Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Melissa Etheridge sings I Need to Wake Up

Listen !

Wakey Wakey

There were Al and Tipper, as in Gore, beaming from the audience at the Academy Awards, basking in the glow reflected from the little golden guy presented after An Inconvenient Truth won for Best Documentary film. There was Melissa, as in Etheridge, thrilled because her song, I Need to Wake Up, was a surprise winner for Best Song. Global Climate Change was a star at the Oscar's and the audience was told that these Awards had "gone green." I am delighted that hundreds of millions of people were reminded that this is an issue which must be addressed, and immediately.

Of course the Oscars are known for their glitz and glamour, not their depth or substance. Good actors take on roles that are not at all like their own personalities. If they do it really well they are given awards. It's interesting that the word "hypocrite" has its Greek root in the word for actor. Somehow we all have to act authentically, not as hypocrites who say one thing and do another.

In his words of acceptance Mr. Gore (the Goracle as he has been dubbed) said that our "will is a renewable resource." It's a great phrase and one that Green Christians can take to heart. We need to be people of the truth, even when it is inconvenient. We all need to wake up.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Hide and Seek

On Sunday morning I left my study before worship to attend to something elsewhere in the building. When I returned I found someone hiding behind the door!

Fortunately it was an eight-year-old girl who was in the midst of a game of hide-and-seek with other members of the junior choir. This group of eighteen kids must occupy themselves for half an hour after their practice ends and the service begins. I have noticed that they are quite inventive.

What struck me on Sunday was that the girl behind my door didn't look embarrassed or apologetic. She simply touched her finger to her lips to "shush" me, figuring I would be part of the playful conspiracy. Not only did I accept my role, I was pleased to be included.

A lot is made of the importance of children in our midst, and a fair amount of fretting takes place about their conspicuous absence in many congregations. I am thrilled that I have something more that a passing relationship with some of our children. As my graying beard becomes even grayer I don't want to lose sight of what these kids have to offer us. They can't be hidden or marginalized or patronized in our life together.

In worship we baptized three babies in Christ's name and made the commitment to nurture them in faith. What a privilege. In the years ahead we must make sure that they are not hidden in plain sight.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Savouring the Good Life

I began a study group this week -two actually -- on the subject of care for creation. We looked at the biblical background of the goodness of all that God has made. I also read from a wise novel, Jayber Crow, by farmer, poet, essayist, novelist, professor, Christian Wendell Berry.

The title character, Jayber, lives in another era and balances roles as the town barber, grave-digger and church caretaker. As the custodian he hears a lot of sermons whether he wants to or not. They are delivered by clergy-in-training because his village can't afford a full-time pastor. These young ministers too often wear the mantle of power rather than the mantle of knowledge, as he puts it. They spend a lot of time warning of the sins of this world and the reward of heaven. In Jayber's words, "they learned to have a very high opinion of God and a very low opinion of His works --although they could tell you that this world had been made by God..."

Jayber doubts that anyone believes these messages scorning the beauty and goodness of this world, including the preachers who deliver them:

The people who heard these sermons loved good crops, good gardens, good livestock and work animals and dogs; they loved flowers and the shade of trees, and laughter and music; some of them could make you a fair speech on the pleasures of a good drink of water or a patch of raspberries.

Jayber also observes that after church the preacher and his family would gladly respond to the invitation to have a meal with a family and eat with "unconsecrated relish."

The entire novel is a gentle invitation to appreciate the abundance of this life, here and now, not just as a future promise. Whatever the prospect of Christ's eternal life, it would be a shame to miss the gift of this moment.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Ashes and Children

Children at an AshWednesday Service in Dubuque, Iowa

Last evening 50 people showed up for our service to mark the beginning of Lent. To my surprise seven of them were children. I brought them to the front as I would for a Sunday children's time and showed them the battered metal bowl I use for burning the palms, and the oil which is mixed with the ashes to create the messy paste.

One four-year-old declared firmly and loudly that he wasn't going to have the ashes put on his forehead. Fair enough. No one is required to do this and no matter what our age, we can feel a little uncomfortable with the new and unknown.

Later in the service people filed forward for the imposition of ashes and there he was. Seeing others stepping to the front had convinced him to join them. At his turn he looked up at me and said one word -- please.

In some respects his request became the essence of worship.
Please God, look beyond our messiness and wrong-doing.
Please allow us to feel your love burning through our sadness or self-loathing.
Please Christ, create in us a clean heart and restore us to a right relationship.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Children of Men

The film Children of Men was not nominated for Best Picture in this year's Academy Awards but it was probably the most provocative and gripping movie we saw last year. It is loosely based on a P.D. James novel of the same name. It is an apocalyptic, dsytopian vision of a planet 20 years down the road. No babies have been born in 18 years and there is no explanation as to why. Some religious groups claim it is God's judgement. Terrorists and dissident groups are at work in even the more stable nations.

The central character, Theo, is drawn back into one of these organizations, essentially against his will. He meets a young woman in a barn and realizes that she is pregnant, a situation which should be cause for joy but has so many political implications. He exclaims "Jesus Christ!" as he realizes her condition. An oath, or the possibility of a saviour? The expectant mother's name is Kee. Is she the "key" to the revival of humanity? Theo's mission becomes delivering Kee to the rather nebulous Human Project.

Intriguing? I won't offer more, since you are all going to see the film now, but Children of Men offers hope in a bleak world. I believe the title is a reference from a Psalm in the King James Version of the bible, "For he does not willingly bring affliction or grief to the children of men."

Monday, February 19, 2007

War is Hell

In a week the Oscars will be over and the film, Letters From Iwo Jima, will not have won Best Picture. It was probably the motion picture that bumped Dream Girls (fun, but not deep) from a nomination, but it isn't a front-runner. It is still an excellent film, thought-provoking and profoundly sad. We walked away from it stunned and challenged.

Clint Eastwood made Flags of Our Fathers as the American perspective on Iwo Jima and created Letters as a companion piece from the Japanese point of view. Seven thousand Americans died in the fight for this tiny island and twenty thousand Japanese perished. Both Americans and Japanese are portrayed as vicious and compassionate; courageous and frightened; noble and cowardly. They are real human beings who love their families and their countries.

Letters From Iwo Jima graphically shows why Jesus' phrase in the Beatitudes "blessed are the peacemakers" should not be a platitude but the mantra and the passionate goal of every person, regardless of race or colour or ideology.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

A Favour Please

Could you help me out please? It has now been six months since I began this blog on the prompting of one of our members. I was dubious about doing this, wondering if it would be little more than an exercize in vanity. I have been pleasantly surprised to hear from people within the congregation and well beyond saying that they check in quite regularly, or from time-to-time. I wish it was easier for you to comment (in order to do so directly you must set up a Blogger account.)

The favour I ask of you is to let me know if you are a reader. I have enjoyed myself but it really makes sense to do this only if it is of benefit to you. Perhaps you could send me an email to let me know, including a brief comment that might be instructive and helpful. Be kind!


Friday, February 16, 2007

Prejudices and Possibilities

I consider myself to be ecumenical in spirit, open to those with other expressions of faith, Christian and otherwise. From time to time I am reminded that I have a way to go yet.

Yesterday I met with someone about a project, and during the conversation he identified himself as a Pentecostal layperson. Immediately my guard crept up "just a tad." Although I have attended Pentecostal churches a number of times and worked willingly with Pentecostal pastors, I wondered where this would go since he knew I was a main-line church minister.

It turned out that he and his wife will soon go to Cuba and he had some questions about currency and clothing and outings. Along the way I mentioned that we took cotton fabric and sewing thread for a community project run by the seminary mentioned in a previous blog entry. He told me that his daughter, also Pentecostal, works and travels for one of the major airlines and that she had recently arranged for a large shipment of practical goods to be taken to an orphanage in India.

It was a great chat and we shook hands warmly at the conclusion. I was aware that he didn't fit a stereotype of a Pentecostal. Of course stereotypes are rarely fair or accurate.

None of us has cornered the market on following Christ or making our own efforts toward justice. Thank God.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Everyday Miracles

You may remember my posting from a couple of months ago where I spoke about the young couple in the congregation who shared with me the initial ultrasound of their baby. It has not been an easy pregancy but this latest "snapshot" reminds them of the life that is developing and growing.

There were no ultrasounds of any of our three children -- it wasn't such a common procedure twenty years ago. We may have chosen not to take a "sneak peek" anyway. But I do find these images to be quite remarkable. The parents must be thrilled.

The Dad-to-be commented at the end of his email message that they feel blessed despite the challenges of these months. I encouraged them to trust that God is with them. This will be an April baby, born shortly after Easter. In that season of resurrection they can celebrate their miracle of new life which is God's gift.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Snow Day!...and silence

For many children and others this is a snow day --no school or work -- a sabbath. Funerals don't get cancelled because of snow, so I am working. I shovelled the driveway this morning and enjoyed the relative quiet which seems to exist as snow falls.

The photo here is obviously not of a snowstorm but the quiet undersea world of a coral reef. While in Cuba we snorkelled several times and loved this almost silent, contemplative world. We learned to just hang in the water rather than thrash around so that the fish would emerge from hiding.

I took a book with me to Cuba called Holy Silence: The Gift of Quaker Spirituality. The author, J. Brent Bill, points out that for Quakers silence has a sacramental quality, akin to the eucharist or communion practiced by other Christian groups. In our move-fast, act-fast world it is important to take our "silence sabbaths" and be aware of the presence of the God of life and love for all of creation. Whether it is in a flurry of snowflakes or a school of tropical fish, God is with us.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Christ's Church Everywhere

Don't hate me. I have been away with my wife Ruth for a week in the gently, breezy warmth of Cuba. The weather and sunshine were a tonic, and we have been informed since returning that we missed what was probably the coldest week of the winter.

We ventured away from the protective bubble of the resort twice including a trip to a seminary in the city of Mantazas with which the United Church of Canada has a relationship . Mantazas is a busy city of roughly one hundred and thirty thousand souls. As we drove up the hill to the college our taxi driver carefully made his way around gaping potholes. He deftly avoided stray dogs who looked as though they could use a good meal as well the children playing in the streets. There were people everywhere and as we drove past houses badly in need of maintenance and repair we could see in through windows to the folk gathered around tables. While every person is guaranteed employment there is no apparent wealth in Cuba.

The seminary was a simple but well-kept oasis of order atop a hill overlooking Matanzas Bay. The administrator, rector, and another teaching staff member welcomed us warmly and explained their important work in preparing Cuban students for the ministry. The chapel shown above is used by the three denominations which run the seminary (Presbyterian, Episcoplian, Methodist) and, on occasion, by others in the city, including the Roman Catholics.

We were so glad we took time away from the beach to visit this centre of Christian faith. It was a reminder to us of the history of ecumenical openness and support which is our heritage in the United Church.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Jesus the Jew

The Russian painter Marc Chagall -- a Jew -- painted this image called The White Crucifixion. This Jesus is clearly Jewish, and he is so in the midst of the suffering of his people, which includes persecution and death at the hands of those who claim to be his followers. For nearly twenty centuries too many Christians have misunderstood the Jewishness of Jesus.

There is an article in a recent issue of the Christian Century titled Misusing Jesus: How the Church divorces Jesus from Judaism. It reminds me of what I already know, that Jesus never renounced the faith of his birth and neither should those of us who call ourselves Christians. In the article Amy-Jill Levine says:

This divorcing of Jesus from Judaism does a disservice to each textually, theologically, historically and ethically. First, the separation severs the church's connections to the scriptures of Israel—what it calls the Old Testament. Because Jesus and his earliest followers were all Jews, they held the Torah and the prophets sacred, prayed the Psalms, and celebrated the bravery of Esther and the fidelity of Ruth. To understand Jesus, one must have familiarity with the scriptures that shaped him (or, as a few of my students will insist, that he wrote).

Second, the insistence on Jesus' Jewish identity reinforces the belief that he was fully human, anchored in historical time and place. This connection is known as the "scandal of particularity": not only does the church proclaim that the divine took on human form, it also proclaims that it took on this form in a particular setting among a particular people. The church claims that divinity took on human flesh—was "incarnated"—in Jesus of Nazareth. Therefore the time and the place matter.

It is a simple truth that I don't have to misrepresent Jesus or feel superior to Judiasm in order to be a faithful Christian.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

God Loves Old People!

This sprightly looking soul is the oldest human on the planet. In the past couple of weeks two people, including a Canadian, died at the age of 115. So this Japanese woman, a mere 111, assumes the dubious honour. It doesn't seem to last for long.

Our Wednesday morning bible study is made up of women who are nearly all seniors. We chatted about aging before the study began yesterday. I mentioned that there are more than 20,000 people in Japan over the age of 100, and the prediction is that by mid-century there will be hundreds of thousands. One eighty-year-old sniffed "no thanks!"

Why? Because most of us want to live well and with dignity, and so often that doesn't happen. If we could continue with energy, and freedom to choose, the answer would probably be "yes please!" But so often aging means diminished physical or mental capabilities -- or both. Life can become prison-like rather than free. We ruefully learn the truth of the quip that "youth is wasted on the young." What we once took for granted we come to realize is a gift from God.

Our group agreed that Christian community is an important aspect of health and well-being as folk age. Participating in worship, as well as study and social opportunities makes a difference. And one woman noted that so many of the visitors to those who live in nursing homes are from churches.

I appreciated the reminder that congregations need to do everything possible to support those who are aging.