Sunday, June 25, 2017

Martin Sheen & the Spirituality of Imagination

Image result for martin sheen on being transcript

I really like Martin Sheen. I enjoy him as an actor because he has great range. He's played the president of the United States with a gravitas that would be the envy of Donald Trump if Trump had any clue about his role. He is able to do comedy as well, and if you've watched the Netflix series Grace and Frankie you'll know this is true.

Sheen also played a man on a quest in the film The Way. It's about the Camino, the pilgrimage walk across Spain. The character he plays goes in search of his son's body and finds himself as he saunters through his grief.

Sheen is a person of faith, returning to the abandoned Roman Catholicism of his youth in mid-life. After he finished his role in the film Gandhi he was in Paris, doing some serious soul-searching, aware that alcohol was not his friend, uncertain about the direction of his life. He wandered into the only English-speaking Roman Catholic church on the Left Bank and the experience became the most joyful moment in his adult life. Even still, he realized that he wasn't returning to the piety of his youth, which had been too restrictive. This was a different way of encountering God.

I would encourage you to search for Sheen's interview with Krista Tippet on the radio program On Being. It's called Spirituality of Imagination, and while it's a couple of years old it was reposted recently.

Has there been a time when you've moved away from the faith of your youth, only to return. Was that reimagining of faith liberating?

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Saturday, June 24, 2017

An Eye for an Eye?

A Canadian 3RCR Battlegroup sniper walks up a hill to his position during a mission near Kabul, Afghanistan, in 2003.

A couple of years ago the film American Sniper was a huge box office success. It glorified the sharp-shooting exploits of Chris Kyle, a US Navy Seal. Kyle served four tours in the Iraq War and was awarded several commendations for acts of heroism and meritorious service in combat. Ironically. Kyle was shot and killed by another serviceman suffering PTSD after his return to America.

There is a mystique surrounding snipers who must combine rock-steady nerves with mathematics while in the midst of combat. Canadians are reportedly amongst the best snipers in the world, and recently a Canadian sniper working alongside Iraqi forces in their fight against ISIS successfully struck a member of the militant group from a distance of a little more than three and a half kilometres away. This is now the record for a verified sniper kill, and may never be matched.
This has been all over the media and it seems grisly to me. As Tom Mulcair of the NDP points out we are supposedly not involved in offensive military action in Iraq. And while combatants kill the enemy in any conflict, the fascination is macabre, in my estimation.

As a Christian I constantly wrestle with Jesus' teaching to be peacemakers, to turn the other cheek, alongside the realities of evil in our world. While there are occasions where lethal force must be used, in policing and in situations of war, glorifying the death of human beings doesn't fit with my sense of the gospel. This may sound naïve, but really, has the message of Jesus ever made sense in the ways of the world?


Friday, June 23, 2017


Through the years but particularly the past six months I've blogged periodically about my mother, Margaret, whom a number of you know. Some of you have interacted with her as a senior and witnessed an intelligent, engaged woman whose faith issued in action well into her eighties. In recent years her Parkinson's Disease has become more of an issue, with her mobility and balance affected. In these past months the slow progress of dementia has become a freight train which we are scrambling to address. She never complains, but she is increasingly anxious in the afternoon and evening, evidence of Sundowners Syndrome.

My brother Eric is a constant support to Mom, taking care of so many practical aspects of her life. I've made a point of visiting more frequently, usually reading scripture, saying a prayer, and even wonkily warbling a hymn or two with her. We both want to affirm her personhood, her essence, even as her memory betrays her. And she continues to surprise us. In the past couple of visits she has asked how I feel in retirement and wondered when we leave on vacation. When I showed up with son Isaac and his family recently she was delighted. She was downright playful with her great-grandsons and beamed in a way we simply don't witness anymore.

The other day she got word that she would be visited by Dr. Paul Thistle, a medical missionary in Africa. Years ago Mom paid for a nurses residence to be built, at considerable cost. Paul has always been grateful for her support and visits when he's back in Canada.

Margaret Mundy is a person, loved by God, loved by her family and friends. Is she diminished by age and illness? Yes. But she continues to love us and teach us, in her own way.


Wednesday, June 21, 2017

National Aboriginal Day

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Finally! Yesterday the issues accessing my computer were resolved.

This morning I listened to CBC from Toronto and their live National Aboriginal Day broadcast from Nathan Phillips Square. It seems an unlikely setting for a sacred fire yet city hall in the heart of Canada's largest city was once Native land. The organizers say that this was the largest crowd yet, hundreds of people gathered at five o'clock in the morning.

There are days when I wonder whether we will very get beyond the indifference and systemic racism of a country where we pride ourselves on inclusion yet continue to treat our first nations as second class citizens, at best. Yet today's recognition across the country is encouraging. As always we have to ask if this will translate into the honouring of commitments by our federal and provincial governments to eradicate poverty, provide decent water and education, and protect the most vulnerable.

I pray that the United Church and other communities of faith will provide leadership in keeping these issues before the governments and that Canadians will understand that these are matters of justice, not charity.


Saturday, June 17, 2017

It's Not You...

Hey folks, it's not you, it's me. No, really! I'm
bedevilled with computer challenges as I get
established at home. So, please be more
patient than I am and keep visiting my Lion Lamb blog. Thanks!

Thursday, June 08, 2017

Admiration & Lament for the Oceans

Three weeks from now we will be in a house by an ocean, God willing. We'll be on Change Islands, adjacent to Fogo Island, a place of wild beauty and warm people. As my ministry draws to a close we'll be back where we started, a short distance by water from the communities I served in the early 1980's.

We'll be there during the recreational groundfish fishery which allows Newfoundland residents to catch cod for their own use. Homes on Change Islands which are empty are other times will be filled with those coming home for this opportunity. This personal fishery has expanded over time after a total  moratorium on cod fishing when it was established that stocks were plummeting toward extinction. There is now a controlled commercial fishery as well.

For the longest time it was considered a God-given  right - literally - to take as much as ships could haul in. The ships got bigger and more efficient until an abundant species all but disappeared. It was reckless plunder rather than careful management. It ruined a way of life for many.

On this World Oceans Day we can lament the emptying of the seas, even as we marvel at them. We can pray that it's not too late to change the course of our species when it comes to conservation and care. We can admire the diversity of the oceans enough to allow them to revive.


Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Christians and Muslims:  Caring for our Common Home

I hadn't realized that the Vatican sends a message each year to Muslims during the month of Ramadan, and 2017 marks the 50th anniversary. How appropriate that days after President Trump withdrew from the Paris Agreement on Climate Change this letter has been issued. Although it is dated May 19th it was issued June 2nd, the day after Trump's announcement. Here is the text of the letter

Christians and Muslims:  Caring for our Common Home

Dear Muslim Brothers and Sisters,
We wish to assure you of our prayerful solidarity during this time of fasting in the month of Ramadan and the celebration of ‘Id al–Fitr that concludes it, and we extend to you our heartfelt best wishes for serenity, joy and abundant spiritual gifts...

...The experience of both our religious communities affirms the value of this Message for promoting cordial relations between Christian and Muslim neighbours and friends, by offering insights on current and pressing issues.For this year, the PCID offers a theme related to Pope Francis’ Encyclical Letter “Laudato Si’– On Care for Our Common Home”, which was addressed not only to Catholics and Christians, but to the whole of humanity.

Pope Francis draws attention to the harm our lifestyles and decisions are causing to the environment, to ourselves and to our fellow human beings. There are, for example, certain philosophical, religious, and cultural perspectives that present obstacles which threaten humanity’s relationship with nature. To take up this challenge involves all of us, regardless of whether or not we profess a religious belief.

The Encyclical’s title itself is expressive: the world is a “common home”, a dwelling for all the members of the human family. Therefore, no one person, nation or people can impose exclusively their understanding of our planet. This is why Pope Francis appeals “for a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet…, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affects us all” (n. 14).

Pope Francis states that “the ecological crisis is also a summons to profound interior conversion” (no. 217). What is needed is education, spiritual openness and a “global ecological conversion” to adequately address this challenge. As believers, our relationship with God should be increasingly shown in the way we relate to the world around us. Our vocation to be guardians of God’s handiwork is not optional, nor it is tangential to our religious commitment as Christians and Muslims: it is an essential part of it.

May the religious insights and blessings that flow from fasting, prayer and good works sustain you, with God’s help, on the path of peace and goodness, to care for all the members of the human family and for the whole of creation.
With these sentiments, we wish you once again serenity, joy and prosperity.
From the Vatican, 19 May 2017