Friday, August 31, 2012

Burning Man

Have you heard of Burning Man? This week  about fifty thousand people are in an isolated part of the Nevada Desert for a crazy debauched festival which includes --wait for it- the burning of a giant effigy. It sounds as though it is as pagan as it can get and clothing is definitely optional. I do hope the participants take lots of sunblock because there will be alot of exposed skin.

The annual event began as a bonfire ritual on the summer solstice in 1986 when a few friends met on a beach in San Francisco and burned a 9-foot (2.7-metre) wooden man as well as a smaller wooden dog. The fellow behind that first event  has described his inspiration for burning these effigies as a spontaneous act of "radical self-expression".  

It's interesting that the event no longer happens at the solstice and it has become as well organized as a pagan festival can be, requiring tickets which are sold out months in advance.

I also find it fascinating that some Christians go every year, seeing this as an opportunity to connect with people who are obviously searching for meaning and community, albeit it in a strange way. Think about it. Christianity began as a countercultural movement and believers gathered during the winter solstice to celebrate Christ's birth. While early Christianity offered an alternative to sexual debauchery, I can see why the Christians who attend, including the guy who walks across the desert carrying a cross, see the opportunity for evangelism.Last year a group of forty or so Christians build platforms where people could go for contemplation and write their thoughts on the walls, including:

Why do people hurt others only to hurt themselves?
You can stop an invasion of armies, but you cannot stop an idea whose time has come.
It's no good measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.
Let go of everything you know and all will be revealed.
Joy is a community that loves. Love heals.
Discipline is Freedom. Laughter is Medicine.
And darkness has no tickets for this event.
To find God one must forgive.
The truth will find you.

Have you heard of Burning Man? Have you been? Does it seem too weird for words or does it intrigue you?

Thursday, August 30, 2012


It was a cold, blustery Maple Fest last Fall where I listened to the opening pitch for the fundraising for a new fish ladder on Bowmanville Creek. I walked up to my bank and took out money to make a contribution which I think was one of the first. While my gift was modest the campaign got into gear and managed to secure the roughly $500,000  for a project which will get the large rainbow trout and salmon past the Goodyear dam to their spawning areas in various other streams and creeks.

Unfortunately the construction isn't where it should be and the salmon have returned early this year. So in true human fashion the powers that be are doing their best to make up for our mess. A team has been netting the salmon, putting them in a sort of reverse zip line and taking them above the dam so they continue on their journey. The story was considered newsworthy enough to be covered by the CBC.

I contributed because as a Christian I figure faithful stewardship includes putting my money where my mouth is for the healing of the planet. We are a goofy bunch, making it tough for other species to survive, then trying to fix it. But it is worth the effort. Of course the followers of  Jesus should be partial to the notion of fishing given the gang he called to be disciples.

Have any of you been down to see this unique "catch and release" project. Does is make sense to give the fish a "tush push." Should we see something like this as consistent with our Earthcare values?

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Death Toll

Last week the number of American casualties in Afghanistan exceeded 2,000. It's interesting how certain milestones lead to soul-searching. These 2,000 are in addition to the more than 4,000 U.S. military dead in Iraq. Then there are the hundreds, perhaps thousands of dead from other nations involved in the conflict. Not to mention the many thousands more from Iraqi and Afghani militaries and militias and insurgency groups. Over a hundred thousand civilians have died in Iraq and tens of thousands in Afghanistan. God know how many people have been injured, many in ways which will keep them from every being contributors to society again. We humans are so destructive. When I see totals like these it makes me wonder anew about Original Sin. Are we programmed from the "get-go" to be violent toward each other?
Jesus' unwillingness to participate in the insurgency of his people under Roman rule and his apparent passivity in the face of death can appear clueless. Why didn't he take up arms? Instead he said that those who live by the sword die by the sword.
Speak louder Jesus, we have trouble with our hearing.
Any thoughts about the boondoggle of the Afghan and Iraqi conflicts? When it is permissable to strike back? Why are we so inept when it comes to peace-making?

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

A Tale of Two Swims

Annaleise Carr is a well-spoken, determined 14-year-old who defied cold water temperatures and strong currents to swim across Lake Ontario last week. She was the youngest person ever to make the 50+ kilometre crossing. But she wasn't doing this to break Marilyn Bell's record which stood for nearly sixty years. This was a fundraiser for Camp Trillium, a summer experience for children with cancer. The event seemed to capture the public's imagination and while her goal was $30,000, over $130,000 has been raised. What an amazing feat.
At just about the same time American Diana Nyad set out to swim from Cuba to Florida, a distance more than triple that which was covered by Annaleise. She didn't make her goal for the fifth time in two years. She said that it would be her last attempt and this sounds like a good plan.
What struck me was the contrast in purpose. One was self-giving and the other self-aggrandizing, or so it appears to me. Nyad , in her early sixties, says she wanted to set an example for all those who want to achieve their dreams but it sounds as though she was looking for a heapin' helpin' of personal glory. I hope I am not being unfair.
What I do know is that the Annaleise's generosity is truly admirable. Self-giving is a core theme of Christian faith and one we can encourage in our life together. I was impressed last week by the group of teens who helped out with VBS when they could have been communing with their pillows. Laura tells me they would have been hard pressed to deal with all the kids without them. A faith community is obviously not the only place where this can happen, but it's nice to see it here.
What are your thoughts on this? Do you know teens who are generous with their time and talents? Is church still a good place to learn these values?

Monday, August 27, 2012


As many of you know, in July I went to Wyoming for a week of continuing education. The draw was two-fold. It took place at Ring Lake Ranch, a Christian conference and retreat centre which is in a wild part of a wild state. The leader for the week was Belden Lane, a professor at a St. Louis Roman Catholic university, even though he is a Protestant. He is the author of The Solace of Fierce Landscapes and Ravished By Beauty, two very thought-provoking and challenging books which look at the tradition of desert spirituality and the earth-honouring spirituality of leading Calvinists, respectively.

I have mentioned before that there is great benefit in hearing theologians, but in a much more complete setting than a lecture hall. We were able to chat and share meals with Belden and his wife Patricia. We also hiked together in some magnificent and challenging terrain. The exchange of ideas was an essential part of the experience.

In fact I was taken off guard by the result of our chat on the first day. I mentioned that with son Isaac I had been kicking around the concept of "lectio terra," a  reading of or conversation with the earth, as a spiritual discipline. We are modelling it on the ancient tradition of "lectio divina" which is an expectant, holy reading of scripture in order to encounter God. If the bible is one book through which we meet God, the earth is another.

To my surprise Belden used this concept for half of his first presentation that evening, kindly giving credit to the pair of us. We have agreed to stay in touch as he works on his next book. I appreciated his openness during the week.

Is continuing education valuable? In a much broader way than you might imagine.


Sunday, August 26, 2012


I thought I would share with you an exchange of ideas with a colleague over a controversial subject, the report on relations between Israel and Palestine adopted at General Council recently. It begins with a letter to the editor in the Globe and Mail an continues with email exchanges. Christopher White served Westminster United in Whitby admirably for nearly two decades and is now in Toronto.  I think this demonstrates that UCC ministers aren't in lockstep and can agree to disagree.

Re United Church Approves Israeli Settlement Boycott (Aug. 18): I recognize and fully acknowledge the complexity and pain that is endemic to that part of the world, and the issues around the settlements themselves. But as a United Church of Canada member, I oppose this motion and will not participate in any boycott actions.

While mainly symbolic, symbols are very powerful. Stripped of its rhetoric, motions and amendments, the symbolism of this motion is that a Christian church has just invited the world to boycott products made by Jews. Given the history of the Jewish people in relation to the Christian church, this is simply wrong and will do great, if not irreparable harm.

Hi Christopher,

 I was disappointed to read your Globe and Mail letter to the editor this morning, not because you disagree with the United Church report on relations between Israel and Palestinians – many are aware of certain shortcomings in the report – but because you characterized the issue as censorship of Jews.  Israel is a secular state, a liberal democracy as the rabbis of Canada and the CJC like to remind us. The criticism is of the state of Israel, not of a religion which happens to be Judaism. It is a criticism which the United Nations has leveled against the settlements, and to a certain extent a staunch but cautious ally, the United States government.  You are certainly aware that the United Church has done a great deal over the years to combat anti-semitism.  Your letter may well be used as support for a notion which simply is not accurate.

 Personally I don’t think this boycott will be useful, but I have visited Israel several times, and spoken with Palestinian Christians who feel persecuted for no other reason than their Palestinian background, as well as with observers at wall checkpoints.  Even though I fully support the existence of the state of Israel and its right to protect itself, I cannot support what has happened with the settlements and it has nothing to do with religion.  I’m glad that the United Church was willing to wrestle with this, as have many other denominations across North America this year.

 I hope things are going well for you at Fairlawn and the congregation is enjoying your considerable gifts.

Hi David,
It was good to hear from you, I hope things are going well for you and your church and I wish you blessings as the fall season ramps up.
I am truly sorry that you were disappointed by my letter and without getting into a lengthy debate I will simply say that I stand by what I wrote and I spent three days in careful thought and reflection before I sent it. As you can imagine I am getting emails of both support and strong criticism, which is to be expected. It is without question a difficult and painful issue and I did not believe that the motion would pass without significant amendments and am in the unhappy position of being angry at myself for not opposing this earlier.
I have great respect for your views and your ministry and while we are not in agreement here, I appreciate your perspective. I was in Israel this past January for the first time and plan on going back.
With best wishes,

Hey this is good – UCC clergy being civil with one another while they disagree!
Thoughts? Comments?

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Stood Up

It can be too easy to hear and focus on the bad news of illness and loss. At times in feels as though God has left the building in terms of responses to prayer and we may falter in upholding others in prayer.

Last week I was "stood up" for a visit by a guy in the congregation who had surgery about this time a year ago. His stomach was removed because of cancer and complications in the weeks following meant he nearly died. He did survive but was told that the cancer in the rest of his body would result in his early demise. I spent time with him close to Christmas and in that visit he said that he wouldn't undergo treatment. But you might recall from a blog entry that our pastoral care worker, Beth, followed up with another member whose life had been extended by chemo and radiation and he changed his mind.

Well, he is still with us nine months later, long beyond the original prognosis, and our visit was cancelled (I wasn't really stood up) because he felt well enough to go camping with his wife for the weekend. While these months have been a struggle he has enjoyed some meaningful family time and the gift of another summer. I was pleased to be asked to come some other time.

Also last week I spoke with two other men from St. Paul's, one who took part in our golf tournament. Two years ago at this time of year both were on death's door, one after a serious accident and the other with cancer. We prayed diligently but it looked as though they wouldn't see Christmas. Again, both have their struggles, and both are making the best of each day.

Prayer doesn't always mean a cure. It does bring comfort and courage. I have come to believe that prayer can bring the right people in the right moment, including medical personnel. We need to be aware of the situations which are hopeful, even in tough times.


Friday, August 24, 2012

The True Vine

Members of our son Isaac's congregation are dairy farmers but three years ago they decided to take a risk on a totally new form of agriculture for them. They planted eight acres of grape vines with the goal of establishing an organic winery. Neither has a background in viticulture and they "upped the ante" by chosing organic because they can't use any chemical stimulants or protection for their fragile crop. They are so new at this venture that they haven't yet received their organic certification. They have a vintage, but they aren't able to sell their product for another season. We were the pleased recipients of the gift of a couple of bottles of Pigeon Hill as a result.

Wine always strikes me as a little miracle because beyond the harvesting of a crop there is that mysterious process of fermentation and the way "wine gladdens the heart" as the psalmist promises. How appropriate that Jesus described himself as the True Vine. His first miracle was turning water into wine and his last meal included wine. Even the vinegar offered to him on the cross was spoiled wine.

Jesus also said that you can't put new wine into old wineskins because they will split and the wine wll be lost. I wonder some times about why we spend so much time sticking with watery Churchianity grape juice, trying to figure out how to keep things the same rather than asking how Christ is creating the miracle of new wine in our midst.

The couple in Ike's congregation are going "out on a vine" to do something very different knowing that it could fail. I wish that we had that spirit or Spirit (spirits?) ourselves. I congratulated them on their courage.

What do you think? Are we willing to think "outside the jug" or are we risk-averse?Will old wineskins be our downfall?

Thursday, August 23, 2012


Romans 8:14-16

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.
For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have
received a spirit of adoption.

When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God...

This is good news that we are all adopted in Christ. I'm doubling up on blogs today because of delightful news from the Rev. Cathy Russell, a former paid minister at St. Paul's, and her husband John who worked for us for free! While they were with us they began the process toward adoption. It was demanding, including an adoptive parent "boot camp" which was an surprise to me. Adoption in this province has rigorous parameters that aren't applied to giving birth.

I spoke with Cathy earlier this year and she told me that they had two little apples in their eyes, sisters who were in the system. Well, this afternoon I got the good news.

Dear Friends

Please find attached a photo of John and I with our adopted daughters- Kendre 2.5, (pronounced Kendra) and Winter, about to turn 8. We started to have visits with them a couple of weeks ago, and they will come for a first sleepover this weekend, for which we are really super excited!

We began the adoption journey in Bowmanville, and now we are realising our dream of becoming parents. I am currently off on 9 months of parental leave so that I can be at home with Kendre. Children's Aid who matched them with us, will monitor the placement for six months minimum, after which they will recommend that the adoption be finalised.

We are SOOOO blessed to be the family chosen for these children who have no health issues, who are warm, active and meeting all their developmental milestones. Winter is very bright, articulate and imaginative- and she is a true survivor. Kendre is a smiley, giggly, runaway train of energy determined to do everything her big sister does. (yikes!)

The adoption process is a lot like applying for a job- and alas, it kind of turns everyone- children and potential parents into commodities. But in the end, the prospect of receiving the gift of these
wonderful, amazing, resiliant children is exactly that- pure gift, pure grace, since there is nothing one could do or ever hope to do to "earn" or "deserve" such an amazing and sacred gift- times two!

We welcome visitors after they have had a little time to settle in, and we will be taking them on the road to meet some of the important people in our lives (ie YOU)

We ask you to remember us all in your prayers as we prepare to enter the whirlwind of our new family configuration! And as much as this is a joyful time for us, we are conscious that it is also a time of loss, especially for Winter who will always have memories of her birth parents, and for the birth parents themselves who are grieving this momentous change in their lives.

Feel free to spread the news!

Love, Cathy

Jesus Christ On...

We have all heard that several European Union countries are embroiled in debt crises, including the poster child, Greece.  Youth unemployment is over 50% and a growing number of citizens are so desparate that they are taking their own lives.

A recent article suggested that a silver lining to the dark cloud of economic woes is that the citizens of Greece are selling or parking their automobiles and climbing aboard their bicycles. Athens is considered the worst city in the EU for cycling and Greeks have traditionally sneered at cyclists as the poor. But the culture is shifting, in part from necessity, which could make a difference in the capital with its traffic congestion and smog. Athens has even instituted a bike-share program.

Perhaps an economic downturn would jolt us to drive less and cycle more. Bowmanville is a lousy place for cyclists not only because the roads aren't designed for us. Lots of car drivers act as though they have never seen a bicycle before and that can be dangerous.  And of course Toronto mayor Rob Ford is fighting the "war on the car" by taking away bike lanes. Once again this summer we were struck by the number of cycle paths in Quebec communities of all sizes. When we were on the Magdalen Islands cyclists were everywhere and the system of bike lanes and trails is a tourist draw. We took our bikes with us and enjoyed cycling in Quebec, PEI (Confederation Trail) and the Magdalens.

We are always hearing about the damaging and discouraging effects of climate change. Wouldn't it be great if municipalities took the practical step of encouraging cycling as a legitimate form of transportation? I have encouraged our folk to ride to church but the bike rack is usually lonely looking, except for the bike of our custodian, Edna. Cycling is good exercise, and transportation.

The acronym WWJD? has been tweaked from What Would Jesus Do? to What Would Jesus Drive? Maybe we could reclaim the expletive and put him on a bicycle as a symbol of social responsibility.

Have you been on a bike lately? Do you think a cycling revolution would make a difference?

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Dr. Paul Thistle

It's not often that physicians working for religious groups overseas get media attention, despite their wonderful work. Dr. Paul Thistle has been in the news in the past few days because he is being called back to Canada by the Salvation Army after 17 years heading a hospital in troubled Zimbabwe. He is the only certified physician, working alongside two other doctors he has trained, as well as a group of nurses. This 140 bed hospital addresses the health needs of 270,000 Zimbabweans and somehow Thistle has maintained his compassion, his hope, and his sense of humour.

My mother has generously supported Dr. Thistle's work for years, dating back to her days attending a Salvation Army corps. When he comes to Canada with his Zambabwean wife and children he stops to see my mother, typical of his kindness.

Thistle is probably being recalled because he has raised concerns that funding and supplies meant for the hospital are being diverted, possibly by local Salvation Army officials. His departure has been complicated by protests by locals who don't want to lose their doctor and friend. This shouldn't be happening and it is a huge loss for the people he served and Thistle himself. His family will be displaced and he will have to reconsider his life goals.

Have you heard about this situation? Any comments?

Tuesday, August 21, 2012


I was mobbed yesterday and it was great. I was coming back from a bike ride and happened to pass the church while the children of this year's Vacation Bible School were on the lawn for a snack. Immediately arms were waving, and I heard "David, David" so I stopped in. It was Old Home Week, or at least I was the old one, because this is a young, energetic crowd. "I haven't been in church all summer but I miss it" said one. Another showed me the gaps for three missing teeth. One little guy held out his Lego Joker and told me that his mom will only let a Lego figure shoot another Lego figure because violence is bad. All this and more in a couple of minutes! I can't tell you how uplifting I find these contacts and conversations. These children are so open.

There is a remarkable leadership group for this VBS, including at least five current and retired teachers. Talk about going above and beyond the call of duty. We have a wonderful group of teens who are involved in leadership as well.
I hope and pray that the children will deepen in their sense of God's love and the companonship of Christ. Much of that will happen in the happy community created during the week. Lego and lost teeth may not seem "Jesusy" but these children knowing that they are in a family of faith goes a long way. Please pray for kids and leaders during this week.

Thanks to all the leaders and those who have offered practical support, including snacks. Make sure you join us on Friday at 11:30 for the closing.


Monday, August 20, 2012

The Foolishness of Hatred

There's a story out of Hungary which comes under the heading of weird justice, at least from my perspective. One of the leaders of Hungary's Jobbik Party, which the Anti-Defamation League says is one of the few political parties in Europe to overtly campaign with anti-Semitic materials, has discovered that he is himself a Jew. The presidential candidate for the party has referred to Israeli Jews as "lice-infested, dirty murderers," an atrocious statement which would be considered hate speech worthy of prosecution in Canada.
Csanad Szegedi, above, was "outed" as the grandchild of Holocaust survivors, a fact he was unaware of until recently. The grandparents were married in an orthodox Jewish ceremony after the war but chose to conceal their Jewish identity. This was not uncommon amongst those who survived the concentration camps. The trauma pushed them into secrecy and denial.
Now Szegedi is a leper in his party. He has resigned from several positions and he will probably be pushed out because of his heritage. Hatred is so bizarre, so irrational. He was a champion of the anti-Semitic cause and now he is the victim of its foolishness.
Have you heard about this situation? What is your reaction?

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Communion of Saints

We Are Not Alone, We Live in God's World -- Gary Crawford

I'm not keen on doing the funerals of strangers, including those "members" who haven't actually darkened the door of a church in thirty or forty years. I don't mean to be harsh, but funerals are worship services too, and the most meaningful fo me as a minister are based on a relationship with both God and Christian community.

That said, I had a meaningful "stranger" funeral this past week. I was asked to cover funerals by a colleague who is attending General Council in Ottawa and, sure enough, I got a call. This is something we do for one another, although we all hope we get through the specified time without being contacted.

When I met with the family I knew right away that the person who died, an elderly woman with Alzheimer's, was loved. She had shared more than sixty years in marriage with her gentle husband and I started to get the picture of a life lived well in our meeting. The service took place in the church which they attended for many years and it was nearly filled with friends and family. They were a singin' crowd which is always good with hymns, and the three tributes were full of love and admiration. The daughter read the two anniversary love letters the husband wrote his wife after she finally went into a nursing home, and they were moving

As I drove away after the service it occurred to me that while I never met this woman, she was not a stranger. She was and is a member of the "communion of saints" and I had the privilege of pinch-hitting as presider for this holy moment. Faith was very much a part of her life and of what we did together as a congregation that morning.  Not that I want to get called on too often!

Any reflections on this? What about your own experiences?

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Red and Yellow Black and White

I was "on the go" for most of a month which makes it a challenge to stay up on current events and other news. Actually, a news sabbath isn't a bad idea from time to time. But a story out of the States did catch my attention. The couple seen above Charles and Te'Andrea Wilson was married recently, by their pastor, but not in their church. It seems that some members of the Mississippi congregation --white-- objected to the ceremony happening in their church because the couple is black. In the 150 year history of the congregation no African-American couple had been married there, and they weren't going to start now.

Since then the pastor and governing body of the congregation have apologized for their blatantly racist decision, but not directly to the couple. They insist they are a welcoming community which is obviously not true. The couple has since left. Good, but sad for them.

It's hard to believe this could happen in 2012, but it does remind us that racism is still a reality in our supposedly enlightened culture. Of course we shouldn't be too self-righteous. As I have said before, we are a pretty pasty bunch ourselves and the only congregation in Bowmanville with a significant number of people of colour is the Seventh Day Adventist church. I wonder how we might respond if there was a sudden influx of folk with different coloured skin, or perhaps from a different cultural background.
Back in the 1960's Martin Luther King Jr. observed that "it is appalling that the most
segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o'clock on Sunday morning." We can all do some soul-searching about what our sanctuaries look like when we worship.
Do you think we would be open and inclusive if we became more diverse in ethnicity and race and colour? What is your response to the story out of Mississippi?

Friday, August 17, 2012

General Council Decisions

I have looked back to see that in the last two months only one blog entry didn't receive a single published response. Since there are anywhere between 150 and 250 page views per day, and only a handful of comments as the best of times, this doesn't mean that people aren't reading. But the only non-response day was last week when I wrote about the beginning of General Council. I'm not sure what to make of this. Is Council a non-starter in this day and age? Are the issues of GC not our issues?
As this triennial meeting draws to a close the 350 commissioners continue to wrestle with a contentious report on the relationship between Israel and the Palestinians. They did adopt the changes to our denominational crest which will include the colours of the aboriginal medicine wheel. They approved the inclusion of several statements of faith we have used over the decades within the Basis of Union. Some of this may seem boring or inconsequential or overly contentious. Yet we might well lament the loss of the broader church bodies if we become increasingly congregational.
We also have a new moderator for the UCC out of the large slate of fifteen candidates. I know two of the three finalists and they would have served the church well. A colleague who has been blogging from council is pleased with the choice of Gary Paterson, even though he is friends with one of the other final three. For the next three years Paterson will serve in a role which has no real power because of our democratic processes, but he will be a public face for our church. While Gary is gay he doesn't want this to be the focus of his leadership.
Are we becoming more congregational in focus and less interested in the wider church? Have you followed Council at all? Could you name our outgoing moderator?

Disarmed and Dangerous

There was a major breach of security at a US nuclear site recently. Three infiltrators managed to make their way through barbed wire and security cameras and armed guards to the new facility in the Nevada desert. These three vandalized the building, after a fashion, splashing blood on the white exterior walls and writing graffiti.
This incursion is an embarrassment to the Obama administration, especially because the ringleader is an 82-year-old nun. Sister Megan Rice may be getting up there in age, but this sort of thing isn't new to her. She has been arrested 40 or 50 times for acts of civil disobedience and once served six months in prison. The slogans included “Swords into plowshares,” and “Spears into pruning hooks,” both from the book of Isaiah in the bible.
“It’s the criminality of this 70-year industry,” she said. “We spend more on nuclear arms than on the departments of education, health, transportation, disaster relief and a number of other government agencies that I can’t remember.”
Good point. But wise action? Are these outrageous acts of civil disobedience a waste of time? After all, she isn't the first religious person to take on the US government, and they always seem to lose. Some of you will remember the Berrigan brothers, Philip and Daniel, siblings, priests, and peace activists who were at this sort of thing for decades. Philip made it on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted List for a while. I like the title of their book Disarmed and Dangerous.
What's your reaction? Is this action in line with the biblical prophets or silly nunsense? Should our activism be respectful of governments or giving them a poke in the ribs? Is the latter what we are doing at General Council right now?

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Jesus and Golf

Is there a resemblance between a shepherd's crook and golf clubs? The history of golf goes back at least 500 years because of an edict by James II of Scotland banning the game. And there is a legend that Scottish shepherds fought off the boredom of their job tending flocks by hitting stones into rabbit holes with their wooden crooks near St Andrews. They became adept at this and it led to the birth of golf on the greens of Scotland.
I suppose this means we can connect The Good Shepherd and church golf tournaments. Yesterday was our fifth annual golf tournament for St. Paul's. Ninety duffers went out and had a good time on the links, consumed yummy food, and won prizes. I'm not sure that everyone made the connection between golfing and Christian ministry but somewhere between $50,000 and $60,000 has been raised for Christ's work through these five tournaments. That is impressive.
We should be grateful for the organizers who put this all together, including the Golf Godfather, Rich. Lots of others are involved, including the UCW who create an excellent dinner, sponsors, prize donors, volunteers, office staff. I hear the orchestra beginning to play...
I feel that without this tournament we would have made some painful decisions along the way about cutting programs or choosing not to proceed with necessary projects. Instead participants have a lot of fun and support the life and work of the St. Paul's congregation. Nice going team!
Thoughts and comments?

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Wait for it...

I have put this blog entry off long enough. During our vacation travels we listened to an interview from CBC radio's Q about procrastination.

The interviewee, Frank Partnoy, has written a book called Wait, The Art and Science of Delay, argues that our cultural attitudes toward putting things off are far too negative and we should reconsider. Is that cheering I hear from readers?

He readily conceded that there are lots of circumstances where we should act decisively, but not always. He suggested that offering apologies after major offenses is an example. If we spill a drink on someone at a party we say we're sorry immediately. But if we have committed a more serious wrong it is different. Waiting to apologize gives both the person wronged and the wrongdoer time to ponder the nature of the offense and to both give and receive the apology in a more meaningful and healing way.

I had never considered this before, but perhaps it's true. In the end it is about the sincerity of the apology, it seems to me. When we were staying in the B&B on the Magdalen Islands a loud dinner party in the restaurant below us carried on until midnight. The next morning the wife of this Japanese couple apologized profusely. Then she called her husband in and they bowed their apology together! It was quite touching and sure felt authentic.

What do you think? Is delaying an apology "copping out," or does it help to wait a little to say sorry when we have done wrong? Are you readily able to offer an apology? How about receiving one? Do you harbour hurts and grudges?

Tuesday, August 14, 2012


Wasn't it ABC's Wide World of Sports which invited us to experience "the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat" for several decades?

That motto certainly held true for Canadian athletes and those from many other countries during the Olympics. Years are spent preparing and qualifying for the honour of being an Olympic athlete. For many the dreams come crashing down, literally and figuratively in a matter of moments. For every medal awarded, how many compete and fail to reach the podium. Yet for all of them it is worth the effort and sacrifice required to reach his level of competition.

We didn't see much Olympic coverage this year but we did catch the men's 4x100 relay. It was an exciting race and, lo and behold, the Canadian foursome captured the bronze medal. Such celebrating on their part and vicarious rejoicing on ours. Then it was gone because of one misplaced step which couldn't possibly have changed the outcome of the race. We all agonized with Jared Connaughton, the nice young guy from PEI whose misstep caused the disqualification. I wanted to yell at him not to apologize, in the same way I felt it was unnecessary for Paula Findlay to say she was sorry after finishing last in the triathalon. Don't get me wrong, medals are great and I'm proud of everyone who comes home with one. I just hate to see these exceptional young people suffer for finishing fourth or having an off day or stepping on a line. It moves me just seeing the photo of Findlay gamely finishing her event in tears.

There are several "racey" New Testament verses including the words "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith." Notice that it doesn't say "I have won the race" but rather finished it? Everyone experiences disappointment and unfairness in life, it seems to me, but that doesn't mean we are defeated.

Can you still cheer for "defeated" athletes or do "nice guys/gals finish last."? Do you handle defeat with grace? Has God helped you get back on your feet again after one of life's face plants?

Monday, August 13, 2012

Through the Doors

There were lots of positives in the first worship service of my return from vacation and continuing education. The hall was full and we ran out of bulletins. Neighbours from Trinity joined us -- always good. There were at least 15 children and one of them is looking forward to going back to school! There was was good lay leadership and announcements about summer activities.
All this was great, but I was so pleased that several of the folk from Clarington Connections and The Gathering Place dinner were in worship. Sometimes I wonder how we can bridge the gap between Friday evenings and Sunday mornings. We know that many of our meal guests are people of faith, but do we make them feel welcome? I wonder if worshipping in the same place we eat helps in that regard. The surroundings are familiar. It's easy to forget that walking into a church sanctuary can be daunting and the hall is a little less imposing.
Have you ever experienced nervousness about entering a church you don't know? Were you made welcome? Do you think we're making an effort to make Gathering Place guests feel at home? And everyone else as well?

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Dumbo's Place in the Choir

All God's creatures got a place in the choir
Some sing low and some sing higher
Some sing out loud on the telephone wire
Some just clap their hands or paws or anything they've got now

Listen to the bass it's the one at the bottom
Where the bullfrog croaks and the hippopotamus
Moans and groans in the big tattoo
And the old cow just goes "moo"
The dogs and the cats they take up the middle
Where the honey bee hums and the cricket fiddles
The donkey brays and the pony neighs
And the old grey badger sighs oh

All God's creatures got a place in the choir
Some sing low and some sing higher
Some sing out loud on the telephone wire
Some just clap their hands or paws or anything they've got now

Today is World Elephant Day. Yup, you heard it first right here on the Lion Lamb blog. Chances are you did see it here first because this is the inaugural WED. I don't know why I chuckled and shook my head when I came across the news. After all, there is a day for just about everything else, but it just struck me know.

Of course I read on and realized that elephant's are still up against it, even though they are supposedly protected. There are just over 40,000 Asian and 400,000 African elephants and the numbers are diminishing. Even though trade in ivory is banned, 2011 was a record year for seizures with a tusk going for $15,000.

The pressure from human settlements is so great that in both Africa and Asia there are a growing number of nose to trunk confrontations and even though the humans lose initially, the elephants suffer in the end.

We do need to make room for these magnificent creatures and their subsonic trumpeting in God's choir rather than silencing them. I take back my chuckling.

Any elephantophiles out there? Is World Elephant Day just a little too earnest? Should Christians care?

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Hot 'Nough Fer Ya?

When I was in Wyoming for my continuing education the talk everywhere was about the hot, dry summer. It rained heavily on two days, for which locals were grateful, but by the next morning the ground was dry as dust. When I left for home my flight from Denver to Toronto was delayed by a couple of hours. Why? The temperature was up over 100F so the combination of heat and altitude (the Mile High city) meant that the plane couldn't take off with a full load. In the end they had to tell a number of passengers that they would have to wait for a later flight to get the weight down. They were not amused.

Not only have there been wildfires across the American west, over 60% of the country is in drought. We are now told that the effects on crops will mean higher food prices for Canadians who depend on produce from our neighbours. The high temperatures have affected farmers here as well. Friends north of Kingston have been selling off cattle because the hay crop withered in the heat and a $30 round bale is now going for $80. It just isn't worth continuing.
Are we humans doing this? One of the leading climate change naysayers has done completed turnaround. After years of being the champion of the cause Prof. Richard Muller now says that climate change is real and that the "smoking gun" is in the collective hand of humankind. Of course those who used to cite his work now dismiss him.
Cold comfort or perhaps hot comfort to say "I told you so." All this reminds us of the important role faith communities including Christian churches have in working toward solutions. Our Canadian government needs to hear our voices more now than ever.
What are your thoughts in this sweltering summer?

Friday, August 10, 2012

United Church General Council

I heard a thoughtful, well crafted sermon this past Sunday in which the minister prepared his congregation for the beginning of General Council, the triennial gathering of commissioners from across the country. Council begins tomorrow, the 11th and continues through the 18th.

I have to name my bias because the sermon was delivered by our son Isaac, from the pulpit of his church in the Eastern Townships of Quebec. His message was excellent, and he let his congregants know that whatever else was happening during GC41 they would probably only hear about a report which has become controversial, calling for a boycott of products made in the illegally settled areas of the West Bank and of the companies which do business in those communities.

 We are not the only denomination to be wrestling with the issue of Israeli settlements and the United Nations already declared them illegal. Just recently author Alice Walker refused permission for the novel The Colour Purple to be translated into Hebrew because of Israel's policies. Yet the United Church has been decried as anti-Israel, despite decades of public statements supporting Israel's existence and ground-breaking efforts for Jewish-Christian dialogue. Are we expected to support Israel at all times, no matter what occurs?

I encourage you to follow General Council daily at Don't count on the secular media to give you a balanced or clear picture of what is unfolding.

Have you heard much about the report? Will you follow the General Council news?

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Tea Anyone?

When we were on the Magdalen Islands in the Gulf of St. Lawrence we stayed with a Japanese couple who run a Bed and Breakfast and celebrated restaurant. Their English was very limited but they welcomed us to an exhibit of his paintings at the Musee de la Mer (they are both artists) and an invitation-only Japanese tea ceremony at the same location. Ruth is with our host and some of her origami.

I had heard of these ceremonies but neither of us had experienced one so of course we attended. It was a remarkable experience of a ritual which is centuries old. We were fortunate that the woman who conducted and explained the ceremony was an Anglophone from New York city whose words were translated into French. While the ceremonial experience in which a small sweet cake is consumed first, followed by bitter green tea, predates European contact by centuries, in the mid-sixteenth century Jesuit priests made a Christian connection which remains. It is a synthesis of Buddhist and Christian sensibilties and there is resonance with the eucharist, or what we call communion. The sweet and tea were brought to us individually and with great dignity and reverence.

The guest tailored the tea ceremony to reflect the sea which was all around us. Her kimono, the colour of the Japanese calligraphic image, the table cloth, and water in the pitcher were all meant to convey our proximity to water.

We felt fortunate to have been invited to something we really knew nothing about and have it explained. It happened on a Sunday afternoon and there was a sense we had worshipped.

Have you heard of these tea ceremonies?

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Faith and Justice

Last week Globe and Mail columnist Margaret Wente pronounced the United Church of Canada dead, if not buried, and scoffed at a report to be addressed at our General Council on Palestinian/Israeli relations. you may recall, I encouraged you to read the report available at the GC41 website and form your own conclusions.

Wente seems to feel that addressing social justice issues is a sign of our irrelevance. Perhaps Wente could read her bible as part of her research. She would discover that the prophets and Jesus himself have a lot to say about justice and that God gets testy when the faithful are unfaithful when it comes to the poor and marginalized.

We're at it again.  A coalition of Canadian churches is speaking out about the Northern Gateway pipeline in British Columbia, a project which will carry Alberta oil sands bitumen across wilderness areas to a port on environmentally sensitive waters. The Kairos denominations figure that care of the planet is Godly work. Go figure.  I'm "guilty as charged" having addressed both these issues in blogs and as co-chair of the Mission Outreach and Advocacy committee of our presbytery. I do feel that the United Church has been remiss in encouraging a mature personal faith in Christ to inform our action in the world.

What do you think?  Are we misguided in speaking out on these justice issues? Should we stick to the personal salvation approach of more conservative denominations?

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Shoot to Kill

A white supremacist gunman walks into a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, opens fire and kills six people. Another crazy, another mass killing.  College and high school campuses, postal buildings, movie theatres, places of worship. Armed and angry men -- it's always men-- shoot innocent people with weapons meant for war. Why can they buy them so readily in the United States?

I was in Wyoming on continuing education when a young man mowed down moviegoers in a Colorado movie house. A number of the participants in my course were from Colorado and everyone was shaken by this tragedy. Our morning chapel became a time of prayer for victims and families. No one prayed for gun reform. As the sole Canadian in the group I was surprisingly angry, although I didn't express it. Why this conspiracy of silence about the availablitiy of lethal weapons to just about anyone? President Obama and Mitt Romney went to Colorado to express condolences but neither said anything about gun control. And in the days after this massacre weapons sales spiked in that state.

We know that there are illegal guns available in Canada and that they are used to kill, but this is a different culture. There are times I feel as though I am from a different planet let alone another country., Wyoming is a state of rootin' tootin' shootin' cowboys and I can imagine the outcry if gun restrictions were proposed. It is so sad and innocent people continue to die.

Any thoughts?

Monday, August 06, 2012

Thar She Blows

We are not alone, we live in God's world.
We believe in God who has created and is creating...

Thank you, good readers, for your patience during the past month. While I left some blogs in my absence (like frozen dinners?) and tried to write a couple on the road I haven't submitted as frequently. For the first time in my nine years at St. Paul's, other than my restorative leave, I took four weeks away in succession, including a week of study. It was the right thing to do.

My continuing education week was in the state of Wyoming at a place called Ring Lake Ranch. The plan was to go three days early to snoop around Yellowstone, the first national park in the world. I say plan because United Airlines managed to turn a one and a half hour flight from Denver to Jackson Hole into a 24 hour ordeal -- but that's another tale.

I loved Yellowstone even though in July it is a gloried theme park, ala Disney World, with a crush of visitors in gigantic RVs and SUVs. Old Faithful draws thousands of spectators at a time. Despite this the geothermal features of the park are extraordinary. There are thousands of them bubbling, gurgling, hissing, spouting away all over the landscape. There are more geysers in Yellowstone than in the rest of the planet combined, but I discovered that there are many other forms of geothermal activity.  The orange colour in the steaming lake above is created by micro-organisms which have adapted to the heat. It's the same with the green below.

If one is willing to walk away from the easy access of the parking lot these wondrous features can be enjoyed without the madding crowds. For me it was a reminder that our planet is dynamic and that creation was not a one-time event but a constantly changing reality. I loved the sights of Yellowstone but also the sounds of a living planet. It is quite cool to see a geyser erupt before your eyes. You can see the size of the people in comparison to this geyser which shoots up even higher than Old Faithful.

Have you been to Yellowstone? Does it intrigue you?  Did you know much about it?

Friday, August 03, 2012

Food, Glorious Food

Foodies we are not, but food is an enjoyable aspect of our vacations now in ways it couldn't be when our kids were young. We have enjoyed a few lovely meals at restaurants including a remarkable Japanese dinner at the B&B we stayed in on the Madgalen Islands. Other meals are little gifts such as the excellent Western sandwich at a little bakery in PEI made on oat bread and served with charming friendliness.

Last night we enjoyed fresh New Brunswick haddock and new PEI potatoes and carrots purchased at the farmers market in Charlottetown. The B&B in NB has a little kitchen. The evening before it was lamb we purchased from friends who have a farm on PEI. We took some with us to prepare for our dinner. It's great when we can savour food and where it has come from. It,s too easy to simply wolf down fuel in our busy lives rather than appreciate God's provision through our daily bread and more.

What about you? Fuel or feast? Are there times when you are more aware of your food than others? My apologies for a couple of rather spartan blogs. This mobile device doesn't allow for creativity with photos and punctuation.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012


I enjoyed reading Alissa York's novel Fauna, which I borrowed from the library. I hadn't heard anything about it but I picked it off the shelf and was intrigued by the story of several people who live in and around the Don Valley in Toronto. Their lives intersect in interesting ways and all of them have relationships with animals, domestic and wild.

I like the way York develops the characters who in their own respects are everything from wary, to strays, to feral. In the end we are reminded that humans and other creatures aren't as different as we might think.

York has considerable powers of description and I did some thinking about the people I have met in ministry who border on feral themselves, living close to Christian community but  a little skittish about coming too close. Sometimes I think I should avoid any quick movement or risk scaring therm away.

Has anyone else read Fauna? Are you curious?