Into the wilderness with Jesus

Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, and Lent will begin – an annual season for going out into the desert, metaphorically speaking, away from distractions, in order to pay attention to what God is saying. A season for silence and self-examination, for prayer, self-discipine and renewed generosity, for meditating on the Word of the Lord and for being more intentional about learning the Jesus Way.

This blog will be going silent for Lent, and I will not be reading or commenting on other blogs either. This has been a Lenten custom for me for a few years now, and for me it’s a very beneficial discipline (not necessarily for anyone else, of course; we all need to decide for ourselves about these things).

So: time for me to shut up for a while. Have a holy Lent everyone. I’ll talk to you again after Easter.

All or Nothing

We live in an increasingly perfectionistic world, in which media go after politicians and other public figures for every little weakness and inconsistency. If the gospel of Jesus Christ is all about grace (God’s unconditional love for us), then I think that this is one of the times in history when that gospel message is most sorely needed.

I frequent ‘Thinking Anglicans‘ from time to time. It’s a rather interesting name, in itself something of a judgement on people who take a different view : “We’re thinkers, those who disagree with us are not”. Statistically, it soon becomes patently obvious that the ‘Thinking Anglicans’ really like thinking about two subjects: same-sex marriage and the ordination of women as priests and bishops. The majority of their posts are related to these two subjects (they advertise themselves on Google as blogging ‘from a liberal Anglican perspective covering news, documents, and events that affect church people’, but apparently church people are mainly affected by these two subjects).

The thing I’ve noticed about ‘Thinking Anglicans’, though, is that many of the folks who comment there have an ‘all or nothing’ attitude toward the Christian faith of others. For many of them, homosexuality is their big issue, and that’s perfectly understandable to me, given the trauma that many have been put through. What bothers me, however, is the sort of attitude that says, “Well, I know you work for peace in the world and you give generously to support refugees and former child soldiers and all that, but all that means nothing because you still oppose marriage equality, so you’re actually a hypocrite and a fraud. It’s all or nothing, my friend!”

Of course, this attitude is not limited to ‘Thinking Anglicans’. Over the years, many of my pacifist friends have described themselves as ‘consistently pro-life’; in other words, they are opposed not only to abortion, but also to capital punishment and war. This description is, of course, aimed at right-wing Christians who get all bent out of shape about abortion but don’t seem to lose any sleep at all about the horrors of capital punishment and war (I would describe myself as consistently pro-life, actually). But of course, the phrase can easily become a judgement on those who don’t see the world as we do. Once again, they must be hypocrites and frauds.

Well, here’s the news, folks: the world is full of hypocrites and frauds. At no time in my life have I managed to achieve perfect consistency between my beliefs and my actions. Nor have I managed to perfectly align myself with someone else’s manifesto or ideology; I’ve always been able to see the weak point of any argument (especially my own), and I tend to be a maverick about what I accept and what I don’t accept. Which means that people are always going to see me as inconsistent.

But isn’t that the way we grow in Christ – one step at at time? In the eighteenth century lots of lovely Christians saw nothing inconsistent about being Christian and owning slaves. To this day, the vast majority of Christians see nothing inconsistent about being Christian and putting on the uniform of your country and killing Christians who have put on the uniform of their country just because the state tells you that they’re your enemies. And there are probably many other blind spots that we have.

We all, as Paul put it, ‘see through a glass darkly’. None of us sees the whole truth and the whole picture. I’m sure there are many things that I get wrong. But wouldn’t it be a better idea for me to rejoice when I find myself walking in step with people over some issues, rather than lambasting them for the times when we’re still out of step? Wouldn’t it be more in keeping with the gospel of grace? Wouldn’t it be loving others as Christ has loved us?

I think so. But then, I might be wrong about that too!

Malcolm is back

After a few months of slow blogging (we all go through that from time to time), it’s great to see that my blogging friend Malcolm French is back in the saddle, giving us food for thought every day (and I mean every day; he’s taken up daily blogging as a Lenten discipline this year). As he said of me in a recent post, our journeys have been different and we disagree from time to time, but I usually find good food for thought in what he has to say. I particularly enjoyed a recent post on ‘Experimenting with Prayer‘ as I’m currently doing some experimenting myself; after years of a fairly individualistic prayer life, I’m now into my second year of sharing my morning prayer time each day with Marci, and we’re both really enjoying it.

Malcolm is pretty passionate about some of the causes he believes in, including socialist politics (which I agree with) and the movement to stop the Anglican Covenant (which I’m less enthusiastic about). But he’s also pretty passionate about his ministry as parish priest of St. James the Apostle Anglican Church in Regina, Saskatchewan.

Malcolm’s blog is called Simple Massing Priest, and I’m glad to point some traffic in his direction.

Blogging Break

This blog is going to go on a hiatus for a while. I’ve been really struggling to come up with ideas for new posts, and I find myself resorting more and more to posting other people’s videos or linking to other posts. There’s a lot going on in my life right now and I think I need to admit that I haven’t currently got the energy for creative blogging. This is not a decision to stop blogging; I’m sure I’ll be back. But for now, I need a break.

A Resolution

tumblr_mme54mwfdq1r8rauqo1_500There was a time in my online life when I got involved in theological arguments on blogs fairly frequently. Some of those arguments took place on this blog, but most of them were on the blogs of others.

I’ve noticed over the last few months that my energy for that sort of thing is getting less and less. The main problem is that the same conversation happens over and over again. It’s like being trapped in an endless daytime soap opera. Most people aren’t really open to having their minds changed, and, to be honest, I’m not always open to it either! And when I am, it’s much more likely to happen in the context of a one on one conversation with a trusted friend than it is with someone who I only know as a blog persona.

I’ve noticed that one of the effects Dad’s death is having on me is that I’m really not interested in wasting time and energy on stuff that isn’t that important or productive, or that I don’t enjoy doing. I remember a letter of C.S. Lewis to a godchild in which he told her that there are really only three kinds of things we need to do:

  1. Things it’s necessary to do (brush your teeth, pay your taxes, earn a living)
  2. Things you ought to do (obey God’s commandments)
  3. Things you enjoy doing.

Right. No more blog arguments. I’m done.

Blogging appears to be slow right now

2547739081_63653b3a13Just a word about the general lack of posts from me right now.

We started a new service at the church on January 6th, Sundays@4. I don’t preach every week, but some weeks it means two sermons instead of one, so about eight hours of sermon preparation instead of four. I love Sundays@4 and I love sermon preparation, so this is not a sob story, just an explanation.

We’ve had a lot of pastoral stuff going on at the church too (bereavements and the like) which has taken up a lot of my time. And then, it’s the silly season of church life: the Annual General Meeting is coming up, and that means a lot of time writing reports, soliciting reports from others, etc. etc.

I’ve also been doing a lot of work on traditional folk songs in my ‘spare time’ – ‘renovating’ them, as I like to call it. This usually involves extensive lyrical revision and often a new tune. I get a lot of enjoyment out of this, so again, not a sob story.

And after Christmas while on holiday I started writing another piece of ‘recreational fiction’. I may post this in a month or two, when I’m fairly sure I know where it’s going.

All of this is to say that creative thought is going in other directions right now. So blogging is going to be light for a while. And, of course, Lent is only a month away, and that means goodbye to the blogosphere for six weeks.

But what are they thinking about?


Could somebody please tell the folks over at ‘Thinking Anglicans‘ that it’s Advent?

Since Advent started on December 2nd, the fact has been alluded to twice, in posts of miscellaneous links. The vast majority of their posts have been about women bishops and gay marriage in England.

I’m an evangelical, and folks like me are often accused by liberal Anglicans like the folks at TA of being obsessed with homosexuality!

Come on, all you ‘Thinking Anglicans’: give us a bit of Advent gospel, can’t you?

New comment policy

I’ve never been comfortable with anonymous or pseudonymous comments on blogs. Of course, I don’t quarrel with the right of blog owners to allow them; everyone has the right to set whatever policies they like on their own blog. Indeed, some blogs are themselves anonymous or pseudonymous, usually for perfectly valid reasons.

However, this is not an anonymous or pseudonymous blog. My real name and photograph appear on the top right hand corner, along with a real email address at which I can be contacted. I have therefore decided that what I offer myself, I am also going to require of those who comment here: openness about who we are. I have therefore decided that as of today,  I will no longer accept anonymous or pseudonymous comments on this blog. Please sign your comment with at least your first name. If you are commenting here for the first time I would also ask that you include your last name, so that we know who you are for future reference. Comments that do not include at least a first name will be deleted. Thank you for your understanding.

Time for a Break

Hi all;

It’s time for me to take one of my periodic breaks from blogging. I’m not getting much enjoyment out of it right now, and that’s always a sign to me that I need to remove myself from the blogosphere, practice being quiet and keeping my opinions to myself for a while. Also that it’s time to do some more substantial reading, which can only happen, I’ve discovered, if I make room for it by drastically cutting down on my blog-reading time.

I’m not sure how long this break will be. I’ll probably turn the comments off after a couple of days.

“O God, you are my God, I seek you,
my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
as in a dry and weary land where there is no water” (Psalm 63:1)

Remembering my sabbatical leave

It’s hard to believe that on Monday it will be five years since I got on a plane here in Edmonton and flew over to England for a three month sabbatical leave.

I have been in full time ministry for over thirty years, and this was the first (and so far, only) time I’d taken a sabbatical.

Our Diocese of Edmonton has a policy allowing clergy to take a sabbatical for up to three months once every seven years. However, I had never before served in a diocese that had the money to assist clergy in taking sabbaticals, and for most people (myself included) taking three months off work is just not a financial possibility. So it was a great privilege to be able to do it, with the help of the Diocese and the Anglican Church of Canada.

Bishop Victoria Matthews, God bless her, said to me, “The word ‘sabbath’ means ‘rest’, so don’t you dare bring me a sabbatical plan that is all work and study and no rest!” This gave me the freedom to plan for reading and study, yes, but also to take extended time to be with my family in the UK and to renew old friendships with people I hadn’t spent quality time with for years. Marci and three of our four children were able to join me for a month of my sabbatical, and we were able to help my Dad and Mum celebrate their fiftieth wedding anniversary.

I had been interested in Anabaptism for some time, and yet didn’t want to study ‘Mennonite’ Christianity so much, as it was and is somewhat tied to an ethnic identity, for better and for worse. The Anabaptist Network in the UK, by contrast, was not only not tied to an ethnic identity, it was also interdenominational and had produced a wonderful website that was my first guide to studying Anabaptism. So I decided to go to the UK, stay at the London Mennonite Centre (as it then was), do some intense reading about Anabaptism, and connect with the Network up and down the country.

I kept a sabbatical blog, starting it a few months before I left, to keep my parish and other friend informed on what I was thinking, reading, and doing. The blog still exists on the Internet and you are welcome to read it.

My sabbatical turned out to be just what the doctor ordered. I had been tired and on the edge of burnout for some time, and the opportunity to spend three months in unhurried reading and networking – not to mention rediscovering the country of my birth and the friendships that have been with me the longest – had a tremendous renewing effect on me.  The folks at the London Mennonite Centre were tremendously helpful and hospitable to me (I spent three weeks of my sabbatical staying there and reading in their library), and I made new friendships which have been with me ever since. Oh yes, and we had a wonderful time at Mum and Dad’s anniversary!

Here are a few favourite photos from my sabbatical:

Front view of the London Mennonite Centre (just in case you can’t read the sign!!!):

Coffee time around the kitchen table at LMC:

Oakham, county town of Rutland, where my Mum and Dad live.

Reunion with my two oldest friends, Jan Barnes and Steve Palmer, and their families. Only our son Matthew was missing.

Peterborough Cathedral, not far from Oakham, which has become one of my favourite English cathedrals.

My Mum and Dad’s fiftieth wedding anniversary, May 19th 2007.

The famous ‘Eagle and Child’ (better known as the ‘Bird and Baby’) pub in Oxford, where C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and the other Inklings met.

The wonderful village of Southminster, Essex, where I lived for six years as a teenager.

Vyv Wainwright and Jay Ridley, with whom I prayed Morning and Evening Prayer at All Saints’ Church almost every day when I was staying in Oakham.

Over the next few months I’m going to be reposting some of my favourite posts from my sabbatical blog, especially some of the book reviews. I hope you enjoy them!