Guest Post/Sermon by Benny Leung

The passage that I choose for today’s sermon contains two distinct narratives – the first spans from verses 7-12 while the second spans from verses 13-19.

We know from the earlier chapters that Jesus had begun ministry and saw great success.  At the same time, he also attracted much unwanted attention from the religious political leaders; this led to tension which amounted to conflicts that led to his crucifixion.  Of course, the religious leaders’ worries concerning Jesus were understandable.  After all, Jesus did challenge the prevailing rigid social and religious status quo (i.e. washing of hands, the Sabbath, etc).  More importantly, Jesus’ ministry offered the masses that the religious institution could not offer – healing of illnesses and casting out of demons.

Many of us are familiar with the biblical account of why John the Baptist was killed by Herod.  According to the Gospel writers, John agitated Herodias by challenging her marriage with Herod as illegitimate.  Her anger towards John eventually amounted to a plot that led to his death.  In addition to the biblical account, Josephus had also recorded the account of John’s death in The Jewish Antiquities.  The historical account showed that John’s ministry gained momentum and had thousands of Jewish followers.  Knowing this, Herod feared he was losing control over the people and saw John as a threat to his position.  As a result, Herod proactive sought for opportunities to remove John in order to secure his position before the Roman Empire.

In light of this historical account, Mark 3:7-8 tells us that people came from Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea, Tyre and Sidon to see Jesus.  With the exception of Judea and Jerusalem, all the other cities are quite multicultural in a sense that there were gentiles living among the Jews.  In other words, while John’s ministry was limited in the wilderness and to the Jews, Jesus’ ministry spanned a much larger spectrum in terms of geography as well as culture and nationality; this made Jesus even more of a threat than John.  Thus, Jesus’ withdraw to the lake is likely a conscious response on his part in order to not jeopardize his ministry by the unwanted fame that he was gaining.  Jesus knew very well that the objective of his ministry is to preach the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven and not gain popularity.

Verses 9-10 adds further flavor to Jesus’ withdraw.

9 Because of the crowd he told his disciples to have a small boat ready for him, to keep the people from crowding him.

10 For he had healed many, so that those with diseases were pushing forward to touch him.

The boat that Jesus had his disciples readied was not a pulpit for the purpose of teaching but a means to avoid people from crowding him.  That is, the boat was there to separate Jesus from the crowd.  We can’t help but to ask the question of why the Messiah distanced himself from the people whom he is called to save?  What was the crowd there for?  Clearly, the people did not gather to listen to Jesus’ teaching about the Kingdom of Heaven.  Instead the crowd was there to seek physical healing because they had heard about the great things that Jesus did.  Interestingly, this set of verses did not mention healing of any sort; perhaps Jesus purposely refrained himself from healing the masses in order to emphasize the true purpose of his ministry.  Jesus came to preach about the Kingdom of Heaven, everything else is secondary.

Finally, verses 11 to 12 talk about Jesus’ authority over the impure spirits.  The fact that the impure spirits fell down before Jesus and proclaimed him as the Son of God would indicate the spirit knew about Jesus’ identity.  Interestingly, Jesus ordered the spirit to not tell anyone about him.  Why did Jesus do that?  Clearly, it is not the so-called messianic secret but Mark’s effort to prompt his readers to ask: who shall or is permissible to reveal the identity of Jesus?  In the context of the Gospel of Mark, it is God the Father and the passion of Jesus that are permissible to reveal the true identity of Jesus.  For example:

The voice that came from heaven in 1:11

The foretelling of the passion in 9:9, 10:38-39

The transfiguration in 9:7

The impure spirits were prohibited from revealing the true identity of Jesus because they are incapable of revealing the Son of God in the context of the Kingdom of Heaven.

What follows is a narrative of the commissioning of the disciples.  Beginning with verses 13-15

 13 Jesus went up on a mountainside and called to him those he wanted, and they came to him.

14 He appointed twelve*that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach

15 and to have authority to drive out demons.

we see a sharp contrast from what we had read about the crowd in the previous narrative.  Here Jesus only called those whom he wanted to the mountainside – there was no crowd and the setting had gone from the lake to the mountains.  Mountains are considered sacred places or places of spiritual encounters in the Jewish context.  In the OT, Noah’s Ark landed on the Mountains of Ararat, Moses received the law in the mountains and Elijah heard the voice of God in Mount Horeb, etc.  Similarly, the disciples were about to have their spiritual encounter as Jesus established the team of twelve, giving them the capacity preach and authority to cast out demons.

The purpose of building the group of twelve was to extend the longevity of Jesus’ identity on earth through discipleship (i.e. being with Him) and ministry by giving the disciples authority (i.e. enabling them to preach and cast out demons).  Jesus appointed twelve individuals out of his many followers to establish a tight knit community to represent Him and expand his ministry.  The Twelve has an important symbolic meaning in the messianic context – if the Messiah is to come and deliver his people from exile, he must (re)establish the twelve tribes of Israel.  Further to the symbolic meaning, the emphasis of the Twelve rather than an individual would suggest the importance of the community over individual.

The text proceeds to presenting the names of the Twelve ending with Judas Iscariot who betrayed Jesus.  The clear tension between Jesus calling those whom he wanted and the fact that Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus cannot be overlooked.  We ought to ask why did Jesus call someone who would ultimately betray him?  Did the Son of God fail to know what was to come?  For now, let’s toss aside the debate on predestination or the argument of whether Judas was saved.  Instead of challenging Jesus’ competency as a hiring manager, we need to remember an indisputable fact – none of the disciples really knew or understood the identity of Jesus (at least in the context of the Gospel of Mark); it just happened that Judas was an example that stood out like a sore thumb.  For example, James and John, through their mother, was eying for a high position in the Kingdom of Heaven.  In another instance, the disciples argued amongst themselves on who is the greatest.  Of course, we mustn’t forget Peter denial of the Lord.  Finally, the scattering of the disciples after the crucifixion.  All these examples serve as a reminder that none of the disciples really knew the identity of Jesus and the purpose of his coming.  Yet, Jesus saw another reality: The Kingdom of Heaven would be manifested through these stubborn and unworthy losers.

As distant as these stories may seem, the lessons from these stories are ever timely.  The present-day Christian is often under the scrutiny of deadlines – whether at work, family matters or ministry.  Even if we are able to escape the scrutiny of deadlines, we often subject ourselves to various metrics at work and/or ministry.  In the context of church, we measure our success on worship attendance, number of baptism, Sunday school attendance, church giving and so forth.  Over time, we end up worshiping these metrics instead of worshiping God, and we end up losing ourselves in the kingdom of heaven.

It takes integrity and courage to walk away from momentum or temptation of success.  Jesus withdrew to the lake to distance himself from the needy crowd; all those who came to Jesus had a legitimate need – they were either ill or demon possessed.  Yet Jesus knew very clearly that He did not come to satisfy the need of the masses.  The purpose of his ministry was to tell people about the coming of the Kingdom of Heaven.  The healing and the casting away of demons were means to declare the coming of the Kingdom.  In fact, Jesus exerted considerable effort to help people understand the reasoning and purpose behind his miracles.  Throughout the Gospel of Mark, we often see Jesus telling the healed and the liberated to not broadcast the miracles that they had just experienced.  What Jesus was trying to direct people’s attention away from the miracles but indulge them in the mystery of the miracle.

The business of evangelism is often a failure to the detriment in this regard.  I am not going argue whether the healings by charismatic televangelist are legitimate, although I am pretty sure they are not.   What I want to ask today is whether these healing help the healed see the coming of the Kingdom?  Closer to home, I know of folks who are hard-core advocates for evangelism.  Far too often, they are subject to the emotional euphoria from masses responding to an alter call.  In extreme cases, they fall into the trap of the messianic complex where they think they are the Messiah instead of Jesus.

Make no mistake, Jesus mandated his followers to make disciples of all nations; we are called to evangelize.  However, we must ask ourselves what kind of gospel we are sharing today?  Are we advertising a ticket to heaven or are we telling people about the Evangelion – that is, turning away from the old ways, taking up the cross to follow Jesus.  If it is the former, then we are not sharing the right things.  And if that is the case, it is a good idea to do what Jesus did; put everything on hold and take a step back to re-examine what the Gospel is.  The good news of Jesus Christ is about confession, repentance, reconciliation and transformation – it is about taking up your own cross and follow Jesus.

If withdrawing from the crowd takes integrity and courage, then indulging yourself in the community of faith is an act of valor.  After all, opening up yourself and subjecting yourself to vulnerability may not necessarily bring about outcomes that are desirable to our earthly understanding.  I have been involved in a conflict over the past few months of which the details I cannot disclose.  I had personally reached to the instigators to point out the issues, but I was ignored and brushed off.  The issues persisted, and I was discouraged to a point where I made a decision to sever myself from the church.  However, a good brother pointed the folly to such a decision and challenged me to seek a resolution on the matter instead.  Of course, leaving the church is the easiest solution because seeking a resolution means making myself vulnerable to the misunderstanding of blowing up a small matter or taking down the church because of my personal vendetta.  Yet, seeking a resolution also opens an opportunity for the instigators repent and, through it, the church would be able to live out the Kingdom values that we so cherish.

The fellowship of believers, the church, is one of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven.  Love is not the only experience from doing life together; there is also pain and suffering.  Yes, the church is place of love, a place of liberation, a place of openness, a place of inclusion.  Yet the church can also be place where people are wronged, a place of bondage, a place of mistrust, a place of segregation.  God, through the life of Jesus the Nazarene, indulged himself in this mystery.  Because the Son of Man had lived through it, his followers must also indulge themselves in this mystery.  And through this pilgrimage, His followers will own this kingdom mystery, through which they will experience His grace and mercy.

 

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Progressive spirituality/Christianities within their current context I find tedious.  There is no scholarship building upon what has come before, rather it is a re-treading of old battles already fought. Why is this? I blame the regressive state of Western Culture. The loss of the ability to critically think, coupled with the conglomeration of media and the commodification of the human experience has led us down a rabbit hole. There is also the drowning with knowledge overload, and opinion as fact that has removed the ability to discourse, and discover wisdom.

It is a sad state on my journey as I look upon those writers that have shaped them, death, illness and retirement has stripped away those that have crafted cornerstones we should be building upon. The voice of progress, universal love and inclusion, liberation and social gospel is shrinking. Thinkers such as Marcus Borg, Desmond Tutu, Peter Maurin, Dorothy Day, Agnes MacPhail, Pierre Trudeau, Padre Pio, Leonardo Boff, meta-physicians; Dalai Lama, Pope Francis I, transcendentalists, Pope John Paul II, Pope John XXIII, Multiple saints & mystics, Mother Teresa, Nikos Kazantzakis, Stuart A. Schlegel, John Dominic Crossan, Matthew Fox, Martin Luther King Jr., Tommy Douglas, J.S. Woodsworth and the list goes on and on. The voices of and for the marginalized have been relegated back to the beginning of a cycle still debating that which human rights and suffragettes should have dealt with.

Yet “Progressive Spirituality” much like “Conservative Theology” got subsumed by “Prosperity Gospels” and “Salvation/Sanctification” (look at a Joel Osteen for the epitome of the lost track of universal love for the progressives). This is why during my time of medical sabbatical I was excited to find out post-stroke Bishop Spong had written a new book, but saddened as I read his preamble to it that this was definitively his last. It is his call for reformation, for the work already done and grow upon it.

He touches on the different times the Christ experience has been mislaid. The Fourth century experience we had codified as “Christendom” which would be as unrecognizable for the original community as it is to us in this day. He also touches on the Reformation, which aside from the land and power grab of the princes/royals to break the state hold of the Vatican. It was possible as well do a shattering transformation of cultural understanding as the plagues had shown that even the “Holy” lost a 1/3. The peasant class was open.

We are in a time like this. Even if traditionalists keep fighting against it. Holding to outdated understandings. Science has revealed much on creation, maybe not the why, but the how. We are in a world where we are taking control over our own destinies. Where we can accept equal marriage, we can accept medicine, accept being able to transplant organs, understand different ways of experiencing life. We can see through new eyes, yet we bring the old eyes leaving our understanding of the intrinsic piece that makes us whole left out in the old patriarchal imperial cycle. And yes, progressive thinkers who are emerging today instead of referencing what came before and building, are trudging up the same mountain again.

This is where Unbelievable (2018) rises. It is still American-centric, but Spong roots his 12 Thesis firmly in what has come before, and lays out a path forward. A new starting point for dialogue and discourse, being able to let go of what is no longer working or that which is harming.

So as we seek to understand the love triangle of My Neighbour, I leave you with excerpts for this work to see if it is something you wish to purchase for your journey, or to explore within your community:

John Shelby Spong (2018) Unbelievable: Why Neither Ancient Creeds Nor the Reformation Can Produce a Living Faith Today (HarperOne).

“what we must do is find the meaning to which the word “God” points.” P. 31

“Is the denial of theism the same as atheism? Is there no other alternative?” p. 38-39

“That is the universal human experience that our ancestors once called “Original Sin”. The experience was real; the interpretation was false. We are not “fallen sinners”; rather, we are incomplete human beings. Our old theology is dead. The door begins to open on a new way to tell the old, old story.” P. 89

“Every Jew would know that to refer to a grown man in Jewish society as “the son of a woman” was to suggest that his paternity was unknown. … we might infer a covert reference to her being pregnant outside of marriage, for there was no estate more lowly in in first-century Judaism that that of an expectant mother with no male protector.” P.112

Atonement theology, especially in its most bizarre “substitutionary” form, presents us with a God who is barbaric, a Jesus who is victim and it turns human beings into little more than guilt-filled creatures. P.153

Bulletins during Lent in many churches look as if they might have been purchased in a local sadomasochism shop. They feature whips and nails, and if they elicit any emotion at all, it is guilt. P.162-163.

In Jewish worship, however, the lamb was a symbol, not of a sacrifice that an angry God required, but of a human yearning to achieve the fullness of human potential. P. 165

The Easter experience in the new Testament, contrary to what we have traditionally been taught over the year, is not about bodies walking out of graves. It is far more profound than that. It is about God being seen in human life. By “God” I do not mean a supernatural, invasive God, who violates the laws of nature in order to enter time and space. I mean a transcendent dimension of life into which all can enter, an experience in which life is expanded, love is unlimited and being is enhanced. P. 188

The ascension story is both powerful and real, but it is not, and was never intended to be, literally true. P.196

Before prayer can be made real, our understanding of God, coupled with our understanding of how the world works, must be newly defined. P. 249.

I have no use for life after death as a tool or method of behaviour control. P.258

We are called by this new faith into radial connectedness. P. 270

When I contemplate the meaning of Jesus I come back again and again to his image as the ultimate boundary-breaker, in whom what it means to be human is constantly being expanded. P.278


Chimeras—mythical hybrid creatures’ ala Centaurs, Minotaurs, Nephilim, that where two species become one. Some would call it false flags, a word for something that does not exist. Others for the possibilities of when alien technology used with/upon our ancestors is understood today. Rick sipped his double-double McCafe slowly as he watched the parking lot. George Dragon had raised questions that he needed answers to. His left hand slightly trembled, his head had a dull throbbing, but all in all it had been a good past three day.

Rick knew he would pay for that later.

Dragon was one of the many hiding in plain sight.

Not something the new kids needed to be drawn into, but something Rick needed to give a heads up to an old friend about. The beaten-up F-150 pulls into the lot and Rick watches Shotgun MacKay gets out and heads towards the McDonald’s.

A black coffee later and McKay is sitting across from his old friend. There is fading bruising, and fresh scarring on the whiskered face. Years ago, they had been adversaries, with many of Rick’s rogues paying to have the hired gun on side to try and assassinate the then Bionic Knight. Slowly the transformation of the mercenary to mentor began. Will (Shotgun) noted it was small kernels that Rick’s super hero alter ego had laid in his path. Eventually to the place he was now mentoring the new Great Crime Fighters, so this new legacy batch did not turn out like the last blood thirsty judge-jury-executioner types.

“So let me get this straight. What caused the intergalactic exodus to earth is now…” MacKay let the statement dangle.

“On its way, here. Dragon says we could have a Chimmering Chimera.” Rick stated. MacKay looked puzzled by the statement. Rick stated what a Chimera was, “The entity that eventually spliced into John.” Rick had to say no more. If the taking over of John by the alien entity had led to procreation of a new species with the same dark intent. But instead John MacCurtis sacrificed himself to end it.

“You want the kids ready?”

“I think I may have a way to stop this without needing to risk their lives.” Rick said.

“Rick be real, you have given more than most. If this risk is real, step aside, let us step up for a change.” MacKay said.

“Dragon came to me. It will start covertly, if I can find the source and shut it down there will be no risk to anything else.” Rick said. He took another sip. “It will be played out like a Trojan Horse. I just need to find the horse and burn it down.”

MacKay nodded. His friend had saved the world even the universe many times over. But those were times he had been imbued with the power of Camelot. Now he was as normal as can be described fighting the health effects those many battles had brought onto his holistic self. “What did Susan say?”

Rick closed his eyes slowly, trying to push the dull throbbing aside. His wife, his lightning rod. The one that keeps pulling him back from the darkness of death. A death that some days he would happily succumb to. But there is more than just him to consider, a balance with the life and the darkness. Each day consciously choosing life.

“Haven’t specifically had that conversation, but she has encouraged my writing and investigative work more.” Rick said. Which was true, she just was unaware where the investigative work may be leading.

MacKay had known his friend a long time. He noted the slight tremble in the hand. The twinge at the crow’s feet where he was fighting back pain within his mind. Dragon was an associate who rarely showed up, but if he was coming out of the shadows to speak then what was coming was true. He looked squarely in his friend’s eyes. A glimmer of green energy sparked. Maybe Rick was as done as everyone believed.

“We are one text or call away for back up.”

“thank you.”

The green flame hit squarely the centre of the parking lot shattering the window the two sat next to sending them careening across the restaurant.

To be continued…


Did you know in Franciscanism there is no historic Reformation?

Just a community constantly called to invention, reformation, restoration and reconciliation.

spong3I am monastically formed. I have done my Curseillo. The wife and I were blessed to be apart of a formation/discernment process for Companions in Mission with the FCJ Sisters that renewed a call to expansive-cosmic Christianity. I would also work alongside the formation materials of the Order of St. Luke the Physician in healing ministries. I continued to learn from the ancient writers, and their orders ala Ignatius of Loyola.

Before that though, I was and still hold to Franciscan formation. It began with a book, John Michael Talbot’s The Lessons of St. Francis when I was trying to understand Christian prayer in 1998-1999 upon returning to church.

From there the journey opened a world of formation and community. For my writing opened the ability to write for and be an editor on an international journal; write for another national religious publication, be a writer/editor for a local publication and locally aided in provided great spiritual formation for youth who had never even heard of Christianity, and created a dialogue within the political realm federally of our nation when I ran. It saw me go through and be mentored by members of the Order of Ecumenical Franciscans; Third Order, Society of St. Francis; and as both the OEF and TSSF had no Calgary chapter, but community of Franciscans transcended denominationalism, I could fellowship, journey and learn with the Roman Catholic Order of Secular Franciscans. All these orders were what is dubbed, Third, or as Francis told his fellow Friar when the brother received the call of love…go forth, marry and carry on living the life, for without new families and communities growing the work of the other orders dies away (just ask the Shakers).

It was a formation that some would understand as putting works above faith, yet that is wrong. It is a formation that shows faith and works as so woven together it would be like pulling apart your own DNA strands.

Preach the Gospel everywhere you go, if you must use words.

-St. Francis of Assisi

spong5spong4

The most important part of the formation the drive for mystic wisdom. Understanding it is easy to accumulate knowledge (anyone who has a smart phone knows knowledge is at our fingertips). Within Franciscan teaching it is the application that matters. I am a student of life, psychology, sociology, anthropology, culture, religion, spirituality, politics, history, story—the list can go on. Learning is the first step, but it is not moving from the learning until it is so applied it becomes second nature. Francis discipled his followers not to move onto the next teaching of Jesus until they were living the first one this way. The underpinning to be learned was the Great Commandments for out of that flows everything.

The question asked by the lawyer of Jesus in the market after Jesus shared the Great Commandments, the commandments that had me decide to go back to church when I read them in a broken and discarded Gideon’s New Testament in the bottom of my closet…the question that led to another shaking of the institutional foundations:

Who is my Neighbour?

spongUpcoming: Watch for my review on John Shelby Spong’s last call to reformation Unbelievable: Why Neither Ancient Creeds Nor the Reformation Can Produce a Living Faith today (2018) as he enters retirement following a stroke, here he stands once more.

 


I have always enjoyed reading the practical current events spiritual magazines/newspapers published in Canada. Most are denominationally specific. Among my top 3 were: United Church Observer, Anglican Sower and Presbyterian Record. The last two I also had the privilege to write for and share thoughts, unfortunately they are also no longer publishing (the fact they carried my works has nothing to do with the ceasing of publication I believe). One can also trace in my spiritual journey, denominations or religious traditions have not been high, I have drank and do drink from the many wells the one river feeds, yet it is the one river that I thirst for.

As I wrote a few days ago after a cascade of flashbacks triggered by a denominational prayer cycle (Read post here) it is unique that the latest issue of the United Church Observer in their Question Box column, Spiritual Solidarity, touched upon clerical unionization.

                “Clergy conflict reflect the ongoing turmoil and anxiety within the wider United Church.”

-Christopher White

Workplace and community conflicts are part of existing together. They are to be expected, what is not to be expected in civilized society is such harassment, haranguing and trauma that individuals leave their employment, or wind up with deep rooted scars. This article triggered flashbacks, part of the work of trying to rise above my flashbacks is acknowledging the pain, but also acknowledging the good I have seen and been apart of.

Obviously, the article is centred on the organic transformation within the United Church on this issue, but I can attest it crosses Christianities tradition and denominational lines. Following is a few thoughts on the good and bad I have been apart of.

“I also believe that more and more…is moving from primarily seeing ministry as a covenanted relationship to seeing it as a contractual one.”

-Christopher White

  1. The small congregation that hired me as a youth leader leaving my first experience, and then a minister. Both with contradicting missions. The congregation responding to the pain their abuse had caused catastrophe with previous ministries, allowing those with the money to run rampant. Online abuse existed before social media it was done via cc and bcc on e-mail as my character and personhood were attacked by those in the church that did not like their children/youth thinking. The harassment also continued through the office of clergy towards me, and some youth with mental health concerns. Meetings were held; then it went up to the Presbytery level to meet with the congregation and even though these meetings concerned me I was not allowed to attend. Eventually they beat you down, and I chose to surrender my ministry—yes the majority wanted to bring me on as minister, but even with mechanisms to sanction the vocal minority bullies—they refused. How did the organization reward this community? With more money, bigger space…message sent to those targeted—you do not matter.
  2. Being a Lay Professional Leader in a congregation doing things such as contemplative worship services, pulpit fill in; leading a bible study. Yet the wealthy in the aging congregation got their tempest in a tea pot over kids at play, noise, and the online attack campaign begun. Unwillingness again to call out a spade as a spade from those higher due to—yup you guessed it—money at play as donors.
  3. Stalked on and harassed via social media by a congregation and their pastor—why? As a family, we attempted to advertise our home bible study and potluck on the church Facebook page. My wife encouraged to distance herself from me and my unChrist-like influence. When she refused, and we chose to leave as a family those that said they were our “friends” shunned us like leaving a cult.
  4. My son’s joyful noise at a Santa Clause service being called out in vehement anger by the minister and called to leave service. Shunned by the supposedly “inclusive” spiritual home. In the moment those who preached standing up for injustice became the bystanders while the bully postured and the bullied was left believing he was on Santa’s naughty list.
  5. In Bible College having a professor point blank tell the class when I answered in favour of inclusion “that is why your church must die”…and being taunted in the halls as the “fag church member” still standing strong and up as best I could, leaving the learning environment to be battered in my “church homes” as I tried to build ministries.
  6. Para-church directors head hunting to fire me for my political and/or theological beliefs not aligning with their personal understanding.
  7. Being the family scape goated by an ill-equipped children’s educational ministry, because we had the “special needs kid” and not looking seriously at the bullying issue by the children of the long term generational members, and having the “r word” used to describe my son.
  8. Hearing during service a priest being called out on the rug because he took a stand for inclusion of God’s children, and love for those who are differently abled.

That is the darkness. Some can see through that a need for the mediating voice, but a union is not just there for the darkness, they are there to create a support network for successes. A place where the story can be shared for what has transformed, what has been overcome, and can create a relationship where clergy can easily move between denominations.

  1. I have been apart of wonderful churches that have had no actual building. Where ministries and retreats for youth were sponsored by church family members (with or without kids) in their own homes.
  2. I have been there when seniors have continued to answer the call to serve our children as they closed in on 100 years old, as we created “Elders Time” where a big comfy chair was created and the Elder could share the story, and then have the youth be their hands and legs for the activity.
  3. I have seen the passion of inclusion, where walls were broken down and churches laughed off the “tradition” of church youth/community youth time tables to have open youth group for all where spiritual formation was encouraged, and critical thought.
  4. I have seen youth and young families forego the “contemporary” service to be apart of the old liturgical service because it is where the seniors were, and allowed those without grandparents to find that role in their life in church.
  5. I have broken bread, shared meals, lifted many families and friends within my own home around simple things as movie discussion nights, bible studies…where life was done for those shunned by churches they did not fit the mold for due to life circumstance, simple acts of kindness and love allowed the journey to continue… and yes, the noise of children is apart of that.
  6. A Children’s Ministry coordinator coming and speaking directly to my son about coming and being part of the group, not asking us, asking him and listening close for his body language and spastic voice if he wanted to come.
  7. Having a priest during High Mass while blessing the host pause, as my son cheers loudly, and state to the congregation overflowing, “May we all have that excitement to be one with Jesus!”
  8. A minister that contacts my son about if he wants to be in the Christmas pageant, and then the congregation learns about inclusionary communication tools.
  9. Simple things, like a free half day Vacation Bible School that I was blessed to be apart of growing up, and then my teacher asking if my daughter would attend as they are re-launching (and yes, this past summer she learned some French!).
  10. Offering scholarships for VBS’s that have a cost so no child is turned away.
  11. Celebrating the diversity in our unity as spiritual beings from who we are to where we are from…whether it is being Affirming or Dancing our Offering to the Altar to everything in between and not even dreamed of yet.
  12. A Priest taking the flack for replacing offering over two weeks of masses to ensure the food cupboard is overflowing with blessing.
  13. A nun that gathers toys to deliver with food hampers to families in need, and when families without homes sleep in the church ensure that even the volunteers have what they need.
  14. A priest that is troubled by persons with mobility issues not being able to get to the dining hall with dignity for church meals, installs and elevator.
  15. A priest that volunteers with homeless families and realizes they do not have the opportunity to shower in the parish before going out for their day. Installs showers, and announces offering from that weekend needs to be generous to pay for it.

For every horror story there is good stories, even great ones. Yet we cannot say the good outweighs the bad. We cannot say “this is church” to allow for the bullying. People are essentially good. We need to be generous in our ability to do what we can to build a better world, one simple act of kindness at a time.

A union for church employees on the surface may be something to be scoffed at, but it creates a mediating body, removes the ability of congregations or higher church authorities to cover up for PR reasons. It creates an environment with standardized codes of care and conduct that cannot be shouted down due to the “wealthy donor” paradigm. It levels the playing field, much like the gospels pointed to.

This is my story, my experience, my opinion. My act of reconciliation as the story stands, the truth told…now it is time to move forward…into a new day, and a hopeful healthier relationship in the congregation we have settled in.


The CW tends to start super hero shows out well, the new Black Lightning series is no different. Two episodes in and Jefferson Pierce’s life is being laid out. The lead is much older than most, if not all, of the CW heroes brought to the small screen. In comics, he first launched as a black-ploitation hero; then was a member of Batman’s team the Outsiders; onto the Justice League (before that, many forget the President Lex Luthor time when he was in Luthor’s cabinet as Secretary of Education). Milestone Comics Static (Shock) was a very visible nod to the hero as it was a teenager taking up the power.

Jefferson Pierce is a principal (in original comics a teacher) using the investment in education to hopefully lay new paths away from the 100-gang life for his community. Within Pierce’s body courses the power of the lightning, but he has chosen a path to make a difference when offered a choice by his wife Lyn. A choice he has stayed the path on while the darkness overtakes his city without his alter-ego out being the light. Hoping to save his marriage—yet still separated. Not re-dawning the costume until his daughters are taken into sex trafficking to rescue them—at Lyn’s insistence.

Which brings us to the question of addiction Lyn raises in Season One, Episode 2: Lwanda: Book of Hope. She states that he can’t go back for he was addicted to the power. Even with his community calling upon him out of the shadows as a rallying cry to freedom.

The statement on addiction made me think of 3 other stories that dealt with addiction in superheroes:

  • Roy Harper (Speedy, the Green Arrow’s Sidekick) during the awesome ripped from the headlines style run of Green Lantern-Green Arrow it is a 2-parter that reveals Roy’s heroin addiction. It delves into the orphan now abandoned by his adoptive father. The story was prophetic for its time in that it spoke to the lack of belonging that fed into addiction. The lack of belonging, and feeling no control leading to the one thing that can be controlled. It is through belonging he finds a path out of the darkness. A risk taken.
  • Hourman (Rex Tyler). This may be a long shot for anyone to remember, but Hourman was a golden age super hero, Member of the Justice Society, All-Star Squadron. His son took up the mantle later on. Why Hourman? Simple, he took a pill that for one hour gave him super powers. Miraclo. This was the story of a heroic man, who succumbed to the habit of popping the pill to transform his life from what he saw as the mundane to the heroic. The adrenaline rush not only of doing good, but literally of the magic pill serum coursing through his body. Never believing he could be a hero without the drug, never believing his life had meaning without. Pushing away his life for everything but Miraclo and the adventures that came.
  • The final one, is from Captain America in the early 1990’s I remember buying them from our local Ma’s & Pa’s convenience store every two weeks when each part of the 6 parter came out “Streets of Poison”. It is the basic war on drugs story from the streets. Yet Cap (Steve Rogers) shows great insight that his powers are a result of drugs. Cap had the super soldier serum drained from him, and continued being a hero. He may not have been as “super” as before, but he was still a well trained, hero hearted person driven to make a difference. Shining through that heroes will even strive to be heroes with or without the power source.

Which brings us back to the episode of Black Lightning and Lyn’s assertion the Pierce has an addiction to the life. Yes there is an adrenaline rush when it comes to combat, same as what comes with doing good works. Yet if it was the addiction he would not have been able to walk away so easily, and stay away from it. Perhaps as my wife pointed out in talking about it, this is a case of projection in that Lyn was addicted to being the girlfriend/wife of the super hero but disenfranchised by not being able to scream it from the rooftops, so she finds a new addiction—the ability to control someone.

The story could take other twists, that is the fun of the many forms the heroic meta-narratives can take. It is also part of the fun to watch these shows with friends and discuss what ifs, what you think, what may be a deeper underlying message.

For me, up to the end of episode 2 the Black Lightning is showing that heroes are those that struggle to be the light in the darkness. Heroes are those that work to change the tide. Will Pierce and Lyn’s debate on addiction fit one of the 3 noted above or something else entirely.

Is it an addiction? Or is it being a good citizen?


Denominational prayer cycles are part of liturgical practice that has congregations praying for other congregations; leadership throughout the year.

I returned to organized religion in 1998 to a small United Church congregation in the community of Bowness in Calgary. I was in a rough spot emotionally, and my Nan and a long-time family friend took me to their church. It was a good place on the surface to re-enter Christianity, very progressive which for an activist like me was good. The Minister of the time allowed, even encouraged, an expansive understanding of Christian theology/practice/belief.

38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’[a] 40 The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”

-Matthew 22:38-40 (New Living Translation)

Where I had been baptized Anglican, pre-schooled in the Alliance Church, and VBS’ed Presbyterian (explored everything else). This was a space that allowed me to understand my family’s religious culture within my own growing understanding. It was the church I was confirmed in, taught Sunday School in. It was the church I answered my call to Ordered Ministry, and my minister provided a recommendation to a local bible college to attend.

When the letters went out to young adults seeking a youth leader, I answered. It was the group that I first took to a street ministry, and found another outlet for helping. It was where the strict guidelines of the new ministry initiative had to be followed, and groups had to meet on Friday nights. Which caused myself economic hardship, when the youth were told there was no money and we found a way to make some, the church board brow beat us to control the funds as general revenues not ours so they vanished and expenditures for the youth group continued to come out of my ever-shrinking income stream. When the harassment from older board members about me being young, not understanding how things were done, and threatening I did what we did in my circles, full transparency with the grass roots and one Sunday at announcements brought forward I was done and leaving. This led to a phone call of encouragement from our minister on study leave. One thing that still rings in my ear though from the harassers, “this is church”.

The final straw was they decided to post a paying position, and stated I would have to apply to see if I was qualified…which led me off to build another youth ministry as they offered and that is a horror story for other reasons.

But it was a church with fond memories, and my Nan. I was in an out to attend between ministry builds. Some healthy communities that thrived and my time naturally came to an end, others that were not good fits at all. When they hit a snag and their “qualified youth leader” kept flaking off, not showing up, I was asked to help, and I would pitch hit whether it was baking pancakes for Shrove Tuesday, or helping the youth do a service, or some minor teaching…but when time to fill the role they thought elsewhere.

Third time is the charm? Needing a Sunday School ministry, a open nursery and having youth I had returned to the church after a successful, and peaceful time in another denomination and ministerial outreach. Having completed seminary, and now looking to pursuing a doctorate, my Nan was not doing well and a regular weekly time together was nice. I once again as the one that brought the average age of the church drastically down filled roles as needed. My kids attended Sunday School. We had two young adults who were differently abled in the youth group, and two children differently abled in the Sunday School (one was my son). That stirring of the spirit to make ordination official stirred again, and I pursued discernment. A committee was struck and we began the journey to see if there was a call: Ordered, Diaconal, Designated Lay or something else.

I was also holding multiple roles in the Church board, and as Presbytery representative to aid the church in staying “politically” viable according to the United Church manual. We were working as spiritual leaders to ostracize the pain, and heal the wounds, reconcile the community together. Looking back, what should have been a strong sign that there were shenanigans planned for me, was during the meeting to craft a behavioural covenant for the community. The wealthy-power base that had harassed and expunged me previously reared their bully voice silencing the already bullied in the pews.

            Added some pulpit supply and my son and I doing chaplaincy for patients in dementia care as we went along the path less taken. Growing my para-church ministry work at the outreach I mentioned earlier (which becomes important, for the denomination, and multiple congregations were supporters of it).

Continued the work. Doing my best to let the weekly snide comments, harassment phone calls slide off my back like the proverbial duck—for this was church. Even though I knew that I had served in multiple locations that proved this wrong. But for me at this moment and time with my Nan, one of my best friend’s health declining, this was church because I needed to hold it together, it was one of the places my Nan enjoyed going.

Making safer, and brighter spaces within a very inaccessible building for our children who are differently abled. Almost dying from choking on cobwebs and dust while moving the “sacred annals of congregation history” in my deep clean.

            Harassing and angry phone calls directed at me.

Then the Annual General Meeting. M&P (one of those powerful members) had decided it was time to shatter the community. Redevelop the youth leader role. Needing to pay the role (I had not been taking pay, and had put forward that the monthly stipend be put as a budget line for youth monies for events). They motion before me and the congregation she pushed for vote was to hire a more qualified youth leader (keep in mind at this point I had roughly 12 years experience, was manager at the outreach, had a B.A. and M.A from a Bible College and Seminary, and had almost wrapped my doctorate). But that wasn’t the whole motion, it also attacked the differently abled to rip them from their community. The parents blamed me saying I knew. I still do not know to this day if they heard and took in that I did not, my heart was tearing.

            The bullies WON.

A church, that would see my family broken. When my Nan would enter care for her own dementia those that professed to be friends would shun and not show up. Cast us aside publicly. It was heard by me some saying that children like my son did not belong in church.

I was left with a quandary. Nearly done discernment. Looking out at the ABUSE done. Reflecting on my journey. It couldn’t be. Yet my committee I saw as good people, good members of the church, who were struggling to reconcile, asking if I would meet with folks to repair the bridge. I said I would meet but it wouldn’t change our mind about leaving. Those that say what was heard was out of context never called. I chose to end my discernment, but seeing the insidious viciousness of the power base knew I could not walk away stating this was the cause, simply said my call laid in the work I was already doing. I could not risk harm to the larger good being done by the donations and volunteerism, I did not know how much this darkness bled outwards. It was a bad decision on my part. I clearly explained to my committee the journey up to that point. It was a church now searching for a new minister and youth leader. I left it in the leaders’ hands of the church to deal with as I walked out to protect my family. I knew that my ability to be ordained in any of the three types of ministry within this church tradition were done, discernment was a one off. I knew the choice I was making.

I WALKED OUT TO PROTECT MY FAMILY.

            My Mum and Nan always said no matter who you were, how much you make, church was the one place you belong, and you should be welcomed. In my time in ministry I experienced that 30% of the time regardless of tradition. The other 70% money, control and power destroyed or is destroying communities. Churches have mechanisms to deal with ill health, but are unwilling to step up it is left to the congregational level. Then they wonder why members bleed out, staff burn out.

The Roman Catholic church could cover up crap because they moved priests around in a top down control model, churches like this case study could do this because they controlled the hiring at the congregational level. They could force the minister or board members or whomever out when they got to scratch beneath the surface and could force change. The ones who create the issue exert their unhealthy control and continue perpetuating the cycle. The worst part is larger umbrellas that are supposed to handle this allow more and more staff to cycle through.

I thought years ago I had put this to rest in my soul finally (3 years out of Christendom will do that), but we are part of the larger umbrella (in a congregation that made my top 3 for welcome of all) …and that is where this flashback came. It has plagued me all day, and caused horrendous seizures. The kernel that started it, was the denominational prayer cycle where we as a congregation were called to pray for this place.

Liturgical prayer cycles are hard when you lead a service, I have omitted and gotten hand slapped because I knew whom or where was being called to pray could do harm to someone in healing. At the same time, I know I probably have harmed because I did not know. Church communities are not transparent about our pain. It is not specific to a denomination or tradition. Where it can build broader community, it can also harm. Truly our words carry power.

This is my story. Nothing more. Nothing less. I know that as it has been shared and ignored before, it will continue. What I do know, is that all institutions need to become safer more inclusive places. That begins with each one of us.

The journey of reconciliation is a hard one. It begins with sharing the pain. Then it lets the pain stand there as testament. Then comes the hardest part, deciding to walk forward into a new reality.

This is the story of the pain.

This is where the story stands.

This is my prayer that the story will be different from here on. That change will happen.

This is me deciding to step forward and see what becomes…

Who is my Neighbour?

-Last year I shared of my son’s tears soaking my shirt as he thought he had ruined my life due to this congregation of darkness (read post here). Why the tears? The denominational cycle of prayer they had come up again…Same answer as last year: No you did not my son, we chose the light. We chose life, inclusion, belonging.

We CHOOSE L-O-V-E!