"As I mused, the fire burned"

Reflection on life as a person of faith.

Archive for April 2013

Experiments on the Space Station

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I had watched this neat demo of surface tension in microgravity environments, submitted by a pair of high school students in the Maritimes. Just found out that one of the students is the daughter of a classmate of mine…its neat to see Chris smile when she asks the question about our college cheer.

Bill – I have a suggestion for a future article that ties into a couple of ex-cadets.

First link is myself, Mech Eng class of 87 college # 15998. My daughter submitted a proposed experiment to the Canadian Space Agency as part of a nationwide contest for Canadian School students. The experiment was chosen from all of the entries from across Canada and on 16 April Chris Hadfield performed the experiment on the International Space Station.

It was done on a live link with her High School in Fall River Nova Scotia. Her and her partner performed the experiment first and then Hadfield did it and then he answered several questions from the students.

Dad (me) had Kendra slip into her question how would Chris respond to the words Beer Esses Emma (his answer was good).

The event was on Nasa TV and is now on You Tube at the links below. The first is the short version with just the experiment and the second is the full one including the questions. It is also on the national news sites, I think for CBC it is in the Atlantic region archive.

Thought it might make an interesting tidbit.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lMtXfwk7PXg

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zUIa685ETgo  (Check around the 11:00 mark for the “Beer Esses Emma” response and more on RMC)

Written by sameo416

April 29, 2013 at 1:13 pm

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A Sermon for Easter 5 – Revised

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Acts 11:1-19; Rev 21:1-6; John 13:31-35 Easter 5C

I have to admit that in the past few years I’ve been astounded about the amount of talking that has been done around presenting issues – the elephant in the room – and how little of that endless discussion has involved a focus on the core mission of this mystical body we are members of, and today’s readings tell us about that mission as a call back to what our proper focus and role is in the greater world.  I also have to point out that the last sentence before the Gospel reading today, right after Judas leaves the last supper, is ‘it was night’.  This statement is deliberate as the last supper is on the edge of the crucifixion, and for the disciples it is literally and metaphorically night.  In many ways the last few years in our greater Anglican communion have felt like nighttime, with brief glimpses of joy for certain, but still night.

We hear of Peter being called to account for his actions with the Gentiles, and in particular this man Cornelius, a Gentile Centurion or officer in the Roman army.  This portion of Acts is, you might say, the account of the birth of our church – the encounter with Cornelius and his household in Chapter 10, this accounting by Peter in Chapter 11, and finally the Jerusalem Council retold in Chapter 15.  Cornelius’ encounter with God is called by some as the Gentile Pentecost, and so we anticipate a little early what will come in a few weeks, the feast of Pentecost.  I’ve always wondered why we Gentile believers use the Acts 2 reading for Pentecost, when it is Acts 10 that recounts the entry of we Gentiles into the Way.

The earliest Christians were all Jews and this new movement, this Messiah movement, was just an extension of their Jewish faith.  They still attended synagogue, read the Hebrew Scriptures and lived Torah but additionally followed The Way of Jesus the Christ.  As the Word spread, the work of the Spirit attracted more and more Gentile believers into the Christian movement.  This Spirit, which gives diverse gifts to all believers, who first gave these gifts to the Jews (Acts 2), was now giving these gifts to those assumed to be beyond God’s plan for salvation: the Samaritans (Acts 8) and now even non-Hebrews (Acts 10, 11 & 15).  A game changer.

This was a huge problem, for what do you do with non-Jews who start showing up for worship in the synagogue?  The answer, at least at first, was that they had to convert to Judaism, become circumcised and live Torah.  This was considered the normal path to salvation.  But, there was a growing body of adherent followers of the Way of Christ who had not converted and this, the church’s first cross-cultural experience (or denominational conflict) was entered in to.  The question: what do we do with Gentile followers of the Messiah movement?

This all circles around Peter’s vision of the sheet full of clean and unclean creatures.  This, in spades, is a real example of “God doing a whole new thing” with his people Israel, demonstrated dramatically and personally.  What is being undone for followers of The Way, that is the Messiah Jesus, is the Jewish bondage to the body of purity regulation.  So when Peter is told, “Kill and eat” as a good observant Jew he responds with more than a bit of shock and outrage, saying, nothing unholy or unclean has ever passed my lips.  The voice, God’s voice, contradicts him directly and issues a command: “What God has made clean, do not call profane or unholy.”

There is a strong tradition in Judaism tied back to the purity regulations in Leviticus, as a people set apart, God commanded them to follow sets of rules, like this one about food: “And the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying to them, “Speak to the people of Israel, saying, These are the living things that you may eat among all the animals that are on the earth. Whatever parts the hoof and is cloven-footed and chews the cud, among the animals, you may eat.” (Lev 11:1-3)  Even we who take Scripture seriously, as a literal life and death matter of faith, find these passages, well, a little quaint.  To understand the importance of these restrictions we need to know that the purity rules were an overwhelming requirement that guided all of a Jews relations and actions, and the implication of becoming unclean was an exclusion from community until they could ritually purify themselves.

The three Gentile men who ask Peter to come visit would normally pose some problem for a Jew, and particularly if a meal was involved, as this would result in some ritual impurity.  The passage here turns on the Spirit’s inspiration to Peter – that he was to accompany these men, making no distinction.  This is a profound moment and Peter, taking some cue from his encounter with the sheet full of creatures, goes with them.  As Peter continues to account for himself, he explains that as soon as he began to speak the Holy Spirit fell on all the Gentiles in the house…just like it had fallen on the Jews on the Jewish Pentecost of Acts 2.  This is an obvious and overt outpouring of the Spirit that has undeniable physical manifestations (contrasted with how many times we seem to hear today, ‘the Spirit is doing a whole new thing’ and yet when I look around all I see are others telling me what they feel).  Here the purity requirements were is all undone by God, when He pours out His Spirit even on those whom the Jews would have considered unclean.  So the command from above – what God has made clean do not call profane – echoes for these Gentiles, and indeed for all of us here today.  Peter is called to account by the members of the ‘circumcision party’, those who promoted adherence to Torah, and Peter is asked: how can you say that these people are safe to break bread with when you know that they are unclean?

Peter’s answer is instructive.  When Peter is called to account he tells them of these dramatic happenings where the Spirit moved in a physical and visible way, in what I would have no problem calling a miraculous way, in the home of Cornelius the Gentile soldier.  Once his story is told, we find out that the adversaries are silenced, and then turn to give praise to God Almighty because “God has given, even to the Gentile, the repentance that leads to life.”  It’s an interesting response to a man who has just told you that you are completely wrong about God’s will in this matter, isn’t it?

What I find really interesting in this Acts 10, 11 and 15 accounting is that there is no protracted polite and painful dialogue, no lengthy theological papers, no carefully articulated theological treatise as to why Peter was wrong. They didn’t rebuke Peter for his actions or label him a heretic. And they didn’t make a motion to enter executive session to discuss what they had just heard so they could render a verdict.  Instead, they fell silent for a moment in awe of what God was physically doing in their midst. And then they rejoiced, praising God for extending to the gentiles “the repentance that leads to life.”  What made the believers joyful was God’s generous grace with the gift of salvation.

What follows in Acts 15 and the Jerusalem Council is also interesting.  The elders and apostles at that gathering, once they’ve heard the first hand evidence, and James speaks up to confirm that this development was fortold by the prophet Amos, the body immediately turn and appoint additional missionaries to go forth and bring the Gospel to the Gentile believers (Acts 15:22-35).  This sequence in the encounter with revolutionary change in the structure of the church is important: they hear the physical evidence of the Spirit’s overt action; they respond with praise; they send out more missionaries.

I’m not suggesting that this debate was passionless and quiet.  We sometimes think about the early councils of the church to be dignified polite events, much like our synods of today.  All the history suggests otherwise – these gatherings were times of intense debate, much emotion and occasional violence.  I’ve found at times I’ve longed for some emotion and real debate over the issues that confront us as Christians today, real engagement in place of endless polite platitudes.  I also have no doubt that the changes in the early church involving the Gentiles left many reeling and feeling lost – another thing that has characterised our faith communities from the earliest days.

This sequence offers an important model for us to notice, in how the church deals with change.  First, the believers look for physical proof of God’s action, that physical proof is submitted to the test of Scripture to ensure that it is consistent with God’s prior revelation.  Third, the believers turn to praise and immediatly turn back to mission.  This model of the Body’s action in the world helps us to keep our mission clear as we deal with the sadness, anger, frustration and sometimes despair we experience and see in the church around us.  The call is to remain a mission-focused church where the primary business is to enable the Body of believers to get out and to transform the world.  And yet, our lives as people of faith are often full of sadness and a great sense of loss, supported because our faith gives us a way to handle what can sometimes seem to be overwhelming if we were alone in dealing with these challenges.  I want to talk about this question of the role of lament in the life of a person of faith.

Steve Bell’s last album, Keening for the Dawn, engages the question of what it is that we are all about as Christians – endless disappointment in this world, and infinite expectation of the better world to come after this first earth passes away.  He draws on the ancient concept of keening, a primal wailing in lament that expresses what C.S. Lewis described as the “inconsolable longing” of the human heart.  I want to close by following this image, because of lie that exists in our modern corporate church, that we are always supposed to be happy followers of Christ, all the time, literally already living in heaven.  The reality of our history is that the path of the church throughout time has been marked by God’s great glory, but also by spectacular failings tied back to our intense humanity, and even for believers, the warring that goes on within our souls.  A second great lie in the modern corporate church is that the salvation of our organization will come about by following modern business practices: budgets, rules of order, secular law, business plans and endless committee meetings with PowerPoint presentations about goals and milestones.  Most of this is pure idolatry, and forgets that we serve a different master (see Guite’s poem Descent, at the bottom, to see the relationship between Jesus and these ‘old gods’…we no longer have to worry about Zeus or Athena, but the modern gods of business process, PowerPoint, budgets and business plans have largely taken their place)

Our challenge today is that we don’t understand how to lament, as we’ve been informed by the culture’s expectation of contentment throughout all, by nature if possible, and by multiple large screen TV’s if not.  We live in an era of such abundance; it is hard to imagine that we can be unhappy or sad for any reason.  Yet, if you spend a few minutes reading through the Psalms, the other thing you realize quite quickly is that God’s called and chosen people regularly experience the full sweep of human emotion.

This question of lament, and how important it is in our lives of faith is something I have found sustaining in the past few years.  Can we ‘keen for the dawn’?  Can we, along with the Psalmist cry out, “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” (Psalm 13)  I’ve been lamenting for several years now, and while there are periods of joy, I seem to sit with the Psalmist more often, asking that same question, How long, O Lord? will you forget me forever?  Poet George Herbert brought this out in his poem Bittersweet, describing this tension between the infinite hope of the believer, and the infinite sadness and fatigue at the brokenness of the world and ourselves.

Ah, my dear angry Lord,
Since thou dost love, yet strike;
Cast down, yet help afford;
Sure I will do the like.

I will complain, yet praise;
I will bewail, approve;
And all my sour-sweet days
I will lament and love.

At our core we are called to be people of lament and love – a challenge, a difficult path, in fact an impossible path for a human, but possible for a human filled with the Spirit of the Almighty.  We forget this when we decide we have to solve the problems ourselves, using our wiles and intellect instead of placing the insolvable back in the hands of God.  We seem to be in an era of lament in the body of believers, and our call now is to follow that pattern of the Acts church: watch to see if God will act decisively and visibly, and until that happens continue to praise and go forth in mission, even while lamenting, because that is what we are called to be in the world.  Lament does not mean aimless sadness and tears, or standing in a corner wailing about how unfortunate life has been.  Rather lament is sadness with direction, lifting that grief and sadness before the throne of the Almighty.  Lament, far from being depressing, brings us to a place of great hope, for lament is at its core intense prayer before God.

What we hear in the Acts account today, and the parallel readings in Revelation and John’s Gospel, is a call back to who we are intended to be.  A community of believers, unified in the Spirit, and focused on one goal: promotion of the Great Commission.  When differences arise, the first question is how God has dramatically and observably moved within the community, if our discernment and Scripture confirms, then we change and immediately turn to praise and mission.  If we can’t detect God’s overt involvement, or if it is inconsistent with the record of Scripture, we discard and immediately turn to praise and mission.  In both instances our response is to remain focused on praise and mission.  Sometimes that will bring us to a place of joy, and sometimes to a place of lament.

Our anchor in this time of Lament is, as always, Jesus.  I know two truths from my faith and from Scripture: first, I constantly fall short of what it is that God calls me to be, as my intense humanness seeks to control what is properly in God’s hands; second, because of the new creation displayed through the resurrection of Christ, God offers me forgiveness, profound and frequent, to wash me clean of those sins.  And so, each time I partake in confession, each time I gather with my brothers and sisters in Christ in this mystical body to partake of the Lord’s Supper, God moves me a bit closer to that new creation that awaits us all at the end of time.

And so, we echo the words of the Psalmist (30) who reflects that tension of lament and praise:

To you, O Lord, I cry,
and to the Lord I plead for mercy:
“What profit is there in my death,[d]
if I go down to the pit?[e]
Will the dust praise you?
Will it tell of your faithfulness?
10 Hear, O Lord, and be merciful to me!
O Lord, be my helper!”

11 You have turned for me my mourning into dancing;
you have loosed my sackcloth
and clothed me with gladness,
12 that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent.
O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever!

Amen.

—————————————-

Portions of this sermon were inspiried by Steve Bell’s song from the album Keening for the Dawn, released in November 2012.  The specific song that undid writers block and opened me up to the musings of the Spirit was “Descent”, a song based on a poem of the same name by Malcolm GuiteThe comments from Steve Bell and the poem on Guite’s blog both informed this journey of discernment.

Descent  (Malcolm Guite)

 They sought to soar into the skies

Those classic gods of high renown

For lofty pride aspires to rise

​But you came down.

You dropped down from the mountains sheer

Forsook the eagle for the dove

The other Gods demanded fear

But you gave love

Where chiselled marble seemed to freeze

Their abstract and perfected form

Compassion brought you to your knees

Your blood was warm

They called for blood in sacrifice

Their victims on an altar bled

When no one else could pay the price

You died instead

They towered above our mortal plain,

Dismissed this restless flesh with scorn,

Aloof from birth and death and pain,

​But you were born.

Born to these burdens, borne by all

Born with us all ‘astride the grave’

Weak, to be with us when we fall,

​And strong to save.

Written by sameo416

April 27, 2013 at 10:19 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Then and Now, the Gospel for Chronically Afflicted

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This article was published in The Messenger, May 2006; The Edmonton Journal, 24 June 2006.  I wrote this in a period when I was using high doses of narcotics and was having much difficulty with chronic pain (while working 60+ hours per week in a parish, so maybe not surprising).  I didn’t experience a miraculous healing, but God did place in my path two part-time jobs that I could handle without the drugs, that put me back on a path of effective coping.  That said, the message is still as valid today as it was then.

————————

“… to keep me from being too puffed up, a disability was given me…” (2 Cor 12:7)

I’ve had several recent encounters with those bearing the burden of chronic, but unseen health conditions. It has sparked my own reflection as I search for a gospel and grace perspective to understand my own chronic pain. Just moving through Lent and Easter brought to mind some ideas to wrap around suffering to bring some greater perspective to pain.

Just as there are “hidden homeless” there are “hidden disabled”, those who suffer from chronic pain or chronic health conditions. Unless you meet one of these on a bad day you will likely never know what burden they carry. This is perhaps one of the reasons behind not judging: we rarely know the burdens of others.

Witnessing the miraculous healing of others creates conflict. Why not me Lord? Why must I suffer? Even worse is intrusive compassion, to be asked to do something and then told, “Oh, I forgot, you can’t do that.” This was made clear when my help for a severely disabled man led to anger when I took away one of the few things he could do, opening a container of chocolate pudding.

When sleep escapes through discomfort or exhaustion, and you sit alone, the real understanding of loneliness comes to keep you company. In a sleepy world a person too sore to sit and too exhausted to read or pray waits alone for the dawn. That time before the morning watch stretches forever.

It is not hard for me to place that dark time before dawn in Gethsemane with Jesus (Luke 22:40-46). His companions receive the gift of sleep, but there is no sleep for Jesus as he wrestles with the coming trials. Jesus was alone in the pre-dawn and wracked with pain. In the end he is strengthened, not because the burden was removed, but because he becomes prepared to continue the journey.

For those who sit in the dark of night, alone and suffering, it is some help to know that Jesus has been there too. What comes with the dawn may not be healing but the strength to see the journey through another day or another hour. But, even this consolation is limited for saying, “Jesus suffered too” is too distant from this night alone in my world, in my time, to help.

When dealing with pain that your painkillers barely touch, that loneliness comes again. How do you explain to your young child that the tears in your eyes are not from sadness or even happiness but just because the exquisite pain brings forth unbidden water? So you are left again unable to pray, unable to read and perhaps only repeating, “God, keep a smile on my face for another hour!”

The fatigue is another thing entirely for pain, like grief, is exhausting. Sometimes my only prayer seeks not relief, but energy to remain awake to complete a board game or for the focus to play catch with a child. That exhaustion deepens through endless arguments with caregivers and insurers about treatments often denied.

The trite answers, “Jesus suffered worse” or “Jesus wept” do not help. To know that my Saviour has suffered does little to remove the intense isolation of a chronic condition today. Like that useless adage, “What would Jesus do?” those thoughts are all in the past tense and of little use to me in my present torment. My solace comes only from the immediate thought: Jesus is suffering with me now.

Lofty thoughts about pain keeping one from arrogance worked for Paul but help little when today seems impossible. My hope is in the gospel account of another chronic sufferer, Jesus. He left the garden with friends but was still very alone for His last hours on earth. Jesus rose into the glorious tomorrow through the crucifixion but still bore the marks of that torture on his body (John 20:27). Jesus came through the pain, not because he knew there was relief in sight but because he accepted what he was to be for the next hour.

The gospel shows us that great grace exists through just continuing the journey. For those with chronic health issues, God’s grace is sufficient to help place one foot in front of the other to struggle until the finish line of this race comes into sight. If continuing that race means sitting, alone, in the early morning dark only able to mouth the word ‘Alleluia’, than so be it. I know my Saviour sits with me and that is enough.

Written by sameo416

April 19, 2013 at 9:16 pm

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The Continuing Story of Heritage

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thomas anderson

I had noted in previous entries that my family’s Métis heritage had been seemingly lost at some point in the past. In an attempt to pin down a date, I started reviewing the census reports from Red River beginning in about 1860, and was surprised to find that no one on the census was marked as ‘half-breed’. Everyone, including those that were first generation Métis, have listed their European ancestry. So James Anderson, (1808-1900) is listed as Scottish, as was Thomas Anderson (1835 – 1920) – my GG-Grandfather.

He is shown in this photo with ‘twins’ who I guess are his grandchildren, although the others in the photo are not yet identified.  You can certainly see the country-born heritage.

Yet when I reviewed a number of the affidavits written to obtain land script, the same people are identified as half-breeds. It’s an interesting situation, and only possible at this point to speculate on why this might be. In the 1861 census Louis Riel is listed as (metis) in brackets after his name.  Thomas Anderson Script 1

I do understand that there was a wide range of practice among those who were of mixed blood. The grade-school image of the metis as hunters of buffalo and users of Red River carts is only a portion of the image – there were those who lived as if white right from the outset. It is still curious why the European heritage was continued, often without mention of the Indian ancestry.

The affidavit (in part below) from the Archives of Canada, is from John James Setter swearing that he has known Thomas Anderson for 16 years, and confirms that he “is a Half breed Head of a family”.

Curious.

I’m in the midst of reading Maggie Siggins’ book, Riel: A life of Revolution, which seems a very compassionate view of the history.  She does point out where she differs in her analysis from other historians, which adds some credibility to her argument.  She has this gem on page 290, from the time Riel lived in Montana with a group of Metis, from the Fort Benton Record (around 1876):

“These Canadian half breeds pay no taxes; they produce nothing but discord, violence and bloodshed wherever they are permitted to locate.  They are a worthless, brutal race of the lowest species of humanity, without one redeeming trait to commend them to the sympathy or protection of any Government.”

That sort of rhetoric, which was common enough even in Canada, is perhaps part of the reason why there seems to be little acknowledgement of that mixed ancestry.  This was in the era of the ‘reign of terror’ in Red River which followed the 1870 rebellion (summarized nicely on this web page).

Maggie Siggins notes that many historians discount the reports of violence, murder and rape done in the Red River area by the Red River Expeditionary Force, but that she had heard so many recounts of that time from people who had been in Red River, that she found it hard to believe there wasn’t some truth.  The webpage mentioned above provides a nice overview with citations, documenting a number of violent acts particularly directed against the half-breeds.

It is also likely that there was a class distinction, even among those of mixed blood.  Much of the history is written about itinerant buffalo hunters in Red River, who would travel for much of the year and only live on their land in the off-season.  This was one of the reasons that many of them lost their homestead later when it was necessary to show that some improvement had been made to the land.  There is scant mention of the Metis who had adopted a more European lifestyle.

Written by sameo416

April 7, 2013 at 3:09 pm

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Writing as a Private Act (of Devotion)

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“You once said that you would like to sit beside me while I write. Listen, in that case I could not write at all. For writing means revealing oneself to excess; that utmost of self-revelation and surrender, in which a human being, when involved with others, would feel he was losing himself, and from which, therefore, he will always shrink as long as he is in his right mind. …That is why one can never be alone enough when one writes, why there can never be enough silence around one when one writes, why even night is not night enough.” Kafka (to his fiancee)

Written by sameo416

April 5, 2013 at 8:15 pm

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