Thursday, September 30, 2010

Golden Rule Christian

About one in five citizens in the US think President Obama is a Muslim and a bunch more figure he isn't the right kind of Christian, which probably means just like them. In Canada we know next to nothing about the religion of our leaders and some would say this is the proper separation of church and state.

Obama was asked a direct question about his faith in a Q&A in New Mexico a couple of days ago and he gave a frank and thoughtful answer. It seems to me that he took the right tone at Albuquerque (sorry, I couldn't resist.) He reveals himself as what has been called a Golden Rule Christian, one who does to others what he would want done to him.

“I’m a Christian by choice,” the president said. “My family, frankly, they weren’t folks who went to church every week. My mother was one of the most spiritual people I knew but she didn’t raise me in the church, so I came to my Christian faith later in life and it was because the precepts of Jesus Christ spoke to me in terms of the kind of life that I would want to lead. Being my brothers and sisters’ keeper, treating others as they would treat me, and I think also understanding that Jesus Christ dying for my sins spoke to the humility we all have to have as human beings, that we’re sinful and we’re flawed and we make mistakes and we achieve salvation through the grace of God.”

Mr. Obama went on: “But what we can do, as flawed as we are, is still see God in other people, and do our best to help them find their own grace. That’s what I strive to do, that’s what I pray to do every day.’’ Yet he said that as president, he also “deeply believes that part of the bedrock strength of this country is that it embraces people of many faiths and of no faith.’’

Does all or part of this work for you? Could you give a ready answer about your faith, or would you be tongue-tied? Has your definition of your faith, Christian or otherwise, altered with time?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Religious Not-Know-It-Alls

A recent survey of religious knowledge in the States has come up with some interesting results. When asked 32 questions the group that did best, on average, was --drum roll please -- the atheists at 21 correct answers. Jews and Mormons were right up there, with Christians of various stripes trailing the pack. In fact the Mormons, who some consider a cult, did better than Christians on the questions about Christianity. Remember that the US is generally considered the most religious of developed countries. Apparently religious in sensibility but not in knowledge.

Somehow this doesn't surprise me. It is always the temptation for the dominant culture, including the dominant religious culture to assume that it is better informed simply by virtue of being the biggest show in town. I figure the atheists have done more work figuring out why they don't believe, and other minority religious groups are more inclined to figure out the competition.

I don't think we have any reason to be smug here in Canada. It is such an uphill battle to get folk involved in adult Christian education or exploration of other faiths. Why do so many figure that religious education is over and done with at age12 or 13, with the exception of going to church? It would be interesting to see how we would do on a similar survey.

Any comments on this survey? How do you think you would do? Are you still learning and growing as a person of faith or as someone interested in faith issues?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

When We Grow Up

Yesterday I wrote about the wonderful gang of children and youth who took part in worship on Sunday morning. Today I'll go in the other direction, to our oldest member. It occurred to me on Friday that Muriel had a birthday while I was away, so I went to see her. Every birthday is an event for Muriel because she hit the century mark four years ago. Yup, she turned 104 on September 1st. Not surprisingly the parts are wearing out for Muriel.

I asked how she was feeling and she conceded that she can't see, can't hear, and can't walk. Somehow she could chuckle about this. She admitted that it is frustrating that she is so dependent on others, but quickly went on to say that she didn't want to be a complainer. Life has been good, and God has been good. She grew up in a Christian family, she always tells me, and that was the solid foundation for a meaningful life.

Muriel has become physically tiny and seem to gets smaller every time I see her. She is a huge woman in terms of her gratitude for the life God has given her and the dignity she still exudes. Don't you want to be like her when you grow up?

Do you have elderly friends or family who are an example for you?

Monday, September 27, 2010

God's Hug

Our children participated in worship in a number of ways yesterday and it was wonderful, start to finish. My delight began well before the service when the roughly twenty "junior choir and friends" group were filing out from their rehearsal. Several gave me hugs, which warmed my heart.

In the service they sang with enthusiasm, and I thought of the two girls who are adopted. They are both in loving, supportive families and the bigger adoptive family which is St. Paul's. Where might life have taken them without these parents? Despite the disappointment they experienced as they waited to begin families they have turned circumstances into a tremendous positive.

When the five young people led us in the Prayers of the People I was moved once again. My eyes were closed, but I listened to their deepening, maturing voices. I've known most of them since they were kids, but they sure sounded like adults as they moved us thoughtfully through the time of prayer.

How blessed we are! Another young person was an excellent scripture reader and yet another expertly took care of projection. All this involvement was a big hug from God for our congregation.

Any responses from those who were there, or those that weren't?

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Signs of Hope

I am always trying to figure out the balance of being a creation-care Christian. I don't want to be a pessimist, buying into every "gloom and doom" scenario, a version of the wild-eyed individuals on street corners with signs saying The End of the World is at Hand. But I'm not willing to ignore the environmental "signs of the times" which tell us that human activity is compromising the health of the planet. Sometimes I think our motto as Christians should be "we can do better than this!"

So where are the signs of hope? During the summer I have read articles saying that the lack of monarch butterflies this summer is cause for concern. Another was on the drastic decline in the numbers of turtles in Ontario. Well, you can see from photos taken during a couple of recent rambles that monarchs still exist. At Second Marsh in Oshawa there are hundreds, feeding on the goldenrod to build up enough strength to make it across Lake Ontario. Their goal is Mexico, although it is a tag team journey through several generations.

Turtles? A couple of weeks ago we loaded up our kayaks and drove to the southeast corner of Prince Edward County. We paddled five or six kilometres up the Black River and back again. In those ten or twelve km. we saw scores of painted turtles on logs and rocks . They are very camera shy, but were present in abundance.

It's good to have the encouraging signs of life amidst the dismal news. Any sightings of critters that delighted or encouraged you this summer?

Friday, September 24, 2010

Role Models?

Last night a Toronto Blue Jay, Jose Bautista, enjoyed a significant personal milestone in a largely forgettable season for his team. He became only the 26th player in the history of MLB to hit 50 or more homeruns. Bautista is a well spoken, rather self-effacing team player, and there isn't a scrap of evidence that he used performance enhancing drugs to accomplish this goal.

This is a nice antidote to a story from last week when New York Yankees star Derek Jeter was hit by a pitch, giving him a free pass to first base. He scored later in the inning on a home run by a team mate. Except that he wasn't hit. The ball actually bounced off his bat but Jeter freely admitted he "acted" his way on base, feigning injury. I think he misspoke. What he meant to say was that he cheated his way to first. The manager of the opposing team was irate, but conceded later that he would have wanted his own players to do the same if possible. So much for good sportsmanship.

There have been a ton of stories in the news lately of cheating, lying, philandering, abusing, drunken professional athletes. Some of them are among the greatest names in their various sports, but they are definitely not role models, whatever their athletic skills may be.

I admit to a love/hate relationship with pro sports and sports in general. I enjoy watching hockey, football, baseball and follow some of it closely. But I struggle with the terrible example many of these athletes set and the whole premise that sports somehow teach life lessons.

I have written before about my concern and that of colleagues that sport in various forms has become the new religion, even to out-muscling worship on Sunday mornings. Why do you think this has happened, given the rather dubious value of organized sport to shape character? Who should our role-models be?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Funerals in the 21st Century

I listened to an interview yesterday with a funeral director who is offering live streaming of funerals and memorials through the internet. It makes sense doesn't it? Many funeral homes have been offering videos or DVDs to clients for years, which is very helpful for those who aren't able to attend services. It must be a comfort for those who are at a distance to participate in the moment. Some might not be able to attend because they live or work at a distance, but it can also be a challenge for elderly folk to get to services.

The interviewer wondered if the next innovation will be setting up to allow those at a distance to speak at a service, and the director offered a polite "one step at a time" response. I'm sure it will happen with time.

My thought is that when someone speaks at a funeral, whether immediately at hand or half a world away, they should understand the nature of the occasion and act with dignity and respect.

What is your reaction to this innovation and the potential for another?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

God's Pottery Class

Last night Oshawa Presbytery convened for the first time this Fall. Representatives from the approximately 30 pastoral charges came together at Faith United, home church of our new chairperson, Larry Doyle. Larry took on this role with the understanding that during this year we would spend a significant chunk of time at every meeting considering the future of our congregations and the collective which is presbytery. We are using the General Council theme from Jeremiah of God as the potter who shapes and reworks the clay.

So that's what we did, looking at questions about attendance, age of congregants, who provides leadership. It was a good, although sobering conversation. As I have told you before, we have many congregations in our area that are on survival mode, if not death watch. I always feel fortunate when we get into these conversation because of our vitality in a number of areas. Still, we are experiencing societal trends away from organized religion at St. Paul's, and we too are examining our basic assumptions about how we "do church."

You have been a quiet bunch lately, but I wonder what you think of this initiative by presbytery? We have been in discussion on similar topics within the St. Paul's board. Do the board members feel that this is worthwhile? Is our "clay" being reworked, or has is been shattered? Are you hopeful or pessimistic about the future of the United Church?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

World Alzheimer's Day

Today is World Alzheimer's Day. I regularly see how deeply dementia and Alzheimer's affect people, both the sufferers and families. There are 35 million people around the world living with Alzheimers, which is the most common form of dementia. A new case is diagnosed on average every seven seconds.

These are significant facts, but for me this day is a reminder of all those I have known through the years who have struggled with this debilitating and cruel disease. I can picture many of these folk, and many of them have been people I have come to know well and for whom I had and have great affection.

I think of a man in our congregation who still gets out to events, including worship, but struggles to do so. A very sociable guy, he admitted to me during a visit that his inability to remember names of those he has known for years is frustrating.

On Sunday I encouraged everyone to become better informed, to visit or call someone who has dementia (even if that person is no longer aware) and to offer support to a caregiver.

Any comments from your experience today?

Monday, September 20, 2010

Looking Outward

Yesterday marked the thirtieth anniversary of Terry Fox's remarkable run for cancer, the disease which cut that cross-country journey short and took his life. Tens of thousands of Canadians participated in events, including a strong contingent from St. Paul's. Thanks to the organization and exhortation of couple Brian and Helen 39 people participated, our largest team yet. In their family three generations were involved, and in many other households it was parents and children who took part. Because this group goes before church we could acknowledge and congratulate their participation in worship.

It seems to me that Christian community not only gives us the opportunity to publicly encourage activities which require a degree of personal sacrifice and commitment but to pass this on from generation to generation. This is no small thing in a culture which has become increasingly more individualistic. It also helps us see that we are meant to be engaged with the broader community, not just wrapped up in our own internal concerns. I think that part of the health of St. Paul's is that despite the challenges we are facing, along with so many other mainline church congregations, we have people who choose to look outward. I admire so many of them.


Sunday, September 19, 2010

Season of Creation

Today and for the next two Sundays we will be observing a brief Season of Creation, a theme I have mentioned before. There are now alternative readings to the regular lectionary to encourage awareness of God the Creator, as well as a call to responsible care for our planet home. This season actually began the first Sunday in September but I have been away. The three themes for this year will be Oceans, Storms, and the Cosmos. Our daughter, Jocelyn is in a graphic arts program, so she has created bulletin covers for each week and you see one above.

It happens that on this weekend, Oceans, we have been informed that the capping of the Deepwater Horizon oil well in the Gulf of Mexico has been completed. This is five months, almost to the day, since the rig exploded, killing eleven workers and then gushing an average of 50,000 barrels of crude oil a day into the gulf for three months. It was a monstrous environmental catastrophe perpetrated by a company, BP, which initially downplayed the severity and more recently has tried to deflect blame onto other companies. Scientists will measure the effects of the spill for years.

We spent time alongside the Atlantic Ocean in Newfoundland this summer and were reminded of the unique beauty of our seas and oceans. We were encouraged to hear that cod stocks are slowly recovering and we actually ate a meal or two of cod while we were there. We also spent time with friends whose son manages one of the deepwater rigs off the Newfoundland coast. the province has enjoyed prosperity generated by oil, but could it lead to disaster as well.

I have checked in with you about your thoughts on the Gulf disaster along the way. Any reactions or observations as this situation draws to a close?

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Remember the Sabbath

Mike Wise the amiable IT guru on CBC television and radio talked up taking what he calls a "media sabbath" this week. Even though he tells us every night about the latest gadgets, apps, and connections he admits that on Sundays he shuts down on virtually everything, including TV, so that he can give his full attention to his young family. Smart guy.

It seems to me that we have been convinced that never-ending connection should be the goal of our lives these days. More and more I have the feeling that the technology which allows us so many valuable tools for connection, including the internet bringing you this blog, also has the potential to distract, fragment, disconnect. We haven't learned to use what is available to us wisely and new opportunities are dangled before us constantly.

When I was in New Mexico I ate a meal in a Chinese restaurant and sat across from a couple in their thirties who were both texting away all during the meal. Part way through I realized they were texting each other! Now, we can only imagine what they were texting, but it struck me as the worst of technology that they couldn't have a face-to-face conversation when they were face-to-face.

It's interesting that Mike Wise uses a biblical term, sabbath, and the traditional Christian day of rest, Sunday, to describe making space for meaningful relationship time. This is probably a profoundly spiritual issue even though we don't realize it.

Could you disconnect for day each week? Does technology serve you, or are you in thrall to it?

Friday, September 17, 2010

Local Heroes

I might have been better off in a motorboat than my car as I made my way through the rain yesterday to see one of our elderly members in Oshawa hospital. In early July this man was admitted to hospital because his legs were ballooning due to circulation problems. A specialist told him that if one of his legs wasn't amputated immediately the complications of his condition would likely lead to death. So, the next day he had surgery.

I have been so impressed by the way this 89-year-old is dealing with a traumatic situation. He has been fitted for a prosthesis and is undergoing phsyiotherapy for upper body strength and to learn to walk all over again. He explains each stage of this process when I visit.His goal is to return to his own home. We pray at the end of our visits that he will have the strength and stamina to get through all this but honestly I feel that his uncommon grace and courage in the face of great adversity is a prayer.

We tend to acknowledge the heroes who defend our country. and those who put themselves in harm's way for the sake of others. I think individuals such as Jim who choose to live with such quiet determination are local heroes. I admire them greatly and appreciate their example. Spending time with them is one of the privileges of my vocation.

Do you know people who are living with quiet courage? Is it too much to call them heroes?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Don't Make Me Angry!

Yesterday I was sketching out the brochure for adult faith formation opportunities at St. Paul's during Fall/Winter 2010/11. We will be offering a two-part discussion on Women and Anger before worship on a couple of Sundays. My wife Ruth, a trained pastoral counsellor and mediator, will be the leader. She already offers programs on anger issues with clients at Bethesda House, the shelter for women and children in Bowmanville, but she can't bring Christian sensibilities into the discussion. It might be simplistic to say that in our culture men often express anger inappropriately and women often suppress anger, but there is some truth in this assertion.
As coincidence/providence would have it, I received this Sound Bites thought for the day:

Unrecognized anger is an enemy to our spiritual sensitivity and to our ethical commitments. It can be a stumbling block to the redemptive process and sabotage the abundant life. This anger can be called demonic because it gives birth to hate instead of to nurturing love. It forsakes grace and pushes for punishment. Instead of working toward reconciliation, it breeds alienation. It short-circuits the gift of forgiveness and promotes vengeance.
-- Andrew D. Lester in Coping With Your Anger

Anger as an emotion isn't wrong, but it can be destructive. Do you deal with anger in a healthy way? Do you feel guilty about your anger? Does a discussion on anger intrigue you?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

I Owe, I Owe, It's Off to Work I Go

We heard the results of a Canadian study earlier this week which says that about 60 percent of us are living pay cheque to pay cheque. Of course many people are hard pressed to make ends meet because of meagre wages, but we are a relatively wealthy culture. Why so many Canadians living on the edge?

A big part of the answer is high expectations and high debt. The CBC interviewed a financial therapist yesterday -- a therapist, not a counsellor! -- who acknowledged that many of the people she works with have no sense of restraint. Canadians, even more than Americans, rack up personal debt at an alarming rate. We feel entitled to "own" all the new consumer goods that push their way into our consciousness, thanks to relentless advertising telling us that these toys/cars/trips/appliances will complete us. Living beyond our means becomes a way of life.

I point out often enough that Jesus talked about simplicity far more than sex, and told us that the love of money is the root of evil. This was a phrase the apostle Paul chose to quote from Jesus. Paul and Jesus also exhorted us to be generous, and the two go hand in hand don't they? If we feel we never have enough stuff, we will never have enough to share with others.

What was your reaction to the report on our societal "living on the edge?" I notice that when I write on the subjects of money and generosity I don't get many responses. Is this a sensitve area? A number of readers have retired recently. What have changes in income meant for you?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Grace of Christ

Wow. I am back to work this morning after two weeks vacation. I don't check my email during my absences because its important to cease and desist from my labours. As the years go by in one pastorate, a minister`s life becomes more deeply intertwined with a broadening circle of people, including the loved ones of members. One can feel like the hapless Sorcerer`s Apprentice in Fantasia, running around frantically with the entirely inadequate mop.

I returned to scores of emails, some of them mundane church stuff, but many relating to illnesses, accidents, family crises. I need to remind myself that my role as a Christian pastor is to be what someone has termed a non-anxious presence. So I will do my best to respond as the week unfolds, reminding myself that I can represent and even mediate the grace of Christ.

I would say more, but I have work to do!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Meaningful Work

On Labour Day last Monday CBC radio commented through the day on the number of young adults heading back to school having been unemployed or underemployed through the summer. The recession not only hit those in the fulltime work force, it reduced the number of summer jobs available. We experienced this in our own family. Both our daughters, into their twenties, experienced difficulty finding work where they wanted to work this past summer. One was promised full-time summer employment which turned out to be part-time because of slow retail sales. So at the invitation of former employers she came home and worked two jobs, usually totalling 50 to 55 hours a week. It was demanding, but she felt she needed to catch up. She is now back at school.

The other searched and searched, often frustrated that she was only allowed to apply online. It was a face-to-face interview that finally got her a job, but she will need to work during the school year at the same place to make ends meet. Both were surprised because they had never experienced such difficulty before.

The apostle Paul suggests in one of his letters that no one should be a "floater" but that everyone should make a contribution as an honest worker. Jesus told parables about meaningful work, probably because he knew that they would strike a chord. But what if work isn't available? What does it do to a person's sense of self-worth, not to mention the bank account?

Do you know of young people who were challenged in finding work this summer? Have you struggled to find a job that is meaningful work?

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Prayers for Peace

Please pray for those who experienced loss on this day, September 11th, 2001. As I write this ceremonies are taking place in New York City and Washington and other locations for the innocent victims of those cowardly attacks nine years ago. Those who died were from many different nations, including Canada. They were also from different religions, including Islam.

I didn't know until this morning that there was a prayer room for Muslims on the 17th floor of the south tower of the World Trade Centre. One of the survivors remembers making his way down the stairs wondering if the people he prayed with on a daily basis were able to escape. Many --about 60 --didn't.

There has been so much made of the proposed mosque near Ground Zero and the supposed disrespect this demonstrates toward those who died. How many of us knew that Muslims not only worked alongside victims, they were victims themselves of this senseless act of violence?

Any thoughts today about how our world has changed and the atmosphere of suspicion that has ensued?

Friday, September 10, 2010

As Many Questions As Answers

The legislature in Quebec is debating assisted suicide and euthanasia, essentially asking whether laws prohibiting both need to change. This is an important discussion for any civilized society to have periodically, but perhaps even more necessary in a day when human life can be prolonged by many procedures and treatments. We are probably agreed that that extension can add days and weeks and even months to a person's life, but not always quality or dignity.

I have been opposed to the legalization of both assisted suicide and euthanasia through the years, although not without much soul-searching. Obviously we don't want the dying to suffer, but ultimately someone must be the decision maker and it puts family members under even more strain in emotionally fraught times, and physicians into roles they don't want. As a minister I have talked and prayed with many people faced with the end of life, as well as with their families, and sense that talking through the issues of dying and death makes a difference. Isolation is a huge issue. I have seen mortally ill individuals move from this life to the next with dignity and even humour with the help of family and friends.

I am also convinced that well delivered and supportive palliative care is essential, and it is interesting that even in jurisdictions which sanction euthanasia, most offer excellent end-of-life care as an alternative. I do understand why people want a say in their own deaths but this is rarely as straightforward as we might think.

There is nothing easy about this! What are your thoughts? Should we offer opportunities to discuss this in the church?

Thursday, September 09, 2010

A World of Generosity

Do you think Canadians are generous? It's hard to get a sense of the bigger picture, although year in and year out the stats show that religious folk in this country give more, per capita, than others and not just to their own congregational and denominational causes.

Yesterday I read a piece on the BBC website that says Canadians are among the more generous people in the world. The survey - conducted by the UK's Charities Aid Foundation - suggests that well-being is a more reliable indicator of philanthropy than wealth. The survey took place in 153 countries, covering 95% of the world's population. The "World Giving Index" placed Australia and New Zealand jat the top, with Canada tied for third with Ireland. Our neighbours in the US were fifth and the UK eighth. The index aims to analyse global generosity in giving money, time as a volunteer or helping a stranger.

While it might make sense that wealthier nations are more generous, what is more surprising was that near the top too are poorer countries like Sri Lanka, Guyana and Turkmenistan. These are countries which also registered high levels of contentment, a key factor in generosity.

Do you consider yourself to be generous? Do you feel that you could or should do more? Is your giving motivated by your faith? Since I wrote this I found another article in the Globe and Mail

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Religion Gone Wrong

So, a "head case" pastor of a small congregation in the southern States has decided that the best way to stand up to radical, fundamentalist Islam is be radical. fundamentalist Christians and desecrate the Muslim holy book, the Koran. Brilliant. The congregation absurdly calls itself the Dove World Outreach Center. Just when you think there are no more rocks for these people to crawl out from under, yet another emerges.

It's all such a dreary reminder of religion-gone-wrong, the ridiculous posturing of "true believers," who choose to define their faith by establishing rigid boundaries rather than modelling a way of life which reflects a deep and abiding relationship with God. Sometimes I wonder if we should eliminate the words belief and believer from our faith vocabularies because they are so dangerous. I don't care much for what people say they believe any more. I want to have a sense of the way they live because they follow God and, in the case of Christians, follow Jesus. I wonder if this nutty pastor ever reads the Sermon on the Mount.

The good news is that a coalition of religious leaders from different faiths and including some evangelical Christians gathered yesterday to denounce this mindless, hateful proposal. Thank God.

What has your reaction been to this news. Tempest in a teapot? Discouraging? Encouraging to know that leaders have been quick to denounce it?

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Solidarity Forever

Yesterday was Labour Day in Canada, the U.S., and several other countries. So we enjoyed a holiday whose origins few acknowledge anymore. I saw that about 30% of Canadians are members of unions. Unions are going through challenging times during our lingering recession, making difficult concessions on behalf of members who are reluctant to give up wages and benefits. My wife, Ruth, is part of a union, as she was in a previous workplace. There was really no choice in the first instance, and she voted in favour in her current job largely because others were keen.

I have never been part of a union, having worked for only one employer since entering the full-time workforce. You might be saying, "well duh, ministers aren't part of unions!" Some are in other countries and there has been a push to organize United Church clergy in recent years. Every once in a while we receive literature which invites us to sign up with the Canadian Auto Workers (honest.)

The goal is not the right to strike, nor better working hours (weekends off?) but protection from abusive situations. While clergy are supposed to be protected through the United Church Manual and the officials who are charged with applying it, there are some horrendous stories out there. I've had my ear bent several times during my vacation by friends and family who are in congregations where good Christian folk have made life miserable for their ministers. In one situation the guy left because he was threatened physically. Two were United Church, but there were three others in different denominations. Sigh -- I just love talking about this stuff when I'm on holiday!

For all these efforts at organization in the United Church it hasn't "flown" and in my immediate circle of colleagues we just can't see it. Ministry involves a relationship of trust that should be honoured and respected in both directions, and its hard to imagine a union making this work. What I can't figure out is how people of faith can be so abusive at times. The impression I get is that some people in congregations expect their clergy to be miracle workers, bringing back a time that has come and gone.

Are you part of a union? Do you think clergy should have that opportunity?

Monday, September 06, 2010

Voyage of the Damned

Daniel Lebeskind, the architect who designed the controversial addition to the Royal Ontario Museum has been given the nod to create a monument to commemorate the shipload of refugees who never made it to Canada. In 1939 the MS St. Louis, a ship with 900 Jewish passengers fleeing Nazi Germany was denied entry to any Canadian port. The concern was that this would set a dangerous precedent and a deluge of other refugees would seek asylum in Canada.

The ship eventually returned to Europe where the passengers were accepted by a number of nations, although a number did eventually die at the hands of the Nazis. The story was eventually told first in a book, then a movie, called The Voyage of the Damned. This is hardly a proud moment in Canadian history but it will be remembered.

Interesting that this announcement coincides with the arrival of a ship full of people claiming that they are refugees. The concern is that these Tamils will be the first wave of asylum seekers, a trend the federal government wants to discourage. A recent poll shows that about 40 percent of Canadians feel that this ship should have been denied entry into Canadian waters, which is against international law. About 25 percent said the government handled this situation correctly. The other 35 percent said officials could have done better.

So, now that you have had some time to ponder this situation, is it another MS St. Louis, or totally different? Which group of poll respondents would you put yourself in? Does your faith influence how you feel about this?

Sunday, September 05, 2010


A few years ago a couple in our congregation received the difficult diagnosis of autism for their twin boys. A wonderful group of people at St. Paul's rallied together to raise funds for the expensive program into which the boys entered and the congregation and broader community were very generous. But the family realized that this kindness wouldn't be enough because programs and funding are so limited in Ontario. So, they packed up and moved to Alberta where support is much better. The mom, Stacey continues to be an activist for those living with autism.

The issue of funding has come to the forefront in Ontario again, as a mother who in concerned about her physical safety because of an aggressive autistic teen is seeking help. This has to be a lonely and, at times, desparate existence.We have heard a number of stories in recent months about "runners," autistic children who bolt their homes when they are out of sight for even a brief time. There was a tragic consequence for a Cape Breton boy last winter who died after getting lost in winter.

Do you know families dealing with autism? Should governments provide better support for autistic children?

Saturday, September 04, 2010

The Children of Iraq

A week ago the chair of our St. Paul's board, Joan, and her husband, Glenn, invited us for supper (it was a wonderful meal!) The "ulterior motive" was to give us the chance to chat with Joan's son Jai, who was home briefly from Iraq. I must admit that I'm not sure of the spelling, but that's the way I hear his name.

Jai works for Unicef and he lives a hunkered-down life in the so-called Green Zone of Baghdad. The UN workers are reasonably secure in this area, but it is hard to imagine living such a protected and isolated existence for any length of time.

Jai is passionate about his work for children whose wellbeing has deteriorated in virtually every category over the past 40 years. During Saddam's Iraq went from being a leader in the Middle East when it came to the wellbeing of children to lagging well behind virtually ever leader nation. Despite the wealth generated by oil they fell behind in education, and access to healthcare, clean water, and sanitation. We might think that the greatest threat to children in the Iraq of 2010 would be violence, but it is in what we consider the basics here in Canada.

Please pray for the safety and the mission of Unicef workers in Iraq. The Iraqi government works in partnership with Unicef, an important first step. Together they will work toward the improvement of conditions in that troubled country.

Friday, September 03, 2010

The Right Thing to Do

Checking the BBC news site is part of my daily routine because the BBC offers a different perspective than North American news sources. Just about every day recently the situation in Pakistan is front and centre. Not so here in Canada, nor in the States. Who knows why. Severe flooding continues and so does the misery for displaced people, which now stands at 17 million.

I will point out that if you give through the United Church there will be matching funds provided by the Canadian government. This is what happened when the earthquake struck Haiti, and the federal government has come through again. It's the right thing to do, even though the government was slower off the mark this time.

I hope you will be moved to give. It's also the right thing to do. Reader Laurie mentioned a couple of weeks ago that she made a contribution, but wonders about fatigue. It's my prayer that we all realize how blessed we are in this country and are moved to generosity.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Pray As You Go, Go, Go

If you take a look at the St. Paul's website front page you will see a recent link to a new-to-me online resource called Pray As You Go. Our son Isaac put us on to this, and we have both been attempting to make it part of our routine.

When you connect you will find a calendar, and by simply clicking on the date you will hear a meditation/prayer resource for that day. You can also download a week's worth of prayer times to an MP3 player so that you can "pray as you go." These guided meditations are about ten minutes long on average, and include music, scripture, and an invitation into prayer. They are very much in the Ignatian prayer tradition, which is a change of pace from United Church prayer with a lot of talking.

I invite you to listen to at least one, to make some space in your life for this gentle invitation into God's presence. Perhaps you can accept the challenge to listen for a week straight. Often we need to do something a number of times to form a habit.

I will be interested to hear your reaction to the experience.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Go Figure

Last year the salmon run in British Columbia's Fraser River was a dismal 1.5 million fish. That may not sound bad, but it had everyone involved with the salmon stocks from fishers to government fisheries officials very worried. This year? A startling 30 million, which is 20 times last year. This massive run caught everyone totally unprepared. It will be the largest run since 1913, or nearly a century. Anything that vaguely passes for a fishing boat is trying to cash in on the bonanza and officials are concerned that the river and its tributaries will be so clogged with fish that spawning won't be possible. What an amazing reversal of fortune.

I think this is wonderful. We hear too many stories of disappearing fish populations in areas of our country where we once assumed they were inexhaustible. It's not just humans who will benefit. So many creatures, including bears, depend on the salmon runs to fatten up for the winter, and there is strong evidence that the leftovers strewn along riverbanks serve as fertilizer for plants and trees. But this salmon run is a reminder that despite years of research and supposed management we don't have a clue about what makes many critters tick. Where do the salmon go, and how is it possible that there is such a huge turnaround?

There is still so much to learn about ecosystems that a little humility would help. In the biblical creation story God creates Adam, Humus or Earth Man, who is instructed along with his partner Eve not to get too big for their fig leaves. Humility. Without it we promote ourselves to god-like status, and that just isn't working out all that well.

Any comments?