I’m Not a Professional Storyteller

There are two broad categories of storytellers. Professional storytellers work very hard to develop their skills. They can tell you about stage presence, what to wear when performing and voice care. They are careful concerning copyright and have been known to memorize and repeat long stories with a practiced grandeur that would make even the original author proud. The other category of storyteller has been referred to as the kitchen table storyteller. These bards are more at home in a kitchen or living room, as opposed to on stage. They spend a lot of time listening to the stories that others tell, until they get their turn. They then jump in with gusto to share the truths that they know everyone has been waiting to hear.

As a student preacher I was taught voice care and breathing by the Opera singer Mrs Daniels, took three university courses in homiletics, was evaluated many times by my professors and even won an international prize from a series of stories that were written in English but published in Japan. For three years my mentor and thesis director was the Right Reverend Dr. CM Nicholson: a stalwart of the United Church of Canada in the 1950s who could be heard preaching coast to coast on the CBC many Sunday afternoons. Over the 50 years following I have been paid a regular salary and have always had my preaching rated highly by others. Not-with-standing, I am a kitchen storyteller.

How many times did I sit around my grandmother’s kitchen table and listen to her and my uncles go on and on with stories about this that and the other. Sometimes they would start with “Do you remember when….” or “you must remember the time when…” When my father was just a little boy…” It might be a bit of local history, perhaps a personal story or even “once upon a time… long before Europeans settled here ….” These stories established a sense of who we were as a family, built a sense of community and taught me how to live and survive. These are my stories and these are the stories that I want to share around the kitchen table.

Called to be there for someone

kids

On Facebook a young mom confessed that she could hardly wait for her kids to grow up… then maybe she could get her life back and have some privacy in the bathroom. She might even find some time for her friends.

 

Evangelical blogger   wrote of how Jesus first loved us and, in so doing, showed people how to live and grow and love in the middle of their daily struggles. She reflects Jesus teaching in a poetic form:

She writes:

“I was self-centered, but He loved me selflessly.

I was concerned with personal gain, but He gave to me without restraint.

I was consumed with my busy schedule, but He pencils me in without appointment.

I made mess after mess, and He cleaned them up for me.

I was ignorant of His presence, but He knew right where I was.

I tried to ignore Him, to run, but He stayed right by my side.

I was harsh and irritable, but He is patient and gentle.

I asked Him why He’s so willing to deal with fools (temporarily forgetting my place), and

He reminded me, “I get the last word.””

It is a bit of a challenge, but we all pray that we will feel that presence of the Spirit in our lives and that we will be able to have the courage and be able to find the time for even the most unlovable of people, just as the Spirit of God is there for us.

 

The Seeds of Revolution in Canada

This week  I listened as Green Party leader Elizabeth May called on Canadians to take back political ownership of their country. She called on people to tell their politicians that they want this to be the Canada that it used to be, a country:  that stands proud and free among nations; a country with a good record for human rights; a country that cares for the environment, and seeks to make life better for future generations.  May left me with a feeling that there is something wrong with the way Canadians are now doing democracy. She left me feeling that many political leaders have lost their democratic souls, concentrating on the pursuit of personal wealth and power at the expense of future generations and the liberal democratic way of life that we have experienced in the past.

I spoke with May, and I think she agreed, that this malaise is far greater than politics and democracy. It is a sickness that has infiltrated all aspects of Canadian culture. We have forgotten who we are.  As we run the race of life, at its ever quickening pace, there is never enough time. No time to read. No time to think. No time to check our email. No time to worry about others. No time for politics or religion. No time for ourselves or for our loved ones…. unless they can skype once a month on the last Sunday afternoon, precisely from 4:30 to 5:00.

How do we turn this around? How do we regain ownership of our lives, our religious beliefs, our communities and our country?

The first step is to recognize that there is a problem. Next, we must think about ourselves. who we are and how so much of what we believe in has quietly slipped away from our grasp. We must remember who we were and decide what we want to be. How do we want the people of the world to see us. We must re-take ownership of our lives: our country and our souls.

Tired of the Computer? Read a Book

Did you ever wonder about the amount of time you spend at your computer? Just too much email and too much spam? Do you need a break?

How about this old-fashioned idea… read a book!

For inspiration, consider the resolution of Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg who has chosen to read a new book every two weeks. Topics will cover new cultures, beliefs, histories and technologies.   See https://www.facebook.com/ayearofbooks/timeline/

On the page you can even enjoy a Q&A with the authors.

This type of Social Media discussion  is a great idea which could be used by Churches and others for everything from workshops to Bible Study.

 

 

Get it Right!

Will I ever get this blog right???   I don’t know! For me, writing this blog is like raising a child in this modern world. Both parents work to cover the costs. There is no time beyond what it takes to drop the kid at day care and, hopefully, remember to pick him up. Drive him to a few activities,.. story, baths and bed.. opps.. did I forget supper? ..and lunches for tomorrow? Friday remember to Skype the grandparents…  Did I hear the word “romance?” Who has time?.. but we must do something to keep the marriage together…. In the face of all that life throws at us, we can only hope we get it right.

No time to focus on the future when the challenge is to live in the moment. But how do we live in the moment? Here are six thoughts.

1. Focus on the now. Take a wee break. Deep breath! Slow down and savour the moment. Take that bit of extra time to enjoy your meal, have a coffee or walk to the store. It will leave you feeling just that bit better,.. more secure and happier.

2. Pay attention to the small things that make you happy. Eating ice cream,  blowing bubbles or listening to music.

3. Smile. Look in the mirror and smile. (not grimace.. I said smile!) Making an emotional face will influence how you feel.

4. Do something for someone else… a random act of kindness will make them smile and it will improve life for both of you.

5. Be thankful. Every now and then, stop and count your blessings. Live in the moment by expressing your gratitude right when you feel it,

6. Don’t worry if you are doing it right. If it’s raising a child, writing a blog or holding your marriage together, every second spent in worry will be a second wasted. Worry takes you out of the present moment and moves you to the realm of future possibilities. You can not live in the moment and worry at the same time.

For now, I’m just going to take a moment to listen to Aretha Franklin singing “Get it Right.”

 

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Searching for the Spiritual

In 1969, I wrote a thesis arguing that the Spiritual was present in all drama. If I was writing that thesis today, I would argue that all life is Spirit filled.  The Spirit is like a sacred river, flowing through all things. There are points of contact, as  many wells tap into that river. Within the limitations of our language and thought we describe our experience of the sacred as best we can, hopefully realizing that our own experiences of the holy are just some among many. Even when we put our collective experiences together, still we are unable to see or experience the Whole. This does not stop us from trying, nor does it stop us from spiritual searching. We are often surprised, sometimes struck with awe, when the Spirit bubbles up in our lives.

Some might argue that all of this spiritual stuff is just an illusion. Humans attempting to justify their actions or rationalizing their paternalistic religious ways. Religion has been misused in both ways, but religions are limited by their supporting cultures and are only  guides to spiritual attainment and descriptions of that culture’s spiritual experiences.  Religions are not bad. They are just Spirit inspired constructs of the human mind as it defines the Spiritual presence.

The challenge today is for more people to risk stepping outside of their contextual limitations, to see the processes of Creation at work and to discern the existence of the Spiritual in their own experiences.

Hey, that’s my great, great, something great grandfather…

fowler-crest

This is our family crest… the one received by my distant ancestor, Richard, on the 3rd crusade in 1191. ( and he said that all successive generations of Fowlers could use it.) Apparently Richard and his skilled bowmen were keeping watch one night at Acre, near Jerusalem, when a Muslim force attacked the camp. His company was able to keep the enemy at bay until the army woke up and defeated the enemy. Richard was credited with saving the forces of Richard Coeur-de-leon from certain death and so was created a nobleman and given this coat of arms. The motto is “He is wise who watches.”

Recently, President Obama, after denouncing the ISIL as “a brutal, vicious death cult that, in the name of religion, carries out unspeakable acts of barbarism”   went on to say “lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.”

And they did! The Muslims had started their crusades in 630 AD.  The English forces justified their own war making by seeing it as a way to stop Muslim aggression against Eastern Christianity. Then the English pushed it one step further and made their actions a crusade, a pilgrimage made holy by the crusader’s sacrifice. By such self-sacrifice your sins would be forgiven. But these were bloody days and no quarter was given, on either side of the battles. After the capture of Jerusalem the English crusaders set out to establish control over Cyprus, the Baltic and the Balkans, complete with feudal and canon law.

Wow!… I’m not like that. Those were medieval times and we’ve come a long way since then.  Things have changed and we have seen the error of forcing change with the uncontrolled use of violence. We have put the words of our religious leaders into the hands of the people and we have discovered the oneness of human-kind and the law of love. We have seen the fragility of this shrinking spaceship : earth, on which we live and realized that corrective action must be taken.

Sadly, not everyone would agree with me and it still seems necessary to have a military…  because not everyone gets it.  But, the more money we put into weapons of destruction, the less we have for educating people and for protecting our environment. Every rocket that flies, every bomb that explodes puts more carbon into the air.

Having a family crest, complete with motto, is kind of neat. However, the crest is from the past and this is the present.  I wonder:  Will we ever learn to leave our violent ways and open our hearts to the LOVE that is the very ground of our being? Do we have that much time?

What or Who is beautiful?

 

For too many years beauty has been identified with physical appearance and submission. Watch television or take part in life and you will be bombarded with a particular look or model of what  big business has defined as beautiful.  We are challenged to identify with fake photoshopped images that create an outward appearance, which for most people is unobtainable. Simply submit to a product or lifestyle that we never desired, probably are unable to afford, and  all the pleasures of heaven can be ours.

It is all quite ridiculous, but we still buy it! We feel ugly or ashamed if we do not fit the accepted model of what corporations define as beautiful. We spend so much time looking  in the mirror at our outward appearance that we forget about the feelings and emotions that are within us.

It has been this way for years, maybe since the beginning of time. Men and women have been programmed to fill a role; a role that someone in authority defined. Generally, it has been the women who have been suppressed. But the control is buried so deeply in our culture that it is hard to realize how firmly it is there .

It’s not easy for men or women to re-wire their brain when it has been conditioned to think a certain way from childhood. How can they over-come the paternalistic control that corporations and politicians may want to have over their thoughts and choices?

It is only when you start to look at the inside, instead of the outside, that life will become clear. What or who is beautiful? True beauty reflects those inner qualities of a person that are grounded in LOVE  and so resonate the soul.

 

I prayed to win the lottery; but It didn’t work;

It was our first class in Romantic Poetry after the Christmas break. The only thing on my mind was how good the food had been at home, compared to the university cafeteria.  So great was the memory of my mother’s gastronomic delights that I hardly noticed the anxious looks on the faces of my fellow students. The professor arrived with his usual flourish, but just as quickly, questions and answer papers circulated around the class room. Surprise to me, we were about to have an exam! Results would make up 40 percent of the year’s final mark!

Perhaps I shouldn’t have skipped the last few days of classes before the break? Perhaps I should have asked a fellow student if the professor had given any assignments? With no exam mentioned on the formal “pre-Christmas” exam schedule, I had simply discounted the course and escaped to the comforts of home. Everyone else had spent their spare Christmas moments studying Wordsworth’s Preface to Lyrical Ballads and Thackeray’s Vanity Fair. Not me…  Who was Thackeray anyway? As for the exam… it looked like I didn’t have a hope.

Here is where prayer comes to a person’s life: when it seems as though all future life, perhaps even your continued existence, is dependent on what is about to, or not about to happen.  Life can be that way, through your own fault or through no fault of your own. It may be when you are hanging over a cliff for the first time on rappel, when you are suddenly alone in deep water and you can’t swim, or when you are sitting alone in a public place with people passing by, and nobody cares. All good times for prayer.

But what is prayer? To many prayer is a direct appeal to a higher authority, like “God.” But, I didn’t know if God had read Vanity Fair or not. In any case, I didn’t think God was going to share his crib notes with me. After all, I had missed the mark and brought the problem on myself. Plus, God hadn’t really been hanging out with me or chatting.

There is nothing like that empty feeling in the pit of your stomach and a shot of adrenalin in the brain to get the mind working. I pulled myself together, blocked out all distractions, and opened myself to anything and everything that I had ever known, seen or heard about Wordsworth. (That wasn’t too hard because the only thing I had read, and memorized, was Wordsworth’s famous poem: Daffodils.) From there, I too wandered like a cloud or vales and hills, my pen danced like the daffodils beside the lake. I’ll swear my words were as continuous as the stars that shine and twinkled like the milky way! I opened my soul to the poetic force of Wordsworth… and two full exam books later, I said: “It is finished.” Here is one for Ripley’s: I passed that exam! In fact, to my own utter astonishment and to the chagrin of some of my classmates, I ended up with the highest mark in the class!

That’s what happens when you open yourself in prayer.

To pray is to get rid of the distractions and to open up, as fully as you dare, to the very force that is the ground of our being, that is the basis and driving force of evolution and all of creation. That is to open one’s heart to the power of love.

Life doesn’t always turn out the way you want it to turn out. You don’t always pass the test, heal the wound, save the day or win the lottery. Maybe that wasn’t yours to do? But, through prayer, every aspect of who you are, does come into a closer relationship with that which powers all things.