Saturday, December 19, 2020

A Greater Good

Isn't it amazing how, because of our work and efforts in preparing for Christmas, we ‘crash’ soon after the meal is finished, the presents have been opened and the relatives have left? Or as many of you ‘front line’ workers and colleagues are experiencing, work doesn’t seem to have an end because the need is so great. This is a short tribute to those who keep working, watching in envy, those who are taking a break with small groups of friends and family. So, from one colleague to another, thank you!

The celebration we regularly experience at this time of year, known as Christmas, did not happen without others needing to ignore their own needs. People who kept working, because they could see a light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. The New Testament gospel of Matthew tells us of three wise men who fulfilled a heroic task as they followed a star for an insane length of time so they may one day meet the baby whom Christians believe, is the savior of the world. Though they were excited that God had chosen them, I’m sure that at more than one point during their journey, they wanted to throw in the towel. But just as doctors and nurses also do, what the wise men were called to do kept them moving.

How would you react if you saw a star that moved? Would you refuse to follow it? “Not today. Maybe tomorrow. I had a bad night sleep and I have a crick in my neck.” The wise men most definitely had this option during their two-year pilgrimage, and so do you. Or as they were, would you be so excited about contributing in this way that nothing can keep you from working towards this greater good?

Therefore, the wise men’s excitement was great enough, not just to walk for one day, but for seven hundred and thirty days before they met the Christ child. You, doctors and nurses could talk yourselves out of working for a greater good, because right now, it’s just one exhausting day followed by another. What we have to keep us going is hope that something good will happen soon. And because of you, those who maintain this hope, the light we see is getting brighter.

Monday, August 17, 2020

Loneliness – A Quandary that Refuses to be Solved

Spiritually Minded — It occurred to Pooh and Piglet that they hadn ...

In today’s fast-paced world, it is often the un-said hope and expectation that we, along with our friends, family and colleagues are okay all the time. At least we don’t want them to tell us that they feel anything otherwise. Then we may not need to worry about them. In a delightful story, Eeyore, the glum and introverted donkey found in The Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, expresses how this is a false belief we have, because, unless we believe the lie we are telling ourselves, we simply are not O.K. all of the time.

In this story, Pooh and Piglet wonder if something is wrong with Eeyore, since they had not seen him for several days. So they put on their hats and coats and trotted across the Hundred Acre Wood to Eeyore’s stick house. Inside the house was Eeyore.

“Hello Eeyore,” said Pooh.”Hello Pooh. Hello Piglet,” said Eeyore, in a glum sounding voice. “We just thought we’d check in on you,” said Piglet, “because we hadn’t heard from you, and so we wanted to know if you were okay.”

Eeyore was silent for a moment. “Am I okay?” he asked, eventually. “Well, I don’t know, to be honest. Are any of us really okay? That’s what I ask myself. All I can tell you, Pooh and Piglet, is that right now I feel really rather sad, and alone, and not much fun to be around at all. Which is why I haven’t bothered you. Because you wouldn’t want to waste your time hanging out with someone who is sad, and alone, and not much fun to be around at all, would you now.”
Pooh looked at Piglet, and Piglet looked at Pooh, and they both sat down, one on either side of Eeyore in his stick house.

Eeyore looked at them in surprise. “What are you doing?” “We’re sitting here with you,” said Pooh, “because we are your friends. And true friends don’t care if someone is feeling sad, or alone, or not much fun to be around at all. True friends are there for you anyway. And so here we are.”

“Oh,” said Eeyore. “Oh.” As the three of them sat there in silence, though Pooh and Piglet said nothing at all; somehow, almost imperceptibly, Eeyore started to feel a very tiny little bit better.[1]

Whether we admit it or not, we have all been in Eeyore’s place. And this exchange between friends shows how one’s sadness, aloneness or possibly loneliness can slowly diminish if we are patient with it.

Loneliness is a feeling resulting from a “lack of sympathetic or friendly relationships.” It happens when we believe that our current relationships are less satisfying than what we hope for, expect or feel like we deserve.[2] Because he is a fictional character, we don’t know if this is the exact reason why Eeyore was feeling this way. But however he was feeling, Pooh and Piglet were willing to be with him in the moment. And recognizing Eeyore’s feelings, while remaining present to them, is the first, and most important step to helping someone move past them.

As a chaplain in long term care, I have spent a lot of time with lonely people. Whether they are willing to express it or not, one can guess whether they may be lonely simply by determining what they are diagnosed with. This is because heart disease, hypotension or one of many addictions are often referred to as loneliness diseases, and the vast majority of residents are diagnosed with one or more of these diseases.

For those of us who are younger and want to avoid loneliness, we should pay as much attention to it as we would to our diet, exercise and the amount of sleep we get each night. But can we eliminate it entirely? Not really. It might help if we are a little bit more extroverted, but that might just be a band-aid solution to a deeper issue. This is because loneliness has been around us since the beginning of time.

At the beginning of the Torah, after God created Adam from the dust of the ground, he says “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”[3] When Adam sees and names Eve, what proceeds from his mouth is some of the most heartfelt poetry, rejoicing and praise the Torah has in its pages.

“This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.”[4]

Here, God is not creating a wife for Adam, though this is what she is. He is not creating someone with whom Adam may “be fruitful and multiply” though they can make love to one another. God creates Eve to join Adam in his loneliness. He creates her to be a friend, because this is what Adam needed, and this is what friendship does.

As Dr. Keith Karren writes, friendships do not get better based on the number of friends we have. Instead, it is the closeness and quality of those relationships that determine our satisfaction. So whether we are married, single, living with someone, or by ourselves, it doesn’t matter. The issue is whether we have someone we can turn to for support. And the more people we have in our lives, the better.[5]

So just as Pooh and Piglet did with Eeyore, can we assume that our friends wouldn’t mind wasting their time hanging out with us, even though we may be sad, alone, and not much fun to be around at all. Because, whether we say anything at all, when we spend time with the lonely, our presence may ever so slightly impact them in a good way. And who knows? This might be exactly what our friends need to do for themselves as well.

[1] Retrieved from The Maddle Project, published December 15, 2018, on August 3, 2020 Author unknown, but presumably A.A. Milne

[2] Karren, Keith J. 2010. Mind/Body Health: The effects of Attitudes, Emotions and Relationships p. 260

[3] Genesis 2:18

[4] Genesis 2:23

[5] Karren 239

Saturday, August 1, 2020

Journeying from Ecumenical to Multi-faith

As a person with disabilities, many of my actions showed others how I was different in a wrong way. Because of my visual impairment, I wasn’t picked for the soccer team at recess, and I was forced to either hang out with others who had diffabilities of their own, or with adults who probably felt sorry for me. As I graduated into high school, my diffabilities became mainstream, my visual impairment was accepted, and I could join others at the 7/11 down the street during my spare blocks if I wanted to. But as a pastor’s kid, in high school, my diffabilities changed from being physical to spiritual ones. I lived a good, evangelical Christian life which was admired and affirmed at home. And at church, I wasn’t on the outside looking in, hoping for acceptance. Instead, I was on the inside, loving the acceptance I was receiving at least one day per week.

On that particular day, I read and listened to reassuring scripture such as John 14:6 where Jesus famously said “I am the way, the truth and the life, no man comes to the Father, except through me.” For years, this verse was a delight for me to read. It told me that, despite what did or didn’t happened at school, I was in the in crowd because this was the right thing to believe, and I believed it. But wherever there is an in-crowd, there are those who are kept out, and whether they want to be a part of the in-crowd or not, they aren’t.

As a student chaplain, I have loved learning about the inclusivity of multi-faith. Though this has increased my understanding and belief that God, however we believe in him, can speak to us in ways that are exactly what we need to hear, it also gives me many questions about the verse I loved so much when I was younger. By definition, does multi-faith mean that Jesus is not the way, the truth and the life, but rather simply one way, one truth to find a life that seems ever so elusive? Therefore, I am finding myself at a crossroads. In my desire to affirm all people whom I minister to, am I slowly walking away and denying the faith I was raised with? Am I actually denying Christ, my Saviour, Redeemer and Lord? Or is faith not as black and white an issue as John 14:6 makes Christians believe it is? Is Jesus the Lord who welcomes all of us, or does he only welcome those who are able to accept him as these three things, and if they don’t, are they forever on the outside?

In exegeting this verse, Fr. Richard Roar says that “Jesus is not talking about joining or privileging any group; he is describing the way by which all religions must allow matter and spirit to operate as one, which indeed is the universal way for all people.” In other words, as Gundi has said, “we need to have an appreciative understanding of the other person’s religion” and not discriminate between one faith group and another. This is because, as Imam Jamal of the Three Interfaith Amigos has said succinctly, “when there is discrimination, there is fear.”

As a Canadian, I have been watching from a distance how America has dealt with radical Islamic extremism, and my immediate righteous reaction to September 11, 2001 and its aftermath was, ‘I would never act that way.’ However, since then I have been uncertain what my alternative response would be. Rabbi Ted Falcon knew exactly what the correct response was. On that same day, he contacted his friend Imam Jamal Rahman and invited him to join him at his upcoming shabbat service “because it was crucial to offer a more authentic face of Islam than the face that created the fear of all Muslims.”

However, it’s not always that simple. As Falcon states “every authentic spiritual path is an avenue to a shared universal.” But Interfaith dialogue is often quite difficult because of the “particular and the universal.” It is often at this place where we stop, refusing to move further. But as Falcon continues, “that universal is far greater than any particular path. And when the particular path assumes that it owns the universal . . . we’re in for serious global difficulties.” Therefore, spirituality is, and must remain inclusive.

It has been over a decade since the twin towers fell, and though some people could say they have drawn closer to others of different faiths since then, so many of us have repelled from ‘the other.’ If we repel, Jason Byassee of the Vancouver School of Theology says that we will likely find solace in the scriptures of our own faith. Most of us stop there, deciding to know and be known only by those with whom we are like minded. But As we know our own faith, Byassee says that we are then free to relate with those of other faith traditions with openness and confidence. As we do this, we will realize that we are more alike than we are different. This realization allows Byassee, together with the three interfaith amigos to relate with one another with enjoyment, curiosity and humour. Pastor Don Mackenzie can then conclude that though it is difficult, “true interfaith dialogue can lead to effective collaboration on the moral issues facing our world today.” Though I cannot yet conclude that I am and act as an interfaith believer, I recognize that I am walking the road between Ecumenical and Multi-faith. As I continue to take one step followed by another, I trust that I will indeed get there.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Please Change

As I was waiting for the 240 bus at Georgia and Granville in downtown Vancouver this evening, a street person walked in front of each transit traveller in our line. As he walked along the edge of the curb, like a gymnast on a balance beam, he looked at us in the eye and asked “please change.” Because we were at a central travel hub in Vancouver, and his bare hands were cupped open, we all understood his question as “please give me some change” though he did not utter the three words in the middle.
But after a few minutes, I thought of his plea as a different request. “You, don’t act in your normal way, please change.” “You, well dressed business-woman, please change. Don’t just be concerned about your busy-ness, be concerned about mine too.” “You, cool, self-focussed teenager, who is on his way home after a night of partying, please change. Can you contribute to my party?” “You, well dressed chaplain, please change. Don’t simply be a bringer of religious gobbledygook – as you were a few hours ago. Please bring true good news, and you can start with me.”
About a minute after he asked me this simple, but penetrating question, I regret how I thought, ‘I don’t need to change as much as you do.’ Thankfully, my mouth is not as fast at expressing what my mind is thinking. But as I sat on the bus, now many miles away from the man who changed the thought pattern of my evening, I realized ‘I am not one who needs change, but I am one who needs to change.’ I need to change to become more caring, I need to change to become poorer in spirit, I need to change to become more like the beggar who asks for small things.
Now these questions linger: How do I need to change? What do I need to change into? Who may be able to help me change? Do I want to become more like the one who asks me to change? Or maybe most importantly, do I need to change at all, or can I watch the change around me and join in it?