Archive for the ‘Discussion’ Category

God bless you, Odette

Posted on: February 8th, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Discussion


The temporary door of the Church of St. John the Baptist in Terra Firme, Brazil. Photo: Fred Hiltz


She met us as we arrived in Terra Firme, a very poor neighbourhood in the city of Belém in Brazil, where the diocese of Amazonia has had a steadfast witness to the gospel for many years. She was so delighted we had come—her parish priest Marcos, her Bishop Saulo and his wife, Ruth, her Archbishop Francisco, Archdeacon Paul, and me. She was excited to show us the new Church of St. John the Baptist. Replacing the old wooden structure that had been falling down through dry rot, it is made of brick. The walls are up, and the roof is on. The temporary door is made of seven slats of rough wood, nailed to a couple of pieces of two-by-four.

Odette had a bundle of keys in her hand, but none matched the padlock on the door. Exasperated but undaunted, she shifted the conversation from a view of the interior of the church to the ministries it would house. Speaking with a passion of heart and hand, Marcos interpreted for us. Here the community will gather to hear the Word of God and celebrate Holy Communion, to sing and pray. Here they will know God’s love and care for them in the midst of the poverty that besets them, the lack of sanitation services evident everywhere and the alarming increase in acts of gang-related violence. From this church, people will be fed and clothed and counselled according to their need. In the little patch of green in front of the building, children will be able to play safely under the watchful eyes of those committed to their protection and well-being.

Here is a church that truly is bread for the people, salt for their piece of the Earth and light for their crowded world of overwhelming despair.

As we got back into our car, Odette made her way home. When word reached her that we had been robbed shortly after our visit [see related story, p. 11], she quickly reappeared, her once sparkling eyes now filled with tears. Devastated by what had happened, she was, nonetheless, thankful that no one had been harmed. After a brief exchange, she and Fr. Marcos embraced, and we were on our way.

The church is so very blessed by the compassion, courage and unwavering commitment of people like Odette. Holding her in my prayers, I hope that, in the mystery of God’s way of knitting us together in one communion and fellowship in Christ, she knows of my admiration of her witness to the gospel and how it summons me to a discipleship that is more joyous and generous, more centred and sacrificial—a good challenge as I make my way into Lent.

God bless you, Odette.

Archbishop Fred Hiltz is primate of the Anglican Church of Canada. 

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Anglican Journal News, February 05, 2016

Becoming fluent in the language of Christ

Posted on: January 26th, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Discussion

Becoming fluent in the language of Christ


Photo: Denis Kuvaev/Shutterstock


 

There are 168 hours in a week. We are awake for roughly 121 of them—and those are very busy hours.

Work, sports and recreational activities, volunteering commitments, school, friendships, family time, not to mention the hours required for the regular stuff of ordering our lives—grocery shopping, snow shovelling, laundry… Everything takes its cut of our time.

Even if Christian formation, for you or for your children, is a priority, it is hard to give it more than an hour or two a week—which is a little like spending an hour or two in language instruction in the hope of achieving fluency.

I can hear the protests now, so let me agree: Christian formation does not happen only at church. And nor does language learning  happen only in class. In fact, both Christian formation and language learning are more effective, more profound, when they also happen elsewhere. But neither happens elsewhere by accident.

One of the features of modern Christian life has been the privatization of faith—the idea that our religious beliefs and practices fall into the personal sphere and have no place in the public sphere. I worry that we have actually pushed the logic of that to the point where we behave as though our religious beliefs and practices fall only into the “religious sphere” of church-organized groups and activities. As a result, we have a generation of parents who want to be involved in the Christian formation of their children but don’t feel they know how. We have a generation of adults who do not know how to consider their life choices in prayer or from a theological point of view. We have a generation (at least) of Christians who cannot explain the relevance of church to their non-church-going friends and family members.

So how can we help people engage in their own Christian formation outside of church and church programming (both of which are important!)? There are many answers to that question, but one is to give them an experience of prayer that they can take away and recontextualize in their own homes.

The classic example of this is the Advent wreath. Many of our churches have a short liturgy for lighting the candles at the beginning of each Advent Sunday service and many of our families will have a similar tradition—my family does it before dinner each evening of the season. Other seasonal opportunities exist as well—Epiphany house blessings, Lenten devotions, Thanksgiving litanies, animal blessings. These are relatively easy ways to link church and home for our members and open the way to daily ones—blessings, confessions, Bible stories and thanksgivings.

There is something deeply powerful about that liturgical bridge between church and home. It reveals the truth that our faith and worship are not occasional but rather foundational to our life. Once that is truly recognized, all 168 hours in our week become time spent on Christian formation, and we can become fluent in the life-giving language of Christ.

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Anglican Journal News, January 26, 2016

Herbert O’Driscoll, the storyteller

Posted on: January 19th, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Discussion

Herbert O’Driscoll, the storyteller


 

Herb is one of my mentors because he is living proof of lifelong service.

We have been friends for about 35 years, and what I want to share here is a reminder of an active life well lived. What I convey comes from two main sources—his formal spiritual writings, engaged preaching and teaching, and many rich, informal exchanges between us.

No period of life is insignificant in terms of spiritual growth, he would say, so this recitation is not merely the reflection of one ageing friend about another. As he reminded me recently, decisions we make at various strategic times in our lives frequently have a significant impact on how our future unfolds. This is especially, but not always, true, about the second half of life, when we become involved with integrating and resolving our experience.

Herb was born, raised and received his definitive education for ministry in the Church of Ireland; first at Middleton College, County Cork, and then at Trinity College, Dublin. As an Anglican living in Catholic Ireland, his Celtic spiritual formation had a lifelong impact. He has grown and matured in that tradition and shared it with many though sermons, books and travel hosting. A gifted hymn-writer and raconteur, he remains a valuable modern resource for an ancient spiritual way.

After ordination, Herb served briefly as a priest in his homeland, but soon followed a dream to come to Canada. His first ministries in this country were in the Ottawa diocese; but he then responded to a call from across the country to become dean of the cathedral in New Westminster. He greatly influenced North American sermons across the ecumenical spectrum while teaching at the College of Preachers, Washington National Cathedral, and elsewhere.

He returned to Canada as rector of Christ Church, Calgary, and it was at that time, during the early to mid-’80s, that our friendship began. Herb has been in “active and productive” retirement for the past 25 years through leading workshops and retreats, and countless speaking engagements. I have often marvelled at the stamina this takes, but he has obviously found his passion and that keeps him going.

While his career path is impressive, I was always taken by his concern over the major trans-Atlantic and new continental moves all this entailed for Paula, his wife—a noted vocalist—and for his family.

Some of Herb’s most productive work has surfaced during the later decades when, freed from the responsibilities of formal ministry, he has been able to give contemporary attention and interpretation to those ancient Celtic Druidic spiritual voices.

Narrative conversation is how I would describe the way we engage each other. Rational concepts and esoteric ideas are not his preferred style of communication. Herb frequently uses a common anecdote to make his point, and in so doing, he has avoided the pitfalls of self-congratulation.

Sometimes we wait too long to let our special friends know how we have benefited from the relationship. I didn’t want that to happen with Herb.

Wayne A. Holst was a Lutheran pastor (ELCIC) for 25 years. He taught religion and culture at the University of Calgary for a quarter century and co-ordinates adult spiritual development at St. David’s United Church, Calgary.

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Anglican Journal News, January 19, 2016

The ministry of shared suffering

Posted on: January 14th, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Discussion


Many of us have  been shaped by the norms of a way of being church that is under great stress: this is the idea that a church is, at a minimum, an academically credentialed priest with a stipend, presiding over a building and a staff (paid and/or volunteer) that is able to provide services and program. This is a rugged expectation, even though this pattern is increasingly inaccessible, unsustainable and, in certain ways and in certain contexts, ineffective. For Indigenous communities, this has been true for a long time; in most places, decades. It might be more accurate to say that it has never been very effective in Indigenous communities.

Over the past few decades, Indigenous communities—drawing upon their values, spiritual traditions and a lively Indigenous reading of the way of Jesus—have learned a lot about maintaining church community where there are few material resources. In the continual poverty and stress of Indigenous communities, a way of being church is emerging. In these principles, we are finding a way forward:

•  The presence of Jesus, wherever two or three gather in his name, is the true power, glory and goodness of the church.

•  In this sacred circle, the gospel is the heart of our work, the agent of change and the motivation—in the Spirit—of a spiritual movement that is seeking growth throughout the land.

•  Although the competence of clergy has been the emphasis of much of the church’s leadership development in recent times, we must focus on the competence of congregations. Can the congregation bring people to spiritual birth and rebirth?

•  A circle of clergy and elders is the best way to provide spiritual and pastoral care to a community. If there are no stipends for clergy, as is most often the case, it is no longer permissible to allow them to shoulder the work of a full-time clergy person with stipend.

•  Recognized ministries of those who are not ordained—catechists, music ministers and readers—are essential to the growth and well-being of the church.

•  Churches grow, especially in the context of great stress and human need, not by program but by shared suffering. This is the ministry of Christ, and it is the way of those who would follow this service and life.

The clergy and congregations of Indigenous communities certainly deserve a share of the greater wealth of the larger church and its congregations, but that is not what will make it work. The clergy and other leaders who serve sacrificially without support—whether Indigenous or not—should receive more attention and substance from us all. The horizon of the churches, however, is not equal to its material resources but to its spiritual resources, and, much more critically, depends on the grace of God. It is in these that a lively future will be found.

Bishop Mark MacDonald is national Indigenous bishop of the Anglican Church of Canada.

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Anglican Journal News, January 14, 2016

Gretchen E. Ziegenhals: Everything old is new again

Posted on: January 12th, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Discussion

Antique spinning wheel

Bigstock/Maren Winter

As Christian leaders, how can we recognize and honor both the new and innovative and the old that grounds and roots the new? A managing director at Leadership Education at Duke Divinity ponders this when she sells an antique spinning wheel.

In the living room of my childhood home in Oak Park, Illinois, stood a large spinning wheel. I was the one in charge of dusting the wheel when we cleaned house, and at Christmastime, my mother hung a small elf off the distaff. When my brother and I, my cousins, and later the grandchildren horsed around, we were always warned not to knock it over. Sometimes we did.

My mother liked Early American antiques, and she had spotted this one in a small antique shop in Plymouth, New Hampshire, during one summer vacation. My father protested in vain, and ended up tying it to the roof of our car for the long drive home. I’m sure we made quite a spectacle entering Chicago on the Dan Ryan Expressway.

After more than 30 years in one home, my parents downsized to smaller dwellings several times. My mom convinced my dad to drag the spinning wheel along with each move. It perched jauntily on top of an enormous bookcase in their Kentucky condo. In the retirement community in North Carolina, there was no room for it in their small, tidy layout, so it rested quietly in the attic, the wheel detached and leaning against the frame.

In my ongoing attempt to sort, keep or give away a lifetime of accumulated treasures, I recently listed the wheel for sale. An elderly man with a long gray beard and gnarled hands answered the ad. He and his adult daughter brought their truck to my house, where I had set the spinning wheel in the front hall — the only place I had room for the large frame.

The man immediately went over to the wheel and began touching it, as would a man used to horses or machinery, someone who knew the worth of things by feel. “Well,” he pronounced almost at once, “it’s missing a small metal piece here, but I can make that. We’ll take it.” Astounded, I asked, “Are you an antiques dealer?” I had tried with no success to sell it at several antique shops.

“Nope,” he replied. “I’m a spinner. I have sheep, and I spin the wool to make yarn.”

It had never occurred to me that the wheel could be returned to its everyday use. As an object sitting in my childhood suburban home, it was a piece of history that we sometimes contemplated, but we always assumed it was missing too many crucial parts to be of use anymore.

The man went on to tell me that he would also be taking the wheel to Civil War re-enactments and other historic sites where he is a volunteer spinner. “This wheel is gonna get a lot of work,” he said fondly, one hand resting on the structure.

Instead of feeling like a bad daughter for selling off my mother’s favorite treasures, I can now feel grateful. I’ve been amazed at the resurrection in this story, the beautiful redemptive elements.

When we talk about traditioned innovation in the world of Christian leadership, we refer to the ways in which what is new and good is rooted in deep, long-standing tradition. We call traditioned innovation “a way of thinking and being that holds the past and future in tension, not in opposition,” and we have seen the ways in which it is crucial to the growth and vitality of Christian institutions.

The spinning wheel also reminds me of the “wheel of time,” the concept that everything old is new again and comes around in its time. As leaders in congregations and other Christian institutions, how can we recognize and honor both the new and innovative and the old that grounds and roots the new? And at the same time, how can we faithfully affirm that the end of all of our efforts as Christian leaders, the telos, is the coming reign of God?

For even the end is a part of the cycle, Duke theologian Greg Jones tells us: “In our thinking as well as our living, we are oriented toward our end, our telos: bearing witness to the reign of God. That is what compels innovation. But our end is also our beginning, because we are called to bear witness to the redemptive work of Christ who is the Word that created the world. We are the carriers of that which has gone before us so we can bear witness faithfully to the future.”

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Leadership Education at Duke Divinity, Faith & Leadership, January 12, 2016

L. Gregory Jones: Self-sabotage through bureaucratic thinking

Posted on: January 12th, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Discussion

Simple Sabotage book cover

Storytelling, experimentation and improvisation are practices of traditioned innovation that move our institutions away from self-sabotage and toward flourishing, writes the theologian.

“We have met the enemy and he is us.” This famous line from comic-strip character Pogo is worth remembering when we are tempted to blame others for the failures in our leadership and organizations. Too often we engage in behaviors that sabotage our organizations rather than offering leadership rooted in practices of traditioned innovation that move us faithfully and effectively toward “the end” that is our mission and purpose.

Our propensity for self-sabotage became clearer to me in reading about a declassified 1944 field manual for the sabotage of an enemy’s organizations developed by the precursor to the CIA. It is a savvy list of unobtrusive ways to prevent an organization from accomplishing its purposes.

It is also a painfully humorous list that shows how often we engage in these behaviors ourselves. In “Simple Sabotage (link is external),” Robert M. Galford, Bob Frisch and Cary Greene unpack the items on the list to show how easily we can undermine our own work and that of the organizations we lead and serve.

The list itself typically sparks howls of laughter from other leaders. And why not? Its subversive behaviors sound a lot like the meetings where I am sharing the list!

  1. Insist on doing everything through “channels.” Never permit short-cuts to be taken in order to expedite decisions.
  2. Make “speeches.” Talk as frequently as possible and at great length. Illustrate your “points” by long anecdotes and accounts of personal experiences. Never hesitate to make a few appropriate “patriotic” comments.
  3. When possible, refer all matters to committees, for “further study and consideration.” Attempt to make the committees as large as possible — never less than five.
  4. Bring up irrelevant issues as frequently as possible.
  5. Haggle over precise wordings of communications, minutes, resolutions.
  6. Refer back to matters decided upon at the last meeting and attempt to re-open the question of the advisability of that decision.
  7. Advocate “caution.” Be “reasonable” and urge your fellow-conferees to be “reasonable” and avoid haste which might result in embarrassments or difficulties later on.
  8. Be worried about the propriety of any decision — raise the question of whether such action as is contemplated lies within the jurisdiction of the group or whether it might conflict with the policy of some higher echelon.

It is quite possible, and even natural, to discover the intersections and overlaps on the list. For example, long speeches often lead to a preoccupation with irrelevant issues. Once you get lost in irrelevant issues, you lose sight of why you want to communicate something to others in the first place. At that point, haggling over precise wording is more like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic than crafting a clear articulation of strategic direction.

Similarly, an overcommitment to caution often causes you to return to matters resolved at the previous meeting and question whether you in fact ought to implement what was decided. Further, the more you revisit the last meeting, the more likely you are to encourage an obsessive focus on “channels” and “committees” and to slow down or stop any real action.

Our laughter at the list ought not to lead us to overdetermine its insights. For example, well-functioning channels and committees are integral to any flourishing organization properly oriented toward its purpose and mission. And attention to language and the exercise of prudence are crucial to wise and effective leadership.

Taken together, though, these eight tendencies of self-sabotage are characteristic of a dangerously bureaucratic way of thinking. Ironically, as these examples show, bureaucratic mindsets can afflict small groups as well as large organizations, and they are as likely to sabotage faith-based nonprofits or for-profit businesses as they are governmental bureaucracies.

How do we overcome simple sabotage of our organizations? One obvious and easy step is to keep this list handy. Laughing at our tendencies, perhaps through shorthand references — “We’re making speeches again” or “This is self-sabotage by large committee” — can help us become vigilant.

Using shorthand can be very effective in senior leadership teams. Drawing on a passage in the biblical book of Numbers, my team would often point out to one another when we were focused on going “back to Egypt” instead of moving forward toward fulfilling our mission.

Yet shorthand reminders and vigilance aren’t enough. We also need a different mindset, one that is rooted in practices that help us execute with urgency.

This mindset is traditioned innovation. It entails practices that foster both continuity with the best of our past and the passionate pursuit of the possibilities of the future.

What do those practices look like? One such practice is storytelling that is focused on “the end,” our purpose and mission, and that returns us to “the beginning,” what brought our organization into being. Such storytelling is very different from long speeches or distractions created by irrelevant issues.

A second practice is experimentation paired with a commitment to rapid scaling of what works. Often associated now with the phrase “the lean startup (link is external),” it is the opposite of bureaucratic planning processes that emphasize committees, channels of authority and a preoccupation with appropriate jurisdiction.

A third such practice is improvisation, particularly in combination with the first two practices. A commitment to improvisation leads us to a “yes, and …” spirit that overcomes self-sabotage through collaborative bridge building.

I suspect that the 1944 field manual was created in part because the Nazis were really good at storytelling. They had a bold vision of the end; it just happened to be deeply corrupt and horrifyingly unjust. They were committed to scaling their efforts in pursuit of a “final solution.” And they were engaged in continuous improvisation.

In such a context, sabotage via bureaucracy was an effective tool in the war against the Nazi vision and hegemony. Our problem today, though, is more likely that we are sabotaging ourselves with bureaucracy, and we have increasingly lost sight of our end, abandoned the imagination of a lean startup and replaced improvisational leadership with bureaucratic management.

The good news for leaders of Christian institutions is that traditioned innovation is in our DNA. It is a biblical way of thinking, rooted in the best (and most truthful) story of all: the story of God’s inception, redemption and promised consummation of creation. Thus, we can challenge our propensity to self-sabotage through a rediscovery of our core identity, vision and practices.

The poet Mary Oliver, in her recent poem “I Did Think, Let’s Go About This Slowly,” illumines the natural, if dangerous, tendency toward caution that can lead us to self-sabotage. In so doing, she also invites us to an imagination for innovative leadership:

I did think, let’s go about this slowly.
This is important. This should take
some really deep thought. We should take
small thoughtful steps.

But, bless us, we didn’t.

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Leadership Education at Duke Divinity,  Faith & Leadership, January 12, 2016

The War of the Begonias

Posted on: January 8th, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Computers, Discussion


Photo:  Witaya Ratanasirikulchai


 One of the toughest challenges my husband and I faced last year was having been companions to his mother’s downsizing. At the age of 91, Harriet Hauser divested herself of the creature comforts of an upper middle class life. Anyone who has done this, or helped a loved-one do it, will know saying goodbye to lots and lots of stuff is painful and exhausting for all concerned.

Mark’s father didn’t have to do it, although he did have a decade or so to worry about having to do it. He died without warning, in the night. There were no boxes for him to pack, no arguments about what to keep and what to give away. (In the melee, Mark accidentally got rid of some Charles Dickens miniature face character jug mugs and he’s still begging forgiveness.)

“No matter how much you’ve had, you always want more.”

This is what Harriet said, one afternoon last spring, after she’d moved in with us. We were en route to the garden centre to buy some container flowers. You’ve heard of The War of the Roses; well, she and I very nearly had The War of the Begonias—the tense but nonviolent supersession of a Queen Bee about sums it up. Harriet had been much too prescriptive for my liking and I had voiced my displeasure. The flowers had to go in her pot—the plastic Grecian-esque urn I’d been forced to inherit—and that pot had to go in a particular spot on my deck, the variety of flower (Dragon Leaf Begonia, also called Dragon Wing) and colour (red) were non-negotiable. I wasn’t even allowed to decide which garden centre we’d go to.

It was in the quiet misery between us, en route to Canadian Tire, when Harriet whispered that phrase about “always wanting more.” The tiniest morsel of compassion crept in and I felt less like scrapping with her after that. Surrender really was the only option.

It occurred to me then, and has many times since, that there were/are reasons for her to want to manage seemingly small things with an iron fist. She reluctantly said goodbye to almost every worldly treasure and, even more than a year later, that pain hasn’t subsided. Controlling whatever outcomes she can is a salve for the open wound.

It has also become apparent that, for her, anyway, our shopping trips are more than mere chores; they seem to validate her—to prove she’s still in this game called life: “I shop, therefore I am.”

As a dreamer who wants to someday pack her belongings into a Gulf Stream trailer and hit the open road, I don’t find the idea of “always wanting more” all that comforting. They say appetite wanes as we age, and I’d be perfectly happy for that to apply to the consumer appetite as well.

Nowadays, I look to my mother-in-law’s experience as forewarning: be aware of material possessions and whether or not you are allowing them to define you—or, “Beware the Begonia,” which is the shorter, sweeter version. I’m 43 years old now, but if I live to be Harriet’s age, that gives me nearly four decades to forget some of these recent lessons and fall even more madly in love with my wool carpets and tufted ottomans…and terracotta pots with geraniums, which are my preference.

Personal history suggests this is precisely what I’ll do. Every stage of my life thus far bears the markings of one who has been all too easily shaped by the consumer culture in which she lives. And that’s worrisome. My chances of achieving some kind of post-consumer transcendence don’t look good. What if the wisdom of old age can’t find a place to settle down upon an unsettled woman who has nursed on the milk of fear and desire all her life?

These days, I’m beginning to see that keeping my wants and needs in check isn’t just a way to reduce carbon footprints, save the environment and avoid falling into debt. Maybe, just maybe, it’s also a way of holding space for the wisdom of age, to give it room to meet me on the path that lies ahead.

I have a prayer for my so-called “sunset years”: that they might be a time to, yes, occasionally watch the sun set, to find peace, to experience the fullest possible wisdom, and perhaps most of all, to cease acquisition of and fulfillment by the things of this world so I can at least try to prepare for life in the next.

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Anglican Journal News, January 07, 2016

Hearing God in silence

Posted on: January 5th, 2016 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Discussion


For several years now, the Sisterhood of St. John the Divine in Toronto has opened its doors on New Year’s Eve to those who want to usher in the new year “in an environment of peace and quiet fellowship.”

For a modest fee, one can spend 28 hours (“or more if you wish”) in the convent and enjoy a candlelight labyrinth walk, festive food and a guided retreat on “finding a balance of life through living mindfully and intentionally.”

The sisters have been attracting folks who choose to avoid the customary New Year’s Eve noise and revelry.

Those who opt for this contemplative and spiritual renewal approach appear to be a growing demographic, and businesses have caught on to the trend. Elsewhere around the world, yoga, wellness and meditation retreats are becoming popular New Year’s Eve activities, albeit with heftier price tags, some in such exotic locales as the rainforest of Costa Rica or the island of Phuket, Thailand.

The yearning for peace and quiet is understandable. The world is a much noisier place these days. In 2013, BBC measured the noise levels inside a “quiet” restaurant in London and found them to be “as high as the loudest notes of orchestral instruments from two hundred years ago.”

The digital revolution has undoubtedly compounded the environmental noise that assaults us on a daily basis. Today, many of us are tethered to our smartphones, and when we’re not yammering as we go, we are listening to music, watching the news (or Netflix), playing Candy Crush Saga or updating our social media profiles. We take in so much mental noise, avid consumers as we are of other people’s incessant navel-gazing on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat and other time-sucking apps.

Fifty-five per cent of Canadians own a smartphone, and the Toronto Star quotes a 2013 Google report that eight in 10 users won’t leave home without their mobile device and experience “high levels of anxiety” when their phones are not within reach. Many of us complain of information overload, and yet we are addicted to chatter.

A number of books and articles have already been written about the effects of this digital shift, including the paradox of how much more disconnected we are in this age of hyper connectivity. Prolonged exposure to noise also “causes impaired hearing, affects our heart rhythm and blood pressure and our behaviour,” says the International Commission on Biological Effects of Noise. “The louder the noise, the more aggressive we become.”

Enjoying moments of silence, on the other hand, is said to foster well-being, according to several studies that point to such benefits as lower blood pressure, reduced stress levels, improved memory and increased creativity, energy and vitality.

The benefits of silence go beyond one’s physical and mental health, of course. Most, if not all, faith and spiritual traditions point to the importance of silence, stillness and solitude in cultivating a deep spiritual life.

The Bible is replete with references to silence as a way of being in communion with God (“Be still, and know that I am God,” Psalm 46:10), none more evocative than the account of Jesus praying in private: “In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed” (Mark 1:35).

As we think about New Year’s resolutions, it may be worth putting silence on the list—and not just for New Year’s Eve or for Lent, but as a daily habit.

Marites N. Sison is editor of the Anglican Journal. 

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Anglican Journal News, January 04, 2016

Answering God’s call

Posted on: December 21st, 2015 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Discussion

 

One of the great themes of our faith is that of call—the belief that God actively calls individuals into particular ways of life. In the weeks past, we have read about John the Baptist, responding to his call to be the voice calling in the wilderness. We have read about Mary, accepting her call to bear God’s own son. In the weeks to come, we will read about the magi, following a call sent through a star; about Jesus, wrestling with his call in the wilderness; about the disciples, answering Jesus’ call to become fishers of people.

God called then and God calls now.

For most of us, of course, God’s call does not involve angels, stars, voices from heaven or a personal invitation from Jesus. Our calls, most of the time, are less precise and much harder to decipher.

The absence of such miraculous clarity may not, however, be the key difference between our calls and those of our biblical forebears. The key difference may be that their experiences have been written down after the fact—refined into stories to inspire and teach the generations. The stories make it look all neat and final, but that’s what stories tend to do. Who knows what kinds of preparation Mary may have had to make to be ready to consent to God’s plan? Who knows how many stars the magi considered before finding the right one? Who knows how many people whispered into Jesus’ ear before he finally sought out his baptism and heard the voice of God? Who knows how secretly dissatisfied the disciples already were with their lives on the sea?

God’s call is not a once for all kind of thing—at least, not for most of us and not most of the time. More often, we catch only pieces of God’s call and must simply follow as best we can—step by step, piece by piece, trusting that we are moving in the right direction and that it will all make sense in time.

This kind of call is not as dramatic as the stories in the Bible. But this kind of faithfulness prepares us for drama, should drama ever be demanded of us. And, if it isn’t, this kind of faithfulness offers its own rewards. It may not be a life of comfort or a life of success in the eyes of the world. But a life lived in steady response to God’s call is sure to be a life of deep blessing to those around us and of deep satisfaction to ourselves—even if we don’t always hear it quite right. This can be hard to believe when we are in the throes of it, feeling lost and unsure of what to do and who to be. Sometimes, it feels like it’s all up to us and we are almost certain to get it wrong.

Thankfully, God’s faithfulness is greater than ours. If we are but willing, God can turn all our meanderings into fruitful steps along the way, until, looking back, our stories shine with a miraculous clarity and we marvel at the goodness of God.

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Anglican Journal News, December 21, 2015

From darkness to light

Posted on: December 11th, 2015 by CEP Administrator No Comments
Discussion

Recently I reflected on darkness and light—a major Advent theme—while my wife and I, like many Canadians, were engaged in our annual yuletide home decoration. The winter equinox approaches when daylight is shortest and darkness is greatest.

The human desire for light to overcome darkness is universal. We Christians have much evidence of this in our sacred scriptures. In the Hebrew Bible (Genesis 1:15) we read, “In the beginning God created heaven and earth. Now the earth was a formless void, there was darkness over the deep…God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. God saw that light was good, and God divided light from darkness. God called the light ‘day’ and darkness he called ‘night.’ ”

The New Testament (John 1: 4-5) says: “In the beginning was the Word [Jesus Christ]…and what came into being in him was life, life that was the light of humanity; light shines in darkness and the darkness could not overpower it.”

The writers of Genesis and John did not invent the theme of light overcoming darkness. Both tapped into a universal human longing for illumination from time immemorial.

Primal peoples were fixated on sunrises and sunsets. They created narratives about how humans could participate creatively in both natural phenomena.

Divali is an end-of-our-year festival of lights originating among Hindus in India and subsequently adapted by Sikhs, Jains and some Buddhists. The founding myths and rites celebrate the return of Lord Rama, wife Sita and brother Lakshmana from a long exile. Today, Divali is celebrated around the world, and diyas (small clay lamps) or coloured electric lights are used to recognize the triumph of good over evil, and of overcoming chaos with peace and order.

Hanukkah is another Western year-end Jewish holiday commemorating the rededication of the Second Temple in Jerusalem (the temple Jesus knew).

More than 2,000 years ago, Orthodox Jews believed their sacred centre had been compromised by evil foreign powers. To this day, faithful Jews celebrate this event as a Festival of Lights and the Feast of Dedication. In Jewish homes, the lights of a unique eight-branched menorah are lit one night at a time, and then a distinct ninth-branch, a shamash (service candle) is added, with variations in differing Jewish settings. Hanukkah has more recently been popularized in North America because it falls close to the Christian Christmas.

Hundreds of community holiday light projects have surfaced across our country— usually featuring a blend of religious and secular imagery—but having in common the often undeclared theme of fighting off our cold, dark Canadian winter nights with light, warmth and human well-being.

Currently, many people seem to have little awareness of the deep spiritual and religious antecedents from which these popular practices have emerged. But the Hebrew prophet Isaiah had words that remain as relevant as when first uttered: “The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light; on the inhabitants of a country in shadow dark as death light has blazed forth” (9:1-2).

 

Writer’s note: Quotes are from the New Jerusalem Bible.

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Anglican Journal News, December 11, 2015