Interview with Carolyn Pogue

INTERVIEW WITH CAROLYN POGUE

Carolyn Pogue is an author and longtime contributor to Mandate magazine and The United Church Observer. Her blog, Sightings, appears regularly in the Observer at www.ucobserver.org/pogue_blog Carolyn’s latest book, Rock of Ages, is an ecological love story. She lives in Calgary, Alberta with her mate, Rev. Bill Phipps. To learn more, please visit www.carolynpogue.ca

Welcome Carolyn! We are so glad you have joined us. For those new to the interview format, I am going to ask Carolyn a handful of questions and she is going to post her responses. Then, I’m going to open the Facebook “floor” to anyone who is joining us to ask questions of their own. Here we go…

Trisha Elliott You write about child hunger in Charity Is Not Enough. “We need the political will to turn the world around for kids,” you write. The United Church often gets slammed for being overly involved in politics. Is politics the church’s business?

Carolyn Pogue Politics is everyone’s business. Politics shapes how we care for one another and the world, care for our environment, spend our money, who we shoot and kill, how we imprison people… everything. Jesus didn’t sit on the sidelines and watch the world fall apart because he didn’t want to be political.

I understand that the church can lose its charitable status if the institution is seen as too political, yada, yada. But that doesn’t mean we must sit mum. All people of faith need to ask tough questions about what we value, attend debates, write letters. We need to ask our political leaders to state their values. And, we need to vote!

Trisha Elliott In Longing For Home, you raise a number of concerns related to child well-being. I recall a brief conversation with you at the last General Council in Ottawa. You were concerned then about how few children were present. What do you think is at stake if children are not present at meetings of the wider court?

Carolyn Pogue I think that children should see how the church operates and I think that adults who are making decisions that will affect children should see children there, remember whose church it is, and have a conversation with a child and/or teen about what’s going on.

As an author, I get to go into schools and listen to the concerns of children. They aren’t just worried about dances and dates. They are concerned about pollution, war, animal rights, gay rights… I wish more adults had a chance to listen. Take a look at what Craig Keilberger has done at Free the Children to learn about children’s passions and work.

Trisha Elliott The children’s conversation in church services often comes under fire by child advocates who think it’s too much of a horse and pony show, that children are put on display and ridiculed. As a child advocate, do you think there any aspects of the role of children in congregational life that we need to re-think?

Carolyn Pogue We likely started having a “Children’s Time,” is because the minister, in the black robe and white collar was seen as strange and intimidating for kids. So, ministers stepped away from the pulpit to show the kids that really, they are kindly souls after all.

I cringe when I see children at the front listening to something that is meant to make the adults laugh, or when a child is set up to give a particular answer.

We don’t need this anymore.

Why not ask children how they’d like to participate; ask teens what they think?

Trisha Elliott You write about how merciful Aboriginal people are to welcome you, a “settler descendant” into healing and sharing circles. “May I learn from this mercy,” you pray. We don’t hear much talk about “mercy” anymore. It’s not a word that’s in vogue. Does “mercy” need to be recovered?

Carolyn Pogue Yes, recovering mercy in our language would be good, along with generosity, tenderness, humility and compassion. Using the word caught your attention. I hope it catches the attention of others so we might think together about how, even though we don’t …

Trisha Elliott “God, you must be weary of sending angels,” you write. Angels are popularly imagined wearing glowing white gowns and sporting wings and halo. Is this a helpful way to imagine angels? What’s an angel?

Carolyn Pogue Ah, lovely question. Wouldn’t it be interesting to have everyone submit their own image of an angel? For my mother, an angel was “like a shadow I could see just out of the corner of my eye”. The angel brought her comfort in hospital. I wrote about my own angel experience in a recent blog (on the Observer website).

I asked about angels in a church art class I’m taking. The answers were varied, but everyone had an angel story. Some think that angels can even be animals. The Creator is creative after all — and so sends angels of mercy, comfort, warning who can deliver the message. I recently painted a picture of a pregnant angel…. not sure where she came from. Nova Scotia artist Geoff Butler wrote and illustrated a wonderful book called The Look of Angels. On the cover, an angel sits shivering on a winter rooftop: shut out.

Trisha Elliott You write about your great grandmother, an unwed mother living in England in the 1880’s. You recount the story of how your grandmother was sent to a girl’s home and then was shipped to Canada without having opportunity to say goodbye to her mother. In a letter to her daughter, your great-grandmother quoted Isaiah: ‘Do not fear…for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” I can’t imagine what aspects of my faith I would turn to in that situation. What aspects of faith buoy you in times of personal crisis?

Carolyn Pogue The stories buoy me — stories of our biblical ancestors who hit the wall, but got up to try again, or screamed at God, but found forgiveness. Jesus stories that help us understand God, mercy, justice and peace. And stories of people of faith like Lester Pearson, Mahatma Gandhi, Poundmaker, Lois Wilson, Mairaid Corrigan, the Dalai Lama. Stories told by survivors of the Holocaust, of wars in Central America or Sudan. Stories of peacemakers, artists, healers.

I write about this more in the Sightings blog which will be posted in the Observer online tomorrow.

Trisha Elliott In your Good Friday reflection, you write about your son’s sudden death and how you identify with Mary who “left her son there on that bloody hilltop and walked down that long, rocky path without him.” After your loss, what helped you walk on?

Carolyn Pogue About a month after my son died, I drove to the countryside south of Edmonton where we lived. It was freezing cold, January. I cannot describe how furious I was, furious he’d been ill, furious that he suffered and then died. I made an appointment with God. I needed to say exactly what I thought of all this.

I parked the car and walked across a snowy field to the poplar trees. Inside the grove I screamed, cursed and raged — against God, against life, against this searing pain that was drowning me. In a fury, I picked up a stick as big around as my arm and I hit a tree, over and over and over. I have no idea how long I did that. Until I was finished, I guess.

But then suddenly, there was singing, chanting really. I was sitting on a log. And the stick, still in my hand, was beating gently on the ground in time to the singing.

The singing was my own voice. I was at once empty and full. And I knew without a doubt that I was held in the arms of God. And I knew that Mary was right there, singing with me.

That was more than 20 years ago. Sometimes I forget being held like that. Thank you for this reminder.

Trisha Elliott Thank you for that response, Carolyn Pogue. And for all of your responses. I’m turning it over to those who are joining us live now. Does anyone listening in or “reading in” have questions for Carolyn?

Eric Lukacs Hi Caroline…. I am a minister who has become very interested in restoring some sense of inter-generational living…. There is a thought out there that “baby boomers” have been too self centered to promote a true sharing of thoughts, feelings and resources. Your thoughts?

Donna Sinclair Carolyn.. Thank you for this interview and the wide and tender range of your concerns. How do you keep them all in your heart at the same time?

Carolyn Pogue Interesting question. I’m a boomer myself…. I care deeply about intergenerational living. Maybe the question is how do we recover or create it? What are you doing in your congregation about this?

Eric Lukacs Our children’s time is actually a sharing between the sunday school and the congregation. A volunteer talks to the kids about their lesson (sermon) and one of the kids talks about their lesson. This happens at the end of the service

Carolyn Pogue Donna, your heart just gets bigger, I guess! My daughter was pregnant with her 2nd child and she worried if she could love the next one as much as she loved the first one…. I was amazed! But Donna, you have all those concerns too. I read your Book of Days most mornings. You buoy me up for the work.

Carolyn Pogue Eric, that sounds like an interesting format. I’d love to see it in action.

Alydia Rae Smith My heart also breaks everytime I see a children’s time that objectives the children present. It is disrespection, demeaning and breaks my heart. I appreciate your statement Carolyn that they may no longer be necessary. Perhaps each community needs to evaluate why they are doing children’s times and if they cannot do it well, maybe the shouldn’t.

Aaron Gallegos Thank you Carolyn. I’m still trying to stop the goose bumps after reading your response about the grove and being held in arms of God. Thanks…just want I needed to read at this time.

Carolyn Pogue Back t o Donna…. sometimes we do have to t ake a break. I just did. A bone in my wrist, so this typing is slow because of my Lent-coloured cast.

Eric Lukacs Carolyn…. My experience has been that it takes the adults longer to open up than the kids… and then… its magic.

Carolyn Pogue Thank you, Aaaron.

Jeff Doucette Carolyn…I am interested in how to get away from sending the young people out. I continue to try and push to have our young people back for communion, to stay in for baptisms. I wish congregations could understand that it is like making the children eat at kid tables…it goes against hospitality and especially if you are an Affirming congregation like ours…well it smacks of you have no real place with the adults.

Eric Lukacs Carolyn… we talk alot about how we in the church may have lost touch with the rest of society. What, in your expeience, is the biggest misconception that the “rest of society” has about the united church?

Eric Lukacs or church in general?

Matt Gallinger Carolyn – I’d be interested to hear what you think about the role for the PKs. I have young children (oldest is 11), and they like to be with me on the chancel. That has been a source of considerable tension for my Congregation. What have your experiences been with PKs, and how they interact with the preacher parent during the service?

Carolyn Pogue Jeff, I like your sensitivity to how the kids might be feeling. Have you asked them how they feel about being sent out? Maybe the solution can come from them?

Kim McNaughton Carolyn, thank you for sharing some of “how you walked on” after your son died. I was reading lately a piece by Sarah LaRosa entitled “Beautiful Broken Things.” It speaks to how when we are broken eventually there is rest because truthfully we get to a place where we are “done”, we can’t “do” anything. I quote, “This blessed, beautiful brokenness is the prayer that summons the spirit, calls forth the angels, lays us down gently.”

Carolyn Pogue Eric, the “rest of society” needs to know that we are not dead and that we don’t hate people. What’s on the signage outside your church? What does it tell people is going on inside? If a nonchurch person or a person from another denomination walked past, wha t would they think happens in there? If you don’t know, perhaps you can do a survey. I’m serious.

Eric Lukacs That is a GREAT idea. (The survey)

Kim McNaughton and Eric, how about one the kids gets to ask an adult about their lesson that Sunday and an adult gets to tell what they learned.

Carolyn Pogue Matt, I attend a church where the minister has a 4 year old. I’ve never asked, but it seems that the rule is that she leaves Sunday School during the last hymn and is allowed to walk up the aisle and into her daddy’s arms. And there she st ays while he says the benediction. It’s very sweet. As for running around, I’d suggest giving them some responsibility. Reading, performing Scripture, whatever they and you can dream up. I was given a lot of responsibility as a kid and I loved it. It likely helped keep me in the church.

Matt Gallinger Thanks, Carolyn.

Alydia Rae Smith Thanks soo much everyone for the heartfelt conversation

Trisha Elliott Thank you for joining us Carolyn Pogue. For those who are reading Carolyn’s words here and crave more (I know I do), check out her most recent book “Rock Of Ages.” You can purchase it here: http://rockofagesnwt.com/…/product…/rock-of-ages-book/

Trisha Elliott UCRD carries Rock Of Ages as well and you can check out Carolyn’s website here: http://carolynpogue.ca/

Jeff Doucette Thanks Carolyn…I will do that this Sunday.

Carolyn Pogue This was fabulous. Thank you so much everyone for great comments and questions. And thank you, UCPH for the opportunity to contribute to the book. Blessings on your journeys through Lent.

Kim McNaughton Eric, I misread your comment about childrens’ time in your church, I see you do already what I was suggesting. Really great idea.

Longing For Home Video 4

Here are some questions to ponder about the Monderator’s message this week:

Where is “eternal life” found in the present? Have you ever had an experience that felt eternal, like it had no bounds? Perhaps a moment of healing, or connection, or insight?

What do you think about evil? Are you comfortable talking about it? Are you a black and white person, or more familiar with gray? Can you think of evils in our world today that need to be illuminated so they can be transformed?

What Really Matters

Yesterday the gosepl reading was from John 2, where Jesus cleared the Temple. I appreciated what the Moderator’s message said about Righteous anger, and about us making God’s wider home (our Earth) a marketplace, but I was more struck by the question, Do we ever focus on the little things, and forget about what really matters?

Obviously we do at times, otherwise there wouldn’t be a book called Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff! But do we do this in the church, too? Jesus was really criticising the religious leaders of his day for focusing too much on the rituals of worship and the small rules, and not focusing enough on the spirit of the religion- God’s love and the commandments to care for others.

As the church, we are meant to be a place that gathers 2 or 3 (or more!) in Jesus’ name, to worship and learn together, and to work together to follow Jesus and to share God’s love. There are many things that help us to be church, to help us worship and help us follow Jesus. Things like meetings enable us to do the work of the church- but the meetings aren’t the focus of people church, they are not what we’re all about (I confess I’ve had weeks where I’ve questioned this, though!)

In worship, we have many things that enable us to worship well, bulletins and greeters, technology of various kinds, music of choir, accompaniment or other. But these things aren’t the purpose for worshipping, they just help us. We should appreciate peoples’ work and we of course wantt hings to run smoothly, but we need to remember the reason we worship. We may love that hymn that we sing together, but let us not remember the One for whom we sing. On the other hand, if we don’t like the hymns on a given Sunday, it shouldn’t ruin the worship experience. We are still gathered in God’s presence, to be reminded of God’s love, and renewed for our work of sharing that love. That’s what really matters!

A Haven in a Time of Suffering

This past Sunday, the scripture reading was the one where Jesus talks about the suffering he will go through, and that his disciples can expect that as well. It’s always been a bit of a difficult passage for me because the words almost sound as if Jesus is glorifying suffering, something I don’t believe God does.

I appreciated what Gary Paterson had said in his video about suffering being a reality of life, and Jesus is reminding us that to pretend it doesn’t exist isn’t healthy. Instead, we should acknowledge the pain of the world, and move through it with the help of God. I read an account by someone who said in the midst of Chrnic Pain, she sees home as a place where she doesn’t need to pretend she’s OK, and that to her, God is like that as well, a haven in the midst of pain, where there is understanding and comfort, even if the suffering still continues.

This week there’s been a lot of suffering within our community. God is always with us, but sometimes we feel God more when we’re in pain. Perhaps because that’s when we need a haven. It’s good to be reminded that as a faith community, we are called to do what we can to be a haven and safe place for those who are suffering- even if we can’t help, we can love and care for others, in the same way God loves and cares for us.