Thursday, April 30, 2015

Museum of the Bible

Do you remember the CBC comedy Hatching, Matching, Dispatching? Nah, I didn't think so. While it had a fun cast with Mary Walsh and Shaun Majumder it lasted only six episodes. In one scene two of the gang are in a pick-up truck. One intones to the other "it's in the bible." The other responds that the bible is a little like an Iraqi prisoner in an American jail. Torture it long enough and it will say anything you want. It was 2006 and we had all seen the horrors of Abu Ghraib.

There was a unsettling truth to that tossed-off comment. Frequently earnest believers manipulate the scriptures to make them say what fits their worldview, proof-texting some portions and ignoring others. During the era of slavery Christian debaters for both sides used the bible as the justification for their stances. More recently this has been part of the discussion for the role of women in church leadership and how we respond to the LGBTQ community.

Too often the bible itself has been used as an instrument of torture, frightening others into submission, stigmatizing the already downtrodden. It is a painful history.

I am intrigued that there will be a Museum of the Bible in Washington DC by 2017. Construction is already well under way and it will showcase biblical artifacts from the 40,000-piece Green collection, one of the largest in private hands. Respected scholar David Trobisch will be the director and it looks as though it will be well worth a visit. I'm a bible nerd, so this is exciting.

Of course this museum will be about history rather than interpretation. For all the bible has been misused, it can speak to us so powerfully in this moment. It is up to us to humbly, receptively listen for God's voice in scripture, appreciating that it is a lamp showing our path rather than a club to threaten and control. We need to understand the history of scripture, and of its interpretation. And we can pray that Christ will be opened to us in fresh ways as we read and study and hear the Word proclaimed.


Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Living Through Loss

I visited two lovely elderly persons last week who live on their own and have managed to maintain active lives after the death of their spouses. Both told me that they miss their partners deeply, even though the losses occurred a number of years ago. She reminisced about the blind date that began their relationship and how compatible they had been through the years. He admitted that he shouldn't be in his spacious apartment any longer because of his health but he can't bear the thought of leaving because everything around him his wife chose. He used to go to the grave every day, and we have another member who still visits his wife's grave a number of times a week.

We can't take for granted that simply because every elderly couple will eventually be parted by death and that in aging congregations there are plenty of widows and widowers that they aren't experiencing an ongoing sense of loss and loneliness. Both the Old and New Testaments tell us to honour widows and there is practical instruction on how to demonstrate respect and care, including prayer. In biblical times it was because of vulnerability and poverty. Today it is often an issue of displacement and sadness, but the directive is still important. We need to remember that a sense of loss doesn't end at some arbitrary point in time after a death.

This is not about pity. The folk I visited are admirable, active people. Yet they grieve.

Any thoughts about this, and about how we might do better? For those of you who have lived through this loss, how did you feel and how did your congregation respond?

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

God Matters

Folk like handing me articles and other things at the door on Sunday mornings. While I often appreciate what is offered, where do I put the stuff!

Recently I was giving the Maclean's magazine with the cover article showing a cheesy looking anglo Jesus and the title The Science is In JESUS SAVES (seriously). The article is about the positive effect of faith and faith community on the health and happiness of children.

In a time when we are all stunned by the brutality of ISIS and we live with the ugly realities of sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic church, not to mention our sorry history in the Residential Schools, it is tempting to dismiss the value of religion.

This article focuses on a book by Lisa Miller, the director of clinical psychology at Columbia University's Teachers College called The Spiritual Child, soon to be published. She concludes that trust in a higher power makes a significant difference for teens. They are less likely to enter into substance abuse and depression. Spiritually oriented children also tend to excel academically, if they are encouraged to think openly and ask hard questions. Miller comments "in the long run we think religiosity will confer a protective effect against all kinds of disorders."

This has been my experience. In my previous congregation I watched children grow into teens and young adults. I saw their faith develop with the mentorship of excellent leaders and a caring, nurturing congregation. Yes, some of them experienced the angst of teen life. On the whole though so many of them were becoming and are still developing into balanced, whole persons. I am so proud of them, and when I left I felt as though I was leaving family. I am convinced that personal Christian faith and Christian community matters. I don't doubt that the effect of other religions can be positive as well.

What are your experiences and comments about this?

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Brothers & Sisters in Need

We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?  1 John 3:16-17

This is Good Shepherd Sunday, with readings which remind us of Christ's compassion and sacrificial love. In may churches the 23rd Psalm will be sung and tears shed as we declare that God walks with us through the valley of the shadow of death.

Today we are sobered by the news out of the remote nation of Nepal where a devastating earthquake has killed more than 2,000 and destroyed the infrastructure for people already living in poverty. I spoke with my 89-year-old mother yesterday who had been watching the news for hours. In her travel agent days she took a group of people to Nepal with Dr. Bob McClure, a former moderator of the United Church. She recalled taking seed to a village where a ceremony was held to present it.

It's important for those of us who live in the "global village," a term coined by Canadian philosopher Marshal McLuhan, to respond to all of God's sheep in their times of distress. The people of Nepal literally live in the deep valleys of the Himalayas and the loss of life and destruction will require an international response. We can choose to be generous and sacrificial as individuals because this is our call to discipleship as followers of Christ.


Friday, April 24, 2015

The Cost of Compassion

The prospect of being able to claim EI for six months might reduce the strain on hospital facilities, if patients can be looked after at home.
Some weeks I am two or three days ahead in my blog entries. Other weeks I am always slightly behind. Today I am a little late in expressing my suspicion  that the federal budget released a few days ago was good for nothing other than to play to the Conservative faithful.

There is absolutely nothing about a strategy to mitigate climate change. There is nothing about combatting poverty. It seems to be a platform to tout a "good news" balanced budget, whatever the cost, a few months before a federal election. All parties do it, but it stinks.

Actually, the budget was good for something. There will be a significant increase in the Compassionate Care Benefit for those who are looking after loved ones who are ill. The increase is from six weeks to six months. A year would have been better, but this is a huge step in the right direction and our government should be applauded. There are hundreds of thousands of Canadians in this situation and they deserve to be helped rather than hindered.

In our role in pastoral care in our congregation Vicki and I often see how providing this sort of care for family members can be exhausting physically, emotionally, spiritually. If it means taking time away from paid employment this results in additional stress and worry. Knowing that there are several more months of benefits will relieve some of that anxiety.

Have you been in a caregiver role for an ill or dying loved one? Were there sufficient supports for you as you did so? Should we providing more benefits for those caring this load?

Thursday, April 23, 2015


I have mused and mumbled before about the public apologies these days which seem to be spin rather than true contrition. By the time the individual has finished it's clear that all their sorry for is that someone else was offended. Over and over these mea culpas contain little in the way of substance.

The term mea culpa comes from a prayer of confession of sinfulness at the beginning of  the Roman Catholic Mass or when receiving the sacrament of Penance. It may be accompanied by beating the breast as in its use in a religious context.

Often those offering the quasi apologies are politicians and media stars, but sometimes they are religious leaders. Sadly, the religious types are as adept at artfully dodging as the rest of them.

Richard Terfry, the Canadian musician and CBC Radio 2 host who is best known by his stage name Buck 65, posted an emotional message on his Facebook page asking for 'a lot of help' in his journey 'to become a better person.'

Enter Rich Terfry, CBC radio host and Juno-winning hip-hop artist under the name of Buck 65. A few days ago he made a searingly honest confession on Facebook:

I've destroyed every important relationship in my life by cheating and lying. That includes my marriage. Being honest has been a big problem for me for a long time. I've treated a lot of people very badly. I've toyed with people's hearts. I've manipulated and tricked people. I've created a false image of myself here and with my music. I haven't been a good person. At all. I've made myself look like a victim of the people I hurt. I can't do that anymore. So the first step I need to take is to let the world know. I want this to be the first of many steps I take to become a better person. I need a LOT of help with that.

I'm sorry. To the good people I've hurt recently. I'm sorry to the people I've hurt in the past. I'm sorry to everyone for making you believe I'm something I'm not. I'm a shitty person. I need help. Like I said, this is just a first step.

Zowie! Terfry is correct in naming this as a first step, but it is an impressive one. I hope it is the beginning of personal change which will result in reconciliation and personal change.

Saying sorry and admitting wrongdoing --aka sin-- is an essential aspect of the Christian life. We are promised forgiveness and a "do-over" through the redeeming love of Christ.

Why is that apologizing can be so difficult? Do you struggle with saying sorry? What about Rich Terfry's public confession?

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Multi-Faith Green

Today is Earth Day, a yearly recognition that began in 1970 as a response to a massive oil spill off the coast of California. There has always been elements of both environmentalism and politics in Earth Day. And along the way it was adopted by many faith groups as a way of honouring the Creator and creation. Some Christian denominations including the United Church have adopted the Sunday closest to Earth Day as the opportunity to praise the goodness of what God has brought into being and ask how we might become more effective in "living with respect in Creation."

We are not alone though. Jewish and Muslim congregations make similar efforts. Again this year  Islamic religious leaders worldwide are planning to deliver a Green “Khutbah,” or sermon, at the traditional Friday prayer service on April 24 to mark Earth Day. Founded in Canada in 2012, the Green Khutbah Campaign takes place to commemorate Earth Day.

Muaz Nasir, one of the founders of the Campaign, said in a recent statement, “The theme of this year’s campaign is ‘Water – A Sacred Gift.'” We spent several weeks last year pondering the sacredness of water. Nasir is also the publisher of, a Canadian environmental website with an Islamic focus on stewardship. He points out that the Quran gives direction:

Consider the water you drink. Was it you who brought it down the rain cloud or We? If We had pleased, We could make it bitter: why then do you not give thanks?
[Quran 56: 68-70]

Have you been aware that other faiths acknowledge the intrinsic goodness and sacredness of creation. Should we doing more to work together in this common theme?

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

A Humanitarian Crisis

Should I repeat myself? Well you say, you do it all the time David! I have written about the tragedy of desperate migrants, asylum seekers, who flee from the Middle East and Africa in over-crowded, unsafe vessels. A high percentage are true refugees in the sense that they are escaping danger in their homelands. Others are seeking a better life, and hope that European countries will give them opportunity for economic advancement.

For several years now, the numbers of these migrants crossing the Mediterranean has been on the rise and so has the death toll. Italy has received a staggering number of these destitute people, and combed the waters for those who have perished. According to the Guardian Online "about 200,000 migrants have arrived in Italy since the start of 2014, with more than 10,000 in the past week alone. This year’s death toll has already reached 909 according to some estimates, compared with about 50 deaths in the same period in 2014..."

Since this was written the death toll has climbed above 1700. Pope Francis has commended the Italian government for their rescue efforts and called upon the international community to provide support. I agree with the pope that other countries including Canada must respond in compassionate and practical ways. And perhaps it's time for a new "boat people" movement amongst churches. The United Church was very involved with the Vietnamese Boat People in the 70's and congregations of different denominations worked together to sponsor families. We have a strong history of support for migrants and refugees. Can we do this again?

We prayed on Sunday for those affected by this humanitarian crisis. I hope our prayers will issue in action.


Monday, April 20, 2015

The Value of Study Bibles

On a fairly regular basis I am asked if I would blog about Christian music, videos, books by those who publish them. Often  I don't reply --there is some fairly strange stuff -- and just as often I offer what I hope is a polite "no thank you." On occasion I am intrigued, and then I wait for what is usually a book to arrive.

A few months ago I received the NIV First-Century Study Bible with the subtitle Exploring Scripture in Its Jewish and Early Christian Context. There are notes by Kent Dobson who is a teaching pastor at a big church in Michigan.

I prefer the New Revised Standard Version of the bible to the New International Version for a number of reasons, even though the NIV was my bible of choice during my teens. The NSV is more inclusive in its language, yet rigorous in its scholarship. Still, I appreciate this study bible because of the maps and charts and illustrations interspersed through the text of scripture, not just in appendices at the back of the bible.

There are small insert word studies for words such as Abba, or father. Another reminds us that "to fear the Lord" is speaking of awe or wonder. There is a map of Philip's and Peter's Missionary Journeys, when often only those of Paul are included. Photos of archeological sites are interesting, as are the art images of various biblical scenes or events or persons. There is also a topical index at the back which is always helpful.

Is this the best study bible available? I'm not equipped to say, because I can't offer informed comparisons. I did share it with someone who is exploring his Christian faith and eager to learn. He found it helpful and I can see that it would be for someone new to Christianity and someone with a longer and more informed faith background. I appreciate that the publisher, Zondervan, was willing to send me a copy. Zondervan has traditionally been a theologically conservative publishing house but from what I can see the goal has been to be educational and balanced.


Do any of you use a study bible or do you like your scripture "straight up?" Does this one sound interesting to you?

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Earthy Sunday

It is Earth Sunday today and as with most years we will observe the occasion with a worshipful approach to Creation Care. I decided that this theme would be soil because this is the United Nations International Year of Soils. I wouldn't kid you about something like this!

As odd as that might sound, we are all dependent on soil for our sustenance, as the majority of the planet's food is grown in the earth. We are humans, humus, or earth in our own make-up, mixed with water and when we die it is to the earth we return, "earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust."

I actually attended an event on soil yesterday at Sydenham United Church in Kingston because I figure that what we do the earth as well as the Earth is important. Again, I'm not joking.  What we grow, how we grow it, how we take responsibility for the well-being of the soil, are actually deeply spiritual enterprises. The website for this year speaks of soil being sacred and I would agree.

I went back to a gem of a book by Fred Bahnson called Soil and Sacrament: A Spiritual Memoir of Food and Faith. Bahnson, a Christian, is practical about growing food but he is something of a soil mystic offering that "soil is a portal to another world."  I like CS Lewis' observation that Jesus' first miracle of turning water into wine may impress us yet "God is doing miraculous things all around us all the time. But we take them for granted. Every year, God makes grapes grow, pulls water through them, and turns it into wine. Every year, God grows a whole harvest of food from a few seeds."

So this year Earth Sunday will be Earthy Sunday and we will thank God for the gift of soil.

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Cafe Kindness

Preach the gospel, and if necessary, use words.

These words are often attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, although there is no verification he said them. Francis had a heart for the poor and the pushed aside. However said them, they are an encouragement to walk the walk as well as talk the talk. Recently I have been talking with someone who is doing the walking with some of those residents of downtown Belleville who are struggling due to poverty, mental health issues, and the loneliness that results.

Juliet DeWal is the proprietor of Sweet Escape Café, an establishment which I had frequented on a number of occasions before we chatted. Somehow we got on to the folk on the margins in the downtown, and I discovered that Juliet has what I would call a ministry to many of them. They seek refuge in the café, knowing that they will be treated with dignity and kindness. Juliet often treats them to coffee or food because of their financial circumstances.

Others have noticed what she is doing. Early in May Juliet will be recognized by the Canadian Mental Health Association in Belleville as a Community Champion. I am really pleased she will receive this accolade even though she does this out of the goodness of her heart and her convictions about "the least of these."

Not long ago my wife Ruth heard about a worthwhile initiative in Philadelphia. The owner of a restaurant invites patrons to sponsor slices of pizza for homeless persons in the area. If they choose ,they can pay for an extra slice when they come in, the owner puts a post-it on a board, and that chit can be redeemed by someone who needs the food.

In part because of Ruth's nudging and Juliet's willingness to share the opportunity, a board is now up in her café. Some of her regulars can now help out other regulars and it is already working. There are actually lots of Bridge St. folk who frequent Sweet Escape and we can all see this as an extension of the work our congregation does through our food ministries.

Juliet insists that it is a team of people who should be recipients of the recognition. A number of those who spend time at Sweet Escape look out to those who need their support and kindness.

If you are downtown looking for a coffee, or soup, or sandwich, stop in.


Friday, April 17, 2015

Prayer in the Public Square

I can't imagine that any of us are surprised at the news. The Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that the council of the town of Saguenay in Quebec can no longer begin meetings with a prayer. The fact that they do is perplexing to be sure, because Quebec is the most secular province in Canada although it has a strong Roman Catholic heritage. The mayor invited councillors into prayer with the sign of the cross, which is certainly not non-sectarian. The court reminded us that:

 Sponsorship of one religious tradition by the state in breach of its duty of neutrality amounts to discrimination against all other such traditions,” Justice Clément Gascon, from Quebec, said in writing for the court. Prayer is a religious practice, the court said. “Even if it is said to be inclusive, it may nevertheless exclude non-believers.

Since the decision the Ottawa city council has chosen not to begin its meetings with prayer, and Oshawa has taken heat for continuing with the Lord's Prayer. I listened to CBC listeners who responded with a variety of opinions. One spoke of her exclusion from the classroom as a child during the Lord's Prayer because she was Jewish. A Muslim caller said that he has no problem with what he regards as a universal prayer such as the Lord's Prayer.

As much as I lament the secularization of our society, I agree with this decision. Dogged determination to uphold Christian prayer in the public square won't make our culture more religious or spiritual. And I have been asked to say enough "ready, set, go" prayers at public functions through the years that I am dubious about their value. I am always willing to engage in prayer in any setting where it will be meaningful and appropriate. But it seems that is time for us to honour the separation of church and state, whatever our personal convictions might be.

What are your thoughts on this one?

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Church & Place-making

It bugs me to travel past Eastminster Church in Belleville. It isn't because of what they are doing wrong, but what they are doing right. For the past few months a scrolling LED sign at the corner of Herchimer and Bridge streets has been announcing everything going on for the congregation. Yes, there are a couple of signs at Bridge St., but one is tucked behind a tree and the other is on the side of the building rather than out where passersby will see it. I feel that our imposing and beautiful edifice is strangely invisible, or least not as visible as I would like.

We have been in the downtown of Belleville for roughly 130 years in this building, and even longer with the edifice before it which was destroyed by fire. But what is our sense of place?

I really like this "place-making" project in Chicago:

Construction starts Monday to create the Lincoln Hub, which will include wooden planters and benches, along with a sidewalk polka-dot art installation inspired by Oriental rug designs. It will take about a month to extend street curbs and install the other elements of the project, with a ribbon-cutting ceremony planned for May."We want the public space on Lincoln Avenue to foster more of a sense of community, rather than a path people use to get somewhere else," said Lee Crandell, director of the West Lakeview Special Service Area program, which works out of the Lakeview Chamber of Commerce. The chamber began working on plans to create the Lincoln Hub in late 2013.

The public was invited to comment during two open houses or through online surveys.
"Residents overwhelmingly wanted this sense of a town square, a central hub. Businesses wanted traffic calming, they want people to notice their businesses and creating more of a pedestrian feeling," Crandell said.

Obviously the congregation in the rather traditional looking church building are willing participants in this project. This is more than signage saying "over here!" It is an invitation to include the church in the neighbourhood.

What do you think of this, regardless of whether you are a fan of polka dots? Why do we tend to be so conservative about letting others know we are in the community and what we are about? Is this a reflection of how willing we are to share our Christian faith?

the lincoln crossing

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Cap & Trade & Christian Witness

Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard, centre, speaks at the beginning of a premiers' summit on climate change Tuesday in Quebec City.

"You bad!  No, you badder!" (hissy slap, hissy slap) Okay, this might be an exaggeration about the relationship between the provinces and the feds on mitigating the causes of climate change, but not far off. The federal government says the provinces aren't doing enough while provincial leaders are saying that the feds aren't doing anything.

We should be angry and ashamed of the Canadian governments regressive policies on controlling greenhouse gas emissions and developing a strategy to address climate change. I am realistic that we still depend on fossil fuels to keep our economy chugging along --today-- but what about tomorrow? The Tar Sands are a blight, an open sore. Again, they are a tremendous economic asset but Alberta and Canada have been incredibly irresponsible in managing their development. We are dealing with a downturn which reflects this.

I'm glad that Ontario and Quebec have announced an agreement-in-principle about some sort of joint cap and trade program. These proposals in various forms essentially require those who create pollution to pay for it. There are a number of such legislated programs around the world and they often effective in reducing carbon emissions.  But the conference of premiers which wrapped up yesterday in Quebec indicates that there is anything but consensus on what needs to be done. Jim Prentice of Alberta and two others didn't even bother to attend. The premiers do agree that the federal government is showing no leadership, "selling our birthright for a mess of pottage" to use a biblical phrase.

This conference and the action/inaction of our governments should be at the forefront of our consciousness as we approach Earth Sunday this weekend. It's lovely to declare that "the Earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof." If we are indifferent or regressive in how that is lived out in practical terms through the governments we are entrusted to elect, then we are hypocrites.

Have you been following the conference? Are you baffled by cap and trade and carbon credit jargon? Do you want to make a difference as a Christian?

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Christians of India

Open for business. India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses the world's largest industrial technology fair, the Hannover Messe, in Hanover, Germany, earlier this month.  He has been on something of a world tour, trying to drum up industrial investment in job-hungry India.

Today Nahendra Modi, the Prime Minister of India, is in Canada to meet with the Prime Minister and speak to a large gathering of Indo-Canadians. The relationship between Canada and India is strong and trade with a nation whose population equals 30 Canadas is hugely beneficial. Canada supported Modi long before he was elected PM and he is a bright man determined to do everything necessary to make India flourish.

Unfortunately Prime Minister Modi has a suspect record when it comes to religious freedom, despite what he says now. Concerns were raised during the election campaign and there is evidence that Modi's words and actions don't mesh even in these first few months of his government. The CBC's Nahlah Ayed offers these observations: 

For example, in New Delhi, the city Modi now calls home, several churches have been vandalized or burnt since December. In the past month alone, an elderly Catholic nun was gang-raped, and a day later, a church still under construction was demolished.
A Hindu nun holds a poster in solidarity with the Christian nun who was raped
during an armed assault on a convent school in March as protests for the better protection
 of women and religious minorities erupted across the country. (Reuters)

Members of India's Christian community say these attacks bear the hallmarks of a sustained assault on a minority religion. They feel vulnerable and ask what will Modi do to protect them, beyond a statement expressing concern, which came far later than they had expected or hoped.

There have also been concerns raised about the increasing reports of so-called reconversions of Christians and Muslims to Hinduism in ceremonies allegedly organized by Hindu nationalist groups — who believe those people should not have been converted into Islam or Christianity in the first place.Modi has advocated an India where all religions are permitted to flourish. But, as many Indians are asking, what is he doing to reign in the extremists.

Christians here in Canada need to watch and pray in solidarity with our Indian brothers and sisters in Christ. At times the federal governments headed by different parties have turned a blind eye to human rights injustices in China, including persecution of Christians. We don't want history to repeat itself as we chase economic opportunities in India.


Monday, April 13, 2015

The Human Face of Lost Women

Roxanne Marie Isadore, 24, was mother to Gaile, Connor and CJ when her sister saw her for the last time in Edmonton in September 2007.

Recently I phoned my cousin Susan in Whitehorse to let her know that my elderly mother had moved to a new residence. I could tell she was bracing for news of Moms death -- we aren't a close extended family and it had been a while since we had talked. We caught up on family news including the reality that she is retiring and joining all her siblings. The youngest, Pauline, is doing well, which is a little miracle. Pauline was adopted as a baby, a Coast Salish First Nation child. She struggled with her obvious differences from her Caucasian family and early in her teens she began running away from home. Soon she was a sex trade worker in downtown Vancouver and she appeared to be lost to her family.

I knew that she had been working the streets during the Robert Pickton years and during his trial for multiple murders of women she reported on events for a local newspaper. But I hadn't realized until this conversation that she knew Pickton.

I always think of Pauline when I hear of the aboriginal women who have disappeared in this country. Instead of being a terrible statistic of more than 1,000 women dead and missing, there is a human face. The CBC has started a project to tell the stories of these women, an ambitious and important enterprise. The stories are difficult to hear, but they bring home the tragic loss.

Our federal government seems to want to minimize the need to know more, and recently the RCMP told the public that seventy percent of murdered aboriginal women have been killed by aboriginal men. Why does that matter? What purpose does that serve?When have we ever heard about the race or ethnicity of other murderers in this country?

The United Church has supported the call for a national inquiry into the disappearance of aboriginal women and so do I. I hope we all pay attention to the human stories of those who are gone and those who love them.


Saturday, April 11, 2015

Thomas & His Inventor

Next weekend Ruth happily becomes Granny as she visits grandson Nicholas in London. Well, Nicholas, Rebekah and Isaac, but guess who has become star of the show?

She will take along gifts of course, including a Thomas the Tank Engine book and one of the latest engines. If you aren't in the young kid loop -- we certainly weren't until Nicholas -- you might not be aware that this is a passion bordering on a frenzy for many little ones. Nicholas turned two at the end of January but he can name every star in the Thomas constellation without hesitation and at lightning speed.

Ruth was curious enough to do some research and discovered that Thomas isn't just a recent fad. He's had staying power, invented by the Rev Wilbert Vere Awdry (June 1911 – 21 March 1997)  a British Anglican cleric, railway enthusiast and children's author. Thomas the Tank Engine is the central figure in his acclaimed Railway Series.

The characters that would make Awdry famous and the first stories featuring them were invented in 1943 to amuse his son Christopher during a bout of measles. After Awdry wrote The Three Railway Engines, he built Christopher a model of Edward, and some wagons and coaches, out of a broomstick and scraps of wood.[Christopher also wanted a model of Gordon; however, as that was too difficult Awdry made a model of a little 0-6-0 tank engine. Awdry said: "The natural name was Thomas – Thomas the Tank Engine". Then Christopher requested stories about Thomas and these duly followed and were published in the famous book Thomas the Tank Engine, released in 1946.

I suppose that it is fitting that the son, grandson, and great-grandson of clergy loves Thomas and the gang. And you never really know where or how the clergy types are being creative in the world!


Friday, April 10, 2015

Are we Searching for Sunday?

Rachel Held Evans is an evangelical author who seems to be in constant trouble because she is honest, expansive in her understanding of God's grace, and witty to boot. Doesn't she sound dangerous to you? I follow her on Twitter and the doctrine-police trolls are relentless in their criticism.

She wrote a book called Evolving in Monkey Town which was later renamed with the far less interesting title of Faith Unravelled. The book is about her journey out of fundamentalism into a healthier evangelical faith which is open to questions, doubt, and a different perspective on the grace of Christ. Sadly, in some circles naming all this becomes a magnet for anger and recrimination. It gets downright ugly if the person with these dangerous ideas is an uppity woman. I do know one evangelical man who found the book to be a breath of fresh air when he read it back in 2010 but he talked with others who were scandalized.

Rachel Held Evans new book, Searching for Sunday, intrigues me, in part because I am aware that she has become an Episcopalian. In Canada we call 'em Anglicans. One of my myriads sisters-in-law also transitioned from an evangelical congregation to an Anglican church. She appreciates the richness of the liturgical year, a regular eucharist, and a grounding in the traditions of the church.

I have seen a screen-shot of a page from the new book where Held Evans offers: "church is a moment of time when the kingdom of God draws near when a meal, a story, a song an apology and even a failure is made holy by the presence of Jesus among us and within us."

This works for me. In a time of transition in our denomination I do hope we get back to "a meal, a story, a song" as the core of our life together. It is when we are at our best as Christians.


Thursday, April 09, 2015

Reading the Bible & Staying Christian

Yesterday I spent some time with a nice guy who has come for faith conversation on a number of occasions. He showed me the lesson outlines for a "life skills" program he is involved with in a local congregation with a conservative theology.

Each session is biblically based, which is encouraging. It was the "rules of the road" (my phrase) in the initial session which caught my eye. At the top of the list was "we will not argue or debate. The Bible is the final authority." The fellow admitted that the theology wasn't exactly United Church, and I didn't press the issue.

I do wonder how denominations come to the conclusion that conversation about the content of the bible cannot be discussed or debated. Someone, somewhere has decided what the authority of the bible is, and then they were brook no challenge to that interpretation, because of course that is what it is. The biblical text was not texted to us, or lowered down from on high. Yet some act as though it is, nearly always to their benefit.

Then I chatted with someone who is well versed in the bible but just can't read it anymore even though it was once a source of meaning and solace. It her setting it was employed to control others, including women, and she came to the point where that oppression wasn't acceptable --thank God.

The bible is essential to my faith and I can't imagine worshipping corporately without scripture as an essential aspect of our gathering together. Nor would I be able to frame my personal understanding of God and Christ without it. Yet I have seen how this marvellous narrative of God's saving love has been distorted and how the "texts of terror"  have been used to do terrible harm.

Amazon tells me that tomorrow my copy of  How to Read the Bible & Still Be a Christian: Struggling with Divine Violence from Genesis through Revelation will arrive. I have appreciated John Dominic Crossan through the years, so I'll see what he has to say.

It is a great title because I have spoken with so many people who have been appalled when they read certain stories and even psalms. For all that, there is such a rich upwelling of grace and love in the bible.

How has your relationship with scripture unfolded? Does the bible matter to you? Are there parts that scare you? What about the grace and love?

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Heart Gardens

The United Church of Canada has been represented throughout the Truth and Reconciliation process over the past years. Our denomination was involved in the dark reality of Residential Schools for First Nations peoples, a form of cultural genocide. The collaboration of church and state was racist at its core, even though there were many fine people who worked in those schools. I received this yesterday from Kairos and I hope congregations everywhere will participate.

The formal Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) process comes to a close in Ottawa from May 31 to June 3, 2015.  As a legacy to the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, former students of Indian Residential Schools and their families, KAIROS is joining with the TRC, the First Nations Child and Family Caring Society and Project of Heart and inviting children and youth across the country to create a Heart Garden.

We invite children and youth in parishes and congregations to make hearts, send one symbolic heart to Ottawa, and plant a Heart Garden in your community to recognize our shared commitment to reconciliation.

Here is all you need to know about how to create your Heart Garden and send a symbolic heart to Ottawa:

Be sure to keep a close eye on the KAIROS website for updates and resources for the May 29 to June 3 Time for Reconciliation KAIROS Gathering, including worship resources to mark the ceremonial close of the TRC:

Tuesday, April 07, 2015


It was appropriate that yesterday, the day following a hectic Easter weekend with three worship services, I listened to an interview on CBC's The Current with Christina Crook, the author of a new book called The Joy of Missing Out. It is part of a veritable tsunami of thoughtful books about our virtual obsession with being "connected" through our devices without much consideration to who or what we are chasing for connection. The Fear of Missing Out drives us to relentlessly seek more information without savouring life as it unfolds around us. FOMA can actually rob us of joy and satisfaction as we are frantically seeking both.

There really do need to be the moments and seasons where we set aside the really valuable tools for finding our way through the day, in order to seize the day. Technology is wonderful, just not all the time.

Crook invites us into JOMA, and actually abstained from the internet herself for 31 days to address what she felt were unhealthy habits in her life. She wanted to get away from what she calls the "clutter and chatter." Crook struggled with the detox, but realized that the spaces and margins of life were important to her psychological health, for meaning and joy with her family and friends.  

I think Jews and Christians call "the Joy of Missing Out" the Sabbath, --hey, it's shorter-- but JOMA certainly works as a term for our time. We would suggest that this Sabbath time is essential to our spiritual well-being.

Do you suffer from FOMA? Do you need more JOMA?

Sunday, April 05, 2015

Easter Glory!

In a few minutes I will slip the alb I seldom wear anymore over my head, then don my Easter stole. Even though I am a seasoned veteran of Easter morning, with 35 years of ministry,  many of those with multiple services, I always feel rather inadequate for the glorious responsibility of proclaiming the resurrection.

Death has been defeated! We are forgiven and made whole and redeemed! How do I possibly convey this!

We will worship, and the music will stir us, and we will share in our meal of grace and hope. It's not about me -- it's never about me! -- so I will do my best to proclaim the gospel and get out of the way.

Christ is Risen!

Saturday, April 04, 2015

The Dance Goes On

Embedded image permalink

I danced on a Friday when the sky turned black
It's hard to dance with the devil on your back
They buried my body & they thought I'd gone
But I am the Dance & I still go on!

Friday, April 03, 2015

Christ's Commandment to Love

Pope Francis was at it again yesterday. He entered the Ribibbia prison in Rome to celebrate the eucharist with inmates, then washed the feet of twelve selected from the male and female detention centres.

This isn't the first time he has ventured from St. Peter's for this symbolic act of servanthood.
On Maundy Thursday 2013, shortly after his election, he went to Rome's Casal del Marmo juvenile detention centre, where he washed the feet of young male and female offenders Last year, he presided over the Mass and foot-washing ritual at a rehabilitation facility for the elderly and people with disabilities on the outskirts of the city. I admire that Francis goes out to fulfill Jesus' commandment, the "maundatum" to love through service.

I pay attention to stories about Maundy Thursday that remind me that this isn't just a commemoration of a historical event. There is an article in the latest Christian Century magazine by  Lutheran pastor Diane Roth about the fifth grade kids of her congregation taking their first communion in the Maundy Thursday service last year. Extended families came, including the divorced parents of one child, along with their new partners. The estranged parents did some awkward introducing of the new people in their lives, then took part with their child.

It was rather uncomfortable from Roth's perspective, and yet she realized afterward that Jesus' commandment to love one another may be heard but is often broken or ignored. We take the opportunities to lay down our arms and embrace a different way, however imperfect that may seem.

Thursday, April 02, 2015

The Answer is Easter

I have mentioned before that I like evangelical Pastor Rick Warren of Saddleback Church in California. He's the guy who wrote The Purpose Driven Life and other best-selling books. I don't like his discriminatory take on the LGBTQ community, but I have a feeling that may change. I do appreciate that he has a social conscience and has been active in fighting AIDS in Africa. He got his mega-congregation and others to sponsor churches that were wiped out by Hurricane Katrina until they got back on their feet. Even though Warren prayed at Obama's inauguration and was on the cover of Time magazine he is down-to-earth.
Just after Easter two years ago Rick and his wife lost their son Matthew to suicide. They had done everything possible to get help for Matthew but in the end he took his own life at age twenty-seven. Because Easter moves around from year to year, the anniversary of his death falls on Easter Sunday this year. Warren will lead worship services celebrating the resurrection on a day when they will be grieving as a family. I don't know how he will do it.

This is the way life and death and new life unfold. No script, no promise of happy endings. This year someone who is precious to us is dealing with the final stages of cancer. She is a kind, loving person and as far as we're concerned she is far too young to die. But life isn't fair, although she would tell you that she has loved the life she has lived. She just wishes she would get to see grandchildren and live to old age.

I too will celebrate the resurrection with my congregation,  reminding myself and everyone who will listen that the message of Easter begins with tears and moves to joy. I really wish we could just jump past the tears part, but life doesn't work that way. Rick and Kay Warren will probably weep on April 5th. Still, he will tell the thousands gathered for worship at Saddleback that "the answer is Easter" and I would have to agree. Death is powerful but because of Christ it does not have the final say.


Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Voicing Our Choices

There have been many sad experiences in ministry over the course of thirty-five years and I have ended up presiding at the funerals and memorials of so many people I have admired and loved. I thank God that I only had to do so for a teen once, a young man who was killed in a snowmobile accident, along with two others.

Of course this was a sudden and tragic death. I can't imagine being the pastor for a young adult who was diagnosed with a terminal illness and walking with them until the end. How are the decisions made at the end of life for young people and who makes them?

 I read a piece in the New York Times recently about young people who are dealing with serious and sometimes terminal illnesses. One of them is the young woman with the mask in the photo above is Karly Koch and as you can see she is involved in a Christian community. She is a college student from Muncie, Ind., has been treated for many serious illnesses, including Stage 4 lymphoma, all related to a rare genetic immune disorder. Her older sister, Kelsey, died of the condition at 22. Last spring, Karly, then 19, developed congestive heart failure. Her renal arteries were 90 percent blocked. As Karly lay in intensive care at the National Institutes of Health, a psychotherapist who had worked with the family for years approached her mother, Tammy, with a new planning guide called Voicing My Choices. The family did not have resources to plan with Kelsey so ended up making decisions without a clear directive. They welcomed the opportunity to use this new resource.

Some of Voicing My Choices is about medical decisions such as pain management. Another section asks about comfort. Favorite foods? Music? When visitors arrive, one option could be: “Please dress me, comb my hair and do whatever else is needed to help make me look like myself.” I'm impressed to see that the guide also asks, what gives you strength or joy? What do you wish to be forgiven for? And who do you wish to forgive?
What do you think about a guide such as this one? Do you wonder, as I do, that something like this hasn't been created before now?