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Wednesday, December 28, 2011

T'is the Season of...Epiphany

I have been contemplating over the 'after-Christmas' season that seems to drift into a world of resolutions, lifestyle changes, and starting afresh. In the yearly cycle of the church this is the time of the Epiphany. The root of the word comes from the greek word epiphaneia, which literally translates to 'manifestation'. After the Twelve Days of Christmas, on January 6th, the Epiphany is celebrated. Perhaps it is simply my own experience but I find that the Season of the Epiphany is often forgotten in the hubub of the New Year. This is very strange, since it occupies such a large space of time in the church calendar from January 6th to Ash Wednesday. The Epiphany is intrinsically linked to the birth of Christ. As we know, Jesus was born in manger to a young mother but the world had yet to realize what had happened. No one knew that a child was born who who would change the face of humanity forever. The Epiphany celebration the recognition of the world realizing who Jesus is. It is a season of realization. Although I do not know the history behind the New Year's Resolution I can understand it in reference to the season of the Epiphany; realizing something is different. So, what is different? Every year the world spends billions of dollars on gifts during the 'Holiday Season'. Decemeber has become known as a time to give and spend with family. The word Christmas is band in certain references. If this is all happening, where does the Epiphany fit in? How can the Epiphany be if there isn't even a recognition of Christmas. Perhaps this is exactly why the Epiphany is needed. When Jesus was born, the world continued on. On one expected that the birth of a baby would affect them in any way. No one would have given much thought to seeing a pregnant woman riding on a donkey. It wasn't until the arrival of the Wise Men that Jesus' identity became known. Jesus' significance was never the question. The question was, how long would it take the world to realize what had happened? This is the season of Epiphany! Praying for and recognizing the reality of Christ. What will be your New Year's Resolution this year? Mine? I pray that Christ be realized in my heart and yours! The anticipation is over. Christ has arrived but now, we can anticipate Christ's manifestation in greater ways this year!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

10 Things I learned in the first semester of seminary

I began my Master of Divinity program this September at the Vancouver School of Theology. A part of me wishes I had written down my expectations for school as it would help me fully understand the process of where I have come in just a short three months. I have attempted to document some thoughts on 10 things I learned this semester 1) God is bigger than I imagine. Are you surprised? I hope you aren't. I have learned to begin every class with prayer, requesting that God show me something new about God's character. Do you know that I was never disappointed 2) I have a strong voice and it is okay to use it. There were several situations in which I voiced my opinion regarding something that had been said or done in class. Afterwards I questioned whether or not I should have opened my mouth. I have come to realize that seminary is also a place that encourages you to develop your own 'theological voice' so-to-speak. God gave me an articulate, strong voice so I give it to God to use accordingly. 3) Seminary is not simply about studying God, it is also about understanding yourself and what you think. My favourite class this semester was called Constructive Theology. In essence it was the study of the academics or ideologies of theology and how to apply them in practical ways. The further we delved into the various theologians and their philosophies the more I realized that this course was to help you formulate what it is, exactly, that you believe. 4) Taking a Sabbath is crucial. There is a reason why Jesus says in Mark 2:27 that "The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath". There may be times in life where there is not enough time in the day but the trauma of continued busy-ness is far more draining. The gift of a Sabbath is to be enjoyed and cherished. Use it! 5) Community is important but prayer is crucial. Having a body of fellow believers surround you is very important to the life of a seminarian. You are constantly being bombarded with new and strange ideas. The community provides you with an outlet of venting and sharing as you sift through the challenges of academic processing. Prayer, however, can often get overlooked. When one is surrounded by 'God-talk' all day it is easy to forget the need for direct communion with God. Prayer is crucial! 6) Everyone carries hurt with them, including seminarians. I think one thing that surprised me the most was the challenge and hardship which was faced amongst some individuals. We must never forget that no one is perfect and everyone carries hurts. The challenge is not to let those hurts affect the way you treat others. 7) Being kept from sleep is not necessarily a bad thing. Remember how I mentioned the importance of prayer above? Well, I am a firm believer that God will do anything to get your attention, including waking you in the middle of the night for no apparent reason. Listen to God and pray. 8) Quiet time is not as bad as it seems. Being still is something that God has encouraged since ancient Biblical times. "Be still and know that I am God..." Take time everyday to be quiet and let your mind go where it pleases. 9)Seminaries, like the church are not perfect. Do not expect them to be. They are filled with people who are human. Have mercy and love for seminary schools as a place where people are welcomed to challenge the status-quo. 10) Jesus doesn't care whether I get an A+ or a C-. Jesus simply asks that I try.

Summer Renovations

As a result of my time of deputation traveling across Canada, I felt God's call to return home and make arrangements to move out to BC. This past summer I spent a wonderful 3 months on Vancouver Island working for one of the most loving congregations I have ever been apart of. I was loved, accepted, and given freedom to move where the Holy Spirit directed. The church is going through a transition of finding a new minister and I was blessed to experience their growth and willingness to enter into a new and exciting challenge. At the end of the summer I was given a gift. Among other things, I had organized a small day camp. The theme of the camp was "Citizens of the World" Each day the children learned something new about the environment, the local community, or the world. The hope of the camp was to encourage children to look outside of themselves for a moment and see God in other people and places. They were encouraged to develop their self-worth and value by being exposed to what they are capable of doing. Throughout the week the children worked on various art projects and one particular project was to draw on a pieces of fabric which was to be amalgamated into a quilt for the church as a thank you gift. As the week came to an end the fabric pieces grew in colour and quantity. I knew that a group of women were coming together to put the quilt together so I was very excited for the following week's service when it would be unveiled. I walked into the sanctuary the following week and there it was. The most beautiful quilt I had ever seen. The children were so proud of it and I of them. I had agreed to help with the children's time during the service and it was at that time when it was to be presented to the congregation. My friend and I had rehearsed a few times what we would be saying during the children's time. Finally, it came time to present the quilt to the church and my friend turned to it hanging on the way. She began by saying "The children of Comox Valley day camp made this quilt as a thank you to the church for letting us come here." She stopped and a few children giggled. She continued on and said "But it isn't for the church, is it?" At this point I was thoroughly confused because the entire congregation said simultaneously "Noooooooo!". As we had had a rather thorough rehearsal of what was to be said, the fact that she was ad-libbing completely threw me off and I wasn't able to keep up. I stood there looking at her rather confused. The next thing I knew, she turned to look at me and said "It's for you, Margaret!" To try and put into words how I felt in that moment is simple; I felt flabbergasted. I didn't know what to say or do. I just stood there looking at my friend. For those of you who know me, you know that it is a rare moment when I do not have something to say. This was one such rare moment. That afternoon, I came home and went quietly to my room where I shut the door, sat on my bed, and promptly began to cry. My tears were tears of sheer joy. Many difficulties had arisen out of my time overseas but, had I not followed God's call to go to Kenya, I would have never experienced this summer of growth, challenge, freedom and love in Comox. Thanks be to God for God is good.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

A unforgettable man.


There is a man who has been taking over my thoughts lately. Now before you all get ahead of yourselves, he isn't what you are thinking. I have never even met him before but I saw him. Isn't it just incredible how one glimpse has the ability to alter your day or even your life?
This man that I saw for maybe a grand total of 2 minutes will forever occupy a place in my mind.
The brief moment happened on a very cold day while driving in downtown Vancouver. A friend and I were driving through the 'rich and famous' shopping area in downtown Vancouver which just so happens to be right next to the infamous downtown east side. The downtown east side of Vancouver is one of the oldest neighbourhoods. It was also coined by the Globe and Mail as "Canada's Poorest Postal Code". Drugs, alcohol and prostitution are in high exercise. With the drug problem being as it is the infection rates of HIV are also at an alarming high.
A friend and I were on our way to meet an individual who works at First United Church in the heart of the area. Here the entire church, including the sanctuary, have been converted into a shelter where no person is ever turned away.
This opportunity to witness such love and care just as Jesus would have, was so invigorating for me. Please don't misunderstand me, seeing such poverty and hurting people is never easy but on the other hand I felt a connection here in this area because it reminded me of my time in Kenya. It reminded me of what I loved doing while I was there. It was a community of broken people all working together. Community...this is something I have felt was missing in my life since I returned from Kenya. I felt it there.
Anyways, back to this mystery man. As I said above, I didn't meet him, nor do I know his name but I can tell you what I do know about him. He is strong,courageous and desperate. I first noticed him because he didn't seem to fit with the other professionals and high-class shoppers around him. He was sitting on the frozen ground with his head lowered and holding a sign. The sign simply read "HIV+ and Hungry Clean and Sober". That's all. To any other passerby it may have been disregarded. That day it was noticed.
We turned the corner and I really wanted to capture this situation in a photo. I took a picture which you can see above that specifically does not show his face. His face is not what defines this situation but the title of his sign.
As the day went on I kept thinking about this man. I wondered if anyone had stopped to help him. I wondered if anyone cared.
If I had stopped to talk to him I would have said two things 1) I am so overwhelmingly impressed by your courage to be so open with your HIV status and 2) I am sorry you have to state that you are clean and sober in order to receive.
This got me thinking even more. Why is it that so many people have decided that they will not give food or money to the homeless? If a person has a drug or alcohol problem does that mean that they are no longer entitled to food or shelter?
I know what the arguments are. "Well, they will just spend it on drugs or alcohol if I give them money", so I have a suggestion for those of you who may think that. Take 5 minutes out of your day and go buy them some food or talk to them for a while. How many of you would even dare to touch them, or give them a hug?
Challenged by my own thoughts we tried to find him after our tour. We did not find him again but another man enjoyed some Chinese food on his behalf.
My challenge from this post is to check your thoughts(this goes for me as well). As a Christian I am told never to judge another person. I am only called to love.

On Deputation

I can't remember the last time I logged onto my blog to post anything. Well, that should change immediately...
I just returned from a month long speaking tour about my work in Kenya. Isn't it funny how you can often force yourself to think one thing and then God totally changes you to think another? Well, that is what happened while I was away from home, yet again.
It was a bit challenging preparing to leave on a speaking tour to parts of Canada I had never been before but I found myself meeting people who've struggled through similar issues as I do today. They were good people who are devoted to following their God no matter what. I was encouraged and empowered by their resilience to keep fighting the good fight.
As I was preparing to leave the last leg of my journey in Vancouver I felt an overwhelming sadness come over me. I remember sitting in a jam-packed airport trying to figure this all out. I concluded that I felt a kinship to the people there; that they feel hurts and pains and frustrations as I do but are not giving up. Their mission field is BC which apparently has the lowest church attendance in all of Canada. They love their home and wish it to be better.
I do believe I will end up out there again very soon... more on that later.