Sunday, December 30, 2007

Creaton Sightings


This weekend's weather has been rather gloomy but we got out for a walk at Second Marsh at the edge of Oshawa. The marsh is sandwiched between Lake Ontario and Canada's busiest highway, the 401. Even though the roar of traffic is constant and the General Motors building is omnipresent the marsh is rich in wildlife. The birds include ducks of all kinds and various herons, owls, and raptors, woodpeckers.

There are also many mammals. We have seen white-tailed deer, red foxes, mink, beaver, muskrat, rabbits, squirrels, voles and mice. This weekend's sighting was a coyote trotting across the ice of the marsh, unfortunate muskrat in its mouth. It glanced at us from time to time but didn't break stride.

Our route is roughly five kilometres in length and we nearly always see some creature or enjoy some view, including a constantly changing perspective on our inland sea. Even on grey winter days our spirits are lifted. This time we came to a spot where the chickadees have developed a bravado when it comes to humans. We pulled out some sunflower seeds and in seconds there was a mob around and on us. At times there were three or four perched on our fingers for a meal.

Second Marsh is a reminder of the diversity of God's creation and how those creatures can thrive if given a chance.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Christmas Dust-up?



Did you hear about the rumble in the church? Not just any church -- the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. After Christmas the two groups of priests who administer the church were cleaning up and the Armenians crossed into Greek Orthodox territory and it was on! You might not be thinking Sharks and Jets but they used brooms and stones on one another. Four people were injured and the police had to be called in to break up the brawl and keep guard until cooler heads prevailed.


There have been similar confrontations through the years in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. A Muslim family locks and unlocks the doors of that church to keep the peace amongst Christian factions. Even in the churches of Christmas and Easter conflicts arise.


I suppose this nonsense is "bred in the bone" of humanity. We are an angry -- dare we say sinful? --lot.


While it may seem that I harp on in this blog about the importance of interfaith dialogue and cooperation it seems to me that we have to find a way around the propensity of religion to encourage suspicion and conflict. Our critics point to just this sort of nonsense as proof that belief in God is toxic rather than healing. We need to prove them wrong and, more importantly, we need to demonstrate that love is at the heart of faith in God.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Christmas into Easter


I will leave my study in a few minutes to conduct the funeral for a woman who died on Christmas Day. Through the years I have done funerals on Christmas Eve and Boxing Day and on all the days around an event that is meant to be joyful.
One year in Halifax we were just finishing Christmas dinner when I got the call that a woman who had been dying of cancer had breathed her last. The family had managed to support her at home so I went to the toney condominium where she lived and rode the elevator with her physician, who happened to be my doctor as well. We were surprised to see each other. He took a few minutes to officially declare her dead and then I gathered the family around the bed for prayer.

The elderly woman whose service I will preside over today was loving and much loved. I didn't really want to do this or any funeral this week but I was touched by the affection of her family as we talked yesterday. She made a loving difference with her children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren and she deserves to be remembered well.

As always these situations bring home to me the Easter in Christmas. Why is the birth of a peasant baby two thousand years ago so important to us? Because of his death and resurrection life, which give hope for our eternal life.

As we stand at the graveside this afternoon we will affirm this promise of Christmas into Easter.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

On Christmas Day in the Morning

Before our gang was "up and running" on Christmas morning I made a trip to the hospital. One of our folk has been discouraged in this season because she will not return to her home and knows that her next residence will be a nursing home. She loves Christmas and attending the services of the season, so her confinement to a hospital bed made her doubly sad. I knew I didn't have to go but her situation was in my mind so I decided to take a few minutes to check on her. She was glad to see me and was quite positive -- her more usual disposition. I read the Christmas story to her and we prayed.

On to see a woman in her 90's who we were sure was not long for this world. Lo and behold, she was sitting up and eating breakfast. In fact she seemed more intent on her breakfast than me, which was an encouraging sign!

Finally a visit with an elderly woman who had a stroke and ended up in intensive care. I wasn't aware that this had occurred until I got to the hospital. She was obviously scared, which was understandable. She could speak clearly and held my hand as we prayed.

I was back home before 9:00 and found the family ready to open gifts and celebrate the day.
Christmas is not always joyful for people, but we can listen for the voice of the angel encouraging us not to be afraid.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Tsunami Remembered


I did a double-take at the reports today on the third anniversary of the tsunami which killed 230,000 people in Asia. Third? It hardly seems possible that it was that long ago we watched the death toll climb and began to act. There was an outpouring of financial aid from nations around the world -- $13 billion in total. Some of it was delivered immediately and some is still only a promise. Individuals, school groups, religious organizations sent billions more. It was impressive to see how quickly the world responded to such heartache.

I wonder why it is so much more difficult to motivate those of us who are reasonably well off to give what it needed to eradicate malaria or provide support for those living with HIV and AIDS? The number who die every year from this diseases is many times that killed in the tsunami. Governments could be systematic in their contributions, budgetting each year. Can you imagine what good we could do if Canadian households contributed $5 or $10 a month to a worthy cause overseas?

Instead we seem to need the electric shock of a natural disaster or war with the resulting hardship and loss to get us going. I hope we don't need another tragedy of monumental proportions to motivate us toward compassion. That's where faith communities are important as places where the important issues can be raised and we can be agents of Christ's love.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Christmas Surprise


I didn't think that the current Roman Catholic pope could come up with much that would please me after some recent statements but I was pleasantly surprised when he included care for the planet in his Christmas message. I personally believe that when Jesus said "God so loved the world" he meant it. Pope Benedict was right when he said that greed in the West was undermining the balance of God's creation.

The Christmas messages of the popes nearly always call for an end to conflict and the disparities between rich and poor. These themes of justice are important reminders of biblical themes that are timeless. I hope that we will listen in 2008 in ways that will reverse the trends of the later part of the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty first.

Again, Merry Christmas and Christ's joy.

Monday, December 24, 2007

The St. Paul's Family


My wife Ruth had the great idea of inviting congregation members to bring their nativity sets from home to church yesterday morning. More than two dozen people brought them and set them up on tables around our hall. One of them is featured in the photo above.

Some children proudly displayed their scenes of the birth of Jesus while some seniors put out collections gathered from around the world. There were a few that were quite elegant and others that looked a trifle worn after years of use. One grandfather affectionately pointed out the missing ears from the donkey, casualties of play by the grandkids he dotes on.

It was a lovely way of reminding ourselves that the St. Paul's family is made up of many and diverse households united in the story of Christ's redeeming love.

A wonderful Christmas to all those of you who check in on this blog along the way. I'm not sure when I'll resume, but I will be back!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Christmas Elders

Rembrant van Rijn

Often lost in the Christmas season is the reading from Luke 2: 25-40 about Joseph and Mary taking Jesus to the temple for presentation to two elders, Anna and Simeon. We aren't given information about Simeon's age, but Anna was 84 -- ancient in those days. They are described as devout and spirit-filled people who awaited the coming of the Messiah.

Once again we have been visiting our elders and this week I will see at least eight people over the age of ninety, including one who is 101 years old! Often I read the Christmas story from scripture and offer a prayer. Some are amazingly bright even though their bodies are letting them down. Others are a little less mentally focussed. Conversations can take on a surreal quality.

A couple of days ago I chatted with one great old guy named Joe who recently moved to a nursing home and is somewhat disoriented. But when I wished him a happy birthday he brightened "I'm 95 years old" he told me " -- in my 96th year!"

Our elders are often out of sight but we don't want them to be out of mind. They are part of the history of our faith communities and still important in the present.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Santa in the Shadows


The last couple of days my wife, Ruth, has come home from work exhausted. On Tuesday it was a twelve hour marathon as all the staff from Bethesda House shelter prepared for and carried out the annual Christmas party for current residents and those who had been clients through the year. The Clarington highschool gym was crowded with moms and children.

Wednesday was no respite. Ninety hampers of food and toys were given out to clients to make Christmas seem like a celebration rather than a defeat. All of them had to be first put together, then carried up from the basement of a local church which was the distribution centre. This year the community responded with great generosity so there was abundance for every hamper -- and tons of weight to lug up the stairs!

When Ruth walked through our door she admitted that as she trudged home she was tired to the point of tears. But as she passed a dark laneway she caught the movement of a person out of the corner of her eye. Lo and behold it was Santa in full costume (on the way home from some Christmas party?) who shook his bells and called out "Merry Christmas." Ruth said it was so unexpected and lifted her spirits.

The church often has trouble making it's peace with Santa because of the materialism he can represent. Except that Saint Nicholas was a real person, a Christian with a heart for the poor and down-trodden.

Today I will go at noon for the Christmas dinner our St. Paul's women provide for those in our community who live with mental health issues and are often lonely.

God bless all those who live out the spirit of generous love in this season and all through the year.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Mary's Hijab


It isn't often that Mary, the mother of Jesus, has been portrayed without a head covering of some kind. There are images of Mary wearing a crown to signify her exalted role as God-bearer.
Most of the time it is a simple cloth covering, not unlike the hijab.

This came to mind as I munched my Shreddies this morning and listened to the CBC report about a soccer league in Alberta which will allow girls to wear the Islamic head covering when they play. This is definitely a "tempest in a teapot" from my perspective. It has been argued that wearing the hijab is a safety issue so it must be banned, but I am dubious about this explanation. Surely it has more to do with our notions of fitting in. Remember when the world was going to end if we allowed Sikh RCMP officers to wear turbans and beards? I remember being miffed about this challenge to a Canadian institution. Now I wonder why it bothered me. The controversy quietly went away and now the Mounties have far more pressing issues to contend with.

I won't be thinking about girl's soccer when I see all the images of Mary through the rest of the season but I will ponder the wonderful act of inclusive love which was the birth of Jesus, the Saviour.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

O Little Troubled Town

Click on image to enlarge
O little town of Bethlehem how still we see thee lie!
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by,
yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting light,
the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.

This is probably my favourite Christmas Carol, so poetic and unfortunately that first line is so inaccurate in 2007. Modern-day Bethlehem is in the West Bank and every day thousands of residents cross into Israel for work, if they are allowed. Although Arab Christians from Bethlehem have never posed a problem for Israeli security, and neither do most Arab Muslims, there is a tedious and slow and often humiliating process for crossing the check-points for work that is menial for the most part. The tensions run high and add to the bitterness and there seems to be no end to the forty year occupation of the West Bank.

One year I visited a Christian school in Bethlehem and the principal pleaded with us to raise the issue of a Christian population that was isolated and shrinking. It was an uncomfortable moment for our Israeli guide but something we needed to hear.

Of course there are security issues which means the Israeli government must be vigilant but the efforts for resolution are essential. The international community has pledged billions of dollars to help revive the Palestinian economy, including 300 million from Canada. Perhaps this will create an atmosphere of hope for the future.

Monday, December 17, 2007

The Strength of Convictions


I have been reading with some interest the reports about sentencing for two convicted felons, Conrad Black and David Radler. This was Mr. Radler's day of reckoning. Their story is a rather sordid one of corporate pilfering -- a sort of reverse Robin Hood principle.

Part of the fascination is "how the mighty have fallen" (a biblical phrase), particularly with Mr. Black. I am also intrigued by the claims of a sustaining faith for each of these men. Radler is an observant Jew who has continued to attend synagogue despite his disgrace. Black is a practicing Roman Catholic who has a prayer chapel in his mansion. In both cases there seems to be a disconnect between theology and practice despite their professed devotion.

While we might be tempted to curl a lip in disdain, it seems to me that we should be careful about observing the speck in someone else's eye lest a mighty redwood clogs our own (another biblical metaphor.) Our plunges from grace are not as public and spectacular yet we all have our failures and the gap between saying and doing in our faith can be dramatic in their own private way.

The other aspect of this story which catches my attention is contrition -- saying sorry. Radler, the Jew, has admitted his wrongdoing and sought forgiveness. Black, the Christian, seems to be steadfast in his denial of sin even as he heads to the penalty box. Few of us are aware that penitentiaries were created so that criminals would be penitent. There was the notion which some may consider naiive that, given the chance, the convicted would see the errors of their ways and express remorse.

We'll see.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Command Performance

Living Nativity -- last night


I freely admit that I was hoping the first night of the Living Nativity would be cancelled. I may have prayed to that end. Nope. The show must go on, so I trudged up the street dressed to stand outside on a cold, blustery, snowy night.

In the church hall the cast was preparing for the performance. The little angels looked liked they had bulked up on steroids thanks to the snowsuits underneath their costumes. Some of the kids wanted to know if the animals had arrived. I tried to prepare them for the possibility that they would be the only animals tonight but, lo and behold, the donkey and goat and sheep made it in the nick of time thanks to our resourceful farmer and another congregation member with a powerful truck.

There were a handful of people on the benches. If the parents and helpers were taken out of the mix I was the only audience member! But everyone did a great job as though there was a throng of appreciative viewers. At the end the two dozen cast members stood together for the meagre and bemittened applause.

I must be getting sappy in my dotage. I was touched by this command performance. The cast prayed before they began that some person might hear the message of God-with-us for the first time and even though I'm a little shopworn I was listening -- to my own voice actually since I narrate on tape. What they did was lovely and meaningful and now I'm sipping hot chocolate to get warm again.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Joy in Bali?

On a morning when we are getting dire warnings of a winter storm we are told of a tentative international agreement on global warming. The negotiations continued after the official conclusion of the Bali conference and while it is a watered down accord (excuse the pun) without hard targets it is at least a commitment to work together. Sadly, John Baird, the Canadian environment minister absented himself from the critical session which says so much about our government's pathetic lack of leadership in Bali. Frankly I am ashamed of the Canadian involvement.

If worship actually takes place tomorrow on the Advent Sunday of Joy I will speak about the promise of Isaiah that the day will come when Earth itself will rejoice and the deserts will bloom. God's salvation in Christ extends to all that lives. It ain't over until it's over so there is hope of salvation for our government!
There is a Spanish hymn in Voices United which paraphrases the promises of hope in Isaiah:
1 All earth is waiting to see the Promised One,
and open furrows await the seed of God.
All the world, bound and struggling, seeks true liberty;
it cries out for justice and searches for the truth.
2 Thus says the prophet to those of Israel,
'A virgin mother will bear Emmanuel.'
One whose name is 'God with us', our Saviour shall be,
through whom hope will blossom once more within our hearts.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Blessed Interruptions

There is so much to do at this time of year. Lots of folk to visit who can't get out for services of the season. And those services! Tons of planning and orders of worship to prepare well in advance so the office staff aren't overwhelmed. Don't panic, don't panic, you've done this before, I tell myself.

So I suppose that's why God has sent plenty of interruptions my way this past week. Phone calls and stop-bys that I couldn't have anticipated. On Sunday afternoon I was settling in for the football game I had waited for with great anticipation... when the phone rang. An elderly person in hospital was failing. Thanks for the information...sort of. Ruth suggested I go the next day. I decided to get up and go. The person is still with us, but I just needed to respond.

Other people in crisis or lonely. This time of the year is difficult for many, and the Christmas season amplifies the pain. Interruptions. A colleague in hospital with a sudden and life-threatening illness.

The work will get done, I tell myself. Don't panic. And if not me, who will respond? I'm certainly not indispensible or "God's gift" to ministry. I'm no saint either. Sometimes I grumble and groan on the inside. But there are moments when the relationship of trust is so important.

There are times when the interruptions and that essential human interaction are what are first and foremost.

Isn't God's blessed interruption in Christ what this season is all about?

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Multi-Faith Magi


I have served up a couple of multi-faith musings this week. Here is another. We just got the sad news that the elderly gentleman (and he is a gentleman) who has wrapped the turbans of our magi each year has moved to Toronto. Our outdoor Living Nativity has been performed for decades and he has probably done this for us through twenty of those years. As we search for a solution we feel the loss of this part of our tradition.

Mr. Sodhi is a Sikh and not only does he know what he is doing with the turbans, his deft handiwork was a gentle demonstration of inter-faith cooperation and grace. It was fitting because the Magi who found young Jesus were of another faith, probably Zoroastrian.

His family is trying to figure out who might come to do this for us, which is kind on their part. We will gratefully accept the assistance, but some people are irreplaceable.
Join us next Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday, the 16th, 17th and 18th at 7:30 PM.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Listening for God


It's next to impossible to find paintings of an angel speaking to Joseph, the husband of Mary and earthly father of Jesus. It's always Mary who is listening, as the painting above by Robert Campin reminds us. Actually, Mary is multi-tasking, reading a good book while the angel tells her the Good News. Off to one side Joseph tinkers in his workshop while the big event takes place.
We might forget that Joseph had his own experience with a messenger from God which changed his life. Our morning study group read about it in Matthew this morning and heard that as a result Joseph decided to put aside cultural notions of propriety and religious conventions to support the pregnant Mary and take her as his wife.

As we discussed the passage it occurred to me that the issues remain the same. Yesterday a young woman was murdered by her father because of his strict interpretation of his religion. Somehow he heard that his daughter must be punished and his "faithfulness" to God led to blood on his hands. Too often people of every religion are convinced that God is calling them to exclusion and violence.

I was struck by the gospel story that says Joseph was surprised by God's messenger but chose to listen in a new way. He went outside of the societal norms to choose compassion. It is a "real world" story of a difficult choice to love rather than hate, to embrace rather than cast out. Perhaps we would benefit from more images of Joseph, front and centre.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Ways that Never Parted


Tomorrow marks the end of Hanukkah and it has been years since we neither set up the menorah in our home, nor lighted the menorah candles in church. No good reason -- just life!I am fascinated by the Hanukkah story and a sucker for the lighting of candles in worship. Some of you may remember that last year, during Hanukkah, we baptized a new member who grew up Jewish and lit the menorah as a reminder of his tradition which doesn't have to be extinguished.

More and more I wonder why we have acted as though Christianity supercedes Judaism, even though Jesus never relinquished his Jewish faith, nor did the apostle Paul. Not long ago Anne Coulter blithely told a Jewish interviewer that Christians are "perfected Jews." Coulter is a truly arrogant women, but we have often shared and expressed that arrogance in a more polite fashion.
I am confident that we can be faithful followers of Christ without denigrating other traditions, especially with our roots in Judaism.

I just bought a book of essays called The Ways that Never Parted about the relationship between Jews and Christians in the Middle Ages. I'm sure it will be helpful and the title encourages me.

Vroom Vroom Rev Rev Update

I don't want to belabour this subject but Jo Sorrill's emailed photo says it all!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Why?


I will send an email to my roommate at Ghost Ranch and hope for the best. Some of you will recall my description of Peter as a great guy who attends one of the evangelical meagachurches in Colorado. The same church where a gunman opened fire yesterday, killing one person and injuring others before an armed guard (at a church?) shot him. I want Peter and his wife and daughter to be safe, but I will wait to find out
Strangely, this is not the first time I have had a personal connection with such a violent act. A few years ago my aunt in Texas was at bible study at her church when a gunman walked into another part of the complex and killed several young people.Places of worship are no longer sanctuaries from violence.

What is happening in the United States? Why has this "gun culture" become so acceptable in a nation which is overt in its religious expression. I checked the Denver Post website to get more details on the shootings and a number of people commented online. One person asked why America seems obsessed with the threat of foreign terrorism when its own young people are gunning down innocent victims in malls and churches and schools. Good question.

I know that Peter is a person of prayer and he will invite others to pray for both the victims and perpetrator of this crime. I will, but I still don't get it.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Justice Done


Today Robert Pickton was convicted on all six counts of murder. A family member of one of the victims commented that their "prayers were answered." There were many prayers that the women who died would be shown some posthumous respect by a guilty verdict.

When I read the outcome I thought of my cousin, Pauline, who was working the streets of downtown Vancouver during the period of disappearances and could easily have been a victim. I am grateful to God that she survived and I pray for the healing of the families of the deceased.

White Gift Wonder


There was a mountain of White Gifts that weren't actually white at our church today. They aren't swathed in white tissue anymore because the Salvation Army and other recipients must turn around and unwrap them for distribution. The S.A. and Bethesda House shelter will make sure this year's gifts find suitable homes.

There was also a "full house" of worshippers including plenty of grandparents there to grin at the young participants from their families. Thanks to our Sunday School coordinator, Cherri, her teachers, and Rev. Cathy, the kids were well prepared to deliver a message of the Christ who comes to us through all our senses.

Sitting in the congregation for the fifth year in a row I was struck by the development of the children. Some I had baptized and are now singing with the youngest class. Kids who were too shy to come forward for the children's time during my first Fall are now confident readers and soloists in the junior choir.

All this is deeply satisfying and a reminder of the importance of community for the development of these young Christians.

Friday, December 07, 2007

The Old, Old Story -- and Some New Ones

Since childhood I have loved to read fiction. I have always been an omnivore, gobbling up stories of every description. As a kid they were escape and education, often read illicitly after bedtime, by the light from the hallway.

Stories are an important way of conveying a message when I preach and as I noted recently, telling and teaching The Story is so important for the Christian community.

This seems to be the time of year for lists of various kinds, including best fiction. I decided to include a list of my own, of novels that I enjoyed through 2007. When I say "enjoy" I have included books that challenged me to think deeply and those which entertained me and even some which brought me the kind of pleasure which might be described as joy. In no particular order:

Ghostwritten -- an earlier novel by the mental gymnast David Mitchell. I enjoyed his Cloud Atlas more, but this was challenging.
Housekeeping --Marilynne Robinson -- an author who has written only two novels, 25 years apart, both award-winners. Her second, Gilead, won the Pulitzer prize. This is a sad story, beautifully written.
Life and Times of Michael K --J M Coetzee -- his novels of South Africa are not easy reads, but this one won the Nobel Prize in literature.
Jayber Crow -- Wendell Berry -- about a nobody from nowhere who drifts through life but observes the world with great wisdom.
The Yiddish Policemen's Union -- Michael Chabon -- excellent novel by the author of the brilliant Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Klay.
The Naming of the Dead & Exit Music --Ian Rankin -- the last two of his wonderful John Rebus crime fiction novels. Sigh.
Shadow of the Wind -- Carlos Ruiz Zafón-- ridiculously overwrought potboiler -- thoroughly enjoyable!
The Piano Tuner -- Daniel Mason-- a mesmerizing story which is not predictable in any way.
Water for Elephants -- Sara Gruen -- a book club favourite which has some great insights into the vicissitudes of aging and the happy ending we all want.
Restless -- William Boyd -- a spy thriller, well written, and with a great twist (mother and daughter).

Havana Best Friends -- Jose Latour -- a suspense novel written by an ex-pat Cuban who now lives in Canada. It was perfect after visiting Havana earlier this year.
The Maytrees -- Annie Dillard -- not as good as I had hoped, yet containing some marvellous descriptions of intertidal life.

There are more, but I'll stop with one for each month of the year. Do those of you who are on blogger have a "best novel of the year" you can post?

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Ministry Through Brush and Stars


There is an exhibit of 20 of Vincent Van Gogh's letters to a younger friend at the Morgan Library in New York City. They demonstrate that even near the end of his life when his mental illness drove him to take his own life he had extended periods of lucidity and insight. Of course this was the period when he was both prolific and highly creative in his output. I will quote from the National Public Radio review of the exhibit.

At several points, Van Gogh writes about his desire to do a starry, night sky, "just as I shall paint a green meadow studded with dandelions," he writes, "but how to arrive at that?" "But when will I do the starry sky, then, that painting that's always on my mind? Alas, alas, it's just as our excellent pal Cyprien says, in En ménage by J. K. Huysmans, the most beautiful paintings are those one dreams of while smoking a pipe in one's bed but which one doesn't make. But it's a matter of attacking them nevertheless, however incompetent one may feel vis-à-vis the ineffable perfections of nature's glorious splendors." Of course, Van Gogh eventually overcomes these problems and goes on to paint some of the most celebrated night scenes in the history of art.

In fact within months Vincent had painted the night sky and Starry Night (above) was painted the next year.

Van Gogh was a spiritual person and actually trained for the ministry before being rejected by the Dutch Reformed Church. He was just too intense and erratic. His spirituality shines forth in his paintings and we are probably better off for his life as an artist rather than as a pastor.

His work has certainly ministered to me.

If you get away from the lights of town during this season, take a look at the night sky and consider the Creator and the creative genius of Vincent Van Gogh.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Common Sense...Yours to Discover

I received an email from the Rev. Jo Sorrill this morning saying that she has been turned down for renewal of her specialized licensed plates once again. I won't say vanity plates because one CBC listener phoned in and offered that ministers shouldn't indulge in vanity. Seriously.

The reason this time? "Rev" is the name of an alcoholic beverage. So she is promoting excessive speed, drinking, and religious fervour. If only the United Church had known all these years. We might have defrocked her as well.

Since Jo's message the premier of the province of Ontario has stepped in and made the peace offering of renewing the plates. He suggested that the government needed to exercise common sense from time to time. Amen. How about every day?

Furry Prophets


I will soon be heading into the first of two study groups for the day. We have been looking at different approaches to prayer in the evening while continuing our lectionary group in the morning.

So, it will be John the Baptist today, preparing the way for his cousin Jesus. When we get to these readings I always try to figure out who the prophets for our time are.

A couple of weeks ago Macleans magazine asked the question Who is Canada's best MP? The answer, derived from answers to questions posited to other members of parliament, is a United Church minister. Okay, NDPer Bill Blaikie has been toiling on Parliament Hill for 28 years, but he began a s a lowly UCC minister. I was struck by the phrase "he found in the bible a tradition of challenging the ruling elite."

Big, furry guy challenging the "powers that be." Sounds like John the Baptist to me.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

More Thoughts


It's interesting -- dare I say providential -- that things "work together for good" at times. The latest United Church Observer arrived today and the cover article is Christmas as Others See It. There are worthwhile reflections by people of other faiths and a non-believer on the observance of Christmas.

While the best choice would be to subscribe to the Observer, the article is on-line. http://www.ucobserver.org/archives/dec07_cvst.shtml

What Story Will We Sing?


On Saturday I was in the big chain drugstore and the Muzak or whatever it's called today was an innocuous instrumental version of Rudolph the Rednosed Reindeer. I heard singing, a child's voice belting out all the words. I peered around until I could see her and watched for a moment as she danced as well, while her father searched for something on the shelf. When the music stopped she just kept on singing, perfectly in tune. She hadn't finished all the verses so she needed to keep going.

I enjoyed the moment but, when in doubt, over-analyze. I wondered how she would do if the music was Silent Night or Away in a Manger. Do children know these carols the way they would have not all that long ago? We do live in a more multi-cultural society, although more than 80% of Canadians identify themselves as at least nominally Christian. That's the challenge though. Is it just a cultural Christianity rather than knowing and living the story which we see as The Story?

I had decided to share this incident with you today and when I came to work this morning there was an email from a St. Paul's member containing the BBC news headline Reindeer Ralph supplants Nativity. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/magazine/7125171.stm
A Muslim leader comments that Britain is a Christian country and he has no objection to hearing the Christian story as long as there is openness and respect of other traditions. More and more I realize that it isn't people of other faiths who are the challenge to our faith but our own indifference.


When we sing our Christmas faith this year at White Gift and the Living Nativity and Christmas Eve we are teaching a story that is so much more important than reindeer in the sky, whether they are Ralph or Rudolph.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Bali and the Future of the Planet



The stakes couldn't be higher. The future of the planet itself is at the heart of the negotiations that begin today in Bali, where 191 countries will try to reach a deal on how to fight global warming.Warnings of a looming worldwide disaster have added urgency to the talks. "I believe we are on the verge of a catastrophe if we do not act," United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki-moon said in advance of the Bali conference.

These words were written by Geoffrey York in today's edition of the Globe and Mail newspaper. Representatives from countries around the world will gather in Bal, Indonesia, i for the next two weeks to discuss the fate of the planet under the auspices of the United Nations.

Prime Minister Harper will be there and I hope he will wake up. At the recent Commonwealth Conference he demonstrated a depressing resistance to any sort of agreement which would require real change to the way we treat the planet. Harper insisted that he was the courageous leader, refusing to agree to anything other than "aspirational targets."


Canada, the United States, and Saudi Arabia were all given "Fossil" awards by an environmental organization for their refusal to sign on to any accords to reduce carbon emmissions.

We need our government to provide real leadership at home and abroad. We need Mr. Harper and Mr. Baird to wake up to the examples of other industrialized nations which are developing strategies and practices which will allow their economies to flourish and to protect the environment.

Please pray for a change in heart for our leaders during this conference. As Geoffrey York says, the future of the planet depends upon it.


Sunday, December 02, 2007

Every Person Loved


Robert Pickton's lawyers are waiting to see whether the defense strategy that their client wasn't intelligent enough to orchestrate the murders of nearly 50 sex-trade workers will be successful.

What a desperate approach -- too stupid to kill. Doing evil is not dependent on intelligence. It is perpetrated by the brilliant and the slow.

These women did not deserve to die, no matter how personally destructive their lifestyles might have been. They were not disposable human beings. When we think about Jesus' willingness to treat the Samaritan woman with respect and his relationship with others in his culture who violated social norms, we know this is true.

The family members of the murdered women wait and watch for the verdict. They lost loved ones whose lives were cherished. As the jurors continue to deliberate we need to pray that justice will be done.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

World AIDS Day


There are many diseases which plague humans. Malaria kills and water-borne illnesses kill, and in the millions. It is still important to recognize one of the great scourges of our time --AIDS. It's estimated that two million people will die of AIDS this year around the world. This statistic tells only part of the story because children in Africa are orphaned by AIDS and whole villages and towns are left without anyone of parenting age. There simply isn't the money for the drugs which would prolong the lives of those with HIV.

In Canada and the United States and other Western nations many do get the anti-viral drugs that make HIV manageable, but we are still learning. Last night The National did a 15-minute piece on a Dr. Montaner in British Columbia who wants a "cocktail" of drugs made available to those who get missed by the health-care system, including those who live on the street or close to it. The cocktail has been tremendously effective with those who are receiving it already.

There are hopeful signs that the world is developing the will to deal with this devastating disease. Communities of faith are finally getting over the moral prejudices against HIV and AIDS sufferers to simply respond in Christ's name. I admire Pastor Rick Warren, the evangelical leader in the States who is convening a conference of thousands of church leaders this weekend to develop strategies to combat HIV/AIDS. http://www.purposedriven.com/en-US/Events/AIDS/Overview.htmbles This is what Christ who touched the untouchables would want us to do. As the T-shirt says, a world without AIDS is possible.



Friday, November 30, 2007

Justice, Not Just Us

Today I received a card in the mail asking what I would like to see happen with the huge fiscal surplus the Canadian government will enjoy this year. Hey, Prime Minister Harper did ask, through my MP and cabinet minister, Bev Oda. Here is my response.

November 30, 2007

Dear Ms Oda,

Today I received a card through the mail seeking my opinion about debt reduction and lowering taxes.

I applaud the efforts of the current government to reduce Canada’s debt and fiscal responsibility in its expenditures. As a Canadian taxpayer, lowered personal income tax appeals to me, although I am grateful for my prosperity and the social services my taxes help provide.

I would encourage a third option for the revenue surplus, which ultimately belongs to me and others who pay taxes. Please rebuild social supports that benefit low-income families and work toward the goal of eradicating child poverty. In 1989 all parties in parliament voted to wipe out child poverty by the year 2000. As this decade draws to a close this goal is far from realized and other nations such as Great Britain have managed to achieve what we have only promised.

There isn’t a more opportune time than now to commit resources to this end. I believe that this goal would reflect the compassionate democracy which is Canada.

Respectfully,



Rev David Mundy

Poverty Hurts


All this week we have been hearing about poverty in this province. We have been told of a new report which shows that supposedly wealthy Toronto is actually a lousy place for the working poor compared to other Canadian cities.

CBC radio has offered a full week of programs on poverty in the GTA and the challenges to just get by for those who make low wages or are on some form of assistance. They interviewed one young woman who spoke about the struggles she and her fiance -- both working -- face from day to day. At one point her voice trembled and then she stopped speaking. Naming the difficulties out loud overwhelmed her for a moment. Then she gathered herself and said that there are others who are worse off.

I was interested to hear one activist suggesting that instead of reducing the GST by a penny that money be used to address child poverty in Canada. You might remember that I put that out for consideration a few weeks ago in this blog. So far Mr. Harper hasn't been in touch.

Poverty is real and close at hand. There are people in our congregation struggling to get by. My wife Ruth works with families through the Bethesda House shelter who barely keep the wolf from the door.

We need to be hopeful as we approach this Sunday of Hope in Advent.The provincial government has promised to step up support for those who live around the edges of poverty with full-day kindergarten and a dental plan. We are given many opportunities to respond with practical compassion in this season. In moments such as these I think of the words from James, chapter two:
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? 15If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, 16and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill’, and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? 17So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Don't Get Me Started!


Well, we heard yesterday that our provincial government may relent and let the Reverend Joanne Sorrill have her REV JO license plates after all. I think I am still allowed to refer to her as "the reverend," a designation that has been around for a long time but may be outlawed in our perniciously anti-religious society.

You may sense my sheer disgust about this situation. Actually it is cumulative. There have been too many occasions over the years where bureaucrats have decided that religion is hazardous to our health, even as they bemoan the decline in values and decency in our culture.

In October the Bowmanville ministerial asked Clarington Council to declare Spiritual Care Week in the municipality. Even though this is a broadly recognized initiative across North America which is both ecumenical and inter-faith we were told no, too religious.


Does our council feel that the work of chaplains in hospitals and jails and nursing care facilities and mental health centres is without value? Many of these chaplains are paid, in part, through taxpayers dollars and they do a fine job, respecting all traditions.

Why does council have the right to simply say no to this recognition? Will they end up telling churches with publicly visible crosses that they must be taken down because they are offensive to those who are not Christians?

Why do school boards and local governments quash any religious expression even at times of the year, such as Christmas, that are specifically religious? When our son was in grade eight he wrote a letter to his principal, unbenownst to us, asking why the Holiday Concert couldn't still be a Christmas Concert which respected other faiths. When she dismissed his concern he sent the letter to the city newspaper and received an outpouring of support.

The goal of governments which supposedly represent me is not to act as though religion does not exist. It is to ensure freedom of religion and spiritual expression for all its citizens.

What a long blog entry! Don't get me started!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Glimmer of Hope


Two summers ago we spent time on Chesapeake Bay in the state of Maryland. My cousins, who live there, recommended Annapolis as a pretty town that is ideal for shopping and meals of soft-shelled crabs in its historic downtown.

Annapolis also has a secure naval academy and that's where US President George Bush hosted a brief peace conference involving Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Most observers are surprised that the two men agreed to a peace process which has the United States as the broker and an actual timeline.

The handshake came first, now the hard part. There will be much cynicism and opposition from the stake-holders who refused to attend or were not invited. The history of peace talks in this part of the world reveals a host of broken promises and failure. Yet there is, as the BBC headline suggested, a glimmer of hope.

This Sunday is the first of Advent and we begin with the glimmer of the candle of hope. We will listen to a passage from the prophet Isaiah which says that the day will comes when "they will beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nations shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more." It sounds like a pipedream but it won't be the first time that dreams and visions become reality.

Vroom, Vroom, Rev, Rev

The CBC reported this morning that a long-time colleague in ministry who lives in Whitby was denied renewal of her "vanity" license plates. They said REVJO might incite street racing! Sigh. It's good to see that our civil servants are earnestly on the job.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The God Squad



On my way to work from the gym this morning I listened to an interview on the CBC with Layne Daggett, the Vancouver Airport's chaplain. He was the soul of reasonableness in his reflection on the death of Robert Dziekanski, who died after being tasered by RCMP officers at the airport. We discovered that Pastor Daggett helps hundreds of people every year and often is called upon to help calm distraught people. Although he wasn't on duty that night there are chaplains "on call" twenty four hours a day.

I'm glad I caught this interview because I have wondered why there was no one available to help calm Dziekanski. He didn't speak English, but there are universal gestures of assurance which seemed to go missing that night.

Unlike some I don't feel that the answer to such shameful outcomes is banning tasers. They have probably saved lives when the lethal force of guns is not necessary. Most middle class people are unaware of the world the police often function in and the dangers they face. What was left out in this circumstance and many others is simple compassion and seeking another solution first. After hearing Pastor Daggett I sense that the outcome would have been different if he had been there.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Shall We Dance?

On Saturday evening I muddled my way through "waiting table" at our annual Roast Beef dinner. As the folk at the first sitting dispersed and the turn-around clean-up began a girl who was born not long before I arrived at St. Paul's tugged at my pant leg: "David, have you seen my Dad?" From my loftier vantage point I spotted him across the room and pointed her in the right direction. She ran toward him, stopped, came back and hugged me before making her way to her father.

At the second sitting we ate and another little girl with impossibly beautiful brown eyes came to our table and told me shyly that she got up and danced at the children's concert sponsored by St. Paul's in the afternoon. These two little incidents made my day, not to mention melted my heart.

The spontaneity and openness and generosity of children is such a lovely gift of grace. I talked to a colleague in ministry a while ago who was in a church where there were hardly any children and she felt such a sense of loss. I understand completely.

The God who came to us as a child still comes to us in the freshness of these little pilgrims on the spiritual journey. They constantly teach us and inspire us to dance in our spirits.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Death on the Beach



We like getting down to Lake Ontario on blustery days. The waves crash in and we lean into the wind as we walk along the beach. It was disturbing this afternoon because we walked past a dozen loon corpses in less than a kilometre. Four of them were within 15 metres. They are such wonderful birds which connect many of us with cottage life and paddling the back country.

What form of illness results in the deaths of so many of these beautiful creatures? This was along the shore of one of the Great Lakes. Is there some toxin in the water or in the fish these loons feed on? It turns out that hundreds of loons have died this Fall from avian botulism. They ingest invasive mussels and fish and the botulism paralyses them, resulting in drowning. What a miserable death.

When I was in Colorado and New Mexico I was so aware that we take our bodies of water and the fish and fowl that inhabit them for granted. In those states there are hardly any natural lakes and nothing on the scale of Lake Ontario. I am convinced that God the creator wants us to take care of the air we breath, the soil that grows our food, the water which is home for so much and without which we would perish.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Not So Silly United Church

Silly United Church of Canada! Two summers ago our General Council, the national gathering of delegates, decided to ban bottled water from its meetings and encouraged congregations across the country to "get off the bottle." The media picked up the story and soon we were being criticized from inside and out. What a dopey thing to address in a national meeting of a church, many thought. Who are these people to tell me not to drink bottled water, some of our folk commented. Even though the reasoning was made clear -- we shouldn't commodify a basic right for everyone and we shouldn't clog our landfills with more plastic -- folk weren't impressed.

Well, it has been an interesting 18 months. Over and over again the real dopiness of paying a relative fortune for what flows from the taps has been brought to our attention. Not just by church groups, although many other denominations have followed suit. There have been articles in the New York Times and Time magazine and countless other sources of news and commentary.

This week Toronto council considered a motion to tax water bottles so that people would be discouraged from creating so much needless waste. The same Andy Barrie I challenged with an email yesterday wondered aloud if the day will come when we recognize the sheer folly of filling glass bottles with water in France, shipping them to North American, then guzzling the contents in a few moments before tossing them away. I agree with him whole-heartedly, as I usually do.

Maybe we're not so silly after all.

The Importance of Pondering



Whaddya know. This morning I found two emails in my inbox responding to my message to Andy Barrie yesterday. While we have radios tuned to Metro Morning in every nook and cranny of our home we somehow missed the reading of my letter on air this morning (see yesterdays blog entry.) One of today's emails was from a long-time friend and the other from a prof at Wycliffe College, University of Toronto.

There are times when it seems a bit foolish to weigh in on current affairs and I have sent off letters to governments over the years which elicit form responses or silence. For some reason I keep sending them. And from time to time I get what amounts to thoughtful dialogue.

I suppose my blog is an attempt to think through the meaning of the world I live in from my Christian perspective. At times I feel as though I am stumbling along but I just can't help myself!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

More than Atheism

I am a huge fan of CBC Metro Morning's Andy Barrie but I sent him an email of mild admonishment today. He had heard about the withdrawal of the children's books by Philip Pullman from a school library's shelves. Pullman has included a strongly anti-Christian message in his books, as we discovered when our son, Isaac, read them years ago. In fact Ike chose not to continue the series because of what he felt was hatred toward the Judeo-Christian tradition.

Mr. Barrie pointed out that Pullman is an atheist and then mentioned a number of other famous atheist authors. I suggested to Andy that his comments may have confused the issue. Pullman is not just an atheist. He is an anti-theist because he targets religion in his books.In the Toronto Star today it says that Pullman has made controversial statements, telling the Washington Post in 2001 he was "trying to undermine the basis of Christian belief." In 2003, he said that compared to the Harry Potter series, his books had been "flying under the radar, saying things that are far more subversive than anything poor old Harry has said. My books are about killing God."
I pointed out in my email to Andy that while one of the authors he mentioned, Pierre Berton, was an atheist who wrote a strong criticism of the "comfortable pew" his children's books did not reflect these convictions. Would Andy be okay with books on school shelves which were negative toward gays and lesbians or which were overtly racist? I'm sure he wouldn't, even though he is a strong believer in freedom of expression. Some things just shouldn't be tolerated, even in finely crafted literature.

It is not "open season" on my faith or any other.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Mental Health and Spiritual Wholeness

Last evening about forty of us gathered at the church to listen to two presenters from Durham Mental Health. Both did an excellent job and offered practical and hopeful information about mental health services in our region. Our Pastoral Care group must be commended for organizing the event.

The one speaker named David told us about a federal report on mental health which was published last year. He quoted a sobering observation in the report which likened public response to mental illness to leprosy. Then he told us that the quotation was from the 1960's.
If it were written today AIDS might be mentioned as well. It reminded us that irrational fear is a powerful force in human interactions and mental illness can bring out that fear in a hurry.

As I listened I thought of all the people dealing with mental ill-health I have met through my years in ministry. Often they approach me in secret, afraid of what others may discover and the implications for acceptance at work and within the church. I have spent time at the hospital bedsides of intelligent, caring Christians who are in terrible psychic pain. We have prayed together but I know that God has often seemed in another galaxy for them.

Jesus healed lepers and he healed those who would probably be diagnosed with some form of mental illness today. It is Christ's compassion that we need in our hearts and minds so that we can respond with genuine compassion and practical support.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Waters of Life


The 1988 film called The Milagro Beanfield War was on television Sunday night and we watched. It wasn't all that successful twenty years ago --could it have been the mouthful name? -- although it did win an Academy Award for its music and it got good reviews. It's about a small town that has all but given up on fighting the backroom deals which will divert precious water to a new golf course and resort. A couple of local activists, including a farmer with a bean field that needs water stand up against the powers-that-be. The war is more of a skirmish, but the point comes across in this often humorous and whimsical movie and the good guys win.
The gorgeous scenery was very familiar after my recent trip to New Mexico and it turns out that it was filmed about an hour east of Ghost Ranch in the high desert. Water is at a premium there and only about ten inches of rain falls in a year. There are signs up everywhere reminding people that water is a precious commodity which should not be squandered.

We could learn from the folks in New Mexico about conservation. We will discover that we can live without oil but we can't live without clean water and even in a country blessed by abundant H20 it is not an inexhaustible resource. The Great Lakes are slowly but surely receding and we experienced drought-like months this year which resulted in depleted rivers and streams. We can pray that the dire predictions of real wars fought over water are untrue, but what will happen in a world where people grow desperate because of climate change? There are already conflicts in Africa over water.

Jesus told a woman at a well that he is Living Water which would quench her spiritual thirst. In the arrid climate of Palestine, water was and still is precious. I hope we catch on in a hurry to the notion that we must be conservationists at heart.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Bangladeshis and Samaritans


This morning I'm wondering if I am a racist. Not a hood-wearing, racial slur type of racist. That sort of activity is abhorrent to me and I'm reasonably sure that it would be for any readers of this blog.


I'm talking about the passive racism that allows me to hear about the deaths of 2,300 Bangladeshis and talk about 10,000 or more without much of a visceral response. If I heard that 10,000 Canadians had died in a natural disaster or any other form of calamity I would immediately respond in some way.

When I think back a couple of years I realize that we did make a contribution to disaster relief for the victims of the tsunami in Southeast Asia. When I read Stephen Lewis' book about AIDS in Africa called Race Against Time I wept. But I didn't finish the book. It was easier to put it down. When I went to see the film Hotel Rwanda I was moved to tears as well. Just so you know -- I rarely "tear up" but this story of genocide in Rwanda touched me deeply as well.


But there is no points system for feeling badly about the plight of others. I have to admit that it is tempting to hurry on past some of these stories. A little voice tells me that life is not as valuable in these cultures and they don't feel the pain of loss the way we do. If I'm honest I know that these are lies of convenience to assuage my conscience.


Jesus told a story about a man who did not hurry on by when he saw someone in distress, lying in the ditch. He stopped, responded with compassion, went the distance. In a time when the planet is our neighbourhood the opportunity to be Good Samaritans is always there. I'm not going to beat up on myself, but I'm not going to just pass by either.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Religion and Ethics



Check out the Religion And Ethics Newsletter provided by PBS. http://www.pbs.org/wnet/religionandethics/index_flash.html
You can subscribe to it so that it arrives every Friday through your email. Each week it offers a number of features and interviews on religious subjects. This week there is an article on the role of monks in Myanmar as well as one on a new Jewish prayer book in the United States. I find it to be very informative and intelligent.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Life's vantage points


Church St. in Bowmanville cleared out in a hurry after this morning's Santa Claus Parade. A short time ago there were thousands of people watching the floats and the bands pass by. The local zoo was well represented with an elephant and a camel and a zebra.

The manse is a prime viewing spot so lots of congregation members assemble on the veranda and the lawn. Folk visit and graze on the cookies and squares and hot cider Ruth provides. Its the fifth time we have hosted the gathering.

This year there were three little ones who were experiencing their first Santa Claus parade. Last year they didn't exist outside the womb. Now they are wide-eyed and eared as the sights and sounds pass by.

Two girls were present who had recently lost their father. What a strange reality for them. My heart went out to them and to their mother. Our new next-door neighbours were experiencing their first parade from the vantage point of their porch. Our elderly former neighbour lived for years in the house and her family would join her for the parade. She died in her sleep in her home last year. Two of her daughters who are grandmothers themselves showed up and we chatted. It just felt right for them to be there for the parade and the memories.

Life is filled with comings and goings. Much of ministry is honouring the passages and helping people acknowledge that God is present in the joy and the sadness. Even the Santa Claus parade offers that vantage point.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Receiving Images

Claudia Tammen Images


The photographer at Ghost Ranch, Claudia Tammen, spoke to us about changing the language she uses about what she does. We speak of "taking" photographs and "capturing" the moment and lots of other imagery which sounds a lot like plundering. She is attempting to use terms such as "receiving images" as a reminder that what happens in her art is more a gift than a hunting expedition. With my background in art history I do feel that there are parallels between the grace received in meaningful images and sounds and the grace received from the God of life.


Take a look at Claudia's work from our time at Ghost Ranch. Her email arrived this morning so this is as current as it gets. http://claudiatammen.smugmug.com/gallery/3807103#219779195

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Like a Virgin


I am quite fascinated by this guy. His name is Richard Branson and he is a British gajillionaire.
In some ways he is every parent's nightmare in that he dropped out of school and immediately did well. So much for "get an education or you'll end up digging ditches!" He starts companies with amazing ease and regularity and they nearly all turn out to be a good idea.
It's not the getting rich thing that fascinates me. It is that he has decided to turn some of his manic creative energy and a fair amount of his wealth to addressing global climate change. The profits from his Virgin airlines and other transportation interests will go to develop clean fuels to reduce some of that nasty carbon threatening to choke the planet. His goal is to give away $3 billion over the next ten years.
I like this new breed of philanthropist. Guys (it seems to be mostly rich men) such as Bill Gates and Warren Buffet and Branson appear to have tired somewhat of simply amassing wealth and are attempting to be as creative in directing it for good purposes. Branson says that he now spends about half of his time on social issues. His foundation recently built a clinic in Africa for AIDS patients and he promises to do more.
Jesus warned us about wealth because the love of money messes us up and distorts our priorities. But he also encouraged the generous redistribution of wealth. You can't give it away if you don't have it. I doubt Branson will be using a food bank anytime soon, but I like his new trajectory.