Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Can we Change?

Last week I had a brief conversation with a member of the St. Paul's congregation who is an RCMP officer and often works in the Ontario North with native communities. He was on his way once again. Our family lived in Northern Ontario for eleven years so we touched on the seeming inability of people to connect the plight of aboriginal individuals and communities with the root causes of oppression in this country. I appreciated his sensitivity because he often sees the worst. I saw some of it as well, as the minister of a downtown Sudbury church.

Since we talked the terrible circumstances in Attawapiskat have made their way into the news. Even though winter approaches and many people in this remote community are living in tents without adequate clean water or food, governments have been slow to respond. Even now as aid arrives the government officials who are responsible have not visited the community.

At the same time there have been meetings across the country to consider the grim realities of education for First Nations children. While governments and churches have apologised for the Native School system of the past, the truth is that many young people must still leave their communities to attend high school and their departure from familiar surroundings often results in tragedy.

I really do consider this the shame of a country which is such a leader in human rights in other parts of the world. To add to it all, some band leaders have betrayed their own people, taking huge salaries and siphoning money away from essential services for their gain.

On White Gift Sunday our children will do a presentation based on The Huron Carol. I wonder if they know that native communities still exist, something that didn't come home to our family in a very real way until we lived in the north. I have mentioned before that our kids went to a school where native children attended but some people suggested we might want them to go elsewhere because of that.

Any thoughts or comments? How can we keep these issues before our southern Ontario congregations without just piling on a load of guilt?

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Left to Their Own Devices

I had to laugh on Sunday after being part of a problem solving moment before worship with three Sunday School teachers. The Three Perplexed Ones were huddled together with their mobile devices -- two smartphones and a tablet-- trying to connect with a website which would provide a video for the class one of them was teaching. Our new curriculum, Feasting on the Word, includes suggestions for online resources and the teacher had found it on her home computer but these devices weren't cooperating. Solution? The class moved to my study and used my laptop.

What a different world from the one into which I was ordained! I literally could not have imagined the possibilities available today back in the olden times when I started in ministry --1980. As it happens I used a two minute video in worship as well, set up for me by one of our teens for use in the sermon.

Are these absolutely necessary? Of course not, but using images and videos can be helpful, especially with our young people who take all this for granted. Why would the technology used at church be any different than home? The teachers tell me that the recommendations in the curriculum are good and well received.

I figure that if this stuff opens them to a conversation about God then we should be using it. What are your thoughts? Several Sunday School teachers are readers. What are you finding?

Bye the bye, this is blog number 1500!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Hope for Positive Change

Here we go again. Another international climate change conference, this one in Durban, South Africa. It's hard to know what to think about these conferences. Lots of representatives from countries around the world create a hefty carbon footprint getting to the event, dither and squabble for a few days, then fly home without an agreement. Wait, did I say that in print? I realize how cynical that reads but it's fairly close to the truth in my estimation.

Our United Church moderator, Mardi Tindal, will be there and she has raised the issues around climate change with Canadian church leaders:

Our Canadian Interfaith Call for Leadership and Action on Climate Change, released October 25, 2011, has been lifted up by many global church networks and reproduced in Embassy magazine. Signatures have been added to it, including those of the Canadian Religious Conference and many religious congregations of men and women. A couple of Catholic papers, for example, picked up a recent article by Joe Gunn. This week I accepted an invitation from the World Council of Churches to make a presentation about this statement during the WCC's event within the COP17.

I remain dubious about the motives of nations at these conferences, yet how can I ignore the theme of hope which began our Advent season yesterday? I encourage you to stay aware of the events from a United Church perspective by following the moderator's blog.

Were you aware this conference was taking place? Are you hopeful about a positive outcome? Are you okay with the moderator taking part in Durban?

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Advent Conspiracy

I'm not big on conspiracy theories, the paranoia and fear which seems to fuel some folks' daily lives as they find boogey men under every bed. But I like one conspiracy being promoted by a coalition of people of faith in the U.S. and which is now spreading into Canada.

It's called the Advent Conspiracy and it invites us to "conspire" against the commercialization and secularization of Christmas. While the Advent Conspiracy advocates for water projects in the developing world as an alternative to Xmas spending, it is much broader in its approach.

As a couple Ruth and I have been talking about our yearning for a Christmas in which Christ is the focus and centre. For some reason the early assault on my senses this year from advertisers and media has got to me. I want the richness of the simple message of God's incarnational love in Christ, not all this other nonsense. How did we do so far off the rails?

Today is the first day of the Advent season and we will watch a two-minute Advent Conspiracy video in worship.

Are you doing any conspiring toward a spiritual, simple, Christ-focussed Christmas?

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The Right Decision

Thank God a British Columbia court decision upheld the laws on polygamy this past week. I say the "thank God" part sincerely. We all have issues which push the proverbial buttons and this one has angered me deeply because a group of men have masked their paedophilia and abuse of women under the guise of religion. In the United States Warren Jeffs, the leader of the breakaway Mormon sect which promotes this supposed polygamy has been convicted for having sex with his fifteen underage "wives" and sentenced to life in prison.

It will be interesting to see what happens next in the community called Bountiful in B.C. While the government has been reluctant to lay charges this decision may force prosecutors to summon the courage to end this abuse. The problem is that according to the law the women have also committed a crime, even though many of them were children who were forced into these relationships. The children of these polygamous families could suffer the most if they are taken from both parents. In a strange twist one of the women told reporters to f___ off and leave them alone.

As with so many people I am disheartened by the way religions can distort their message to support the subjugation of women. I'm glad to be part of a denomination which has wrestled with this dark reality for decades, although its not as though we have "arrived."

What is your reaction to all this, or have you been aware of what's happening out there on the Left Coast?

Friday, November 25, 2011

Buy Nothing!

The magazine and website Adbusters has pointed out that Occupy encampments have been dismantled across North America in the past week. Meanwhile, people in the United States are camped out in anticipation of store openings today in the hope of scoring the big bargain on consumer items as part of Black Friday, the craziest shopping day of the year. Good point!

Actually, I do think it was time for the Occupy movement to rethink its strategy even though the message remains important. I like the contrast though, and the campaign by Adbusters to counteract Black Friday with Buy Nothing Friday. That's the day in the U.S. and tomorrow, Saturday, is the international Buy Nothing day.

Can you do this tomorrow? I'm honestly trying to figure out if I can get through an entire day without spending money. No gasoline fill-up, snack, grocery purchases...nada. An interesting way to approach Advent with an invitation to simplicity as an antidote to Xmas consumerism.

Could you establish a personal "no buy zone" for a day? Have you tried to simplify Christmas? Successful or unsuccessful?

Thursday, November 24, 2011


Today is Thanksgiving in the United States, the beginning of a four-day family gathering unsurpassed by any other celebration in America, even Christmas. Along with being Thanksgiving Sunday in a lot of U.S. churches it will also be the first Sunday in the season leading to Christmas called Advent. There are themes for each of the weeks in Advent beginning with hope, followed by peace, joy, and then love. So what will American pastors do with the crossover between gratitude and hope?

One suggests that the two go together well and I'm wondering about exploring the mash-up of Thanksgiving and Advent hope myself. As I muse away I realize that when I am grateful to God I am inclined to have hope for my life and the world I live in, and vice versa. When I am ungrateful for the simple gifts around me I am more inclined to pessimism and cynicism.

Even though most of you are Canucks, can you muster some gratitude today? What are you grateful for and hopeful about in your life?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A Cold Arab Fall

The death toll continues to mount in Syria as the Assad government brutally crushes any efforts toward free speech and the possibility of democratic reform. If you have seen Bashar al Assad in television interviews it is chilling. He speaks of the "unfortunate accidents" of these deaths in a calm voice as though he is referring to a harmless fender-bender rather than the fatal crash of repression. Thousands have died and the international community which decided to launch bombing missions against Libyan dictator Muamar Gaddafi is doing next to nothing about Syria. I'm not advocating military action, but once again I am puzzled by the decision making processes of political leaders.

Earlier this year we were given hope by the uprisings in various Arab nations in North Africa and the Middle East. Was change really on the horizon, an Arab Spring? Today Egypt is in turmoil and Coptic Christians there are living in fear of a militant Muslim regime. In Iran the crazies in leadership seem hell-bent on developing nuclear weapons and the tiny minority of Christians are being persecuted for their faith. Libyan moderates and secularists are concerned that the imposition of Sharia law will set back women's rights in the country. It is deeply discouraging.

Have any of you got a clearer picture of all this than I have? Democracy and religious freedoms weren't built in a day, but I'm sure not impressed by what I'm seeing. How about you?

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Real Faith, Real Lives

I thought I would move Laura's response to today's blog from comment to "front page" status. Very encouraging!

A fabulous weekend with fabulous kids, truly. I know pride is a no-no but at times this gaggle of goofy, United Church kids with all their energy, antics and courage (to head off on a retreat with friends and strangers to talk about their faith) makes my heart sing. The weekend was called Real Faith, Real Lives and the kids got to choose a stream for their workshops from Pop Goes Your Faith (pop culture based, including an infamous episode of Glee)to Where is God When Life Sucks? to Our Whole Life (sexuality and faith, for older teens only)all key issues for our youth in living their faith.

Saturday evening proved to be a huge hit. We began with a simulation game based on basti (slum) living in India, where the youth were put into random families, and circumstances and they had to survive. It was both fun and meaningful, and a bit crazy at times, when they got desperate.The evening closed with an hour of silence.Who knew it possible?

A dozen plus spiritual practice stations were set up in the sanctuary, lit by candle light, and we moved in silence through different areas with guided spiritual meditations of all kinds including movement,touch,taste, journal writing,scripture reflection,art,etc. Some youth were moved to tears and comforted by their peers,others reflected on the silence and sense of peace and safety they felt and most evaluations remarked that spiritual practices should be a part of every retreat. Life skills introduced,I believe.

There was lots of beautiful music and the youth led worship for St Matthew's congregation on Sunday AM, including one of St Paul's, senior youth Chris, who shared a God-some moment in his life with eloquence and faith-filled wisdom. We ate lots (thank you food committee of St Matthew's Belleville), slept a little and were a little sad to see it end.Thank you St Paul's for supporting our youth to this life-changing adventure. You'll be hearing from us.

Youth Ministry

There was a big hole at the front of the church on Sunday in the area where our tweens and teens hang out before heading off for their respective Sunday School discussions. It wasn't that they were playing hookey. Fifteen of them headed away on Friday afternoon for a youth event at St. Matthew's United Church in Belleville which is the congregation of our former child and youth minister, the Rev. Cathy Russell.

We have several dedicated volunteers with our youth but Cathy's ministry in our midst put the paddles on a fading aspect of our congregation and jolted us back to life. After Cathy's departure one of those volunteers, Laura, has stepped into a paid role and has provided excellent leadership. Is this worth it financially? Well, Bay of Quinte Conference stretches from Pickering to Brockville, and north from Pembroke to Perth. While this is a huge geographical area, a third of the participants at the event were from St. Paul's. Another third were from Pickering Village UC which also has a paid youth worker.

United Church congregations have tended to pay lip service to youth but are reluctant to shell out the bucks. And it shows. Cathy and now Laura have nurtured these young people in their Christian faith, not just entertaining them. This approach hasn't scared the kids away. If anything it gives them a sense of meaning. Two of our older teens have been selected to be part of a mission/exposure trip to El Salvador next March. Congratulations to Jonathan and Madeleine.

It will be good to hear how the Belleville event unfolded.


Saturday, November 19, 2011


The clothing manufacturer Benetton is known for its controversial ads, and here it goes again. The latest campaign labelled Unhate features a number of world leaders bussing one another, including the pope in a lingering smooch with a Muslim cleric. Personally I find it disrespectful and unnecessarily provocative. The Vatican has threatened legal action causing Benetton to pull the ad, but the milk has been spilt in the age of the internet.

Personally I find it disrespectful and unnecessarily provocative. Hey, if they made me pope I would be offended. This ad did get me thinking. Pope Benedict's recent gathering in Asissi, bringing together representatives of the world's religions as well as atheists committed to peace was at least an "air kiss" on the cheeks of those who had formerly been viewed as enemies. It was an Unhate initiative which should have received much more attention.

The Christian story has at least one vignette of a kiss of betrayal (Judas in the garden) and a beloved parable about a father who welcomes his wayward child back home with a kiss and embrace. We have a long history of the "kiss of peace" as a form of greeting, although we Protestants are a tad frigid when it comes to that one.

What do you think about the Benetton image? What about the imagery of the kiss of reconciliation and peace?

Friday, November 18, 2011

Holy Books

As you have figured out I always have my eye out for art exhibits. The connection between art in its various forms and spiritual expression is strong and my undergrad degree was in art history. I noticed that the Morgan Gallery in New York City currently has an exhibit of Islamic art. In earlier centuries Islam nurtured science and mathematics, architecture and art. When people were still living in thatched huts in much of Europe Muslim scientists and artists were leading the way. Sadly, both the sciences and the arts are viewed with suspicion by fundamentalist practitioners of Islam.

The Morgan exhibit includes a selection of covers of the Quran. The intricate designs are fascinating from my perspective.

Take a look and tell us what you think.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Power of Forgiveness

Yesterday two dozen people in total took part in the morning and evening sessions of our series on forgiveness based on The Power of Forgiveness an award-winning DVD and book. At each session there were plenty of people who have taken part in other studies on forgiveness but we agreed that we need the repetition of the subject because there is nothing easy or straightforward about forgiving and reconciling.

The subject of forgiveness is so central to Christian faith. And it is so practical because many people seek out their minister to talk about alienation from loved ones, anger about old grievances, being "puppets of the past" to use one person's term. There are folk who would never argue with a partner or neighbour yet resent and despise them. These were the fourth and fifth times I have seen the first sections of the DVD and rather than growing bored I have found them increasingly meaningful.

I am somewhat surprised that more people didn't sign up for the evening session. I do think the speakers in the documentary and the conversation involving lots of thoughtful people might have helped those who are "spinning their tires" when it comes to forgiveness.

Any comments from participants? Thoughts about why people who struggle with forgiveness don't necessarily want to address it?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Key to Justice

A couple of months ago I commented on the rallies in Washington protesting the building of the Keystone pipeline connecting Alberta oil sands with Texas refineries. When I was in Colorado for my course in late August this was all the talk amongst my American ministry colleagues. Of course this was an eco-faith conference so it shouldn't have been surprising that they were paying close attention.

At the time I wrote the Occupy Movement had not begun, let alone captured the widespread attention of the media. I asked whether there was value in these anti-Keystone rallies and the reaction was mixed. There was some suggestion that the efforts were well-meaning but futile. Well, it turns out that there was weight to the protests. Keystone hasn't been shut down by any means, but it has been delayed. The people of Nebraska have been assured that at the very least it will be re-routed around the huge Oglala Aquifer, an essential underground water source.

Does this mean that Americans will consume any less fossil fuels? Maybe not. Will the oil companies just sell to China instead? Could be. Still, there are times when public protests for righteous causes stand in the face of the powerful and effect change. While Occupy encampments continue to be dismantled throughout the world there has been a tremendous amount of attention and governments don't deny the importance of freedom of speech. We can't say yet what effect this grassroots movement has brought about.

I'll ask again about your thoughts on these public demonstrations and calls for change. Worthwhile or whimsical?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


A quick reflection during a busy time and full day. I have been following with bemusement and disgust the situation at Penn State University in the United States. During the past couple of weeks the football program has been in the spotlight because of allegations that one of the coaching staff sexually molested boys. While another university employee saw and reported an incident it was never reported to the police or adequately addressed. The head coach knew what had happened, as did university officials, but the vaunted football program was protected.

If these allegations are true this is a chilling abuse of power and trust, with the vulnerable being sacrificed again. As soon as I heard I thought of the years of cover-ups in the Roman Catholic church. Often college football in the States is described as a religion and if there ever was a college game pope it was now fired coach Joe Paterno. In his eighties Paterno has been at Penn State forever and there were riots after his firing by those who supported him despite the disturbing allegations. The abuses are disgraceful, if true, but so was the response of students.

The nickname Joe Pa is chilling because it suggests a paternal trust that was apparently not warranted. I have always struggled with terms such as Holy Father or "father" to describe religious leaders for similar reasons. Respect for authority is reasonable as long as that authority is reasonably exercised.

Incidents such as these point out the terrible outcome of vesting unlimited power in certain individuals whether they be priests or the pastors of megachurches or sports coaches or political leaders.

Have you been paying attention to this story? What are your thoughts?

Monday, November 14, 2011

United Voices

Last evening roughly 200 people gathered at St. Paul's for a rousing choir concert and hymn sing. The senior choirs from Trinity United, our neighbour down the street, and St. Paul's sang three anthems each and joined together for a seventh. The two junior choirs sang together as well. In between we sang some of the classic hymns of the faith and wound it all up with The Day Thou Gavest Lord Has Ended, a wonderful evening hymn which is hardly ever sung because we don't worship at the end of the day anymore.

Everyone in the congregation sang enthusiastically and great credit goes to Doug and John, the two music directors who organized the event. Doug graciously relinquished the organ to John and accompanied on the piano --and did so marvellously in my estimation.

So much about this was good. The opportunity to sing in this way is a tonic. The choirs were at their best. And of course the cooperation of the two congregations is essential, and what better way to do so than in the shared gift of music. It proved that we can "make nice" together and wrap it all up in just over an hour!

Any comments about the evening itself and the spirit of cooperation?

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Youth Wasted on the Young?

The other morning I listened to an interview with the dean of St. James Anglican Cathedral in Toronto. The Very Reverend Douglas Stoute has been a busy man because the Occupy Toronto encampment is in St. James Park, co-owned by the cathedral and the city of Toronto. He was firm and patient and eloquent in the interview -- I was very impressed. I notice that their website includes a letter about the Occupy protesters which includes these thoughts:

We have asked that the protesters respect the members of the community who live and work in the area. The overwhelming response from the members of the community to the Cathedral’s position on this issue has been positive. They share, as do we, the protesters’ message of justice and equality.
We fully appreciate the frustration of some of the neighbours to the disruption. Their anger at the Church, however, is misplaced. We have no power to evict the protesters. We cannot speak for the City, but even if we did have that power, we would be very reluctant to invoke it. We believe that we are blessed to live in a society where peaceful conversation can take place publicly and here citizens are free to voice their concerns without fear of violence or reprisals.

It seemed inevitable that municipalities across North America would eventually lose their patience and send the police to break up the encampments. We could say that they couldn't last forever and that these predominantly young people are brash and naiive and quixotic in their ideals.

I hope we remember that yesterday we honoured young people who were brash and idealistic and probably naiive as well because they were willing to head off to conflicts in distant places on our behalf. That's the way young people are, and we should thank God for this because we often become complacent and make concessions claiming that we are realistic about the world.

When we gather for our annual meeting of Bay of Quinte Conference it is the young people who infuse a ridiculous amount of energy into the proceedings. There are times when we oldsters are thinking "you don't understand" as they go to the microphones but its good that they don't accept the status quo.

Some of you might think that the Occupy Movement should not be mentioned in the same breath as those who fought for freedom during our international conflicts but I do think there are parallels in passion. They want to create a better world and address the injustices around us.


Friday, November 11, 2011

Call of Duty

Earlier this week people lined up hours in advance of store openings to get the latest version of one of the most popular video games ever, Call of Duty.

I have never been a video game person, which is an indication of my age, but I know that this is a huge industry. In fact the release of a new video game or its latest version can be bigger than a blockbuster movie. We're talking about billions of dollars here. The cost of developing them can exceed a Hollywood movie and the failure of a single game can send a company into bankruptcy.

It had not occurred to me that war games including Call of Duty:Modern Warfare 3 are intentionally released in the week leading up to Remembrance Day to draught in behind the patriotism many people feel at this time of year. There are veterans' organizations which have protested this trend, feeling it is disrespectful to in effect use the sacrifices of military personnel to promote these games.

In contrast, last week our tween youth group spent time with one of our two remaining WWII veterans. Rae Abernathy is a remarkable elder statesman in our congregation, a person our children and youth can look up to regardless of his war service. I was pleased to hear that Laura, our child and youth worker, arranged this. Rae was also our representative veteran in last Sunday's service. He is always supportive of the peace aspect of that worship service. We don't post photos of our children for security reasons but there is a great shot of Rae bedecked with medals in the midst of a dozen young people on our bulletin board.

What are your feelings about this on Remembrance Day? What will happen in the schools where some of you teach? Will you be attending a Remembrance ceremony somewhere? One thing for sure: war is not a game. I am grateful for those in the past and present who answered the true call of duty.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Hidden in Plain Sight

After worship on Sunday a member who has been travelling for the past month commented enthusiastically about the service. He started out with "maybe it's because I've been away..." and then expressed his appreciation for the involvement of so many people in different ways.

It got me thinking. Of course there were two dozen choir members, a group of committed volunteers we could easily take for granted. A senior and a child brought the wreath forward as part of our Remembrance portion of the service. We had a scripture reader and three young people led the Prayers of the People. Our Loaves and Fishes group added another five participants, other than the two choir members, three of them youth.

But as the commercials say "wait, there's more!" One guy each on the sound board, projection, and video recording. Ushers and greeters. A committee served us coffee and juice after worship. Sunday School teachers. And the junior choir practiced at 9:30 even though they didn't sing in the service. My guesstimate is between fifty five and sixty volunteers, which was about a quarter of those in worship on Sunday. The member who jump-started my brain is right -- this is impressive.

Given that the average attendance in a United Church congregation is about sixty, this was an important gift of time. And this is just on Sunday morning.

Congregations wouldn't be congregations without the active involvement of members. Call them volunteers or disciples, their activity should humble every paid staff member.


Wednesday, November 09, 2011


Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust* consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust* consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Matthew 6:19-21

Last week a painting by Austrian artist Gustav Klimt owned by a Montreal family was sold at auction. The pre-auction estimate was twenty five million and the actually selling price was forty million. This was a bit of bargain, Klimt-wise. Other paintings by the artist have sold for eighty seven and one hundred and twenty five million. I'm an art history grad and a big Klimt fan, but these prices border on obscene to me. I have to wonder whether the final bids have more to do with ego than value.

That said, how do we place a value on good and services? One of the stars of the World Series winning St. Louis Cardinals, Albert Pujos, is now a free agent and the rumour is that he is seeking thirty million a year for a decade. Remember the blog where I pointed out that Pujos is a Christian and wondered how he could expect such an enormous contract or see this as consistent with his Christian faith. Some of you thought this was fine in the open market. Wouldn't it be interesting if Christian Albert offered to take a paltry million a season and to direct the rest to charitable causes. He could probably get by.

I have been known to say that we have our values upside down in our culture. The people who look after children and the elderly are paid peanuts. Meanwhile, the stars who play games to distract us are immensely wealthy, we pay a fortune for baubles, and those who probably wouldn't know one end of a hammer from the other but shuffle money around in computers live the proverbial "life of Reilly" (who was Reilly?)

What say you, wise readers? Is this just the way the world works, or do we expect change a la the Occupy Movement gang? Or the way Jesus taught his followers?

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Can We Be Bought?

A few weeks ago a television commercial production person showed up at St. Paul's asking if his camera crew could use the front lawn of our church to take some footage across the street. Our building was not going to be in the commercial but they needed the distance from the small used car lot on the south side of Church St. I said sure and they later stopped in with a hundred dollars as a thank you. It turns out that it was a Crown Royal whiskey commercial (we didn't know this) and if you pay close attention to this commercial on Hockey Night in Canada you will see the manse --our home -- down the street. And no they didn't pay us "in kind!"

Churches do get asked if their halls and sanctuaries can be used for films, television shows, commercials. A while back St. Paul's made money when the crew of the Wind at My Back TV series filmed across the street at the museum and used our hall to feed their folk. When I was in Halifax This Hour Has Twenty Two Minutes wanted to use our sanctuary for a segment but we quietly said no, even though at that time I loved this satirical CBC program.

I read a piece recently written by a minister in the States who was offered $10,000 for the use of their worship space for three days to film a big scene in an Adam Sandler movie. It was to be a wedding ceremony where a priest punches out a worshipper who won't turn off his cell phone. Now, this might be a fantasy of many clergy, but in the end the minister said no, not just because of this scene but the whole premise of the film. Then the production company came back with an offer of sixty grand! For three days filming!

This time the deacons came together and while they talked for two hours they turned it down. Could they use the $60,000? Is the pope Catholic? In the end they decided that this wasn't a fit for their values, nor did they want to upset their congregation. Another church did say yes.

Do you agree with this decision? Would you hope we would make a similar one, or would your response by "lighten up?" Has there ever been a good Adam Sandler movie?

Monday, November 07, 2011

We Are Not Alone

Last week the health specialist on CBC radio's Metro Morning spoke about the effects of loneliness. He pointed out the obvious connection to depression and other mental health issues but went on to say that new research makes the connection to heart attacks, strokes, diabetes -- loneliness makes us sick. The studies also show that in our supposedly connected world people report having fewer confidantes than even a decade ago. Hey, anyone on Facebook knows that "friend" has become a rather demeaned term and that social media can leave us lonely in a crowd. I wondered if the conversation would speak about ways of addressing loneliness such as, say, being part of a loving, caring family of faith. Nope.

Not everyone who comes to church feels that they belong to be sure, but I am regularly touched by the circle of support and care provided by people of all ages. A group of our tweens talked on Sunday about the sense of safety they feel together at church. We see it regularly with our seniors. We are far from perfect but we are in the loneliness busting business.

Of course there can be comfort in sensing that Christ is our companion in life and that God is with us even in the shadows. One of our statements of faith says at the beginning and end that "we are not alone, we live in God's world."

I thought of a choral piece that affirms this and I found this video of a Mennonite group called the Emerald Chorale spontaneously singing We Are Not Alone, in a church, recorded with a cell phone I think.

What are your thoughts on loneliness? Has your faith and faith family helped in lonely times?

Sunday, November 06, 2011

House of Blessing

Justin Bieber was in the news recently for something more important than a paternity suit. He donated $10,000 to a food bank called the House of Blessing in his Ontario hometown of Stratford. He told reporters that in his earlier days as the child of a single mom this foodbank got them through some difficult patches and he wanted to give back.

According to their website "The House of Blessing is a nondenominational faith-based organization dedicated to helping anyone regardless of race or religion who isin need of help or support." Along with food, clients can access clothing and furniture.

Many food banks are faith-based because generosity to those in need is fundamental to most religions and in Christianity this is one of the bridges across denominational lines. Here in Bowmanville our congregational members bring food and household basics to St. Paul's and a volunteer named Doug faithfully transports this to the Salvation Army food bank each week. They have a really good system of distribution which includes a computer database. From time to time we also make a cash donation so that the S.A. has money to fill in the gaps of staples.

What do you think of "the Biebs" contribution? What about our collaborative effort here in Bowmanville or your community? Have you ever needed to use a food bank?

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Dead On

Some of you may recall that I went to a conference at a Christian centre called Ghost Ranch several years ago during November. It was the first of three trips to the wilds of New Mexico but on that one it was just after the celebration of the Day of the Dead. This is a Mexican festival, which makes sense in New Mexico because it was once a province of the neighbouring country just to the south. I was reminded of that trip when I heard about Day of the Dead events to be held in Toronto this weekend, corresponding with All Saints and All Souls Days earlier this week.

The decorations were rather jarring for me because there were skeletons and other lurid death images. Despite seeming macabre to my WASP eyes the Day of the Dead is actually an opportunity for people to celebrate loved ones who have died and families often go to cemeteries to have a picnic at the graves.

Our culture is sometimes described as death denying with an emphasis on youth and downplaying the aging process and death itself. We are reluctant to talk about the reality of death and we certainly don't have picnics in our cemeteries?

What is your reaction to Day of the Dead? Are we death denying? November isn't great picnicking weather in Canada, but what could we do to have a healthier view of death?

Friday, November 04, 2011

Prayers for Peace

In late October of 1986 Pope John Paul II brought leaders from different religious traditions to Assissi in Italy, the hometown of St. Francis to prayer for peace. At that groundbreaking event he said:

"For the first time in history, we have come together from every where, Christian Churches and Ecclesial Communities, and World Religions, in this sacred place dedicated to Saint Francis, to witness before the world, each according to his own conviction, about the transcendent quality of peace. The form and content of our prayers are very different, as we have seen, and there can be no question of reducing them to a kind of common denominator. Yes, in this very difference we have perhaps discovered anew that, regarding the problem of peace and its relation to religious commitment, there is something which binds us together."

Twenty five years later, in the same place, Pope Benedict brought together about 60 Catholics, 60 Orthodox and Protestant Christians, 65 Muslims, 65 Buddhists, eight Jews, seven Hindus, six Shintos, five Sikhs, four non-believers, three Confucists, three Taoists, one Jain, one Baha'i and one Zoroastrian. That covers most of the world religions. In his address Benedict said:

"As a Christian I want to say at this point: yes, it is true, in the course of history, force has also been used in the name of the Christian faith. We acknowledge it with great shame. But it is utterly clear that this was an abuse of the Christian faith, one that evidently contradicts its true nature."

The religious leaders made a common pledge:"We commit ourselves to educating people to mutually respect and honor each other in order to help bring about peaceful and fraternal co-existence between people of different ethnic groups, cultures and religions."

I find this story encouraging in the midst of other disquieting stories of religious strife and extremism, other than the obvious absence of women. Why do we seldom hear the encouraging accounts of cooperation and seeking common ground amongst religions?

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Bicycle Blessing

When the living creatures moved, the wheels moved beside them;

and when the living creatures rose from the earth, the wheels rose.

Wherever the spirit would go, they went, and the wheels rose along with them;

for the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels.

When they moved, the others moved; when they stopped, the others stopped;

and when they rose from the earth, the wheels rose along with them;

for the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels. Ezekiel

By now most of you will have heard of Blessing of the Animals services held in many churches, often around the Feast of St. Francis (October 4th.) What about Blessing of the Bicycles? Yes, some congregations have begun blessing two-wheelers in services held in April or May. In the service held in a Toronto United Church earlier this year bicycles were wheeled down the aisle and sprinkled with our version of holy water and a variation of an Irish prayer:

May the road rise to meet you;

may the wind be ever at your back;

may all your journeying be joyous;

may you and your bicycle be held in God’s hand...

Some clergy have a sense of humour anointing the riders with sun block rather than oil. Toronto cyclists need all the prayerful help they can get! In New York City bicycle blessings have been around for more than a decade. In some communities the blessings coincide with Earth Sunday.

It is November but we have enjoyed some lovely weather this week so our bicycles have been wheeled out a few times for what we assume will be the last rides of the season. It is too dark in the morning so we have chosen after work instead, but with the time change this weekend that option will disappear as well. It's unfortunate because this is actually a lovely time of the year to ride.

Since we had our Ride Your Bike to Church Sunday In late September our new bike rack has looked a little...empty. I hope that in the Spring cycling can be the transportation of choice for some churchgoers.

Do any of you cycle religiously? Any thoughts on why we don't cycle more in our culture? Will you consider riding to church come Spring? Should we add a Bicycle Blessing to our special services roster?

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

A Legacy of Prayer

On Sunday I drew the congregation's attention to an upcoming meeting of the group which knits Prayer Shawls for those who are going through challenging times, including illness.

After worship a member told me about the shawl which we gave to her elderly mother several years ago. The mom was not a member of St. Paul's but when she came to live in Bowmanville we visited her and the shawl was close at hand. When she died I was called and went to the nursing home for prayers with the family who had gathered, including a great niece. The member who spoke to me on Sunday let me know that the niece had developed cancer earlier this year and the shawl was passed on to her. Sadly, she died during the summer and now her husband sleeps with the shawl as a source of comfort. Who could have known the legacy of that act of kindness in knitting the shawl.

I have wondered whether the prayer shawls would be a worthwhile ministry for a certain moment in time, or have staying power. What do you think? Have you experienced the comfort of a shawl (Ruth and I have, thanks to a thoughtful colleague in ministry)?