Friday, October 31, 2008

Ve Vant Your Blood!

This evening lots of young trick or treaters will be roaming the streets of our towns and cities and there may be a scary vampire or two in the mix. I'm one of those people who has a very low "creep-out" threshold so I stay away from books and movies that terrorize. I did read a pretty good Dracula novel this summer called The Historian.

Doesn't it seem appropriate that on Hallowe'en there is a strong appeal for blood donors in the midst of a dangerous shortage of blood and blood products? We were talking about this around our table yesterday and realized that none of the four adults in our household has ever given blood. We were wondering why, since we tend to be civic-minded. We are going to seek out one of the clinics which have been set up around town.

Our Christian faith has lots of blood in it: the blood of Christ on the cross and the blood of the martyrs recognized tomorrow on All Saints Day. A central premise of our faith is that we have received a great gift through blood shed for us, and even though we downplay that bloody aspect of Christianity in our day it is still important.

Maybe we should look at giving our blood as an act of Christian service, perhaps saving the life of someone we have never met. Have you given blood before, and will you do so again?

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Youtube and the United Church

I was in a local cafe with one of my daughters and I noticed a headline in the Toronto Star left on the table about a church that was launching a youtube channel to get its message out. The denomination turned out to be our United Church of Canada

Youtube is the internet source for videos on everything from the world's cutest pets, to vintage concerts, to funny skits on television, to devastating natural disasters. Speaking of natural disasters, politicians are also using youtube to get their messages out to the masses.

So why not the church. A UCC spokesperson says that the station will be for information about what we are doing at home and around the world rather than for evangelization. There will also be pieces from Wonder Cafe.

I have come to realize the value of this blog as a way of communicating with you, so why not a wider initiative by our denomination?

What do you think? Worthwhile, or a waste of time?

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Happy Anniversary

Yesterday I walked through the cold and windy downtown of Bowmanville to another church for an anniversary lunch. I went along with Rev. Cathy and Beth, our Parish Nurse, to celebrate four years of the mental health drop-in centre. Before I said the blessing I thanked the patrons who always greet me warmly when I'm there, or when I see them on the street. I let them know that their friendliness often makes my day.

I sat with three people I didn't recognize but who were quite chatty. Even though two of them were ragged looking, to put it kindly, they were ready for conversation and we even joked together. Every time I take part in one of the events I am touched by the sincerity and openness of folk who are at the edges of our society. It could be argued that they don't have a lot to celebrate or much reason to be trusting but they defy conventional wisdom.

Yesterday a retired member of St. Paul's was there serving food as she does faithfully from week to week. Once a month a group of eight to ten is fed by our U.C.W. as part of the Lunch Out program at St. Paul's. What a wonderful and largely unrecognized ministry.

On the other side at the lunch table was the co-ordinator of this program and the other similar initiatives in Oshawa and Whitby. We talked about how the Bowmanville ministerial might get involved in a literacy program they hope to get off the ground. Many of their clients have limited or no reading skills and I suggested congregations could recruit volunteers for an hour of reading and basic teaching.

Much of the good done by churches and church members flies under the radar but I believe our community is a better place for it.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Second Sight

Tony Hillerman died a couple of days ago and the tributes for this novelist/detective mystery writer have been numerous. He was a prolific and exceptional writer whose stories were set on the Navajo reservations of the American Southwest. Hillerman died in Albuquerque, New Mexico at the age of 83. Through the years he won many awards including recognition by the Navajo people for his sensitive portrayal of their cultural life and their spiritual traditions.

One of the things I liked about his novels was a willingness to include the mystical nature of Navajo spirituality and the sense that not everything in this life and the life to come is readily explained.

In the United Church we are very "down to earth" in our expression of faith, which is good to a point. But at times we lose that sense of mystery which connects us to a realm we cannot fathom. At our best we are practical, "golden rule" Christians. At our worst we aren't much different from service clubs. Rotary and Lion's do great work, but surely as the people of the Creator of the Universe we can offer something more.

This weekend we will acknowledge that the secular Hallowe'en is connected to the religious All Hallows Eve. It is a time to honour the "cloud of witnesses" which surrounds us and the thin places between this life and the next.
It seems to me that it is essential not to lose sight of what we cannot see, if that makes any sense!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Friendship Sunday

Today was Friendship Sunday at St. Paul's, an initiative of our Pastoral Care committee. Our members were asked to invite a friend, which many did. The theme of worship was friendship and after the service was over everyone was invited to roam the building looking at displays from various groups and committees of the congregation. Of course we also fed people!

Friendship Sunday was a big success in many respects.

Worship was both meaningful and fun, with lots of great music and involvement on the part of children. The excellent organization meant that the displays were well done and informative. A number of our own crowd said it was a good reminder of just how active the St. Paul's congregation is. We need the occasional affirmation.

Visitors were delighted. Lots of them are already members of other churches but as I schmoozed the repeated comment was that there was so much joyful energy -- and they loved seeing the children. The woman who brought the book table from United Church Publishing was so enthusiastic about the event that she was sure it should be written up for the United Church Observer magazine.

Rev. Cathy and I breathed a huge sigh of relief when the young couple she interviewed as the "sermon" actually showed. Erin and Adam are expecting a child on Tuesday and we had a "Plan B" in the event that the due date wasn't accurate. Babies have a way of showing up when they want to.

St. Paul's is known as the friendly congregation. I would like to think this was borne out this morning. As we reminded ourselves in worship, the ultimate friendship is with Christ who chooses us.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Where Would Jesus Sleep?

As I turned the key in the car yesterday afternoon CBC radio immediately sprang into life. I caught the tail-end of responses to a Thursday program on The Point (it is archived.) The feature was about the ongoing controversy in the public parks of Victoria, British Columbia. Homeless people are sleeping in these parks, mostly in tents, and the municipality isn't happy. The police have been sent in to roust the squatters. The issue was made more complicated and controversial when a supreme court justice ruled that the city didn't have the right to evict the tenters.

As I listened to the pros and cons from respondents I had to admit that if I lived across the street from one of these parks I wouldn't be thrilled about having rhe residents of a tent city as my neighbours. While I'm all for compassion and housing the homeless, I would be keeping a watchful eye even now when my children are no longer youngsters. We all have our double standards.

Yet I immediately thought of Jesus and his disciples who were defacto homeless people when away from Nazareth. When they spent time in Jerusalem they camped out in a public olive orchard called the Garden of Gethsemane. You may have heard of it.

There was a New York billboard campaign a few years ago that showed a homeless man with the caption "How can you worship a homeless guy on Sunday and ignore one on Monday?" Good question.

I could barely convince myself to leave the comfort of my home this blustery morning to visit the gym. What would Jesus do? Where would the Jesus who said "the Son of Man has no place to lay his head" sleep?

Friday, October 24, 2008

Transformational Figures

Former US general and secretary of state Colin Powell shocked Republicans when he publicly declared his support Democratic presidential hopeful, Barack Obama. Given his key role in the Bush administration during the first term, this change of heart was a major blow to John McCain's campaign.

Powell called out those who have attempted to smear Obama's character, including those who have falsely accused him of being a Muslim. Powell pointed out that this shouldn't be the way things are done in America and I'm sure we would all agree. Powell also pointed out that there is nothing wrong with being a Muslim-American.

I was glad to hear this, but I was most intrigued with his conviction that Obama has the potential to be a "transformational figure" in American life. It goes almost without saying that the United States must get back on track financially, but it also needs a leader who can help restore America's international image and re-establish some sense of vision and purpose.

Who are our transformational figures? Who do we want to follow into new ways of thinking and being? They seemed to be in short supply during the Canadian federal election. David Suzuki was interviewed on television this week and this John the Baptist of environmentalism, the voice crying in and about the wilderness, said that he was no Messiah.

We do have a Messiah in our Christian faith, One who was the most unlikely transformational figure, with no media machine behind him, no millions to fuel a campaign touting the new reign of God. Nearly everything about Jesus was counter-intuitive for leadership, yet when he said "come follow me" people listened and still do.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Just One Word --Plastics

In the movie The Graduate the college student played by a very young Dustin Hoffman is given investment advice in the form of just one word --plastics.

The other day I was in the grocery store buying one item, milk, which was four plastic bags within another plastic bag. When I declined yet another plastic bag to carry it away I got what my wife Ruth describes as "the look." There are some cashiers who stare in disbelief or disgust when a plastic bag is declined by the shopper. I managed to get out of the store without the additional plastic.

I heard this morning about a new documentary called Addicted to Plastic . If you are reading this blog entry you are using plastic and are probably surrounded by the stuff, as am I. The film-maker mentioned that the U.N. figure for plastics in the ocean is 47,000 pieces per square mile. Mind-boggling. I mentioned before that far out to sea there are circular currents filled with plastic like a giant toilet bowl that never flushes. I was dismayed to hear that in some municipalites as little as 5% of plastic put in the Blue Box is actually recycled. Yikes.

When the psalmist declared that "the earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof" there were no plastics. Most of the planet's plastic has been produced in the past fifty years, and virtually all of it is still out there.

The old environmental maxim Reduce, Reuse, Recycle begins with a call to lower consumption. Biodegradable alternatives have been developed but are not yet widely available or used. In the meantime reduced use of plastic is a simple thing we can commit ourselves to each day as God's people who believe that this is the Creator's good green and blue earth.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Going in the Red for Justice?

Lots of us remember when the federal government in Canada and most of the provinces ran staggering deficits. Then all these jurisdictions tightened fiscal belts, aided by robust economies bringing in big tax bucks, to balance the books.

The world's financial picture has certainly changed and now the federal Conservative government and the Ontario provincial government are preparing us for deficit budgets. In fact, Ontario's Liberals, not big fans of the feds, are suggesting it is okay with them if the Conservatives run a deficit. To quote Premier McGuinty:

"You get yourself into trouble if you have an ideological aversion to deficits. You don't embrace deficits but ... let's be practical here. The choice is you cut programs, you can raise taxes or you run deficits."

I was certainly glad when governments reigned in spending during the nineties because I could see the mess we were going to leave for the next generation. I did have misgivings about what would happen to social programs. Look at how quickly governments everywhere have run to the rescue of institutions which were plundering from the common person. But they often have an itchy trigger finger when it comes to programs for the working poor, the disabled, the mentally ill. And we have just heard that the gap between rich and poor in this country is growing.

The United Church has regularly been a voice for the voiceless when cuts are proposed. So do we support the possibility of ending up in the red if it means that social programs are maintained, not to mention health and education.


Living Our Faith

Since we travelled to Afghanistan yesterday we might as well stay for one more day. The BBC has reported the death of a young British women who was serving with a relief agency. Gayle Williams, 34, was gunned down as she walked to work. The monstrous Taliban claimed responsibility, saying that she was "guilty" of promulgating Christianity.

In one respect this accusation was entirely untrue. No overt proselytizing was going on even though the agency has a Christian base. Nearly all Christian organizations in Afghanistan observe the law which prohibits teaching Christianity.

But Gayle was guilty of living her faith. The organization she was working with helped physically disabled Afghans -- hardly a heinous crime -- but somehow a lightning rod for religious hatred.

St. Francis is credited with saying that we should preach our faith every day, and if necessary use words. Gayle was living her relationship with Christ so even though she was not preaching the gospel she paid the ultimate price.

There is a long history of Christians entering into situations of uncertainty and danger to offer medical support and education. Earlier in the twentieth century missionary work often meant aggressive evangelization, but in recent times the emphasis has been on actions rather than words because the colonial era is over.

What do you think about Christian presence in situations hostile to openly sharing the gospel?

Monday, October 20, 2008

The Least of These

Do you remember Flora Macdonald? For sixteen years she was a Progressive Conservative member of parliament (emphasis on the progressive) and served as Canada's External Affairs minister. Now in retirement she is anything but retiring.

Last night the C.B.C. did an excellent piece on Ms. Macdonald's work in Afghanistan. With a huge staff of one she is making a difference in one of that country's poor provinces. She travels with her Afghani driver/ translator/project manager establishing solar panel installations in small villages. The panels power fluorescent lights which allow local artisans to extend their work days and help children to stay in school. They are also doing work in supplying clean water, reducing child mortality, as well as birth control for women. Not bad for one 82-year old senior citizen and her resourceful and dedicated sidekick. To see her hopping around the rocks crossing a stream is remarkable.

What a wonderful initiative by someone who could be kicking back in her golden years. How much support is this former cabinet minister getting from the Canadian government? Zip. Nada. Macdonald is doing this work on a limited budget without any government funding, even though billions are being spent in Afghanistan. A foundation called Future Generations is the source of her funding and while home in Canada Macdonald tells groups about what they are accomplishing.

As I watched this documentary I was very proud of this fine Canadian. I don't know what Ms Macdonald's religious convictions are but Jesus's phrase "whatever you do for the least of these, you do for me" comes to mind.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Seasonal Splendour

Bless the Lord, O my soul.
O Lord my God, you are very great.
You are clothed with honour and majesty,
wrapped in light as with a garment...
Psalm 104:1-2

Some of you may remember this trillium photo from the Long Sault conservation area last Spring. The leaf picture is from the same trail, this time with a carpet of yellow rather than the profusion of white flowers. You can click on these images to get a fuller screen size.
We were so impressed by our walk this weekend. God does nice work.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Oprah Moment: The Saga Continues

Have any of you read The Cellist of Sarajevo by Canadian author Steven Galloway? This thought-provoking novel gained fame or notoriety when Yan Martel (Life of Pi) sent it to Prime Minister Harper as a reminder of the importance of Canadian arts and literature.

The novel is set during the seige of Sarajevo in 1996, a conflict which killed an estimated 12,000 people. You may recall that this conflict was a wicked brew which boiled up from centuries of ethnic and religious tension.

The central premise of the novel actually happened. Twenty two people were killed by a shell that landed in a city market, one more incident of senseless killing. A cellist who has remained anonymous set up each day for twenty two days and played a piece by Giazotto entitled Adagio in G in honour of the dead and in protest of the mindless violence.

While the musician in The Cellist of Sarajevo is a negligible figure he is necessary for a narrative which unfolds through the lives of several other beleaguered characters, including the female sniper assigned to guard him.

Reviews have focussed on the importance of artistic expression and protest in the midst of the chaos of war. I also saw it as a spiritual statement (what else would you expect from me?) So often religion seems like a quixotic and foolhardy voice in the midst of the events of the "real world." Yet over and over again we see supposed reality exposed as the brutal and often inhumane lust for power and wealth. Sometimes religion is appropriated for the purpose of hatred and violence, but it also offers another way.

In some respects the incarnation is God's choice to be the cellist, to be in our midst and play the beautiful, healing music despite the risk. Perhaps only a few will stop to listen or be able to hear above the tumult, but it has always been that way.
When we choose to follow Christ we take up that music and never stop playing.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Oprah Moment #1

After recently expressing my reluctance to respond to Oprah's picks, I am going to recommend a movie now out on DVD. There, I said it.

The film is Lars and the Real Girl starring the excellent Canadian actor, Ryan Gosling. Actually, the acting is strong in every character. It is about a socially inept and emotionally stunted guy, named Lars, who manages to go to work and to church but lives in seclusion in a garage the rest of the time. To his family's dismay, Lars orders an anatomically correct, life-size sex doll as a companion. No, no, it's not that kind of movie. Lars enters into a delusional relationship with "Bianca" that has nothing to do with sex and he even enlists help to dress her sensibly for winter weather.

The delight of this movie is that the odd couple is accepted by the small town in which they live. Thanks to a compassionate doctor and an understanding pastor Lars's emotional trauma is eventually understood for what it is by virtually everyone and this acceptance is the beginning of his healing. There is a church board meeting where members wrestle with whether to allow Lars to bring Bianca to church and finally decide it's okay.

Of course this almost total acceptance is unrealistic, yet it is a lovely fable, or even a parable. It's a relief to see church folk portrayed as caring rather than judgemental. My experience is that the vast majority of "churchies" are compassionate and generous.
I wonder why we are so often portrayed as mean-spirited and unloving? Maybe I don't want an answer!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

How to be Sorry

In the midst of the election flurry last week the Ontario government announced legislation which would allow certain people in positions of responsibility, such as doctors, to say sorry and avoid litigation. In some ways it makes sense. People have become far too ready to take legal action when mistakes are made. There are times when a genuine apology makes the most sense, rather than a court case. Below is the National Post's take on what the new law would do:

The Apology Act would, if passed:-

Allow individuals and organizations, such as hospitals and other public institutions, to apologize for an accident or wrongdoing, without it being used as evidence of liability in a civil legal proceeding under provincial law-
Help victims by acknowledging that harm has been done to them - an apology is often key to the healing process-
Promote accountability, transparency and patient safety by allowing open and frank discussions between patients and health care providers-
Enhance the affordability and speed of the justice system by fostering the resolution of civil disputes and shortening or avoiding litigation.

The key to any "my bad" is its sincerity. An apology, followed by forgiveness and reconciliation is a central gospel principle and helps us make sense of the cross and resurrection .

In the summer I came across this piece on How to be Sorry.
It's not about you. The act is a step in support of a relationship that's considered important.
Accept responsibility. This isn't the time to share the blame or to present mitigating circumstances or excuses.
Express regret. Show remorse over the hurt over the action caused...Not "I'm sorry if you were offended" but "I'm sorry I hurt your feelings."
Apologize face to face if possible. Delivering it over the phone or through e-mail lacks sincerity.
Virginia Daily Press

As a pastor listening to people dealing with issues of alienation in relationships all the time this seemed like wise advice. Do you have a "sorry" still unsaid or some you wish were expressed to you?

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Chador and the Bikini

Well, our country woke up this morning in essentially the same place politically as when we went to bed last night. We may find we have a collective crick in our neck! So be it.

Two weekends ago my wife Ruth spent time with a good friend who is an avid dragon boat paddler. During the summer she competed in Malaysia with her team. Afterward a number of teams spent several days at a resort for some R&R. It was a study in contrasts. Many of the female racers were enjoying the beaches in bikinis. There were also quite a few Muslim women at the resort with their families. These women were swathed from head to toe in the chador, the black dress which ensures the modesty of the wearer. Even when they discreetly entered the water they were well away from the main beach and continued to wear the chador. At one point Ruth's friend watched one of the bikini-clad competitors and a chador-draped Malaysian pass one another on the beach. She wondered what each was thinking of the other.

What do we think of all this? Most religions have traditionally encouraged modesty in dress, although they have tended to be sexist in this directive because the concern has been for the way women look rather than men. A few extreme conservative Christian groups discourage jewellry and make-up and sometimes insist that women dress as though they live in an earlier century.

We do live in a society that claims freedom for women but hyper-sexualizes them. More than once we have wondered aloud what gains have been made in the past forty years toward liberation when TV shows like The Bachelor exist. Who gets to choose the line between modesty and oppression? What about freedom and license?

The majority of this blog's readers are women. Any observations?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

A Reason to Vote

Sister Cecilia Gaudette is a 106-year-old American nun who hasn't voted since 1952 when she cast her ballot for Eisenhower. Yet this year she will take part in the U.S. election even though she is in retirement in Vatican City. She has become quite a celebrity because of her resolve to support Barack Obama.

So what excuse do any of us have not to vote in our Canadian election today? I must admit that I have been disgusted by the tone of the supposed debate. It seems that the three major parties were more interested in slinging mud than in proposing programs and solutions. In some respects this election has been a waste of time and will bring us back to where we started.

In every election, though, I am aware of the freedom to cast my ballot. Earlier this year Zimbabweans who had escaped the oppressive regime swam across a river and back into danger because they wanted to vote. How can we stay at home because of indifference or cynicism?

The right to vote for our government is not God-given but we can thank God for the opportunity by heading to the polling station today.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Natural Abundance

Our youngest child, Emily, usually issues a "thanks, but no thanks" when we suggest a walk in the woods. Her interests tend more toward enclosed spaces for her perambulations --such as the shopping mall. So we were pleasantly surprised when she suggested a walk at Second Marsh yesterday and astonished when she coaxed us to do the five kilometre route.

It was an excellent outing on a day that was a gift from God. A strong breeze stirred up waves on Lake Ontario but it was still shirt-sleeve weather because of the balmy temperatures. There were a couple of egrets in the marsh, the first time we have seen these unusual visitors to our area. On the return trip there is a spot where the chickadees have learned collectively to eat out of the hands of humans. Emily's sister, Jocelyn, has done this on a number of occasions but for Emily this was a source of new-found delight.

This Thanksgiving Weekend I am grateful for the ready access to the spots where I am reminded that it isn't just humans that matter. The state of the world financial markets may dominate the news but I'm pleased to have them fade into the background for an hour or so. The diversity and abundance of the world around us lifts my spirit toward the Creator. I hope there is an opportunity for you to get outside today.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Thanks & Giving

Before I headed off the the church this morning I listened to the C.B.C and an interview with someone who is promoting an initiative called Thanks & Giving under the auspices of the larger Imagine program. This weekend they are encouraging people to discuss giving around family tables. They are also asking parents to teach their children the importance of giving and perhaps to match the monetary gifts of kids as an incentive to give.

Traditionally religious organizations such as churches (and synagogues and mosques and temples) were the places where folk learned these important lessons about generosity. I am biased, but I still think they are the best places.

It is wonderful to hear people sing their gratitude as they did at St. Paul's this morning. During worship individuals of all ages wrote prayers of thanks on slips of paper and then they were incorporated into the Prayers of the People later in the service. We listened to our ancestral stories about giving thanks in scripture.

I knew that a number of people are living through tough times in our congregation. Still, there is something about God-directed communal thanks that is irreplacable and I hope these folk felt enveloped in the love of others.

I felt the spirit of thanks and was thankful for God's great gift of love in Christ.

Saturday, October 11, 2008


The timing for Canadian author Margaret Atwood couldn't have been much better. Her new book, based on the upcoming Massey Lectures is called Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth. How is that for prophecy in these anxious times. According to reviews it is both thoughtful and humorous. She draws on Dickens' Scrooge and cartoon character Scrooge McDuck to explore her theme.

She points out that religion also uses the debtor/creditor relationship. She includes a lecture/chapter called Debt and Sin and the Shadow Side. When I think about it, Jesus told several parables about debts forgiven and unlikely payment for work. He understood that even in a peasant society ears perked up when money was discussed.

Thanksgiving is an excellent time to consider a gift given which truly can't be repaid, Are we indebted to God for the love of Christ? When is that payment due? What does it mean to be forgiven that debt? In my own mind the message of love in Christ says that this is a gift of redeeming love that can't be repayed, but that is not cause for fear because it was given freely. So we are liberated to live as generously as possible in every day.

I'm looking forward to Atwood's Payback and the lectures.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Peace and Justice Mentor

Last week Indians celebrated the birthday of Mohandes Gandhi, the pacifist leader whose movement of non-violent resistance brought freedom to his nation and inspired others, including Martin Luther King Jr.

I was struck by the photos of children in India who dressed as Gandhi as part of the national tribute. What a wonderful way to help kids understand a historical leader.

Two vignettes about Gandhi which are important to me. Gandhi, the Hindu, read Jesus' Sermon on the Mount through the years as a manifesto for peaceful change.

Then there is the story of Gandhi, the young lawyer living in South Africa, beginning a movement of resistance there before returning to India. One day he ran for a train and as he jumped aboard one of his shoes fell off and onto the platform. Reacting quickly Gandhi pulled off the other shoe and threw it back toward the one that had slipped off. He figured that some poor soul could benefit from the pair. A fine example of simple generosity as we find our way into the Thanksgiving weekend.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Birthday Inspiration

Yesterday was my birthday, but since they haven't yet declared it a national holiday I came to work. The bible study group knew it was my natal day and kindly recognized it -- they even told me I could have cancelled for the occasion. Instead we spent time considering the Thanksgiving scripture readings. They are a thankful bunch even though they have dealt with loss of loved ones, divorce, kids gone AWOL, failing health. I find them to be an inspirational group of people.

In the afternoon I visited seniors in two households who are dealing with cancer. Tears, laughter, determination in both situations. Some might think this would be a "downer" for a birthday. Actually, I found these visits to be very meaningful and once again I was reminded of the privilege of sharing profound moments, including the tough ones, with members of the flock. With the study group and in the visits we prayed as a way of inviting God into the circle of concern and care.

I came home to much love and attention from my family and I was very grateful.
There have been more "Johnny Come Lately" (actually Jill Come Lately" ) responses to blog discussions. Take a look if you have time.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Thanksgiving and Compassion

Have you heard much about Burma lately? What is the fate of protesting Buddhist monks and what about the hundreds of thousands affected by devastating storms? Weren't we in the midst of a world food crisis? People around the globe couldn't afford to eat. Zimbabwe. An oppressive regime which thwarts democracy and a trillion Zimbabwean dollars to buy a loaf of bread because of runaway inflation. The spectacular Olympics in China seemed to sweep away concerns about Tibet. Hurricanes devastated already impoverished Caribbean countries , but we hear next to nothing now.

What happened to these stories? Elections in Canada and the United States, as well as a new crisis in the financial markets, have created a new focus.

All of the situations mentioned in the first paragraph have made it into my blog because God's love is intertwined with God's justice and it is important to be aware of situations of injustice. We are all so dependent on the media to inform us about what is happening elsewhere, and when they move on we tend to move on. Like many others I am part of a pension fund and have investments, so its a challenge not to fret about what is happening right now. As a Christian I want to keep things in perspective and realize that for others daily life is an issue of survival.

An aspect of my Thanksgiving this year will be maintaining an outlook that has room for compassion and concern for others.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Societal Good or Anti-social?

I rode my bicycle to the gym yesterday and darn near froze (if Sarah Palin can use quaint phrases so can I.) It has occurred to me that always driving to my exercise is something of a contradiction. Thanks to the great weather in September and now October we have been cycling from home as much as possible rather than using a vehicle to transport us to a trail.

I had to laugh when our daughter Jocelyn, who is living at home for a while, informed us that her boyfriend, a Bowmanville native, observed (not unkindly) that riding a bicycle past the teen years is usually an indication of a DUI conviction and license suspension in these parts. Here I thought we were shining examples of healthy living, environmental responsibility and putting our faith into practice when others may assume that we have been convicted of drunk driving. How could I have known that cycling was falsely"outing" me for anti-social behaviour?

I suppose even minor lifestyle choices can be taken for oddities in personality and practice and there is no point in adopting them for the way they will be perceived by others. We just do what we think is right and faithful and hope that it is.

The bicycles may be retired for the season soon because of the weather but not because of how it might look. Although, if I'm riding in a straight line, it's for the good of the planet. If you see me weaving all over the road, call the cops.
Speaking of Sarah Palin, go to the Saturday Night Live website to catch their take on the vice-presidential debate. Hilarious.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Mad Men and Women

Thanks to DVD we have been able to enjoy the Emmy and Golden Globe winning series Mad Men, an early sixties drama built around an advertising agency in New York City. It is really about egos, the pressures of "getting ahead" and the impact on individuals and families. In Mad Men (a play on ad men) sexism abounds, children don't wear seltbelts and everyone smokes like the proverbial chimney. In one scene a doctor smokes while examining one of the female characters. A challenge for the agency is making sure cigarettes remain attractive as growing scientific evidence mounts about their danger.

My wife, Ruth, commented that what we are seeing are the realities of our childhood (no smoking in our households though) and how much of what was conventional wisdom was not so wise and has since changed.
In some respects we still live in a culture that "smokes like a chimney," burning the same dirty fuels to power our vehicles, heat our homes, and to run our factories as in the 1960's. Although we have come up with some alternatives we have been slow to embrace them because we haven't felt the necessity.
In his thoughtful book Hot, Crowded, and Flat Thomas Friedman encourages us to move into the E.C.E., the energy-climate era where we understand that smoking can kill us and that our creative and entrepeneurial energy must be invested in new ways of living. Even though Friedman is a best-selling writer with great credentials we are just as likely to ignore him as the others who have invited us to wake up. I shudder at the Sarah Palins of our world, as well as the not-so-heavenly host of religious right leaders who don't want to admit that humans affect the integrity of the environment.

Since we follow the A.D. (Anno Domine, Year of our Lord) guy, Jesus of Nazareth, I am content to live in 2008 A.D. but I want to think and act with an E.C.E. commitment.

I hope we are not mad men and women who aren't able to break out of the destructive conventions of our time.

Friday, October 03, 2008


No that is not some strange typo, mixing up religious and ridiculous. Religulous is the name of a new kinda-documentary by Bill Maher. It sounds as though it is the screen version of the nasty attacks on religion found in a landslide of books during the past couple of years, God or the god-substitute knows that religion provides plenty of fodder for these diatribes. Sometimes I get hopping mad at what is done in God's name. It's just that most of the attacks are rants against the ranters, as one person has put it.

The methodology is simplistic. Find the worst examples of religious excess and kookiness and infer that all belief in a deity is just as weird. Let's face it, the line between absurdity and mystery is a fine one. But it's a little like saying that we are dismayed by one rogue forensic pathologist, therefore all forensic work is suspect.

I've read a couple of reviews of Religulous by reputable writers who have shown their hands and admitted that they are atheists. They still feel that it is a weak kick at religion that isn't fair or balanced.

I picked up a clever little book this summer called I Don't Believe in Atheists. I'm coming to the conclusion that some atheists can be religulous.

The Ten Regulations

How do you feel about regulations? A lot of people are wishing that there had been more regulation of the financial sector in the United States. We have experienced some major food scares and recalls both at home and abroad because regulations weren't stringently enforced. Even in a free society regulation can make a difference in ensuring the best interests of the majority.

This Sunday one of the readings is the Exodus version of the Ten Commandments. While wandering in the wilderness the people of Israel receive the foundation for a moral and ethical code. They are often called the "thou shalt nots" and the term the Ten Regulations may not have much appeal but read them over (Ex. 20) and ponder whether they still apply. A. J. Jacobs spent a year trying to live by the bible's rules and regs and his funny account, The Year of Living Biblically, nudges us to consider whether it is important to have a moral framework for our lives. Some of society's laws and rules need to be revised and even jettisoned at times, but there are enduring principles, and prohibitions are often in our best interest.

I think all of the "big ten" commandments have current application including not bearing false witness. As an example, I'm weary of the political attack ads on T.V. and wish the parties would stick to the issues. When the leaders did so in the debate last night it was worthwhile.

How many of the commandments can you name without sneaking a peek?

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Whether We See

This blog is an opportunity to let you in on how I see the world, and to listen to your responses.
I came across this quotation this morning and it struck me as true at a profound level.

"The question is not what you look at—but how you look and whether you see." - Thoreau

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

A Failure to Communicate

Paul Newman died this past week. He was a humanitarian and a fine actor and he will be missed. One of my favorite Newman roles was in Cool Hand Luke. Do you remember how he would match wits with the quietly vicious prison warden who would say "what we have here is a failure to communicate" before Newman's character was punished -- again.

There will be an English language party leaders' debate this evening and I fear that there will be a failure to communicate to Canadians the importance of paying the true cost for the energy we consume and our addiction to fossil fuels. Several of the parties have put forward in various proposals taxing carbon to curtail our spendthrift, enjoy-now, pay-later approach to energy consumption. They have failed to demonstrate that other countries such as Germany, Spain, and Denmark have managed to do this, keeping their economies strong while fostering growth in industries producing alternate forms of energy. Now Denmark and Germany are world leaders in exporting this technology.

As each election comes along I encourage voting and generally refrain from endorsing any particular party. I will say this time around that the Conservatives have done nothing more than create fear over the possibility of the innovation we desparately need while maintaining "business as usual." At the same time, the other parties have done little to "sell" their proposals.

I am obviously convinced that living responsibly on this planet is a deeply spiritual, Christian imperative and I hope to God we "get it" before it is too late. If we think the financial crisis in the States is scary...Maybe we will hear things tonight that will turn on the light.

Cussin' and Swearin'

So long Blue Jays, go Raptors! Baseball season has come to an end in Toronto and training camp is about to open for our basketball hopefuls. The coach, Sam Mitchell, is back in town holding press conferences to generate interest in this year's version of the team.

Mitchell told reporters that he went "cold turkey" on profanity two months ago and plans to forego swearing from now on. In this potty-mouthed day and age it seemed like a quaint announcement. The reaction was predictable. Why is this news, some asked. Others said they couldn't give a *#^& as long as the team wins. Mitchell says he's doing it as a project to improve himself as a person, something he wants to model and encourage for his players.

It wasn't that long ago that public swearing would have been the news. Whatever someone did behind closed doors was their business, but offensive language in public was frowned upon. It was considered crude and an indication of moral weakness. I can't claim to be without blemish when it comes to cussin' under pressure, but I am old enough to be astonished when people let fly anywhere, anytime. Several guys in midlife were nearby at the gym the other day, speaking loudly and swearing profusely in regular conversation. They seemed to have no concern for the people around them. Why? It was noise pollution.

When we read the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7) Jesus suggests that our interior life is as important as what we show on the inside. And what issues from our mouths matters. Profanity is one of those bad habits which have become all too common in our culture.

I admire Sam Mitchell for putting it out there. I hope his resolve holds during the games which are frustrating, and there probably will be plenty.