Self + Image

The thought first occurred to me when I was meeting people at my new job for the first time.

“So, what brought you to London?”

     “I’m studying at Huron College”

“What are you studying?”

     “Theology”

And just like that, I am the Christian kid. I can see it happen. I am immediately in one of two boxes: the “oh brother, here we go” box or the “interesting, tell me more” box. My time on the West Coast has conditioned me to assume it will always be the former, though I’ve been pleasantly surprised when that hasn’t always been the case.

It is strange for me to be reconstructing myself in a new place. I knew very few people in London before moving here and so have been starting over in a lot of different ways. A lot of the things that were central to my way of life and who I am in community are no longer with me. I am re-finding myself but also reconstructing myself and reconstructing the self that others see.

In my last job in Victoria I was just another person working alongside people with similar values and beliefs. It was over time that it “came out” that I was a Christian and, for the most part, people were pretty cool with that. In fact, it became a great way to break down some of the bad stereotypes of Christians not caring about marginalized populations. However I was able to start from a place of presenting myself without the preconceived notions of who I should be as a Christian person. In my new job I don’t have that and it feels like an added pressure or weight on me as I go about my work.

Every church that I visit in London soon discovers that I am a new theological student and suddenly I am no longer looking for a place to call home and worship but am seeking a potential field placement for second year.

School is the other place where I find myself having to forge an identity. I rewrote a paper three times before submitting it today. It was a reflection paper that was meant to delve into the question “What I bring to ministry” but I did not agree with the starting point for the paper and thus struggled with the whole thing. How does one gracefully reject the premise of the first paper submitted for a course, make a good impression, but not present a false self? On a graded assignment? (That reflection papers can even be graded is another source of tension for me.)

I know that all I can do is “be myself”. However self is formed in relationship with others and when new relationships occur, especially a lot at once, self has to adjust. It is a lot like a mobile: when some of the figures shift, all of them must move around until a new balance is achieved. It is hard not to be reactionary and head to one polar extreme when faced with something so different from what feels normal. It is tempting to be someone I am not just to make the point of what I am really not…

I came to Ontario to challenge my West Coast worldview. I guess I am getting what I asked for!

Advertisements

Imagining God

“When you think of God, what image comes to mind?”

This was a question put to me by one of my assessors at ACPO (the Bishop’s Advisory Committee on Postulants for Ordination, that “Church Big Brother” that I spoke of in my last post).

I didn’t know how to answer her. Images for God? I suppose some people think of a big, bushy, white bearded fellow who sits on a throne in the clouds. Others might see an image of Jesus, perhaps on a cross. I’m not sure what I said in response to the question. I think I stumbled through some descriptive words that are helpful to me now and then.

The question, however, stuck with me. When I returned home, I looked up the assessor who had asked that question and decided to read one of her books. In it I discovered that the question, “When you think of God, what image comes to mind?” wasn’t too far off of a question she had posed to the women she had interviewed as a part of her research: “If you think about God, do you have any picture in your mind?” In the pages that followed I gained a better understanding of what my assessor was perhaps getting after with her question to me.

However rather than recount her findings here, I will continue off along the path my reflections took me. Rather then focus on specific images for God, I began to think more about why I didn’t have any actual images that jumped to mind when questioned. It isn’t that I am not a visual learner, I am to some extent as I picture things I have read on the page when trying to recall. It isn’t even that I don’t see the value of images as I appreciate meditating on an icon.

Instead, I turn to Madeleine L’Engle who, in one of her works of non-fiction, perhaps A Circle of Quiet, (I’ve read them all so many times that they begin to blend into one), talks of the difficulty of bringing to mind a picture of those for whom we have the most familiarity and the greatest amount of love. Try it. Start by trying to picture a friend, coworker, or neighbour. Someone who you see and interact with on a regular basis but don’t get into the great depths of relationship. Then try to bring to mind a image of someone you love deeply, perhaps a spouse, parent, or child. It is much more difficult! Perhaps the better we know someone, and know them through different and many senses, the more difficult it is to picture them in our minds.

Something to think about.

 

(Post Script: This isn’t to say that I think I have God all figured out or that I am a super person knows God so well that I am superior to all of those people who have visual pictures in their mind of who God is… Rather it is me thinking out loud about how I relate to this concept and how I have been understanding myself and my relation to God in light of the question posed to me a few weekends ago.)

Approved and Accepted

Spring is in the air, summer is not far away, and changes are afoot.

Some of you may know that this last year has been a year of a lot of change and transition for me. My temporary full-time position came to an end and so I took a two-month leave and ran away to Africa to hang out with my sister in South Africa for Christmas and New Years. I came home to working two jobs on a casual/on-call basis and have been working (nearly) full time hours at that for the last four months. I’m going to keep doing that for the next two months…

…and then I’m moving to London, Ontario!

Let me back up a little bit further. A little over a year ago, I embarked on a fairly intense process of intentional discernment with the idea of determining whether or not I am being called into a position of ordained ministry – that is, to be a priest. That process has entailed both one-on-one conversations with my spiritual director, the priest at my current church, and the Anglican bishop of my diocese as well as group discernment (what I have called reverse group counselling with myself as the lone ‘client’ and a whole group of people talking with me), formal interviews, and weekend-long assessments. It has been both exhausting and intensely rewarding.

Three weeks ago I had a full weekend ‘retreat’ (aka Church Big Brother) with a group of other candidates from across British Columbia where we were in conversation with assessors from all over the province. Their job was to assess our competencies, strengths, weaknesses, and gifts for ministry. The resulting report heartily recommended that I be approved for training and ordination as a priest.

Step two: school. A funny thing happens when you say you won’t do something. You frequently end up doing it. My standard response to the question of whether or not I would do a PhD when I announced I was doing my MA in Counselling was, “No, because I’d like to be done school by 30.” Well, here I am, past that, and going back to school, not for a PhD but for another Masters. Yesterday I received my offer of acceptance from Huron University College (on the campus of Western University in London – anyone else see the humour of me moving east to go to a school called Western??) to begin study towards a Master of Divinity degree, starting in September.  This is a three-year program approved by the Anglican Church of Canada for training postulants for ministry within the Anglican Church.

As much as I am loathe to leave Victoria – I love it here – I am looking forward to living back in Ontario after nearly 20 years! I’ll be closer to family and friends than I’ve been in years and am looking forward to exploring a new corner of the country. Now all I need to do is figure out how to get my stuff from here to there and collect boxes to put it all in!

A PWRDF Sunday

I case you were wondering what I preached this morning… (I’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of that placemat story!)

Given at St John the Divine, Victoria. Third Sunday of Advent: March 11, 2012. Gospel: John 2:13-22.

I remember my first encounter with The Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund (PWRDF). I was young, perhaps 11 or 12 years old, and what stands out are those placemats. We’ve all seen them… from coast to coast, many Anglican church potlucks have had those placemats covering the tables where we sit and eat together. But those placemats are not what gave me a passion for the Primate’s fund, nor are they what has kept me involved in it, nearly 20 years later… Rather it was the stories told by a passionate person in my parish who knew about and believed in the stories of what the Primate’s fund is doing around the world.

But more on those stories in a minute…

First, who am I and what do I do with PWRDF? In my day-to-day life, I am a counsellor with the Cool Aid Society. In my weekend life, I worship down the street at Christ Church Cathedral where I, amongst other things, serve on Parish Council. With the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund, I am the youth council representative for the ecclesiastical province of BC and the Yukon. That is a fancy way of saying that my role is to bring the voices of youth in BC and the Yukon to the national board of the Primate’s Fund and then turn around and bring the stories of PWRDF partners to people, particularly youth, in the same region. I am not on the board, rather I am part of youth council: a separate and autonomous entity composed of a dozen youth from across this country who are passionate about international relief and development, and social justice. Youth who both create programs and resources for Canadian Anglican youth and who tell the stories of PWRDF to youth.

Why PWRDF? For one thing, it is homegrown, beginning as an Anglican response to disasters within Canada and over the last fifty years spreading to have a national and international relief and development focus.

But what I love about PWRDF is the model we use to operate. We don’t import “western experts” into countries and tell locals how best to fix the problems in their regions and communities. We don’t spend precious resource monies on a large staff or on bringing products overseas. Rather, we partner with organizations who are already working on the ground in their own communities and support and resource them in continuing the work they are already doing.

And people like myself volunteer to tell their stories…

In relief efforts, our partnership might look like providing the funds for an organization to buy precious food to be distributed in drought-stricken or famine-ridden areas.

In development, it looks like translating documents into indigenous languages to help a people group re-learn the skills to grow and harvest their own crops rather than rely on corrupt corporations who will under-pay and overwork them.

Or it may look like providing the start-up money for a women’s microcredit organization, like the one we heard about this morning in Mozambique. In fact, with that organization in Mozambique, one woman who first entered with just a cow and an idea to produce and sell milk to other villagers to support her family now owns not only a herd of cattle but also the land they graze on and she is able to employ many of her neighbours.

In relief, it looks like the villages in Kenya that I visited in 2009. There the Canadian Foodgrains bank, of which PWRDF is a member, was involved in distributing food to thousands of individuals who were affected by the devastating East African drought. We travelled around regions of the country, bringing giant bags of beans and maize and jugs of oil: enough supplies of food to feed a family of eight for a month. In each village we went to, we sat down with a group of people from the village to hear their stories. In each village, the stories were heart-breakingly similar: the rains had not come. Yes, there had been sprinkles here and there, but the big rains, the rains that nourished the ground and gave life to growing crops, had not come for five, six years. Crops would not and could not grow. The livestock that had not been sold, given away, or eaten, simply sat in the shade of scraggly trees all day, as there was no grass to feed on.

We met a woman, 34 years old, the 4th wife of her husband, with eight children of her own – who could finally feed her children, including the young one still breastfeeding. In another village, a man tearfully told us of how grateful he was for the food relief for his village because, as he said it, if we had not come, some of the people in the village had found “chemicals” to use to end their problems as they could not bear the shame of being unable to feed their families.

Yet it was not all tales of woe. One village in the Mt Kenya region refused to roll over and let the drought win. They did not want to receive food relief… While we sat and talked, they spoke of the projects they wanted to do to develop their village so that they could better withstand another drought. So we talked about how to set up a “food for work” program in which we provided food and resources for irrigation and they, in return, would create an irrigation project in their village so that when the rains did come, they would be able to capture and save as much rain as possible for as long as possible.

In relief and development it looks like our partnership with the Organization of Eelam Refugee Rehabilitation or OfERR, an Indian/Sri Lankan organization that PWRDF has partnered with for 30 years. OfERR works with refugees of the Sri Lankan civil war who have taken up residence in refugee camps in South India. They not only help with getting identification documents for the refugees and skills retraining, but they provide community support to the Sri Lankan Tamil refugees living in India. When the 2004 Asian Tsunami hit India and Sri Lanka, OfERR was able to assist in the relief and rebuilding of the communities in which they lived, giving back to a place that had accepted them as refugees. This past week, a priest of our diocese and a friend of mine left for two weeks in India and Sri Lanka. He goes with a number of other Canadians associated with PWRDF to spend time with OfERR, supporting their work and, if everything going according to plan, to bear witness to one of the first groups of the 100,000 Tamil refugees as they return to their home in Sri Lanka.

In development, it looks like the Keiskamma Trust, a PWRDF partner organization in the Eastern Cape region of South Africa, an area of South Africa hardest hit by HIV/AIDS. Founded by an artist, who also happens to be a medical doctor, the Trust provides medical support to individuals and families struggling with HIV/AIDS. I had the opportunity to meet the founder and director of the Trust at PWRDF’s board meeting last fall. Her vision is extraordinary: knowing that health is more than just physical health, she has expanded the original medial clinic to include both a women’s arts collective and a children’s music academy. The medical centre works at providing health care and medications to a group of people so frequently shunned and stigmatized in their society. The arts collective brings women together to create masterpieces of fabric arts that have been exhibited around the world. The music academy gives the children something bigger than themselves to be a part of and has given them the opportunity to tour and play for large audiences in cathedrals and on game reserves throughout South Africa. Not only do I know the stories of these individuals through meeting the founder and director, but also my sister has been in South Africa since August teaching music at the academy.

Reflecting back to words we heard read this morning, the Gospel reading gave us quite a different picture of Jesus than we typically see on Sunday School flannel boards or pictures mounted on the wall. In this story, Jesus goes into the Temple in Jerusalem and uses a whip to drive out all of the vendors and money-changers. Wow. To put into perspective what these guys were doing… it would be like you coming to church this morning and having to pay exorbitant fees because you needed to change your Canadian dollars into American dollars in order to buy the things you need for worship: your leaflet, your hymn book, or your prayer book. Ridiculous. Completely Unjust. But that is what was going on.

If we look around us, there are injustices everywhere. We have before us a model of Jesus taking action and, to use the words of one of the Marks of Mission: “seek[ing] to transform the unjust structures of society”. In our gospel reading, Jesus is actively challenging, in a very visible and somewhat violent way, the structures of his society that were creating injustice.

Another one of the Marks of Mission is “To respond to human need by loving service.”

Human need is all around us and through PWRDF we have an amazing vehicle for acting on that need. We are called to respond and we are constantly challenged in scripture to follow the example of Jesus.

For me, a big part of that is the work that I do with PWRDF and what I would challenge you with today. I’m not saying that everyone has to go out there and start overturning tables, though sometimes that might work, but what can you do, what can I do, to follow the example of Jesus, to work against injustice and to respond to real human need with what resources we have at hand.

Because I have seen that together we do make a difference. We can make Another World Possible.

Amen.

PWRDF From the Pulpit

Actually, I think it will be from the lectern, but pulpit has alliteration going for it.

I’m preaching at the church of St John the Divine, Quadra this Sunday. I’m there as a part of their month of talking about the work of PWRDF so I will be sharing some of the stories of the Primate’s Fund and generally telling people why it is a good idea that they support it.

If you’re in town and have nothing to do Sunday morning, come on down for either the 8am or 10am service. I will likely be sticking around after each service as well, drinking coffee and answering questions.

Our Loving Creator

Adaption of the Lord’s Prayer written at the 50 Leaders weekend last weekend. It was a collaborative effort done over a space of a couple hours during our spiritual practices downtime.

Our loving creator, rock of our salvation,
Holy be Your beautiful name,
Your dwelling place come,
Your love be known
By everyone on earth.
Give us today the things we need,
and forgive us our faults,
more than we forgive those who offend us,
and journey with us away from temptation,
and protect us from harm.
For blessed is the space,
and the capacity and the delight,
beyond earthly time.
Amen.

justgeneration.ca

Do What is Good

Unashamedly re-posting this from The Weary Pilgrim because I love it. Thank you for the impacting words.

They said, who to love,

Jesus said, do what is good.


They said, obey the Sabbath,

Jesus said, do what is good.


They said, forgive this many times,

Jesus said, do what is good.


They said, you can’t hang out with those people,

Jesus said, do what is good.


They said, you can’t touch those people.

Jesus said, do what is good.


They said, you have to worship here, like this,

Jesus said, do what is good.


They said, which law,

Jesus said, do what is good.


They said, faith is this,

Jesus said, do what is good.


They said, you get eternal life this way,

Jesus, said, do what is good.