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I did a lot of journaling in my mid-thirties when I was going through an intense time of healing from childhood sexual abuse. I think I may have written more poems in those years than all the other years put together! Sometimes poetry was the only way I could express myself. I have refined and rewritten these poems in a chapbook entitled, “Lost Boy: the journey of healing from childhood sexual abuse.” I’ve been able to present it a few times as a poetry reading.

LOST BOY

A lost, wounded boy

locked up in a long winter

trying to be a man

waiting for the sun

to rise with healing in its

warm Mother Hen wings.

I worked through painful memories with a counselor but my dearest friend was my wife who walked this journey by my side.

MY DEAREST FRIEND

Please wait with me one hour my dearest friend

The darkness of the night is now at hand

I bear the burden of someone else’s sin

It seems there is no balm my pain will ease

So to the empty skies I cry, “Please, please!

take away from me this cup of sorrow

Must I bear it all alone?”

Please wait with me one hour my dearest friend

The darkness of the night is now at hand

Oh that I could sweat great droplets of blood

Oh that I could cry tears that filled the seas

or scream and roar a frightened cornered beast

but my soul in silent anguish bleeding

Can I bear to feel the pain?

Oh my Lord, if it be Thy will I will

but wait with me this hour my dearest friend

This was the opening to a Lent sermon on John 11. It was the first sermon I had preached in a number of years. All sermons are autobiographical to some extent but this one was poignantly so.

LAZARUS

I am dead

Killed by the powers that oppress

Bound by the sins of the fathers

Embalmed by the stench of abuse

Entombed in the grip of the evil one

Decaying with hopelessness and fear

I am dead

four days

But wait (oh I wait

in my death) it is the Master’s voice I hear

enraged with passion

LOUD

He calls my name

“Live! Come out!”

I struggle against the death clothes

bound so tight around me

stumbling towards the light

“Unbind him!” he commands to death

“Let him go free!”

I am alive.

Since I’m blogging about journaling this month I’d better be honest since that is the essence of journaling! The piece below is from the course notes of my introductory spiritual formation course. November is a heavy month in college life with lots of assignments to grade and panicking students wanting to know what they can do to improve their grades so I do not have a lot of time to do creative writing. In case you are not as convinced as I am about the value of journaling, I have composed the top ten reasons why people should journal. They are in no particular order.

  1. Growth in Self Understanding: A journal can help us to get to know ourselves: personality type, temperament, gifts, strengths, weaknesses, etc. It helps us to explore and articulate our feelings, thoughts, dreams, relationships, and insights.
  2. Enriching our Devotional Life: Writing in a journal helps us move from the busyness of life to stillness. Because it is tangible, it can keep us accountable, regular, and disciplined. We can write prayers, see answers to prayer, keep Bible study notes, and chronicle dialogues with God.
  3. Guidance in Decision-making: Write down alternatives, feelings, pros/cons, etc. A journal can act like a sounding board to clarify our thoughts and come to a decision.
  4. Bringing order to our inner world: A journal is like “decluttering” and putting our inner “rooms” in order so we can get on with our outer life with more energy and confidence.
  5. Releasing emotions, gaining perspective: A journal can help us to recognize and name our feelings. Some emotions might unsuitable for public expression but in a journal all emotions are acceptable and uncensored. In fact, writing those in a journal might keep us from expressing them in hurtful ways in public. A journal is a safe place to vent.
  6. Greater awareness of daily life: Journaling keeps us awake, aware, and conscious of daily events that sometimes are taken for granted and might pass us by, i.e. “seize the day.” Journaling is a way to practice the ancient practice of the daily examen, examining and reflecting on the events of the day or previous day/s.
  7. An outlet for self-expression and creativity: Not all journaling has to be prose writing. Journaling can also take the form of poetry, sketching, scrapbooking, collage, flower-pressing, etc.
  8. Clarifying beliefs and convictions: What do you believe? Why do you believe it?  Writing these down is a way to clarify, consolidate, and make sense of our convictions about faith and life.
  9. Setting goals: Journaling at key times in our lives like our birthday or a new year or when contemplating a life change can help us to set goals and keep ourselves accountable.
  10. Working through problems: A journal can’t replace a friend or counselor but it helps us process what is going on so we can better express it to someone else. Sometimes journaling might be the difference between a circumstance crippling us or bringing us new life and growth.

Journaling is not for everyone. For me, it has been salvific. If I need to process something I write in my journal. Right now I journal about a page almost every day. Other seasons in my life I have only journaled once a month during my retreat day. I have journaled in some way, shape, or form for 45 years.

I started journaling on Sunday, July 13, 1975 at 11:28 PM (I know because I wrote it down!) and that night wrote out my autobiography as much as I remembered, from the selective memory and self-interested perspective of a 14 year old struggling with identity and self-acceptance. Here are my concluding lines that night:

“Deep, deep down I hope I am saved sometime but right now I need someone: either Sharon, Julie, Lana, Irene, Corinne, or God… I am a dreamer and could tell many dreams. I have a dream far off somewhere to be something, but that is only a dream… You know I really don’t know what the hell I’m writing this for because no bloody person will ever read it anyway.”

Since then, I have figured out that the purpose of journaling is not for posterity or so that someone will read it and understand me. In fact, I don’t want anyone to read it! I have ordered that my journals will be destroyed when I die. I have shared some of my journal entries with people close to me, sometimes with a therapist or spiritual director, and occasionally the poems that began in my journal are read in public. But the primary purpose of my journal is for reflecting on and processing my life. My journal is a place where I can truly be myself without fear of censorship or judgment. It is a spiritual mirror for what is going on inside me that I can’t begin to see, much less understand, unless I write it out in ink on paper.

“A journal is a tool for self-discovery, an aid to concentration, a mirror for the soul, a place to generate and capture ideas, a safety valve for the emotions, a training ground for the writer, and a good friend and confidant.” (Ronald Klug)

“We each have a story. Our stories tell who we are as they chart the unfolding of our lives, the things that make us unique. Journaling helps us make sense of our stories, understand their significance, and connect them with God’s story.” (Richard Peace)

I grew up in a rural conservative Mennonite church that was deeply affected by American revivalism; thus becoming the Evangelical Mennonite Church. Since then I have been exposed to various Christian traditions. I was intrigued by Charismatic churches that I attended as a college student. I attended an interdenominational evangelical seminary dominated by Reformed, Pentecostal, and Baptist traditions and for my graduate studies took courses at a consortium of mainline Protestant colleges on a university campus: Anglican, United (Methodist and Presbyterian), and Lutheran. I experienced a rebirth of my personal spirituality at a Roman Catholic retreat centre during my graduate studies. I presently hang my theological hat on the hook of progressive Anabaptism and teach at an evangelical Anabaptist college. All this is to say that I have gained an appreciation for the richness of various Christian traditions.

At this time of year, a few of these traditions come together in a unique way.

Halloween has become a secular holiday that is well-known. But not everybody knows it is part of a trio of holy days that includes All Saints’ Day on November 1 and All Souls’ Day on November 2. The root word of Halloween—“hallow”—means “holy”. The suffix “een” is an abbreviation of “evening”. It is to All Saints’ Day what Christmas Eve is to Christmas. All Saints’ Day is a day to honor saints (heroes of the faith) of the past.  All Souls’ Day is a day to remember all souls, or all people who have died. On All Souls’ Day, some Catholic churches have a Book of the Dead, in which parishioners have an opportunity to write the names of relatives to be remembered and/or the names are read aloud in memory of their lives.

What about all the costumes and candy? More than a thousand years ago in Ireland and Britain, a common custom of Christians was to come together on the feast of All Hallows Eve to ask for God’s blessing and protection from evil in the world. Often, they would dress in costumes of saints or evil spirits and act out the battle between good and evil around bonfires. This has morphed into a variety of costumes, “trick or treating”, and candles inside pumpkins.

October 31 is also known as Reformation Day because on this day Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses on the door of Wittenberg Cathedral as an act of protest against the corruptions in the church of the day. This act launched the beginning of the Protestant Reformation to which many denominations trace their lineage, including all those named above.

Mennonite churches are not known for following the liturgical calendar or the observance of holy days. I’m glad that our denomination is a “bit more mainline” both theologically and liturgically. I appreciate the symbolism and ritual of Catholic and mainline Protestant traditions. So this weekend, why not light a candle for those who have gone before?

One of the highlights of congregational youth ministry was participating in the baptism of young people who had come to faith and/or had been nurtured in faith through my ministry. Here is an some excerpt from a sermon I preached at a baptismal service on May 5, 1991 at Braeside Evangelical Mennonite Church in Winnipeg, MB. The text was Luke 15:1-32 which includes three lost and found stories.

At the end of each of these parables is a party. Verses 7 and 10 describe all the angels in heaven rejoicing over one sinner who repents while verses 22-24 describe the father preparing a dinner party for his one son who has returned home. They haul out their best clothes and jewelry and dine in fine style. Today twelve people are publicly announcing their commitment to Jesus. The angels must be going wild with partying! If heaven is rejoicing with vigor today, why not make things on earth as they are in heaven?

You may find the idea of parties, eating, drinking, dancing, and revelry rather offensive. Well, so did the Pharisees as we see in verse 2. In fact that is what elicits this series of parables in the first place. The party parables of Jesus respond directly to the prudish and narrow-minded theology of the Pharisees. “The kingdom of God is a party!” as Tony Campolo has declared in his book by that title. Jesus gained quite a reputation as a “party animal” with the stuffy and stiff Pharisees. 

The Christian life is a serious commitment to a daily lifestyle of discipleship, but it is lived in a spirit of joy and freedom. In the midst of daily struggles, pain and worldwide suffering, we need brief interludes of celebration to bring relief and to restore joy. There has been and will be time to preach and teach, serve and work, but today is a day to party.

Baptism involves an individual decision and commitment that displays the inner transformation that has been taking place in the lives of these people before us. Baptism also joins each one to the partying people of God. It is the initiation rite into a new family, into a new relationship with others. Pierson in his commentary on Acts says, “Jesus did not come to save disembodied souls or merely to form a conglomeration of redeemed individuals, each primarily concerned with their own salvation and needs.” He came to form a new humanity whose pattern of life is described in the New Testament. It is called the church!

We welcome you with the love of Jesus.  It is this love that binds us together and makes us one.  It is this love that brings healing and hope to the world and glory to God. May the party here today spill over into your lives on a daily basis as each one of you brings joy and love to the places and people on your path.

Some time ago our church developed a land acknowledgement to be used in our worship services and on our church website, etc. It was not a unanimously enthusiastic process. I was not directly involved in the process but I wrote out my thoughts so I would know what to say if somebody asked my opinion. Nobody did, so I post it here for public viewing.

Our word “worship” comes from the Old English WEORTHSCIPE, meaning “to ascribe worth”. To worship is to state what is most important and most valuable, i.e. what is of ultimate value to us. When Christians worship we are “ascribing worth” to the Creator of the Universe who created all things, sustains all things, and redeemed all things through Jesus Christ.

Thus, our church’s “land acknowledgement” statement is a deep act of worship because it is acknowledging that God is the creator of everything and owns everything and we are but stewards. Secondly, it acknowledges that the heart of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is reconciliation that includes reconciliation with God, with our neighbours, and with all creation. (One thing that our statement does not do but should do is confess our sin of racism and cultural genocide that was committed by our ancestors and continues in our own hearts today. One day, hopefully we will get to this part.) Thus, to be faithful to the Gospel and to be faithful worshipers of God, it behooves us to make such land acknowledgements in our worship services on a regular basis.

Some may object that such a land acknowledgement is too political and we should keep politics out of our worship services. Worship in any form—song, prayer, sermon, ritual, etc.—is a deeply political act. The first confession of faith and the first act of worship for the early church was their statement: “Jesus is Lord.” All citizens of the empire at the time were required to pay homage to the emperor with the statement of allegiance: “Caesar is Lord.” Thus, the primary statement of worship was also a statement of political allegiance to the reign of God as inaugurated in Jesus of Nazareth because this God demanded exclusive worship. Going to church to worship God is a political act no matter what the form and content! If you don’t want to make any political statements join a country club. Politics is about allegiance and relationships; this is what the church of Jesus Christ is about: allegiance to Jesus and renewed relationships with others.

As a faith community, we believe that the earth is a gift from God our Creator. Together with the first people of this land, we are called to be stewards of this earth that sustains us, and we are grateful for that privilege. Therefore, we acknowledge with deep gratitude our presence on the unceded, traditional, and ancestral homeland of the Matsqui First Nation, affiliated with the larger Sto:lo Nation. The land is an important part of our faith and we also recognize that it is, and has always been at the center of Indigenous life, culture, and spirituality.  May we treat this land and all its people with respect and understanding, as we strive for peace and right relationships with all who share it.

For my blogs this month I will be posting excerpts from a few sermons I have preached over the years. Here is a link to the Thanksgiving service this morning for our church in which I had the sermon.

http://www.emmanuelmennonite.com/…/video-service…/

As a professor at a church college, we are encouraged to preach in the constituency. Preaching is probably what I miss most about being a pastor. I usually preach 2-3 times a year in my home church, and about that often in other churches. During the semester, I rarely have time to prepare a new sermon from scratch so I often rework parts of lectures that are based on a biblical text (I teach spiritual formation so I use the Gospels a lot with excerpts from Paul’s letters. I have taught courses on Psalms and Jeremiah.). As a guest speaker I can also rework a sermon preached elsewhere. The most intense and time-consuming work in sermon preparation is the initial exegetical work with the biblical text. (I generally estimate that preparing a sermon from scratch involves about 15-20 hours of work but if the exegetical work is done it cuts down the time to less than half that.) If that is done adequately, then all that is left is to check the exegetical work, rewrite it in my present voice, and add a few contemporary illustrations and/or applications. Accepting an assignment often depends on whether I have already done some of this initial work.

I rarely use sermons I preached in my previous life as a congregational or denominational minister—perhaps because it was more than twenty years ago. Both I and the world have changed a lot in two decades! If I have a look at an old sermon I usually end up saying, “I can’t preach that! How did I ever think that was a good sermon?” And then, I have to start over and do it all from scratch anyway! This Sunday’s sermon was a rare exception. I actually thought it was okay even though it was more than two decades old and from a completely different time and place in my life. I initially prepared and delivered this sermon for Thanksgiving in 1996 at Taber Mennonite Church in Alberta (I don’t think it exists anymore so hopefully that is not a bad omen!). I left it pretty much as is, other than some contemporary applications about Thanksgiving in the midst of a pandemic. It is entitled, “The Thankful Minority” with Luke 17:11-19 as the text. As usual, I think I needed the sermon more than anybody.

http://www.emmanuelmennonite.com/…/video-service…/

I’ve been involved in some kind of church ministry for 40 years. I started out as a worship leader for a Sunday School as part of my service requirements while attending Bible college, then upon graduation became a volunteer youth leader in my home church, a few years later got my first paid gig as a part-time youth pastor, and have been employed by the church or a church institution ever since.  

At the age of 25 I had a significant personal experience not unlike some of the biblical prophets where I wrestled with God about hearing a call yet experiencing a lot of inner objections. Five years later I committed my life publicly to church ministry. I had some serious questions then—and still do—about such a public and life-long commitment—this thing called “ordination.” What is ordination anyway? My reservations were primarily around the issue of status (I don’t like that ordained ministers are put on a pedestal only to be vulnerable for being brought down), separateness (I am uncomfortable with the Old Testament ideal of being set apart from the community as some kind of a mediator between God and God’s people), conformity (I rebel against being boxed in by certain theological and political expectations), and the idea of committing myself to this for a life-time (It limits my options and it’s overwhelming). With the encouragement of the lead pastor and the affirmation of the congregation, I finally concluded that although ALL people are ordained to serve God, my service was public leadership and thus my ordination also needed to be marked by a public occasion.

I have worked as a congregational youth pastor as well as a denominational/regional youth minister. My present work as a professor is not church ministry per se but I feel that since it is a church college “preparing students for a life of discipleship, service, and ministry to the church and to the world” it continues to be an outworking of my calling and commitment.

I wrote this story for the latest issue of REJOICE! Devotional Magazine but it did not make the cut as did seven of my devotional reflections that began today. This story fits with the quarterly “inspiration” theme of the devotional reflections.

I once won a bicycle for a park-naming contest: Inspiration Park. There is a story behind the name.

I live on the unceded territory of the STO:LO people in the city of Abbotsford, which sits in the middle of the Fraser River Valley, a fragile air shed shaped like a cone opening to the ocean and closed off by mountains on all the other sides. The cities of Bellingham, WA and Vancouver, BC are on the coast and we are further inland as the cone narrows. The cities and the Trans-Canada highway—which is the major transportation corridor—produce a lot of pollutants and the winds off the ocean sometimes make the smog sit over the valley in a putrid yellowish haze, especially on hot summer days.

Some fifteen or more years ago there was a proposal to build a large coal burning electricity generating plant south of the border near Bellingham which would negatively affect the quality of our air, already vulnerable because of the geography described above. It seemed that this problem galvanized the citizens of Abbotsford and united people across the political spectrum out of a concern for vulnerable people such as seniors, children, and others with respiratory issues. It was complicated due to the fact that a national border ran through the middle of the air shed; the main player was a major American corporation, and yet the majority of the citizens affected would be Canadian. Having strong opinions about environmental stewardship and a child with respiratory issues, I signed petitions and participated in a few of the massive protests in the valley. After a few years of varied back and forth actions we actually won the legal and political battle and the coal burning plant was not built.

The city of Abbotsford had a small piece of undeveloped land downtown with some big trees on it that they wanted to dedicate as a park to winning this battle. Thus, they had a contest to name the park.

Since I was familiar with biblical Greek I knew that the word pneuma used to be translated “inspire” which appears in the King James Version of 2 Timothy 3:16 as “All Scripture is inspired by God” and in later translations became “All Scripture is God-breathed.” This is also where we get our word, pneumonia, which is a respiratory illness that affects the lungs, making it difficult to breathe. It is also the same Greek root word for “Spirit” and “wind.” The English word “inspiration” came to mean being stimulated or highly motivated to act, especially in a creative way. With all these thoughts in my head, I was inspired in the latter sense! Citizens were inspired to band together to fight for clean air to breathe, so a great name for the park would be Inspiration Park!

I tried to write it out in layperson’s language for those not familiar with biblical Greek and sent in my entry. They bought my explanation and I won a bicycle! It was an appropriate prize from the city as bicycle transportation aids in preserving clean air and it was an appropriate prize for me as a daily bicycle commuter.

I have had a cell phone for three years now. I held off longer than most people but eventually I caved in. I think we do well to consider carefully how we use our cell phones. Tyler Wigg Stevenson, in his book, Brand Jesus, does not make the case for or against a cell phone, but he does give some insight into how it shapes our identity. It is not merely a tool.

“The mobile phone became the first material object in history that was universally available while simultaneously being unique to each consumer. In a way that stands out as singular in the history of the human species, with the mobile phone, anyone can have a phone, but also his or her unique phone, by virtue of its special digital identity. And this fact augurs a shift in our perception of ourselves and our place in history and the world. The mobile phone introduced a new level of control that one could exercise as a consumer. We really do gain a consumer identity that is genuinely unique, and it is here that we see the seeds of serious theological implications for how we live our lives.

Of fundamental concern for us is the fact that though we may choose what we do with our lives, we do not choose the physical settings or characteristics of our humanity, of our God-givenness. Think about the passage of a life and how little of it we actually choose: we do not choose for our parents to meet and procreate. We do not choose the DNA upon which we are built. We do not choose the day of our birth. We do not choose who raises us as children or where. Though we can radically affect our health through our behavior, we do not finally choose how or whether to grow old. Finally, not having chosen our point of entry into time, space, and history, neither will any of us choose whether or not our bodies will one day die. These choices, among the most significant determiners of our lives, are not ours to make.

The sequence of the consumer’s digital “life” and a large part of his or her consumer identity, however, run in nearly perfect inverse parallel to the events of physical existence. [We choose the day to buy. We choose the company to purchase from, etc.] Here is the absolute and categorical difference to which so little attention is paid and yet upon which so very much depends: there will never be an aspect of the consumer’s digital identity that is not chosen and purchased via financial transaction. The same was never true of prior consumer identities. The result is a growing disconnect between our sense of the person we have bought ourselves to be [digital identity] and the person we have been created to be [flesh and blood identity]. This technological development marks a sea change in the way we think about ourselves. The cell phone is but one early example.”

He goes on to give some examples of how “developments in manufacturing technology have resulted in an astonishing capacity to personalize mass-produced goods. In this world people are not people before they are consumers—they are people perhaps because they are consumers.” A sad commentary. Buyers be aware!