Thursday, June 30, 2011

Apology Accepted

What is the statute of limitations on "coming clean" to wrongdoing? There is a story out of the Netherlands about a woman, now a frail 96-year-old, who has admitted to murdering a man 65 years ago. Atie Ridder-Visser was a member of the Dutch resistance during the Nazi occupation and she thought, mistakenly it turns out, that Felix Gulje was a Nazi informer. In truth Gulje has secretly harboured Jews. After the war, in 1946, she knocked on his door and shot him dead. Her crime went undetected but for some reason Ridder-Visser decided to confess after all those years.

The latest United Church Observer contains the hand-printed letter of a man who broke into a church in Binscarth Manitoba in 1989, more than twenty years ago. He left the letter in the church along with four $100 bills and said that he had lived with regret for all those years. He apologizes to the congregation and to God. The article is entitled Apology Accepted.

Is it ever too late to say we're sorry? Did either of these two need to do this after so many years? Have you lived with regret for past actions, or felt that God couldn't/wouldn't forgive you? You don't need to "dish" on details!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Ledge

As many of you know I enjoy films, especially those that express thoughts and themes in ways that other media or the written word may not address easily. I am curious about a new picture by director Matthew Chapman "a thriller in which a battle of philosophies between a fundamentalist Christian and an atheist escalates into a lethal battle of wills." Click on the link below to get a taste of what the film is about.

As someone who is not a fundamentalist I will wait for the reviews to see whether the contrast between perspectives is nuanced or whether it falls into predictable stereotypes. I find that some atheists are fundamentalist in their outlooks as well, unable to hear others. Conversely, I have known very conservative Christians whose theology I don't agree with, yet they are genuine and gracious.

Hey, a film with Liv Tyler in it deserves the benefit of the doubt, so to speak.

Does this one intrigue you? Do you think most of us have a bit of fundamentalism in us on certain issues?

Tuesday, June 28, 2011


We heard the horrendous story this past week of an Indian PhD student at the university of British Columbia who went home to spend time with her husband and daughter. The husband who had seemed supportive of her education flew into a rage and gouged her eyes with his fingers and bit her nose so severely she will need restorative surgery.

While this happened in India I hear the stories of severe physical and psychological abuse women go through in this country and this community from my wife Ruth. Her work as an outreach counsellor at the Bethesda House shelter means that she has daily exposure to incidents that would cause most of us to recoil in horror.

As co-chair of our Oshawa Presbytery Mission, Outreach, and Advocacy committee I have asked Ruth to help our presbyters understand the often unnamed reality of abuse. We tend to assume that this doesn't happen in Christian families. It is interesting though. Ruth has spoken to a number of UCW's, in congregations on Sunday mornings, and for other church events. Always someone speaks to her afterward about their experience.

It's important for us to keep our eyes and ears open to the circumstances of co-workers, friends, family members who may be in abusive relationships. The individuals are often too ashamed or too afraid to speak about what is happening to them. In can be anyone, in any walk of life.

Any thoughts on this?

Monday, June 27, 2011


So is 80 people enough to warrant an outdoor service when we might expect twice that number if it was held at the church? Yesterday we had our outdoor service and picnic at the Visual Arts Centre, a beautiful location which is outdoorsy in town. We found a shady spot to set up and had a shorter service with plenty of good music from the praise group Loaves and Fishes. The 80 was more than some years and less than others but this event is about more than attendance totals.

There were children and teens, first-time attenders and those who could remember back to the origins of the service more than twenty years ago. I tell folk that it has a "retro" feel with visiting before, after, and even during the service. I encouraged the worshippers to get up and introduce themselves to those they didn't know and they were hard to rein back in. We ate together and chatted together. Parents trotted around after their kids as they explored the creek and every other nook and cranny. What's not to like on a sunny summer morning?

I hope this service doesn't come to an end. Anyone agree with me?

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Draw Down

Last week US president Obama announced what is termed a "draw down" in Afghanistan, which in our terms is a withdrawal, an exit, of thousands of troops. Ten years ago nations rushed to support the American invasion of Afghanistan even though we were all a little vague about what we were doing. I have mentioned before that in 2001 I stood in Point Pleasant Park in Halifax with my then sixteen year old daughter while ships from the Canadian Navy sailed out of the harbour. There were hundreds, perhaps thousands of us lining the shore and it was a moving moment. Except that Jocelyn asked why we were sending the navy to a landlocked country. For me it symbolized the confusion in our mission which has never really gone away.

Several European nations have followed suit and announced similar troop withdrawals and the Canadian military is already in the process of stepping out a major combat role. It was so sad to hear that another Canadian soldier died in the past couple of days. The carefully worded announcement couldn`t mask the probability that he took his own life, making him a different kind of casualty of war.

I wonder what we will conclude about our presence in Afghanistan as the years pass. More than 150 Canadians have died, billions have been spent. Was it worth it? Is any war worth the losses? I always feel that in war the truth becomes very blurred.

Perhaps that was why Jesus called us to be peacemakers even though he lived under Roman occupation and was surrounded by passionate resisters to their rule. I would never demean the role Canadian military personnel have played in Afghanistan. These are brave men and women. It just seems to me that all wars are a colossal waste of human energy.

Thoughts and comments.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Will Your Anchor Hold?

I was a bit surprised at some of the hymns that made the cut when the United Church hymn book Voices United was published fifteen years ago -- yup its been that long. One of them was the rousing Will Your Anchor Hold.

Will your anchor hold in the storms of life?

When the clouds unfold their wings of strife,

when the strong tides lift and the cables strain,

will your anchor drift or firm remain?

We have an anchor that keeps the soul

steadfast and sure while the billows roll,

fastened to the rock which cannot move.

grounded firm and deep in the Saviour's love!

You gotta love that exclamation mark, but most of us live in a post-anchor world, literally and figuratively.

I thought of this hymn the other morning when I saw a news item about a US rescue boat on the Niagara River, just above the falls. The jet boat set out to save some teens who were on the river and lost in the fog. Then their boat lost power and the police and teens on board were at risk of going over the falls, almost certainly to their deaths. The roar at the lip grew louder but they couldn't see it. They threw out the anchor, which caught, and waited helplessly. A Canadian helicopter came in to rescue all of them. How's that for dramatic?

There have been times in life when I haven't been able to see my way forward and wondered what was next. My faith in God was not just a comfort, it was both the anchor keeping me from going over the edge and the helicopter dropping out of the fog for the dramatic rescue.

How about for you? Have their been times when God was anchor and rescuer in tough times?

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Living Water

Our cat named Bustopher likes to get a drink from both of our bird baths in the back yard. My wife, Ruth, caught him at it with her iPhone, his head seemingly detached from his body. I suggested that the caption could be "if I wait quietly, the birds might not notice I'm here..."

When we sit out we regularly see birds at these baths. Some of them drink and others take a bath, frolicking with abandon. The same evening as this picture a female cardinal came to this bath twice and spent a fair amount of time freshening up. We are delighted by the energy the birds expend in this activity. Are they actually having fun?

When the days get really hot we see bees and wasps lining the edge of the baths, replenishing fluids. Being able to drink is so elemental and can be so fascinating, at least to us. Little wonder that water is an important spiritual symbol in most religions. As I have reminded you before, Jesus described himself as Living Water.

Does anyone else have a bird bath? Interesting, or should we just get a life?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

A Cup of Cold Strawberries!

I'm at a church meeting near Trenton today and I'm not happy about it. It's not the meeting itself that frustrated me. It's that it coincides with the annual Strawberry Social put on by our Pastoral Care committee at St. Paul's. About 60 seniors have committed to attending today and as the name suggests they will be fed fresh strawberry desserts and have a chance to catch up with each other. The committee arranges rides for those who need them and some of the gang will be from nursing homes and other residences who may not get out much.

It is such a good thing to do, from my perspective. Last year an elderly man living in a nursing home attended. It was his first time and he was so unsteady that he really wasn't sure about coming until the last minute. He sat next to someone who was a friend from childhood and they gabbed for a long time. A few weeks later he died and the friend gave a tribute at his funeral. His daughter told me that it was one of the last outings of his life and she was so glad the church had done this.

Kudos to the committee members and other volunteers who make this happen. This coming Sunday the gospel reading tells us "whoever welcomes you welcomes me...and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a discipl truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward." Cold water is good, but strawberries are better!


Tuesday, June 21, 2011

National Aboriginal Day

Today is the summer solstice, the best it gets for us in terms of daylight hours in the Northern Hemisphere. And this is National Aboriginal Day, first established to coincide with the solstice. In denominations such as the United Church we acknowledge this as a Aboriginal Day of Prayer, an opportunity to seek God's guidance in the process of healing and reconciliation with aboriginal peoples.

The United Church was one of the denominations which participated in the Residential Schools program which adversely affected the lives of so many native people. While the United Church didn't have many schools compared to other denominations, we were still involved and our last school closed in 1970.

Our emphasis these days is on the positive outcome of the Healing Fund which underwrites many projects such as outreach programs for aboriginal people in inner cities, as well as language and dance programs to help restore culture. The 1.2 million dollars was raised through contributions by United Church members. The United Church also participates in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission established by the Canadian government to hear the stories of those affected.

It is a start. Would you say you are well informed about United Church efforts at mending relationships with aboriginal peoples? Should we talk about this more or leave it alone?

Monday, June 20, 2011


The hectic pace of congregational life has finally slowed and last week I was able to get into several nursing homes and the hospital to visit some of our seniors. I can't stop thinking about three of those visits with elderly members who were lovely, cheerful individuals until recently. Two of them are in advancing stages of Alzheimers and the other had a stroke before Christmas.

The one woman, in a home in Oshawa, cared for her paraplegic husband for decades. Within months of his death five years ago she began to display erratic behaviour and not long after that she was in a nursing home. She was cheerful to begin with, but is now so angry and suspicious of others that she can't share a room. They have taken the mirrors out of her room because she sees an enemy in the reflection and attacks it.

The man was jolly even as he recovered from his stroke, but in the past couple of months he has become belligerent, critical of his wife for not joining him in the nursing home even though she doesn't need to be there.

The other woman is still as sweet as ever with me, but she has displayed sudden moments of aggression with nurses in the hospital, confused and annoyed that she is stuck in the unfamiliar environment. Her caring daughter is resigned to moving her into a nursing home where there is a secure unit because she has "escaped" from the private home where she has been quite happy.

All three are "addled," their usual character and thought processes scrambled by illness and disease. Those who deal with them professionally now have little idea of their previous selves. It all seems so unfair, and while these visits can be difficult these are people not just diminished patients. They are God's children who deserve to be treated with respect. We can do this because we are their Christian community even though it isn't always convenient or comfortable.

What are your thoughts on this?

Saturday, June 18, 2011

For Shame

The day after the Boston Bruins won the Stanley Cup in Vancouver Toronto Star sport writer Damien Cox wrote about the mayhem on the streets following the game. He offered that those who might assume that it was a small group of people involved in this anarchic behaviour have it wrong. Thousands were involved in street fights, looting, the burning of vehicles. CBC radio sports commentator Scott Regehr expressed his disgust at seeing a young guy assault an elderly man with a shopping cart full of bottles for no apparent reason. Fortunately several others came to the elderly man's aid, but it was one more ugly incident in a night of senseless violence. For what? The disappointment of the outcome of a game? Cox noted that he has seen other sports "riots" through the years but nothing compared with Wednesday night.

What a chilling example of destructive "group think" where people in a supposedly civilized culture can so quickly go on a senseless rampage. I am regularly aware of the nastiness and disdain directed toward religion these days as a useless and archaic form of social control. Well, this mob of mostly young adults is the product of our increasingly secular society. It sure wasn't a pretty picture. Perhaps they would have benefitted from a dose of oldtime compassion and a moral compass. Interesting that the individuals who attempted to stop the destruction were described in rthe media as Good Samaritans, a reference to a parable of Jesus about compassion.

Were you surprised by what happened? Thoughts?

Friday, June 17, 2011

Good Food and a Serving of Kindness

Within the Spirit of Christ's hospitality, The Gathering Place provides meals without cost, served with dignity and compassion to anyone who is in need and/or is interested in building healthy relationships and connections with the people in our community.

Gathering Place Mission Statement

Next week the steering committee for the Gathering Place community meal will meet here at St. Paul's to ponder our first seven dinners since beginning last December. It took a while to get up to speed, but the Friday evening meals in April, May, and June fed over a hundred people each time. Always the guests are effusive in their thanks and they pack away the food.

The day of the most recent meal I met a fellow on the street who has assured me for months that he was coming, only to be a no-show. He told me again that he would be there with friends. Sure enough, this time he came and afterward enthused about how great it was to have a setting where he could sit and visit in a way he can't in his rooming house.

This time Steve and Jim, St. Paul's members who are also part of the Lions Club brought their whopping big barbecue and cooked up all we needed and more to go with the salads. The teen mothers of a new local program to complete high school education made the dessert, as they did last month. Rekker's Nursery provided plants as gifts for our faithful volunteers. I am regularly struck by the kindness and generosity of so many people, along with the gratitude of those who attend. God is good, and so are people!

This is really an update, but comments are welcome.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Book of Mormon

One of the writers of the Book of Mormon musical cleverly gave credit to Joseph Smith as a co-writer while accepting his Tony award this past Sunday night. Of course Smith has been dead for more than a hundred and fifty years but it was nice that he got the tribute. When I first heard of this musical created by the irreverent South Park writers I figured it didn't have a chance of success. What do I know from Broadway?

Mormonism has been in the news lately. Mitt Romney has announced that he will be running for the Republican presidential nomination once again. He has been an able politician through the years but he has three strikes against him in the conservative Republican realm. He is a Mormon and the strong evangelical contingent in the States doesn't have much use for the Latter Day Saints. So much for the separation of church and state.

The other two flaws in his character? He believes that global climate change has been caused by humans and he instituted changes in health care when governor of Massachusetts that looked suspicously Canadian. You just can't trust that kind of guy!


Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Better Late Than Never

Yonder is the sea, great and wide
creeping things innumerable are there,
living things both small and great.
There go ships,
and Leviathan that you formed to sport in it. Psalm 104:25-26

Oops. You may have noticed that in past years I have acknowledged World Ocean Day, in part because I am a self-described ocean junkie. Somehow I missed WOD last Wednesday, so I will say something a week later.

For the past fifteen years or more we have visited an ocean somewhere and I am deeply moved by the rhythm of the tides, the variety of creatures great and small, and even the smell which varies from location to location. What a marvellous mystery that the great waters of the earth inhale and exhale twice day, drawn in and out by the gravitational pull of the satellite we call the moon. Witnessing these tides can be a meditation exercise in itself.

We are often told that humans have managed to sully what once seemed like an inexhaustible and unassailable treasure, pillaging species of fish,using the oceans as our sewer and garbage dump. So I was glad for some good news this World Ocean Day. In the Bay of Fundy, which has been short-listed as one of the Natural Wonders of the World, the North Atlantic Right whale has made a comeback, from a dangerously low 300 or so to between 450 and 500. Right whales have been described as the most endangered large mammals on the planet.This turn-around has happened in less than fifteen years because governments decided to change shipping lanes to protect these whales. We have also been told that some of the fish stocks which were considered virtually destroyed are stronger than expected and that recovery is happening for others.

Most of us may be a distance from saltwater, but all our lives are affected by the health of the seas. God give us the grace to treat them with respect.


Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Give Grief a Chance

Recently I spent time with a member whose parent had died a few days before. She honoured her mom in the final weeks and hours before her death by her presence, and they prayed their goodbyes. It turns out, though, that she is the one sibling among a number who wants to have a service with a religious focus, or a gathering of any kind for friends and family. It isn't that they didn't love their parent or that this has created tension, they just aren't interested and neither was the mother.

It was a reminder of the changing rituals of our society and the challenges for families in their decision making at the end of life when emotions run high. A couple of years ago a man in the congregation approached me about doing a service for his father who had died several months before. Again, there was no service at the time of death, and the family gathering they arranged seemed unfocussed and disheartening. He admitted that it might only be his wife and adult children who attended, but could I help? It turned out the other siblings and their families came and the service we carefully planned proved to be a comfort for them.

I have written before that I'm not keen to move from being a minister to an MC at services which can take on a bizarre quality at times, and funerals don't generally make my day anyway. But there is an important aspect to "good grief" which includes a service where both mourning and gratitude are expressed and resurrection hope is upheld. There is an article in the latest United Church Observer called Give Grief a Chance and I copied it for the woman who came to see me.

I have invited your thoughts on this subject before, but I would appreciate hearing from you again. After all, we are told that death and taxes are inevitable.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Locked Up

From time to time I come across a news item in one of my journals that stops me in my tracks. A recent paragraph in the Christian Century is in that category. It quoted law professor and author Michelle Alexander whose research shows that there are more African American men in prison today than there were enslaved in 1850, before the Civil War. There are harsh prison terms in many states as part of the war on drugs, which is focussed in poorer communities. These men of colour have trouble finding work and housing upon their release, and 70 percent return to prison within two years.

We know that there were many Christians who spoke and worked for an end to slavery in the United States, including those who were part of the Quaker movement. And we are aware of the Civil Rights movement in the 1960's which found much of its strength in churches. Yet is would seem that these freedoms have not translated into equality of opportunity. I wonder what the role of religion is in the States today to bring about a new order? Here in Canada statistics tell us that there are a disproportionate number of aboriginal people in our jails and prisons, our own legacy of subjugation. When I worked in Kingston Pen as a student chaplain my eyes were opened to this disparity.

I really don't have much to say about this -- I just thought I would bring it to your attention. Any thoughts or comments?

Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Birthday of the Church

Today is Pentecost Sunday so it was fitting that hundreds of the followers of Christ in Bowmanville were gathered in one place for worship on the birthday of the church. The annual ecumenical service took place in Rotary Park, an event that began with the 175th anniversary celebration for the comunity a couple of years ago. We decided to continue this outdoor service with eight congregations and the Christian schools participating. The offering goes to support chaplaincy at the Bowmanville hospital.

The service is a positive Christian witness in the community and I appreciate the commitment of the ministerial to make it happen. We even managed to keep the service to just over an hour this year.

Two of the recent additions to the ministerial roster are Rev. Anita from St. Andrew's Presbyterian and Pastor Antonio from the Seventh Day Adventist church. Anita's first language is Hungarian and she was a little nervous about praying in English before a large congregation. Antonio's first language is Spanish, so there really was a Pentecostal flavour to the gathering. They both led well. Now if we can get the Pentecostals to join us...

Were you able to attend this year? Would you agree that it is worth our while to gather in this way to bear witness to Christ and to Christians cooperating with Christians?

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Welcome Newcomers!

Our dedicated Congregational Committee doesn't put on a Newcomers Dinner every year, but I sat down with our administrator, Helen, a few weeks ago and we identified more than 30 new people to our congregation since last September, most of them since January. Go figure! I wish I could say why, but I ain't complaining.

The committee is preparing the dinner for this evening, and 20 or so of those 30 will be our special guests. The event is low-key with no "pitch" for the attendees. It is simply an opportunity to offer a welcome and a thank you for choosing St. Paul's. In this day it is no small thing to choose a place of worship and a faith community. We are very grateful.

Have you attended one of these dinners, either as a welcoming board member or as a welcomed newbie? Are you part of the preparation of the dinner? Good idea?

Friday, June 10, 2011

KJV Revisited

Do you remember me telling you that 2011 marks the four hundredth anniversary of the King James Version of the bible? We rarely read from it in our worship, yet there are so many marvellous phrases in the KJV which are unsurpassed in any version or paraphrase. And scholars argue that it was a world-changer, perhaps leading toward democracy.

I'll give you an update. It occurred to me that there should be some event or worship service acknowledging the gift of this royally authorized bible in the language of English-speaking people. I floated the idea in our ministerial, and guess what? No takers. I understood why. The comments were that no one would come and the language was too inaccessible and all that stuff. Could be true. Funny though. At the beginning of my ministry many evangelical congregations figured that it was the KJV or nothing. They curled their lips at other translations and paraphrases as inferior and perhaps even ungodly.

Most of my colleagues are from more conservative, and what they would consider more biblical churches. But they aren't interested in a celebration of this remarkable book even though prestigious secular publications such as the Atlantic have run feature pieces and in Vanity Fair super-atheist Christopher Hitchens argues that the KJV is perhaps the only positive contribution to religion.

Times do change. Have you ever attempted to plough through parts of the KJV? Would you have been interested in a service celebrating this translation? Or did my colleagues have it right?

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Jesus Christ Superstar

This past Sunday I quoted Judas. Actually it was from the song in Jesus Christ Superstar where Judas asks "Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ, who are you, what have you sacrificed?" I don't know whether anyone else noticed that organist Doug worked in the tune of another Superstar song during communion -- pretty clever on the spur of the moment. And it was the Last Supper song!

It is forty years since JCS first hit the stage and then in 1973 the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical was made into a popular movie. As I said Sunday, the songs were on the radio and people sang them without reservation. It's hard to imagine that a musical on a Christian theme would have that impact today.

Still, Stratford, usually home for Shakespeare's plays, is offering Jesus Christ Superstar this summer and the reviews are really positive. The Globe and Mail declared it divine on Saturday. Who knows, it may stir some interest in Jesus, even though this musical has been described as an agnostic view of the last week of Jesus' life.

Any memories of JCS from the first time around? Do you ever revisit the movie -- it is kinda corny. Plans to go to Stratford to see it this summer? Are you just too young to have a memory of it?

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Looking Forward

During the next couple of weeks we will be winding down a lot of activities in the congregation. The Sunday School service has already happened, our Bible Study group will lunch today as a last event for the summer, and the Board meets tonight for the last time before September. The Gathering Place dinner on Friday evening is also the last for the summer, and we will have a Newcomers Dinner on Saturday. Oh wait, there is still the Fashion Show, the Strawberry Social for our Seniors, the outdoor Ecumenical Service this Sunday, then the picnic...I guess we are still very busy!

But we are looking ahead, particularly when it comes to faith formation. We just ordered a new Sunday School curriculum called Feasting on the Word which follows the same lectionary readings from week to week used in worship geared to every age level. It looks great and there is a tie-in for our adult bible study as well. Check it out at

I will facilitate the Book Club in September on the excellent memoir I Shall Not Hate written by Palestinian doctor Izzeldin Abuelaish. We will offer a two-part series on End of Life Issues and Funeral Planning. For the former I will lead with Dr. Deb Jefferson and the latter we will have a panel with reps from three local funeral homes. I now have two excellent DVD resources on forgiveness including the two-part series from PBS called Forgiveness: a Time to Love and a Time to Hate. I'm also wondering about a film series based on the book Finding God in the Dark II. Books one and two look at faith themes through the lense of contemporary movies. I'm curious about how they connect Ratatouille (wonderful film) with the Ascension!

Do any of these appeal to you? Other comments?

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Rouge Valley National Park

As part of this year's celebration of National Parks a map was published of all the parks across the country and I realized that I had spent time in at least a dozen in eight provinces. They are all removed from urban centres, as one might imagine.

Wonderful news that a new national park has been announced in Scarborough, of all places. This Rouge Valley park will be roughly 10,000 acres, so small by other park standards. And it is nestled in the Greater Toronto Area with all its hustle and bustle. What better location though, than where it can be reached by public transit by those who might never travel to wilder spots.

I feel that our parks are national treasures and sacred spaces. I experience God as creator in the beauty and the complexity of the natural systems. Our hope is to spend some time at the Keji Seaside Adjunct in Nova Scotia this summer, a wild, magnificent place but we may check out the new park in our own backyard.

What is your experience with National Parks? Other wild places? Any thoughts about the Rouge Valley announcement?

Monday, June 06, 2011

Thirty Years Later

I was surprised to hear that yesterday was the thirtieth anniversary of the first reported AIDS patient. HIV and AIDS were probably around for years, even decades, before researchers realized what they were dealing with, but the discovery began the process of diagnosis and developing drugs and strategies which would prolong the lives of those with HIV/AIDS.

I have written before about being recruited to serve on a community AIDS committee in Sudbury in the late 1980's. I did so with some ambivalence as I sorted through the moral issues. I was a father of young children at the time and I was concerned that visiting HIV/AIDS patients might put my health and theirs at jeopardy. This sounds foolish now, but there was a lot of fear and uncertainty during those early years. Some nurses and doctors refused to work with AIDS patients until it was ascertained that they didn't have an airborne contagious disease. It was a big deal for me to hold the hand of a sufferer in a hospital bed and pray. Extending compassion in Christ's name took on a whole new meaning for me.

Today there are about 34 millions people with HIV/AIDS around the world and two million die each year. Three people a day contract HIV in Canada. Drugs now make a huge difference in longevity, but they aren't a cure and in poorer nations they aren't available.

Have you known someone with HIV/AIDS? Has this disease gone off your radar screen in recent years? What about compassion as the Christian community?

Sunday, June 05, 2011

New Shoots

The theme for this year's meeting of Bay of Quinte Conference was The Tree of Life, and our moderator, Mardi Tindal upheld "caring for Creation" in a series of related addresses. Still, the conference looked a bit like the petrified forest with far too many of us oldsters on hand. The delegates to conference are aging without younger people replacing them.

Except, that is, for a steadily growing teen contingent which this year numbered close to seventy. This aspect of conference has revived, in no small part due to Rev. Cathy Russell who was formerly part of our St. Paul's staff. Cathy was involved, as was Laura, our current youth worker.

It was these young adults who were the "new shoots from old roots" this year. They were fearless in challenging plans to reduce conference staffing for youth and they convinced the court to add a youth delegate to the conference executive. They trooped to the microphones to make their feelings known and while they were a bit brash at times isn't that what youth is for? I loved seeing our four teen participants and they graciously came and sat with me from time to time. They really are like family members.

I doubt that I would have been as brave and outgoing at the same age. Does it encourage you to hear that our young people are willing to participate at this level of church governance? Surprise you?

Friday, June 03, 2011

Clergy Letter Project

I just read about what sounds like a remarkable coalition called the Clergy Letter Project. About 14,000 clergy and scientists agree that is possible to uphold and teach faith while recognizing the accuracy of evolution. You may think that this is a discussion which should be over in our society, but it is still a hot issue publicly in parts of the States and certainly in many churches there and here in Canada.

Recently Michele Bachman, a Republican who is considering a run for the presidential nomination claimed that some Nobel Prize winning scientists question evolution, which is not the case.

I have said before that I believe in a Creator God, but not creationism. I don't feel the need to limit the processes through which life on Earth has developed and there is room in my theology for evolution. The two aren't exclusive of each other and I'm not sure why some Christians feel that it is necessary to hold on to a young Earth approach as a sign of faithfulness.

Where are you on this one? Don't tell me you have fins or flippers!

Thursday, June 02, 2011


I listened to someone named Michael Bach on the radio yesterday. Mr. Bach is the Director of Diversity for KPMG, a large, country-wide company which provides audit and tax services. Presumably the goal for KPMG is to make a ton of money.

It has also decided that diversity is a reality of our culture to be embraced, not a problem to be lamented. Bach and others noticed that Muslims on staff would leave the building in search of a mosque for prayer during the day. Even if they were on lunch or breaks, they were gone for a while. So, they set up a quiet room which can be booked for prayer or contemplation of any kind. Employees do this online and, lo and behold, lots of them are doing so. It isn't just Muslims. Christians, Buddhists, people who just want quiet book their few minutes of tranquility. Bach commented that they realized faith doesn't get left at the door when employees come to work, any more than they stop caring about their families.

I am impressed. If a company dedicated to making a profit decides that it will respect religious diversity, can it be so hard for the rest of society.


Wednesday, June 01, 2011

A Firm Foundation

I was surprised to read that in Britain the number of marriages registered annually has dropped by roughly 50% since the 1970's, from about half a million to just under 250,000. People don't feel the same need to get hitched for their relationship to be considered legit, on either side of the Pond. The exception to that trend is when couples have kids. The British study found that having children is often the impetus for cohabiting couples to get legally married.

In some ways everything old is new again. You may not be aware that for centuries marriage was as simple as moving in together. If you cohabited or had children together you were as good as married in everyone's eyes. In Britain it was only after the introduction of the Hardwicke Marriage Act in 1753 that marriage became a legal concept and unmarried couples became stigmatized. Even then, religious marriages often happened on the church steps rather than within the sanctuary.

In one of the marriage ceremonies for the United Church there is this statement:

God established marriage that man and woman might have life-long companionship, that natural instincts and affections might be fulfilled in mutual love, that children might have the benefit of family life, and that society might rest on a firm foundation.

This is not what I use within services, and I wonder how many couples see marriage in this way today. Of course our society has already decided that marriage isn't necessarily between a man and a woman. I actually feel strongly about the covenantal nature of marriage, so that's why I just don't do many weddings anymore. It dosn't have anything to with gender. I don't want to be Marryin' Sam where I may be the only one in the gathering who figures that this is as much about God as the couple.