Thursday, August 31, 2017

The Haj, & Other Pilgrimages

Image result for the haj
Yesterday began the pilgrimage period of Islam known as the Haj. Devout Muslims who are physically able to make this journey to Mecca are expected to do so at least once in their lifetimes, as one of the five pillars of the religion.
Roughly two million will do so again this year and the Haj can be dangerous with the press of so many people in such a concentrated area. Despite the efforts of the Saudi government to make the experience safer, year to year we hear about the deaths of people, sometimes in the hundreds, who are caught in human stampedes.

Most religions have some form of pilgrimage, either historically or in the present day. The "tween" Jesus was separated from his anxious parents during one of the annual Passover pilgrimages. The Canterbury Tales are Chaucer's bawdy interpretation of the trek to the cathedral city.

El Camino de Santiago, or The Way, is a medieval pilgrimage route in Spain which has become popular again, amongst Christians and other questers. Of course many people of the three great monotheistic religions make a trip to Israel and it is more common for some to actually walk a portion of their exploration of the country as a form of pilgrimage.

Image result for the way movie

There is something about literally and figuratively stepping out of the conventions of life to awaken to other realities which has always been appealing to humans. Despite the discomfort and even the danger of such journeys, the spiritual benefits continue to attract young and old, people of deep religious convictions and those who with none at all.

Have you every done something akin to a pilgrimage? Our son, Isaac, walked the 800+ kilometres of the Camino at age 19, but I've had no desire to do so. Have you done something as an alternative, such as a lengthy wilderness canoe trip or hike? Do you understand why people do this, or does it mystify you?

Image result for canterbury tales

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Thoreau's Life and Spirituality

Image result for thoreau a life walls

There seem to be a thousand things on the "David do" list these days (thankfully Ruth doesn't "honey do"!) and I'm finding my way through them, slowly but surely. Retirement is affording me more time for reading, both fiction and non-fiction. I have several books on the go, including an acclaimed biography of Henry David Thoreau. The release of Henry David Thoreau: A Life by Laura Darrow Walls was nicely timed to coincide with the 200th anniversary of this American icon's birth, and it has received glowing reviews.

I must confess that I have never been drawn to Thoreau, nor his legendary sojourn at Walden Pond, nor the Transcendentalist movement of which he was an integral part. Thoreau built a little cabin by the pond which was near his hometown of Concord, Massachusetts. He lived there for two years, two months, and two days, reflecting on the importance of solitude and nature. His goal was to write a book about an adventure with his beloved brother John, who died young. He did write that book, but he also penned another, based on his journal writing, and it was the enduring Walden; or Life in the Woods, both a musing and a manifesto for Transcendentalist principles. He certainly wasn't in the wilderness -- he walked to town most days for work -- but it touched the hearts and minds of many in his time and to the present day.

Walden Thoreau.jpg

Thoreau attempted to live the notion of the inherent goodness of people and nature, and was a challenge to the intellectualism and rigid religious practices of the day. The goal was to be self-reliant and independent. In some respects Thoreau was successful and became the high profile spokesperson of a rather quixotic movement where there were many spectacular failures in communal and independent living.

I've appreciated learning that Thoreau was a keen student of the bible, despite his criticisms, and that he read the sacred texts of other religions with openness and respect. He was a fervent abolitionist, taking personal risks in aiding slaves on the Underground Railroad. He and John started a school where there was no corporal punishment, which was a regular part of discipline in the education system of the time. He had deep respect for the Native peoples who had inhabited the region and was keenly aware of the injustices perpetrated against them.

Thoreau actually coined the phrase "civil disobedience" as the title of an essay calling for resistance to government injustices. He and his family were strongly opposed to the annexation of Mexican states by force and he refused to pay a poll tax as a public protest. This action landed him in jail, briefly, and he was annoyed when someone paid the tax on his behalf to secure his release.

His family spent time in the natural world often and this was a life-long love for him. His interaction with creatures while at Walden became mythological, making him into something of an American St. Francis. While much of this is suspect in terms of historical accuracy, there is no doubt that Thoreau integrated a love and respect for nature into his spirituality.

Hey, I'm only halfway through the book! Do you know much about Thoreau? In many respects he had 21st century sensibilities in the early 19th century.


My latest Groundling blog entry is only a click away!


Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Faith without Works Is Dead

Image result for Flooding in Houston Texas Today
 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill’, and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.
 But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith without works, and I by my works will show you my faith. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder.
                                                                     James 2:14-19
We have been watching the catastrophic events in Texas, particularly in and around Houston with a mixture of horror and helplessness. Last weekend's Hurricane Harvey became a tropical storm dumping unprecedented amounts of rainfall on an urban area with roughly the population of Southern Ontario's GTA, crippling Houston and creating billions of dollars of damage. And the rains haven't ceased yet.
There are tens of thousands of people out of their homes with no place to go. They are relying on government and the compassion of those less affected. Many churches and mosques and other places of worship have opened their doors to those who are without shelter.
We should focus on these acts of kindness and practical love yet there is a congregation which has received deserved condemnation in the media. Pastor Joel Osteen, of the gleaming teeth and big hair (I do covet that hair) has announced that his Lakewood Church was inaccessible due to flood waters and would be closed. Except that the 17,000 seat former NBA stadium is high and dry and staff are coming to work. Osteen preaches what is called a Prosperity Gospel, a perversion of Christianity. He has certainly prospered, living in a mansion valued at more than ten million dollars. That he is so hard-hearted that there is no room for the displaced is sickening. But where does caring for the needy fit in what he offers?

Perhaps Osteen needs to repent and include the New Testament book of James in his rehabilitation. It's unlikely that the lack of response to this tragedy will make a dent on Osteen's popularity or that of his megachurch. In the end, all we can do is applaud those who are responding as followers of Jesus and from the tenets of other faiths. We can always ask what we would do in similar circumstances.


Monday, August 28, 2017

Don't be Afraid, God's Love is Stronger


Don't be afraid. My love is stronger, my love is stronger than your fear.
Don't be afraid. My love is stronger and I have promised,
promised to be always near.

I have used this John Bell, Graham Maule chorus in worship, sometimes within the Prayers of the People. It is an assurance that God is with us in the midst of the anxieties and fears which threaten to overwhelm us at times. As we all know, those worries can be relatively mundane, yet pernicious. We can also be threatened by catastrophic events, including illness and loss of personal security.

On Saturday hundreds of thousands marched through the streets of Barcelona shouting "I'm not afraid!" It was a powerful and defiant response to recent terrorist attacks which randomly killed 15 innocent people. Those who responded immediately to those attacks, including police, emergency workers, and ordinary citizens, led the march. They carried a banner reading "No Tinc Por" which translates as "I'm not afraid." For the first time ever, a Spanish monarch, King Felipe VI joined the demonstration.

As we look at world events it is tempting to feel overwhelmed. The effects of climate change, mass migration of the displaced, terrrorism an orange-haired president, can be scary. Yet God is near, calling us to courageous living in the midst of our challenges.

While you're here, check out my Groundling blog at the beginning of World Water Week.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

The Two Americans & Forgiveness

Image result for three abrahamic religions 
There is a story in the New York Times called The Two Americans which is a long but worthwhile read about two young men in an Arkansas town which lives intersect on the way to forgiveness. Abraham was one of three young men who got liquored up one night and vandalizes the local mosque. Abraham was the lookout and didn't actually paint the swastikas and racial slurs on the building. But when surveillance video eventually identified his mother's van as the vehicle related to the incident he was arrested and charged for this hate crime.

Strangely, Abraham was not raised to hate and had befriended Hisham, a young Muslim, part of a Syrian refugee family which had settled in the community years before. He did so even though there was prejudice against the newcomers who arrived with nothing and prospered through the years.

A sober Abraham was deeply remorseful for his actions and wrote a heart-felt letter of apology to the members of the mosque. In turn they received the apology as genuine and chose to forgive him as a matter of faith. Under the law though Abraham had committed a serious crime and despite the request by the Muslim community that charges be dropped against him the case proceeded to trial. Members of the mosque attended the trial and argued that they spent about $500 on clean-up, well below the threshold of $1000, which would then make this a misdemeanor. The prosecution claimed that an independent estimate put the damages at $1800. In the end Abraham was convicted and while released with conditions he now has a criminal record. He has offered to go to the mosque to apologize directly to the congregation but he is not allowed because of a restraining order.

Several thoughts emerged for me as I read this piece. One is that so much of the resentment and anger in the United States today stems from the jealousy directed toward those who continue to come to the country and fulfill the supposed American Dream of prospering through hard work. That some of these newcomers are easily identified by skin colour or dress makes them easy targets.

I was also moved by the motivation to forgive grounded in tenets of a faith. As Christians we have a powerful story to share of forgiveness through the witness and cross of Jesus, the Christ. This doesn't mean that we have an exclusive claim on forgiveness. When we seek the God of love and compassion we will discover the path to forgiveness and reconciliation, not the dead-end of contempt for the "other."

It occurred to me as well that the perpetrator's name is Abraham. His namesake is a central figure in the three monotheistic faiths, Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. More than ever we need to seek common ground despite the differences of our convictions. It is unfortunate that the law, which serves an important purpose is an impediment to doing so in this situation.


Thursday, August 24, 2017

Light in the Darkness

Image result for charlottesville synagogue

We are painfully aware that the recent White Supremacist rallies in Charlottesville, Virginia included disgusting anti-Jewish slogans. You may not know that the Beth Israel congregation went through a harrowing few hours on the Saturday morning, when worshippers had come together for their regular service. When I read thefirst-hand account written by Alan Zimmerman, the president of the congregation I felt ill. How could this happen in the 21st century in America. Sadly, this hasn't happened only to a Jewish congregation. Muslims walking to their mosque in a community in Texas were intimidated in a similar fashion, again by cowardly thugs with assault weapons. It appears that "open carry" means "open intimidation" in a country that supposedly cherishes freedom of religion. I'll let you read a portion of the account:

At Congregation Beth Israel in Charlottesville, VA, we are deeply grateful for the support and prayers of the broader Reform Jewish community. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of Heather Heyer and the two Virginia State Police officers, H. Jay Cullen and Berke Bates, who lost their lives on Saturday, and with the many people injured in the attack who are still recovering.
The loss of life far outweighs any fear or concern felt by me or the Jewish community during the past several weeks as we braced for this Nazi rally – but the effects of both will each linger.
On Saturday morning, I stood outside our synagogue with the armed security guard we hired after the police department refused to provide us with an officer during morning services. (Even the police department’s limited promise of an observer near our building was not kept — and note, we did not ask for protection of our property, only our people as they worshipped). 
Forty congregants were inside. Here’s what I witnessed during that time.

For half an hour, three men dressed in fatigues and armed with semi-automatic rifles stood across the street from the temple. Had they tried to enter, I don’t know what I could have done to stop them, but I couldn’t take my eyes off them, either. Perhaps the presence of our armed guard deterred them. Perhaps their presence was just a coincidence, and I’m paranoid. I don’t know.
Several times, parades of Nazis passed our building, shouting, “There's the synagogue!” followed by chants of “Seig Heil” and other anti-Semitic language. Some carried flags with swastikas and other Nazi symbols.
A guy in a white polo shirt walked by the synagogue a few times, arousing suspicion. Was he casing the building, or trying to build up courage to commit a crime? We didn’t know. Later, I noticed that the man accused in the automobile terror attack wore the same polo shirt as the man who kept walking by our synagogue; apparently it’s the uniform of a white supremacist group. Even now, that gives me a chill.
When services ended, my heart broke as I advised congregants that it would be safer to leave the temple through the back entrance rather than through the front, and to please go in groups.
This is 2017 in the United States of America.

One of the rabbis pictured above offered hope and a call for courage in a sermon at the synagogue on August 18th:

Like our ancestors before us, we must be able to see the stark contrast between Mt. Gerizim and Mt. Ebal, between blessing and curse, between love and hate, between pluralism and racism. May we continue to be inspired by Congregation Beth Israel to turn darkness into light, to turn fear into resolve, to turn xenophobia into acceptance, and to turn hatred into hope.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Reviving my Groundling Blog

Image result for master mariner david blackwood

Thanks to all of you who have been commenting since my return to this Lion Lamb blog. While you are few and far between I have a couple hundreds readers each day, which motivates me to keep at it. I always appreciate your insights on the subjects I address.

I hope to revive my moth-balled Groundling blog as well. I suppose "moth-balled" is a suitable metaphor since Groundling is about the environment and eco-faith. Some days I'll link this blog to that one, and I hope you'll visit and offer your thoughts.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

The True North Strong and Free

P.J. Akeeagok, president of the Qikiqtani Inuit Association, Catherine McKenna, minister of environment and climate change and minister responsible for Parks Canada, and Joe Savikataaq, Nunavut's environment minister were in Pond Inlet, Nunavut, on Thursday for the announcement on the final boundary of a national marine conservation area in Tallurutiup Imanga/Lancaster Sound.

We lived in the Northern Ontario city of Sudbury for more than a decade where I served a larger downtown congregation. During our time there we were aware that people in Southern Ontario had limited knowledge of even the "near north, " let alone the issues and culture of the more distant communities of the province and country. While we sing of the "true north strong and free" in our national anthem, we don't know much about it, let alone visit it.

I appreciated the coverage in the Globe and Mail newspaper given to an important announcement made last week by the federal government about a new protected area in Lancaster Sound in the Far North. Tallurutiup Imanga will protect approximately 110,000 square kilometres of Arctic ocean, an area twice the size of Nova Scotia, and it is rich in biodiversity. This Lancaster Sound Marine Conservation Area has also been home to Inuit peoples for the past 4,000 years. Sadly, some of the current residents of the region were forcibly relocated there from Northern Quebec a couple of generations ago as "human flag poles" to establish Canadian sovereignty. Establishing this region will give priority to protection rather than economic exploration and will give a degree of autonomy to the people who actually live there. This has worked in Nunavut and we can pray it be the case here.

Image result for lancaster sound marine protected region

I have been waiting for the federal government to deliver on election promises for environmental protection and reconciliation with aboriginal peoples. This decision is a step in the right direction. I feel that as Christians who were complicit in the destruction of First Nations culture through the Residential Schools we should applaud and support these initiatives. Perhaps we should all write the government to express our appreciation.

Search out Margaret Wente's article in last Saturday's Globe and perhaps read Sheila Watt Cloutier's excellent book, The Right to be Cold.


Monday, August 21, 2017

Signs and Portents

Image result for solar eclipse

See, I and the children whom the Lord has given me are signs and portents in Israel from the Lord of hosts, who dwells on Mount Zion... They will turn their faces upwards, or they will look to the earth, but will see only distress and darkness, the gloom of anguish; and they will be thrust into thick darkness.

                                                                            Isaiah 8

I was too late in searching out those odd glasses which millions of people across North America tomorrow to observe the solar eclipse. In the early afternoon I will be averting my gaze to preserve my sight but I have been pondering what all this means.

Through the millennia humans have associated solar and lunar eclipses with "signs and portents" of the gods, or God. Perhaps because of the apparent extinguishing of our star's powerful and all-encompassing light solar eclipses have been seen as signs of divine disfavour. Even in the 21st century some Christian congregations will be makin' hay while the sun don't shine, with eclipse events taking on an ominous tone. There are roughly a dozen biblical passages which use this heavenly imagery to speak of God's judgement of the wayward and unfaithful.

What came to mind for me was an aspect of the crucifixion story in three of the gospels where after Jesus' death on the cross the skies darkened. Astronomers have explored whether there was a solar eclipse which coincided with the crucifixion but the evidence seems to suggest that this was poetical rather than factual. There is a verse in the spiritual "Were you There?"which picks up on this theme, often sung on Good Friday which picks up on this theme:

Were you there when the sun refused to shine?
Were you there when the sun refused to shine?
Oh! Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Were you there when the sun refused to shine?

For me the eclipse is a reminder that in the midst of this strange time of political turmoil, not to mention faces constantly focused downward on the trivia of our phones, we live in a universe of grandeur and remarkable celestial events which transcend our pettiness. I figure that our Creator wants us to remember that "the heavens declare the glory of God" so it really is good for us to note this portentious day.

Will you be looking skyward or skulking about like me today? What do you think about the heavenly hoopla? Are you old enough to remember Carly Simon?

Well I hear you went up to Saratoga
And your horse, naturally, won
Then you flew your Learjet up to Nova Scotia
To see the total eclipse of the sun
Well, you're where you should be all the time
And when you're not, you're with some underworld spy
Or the wife of a close friend,
Wife of a close friend, and
You're so vain
You probably think this song is about you
You're so vain, you're so vain
I'll bet you think this song is about you
Don't you?
Don't you?

Sunday, August 20, 2017

The Abbey in the Trees

We spent four weeks on Change Islands, Newfoundland this summer, as many of you are aware. These two adjoined islands are alongside the better known Fogo Island, but we appreciate their relative anonymity. There aren't as many short-visit tourists as is the case with Fogo. Many of the people from "away" have purchased homes which have been empty for years, renovated them, and spend the summer.  

We had lovely visits with a number of residents who have been on Change Islands their entire lives. Our long-time association with the area gave us that "in." We also met some of the seasonal newcomers, including Wayne and Denis, a couple from Montreal. We went to their creaky old saltbox house for brunch on our last day there. They too explore many of the coastal trails of the islands and we got into conversation about the spirituality of walking, agreeing that it is a form of prayer. 

Denis, who works for a Quebec publisher, told us about a book project he's working on for a Fall release about the redevelopment of what was the Oka Trappist monastery in Quebec. We may be vaguely aware of the community because of the cheese, which they no longer produce. The book, with plenty of photos, will be entitled Val Notre Dame: L'Abbaye dans les Bois - it is the abbey in the trees.  This is the community's description of what has transpired through its history and over the past fifteen years:

In 1881, faced with threats of being expelled by an anti-religious government, the Trappist monks of the Bellefontaine monastery, still active in France, came to Oka, in Canada, to found La Trappe d’Oka, which flourished in the 1950s with a total of 177 monks. The monastery will become famous for its cheese: the Oka cheese.

In 2002, there were only some 30 monks left in the community. Since the premises had become too big and the surrounding area too noisy, the monks decided to move to the Lanaudière region and establish themselves in Val Notre-Dame, at the foot of the Coupée mountain. In this enchanting site and in a bright monastery of sober and modern design, they continue to search for God, still guided by the Rule of St. Benedict.

Related image

I was intrigued by this relocation because it reflects the pattern of a number of monastic communities in the 21st century. Traditional monasteries and convents are choosing to reinvent themselves because of declining numbers and a much more secular society. Many are choosing to develop a Creation-care focus, working with architects to create new buildings which are energy efficient and in tune with their surroundings. You can see the green roof in the photo above from Val Notre Dame. They are also  opening their guesthouses to those who have a spiritual yearning even though they may not be Roman Catholic, or even Christian.

Mainline Protestant congregations would do well to emulate what is happening in these Roman Catholic communities, in terms of reimagining their purpose. It will take courage, yet there is tremendous opportunity to nurture the contemplative life in those who are searching. We can also demonstrate our commitment to environmental justice and celebrating Creation.

Image result for l'abbaye notre dame quebec


Saturday, August 19, 2017

We Cannot Forget

Related image

As I drove around doing errands the other day I heard a CBC Radio piece featuring a young woman and her grandmother. The younger family member had visited Yad Vashem, the memorial in Jerusalem to six million Jews whose lives were extinguished by the Nazi regime during WWII. She realized that her grandmother was a survivor and took to heart the observation that hers is the last generation to be able to speak to those who lived through this atrocity.

Upon her return the young woman visited her grandmother whose memory is fading. The grandmother was taken to an extermination camp when she was fourteen, and while she has trouble remembering lunch, she can recall grim aspects of that distant time in her life. I didn't hear any more because of my next errand and I'm not sure I'll find the interview.

Image result for yad vashem

This was a reminder that I have visited Yad Vashem on several occasions. The memorial to the children who perished was particularly affecting. I have also spoken with those who survived the camps, even though family members didn't.

Image result for yad vashem children's memorial

As we see images of "Christians" in Charlottesville Virginia strutting around in their pathetic uniforms waving Swastikas we should be sickened. When we see one of the organizers of the rally shedding tears at the prospect of being criminally charged we should not hate -"do not repay evil with evil" Jesus said -- but we should feel no pity. There are no "nice" Nazis, past nor present, because the ideology is antithetical to human decency and the gospel.

Those of us who claim to follow Yeshua the Jew, born to a Jewish mother, educated in a Jewish synagogue in the way of the prophets, must be vigilant. The legacy of those who died, and that of our brave forbearers who fought to end Nazism cannot be forgotten.

Friday, August 18, 2017

The Dreams of Immigrants

Image result for behold the dreamers

I've just read Behold the Dreamers an award-winning debut novel by Imbolo Imbue. Imbue is originally from the African nation of Cameroon, which most of us couldn't find on a map, if we're honest. The novel is about the immigrant experience, for a Cameroonian couple, Jende and Neni, who are barely making ends meet in New York City. Jende lands a job as the chauffeur for a Wall Street investor with Lehman Brothers, one of the companies which eventually collapsed during the economic crisis of nearly a decade ago. It seems like a dream job but the undercurrents of American society in a time of greed and turmoil are fascinating.

Image result for cameroon maps google

Both Jende and Neni come to love NYC  and aspire to greater things, working hard, dedicated to achieving a higher education. Of course I can't reveal too much about this compelling story, but I was intrigued that Neni becomes part of a congregation which is accepting, even though she isn't sure if she is a Christian. The worship is subdued compared to the exuberance of her experience back home, but she finds a place there.  The female pastor is wise and encouraging  and willing to help.

It occurred to me the church described in the novel, Judson Memorial, is quite real and I did a bit of research. It turns out that author Mbue has spoken there since the success of her book. I wonder what she association with the congregation might be.  While the church scenes are a minor part of the overall narrative, it was encouraging that the congregation is portrayed in a positive light. The novel as a whole is even more timely given the harsh shift in American immigration policy in the short time since it was published. We certainly have our own challenges with asylum seekers at the moment.

I certainly recommend Behold the Dreamers. Has anyone else read it?  

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Losing Ground

A street person sleeps right on the S/W corner of King and Bay St. as people, cars, and limos pass by within inches of him.
Lost amidst the general outrage about Donald Trump's ridiculous comments about the deadly white supremacist rally in Virginia last weekend was the release of a report on the growing gap between rich and poor in this province of Ontario. The study called Losing Ground was researched by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. It found that the top half of earners grew their share of income from 78 to 81 per cent from 2000 to 2015, while the share for the bottom half of earners fell from 22 to 19 per cent. The bottom half of income earners didn’t even keep up with inflation.

In this same week Premier Kathleen Wynne took major heat from a gathering of municipal leaders who told her that upping the minimum wage will require tax hikes in order to pay for the increases. The food chain Metro announced that it will move toward automation to reduce the number of workers in its stores. And rural business owners argue that raising the minimum wage will eliminate entry level jobs in communities where the owners are lucky to be making $15 an hour themselves. There is an element of truth to all of this, although Metro and other food chains are not in the red by any means.

The Globe and Mail columnist Margaret Wente wrote a column about this rural challenge, although it has a "let them eat cake" quality to it. She spoke to shop owners in the pretty rural town near her summer place. Hmm. It's nice to be able to afford a summer home and then bemoan the plight of those who provide services for you. And then there was these observations:

Ms. Wynne argues – correctly – that nobody can live on $11.40 an hour. Yet few people have to. Ms Wynne likes to depict minimum-wage earners as hard-pressed single mothers. In fact, statistics from 2014 referenced in the AIMS study showed that 58 per cent of them were between 15 and 24 years old, and 57 per cent lived with family. Only 2.2 per cent were unmarried heads of household with at least one minor child.

Ya, well those young people would probably prefer to have a decent-paying job so that they didn't have to live at home. Many younger people are resigned to not being able to buy any home because of low wages and astronomical housing costs. Wente's argument seems tone deaf to the realities of those entering the workforce.

Sitting with folk at the Bridge St. church meal ministries reminded me that a number of guests were "working poor," struggling along in low-wage jobs and trying to make ends meet at the end of the month. None of them ever described their cottages or vacations.

We may end up seeing a revision to the $15 an hour minimum wage, with graduated or regional increases. Still, this has to be a step in the right and just direction. In order to gain ground decent wages are essential.


Wednesday, August 16, 2017

There's the Church, and There's the Steeple?

One of my favourite craft breweries is Church Key, in a former United Church near Campbellford, Ontario. Not long after starting at Bridge St. Church I referred to this "repurposing" of a country church and one of our wonderful 90+ members spoke to me about it after the surface. She chuckled as she mentioned that her aunt had sung in the choir when it was a Methodist church and is probably spinning in her grave because of it's current use.

It seems that the media pieces on church buildings being decommissioned and put up for sale are becoming more common, and the variety of uses grows. Since the sixties country churches have found new life as homes and antique shops. Today many urban church buildings are office space and anchors for condo developments. The photo above is of a climbing gym in Quebec in an old church structure. How appropriate -- there are antics in congregations which sometimes cause those in leadership to climb the walls!

When the former hotel property next to Bridge St. was for sale recently we wondered if we should put in an offer, but the asking price was too rich for our blood, and we weren't ready to ask the serious questions about purpose. I did wonder whether the day might come when the successive bidder, a condo developer, would approach the congregation about buying the church property.

Bridge St. still has a vital ministry in downtown Belleville and can serve those on the margins of society as gentrification takes place. The two are not mutually exclusive, but it is important that the Christian community continues to live the gospel for those who are often without a voice.

Of course, this is no longer my challenge, yet it still matters to me as a Christian.

Image result for church key brewery cambellford on

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The Thirsty Priests

Image result for priests in a pub cartoosn

You may have heard that binge drinking and rowdy groups of pub-goers has become a significant problem in the British Isles. Many drinking establishments have imposed rules about the size of groups entering their premises to control rowdyism. One pub in Wales also prohibits patrons wearing costumes because of the association with revelry which could lead to problems.

Well on July 29th a group of Roman Catholic seminarians showed up to celebrate the  ordination of Father Peter McClaren. They were dressed in their cassocks and turned away by staff members who mistook them for a bachelor party.

I love this story in so many ways. How delightful that Father McLaren's confreres wanted to take him out for a celebratory pint or two. This skewers stereotypes about religious prohibitions on drinking. Jesus did turn water into wine, didnt' he? And it is funny that the staff of the pub figured that they must be imposters of some sort.

There is a pleasant outcome to the story. The pub has renamed one of its brews "The Thirsty Priests." It is described as a “rich, warming ale with a clean, rewarding finish,”  with the added slogan “saving souls and satisfying thirsts.”  I'll drink to that!

Monday, August 14, 2017

The Release of Pastor Kim

A Korean Canadian pastor will be in worship with his congregation this morning and all of us should be relieved and happy to hear this.  Hyeon Soo Lim was serving a life sentence of hard labour in North Korea for alleged anti-state activities, but was released last week after intervention by the Canadian government. Lim was in a harsh North Korean prison for more than two years and during that time his health failed. His family and congregation are delighted to welcome him home. This is good news in light of the dangerous posturing and threats of the North Korean government concerning using nuclear weapons and the ham-fisted response of the American president.

I have wondered though about what Lim was doing there, given the danger for outsiders and nationals alike in this unpredictable regime. Was he engaged in Christian evangelism, or was he there to provide humanitarian support? The dictator, Kim Jong Un is a dangerous dude who has imprisoned Westerners on many occasions, some because they had come to share the gospel of Jesus Christ.

What are we to make of these efforts? There is a 2000-year history of Christian evangelism and there have been many martyrs of the faith. When I was a kid we sang a wildly militaristic chorus which has thankfully disappeared. Remember this?

Stand up, stand up for Jesus! ye soldiers of the cross;
Lift high His royal banner, it must not suffer loss:
From vict’ry unto vict’ry, His army shall He lead,
Till every foe is vanquished, and Christ is Lord indeed.

I'm not suggesting that Pastor Kim espouses these sensibilities. I just wonder what our role as Christians needs to be in sharing the Good News in the 21st century, and whether taking risks in hostile environments is productive.

All I'm sure of is that I'm grateful he's home and I do pray that he returns to health and a meaningful ministry. We can pray as well for Christians in North Korea who are persecuted for their faith.