken by permission https://www.flickr.com/photos/chilipeppered

Please note: all opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author alone and are not to be seens as reflective of any one denomination or congregation.

© Ilze Kuplens-Ewart 2016

Mid-week Musings

Sometimes obstacles can have unexpected outcomes.

I came on retreat with a persistent dry, hacking cough. My plea to preserve other retreatants’ sanity by being assigned a room where I wouldn’t disturb them was answered by being given the “Woodpecker” room. Blissful. A room at the front of the house, away from everyone else.

From the first morning, a wicker chair next to a table on the front porch became my “good morning, world” spot. Be it foreground, middle ground, or distance there was something engaging to see.

On the first morning as I was sitting and settling in for the day, a red squirrel and a chipmunk were unexpected companions. They disappeared quickly. I thought about the pack of trail mix I had brought with me, just in case I needed it, and decided the squirrel’s and chipmunk’s needs were greater than mine.

On the second morning, I scattered some of the delectable mix, sunflower seeds, cashews, peanuts, raisins, dried cranberries, on the wall in front of me and waited. Nothing.

On the third morning, ditto. This time a black, elegantly shorn Portuguese water dog came ambling out of the wood in front of me. It stopped, looked at me, I think somewhat disdainfully, and then wandered off.

On the fourth day, I gave up on the trail mix. But the chipmunk appeared.

On the fifth day, nothing.

On the sixth day the squirrel turned up!

On the seventh day the squirrel decided the shelf on the table next to me was worth exploring as were the chair legs under me. But then it realized I wasn’t part of the furniture and skittered off down the ramp leaving behind a trail of foot and tail prints on the dewy surface as testimony to its presence.

I went inside and got the trail mix. Just sunflower seeds and a couple of raisins left, the stuff at the bottom of the pouch. I sat down and waited. The chipmunk appeared. It turned out it wasn’t alone: there was a battle royal being fought in the flower bed beneath me. The winner crawled out onto the porch to my right, checked out the floor and discovered the seeds, and the raisins, chewed frenetically and disappeared, appearing again shortly after, in a different place. I wondered briefly if chipmunks were troubled by plaque from eating sweet things.

My learning from this? Aside from the obvious, that God won’t be tamed, nor is to be summoned up at will like the genie in Aladdin’s lamp: get up half an hour earlier. And instead of sitting slumped over the kitchen counter trying to focus on Matt Galloway on Metro Toronto (the morning radio show on CBC for my non-Toronto friends) as I swallow my morning cuppa, take it outside. Find a place to sit, preferably the same place each morning and savour your mug of tea, Lapsang Souchong with plenty of milk for me, or coffee if that’s what you prefer, and simply be. Savour the quiet. Feel how gently the world is being opened up to you.

Would you like to join me? Each in our own place, of course.

All materials published on this site are copyright.  Ilze Kuplens-Ewart, 2016

Don’t say: “I can’t do anything.”

imageIn a week marked by continued unrest throughout the world, the bewilderment in behavioral therapist Charles Kinsey’s voice as he related the police officer’s response to Kinsey’s asking him why he had shot him, “I don’t know” echoes what many feel at this time.
Brexit, Trump, shootings in the US, attacks in Europe perpetrated by disaffected second generation immigrants, the failed coup in Turkey; what is going on? There seems to be a connection, as Mark MacKinnon suggests writing in the Globe and Mail on July 23: a groundswell of deep disatisfaction with the status quo among those who have found themselves sidelined. [1]
The uncertainty this is causing seems to be having a significant impact on our youth. Rather than looking forward to graduating high school and striking out into the world with enthusiasm, students are experiencing heightened anxiety and depression. For many young people, the future represents pressure, not possibilities.
How do we respond as people of faith? What constructive message can we share with our youth, with those for whom the present, let alone the future, seems bleak?

What might we glean from the passage from Genesis 18:20-32 about Abraham’s response part of a challenging situation?

It is worthwhile remembering that Abraham is the first patriarch of three of the world’s religions, an example of faithful leadership to Jews, Christians, and Moslems alike. The teachings contained in this narrative consequently carry great weight to their adherents. They have normative value.
In the verses before this passage God is shown as debating whether or not to tell Abraham of his plans for Sodom. God decides to do so, because “I have chosen him [Abraham] that he may charge his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice.” So, what follows is less a test of God, more of Abraham’s ability to act righteously and with justice. Has Abraham taken on board what it means to be in relationship with God, whose desire it is to bless and heal the world? In short, what kind of leader is Abraham? This encounter will be a key indicator.
God’s announcement of the decision to annihilate Sodom certainly opens the door to endless options to respond. Yet Abraham is not in the least interested in the reasons, neither does blaming or judging the inhabitants because of their deeds get a mention. And certainly, the last thing on Abraham’s mind is to applaud God for the rightness of their destruction or offer to rally his tribe to lend God a hand.
Instead Abraham responds to what he sees as the injustice of what God is proposing. Rather than bury his head in the sand and pretend he doesn’t know, or be overwhelmed into inactivity, Abraham stands his ground, literally. Indeed, he comes right up to God almost jabbing with his finger. “What do you mean, you’re going to destroy the entire city! What about the innocent ones?” and pleads with God repeatedly to show justice and mercy. And God agrees. Abraham has passed the test. He has shown courage, compassion, and tenacity despite being seemingly confronted by the greatest opponent imaginable.

We are all leaders. This isn’t just a meaningless mantra our children are sent home from school with to energize them, it applies equally to everyone. The choice, whether to blindly follow demagoguery, to remain in that most painful of places in the long-term, “sitting on the fence”, or to take action to support justice and righteousness is entirely ours. Taking action simply requires a little imagination, and using the talents and opportunities available to us. Each voice counts. Funding Barack Obama’s first presidential campaign seemed to be a lost cause by comparison to the might of wealthy Republican donors, but it was turned around by social media, by $5 and $10 donations from ordinary folk, and by people coming out to vote. Rather than joining in with the complaints at the water cooler, we can exercise our democratic mandate and write to our political representatives; they will take note. We can join with our faith communities and take action to support those who are sidelined. We can listen to our young people, and, instead of perpetuating the myth of “you can achieve whatever you want, all you need is to want it”, hear their concerns and reassure them that we are there to support them through difficult times.

We can. We can let the voice of Abraham, the actions of Jesus resonate through us. Chaos is not the only reality.

Genesis 18:20-32

Then the Lord said, “How great is the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah and how very grave their sin! I must go down and see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me; and if not, I will know.”
So the men turned from there, and went toward Sodom, while Abraham remained standing before the Lord. Then Abraham came near and said, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; will you then sweep away the place and not forgive it for the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?” And the Lord said, “If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will forgive the whole place for their sake.” Abraham answered, “Let me take it upon myself to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes. Suppose five of the fifty righteous are lacking? Will you destroy the whole city for lack of five?” And he said, “I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there.” Again he spoke to him, “Suppose forty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of forty I will not do it.” Then he said, “Oh do not let the Lord be angry if I speak. Suppose thirty are found there.” He answered, “I will not do it, if I find thirty there.” He said, “Let me take it upon myself to speak to the Lord. Suppose twenty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of twenty I will not destroy it.” Then he said, “Oh do not let the Lord be angry if I speak just once more. Suppose ten are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of ten I will not destroy it.”   NRSV.

[1] http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/munich-nice-turkey-brexit-trump-its-all-connected/article31084101/

Image courtesy of http://alittlebitofquiet.blogspot.ca/2014/09/a-lemonade-stand.html
#Turkey coup #Trump #Brexit #Abraham #righteousness #Genesis18:20-32 #action #youth #hopelessness #courage #compassion #leadership