Another View on Another Advent

The expectation of both the birth of the Christ child, and the second coming of the Messiah echo through the liturgical year.  Advent is ever present in the local news as televised German news broadcasts have Advent wreaths burning just off to the sides of the newscasters desks.

While Advent brings the new liturgical year there are somethings that remain constant.  I’m glad to say that things are beginning to repeat themselves and I don’t feel like I am climbing such a steep learning curve.

The learning curve isn’t declining for all people however.  My final (I hope) language and integration class was spent trying to moderate the religious freedoms represented in Germany.  Being the only person that has had opportunity to read a lot of different scriptures from a variety of faiths it made some sense that I would navigate the final discussion on faith and religion.  With even a wide variety of Christian denominations and traditions being represented, along with followers of Islam, Buddhism and an Atheist the discussion was curious as people seemed to discover a new curiosity.

The first Sunday in Advent had Bishop Robert Innes presiding over the Eucharist and Confirming three of the youth in the Anglican Church in Freiburg.  Bishop Robert was able to speak about confirmation as a commitment.  This commitment is certainly true, and is contrary to many feeling that confirmation as a ‘graduation’ for many youth to now leave the life of church community.

While we continue to wait with pregnant expectation this Advent, I also hope that we might rediscover the curiosity of those who are witnessing the freedom of religion in a new country.  As I write, the church is preparing a two day Advent Prayer Path where several members of the church have creatively made prayer stations that will certainly awaken our Advent curiosity and help us not to hear an ever fainter echo of Advent, rather a resounding renewal of what it means to see Advent with renewed passion and commitment.

Just One Star?!

Rating systems and pollsters have hit some new lows, yet we remain surrounded by subjective public ranking. The church Facebook page gives the ability to any user to rate the church. Equally, hotels, restaurants and even a public washroom can have star quality. In some news there’s been reports of the famous Michelin Stars being granted to a Canadian highway rest stop because of the quality food they sell. The same star rank was given to a food truck in another country.
There is some debate about the levels of quality, nonetheless the stars are there along with the opinions. Do they really matter? I believe they do, and they don’t. Read on and I will try to explain.

In the church there are a couple of tests, quality controls, or plain simple observations that can offer constructive feedback – at least that’s the ideal. One such test is the “mystery worshipper” who, like the commercial equivalent of the mystery shopper, has a list of check points to cover. If you’re still not clear, think of the mechanic giving your car a 21 point inspection. I’m not sure if the Anglican Church in Freiburg folks are aware, but they’ve been reviewed by a ‘Ship of Fools’ mystery worshipper. You can find the review online.

In past congregations I have brought in mystery worshippers to give some evaluation. It helps me to get another point of view. I try to alternate between a Christian reviewer and someone who is Spiritual but not religious (SBNR). The reviewers have different points of view: someone of a different church or denomination makes comments that are, well, ‘churchy’. They have a bit of a critical eye towards form and function. For example, they might suggest that ‘you say baptism declares full participation in the church, but then only adults do the major rolls of service in worship’. The non-religious, or the spiritual but not religious person usually has a very different report that is no-less important. The SBNR person usually has some powerful insights about belonging, and some that are so basic that they are invisible in plain sight. Here’s some comments as examples – ‘do you really think that everyone knows when to sit stand or kneel? I felt foolish as the only one mumbling along to a prayer everyone else seemed to know. I couldn’t find the front door.’
Another test that I have done personally in churches that I might visit is the ‘Coffee test’. Esenially, the coffe test is a test to see if the community ‘walks the talk’. They’ve been in worship, now what do they do afterwards? Grab a cup of coffee and see who talks to you. What do they talk about? Is God mentioned in the conversation?

Travelling with my own small children we found a local church to go to for a Sunday morning. It was a disaster! The online presence was nothing like the actual experience. Admittedly, I was only there for one Sunday so I can say it is a limited survey, but the impressions were long lasting.

I felt lied to. Pictures of a young active church online was replaced with the reverse. Apparently everyone was on holiday. We were forced to stand and introduce ourselves. The congregation was small enough that we were easily recognised as ‘others’. Worship was standard. The children were children and the adults did their bit by making ‘ssshhhhing’ sounds at us. I felt like crawling into a hole. I was just glad we made it to church as the online directions actually brought us to another neighbouring building and the only door with a sign said ‘Ancestry research library open Tuesday to Friday.’ I nervously explained that we were at the Jehovas Witness’.

At coffee I was told the pastor would come and introduce herself. She was nowhere in sight. I was given a ‘visitors mug’ to identify me as a visitor (as if standing up and publicly stating this fact in worship had now slipped the minds of the regular worshippers).
Needless to say, I had a cup of coffee and ate several doughnuts. Maybe I’m a nervous eater, as nobody ever came to speak to me. I was upset. I did however, fail the church as I never gave any polite comments about my feelings. How would they ever know if I didn’t tell them? How would they ever try to make changes or corrections when I had never expressed my own perceptions and needs? Of course I didn’t think that they would automatically change things just for me, but I had a feeling I wouldn’t be the last to feel this way. We are not consumers of religion, yet rankings somehow make us fall dangerously into this model.

Saying this: the rankings do have a role that the church needs to be aware of in its service to the wider community. I therefore see both the good and the not so good power of rankings. If we put all our hope on one system it will sadly let us down. If I go to church strictly for the top quality raking I might be disappointed. Fortunately, I have found that no matter how great, or how terrible the worship was, I’ve still been able to meet God in the experience.

Let me propose that God is always calling us for better, but at the same time we live with the brokeness, the complex relationships and the fragility of the world knowing that God has already declared it Good.

Now, let’s see how many stars I get for this post!

(Editorial Notes: I pounded out this article the other day while I was waiting for my language exam to begin – that’s another story.  Typing with my thumbs on my smartphone keyboard was less than ideal, but at least my nervous energy was directed toward something constructive.  

What I would like to add is, there are, and will be times when the congregation does not pass the coffee test.  Perhaps a ranking of one star will show up sooner or later, however, this is no reason to fret.  Conversely, if we always get high rankings, 5 stars, can’t we then aim for a sixth…just one more star?  As Advent will begin soon, the seasons of Christmas and Epiphany will soon follow.  Upon reflection, this long article might be left as ‘all thumbs’ if we just follow the stars.  The Magi certainly follow the star, but it is not what they come to worship.  As communities of faith being aware of the rankings is one thing, but forgetting who we really worship is a much more risky and damaging game to play.)

Narrow

There’s a reason why the rearview mirror in vehicles is so much smaller in size than the front windshield.  The majority of our time is spent speeding forward so we need a large view, a big picture.  Whilst the times we use the review mirror is relatively few…and some might say that there are some drivers that never seem to use it.

Driving at a good speed in reverse is seldom done.  The view we find is narrow and often a bit distorted.  The rearview mirror makes us look through our own vehicles and all our stuff, or the passengers in the back seats, to the world outside.  Most accidents at low speed happen while drivers are reversing their cars.

It seems to me that drivers, institutions and even nations can get their views confused so that they act and behave as if they are looking through the rearview mirror.

It is all too easy to say this about politics –  that the juggernaut of a nation is barrelling down through history with a narrow, backwards and distorted view.  It can make for scary driving.  It makes for horrific living.  Yet I too am narrow.  Narrow in my views and spheres of interaction. I rarely get feedback from the various subscribers to my blog.  Most of them are likely ‘bots’ that just want me to click back to them to find some kind of marketing advertisement.

Equally, my computer keeps track of the websites I’ve visited and I surround myself in a bubble of like-minded folks.  It is uncomfortable to experience the other and to learn something about a person, a place, a people, that we might find ‘other-worldly’.  Despite this risk, many do make that leap and find that their perspective has changed.

Admittedly it is exhausting listening to angry, violent and abusive rhetoric yet the work of listening and seeking to understand is important.  How else can bridges of understanding be built? How else can we then understand that we are all riding in the same vehicle? Reconciliation is tough work, and our view points, opinions and perspectives need to be shared, as well as critically examined.

Muddling through

Every two weeks people in the congregation get together to study the Bible.  The name of the group is ‘Roots & Shoots’ which doesn’t tell people new to the church a lot about what we do, but it is a name that has stuck and which I emphasize as the ‘Roots & Shoots Bible Study‘.  In the back of my mind I still wonder if there will be a day when someone comes to the group ready to garden.  Despite the name, the purpose is simple: study the Bible.

For many years I have participated in Bible Study groups both as studies which take place in the churches, or as private home group Bible study.  Not a single group is the same.  Not a single meeting is the same and this causes both delight and frustration for many.

I can recall the first time I was asked to lead a Bible Study group and the interesting personalities which made it…let’s say, interesting.  The formal leadership of the group was an elder layman who had basically grown up in the church and seemed to live and breath the Bible.  He used a ‘method’ that had people studying large passages throughout the entire Bible over the course of a couple years.  It was a study that would give anyone an overview at just about every book in the Bible.  From the moment I was asked to take a lead all I could really think about was the most senior person in the group, a woman named Joan.  Joan was a (long) retired teacher whom I am sure taught in a one room school house with pupils writing letters and numbers on pieces of slate and erasing their mistakes with ripped pieces of cloth.  Joan loved to talk and she loved to talk with her eyes closed.  Yes the habit of closing her eyes and talking at you:  at times you might have thought that some oracle was speaking, but for the most part I found it exceedingly annoying as it blocked any further attempt at any conversation.  Bible study usually meant a race between the leader who had prepared an outline, and Joan who, once started, could go the distance and take over the entire session.

These battles often meant that the group which met remained small and that the turn over in membership was high.  In fact it was probably my own look of having one foot out the door that the leader proposed that I should lead.

The long awaited evening came and as usual we met in the boardroom which gave the impression that about ten people more should be coming at any moment.  The table was a wood laminate and was badly chipped around some of the edges.  The carpet was an overwhelmingly bright avocado green with a hint of over-ripeness to it with brown flecks that were either bits of dirt that had accumulated, or a poorly made design feature.  The stackable chairs were uncomfortable and the arms of the chairs sometimes became a little loose with the wear and tear suddenly pinching your fleshy bits of arms if you were not careful.  A wonderful start to the evening.

I’ve read somewhere in some managerial magazine that board meetings and boardrooms lend themselves to a psychology of power struggles depending on who sits where.  The chair often takes the head of the table and the anti-chair (antagonist) usually sits directly opposite.  Those who wish to be ignored are often to the right and to the left of the chair, in a way, they are present, but not really present enough to be called upon for questioning, or discussion.

I arrived a little ahead of schedule like an athlete visualizing the course of events that was about to happen.  I sat in my usual chair and did not claim the head of the table like the leader usually did.  Closing my eyes, and maybe being seen to waver from side to side  like some skier mentally preparing for the downhill event I was startled to find that Joan was sitting exactly opposite me in a chair that was not her usual seat.  The antagonist had arrived.  Small chit-chat ensued and I was so very tempted to silently get up and change seats while Joan lamented her days events with tightly shut eyes.  Obviously the crowing glory of her day was to be the Bible Study group.

To my surprise there were more people in attendance.  It was, I thought, like people coming to see a spectator sport.  I had the notes that the leader had given  me and they were laid out on the table in front of me like a script.  Once we began it became apparent that I wasn’t comfortable with the status quo of the leader trying to rattle off as much of his script before his competitor, a bit slow off the block, but far more enduring, got started on her own race to the finish.

No sooner had I started that the leader began interjecting like a perfectionist director of a Shakespearean production –  I wasn’t following the script! Instead I did the unthinkable and started with a simple request that we read together the passage of study and note what interested us, or what was challenging, or if something was just plain strange.  Truly white knuckled stuff this was.  “But this isn’t how it is suppose to be!”, the elder leader burst out.  A small pause of silence which always feels excruciatingly long ensued until someone began to say that something from verse 12 really spoke to them.

We had gone through about two people who were perhaps more surprised at their own willingness to speak, when the warning signs of someone coming up from the rear of our Bible study track were upon us.  Joan sighed inwardly, closed her Bible (King James of course), folded her arms across her chest in a movement that suggested that she was adjusting her sweater for when cold seeped into the room, and with drooping eyelids and a slightly tipped back head she began.

A few minutes later, after we had heard about what seemed an actual recount of the 40 years of wandering in the wilderness I spoke up.  I began to point out a small reference Joan had made in regards to the actual passage we intended to study and wondered aloud if others had any other thoughts on the subject.  I thanked Joan for her impressions and scanned the faces around the table for someone who looked eager to jump in with their own ideas.

It was like a tennis match had started and peoples eyes flicked across the length of the table from me to the Joan.  Joan had stopped talking and one eye lid flickered open and the look of the people around the table was as if I had just awakened the Kraken whilst the elder leader was quickly on the Flying Dutchmen off into the hidden darkness of the car park outside.

Repeating the words, “Oh no, oh no!” in ones head does actually give the appearance of serenity and deep prayer.  Yet the crack had opened and it seems a dams worth of water was now going to rush through as others burst forth with their own insights and questions about the scripture.

After the evening had wrapped up I felt exhausted and I felt that I had failed.  I looked around the boardroom at all in attendance and had an image of a shipwreck in mind.  Yet there was more talking, more excitement, more interaction with everyone, not just Joan and the leader.  I began to feel more like we were somehow saved in the wreckage and were in a lifeboat together.  Something had saved the night.  Yes, it was stormy.  Yes, we had people yelling that they could not swim (metaphorically speaking). But now here we all were in the same boat and it felt that we were now rowing, not in circles with one person in the bow pointing, and other in the stern demanding that we go her way.  No.  Instead it felt like we were on a journey of discovery and that whatever the weather we could all stick an oar in and contribute and therefore go somewhere.

This experience, although it happened over twenty years ago still has an impact on me to this day.  It is curious, and rewarding to also know that the passage we studied was Luke 8: 22-25 where Jesus calms the storm which ravages the boat filled with disciples.  No Bible Study meeting has ever been the same – both a frustration and a great relief.

Luke 8. 24The disciples went and woke him, saying, “Master, Master, weʼre going to drown!”  He got up and rebuked the wind and the raging waters; the storm subsided, and all was calm. 25“Where is your faith?”he asked his disciples.

Light

People often tell me that they enjoy the light of Freiburg.  That there is a unique quality to the light that is distinctive to the place.  Usually I just see light without the uniqueness that others enjoy.  Perhaps I am simple.

I now run around 5 kilometres three to four times a week as part of my wellbeing.  It was the other day, perhaps from a ‘runners high’ that I noticed the light.  My running routes purposely take me away from the busy roads and I find myself running through fields and vineyards.  The weather is getting cooler and I usually am the only person walking, or running outside.  In the evenings the gym near the train station is aglow with neon lights and the bobbing silhouette of men and women jogging on treadmills.  Even when it is raining the grey clouds don’t always seal up the sun.  Particularly in the evenings towards sun-set the light is wonderful and majestic for a few moments.  There are times on my runs when I want to stop and dig out my phone so that I can snap a quick photo, but the light is so perfect for just a short time that the moment has passed before I can untangle my headphones and retrieve my phone.  The photos never do any justice to the overall view.

Now the sun provides such a contrast to the grey clouds, the flocks of birds that scavenge the spilt corn, and the multi coloured vines that make the hills into a patchwork quilt of colour.

Is it from the time spent being in one place that I can now see the light in the way that others have tried to express? Or is it the pumping heart, the working legs and the distance that is more than just kilometres that has worked to open my eyes to the etherial light of Freiburg?

 

Promises

Julie Andrews acting as Mary Poppins talks of ‘a pie crust promise’ in the Disney movie of the same name, and describes the pie crust promise as: “Easily made. Easily broken.”

At its simplest, a promise is for an individual.  One person can promise to do things for ones self.  In the more complex, a promise is an oath, or pact between one person and many.  In another, a promise is between a person and God; and God and his people.

I make those famous ‘pie crust promises’ to myself a lot of the time.  I’m not one for New Years Resolutions, but I do promise to myself that I will do something and that usually works…for a while.  My newest promise to myself is to take more time for physical fitness.  I’ve found that living in the land of beer and pretzels has changed my features so exercise is something I need to do.  Self-care is a phrase that is thrown around among church leaders, yet our track record is pretty dismal.  Self-care phrases are surrounded by the words of expectation and guilt, namely, “would’a, could’a and should’a.”  “I really should exercise more!”,  prompts me into doing so under duress.  The excuses for not finding the time to exercise are rampant, as there always seems to be some more pressing issue, or meeting in the calendar to look after other than ourselves.

In the church congregation I have managed to pull a ‘Jephthah’.  What is that? Well Jephthah is mentioned in the Old Testament book of Judges and in his pride he publicly proclaims that as God as his witness he will sacrifice the first thing that comes out of his house to give God glory.  Tragically it is his loving (and only) daughter that runs out of the house first to meet her father.  Promising to do something and then not doing it comes with the speaking before thinking type of personality.  I’ve promised to do some things in the church and have not acted upon them with the speediness I had promised.  For this I am sorry and these things hang about on a long To Do list like some spectre of Christmas Past.

While the above promise mentions God, it is more a statement of oath that is a public one.  The promises, or oaths, that I made as a priest, are also in the context of community, but have a deeply personal relationship with God, and with God’s people.  Like at a wedding when one party makes oaths to the other (to love and cherish in sickness and in health) so too does the person being ordained priest make those similar statements to God and God’s Church.  “Will you be diligent in prayers, and in reading of the holy Scriptures, and in such studies as help to the knowledge of the same, laying aside the study of the world and the flesh? Answer: I will endeavour myself so to do, the Lord being my helper.” (Book of Common Prayer pg 576-577)  Judging from my bookshelf I read a lot of books about the world in which I might find God present.  Of course I study my Bible and attempt to pray the daily offices of Morning and Evening prayer, but the big word is attempt.  Does this count as endeavouring? I think that a lot of people do endeavour as these questions of promise and fulfilment are perennial discussion topics in a congregation.  It is in the struggle that we meet God, not in the giving up and walking away.

Perhaps I have now come full circle in my list of promises as I have, in the past, trained to run races and proudly remember making a very good time in one gruelling mountain race. I have not always run, neither have I always prayed the daily offices.  Perhaps it is the enduring of the promise that is the place of grace.  Rather than looking at a promise as a quick way to find a solution, or the fast track to complete a goal, a promise is an enduring relationship between me and God, just as it is a relationship between me and a community.  The promise is not the thing that will change us, it is the continual wrestling with ourselves, with the words we speak, and the work we have left undone.  The promise will rear its head again and again because we are cannot complete all that we have promised.  That is God’s work of promise that is completed for us, and so we continue to wrestle with our own promises and shortcomings and we end up being changed –  a people who run with a limp.

 

via Daily Prompt: Promises

Doors of Opportunity

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My panorama picture doesn’t do justice to the actual church entrance, but I wanted to show how many people find themselves in this spot when they finally getting the nerve to open the doors and enter inside.

The Petrous Kirche is part of the wider Badische Landeskirche and is of the reformed tradition.  The church was completely renovated and refitted in the last few years.  The photo captures the upper floor of the building that contains the sacturary, a variety of meeting rooms, a kitchen and toilets.  At the far right of the picture is a little bridge to the front entrance of the Diakonie that offer social services to the wider community.  On the ground floor…which we don’t see from this view…is the kindergarten.   In the last couple months the Petrous community and the Anglican Church in Freiburg have partnered with a third church congregation, the Royal Family Baptist Church.  The stimulus for this work was partly a new church building that was under used.  Now it is a building that is in high demand with multiple user groups.

The ecumenical relationships are still being worked out, in what I like to think of as dance partners.  There are times when we step on each others toes as we learn the new moves.  Despite the initial discomfort and awkwardness there is a vision of real teamwork and partnership that serves not just the members, but the wider community.

The diversity and enterprise makes us all stronger.  So if you have walked up the stairs, or taken the lift…or even strolled through the vineyard next-door and hopped the fence; people of all walks of life have an opportunity to come through the doors of the church.

I also need to remind myself and others, in that when we leave the doors of our respective worship services we do so through the same doors.  We leave as One people in One Church.

Ephesians 4. 1-5  

I [Paul] therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called,

2with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, 5one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.

Framing the Picture

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View from within the Rathaus, Freiburg.

Typically this view shows tourists, people enjoying a coffee, and wedding parties.  The Rathaus is the place to see couples marry as they sign the necessary paperwork at the City Hall and then have small gatherings in the square to celebrate.  On a busy day you can see dozens of couples coming and going for their appointed meeting times.

While not the greatest of photographs with a phone camera I wanted to frame the shot that is the image of many couples when they leave the building.  The ironwork gate, the patterned cobblestones, and the birds both of iron and feather fill the scene.

Framing the scene is often a photographic technique to focus the eye and can create some interesting images.  When I sit down to do a puzzle it is often easiest for me to search through the box for the flat-edged pieces so that I may build the frame that will contain the picture, or the finished puzzle. What are those flat edged pieces in our own lives, in our marriages, and in our Church?  I think that in discovering the boundaries of our relationships we often set a ‘frame of reference’ that helps us to make sense, gather meaning and become purposeful.

It has been ten months time since moving to Germany with my family to begin ministry with an Anglican Church.  These ten months have been a time spent in setting the frame.  Getting to know people.  Searching out the flat bits from the puzzle box.  The community of the church represents a picture and there are many personalities that piece together.  Occasionally I find that one piece can link to several others if I’m not too careful and in doing so the puzzle doesn’t get done, or the picture is distorted.  The hard work of building the picture is set to begin.  Some of the Sisters of St. John the Divine in Toronto and British Columbia, Canada have an interest in a particular type of puzzle that seems challenging.  The puzzle is called a ‘Wasgij’, or Jigsaw written backwards.  The image on the box top is not the image that you need to piece together.  Rather, it is an image that when you look at it, you must imagine what it is the people in the picture are looking at, and it is that ‘imagined’ picture that is what one sets on building.  To use this example in the life of the Church now that some time has been spent on referencing the framework is both challenging and exciting.  We listen and pray about what God’s purpose is, but we have no solid blueprint, or box top design to follow.  In this way, each community and its parts have an aim, or a goal which we are trying to piece together.  What is the image of our church community that we are helping to bring about?

Alas, the picture will have many people, activities, events and occasions that I will perhaps get a glimpse of as I work away on things.  However, puzzles are best left done together as a family event.  The picture grows in an organic way as community members add to a section, or focus on a particular area.

The final product (that of building and of enjoying the picture) is also something less like a photograph, or puzzle picture and more akin to a painting.  A work of Art.

We are all learners

In a short while school will resume for this area of Germany.  For those young children beginning school there is the Schultütte which is a large paper cone usually flamboyantly decorated and containing all sorts of small gifts, and/or sweets for the new student.  I was corrected by my own children that this ritual does not happen at the beginning of every year.  What I was really thinking is that I might get a Schultütte myself once my integration classes resume.

The beginning of school is matched by the end of school – the Abitur.  The ‘Abi’ as it is also known, is a difficult and challenging test which forces the student to recall years worth of material from their studies.  The end is an often feted day for those who ‘graduate’.  The rites and rituals of beginning and ending are important and the church can help bring meaning, celebration and liturgical presence to these special days.  Yet it is in the ‘ordinary time’ between these big events that learning continues to take place.

There is some old nugget out there that says, “You learn something new everyday”, despite the converse approach that “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks”.  So what is it that I learned today in this ordinary time between beginnings and endings?

A few things, but one is: that mystery and story have an important place in the way we experience the world.  During the lunch hour I put my phone away as I had been glued to it all morning with pastoral calls, planning sessions and emails.  An hour to refresh and recuperate which I would do walking the path next to the river that cuts through town. After all, we are intentionally celebrating the ecumenical season of ‘Creationtide‘.  To my surprise I found only a dried up riverbed with only small pools of water that held small but active fish.

This was not what I was expecting! However, this is (so I’ve been told) the norm.  That in the hot dry months the river drys up and disappears.  Despite this I did walk.  I encountered a small forest glen with carved wooden figures of people, animals, and things out of fairytales.  On my refreshing, yet dusty walk, I thought of the sweet German story of the Water Sprite.  I had read it in English, but the tale, and the illustrations, set the mind thinking of mysterious things.  61bnRAdWctL

In playful thought, I wondered if now, of all times, I might get to see a water sprite’s home at the bottom of the dry river.  It may sound silly, but not long ago in Germany, and in other areas, the tales of forest and water creatures were told to fascinated children (and adults) –  think of the Brothers Grimm and the enduring tales.

There is certainly a place for the supernatural in our structures of reality.  Think of the popularity of such books and movies as Narnia and The Lord of the Rings.  Besides being entertaining tales of adventure, there are symbols, metaphors and mystery that speak deeply to us.  For some, we need to re-learn our sense of adventure, creativity and mystery.  Surely adults can recall a time, perhaps in the what they express as their prehistoric past, as a time when imagination ruled.  Countless hours acting out made up stories, or watching yet again your small metal car ride roughshod over the dirt motorway that you have built around the base of a tree.

For the students soon to begin another school term remember that we never stop learning.  To the rest of us who think we have done our time and have learned all we know: remember that we can also relearn, and re:create.  Now, is that the river I hear, or is it just my imagination recalling the melody of a Water Sprite playing a flute song?

Open-Minded & Open-Bags

It is strange what you find when you aren’t looking for something.  One occasion was spotting a small handbag under a shopping cart which held 400Euro’s in cash.  There was no identification.  A single shopping cart was left near the bike parking at a local grocery store and underneath the cart on the ground was a palm-sized handbag.

Maybe it is from reading, and watching Sherlock Holmes that one starts to piece together the owner in ones mind.  The thought was that it was an elderly woman that had most of her entire weeks worth of money in one bag.  It turns out we were right, as the son called us to thank us, and wanted to know if we would like a reward.  Knowing that the item had been returned was reward enough.

There are times when distraction makes us forget the things that are essential. I know one reader will recognize that it is easy to leave, bags, books, wallets, and keys when a crisis strikes.  I do it all the time.

The other find was not actually much of my doing, as I walked the dog in the early morning before it gets really hot.  Wandering our way through the corn fields the dog has a pastime of jumping into the long grass at the side of the dirt roads.  He jumps around as if he were on springs; all in the hopes to catch a field mouse.  (He’s already encountered a Hedgehog and found them a bit prickly).  It was in one of these hunts that the dog strayed into the corn and was intent on sniffing something.  By the time I caught on that this was not a mouse I found a green shoulder bag.  There was a train stop, and paved road nearby, but again the deductive reasoning kicked in and started me thinking how a bag that is the same colour as the corn stalks got here.

This time around there was no money, but lots of ID cards, bankcards, and a very new looking iPhone that was dead.  The police have yet to find the owner, so I wonder,  “what will the owner think?”, or “What they are like?”  What happened to make the bag fall so far into the corn field? Who is this person, besides a young black man who has a student ticket for the train?

Everyday we meet people, but rarely do we ever see inside their purses, wallets, or bags.  Everyday we meet people and yet do we really get to open up and truly meet them.  Part of the mystery in finding the lost articles makes me wonder about keeping an open mind about who the people are behind the possessions.  In the same way we could think of the old adage, “Don’t judge a book by a cover”.

The church, when it works well, provides a place where people can open up as they find it a safe place…a sanctuary.  Open-mindedness is a practice when we meet people.  Naturally we find ways to place, judge, and identify people. However, some of this is surface material and only when we are lost and vulnerable do we find that we are spread open.  We see the fragility of an elderly woman with a wad of 50Euro bills.  We see the important items, the treasures, in bank cards, and student ID.  There are always surprises when we become vulnerable.

Some people shock us in their behaviours, their attitudes and their appearance.  Yet I know that when we look a little deeper, as uncomfortable as that may sound, we often find a lot of the same issues.  Loneliness, hurt, pain; as well as, joy, ambition, and longing.

Jesus meets his friends on the road as they are confused and filled with the anxiety of crisis.  In the venerable moment of sharing a meal with ‘a stranger’ they find the risen Lord.  “Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.” Luke 24. 45