Moving with the Times – Joyce Sasse

In most congregations the number of people at Sunday worship is considerably less than would have been the case ten years ago.

I was delighted, when I stopped in my “back-home congregation”, to find an air of positivity even though I have more digits on my hands and feet than there were “bums in the pew”.  But numbers seemed to be irrelevant.

Congregants were happy to be there.  They looked forward to having a meaningful experience.  Their tiny choir exuded an aura of celebration.  Practically everyone there had something to add during the announcements or during the service.  It was apparent this was more than just a get-together-on-Sunday group.

From the extended community I had already heard about the service the church’s “Thrift Shop” provides to the whole community – through re-cycled clothes, through funding giving back to the community, and because it is a welcoming place to visit.

On one very blustery day a week earlier a member of the community told me of the effort she and her husband were making to get to the “Soup and Sandwich Luncheon”’ at the church.  Everyone wants to support the church’s outreach efforts.

This is one of those congregations, it seems, that is moving along with the times.  Worship services are offered for those who wish to attend.  Innovative ways of reaching out and serving the community are being identified and acted on by those who see a need around them.  Members have found how important it is to step out of the rut-of-tradition as they find alternative ways to offer their best.

How I wish I could be there for their tiny choir’s Christmas Cantata.  That wonderful blend of musical leadership in this small church is indeed a “pearl of great price”.

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Let’s Not Surrender Ourselves – Joyce Sasse

In the name of modernization, we are being lured into the world of “let us do it for you”.

“Let us drive your car.”  “Let us tell you which road to follow.”  “Let this new app contact your best friends.”

“Not to worry”, the mantra goes.  A few words from song typed in to Google – the algorithm completes the phrase and tells you where the lyrics and melody can be heard.

“Not to worry”, the mantra goes.  We’ll sort through all the media stuff and prepare an abbreviated “News Feed” personalized to your liking…

No happenstance discoveries allowed here.  No encouragement to wander along a prairie trail or immerse yourself in the exploration of a mountain stream.

No need to develop a life-time of savvy for reading the sky to forecast weather … The city-centred reporter 200 miles away will tell you how beautiful it is, though the wind is blowing 120 km/hr where you are.

Although you watched the sloughs dry up all summer, and saw the river become a trickle, there’s no need to fear water shortage until the water-control office in Edmonton makes that announcement.

A numbing-down and dumbing-down has become so prevalent our society eagerly anticipates the coming of AI (Artificial Intelligence).  It frightens many of us.

Ours is an “Information Age”, but it is also an age when Wisdom, Ethics, Experience and Authenticity are being sidelined.

I’m of the Old School!  I believe there is much to learn from the experience of sages and elders.  I value the contributions made by the creative ones who help us see beyond ourselves.  I treasure the insights shared by those who study alternative ways of thinking.

Whenever God appeared to humans in the stories from Scripture, the first word spoken is “Don’t be afraid!”  The fuller phrase used is “The fear (respect) of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.”

Let’s not surrender ourselves.  Let’s more fully engage in our God-given capacity to celebrate life!

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Churches are Called to Action – Joyce Sasse

Changes don’t come easy for church folk.  Recently, as an act of reconciliation and to acknowledge traditions of the land, my church started opening Sunday services with the following.  “For thousands of years, First Nations people have worked on this land:  their relationships with the land is at the centre of their lives and spirituality.  We gather on the traditional territory of the Blackfoot Confederacy, and acknowledge their stewardship of the land throughout the ages.”

Some congregants are appreciative of the carefully worded statement.  Others are upset because, they say, “I don’t come to church to be made to feel guilty about something over which I had no control.”

When the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada called the churches to action (in 2015), it was an invitation for both Natives and Non-Natives to “reset” our relationships.

All of us went astray. Senator Murray Sinclair explained things so well.  “For seven generations Aboriginal children were told their lives were not as good as the non-Aboriginals of this country.  Their languages and cultures were irrelevant … their people and their ancestors were heathens and pagans … uncivilized … they needed to give up those ways of life and come to a different way of living…  Furthermore, white children were taught the same thing…”  (Italics mine)

           We all are victims of these policies.  We all need to lament the misunderstandings.  Now is the time for all of us to reset ourselves and find more positive ways to understand each other.

John Ralston Saul writes about the remarkable resurgence of Aboriginal peoples, not only in terms of numbers, but to positions of increasing power, creativity and influence.  He says the ways in which our society responds to this opportunity is the greatest issue of our time, the one for which we will be remembered and judged by history.  (Italics mine)

As a caring people, we can move forward.

(Note:  The Traditional Blackfoot Confederacy extended from the North Saskatchewan to the Yellowstone rivers, and from the Continental Divide to the Saskatchewan Sand Hills.)

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Resuscitation or Resurrection – Joyce Sasse

“We can mourn the loss of things of the past” Bobbie Schuller advises, “but we are called on to move forward.”

He was speaking to his congregation four years ago at a land-mark time in their life journey.  Because of cumulative fiscal debt, those who once owned the Crystal Cathedral in Los Angeles California were forced to dispose of the iconic property, and move the Hour of Power elsewhere.

As the moving process wound down, on two successive Sundays the young pastor delivered messages that spoke of wisdom and courage.

Roman Catholics own the property that is now known as Christ Cathedral.  Schuller and his Catholic counterpart made it clear they intended maintaining a dynamic relationship between the two communities – a far different way of thinking than would have been possible generations before.

Naturally big changes were in store for those whose new home is now the Shepherd’s Grove Church.  Schuller talked about moving forward.  It is not about resuscitation (of what we had in the past).  Our is a resurrection-faith.  “When death comes don’t pretend it is not going to be.  Mourn it.  Embrace it.  And move on expecting there will be more.”  He reminded us “we can’t know how things are going to work out unless we let them die,” all the while believing in God’s promise of new life.

These words are helpful for grieving congregations, for dying organizations and for all of us as we think back on the losses we have faced in the past (and will face in the future).  “Resuscitation” speaks of longing for what once was and not letting go.  This carries with it heavy burdens of regret.  “Resurrection” speaks of trust, hope, anticipation, of believing that God will be with us as we move forward – and will show us new vistas we never believed possible.

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We Can’t Do It Alone – Joyce Sasse

Some nights are absolutely unforgettable …  like when we have to stand up to the ravages of nature.  Take drought and wind and fire – moving so fast and with such furry…  Those who have to face it and try to out-pace it do the best they can with their equipment and strategies and prayers.  Often, too, they are amazed at the way a change in the wind, a temperature drop or a splattering of moisture makes all the difference.

When I visit prairies communities, I love to take a segment of prairie sod in a small plexiglass aquarium.  I usually plant a few worms and bugs in the bottom, and hide miniature plastic snakes, frogs and crickets in the litter.

I get the kids talking about how empty the prairie appears to be.  We then give my collection a closer look “because Prairie people know the secret of seeing with special eyes”.  We tip the sod onto a tray.  We analyze the variety of plants and discuss how some hold the moisture, others protect from wind and frost, and others offer nutrients.  The litter gives shelter.  The worms help the roots breathe.  None could survive on its own.  Neither can we!

Prairie folk help each other in similar ways.  We need the organizers and “doers”, those whose trucks carry the right kind of equipment for each emergency, and those who carry drinking water, make coffee and prepare sandwiches for the workers.  Some are good with the communications equipment, while quieter ones watch for who needs a gentle word or a warm touch.

From out of the smoke and ashes, and in the aftermath, as our spirits shed the nightmares and tensions, we realize how we need to be there for each other.  Together our strength is affirmed.  It’s this that readies us so we are able to move forward and face another day with hope and expectation.

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When Hope Seems Lost – Joyce Sasse

Imagine a globe with a huge crack in it, carried on a large pack-board.  This graphic implies the pack-board will be carried by a Korean laborer.  It was designed for use by the South Korean denomination I worked with in the late 1960’s as a symbol of the work of the Christian Church.

When the image hung in the chancel of a church, it affirmed the understanding that the church exists to carry the burden of a broken world:  to try to mend its wounds by inviting people to help each other find hope in the midst of the chaos.

Everywhere we turn these days, it seems as if chaos abounds.  Many feel burdened by the brokenness of our world.  Where do we turn?  What might we do?

Many seeming cornerstones are being discredited.  We distrust our political and religious institutions.  We question news reports as if they were tainted.  Our children must be supervised at all times…

Instead of abandoning our churches, is it time we look for ways to come together?  Can we review the wisdom of those who have gone before us?  Can we intentionally try to discover how to grow strong in our broken places?  Can we challenge each other to seek out visions of hope to share with our youth?

The opportunity is here for us find our strength.  Consider the poignancy of a prayer written by Dr. A.B.B. Moore.  In part it reads “Almighty God, we who stand in the world offer ourselves and our society for your blessing and healing … Teach us your way.  Don’t let us restrict you to a narrow ghetto labeled ‘religion’, but lead us to worship you in the fullness of life – as the Lord of politics, economics and the arts.  Give us light to seek true morality, not in narrow legalisms, but in sacrifice and open responsibility.  Show us how to express our love for you in very specific human service to others … Let us give thanks to you for all of life.”

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Why Can’t We Talk – Joyce Sasse

“No!  You daren’t say that!” one spouse warns another, a parent chides a child, or a neighbour mumbles to a coffee klatch.

The subjects we choose to make off-limits shut conversation down.  The range of taboo topics gets broader.  Conversation becomes more mundane.

I’m not thinking about those times when a person intentionally wants to argue.  I am thinking about how polarized we’ve become in our socializing.  It is like declaring “I know I’m right!  Don’t try to change my mind!”

There’s a difference between having someone try to change our thinking, and taking a look at the different sides of an issue.  How else do we develop deeper understandings if we don’t talk things through?

Like the nervous tortoise, our withdrawal doesn’t speak well for survival in a world that’s alive and constantly changing.

Whether it’s about matters of politics or religion, has to do with changes in our climate, marijuana legislation, gender-based issues or the current election candidates – there are a myriad of issues that impact our lives today.  Conversation should include give-and-take.  It’s the bamboo (which bends) that survives with ease. Look for ways to find compromise.  Healthy conversation leads to healthy living and healthy community building.

As a Biblical student, I’m constantly amazed at how the ancients so rightly defined human nature.  The greatest human temptation is to think we “know both good and evil” (have all the answers like the gods).  If we think we are always right and have no need for anything more, that’s when we lose our sense of civility.

On the other hand, the wise ones advise, if we talk things through, especially the hard things, and pass our stories from one generation to the next “so that children unborn” can better understand how things have evolved, they shall have hope.  They shall be able to put their trust in a God who is compassionate.

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Wounded Warriors and Invictus – Joyce Sasse

How many have faced “dark nights of the soul”?  How many are wounded warriors, whose lives have been impacted because of life-altering happening(s)?  I think of victims of violence, refugees, those who have lived through natural disasters (and those who help clean up from the devastation), and First Responders (fire-fighters, police, paramedics).  I think of women caught up in the clutches of post-partum depression, individuals with strokes or sight problems, families impacted by addictions…

“Out of the night that covers me, black as the pit from pole to pole, I thank whatever gods may be for my unconquerable soul.”  Those are the opening lines of William Henry’s poem “Invictus”.  The words were penned more than a century ago, after Henry went through having his leg amputated because of TB complications.

It’s that sentiment of “unconquerable soul”, finding strength and resilience in the face of incredible challenges, that has been brought to our attention again with the staging of the “Invictus Games” in Toronto.  Prince Harry invited wounded soldiers to come together, with their families, to challenge, encourage and support each other as they reach beyond the blight of their wounds, to cross incredible thresholds.

This Invictus Movement has not only shown how the power of sport can enable people wounded in war to move physically, psychologically and socially beyond the trauma, the loss of limbs, the brain injuries, the haunting memories …  It has reminded us of others, outside the military, who are also making incredible contributions in spite of the blows that impact them.  It has reminded us, also, what a difference it makes when buildings and streetscapes are barrier free, and when mental health issues are no longer treated as a hidden liability.  Each member of our society has the right to contribute in his or her own way.

The Invictus Games are the Cooperative Games.  It’s not about who is fastest, strongest, most nimble…  It’s about how, by working together, lives are enriched and frontiers are expanded.  Wounded warriors, with their unconquerable souls, have so much to teach us.

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While Praying for Puddles – Joyce Sasse

There’s every probability that threat from drought, water-shortage and fire will continue for some time in Southwestern Alberta.  With the history of heavy west winds throughout the fall, our alert mechanisms will remain on high.  Still, life goes on.

For us and so many others across the country these are tough times.  Tensions and stress accumulate and can easily overwhelm us.  Some respond with anger, others withdraw.  Some turn to alcohol or drugs, others feel life is without hope.

This is a time to LAMENT:  when we try to find safe ways to give vent to our disappointments and our fears.  There will be sleepless nights.  Tears can bring some release.  We can even shout at God as we try to regain perspective.  (That’s different than blaming God or making assertions that God is passing judgement on us.)

Processing our laments helps us move forward as we look for focus and right-mindedness.  Work it through.  Talk it out.  Think back to past times when life has been a struggle.  Give thanks for survival lessons learned.

It helps to count our assets.  The phone calls asking how we are…  The simple, innocent hug of a youngster…  The thoughtful ways someone else sees the situation …

Start asking yourself what you can do? What have we done right?  Who needs support?  How can changes be made?  Where do we go from here?

Most faith traditions understand how elements of lament can lead us away from despair.  Biblically, Psalm 43 starts with the cry “Out of the depth I cry to you.  O Lord hear my voice.”  It ends with the affirmation of trust.  “My soul waits for the Lord more than the watchman waits for the morning.”

Meanwhile, pray for puddles!

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Going Through Hell – Joyce Sasse

“If you are going through Hell, keep going”.  That was Winston Churchill’s advice, learned from his experience as Prime Minister of Great Britain during World War II.

Those trying to “keep going” through the heat, drought and fire threats of this past summer well understand Churchill’s advice.

We do what we can to help each other “keep going”, though often we are tempted by bursts of anger.  We grit out teeth when we hear others say “The Town” is required to provide all protective services because we pay our taxes.  We fume when we are reminded of the importance of conserving water, but notice who still has green lawns…

Lessons learned from living through successive years of drought has been invaluable for me.  Constant water shortages and the need to learn rules imposed at the Public Bath House, during four years in South Korea, are not to be forgotten.

It is as we talk about our fears and share our experiences that we help each other keep going.  Even when the rains come, how much and how long will it take to reduce the risks?  To replenish and restore?  What evidence of the stress will be reflected through our physical and mental health status?  What spiritual reserves can we call forth?

Rodney Atkins wrote song lyrics based on Churchill’s advice.  In part they read, “The good news is there’s angels everywhere on the street /  Holdin’ out a hand to pull you back on your feet …”  The chorus suggests “(If) you’re on your knees keep prayin’.”

At any time, even while fear constricts our throats, we can reach out and be an angel to another.  The Spirit, which dwells in each of us, helps us help each other keep going through the darkness.

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