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 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


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


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?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Lest We Forget

The photo above is of the Remembrance ceremony at insurer Lloyd's of London today. The British do up Remembrance Day in a big way. I have been in London on November 11th and it is moving. It's interesting that while Britain has become a very secular culture, they still broadcast religious services on this day. This year the Royal British Legion has taken a new direction offering a two minute download of silence, believe it or not. Here is a preview http://www.youtube.com/user/royalbritishlegion

I will soon head over for the Remembrance service at the local cenotaph. I hope you will all pause to express gratitude for those who have served for the freedom of others.

WWAD? What Would Andy Do?

I'm aware that a fair number of readers are young enough that when they hear the name of Ron Howard they probably think of the movie director for some pretty good films such as Cocoon, Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind, and Frost/Nixon, as well as some successful stinkers like The DaVinci Code. Or maybe you remember him as Richie Cunningham on Happy Days.

For me he is also the child actor who played Opie on the Andy Griffith Show, a wholesome and somewhat corny TV program which ran from 1960 to 1968. I can still whistle the theme song at a moment's notice.

Opie's dad was Andy Taylor, the local sheriff, a wise and patient man with a country-style sense of humour. The small town they inhabited (Mayberry, North Carolina) was filled with characters whose dilemmas seemed benign and comical.

Someone named Joey Fann has written a book of bible studies based on the moral lessons from episodes of this show, sort of cornpone parables on how to lead life honestly and fairly. I can't remember the moral punchlines of those shows but maybe they were there. All I recall is watching every chance I got.

Do you remember the Andy Griffith show? Are you appalled or pleased that someone has found moral messages in these episodes? Is this nostalgia at its worst or best?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Hate Crimes

Stupid, stupid, stupid. What else can we say about two men who came to a hallowe'en party in Campbellford Ontario dressed as a Ku Klux Clan member and the black man he was pulling around with a noose. It was crass and racist, although probably inadvertently so. It's hard to imagine that these two men didn't get how offensive this might be, but they sure know now.

Hateful, hateful, hateful. Two brothers have been convicted of a hate crime in Nova Scotia, the burning of a cross, Ku Klux Clan style, on the lawn of a mixed race couple. How sad that the cross, the symbol of suffering love has been commandeered for such a despicable purpose.

The brothers' lawyer tried to get them off on mischief charges but the judge wasn't buying it. The second brother was convicted yesterday, and they will be sentenced soon.

Are you surprised that incidents such as these have occurred in Canada? Do you think harsh sentences should be meted out for hate crime conviction?

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Which Poppy?

Well, so far so good. I have been wearing a poppy on my jacket and I haven't lost it --yet. It seems that every year I discover that my poppy is MIA and I search out another one to wear. It is always a red poppy because that's what the Legion sells.

You may have noticed a media stir about white poppies this year. In Charlottetown PEI the Farmer's Market banned the sale of them, and there was a strong outcry against them from the local Legion.

These Peace Poppies aren't new actually. In Britain white poppies for peace have been offered as a complement or an alternative to red poppies since 1933, so more than 75 years. Various peace groups offer them there, and some churches do as well, although I read an article written by a British pastor who was sharply criticized within his congregation when he made both red and white poppies available. Some of his folk saw these white poppies as disrespectful to living veterans and those who had died in various wars.

It's curious to me because the goal of most wars is ultimately peace, not just an end to conflict. Whether we think armed combat is a solution for conflicts or not, in civilized societies we hope that peace will be the outcome, not just defeating the enemy. During the Remembrance portion of our worship we honour those who have served, and at the same time affirm that Jesus is the Prince of Peace. I wear a red poppy and we make them available to members of the congregation as they come in to worship. What would happen if we included white ones as well?

What do you think of this White Poppy idea? Is it disrespectful? Would you wear one if it was available?

Monday, November 08, 2010

Two Jonathons

This is the tale of two young Jonathons. Teen Jonathon came in to see me in the sanctuary early on Sunday morning, as I was getting ready for worship. He often does this because his sisters are there early for choir practice. "I got past the graveyard of good intentions!" he told me. I was perplexed for a moment until he reminded me that he is reading his way through the bible. I had warned him that Leviticus is the formidable graveyard of good intentions for those who are trying to read the bible, an Older Testament book filled with strange and often boring stuff. But he persevered. He is great guy, thoughtful and funny.

The other Jonathon (Johnathan actually)is a few years younger, the boy chosen to carry the wreath to the front of the sanctuary with a veteran during our Remembrance ceremony. He showed up for worship wearing a jacket and tie, looking quite grown up. I introduced him to Fred, the veteran, who is nearly eighty years his senior. Jonathan shook his hand with a solemnity and maturity that was really touching. The aging veteran with a cane and the boy carrying the wreath as they came up the aisle provided a powerful visual during worship. Both carried out their roles with dignity.

I say it so often, but where would we be without our children and young people? They are such an essential aspect of our life as a Christian community. Your thoughts?

Sunday, November 07, 2010

The Importance of Chaplains

When I was a rookie minister in Newfoundland I supervised seminary students who weren't much younger. Four of us took on this role and we met monthly, along with our students, to share experiences and learn from one another. One of the students on an adjoining charge was Jim Short, and when he was ordained Jim served the Newfoundand congregations I had left to return to Ontario.

There is an interesting interview with Jim in the latest United Church Observer. http://www.ucobserver.org/faith/2010/11/interview_jim_short/ While he continues to serve a congregation in BC he has also done stints in Afghanistan as a chaplain. I have always been interested in military chaplaincy, in part because my late father-in-law served as a chaplain's assistance during WW2 and on his return to Canada he began studies for the ministry.

It strikes me that while there are obvious tensions between Jesus' call to be peacemakers and serving in the military, the ministries of chaplains are essential. The article mentions that Jim was awarded a Chief of Defence Staff Commendation for his ministry as a "soldier's padre." It seems appropriate that on this Sunday when many United Churches including ours will acknowledge Remembrance Day we can keep chaplains in our prayers along with all others who serve in the military.

Any comments on the role of chaplains?

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Fall Back!

Gary Crawford In Life, In Death, In Life Beyond Death, We Are Not Alone

I was going to limit myself to a reminder that you get to stay in bed an hour longer tonight thanks to the time change. The Junior Choir parents amongst my readers will be happy. I received what is below as yesterday's Sound Bites thought for the day and it struck me as fitting after some of the things I mused about earlier in the week.


God does not cheapen Himself or us by offering us easy answers to the anguished, "Why?" that we who are human cannot help but ask. The mystery of life and death and suffering remains a mystery in all human generations, and it is no less a mystery for us. We don't get a quick fix from our faith.

But we do encounter a God who sits patiently beside us in grief, usually silently, like an orthodox Jew sitting shivah with his bereaved friend, offering no words to explain away a mystery that is beyond words. God sits with us in our sorrow. In the days and weeks after a loss, as we sit together in the silence, something new begins to creep into our consciousness. The faith that has sustained our whole lives will begin to knot our sorrow over this death together with what we believe about the life to come. Faith and experience will knit together like a broken bone knits together as time passes. We begin to be able to see for ourselves what is already a reality for those who have gone on ahead of us, something the tears of early bereavement make it hard for us to see at first. They begin to appear in our vision of heaven, taking their place in the communion of the saints. We begin to feel their presence, not just their absence. Once again, the resurrection faith to which we cling gently bathes our hearts, and our hearts are healed.

-- Bishop Edmund Lee Browning from "A Year of Days with the Book of Common Prayer"

Friday, November 05, 2010

Life is the Jackpot

Have you heard about the Nova Scotia couple who won eleven million dollars in the lottery this past July, then gave every penny away? The United Church has always opposed buying lottery tickets, so of course our folk go ahead anyway. Many individuals have confessed their guilty pleasure and assured me that if they ever win they will give a bundle to the church.

Well, Allen and Violet Large did just that, giving away just over eleven million. They realized that the win was really a headache and that they were comfortable enough before the windfall. And Violet's cancer made them realize that what is important is each other.

They took care of family first and then began delivering donations to the two pages’ worth of groups they had decided on, including the local fire department, churches, cemeteries, the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, hospitals in Truro and Halifax, where Violet underwent her cancer treatment, and organizations that fight cancer, Alzheimer’s and diabetes. The list is lengthy.

I was touched by their generosity and by their reasoning. Money may not buy personal happiness but giving it away can do a world of good.

Do you think you would be generous if you hit the jackpot? Do you find it heartwarming to hear about these folk? Do you wish you were related?

Thursday, November 04, 2010

The Year of Magical Thinking

Death has been on my mind this week. Not my own, although my work regularly causes me to ponder my own mortality. Last Sunday's All Saints recognition of those who had died during the previous year, a commital service earlier this week, some folk who are in a life-and-death struggle with health, even this Sunday's Remembrance acknowledgement remind me that life can be fleeting.

I heard yesterday that a play based on a remarkable book called The Year of Magical Thinking is coming to Toronto. The play is acclaimed, and the book is one of the best descriptions of grief that I have ever read. The author, Joan Didion, wrote it in the year after the sudden death of her husband. The "magical thinking" was her suspension of reality in the face of her loss. Despite knowing that he had died and all the practicalities of adjusting to his absence she waited for his return. The book is honestly and beautifully and achingly written.

Have you ever experienced that "magical thinking" in the face of death? Do you ever pause and ponder your own mortality? Have you read Joan Didion's account of her loss? Do you live with a resurrection promise and hope for eternity?

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Soldiers Against Torture

I was discouraged but not surprised to read about the reports released by Wikileaks last week. They reveal that the death toll of civilians in Iraq is considerably higher than reported and that American forces often ignored torture and murder perpetrated by Iraqi sects. In some cases they were the ones involved in torture. War is a grim business and human beings can be convinced to act against morals and conscience under these extreme circumstances. What a mess.

I was encouraged to come across a piece in the Christian Century magazine called Soldiers Against Torture which is about U.S. soldiers whose devout faith of a variety of Christian expressions compelled them to stand up against atrocities, even when it meant that they were criticized or threatened. http://www.christiancentury.org/article/2010-09/soldiers-against-torture

One of them, a marine lawyer Lieutenant Colonel Stuart Couch, listened to a sermon by his Anglican priest who called on his parishioners to "respect the dignity of every human being." The message led Couch to refuse prosecution of a Guantanamo Bay prisoner who had been tortured. His example hit home in light of the Omar Kadhr trial.

Is it possible to live according to one's Christian values and fight a war? Do you think you could put your Christian faith above fear and bitterness with those who have been identified as the enemy?

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

From Hostility to Hospitality

This evening and tomorrow we will finish up a four-part series on the biblical theme of hospitality. There haven't been as many participants as I had hoped for, with 20 between the two groups, but I have really enjoyed the conversation in each.

As is so often the case with study groups I feel as though I have learned more than I have offered. I now realize that practicing hospitality, creating a safe place for the stranger, is essential to virtually everything else we hope for in the Christian life. I have used three books: Radical Hospitality by Daniel Homan and Lonni Collins Pratt; Hospitality & the Other by Amos Young; and Making Room by Christine Pohl.

I also appreciate Henri Nouwen's little book Reaching Out, in which he contends that moving from hostility to hospitality is one of three essential movements in the Christian journey. In our last session we will look at interdenominational and interfaith hospitality, and Nouwen's thoughts about hostility and suspicion are particularly helpful here.

What do you think about hospitality as a personal and Christian virtue and grace? Any reflections from those who have attended this study?

Monday, November 01, 2010

An Ill Wind

Last week the media got all silly about the "Weather Bomb" which was about to descend upon us. This weather front with rain and high winds did hit southwestern Ontario fairly hard, but lots of us wondered what the fuss was about. The goofiest image was of a young CBC reporter standing in the rain with her hood up looking like Little Red Riding Hood. She earnestly advised us all to make sure we had survival kits. Why don't we call in the army while we're at it.

There is an old expression that "it is an ill wind that blows no good." Because of those intense winds the province's weather turbines were working at full capacity. That day they produced enough electricity to power 900,000 homes. That is impressive.

An important aspect of Creation Care is seeking out alternatives to our destructive patterns for powering our lifestyles. Of course simplicity is an essential aspect of Jesus' message, but finding new paths is also necessary.

When energy alternatives such as wind and solar were first proposed the naysaying experts assured us that they could never make a dent in our consumption. God gave humans the capacity to use our imaginations and inventiveness for good as well as bad. I would like to believe we are seeing the evidence.

Any thoughts?