Thursday, May 31, 2007

Creation Story

A new, 27 million dollar museum has opened in Kentucky to support the notion of a literal six day creation. In the exhibits dinosaurs and children co-exist and there is a depiction of Adam and Eve as the first couple.

This Sunday is Trinity Sunday, which affirms God as creator, redeemer and sustainer. I certainly believe in a God who brought all things into being and continues the work of creation. I'm just not a Creationist. While the opening chapters of Genesis are essential reading for Christians, the story of a six-day creation doesn't need to be read as a science text book. I figure God could be wonderfully, creatively at work through the long process of evolution and even allow for chance.

Apparently half of Americans hold that the Earth and its creatures were created "as is" despite what science teaches. Francis Collins is a key figure in the humans genome project. He is able to reconcile his deep Christian faith with the marvellous complexity of the evolutionary process. I'm with Collins. I want to align my admittedly limited imagination with the imagination of the triune God.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The Environator

The Terminator has become the Environator, or so it seems. The governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, visited Ontario this week to talk trade and care for the earth. Arnie still smokes cigars and drives a Hummer (several, in fact) but under his leadership the state has taken a number of progressive steps to make the smoggy air of California cleaner. The population of California exceeds that of all of Canada and folk there love their cars, so something decisive needed to be done.

Schwarzenegger is a Republican, a member of a party that believes in free enterprise and minimal government interference. It's good to see that the state has come to realize that taking care of the environment is good for health and good for business.

Hasta la vista Governor. I think God would appreciate it if you scrapped the Hummers.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

More Traditions


This was the header on a recent email from the United Church to congregations. It outlined the specific case of a woman, originally from Guinea, and her two children who will soon be deported to her country of origin. As a child this mother underwent what is sometimes called female circumcision but is described as female mutilation by opponents. It is often a painful and inhumane ritual which can leave women emotionally and physically scarred for life. In some cases those who are subject to this mutilation of their sexual organs die. The practice is illegal in Canada.

The woman who may be deported is convinced that her daughter will be mutilated if they return to her homeland, even though she is opposed to it.

The United Church and other groups have protested the deportation.

Obviously we don't know the bigger picture of this particular case. It is another reminder that customs and traditions from other cultures are not congruent with practices and sensibilities in Canada. The United Church and Senator Lois Wilson, a former moderator of the UCC, also spoke out against the introduction of Sharia law in Ontario, a form of law which is practiced in many Islamic nations because of concerns about the violation of women's rights.

It is a delicate balance between customs and rituals which are imbued with religious significance and our commitments to human rights.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Windy Sunday

No one can tell me,
Nobody knows,
Where the wind comes from,
Where the wind goes.
A.A. Milne
I must confess that while it is great to have the blockbuster Christian festivals of Christmas and Easter, I am partial to Pentecost. The story of the animation of the early Christian community by something akin to wind and fire is exciting and challenging.
Through the centuries the church has experienced unexpected and unpredictable renewal. God's Spirit has often worked in spite of rather than because of the communities of faith.
A.A. Milne invented Eeyore the pessimistic creature who is the companion of Winnie the Pooh. He also wrote the little poem which speaks of the mysterious wind which comes and goes without our direction. Pentecost is my reminder that despite the temptation to be pessimistic in the church -- "it'll never work" --the breeze of the Holy Spirit won't allow us to stay there.
Happy Pentecost!

Thursday, May 24, 2007


The Circumcision -- Bellini

Okay, it is a delicate subject --circumcision. The word is that a small but increasing number of Jewish parents are choosing not to have their sons circumcized. This has been an important ritual of the Jewish faith for 3,000 years signifying commitment to God and loyalty to the faith. It is so central that those who are choosing not to circumcize their boys are reluctant to speak about it or give their names in interviews because of family and community expectations.

When I saw an article on this yesterday it made me wonder about our rituals. I continue to be unsettled by some of the requests for baptism by parents who have given up any meaningful involvement with their Christian faith. It may be a ritual without much depth for them, but it is powerful for me and I am reluctant to "go through the motions." I'm glad that more and more parents wait for baptism until it represents a significant commitment.

We speak of our sacraments as an outward sign of an inward reality. We understand that some Christian groups such as the Salvation Army and the Quakers don't observe them. Of course the Roman Catholics have seven sacraments instead of the Protestant two.

Whatever our rituals, they need to be grounded in a profound spiritual experience. And even if we minimize or omit the rituals, God can be present in our lives.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Applause Please

We are waiting for the Catalpa tree in our backyard to leaf out and come into bloom. Our first Spring here we wondered if this tree was dead because it was June before the leaves emerged. The blossoms are beautiful as the photo indicates. We have a couple of other flowering trees -- a lilac and a serviceberry -- as well as a number of flowering shrubs which are virtually tree size. Then there are the spruces and cedars, two white ashes and a maple. We are fortunate to be surrounded by these living, breathing entities. This was in the Globe and Mail today:

Viva trees
Some of the Tree Huggers' Creed, reports Harrowsmith Country Life magazine:
--Trees keep us cool. One large tree releases 400 gallons of water into the air each day. The water absorbs heat as it evaporates, cooling the air.
--Trees save us money. Well-placed deciduous trees can reduce air-conditioning costs by 10 to 50 per cent.
--Trees create peace (and quiet). A belt of trees 100 feet wide absorbs as much as six to 12 decibels of highway noise.

The bible is partial to trees with many references. My favorite?

For you shall go out in joy,
and be led back in peace:
the mountains and the hills before you
shall burst into song,
and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. Isaiah 55: 12

I'm listening.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Eco-Earnest Ellen

I'm going to admit that one of my guilty pleasures is catching a portion of the Ellen Degeneres show when I come home in the afternoon. She is fun-loving and goofy and not trying to be my spiritual guru (Oprah.) Hey, she makes me laugh.

The other day I caught the few minutes near the end of the program where her guest gave us a number of practical ideas on how to be kinder to the environment. The light bulbs and the cleaning products were there, and other stuff we already do in our household.

Then there was the inevitable Ellen give-away. A lucky woman won a hybrid Toyota Prius for answering a couple of questions about the environment correctly. The loser was given a trip to Mexico -- by airplane of course. As the credits rolled we were reminded that a major sponsor of the show is an airline. What is the biggest part of our environmental footprint for many of us? Travelling in airplanes. We could replace all our light bulbs and those of our entire neighbourhood and still not get close to the effect of flying.

Don't get me wrong, I love to travel and I actually enjoy flying even though I am always shoe-horned into the seats. It's just a reminder that the issues are complex and a few minutes on an entertainment program don't come close to the heart of the issue.

God knows Ellen has a huge influence and so I'm glad she is eco-earnest. I am convinced that this will have to be an area of transformation in our lives over the long haul. As people who worship God and want to honour creation we will need to lead the way once the tide of popularity for these issues wanes.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Miracle of Birth

As I drove back from the gym this morning it occurred to me that the "miracle of birth" which we tend to take for granted in our culture can be risky business.

In the nearly four years I have been here at St. Paul's several mothers have undergone Caesarian sections to give birth and some of them have been hospitalized or "house-bound" for periods before delivery.

Others have agonized over fertility issues or waited with both anxiety and anticipation for news about adoption.

I have stood in the nursery at the hospital looking in wonder at "premies" who were so tiny it's hard to imagine they could live in this world. My truly heart-breaking moment was conducting a funeral for infant twins who did not make it to full term and were too fragile to survive.

I thank God that every mother has lived. If you take a walk through older cemeteries and read gravestones you will realize that this was not the case a hundred years ago.

Jesus invited Nicodemus to be "born again," a phrase used to speak of spiritual transformation and renewal. Birth is a miracle, but neither physical or spiritual birth comes easily.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007


It's only when I use photos!


I'm baffled as to why blogger does not recognize the paragraph breaks I include in my drafts of entries. I go back in to correct the problem to no avail. I realize that it makes readings more difficult. I appreciate your patience.

And...congratulations to Camille, a regular reader, who just gave birth to Logan. Of course she will have tons of time now to peruse blog entries. Kidding.

How the Mighty have Fallen

A few days ago Tony Blair announced his June resignation. He has been Prime Minister of Britain for ten years, an impressive run. When I was in Britain last September I was aware that he had become a reviled figure for many, curious because the antagonism toward him in his homeland is much greater than in other nations. The debacle in Iraq and the preception that he is George Bush's lackey has undermined his popularity.
The record shows that Blair's government has done exceedingly well in governing. The economy is robust, debt has been kept under control. This has been done while greatly expanding social programs that had been starved during the Thatcher years. As an example, far fewer children are living in poverty and some suggest the eradicating child poverty is now an attainable goal, something only dreamed about in Canada and the U.S. Oddly, these positive programs to address the needs of those on the margins of society have been downplayed by the government out of concern that they will be perceived as "soft."
One assessment of his role as leader speaks of Blair's deep religious convictions. He is a Christian and acts out of a strong sense of what is moral and ethical. While many of us may feel that he took a serious wrong turn when it came to involvement in Iraq, he acted on what he thought best for the country and the world.
Perhaps it is the sobering reality of being in my fifties (I am a year younger than Prime Minister Tony) that makes me wonder about the notion of a legacy. Do I make choices as a leader for the sake of popularity or because of what I believe is right for the flock I serve? I hope it is generally the latter. I promise I will never lead my congregation into a war in the Middle East.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Law and Grace

Last week the young man in this photo, Manny Castillo, died as the result of an altercation during a high school rugby game. Witnesses said that the incident was not related to play on the field.
The opposing player who alleged forced Manny to the ground was charged with assault and the charges may be more severe now that Castillo has died.
The parents in grief insist that the youth who fought with their son should not be punished, that the tragic events were a result of the heat of competition and no punishment will bring their son back.
The police and crown prosecutors may well see differently. When are grace and forgiveness appropriate? As a student for the ministry I spent several months in chaplaincy at Kingston Penitentiary. Many of my parishioners were convicted murderers who would be in prison for years because of their crimes with no eligibility for parole before fixed dates. We talked a great deal about forgiveness and God's love and grace. These inmates knew that their religious convictions would not change their penalties. Most of them understood that they could be forgiven individually, but would still pay their debt to society.
What do you think?

Monday, May 14, 2007

Beginnings and Endings

On Friday evening I had just finished drying off after a spirited water-gun battle with a group of enthusiastic pre-teens from the church when a knock came on the door. One of our members asked if I would come to the hospital because his sister-in-law was dying. Although she was seventy years old she had never been baptized. Because of her mental and physical challenges and the untimely death of her mother she had lived with relatives and in group homes most of her life. The sacrament which her siblings had experienced in infancy had never happened for her.
I changed my clothes, gathered up a bible and a container of water, and headed for the hospital. The family explained that their loved one had gone to church while in the group homes and loved it, whatever she might have comprehended. As unusual as the circumstances were, it was entirely appropriate to baptize her and it was a very meaningful experience for me. I sensed the presence of God's Spirit in what we were doing. The next day I was informed that she died a few hours after I left.
On Sunday we baptized two infants who were at the beginning of their journey of faith. I took a moment to inform the congregation of the baptism which was an ending. Both were symbols of our resurrection faith.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Life and Death and Life Beyond Death

I began yesterday in conversation with a young mother who is to give birth to her second child today, by Caesarian section. While she was a bit apprehensive she was much more excited than worried.
In the afternoon I visited an elderly man in the hospital who was so close to death that he was not responsive. I spoke with his wife at the bedside. She told me about their 62 years of marriage and her conviction that God had given her the strength for all the health problems her husband had experienced.
In the evening I met with two families whose children will be baptized on Sunday. The mood shifted back to celebration.
Today the older member died and I spent time with the family planning the funeral. Because he was a person of faith it will be a celebration of his life and the resurrection promise.
Our United Church creed says "in life, in death, in life beyond death, God is with us, we are not alone." We affirm this in every situation of our life in community.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Hawks and Doves

Martin McGuinness and Ian Paisley have been arch-enemies for decades. They have lived on either side of the divide of religion in Northern Ireland. Although Paisley is an ordained minister he has fomented hate and antagonism in God's name. Thousands have died as a result of old grudges that should never have existed. Now the two sit next to each other for "photo ops," sipping tea and joking as they prepare to govern together. As much as I am glad that they have moved from being hawks to doves, I am saddened by the violence perpetrated in God's name. No wonder some atheists stridently decry religion. We do make a mess of things even though Jesus said "blessed are the peacemakers" and most religions have an ethic of compassion.
Will we ever learn? I hope so. Jesus also said, "this is my commandment, that you love one another." It's not an option, and we celebrate every little victory.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Ora et Labora Part 2

Regularly folk ask me to pray for them in the midst of many different circumstances. Some are dealing with personal crises. Others are trying to discern God's leading into new aspects of their lives. I say I will uphold them in prayer, and I do. I find, though, that in the midst of the busyness of church life they often end up on my "must do" list. I end up feeling guilty that I don't pray more, especially for those who are at their wits end.

While I was on retreat last week I found that names were surfacing without bidding. In the solitude they moved from "must do" status to "want to do." Rather than being crammed into my schedule, prayer for others was part of the upwelling of God's presence. I could put down the book or professional journal I was reading and ask God to be with the person whose situation spoke to me.

I can't always go away for these wider pools of prayer but I can attempt to create more modest ripples in the everyday work of the community.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Ora et Labora

Its not often that I come up with a Latin phrase, but "ora et labora" is one worth knowing. It means "prayer and work" in English and it is the motto of those monastic orders that follow the rule of St. Benedict.

I was away last week for a time of prayer and work. I went on retreat on a beautiful farm north of Kingston. Friends have offered a bed and breakfast and retreat on this property for years and I have gone there before for the same purpose. They are good at respecting my need for solitude and their own faith allows them to be sympathetic to my goals.

For a long time they have wanted to build a small cabin as a place for prayer and solitude situated back in the cedars and pines at one end of the property. I offered to work with Bill on this project in part of each day, which he decided was a good idea. Each afternoon we spent a few hours building the base for a small log cabin. We put together the frame using cedar and spruce cut and milled on the property. The floor boards are pine, also taken from the surrounding bush. During the next few weeks he will fell cedar trees to use as the logs for the walls. Perhaps next year I will sleep in this structure, placed close to a tumbling stream, rather than in the farmhouse.

The quiet time for reading and prayer was meaningful, as always. So was the physical work, so unlike what I do from day to day. God was present in both experiences, prayer and work.