Sunday, October 31, 2010


This morning 31 red roses will be placed in a vase at the front of the St. Paul's sanctuary as 31 names are said aloud. These names are of individuals who have died during the 12 months since the previous All Saints Day. Some of the loved ones named were members of the St. Paul's congregation. Others are siblings, parents, relatives, and friends who are cherished by those who heard the invitation to include their names today.

As the list was assembled during the past couple of weeks I have been aware of the weight of loss and the gravity of love represented in each name. In many instances I have presided at memorials and funerals. We have upheld many through our prayer ministries. No doubt some family members would smile at the thought of their loved ones as "saints," but we are using a broader definition of those loved by God and others. We do this as the Christian community with gratitude for lives shared with us and in resurrection hope.

Are you one of the family and friends who have requested a rose in honour of your loved one? Does it help to have a tangible gesture such as this one in a service of worship? Is it hopeful?

Friday, October 29, 2010

Hospital Snakes and Ladders

I had this weird feeling that I was being punked by the staff of one of Canada's largest hospitals on Wednesday. I drove to Sunnybrook to see our member who is still struggling to regain his health after an almost-fatal motorcycle accident. He's in patient care 5c I am told. Except that a nice person at the 5c nursing station tells me he has returned to Critical Care on the second floor. She was nicely wrong. I pick up the patient phone on two and...find out he is ICU on the fourth floor. Another pleasant person apologizes and sent me back up to five, this time to ICU rather than the regular patient rooms.

After close to twenty minutes of hospital snakes and ladders I pulled on the gown, mask, and gloves to spend less time with Ron than it took to find him. Yet talking with him, realizing that he is "back in the land of the living," praying with him and finding out that the prayer shawl from the last visit mattered to him were all good.

I have spent a lot of time in a lot of hospitals through the years and I don't like them much. They are dedicated environments that aren't all that "user friendly" for clergy. They are just part of the reality of ministry.

How do you do in hospitals? As a patient? As a visitor? Do you avoid them when folk you know are sick, are you okay to visit?

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Radical Crazy or Radical Committed?

A Roman Catholic nun, Sister Virginia Muller, had never heard of a baseball shortstop from another era named Honus Wagner. But she quickly learned the baseball great is a revered figure among collectors, and the most sought-after baseball card in history. And thanks to a gift from her late brother, one of the century-old cards belongs to Muller and her order, the Baltimore-based School Sisters of Notre Dame. The sisters are auctioning off the card, which despite its poor condition is expected to fetch between $150,000 and $200,000. The proceeds will go to their ministries in 35 countries around the world.

You might not know (I didn't until this summer) that members of certain religious orders are not allowed to keep inheritances. Instead they become the property of the order. I spoke with a nun this summer who was one of the presenters at a conference I attended in New Mexico. She teaches at a prestigious seminary in New York and probably makes pretty good coin. Not only it she really smart, she is sophisticated and funny.

When I asked her about retirement she told me would like to stay in NYC teaching English to kids in poor neighbourhoods. Her order will decide. Right now she submits a budget every year for living expenses, but everything beyond that goes to the order, so she has no savings. She inherited money last year which would have been a nice nest egg and her brothers suggested they invest it for her on the quiet. She wrestled with that for a while, then stayed true to her vows. She admitted that it was one of the hardest decisions she ever made. I was moved by both her honesty and faithfulness.

What do you think about this sort of commitment, which is downright biblical? Is she crazy or Christian? Could you imagine this scenario for yourself?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


This past Sunday three of our teens, one 15 and two 16, were our "guest speakers' for our anniversary. It was actually a scripted conversation, if there can be such a thing. I gave the three of them three questions in advance and told them that they had two minutes to answer each one. We sat at the front, on four stools, and they responded to these questions on who and what has shaped their faith, what is important for them as Christians today, and what their "big dreams" for the future are.

How did they do? Well, Christopher, Kathryn, and Jonathan were AWESOME! First of all, they handled the occasion like pros, keeping on time and message, looking to the congregation, speaking clearly. Much more than that, they gave heartfelt, thoughtful responses which were powerful witnesses. There was nothing immature about how or what they offered. And many people in the congregation have admitted that they were moved to tears by what they heard from these young people.

I chose the passage from 1 Samuel about the call of the boy Samuel to get the ear's of God's people tingling again. I think that happened on Sunday.

Were you there? What was your response? Do we need to make more opportunities to hear Good News from our young people?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Leaky Ark

It's surprising that the image of Noah's Ark is used so often, even in our modern and scientific age, to describe the complex biological "vessel" planet Earth. Well, the ark is springing lots of leaks, like the cartoon above, and the crew is desperate to figure out what to do with the woodpeckers.

There is a UN conference on biodiversity going on right now in Nagoyo, Japan that is stalled on how to address the alarming loss of species around the world. The trouble is that it is actually the humans who are sinking the good ship Earth, because of our sheer numbers and our disregard for the diversity of creatures.

Once again a conference intended to protect the planet is going nowhere, with disagreements over funding and timelines. Governments already anxious about faltering economies are reluctant to commit to protecting species and habitats. We don't seem to get it that if we don't we will be left with a world populated by coachroaches, weeds, and starving humans.

Why do you think we are unwilling to stop "soiling our own nests?" Do you think it would be brave or foolish for our own government to commit to hard targets for biodiversity protection?

Monday, October 25, 2010

Compassion for Haitians

Last Sunday I attended a worship service in Montreal which was conducted by Montreal City Mission, a ministry supported by the United Church of Canada. I consider our being "in the right place at the right time' as providential. I have been trying to track down someone who can help us with plans for sponsorship of an individual or family from Haiti, in keeping with encouragement from the national church to get involved in alleviating the suffering of earthquake survivors.

The same bequest which is allowing us to set up the community dinner called The Gathering Place will provide funds to do this as well. MCM works with refugees from many countries, but Haitians gravitate to Quebec and Montreal because of the French language. It makes much more sense for us to support work there rather than sponsor someone to come to Anglophone Bowmanville. You may have noticed we don't have a large Haitian population.

As I have been speaking with folk from MCM this past week we are hearing that deadly cholera is besetting hundreds and perhaps thousands in Haiti and has already killed at least 250. Christians responded with considerable generosity at the time of the earthquake, but the need is far from over.

Are you aware of this cholera outbreak? Does it make sense to you that we find a way to respond with our financial support?

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Niqab and Justice

Long-time friends stayed with us overnight on Friday and we had a great "catch up" visit after years without seeing each other. When we first met them he was a hard-working young lawyer. For the past year he has been a hard-working judge, "learning the ropes" of a demanding new profession.

I had lots of questions, including his thoughts about women coming into his courtroom wearing the niqab, the full head and face covering often associated with Islam. I say "often associated" because there are many Muslim scholars and faithful followers who insist that there is nothing in the Koran which requires women to don this garb. He reminded me that the decision in Ontario was that each judge could respond to the wearing of the niqab on a case-by-case basis. He pointed out that as a judge it is important to know that the accused person or person in the witness chair is who they say they are, a simple fact that is much harder to establish when all that is visible is their eyes.

I have mixed feelings on this one. On the one hand I believe in the freedom of religion, including what we might consider unusual dress because of our Western predispositions. On the other hand I don't want anything to happen which might impede justice being done. And I'm not so sure that the niqab is a necessary aspect of Islamic religious expression. It feels more like repression to me.

What has your reaction been as various jurisdictions have wrestled with this one? Is it clear-cut for you, or are you dithering like me?

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Gathering Place

Wherever two or three gather in my name, I will be there. Jesus

I want to update you about a really positive experience I am having with a group of good-humoured, committed and compassionate Christians. A couple of the members of the Bowmanville ministerial had the seed of an idea for a regular community meal for those who might benefit by getting together with others to be both physically and spiritually nourished. I talked to them about providing some "seed money" from a bequest left to St. Paul's by a wonderful woman who was deeply committed to outreach.

We have lot of folk in our downtown who live in group homes, boarding and rooming houses, who spend a fair amount of time in isolation. Some have mental health issues and others have been essentially tossed to the curb of life. Making Connections Clarington already provides a drop-in two days a week and we hope this meal which we are calling The Gathering Place will complement this important work.

What has unfolded is an initiative by our ministerial, largely driven by lay people from five congregations and counting. I have been chairing the meetings but these folk are really motivated to make this happen. It has been a pleasure to see Christians from other congregations in action, as well as the volunteers from St. Paul's. I leave each meeting feeling better about Christian community beyond our own walls.

Please pray for our efforts and for the first meal which will take place Friday, December 3rd. If you would like to help that evening, or on other occasions, we will be recruiting volunteers. It is a great way for young people to learn about Christian service.

Any comments or thoughts?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Hour of Bankruptcy

Holy Moley! Even Possibility Thinking doesn't get churches out of financial difficulty, judging by the latest news. The Crystal Cathedral in California just filed for bankruptcy after a series of downsizing moves over the past year or so. The congregation best known for its beautiful building, the upbeat message of founder Robert Schuller, and the Hour of Power TV broadcast is at least $7.5 million in the red. Amongst the creditors for the congregation is the animal outfit that supplies camels and sheep for the big Christmas pageant they hold every year.

Before stepping down in 2008 Schuller preached a message which leaned heavily on creating a positive frame of mind to achieve goals. There were shades of Norman Vincent Peale in his theme, and the secular version seems to be The Secret. For critics it appeared to have less to do with the biblical gospel of Christ and more to do with "think big and prosper."

This financial trouble is a reminder that even the glitziest ministries are going through hard times these days in a society where organized religion has become less a part of peoples' lives and tough economic times has dried up financial support for many congregations.

What is your reaction to this news? Did you ever watch Schuller before he handed over the reigns to other family members? Do you think that being a positive Christian should result in tangible financial benefit?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Heart of Darkness

I was struck by two comments made yesterday in media reports about the trial of disgraced Canadian armed forces colonel Russell Williams. Williams pled guilty to more than eighty charges which included everything from breaking and entering, to sexual assault, to murder.

On the front page of the Globe and Mail yesterday Christie Blatchford offered that "in Canadian criminal history, probably no one ever before has done the devil’s work with such single-minded purpose and documented his exploits with such devotion." Elsewhere a police investigator spoke of our public exposure to the depth of evil in this case.

I have no idea whether Blatchford actually believes in the devil, nor how the police officer would define evil. I certainly believe in evil and in a malevolent force of evil which we can call the devil or anything else. I do think we have downplayed the possibility of evil in our culture, often choosing psychological language instead. But how else do we come to terms with what this individual has done? He has a brother who is a local doctor leading a normal life. How could one sibling engage in such horrific acts without there being conscious choices to enter the darkest places of the human spirit?

What conclusions have you come to about the existence of evil? What is your reaction to what has happened with Russell Williams? Please pray for the families of the brave young women who died at Williams' hands.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


I'm a little slow off the mark this morning! Maybe it's because of a subject that is a biggie in faith terms. Do you believe in miracles? By miracles I mean events which occur outside of what we have established at the normal processes or "laws of nature."

We were in Montreal this past weekend visiting our son and daughter-in-law who live close to St. Joseph's Oratory, the massive Roman Catholic complex which dominates the city skyline perched on Mont Royal. On Saturday evening we went to the oratory because thousands of people were gathered there in anticipation of the canonization of Brother Andre Bessette which took place in the early hours of the next morning in Rome. For the uninitiated, that does not mean he was fired from a canon. He was declared a saint by the pope after the substantiation of miracles of healing performed through prayers to Andre.

During his lifetime many people came to Brother Andre for healing, although he was uncomfortable with being described as a healer. In the crypt where his remains rest, there are hundreds of canes and crutches left behind by those who believed they were healed. The miracles leading to Andre's canonization happened after his death, as is required by the church.

You might be surprised to know that the process for canonization involves a careful and deliberate examination of events. Medical and scientific experts are recruited to do this work, as well as church officials. A Canadian doctor and scientist, Jacalyn Duffin has been consulted in another instance and in the end penned a book called Medical Miracles. Even though she is an atheist she is open to the possibility of miracles.

Of course Jesus performed many miracles according to the gospels, and resurrection could be considered the ultimate miracle. Have you given much thought to miracles lately? We had our own chat on the way home. Have you experienced a miracle(s)? How do they fit with your faith?

Monday, October 18, 2010

Innies and Outies

Take a look at the September/October Psychology Today for an article called Revenge of the Introvert. Some of you may have experience with the Myers Briggs Indicator, a tool which helps people establish their personality type, including extroversion and introversion. Extraverts gain energy through sociability and tend to be bored by solitude. Intraverts prefer the inner life and are renewed by reflection and solitude. This doesn't meant that extraverts don't benefit from "down time" and many intraverts are good "people persons" --just not all the time.

This has fascinated me, because I am an introvert according to several Myers Briggs through the years. I love people, but I have to withdraw from external stumuli at times in order to stay sane and spiritually focussed. Actually more clergy are intraverts proportionally, which makes sense because we feel that inner stirring which we describe as "call." We are in an "outie" profession, but we also need the "innie" opportunities to do our work effectively. I figure God appreciates some undivided attention.

Do you know about the Myers Briggs Indicator? Have you ever gone through the process? Make sense to you?

Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Reel Jesus

During the past few years I have mentioned that my sister-in-law and family attend a congregation that meets in a local movie theatre. There are actually several affiliated congregations meeting in movie houses and the pastor isn't actually there, except on the screen. I think it is a simulcast. They joke that they know it is time to leave on Sunday mornings when they can smell the popcorn from the concession stand.

I have brought this up when musing about the folly of having two traditional United Church buildings in Bowmanville within two blocks of one another on the same street. It is an odd holdover from church union in 1925 and in my opinion it just doesn't make sense in 2010. So, why not have one downtown congregation and set up another in a setting such as a movie theatre?

Well, some local Baptists are on this one. A congregation calling itself Gracepoint has set up in the Clarington cinemas after selling their tiny, traditional building in Courtice. They were languishing in an unsuitable building on a busy highway.

Some of the comments by the pastor in a Clarington This Week article made me smile -- are we really (reely) in the entertainment business? But I have met him and know that he is sincere and attempting to be bold in his leadership. We'll see how this flies.

What do you think of this initiative? Folly in itself, or the work of the Holy Spirit. What should this say to us?

Friday, October 15, 2010

Need a Prayer?

Each week a small group of St. Paul's people who are committed toour prayer ministry receive an email with a list of prayers from our Prayer Box. Our folk can put a prayer request in the box at the back of our sanctuary and each week we bring the box forward at the time of the Prayers of the People. I have mentioned before how deeply meaningful these requests are.
A couple of weeks ago it occurred to me that we could probably set up an email address for an "eliminate the middleman" prayer request. While we will continue with the Prayer Box and its important symbolism in worship, we now have a dedicated prayer request email address called Needaprayer. It is actually I'm not sure why we didn't think of it before.

Does it make sense to you to open up this opportunity, or is it too impersonal? Have you ever asked someone to pray for or with you? Have you used the Prayer Box?

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Camp Hope

It seems so obvious that I am tempted to give it a miss, yet how could I avoid commenting on the extraordinary liberation of the miners trapped underground for more than two months in Chile. All of them must be grateful beyond words -- except for the guy whose wife and girlfriend found out about each other during the long vigil. He was the one who offered to stay where he was!

What is it about this situation that has captured our imagination? After all, we regularly here of larger groups of miners killed in Chinese accidents, or people wiped out in bus crashes or capsizing ferries. In fact, tens of thousands die every day in mishaps around the world. Surely it has to do with their fortitude while in that netherworld, literal and figurative, between life and death. We simply can't imagine what it would be like to maintain hope in such grim circumstances.

We do know that many of the miners are people of faith and that one of them became a sort of chaplain for the group. And above ground in the makeshift village called Camp Hope vigils and prayers were maintained on their behalf. A number of the miners have dropped to their knees in grateful prayer once they emerged into the light of day. One of them said, “I’ve been near God, but I’ve also been near the devil. God won.”

As I write all 33 miners, and the rescuers who volunteered to go down to them, have been brought to the surface well ahead of schedule.
Have you followed the drama through these past fews weeks and particularly in the past 36 hours? Have you been impressed by the way these guys handled this challenge? Would your faith make a difference for you if caught in a life-and-death situation?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Grilled Cheesus

I am not Gleeful. Let me put this another way; I am not a Gleek. I don't watch the hit television show Glee which is short on plot and long on thematic warbling and celebrity appearances.

However, last Tuesday evening I came in from a study group for the last few minutes of an episode of Glee called Grilled Cheesus. It seems that high school football stud Finn has seen the image of Jesus in a late night hunger-busting grilled cheese sandwich. It becomes a personal object of devotion with the hope that it will catapult him to athletic prowess. Meanwhile atheist Kurt's dad suffers a life-threatening heart attack. Where to turn when you don't believe in God?

Why to song of course! Thanks to the availablity of just about everything online these days I was able to take a look at the highlights of the episode. It was a surprisingly mature exploration of the subject, for a primetime show which is really about show tunes.

As irreverent as this all may sound, there are people who have revelatory moments in the strangest places. While we lived in Nova Scotia we stopped at a Tim Horton's in Cape Breton which turned out to be something of a shrine because someone interpreted a stain on the wall as an image of the BVM (Blessed Virgin Mary.) No she didn't have a double-double and a cruller in her hands.

Religion can be odd, and downright dangerous, but both its presence and absence can have a huge impact on individuals, congregations, even countries.

Anyone see the episode? Is it just wrong for TV to broach these subjects? Have you ever experienced Jesus on a food item?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Another Glimpse of Glory

There were a lot of us who could hardly believe the beautiful weather of the Thanksgiving weekend. I don't need to tell you that it can be cold and wet and snow flurries have been known to beset us, but not this year. I was interested to see what plants and animals were still around. Without a frost wildflowers and other errant species still flourish in meadows, while at least one turtle decided it wasn't quite ready for hibernation.

We love the Fall and there is a special quality to these glorious moments before the daylight hours become too short and November descends upon us. I literally thank God for the changing seasons and hope that the transition is quick from Fall to Winter without too much of that worst of Southern Ontario seasons, Grey.

Were you out enjoying a walk in the woods or by the water this weekend? If you weren't, why in heaven's name weren't you?

Monday, October 11, 2010

Thanks for Freedom

Yesterday in worship each person was given the opportunity to write prayers of thanks and concern for others. They were gathered as the "prayers of the people" and offered later in the service.

Freedom was included as both something to be thankful for, and as a desire for others. Someone sought prayers for the most recently named Nobel Peace Prize winner Lui Xiaobo. He languishes in a Chinese prison because he has criticized the miserable record of the Chinese government on human rights. The Chinese government has denounced the award and now Lui's wife is under house arrest.

A number of governments including our own have called for his release but China is steadfastly resistent to international pressure for basic human rights. Granting the Olympics to Beijing was supposed to be the gentle persuasion to join the rest of the world. Perhaps the Chinese have taken that gesture as tacit international approval for anything they choose to do.

On this Thanksgiving Day are you grateful for your freedoms of assembly and speech and worship? What are your thoughts about freedom in the world we live in? Should democratic governments be more emphatic in criticisizing countries such as China which deny fundamental freedoms?

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Give Peace a Chance

If John Lennon had not been shot and killed by Mark Chapman 30 years ago he would have turned 70 today. Lennon was a member of the rock/pop group the Beatles, as most of the planet knows. He was one half of what was perhaps the best songwriting duo in the history of rock.

Lennon was controversial through the years, especially early on when he quipped that the band had become more popular than Jesus. He said this in a British interview but it wasn't until it was published in an American magazine four months later that it became a huge issue. That was 1966. In 1971 Lennon's single Imagine envisioned a world of peace that didn't include religion. It was a beautiful and provocative song which has been interpreted in a variety of ways.

Some of you will remember the "bed-in" which took place in a hotel room in Montreal in 1969. John and his wife Yoko were surrounded by an eclectic group of friends while they all sang Give Peace a Chance.

We were living in Newfoundland in 1980 when Lennon was shot, having moved there a few months earlier to serve a five-point pastoral charge. We commiserated with my brother who was there for a visit.

Any Lennon/Beatles memories out there? A favourite song? Any comments on Lennon as a theologian or anti-theologian?

Friday, October 08, 2010

Critical Care, Critical Prayer

I drove in to Toronto yesterday to visit one of our members who was in an accident that busted him up every which way to Sunday. He spent a month in an American hospital, clinging to life for the first while, then was air ambulanced back to T.O when his condition improved. Unfortunately he took a serious turn for the worse shortly after he returned, and his survival seemed in jeopardy again.

In Critical Care I stood beside his remarkably strong wife while a young doctor carefully shared what turned out to be gigantic good news about a tiny improvement from the previous day. It was enough that the doc was making hopeful noises, however cautious, and his hand motioning a "positive incline" was a welcome sight.

Eventually we were allowed into the room, albeit with gowns, masks, and gloves in place. This poor guy had to contend with a masked stranger looming over him, but he responded to his wife's encouragement that he did know me and that I was part of the God Squad. He reached out for my hand as I began to read psalm 121 and closed his eyes for prayer. He even gave my hand a squeeze when I finished. These situations are so meaningful for those of us in ministry.

It was important to be able to tell him that many others at St. Paul's are praying for him, and to present both his wife and adult daughter with prayer shawls, along with another for him. I will encourage everyone who knows this family to keep them in the "critical prayer unit."

Have you ever been that person at the hospital bedside, or the person in crisis in the hospital bed? Were you aware of the prayers of a faith community? Any thoughts from my colleagues in ministry about our wierd and wonderful roles in hospitals?

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Peace and Quiet

Galilee Centre, Arnprior Ontario
Casa del Sol Ghost Ranch New Mexico

The United Church Observer, our denominational magazine contains lots of well-written, often provocative articles on issues of faith and justice. Sometimes I read it cover to cover. Other times I'm a tad disappointed, then discover a gem that makes the whole issue worthwhile. I know, kinda like sermons. Oh yes, the cartoon Inherit the Mirth is fun just about every time.

There are a number of pieces which are really worthwhile in the October issue, others that cause me to scratch my head. And we are still celebrating Thanksgiving this year aren't we? Why not preface the reviews of no less than six cook books with something about gratitude to God for local produce?

I appreciated Trisha Elliott's reflection about going on a silent retreat called Peace and Quiet. She writes as a young mother and someone with a life that is far too hectic:"My life was a runway of noise, and not just audible noise, but life's white noise as well. The busyness. The clutter. The demands. The juggling." Sound familiar? She heads away to a Roman Catholic retreat in Ontario called the Galilee Centre. We United Church folk don't do silence nearly as well as the Catholics. Unfortunately the article isn't on the website. As someone who has experienced the benefit of retreats I wish this article was closer to the beginning of the issue rather than at the end. The second photo above is a retreat house I have visited several times now in the wilds of New Mexico.

How are you with quiet? It spooks a lot of people. Do you ever feel you need more one-on-one time with God? Have you been on a silent retreat, or do you want to?

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Courage to Come Forward

The trial of a Belleville man charged with domestic violence has come to a sorry but just end. David McMullen was convicted of assaulting his wife in a fit of jealous rage which was not even based on fact. He had concluded that his wife, Cory McMullen, was having an affair, which proved not to be the case. During the summer he followed her, then hit her so violently he broke her arm. This story might have escaped our attention, but Mrs. McMullen is Chief McMullen of the Belleville police. Her husband is a retired policeman.

We talked about this incident in our home, because I have regularly spent time with couples whose domestic strife has escalated to a disturbing level, or with one person in a couple who has come to fear the other. My wife Ruth is an outreach worker for our local women's shelter, called Bethesda House. Her clients often have horrendous stories of abuse, verbal and physical. We are both aware that domestic abuse and violence can affect people in any walk of life, and often goes unnoticed or unreported. There is a great deal of shame for those caught in these situations and the fear of loss of respectability can hold victims in destructive relationships.

The McMullen situation is sad. A twenty year marriage is probably ruined and Mr. McMullen will have to deal with his public humiliation for the rest of his life. He seems to be genuinely remorseful but he can't escape the consequences of his actions. Thank God, though, that Mrs. McMullen was willing to go public and remind others that this can happen in any relationship.


Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Living With Respect

During our Season of Creation Sunday morning series I spoke of the difference between optimism and hope. A certain sort of optimist cheerfully claims that everything will be okay, despite the evidence. Hopeful people are aware of the evidence and then work for change. As Christians we live in hope because of the One who embodied God's hope.

I came upon an article in the New York Times which certainly stirred hope in me. In a small way it countered the grim and overwhelming evidence of environmental destruction brought about by the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

A small army of volunteers worked to carefully move loggerhead turtle eggs away from the "scene of the crime." If the hatchlings headed out in their mad scramble to the sea they would surely have died. One of the volunteers has done turtle nest monitoring for years and said of the turtle dash after hatching, "You just wonder how God put all this together." Momma turtles return to the beach where they were hatched even if they have travelled far out into the Atlantic in adulthood.

This mass evacuation took huge coordination, but it worked. More than 28,000 eggs were relocated. And nests which weren't moved were guarded from the people and machines used to clean oil off the beaches. Some people whose livelihoods were ruined by the spill turned their efforts to protecting the turtles.

Hey, we need to give credit where credit is due to those want to "live with respect in creation."

Are you encouraged by hearing about this? What do you think you would do in similar circumstances? What are you doing to live with respect these days?

Monday, October 04, 2010

Looking for an Answer

The other day I visited an elderly man in hospital, one of those "friend of a friend" situations. Actually, he is the husband of a woman who attends our bible study, and their congregation is without a pastor. He has been in isolation for months and each time I go to see him I have to gown and glove. He is also deaf so we have a brief conversation and prayer. I really yell "amen" so he realizes I'm done!

Here's the thing. I hate that all this gear is used for five minutes, then pitched. Hospitals have always had special challenges in disposing of their waste. Today just about everything used is disposable because of precautions that are even more stringent in this post-SARS, better-safe-than-sorry world we live in. Hospital administrations are trying to figure out how to keep people safe and restrict the spread of illness while reducing expensive waste.

So should I be judicious about the occasions when I visit? Its hard to imagine not going to see people because of a waste disposal problem, but it's not insignificant. Should hospitals figure out a better system?

Sunday, October 03, 2010

The Friends We Keep

Toronto Blessing of the Animals

I had decided that I should keep a blog sabbath, a day on the weekend when I didn't post and I didn't invite you to participate in yet another tech moment. But here I am. I actually wrote this Friday, after returning from a commital in Oshawa. The funeral director picked me up and he told me about the death of his beloved Golden Retriever whose death, even in dog years was far too early. Four years old, suffering from leukemia, no hope of recovery. Best dog he ever had. After the sad moments at the vet he drove to his cottage and buried Fido (not his real name) back on the property. This is a guy who deals with death all the time, but there was an obvious sense of loss. He said that digging the grave and laying his friend to rest was therapeutic.

While tomorrow is the Feast of St. Francis we will bless dogs and cats and any other companion creature who comes along today. our St. Paul's vet, Rich, will say a few words. I think this is the "fifth annual" and every year we have a motley crew of attendees -- and that's just the humans.

I'm not sure how we should regard companion animals, and sometimes I get a little queasy about the way we have taken, collectively, to doting on what we used to call pets. But they are remarkable friends at times. They are often responsive to our emotions in ways that are hard to explain. So, we assume that God made 'em, but does God love them as well? If they really aren't aware of their mortality, is there a place for them in heaven? A few years ago the answer would have been an emphatic "no!" Times have changed, but is that just because we have become a little soft in the head.

I'm interested in a new book called The Friends We Keep: Unleashing Christianity's Compassion for Animals. Other than the bad pun --"unleashing," get it? -- it sounds worthwhile.

Would you bring your critter pal for a blessing? Does he/she have a soul?
A Postscript: nearly 50 people and 15 dogs for our service of blessing -- have we scared away the cats? Rich much appreciated, and dogs blessed. Please check out Lynn's link in her response -- lovely!

Saturday, October 02, 2010

GG Justice

Well, three blog entries in a row with American content, so an infusion of Canuckness is in order.

Yesterday David Johnston became Canada's newest Governor General. From everything I have read and heard, he is an excellent choice with an impressive CV. Canadians loved outgoing GG Michaelle Jean,despite her role in proroging Parliament, and are hearts were touched by her response to the beleaguered people of Haiti, her country of birth. Still, Johnston is a smart, passionate Canadian. And, hey, he was a collegiate hockey star while studying at Harvard and an inspiration for the tear-jerker Love Story.

Who should be Governor General though? I talked with an elderly colleague in ministry recently, a guy who has spent a lifetime working to provide housing in Native communities across the country. Charlie Catto has been a "force of nature" in this vital work for decades through Frontiers Foundation and Operation Beaver. He wondered why there has never been an aboriginal person appointed as the GG and quickly named several he knows who would be excellent candidates. He pointed out that at this time when the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is examining our sorry history with First Nations people choosing a Native Governor General would have made sense. Good point.


Friday, October 01, 2010

The Giving Pledge

Right now many wealthy people in the United States are leaning on the government to extend tax breaks which really give them preferred treatment in a time when the gap between rich and poor is growing and millions are struggling. Donald Trump is amongst them.

So it is encouraging that Warren Buffett, the second wealthiest person in the US after Bill Gates, is convincing a growing number of rich folk to give away at least half of their fortunes to philanthropic causes during their lifetimes or at their deaths. He is leading the way by pledging to give away 99% of his fortune. In his letter on the Giving Pledge website he points out that many regular folk are generous in a variety of ways:

Millions of people who regularly contribute to churches, schools, and other organizations thereby relinquish the use of funds that would otherwise benefit their own families. The dollars these people drop into a collection plate or give to United Way mean forgone movies, dinners out, or other personal pleasures. In contrast, my family and I will give up nothing we need or want by fulfilling this 99% pledge.

Moreover, this pledge does not leave me contributing the most precious asset, which is time. Many people, including -- I'm proud to say -- my three children, give extensively of their own time and talents to help others. Gifts of this kind often prove far more valuable than money. A struggling child, befriended and nurtured by a caring mentor, receives a gift whose value far exceeds what can be bestowed by a check. My sister, Doris, extends significant person-to-person help daily. I've done little of this.

How refreshing. And he's right. There are so many people who are consistently "generous until it hurts" without accolades or a website lauding their gifts.

Have you heard about this pledge? Do you trust that this gang is sincere?