Friday, July 30, 2010


Okay, that's gotta hurt. A group in the States has put up a billboard image comparing the "disaster" of the Alberta Oil Sands with the massive BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. It is part of a Rethink Alberta ad campaign which is certainly not encouraging people to visit the province. The Alberta government is furious, as are those who depend on tourism in the province. Everybody is being tarred (oiled?) with the same brush they say. And besides, how bad are the oil sands anyway?

Americans are highly dependent on Canadian oil. We are the number one source for our neighbours to the south and we are really dependable as well. But the oil sands are dirty, as oil goes. The oil must be extracted in a process that uses massive amounts of water and produces plenty of pollution. So we are being targetted as a menace.

God knows --literally -- that we are addicted to oil. Here we are, two supposed enlightened nations, both of which honour the Judeo-Christian God and show reasonable respect for other religions. But we seem to look the other way when it comes to any environmental issues that don't work to our financial benefit.

Do you feel this campaign is fair? If the shoe fits, wear it? What sort of rethinking do we need to do?

Thursday, July 29, 2010

From MADness to SALTiness

Interesting opinion piece in the New York Times recently about plans by the U.S. navy to build a new fleet of nuclear powered and nuclear armed submarines. "old" submarines have glided through the seas of the world for decades with the capability of blowing Americas enemies to smithereens. The acronym is MAD, for mutual assured destructiveness. In other words, if the bad guys hit us with weapons of mass destruction, we'll guarantee to smack 'em right back. Who knows how successful this strategy was during the so-called Cold War.

There was a time when we were encouraged to be really scared of the "Russkies." In grade one in the early sixties my class was instructed on getting under our school desks, as though that would make a difference. The Cuban Missile Crisis had a lot of people lying awake at night.

The world has thawed, and the commentator writing the opinion piece asked why the States needs to act as though it hasn't. The newer acronym is SALT which stands for strategic arms limitation, and president Obama is leading the way toward reducing the number of nuclear weapons floating around out there. God knows, the vast majority of them reside in the United States.

Back to the submarines.The first would cost 13 billion dollars with subsequent versions a bargain at about 8 billion. Does this make sense in a country where the deficits are numbered in the trillions of dollars.

Any thoughts on this? Maybe when Jesus said that we are the SALT of the earth he anticipated the dawning of a new day of sanity and world peace.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Glory of God

One of my favourite psalms, number nineteen begins:

1 The heavens are telling the glory of God;
and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
2 Day to day pours forth speech,
and night to night declares knowledge.
3 There is no speech, nor are there words;
their voice is not heard;
4 yet their voice goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.

I appreciate it because this is my experience; I have often had a sense of the grandeur of God while looking into the night sky. I have seen the Northern Lights in the coldest days of winter but the summer sky offers its own gifts and no body parts fall off as a result of staring and pondering!

Take a look at this three-minute BBC video on noctilucent clouds I had never heard of noctilucent clouds before, but as the name suggests they are glowing clouds which are visible at night. I'm glad that I can keep learning about the infinite beauty of creation and I hope I never stop being amazed by the universe visible and invisible.

Any stories of night skies from this summer or any other summer?

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Lament and Hope for the Sea

God willing. When we lived in Newfoundland, beginning in 1980, people would often append those two words "God willing" to the end of any conversation about their future plans, whether to make bread or travel to the mainland. It was a multi-purpose phrase, part superstition and part tradition with a sprinkling of faith.

Well we are in Newfoundland, God willing! Our plan was to fly out of Ontario to Gander yesterday and we will visit friends and the outports from another time in our lives. Since I won't have access to a computer most of the time I have posted some blog entries in advance. I hope you will read and respond during my absence, and I will check in if and when I can.

Ruth noted that we are going back to a very different landscape and seascape. When we arrived 30 years ago folk would dry codfish on flakes at the end of their stages or in their yards. As city slickers we were quite impressed by this time-tested skill. We could buy fresh cod for 25 cents a pound, or 50 cents if they were filleted. Now cod stocks are depleted to the point of extinction, something unimaginable even three decades ago.

I have included a couple of works by Newfoundland-born artist David Blackwood, although he now makes his home in Port Hope, just down the road from Bowmanville. The top one is called Master Mariner and is a lament for the loss of a way of life. The biblical reference from Isaiah 19 is "The fishers also shall mourn, and all they that cast into the brooks shall lament, and they that spread nets upon the waters shall languish."

We should lament this environmental disaster in the biblical sense, repenting of our foolishness, hearing the earth and sea cry out in pain at this affront to God the creator.

I hope we will hear some hopeful news while we are on The Rock, God willing. Blessings!

Monday, July 26, 2010

Farewell but not Goodbye

Yesterday was bitter/sweet for the St. Paul's congregation as we said farewell to Rev. Cathy Russell. Cathy joined us three years ago as our minister of Christian Development and she has brought energy, enthusiasm, and a deep Christian faith to that role. After she came to us from Northern Ontario she married John Duggan and we were fortunate that he was so willing to participate in congregation life. Their departure was based on opportunity for Cathy but, let's be honest, she wouldn't have gone anywhere if we had been able to afford to keep her with us. Both Cathy and John will be missed.

That said, we bid farewell but not goodbye with tears and humour and a sense of blessing. The young people whose lives Cathy touched were involved in yesterday's worship, as well as at the gathering following the service. The congregation was generous in its gifts and one of them is pictured above. Cathy now has a lion puppet to go with much-loved Baabs, the sheep. I think adults loved Baabs as much as the kids, who were enthralled.

Ah changes. Many thanks and God's blessing to Cathy and John for their ministry in our midst. The folks at St. Matthew's in Belleville are fortunate.

Anything you would like to add?

Sunday, July 25, 2010

AIDS 2010

The United Nations conference on AIDS has concluded in Vienna. It has been taking place during a time of the year when many of us are less attentive to the news, but it seems to me that it is still important for all people and all Christians to consider this pandemic.

The good news is that reported cases of HIV are down in Canada. The bad news is that during a time of economic restraint in many nations, funding for AIDS projects in developing nations has "flat-lined" as one involved person puts it.

I heard a researcher and activist talking about the international picture at the beginning of the week, and he mentioned that providing the anti-viral drugs for those who are already infected greatly reduces the possibility of others being infected, whether sexual partners or unborn children. I hadn't realized this connection.

I hope that the world continues to see the importance of battling AIDS/HIV. And I hope the church of Christ, in its various expressions, is part of this effort. I have mentioned before that I see AIDS as the modern-day equivalent of leprosy. We have Jesus' example of reaching out to and healing those who were ostracized and vilified in that culture. He embodied Good News to those who had given up hope.

Have you paid much attention to the reports out of this conference? Do you know anyone living with AIDS/HIV? Have your attitudes changed over the years and how?

Saturday, July 24, 2010

God and Gardening

Recently PBS's Religion and Ethics newsletter republished a piece from last year on "spiritual gardening" by Norm Wirzba. begins the reflection this way:

Gardening is never simply about gardens. It is work that reveals the meaning and character of humanity, and is an exercise and demonstration of who we take ourselves and creation to be. It is the most direct and practical site where we can learn the art and discipline of being creatures. Here we concretely and practically see how we relate to the natural world, to other creatures, and ultimately to the Creator.

This may sound high-falutin' but I think its true. I'm not a good gardener, but there is something about growing stuff that delights me. The weather this year has been kind to gardens with both heat and rain bringing things along quickly. I don't mean to brag --well, I guess I do -- but we have eaten lettuce, chard, kale, peas, onions, tomatoes and peppers we have grown this year. All organic (no, the treasures pictured above are not ours.)

Is gardening a spiritual exercise for you? And how is your garden growing?

More Than Bricks and Mortar

Yesterday I got an email from one of the dads in our congregation who has Sunday School age children. He is a "stand-up guy" with a good sense of humour, another of the men in the St. Paul's family who impress me. He finished up by saying that he was rambling, but I really liked his observations and thought I would share a few with you. He began by asking...

What's your take on churches joining forces? I'm not tied to the bricks and mortar like the older generation. I actually think it could be intimidating to people of faith that don't have a church home. The perception of an old established building is that it has an old established congregation. You have to be born into it, or marry into it. I did the latter.

I'm not tied to a denomination like Presbyterian, United, Anglican, Baptist, Christian Reform, and so on. I'm a Christian, and I wish to belong to a church community of like minded, open minded, community conscious, environmentally concerned, charitable, fun loving people.
I don't care for the "we're better than you", "your going to hell if you do that" kind of churches, although they do seem to attract a crowd.

I like our church. I would like it to grow, and flourish. I would like to see similar minded congregations combine resources. Become one larger church family. Attract young families that are the future of the church. Appeal to their interests, and how they want to learn about Jesus, God, and Heaven.

This email made my Friday afternoon. It gives me hope for the future. Thoughts?

Friday, July 23, 2010

In Christ's Name

"Whenever you do this for one of the least of these, you do it to me" Jesus of Nazareth

I wasn't going to write about the Lunch on the Lawn hosted by St. Paul's congregation yesterday, but after the event was over I felt I needed to say something. About 30 people who are involved with Making Connections Clarington arrived around noon for a meal provided by a caring group of our women and one man. There were balloons and a strong welcome to those who gathered.

The food wasn't elaborate -- sandwiches and squares for the most part -- but it was tasty and there was plenty of it. Most of these folk live in group homes in the downtown of Bowmanville, and a fair number have mental health issues and other challenges. They love a chance to get together in a safe and encouraging environment and they love to eat! I find they are so friendly and really appreciative of the kindness they receive.

I think this is the local church at its strongest. Good people living out their Christian faith in a practical way.I may have offered the verbal welcome and said the prayer, but the organizers and workers were the real welcomers.
Did you know this event was happening? Any comments?

Thursday, July 22, 2010

What God Has Brought Together...

Last week Argentina became the first South American country and one of a handful of nations around the world to legalize gay marriage. It was an acrimonious process, as is so often the case, and the Roman Catholic church as well as other religious groups vocally opposed it.

Among the arguments against gay marriage are that it will undermine the meaning of the institution, and weaken its sanctity. I understand why some are opposed on religious grounds, but I just don't get these arguments. Why would a small minority of people wanting to emulate the large majority pose a threat? If marriage is deemed worthwhile by gays, why would that weaken the institution of the large majority?

And has anyone noticed that the shift in our largely hetorosexual secular society is away from organized religion, including ceremonies such as Christian marriage? Many clergy, myself included, have stepped back from the "marriage business" because so few couples seem interested in a Christian wedding, although they still want to get married. I don't think we can blame this on gays.

Its important to note as well, that here in Canada no clergyperson, including those in United Churches, is legally required to act against his or her conscience.

Do you think legalizing gay marriage in Canada has undermined the institution of marriage? Do you think society has changed as a result of these laws? Feel free to be honest in expressing your opinion.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Let No One Put Asunder

Hmm. Apparently I'm not the sharpest knife in the drawer. I meant to post this blog for Thursday, and for it to follow one I prepared for Wednesday. Instead it ended up as a later posting on Tuesday. So, I will now shift Wednesday's to Thursday. Clear as mud. Thanks for your patience dear readers!

I hadn't planned to complete the phrase which is the header from yesterday's blog entry, but after I wrote it I listened to one of a series of radio shows on CBC called Asunder. The series is about divorce and its impact on everyone involved, as well as on society

I listened intently to the episode I happened upon because divorce is such a huge pastoral issue for clergy of all denominations. The statistical evidence is that couples from conservative churches are as likely to divorce as those from liberal denominations, and we all follow the trend of North American society as a whole.

I wonder how many couples on the brink of marital break-up my father and father-in-law spent time with during their ministries? Since both were ordained in the mid-fifties I'm guessing not many. For me there have been too many to count, or at least individuals who are exiting relationships. There are couples who seek out the support of ministers while they are experiencing difficulties. Sadly, I spend much more time with those who are sorting out the mess afterwards.

As I have said before, lots of people initially want to respond to this often traumatic experience with a grace and generosity rooted in their Christian faith. It's hard though, not to become adversarial.

We have probably all been through divorce, whether first hand or second hand. In most cases couples took their vows seriously when they made them, usually at the front of a church and before God.

What do you think happens? Is there such a thing as a happy ending to divorce?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

An Impressive Group!

I was very impressed by the St. Pauls congregation this past Sunday. There was good attendance at worship, which isn't always the case in summer, and at least half of those in attendance - just over 70 people - stayed for a congregational meeting. I mentioned to a colleague in another presbytery that we were having this meeting and she was rather dubious. In her role she finds that many congregations don't want to meet at any time, because it just means more work for those who are already hard-pressed. Did I really think folk would show up? Well, it wasn't as many as those who might attend during the rest of the year, but there they were.

After a thorough presentation by the chairperson of our Ministry and Personnel committee we decided to contract with two people to address pastoral care and youth work. They will addresse these facet of congregational life while we find our way through a Joint Needs Assessment to discern where we will go in ministry. Beth, our former parish nurse and Laura, an involved lay person, will fill these roles. I am delighted that they agreed. Both bring strong gifts and skills and I know the congregation is pleased as well.

Then we formed the JNAC and we quickly had ten members, to the surprise of the presbytery pastoral relations chairperson. She wished her work was always that easy. The ten include two teens, four long-timers, and four parents of children and youth. It is an excellent group, diverse and representative.We ended up calling for a "show of hands" a total of six times, and all our motions passed.

I hope we are all grateful for this level of interest and commitment. Any thoughts?

Monday, July 19, 2010

Grave Crimes?

The Roman Catholic church has just announced revisions to its rules and procedures around sexual abuse. While this is encouraging the changes cannot undo the terrible history of denial and cover-ups which may have undermined the credibility of this expression of Christ's church forever.

At the same time the revisions codify as a “grave crime” against Church law “the attempted ordination of a woman” to conform with a decree issued in 2007 to deal with a growing movement in favour of a female priesthood. The Roman Catholic Church teaches that it cannot ordain women as priests because Christ chose only men as his disciples.

This is infuriating on so many levels. There is so much biblical evidence that Jesus included women in the wider circle of his followers and friends which is conveniently ignored by the R.C. church. There is also testimony to the roles women played in the early centuries of the church, before misogyny became the norm. And where in the gospels does it say that the original twelve disciples --eleven if we discount Judas-- were ever priests in a formal designation?

Of course this is a response to the growing "seditious" activity of those who are speaking out for women priests, and some who are going through unsanctioned ordination services, as pictured above. But what a "grave crime" to address vile abuse and the role of women in the church in the same theological breath.

Any comments on this?

Sunday, July 18, 2010


There is a new book, which has met with mixed reviews, called Brilliant: The Evolution of Artificial Light by Jane Brox. The "mixed" part is the author's tendency to meander down paths which don't serve her theme well, and that there are other roads not taken which would have been interesting. But the reviews I have read do agree that she makes a persuasive argument that the develop of artificial light was of an importance few of us can truly grasp today. Not long ago I saw a documentary on the 19th century whaling industry and it dawned on me (pun intended) that humans almost drove whales to extinction because we hunted them relentlessly for the oil which lit homes and fueled industry. How our developed world has changed since then.

Quaker author Brent Bill also touches on how artificial light has changed religions, as have other spiritual writers. Maybe God as the the light that dispels the darkness doesn't have as much mystical power in a time when we can extend the equivalent of daylight as long as we choose, whether it is in industrial settings, or our homes, or our places of worship.

Yet there is something about candles lighted for Christmas Eve, or a family gathering around the fire while camping, or a candle light vigil for an important cause that speaks to us in the way a flourescent bulb never will.

Do thoughts come to mind for you about "this little light of mine" as you read this? I know that at least one reader grew up without electricity in her Ottawa Valley home, and she isn't ancient!

What about your experience of mysterious light in worship settings?

Saturday, July 17, 2010


On the first day of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission here in Canada I asked if there was much point in going through the exercise, given the resistance on the part of some Native individuals and groups. We are aware of the complicity of Christian churches in the residential school system which was a form of cultural genocide, but would the commission get us anywhere as a nation and would it be a vehicle for redress with those who were harmed the most.

I happened upon a segment of the CBC radio program ReVision Quest last Saturday and I got at least a partial answer. I listened to Native speakers at commission hearings who spoke with great dignity and gravity about their experiences. One man, now a government minister, spoke about the sexual abuse he suffered at the hands of a priest, and how his life careened toward destruction before he edged back from the brink. He talked of how he had forgiven despite the pain inflicted.

A woman spoke of how she had not been in a residential school herself, but her parents had. Their inability to express love, to nurture children, to live productive lives, had a profound effect on her as a next generation sufferer. She went on to say that through the Roman Catholic church and her Christian faith she had experienced the unconditional, embracing love of Christ and had begun the journey of healing. She had learned to see her parents and herself in a positive, hopeful light. It was also freeing her to reclaim traditional ways as a form of empowerment and identity.

As I listened I sensed that the opportunity to speak the truth of their lives was necessary for both of them. I was very grateful for what they had to say and their honesty and witness was a gift.

Have you been paying attention to the hearings? Any thoughts on the ReVision Quest program?

Friday, July 16, 2010

Which Hitchens?

The other day I went online and listened to an interview from last Friday on the CBC radio program called Q. Host Jihan Ghomeshi had a conversation with a man with the last name Hitchens. You might think this was Christopher Hitchens, perhaps the world's most famous atheist at the moment. This Hitchens is very bright and incredibly scornful of any and all religion and his book God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything has been a massive best-seller. Hitchens critics point out that he seems to assume that every religion and every believer has a fundamentalist, anti-rational foundation and can be dismissed out of hand.

Ghomeshi has interviewed Christopher Hitchens but it was his brother, Peter Hitchens, with whom he spoke last week. Peter is an award-winning journalist and former atheist who has become a Christian. He has also written a book challenging those who are called the New Atheists, including his brother. They were not on speaking terms for a time, but have reconciled and actually debated each other, although they have decided against further events. His book The Rage Against God: Why Faith is the Foundation of Civilization (different title in Britain) is not a work of Christian apologetics but his "take" on the aggressive atheism which seems to be the spirit of the day. He lives in Britain where it seems to be "open season" on Christians.

In terms of his own faith, Peter is quick to say that he had no "road to Damascus" experience but concluded that faith and in his case Christianity, is a positive force in the world. He sounds fairly orthodox in his views about Jesus as the Christ.

Take a listen to Peter and Christopher if you like, since both interviews are available at the Q website. I found him to be interesting and open.

What are your thoughts about all of this, including Peter's choice to become a Christian?

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Pulpit and the Pew

When I get the United Church Observer from month to month I read and regularly think I should blog about its content. I do occasionally, but not often enough. This month the cover article is The Pulpit and the Pew and it is actually several articles on the state of ministry in our denomination, including the results of surveys with people who attend worship and are involved in congregational life.

I wasn't really surprised by anything I read but it was good to peruse the articles and scan the survey results. I did notice that the perceptions of lay people don't always match up with those of clergy. Lay people still want someone who cares enough to visit, preaches well and is educated to do the work of ministry. These are all more than reasonable expectations from my perspective.
I wish there was more on expectations about leadership into the future from clergy. The survey says that lay folk want ministers to be educated for their roles. I agree. But what about training to be leaders and to facilitate the tough transitions facing our denomination today?
Click on the image above and check out the articles on line. Any comments, criticisms, insights?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

God's Wake-Up Call

If there is a God, she’s surely bewildered by the apparent determination of the human race to ignore the deafening wake-up call she’s recently sent our way. As wake-up calls go, it’s hard to beat the BP oil spill. The relentless gush of oil into the Gulf of Mexico for the past 85 days, captured live on camera, should be enough to finally force us to look critically at the deeply flawed concepts that have become the guiding ideologies of our times — starting with unbridled capitalism, and its elevation of economic gain above the very sustainability of the Earth we inhabit.

This is the way journalist Linda McQuaig began an article in the Toronto Star yesterday. Not only did I agree with her, I was struck by the way she began with a nod toward God. The headline for the piece was about nature's wake-up call, but you can see for yourself that she speaks of the Prime Mover, Ground of Being, Cosmic Kahuna. You know that I feel that concern for the environment is a deeply spiritual issue and includes repenting of our foolish and sinful ways.

We are waiting to see whether BP's latest attempt to contain the oil spewing into the Gulf has been successful. To say "successful" is hardly appropriate after nearly three months of environmental destruction and our puny human response. I have given you a link to a BBC article on the damage to the environment.

Despite the hue and cry about what has occurred in the Gulf, we are now hearing about plans to transport radioactive waste in ships on the Great Lakes. It will come as no surprise that some environmentalists are deeply concerned, the way environmentalists were concerned over the deep water drilling for oil.

How are you feeling as we await the verdict on the shutdown attempt? What do you think of McQuaig's assessment? What has God got to do with all of this?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

I Shall Not Hate

Sunday in worship I tied the Good Samaritan story to that of Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish, the Gaza doctor whose three daughters and neice were killed during the Israeli bombardment of that region in January 2009. It was one more tragic moment in the ongoing emnity between Israel and the Palestinians and we know that there are no clearcut answers. We do know that Dr. Abuelaish always worked to build bridges between Israelis and Palestinians, Muslims and Jews.

Despite the agony of his loss he refuses to hate and is convinced that violence is not an answer to any conflict. It is his deep faith as a Muslim which has led him to this conclusion. I finished his book I Shall Not Hate: A Gaza Doctor's Journey last week and I would highly recommend it. I was reading in on the plane to Dallas and had a conversation about it with a curious flight attendant who doubted she could forgive anyone who caused harm to her family. Here is a review that might interest you

Dr. Abuelaish and his other children now live in Toronto, a move which was planned before the death of his family members. They love this country.

Some of you have read this book. Have any of you heard him speak on television or radio? Do you think you would be able to live beyond hatred if your loved ones were harmed?

Monday, July 12, 2010

To Kill a Mockingbird

A few weeks ago I had an email conversation with lawyer Joe in our congregation that somehow got us around to his admiration of the character Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird.

Yesterday was the fiftieth anniversary of Harper Lee's one and only novel, To Kill a Mockingbird. The reclusive Ms. Lee is probably doing okay since sales have averaged six hundred thousand copies a year since it was published. It is a perennial favourite of high school lit classes and the Oscar-winning movie version shows up on television all the time. Could there have been a more noble and dignified Atticus Finch than Gregory Peck? Brock Peters demonstrated great dignity as the accused Tom Robinson. And what about a young Robert Duvall as the mysterious neighbour, Boo Radley? The story is based on an incident in Ms Lee's community in 1936, when she was an impressionable ten years old.

Surely this story has endured through the decades because it gets to the dark heart of racial injustice and reminds us that the courage to do what is right in the face of grave wrong is more than "whistling in the dark."

Apparently some years ago British librarians voted To Kill a Mockingbird ahead of the bible as a book that everyone should read before they die. Interesting, because it doesn't strike me as competing with the bible. I think it reflects the best of the biblical themes of justice and compassion and prophetic speech.

What are your experiences of the novel or the film? Any observations about what it represents for you?

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Journey of Forgiveness

It was twenty years ago today that Francine Lemay received the phone call informing her that her brother, corporal Marcel Lemay had been killed during an exchange of gunfire on the Oka Reserve in Quebec. I remember that morning well. I was listening to live reportage on CBC radio, hardly believing what I was hearing. It was the beginning of the protracted standoff at Oka, although the only death came in those first few hours of the confrontation.

For years Francine suffered from nightmares which included attacks by native people. Then a group of Mohawks visited her church on a Sunday morning. She identified herself and offered apologies to the visitors, and they offered condolences in return. This exchange was the beginning of a journey of reconciliation during which Francine has written a book of history about the Mohawks. In May she spoke at the annual meeting of Montreal and Ottawa conference of the United Church.

I admire Francine Lemay for summoning the courage to forgive rather than hate. How do people do this? She comments: “Sometimes the whole thing overwhelms me, but you have to hold out your hand. You have to move on. It’s the only way to hold hope in the future.”

Did you know this story? What is your response?

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Rainbow Gratitude

Our son Isaac sent us a Youtube link to a video shot by a guy who sees a double rainbow while on a hiking trip. More than a million people have looked at this clip, many of whom have posted disparaging comments because of the "over the top" reaction by this man. My response to Isaac was that he must have been "high," dehydrated, or doesn't get out much.

I have been thinking about it since then and I feel a bit sheepish about my cynicism. What's wrong with an ecstatic reponse to the beauty of the natural world? Hey, I shared with you our experience of a double rainbow last year and while we didn't have an emotional meltdown we stopped the car and took pictures. And every faith tradition invites us to live lives of gratitude. Many Christian saints were "kooks" who saw the beauty of God's handiwork in the everyday.

You would think the guy taking the video was Noah just after getting off the ark. Take a look, laugh, shake your head, and tell me what you think.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Unlikely Samaritan?

We all know who Sean Penn is, don't we? He has starred in lots of movies and takes on roles with great intensity. Penn got side-tracked for a while in the eighties, what with a tumultuous marriage to Madonna, and taking swings at the paparazzi. But he evened his life out again and went on to win Academy Awards for Mystic River and Milk, both deserved.

So, what is Sean Penn doing today? Since the earthquake in Haiti he has been very involved in providing medical aid for the victims of that impoverished country. He has spoken to the U.S. senate asking for continued aid, but he has done much than this.

When I was waiting for two hours on a grounded plane in Santa Fe last week I chatted with a guy who was on his way to Haiti to work in the tent city Penn has set up to house and feed a small army of medical workers. was the paramedics second stint and he told me that Penn is there, living with the rest of the responders and coordinating the effort. Now, he is still Sean Penn, walking around with a sidearm strapped to his side, but he is doing important work.
So often we are moved to compassion by the immediacy of tragedies around the world, then the media moves on and the situation is "out of sight, out of mind." United Church members gave two million dollars for Haiti Relief in a matter of weeks, and probably contributed millions more through other charities. Impressive. But the sort of ongoing compassion exhibited by Penn is even more impressive, at least to me. This Sunday we will hear the story of the Good Samaritan in Luke's gospel, and he is living the message to care for his neighbour.

Had you heard about what Penn is doing? What is your reaction? I wonder how we can be better Samaritans?

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Homage to Francis

Franciscan monks accompanied the Spanish soldiers who invaded what is now New Mexico, so it shouldn't be a surprise that the Cathedral and Basilica in the heart of Santa Fe is dedicated to Saint Francis. How did those monks justify their founder's commitment to peace with conquest? A question for another time perhaps.

There are two statues of St. Francis at the cathedral, one showing him with the tamed wolf of the village of Gubbio and the other which is a whimsical dancing saint. I appreciated the dancer much more. His body is covered with quotes from the prayers attributed to St. Francis. The third statue is on a downtown street corner and shows Francis contemplating a prairie dog as the rodent regards him. I had to take a photo.

Which one tickles your fancy?

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Peace Man

Sigh. Seventy! Today Ringo Starr, the drummer for the Beatles, turns seventy years old. What a stark(ey) reminder for Baby Boomers. Hey man, we're old.

Ringo has requested that at noon today we all flash a peace sign to honour his birthday. He says he is still committed to the concepts of peace and love which were so much a part of the idealistic mindset of the era when the Beatles ruled the music world, the 1960's. It does seem naiive in retrospect. Make love not war, the opponents of the Viet Nam war shouted. And of course , Ringo's bandmate, John Lennon, sang "all we are saying, is give peace a chance."

This was also Jesus' message, which Christians tout and then steadfastly ignore. According to the gospel of Luke, angels sang a message of peace at Jesus' birth. Wouldn't it be something if we finally decided that it makes holy sense? So, at noon today, peace out.

Do you dare to share some sixties reminiscences? What are your thoughts about peace on earth, good will to all in an age when we are at war?

Wild at Heart

When I was a kid my father had me enrolled in a book club that sent a classic to our home every month or so. One was Wild Animals I Have Known by Ernest Thompson Seton, and the picture you see above is the cover for the edition I had. It was about wolves and other creatures Thompson Seton had encountered as he explored wilderness areas. Thompson Seton is now credited with being among the first to write fiction about animals in a realistic manner. When I was "stuck" in Santa Fe last week I visited the newly opened Museum of History and discovered a major exhibit devoted to Thompson Seton called Wild at Heart. He came to New Mexico to hunt wolves professionally and became a naturalist and eventually a protector of wolves.

To my surprise I discovered that Thompson Seton grew up near Lindsay Ontario, not far from Bowmanville, then Toronto, where he studied art. He made his way to New Mexico via Manitoba and the state became his adopted home.

The exhibit also mentioned Thompson Seton's deepening sense of the spiritual in the natural world as he grew older. He sensed a profound presence in nature, and felt that the spirituality of Native people was earth-honouring in a way the invading culture had forgotten. I think we have forgotten, to our great detriment. I would like to think that Christianity can reaffirm a spirituality of creation care which is reflected in many passages in the Older Testament, but also evident in Jesus' awareness of the created order.
Have you heard of Ernest Thompson Seton? Have any of you read Wild Animals I Have Known?

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Mother and Child

A couple more blogs about my time in New Mexico before I move on. The responses haven't exactly been flooding in, so I may be having a conversation with myself in these sleepier days of summer.

The day after our course concluded and the morning of the day of my flight home I was invited by the course leader, Larry Rasmussen, to go with a small group of people to visit the Allan Hauser Sculpture Garden, a few miles outside Santa Fe. Hauser was one of the U.S's leading sculptors with works in a number of galleries and other public settings around the country. He was also an Apache, so the States' most recognized aboriginal sculptor.

His work is amazing and many important pieces are in the Sculpture Garden located at his country home, workshop, and foundry for casting pieces. Limited edition sculptures are still being produced.

I was struck by the pieces which featured mothers and children. They portray such dignity and hope, a characteristic of Hauser's work, but particularly evident with this subject matter. Of course Madonna and Child paintings and sculptures have always been important in Christian art, but these works offered a different perspective.


Monday, July 05, 2010

Living Waters for the World

One of the participants in our Water and A Baptismal Life course works with those who are interested in providing clean water in places where it is not suitable for drinking. Some of these locations are in developing nations, but there a few in the United States as well. Jeff worked for a big corporation but was let go as a result of a corporate merger and a struggling economy. He signed on with Living Waters for the World and told me that while he makes a lot less money he is getting deep satisfaction in his work.

As he described these projects I thought about Native communities here in Canada. It is an embarassment and an injustice that some of these communities have been evacuated for a time because the water meant for drinking and bathing is so badly contaminated. I wondered if Christian communities such as ours could get involved in a water project in our country. Jeff pointed out that schools often get involved, as well as churches. He also mentioned that Rotary International has sponsored more than 800 clean water projects through different organizations.

There is a Canadian organization called Ryan's Well which was started by a child who was determined to raise money for a well in Uganda.

I would love for us to become involved in a water project at St. Paul's. Some of you may remember that we did raise $2500 for an irrigation project for a Christian hospital in Kenya a few years ago. Wouldn't it be great if we could figure out a collaboration between local churches, local schools, and our local Rotary Club.
Any thoughts?

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Go Wet or Go Home!

Our presenters at the Water and a Baptismal Life conference, including ethicist Larry Rasmussen, liturgy prof Ben Stewart, and professor Janet Walton, all encouraged us to consider the liberal use of water in baptism to remind congregations that water is a precious gift of God. We did some reflecting on the "damp hand" form of baptism where the water is barely visible. We were reminded as well that even some denominations which immerse baptismal candidates do so in a tank that is recessed and almost hidden from view. Their encouragement was basically "go wet or go home."

When we baptise at St. Paul's I invite a child to pour the water into the font in full view of the congregation, and I try to make the water visible in the act of baptism. I'm sure we could be splashier and perhaps we should be. The font we have doesn't let us see the water and it sure doesn't make any noise. In some churches the water is very visible. The baptismal font above is in the Santa Fe Cathedral, and it is large and noisy, with the water gurgling away as one walks by.

Does it make sense to you to make a bigger splash when we baptise? Do we need to make baptism a more sensory and a more meaningful sacrament?

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Treasures of Devotion

When I found myself with an extra morning in Santa Fe after my flight was cancelled I went downtown to take in a couple of museums I hadn't visited before. While Albuquerque is the largest city in New Mexico at nearly 900,000 souls, Santa Fe is the capital with a mere 75,000. It celebrates its four hundredth anniversary this year. As the capital it has been blessed with many excellent museums. There is a newly opened Museum of History which is very interesting, and alongside it is the Palace of the Governors, a four hundred year old building which is now a museum itself.

One of the current Palace exhibits is Treasures of Devotion, a collection of religious objects amassed by the Larry Frank family through the years. There are Spanish, Mexican, and Native influences in this work. The works date from 1700 to 1900 and these santos were created by santeros, artists who were respected for their skill and their personal faith. You can take a look for yourself

I find that art, including devotional art, often speaks very powerfully to me, and the wall of crucifixes in this exhibit had a strong impact. I use art images often in sermons because they reach a deeper reality, at least from my perspective.

Do you find visual images touch you? Any thoughts about this exhibit?

Friday, July 02, 2010

Desert Water

For my course, Water and A Baptismal Life we listened to water experts as well as the theologians who reflected on water as a sign of the sacred.

The woman pictured above is Blanca, and she works for the water authority in New Mexico. Standing in a retaining pond at Ghost Ranch she explained to us the challenges of delivering water to a state population that has doubled in the past forty years as Baby Boomers retire and look for a warmer place to live in winter. Many of the newcomers don't understand that they are moving to a desert, and deserts don't have much water.

She informed us that much of the water in New Mexico comes from aquifers, natural underwater pools which contain ancient or fossil water. These aquifers are not recharged by the meagre rainfall so the wells go deeper and deeper, from one hundred feet to two hundred, to more than a thousand in the time she has worked for the authority. Now water is brought from the Colorado river and pumped across the Rocky Mountains to support domestic use and agriculture, which is actually 85% of water use in New Mexico. Blanca also told us that many rural communities simply run out of water for days at a time, and the authority works with them to upgrade their systems and educate them about water use.

The bible is a book of desert spirituality and we have many stories of water scarcity, significant meetings at wells, and renewal in the desert wilderness.

Do you attempt to use water judiciously? Do you know where your drinking water comes from? Do we pay enough for our water?

Thursday, July 01, 2010

The Gift of the Pueblo

Happy Canada Day! One of the outings arranged for our group while at the Water and A Baptismal Life course was to the Ohkay Ohwingeh Pueblo. The Pueblo natives of New Mexico did not surrendered their lands to an occupying power, nor did they relinquish their languages, so they were never put on reservations or reserves.

This pueblo was formerly known as San Juan, after John the Baptist. We went very early on June 24th, St. John the Baptist day, to the local church named after him for the blessing of the waters. The priest and the deacons led a procession to the Rio Grande river which involved many locals, including women carrying figures of the saints. Water was drawn from the river and used to bless everyone present.

Later in the morning dancers, perhaps two hundred or more, filled the plaza or square and did traditional dances. Some looked to be as young as four or five, and all were in full regalia. It is thrilling when so many people turn and dance directly toward you. Between dances they go to the same river for ceremonial cleansing.

Because it was a feast day many residents opened their homes to visitors at noon for a meal. I went to a home where they fed me generously with dishes I couldn't identify, but were delicious nonetheless. Marvellous hospitality.

Virtually every religious tradition includes the ceremonial use of water. Do you think that we would be more respectful of water if we revived a deeper sense of its sacramental quality?