Tuesday, September 27, 2011

why soggy cereal reminds me of the cross


Station 7 - Jesus falls a second time
I am one of those people that lets their breakfast cereal sit for awhile before I eat it.  I like it soggy.  I like the milk to infiltrate the squares, circles, flakes, clusters, and sticks and change their texture.  I figure if I want it crunchy, I might as well eat it out of the box and drink a glass of milk as a chaser.  I like to know that the milk has truly met the cereal and there is no turning back from the encounter.

Station 11 - Jesus is nailed to the cross
Station 10 - Jesus is stripped of his garments
We spent Sunday morning walking through the Way of the Cross garden at St. Joseph's Oratory with our faith community.  I have done this walk many times before, but never at such a slow, meditative pace.  It was a lot different than just hiking along the path, sightseeing.  We took our time.  We stood and looked.  We were silent.  We gazed.  We let the scenes affect us.  We soaked up whatever each statue showed about Jesus' life.  We let it sink in.  It was not a quick dip in the way of the cross that left us unchanged.  The two substances (the journey of Jesus and our hearts) were given a chance to intermix, to take on each other's qualities, to become soggy oneness.

Sogginess, from which there is no turning back, takes time.  I have to sit with Jesus' life, words, and presence in order to give them time to infiltrate my tightly closed boxes, my circular thinking, my flaky selfishness, my tendency to never stray from the safe cluster, and my defensive stick-weapons. 

Jesus is not a milk chaser to add to my life, hoping that he fills in the gaps but leaves everything else pretty much untouched and still crunchy.  Jesus will change my very substance.  I will take on his substance.  But only if I give him time.  Time to sink in. 
        
Station 12 - Jesus dies on the cross

The photos: A few scenes from the Way of the Cross at St. Joseph's Oratory in Montreal that I took on Sunday.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

schedules


Things have been a bit hectic this last month as I dove head-first into doctoral studies.  The first few weeks were filled with so many meetings and events and orientations and administrative 'stuff'  that had to be completed that it left me feeling a bit tossed about and slightly nauseous.  In the midst of all that hurricane activity on the sea of learning, I was given 4 days to complete a huuuuuuge funding application.  I managed it, but I am not sure how brilliant and put-together it was.  Now I am in the middle of two more very large applications and have a flurry of parties to attend on the weekend.  This whirlwind of activity has brought me to face to face with the issue of schedules. 

With Dean's help (and the Holy Spirit), I have now put one in place that should better manage all the classes, teaching responsibilities, reading, writing, and surprise tasks that are part of my workload, as well as leave space for living life as a normal human being who is an engaged member of a marriage, friendships, and a faith community.  Now I just have to be faithful to keep putting it into action!

The other schedule that was giving me a bit of trouble was my bus.  I missed it a few times and it was annoying.  The bus that runs through my neighbourhood is notorious for being a bit on the early side, but on one occasion when I missed it, I saw it roll past my window a full 6 minutes before it was due.  How do you make that work for you?  Sigh!  Since my bus only comes every 30 minutes (except during peak times), missing it can make me quite late to wherever I am going.  I got in the habit of being at the bus stop 10 minutes early, just to make sure I would catch it, but honestly, I was getting a bit frustrated at how unpredictable it was - it was starting to damage my calm (as Jayne from Serenity would say).

About a week ago I had the brilliant idea of checking out the public transit website and looking at the bus schedule.  To my dismay and utter delight, I found a new, updated bus schedule with new times listed, which were (yes, you guessed it) adjusted 5 or 6 minutes here and there.  Aha!  So it wasn't the evil bus demon out to get me!  I just had out-of-date information!  Sometimes current and accurate information can be your best friend!  This made me think about other places in my life that seem randomly filled with havoc and bad luck, and I wonder if I just haven't taken the time to get the information I need to make sense of it and to respond appropriately.

Last night in class we were discussing the concept of 'naive realism' (see Lonergan`s Method in Theology for an fuller explanation, p. 238-240).  This is basically when one supposes that seeing is knowing.  A person bases judgments and decisions on knowledge gleaned from associations that have never been evaluated.  One example is: because my father always did it this way, it is the right way.  Or, because I saw it on television or read it in a book, it is true.  Or, because this has been the bus schedule like, forever, it is valid today.  This is shortcut living - a method that children use to learn in their early years, and certainly useful for basic everyday tasks.  But if extrapolated to the meaningful and larger issues of life, eventually it can breed a close-minded, one-track way of thinking that fails to see creative and innovative solutions and rejects valuable relationships or associations because they are outside of the norm. 

Yes, it is difficult to make the effort to step outside of one's presuppositions and snap assumptions and take a long, hard look at familiar thoughts and contexts to see if they are indeed as airtight as I suppose.  It takes courage, but I am living proof that more accurate, well-rounded information, processed in a thoughtful way, will be helpful to one's life in the long run.  And, you won't miss the bus as often!

The photo: St. Andrews, NB.  This place always makes me forget about schedules of any kind. 

Friday, September 16, 2011

the unbusy (fill in the blank)

The only really not-so-good thing that happened on my vacation at the end of August was that I left the book I was reading, Eugene Peterson's The Pastor, on the plane when we landed in Winnipeg.  I put in a claim with Air Canada as soon as I discovered my error, but when there was no word from them after a week, I realised that I might never see that particular book again.  So I hoped that whoever found the volume might enjoy it, and I ordered it again.  On Thursday, it appeared at  my door. 

Yesterday I finished the chapter I had just begun to read when I misplaced the book - chapter 35.  If I was the legislating kind, I would insist that all pastors read this chapter.  However, what Eugene says here about his own experience goes far beyond the pastor vocation.  I think it speaks to all of us who find ourselves running non-stop in this demanding, busy, over-scheduled lifestyle, always feeling like we are a bit behind while never quite getting where we want to go.

Below is an adapted version of Eugene's mini-manifesto.  Finding himself overworked and frustrated as a pastor, he offered his resignation.  Instead of accepting his decision, the elders (leadership team) asked him what he wanted to do differently.  This is how he responded.  I have taken out his word, "pastor," so that you can insert your own descriptor/vocation. 

I want to be a ______ who prays.  I want to be reflective and responsive and relaxed in the presence of God so that I can be reflective and responsive and relaxed in your presence.  I can't do that on the run.  It takes a lot of time....

I want to be a ______ who reads and studies.  This culture in which we live squeezes all the God sense out of us.  I want to be observant and informed enough to help [you] understand what we are up against, the temptations of the devil to get us thinking we can all be our own gods.  This is subtle stuff.  It demands some detachment and perspective.  I can't do this just by trying harder.

I want to be a ______ who has the time to be with you in leisurely, unhurried conversations so that I can understand and be a companion with you as you grow in Christ - your doubts and your difficulties, your desires and your delights.  I can't do that when I am running scared.

I want to be a ______ who leads you in worship, a ______ who brings you before God in receptive obedience, a ______ who [makes] scripture accessible and present and alive, a ______ who is able to give you a language and imagination that restores in you a sense of dignity as a Christian in your homes and workplaces....

I want to have the time to read a story to [my daughter].
I want to be an unbusy ______.   (p. 278).

In order to pursue these desires, Eugene chose to give up the "running" of the church.  Instead of a resignation, he opted for a re-organization.  He entrusted administrative tasks to people who were perhaps less qualified than he was, but who were willing to learn.  He had to learn to trust them, and he also had to learn to live with the decisions they made, even when they were not the same ones he would have made.  But he realised that he couldn't have it both ways.  He says: "If they let me be the pastor I wanted to be, I would have to let them be the elders they wanted to be." (p. 280).

Yes, it is a trade off.  We can't have it all and be unbusy.  We have to decide what we really want and let the rest of it go.  Yes, I want to be an unbusy student, an unbusy wife and friend, an unbusy teacher and writer.  I want to be reflective and responsive, not running from one task to the next, hoping to strike a few things off my to-do list before more gets piled onto it.  I want to understand and discern and observe so that I can be part of informing and tranforming myself and others.  I want to have leisurely, unhurried conversations that honour and respect the incredible worth of the people I am talking to.  What do I need to let go of, to give away, in order to be an unbusy Matte?

Quotes are taken from Eugene Peterson, The Pastor: A Memoir.  New York: HarperCollins, 2011.

The photo:  Eugene's book amidst some of the reading I have to digest this term.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

I lost something...


Somewhere around 4 pm today, I lost something important.

'Something' is not really the right word, though.
Grace should never be reduced to a 'something.'
Neither should patience.
Or joy.
Or contentment.
These are all staple foods that my soul needs to survive.
Air that my spirit needs to breathe.
Peaceful, rejuvenating rest that my heart relies on.

Somewhere between several unexpected setbacks,
a discouraging reality check about my writing ability,
a lot of negative chatter around me,
and one too many meetings that I need to attend this week,
I lost the wind in my sails. 
I lost my ability to be gracious.
I lost my equilibrium.
I lost my underlying sense of well-being.
I lost a thankful attitude.
I lost my trust in God's goodness.
I lost faith.
I lost my focus.
I became lost.

Jesus said: I came to find and restore the lost. (Luke 19:10)
Yes, please come and find me.

The photo:  a fire truck coming to someone's rescue on a Montreal street.

Friday, September 09, 2011

why are we here?


As someone who has been a faithful "church-goer" for all of her life, I realize that sometimes when I show up at a gathering of those who love and worship God, I have lost sight of why I am there.  It has simply become habit and I feel guilt if I don't include it.  I hesitate to even use the phrase "going to church" because it diminishes a vibrant, organic community into attendance at a meeting.  We no more "go to church" than we "go to family."  It is not a location nor an event - not even a classroom where attendance is taken, though I certainly hope we learn something when we come together.  I am a part of Church if I am a part of Christ.  It is that simple.  How I live that out is a whole other matter, however.  Here are a few thoughts on why we gather in regular meetings.  These ideas were first presented at a talk in a church in Manitoba this past Sunday.

1. To remember whom we belong to.  In a previous post about my reluctance to visit a church gathering while on vacation (see my blog here), I recounted how my desire to skip a weekly meeting of people who love God because I would rather go to the beach reflected my ingratitude.  I had lost sight of the fact that my entire life, including the pleasant vacation I was on, was all because of God's goodness.  My reluctance to set aside my own wishes for a few hours in order to honour this generous God reflected my forgetfulness in this area.  I need to remind myself regularly that this is not my life to do with as I please.  It is not my own efforts or goodness that keep the universe going or good things happening in my life.  This is God's world.  This is God's time.  This is God's life.  His goodness makes all of this possible (whatever my "this" is at the moment).  Coming to a faith gathering (church) is a place to get a holy perspective and remind ourselves that it all begins and ends with God.  My story becomes swallowed up in his story.  I remember that he is the initiator of this love story and I am the responder.  And I want to be a great responder to the love and grace of God in my life.  So I start by making space to remember whom I belong to.

2.  To build community.  Community simply means that we do this together with others and we hold certain things in common.  The interesting and challenging thing about families is that we don't get to choose them.  They are pre-selected and very often, we find this selection not quite to our liking.  Family members sometimes annoy us; we have to share and take turns; we have to learn to prefer one another; we have to manage our anger; we have to learn to be patient.  When we belong to a family, we can't pick up our toys and go home when we get tired of the company - we ARE home!  In the same way, we do not get to pick and choose our faith community.  God picks the ones he places around us, and he almost always picks people we would not have chosen.  We prefer those who look and think and act like we do - easy relationships.  God picks those who poke at our irritations, who expose our weaknesses, and who need more help than we can give.  A perfect community (or family) is not built by surrounding ourselves with perfect people, but by letting God perfect his love, his grace, and his kingdom in us.  This is what wholeness is all about.  As Church, we are united in Christ, and if this is not strong enough to keep us committed to each other, then we need to take a good look at what we have substituted as our bonding agent.

3.  To be healed and made whole; spiritual maturity.  I put this point last because in my opinion, it is really a by-product of the first two.  Sometimes spiritual maturity or personal healing can be the main reason that we come to a faith community, and it is not a bad place to start, but it is a rather small and self-absorbed place to remain.  Early on, I should recognize that Church is not a gift for me to exploit and use for my own self-improvement.  We as Church are here to offer ourselves daily and weekly to God because of the goodness that is already present in our lives.

On a good day, these are the reasons why I show up at a gathering of those who love God.  On a bad day, I show up because I need to be reminded of them.

The photo:  The Winkler airport on a summer evening in September.  One of those evenings you just can't take your eyes off the changing sky.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

weak + strong

I am back at home after 8 days of vacation in Manitoba with family.  It was a great change of pace.  I wouldn't call it a time of rest, exactly, because there was a lot of activity happening (family events and outings almost every day) and I also spoke at church meetings twice.  It is always a privilege to address a group of people gathered together to engage with God and with each other, but it also requires a lot of thought and effort on my part.  And it should.  Being in the position of a teacher is one of the greatest burdens and highest joys I know.

Just over a week ago I spoke at a church in Ottawa.  I was still recovering from a bad case of food poisoning and due to this, considered cancelling the engagement or passing the task on to Dean.  But when I took the time to listen to God, it became clear that he loves my weakness - that place where I realize I must depend totally on him for strength.  Here are a few thoughts from that talk in Ottawa which I entitled:  Unscrambling My Ministry.

The term "my ministry" often leaves us puzzled.  What exactly is it?  Do I really have one?  What am I supposed to do to serve the church?  Ministry simply means "a person or agent through whom something is accomplished."  If I were to explain it, I would say that "my ministry" is actually the ministry of Jesus (doing what he initiates) that I do through Jesus (relying on his strength) for Jesus (serving and loving him in all I do). 

In my experience, I have found that there is a winning combination (not in the sense that I win anything, really, but you know what I mean) that positions me closer to the ministry of Jesus.  This happens when a few key elements come together. 

1.  The first one is when my love and compassion exceed my capacity to deliver on them.  When I open my heart to God and to the world around me, I often feel moved to help someone, or find myself filled with love for someone.  At the same time, I am lost as to what to do about it practically.  This gift of love or compassion means that I am in some small way recognizing and receiving the rich love and grace of God present all around me.  I have opened my heart.  I have opened my hands.  I am no longer keeping people at a distance, afraid of getting hurt.  I am joining myself with God's desire and Jesus' prayer to be one with those around me.  But what do I do about it?

2.  The second element is to join this compassion with the weakness always present in me.  It is embracing humility. I felt ill-equipped to speak to the people in the church in Ottawa, but my desire to give them a gift and to bless them outweighed my desire to impress them with my oratory skills.  I decided to let my weakness be the place where God could show himself stronger and more capable than anything I could come up with.  Humility.  Honesty.  Honour.  My responsibility was not to give them the greatest sermon ever, but to honour God and be present generously with them. In fact, the times I stumbled over my words and lost my train of thought illustrated that without the generous spirit of Jesus, there was not much I had to offer.  Will I rely on God to bring what I lack?  Can I bring what little I have and let my weakness show?  Can I put myself out there with my limited love and trust that God will make something out of it?  Yes, I have to risk this.  Over and over, I must put myself in this vulnerable position.

3.  The "my" part of ministry is simply the time and place and space that I dwell in.  No one else can occupy my space on this earth - physically, intellectually, emotionally.  Only I can be present to all the situations and relationships that I live through.  This is uniquely my ministry, my place to serve, to love, and to accomplish what Jesus has initiated.  No one else can take this place, so no matter how inadequate or under-prepared I feel, my weak attempts to love others and serve Jesus in my work, my home, my school, my comings and goings, my hobbies, and my neighbourhood are better than the void that would be left if I did nothing. What am I already doing?  Where is Jesus present in this?

Weakness is not a limitation nor an excuse to get out of ministry.  It is the place where my ministry meets Jesus' ministry, and I get to exchange my fear and inadequacy for his strength and ability.  Listen to what Paul has to say about it:

...so I wouldn't get a big head, I was given the gift of a handicap to keep me in constant touch with my limitations. Satan's angel did his best to get me down; what he in fact did was push me to my knees. No danger then of walking around high and mighty! At first I didn't think of it as a gift, and begged God to remove it. Three times I did that, and then he told me,
My grace is enough; it's all you need.
My strength comes into its own in your weakness.
Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ's strength moving in on my weakness. Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size—abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become.
  (2 Corinthians 12:7-10, The Message).

   
The photo: Taken at the picnic we had with the group in Ottawa on Sunday afternoon:  here is one person from Montreal and one from Ottawa sharing a moment.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

No secret




Dean and I celebrated 25 years of marriage yesterday. We spent the day doing things that we love. I requested a trip to the zoo. Dean wanted to go to the planetarium. And we ended the evening with a ride in a limo to a nice Italian restaurant in the exchange district of Winnipeg. A great, fun day!

What is the secret of a good marriage? Let me offer a few ideas on the subject.

1. There is no secret. It is a lot of love, mutual submission, commitment, and honesty in the same direction. And there can be no secrets between you.

2. Be good friends. In fact, be great friends! Passion comes and goes (especially in stressful or busy times) but friends can always enjoy a good laugh or commiserate over a drink.

3. Don't expect a fairy tale. Dirty clothes will end up on the floor. Bodily emissions will happen (some don't smell all that great). These are all part of a shared life. Enjoy the intimacy they reveal.

4. Always honour the other person. When you find yourself complaining about the other, stop. It doesn't lead anywhere good. Communicate instead. Don't offer private or embarrassing information about the other, not even for a laugh.

5. Affirm the things you want to grow: affection, compassion, spontaneous expressions of love, and preferring one other. Starve the things that drive a wedge between you: resentment, complaints, jealousy, perfectionism, silence, avoidance, etc.

6. Go on regular dates. Sit close. Kiss. Talk over drinks. Hold hands. Exchange glances across a crowded room. Never forget to say those words which we never tire of hearing: I love you, you are beautiful, I like being with you, you are so good at ...

Dean is pretty much the best thing that ever happened to me. And he keeps happening every day!!

Photo: the lion and lioness at the zoo. Great apart. Even better together.

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