Sunday, July 31, 2011

Angels in the Night

Some weeks it's hard to know which of the passages from the lectionary to choose as a preaching focus. This week we have two all-star stories. Jacob wrestles with an angel one night and while he walks with a limp after his encounter, he knows he has been blessed and seen God face to face. I had to smile when I read this one because I was struggling with a sore back, the result of a vacuuming injury -- tip: don't lean over your shoulder to pick up the vacuum when you are doing the stairs. I was literally walking with a limp and no angels were involved!The painting above is by Paul Gaugin, a contemporary and sometime friend of Van Gogh.

Then there is the story of the feeding of the crowd which we read in Matthew but makes it into all four of the gospels. I decided that with the famine in East Africa so prominently before us I would stick with the gospel, but the Jacob story is powerful.

We see the Jack Layton's of the world and other less prominent souls who live with courage despite their literal and figurative limps. It seems to me that there is always the temptation to ask "why me?," to become bitter, or to be defeated by circumstances. While the gospel reading is the obvious miracle story, the little miracles are evident in those who find God's blessing in the tough moments. Maybe these are the angels around us.

Have you experienced times in your life when we felt that you were walking with a limp, so to speak? What got you through the tough times? Do you feel blessed by God despite the difficulties you have experienced?

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Jesus the Jew

When I was in my twenties I gave an art reproduction of a Rembrandt painting to my father. I knew he appreciated The Supper at Emmaus, so I did the work of matting and framing myself. When he died seven years ago it was one of just a few of his personal items which I kept and it now hangs on my study wall.

I have seen the original in the Louvre in Paris and it will soon be in Philadelphia for a major exhibit of Rembrandt's work called Rembrandt and the Face of Jesus

There has been a fair amount of speculation about the artist's relationship with the Jewish community. He did work for Protestant and Roman Catholic clients, as well as illustrating a book for a Jewish rabbi. Some scholars suggest that a number of his biblical subjects, including some of the the depictions of Jesus, used Jewish models, perhaps Jewish acquaintances. I like the notion that this great artist was at ease in the company of Jews and used them in his paintings but no one knows for sure. There is a sense of honesty and directness in these works which goes beyond the conventions of the day for depicting Jesus, the Christ.

Does it matter one way or another? Can you see Jesus as the Jewish peasant in this painting? Does Jesus as the peasant bring you closer to who he was an is? Does art just leave you cold?

Friday, July 29, 2011

All Inclusive

One of our St. Paul's members has enrolled in the United Church program for lay preachers and worship leaders and I'm glad because I think she will be good at it. She has purchased a raft of required resources in preparation, including a book on inclusive language. Inclusive language is gender neutral, whenever possible and this will be encouraged in her program, This can be something of a challenge because a lot of biblical language is male-oriented and patriarchal. But it's far from impossible to use language which attempts equality and I have used it all during my ministry because of my seminary training and my own convictions.

It's interesting that many people don't realize that I choose to use inclusive language. Many years ago a UCW questionnaire asked if the minister used inclusive language and one member wanted them to put down "no" as the answer. Other members pointed out that I did use it, even if she hadn't noticed.

Using terms such as "man" to describe humanity are long gone, and I just don't refer to God as "he." I'm inclined to use other Trinitarian formulas than Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, although most of the time we use the traditional Lord's Prayer. I'm careful about the hymns we sing, although both Voices United and More Voices have made the job of choosing much easier.

There is apparently a new gender neutral version of the bible, the Common English Bible, which is several years in the making and involving several hundred scholars. While it won't be published in paper for a few months it is availabe digitally. I also read this week that the Southern Baptist Convention has condemned a new gender-inclusive version of the New International Version of the bible, a version very popular in evangelical circles.Honestly, I think the New Revised Standard Version which we use already does a really good job, but maybe this will further the cause.

Where are you with all this? Do you even notice how language is used in worship? Would you prefer the older style of language and words for hymns? What about inclusive language in the bible?

Thursday, July 28, 2011


Over the past weekend I struggled with deep sadness brought on by the massacre of innocent people in Norway. The depth of the depravity of this act was hard to fathom. You may have noticed that in the immediate aftermath there were media reports that Muslim extremists were the perpetrators. As it turned out a blonde, blue-eyed Norwegian who claims to be a form of Christian of his own making was the sole murderer. In his 1500 page manifesto this is what he says:

A majority of so called agnostics and atheists in Europe are cultural conservative Christians without even knowing it. So what is the difference between cultural Christians and religious Christians? If you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and God then you are a religious Christian. Myself and many more like me do not necessarily have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and God. We do however believe in Christianity as a cultural, social, identity and moral platform. This makes us Christian.

This is a grim reminder that extremist religious views of any stripe are vile and rarely reflect even a semblance of the values at the core of the belief system. Religion is coopted as an excuse for racism and hatred, as was the case in Norway.

It is a brutal irony that in this peace-loving country only about two percent of the population worships regularly, although most still go through the motions of "hatch, match, and dispatch." Yet it was someone who describes himself as a Christian who carried out the violence. And then a hundred thousand or more gathered in and around Oslo Cathedral for the memorial service of those slain. We all search for meaning and often religion provides the context, even for those who distort it.

What was your reaction to the events of last weekend? What about extremist views, and what we can do to counteract them?

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Hopeful Jack

When Jack Layton announced earlier this week that he was stepping back from political life for a while there was a collective gasp across this country. You didn't have to vote for him to like feisty Jack and it seems as though just everybody admires the guy, myself included.

Even though he has been beset by another form of cancer Layton talks with the same determination as ever, speaking of hope and optimism for himself and for the country he serves as leader of the opposition party. I don't know what Jack Layton's faith may or may not be, but how can you argue with hope and the desire to help others.

Layton did mention the inspiration he receives from his late father, Robert or Bob, also a politician. On a CBC radio phone-in yesterday a man called to say that he knew the family well and that he had baby sat Jack as a boy. Bob had such a profound influence on this man and four of his friends that they all five are now clergy. I would love to know the story behind this, and how the faith of his parents has shaped Jack Layton.

What was your reaction to the news about Layton's cancer?

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Have You Met My Child, Evil Incarnate?

While we may feel that kids can be 'lil devils at times they can't officially be called that in New Zealand. The office of the registrar for births has rejected three separate requests for newborn bundles of joy to be named Lucifer. Of course, lucifer, along with satan, beelzebub, the devil are names for the force of evil in the world. What are these parents thinking?

Mind you, there are plenty of weird and wonderful names out there these days. "Way back when" musician Frank Zappa named one of his kids Moon Unit and another Dweezil. Thanks dad. I see that David and Victoria Beckham have called their newborn Seven, related to a mystical number and dad's soccer jersey number.

But back to little Lucifer. Does it creep anyone else out just a tad to think that parents wanted to do this? Is a name just a name or does it carry weight and meaning?

Monday, July 25, 2011

I Will Make You Fishers

Yesterday's gospel lesson was a series of the parables of Jesus, including one which says God's reign is like a fish net, cast out over the waters and hauling in fish worth keeping and others to through back. We call the ones which don't have commercial use "by-catch" these days, and because of indiscriminate fishing around the world there aren't many "good" or "bad" fish left.

So, we set up fish farms, and a lot of people don't like it.

A recent issue of Time magazine has an article on the future of fishing and it does look at the impact of aquaculture.,8599,2081796,00.html We still don't know definitively whether fish farms lead to greater disease in wild populations or if we lose the benefits attributed to eating fish when they are commercially raised. Chances are though that the fish you eat have been grown in pens rather than, well, "swimmin' with da fishes" in a natural habitat.

When we were in Nova Scotia we were staying close to a proposed fish farm site near Shelburne. Some lawn signs warned against the project and others said "We support sustainable aquaculture." Fish farms mean jobs and tax revenue, but others worry about the environmental impact.

Does it matter to you one way or another if your fish come from a pen? Is this just one more sign that we are messing up Creation, or a creative alternative to declining fish stocks? Should we care?

Sunday, July 24, 2011

On the Horn of a Dilemma

In conversation with my mother the other day she asked if the United Church was doing anything in response to the humanitarian crisis in Somalia and surrounding African nations. Her thoughtfulness and compassion are among the reasons I would like to keep her around for a while. I could tell her that just the day before the United Church had launched an appeal to its members, promising that 100% of any gift would make it to our partners in those countries of what is called the Horn of Africa.

For a time Western aid groups could not help in Somalia despite the millions of people who were starving as a result of the drought. Islamic extremists kicked international organizations out because they are "infidels." Now they have been invited back because of the severity of the crisis.

The existence of food refugees is not a new problem. In fact, the book of Ruth in the Older Testament is built around a family that left Israel for Moab in search of food, only to return when loved ones died. What we are seeing now though are severe conditions which may be human made, what we call climate change.

Whatever the cause, people are suffering, including hundreds of thousands of children. Today I will appeal to the congregation to give through their Sunday offering, or directly to the United Church. I hope people are generous, which is usually the case at St. Paul's. Do you plan to respond to this crisis?

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Quiet Kindness

We had one of those very satisfying phone calls the other day which point out the importance of community life as Christians and the quiet kindness and generosity of our members. The adult granddaughter of one of members who is 90+ said that she had been in to see her grandmother at the nursing home. She mentioned the nice man from the church who has been in to see her several times lately. The granddaughter was grateful and wondered who it is.

Now, I know Vi likes me, but I knew immediately that she was referring to John, a retired professional in the congregation who has joined our visitation program. John has a nice way with seniors and a good sense of humour, so this is a great fit. Our pastoral care worker, Beth, has connected up all nineteen of our nursing home and seniors' residence members with volunteers who have agreed to visit them on a regular basis. Beth and I try to get to the ten nursing homes as often as we can, but this way another relationship can be established.

John had agreed to see two people in this home, although one has recently moved to a more secure facility. The daughter of one of our seniors has agreed to see the other three St. Paul's members who live where her mother is situated. We haven't specified how often the visits will take place or what has to happen. What is important is the visit.

When I come to the end of a visit with a senior I pray, and often I ask God to give the person the assurance that they are not forgotten by their church family. They are not "out of sight, out of mind." This initiative is a way of demonstrating that this is true in a very practical way.

Would you find it daunting to visit someone in this way? Would you be more inclined to participate if you were trained first? Do you like the idea?

Friday, July 22, 2011

Beyond Revenge

Shortly after writing about revenge yesterday I saw a US television piece on a death row inmate in the state of Texas. In the aftermath of the 911 attacks a decade ago Mark Stroman went on a violent, vengeful rampage during which two men were killed and another was seriously injured because they looked Arab. He didn't know them, nor did he know what their religious convictions were. One of them was actually a Hindu.

Stroman was convicted of murder and sentenced to death but someone worked relentlessly to have that sentence commuted. It is the man he injured, Rais Bhuiyan, who is now blind in one eye and still has shotgun pellets embedded in his face. He went so far as to sue the state to delay the execution. Why? Because as a devout Muslim he believes in forgiveness rather than revenge. He has a blog called World Without Hate on which he offers:

There are three reasons I feel this way. The first is because of what I learned from my parents. They raised me with the religious principle that he is best who can forgive easily. The second reason is because of what I believe as a Muslim, which is that human lives are precious and that no one has the right to take another human’s life. In my faith, forgiveness is the best policy and Islam doesn’t allow for hate and killing. And, finally, I seek solace for the wives and children of Mr. Hasan and Mr. Patel, who are also victims in this tragedy. Executing Stroman is not what they want, either. They have already suffered so much; it will only cause more suffering if he is executed.
As Christians we have a particular approach to forgiveness which goes through the cross, but we don't have a corner on it. As I have pointed out before, forgiveness in some form is encouraged in all major religions. This situation points out how true this is.

Mark Stroman is dead, executed on Wednesday. Amongst his last words were:"Hate is going on in this world and it has to stop.Hate causes a lifetime of pain."

Have you heard about Bhuiyan and Stroman? What was your reaction?

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Dumb and Dumber

Did any one else hear the program on revenge on the CBC radio program Strange Animal?. It was fascinating because it took a scientific look at vengeance, which seems so programmed into human existence.

One researcher said that his studies of the brain show that people get a "rush" from imagining revenge. But they don't get the same satisfaction from actually exacting revenge. Makes sense to me. I have imagined revenge in everything from the scathing riposte well after the nasty comment was made to me, to much darker thoughts that I will not share because they could put me out of a job. Maybe this "revenge rush" explains why the supposedly Christian nation to our south has been embroiled in a costly boondoggle in the Middle East for the past decade without much to show for it.

A lot of people consider Jesus' encouragement to "turn the other cheek" to be pretty dumb. I talk to people all the time who figure it's fine for Jesus to say so, but he obviously doesn't know their ex, their boss, their sibling. But maybe if "turn the other cheek" is dumb, revenge is dumber.


Wednesday, July 20, 2011


I was coming out of the library recently when a voice said "hi Dave!" I turned around to see a fellow named Robbie on the bench in front of the building. Robbie attends The Gathering Place community meal sponsored by local churches. I hadn't met him before the dinners but he is always friendly and says hello with a smile. Since we began the meals I see a number of regulars in the downtown and as with Robbie there is often the opportunity to have a couple of minutes of chit-chat. Another guy, Robert, runs across the street shouting my name and invariably everyone around stops to look!

Just before I went on vacation I was on Temperance street when I saw another attender, Joanie, sitting on the curb with a young woman hovering over her. Joanie had fallen and cut her arm and the sweet young woman was the proprietor of a hair dressing salon nearby. She explained later that she knows a number of these folks because they drop in on cold days to warm up. Sort of "eight chairs, lots of waiting." Joanie was agitated because she wasn't supposed to be away from her group home and she was afraid she'd get in trouble, but we eventually got her to the hospital to get cleaned up.

I am grateful for The Gathering Place because invisible people in our community have become visible to me. They have names and personalities and stories that are unique to them. Like the rest of us.

So maybe this is why Jesus spent so much time just hanging out with folk around meal tables. It humanizes us and connects us to the divine, all at once.


Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Generous Hearts

Do you remember this photograph? Many of you were touched by the story of this elderly Nova Scotia couple, Allen and Violet Large, which I shared with you in a blog last year. You might recall that they won just over eleven million dollars in the lottery and decided to give most of it away. After their win they realized that they were content with their lives and kept just enough to sustain their present lifestyle. They supported hospitals and other charitable organizations, including churches. In the end they gave away 98% of their winnings.

Well, Violet succumbed to the cancer which is evident in this photo. In the newspaper article about her death it mentions that Allen and Violet have requested that donations be made to their local United Church.

This sort of generosity is impressive. But do we need to win a lottery in order to be generous? As a minister I am fascinated by how emotional and even angry some people get when they are asked to support the life and work of their community of faith and I hear it all the time from colleagues. One told us that her congregation was dealing with the possibility of closing and members were upset. But one stood up and said that he wasn't willing to contribute any more because he couldn't afford it. When someone else noted that he spent the winter down south and always drove a new car he let them know that this was none of their business.

I figure that generosity is public business in the church because we are called to a life of sharing in Christ's name. Most of us have "won the lottery" in life by virtue of living in this prosperous country and it is a shame that the mission of congregations is so often strangled by lack of funds. We don't need 98% or even ten. If our members gave three to five percent we would have enough and more.

But that's me. What are your thoughts?

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Medium is the Message

On the weekend the hundredth anniversary of the birth of Marshall McLuhan was celebrated. Do you remember McLuhan? Of course some of you are too young to recall this Canadian philosopher's explorations of popular culture in the 50's, 60's and 70's but he was an influential guy, even though people were often perplexed by what some of his catch phrases actually meant. He coined "The Global Village" and he also told us that "the medium is the message." We're still trying to figure that one out, but McLuhan was trying to help us see that in the rapidly changing world of communication, media aren't just the vehicles for sharing information, they shape and define it and even become more important than the message itself.

What an interesting coincidence between McLuhan's birthday and the media scandal in Britain. This is an unfolding story of gross abuse of any means to create sensational stories. The now-defunct News of the World newspaper tapped and hacked the phones of grieving families of a murdered teen, and of soldiers killed in Afghanistan. Politicians and celebrities were also targets. It has become obvious that there were no moral boundaries, no integrity or conscience on the part of the perpetrators. This was illegal activity which knew no bounds. In this case "the medium is the monster." Today the owner of the News of the World, Rupert Murdoch (above), will give testimony in Britain and we can hope that the truth will eventually emerge.

I wonder what our reaction should be as people of faith? I suppose we would all agree that this is reprehensible behaviour. But we see how the media are manipulated by religious groups and leaders to create public spectacles, everything from bizarre entertainment style worship on TV to crazies burning copies of the Koran. Wouldn't you like to hear McLuhan's comments on all this stuff!


Sunday, July 17, 2011


Strange how coincidences unfold and multiple sometimes. For four weeks the lectionary serves up the story of twins Esau and Jacob in the book of Genesis, so I decided that on my first Sunday back from vacation I would speak about the twin in all of us, the alter aspect of our personality which is both central to who we are, yet distinct. You may recall that Jacob was a rather devious and conniving brother, yet God works through him. Even though this story dates from roughly 2600 years ago, there is an archetypal quality to it.

So, this week twins have been everywhere! There was an article on twins in the Globe and Mail newspaper, I read a review of a novel featuring twins, and the mother of twin musicians Tegan and Sara was interviewed on CBC radio. Oh yes, I was asked to announce the birthday of 13-year-old twins in our congregation today.

I know that parents of two different sets of twins read this blog, along with two individuals who have a twin. Comments about the nature of twinship? What about the notion that we are all two people in a way, living alongside each other?

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Backyard Park

Today Parks Canada is celebrating a century of protecting wild spaces in this country with events in the parks. along with concerts in Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver. Singer/songwriter Sarah Harmer was commissioned by the CBC to write a campfire song to celebrate the event. You can find it at the CBC website.

As I mentioned recently, the newest national park is actually urban -- or shall we call it "rurban?" The Rouge Valley park will be about 15,000 acres in Scarborough and Markham. There are some who are hoping that another 20,000 acres or more will be added in the form of the lands set aside for the Pickering airport 40 years ago. This land has remained a relatively unspoiled jewel in the midst of urban sprawl and the streams that run through it are amongst the cleanest in Southern Ontario.

The trouble is, noises are being made once again about using this tract for another airport. Instead of national parkland it would be home to a steady stream of jet planes. A few years ago our Oshawa to Presbytery of the United Church wrote to the federal government asking for a redesignation of the airport site as a protected space.

What do you think? Should congregations and presbytery take up the cause again?

Friday, July 15, 2011

More Blessings

Now that our children are adults and don't travel with us we can choose other form of accomodation than motels and camping. We still camp because of the beauty of our provincial and national parks but we have really enjoyed B&B's in recent years.

On our return trip from Nova Scotia we staying at a charming place near the village of Kamouraska on the southern shore of the St. Lawrence River. The B&B is in the country but Kamouraska is close by and has an amazing boulangerie (bakery) a decadent chocolate shop and great restaurants including a gourmet pizzeria with at least 30 choices. We love this distinct culture that allows small villages to be centres of creativity and culture.

Later we sat on the deck of the B&B and watched farmers literally make hay while the sun shines. In fact, they used lights to bail hay until after 11 and it was a good thing. It rained heavily during the night. There was a fox who was also figuratively making hay while the sun shone, hunting between the rows of freshly mown hay. There was such a sense of contentment watching the humans and the fox in the harvest, the sense of life's balance and completeness. The next morning the hills behind us were shrouded in mist and the hay field was done.

As with yesterday's entry, there is a sense of the Creator's blessing in this "off the beaten path" beauty.I had to take a picture of the only gas station in town. Talk about retro!

Any off road travel for you this summer?

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Blessed to be Canadian

On Canada Day we woke up in a lovely B&B in the beautiful town of St. Andrew's New Brunswick. We were on our way early and drove across the southern portion of the province. In Nova Scotia we diverged from the four-lane highway to drive back roads to the community of Joggins. In the 1850's a small group of scientists made a key fossil discovery in the cliffs which supported Darwin's theory of evolution. Today there is an interpretive centre and it is a UNESCO World Natural Heritage site. We left Joggins in haste though because the main street was about to be closed down for the Canada Day parade. We escaped in the nick of time with virtually everyone in the village lined up and ready to go.

We travelled a remote dirt road recommended by a local through a wildlife reserve to emerge on the north shore of the Minas Basin and Cobequid Bay, pictured above. That drive is amazing with views out to a body of water with some of the highest tides in the world and water stained by the rich red mud.

Late that afternoon we arrived at the home of friends who told us that we had brought good weather with us. Would we be interested in going out in their sailboat? Richard is a "go big or go home" kinda guy, so his decision to take up sailing resulted in the purchase of a 38-foot, ocean going boat! We went out the Northwest Arm into Halifax Harbour where we watched as thousands of people assembled on the Halifax and Dartmouth sides for the annual fireworks display. We weren't far from the barge which launched the fireworks and we sat in the dark enjoying the show, including the reflections in the windows of the big office towers of the waterfront.

It was a remarkable Canada Day and as we travelled we commented several times on the blessing of being born in this country. It was hard to believe that so much happened in one day. We can't claim to deserve being residents of this country, but we are grateful to God that we are Canadians.
How was your Canada Day? What blessings are you grateful for as a Canadian?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


It's "deja vu all over again." Three years ago I shared photos from Birchtown in Nova Scotia. At the time the historical novel, The Book of Negroes, was growing in popularity and I went with my brother to explore the site. This year Ruth and I were in the same area and made the trip to Birchtown, although once again the schoolhouse museum was closed. The offices of the historical society are in a nearby church, a reminder that religion was both a sustaining force for slaves and the justification for oppression by some slave owners. Just click on the photo with the plaque to get a readable image. We were staying near Port Mouton, mentioned on the plaque.

It was still sobering to see a reconstruction of one of the pit houses the former slaves called home during harsh Nova Scotia winters and insect ridden summers. Some of them walked the eight kilometres to Shelburne where they worked for what were essentially slave wages, even though they were supposedly free men and women.

I thought that since the story of the burning of The Book of Negroes in the Netherlands was so recent I would include some of the pictures from our trip.


Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Off Limits

I was at the dentist yesterday, a perfect way to spend part of the first day back from vacation. While I was waiting I read an article in a current magazine (isn't there a rule that magazines in the offices of dentists and doctors must be old?) on the efforts to protect the Ontario habitat of the Piping Plover in some of the busiest recreational areas in the province.

Ever heard of a Piping Plover? It is a small, rather innocuous shore bird --what the Newfoundlanders quaintly called a "beachy bird," which is vulnerable because it nests out in the open on the upper regions of beaches. Humans have made life miserable for the Piping Plover because we like their habitat for recreation and our pets, namely dogs, often destroy their nests. So, the effort is on in many jurisdictions to protect nesting grounds even if it means closing beaches. Yet plovers are really "good for nothing." They aren't majestic, you can't eat 'em.

I was interested in the article because while we were in Nova Scotia we visited two sweeping, relatively remote beaches where there were no other people around. We were warned away from portions of these beaches by signs advising us that they protected plover habitat. We observed these bans even though there was no one around to police us and in one situation we yearned to walk the beach which had been a favorite place during our time living in Nova Scotia.

In recent years we have heard more about streams, forests, even areas of oceans which are closed to humans to protect endangered species. People often get angry because these areas may be their sources of livelihood or recreation. How can a barely visible minnow shut down fishing in a river, or a small owl close off logging? In a way these areas become figurative arks, allowing critters to survive in what is usually an unfair tussle between us and them.

So, should governments appoint themselves as modern day Noahs declaring some areas off limits, or is there too much interference? At what point do human needs supercede those of other creatures? If you saw the "off limits" signs, would you respect them?

Monday, July 11, 2011

Going Local

We made our way through Nova Scotia at a time when we could visit the Halifax Farmers Market on a Saturday morning. This market is the oldest in the country and one of the best, and at its best on Saturdays. It has expanded dramatically since we lived there, occupying the former brewery which was its old home, and its new, expanisve digs at Pier 20. Both sites are pictured above The Pier 20 building is now an environmental marvel as well as a venue for hundreds of food producers, vintners, brewers, and artisans. We loved the market then, and it is wonderful still.

Because we were on our way to our south shore refuge for a week we stocked up on all kinds of stuff: a chicken, sausages, bread, pastries, lettuce, tomatoes, peas, strawberries. All produced by people who will chat you up while tallying your bill.

I seem to regularly revisit the importance of food grown locally. Its not the "be all and end all" but for us it is important both from a health standpoint and a spiritual perspective. We need to be connected to the food which nourishes and sustains us, as well as those who produce it. The Old Testament has a largely agrarian focus, and Jesus uses many images of field and food. So why wouldn't this matter to us?

How about you this summer? Are your gardens growing in all this heat? Have you been able to buy local?

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Up to Nothing

I'm back (almost) from two weeks vacation and some of you know what that means -- musing on my holiday and being subjected to my photos.

We spent the better part of a week at the beach house of friends who used to live in Nova Scotia and now make Colorado home. The house is on the south shore of Nova Scotia, on the road into the Keji National Park Seaside Adjunct. They have four acres fronting on a beach which is probably two kilometres in length. In their great kindness they have made this place available to us through the years and it has been a healing refuge. What struck us almost immediately once again was nothing. None of the noises of a busy town. Not the sirens, powerwashers, squealing tires of this, our first morning back.

Yes, there was the sound of wind through the trees, and the lap of waves on the shore when the tide was high. And lots of bird song. Even the laughter of children who were enjoying the sand flats, and clam diggers in the distance calling to one another. They were few and far between though. At night it was the deep, resonating silence which we noticed and savoured. We chose not to use the television, so other than tuning into CBC radio from time to time we eased into the solitude and loved it.
Often on vacations we describe the things we have done, or the beauty we see. How to speak of the nothingness which is almost palpable and definitely restorative? We received is as a blessing from God, a sabbath for the ears and souls.

Any experiences of the quiet, the silence, the solitude for any of you this summer? Some of you live away from the "madding crowd." Thoughts on the value of solitude?

Thanks to all of you who commented on entries while we were away. It's fun to read them upon returning.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Mind Your Mouth

Author Lawrence Hill was shaking his head recently when a person of colour in The Netherlands symbolically burned his novel The Book of Negroes because it used the word negro. The idea was that this is an offensive word, akin to the other N word and so should be vigorously protested. In response Hill, who is himself a person of colour, pointed out that his late father, a human rights activist, proudly described himself as a negro through most of his life.

We know that Martin Luther King Jr. the Baptist pastor and driving force behind the Civil Rights Movement in the US used the term negro. And Hill's Book of Negroes is based on the historical Book of Negroes.

Some folk get earnestly goofy at times about titles and names and euphemisms which change with the times, only to become offensive or questionable to the next generation. As I once mentioned in this blog, my older daughter scolded me for using the term "retarded" a few years ago. For her it was quite offensive even though I pointed out to her that I wasn't using it in a derogatory way and that it was the common term for developmentally challenged individuals during my growing up years. Another time we were in a retro candy store and I pointed out what I called Afro-Canadian Infants. I knew better than to call them Black Babies.

Some terms change for the better, and some just change. Respect can come with changing language, and we should all mind our mouths, but equality goes much deeper than terms. The fellow in The Netherlands just doesn't get it, or so it seems to me. The Nazis burned books, so do we conclude that this guy is a Nazi? I don't think so?

You may have figured out from my less frequent blogs that I'm not in Bowmanville these days. I am actually in that part of Nova Scotia where The Book of Negroes central figure Aminata finds herself. It is a short drive to Shelburne and Birchtown, featured in the novel, and we will visit both communities.

What do you think about The Book of Negroes kerfuffle? What about our use of terms and titles generally?

Sunday, July 03, 2011


Some people say Toronto mayor Rob Ford should be at the Pride Parade in Toronto today instead of enjoying family time at his cottage. Ford insists that this isn't a slight on the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgendered community. It's just family tradition going back to his childhood.

The reaction to his announcement two weeks ago was swift and severe. There was criticism on the front page of the Globe and Mail and a discussion on CBC radio. Some members of the GLBT community (is in incorrect to call such a varied group of people a community?) claimed that they didn't want him there anyway. It was pointed out that every mayor since Barbara Hall has been part of the parade. I guess that means all Toronto mayors until the end of time must participate.

I confess that I found the indignation rather overdone. I don't like Mayor Ford very much, but if he had decided to blow off the Serbian Canadian parade for the cottage some weekend would there have been much of a furor? Does every mayor join the Labour Day parade or they off enjoying a long weekend like most mortals?

I realize that some conservative Christians are cheering his decision as heroic, but I'm not with them. This isn't a religious issue, even if the parade will be "church" for a lot of people today. Maybe Ford is mean spirited -- I wouldn't put it past hime. Maybe that's his choice. I just wonder when we will calm down as a society on circumstances like this. I figure that parades are for people who want to join the party, not those who are forced onto the bandwagon.


Friday, July 01, 2011

Sacred and Profane

Do you remember the film Amadeus? Even though it was three hours in length and took creative liberties with the life story of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart it was brilliant entertainment. Wolfie, as his wife calls him in the film, is a scatological, socially inept wastrel who happens to create sublime music. His arch enemy is the court musician, Salieri, a plodder who realizes Mozart's brilliance and comes to hate him for it, as he also hates God for giving Mozart the talent he figures he deserves.

There is an art exhibit which opened June 16th at the National Gallery in Ottawa about another "bad boy" creative genius, the 17th century painter Caravaggio. Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio was brilliant in his use of light and shadow and as an artist he has "aged well" through the centuries. He is now considered one of the great painters of his era. At the time he was a bad-tempered rogue who had to run from the law because he stabbed a policeman and later killed a tennis opponent.

Caravaggio was a nasty bit of work all round, yet he created some of the great religious images of his time. Not long ago I showed two of his works on successive Sundays, one of them The Last Supper in the National Gallery in London. Part of Caravaggio's genius was his use of real people in his works depicting mythological and biblical figures. There are only 70 authenticated Caravaggio paintings because he didn't live all that long. He died at the age of 38 under mysterious circumstances.

Do you know the work of Caravaggio? Do you think you will go to the exhibit? More importantly, why would God work through such questionable individuals to produce such spiritually uplifting art?