Friday, December 4, 2009

Called to Serve



This Article was originally printed in the 'Anglican Life' earlier this year...


“I love my job.” While I was facing some of the greatest physical challenges of my life on Basic Training, those were the words uttered by the Chaplain School’s Commandant every time he was around us. At first I thought he was referring to his role at the school, but now I know exactly what he meant. I too “love my job.”


I have had a call to minister to the men and women of our Forces for many years, but shrugged it off as a pipe-dream. I mostly doubted my own ability to achieve the physical requirements. I denied a real calling.


Though I have often said that Padres Baxter Park and Jack Barrett were the ones who convinced me that I could (and should) answer this call, the real answer is CTV News Channel. Every day that I turned on the news to see another soldier killed or injured, another family devastated by their loved one’s call to duty, my heart convicted me more and more: go, serve.


And here I am, one of two Chaplains based at 12 Wing Shearwater, one of 17 Chaplains serving CFB Halifax, one of more than 300 Chaplains who answer the motto of our multi-faith branch – “Called to Serve.” I purposely listed myself as “one of…” in order to highlight one of the greatest joys of this calling: I am a part of a team that supports and stands by one another. I am never without resources. I am never alone.

Each day is a new adventure. Marriage counselling and preparation, spiritual direction, and advising the chain of command as to how we might best help our members and their families in their times of crises make up most of my day. Ceremonies - religious and military - punctuate the weeks and months as significant events are commemorated and celebrated. On top of all this, I have been able to take part in activities and exercises with the troops by land and sea. (I will have had my first flight in a Sea King by the time you read this.)






Do you feel called to support the men and women of our Canadian Forces?


Have you considered becoming a Regular Force or Reserve Chaplain yourself? Contact me - John.Hounsell-Drover@forces.gc.ca. I may not have all the answers, but I can get them!


Have you considered offering support to “The Anglican Bishop Ordinary Trust” through the Anglican Foundation of Canada? This growing Trust fund ensures that we have a Bishop who can provide ongoing support for our more than 80 Anglican Chaplains and the nearly 20,000 Anglicans who form part of the CF family. For more information, please contact The Very Rev’d John Wright at jwright@national.anglican.ca.


Have you made the conscious decision to offer up in prayer the women and men of our Canadian Forces and their families? If you or your parish would like a good resource, check out http://www.anglican.ca/resources/mps/index.htm.


A few months ago, I had the honoured duty to accompany a Commander Officer to the home of a young woman whose father (a member) had died. After absorbing her initial shock and feelings of grief, she turned to me and said, “It means so much to me that you came here in person to tell me. Thank-you. I freely offer that thanks to God and pass it along to you as you determine how you might best answer the call to support the men and women of our Canadian Forces.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Happy Holidays!!

The following was an article I wrote for the Trident paper this past September:

Happy Holidays!

Merry Easter?! or something like that.

Each morning from August 17 to 21, a group of children and volunteers gathered at Shearwater Chapel to take part in our 2009 vacation bible school (VBS). Our theme this year was “Holy Holidays!” and we took time each day to learn about and celebrate some of the more famous (and
infamous) holidays of the Christian year: Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving, Valentine’s and Pentecost.

That got me thinking. It is an important part of human nature to commemorate events, from birthdays to harvest days, from national holidays to wedding anniversaries from great military
victories to days of solemn remembrance. These annual events aren’t just celebrated for their own sake; however, the act of remembering is important. The word remember is vital here. By remembering the most significant moments of our history we remember who we are and what is most important to us.

A helpful journaling exercise I have used from time to time when feeling a little out-of-touch or overwhelmed is called Stepping Stones. It simply involves taking one aspect of your life and naming the six or seven most important events that define it; for example, in my relationship with my son, William, the stepping stones might include: A positive pregnancy test, pre-natal
classes, William’s birth, first steps, first day of school, tucking him into bed last night. After naming each stone you can then take the time to write some reflections on each. You will be amazed at what you can remember. The final result is to put things into focus and perspective—to re-member yourself and what is really important.

Are there aspects of your life which feel unfocused, relationships that are strained, goals that seem overwhelming? Make some stepping stones, remember yourself, and celebrate the holy days of your life.

The Dance of Life


The following is an article I wrote for the Trident paper this past Easter:

The Dance of Life

Easter is a time to celebrate new life and new hope. For the ancient and modern Jews, who celebrate Passover at this time of year, it is a reminder of how the angel of death passed over their doorways in Egypt to finally free them from slavery and give them new lives in a promised land... you remember, from the story of Moses? For Christians it is expressed in the story of Jesus’death and resurrection—a resurrection which brings new life to all who believe. For the ancient Celts, from whom we get the word Easter, it is the time of year to witness the new life bursting forth after the cold darkness of winter.


But what if I’m having difficulty seeing new life right now? What if there seems to be a lot of death and dying and loss around me? From funerals to memorials, from suicides attempted to suicides completed, from grief at home to deaths overseas... new life can seem a long way off. There is no easy answer, so I warn you, don’t read any further unless you’re willing to actively seek the answer yourself... with a little guidance. There is a saying of which I am very fond—”Don’t give a sword to a person who can’t dance.” Though some people are confused at first by this saying, its meaning is really quite simple. The sword refers to anything of importance that we must wield or carry in this life. It can mean our jobs, it can mean our responsibilities towards family, friends, or community. For those of us in uniform it most certainly refers to the tools of life and death we wield on behalf of our nation. The dance, on the other hand, has no deeper meaning. It simply poses the question, in the light of the sword you carry, can you dance? Can you laugh? Can you find joy?

The warning inherent in this saying is that we must find the joy, the hope and dare I say new life in the midst of our burdens—otherwise, why bother?
So (at least for a little while this Easter season) slip off your shiny oxfords, your glossy parade boots or your dusty Goretex boots and take the time to remember what is really important... and dance.
“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.” from Ecclesiastes 3:1-8.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Gentle Jesus – Meek and Mild?


I’ve been struggling with a question, an idea, a challenge which was shared during a meeting earlier this past week.

“Is servanthood really a good model for Christian Leadership?”

As an ordained priest within the Anglican Church of Canada I have often been reminded that my life is one defined by ‘service.’ During my time at seminary I gained deep insight into my gifts for ministry through prayerful study of Isaiah’s image of the ‘Suffering Servant.’ As a Chaplain within the Canadian Forces I have embraced the Branch motto – Called to Serve.

So, as you can well imagine, a question challenging the effectiveness of the model of servant ministry took me completely off guard. Though further comments went on to highlight the models of ‘friendship’ and ‘mentoring’ – two very noble models – I still felt my cherished ideas of ‘servant ministry’ were being unfairly treated in some way…but I could think of nothing to say. That was until I read this Sunday gospel reading and was reminded that Jesus’ ministry was itself often marked by moments when his actions and deeds made is clear that he refused to be treated like a servant – like a slave.

Let’s be clear here. ‘Servant’ and ‘Servanthood,’ as they appear in our politically correct versions of the Scriptures are really nothing more than more thinly veiled references to ‘slave’ and ‘slavery.’ Slaves are, by definition, subservient, passive, and less-than-human commodities. Sounds kind of harsh, doesn’t it? But that’s the whole idea. Slavery is a cultural method of devaluing people so that they do as they are told, when they’re told and think of themselves as a lesser order of being than those whom they serve.

If Jesus is our ultimate model for ministry, especially for those of us in positions of leadership within the church, we must ask ourselves whether this is the example he has set for us.

There is a very popular image of Jesus out there (which I’ve heard called the ‘Florida Jesus’) who appears in gentle, softened colours, long, blonde hair and large doe-like eyes. This image of Jesus seems to be a visual expression of “Gentle Jesus, Meek and Mild” – one of Charles Wesley’s least inspiring compositions. This Florida-Jesus looks like he might cry if you looked at him the wrong way. Is this the Lord of Lords and King of Kings? Is this the model to which we should aspire? I sure as hell hope not.

Let’s get back to our gospel reading.

In order for us to appreciate the full significant of what is going on in today’s gospel reading, we need to remember that Pilate was THE presence of Caesar in Palestine – the wielding all the power and authority of a man who considered himself a god. Pilate was a ruthless military leader and governor who once massacred an entire crowd – men, women and children- when they protested against one of his judgments. It is in front of this man, in his Judgment Hall, surrounded by his soldiers that Jesus is questioned.

“Are you the King of the Jews?” Pilate asks.

Does gentle Jesus, meek and mild, take the stance of a slave before his master? No. Jesus stands before the most powerful man in Palestine and challenges him. Basically, what Jesus asks is, “Is that your question or did someone else put those words in your mouth?” Wow! Jesus does not bow before Pilate, but instead does what he always does when he encounters someone – he teaches, he challenges and he invites him to listen to him.

A slave is subservient, putting the will of others first. Jesus stands on equal footing before Pile, challenging him to talk to him as an equal.

Are we called to be people-pleasers or example-setters? One way is the path to slavery and the other the way of the king.

A slave is passive, always being told what to do and waiting for others to lead the way. Jesus listens with great compassion to all who would engage him (including Pilate), but he is never told what to do. He makes his own decisions and takes the lead.

Are we called to be passive and reactionary or engaging decision-makers? One way is the path to slavery and the other the way of the king.

Slave sees themselves as less that those whom they serve. This attitude is often justified in the church today through a gross misinterpretation of Jesus’ sayings about the first being last, the last being first, and the greatest of all being the least and servant of all. Jesus’ kingdom – the great hope which we celebrate Sunday – doesn’t just flip everyone’s lives and positions in society upside down. Jesus is actually the great level-er. When the scriptures speak of mountains being brought low and valleys lifted up we are invited to see a great plain – an image of the revelation that we are all on the same level in the eyes of God. Sure the powerful will be brought low and the lowly lifted up…but we all meet in the same place. No one is worth less or more than any other person. The sad reality in our world is that some do take this misinterpretation very seriously. There are countless numbers of people who suffer abuse and degradation and who allow others to push them around and use them because they believe that this is what God demands of them.

Jesus’ ministry is filled with moments when he through word and deed contradicts this idea. He touches lepers, he speaks with women, he eats with tax collectors and in today’s gospel he looks Pilate in the eye and holds his ground. He lifted up the lowly and treated with respect and brought down Pilate to the level of a carpenter’s son.

Are we more or less worthy than the person sitting next to us? Or are we a people who work towards the building of a kingdom where each person in valued as an equal child of God? One way is the path to slavery and the other the way of the king.

Let me go back to the idea of ‘servanthood’ one more time, though, because I still feel there is a place for it; namely, in our relationship with God.

The only person to whom we are called to be slaves is God. When we surrender our lives to the God who loved us into being and walks with us though the journey of life, we need not be slaves to anyone or anything anymore. We simply claim our place as children of the Most High, fellow citizens in the Kingdom of God. Amen.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Genesis 32


Greetings.

Reflections on Genesis 32

There is something to be said for putting your best foot forward. Jacob is returning to what is by all rights his home, his land, his inheritance, but he knows, despite his clever trickery it all really belongs to Esau. But still, he must return home. It has been said that one can never go home again, but we do try! Interestingly enough, the main reason most of us wish to ‘go home’ is to heal - sometimes ourselves and sometimes those we have left behind. I wonder why Jacob returns.

One thing is certain, his clever mind is still at work. He sends out wave after wave of gifts to his brother in an attempt to win him over. Jacob remains safely behind to see how the gifts will be received. But again the question remains, are the gifts for Esau’s or Jacob’s healing....or a little of column A and column B?

I noticed this parallel theme played out in the boys new favourite movie, WALL-E. The caption of the Axiom feels the need to return ‘home’ after over 700 years. This personal desire is mixed with a desire to care for a plant (representing the world’s fragile ecosystem) and see it grow (and maybe become fruitful and multiply).

Peter Gabriel Wrote "Down to Earth" for the movie.

The lyrics below speak to a coming home that needs to happen for each of us before our world moves on without us.

Did you think that your feet had been bound
By what gravity brings to the ground?
Did you feel you were tricked
By the future you picked?
Well, come on down
All those rules don’t apply
When you’re high in the sky
So, come on down
Come on down
We’re coming down to the ground
There’s no better place to go
We’ve got snow up on the mountains
We’ve got rivers down below
We’re coming down to the ground
We hear the birds sing in the trees
And the land will be looked after
We send the seeds out in the breeze
Did you think you’d escaped from routine
By changing the script and the scene?
Despite all you made of it
You’re always afraid
Of the change
You’ve got a lot on your chest
Well, you can come as my guest
So come on down
Come on down
We’re coming down to the ground
There’s no better place to go
We’ve got snow up on the mountains
We’ve got rivers down below
We’re coming down to the ground
We hear the birds sing in the trees
And the land will be looked after
We send the seeds out in the breeze
Like the fish in the ocean
We felt at home in the sea
We learned to live off the good land
Learned to climb up a tree
Then we got up on two legs
But we wanted to fly
When we messed up our homeland
We set sail for the sky
We’re coming down to the ground
There’s no better place to go
We’ve got snow up on the mountains
We’ve got rivers down below
We’re coming down to the ground
We hear the birds sing in the trees
And the land will be looked after
We send the seeds out in the breeze
We’re coming down
Coming down to Earth
Like babies at birth
Coming down to Earth
We’re gonna find new priorities
These are extraordinary qualities
We’re coming down to the ground
There’s no better place to go
We’ve got snow up on the mountains
We’ve got rivers down below
We’re coming down to the ground
We hear the birds sing in the trees
And the land will be looked after
We send the seeds out in the breeze
We’re coming down to the ground
There’s no better place to go
We’ve got snow up on the mountains
We’ve got rivers down below
We’re coming down to the ground
We hear the birds sing in the trees
And the land will be looked after
We send the seeds out in the breeze
We’re gonna find new priorities
These are extraordinary qualities

I know, I’m rambling.

It’s good to be back!






Every Blessing.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

I Do



Greetings.

These are new words....this has been my greatest stumbling block - not believing I had anything new to write.  Even if I have written these words many times before (which I have) they are new because they are being written NOW.  That is a significant part of this craft, just making new marks on in empty space.  Each mark announces, “Kilroy was here.”

I decided a while ago....six...eight months...to stop writing until I had something to “say.”  The result?  I didn’t say anything.  Simple enough.  Obvious enough.  Stupid enough.

I’ve done a lot of living in the past six months: moving to Halifax, joining the Canadian Forces, integrating Charlotte into our family, doing basic training and, consequentially, living away from home for 94 days.  In all this uproar of life I’ve wanted to write, to EXPRESS myself, but continued to refrain.  I wanted to wait until I was “ready,” until “I got my thoughts together,” until “the cows came home” I think.

Here’s my great revelation, my BFO (Blinding Flash of the Obvious), to borrow a phrase from one of our instructors on Basic, there is only now!  Use it!  Or to quote the great and wise Yoda, “There is no try, only do!”

I do.

Every Blessing.