Tuesday, February 26, 2008

It's in the Vault

I will be MIA for a few days but I couldn't resist commenting on the newly opened Global Seed Vault in Norway. It looks like something from a James Bond movie, if Jimbo was a farmer. Built into a mountainside in a remote arctic area (can't you here the theme music rising?) this high-tech cavern will hold samples of different seeds from around the world. Norway is generously hosting seeds from other nations in the climate-controlled environment. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is providing 30 million dollars to pay for the seeds to be shipped from different nations.

God did a swell job of creating a biologically diverse planet and humans cultivated thousands of different plants for consumption. Then we got silly and narrowed down the number of cultivars and allowed corporations to dictate which plant species will be used for agriculture. In North America we have become hugely dependent on corn in just about everything. We don't realize that most of our sweet stuff is made with highly processed corn syrup. We have moved steadily toward monoculture in everything from rubber tree plants to bananas to...you name it.

So the seed vault is being described as a sort of a plant ark, which is a biblical allusion. The Genesis ark was built thanks to the imagination and faithfulness of that Noah fellow and his family to save the biodiversity of the animal world. As odd as the Norwegian vault may sound, it may be just as important and very real.

Anglican Rift

Anglican church Vancouver

Anglicans in Canada -- at least some of them -- are angry and leaving their denomination. A number of congregations across the country have voted to leave the Canadian communion of Anglicans and align themselves with what is known as the Southern Cone. Why? Homosexual marriages. The Anglicans have come to the same conclusion as the United Church did a few years ago. Gay and lesbian couples may be married in Anglican churches, a ceremony which is legal in Canada but not practiced in the majority of denominations. I say may because I'm assuming that the same will be true for Anglicans as it is for United Church congregations. No UCC congregation is required to perform same-sex marriages and even if they chose to do so, no United Church minister is expected to act against his or her conscience.

Just the same, the prospect of these marriages is deeply offensive to many Christians and they feel that they are contrary to scripture and the historic faith. Of course it is true that nothing in scripture directly supports gay marriage. It's interesting though that nothing in the New Testament supports the ordination of women, but both the United Church and the Anglicans have come to new understanding about the roles of women. The Southern Cone not only opposes same-gender marriage, it does not ordain women. Some of the departing clergy are women. Hmm.

For me living a historic faith is the faith which listens to the Christ of the gospels. At times it has led me to different understandings from those of my forebearers, not because I want to flaunt or disregard scripture but because I am trying to understand what the love of Christ means for me now.

Well, these departing congregations will now duke it out in the courts for their property, as happened in the United Church. I don't remember reading of one church building in the New Testament, but our bricks and mortar are important to us. Oh well. For all our differences, Christ loves us still.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Our Alleged Prime Mover, Who May or May Not be Somewhere

Lord's Prayer 62 Languages Jerusalem

We moved to Sudbury almost twenty years ago, shortly after the landmark decision to remove the Lord's Prayer from the public education system. A Sudbury lawyer who was Jewish initiated the challenge and part of his argument was that his children and those of other faiths shouldn't have to step out of the classroom in order to avoid this Christian prayer.

Recently Premier McGuinty called for a review of the use of the Lord's Prayer in the Ontario legislature. How many of us were aware that the prayer was still used on a regular basis before the members of provincial parliament began the serious business of carving one another to bits? So much for "forgive us our trespasses." It seems likely that the review will recommend something along the lines of a moment of silence to replace any of those terrible sectarian prayers so many fuss about. You can probably detect my bemusement. It's hard to imagine what phrase in the Lord's Prayer would cause offense and all of them have parallels in Judaism.

In fact, Rabbi Dow Marmur, a much respected Jewish leader encouraged continuing with the Lord's Prayer in the legislature. He suggests that there might be minor modification at the end of the prayer to suit all faiths. http://www.thestar.com/article/306143 How, well, sensible! Over and over again people call for expunging all religious references and practices as a way of addressing religious diversity.

It seems foolish to me in everything from Christmas trees, to license plates, to public prayers. Then again, I am a big, white, male, Christian. How much more politicallly incorrect could I be?

Sunday, February 24, 2008

There Will Be Oscars

Got the popcorn ready? This is Oscar night, a guilty pleasure for many. Are these the best films and the best actors of each year? Probably not because the night is mostly about Hollywood. But it is rather fun and every Academy Awards ceremony gets something right.

I do hope that Daniel Day Lewis gets the Best Actor award for his role in There Will Be Blood. We went to see it yesterday and his performance bristles with venom and anger. It is such a great portrayal of a life that is driven and eventually destroyed by hatred. That is the seductive reality of hate. It can truly fuel our lives and make us feel energized. It is non-renewable energy source, like the oil that Day Lewis' character seeks relentlessly.

There is an incredible scene in the film where Daniel Plainview is baptized with his cooperation but against his will. His internal struggle as he stands before the congregation is palpable and it turns out that the triumph of the preacher is short-lived. But in the end that phoney conversion could have been the salvation of a life that is consumed from the inside.

See you at the movies.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Winds of Change

What comes to mind when you hear Texas and energy? It's likely oil, and little wonder. For a good part of the twentieth century oil was a key to the Texas economy and source for schlocky television dramas such as Dallas. "Texas Tea" (remember the Beverly Hillbillies?) created considerable wealth for various oil barons.

Well, times change. As oil supplies dwindle and the concern over carbon emissions grows, entrepeneurs look elsewhere. The energy supply of Texas' future is wind.

There is an article in today's New York Times on the growing production of wind energy in Texas, through the establishment of wind farms. It seems that the state of Texas is a windy place with lots of room for mammoth windvanes. The article says that some of them are twice the height of the Statue of Liberty and have a vane-span wider than a jumbo jet. Hey, they do things big in Texas. One rancher is paid $500 per month for each one of these puppies and the plan is to put 150 on his property. They hum, but he figures it is the sound of money.

We hear the argument regularly that there is no money in alternative forms of energy such as wind and solar. The scale is also too small. Ontario will construct more nuclear plants because it is the only solution. I wonder if it is more a case of lack of imagination and initiative on the part of our leaders. I'm not opposed to nuclear, although we haven't dealt with the highly radioactive leftovers very effectively. Why not consider new sources which don't pollute and don't require monitoring for the next 10,000 years?

As a Christian I figure that the ability to think and to be a co-creator is God-given, both as gift and responsibility. We have to be ready to look in new directions, not just because of the financial possibilities but for the good of the planet. I should look into becoming a wind baron, although some would say that as a preacher I already am.

Friday, February 22, 2008


When we were in Cuba last February President Fidel Castro was very ill. We wondered what the country would be like if he died while we were there. One day we hired a taxi to take us into Havana and on the way we met a motorcade of official vehicles coming in the opposite direction. "Raul" our driver said as he pointed toward the cars.

This week Fidel told the nation he has ruled for almost 50 years that he is stepping down and it is likely that his brother Raul will continue in control. I laughed this week when El Presidente of the United States, George Bush, stated that they wouldn't take the Cuban regime seriously until the government and leader was democratically elected. He seems to have conveniently forgotten that he sneaked into office without a majority in his first term.

Fidel is everywhere in Cuba. His image is both figurately and literally in every community. For tourists there is a great selection of postcards showing him doing everything from cutting sugar cane to playing baseball. It seemed that this powerful man would remain vital forever, but age catches up with everyone.

We can pray for the churches of Cuba during this time of transition. The Christian community was marginalized in Cuba for most of Castro's regime and it was a struggle for individuals and congregations to bear faithful witness. While freedom of religion is supposedly a right, only in the past few years did circumstances change.

The United Church has a partnership with Protestant churches in Cuba and we visited the seminary in Matanzas. It is a modest but lovely and well-kept compound atop a hill overlooking the ocean. We spoke with the principal and several teachers and sensed their determination and hope for the future. Christ be with them in their fidelity.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Nourishing Hospitality

Our United Church Women and their four male helpers serve up a great meal once a month for a group of over a hundred seniors, as well as a table of ten from the nearby drop-in. It is a wonderful outreach into the community.

My pattern is to smell the meal all morning, then head up as folk gather to chat with my parishioners and others. Only a dozen or so are from St. Paul's but I have got to know many more through the years. We make small talk and joke most of the time -- this is a cheerful gang -- but on occasion it becomes more serious. Today a woman who is not part of my flock admitted that she almost didn't come for the meal. A good friend who was there a month ago but experiencing back pain was diagnosed with lung cancer and died within weeks. This friend left behind was shaken by the experience.

When I said the blessing I prayed for those gathered and those remembered. Getting older can be marked by deep sadness because of loss. These men and women are positive most of the time but issues of health and bereavement move to the forefront of their lives.

I'm grateful for the thoughtfulness and dedication of those who provide the meal and the opportunity for encouragement and hospitality it represents.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008


Last night we went out around ten to see the lunar eclipse. We were disappointed and for good reason -- it is tonight. Between ten and ten-thirty the eclipse will move to totality. In another time this would have been considered an auspicious event, either for good or for bad. Astronomers and astrologers were often one and the same. Matthew's gospel says that Magi followed some celestial body in search of the Christ child. Aristotle concluded that the earth was round because of the crescent shape which moved across the face of the moon.

In ancient Judaism the moon was an important indicator for religious festivals. The same is true for Christianity. In fact our greatest festival, Easter, is on the first Sunday following the first full moon of the Spring equinox. The reason Lent started so early this year is because of the moon and the moveable date for Easter.

So, we will try again tonight and try to pretend that it isn't winter.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Idly Caring for Creation

Every auto maker including our local General Motors is scrambling to produce cars that will meet new fuel emission standards in the U.S. as well as meet consumer demands for vehicles of all sizes. Their solution is the hybrid, a car that runs on gasoline but uses batteries as well. Friends have a Toyota Prius and it is a nifty vehicle which essentially shuts the gas engine down when in traffic or idling, then kicks it back in for higher speed driving.

We may all end up driving hybrids someday, but in the meantime there is a simple solution to idling the engine. Don't do it. Turn the car off. Modern car engines are built to perform more efficiently as they move a vehicle forward, so idling in the driveway to warm the car up is not necessary, at least not for the engine's benefit.

This morning C.B.C radio -- appropriately named Fresh Air -- had a guest who encouraged listeners to shut the engine off if the car is sitting still longer than seven seconds. After this length of time it is more fuel efficient to turn the vehicle off. I have been doing this for years when sitting in backed up traffic or waiting in line because of highway construction. In some jurisdictions it is the law for delivery vehicles to shut off their engines rather than idling outside a building.

Dozens of people emailed into Fresh Air with their thoughts, and a mother in Trenton wrote to say that at her daughter's school kids hold up signs encouraging waiting parents to turn off their car engines.http://origin.www.cbc.ca/freshair/

Many of us try to figure out what we can do in our daily lives to take care of this world that God has created. It can be as simple as a flick of the wrist. Now if we could just ban drive-throughs...

Saturday, February 16, 2008

3:10 to Discernment

Last week, on the first Sunday of Lent I spoke of "desert discernment," finding the desert places of our lives to listen attentively for God's voice. As always, the gospel lesson tells us of Jesus' wilderness experience, probably in the rugged Judean desert, where he must discern between not just right and wrong, but right and righter. So often in life we are attempting to make the "righter" decisions while living at break-neck speed.

In my sermon I gave the example of the time I spent in the desert of New Mexico last November and the value of the couple of days of quiet at the retreat house of the Presbyterian conference centre called Ghost Ranch. After my return I shared photos of Ghost Ranch in this blog and spoke of its stark beauty. The impact of the place was unexpected. While I was there I found out that not only is Christ in the Desert monastery not far away, there is a Sufi Muslim retreat, a Sikh centre and another New Age retreat. There is something about the desert that is deeply spiritual for people of various faiths.

Last evening we rented the film 3:10 to Yuma which is a remake of a 50's Western of the same name. It stars Christian Bale and Russell Crowe and is very entertaining. Even though it is a classic "shoot 'em up" it is also about a good guy and a bad guy making difficult choices.

As we watched, the landscape suddenly became familiar and I was sure that the background views were of the mountain called Padernal and other buttes and mesas around the retreat house. After the film was over I Googled 3:10 and, sure enough, it was filmed in Santa Fe and at Ghost Ranch. A total of seventeen movies have been filmed there, including City Slickers. There is a rustic ranch house on the property which I assumed was a historic building. It is actually part of a movie set.

Small world.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Justice, Phone Home!

What a list: E.T, The Colour Purple, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Jaws, Jurassic Park, Schindler's List, Saving Private Ryan. These are just some of the films Steven Spielberg has produced and directed. Not a bad resume, and what a catch for the Chinese government to get Spielberg as an ambassador for the Beijing Olympics. This week Mr. Spielberg backed out of this role, citing China's support of the bad guys in Sudan. China supplies arms for oil. Good for Spielberg to act according to his conscience. Nine Nobel Peace Prize laureates, including former bishop Desmond Tutu, have been sounding this concern, but Spielberg's withdrawal is a much bigger embarrassment for the Chinese.

Here's the thing. China has a lousy human rights record at home. Summary executions still occur regularly. Thousands of websites and blogs spring up, only to be silenced. Somewhere between two and five million people will be displaced for the Yangtze dam project. The air in Chinese cities is filthy and there is great concern that Beijing will be a health hazard to athletes.

So, why are the Olympics being held in China in the first place? Why didn't the international community express greater concern a few years ago when the decision was made?

I'm glad that Steven Spielberg is making the right choice, one which calls for justice. The theme of justice is essential to his Jewish background and for those of us who are Christians. In China justice should begin at home.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Love Relationship With God

Often when people speak to me about prayer it is to express frustration and even a sense of failure. As hard as they try to focus in prayer, stuff just pushes into the conversation with God. It is like trying to chat with someone when the television is blaring in the background or children are running enthusiastically around the room. It's "doable" but its not the best experience.

Perhaps we need to create the space for the best conversation possible with God. Lots of couples will set the romantic mood this Valentine's evening, eating in a restaurant or at a table with candles. The surroundings and lack of distractions can remind us of how important our love relationship is. The same can be true with God.

The image above is actually from a card I picked up in an ancient stone church in Cornwall (the British one) a couple of years ago. I used it as a bookmark and came upon it while rummaging through the book recently. I hope it helps.
In the silence of our hearts or in spoken words
let us give thanks for the gift of this day
and pray for the life of the world...
silent prayer
For rest in the night and the day's busyness,
for the silence of the winter earth
followed by spring's energy and summer's fruiting,
thanks be to you, O God.
In the pattern of the seasons,
in the rhythm of our days,
show us the stillness that renews life,
the letting go that deepens our strength of soul. Amen.
from Celtic Treasure Philip Newell

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Waters Hard Like Stone

From whose womb did the ice come forth,
and who has given birth to the hoarfrost of heaven?
The waters become hard like stone,
and the face of the deep is frozen. Job 38:29-30

I was out at six o'clock this morning dealing with the gift that keeps on giving from the Clarington snowploughs, as well as several centimetres of the white fluffy stuff that God had sprinkled like parmesan on my driveway and sidewalk.

It is tempting to make snow the villain, especially if one must commute and dig and scrape before getting on the road.

At the risk of getting hate-mail, it can be beautiful. Last Friday our younger daughter convinced us to come to Brighton to pick her up because she had a ride that far from Kingston. We decided to go together, later in the afternoon and I suggested we put our skis in the back of the station wagon, just in case. We went into Presquille Park, found someone else's tracks and had a lovely ski back into the woods for about 45 minutes. It was getting dark as we emerged from the trees but the days are getting longer! We stopped at one point on our ski to negotiate our way around a fallen tree and in the quiet heard a woodpecker on steroids. It was a Pileated woodpecker, a species the size of a crow. We just stood and watched as it worked its way into a tree looking for grub.

On Monday afternoon I went to Second Marsh, although it was so cold I wasn't sure this was a good idea. I put on several layers of clothing and was just fine. The shore of Lake Ontario was amazing. A metre and a half to two metres of ice had built up along what is normally a sand and gravel beach. It is now a lengthy, glistening cliff with deep fissures. At places holes had been pushed up through the ice and miniature geysers erupt when the larger waves hit shore. It was the first time I had seen this sort of formation along the lake.

The bible has more than two dozen references to ice and snow despite the hot climate in which its stories are set. Maybe it isn't so bad after all? Just asking.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Faith-full Leadership

Momentum seems to be building for Barack Obama as the primaries continue across the United States. Whatever the outcome, it is healthy that there is an actual race for the Democratic leadership and that there are two articulate candidates.

Someone sent me a spam email a few weeks ago and asked what I thought of its content. It was vile. The goal was to cast doubt on Obama's leadership potential. It claims that he is a closet Muslim who refuses to say the pledge of allegiance and will not face the American flag. These "verified" claims are simply untrue.

Along with the falsehood there is the rather blatant implication that any Muslim would be a poor leader for the country, that Muslims are not patriotic, and that Obama has some secret agenda which is advanced by claiming to be a Christian when he is not.

If this email hadn't received such wide circulation it could just be dismissed as absurd and pathetic. In his book The Audacity of Hope Obama is candid about his struggle with religious faith of any kind and his concern that being a Christian in particular might require the suspension of reason. While his father was a Muslim by birth, he was a skeptic and atheist. His mother is secular in her outlook and sent Barack to both Roman Catholic and Muslim schools for the quality of the education in general, not for religious reasons.

In his chapter called Faith Obama describes his commitment of faith as a choice rather than an epiphany. He describes walking down the aisle of Trinity United Church of Christ to be baptized as a Christian: "...kneeling beneath the cross on the South Side of Chicago, I felt God's spirit beckoning me. I submitted myself to His will, and dedicated myself to discovering His truth."

As neighbours of the United States we can pray that the best person will be elected to lead the country in the future and that these character assassinations come to an end in the meantime.
Bye the way, Obama won the "spoken word" Grammy a couple of nights ago for his audio version of The Audacity of Hope.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Love Leadership

Where would you expect to find an article on love in your newspaper? An article that makes reference to Gandhi, Mother Teresa, and Martin Luther King? How about the Careers section?

At the end of last week there was an article about a leadership consultant who works with organizations to create more loving environments. He isn't speaking about office romances or false sentimentality. What the consultant found was that despite the view of business as macho and tough-minded, the better work environments thrive when love exists. He discovered that "The best leaders were honest, forthright, authentic and principled."

This is in an interesting observation about love because it suggests that it is agape rather than eros that matters for healthy and authentic relationships in the workplace, despite what we see on Grey's Anatomy! Figuring out how to get the job done collaboratively and with mutual respect and support can be a challenge, but the dog-eat-dog approach ends up with someone being the dead dog. To quote from the Globe article:

Becoming what Mr. Cochlan calls a "love leader" doesn't mean you have to go around hugging your employees or even saying "I love you" aloud.
Rather, at the leadership level, you demonstrate love when you take care to protect the dignity of the people around you, he says, just as you would with family members.
"When you respect someone as an individual, they can feel it in the way you treat them, speak to them, regard them."
It's not about being soft, or giving in, he says. It's about always keeping in mind the fact that your co-workers are human beings deserving of your care and respect.

It has a gospel feel to me.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Self-Giving on Ice

I have a Friday morning check-list after the sermon is completed and the order of worship is done.

--Print 2 dozen copies of sermon for the back of the church
--Email a copy for the website
--Email a copy to the person doing the prayers of the people
--Make a copy for the projection person as a script for slides
--Email sermon slides to our administrator for the slide show
--Email scripture passages to the Sunday reader
--Breathe a sigh of relief!

I'm done for this week. Sigh. Now...

I have commented a couple of times about the unsettling selfishness of some professional athletes, individuals who are often given god-like status even though they exhibit the moral and ethical maturity of an amoeba.

There was an excellent piece on Sportsnet last evening about a retired hockey player named Joe Juneau who is demonstrating that athletes can be generous and self-giving. Some of you will remember that Juneau was an excellent play-maker rather than a scorer, a skill that earned him millions in the NHL.

Now 40-year-old Juneau is a play-maker of a different kind. After a trip to the far north three years ago he made the surprising decision to relocate his family to Nunavik. He saw how aimless many children were, simply because there was nothing to do in their communities outside of school. He has set up a recreational hockey program in 14 remote villages which the children love. Not only is it keeping them away from the downward spiral of addiction, violence and suicide, it has resulted in a huge increase in regular school attendance. Last Fall more than a 1,000 children enrolled in the program.

Here is a guy who could have retired to the "good life" after his playing career. Instead he has chosen a selfless better life of reaching out to others. I have no idea if Juneau has any religious convictions but his generosity can be an example of self-giving love. My day was better just hearing about him. Read more... http://www.sportsnet.ca/hockey/2008/02/07/juneau_documentary/

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Lenten Challenge

Anyone who knows me is aware that asking me for a recipe is a "lost cause." Just the same, I got a phone call yesterday with an usual recipe request. "How do you mix up the oil and ashes for Ash Wednesday?" Rev. Deb inquired from Saskatchewan. She pointed out that they don't teach you the formula at school and this is her first Ash Wednesday as presider.

I suggested that she wanted a consistency that wasn't tar sands at one end of the scale or dripping off the end of the recipient's nose at the other. I shared my technique, which is the result of trial and error. I figured she should invite her two boys to be the test subjects for the right texture. And away she went.

Here is the Lenten Challenge I have included in our bulletin for this year.

There is a long history of altering habits and practices for Lent in order to become more attentive to God. The practice of fasting is considered a spiritual practice which brings focus in the midst of our fast-food way of living.

Some people give up sugar or television or meat for the season which began on February 6th and concludes with Holy Week (just before Easter.)
--Some congregations have taken on the challenge of giving up complaining for Lent which requires a change of attitude and behaviour.
--How about giving up plastic bags?

Some people take things on during Lent.

How about bringing a food item each week for distribution through the Salvation Army? Once Christmas is over many food banks "run dry" as folk forget those who are struggling to get by.
--What about a few minutes to read scripture or quiet ourselves in prayer? The Canadian Bible Society website has an email sign-up for daily verses.
--Why not find one thing to be grateful for each day?
--Make one phone call or write one note to support others during the season.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Fire and Snow

China has been receiving severe weather with huge accumulations of snow. On this snowy beginning to Lent this photo of a woman lighting a fire at an altar caught my attention.

Ash Wednesday Snow Day

Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness...Create in me a clean heart O God, and put a new and right spirit within me... Psalm 51

Apparently God has a sense of humour, even on the solemn occasion of Ash Wednesday. The snow storm has begun and it is supposed to worsen through the day, so for the first time ever I have decided to cancel the service. Both our speaker, Rev. Cathy, and our organist, Doug, would be travelling in miserable conditions. The humour? On Ash Wednesday we read Psalm 51 which tells us that our sins are "outed," forgiven, and washed whiter than snow. Then we can start afresh.

The funny stuff continues. I was going to suggest that we follow the example of a congregation which made the commitment a couple of years ago to give up complaining for Lent. They wore purple wrist bands as a reminder, and have been selling them to others since then -- more than two million! Let's work on the joy and gladness aspect of our lives in these contemplative days of the Lenten season.

This will be a special challenge to all of us today as we shovel, but it's tempting every day to grumble and groan. It's one thing to give up sweets or television for Lent. It's much harder to relinquish the ingrained habit of complaining to live with an "attitude of gratitude."
Check out this BBC introduction to Lent. http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Carnival and Shrove Tuesday

If confession is good for the soul I will confess that this photo in the New York Times caught my eye and it did linger! These shapely women are preparing for the Carnival celebration which began Friday in Rio de Janiero and concludes today, Shrove Tuesday. Their toned bodies are no accident, apparently. Because they will be scantily clad as they ride on floats and walk through the crowded streets they spend weeks in preparation. Many go to fitness "boot camps" to work themselves toward physical perfection.

Go figure. The season of Lent is a time for spiritual reflection and fitness, our own form of boot camp to prepare us for the great festival of Easter. Because, traditionally, people would fast during Lent the days leading up to Ash Wednesday were a time to get rid of rich foods and maybe have a little party to do so. Mardi Gras is Fat Tuesday, the day to do the final clean-out and cook up a pancake or two with the grease.

In true human fashion we now largely ignore the religious significance of Lent and play up the party before it begins.

Tomorrow I'll throw out a few ideas about what our version of the fast might be for Lent 2008. We never achieve spiritual perfection but we can become a little more "buff."

Monday, February 04, 2008

Ash Monday

Last week I asked our custodian if she had a secret stash of palm branches from last year's Palm Sunday service. She did, and by the next day there were two sizeable bundles of very dry branches in my study.

Since the forecast is for rain over the next 36 hours I took them into our backyard this morning and burned them in a metal bowl which I have used for this purpose for at least 20 years. It's a strange activity which begins with an almost alarming blaze which crackles and flares. Until I got the hang of it I had some anxious moments along the way. I have learned palm branch fire management over time.

What is fascinating for me is that these veritable forests of palm branches are quickly consumed and what is left is a glowing pile of ash in the bottom of the bowl which becomes more and more dust-like as it is stirred. By the time I'm done it is an insignificant mound of ash which will soon be combined with olive oil to make a gooey paste. At our Ash Wednesday service people will step forward to receive the sign of the cross on their foreheads, made with this curious mixture.

I say to each person "the past is behind you, the future is before you...walk the Lenten road with Christ." We need our "start again" moments in the journey of faith and Ash Wednesday is one of them. Rather than focussing solely on penitence we emphasize new beginnings.
We usually have some childen at our service and I'm sure they have only the vaguest notion of what it happening even after I have explained it. Last year one little guy was pleased with the airplane on his forehead! We hope that they will come to a deeper understanding. For others it is an emotional moment for letting go of some of the baggage that can make our faith journey a chore rather than an adventure.

The ashes for Wednesday have been prepared this Monday. I hope you will join us.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Divine Interception?

It's Superbowl Sunday and if the the New England Patriots win it will mean a perfect season -- 19 games without a loss.

How could I possibly connect a football game with faith? My good wife would ask why anyone would care about football and faith, and football in general!

I'm glad you asked. There is a community of Roman Catholic sisters who are providing hospitality in Glendale Arizona where the game is being played. Even though their retreat house is simple by most standards and doesn't have television and other amenities people are pleased to find rooms in a city where there is no accomodation to be found at any price. A standard motel or hotel room brings $750 a night and up. The sisters are charging a mere $250! The money will be used to help pay for a piece of property purchased adjacent to the retreat house for expansion.

The nuns are football fans, bye the way. They root for their hometown Phoenix Cardinals and pray for them, although they pray only that they will do their best. After all, God loves all football players, regardless of team.

As you may have guessed, all the news coverage is claiming that the rooms are second to nun.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Sugary Coincidence

Shortly after posting this morning's blog I walked over to the excellent bakery on King St. in Bowmanville called Sugar's. There was a notice posted by the cash register saying that as of the fifteenth of this month plastic bags would no longer be supplied. I chatted with the owners who told me that they had seen a documentary about the effect of plastic bags on marine creatures, including sea turtles. When researchers did autopsies on turtles washed ashore they found kilograms of plastic in some of them.

So the bakery owners decided to do what they can, bag by bag. They figure if whole countries can "ban the bag" Bowmanville can follow suit.

Eco-faith of the Irish

I often wonder how much I should follow up on previous blogs. I am obviously following my own interests in what I write and reflect upon, and because it is a personal blog I don't have to apologize.

One of the eco-faith stories I picked up on is the use of plastic bags. I started with the leadership of Ireland which slapped a hefty tax of 33 cents per bag, payable at the time of purchase. Later I mentioned what we have chosen to do in carrying reusable bags with us to the supermarket, although many cashiers still seem bewildered by the concept. I also brought to your attention the decision of China to end the use of plastic bags. Countries as diverse as Bangladesh and Australia are planning to do the same.

You may be interested to know that the decision has worked in Ireland where the use of plastic bags has dropped by more that ninety per cent. Walking around with a plastic bag in hand is considered as socially unacceptable as letting one's pooch poop on someone else's lawn. It is a reminder that attitudes can change in a hurry.

There are no plastic bag manufacturers in Ireland, so no outcry from those who will lose business and jobs. And there are still 42 billion plastic bags created every year on the planet, so there is a way to go yet.

But when I see the reusable bags hanging on our side doorknob waiting to go back into the car for the next grocery trip I am heartened that we are making our small effort in making a difference on God's green Earth. I hope that's not blarney.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Where the Rubber Meets the Road

Saturn Flextreme Hybrid

The best advice on this wintry day is, stay away from your vehicle. What may be the biggest snowstorm of the season is well underway and driving is treacherous.

What better day to mention the recent auto show in Detroit. The reports from the show point out that automakers are trying to go in two directions at once. There were plenty of high performance vehicles for those who are addicted to power and don't care about the cost of fuel.

At the same time, all of the producers are venturing into cars and trucks and SUV's that are more fuel-efficient and using different technologies. Obviously car manufacturers want to make healthy profits and if luring us toward big and expensive cars and trucks works they will nudge us in that direction.

But when governments mandate greater fuel efficiency and consumers demand it they will be responsive.

Once again we need the reminder that what we drive is a spiritual issue, as well as an environmental one. There are no specific biblical references directing our car purchases but we are told to tend the earth with care. Because God is the Creator and we have been given a responsibility for stewardship of creation we will pay attention to where the rubber meets the road.