Rector’s Blog

Rev Canon Michael Greene

Last Wednesday, February 6th, Michael Greene joined the “great cloud of witnesses” above after a lifetime of fruitful ministry here below.

My personal debt to him is enormous.

I attended a summer course at Oxford in the summer of 1982. Before I left Dr. Kinlaw encouraged me to attend St Aldates Church while I was there.  I did.  It was the turning point of my life in so many ways, and though I did not know it at the time, the start of my journey into the Anglican Way.

Canon Greene was the Vicar of St Aldates, a parish packed with university students, many of whom he had personally led to faith through is “Atheists Bible Study” on Thursday nights.

I had never experienced anything like my first service there.  It was my first exposure to a blend of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, plus might old hymns, combined with spell-binding expository preaching, and the Eucharist accompanied by beautiful contemporary choruses.  The whole thing was brimming with Abundant Life!  And I was surrounded by young people my age.

Here is a very meaningful short video, made just over a year ago, when he was 86 years old, still on fire for Christ.  It is a perfect message for us here at St Peter’s.

Living With Disappointment

Have you ever been disappointed by someone?

Of course the answer for all of us is, “Yes.”  It would take only a moment to make a list. Our disappointments lie close to the surface, along with other painful memories.

Do you tend to put people on pedestals or idealize institutions?  Are you prone to hero-worship? Do you have a tendency to trust?  Does “hope spring eternal” in your heart? If so, then you have really suffered.

Some of us quit expecting much out of our sorry race a long time ago. Since then people have consistently lived up to our low expectations. But even hard-core cynics get disappointed sometimes.

How we respond to our disappointments determines the course of our lives perhaps more than any other single factor.  Take a few quiet moments to go through your list, and remember how you responded to each one.  If you are like me, some of your worst decisions were unwise responses to disappointments.

Looking back the other day, I was distressed to see how much I have allowed the failures, weaknesses, blunders and sins of others to damage my life.  “Allowed?”  Yes!  More than allowed. I chose.

I chose to allow disappointments to wreck my college experience.  I was young and immature with high ideals and unrealistic expectations, ripe for a let down.  And of course it came.

I wish a trusted mentor had come along with a simple question: “OK, they let you down. Are you going to choose to allow their failures to keep you from reaching your goals?”

In fact someone may have tried to tell me that.  I don’t remember.  If they did, I shut them out, preferring unconsciously to be a victim.  Instead of renewing my own desires and purposes I became an expert in other people’s problems–as they seemed to me.

Crazy? Yes.

Costly? Beyond measure.

I wish I could say that was the only time.  It was a big one, but I have chosen to respond similarly to scores of other disappointments, allowing the shortcomings of others to set the course of my life. My life!

The best way to minimize the chances of this happening is to have a clear and compelling goal, something we see so clearly and want so badly that we will allow nothing to stand in our way.  Certainly not the weaknesses of someone else!

But there is a second key, just as important: accepting that in the face of disappointment I always have a choice.  For some reason this truth is often very difficult to take.

There are always a number of possible responses, and we will choose one of them.  Not choosing is not an option.  And choosing to believe we don’t have a choice is the most destructive choice of all.

What about when we disappoint ourselves?  I’m disappointed with myself for the way I responded to my earlier disappointments. Ugh! These things can layer up.

How will our past failures, blunders and sins shape our lives from now on?  That is largely ours to decide.

Will we choose to wallow in regret, self-pity, anger or despair? It’s hard to imagine choosing any of those options, but many do.

Will we choose to look for someone else to analyze and blame?  If we lack a compelling goal, probably so. Or if our deeper goal is to avoid responsibility at all costs–a very costly goal indeed.

In Christ we are invited to expect great things for ourselves and others.  That is as it should be.  But along the way we will disappoint each other.  We will disappoint ourselves. We might even disappoint God, though He is pretty hard to surprise.

We will not live up to each other’s hopes and expectations, or our own.  Sometimes we won’t live up to our explicit commitments.  We will certainly not realize all our potential — for evil as well as good, thankfully.

How will we choose to respond to these failures?  Do we have a compelling vision that will keep us pressing on, like St. Paul, no matter what? Or will we get side-tracked, de-railed, stuck?

Let’s decide to allow nothing — not others, not ourselves — to keep us from realizing Christ’s purposes for us in His Kingdom. When His purposes become our compelling vision and His Kingdom our ultimate reality we have something durable to carry us through failure.

Choose to seize every disappointment and make it sharpen your focus, strengthen your resolve, activate your creativity, and take you into deeper communion with Him.

Can we choose to support each other in this vision?


Philippians 3:13-14

But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead,      I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 

 

 

 

 

 

Bad Advice

Have you ever gotten bad advice, the kind that actually cost you something?  You look back and wonder why you trusted that advisor.  Chances are you won’t go back to them again.

Have you ever given bad advice?  It’s painful when our best efforts end up causing pain or loss for someone who trusted us enough to seek our counsel and act on it.  Sometimes the trust is broken forever, even though they knew we meant well.

We trust those we believe to be competent and to have good character; they know what they are talking about and they have our best interests at heart.  If either (or both) of those assumptions prove mistaken, trust evaporates.  Of course, incompetence is easier to forgive than evil intentions. But either way, we probably won’t go back for more.

Have you ever given bad advice to yourself?  What does that do to trust?

It’s funny how many chances we give ourselves to get it right after getting it wrong so often.  For some reason our trust in ourselves is more durable than our trust in others.  We are amazingly loyal. Perhaps it is just too frightening to imagine that we are unreliable, even though part of us already knows it is true.

Proverbs 3: 5-6 contrasts two sources of advice:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart;
do not depend on your own understanding.
Seek his will in all you do,
and he will show you which path to take.

Proverbs 14:12 is even more sobering:

There is a way that seems right to a man,
but its end is the way to death.

Have you ever thought of the media as advice?  That’s really what it is.  Advice about what to buy, what to want, what to fear, what is cool, what is right, what to think, how to position yourself for the future, and of course, who to trust. We are being advised all the time.

Advisors who are far from competent, and who we can be sure have only THEIR best interest at heart chatter at us all the time.  I often hear people express amazement at the terrible decisions we see being made all around us.  But it’s really no mystery.  Bad advice.

The media has a knack for making us think we are sophisticated and wise, and that we are the ones making the decision.

Filtering the constant barrage of advice coming our way every waking hour is a daunting task.  But nothing will determine the course of our lives more that the advisors we choose, and the ones we reject.

I would like to encourage all of us to consider seriously our own fallibility and the high price of taking bad advice and giving bad advice to those who are counting on us.

The following exercise will take a lot of courage, but I believe some of you will try it. Pay attention for a few days and calculate the ratio of time you spend consuming media, from all sources, compared to time you spend actively seeking God’s counsel in His Word and prayer.

If that is too frightening, try this.  Ask yourself what you would like for that ratio to be for me, your pastor.

I’ve lived long enough to distrust myself, and the advisors I would naturally chose.  How about you?

 

 

 

“There is a Man (or Woman)”

I want to share something that I have been doing. The results have been amazing.

We know that whenever we are caught up in a strong emotion, like fear or anger, the feeling consumes our consciousness, and our responses are automatic, often to our great embarrassment.

After a moment our body begins to speak to us. We notice what is already happening — increased heart rate, respiration, sweaty palms, etc.

Once we realize that we are feeling something, we can start to identify what we are feeling.  Upon reflection we can say, “I’m afraid.” “I’m mad.” “I’m sad.” Whatever.

Now that the feeling has a name that makes sense of our sensations we find they have lost some intensity.  The emotion no longer “has” us; we are having the emotion. We can talk about it with ourselves and others. Order is emerging from chaos at last.

That’s progress! Until recently I never went any farther. But there is another step.  Strange as it seems, it really works.

Instead of saying, “I am afraid, (or whatever),” I say, “There is a man who is feeling afraid.”

When we shift from the first person to the third person it flips a switch in the brain — in my brain, anyway.  Of course I know that I am the man, but by stating it like that I am now looking in from the outside.

I look down on myself “from the balcony.”  I see myself as an actor on a stage, or perhaps as a character in a story.  “There he is–that guy–down there.  Look at him. He is really afraid.”

This activates our curiosity. The emotional intensity is further diminished.  We have a greater sense of control.

But there is one more step, and this is where the treasure lies.

“There is a man who is feeling very afraid.  What should he do now?”

The path to victory lies in that question. Each word is significant.  Start with “he.”

When we are caught up in an emotion we tend to fixate on what someone else should do for us, or fume over what someone else did to us.  But now “that guy” has our full attention.

Somehow I find it easier to come up with more options for “him” than for me.  “What should I do now?” can be intimidating.  “That guy” can help me sneak up on personal responsibility.

Looking at his problem creates a safe distance and enables me to think better.  It is amazing how quickly three or four things will come to mind, all good options.  Then I get to decide which one is best.

By the time we get to this place we are operating almost entirely in the “smart part” of our brain.  We are no longer on reflex.  The world is bigger. We no longer feel trapped.

We are now in a position to coach “that guy,” to be his friend, his counselor.  We are getting ready for action.

“What should he do?”

As we move from a passive to an active stance it only takes a moment to tell which options are more likely to get him where he wants to go, and which will only make things worse.

“Now!”

That little word hits me like the report of the starting pistol. Go!

There is always something he (I) can do, right now.  We are released.  We do not have to wait for anything or anyone.

Thanks to our little friend–that guy, that gal–we are moving, and in an intentional direction.

That’s it.

But isn’t  going “up in your head” like that just a form of denial?  I suppose it could be, but not necessarily.

Sometimes we will decide that the healthy choice is to go back into the emotion and deal with it at that level. “There is a man who is feeling very sad. What should he do now?”  “He should find a place, maybe a friend, and cry (or curse) it out.”

Sometimes I have found that taking action leads me right out of the problem.  Sometimes it turns out that the emotion was nothing more than a by product of passivity and hesitation all along. Once I got active and intentional again it evaporated.

Well, that’s my story.  I have been trying this for a couple of weeks now.  So far so good.  It is making a huge difference.