Posts Tagged ‘Discernment’


Ah, it is quite a winding road David Platt’s (2019) Something has to Change presents, using his own journey into the Himalayas as a metaphor for the reader to reflect on their own journey of life. Platt couples this with comparative reflections in his reading from the Gospel of Luke (which is quite synchronous with my own family’s Advent reflections). If you want to spend some more time in preparation and reflection, tend more to the conservative theological then the book may be of benefit. If not, let me summarize, and it comes quite well from his pastor friend, Aaron where he essentially stipulates the following: I got tired of talking about ministry, and just wanted to be doing it.

And that dear reader, is the crux of the season and the work. We can have many pretty words and platitudes put forward. We can have many great intentions, thoughts, and prayers. We can beat our chest with what we think is the “moral” or “right choice”, but when it comes down to it, as the Gospel writer of Luke shows, it is simply what is God asking?

Where is the power of your “yes” resting and resisting?

What is that you have talked about for so long, that many have noted you light up when you share about? Yet, the litany hits of reasons as to why…NOT.

And what is truly missed is the reason…

that is why?

Like the song says, and is reflected so easily within our story,

See the source image

It is not impossible, it simply takes a moment to get off the conveyor belt of religious capitalism, and ask simply to the silence:

What fills me up?

What makes my world better?

Guess what, by answering these simple questions, you are living the love neighbour and love self, and by the simple act of doing, you are living the first commandment.

So, what is holding you back?

See the source image

It is a weird thought on day 272 of working from home due to the pandemic, that it is also the Sunday of Joy in Advent, the four weeks of preparation leading up to Christmas. We’ve already reflected on Hope & Peace. To come is Faith & Love. Today is joy:

Song for reflection play here.

Read Luke 1 here.

As I have shared previously, my family is taking time each night to sing a Christmas song, and spend time reading a chapter of the Gospel of Luke, discussing and then prayer. It is our way to re-enter the story of joy at the darkest time of year that the Nativity (if you would like to reflect on the Gospel of Matthew, and Jesus’ genealogy I invite you to view this service here , from Bow Valley Christian Church). invites us into. I mean, whether it is historically factual or a literary device, the idea of taking a donkey road tri through precarious occupied lands as a 15-16 year old very pregnant betrothed and a man leaning towards middle age was not what they wanted on their dance card as newly weds. Taking the journey through the usual travel dangers, illness, and stressors plus I am sure what we would come to call Highwaymen, the Romans who would view you as nothing more than property to play or rape with as they saw fit if the fancy took them…never mind being of the labouring class and no guarantee of a safe space to stay once in Bethlehem. Yet this is not the stress on the discernment to go, rather a spiritualized PSA for those in the Christianities bemoaning the current health restrictions in Alberta…look what Mary and Joseph undertook? Now where a mask.

But there is a story of discernment for joy that I would like to reflect into today, and that is from Luke 1, the story of Zacharias and Elizabeth. I can just imagine these scenarios, the Holy seeking consent from Elizabeth and the questions arising in her mind and heart, or as they are known in coaching, gremlins (read more about the practice of dealing with gremlins here). Things around her age? Her ability? That he should really be proper and be asking her husband Zacharias? For you see, I know this wasn’t in the text, but seeing how the Holy approached Mary, I assume, the same conversation happened and what we see is it reflected in the ripple effect to Zacharias. Who was doing his duty, his calling, with rope tied to him to enter the Holy of Holies so if he were to die because he was not clean enough to be there he could be pulled out.

See the source image

Instead he too has a conversation, with many gremlins arising in his own heart and mind, around age, around everything that the religious and villagers had put upon his family for who they were, and without child over their entire marriage. I can only imagine the thoughts, feelings, impulses, and emotions both Zacharias and Elizabeth felt with this calling, and request for an immense course correction. I mean, it left Zacharias mute until John was to be born, to show the belonging, inclusivity, and joy within the journey in spite of the hurdles, hardships, gremlins and barriers.

Personally, I had a different reflection for joy laid out. It was to be on more about the unmuting of Zacharias, the birth of John, and the celebration. Yet, life changes, and things become more real. I thought this, and my social media after a message on Friday would be one of celebration. It still can be, but some reactions coming out of others gremlins from our shared lived experience in Christendom, triggered my own gremlins that have been wrestled, rummaged, and shredded– yet as we know, in times of duress and stress they can re-emerge for it is our comfort zone. They impede and hold us back, just as Zacharias and Elizabeth’s that were alluded to could and should have held them back, yet…another choice was made.

A choice to challenge the gremlin.

To find the joy in the journey, as well as the destination (not a simple either or, but a mutually healthy both and). To move into the courageous safe space of a calling, and let the journey take us to the resounding, and powerful YES, that Elizabeth would experience with meeting Mary, and their babies shared joy of expectations.

So it is now, on the road of my own journey, as another semester of teaching comes to a close in a few days. Something that may be celebratory in the inbox. Awaiting the entry into the final leg of the epilogue of my first book in my life trilogy, will I have refound the voice, as Zacharias did at John the Baptist’s birth? To celebrate the old call (what’s 22 years?) made new again? Or will the gremlins once again silence that which can bring light and love?

This is where we are as we wrestle with joy each and every day of life, since August 15, 2017, and for the past 272 days where I can look back and mourn, weep, and allow it to stagnate, or realize and live into the mystery the Holy has laid out for myself and my family. That is, the journey of joy and the discovery of the Christ-child, each day.

What is the call you are not answering?

What joy will that journey bring?


Discernment is a big and scary word for some. It is like the concept of grieving. Something many want to avoid, because it is deeply personal, but also reveals our deep inter-connectedness within life. I love this quote I had stumbled upon, for it speaks to discernment…how do we understand our actions? How do they align with our values? Our beliefs? What are immutable? What are not core?

Where do you sit with your own values and life vocation?

Deep and big personal question. With what you do that gives your life meaning do those relationships that you value as healthy and positive within your life see that you are being who you are meant to be? How can you continue to be a life long learner and sojourner?

Each of us at some time in our life turns to someone, a father, a brother, a God and asks why am I here? What was I meant to be? -Spock

In my own journey there has been callings, there has been roles I have stumbled into, that have aligned with my calling and provided, and then there are seasons of transition. That is what I see and feel this season in my life is now, a season of transition, where my current role of educator is one of epilogue, and possibly prologue. One book of a stage of my life closing, and another opening.

The question is, what will emerge into the new story?

I encourage you to pick up the playing cards the Tao of Spock, but I also found this image of the poster online I thought I would share for quick reflective snippets.

Are we always a pinkie toe may seem like a ludicrous spiritual question, yet in the world of allegory of the body one knows how relevant a pinkie toe can be in the dark and finding the coffee table?  A moment of instant discernment via pain, which is a unique contemplation as I sit reflecting on my journey over the last 2 ½ years that due to health saw me lose my helping vocation, or did it?

See, my discernment was about making my own corner of the world a little bit better as I attempted to live the Great Commandments:

34 But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. 35 And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with your entire mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

-Matthew 22:34-40 (English Standard Version)

It was the discovery of these red letters in a broken open red Gideon’s New Testament that brought me back into formal church, and unpacking the understanding, inspiration and living of it that led me for over 20 years into various fields of helping whether it was persons with disabilities, youth, young adults, seniors, patients with dementia, the homeless sector, politics, writing to name but a few…

Then it all came crashing down through unknown illness. There was no nice neat package bow of change…like a pinkie toe breaking against the coffee table one dark night the body was going to be changed for a time. And there was no telling what would be after healing. For St. Paul writes to the church in Corinth this about the body:

12 The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ. 13 Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles,[e] some are slaves, and some are free. But we have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit.[f]

14 Yes, the body has many different parts, not just one part. 15 If the foot says, “I am not a part of the body because I am not a hand,” that does not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear says, “I am not part of the body because I am not an eye,” would that make it any less a part of the body? 17 If the whole body were an eye, how would you hear? Or if your whole body were an ear, how would you smell anything?

18 But our bodies have many parts, and God has put each part just where he wants it. 19 How strange a body would be if it had only one part! 20 Yes, there are many parts, but only one body. 21 The eye can never say to the hand, “I don’t need you.” The head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you.”

-1 Corinthians 12:12-21 (New Living Translation)

We can tend to use the concept of being in the body and our gifts to create parts of the body. We may declare we are heart, liver, pancreas, toes, fingers, etc… but it can easily be that once discernment has happened that we limit God. Yes you read that right, we so become in tune with our purpose, what we will dub “our calling” (or vocation) that we do not know how to respond when that purpose ends—either positively or negatively. What happens to us? Our identity in Christ? Our holy belonging in the Body of Christ? For if we were this important piece of the body, and now no longer fill that function—someone else will. So what of us?

This is the quandary on emerging from a dark night of the soul, and looking into the new dawn; an apt metaphor this Lenten Season leading into Easter tide of the Empty Tomb, and the new Sonrise of Easter Sunday. Is our heart open to the new journey? To understanding that even though our function (body part) may have changed, that we are still blessed? We are still an Imageo Dei as was laid out for us in the Hebrew Creation Poem in Genesis 1, specifically day 6 (v. 26-27):

26 Then God said, “Let us make humankind[a] in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth,[b] and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”

27 So God created humankind[c] in his image,
in the image of God he created them;[d]
male and female he created them.

 

For that is our creation, interdependent in the Holy “our”. The Trinity if you will, and this is how we interweave into the Body of Christ, our Community, with our calling-vocation-purpose, and when we are left with seismic shift it can leave one feeling a what if, or distraught. Yet, in the essence we are drawn closer into the Mystery of Faith. In this mystery we can begin to discern our new calling or redefinition of existing calling. Not in a vacuum but through looking at skills, encouragements from trusted friends, family and mentors. This also allows for us to change the way we belong in the Body of Christ as our gifts may shift, change and evolve with our new vocational calling.

 

As my pinkie toe healed, but I had perhaps, moved up the foot or toe spectrum. For I may not be in the field, but there was a shift for a time. It was a shift to equipping and teaching the next wave of servants for this season of life. This rests well…is it a permanent shift? Long-Term? Who knows, what is known is for this time and place this is where I am and meant to be.

For the learning on recovery it is about being open to the possibility of the new. As I phrased it to friends, I felt like I was in the seventh season of a television show and one opportunity before me felt like a spin off was going to begin, and then a teaching opportunity felt like a season 8 renewal to reframe a closure or something else, as we know once a show reaches that longevity there is usually a status quo shake up to keep viewers coming back. It was the renewal I received.

Or as noted in my journey of learning to live the Great Commandments, shifting from one body part to another in creating radical belonging for the diverse and blessed Imageo Dei’s of our world.

Today, contemplate in your vocational life…

Are you always a pinkie toe?


What is discernment? And why does recreating an old newsroom bring thoughts of it up?

Watch here.


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!

 


Ah a great unwinding as I prepare to preach tomorrow, reading volume 6 of Starman: To Reach the Stars. Previously laid ground work begins to bear fruit and many questions for ourselves to reflect on our own lives journey crops up. For you see, Sadie, Jack Knight’s g.f. is revealed finally to be Will Payton (Starman #5) sister and she knows he is alive and asks Jack to go into space to find him.

A journey fueled by love, but there is more transformation, as within the bookends of the search for a space ship, is a story of intrigue that guest stars the Marvel Family, and raises such questions as:

  • Do we blindly follow orders?
  • Are we willing to step outside of what is popular in the world to reveal what is true and right?
  • Is it possible to change one’s own beliefs and still be true to who one is?

As the journey continues for Mr. Knight, it becomes chasing the space ship to leave earth and what it means to prepare for a global change. What type of global change? From philanderer to monogamous, discovering true love and making a conscious choice to step away from what can be viewed as a tradition of romantic pain to live in the moment.

But also think of our own lives, preparation for our own drastic changes. Do we just jump out of one career and into the next? Or do we prep replacements, empower those who are able to take our place? Once we step into the new reality, are we able to look back on what was and remember what was good? To let go of that which is negative within the change, and either let it die from our history if there is no good and move forward on our own volition to discover a new path?

As I re-read this story again, one all to familiar, it reminded me of preparing for changes within my own life, from religious driven work to secular, putting aside one calling to embrace a true light. But in each of these moments, realizing I could look at what was released and continue to hold it in detestment, distrust and hurt…or to realize that through these times it was active discernment that has brought myself and my family, to our point of health and contentment now. Would it have been nicer to have missed out the awkward and sometimes painful bits before reaching here? Yes. But like Jack Knight prepping for space and not knowing if he is to return alive to his Opal City and lady love, without the preparation, the next step of the journey may not be as sweet or as fun.