Wednesday, March 31, 2010

A Last Supper

I came across the work of an artist I had never heard of before, a French painter now living in the States names Jean-Claude Gaugy. In Sante Fe New Mexico he has created a gallery which is 400 panels but really one massive painting. According to accounts some find this deeply moving, others suffocating because of its scope. What you see above is just a small portion of both the Last Supper and the entire installation.

As we approach Maundy Thursday (tomorrow at 7:00 pm) I think of what we will do, setting up the front of the sanctuary with a table. Our colours are rather sombre. His are bold and vibrant. It sure ain't Da Vinci's Last Supper.

If I do attend my conference at Ghost Ranch in June I will fly into Sante Fe. Perhaps I can arrange my return flight to allow a visit to the gallery.

What do you think of this? Intriguing or off-putting?

Tuesday, March 30, 2010


The Jewish Passover or Pesach begins today and continue until April 5th. As you can see, this year Passover and the events of Christian Holy Week and Easter correspond. They often do, so when we come together for Maundy Thursday we listen to the passages which describe th events of God's angel of death "passing over" the enslaved people of Israel before their departure to freedom in the land promised to them. Christians speak of a different sort of deliverance in Christ, and the passover meal, or seder, Jesus shared with his disciples is our eucharist or communion.

I was interested to hear of a different aspect of Passover this year in the form of The Global Seder to Fight Hunger. It is a charitable effort to feed those who are impoverished in various places in the world:

This Passover, while we are fortunate enough to celebrate the holiday with family and friends, for many thousands of Jews in Toronto and around the world there is little to celebrate. They simply do not have food for the holiday and will have no Passover without your help.

UJA’s Global Seder to Fight Hunger - it’s as if you’re opening the door to your home, and inviting extended family to your seder table! At the end of your meal you will feel comforted to know that other less fortunate have benefited from your generosity.

By giving just $30, one person will enjoy the Passover we, as Jews, deserve. For $100, you’ll be ensuring that a family or a group of vulnerable seniors, celebrate Passover as they should.

This is a good reminder that virtually every religion encourages compassion and generosity for and with the marginalized.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Super-sized Supper

Last week sometime reader Joe sent me a link to a BBC article about the Last Supper. It referred to a study of paintings through the ages, indicating that the depicted portion sizes of the supper have grown steadily over time. Our email banter about the article included my suggestion that we now call it the All-You-Can-Eat Mandarin Last Buffet. The day after Joe's alert similar articles were everywhere. Here is one example:

Over the last 1,000 years, the portions and plates depicted in 52 paintings of the last meal Jesus ate with his Apostles have grown bigger and bigger, finds a study to be published in the April issue of The International Journal of Obesity. From dishes to bread to entrees, it’s all been supersized, according to findings by marketing professor Brian Wansink of Cornell University and his brother, Craig Wansink, an ordained minister and professor of religious studies at Virginia Wesleyan College.

Hm. At least this study reminds us that the Last Supper was a meal, a seder meal marking pesach, the Jewish Passover. When we gather on Maundy Thursday we will sit at a table with chunks of bread and several chalices. It will be our attempt to remember a meal which provided both spiritual and physical sustenance.

What is your reaction to this "super-sizing" revelation? Do you attend a Maundy Thursday service? Does it help that ours has an invitation to an actual table? Will you over-eat?

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Judas and Jesus

Today is Palm Sunday and I will speak about the role Judas plays in the great drama which begins with the parade into Jerusalem and concludes with Good Friday. He is, of course, the betrayer of Jesus and has been reviled through the centuries for his treachery.

In preparation I read a relatively recently published book by Susan Gubar called Judas: A Biography. She willingly admits that there is little in the New Testament about Judas as a fully realized human being and only 22 references in all. Still, she offers a fascinating look at the man who is portrayed as a villain for most of church history but is given a more sympathetic treatment by a few. An African American poet, George Marion McClellan wrote a poem called The Feet of Judas with the stanza

If we have ever felt the wrong,
of trampled right, of cast, it matters not.
What e'er the soul has felt or suffered long,
Oh, heart! This one thing should not be forgot:
Christ washed the feet of Judas!

What is your impression of Judas? Villain? Misunderstood? Do we concede that there is a bit of Judas in all of us?

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Opening the Door

I can't get a visit I made last week out of my head. I stopped at a Courtice nursing home on my way home from a meeting in Oshawa to see a nice old guy who I visit two or three times a year.

Approaching ninety he is friendly and affable and always glad that I show up. But we don't have a whole lot to talk about. He is quite content where he lives and has convinced the administration to let him have a tiny garden just outside his window. Once we get past "tomato talk" and the state of his ticker we really don't have much to say. While many visits with others are an hour or more in duration, with him it tends to be twenty minutes, a prayer, and out the door.

This time was different. After I prayed and I was ready to make my exit he told me that the coming Saturday was the anniversary of his wife's death. I realized that he was emotional as he shared this with me, and I was surprised, only because he is unrelentingly upbeat, always smiling and chuckling. That is not him above (stock photo) but it could be in terms of the cheerfullness. But we were in new territory here.

It turns out that this was the twenty-fifth anniversary of her death. They married, each for the first time, in their forties and were together only nineteen years. It struck me though, that she was the love of his life and he still felt the loss deeply after a quarter of a century.

So, I am glad I stopped in, even though I figured it was going to be "same old, same old." I would like to think that God wanted me there in that moment. He has no surviving family and has outlived most friends. It seemed to be the prayer that opened the door to deeper sharing, and it was important that our discussion happened. At least that's how I see it.

Friday, March 26, 2010


One of the subjects chosen by the congregation for our Ten Commandments series was "you shall not covet or crave" so I was intrigued by an article in the Toronto Star earlier this week about a family in Alberta which took on the challenge of not buying anything new for an entire year. What began as a simple family project became a blog and a popular Facebook page. Their boys are pictured above.

The family had three admirable goals:

1) delaying gratification to help us determine what we really need or want, and how we can find creative ways to acquire those things without further harming the resources of the earth.
2) teaching our children the value of things, dollars, opportunities, and choices.
3) to find out if having less IS having more.

I mention from time to time that according to the gospels Jesus spent a lot more time talking about what we do with money and the importance of simplicity than he ever did talking about sex, but in a materialistic culture we tend to ignore this part of his message.

Have you ever made a goal of living more simply? How did you do? Do you ever feel uncomfortable with the amount of stuff you have accumulated? (I do!) What do we need to do to beat our addictions? Any suggestions for simplifying?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Earth Hour 2010

I am writing about Earth Hour today, to give a little reminder that between eight thirty and nine thirty this Saturday night we are all invited to shut down our use of electricity as much as possible.

While it is a symbolic gesture, it is also a nudge to consume less energy in an age when we are so dependent on fossil fuels and electricity to make our lives "go." It's also my way of letting readers who are teachers tell us what is happening in schools to promote this. In the last couple of years I have been impressed by the emphasis in school boards.

This past Sunday we had a note in the bulletin and I brought Earth Hour to people's attention. Last year we chose not to use projection on the following Sunday morning, lowered the lights, didn't use the organ. This year it will be Palm Sunday and our needs will be a little different.

Will you observe Earth Hour this year? Are you wondering why we bother, given the fact that it is a "drop in the bucket?" Have you made any choices at home which have changed your levels of consumption of electricity? Are you resigned to waiting until your children leave home?

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Sunday Door Dance

I went looking for a photo of a pastor or priest shaking hands at the church door and I got a kick out of this one. Is that a church warden with a basket for the offering in the foreground? Maybe he's working on a second round for those who weren't generous during the worship service.

That business of shaking hands as people depart is an odd tradition: "good morning, good morning, good morning..." For a number of weeks we didn't shake hands at all because of H1N1 but I was still at the door: "good morning, good morning, good morning..."
While at times it seems rather odd, it has it's place. This past Sunday I had several brief but important conversations. One with a good friend of a woman who was recently widowed. We quickly touched base on the contact she had this past week with her bereaved friend. Another with the sister-in-law of a woman who is drifting into dementia. It happened that we were both at the nursing home at the same time a few days ago and it seemed as though the affected woman really didn't know me. The sister-in-law told me that after I left the woman in the bed spoke of me by name, so she obviously comes and goes from reality. And there was a relative newcomer to worship who demonstrated he was paying attention to the sermon, making a comment.

These are hardly the ideal circumstances to chat, with the line-up behind, but there are still opportunities to connect. Sometimes it is my fleeting moment to ask about an absent family member -- it turns out one guy missing on Sunday has been working plenty of overtime so his wife was there alone, while another man told me that his absent wife isn't doing well in her struggle with cancer.

What do you think about the "door dance?" Would you ever share anything personal as you shuffle by?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

More Water

Reader Nancy and I both heard the same CBC Radio reference to a website this morning related to World Water Week. However she followed up and offered the link in a comment on today's earlier blog. Check these photos out. Remarkable.

World Water Day

It looks as though I will attend a conference in June on the theme of water. The leaders will include religious leaders who will ponder water as a spiritual theme and a justice issue, along with people with a scientific focus on the diminishing availability of fresh water. I am excited about the people who lead, including Larry Rasmussen, and musician Marty Haugen. But the setting will be as important as the leadership team. This is offered at Ghost Ranch in New Mexico, an extremely arid place in the high desert, although the incredible rock formations were shaped by water millenia ago. Water is a precious commodity in desert regions and in the United States it is rationed and traded. Most lakes, including the one pictured above near Ghost Ranch are actually human-created reservoirs.

Yesterday was World Water Day and we had reminders about how precious water is around the world.While this appears to be a watery planet, approximately 1.1 billion people do not have access to clean water. Thousands die every year because of the diseases transmitted through dirty drinking water.

When I walk along the shore of Lake Ontario, I am aware that I wouldn't dip a cup into the water for a drink. Even in this land of lakes and rivers there aren't many places left where the water is pristine.

Do you think we take our abundant somewhat fresh water for granted in Canada? Do you feel there is a spiritual quality to water?

Monday, March 22, 2010


Yesterday in worship the person "on deck" to do the prayers of the people included the United States as an historic vote was about to take place. It was the health care bill proposed by President Obama and the Democrats, although some members of his party did not support it. The bill passed by a narrow margin -- 219 to 212 -- but it now means that over 30 million vulnerable, uninsured Americans will receive health coverage and tens of millions more will no longer live in fear that health coverage will be cancelled because, illogically, they are sick.

It seems symbolically appropriate that this bill was passed on a Sunday for a number of reasons. Jesus was a healer and the States is a country that claims a high allegiance to Christ. And the God of Old and New Testaments is the God of the poor and the vulnerable. Some are comparing this bill to the Civil Rights bill, a historic issue of justice.

I was still disturbed by the powerful and often hysterical resistance. And the unapologetic selfishness expressed as "the American Way." There were professionally printed signs saying This is America! We don't redistribute wealth, We earn it! In other words, what's mine is mine, and to hell with the poor. Surely this is not what it means to be American?

Do you think this was a historic moment? Will this be Obama's legacy, or his undoing? Do you feel our Canadian system is more "Christian" even though we are a less religious nation?

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Jesus the Jew

One of the disturbing aspects of Christian history around Easter was the persecution of Jews. Through the centuries Jewish residents of European towns were persecuted during Holy Week as "Christ killers." This hatred was often stirred up by local clergy. In the years leading up to WW2 some Lutherans in Germany were incited to violence against their Jewish neighbours.

The long history of religious anti-Semitism is barely comprehensible, especially since Jesus was a Jew, as were his disciples, and the apostle Paul. While Paul is arguably the founder of what we call Christianity, he never condemned those with whom he had shared a faith.

This was all brought to mind by the news of the recent conviction of two brothers in Poland who stole the sign for the Auschwitz concentration camp back in December of 2009. The theft was related to anti-Semitism and a grim reminder that we need to regularly remind ourselves that hatred directed toward any group is inconsistent with the gospel of Jesus the Christ and the Jew from Nazareth.

Any thoughts?

Friday, March 19, 2010

Making This Blog Better

I have been enjoying the comments from readers in recent days...well, always! This blog would be the poorer without the comments section. And along with the comments there are often references to music, art, literature, movies, websites which can enrich the rest of us.

From yesterday's blog on oceans Johnny made mention of the Save our Seas Foundation. Check out the website by clicking

Laurie made reference to a favourite poem called Sea Fever:

I must down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by,
And the wheel's kick and the wind's song and the white sail's shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea's face, and a grey dawn breaking.
I must down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume,
and the sea-gulls crying.

I must down to the seas again, to the vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull's way and the whale's way where the wind's like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick's over.

By John Masefield (1878-1967).(English Poet Laureate, 1930-1967.)

I particularly like the second stanza.

The other day Deb told us she was off to a concert by musician Kate Rusby. Here is Kate's website

Keep the comments coming, and those of you who tell me that you appreciate the comments but don't write -- come over to the dark side!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

One Ocean

I am an ocean junkie. Every year for the past dozen or so years I have visited an ocean at least once and I can never get enough. It took me a long time to realize how complex and diverse and vast the undersea world is but I have become increasingly fascinated by this aspect of the planet God has brought into being. Whether it is snooping around in the coral of the Caribbean with mask and snorkel, or being surprised by seals or porpoises while kayaking in the Atlantic, or walking a beach by the Pacific, I have learned that oceans are extraordinary.

Tonight there will be another episode in the CBC Nature of Things series called One Ocean. Last week we were taken to New Zealand to hear about and see an encouraging project to create marine protected areas, something along the lines of national parks only underwater. They have been remarkably successful and varied species have returned to these areas in abundance.

A scientist who has been involved in this work for years observed that people will ask him what the minimum area is necessary to protect species viability, and he responds by asking what the minimum amount of food would be to feed our children in order to keep them alive. Of course we want our children to thrive, not just survive, so what about other species?

You will know by now that I believe that "to live with respect in Creation" (a line in the United Church creed) is an essential aspect of the Christian life. And oceans must be respected, as well as forests and fields.

Have you had positive experiences at or on the oceans? Do you feel we do enough to protect them? Is is part of our Christian calling to protect them?

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Celtic Christianity

For me St. Patrick's Day is always a reminder of the Celtic Christian tradition which has been rekindled and redisovered in recent years. It is a creative, earth-honouring, less hierarchical approach to the community of faith which is so old that is new again.

I like the prayers and blessings which were created for every aspect of life, a willingness to find the holy and extraordinary in the midst of the mundane and ordinary. Below is a portion of a "hatching prayer" which caught my attention after seeing the chickens of our friends on the weekend and enjoying the eggs we purchased from them since our return.

I Will rise early on the morning of Monday,
I will sing my rune and rhyme,
I will go sunwise with my cog
To the nest of my hen with sure intent.
I will place my left hand to my breast,
My right hand to my heart,
I will seek the loving wisdom of Him
Abundant in grace, in broods, and in flocks.
I will close my two eyes quickly,
As in blind-man's buff moving slowly;
I will stretch my left hand over thither
To the nest of my hen on yonder side.

Do you recognize St. Patrick's Day in any way? Anything Irish? A prayer or a pint of Guiness, or both?

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Has Spring Sprung?

It wasn't that long ago when I asked if the change of seasons was a gift from God and something you enjoyed. I think it was November and several of the responses enthusiastically anticipated the Winter that never really arrived. Now we are a few days from the official beginning of Spring.

We were away for the weekend, visiting long-time friends whose farm in about an hour and a half north of Kingston. When we arrived Friday evening they were weary because of a slight miscalculation. They figured their ram's hard work would pay off in the form of lambs through this week. But on Friday ten entered this life a few days ahead of schedule, with the ewes doing the work now. Our daughter Emily joined us for the weekend and was delighted to hold a lamb only a few hours old.

There were other signs of Spring. Red-winged blackbirds were calling from the edge of the river which runs through their property. Ruth and Emily went out with Ellen to collect eggs which the chickens stop laying for a couple of months in the gloomiest part of Winter. And we went down the road to a neighbour who has one of the largest maple syrup operations in Ontario. The mild weather has meant an early start and long days for the owners. We bought syrup which came directly from the vat pictured above.

Spring always makes me feel more hopeful and I am grateful to the Creator for the evidence of renewed life. Even though Lent is a sombre season in the Christian year the name Lent refers to lengthening days, which I love.

What are the signs that tell you Spring has sprung?

Monday, March 15, 2010

Mercy Killing

Tomorrow the subject of euthanasia will be debated again in the Canadian house of commons. A private members bill to legalize what is sometimes called "mercy killing" will be addressed. There are jurisdictions around the world where euthanasia is legal, including the state of Oregon in the US and the Netherlands. The practice has become much more widespread in the Netherlands during its thirty-year existence, moving from an option for the terminally ill to a variety of instances. One of the people responsible for the legislation there now has misgivings about the broadening of application.

Most Christian denominations are either opposed to or very cautious about euthanasia because of a commitment to the sanctity of life and concerns that abuses could take place. I did a paper on the subject many moons ago while in seminary and became aware then that a significant number of people desire euthanasia, not because of physical pain, but because they become isolated from others in their illnesses or feel that they are a burden to family. While distraught family members or the individual who is ill will make comments such as "we wouldn't make a dog suffer like this" the dynamics of our human relationships and our awareness of suffering and death are different. There is no simple or simplistic answer to this challenging ethical dilemma.

While I believe strongly in the provision of palliative care and accept that death is inevitable for us all, I have always been opposed to legalized euthanasia. I will point out that I have walked through the valley of the shadow of death with people many times through the years and rarely felt much differentl, although there have been a few occasions. Here is ethicist Margaret Somerville's outlook on euthanasia from today's Globe and Mail.

What are your thoughts about the bill, and this subject in general?

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Everything Changes

Because dynamite can't be used to demolish a building in New York City, the old Yankee Stadium, "the house that Babe Ruth built" is coming down slowly but surely. Despite the vaunted reputation of this baseball stadium it has already been replaced at a nearby location. Once the site has been cleared it will be home to several ball fields for community use, and walking paths.

I have no doubt purists have lamented the destruction of this iconic facility but tends to be the way for old buildings. The venerable Maple Leaf Gardens gave way to the Air Canada Centre and is now being converted into a multiple-use facility. The world will go on.

I wish we could take a similar approach with our church buildings. Not all of them, of course. Some are examples of exceptional architecture from a period and should be preserved. But many are fairly generic and meant to be utilitarian. They may be dedicated to the service of God, but when circumstances change then they can actually be a millstone around a struggling congregation's neck. There are congregations in Oshawa Presbytery that are in the process of disbanding and the properties will be sold. I wish that we could be farsighted enough to consider the amalgamations and re-configurations necessary to create vital congregations rather than waiting out a slow and often sad death.

How do you feel? Are you tied to particular bricks and mortar? Would you be comfortable worshipping in a space that didn't look like a traditional church? Do we need to be bold in initiating the necessary conversations between congregations?

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Docs by Women

At the beginning of this week I blogged about International Women's Day and reflected briefly on the Canadian experience for women, what happens around our world, and the role of religion. Since then I received an email from the National Film Board with links to ten films made by women on a variety of subjects. You can watch any or all of them, some of which I have already seen. The one called The Burning Times, on medieval witch hunts, is intriguing because it examines the repressive approach of the church toward independent women. Not long ago I mentioned a novel about the Beguines called The Owl Killers. In that story the women are careful about what they do so they won't be accused of witchcraft. Not exactly a cheerful subject, but part of our history.

Take a look at the ten titles:

Friday, March 12, 2010

Savour the Moment

Today I will do the funeral for a man who celebrated his 50th wedding anniversary last summer. His wife, a very involved member, is dealing with the loss of a life partner and while she is strong this will not be easy. She does have the support of a loving family.

At the funeral home yesterday there was a video display of photos through the years. In minutes we were able to get a glimpse of their life together, from the happy looking young couple on their wedding day, through raising three children, then grandchildren, to the party for the 50th. It was a poignant reminder that life is fleeting. It made me think of the silent montage in the animated film UP! which won an Oscar on Sunday night. Karl and Ellie's life together hurries by in four minutes.

We will do our best to honour this man's life today, to share positive memories, to commend him to God's gracious care.

How well do you deal with loss? What brings you comfort?

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Viva Social Justice!

Just when I thought I had seen it all...You may have noticed that this blog is the opportunity to raise social justice issues, in the midst of other reflections on the Christian life. Justice issues have always been important in the United Church and while we need to be cautious that we don't allow those justice issues to eclipse developing a devotional relationship with God, in Christ, we wouldn't be faithful to scripture without that commitment to those on the margins of society. I have been pleasantly surprised that there has been a growing awareness of these issues in evangelical circles as well. Megachurch pastor Rick Warren has invited conservative Christians to respond to the crises in Africa, including AIDS. Others have encouraged their followers to care about the balance of the natural world.

So I was appalled to see that television commentator Glenn Beck has entreated his viewers to "run as fast as you can" from their churches if they hear about social justice from the pulpit. He equates it with Nazism and communism. You may have noticed that in the States these days, anything conservatives don't like is labelled Nazism. It is tempting to label Beck as insane, but he has a broad following, which I simply cannot comprehend.

Is it important to you to consider issues of justice for the poor and the vulnerable? How does this play out in your everyday life when it comes to acting compassionately and as a follower of Christ?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Psalm Literacy

Our 25-year-old daughter, Jocelyn, is a university grad but she returned to school last Fall to participate in a graphic arts program. She enjoys the creative challenge and the assignments are often unorthodox. Recently a teacher asked them to come up with some inventive illustrations for the 23rd psalm, citing it as a poem outside their usual experience.

Jocelyn was surprised that a number of students complained that this was pushing religion down their throats, even though the teacher didn't really say anything about the faith aspect of the psalm. She was also intrigued to see their efforts, which leaned heavily on lambs and the baby Jesus!

As we have been studying the psalms here at St. Paul's during the past few weeks it has struck me that we can develop a psalm vocabulary over time, although that happens less and less in churches as we move away from the regular inclusion of a psalm in worship. We have been including the psalm on Sunday mornings during Lent as a companion to our study, but we don't do this often. As I have read psalms in preparation I have been moved by many of them and disturbed by some. As always, preparing for studies makes me focus and I have enjoyed this look at the psalms.

Do you have favorite psalms? Do you struggle with biblical literacy generally? Are there psalms you like to sing?

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Corporate Justice?

Andrew Witty is the CEO of GlaxoSmithKline one of the drug companies accused by Oxfam a decade ago of "waging war on the poor." Witty makes a bundle of money heading up a drug company that makes a bundle of money. So Andrew Witty is bad, right? Well, not so fast.

Since Witty became CEO, seven years after Oxfam made this statement, he has fulfilled a promise to keep drug prices in poor countries at no more than 25% of what is charged in rich ones. Witty started out as a Glaxo trainee and spent ten years in Africa and Asia observing poverty firsthand. It changed his way of thinking and doing.

It is tempting in the church to yap away at big business, assuming that what corporations do is always destructive. I have been one of those yappers on occasion. We need to remember that businesses are run by human beings, persons who may have a strong moral code and may be guided by a faith in the God of justice.

I think of Bill Gates and Warren Buffet who have given away large portions of their personal fortunes to address poverty and poor health in Africa. And Ray Anderson, the head of a multi-national carpet company who has changed practices to be earth-friendly. Anderson is a Christian.

Is it important to pay attention to the good news stories of corporate leaders who have a social conscience? Are you suspicious or encouraged? Are they really all that different from us "reglar folk?"

Monday, March 08, 2010

Women's Day

I decided that I wouldn't bother reflecting on International Women's Day this year. After all, women in Canada have made great strides toward equality and this is reflected in international studies. This country is a good place for women to live in terms of longevity, human rights, post-secondary education and income. Women are now well represented in professions such as medicine, law, education and --yes -- the ministry of more liberal denominations. We have established excellent programs for maternity and parental leave. So do we really need a women's day anymore?

Then I thought about our older daughter, Jocelyn, who has been told, matter-of-factly, that in the field in which she is training men are consistently paid better than women. Through my wife Ruth I hear of the horrendous circumstances many women find themselves in because of domestic violence. There is still a glass ceiling for women in this country. While women can find meaningful employment, it is unlikely that they will reach upper management positions.

Of course in many other countries of the world women are still second class citizens and often have few rights. And it is disturbing that religions, including Christianity in some cases, justify inequality as God's intention and will.

When I read the gospels I find a number of stories in which Jesus has a different, much more open awareness of women than the prevailing culture. As I have said before, he didn't have modern sensibilities, but he opened the door to equality.

So, do you think International Women's Day still makes sense? Will you do anything to acknowledge this day?

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Crazy and Mended Hearts

I will probably get sucked into the vortex of the Academy Awards show tonight. Every year I claim I won't and that the presentations don't really represent the best in films anyway because they are so Hollywood-focussed. But my curiosity gets the better of me every time.

I am rooting for Jeff Bridges as best actor in Crazy Heart. I saw George Clooney and Morgan Freeman in their roles and both were really good. I just liked Bad Blake, the grizzled character Bridges plays as though he has lived his life. This is really a story of redemption and grace, a tale that is told over and over again in films and books and we don't mind revisiting it.

This morning we heard the parable from Luke 15 of a father and two sons who struggle with grace, and the father who is more than willing to extend it to both his boys. The twist is that the reprobate accepts it, but we aren't sure about the "stand up" son. This too is a story of redemption and one of the best-loved of the parables.

Any thoughts on why this theme has such staying power? I'm not so sure we always want to do the hard work of living grace, but it sure seems popular. How has this played out in your life?

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Beyond Duty

I have thought a number of times about an interview I heard on Monday morning on the CBC radio program The Current. The host Anna Maria Tremonti interviewed a former US army captain named Shannon Meehan. Meehan has written a memoir called Beyond Duty: Life at the Front Line in Iraq. He shared his life-changing story of calling in an air strike on a house in an Iraqi village which he was convinced was being used by insurgents. This was true, but those insurgents had forced a family to remain in the house for the appearance of normalcy. The parents and children were all killed.

Meehan had previously lost men under his command in a booby-trapped house. And he followed proper protocol in this strike and probably saved lives as a result. He was not responsible for the actions of the insurgents who were ruthless in making this family stay in the house. Yet his life was changed by what happened. He pointed out that his superiors and many others have assured him that this is the sad cost of war and it wasn't his fault. While he understands all this, it doesn't change his profound regret. He became a father recently and admits that the pleasure of parenthood has been affected by the knowledge that his action resulted in the deaths of other children.

Tremonti was quite sensitive to Meehan's emotions in the interview, but asked whether this shines a light on the folly of war -- isn't there some other way? He wasn't sure how to reply to this and pointed out that he isn't the decision maker in that regard. Meehan also spoke of God a couple of times, as though for him this is a spiritual issue. I would agree.

Any comments or observations on this?

Friday, March 05, 2010

Sons and Daughters

Six thousand words in a Throne Speech and a handful about the national anthem steal the day. The proposal is an examination of the rather exclusionary word "sons" to describe all Canadians, regardless of gender. I am ready and willing to sing O Canada any time, anywhere. That said, I would have no problem with a little tweaking to make it more inclusive. I know some are saying that this is wretched PC-itis, political correctness at its worst. But I have already lived through a fairly significant change to our beloved anthem once, so how can it hurt?

I will listen for any changes with interest because the United Church has revised or ruined, depending on your perspective, a number of hymns through the years. Most of those alterations were for the better in my estimation. Even though there were some minor changes to Jesus Loves Me we have all lived to tell the tale, and those who want to sing the older version do so. The United Church Creed, first published about forty years ago underwent some changes to make it more inclusive. Most of us have probably forgotten those revisions occurred.

Are you ready and willing to sing a more inclusive version of O Canada? Would you prefer that it be left alone? It has been argued that the original version, written in French, didn't include the word sons.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

Truth and Reconciliation Continued

A couple of mornings ago CBC radio reported on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission which has haltingly moved toward a meaningful dialogue with the aboriginal people of Canada who were harmed by the residential school system.

The report mentioned the children who went missing from those schools, hundreds and perhaps thousands who died while in the system and simply disappeared. It is difficult to know how many children perished and there appears to have been no attempt to keep records, nor to inform families. While governments have insisted that the claims of disappearances have been overblown, native families insist that their loved ones never came home again and were not accounted for. There are more serious allegations that many children were murdered and their deaths were deliberately covered up, although there is little if any evidence that this is true.

The CBC also mentioned that the United Church of Canada has assigned a researcher to examine records from our schools for any evidence that children died and were buried without reporting to families. It seems like a grim and unrewarding task but I am relieved we are taking this concern seriously. Surely it is the least we can do, as a matter of justice.

If you are interested in reading more about the United Church involvement in and response to aboriginal schools go to

What are your thoughts about the Truth and Reconciliation process? Are you supportive of the UCC's efforts to explore the past, whatever that might reveal?

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

When the Earth Moves

There is an upcoming gospel passage for a Sunday morning in which some onlookers ask Jesus about a current tragedy where a tower collapses and a bunch of people are killed. These folk want to know whether those who died had led bad lives. Jesus responds that this isn't the way it works and invites everyone to repentance.

It is an interesting story given that hundreds of thousands of people have died and millions have been displaced as the result of two earthquakes which caused incredibly damage. One fundamentalist Christian yahoo pronounced that the earthquake in Haiti was God's retribution for the revolution against slavery two hundred years ago. Huh? How do these people scare up enough money to be on television?

Geological theory tells us that North America and South America were once abutted to Africa but the movement of the Earth's plates have caused their shift over the course of millions of years. This science, called plate tectonics, can explain the shifts which affected Southeast Asia and Haiti and now Chile. What they can't explain is the suffering which has resulted for so many innocent people. While we are all deeply disturbed by what has happened, these events are not examples of God's wrath or judgement on events that happened centuries ago. To say so is childish and contrary to what Jesus said, not only in the passage from Luke 13, but in other places in the gospels.

The mystery of human suffering has no easy answer and is part of our struggle in reconciling what transpires in tragedies with our belief in a loving God. All I know is that I am called to respond prayerfully, generously and with compassion whenever possible.


Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Creation Care

One of our members spoke on Sunday morning, offering an invitation to the last meeting before a decision on the incinerator proposed for our region. This facility, costing more than 250 million dollars, will rise on the shore of Lake Ontario and burn garbage from Durham and York. In sounds like a solution for the challenge of finding a home for our waste, but it has set off alarm bells for area physicians and environmentalists.

Our incredibly busy 401 highway will get busier still, as trucks come and go relentlessly. The poor quality of our air, which has already created an alarmingly high rate of asthma and other respiratory problems, will get worse. And we will still be left with toxic ash which will be exported to some other municipality, counteracting the goal of dealing with our garbage "at home."

When Christians speak of caring for creation what immediately comes to mind is preserving forests or protecting species. Of course humans are a species and while what we humans do with our garbage may not sound like creation care, it is incredibly "down to earth" and the responsiblity of concerned people of faith.

I'm often puzzled as to why more people don't become engaged with issues such as these, because our health and quality of life depend on being informed and responsive to the issues. I certainly admire the members of St. Paul's who have worked so hard over the past couple of years to make sure others had the opportunity to learn more.
Do you find it overwhelming when these issues are raised? Do you feel they are of concern for Christians and part of our responsibility to respond?

Monday, March 01, 2010

Getting Your Bell Rung

Am I able to milk one more blog out of the Olympics? The answer is a resounding "yes!" Can I make a spiritual connection? Maybe! Actually, yesterday in worship I joked at the outset that we wouldn't be praying (overtly) for a Canadian win in the gold-medal hockey game. God doesn't care!

I must confess though, that after the Canadian men tortured us by letting the game go into overtime and Sid the Kid scored the winning goal there was a St. Paul's connection. When a hockey player gets hit hard it is described as "getting his/her bell rung." Well, Ruth and I raced up the street, rang the church bell fourteen times -- one for each Canadian gold medal -- then skedaddled back home in time to see the presentation of the medals. I may be unrealistic, but it's hard to imagine another church in the country ringing its bell fourteen times to celebrate the conclusion of the Olympic games and hockey gold.
I should mention that my dear wife was in the television room for the entire game, but saw none of it. The tension was so great that she couldn't bear to watch, so she listened and stuck to the knitting -- literally -- right through to the end. She cheered with gusto.

God may not care about the outcome of a game, but we can thank God for such a momentous end to the Olympics. That was exciting!