Sunday, September 30, 2012

Who Gives A...?



Last Sunday I came home from church a tad discouraged. It was actually a good service in many respects, particularly the child who advised me that the pail of dirt I used at Children's Time was full of microscopic organisms. Those young 'uns are getting a little too smart!

This was the third of four Sundays we will be observing Creation Time at St. Paul's, and today is the last. My mood came out of the rather overwhelming feeling that I can blah, blah, blah all I want about creation care and response to God to the Creator and it just doesn't matter. I have been at this passionately for roughly twenty years and I would like to think I have become much more sophisticated in my theology of creation. Yet I still commit my environmental sins and I live plunk in the middle of one of the most affluent, energy-gulping countries of the world. It's as though Creation Time has become another Lent, at least in my spirit.

Who gives know. I raised this at Bible Study on Wednesday past and participants assured me that it is important to address these concerns in church, year in and year out. A grandfather who faithfully brings his carrot-topped grandson to worship offered that it doesn't matter so much for him now, but he cares deeply about the world in which his grandchildren live.

I realize that every year I work a little harder preparing for Earth Sunday and Creation Time and feel that I can't possibly do the subject justice. But I will keep trying. I will also seek the hope and joy which is so central to our Christian faith.

Are you discouraged or encouraged as people of faith who care about creation? Does it matter whether we shape our worship of God to reflect our care for creation?

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Courage 3.0

The Christian Century magazine just featured a Canadian artist named Tim Okamura. The brief review offers that Okamura "saints" those who live in urban settings which may seem neglected, marginal, disruptive.  The images speak of honour, strength, integrity. The artist often included graffit as a kind of calligraphy in his work. He now lives in Brooklyn, New York, so this is his world.

This painting is called Courage 3.0 and I immediately saw Madonna and Child despite the contemporary setting and a person of colour as the mother. Maybe it's similar to the novels which offer us another perspective on a story so steeped in tradition we struggle to see or hear them any more. I want to be constantly awake to the meaning of Christ in my life, not lulled by familiarity. As I said a couple of days ago, I don't want irreverence, but I'm not keen on false piety either.

Does this depiction intrigue or jar you? Would it be offensive to hang it in a church? Could it be an object of devotion or spiritual focus?

Friday, September 28, 2012

Nowhere But Up

Pop heart-throb Justin Bieber's mom, Pattie Mallette, has written a biography at the advanced age of 37. Some would say that no one would care about her life story if it weren't for the Biebs and really, what has she accomplished at this point in her life.

Still, hers is a story not only of survival but renewal despite a miserable early life. Her dad was gone by the time she was two, and she suffered through sexual abuse, rape, and a teen pregnancy. Drugs led to depression and a suicide attempt. She was advised to have an abortion but she chose another path which has resulted in yet another teen idol.

Along the way Pattie became a Christian, although that hasn't been a straightforward path either.  In her words:

“It’s definitely a lifelong process. The journey of my faith is not in a neat tidy bow. It’s a little messy, and it’s raw and it’s real, but that was my experience. In sharing my faith I’m not necessarily preaching or telling people how they should do it. I’m just sharing my experience and what got me through.”

You know, we could be cynical or dismissive, but the stories of real people who manage to overcome hardship are important. And I think we mainline church folk can miss the importance of the "born anew", nowhere-but-up  possibilities of our faith. I'm not going to buy her book, or read it, but I'm happy for her. She has actually raised a decent kid who does a lot for others, even if I don't have much time for his music.

Any thoughts about this? I know some of you have tweens and teens who are amongst the throngs of fans.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Unholy Night

A former St. Paul's family, now living in Sudbury, came to worship with us this summer. It was great to see them, and the young teen son had a novel with him and we chatted about it the author before the service. I'm fairly sure it was the one pictured above called Unholy Night. The author Seth Grahame-Smith has also written Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, which of course you have all read, right? The Lincoln book is now a motion picture.

Back to Unholy Night. I couldn't resist when I saw it at the library. It is about the birth of Jesus, although the three "Wise" Men are actually Con Men, thieves, brigands who narrowly escape death at the hands of Herod. By accident rather than choice they come upon the Holy Family in Bethlehem and are part of their flight to Egypt. There is a magus (singular of magi) but he is a bad guy. Nuff said, except that the biblical stuff is downright reverent, with quotes from scripture at the beginning of each chapter. Warning -- this is a fairly violent, swashbuckly book, but I found it entertaining.

How do you feel about writers taking artistic license with the original biblical stories, especially those about Jesus? Some book club members didn't like Anne Rice (hey, another vampire writer!) messing with the story in Road to Cana. I don't mind, within limits.


Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Tree Day

And when ye shall come into the land, and shall have planted all manner of trees for food, then ye shall count the fruit thereof as forbidden; three years shall it be as forbidden unto you; it shall not be eaten. And in the fourth year all the fruit thereof shall be holy, for giving praise unto the LORD. But in the fifth year may ye eat of the fruit thereof...
Leviticus 19:23-25

It grieved me to suggest to the Manse Committee that a tree be taken down on the property. An ancient lilac stood against the east side of the house, overhanging the neighbours' driveway and car. I have wondered when it was going to topple onto their vehicle and they must have shared those thoughts because they lopped off some of the branches which were most precarious. Quickly a team came to cut down this tree which was still blooming profusely when we came to Bowmanville, but not in the past couple of years. We discovered after it came down that the trunk was hollow and our concerns were justified, but it was still a sad moment. The house is about 140 years old. How long has that tree been its companion? At least we planted a lilac in the back yard several years ago and it is now taller than me.

Today is National Tree Day in Canada, may come as a surprise to you. I wondered how I have missed this occasion in the past. It's because there wasn't a National Tree Day until 2011, so we are just getting underway. The Americans began Arbour Day way back  in 1872 with the planting of a million trees, but it really took off during the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt in the early 1900's.

I like that Judaism has a holiday in February called Tu Bishvat, New Year of the Trees. Traditionally people eat dried fruit and almonds, so I'm thinking that they eat after they walk in the woods or take a tree product with them -- a roll of toilet paper! It has become an environmental day in recent years, which makes sense. You may be aware that this has been a tough year for apple growers in the province because of early blossoming and a killer frost.

I love trees and Bowmanville has some magnificent urban trees in the older part of town. We have taken lots of people to see the stately beeches and massive oak on Beech St. and I hope we never take trees for granted. They are, for me, a gift from God.

Tell me about your relationships with trees. Are you glad that there is a National Tree Day? Have you planted trees along the way? Will you go on a drive to enjoy Fall colours?

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Don't Payback?

After listening to the news yesterday I went to the library and checked out Margaret Atwood's book Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth. This little volume contains her CBC Massey Lectures exploring debt as a central motif in religion, literature and culture in general.

In the book Ms. Atwood mentions her Sunday School background and repeating Christ's prayer which in her instance included the words "forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors." This is often interpreted as a spiritual debt, but she pokes around in the moral implications of debt and debt forgiveness.

She also points out elsewhere that prior to the invention of credit cards in the early 1950's debt represented just over 50% of income but has grown to over 100%. In one of the reports I heard yesterday it is more like 150%, and that is non-mortgage debt. Because of the current low interest rates Canadians are viewing borrowing as a financial strategy, which to me is a dangerous house of cards just waiting for a puff of wind to blow it over.  It feels like buying an item I don't really need, and for which I don't have the money, because it is 50% off. But that may well be what people are doing.

The Bard of Avon has one character offering this advice to his offspring "Neither a borrower nor a lender be; For loan oft loses both itself and friend." So much for that antiquated notion. Borrowing has literally become a way of life for many people. The shadow side of borrowing and debt is bankruptcy, once akin to embezzlement. Not any more, and the stigma seems to have largely dissipated.

Well, I ramble on. What do think about our debt-laden culture? Is "paying as you go" just old-fashioned? Is there a moral aspect to all this? Need a loan?

Monday, September 24, 2012

Paying Attention

I am back from a five kilometre walk around Second Marsh in Oshawa. It takes me down the dike to the west, along the beach, and back through some open fields, then woods. At this time of year the native cattails and invasive elephant grass can make it difficult to see the water.

I came to a vantage point at the moment a kingfisher was hovering high over the water before a plunge, a northern harrier (marsh hawk) glided by at eye level on silent wings, and a blue heron was poised intently in the marsh. It was a remarkable confluence of concentrating creatures, all incredible focussed on feeding. While I had my camera, this was not an occurrence I could capture except in my own awareness. The image below is by someone named Ralph Hocken.

I don't find it easy to be attentive this days. The expectations and distractions are manifold, and it is not unusual to get to the end of a day without any real stillpoint. I think it is poet Mary Oliver who offers that attention is a form of prayer, but she isn't the first. The mystics of different religions, including Christianity, have all known this and devoted themselves to this spiritual practice of attention.

Are you able to find the stillpoints in your life? Do you think we are becoming increasingly distracted by the "smart" devices that can't make us wise? Any attentive moments for you lately?

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Farewell to the Beav

There has been a lot in the media in the last couple of days about to the newly released Census 2011 results. There was a "centre fold" spread in the Globe and Mail on the nature of Canadians households and it was certainly food for thought.

So much for the Leave it to Beaver Cleaver family of the fifties and sixties, which may not have existed anyway,There are a growing number of one-person households, which makes sense as many younger people defer the traditions of marriage and family. There are more multigenerational households, in part because of immigrants. Two-thirds of our 9.3 million familes are headed by married couples, but there are far more blended families with all their challenges.

I read this and wonder about what this means for the church. We are attempting to address that growing number of elderly one-person households through pastoral support. We recognize that children may be at church every other week -- or less-- because their time is divided between two households. I am aware that one devoted dad drives to southwestern Ontario every other weekend to pick up his daughter and includes her in our Sunday School. This is all part of the new normal and we can ignore it, be overwhelmed by it, or embrace it. The truth is though that it is work to keep up as the church.

Somehow we figure out how the love of Christ is present in all these circumstances within our faith community. A reader told me recently that one of her daughters noted that their household is really different because they spend time together, care for others, and love one another. This is a three-generation household with a single parent because of the untimely death of the dad. They are certainly a Christian family, and this is what we want to nourish.

Any thoughts about the changing face of our Canadian households? What about yours? What can we do to be creative about this in our church family?

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Why Evangelicals Hate Jesus

The title above comes from an article in the Huffington Post co-authored by Phil Zuckerman and Dan Cady. Provocative to be sure, but intriguing. I'll let the writers speak for themselves:

The results from a recent poll published by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life reveal what social scientists have known for a long time: White Evangelical Christians are the group least likely to support politicians or policies that reflect the actual teachings of Jesus. It is perhaps one of the strangest, most dumb-founding ironies in contemporary American culture.

Evangelical Christians, who most fiercely proclaim to have a personal relationship with Christ, who most confidently declare their belief that the Bible is the inerrant word of God, who go to church on a regular basis, pray daily, listen to Christian music, and place God and His Only Begotten Son at the center of their lives, are simultaneously the very people most likely to reject his teachings and despise his radical message.Jesus unambiguously preached mercy and forgiveness. These are supposed to be cardinal virtues of the Christian faith. And yet Evangelicals are the most supportive of the death penalty, draconian sentencing, punitive punishment over rehabilitation, and the governmental use of torture.

Jesus exhorted humans to be loving, peaceful, and non-violent. And yet Evangelicals are the group of Americans most supportive of easy-access weaponry, little-to-no regulation of handgun and semi-automatic gun ownership, not to mention the violent military invasion of various countries around the world. Jesus was very clear that the pursuit of wealth was inimical to the Kingdom of God, that the rich are to be condemned, and that to be a follower of Him means to give one's money to the poor.

And yet Evangelicals are the most supportive of corporate greed and capitalistic excess, and they are the most opposed to institutional help for the nation's poor -- especially poor children. They hate anything that smacks of "socialism," even though that is essentially what their Savior preached. They despise food stamp programs, subsidies for schools, hospitals, job training -- anything that might dare to help out those in need. Even though helping out those in need was exactly what Jesus urged humans to do.

In short, Evangelicals are that segment of America which is the most pro-militaristic, pro-gun, and pro-corporate, while simultaneously claiming to be most ardent lovers of the Prince of Peace.What's the deal?

This doesn't surprise me in some respects. This rings true from a number of conversations I have had with what I would say are usually evangelical males. They often strike me as smiters rather than lovers -- a pretty testy bunch.

I should add that some of the most loving, generous and Christ-filled people I have ever met are theologically conservative. And a lot of liberal Christians are so vague about their faith it's a challenge to find God in it at all.

What is your reaction to reading this? Defamation or confirmation? Is there a middle ground between vague faith and angry faith?

Friday, September 21, 2012

Mrs. Jesus

Holy Da Vinci Code! Was there  actually a Mrs. Jesus? Nope. That might sound like a blunt statement from someone who likes to keep the door open to possibilities, but honestly it is incredibly unlikely. The latest kerfuffle over a fragment of a fourth century document has me rolling my eyes. The media loves this stuff, and there are some scholars who are quite self-serving when it comes to seeking attention for "discoveries." I should add though that the person who found this fragment was quick to say that it doesn't prove anything, but who listens?

I got a kick out of the news reader for Global who spoke of the possibility of a Mrs. Christ. "Christ" is not a last name but an ascription. Christians believe Jesus was and is the Christ, the Messiah. It ain't the family name.

All this said, it raises an interesting question. How would our faith have been different if Jesus had been married? In Judaism the expectation was and is that men will marry, and life-long celibacy as a sign of spiritual devotion has never been seen as desirable.

When we discussed Anne Rice's Christ the Lord: The Road to Cana last Saturday we explored the portrayal of Jesus' emotional connection to a young woman named Avigail. Rice approaches this with great respect, but it does invite us to ask whether Jesus, both human and divine, the embodiment of God's love, could have fallen in love with another human being. I figure that the answer is yes, but that he chose another path of faithfulness.

Here are some interesting questions and responses about this supposed find.

What do you think? Is is disrespectful to even ponder Jesus as someone who could have married, with all the implications? Do you think your faith would be different if there had been a Mrs. Jesus? Wait for the papyrus about the Jesus kids!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Getting Very, Very Stupid

Aha! It was only a matter of time before this damning evidence came to light. In response to his major outbreak of foot-in-mouth disease, Mitt Romney has released a transcript from a speech made in 1998 in which Barack Obama shares some scary notions. He suggests that society needs to come up with a plan to “structure government systems that pool resources and hence facilitate some redistribution, because I actually believe in redistribution, at least at a certain level, to make sure that everybody’s got a shot.”

Obviously President Obama is one of the three C's; a Communist (bad), a Canadian (worse), or --horror of horrors -- a Christian. This sounds suspiciously like something that Jesus guy spouted. Just think about that crazy parable about The Good Samaritan.

While we're trying to sort out the president's alarming statements, albeit from 14 years ago when he wasn't an elected anything, listen to Randy Newmans new song, which I assure you is satirical.

Oh yes, the photo above. Mr. Romney appears to be hypnotizing an audience saying "you are getting very, very stupid."

Reactions? Questions which can't possibly have a sensible answer?

Down to Earth

Ah, we were so idealist and earnest once upon a time. A while ago we searched out a package of posters created by the then-boyfriend of a close friend for what you can see was called the Down to Earth Festival. He gave us a set of the posters and they have languished in a folder for nearly 35 years. We chose three which we thought were best, although they are all pretty good. As you can see, the organizers planned seminars to pretty much save the world, and all for four dollars a day! Each sidebar is different, and it was certainly ambitious. Rather clever too, to connect it all to nursery rhymes.  

There was no talk of climate change back then, no melting glaciers and island nations threatened by rising waters. The pervasive use of plastic wasn't creating massive rafts of junk in the oceans and wide-spread drought wasn't pushing up world food prices. But lots of us believed in a better world and some of us were passionate about it all because we were Christians.

I'm curious to know what you think about what has happened through the decades, especially because we are in the midst of Creation Time.  We are better informed, but are we so overwhelmed by our information that we figure we don't have a prayer? Or are we still fighting the good fight for our sake, for future generations, and for God's sake?

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Let's Talk About It

We met on Saturday morning to discuss Anne Rice's novel about Jesus, Christ the Lord: the Road to Cana. There were 15 of us, men and women, younger and older, regulars and newcomers. I was at the church by 7:30 which is not usually Plan A for a Saturday morning, but when everyone arrived by 9:00 I was ready to roll.

The discussion was very worthwhile, and as always individuals offered observations and insights which just hadn't occurred to me. I would like to think I was well prepared, but I was only part of the picture. After we were done one newcomer who hadn't said anything came up and offered a wonderful perspective about Jesus maintaining the attitude of stillness in the midst of turmoil throughout the novel. In a way this is a key insight about the Jesus of the gospels and more worthwhile than anything I had to offer. I wish she had shared it with the group!

This is the great thing about study and discussion groups. We have smart, wise, spiritual folk in our congregation and we learn from each other and from God. Today we resume morning bible study and I look forward to hearing from the "usual suspects" and those who will join us for the first time?

Any thoughts about Saturday morning or our Wednesday study group? About study/discussion groups? Are you going to join us?

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Take Back the Slut Walk?

This evening the annual Take Back the Night walk will wend its way along the main street of Bowmanville as a visible reminder that women should be able to walk the streets of any community at any time without fear. My wife Ruth will be involved because she is an outreach counsellor for Bethesda House, the shelter for women and children at risk situated in Bowmnanville. Take Back the Night walks are now venerable institutions in many communites having started 32 years ago. There are speakers on issues such as domestic violence and human trafficking and men are now invited to participate.

One of the Toronto walks happened Saturday evening and among the speakers were founders of the Slut Walk march which began in Toronto after a police officer advised a group of women that if they wanted to remain safe they should refrain from dressing like sluts. The outrage prompted the first Slut Walk and the theme has been picked up in cities around the world.

Ruth and I have talked several times about Slut Walks and as you can imagine she supports the premise that women don't "ask for it" by their dress. At the same time the language and the sexualized, in-your-face demonstrations make us both uncomfortable. They seem to be parodies based on sexual stereotypes, at least to me. I won't speak for Ruth, but as I have written before, I struggle with the notion that freedom for either gender is associated with sexual expression without what we used to quaintly call modesty. I cringe when I see small children (girls) strutting in make-up for beauty pageants or hear of pole dancing classes for tweens (girls.) Is this what we all hoped for with equality for the sexes?

I am convinced that Jesus believed it equality which was based on dignity, mutual respect, the ability to recognize gifts in others. Stories such as the Woman at the Well and the Woman Accused of Adultery challenged the prejudices and oppression of his time.

Have I missed something here? What are your thoughts? Have you ever walked in a Take Back the Night evening?

Monday, September 17, 2012

Let the Shofar Sound!

Rosh Hashanah, the two-day Jewish holiday began last evening. The shofar, the ram's horn was blown to signify the celebration of God's creation of Adam and Eve. Rosh Hashana is both a new beginning and a time of repentance. One of the ways the holiday is celebrated is with a prayer which is to be said near a body of water. It can be a river or lake, but even a cistern or rain barrel will do in a pinch.

Who is a God like You, Who bears iniquity and ignores transgression for the remnant of His chosen people! He does not retain His anger forever for He desires to be benevolent. He will again show compassion and will subdue our sins and cast all of their transgressions into the depths of the sea!

I wonder if we can take this to heart as Christians while we move through Creation Time. We know we need to repent of our foolish ways when it comes to our abuse and misuse of the world around us. At the same time we can commit ourselves to a new beginning, a change of heart.

Blowing a horn gets people's attention. I wonder what the equivalent of blowing the shofar might be in terms of creation care? How do we get people's attention and stir them to action in the midst of indifference and self-interest?

Any thoughts all you Adams and Eves?

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Rivers of Life?

Today is the second Sunday in Creation Time and we will be pondering water as a practical and sacred presence in our lives. Water is holy and sacramental in most religions, a recognition that it is a precious gift from God. I will begin my sermon by speaking about the Jordan river, which has become essentially an open sewer by the time it reaches the place where Jesus was baptized. As it enters the Dead Sea it is at about two percent of its natural flow.

Earlier last week photos emerged from China of the Yangtze river which has turned mysteriously red, as you can see above. While there is a biblical overtone to the story, it is likely the result of industrial pollution whose source has yet to be discovered. This happened overnight and scientists are baffled.

 Why is it that when we know water is essential to our existence we are so reckless in the way we treat it. We may think we are better at protecting our waters but our daughter-in-law is a freshwater ecologist looking at the quality of the water flowing out of a Unesco biosphere reserve called Mont St. Hilaire in Quebec. Eventually these pristine streams flow into the Richilieu river which is one of the most polluted in Canada.

I will also tell the congregation that efforts are being made in communities along the lower Jordan to restore the river, even though it is a huge challenge. Change can happen, person by person.

Could you name the watershed we are a part of in Bowmanville, or where you live? Do you know the source of your drinking water? Would you drink directly from any stream or lake where you are? Any other observations or comments?

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Love (and song) Lifted Me

How strange and wonderful that we can now do things such as downloading a movie to a tablet, then take it just about anywhere to watch. We huddled around our little screen with son and daughter-in-law while at a cottage a couple of weeks ago. We were watching Bernie starring Jack Black and Shirley McLean and while the screen was small, the laughs were big.

This is based on a true story and Black plays Bernie,a small-town Texas funeral director who is well-loved but ends up in what is a tragic relationship with an older and richer woman. Somehow this rather serious tale is told with humour, and Black manages to dial down his usual manic acting to offer a wonderful performance. And of course the guy can sing. Here though he is warbling gospel music at church and funerals and as he drives along in his car. The scene above with Bernie singing as he is on his way to work is worth the movie alone.

All summer our senior choir sang an anthem each week and it was such a positive and uplifting aspect of worship. This past Thursday was the first choir practice of the Fall and the children's choir will get going soon. Young or not-so-young, choir or congregant, music can be a powerful expression. Praise is an essential part of the life of faith. Bernie's boss in the film reminisces "he sang like an angel" and there is something heavenly about music.

Are you a shower or automobile singer?  Does praise matter for you, as a singer or listener? Have you seen Bernie?

Friday, September 14, 2012

Chicken and Egg

Reader Lori let me know she was looking for my new Groundling blog which will explore themes of faith and the environment. It just wasn't showing up when she did a search. I suppose that saying that this is a "chicken and egg" situation is appropriate given that the blog is about creation.
Until Groundling has been searched out a certain number of times it doesn't show up in a search engine But if you can't find it, how does that work? Because I look at least daily to see who is reading it now comes up in Google. But the first few times I had to go back to that first blog entry when I announced it. While I get over 200 page views a day for Lion Lamb, I got about 25 for Groundling. Slow but steady...
Here is the link: Maybe we will link in on the St. Paul's webpage.

Do Cheaters Prosper?

I listened to an interview with film-maker Daniel Gordon who is in Toronto for TIFF with his new documentary 9.79. was the extraordinary time recorded by Canadian Ben Johnson in the 100 metre dash at the Seoul Olympics of 1988. Many of us can recall cheering wildly as Johnson defeated a shocked looking Carl Lewis, the arrogant American runner. Of course, what seemed to be too good to be true was. Johnson was stripped of his gold medal after testing positive for performance enhancing drugs and Lewis was the recipient.
Not only was Johnson shamed, so was Canada. There was a soul-searching inquiry where cheaters were revealed and blame accepted, at least in this country. But not elsewhere, even though it is likely that virtually everyone in that race, including Lewis, was "juiced." Lewis actually tested positive at several times in his career but always managed to avoid censure.
This film is timely because nearly a quarter of a century later athletes were stripped of medals or sent home from the London Olympics this summer. Cyclist extraordinaire Lance Armstrong had his seven Tour de France wins revoked and was banned from competitive racing (the latter hardly a punishment.) A couple of high profile baseball players were suspended for drug use during the summer, and another superstar acquitted but still under a cloud of suspicion.
There is an old adage that "cheaters never prosper. Well, apparently they do, or at least attempt to profit from cheating. We can only surmise that many cheaters get away with their hijinks. Unfortunately this all undermines the legitimate accomplishments of the majority.
I wonder what is worse, the athletes who cheat, or the culture that idolizes the very best, at any cost.  Being an athletic winner can bring considerable fame and fortune. We tend to turn a blind eye to those who break the rules in order to perpetuate the image of the superstar.
One of the Ten Commandments prohibits idolatry. Surely we need to revisit this commandment and ask whether willingly collude in creating idols who will do anything to be the best.


Thursday, September 13, 2012

Ruth Goldbloom and Pier 21

Reader Janet reminded me recently that Ruth Goldbloom, a driving force behind the creation of the Pier 21 museum in Halifax, had died at the age of 88. Pier 21 was the place where about one million arrived from around the world to begin a new life in Canada. Pier 21 was derelict for years until Goldbloom and others set to work raising funds for the museum.
There is a very personal connection for our family because my Ruth's mother arrived at Pier 21 as a war bride. The museum was opening just as we moved to Halifax in 1999. Ruth was curious as to where her mother arrived in Canada so began rummaging in a box of old diaries. Sure enough, she found an entry in which her mother described the ship coming into harbour to the strains of O Canada and Here Comes the Bride played by a Salvation Army band. My mother was also an immigrant from Britain and at Pier 21 found the online ledger listing her entry at age three at Quebec City.
Of course we visited the museum shortly after we moved to Halifax. We were struck by the remarkable work done by various Christian organizations to welcome immigrants and provide for them in practical ways. In scripture there are many passages which uphold the importance of welcoming the alien and the stranger, to move beyond suspicion and hostility to hospitality.
God bless Ruth Goldbloom and all those who practiced hospitality.
Should churches become more engaged in welcoming the stranger, at every level? Are we too suspicious of the "alien?" Other thoughts?

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Beyond Fear

In life, in death, in life beyond death, God is with us
We are not alone. thanks be to God. New Creed
Yesterday I was home for lunch and listened to a phone-in with a psychologist who has written a book about her work with children, drawing on their imaginations to essentially create a positive path through their psychological challenges. It sounds as though this approach has been successful in her practice.
A number of the parents calling in spoke of anxiety issues with their children, including a mother whose child has developed a powerful fear of death. Over the years many parents have approached me, shaken because a happy child has suddenly become anxious about death. Sometimes it is related to the death of a human loved one or a pet. Often though it is an unconnected awakening to the reality that everything and everyone eventually dies. We talk, I share resources and encourage prayer.
I read an article over the summer in which the writer, a pastor, suggests that participating in worship prepares us for our own mortality as we become aware of the deaths of others. I think this is true. On the same Sunday when we light the Christ candle and announce a birth we may also share news about a death. Everyone, including the children hear this. Often they have known the person who has died. As I have said before, when my kids were young I would take them to the funeral home when a member to whom they were not close died. This way they learned of the solemnity of death and also heard of our resurrection promise in Christ.
All this said, I still have my moments of bleak awareness that this life comes to an end. Yes, I believe in the life to come, but as a minister "I see dead people all the time" to quote from The Sixth Sense. The news of the death of a beloved congregation member can still hit like the proverbial ton of bricks. Actually, I headed from lunch yesterday to the cemetery where I did the commital for someone I did not know. I knew that this would be a poignant moment for the family jjust the same.
Does it help to be part of a faith community when a loved one dies? Have you found yourself addressing anxiety over death with a child? Does the prospect of your death give you the willies? Christ be with you.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Road to Cana

I'm up for leadership at the monthly book group at St. Paul's this Saturday morning. I get to choose the book without any criteria and this time I decided on a novel by the vampire queen Anne Rice. Rice returned to the Roman Catholicism of her early days, although she has since left that denomination because she can't abide its stances on homosexuality and women.

No vampires on Saturday though. We will be discussing The Road to Cana which is Rice's imaginative portrait of the adult Jesus. Her first novel on Christ's life, Out of Egypt, was about his childhood and it was okay, in my opinion, but not great. Road to Cana is better, more thought-provoking. Rice is good at interweaving here interpretation of the "gaps" in the limited narrative we get from the gospels with the story as told in the New Testament. The gospels were never intended to be biographies, so most of what we find there focuses on the roughly three years of Jesus' ministry with very little of the rest of his 33-year life. Even those estimates of  ministry and lifespan are really that --estimates.

Rice's portrayal of Jesus' encounter with Satan in the wilderness is quite unusual and readable.

There is still time to read the novel (it isn't heavy) so please join us. Have you read it, or Rice's other Jesus novel? Do you wish the gospels had given us more of Jesus' life story? Are you coming to the conversation? Free breakfast!

Monday, September 10, 2012

No Church in the Wild

I was listening to my men Jay Z and Kanye and thinking about the meaning behind their song No Church in the Wild. Okay, truth be told, I never listen to either one of these guys , but I did check out the song because there has been a fair about of theological reflection on its content. I have to admit it's catchy. "Catchy" is definitely an old guy term.

Amongst the lyrics I'm willing to print are:

[Frank Ocean]Human beings in a mob
What’s a mob to a king?
What’s a king to a god?
What’s a god to a non-believer?
Who don’t believe in anything?

We make it out alive
All right, all right
No church in the wild

Tears on the mausoleum floor
Blood stains the coliseum doors
Lies on the lips of a priest
Thanksgiving disguised as a feast
Rollin’ in the Rolls-Royce Corniche
Only the doctors got this, I’m hidin’ from police
Cocaine seats
All white like I got the whole thing bleached
Drug dealer chic
I’m wonderin’ if a thug’s prayers reach
Is Pious pious cause God loves pious?
Socrates asks, “Whose bias do y’all seek?”
All for Plato, screech
I’m out here ballin’, I know y’all hear my sneaks
Jesus was a carpenter, Yeezy, laid beats
Hova flow the Holy Ghost, get the hell up out your seats
Not being the sharpest knife in the drawer, the impression I get is that it is a jungle out there, and religion is corrupt, and there ain't no church in the wild. And are they saying that they are gods?  If this is accurate -- correct me if I'm wrong -- the song is a bit of an endorsement of anarchy and everybody for him or her self.

I don't believe that and I still feel that religion at its best draws people into a community where worshipping God inspires them to be their collective best. Even counter cultural movements such as Occupy support that notion and religious groups got on board.

Enlighten me if I've got this all wrong. Do you know this song or spoken with anyone about it? A good topic for a study group?

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Creation Time --Tweet!

I received a tweet -- yup, a tweet-- from the United Church of Canada asking if our congregation celebrated Creation Time, a five week period during the Season of Pentecost to give thanks to the Creator, along with considering our responsibility to be good stewards and co-citizens with all creatures. Perhaps Twitter is the proper venue to ask the question since we tweet, tweeted our responses.
I answered yes, and noted that we do so in Worship, Sunday School, and Bible Study. We even have specially designed bulletin covers, thanks to our daughter Jocelyn who is a graphic designer. Even though I only had 140 characters to work with I was pleased that I could respond in this way.
This year we are addressing the themes of Fire, Water, Earth, and Air which are the elements of the First Nations Medicine Wheel. All these themes can be supported scripturally in both Older and Newer Testaments.
I have found Creation Time a challenge in the relatively few years we have been observing it. We are people of the Good News in Christ and speaking about the state of the planet can be rather grim. Somehow we must find the balance between repentance and celebration. But I do believe we can make a difference if we trust that God is with us and that "this is God's wondrous world."
Are you glad we observe Creation Time, or are you bemused by this new focus?

Saturday, September 08, 2012


In my other blog, Groundling, I mentioned that I was dismayed to hear Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney mock Barack Obama because the president wants to address rising sea levels and heal the planet, as though these were foolish goals.
I must say that I got a bit queasy Thursday evening as several Democrat speakers bragged about killing Osama Bin Laden to the roar of approval from the audience. Don't get me wrong. Bin Laden lived by the sword and died by the sword. He was a reprehensible and dangerous human being. Still, it all seemed rather bloodthirsty in the land where Jesus is invoked regularly but not always followed. It was Jesus, after all, who stopped his disciples from violence the night of his arrest and was the source of those words about living and dying by the sword.
The idea was to prove to people that the president is a decisive Commander-in-Chief and that he succeeded where others failed. I am not naive about evil in the world and the need to address it at times. It just had more of the feel of gladiators in the Colisseum than disciples at the Sermon on the Mount.
Did anyone else feel this way?

Friday, September 07, 2012


The movie stars are arriving in Toronto for TIFF, the international film festival which is second only to Cannes in the firmament of festivals.
There are over 300 films to be seen and our daughter Jocelyn can attest to that staggering figure. As one of the graphic designers for TIFF she laboured long into the evenings and early mornings of August to prepare the massive film guide for the festival.
We have tickets for the film Kon-tiki which shows Saturday evening. As a twelve-year-old I read Norwegian Thor Heyerdahl's recounting of his epic 1947 journey across the Pacific on a balsa wood raft in the book The Kon-tiki Expedition. It was a powerful, real-life, story of adventure and courage. Hererdahl's goal was to prove that Polynesians could have made this 8,000 kilometre crossing.
It has got me thinking of that spirit of discovery which has motivated explorers and adventurers through the centuries. Some were motivated by the prospect of treasure, others by fame. Some of the most adventurous were Christians who set out to share the gospel in lands unknown. The Jesuits made their way around the globe, including Canada.
Sadly, many of those expeditions were extensions of imperial power rather than attempts to make Christ known in a spirit of respect and mutual understanding. The film The Mission does a masterful job of showing the dark side of those attempts, alongside the sincerity and conviction of some. When the United Church apologized to First Nations peoples it acknowledged confusing culture and the gospel.
Kon-tiki may be the only film we see, but something tells me that a few of you will be taking in lots of the movies and maybe doing some star spotting. So far Joc hasn't seen any celebs.
Will you be heading to Toronto for any screenings? What sort of films do you enjoy?

Thursday, September 06, 2012

Jeopardy with a Halo

A St. Paul's member enthused to me about a new quiz show called The American Bible Challenge which has good 'ol boy comedian Jeff Foxworthy as a host. The program is on a channel we don't get but I checked it out online.

Foxworthy is always affable and the bible-answering teams of three are decent evangelical Christians vying to win money for worthwhile charities. They seem to spend a lot of time telling us about the contestants rather than asking the bible questions, but I'm quibbling.

Folk seem to do fairly well with the straightforward questions, a sort of Jeopardy with a halo. Surveys regularly show that not only is our society becoming less biblically literate, so are Christians of every flavour. But it should always be more than simple factual knowledge. The bible is a challenging, sometimes confounding, deeply inspiring collection of books written over centuries. It is remarkable that we can simply open it and find meaning but it helps to be able to go deeper, to understand the complexities and subtleties.

We gained several newcomers to our daytime bible study last year and they commented along the way about their fear of "taking the plunge," The brave ones admitted that for all the years they had attended church, they were only now getting a sense of the bigger picture.

That's great! It takes courage to be vulnerable, and I can only trust that the benefit is greater than the cost. Join us in the morning as we resume on September 19th. And consider one of our other study groups offered in the evening through the year.

Do you feel awkward about your biblical knowledge? Do you think it would help your faith journey to be better informed? Have you watched The American Bible Challenge?

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

What Was I Thinking?

I have decided that I am a glutton for punishment. Apparently keeping up with one blog isn't enough for me, so I am launching another with a particularly focus -- the Creator and creation. So often I choose to limit blog entries which are Creator/creation oriented for the sake of balance. I won't post as often, but I hope you will check Groundling as well. I hope the Beginnings entry will 'splain things.

Oh yes, the "groundlings" above are participants in a mud carnival in Brazil. Those Brazilians know how to have fun.

O Canada?

There have been a number of occasions where I have expressed my gratitude to God for the beauty and security of this great country, Canada. Invariably you respond, often eloquently, offering your own appreciation.
No doubt we all watched and wondered last night and this morning as we followed the results of the election in the province of Quebec. I was particularly interested because our son, Isaac, and his wife, Rebekah, are bilingual Anglophones living in the Eastern Townships of Quebec. The community they are in was once more than half English-speaking. Now it is about 15%. Isaac is a United Church minister serving a congregation which is a last vestige of that Anglophone population and in worship he includes some French out of respect for the Francophones who are now part of the congregation.
I will call them later today to get their read on last night's narrow victory by the separatist Parti Quebecois. Pauline Marois and the PQ barely made it into power over the incumbent federalist Liberals. In her victory speech Marois tacitly acknowledged that the electorate voted for a change, but not for her separatist agenda. She even offered an olive branch, in English, to the Anglophones of the province.
Of course, the shootings which took place at her headquarters caste a terrible pall over the election.
As proud Canadians, what is your reaction to last night's results in Quebec? Do you think it changes much? The Aislin cartoon from 1976 does put the current situation in perspective. Does your Canada include Quebec?

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Back to School

My apology to readers who have been attempting to access this blog through our website or trying to contact any St. Paul's staff by email. Both have mysteriously disappeared over the weekend, but we're working on it! Of course I am just returning after a week away, so if you have been attempting to get in touch through email I haven't been able to read messages today.

Teachers and children are back to school this morning, which means that the many readers who are educators are busy with a new classroom of students or providing support in other ways. Education is an essential aspect of human development and we know that Sunday School was originally designed to teach children the Three R's in industrial Britain 250 year ago.

I have been mystified and annoyed that in the province of Ontario teachers have been portrayed as the enemy by the current government during this past summer. I get it that the province is financially strapped and that our teachers are among the best paid in the world and still have an extremely generous pension plan. But this government chose to pay them well in the first place, so why the adversarial approach, including creating a bill called the Putting Students First Act, as though teachers are suddenly enemies of our kids? This smacks of political oportunism.
I figure teachers will have to "take one for the team" in some key areas, but they should also be treated with respect. Our children score high by international standards in virtually every category, so the teachers must be doing something right.
What are your thoughts about all this on Back to School Tuesday?

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Exceptional Young Men

This weekend three young men from St. Paul's are heading to their respective universities to begin their post-secondary education. I have known Chris, Josh, and Jon since they were "wee bairns," all of them having grown up in the life of this congregation. All have contributed to the congregation in various ways. Chris and Jon have been members of the Loaves and Fishes music group while Josh taught Sunday School this past year. Jon has been very involved in presbytery and conference and both have provided leadership at Camp Lorraine, a United Church camp in Northern Ontario

I took Jon and Chris out for lunch not long ago to find out more about their university programs. For Christopher it is chemical engineering and for Jon it is film -- could these programs be much different?  At the end of our meal I told them that they are exceptional young men and will be missed, as will Josh.

Their parents have done a great job and of course they are fine guys in their own right. They are also a reminder that faith formation in a congregation matters. The Sunday School teachers, youth group leaders, Rev. Cathy and Laura all deserve credit for encouraging them in the Christian life.

Keep these three in your prayers. We will look forward to welcoming them back along the way.


Saturday, September 01, 2012


At the August meeting of General Council the subject of a pipeline called the Northern Gateway which would carry oil sands bitumen across British Columbia and through environmentally sensitive waters was addressed. Not surprisingly the United Church voted agin' it, although I'm reasonably sure Enbridge officials did not lose any sleep that night.
Those Enbridge folk do seem to be having some problems with geography though. A promotional video offers a map of BC with about 1000 kilometres of coastline missing. Some are saying this was a deliberate misrepresentation to minimize the picture of potential environmental damage. Who knows. A group has come up with a video which is meant to counter the pipeline propaganda. Take a look at the original and the response.