Sunday, December 30, 2007

Creaton Sightings

This weekend's weather has been rather gloomy but we got out for a walk at Second Marsh at the edge of Oshawa. The marsh is sandwiched between Lake Ontario and Canada's busiest highway, the 401. Even though the roar of traffic is constant and the General Motors building is omnipresent the marsh is rich in wildlife. The birds include ducks of all kinds and various herons, owls, and raptors, woodpeckers.

There are also many mammals. We have seen white-tailed deer, red foxes, mink, beaver, muskrat, rabbits, squirrels, voles and mice. This weekend's sighting was a coyote trotting across the ice of the marsh, unfortunate muskrat in its mouth. It glanced at us from time to time but didn't break stride.

Our route is roughly five kilometres in length and we nearly always see some creature or enjoy some view, including a constantly changing perspective on our inland sea. Even on grey winter days our spirits are lifted. This time we came to a spot where the chickadees have developed a bravado when it comes to humans. We pulled out some sunflower seeds and in seconds there was a mob around and on us. At times there were three or four perched on our fingers for a meal.

Second Marsh is a reminder of the diversity of God's creation and how those creatures can thrive if given a chance.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Christmas Dust-up?

Did you hear about the rumble in the church? Not just any church -- the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. After Christmas the two groups of priests who administer the church were cleaning up and the Armenians crossed into Greek Orthodox territory and it was on! You might not be thinking Sharks and Jets but they used brooms and stones on one another. Four people were injured and the police had to be called in to break up the brawl and keep guard until cooler heads prevailed.

There have been similar confrontations through the years in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. A Muslim family locks and unlocks the doors of that church to keep the peace amongst Christian factions. Even in the churches of Christmas and Easter conflicts arise.

I suppose this nonsense is "bred in the bone" of humanity. We are an angry -- dare we say sinful? --lot.

While it may seem that I harp on in this blog about the importance of interfaith dialogue and cooperation it seems to me that we have to find a way around the propensity of religion to encourage suspicion and conflict. Our critics point to just this sort of nonsense as proof that belief in God is toxic rather than healing. We need to prove them wrong and, more importantly, we need to demonstrate that love is at the heart of faith in God.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Christmas into Easter

I will leave my study in a few minutes to conduct the funeral for a woman who died on Christmas Day. Through the years I have done funerals on Christmas Eve and Boxing Day and on all the days around an event that is meant to be joyful.
One year in Halifax we were just finishing Christmas dinner when I got the call that a woman who had been dying of cancer had breathed her last. The family had managed to support her at home so I went to the toney condominium where she lived and rode the elevator with her physician, who happened to be my doctor as well. We were surprised to see each other. He took a few minutes to officially declare her dead and then I gathered the family around the bed for prayer.

The elderly woman whose service I will preside over today was loving and much loved. I didn't really want to do this or any funeral this week but I was touched by the affection of her family as we talked yesterday. She made a loving difference with her children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren and she deserves to be remembered well.

As always these situations bring home to me the Easter in Christmas. Why is the birth of a peasant baby two thousand years ago so important to us? Because of his death and resurrection life, which give hope for our eternal life.

As we stand at the graveside this afternoon we will affirm this promise of Christmas into Easter.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

On Christmas Day in the Morning

Before our gang was "up and running" on Christmas morning I made a trip to the hospital. One of our folk has been discouraged in this season because she will not return to her home and knows that her next residence will be a nursing home. She loves Christmas and attending the services of the season, so her confinement to a hospital bed made her doubly sad. I knew I didn't have to go but her situation was in my mind so I decided to take a few minutes to check on her. She was glad to see me and was quite positive -- her more usual disposition. I read the Christmas story to her and we prayed.

On to see a woman in her 90's who we were sure was not long for this world. Lo and behold, she was sitting up and eating breakfast. In fact she seemed more intent on her breakfast than me, which was an encouraging sign!

Finally a visit with an elderly woman who had a stroke and ended up in intensive care. I wasn't aware that this had occurred until I got to the hospital. She was obviously scared, which was understandable. She could speak clearly and held my hand as we prayed.

I was back home before 9:00 and found the family ready to open gifts and celebrate the day.
Christmas is not always joyful for people, but we can listen for the voice of the angel encouraging us not to be afraid.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Tsunami Remembered

I did a double-take at the reports today on the third anniversary of the tsunami which killed 230,000 people in Asia. Third? It hardly seems possible that it was that long ago we watched the death toll climb and began to act. There was an outpouring of financial aid from nations around the world -- $13 billion in total. Some of it was delivered immediately and some is still only a promise. Individuals, school groups, religious organizations sent billions more. It was impressive to see how quickly the world responded to such heartache.

I wonder why it is so much more difficult to motivate those of us who are reasonably well off to give what it needed to eradicate malaria or provide support for those living with HIV and AIDS? The number who die every year from this diseases is many times that killed in the tsunami. Governments could be systematic in their contributions, budgetting each year. Can you imagine what good we could do if Canadian households contributed $5 or $10 a month to a worthy cause overseas?

Instead we seem to need the electric shock of a natural disaster or war with the resulting hardship and loss to get us going. I hope we don't need another tragedy of monumental proportions to motivate us toward compassion. That's where faith communities are important as places where the important issues can be raised and we can be agents of Christ's love.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Christmas Surprise

I didn't think that the current Roman Catholic pope could come up with much that would please me after some recent statements but I was pleasantly surprised when he included care for the planet in his Christmas message. I personally believe that when Jesus said "God so loved the world" he meant it. Pope Benedict was right when he said that greed in the West was undermining the balance of God's creation.

The Christmas messages of the popes nearly always call for an end to conflict and the disparities between rich and poor. These themes of justice are important reminders of biblical themes that are timeless. I hope that we will listen in 2008 in ways that will reverse the trends of the later part of the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty first.

Again, Merry Christmas and Christ's joy.

Monday, December 24, 2007

The St. Paul's Family

My wife Ruth had the great idea of inviting congregation members to bring their nativity sets from home to church yesterday morning. More than two dozen people brought them and set them up on tables around our hall. One of them is featured in the photo above.

Some children proudly displayed their scenes of the birth of Jesus while some seniors put out collections gathered from around the world. There were a few that were quite elegant and others that looked a trifle worn after years of use. One grandfather affectionately pointed out the missing ears from the donkey, casualties of play by the grandkids he dotes on.

It was a lovely way of reminding ourselves that the St. Paul's family is made up of many and diverse households united in the story of Christ's redeeming love.

A wonderful Christmas to all those of you who check in on this blog along the way. I'm not sure when I'll resume, but I will be back!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Christmas Elders

Rembrant van Rijn

Often lost in the Christmas season is the reading from Luke 2: 25-40 about Joseph and Mary taking Jesus to the temple for presentation to two elders, Anna and Simeon. We aren't given information about Simeon's age, but Anna was 84 -- ancient in those days. They are described as devout and spirit-filled people who awaited the coming of the Messiah.

Once again we have been visiting our elders and this week I will see at least eight people over the age of ninety, including one who is 101 years old! Often I read the Christmas story from scripture and offer a prayer. Some are amazingly bright even though their bodies are letting them down. Others are a little less mentally focussed. Conversations can take on a surreal quality.

A couple of days ago I chatted with one great old guy named Joe who recently moved to a nursing home and is somewhat disoriented. But when I wished him a happy birthday he brightened "I'm 95 years old" he told me " -- in my 96th year!"

Our elders are often out of sight but we don't want them to be out of mind. They are part of the history of our faith communities and still important in the present.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Santa in the Shadows

The last couple of days my wife, Ruth, has come home from work exhausted. On Tuesday it was a twelve hour marathon as all the staff from Bethesda House shelter prepared for and carried out the annual Christmas party for current residents and those who had been clients through the year. The Clarington highschool gym was crowded with moms and children.

Wednesday was no respite. Ninety hampers of food and toys were given out to clients to make Christmas seem like a celebration rather than a defeat. All of them had to be first put together, then carried up from the basement of a local church which was the distribution centre. This year the community responded with great generosity so there was abundance for every hamper -- and tons of weight to lug up the stairs!

When Ruth walked through our door she admitted that as she trudged home she was tired to the point of tears. But as she passed a dark laneway she caught the movement of a person out of the corner of her eye. Lo and behold it was Santa in full costume (on the way home from some Christmas party?) who shook his bells and called out "Merry Christmas." Ruth said it was so unexpected and lifted her spirits.

The church often has trouble making it's peace with Santa because of the materialism he can represent. Except that Saint Nicholas was a real person, a Christian with a heart for the poor and down-trodden.

Today I will go at noon for the Christmas dinner our St. Paul's women provide for those in our community who live with mental health issues and are often lonely.

God bless all those who live out the spirit of generous love in this season and all through the year.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Mary's Hijab

It isn't often that Mary, the mother of Jesus, has been portrayed without a head covering of some kind. There are images of Mary wearing a crown to signify her exalted role as God-bearer.
Most of the time it is a simple cloth covering, not unlike the hijab.

This came to mind as I munched my Shreddies this morning and listened to the CBC report about a soccer league in Alberta which will allow girls to wear the Islamic head covering when they play. This is definitely a "tempest in a teapot" from my perspective. It has been argued that wearing the hijab is a safety issue so it must be banned, but I am dubious about this explanation. Surely it has more to do with our notions of fitting in. Remember when the world was going to end if we allowed Sikh RCMP officers to wear turbans and beards? I remember being miffed about this challenge to a Canadian institution. Now I wonder why it bothered me. The controversy quietly went away and now the Mounties have far more pressing issues to contend with.

I won't be thinking about girl's soccer when I see all the images of Mary through the rest of the season but I will ponder the wonderful act of inclusive love which was the birth of Jesus, the Saviour.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

O Little Troubled Town

Click on image to enlarge
O little town of Bethlehem how still we see thee lie!
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by,
yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting light,
the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.

This is probably my favourite Christmas Carol, so poetic and unfortunately that first line is so inaccurate in 2007. Modern-day Bethlehem is in the West Bank and every day thousands of residents cross into Israel for work, if they are allowed. Although Arab Christians from Bethlehem have never posed a problem for Israeli security, and neither do most Arab Muslims, there is a tedious and slow and often humiliating process for crossing the check-points for work that is menial for the most part. The tensions run high and add to the bitterness and there seems to be no end to the forty year occupation of the West Bank.

One year I visited a Christian school in Bethlehem and the principal pleaded with us to raise the issue of a Christian population that was isolated and shrinking. It was an uncomfortable moment for our Israeli guide but something we needed to hear.

Of course there are security issues which means the Israeli government must be vigilant but the efforts for resolution are essential. The international community has pledged billions of dollars to help revive the Palestinian economy, including 300 million from Canada. Perhaps this will create an atmosphere of hope for the future.

Monday, December 17, 2007

The Strength of Convictions

I have been reading with some interest the reports about sentencing for two convicted felons, Conrad Black and David Radler. This was Mr. Radler's day of reckoning. Their story is a rather sordid one of corporate pilfering -- a sort of reverse Robin Hood principle.

Part of the fascination is "how the mighty have fallen" (a biblical phrase), particularly with Mr. Black. I am also intrigued by the claims of a sustaining faith for each of these men. Radler is an observant Jew who has continued to attend synagogue despite his disgrace. Black is a practicing Roman Catholic who has a prayer chapel in his mansion. In both cases there seems to be a disconnect between theology and practice despite their professed devotion.

While we might be tempted to curl a lip in disdain, it seems to me that we should be careful about observing the speck in someone else's eye lest a mighty redwood clogs our own (another biblical metaphor.) Our plunges from grace are not as public and spectacular yet we all have our failures and the gap between saying and doing in our faith can be dramatic in their own private way.

The other aspect of this story which catches my attention is contrition -- saying sorry. Radler, the Jew, has admitted his wrongdoing and sought forgiveness. Black, the Christian, seems to be steadfast in his denial of sin even as he heads to the penalty box. Few of us are aware that penitentiaries were created so that criminals would be penitent. There was the notion which some may consider naiive that, given the chance, the convicted would see the errors of their ways and express remorse.

We'll see.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Command Performance

Living Nativity -- last night

I freely admit that I was hoping the first night of the Living Nativity would be cancelled. I may have prayed to that end. Nope. The show must go on, so I trudged up the street dressed to stand outside on a cold, blustery, snowy night.

In the church hall the cast was preparing for the performance. The little angels looked liked they had bulked up on steroids thanks to the snowsuits underneath their costumes. Some of the kids wanted to know if the animals had arrived. I tried to prepare them for the possibility that they would be the only animals tonight but, lo and behold, the donkey and goat and sheep made it in the nick of time thanks to our resourceful farmer and another congregation member with a powerful truck.

There were a handful of people on the benches. If the parents and helpers were taken out of the mix I was the only audience member! But everyone did a great job as though there was a throng of appreciative viewers. At the end the two dozen cast members stood together for the meagre and bemittened applause.

I must be getting sappy in my dotage. I was touched by this command performance. The cast prayed before they began that some person might hear the message of God-with-us for the first time and even though I'm a little shopworn I was listening -- to my own voice actually since I narrate on tape. What they did was lovely and meaningful and now I'm sipping hot chocolate to get warm again.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Joy in Bali?

On a morning when we are getting dire warnings of a winter storm we are told of a tentative international agreement on global warming. The negotiations continued after the official conclusion of the Bali conference and while it is a watered down accord (excuse the pun) without hard targets it is at least a commitment to work together. Sadly, John Baird, the Canadian environment minister absented himself from the critical session which says so much about our government's pathetic lack of leadership in Bali. Frankly I am ashamed of the Canadian involvement.

If worship actually takes place tomorrow on the Advent Sunday of Joy I will speak about the promise of Isaiah that the day will come when Earth itself will rejoice and the deserts will bloom. God's salvation in Christ extends to all that lives. It ain't over until it's over so there is hope of salvation for our government!
There is a Spanish hymn in Voices United which paraphrases the promises of hope in Isaiah:
1 All earth is waiting to see the Promised One,
and open furrows await the seed of God.
All the world, bound and struggling, seeks true liberty;
it cries out for justice and searches for the truth.
2 Thus says the prophet to those of Israel,
'A virgin mother will bear Emmanuel.'
One whose name is 'God with us', our Saviour shall be,
through whom hope will blossom once more within our hearts.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Blessed Interruptions

There is so much to do at this time of year. Lots of folk to visit who can't get out for services of the season. And those services! Tons of planning and orders of worship to prepare well in advance so the office staff aren't overwhelmed. Don't panic, don't panic, you've done this before, I tell myself.

So I suppose that's why God has sent plenty of interruptions my way this past week. Phone calls and stop-bys that I couldn't have anticipated. On Sunday afternoon I was settling in for the football game I had waited for with great anticipation... when the phone rang. An elderly person in hospital was failing. Thanks for the information...sort of. Ruth suggested I go the next day. I decided to get up and go. The person is still with us, but I just needed to respond.

Other people in crisis or lonely. This time of the year is difficult for many, and the Christmas season amplifies the pain. Interruptions. A colleague in hospital with a sudden and life-threatening illness.

The work will get done, I tell myself. Don't panic. And if not me, who will respond? I'm certainly not indispensible or "God's gift" to ministry. I'm no saint either. Sometimes I grumble and groan on the inside. But there are moments when the relationship of trust is so important.

There are times when the interruptions and that essential human interaction are what are first and foremost.

Isn't God's blessed interruption in Christ what this season is all about?

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Multi-Faith Magi

I have served up a couple of multi-faith musings this week. Here is another. We just got the sad news that the elderly gentleman (and he is a gentleman) who has wrapped the turbans of our magi each year has moved to Toronto. Our outdoor Living Nativity has been performed for decades and he has probably done this for us through twenty of those years. As we search for a solution we feel the loss of this part of our tradition.

Mr. Sodhi is a Sikh and not only does he know what he is doing with the turbans, his deft handiwork was a gentle demonstration of inter-faith cooperation and grace. It was fitting because the Magi who found young Jesus were of another faith, probably Zoroastrian.

His family is trying to figure out who might come to do this for us, which is kind on their part. We will gratefully accept the assistance, but some people are irreplaceable.
Join us next Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday, the 16th, 17th and 18th at 7:30 PM.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Listening for God

It's next to impossible to find paintings of an angel speaking to Joseph, the husband of Mary and earthly father of Jesus. It's always Mary who is listening, as the painting above by Robert Campin reminds us. Actually, Mary is multi-tasking, reading a good book while the angel tells her the Good News. Off to one side Joseph tinkers in his workshop while the big event takes place.
We might forget that Joseph had his own experience with a messenger from God which changed his life. Our morning study group read about it in Matthew this morning and heard that as a result Joseph decided to put aside cultural notions of propriety and religious conventions to support the pregnant Mary and take her as his wife.

As we discussed the passage it occurred to me that the issues remain the same. Yesterday a young woman was murdered by her father because of his strict interpretation of his religion. Somehow he heard that his daughter must be punished and his "faithfulness" to God led to blood on his hands. Too often people of every religion are convinced that God is calling them to exclusion and violence.

I was struck by the gospel story that says Joseph was surprised by God's messenger but chose to listen in a new way. He went outside of the societal norms to choose compassion. It is a "real world" story of a difficult choice to love rather than hate, to embrace rather than cast out. Perhaps we would benefit from more images of Joseph, front and centre.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Ways that Never Parted

Tomorrow marks the end of Hanukkah and it has been years since we neither set up the menorah in our home, nor lighted the menorah candles in church. No good reason -- just life!I am fascinated by the Hanukkah story and a sucker for the lighting of candles in worship. Some of you may remember that last year, during Hanukkah, we baptized a new member who grew up Jewish and lit the menorah as a reminder of his tradition which doesn't have to be extinguished.

More and more I wonder why we have acted as though Christianity supercedes Judaism, even though Jesus never relinquished his Jewish faith, nor did the apostle Paul. Not long ago Anne Coulter blithely told a Jewish interviewer that Christians are "perfected Jews." Coulter is a truly arrogant women, but we have often shared and expressed that arrogance in a more polite fashion.
I am confident that we can be faithful followers of Christ without denigrating other traditions, especially with our roots in Judaism.

I just bought a book of essays called The Ways that Never Parted about the relationship between Jews and Christians in the Middle Ages. I'm sure it will be helpful and the title encourages me.

Vroom Vroom Rev Rev Update

I don't want to belabour this subject but Jo Sorrill's emailed photo says it all!

Monday, December 10, 2007


I will send an email to my roommate at Ghost Ranch and hope for the best. Some of you will recall my description of Peter as a great guy who attends one of the evangelical meagachurches in Colorado. The same church where a gunman opened fire yesterday, killing one person and injuring others before an armed guard (at a church?) shot him. I want Peter and his wife and daughter to be safe, but I will wait to find out
Strangely, this is not the first time I have had a personal connection with such a violent act. A few years ago my aunt in Texas was at bible study at her church when a gunman walked into another part of the complex and killed several young people.Places of worship are no longer sanctuaries from violence.

What is happening in the United States? Why has this "gun culture" become so acceptable in a nation which is overt in its religious expression. I checked the Denver Post website to get more details on the shootings and a number of people commented online. One person asked why America seems obsessed with the threat of foreign terrorism when its own young people are gunning down innocent victims in malls and churches and schools. Good question.

I know that Peter is a person of prayer and he will invite others to pray for both the victims and perpetrator of this crime. I will, but I still don't get it.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Justice Done

Today Robert Pickton was convicted on all six counts of murder. A family member of one of the victims commented that their "prayers were answered." There were many prayers that the women who died would be shown some posthumous respect by a guilty verdict.

When I read the outcome I thought of my cousin, Pauline, who was working the streets of downtown Vancouver during the period of disappearances and could easily have been a victim. I am grateful to God that she survived and I pray for the healing of the families of the deceased.

White Gift Wonder

There was a mountain of White Gifts that weren't actually white at our church today. They aren't swathed in white tissue anymore because the Salvation Army and other recipients must turn around and unwrap them for distribution. The S.A. and Bethesda House shelter will make sure this year's gifts find suitable homes.

There was also a "full house" of worshippers including plenty of grandparents there to grin at the young participants from their families. Thanks to our Sunday School coordinator, Cherri, her teachers, and Rev. Cathy, the kids were well prepared to deliver a message of the Christ who comes to us through all our senses.

Sitting in the congregation for the fifth year in a row I was struck by the development of the children. Some I had baptized and are now singing with the youngest class. Kids who were too shy to come forward for the children's time during my first Fall are now confident readers and soloists in the junior choir.

All this is deeply satisfying and a reminder of the importance of community for the development of these young Christians.

Friday, December 07, 2007

The Old, Old Story -- and Some New Ones

Since childhood I have loved to read fiction. I have always been an omnivore, gobbling up stories of every description. As a kid they were escape and education, often read illicitly after bedtime, by the light from the hallway.

Stories are an important way of conveying a message when I preach and as I noted recently, telling and teaching The Story is so important for the Christian community.

This seems to be the time of year for lists of various kinds, including best fiction. I decided to include a list of my own, of novels that I enjoyed through 2007. When I say "enjoy" I have included books that challenged me to think deeply and those which entertained me and even some which brought me the kind of pleasure which might be described as joy. In no particular order:

Ghostwritten -- an earlier novel by the mental gymnast David Mitchell. I enjoyed his Cloud Atlas more, but this was challenging.
Housekeeping --Marilynne Robinson -- an author who has written only two novels, 25 years apart, both award-winners. Her second, Gilead, won the Pulitzer prize. This is a sad story, beautifully written.
Life and Times of Michael K --J M Coetzee -- his novels of South Africa are not easy reads, but this one won the Nobel Prize in literature.
Jayber Crow -- Wendell Berry -- about a nobody from nowhere who drifts through life but observes the world with great wisdom.
The Yiddish Policemen's Union -- Michael Chabon -- excellent novel by the author of the brilliant Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Klay.
The Naming of the Dead & Exit Music --Ian Rankin -- the last two of his wonderful John Rebus crime fiction novels. Sigh.
Shadow of the Wind -- Carlos Ruiz Zafón-- ridiculously overwrought potboiler -- thoroughly enjoyable!
The Piano Tuner -- Daniel Mason-- a mesmerizing story which is not predictable in any way.
Water for Elephants -- Sara Gruen -- a book club favourite which has some great insights into the vicissitudes of aging and the happy ending we all want.
Restless -- William Boyd -- a spy thriller, well written, and with a great twist (mother and daughter).

Havana Best Friends -- Jose Latour -- a suspense novel written by an ex-pat Cuban who now lives in Canada. It was perfect after visiting Havana earlier this year.
The Maytrees -- Annie Dillard -- not as good as I had hoped, yet containing some marvellous descriptions of intertidal life.

There are more, but I'll stop with one for each month of the year. Do those of you who are on blogger have a "best novel of the year" you can post?

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Ministry Through Brush and Stars

There is an exhibit of 20 of Vincent Van Gogh's letters to a younger friend at the Morgan Library in New York City. They demonstrate that even near the end of his life when his mental illness drove him to take his own life he had extended periods of lucidity and insight. Of course this was the period when he was both prolific and highly creative in his output. I will quote from the National Public Radio review of the exhibit.

At several points, Van Gogh writes about his desire to do a starry, night sky, "just as I shall paint a green meadow studded with dandelions," he writes, "but how to arrive at that?" "But when will I do the starry sky, then, that painting that's always on my mind? Alas, alas, it's just as our excellent pal Cyprien says, in En ménage by J. K. Huysmans, the most beautiful paintings are those one dreams of while smoking a pipe in one's bed but which one doesn't make. But it's a matter of attacking them nevertheless, however incompetent one may feel vis-à-vis the ineffable perfections of nature's glorious splendors." Of course, Van Gogh eventually overcomes these problems and goes on to paint some of the most celebrated night scenes in the history of art.

In fact within months Vincent had painted the night sky and Starry Night (above) was painted the next year.

Van Gogh was a spiritual person and actually trained for the ministry before being rejected by the Dutch Reformed Church. He was just too intense and erratic. His spirituality shines forth in his paintings and we are probably better off for his life as an artist rather than as a pastor.

His work has certainly ministered to me.

If you get away from the lights of town during this season, take a look at the night sky and consider the Creator and the creative genius of Vincent Van Gogh.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Common Sense...Yours to Discover

I received an email from the Rev. Jo Sorrill this morning saying that she has been turned down for renewal of her specialized licensed plates once again. I won't say vanity plates because one CBC listener phoned in and offered that ministers shouldn't indulge in vanity. Seriously.

The reason this time? "Rev" is the name of an alcoholic beverage. So she is promoting excessive speed, drinking, and religious fervour. If only the United Church had known all these years. We might have defrocked her as well.

Since Jo's message the premier of the province of Ontario has stepped in and made the peace offering of renewing the plates. He suggested that the government needed to exercise common sense from time to time. Amen. How about every day?

Furry Prophets

I will soon be heading into the first of two study groups for the day. We have been looking at different approaches to prayer in the evening while continuing our lectionary group in the morning.

So, it will be John the Baptist today, preparing the way for his cousin Jesus. When we get to these readings I always try to figure out who the prophets for our time are.

A couple of weeks ago Macleans magazine asked the question Who is Canada's best MP? The answer, derived from answers to questions posited to other members of parliament, is a United Church minister. Okay, NDPer Bill Blaikie has been toiling on Parliament Hill for 28 years, but he began a s a lowly UCC minister. I was struck by the phrase "he found in the bible a tradition of challenging the ruling elite."

Big, furry guy challenging the "powers that be." Sounds like John the Baptist to me.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

More Thoughts

It's interesting -- dare I say providential -- that things "work together for good" at times. The latest United Church Observer arrived today and the cover article is Christmas as Others See It. There are worthwhile reflections by people of other faiths and a non-believer on the observance of Christmas.

While the best choice would be to subscribe to the Observer, the article is on-line.

What Story Will We Sing?

On Saturday I was in the big chain drugstore and the Muzak or whatever it's called today was an innocuous instrumental version of Rudolph the Rednosed Reindeer. I heard singing, a child's voice belting out all the words. I peered around until I could see her and watched for a moment as she danced as well, while her father searched for something on the shelf. When the music stopped she just kept on singing, perfectly in tune. She hadn't finished all the verses so she needed to keep going.

I enjoyed the moment but, when in doubt, over-analyze. I wondered how she would do if the music was Silent Night or Away in a Manger. Do children know these carols the way they would have not all that long ago? We do live in a more multi-cultural society, although more than 80% of Canadians identify themselves as at least nominally Christian. That's the challenge though. Is it just a cultural Christianity rather than knowing and living the story which we see as The Story?

I had decided to share this incident with you today and when I came to work this morning there was an email from a St. Paul's member containing the BBC news headline Reindeer Ralph supplants Nativity.
A Muslim leader comments that Britain is a Christian country and he has no objection to hearing the Christian story as long as there is openness and respect of other traditions. More and more I realize that it isn't people of other faiths who are the challenge to our faith but our own indifference.

When we sing our Christmas faith this year at White Gift and the Living Nativity and Christmas Eve we are teaching a story that is so much more important than reindeer in the sky, whether they are Ralph or Rudolph.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Bali and the Future of the Planet

The stakes couldn't be higher. The future of the planet itself is at the heart of the negotiations that begin today in Bali, where 191 countries will try to reach a deal on how to fight global warming.Warnings of a looming worldwide disaster have added urgency to the talks. "I believe we are on the verge of a catastrophe if we do not act," United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki-moon said in advance of the Bali conference.

These words were written by Geoffrey York in today's edition of the Globe and Mail newspaper. Representatives from countries around the world will gather in Bal, Indonesia, i for the next two weeks to discuss the fate of the planet under the auspices of the United Nations.

Prime Minister Harper will be there and I hope he will wake up. At the recent Commonwealth Conference he demonstrated a depressing resistance to any sort of agreement which would require real change to the way we treat the planet. Harper insisted that he was the courageous leader, refusing to agree to anything other than "aspirational targets."

Canada, the United States, and Saudi Arabia were all given "Fossil" awards by an environmental organization for their refusal to sign on to any accords to reduce carbon emmissions.

We need our government to provide real leadership at home and abroad. We need Mr. Harper and Mr. Baird to wake up to the examples of other industrialized nations which are developing strategies and practices which will allow their economies to flourish and to protect the environment.

Please pray for a change in heart for our leaders during this conference. As Geoffrey York says, the future of the planet depends upon it.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Every Person Loved

Robert Pickton's lawyers are waiting to see whether the defense strategy that their client wasn't intelligent enough to orchestrate the murders of nearly 50 sex-trade workers will be successful.

What a desperate approach -- too stupid to kill. Doing evil is not dependent on intelligence. It is perpetrated by the brilliant and the slow.

These women did not deserve to die, no matter how personally destructive their lifestyles might have been. They were not disposable human beings. When we think about Jesus' willingness to treat the Samaritan woman with respect and his relationship with others in his culture who violated social norms, we know this is true.

The family members of the murdered women wait and watch for the verdict. They lost loved ones whose lives were cherished. As the jurors continue to deliberate we need to pray that justice will be done.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

World AIDS Day

There are many diseases which plague humans. Malaria kills and water-borne illnesses kill, and in the millions. It is still important to recognize one of the great scourges of our time --AIDS. It's estimated that two million people will die of AIDS this year around the world. This statistic tells only part of the story because children in Africa are orphaned by AIDS and whole villages and towns are left without anyone of parenting age. There simply isn't the money for the drugs which would prolong the lives of those with HIV.

In Canada and the United States and other Western nations many do get the anti-viral drugs that make HIV manageable, but we are still learning. Last night The National did a 15-minute piece on a Dr. Montaner in British Columbia who wants a "cocktail" of drugs made available to those who get missed by the health-care system, including those who live on the street or close to it. The cocktail has been tremendously effective with those who are receiving it already.

There are hopeful signs that the world is developing the will to deal with this devastating disease. Communities of faith are finally getting over the moral prejudices against HIV and AIDS sufferers to simply respond in Christ's name. I admire Pastor Rick Warren, the evangelical leader in the States who is convening a conference of thousands of church leaders this weekend to develop strategies to combat HIV/AIDS. This is what Christ who touched the untouchables would want us to do. As the T-shirt says, a world without AIDS is possible.