Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Cradle to Cradle

Airports tend to be a blight on the landscape and ecological disasters. Many kilometres of paved runways, jet exhaust, and every effort to scare away "nuisance" wildlife. To paraphrase Joni Mitchell, we "pave paradise and put up an airport terminal."

This week the lovely Terminal Two (see above) at Pearson airport was closed and is soon to be demolished. The interesting story here, from my perspective, is that the buildings will be recycled. Up to 98% of the material in the complex will be recycled rather than consigned to landfills. Concrete will be crushed and used elsewhere on the airport grounds. In fact, much of the material will never leave the site.

In our culture we aren't very good at "reduce, reuse, recycle" because we figure we don't have to be. We have assumed that there are lots of places where we can dispose of our garbage. Of course that notion is being put to the test these days, particularly in the GTA.

There is a book called Cradle to Cradle

which challenges us to develop a different mindset, a stewardship perspective, that asks what the life-span of the material goods we purchase and discard will be. If it's possible to recycle an airport terminal, surely we can be more care-full about asking whether we need our stuff in the first place, the longevity of our possessions, and who will have to deal with our discarded junk in the long-run.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

God Loves Winter!

I swept the sidewalk this morning after a light snowfall. I really don't mind Winter if there are cold days and snow on the ground. It is the Southern Ontario season of Grey, following Autumn, that is soul-destroying. Last evening the snow fell gently as we walked to yoga, and the nearly-full moon was visible through the haze of precipitation. How unfortunate that some people never have this experience of creation. Below are some reflections on Winter, courtesy of Christianity Today magazine.

AS LONG as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.Genesis 8:22 (NRSV)

[GOD] gives snow like wool; he scatters frost like ashes. He hurls down hail like crumbs— who can stand before his cold?
Psalm 147:16-17 (NRSV)

IT IS a pleasure to the real lover of nature to give winter all the glory he can, for summer will make its own way and speak its own praises.
Dorothy Wordsworth, Journals of Dorothy Wordsworth

THE COLD autumn rains, the gray austerity of winter woodscape, the pearl purity of December snowfall—all awaken a desire inside of me that, I know, God will not disappoint.

Vigen Guroian, The Fragrance of God

I LIKE these cold, gray, winter days. Days like these let you savor a bad mood.
Bill Watterson, Calvin and Hobbes

HAVE YOU entered the storehouses of the snow,
or have you seen the storehousesof the hail?Job 38:22 (NRSV)

IN SEEDTIME, learn; in harvest, teach; in winter, enjoy.
William Blake, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell

COLD AND CHILL, bless the Lord.
Dew and rain, bless the Lord.
Frost and chill, bless the Lord.
Ice and snow, bless the Lord.
Nights and days, bless the Lord.
Light and darkness, bless the Lord.
Canticle of the Three Youths

IF WINTER COMES, can spring be far behind?

Percy Bysshe Shelley, "Ode to the West Wind"

Friday, January 26, 2007

God's Green Earth

U.S. President George Bush didn't smile often during his State of the Union Address. He was almost subdued in manner, with no sign of his usual cockiness. Little wonder. He really didn't have much to brag about. One of the few positives in his speech was the promise of responsible, practical change in the stewardship of energy resources:

Keeping America competitive requires affordable energy. And here we have a serious problem: America is addicted to oil, which is often imported from unstable parts of the world. The best way to break this addiction is through technology. Since 2001, we have spent nearly $10 billion to develop cleaner, cheaper and more reliable alternative energy sources. And we are on the threshold of incredible advances.

So tonight I announce the Advanced Energy Initiative -- a 22 percent increase in clean-energy research at the Department of Energy to push for breakthroughs in two vital areas. To change how we power our homes and offices, we will invest more in zero-emission coal-fired plants; revolutionary solar and wind technologies; and clean, safe nuclear energy.

Here in Canada the Conservative government, not known for being "green," is suddenly proposing and enacting ecologically responsible initiatives all over the place. In both countries there has been a shift in public opinion. A Canadian poll this week moves the environment to the top of our list of concerns.

We need to pray. We need to pray that having reached the "tipping point" of public opinion there will also be a decisive shift in public action. For all the ominous signs in our world, this can be a time of promise which will create shalom for generations to come.

O Lord how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all... Ps 104:24

Thursday, January 25, 2007

The Labyrinth of Faith

I was about to leave the church late yesterday afternoon when I heard a "hi David" at my door. A congregational family was in the building and the nine-year-old daughter stopped by to see me.

She had a mission. She wanted to follow the small ceramic labyrinth on my coffee table. On another occasion she had been in my study and was intrigued by the labyrinth, asking me to explain it. Now she was back for the experience. Although I was about to go out the door for supper, I invited her in. She carefully made her way to the centre with the wooden stylus. Then she announced she was going to trace her way back out again!

Patience. It is important to be a patient companion on the spiritual journey. Another child, a bright boy with concentration issues, also likes this labyrinth. He has followed it several times and is surprisingly calm and focussed as he makes his way along the path.

The journey of faith begins early and continues for a lifetime.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

We Are Not Alone

There are times when I visit elderly members where the expression on their faces says "I'm so glad you've come!" With others it is "Oh, it's you again. " In one congregation there was a woman who was so overwhelmingly negative in every conversation that I felt like arm wrestling the pastoral care staff member as to who would visit her next. She was so critical of her doctor, lawyer, building superintendent that we just knew we would be the target once we left!

The little piece below came to me from an online devotional and it made me laugh.

For 25 years, part of my pastoral ministry has been to hold services in a nursing home. One of the "regulars" has her television remote control attached to the arm of her wheelchair. When my attempts at being humorous fall flat, this dear lady aims the control at me and threatens to turn me off.One day, as she played her little joke, I laughed and told her she couldn't turn me off. She smiled and replied, "I'm not trying to turn you off. I'm trying to get a different channel."

-- Wayne McKay in Christian Reader, "Lite Fare"

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

I Was a Stranger and You Welcomed Me

Last night a dozen homeless people bunked down in an Anglican church situated in one of Toronto's toniest neighbourhoods called "the Beach." We might not have heard about it, except for the concerns of those who lived in the area. This program is new for St. Aidan's, and those who live around the church want to know about the safety of bringing the homeless into a residential area. There is a nursery school in the church facility, and both the administators and parents have concerns as well.

As tempting as it might be to criticize these neighbours , they had every right to know what was going to happen alongside them. When we lived in Northern Ontario our downtown congregation began an Out of the Cold dinner. Our modern church building also housed more than a hundred seniors. How would we make sure they were safe? What effect would the dinner guests have on the businesses which were in the building? The honest questions and the resistance pushed us to be well organized as well as idealistic, long before the first people came through the door.

Nearly a decade later the program is still running. Some still figure it shouldn't be there. Thousands have been nourished through those dinners. And volunteers, from young children to seniors, developed a whole new perspective on the words of Jesus "for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me."Matthew 25:35

The information sessions for the folk living around St. Aidan's have allayed many of the fears and last night the program began. In the end it will be a refuge of Christ's compassion for the twelve who sleep and eat there (a good biblical number don't you think?) It may be of even greater benefit for the spiritual health of this neighbourhood.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Week of Prayer

In order to unite with one another, we must love one another;
in order to love one another, we must know one another;
in order to know one another, we must go and meet one another.
These words were penned by the bishop who was instrumental in establishing the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity more than 100 years ago. For decades this week in January has been a designated time for prayerful reflection and a call for the body of Christ to overcome denominational divisions in the common purpose of prayer.
Sounds good, doesn't it? Through the years I have joked that this is the Week of Prayer for Christian Apathy because there is so little enthusiasm for the cause, even though we are all people of prayer. We seem to have far more energy for describing how we are not like other expressions of the Christian community, including those in our own denomination, than for what unites us.
One of the lectionary readings this week is from 1 Corinthians 12
For just as the body is one and has many members,
and all the members of the body, though many,
are one body, so it is with Christ.
For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body
--Jews or Greeks, slaves or free--
and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.
As Dr. Phil would say "what part of this don't we understand?"

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Doomsday, Dawning Day

Yesterday we heard that the Doomsday Clock has been moved a couple of minutes closer to midnight. In 1947 a group of atomic scientists developed this clock as a way of calling the world's attention to the peril of nuclear weapon proliferation. The minute hand has moved toward and away from midnight through the years, depending on world circumstances. In 1991, arms treaties resulted in moving the hand back to seventeen minutes before Armageddon. The recent resetting inched it to within five minutes of midnight.

The article I read began "Be afraid. Be more afraid." I don't want to live in fear. I am a realist, and appreciate the insanity of nuclear arsenals at high alert, as well as rogue nations developing this terrible capability. Our cavalier attitude toward the health of the environment of which we are a part is also pushing the minute hand in the wrong direction.

Still, my Christian faith calls me to live and love beyond fear, and to trust that I can be God's partner in a new day. The invitation is to live in "dawning day" time rather than by a doomsday clock. My attitudes and my actions must correspond with that commitment.

There is a simple chorus in the soon-to-be-published More Voices music resource called Don't Be Afraid which we have used in worship as a prayer response. It says:

Don't be afraid. My love is stronger, my love is stronger than your fear.

Don't be afraid. My love is stronger and I have promised,

promised to be always near.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

A Bead and a Prayer

Several years ago our son, Isaac, who is now twenty-four spent a year in France and Switzerland. During that time he lived in two Christian communities, Taize and Grandchamp. I went to visit him for a couple of weeks at Taize and while there he gave me a very simple rosary which he had been using as a prayer focus. The prayer beads of the rosary aren't very Protestant, but I was touched. As he handed them to me I felt a surge of power as though God's Spirit was passing into me. I wrote about it in my journal at the time and then forgot about it, until recently.

I was sorting through the usual debris of my bedside table when I discovered the rosary. As I handled the cross and the beads I felt that "charge" once again, and recalled how I had first received them. Taize is a place of constant prayer and while I was there I felt bathed in Christ's love.

Perhaps I was nudged into my house-cleaning as a reminder that I don't need to travel to France to experience that loving presence. It was good to email Isaac in Montreal and share this story with him.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

One for the Road

This morning I got a call from a guy I'll call Bobby. Bobby was at the truck stop at the 401 with his sister and wanted breakfast. There is a chapel at this truck stop and the chaplain had given them supper and a night at the motel. Now the two of them were looking for a morning meal before hitting the road again.

My first inclination was to say no. I told Bobby that I couldn't leave the church because of a meeting. He offered to walk into town for the cash on a morning when it was minus twelve degrees. I told him this wasn't a good idea and promised to get back to him. I drove out to the highway, talked to the chaplain to make sure that their story was legit (there are lots of scam artists out there) and then went into the restaurant to arrange for the meal. While I was at the cash register a couple from St. Vincent de Paul came in on the same mission. Bobby had been busy making calls. He told them that he was okay now, and as we left we introduced ourselves. It took me twenty minutes, maybe twenty five, in total and I wasn't all that late for my meeting.

I'm glad I went, even though I wouldn't do it every time. I was able to help this couple through the generosity of the St. Paul's congregation. I met the trucker chaplain for the first time despite having driven past the trailer with the cross on top dozens of times. I discovered that the local Roman Catholic congregation reaches out to travelers in need. The fellow from St. Vincent de Paul told me they get four or five calls a month with similar requests.

God is at work whether we know it or not.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Speaking of Sin

I must admit that I'm a bit nervous. Most Januarys I take a sabbatical from the lectionary passages and address a topic or group of topics for a few weeks, choosing appropriate scripture readings.

I got my idea for this year in December when I read a spiritual and theological autobiography by Douglas John Hall, one of Canada's foremost theologians (he is United Church.) He speaks of the centrality of the cross of Christ. It got me thinking about sin and how sin has virtually disappeared from the language of our denomination. I'm told that other churches, including evangelical congregations, downplay the sin talk as well, fearing that it will seem too negative.

I dug out another book called Speaking of Sin: The Lost Language of Salvation by Barbara Brown Taylor. She is a wise woman who argues persuasively that we still need the language of sin, repentance, salvation to help us understand both our alienation from God and the repair of our relationship with our creator and redeemer. She goes so far as to call sin "a helpful, hopeful word." She points out that we love to get to God's grace without asking why God needs to be forgiving and gracious in the first place.

So, for the next few weeks I will be speaking of sin. We'll see how this is received. If my blog disappears and you see a tall guy on a street corner with a sign saying "Will preach for food" you'll know that it turned out badly. Say a prayer!

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Beneath the Cross of Jesus

A marvellous gift has been made to the Art Gallery of Toronto by developer Murray Frum. It is a sculpture of the crucifixion of Christ by the 17th century artist Bernini. I will pilfer the description of Bernini in today's Toronto Star:

Bernini is known for his work at St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, especially an immense gilt-bronze baldachin (ornamental canopy) with twisted columns, created between 1624 and 1633, as well as Vatican papal tombs. But he's best loved for several great fountains in Rome.

I look forward to contemplating this devotional piece created by one of the great artists of his time. It is ironic that this depiction of the shameful execution of "a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief," who left this world with no material legacy, is valued at $50 million.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Polly Want a Conversation?

Okay, I want to meet N'Kisi. He is a captive grey parrot who lives in New York and has an impressive English vocabulary. It's estimated that N'Kisi knows and uses 950 words. To give you a context, about 100 words are needed for half of all reading in English. No, N'Kisi cannot read, but he has shown a remarkable ability to put words together. This defies chance use of what he has learned -- he isn't just "parroting" what he has been taught. He had seen photos of Jane Goodall and her chimpanzees and when Goodall came to visit he greeted her with "Got a chimp?" He describes his owner"s aromatherapy oils as "pretty smelly medicine."

Why does a precocious parrot matter? As a professor of veterinary medicine put it "The more we look at the cognitive abilities of animals, the more advanced they appear, and the biggest leap of all has been with parrots." This challenges the Cartesian notion that animals are not sentient beings like humans and that we can do as we choose with them for our benefit. If they are created by God as we are created we will treat them with the respect they deserve.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Blessed Art Thou

No, it's not your imagination. That is Angelina Jolie descending from heaven with a Walmart as hell below. This painting by artist Kate Kretz is called Blessed Art Thou and is a comment on celebrity worship in North America. Love or hate the painting, it is a provocative jab at our adoration of entertainment figures, including movie and television stars. Even those who are supposedly addressing more serious subjects such as Oprah and Dr. Phil develop an almost cult following.

I read a report last year on a study which found that people have a tendency to become more "religious" about sports and entertainment figures when they are not involved in a faith community. Who knows if this is true. Still, who is worthy of our adoration? On Sunday we heard that the magi knelt before Jesus and offered their homage. It is important to keep our priorities straight!

Bye the way, the painting is yours for $50,000 (U.S.)

Friday, January 05, 2007

Green Politics

This is from today's Toronto Star, and as is so often the case, a political cartoonist doubles as a prophet!

Live With Respect in Creation

North Channel, Georgian Bay

At 5:30 this morning I went out on the veranda to pick up my Globe and Mail. It was so balmy I had to check the temperature. Eight degrees. January 5th. 5:30 in the morning.

Front page headline: PM Charts a Greener Course. This refers to Stephen Harper's decision to "shoot the messenger," environment minister Rona Ambrose, and replace her with John Baird. For me this is a shuffle, not a change, at least until I see some substantive, practical u-turns in the government's approach to urgent environmental issues. It is a start, and a response to polls showing that the environment is the number-one issue for Canadians at the moment.

I'm glad that the environment is "heating up" on the agendas of all the political parties. During the last three federal elections I have encouraged parishioners to look at the environmental platform for the different parties and vote accordingly. That's what I have chosen to do.

In our United Church statement of faith there are the phrases "We believe in God: who has created and is creating" and "We are live with respect in Creation."

This is the time.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Emerging Spirit and Epiphanies

Last evening our Visioning and Strategic Planning group met for the first time in the new year. We had lots on the agenda, including a discussion of what we would put on a bumper sticker to advertise our congregation. There were several good suggestions including Fed by God, Feeding God's People. I enjoy this group for a number of reasons, including the age of those involved. There are a total of ten members, six of whom are forty or under -- we old-timers are outnumbered!

We also discussed the Emerging Spirit program is getting under way, and targets the forty and under group that has gone missing in many United Churches.

My epiphany or revelation on the drive home was that this sought-after group was well represented at the meeting and are involved in our congregation. We are fortunate -- blessed is probably a better word even though it gets overused in church-talk.

Saturday is the Day of Epiphany on the liturgical calendar but it is Day of Pentecost words that come to mind:

I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.
Acts 2

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Your Attention Please!

I am one of those people who usually resolves not to make resolutions at the beginning of each new year. I made just one resolution for 2007 --to pay attention.

January 1 was an incredibly warm day so I headed out for a long walk at Second Marsh with my wife Ruth. A section of our amble took us along the Lake Ontario beach which is sand and pebbles and glass.

Not much glass, I'll admit. Just tiny pieces similar to the ones above, well polished by the actions of waves and the abrasive qualities of the natural materials around them. We always find them when we walk this shoreline but we have to pay careful attention. A glimmer next to a rock will reveal a little treasure. Sometimes turning around will allow the sunlight to illuminate a piece that was invisible going the other way.

An important aspect of the life in faith is giving attention to the little treasures of God's presence. The Buddhists speak of mindfulness, but it is not exclusive to their outlook. Jesus was remarkable attentive to the details, even as he invited the curious to consider the bigger picture of God's presence. He reminded us to consider the flowers of the fields and the birds of the air and the glass on the beach. Okay, I added the last bit.

Why bother? Because much of life's joy is in the bits and pieces. Much of faith is in the chance encounters and the passing conversations and the surprising moments of beauty.

Being Christian is the art of attention to grace in the little things as well as the big ones.

So I resolve to pay attention.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Christmas Leftovers

I had not intended to enter the bloggers version of the witness protection program. But I disappeared for ten days or so because of Christmas busyness and then a nasty cold. So I have some Christmas leftovers.

The Saturday before Christmas the Globe and Mail newspaper included two supposedly unrelated articles about caves. Actually, one was about a 27-kilometre-long tunnel in Switzerland where the search is on for the theoretical, sub-atomic twinkle in the eyes of physicists dubbed the "God Particle." This tiny particle may help explain mass --or not -- and raises interesting questions about the origins of everything, a quest which excites both physicists and theologians. John Polkinghorne, a former Cambridge particle physicist who resigned his prestigious chair to become an Anglican priest is interviewed in the article on the wonder of researching the essence of our existence.

The other article was about the birth of Jesus in a grotto, or a cave, the sheltering place for shepherds and sheep in the Bethlehem region to this day. The author is inspired by G.K. Chesterton, the mystery writer of a century ago, and a great Christian. I quote the author:

Incubated in the earth, from the subterranean recesses of mankind's collective mythologizing, the God-child is born:" on a dark and curtained stage, sunken out of sight," the Incarnation, "glory in the darkness," turns myth into real history.

Tiny Jesus in the grotto gives weight to God-with-us.

These articles about physics and metaphysics spoke to me of the great mystery of God who is both cosmic and incarnational, the wonder of the universe and the wonder of a helpless infant.