Monday, May 31, 2010

A Personal Journey

Welcome to David Mundy's personal blog. David is now in his 31th year as a United Church minister and kept a personal journal for 25 years. This blog contains his musing in a journal-like format, without the classified stuff!

I don't know if you have noticed this at the top of my blog page, but I was convinced, or convinced myself, to start a blog because I have kept a personal journal for many years. I have been throwing a bunch of personal milestones at you recently, but today is yet another.

Twenty five years ago today tornadoes ripped through Ontario and one hit the Barrie area hard, resulting in a number of deaths and considerable damage. I was on my way home from a church meeting in Barrie when the tornado roared through and afterward realized that I was only a few hundred metres away from one of the worst hit areas. I couldn't see the devastation because I had driven over the crest of a hill but I had to pull off the road as my vehicle rocked back and forth. It prompted me to write daily for a week, after many months of very sporadic journal entries. I extended that discipline to a month, and then beyond, and in those twenty five years I have missed only six or seven times.

Needless to say my life is not all that exciting from day to day, but I have continued to write as a form of disciplined reflection. Not surprisingly there are a number of books on the spiritual nature of journal keeping, and when I have offered study groups on spiritual disciplines I encourage this as one prayerful option among many.

I sometimes wonder what I am trying to accomplish, if anything. I don't go back to examine my earlier thoughts and state of mind all that often. I don't want my journals to be read by others when I kick the bucket. I do try to find the "gem" in days which are often more like coal than diamonds, and focussing in writing helps me to do so. I sometimes pray for others, and give thanks to God, as well as giving God a piece of my mind for what I consider the unfairnesses of life.

Are there any other journal writers out there? Have you tried but found it difficult in life's hustle and bustle? Do you want to start, but wonder how?

Sunday, May 30, 2010

God Is Not One

Stephen Prothero has written a recently published book called God Is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions that Run the World and Why Their Differences Matter. In it he argues that the rather mushy new-think promotes the notion that all religions are basically the same and we should downplay the differences. Prothero maintains that they are different and we need to understand how and why they differ.

I am inclined to agree, even though I believe we should be in respectful and civil dialogue with other religions. Christianity is not the same as Buddhism or Hinduism or Islam and while all of these encourage compassion and love in different forms I would be willfully blind to suggest that the incarnation of my faith is perfectly compatible with these other religions. Buddhism is not theistic (no god) while Hinduism is polytheistic, and Islam regards Jesus as a prophet but not a saviour. These differences don't rule out conversation and seeking common ground, but we are not the same.

In a recent opinion piece in the New York Times the Dalai Lama comes at this challenging subject in a different way:

Granted, every religion has a sense of exclusivity as part of its core identity. Even so, I believe there is genuine potential for mutual understanding. While preserving faith toward one’s own tradition, one can respect, admire and appreciate other traditions. An early eye-opener for me was my meeting with the Trappist monk Thomas Merton in India shortly before his untimely death in 1968. Merton told me he could be perfectly faithful to Christianity, yet learn in depth from other religions like Buddhism. The same is true for me as an ardent Buddhist learning from the world’s other great religions. A main point in my discussion with Merton was how central compassion was to the message of both Christianity and Buddhism. In my readings of the New Testament, I find myself inspired by Jesus’ acts of compassion. His miracle of the loaves and fishes, his healing and his teaching are all motivated by the desire to relieve suffering.

The key, it seems to me, is to avoid stereotypes, to enter conversation with humility, and to be confident and educated enough in one's own beliefs that belligerence is not necessary. That's where we often fail.


Saturday, May 29, 2010

Requiem for Creation

A memorial service was held this past week for the eleven men who died on the oil rig which exploded in the Gulf of Mexico a few weeks ago. We have been so focussed on British Petroleum's impotence in controlling the environmental impact of hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil spewing into the water each day we might forget that eleven people were killed and their families mourn. No bodies were recovered, another blow. At the service eleven bronze helmets ringed the podium. What the photograph doesn't show is the cross in the background. Along with tributes, hymns were sung. This was a service of worship.

I wonder if there will be a requiem for the untold number of other birds and fish and animals which will die as a result of this catastrophe? They too are God's creatures and their deaths are tragic, although not mourned in a traditional sense.

Is it fanciful to grieve the deaths of living things other than humans? Should there be a memorial service for other the other creatures?

Friday, May 28, 2010

Fished Out

Jesus notices some fisherman who are having a bad day on the water. He gives them some tips on improving their catch and suddenly their nets are full. They don't get much opportunity to savour their unlikely success because he tells him to leave it all behind and follow him. He promises that they will be fishers of people in the future and they buy it.

This is a classic New Testament story, and in fact there are lots of gospels vignettes about boats and fish from the lake or "sea" called Galilee. As of last week Jesus and his disciples could be charged with illegal fishing in Israel because there aren't many fish left. After centuries of sustainable fishing for tilapia, or "St. Peter's fish" on this freshwater body the fishery has been closed because the stocks are in danger of collapse. As usual the humans who are affected are blaming other factors, including predatory birds. Of course we humans are never to blame.

I often attempt to make the connection between environmental issues and our faith response as Christians. It's not hard to connect the dots on this one.

What is your reaction to this story?

Thursday, May 27, 2010


The Apple ipad will be available in Canada this week and to my surprise it intrigues me. This electronic reader will allow people to download books at a modest price, as well as serve a number of other functions including wordprocessing and presentation preparation. Not sure about the meaning of a word in a text? Just highlight it and the definition will be presented. I think the owner can even listen to music, a sort of ipod on steroids. Cool!

Or not. One of the pleasures of books is sharing them with others. I love looking at the bookshelves of readers and discovering their interests. And today I saw an article saying that households with books in them are strong indicators of whether children will eventually pursue post-secondary education. The more books, the more education.

I imagine that the bible will be downloadable in a number of translations and versions which would be handy. The trouble is, I can pick up a bible right now and flip through it, stopping where I choose, reading stories I hadn't noticed before. Someone might even see me reading the bible and ask me about what I'm reading.

Will I end up buying this latest nifty gadget? I have been seduced before by technology but I will certainly hold off for a while. The next generation will be better anyway!

What about you? Any plans to buy an ipad? What is your relationship with books?

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Seniors and Depression

A recently published study claims that up to 44 per cent of the quarter-million seniors living in residential-care facilities in this country are suffering from clinical depression,. Researchers found that 26 per cent of residents of nursing homes, personal care homes and long-term care facilities have been diagnosed with depression and another 18 per cent have clear symptoms but no documented diagnosis of depression.

This doesn't surprise me for several reasons. Not all residences are created equal and some of them are environments which would certainly amplify sadness and depression. Even those facilities which are well-run and with caring staff can be grim, just because of the constant reminder of physical and mental fraility and death.

My mother lives in a beautiful residence (not a nursing home) which is essentially independent living, and she has a lovely apartment. She gathers with other residents for meals but she has total freedom to come and go. There are many activities, including the chapel services which she coordinates. Still, when there are several deaths in a short period of time it takes an emotional toll.

What an important reminder that congregations can provide spiritual support for those living in seniors' facilities. We have a wonderful cadre of people at St. Paul's who visit those who are in residences and our UCW reaches out several times a year. Cathy and I also visit in the roughly ten facilities in which our folk live.

Some of you have loved ones in seniors' facilities. Any thoughts on this issue of depression? How about the role of the church in providing support.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Pondering the Call

So, today is the thirtieth anniversary of my ordination as a United Church minister, as it is for Nancy Knox, my immediate predecessor at St. Paul's. The ordination service took place in Grant Hall at Queen's University. That worship service affirmed our sense of call, significant people in our lives laid on hands as the Holy Spirit was invoked, and we formally entered into the pension and benefit plan. Don't laugh -- in those days we had to pass a fairly rigorous medical in order to be ordained or commissioned and if we didn't make the grade physically we couldn't become ministers. Today human rights legislation has changed all that.

At the risk of a "billions served" flavour, I figure that I have preached well over a thousand Sunday sermons, not to mention all the special services and messages along the way. I have probably presided at 500 or more funerals. Fortunately there have been lots of baptisms and weddings as well. The "holy conversations" and relationships, with God at the centre, have been far more important than statistics.

I am finding that this thirtieth anniversary is more signficant than the twenty fifth. Perhaps it's because so many colleagues enter ministry as a second career and they will never make it to thirty years, making me something of an anomaly. Or it could be that in some professions and jobs individuals can retire after thirty years of service, let alone forty. Or maybe it is because during my restorative leave I pondered packing in ministry, but I'm still chugging along.

Apparently God isn't done with me yet and I'm still keeping my ears open for that call, although it sounds a little different now that I am a grizzled veteran rather than a young recruit. In the end my ministry was and is an outcome of my faith in Christ.

Monday, May 24, 2010

When Can I Pray?

We stopped watching the hospital drama House for a while because the central character Gregory House (Hugh Laurie) was becoming too grumpy and the plot lines were a tad formulaic. But we drifted back into the program's thrall and of course we watched the season finale the other night.

As with many rating-seeking final shows there is ramped up drama. House's medical team responds to a disaster, the collapse of a building crane. A young woman is trapped beneath the rubble created by the collapse and House bravely goes to her rescue. At one point the scared woman asks House to pray with her. He gruffy tells her that he doesn't believe in God. She responds that she doesn't either.

They say there are no atheists in foxholes, and I suppose they are few and far between in other disasters. Is it "cheating" to play the prayer card in emergencies when it isn't a regular part of daily life? What about invoking God when we are atheists or agnostics?

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Pentecost Prospects

Our United Church is doing some major soul-searching these days because we are keenly aware that while we haven't had to haul out the defibrillator quite yet, the patient is not well. The other evening at Oshawa Presbytery we listened to a presentation from the principal of what was Queen's Theological College and is now the Queen's Centre for Religious Education. We were told that more than 75% of UCC ministers are over the age of 50, a higher percentage than I thought. There are just too many of us geezers! And of 2700 United Church clergy, only 14 are under the age of 30. Yikes! There may have been that many under 30 in my graduating class in 1980.

Today is Pentecost Sunday and I wonder about the prospects for this aging denomination, both in terms of the people in the pews/seats and those in the pulpits. But I don't want to get stuck in the bad news, since we are Good News people.

I have a bulletin board with a bunch of encouraging choices taken by other congregations and denominations. There is no point in being in denial, but I like to think about the exceptions to the rule because the Holy Spirit is at work.

There is a church in New York called St. Bart's which was resurrected from near death by following a number of Principles and Assumptions:

Grow or go
Radical Welcome
52 equal Sundays
Powerful worship
Loose around the edges, solid at the core
Bias toward the next person through the door
Not a club
Belong before you believe
Add clergy before growth
Growth, not maintenance

I like 'em all. They are hopeful and enlivening. Any of these strike your fancy?

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Our Towers of Babel

Yesterday I chatted with a fellow patient at the asylum known as the gym. He was just back from a motorcycle trip with buddies across the American Southwest which began and ended in Las Vegas. He is a real estate agent and he was impressed by the building boom in Vegas.

I mentioned an article I had seen which supported his observation of a housing boom. It also pointed out that there are more than 10,000 empty brand new, never-been-lived-in houses in Las Vegas, not to mention thousands more that are empty because of foreclosure. So why are they building more houses. Well, it's because that's where the market is. Apparently home buyers don't want houses that are 18 months or two year old houses when they can have one just built. And the builders, hurting because of the recession, are happy to comply even though this is the weakest housing market in the nation in terms of the 60% drop in house values.

The startled real estate agent just shook his head and wondered where are all of this is going. Have people learned nothing from the recession he wondered? The answer appears to be a resounding "no!"

This Sunday an alternate lectionary reading is the story of the Tower of Babel in Genesis 11. The people build a tower taller and taller until it collapses, leading to mass confusion. Most scholars don't consider this to be a factual story but it is a true story-- true to human nature and our tendency toward nonsensical hubris. In Genesis 11 God seems to be scratching his/her head at the scurrying of humanity. Of course as humans we seem programmed to strive, and so often this leads to advancements for our species. But we can be willfully ignorant as well.

What are your thoughts about this? Oh yes, this is blog entry 1000. Go figure.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Hockey as Religion

Anyone who follows hockey knows that Maple Leaf fans are into self-flagellation while Canadiensfans are pentecostal in their fervour (hey, this is Pentecost weekend.)

I heard a professor from the University of Montreal who teaches a course on -- yes-- hockey as religion. Professor Bauer (can you believe the name) teaches theology and points out that in French the legendary hockey team is often known as the Sainte-Flanelle (the Holy Flannel). Before Jaroslav Halak supplanted young goaltender Carey Price he was nicknamed Jesus Price, as the savior of the team. He says that some people believe that they can be healed by touching the jersey of Habs great, Maurice Richard.
Come to think of it, some people refer to hell as H-E-Double Hockey Stick.

Bauer isn't sure whether we should do battle with hockey as religion or build on the spiritual sensibilities. All I know is that a lot of clergy have a love/hate relationship with hockey. It used be possible to play hockey as a kid and go to church. Now hockey pushes the faith community into the background, and I feel strongly that those children and society will end up losing out because of it.

What do you think about Bauer's course? And what about organized religion jostling with organized sports and other activities? Oh yes, the Canadiens "resurrected" their playoff hopes last night.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Lament for the Fleet

When I was in Newfoundland at the beginning of my ministry a friend and colleague served on nearby Fogo Island. His first Spring this landlubber was conscripted to participate in the annual blessing of the fishing fleet. These events are part celebration of the gifts of the sea, part prayer for good catches, part plea for protection.

This year the blessing is more of a lament on the Gulf Coast in the United States. The liturgy has been modified to reflect the environmental disaster which is undermining and shutting down a hugely lucrative fishing industry. In many places boats are tied up and the fear is that they will be for a long time. Not just months, but years -- perhaps decades. Take a look at this short documentary on the blessing of the fleet in a small port in Alabama

It appears that BP isn't even close to a solution for the mess it has created. How is it that the quest for oil always seems to trump environmental concerns, as well as other industries of great value?

I invited your reaction shortly after this disaster first unfolded. Any further thoughts as the weeks go by?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Combat Christian Leaders

My late father-in-law began his journey to the Presbyterian ministry through the influence of an army chaplain during the Second World War. I can't imagine a more challenging role than military chaplaincy, especially in a war zone.

I read an article recently which says that Canadian military chaplains are "burning out" at a disturbing rate. Little wonder really. The work of consoling soldiers and other personnel who have lost comrades must be overwhelming. I find that affirming new and eternal life in Christ can be difficult in what is fortunately the less common experience of tragic death. For military chaplains this is the norm rather than the exception.

The article points out that even when chaplains return to Canada they are supporting families profoundly effected by loss, not to mention the families dealing with discord and domestic violence as the outcome of post-traumatic stress. The chaplains are registering high levels of anxiety and depressive disorders.

It reminds me that I can pray for pastors and priests who are serving in these important roles.

Any thoughts?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Endings and Beginnings

At the end of worship on Sunday morning our Rev. Cathy announced that she was accepting a call to a congregation in Belleville, Ontario. The good news is that this is a great opportunity for her to minister to a Christian community which looks forward to her gifts and skills, and will welcome her with open arms.

At the same time it is our loss, because of what Cathy has brought to the life of the St. Paul's congregation, and also because of what we wanted to accomplish in calling her three years ago. Our Needs Assessment at that time told us that the congregation wanted more focussed staff time in the important area of ministry to children and youth. We knew that calling another full-time person would be a "stretch" but we went ahead in faith. While Cathy has worked diligently to fulfill her mandate, the money necessary to make this happen hasn't exactly flowed in. She is leaving reluctantly, having enjoyed St. Paul's, although with enthusiasm for her new position.

In this day when many congregations have no young people and virtually no adults under fifty, we were hoping to sustain the multi-generational diversity of St. Paul's. I see Cathy's departure as a step backward, motivated by financial constraints rather than a change in mission.

I have known what was transpiring for over a month now, because Cathy and I share an open and mutually supportive working relationship, so it has been a difficult secret to hold. I will miss what she brings to St. Paul's and do wonder what is next for me after seven years with this congregation. We are almost at the day of Pentecost, a good reminder that the Holy Spirit will still be at work. I'm just not sure how, or where.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Holy Moments

On Thursday I presided at the funeral for a guy who died at the age of 49. It was an emotional service for his wife and three daughters, all of whom loved him deeply. I did my best to move through the service with care and strength for those who were feeling bereft and fragile.

Some days go from sad to sad for clergy. I went directly to Oshawa hospital to see a man in his sixties who is dying of cancer. As with the deceased man, he is not one of our flock but in each case I have become connected through the request of family who attend St. Paul's. He has been in and out of hospital and tried every form of treatment. He has been valiant in his fight but unwilling to have a discussion with his family about death, which has been hard on them.

Something changed this week. When I sat down with him he told me that he had "given up." I asked if he has given up or come to a place of acceptance -- I see the two as quite different. He thought about it for a moment and then claimed the latter. He has already initiated plans for his funeral and is getting his affairs in order now that he realizes no treatment will make a difference. Courageous of him. He offered too, that it makes a difference when you believe that this isn't the end. I agreed.

At the end of our visit I offered to read a psalm and pray. When we got to the prayer he reached out his hand. It was such an intimate and holy moment, yet I really didn't get to know him until a few months ago. I am weary of death and dying these days, but I'm glad that I could be the pastor with whom he shared these thoughts.

Saturday, May 15, 2010


In the latest United Church Observer there is a small piece with the heading you see above. It is about a "first" for Emmanuel College, one of our UCC seminaries which trains people for ministry. Last Fall fifteen female first-year students enrolled, and a grand total of zero males.

The article also has a chart looking at the number of males and females in first year dating back to the 1920's. In 1929 there were no women because the United Church didn't ordain women (this is the M.Div. program we're talking about.) Over the next few decades there were two or three per year, although in 1969 there were none. The era during which I was enrolled at Emmanuel (as was my predecessor, Nancy Knox) there was the biggest contingent of students ever, and roughly 30% were women. For the next two decades women outnumbered men, and now men are MIA.

Obviously the church managed to get by when men were the majority, but we felt it was a move to inclusivity and gender balance when an increasing number of women were ordained and commissioned. So what does this mean for the future of the UCC, especially when the number of men in worship is diminishing in many congregations. We're told that the majority of men in ministry will retire over the next decade. There were certainly lots of men at St. Paul's when Nancy was here, so maybe it doesn't matter as long as there is strong leadership.

Any observations or reactions? I couldn't resist the Vicar of Dibley photo above!

Friday, May 14, 2010

United Prayers for Peace

Earlier this month the United Nations began a month-long conference on limiting nuclear weapons. We have only a limited idea of how many nations possess these weapons of mass destruction and countries such as Israel probably have them and won't admit it.

The conference began with an interfaith worship service with prayers to end this self-destructive proliferation of nuclear weapons. Among the participants was Roman Catholic Archbishop Joseph Mitsuaki Takami of Nagasaki, Japan, a survivor of the 1945 atomic bombing, who brought a scorched piece of a statue of Mary from the cathedral that was destroyed in the attack. You can take a look at an excerpt from the service

The Trappist monk Thomas Merton offered years ago that ”The duty of the Christian at this time is to do the one task God has imposed upon us in this world today. The task is to work for the total abolition of war. There can be no question that unless war is abolished; the world will remain constantly in a state of madness. The church [meaning all Christians] must lead the way on the road to the abolition of war. Peace is to be preached and nonviolence is to be explained and practiced.”

Is there much point in holding prayer services for the end of weapons of mass destruction? Does it sound naiive or hopeful to you?

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Coming Clean

Finally. Finally Pope Benedict is acting the way we figure the leader of the largest Christian organization in the world should, with humility and honesty and compassion. After what I felt was an appalling evasion of responsibility in the widening sex scandal of the Roman Catholic church there have been important developments in recent weeks. The pope met with a group of abuse victims in Malta, listening to them and shedding tears with them. He has sought and received resignations from a number of bishops in Ireland and Germany who appear to have covered up many of the abuses. Now he has made a statement taking responsibility for what has happened rather than "passing the buck." This was in the Washington Post yesterday:

His strong comments placed responsibility for the crisis squarely on the sins of pedophile priests, repudiating the Vatican's initial response to the scandal in which it blamed the media as well as pro-choice and pro-gay marriage advocates for mounting what it called a campaign against the church and the pope.

Speaking en route to Portugal, Benedict said the Catholic church had always suffered from problems of its own making but that "today we see it in a truly terrifying way."
"The greatest persecution of the church doesn't come from enemies on the outside but is born from the sins within the church," the pontiff said. "The church needs to profoundly relearn penitence, accept purification, learn forgiveness but also justice."
The comments marked Benedict's most thorough admission of the church's own guilt in creating the scandal. Previously he has blamed abusers themselves and, in the case of Ireland, the bishops who failed to stop them.

How does this "coming clean" sit with you? Is it too late, or are you encouraged by this change of direction?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Mapping the Past

On my trips to Israel I have been fascinated by some of the archeological excavations which help us to explain events recorded in the bible, as well as giving clues to the other cultures and civilizations which have made that area home through the millennia. I didn't think I would find them so interesting before going to some of them, but I became so intrigued that for a time I subscribed to Biblical Archeology Review and avidly read other articles. In many respects it helped the bible come alive for me.

I came across an article on a new process of mapping archeological sites called Lidar. It is an aerial process that has been used successfully to look beneath the surface to reveal ancient settlements. Currently it is being used in central America to penetrate dense jungles to expand existing sites which formerly had to be hacked out with machetes and lots of "by guess and by golly." Above is the map for a Mayan town. Cool.

Any one else fascinated by archeology, biblical or otherwise? Do you just find it dusty and boring? Have you ever visited an archeological site?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Blog Connections

I enjoy the thoughtful responses by the readers of this blog, and I am pleased that people stay connected even when they are travelling. Laurie has often commented when in the States or Britain, Johnny did when doing security at the Vancouver Olympics, we hear regularly from Deb who lives in Saskatchewan, and a number of other readers who don't weigh in are situated in various states and provinces. I was pleasantly surprised to hear from one of our St. Paul's teens, Christopher, while attending the events honouring Canadian veterans in the Netherlands. He wondered if the volcanic ash would keep him in Europe for a while. Here is a note from his mom, Debra.

Hi siblings and St. Pauls' bloggers,

Christopher and his school group were able to leave Amsterdam today, but had a 2 hour delay on the tarmac awaiting clearance to fly a long northern detour over Greenland and Nunavut to get to Chicago. As their plane landed 3 hours late, their connecting flight to Toronto was taking off. So they're spending the night in Chicago and won't be flying out until Monday evening.

I'm relieved to have him back in North America at least. Their flight attendant told them that Monday's flight out of Amsterdam was being cancelled. Not that the kids would mind, but I'm sure the teachers have shared enough love already with this group of 43 teens!

David, in comment on last Friday's blog about air travel guilt, it strikes me as ironic that now MORE fuel is being used to detour the transatlantic flights, and it's being discharged over the Arctic. Makes me wonder how it will balance out in the end.

Have a good week everyone, and thanks for keeping our young sojourner Christopher in your thoughts, Deb.

Thanks Deb!

Monday, May 10, 2010


We went to see the Disney documentary Oceans yesterday afternoon and we're glad we did. Our daughter Jocelyn commented afterward that she would have been happy to watch the film without Pierce Brosnan's narration, which tends toward the mundane. The film footage is stunning with everything from tranquil beauty to fierce storms. There is a battle between armies of crabs which is amazing.

It is tempting when we talk about and celebrate God's creation to imagine terrestrial creatures or the birds of the air -- the critters we encounter most readily. This is another film which does an excellent job of opening the wonders of the oceans of which we are only nominally aware, even when we travel on their surfaces or play along their edges.

Part of the appeal of Oceans is that for the first hour it says nothing about the mess we are making of the planet. The film just lets us see the diversity and wonder of these great bodies of water and it's hard to imagine anyone not being impressed. It was something of an antidote to the miserable saga of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

There were even some lovely "mothering" moments. There is a scene of a mother walrus cradling her pup while floating in the water that is tender and heartwarming.

Have any of you seen this film? Do you plan to? I certainly recommend it.

Sunday, May 09, 2010


I really want to see the new documentary called Babies which follows the progress of four babies, one in Mongolia, another in Namibia, yet another in Japan, and finally one in the States. The reviews so far have been very positive, and what's not to like about lil' bambinos, especially if you don't have to take them home? The doc follows these four cherubs through the early stages of their lives and not surprisingly they are fascinating.

Today we will baptize a baby in worship, infant baptism being the usual although not exclusive practice of the United Church. Some denominations baptize adults only and consider us to be somewhat inferior Christians for sprinkling infants. We argue that there are stories in scripture describing baptism of entire households or families, so wouldn't that include kids? In fact, coincidence or providence offers up one of those stories within the lectionary readings this week.

We take on the responsibility of being the extended family of the children we baptize, not unlike the communal child-rearing in places like Namibia. The difficulty is that while some families seek baptism and we make our promises, we don't get much of a chance to be the village that raises a child. I know some parents figure that they will get around to church, but why bother until then? To add to the discussion, take a look at this article in the New York Times on the moral life of babies

Is baptism meaningful for you? Do you take your promises seriously? Should we even bother in this day of rampant individualism, or should we just wait for adult commitment as with other churches?

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Heartburn and Sin

Mount Unpronouncable, (Eyjafjallajokull) the volcano in Iceland, has a case of heartburn again and the atmosphere is feeling the effects of its chronic belching. Some airports have been closed once more and everyone in the airline industry is concerned about another period of chaos.

It is troubling to see all that volcano junk flying around in the air, but did you know that by shutting down thousands of flights the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere was dramatically reduced for a week? Just by zipping around on planes we easily out-pollute an erupting volcano.

I don't consider myself a frequent flyer, but by the end of July I will have flown considerable distances three times, once on vacation and twice for conferences. I feel guilty as hell, almost literally. I can't help but feel that the most significant sin I will commit this year doesn't show up on the list of Seven Deadlies, but should be added.

It's fine for a minister to encourage following Jesus' example and teaching about simplicity, but when I see stats like these I feel more than a tad hypocritical.

What are your thoughts about all this? Should I lighten up?

Friday, May 07, 2010

Los Suns

As humans we make a big deal out of who belongs and who doesn't, whether it is a matter of race, or nationality, or sport team affiliation, or religion. It seems to help us develop a sense of pride and place. I suppose we are still very tribal, even in the Global Village.

A sense of belonging can be powerful and positive. Exclusion can be negative and destructive. We have done a lot of harm in the name of religion, and somehow it has been easy for Christians to forget that Jesus was a Jew who told stories about surprising examples of acceptance and crossing racial and religious boundaries.

A couple of nights ago the Phoenix Suns basketball team wore jerseys during their playoff game with the monikor Los Suns. Although the team is located in Arizona the star player pictured above is Canada's own Steve Nash. The team wore these jerseys as a quiet but very visible protest against new laws in the state of Arizona allowing the police to stop anyone looking Hispanic to ask for valid immigration papers. The proximity to Mexico means that there are many immigrants in Arizona, legal and otherwise. It is a form of racial profiling, a "driving while Latino" law that has disturbed many in the States but has been passed just the same. It is now possible that persons with a Hispanic background who may be second or third generation Americans will be stopped regularly to prove their nationality.

Have you followed this story at all? Does this legislation disturb you? Do you approve of what the Suns did? Do you know much about immigration policy in Canada?

Thursday, May 06, 2010

In Life, In Death, In Life Beyond Death...

I sometimes joke about the "hatch, match, and dispatch" aspect of a minister's job, the ceremonies which punctuate our community life. I certainly don't go looking for the dispatch or funeral part of my work, but it tends to come looking for me.

I knew when I was away that I was returning to a memorial service on Tuesday and the commital service yesterday for the ashes of a man who died back in February. The little cemetery where he was buried just opened after the Winter. Things got hectic when another member died on Monday and the family wanted the service yesterday in the morning. In less than 24 hours I travelled down the 401 to Port Hope for the first service on Tuesday afternoon, then did the funeral and commital on Wednesday morning. The funeral director yesterday drove me from Orono cemetery to Hampton cemetery so I could fit everything in.

I suppose it is all fitting because our resurrection faith began in a cemetery on Easter morning. What struck me again today is that I would never want to become so accustomed to this part of my job that it was just part of my job, if you get my drift. I want to be a companion with people on their journey through "the valley of the shadow" and I want to affirm abundant and eternal life in Christ. All three families approached these services with a sense of affection and respect for their loved ones.

Do you find death scary? How well do you deal with funerals? Do you find the services help with your grief, or would you just as soon avoid them?

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

The Height of Greed

Forbes magazine recently published a list of the richest cartoon characters and actually attached an estimated dollar value to their wealth. Boy, do they have time on their hands! On the list at nearly $29 billion is Scrooge McDuck, the rags to riches Scottish shoe-shine boy who becomes deliriously rich --and greedy.

The timing was interesting (March) because a few weeks later Goldman Sachs, the huge investment company was charged with misleading customers about dodgy investments. In what may be the height of the greed and reckless self-interest, the company is accused of selling product which it knew would fail, and then bet against itself for profit. Yuck. While the response has been denial, denial, denial, if you have seen any of the proceedings of the enquiry you will have a sense that these men don't have a leg to stand on.

Jesus spoke often about both contentment in simplicity and the perils of greed. He taught what is later reinforced in the first letter to Timothy, that "the love of money is the root of all evil."

I am disgusted by the cynical, "greed is good" approach of a number of companies which contributed to the global economic free-fall. At the same time I need to be aware of the log in my own eye. There are times when I succumb to my own forms of greed, and I am keenly aware that I am wildly wealthy compared to probably 95% of the population on this planet. Why don't I share more?

What is your response to the Goldman Sachs revelations? Is it unfair to compare our wealth to that of the big players in the financial scandal? Are you generous?

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Jesus Against the Rules

I returned to an extremely hectic day yesterday and never got around to posting today's blog in advance. Sorry to the early birds. This morning I arrived at my study to find a Globe and Mail article under my study door, tucked in there by Joe. He is a faithful Globe reader as am I, and several of you.

It was actually the story I was going to write about for today -- honest! An Anglican vicar in Britain was told by town council that he had to remove a flag depicting Jesus from church property. It was deemed religous advertising, which is not allowed in this community. Now, you have to wonder if the councillors understand that the shape of churches, stained glass windows with biblical scenes, those pesky crosses, could all be construed as religious advertising.

I found this intriguing because I have wondered when someone or some group in this country would decide that exterior crosses, nativity scenes, and other Christian symbolism is publicly offensive, even when on church property. Our Bowmanville ministerial has been told that we can't advertise any of our events on municipal bulletin boards, nor will town council acknowledge something as benign as Interfaith Chaplaincy Week because it is just too religious. Will church property be next?

Bye the way, the vicar was advised that flags for patron saints are permissable, but don't they understand that Jesus is our "go-to-guy?"

Did you hear about this? What is your reaction?

Monday, May 03, 2010

Disaster Deja Vu

I have noticed along the way that many of you are passionate environmentalists in whatever ways work for you, and that my blogs connecting ecology and faith often elicit a relatively high number of responses.

My second blog entry, back in October 2006, was about ExxonMobil and the way that company had dodged paying the massive bill for the Exxon Valdez oil spill. In fact it rebounded so that in the last quarter of 2005 the corporation made more than $10 billion in profit. I connected all this to the question posed by the prophet Jeremiah: "why do the wicked prosper?" It often seems that the "big players" amongst corporations can avoid responsibility for greed or disregard for the rights of creatures, whether they be human or otherwise.

Will we go through this again with the massive oil spill off the coast of Louisiana? While this ecological catastrophe was not caused by the actions of one person (the Exxon Valdez captain was inebriated) it does not lessen the impact. How can these companies be allowed to drill without adequate safeguards in the case of a well failure? It makes me ill to think of the destruction of wildlife which will ensue.

What is your reaction to what you are hearing and seeing?

Sunday, May 02, 2010

A Sense of Call

Today we are in Montreal, worshipping with the United Church congregation where our son Isaac has been doing his placement. He has come to the end of that commitment, although he will continue to work with them. So it is nice that we can be present for his recognition during the service.

People often comment that we must be proud to have a son pursuing ministry. I have mixed feelings, even though Isaac will represent the third generation of United Church ministers in our family and fourth of those in "paid accountable ministry." My grandparents on both sides were Salvation Army officers.

Why mixed feelings? For all its strengths the United Church is one sick puppy. So many congregations are struggling for survival and I sense that our leadership is at a loss as to how to proceed. That doesn't mean they aren't trying, but how do you redirect a nation-wide organization toward health when it is so unwell? My own feeling is that we haven't paid attention to the core value of relationship with a living, active Christ which then informs our social action, but the problems are quite complex.

I see that the relatively few younger ministers are struggling to bring vitality to tired congregations and the road is difficult for them. If Isaac is ordained next year, as planned, he will be a member of a rare breed -- a UCC minister in his twenties. Still, Isaac has his eyes wide open on these realities and feels a strong sense of call, nonetheless. So who am I to do anything but support that conviction?

Are you wondering which direction we are going as a denomination? Are you encouraged that there are younger candidates for ministry?

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Deep Green Conversation

I have mentioned several times that not only are more liberal churches upholding the importance of "creation care," it is increasingly on the agenda for more conservative churches. An excellent example is the website Deep Green Conversation which is a creative exploration of a number of issues.

The podcast, a conversation with Dr. Matthew Sleeth is intelligent and expresses a strong Christian conviction about living lightly on the Earth. Sleeth's commitment to simplifying his life is inspirational. The theological language is different from what you might hear in most United Church congregations, but so what.

I am encouraged that the Christian base for Creation Care is broadening. Conversation between people of various theological outlooks and amongst different religions is essential to a "deep green conversation."

I invite you to snoop around the website by clicking on the link above. What do you think?