A Slower Kind of Fast

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One type of Lenten fast is taking on a life of its own in the larger church, and that is the idea of a “carbon fast.” That is, to make every attempt to reduce our carbon footprint during Lent, and hopefully gain some insights into ourselves – and creation – in the process.

Scientific consensus is pretty clear that our climate is changing, and far more rapidly than usual, because of gases emitted from human activity. Carbon dioxide, methane, and even water vapour contribute to higher temperatures on a global scale, and more extreme weather events locally.

So what can we do, as Christians and as individuals, in the face of such an enormous problem? Well, we cannot change industrial policy in China, India, or the United States. These emitters will always be bigger than us; so while we can advocate for change, many things are beyond our control.

What we can do is control our own actions, and do the best that we can. This is what we do as ethical Christians in our day-to-day lives, and this is what we can do as individuals concerned about what climate change means for future generations.

A good first step is to learn what our carbon footprint is. Giving up driving completely is unrealistic for most of us, but most of us can take actions to drive less. It’s actually quite easy: just track how many kilometers you drive in a typical week. And then start thinking about what you can do to reduce it. The amount by which you can reduce your driving will be different for each of us: 5, 10, or even 20%.

As an example, say I drove 300 kms each week, and chose to reduce that amount by 10%. That would make my goal 270 kms per week, or about 40 kms per day. And it’s easy to find ways of reducing how much we drive, but it does take a little organization and discipline. Here are some of the ways I’ve found to reduce how much I drive:

  • Combine errands – sometimes I feel like half the distance I drive each trip is just getting in and out of my neighbourhood. So I rarely leave to get just one thing.
  • Show patience – if you’re getting low on milk, or bread, or dog food, you don’t have to buy it right away. Get it on the way to work, or when you’re leaving the house for another errand.
  • Plan ahead – if you are going past the pet store, check how much dog food you have left.
  • Wait around – if you’re dropping someone off, don’t go back and forth between places. Take a book and read while you’re waiting. Go for a walk with the rest of the family. Use your cell phone to ring the person you’ve been meaning to call.

By using some of these tricks, and more you’ll figure out on your own, you may just find you have more time for yourself and your family, and your pace of life might just become a little less frenetic. By doing good for the planet, you may do even more good for yourself.

Similarly, we can think about where our food comes from. Buying strawberries from California in the middle of a Newfoundland winter is probably not very environmentally sustainable. These berries are picked, packed, and shipped completely across the continent to make it here before they go bad. Instead, try to eat the sorts of things our forefathers did in the winter: root vegetables, winter squash, apples from Nova Scotia, or other produce from local producers.

Food that is grown and sold locally is also a good option for reducing our carbon footprint. There are growers who attend the local farmers’ market (stjohnsfarmersmarket.org), and you can get a variety of local vegetables and baked goods there, even in winter. And yes, these items do cost more, and will until there is more demand (and supply) for their products. So while it may not be affordable to buy all our groceries there, perhaps once a month is manageable, to help build that market. As an added bonus, you are helping small farmers and their families to make an honest and rewarding livelihood right here in Newfoundland.

Lent is a time to slow down, become contemplative, and maybe deny ourselves some pleasures we take for granted. Chocolate, alcohol, and sweets often top the list of things to give up, but how about the convenience of getting whatever we want, whenever we want it? Maybe we don’t need to run to the corner store for a loaf of bread right now. Maybe it can wait, and we can get it on the way to work tomorrow.

I encourage you to use the traditional Lenten activities of self-discipline, meditation, and preparation. Any act can be holy if done for the right reasons, even something as mundane as choosing to drive a little less. I hope you find a way to try a new kind of fasting; my even greater hope is that you will like it and keep doing it.

Richard Janzen is a vestry member at St. Mark’s and chair of our Creation Care Working Group. Richard attends our 10:30 am worship with his wife Hanna and their three children.

 

Tips for Keeping a Simple Lent

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So how do we keep a simple Lent? Well first you may want to ask yourself these questions. Where do I need to simplify? What is cluttering up my life? What is distracting me from my relationship with God, other and creation?

Here are some of our suggestions:

  • Join us in keeping a Carbon Fast. Pay attention to our dependence on fossil fuels and explore ways to curb it.
  • Keep a Screenless Sabbath. Try not looking at your phone for a day or part of the day. Take the time you gain to read a book, go for a walk, meditate or talk with a family member.
  • Give up social media. We are increasingly addicted to Facebook, Twitter and other forms of social media. Yes there are great things about these types of media but too much of them can cut us off from each other, reality and God. How about day, a weekend, or if you’re really brave, forty days without social media?
  • Watch the documentary Minimalism and see if you can find ways to break the hold that “stuff” has on your life. Spend less; live more!!
  • Make time each day for silent contemplation. Just 10 minutes of meditation each day can improve your health, energy and sleep patterns. Try yoga or tai chi as types of whole body prayer.
  • Keep the daily rhythm of morning and evening prayer either at St. Mark’s or own your own. It can be as simple as you need it to be.
  • Keep a spending fast. For the season of Lent only buy things that you absolutely need. You’ll be surprised at how little you actually need.
  • Share with us your ideas of how to keep a simple Lent.

Keeping a Simple Lent

slow-advent“Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

Not very catchy is it? Not exactly bumper sticker material? Not really meme worthy? But this simple statement strikes at the heart of the Lenten journey that Christians around the world embark on each year.

The words are spoken at the beginning of Lent, in the Ash Wednesday liturgy, to remind us of our finiteness. We are but specks of cosmic dust particles, animated by the sustaining breath of God. One day we will all return to our cosmic origins, return to God. Our time, then, is not unlimited. We must make the most of the days we have. Lent is a call to remember who we are, renew our life with Christ and refocus our lives on that which really matters. Lent calls us into the wilderness away from the distractions of life, where we come face to face with ourselves. It’s an intimidating invitation; one that I’d just as soon do without.

But in our modern world I think Lent takes on an added importance. Lord knows there are enough distractions. My number one complaint, and the complaint that I hear on the lips of almost everyone I talk with, is “we are so busy, too busy.” We eat too much, buy too much, lust too much, waste too much and make the tragic mistake of thinking that all of this will make us happy (news flash: it won’t!). All of this is literally killing us physically, financially, environmentally and spiritually. Lent, then, is a friend who, seeing the error of our ways, grabs us by the shoulders, gives us a good shake and turns us in the direction we need to go. Lent turns us toward the stark simplicity and selflessness of the cross.

Our goal for Lent this year is to keep it simple. Wherever possible we’re going to avoid meetings and busyness. We will not fill up Lent with activities, but instead try to create space for prayer, fasting, reading of scripture, contemplation and alms giving. We will keep the rhythm of morning and evening prayer. We will explore together our appetites and lifestyles and how they affect the world around us.

So I invite you to pick up your cross and follow Jesus into the wildness of simplicity. I invite you to simplify your life, to unplug, log off and slow down. I invite you to keep a simple Lent.

 

A Journey Into Baptism

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About a week and a bit before my baptism, Rev. Robert asked me if I would be willing to do a little writeup about what led me to the desire to be baptized. I told him I would and began to think a bit more deeply about what led me to make the decision to formally join the Anglican Church and the Christian community. As reinforced by the many congratulations and welcomes I received by my now fellow parishioners at St Mark’s after the baptism service was finished, the welcoming culture of St Mark’s itself was a definite draw to that particular community. Of course, I would not have even reached out to Rev. Robert a few years ago without an interest I developed years prior.

Growing up, I was never raised in a religious context. Neither of my parents are churchgoers and neither would likely identify with a religious tradition in any significant way. This is not to say they were ardent and vocal atheists, but just that religion was not something that was really on the radar. Prior to the last few years, the only time I ever visited a church or other religious space was an uncle’s wedding (I can’t recall the denomination as I was too young to remember, or possibly care), my grandmother’s Catholic funeral, and a baptism of a high school friend in a Foursquare Baptist church.

It was around the time of that baptism in late high school that I began visiting religion chat rooms on Yahoo. I considered myself an atheist at that point (having figured out God and everything at 16, like many teenagers) and would have been comfortable among the New Atheist types like Richard Dawkins and his ilk. Most of the conversations/debates in those rooms were a great way for a teenager to feel smart tearing apart the straw men arguments presented by the various overly-literal Christians that produced them. I, of course, having little experience with religion, gladly accepted the less than robust arguments for God and Christianity as the best ones and judged all of religion accordingly. While I don’t expect a single convert was made for either side, I had least had a good time and was started on the path to the study of religion that has culminated, so far, with my baptism.

After high school, I enrolled in the University of Victoria where I majored in philosophy and minored in religious studies. While I appreciated the rigor with which the various philosophers over the past centuries and millennia dissected their beliefs and ideas with reason alone (or so many claimed at least), it wasn’t until I took courses in philosophy of religion and Chinese philosophy that I was led outside the rigid confines of the Western context. I began to appreciate the different ways of thinking about what is reasonable to believe and on what epistemological frameworks one can justifiably form those beliefs. Going forward in my classes, I would at times get frustrated by the limits of the “purely rational” views on God, metaphysics, ethics, etc. By the end of my degree, I had exhausted my interest in pursuing philosophy and wished that the university had offered a major in religious studies instead of the minor I had to settle for. Here, my mind was beginning to open up to new ways of thinking.

After a brief time at law school, which I happily left after 8 months of biweekly existential crises regarding a future as a lawyer, I was accepted into the Masters of Religion and Culture at Wilfred Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario. Here, studying various religious traditions and how they interact with the world both in the past and today led me to appreciate religion more fully in general. As well, most of my classmates were religious, including Catholics, one Pagan, a couple Buddhists, and even a self-identified Hindu-Christian (or Christian-Hindu?). The fact that these were all smart, well-adjusted people that I respected may be one of the most important levers that shifted me into religion and ultimately the Anglican church. When I returned to Halifax after completing the program, I began exploring religious traditions in a less-book oriented and more people-and-place oriented way (though I continued to read academic, and sometimes not so academic, books on religion).

If the reader hasn’t figured it out by now, mine has been a particularly academic, text-heavy path, and that hasn’t really ended. I have added a number of books to my bookshelf, but there are three books, though, that I would probably consider the most formative in my move into the Christian Church. The first is The Case for God by Karen Armstrong. My biggest takeaway from that was probably how she identified what “belief” means in the biblical community, where the word evokes more of a sense of trust that the words and actions of who or what you believe in, rather than mere intellectual assent to a set of propositional statements. The minor conceptual shift really opened me up to thinking of belief as being less about the truth value of words as logical arguments and more about the truth in their meaning (think: the letter vs. the spirit). The second and third are Abraham J Heschel’s Man is Not Alone and Teilhard de Chardin’s The Phenomenon of Man. Both books allowed me to contemplate new ways of thinking about how to see God in the world (though I will not claim to fully understand the latter after only one reading as its reputation as a difficult book to read is well earned).

I briefly visited a Buddhist meditation group while in Halifax, but was left unsatisfied. Realistically, I don’t think I gave it enough of a chance, but I just didn’t feel drawn to it. One of the things that eventually drew me into Christianity the most was the Bible’s worldliness, especially the focus on social justice and the richness of the world, in all its flaws, described in the Bible itself. The Buddhist groups I found did not have much of a presence in this way. By this point I had finally finished reading the Bible through, aside from a few proverbs and psalms I skimmed over. This, combined with my past readings and experiences mentioned above, got me interested in Biblical religion, though I first visited a synagogue before eventually testing out St. Mark’s. While I have a significant appreciation for the Tanakh and still enjoy Jewish scholarship and theology regarding it, fitting in to Judaism culturally was too difficult.

It was after this that I began looking more into Christianity itself, in particular the Anglican tradition. There were a couple of reasons I focused on the Anglican church. One, from my studies I determined that the Anglican church struck a good balance between the traditions of the past 2000 years while still being open to change when morally necessary (something I think the Roman Catholic Church is struggling with today). Two, my fiancée’s family is largely Anglican. To find St. Mark’s, I had simply googled Anglican churches around St. John’s and read an entry on Rev. Robert’s blog. I can’t remember what it was about, but I do remember that I enjoyed the tone of it and that it implied that the church would be a good fit for me. From the nature of the sermons and conversations within St. Mark’s as well as its actions in the community, I am convinced that it is. I certainly would not have stuck around a church that did not share the friendly and dedicated nature of St. Mark’s.

After reaching out, Rev. Robert and I shared many chats and books over the last couple of years, eventually leading to my baptism at the beginning of the month. While I fell away from the church a few times and ceased attending, after the third time coming back I figured it was time to take the leap and accept that I wanted to be part of the Christian tradition and seek baptism. Almost one month later I am happy I did so and look forward to further developing my faith, especially when I finally finish my current degree and have Mondays free again for Pub Theology!

By Peter Matterson

Welcoming the Stranger – Becoming Friends: A Special Anniversary

As we mark the first anniversary of the Maatouk family’s arrival in St. John’s from a refugee camp in Lebanon, I want to take the opportunity to thank the parish community (and our friends in the broader community) for your generous support of our sponsorship. When Bishop Peddle called upon the parishes of the Diocese to respond to the Syrian refugee crisis last fall, he expressed his desire to see the first family arrive in St. John’s by Christmas. Little did we know at the time it would be the St. Mark’s parish community who would make his wish a reality.
We launched an appeal at our Parish Fall Gathering, seeking pledges of financial support in the amount of $20,000 and at least twelve people who would provide the social support for a Syrian family to adjust to life here in St. John’s. We were overwhelmed by your generosity as both the volunteers and the required funds were pledged within three weeks. To date more than $27,000 has been donated, which has allowed us to offer support to the family over and above our legal requirement. We also received material donations, such as furniture and clothing, which enabled us to furnish a home for the Maatouk family with very little notice.
As I’m sure everyone well remembers, the 16th-19th of December last year was a very intense few days. I am still in awe of what the parish community in general, and our parish support team in particular, were able to accomplish in such a short time. Yes, we had a few bumps along the road, but we pulled it off. In the face of a humanitarian crisis of a magnitude almost beyond comprehension, we made a difference for one family. I know they will be forever grateful. To the parish support team in particular I am so very thankful for each and every one of you for all you have done, and for giving of yourselves so generously and selflessly over the past year.
I would be remiss if I didn’t extend a special thank you to Audrey Power for going above and beyond in serving as our support team coordinator. I don’t know what we would have done without her weekly coordinating emails. This was over and above the time she, like the rest of us, gave in direct support to the Maatouk family. I’m sure I speak for all of us on the support team in expressing heartfelt gratitude to Audrey. As we head into the new year we will continue to walk with the family as they still have a ways to go in adjusting to life in Canada. It warms my heart that the support team is still willing to continue to support the family albeit as friends rather than as sponsors. I’m certain many of us will have lifelong friendships with Mounzer, Alaa, Mohammad, Nada and Ahmad.
God’s blessing be upon each and every one of you, in the parish community and beyond, who made it possible for the St. Mark’s parish community to live out our Lord’s call to “welcome the stranger” in such a profound way.
Father Mark Nichols is the Associate Priest at St. Mark’s and gave great leadership to the Maatouk familiy support team. 

What Time Is It? Advent 2016

mp9004443361But make sure that you don’t get so absorbed and exhausted in taking care of all your day-by-day obligations that you lose track of the time and doze off, oblivious to God. The night is about over, dawn is about to break. Be up and awake to what God is doing!                                          ~ Saint Paul to the Roman Church

 Ask anyone these days the simple question, “How are you doing?” and you’re bound to get an answer something like “Oh my, I’m so busy!” Still others will say, “I can’t believe how fast time goes!” Everyone seems to be held captive by busyness, everyone seems to be running to and fro, caught up in the day-to-day stuff that none of us can seem to escape. Time, it seems, is a precious resource and we seem to be in short supply.

Sadly, the Advent season only contributes to this sense of busyness. All the shopping, decorating and endless Christmas parties only make life more hectic. Advent today is little more than getting ready for Christmas, not in the sense of preparing our hearts and lives, but getting ready for a day, Christmas Day. But Advent really calls us to reflect on time. Advent is about the dawning of a new time, a new way of keeping time and a reprioritizing of how we use time.

Yes, Advent is a time of anticipation, but we anticipate by slowing down, not speeding up. This slowing down is marked by the lighting of candles each week of Advent. These candles remind us of the purpose of Advent, to mark time both together and in our lives, with hope, peace, joy and love. We slowly retell the story, set the context for what we are to celebrate. Without taking time to remember that without the stories of John the Baptist, Elizabeth, Mary, Joseph, Simeon, and Anna there is no Jesus story, no Christmas story.

In the older Advent traditions of the church this emphasis on time is even more heightened. As Christians we are called to remember the “four last things”: death, judgment, hell and heaven. Advent took on a more penitential tone, a mini-Lent almost. And while this may be too sullen and bleak for what we know Advent to be today, it still calls us to a different appreciation of time. It reminds us that in Jesus Christ, a new age dawns, old things pass away and we now keep a new rhythm of life. It calls us to reprioritize how we use our time, and like the wild-eyed John the Baptist in the wilderness, it calls us to make preparations for this new way.

So we are left with a question: How do we get ready for the advent of Christ? Not the baby Jesus, but the cosmic Christ who was, who is and is to come, who is always coming. Jesus, who has so shaped our understanding that we mark time differently. Jesus, who turns everything upside down.

What time is it? It’s time to slow down and get ready. This Advent make time for reflection, for love, for opening ourselves up to others, for ways to take part in this new thing God is doing in Christ.

 

Jesus Goes to the Pride Parade?

Pride Parade

It’s a hot summer day. Hotter than usual for a St. John’s summer. Too hot to be doing anything of significance. Definitely too hot to be parading down Duckworth Street and up to Bannerman Park. It’s the kind of day that should be spent in the shade, or a pool, or down on the beach by the cool salt water. But today is not a day for that. There is something more important to do.

For the church, too, there is something important to do. It is Sunday, and Sunday for Christians is important enough. It is our day to gather, worship, hear the sacred scriptures, listen to homilies, eat the sacred meal and be sent back out into the world full of Jesus. Today, at least for St. Mark’s, there is something else to do. It is, after all, Pride Week and the Pride Parade. And for the first time for us, and as far as I can tell it’s the first time for any Newfoundland Anglican Church, we march in the Pride Parade with our sisters and brothers in the LGBTQ+ community.

Our participation in this parade is very significant and a long time coming. And make no mistake that it did not come easily. It’s been years, even decades, in the making. In fact, even 2016 has seen many ups and downs in the journey. In January the Primates of the Anglican Communion censured the Episcopal Church of the US for its stance on marriage equality and the ordination of openly gay and lesbian bishops. Later our own bishops in the Anglican Church of Canada released a statement saying that they felt they could not reach agreement on the motion on marriage equality that would come to the floor of General Synod in the summer. Months of anger, frustration and debate erupted.

As a parish community we also engaged in a four-week long conversation on human sexuality and marriage equality. It was a much needed conversation, and the fact that we were even having this conversation is a testimony to how much we have changed in the Diocese of Eastern Newfoundland & Labrador. The conversation was difficult at times, but in the end the consensus was ‘let’s continue to work toward marriage equality in the Anglican Church of Canada’.

At General Synod uncertainty and division were again highlighted. The first results of the vote on marriage equality showed that the motion had failed. For those hoping for the motion to pass it was like a punch in the stomach, knocking the wind out of our lungs. And as the air rushed back in, returning our breath, so did the anger and frustration all over again. Once again we cried out, “How long, O Lord, how long?” The next moment the whole thing was turned upside down as we heard that there had been a glitch, a mistake. The motion had passed! Just a step, but a big step nonetheless.

All of this is running through my mind as I stand here on New Gower street with the sun beating down on me and those gathered with me from St. Mark’s: a 90 year old in a wheelchair; three preschool age children; a young couple married less than a year; a mom whose own child is coming to terms with their sexuality; an openly gay deacon. People who I know from the wider community come by to greet us and congratulate us on the recent marriage equality vote. As the parade starts and I look ahead at the multitude of people in the parade, stretching the length of Duckworth Street, along with the hundreds that line the street, it’s hard not to get choked up.

Our banner identifying us as St. Mark’s Anglican Church gets a lot of looks. It also gets a lot of cheers and smiles. I even see some tears. It means a lot to those Anglicans in the crowd, those still in the church and those who have drifted away, to see an Anglican church in a Pride Parade. I know that what we are doing is important. It’s hard not to see the significance of it.

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But as I look up the street at all the people marching in the parade, and wave at the people lining the sidewalk in solidarity and support, I can’t help but feel a hint of sadness. I think of all the people, our dear gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender brothers and sisters who have gone before us and often walked alone. I think of those who never felt the swell of support that is on display today. I think of the teachers that taught in our denominational school systems who had to keep their sexuality secret for fear of losing their job. I think of the young men who have looked over their shoulders when walking our streets late at night for fear of a beating for being gay. I think of the girls who have been told that they are too butch, that they’ll never get a husband looking like that. I think of all those who have been forsaken, even chased from their faith communities because their sexuality doesn’t fit into their congregants’ narrow box of male/female. I think of all those who have the words queer, fag, sinner, abomination thrown at them by priests, pastors and ministers concerned more with orthodoxy than with genuine Christian love. I think of all of those who have been clobbered by bible verses, proof-texts taken out of context and misunderstood. I think of all those LGBTQ+ people who love Jesus and have a deep longing to belong to a faith community, but feel that there is no place for them and they don’t belong. I think of Jesus and the example of love and acceptance he has set for us, inviting all he meets to come and follow him, to walk with him. I think, if Jesus were here today, he would walk in this parade. Then I am reminded that he is here, because we the church, his body, are here.

I think of all those people, and yes I know what we are doing today is important, but what we do today is just one more step in a long, long journey. We have come so far, but we have much further to go. The same can be said of the historic General Synod vote; it is important, but it is not the end. The church has much further to go before we can truly say we love our neighbour, before we have true equality. Let us keep walking together, one foot in front of the other, walking in love, realizing that we are one in Christ.