Saturday, November 29, 2008

A November Amble

Go to the gym, put up the Christmas lights, make bread for communion (okay, Ruth does that), rake the last bags of leaves, etc, etc. Welcome to Saturday. I don't need to tell you about the tasks of this day.

We decided that the gym would be forgotten today and replaced with a walk at Second Marsh. The week past was cold, windy, and wet and we are promised a dump of snow in the next couple of days, so we seized the moment.

We were surprised to discover a marsh virtually frozen over, although the waves of Lake Ontario were rolling into shore. In the small leads of open water there were still ducks and geese, a furtive muskrat, and at least four blue herons. One of them was huddled close to shore, on a pile of dogwood branches gathered by beavers as winter feed.

It was good to be out and walking in the natural world, even though the sunshine that lured us to the marsh had given way to gray skies by the time we got there. Someone has said that there is no bad weather for walking, only inappropriate clothing, and we were properly dressed.

The walk made me think of my time on restorative leave. The person who "managed" my leave was a psychologist I never met and with whom I didn't have a single conversation -- figure that out. He consulted with my physician who barely knew me until my months of leave, although he was very supportive and helpful. I was always aware though that I had fifteen minutes before he was feeling the pressure of his next patient.

My healing happened while I spent two months in the "back of beyond," living in a secluded farmhouse at the end of a dead-end road. During the day I listened to the wind and rain moving through trees like "a wave of applause" as one poetic writer termed it. There were wild creatures everywhere and even the dreaded mosquitoes provided the source for an aerial ballet as swallows chased them. In the evening I could hear the series of waterfalls a mile away which gave the name Ragged Chutes Road to the wonderful trail to nowhere on which I was living.

For me it was heavenly in every sense. God was there in the sounds and the signs and restored my soul.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Buy Nothing!

There are a couple of American readers of this blog, but they may not get to today's posting for a while because they will be...SHOPPING! Actually, I don't know this for sure, but today, the day after Thanksgiving in the U.S. has become one of the biggest shopping events of the year. It's called Black Friday, which may sound negative but refers to the turning point for many businesses when they move from "the red" to "the black" in yearly profitability.

Some time ago the magazine Adbusters encouraged readers to make a countercultural statement by declaring this Buy Nothing Day. The idea came from a Vancouver artist named Ted Dave. This concept has also been picked up in Great Britain where tomorrow is Buy Nothing Day, although the movement hasn't exactly taken the world by storm.

When Jesus speaks to us from the gospels he often encourages simplicity, and he models it as well. While our culture is supposedly based on Judeo-Christian values we have readily embraced consumerism. Even in an uncertain economy we will move relentlessly toward what has become a secularized consumer holiday rather than the celebration of the birth of a baby in a barn.

Do you think you could set aside a "buy nothing" day? How about reducing spending as a lifestyle choice? One blog reader decided to buy nothing new for six months last year after being inspired by an Oprah episode on de-cluttering. She was committed, but I seem to remember her falling off the wagon a few times. Simplifying our lives is hard! We think children are influenced by advertising, but adults enjoy the latest gadgets too.

Could locking up your credit cards be a faith statement? What choices have you made to simplify your life?

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Hope in the Darkness

I woke up this morning to hear that the death toll in Mumbai had risen to over one hundred and probably that many more people were being held hostage. Apparently five Canadians are among the hostages. I looked at the photograph on the front page of my newspaper to see pools of blood in the main train station of the city.
At times like this my anger rises and "turn the other cheek" is farthest from my mind. Yet I hate it when religion is used to justify division and violence. In this case it is Muslim extremists but it seems that the majority of religions are tarnished by cruelty perpetrated in God's name. These perversions are really false gods, the idols of darkness and destruction. No amount of crowing that these violence acts are committed in the name of the one true god makes it so.

The readings for this Sunday issue from the mouths of Isaiah and Jesus, two prophetic voices who acknowledge that dark times are real, but the God of love and justice prevails. We can only continue to pray that humanity will come to its senses.

What did you feel, what were your reactions to these latest acts of terrorism? This first Sunday of Advent is the Sunday of hope. Are you still confident that God's hope and Christ's hope will prevail?

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

It's a Small World...

I am trying to get my thoughts focussed on the season of Advent, 2008, so it was a little disorienting to receive yesterday the United Church book of Lenten reflections for 2009 called Why Would Jesus Say That? Eight months ago I was involved in the challenging exercise of taking three of Jesus' less transparent sayings and offering my interpretation. It seems like a lifetime ago and I had to root around in the book to discover what I had actually said!

I was pleased to see that people I know were among the other writers. My predecessor at St. Paul's the Rev. Nancy Knox is one of them. The person who followed me in Sudbury, the Rev. Bill Steadman is another. A friend from my teen years, the Rev. Drew Strickland (married to my high school best friend's sister) has also offered his reflections. I served on a national committee with another of the writers. The United Church is a national denomination and there are more than 2500 clergy, so often when visitors share the name of their minister I draw a blank. But it is pleasing to see the names of people I know and who have served the same pastoral charges.

Rev Cathy my co-worker here is also the child of a minister. We got talking about the charge served by both our fathers and realized that the same bedroom in the manse had served as the place to lay our childhood heads in different eras.

I won't break into a chorus of It's a Small World Afterall, but I might whistle it.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

No Easy Choices

I have met with the Ministry and Personnel Committee of St. Paul's congregation on several occasions since my return from restorative leave. They have told me that it is important to observe "day's off" in each week and while they were pastoral they were also firm. Do it!

Yesterday was one of those off days, and in the morning I got a call that an elderly man was dying in Oshawa hospital. While he wasn't active in the church, his wife has been, and she is a lovely person. Emergency surgery revealed extensive disease which couldn't be addressed by the surgery team. It was the wife calling and we spoke for a while before she signed off. She expressed no expectation that I go to the hospital but I mused about the situation for a while before I shaved, "dressed like a minister" and drove to Oshawa.

I sat and talked with the wife, her three adult children and in-laws. They decided to remove the ventilator because they had been given no hope of recovery. We talked, we even managed to laugh, and then we prayed. It was a holy time. Then, home I went. Early this morning he died.

Should I have chosen to stay at home? I suppose I could have asked another staff member to go, but the call was made to me. The reality of ministry is that it is not just a desk job, it is a people vocation and sometimes the response must be human. There is no clear-cut answer, and in the end I honestly felt I made the right choice. Taking another day away (the usual suggestion) isn't always possible, and there will be other emergencies.

My experience is that everyone appreciates the need for a minister to have personal time until their crisis occurs. It's understandable.And my calling is a ministry of word, sacrament and pastoral care. I understand what M&P is trying to do, and what I need to do to stay healthy, but at times there really aren't easy choices.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Christ of Guantanamo

Huge expectations have been mounded on the slight shoulders of President-elect Barack Obama. He is supposed to heal racial tensions at home, fix the economy, restore America's international reputation, end the war in Iraq -- just to name a few. One of the modest yet symbolically significant promises he can fulfill is to close the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. This prison has come to symbolize much of what is wrong with the regime of President Bush. While trumpeting freedom and democracy he has maintained this offshore prison about which even military lawyers haved expressed grave misgivings.

Most of the prisoners from Western nations have been sent back to their countries of origin to be dealt with through the courts of law, thanks to the insistence of their governments. The rest of the inmates languish in Guantanamo, without formal charges in a number of cases, and without adequate legal representation. Persuasive arguments have been made that the U.S. is ignoring the Geneva Convention and its own laws on human rights.

There is a Canadian in Guantanamo named Omar Kadhr, who was fifteen when he was captured after a fire-fight in Afghanistan. The argument has been made that as a child soldier he should not be treated like adults and that whatever his age he should receive due process. The Canadian government has been silent in this case.

Yesterday in worship I used the image created by Robert Lentz of the Christ who looks out at the world through barbed wire. This icon is entitled Christ of Maryknoll, but I think of it as Barbed Wire Jesus. It could be Christ of Guantanamo. In the gospel lesson Jesus asks us to see him in the faces of those who are imprisoned, whether justly or unjustly.
Perhaps the new president will act on his conscience to see that justice is done.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

The Visitor

Last night we watched a film on DVD called The Visitor. It is one of those little films that doesn't get much attention because there are no stars, no special effects, yet gently leads us to ponder important stuff. The story is of a college prof in later middle age whose life has become rather meaningless and without purpose after the death of his wife.

Through a strange and totally unexpected series of circumstances his life intersects with those of a young couple, both "illegal aliens," one from Senegal and the other from Syria. Somehow the couple brings a new energy to his existence, largely through the young man who teaches the professor to play a drum. When authorities catch up with the young Syrian the passion of the professor is kindled on his behalf. It is an interesting story of who belongs and who doesn't, especially in a post-911 world.

This morning in worship we heard the passage from Matthew 25 in which Jesus says we will see him in the hungry, the dispossessed, the prisoner, and the stranger. The Visitor invites us to ask some important questions which fit well with this scripture.

Friday, November 21, 2008

First Fruits

The most recent Christian Century magazine has an encouraging article about the Broetjes', who run one of the biggest family-owned orchard companies in the U.S. In 2006 their apple crop was damaged and they could have claimed insurance -- if the full-time and migrant workers were laid off and the crop went unpicked.

This Christian family decided that it was more important to provide employment for their workers even if it meant no profit on the crop for that year. The rest of the article shows how the family, whose one million trees are under the name of First Fruits orchards (a biblical term) have always sought to honour God. They have given 75% of the profit from most of the orchards and 100% of the cherry profits to charitable causes. They have made sure that their employees had above-standard housing, medical care and education for their children. What a great story.

Right now there is an effort in Ontario to unionize farm and orchard labourers to protect their interests. I listened to a Ontario union rep on the CBC who readily conceded that many farm and orchard owners in this province treat their workers well, but some are exploitive. I have spoken with two orchard owners in this area who employ seasonal workers from other countries and obviously care about their health and well-being. The union is looking to insure workers rights through legislation. This may work, but ultimately the good will of the owners is necessary.

It's good to hear of people who are motivated by faith to do the right thing. Read the article and let me know what you think.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

With or Without...

On Tuesday evening Oshawa Presbytery met at St. Paul's and we debated an interesting "proposition" (no longer called a motion for some reason) about censoring clergy who are no longer in essential agreement with the Basis of Union of the United Church. It came from a minister whose pastoral charge was once in Scarborough Presbytery and adjacent to that served by the Rev. Gretta Vosper. Rev. Vosper has received a lot of attention because of her book With or Without God and her leadership in a congregation where God or gods are often not mentioned and scripture omitted entirely from worship. She is certainly not a Christian in any orthodox sense and unapologetic about her stance.

The thrust of the proposition was that clergy who are no longer in "essential agreement" (an official term) should be disciplined or removed from service, that the property should come under the control of presbytery, and the individual memberships of the congregations they represent should be called into question.

As a court we chose not to transmit this proposition to Conference but it was the source of lively conversation in the clergy lectionary group I attend and at the presbytery meeting. It was simply too broad for comfort and there are legal ramifications of which we might not be aware. But the stance of Vosper and others like her does not sit well with the majority of United Church clergy I know, nor with me. I have been mulling this over for the past couple of days.

We like to speak of the "big tent" of the United Church, with room for a wide range of theological outlooks. I offered to my colleagues that tents have entrances and exits and they have rooves and walls. To speak of a tent that has no parameters is to concede that we are just sleeping under the open sky.

While we are constantly refining our understanding of an infinite God, and seeking the Christ for our age, we are people of a living God and a living Christ. I think it's time for our General Council to re-read the Manual of the United Church and have the courage to act. It's probably time for the denomination to wish Godspeed (or ___speed) to some of these folk and even let them take the buildings with them. We are Christ's church, with or without Gretta Vosper.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Take it to the Lord in Prayer

I have to admit that I watched with a fair amount of glee as Sarah Palin was lampooned during the recent U.S. election for some of her gaffes. And I was shocked and appalled when the story broke that she spent twenty-two thousand dollars on a hairdresser during the first two weeks of October.

I was surprised to feel sympathy toward her when the criticism began after she expressed her conviction about seeking God's guidance for the future. The scorn poured down on her from all quarters, as though prayerfully asking for direction was a sign of being a half-wit. If it is, then I'm a member of Half-Wit's Anonymous. I've asked God to guide me before accepting every call to a congregation through the years, and while I can't say that I heard voices or that the clouds parted, I wouldn't have felt right without asking for guidance. As a pastor I sometimes I feel that I don't encourage congregants enough to "take it to the Lord in prayer" as they make major decisions.

That comment was one of the few times I appreciated her claim to be a Christian. I do wish Ms. Palin had spent a little more time in prayer before so maliciously attacking Barack Obama's character during the election campaign. Perhaps God will do a little remedial work with her on what constitutes Christian behaviour for a leader. And she may discover that God closes doors as well as opens them.

Do you pray about the important decisions in your lives?

Sunday Sex

A pastor by the name of Ed Young has told the members of his Grapevine megachurch in Dallas, Texas to have sex every day for a week. Of course they are supposed to be married and the couple must be a man and a woman. As you can see, he actually brought in a honkin' big bed to help illustrate his point. Apparently he wants his folk to be sexually active but not too inventive. He has set down this challenge because he believes that God has given us the gift of sex as the "superglue" to keep marriages intact. It's a metaphor I'm trying to get out of my head.

Actually, he should be commended for addressing the subjects of sexuality and sexual intercourse in church. When have you ever heard a sermon on the subject of sex? I don't think I have ever preached one -- and I'm fairly sure I would remember!

It's odd. Ministers marry couples who often have babies who are then baptized in church. We're assuming that something is going on in between the wedding and the baptism. But we just don't talk about it. I remember reading a professional journal article which issued a challenge to youth leaders to discuss sex in a responsible and positive way with the teens who attended their groups. I wonder how many leaders took up the challenge.

Even though Martin Luther left the Roman Catholic church and married, celebrating the gift of sex and procreation ,we tend to take a "don't ask, don't tell" approach to sexuality in our Protestant churches. Some churches are very negative about sexuality. One of our daughters attended a church for a while during university. She went to a bible study for students where the leader, a woman in her thirties, advised that they should avoid sexual temptation by avoiding even holding hands before marriage. Our daughter stopped attending.

What do you think? Was Pastor Ed a brave guy or should he have kept his opinion and his bed to himself? Does the church have a role in creating a healthy outlook on sex and sexuality.

Bye the way, Ed challenged his flock to have sex from last Sunday to next Saturday, so if you want to participate you may have some catching up to do.

Monday, November 17, 2008

All in the Family

For the past few days I was out of the country so that I could participate in the 80th birthday celebration of my Aunt Jo. She is my mother's sister, a lively and fun-loving soul who lives in the state of Maryland. Her three children practiced the fine art of deception to totally surprise her with a party which celebrated their love for her and her love for them. The gathered clan included adult grandchildren and their adorable babies, as well as a grand-daughter who is about to give birth within weeks. There was a nice combination of blubbering and laughter to mark the occasion. Aunt Jo deserved the affection.

I drove down with my brother and neice to represent the Ontario clan and thoroughly enjoyed being part of the gathering. I am the outsider in a way because it is only in the past couple of years that I have reconnected with my cousins and their families. For years we have lived at too great a distance to visit regularly and my profession tends to require weekend work! Fortunately they have graciously welcomed the prodigal into the family circle. After the Saturday party I had a chance to chat with several of my cousins' children who are leading interesting lives.

How do we put a price on the value of family? In ministry there are many conversations with parishioners about family, often focussing on the tensions and pain of relationships. This is simply a reality of daily existence whether we seek Christ's presence in our lives or not.
When we read the bible there are many stories of families which put the fun in dysfunctional. There are also powerful stories of reconciliation and reunification. I think it is fair to say that Jesus' parable of the Prodigal Son is the all-time favourite.

The thousand kilometre return trip yesterday got me home late in the evening, but it was worth it. I hope your family stories include opportunities for loving connection and hopeful reconciliation.

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Log in Our Eye

Tonight there will be a vigil for a lesbian couple who were allegedly assaulted by another parent at their child's elementary school in Oshawa. While this has yet to be proven, the cuts and bruises on the faces of the two women and the police charges suggest that there was plenty of evidence.

What was this man thinking? I don't need to tell you that there are many opinions on homosexuality, with some being more accepting than others, and some quite extreme. But whatever his own outlook, how could he conclude that assaulting other human beings in a public place on the basis of their sexual orientation would go unpunished? He may yet be charged with a hate crime.

What hit me the hardest was that his six-year-old child, who plays with the child of the couple he beat up will be affected by this hatred. Jesus urged us to haul the log out of our own eye instead of rooting around for the speck in someone else's. There is no conviction in a court of law that will stop a parent from teaching prejudice.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Fixing a Flat Tire

The Big Three automakers in the United States are pleading for 25 billion dollars which they will invest in innovation. The Canadian counterparts also have their cap extended. One of my favourite New York Times columnists, Thomas Friedman, asks what business these companies are in, if not innovation? He wonders why on earth taxpayers should bail out an industry which is supposed to look down the road, literally and figuratively, and produce a product people will want to buy. Even though he is an American he points out that Toyota in Alliston, Ontario is opening a new engine plant which will produce engines for fuel-efficient vehicles.

I have been very reluctant to be harsh about the car industry knowing that so many people in this area have taken such a huge hit in terms of employment. Yet it appears that willful greed on the part of people who were paid huge salaries to provide leadership has run these once proud companies into the ground. Friedman argues as others have that any money going into the car companies must be contingent on a wholesale dismissal of upper management.

It's hard for any organization, including the church, to choose a different way forward when a particular path seems comfortable. I think of that phrase from a recent blog that "the status quo is an opiate." Our society will need to find a different path, by the grace of God.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Our Daily Bread

Friends joined us on Monday for a trip to downtown Toronto. For the re-opening of the AGO or an evening show? How about pigs, sheep, cows and horses. Our friends have a small farm north of Kingston where they have - you guessed it - pigs, sheep, cows and horses, and some chickens and bees to boot. But they were keen to take in the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair.

The fair is a sprawling exhibition on the CNE grounds. I really enjoy the draft horses, the Percherons and Clydesdales and Belgians and Shires. Our friends have a beautiful and powerful pair of Belgians which we like to comb almost as much as they enjoy being combed.

The Winter Fair is an encouraging event, knowing that agriculture is a "tough go" in this province. It's hard for small farmers to make much of a living and we expect what are the lowest food prices in the world. Our friends augment their income with outside work. So we strolled around and looked at impossibly clean cattle and sheep in the show rings, shown by eager 4Hers. We saw honey produced on the roof of the Royal York Hotel, to offer an urban flavour to an event with a rural feel.

Several of the Old Testament religious festivals were related to agriculture. The Promised Land flowed with milk and honey. Jesus told down-to-earth parables which spoke of wheat and grapes and other produce. It's good to remember that our food is produced by someone, somewhere.

There were hundreds of school children at the fair, and they were obviously fascinated by the animals. What a wonderful aspect of their education.

What do you think we need to do to uphold the honourable occupation of producing food?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Images of War

Night Air Raid -- Charles Comfort
Take a look at some of the images created by Canadian artists. Paintings can capture different moods than photographs and some of Canada's best known artists, including members of the Group of Seven and Alex Colville, were war artists. These paintings were not for political purposes or propaganda. Most are very powerful.

The Day to Remember

Vimy Memorial

At sunrise this morning the last of 68,000 names of the dead from World War One was projected on a building here in Canada and on Canada House in London, Great Britain. This project was the brain child of actor R.H Thompson and others who wanted to honour the 90th anniversary of the end of WWI. It was a brilliant idea and no doubt deeply meaningful to the family members of the fallen. I believe there is only one Canadian WWI veteran left alive, so it is important that we remember in other ways.

St. Paul's has only three veterans left from WWII that I know of, and all of them are in their eighties. All three have health challenges and while we want them to remain with us for a while, time marches on.

It is always important to honour and cherish the sacrifices of others for a greater cause. I find it quite emotional to see our aging veterans at the various events which take place at this time of the year. And of course there are Canadian military personnel is dusty Afghanistan, risking their lives from day to day for the good of others.
Jesus said that greater love has no one than to lay done one's life for a friend. Today we can find our way to a cenotaph, or watch on television or simply pause for a minute of silence at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.
What impact does this day have on you?

Monday, November 10, 2008

All in a Day

Yesterday I croaked my way through worship due to a cold and then headed off to a couple of other pastoral activities.

First of all I went to the funeral home to support a couple who had lost a father and father-in-law. The deceased, whom I had never met, was 92 and often these visitations for older folk are small because they outlive their peers. Well, the line extended through the room, across the entranceway and out the door. The St. Paul's pair in front of me noted that the big family had a strong rural connection, which was certainly evident. We chatted about how the changing nature of Bowmanville means that this "rural route" culture is coming to an end. It took 40 minutes in line before I could express my condolences.

On then to a community hall where a St. Paul's couple was celebrating their sixty fifth wedding anniversary. Although I was somewhat late they were still on their feet greeting guests and obviously enjoying themselves. I realized tht while I had attended some sixtieth anniversaries, this sixty fifth was a first. Some couples make it to sixty five but often one is in a nursing home and perhaps fragile in body or mind. It is a gift for a couple to be in relatively good health and to have shared so many years.

These events are a reminder of the importance of Christian community. There were St. Paul's people in both places, expressing their support in grief and joy. During worship our treasurer did a pie chart presentation of how staff time is spent. It was well done and helpful but it can only take us so far to the "why" of being Christ's gathered people.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Blessed Are The Peacemakers

Today is Remembrance Sunday and in less than an hour we will remember and honour those who have paid the ultimate price for a greater cause. I will also reflect on the importance of our leadership as Christ's people in seeking peace.

As I ate breakfast today the national news on the radio informed me that two Christian factions in the church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem engaged in a turf brawl yesterday. There are six "warring" groups in the church that marks the historic site of the resurrection and every once in a while they "duke it out." This is the second time this year. So much for blessed are the peacemakers.

They will know we are Christians by our love, by our love...

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Better to Give than Receive

I have been listening to Definitely Not the Opera on CBC radio. This show is geared to a crowd a whole lot younger than I am, but I listen anyway. Today the program is on the theme of giving and it is really interesting. Even though there isn't an overtly spiritual emphasis they did ask a group of grade 4,5 & 6 students whether it is better to give than receive. They didn't note that those words are from the apostle Paul, quoting Jesus. The kids overwhelmingly said that it better to give.

This doesn't always translate readily to adulthood. DNTO interviewed Peter Singer, an American writer who figures that the wealthy should give a third of their income to good causes, those with incomes around a hundred grand at ten percent, and those with modest incomes at two or three percent. When asked about his own giving he said that he is in the one third category, so he literally puts his money where his mouth is.

Our denomination, the United Church, has never insisted on a set percentage of income as a target for members. We have set the bar low and it shows. Year in and year out the UCC ranks in the bottom two or three on the list of denominational per capita giving. Still, some people regularly get annoyed if we actively seek financial support three or four times a year. When we had our Friendship Sunday we could all see the great things we do as a congregation with great community outreach. Virtually everything we do requires support financially and in other ways.

Fortunately there are many people in every congregation I have served who are amazingly generous in every way. Often the folk who are generous with their money are also lavish with their time and talents.

I'm a minister for part of each week but I'm a Christian 24/7, so it is important for me to give even when it stretches me. I have always figured giving is an act of trust.

What do you think?

Friday, November 07, 2008

Our Road to Damascus

We know the story from the Acts of the Apostles in the New Testament. Rabbi Saul of Tarsus persecutes the people of the Way, the earliest expression of Christianity. While riding toward the Syrian city of Damascus he is knocked off his horse and temporarily blinded by a vision of the Risen Christ. From that point on the renamed Paul is Jesus the Christ's most passionate evangelist.

Last evening The Hour host George Strombolopolous interviewed Ray Anderson, former CEO of the carpet-making giant Interface. Anderson had his own "road to Damascus" experience, realizing that his highly profitable company was an environmental liability and that he was a "plunderer" to use his own word. He set out to change his corporations practices, aiming for a zero environmental footprint. They aren't there yet, but have made huge strides. Now businesses from around the world seek out Interface to find out how they can do better.

This is a great story which may sound familiar. It's because I have mentioned it before, but it was good to listen to Anderson again yesterday. At one point George asked him for his "take" on Canada, where we claim to care about the health of the environment but recently voted in the party with the weakest environmental plan. Anderson, an American, smiled and said "I noticed that...the status quo is an opiate."

What a profound phrase. Conversion isn't necessarily desired or easy. We can be drugged by what is familiar and reluctant to accept real change. We can find encouragement in those who have been knocked on their keesters and got up again to a new way of thinking and being. And as Christ's followers we can be open to a host of conversions through the course of our lifetimes.

In the next couple of days the Anderson interview will probably be posted on The Hour website. Check it out.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Truth and Reconciliation

When Prime Minister Stephen Harper introduced his new cabinet he did so in front of a magnificent painting by the late Norval Morriseau, an aboriginal artist. I hope it is a statement about a new commitment to addressing past injustices and working with aboriginal communities to create a better future.

In my estimation one of the best things that happened in Harper's first term was the eloquent and heartfelt apology for the Residential Schools debacle. However, relationships with aboriginal groups have become strained as the Conservatives have backed away from settling land claims.

Harry LaForme, the judge who recently resigned as chair of the Truth and Reconciliation commission, has said that all of the parties in the sorry history of the schools must both listen attentively and accept responsibility. He includes governments and churches.

Our United Church has paid out millions of dollars in law suits and raised more than a million for a healing fund. We have apologized for our general destructive attitudes toward aboriginal people in 1986, as well as for the specific wrong of the residential schools.

It seems to me that for all these steps we still need to be committed as a church to honesty and accountability in our government and in our own actions. The national apologies and financial reparations are important, but not the end.

What do you think? Have we done enough? Does our guilt last forever? Do we still work for justice?

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

A Dream Fulfilled

I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal."
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interposition and nullification; one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.
I have a dream today.
I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.
This is our hope. This is the faith that I go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

This will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with a new meaning, "My country, 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim's pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring."

Tuesday, November 04, 2008


There was an article in a recent Macleans magazine about a new book by Monique Lepine, the mother of Marc Lepine. Lepine was the young man who murdered 14 innocent women at the Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal before taking his own life. It was a horrible senseless act of rage. The evening it happened Ms. Lepine was on her way to a church prayer meeting and included the family of the murderer in her prayers as well as the victims. She had no idea she was praying for herself until later that night. She has spent the better part of two decades trying to make sense of what happened within her own family and the book is called, appropriately, Aftermath.

As I read about her personal journey through hell I thought about the several families who have approached me about difficult circumstances with adult, or near-adult children during the past two weeks. Of course there is nothing as serious as the Lepine story, but these households are going through great pain, and a combination of bewilderment, shame, anger, and exhaustion as they attempt to love those who are often unlovely in their actions. And how can one child in a family be so different than the others even though they were raised with the same opportunities and values?

In the story of David in the bible one of his great sources of pain was his third son Absalom. Even when the brilliant but wayward Absalom plotted rebellion against his father David was reluctant to crush him. David attempts reconciliation but eventually Absalom dies in a bizarre situation. David cries out "would I have died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son." 2 Samuel 18:33.

I would encourage you to keep these families of our larger St. Paul's family in your prayers. They want the best for their loved ones, and we can ask for God's loving intervention in their hearts.

Monday, November 03, 2008

So Much at Stake

Reader Lynn sent me an interesting website started by three young guys in Iceland inviting the people of the world to vote in an election for which they are ineligible.

It is an unscientific attempt to gauge how those outside of the U.S. feel about the two candidates, John McCain and Barack Obama, and the result is interesting. People from more than 200 countries have registered over 700,000 votes.

On the eve of the election those outside the States might wonder what motivates an individual to aspire to the most powerful office in the world, particularly in such troubling times. In conversation with one of my adult daughters this morning I commented that running for president must require an enormous ego. Her response was "or a vision." Maybe both are necessary.

Obviously this American election has galvanized people both inside and outside the country in a way that I can't recall in my lifetime. In Canada we had the lowest voter turn-out in our history. In the U.S. it will be one of the highest, with more than 25 million new registered voters. We should applaud our neighbours for their engagement and hang our heads over our apathy.

Do the candidates have a vision for their country and the world? In scripture prophetic leaders are often reluctant to speak out, with Isaiah claiming to be a man of unclean lips until God instills him with a sense of purpose. We can hope that whoever is elected in the United States, there will be a sense of humble, God-inspired leadership which is genuine rather than contrived for public consumption.

I get a daily email "thought for the day" called Soundbites which originates in the U.S. The prayer offered today is a good one:

Wise and wonder-filled God, another election is upon us. It is an opportunity of freedom won with difficulty and hardship, still not available to all. We infrequently appreciate our voting privileges and reluctantly participate. Forgive us. The lives of Your children everywhere are at stake, for we are all affected by decisions made by world and local leaders. Help us lay aside the rhetoric of the campaigns and make our decisions on the basis of the values the candidates represent.

Give us wisdom to sort out what is really meant by the words spoken. Subdue our apathy and cynicism, our reluctance to take a stand. Get us moving, God, out of our living rooms into the risk-filled political world. Help us understand that voting is a way of living out our faith in you and making a difference in this world.

In the name of Jesus we pray. Amen.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Dia de los Muertos

Today is All Souls Day on the Christian Calendar, following All Saints Day on November 1st. In Mexican culture this day is Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead. It is a day to remember loved ones who have died with a commemorative altar in the home, or a picnic in the cemetery, or both.

We had our own version of Dia de los Muertos in church today. After I spoke about honouring those who have shaped us in our lives of faith we remembered members who have died during the previous twelve months. In addition we acknowledged all those identified by members of the congregation who were not part of our faith family but died during the year.

As each name was read a red rose was placed in a vase at the front of the sanctuary until 22 flowers formed a bouquet of remembrance. A 23rd white rose was added for all those held in people's hearts but not acknowledged by name. After a minute of silence we sang the hymn For All the Saints which includes the words:

For all the saints, who from their labors rest
All who by faith before the world confessed
Your name, O Jesus, be forever blessed
Alleluia, alleluia!

This was the first time for this commemoration at St. Paul's and we heard from family members that it was meaningful and healing.

To learn more about Dia de los Muertos and to see a family celebration click here

Who are the "garden variety" saints you remember today, the regular folk who influenced your Christian faith?

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Interspecies Blogging

A couple of days ago we discussed the pros and cons of technology for use in the church. You offered your thoughts on the value and pitfalls for people of all ages. How about for companion animals? I haven't mentioned before that our cat, Bustopher, is an avid reader of my blog. He especially enjoyed my Blessing of the Critters entry. He actually just likes the warmth of the keyboard from daughter Jocelyn's laptop.