Dogs at the Table

...or to put it another way, "Perish, priest!"

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

There were two trees

 I recently officiated at a very tragic funeral of an eight-month-old.  I cannot count how many times I heard the phrase, "God took her because he needed another angel."  This bugs me even more than the Magi showing up at the stable (they actually went to a house, where Joseph and Mary already lived in Bethlehem--they didn't go to Nazareth until after they returned from Egypt--trust me, read the Bible, particularly Matthew 2).  

We need to understand something of the order of angels...while not described in the Cosmic Creation narrative of Genesis 1, it is clear from repeated references throughout both the Hebrew and Christian scriptures that the order of angels predates humanity, and despite their power, are lesser than humanity in the scheme of God's creation.

Let us posit that angels have an enhanced capacity...they can do things people can't; let us posit that there are varieties (sometimes called ranks) of angels with a variety of responsibilities; let us posit that in Genesis ch 2, the privileged place of humanity allowed them access to both the 'tree of life' (ie Immortality) and the 'tree of the knowledge of good and evil' (ie Wisdom) even though that was the only tree that was forbidden to them.  But God had granted the Man and Woman free will, and they disobeyed God and ate the fruit.  Having gained wisdom, the Man and the Woman are cast out of the Garden, with all the accompanying hardship associated with life in the world, while an Angel (specifically a Cherubim) with a flaming sword was to guard the tree of life.

If we're still together at this point, here is where the story gets interesting.  The angels have access to the tree of life, but because their righteousness is of obedience, they will never touch the tree of wisdom.  Immortality is theirs, wisdom is not.  They can only be obedient.

Which means in the grand scheme of things, the angels, while immortal, are not considered like gods (whose being is characterized by wisdom).  When the Man and the Woman ate the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, God expelled them from the garden "lest they become like us (ie God/gods)" should they also eat of the tree of life.  

God is defined by wisdom and immortality; we have wisdom, angels have immortality.  

And in whatever afterlife is ours, it would be a demotion to become an angel, because we would not know freedom.  God never needs another angel.

Today's weigh-in: 220 You should have seen me over Christmas.

Friday, December 11, 2020

The Year Nobody Wants to Remember...

 ...and the Christmas nobody will forget.  

Okay...five years -- a pilgrimage (check out my other blog, El Peregrino Dave), a broken leg (Facebook "Hello Toes"), some unspeakable community tragedies, an old dog (other than me), a new Bishop with a better process, and now I decide to write some more.  But it's time.

Right now, the world is in the grip of a viral pandemic that claims lives and can only (at this point) be stopped by mask-wearing, enhanced hygiene and sanitation, physical distancing and social isolation.  Recent news of a vaccine, while encouraging, is months away from delivery.  And with our provincial Department of Health unable to assure us of increased capacity in our buildings, we (mostly me) decided to cancel in-person worship through the Christmas season this year.  So it is the year nobody wants to remember and the Christmas nobody will forget.  I told a reporter friend of mine, that this is the year the people will look back to when I'm long gone and say, "Do you remember Christmas 2020?  That was the year Church was cancelled at Christmas."

Through the varieties of lockdown and isolation these past eight months, we have collectively undertaken new hobbies, caught up on things left undone, figured out to meet via social media and streaming services (the last time I wrote on this blog, nobody had heard of Zoom), ceased traveling and reconfigured life on a much smaller scale.

And Christmas is two weeks away.  Most years, I would be singing carols with East Coast Carolling, fostering faith formation through an Advent program, writing a seasonal mailing to go to the Parish this weekend, collecting gift boxes for seafarers, and setting up communion visitations for the week after Christmas.  This year, I am planning a Zoom children's presentation, arranging physically distanced live-stream of Lessons and Carols for Christmas for Dec 24 at 19:00, and just like the Queen, a Christmas Day message.

Separate, yet together.

Today's weigh-in: 220 Still working on that.

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

So Why Should You Listen to a Blowhard from Lower Armpit, Nova Scotia

Two and a half years since my last entry.  Busted.

But it isn't like I haven't been doing anything.

One year was self-imposed silence. A long, and (frankly) irrelevant story, but it involved the direction of leadership in our Diocese.  Financial consolidation, traditionalist views about ordained ministry, a flawed episcopal election process (and not because I wasn't part of it, although I have been part of two electoral processes (Nevada 2000, Qu'Appelle 2013) but because there was neither grace nor excellence in what we did here),  Given my frustration, my Spiritual Director suggested that I take a year away from speaking publicly about policy or leadership in the church -- we called it my "Matthew Fox" may recall that Fr Fox was a Dominican, wrote extensively about Creation Centred Spirituality, and after an article in 1988 (Is the Catholic Church a Dysfunctional Family), was silenced for a year by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (later, Pope Benedict), and subsequently expelled from the Dominican order (after which Fox was received into the Episcopal Church).

It wasn't easy -- I am a person of strong opinion, especially when I see something that is wrong or foolish -- but it was time well spent.  I read Matthew Fox and listened to several of his talks on YouTube and other sites.  I reflected on what was really bothering me.  And came to the conclusion that I might just be ever so slightly right.

My conviction runs to the difference between education and formation.  I used my first occasion to speak after my "Matthew Fox Year" at an ordination on December 3, 2014 (St Francis Xavier).  I pointed out the difference between the two disciplines.-- education and formation -- and coming down clearly on the side of formation.

What, might you ask, is formation?

Formation is the discipline that builds identity, not knowledge; it is about being rather than doing; it is about competence, not capacity; it is about community rather than the individual.

Think about it!

Today's weigh-in: 218 Some things haven't changed.

Monday, December 03, 2012

And so now I'm praying...

People who know me well know that my theology of prayer goes something like this:  Prayer is not magic, and the purpose of prayer is not to instruct God, but to be open to God's purposes as they may unfold in my life.  When I intercede on behalf of others, it is not as some sort of lobbyist to the divine, but to open myself to being some sort of an answer to the prayer that I dare to ask -- for instance, I think it hypocritical to pray for healing unless one has signed a donor card or donated blood or contributed to a hospital foundation or volunteered as a visitor or driver for someone who is ill or infirmed.

But I find myself as a candidate in an episcopal election, living in the few days between the "walkabout" -- a visit to the diocese to greet the synod delegates, tour the diocesan office, meet the staff, and spend some time on the road to develop a sense of what the diocese is like -- and the election itself which will take place in five days.

And so I am praying.  But I am empty as to the purpose of my prayer.  And I am fearful of the outcome.  If I am not elected, I fall back into the easy comfort of my present incumbency, where I fear I am past my best-before date.  If I am elected, I will be pushed far past any expectation I have had of my life in the church, and fear my inadequacy.

There's a huge bit of reality about to touch my life, one way or another.  And while I don't know know what the future holds, the only prayer that I can dare to pray with confidence is that God will be with us through it all.  And that the future will soon be the present.

Today's weigh-in: 218 Working to answer my doctor's prayer.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Stay calm, be brave, wait for the signs

These words to live by were the sign-off line from the rather imaginative CBC Radio comedy spot called, "The Dead Dog Cafe." 

On our road trip, we also live by the phrase, "the signs don't lie."

We navigate without a GPS.  We usually check GoogleMaps or MapQuest for specific directions which we sometimes write down, but more often than not, we'll see the sign.  In the middle of sixteen lanes of metropolitan rush-hour traffic, I'm not sure I need the mechanical annoying voice of the GPS to tell me to move-to-the-right-hand-lane-move-to-the-right-hand-lane-move-to-the-TURN AROUND-TURN AROUND.

But in most  cases the signs are clearly posted above the driving lanes or along the side of the road.

The written instructions to find Progressive Field in Cleveland last night were a bit obscure, with several turns within a few hundred meters, according the directions.  But the signs were clear -- and more direct than the instructions had been.  The baseball game (Twins beat the Indians 6-5 in 12 innings) was cold and, frankly, dull (the 'Tribe' were excoriated in the morning press for badly managing and executing), but not without its moments.

It's a metaphor for life.  The signs don't lie; life can be cold and dull, but not without it's moments.

And at this point we need to go back to the Dead Dog Cafe, because it is far easier to engage with life when we are calm, brave and patient.

And that's why road trips are important.  The only way to enjoy it is to be calm -- getting agitated on a road trip is (as my doctor would say) contra-indicated.  And you also have to be prepared to travel new roads -- we can now drive four or five hundred kilometers before we see things that are new to us, and boredom erodes satisfaction, at least in my experience (that's why we've been known to do the first part of a long drive in the dark, so it doesn't matter what's out the window).

And the signs don't lie.  We've learned to trust them.  Yes, we've gone places we haven't expected to see, but mostly because we missed the signs.  Sometimes I'm so involved in driving that I can't look around, and need someone else to be aware on my behalf.

I am not particularly metaphysical or pious, but there are times that others have clearly pointed to the presence of God in my life.   I get so involved in 'driving from day to day' that I miss the signs.

And so a road trip, from my side of the steering wheel, is a good way to reconnect.

Today's weigh-in: Unknown Waiting for a sign (or at least a scale).

Monday, September 17, 2012

It's Not Jack Kerouac...

...but it's a road trip.  People in my life had better like seeing the world from the highway.  When my parents were alive, living in Burlington, Ontario, the summer vacation was always a road trip from Nova Scotia, often punctuated by side trips to amusement parks, museums, stadiums, and attractions.  When my daughter was older, I used to fly her to Chicago while I was studying there and we would drive back to Nova Scotia together (which led the way to two dad-and-daughter trips by car to New York -- twelve-and-a-half hours, by-the-way -- and  when my partner and I first got together, the litmus test for the possibility of a continuing relationship was a road trip to Washington in October, 2001where we stayed with a friend who worked at the Pentagon.  It was a profoundly emotional experience for both of us, being a month after the attacks of September 11.  Even now, we consider Boston (eleven hours) little more than a day trip.

We continue to see the world by car (although we have been know to fly to one destination and do a circular drive from there, the Sierra Madres and Death Valley trip from Las Vegas to Reno and back is still my favourite).

So yesterday, we packed up the car and set out for Chicago.  It's a solid twenty-five hour drive.  Day one:  eight hours, non-stop to Lewiston, Maine, watching the range on the fuel gauge edge down to less than ten kilometers.  Tacky motel.  Delivery pizza.   Woohoo....Road Trip!

The point is, that you can see the world go by.: The experience of the Customs interview as you enter another country and wondering if you're the car that is going to be searched;  An accident near Bangor that sent us on a blind expedition of municipal streets and secondary highways with nothing more than a sense of left-and-right turns to get us back to the Interstate; Trying to figure out if we really wanted to risk running out of diesel before we get to our motel;  Eating car candy in place of meals.  These are the things that make you live in the moment.

This is different, frankly, than air travel.  Once you have consigned yourself to the care of the airline, you are no longer in control of anything.  Yes, it's faster.  Once upon a time, it used to be kind-of classy too.  There is a level of sophistication, and paradoxically mindlessness, to the experience.  You can't improvise as you go along.

Today we noted a couple of traditional events:  breakfast in the car; a stop at the New Hampshire State Liquor Store; trying to recollect some of the details of our previous trips; remarking on the difference in topography between states that seems to take place in the traversing of a few miles; the colours of the leaves or the lushness of the green foliage; seeing a manicured golf-course with no-one playing; seeing the billboards advertising things in which we had no interest.

This is a road trip.  We punctuate it with bourbon in a motel room, and celebrate it with simple delight in seeing something we hadn't noticed before.  We don't use enough drugs (or bourbon, for that matter) to be Jack Kerouac.

But there's something romantic about a road trip.

Yesterday's weigh-in: 215.5 On the road to 200

Saturday, April 28, 2012

So it's tax time

Many of you know that I strongly believe that the church has a voice in the public forum, especially where governments are concerned.  It is especially true at this time of year, when our taxes are due (or at least reviewed for refund).

One of the benefits that the church holds in this country is a charitable tax status.  In other words, the work of the church – usually as a community presence, provider of pastoral comfort, and representative at public functions – is acknowledged by the ‘state’ as a tangible good which enjoys some level of privilege, including its status as a charitable tax exemption.

Recently, several environmental organizations have surrendered that charitable status in order to speak out more openly against policies and prerogatives of the government.

I sometimes wonder if I might be guilty of some level of complacency by enjoying the benefits of a tax refund of about half my charitable giving while at the same time holding strong opinions about the nature of government.

∙    In both Canada and the United States, women’s health issues (including reproductive choices, and access to abortion and specialized health care providers) are still not provided on an equal basis depending on where one lives
∙    the environmental concerns that have been clearly identified through years of government-funded research are being shelved, or, worse, dismissed (sometimes by dismissing the scientists)
∙    the role of the public broadcaster (ie. the CBC) as steward of journalism, creativity and the arts is being gutted
∙    the sheer arrogance of the Prime Minister in stating in the House of Commons that the party of the official opposition had not spoken against Naziism in 1939 shows the contempt of the government for any that disagree.  Just for the record, I said nothing about Naziism in 1939 for the exact same reason that the NDP didn’t – we didn’t exist in 1939.  Perhaps the Prime Minister holds me and my views with the same contempt.

...and if you want to read an even stronger ecclesial voice, check out Dennis Drainville's (Bishop of Quebec) latest blog entry:

The Bishop's Views

Today's weigh-in: 237 Taxing.