Dogs at the Table

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

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

Becoming the Nomad

With my retirement has come a spiritual dilemma.  At the end of February after over 35 years  ordained ministry and 31 years in the Parish of Lantz, I retired.  The Parish was my spiritual home, and the congregation were my family.  Through a marriage, divorce, re-marriage, child-rearing, conferencing, discernment and formation for the Diocese, joys and delights, tragedies and disappointments, and all the engagements of pastoral ministry that had been my life for almost all of my career, I had not had opportunity to be part of another spiritual community. And at the beginning of March, I began my quest for a new spiritual home.

Do you know a Venn diagram?  Consider three interlocking circles with a common triad at the centre.  I was looking for music, preaching and liturgy in a loose balance with a coherent centre.  As both a priest and church musician, I have been part of religious communities all my life, and I have always thought that a parish would be at the heart of my sense of spiritual belonging, where I could be, to use the overused phrase, "spiritually fed" by music, preaching and liturgy.  The quest had become harder than I expected.  

As I started looking for a spiritual home, I started with the internet...and the first thing I discovered is that a lot of parishes either don’t have a web-site or Facebook presence, or don’t keep it up to date, or have outdoor signs that don’t actually say when their Sunday worship takes place.  There are buildings that don’t use the street doors and expect everyone to enter from the parking lot.  It is hard to look for a place to worship if you can’t find out where it is or when they worship.  If I can’t find this information  without more than two or three mouse-clicks, then I start to surf.

When I enter the building, I usually look for a guest offering envelope, an order of worship, and if it is not clear, some direction about seating (especially if there are Covid guidelines), and if there is a greeter, an appropriate welcome.  I tend not to wear a clergy collar, and so I’m just a visitor.  Sometimes I am recognized as clergy, sometimes not, and it shouldn’t make a difference (although I have noticed that I get a better welcome if I look like clergy).

Musically, I prefer hymnody and don't much care for "praise music," whose challenges were detailed in a Liturgy Canada publication that I edited many years ago (, and I expect that the church musician and presider will have some harmony with the season, readings or other theme of the day.  As a singer, I like to have a copy of the score for the hymns or mass setting, especially if they are not commonly known outside the parish. Rejecting hymnody is difficult for me.

Preaching is, perhaps, the most subjective criteria that I have in seeking a spiritual home.  Good preaching is well prepared, and whether the delivery is read from notes or a text, or is more spontaneously delivered without notes, must be related (as must be the music) to the season, readings or theme of the day.  If a homily or sermon is part of a series, some reference to the previous preaching should be included.  Good preaching, while reflective of the preacher's own reading and experience, must not be overly self-referencing nor speak as though familiar with an experience that could not possibly be their own -- a good example would be for me, as a man, to speak about the intimate experience of pregnancy and childbirth.

Of music, preaching and liturgy, I take liturgy most seriously.  The Anglican tradition is based on commonly used texts and readings that vary by Sunday and season.  In Canada, two authorized books of texts (The Book of Common Prayer (c) 1962, and The Book of Alternative Services (c) 1985), with subsequently published Supplementary texts (2001), the Inclusive Language Psalter (2019), Occasional Celebrations, For All the Saints (c) 2007, and Alternate Collects from other Provinces of the Communion, are all available.  Several years ago, the Diocesan gave permission for other authorized texts from any other part of the Communion to be used with discretion.  But this doesn't mean that anything goes.  When I go to an Anglican liturgy, I (not unreasonably) expect to recognize the structure, if not the specific texts, the calendar and lectionary (either from the Book of Common Prayer or the Revised Common Lectionary), and when words like "absolution" and "blessing" are used, not simply given an assurance of pardon or non-Trinitarian benediction.  The elimination of readings or the Psalm on the principle of expedience is ill-advised but apparently not uncommon.  Eliminating a statement of faith (usually a credal affirmation) at the principal weekly liturgy is an unfortunate disconnect from the history and tradition of the church, and suggests that stating what we believe is unimportant, even though it is a criteria for being part of the Christian community (cf Baptism).

My experience over the last ten months has been two out of three on most Sundays.  Repeatedly.  And to paraphrase Meatloaf (the singer, not the entrée) "two out of three ain't good enough."  Strict adherence to the Book of Common Prayer is part of my heritage, but after almost 40 years of the Book of Alternative Services, I can't thrive on just two Sunday readings repeated on an annual cycle.  And then there are priests/presiders that don't know when to use (or not use) an Alleluia at the dismissal or other points in the liturgy (like before the Gospel); they fail to understand that the Collect (prayer) of the Day is the presider's, and to turn it into a congregational prayer is like reading along with the actor playing Hamlet when you go to the theatre; they don't know the importance of manual gestures, ritual and ceremonial while presiding (or seem not to care).

And then there is the matter of screens.  There are good reasons for using projections -- illustrating a homily, providing a translation of texts (a good example is at Our Lady of Lebanon, where an English translation is put on a side screen for those that are not fluent in Lebanese-Arabic), or providing announcements or video clips.  But far too many Sunday liturgies that I attend decide that everything must be on the screen, not just the parts in which the congregation participate, like the hymns, mass setting or icons/images.  It is profoundly disturbing to try to focus and centre on the reader, the presider, or the intercessor when a flashing screen displaying unnecessary texts cannot help but pull the focus out of the moment and on to a screen.  It turns the experience of worship into something that I can replicate in my own living room (or work) with computers and screens.  There is nothing that brings the sacred into the worship space when all the people (including the presider) are looking at a screen.  I have been told that this is an accommodation for those that are hard of hearing, but this is a specious distraction -- provision of a printed version of the liturgy on a recylcable medium for those that identify their need should be no more difficult than editing the projections that would be used, or, perhaps even have books or Bibles available.

And so I've given up looking for a spiritual home and embraced the concept of Nomad.  Cherish the journey; find the oases; seek where you can be fed; bring an offering for others (my skills as a church musician are apparently more valuable in my retirement than my charisms as a priest); live in Christ; and cherish the Spirit as the journey continues.

Today's weigh-in: 215 Getting there.

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