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?


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


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 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:

PBS offers a seven-minute explanation of the tradition of nativity scenes at this link 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.

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.

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.

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?