Friday, September 30, 2011

Online Jesus Shopping

Okay, I admit that the title for today's blog is a bit misleading! It is prompted by some conversations over the past year, two in the past week. I chatted with a young couple who got married here earlier in 2011 and happily have joined St. Paul's. We have a shared interest in Creation care and I mentioned that I often write about the subject in my blog. They replied that they were aware of this. When they were looking for a place to get married they checked out church websites and the blog convinced them that we have shared sensibilities.

Last week I met with another young couple who are new to St. Paul's and are seeking baptism for their adorable daughter. They mentioned that when they started looking for a Bowmanville church, being new here, they looked online and our website listed the worship time prominently and other churches didn't. They have found St. Paul's to be friendly and a good fit for them as a couple but something as simple as listing the time got them through the door.

A few evenings ago I spent an hour with another young couple who have decided St. Paul's is the place for them and their two little ones. Sadly their church closed its doors and they started a search for a new place of worship, again looking online. And again info on the website and the blog helped them take the first step.

I can't tell you how pleased I am to have these three couples in our midst. One couple actually participated in our Exploring Your Faith classes to join, and the other two are transferring memberships from previous church homes. I have enjoyed talking with all of them, and all have a great deal to offer us.

They are part of a generation which assumes that information will be available through the internet, so we need to provide it. I'm just relieved that when they went looking they found something helpful. I find that some people who are a generation or two older assume that word of mouth and signage are enough to bring people in. Not any more, and it is important to make sure that our website is current and that we have the resources to maintain it. We are fortunate to have committed volunteers in this regard, but we know we can do more. When we put up our excellent new sign in front of the church we chose to include our website URL rather than our phone number.

We have readers of all ages. What are your observations about all this? Does this just make sense or are you still making the shift in perceptions about how we "sell" our faith community?

I suppose if you are reading this you have already bought in!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Way to Hope

Starting the first Sunday of September our healthy gang of teens came back to church and it was a delight to see them reconnecting with one another. They are really a great group of human beings and the way they offer mutual support and friendship is a touching example to the rest of us. We are so blessed to have them in our midst.

I thought of them and the way they care for each other as I read an important four-part series on teen suicide in the Globe and Mail over the past few days. The stories of loss are wrenching, but there is also a call to hope based on vigilance and a funded practical strategy focussed on teen issues which lead to suicide.

As I read the first article on Saturday I pondered the community our young people have created, along with excellent leadership, in the life of St. Paul's. I know that they talk about God and finding the strength to face the day to day challenges. I assumed that no mention would be made of faith in the articles but that first one mentioned religion as a possible positive factor in the lives of young people, which encouraged me. So often we are portrayed as the problem rather than the solution.

Several of you have lost loved ones to suicide and bravely written about it; a spouse, a son, a brother, a father. Others have been touched by loss within your families or with friends. This challenging reality is not outside our faith community.

Have any of you read the Globe articles? Do you think we getting somewhere in addressing the old taboos of mental illness and suicide?

Wednesday, September 28, 2011


Our friends on the farm north of Kingston purchased a pair of Belgian work horses, Dan and Jenny, more than a decade ago. They used them as draught animals for a few years before they became prodigious hay-chomping pets. Although they were reluctant to do so, earlier this year they sold them to a young couple who wanted them to pull a wagon for tours with kids. It sounded like a great transition but a few months later Dan developed cancer, lay down one day, and died.
The couple and our friends were heartbroken. So was Jenny. The couple used a backhoe to dig a huge hole in which they buried Dan. Jenny was inconsolable, squabbling with the other horses on the farm. Then she took to standing near Dan's grave for hours on end.

Can animals other than humans grieve? This example sure seems to say yes, other sentient beings experience loss. We have our rituals to acknowledge loss but that doesn't explain the mystery of grief. Of course virtually every human culture addresses our mortality and the life to come. But we must journey through our grief first.

Have you had experiences with grieving critters? How are you at dealing with loss? Is it getting easier or harder as the years pass?

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Idle Thoughts

Someone wrote the automobile columnist at a major newspaper asking whether it was bad for a vehicle to be turned off in the Timmy's coffee crawl, or any other drive-through for that matter. The person with the question had heard that it is hard on the vehicle engine and starter to turn on and off repeatedly. The columnist assured him that with modern engines and ignition systems this is not a problem.

I hate drive-throughs. Whenever possible I avoid them, usually by entering the establishment or, even better, resisting temptation. I turn off my engine when I'm in a line of vehicles waiting to be waved through at a construction site. I switch off when I'm waiting for someone, even in the cold of winter, turning the engine back on when I get chilly. The thought of adding to global climate change because I have a hankering for a Dutchie makes me queasy. Does it make a difference? It does for my mental wellbeing if nothing else.

Sometimes I'm a legalist about certain Earth care practices and a terrible sinner with others. Why, I'm not sure. The quirkiness of being human, perhaps. I do what I can because I am motivated by my Christian faith, and a desire for a better world. I'll still make the effort and someday I might get it more right than wrong.

How about you? Are there choices you make that you are proud of in terms of Earth care while embarrassed about others?

Monday, September 26, 2011


I should update you on Ride Your Bike To Church Sunday. The forecast for the morning had changed to rain Saturday night, so I honestly had no expectations for riders Sunday morning. Fortunately the weather computers had it entirely wrong and it was a gorgeous start to the day.

Still, I wasn't holding my breath and I was relieved when Edna our custodian showed up on her bike. At least one! Then avid cyclist Carmen, who put the rack together rolled in from east of Newcastle. Then another and another cyclist. A mom and tween son from north of Hampton. A young couple from Courtice. Teens and at least one retiree who must be pushing seventy. There were somewhere between fifteen and eighteen bikes in the end. I'm not sure of the total number of cyclists because the ten-bike rack wasn't enough and the others ended up chained to trees, to the fence, and at least one inside the church.

As I said before, this is really a gesture during our Creation Time mini-season, but a nice one, it seems to me.

Any comments about this? Should every Sunday be Walk and Ride Your Bike Sunday?

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Land Sunday

This is Land Sunday for St. Paul's, the third week in Creation Time. It is an opportunity to give thanks for and ponder the importance of the soil and the land which is the essential medium for the food which sustains us.

We tend to take our cultivated areas for granted and because we buy most of our food in grocery stores we don't really consider what our food sources are. It is crazy that we can buy produce in one of the grocery chain stores that comes all the way from California yet is cheaper than the local veggies and fruit. Why is that? Well, the agribusiness farms of California grow half the "fresh" produce in the United States and a lot of ours as well. These farms require intensive chemical applications to grow produce on such a large scale, fossil fuels to get them here, and uniformity in product. The food is inexpensive at the cash register but costly in other ways.

How did we get to this industrial style of food production which has made us so dependent on transported produce while we continue to pave over some of the best farmland in Canada?

Several years ago I wrote about a novel called Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry. Berry is a college professor, a farmer, and a Christian. The story is told by the local barber, Jayber Crow, who watches through the decades as his farm community changes. His neighbour Ashley Keith farms his 500 acres in a sustainable way but when his son-in-law takes over he has big ideas and moves to an agribusiness model. It is a well told but sad tale.

So much of the Old Testament considers the land and its importance as a gift from God and as a trust to humans. Perhaps we need to read it a little more carefully.


Saturday, September 24, 2011

Death Row

Troy Davis was executed Thursday, 22 years after he was convicted of murdering a police officer in the state of Georgia. Because Davis was convicted even though no gun was found, there was no DNA evidence, and most of the people who testified against him later recanted, many worked to have his conviction overturned. His advocates included Pope Benedict, representatives from foreign countries, and even conservative politicians in the US. Despite all this he was put to death, still arguing his innocence.

Father Rob Wright, rector of St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Georgia wrote an opinion piece about this execution. In it he says:

Shame on Georgia. Today the state of Georgia, an overwhelmingly Christian state, will murder Troy Davis. Where does Jesus authorize this practice? Where is the outcry from the Christian politicians who visit our churches, mosques and temples each election season to remind us of their commitment to keeping God's word? Where is the prophetic voice of those religious leaders who have the ear of thousands each week?

Capital Punishment is state sanctioned lynching. Capital punishment is the exact opposite of civilization. Capital Punishment is the admission of our immature and barbarous tendencies as a society. While Capital Punishment may be the law in Georgia, it is not justice in Jesus' eyes. We can sincerely grieve with the family of the slain police officer, abhor violence against those who serve and protect us, and at the same time agree that an 'eye for an eye' leaves no one better off.

In the years since capital punishment was abolished in Canada the murder rate has decreased, a reminder that there isn't a correlation between the threat of the death penalty and murder. Sure, most of us hear that serial killer Clifford Olsen is dying of cancer and figure it couldn't be happening to a nicer guy. While our gut may tell us tha Olsen should have been executed years ago, I would agree with Father Wright that capital punishment is barbaric, an appeal to our darkest desires for violent revenge.

We choose to not have state sanctioned killings because we choose to be civilized even if the murderer wasn't. And there will always be people who were wrongfully convicted, as we have seen a number of times in Canada.

This is my opinion. What's yours?

Friday, September 23, 2011

Ride Your Bike Sunday

After years of discussion we finally have a bike rack at St. Paul's. Hey, anyone involved in a congregation with a democratic decision-making process knows that nothing happens in a hurry!

Not only do we have a bike rack, we have designated Sunday as Ride Your Bike To Church Sunday. The forecast for Sunday is the best of the next few days, so we hope our cyclists will take up the challenge. We are in Creation Time in the church year and riding bicycles on Sunday can be a symbolic statement about reducing carbon emissions, not to mention promoting a healthy activity.

Bowmanville is not a bike friendly community and Clarington region isn't either, despite some wonderful scenery to the north. Ruth and I worked in two or three morning rides a week during the summer and while we loved the view, neither the roads nor the car drivers are sympathetic to cyclists.Why didn't someone think of a modest bike lane along highway 2 to Newcastle when the roadway was resurfaced?

We notice that in Quebec there are bike lanes everywhere, and the cyclists to use them. The same is true in Colorado where we recently spent time. Apparently if you build them, they will come.

Do you think Jesus and the disciples would have taken to bicycles if they had been available? Too challenging in tunics maybe? Do you ride a bicycle? Will you ride to church? What do you think of this initiative?

Thursday, September 22, 2011


Saturday past 25 people came to St. Paul's for the breakfast book club. While we munched on delicious food prepared by Carol and Helen we talked about the book I Shall Not Hate by the Palestinian physician Izzeldin Abulaish. I really appreciated the thoughtfulness of the group. As we began I pointed out that while the United Church has always supported the existence of the state of Israel, our denomination has a long history of concern over the plight of the Palestinian people.

This stance has dunked us in hot water since the late 1960's. The editor of the United Church Observer, Al Forrest, was criticized back then for raising the issues, then a couple of years ago the Canadian Jewish Congress accused the United Church of being anti-semitic because our General Council was looking at motions which condemned Israel's strong-arm approach, as well as supporting Palestinian sovereignty. Calling us anti-semitic was a strange criticism given that we are a church that strongly supports dialogue with our Jewish neighbours. It was the injustice that the United Church was speaking to, not religion.

Tomorrow a Palestinian delegation including President Abbas (above) will petition the United Nations for statehood. Palestinians are fed up with years of talk with no action. The conditions in the West Bank and Gaza continue to deteriorate and there is no real right to self determination. While the United States supports Palestinian statehood, they will probably veto the petition because the Palestinians are not playing by their rules of negotiation. Under Prime Minister Harper Canada has become pro-Israeli to the point that concerns for Palestinians have virtually disappeared.

What are your thoughts about all this? Do the complex issues confuse you? Do you think Palestine has the right to statehood?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

All We Are Saying...

This is the International Day of Peace according to a declaration by the United Nations. Apparently this is a thirty year tradtion which is nice -- who is isn't for peace in our world? We are invited to take a minute at noon to reflect/pray for ceasefires in conflicts and peace in our troubled world. Can do, but why do? Is anyone really paying attention to this? Even peace-loving Canada is involved in a couple of wars at the moment, although we are probably done in Libya and winding down in Afghanistan.

Even though the temptation is to be cynical about these initiatives -- some would say realistic -- I will probably observe the moment. I've been thinking that I might ring the church bell as a way of acknowledging this call to peace. I will do this despite my reservations because I don't agree with the alternative. Apathy is so...apathetic!

If I choose not to participate I am saying that the world can't change, and that God has stopped calling us into the shalom which can be the game breaker for our species. I think that's why Jesus came and risked the violence that led to his death. He stood against the powers of his time and relinquished his own power to offer us a new path. The resurrection leads me on that path.

What are you feeling about this day of peace? Are you tired of hoping for a peaceful, redeemed world? Is there still room for the message of the Prince of Peace?

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Take Back Dignity and Safety

This evening at 6:00 PM people will gather in the parking lot of the Canadian Legion on King St. in Bowmanville for the annual Take Back the Night walk. Originally these walks were for women only, a way to make a statement that women should be able to walk the streets of a community at any time of the day or night without threat or fear. As the years have gone on men in solidarity with this goal have been invited to participate. More recently the walks have been preceded by speakers who address the issues of violence against women in a more general way.

This year the speaker at the Bowmanville event is Belleville police chief Cory McMullen. You might recall that Chief McMullen was assaulted by her husband who was in a jealous rage. She was helped by strangers and the husband, a former police officer, was later convicted.

I'm looking forward to hearing her. Chief McMullen had the courage to go public with her story and obviously still wants to support the cause of women who experience abuse. Her situation is an example of the reality of domestic violence. It can happen to anyone (female or male), of any age, and in any circumstance of life. Ruth, my wife, is a crisis counsellor for Bethesda House in Bowmanville and she points out regularly that there is no profile for an abused person, nor for the abuser. Many of her clients are middle class and a fair number are people of faith involved in congregations of various religions.

It does bother me when Ruth expresses her frustration that some clergy are the impediment for women to leave abusive situations. The women are encouraged to believe that the covenant they made must be kept, and to work at resolving issues. Of course they cannot make an abuser stop just because they believe in the sanctity of marriage, and staying can put themselves and children in danger. I just don't understand how these pastors and priests can feel that it is God's will that anyone endure abuse.

Would you be comfortable helping someone you know seek the assistance they need if they were in an abusive relationship? Would you know who to call? Have you had experience supporting someone who has lived through this?

Perhaps this is the year you will attend. If you have daughters, or for that matter sons, they may benefit from the educational opportunity, even if the subject is uncomfortable.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Rivers of Life

Yesterday I spoke about rivers during worship as part of Creation Time, a relatively new season in the church year focussed on care for the world God created and is creating still. There are plenty of rivers in the bible despite the scarcity of water in the Middle East.

When I came home from church I returned to a biography of Holmes Rolston the godfather of environmental ethicists. Professor Rolston was one of the presenters at the conference I attended in Colorado, a spry, accessible man approaching eighty years of age.

I picked up at the place where Rolston is working to protect a river, the Cache la Poudre River in Northern Colorado. The plan was to dam the river, flooding the canyon but the coalition fighting the dam was successful.

It turns out that the last day we were in Colorado we drove up the Poudre Canyon to hike at Greyrocks. On the way north we passed whitewater rafters and fly fishers enjoying the river. To pick up the Greyrocks trail we used a foot bridge across the Poudre and we stopped to take photos of its rushing waters. Even though the name Cache La Poudre is French the locals pronounce it Poo-der.

It's important for Christians to be aware of the rivers and streams around them and to treat them with care, not just as a commodity. When rivers are clean and free-flowing they are a source of life for many creatures.

Are there rivers, streams, "cricks" which have been important in your lives? Have you ever been involved in a waterway clean-up or any effort to protect or rehabilitate one?

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Reinventing the Wheel

During the summer I was in the fast lane of the 401 highway when I came alongside a car I didn't recognize. It turned out to be a Chevy Volt, the General Motors entry into the electric car market. GM has been doing really well with internal combustion engines lately but the Volt is looking forward in the way the Nissan Leaf is looking to an alternative form of energy source to get our vehicles from one place to another. I noticed that at the Earth Care conference I attended in Colorado five of the cars were Prius's, the hybrid by Toyota, an indication that some Christians connect their driving choices to their faith.

In a way these "forward looking" vehicles are actually "retro" at the same time. In 1900 about a third of the cars on the road were electric and there were hybrids as well. In 1910 the New York Times was extolling the future of the electric car and by 1915 ten US companies were making electric vehicles. Today there are experimental vehicles running on compressed air, but even they aren't new. In the 1930's there were seven different compressed air vehicles. Somehow the early promise of what we now consider alternatives to "real" engines was pushed into the background.

We just bought a fairly fuel efficient gas burner to replace our geriatric station wagon. The electric and hybrid choices didn't work for our needs (how do you carry those kayaks?) or were too expensive. I do feel a bit guilty and I will keep an eye to the future possibilities.

Could driving a electric or hybrid car be an expression of faith? Are internal combustion engines a dead end? Would you drive a hybrid or electric if the price was right?

Friday, September 16, 2011

Deadline for Generosity

This is the last day for Canadians to make a financial contribution to the famine crisis in the region called the Horn of Africa so that there will be matching funds from the government of Canada. Canadians have contributed more than 35 million dollars and United Church members have given over $700,000 through their congregations. St. Paul's folk have given nearly $4,000 of that total and I'm grateful.

We gave in August but we just made another contribution through the United Church website. The vision of these suffering people disturbs me and I felt the need to do a bit more. It was easy to do and will be matched. Of course we can continue to respond but I encourage you to double the bang for your bucks before the deadline expires.

Thanks to everyone who has participated in the Appeal. It's heartwarming.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Liar, Liar...

Liar, liar, pants on fire! This succinct bit of doggerel was a favourite when I was a child as siblings or classmates told a fib. Apparently we all lie and if we say that we don't then, well, we're liars. Even though we exhort our children to tell the truth, hardly a day goes by when we don't engage in some form of deception, dissimulation, or avoidance in the form of lies. Some of them are relatively small: "yes, you look great in that!" or "cute baby!" or "nothing to declare." But people regularly engage in the biggies which bring down careers and destroy relationships. We do seem programmed to be less than honest.

I saw the other day that a new technology has been unwrapped in Britain, which is being called an emotion detector. Not a motion detector, that annoying sensor that activates a light with every passing racoon in your neighbours backyard, or a polygraph machine which police sometimes use. This gizmo can read faces:

We give our emotions away in our eye movements, dilated pupils, biting or pressing together our lips, wrinkling our noses, breathing heavily, swallowing, blinking and facial asymmetry. And these are just the visible signs seen by the camera. Even swelling blood vessels around our eyes betray us, and the thermal sensor spots them too.

God help us! Of course in the New Testament book of Ephesians we're told: "So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbours, for we are members of one another." When we lie we break down trust in our relationships, including with God, which can't always be repaired.

So, what are your thoughts on lying. The truth now!

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


I found a feature on Blogger the other day which allows me to see how many "page looks" there have been during the time I have been churning out my musings. Somewhat to my surprise it is close to 58,000. This really sounds more impressive than it is. I have been doing this for five years now, actually starting about now in the Fall of 2006 on the encouragement of a member. And I have written about 1,450 blogs during the course of that time, so the average number of looks isn't all that high. But many of you have been faithful readers and the blog allows me to share with you the stuff that captures my attention in my role of Christian leadership.

Now, the number of lookers far exceeds the number of commenters, as you well know. As you also know, I feel that every blog I write becomes better, more thoughtful, more complete when there are comments. It's not unlike my experience with bible study and other study groups, or when I facilitate our book club. Sure I come prepared to lead the group, but the participation of others is what makes it really worthwhile.

I appreciate what you have to say in reponse to blog entries, and so do other readers. I do bite my tongue when people who never comment online tell me how much they enjoy the comments. Well then, join the club and help out the regulars!


Tuesday, September 13, 2011


Today I will conduct the funeral service for one of our elderly members. Doug was 83 and in declining health for the past couple of years. Each time he went into hospital he came out a little more frail, a little more confused, and honestly none of us including his loving family wanted him to have to endure any more.

But these twilight years were not the sum of his life. Doug and his wife, Billie, have been the proverbial pillars of our congregation. Doug made a point of welcoming newcomers and learning their names. Together they have been tremendously generous to those who are in need and supportive of the vulnerable as they lived out their Christian faith. More than any other person Doug has asked me about the work my wife Ruth does as a crisis counsellor in a women's shelter. The two of them have been incredibly modest about their kindness, an indication that it came from the heart.

Of course Doug was a character with a quick wit which was often pointed at me. A month before his death he was the critical care unit of the hospital. I found him there connected to the monitors and with his eyes closed. I commented that this was the third different room in three visits, was he trying to avoid me. His eyes opened, and with the sliver of a grin he asked "could you blame me?"

He will be missed. I will miss him.


Monday, September 12, 2011

Suicide Prevention

My gym workout partner in Halifax was a member of the congregation I was serving at the time. One morning this normally upbeat guy showed up obviously shaken and ashen. The day before he received news that his brother had taken his own life. His brother's teen son had discovered the body in the basement of the family home. Although his sibling lived in Ontario and they weren't all that close my parishioner was traumatized by this loss and we had a number of conversations after his return from the funeral.

I didn't realize until late on Saturday that September 10th was World Suicide Prevention Day. I would have commented then if I had known because suicide has affected many people to whom I have been a pastor and some of them are readers of this blog. The second funeral I conducted as a young minister was for a bright, talented teen who took his life only metres from where the rest of his family was watching television. A cheerful elderly woman sank into depression after the death of her beloved husband and after months of efforts to console and support her she killed herself. There is no readily identifiable pattern for suicide and often no obvious forewarning.

It is estimated that 3,000 people take their own lives each day around the world. Each day. We know that the rate of suicide for aboriginal people in Canada is up to ten times higher than the national average. We have heard of several retired pro hockey tough guys who have taken their lives in recent months It's so sad that we are reluctant to speak openly about this painful reality until after the losses.

In the past the church was a hindrance rather than a help in addressing suicide, but attitudes have changed to reflect God's grace as well as Christ's hope for those in the confusion and despair of mental illness.This is not the first time I have raised this subject, but I would appreciate your thoughts. Should suicide be addressed from the pulpit? In seminars? Do you think the stigma has passed in our culture? What work still needs to be done?

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Forests Sunday

When we lived in Northern Ontario we saw plenty of the scraggly jack pines of the region and red pines and the iconic white pines of the A.J. Casson painting. When we were in Colorado a knowledgable guide pointed out pinyon pines, and lodgepole pines, and limber pines. The latter got their name because they are limber, flexible in the strong winds of the higher elevations of the Rocky Mountains.

Most of us can generally differentiate between deciduous and evergreen trees, then it tends to go downhill from there. I am always amazed at the people who are adept at identifying trees not only by their leaves but the bark. I'm not so good at it, but I do love trees. They are both the oldest and biggest living creatures on the planet and we couldn't breathe without them.

This Sunday will be, for us, Forests Sunday in the brief season called Creation Time. In recent years our United Church has been encouraging an ecological awareness season as our response to the degradation of the world which God brought into being. We have been such reckless tenants that God probably should have asked for a security deposit, but for some reason we are still loved. Creation Time encourages us to respond to that love by cleaning up our act and "living with respect in Creation."

Do any of you have a thing for trees? Did you climb them or swing from them or fall from them as a kid? Does it make any sense to have a Forests Sunday or should we stick to the basics of salvation?

Friday, September 09, 2011

Ten Years After

What is amazing is that in that moment, there was a moment before that we saw that plane, that second plane, and there was a moment after, and it’s like two different worlds, those two moments. I mean, literally, I can feel like I can remember the exact second when the whole world changed and my life changed forever.

Audrey Marcus

Did our world become a different place after the horrific events of September 11th 2001? Most of you will remember where you where that day and what it was like to attempt to comprehend what was unfolding. Some say 911 was a turning point in modern history. Others offer that while this was a vicious act of terrorism it was given disproportionate weight because it happened in America. In this past decade there have been many other cataclysmic events which haven't received the same sustained attention.,32068,1148020094001_2092457,00.html

Perhaps those of us who have the good fortune to live in Canada and the United States have felt less secure as a result. An analysis released this week maintains that Canada alone has spent an additional 92 billion dollars on security in the past decade because of the events of September 11th. This amount includes our involvement in the war in Afghanistan. How could we ever measure the value of the lives lost in that war, or the lives of the Canadians who died in the Twin Towers?

It's likely that thousands of worship services will include some acknowlegement of 911 this coming Sunday, the tenth anniversary. St. Paul's will not be an exception, although it this will not be the focus of our worship. The question for those of us exhorted to live beyond fear by the present Christ is whether we allow our lives to be determined by the anxiety and uncertainty created by terrorism, or to seize the moment and declare our resurrection hope.

Pastorally we probably need both comfort and courage. The artist's depiction above has one tower as a candle above the smoke of destruction. Christ is our light in confusing times. Check this link for the hymn led by Paul Stookey of the folk group Peter, Paul and Mary.

What are your musings ten years later? Do you feel a greater general anxiety than you did before 911? How does your faith equip you for this fearful age and what should the church say?

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Labour and Rest

On Monday we climbed a trail called Greyrocks in the Poudre Valley of Colorado. It is called a moderate trail but it was hard work for an hour and a half during our ascent. On our descent we met a guy who was huffing and puffing up the mountain and his passing comment was "there is a reason they call this Labour Day!"

Of course he had the day away from his employment and we were on vacation from ours. We had a wonderful two weeks away from our work, in my case a combination of holiday and education. We still consider it a privilege to have paid time away from our work, and Labour Day celebrates the hard-won right to meaningful rest as part of gainful employment.

We arrived home near midnight on Tuesday and both of us were out the door just after eight the next morning. I was off to the hospital to see an ailing church member while Ruth was accompanying a client to court in Oshawa. Both our days proved to be busy, but while we have demanding aspects to our work, there is also satisfaction in what we do. We don't do menial or physically crushing labour the way so many do around the world, we get regular paycheques, as well as regular days away from work. As people of the God who both laboured and rested in creation, we find meaning in our contribution to the society of which we are a part.

Do you like the work you do? Some of you are retired, but still very active in church and community and our congregation couldn't exist without the wonderful "free labour" members provide. What perspectives do you have on your unpaid but important work? Do some of you wish you could find employment, or perhaps a better job? What about your parental roles as a form of work?

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Perspective and Vision

It always surprises me that I can get on a plane and in a few hours travel to or from a part of the world that is so different from my daily life. Yesterday's flight from Denver to Toronto was a mere three hours, yet for the past two weeks we have explored experiences in the state of Colorado which have no parallels in Ontario.

While at my conference at the Presbyterian centre aptly called Highlands we went on a tour of adjacent Rocky Mountain National Park during a few hours of free time. The guides and drivers were volunteer Presbyterians from churches in the area. We made our way up above the tree line to the continental divide on the highest paved road in North America. To give you some perspective, Trail Ridge Road (pictured above) rises to 12,200 feet while the highest paved road in our beautiful Canadian Rockes is 7,200 feet.

Even though the drive is a tad hairy because of dizzying drop-offs, sometimes on both side of the road, the perspective at the top is glorious. In the cold, thin air we huffed and puffed up another couple of hundred feet on a walking trail and soaked in the magnificent vistas in all directions.

I hope that I have come back with a different perspective on caring for God's creation as well. I am well aware of the irony of flying thousands of kilometres on a jet to think earnestly about caring for the planet, but hearing the variety of speakers and being with people of like mind was inspiring. And I pray that I can bring some of this perspective back with me.


Tuesday, September 06, 2011

I "like" Jesus

I have admitted to not being a Facebook user and asked you, my readers, whether you thought Facebook and Twitter would be helpful tools in ministry. The responses included emphatic yeses and nos, which left me wondering.

Well, guess who has a Facebook page now? Yup it's Jesus. Actually, Dr. Aaron Tabor started a Facebook page called the Jesus Daily where he posts some of the words of Jesus several times a day. Lo and behold, Jesus is very popular. Millions of Facebook followers and JC gets more "likes" than JB (Justin Bieber.) If you can outdraw the Biebs...

I think I support something that gets people reading scripture and becoming better acquainted with the teachings of Jesus , although I haven't seen it. I admire Dr. Tabor who says he does this to encourage folk who are going through tough times.

Have any of you come across the Jesus Daily? Good idea? Take a look and tell us what you think.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Queen of the Sun

Yesterday after church we went to see a newly released documentary called Queen of the Sun. It is an unusual, fascinating, disturbing look at the collapse of bee colonies in North America, Europe, and other parts of the world. We are reminded that roughly half of the food we take for granted would disappear without the pollination provided by bees. As serious as the subject matter sounds, the film was quite touching.

The day before while I was still at my conference I listened to one of the world's leading researchers on frogs, Dr. Tyrone Hayes from Berkeley University in California. I probably expected the least from this presentation but he was funny, engaging, and offered an ominous picture of the disappearance of frogs in North America. He made a link to the chemical Atrazine which is banned in the EU but is used in abundance --80 million pounds per year -- in agricultural in the US. It essentially causes male frogs to become female frogs or hermaphrodites. The day before the conference he drove up to Wyoming, the state to the north of Colorado, to check on a research site where there have been plentiful frogs. Gone. Dr. Hayes reminded us that frog hormonal structure is so similar to human that female frogs were once used to confirm human pregnancy. He spoke of the link between chemical use in agriculture and cancers such as breast and prostate.

Dr. Hayes and the film tell us that these creatures are the proverbial canaries in the coal mine. We need to pay attention to what is happening to them for their sake and ours. He exhorted the participants of the conference and the Christian communities of which they are a part to wake up to what is happening and become more active in promoting local and organic agricultural as well as asking governments to impose stringent regulations on the chemicals which can affect the health of ecosystems.

Have you heard about Queen of the Sun? What are your thoughts on all this?

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Faith with Brains and Passion

We are still in the beautiful state of Colorado but my conference has come to a conclusion. The theme was Earth care, and I attended because of two presenters whose writing I admire. They both proved to be gracious, accessible individuals and I enjoyed conversing with them. Others were a delightful surprise.

While my wife Ruth was not part of the conference she was with me at Highlands and joined us at meal times. She was struck by the intelligence and passion of the participants. The majority were lay people who were there because of their commitment, as Christians, to a healthier planet. Many of them are on Earth care teams in their congregations.

We ate out on the deck of the conference centre with an architect who was part of the design team for the building we were in, which was deliberately adjacent to a wetland. Another day we had lunch with a woman who runs a state wildlife centre, and her husband who is a psychiatrist. Another sprightly elderly woman is a retired university professor. and at our last meal we were at the table with a marine biologist. Intelligent, educated, motivated people.

Away from the table we talked about our increasingly secular Canadian society where Christians are often viewed with contempt as deluded and ignorant. It was refreshing to be in that environment where we were stimulated by the presentations and the other participants.

What about the notion of Earth care teams in our congregations?Any thoughts or observations about the shift in our culture toward suspicion and outright hostility toward organized religion? Any reaction to our observations about the folk we were with?

Friday, September 02, 2011

Seven Pillars of Creation

One of the presenters and worship leaders at this conference is Dr. William Brown, an Old Testament theologian. Last year I attended a conference in New Mexico, and the guy I hiked with early in the morning (as well as sharing a bathroom) mentioned Bill Brown, a theologian from his church. At the time I was reading Dr. Brown's book, The Seven Pillars of Creation, which is about the interface between modern science and seven key creation texts found in the Hebrew scriptures. His Bill and my Dr. Brown turned out to be one and the same.

Okay, I can hear you snoring all the way from Colorado! The book is brilliant though, and I look forward to meeting Dr. Brown. And of course it will be in the beautiful setting of the Rocky Mountains. What's not to like?

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Temple Grandin

As we have roamed Colorado -- an apt term if ever there was one -- we have driven past huge cattle ranches with hundreds of grazing beasts. It happens that on the flight here we watched an HBO docudrama about Temple Grandin, the professor at Colorado State University whose research and practical solutions have made a significant impact on the way cattle are treated as they led to slaughter. Grandin figures that even though we may eat other creatures, which is the way of the natural world, it doesn't mean that we forego treating them with respect.

Grandin is a fascinating person whose mother refused to institutionalize Temple because of her autism in a day when that was common practice. She managed to complete several university degrees despite her aversion to touch, and the challenges of functioning at such a high level in the midst of crowds of people. She is convinced that her autism allows her to think and feel like herd animals.

The HBO movie is very well done and actress Clare Danes has won awards, including a Golden Globe, for her portrayal of Grandin. We were both moved by the film. It is such an important reminder that just because we don't understand the supposed outsider, the "other," that they have nothing to offer.

It seems to me that this was a constant in Jesus' ministry, whether he was addressing individuals from different religions, and ethnic backgrounds, and those deemed "possessed."

Have you seen the film? What are your thoughts about this?