Sunday, January 31, 2010

Joyful Noise

Last Sunday morning I attended two worship services --can you see my halo? I had an early ride to the Epiphany Explorations conference with my friends so I went to both the 9:00 am and 11:00 am services. They were quite different but had the common denominator of lively, powerful, creative music. It didn't hurt that Linnea Good and David Jonsson, Bruce Harding, and the various vocal ensembles from First Metropolitan United Church took part (one is pictured above.) At the second service there were four percussionists and I came to the conclusion that every church should have some sort of drummer!

The interesting thing is that I went to the conference for the speakers and left feeling that the music had been a real highlight. I made sure I got to the sanctuary early before most of the plenary sessions because the music was remarkable. I attended two music workshops with Linnea Good to have exposure to newer worship pieces and approaches. The organ, piano, bass, drums all enhanced the music. The contemporary group called Sabbath did one piece with oboe, banjo, piano, drums, guitar, and violin. It sounds unlikely and was really wonderful.


Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Portal to Grace in Poetry

Laura shared a poem by the fine contemporary Christian poet, Ted Loder, as part of her response to today's blog. Here are two by Sufi mystics of other eras which David Benner offered to us. They knocked my socks off -- or maybe they simply surrendered.

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,

some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

-- Jelaluddin Rumi, 13th century -- translation by Coleman Barks

Tripping over Joy ~

What is the difference
Between your experience of Existence
And that of a saint?

The saint knows
That the spiritual path
Is a sublime chess game with God

And that the Beloved
Has just made such a Fantastic Move

that the saint is now continuallyTripping over Joy
And bursting out in Laughter
And saying, "I Surrender!"

Whereas, my dear,
I'm afraid you still think

You have a thousand serious moves.

-- Hafiz, 14th century

A Healthy Spiritual Posture

At the Epiphany Explorations conference I really appreciated David Benner, a clinical psychologist and Christian, the founder of the Institute for Psycho-spiritual health and a professor in the States. He had a lovely presence and seemed to share from great wisdom.

He spoke about developing a "healthy spiritual posture," one which welcomes and integrates all aspects of self. Benner proposed three core spiritual practices:

1 Paying Attention -- the opening of self to be present, to be aware, awake
-- it is contemplation rather than concentration.

2 Embracing Reality -- hospitality to reality for the sake of transformation
3 Practicing Surrender -- not giving up or sending up the white flag
-- letting go of the illusion of control and softening our attachments

I purchased his book Surrender to Love: Discovering the Heart of Christian Spirituality because I wanted to follow his thought further.

Does any of this speak to you?

Friday, January 29, 2010

The Cold, Hard Facts

We got something of a slap in the chops during the Epiphany Exploration conference, and it came on the first afternoon. The Prophet of Doom is actually a very pleasant sociologist who is unusual in that you might actually know his name. Reg Bibby has received the Order of Canada and has been featured on the cover of Maclean's magazine. He observed, wryly, that people don't notice sociologists or make jokes about them because no one is really sure what they do.

Bibby filled us in on the latest research which shows that Canadians aren't really going to church anymore, and that the most significant drop is amongst teens. As he looks back over the past fifty years of research, to the early sixties he has concluded that this isn't a "kids these days" scenario. It was the Baby Boomers who dropped out of church and their children simply aren't connected because they were never exposed. He says that the three signficant shifts during the past fifty years are from:

Obligation to Gratification (a consumer or market model)
Deference to Discernment (more questioning, more demanding)
Homes to Careers (the biggest social change in the past half century is women in the workplace -- no time!)

The result is a New Polarization with the ambivalent "middle ground" shrinking -- we tend to be in or out when it comes to church.

Nothing really surprised me in this, but we were presented with the cold, hard facts. What is your reaction?

Thursday, January 28, 2010


I am tempted to say that the biggest "name" at the Epiphany Explorations conference was the biggest bust, but that would be overstated and unfair. Still, I was somewhat disappointed by the two hour presentation by celebrated Canadian painter, Robert Bateman. This product of a United Church Sunday School in Toronto had a number of important things to say about caring for creation. But he simply didn't use his own body of work sufficiently to illustrate his passion for the Earth. As a speaker he is a good painter!

He did use the projection screens to share with us what he has apparently termed his most important work, a haunting image of a dolphin and an albatross caught and drowned in a drift net. For this painting he procured a piece of drift net and applied it over the painted images. He pointed out that an estimated one million mammals and one million sea birds perish in these nets each year, not to mention the countless tons of fish "bycatch," those species which become entangled in the nets but are tossed back into the sea, dead, because they have no commercial value. He said that he didn't want to offend us, but for him this was a crucifixion scene, God's creatures sacrificed by uncaring humans. I found this to be the most profound and moving moment in his presentation.

Are you comfortable with his use of the term crucifixion? Should we feel sorrow for dead birds, and dolphins and fish, the way we feel sorrow for those who have died in Haiti? Do you still think it is possible to change our destructive ways for the well-being of planet Earth?

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Hitting the Ground Running

Phew! Talk about hitting the ground running! I flew back from the Epiphany Explorations conference yesterday, and used the plane time to get ready for both today's bible study and Sunday's worship. It was a good thing. I woke up feeling groggy today and realized that 7:00 am here is 4:00 am in Victoria, and I was up before 4:00 am yesterday to catch my flight.

Into the office to hear about another death, communicate with the young couple who be married, Saturday, to conduct bible study, to...I won't bore you. I found the conference very stimulating, although it took stamina. Three of the five days began at 9:00 am and concluded at 9:00 pm. I did play hookey one glorious afternoon (12 degrees celsius.)The speakers were provocative and the music was wonderful. I had the bonus of seeing colleagues from my past, as well are re-connecting with the good friends who hosted me.

During the next few days I will share some of the insights from the various presenters, so you can get a flavour of what I have experienced. And I will post some photographs from the walks I squeezed in with those friends along the way. You will see why I labelled them Victoria beach junk, although all three are of organic stuff. Click on them for better images. By sharing my musings I will have a chance to reflect on what has happened rather than just leaping back into work.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Book of Eli

I have been a fan of the actor Denzel Washington for years. His performances in films such as Hurricane, Philadelphia and Malcolm X have been exceptional. I didn't know until recently that Washington is a professed Christian and feels that his faith is and should be a daily reality.

Here's what I don't really understand. Actors such as Denzel Washington and Mel Gibson are willing to identify themselves as Christians yet they also participate in colossally violent film projects as well. I have mentioned before that Gibson's Passion of the Christ feels like Braveheart with a halo and some of his other films are filled with gratuitous violence.

Washington has done the same, and now comes The Book of Eli. I haven't seen it, and I won't because I have caught the trailer at the theatre. It looks like a bleak, apocalyptic vision with lots of blood and gore.

Why do these guys, both of whom have considerable acting chops, want to do these films? They seem so inconsistent with Christian values. I know that they are acting, and these are movies, not real life. Still, aren't there enough other actors and producers who can make the violent pictures?

What is your opinion on this? Am I over-reacting or do you share my discomfort?

Monday, January 25, 2010

Bend It Like Beckham

Well whaddya know. Not only is David Beckham a world famous soccer player and adored by women who never watch "the beautiful game," he is a walking Christian art gallery. Beckham apparently has other Christian tattoos including a cross and an angel. The latest is of a dejected looking Christ, kneeling and leaning forward. It is based on a painting called "Man of Sorrows" which is a phrase from the book of the prophet Isaiah. These images are a big commitment, really. Anyone can wear a cross as a piece of jewelry, then take it off. A tattoo is as close to permanent as you can get. Next time you see Becks, ask him to take off his shirt.

There is a Christian tattoo association which features every faith tattoo imaginable. My personal foray into the world of tattoos is limited. I have a celtic cross on my forearm (hey, this way I can't lose it.) I also have a small scallop shell on my chest, as does our son, Isaac. It is a Christian symbol for pilgrimage and we got them together as he was setting out to wander the world.

Do you find it strange that Beckham sports tattoos of a religious nature? What about tattoos in general -- a form of artistic expression or self-mutilation?

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Communion Wine Watchdogs

Did you know that the juice used for communion in most United Churches is Welch's? It is appropriate since Dr. Charles Welch, a physician and dentist, developed pasteurized, and therefore non-fermented grape juice in the 1890's. His goal was to create an alcohol-free juice to be used in communion, for the benefit of teetotallers. It took a while to become popular but Prohibition gave it a big boost.

We have strong Methodist roots in the United Church and have officially frowned upon the consumption of alcoholic beverages in churches, including wedding receptions and other non-liturgical events.

So, we don't have to worry about the LCBO's new, stricter guidelines on communion wine and other alcoholic beverages used in religious ceremonies. I didn't realize that the rules were less stringent for religious organizations, but some unscrupulous enterpeneurs were taking advantage of the situation. Apparently the LCBO is going to keep a more careful eye on us.

Would you have a problem with real wine being used for communion? What about being served at other events (we would have to obtain a license.) No, I can't get you a case of vino at a discount!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Hall of Shame?

It's a sign of the times that last week the big sports story was the confession of a cheater. Mark McGuire, the single season home run record holder admitted that he used steroids and growth hormones during his most productive years in baseball. In his tearful admission he acknowledged that he took performance enhancing drugs to help overcome injuries and to justify his substantial salary. To be fair, no one seemed to care about the use of drugs for the longest time, as long as the athletes entertained us. We can be sure that the teams who employed them and league officials turned a blind eye to abuses.

The trouble is, McGuire's emotional admission seems to be too little too late. When he appeared before an inquiry five years ago he refused to say anything about his use of drugs, even as other players "came clean." Now he is willing to express his contrition. Why? Well, he is eligible for the Hall of Fame now and again this year he didn't come close to election despite his impressive career numbers. The suggestion is that McGuire and the office of Major League Baseball are working to refurbish the former star's image.

What do you think of this act of contrition? There is a long tradition in our faith of admitting our failings, of confession, formal or informal. And key tenets of Christianity are forgiveness and reconciliation.

Does this confession seem authentic, or a cynical attempt at self-promotion? Have we created a hero-worship culture that encourages cheating?

Do we have the right to judge?

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Blindside

Michael Oher is a young man who is being paid a lot of money to knock people down. He is a star player for the Baltimore Ravens football team and his job is to protect the quarterback. He does this very well. While he is playing right offensive tackle, he played on the left side in college, the blind side of a right-handed quarterback.

A couple of you mentioned seeing and enjoying the movie about his life called The Blind Side and so you probably feel very knowledgeable already! Oher was born into a family of twelve children and to a crack-addicted mother. By the time he was sixteen he had been in several foster homes and spent periods of time living on the street. The movie story focuses on the remarkable family who took Oher into their home and did everything possible to give him a chance to excel, which he has done. In the film Sandra Bullock plays the adoptive mom.

From what I can gather the film explores this special relationship, but not the school that first gave Oher a scholarship that allowed him the education he needed to get into college. It is Briarcrest Christian School, which offers academic excellence based on strong Christian values. It's motto is "With Man, All This Is Possible; With God, All Things Are Possible."

Maybe the makers of the movie felt that they should steer away from religion but don't you think it is good to give credit where credit is due? Whatever the case, it's good to hear about a young person who has overcome a miserable background to make life worthwhile.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Epiphany Explorations

I am in Victoria B.C. attending a conference called Epiphany Explorations held at First Metropolitan United Church. The United Church of Canada encourages its clergy to take three weeks of study time per year and while I have rarely used all three weeks I usually manage one or two.

Cathy and I are fortunate in that years ago an education fund was set up at St. Paul's in the name of Ed Schammerhorn, a former minister. In 2010 a little over $4000 will be available to us for spiritual education and growth programs. It has meant that I could spend time at the Taize Christian community in France, and take a course offered by Celtic Christianity specialist, Philip Newell, at Ghost Ranch centre in New Mexico. I have also had retreat time at other locations and I have never had to use any of the church budget amount for continuing education to do so.

This time I am in Victoria and avoided having to fly to the States where travel restrictions are very tight at the moment. Take a look at the agenda for the next few days. I look forward to filling you in on what I have heard and seen. You can bet I will get in a few walks by the ocean while I am here as well.
The logo for the conference is above. Here is the website

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

All Dogs Go To Heaven?

I don't like to admit it, but twenty first century Christianity can downright goofy. I read an article recently about a new pet care service which has been developed by atheists for End Times Christians. These Christians believe that Christ will return and only a select few true believers will be "raptured" away from Earth. Those left behind will have to take their lumps and of course heaven will only be for humans. So these atheist entrepeneurs wants to take care of the elects' pooches -- for a fee of course. Here is the promo on the website :

You've committed your life to Jesus. You know you're saved. But when the Rapture comes what's to become of your loving pets who are left behind? Eternal Earth-Bound Pets takes that burden off your mind.

We are a group of dedicated animal lovers, and atheists. Each Eternal Earth-Bound Pet representative is a confirmed atheist, and as such will still be here on Earth after you've received your reward. Our network of animal activists are committed to step in when you step up to Jesus.

I know pet owners who would rather be Left Behind than leave their companion animals. And don't we know that All Good Dogs Go To Heaven.

What is your "take" on this? Are Fluffy and Fido going with you? Do animals other that humans have souls?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Christ's People Now

I was moved on Sunday morning by the children of the congregation. I wanted to address the loss of life and devastation in Haiti but wasn't sure how. I asked the kids whether they had been watching the news this week. Yes they told me, so what had they heard and seen? They quickly told me about houses that been knocked down, and people who were missing, and family members in Canada waiting for news. Someone knew that the country is called Haiti.

I asked what we could do and one little girl told me that they are having a bake sale at her school to raise funds and others said that their families were giving money. I encouraged them to pray every day for the people of Haiti. I had our Jesus doll on my lap and I reminded the children that we can be Jesus' hands and feet through our love and care.

Later my wife, Ruth, told me that listening to the kids was a "holy moment." Their attentiveness and responses touched her as well. It was one of those moments when I was deeply aware that children aren't just "works in progress." They are spiritual people and Christ's people now.

Monday, January 18, 2010


Last year on this date I was driving north on the highway between Albuquerque New Mexico and the Ghost Ranch retreat centre in the hills closer to the Colorado border. I was clipping along at 75 to 80 miles an hour but everyone was passing me on the straight, flat stretch leading to Sante Fe.

I listened to a program on Martin Luther King Jr. because it was the public holiday in his honour in the States. It was obvious that at least on National Public Radio Dr. King was regarded with great respect. I have read a biography of King that I revisit from time to time and I see him as one of the great Christian figures of the 20th century despite his personal failings. We don't make saints in the Protestant tradition but he is a remarkable example of adherence to Christian principles despite the personal cost.

One thoughtful commentator wonders why we focus on certain catch phrases from Dr. King's speeches, ignoring others. He points to words near the beginning of the "I Have a Dream" address, delivered more than 45 years ago:

"America has given the Negro people a bad check which has come back marked 'insufficient funds.' But we refuse to believe the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation."

It could be argued that the current president, Barack Obama, is the fruition of this steadfast hope, although there is still a long way to go.

What are your thoughts about the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr? Is his oratory still powerful half a century later? Should he matter all that much to Canadians?

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Refugee Bishop

What a wonderful story this past week about the installation of the newest and youngest bishop in Canada. Vincent Nguyen was a teenager when he fled Vietnam, in part because of the persecution of Christians in that country. He was truly a boat person, escaping in a small boat with other family members. His dream as a child was to be a priest, and not only did he realize that dream, he is now an auxiliary bishop for Scarborough and the Durham region in which many of us live.

He is the first Roman Catholic bishop in Canada of Asian background and at age forty three the youngest ever in our country. According to the reports about last Wednesday's installation, more than a thousand people gathered to celebrate this landmark event. For Nguyen the most significant attendees were members of his family who came from Viet Nam, including six of his siblings.

Aren't you glad to see the legacy of our welcome of the so-called Boat People in the 1980's? So many Canadians were hospitable, including many church groups. United Church congregations were among the sponsors during that period, including St. Paul's.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Blessing of the Gadgets

When we lived in Newfoundland decades ago we became aware of the annual blessing of the fleet. It was a rare ecumenical event to bless the fishing boats at the beginning of the season. It was kind of cool for a mainlander to be somewhere that such a traditional industry of the sea could be so important.

There are other traditional blessing ceremonies, such as the blessing of the ploughs in agricultural areas.

And there has been a revival of the lovely tradition of blessing the animals in many faith communities.

So, a British pastor has begun blessing cell phones, smart phones, laptops, and other gadgets. Really. Honestly it doesn't have the same cachet as these other blessings, as far as I'm concerned. Surely the blessing will only be good for a few months before it is obsolete, just like the electronic equipment itself.

The idea has always been to bring before God the instruments humans use for work and bless them as a sign that any and all vocations can be sacred.

What's your opinion on this one. Are you a luddite who already feels these gizmos are the "work of the devil" or do you like the idea? After all a tradition is any action you do more than once.

Friday, January 15, 2010

True Heroes

As I prepare this week's message on false gods and idolatry as part of our series on the Ten Commandments I keep thinking about the reports from Haiti. I have actually been fighting back the tears as I hear about the dead and the suffering and I'm reminded that we choose to forget about those who are the least of this world until catastrophe strikes.

I am also thinking about those we tend to idolize in our society, often those who become important in our eyes because they are physically beautiful or can entertain us for what is usually a fleeting moment.

Shouldn't we admire, although not idolize, those who have served in places of poverty and need, such as Haiti, working faithfully and diligently without reward other than caring for others? We have heard about a Canadian nurse serving with a Christian mission who was killed within a couple of hours of arriving in Haiti, although this was not her first trip, as you can see from the photo above. I listened to an interview with a Salvation Army officer who with his wife is doing his best to aid the people they work with on a daily basis. He admitted that during the past couple of days he has worked so hard that he doesn't have time to ponder what has unfolded until he lies down at night in the courtyard of their damaged buildings. He is surrounded by those who have lost everything and it is hard not to overwhelmed.

These are the people who are the true heroes of our world and we should uphold them in prayer. God bless them.

Any thoughts about what you are seeing, feeling? How are you responding?

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Haiti By the Numbers

Pray! Give!

Haiti was established as the first black nation two centuries ago, and was a haven for former slaves. It occupies the western one-third of the Caribbean island of Hispaniola, with the Dominican Republican occupying the east. Though rich in history, French-speaking Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, hampering its ability to recover from natural disasters. The numbers tell a story:

Percentage of the population living below the poverty line
Percentage of the population living in abject poverty
Haiti's population as of July 2009 was just over nine million
Population density per square kilometre
Median age
Life expectancy at birth
80 out of 1,000
Children die before the age of five

Serving God and the Bishop

One of our daughters gave me The Bishop's Man for Christmas, a novel written by journalist Linden MacIntyre. It was the surprise winner of the Giller Prize, although once I read it I could understand why it was chosen.

I must confess to a positive bias as soon as I started reading because it is set in a part of Cape Breton I could picture. Breathtaking and harsh landscape. The bishop's man of the title is a priest who has been chosen to address awkward and potentially litigious situations. He does this work for years without giving much thought to his role, nor can he be recognized because of the delicate nature of his work.

This novel is beautifully written with many lovely turns-of-phrase and insightful passages. It explores the disturbing desire of the Roman Catholic to mask situations of abuse and scandal through the years. But it is not heavy-handed. In fact, it helps the reader to see that not all is as it seems in terms of our opinions about priests, and anyone in religious leadership, for that matter. And that serving religious authority is not the same as serving God, although differentiating between the two can become confusing.

I would certainly recommend The Bishop's Man. Has anyone else read it? Do you plan to read it?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Haiti in Crisis

Most of us know by now that the Caribbean nation of Haiti has been devastated by an earthquake. Haiti is the poorest nation in the Americas and has been made even more destitute by this catastrophe. We have so little information about the number of casualties but it doesn't seem unreasonable to speak of thousands of deaths. In the capital, Port au Prince, at least one hospital, the presidential palace, the UN headquarters, and the Roman Catholic cathedral have crumbled. The head of the UN delegation died. A Canadian nurse who arrived only hours before the quake to work with a Christian organization was killed.
There is a strong Canadian connection with Haiti. Governor-General Michäelle Jean was born there and had an anxious night, attempting to reach family. There are more than 100,000 Haitian Canadians in the province of Quebec.

The United Church of Canada has already begun working with its church partners in Haiti. The moderator, Mardi Tindal, is inviting us to contribute to the United Church emergency relief fund. I hope your prayers will take the form of financial aid for this beleaguered nation. Read below about how the United Church responds to emergency situations.

Jesus was a Refugee

Jesus was a refugee. The verses in Matthew's gospel which tell us that Mary and Joseph and the young Jesus fled Herod's wrath and ended up in Egypt are often cited to encourage a sympathetic outlook toward refugees.

Canada has a reputation for relatively lax or generous refugee laws depending on your outlook, although there is regular criticism from advocacy groups, including coalitions of churches, which suggest that our laws are unevenly applied. Canada is a country many would love to make their home, despite our winter weather, mosquitoes, and our professional sports teams.

What if millions of people were aggressively trying to gain access to Canada because of environmental catastrophes? The creation of millions of environmental refugees because of what we call natural disasters is already happening. People, usually the poor, are being displaced in huge numbers and while they usually end up in a neighbouring country all that could change. We probably imagine that we are protected by oceans, but desparate circumstances result in displaced peoples taking great risks. It isn't just weather disasters that create refugees. Land degradation and overpopulation push people out of their traditional homelands.

I wonder how we will respond to these environmental refugees? Should churches develop strategies for refugee response, or is that the work of governments? We already consider claims on the basis of religious or political persecution. What about environmental causes?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Command(ment) Performance

Sand Sculpture Commandments

On Sunday I began a six-week series on the Ten Commandments. Yes I know that six divided by ten doesn't work well, but I figured we could hit at least five of the ten. The lectionary never spends more than one week at a time on the commandments, so what can a preacher say in a single shot?

I invited the congregation to fill in a little ballot, for want of a better term, to direct us toward the commandments of greatest interest. Exactly one hundred people took up the challenge, which pleased me. The number one choice was (drum roll please) Don't Bear False Witness. Number two was Don't Covet. Number three was Honour Your Parents. Number four? Remember the Sabbath.

Now, number five is tricky, because there was almost equal representation for No False Gods, No Idols, No Wrongful Use of God's Name. I may group these together, or at least two.

Don't Murder got the least "votes," followed by Don't Steal and Don't Commit Adultery. Maybe people figure they have heard too much about adultery lately!

Do these results surprise you? I was certainly intrigued that "don't bear false witness" got the most attention. While I will begin with God, I look forward to all of them.

The best way to hear these sermons will be in person, but you can always read them at the St. Paul's website.

Monday, January 11, 2010

God's Winter World

I keep hearing the warnings and complaints regarding the bitter cold. It seems to me that we are experiencing is January in Canada. Ask the people out west about real cold. They have been in the deep freeze for weeks with daytime highs the equivalent of our nightime lows.

We have been getting out for walks fairly regularly and I love what I see in the winter. There are tracks plainly visible which require a much more attentive eye in the summer. Yesterday we saw the clear imprint of wings in the snow, probably an owl, with a small spot of blood in the centre. Some hapless creature provided dinner for an aerial predator (click on the photo, which is not mine.)
At the edge of Lake Ontario there are interesting ice formations that are constantly changing. Near Second Marsh folk have cleared the pond and a gang was out skating.This is still God's wondrous world, it just takes on a different appearance at this time of year.

I am reading a book called Winter World by biologist Bernd Heinrich. I have come to the conclusion that many field biologists are cheerfully insane. They tramp around in wild places and are so focussed on their work they put up with all manner of discomfort and privation. In the book Heinrich explores how tiny birds such as kinglets and chickadees manage to survive conditions which would kill us off in hours. I love being introduced to the sheer complexity of our northern ecosystem, even at a time of the year when we assume life is "on hold."
Are you cocooning these days, or have you ventured out?

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Blast from the Past

Art Clokey has died at the age of 88. Now you ask, who is Art Clokey. I am relieved to tell you that he not a member of St. Paul's. Clokey was the creator of Gumby, the highly flexible...thingy...creature...what was Gumby? Along with Pokey, his sidekick, Gumby was a staple of kid's TV in the fifties and sixties. Remember the bendable figures that could be found in every toy box? Then the pair made a comeback in the eighties as the original episodes were re-aired. Clokey was really the original "claymation" guy.
He was also a Christian, and some of you may remember another series, Davey and Goliath, which ran for several seasons in the sixties. Davey was a boy and Goliath was his dog who could talk. "Oh Davey" was his familiar call. The program was sponsored by the Lutheran church in the States to offer faith-based programming to the general public. There were also Christmas and Easter TV specials. Times have changed.

Lo and behold, Davey and Goliath live on. A publisher still puts out several Davey and Goliath books every year.

Some of my younger readers are going "huh?" but do any of you remember these two shows? I must confess that I do.
Hey, this blog serves up a bit of everything.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

The Ultimate Plan

I have a funeral today and another on Monday. Five in two weeks is the most I have ever had to do in such a limited timespan in all of my ministry. Listen up people -- everybody keep breathing!

I thought about two of the situations where the individuals who died were about 90 years old. Both were well known to me and the arrangements were made by loving and supportive children. The situations are so similar that the remains of both will be buried in the same cemetery come Spring.

One daughter is an active church member, although not here, and "knows the drill." Still she was so exhausted in her grief that making decisions about the service were very difficult. She admitted that she was having difficulty focussing on hymns and scripture readings and other details. In the end we figured it out.

In the other situation the daughter is not a churchgoer and confessed that she wasn't really all that aware of protocol, at least as a planner. But her mother had written down what she wanted in her service, and gave it to the daughter, so when we met she handed me the piece of paper with the information.

These contrasts were another reminder of the importance of planning ahead. I notice that a lot of people have wills, name executors, and even pre-pay for their funerals. Yet they leave no instructions about the actual service. In the two cases I mention there was a lot of respect and desire to make the service meaningful. Unfortunately others take the "let's get er over" approach and leave everything to the clergy.

What are your thoughts? Have you written down instructions for your funeral? One of our daughters asked about us, and we had to admit we haven't yet. Why don't we? Do most of us feel too young to do this?
Please do it!

Friday, January 08, 2010

Rising Tide

I keep thinking about the nine or ten people I visited leading up to Christmas who are living with various aspects of dementia. Some are simply not able to recognize even those they have loved for a lifetime, nor can they carry out basic functions. Others give the appearance of normalcy and can carry on a lively conversation until they begin to repeat what they said only a few minutes before.

In one of the private nursings homes we have three elderly women, all with dementia, only one of whom is aware of her affliction. One of the others tells me anxiously, over and over, about the tragic death of her sister as though it happened recently. It was decades ago.

I have admitted before that I sometimes wonder about the point of these visits. I read the Christmas story and prayed with the individuals, but what do they comprehend? I am no saint when it comes to this, yet in the end I have a deep feeling that each of them deserves to be treated as a human being loved by God, not as a shell from which the soul has departed.

A few days ago we heard reports about a new study called Rising Tide --The Impact of Alzheimer's on Canadian Society which offers a grim picture of growing numbers of those affected by this disease and other forms of dementia. It is one of the realities of longevity. Our healthcare system allows people to live longer but not necessarily better. Every five minutes someone in Canada develops dementia.

I hope that the church in its various expressions can find the ways to offer solace and support to both those who are ill and those who provide care.I wonder what this ministry will look like and who will provide it with many mainline churches becoming oldline and shrinking. I suppose we hope and pray that God will be in the midst of this.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Northern Exposure

Some crazy young religious extremist climbs on a plane with the goal of slaughtering innocent passengers and suddenly our world is thrown into terrorism alert once again. I'll tell you, if I was carrying explosives ( I have not, nor will I ever!) I wouldn't hide them in my underwear, just in case it didn't work. There's a scar you wouldn't want.

There are so many aspects to this story. Do you notice that Christians did not take to the streets in their thousands to protest this heinous act attempted on the day we celebrate our saviour's birth?

It's the aftermath that I find really intriguing. Now we will have even more stringent security measures which may include full body scans. Some people say "no problem" while others are deeply offended at the notion of airport employees looking at their "wobbly bits" to quote Bridget Jones. I couldn't care less, or at least that's what I think sitting at my computer. Modesty might kick in as I pass through the pearly gates.

My warped brain went to the Genesis story of Adam and Eve. They were fine with being naked until they were tempted to eat of the forbidden fruit. Suddenly they were reaching for the fig leaves rather than the figs. I wonder if it just a figment (sorry) of our imaginations that we can cover up, whether physically or psychologically or spiritually. We think we have covered up the lumps and bumps and don't want to be exposed.

What do you think about the airport scanners? What about the other aspects of hiddenness? Are you a private person or an open book? Is it none of my business?

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Star of Wonder

Today marks the end of the season of Christmas, twelve days in length, and the Day of Epiphany in the Christian year. Some traditions make more of a fuss over Epiphany than others, with worship services honouring the Magi or "Wise Guys" who arrived in Bethlehem in search of an auspicious child. The pope said a mass today in Rome, kissing a few babies for good measure.

The story is only in Matthew of the four gospels and it tells us that they followed a star from somewhere in the east. Scholars figure that these mysterious travellers were an elite group of the Zoroastrian religion, who used a combination of astrology and astronomy to connect with the divine.

Interesting that seekers from one religion, Zoroastrianism, found a child born into the Jewish faith, who become the founder of yet another religion, Christianity. Maybe Epiphany should be a day to reflect on the religious diversity of our world and the importance of the contributions of different traditions. Suspicion and hatred fueled by religion continues to be a major problem.

I wonder why we need to denigrate other religions in order to uphold our own?

Tuesday, January 05, 2010


We went to see Avatar on the weekend with friends. We had advance tickets and arrived early, yet the theatre was still close to full when we got there.

The movie is visually spectacular, although I got a touch of seasickness with the 3D technology. Even those who love the film admit that the plot is weak -- nasty humans leave the Earth they have ruined and colonize an edenic planet (Pandora) with humanoid creatures called the Na'vi that have learned to live in harmony with all other living things. One of the bad guys becomes a good guy when he lives with the Na'vi through an avatar. He also falls for the tough but hot Na'vi princess. Bad guys decide to smack down good guys to get more "unobtainium" (pulleeze!) and mighty battle ensues. One reviewer suggests that it is essentially Dances With Wolves In Space.

Would I recommend it? Honestly who cares what I think --resistance is futile, to quote from another space cowboy series. The experience of the 3D is worth it in itself. My wife Ruth observed, rightly I figure, that people still crave spiritual meaning and Avatar serves up a dose of it. We were in the church of cinema on a Sunday evening and the congregation was packed in there. Pandora even has a monumental tree of souls, which sounds a lot like the biblical tree of life to me.

So what did those of you who have seen it think Are others planning to go?

Monday, January 04, 2010

Quality of Life

A decade ago we marked the new millenium by ringing the bell at the church I served in the heart of Halifax. A reporter from Maclean's magazine got wind of this and included it in the next issue which looked at what communities did across the country to mark the occasion. We were pleased. Our twelve and fourteen year old daughters were mortified. Now the whole country knew they were losers, spending New Year's Eve with their parents!

Where did that decade go? This morning the CBC asked people on the street if they were better off now than a decade ago. Some said no, because the economy stinks. One young woman said yes because of texting and Facebook. Hmm. A couple said yes, because they are healthy and fed and blessed by family.

Of course we all have different "Quality of Life" indexes. I wonder if we measure wellbeing differently because we are Christians? Gratitude and appreciation of life aren't necessarily dependent on faith of any kind, but we might assume that our relationship with God makes a difference. During the past decade my father died and there have been other situations which have been "less than optimal" in my life. Yet I am grateful to God for so much.

What would your answer be? I suppose I'm asking what that answer is!

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Making Peace with Creation in 2010

As you know, Pope Benedict and I don't often see eye to eye, although the word out there is that he is not concerned about my opinion of him.

I wasn't sure what to think after hearing about his New Year's message. He called for respect amongst all peoples, regardless of nationality and colour (religion too?) He expressed concern for the children of the world affected by violence and war. And he offered that peace in our world requires us to also make peace with and protect creation. To these themes I can say yes, yes, and yes. What's not to like here?

The call for respect of the natural world follows up on a December 8th message on World Peace Day entitled "If you want to cultivate peace, protect creation. In it he says

"Respect for creation is of immense consequence, not least because “creation is the beginning and the foundation of all God’s works”, and its preservation has now become essential for the pacific coexistence of mankind. Man’s inhumanity to man has given rise to numerous threats to peace and to authentic and integral human development – wars, international and regional conflicts, acts of terrorism, and violations of human rights. Yet no less troubling are the threats arising from the neglect – if not downright misuse – of the earth and the natural goods that God has given us. For this reason, it is imperative that mankind renew and strengthen “that covenant between human beings and the environment, which should mirror the creative love of God, from whom we come and towards whom we are journeying”.

Now if he could use the term "humankind" I would be downright happy.

What do you think of the pope's themes for this year?

Friday, January 01, 2010

House Cleaning

Happy New Year good reader! Since some of you were kind enough to read and respond on Christmas, Day I'll muse a bit this morning as well.

I'm aware that in some cultures the beginning of the New Year is a time for literal housekeeping and turfing out unnecessary stuff. One tradition encourages throwing it out a window!

I wonder if there is a spiritual equivalent. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus invites us to live simply and forgiveness was a recurring theme in his teaching. Are the lingering resentments piling up around us? Are we so "stuff" focussed that it blocks our spiritual view?

As you enter the New Year, do you have any spiritual resolutions about simplying your life or letting go of past wrongs ? Letting go of worries? How do you hope God will be with you in 2010?

Thanks again for reading and reflecting.