Friday, February 27, 2009

Lenten Reflections

During the childrens' time on Sunday I asked the kids if they were giving up anything for Lent. One boy told me that he was giving up watermelon! Wonderful. Give up something that won't be all that important in your life anyway, unless of course he is passionate about watermelon at any cost. Week after week I am delighted by the honest genius of children.

We now have 40 days (well, 38 and counting) to figure out what Lent means for us. Here are some thoughts collected by the folks at Christianity Today.

IN THE DAILY ROUND of life, dust and cobwebs accumulate in our souls. The hidden corners of our hearts become encrusted with grime or filled with forgotten debris. During the weeks of Lent, God's Spirit is given opportunity to clear away the clutter, sweep away the dust and wash us clean. We are invited to prepare ourselves heart, soul, mind and body for the new life of Easter.
Marlene Kropf in The Mennonite

I GAVE UP coffee creamer for Lent one year. By the end of the tenth day, I began to love black coffee. That's the year I learned that it isn't giving up things that counts. Me? I became aware that only internal change really counts.
Joan Chittister,
Listen with the Heart
MAYBE LENT is a good time to stop doing and try being… . Relinquishment lies at the heart of the Christian gospel and is a countercultural choice that hones our discipleship. If I let go of the assumption that my hard work will bring me all that I desire, I begin to look at the present moment, receive it with gratitude, and know what it asks of me. I learn when it is time to rest, time to plan, time to play, time to wait, time to act boldly.
Elizabeth J. Canham in Weavings
THEY WHO are conscious of their own sins have no eyes for the sins of their neighbors.
Abbot Moses in The Wisdom of the Desert

IF YOU therefore go to the desert to be rid of all the dreadful people and all the awful problems in your life, you will be wasting your time. You should go to the desert for a total confrontation with yourself.
Alessandro Pronzato, Meditations on the Sand

THE SEASON of Lent involves the telling of the same old story that invites us to become participants in the drama. If we choose to act in this great Passion Play we shall find ourselves called to be experiments in vulnerability. We will have set in motion a course of events totally beyond our control.
Alan Jones,
Passion for Pilgrimage

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Ashes for Everyone

I am just home from our annual Ash Wednesday service and I have decided to write tomorrow's (Thursday's) blog now. I was pleasantly surprised that 60 people came to worship this evening, including a dozen children. I have been encouraging the presence of children because they are curious about the ashes and the sign of the cross. I bring them to the front and explain what has happened with the burnt palm branches. Tonight one of them commented that the mixture of oil and ashes looks like ink, which is true.

The youngest of the kids was 22 months of age, and he was frisky...and noisy. Of course rambunctious children can be distracting, but I find that the presence of young people reminds us of the hopeful, forward-looking aspect of Ash Wednesday. Sure we need to be sorry about our wrongdoing, but the meaning would be lost without Christ's reconciling love and forgiveness.

When folk came forward for the imposition of ashes there were a number of families. I noticed that virtually all the children who could write brought forward the slip of paper which began " This Ash Wednesday I am sorry for..." They were participants in the worship. The child who was "on the run" watched intently as the sign of the cross was made on his mother's forehead. Then he was quite still as I did the same for him. It was a lovely moment for me, even though the same little guy made it difficult for me to focus as I offered my message.

Ash Wednesday is much more than words.There are readers who were there for the service with children and without. What do you think about including children in the more solemn events of the church year?

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Sustainable Ashes

Sometime this afternoon I will go into our back yard and light a blazing fire. I will be burning a bundle of palm branches from last year's Palm Sunday service in preparation for this evening's Ash Wednesday service. There is surprisingly little residue from this conflagration, but I will mix the ashes with oil to create the paste smeared on each participant's forehead in the sign of the cross.

I was disappointed yesterday by an email from an organization called Eco-Palms saying that they did not ship their palms to Canada. Unfortunately the palms most churches buy for the Palm Sunday celebration are harvested in a manner that is essentially clear-cutting. The Eco-Palm organization harvests the branches in a way that is sustainable. I had recruited some of my colleagues to order from this U.S. organization. Alas, we won't be able to do this.

This "caring for creation" stuff can be hard work! When I grew up in the United Church there were no Ash Wednesday services. I find this liturgical beginning to Lent to be quite meaningful. Have you attended a service in the past, or will you attend one today?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Shedding Light on Domestic Violence

Shortly before the Grammy's a couple of weeks ago it was announced that neither Chris Brown, nor Rihanna would perform during the ceremonies. Both of these big music stars were last minute cancellations. Soon the rumours started that Brown had been arrested for physically abusing his partner, Rihanna. More recently a police photo of Rihanna's battered face was leaked to the media, a violation of her privacy, but a grim visual reminder of what happens in domestic violence and that even the rich and famous can be perpetrators and victims.

We paid attention to the drama because my wife Ruth is an outreach worker for our local shelter called Bethesda House. Daily she deals with women who get no publicity for their plight but must contend with physical and psychological abuse. While abuse can and does happen in both directions, the reality is that women are far more likely to be physically injured by a partner rather than the other way around.

Our congregation, St. Paul's, has become a strong supporter of the work of Bethesda House. Our UCW, Sunday School, individuals, all find practical ways of caring for the women and children who leave abusive situations. Obviously we want families to be reconciled and healed, but there are times when leaving violence is the safest choice.

Perhaps it is good that Rihanna's photo was published (if it is, in fact, her) because it reminds us that anyone can be the subject of abuse.

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Envelope Please...

I doubt that anyone was really surprised that Slumdog Millionaire won best picture last night along with a ton of other Oscar hardware. Both Sean Penn and Kate Winslet deserved their best actor awards, in my estimation.

We ended up seeing four of the five "best film" nominees this year with only Benjamin Button on our future DVD list.

On Saturday we saw The Reader after both of us having read the novel. It is an intriguing story about accepting responsibility for past "sins" if we can take a page from a recent blog. We enjoyed the movie but realized we can fill in significant parts of the story from our reading. The novel is much more subtle and well worth reading.

Kate Winslet is superb in her role as a former Nazi concentration camp guard who is eventually brought to justice. She is put on trial for her role and contrition, or lack thereof, is an important part of the story.

Recently we heard that a Roman Catholic bishop who denies the Holocaust or the Shoah was kicked out of Argentina, where he teaches. He was told to recant his position by the Pope, but appears reluctant to do so. There are times when we need to simply admit our wrongdoing and say that we are wrong.

The Reader reminds us that refusing to accept responsibility for our actions can have lasting consequences.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Thanks be to God

This morning in church I was winding up for the big finish to my sermon when choir members alerted me to the fact that an elderly member had passed out. I shut up and responded to his distress. More importantly, our parish nurse, another member with nursing background, and a couple more people acted quickly. The ambulance came and even though he had revived, the paramedics whisked him away to the hospital. We carried on with the service after I reminded everybody that as unsettling as these incidents are, they are also part of life together.

After worship I headed to the hospital and found our parish nurse at his side, along with his wife. Not surprisingly he was upset that he had disrupted worship, but I teased him and said that if he wanted to get out of listening to the sermon there were other ways of doing it! Fortunately his sense of humour was intact and we laughed together.

It is not an exaggeration to say that I love this old guy. He hates to miss church and loves to sing. He and his wife recently celebrated their sixtieth wedding anniversary and it was a pleasure to be at the party and see their joy. If he had gone to his reward this morning we would have been shocked and upset, but what a place to go. Actually, we had a similar incident at a church supper recently, one that was more serious. I talked to this other man a few days after he nearly choked to death and he told me that while he was glad he was still around, to "check out" surrounded by friends with his ministers present would have been pretty good!

Our creed says that "in life, in death, in life beyond death, we are not alone. Thanks be to God." We experience it all in our Christian community, and that's the way it should be.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

A Feast of Joy

The Globe and Mail newspaper has published an occasional series of correspondence between Canadians Ian Brown and Jean Vanier. Brown, a writer and broadcaster, is an agnostic and 55 years old --roughly two thirds of the way through what would be considered a "good run" of a life. Vanier, the 80-year-old founder of the L'Arche movement for the mentally and physically disabled is a recipient of the Order of Canada. As you may remember from previous blogs, I am a great admirer of Vanier, and Brown is a thoughtful and respectful writer. Here are a few paragraphs from Vanier's part of today's exchange on the end of life:

Do I have fears today? Maybe a fear of emptiness, of a void, of anguish. Today, I have energy - what will it be like when I can do nothing but wait, waiting for a visit or longing for a moment of inner quiet, a peace, a gentle presence of God? I will not fret today about what might happen tomorrow.

Today, I live moments of quiet peace when I am not doing anything - just present to life, to creation and to God. Prayer can be a true place of rest. Prayer can also be a cry of pain and anguish, of loneliness. I suppose that is what I fear most. But I imagine that all will be well when the time comes.

You asked me what will happen as I slip into this other world of light, of peace, of extreme tenderness of life after death. Here is what I believe: I have lived all my life in faith and in trust, so I will continue to live in this faith. I trust in life and in people; I trust in my own heart and spirit; I trust in love, in God, in the struggle to be more loving, more truthful. I trust in creation, the birds, the flowers and the seasons.

Today, we are on Earth, in a land of shadows and sometimes of darkness, but one thing we know: Our hearts, so often wounded, are beautiful. They are made for love. There are times when we feel guilty, angry or depressed, and we blame others. But maybe at some moment a little light comes into our hearts and we begin to hope, to believe.

Let us wait then for this new world we have glimpsed. Let us prepare for it each day through loving others, walking in faith and becoming men and women of peace. Heaven is heaven - a feast of joy, prolonged as we continue to help and walk with those who are still struggling on their journey.


Friday, February 20, 2009

Deadly Differences

Men and women think differently and act differently, don't they? Men are from Mars and women are from Venus, aren't they? The debate over whether men and women have different characteristics and behaviour will probably go on as long as our species exists.

The Roman Catholic church has entered the fray by declaring that women and men sin differently as well. The church identified seven deadly sins centuries ago. Traditionally, the seven deadly sins were considered: pride, envy, gluttony, lust, anger, greed and sloth. Now it is saying that the sexes have different favourites, if we can call them that! A Catholic survey found that the most common sin for women was pride, while for men, the urge for food was only surpassed by the urge for sex.

The Top Sins for Men 1. Lust 2. Gluttony3. Sloth 4. Anger 5. Pride
The Top Sins for Women 1. Pride 2. Envy 3. Anger 4. Lust 5. Sloth

Many churches are reluctant to talk about sin at all these days, considering it to be too negative. But we haven't given up on the theological concept that we undermine our relationship with God and others by actions and attitudes which are self-centred and destructive.

What do you think? Are the ways in which we sin really that different between the sexes? Both men and women read this blog, although women do most of the responding. It would be good to hear from both.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

It Isn't Easy Being the Green President

Edward Burtynsky

Obamamania is in full swing in Ottawa today as the U.S. President makes his first state visit to a foreign country. Canadians are smitten by the new president and as one newspaper columnist wrote this morning, her women friends haven't been this giddy since the Beatles showed up in Toronto during the sixties.

While Obama will be here for just a few hours this visit is an important first step toward renewing what had been an excellent relationship until the regime of He Who Must Not Be Named. One of the issues to be touched upon is the way oil is produced in Alberta. Canada is the biggest supplier of oil to the United States --more than Saudi Arabia -- and much of it comes from the oil sands of Alberta. The way it is refined now makes it just about the dirtiest oil in the world in terms of pollution.
It has been described as "stupid to the last drop." Obama's government is committed to lowering greenhouse emissions, so finding cleaner sources of energy is a high priority.

Canada has done a fair amount of research on greenhouse gas sequestering, which is essentially securing it underground rather than pumping it into the air. Personally, it sounds like throwing stuff into a closet before the arrival of an important guest, such as, say, a president. There is only so much you can put in that closet and eventually you have to sort out the mess. But at least sequestering represents searching for a solution.

Many groups, including the Green Party and Christian denominations have consistently pestered our federal government to "clean up it's act" and create meaningful legislation which would regulate greenhouse gases. The churches have appealed on ethical grounds, motivated by a belief that "the earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof." It may be that a greener pres will bring about the change which is necessary.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Blessed Diversity

While waiting in the airport for a flight south a week ago I picked up the latest National Geographic magazine which included two very good articles about Charles Darwin and the lasting impact of his research conducted during the nineteenth century. While Darwin is often regarded with suspicion by Christian fundamentalists, I appreciated the discussion of his work which opened the door to a more sophisticated understanding of the complexity and diversity of the natural order. When he was aboard the ship Beagle he was actually an indifferent theology student rather than an official biologist. While Darwin "lost" his faith, I do believe in a Creator God, although that view of creation is open to an evolutionary process that continues to unfold.

We were aware of this diversity as we walked the beach in front of our resort each morning, looking for treasures. There is a photo above taken looking down through the water at shells which accumulated on one of the coconut shells which wash up everywhere. Of course the shells and bits of coral are the skeletal remains of creatures which were once alive.

We wish we had taken a waterproof camera to capture images when we went out on a boat to the coral reef. For an hour we bobbed in the warm waters with our masks and snorkels watching the thousands of fish of every shape and colour. They swim in a magnificent forest of coral in a reef which is one of the largest in the world. It is one of the wonders of the world and of creation and Creator.

The photos include a sunrise, beach stuff, and -don't hate us- the view from our balcony to the water. Click on them for a full-screen view. Those are our towels saving the beach chairs. Oh yes -- we had a ridiculously good vacation.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Romantic Love

So we see the kissy-face young couple all over one another at the bus stop or in some other public place. On a good day we smile, and on a cynical day we think "get a room." Scientists tell us that our body chemistry actually changes during the first year and a half to three years of a romance so that we are "in love" rather than simply loving. There are some who get addicted to that emotional "hit" and go from relationship to relationship.

With Valentine's Day at the end of the week we might ponder what Christians should think about all that emphasis on romance. Philip Yancey is a writer I enjoy because he is always thoughtful and this piece which was an online "thought for the day" was good.

For a brief time, at least, romance gives us the ability to see the best in one other person, to ignore or forgive flaws, to bask in endless fascination. That state… gives a foretaste of how we will one day view every resurrected person and how God now views us.

Romantic love does not distort vision but corrects it, in a very narrow range. The Bible uses explicit romantic images to describe God’s love for us: what we feel in passing for one person, God feels eternally for the many. If we receive romantic love not as an end in itself but as God’s gift, a shining grace, it can become like a shaft of light beckoning us toward what we will someday experience more fully as resurrected beings.

-- Philip Yancy in
Rumors of Another World

I will be away with my Valentine for a few days so I will check in with you later.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Births of Biblical Proportions

Every year the Christian faith celebrates the birth of a messiah in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. Easter is our main event but Christmas captures our hearts with the story of a baby born in a stable. In the gospels of Matthew and Luke there is a sense that initially neither earthly parent was thrilled by the news of the pregnancy, although it is hard to argue with angels.

Stories about births have been in the news alot lately --muchos births! A 33-year-old woman in the United States gave birth to a veritable litter of eight children, all of whom have survived. The poor fetuses probably had to take a number. These octuplets join their six siblings for a total of fourteen children who will be raised by a single mother.

At first there was excitement about the first set of octuplets to survive birth for more than a week, but now there are growing concerns about the ethics of this situation. Why did a fertility clinic help a woman with multiple births when she already had six kids? How does this single parent without employment expect to raise these children in a way that is fair to them? What about fourteen children in one family when the planet is already suffering from overcrowding? Sure Celine Dion is the youngest of fourteen kids, but that doesn't make it right!

The Canadian story is a sixty-year-old woman with high blood pressure and diabetes who just gave birth to twins after going overseas for fertility treatments. Again, was anyone thinking about the well-being of these children or the planet they will live on?

In most of the congregations I have served couples have searched for solutions to infertility and sometimes found them. In certain cases fertility treatments have been successful. In other cases adoption has been the choice. Each of these situations have been unique, but thankfully none have been newsworthy because of their extreme nature.

Realizing that medical science has been able to aid many people who would otherwise be childless, what should we think about these situations where common sense seems to have gone on vacation. Should the state have a greater say in regulating fertility clinics and the choices of individuals?

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Dim the Lights

Yesterday we went to see the animated film, Coraline. A couple of free movie passes and some excellent reviews prompted us to go, sans little kids, to see this movie. The animation is impressive and even though the Bowmanville theatre didn't have 3-D glasses it was worth seeing. A warning: it is dark and scary enough that taking young or sensitive children might not be a good choice.

We have seen several films in the past few weeks because the Academy Award nominations seems to flush the good ones out of the heart of Toronto and into the burbs. The Wrestler was gritty and well-acted and an important story about how we are defined by images that may no longer reflect our reality. Frost/Nixon was surprisingly entertaining for a story whose conclusion we knew before we walked into the theatre.

The most intriguing was Slumdog Millionaire, a tale about a child who emerges from the slums to win a fortune on the Indian version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire? We found it to be gripping, and it does have a happy ending.

Slumdog Millionaire was released recently in India to mixed reviews. Some regard it as realistic while others protest that it doesn't reflect the "new India" of economic emergence. There have been protests outside theatres because of the portrayals of poverty and religious conflict. The truth is that there are regular skirmishes between religious groups throughout the country. The movie has a scene of violence between Muslims and Hindus which is disturbing. Unfortunately the minority Christian population of India receives the ire of other groups -- and sometimes retaliates. India has changed dramatically in the past decade, but there is still a long way to go when it comes to religious tolerance.

Have you seen any of these movies, or others which you have enjoyed?

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Jessica's FAT! Says Who?

Jessica Simpson is fat! Jessica is normal! Jessica is a musician, so stop obsessing about her weight!

Sorry about all these exclamation marks but we were standing in the grocery store check-out line this morning and the tabloids were screaming about Jessica Simpson. You don't know who Jessica is, nor care about her weight? It doesn't matter because apparently lots of others do.

There are some rather unflattering photos of Simpson floating around these days, leading to a lot of cruel jokes at her expense, including one about her leaving football star Tony Romo for Ronald MacDonald. Just so you know, the photo above is of "hefty" Jessica.

Jessica Simpson is not fat by the standards of mere mortals, but she may be "celebrity chubby" because of the bizarre expectations for those in the public eye. So Brittany Spears was lampooned for weight gain, and Angelina Jolie is watched like a hawk because she is too skinny after childbirth, along with other celebs. Little wonder that so many people are messed up about body image. It may be none of our business, except that watching the stars is a business and they want to be watched.

A couple of weeks ago I spoke about honouring the body as one of the spiritual practices Christians can observe. I addressed healthy body image as part of that discipline. I got more responses to that message than for any other in quite a while. The tabloids reminded me this morning that my sermon didn't exactly change the world.

Do you think that society's attitudes can change, or will we just have to come to our conclusions, one person at a time?

Friday, February 06, 2009

Suffer the Little Children

You know by now that I am an avid follower of the events of the world (otherwise known as an addict) and while I am often inspired by what I read and see, the nature of news is to tell us of the pain and suffering of the planet and its creatures. There are times when I am sad, frustrated, indignant about the stories. And angry.

Yesterday and today I have been really angry about the police arrests and seizures in a huge child-pornography ring. Obviously I am glad that these predators will be brought to justice but the fact that so many people, virtually all men, are involved in trading child-porn pictures as though they are sports trading cards sickens me. I read this morning that a number of those arrested have been convicted of this behaviour before. And some of them had sophisticated encrypting software supposedly reserved for the police and military behind which they were hiding -- or so they thought.

In addition to the seizures and arrests, police secured the release of two children, four and twelve, who were being used in the production of this pornography. As I listened to a radio report on this story I was ashamed that everyone arrested was a man, as I am when my wife, Ruth, shares with me the brutality faced by women and children in her work. Why do men engage in these forms of evil to such a disproportionate degree?

I reminded myself that the man, Jesus, regarded children so highly in a culture that didn't really acknowledge kids as fully realized humans. It was probably partly because of the high mortality rate for children, but Jesus saw them differently. One of the few times he seemed to get angry was when he spoke of the peril of misleading children.

Thank God for the vigilant police who combat this pornography. We should be praying for them regularly, knowing the toll it must take on them.

Several of you are parents of young children who are entering the use of the internet. What are you doing to protect them? Is this a concern for you?

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Puzzling Pope


When I flew to New Mexico three weeks ago I sat next to an evangelical Christian who seemed to dislike everyone who did not attend his congregation in Toronto. I thought that his God must do really shabby work to have more than six and a half billion humans on this planet and only a few hundred who will be saved from the fires of hell. I found myself in the curious position of defending the Roman Catholic church, which this guy figures is a cult. Can you have a billion people in a cult?

Yesterday I wondered about that defense after hearing that Pope Benedict reinstated an excommunicated conservative bishop who is a Holocaust denier. In an 1989 sermon preached in Sherbrooke, Quebec, Bishop Richard Williamson said “Jews made up the Holocaust, Protestants get their orders from the devil and the Vatican has sold its soul to liberalism.” As recently as last November he gave a television interview in which he declared that there were no Nazi gas chambers. If he had said this in Germany he could have been charged with a hate crime.

After Williamson was reinstated German bishops and the German chancellor immediately protested and now the pope has asked him to recant his anti-semitic statements. But if these are still his beliefs, why on earth would Pope Benedict want him in a leadership position? Obviously this coerced recantation will have a hollow ring to it. Surely there should be a do-over on the reinstatement of this dangerous man. Excommunication was a good choice.

It is essential that we keep the doors of dialogue open with other expressions of Christian faith, and I have benefitted greatly from Roman Catholic friends, theologians and religious communities. That said, I find some of the choices of the current pope to be truly questonable and a threat to Christian unity and interfaith dialogue.

Your thoughts?

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Another Builder

Millard Fuller died yesterday at age 74. You may not know that name, but Fuller was a significant figure because he founded the organization called Habitat for Humanity. Fuller was wealthy but a mess when his life changed after a Christian conversion. Fuller and his wife Linda gave up their wealth to focus on a charitable organization which began building low-cost homes using donated labour and materials, as well as the "sweat equity" of the prospective owners. These owners have manageable mortgages and pride of ownership.

Habitat for Humanity began construction of houses in the early 1970's and has now built 300,000 homes in 90 countries around the world, an amazing accomplishment. We have seen the photographs of former U.S. president Jimmy Carter and his wife Roslyn working on houses alongside regular folks who give their time freely. I saw a touching interview with a retired American couple who worked on houses in an Eastern European country. They met a young woman there who captured their hearts and they sponsored her for her university education. When she got married she asked if they would come back so the husband could "give her away" in the ceremony and they did.

Unfortunately Fuller and Habitat parted company in later years under unhappy circumstances but his legacy of practical compassion is evident around the world.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Blessed are the Bridge-builders

When my mother recommended the book Three Cups of Tea she knew my hesitation was due to the title. She assured me that it wasn't a "chick book" (my questionable term, not hers) and so I borrowed and read it. It is one of the most inspiring books I have delved into in a while. Greg Mortenson was a quirky, naiive, high-energy young mountaineer who decided to climb K2, one of the most technically challenging peaks in the world. The climb was to be a tribute to a beloved sister who died young, but due to a number of circumstances he did not make the summit. On the descent he ran into serious trouble and one of the Pakistani porters saved his life.

His goals changed, and he vowed to return and build a school in the impoverished village of the porter. Now, Mortenson had no money, no connections, and barely made ends meet been his mountaineering expeditions. Yet over time he convinced people that his cause was a good one and he built, first of all, a bridge connecting the village to the rest of the world, then a school for children who up to that point had received no formal education.

Mortenson now heads up an international organization which has built more than 75 schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Although there is strong anti-American sentiment in the regions in which he works, Mortenson is revered for his dedication to education. Both boys and girls are educated and the schools provide an antidote to the fierce and destructive Islamicism taught in some of the other schools established for that purpose.

When it became apparent that the invasion of Iraq was not Mission Accomplished, as George Bush declared, I commented to my wife, Ruth, that if the billions of dollars spent on this war had been invested in building bridges to the international Islamic community, the world would probably be a safer place.

Greg Mortenson has been building those bridges, literally and figuratively. I read recently that Mortenson has been recruited by the Pentagon as an expert on combatting terrorism. What an intelligent choice.

Blessed are the bridge-builders and the peacemakers.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Lincoln Anniversary

When I went to Maryland for my aunt's 80th birthday last November I also made a hasty trip with my brother and niece into Washington D.C. I wanted to see an exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery which kicked off the 200th anniversary celebration of Abraham Lincoln's birth in 2009. If this sounds familiar, revisit yesterday's blog. 2009 is also the 200th anniversary of Charles Darwin's birth. I had not realized until this morning that Lincoln and Darwin were born within a few hours of one another on the same day in 1809.

The exhibit we saw was of most of the existing photographs of Lincoln, who was the first president to be photographed, as well as two life masks made of plaster. Next to each photo there was a brief reflection. One pointed out that President Lincoln, who eventually signed the Emancipation Proclamation to free slaves in the United States wasn't sure that negroes (blacks) were as intelligent or fully realized as humans. In this regard he was different from Darwin but he allowed his resolve and his actions as president to carry him toward a new understanding.

I find it interesting that two great men, one who was an atheist and another for whom religion wasn't all that important, championed the cause of freedom from very different perspectives on either side of the Atlantic Ocean. It's important to realize that they followed in the footsteps of determined Christians such as John Wesley and William Wilberforce who were convinced that the New Testament message of freedom applied to people of every race and colour.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Darwin Anniversary

When I was nineteen I kicked around Britain and France for a few months on my own. My wanderings included a few days in London where I visited some of the big tourist attractions, including Westminster Abbey. Many famous people are buried beneath the paving stones of the nave and transepts and the one whose marker really surprised me was Charles Darwin. How did the guy whose work on natural selection and the theory of evolution turned biblical literalism about creation on its ear in the mid eighteen hundreds make it into a church?

Darwin had considered the Anglican priesthood at one point but he eventually moved to an agnostic position. The death of his daughter in childhood wiped away the last of his faith, but his wife remained a deeply committed Christian. She was also a member of the Wedgewood family of fine china fame, and the Wedgewood's were staunch abolitionists, seeing slavery as contrary to the will of God. Darwin took up this cause and actually pursued his exploration of evolution as one way to prove that blacks were not of another inferior species but shared the same origins as whites and other races.

This year, 2009, marks the 200th anniversary of Darwin's birth. Long ago I made my peace between belief in a creator God and evolution. I don't see the two as contradictory, nor do I believe that the first two chapters of Genesis were intended to be science. How about you?