Category Archives: progressive christianity

En-Joy 2018

The JOY ornament I created at my friend, Diane’s craft party. Diane brings me JOY.

On the third Sunday of Advent we lit the JOY candle at our church.

This year a woman who I greatly admire lit the candle, and she spoke about what JOY means to her. Shirley talked about the many JOYous times her family—now grown—spent together in their back yard and down by the Ottawa River. The husband she’s been married to for 67 years brings her much JOY. She told us how much JOY she derives from volunteering and from the work she does with the church.

Then it came time to talk about her sister.

Shirley’s sister had passed away in mid-December and the celebration of her life had been held a few days before.  Tears came to my friend’s eyes and she took a moment to collect herself.

I thought, “She’s crying during a talk about JOY!”

As she went on to talk about their close relationship and the smiles and laughs the sisters shared over many years, tears did not seem incongruous at all. Deep down at the heart of the grief over the loss of her sister was JOY. Happy memories.

I thought, “She’s en-JOYing her grief.” Actively choosing to see the JOY below the surface during a difficult time. Injecting JOY into the moment.

En-JOY 2018. May you choose to let the JOY that is at the heart of any sorrow bubble up.

“Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears.
And how else can it be?
The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.
. . . When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.”

—Kahlil Gibran On Joy and Sorrow



Christmas: Because we all have the Light

At the Christmas Eve service at my church, I read this short piece before I lit the Christ candle in the Advent Wreath. This is what Christmas is all about for me.

We all have the Light

Christmas is a birthday party.

We celebrate the birth of a man who, because he knew the light of God‑ness shines in all people, inspired us to live with compassion and to pursue justice.

Through stories of shepherds, Samaritans, widows, lepers, prodigal sons and mustard seeds, he embodied the idea that regardless of how we look, where we were born or whom we love, we all have the same shining Light—from the same Source—within.

Christmas Eve is also a birthday party for our daughter. She was the one who reminded me of this Light when she was born 23 years ago today. At the time of her birth I had dismissed God from my life as unnecessary, a figment of the imagination. We are all just atoms and molecules, I thought. And then she came to us with her individuality, her spark, her vibrant spirit, her Light, and I had to re-evaluate. And then our son came along—so different from our daughter—and yet shining with the same Light.

The Christ candle represents how beautiful and perfect and valuable we all are and how, because of that, compassionate justice is the only answer.

We light the Christ candle because more than two thousand years ago a man was born who showed us that deep in our hearts we have a common vision, purpose, longing and goal. Deep in our hearts we have the Light.


Yellow submarine: Faith in what we cannot see

For the past few weeks I’ve enjoyed my evening cup of hot herbal tea in a yellow submarine mug.

The submarine windows remain dark and wave-splashed when the mug is cold.

Yellow submarine mug with darkened windows.

But when I pour in boiling water, Paul McCartney miraculously appears and waves at me.

Yellow submarine mug with Paul McCartney

John, George and Ringo also make their presence known in other windows.

Yellow submarine mug with Ringo Starr

The Beatles stay hidden until I choose to create the right conditions to see them, and then I have to choose to celebrate and appreciate them.

The mug reminds me:

  • If I can’t see something, doesn’t mean it’s not there.
  • When there is something to be revealed, the conditions have to be right.
  • Sometimes I have to make a choice to take action to make those conditions right.
  • And then I have to choose to notice, celebrate and appreciate.
  • I have to trust in what I can’t see as much as what I can.

Faith, hope, peace, joy, love surround me. If they begin to feel distant or elusive, I can pour some warmth on them and notice how they miraculously appear.



Real Bethlehem, Story Bethlehem

Last year I gathered the a group of young Sunday school children into class. We sat in a circle on the floor on big cushy pillows and talked about the two stories of Christmas—the Luke version and the Matthew version. The kids ranged in age from 5 to 7, so we didn’t delve into deep philosophical discussions, but we talked about how two very different stories get smooshed into one. We told each one separately, and we told them as they are usually woven together.

Inevitably, our road led us to Bethlehem.

“Is Bethlehem a real place?” a girl asked.

“Yes, it is.”

Gobsmacked, she rocked back on her pillow. Her mouth dropped open. Other eyes around the room also regarded me curiously.

“What do people do there?”

“Well, they do a lot of the same things we do,” I said. “They get up, wash themselves, eat food, go to school if they’re lucky . . .”

The children digested this information. In the brief period of silence that followed, I watched a transition on their faces. Before the girl asked the question and I answered, we’d been living wholeheartedly in the land of story. Before she asked and I answered, we’d been thinking about what the stories meant.

Then we crashed to earth. The minute I told them Bethlehem was real, their brains began to tick. They moved from the teaching wonder of story to literal dissection. “If Bethlehem is real,” they were thinking, “then how could all that other stuff really have happened?”

Inwardly I sighed. One second we’d been pondering possibilities and thinking about how two stories from thousands of years ago could help us live our lives today, and then—boom—we stumbled into analysis.

It’s not my place to tell them what to believe or not believe. My job is to present them with the stories handed down to us and start the discussion so they can work through it themselves over the course of their lives. I couldn’t (and most certainly wouldn’t) tell them that two different, often contradictory stories, are factually true. I couldn’t (and most certainly wouldn’t) tell them those same stories aren’t true in their own way.

“Oh yes, Bethlehem is real,” I carried on, “but let’s talk about what we can learn from these stories.”

Real Bethlehem, Story Bethlehem. Starting points for contemplation.

Story Bethlehem


Loved, just the way you are

The message above is from the Wall of Encouragement at my church, a place for people to place or take messages of encouragement.

Today, the Wall of Encouragement “encouraged” me to let you know that you are loved the way you are.

Just ’cause.


What to bring to a zombie apocalypse? Stories

“. . . the shortest distance between a human being and truth is a story.'” —Anthony De Mello

Perhaps there’s a simple explanation for our society’s current fascination with zombies: We are living with them right now. Something to think about anyway, according to the moderator of the United Church of Canada, Rt. Rev. Jordan Cantwell.

At our Easter service on Sunday, the minister at my church brought to our attention a podcast interview with our moderator. During an Illuminate Faith interview, Cantwell was asked by a participant at a youth forum what she would bring to a zombie apocalypse.

I can’t imagine she could have been prepared for a question like that, so I give her kudos for providing the best spontaneous answer to an unexpected question I think I’ve ever heard.

“I think we’re in a zombie apocalypse,” she said. 

She described zombies as beings who appear alive but who are kind of dead. The “walking dead” can be . . “anything that sucks the hope and the life out of us . . .”

Cantwell suggests we can find walking deadness in ourselves and on the streets.

I’ve seen it in myself. Have you? I can think of a few people who live almost exclusively in walking deadness. Can you?

The zombies that surround us “drag us into the illusion that life is miserable, that the world is falling apart . . .” and they “suck others into their living deadness.”

And what does Cantwell bring to the apocalypse? Stories.

Zombies, she says, “believe in the power of death as stronger than the power of life and of love,” and stories refute that belief. Stories of compassion and faith feed energy and life back into ourselves and our streets.

Cantwell made her observations in the context of our Christian Easter—a story that involves missing corpses and life after death—but I think they apply to all people in all places at all times. Stories of compassion and faith don’t eliminate the reality of death for all people in all places at all times, but they do feed energy and life back into those people. 

“. . . even when death does its worst, God’s got another chapter.” —Rt. Rev. Jordan Cantwell

Listen to the full Illuminate Faith podcast here:

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