Thursday, March 31, 2011

Budgetting for Mental Health

I don't know whether you follow provincial budgets closely (I don't) but this week's Ontario budget includes ninety million dollars and change per year for a mental health care and addictions strategy, focussing on children and youth. That element certainly caught my attention but I couldn't find much in the way of details. I'm just glad the government is including mental health, because it is woefully underfunded in Ontario and there are huge gaps in services for youth.

As I have noted before I am regularly called upon to minister to those who are searching desparately for care for those they love, often to no avail. Too often they feel helpless and unheard. While I attempt to offer compassion grounded in Christ the healer they need mental health care services which are unevenly provided.

Did anyone else notice this aspect of the budget? Are you saying "about time?"

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Closing the Doors

Yesterday I stopped in at a private nursing home to see two of our elderly members. The home is a cozy place with nice rooms and excellent care, but it is closing. The owner has dealt with health problems which were probably brought on by the stress of long hours. She had planned to stay until her oldest resident died but she recently turned 104, so the owner decided that she better leave or the old girl would out-live her.

I ended up talking with the owner for a while because one of our folk has already moved and the other was out with family. The reason she didn't sell is because she just didn't trust that prospective buyers were interested in providing the level of care she felt was in the best interests of her clients. Instead she found them good places in town.

I could tell the owner was struggling with her decision so I encouraged her not to feel guilty about attending to her own health and family. Her eyes immediately filled with tears. These elderly women are part of her family, and the decision to close is weighing heavily upon her. I assured her that what she has been doing has been a real ministry and that she needs to care for herself.

I wonder about what will happen to a number of these smaller. private nursing homes. They are the perfect environment for many seniors but the owner/caregivers are often in later midlife and worn out. It's hard to imagine who will replace them.

Any thoughts about this? What are your experiences with loved ones, family members, acquaintances in seniors' homes and residences?

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Election Fever or Stomach Flu?

I chuckled out loud when I read the email from reader Janet. On Sunday I reminded the children that we had boxed up our Hallelujahs for Lent, although I mumbled "Hmm,hmm, hum, ahs" to avoid using the word. Janet asked if we could also box up the word "coalition" until May 2nd. Clever.

It is a privilege to elect those who represent us at every level of government, but I am amongst those who could have waited on this federal election. The expense and the fuss will probably bring us a similar result, and this seems to fit into a certain definition of insanity attributed to Albert Einstein; doing the same thing over and over, anticipating a different result.

How do we decide who to vote for in our various ridings, and as our prime minister? What are the issues which are essential? The CBC has created an online tool called the Vote Compass which allows folk to answer a series of questions to create a personal voting profile. Presumably it will help us decide which party suits us best, although the critics of the questions and methodology are already out there.

The United Church has created an election kit to help us consider the key areas for Christians to ponder and discuss I'm glad our church was so quick off the mark with this.

How do you feel about the impending election? Anyone else concerned that we will be up to our earlobes in mud-slinging? Will you take the time to acquaint yourself with the issues and how you might vote as a person of faith?

Monday, March 28, 2011

Regime Change

When was the last time Canada was involved in two wars simultaneously? And when has this country been involved in a war for the better part of a decade? The latter is the case in Afghanistan, a war that is already 50% longer than WW2. Some would say that our involvement in Libya is a "military action," not a war, but dropping bombs on the territory of another nation is a de facto declaration of war, from my perspective.

A lot of people, myself included, view Libya's Gaddafi as a terrible dictator who deserves to be overthrown. But where were we during the past forty years.? He has been a despot all during his regime and until recently Canadian interests were doing billions of dollars of business with him. He is well known for torturing his opponents and one of the Canadian companies in Libya was building a prison for him. Why weren't the countries of the no-fly zone coalition bringing pressure to bear on Gaddifi through the years, and equipping the resistance in that country for non-violent regime change?

A series is beginning on CBC radio which argues that non-violent change requires preparation and diligence, but is nearly always more successful in the long-term than violent revolution. Blessed are the peacemakers. Didn't Jesus say that? Didn't he live non-violent change? Jesus was the ultimate regime-changer.

What are your thoughts about our silence concerning the tyranical regime in Libya during the past forty years, and what we are doing now?

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Earth Hour

Jesus of Nazareth is arguably the most studied and influential person in history, a prophetic figure for some, worshipped by millions. Yet he never had the advantage of turning on a light bulb, or using electricity in any form. Somehow he managed to live on this planet without what we assume is a necessity of life. Everything Jesus did followed the rhythms of the day and the seasons, with only oil lamps challenging the darkness.

Of course, approximately 1.5 billion people still live without electricity. It's hard to imagine how we North Americans ever got along without electricity and when the power switches off, even for minutes or hours, we are at a loss as to how to function.

After yesterday's blog it seems appropriate to follow up with the reminder about Earth Hour tonight. At 8:30 we are all invited to unplug for 60 minutes, hardly a huge commitment. Some critics say this symbolic "lights out" accomplishes very little, but I do think it raises awareness of our dependence, and the impact it has on the environment. I also appreciate that this will be happening in countries around the world including, for the first time this year, Chad, Iraq, and Uzbekistan.
My mother has been encouraging the folk in her seniors' residence to turn their lights out at 8:30, which may not be far off bedtime!(I couldn't resist Mom.) We are looking forward to spending time with neighbours for dinner and an hour by candlelight.

Will you/did you turn out the lights at 8:30? Have you ever existed for any length of time without electricity?

Friday, March 25, 2011

Electric Cake

Earlier this week several Greenpeace protestors chained themselves to the table in a Clarington church, protesting the hearings on the expansion of nuclear power production at the Darlington site. Their goal, apparently, was to draw attention to the possibility of deferring this initiative until there is a better understanding of what is happening at the failed sites in Japan.

I appreciate the value of symbolic actions, but aren't these young people barking up the wrong tree? The hearings are intended to present the evidence for expansion, so formal presentations can be made. And we do not live in a fault zone, so circumstances are quite different. The protest seems earnest but misguided from my perspective.

What form of power production is acceptable? Hydro dams rivers and affects ecosystems. Coal power is dirty and destroys air quality. Wind power? Every hearing on a wind farm becomes a NIMBY-fest. Ontarians have grumbled that the McGuinty government is spending far too much subsidizing solar energy. Unless we all tap into geothermal, at great expense, there aren't many alternatives left. Even if we chose this option we would soon hear that it was affecting the water table. I'm all for alternatives. But nuclear may be our best option at present, despite the concerns.

The reality is that we all want unlimited access to power for an every-growing array of activities and devices. The other day I heard an annoying beeping that took me a while to track down. It was the electric toothbrush my hygienist convinced me was a good plan for my aging gums. "Feed me!" it was crying.

Little wonder Jesus spent so much time talking about the dangers of wealth and the need for simplicity in our lives. In the words of the old adage, we want our cake (with electric candles) and to eat it too.


Thursday, March 24, 2011

Force of Nature

Tonight the CBC science program, The Nature of Things will celebrate its 50th anniversary and I plan to watch. For all those years the program has done its best to keep us informed about what is developing in the world of science and, in more recent years, about the human impact on the environment.

For 31 of those years David Suzuki has been the host of the show and during those three decades he has become one of the most identifiable, trusted and respected Canadians. Now, some people still despise him because he has been so outspoken, and in the early years attempts were made to discredit his blunt appraisal of what humans were doing to our air and water and our ecosystems. He has been vindicated and recognized as a secular prophet.

While he considers himself an atheist, Suzuki has many of the qualities of a biblical prophet. He has said what the complacent didn't want to hear and was willing to follow his inner voice even if it made him unpopular. Recently I watched the documentary Force of Nature which is about Suzuki. I found it quite inspiring and I'm impressed that there is still fire in his belly at age seventy five (today is his 75th birthday.) He has even given some ground to the notion of the sacred in nature, drawing on earth-honouring aboriginal spirituality for inspiration.

What are your thoughts about David Suzuki? Do we need more earth-honouring Christian prophets who acknowledge that God is maker of both heaven and earth?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Love of Money

Pro athletes who are drunk drivers, sexual predators, and spouse pounders are regularly in the news, so it is good when we hear of the ones who have a strong Christian faith and a desire to share their wealth.

Until recently Albert Pujols of the St Louis Cardinals was considered one of the "good guys" for a number of reasons. This very gifted baseball player is an openly evangelical Christian with a family foundation that does a lot for others. There is a book about him called Pujos: More Than the Game which is about his Christian convictions.

Still, the author of the book and many others are wondering why Pujos has turned down a multi-year contract worth $200 million. It is rumoured that he is holding out for a ten-year, $300 million deal, an obscene amount of money by just about any standard. It would be the largest contract in baseball history.

Some feel that if the market will bear that huge contract he should go for it, and then spread the goodies around. Others figure that the verse in Timothy which says "the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith..." should be tattooed on Albert's forehead so he sees it every time he looks in the mirror. After all, greed is a sin, and he sure sounds greedy.

Is this a matter of "market value" and okay if the athlete shares the love? Can anyone hold out for that kind of money and still call him/herself a Christian?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

More Water

I am working on my sermon for this week which arises from the story of the Samaritan woman Jesus meets at a well, a story found only in the gospel of John. It seems appropriate on World Water Day. Even in our time hundreds of millions of earthlings, usually women, must walk to their sources of water which are often of questionable quality.

I hadn't clued in yesterday that the focus today would be on water, otherwise I might have held off on the blog entry. Still, the number of thoughtful responses has prompted me to muse on water once again.

As Laura pointed out, we North Americans use huge amounts of water, including in our manufacturing processes, and it is gratifying that some companies are working to streamline (no pun intended) those processes so that less H2O is necessary.

Startling though is the amount of water we use within our households, an average of over 300 litres per person each day for Canadians. We use far more than Europeans and just about everyone else in the world. Maybe it's because we think we have unlimited supplies in this country, or perhaps it's that water costs so little compared to other countries.

At the risk of TMI we decided several years ago to take fewer and shorter showers, gearing our ablutions around gym days. And we flush the toilet less, particularly through the evening and night. We had even convinced our young adult children to follow this practice when they were still at home. I heard this morning of some people who have made the commitment to reduce their water consumption to 25 litres a day for a month -- that is a big challenge. Perhaps we should have invited folk to give up water for Lent.

Are you mindful of your water consumption? Does it seem like a losing battle with your kids, especially the teens who take interminable showers? Would you agree that the use of water is a spiritual as well as a practical issue?

Monday, March 21, 2011

Water, Water Everywhere...

I heard this morning that there are 116 Native communities without a safe source of drinking water. It's difficult to believe that in our advanced and comparitively wealthy country there are what amounts to third-world poverty.

Our Sunday School is raising money for a Ryan's Well project in Africa during the season of Lent and it has my full endorsement. But I know they attempted to find a project in Canada to no avail. It seems crazy that the need exists here, but there is so little will to address it, or structure to allow concerned Canadians to make contributions.

I am in conversation with Frontiers Foundation, an organization started by Rev. Charles Catto, a United Church minister. Frontiers Foundations builds houses in Native communities across the country and trains and employs young people on the reserves to do so. I'm talking with Charles in the hope that we can contribute to a water project with money left to St. Paul's for outreach.
Were you aware of the miserable conditions regarding water in Native communities? Why don't we have the will to make this better? Do you support St. Paul's involvement in a project?

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Costly Christianity

On Friday we went into Toronto to see a film which won't get wide distribution, even though it has received positive reviews just about everywhere it has been shown.

Of Gods and Men is a French film (subtitles), a dramatization of actual events. It is about a small group of Trappist monks who lived in a monastery in the Atlas mountains of Algeria. They peacefully co-existed with the local people, selling their produce in the local market, joining in the celebrations of village families. One brother was a doctor and the sole source of medical care for the villagers. The brothers learned about Islam and were respectful of that religion.

Then came terrorists, Islamicists, who threatened them and demanded medical help. The terrorists were at war with government soldiers who didn't like the doctor treating the enemy.

The film lets us see the gentle but determined life of the monks, the rhythm of their daily worship, and their heartfelt struggle to discern whether they should stay or go. They come across as real people who nonetheless believe that Christ has called them to a life of service in that place, and so they stay.

We see the tensions rise and when the brothers enjoy a meal with cheese brought by a visitor and good wine there is a sense that it will be a last supper. The terrorists come in the night and kidnap seven of the nine monks, the other two hiding. The ending of the film is not graphic, but we are told that the seven were beheaded and no one was brought to justice.

As we drove home we talked about what we might be willing to do for our Christian faith as two people living in a land where it doesn't cost much to be a follower of Jesus. At the same time we wondered whether the comfort level we experience here has led to the decline of Christianity. We tend not to value the things in life that don't cost anything.

What about you? Do you think you could choose harm's way for Christ? Do you find you "fly under the radar" when it comes to your faith?

Friday, March 18, 2011

We're Still Gathering

Within the spirit of Christ's hospitality, The Gathering Place provides meals without cost, served with dignity and compassion to anyone who is in need and/or is interested in building healthy relationships and connections with the people in our community.

Yesterday the steering committee for the Gathering Place, the community meal begun last December, met in my study. This meal on the second Friday of each month is open to anyone who wants to come, and the atmosphere is positive and welcoming, in Christ's name. While many of those attending are from group homes and rooming houses in the downtown, there is no means test, no restrictions.

There are six of us on the steering committee, and I am very impressed by the group. I am the only clergyperson, which is probably a good thing because it means that there is none of the territorial stuff that tends to surface with the official representatives of different denominations. And I am the only United Church person, the others all being from what we might call evangelical congregations. They are a joy to work with, thoughtful Christians all, with hearts of compassion and a great work ethic. Connecting with these folk and the many volunteers from nine congregations who make the meal happen (a number from St. Paul's) has been one of the most positive experiences during my ministry in Bowmanville. Christians getting along with Christians -- who knew!

Yesterday we looked at our value statements which include openness and reciprocity, a willingness to receive from our guests as well as give, mindful of Jesus' story about a dinner party in Luke 11 which he concludes by saying "for all who exalt themselves with be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted."

If you are interested in getting involved, come to the next meal at St. Paul's on April 8th (5:00 pm), have your supper and see how it all unfolds. It's that simple. The meals are amazing and I think the next one is a turkey dinner.

Any musings and observations?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Prayer at Rising

Top o' the mornin' to ya, and all that other St. Patrick's day blarney. I wonder why we get goofily Irish on this day, even when there isn't a Celtic blood dribbling through our veins. If you feel the need to dance a jig today, go for it.

As you probably know by now, I am partial to Celtic Christianity as a strongly Trinitarian, earth-honouring expression of our faith. And the prayers from this tradition, which are both lyrical and down-to-earth I find so meaningful. This prayer for the beginning of the day is lovely:

Bless to me, O God,
Each thing mine eye sees:
Bless to me, O God,
Each sound mine ear hears;
Bless to me, O God,
Each odour that goes to my nostrils;
Bless to me, O God,
Each taste that goes to my lips;
Each note that goes to my song,
Each ray that guides my way,
Each thing that I pursue,
Each lure that tempts my will,
The zeal that seeks my living soul,

The Three that seek my heart,
The zeal that seeks my living soul,
The Three that seek my heart.

Anything Irish or Celtic on the agenda for your day? Do you know much about that Celtic Christian tradition?

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Grace of Children

So often God's grace is revealed in children and its hard to imagine ministering in a congregation without them. On Sunday a family worshipped with us for the first time and the daughter, Bethany (four or five?) came up for the kids time and plunked herself right next to me. After worship they came back to the hall and she was quickly connected with other children in a game of hide and seek.

They eventually made their way to my study where one of the seasoned veterans (soon to be five) asked if they could see the collection of smooth stones I have for use on Maundy Thursday. The precocious "regular" knew where they are kept in my closet, and helpfully pointed me in the right direction. She instructed the other two girls to feel the stones and rub them on their cheeks to see how smooth they really are, and they dutifully did so.

I finally said "out you go now" since their parents had no idea where they were. The newcomer advised me to put the stones back on the shelf in the closet as if she were in charge, and waited until I had done so. The sequence of events was delightful, one of the best moments in my day.

I'n not sure that I expect any response from you. It's just that I have been smiling about these children for the past few days and thought I would share this with you.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Spiritual Practice of Kiltering

I have been thinking about the phrase "off kilter" or "out of kilter" depending on which way you learned it. It means "out of balance" or "wonky." Newfoundlanders use the word "squish," as in "dat 'ouse his squish me son!" I figure off kilter came to mind after hearing that the planet shifted ever so slightly on its axis as a result of the Japan earthquake, but also because many of us are feeling that we have been shifted on our psychological and spiritual axes as a result of this tragedy.

Don't you wonder if this earthquake and tsunami hit a little closer to home than southeast Asia and Haiti because there are greater similarities between our culture and Japanese culture, at least in terms of wealth and technology? Really bad things can happen to poor people, but rich people too?
This got me musing about this season of Lent and how it is a time when we consider how are lives are "off kilter" and might be, well...rekiltered. I know rekiltering isn't a word but it should be. It strikes me that we need a spiritual practice of kiltering, a blending together of the many spiritual practices which bring us back into a whole and holistic relationship with God. Lent isn't just about denial and self-recrimination. It is an invitation into the fullness of life in Christ.

Sometimes I am more aware of the need for spiritual kiltering, of refocus and rebalance, and Lent is one of those times and seasons when I can be intentional about this.

Do you have times when you feel spiritually off kilter and need to regain equilibrium? Are you doing anything this Lent to rekilter?

Monday, March 14, 2011

The Terrible Mystery of Creation

The news out of Japan continues to be heart-wrenching, the level of human suffering and destruction beyond comprehension. If we're honest part of this is the cold realization that life is fragile, even when it appears to be secure. Japan is a wealthy country and earthquake-savvy. Yet a shrug of the planet's tectonic plates has led to mayhem. Advanced Japanese technology gives us the film footage which tells us how limited our abilities are.

Here is the strange thing. This event also reminds us that we are residents of a dynamic, living planet. Our continents continue to shift as they have for billions of years. The main island of Japan moved two and a half metres, or eight feet, as a result of this quake. Friday was microseconds shorter, and Earth wobbled on its axis. While we tend to measure everything of meaning in human terms, there are processes beyond our control and much larger than we can imagine. In worship yesterday we affirmed our belief in a God who created and is creating. I wondered as we said these words if this destructive event is also part of this creative process.

So we respond with practical compassion and prayer to the plight of the Japanese people. And we are humbled by the power of geological events which are remarkable in scope.


Saturday, March 12, 2011


We have been watching with disbelief and sadness the reports about a massive earthquake and the subsequent tsunami in Japan. At the time I write the estimate is that more than a thousand people have died, but thousands more are missing. Many nations including Canada have pledged support and offered condolences.

As someone born at the end of the decade following WW2 I can remember when the anger at Japan, a fierce and often cruel enemy was freely expressed. References to Japs and Nips were made without reservation. Now, seventy years after the attack on Pearl Harbour, we are able to see the people of Japan as human beings and part of the global family who need our support.

What is it about human nature which leads us to regard each other with hatred and suspicion, only to make peace once again? One decade's "evil empire" becomes the next decade"s ally. As I have looked at the pictures and footage of human misery in Japan it brings to mind images we have seen of bewildered survivors of the atomic explosions which brought WW2 to an end.

I should mention that the United Church has staff in Japan as part of our faith partnerships and all of them are safe. The UCC is accepting donations which will be used to assist those church partners who have been affected.

Any thoughts on the devastation we are seeing? What about our propensity for destructive nationalism? What do you hope Canada will do in response to the quake?

Friday, March 11, 2011

Good News from Parliament

Paul Dewar

Wednesday was a troubling day in Canadian politics as the Speaker of the House of Commons ruled the government in contempt of parliament not once but twice. These rulings go to the heart of democracy in this country. Peter Milliken should be applauded and Prime Minister Harper should be embarrassed that this action was necessary.

There was good news on the same day which represented a rare spirit of cooperation in parliament. MPs voted 172-111 on Wednesday to pass NDP MP Paul Dewar's bill, also known as Bill C-393, which amends Canada's Access to Medicines Regime. The changes would permit generic drug makers to manufacture patent-protected medications and ship them to specific developing countries. The generic manufacturers would also not be required to obtain a permit each time they wished to produce and ship a drug.

This may mean quicker and broader access to anti-viral drugs for those living with HIV and AIDS in countries where the cost is prohibitive. It is a tragedy that so many suffer and die in African nations because drugs are not affordable.

Of course, many church groups across theological lines are actively involved in the support of those living with HIV/AIDS in developing countries. As an example, American evangelical megachurch pastor Rick Warren has taken up the cause. We can pray Bill C-393 will make a difference.

Were you aware that this bill was before parliament and that it passed on Wednesday? What are your thoughts about this?

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Beyond Grumbling

Yesterday a late winter weather mess moved across southern Ontario, making driving treacherous. At supper I grumbled about all the preparation for Ash Wednesday being for naught. Who would show up on a night like that? Actually, I was hoping that some people who told me they were coming would "stay put" because I didn't want them to be at risk. One of our daughters was amongst them.

Well, I should give up grumbling for Lent. Our attendance was certainly down, but there were 35 of us in the sanctuary for worship, including some who were present for the first time. One young person has lived on the outside of societal norms for a good part of his life, and I was glad he was there. A grandfather brought his three-year-old grandson who looked at me with fascination as I made the sign of the cross on his forehead. I had done the same with water and oil at the time of his baptism.

I was aware of the personal struggles of a number of the participants and as I said the words "the past is behind you, the future is before you: walk the Lenten road with Christ" it was my prayer that this would be so.

So last night became a gift to me, whatever it meant to the other congregants. Our God is a God of surprises.

Thoughts? Comments?

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Holy Smoke

While Ruth cooked up a mess of Shrove Tuesday pancakes last evening I was in the backyard making like an Ash Wednesday pyromaniac. I have been creating havoc with palm branches for decades now, taking the previous year's branches and burning them to create the ashes for the worship service on Wednesday evening. I use an old enamelled bowl which belonged to Ruth's mother for the burning and it is charred after all these fires, the only task it fulfills from one year to the next. I have to give credit to our custodian Edna who tucks the branches safely away after the Palm Sunday service in anticipation of my request ten months later.

I have burned the palms in virtual blizzards on occasion and once inadvertently filled the Halifax church I served with acrid smoke by leaving the doors open while the branches were ablaze. Sometimes I'm not in the best of moods fulfilling this task, but it was a pleasant evening yesterday, and I wasn't madly trying to get them burned down to ash shortly before the event, so I won't complain. Now I will complete the recipe by adding some olive oil. It's such an odd yet meaningful tradition.

Anyone attending an Ash Wednesday service today? Anything planned for the season of Lent to bring the season into focus? God bless your resolve.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Super Natural Lent

I looked out into our driveway in the early afternoon yesterday and saw our fourteen-year-old cat stretched out in front of the garage door. He appeared to be either dead or snoozing, and the latter proved to be the case. When he went out early this morning he was soon ready to return to the warmth of the house. But by afternoon he was content to catch some afternoon rays reflected off and intensified by the door.

We Southern Ontarians are becoming wimpified, startled by the continued presence of winter even though a couple of decades ago we wouldn't have expected spring in March. Now we complain bitterly about another fall of snow or a cold start to the day. But the sun is strengthening, and the days are lengthening.

Lent begins tomorrow and that name, Lent, is derived from the word lengthen. While this is the contemplative season leading to Holy Week and Easter, it is also the time when we look for the signs of natural rebirth that are sometimes hidden or revealed slowly. As someone who worships the Creator as well as the Redeemer I appreciate those seasonal signs and wonders. Lent is both supernatural and super natural.

Are you hopeful for the change of seasons? Anything that is stirring hope within you on this Shrove Tuesday.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Hush Now

Yesterday in worship I encouraged folk to both "give up" and "take on" for Lent. I mentioned the need of the local foodbank at this time of year and invited them to the Ash Wednesday service. I pointed out the links to Pray-as-You-Go and the Carbon Fast on our website. The most interesting reaction was to my suggestion that we give up the internet for a day a week during Lent. People chuckled as if to say "ya, like that's gonna happen!"

What does it take to still our spirits in this age of constant connection, much of which is inane? Do I really need to hear more of Charlie Sheen's ranting and raving or that the Leafs might make it to mediocrity? I heard this morning that new studies suggest that our cell phone/internet devices/television use, right up until the lights go off at night, disrupts our sleep.

Would it help for us to shut down the external and internal noise for even a day in each week of this season? I was intrigued to see that on the island of Bali in Indonesia they have a Day of Silence each year which is strictly enforced. There are actually patrol officers to make sure people comply, and tourism is restricted on that day to facilitate the quiet. This is a Hindu tradition but one which resonates with the tone of Lent. Of course we could never come close to this as a society.

So, would it be possible for you to disconnect for a day each week in Lent? What about choosing silence, even if the culture around us would never buy in?

Sunday, March 06, 2011

'Ligion Online

The Huffington Post is an online resource which was started by Arianna Huffington in 2005 as a provider of commentary gleaned from every imaginable source and on a broad variety of subjects. Until recently I hadn't realized that it includes an eclectic and very interesting section on religion. In a way it is a far more complete example of what I try to offer in this blog, although without the benefit of my personal perspectives and experiences!

The lead article yesterday was Creation as the Body of God by Richard Rohr, always an interesting author. There are many other articles which intrigue me and I commend the site to you. The religion link at the Post is one of many, and is literally in the second tier, but it is there. I appreciate when religion and spirituality are treated seriously and thoughtfully rather than ignored or minimized by the media, as it so often is in Canada.

Have any of you checked out the Huffington Post? Take a look at the religion link and offer your thoughts.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Knock Knock

"So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. Luke 11:9
An oversized postcard arrived recently from Ghost Ranch, the retreat and conference centre in the high desert of New Mexico where I have gone for several programs. On the one side it says Knock, knock, as you can see from the image. On the other side it asks:

Is that your soul calling?

Longing to be inspired?
Longing to delve into your passion?

Here's the answer.

Clever really. Advertising that is an invitation into a fuller life. Of course Jesus beat them by about two thousand years on that imagery, but it's a good variation on the theme.

I find the setting of Ghost Ranch to be inspirational, and the courses I have attended on Celtic Christianity and Faith and the Environment address areas about which I am passionate.

What is your "soul calling" these days? Are you growing in your faith? What are you passionate about as a Christian?

Friday, March 04, 2011

Today's Saints

Many of us are familiar with the carving of saints and other important religious figures on the exteriors of cathedrals from other eras. Who would be the important figures to include today?

Actually the Washington National Cathedral has what is called its "human rights porch" where significant figures of the fight for equality are honoured. Two new sculptures, one of Rosa Parks (above) and the other of Mother Teresa will soon be added.

In December of 1955, at the end of a long and tiring day at work Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a segregated bus in Montgomery, Alabama. This simple act of civil disobedience led to the Montgomery bus boycott and a chain reaction of events which changed American society.

What do you think of including someone such as Ms. Parks on the adornment of a cathedral? Who would you include if you were asked?

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Parlez Vous Francais?

I received an email from our son, Isaac, alerting us to his inclusion in another Youtube video posted on the United Church website. one informs us about the efforts for French-speaking ministry across the country, although the major focus at the moment is the province of Quebec. Recently I let you know that Ike will be taking up duties in Cowansville Quebec after his ordination in May. Although this is not a French-speaking congregation, it was important for them to find a bilingual minister because Anglophones make up only 15% of the twelve thousand residents of this community. English-only congregations are closing regularly in Quebec as the Anglophone population shrinks.

I was interested to see that the video also featured the Spanish-speaking congregation which meets at Eglise Unie St. Jean, Isaac's sponsoring congregation. Because he and wife Rebekah speak some Spanish they have been invited to the Camino congregation's events, where Isaac has done music. He admits that their limitations with the language have led to some unintentionally hilarious moments.

Speaking of multi-lingualism, it is amusing that Isaac is described as a Newfoundlander. Yes he was born there during our first ministry posting, but lived in outport Newfoundland for a total of six weeks. So he really doesn't have the language skills.

I've asked before, but what do you think about the United Church's attempt to reach out to the French-speaking population of our country? Inspired or foolhardy? Innovative or desperate?

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

The Wellspring of Life

There is a conference under way in Ottawa called Connecting Water Resources with an impressive roster of international presenters. Dr. Rita Colwell is speaking about the effects of climate change on the quality of water and the concern that without sufficient vigilance water quality in developed countries could deteriorate to the point that we would once again be faced with disease related issues essentially eradicated during the twentieth century.
Water is a precious resource and it should be no surprise that it has always been regarded as reflecting the sacred in virtually every religion. You might recall that last year I attended a conference in New Mexico called Water and the Baptismal Life which connected the practical and spiritual aspects of water. One of the presenters Ben Stewart has written an article in a recent issue of the Christian Century on water in the Christian tradition.

Our Sunday School is currently following this theme of water and faith. To help the kids "get real" they have found a water project through Ryan's Well, an organization begun by a determined child which funds fresh water sources. The foundation has completed more than 600 projects in the past decade. While Ryan's Well is not a Christian organization, there are plenty of well stories in both Old and New Testaments, and one of our two Protestant sacraments is "watery."

Any thoughts about water, practical and/or spiritual? How about experiences with Ryan's Well? Are you pleased our kids will learn more about what water means for life in all its forms?

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Heating up the Conversation

So, I'm on my way to the cemetery with the funeral director a few days ago, and we get talking about the local crematorium. Hey, we talk about lots of things on those drives, but there is some shop talk. He tells me that seventy percent of deaths they address are now followed by cremation. I figured that it was probably half, but more than two thirds? Who knew? I mentioned that when I began my career thirty years ago, cremation was the exception, and the director agreed. In fact, Newfoundland, my settlement location, didn't have a crematorium.

Did you hear about the crematorium in Britain that is planning to use the energy from the incineration process to heat the municipal swimming pool? Even though cremation is rather matter of fact and "next please" in Britain, a lot of the locals are up in arms about this proposal. I'm surprised. I mean, a huge amount of energy is necessary for cremation, so why not recycle some of it for something useful. It speaks to our ambivalence about the rituals of death, even in a secular society such as Britain. For me it makes a lot of sense, practically and environmentally, and even spiritually.

What is your response to this? Would you be okay with heating up "family swim?" Will it be cremation or traditional burial for you?