This week, with a number of my colleagues, I experienced compassion, not just for us as people, but as clergy. I had signed up for a retreat, an opportunity to rest, learn and relax. I received so much more. There was plenty of learning, personal renewal and connection with colleagues. The retreat setting, Kingfisher Bay resort, provided loving hospitality, fabulous food, and walks in the woods by the lake. I felt refueled by the worship, especially the songs and the scripture. And underlying all of that was the unconditional love and respect for all of us as clergy expressed by the event co-ordinator, Kathleen Whyte. She showered us with caring. She spoke with humility about the joy she received from having the privilege of planning this event just for us.
As we gathered in a circle to say goodbye, Kathleen placed worship stoles around our necks. Kathleen and her friend Dianne Ross had designed, hand made and painted each one for us. Her joy in giving will remain with me always. We all said, “Thank you,” but there are no words to describe the value of Kathleen’s ministry to us.
I offer you this story as a seed for your living. In our lives, we have professional people, trades people, store clerks and more who serve us. When we judge their work good enough, we sometimes remember to offer thanks. Seldom do we consider the gifts of talent, energy and love they bring as a group of clergy, doctors, teachers, electricians, etc. I suggest to you from this week forth, to offer a prayer of thanksgiving to the paid servants that make a difference in our lives. We can follow Kathleen’s example.
Here are my thoughts as we step into another “new beginning” this September.
We worry a great deal today about being clean. Many of us shower every day. We wash our hands after just about everything, our clothes after one wearing, dirty or not. Why do we have this obsession with “clean”? Science has taught us that dirt carries bacteria that can harm us. Our natural immunity can become overwhelmed. We know that the scientists’ advice has merit.
I suggest we apply that advice to our hearts and minds as well. They too have a natural immunity through the innate love and goodness of God that is born within us. In today’s world, society lays out a virtual banquet of violence, hatred, destruction, ready for and enticing us to taste and see how exciting it is. The internet, books, TV, movies can show us torture, abuse in living colour. With video games, we can be the perpetrators of violence earning fame and fortune in the cyber world. Of course, we aren’t actually doing those things ourselves in the real world. We believe that our natural goodness, our value system will keep us safe from harm. But, like the germs and bacteria that can overwhelm our physical immunities, a steady diet of images of violence, hate and destruction can overwhelm our natural goodness as well.
As we begin again this September, I recommend we try cleaning up our entertainment diet. Let’s give our hearts and minds a head start by cleansing the food they receive. Let’s try coming to the thoughts banquet of love, laughter and kindness. Let’s be the first to stop inviting into our minds, hate, hostility, and judgment. Let’s make sure our leisure and work time is filled with ideas and actions of love, humility, and acceptance. I can’t imagine a better way to begin September 2018.
Our Bible tells us, “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” (Philippians 4:8)
We have a new Moderator, Richard Bot, serving our United Church. Our Moderator is like our ambassador bringing the face of the United Church to the world. His job will be to work with all of us as we endeavour to love God, love the world, and love ourselves. Richard has a big job, requiring deep faith, commitment, lots of creativity and no real power.
One of my hopes and prayers for Richard’s three years as Moderator, is that the world will learn that the United Church of Canada is made up of people who are doing our best to follow the way of Christ. I would like the world to “know that we are Christians by our love”. I would like the world to accept that following the “Way of Christ” does not mean we are pious, judgmental people who think we know the only way to live. I would like the world to believe that as Christians we are walking beside people, regardless of their race, beliefs, culture, whatever – walking beside people, committed to loving and caring all people, seeking justice and peace in this beautiful world. We are people filled with hope and love, who find courage and strength through our experience of God in all people.
We are not perfect. We have made so many horrible mistakes in the past but we are doing our best not to repeat them. We are spiritual people who feel called by God to love all people as they are, not change them into ourselves. This is my hope. This is my faith. I am grateful for the United Church, the group of people who live this hope with me. I want the world to know we are Christians by the love we share.
I don’t often put large portions of something I have read on my blog. I worry about copyright issues. But today’s reading from the Daily Bread touched my heart, and I wanted to share it. David McCasland wrote:
“While staying at a hotel in Austin, Texas, I noticed a card lying on the desk in my room. It said:
Welcome Our prayer is that your stay here will be restful And that your travels will be fruitful. May the Lord bless you and keep you, and make his face shine upon you. “
This simple blessing touched David’s heart. When I lived in Bethany, between 1989 and 2003, a family owned gas station called Rangco’s was thriving. On the walls inside were plaques saying that Rangco’s had sold the most gas in that part of central Ontario year after year. The business was located on highway 7A, so there was lots of traffic, even in the winter time. I remember asking Rangco when I first moved to town why he closed on Sundays. “Aren’t you missing out on a lot of business?” I asked.
Rangco just smiled and said, “We’re members of the Dutch Reformed Church. We work long hours Monday to Saturday. Sunday, we rest and go to church. We enjoy our church family. We don’t want to miss.” Then he pointed to the plaques and smiled. “We have lots of business.”
Like the hotel with the little prayer card in Texas, Rangco and his family quietly lived what they believed. They knew the commandment about Sabbath rest. Their faith told them that rest and attending worship were more important than money. They and their employees were free on Sundays to attend church. In Bethany, we made sure our tanks were full on Saturday evening.
In the reflection from Our Daily Bread, David McCasland said, “A friend of mine calls this, ‘living a lifestyle that demands an explanation.’ No matter where we live or work, may we, in God’s strength, live out our faith today – always ready to reply gently and respectfully to everyone who asks, the reason for our hope.”
“But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.”
My special needs granddaughter asked me if I was preaching at a church on Canada Day, which is also her birthday. When I answered yes, she asked, “Will you talk about Canada Day?”
“Well, yes,” I answered. Then I asked, “What is special for you about Canada Day?”
Without even taking a breath, she said, “I was born.”
Wisdom, I thought. She knows, with a sure and certain confidence, that her birth, her being brings joy and love to the world. She is God’s gift to us. Just as each one of us is God’s gift. The difference is that we don’t all know it, or are afraid to believe that we too are God’s precious gifts.
The best lesson my grand-daughter has given me is a much fuller understanding of God’s unconditional love. She teaches that lesson in so many ways. I learned it yet again last Saturday at the Special Olympics Track and Field meet in Pickering. Once again, I was amazed to experience a world in which judgment is suspended. Of course, these are competitive events, but the competition is different. The emphasis is not on being better than someone else. The emphasis is on improving your personal best. And even more important is that you exist, you are there, you are trying. As each person steps up to the throwing circle in the shot-put competition, he or she is cheered, not just by family and friends, but by everyone, including the other competitors. Whatever each does, words of encouragement follow. In this Special Olympics world the watchwords are, “Good job. Well done. Way to go,” words genuinely offered and excitedly received.
We cheered whether the shot put flew two feet or ten feet. We cheered when the first athlete, the second, the third, through to the last athlete, our grand-daughter, crossed the finish line of the fifty-meter sprint. All were congratulated for their effort given. Many of those cheering spectators didn’t know that for our granddaughter to walk that fifty meters without a companion to keep her balanced took tremendous courage. Still they yelled, “Way to go. Good job.” When her foot stepped over that line my eyes filled with tears.
I’m proud that our Canada is a part of the Special Olympics program. I’m proud of our granddaughter. By being who she is, I am challenged to live that Special Olympics attitude in my everyday relationships. She has taught me to focus on what is and let go of what isn’t. Our faith tells us that each person is God’s precious child. Our country Canada is populated with people of many races, colors, creeds, shapes, ages and capabilities. In Canada I can live respect, and love for each one of themm. On Canada Day, I give thanks that God and Canadians love diversity.
I was thrilled yesterday morning to sit in our home with a group of friends at the end of a journey of listening, trusting, and persistence. We joined together at what became the beginning of a new path for everyone present, through using technology with all of its failures and wonders. The story is long, too long for a blog. I want to share the faith, the excitement, the learning.
I begin with my own practice of listening. For forty years, I have practiced listening for God and learning to trust that it really is God I am hearing. After all, my life like yours is filled with the noise of living. I call it every day static. In today’s world, it’s not easy to admit that I truly believe God speaks to us. I deeply fear scepticism and ridicule. Only fanatics claim, “God said to me…” Yet God does speak, and occasionally I hear and trust. The weekend of April 25-29 was one of those times.
In the midst of the most amazing church Conference Annual General Meeting I have ever experienced, God spoke, and I heard. I was sure God wanted me to put Rev. Wanda Stride forward as a nominee for Moderator of our United Church. Her gifts for leadership and inspiration surrounded me. I spoke out. There were complications. It was too late. Life is never simple. My motion was cast aside. I was sure of God’s Word to me but still, true to my personality I accepted defeat. God wasn’t defeated. God moved through others. My friend and colleague, Paul Reed brought his gifts of persistence and knowledge of church structure to the situation. Rev. Wanda’s home presbytery passed the motion anyway. Mine affirmed it. The obstacles persisted. Again, the Holy Spirit moved. The seed grew. More joined in. They listened. They trusted. They acted.
Yesterday morning, thanks to modern technology with all of its failures, frustrations and wonders, the procedural issue was resolved. God’s word to me has brought forth fruit. Whether or not Rev. Wanda is elected as Moderator at the upcoming national United Church meeting is up to God and those attending. For me, this journey has affirmed my faith. Over the years, my practice of trying to listen has changed my life. I’ve offered the words I was sure I heard to a few. This time, that message went out to many.
This morning I am cheering, laughing, excited, thrilled with God’s persistence and the faith of others. Thank you, God. Thank you, Wanda. Thank you, members of Bay of Quinte Conference. You have lived out Jesus’ mustard seed parable: Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustardseed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”
Anchored in Faith Spiced with Romance & History Tears & Laughter Janet Stobie’s new novel To Begin Again will keep you turning the pages.
Every time I release a new book, I experience a test of faith. Writing requires trust, yes, and it’s fun. I get lost in the creative process. Whether it’s a reflection, a short story, or a novel, writing feeds my soul. I feel God’s presence with me. My heart soars as my fingers fly over the computer keys. When the rough draft is finished, satisfaction reigns. I’ve responded to God’s inspiration.
Editing is not quite so much fun. It requires hard work and determination. Still, my editor, Ruth Walker, and I become a team. Once again joy begins to flow as she pushes me to use my intellect and creativity to polish the raw manuscript. Yes, it’s work but I’ve come to trust the process. For me it resembles pregnancy. It often takes at least nine months. Yet, I know the baby is forming just as God intends. Eventually, the time comes. I’ve done my best. “To Begin Again” is finally ready to be born.
For me the next two steps require the biggest leap of faith. Ordering one thousand copies from the printer is a tough and painful process. It’s not just the investment of dollars. Yes, it usually pretty well empties my book business bank account. But that’s only money. As I wait for delivery I imagine all those boxes filled with books. This time my study closet will be crammed full, as well as shelves in the furnace room. My mind hammers, “What if they don’t sell? A novel isn’t a ‘how to’ book. Novel’s are hard to sell. What will you do with all those books. I know you’ve already sold one thousand books many times before, but this time. Will people like To Begin Again?”
Then comes the biggest “leap” of all. Selling!! For me selling is painful. It requires sitting behind tables, catching people’s eye, talking to strangers, friends, family, offering my beautiful baby and risking rejection. Of course, not everyone will buy. Not everyone even wants to see my baby. This is the point when I cry out to God:
“Thank you for calling me to write. I love it. Thank you for the work of editing. It’s worth it. Thank you for your inspiration. Our baby is beautiful. Poster for blogBUT, THIS TIME GOD, you do the work of selling. Send me heaps of orders especially online. Everyone says that’s the easy way. Make it happen. After all this is book number eight. I’ve given them my heart and soul as food. you make them eat it.”
When I wrote that last line, I smiled and I imagined God smiled too. So here we are today, “God and I”, offering you the opportunity to purchase our baby, TO BEGIN AGAIN.
Buy one for yourself and for your friends and family. Buy it. Read it. Enjoy the story. Discuss it. The questions for discussion are right there in the back of the book. Use TO BEGIN AGAIN to open a conversation about life, your values, what you believe. A stand – alone novel and a sequel to Fireweed.
The last few days, my thoughts have focused on Jesus’ story of “The Lost Son.” In movies, books, and life, I seek happy endings. I smile when the lost son realizes his folly and returns home. I nod when the grieving father runs out to meet him when he is still a long way off. The elder son’s response of anger and righteous judgment feels good and proper. The father’s response also feels good. Will the elder son understand his father’s plea for love and mercy? We aren’t told, so I can fill in my happy ending. Both sons have learned how to love. Father is wiser.
How does Jesus’ story end today? Too often today, addiction swallows us up leaving us lost, sleeping on the streets, even murdered. Sometimes it’s our commitment to overwork, an extramarital relationship, total self-indulgence, that carries us away from family, loved ones, God. Unlike the lost son in Jesus’ story, we don’t return home. We may have started home many times but we stumbled again and again and again. We can’t stay on that homeward path.
And so, too often, as parents, spouses, children, friends, we are left sitting at the gate, still loving, still praying, still hoping, still weeping. The opportunity to run down the path, arms open wide, love pouring forth, never comes.
Too often, as elder siblings, we keep plugging away, doing our best, resentment hidden and growing, judgment made. We want to hang onto our rage, our self-righteousness. We’re sure we are right. We don’t want help forgiving those who are unforgivable. We don’t want to face God’s unconditional love, God’s endless mercy, let alone participate in it.
Today, whether we are the lost son, the elder brother or the loving parent, we go to our death still paralysed, still lost on life’s journey. And so we think there is no possibility for a happy ending.
For me, the Good News, the “happy ending” comes when we learn to trust our Christian story which tells us that the power of God’s love is so strong, God’s plan for each one of us so flexible, so creative, that even death cannot keep us paralyzed. In fact, death, in whatever form it comes, opens the way for “new life,” the happy ending.
Jesus said, “Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” (John 12:24)
Jesus’ own life story tells us that whether our death brings forth the possibility of new life, transformation, abundance.
Today, whether we are facing the loss of a beloved person, the ending of a life-long dream, the closing of our precious church,– wherever we find ourselves present in Jesus’ story, we can trust that the resurrection will come. God will not be defeated. We may not see the transformation, but it will come, if not in this world than in the next. Weeping will end. Joy will come with the morning. We are not truly paralyzed. We can open ourselves to understanding, forgiveness and love. We can receive God’s peace that is beyond our understanding because we can trust in God’s transformation, whenever it happens.
We have hope, for God has assured us there will be “a happy ending” in this life or the next. Our transformation is guaranteed through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.
We can hear and live Jesus’ words: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. (John 14:27) For this, I am truly grateful.
Believing in the resurrection of Jesus is certainly considered foolish by some people. Even more foolish is my belief that Jesus still lives today. I don’t mind being foolish. I do believe that God calls us to be the hands and feet and heart of Christ, to be Christ alive and well in this world.
I believe in God the Creator, the beginning of all things, the parent of us all. I don’t know exactly how that works. The overwhelming beauty of our world, the amazing work of art that is a human being, an animal, even a tiny bug, all support my belief in God the source of creation. A leap of faith like that is foolish by today’s standards. I really don’t care. I believe it.
I believe that Jesus rose from the dead 2000 years ago. When Mary went to the tomb, on what we call Easter morning, Jesus wasn’t lying there dead, wrapped in a shroud, his body badly mutilated by his crucifixion. Jesus was alive and well, able to talk with her. I’m sure that is foolish too. yet I believe it. I know that Jesus is alive and well today because I believe in the Holy Spirit, that part of God that lives in each one of us. I have experienced that Holy Spirit often. How do I explain to you what I mean? Over and over again I have experienced the presence of Jesus (God’s Spirit) in others. I have seen God’s goodness, joy, compassion shine through friends and strangers alike. Yes, I believe in the Holy spirit. If that makes me foolish, that’s okay.
I find the story of Jesus’ arrest and death troubling. I know we are capable of such inhumane cruelty. I know fear and greed for power will lead people to do horrible things. That’s why I’m grateful the Easter story ends with Jesus’ resurrection. It’s a story of love conquering evil. My faith tells me that God will not be defeated. There is nothing that I or anyone else can do that God cannot use to bring goodness to this world. If that’s foolish in another person’s eyes, so be it.
For me, my faith gives me strength and courage for living. Every time I face a tough decision, I can trust that God will bring something good out of it. Every time I’m afraid, I can trust that God’s Holy Spirit is within me holding my hand. Every time I make a mistake, sin by commission or omission, I can trust that God’s forgiveness is waiting for me to change my ways and begin again. There is new life for all of us.
As St. Paul says, I can be a fool for Christ. I can love the unlovable. I can forgive the hurt that others cause. With God, I can be so much more than when I walk this road of life alone. With God I can be foolish enough to be the best I can be.
Yes, I think Easter on April Fool’s Day is just great. Let’s celebrate the foolishness of faith. Let’s have a party for Jesus this Easter.