When it All Comes Crashing Down…..

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Today, I witnessed an anxiety attack.  

I’m not talking your run of the mill hit the panic button, do some breathing exercises and s’all good attack…. 

I mean the kind of anxiety that totally takes control, the kind of apprehensiveness that makes you feel like your world is spinning….the kind that makes you feel that you just might lose it. 😦

I guess I find myself writing here for two reasons….the first is that it’s work/ministry related, and it seems to make sense to post it here.

In my work as a street pastor, anxiety attacks (of all degrees and kind) are not uncommon.  They are an atypical response to stress that most of us feel at least once in a while.  

For many that feeling goes away after a change of scenery, the touch of a familiar friend’s hand….or the pleasant smell or taste that brings us back to a more balanced state.

For others though (and more “others” than we actually realize) the anxiety doesn’t go away.  It’s a feeling in their gut…….a constant vigilance over some potential action that might go awry….a feeling that no matter what precautions we take……. some bad shit is about to go down.

Anxiety for human beings is a natural response…….it’s that flight or fight response which tells us when danger is approaching…….and when we need–above all else–to put our survival at the top of the priority list.

When someone experiences trauma,…..regardless of age……there’s actually a fairly good chance that  the part of our brain responsible for our self-preservation develops at a faster rate.  As with any muscle or organ in our body, the more hippocampus is used, the more sensitive it becomes.

So why am I telling you this? It’s because the person I saw today not only had an anxiety attack……but she felt guilty about having one :(.

This completely natural response of the body and the brain……which this individual literally had no control over…….caused massive, unrelenting pressure to try and “be normal”……to try and “get over” it on an emotional level.  

It was like looking into the eyes of a wounded puppy dog.  😦

The stigma surrounding anxiety disorders and mental illnesses need to stop.  We need to stop perpetuating the myth that those who want to fight or fly away have something wrong with them.  We need to stop judging and start trying to understand.

Are there steps that can be taken by people to deal with anxiety or other mental illnesses??? Absolutely.  Are there ways of promoting healthier lifestyles and wholeness in body, mind and spirit??? You bet.  

But where we need to start is recognizing that there is nothing wrong with the individual to start with…….they are beautifully and wonderfully made by the hand of God……who just need companions to walk with them as they try to figure out what the best response is for them.

As I reflect tonight……in the second half of my thinking……..I can’t help but wonder……..what is our response as people of faith???

So often……we try to fix things…….narrow down a medical problem………prescribe the right meds…….and those steps are really important……crucial in fact………

But these people are **not** broken……..they are simply trying to live their lives in the best way they know how……I wonder if we are willing to simply walk with them…….to be there for the meltdown even if we can’t do anything……if only to say “I’m here with you.  I love you. And you matter to me” ❤ +

A Few People Asked for a Copy………….

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Hi all! Been a while since I posted on here. A few folks from the congregation and on FB have asked that I post my sermon from today. I don’t normally write a script, or preach from one…..but with some help from someone who actually takes notes about these things, I think we nailed down the basic structure and key phrases and thoughts…….It’s not EXACTLY how it went this morning…….but it’s 80% or so accurate. Enjoy! 🙂

Old Testament: Jeremiah 1:4-10
New Testament: Luke 13:10-17

jeremiah

Now the word of the Lord came to me saying,
‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.’
Then I said, ‘Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.’ But the Lord said to me,
‘Do not say, “I am only a boy”;
for you shall go to all to whom I send you,
and you shall speak whatever I command you.
Do not be afraid of them,
for I am with you to deliver you,
says the Lord.’
Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the Lord said to me,
‘Now I have put my words in your mouth.
See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms,
to pluck up and to pull down,
to destroy and to overthrow,
to build and to plant.’

Touch the words of my tongue O Lord, so that only the truth may be spoken, and only the Truth heard.

So……..In case you didn’t know, I’m a huge nerd. 😉 This year instead of “relaxing” on the first week of my vacation, I decided to attend a conference in Toronto.

It was a wonderful event with about 100 people from many diverse backgrounds; clergy, occupational therapists. Nurses. Social workers, students &c.; and just people who were just interested in the subject of disability and how it might fit with theology.

It was an intense week with three speakers plus workshops for 5 days. But it was a very fruitful conference. Where I geeked out the most though; was just the general concept that Disability and Theology was a THING! 🙂 I had read and thought about it in seminary of course, but had no idea that other people were interested in it too!

There was a group of about 40 Canadians—give or take—and a bunch of folks were from the States; Mostly working professionally with PwD or studying their MA/PhD.

It was awesome to see so many people, share so many different perspective, and to have people come together and share their stories.

One of the greatest things that I came away with……or I should say was reminded of……was the power of the story. Here people were being open, honest and candid about disability; how it affected their lives (positively or negatively)……and sharing part of who they are.

This connects a lot with our reading from Jeremiah—which I’ll get to in a second—but first let’s take a look at the Gospel……..

As you can imagine, stories like this one came up at the conference. These stories of healing are spread throughout the Gospels. Are healings the same as cures? What does it mean to be afflicted with demons? Why are these stories included at all?

This woman is afflicted by a demon of 18 years; and is crippled by it. So much so that she is doubled over in pain and distress.

It’s never specified whether the demon has any other effects; whether it is a mental illness; or some physical manifestation of some biological process. Only that she is deeply affected by it.

In Luke’s gospel, the healing narratives serve a very concrete purpose; to show that Jesus has power and authority from God. He is the only gospel writer to explicitly use the language of “Lord” in the text to refer to Christ.

The purpose of the healing stories is not so much the act itself—though that is certainly part of it—but rather it is to emphasize that Jesus is Lord

That He indeed comes with Grace, love and abundance. That he is here to offer these gifts freely.

But the real interesting part for me is Jesus’ response. Did you notice how he addresses the woman?????

Of course, no one is supposed to heal on the Sabbath. And yet, Jesus breaks the rules; he heals her anyway. God’s grace and mercy shine through regardless of the rules.

More than that, Jesus calls the woman a child of God . Wow! ❤

Someone who is shunned by the community is given a name, claimed as God’s own! With a recognition that she too is part of the community. This was the way she had been formed from the womb.

Just like Jeremiah’s call to prophecy….we are each blessed with our own gifts and talents. Given to us from the very hand of Love itself. He who knew and shaped us from the dawn of our lives knows intimately who we are….disabilities and all.

The last thing that a preacher wants to do is make a sermon all about me….

but I want to share part of my story with you, because I believe there is power in stories….and also it will hopefully act as an invitation for the whole community of St. Jude’s to share their stories too.

One of the most fruitful parts of the conference was the idea that my cerebral palsy is a gift. Even as a 31 year old male, there are plenty of times when it doesn’t feel like a gift at all. And I was sort of in that kind of crisis when I arrived here at St. Jude’s……..

Some of you know parts of the story……..but I had a full-fledged meltdown in 2nd year seminary.

I was doing my placement at Cronyn and just realized I couldn’t handle all the craziness that was coming with ministry. It got to the point where I had to decide between going to work, or going home and having a shower for my own health and well being…..You see, I need help from a PSW to do that……..

I broke down in front of Rae [my supervisor] and said that something had to give. At that point, he said “OK, you need to take a break from here…..find another community and take care of what you need”

Between the two of us and Phil [rector of St. Jude], we decided that St. Jude’s was a good fit. And so I came here. We also decided that starting in the Fall term, I would switch from doing parish ministry to chaplaincy work at Kensington Village retirement home.

Over the course of working with folks at Kensignton, I realized that being in a wheelchair was actually awesome for the job. The fact that residents met with someone who also struggled with mobility and support issues, opened whole new avenues of conversation and ministry as they embraced the new realities of aging.

Lo and behold! The CP which I found so annoying and frustrating ended up becoming a gift to the Church.

I bring this up; again not to make it all about me……..but to underscore that we are all awesomely gifted……Awesome because of the way in which we are all individually formed by God…..who knew us before we before we were born, and spoke us lovingly into being.

Our very selves is the gift we bring to the Church.

We all have parts of ourselves that we consider less than desirable, those aspects of ourselves that double us over in stress, anxiety, pain. Whether it’s CP, someone on the autism spectrum, or the fact that we wish we could do something better or differently…….those very things are a part of who we are.

Far from being the things that hold us back, they can actually end up being the source of blessing for others!

Each one of you here has gifts and talents. Each one of you is unique. Each one of you has a story. Each one of you God knows intimately, loves intimately, even before you were born.

Some of the most powerful moments I have witnessed came in the first year or so that I was here.

During that time, the St. Jude’s community was going through a visioning process. At the end of each service for about 5 weeks someone from the congregation would get up and share their faith story; how they found St. Jude’s, why they stayed; why this community matters.

I would suggest as we go forward into the Fall program year, we give some serious thought to being that open and vulnerable again. To share our stories. To speak them out loud to one another.

While all of you may not be comfortable sitting up here and preaching a sermon, I know ALL of you are capable of preaching the Gospel…..just by being who you are and sharing yourself with the world! 😀

Because your stories have POWER. And speak to the Mercy, Grace, and abundant Love that God gifted to the world in creating you, forming you just as you are. Calling you just as you are.

That’s why I stand before you today with no vestments on. Just a sweater and track pants. God calls us as we are. Whether lay or ordained, or whatever…….God wants us to just BE who we are; wonderously made and beautiful!

And there are times when we struggle to see ourselves that way. If I looked through the lens of the medical model, my disability is simply a mistake the doctors didn’t catch. The umbilical cord wrapped around my neck, causing lack of oxygen to the brain. As a result, the messages from my brain don’t travel to my muscles properly, and my muscles tense up. That’s why you often see my legs splayed out like this when I speak. It’s annoying and often creates some frustrating—and often hilarious—moments.

But switch the lens. All of a sudden, when we look at CP from a faith perspective, it becomes a gift.

It can be scary to share our stories. Especially those parts which we think are deficient, annoying, stupid, painful &c. But those very things we see as flaws can end up being the very thing someone that changes the world; that allows us to live out and build up the kingdom.

I know each of you has amazing gifts and talents to share with the world.

I thank God for who you are, who God has formed you to be…….and for everything you offer………Thanks be to God! Amen. ❤

Palm Sunday: Who is this King of Glory???

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Today kicks off a very important observance in the Church. In this last week of Lent, we begin to follow the footsteps of Jesus to the hill on Calvary. Time and time again throughout the Gospels appointed for this week, the question is posed to us: “Who is Jesus of Nazareth???”

Notice that the responses from the various people in Jerusalem. Pilate doesn’t know what to make of this silent political threat, while a lowly soldier is brought to faith. One woman weeps for the teacher she has lost, while her brother in faith denies the master he loves.

Holy Week is not meant to be a static kind of event. Instead, it asks us literally to get our feet wet. To have our feet washed, and to wash those of others. To see the altar being stripped, and getting down to the bare essentials….focusing our attention on a sight that is hard to look at. A wretched, bloody man hanging on a tree.

As we participate in this drama….we are faced with that same central question. Who is Jesus for us? And what does this whole divine drama mean to us?

Genesis: The beginning of Grace

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So I haven’t been posting regularly, and you might not know this…..but over the past few weeks, the Lectionary for the Daily Office has been going through the Abraham cycle…that is, the story of Judaism’s founding patriarchs.

In light of my laziness…..let me bring you up to speed in where we are. 🙂

Last week, we heard the story of Jacob gaining the birthright of his older brother Esau which basically runs like this:

  Stew good, inheritance bad *NOM NOM NOM*

  Issac: I can’t see so good, is that you Esau???

Jacob:  Uh…….. yeah dad….. it’s me….feel my arms….hairy eh?

Issac: God bless you my son! You will have many sons and form a great nation!

  Issac: I can’t see so good….is that you Jacob?

Esau: No dad….it’s me your eldest son Esau….
Issac: What?!? Then who brought me lunch?
Esau: Jacob, I think….the little snot took my birthright!! Can I still have a blessing?

Issac: Nope

Esau: Can I please have a blessing?

Issac: Nope.

Esau: Pretty please with a cherry on top?!?

Issac: Alright, fine! You will be at the head of many great armies and shall win lots of battles, happy now?!?

Of course, I’m trivializing a bit, but this is essentially how the narrative runs. For an elder brother to lose his inheritance–especially through deception–was a big deal in the Ancient Middle East. It meant not only that he had less property, but also that he no longer had any authority in the family to make decisions about farming, migration, and settling in a new place. Essentially, it was to lose one’s voice in the family unit.

The severity of this drama is not to be overlooked….I believe this is what Dr. Phil would refer to as a deal-breaker….and in all likelihood meant that these two brothers were now bitter enemies for life; even as their own father predicts with his promise to Esau.

It should be noted too that Jacob knows that he has been sinful….check out the way he reacts when his brother is coming for him.

[Jacob] himself went on ahead of [his whole household and possessions], bowing himself to the ground seven times, until he came near his brother. (Gen 33:3)

These actions are not simply ones performed out of fear…..but repentance. In being at the head of the caravan, Jacob both takes responsibility for his actions, and allows his brother to strike him dead in plain sight….rather than hiding in the vanguard and allowing his household to protect him.

Jacob–along with the reader–fully expect for the elder brother to exact his revenge…to claim what is rightfully his, and do so with righteous violence. Jacob was expecting to get slaughtered:

Instead…..something crazy happens…..Esau opens his arms weeping…..not with tears of anger and resentment, but with tears of joy and love.

Jacob….who by all logic should be punished is forgiven. Two brothers who should be killing each other, instead find themselves in an embrace of reconciliation.

As I reflect on this passage, I can’t help but be struck at how often this theme comes up at the very beginning of God’s Word. At the Flood, God is remorseful and makes the decision to make all things new, in spite of humanity’s hatred and sinful behaviour.

Abraham..who goes out of his way to deceive the king of Egypt is blessed and deception is rewarded with prosperity. Issac…who is supposed to be sacrificed according to God’s command is spared at the last possible moment, and Jacob…the despicable younger son who lies to his family…is forgiven.

All too often, I think there is a tendency to believe that the Old Testament is harsh, unrelenting and rigid. That all crime and sin are punished to the utmost, and that there is no room for humans who cannot live up to YHWH’s holy standard.

And yet…the more I read these stories, the more I am convinced of something. Even here…as we read about and witness God’s action in the world from the beginning….there is room for Grace…there is room for surprise….and yes, there is a message of hope that the LORD can do marvelous things with even the most shady characters. +

Expressions of Prayer

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As a newly ordained Deacon, part of my vows are to maintain the practices and disciplines of the Church. Part of that means that I am called to pray every day…primarily through the Daily Office.

Sometimes though….because I am human and need some variety, will go through periods where I exercise other practices in my prayer-life.

One of these traditions is that of the Anglican prayer beads which is a combination of the Dominican Rosary and an Orthodox Prayer rope.

In using this as a focus for prayer, the emphasis shifts slightly from concentrating on words of Scripture to focusing in on the person and work of Jesus. While there is still active thinking and feeling going on, the 33 bead repetition becomes almost automatic. The mind is free to focus on the fact that Christ is the Son of God who has come to save us.

Prayer beads are not the only alternative to the Daily Office……there is also a method of reading the Bible called Lectio Divina (Holy Reading)

For the specifics of this approach, check out the wiki article I’ve linked to. For me, this technique allows my inner academic to shut up. To read Scripture in a way that speaks to my soul and heart instead of my brain. To think about pastoral concerns rather than mere intellectual assent.

These two approaches to prayer are by no means the only ones available…..and I’m curious…….what are some reflection or prayer methods that you find helpful??? On the other side of this discussion……what are the aspects of prayer you find difficult????

Leave a comment below and let me know what you think. 🙂 +

Reflections on a blessed Epiphanytide…..

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Man am I ever behind…….Last time I posted was on Twelfth Night…..and now we stand a week away from Lent……..where did those six weeks go??? 😛

Although I have still been praying the Daily Office with some regularity, the month of January was both eventful and Grace-filled. While I wanted to post here, I often found myself with little or no spiritual energy left to come up with something creative to say.

For that I want to apologize 😦

Now I’m back 🙂 and I feel compelled to share some thought and reflection about what has been going on in my life…..

The biggest event in the last month without any doubt was my ordination to the order of Deacon:

The experience was at once joyful and sobering. On one hand, it was the realization of a life-long dream. On the other, I was faced with an unpleasant thought: Crap! I have to be an adult now :P.

While I know my status has changed, it feels very weird when people call me Reverend or Father, or Padre. I suspect that this shock will wear off eventually….It’s amazing what can happen if I throw on that black shirt and collar :P.

I am still me….but now I’m me with responsibility attached. I represent something that’s bigger than myself..which is something I try to do anyway…but now I find myself more conscious of it.

More than that though, I am struck by the fact that it finally happened….after hard work, some luck and amazing people around me.

Those people also include those who read and contribute to this blog. By your presence, I made it through a very dark time in discerning my vocation. Your honest and open sharing of your thoughts and challenges to my own have pushed me to be a better writer, theologian…but most important, a better person. If I don’t say it often enough…… thank you! ❤

All in all…..I am left with this thought…which I hope will inspire you to pursue your own passions.

Dreams are real. Even amidst the crap, they can come true. We are never alone or without support. And God is amazing! +

A Brief History of the O Antiphons…..

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Today (Dec. 17th) marks one week until the Feast of Our Lord’s Nativity and the celebration of God’s coming among us. One of the traditional ways in which the Church prepares itself for this miraculous event is to recite the O Antiphons one by one in the lead-up to Christmas.

Usually attached to the Magnificat during Vespers (or in my case, Evening Prayer), the antiphons–which is a fancy word for “response”–helps the faithful to remember the promises of God made in the Old Testament…promises which are revealed to be eternal and kept faithfully by God through the sending of his Son into the world.

Each response recited invokes a different title and role of the Son who saves us….not only looking forward to the hope of Incarnation and advent…but in looking back through salvation’s history to see the loving face of our Father.

Since my schedule is busy this upcoming week and I don’t know how often I will get to post my thoughts on the Daily Office readings, I have decided at the very least to offer a short reflection on the O Antiphon appointed for each day :). I hope you enjoy, and that it offers some light to your path as we move ever-closer to threshold of the manger. +

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