The mission of Squamish United Church is "To be an inclusive community serving God's world." As a church together we seek to love God and neighbour with all our heart, soul and mind. We hope this blog enriches you on your journey of life.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

What is everyone looking for?

Observation # 3: Although the institutional expression of faith is in precipitous decline throughout North America and Europe, faith is not in decline. The majority of people still believe in God and have deep spiritual longings. They simply would not think of looking to the church to satisfy their spiritual hunger.

Cynthia's response: Ouch! What a zinger that last line is!! But like the lad in that old fable, “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” it names a truth that can be completely liberatingonce we let it out of the bag. If so many people “simply would not think to looking to the church to satisfy their spiritual hunger,” where are they looking? That’s pretty easy to see: to retreats, meditation workshops, wisdom schools (mine fill up instantly, a couple of years in advance), mystery schools, vision quests, spiritual direction programs, interSpiritual Institutes such as Ken Wilber’s Integral Life or the Spiritual Paths Foundation), internet courses (the wildly successful Spirituality and Practice e-courses, for example), virtual monasteries such as Sr. Joan Chittister’s newly launched “monastery of the heart, and grass roots contemplative orders and organizations such as Contemplative Outreach, The World Community of Christian Meditation, or our own plucky little Contemplative Society. They’re signing up for embodied experiences such as yoga retreats or Sufi zikr and whirling; they’re flocking to a proliferating network of “Open Centers” where spiritual ideas can be freely presented and pondered in an atmosphere of open inquiry and respect. The bottom lines seem to be that most people hunger for genuine spiritual formation (not doctrinal imprinting) in an atmosphere of embodied practice, non-sentimental but profound mystical devotion, and open, interSpiritual inquiry that draws respectfully on the transformative wisdom of all the great spiritual traditions. And if even this is too arcane, they run marathons, go skiing, or hang out at the Sunday market.

And I have to admit that for me, too, when I’m not scheduled to preach or celebrate, I do the same.

The big problem, of course, is the lived experience of a very large number of folks out in the world is that the church blocks the view, hog-tying genuine spiritual yearning in an intricate tangle of doctrinal ownership and theological nitpicking. If you’re following the response to Christopher’s observation #4 (to be posted soon), you’ll see what I mean. Why do we keep doing this to ourselves? What part of “contemplative,” “embodied,” “immediate,” “non-ideological” do we not understand? Why would we rather be “correct” than connected?

Thursday, June 23, 2011

No Middle Ground

Observation # 2: The shift we are currently navigating is generally described as a move away from rationalism, propositional faith, and institutionalism. People are no longer seeking intellectual answers to questions or rigid institutional embodiments of those answers. They are looking for a deep experience of God and profound inner wisdom to support them in living authentic and integrated lives. We can no longer assume institutional loyalty. The days when we could rely on loyalty to the church and general agreement to a uniform body of dogmas are gone. It is not adequate to demandObservations and Reflections on The Future of Church

allegiance, or simply keep announcing our convictions confident people will eventually sign up.

Cynthia's response: That may indeed be how things look from the viewing platform of most of the Lenten Series speakers—i.e., the mainstream liberal Protestant establishment. But there seems to be no dearth of folks out on the religious right eager to sign up for rationalism, propositional faith, and institutionalism, while those seeking a deeper experience of God and an accompanying inner wisdom have existed in every generation. What’s really happening, it seems to me, is that the “middle” has dropped out of

mainstream Christian experience: those unspoken but hugely influential “lower left and lower right quadrants” (in Ken Wilber’s terms) over which the church until recently presided as a combination of cultural cement and social networking agency. Upward mobility, social respectability, cultural literacy, “old boys’ club” placement services, patriotism, civic duty, and a chaplainly blessing upon the affairs of state: all this was part of the great cultural-spiritual mainstream over which the church held undisputed sway.

That is mostly swept away now—a casualty of the cultural tsunami described in Observation #1 (first installment of this series). Not only does the role itself no longer exist in an irreversibly pluralistic, mobile, and secular society, but even in its former unassailable niche as ethical and moral pace-setter, the church now generally lags far behind in basic standards of inclusivity and civil rights widely established in secular society itself.

It seems to me that there are really two options for moving this dinosaur gently along the evolutionary track. One is to ‘fess up‘to the fact that this middle ground has always been an important part of the church’s missionary ground and radically get on board with the social networking program in terms understandable in today’s cultural reality. The other is to pare down and focus on those folks thirsting for authentic spiritual formation and actually deliver the goods, cutting through centuries of doctrine, dogma, and institutional solipsism to the profound transformational wisdom still flowing from the living heart of Jesus. That is the trajectory, of course, that I am myself the most keen on exploring.

The third possibility, of course, is to attempt to shrink the world back to its former cosmological and theological dimension so that the church’s cultural cement might yet again hold everything together. But this route, while being actively sought in some corners of the corners of institutional Christendom, does little service either to Jesus or to our planet.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Future of Church

I was given an article this week that is a 12 part series of observations and refections with Rev. Dr. Cynthia Bourgeault and Christopher Page. In the next while I am going to break up this article to give us things to think about and potentially respond to.

Here is the first observation:
During Lent 2011 in Victoria British Columbia, Canada eight church clergy, academics, and spiritual teachers (including Cynthia Bourgeault) shared their thoughts and insights over six Wednesdays on “The Future of Church". Christopher Page created a synthesis of twelve observations that emerged from these presentations and Cynthia Bourgeault will offer her reflections on these points over the coming weeks.

Observation # 1: The church is in the midst of a massive cultural sea change. This paradigm shift is altering everything around us and we in the church are not at fault for the devastating impact it is having upon our institution. The decline in the church is not primarily the fault of mismanagement, bad theology, or lack of good will. We are caught up in forces much bigger than we can control.

Cynthia's response: This strikes me as an enormously helpful and non-judgmental way of framing the situation, encouraging us right from the outset to “think outside the box.” It really is a fascinating time to be alive as not only change itself but the rate of change keeps accelerating beyond anything the world has ever experienced. From global warming to the worldwide web, it’s all about dynamic equilibrium in a fragile and interconnected world. This may be new to traditional theological formulations, but it’s right at the heart of the Jesus message. As Fr. Bruno Barnhart so brilliantly put it in his book Second Simplicity: “The gospel’s secret power, often hardly glimpsed by Christianity itself, is the gathering up of all our passion, our entropic centrifugal energy, our very outward thrust and vital compulsivity, secularity, and carnality into this divine energy that ever flows outward from its hidden Source.” If it happened once, it can happen again. And we will find our way by turning toward it, not by running scared.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Welcoming Prayer Practice

The Welcoming Prayer Practice
A Contemplative practice of letting go in the
ordinary routines of daily life

You may turn to God in the Welcoming prayer practice when you are aware of body sensations,
feelings, emotions, thoughts and commentaries that are experience in your body.


Focus - and sink into the body sensations do not resist, simply experience the sensation.

Welcome - (The sacred symbol of intention to consent to the presence and action of the indwelling Spirit). Remaining in the body sensation, gently say the word "Welcome" interiorly, embracing the Holy spirit in and through the body sensation.

Let Go - While continuing to experience and rest in the body sensation, repeat the letting go sentences to open to the healing action of the Holy Spirit within.

I let go of my desire for security/survival....Welcome
I let go of my desire for approval/affection....Welcome
I let go of my desire for power/control...Welcome
I let go of my desire to change...(any situation, person, event, feeling, emotion)...Welcome

You may repeat these movements as often as you wish.

It is important to remain in the body sensation while repeating the sentences.

from the booklet in the Contemplative Life Program
"Welcoming Prayer" Contemplative Outreach, 2006

Monday, June 6, 2011

Help Us to See

Help Us to See

“Why do you stand looking up towards heaven? (Acts 1:10-11)

We look for you, straining our eyes

into the far country,

but our vision is disrupted

by the least, the lost, the littlest, the last among us.

We race after you, trying to catch up,

and turing the corner find only

a homeless family in our path.

We wander the streets, yearning to find you,

calling your name,

but it is only

a single mother who turns and wearily smiles,

a street person who whispers ‘hello’

a little girl who pirouettes and takes our hand.


But you are still here, Lord

Help us to see.

Thom Shuman

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Spiritual Care Network: Called to be Church in the 21st century

Spiritual Care Network: Called to be Church in the 21st century: "There was an event that happened on one of my visits that embodied how we might find our way ahead. The people from Fraser Presbytery hav..."