Monday, February 25, 2013

The One, Unholy, Roman Catholic Church

Pope Benedict XVI may have planned on retiring with dignity, but more and more it looks like his legacy is going up in smoke.

I've been reading more about the ongoing scandals in the Roman Catholic church today. What an unholy mess. Sexual abuse must NEVER be covered up. Shame on you, those in the higher echelons of the Roman Catholic church. You aren't the only faith that has seen scandal, but you sure have done a hell of a lot to almost completely discredit yourself as a faith worthy of devotion. Here is a pretty thorough article describing the latest disgraces:

Cardinal’s departure darkens mood as pope allows early conclave
by Philip Pullella, Reuters

VATICAN CITY - A senior cleric resigned under duress on Monday and Pope Benedict took the rare step of changing Vatican law to allow his successor to be elected early, adding to a sense of crisis around the Roman Catholic Church.

With just three days left before Benedict becomes the first pope in some six centuries to step down, he accepted the resignation of Britain’s only cardinal elector, Archbishop Keith O’Brien, who was to have voted for the next pope.

O’Brien, who retains the title of cardinal, has denied allegations that he behaved inappropriately with priests over a period of 30 years, but said he was quitting the job of archbishop of Edinburgh.

He could have attended the conclave despite his resignation because he is still a cardinal under 80, but said he would stay away because he did not want media attention to be focused on himself instead of the process of choosing the next leader of the 1.2 billion-member Church.

Insert from The Guardian: The claims against O'Brien, reported in the Observer, surround allegations of "unwanted behaviour" following late-night drinking and "inappropriate contact" involving the three priests, who are all serving within the cardinal's diocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh, and a former priest who is now married.

One complainant alleges the cardinal and he developed an "inappropriate relationship" that led to him needing long-term psychological counselling.
His dramatic self-exclusion came as the Vatican continued to resist calls by some Catholics to stop other cardinals tainted by sex scandals, such as U.S. Cardinal Roger Mahony, from taking part.

Catholic activists have petitioned Mahony to exclude himself from the conclave so as not to insult survivors of sexual abuse by priests committed while he was archbishop of Los Angeles.

In that post from 1985 until 2011, Mahony worked to send priests known to be abusers out of state to shield them from law enforcement scrutiny in the 1980s, according to church files unsealed under a U.S. court order last month.

Read Full Article @ The Toronto Sun.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

To Worship

by 20th Century Unitarian mystic Jacob Trapp

To worship is to stand in awe under a heaven of stars, before a flower, a leaf in sunlight, or a grain of sand.

To worship is to be silent, receptive, before a tree astir with the wind, or the passing shadow of a cloud.

To worship is to work with dedication and with skill; it is to pause from work and listen to a strain of music.

To worship is to sing with the singing beauty of the earth; it is to listen through a storm to the still small voice within.

Worship is a loneliness seeking communion; it is a thirsty land crying out for rain.

Worship is kindred fire within our hearts; it moves through deeds of kindness and through acts of love.

Worship is the mystery within us reaching out to the mystery beyond.

It is an inarticulate silence yearning to speak; it is the window of the moment open to the sky of the eternal.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Living With Impermanence; I Hate It

"Living is a form of not being sure, not knowing what next or how. The moment you know how, you begin to die a little. The artist never entirely knows. We guess. We may be wrong, but we take leap after leap in the dark."
~ Agnes de Mille
I hate this. I really do. I want my life to be exactly how I wish it would be, with few surprises and the fulfillment of my every dream. I want my life to be a movie that has a familiar beginning and a predictable but happy ending.

But, of course, this is not the way it works. At least not for most of us. Most of us are thrown for quite a few loops through the years, whether it be through tragedies such as the death of people we love, or personal sickness, or unemployment. It's almost so sad as to be funny, where Groucho Marx or Robin Williams should play every one of us.

I don't have any answers in this short blog entry, just an acknowledgement that pretty much nothing about life is sure. It is when we attach ourselves too tightly to our beliefs about ourselves or about life that this life will often rise up like a wave and knock us sideways, leaving us soaked and barely hanging on to the ship.

So what is there to hang on to? We hang on to change, to impermanence. This doesn't mean that we can't have important friendships and relationships in our lives, but we must realize that at any time those could be taken away from us as well.

We find ourselves thrown into the middle of quicksand. The more we fight it, the more (and quicker) we will suffer. The more we relax, the quicker we will be pulled into another chapter of our lives and find ourselves on dry land.

Only to begin again.

Mark Andrew Alward

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

We Are Only Dust

by: John Van de Laar

When it comes down to it, God,
we are only dust -
fragile -
and we need your breath
to bring us to life.
But when we forget the God-imaged spirit
that lives in us and all people,
may our prayers open our eyes again.
When we hoard what we have
believing life is found in the things of dust,
may our giving and serving bring us indestructible wealth.
When we throw off restraint,
believing that freedom is license,
may our fasting liberate us from our appetites,
and teach us simplicity.
We are all dust, God,
from the strongest to the weakest,
the greatest to the least;
and we all need your breath
to give us life.
So, in every circumstance, every place,
every interaction, every decision,
may we choose only what will embrace and share life
with every spec of this created dust
that you love so dearly.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Opening Up To the Mystery Of Love

A lot of Christian "God language" has been increasingly foreign to me since I left Christianity some 12 years ago or so.  The imagery of an all-powerful Man-Person-In-The-Sky gradually crumbled, but still the language persists. And it works for a lot of people, but not for me.  My favourite Christian author is still Henri Nouwen, the late Catholic priest and author, and he writes the following:

"What can we say about God's love? We can say that God's love is unconditional. God does not say, "I love you, if ..." There are no ifs in God's heart. God's love for us does not depend on what we do or say, on our looks or intelligence, on our success or popularity. God's love for us existed before we were born and will exist after we have died. God's love is from eternity to eternity and is not bound to any time-related events or circumstances. Does that mean that God does not care what we do or say? No, because God's love wouldn't be real if God didn't care. To love without condition does not mean to love without concern. God desires to enter into relationship with us and wants us to love God in return.

Let's dare to enter into an intimate relationship with God without fear, trusting that we will receive love and always more love."
The meaning that Nouwen infuses into his writing still resonates with me, particularly his persistence on preaching the love of God. But his symbolism is increasingly foreign - "God does not say," "God's love wouldn't be real if God didn't care," etc.

To this I would say, "God is not a Person, an anthropomorphic version of ourselves only stronger." Rather, when I speak of God, I speak of a deep spiritual presence that lies beneath all things, above all things, and through all things, including me. This spiritual presence is love itself, so we can still glean much wisdom from authors such as Nouwen, even if we jettison a lot of his imagery.

I refuse to believe that everything I see has happened by random chance. But I also readily embrace science.  I will open myself up to something strong and powerful.

I will open myself up to the Mystery of Love.

Mark Andrew Alward

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Ladies & Gentlemen...Mr. Charlie Peacock

Wednesday, February 6th, 2013
Matter of Taste Coffee Bar - Kitchener, Ontario, Canada

There are artists who offer you a smattering of crumbs once every few years. There are artists who satisfy your sweet tooth.

And then there's Charlie Peacock. As I sit here in a cozy cafĂ© in Midwestern Ontario, I am once again being treated to a smorgasbord. It's a table that I'll be coming back to for seconds and thirds and twentieths in the coming weeks, months and beyond. You see, Charles William Ashworth (born August 10th, 1956) has not released a solo vocal album in twelve years. So I'm going to bask in it like a delicious pint of dark ale.

But first some background.

Charlie was born in California, his father was a trumpeter, and as a teen he was influenced by the music of John Coltrane. He received musical instruction from his father and another instructor. He began playing jazz piano in the band The Runners after leaving California State University. During this time he met and collaborated with many, many musicians.

In 1980 A&M Records signed Peacock for a demo recording. Charlie formed The Charlie Peacock Group, and contracted with Exit Records, and in 1984 released his first album Lie Down In The Grass. CCM's 500 Best Albums Of All Time lists the alternative pop/keyboard driven Lie Down at #10. He would soon become the opening act for several bands, the most popular being the Red Hot Chili Peppers. With Lie Down, I don't think the Christian music industry knew what had hit them. This was not mainstream Amy Grant/Michael W. Smith pop, this was an artist experimenting with different genres and sounds.

I will not review every one of Charlie's albums, but instead will tell of my personal experiences with Charlie's music. I first became aware of Charlie in my mid-teens in the mid-1990's. My first Peacock "album" was his collection "...In The Light: The Very Best of Charlie Peacock (1996). The title track was made popular by DC Talk's version on their album Jesus Freak in 1996, but in fact it first appeared on Charlie's album Love Life six years earlier.

What I love about Charlie's music is that he refuses to be pigeon-holed, and while I'm sure he enjoys it when people like his music, he doesn't kowtow to the masses by putting together necessarily radio-friendly hits (though many of his songs deserve radio play).

How to describe Charlie's music through the years??? That is a tough one. Musically I would say that funk and soul are mainstays, with some albums like one of my favourite Love Life being more pop as well.  And when it comes to his lyrics, they again are a feast. Here are 3 examples:

"Experience" (1986)

There is a difference, a qualitative difference, between what I know as a fact and what I know as truth,

It stands as a great divide to separate my thinking from when I'm thinking foolishly and when I've understood,

The facts of theology can be altogether cold: though true in every way, they alone can't change me,

Truth is creative, transforming and alive,

It's truth that keeps me humble, saved and set free,

It's the truth that keeps me humble, saved and set free.

We can only possess what we experience,
We can only possess what we experience.

"Personal Revolution" (1991)

Freedom from the past didn't last through time,
Things don't change, because I pretend they're fine,

Do I flip a switch to give myself a happy life; to be a happy man, in a happy home with a happy wife?

Jesus, if you came to give life abundantly, then how do you respond to all the pretense that you see?
Do I break your heart by all the faking that I do?
There are so many places I haven't let you into.

I'm so tired of all these easy solutions,
I can't stand it; they're nothing but denial,
I think I need a personal revolution,
How can I expect the heart to sing when I don't let the soul ever feel anything?

Finally, a controversial song (for the time in the Christian music world) was Kiss Me Like A Woman from his Love Life album (1991):

We can lie naked and unashamed, made one by divine connection,
It's good to know there's a sacred trust when you give away your affections.
It's a beautiful place to be when you can trust each other completely.

Kiss me like a woman, baby, and I'll love you, love you like a man,
Love is a language we were made to understand.

Interesting note: Charlie co-wrote Amy Grant's hit Every Heartbeat in 1991.

I last heard Charlie on his 1999 album Kingdom Come...and then that was it. Not that Charlie hasn't been busy. He has put out several collaborative instrumental albums, is a notable producer, and he discovered the band Switchfoot. He also produced the album Barton Hollow by The Civil Wars.

Still I missed hearing Charlie's voice! So when a friend casually mentioned Charlie's latest album in a Facebook conversation a couple days ago, I was astounded and immediately headed to iTunes to buy it.

"No Man's Land" (October 2012) is Peacock's first vocal record in 12 years, he's now 56, and Charlie is perhaps at his very best here. Christianity Today, in giving the album 4 stars, calls it "loaded with his own hooks and ultra-high production values. As crisp as an autumn album can get, Peacock's pop sensibility combines with church-friendly lyrics to create a timeless folk sound."  This album is less pop or electronica, and definitely more soul, funk, and roots, where Charlie really shines. Indie Vision Music gives Peacock's self-produced and self-released treasure 5 stars, saying, "This album goes deep into the forest of Americana, revealing the roots of folk and blues in such a versatile way that you’re never bored. Charlie Peacock is a true storyteller; a troubadour whose lyrics resonate with honesty, truth, and doubt.  No Man’s Land is a milestone in music, a masterpiece that revitalizes the past & infuses current music with fresh life at the same time."

Friends, if you're looking for an intelligent, meaty, deeply funktafied treasure, go to iTunes or Amazon right now and pick up No Man's Land by Charlie Peacock.

Mark Andrew Alward

Saturday, February 2, 2013

The Deep Joy Of Shared Pain

"Joy is hidden in compassion. The word compassion literally means "to suffer with." It seems quite unlikely that suffering with another person would bring joy. Yet being with a person in pain, offering simple presence to someone in despair, sharing with a friend times of confusion and uncertainty ... such experiences can bring us deep joy. Not happiness, not excitement, not great satisfaction, but the quiet joy of being there for someone else and living in deep solidarity with our brothers and sisters in this human family. Often this is a solidarity in weakness, in brokenness, in woundedness, but it leads us to the center of joy, which is sharing our humanity with others."
~ Henri J.M. Nouwen

There is nothing quite like being in the presence of someone when they are in deep pain and suffering, or even near death. I have had the personal honour of spending time with 3 of my dear relatives in the hours and minutes leading up to their deaths. Something more than sadness occurs; it can become a holy time, a cherished time, and yes, as Nouwen writes, a deeply joyful experience. The same can be said with experiences that are not near death. As we sit with a friend who has just lost their job, or a relationship, or are uncertain about which direction to go in in life, we may hold their hand or stroke their arm, and in those moments we connect and can experience a deep joy.  This does not necessarily take away the pain, but  joy can now be intermingled with it; I have found that this is not usually the case when I go through pain alone, though a deep relationship with God/Spirit can indeed bring joy as well.

Let's try to be avenues of joy for and with each other.

Mark Andrew Alward