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Anarchist Priest

My spiritual and practical journey to becoming an ordained Anglican priest in Canada.

Monday, May 30, 2005

An Awareness of God part II

I have been on a path for purpose most of my life. I don’t think I’m the only one on this journey, but I’m not going to assume everyone else is. I believe that each of us has, deep within us, that need for purpose. It seems to me that we do a lot of things to try and distract ourselves from that need. We fill our minds because our question of purpose is tied so closely to our own mortality and that is something each of us wishes to avoid. But in a life of so many unknowns, so many uncertainties, our own death is a known, it is a certainty.

This fact, that our life will end, as will the lives of all those we know, is one that fills us with despair. It is this position of despair that has plagued me for a long time. I’m not saying that I have been I a deep depression, because I have not. I have been happy and sad, and angry and silly. I find great joy in life.

I am talking about a disconnect, a psychic wandering, like a rudderless ship in an aimless wind. This wind steered me through the study of philosophy and fine art; though music and science. My depth of the human experience was increased, but the hollowness of purpose remained. The wind took me into the world of the cubicle and the cocoon of a career. I found I had money, enough for the finer things, yet it was my master. No amount of consumer comfort could answer the need and the wind blew on. It blew me to the faded planks of a saltwater dock.

So God, in the form of all that surrounded me, all that carried on with itself whether I was aware of it or not, revealed itself to me. The fabric of matter structurally imbued with the inevitability of life. Life that has provided humans with minds that can observe the world and recognize patterns, then manipulate these patterns to such a degree we have separated ourselves from all other life. We can think and reason. Decartes figured this out a long, long time ago.

I was sitting on the dock letting this realization flood over me. It led me to my next awareness, that of the wonder of existence, and the ability to appreciate it. I’m not sure a mosquito is very aware that it is alive, but not only are humans aware of their own life, they have such incredible experiences - the feeling of a warm breeze caressing your cheek on a sunny day; the display of a sunset through pink clouds over the ocean; the taste of fresh cooked sweet corn from the field (lightly buttered and salted); the smell of roses in bloom; the sound of Louis Armstrong playing on “West End Blues”; the excitement as a new love pours into your heart and overwhelmes your soul. Life in itself is a wonder. God is wonder. In the midst of all this contemplation my daughter, unsatisfied with the excitement of an empty hook, crashed into my thoughts.

“Dad, we’re just feeding the fish,” she said with a sigh.

The really important things come from my children, I have found – all that I can experience and enjoy, all that matters. All that God is is nothing unless it is shared. And that is love.

After this realization, I had a long talk with my wife on the beach. She’d thought I should become a priest for quite a while and gave me her complete support. I guess I should listen her more often.

An Awareness of God Part I

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Another Sign

I had a very encouraging experience yesterday. I was visiting my brother at work when one of his co-workers introduced himself. He explained that he had heard from my brother that I was in the process of becoming a priest. He wanted to know if it would be all right to ask me some questions he had about God. I was thrilled to talk with him about his questions. I let him know it was perfectly fine to ask me any questions he had and I would try my best to answer them.

We talked for fifteen twenty minutes or so about his questions, which centered mostly on prayer: the value of prayer, how to pray and expectations of prayer. My reason for recording this conversation is not that I was excited about someone seeing me as some kind of expert on God or prayer, which I most certainly am not. What was exhilarating was that I was completely comfortable with his questions and felt genuinely useful. I cold tell that this man was seeking something spiritual for himself and that I could provide the little help I had in me to his journey. I had been meditating on the prayer of St. Francis earlier in the day, and here I was being able to be a channel for God. It felt so natural for me to be having this conversation that I felt I am headed in the right direction for my life.

I have always struggled with my work. I have been successful in a number of fields, been able to earn a decent wage, but always felt I was not being myself in this work. It was all drudgery. I always felt uncomfortable in my own skin, forcing myself to perform this task or the other. I have always wanted to just be myself in my work, as the stress and politics in any job are enough to contend with, without having to play a part on top of it. But yesterday, I was not playing a part.

The answers to the man’s questions were not simple ones and I searched with him in our conversation, but he work of that searching was natural to me. I am not so egotistical that I feel I’ve helped this man find God and peace and he will be happy the rest of his life. We exchanged email addresses in hopes of continuing our discussion. What was encouraging was that I was comfortable and satisfied participating in that discussion. I am doing the right thing with my life, and that is a very good feeling.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

An Awareness of God part I

It all came together in Florida. I was vacationing with my family, sitting on a small dock in a salt-water lagoon along the inter-coastal waterway on the Gulf of Mexico fishing with my 4-year-old daughter. It was the first time she had tried fishing and she wasn’t disappointed with all the action from the fish. In between baiting the hook and getting her line set I was looking into the clear waters of the lagoon. The mangrove trees were standing on their tiptoe roots, providing plenty of space for shellfish (I think they were a species of oysters) to gather. Small crabs climbed up the pilings of the dock resting above the water line. Below them were funny shaped green and pink tubules that looked to be made of jelly during low tide. Overhead an osprey was diving for his dinner. And it struck – everywhere possible living things strive to thrive and grow. I had been surrounded by nature before, but for the first time I thought about the essence of life in a new way. What if the creation of life so many millions of years ago was not a happy accident in the primordial soup of the ancient oceans? What if it was inevitable? What if, because of the very structure of the fabric of matter, life could not help but come into being? It was a long process for sure, but something as miraculous as living organisms, as the code of life, DNA, can’t be restricted to a timeline comfortable for human experience. I had been reading about super string theory. This theory of matter posits that at the very base of everything, all matter; there are the tiniest of things called strings, which are more like vibrations than anything. These strings make up all matter, and their behaviour creates what we see and feel around us. The theory also creates the existence of 10 or more dimensions, which is something way too intense to go into right now! What is important for what I am trying to say is that beneath everything, beneath the molecules that are made of atoms, which in turn are made of different particles, are these strings. When I linked this idea from modern physics to the philosophies of Baruch Spinoza, which reflected parts of string theory in the seventeenth centaury. Spinoza reasoned that the entire universe emanates inexorably from the immutable core of infinite substance, and that this substance if God. Without getting too bogged down in either theoretical physics or metaphysical philosophy the existence of God is in the very structure of the universe and it’s laws, and the very structure of the universe made the existence of living beings inevitable, since a happy accident could not have survived. In order for life to have begun there would have to have been many, many happy accidents, so many that we cannot call them accidents, but the inevitable result based on the very structure of matter: Spinoza’s substance, super strings, whatever you wish to call it.

I have to say I’ve always been uncomfortable with the notion that God is some narcissistic super natural ghost that zooms around randomly bestowing favours on those who swell His head with praise and punishing those that don’t. I would think that either God would be more mature than a spoiled preschooler and not so limited to a floating ethereal being. For a very long time the idea a God, the existence of God seemed to me to be an academic exercise with little or no bearing on the real world; the world men and women had to live in and make sense of. But the idea of God being so much larger than this, being the very essence of things and the laws that governed them, this impressed itself on my mind. It was not so much that I discovered a belief in God but that I realized God was in action all the time, everywhere, regardless of what I thought, as sure as gravity holds me to the earth and oxygen fills my lungs with each unobserved breath.

It is this inevitability of life which you can see after a forest fire, or attempts by humans to erase a natural setting. Tiny plants force their way in. Insects and rodents make new homes. Life is irrepressible. The very structure beneath life is irrepressible. God is irrepressible. I think as humans were are afflicted with hubris in many forms, and one is that we see ourselves like God, instead of other living things, simpler things like coral. Coral lives, grows then dies, only to serve as the base from which new coral lives and grows. This cycle has allowed coral to spread and continue, and to create an environment in which other living things can exist, even to the extent of creating entire islands! What if we are no better or worse than coral? This is not to diminish all that humans have achieved, but put into perspective the contribution of each of our lives to the greater effect on human kind, good or ill. Do we erode what we were given by those who have gone before us, or do we build on it so that humans, and the other living things we affect, continue and thrive?

An Awareness of God II

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Learning to Pray

If I get accepted into Divinity School I will most likely start course work in this fall. In preparation for this my friend, who is a priest, gave me a book to read, “Under the Unpredictable Plant”, by Eugene Peterson. It was very helpful to get a real worldview of the life and challenges of being a parish pastor. One thing I have come away from the book with is that I must develop my own routines around my own faith and spiritual development. Peterson calls this askesis, or an ascetic practice. Part of this practice is to read and meditate on the book of Psalms each day, something I have started to do. Getting into a new routine with anything is difficult, and even trickier with two pre-school age children in the house. Yet, when I take the time to devote to a Psalm I am rewarded with wonderful poetry and a sense of deeper meaning that I can savor and chew on. I am using a New King James Version of the Bible, which is not everyone’s cup of tea. Sometimes the archaic language proves to be a stumbling block for understanding, but for me, when reading the Psalms it flows with a wonderful elegance, like Shakespeare. From Psalm 9:18-20

For the needy shall not always
Be forgotten;
The expectation of the poor
Shall not perish forever.
Arise, O Lord,
Do not let man prevail;
Let the nations be judged in
Your sight.
Put them in fear, O Lord,
That the nations may know
Themselves to be but men.

Reading this I thought of the hubris of American political intervention and corporate interest. Wow.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005


I have to admit that I have many reservations about becoming a priest. With the strangle hold radical Christians, especially in the Southern United States, have over the Christian vocabulary and presence it is difficult to discuss important issues, like human sexuality, in the context of Christianity without getting weighed down by their absolutist and backward-thinking theology. While there are many kinds of Christians in the world, the ones that permeate the media, both secular and religious, are of the Southern Right-Wing variety, completely skewing the vision of Christianity for the rest of us. Thank-you televangelism and Americn corporate interests. I know that this skew even affected my own faith. It has taken years for me to reclaim what I see as the love and inclusive nature of Christianity from those who fill it with hate, nationalism and bigotry.

After conversations with a friend of mine, who is a priest, I learned my meditated hesitation is a normal part of the process, even after ordination and years of preaching. My hesitation is greatly reduced becoming an Anglican priest, as Anglican theology is quite different from Roman Catholicism, and certainly more inclusive and pluralistic with a decentralized power structure unlike the Vatican. The debate over the blessing of same-sex unions/marriages is an example of how not only is there a difference of opinion within the Anglican Communion, but that these differences are also fully realized. A brief outline of this issue can be found here. Some parts of the Communion have problems with the Ordination of an Anglican Bishop who is also in an active homosexual relationship. This debate gives me hope that there is room for me as a priest in the Anglican Church. I recently read an article that encouraged me in the belief that there are brave and forward thinking leaders in the Anglican Church. A small excerpt:

“The fact that women, children, and homosexual persons not only have been restricted in their participation in the worship and governance of the church, but have also been exploited and suppressed for centuries, cannot be used as a justification to continue these practices. The clear call of the Gospel of our Savior is to fullness of life now, for every child of God.”

I'm also glad to be a Canadian. I am not mired in the bizarre American culture that seems to me to be held hostage by radical, regional Christian groups. I just have to live beside them.

The making of a man of peace

I remember telling my Grandmother when I was 10 or so that I wanted to become a priest. She discouraged me at the time, which was probably a good thing. She was a very devout Anglican, yet I never remember her ever behaving in the self-righteous way too many religious people do. She led her life as an example with no preaching from an over-bearing moralist. She was the first personal influence in my spiritual life.

I also have had other influences in my childhood. The day I was born has had a profound influence on my beliefs. The day I was born Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. When I learned this while in grade school I became intensely interested in the man and his life’s work. And through this I became aware of Mahatma Gandhi and his principles of non-violence and civil disobedience. All this by grade 4.

Later, as I explored my heritage I learned that my father’s family comes from Mennonite stock, a group that also believes in non-violence as part of their spiritual expression. As I reflected on this and the fact that King was a Baptist preacher and Gandhi a devout Hindu, I have come to believe that, for me, the path to social change must be rooted in a deep spiritual faith to have the strength to preserver against evil and the depth to make it last.

Monday, May 23, 2005

I want to become a priest

Probably the weirdest thing you can say to someone in this era of very weird things is, "I want to become a priest." It seems easier to tell someone you're gay, or a recovering drug fiend with a fetish for shoes and aerosol cheese. Why would anyone in his or her right mind want to become a priest!?

All I can do is tell you I do, and that it feels right. I’m 37, am married, have five children, three from a previous marriage. I was raised in a skeptical scientific method perspective of the world, but also in the Anglican Church. I prize both solid analytical thinking and deep exploration of what it truly means to be human.

I have a vast thirst for social justice and am appalled by the loud voice of radical Christianity that is isolationist, intolerant and an apologist for the enslaving industrial consumer society that North America has become. We are constantly reminded of the dangers of radical Islam and how wrong it is, and at the same time news comes from Kansas that the myth of creationism is going to be taught to children as fact in place of scientific investigation.

I have come to this point through many life experiences. The path to become and ordained minister is long. I have to go back to school and get a Masters in Divinity. I also have to be admitted into an ordination program with my local diocese. And I can’t think of anything I’d rather be doing. The Church calls this process of becoming priest discernment.

Applying to Trinity

I'm right in the middle of my application to get back into school. I never completed my BA at the University of Waterloo, so I have to enter the Master's program at Trinity College as a non-degree student. I've received word that Trinity has accepted my application and I am scheduled for an interview with the Dean and staff next month. I'm not anxious about it, maybe a little excited though.

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