Sunday, May 31, 2009

Pentecostal Renewal

This quilt was made by Linda Schmidt for her congregation to celebrate the Christian festival of Pentecost, which is today this year. Because Pentecost is fifty days after Easter it tends to wander around the calendar. As goes the Day of Resurrection, so goes Pentecost. This is the birth day of the Christian church and we always read the story from the Acts of the Apostles with its bewildering story of a rushing wind and tongues of flame. We can't really know what happened, which is a good thing. What Acts proclaims is that those early followers of Jesus got out there and shared the gospel.

In Canada Christians aren't doing so well in that department --sharing our story that is. In one of the most free and prosperous countries on the planet we are hard pressed to be enthusiastic about our faith. Not only are our general numbers declining in mainline (old-line?) churches, our young people are leaving in droves.

Is there good news/Good News about the church these days? I think its interesting that the blog with the greatest number of responses in a while was the one showing our St. Paul's young people at Conference recently. You liked what you saw of these kids, and several of them weighed in to say that they had enjoyed the experience immensely. That's good news to me.

How about for you?

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Blooming Most Recklessly

"Everything is blooming most recklessly; if it were voices instead of colors, there would be an unbelievable shrieking into the heart of the night."

–Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters of Rainer Maria Rilke

I'm not sure about shrieking, but the wild singing would keep up the neighbours. I have been ambling about the neighbourhood recently, taking photos of flowering trees and shrubs. What an amazing, everyday miracle. We may grumble about Canadian winters but I think I savour the beauty of the resurrected world even more because of the period of dormancy. The lilacs are everywhere in Bowmanville, the magnolias blooms have come and gone, and the chesnut trees are now in full glory. Wonder-full.

Friday, May 29, 2009

To Have and to Hold

Did you notice the court decision in California yesterday, upholding Proposition 8, which bans gay marriage? You may be aware that marriage between couples of the same gender was permitted for a period of time, only to be overturned during the U.S. presidential election. States can add all kinds of propositions to the ballot. The 18,000 couples who had been married, legally, will still be married since the proposition was not retroactive. The photo above is from a rally in support of gay marriage in California,

This is a curious development because we Canadians tend to view California as very liberal and at times "out there" in attitudes. Meanwhile, five states, including supposedly conservative Iowa, have legalized gay marriage. The latest is Maine where one legislator voted against even though she has a lesbian daughter, while a staunchly Pentecostal legislator voted in favour. While her choice surprised some, she said she had to vote "yes" as a human rights issue, whatever her religious convictions might be.

My own experience in this country where same-gender marriage is legal in every province and in this denomination where every congregation can make its own decision to conduct gay weddings is that people aren't polarized between "yea" and "nay." I have had scores of conversation with folk who are all along the continuum, many of whom have shifted opinions and convictions over time, in both directions.
Every once in a while I meet a real bigot. For the most part people are just trying to figure out how to be fair and faithful, which is really all we can ask. This congregation went through its own soul-searching and eventually decided that gay marriages could be conducted by its ministers, providing the couples followed our guidelines. So far there have been no requests.

What do you think about what it happening in the States? Have you gone through your own decision making process? Are you at peace with your position on gay marriage, or still trying to figure it out?

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Searching for the Holy Grail

Because I am a masochist and have cheered for the Toronto Maple Leafs for a lifetime, the playoffs usually don't mean much to me. If I wanted to see the Leafs I would be better off searching a golf course than the television. But this year playoff hockey has been so exciting that I have watched a number of games featuring teams I couldn't care less about during the regular season.
Now we are down to just a few teams searching for the "holy grail" of the Stanley Cup.

Holy grail? The chalice Jesus used at the Last Supper? Yesterday a paper presented by a religious studies prof from St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia at a conference at Carlton U. suggests that some fans treat sports like a religion and that there are rituals, including retiring a jersey or presenting trophies that are downright religious. To quote from the Toronto Star:

"It's not that hockey is a form of religion," Tekel said, "it's that hockey can be seen as part of the wide terrain of religious experiences."
Many people are moving away from institutionalized religion and into "marginalized religion," she said.
"What they're saying is that they want in some way to be connected with something beyond themselves, but they don't want ... organized religion."

There have been other studies suggesting that the cult of celebrity worship is a form of religious experience, and that attaining certain goals such as climbing Mount Everest might be in the same category. My thought is that even winning Lord Stanley's jug doesn't cut it as true faith.

Some of this blog's readers are men, and more inclined toward watching sports avidly. What do you think? And for others, would you like your channel-changer back?

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Right to Hate

A disturbing drama is unfolding in a Winnipeg courtroom as parents defend the right to raise their own children. While we would normally consider this an inalienable right, these parents have been a "nasty piece of business," white supremacists raising their children in an atmosphere of hatred. The seven-year-old daughter arrived at school with a swastika traced on her arm with indelible marker. Other racist slogans were added to her body, as a billboard for bigotry. She told a teacher that all blacks should die.

Now the courts will decide whether these parents are fit for the role. The mother and father have parted company, and the mother now says that her views were a terrible mistake. It's still scary stuff.

Religion has both promoted racial hatred and fought against it through the centuries. And religions have claimed the freedom of parents to raise their children according to their doctrines, as they see fit -- think of the Jehovah's Witnesses and blood transfusions. Most churches today would decry this sort of racism without reservation. What do you think? Should the state have the right to remove children from homes where their minds are being poisoned by hatred?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

A War on Cars?

I didn't realize when I wrote this morning, that today was the beginning of London, Great Britain's Summer of Cycling. There are events and initiatives planned throughout the summer to encourage cyclists. London's mayor Boris Johnston is the "thumb's up"guy in the photo.

Yesterday Toronto City Council had a heated and protracted debate on converting one of the five lanes on Jarvis St. to a bicycle lane. Jarvis is a major north/south artery and it accomodates a large volume of vehicular traffice each day.

The opponents of this proposal bluster about the "war on cars" being conducted by the mayor and his supporters. What an interesting phrase! Is that like the war on terror?

I have no idea whether Jarvis St. would be a well-used bicycle route but I have heard the horror stories about trying to get from Point A to Point B on city streets. There are colourful phrases such as the "door prize" referring to cyclists smacked by opened car doors and the "right hook," when a motorist crunches a rider while making a right turn. They are apt but point out the dangers of choosing something other than an automobile to get around above ground.

In Montreal there are dedicated bicycle lanes and a new bike sharing program where bicycles can be picked up at a number of stations throughout the city. The cost is a modest five dollars a day. I can say that Toronto isn't the only tough spot for cyclists and pedestrians. Here in Bowmanville, population 30,000, the town is totally geared to cars. The crosswalks are not honoured by motorists and it can be downright scary to be on a bike.

Jesus never rode a bicycle, except in exotic curses, but he never rode in a car either. He hoofed it everywhere according to the gospels, except for the occasion he made a short trip on a donkey.

Being inventive about alternatives will involve growing pains, some mistakes, and hopefully a lot of advances. What are your thoughts?

Monday, May 25, 2009

Restoring Right Relations

The town of Pembroke has many large and elegant older homes which are reminders of another era of prosperity. The Ottawa River on which the town is situated became the transportation route for the log drives which made lumber barons wealthy, and that prosperity is reflected in the houses. There is still a hockey team in Pembroke called the Lumber Kings.

The Ottawa River was also an essential transportation artery for aboriginal peoples for centuries and as Europeans arrived to take advantage of natural resources there was a clash of cultures.

During the annual meeting of Bay of Quinte conference there were several opportunities to acknowledge the difficult and often unfair relationships between natives and the invading culture. The Christian church was part of that unfairness and the United Church has made the effort to right wrongs in a number of ways.
Early one morning the delegates to conference were invited to the edge of the Ottawa for a tobacco ceremony led by an aboriginal leader. Even though the arena in which we met was within sight of the river, and there is a beautiful park running along the shore, it was the only occasion when we were encouraged to appreciate the beauty of this waterway. Figure that one out.

We realize that this effort to restore right relationships will take generations but the commitment continues. There is lots of information on the United Church commitment to reconciliation on the denominational website.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Sharing Our Song of Faith

I'm back from Pembroke and our three-day annual meeting of Conference. These events tend to involve the good the bad and the ugly. Bay of Quinte stretches from Pickering in the southwest to Arnprior in the northeast. When we come together we deliberate about decisions that affect more than 100 pastoral charges. Some of it is dead boring, while other aspects are enlightening. Our theme was Sharing Our Song of Faith based on the most recent statement of faith for our United Church.

This year seven of the St. Paul's teens were part of the youth at conference. There were 56 young people in total, and about 40% came from just three congregations. I am convinced that we had such a high number because our Rev. Cathy and her husband John encouraged, cajoled, and shepherded them to attend. Cathy and John spent their first anniversary with this fun-loving group of young people. That's dedication, or insanity!

The good news is that while they joined the larger court for periods of time, they had their own program as well. Alexandra, Chris, Jacob, Krysten, Amanda, Kathryn, and Jonathan told me that they were having a great time during our fleeting moments of connection. In the court we had an emotionally charged discussion of the budget that went on for a long time. I was sure that these young people were ready to run for the hills, but one of them told me afterward that he loved the debate: "that was intense!" he commented enthusiastically.

They gave me permission to include photographs as long as I included the goofiest one I snapped.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Living as Locavores Cont'd

I wasn't at the Bowmanville ministerial meeting this week because I was conducting a funeral service. I did hear back through Rev. Cathy that the response to our Creation Care seminar was very positive. Folk liked just about everything, including the seminars. Many people attended the Living As Locavores presentation, offered twice. It gave people a chance to consider how to buy food locally as a way of caring for creation. I have certainly heard from you, as readers, about the places you frequent in search of tasty, reasonably priced and easily accessible food.

We also grow food in our backyard, even though our garden is small. We avoid the vegetables that require a lot of room, or constant sunlight in favour of things like salad greens. One of our daughters loves swiss chard, so we grow it.

There is an interesting article at Atlantic Monthly online that you might check out. It asks whether small farms can feed the world. Take a look.

Will you buy locally this year? Oh yes, I threw this blog in because I can time the releases.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Ethics of Blood Sucking

Later today I will head away for the annual meeting of Bay of Quinte Conference, our regional gathering which will span the weekend. It is in Pembroke this year, so I will need to take my insect repellent because of the blackflies and mosquitoes.

Speaking of blood suckers, there is legislation afoot in both Canada and the United States to make sure consumers are adequately informed about the interest charged for the use of credit cards. In these tough economic times there is a greater awareness of the onerous debt accumulated by card users. We have credit cards but are considered "deadbeats" by the banks because we pay off our balance each month before interest accrues. Unfortunately many people choose to live with the high interest rates or are forced to do so by circumstances.

Lending money for financial gain was actually considered a sin by the medieval church, which was why Jews were allowed to become bankers -- the perverse logic was that they were going to hell anyway. Being the agents of oppressive debt was considered to be morally reprehensible. Now it is an accepted practice. Some credit card companies are saying that if they are limited by more regulations they may start charging their deadbeat customers (it is actually their term) yearly fees to compensate.
I think of the phrase "neither a borrower nor a lender be" which is often attributed to Shakespeare's Hamlet but originates in the book of Proverbs. Where would we be without borrowing and lending?

What do you think? Should governments get involved, or is it up to us to use common sense? Is it a sin to charge exhorbitant rates of interest?

I'll be back in a few days, but I would still like to hear your opinion.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Contrasts of Grace

I had one of those rare and remarkable days in ministry yesterday when the contrast of circumstances bring home the gift of this vocation. In the morning I went to see the 101-year-old member who was at death's door on Sunday. Against the odds she had rallied, and when I walked into her room she was sitting up, eyes open. We chatted and while she was confused she was very much alive. Her son, who is in his seventies, was grateful for my visit.

In the afternoon I went to the Oshawa hospital to visit a first-time mom and her baby. This was a difficult pregnancy which required the mother to spend the last few months at home. The result was a happy one, with the pregnancy going almost full-term and the birth of a healthy six-pound baby girl. When I arrived this infant was all of eight hours old. I went to the nursery where the tiny child is in an incubator as a precaution (not the baby in the photo.) The proud and somewhat anxious father hovered over his first child, listening to the nurse who also happens to be part of our congregation. For me this was a special moment of connection with a young couple.

This contrast of ages was striking, yet in both instances we spoke of God, and God's presence. These two visits were only part of a hectic and unpredictable day, but they were a gift of grace.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Human Heart

Former US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld "creeped me out" when he was in the Bush administration and the queasy factor just gets worse as more information about his role in Iraq emerges.

Apparently Rumsfeld and others in the upper echelons favoured cover sheets for daily war reports that quoted from the bible. On March 31, 2003, there was a photo of a U.S. tank roaring through the desert beneath a quote from Ephesians: “Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.” An equal opportunity bible quoter, there were also references to the Old Testament books of Judges and Psalms. While I read about this in the Globe and Mail newspaper, it was Gentlemen's Quarterly magazine that first published an article about Rummy's crusade-like use of scripture to support the war effort. Take a look at the slide show .

Lots of people in the Pentagon didn't like it. Some were offended on religious grounds. Others thought it was imprudent because if they ever leaked it would have an Abu Ghraib effect, further igniting the sensibilities of the Muslim world. While this was pointed out it didn't change a thing.

Of course, people have always used the bible to support their preconceived notions. It is one of the nastier aspects of our Christian faith. We can find verses to support and justify all sorts of atrocities and prejudices. The same is true of science. Science has been enthusiastically enlisted to justify racism and slavery. The Nazis claimed to be doing scientific experiments on Jews they tortured in horrific ways. The Japanese hunt whales in contravention of international treaties for scientific purposes.

In the end it is really a matter of the human heart, and isn't that where religion comes back into the discussion?

Monday, May 18, 2009

Listening to the News

It is a sleepy Monday morning on a holiday weekend. I made the coffee this morning wondering whether our second oldest member (101 years old) made it through the night after a rough couple of days.

In the quiet of our kitchen I listened to the news on the radio and heard that the fierce and ruthless leader of the Tamil Tigers had been killed and the resistance had been all but crushed by the Sri Lankan army. While the civil war was declared over by the government, we know that expatriates who have been clogging the streets of Toronto will continue to agonize over the fate of loved ones. For all I disagree with their method of protest, I will keep them in my prayers.

There was also a report on the fate of Christians in China. There are an estimated 50 million Christians in this nation of well over a billion, so their numbers are a "drop in the bucket" as a percentage of the population. While Christians have experienced greater freedom in the past decade, the government still expects individuals and congregations to register and when they don't bibles are confiscated and churches are dismantled. It's interesting, though, that the number of Christians continues to grow, as well as adherents to other religious traditions. In a land of growing affluence and materialism there is an underlying hunger for spiritual meaning.

Again, a reminder to pray for brothers and sisters in Christ in a nation so vastly different from our own. I am also reminded that apathy undermines the vitality of communities of faith in this country where freedom of expression is taken for granted while it can't be extinguished in places where there is overt or subtle oppression.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Dear Revinne

Dear Revinne, (Reverend)

My mommy and daddy had there weding here

This was the note passed to me by a solemn-faced seven or eight-year--old on Sunday morning.

She and her mother were visiting grandparents from out of town for Mother's Day and they came to church. The same sweet girl sought me out when here at Christmas and informed me that her Dad didn't live with them anymore because her parents are divorced. I'm a softie when it comes to kids and that misspelled note touched my heart. I have no idea whether she attends church when at home, but she has chosen to trust me with what is at the forefront of her heart and mind.

I am writing this, not as a comment on divorce and its effects on children, but as a reminder that children are spiritual beings. Kids may not be as articulate as adults but they want to express their faith and the everyday realities that affect them. Child psychiatrist Robert Coles wrote a book called The Spiritual Life of Children after working with kids for thirty years. Through those years he discovered how rich their faith can be and the importance of listening.

So often we regard children in terms of numbers -- every congregation covets kids and at times it feels as though we are speaking of a commodity rather than individual people. My conversation with the child on Sunday made me think about the circumstances, including loss of loved ones, that have a profound impact on children. When we hear of deaths in families, or of marital separations we can make a point of supporting the children affected as well as the adults. And we can listen.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Requiem for Prosperity

Next week I will conduct a memorial service for a person who died six months ago, a necessary ritual for a family that has only been able to gather now. We choose to mark the passing of loved ones, or institutions such as closing churches, with ritual acts to ease our grief.

Today the truck plant in Oshawa will close and I wonder if there will be any ritual leave-taking. That plant and others in the city have represented prosperity in this area of Ontario for decades. Now thousands of people who had meaningful employment in the plant are looking for work, not to mention the estimated seven workers for every GM worker who will lose jobs because they are no longer feeding that hungry vehicle producer.

These workers have often been vilified because they made really good money, but their prosperity meant wealth for the wider community. General Motors made its share of tactical blunders to help create this situation, but the execs didn't have control over Wall Street or the global economic downturn. Toyota, which supposedly produces the state of the art, fuel efficient vehicles we want posted a five billion dollar loss in the first quarter of this year, so no auto company is immune from the recession. People must make money to spend money.

Many area churches are feeling the effects of the economic uncertainty. Some of the most active congregations in our Oshawa Presbytery are shaking out the piggy banks because of significant decreases in contributions. No one is immune.
We can keep all those who lost jobs in our prayers in the days ahead. We can pray for those who are still employed and wonder what will come next. We can uphold those who are reliant on GM pensions and are anxious about their futures. I visited one of our elderly members recently, a widow of a GM worker who still lives in their modest home. She is trying not to be scared about tomorrow, but the uncertainty is troubling. We can hope for a revival of GM's fortunes, and new opportunities for employment in this area.

Perhaps a requiem for a closing truck plant isn't as fanciful as it sounds.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Nice Enough?

Are you a nicer person because you go to church -- assuming you do cross the threshold from time to time?

The New Republic magazine published a piece recently on research that shows churchgoers are generally nicer people than there non-worshipping counterparts. When I read past the headline I discovered that it is actually people of any religious expression, not just Christians who are "nicer." Since I think being nice can be highly overrated I was interested to get more information. The author quoted another columnist,Mike Gershon, who in turn was drawing on a new book by Bob Putnam and David Campbell called American Grace:

Against the expectations of hard-core secularists, Putnam asserts, "religious Americans are nicer, happier, and better citizens." They are more generous with their time and money, not only in giving to religious causes but to secular ones. They join more voluntary associations, attend more public meetings, even let people cut in line in front of them more readily. Religious Americans are three to four times more socially engaged than the unaffiliated. Ned Flanders is a better neighbor.

I'm not an American, yet I am serving a Canadian congregation of really decent human beings who, by and large, care deeply about each other and the broader community, so I can't argue. For years sociologists in this country have drawn essentially the same conclusions. There is something about joining with others who are called to higher standards, in our case in God's name, that invites generosity, integrity, compassion. We all know that we fail regularly, but the bar is set higher. In every congregation I have served there have been a handful of agnostics and atheists who are involved because they believe in the goals of the church, if not the God.

Here is another interesting twist. The book apparently argues that those who assemble but don't join in with others aren't as nice. The human interaction, as well as coming through the doors makes a difference.

To rephrase my original question, does getting together as religious people make us nicer? Do you care about being nicer?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

More on the Tamil Protests

Christie Blatchford is a "pull no punches" award-winning writer with the Globe and Mail newspaper. She offers a perspective on the Tamil protests today which might interest you.

The Pope in the Middle East

Pope Benedict will be in the Garden of Gethsemane today, the olive grove in Jerusalem with trees which may date back two thousand years to the time when Jesus prayed there late into the night, agonizing over his impending death. The pope is in the Middle East, meeting with religious and political leaders. Observers concede that any public statements by the pontiff require great diplomacy, something he has not demonstrated at other times.

Yesterday he called for a two state solution for Palestinians, not a popular stance with a conservative Israeli government. I think this is a courageous choice by Benedict, even though it may not be popular.

He has also made conciliatory statements to Muslims and Jews. He has pointed out the essential relationship between Judaism and Christianity and the importance of mutual respect. On Saturday, while visiting a mosque in Jordan he offered this:

The challenge is to cultivate for the good, in the context of faith and truth, the vast potential of human reason. Christians in fact describe God, among other ways, as creative Reason, which orders and guides the world. And God endows us with the capacity to participate in his reason and thus to act in accordance with what is good. Muslims worship God, the Creator of Heaven and Earth, who has spoken to humanity. And as believers in the one God we know that human reason is itself God’s gift and that it soars to its highest plane when suffused with the light of God’s truth.

Pope Benedict has been criticized for his inflammatory statements about other religions in the past (I have been among the critics), but he is obviously committed to making amends and providing positive leadership. Check out these articles for more information and perspective on the pope's visit

Monday, May 11, 2009

Just Cause?

Last night a major highway in Toronto was shut down by Canadians of Tamil origin. Half a world away in Sri Lanka, thousands of civilians are dying, caught in the crossfire between government forces and Tamil Tiger rebels. There is obvious anxiety about the wellbeing of loved ones and Tamils have legitimate concerns about the way they have been treated as a minority. But the Tigers are considered a terrorist group by the Canadian government and waving the Tiger flag in the protests is provocative. There is also the question of when and where freedom of assembly and expression makes sense for a cause in a distant country. I have listened to second generation Tamil youth who speak of "our country," referring to Sri Lanka, even though they were born in Canada.

While I'm trying to listen and understand, I find myself irritated by both the location of the protests and expectations. It's not that the cause is unjust. The United Church has actively expressed concern over a great many situations where human rights have been violated through the decades of its existence. We feel that demonstrating the mercy and justice spoken of by the prophets includes petitioning our government to act diplomatically.

Over the years I have written my share of letters to different levels of government over justice issues. My annoyance now arises from the insistence of one group that everyone must adopt its cause, and thereby accept disruption, including access to essential services. In this case people were unable to get to downtown Toronto hospitals.

How have you felt about these protests? Justified, or unrealistic?

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Trillium Alert

We all know the Celtic legend of St. Patrick, who uses a three-leaf clover to demonstrate the difficult concept of the trinity to the people of Ireland. We have no idea whether it is true, but it couldn't have hurt that the number three was important to the resident Druids.

So, why haven't Canadians come up with a legend of the trillium, our beautiful three-leafed plant which blooms during the season of Easter? There must be something here for Christians to develop!

Today was Mother's Day and we headed north of Bowmanville to Long Sault Conservation Area. We had a hunch that the timing was right for the trilliums in bloom, and it paid off. Where else do we see hectares and hectares of wildflowers this beautiful? Daughter Jocelyn joined us and we all drank in the sunshine and the blossoms. We are hoping we avoided the poison ivy, but we had to slog through the mud of the return route. The trees swayed in the strong breeze, like Tolkien's Ents on the march.

We chose the eastern entrance to the conservation area, which has a small parking area. If you are looking for trilliums, get out there soon.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Star Trek and Religion

When I was in Halifax we did a study series on heaven. While we looked at the Christian perspective, we invited a Jewish rabbi and a Muslim community leader to speak to us as well. And I got the university chaplain, a devout Star Trek fan, to spend one evening offering his perspective on eternal themes in this pop culture classic. He cheerfully admitted that this would make Gene Roddenberry, the creator of Star Trek, spin in his grave because he was a humanist who imagined cultures which had moved beyond religion. Instead those who carried on the Star Trek franchise kept inserting spiritual and religious themes, including eternity.

The latest Star Trek movie will be in theatres this weekend and devotees will be lined up to get in early, and probably often. While watching the reruns of the first Star Trek television series was almost necessary for graduation when we were going to university during the 70's, I was never that big a fan. The early reviews for this movie prequel are positive, so maybe we will go to see it and look for the religious allusions.

Are any of you Trekkies (c'mon, admit it)? Have you seen spiritual themes in previous TV series and movies?

Thursday, May 07, 2009


A week ago I read about Margaret MacMillan, the Canadian historian who now teaches at Oxford. She is an acclaimed and award-winning author of books such as Paris 1919, an international bestseller.

She was asked about the books she is reading these days and I was a bit surprised but pleased to see that the novel, Revelation, by C.J.Sansom, was included in her list. Sansom has now written four historical mysteries, set in the time of Henry the Eighth, and the dissolution of the monasteries in sixteenth century Britain. I discovered these novels through one of my journals, The Christian Century. The first two were recommended as meticulously researched and entertaining stories of the period, which give us insight into the religious sensibilities of the era as a "side order."

Since that article Sansom has written two more, with the same central figure, a hunchbacked lawyer named Matthew Shardlake, who proves to be an excellent detective and a keen observer of the hypocrises and politics of religion around him.

Needless to say, I highly recommend them. Has anyone else read these novels?

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Restorative Justice cont'd

As is always the case, I appreciated yesterday's comments by readers. I find it helpful to hear of the personal experiences of those who follow this blog, as well as observations and reflections.

On the day Nancy commented on the use of restorative principles in the education system two teenage boys met and apologized to one another in the small Ontario town of Keswick. This was significant because one of these young men used a racial slur against the other, who is of Korean background, then struck him. He retaliated with a martial arts punch which broke the nose of the instigator. For some inexplicable reason the boy of Korean background was expelled and charged by police, while the other boy received only a minor expulsion.

Since then 400 students walked out of the school in protest, the school board reviewed its initial decision, and the police will probably withdraw criminal charges. What do you know -- common sense. The students who protested should be commended, and so should the two young men who have made their peace. As I said yesterday, this is a principle encouraged by major religions and other people of good will.

The board admitted that taking the restorative approach from the outset would have been a better idea. Who can argue.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Restorative Justice

I was in Kingston for business yesterday but I had the pleasure of sharing lunch with our son, Isaac, who was in the city from Montreal. Isaac, a seminary student at MCGill is participating in a week-long course on restorative justice. Part of the concept of restorative justice is that there are many circumstances where this form of justice can be more effective than our system of punitive justice. Often we incarcerate people for long periods of time during which there is no attempt at rehabilitation and certainly no effort towards reconciliation with those who have been harmed. In our understandable anger at those who have committed serious crimes we speak of "locking them up and throwing away the key" or fume that the death penalty should be reinstated.

Many Christian churches offer programs which explore alternatives to retribution. Isaac's was only part way through his first day, but he said that the group of participants alone was worth it. There are people from Rwanda, Burundi, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, there to address the ongoing pain of atrocities committed in those countries. There are participants who have harmed others and some who have been harmed, all seeking a different response to those our societies usually uphold.

In Native tradition and current practice there are healing circles where people are brought together to attempt reconciliation. Healing and forgiveness are at the core of Christ's reconciling love and Restorative Justice programs are an attempt to open the door to these possibilities.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Memory and Hope

We don't subscribe to any of the specialty channels on television but I often wish we had HBO. There is a four-part documentary series starting May 10th on Alzheimer's disease and I am intrigued.

Through the years many parishioners have been afflicted by Alzheimer's and it is a terrible disease. Some of the brightest and most gracious people I have known have slipped into the netherworld of this dementia. Apparently Americans list it as the second-most dreaded disease, after cancer. I understand why.

One of our St. Paul's folk is now in a nursing home because of her dementia even though she is otherwise quite healthy. When I go to visit she greets me with a friendly "David, so good to see you!," recognizing me immediately, yet five minutes later she will sheepishly ask my name. Over the course of our time together she will repeat herself several times. We have a couple of households where one half of the couple works to the point of exhaustion caring for the other half whose decision-making abilities have long disappeared.

Christianity is a religion of memory, as are most religions, and it is also a religion of hope. This HBO series addresses the loss of memory and looks at the signs of hope. It would be wonderful if researchers could make the advances in finding a cure for this disease achieved in others.
What are your experiences with Alzheimer's?

Friday, May 01, 2009

The Lord of Health

When I visit parishioners in the various hospitals I am careful to use the disinfectant provided both coming and going from rooms and then as I depart the institutions . There are lots of nasty communicable "bugs" out there and it makes sense to be careful. Despite that caution I can't help but feel that the media are creating a state of alarm bordering on hysteria regarding Swine Flu or Mexican Flu or whatever we are supposed to call this influenza.

Obviously this flu is having a major impact on Mexico and the deaths and infections are very real. But the charts listing incidents in other countries are rather limited and of the two dozen or so "victims" in Canada, not a single person has been hospitalized, let alone died. After SARS, world health organizations are choosing to respond immediately and publicly but fomenting panic doesn't strike me as helpful.

I have seen photos of Mexicans praying in church although many churches have cancelled worship to reduce contact. The cathedral in Mexico City dusted off a sculpture called The Lord of Health for the first time in 300 years to call on God's help in these difficult times. We know that in ages past believers have invoked God's healing presence in the face of plagues and epidemics. While the church can't claim expertise in infectious diseases, it has specialized in encouraging people to seek peace in difficult times. The Lord of Health in our current situation is the Christ who encourages us to live beyond fear.
The United Church does have a pandemic plan and you can take a look at it online:

Do you think that the media have incited fear in this situation? Any opinions on the faith connection?