Author Archive


April 2017 my son went into the Alberta Children’s Hospital for double foot reconstructions. Yes, it is as bloody painful and arduous as it sounds. It also illuminated the stark contrast between being church, and stewardship church in my mind. The United Church congregation we were at during this time for even though some things were done well, pastoral care and simply being was not among them.

They were an accessible building. Which is truly what accessibility is about, can we get into the building to participate in the events (we shall not discuss washrooms, or their annoyance of locked doors). They were inclusive in that there was space created for people to be a part of with the adults. The children’s ministry was amazing not for the spiritual formation that happened, but rather the lady that ran it created a space of belonging for all children.

Continue reading- Odd.

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Image result for dc comics brightest dayBrightest Day is the follow up “Event” to DC Comics story- Blackest Night. Both phrases taken from the Oath of the Green Lanterns. Essentially a cosmic space opera with Super Heroes, Blackest Night saw the dead rise, and attempt to take over the universe. They failed, and 12 fallen were resurrected which kicked off Brightest Day.

This series came back on to my radar, thanks to Indigo Spirit in Market Mall here in Calgary doing a “blind date with a book” fundraiser for Christine Meikle School. Blind Date is paying $1 and up for a book wrapped up in newsprint, all monies go to help the school for special needs students. Volume 1 of this series was one of the treasures.

At first the reflection that hit me, was, what is the purpose of a second chance? A new life or lease of life? The other side of a pilgrimage through darkness, transformation, into the new light of life? Or simply, the new reality that has happened as a result of loss, illness, or other points of grieving?

These are all valid questions to reflect upon, as each of these points of life, along with the age milestone traditions of old and new (confirmation, baptism, communion, Bar/Bat-Mitzvah, Grade 6 Graduation, Grade 9 Graduation, deciding whether or not to drive, High School Graduation, and many of other cultures/religions that I am not acquainted with, but also family ones as well)… each is the view port into new life. A new life in you. A decision, a path to choose from, and a reason to ask what built to this moment, and what is to come.

Within the story to, there is another point, the villain digs up the Hawks (Hawkman & Hawkgirl’s) bones. I say bones, because they are ancient Egyptian Royalty constantly reincarnation to find their soulmate. Now, this is not to discuss whether or not one believes in reincarnation or resurrection. But I do want to pause. Throughout my healing journey I have looked back on my life, and realized it was many lives. Not over centuries, but rather in my 41 years I have had many lives and careers. Each one growing me to this moment.

This now.

As one takes time to look back, we can easily slip into this idea of regrets. Yes there are bonehead moments, and downright stupidity, there are times when we have harmed or been harmed, time of joy, love and hope. Here’s the thing. The journey, not the destination was the key.

Why?

The destination is constantly moving, for we are constantly moving, learning, growing, changing and transforming into our more authentic self. The question is in our journey do we choose fear or hope.

At this point of the journey, this destination, the question is simple to you:

Do you choose Blackest Night or Brightest Day?


Image result for Jesse Stone the Bitterest PillThe encroachment of Boston, and the growth within Paradise, MA has Chief Jesse Stone dealing with the big city issues in their once quiet vacation-fishing town. Reed Farrel Coleman, takes Robert B. Parker’s characters into the current world with The Bitterest Pill (2019).

The book opens with a guiding quote to ponder about the war on drugs in the USA being 50 years old and at over a trillion dollars, asking the reader if something different needs to be done? The story itself is typical Coleman/Parker. Hard-hitting, and raising questions about the role of addiction and recovery in life. Jesse is a few months sober from alcohol out of treatment, and struggling with the triggers that come to have him wanting his old friend, scotch.

The town is shook by the popular girl overdose, which casts a light on the local school. It is a winding story that shows the ease of slipping into usage as a way to dull pain- is it physical pain? Traumatic pain? How does the overlords for lack of a better term fund their endeavors? Recruit the front-line hustlers and sellers? How far will one go to feed an addiction? It was a hard read for a mystery, but it was winding and good. It made a reader think of the reality of the latest drug epidemic in North America. Cause and effect, and what ifs, also for the astute reader it can raise other questions:

  1. What are the ripple effects of the addict? Family? Community?
  2. We need to question our stereotypes and realize that it can affect anyone, like other nefarious things of recruitment of the young, it is not always the “loner” type that is targetted.
  3. Abstinence and harm reduction. Note they are put together in my writing, not polar opposites, but a spectrum of ways to heal, and what a person needs, meeting them where they are at. As Coleman writes of Naloxone, and the drive being to keep life, one knows Paradise is on the spectrum… where does that put our society?

How much do we value life? How much do we value healing?

For me, as the question the book opened with, the concept of a war is a clear enemy, with a winner and loser. What if we reframe, no check that… throw out the idea of war, and ask a different question:

Are we prepared for the truth and reconciliation of the addiction complex?

Are we willing to create space for healing and the long journey ahead.

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Soul Ripples 2: how do we be church?

Posted: September 19, 2019 by Ty in Soul Ripples 2
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How do we be church?

Stay with the flow as we get back to February 14, 2019 and my first visit with the psychologist for my PNES. The journey was winding though that got me there. It started with exploration, and learning. Learning centered on what it meant to love my neighbour. The question posed in the gospel stories that led Jesus to repeat the Shema that opened this book, but then had social gospel ministers in Canada, such as J.S. Woodsworth, write books about who is my neighbour?

This was the question that I had centered my life on. It brought a lens to reading any holy scripture of any religion. It brought the heart to any spiritual practice in inter-faith or ecumenical settings as I learned and formed my spirit. As a student taking on the practices that made sense for my own journey, resonated and renewed, and letting that which did not fall away and be left behind.

From reading one would assume I hate the church. This is not true, I have a strong dislike for what the church trapped in the denial of the demise of Christendom has become. I yearn for the blessed community that one would read of within the Canonical and Gnostic Gospels. The synergy of these types of writings is found in the newest gospel found in the Christian (New) Testament in the Holy Bible. It is the fourth book, called John, after the writer. There are two-fold reasons for this gospel resonating aside from it being a very metaphysical and philosophical text.

  1. The Sacrament of Service. Within the recording near the end of the Last Supper story, communion the shared meal which many will call Communion or Eucharist is shared. The major highlight though that those that existed historically in the community John founded was this sacrament of service. It is the story of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet. A practical thing with the dust and grime of the ancient Mediterranean world, but one not undertaken by the teacher. Jesus lived the commandment of love.
  2. The character known only as the Beloved Disciple. I encourage anyone to get a Bible, go to the Gospel of John, cross out Beloved Disciple and replace it with your own name.

Now read this passage, it is when Jesus is being executed on the cross for giving hope to the hopeless, and belonging to the outcasts.

Jesus at this point had been betrayed but a close friend, denied by a close friend, his other friends had scattered. His mother and the women of his group followed him through kangaroo courts for a state and religious sanctioned lynching of the one that challenged the status quo (The Empire, much like our life supported Christendom and Religious Right today). Beaten, spat on, ridiculed, strip naked, and then crucified as a sign not to stand in non-violent resistance of love and hope.

This is when he speaks (John 19:25-27, English Standard Version):

25 Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman,[b] here is your son,” 27 and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.

The role of the eldest son was to care for the family, Jesus knew his time was up and was ensuring that the beloved disciple would take care of his Mum, his family, his most precious gifts (and for me, his wife as well). Now put your own name in that passage and read it. That is the love, hope and belonging that should be the church.

We are here for one another. There is no other. We belong because we are. We know we belong because when we are not there we are missed. That is the greatest risk of belonging, that we will grieve the loss. It is why I believe we have lost the simple act of hospitality, community, welcome.

We have lost the ability to live the simple act of simply being with one another through good and bad, just simply doing life together. When I read John, I see a community that is what the church is meant to be in our new (ancient) reality. That is a church where the Sacrament of Service; Sacrament of Eucharist are what binds us.

For why would one bother with an early Sunday morning service, a youth night or a bible study if it was simply to put money in a collection plate or take up a seat? We bother because we belong. The challenge is finding the place we belong, and in that belonging can simply be church.

The space where we Love the Holy, because it flows through us so we can love our neighbour…and don’t miss the last piece for it is easily forgotten in the modern “martyr” and “selfless” Christianity…

As yourself.

That’s right. Love yourself. It is not selfish, it is expected because you too are an image bearer, and deserve care, compassion and kindness.

 

 

Soul Ripples 2: Homecoming

Posted: September 17, 2019 by Ty in Soul Ripples 2
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Homecoming

 

One of my spiritual directors with the Third Order, Society of St. Francis, Stuart Schlegel gifted me with his own spiritual anthropological memoir Wisdom from a Rainforest: The Spiritual Journey of an Anthropologist (2003). The story was of his time with the Teduray, and from that came this concept of bad gall bladder that I have used many times in my teaching.

The idea is that we are interconnected, and interdependent that each decision creates ripples. Within this tribal nation, an act of harm or dishonesty (i.e. adultery) was seen as the individual having a bad gall bladder. The acts impacted them, but the ripples out from it affected the community as a whole. Like a bad gall bladder, the one creating the ripples had to be removed until they were ready to reconcile and heal.

This speaks to my spiritual journey. Within the confines I also note my vocations as professor, writer, speaker, minister and within the homeless sector. It understands the importance of relationship, boundaries and reconciliation. It also understands that many will not understand when they choose to use you as the target to vent their own anger. That is being the bad gall bladder, and not takes the steps to heal. This was the journey my family would go through in finding a spiritual place to belong.

We would traverse the spectrum of Christianity, those churches in the throes of the grieving cycle of the end of Christendom, but not wanting to let the new come in and let go of the old. It was found within metaphysical to Unitarian to conservative to progressive spiritual communities.

It did not matter if the religious centres still used their roots in the teaching of Brother Jesus, the leaders and ministers that refused healing; refused to deal with their own sludge showed that they were willing to target the least of these as a dodge of their own personal responsibility for holistic health. Whether it was kicking my son out of the Santa Clause service for being too boisterous, or telling my wife her and the kids were welcome at church, but I was no longer welcome for offering a bible study in our home that was the negative gambit (and there are many more stories of pain) to a religious social club that did not want to deal with bullying so scape goat our children.

We found grounding in Unity of Calgary, but distance is a challenge. There is something about the local congregation one can walk to. Within my journey of seizures we had settled into a United Church congregation (and yes I know I should have seen the red flags but did not). It drove my PTSD and PNES like nothing else, and we were at a loss for 18 months as to why. Over the summer before being in observation we didn’t make it to church as often due this or that, and many seizures dissipated. It was in discussion with Shawna while checking in for observation we looked back and noted the downturn was in conjunction with not attending.

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As well, something else had happened during this time. Something that if someone had told me earlier I would have chuckled at, but over the summer of 2018 my daughter, Justina continued a family tradition. She was a part of the Vacation Bible School program at Centennial Presbyterian Church, same as I was as a child. It was free, which actually fit with my belief around church I was raised with that it should be the one place you can go and not have to worry about how much was in your wallet.

It is funny, not ha-ha, more odd how fixated in the waning days (or post-funeral?) of Christendom how fixated churches have become on the budget sheet? I am sure they always were concerns around money, but let’s be honest between just us, if anything wants my money the question raised is what investment do I have in it?

To be more blunt what does being a part of this religious community give to my family’s well-being than simply taking in a family movie at the theatre or a hockey game? Sadly, many churches fixate more on the stewardship campaign (the money in the offering plate) than how to aid in the spiritual formation of those who come through their doors.

We use many words to dodge the hard questions. We speak of being seeker friendly, or the unchurched and how due to that we cannot go “church”. What is missing in these conversations is the admission of our own cultural fear of offense. It is because we do tend to be known by the lowest common extremist denominator for any group we are a member of. Ask what a Christian is and likely the answer will be one who hates (fill in group here) or is fixated on the “Rapture”.

Rapture

 

A mainstream evangelical heresy proof texted through 1 Thessalonians 4 or 2 Thessalonians 2. These texts were misinterpreted and became ingrained in a movement that was codified with the Scofield Study Bible, and then in the 1990’s to 2000’s the Left Behind books series. The Book of Revelation was then twisted within this theological heresy to proof text it further.

 

I believe I have been to about three post Rapture parties after the date passed and everyone was still here. It is bad fantastical fiction, but what it does it allows for a breadth filled religion, not a depth. For the question of growth needs to be is it about numbers in the pews, or discipleship?

For my years in building ministries what I can tell you is simply that it can be both. As you work and journey with folks regardless of where they arrive at the community from.  The journey is not simply indoctrination, rather it is wrestling with sacred texts, spirituality, how it applies to life, and coming out to answer the question, “Why do I hold these beliefs?” Being unable to answer that question, my hunch, is why very few indoctrinated in Christendom hold to their faith while in post-secondary, or the first life loss. It is also that when one can answer this question they know that you do not always have to be happy and upbeat to be a believer. Rather you can have emotions and engage in life.

It did not make me popular as the pastor teaching confirmation with parents as I would not force a child to make a declaration or take the sacrament. What I would promise the person is that enter the 6 weeks, and at the end if you do not want to be a part of confirmation I will lay it out so your parents could understand.

Sacrament

 

An outward sign of belief where the mystery of the Holy enters into our lives.

These are such things as ordination; anointing of the sick; reconciliation; marriage; Communion; Baptism; Confirmation.

 

My life of ministry had broken down to discovery, questing, and relationships. It was the sign that had us settle back into Centennial, for the simple handing of a business card at the Vacation Bible School celebration and the minister saying to call him for coffee. The simplest acts of pastoral care that which has been lost in the current church where we are concerned with numbers whether it is attendance in the pews, Sunday School, Youth Group, offering, etc. in chasing the spreadsheet of success we miss the mark on what church is.

The deepest question to be asked, what does it mean to be church?

It is in this context, that I would have opportunities while I waited for the first level of psychological treatment, and during to reconnect with some passions. Being a part of a Men’s Breakfast and being able to teach on mental health and contemplative prayer in these gatherings.

As well as the challenge of being the Grief Support Co-ordinator and teaching about the grief cycle that comes in life with each change. How we can gather to understand what is happening within ourselves and our neighbour. These conversations also brought out discussion on self-care. At the core self-care is simple, it is not prescriptive and text book. Rather it understands ourselves, and truly what refuels us. The trick is to make sure we make time for those relationships and hobbies that fuel us back up.

In my journey, the PNES had set in because I was so numb I had lost enjoyment of that which renewed me. My mind and body so needed a way out to save my life, it had left me unable to fully engage with my family, friends and hobbies as I had before.

 

[1] Picture of Justina at Centennial’s 2018 VBS celebration, the sheep was made during craft time.


One of the most mystical experiences in my faith journey is the Eucharist, also known as the Lord’s Supper or Communion. Some traditions celebrate through every time a meal is shared, others have a devout and powerful liturgy for it to be offered daily and/or weekly, some its monthly, and others quarterly or just at Christmas or Easter. You get the idea, each gathering of the Body of Christ, chooses how to implement this sacrament. That is an outward showing of our inward faith. Though each outward showing has a mystical element. It may or may not be completely Transubstantiation, but I do have a hard time holding it is only a cracker/bread and juice/wine. Something happens in community, praying and sharing food together. The bread has been referred to as the body or bread or bread of life; and the juice/wine as the blood or cup of promise.

The tradition we are currently with, celebrates weekly. It is a fairly bare bones service, from the Restoration Movement (Church of Christ, Christian Church, Christian Church (Disciple of Christ) a movement that came out of Presbyterianism, but don’t quote me as church history in the minutiae is not a strength. There is not liturgical rhythmic prayers said together or responsively, but there is a meditation before hand sharing what may be garnered in the moment for the one sharing.  It can come from any passage in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) or Christian Testament (New Testament)- but the Gospels hold four versions (Luke 22:7-39; Matthew 26:17-30; Mark 14:12-26; and John 13:1-17:26).

22 And as they were eating, he took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” 23 And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it. 24 And he said to them, “This is my blood of the[a] covenant, which is poured out for many. 25 Truly, I say to you, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”

-Mark 14:22-25 (English Standard Version)

This got me thinking and reflecting. Why does Communion matter? In the vernacular of this Body, it is the “emblems”, which is another word for symbols. Is it a safety blanket? Like Linus from Peanuts, just knowing there is something there to anchor you? Or is it more? It tied into conversations with folks about safety and paranoia of our world. See, locally in my kid’s school they have banned the use of backpacks between classes making the kids have to go to and from lockers, the rationale is shakey, and may or may not be due to drugs. There is a Toonie youth night at our Leisure Centre, yet it is not a safe place, for the idea of safety is metal detectors, bag checks, and frisks like an airport. This does not make me feel safe, or make me think my kids are safe. See it feeds on the fear that can be inherent within us. That thing where we seek out the worst possible situation, and then do whatever we can to make it a reality.

Jacopo_Bassano_Last_Supper_1542

I mean when we look at the Last Supper, here is the gathering of the unwanted of society. They had just come in on one side being celebrated for giving voice to the voiceless, and showing a way of hope and love…while on the other side, Pilate brought in his Legions to flex muscle and show that death would be the reward. Think if anyone had fear to live into it would be those in the Upper Room. Instead, they relax, they eat, I can picture some kibbitzing, sharing of stories, singing, it is a high holiday holy time after all. They have traveled far and wide to get here. The barriers of power and powerless were non-existent in Jesus’ group, and at the dinner, he did lay it out to his friends.

They shared a meal together, then he took up emblems. What did these Emblems mean? Look at the words…we shall do this again when all is right, when you have brought the Kingdom that was near, here, and all are living in a world where they belong, and the beautiful and diverse Imageo Dei is embraced and loved.

What is Communion?

It is the literal institution of H-O-P-E in the transfiguring power of L-O-V-E for us and our world.


Sound Bites & Twitter Ideologues

 

In human services we have seen many types of ebb and flows of concept for community and personal care. There is always a “silver bullet” that if you just plug this system into your institutions (church, non-profit, government agency) it will solve all ills. This has created a drift where many times the person before you is not seen as a person, or the institution does not want you to see them as a person but rather as a label.

The label can be their diagnosis, or in church-member, adherent, new attendee, visitor, unchurched or seeker. Within constructs of housing it comes down to a coding system of “acuity”. What is missed in many instances is that not one type of healing or place fits all. Rather we have a tool kit, and that is what we use with the person before us, while building relationship, to journey with them to the next steps of life.

In certain Evangelical and/or fundamentalist sects of Christianity at this juncture they would proof text the above. I am not going to do that. I am going to lay my own journey out as a sign post of what happens when a system finally sees you as a person.

Proof Text

 

The practice of pulling out a sentence or two, or story of sacred text outside of historical, anthropological and textual context. It is used to win arguments by appealing to the ideal of Sola Scriptura, but it also allows for the weaponization of scripture as we have seen with the anti-abortion, anti-LGBTQ2+, and anti-Feminist movements to name but a few.

 

Once I had finally achieved the referral into the neurology clinic at the Peter Lougheed Centre of the Calgary General Hospital (PLC), my case was looked at in its complexity. It took the risk of a nurse seeing me beyond symptoms that said one thing, and the Emergency Room Doctor to do the same. It then took the setting aside of ego by my neurologists at PLC to refer me to the Epilepsy Centre knowing what was happening with my mental health, trauma, neurology, and physiology were beyond what they could explore within their context and tool kit.

In some ways, this fits a sound bite out there currently. Trauma Informed Care and Harm Reduction. Why do these pop up? They are terms and practices that can be highly beneficial for those who serve, and those we serve, or highly detrimental to each.

Unfortunately, even though there are many places that implement these concepts well, to often they have become the “silver bullet” to cure all, and the terms we toss out to show how great we are. Yet in practice (praxis to the Latin lovers) we fall flat. For we do not understand the complexity of the person before us, and more importantly, how that person interacts with the community they broke down in, and the community they seek to be a part of again.

Trauma Informed Care

 

Creating the courageous safe space for someone who has gone through Adverse Childhood Events, or other traumatic events to come to the point of desiring healing.

It allows us to understand that these past/current traumas shape behaviours, and attitudes. What is also needed to point out however is that it is not to excuse negative behaviours, rather allows in a safe way to create a space with low tolerances for negative behaviours, and high expectations. Changing the outward, while the interior person decides whether or not to seek out the long winding journey of healing.

Unfortunately Trauma Informed Care, becomes an excuse for negative behaviours. It also becomes on the employer side an excuse for vicarious trauma. See, the thing many don’t understand is that trauma can be like a contagious cancer. The original individual who is hurting, then intentional or not can injure others and that ripple does not always start within the institutional construct for it ripples outwards into the staff’s life and connections as well.

This is the other challenge. For many years the abstinence model was used for everything from sex to addiction. It was a growth from the Protestant Puritanism, and Roman Catholic Catechism. The concept that one can just white knuckle through what are essentially moral lapses in character and by doing this well be healthy.

The challenge is that addiction is a symptom. It is a symptom of a broken social network, and a broken soul. There is usually underlying traumas and abuses that the person is seeking to numb. Simply abstaining does not cure. Having said that however, for those that have found success and healing in 12 step groups and other abstinence based programs, it is usually due to the community of support, and a broader network of connecting to a new healthier social supports. I do not hold abstinence based anything is wrong. It is part of the spectrum hence when I was an active youth pastor we would talk about human sexuality and sex on a spectrum. I would talk about the value you have for your own Imageo Dei.

Imageo Dei

 

Latin means Image Bearer or Image of God. It is the teaching from the ancient creation poem in the Hebrew Bible’s first chapter of the book of Genesis. It states humanity is made in the image of God. So look around wherever you are reading this book, pretty awesome and diverse image eh?

Why then would I state that there was a silver bullet for addiction? What about those that abstinence did not work? Perhaps whatever the cause for the addiction symptom was needed more that simple healthy community.

This is where harm reduction comes into play. It is a simple concept really, and it is centered on the pacing of the person with professional supports.

Harm Reduction

 

Actively working to reduce usage of addictive substance for holistic health. The goal being eventual sobriety, and dealing with what causes the addiction.

There are many psychological and physiological concepts within Harm Reduction. It is working with things of the many styles of mindfulness, shifting and re-wiring thought patterns, addiction replacement, changing habits.

Sadly, where abstinence done wrong is nothing more than shaming an individual back into relapse or leaving Harm Reduction done wrong becomes Harm Acceptance where we simply create cycles of high usage. Yes, in Harm Reduction there needs to be work when one is not ready yet to change in simply keeping them healthy and alive, but one needs to ask where this should happen and how to work with them in those moments to create courageous space for steps into contemplation and action of reducing harm to themselves.

As the healing progresses though in the spectrum what needs to be addressed aside from the interior causes, is what is known as Circles of Support.

These are the folks that support you. There are professionals (paid to be in your life) and personal (friends, family, volunteers, etc.). It is a unique activity to mind map this out with you at the centre and see how balanced your life is. The goal is for personal to eventually outgrow professional as you progress through healing.

It would’ve been easy for neurology to continue adding to a cocktail of medications to try and control my seizures. Instead they looked at the whole person before them, and chose a step to see what could actually be done to address all aspects of what was happening to me.

That was another huge referral. It also speaks to me why I was able to get to the true diagnosis and healing journey within 2.5 years, as opposed to 20ish years. Sometimes, it is simply the person before you that needs to be seen and heard.

To practice seeing the other, I have learned to take a story from the Bible, and re-write it from the perspective of characters involved in it. Take special attention to characters views you never considered or those characters you did not like. Good one to start with is David & Bathsheba.