Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Prayers for Hong Kong

For several years I worked on the same ministry team with the Rev. Cathy Russell who is a colleague now in Belleville. Cathy's mother, a retired United Church minister, was originally from Hong Kong. The family is watching the massive and growing protests in Hong Kong with great interest.

You might recall that the tiny but wealthy island was relinquished by the British to the Chinese government in 1997 after 150 years of colonial rule and association. While in some ways Hong Kong went from faded empire to rising empire there was also the shift from democracy and autonomy to life under a communist regime. The compromise was a "one country, two systems" agreement which would ensure certain freedoms for fifty years, until 2047.

Elections are on the horizon and the residents of Hong Kong are determined that this agreement is not compromised and that they will be able to vote fairly, not in sham elections with limited choices. The Chinese government has already demonstrated an ominous level of force which leads some to wonder whether this will escalate to a crackdown on the level of Tiananmen Square in the late 1980's.

As Christians we are called to be people of justice and we need to pray that the people of Hong Kong will not be subsumed by a system that limits freedom and has a terrible human rights record. There are so many other important hotspots around our world which require our diligence, yet Hong Kong shouldn't be pushed into the background.

Did you know about this agreement? Have you been aware of the unrest in Hong Kong? One more situation to add to our prayer list?

locator map of Hong Kong

Monday, September 29, 2014

Ebola: The World Must Respond

During worship yesterday I encouraged folk to respond to the latest United Church appeal, this time  to the plague of Ebola. The word plague is loaded, but what else would we call it? The number of those infected is growing exponentially and the infrastructure of the healthcare systems in the poor African countries where it is spreading simply aren't capable of keeping up. The international response has been slow, exasperating those who are most involved. Is it because this is considered an African illness? Would Western nations have responded with greater effectiveness and speed if this had erupted in Europe or South America?

I listened to a scientist last week who estimated as many 400,000 infected people by Christmas. Now we are told that it could be a million. And to date roughly half of those infected die. Liberia is the country most affected. I didn't know that until today, and you might not have either, a reminder that we aren't all that attuned to the specifics of the spread of Ebola. Liberian officials are concerned about the collapse of the economy and wars in the region as a result. Families are being destroyed. Medical workers are at great risk. Many of them are from Christian relief organizations, as well as Doctors Without Borders. The world must respond with compassion and all the resources at our disposal. 

Please be generous in responding and let your MP know this is important to you. The United Church website offers the opportunity to contribute online but you can do so through your local congregation as well. The ACT Alliance is a good way to respond because we work with partners in the countries affected. 


Saturday, September 27, 2014

Doing the Math on Church

Was there a time when being the Christian community seemed to "add up?" I do think there was an era for the church in North America when the math made sense. Conversations with my late father and late father-in-law convince me that their ministries, post WW2, were filled with positives -- growth and building and upward trajectory. They were still active in the 1970's and 1980's when decline was well underway for mainline churches, but by the mid to late eighties they were wrapping up pastoral ministry.

I began ministry in the early eighties and while I have served active and at times thriving congregations there have always been people who wanted to wax nostalgic about the fifties and sixties. The landscape of the church in Canada is certainly not what it was when I was ordained and the horizon seems to be murkier rather than clearer. I came across a book title called Doing the Math of Mission: Fruits, Faithfulness, and Metrics by Gil Rendle, an author whose research and insight I have appreciated through the years.

Thanks to online resources I could peek at the book and Rendle's observation that there are no “right ways” for a constantly changing church landscape, only “appropriate ways” to establish God’s purpose for each situation. This rings true for me, as does the phrase “conversation is the currency of change.”  This is much harder than it might sound. Many people want to reminisce, or tinker, or "get 'er done" without talking through the appropriate ways of responding to current circumstances. I like the six questions Rendle has borrowed from another book entitled The Advantage:

Why do we exist? The underlying reason for being, our core purpose
How do we behave? The set of principles that guide behaviour and decisions,  preserving our essence
What do we do? Our organizational or congregational  definition
How will we succeed? Strategy –the collection of intentional decisions in order to thrive
What is most important now? Establishing top priorities to overcome organizational “monkey mind” & silos
Who must do what?  Leaders must clarify & unambiguously stipulate respective responsibilities

The Advantage Patrick Lencioni -- Six Questions for a Healthy Organization

It seems to me that if congregations developed the focus and the stamina to address these questions they might have a hope.

What do you think? Why do we have such difficulty having the conversations which are appropriate to our circumstances? Has God left the mainline building, or is there still hope?

Friday, September 26, 2014

The Job of a Peacemaker

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This ad for a poster design for the Mennonite Central Committee quotes a pacifist, a woman named Muriel Lester, who strongly opposed WW1 and set the bar rather high for the role of a peacemaker!

"The job of the peacemaker is...to stop war, to purify the world, to get it saved from poverty and riches...to heal the sick, to comfort the sad, to wake up those who have not yet found God, to create joy and beauty wherever you go, to find God in everything and everyone."

While the language may be quite what we would use in the 21st century I love the breadth of the vision, including celebrating joy and beauty. There is the tendency for some "brands" of Christianity to have tunnel vision about a "personal relationship with Jesus" and the promise of heaven after this life is over. The brands of our faith which focus on social justice often forget the joy in their earnestness.

I want to remember this, maybe post it on my fridge. Comments?

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Spare the Rod

 Those who spare the rod hate their children,    but those who love them are diligent to discipline them. Proverbs 13:24
First of all it was NFL star Ray Rice who was suspended for domestic violence. Then it was another pro ball player, star Adrian Peterson, who was kicked off his team for using a switch to punish a child. The latter situation sparked a debate about corporal punishment for children. Some African Americans offered that a majority of black dads in the States might be fired if it were known that they smacked their kids as discipline. There are lots of conservative Christians who feel that physical punishment is supported by scripture. No matter that a couple of verses from Proverbs are slim pickins'. It is an enduring mandate for punishment, from God no less.

This situation got me thinking about my childhood. My father, a minister, seemed to get great satisfaction out of physically punishing his two sons. He had a sawed-off yardstick which was the usual form of punishment, and it actually accompanied us on vacation. Fun times! When the stick was not readily available an open hand or fist would do, and we received many slaps and punches over the years, often without warning, and for misdemeanors that weren't always immediately evident to us. My mother hated to see us knocked around and did everything she could to protect us. We were both sneaky and fearful as a result. This didn't stop until my younger brother, a teen at the time, informed our dad that if he ever punched him again he would clean his clock. That brought the physical punishment to an end.

For years into adulthood we joked together about this reign of terror, then we realized how abusive it had been. I have always been reluctant to tell others --hey, this was my parent. Even now with my father long dead I don't like admitting that he did this. But I know now how wrong it was. The euphemism "spanking" doesn't begin to sanitize what this really was. I must add that it was common for children to be spanked in my era, but that didn't make it right.

As we raised our three children we quickly concluded that spanking was an expression of parental frustration, not an appropriate form of discipline. It is not right and it is not Godly to beat on our kids. God is a loving parent, and loving parents don't abuse. Yes, children can drive us to distraction at times. And yes, we may express frustration and anger inappropriately. But there is no justification for physical violence against the vulnerable, including children. I would like to think we did better as parents, and I'm confident our kids will do better than we did. I already see that with our grandson.


Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Jesus was a Refugee

  • God makes sure that orphans and widows are treated fairly; God loves the foreigners who live with our people, and gives them food and clothes. So then, show love for those foreigners, because you were once foreigners in Egypt. (Deuteronomy 10:18-19)
    • “Long ago I gave these commands to my people: ‘You must see that justice is done, and must show kindness and mercy to one another. Do not oppress widows, orphans, foreigners who live among you, or anyone else in need.” (Zechariah 7:9)
    • I am the Lord, and I consider all people the same, whether they are Israelites or foreigners living among you. (Numbers 15:16)
    • See that justice is done – help those who are oppressed, give orphans their rights, and defend widows. (Isaiah 1:17)

    Canada has a population of 35 million people and Sweden has a population just under 10 million. Canada has received 200 Syrian refugees to date and Sweden has welcomed 30,000. Why is this? While the Canadian government has denounced the barbarity of the Assad regime we seem unwilling to respond to the plight of those deeply affected. This is what foreign affairs minister John Baird said after visiting refugee camps:

    It is tremendously important for the world to see the victims of Assad's repression and to see the conditions in those camps and be inspired to do more. I can't imagine how horrifying it is to flee your home and risk life and limb for you and your family to escape this regime.

    Yet, whenever government ministers including Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander  are asked about our commitment to admitting Syrians they are vague and evasive. Now we hear that Syrian refugees are flooding into Turkey out of fears of attack in their camps.

    We have a long history in this country of acting decisively to welcome refugees and churches have often been at the forefront of those efforts. There is lots of evidence that federal policy is making it more difficult for faith groups to do this work.  
    The biblical mandate is clear about caring for the vulnerable, including foreigners. And Jesus was a refugee as a child. Should we become more vocal as denominations and congregations, and willing to be involved in sponsorship? Just as important, do we expect our governments to welcome the stranger?

    Tuesday, September 23, 2014

    Religions for Creation Care

    I am deeply disheartened but not at all surprised that Prime Minister Stephen Harper is in New York City today and yet has chosen not to participate in the United Nations Summit on Climate Change. I will go a step further and say that I am ashamed by his indifference to this central issue of our time. He can huff and puff all he wants about the Ukraine and ISIS at the UN on Thursday, but climate change poses a far greater threat to our global security. And apparently in his eyes more than 300,000 marchers in New York and roughly 600,000 around the planet don't count for much.

    I am grateful that on Sunday and through this week leaders and representatives from various religious groups are involved in a number of events In NYC related to care for Creation and the justice issues which are part of this discussion. A Huffington Post article describes one event:

    This Interfaith Summit on Climate Change will...gather 30 faith leaders such as Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Buddhist, Muslims, Sikh and Indigenous religious leaders to discuss how people of faith need to take this issue of climate change seriously and at the forefront of their agenda. Part of the statement from 30 faith leaders...reads:
    "... share the conviction that the threats of climate change cannot be curbed effectively by a single State alone but only by the enhanced co-operation of the community of States, based on principles of mutual trust, fairness and equity, precaution, intergenerational justice and common but differentiated responsibilities and capabilities. We urge the rich to support the poor and the vulnerable significantly and everywhere, especially in Least Developed Countries, Small Island States and Sub-Saharan Africa. Significant support would include generous financial resources, capacity building, technology transfer and other forms of co-operation."
    There is another event underway at Union Theological Seminary called Religions for the Earth. In conjunction with these two events there was a worship service this past Sunday in the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, one of the largest church structures in the world. I would have loved to be there for that multifaith worship experience.
    Photo Sarah Hoffman

    Are you encouraged that religions can find common ground in the cause of care for the planet and justice for those most affected by climate change? Have you views shifted through the years. Is this a Godly cause?

    Sunday, September 21, 2014

    Climate March & God's Creation


    The weather this afternoon is supposed to be rainy, with a chance of thunderstorms. Wouldn't you know that there is a walk/march planned for Belleville! It will be this town's expression of the People's Climate March, a global effort to bring awareness to the pressing issue of climate change. Well over a thousand rallies and walks have been scheduled and already there have been large turn-outs in cities such as Melbourne, Australia.

    The march in New York City has been spearheaded by Bill McKibben and the 350.org movement. They are planning on at least a quarter of a million participants and everyone from movie stars such as Leonardo DiCaprio to the  Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-Moon, will take part. All of this is in anticipation of the UN Climate Summit which will begin on Tuesday in New York. http://www.un.org/climatechange/summit/

    As Christians who acknowledge our God as Creator, we are called into a discipleship of care for the planet. We have not done this well, and creation is groaning under the weight of human influence.

    We plan to walk here in Belleville, even if it is raining. Ruth, my wife, commented (tongue in cheek) that there is no bad weather, just inappropriate clothing. We'll find out!

    Will you be walking somewhere today? Is there much point? Is this our challenge as Christians?

    Saturday, September 20, 2014

    Human Rights in the 'Peg

    Another day, another museum opening. This one, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights is in Winnipeg, and it is a public/private collaboration. thttp://museumforhumanrights.ca/

     It is the brainchild and passion of the late media mogul Izzy Asper. As with so many projects, the cost ballooned and funding was a challenge. Some critics say that it is a tribute to Asper from his family, funded by taxpayers. The purpose and focus of the museum has been under constant scrutiny. Its defenders claim that it is a museum of human rights, not human wrongs.

    It has also been pointed out that this shiny new monument to human rights stands less than a kilometre from the place where the body of First Nations teen, Tina Fontaine was found. The Assiniboine River is being searched and dragged for the bodies of other women. Protesters have picketed the entrance to the museum as a reminder that this country can do a much better job of protecting the rights of aboriginal women and to express their anger at being left out of the opening ceremonies. 

    /for all this, I would certainly like to visit this museum, although from all accounts a few hours or a day there will be challenging. As a white male born in Canada after WW2 I am aware that I have led a life of security and privilege. I don't want to go to ramp up my guilt --God knows there are plenty of folk who would like to help do that for me. But as with the holocaust museums I have visited in a number of cities, including Jerusalem, I need the reminders of what happens when groups in society are marginalized and stigmatized. 

    Does it make sense for Canada to have a human rights museum? Are you concerned about the controversy? Would you visit?

    Friday, September 19, 2014

    Art and Islam

    Yesterday the Aga Khan Islamic Museum opened its doors to the public in Toronto. https://www.agakhanmuseum.org/ The Aga Khan is a billionaire philanthropist whose various projects help lift people out of poverty, build understanding between races and religions, and support the arts. This museum is a $300 million celebration of Islamic art through the centuries. Toronto was chosen because of its diversity, and the peaceful and welcoming character of our nation. The museum is set on seven hectares of land adjacent to the Don Valley Parkway and includes a mosque as well as the galleries. There are 1000 pieces now gathered from other collections around the world.

    Behind the scene

    I am itching to get to the museum. As you will have figured out, I have strong convictions about art as a spiritual expression and I am sure this collection will provide insight, a window, into Islam. Unfortunately the great Islamic flowering of science, art, and architecture has been overshadowed in the past century by fundamentalists. It seems that fundamentalists in all religions are suspicious of artistic expression, as though it competes with faith rather than giving it visual power.

    Have you heard about this new museum? Would you be comfortable visiting it, even though it may not reflect your religious faith?

    Thursday, September 18, 2014



    Remember not, Lord, our offences,
      nor the offences of our forefathers;
      neither take thou vengeance of our sins:
      spare us, good Lord, spare thy people,
          whom thou hast redeemed with thy most precious blood,
      and be not angry with us for ever.

    Book of Common Prayer

    Tuesday evening we sat with about a dozen others in the expansive Empire Theatre in Belleville to watch the film, Calvary. It is about a Roman Catholic priest in a small Irish town, Father James, who attempts to live the gospel in the midst of the desperate brokenness of the residents. Brendan Gleeson does a magnificent job of portraying a decent, moral, deeply spiritual pastoral presence in the community. You may not know Gleeson as an actor even though he has been in all kinds of movies including the Harry Potter series.

    Near the beginning of the film we see folk receiving the eucharist at mass, but discover that so many of them have separated the rituals of religion from daily living. And then in the confessional booth Father James is told that he will be killed by a man who was repeatedly raped as a child by the local priest. The perpetrator is dead, so the victim has decided to murder the innocent priest who listens on the other side of the confessional screen...but not yet.

    The story as a whole is unevenly told but Gleeson carries the narrative with his performance. In an interesting twist Father James has an adult daughter because after his wife died he entered the priesthood. They have a loving but complicated relationship and when, lovelorn, she comes to visit they have strained heart-to-heart conversations. He offers that he feels values are more important than sins, and when she asks which value is most important he names forgiveness.

    The biblical phrase that came to mind as I watched was "behold the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world," John the Baptizer's words when he sees Jesus. We watch and wait for the outcome of this unusual tale. Will the victim become a murderer? Will the resolve of the priest falter so that he flees for his life? What form will forgiveness take?

    I would encourage you to see this film, even though not many did the other evening.  Have any of you seen it? One blog reader sat with us, so I know she has! Are you intrigued?

    Wednesday, September 17, 2014

    Scotland Forever!

    Mac on...Alex Salmond's blueprint for an independent Scotland

    This past Sunday morning I mentioned that I had been corresponding with a Church of Scotland minister who attended worship at Bridge St. UC back in May. At the end of her email she asked for prayers as the citizens of Scotland voted on independence. Scotland has been part of the United Kingdom for over 200 years but the polls suggest that this will be a close vote. For the longest time it seemed that Britain was almost indifferent about the referendum, perhaps convinced that there wasn't a chance that Scots would choose succession. Now there is strange mixture of dire warnings about the economic consequences of leaving and "don't go, we love you and will give you whatever you want!" Come to think of it, it sounds a lot like the Quebec referendums, doesn't it?

    We Canadians have strong Scottish ties to be sure. I mean, we have a province called New Scotland (Nova Scotia.) We lived there for a time and it felt like all Scotland, all the time. Honestly, just about every wedding I performed had a piper.

    Canadians also have strong Presbyterians roots, even in our United Church of Canada. I have served two St. Andrew's congregations during my ministry, a reminder that they were Presbyhooligan at the time of union. In one of them the gospel lesson was in Gaelic every St. Andrew's day, read by a guy in a kilt. I even married the daughter of a Presbyterian moderator! Many of the classic hymns of our faith came out of the Scottish psalter, and I'm partial to them. There are lots of reasons to care about the outcome of this vote.

    I realize that I'm conservative in this regard. I'm open to change in a lot of things, and we know that scores of countries have gained dependence from the former British Empire. Somehow I'm partial to the U.K., but I might feel differently if I were a Scot, or Welsh, or Irish.

    Have you formed an opinion on this one? Should the Scottish people pull a William Wallace/Braveheart and choose independence or death? Should Mel Gibson be permanently barred from Scotland? Let's pray for the outcome.

    Tuesday, September 16, 2014

    Evil's Expiry Date

    German prosecutors say they’ve charged a 93-year-old man with 300,000 counts of accessory to murder for serving as a guard at the Nazis’ Auschwitz death camp.
    Does evil have an expiry date? That question resurfaces for me every time I see a story about the identification of a perpetrator of evil years, even decades, after their crimes. Last week an elderly German was charged with murder for his role as a guard at the Auschwitz death camp.

    A 93-year-old man has been charged with 300,000 counts of accessory to murder for serving as an SS guard at the Nazis’ Auschwitz death camp, prosecutors said Monday. Oskar Groening is accused of helping operate the death camp in occupied Poland between May and June 1944, when some 425,000 Jews from Hungary were brought there and at least 300,000 almost immediately gassed to death. In his job dealing with the belongings stolen from camp victims, prosecutors said among other things he was charged with helping collect and tally money that was found.  "He helped the Nazi regime benefit economically, and supported the systematic killings,” state prosecutors in the city of Hannover said in a statement.

    On the one hand I am convinced that we should do everything possible to keep the memory of the Nazi atrocities alive. Anti-Semitism continues to rear its ugly head and earlier in September there was a rally in Germany attended by religious leaders as well as Chancellor Angela Merkel entitled 'Stand Up! Jew Hatred - Never Again!' It was a response to the rise of anti-Jewish incidents out of the conflict in Israel/Palestine.

    As sign reading 'Stand Up! Never Again Hatred Towards Jews' can be seen behind German Chancellor Angela Merkel as she speaks at a rally against antisemitism in Berlin on September 14, 2014.

    On the other, what will be accomplished by the trial of a very old man? Three others have been charged in the last year, but two are mentally incompetent and the third died. I am not a victim of these atrocities or the descendent of someone who was so I don't know what satisfaction would come from these charges and a conviction.

    What do you think?  To my mind there is never an expiry date on evil, but does the time come when bringing a person to conventional justice no longer makes sense, or has effect?

    Monday, September 15, 2014

    Blessings, not Burdens

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    A Bridge St. mother of three children with Down Syndrome passed on a newspaper clipping to me with the comment "I'm glad that this hasn't been our experience here." It was about a priest who suggested to a mother of an autistic child that it wasn't appropriate for them to come to worship and cause a disruption.

    I have served in congregations where there have been children who don't fit what some folk figure are the norms of good behavior for church, whatever that means. If anyone understands the importance of decorum in worship it is the worship leader. Worship and "junior church" are group activities, and entering the holy often involves silence. but as the years have gone by I have changed my own outlook about who is a blessing rather than a burden. The truth is that while children with challenges such as autism and Asperger's can be disruptive, so can children who have no identifiable or diagnosed conditions and who are well aware of what they are doing.

    We are learning that there are alternatives to the "eviction notice" approach, or the shunning and critical comments of another day. Recently I heard that a congregation I served has set up a rotation of four adults who work through the Sunday lesson one-on-one with a teen with Asperger's. She is a smart young woman who doesn't always do well in groups. This arrangement gives her an opportunity to be included, to feel important, and to grow in faith. I was so glad to hear that this has happened.

    Not all congregations have the human resources to do this, but all can be compassionate and exhibit the love of Christ. One of the three kids with Down gave me the laugh of my summer, although not her parents. One Sunday morning she was annoyed that her breakfast wasn't there when she expected it, so she dialled 911!

    All three were in church Sunday, and all three made my day by giving me a hug before worship. We were all blessed by their presence.


    Sunday, September 14, 2014

    Terry's Legacy

    This morning a substantial team of children, women and men from my former congregation, St. Paul's, will take part in the Terry Fox Run, walk, and ride. A fair number of them will be in worship, proudly wearing their tee-shirts. The Bowmanville event will be one of hundreds, perhaps thousands across the country, including those orchestrated by schools during the week. This is the 34th Terry Fox Run, so those children will have learned about this heroic Canadian long after his death. Lots of us remember his cross-country Marathon of Hope which began in St. John's, Newfoundland, and came to an abrupt end in Thunder Bay, Ontario. Terry ran with a prosthetic limb after losing a portion of one leg to cancer. It was extraordinary that he ran the equivalent of a marathon a day despite his hitching gait. His sojourn stopped because of a recurrence of his cancer and he died not long afterward.

    This annual event must be bittersweet for the Fox family. They will feel the pride of his legacy -- more than $600 million has been raised for cancer research. We're told that the cancer which killed Terry is now treatable and beatable because of advances in treatment. They can celebrate this knowing that his courage and loss contributed to the breakthrough.

    So many of us have been affected by cancer in our families. It's hard to imagine that any of us haven't. How many times have we prayed for those dealing with cancer in our worship services? How many funerals and memorials have we attended where we upheld our Christian hope in the face of death by cancer?

    We can continue to pray for those we love, and that research will address more and more forms of cancer in the days ahead.


    Saturday, September 13, 2014

    The Witness Blanket

    There is a new art installation by First Nations artist, Carey Newman, called The Witness Blanket. It recently opened at the University of Victoria on Vancouver Island with the hope that there will be a national tour. It is not an actual blanket but it takes it's inspiration from the traditional blanket and incorporates artifacts and items from a shameful era in Canadian history. Here is the description:

    For many of us, it identifies who we are and where we’re from
    – we wear them in ceremony and give them as gifts. Blankets protect our young and comfort our elders.

    Inspired by a woven blanket, we have created a large scale art installation, made out of hundreds of items reclaimed from Residential Schools, churches, government buildings and traditional and cultural structures including Friendship Centres, band offices, treatment centres and universities, from across Canada. The Witness Blanket stands as a national monument to recognise the atrocities of the Indian Residential School era, honour the children, and symbolise ongoing reconciliation.

    I heard Newman speak about the project on radio and was touched when he described finding a child's shoe in the woods near one of the former residential school's and what it was like for him to hold it as a symbol of lost childhood. He became emotional as he shared the journey of creating the installation.

    We know that the United Church of Canada was involved in the Residential School system and we have apologized for this grave injustice, a form of cultural genocide. http://www.united-church.ca/aboriginal/schools/faq/history The United Church has paid reparations to many school survivors and created the Healing Fund twenty years ago which raised more than a million dollars to fund projects for emotional and spiritual restoration within First Nations communities and circles. The denomination has also participated in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a tear-stained journey through the stories of those who were so deeply affected.

    For these reasons and others I am intrigued by this art project and hope that it will make its way eastward.

    Would you want to see it? Do you think we need to see it?

    Friday, September 12, 2014

    Stonehenge Revealed

    I wonder if Stonehenge is one of a handful of universally recognized human-made structures? Do people in China and Lesotho and Paraguay recognize this ancient stone circle the way we do in Western countries? It is a remarkably enduring and both a mysterious and mystical monument to...well, we're not really sure. It certainly attracts the Druid-wannabes of our time and was probably a gathering place for an religious community thousands of years before Christianity.

    I have written before that on our first visit nearly forty years ago it was still possible to walk amidst the stones and even touch them.

    Stonehenge is in the news again thanks to technology which allows researchers to look beneath the area around the standing stones without actually excavating. This has revealed some important finds.
    New digital Stonehenge map

    It has answered the question of whether the stones formed a C-shape, as they now are configured, or whether they were in fact a circle. A circle it is, based on the subterranean shadows of disappeared columns.

    Perhaps more exciting is the discovery of so many more structures, as well as burial areas. According to a CBC article:

    The discoveries and a detailed map of Stonehenge and its surroundings were revealed at the British Science Festival Wednesday. They include:
    • Totem-pole-like posts or stone structures in the Durrington Walls "super henge" – a ring-shaped mound more than 1.5 kilometres in diameter.
    • Prehistoric pits hundreds of years older than Stonehenge that appear astronomically aligned to point to its location at certain times of year.
    • Huge burial mounds containing piles of gold and jewelry
    • A massive timber building that was probably used for elaborate burial rituals.
    How is that for cool? Just another reminder of the human inclination to connect the natural with the supernatural. I audited a Science and Religion course at King's College, within Dalhousie University when we lived in Halifax. The prof reminded us that the human fascination with the heavens and the heavenly led the way toward modern science. Even though the two realms of religion and science often seem to be mortal enemies in our culture, they were once intertwined.

    We will all have a chance to learn more about the discoveries from The Nature of Things documentary on October 9th. http://www.cbc.ca/natureofthings/episodes/stonehenge-uncovered

    Have any of you visited Stonehenge? Are you interested in this from an archeological standpoint? How about from a religious perspective?
                                                                         Car Henge Nebraska

    Thursday, September 11, 2014

    Blogging On!

    I noticed a couple of evenings ago that the total number of pageviews for this Lion Lamb blog had just climbed above the 300,000 mark. I began this blog in September of 2006 and have continued to post regularly through the years. In fact, when I look back I see that I only posted around thirty times in those closing months of 2006, about 250 each year for the next two, then totals above 300 in subsequent years. I suppose I just found the rhythm for writing about the events of my life and world from a Christian perspective and kept on going.

    I started my Groundling blog along the way, and while I feel it may be the more important of the two because of the pressing realities of climate change and other environmental issues I have not been as faithful in posting entries. This all takes time, and I can eke out twenty minutes most days for one blog, but forty minutes is a stretch. There have been 12,000 pageviews for Groundling, a whopping difference. Between the two blogs I have written 2,500-plus entries which represents close to a thousand hours of clackety-clack on the keyboard.

    I notice now that the number of looks I get on Twitter regularly exceeds the reads for the two blogs. Both are above a thousand a week, but Twitter is an easy gulp while even short blogs require some digestion.

    With both blogs and Twitter I hope to nudge readers toward God and Christ in a challenging and provocative way. Some tweets are not overtly religious the way my blogs are, but they are meant to keep issues of faith, justice, and creation care on the screen of your busy lives.

    While I began because of the request of one member of a congregation, I have chosen to do this through the years without the official encouragement or request of the churches I have served. And I just keep going.

    Once again, thanks for participating in this aspect of my ministry!

    Please check out my Groundling blog today http://groundlingearthyheavenly.blogspot.ca/2014/09/fracking-crazy.html

    Wednesday, September 10, 2014


    A few years ago I went on a road trip to the States with my sole sibling (soul sibling?) brother Eric. On the way to Georgia we stopped at a fast food place called Chick-Fil-A. The food was quite good, but what was up with the name? How were we to pronounce it? It turns out that it is almost Canadian. The last letter is a hard A, so why didn't they substitute an eh" at the end when they opened their first Canadian outlet in Calgary earlier this year?

    We were told that none of these restaurants is open on a Sunday because the owners are devout Christians. And not only do they observe the Sabbath, they have a daily devotional time at their national headquarters and a statue of Jesus washing the feet of a disciple in the lobby as a reminder to staff of a call to service.  I admire the convictions of the Cathy family in terms of honouring a day of rest and keeping a Christian focus. I do wish they had come to other conclusions about whose feet Jesus might or might not wash. They have stirred up controversy by taking an openly anti-gay stance since President Obama struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, which opened the way for states to sanction gay marriage. Some groups picketed outlets of the chain, while others went out and bought more chicken sandwiches.

    The founder, Truett Cathy, went to that Great Chicken Coop in the Sky just yesterday, but the company will probably continue to follow certain values expressed in books such as  Eat Mor Chikin: Inspire More People -- I kid you not.

    Here's the condundrum. Can we admire individuals who live by certain values, sometimes inspired by religious convictions, when they fit our own but not others who live by other lights? It's a free country, as the saying goes, but it is all rather curious. Why do people mix selling stuff with line-in-the-sand faith statements in the first place?

    Any words of wisdom folks? Nothing about chickens and eggs please.

    Tuesday, September 09, 2014

    Still Searching

    The Search (2014) Poster

    After worship on Sunday we made the dash to Toronto so that we could watch two films which were part of the Toronto International Film Festival. We arrived back in Belleville at 1:00 AM, an endurance test which will probably not be repeated! The second film we chose in advance, but the first was chosen for us in that daughter Jocelyn, who works for TIFF, gave us the tickets which had been passed on to her.

    This movie, The Search, is a remake of a 1948 film of the same name. The original was about a nine-year-old boy, a survivor of the Nazi death camp, Auschwitz, searching for family after the war. The 2014 version is set in Chechnya during the largely ignored conflict between the Russians and this small state seeking independence. There have been two wars, and this one began in 1999.

    The film is brutal in its depictions of Russian violence against the Chechen people, mostly innocent civilians. There is a nine-year-old boy in this story as well, and he searches for his older sister and infant brother after their village is invaded and destroyed. All of the acting is good, but the boy who rarely speaks is mesmerizing in his expression of a wide range of emotions.

    We agreed afterward that the film is a reminder of how dependent we are on the media to be aware of the violence and conflict which rages around the world. I doubt many of us were all that aware of this Chechen war when it was unfolding. We were also drawn into the drama of this family and the pain and trauma experienced by children.

    There was a brief scene of the teen sister fervently praying that she might be reunited with her brothers. She is a Muslim, as the majority of Chechens are, and while we see her engage in certain ritual motions, she is offering a universal cry for help to the God she worships and trusts. It was a touching moment.

    Was there too much violence? Well, it wasn't pretty, but we were both moved by the story and felt that we left with a new perspective on a forgotten conflict. That's part of the power of film.


    Saturday, September 06, 2014

    Jesus has Entered the City!

    Official poster for the Jesus in the City parade in Toronto on Saturday.

    Okay, some news stories are just crazy quirky. Apparently Jesus almost didn't make it to the streets of Toronto today. A parade called Jesus in the City was scheduled for August but permit problems pushed it on to this weekend. Then the organizers couldn't come up with the $14,000 for the paid-duty police officers. Apparently there are still money-changers --or grabbers-- in the temple. To be fair the police department reduced the fee by eight thousand and now it will take place.

    I didn't realize that this parade has been happening for a few years and attracts up to 10,000 participants. While it may seem unusual to some there is a lot to be said for humans walking and marching together to demonstrate what is important to them. There are so many examples of groups marching for political and human rights and, yes, religious causes through the centuries. Often they do so at considerable personal risk, with civil rights marches in the States during the 50's and 60's being an example. Another is Gandhi's 400-kilometre Salt March in 1930. Communities around the world now hold Pride Parades to make a statement about gender equality. I walked with my family in large marches protesting the invasion of Iraq while in Halifax. And actually I took part in a Jesus parade in Hamilton back in the 1980's. The Jesus Festival that year included presentations by Jean Vanier, members of the Taize community, and Jim Wallis of Sojourners.

    I have no idea what the tone of the Jesus in the City Parade is, but there is certainly a precedent. Jesus took part in what was the original Jesus in the City parade on Palm Sunday nearly two thousand years ago.

    Authorities then must have been keeping a watchful eye on Jesus and the crowds which paid him tribute. You never know what a guy like this might be up to. Didn't he quote this from Isaiah?

     “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,

    because he has anointed me
    to bring good news to the poor.
    He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
    and recovery of sight to the blind,
    to let the oppressed go free..."
    I would certainly have the police keep their eye on that suspicious character.

    Friday, September 05, 2014

    Pastors & Prayers

    I visited a colleague in hospital recently because I knew she was there and I was in the facility to visit one of the Bridge St UC flock. I had been told that she had been hospitalized for a number of weeks and while I don't know her well I figured I could stop by and say hello.

    It turns out we have a fair amount in common in terms of length of ministry and that both of us had settlement charges in Newfoundland. I thought this would be a few minutes of "hi, hope you're recovering, see ya." Instead I was there for an hour, and while I offered support and concern for her in this extended health challenge, I benefitted from the conversation. She is a brave person who is handling this setback with resolve and I admire her.

    At the conclusion I took the plunge and offered to pray, which she accepted. Praying with other ministers, one-on-one, is a bit awkward, believe it or not. We are nearly always the pray-ers rather that than the pray-ees, and it feels a bit presumptuous to invite a colleague into prayer. But as I did I was aware of asking God to be present with a human being who needs God's comfort and courage.

    As clergy we can often feel alone. After all, who is the pastor's pastor? Who prays for and with us?  This person is in a ministry where she has a caring minister, so I'm not usurping that role! Yet prayer is important from my perspective.  I have plunged in and prayed with colleagues a number of times through the years and while I always wonder whether I should, eventually I'm glad I did. On one occasion I spontaneously invited a small group of clergy to gather around a colleague going through a tough time and we laid on hands and prayed. I was wracked with doubt immediately -how un-United Church! I actually apologized, but he told me that it had meant a lot.

    Does it occur to you that your minister needs and wants your prayers? Was it presumptuous of me to offer to pray the other day?

    Thursday, September 04, 2014

    Lead us Not...

    Yesterday a member here at Bridge St. UC told me about the turmoil which has swept into the congregation in which she grew up. The minister of this Brantford Ontario congregation was arrested for sexual luring and exploitation of a 17-year-old girl on the internet. Searches of his home and church office computers discovered child pornography as well, but this was not a random contact. The young woman was the child of family friends and it was the mother who realized that he had made contact with her daughter. The minister is 64-years-old, has served his congregation for twenty years, and has been an active member of community. The Brantford Expositor describes this minister's involvements:

    He has spoken out on numerous social justice issues over the years. He was a prominent contributor on the Brantford-Brant Roundtable on Poverty, the Brantford Anti-Racism Committee and the Brantford Living Wage Committee. As well, he has been involved in homelessness forums, is a longtime promoter of Black History Month, an advocate for greater sensitivity in gay rights issues and a national housing strategy. In 2012, he was nominated as a candidate for moderator of the United Church and previous to that he was the co-recipient of the Brantford YMCA Peace Medal.
    He is married and has four grown children.

    All of this is commendable, and so much of his ministry appears to be meaningful, but somehow he entered into a dark and troubling world of temptation where he thought he was shielded from the public eye. It is the shadow side of the internet and, sadly, increasingly common. We have friends in Colorado who are part of a Presbyterian congregation. They found an excellent interim minister after their long-time pastor left and he brought both stability and a willingness to challenge them in their time of transition. One day the police swooped in, arrested him, seized his computer and other office computers. He was charged with possession of child porn. Suddenly the congregation's offices became a crime scene and they were shaken to the core.

    It's important to pray for everyone involved in these circumstances. This must be devastating for the family of the teen, and the family of the minister. It is a reminder of the need for vigilance on the part of parents. We know that the vast majority of religious leaders are trustworthy and understand moral and ethical boundaries. Still, this is a cautionary tale that while we must live with a degree of trust for those in positions of authority, no group in society is immune from these temptations.

    It's all sad isn't it? Yet justice must be done. Thank God it didn't go any further, or so we hope.


    Wednesday, September 03, 2014

    Balm in Gilead

    There is balm in Gilead,
    To make the wounded whole;
    There's power enough in heaven,
    To cure a sin-sick soul.

    On the weekend I finished up the latest mystery by celebrated Canadian author Louise Penny. It's called The Long Way Home, and yes it features Inspector Gamache, and yes it's good. As for borrowing our copy, wife Ruth first, then get in line!

    We have found that this series has steadily improved through the years. In the beginning we read them because our son and daughter-in-law lived in the Eastern Townships of Quebec and we enjoyed the references to the area. With each novel Penny seemed to exhibit greater skill as a writer and shared the depth of her own thought. The novel How the Light Gets In dealt with addiction in an insightful and honest manner. I really appreciated The Beautiful Mystery, set in a monastery, even though some folk enjoyed it the least of her books.

    I found The Long Way Home to be quite religious, or at least to contain a surprising number of religious references and allusions. Key to the story are the old spiritual There is a Balm in Gilead and the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Gilead by Marilynne Robinson. The hymn is not a personal favourite, but the novel certainly is. I'm looking forward to Robinson's  new novel, Lila, to be published this Fall. Gilead is about the long way home, and Penny picks up on that theme and quotes a prayer or blessing in the story which is about courage. The storyline invites us to ponder several "sin-sick souls" in need of redemption and grace.

     I won't say more or I might incur the wrath of those who look forward to reading the novel.
    The Long Way Home is certainly not cloying in its religious content, nor is it overbearing in its God-talk. We are simply reminded of our brokenness and need for grace.

    Are you a Penny fan? Are you okay with religious and spiritual themes in novels? Have you noticed the theme of grace in other Penny books?