Monday, February 28, 2011

The Oscars

Huh. So much for the attempt to capture the young adult demographic at the Oscars last night. Host Anne Hathaway seemed like a cheerleader in an evening gown (a bunch of them) and James Franco gets the award for best impersonation of a befuddled stoner. My 24-year-old daughter is a Franco fan, but she was underwhelmed by his performance as co-MC. Anyway, I took off for an hour and a half to watch the concluding episode of an excellent drama on PBS called Any Human Heart. I returned for Best Picture and Best Actor, but it was all a rather stilted and boring affair.

It has been pointed out that a number of the Best Picture nominees explored moral and ethical issues, even though there wasn't a single film which was overtly religious. We saw seven of the ten nominated films and I would agree. Even the bewildering Inception ventures into the realm of forgiveness and the hold that our regrettable choices have upon us. I thought that the film which was the ugly duckling of the bunch, Winter's Bone, was very powerful, reminding us of the effeects of poverty and the strength of the human spirit.

Any thoughts about the films this year, or the winners?

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Alpha and Omega

Yesterday I was aware that two sets of people with whom I was working were nervous for very different reasons. In the early afternoon I conducted a funeral for an 85-year-old woman who died peacefully, in her sleep in fact. Her family had to gather from different communities and the snowfall was an issue. This mother, grandmother, great-grandmother was loved and honoured by her family. Although she had Alzheimer's she knew her loved ones to the last. She and her husband had shared many years of marriage, and I had his funeral shortly after I arrived in Bowmanville.

In the early evening I was conducting a wedding rehearsal and again the prospect of snow was an issue. This is a lovely young couple in their twenties, about to set out in life together. I got them to stand in worship last Sunday and they were beaming.
As I have said before, it is a strange and poignant contrast when these rites of passage coincide. The "hatch, match and dispatch" events bring to mind the fleeting nature of life, but also the richness of the lives we share. It is good to know that God, Alpha and Omega, beginning and end, is there in all things.


Friday, February 25, 2011

What Goes Around...

There is a story in Luke's gospel (ch. 13) where Jesus' disciples ask him if the collapse of a tower killing eighteen meant the victims were worse people than others in the city of Jerusalem. It is an application of the saying "what goes around comes around," that in the end people get what they deserve and these people must have done something to deserve their sudden and tragic death. Jesus responds that they were no more sinful than anyone else, and that we all ought to be prepared to meet our Maker.

This story came to mind when I saw the photos of the collapsed cathedral tower in Christchurch, New Zealand, a city with a very Christian name. We now know that a number of people were on the tower observation deck when it collapsed and all perished. Why did these people die, and while in a church, no less? Let's hope that no one suggests that it was because of their wickedness, although that's exactly what some crazy Christians declared about the people of Haiti in the wake of the earthquake that killed nearly 300,000 people.

We all search for answers when disasters occur, or folk die in accidents, or when a family member develops a life-threatening disease. Why has this happened, we wonder? Some ask whether God caused the problem. or angrily wonder why God didn't prevent the situation. Honestly there are no simple answers. Good people die young. Nasties live long and prosper.

I have seen how individuals and communities have drawn on the deep well of their faith to sustain them through tough and death-dealing times. I heard the bishop of the cathedral speak with quiet confidence about how they will carry on. She is originally from Canada and is a breast cancer survivor, so understands there are no easy answers.

What are your thoughts about all this? Has your faith helped you through difficult days?

Thursday, February 24, 2011

A Clean Conscience

Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin. Psalm 51:1,2

Last summer we seemed to agree that the BP oil spill was an outrage against creation, a grim reminder that profits trump respect for the ecosystems in which this company functioned. I blogged about the religious and spiritual implications of this mess a couple of times during the attempts to cap the well in the Gulf of Mexico. Then the story was gone from the news, the way so many others disappear once the sensational aspects disappear.

In recent weeks there have been a few stories related to the BP spill. The first round had to do with the official inquiry, which concluded that this catastrophe was avoidable. Didn't we all realize that at the time?

Now BP is maintaining that the costs for cleanup have been over-estimated and the company should be let off the hook for some of them, to the tune of billions of dollars. You might recall that during the spill BP assured everyone that they would take full responsibility for the damage, both current and future. It was hard not to be cynical about their promises at the time, and this confirms suspicions. Some contractors are complaining that they are not being paid, and with the situation out of sight and mind it is easier for BP to drag its feet.

So, is their reluctance to "come clean" a sin? I'm inclined to say that it is, an affront to the environment, the people of the region, and to God.

Please share your thoughts.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Christian Family

I wondered about the wisdom of scheduling our junior choir to sing this past Sunday, given that it was a holiday weekend. What do I know. Fifteen of the sixteen children were there, and they taught the congregation a new version of the Lord's Prayer, complete with actions.

Early in the afternoon most of this gang went to a local nursing home to sing. Only two of our members live there, but they were warmly received by all the residents and staff. The week before I had commended the kids in advance during practice, as a way of encouraging their upcoming junket. One of them admitted she had no idea where they were going. So I explained what a nursing home is for and assured them that the residents would be very grateful.

What a perfect activity for the Family Day weekend. These two residents are still members of our Christian family, and this was the first time many of the children had met them or been in a nursing home. For me this intergenerational activity is an essential part of being a congregation. The painting above is by Gary Crawford who created it for the illustrated New Creed booklet. The title is the phrase "we are not alone."

Any thoughts? Comments from any of the parents who went with the children?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Down on the Family Farm

During worship Sunday our choir sang an anthem that featured sheep and a shepherd -- a Good Shepherd. Immediately after the service we drove to the "back of beyond," the farm of our long-time friends. And there we were introduced to several newborn lambs. Even though it was -20C on Family Day morning these lambs seemed just fine in the barn with their moms.
I have told you along the way that we buy beef, pork, chicken, eggs,, honey and, yes, lamb from Ellen and Bill. They are committed to providing a meaningful life and merciful death for the creatures they raise for the table. We are reassured by what we see on the farm, and the lack of pesticides on their fields and antiobotics in the feed. We are close to this couple, love where they live, and support their approach.

The challenge for our friends is the effect of aging. They are in their later sixties and they are feeling that farm life is becoming a little too physically taxing. We chatted about the "what next?" scenarios, one of which will certainly be followed in the next few years. Chances are that whoever eventually buys their farm will do so because of the setting and the view, not because of the prospects for raising food. This is true in rural communities across the province as those who own small farms retire from this demanding work. Just recently an elderly couple outside Bowmanville closed their highly regarded butcher business. The solution for most of us is to buy produce from factory farms without knowledge of its origin.
Oh yes, those are wild turkeys in the bottom photo. We saw this flock of three dozen on the way to pick up maple syrup from one of our friends' neighbours.

Any comments about all this? I know from previous blogs that many of you have found alternate and local sources of food. Is this still a priority for you?

Monday, February 21, 2011

Danger -- Mezuzah Aboard!

Last week a Montreal cabbie was fined $1,400 for decorating the interior of his taxi with personal objects. Apparently this is against the law in Quebec, for some obscure reason. In Montreal you can partake in just about any form of perversion known to humanity, and buy booze anywhere short of a daycare, but don't put your wife's photo on the dashboard pal.

This taxi driver is also Jewish so he has mezuzah's mounted above the doors of his vehicle. These are small cylinders containing a scripture verse, the Shema. The scroll itself is not visible and in all the years of this guy driving a taxi no one has ever complained. But the dangerous object police, or whatever they're called have told him to cease and desist. He hasn't, and he says he won't despite the fines.

Does anyone else find this disheartening? How can a couple of photos of loved ones and small religious objects be a hazard to anyone's health and wellbeing? apparently none of his passengers think so.

I have said before that I'm waiting for the legislation restricting churches from displaying those offensive crosses on their buildings, or perhaps a nativity scene. The baby Jesus is now in exile from any public places. Why should poor, unsuspecting souls (wait, I'm sorry about the soul thing) have to witness religious symbolism anywhere?

Sunday, February 20, 2011

A Prayer for our Time

Today marks the conclusion of my six-week series on the Lord's Prayer. Considering what temptation means in 2011 has been intriguing, but then again pondering how each of the phrases applies today has been worthwhile from my perspective.

The week I spoke on "your kingdom come" the people of Egypt were rising up against the 40-year dictator, Hosni Mubarak. Now he is gone, and we hear about protests in Yemen, Bahrain, Jordan, Algeria, Libya, even Iran. Before the protests began we would have been hard pressed to find some of these places on a map. Now in these Middle Eastern and North African countries that have seemed "democracy proof" the people are protesting autocratic rule, including the women of patriarchal societies.

That Kingdom Sunday I reminded the congregation that while the reign of God can seem like a foolhardy concept, let alone reality, every human regime comes to an end, even those that seem invincible.


Saturday, February 19, 2011

Sacred Pauses

Although Saturday is the traditional Jewish shabbat or sabbath, for many of us it becomes a run, run, run day, especially for parents. So does Sunday for that matter. Finding time to pause and make room for the conversation with God can be a challenge. I often feel that our busyness has become a new form of slavery.

While I was at the conference in Victoria last month I picked up a lovely devotional book which I would recommend to all of you. After I read the following prayer I sent it to our two twenty-something daughters and I share it with you.

God, I long to live in the present moment.
I want to stop trying to control the hours
so that new paths of inspiration are free to unfold within me.
I want to remember that I have the potential to be a blessing
in the lives of those with whom I live and work.

Take my scattered thoughts, my fragmented moments.
Breathe into them and draw them into your centred heart.
Open my eyes that I may see the grace that waits for me in every moment.
You are the Source of every moment’s blessing.
Teach me to live awake.

May this prayer come true in my life.

Shalom, and God be with you in this day.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Choose Me

It was a slick start to the day yesterday and I was aware going out the door for work that the footing wasn't the greatest. Yet who shows up at the church not long after I arrived but Gwenda, the St. Paul's member who folds the Sunday bulletins and stuffs them with whatever needs to be in them. She comes faithfully on Thursday mornings, and most of the congregation is probably unaware that she does so for an hour or more each week. The pay is lousy and the job in monotonous, but she wants to contribute. I should mention that Gwenda is 96-years-old. She drives herself to the church and we were relieved that she got here safely. We tell her not to take risks, but she is remarkably faithful.

I am inclined to say that in churches there are no volunteers, only disciples, and Gwenda is an elegant and committed disciple, having found her simple but meaningful calling. If only more people who call St. Paul's home figured they have something to offer, even for an hour or so each week. That said, we have a remarkable group of vol...disciples here, often doing rather thankless jobs with great dedication. A few hours after Gwenda left, a group of women and a couple of men fed a gym full of seniors an excellent hot dinner for Lunch Out. At the annual congregational meeting it seemed that my list of those to thank was endless. Still, we could use more who join the tribe of Gwenda.

Any comments about how folk contribute in your congregation? Do you ever wish more would answer the call? Do you feel that you have found your place of service?

Thursday, February 17, 2011

God's Time

KAIROS is a Greek word which refers to a different way of regarding time -- God's time -- rather than by-the-clock CHRONOS. Kairos is also the name of an interchurch organization which has offered effective support to marganlized people around the world for more than thirty years. The United Church is one of the participating denominations. It has been so effective that is received strong funding from the federal government until the $7 million (over four years) recommended by CIDA was mysteriously denied a year and a half ago.

We now know that Bev Oda, Minister of International Cooperation overruled this recommendation without any word as to why, either to CIDA or to Kairos. And we know that Ms. Oda lied to a parliamentary committee and to the house of commons about her role in this. She admits it, yet the government is insisting that her actions were acceptable. The situation makes my blood boil. Granted, we do have a history here. More than seventy members of the St. Paul's congregation signed a letter in 2009 asking that the funding be reinstated. Although she is our MP and her constituency office is minutes away from the church she did not respond for six months and even then it was a blah, blah, blah political letter. Now this.

Our Oshawa presbytery of the United Church has called for an apology from Ms. Oda and asked for her resignation. She has betrayed her responsibility and it looks as though her original decision was not based on any obvious criteria, other than perhaps a perception that Kairos was somehow opposed to policies of our current government.

Have the issues and back story been clear to you? The strange "upside" to all of this is that Kairos is receiving a lot of attention -- so much so that it has crashed their website. Should Minister Oda do the honourable thing and take responsibility for her actions? It seems that the time is right for her to do so.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011


Tonight will be the third and final evening of an unusual series for the quizz show Jeopardy. For the past two evenings two former multi-million dollar winners faced off against an IBM computer named Watson. For three years Watson has been prepared to be a Jeopardy contestant, an experiment which will give us a glimpse of just how far what is called artificial intelligence has progressed. The first evening was tedious in my estimation, with too much 'splainin' and not enough playin'.

It happens that there was a cover article in the latest United Church Observer magazine about artificial intelligence as an ethical issue. The article was a bit disappointing because it didn't really help us grapple with the ways in which AI might enhance or undermine our notion of humanity in relationship with God. Isn't that what articles in Christian magazines are supposed to do, talk about the God stuff? If we are made in God's image, what do we say when machines exceed our intelligence? At least the Observer is inviting us to address the sorts of ethical issues which often confound us as we scurry about our daily lives.

In a way we have been seeing the impact of artificial intelligence as people join together for a common cause through Facebook and Twitter. Would the dictatorial regime in Egypt have fallen without them?

So, is Watson really HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey? Are we on the verge of a new cyber era without realizing it? Should Christian ethicists be helping us to muddle through these rapid changes in our culture? Discuss!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


Today many Buddhists are recognizing Nirvana, commemorating the death and enlightenment of the Buddha. The story of the life of the person known as the Buddha is of a young man who abandoned a life of privilege to follow a spiritual path of serenity and bliss, despite the reality of pain and suffering in the world. Buddhism is the world's fourth largest religion, even though it is non-theistic.

I read an article recently about people who claim to be Buddhist Christians, which to some may seem to be a contradiction of terms or blasphemy. Yet there are attractive elements to Buddhism including meditative prayer which don't have to be in contradiction with faith in Jesus as the Christ. If you would like to know more about Buddhism, take a look at this PBS documentary. You may be enlightened

Have you any experience with Buddhism? Does being in conversation with other religious traditions make you nervous or wary?

Monday, February 14, 2011

Love Ya!

Confusing. Just plain confusing -- Valentine's Day, that is. Most people assume it is a secular celebration and perhaps the conspiracy of a number of different industries to squeeze some cash out of romantic love. In many respects Valentine's Day is secular, and the folks who want to sell you diamonds and chocolates and cards treat it that way.

As I have mentioned other years, it does have a Christian connection with St. Valentine, a martyr in the third century whose execution had to do with self-giving love rather than romantic love. St. Valentine's Day was a Roman Catholic saints day until the 1960's when he was fired, so to speak. I'm not sure why he was removed from the list of saints days, but it happened. I didn't know until this year that it was Henry VIII, who wouldn't be my top candidate for love expertise, who declared February 14th Valentine's Day in 1537.

Jesus urged us to love God with everything in us and our neighbour as ourselves. He also asked us to love our enemies. Good reminders on Valentine's Day.

Will you spend some quality time with your Sweetie today, maybe over a nice dinner? What about the "loving your enemies" thing? Would we better off "delisting" Valentine's Day ala the R.C's because of all the hype?

Sunday, February 13, 2011


Today our praise group called Loaves and Fishes led the music of our worship service. Our music director, Doug, was away, so for the first time this group led the music from start to finish. This is a big commitment because it involves hymns, a piece at the time of the anthem, plus all the other places where music occurs in worship -- a total of nine by my count. So the four teens and three adults (hey, wasn't seven the number of the loaves and fishes in the gospel story?) did a great job of leading us through the service.

Of course this isn't an either/or situation for our congregation. We can sing traditional hymns with organ accompaniment and it is wonderful. The choir can share a meaningful anthem which touches us deeply. At the same time there is a freshness to these other instruments and other voices. And here are four young people who are learning to share their God-given gifts with the congregation, not as performers but as worship leaders. Not everyone feels comfortable with some of the contemporary music pieces, but it is hard to imagine many people who aren't encouraged by youth involvement.

What are your thoughts and feeling about this? Is there an openness to newer music and alternate forms of leadership in your congregation? It would be good to hear the reactions and responses from those who were in attendance at St. Paul's.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Power to the People

Although a powerful peoples' movement has been unfolding in Egypt during the past three weeks I have refrained from commenting because the swirling events have been "beyond my ken" in many respects. Hosni Mubarak is a dictator who some analysts say has pilfered more than 40 billion dollars from his impoverished people. Not only does he syphon support money from Western nations, he gets kick-backs on virtually everything. For example, if a new car dealership opens, Mubarak benefits financially.

We have received mixed messages about the possibility of Mubarak being deposed, despite all this. Ironically, one of the biggest concerns, at least in the West, is that a religious group, the Muslim Brotherhood might come to power. Others suggest that this group has limited appeal and isn't a threat. I have also heard that Muslims and Coptic Christians have found common ground in working toward Mubarak's ouster.

Despite Mubarak's speech on Thursday he is now out, the "pharaoh" is gone. We can pray for a
positive new beginning. What is your reaction to all this?

Friday, February 11, 2011

Kids, Jesus, and the Universe

I get approximately eight gajillion "forwards" from people, and they are both the bane and the delight of internet connectivity. Some I watch, but many I don't, even the 'ligous ones. If I took a gander at all of them I would have to cancel worship on Sundays and just about every other activity.

I received one from a delightful new mom whose marriage ceremony I conducted a couple of years ago. She lives at a distance, but it is good to hear from her. It is about a rather earnest young vicar who ends up at a kid's table at a wedding. He is barraged with the sort of "stream of consciousness" questions children throw at clergy, questions that are next to impossible to answer.
Amongst the readers of this blog are several colleagues who will appreciate how hilariously close to home this video clip is, and it will conjure up all those children's times that are hijacked by kids who are just too smart and "outside the box" for us. The rest of you enjoy watching us squirm, so I hope you take a look as well.


Thursday, February 10, 2011

Cold Alert

Cold enough fer ya? During the past few days it has been bitterly cold, at least by Southern Ontario standards.This morning's temperature was -18C, which isn't Prairie cold, but it's getting there. Of course wherever you are, and whatever the temperature, you woke up warm and even if you had to bundle yourself off to work you moved to another reasonably warm environment.

So, what if you lived on the streets of a city and rarely went inside? We have been hearing about mental health/illness issues this week but the consequences of those illnesses which lead to paranoia and delusions haven't been at the forefront. While living in Sudbury and Halifax I came to realize that many street people are mentally ill and won't live in close proximity to others even if it means ending up outside. The extreme cold alerts that are issued in Toronto are not for people like us who have homes and a measure of security. A response system goes into action which includes extra hostel beds and teams heading out to distribute sleeping bags and other survival gear. The people who do this work, including distributing food, are saints in my estimation.

I don't know about you, but I need the reminder that some people live like this. Our Christian story includes a saviour born as a displaced child, perhaps in one of the caves that still serve as sheep shelters around Bethlehem. We have romanticized the story to the point of irrelevance, but it can stir us to understanding and compassion.

Any experiences with those who are without shelter? Have you ever been in that situation, even for a night? How should we respond? Have a warm day.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

There's an app for that?

My wife Ruth has a so-called "smart" phone which can do anything short of clean the toilet. Perhaps they will develop an app for that, an application which does a specific task. She has one app that lets her hold her phone under the night sky and it tells her what constellations are above.

Now the Vatican has an app for confession. As you probably know, Roman Catholics are expected to attend confession on a regular basis, which involves sharing transgressions ands sins with a priest. Protestants often mock this practice, but the idea is that an individual benefits from the spiritual wisdom of the priest in addressing his or her weaknesses and wrongful acts. We seem to dislike the idea of being required to share any of this stuff with a cleric. My experience is that a fair number of people seek me out to "confess," although they wouldn't describe it that way. On occasion I sense that they are even seeking absolution. Sometimes we need the perspective of someone who has a spiritual background and can maintain confidentality. Mind you, I won't offer to forgive your sins. That is God's purview.

The app asks general questions for reflection, presumably in preparation for the time in the confessional, but some will probably use it is a substitute. I'm in favour of anything that helps people become a little more reflective about their spiritual lives. We tend to barge on and repeat our mistakes.

What do you think about this app? Have you ever been in a confessional? Have you ever sought out spiritual help in times of moral uncertainty? Should we open up our version of the confessional?

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Tough on Crime?

Last week a group of denominations in this country which includes the United Church of Canada made a public statement opposing the federal government's "tough on crime" initiative. Even though statistics tell us that crime is on the decline in Canada, and polls indicate that law abiding Canadians aren't keen to incarcerate any more people than necessary, Prime Minister Harper seems intent on building more prisons and filling them up. The prisons themselves will cost billions and each person who spends a year in a federal institution costs us, the taxpayers, $100,000.

The church coalition called The Church Council on Justice and Corrections wants the "nasties" in our society to stay behind bars, the murderers and perpetrators of violent and highly destructive crimes. It encourages alternatives including restorative justice for the lesser stuff. I'm with the coalition. When I worked in chaplaincy in Kingston Pen there were lots of people who deserved to be there, and needed to be there. I also saw that we were locking up people in a school to teach them how to be better criminals rather than requiring them to make restitution to individuals and society.

Where are you on this one? Would you sign a petition asking the government to reconsider? Should the United Church just mind its business?

Monday, February 07, 2011

Day of Trees

Friends who live in "the back of beyond" bought a small maple sap evaporator last Fall and in a recent email they said that the strengthening sun and lengthening days are getting them excited about tapping some of their many maple trees in a month or so.

This made me think of the Jewish Day of Trees called Tu Bishvat. It occurs in January or February, depending on the Jewish Calendar and it is a now sort of Jewish Arbor Day, which celebrates the everday miracle of the trees which clean our air, provide shade, and are home to so many creatures. They are a gift of God in so many ways.

I like thinking about the life flowing in trees at this time of year when they appear to be dead. Many of you saw our photos of some amazing trees on Vancouver Island during our recent trip.

Are you fond of trees? Do you have a favorite tree? C'mon, admit it!

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Doing it for Daron

The Superbowl has just begun but I am thinking about an interview on Hockey Night in Canada last night. It was with Luke Richardson, former NHL defenseman, whose 14-year-old daughte, Daron,r took her own life last November. Her death took her family by surprise -- there were no real indicators that this lovely young teen was considering suicide.She didn't do drugs or drink. She was a seemingly happy kid, and even her friends had no idea of her inner turmoil.

This Tuesday, February 6th, is Doing it for Daron day and people are asked to wear purple to encourage awareness of mental health for teens and people of all ages.

There was a time when suicide was considered a sin by the church, a form of self-murder. The term "commiting suicide" reflects the criminal nature of the act. For centuries those who died by suicide were buried outside of the consecrated ground of cemeteries. Thank God we have moved past the "good ol. days" on this one. We have learned compassion and affirmed God's grace for those who suffer from mental illness.

Readers Janet and SJD have shared their reflections on the loss of loved ones to suicide. Do any of you have other thoughts on this difficult subject? Will you wear purple?

Friday, February 04, 2011

Pastor Jack

Ministry is a fairly sedentary profession, with lots of sitting and a fair amount of eating, if all the cakes and cookies offered during visits are consumed. My way of counteracting all this is exercise, including regular trips to the gym. I have noted to my "partner in crime," wife Ruth, that it seems that going to the gym is a form of church for some people. In fact, many of the parishioners go more regularly than they might ever consider attending worship, and lots of folk visit with their neighbours while allegedly working out. They tend to hang around the machine I want to use, but that is a topic for another sermon! Hey, there is even an exercise called preacher's curls.
So when the man who may have been the original fitness guru died last week it didn't surprise me that an article soon followed in the New York Times looking at the evangelical tone of his enterprise. Jack Lalane opened his first gym in the early 1930's, long before the mainstream gym movement which began in the 1970's. He performed all kinds of crazy feats of strength and in later life he grinned away on TV, promoting his blender/juicer. He always looked the picture of health and he lived to age 96, proving that something was working.

Lalane also compared himself to Billy Graham, the venerable Christian evangelist, who happens to be something is working for him as well! The comparison was that Lalane too was spreading the good news, although of the benefits of physical activity and healthy eating. The magazine cover above was published around the same time Graham was at the height of his evangelistic popularity. Of course Jack is now gone. None of us lives forever, at least not in this life. Billy is at peace with the prospect of eternity.

What is the healthy balance of body, mind and spirit? Is Christianity just promoting "pie in the sky?" Maybe that should be "veggie smoothie in the sky." Is the fitness movement diverting us from the "soul work" we all need to do and the prospect of eternity? What's the difference between good news and the Good News?

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Stating our Purpose

I'm almost done telling you about the conference in Victoria, called Epiphany Explorations. One of the presenters was Anthony Robinson, a pastor and congregational leadership teacher and consultant from Seattle, Washington.

I have appreciated his writing in articles and books such as Transforming Congregational Culture. It was good to hear him as well. In his presentation he offered that in this time of transition in the North American church we often get stuck. We act as though we have a technical problem which has some sort of speedy and logical fix, along the lines of "computer down? call the techie." It just doesn't work that way for congregations or denominations. There isn't a "young peoples' store" where we can order up replacement young families and their kids. At least I haven't found one!

Robinson suggests that we are in the work of adaptive change as congregations of the 21st century, and that we need to ask two key questions which he bases on the story of Pentecost in Acts 2. They are: "What does this mean?" and "What then shall we do?" He figures that congregations tend to steadfastly resist defining their purpose, that is, finding a succinct and memorable sentence or phrase to state who they are. In the end, Robinson says, out purpose statement "owns" the congregation. When we choose not to be specific about our purpose we tend to drift, and we need to beware "weak and safe" purpose statements and have the courage to make them "strong and bold."

So what do you think about this? Could you state your congregation's purpose? Should we be able to, or are we just "church?" C'mon folks. Dig a little here.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

The Spirit of Emily Carr

God is in them all. Now I know that is all that matters. The only thing worth striving for is to express God. Every living thing is God made manifest. All real art is the eternal seeking to express God, the one substance out of which all things are made. Emily Carr
Snowmageddon. Snowpocalypse. Interesting how biblical images have crept into descriptions of "snow events" these days. There was some shovelling this morning, but honestly, it just wasn't that bad. I am glad I have a very short commute.
Two Sundays ago we left worship at First Met United Church in balmy Victoria and walked to the city art gallery. We knew there was an exhibit called On the Edge of Nowhere, about the artwork and life of Emily Carr, who lived in Victoria and roamed Vancouver Island and beyond to Haida Gwaii, the Queen Charlotte Islands. Carr has been a favourite artist for both of us for years and we went to an extensive exhibit of her work at the AGO a couple of years ago.

The Victoria exhibit brought home Carr's deep spiritual connection with nature and her life-long, although uneasy involvement with the church. She was often a reluctant churchgoer, annoyed with the self-righteousness of preachers along the way. Yet when her respected mentor, Lawren Harris of the Group of Seven, tried to persuade her toward theosophy she ultimately resisted.

In the evening that Sunday I attended the Epiphany Explorations dramatic/musical presentation of Carr's life, Exploring the Mystery of Emily Carr, created and enacted by two Victoria musicians and actors, along with the music director from First Met. It was well done, and enhanced by visual images of Carr's works. For me it brought together a love of Christ's community, a love of nature, and a love of artistic expression.

We also sought out the new statue of Emily Carr near the Empress Hotel which depicts her, her monkey named Woo, and dog Billie.

Do you know Carr's work or know much about her? What do you think about the intertwining of art, nature, and the church?

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

A Family Celebration

We got a phone call from our son Isaac on Sunday evening. He takes after his Mom and is a consistently calm person, but he sounded relieved. Earlier in the day the congregation of Emmanuel United Church in Cowansville, Quebec voted unanimously to call him as their minister . Cowansville is not far from Vermont in the Eastern Townships.

This was the second related phone call from Ike in a few days. On Wednesday he let us know that his final Montreal and Ottawa Conference interview had gone well, and he was approved for ordination. He is now assured of ordination and knows where he will be going. The congregation in Cowansville wants someone who is bilingual, who has skills working with youth, and appreciates creation care. Check, check, check.

This is obviously a big deal for him, his wife Rebekah, and our family. There is a real vulnerability for those who make their way through what seems to be an ever more convoluted process on the way to ministry. For ordination it means seven or eight years of education and internship. What if someone in authority decides they don't like a candidate along the way? When I was making my way through the process a minister on a panel dismissed my art history program as a "bird course" --why wasn't I taking a psychology or English degree for my undergrad? Fortunately another minister picked up on the connections between the arts and faith, and I could point out that my degree included English and psych courses.

And now candidates can negotiate with congregations if they opt out of the UCC's placement plan called settlement. While Isaac is relieved to know where he is going so early, he has felt the pressure of finding his own first placement after graduation and ordination.

So, the adventure of ministry begins in a rapidly changing church. Believe me, I have mixed feelings about Isaac's choice of vocation, even though he will be the fourth generation of this family in ministry. The church he enters as a minister is far more unsettled than when I began. Needless to say, I am proud of him.

I know you have had a chance to comment on changes to the system of preparation and placement before, as well as on the way the UCC is being reconfigured. Anything you would like to add?