Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Life Sentence

I got a United Church pension fund last week which told me that I would be required to pay more as a percentage of my income to keep the fund afloat. Well, I don't think it's entirely up to me. I figure everyone in the fund got the same letter. We had been forewarned about this, so it was no surprise. And since I have been paying into the fund for 32 years, along with the congregations I have served, I will simply sigh and "pony up." I'm counting on the vast wealth of my pension to keep me in the lap of luxury in my dotage.
In the same week my Prime Minister intimated that it will be similar for our government pensions. In fact, we may have to toil a couple of years longer in order to collect on those pensions. For many people that will mean working longer before receiving government pension benefits because they can't afford to retire without the government benefits. More years working? I don't wanna! I mean, I love you folks from congregations past and present and much of my vocation I find deeply meaningful. But I don't want to do this forever and you probably don't want either, even though you may love your work.
For me it is the prospect of working weekends forever and ever, Amen. At sixty five I will have spent 40 years in pastoral ministry, expecting those near and dear to me to work around my weird schedule. There just aren't many clergy who put in that many years before retirement. Even my late father and father-in-law didn't come close to that number of years in ministry because they were war vets and began in their thirties. Forty two years? Think about it. Moses got pensioned out after forty. Okay, he died, but you understand what I'm saying.
It's hard to imagine the alternatives. I'm breaking into a cold sweat thinking about the Walmart greeter and shopping cart guy we saw in Colorado last summer. He was so frail he walked with a cane, but he was putting his shoulder into his work. Yikes.
Do you young 'uns think much about the Golden Years? Does this change your thinking about the meaning of employment? Are you nervous?

Monday, January 30, 2012

Christianity by the Numbers

Whaddya know. The Pew Centre's Report on Global Christianity offers some interestings stats on the state of the faith around the planet. Using 2,400 sources of information it identifies 2.18 billion adherents, making it the largest religion world-wide.

In 1910 two thirds of global Christians were in Europe. That percentage is now one quarter. The Americas have 37%, Africa 24% and Asia 13%. Hundreds of millions of Christians are in Central and South America. While Christian practice is on the wane in North America about 80% of Canadians and Americans identify themselves with the faith. In Canada less than one percent are Muslims, even though some bluster that they are taking over.
Even though Christians in China have been subjected to harassment and persecution, their numbers continue to grow. Although they represent only five percent of the population there are about 67 million Christians in China, or double the total population of Canada.
Any surprises, observations, thoughts?

Sunday, January 29, 2012


The Shafia murder trial has come to an end in Kingston, Ontario. This is the sordid tale of the deaths of four women, a co-wife and three daughters of a patriarchal father who appears to have brought disturbing values from another land and imposed them in the form of murder. During the trial of the father, the other wife, and a son, we heard of the dishonourable practice of "honour killing." It would appear that these four women were murdered because they had adopted Western perceptions of personal freedom which were unacceptable to the three co-defendants.
At the Epiphany Explorations conference in Victoria a participant asked about so-called "honour killings" after a presentation by theologian Richard Rohr. Rohr had spoken about the "honour/shame" society in which Jesus lived and taught. In these societies, which still exist, honour is paramount. The integrity of the family, the ability to marry, opportunities to make a living, depend on observance of the honour code. Rohr was quick to say that there is no justification for killing anyone in the name of honour, but these murders may be the chilling outcome of taking this code to the extreme.
It was an important reminder that we probably read the bible with little sense of the original context. And that in a society which is increasingly diverse we aren't aware of what motivates some of those who are neighbours from other cultures.
Since I first posted this blog entry all three have been convicted of first-degree murder which means a minimum of twenty five years in prison. The sentence fits the crime and is just. But the presentations in Victoria did give me some insight into what motivated them.
Have you followed this story? Do you know much about honour/shame cultures? Other observations or thoughts?

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Anybody Listening?

While at the Epiphany Explorations conference in Victoria a man who looked very old and very frail circulated a petition opposing the Northern Gateway pipeline which will cross British Columbia. He walked up the slight grade of the sanctuary as though he was climbing in the Rockies but he was determined to give everyone a chance to sign. I know that this guy has been committed to social issues for a lifetime, motivated by his Christian faith.

The hearings about the pipeline are underway in the first location, Edmonton, and those "radical activists" federal Natural Resources minister Joe Oliver complained about are at the microphones. One of them is Derwayne Buffalo, a Cree father of eight. The Globe and Mail reported his comments this way:

“This is the first time I’ve ever spoken to one of these. All my life, all I ever did was work. Work and hunt,” said Mr. Buffalo, 46, his two long braids coming out from under a Detroit Tigers baseball cap. The proposed pipeline would interrupt animal migration and put the environment at risk, he told the panel. “I’m glad that they’ve let us speak on our beliefs,” he added.

Hmm, sounds like a trouble-making tree-hugger to me. I'm thrilled that hundreds of stakeholders have asked to speak at these hearings. I hope that the process is long and laboured. I wish we had the "precautionary principles" that some nations employ so that those proposing potentially disruptive developments had to prove the safety of their projects. I'm glad that the old guy was gathering names, whatever the outcome. It's time we spoke up.


Friday, January 27, 2012

Speaking Christian

One of the presenters at the conference I attended was Marcus Borg, a prolific writer and favourite of so-called "progressive" Christians. It strikes me as a rather smug, self-important way of describing one's self, but Borg is neither smug or self-important. I do not share his conclusions about the metaphorical nature of the gospels and letters, but I have read several of his books and appreciate his thoughtfulness.
For that reason I wanted to actually hear him and he didn't disappoint. His latest book is Speaking Christian: Why Christian Words Have Lost Their Meaning and Power --AND HOW THEY CAN BE RESTORED. That's quite a mouthful for a book title, but it does describe his mission.
He offered that an increasingly secularized society is one reason that we are losing the ability to "speak Christian" and another is the misunderstanding and distortion of Christian words by those who assume they are fluent.
Borg shared with us that half of his first year students in the New Testament course he teaches have never attended a church service other than for weddings or funerals. He gets these students to take ten minutes to write an essay called Me and Christianity. He gets responses such as "I don't know much about the Bible, but I think there's a story in it about a guy in a fish." And "I don't know much about Christianity, but I think that Christians are really against trespassing." Apparently we Christians have major boundary issues! Borg points out that these are bright students, but they are Christianly illiterate.
He figures that we begin our literacy program "in house" by reconsidering the key words and phrases. I could say more, but maybe you should just read the book.
Are you fluent in Christianity or do you feel that you just have a few snippets of the language? I tell people I speak cereal box French -- I could never carry on a conversation even though I have some vestiges of public and high school French. Do you wish you were more conversant? Does it matter?

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Faithful Hope

Anna, the 21-year-old daughter of the friends I stayed with in Victoria is a lovely, intense young woman with a quick sense of humour. She is passionate about eating well, goes faithfully to the gym, cares deeply about the state of the planet. She is also dubious to the point of being pessimistic about the possibilities for her life given our general disregard for sound environmental practices. She is disheartened by governments which seem willing to squander her future for political power in the present.
Because Green Party leader Elizabeth May is her MP and was an evening speaker at the Epiphany Explorations conference I offered to buy Anna a ticket to attend. She showed up at the last possible moment but was immediately engaged with May's empassioned presentation which included reflections on her own Christian faith. My young friend clapped enthusiastically at various times, then leapt to her feet at the end to lead the rest of us geezers in an ovation. I asked if she wanted to stay for the Q&A and she looked at me as though I was crazy. She wasn't going anywhere!
On the bus ride home Anna admitted she need the shot of hope which May provided. She talked about wanting to live out her faith in practical ways. I encouraged her to contact Elizabeth's office and ask about volunteering in some capacity. She thought she might.
I was struck that this vivacious young woman would need encouragement. She seems to have so much going for her. It was a reminder that thoughtful young adults struggle to find hope with so many dark clouds on the horizon.
What can we do to en-courage our young people? How do we nurture their hope and their faith?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012


Just so you know, I hate jetlag. I am back in Ontario after the Epiphany Explorations conference. As with the past two years, there were presenters whose work I knew before attending and some who were pleasant surprises. One of those surprises was Martin Brokenleg, a therapist, and professor of aboriginal theology at the Vancouver School of Theology. He offered insights into what community means in First Nations cultures in ways that it are difficult for our individualistic dominant culture to understand. I really appreciated his insights and his humour.
I thought of Dr. Brokenleg as leaders from 400 native communities gathered in Ottawa yesterday to meet with federal government officials. There are treaty settlements to be negotiated and ongoing discussions about aboriginal autonomy. I wonder if we will ever really comprehend the cultural differences which have led to centuries of misunderstanding and heartache.
Brokenleg acknowledged the brokenness but he is also a hopeful person. he is the co-author of a book called Reclaiming Youth at Risk: Our Hope for the Future. He offered an approach to healing which was grounded in culture. I pray that something worthwhile comes out of this one-day summit.
Have you followed the news about this gathering? Are you hopeful?

Tuesday, January 24, 2012


Planes are great places to see movies that you might not otherwise give a chance. On my flight to Victoria I chose Contagion becauseI had already viewed the best options amongst the others available. I was surprised to see that it stars Matt Damon, Kate Winslet, Laurence Fishburne, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jude Law. Yet I hadn't heard anything about it. And there are lots of strong reviews.
This may astonish you, but Contagion is about a contagious disease which sweeps around the world killing millions. It begins with a bat in China, which infects a pig, which is chosen by a chef in a restaurant in Hong Kong, who shakes hands with an American woman there on business, who brings the virus back to Minneapolis, and... This is how it unfolds and it is rather scary, especially when you are watching the film while in a sealed tube hurtling through the air, with the guy in the seat across the aisle blowing his brains out in the throes of a cold.
Of course mayhem ensues in some places as desparation grows, and it is entirely believable. There is no real strategy for this level of contagion. Governments aren't equipped for mass hysteria and our assumptions about civility are naive. Except for one brief scene in which a nun is providing support in a makeshift hospital there is no suggestion that religious folk might be active in addressing an epidemic. In other times and places they have been caregivers based on a sense of a higher calling to compassion. I have to wonder whether that would be the case today. Would I chose to help the helpless or turn my home into a bunker?
What do you think? Would you be selfish or selfless in the midst of an epidemic or natural disaster? Do we have a higher calling as Christ's people or is it every person for him or her self when push comes to shove?

Monday, January 23, 2012

Listen Up...or Down

This is God's wondrous world

and to my listening ears

all nature rings and round me rings

the music of the spheres

This is the revised first verse of a traditional hymn, and one of my favourites. Apparently it's not a favourite of the US Navy. There is a listening project underway out here on the Left Coast, an eight hundred kilometre "necklace" on the sea floor with sensitive equipment used to pick up the sounds of the sea, everything from whales, to ships, to drilling equipment. That's where the military comes in. Tracking these sounds will include what are perceived as sensitive military operations, so the navy just doesn't like what is unfolding.

Of course we know the world is all about the needs of the military. Take a listen to some of the underwater soundtracks offered up on the BBC website. I figure God delights in the sounds of the whales and doesn't have a lot of time for the cloak and dagger concerns of the navy.


Sunday, January 22, 2012

Faith Explorations

I am at a conference in Victoria called Epiphany Explorations, the same conference I have attended the past two years, although with different presenters each time. I find that when I attend conferences it is because of at least one "star" presenter, then discover a bunch of other people who are wise and thoughtful and lead my into a deeper understanding of my faith.

As I have written before, the United Church includes three weeks of continuing education in every year, and thanks to the St. Paul's Schammerhorn Fund I am able to travel to participate in some excellent events. One of the two principle theme speakers this year is Marcus Borg. I really appreciate Borg even though I don't agree with some of his key conclusions about Jesus. http://www.marcusjborg.com/ It is important though to consider the thoughtful and well reasoned ideas of those who don't think like us. Or so I figure. How do we grow and test our own convictions without understanding other points of view?

Not long ago my brother loaned the book Love Wins A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived by Rob Bell to a friend. The friend had visitors from her conservative congregation visit and saw the book. They were very concerned and advised her not to read it. Bell has stirred up controversy in the evangelical world by suggesting that some ideas about damnation for non-Christians may be false and inconsistent with the gospel. The friend asked if they had actually read the book and they hadn't. So much for informed inquiry and decision making.

I will let you know my impressions about Borg and others at Epiphany Explorations. http://firstmetvictoria.com/4582

In the meantime, what are your thoughts on all this?

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Fracking Crazy

A couple of weeks ago there was a mild tremor in Southern Ontario because of a small earthquake in Ohio. Now you might not think of Ohio as a hotbed of seismic activity but there have been a number of small quakes in Ohio and Pennsylvania and increasingly experts are asking whether fracking is the reason. What is fracking you might ask? It is the method of oil extraction whereby water and chemicals are forced under high pressure into underground rock formations. It is the short form for hydraulic fracturing. Fracking allows hard to access pockets of oil to be exploited and as oil and gas becomes harder to reach the process is increasingly attractive.

No matter that people who live near fracking sites are convinced that the chemicals end up in their drinking water and that both humans and animals are getting sick from gas releases into the air. Or that there are these pesky earthquakes even in areas that have been viewed as seismically stable.

It does seem as though the assault on creation for the sake of obtaining fossil fuels is unending. If people are opposed to pipelines crossing sensitve terrain then they are labelled "radical environmentalists." Drilling in prime fishing grounds is not a problem. And fracking is increasingly common. The psalm may say "the earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof" but it does seems that corporate oil has usurped that role.

Any comments?

Friday, January 20, 2012


Last week a video was posted on Youtube, the agent of truth-telling for those who are dim. It showed four US marines in Afghanistan urinating on the bloodied corpses of Taliban fighters. Why don't people understand that if they post their misdeeds on the internet it will likely come back to haunt them in a hurry? In this case the desecration of the corpses was labelled as deplorable by the United States government and the marines were tracked down quickly.

I too think this was despicable and hope most people would, even though these Taliban insurgents were the enemy. Rick Perry, the former Republican leadership candidate defended these marines but had won the nomination (terrible thought) he would probably have urinated on his opponents.

It is all a little perplexing though. War convinces us that it is permissable to shoot other human beings dead, we just can't pee on their bodies. As the Devil's Advocate I ask why not? If we are convinced that they are enough of an enemy to destroy them when they are alive, why do we care what happens after they are dead?

We do find ways to uphold our causes and even sanctify them, but the whole bloody enterprise is disheartening and barbaric, don't you think?

Maybe not. What do you think? What was your reaction to this pointless act of desecration?

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Same Gender Marriages

Some of us wondered where the federal government was going with the ruling on same sex marriages performed in Canada for couples from other countries. These couples were told that their marriages were not legally valid for divorce here if they were not recognized in their home jurisdictions, but the ramifications were larger. Happily married couples from outside Canada felt that this undermined the commitment they had made to each other. The alarm was sounded by some that this was part of a socially conservative agenda on the part of the Conservative party.

I saw a letter to the editor in the Globe and Mail newspaper written by a law professor who insisted that there was no subterfuge here. It was simply an application of the existing laws, and I trust that this is true. Prime Minister Harper promised to act quickly to clarify the situation and he did. These non-Canadian couples have been assured that their marriages will be valid.

I find it interesting that in an era when the number of adults who are married in the US and Canada is on the decline, same-gender couples want the recognition of their marriage relationships , including from a religious standpoint for many.I have yet to be asked to perform a same-gender marriage but my colleagues who have tell me that the couples approach their ceremonies and commitment seriously and with joy.

Did you wonder where this situation was going and how it would be resolved? How are you doing with the existence of same gender marriages six and a half years after they were legalized in Canada? Has your outlook changed?

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

A Dangerous Method

We saw the movie A Dangerous Method on the weekend, a David Cronenberg film starring Keira Knightly and Viggo Mortensen and Michael Fassbender. It is about the intense relationship between Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, the doctors who essentially invented psychoanalysis and the original concepts of modern-day psychology. Jung's affair with a student, Sabrina Spielrein, who was first a patient also figures prominently in the story. A number of Freud's important concepts originated with Spielrein.
We watch the relationship between Freud and Jung go from professional parent/child to admiring colleagues to wary adversaries. The breakdown in the relationship came, in part, from their growing differences over the role of mysticism and spirituality in the human psyche. Freud, a Jew, considered anything in this realm to be suspect, although he was raised in the Jewish faith. This was something he denied in his early professional life but he wrote a book about Moses as an archetypal figure near the end. Jung on the other hand saw dreams as a portal to mystical experience. Jung was the son of a pastor and had six uncles who were clergymen. He became the darling of liberal spirituality in the 1970's and 1980's.
To my mind this was a good film but not a great one. It was certainly worth seeing and it was a reminder of how powerfully the language and "religion" of psychology have entered into our culture even though it is relatively recent. I often feel that we happily embrace the terminology of what is pop psychology as a new gospel while treating traditional language and concepts of religion with growing suspicion and disdain.
Has anyone else seen A Dangerous Method? Do you ever wonder about the shift in our language of meaning? Do you know much about Freud and Jung?

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Farewell to a Friend

Last Thursday we said farewell to a long-time friend. He was always there for us, seemed to love our company, and when he was happy --which was most of the time -- he purred. Yes our sixteen and a half year old cat Bustopher finally succumbed to the cancer which caused his weight to drop steadily since the Fall.

Sixteen plus is a good run for a cat, and he did have numerous lives. Born in Sudbury, Bustopher flew to Halifax to join us after we had driven there. He disappeared for eight days while we were in our second home in that city and reappeared as mysteriously as he disappeared, meowing at the patio door in a blinding rainstorm. Not long after we moved to Bowmanville he was on death's door due to a serious infection. But the cat came back from the brink, and lived the second half of his life with great contentment.

I'm not going to let on too much about my tears or those of my family, although we just couldn't help ourselves. When he got to the point where he could barely stand and couldn't eat or drink we went to the vet. I hate aiding and abetting an execution but I do feel that his death was merciful. We were forewarned that it could take up to fifteen minutes but it was more like fifteen seconds.

For us Bustopher was a gift from God. I don't say that glibly. He spent countless hours on my lap and petting him was both therapy and a grace. The sound of his contentment brought me peace in troubled moments. Many a time when I slipped out of bed in the wee hours with the weight of the world on my shoulders, he would be there seeking a little TLC. Then the world wasn't quite so daunting. He didn't get it that the good times could all come to an end in a hurry. He just lived in the moment. Didn't Jesus point us to the flowers and the creatures as examples when he told us not to worry?

I do appreciate that he was a cat and that I am a human. Pets don't go on forever, nor do we in this life, and we hear that Bustopher's two remaining siblings are also failing in old age. I also recognize the irony that I have munched many an animal yet decided to love others as members of my family. I can't claim that I am always logically consistent!

All I know it that I have blessed many a companion animal in our annual Blessing of the Animals services but in the end I'm grateful that our companion blessed us.

Any observations about the animals who have been your companions along the way?

Monday, January 16, 2012


Today is Martin Luther King Day in the United States, a statutory holiday to honour the civil rights leader whose non-violent movement led to changes in equality for people of colour. King could be called a martyr for the cause, assassinated in 1968 at the age of 39.

In the Fall of 2011 a huge memorial to King was unveiled in Washington D.C. and there is a controversy about the inscription which says "I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness." The words, critics have noted, were edited from a longer quotation in which King stressed the conditional: "If you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice," the passage begins. By abbreviating the quote King comes across as arrogant, which he wasn't.

This was a decision of the architect and the sculptor and now many are demanding change. Why not choose one of the stirring phrases from his speeches and sermons. MLK was a pastor, a man of God, whose addresses included many biblical quotations and metaphors. Why not use one of them? Or consider these:

Almost always, the creative dedicated minority has made the world better. An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.

At the center of non-violence stands the principle of love.

Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle. And so we must straighten our backs and work for our freedom. A man can't ride you unless your back is bent.

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

Will you take a moment to remember Martin Luther King today? I suppose you are if you reading. What do you think about this controversy?

Sunday, January 15, 2012

No Crib for a Bed

On Christmas Eve I mused or rambled, depending on your perspective, about the Occupy movement, privilege and power, contrasted with a saviour and religious movement born in a stable. It wasn't my usual Christmas Eve approach but 2011 was an unusual year.

I thought about all this when I heard that two of music's biggest stars, Beyonce and Jay Z have welcomed their first child into the world. Baby Blue Ivy was the only birth on that hospital floor last Saturday because the wealthy mom and dad had rented the whole shebang for 1.3 million dollars to ensure their privacy. Of course --wouldn't we all. The world does seem a little crazy these days, and I'm not just talking about goofy celebrity baby names. How is it possible that in the wealthiest nation in the world thousands of kids have "no crib for a bed," living in homeless shelters and out of vans and cars, while a bizarre version of the Holy Family spends a million-plus for the privacy of a birth. Don't get me wrong, I'm happy for this successful birth, but really?

Did anyone else find this unsettling, or just plain immoral? I'm waiting for the press release in which the parents thank God for the healthy arrival of Blue Ivy. Sigh...

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Doomsday Revisited

In 1984, four years into my ministry the Doomsday Clock was moved to 11:57, the closest it had been to midnight and doomsday since in was established in 1947 by atomic scientists, other than during the years in the late forties and early fifties when the first round of the nuclear arms race got under way. I recall speaking about the symbolic Doomsday Clock in a sermon at that time. There were a number of films exploring the consequences of nuclear war and a general anxiety about our inability to step back from the brink. Eventually is was moved back all the way to 11:43 in 1991 because of treaties which curtailed the development of nuclear weapons.

The minute hand has crept forward during the past two decades and this week the Doomsday Clock made the news again after being set at 11:55. Reasons cited include a lack of global political action to address nuclear weapons stockpiles, the potential for regional nuclear conflict, nuclear power safety, and global climate change.

On the nuclear side we worry about the wild impulses of the Iranians and North Koreans. This is the first time I have seen climate change included as a reason to advance the time, although I discover that it has been a factor since 2007. It does make sense. Nuclear weapons are an obvious catastrophic threat. Climate change is insidious and incremental, but scientists want us to realize that it too can be catastrophic.

We know that international conferences seem to get us nowhere in dealing with this threat to the planet. Our faith leaders attempt to address the situation but feel rather helpless. Little wonder they call it the Doomsday Clock. Why can't we act in our own best interests and for future generations?

Did you know about the Doomsday Clock? Is is just sensationalism, or should we be paying much closer attention to this symbol? Are ya prayin'?

Friday, January 13, 2012

Two Years Later

Yesterday marked the second anniversary of the earthquake in Haiti which killed anywhere from 100,00 to 300,000 people and left another million or more homeless. Today there are still an estimated half million homeless and it would be tempting to paint the picture of this country which was destitute before the quake as bleak. There has been a fair amount of criticism of aid and the recovery process from various quarters.

Just the same, there are many examples of recovery, resilience and hope. Thanks to generous contributions from members the United Church has been able to provide three million dollars of relief and is in the process of building two new schools with partner churches in Haiti. One of the schools under construction is pictured above.http://www.united-church.ca/communications/news/general/120105c The Canadian Mennonite Central Committee is in Hait building homes.

Help is being provided by other Christian organizations from around the world. Churches in Louisiana immediately made the connection between Katrina and the Haiti quake and are also involved in partnerships to get more than half a million kids who lost their schools back into classrooms.http://www.pbs.org/wnet/religionandethics/episodes/january-6-2012/red-thread-promise/10071/

I listened to Michaelle Jean, the former Governor General of Canada, speaking about her work in her former homeland of Haiti. While she is unhappy with the way aid has been distributed she used words such as "hope" and "inspiration" in describing the situation and admitted to the interviewer that her perspective has changed considerably since the first anniversary.

The actor Sean Penn took Rolling Stone magazine to task for the negative tone of its reporting last Fall. Penn has been very active in Haiti almost since the beginning of the quake response. Some of his language is what we might call salty but he is direct. http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/sean-penn-responds-to-rolling-stone-s-haiti-story-20110930

Have you followed the recovery process at all? Are you glad our church has been as responsive as it has been? What else needs to happen from your point of view?

Thursday, January 12, 2012

8th Fire

Reader Diane sent me an email about a four-part series beginning this evening on CBC's Doc Zone called 8th Fire: Creating a New Relationship with Canada's Aboriginal Peoples.
The title 8th Fire draws from an Anishinaabe prophecy that declares now is the time for Aboriginal peoples and the settler community to come together and build the '8TH Fire' of justice and harmony.

It will be looking at ways to build a new relationship between Canada's Aboriginal peoples and non-Aboriginal peoples. Check out the trailer for the documentary at: http://www.cbc.ca/documentaries/

There has to be a different way for Aboriginal peoples to be in relation with others in this country and we have to figure out how to treat them with dignity and respect. The reserve system and the Indian Act are archaic horrors and we know that churches have been complicit in the past with colonialism. Our United Church apologies and reparations for the Residential Schools are reminders of our participation.

I keep hoping that we have learned something only to hear of another Attiwapiskat or Pikangikum in Northern Ontario. First Nations in British Columbia are speaking out against an oil pipeline which will cross their lands on the way to the coast. Last week I read a grim article on the number of native babies born addicted to Oxycontin because it is in their mothers' system. Nurses can tell from their first cries which babies are addicts. What a tragedy.

Do you have hope for an 8th Fire? We do have a Right Relationships initiative in the United Church to build bridges with Aboriginal communities. Should our denomination choose to do more than say sorry?

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

God-Drenched Simon

I am ancient enough to be aware of several musical incarnations for Paul Simon, beginning with Simon and Garfunkel in the 1960's. As a teen in the latter part of that decade I listened to their marvellous harmonies and pondered their apparently deep lyrics, although I wasn't always sure what they were about.

After the break-up of the duo I enjoyed Simon's solo work, including his foray into rhythms from African music. In a way he was a forerunner for what is now termed World Music, even if there was a certain amount of cultural appropriation.

I have read a couple of articles lately about an album/compilation (what are we supposed to call this is the digital age?) called So Beautiful or So What which is theological and spiritual and even, some say, Christian. One review called it "God-drenched" and another described it as the best Christian album of the year even though Simon is Jewish. Here is an example from one song:

God and his only son

Paid a courtesy call on Earth one Sunday morning

Orange blossoms opened their fragrant lips

Songbirds sang from the tips of cotton roots

Old folks wept

For his love in these hard times

"Well, better be going"

Said the restless Lord to his son"

There are galaxies yet to be born

Creation is never done."

In another he offers

I'd no idea

That you were there

When I said help me, help me, help me, help me

Thank you, for listening to my prayer

I suppose many of us grow more reflective and tend to ponder the big questions as we age. It's intriguing to realize that Paul Simon is putting some of his reflections into music.

Any comments about Simon, theologian and songwriter, past or present?

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Gospel Trail

I'm intrigued by the opening of a new hiking trail in the north of Israel called the Gospel Trail. It is approximately 65 kilometres long and gives some spectacular views of the Sea of Galilee. I have been to Israel four times, although not for years. During those trips I managed to include some aspects not on the regular itineraries and found a way to get in some unusual scrambles, including a climb up a hillside in Galilee to an ancient Roman fortress. The word is that portions of the trail travel though areas where no people are seen for hours at a time and there is a sense of travelling back in time. I would love to walk this trail, or even a portion of it. The touristy part of Israel can be disillusioning at times. It sounds as though this could take on the nature of a pilgrimage.The article I read mentions another trail of which I wasn't aware:

The Gospel Trail is similar to another trail in the Galilee, the 62-kilometre Jesus Trail, which runs from Nazareth to Capernaum. Critics questioned whether another trail, which partly overlapped the Jesus Trail, was necessary. Some hikers also said parts of the trail were not well marked.
Yet that lack of infrastructure is what makes the trail so meaningful, organizers say.
“This is a trail you can walk with the Bible in your hand and you can meet the landscape, the animals and the flowers that Jesus met when he walked,” said Uri Sharon, of the tourism ministry.
“Until now, following Jesus’s footsteps meant going from church to church. Now pilgrims can have more of an unmediated connection with the landscape.”

Have you been to Israel? Off the beaten path at all? Would an experience such as this appeal to you?

Monday, January 09, 2012

Good News of Recovery

We saw friends from Newfoundland over Christmas, a couple whose four teens were in the youth group we began when I was sent to The Rock for my first ministry placement. One of those four is now a United Church minister in Barrie, Ontario and her parents came for a Christmas visit. Thirty years later we still love seeing them (yes, they are the couple we stayed with two summers ago) and catching up on outport life.

They shared good news about the cod stocks which we all know went from extraordinary abundance to virtual extinction due to over fishing. This year the cod were back in a way that was beyond expectations. Along with the individual food fishery there was a limited commercial fishery because there were so many fish. Around Change Islands where our friends have a summer home the cod and caplin (a tiny fish consumed by many creatures) were abundant and the whales were there to feed. A friend of these folks hauled up a 35-pound cod on a hand line another encouraging sign because the larger fish had virtually disappeared.

The decimated cod stocks have been a disheartening example of mismanagement and greed, something at which we humans seem adept. I was encouraged by this small example of the recovery of God's Creation, when given a chance. Apparently the salmon population is recovering as well.

Now, if there could only be a recovery of the minister stocks. The pastoral charge I served and many others in Newfoundland simply can't attract a minister!

Any thoughts?

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Passionate Worship

I have enjoyed two very different worship experiences recently. On Christmas morning just over one hundred people of all ages came to celebrate Christ's birth. I was surprised at the numbers, although I realized our Jammie Challenge brought out many families with kids and young people. They did show up in their pyjamas and it was fun! Our music director, Doug, was at his best responding to carol requests and while there was a brief message the emphasis was on the joy of Christian community.

This morning was another delightful surprise. January can be a bleak month for attendance but on a beautiful morning well over two hundred people were on hand. Today the choir sang and Loaves and Fishes led a couple of contemporary hymns. A big gang of children headed out for Sunday School. So it was much more of a "regular" service yet there was a similar joy, community,and a sense of God's presence, at least from my perspective.

It happened that today I began a series on Vital Congregations by speaking about Passionate Worship. Both of the experiences I describe fit the bill, even though attendance was very different. In my message I affirmed the value of gathering to offer our praise to God, even though there are many options these days. I was so impressed by the commitment of our multi-generational tribe and thankful for the privilege of leadership with this congregation. It tempting to look at some denominations which focus on ministry to a younger demographic and want to be like them, but I feel it is a gift that we experience worship across four generations.
Any thoughts or observations?

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Brothers and Sisters in Christ

I was a little surprised to leaf through my Globe and Mail this fine morning and find an article by columnist Margaret Wente about religious freedom. When she writes about the current state of the church in Canada I find her to be mildly demeaning, relegating us to the role of quaint anachronism. In this article she notes a number of disturbing stories about ther persecution of Christians and points out that billions live in countries where religious freedom does not exist. She even defends the intentions of the federal government and the newly established Office of Religious Freedom.

Regular readers know that I have written about issues of religious persecution, particularly for Christians. I am often puzzled that this is an area our United Church says little about, even though the blood of brothers and sisters in Christ is shed in many places while we live without fear of reprisal. Go to the UCC website and try to find anything about the serious attacks on Christians in Nigeria which began on Christmas day. Why wouldn't we be encouraged to pray for those beleaguered communities of faith?

Take a look at Wente's article and share what you think. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/opinions/margaret-wente/we-need-more-not-less-about-religious-freedom/article2294454/

Friday, January 06, 2012

Following the Star

January sixth means different things to the various communions of the Christian church. For hundreds of millions of Orthodox Christians this is Christmas day, so a merry and blessed Christmas to them.

For Protestants and Roman Catholics who follow the church year this is the conclusion of the twelve days of the Christmas season (yes, as in the song Twelve Days of Christmas and the play Twelfth Night.) The sixth is the Feast of Epiphany and in congregations where there will be worship today the gospel reading is the story of the journey of discovery by the Magi, the astologers/astronomers from Persia who sought and paid homage to the child Christ.

It's a good story because when we use the word "epiphany" we often associate it with an "aha" moment of awareness or discovery. For the Magi the epiphany required commitment and time and even risk.

In a changing church I doubt we are going to have one of those "aha" moments about the transition from a Christendom where just about everyone was on board with the conventions of faith to what will continue to be a community in transition.

Maybe it is significant that artworks often portray the Magi on the backs of camels even though they aren't mentioned in Matthew's gospel. The joke is that a camel is a horse put together by a committee and we do struggle at times to pull together new images of ministry which are effective. I must admit that I sometimes wonder how many more sleeps to retirement because church life can be rather frustrating.

Perhaps my biggest frustrations are the debilitating effects of nostalgia when folk hark back to another era, along with the reluctance amongst some to be committed to the journey of faith in the present. We really need the considerable gifts of a younger generation to be vital, rather than the lumps of coal in the form of excuses. I suppose we simply choose to keep following the star, anticipating the discovery of Christ for this moment rather than mooning over the past or fearing the future. I am encouraged by the faith and readiness of some of our teens. Recently one of our 17-year-olds wondered if he might be a candidate for chair of our congregational board. While he need a bit more seasoning I admire his willingness and we are determined to nurture his leadership skills.

What does Epiphany mean to you? Any observations or epiphanies about the changing church?

Got your camel ready?

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Winta Wunnerland

We slipped out of Bowmanville on the Tuesday following Boxing Day to enjoy some time with son Isaac and daughter-in-law Rebekah. Isaac is now the United Church minister in Cowansville, Quebec, not far from the border with Vermont. Rebekah works as a ecologist and researcher at Mont St. Hilaire not far away The Eastern Townships are beautiful and usually the proverbial winter wonderland. This year they have contended with mild temperatures as we have -- not great for a ski area.

We did manage a couple of hikes, including one in rather blizzard-like conditions. It turned out that my DSLR camera didn't like the cold, so we relied on cell phone photos to record the treks. What I appreciated was that the "kids" initiated these walks, including Emily who in her teen years restricted her walking to purposeful forays into shopping malls. All three were raised with hikes and canoe trips and camping, but you wonder what will "take." It is gratifying that in a family where we attempted to make the connection between Creator and creation they do appreciate the beauty of the natural world.

One of the photos is of daughters Emily and Jocelyn, another of Ruth and I atop a hill looking south to the Appalachians, another of most of us including Ike and Becky, and one artsy shot of snow on trees.

Did you have the opportunity to get outside during the holidays?

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

In Praise of Tapioca

I know that some of you are junkies of the American political scene and there is something about the larger than life figures south of the border that often makes our politicians look like luke warm tapioca. Mind you, our tapioca isn't tasting all that bad as we try to make sense of the strange brew of Republican leadership hopefuls.

The candidates were in Iowa trying to say something which makes sense to the public and not doing all that well in the process. What strikes me about the Republicans is that they wear religion --conservative Christian religion for the most part -- on their sleeves, then are "outed" for their hypocrisy. One day's frontrunner is the next day's goat. Frontrunner Mitt Romney seems to be the most sane, without hint of scandal, as well as, most experienced, but his Mormonism is seen as a major impediment by the Religious Right.

Have you been trying to make sense of this race, or stumble, or whatever it might be called?

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Freedom of Religion

I believe in religious freedom for adherents of most faiths. Of course freedoms have their limits. Cults which foment hatred or the subjugation of women can't be tolerated in a civil society. Fringe groups from any tradition have to be reminded that hijacking God for particular causes is false religion and idolatry. And I don't view all religions as being the same or just variations on the same theme.

So, I have been interested in the Conservative government's modest plan to establish an Office of Religious Freedom in this country in the next few months. Some critics, including Amnesty International, have expressed caution even though they acknowledge the serious problem of religious persecution around the world. The concern is that the office could be used to gain political points with minority groups. From my standpoint, I wonder how this will improve on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms which already exists in Canada. Perhaps the office will allow us to speak to some of the abuses in other countries.

What are your thoughts about this initiative? Is this a positive action or redundant? Do we need to hear more about the importance of religious freedom?

Monday, January 02, 2012

The Leftovers

Remember the silly old dude, Harold Camping, who predicted the end of the world and the so-called Rapture not once but twice last year. The poor souls who followed him were not only "left behind" with egg on their faces, but in some instances bereft of life savings when the big event failed to launch.

A novel which appears on a number of Best of 2011 lists is Tom Perrotta's The Leftovers. It is about the aftermath of a rapture-like event which in which people mysteriously disappear. The twist is that they are not particularly religious in many cases, nor are the people who anticipate the event the ones who go. The leftovers call this the Sudden Departure rather than the Rapture because it doesn't fit expectations. A cultish group called the Guilty Remnant springs up, people who live communally, cease speaking, and dress in white. Even those who do not experience direct loss find that the way they think and live is changed as a result of what has happened.

Perrotta is just a good writer, and this is a thought-provoking book. As Stephen King (yes, that Stephen King) offered in a review in the New York Times, it resonates with post-911 American sensibilities.

Anyone else who has read it or heard of it? Are you ready to go, or willing to be a leftover? Why do you think people get caught up in these movements?

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Resolve in 2012

Happy New Year. What else could I say on January 1st!

Yesterday I was thinking about what I hope for in 2012. There are a number of things I want to work on both personally and professionally. From a faith perspective I have decided that I want to return to a more focused prayer life and that I will read more often in the King James Version of the bible, a way of honouring the 2011 anniversary.

The big picture though will be an attempt to be less flighty, more determined to spend the time to develop depth in my understanding of the world around me. I find the deluge of information in our technology based culture does not contribute to careful consideration of patterns and issues. If anything, it creates an illusion of depth rather than actual wisdom.

What about you? Any resolutions you care or dare to share?