Sunday, April 29, 2012

Good Shepherd, Good Sheep

Today is Good Shepherd Sunday, an annual recognition of Christ as shepherd and all things sheepish. I really appreciate the Shepherd/Sheep imagery of scripture even though we are moving away from our agricultural roots and our individualistic mindset makes us a little contemptuous of the notion of being the sheep of anyone's pasture.

One of my colleagues commented earlier in the week: "I don't want to be a sheep, they're so stupid!" Researchers have realized that while sheep have a herd/flock mentality it doesn't mean the are dumb. I've share in sermons that one farmer in Britain was puzzled by the escape of his sheep from a fenced field with a cattle grate which should have kept them "taking it on the lamb." A video camera helped them discover that the sheep had figured out how to roll across the grate and get up on the other side. This sounds rather clever to me.

I consider myself to be a reasonably intelligent person, but my experience is that whether it is creative enterprises, or in musical expression, or in living out faith, being part of a flock is a good thing. I'm also humble enough, at least some of the time, to accept that having a Shepherd who seeks my highest good is better than me just wandering around in the wilderness.


Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Age-12 Bucket List

Last Sunday morning I brought a basket of "treasures" to show the children as part of our Earth Sunday celebration. Itsure was fun for me. Amongst the items were a really unusual sand dollar, a small conch shell, a piece of moose antler, and a whale's tooth. We didn't dwell on the demise of these various creatures. Instead they were very inventive in their attempts to identify them. Kids are wonderful and it is important to encourage them that they live in God's Wondrous World, as the hymn says.

Later I saw a list, as did reader Anne, of what one writer identifies as a sort of pre-adolescent Bucket List, the things every child should do before his or her twelfth birthday. In this day of Helicopter Parents hovering over children this may seem to be impossible and even irresponsible, but I like it. Sorry that it is compressed like this but it would go on forever otherwise. What do you think? What would you add?

1. Climb a tree 2. Roll down a really big hill 3. Camp out in the wild
4. Build a den 5. Skim a stone 6. Run around in the rain
7. Fly a kite 8. Catch a fish with a net 9. Eat an apple straight from a tree
10. Play conkers 11. Throw some snow 12. Hunt for treasure on the beach
13. Make a mud pie 14. Dam a stream 15. Go sledging
16. Bury someone in the sand 17. Set up a snail race 18. Balance on a fallen tree
19. Swing on a rope swing 20. Make a mud slide 21. Eat blackberries growing in the wild
22. Take a look inside a tree 23. Visit an island 24. Feel like you’re flying in the wind
25. Make a grass trumpet 26. Hunt for fossils and bones 27. Watch the sun wake up
28. Climb a huge hill 29. Get behind a waterfall 30. Feed a bird from your hand
31. Hunt for bugs 32. Find some frogspawn 33. Catch a butterfly in a net
34. Track wild animals 35. Discover what’s in a pond 36. Call an owl
37. Check out the crazy creatures in a rock pool38. Bring up a butterfly39. Catch a crab
40. Go on a nature walk at night 41. Plant it, grow it, eat it 42. Go wild swimming
43. Go rafting 44. Light a fire without matches 45. Find your way with a map and a compass
46. Try bouldering 47. Cook on a campfire 48. Try abseiling
49. Find a geocache 50. Canoe down a river.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Holy Land Christians

Sunday morning I chatted with members of the congregation who recently made a trip to Israel. It was a deeply meaningful faith experience, both in insights into the past, and a deepened awareness of the present. They had the opportunity to meet an Arab Christian leader who helped them understand the plight of Christians in Israel.  I too have talked with resident Christians while in Israel and heard their frustration over the "tarred with the same brush" approach of the government to their situation. While Arab Christians have no history of violence or sedition their lives are severely restricted, as though they were Islamist insurgents. Many live behind the security wall which has choked their livelihoods. The Christian population in Israel has been shrinking for decades as people leave out of frustration and a sense of discrimination. As readers will know, I strongly support the existence of the state of Israel. I don't support injustice toward minorities, particularly the Christian minority. It is ironic that in Bethlehem, the place of Christ's birth, his modern-day followers feel so beleaguered and are disappearing. The official stance is that it is Muslim militants who are causing this, but Christian leaders deny it.
Some of you may have seen the 60 Minutes segment on Sunday night which shows the enormous pressure exerted by both the American and Israeli governments on the media not to report this situation. Even the powerful 60 Minutes has felt the weight of censure for a feature that hadn't even been aired. Take a look and offer your thoughts.;cbsCarousel

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Let Them Drink Orange Juice

I can't help myself. I just have to express my thorough disgust at the news that "my" member of federal parliament, international development minister Bev Oda, charged excessive amounts to an expense account while in London, Great Britain. The five star hotel in which she was scheduled to lay her privileged head was not good enough for her, so she upgraded to the Savoy -- twice as expensive to all of us of course. And while she didn't have far to travel during her stay she chose to use an expensive limousine rather than anything as plebian as a taxi. Oh yes, there is the sixteen dollar glass of OJ.

Ms. Oda managed to be reelected in this riding despite lying about her part in cancelling funding for Kairos, a highly respected advocacy and support agency for international development in which our United Church participates. The cancellation of funding was incredibly mean-spirited on the part of the feds and the lies compounded the situation.Oda has now paid back her London excesses, but only after they came to light in an embarrassing fashion. What a piece of work. This is so wrong. A letter to the editor in the Globe and Mail pointed out that a two cent a day pill prevents blindness for a child in Africa but this government minister feels an extraordinary sense of entitlement. While Ms. Oda has apologized since the story broke, it's difficult to accept it as sincere.

Does anyone else think this stinks or am I just not turning my taxpayer's cheek?

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Born Again

President Richard Nixon was a nasty man surrounded by nasty minions. While best known for Watergate these henchman had a big bag of dirty tricks.  One of them was the clever Charles Colson who admitted he would run over his grandmother to fulfill his questionable responsibilities. As smart as he was he went down with the president and spent seven months in prison. To everyone's surprise he converted to evangelical Christianity and after his release he began a prison ministry which is stilll going strong. Colson also wrote a biography called Born Again which sold millions.

Colson died over the weekend at the age of 80. I really didn't care for Colson's theology which at times seemed to be too strongly connected to conservative American values -- surprise, surprise. I did admire that he turned his tenacity and intelligence to work with people who are the lepers of our society, those in prisons. Interesting that I would write twice about prisons this week for very different reasons.

Did any of you follow the Colson story through the years? Yes, I realize that a fair number of you weren't born during th Nixon era, but don't rub it in!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Bloggin' On

Thanks to Ian and Lori for giving some feedback on the new format for my blog. Blogger now offers fairly sophisticated stats on traffic for the blog, as well as a variety of templates.

I was somewhat surprised to discover that their are over 200 page views per day and that last month 6,000 people checked it out from all over the world. It's obvious that I get "drive by" reads from those searching a subject because I can also see the number of views of blogs from previous years. There have been over 100,000 views since I began a few years ago, but more than half have come in the past twelve months.

Once again I thank you for following this blog and once again I'll say that I always appreciate comments. I came into a room at the church recently where a meeting was taking place. They happened to be chatting about this blog and I discovered that three of them were readers I didn't previously know about. They commented that they feel a tad intimidated when it comes to responding, in part because of the thoughtful comments they read.

All I can say is, don't be shy! And I really want to know if this new format is readable and worth keeping.


Often those of us in mainline or "old line" churches will make comments about evangelicals as though we really know much about them and with the assumption that every person claiming evangelical faith is the same.
I appreciate alot of what issues from The New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good.

This organization was formed when the founder, Richard Cizik, was censured for what I felt were thoughtful and refreshing views on a number of subjects including caring for Creation.
The Partnership is also encouraging dialogue between religions.

They are offering a bumper sticker which is a variation on the What Would Jesus Do? trend of a few years ago. Instead of WWJD, the bumper sticker is WWJDA -- Who Would Jesus Discriminate Against?

Their description says:
We believe that when Jesus was asked, "What is the greatest commandment," we should listen to his answer - and take it very, very seriously. Here's a playful way of asking the most important question: "And who is my neighbor? (Luke 10:25)"
I like it.

What do you think? Would you stick one on your bumper?

Monday, April 23, 2012

The Pen

Please join me in being baffled by the federal government's announcement of the closure of maximum security Kingston Penitentiary. Haven't we been told that despite a falling crime rate the feds will spend billions on building new prisons? Granted, KP is one of the oldest prisons in the country --177 years old -- and parts of it feel downright medieval. It has been the place where many of the truly bad guys have been housed including Clifford Olsen and Paul Bernardo.

Believe it or not I feel some pangs of nostalgia over this closure. When I was doing my seminary training I spent four months in a chaplaincy internship at Kingston Pen and it was one of the most challenging and instructive periods of my life. It certainly shaped my faith and opened my eyes to the grim realities of the criminal justice system. Just about all those guys deserved to be in prison and some admitted to me that while they had been wrongfully convicted for one crime, they were involved in criminal acts at the time which would have resulted in greater sentences!

For more than 30 years I have been aware of the issues around conviction and incarceration. I saw firsthand that the poor and First Nations people are more likely to go to jail because they don't have the money to hire decent lawyers. I was aware of the desparation of many inmates who weren't notorious criminals and who must hide their fears from those around them. Institutions such as these need chaplains.

Farewell KP. Any observations?

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Earth Sunday

Last Monday evening we sat in our backyard and quickly became aware of the profusion of butterflies all around us. There were alot and they landed on our chairs and even the books we were reading. It turns out that they are Red Admirals and part of the biggest migration of this particular species in recorded history. While it seemed we had quite a few, one yard in southwest Ontario was visited by an estimated 20,000.
Hey I delight in butterflies in mid-April. But, yes, there is a catch. The unseasonably warm weather in the American south has probably pushed this early and huge migration and our early Spring has aided and abetted the process. And it may be that climate change is causing this anomaly. Personally I'll take it over the tree-munching beetles which are devastating forests in the Canadian west.
Why does it have to be so complicated! On this Earth Sunday which coincides with Earth Day I reaffirm that God's intention is for me to look on Creation and echo the repeated words of Genesis "it is good." That doesn't give me the right to abdicate responsibility for Earth care and responsible living.
What are your thoughts this Earth Sunday? Are you hopeful for the future of the planet? Can you still delight in the beauty around you?

Saturday, April 21, 2012


In the past couple of weeks I have been involved in conversations and email exchanges with three parents of children and young people who are going through difficult days. Which means that the parents are struggling as well. The parents are good people, attentive to their kids' needs but life can be hard and the parenting patterns and skills which work for one child don't always work for another. Those of us who are parents know full well that our different children can have remarkably different personalities!

As I listened to these parents and the emotion they are feeling I thought of the old expression "you're only as happy as your unhappiest child."

One father offered that there have been more Good Fridays than Easters recently. We can pray for all the parents of our Christian family in their very important roles.


Friday, April 20, 2012


Are you following the trial of the Christian terrorist, Anders Breivik, which is underway in Norway? Breivik is the cold-blooded murderer who bombed innocent people in Oslo, then slaughtered unsuspecting teens who were attending a camp. His actions were horrendous, he expresses no remorse, and he claims to be a Christian. We might argue otherwise. We could say he is a madman. Or that he has some twisted notion of faith to which he adheres and which does not resemble anything remotely Christian. Breivik says he is a member of the Knights Templar, a medieval order of crusaders long since defunct. Sure he is.
You might be offended that I would even call him a Christian terrorist but I point all this out because of what we often do with other religions. Extremists who claim a particular faith carry out despicable acts, so then it is tempting to characterize others who adhere to that faith as "all the same." It doesn't matter that those others are horrified or outraged by what has transpired. We may wonder why they aren't more vocal in their opposition to the acts of terror, but I don't think anyone expects me to speak from the pulpit decrying Anders Breivik. We all agree that what he did is cowardly and reprehensible and certainly not what we believe.
Are we guilty of stereotypes of other religions? Are some religions more inclined to extremism than others? I sometimes check myself from going down that road when I hear of an atrocity perpetrated by a supposed adherent of another religion. Do you see the comparison?

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Exploring Our Faith

This evening is week two of our Confirmation/Exploring Our Faith classes for the Spring of 2012. I was pleased with a turnout of fifteen last week, and with the composition of the group. There are seven teens, three in their thirties, one in her forties, and...up! That may sound like a challenge because of the range, but I really enjoy the diversity of a group of mixed ages. I figure out how to break up the teens because they know one another best. They were great last week at pairing with the adults for discussion.

We talked about Jesus and I appreciated how open people were, given the awkwardness of beginning as a group. I put up ten images of Jesus from different artistic perspectives, along with a Popular Mechanics (really) image created years ago using the best forensic evidence available about a first century Palestinian male. It was a way to invite conversation about Jesus who has been interpreted in so many ways through the centuries and must be interpreted today by Christians.

Some people liked more striking representations while others liked the image they grew up with in their church, even if he looked rather white and Caucasian. Sort of Jesus comfort food.

I loved it when one of the teens offered that her Jesus looked alot like Ashton Kutcher! And apparently someone else found a resemblance, as you can see above. It was the "out of the box" response that delighted me. I don't think for a moment she was trying to be irreverent, just candid. All in all I was really impressed by how willing the younger participants were to engage in faith talk. It speaks well for the excellent youth leaders we have been blessed with in recent years and this remarkable gang of young people.


Wednesday, April 18, 2012


Yesterday marked the 30th anniversary of the institution of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. I remember that historic moment as though it was yesterday, which is what geezers say! Today our Charter is a model used around the world and we should be proud as Canadians that it is so influential. Two American consitutional lawyers will be publishing a paper suggesting that our Canada has perhaps supplanted the U.S. as an exporter of constitutional law. High praise. In the event your knowledge of the charter is a little fuzzy it begins:
Whereas Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law:Guarantee of Rights and FreedomsRights and freedoms in Canada1. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the rights and freedoms set out in it subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.
(a) freedom of conscience and religion;
(b) freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression,
including freedom of the press and other media of communication;
(c) freedom of peaceful assembly; and
(d) freedom of association.
15. (1) Every individual is equal before and under the law and has the right to the equal protection and equal benefit of the law without discrimination and, in particular, without discrimination based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, age or mental or physical disability.
Honestly, I didn't know God showed up so quickly, although I was aware that fredom of religion is very important in the Charter. We probably all agree that this is a great nation and honouring the spirit of those freedoms should be intentional for all of us, not simply taken for granted. Those of us who are Christians can be committed to the quest for equality mentioned in 15.1. I hope that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission reminds us that we have a long way to go in restoring relations with First Nations. I want to be respectful of those who practice other religions or none because when I do I uphold fundamental freedoms which are reflective of my particular expression of faith.
Any thoughts about the Charter and its importance to Canadian life?

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Christian Community

On Palm Sunday one of our tweens approached me and poured out her story of a project at her school which has developed under the auspices of World Vision. Sometimes it can be challenging to follow the thread with an excited twelve-year-old but in the end I realized this was a fundraiser in which people gave up the cost of a snack to benefit children who are hungry. Could she invite the congregation to support her? This can be a bit tricky -- there are so many worthy causes -- but I couldn't resist the look of expectation on her face. St. Paul's is her church family, so they would want to help -- right?
Right. This past Sunday she got up and did an excellent job of presenting her case. After worship the wristbands for donors were soon gone, but people just kept on giving. I think she was overwhelmed, in a positive way.
This says alot to me about Christian community. Shannon has grown up in St. Paul's and trusts us. The congregation is wonderfully affirming group when it comes to our children. Nice going Shannon. Nice going folks.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Sacred Headwaters

I am a subscriber to Orion Magazine, or at least my son and daughter-in-law subscribe for me. In the latest issue there is an article which reflects a new book by Wade Davis called The Sacred Headwaters. Here is a description of the book:
In a rugged knot of mountains in northern British Columbia lies a spectacular valley known to the First Nations as the Sacred Headwaters. There, three of Canada''s most important salmon rivers -- the Stikine, the Skeena, and the Nass -- are born in close proximity. Now, against the wishes of all First Nations, the British Columbia government has opened the Sacred Headwaters to industrial development. Imperial Metals proposes an open-pit copper and gold mine, called the Red Chris mine, and Royal Dutch Shell wants to extract coal bed methane gas across a tenure of close to a million acres.
I had never heard of the Sacred Headwaters before this article and a bit of online research even though this is an area roughly the size of Great Britain and in my home and native land I simply wasn't aware of what has been unfolding. That seems to be the way in this vast land. Were many of us tuned in the Oil Sands development and the impact on First Nations people and the environment until it was a multi-billion dollar juggernaut? Industry seems to trump aboriginal rights and the quaint notion that resource-rich real estate could be considered sacred, imbued with the presence of the Creator.
I will not despair, I will not despair, I will not despair...

Sunday, April 15, 2012


Before Easter I went to see one of our elderly members who is having a tough time with his health. For the past year he has experienced one problem after another, and shuffled from one specialist to the next. Each one seems to have a different idea of what plagues him but the outcome is that he just hasn't got better. Not surprisingly, this has knocked the mickey (who was mickey?) out of a guy who has been strong and confident through the years.

We talked and talked some more and then I prayed because there is no way he would let me away without a prayer at any time. This occasion was a little more emotional for him, but I certainly understood why.

The remarkable moment came as I was about to get up. He mentioned that he had been to one of the big drugstores to get one of the many prescriptions he now has filled, and noticed that he had accumulated a lot of points which could be redeemed for "stuff." Could I ask my wife Ruth if it was alright for him to buy gift cards to be used by women at Bethesda House, the shelter for which she works. I explained that this would be a kind gesture because there is no funding for items such as toiletries and makeup. Sure enough, he passed along $90 worth of cards to be used as the recipients saw fit.

What a splendid human being. He was "lower than a snake's bunion" to use an old expression, but he was still thinking of others. His sense of social responsibility and generosity are rooted in a quiet but strong Christian faith. The gift was one more reason I really like him.


Saturday, April 14, 2012


One year I blogged about the Global Peace Index and since then I have received an update each year on the work of the organization called the Institute for Economics and Peace. Apparently they know where I live! While the GPI will be launched on June 12th we get a "sneak preview." In the email I received this week they offer this description:

As you may recall, the GPI is the world’s leading measure of national peacefulness. Now in its 6th year, it ranks 158 nations according to their ‘absence of violence’. The GPI is developed by IEP under the guidance of an international panel of independent experts with data partly collated and calculated by the Economist Intelligence Unit. The Index comprises both qualitative and quantitative factors on 23 separate indicators. These indicators range from a nation’s level of military expenditure to its political terror scale and the level of violent crime.

On a macro level, this year’s GPI will be particularly interesting as the Arab Spring continues to dominate the MENA region. What will the GPI tell us about the prospects for long-term peace and stability for the region? Has the European crisis been more detrimental to Greece, Italy or
Spain’s ranking? Has the threat of global terrorism increased, as it did last year, or has it been abridged?

This is interesting information and we can be grateful that Canada is number eight in the rankings, with Finland being numero uno. By comparision the United Kingdom comes in at 26 and the United States at 82. Sudan, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Somalia are at the bottom of the list. No surprises there.

Every year I ask what our favouable ranking means for me as a follower of Christ, the Prince of Peace. What responsiblity do I have as a peacemaker living in this land of privilege and promise? Can I repeat the words of Jesus, "blessed are the peacemakers" without actively working toward that shalom, wholeness for the planet?

Take a look and share your thoughts.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Still Gathering

I was out for an early morning walk yesterday with Ruth, my wife, when I spotted one of the regulars for The Gathering Place community meal. As many of you know, The Gathering Place is sponsored by the Bowmanville ministerial but happens at St. Paul's. Some of the people who attend are a little rough around the edges and because of various issues individual who might know me well at one meeting can be vague and perplexed at another. I was about to say hello to the person yesterday when she looked up: "Hi David! See you tomorrow! What's for dinner?" How's that for irony? She immediately remembered my name but I confess I don't know hers.
Congregations are now taking turns in serving at the meal and this evening it is St. Paul's. I put out the call and immediately had more than a dozen volunteers, as well as the offer from reader Janet to play the piano. Last month it was reader Ian tinkling the ivories. I should add that teen Laura, who comes every month to help, brought her brother Jonathan, while tween Wyatt stepped up to serve and was so pleased with his involvement afterward.
This month is auspicious in that it will be the first in which we offer two meals, with the next being the 27th. We hope we can sustain this and pray that congregations, community groups, and other angels come through to allow it to happen. I announced the additional meal last month and the response was an ovation from the guests, along with an imprompt speech of gratitude from one of the more enthusiastic regulars! We notice that the gang is getting chattier and more interactive over time.
One of the other pastors said that he was talking with a woman who runs one of the group homes where a number of our women guests lives. With tears in her eyes she said that her residents are so excited when they receive the invitation each month through our advertising group. She pointed out that these women never get invited anywhere and this has become a big deal in their lives. This never would have occurred to me.
The photo above is of a dad and his two girls who have come often over the past year and a half and they are among a number of families who attend.
Again I'll ask you to pray for this ministry. Comments?

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Outing Our Doubt

This Sunday we will hear the passage in John's gospel in which Thomas expresses his doubt about the resurrection of Jesus, at least until he has the same "hands on and in" experience of the other disciples. Eventually he encounters the risen Christ and expresses his belief. I like Thomas and I like Joshua Harris's cartoon.
It's important to acknowledge doubt because nearly all of us go through it to varying degrees and for a host of reasons. Disappointment and loss, the cruelty of some religious people, the need to use reason and logic, the capriciousness of natural disasters, all lead us to question the existence of a compassionate God.
I figure that denying doubt is, in its own weird way, unfaithful. Mindless "don't ask questions" faith does not honour the brains God gave us. But I also feel that wallowing around in lazy, unreflective doubt is not the answer. We probably need to "out our doubt" more often.
At the Mikael Agricola Church in Helsinki, Finland, a worship service called the "Thomas Mass" creates a place for those who doubt every Sunday evening, which was the day and time when Thomas had his encounter with Jesus. The church website shares an interesting invitation, "The St. Thomas Mass invites doubters and seekers to celebrate, worship God, serve their neighbor, and grow together. Those who feel sinful and weak in faith are especially welcome."
Should congregations have worship opportunities to acknowledge doubt? Would it be helpful to discuss doubt more often? Are you doubtful that talking about doubt will help?

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Family First

Yesterday Republican leadership candidate Rick Santorum dropped out of the race . It was becoming increasingly apparent that he could not win against Mitt Romney but he was a strong second and showed no signs that he was quitting.
Over the Easter weekend Santorum's three-year-old daughter Bella was hospitalized once again because of her severe chromosonal disorder, an illness which is lethal. Santorum withdrew citing Bella's illness and his family commitments as reasons.
It's easy to be cynical about politics but I have no reason to doubt that Santorum is being honest. He is a conservative Christian whose children are home-schooled and who talks alot about family values. His theology makes me cringe, yet he does have convictions which probably led to this decision.
More power to him. Over the years too many of us have placed ambition above family at times. Santorum is probably a far better dad than he is a politician and little Bella needs him.
Were you surprised to hear of his withdrawal? Relieved? Do you trust his rationale?

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Nearer My God

This week marks the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, and the kerfuffle of commemoration may exceed the coverage at the time. When we lived in Halifax I arrived at Fairlawn cemetery a little early for a commital service and the funeral director pointed out that we were only a few metres from the graves of one hundred and twenty victims of the the disaster. Roughly a tenth of those who perished are buried in Halifax and since we lived there not long after the blockbuster movie the graves, particularly the one for the film hero, Jack Dawson, were festooned with flowers.

I saw the grave of the "unknown child" who has since been identified through DNA testing. I didn't know at the time that one of the band members aboard the Titanic, violinist Jock Hume (above), is buried there as well. As you probably know, survivors reported that the band continued to play as the ship sank. The repertoire included popular music of the day, but legend has it that they also played the hymn Nearer My God to Thee. The story was made famous in the film A Night to Remember. The opening phrase is inscribed on the gravestone of the bandleader, Wallace Hartley.The hymn begins:

Nearer, my God, to Thee, nearer to Thee!

E'en though it be a cross that raiseth me;

Still all my song shall be nearer, my God, to Thee,

Chorus: Nearer, my God, to Thee, nearer to Thee!

Do you have any interest in the Titanic story or do you wish this would all go away? Are you planning to see Titanic in 3D?

Monday, April 09, 2012


Today hundreds of Canadian young people will be at Vimy Ridge in France to commemorate the 95th anniversary of that historic battle. That battle occurred on Easter Monday, a direct correspondence with this year. World War I was marked by horrendous carnage in the battles and Vimy was no exception. We are saddened by the deaths of roughly 150 Canadians in Afghanistan. There were 3600 deaths at Vimy alone and thousands more were injured.

My trip to Vimy was a 25-year-old and stunned me. I have written before that I visited the memorial the same year as my 22-year-old brother. We admitted to each other that we shed tears at the memorial with inscribed names of the dead and cemeteries with row on row of graves for men who were younger than we were at the time of their deaths.

Jesus said that there is no greater love than to lay down one's life for a friend. I am grateful for the sacrifices of nearly a century ago, but war is one of the great idiocies of the human race.

Have any of you been to Vimy? Do you know anyone there this year? What are your thoughts about this sort of commemoration?

Sunday, April 08, 2012


Last week I stopped in to my dentists' office to pay a bill. The person ahead of me was chatty with the staff and finished up with "have a good holiday weekend." When I finished my transaction I said "have a wonderful Easter -- it's still Easter to me." I have never got used to the gross commercialization and secularization of Christmas and the silly political correctness of expunging all references to things Christian from the season.
The same seems to be happening with Easter. It has become a second Christmas for many with gift-giving replacing the celebration of resurrection life. If Easter is nothing more than an extra day or two off work and more electronic doodads then why do we bother?
Instead I'll stick with the opportunity to affirm that this life, with all its "slings and arrows of outrageous fortune" (thank you Hamlet) is richer and fuller with the prospect of forgiveness and eternity. As you will know from reading my blog, I'm not fixated on the life to come because there is so much possibility for compassionate and abundant living in the here-and-now. Yet the empty tomb speaks to me of a hope that is beyond imagining through the resurrected Christ.
Have a wonderful Easter.

Saturday, April 07, 2012

The Devil You Say

We have wrapped up Lent and those of us who gave up or took on practices during the season are now "off the hook." I was highly unoriginal in foregoing sugary stuff and Ruth committed herself to being active in every day. She was more 'ligious' that I was, usually listening to Pray As You Go while she walked.

I'm tryng to remember who told me this year that the 25 year tradition of Roll Up The Rim has a sinister Lenten connection, at least according to the urban/suburban myth. The story goes that Tim Hortons was concerned about the drop in sales during Lent as folk gave up their sweet treasures and even coffee. So they created an incentive to sin with the free giveaways. I'm having trouble buying into this one, but it might be there are little red horns on the brows of the late Tim Horton and his co-founder Ron Joyce!

Anyone else hear this one? Maybe we should all give up urban myths for Lent. How did you do during Lent, or did you bother?

Friday, April 06, 2012

Subway Stations of the Cross

Some members of the St. Paul's congregation are recently back from a trip to Jordan and Israel with former minister, Fearless Leader Nancy K. In Jerusalem they meandered through the streets of the old city taking in some of the Stations of the Cross. These stations tend to mean more to Roman Catholics and they mark the traditional spots on Jesus' painful walk to the place of his crucifixion, carrying his cross. They can still have spiritual impact for Christians from other traditions.
There are versions of the Stations of the Cross all around the world and often in unlikely settings. In the city of Sudbury where we lived for eleven years, the stations were set up on a hill in the heart of the city near one of the busiest intersections. I used to take confirmation classes up there as a walking tour of the hours leading up to Jesus' death. At a convent in the mountains of Colorado I walked the stations trying not to be distracted by the warning sign that this was cougar country.
This week there is a dramatic presentation in Toronto called Subway Stations of the Cross, a theatrical meditation on the death of Jesus Christ based on the spoken word poetry of Toronto playright Ins Choi. Here is a description:
Two years ago, during the season of Lent, a 10 minute version of Subway Stations of the Cross was performed at The Olive Branch Community Church, Salvation Army Gateway, Weston Park Baptist Church and Grace Toronto Church. Last Easter, Grace Toronto Church, along with 4 other downtown churches rented The Winter Garden Theatre and invited Ins to perform yet another version of it there. It then received development grants from the Ontario Arts Council and was performed at an Imago event as well as at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts as part of the Luminato festival. This season of Lent, with a running time of 40 minutes, it has grown into a compelling piece of theatre...
Some people consider this irreverent or trivial. I don't get the criticism. Why not present the stations in a fresh way if people are willing to engage in the story.
Have you walked the stations in Jerusalem or anywhere else? What do you think of the Subway Stations?

Thursday, April 05, 2012

Maundy Thursday

Bread baked?? Check.
"Victims"chosen for foot-washing? Check.
Candles at the ready? Check.
Readers and musicians queued? Yup.
I think we are prepared for this evening's Maundy Thursday service, a commemoration of Jesus' final meal with his followers, as well as his unsettling choice to wash their feet as a sign of humility and service. Historians aren't sure whether this meal happened on Tuesday of Holy Week or Thursday, but the Christian tradition has settled on the night before Good Friday.
Our service is unusual one might say, a rather mysterious worship opportunity unlike anything else we do in the year and we hope you join us.
Friday evening the CBC radio program will look at the most famous depiction of the Last Supper created by Leonardo DaVinci and given a big boost in interest by The DaVinci Code, that truly silly but page-turner novel by Dan Brown. Above you can see DaVinci's work as well as several others by relatively contemporary artists.
Any comments on Maundy Thursday? Any one of these Last Supper paintings that speak to you?

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Jets Into Ploughshares

Last week's federal budget was not kind to many low-profile but important agencies. One is the National Council of Welfare, which has operated for more than 40 years in Canada, providing information about Canada’s poor. It has been an excellent source of information for various other agencies addressing the needs of the marginalized in our country.The budget of 1.1 million dollars is now gone, and soon the council will be as well.
Sheila Regehr, the council’s executive director, said she was “rather shocked” to learn that the funding had been pulled.“The council has established a reputation for establishing regular, really solid, research on poverty,” Ms. Regehr said. “No one else in this country puts together information across all of the jurisdictions who all have different systems so that you can really get a picture of what’s going on.”
Why worry about those poor folk when we have more important issues such as purchasing F-35 fighter jets for billions of dollars? I hope you noticed that while the budget cuts were widespread and in some instances draconian, these "iffy" jets are still on the agenda. Yesterday the auditor general scolded the feds for not being honest with the Canadian public about the pricetag, and mark my words, those nine billion dollar jets will cost twice that amount in the end.
I know that Canada needs to replace the aging F-18's, but how can we do this in times of supposed fiscal austerity? Our Oshawa Presbytery of the United Church has written to protest this huge expenditure at the cost of other social justice commitments, but Minister McKay didn't take us very seriously, which won't surprise you. We tend to be rather quixotic, yapping about the strangest things because we actually figure that's what Jesus wants us to do. Jesus stood in that prophetic tradition of Isaiah and others who envisioned a day when "they will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore." Maybe we can update swords to jets.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012


Jonathan Safran Foer is best known for his novel Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and his thoughtful examination of carnivorism called Eating Animals. His latest offering is religious, even though he isn't particularly religious himself. He is a nominally observant Jew who has fond memories of the Passover or Pesach seder of his childhood. He has colloborated on an illustrated haggadah, the text for the seder, aptly called The New American Haggadah. There have been numerous adaptations and translations of the text over time and this one has beautiful images.

The seder meal with its questions about deliverance from slavery in Egypt may be the oldest continuously practiced ritual in human history. It has survived times of intense persecution of the Jews, including unfortunately by Christians, and will be observed again this year in places around the world. This year Jews will share in the seder on the day we celebrate Easter.

Of course Jesus and his followers were observing the seder when he chose to use the symbols of wine and unleavened bread to speak of his impending brokeness on the cross. Our Maundy Thursday service this week commemorates that meal.

Did you know the connection between the Seder and the Last Supper? Have you attended a seder? Does Foer's book intrigue you?

Monday, April 02, 2012

The GO Samaritan

An elderly couple decided to visit family on the other side of Toronto using the GO Train for transportation. How old are they? They are already thinking of their seventieth wedding anniversary next year. As you can imagine they don't move with cat-like grace and speed, but they did okay until the return trip. In Oshawa they got off the train car designated for those who are physically challenged and unfortunately it was several cars from the connecting bus (why are the trains configured this way?) By the time they toddled to the bus stop it had departed and they were exhausted.

What were they to do? Another driver came over and asked where they were going.When they told him Bowmanville he said that he was on his way to Peterborough to pick up a group. Get on, he offered, it's on my way. Since they were the only two passengers they chatted with the driver. It turned out that he is quite involved in his Baptist church and they talked about St. Paul's. Despite their protestations he drove them right to their door. In this day he could probably be reprimanded or fired for being the GO Samaritan, but it warmed my heart to know that there are still people who are caring and generous.


Sunday, April 01, 2012

Protest March

This morning we celebrated the bitter/sweet occasion of Jesus' entry into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey. Most of us know the story well although we could miss the religious and political implications of what was a curious protest march by misfits rather than The Triumphant Entry, as it often described.

This weekend there have been many protest walks, some of them eventually arrivng at churches, drawing attention to the shooting death of teenager Tayvon Martin. Tayvon was walking near a gated community in Florida when he was shot by a vigilante who somehow was not arrested or charged. Whether it was murder or manslaughter or self defense it's hard to imagine how someone can take another person's life and not even be arrested when no witnesses were present. It feels like a potent mixture of racism, xenophobia, and gunslinger justice. This kid was not a criminal other than being guilty of walking while wearing a hoodie. What a world.

I'm glad Christian communities have responded with calls for justice, but this teen is dead. How can this happen in 2012 in America?

Have you followed the story? What is your reaction?