midweek meditation

Midweek Meditation 18

Well, here we are, that kind of Bob Hope moment (“Thanks for the Memories”) or Carol Burnett closing (“I’m so glad we had this time together”). Two years of Interim Ministry time has passed and it was insightful for me and memorable.

Thank you, congregation of Maple Grove United for your support, your honest feedback, your sharing in new ventures in ministry, your care and love. There is a depth of faith and dedication in this congregation that will enable you to endure and carry on in ministry for some years yet. The breadth of expertise and excellence in service among your volunteer leadership is utterly outstanding. Even during this Covid-19 lockdown experience, you remain in solid financial and spiritual health. There is a widely shared sense of community here where the regulars remind one of the clientele at Cheers bar in Boston (“Where everybody knows your name”) and where newcomers find themselves quickly integrated, included, and valued.  Your children and youth may seem few, but they are bright, caring, and kind.

You will continue to value and seek excellence in music and inspirational worship. You have an active, informed, and engaged Outreach Team that will help guide you in focusing on poverty issues and environmental concerns. Your Caring Team provides helpful and sincere support and prayerful attention to persons who are ill, grieving, or experiencing other stressors. Your Finance, Stewardship, and Property Teams offer quality and stellar supportive ministry.  Your Worship and Music team ensure that all the needed volunteers are recruited, that regular assessment and evaluation of worship services happens. Your Communications group has had to step up to the plate and learn new skills in addition to the faithful service they regularly offer. Your Ministry and Personnel Team undertakes their responsibilities with diligence and caring support for your staff. Your Christian Education Team has met and conferred as to how to offer and uphold ministry with children and youth during these unusual times. Dorothy Gartshore and her Membership Team helpers are on a roll. You are blessed by the superb ministry and work contributed by Bobbi-Jo, Deborah, and Eran. Your Council meets regularly and seeks to have the best interests and optimum health of the congregation ever on their hearts and minds. Rev. Kerry Stover will be blessed by this whole breadth of engagement and assistance that underpins ministry and mission at Maple Grove.

I believe you are ready, eager, and poised to move on with the ministry and service to which God is now calling you. The strictures of Covid-19 may slow some of that down, but they will not hamper it, diminish your ability to touch and impact other’s lives, nor bar you from being effective ambassadors of God’s love and justice to the community around you and to the world we now live in.

Blessings,

Harry

Midweek Meditation 16

Coping with Covid-19; and, hopefully, not feeling crushed or exceedingly cramped.  This week pretty much marks the four-month mark since the virus showed up in Canada.  By and large, our nation has responded rather well.  All provinces except Ontario and Quebec have managed to exercise a good deal of containment and control.  In Ontario, only Windsor and area and most parts of Metro Toronto are still the hot-spots.  Prayers for citizens and front-line workers in those communities are essential devotional service.  Yet, even though most areas are more open in the Stage Two phase, there is still a need for plenty of caution and oodles of patience.

    “God is my light and saving health; whom shall I fear?” (Psalm 27:1).  Or what?  I hope that the resources of faith:  prayer, perseverance, relying on God for strength, sharing God’s love and care with others, holding fast to hope are the life-buoys that are keeping us afloat as we ride out this viral tidal wave.   What signs of God’s presence and activity during these times have you noticed or experienced?  What have you been learning about life and faith over these past few months of social distancing, extra-careful hygiene, anxious concern, and sporadic outbursts of joy and reassurance?  Feel free to share some of your thoughts and reflections with me and I will be happy to create a collage of them in future midweek musings.

     The Psalms are a good scriptural resource for people of faith in times like these since the authors were often beset by troubles and concerns from inner “demons” and outside sources.  Repeatedly the poets and lyricists who created the Psalms count on God for support and help with unmitigated confidence.  “God is our refuge and our strength, a very present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1).  Words and testimonies similar to this one appear repeatedly throughout the whole book, featured in 33% – 50% or more them.  If they haven’t already been part of your daily or weekly devotional practice, let me commend them to you.  Prayer and praise from the depths of one’s heart and spirit are ever acceptable in God’s ears and sight, and go a long way to anchoring our own lives in difficult times and situations.  Let us remain receptive to God’s blessing, help, and abiding grace.

Midweek Meditation 13

“Love your neighbour as you love yourself”

     I am fairly confident that most of us make some effort, even go beyond our normal limits, to implement the first half of this Second Great Law of Jesus.  It’s on the second half that we often fall short, or almost neglect altogether.

    This prolonged period of social distancing and self-isolation has likely exacerbated that, even if we are mainly cooped up at home with family or sustaining in person contact with a few friends who are “in our bubble”.  Yet, without part two of the law, part one has less impact and effect.

    So, unless you happen to be an unrepentant, unrelenting narcissist, the opposite is likely closer to the truth.  We give, give, and give of ourselves to others and are underachieve in the area of self-love, self-compassion.

    Self-compassion, however, has proven to be an effective and beneficial antidote to anxiety, depression, and stress.   Self-compassion is the rather simple practice of treating ourselves with the same care, respect, kindness, support, and love we offer to others.  But hey, with most of us having a lot of “spare” time during this Covid-19 crisis, surely we can find some minutes, even hours, to care for and love ourselves.

    Self-compassion enables us to focus on positives instead of negatives.  So, yes, we may be feeling down or anxious or under stress.  But … we a part of humankind in common and all people experience these feelings and pressures from time to time.  So, recognize and name the emotions you are experiencing and then think of something positive you can do in response.  For example, going for a fresh air break or walk instead of grabbing up a second Hagen-Daas* ice cream bar.  Or, have a conversation with yourself in the manner in which you might have a similar conversation with a friend or family member who is feeling stressed, or anxious, or down.  It may also be a good time to just call up a friend or put up a post on social media.

   When we feel threatened, we humans have a tendency to zero in on the negative as a means of survival.  Not a good strategy.  By focusing on positive images, memories, experiences, view of ourselves we will actually feel safer, less fearful, more hopeful, even optimistic.  In difficult or stressful times calling up and listening to a voice within ourselves that is encouraging, kind, and warm will filter through our being in ways that promote health for us in body, mind, and spirit. 

   I suspect most of us are victimized and belittled more by our own inner self-critic than by any critique or negative reaction from others around us.  Better we learn to tone down and hush that inner critic and touch base with and rouse up our inner cheerleader instead.  And yes, we all have one of those within us too.

Midweek Meditation 12

There it was, right in the middle of last Sunday’s sermon. It didn’t catch me until sometime on Sunday afternoon, even though the sermon was recorded on Friday. Just before I launched into an appeal to us all to reflect on how we ourselves are caught up in systemic racism and lingering personal prejudices that fracture our sense of human oneness, I used the lyrics from a Bob Marley song to illustrate those moments of “hearts beating as one” at a musical concert. Nothing seemed particularly inappropriate about that as I wrote it and presented it. And yet ….  When I presented it orally, I sang the lyric with a bit of a Jamaican accent. It isn’t difficult to imagine that someone of actual Jamaican descent, or any Black person anywhere might take offence to a white preacher using that sound and tone. They might hear it as someone mocking the way they speak.  Racism can be that subtle, yet still offensive.  

In my own mind, it’s a song I enjoy.  I am also conscious of the fact that I have some facility with linguistic accents.  I truly love all the variations of spoken English in its multiple dialects. I enjoy re-producing them as best I can. However, does that give the right to do so in a public presentation? In my heart of hearts, I believe I am not out to offend anyone through ridicule or mockery, but that doesn’t preclude the possibility that that’s how I may be heard. Is my awareness of that enough to excuse it? Or do I need to be more prudent in my public speech so that I am respectful of anyone who might be in the audience? Might I seek out some non-white people with whom I could engage in conversation and reflection about this?There is another concern about using that lyric from the song “One Love, One Heart” in a public presentation.  Did I violate copyright?  If the sermon were to go into print in publication, I would certainly acknowledge its source.  Even though I wasn’t making money from singing that line out loud in public, was that yet okay? Or … was it just a way of illustrating a point? Was it comparable to any of us just singing along with a song like that while it’s playing on the radio in our car? Or when, say, attending a concert by Bob Marley or some group with permission to perform Bob Marley songs, the lead singer points his microphone at the gathered crowd and says, “Yeah, go ahead, you sing it”?

Yes, this Covid-19 time that affords us extended times of social isolation does leave us time and space for personal reflections and self-examination. I don’t think I’m overdoing it; but neither will I be beating myself up too hard unnecessarily. It does seem appropriate though to entertain reflections that seem to worthy of further conversation and exploration with others sometime along life’s way.

Midweek Meditation 11

If We Are Really in This Together …

There are lots of signs of encouragement, new empowerment and the positive sharing of ideas, care, assistance, helpful hints, meditative and relaxation practices, updated information, music, humour, prayers and worship, virtual hugs even. Online ordering and sales have skyrocketed. The majority of people are taking social distancing and protective measures seriously, and many are finding ways to stay connected through Internet chatrooms and Zoom, etc., through short and minimized in-person visits and backyard happy hours, etc.  And in these ways and more, we are truly responding to and managing our time and ourselves during this Covid-19 pandemic in a spirit of “We are all in this together”.

However, that isn’t universal.  And while those who choose to gather in larger groups in parks and street corners and in protest rallies and marches (which also need to happen, although it isn’t always done completely safely), and those who are being rudely strident about “you can’t tell me what to do in a free country”, put the push to flatten the curve at risk, cause me some concern; I am content to wait and see how their risk-taking plays out.

I am more dismayed by others who have seen this outbreak as a time for “opportunity” – an opportunity to make some fast and furious profits:  those who hoarded toilet paper and then sold it a $2+ per roll for instance;  those who inflated their prices on hand sanitizers, gloves, face masks, face shields, sanitary wipes for instance.  What has also been showing up recently are a number of service providers who are adding in a non-sanctioned “Covid-19” tax: on home electrical repair services, on contact lens fittings at a local optical store, on some forms of deferred payment on loans or rent or credit card bills.  Yes, business is tough.  Yes, many of us in and out of business have taken a hit; but this is no time to gouge the public trying to recoup some of your real and anticipated losses.

As we all come out slowly from this bizarre time, I also suspect our governments will jack up income taxes to cover the extraordinary expenses for seeing us through Covid-19. Which might be okay if they do it very fairly and on a totally graduated-geared-to-actual-income during these times basis.

If we are really all in this together, then let us refuse to pay extra to any economic opportunist. If we are really all in this together, then let us advocate now for a fairer, geared-to-income system of taxation and fewer loopholes for corporations and high-income individuals to find ways of dodging paying their fairer share.

If we are really all in this together, let us join the national movement already in motion to create a Universal Basic Income, so that no one falls below any poverty line.

If we are really all in this together, let us use this economic and personal rhythm slowdown time to encourage our brightest minds to rebuild a truly fair, just, and global economy.  Which may mean, cancelling wads of debt or reducing it by 50% and starting over from the ground up. Which may mean looking at Scandinavian models of governance and taxation which seem at present to ensure that everyone has enough to live on, that everyone has paid access to literacy and higher education, that everyone has access to adequate and competent medical care and health services, that everyone might have access to international travel and very few issues crossing borders, that everyone might have a living environment that is not riddled with hate, or threats, or violence, or systemic injustice. Let us take this time to rebuild a new, vibrant world where everyone in fact matters and has something of value to contribute to the health and well-being of the whole human family and to God’s creation

MIDWEEK MEDITATION 7

by Rev. Harry Disher

As our pandemic captivity persists, I am becoming conscious of some new learnings and discoveries about life and faith, and some heightened awareness. 

In coming weeks, some members of our congregation will be invited to share their own reflections on such realizations they have experienced during this strange and unusual time.

One way of sharing my reflections is to offer this “Top Ten” list, not necessarily in any order of importance or priority.

  1. I am more conscious of how “lockdown” affects people mentally, emotionally, and spiritually; and more sensitized to how this situation, which is strange to many of us, is more the norm for people in prison,
    and residents of long-term care facilities and mental health institutions where outbreaks and lockdowns are far more frequent, if not close to a daily reality for them. All of them are in my prayers and being carried on my heart.
  2. While I already have the blessing of a vocation and occupation that enables me to work on “flex time”, even more flex time is at hand these past few weeks. That means more options are present hour by hour for using time fruitfully or creatively, or for choosing less healthful or less purposeful activities like playing extra rounds of word games or sudoku on my phone.
  3. Staying at home and social isolation offers increased opportunities for strengthening some primary relationships and touching base with friends. It also highlights where some of the stressors show up and invites me to examine how to reframe and transform my more negative and strained responses.
  4. Having more time for personal devotion, journaling, and spiritual practice is a great blessing. Taking advantage of that option makes a difference in how I live through a day.
  5. I have an increased awareness of how humour lifts the spirit as does music and song. Along with that comes an increased awareness of how some humour is in poor taste and just plain mean.
  6. There is a growing discontent with our pre-Covid-19 ways of life.
  7. And a burgeoning hope and personal commitment to moving into post-Covid-19 life differently with God’s greater purposes for humanity and creation more intently in view.
  8. Finding space for all that stuff that gets cleared out with spring cleaning, sorting through yet unpacked boxes from moving, and holding onto not-yet returnable items is also a challenge to one’s creativity, patience, and ability to go with “what is, is”.
  9. Fresh air is even more so a daily necessity along with personal exercise when one can’t get to gym.
  10.    Being together in online community has been extremely helpful; but the longing for in-person, face-to-face interaction remains.

So may the God who is with us at all times, in every circumstance, and through all seasons of life and faith continue to attend us.

                                                                ******

I was hoping to use Jackie Evancho’s rendering of her uncle’s prayer-song “To Believe” as our Prayers of the People for this week’s service of worship.  Some technical conundrums and some more ambiguous legal ones made that too taxing for now, so, here is the link to it on YouTube, should you choose to tune into it and find the heart and hope of an 11-year-old (who is now 20) inspiring and encouraging. May this prayer be akin to many of our prayers too.

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