Wednesday, June 25, 2008
Please keep me in your prayers through the next few months as my restorative leave continues. God is an important part of restoring my soul, as are all of you.
I had to add in the photo above of a kildeer who built her nest right in the middle of a walking trail. Pray for her as well!
I shall return.
The Fairmont Royal York hotel in downtown Toronto is now into the honey business. Really. The prestigious hostelry now has three hives nestled amidst the rooftop garden. They are calling this the Honeymoon Suite. They use their own honey in the restaurants which is a nice touch.
Bees are disappearing in North America for reasons no one can ascertain. We need them in orchards and for a host of other crops and experts aren't sure whether we are poisoning them out of existence or if there is some mysterious illness. The bees simply disappear without a trace. Every effort to keep these valuable critters going is important.
Did you know that in other times the bee was a symbol of the resurrection? I like that idea and of course the apostle Paul did ask "death, where is thy sting?"
Monday, June 23, 2008
Remember his 'hippy dippy" weatherman, Al Sleet, who would mumble his way through the evening report offering dark and and more dark through the night, with patches of light in the morning? You had to be there.
Carlin got in alot of trouble, including a number of arrests, for violating obscenity and community decency laws. His stuff seems rather tame by today's standards. He had one schtick about the word "ass." He pointed out that it was okay to use the phrase "make an ass of yourself" on TV or refer to the ass on which Jesus rode into Jerusalem. But God help you if you pointed to a part of your anatomy and used that word. For this he was arrested more than once.
Community standards have certainly changed since then. Go back a little further and TV couples either didn't have a bedroom or slept in twin beds. Now just about anything goes in language and behaviour. Do we simply accept this as our changing world or have we become numbed to an increasingly crass and sexualized society. Words such as purity or decency are hardly ever used any more. They seem quaint, old-fashioned.
Part of the appeal of Judaism in the ancient world was ithe religions high moral and ethical standards. These were adopted by Christianity. Have we just "loosened up" or become "loosey goosey" in our patterns of thought and action/
Carlin was a funny and clever guy. Look on Youtube for his piece on religion which is a scathing criticism of the scam of "the invisible Man." Maybe this invisible God will be more compassionate and loving than Carlin thought.
Saturday, June 21, 2008
He won the Pulitzer Prize for The Road which I read first, followed by my daughter Jocelyn. It is the bleak, dystopian story of a man and his son who walk a road through what is hell on earth. Some unexplained catastrophic event has ocurred on the planet resulting in a blasted landscape in which birds no longer sing and the sun does not shine through the heavy blanket of cloud. Each day is a matter of moving forward, foraging for food, avoiding the few marauding bands of survivors who are desparate and dangerous.
I'm glad Joc and I both read it. I found the picture almost unbearable and willed myself to finish, The novel is beautifully written but I was relieved when I finished. She found hope in the unrelenting, one-step-in-front-of-another love of the father for the child, and the boy's innocent hope which flickers in the darkness yet is never extinguished.
We live in a world where personal discouragement and ominous news can seem overwhelming. Our faith can't just cause the bad stuff to evaporate but it can give us strength to walk our roads.
Jesus offered himself as the Way, the Truth, and the Life which is Good News, whatever our circumstances.
Thursday, June 19, 2008
While I was pleased, I was not surprised. I told him what he really already knew that this is a Christian community of kind, caring, and practical people. The St. Paul's congregation is generous and thoughtful, over and over again, whether it is supporting community projects or responding to the needs of families and individuals.
Nothing makes a parent's heart gladder than kindness extended to one's children. Thank you.
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
The story of the development of the banana as a fruit (berry, actually) is interesting, honestly! Sad too. Huge banana plantations were developed by U.S. companies which virtually took over small countries, hence the term Banana Republic. Workers were treated horribly and insurrection was dealt with brutally. Because there is essentially one species of sweet banana grown all around the world, huge amounts of toxic chemicals are used to treat them against diseases which prey on monocultures. The workers who spray and pick have high rates of cancer.
In Africa bananas, in the form of plantains, are a staple of the diet and are affected by the diseases of commercial fruit.
We have been buying organic bananas for a while now after discovering that the stuff sprayed on the regular kind is about as toxic as anything in the grocery store. We now realize that organic is so much better for the workers in the plantations. Fair Trade bananas would be even better but aren't available in Canada.
Now for the religion! Apparently the Koran says the fruit in Adam and Eve's garden was the banana. The bible just says fruit (not an apple) but the Koran and some obscure versions of the Christian scriptures say it was a banana.
There you go...more about the banana than you ever wanted to know.
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
Both articles suggest that we (author's included) are losing our ability to focus because of the internet. Bright, educated people have developed the attention span of gnats because they can flit around from one place to another online, grabbing information in moments that once required days to research. Deep reading with its rich connections and interconnections has been replaced by skimming. The same folk can text message and email and phone at just about any time of the day or night. One of my daughters figures she regularly receives a hundred texts a day (once 180) and, of course, responds. She sleeps with her cell phone by her side.
The internet and Google are great for many reasons, and so are cell phones. Remember I mentioned recognizing the landscape in the movie 3:10 to Yuma starring Russell Crowe? I Googled the film and, sure enough, it's desert location was the Ghost Ranch centre in New Mexico which I visited last November. The thing is, the great spiritual benefit of visiting Ghost Ranch and its remote retreat house called Casa del Sol was that I was away from phones and internet and information, information, information. I don't need more bits and pieces of info. I need wisdom. I need focussed, spacious time with God, which I got in that setting. When I was there I could feel my mind clearing and my desire for God deepening.
I continue to have "holy moments" as I mentally travel back to that setting. When my son, Isaac, and others have walked the 800 kilometres of the Camino pilgrimage in Spain they come back different people. As Isaac has said, it is important to see the world for a while at six kilometres an hour and with few distractions.
It's not lost on me that I'm saying all this to readers who are using the internet to access my blog. I tend to keep entries short so that they don't require a lot of reading. Yet I know you're a bright bunch. After all, you're reading my blog.
We will all continue to Google our world. Still,I do believe it is essential to create the psychological and spiritual space for the wisdom which is God's gift to us.
If Jesus took time apart in reflection and contemplation its probably a good idea. Yes?
Monday, June 16, 2008
Rocco Mediate isn't exactly a golfing household name and the 45-year-old has never won a major. Tiger Woods is a brand, and the young stud of golf wins the big-ticket tournaments with apparent ease.
It's great that later today there will be an 18 hole play-off between the two to decide this year's winner of the U.S. Open. Honestly, I agree with Mark Twain that a round of golf is "a good walk spoiled." Yet I watched for a while yesterday because of the drama for both men. Woods is coming off knee surgery and wasn't his usual awesome self. Mediate was "punching above his weight" all through the first four rounds, yet he seemed to be enjoying himself and the fans. While Rocco and Tiger don't strike me as golf names (boxing, perhaps?) it should be an exciting play-off.
What kept my attention was the example of both perseverence and talent with these two guys. So much of life, including Christian discipleship, requires both perspiration and inspiration, grace and hard work. How could the author of the New Testament book of Hebrews have anticipated the U.S. Open!
Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees...
Saturday, June 14, 2008
I realized yesterday that something is missing on that list. Congratch. Okay, it's not a word, but the congratulations which accompany graduations is important as well.
Yesterday our "baby," daughter Emily, graduated from St. Lawrence College in Kingston. I managed to get a good shot as she was handed her diploma. In May it was our oldest, Isaac, who graduated from McGill University, followed by his wedding a few days later. Then daughter Jocelyn graduated from Queen's, in Kingston at well. Each event has been deeply meaningful for us and a bit stunning.
How could this be? A short while ago we were attending the recitals and awards presentations for dance and soccer and basketball. There were the various grads from public and secondary school. In Halifax I tried not to look as though I was running away from a funeral I had just conducted so that I could make it to Jocelyn's high school graduation. I had to walk in late wearing a suit and clerical collar.
The passages of the past two months are cause for pride and a reminder of our own mortality. How can we be old enough to have three college and university graduates?
Of course this is all very spiritual. We can thank God for children and thank God that this stage is over!
Thursday, June 12, 2008
Do creatures other than humans make music? While in Nova Scotia I listened to an interview with musician and author David Rothenberg who has written a book called Thousand Mile Song: Whale Music in a Sea of Sound. He has carefully studies the music of Humpback Whales in the Pacific Ocean and realizes that a whale song can travel a thousand miles underwater. Even more significant, the males sing the same song which may change year to year, month to month, week to week. Why do they sing? Apparently for the hell of it -- or the heaven of it. These songs don't attract female Humpbacks, or have any apparent purpose. They could simply be joyous music. Rothenberg speaks of how evolution has equipped birds and other creatures to make elaborate song which is music. I wonder if it is both evolution and the intention of the creator.
I just finished the novel Diary of a Bad Year by J.M. Coetzee the Nobel and Booker prize winner.
The elderly man at the centre of the story muses:
What Cartesian nonsense to think of birdsong as pre-programmed cries uttered by birds to advertise their presence to the opposite sex, and so forth! Each bird-cry is a full-hearted release of the self into the air, accompanied by such joy as wew can barely comprehend. "I" says each cry:"I, what a miracle."
I know that several of my readers make music as a form of worship and praise, including the bass player at the church we attended on Sunday. He seemed quite transported as he played.
Is creaturely song a reflection of the divine glory? Why do you make music?
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
As I waited I listened to the heartfelt apology of Prime Minister Harper on behalf of all Canadians to aboriginal children wronged in this country through most of the 20th century. What irony. In residential schools these innocent children were abused and their culture and language expunged. I feel that this solemn and sincere act of contrition is one of Harper's finest moments. The language of the apology was honest and plain and moving. There was a request for forgiveness and God's presence.
The intersection of these events moved me deeply, as did the tearful reflection of Aboriginal leaders in the moments following the apology. National Chief Phil Fontaine and other aboriginal leaders responded with great dignity and in a spirit of reconciliation. What grace.
Within minutes the Washington Post and the BBC reported on this historic event, reminding us of how significant both apology and forgiveness can be.
When the government of Australia apologized to its aboriginal peoples the moment was called Sorry Day. We are so sorry and we hope and pray that the Truth and Reconciliation process will be as honest and meaningful.
While there I saw the monastic kitchen and on the wall was a ceramic hanging depicting Jesus cooking up a storm. Around him are chili peppers and onions and tomatoes. In the gospels Jesus chows down with outcasts and riff-raff on a regular basis and explains the mystery of his death and resurrection during a meal. We probably never wonder whether he actually cooked those meals.
Now, those tomatoes. Don't eat them if they come from the States! Salmonella! Most of our imported tomatoes are probably just fine, but lots of people south of the border have ended up sick because of tomatoes grown and processed in factory farms. Over the last couple of years lettuce, and spinach and bean sprouts and vegetable juice have caused illness. Why? How can the high volume of produce be properly cleaned in mass production. Of course a lot of this stuff travels great distances in plastic bags. With the US we enjoy the cheapest food in the world (about 10% of income, including meals out) but there are other costs to the cheap produce.
Thanks to the St. Paul's administrator, Helen, and her husband, Brian, we get our Spring tomatoes from a local greenhouse. They are juicy, succulent fruit instead of the bullet-proof jobs we get from California. We have also enjoyed asparagus and cucumbers from the same source.
With rising fuel prices imported food will become more expensive. This and safety issues may push us to consider the importance of local food. We are now enjoying lettuce from our own garden and spinach and peas are in the offing. The tomatoes are just a future promise at the moment.
Is what we eat and how we eat a spiritual issue?
Monday, June 09, 2008
Rt. Rev. Robert Smith
Long before my people journeyed to this land your people were here, and you received from your Elders an understanding of creation and of the Mystery that surrounds us all that was deep, and rich, and to be treasured.
We did not hear you when you shared your vision. In our zeal to tell you of the good news of Jesus Christ we were closed to the value of your spirituality.
We confused Western ways and culture with the depth and breadth and length and height of the gospel of Christ.
We imposed our civilization as a condition for accepting the gospel.
We tried to make you be like us and in so doing we helped to destroy the vision that made you what you were. As a result you, and we, are poorer and the image of the Creator in us is twisted, blurred, and we are not what we are meant by God to be.
We ask you to forgive us and to walk together with us in the Spirit of Christ so that our peoples may be blessed and God's creation healed.
Sunday, June 08, 2008
Yesterday the Globe and Mail newspaper had an excellent article on the changing demand for automobiles in North America as people come to grips with rising fuel costs. Even though what seems like astronomical prices at the pumps, we are still paying just over half of what many European drivers are paying.
The piece had a helpful guide to the various developing technologies which either supplement or replace fossil fuels, including electricity. They quote Rick Waggoner, head of General Motors who admits that the decision to cease electic car development in the 1990's was a big mistake.
GM actually developed a vehicle called the EV1 which was produced and leased in California. Celebs such as Tom Hanks and Robin Williams had them and loved them. The car was developed in response to forward-thinking legislation in California which was later rescinded. When that happened the EV1's were recalled from leasees and destroyed. The folk who drove them offered to buy the cars but were refused. This story is told reasonably well in the documentary Who Killed the Electric Car?
It's not easy for humans to look to the future with vision. Let's face it, many of the woes of the church in North America parallel corporations such as the Big Three auto makers who were convinced that their way of doing things would last forever. Now they are scrambling to respond to the times, as is the Christian church.
I suppose we need to pray that all our institutions whether they be political, or economic or spiritual have the humility to accept new direction. In the church we have the wonderful opportunity to respond to God's Spirit in finding our way forward. This will require courage and vision.
Saturday, June 07, 2008
We saw seals and an eagle and other spectacular creatures while we were by the ocean but there are times when creation and Creator are much more subtle. You can click on any of these photos for a larger image.
Friday, June 06, 2008
My goal during these months away is restoration of body, mind, and spirit. I have been encouraged to get away from the community during a portion of this time because it is hard to take ten steps without bumping into folk I know. The gym, the grocery store, the end of my driveway on garbage day are venues for conversation. Not a single person has pried or been anything other than kind, but at times life feels a little claustrophobic. I am letting go of my over-developed sense of responsibility for everything and everyone.
Among the several things I am doing during this time is undergoing thorough medical tests. This is good since I just found out that my triglycerides are so elevated that it was not possible to get an accurate reading on other indicators in my blood. The doctor told me in a matter-of-fact manner that my levels increase my risk of a heart attack five-fold. Good to know! I am now on medication to correct this.
We were both a little surprised because I eat well, exercise "religiously", and keep my weight in check. I have never smoked. All the things recommended to avoid this sort of problem. Only a few years ago this was not registered as a problem at all. It may be genetics -- my grandfather died of a heart attack in his fifties -- and perhaps stress. Body, mind, and spirit.
So, I will do my best to be a "human being" during this next while rather than just a "human doing." I am feeling better, reading, praying, staying active. God is present.
Thursday, June 05, 2008
He has been accused of being a "stealth Muslim" and of being anti-Jewish. Journalist Allen Abel visited relatives in Texas who are evangelical Christians and wrote an article in the National Post in March about why they won't vote for Obama. Although Obama writes in both his autobiographical books about his conversion to Christianity this isn't enough for Abel's family. He doesn't name the actual moment of conversion, although in The Audacity of Hope he comes pretty darn close.
Many people of colour claim that they have been victims of a "driving while black" mentality by police when they see someone who isn't white behind the wheel of an expensive car. I wonder if there will be a "running for President while black" mindset amongst what we hope will be a minority in the U.S. Who is this uppity black guy who thinks he can be the leader of the free world? In one on-the-street interview people were concerned that Obama was too articulate. Surely the American public had enough mangled prhases thrown at them during the Bush regime? Any excuse to keep a person of colour out of the White House.
Let's hope that the majority will vote believing in liberty and justice for all, regardless of race, colour, or creed. Let's hope that this is a moment of significant change.
Wednesday, June 04, 2008
This morning angry and disillusioned General Motors workers are blockading the entrance to the company headquarters visible from the 401 in Oshawa. They will lose their jobs at the truck plant and so will many others in support industries because of changes in demand for vehicles. The GM Hummer pictured above is the poster child of "getting it wrong" and this one appears to be on its way to low mileage heaven. The days of gas-guzzlers appear to be over and the human cost in the Oshawa area will be huge.
It's tempting to point the finger at corporate leaders in the car industry but we will all have to learn that our rather extravagant, oil-hungry lifestyles must change. I have written before about the teachings of Jesus calling for simplicity. While it may seem that this is being forced upon us, it is necessary for the well-being of planet Earth. Let's keep the GM workers and others affected in our prayers.
Tuesday, June 03, 2008
Albert Schultz, the actor who may be best known for his role in the TV drama Street Legal from years ago received an honorary doctorate. He was being recognized for his part in starting the Soul Pepper theatre group in Toronto, as well as other important community work.
He was the convocation speaker and a very good one. I told him afterward that his was the second-best convocation address I had ever heard. He wanted to know the best, which happened to be the late, great Oscar Peterson who played the piano rather than spoke at my wife, Ruth's, Queen's convocation. He told me he was happy to be next in line behind the jazz icon.
Dr. Schultz was witty and thoughtful and brief in his address, all of which was appreciated by the audience. He quoted from the American poet, Mary Oliver, who is one of our favourites.
When it's over, I want to say all my life
I was a bride married to amazement
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.
When it's over, I don't want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don't want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.
from the poem "When Death Comes"
Oliver has always been a deeply spiritual writer and is now a Christian. These are words to live by.
Monday, June 02, 2008
Well, I'm back after a whirlwind week on the road with my only sibling, brother Eric. We drove to Nova Scotia because a friend offered the use of her cottage on the South Shore. We were fortunate to have very good weather until the day we started back.
I took along a novel called The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill. The cover and description of the story about a child who is abducted and sold as a slave in Africa intrigued me. After the purchase I began to read the positive reviews and discovered that it had won awards.
I found the book gripping, the proverbial "page-turner" which managed to entertain me and educate me about slavery in the 18th century at the same time. The astonishing aspect of reading this book is that the slave in the story ends up in Nova Scotia as one of the blacks transported from America as part of the Loyalist emigration. She makes her way to Shelburne, just down the road from where we were staying. I read about Birchtown, the Negro settlement near Shelburne, established to segregate blacks from whites even though the promise had been freedom and equality.
When I described the story to my brother he was keen to see if there is still a Birchtown, and it turns out that the community is there, although tiny. We visited the national historical site and stopped in to the office of the Black Loyalist Heritage Society, attached to a nearby church. Faith was a sustaining force in the black community and it was fitting that there was a physical connection between church and offices. The staff was gracious and helpful.
I encourage you to read the novel and search for more information about Birchtown. It is a troubling and inspiring story.