Friday, November 30, 2007

Justice, Not Just Us

Today I received a card in the mail asking what I would like to see happen with the huge fiscal surplus the Canadian government will enjoy this year. Hey, Prime Minister Harper did ask, through my MP and cabinet minister, Bev Oda. Here is my response.

November 30, 2007

Dear Ms Oda,

Today I received a card through the mail seeking my opinion about debt reduction and lowering taxes.

I applaud the efforts of the current government to reduce Canada’s debt and fiscal responsibility in its expenditures. As a Canadian taxpayer, lowered personal income tax appeals to me, although I am grateful for my prosperity and the social services my taxes help provide.

I would encourage a third option for the revenue surplus, which ultimately belongs to me and others who pay taxes. Please rebuild social supports that benefit low-income families and work toward the goal of eradicating child poverty. In 1989 all parties in parliament voted to wipe out child poverty by the year 2000. As this decade draws to a close this goal is far from realized and other nations such as Great Britain have managed to achieve what we have only promised.

There isn’t a more opportune time than now to commit resources to this end. I believe that this goal would reflect the compassionate democracy which is Canada.


Rev David Mundy

Poverty Hurts

All this week we have been hearing about poverty in this province. We have been told of a new report which shows that supposedly wealthy Toronto is actually a lousy place for the working poor compared to other Canadian cities.

CBC radio has offered a full week of programs on poverty in the GTA and the challenges to just get by for those who make low wages or are on some form of assistance. They interviewed one young woman who spoke about the struggles she and her fiance -- both working -- face from day to day. At one point her voice trembled and then she stopped speaking. Naming the difficulties out loud overwhelmed her for a moment. Then she gathered herself and said that there are others who are worse off.

I was interested to hear one activist suggesting that instead of reducing the GST by a penny that money be used to address child poverty in Canada. You might remember that I put that out for consideration a few weeks ago in this blog. So far Mr. Harper hasn't been in touch.

Poverty is real and close at hand. There are people in our congregation struggling to get by. My wife Ruth works with families through the Bethesda House shelter who barely keep the wolf from the door.

We need to be hopeful as we approach this Sunday of Hope in Advent.The provincial government has promised to step up support for those who live around the edges of poverty with full-day kindergarten and a dental plan. We are given many opportunities to respond with practical compassion in this season. In moments such as these I think of the words from James, chapter two:
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? 15If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, 16and 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? 17So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Don't Get Me Started!

Well, we heard yesterday that our provincial government may relent and let the Reverend Joanne Sorrill have her REV JO license plates after all. I think I am still allowed to refer to her as "the reverend," a designation that has been around for a long time but may be outlawed in our perniciously anti-religious society.

You may sense my sheer disgust about this situation. Actually it is cumulative. There have been too many occasions over the years where bureaucrats have decided that religion is hazardous to our health, even as they bemoan the decline in values and decency in our culture.

In October the Bowmanville ministerial asked Clarington Council to declare Spiritual Care Week in the municipality. Even though this is a broadly recognized initiative across North America which is both ecumenical and inter-faith we were told no, too religious.

Does our council feel that the work of chaplains in hospitals and jails and nursing care facilities and mental health centres is without value? Many of these chaplains are paid, in part, through taxpayers dollars and they do a fine job, respecting all traditions.

Why does council have the right to simply say no to this recognition? Will they end up telling churches with publicly visible crosses that they must be taken down because they are offensive to those who are not Christians?

Why do school boards and local governments quash any religious expression even at times of the year, such as Christmas, that are specifically religious? When our son was in grade eight he wrote a letter to his principal, unbenownst to us, asking why the Holiday Concert couldn't still be a Christmas Concert which respected other faiths. When she dismissed his concern he sent the letter to the city newspaper and received an outpouring of support.

The goal of governments which supposedly represent me is not to act as though religion does not exist. It is to ensure freedom of religion and spiritual expression for all its citizens.

What a long blog entry! Don't get me started!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Glimmer of Hope

Two summers ago we spent time on Chesapeake Bay in the state of Maryland. My cousins, who live there, recommended Annapolis as a pretty town that is ideal for shopping and meals of soft-shelled crabs in its historic downtown.

Annapolis also has a secure naval academy and that's where US President George Bush hosted a brief peace conference involving Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Most observers are surprised that the two men agreed to a peace process which has the United States as the broker and an actual timeline.

The handshake came first, now the hard part. There will be much cynicism and opposition from the stake-holders who refused to attend or were not invited. The history of peace talks in this part of the world reveals a host of broken promises and failure. Yet there is, as the BBC headline suggested, a glimmer of hope.

This Sunday is the first of Advent and we begin with the glimmer of the candle of hope. We will listen to a passage from the prophet Isaiah which says that the day will comes when "they will beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nations shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more." It sounds like a pipedream but it won't be the first time that dreams and visions become reality.

Vroom, Vroom, Rev, Rev

The CBC reported this morning that a long-time colleague in ministry who lives in Whitby was denied renewal of her "vanity" license plates. They said REVJO might incite street racing! Sigh. It's good to see that our civil servants are earnestly on the job.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The God Squad

On my way to work from the gym this morning I listened to an interview on the CBC with Layne Daggett, the Vancouver Airport's chaplain. He was the soul of reasonableness in his reflection on the death of Robert Dziekanski, who died after being tasered by RCMP officers at the airport. We discovered that Pastor Daggett helps hundreds of people every year and often is called upon to help calm distraught people. Although he wasn't on duty that night there are chaplains "on call" twenty four hours a day.

I'm glad I caught this interview because I have wondered why there was no one available to help calm Dziekanski. He didn't speak English, but there are universal gestures of assurance which seemed to go missing that night.

Unlike some I don't feel that the answer to such shameful outcomes is banning tasers. They have probably saved lives when the lethal force of guns is not necessary. Most middle class people are unaware of the world the police often function in and the dangers they face. What was left out in this circumstance and many others is simple compassion and seeking another solution first. After hearing Pastor Daggett I sense that the outcome would have been different if he had been there.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Shall We Dance?

On Saturday evening I muddled my way through "waiting table" at our annual Roast Beef dinner. As the folk at the first sitting dispersed and the turn-around clean-up began a girl who was born not long before I arrived at St. Paul's tugged at my pant leg: "David, have you seen my Dad?" From my loftier vantage point I spotted him across the room and pointed her in the right direction. She ran toward him, stopped, came back and hugged me before making her way to her father.

At the second sitting we ate and another little girl with impossibly beautiful brown eyes came to our table and told me shyly that she got up and danced at the children's concert sponsored by St. Paul's in the afternoon. These two little incidents made my day, not to mention melted my heart.

The spontaneity and openness and generosity of children is such a lovely gift of grace. I talked to a colleague in ministry a while ago who was in a church where there were hardly any children and she felt such a sense of loss. I understand completely.

The God who came to us as a child still comes to us in the freshness of these little pilgrims on the spiritual journey. They constantly teach us and inspire us to dance in our spirits.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Death on the Beach

We like getting down to Lake Ontario on blustery days. The waves crash in and we lean into the wind as we walk along the beach. It was disturbing this afternoon because we walked past a dozen loon corpses in less than a kilometre. Four of them were within 15 metres. They are such wonderful birds which connect many of us with cottage life and paddling the back country.

What form of illness results in the deaths of so many of these beautiful creatures? This was along the shore of one of the Great Lakes. Is there some toxin in the water or in the fish these loons feed on? It turns out that hundreds of loons have died this Fall from avian botulism. They ingest invasive mussels and fish and the botulism paralyses them, resulting in drowning. What a miserable death.

When I was in Colorado and New Mexico I was so aware that we take our bodies of water and the fish and fowl that inhabit them for granted. In those states there are hardly any natural lakes and nothing on the scale of Lake Ontario. I am convinced that God the creator wants us to take care of the air we breath, the soil that grows our food, the water which is home for so much and without which we would perish.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Not So Silly United Church

Silly United Church of Canada! Two summers ago our General Council, the national gathering of delegates, decided to ban bottled water from its meetings and encouraged congregations across the country to "get off the bottle." The media picked up the story and soon we were being criticized from inside and out. What a dopey thing to address in a national meeting of a church, many thought. Who are these people to tell me not to drink bottled water, some of our folk commented. Even though the reasoning was made clear -- we shouldn't commodify a basic right for everyone and we shouldn't clog our landfills with more plastic -- folk weren't impressed.

Well, it has been an interesting 18 months. Over and over again the real dopiness of paying a relative fortune for what flows from the taps has been brought to our attention. Not just by church groups, although many other denominations have followed suit. There have been articles in the New York Times and Time magazine and countless other sources of news and commentary.

This week Toronto council considered a motion to tax water bottles so that people would be discouraged from creating so much needless waste. The same Andy Barrie I challenged with an email yesterday wondered aloud if the day will come when we recognize the sheer folly of filling glass bottles with water in France, shipping them to North American, then guzzling the contents in a few moments before tossing them away. I agree with him whole-heartedly, as I usually do.

Maybe we're not so silly after all.

The Importance of Pondering

Whaddya know. This morning I found two emails in my inbox responding to my message to Andy Barrie yesterday. While we have radios tuned to Metro Morning in every nook and cranny of our home we somehow missed the reading of my letter on air this morning (see yesterdays blog entry.) One of today's emails was from a long-time friend and the other from a prof at Wycliffe College, University of Toronto.

There are times when it seems a bit foolish to weigh in on current affairs and I have sent off letters to governments over the years which elicit form responses or silence. For some reason I keep sending them. And from time to time I get what amounts to thoughtful dialogue.

I suppose my blog is an attempt to think through the meaning of the world I live in from my Christian perspective. At times I feel as though I am stumbling along but I just can't help myself!

Thursday, November 22, 2007

More than Atheism

I am a huge fan of CBC Metro Morning's Andy Barrie but I sent him an email of mild admonishment today. He had heard about the withdrawal of the children's books by Philip Pullman from a school library's shelves. Pullman has included a strongly anti-Christian message in his books, as we discovered when our son, Isaac, read them years ago. In fact Ike chose not to continue the series because of what he felt was hatred toward the Judeo-Christian tradition.

Mr. Barrie pointed out that Pullman is an atheist and then mentioned a number of other famous atheist authors. I suggested to Andy that his comments may have confused the issue. Pullman is not just an atheist. He is an anti-theist because he targets religion in his books.In the Toronto Star today it says that Pullman has made controversial statements, telling the Washington Post in 2001 he was "trying to undermine the basis of Christian belief." In 2003, he said that compared to the Harry Potter series, his books had been "flying under the radar, saying things that are far more subversive than anything poor old Harry has said. My books are about killing God."
I pointed out in my email to Andy that while one of the authors he mentioned, Pierre Berton, was an atheist who wrote a strong criticism of the "comfortable pew" his children's books did not reflect these convictions. Would Andy be okay with books on school shelves which were negative toward gays and lesbians or which were overtly racist? I'm sure he wouldn't, even though he is a strong believer in freedom of expression. Some things just shouldn't be tolerated, even in finely crafted literature.

It is not "open season" on my faith or any other.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Mental Health and Spiritual Wholeness

Last evening about forty of us gathered at the church to listen to two presenters from Durham Mental Health. Both did an excellent job and offered practical and hopeful information about mental health services in our region. Our Pastoral Care group must be commended for organizing the event.

The one speaker named David told us about a federal report on mental health which was published last year. He quoted a sobering observation in the report which likened public response to mental illness to leprosy. Then he told us that the quotation was from the 1960's.
If it were written today AIDS might be mentioned as well. It reminded us that irrational fear is a powerful force in human interactions and mental illness can bring out that fear in a hurry.

As I listened I thought of all the people dealing with mental ill-health I have met through my years in ministry. Often they approach me in secret, afraid of what others may discover and the implications for acceptance at work and within the church. I have spent time at the hospital bedsides of intelligent, caring Christians who are in terrible psychic pain. We have prayed together but I know that God has often seemed in another galaxy for them.

Jesus healed lepers and he healed those who would probably be diagnosed with some form of mental illness today. It is Christ's compassion that we need in our hearts and minds so that we can respond with genuine compassion and practical support.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Waters of Life

The 1988 film called The Milagro Beanfield War was on television Sunday night and we watched. It wasn't all that successful twenty years ago --could it have been the mouthful name? -- although it did win an Academy Award for its music and it got good reviews. It's about a small town that has all but given up on fighting the backroom deals which will divert precious water to a new golf course and resort. A couple of local activists, including a farmer with a bean field that needs water stand up against the powers-that-be. The war is more of a skirmish, but the point comes across in this often humorous and whimsical movie and the good guys win.
The gorgeous scenery was very familiar after my recent trip to New Mexico and it turns out that it was filmed about an hour east of Ghost Ranch in the high desert. Water is at a premium there and only about ten inches of rain falls in a year. There are signs up everywhere reminding people that water is a precious commodity which should not be squandered.

We could learn from the folks in New Mexico about conservation. We will discover that we can live without oil but we can't live without clean water and even in a country blessed by abundant H20 it is not an inexhaustible resource. The Great Lakes are slowly but surely receding and we experienced drought-like months this year which resulted in depleted rivers and streams. We can pray that the dire predictions of real wars fought over water are untrue, but what will happen in a world where people grow desperate because of climate change? There are already conflicts in Africa over water.

Jesus told a woman at a well that he is Living Water which would quench her spiritual thirst. In the arrid climate of Palestine, water was and still is precious. I hope we catch on in a hurry to the notion that we must be conservationists at heart.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Bangladeshis and Samaritans

This morning I'm wondering if I am a racist. Not a hood-wearing, racial slur type of racist. That sort of activity is abhorrent to me and I'm reasonably sure that it would be for any readers of this blog.

I'm talking about the passive racism that allows me to hear about the deaths of 2,300 Bangladeshis and talk about 10,000 or more without much of a visceral response. If I heard that 10,000 Canadians had died in a natural disaster or any other form of calamity I would immediately respond in some way.

When I think back a couple of years I realize that we did make a contribution to disaster relief for the victims of the tsunami in Southeast Asia. When I read Stephen Lewis' book about AIDS in Africa called Race Against Time I wept. But I didn't finish the book. It was easier to put it down. When I went to see the film Hotel Rwanda I was moved to tears as well. Just so you know -- I rarely "tear up" but this story of genocide in Rwanda touched me deeply as well.

But there is no points system for feeling badly about the plight of others. I have to admit that it is tempting to hurry on past some of these stories. A little voice tells me that life is not as valuable in these cultures and they don't feel the pain of loss the way we do. If I'm honest I know that these are lies of convenience to assuage my conscience.

Jesus told a story about a man who did not hurry on by when he saw someone in distress, lying in the ditch. He stopped, responded with compassion, went the distance. In a time when the planet is our neighbourhood the opportunity to be Good Samaritans is always there. I'm not going to beat up on myself, but I'm not going to just pass by either.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Religion and Ethics

Check out the Religion And Ethics Newsletter provided by PBS.
You can subscribe to it so that it arrives every Friday through your email. Each week it offers a number of features and interviews on religious subjects. This week there is an article on the role of monks in Myanmar as well as one on a new Jewish prayer book in the United States. I find it to be very informative and intelligent.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Life's vantage points

Church St. in Bowmanville cleared out in a hurry after this morning's Santa Claus Parade. A short time ago there were thousands of people watching the floats and the bands pass by. The local zoo was well represented with an elephant and a camel and a zebra.

The manse is a prime viewing spot so lots of congregation members assemble on the veranda and the lawn. Folk visit and graze on the cookies and squares and hot cider Ruth provides. Its the fifth time we have hosted the gathering.

This year there were three little ones who were experiencing their first Santa Claus parade. Last year they didn't exist outside the womb. Now they are wide-eyed and eared as the sights and sounds pass by.

Two girls were present who had recently lost their father. What a strange reality for them. My heart went out to them and to their mother. Our new next-door neighbours were experiencing their first parade from the vantage point of their porch. Our elderly former neighbour lived for years in the house and her family would join her for the parade. She died in her sleep in her home last year. Two of her daughters who are grandmothers themselves showed up and we chatted. It just felt right for them to be there for the parade and the memories.

Life is filled with comings and goings. Much of ministry is honouring the passages and helping people acknowledge that God is present in the joy and the sadness. Even the Santa Claus parade offers that vantage point.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Receiving Images

Claudia Tammen Images

The photographer at Ghost Ranch, Claudia Tammen, spoke to us about changing the language she uses about what she does. We speak of "taking" photographs and "capturing" the moment and lots of other imagery which sounds a lot like plundering. She is attempting to use terms such as "receiving images" as a reminder that what happens in her art is more a gift than a hunting expedition. With my background in art history I do feel that there are parallels between the grace received in meaningful images and sounds and the grace received from the God of life.

Take a look at Claudia's work from our time at Ghost Ranch. Her email arrived this morning so this is as current as it gets.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Like a Virgin

I am quite fascinated by this guy. His name is Richard Branson and he is a British gajillionaire.
In some ways he is every parent's nightmare in that he dropped out of school and immediately did well. So much for "get an education or you'll end up digging ditches!" He starts companies with amazing ease and regularity and they nearly all turn out to be a good idea.
It's not the getting rich thing that fascinates me. It is that he has decided to turn some of his manic creative energy and a fair amount of his wealth to addressing global climate change. The profits from his Virgin airlines and other transportation interests will go to develop clean fuels to reduce some of that nasty carbon threatening to choke the planet. His goal is to give away $3 billion over the next ten years.
I like this new breed of philanthropist. Guys (it seems to be mostly rich men) such as Bill Gates and Warren Buffet and Branson appear to have tired somewhat of simply amassing wealth and are attempting to be as creative in directing it for good purposes. Branson says that he now spends about half of his time on social issues. His foundation recently built a clinic in Africa for AIDS patients and he promises to do more.
Jesus warned us about wealth because the love of money messes us up and distorts our priorities. But he also encouraged the generous redistribution of wealth. You can't give it away if you don't have it. I doubt Branson will be using a food bank anytime soon, but I like his new trajectory.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Adding to the Discussion

After writing today's blog entry I found this article in the Toronto Star about how Christianity is promoted in the United States. It would be interesting to know whether you feel we are encouraging a different approach to the gospel or just peddling McReligion.

Is it Working?

I have a bobble head Jesus --the bobble head Jesus on this United Church Observer cover is sitting on the desk in my study. It is a gift from a member of the congregation who came up with it in the midst of the kerfuffle over the Emerging Spirit and Wondercafe programs that United Church launched last year. It's strange but I never look at this Jesus and consider him irreverent, but some people were offended.
The idea was to go outside of the conventional ways of reaching out to the "unchurched" community and to try to appeal to the 30 to 45-year-olds who are missing from many United Churches. We hav a link on our website to Wondercafe and while I don't visit it often, but when I do I see that many people engage in the discussions.
The current issue of the Observer offers a one-year checkup and concludes that it is difficult to measure the impact. While the hope was a five-percent increase in church attendance by 2009, we really don't know whether this will happen. Maybe there won't be more bums in pews. The "church" some of these people will attend is Wondercafe.
I'm of the school that feels it is important to "think outside the box," or bun or whatever the phrase is now. Obviously some of our old ideas about being the church aren't working well. As long as we make Christ the centre, all things are possible. Could it be that the old may need to crumble before the new can arise?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Oops, my Stereotypes are Showing

This will be my last reflection on my time away since I may well be blathering to myself anyway. When I flew into Santa Fe, New Mexico. I then had to seek out the car rental and drive for an hour and a half through the desert. By the time I got closer to Ghost Ranch it was dark --very dark -- and all I could do was peer into the gloom for the mile markers which gave me assurances that I wasn't as lost as I felt.

I did get there, and when I arrived I discovered that I was sharing a room, something I had specifically asked not to do. I didn't want to go to summer camp! As I talked to my "roomie" my heart sank. He works for Focus on the Family in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The founder and director is James Dobson, a far-right Christian whose influence in the U.S. is destructive, as far as I'm concerned. In addition, the guy who would be in the bed five feet away from mine attends the mega-church of 17,000 members where disgraced Ted Haggard was the pastor. Why me God!

Peter is a wonderful human being. He has a doctorate in leadership training and is bright and insightful. He is also compassionate and open in his Christian walk, eager to learn about Celtic Christianity. Speaking of walking, he was the only other person willing to hoof it everywhere at Ghost Ranch rather than hop in a car.

Although Peter is now an evangelical Christian, he has a Jewish and Roman Catholic background and recently began attending mass on Sunday mornings before heading off to worship in the mega-church with his wife and daughter. He told me that he needs the liturgy and the mystery which just isn't there in his congregation. We ended up talking for hours and we promised to stay in touch.

In an email after getting back to Bowmanville I told him that he is a fine ambassador for Christ. I like it when people shatter my stereotypes and I wonder if we were brought together for a purpose. I'm sure I can hear Jesus chuckling in the background.

Thank you, God, for Peter.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Listening for the Heartbeat of God

This is the entranceway into Casa del Sol, the retreat centre at Ghost Ranch. I mentioned earlier that it is several kilometres away from the main cluster of buildings and there is nothing else around in all directions except for cliffs and desert. The wreath is made of red chile peppers, a common sight on porches and doors in New Mexico.
I really enjoyed the people who were part of the study group but I also loved being the only person at Casa del Sol when the program ended. At night the stars were as brilliant as anything I have ever seen and the silence was extraordinary.
Philip Newell has written a book called Listening for the Heartbeat of God and it is appropriate for the feeling I had in the solitude. There are times when we need to open the door of our spirits to attune ourselves to God's heartbeat. The incessant busyness of life, including in the church, can mean that the truly meaningful sounds are lost in the din. In the couple of days at Casa del Sol I found myself writing lengthier entries in my journal and praying spontaneously and feeling a greater sense of clarity about goals for my personal life and ministry.
One of the medieval mystics, Meister Eckhart said "nothing in all creation is so like God as silence." I am inclined to agree. We can't all get away to the desert but we can quiet our spirits enough to listen.
One last thought. Each time I walked through the door in the photo I had to pull the string latchkey to enter Casa del Sol. It made me think of words from a poem by Edward Hays:
Come, O life-giving Creator,
and rattle the door latch of my slumbering heart.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Ghost Ranch continued

Our seminar leader at Ghost Ranch was Philip Newell a Church of Scotland minister and a prolific writer on the subject of Celtic Christianity. Despite his accent he was born and grew up in Canada. We chatted over lunch one day and I discovered that his family spent several years in Oshawa. Small world.
Newell is a thoughtful and poetic writer and it was a pleasure to discover that his demeanour matches his words in print. He travels all over North America and Britain as a teacher but he has the ability to be authentically present to those he is with. This must be a challenge as he moves from venue to venue meeting so many different people.
What did I appreciate most about Philip? He is committed to interfaith dialogue and works with a Jewish rabbi and native leaders during his visits to Ghost Ranch and Casa del Sol. Yet he is very much a Christian. When working with one native leader Newell asked if the Christian emphasis in what was being offered made him uncomfortable. He was assured that this was important, that Philip needed to "bring his own treasure." As someone who has a deep conviction that Christ is my treasure, I appreciated this insight. There are times when I am frustrated with the "one faith fits all" approach to interfaith dialogue which marks liberal denominations such as our own. Yet if we accept our oneness as people of the creator then we can develop the freedom to be different in our expression.
Philip also told us the story of a rabbi who was challenged by a Christian with Jesus' words in the gospel of John, "I am the way, the truth, and the life." What did the rabbi think of this, the Christian wanted to know. The rabbi responded that he couldn't agree more, which puzzled his challenger.
The rabbi then explained that he saw Jesus as embodying God's love, and that love is the way, the truth, and the life. I like the promise of a relationship with Christ that is less about lines in the sand and more about embodying love.

Friday, November 09, 2007

David Celebrating Creation

The official photographer for Ghost Ranch asked if some of the study group would be willing to clamber up a nearby butte so she could include us in photos for an upcoming worship resource. Always ready and willing to head out on a hike, I joined a couple of others for the afternoon ascent while the rest of our gang went into siesta mode.

The photographer, Claudia Tammen, sent this as soon as she got home so I would have a copy. She called it "David celebrating creation."The view was glorious and what you can't see from the photo is that the rock to the right is actually a pinnacle about a hundred metres tall called Chimney Rock. It rises up from the valley floor like...well, like a chimney. I am standing at the edge of the butte and didn't want to step back any further! In the deeper background to the left is Padnernol, a long extinct volcano. It is evident from my attire that it was pleasantly warm in New Mexico, although the staff looked at me as though I was a "crazy Canuck" in my shorts and tee-shirt.

Ghost Ranch was the perfect place to discuss Christ, Creation and Contemplation. We acknowledged that Christians have long been "so heavenly minded they are no earthly good." And if we learn to love the planet that God has created and on which Christ dwelt we may become committed to its care.

Thursday, November 08, 2007


Ghost Ranch, New Mexico

Well folks, I'm back after a couple of days in Colorado and nearly a week in the high desert of New Mexico (6500 feet.) Thanks to the little miracle of commercial flight I was in the tiny adobe airport in Santa Fe at ten yesterday morning, in Denver by noon, and home in Bowmanville by a reasonable hour in the evening. I had a great visit with hospitable friends in Colorado and a spiritually stimulating time at Ghost Ranch, the conference centre run by the Presbyterians in the remarkable wilderness landscape of New Mexico.

I came back to the office to discover my computer is not working and the sermon which I had half finished before departing is in cyberneverland. So I'm toiling away at home unable to access my email or anything else.

Part of my time at Ghost Ranch was in a program called Christ, Creation, and Contemplation with 20 others, an eclectic and interesting group from all over the U.S. I was the token Canadian. The leader was Philip Newell, one of the leading writers on Celtic Christianity and his wisdom was worth the travel.

Then I spent three days in retreat at the creation centre established about four kilometres from the main compound of Ghost Ranch called Casa del Sol -- house of the sun. The ranch is 21,000 acres, so they have plenty of room to spread out. It was a tranquil, astonishingly beautiful spot and I was the only retreatant. Casa del Sol is a refurbished adobe hacienda just down the road from the house owned by artist Georgia O'Keeffe and apparently she would come to Casa del Sol on occasion and climb up on the flat roof to paint. She loved the stark spirit of the landscape and I did too. There is a Roman Catholic monastery, a Sufi Muslim retreat, and a Sikh centre within a few miles of Ghost Ranch so others sense the holiness of this region. This region was a place of spiritual significance for native people long before any of these groups showed up.

I will be back with more reflection in the days ahead.