Juicy, Juicy Gossip!

Why do we gossip?

About two weeks back I received a phone call from a friend I hadn’t spoken to in ages.  At first the conversation was wonderful, she filled me in on how she was doing, what was new in her life and then she began to share what was happening with some of our friends.   She seemed to have the scoop on everyone and as I listened I began to feel a bit uncomfortable with the conversation.  

Upon reflection I realized my guilt; listening to gossip is as bad as being the one sharing the gossip.  I have taken all three roles; I have been the one gossiping, the one listening and certainly the one being gossiped about.

Why do we gossip?  We know it is wrong, we know it makes us look small, we know often the truth of others is not shared and yet, we do it in all kinds of ways.

I suspect this pandemic has increased our bad habit of gossiping.   To be the one gossiping means we are the one who possesses some juicy information.  This feeds our ego and makes us appear important and for a few minutes we hold a position of superiority and attention getting. We savor this kind of attention.  As social beings we want to be the “top dog”, the one everyone looks to for information.   Given all the isolation of the last 16 months it isn’t surprising that some are filling their need for attention by gossiping even if it is at the expense of the truth.

Also, gossip can be used to create social alliances.  Have you ever noticed that those who gossip tend to hang out together?  The unspoken norm is you can be part of our “group” if you believe and agree with what we say and greater status is given to those who are good at spreading the gossip or those who bring the group new gossip.  Those who choose not to gossip or who question the validity of the information tend not to be accepted by the group, or even worse, become the target of the gossipers.

The saying is true, “Gossip ends at a wise person’s ear.” Those who possess certain wisdom are not usually the ones caught in spreading, listening to or entertaining any form of gossip.

It is my hope we can emerge from this pandemic a wiser, kinder and better version of our pre-pandemic selves.  Let’s make the commitment to be honest in our conversations and careful in our care of each other.

Blessings,

Rev.Heather McCarrel    

Photo by Ben White used with permission/Unsplash

Tread Lightly

“Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless.” – Mother Teresa

My hairdresser has quit!  I assumed the many weeks of being closed was the cause of a career change but was surprised when she shared that she simply could no longer take the abuse of customers.  She said it had become a daily occurrence to have folks arrive to the salon refusing to wear a mask, refusing to book appointments or refusing to follow the COVID-19 protocols of the salon.  And some of those who were able to follow these simple instructions would sit in her salon chair complaining nonstop about everything.

  “Each morning I dreaded coming in and by my lunch break I felt like a weight was on my shoulders.”  So, she took a full time job in a completely different field and no longer deals with the public. 

She is not alone.  It would seem many are fed up with rude and toxic interactions.  I noticed last week a new sign was taped up at the McDonald’s drive thru.  It reads, “We believe in fostering gracious behavior in our restaurants and creating a pleasant environment for both our guests and staff. Please treat our staff with respect and dignity.  McDonald’s reserves the right not to serve abusive customers”

A similar sign went up at a couple of grocery stores in town and the Dollar Stores.

Let’s tread lightly. It has been a long pandemic for everyone. Yelling at the drive thru waitress or the grocery store clerk is not going to solve any of your problems.  I guarantee you will actually feel worse and most definitely so will everyone who heard you.  So, stop it. 

 Do yourself a favor and everyone around you, be kind if for no other reason than the kindness will come back to you! How you treat others is how life will treat you.  As Mother Teresa said, “Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless.”

Choose kindness,

Rev. Heather McCarrel

Minister at Kemble-Sarawak, Zion-Keppel Pastoral Charge

Photo by Matt Collamer,used with permission/ Unsplash

Country “Curing”

Country folks know how to cure each other; healing one another one loaf of bread or fresh baked pie at a time.

Kemble-Sarawak Farm on Georgian Bay

July 1st I arrived as the new minister at a country church: the Kemble-Sarawak, Zion-Keppel Pastoral Charge.   The ministry now runs out of two church buildings, Kemble-Sarawak United Church and Zion-Keppel United Church.  They are located along the foothills of Kemble Mountain, skirting the Kemble Mountain Management Area of the Grey Sauble Conservation Authority. Each morning I drive along panoramic views of Georgian Bay on my way to the churches and marvel at God’s beauty in the picturesque countryside.

The folks of this pastoral charge have warmly welcomed me and my husband.  A masked Welcoming Party surprised me one morning presenting a wicker laundry basket filled to the brim with homemade preserves, jams, wines, ciders, breads, baked goods, Kemble Mountain Maple syrup, Big Bay ice cream gift certificates, and some wonderful books to read.  The basket was so large I could not possibly lift it. Each item given from different members of the churches. I was speechless.  Their generous and sincere welcome brought tears to my eyes.  It is good to be back among country folks! 

Small country churches are big into curing!  All kinds of curing occur, the curing of loneliness, heart break, and illnesses.  They cure each other the best way they know, by the giving of themselves. 

In one country church I served there was a woman who couldn’t tell the story of her husband’s death without crying.  This isn’t surprising except she cried more from gratitude then from her grief.  Now, don’t get me wrong, her husband’s death was the cause of profound pain for her and her family but when she shared how the folks of her country church responded to this death her tears of grief turned into tears of gratitude. 

You see, she and her four children were new to Canada; they had arrived only 2 years earlier.  When her husband died suddenly she was left to raise her children alone in a foreign country.  When news spread of her husband’s death it wasn’t long and folks began to arrive at her front door with casseroles, homemade bread, baked goods and fresh vegetables.  And, it is in this moment of the retelling that she always begins to cry, when autumn arrived the men of the church arrived one morning without warning and by day’s end had brought in all her crops.

She never forgot their generosity of spirit and even 20 years later, when sharing this story; her shoulders would shake from the sobbing. 

Yes, country folks know how to cure, healing each other one loaf of bread or fresh baked pie at a time.

In another church I served a young couple with 3 children had their house burn to the ground one morning.  It was early March and a spark from the wood stove caught something flammable in the kitchen.  By the time the flames were noticed they were jumping through the kitchen window.  Thankfully, the husband, wife and youngest child were in the barn while the two eldest were on the bus heading to school.  They lost everything except each other.

We handed over the keys to our furnished manse, since I wasn’t using it.  Soon folks came from all around with what it took to “cure” this shattered family. Mennonites drove their wagons up the lane way and quietly dropped off roasts of beef, bags of potatoes and boxes of home baked goods.  Pickup trucks carrying new toys, clothes, bedding and even dog food for the two beloved canines arrived. Quickly a Saturday night dance was arranged in the town hall with all proceeds going to aid the family.   It was six months until they returned home; during that time I often witnessed “drop offs” as folks continued to support this family.  One Sunday morning the husband stood in my office door with tears running down his cheeks sharing his gratitude for all that had been done for him and his family.  He said God had saved his family from the fire and the community saved them from despair. 

The author of 1 Peter 3:8 reminds us to “be like minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble” and by doing so, he writes we gain blessing. But, I would add that even more than being blessed we become blessing and by so doing we join God here and now in building up the Kin-dom of God!

Blessings,

Rev. Heather McCarrel

Minister at Kemble & Zion United Churches

I took the photo with this Blog just up the road from Kemble United Church; a view of Georgian Bay behind a farm (June 2021).

The Sum of Our Days

Death can be terribly rude; interrupting a busy and full life.  It is as though she was taken from us mid-sentence. 

I had a friend die of COVID-19.  It was an awful shock; I didn’t even know she had been sick.  It all happened so quickly. 

Death can be terribly rude; interrupting a busy and full life.  It is as though she was taken from us mid-sentence. 

Her absence has caused me to ponder some difficult questions, “How much of my life have I lived?  Is it over 50% ?  Or, maybe the meter is up to 80% already?  Who can know for sure? What is the sum of my days?”  And, “Have I lived a life that reflects what I value most? Or, have I allowed worldly worries to consume me?”

These are tough questions to sit with all alone so I shared them with a few friends and family members.

One friend responded that he valued honesty but then quickly amended his answer with a slight grin admitting, “Well, I value others being honest with me but I know I am not always honest with others.  So, I guess my life does not reflect my values.”

 Now, to be fair this friend, who is in his mid-40s, 2 years ago did something pretty remarkable.  He left a high paying position of prestige and power and took a de-promotion because he was tired of being under so much stress. He noticed he hardly ever laughed and decided that was much too high a price to pay.  He shared that he actually doesn’t miss the extra income as much as he imagined and no one could pay him to go back to all that stress.  “In fact,” he said, “I feel bad for those left behind in the rat race; they have no idea what price they are paying.”

Another friend answered that she values her family above all else but upon reflection confessed, “I value family but most of the time I spend with my kids my head is still at work.  I am thinking about the next project or I am upset about whoever angered me at work that day.  Rarely am I actually 100 % present with my family.” This realization hit her hard and she too made some changes.

What about you?  What do you value?  Are these values reflected in your life? What is the sum of your days?

As we slowly return to a post pandemic life it is time to evaluate what we want to pick up again and what can be left behind.  This moment, right now, is ripe with the opportunity to decide the sum of our days.  We should choose well, because who knows how much time is left?

Blessings,

Rev. Heather McCarrel

Photo by Sunbeam Photography used with permission/Unsplash

Bewildering Beauty

Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass, its learning to dance in the rain.

My daughter got married on Saturday! Despite the pandemic, severe thunderstorm warnings and the touch down of a tornado, it was a day of bewildering beauty.

It was exactly 9 years ago Saturday, June 26th, that my daughter and her new husband had their first date.  Over a year ago, when they realized this date fell on a Saturday, they announced their intention to mark this most important anniversary with Holy Matrimony.

A wedding liturgy was created by the two of them full of prayers, blessing and gratitude to their Great Creator. 

After much deliberation, the ceremony was set to occur at a covered picnic shelter perched on a pier surrounded by Georgian Bay.  The morning of the big day we gathered and filled the picnic shelter with tiny white lights and loosely wrapped white netting to create a heavenly vibe. The green carpeting invited the green glow from outside in, while blue tables covered with white lace, topped with lit lanterns and flowers of many colours added a rich elegance. A white wicker table and matching chair placed with a pot of tall lavender added much to the already divine setting.  

As the ceremony began, we stood inside the picnic shelter while an otherworldly mist hung over the water under a sky of swirling blue and grey tones. A small group gathered to witness this most special moment.  Only 10 close family members were inside the picnic shelter and others had paddled over in either a kayak or a canoe, each minding the COVID rules of distancing!  As the presiding minister, I purposely spoke loud enough so to be heard both on and off shore.

With the aid of a cell phone and several Bluetooth speakers, lovely music could be heard during both the ceremony and the time of celebration that followed!  A local restaurant prepared a lovely meal, which was delivered in individual boxes for each guest, right down to the fresh berry-laden cheesecake.

Each photo is enhanced by the moody sky, misty air and the ever-changing bay waters.  We did not have heavy rain nor were there strong winds; the Good Lord himself cupped his hands over and around the picnic shelter. We were greatly blessed.

As the day began to draw to a close and the picnic shelter filled with laughter and dancing, I marveled at this young couple and knew they have all it takes to travel the many twists and turns life will present. For, as it is written, “Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass, its learning to dance in the rain.”  

Blessings,

Rev. Heather McCarrel

Luminous Moments

Every life is braided with luminous moments.

“Do you have time to go for a drive?”  He added, “There is something really cool I want to show you.”

Within minutes we were driving out of town, up winding country roads and down narrow one-lane goat trails until we arrived at our destination.  As we closed the car doors, he explained that what stood before me was most likely one of the oldest tree I will ever see.  It was remarkable!  A tall, wide and stately Elm, which in itself is a rarity in these parts. Did you know Elm trees can grow upwards to 120 feet tall?

Reverently we walked toward this ancient tree and as I laid my palm upon the bark my son explained how, by chance, he came upon this old tree tucked in the edge of an untouched ancient forest along the curve of an old country lane-way.

My son had spent a summer working for the Grey Sauble Conservation Authority, and it was the wee creek that ran beside that tree that had brought him out to this forgotten place.  He was tasked with the job of gathering water samples from all the little, out-of-the-way waterways.

The tall grass and over grown vines told me that not many had traveled by this marvelous tree, which made me admire it even more; a hidden gem!   Perhaps its hidden place had protected it from the dreaded Dutch Elm Disease.

This old tree has grown so old it is now starting to part in two. Down the middle of its trunk was a large dark cervix measuring somewhere between 4 feet high to 2 feet wide.  With a tone of wonder I said, “Look, it is a doorway to another dimension.  Perhaps we would find Narnia if we dared to enter!”

My son’s days of such fantastic play are well behind him; I hope only for a time.  He turned and got back into the car but I didn’t want to leave quite yet- the tree and I had just met.  I tried to walk the width of the tree but could not due to the bushes and vines that have grown up around it. I stood in silence trying to imagine all the history this tree had lived through and then, as a final gesture, I ran my hand through its large rippled leaves.

As we drove away I thanked my son for introducing me to this fine old tree and he shared that the day he discovered it he too stood in awe of its beauty and size, “isn’t nature full of amazing surprises?”

John O Donohue, Catholic Priest and poet, was wide awake to God’s beauty in nature.  In his book,  “The Invisible Embrace: Beauty” he writes, “Every life is braided with luminous moments.” 

As we move back into the busyness of life may we remember to pause long enough to look around for God’s beauty and to be moved by God’s luminous moments!

Blessings,

Rev. Heather McCarrel

Father’s Day

Would you rather meet God alone in an elevator or in a crowd on the street?

This story is being shared in honour of Pride Month and also in honour of Father’s Day, it is shared with permission. 

He was one of 14 youth who had gathered that morning.  All were struggling with life in one way or another, and I had been asked to come and speak about spirituality.

We moved the chairs into the middle of the room, with the sectional couch making up the lion’s share of our attempted circle.  Some lounged on the sectional, while others sat rigid on the chairs, and two nervously paced the room.

For the ice breaker, I had prepared a game of “Would You Rather?”  Asking questions such as “Would you rather be able to fly or be invisible?” and everyone would share their answers.  As we moved along in the game, I deliberately made the questions more thought provoking; “Would you rather go without your cell phone or laptop?”, “Would you rather meet God alone in an elevator or in a crowd on the street?”

This last question brought much discussion and several of those lounging sat up. One of those sitting on a chair jumped to his feet and boisterously answered, “Oh I would want God alone, he has a lot to answer for!” Many echoed similar sentiments. 

I ventured to say, “You can have God alone, any time you want.  Does anyone know what I am talking about?”  They blankly looked back at me. “I am talking about prayer.”

After all the laughter and joking ended, I said “I am serious.  How many of you have ever uttered a prayer to God?”

“I have told God to F-Off lots of time!” One youth offered, others either laughing or nodding in agreement.

After much discussion, I offered to end our time in a collective prayer with everyone helping. I started,  

“Dear Creator, we know you are here with us but sometimes you seem so silent, so absent that it is hard for us to believe you even exist. Today we come to you in prayer, each of us bringing our own stuff.  Please listen now as we share our stuff with you….”.

I then tossed a tennis ball to the youth beside me. After she added a short line she then passed the ball along; this happened until all who wanted to add to our prayer had done so.

I ended the prayer saying, “Thank-you God, Father and Mother of us all.  May we feel your peaceful and loving arms around us as we go from here today.  Amen.”

They silently got up and left the room, except one youth who had curled up in the corner of the sectional.  He sobbed so loudly it seemed to embarrass him. He tried to stifle his anguish.

I moved my chair a bit closer and quietly asked “Do you want to talk?”

“I have never prayed before and it hit me in my gut. It hit me hard.”  He sniffed then added “You called God my Father, but I hate my Father. He beat me every chance he got.  He said he was beating “the gay” out of me. But he never did succeed; I’m still gay.”

My heart hit my throat and I almost teared up.   

He continued, “If God is like my dad then I want nothing to do with him.”

I nodded, what he said made sense. Who wants an abusive and cruel God?

Quietly I said, “You are wonderfully made by a great God.  You are one of God’s masterpieces and God loves you.”   

He froze at the thought, trying to absorb the meaning of my words.

Continuing I suggested, “Perhaps God could be your new Father. The one who loves you deeply, never leaves you and is always listening.”

“Yeah, maybe.”  He said

Then after a silent pause he added, “I like that idea.  God as my Father, that does help me feel better.”

He asked for a Bible, so I gave him one marking the sections he should read first, and before we parted, we again shared in a prayer.

A couple of months later I bumped into him. He looked entirely different!  His big smile told me he was well.  He informed me he had his own apartment, was going to the local college and had a part time job.

“My new Father and I talk daily, I have been reading his books and you have no idea how much of a difference it has made.”

Actually, just by looking at him, I had a pretty good idea what a difference it was making.

Every year, when Father’s Day rolls around, I think of this young man and say a prayer in his honour, hoping him and his new Father are still in daily conversation!

Blessings,

Rev. Heather McCarrel

Photo by Dulcey Lima/Unsplash

What’s A Weed?

There is nothing more beautiful than a lawn taken over by dandelions!

Once I read that the best way to keep your lawn weed free was by keeping it thick with grass; by seeding regularly it keeps the lawn too thick for weeds to land, root and take over.

So, I seeded my lawn yesterday.  There was no fertilizer or hours spent replenishing the soil before seeding. I simply walked the length and width of my yard with a hand held seeder releasing the seeds as evenly as I could. Once the seeds were down I then stomped around my yard pressing the seeds into the soil so they would stay put.  As I did so several neighbors drove by, honked their horns and waved, presumably mumbling, “What is she up to now?”

Thing is, I actually like weeds!  To me there is nothing more beautiful than a lawn taken over by dandelions and I have a rule, if it is green it can grow on my lawn.  However, my neighbors feel differently.

One summer a neighbor, who has an obvious green thumb, was discovered standing in the middle of my front lawn remorsefully looking around. I watched from my front window knowing it could not be good news.  Sure enough a plant by the name “Creeping Charlie” had taken root in my lawn and was now creeping over to his lawn.  I was handed a tub and instructed upon its use so to end Charlie’s travels.

I handed it back courageously and said, “Charlie is welcome here!”  Apparently my neighbor isn’t as inclusive!  (I have a hard rule against chemical warfare)

To be fair this neighbor’s yard and flower beds are so impressive his house has been on the “Tour of Gardens” and he spends many a summer evening giving ‘wanna be’ gardeners lessons.   My yard is “the vain of his existence” but, I would like to offer a re-framing.  Anyone can grow beautiful flowers in perfect conditions.  My yard is like the ultimate challenge; it proves what a pro he really is.  He should be thanking me!

He is a good and kind neighbor and as Jesus so clearly instructed, the most important commandment is to love the Lord you God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.  The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” (Matthew 13:29-31)

So for my neighbor’s sake I seeded my lawn yesterday.  As I marched up and down my front lawn I did so with a bit more gusto then required with hopes all would notice my efforts at keeping Charlie and the dandelions out!

Blessings,

Rev. Heather McCarrel

Photo by Steven Cordes/Unsplash

The Call of 215 Children

Let’s commit now to being what the church should have been then. 

The discovery this past week of the remains of 215 children at the site of a former residential school in Kamloops, British Columbia, has left me reeling, grieved and ashamed.  This unthinkable and horrendous act didn’t happen in some far-off place, but right here within my own country.  And my fear is more graves of this kind may be found once they begin to look closer at other residential schools. 

What adds to my shame is that these residential schools were led by the churches, in the name of God.  As one who loves the church and as one who is a representative of the church, I feel sick.   The God I worship is one of love, inclusion and respect; the acts of these residential schools do not, in any form, represent the God I have gotten to know within my Christian faith.  

“What can I do now?”  I asked myself. 

 I want to make right that which can’t be made right.  I can’t go back and change what has happened, but I can live differently now in light of the knowledge of the past.  I can commit to being now what the church should have been then: respecting differences, seeking understanding, supporting each other and listening deeply. I want to live exactly as Jesus teaches in the Golden Rule “To do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” (Matthew 7:12, Luke 6:31)

 It is my hope to be one who holds space for my First Nations, Metis and Inuit neighbors. When we hold space for others, we open our hearts, offer unconditional support and let go of judgement and control. Thich Nhat Hanh teaches that Compassionate Listening is when “You listen not to judge or blame. You listen just because you want the other to suffer less.”

As a white woman of privilege I can scarcely begin to understand what it means to be a First Nations, Metis or Inuit person in today’s world, but I do desire to do my part to lessen the suffering and aid in changing the future.   I commit myself to compassionate listening, remaining open, ready to learn, to advocate on behalf of and to make changes, especially beginning with my own attitudes and perspectives.

The shame I carry is my own, for all those times I have chosen to look the other way, but these 215 children have called beyond the grave for us to either participate in their story and learn a better way or to continue carrying shame. The choice is ours.

Rev. Heather McCarrel

The photo with this Blog was taken by Aurelien Lemasson-Theobald used with permission/Unsplash

The Handbook on Lock Down Living

It is not how much we have, but how much we enjoy, that makes us happy.

In his book, The Little Book of Hygge: the Danish Way to Live Well, Meik Wiking from the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen shares research on what brings enduring happiness.  Interestingly, what he discovers would make the perfect handbook for those of us still living these pandemic days in places of government regulated “stay at home” restrictions. 

The very word, hygge, according to Wiking, means “as creating a feeling of home.  A feeling that we are safe, that we are shielded from the world and allow ourselves to let our guard down.”  Wiking has discovered that what brings lasting happiness isn’t material possessions and job promotions but instead the simple things of life that create hygge in our home- lit candles, coffee and dessert, a good book, a quiet nook for reflection, sitting by the window with a good cup of tea watching the weather change, and enjoying a crackling campfire.

Thankfully, this book came into my possession just as COVID-19 was arriving back in March 2020.  After reading Wiking’s findings I decided to create hygge in my home.  That night at supper I announced we were about to embark on a new experiment.  We were going to purposely cultivate happiness in our home despite the pandemic.  Then immediately after grace was shared, I lit a candle. Every evening since a candle has been lit at our dinner table. Apparently, true hygge cannot be reached without candle light!   

Also, as instructed by Wiking, I started to brew coffee just before supper with the aroma filling the kitchen. And as instructed we began to have dessert every evening.  It was mandatory for this experiment to be complete, so dessert has been served daily. Sometimes it is just a store-bought cookie or, more recently, a seasonal treat as we make our way around a strawberry rhubarb pie.

The post-supper coffee has been scaled down to merely a ¾ cup as we discovered our aging bodies do not tolerate caffeine in the evening so well, keeping us up well beyond our usual bedtimes.  However, that small cup of coffee has become a routine part of watching the evening news, a warm comfort as I listen to all the happenings around the world.

We also created a comfy nook in our home, a hyggekrog.  This simple space was created around our fireplace and as instructed there is no technology. Instead, just comfortable chairs and a table covered with excellent books.  This small space has become big in our home; a place of conversations and quiet reflection. 

As we are coming to the end of this third and last lock down and nearing the “new beginning” of vaccine living, I have wondered if it is necessary to continue our hygge habits.   One afternoon, while sitting around our hyggekrog, I posed the question and after some conversation it was decided that hygge living is here to stay. These simple every day practices anchor us in the decision to be happy.  Happiness, much like joy, doesn’t happen by accident.  It is a deliberate practice to be happy.

Besides, I think the best way to praise God is to spend our days happy with what we have been given. As Charles Spurgeon once said, “It is not how much we have, but how much we enjoy, that makes us happy.”

Blessings,

Rev. Heather McCarrel

The photo was taken by Margaret Jaszowska used with permission/Unsplash