Friday, December 31, 2010

Blowin' in the Wind


I have come to the conclusion that the reason many people, including lots of Christians, are immobilized by or in denial about talk of Climate Change is that we aren't really built for the "big picture." Our genetic programming is to feed and shelter ourselves as effectively as possible in the moment, so we don't really have natural "governors" to keep us from eating ourselves to death or making sure that we provide a safe habitat for subsequent generations. In certain Christian circles there is the notion that God will just take care of everything, or Jesus will "beam us up" before it gets too bad.

We do better with the smaller tasks such as recycling, and composting, and taking along shopping bags to the grocery store. These are important ways to make a difference, although the systemic stuff is probably still far more urgent.

So what do you think of the Clown Prince of Toronto, aka Mayor Rob Ford, suggesting that he will do away with the plastic bag fee? I listened to a retailer who said that before the fee he went through five to six thousand plastic bags a week. Now it is every six months. When the measly five cent fee was introduced the goal was to reduce the use of bags by 70% in ten years. Toronto achieved the goal in one month --onemonth!

Apparently some people have grumbled to Ford, and of course he is the peoples' guy. So what about people who don't want to pay any taxes, or those who gripe because the weather isn't a version of the Truman Show every day? What will he do for them?

And here I thought politicians were supposed to provide leadership. Well, it's fairly clear where I stand on this one! What is your perspective? Maybe you figure he has a point about over-governing, or some other outlook.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Gift of Glide


It's not easy for a Canadian guy to admit that he is a non-skater, but I have to "fess up." I just didn't learn as a kid, so I am basicallly blade challenged. I do have skates though, and I haul them out every once in a while and make my tentative way onto the ice.

The large pond at Darlington Park has been frozen and clear for a while now, so the past couple of days members of the family have loaded skates into the car and headed out. There are pressure cracks, rough patches, and the occasional patch of snow to make it interesting. But there is something about skating out of doors that is quite wonderful. It is a way of celebrating God's gift of winter when it it is tempting to "hunker down" and curse this season from indoors.

This is a photo taken on Ruth's cell phone with our daughter, Emily, helping to prop me up. You may notice the open water of Lake Ontario in the background. There is a thin beach between the pond and the lake, so when we got close to open water we could hear the waves crashing in.

The skating was a gift, although I am now recovering from a mysterious "lower body injury!" Alas, the balmy weather will bring this opportunity to an end.

Have you done anything outside over the Christmas season? Skiiing, skating, snowshoeing, sliding? A good brisk walk?

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Top Stories of 2010


'Tis the season for lists, including top news stories for 2010. Most of those news story lists put the BP oil spill in the Gulf at our near the top, along with the Haiti earthquake, and the Chilean mine rescue. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were also up there on a lot of lists and health care in the U.S. Some Canadian lists include the preroguing of parliament, as well as the Winter Olympics.

As many of you will recall, I touched on most of these from a faith perspective, along with others. I tend to muse about what our Christian response might be to situations which are often unfolding at a distance.

Few of these lists include the floods in Pakistan, which brought tremendous misery to millions. I couldn't figure out why there was such indifference to this situation at the time. The failure of the Cancun Climate Change conference and the success of the nuclear weapons pact between the US and Russia seem fairly important as well.

I'm glad that the terrible violation of the environment in the search for oil was so prominent. The Haiti earthquake brought our attention to an impoverished nation which was already languishing off our radar screen.

Which news story would you put at the top of the list of importance? Are there others which you think should be on the lists?

Sunday, December 26, 2010

More or Less?


We know that malls will be madhouses today as people storm the stores in search of the stuff that they haven't already bought in pre-Christmas sales or received as Christmas gifts. We have been told repeatedly in recent weeks that Canadians are carrying dangerously high debt loads, but not to worry, "get more" appears to be our national mantra.

The other day I heard the author of an international study on how people cope and even thrive in economies with low incomes. He said that a staggering 2.6 billion people on the planet live on two dollars a day, or less. What surprised me is that the study found that many of them manage to support families, start businesses, and save money. Teh entrepeneurs are making their way forward through microcredit loans for their modest businesses.

Why is it that in a country such as ours which is still predominantly Christian, at least in identification, if not in practice, we have lost the message of simplicity which is so evident in the Christmas story and is central to the teaching of Jesus?

Thoughts?

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas



Good morning, and Merry Christmas! Okay, you may be reading this on Boxing Day, or beyond, but I had to write something for this day. The painting above is called Christmas Morning 1894 by Carl Larsson. Times have changed, but the excitement of children hasn't.

I got a nice note from a Wilmot Creek resident the other day praising our young people and their parents and leaders. Last Sunday a dozen of them went to the retirement community and sang carols at a dozen households. The people knew they were coming and were thrilled to see and hear them. The young people love doing this, and ask for the opportunity each year. According to Laura, their fearless leader, they are a little sketchy on some of the tunes, but stronger voices carry them and they have a captive audience. I'm sure young people were out carol singing in 1894.

This is just one more "warm fuzzy" about our life in Christian community. Christ be with you.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Meaningful Bedfellows


I had a meaningful moment at the hospital last week when I went to visit one of our members in the Stroke Unit at the Oshawa hospital. Murray is ninety years old, a delightful character who "talks a blue streak." Although his left side has been partially paralysed, he pointed out that his speech hasn't been affected. When I kidded him that this will be the last thing to go for him, he chuckled, as did the two roommates who were listening in on the conversation. I realized that these guys were "tuned in," so I asked them their names and how long they have been in hospital. Both have been there since early November and likely won't get out for Christmas.

At the end of the visit I asked Murray if I could read the Christmas story from Luke. Then I asked the other two if this would be alright, since folk in a hospital room are a captive audience. Sure, they said, so I read the familiar words. When I finished I saw one of them dabbing tears from his eyes. I seized the moment and asked if they would like to be included in my prayer with Murray. Yes, they replied, and I did pray for them by name.

As I have said to you before, there are these remarkable moments in ministry which often touch me very deeply. When I walked in the door these two men were total strangers but I left to their smiles and their thanks.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Christmas Nonegenarians


I stopped in to see two elderly women who live in the same residence earlier this week. Unbenownst to me, one was celebrating her 91st birthday that day, and two friends were there to see her. I could tell she was bouyed by their presence and she announced cheerfully that she had been the centre of attention all day.

The other woman turned 90 in June and she is a cheerful soul who is dealing with mild dementia, bright most of the time with moments of vagueness and disorientation. Maybe that is all of us at this time of the year!

She held out her aged hands with a smile on her face, and it took me a moment to realize that she wanted me to see her fingernails. A young woman comes in to attend to their hands and she had painted this woman's nails, not just with some sedate, boring polish but bright blue with snowflakes. Then our member turned her hands over so I could see the piece de resistance -- her thumbnails adorned with tiny perfect snowmen! She laughed and told me that she is the envy of her seven-year-old great-granddaughter.

We then had a more sombre moment as I admired the collage of photos on her wall. I commented on the pictures of her late husband who was in the hospital last Christmas and died a couple of days later. She isn't always clear as to where he is, but she offered "I told him not to die, but he did." It was a poignant moment, and its simplicity spoke to me of the realities of life and death. I came back to my study and looked at the funeral message from last December to see that they had been married 64 years. Does a partner of that duration ever really leave you?

In both cases though, the visits were positive and we expressed our thanks for life and the birth of Christ.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Elephant in the Room


As we moved through Advent this year I was keenly aware of the number of people who have experienced loss in our congregation. So, on the Sunday of Joy I attempted to address the joy which can be ours in Christ even in the midst of pain and sadness.

I also did something this year for the first time. I wrote Christmas cards with notes to those who had experienced tough losses since last year. I have thought about this before, but this season my cold meant that I was restricted for a few days in visiting people, so I made good on my intentions. I was a little surprised when more than 15 cards were completed and posted. Many of the recipients had experienced the most difficult losses of their lives and others I knew were weary from care-giving. It's hard to know what to say, but I gave it my best try.

I received a response from one person who had been wonderful with her mother, providing loving palliative care at home. She thanked me for acknowledging "the elephant in the room," to use her phrase. While she didn't elaborate, I know she meant the grief many feel in a season which can be almost manically upbeat. This woman is a grandmother herself, and I know she will find hope in her grandchildren and savour their excitement for Christmas. At the same time she will deal with her loss.

Please keep all those who struggle through Christmas in your prayers.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A Gift of the Season

I know that you are all busy, so I will offer a few vignettes during the next few days which will reflect some of my contacts. Although I won't throw in the usual questions, as always you are welcome to respond.

Last Thursday I attended the Christmas dinner for the Making Connections Clarington drop-in which takes place twice a week at St. John's Anglican church. A group from St. Paul's cooks the turkey dinner with the fixin's, and one of our members, Anne Marie, is a key person in working with this group all year long.

All I had to do was eat and chat with the gang, many of whom I have known for a number of years. They come to the Lunch Out dinner at St. Paul's (what wonderful people we have!) and they came to our first Gathering Place meal. I sat with two people I hadn't met before including an older woman named Pat. Pat didn't have her teeth in, so our conversation involved a fair amount of guess work on my part.

She immediately asked me to pray for a situation in her life, and it was clear that she expected me to respond on the spot, which I did. I kidded with her as we ate and she cackled: "Dave, you're a regular Woody Allen." I'm assuming that's a good thing, although I'm a little dubious. As we ate our meal she held up her fork with beans impaled on it, announcing "these are good for your bowels!' No argument here.

As I left I thanked her for the date and she responded "don't tell your wife." This is a group of people who have not always been treated well in life, in part because of struggles with mental health. They might be bitter and wary. Yet they are, for the most part, amazingly open, express gratitude without hesitation, and have senses of humour.

They are loved by God and Christ came for them. For me they are a gift of the Season.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Living Nativity Memories

Last evening would have been a good one for the beginning of the Living Nativity which took place at St. Paul's for the better part of thirty years. It wasn't frigidly cold and there wasn't a blizzard -- weather conditions which the organizers faced often enough through the years.

This is the third Christmas without the Living Nativity. The sale of Farmer Coombes property and a week of ridiculous weather a few years back convinced us that all good things must come to an end. There have been two poignant losses this year which brought the Nativity to mind. A few weeks ago at the time of the Christ Candle we announced the passing of Cricket, the donkey who was the longest serving member of the cast. We couldn't seem to agree on how long Cricket participated, but it was in the neighbourhood of 25 years -- or is that bray-bourhood?

Sunday I received an email from the family of Mr. Sodhi, the lovely Sikh gentleman who came every year for twenty or so to wrap the turbans for the Magi. It was a remarkable ecumenical moment in a small town. The "three kings" looked regal and authentic thanks to Mr. Sodhi. He will be remembered with affection.

Any Living Nativity recollections? Many readers have participated in one way or another, including being Mary and Joseph.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Nativity


We have invited people to bring their nativity scenes or creches to church this Sunday. We did this a few years ago and it was fun. We set them up in the hall and folk stood with their scene and explained its background. I hope that it works out well this time around and I hope those of you who are local will bring yours along.

A colleague shared the clever You Tube Digital Nativity which you can watch at the attached link http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GkHNNPM7pJA It's "over the top" and effective at the same time.

There is another out of Australia which is very sweet sent to me by daughter Jocelyn: http://markpetersen.wordpress.com/2010/12/14/a-refreshing-take-on-the-christmas-story/

PBS offers a seven-minute explanation of the tradition of nativity scenes at this link http://video.pbs.org/video/1696164037/ I think its worth watching.

Do you have a nativity scene with a past? Would Christmas just not be Christmas without it? Any passed on from generation to generation?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Give What Ya Got


Mark Zuckerberg has been in the news alot this year. The founder of Facebook has been the subject of a film which is on a lot of critics' Top Ten lists, interviewed on Sixty Minutes and now Time Magazine's Person of the Year.

This young man (27) has a personal wealth estimated at just under seven billion dollars --yup, that's a b for billion. But he isn't all that materialistic, wearing tee-shirts most of the time, and flip-flops, and still living in an apartment. He made news recently by joining the group of Rich-people-not-like-us who have pledged to give away most of their wealth by the time they are 65. Now for some who have joined the Giving Pledge this timeline looms large. For Zuckerberg it may seem like some distant la-la land. Hey, he is willing to say that he will give away the loot. It is public, and he isn't make excuses.

I don't think any of you are harbouring vast storehouses of secret wealth, but have you become more or less generous with what God has given you over time? Do you find that you are more generous to charitable causes at this time of the year which has become synonymous with generosity? Have I been asking the wrong questions lately, because you are collectively rather quiet?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Carols or Songs?


As I was preparing to head off for church two Sundays ago I listened to a conversation on the radio about Christmas music. The host offered "I love that carol" in response to a traditional Christmas carol. She then asked her guest "do you have a favorite carol?" The person responded by naming what I would call a Christmas song, a secular piece celebrating the season. There are some wonderful songs of the season -- I enjoy Der Bingle's version of White Christmas -- but to my mind they aren't carols unless they have something to do with the birth of Christ. Good King Wenceslas is an exception to the rule, but you get what I mean.

Sunday evening a gang of people gathered after an outing to the zoo for The Animal's Christmas and they sang carols. On Boxing Day morning (a Sunday) we will be singing carol requests. Truth be told, those Christmas songs do sneak in, but the overall focus is Jesus.

Do you have a favorite carol? How about a favorite Christmas song? Are the songs bumping the carols in our increasingly secular and politically correct society?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

God Bless Us, Every Canadian


In my last three congregations there have been public readings of the Charles Dickens classic, A Christmas Carol. It's hard to imagine anyone not knowing the story with its central character, Ebenezer Scrooge. Scrooge undergoes a change of heart which leads him back to the true spirit of Christmas. Even though this tale made only passing references to anything religious it became hugely popular at the time it was serialized in a magazine, and it essentially revived Dickens' failing career.

Of course there are many supporting characters, including the ailing child, Tiny Tim. Dicken's doesn't tell us what young Tim's disease is, so people have speculated on everything from renal failure to rickets to polio to tuberculosis. These diseases still exist in the world, especially in places of poverty but they have been largely eradicated in developed nations with modern health care systems.

Isn't it sad and an indictment that the number of cases of tuberculosis amongst native communities in the North is on the rise, and that the per capita rate is 64 times that of Canada as a whole. It is as though we have a third world nation "hidden in plain sight" here in Canada. Water borne diseases, high suicide rates, disturbing addiction levels in so many of these communities -- how can this happen in this nation of relative prosperity?

I'm not sure what the answer is, but surely there can be a better response to these situations. Is this the government's problem alone? Do you think we should be more active as churches to develop partnerships of hope and support? Is it time for a change of heart?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Happy Giving?


We went to the Oshawa Centre Mall on Saturday afternoon. I know, I know, what were we thinking? We realized that we needed to cease the opportunity to shop together, but it wasn't pretty. Getting into the parking lot, finding a spot, negotiating check-out lines were all trials sent to test our patience. I keep hearing that the local economy is still struggling and that Canadians are drowning in debt. You wouldn't know this from the shopping centre crowds.

I really do enjoy finding the right gifts for the important people in my life but I find the experience of mall shopping a soulless nightmare. In one store we went to check-outs at opposite ends so that we wouldn't be aware of the other's purchases. As I waited in line I saw the sign at the register -- Happy Giving. Happy Giving? Once upon a time we could say "Merry Christmas" because the season was and to mind still is about Christ. It eventually morphed into "Happy Holidays," such an innocuous phrase. With Happy Giving, can Happy Spending be far off?

Do I protest too much? Do you find that there is too much emphasis on stuff at Christmas? Do you feel pressure to spend what you don't have? Have you seen Christ anywhere lately?

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Reflections on Joy


All affirmations of Sunday messages are gratefully received by preachers, although we are often curious as to what "nice sermon" really means. Today I spoke on joy and there were two responses which hit home.

One from a man who recalled the moment of greatest collective joy in his life. It was at the end of WW2 when he was still a young Dutch citizen. The news came that the war had ended and there was a tremendous eruption of jubilation across the country. He told me that when I spoke of experiences of joy the memories came flooding back.

The other was from a woman who told me her elderly mother had died on Friday. She had donated her corneas and someone will see for Christmas. The daughter told me that it was meaningful for her to hear about joy in the midst of her loss, and that her mother will bring joy to someone else, even in death.

There are some topics I approach with trepidation, not wanting to trivialize the often difficult experiences of others. It was good to speak with both of these individuals. I'm going to trust that Christ's joy was present this morning, dreary weather and all.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Cosmic Advent


We have an Advent calendar, which was really an excuse to count down to Christmas with our children when they were young. It is made of wood with little compartments which are opened day by day. There were treats behind each cover and the anticipation every three days was part of the pleasure of the season.

The Boston Globe Big Picture is offering its own version of the Advent Calendar, offering a different photograph of the universe each day -- like, Cosmic man! It's not exactly traditional, but why not? Part of the challenge of Christmas is considering an event so ordinary as a birth and contemplating the cosmic implications. I know most of us consider birth to be a little miracle, but there will 163 million babies born on planet Earth this year. Our Christian faith invites us to ask what one birth which took place 2000 years ago means for us. Bye the way, there were only about 200 millon people of Earth at the time Jesus was born, or about a 33rd of today's population.

http://www.boston.com/bigpicture/2010/12/2010_hubble_space_telescope_ad.html

Take a look at the photos and enjoy. And ask yourself what the hype of Christmas is all about. Thoughts?

Friday, December 10, 2010

Song of Justice

This Sunday Mary, the expectant mother of Jesus, sings a song of justice and equality in anticipation of her son's birth. It is a favourite passage, a hopeful one.

Perhaps it needs to be sung on behalf of the people of China today as human rights activist Liu Xiaobo is awarded his Nobel Peace Prize in absentia. There will be an empty chair in Stockholm acknowledging that he still languishes in a prison cell. China and a number of other nations with dubious human rights records will be boycotting the presentation.

The Chinese government has blocked news of the award today and created an absurd "alternative" Confucius award in a rather pathetic attempt to divert attention from the Nobel prize and the country's miserable human rights record.

This past week the Chinese government also held a conference of Roman Catholic bishops where they appointed their own puppet leaders or forced those duly appointed to attend. Those who refused were punished. It is another attempt to control religion in China while claiming religious freedom.

I'm baffled as to why these violations stir so little response, even when they include persecution of brothers and sisters in Christ. In my opinion we should be outraged.

Why are we so unresponsive? Does might really make right?

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Joy to the World


God has a wicked sense of humour. Okay, since that sounds like blasphemy, I will amend my observation. Sometimes I wonder whether God is chuckling at the irony of my circumstances. On Monday I was struck down by what I'm assuming was the flu. You know, headache, sore throat, sore joints, queasiness --you've been there. Well most of that has passed and I'm now into the mother of all colds.

So I'm working at home rather than being Typhoid David, sharing my germs at work. And what is the sermon I'm working on for this week? Joy. of course, the joy which Christ brings in all the circumstances of life. I can hear the "nuck, nuck" in the background. I would prefer to just lie down and whimper but Sunday's a comin' and the show must go on. Oh, by the way, says God, there is a big snowstorm in the forecast for Sunday and this may be for naught anyway.

But, hey, I am warm and will recover and in the big picture I am blessed. Actually I feel better just writing this, finding a perspective of gratitude.

The readings for Sunday invite us into a joy which goes beyond the vagaries and trials of the moment. It is the joy which is abiding rather than fleeting, because Christ is with us.

What are you joyful about these days? This day? More importantly, will you come to hear my message on joy, even if it snows? Which reminds me, back to my sermon...

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Making Room


I scrolled down through previous blogs today and noticed a number of responses which came after the first flurry of comments. Of course, they too are worthwhile -- check out what I think is the husband and wife duo of Dean and Alli responding to Leave it to Bieber.

I have been thinking a lot about hospitality, and welcome, and room for the stranger in recent months, in part because of our planning for the first Gathering Place meal which took place last Friday. As we get closer to Christmas we turn our thoughts to the "no room in the inn" aspect of our Christian story.

Our daughter Emily is a behavioural psychology degree student in Kingston, and is currently doing a school placement with behaviourally challenged grade sevens'. Some would argue that all grade seven students are behaviourally challenged, but that's another discussion.

Recently her class received a new student who had arrived the day before from China. Even though it was a Thursday two weeks before the end of term the mom dutifully showed up with her son, who speaks only limited English. It turned out that they were walking 45 minutes through the cold for a presentation at the Grand Theatre that morning. The boy must have been totally baffled by what was going on.

Em noticed his isolation and sat with him at the theatre. By strange coincidence the presentation was a troupe of drummers and dancers from China. When the curtain opened his face lit up and he turned to her and asked quizzically "drum?" He pointed with a smile and said "grandfather!" and actually named a drum in Chinese. She said it was a lovely experience for this displaced boy and for her.

Have you ever felt displaced, like the proverbially "fish out of water?" What about being welcomed or assisted or shown hospitality in an unlikely setting? Do you see the connection between the Christmas story and a mandate to be welcoming community?

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Without a Prayer


First the good news. The Canadian government has established a Northwest Passage marine ecological preserve in the arctic, in the area known as Lancaster Sound. It provides protection in a region of pristine beauty. This is a farsighted move considering the potential for resource development in the North, especially now that climate change is opening waterways which have traditionally been frozen.

Now the bad news. As Canada goes to the climate change conference in Cancun, Mexico we do so without a full-time environment minister, having abandoned the Kyoto Accord, and rating 54th of 57 nations which are high emitters of greenhouse gases. Our national approach to climate change and its impact is incredibly shortsighted and shameful really. We appear willing to "sell our birthright for a bowl of pottage" to use a biblical phrase, accepting that we can consume fossil fuels in the short-term with no long-term strategy. We weren't exactly enthusiastic participants in Kyoto up until now, but we have abandoned even the "aspirational" goals.

Our current moderator, Mardi Tindal, is an ardent environmentalist, believing that there is a biblical mandate and a moral imperative for Christians to care for creation. This isn't just a general theological principle. There needs to be "made in Canada" solutions for the sake of this generation and generations to come.

Thoughts? Too much talk about something we can't alter? Embarrassment that we head to Cancun without a prayer for change? Concerns for your kids and grandkids?

Monday, December 06, 2010

We Still Remember


Immediately following and for years after the murder of women at the Ecole Polytechnique in Quebec in 1989 I was involved in memorial services and encouraged men to wear white ribbons. Please take a moment today to remember and pray for these women and all women who are victims of violence because of their gender.

The Gift of White Gift

I'm not good at sitting in the congregation in my own church. I'm just so accustomed to being the worship leader that I tend to wonder what I'm doing there. I headed to church that way yesterday and I came home uplifted by the service. White Gift can be a bit of a "three ring circus" as one person described it to me, but what happened yesterday was worship. An amazing number of children from the very young to teens took part and did a great job. Perfect? No, there was some faltering over words, and minor miscues. But overall it was impressive in how smoothly the service unfolded.

Of course I have no children in our junior congregation, my three all being well into their twenties. But the wee girl who accompanied her father when I was picked up at the airport for an interview nearly eight years ago is now quite grown up and was a capable participant in both the junior choir and a skit. And the infant boy who was just about the first child I baptized at St. Paul's now sings in the same choir with great verve. A girl who is painfully shy and insisted she didn't want to be involved suddenly changed her mind a couple of days before the final rehearsal and did well. I saw her parents look at one another and smile. How good is that? I was struck by how confident these children seemed in this environment where they are affirmed for their God-given gifts. The teens who were soloist and accompianist were wonderful as well.

I got the greatest satisfaction from watching them and many other kids do so well. I felt the pride of family because they are part of my church family. We have the privilege of being involved in the faith formation of these children, of being partners in raising them in the Christian faith. We saw that in action yesterday.Much credit belongs to Sunday School, youth, and Junior Choir leaders.

Were you there? I'm interested to know if your reaction was similar to mine. A number of parents are readers, so feel free to brag about your remarkable kids. Thoughts from those who weren't there about the role of children in congregational life?

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Tongue Tied


I have really enjoyed working with seven adults in our recent Exploring Our Faith class. The group was made up of two young couples, a father of young uns, and two others. Interesting, intelligent people who want to join the church. What's not to like!

Last evening was our final session and it included discussion of the United Church and its ethos. I listed as strengths a bunch of things, including a remarkable list of "firsts," along with a strong social conscience. In the shorter list of weaknesses I included a traditional reluctance to speak to others about our faith. I have noticed that UCC members like to say that they bear witness through their actions rather than their words. I think this is a bit of a cop-out. It brings to mind my wife Ruth's days as a marriage counsellor. The wife (usually) would lament that the husband would never say "I love you." Hubby would gruffly respond "I cut the grass, and make sure the oil is changed in her car -- she should know I love her." Expressing love for a partner is not either/or any more than expressing love for God is either/or.

A member told me recently that rather to his surprise he spent some of his time at the Royal Winter Fair this year "personing" the booth for Christian Farmers. He's a great guy and seems reasonably sane (hey, he reads this blog so he must be!)For the first time in his life he openly witnessed to his Christian faith and even prayed with some of the people who came to the booth. He said that it was a little nerve-wracking as a rookie, but he didn't regret doing so.

Are you open about sharing your faith or are you tongue-tied? It seems to me that one reason the United Church is shrinking and aging is that we aren't all that adept or willing to share the Good News of Christ. Yes, yes, there are all the stereotypesof the pushy Christian , but do you "bear witness to the faith within you?"

Friday, December 03, 2010

The Rich Get Richer


The economic downturn of the past couple of years has affected everyone, right? After all, those poor bankers and industrialists needed the rest of us to bail them out, and didn't our governments do a good job of keeping them off welfare? Okay, that sounds cynical and we are seeing that there have been positive results from some of those bail-outs.

I was interested to hear yesterday that the rich have been getting richer in Canada despite tougher economic times. The wealthest segment of the populace has steadily taken hold of more of the pie during the past three decades. The wealthiest 1 percent have doubled their portion, the richest .01 percent have quadrupled, and the super-richest .001 have quintupled their wealth. It warms the heart, doesn't it?

Meanwhile the middle-class has stagnated during that time. Of course, as a middle class Canadian I realize that I am wealthy beyond the wildest dreams of most of the world's population, and I am grateful for the accident of my birth into this prosperous country. Well, my mom doesn't consider my birth an accident, but you get what I mean. And I have known people through the years who are prosperous and even wealthy who have generously shared their good fortune with others.

A passage which comes up every year in this season is the Magnificat in the first chapter of Luke's gospel. It includes these thoughts:

And Mary said: my soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour...
God has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty...

We haven't quite arrived at this vision have we, but God isn't finished with us yet. What do you make of this latest report about the wealth of the country's elite? Are you discouraged, even angry? Are you willing to admit that in some respects you are rich? Is it our role as Christians to work toward greater fairness and economic equality?

Thursday, December 02, 2010

The Gathering Place, continued

Here is the article in Clarington This Week about The Gathering Place meal which will take place at St. Paul's tomorrow. While we have carefully avoided using the term "soup kitchen" ourselves, the article is a good reflection of our interview. http://www.newsdurhamregion.com/news/clarington/article/166935

A Light is Gleaming


I like the Jewish festival called Hanukkah. Truth be told, it is sort of a "B Team" event which doesn't really rank up there with other Jewish holy days. It is not based on a biblical event, rather a legend from the time of the Maccabees. When the temple of Jerusalem was recaptured from the Greeks there wasn't enough oil to keep the sacred lamp burning, or so it seemed. Yet the lamp was miraculously sustained until enough oil was pressed eight days later. Nice story, and the idea of lighting candles for eight days in the darkest time of the year appeals to me.

Of course in many Christian churches the Advent candles of Hope, Peace, Joy and Love move us toward our celebration of Christ's birth, the one who is the light of the world. Every week in worship we light the Christ candle as a reminder that Christ is with us in both the "highs" and "lows" of life and death. It's hard to imagine that there was a day when people put real candles on their Christmas trees.
Most religious traditions have some festival of light, or regularly employ light in religious rituals. I suppose that in every time people have realized that life can become spiritually gloomy and God brings light and hope.

We haven't rooted out our family Menorah yet this year, but we have one, and usually observe Hanukkah in an informal way. When our kids were young we read a Hanukkah book, and ate potato latkes.

Do you have any candle lighting ceremonies in your life, other than birthday cakes? Do you like our religious rituals of creating light? Or are they outmoded in a time when light can be switched on or off in a moment?

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Beads of Hope


A few years ago the United Church challenged its membership to raise a million dollars to support AIDS projects in Africa. The Beads of Hope campaign brought in more than two million between 2002 and 2004 and many of us wore the beaded pins made by women in different places in Africa. http://beadsofhopeafrica.com/

As we come to World AIDS Day once again its important to consider how the AIDS epidemic is being addressed today. I listened to Stephen Lewis on Monday as he reminded us that two million people died in Africa last year from AIDS and AIDS related illnesses. Twenty three million are living with HIV/AIDS. There are millions of AIDS orphans. Grim numbers. The interviewer asked Lewis to share a specific story and as he spoke about one woman this confident and eloquent man was obviously emotional. The statistics are overwhelming but Lewis reminded us that each person matters.

Did you contribute to the Beads of Hope campaign a few years back? Have you kept informed about what is happening with AIDS around the world? Should we still care as Christian communities?

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

God is With Us

Sunday after worship twenty people attended a grief workshop organized by our pastoral care committee and Beth, our pastoral care worker. We coordinated it with the Sunday of Hope in the Advent season.

Amongst the participants were folk who have experienced the sudden death of loved ones, others who have struggled with the passing of aged family members, and at least two who are trying to make sense of the "loss by inches" of partners with dementia. I looked around and saw people who have lived through great sadness and have been incredibly strong as well .
My wife Ruth attended and said that it was well organized and presented. She also commented that at the end of the session three of the men in attendance shared their thoughts on coping with grief and that their comments were very meaningful.

At the beginning I welcomed the group and quoted our United Church statement of faith "In life, in death, in life beyond death, God is with us, we are not alone." It seems to me that so much of the struggle with loss has to do with a feeling of isolation in the shadows. A couple which attended the workshop has recently returned to church after an absence of years, other than the "high days." They both lost elderly parents in recent months and were surprised by the depth of their grief. They shared with me before the event that coming back to church on the "All Saints" Sunday when we recognized departed members and others was of great comfort, so they keep coming. In this season anticipating "God with us" in Christ, this is good news.

Any comments on your own challenges with loss and grief this season? Were any of you in attendance?

Monday, November 29, 2010

I'll Stick With God

On Friday evening two British celebrities squared off in Toronto, debating the value of religion. On the "religion is a positive force" side was former UK prime minister Tony Blair. On the "religion is a negative force" side was Christopher Hitchens, celebrated journalist and ardent atheist.

Audience members were given the opportunity to vote on the most persuasive argument and as might be expected Hitchens won. I say "as might be expected" for a number of reasons. For one, Hitchens is a formidable debater with a fine intellect, a well-honed rationale, and the ability to pit the best of a non-theist worldview against the worst of religion. Blair is a very bright man with a deep Christian faith but other than the draw of two recognized figures it probably could have been a better debate with any one of a number of others debating Hitchens, including his brother Peter, who is a Christian.

The debate vote reflected a recent poll of people in a number of nations on the influence of faith. In the survey only 36% of Canadians saw religion in a positive light, which makes a certain sense given 911, with its religious extremist connections, along with the steady decline of religious involvement amongst younger Canadians with traditional faith communities. My feeling is that many Canadians have no clue about the good work of the churches historically, nor in the present.
I have largely resigned myself to being a as faithful and creative as possible in my role as pastor and prophet despite the trend. Will the day come when our culture recognizes what I believe is the folly of a materialistic worldview and return to life-giving personal and communal faith? I have no idea. In the meantime I'm sticking with the God revealed in Christ. I see so much evidence of the positive influence of religious communities every day, and I admire the Christians of St. Paul's who are making a difference in the broader community.

Any thoughts about the debate itself? What about the role of religion in today's society?

Friday, November 26, 2010

Christ's Welcome

Later today a group of people from several congregations will gather at St. Paul's for an orientation session for the community meal called The Gathering Place, which will begin next Friday. A group of motivated, positive organizers have been hard at work for several months, even though we really don't have any idea of how many will arrive for our first attempt at hospitality around a table. This evening at five I will offer a little theological pep-talk on the nature of Christ's welcome and the gang will orient themselves to our space.

I was inspired earlier this week to hear Brother John Frampton who works with the St. Francis Table ministry in the Parkdale area of Toronto. This ministry began in 1987 and they are about to celebrate serving one million meals! Well, celebrating after a fashion. Brother John quickly concedes that their preference would be that no one would need their services, but they have been faithful to the need of the community around them for all these years.

Here is how they describe themselves:

St. Francis Table is not merely a soup kitchen, but an "outreach restaurant!" Patrons are seated in a dining room, they are given a choice of meal, and are waited on by volunteers. To preserve the dignity of the patrons, they are asked to pay $1.00 for the meal (although, no one is ever turned away). While most of the patrons are homeless, many are senior citizens or those with mental health issues that live on a fixed income. "The Table" is a vibrant social community!

Please keep our Gathering Place initiative in your prayers. If you are interested in volunteering you are welcome to come this evening's orientation in preparation for the first meal which will take place next Friday (doors open at 4:30.) The orientation is required before volunteering.

Any comments?

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Giving Thanks

Our neighbours to the south are celebrating Thanksgiving, which is the biggest travel holiday of the year in the States. So far no new version of the American Revolution as fliers object to body pat-downs and scans. For anyone who cares, I am picking the Pats over the Lions, The Saints over the Cowboys and the Jets over the Bengals in today's NFL games. Who says I don't have my priorities straight!

I have mentioned before that both the Canadian and the U.S. Thanksgiving celebrations originated around the same time, and both were made national holidays in the same era. And in both countries we make a point of expressing our gratitude. In fact the lectionary scripture readings will be the same in the States this weekend as those we used in October. Earlier this week the online "thought for the day" called Sound Bites included these quotes on gratitude, both of which are good.

GRATITUDE

Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others.

-- Cicero

Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. (Colossians 3:16 NIV)
Are your grateful today, whatever your nationality and location? What are you grateful for? Is God part of your giving thanks?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Emperor of All Maladies


I have read several reviews of a new book called The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer which goes back several thousand years in the history of this disease. This book by Siddhartha Mukherjee is likely a worthwhile but grim read.

Nearly 170,000 Canadians develop new cancers every year and every minister, pastor, and priest ends up walking alongside people living with this disease. There are many other diseases which can be life threatening, but none so common it seems as cancer, or cancers since there are more than 200 variations on the theme.

A couple of weeks ago I did the memorial service for a woman who underwent aggressive treatment a dozen years ago to fight her cancer, but decided when it came back again after a decade that she wasn't willing to enter into the same debilitating medical process again. Her doctors gave her six months this time but she lived two years and died peacefully in her own home. We have other members who are in the fight of their lives against various cancers and I hate to see them going through this. Hate is not too strong a word for what I feel. We pray and offer support but there is nothing easy about this. I often have a sense of the unfairness of cancer and I am truly humbled by the courage and resolve of people.

I like the title of anothr book on the subject, Robert Buckman's Cancer is a Word, Not a Sentence. While I have conducted funerals for many people with cancer, I have watched many recover as well, which is cause for celebration and gratitude.

What are your experiences of cancer? Does this disease frighten you more than others?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Leave it To Bieber


Unless you are a preteen or young teen girl you may feel that I am sinking to a new low by blogging about the pride of Stratford, Ontario, Justin Bieber. The Bieb won four awards at Sunday evening's American Music Awards, edging out his mentor, Usher, in a couple of categories.

The young phenom with this year's most copied haircut sang a piece called Pray at the awards, earnestly beseeching Someone or Something to make the world a better place.

I close my eyes and pray
For the broken-heartedI pray for the life not started
I pray for all the ones not breathing
I pray for all the souls in need.

I pray.

Can you give em one today.
I just can't sleep tonight
Can someone tell how to make a change?
I close my eyes and I can see a better day
I close my eyes and pray
I close my eyes and I can see a better day

I close my eyes and I pray.

Although I didn't watch the show there was a choir singing backup and Bieber fell to his knees in a traditional prayer posture as he beseeched the Great Whatever. The choir and the knee drill and even the closed eyes are stereotypes of prayer, all understandable because a singer is an entertainer.

Jesus suggested in the Sermon on the Mount that God is not impressed by showy prayers and that we should find a private place to do our praying.

What does prayer look like or sound like -- or not sound like -- to you?

Monday, November 22, 2010

Wilderness Refuge





This past weekend Ruth and I headed to Sudbury, Ontario, where I was the anniversary speaker at St. Andrew's United Church. I served St. A's for eleven years and Sunday gave us the opportunity to reconnect with many people after another eleven years away.

On our way north we left the highway and ventured out to Georgian Bay and Killarney Provincial Park. Killarney is Ontario's southernmost wilderness park and has the advantage of access to Georgian Bay and a system of lakes for canoeing. The La Cloche mountains are striking white quartzite contrasted with pink granite, quite unique visually. The rocks with their lichen looked like paintings by Jackson Pollock.

Killarney was our place of refuge during our Sudbury years, which was a time of intense church activity along with raising a young family. On Saturday we climbed a ridge to a favourite spot as well as walking out to Georgan Bay on another trail. We worked hard on our climb, but the silence and solitude were a gift. The lake of the bottom photo looks rather atmospheric because we were suddenly in a snow squall. We arrived in Sudbury weary but happy although I'm sure our hosts found us a bit groggy that evening!

After worship on Sunday we drove south through Toronto on our way home. It was dark by the time we hit the Big Smoke and traffic was heavy even on a "sabbath" evening, a steady stream of lights in both directions.

Have you ever been to Killarney? Do you have places of refuge, indoors or out, where you can move away from the busyness of daily life?

Sunday, November 21, 2010

PLEASE blog about this!


I got an email the other day with the request seen in today's header from a reader who is deeply concerned about environmental issues. The "this" was the unprecedented action of the Canadian senate to kill the Climate Change Accountability Act. For the first time in 70 years the unelected senate euthanized a bill sent forward by our elected legislature without debate . What it means is that the Canadian government will attend a climate change conference without direction from the members of parliament who were chosen by the people of Canada. The climate change bill set ambitious targets which would have moved us more into line with the climate policies of other advanced nations.

I rarely get partisan in expressing political views, but to me this is one more disturbing example of an autocratic prime minister deciding that the democratic process is not necessary to advance his goals. Actually, the word "advance" is too charitable. Canada seems to be retreating farther and farther from any cohesive plan for environmental sustainability. Canada will go to the conference of 200 countries in Cancun, Mexico, without an environment minister because of the recent resignation of Jim Prentice.

In scripture we are enjoined to be stewards of this earth, to "tend the garden" for the wellbeing of all living things. God help us if we continue on the incredibly short-sighted path we are currently taking. The weeds are taking over the garden.

Were you aware of this disturbing action? Did you know that we don't have an environment minister at the moment? Other thoughts?

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Plays Well With Others

At the meeting of Bowmanville ministerial on Wednesday I floated a proposal to write a letter the new Islamic Centre in Courtice, extending a neighbourly welcome and stating clearly that we are dismayed by the vandalism the centre has experienced since opening in August.

I was pleased that after some discussion we agreed to write the letter and to publicize our support of this faith community's right to express its faith without fear of reprisal. One of the Baptist pastors agreed to draft the letter, and the Seventh Day Adventist pastor spoke eloquently about our need to support this freedom. Around the table were nine pastors, the hospital chaplain, the principal of the Christian highschool, and a representative of the Christian counselling agency in Clarington.

We don't always agree on issues, and at times I am taken aback by the gulf separating us in certain key areas. Yet these are people of good will and I am grateful for every occasion when we find common ground. There is always laughter at meetings (well, nearly always) and we are learning to support one another, including newcomers. Five of the nine pastors present have joined in the past year or so. Our meeting was in Liberty Pentecostal church and the new pastor was very welcoming.

Did you know that we have a local ministerial? Are you glad we do? What are your thoughts about our letter to the Islamic community?

Friday, November 19, 2010

God Rest Ye

On Wednesday I was getting ready for bible study with the sound of Christmas carols wafting in from the St. Paul's hall. One of the bands which uses our space was working up its chops for a Christmas concert and we were the recipients, five weeks before December 25th.

On Tuesday I was in a conversation with a half dozen of my colleagues about the pressure to be "Christmasy" when Advent hasn't begun. We are unanimous in feeling that the commercial Christmas attempts to pull all of us into that "buy, buy,buy, aren't we all jolly?" mode earlier each year. We don't really like being the pigeons sucked into the jet engine of commercialism, but there are times when it feels as though no one is listening.

I like the ad above created by the United Church's Wonder Cafe to encourage folk to ponder what we are really about.

Do you notice the Christmas pressure mounting earlier each year? Do you attempt to opt out of the commercial emphasis, or do you say "resistance is futile" a la Star Trek's the Borg? Will Christ be at the heart of your Christmas?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Deafened


The other day I read a news item that made me surprisingly sad. It was about the mysterious phenomenon of beached dolphins, porpoises, and whales. We have all seen pictures of pods of beached cetaceans, usually surrounded by humans who are earnestly sloshing water over them and attempting to return them to the sea. Often when the rescuers achieve this the creatures simply beach themselves again and perish.

The latest research suggests that these mammals are deaf, and for them hearing is as important as sight. It may be old age, or disease, or the effects of the growing din in our oceans and seas. Military testing, as well as gas and oil exploration create intolerable noise levels for many creatures and these intelligent beasts may lose their hearing as a result.

If this latter source is the cause then this is a terrible result of our human ability to create a racket everywhere. We're told that songbirds in urban areas are singing themselves hoarse in an attempt to make themselves heard. Now not even the oceans are refuge for living things.

And what does this say about the world we live in? Are we making so much noise that we can't "hear ourselves think?" Some people claim they can't sleep well when urban noise isn't present. I'm the opposite, feeling that I am restored by quiet. Is it more difficult to be attuned to God when we are addicted or numbed by the racket of daily living?

What is your reaction to the beached dolphin story? Do you think we are "noising" ourselves silly? Would God appreciate a little more air-time?

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

If You Love This Port Hope

Nearly 30 years ago Dr. Helen Caldicott jolted many of us to pay attention to the madness of proliferating nuclear weapons, insisting in a film called If You Love This Planet that humans needed to change their foolish ways. She was articulate, abrasive, and forceful. The documentary won an Academy Award. As a young minister I quoted Dr. Caldicott even though she did not have a religious message. She struck me as being a fearless prophet for our time, using every means possible to make a numbed populace listen. She was and is passionate about peace.

Dr. Caldicott is in Canada at the moment, causing a stir just down the road from Bowmanville in the lovely town of Port Hope. She is speaking out about the remediation of properties in the community, the toxic legacy from the uranium refining process. She insists that the Canadian government is not being honest about the extent of the problem and that the "cure" of removing contaminated soil is nearly as bad as the original "disease" of burying the stuff all over town. She figures everyone should leave as soon as possible and the government should pay for it. Not surprisingly she has been called an alarmist and her scheduled speaking engagement in Port Hope last night was moved to Oshawa.

I heard Dr. Caldicott on the radio yesterday and she was as blunt and opinionated as ever. She does not go in for shades of gray and there is no doubt she is convinced she is on the side of the angels, whether she believes in angels or not.

I really don't know what to think. Reader Lynn lives in Port Hope and doesn't glow in the dark, but I don't want that to happen for her either, or for any other resident.

What are your thoughts about this specific situation? What do you think about people such as Caldicott who abrasively call us to action? Are they prophets or just attention-seeking agitators? Do we need more or less of them?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Pilgrim People


During the next few days 10 million Muslims will make their way to Mecca as part of the annual pilgrimage known as the Haj. One of the five pillars of Islam is this pilgrimage, at least once in a lifetime. Today the pilgrims can travel in comfort if they have the means, but it was often a dangerous journey in other times and even today there is risk just because of the volume of people concentrated in one spot. Every year there are injuries and deaths.

Virtually every religion includes pilgrimage, the notion of going on a holy or spiritual journey. Jesus travelled to Jerusalem for feast days and joined others from around the ancient world who were making the same trek. In medieval times Christian pilgrims went to Canterbury, Rome, Jerusalem, and Santiago de Compostela. The latter destination was the culmination of the Camino, the pilgrimage walk across Spain which is still travelled by thousands every year. Our son Isaac did this 850 kilometre walk when he was nineteen, as did a member of St. Paul's, Rich, when he was in his later fifties.

The sense is that a pilgrim is different than a tourist by virtue of intent. Pilgrims don't just see the sights, they approach with a unique perspective and insight.

Have you ever been on what you might call a pilgrimage, spiritual or otherwise? A trip to the land of your birth or ancestors? A journey back to your hometown or to a reunion? Graceland or the Rock and Roll hall of fame in Cleveland? Have any of you been to Lourdes or travelled to a cathedral with a spiritual intent?

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Tip of the Iceberg


Many of you are aware of the origins of this blog. A younger St. Paul's member encouraged me to start, and showed me how to do so. If you look back to those early months you'll see that very few people responded initially. Current commenter Lynn may have been the first and the numbers have grown over time. Still, the core group of 15 to 20 commenters represent the tip of the iceberg of those who read and form opinions.

I have many conversations in person or email in which readers voice their thoughts with intelligence and insight. When I ask why they don't join the conversation they insist that they don't have much to offer, or feel intimidated by the quality of responses they read. Even some regulars feel that certain subjects are a little tough to tackle. Others admit that they are tech challenged and can't figure out how to comment.

This is another invitation to join the conversation. If you look back over the past week you will see that a number of blog entries have been made so much better by the comments. I look forward to reading them as the day progresses and I am sure that many others have something to offer .I feel that this is a good way to discuss issues of faith, and as the years have gone by I have discovered how many subjects there are which arise in each week. Just so you know, I spend about 20 minutes a day writing.
To comment you must first set up an account at blogger.com, but that isn't as difficult as you might think.
I would like to hear from current commenters about what it felt like to enter the conversation. Did you find it hard to figure out blogger in the beginning? Do you feel that you are more confident in expressing your opinions as time goes by?

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Our Social Networks


We finally got to see the film The Social Network, which is about the creation of Facebook and the relationships between co-founder Mark Zuckerberg and other students at Harvard in those early days. I knew nothing about its origins other than a daughter explaining early on that it was only available to university students. Folk want to "friend" me, which I appreciate but I decided not to go on Facebook earlier on because it seemed like a creepy thing for a man my age to do. Today it seems that half the planet is on Facebook and I'm on the outside looking in. There are lots of youth group/leader Facebook pages in churches, including the one my son uses to communicate with the young people at his church.

The movie is a dramatization, so we have no idea how close it is to the actual story. Zuckerberg comes across as a scmuckerberg who is socially inept himself and betrays his only true friend in order to achieve his goals. We found this to be a very entertaining and well acted movie, whatever its veracity.

I am curious as to whether you are on Facebook and whether you feel it enhances relationships. Do you think it could be an effective tool for congregations? Do you prefer "old school" face-to-face rather than cyberface conversations? Are people who need people the luckiest people in the world?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Courage


Tomorrow the gospel lesson from Luke has Jesus telling his followers that if they are faithful to him that persecution is almost guaranteed. This is a message I'm not keen on personally, and who wants to share that with a bunch of likeable people? Persecution is highly overrated.

Yet we often admire those who live by their principles even when it is unpopular and costly. I thought about this passage when I heard about the release of Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma/Myanmar. She has paid a high price for her criticism of the ruling military junta, living under house arrest or incarceration for portions of the past two decades. She is greatly admired by the people of Myanmar, a courageous symbol of freedom, even when her freedom has been taken from her. I pray that she will be able to live without fear of physical threat or concern over a return to house arrest.

Are there individuals, both present and past, whom you admire for the courage to say and do what was necessary despite the consequences? Do you think you could endure being shunned or harrassed because of principles and faith?

Friday, November 12, 2010

Free of Charge

A book order has arrived with two additions to my burgeoning collection on the subject of forgiveness. One is Embodying Forgiveness by L. Gregory Jones and the other is Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace by Miroslav Volf. It could be argued that I am obsessed by the subject, although I would respond by saying that it is because forgiveness is a recurring subject in real-life discussions with those who seek me out. The spiritual tug of war matches individuals, families, and even congregations engage in never seem to abate. Of course, forgiveness is intertwined with God's love in Christ.

I read recently that the 32 Chilean miners trapped underground for two months have made a pact not to speak about the first 17 days before contact from the surface. Book and movie rights to those days will likely make them all wealthy. At least one has offered a "teaser" saying that when any one of them messed up under the many pressures of being trapped the individual was required to stand before the others and ask for forgiveness. It was a big factor in saving their sanity and solidarity. Is that what we should all do I wonder?

How are you doing when it comes to "laying your burdens down?" I find that just when I think I have chased the demons of anger and resentment out the door, I turn around and discover they have sneaked back into the room and they're grinning at me! Are you able to forgive those who have wronged you, and have you sought forgiveness from those you have wronged? Does knowing that Christ forgives you make a difference to your ability to let go?