Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Delivery Guy

Recently I delivered a prayer shawl to someone who had undergone surgery one day, and then two meals from the Freezer Bank the next day. Helen, our office administrator helped choose the shawl and I rummaged around in the church freezer with Edna our custodian for the meals. One generous person in the congregation made that shawl. I think two different people made the meals. All I had to do was deliver them.
This is yet another reminder of the value of community. Perhaps the folk who created the shawl and meals would say it isn't much. But it is the combined effort of hundreds of Christians in our congregation which make a difference in a host of ways.
As I write this blog an email has arrived with prayer requests to be included for our prayer team. And a recipient of the meals phoned to say how grateful she is for this support. She mentioned that when she is better she wants to contribute to the freezer bank. Wonderful.
Any comments about these practical ministries and others?

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Holy Books

The most powerful person on Earth, the president of the United States, apologized to the people of Afghanistan last week. He expressed his regret that American soldiers had burned copies of the Quran, not in some willful act but by mistake. Nonetheless the book burning resulted not only in ill-will but rioting in the streets and the murder of several Americans. It is my opinion that these violent displays are outrageous, bordering on insane, but I do appreciate the offense taken at destroying books containing what some consider sacred writings. In the case of Islam, the Quran is considered to be the speech of God to humankind, word for word. We might not agree, but it doesn't matter what we think.
NPR (National Public Radio) did an interesting piece on the disposal of sacred texts. While burning damaged Qurans is the proper form of disposal, burning them in the trash is sacreligious. I suppose it would be akin to disposing of the remains of a loved one in a dump rather than cremation. It is a matter of intent and decorum.
I was interested in this story even though I'm sure many people wonder what the fuss is about. A fair number of people have asked me about the correct way of disposing of an old bible, and they often give them to me. That is the protocol is some Christian traditions, to give them to a clergyperson. I have thrown bibles out, but it makes me uneasy. In Judiasm old, retired Torah scrolls are formally buried. There have been instances of these torahs being exhumed by unscrupulous antique sellers.
In my mind we want to avoid notions of magical qualities for holy books. We certainly can't condone bloodshed over the disposal of books. On the other hand, humans do have a sense of the sacred, so it is important to "have a care."
What do you think? Was the apology by President Obama too much? Rick Santorum declared it a sign of weakness. Have you ever tried to figure out how to get rid of a bible?

Monday, February 27, 2012

The Lorax

Ruth, my patient life partner, can't figure our why I am not a bigger Dr. Seuss fan, given my propensity for making up words. I am really partial to The Lorax, written forty years ago with a remarkably far-sighted environmental theme. I have done a number of presentations and workships on faith and the environment, and on a few occasions I have read The Lorax to groups of adults who are delighted and challenged by the story.
So, now that the film version is coming out, please, please, don't get it wrong! I did like Despicable Me, and the same people are behind The Lorax, so perhaps I needn't worry. I notice that the website for the film has tips for "living green," so the basic premise is still there. The trailer has left me wondering though.
I suppose that whatever gets kids and adults pondering care of Creation is positive. As the last words of the book offer:
Plant a new Truffula. Treat it with care.
Give it clean water. And feed it fresh air.
Grow a forest. Protect it from axes that hack.
Then the Lorax
and all of his friends
may come back.
Are you looking forward to the movie? A little apprehensive? What movie?

Sunday, February 26, 2012


Today I will announce to the congregation the death of one of our sweetest members. Last week I got a call from Lynn, who along with Jenny, is providing pastoral support during pastoral care worker Beth's absence. Lynn and I have been visiting one of our elderly women who has been slowly dying due to the failure of her lungs. She continued to be positive to the end and believed God was with her.
She had been able to stay at home with a team of support but was now in the hospital. When I arrived it was obvious that the end was near. Even though she had oxygen each breath was very laboured and she was no longer responsive.
At her bedside was her husband of 62 years. They were so young when they got married that his father had to give his written consent. Obviously these teen marriages just don't last. He has been incredibly supportive through the illness despite a fracture in his back which made any movement uncomfortable and he too is on oxygen. In fact, at times it was a challenge to figure out whose oxygen lines we were dodging. And he can be a tad gruff.
We got to know him over the past couple of months. To say that he didn't share his wife's faith is putting it mildly. When we first came he immediately departed for parts unknown elsewhere in the house. Then it was just the kitchen, from which he would sometime add his thoughts to conversations. Eventually he stayed in the room, although pulling out a bible was akin to pulling the fire alarm -- he was gone like a shot!
I think that ultimately we trusted and respected one another. Does he have much use for the Christian faith? Nope. Has he been faithful to the love of a lifetime? Without a doubt. Behind the emergency room curtain I put my hand on his shoulder and commended him on being a good husband. There was a glimmer of tears despite his tough exterior.
And he did see the Christian community in action and perhaps realized we weren't so bad. Lynn even made him rice pudding!

Saturday, February 25, 2012


Sunday night will be the 2012 edition of the Academy Awards and this year an aging woman will walk the red carpet in an unusual outfit, as the "star" of a documentary called God is Bigger Than Elvis.
In the film Loving You Dolores Hart was the first actress to kiss Elvis Presley onscreen, making her the envy of millions. She went on to perform in several more films in the late 1950s and early 1960s, including Where the Boys Are and Come Fly with Me. She was in a total of ten films playing opposite some big stars.
In 1961 she played St. Clare in Francis of Assisi. That year she met Pope John XXIII, telling him, "I'm Dolores Hart, the actress playing Clare." The Pope said to the young actress, "No, you are Clare!" Surprising her friends and family, including her fiance, it was just a few years later that she entered the Regina Laudis Benedictine Abbey in Connecticut, taking her final vows there in 1970. One article about Mother Dolores has the headline "where the boys aren't."
As a Benedictine Sister she has lived a very quiet, structured life, praying the Divine Office every day and laboring in the fields and workshops. The community is very self-sufficient and has its own 400 acre farm, pottery and foundry. Through the years, Mother Dolores has been instrumental in developing the abbey's connection with the community through the arts.
I'm not sure why but this story tickles my fancy. Its refreshing to hear of someone who turns away from the allure of Hollywood and fame to seek a spiritual vocation.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Operation Justice

In 1955, God’s Lake Narrows was a small, isolated, poor Aboriginal Cree community located in northern Manitoba. Many of the homes were dilapidated shacks without hydro, tap water or indoor toilets. Sound familiar? Charles Catto was a recently ordained minister who served this community and he was troubled and challenged by these miserable conditions.
In 1964 Charles helped establish an organization called Operation Beaver to address decent and affordable housing in Native communities. The work is still going strong, now under the auspices of Frontier Foundation. He is proud that many of the homes they built are still sturdy and habitable after decades, unlike many constructed by the Canadian government. Now the goal is to train aboriginal young people in the skills for construction. Frontiers is also involved in Haiti and Bolivia.
I have known Charles since I was a kid, as he was friends with my minister father. Charles continues to work with Frontiers even though he is well into his eighties. In 1979 Charles received the Order of Canada for his work, and it is well deserved.
This year our Sunday School is supporting Frontiers Foundation and Operation Beaver through Lent. To my mind it is an excellent project. I hope you get on board with your quarters -- 40 days of Lent, ten bucks. It fits with the admonition in Isaiah 58 that a true fast isn't just about show, it is about justice: "is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house?"

Thursday, February 23, 2012

God Save Us

This Sunday, the first in Lent, we will hear the Genesis passage of God's covenant or promise with Noah. Actually, this is not accurate, even though this is usually described as the Noahic covenant. The covenant is with all living creatures.In Genesis 9 we read:

Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, ‘As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, and with very living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark. I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.

I wonder what Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum makes of this passage. He has made remarks which first of all called into question President Obama's Christian faith. These he retracted, sort of, followed by criticism of the president's "phoney climate theology" and putting the planet ahead of humans.

Last time I checked we humans still live on this planet and if we destroy it then we are homeless -- isn't that the way it works? And without the balance of the systems of air, earth and water, along with the creatures that swim, fly, and crawl we cannot survive. I suppose that calls into question my Christian commitment as well. Maybe Mr. Santorum is troubled by God's "phoney theology."

Any thoughts on this? Are you worried this guy could be president?

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Lenten Fast

Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent and Lenten commitments. In an article called Lenten Fast writer Lauren Winner says she is going to give up worry for Lent. She admits that she is an anxious person and from the sound of it she has it bad:
I worry that avian flu is finally going to hit this year and I will get into my car and head west to my stepmother's remote farm, but I arrive too late for the quarantine, or my stepsister will pull up the same moment I do and there will be enough food for only one of us, and my father and his wife will be forced into some 21st-century blended-family Sophie's choice.I worry that my identity is being stolen by someone right this second and every cent drained out of my bank account and a Lexus bought with a credit card in my name.I worry that I have forgotten a crucially important appointment, or maybe that I've forgotten that I'm supposed to be giving a lecture in Saskatchewan right this second and there's a small group of people sitting in an auditorium somewhere, angry and wondering where I am.I often think I've lost my driver's license. Driving to the airport, I pull out my license five times, ten times, just to make sure I wasn't somehow deluding myself when I last checked, three minutes ago back near exit 57.It's breathless, compulsive behavior, behavior that makes no sense...
For as long as I can remember, anxiety has been my close companion, having a long time ago taken up residence in the small, second-floor bedroom of the house that is my body. Sometimes my anxiety takes long naps. Sometimes it throws parties. But I don't imagine it will ever tire of this neighborhood and move out for good.
I appreciate her honesty because anxiety affects many of us. Judging from the lucrative pharmaceutical industry it is a national epidemic. Some of us manage to keep the beast under control. Others are controlled by it. Close to twenty years ago I spent a lot of time with a compulsively anxious young man who was very bright and barely able to function because he fretted about everything, including being late for our appointments. I challenged him to give up worry for Lent and while he liked the idea I think he fretted a lot about not keeping his
Winner says that during Lent she repeats this prayer from her denomination's prayer book: "O God of peace, who hast taught us that in returning and rest we shall be saved, in quietness and in confidence shall be our strength: By the might of thy Spirit lift us, we pray thee, to thy presence, where we may be still and know that thou art God."
Are you a worrier? Does anxiety affect your daily living?What do you worry about? Does your relationship with God make a difference? How about giving up worry for Lent?
I hope you join us for worship this evening.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Seasoning the Season

Well, it will be pancakes and sausages for supper tonight, our nod to Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras. This is the last day before Lent begins and the idea is that all the fat in a household is to be consumed before the beginning of this season of reflection and fasting. We will literally give our pancakes a Canadian flavour with a stream of maple syrup.

Lent has traditionally been a time of austerity and contraction -- giving up -- hence the concept of fasting. In recent years the notion of expansion has been attached to Lent, the things we prayerfully take on as intentional Christian practice. One of the initiatives is Seasoning Lent, a series of recipes for healthy eating during the season. The resource offers this introduction:

How do you observe the Christian season of Lent? Is Lent a yearly season that you are familiar with, or something you have never heard of? Do you have classic traditions that you keep each year, or do you struggle to commit to even the smallest of sacrifices? Does celebrating Lent seem like a chore or an opportunity? A chance to explore your Christian faith or just another seasonal resolution you have to keep? And how does the practice of Lent prepare you for a more joyful, more glorious Easter Sunday? All of these are questions that we bring to this Lenten devotional, Seasoning Lent. For the next eight weeks, we invite you to explore an ancient Christian practice through a modern lens: cooking and eating special foods in the season of Lent.

This might be interpreted as a fast from unhealthy, quick-as-you-can meals, but it can be framed positively as choosing to care for the bodies God gave us. Tonight's pancakes may not fit the bill, but we are considering getting on board with this one.

Will you do anything this Lent to move through the season mindfully? Give something up? Take something on? Maybe read a psalm a day? Write a "snail mail letter a day?

Monday, February 20, 2012

One of the Good Guys

I was sorry to hear of another celebrity death, baseball player Gary Carter. Before the Blue Jays existed there were the Expos in Montreal, and Carter was a star there for eleven years. A handsome guy with a million dollar grin he played hard and seemed to love it. During 22 years in the game he was an eleven time all star and evntually a Hall of Famer.

Gary Carter was also a person of faith, a committed Christian who was faithful to his wife and loved his kids. Darryl Strawberry played with Carter on the Mets. While Strawberry was a great talent his career was derailed by drugs and alcohol. After hearing of Carter's death he said that he wished he could have live his life like his former teammate.

The Gary Carter Foundation has given away more than $600,000 through the years, much of it to reading programs for school children. He was one of the good guys whose life was tragically cut short by a brain tumour. He was only fifty seven which I now consider young!

Any memories of Carter during his playing years? Other comments?

Sunday, February 19, 2012


I am back from a week of intensive vitamin D therapy, otherwise known as a trip to Cuba. While there was a television in our room we only turned it on a couple of times. Why watch TV when it's 25 degrees outside or you can sit on the balcony in the evening?

The first time we did fire it up we discovered that singer Whitney Houston had died at age 48. It was sad news, although not entirely unexpected given her struggles with drugs over the years. When we returned to Canada we were inundated with coverage of every minute leading up to her demise, as well as the plans for her funeral. It was encouraging to hear that the service would take place in the church where she developed her remarkable talent. Whitney's mother is a gospel legend and faith was an important part of their family life.

How disappointing to see that the funeral turned into a bloated showbiz spectacle. It could have been an opportunity to reconnect Whitney Houston's story to the faith in which she was raised and to somberly but strongly affirm the grace of Christ and resurrection hope. Instead it became hours of posturing and grandstanding -- and that was just the pastors. Rather than offering an alternative to the shallowness of the entertainment industry the service became a part of it, or so it seemed to me.

Did you watch any of the service? Did it make you uncomfortable, or do you have a different perspective?

Friday, February 17, 2012

Creative Fundraiser

Now that's inventive stewardship! Churches are often struggling to make ends meet and along with regular giving turn to events and activities to bring in extra cash. Here at St. Paul's there is a sucessful Golf Tournament, theatre junkets, suppers and catering, just to name a few.
At Westminster Presbyterian Church in California congregants have been told that if a cell phone or other device goes off during the announcements in worship it will be a $25 fine. During prayers it will be $50. During the sermon? Hell!
What do you think? Add this to our fundraising?

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

A Shout or a Whisper?

I have muttered and mused about the situation in Syria a few times and on the last occasion reader Ian mentioned the veto of a United Nations security council resolution by both Russia and China. The action of those two countries was reprehensible and happened just before Prime Minister Harper headed for China.
Commentators wondered if the PM would have much to say about China's veto because he was there to sell our oil to this potentially huge customer. Mr. Harper has spoken out about human rights issues in China before and been told to mind his own business. This junket was even trickier because China may be happy to buy the oil Americans don't want travelling across their land.
The prime minister is not a biblical prophet, nor was he elected to be a moral voice, at least not directly. But in a nation with a Judeo-Christian tradition do we expect a prophetic word even if it means less profits and a shakier economy? Politics and economics often trump "doing the right thing." Before the Conservatives came to power the Liberals talked about human rights in China but gradually that voice became a whisper as China became a world economic player.
What do you think?

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Hidden in Plain Sight

It was so sad when a van full of migrant workers was in a collision last week, killing ten aboard that vehicle, as well as the driver of the truck which hit them. Police tell us that the van driver was at fault but what really matters is that eleven people are dead.
Someone who works for the rights of seasonal workers wondered if one of the reasons for the accident was driver fatigue. He pointed out that often these workers put in long hours doing back-breaking work that most of us wouldn't consider. The situation has raised the profile of the people we import from other countries to do these sorts of jobs. There are more than 18,000 of them in Ontario every year. While there are regulations, the bar is not set very high and they are not well enforced.
When our mens' group visited a juice bottling plant in Bowmanville before Christmas I asked about conditions for the migrant workers who pick fruit for the company. I already knew some of the answers because the family who owns the orchards and plant are in the congregation. It is important to them that their workers have fair conditions and we were told in some detail what happens during the six months they live in Canada as well as life back home.
What was a little sobering when I heard about the accident last week was that the local workers are allowed to come and go on their free time using company vehicles. We see them at the bank and the big box stores and it good that they aren't treated like slaves.
We should remember that these are people with families who are making huge sacrifices to provide for their loved ones. They deserve to be treated fairly as they do the work that most of wouldn't wish for our children or grandchildren, let alone ourselves.

Monday, February 13, 2012


My apologies for the formatting of blog entries in recent days. Blogger is an great vehicle for communication but it could be called Baffler at times. Although I always space paragraphs and choose fonts it has a mind of its own. Sometimes the single space between paragraphs disappears (lately) and other times they triple and quadruple. I wish I knew why!
So please hang in there, good readers.

Saturday, February 11, 2012


At our Wednesday morning bible study we take time at the beginning to pray for one another and those for whom we care. This past week we were told of the death of a nephew with cancer, a cousin who is seriously ill with cancer, a niece who just got the "all clear" from cancer treatment. We have a couple of members who are currently undergoing chemo and radiation and it hasn't been an easy road even though they are courageous.
The requests for prayer came in the same week we saw the film 50/50 which is now out on DVD. It is the story of guy in his twenties who is diagnosed with cancer even though he lives a healthy lifestyle. The "50/50" refers to his odds for survival. We see his shock, the reaction of friends and family, the fear of death he experiences as he faces surgery. Along the way there is a fair amount of humour.
I will warn you that it is a tad raunchy -- isn't that a given with Seth Rogen?-- but it is really worth seeing because it addresses the issues of contending with a life-threatening disease in what we thought was a realistic way.
Have you seen the movie? Are any of you dealing with cancer in your family? Does your faith help?

Friday, February 10, 2012


How would you define a Christian marriage? Is there such an institution? I would say yes, but I realize that the term conjures up conservative Christian notions of hubbies as the boss men and wives as thesubmissive lil' missus. The promise of a relationship of mutual respect where faith is shared works much better for me.

There is a new book which is your answer to a real marriage It's called --wait for it-- Real Marriage: The Truth About Sex, Friendship, and Life Together, by Pastor Mark Driscoll and his wife who I'm guessing is submissive. Driscoll is the "manly" pastor at Mars Hill church in Seattle and he is an expert on sex, and good marriages -- just ask him. I will admit that I haven't read the book and I thank God for reviews which have convinced me I never will. Even a sympathetic review wondered why Driscoll feels that he is qualified to give folk sex advice.

The same review tells us that Driscoll saya "Wives are "crystal goblets," beautiful and fragile; men are "thermoses," strong and protective. Men are to lead, women to submit, although submission is carefully redefined as "respect" and leadership as "taking responsibility."

Dear readers, where do these people come from and why do they have congregations of thousands of followers? I don't wanna be a thermos. I don't wanna be married to a crystal goblet -- I would be worried 24/7. I love my independent, resourceful wife and she doesn't need to be delicate to be Christian.

Are you in a real marriage? Are you happy you aren't in a Real Marriage?. Reaction?

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Let's Talk

When Clara Hughes won Olympic medals again in Vancouver Canadians were so proud they would gladly have elected her Prime Minister. When she gave away ten thousand dollars to Right to Play we would have added sainthood.
Clara is getting ready for the Olympics again even though she is already a rarity, having won medals at both summer and winter games. She is a star and a tremendous human being.She is also in the news as a spokesperson for mental health. To her great credit she has been open about going through depression in the two years after her first Olympic success. Here is someone with skill, success, and huge public approval who had trouble getting out of bed in the morning.
Mental illness and depression does not respect wealth or status. One of my favourite radio personalities, Shelagh Rogers, has dealt with serious depression. Margaret Trudeau, ex-wife of the late PM, has written about her battle with bipolar illness. There are professional athletes who have taken their own lives.
In every congregation I have served there have been folk who have struggled at work, been hospitalized and in some instances died by suicide because of mental illness.
There are also stories of recovery and returning to balanced living. Kudos to Bell for sponsoring the latest campaign (a little phone company play-on -words for you.) Once again I hope and pray that the stigma is lifting and that we treat one another with Christ's compassion.

Any response to Clara Hughes' initiative? Other thoughts?

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Dickens at 200

As a nineteen year old kicking around London in 1973 I spent hours in Westminster Abbey. I was surprised to find the grave of Charles Darwin and intrigued to find the marker for another Charles -- Dickens -- in what is called Poet's Corner. Yesterday was the 200th anniversary of Dickens' birth and while I gave precedence to the queen, I will mention him today. I did a little sleuthing into his religious sensibilities because religion does show up in his novels, along with some memorable themes pointing out the disparity between rich and poor in Victorian England.
I found this is the Salt Lake Tribune newspaper via the National Post:
It seems a fitting gesture, given that the Abbey’s Poets’ Corner houses the famous writer’s remains. But it is also ironic in light of Dickens’ distaste for religious structures and rigid dogma.
Dickens, a member of the Church of England (Anglican), believed deeply in Jesus as savior and in his moral teachings, but many of the novelist’s most avowedly Christian characters represent the worst in religion: greed, hypocrisy, indifference to human suffering, arrogance, self-righteousness and theological bullying. "He was more interested in the general spirit than the specific letter of the faith," says Brian McCuskey, who teaches English at Utah State University. "Holding broad, loose beliefs, he had little patience for either institutional or evangelical Christianity." Dickens’ wildly popular Victorian novels, McCuskey writes in an email, "criticize evangelicals as being meddlesome at best and hypocritical at worst."
To Dickens, says Barry Weller, a professor of English at the University of Utah who specializes in 19th- and 20th-century British literature, "any sectarian commitment got in the way of essential Christianity." It was Christian zealots’ attitude toward the poor that bothered Dickens the most. "What we find again and again in the novels is that [these Christians] want to do charity in a wholesale rather than individual way," Weller says. "They are not sensitive to the needs of individual families and their situations. Instead of giving them what they need, they hand out a bunch of [religious] pamphlets. When they visit the poor as representatives of religion, they seem more eager to impress [on the needy] a certain doctrine than try to help them."
Obviously what we might consider modern-day concerns that faith issue in action are much older than we might imagine.
Any Dickens fans out there? Do you have a favourite novel? Did you know he visited Canada and his son Francis became a Mountie? What about his sense of social justice?

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Crystal Clear?

Go figure. For years the Crystal Cathedral in California was the literally shining example of religion and the American Way intertwined. Under Robert Schuller's leadership we heard about "possibility thinking" and the "be happy attitudes" as a strange reworking of the beatitudes. And Schuller managed to create a huge following including many Christian leaders from denominations which wouldn't adopt his "I think I can" theology but wanted to know what was working for him.
Well, it stopped working. Schuller was eventually succeeded by a son and daughter who squabbled. The congregation decreased, the California prosperity bubble burst, and the unthinkable happened. The Crystal Cathedral declared bankruptcy and guess who has purchased the church and its considerable campus? The Roman Catholic church!
The RC's were looking for a site to build a new cathedral and realized that land purchase would cost at least two hundred million. The Crystal Cathedral was a bargain at just over fifty mil, and even with significant renovations the price tag will be under one hundred million.
It all feels a little strange to me. This is still megabucks. It does point out that our enthusiasm for certain trends in theology and worship life may be just that --trendy. I'm not suggesting that there wasn't anything of value in Schuller's approach to the Christian life, but it wasn't the answer for changing times which some thought it would be. And there is the Catholic church with all its woes still chugging along.
Have you heard about this transition? Does it surprise you? Does it unsettle you?

Monday, February 06, 2012

God Save The Queen

Aging pop star Elton John got to be a king (not a queen I hasten to say) in one of yesterday's Superbowl ads. He has always thrived on "camp" and this commercial was no exception.
What I really want to highlight is that today marks the 60th anniversary of the reign of Queen Elizabeth II, who is still officially our monarch in Canada. While other countries of the former British Empire have created greater distance from the monarchy we still have a Governor General who is, in name at least, the queen's representative.
I am no monarchist but I admire the fact that for six decades Queen Elizabeth has lived with what must be the rather stifling duties which go with being royalty. She was so young --twenty five- when this role was thrust upon her in a post-war Britain which was still in a rebuilding stage.
It is rather interesting that the British monarchy has actually experienced an upturn in popularity in recent years and our Prime Minister seems quite enamoured by the royal family. In our more liberal brand of Christianity we have downplayed the hierarchical nature of God as king, even though royal language is everywhere in the Old Testament. And while we may emphasize Jesus as the Galilean peasant these days, and use terms such as Lord less, we still have a Reign of Christ Sunday (formerly Christ the King Sunday) and have plenty of music and stained glass windows with royal imagery.
Any thoughts about Queen Elizabeth and the monarchy today? What about the use of royal language in referring to God and Jesus? I know you are reading out there. So how about some shared thoughts?

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Risk-Taking Mission and Service

Today was message four in the series Five Keys to a Vital Congregation and the theme was mission and social action. I spoke about our United Church tradition of social action and reflected on the St. Paul's commitment to both local and broader mission. I thought that President Obama's address at the National Prayer Breakfast this past week was a thoughtful reflection on our responsibility to live our faith in action. Here is an excerpt:

It's also about the biblical call to care for the least of these -- for the poor; for those at the margins of our society.To answer the responsibility we're given in Proverbs to "Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute." And for others, it may reflect the Jewish belief that the highest form of charity is to do our part to help others stand on their own.

Treating others as you want to be treated. Requiring much from those who have been given so much. Living by the principle that we are our brother's keeper. Caring for the poor and those in need. These values are old. They can be found in many denominations and many faiths, among many believers and among many non-believers. And they are values that have always made this country great -- when we live up to them; when we don't just give lip service to them; when we don't just talk about them one day a year. And they're the ones that have defined my own faith journey.

What do you think?

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Bread and Circuses

At the risk of repeating myself (as though I never do!) I am deeply disturbed by the continuing violence in Syria and the ineffective responses on the part of the Arab League and the United Nations Security Council. The escalation of bloodshed, even as soldiers desert Bashar al-Assad's forces, is a crime against humanity.
I continue to try to process this alongside other international efforts to curb despots and dictators. Nato bombed the bejabbers out of Libyan forces loyal to Gaddafi bringing about a regime change. Now we hear of the torture and murder of those who were Gaddafi supporters.
Canadians soldiers died in Afghanistan over the course of a decade and we spent billions to support them. While we can argue that it was a noble effort we're being told that the Taliban are poised to return to power once Western forces depart.
And what happens if Israel chooses to strike Iran in the next couple of weeks as some are predicting.
As a Christian I am constantly trying to understand my role as a peacemaker in a world where the evil of violence exists. Turning the other cheek seems simplistic but I'm not impressed with the alternatives.
Have any of you got it figured out yet? Do we just shrug our shoulders and watch the Superbowl, surely our version of the ancient Roman bread and circuses? Does persistent prayer and intentional peacemaking matter?

Friday, February 03, 2012


We can be discouraged by all the news of the degradation of our planet home, what native people call Turtle Island. We need the reminders of the beauty of the world, the Creation which deserves our protection and advocacy.

While in Victoria B.C. recently I went to an exhibit of award-winning National Geographic photography which lifted my spirits. The images for 2011 are now in a book, but the ones on the walls were large and luminous because they were backlit. It was a delight to walk through the exhibit by myself, savouring the skill of the photographers and the moments they captured.

It says something about us as humans that the grand prize winner was of pelicans coated in oil from the Gulf disaster, but there were many other more encouraging images. God must be proud of his/her handiwork.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

You Can Bank On It

A couple of weeks ago our older youth group called Hi-C gathered at the church to cook up a storm. Under the direction of a parent, who I'm told ran the operation with military precision, these teens prepared a number of meals which went into the freezer at St. Paul's. We have a Freezer Bank which is drawn upon when folks are going through demanding times and don't have the energy or inclination to make meals. The meals get delivered when a baby is born, or when a family member dies, or as someone is recovering from illness. It is an excellent and practical resource.
Involving these young people was cooked up (sorry, I can't help myself) by Beth and Laura, our pastoral care and youth workers. Meals were prepared and youth "connected the dots" to an important form of outreach. And they had fun doing it. Brilliant.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Adversaries and Allies

Apparently I am an enemy of state and so are you if you are part of the United Church of Canada. In the interests of accuracy, we are only adversaries, rather than out-and-out enemies. Why? The United Church and other denominations have supported aboriginal groups who feel their land and health have been compromised by the Alberta oilsands development. By association we must be adversaries according to documents obtained by Greenpeace and the Climate Action Network under Freedom of Information laws. Here is how the CBC reports the situation.
The federal government considers the media, the biodiesel industry and environmental and aboriginal groups "adversaries" in its attempt to advocate for Alberta's oilsands, according to documents obtained under access to information legislation.Energy companies, the National Energy Board, Environment Canada, business and industry associations, meanwhile, are listed as "allies" in a public relations plan called the "Pan-European Oil Sands Advocacy Strategy." It is dated March 2011.
This bothers me. Alot. Governments are allowed to have agendas which they feel are in the best interests of Canadians, even if all citizens may not agree. When those citizens disagree they should not be labelled adversaries, especially those who feel that their personal health and the health of the land are at risk. Energy companies should not be listed as allies of the government. This is ideological nonsense that should cause us all concern. This is the language of war. Is our federal government involved in a dirty war against its own citizens?
God help us.