Saturday, March 31, 2012

Earth Sabbath

On the eve of the Jewish sabbath families gather to share in a meal, light candles, turn hearts and minds to God. I wonder if we can consider Earth Hour as a form of sabbath, a holy pause to consider how we can respond to Creation with practical care and respect. Tonight between 8:30 and 9:30 we are invited to turn off lights and shut down devices to save electricity. Surely though the hour can be more. It can be family time and the opportunity to consider the ways we can reduce our environmental footprint.

Has the impact and value of Earth Hour come and gone? Will you be observing it tonight? What will you choose to do?

Friday, March 30, 2012

In Life, in Death...

In life, in death, in life beyond death,
God is with us.
We are not alone.
Thanks be to God
Yesterday our family was on the road early to get to Hamilton for the 11:00 am funeral of our brother-in-law, John. His sudden death a week ago rocked the extended family and Ruth and were grateful that our three adult children and daughter-in-law figured out their busy schedules to attend the service and be part of the family gathering. It was a rare occasion when all six of the siblings from one side of Ruth's family could gather from as far away as Winnipeg.
More than two hundred people were in attendance, a testimony to the love and respect for John and his wife and children. I had a nominal role reading scripture and the solemn privilege of being a pallbearer, as was our son Isaac. Ruth excelled giving a family tribute, speaking on behalf of her sister Martha and niece Rachel.
What struck me as a congregant was the level of planning, the remarkable gifts of the various participants and the hopeful affirmation of abundant and eternal life in Christ. Martha is a musician, so an number of long-time friends provided leadership, including some soul-stirring congregational singing. Needless to say, John's immediate family is devastated but they were bouyed by what happened in the service.
It brought to mind a recent service I conducted where the deceased was certainly loved, but the congregation just didn't seem to get what was unfolding. People arrived late, came and went, didn't sing the hymn chosen by the lovely elderly woman we were supposedly honouring. It was rather disheartening even though we did our best to bring dignity to the occasion.
It is so important for all of us to consider what we hope for in these services of departure, both in terms of the personal nature of the content and the faith we want to affirm.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Tag Team

Last Friday morning I got a curious call from the homemaker of one of our elderly members --94-years-old-elderly. She could easily be the woman in Gary Crawford's pastel piece to illustrate the phrase "we are not alone" in the New Creed. Normally I don't answer the phone but office staff were otherwise engaged and I entered into a rather confusing exchange about our Mary. In the end I established she was in distress, wanted to go to the hospital and wouldn't call 911, and that the homemaker wasn't allowed to take her.
Whaddya do? I zipped down to her home and took her to emerg. She was pretty shaky but seemed amused just the same that the minister was her chauffeur. After I wheeled her in she insisted that family would come soon, and encouraged me to leave because she would be okay. Except that they didn't come, and in the afternoon first Lynn, then Jenny, our tag team pastoral care pinchhitters (Beth is in Florida) spent hours with her at the hospital. They saw her through tests that quite honestly it was better to have a woman around to address.
Eventually a family member arrived and Mary spent a couple of days in hospital. Today I saw her at home and she expressed her gratitude for the attention from both Lynn and Jenny, including follow-up. This was important if seemingly mundane pastoral care and without this blog no one would know. Beth will return soon but I really appreciate the work these two have done in her absence.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Good News for Good Friday

What we call Good Friday is actually the darkest day in the Christian year, the occasion on which we commemorate the crucifixion of Jesus. As solemn as this day is, there is also encouraging news from the congregations of Church St. Yesterday St. Andrew's Presbyterian confirmed that they will join Trinity and St. Paul's United Churches in a service to be held at Trinity at 10:30 am. This was to be the first year the two United congregations came together for Good Friday. It is even better that we will be three rather than two combined congregations.
The Good Friday service is generally well attended at St. Paul's but I'm really pleased that we could see beyond our congregational boundaries to worship together. These ecumenical services send an important message to the broader community about a greater commitment in our witness to Christ.
Does anyone else consider this to be good news? What held us back before?

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Ladies in White

Every week a group of women dressed in white clothing attend Roman Catholic mass in Cuba. Then they take to the streets in an orderly protest against the Castro regime which holds their loved ones in prison because they are considered dissidents, speaking out for human rights, setting up independent libraries to educate people about the world outside Cuba. The action of the Ladies in White is also considered an act of civil disobedience and some of them have been arrested.
The Guy in White, Pope Benedict, is currently in Cuba and he will probably have an audience with brothers Fidel and Raul Castro in which he may bring up human rights issues. It is unlikely that the pope will be allowed to speak with the Ladies in White during this trip, even though they are faithful Catholics in a country which did its best to eliminate organized religion for the first few decades of communist rule.
Both the Roman Catholic church and Protestant Christian groups have worked slowly but surely to build bridges with the current regime, which has resulted in a growing freedom to worship and gather as Christians. The United Church has a strong connection with the Protestant church in Cuba and I have visited the seminary in Matanzas, a remarkable place.
There is still a long way to go for Cuban Christians, and the pope's visit reminds us of the connection between religious rights and human rights.
Any comments about the pope's visit and the Ladies in White?

Monday, March 26, 2012

Promise of the Heart

Yesterday in worship we considered the "heart covenant" of Jeremiah, one of the series of covenants or promises of God we have looked at during Lent. I borrowed an honest-to-goodness doctor's stethoscope for the childrens time and became aware of how sensitive this medical instrument is when I gave it a test run before the service. I listened to my own heart chugging away, and was reminded that this remarkable organ beats 100,000 times a day and four billion times through the course of an average lifespan.

As I listened I was also keenly aware that the heart of my brother-in-law, John, suddenly stopped beating when he was at work Friday afternoon. He went to the gym in the morning, doing his best at age 58 to stay fit, and he was eating "heart healthy" in recent years. He was probably in the best shape of his life and a visit to the cardiologist recently resulted in positive news. But John's dad died young from a heart attack and while John was in far better shape than his father had been, his genes probably betrayed him. So he died, likely before the paramedics arrived and has left a shocked and grieving family. His extended family, including me, are filled with sadness for everyone involved. There is such a sense that this shouldn't be, that John and his loved ones should have been able to enjoy many more years together. Fortunately my wife, Ruth, was able to spend the weekend with her sister, Martha, and their children, and we will attend the funeral later this week.

This is a grim reminder that we need to savour every day, every heartbeat, as a gift from God. I'm glad that John had a strong Christian faith. He loved the out of doors and the beauty of this world but he also trusted in eternity.

Any thoughts about the fragility of life?

Sunday, March 25, 2012

O When the Saints

All together now:

Oh when the Saints,
Go marching out...

The coach of the New Orleans Saints, Sean Payton, along with several key staff have been marched out of their jobs because they paid "bounties" to Saints players who injured opponents in games. The suspensions aren't permanent but a year without his 7.5 million dollar salary is bound to sting Peyton just a little.

I know, I've said it before, but why do people worship athletes and pro sports? Some of them are decent folk and some are guided by their faith. But sport at the professional level has become an industry of greed and questionable values. It's odd that the Occupy Movement targetted the excesses of financial districts around the world but kept away from the entrances to arenas and stadiums. Whenever an athlete professes faith they are quickly in demand to speak as a role model. Don't you wonder why?

Maybe this latest news has just made me cranky. Maybe I'm aware that I gripe and still enjoy watching a good game in just about any sport.

What is your reaction to all this?

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Heeby Jeebies

Earlier in March Tikkun magazine, a left-leaning, often provocative Jewish journal placed a full-page ad in the New York Times. It implored President Obama and President Netanyahu of Israel not to launch a pre-emptive strike on Iran. The world is increasingly concerned that the weirdo leadership of Iran could attack Israel, possibly with a nuclear weapon it is working hard to create. Israel has considered a first-strike approach which is basically a smack 'em down first, before they smack us strategy. So far President Obama is against this notion and I'm relieved, even though Iran is scary.
There has been plenty of reaction against the ad, some of it from right-wing, militant Jews. They scare me too. Fundamentalist warmongers plain give me the heeby-jeebies and really I am an equal opportunity heeby-jeeby guy. I don't care if the fundies are Christians, Jews, Muslims, Rastafarians. If they think God is on their side no matter what they do, then I don't have much time for them.
Some of our folk are in Israel as you read, and I'm praying they have a meaningful experience and get back safe and sound. Honestly though, if Israel attacks Iran our planet will be less safe.

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Hunger Games

Duh. I do my best to keep up on current trends but my late 50's are showing once again. The Hunger Games? What's that about? Just a hugely popular book trilogy by Suzanne Collins, soon to be a motion picture hyped to rival all them vampire flicks. Here is a more detailed description:
The Hunger Games is a young adult novel written by Suzanne Collins. It was originally published in 2008. It is written in the first person and introduces sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives in a dystopian world in the country of Panem where the countries of North America once existed. The Capitol, a highly advanced metropolis, holds absolute power over the rest of the nation. The Hunger Games are an annual event in which one boy and one girl aged 12 to 18 from each of the 12 districts surrounding the Capitol are selected by lottery to compete in a televised battle in which only one person can survive.
I see that a congregation in the United States has come up with a Hunger Games book/bible study, even though the books are not overtly religious. The study picks up on some of the spiritual themes in the books. Well, why not. Lots of youth groups discussed the Twilight series
because of the immense interest in the books and movies.
Do you or young 'uns you know read the books? I have now read the first volume and I can see why they are so popular. Do you see the religious parallels? Does it make any sense to study these popular series from the standpoint of faith?

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Holy Water!

Today is World Water Day, an occasion to draw our attention to a precious commodity on which all of life on this planet is dependent. We might have huge reserves of food but without water we humans would perish in short order. All major religions include water rituals making the connection between the precious nature of water and its spiritual aspect. Of course these religions came into being in a part of the world where water was and in still is a precious commodity. In our faith one of our sacraments uses water to baptize into Christ.
Here in Canada we are blessed with abundant fresh water, which may be why we take it for granted. We use an average of about 350 litres per person per day, the most of any nation other than the States. Much of our household water use is flushed into the sewers. The truth is though that we squander water and much of our supply is locked in rapidly melting glaciers. The Great Lakes are receding and projects such as the Oil Sands use huge amounts of water in processing, as well as polluting water tables and rivers. Don't trust the TV spots which bombard us these days about how "green" the Oil Sands are.
The term "peak water" is now being used, akin to "peak oil," the point at which human demand leads to terminal decline of the resource. We may find alternatives to oil but there are no alternatives to water for the survival of species, including our own.
Today we can thank God for water and demonstrate that it is holy by treating it with respect. Here is a prayer which fits the day:
God, you created the seas, the rivers, lakes, and oceans.
It is from these waters that we have learned to find life and sustain our bodies.
Teach us how to care for the water in our world,
how to keep it clean for future generations
and cleanse it for those who need it in the present. Amen.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Charter for Compassion

I am always clear when I speak about the relationships between religions that a "one size fits all" approach is not helpful. Religions are very different and I am a Christian because I am convinced in heart and mind that God's revelation in Christ is unique and life-changing. That said, I am a strong believer in respect and dialogue between religions. And that there are common places for our conversation, including a commitment to compassion.
Today Karen Armstrong, author of 12 Steps to a Compassionate Life and founder of the Charter for Compassion will hold a symposium on the progress of the charter.
Dear Friends,

Please join me on March 22 for “The State of the Charter for Compassion” – a celebration of the tremendous progress we’ve made together, and a vision for the road ahead as we continue to reassert compassion as the cornerstone of a just economy and a peaceful world. Among the highlights, I will unveil the Charter’s elegant new website as well as a refreshed look and feel.
The “State of the Charter” will immediately follow my lecture, “What is Religion?” hosted by
Simon Fraser University’s Center for Dialogue in Vancouver. You can watch both the lecture and the Charter update live via streaming video, from 7-9 p.m.
Pacific time at:
If you’re unable to join the live broadcast, it also will be archived in both locations for viewing at your convenience.
Is it worth seeking out common ground for compassion? Are some religions more disposed to compassion than others? Have you signed on to the charter?

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Year of the Bible

The Pennslyvania State House recently designated 2012 as "the year of the bible." Who knows why -- maybe it had something to do with the anniversary of the King James bible.
How did an atheist organization respond? It erected a billboard in one of the city's most racially diverse neighborhoods which featured an African slave with the biblical quote, "Slaves, obey your masters." It lasted less than a day before someone tore it down.Now, the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission is investigating and is meeting with both the atheists who sponsored it as well as leaders of the NAACP who found it offensive.
This billboard is provocative and dumb and, yes, does quote directly from scripture. There are many deeply disturbing and offensive passages in scripture and reading the bible requires both discernment and a willingness to understand the cultures and in which it was written, along with context. We know that in the debate over slavery in the 19th century some Christians quoted this Colossians passage to justify it, while other Christians abolitionists took a broader view of the liberating message of Christ to work toward emancipation.
In other words, we are not biblical literalists in our tradition, and I frankly have little patience with those who earnestly claim to believe every jot and tittle as divinely inspired. This would mean they approve of genocide, condone self-mutilation and physical abuse, and steer clear of seafood restaurants as though they were possessed by the devil.
Of course I have to roll my eyes at the literalist, fundamentalist atheists who assume all Christians take a simplistic approach to the bible and set out to offend anyone and everyone in stunts such as the one described above. Grow up people - we get it that you aren't keen on religion!
What are your thoughts about this? Do the "naughty bits" of scripture unsettle you? Have you figured out over time that you don't have to be a biblical literalist to be a Christian?

Monday, March 19, 2012

Mary's Point

I was walking through the biography section of our excellent library in Bowmanville and saw a book with the title Sanctuary. Since this is a "religousy" word I stopped to look. It is actually the story of a little known but hugely influential environmentalist in New Brunswick. The title is
Sanctuary: The Story of Naturalist Mary Majka by Deborah Carr. I signed it out because libraries are great for letting us peruse books we might not otherwise buy.
I was deeply impressed by the story of this immigrant woman and her determination to save environmentally sensitive areas of her adopted land, as well as historic buildings. It was Majka who with her husband and a friend purchased coastal land including Mary's Point (the name is coincidental) thereby protecting a staging area for millions of migratory birds when no one else seemed to understand its importance.
We have visited Mary's Point several times and Ruth and I have been discussing returning to New Brunswick this summer. The first time was when our three children were young. They walked down onto the beach and sat in front of a drift log. Suddenly a huge flock of shore birds swept in. A naturalist assured us that there were tens of thousands. Because the kids were down low the birds enveloped them and they sat still, spellbound. It is one of our fondest travel memories.
I am often struck by the prophetic voices and actions of those often unlikely figures in every age who make choices and speak out despite being alone or unpopular. I am too often concerned about what others think or get caught in conventional wisdom, even though I admire the bravery and forward thinking of these individuals. There isn't a discussion of Mary's religious convictions in the book, or lack thereof, but we do hear about a United Church ministry, Roland Hutchinson.
She does say " I have been the stone that starts the avalanche. There is nothing in this world, except for natural occurrences, that cannot be changed for good or bad. So let's try for the good!"
Have you heard of Mary Majka? She has received the Order of Canada, but who knew? Have you ever been bold in your witness and actions, including as a Christian?

Sunday, March 18, 2012


Twenty years ago, Terence Finlay was Anglican Archbishop of the Diocese of Toronto. James Ferry was a priest at St. Philip’s Church in Unionville. Ferry is gay and at that time was in a relationship with a man named Ahmad. When some parishioners found out about the relationship Ferry approached the archbishop and he in turn censured Ferry and effectively banned him from service in the church. This decision in 1992 altered the course of Ferry's life, ending his vocation, leaving him without a livelihood, and temporarily ending the relationship with Ahmad, although they eventually got back together.
Terence Finlay changed his mind. He came to different conclusions about homosexuality and eventually performed a same-gender marriage even though this wasn't sanctioned by the Anglican church.
Today Finlay and Ferry will participate in a service of reconciliation, and obviously they have both agreed to be involved. I am deeply impressed by Jim Ferry's willingness to forgive. I give credit to Finlay for both his change of heart and the desire to make amends in a symbolic way. Obviously today's service won't make everything better, but it is a conscious and public choice to forgive, reconcile, move forward.
Many of us have changed our outlooks through the years, wondering why we held such entrenched views "back then." I know that many more are still pondering and discerning.
What are your thoughts on this story? Has your outlook changed over time?

Saturday, March 17, 2012

St. Paddy's Day

Two blogs on a Saturday! I decided to share a blessings with you on St. Patrick's Day which comes from a remarkable collection of prayers and blessings assembled by Alexander Carmichael. Carmichael was a British "simple servant" in the 19th century who in the course of travels related to his work became aware of the rich oral prayer tradition of rural folk in Scotland and Ireland.
Collecting these prayers became a passion for this gentle and compassionate man, what one biography described as a "beautiful mania." The collection, known as the Carmina Gadelica, has preserved hundreds of lovely Celtic prayers which might have otherwise been lost.
God be with thee in every pass,
Jesus be with thee on every hill,
Spirit be with thee on every stream,
Headland and ridge and lawn:
Each sea and land, each moor and meadow,
Each lying down, each rising up,
In the trough of the waves, on the crest of the billows,
Each step of the journey thou goest.
Enough blarney for today!

Is God Dead?

Recently"God is Dead" theologian William Hamilton died of heart failure at the age of 87. The radical theologian was a leading figure in the controversial Death of God movement during the 1960s, which was brought to national fame in 1966 when Time magazine published the infamous cover story "Is God Dead?" Hamilton and other theologians gained notoriety by exploring the notion that a personal god simply did not exist, and the implication was that this was the evolution of religion. Needless to say, the Time article and what proved to be a short-lived movement were controversial.
Some might imagine that the New Atheist movement of recent years which includes Hitchens, Dawkins, and Harris as "point men" came out of that controversial public foray. Apparently Hamilton wasn't a fan of these guys and their rather belligerent and strident oppostion to religion in any form: “There is a self-righteousness, a glibness in their writing. They are too sure of themselves. They’ve backed themselves into a fundamentalist mode.”
I would have to agree. For his part, Hamilton saw himself as a Christian who no longer went to church.
I am tempted to break into a chorus of "don't tell me my friend that God is dead, he woke me up this mornin'" but I will refrain.
God seems to be hanging in there, but what do you think? Dead, sleeping, or flourishing?

Friday, March 16, 2012

Deliver Us From Evil

We are using a different form of the Lord's Prayer every Sunday in Lent, both sung and said. It is a way to encourage all of us to pay attention to what can be a rote prayer, including the phrase "deliver us from evil." Does evil even exist? Have we quietly tucked evil away on a shelf, replaced by the revised psychological alternatives?
I feel that evil has come out swinging in a London Ontario courtroom this week. A young woman, Terry Lynne McClintic has confessed to kidnapping and then murdering an innocent and unsuspecting child, Tori Stafford. She allegedly did so on the encouragement of her boyfriend, Michael Rafferty, who was obsessed by the idea of kidnapping and sexually assaulting a little girl.
McClintic has admitted that she knew what they were doing was wrong, but chose to commit this unspeakable crime. In the end she confessed because it was "the right thing to do." This is true, but one wonders how they could have chosen to participate in what to me is clearly evil in the first place. What possessed them, figuratively and perhaps literally?
McClintic will spend a long time in jail and I pray Rafferty will as well. I also pray that they understand the gravity of their crimes and can eventually find hope in relationship with God.
What is your "take" on evil? Do you mean it when you seek deliverance in the Lord's Prayer?

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Come Home

Columnist Margaret Wente often irritates me but it is her job to be provocative. I found myself agreeing with her whole-heartedly yesterday, which is also her job. She stated that Canada should get out of Afghanistan after a 10+ year mission. I wondered about our presence from the beginning and have mused in this blog about my conflicted emotions, convinced as a Christian that war is stupid even when deemed necessary while holding deep admiration for the sacrifices of our troops.
The cowardly murder of civilians in Afghanistan over the weekend has been reported everywhere but the news from the States doesn't note that Canadians soldiers developed a strong atmosphere of trust in this Panjwaii district, now evaporated. What a waste. We still have nearly 1000 military personnel in Afghanistan as advisors and they are less safe today than they were before the weekend. They don't deserve this.
As Wente offers in her final paragraph:
I admire our soldiers in Afghanistan, including all those who’ve served there and the ones who’re there now. They are highly trained, principled and idealistic. It’s not their fault they couldn’t make the country safe for girls to go to school. They were given an impossible job to do. They’ve done it with courage, heart and passion. But enough’s enough. Time to bring them home.
Amen from me. But maybe not from you. What are your thoughts? Was this a wasted mission, or just one that has run its course?

Wednesday, March 14, 2012


A month ago we were in Cuba for a vacation and it was great. We both felt recharged by the week away. It has been three years since we visited Cuba together and we weren't even sure we would go in 2012. We both booked a week of vacation, set a ceiling for our trip, and decided that if we couldn't get that price we wouldn't go. But Cuba is inexpensive compared to other southern destinations and so we were able to return to a resort we had visited before -- not the cheapest, but not the most expensive.
We have come to sun destination travel later in the game, too busy in the earlier family years clipping coupons and praying that appliances wouldn't break down around the time that the dance fees came due. Now we have more disposable income and can make these choices.
I still feel a little queasy when we do this though, not because of the food but because of who is cooking it and serving it, and cleaning my room, and doing everything else around the resort. Cubans are poor by North American standards, making twenty five to thirty dollars a month. My vacation is affordable in part because these folks make so little, and I'm deliberately deceiving myself to think otherwise.
On our trips we have taken consumer goods with us which are not affordable or next to impossible to obtain for Cubans. One year we took lengths of cloth and sewing supplies for a sewing cooperative and passed this things on through a church connection. We take toothpaste and brushes and clothing each time. We were couriers for someone in the congregation this year, carrying a bag of reading glasses to be passed along to a staff member at a nearby resort who distributes them. The last two trips I took guitar strings and gave them to musicians at the resorts. And we choose to tip at every meal and around the resort.
I am still uncomfortable at the disparity between my affluence and their poverty. I wonder what the cook is thinking when a semi-drunk, overly-friendly Canadian blathers on to him in a loud voice (apparently it is easier to understand English if the person is shouting.) Why do they have money and I don't, he may well be asking. I keep expecting to see Jesus in a nearby pool chair casting a baleful look my way and pointing to justice passages in scripture.
There is a long and thoughtful article in the latest Walrus magazine about the million or so Canadians who travel to Cuba each year and the ethics of our vacations. I encourage you to read iit.
What are your thoughts? Should I just lighten up and enjoy myself? Is it more helpful than hurtful to be a tourist in Cuba? Canadian tourism is one of the largest contributors to the Cuban economy.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012


I listened to an interview with Louise Penny, the very successful author of a series of mystery novels set in the Eastern Townships of Quebec. We have read them in part because our son and daughter-in-law now live in those parts and the villages and towns in the novels are recognizable in the stories.

The most recent and seventh, A Trick of the Light, includes a worthwhile exploration of addiction, recovery, forgiveness. Penny knows of which she writes. Alcoholism nearly derailed her life but her recovery, which included Alcoholics Anonymous, has allowed her to lead a meaningful and successful life. Not only does this show up in her novel, she is quite candid in discussing her journey.

I appreciate her candour. In every congregation I have served there have been individuals dealing with addictions. Some acknowledge it and others don't. Some fit the stereotype of an addict, others function reasonably well -- at least publicly. Some find support in 12 Step groups and others venture on alone with varying degrees of success. There is nothing easy about addicton and folk tend to talk with their pastors because they sense this is a spiritual issue.

I think faith communities have become better in supporting those who deal with addictions but there is still the stigma of moral failure and the resultant shame. We can hope and pray that this will come to an end. As I have commented before, some people experience grace and honesty in a much more authentic way in those 12 Step groups. AA invites participants to seek a "Power greater than ourselves," to pray and meditate, and to take advantage of the spiritual awakening.

Do you admire those who are open about their addictions? Can we be doing more? Have you dealt with addiction in your family? Do you feel that there is a spiritual component to overcoming addiction?

Monday, March 12, 2012

There But For...?

I have been thinking about the anniversary of the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdown which took place in Japan a year ago. The natural disaster aspects of that day are difficult for us to comprehend and a year later some communities are rebuilding while others have virtually disappeared.

This anniversary comes shortly after a band of tornadoes devastated communities in the southern United States. While far fewer people died there, those who were in the path of the storms have been traumatized.

In each situation people have gathered to pray as a way to seek solace for events truly beyond our understanding. These disasters didn't occur in developing nations. Both Japan and the U.S. have early warning systems and are among the more advanced and wealthy countries of the world. Yet in each instance the force of the elements proved overwhelming. Our sense of security is important in order to carry on from day to day, but we are shaken when these events unfold because we realize our fragility.

One heart-wrenching story is of the Japanese mother whose child was swept away while at school. She left her job, has trained to become a heavy equipment operator, and now spends each day with a large backhoe, excavating the area around the school in search of her child's remains.

God be with all these folk in their recovery.

What are your thoughts about these natural disasters? Is there just no sense to it all? There but for the grace of God?

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Heavens Declare

Don't you wish you had been in the Northwest Territories a couple of nights ago. Okay, maybe not but the Aurora Borealis was/were spectacular by all accounts. The solar storm which could have played havoc with electrical grids and GPSs and other gizmos was kind to the planet, but Earth was a nice big conductor for all that energy for the sun, and it manifests itself as the Northern Lights. Very cool.
When were were in Cuba recently we were walking on the grounds of the resort and noticed the young guy in front of us was standing still, looking skyward. This wasn't just a "made ya look" exercise. He pointed excitedly to Venus and Jupiter in the night sky and told us that Mercury would be in line with them later on. Turned out that he is a young astronomer from Quebec and the lack of light pollution and different perspective made the resort a great place to sky watch. Very cool also.
We Earthlings tend to be earth-bound, rarely looking to the heavens. This week's psalm, number 19, says:
The heavens are telling the glory of God;
and the firmament proclaims God's handiwork.
Day to day pours forth speech,
and night to night declares knowledge.
Do you know much about the heavens above? Have you noticed the difference through the decades as light pollution affects what we can see? Have you ever had an experience of Northern Lights, Milky Way, one of the comets or meteor showers, which has knocked your socks off?

Friday, March 09, 2012

The Silent Epidemic

There is a sobering but worthwhile article in the latest United Church Observer about the growing number of Canadians living with dementia in its various forms. The cover has the headline The Silent Epidemic and notes that a new case of dementia is diagnosed every five minutes in Canada and that in 25 years it will be every two minutes. In the article we're told that in 2008 the estimated cost to the health care system was $8 billion and by 2038 it will be 92 billion.
We're asked how congregations will deal with this crisis. At St. Paul's we realize the growing reality of dementia in our culture and congregation. We probably have two dozen or more members who are dealing with Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia. I visit them, as does our pastoral care worker, Beth. And Beth has done an excellent job of setting up pastoral volunteers who visit these folk, and many others.
We make a point of reading scripture and praying during our visits, even if individuals seem to be unresponsive. I have shared stories with you of persons who tell family I have been in to visit even though they seem not to be mentally present when I am with them. We also try to support family members who feel the strain of providing care.
I agree, though, that our United Church and individual congregations need to develop a strategy for addressing this unique and growing pastoral care reality. While this never comes up in conversations about amalgamating congregations, surely we can provide more effective ministry to our elderly members if resources are brought together. There are an increasing number of part-time ministries and those clergy simply won't be able to keep up with the pastoral load.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

International Women's Day

This morning the radio reminded me of International Women's Day. Sometimes these important celebrations and commemorations sneak up on me, and while I have already blogged for today I will add some thoughts.
First of all, I am grateful that our two lovely daughters, both in their mid-twenties, along with our daughter-in-law, have grown up in this wonderful country. They believe they are persons of worth and they not only have access to higher education, they have excellent health care and are protected by the law. While there is still a gap in pay for women and men, it has been closing during their lifetimes. Our daughters have grown up in a Christian denomination which sees women as equals, and know women clergy.
They also admire their mother and her important work with a women's shelter. But there is the shadow side. Yesterday Ruth spent the day in court with a woman who needed her support. I am still shocked by stories of psychological and physical abuse which hardly seem possible in this country. I am dismayed to hear of clergy colleagues from other traditions who encourage women to stay in or return to abusive situations because it is "God's will."
I have also continued to follow the inquiry into the debacle of policing in Vancouver, where dozens of women were murdered by Robert Pickton, in part because the disappeared were sex workers and aboriginal, therefore not really considered of consequence. My cousin Pauline, aboriginal but adopted as a child, worked those streets during the time of those murders, so I can't help but pay attention. Yesterday Robyn Gervais (above) the lawyer for the aboriginal women quit because after 36 days of testimony not one woman has been invited to the stand. She says that she won't continue against the phalanx of lawyers working on behalf of the police.
We can be thankful for the rights of women in this country, but we sure aren't where we need to be yet. We can continue to work and pray for justice.
What are your thoughts on International Women's Day.

Left Behind

There is a best-selling series of "Christian" Left Behind novels which focus on the prospects of a day when Christ returns and the unrepentant are not swept up in the Rapture. I have tried to read a couple just to understand the phenomenon, but they annoy me so much I can't get past the first chapters. They claim to be Christian, but the scare tactics and picture of a vengeful God and Christ consigning the vast majority of the world to hell is not biblical in my opinion. What is truly scary is that many people read these books as gospel --literally.
I thought about being left behind after tornadoes swept through areas of the United States a few days ago. There were heart-breaking stories of children snatched from the protective arms of parents because the force of the vortex was just too powerful. Stunned survivors lamented the loss of neighbours and neighbourhoods. These poor souls will probably never overcome their sense of loss and deserve our prayers.
We're told that the band of destructive tornadoes was the worst recorded for early March and some experts suggest that they may be a product of climate change. For some reason folk will enthusiastically read fiction about Christ's return and the disastrous results, but deny that human activity could be creating a very different Left Behind phenomenon which would affect every nook and cranny of the planet.
As Christians we want to live with hope rather than fear, because Jesus invited us repeatedly to live beyond fear. It seems to me that hopeful living is responsible living and care for creation.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

God's Gift

I seem to have been talking about our young people a fair amount lately, but I suppose it's because I figure we should celebrate their gifts and importance within congregational life.

On Sunday morning one of our 17-year-old's was at the church at 9:30 along with the gang of Junior Choir members. Nancy was leading choir in Allanah's absence and on Saturday evening gave Christopher a call to ask if he would accompany the practice. He is not only a good keyboard player, he sight reads well, and agreed to come. What a talented and committed guy! Later he and several other young people took on various responsibilities during worship, everything from reading scripture to projection and video.

After the service another of our teens approached me about the sermon I had just preached. I was speaking about the covenant with Abraham and Sarah as an opportunity for interfaith dialogue amongst the three great monotheistic religions. She is in a religious studies course at school and the discussion has been spirited about who is "in" and who is "out." Kerry thanked me for my message and we talked for a few minutes. She is quite thoughtful about it all, and it was the most involved conversation I had about that message.

I've said it before, but our children and youth are not some commodity which we are investing in for our future. They are intelligent, spiritual persons who are in relationship with God, right now. They are also a gift of God to our community. We can learn from their commitment and thoughtfulness.

Does it encourage you to hear about our young people? Any other thoughts or comments?

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

Last Supper

Usually I am "ahead of the game" with my blogs so the early birds can take a peek first thing. Not today, but it gives me a chance to immediately respond to a discussion this morning on CBC radio. Apparently there is a new book in which a number of chefs share what they would eat for their last meal. The host of Metro Morning, Matt Galloway, asked the rest of the team what they would choose, which was, as one might expect, quite varied. Then the discussion was opened to the listening audience, through Twitter.
There was an immediate flood of responses, everything from KFC (gack) to complete menus including wine. A number of people, including Matt, insisted that it wasn't just the food, it was the setting. In his case it was around his large dining room table with family and friends.
We are in the season of Lent and in the last days before Easter we will gather for a commemorative meal, a Last Supper, on the evening of Maundy Thursday. There will be loaves of home-made bread and chalices of juice and the participants will find their way to the table. It is an attempt, and a fairly successful one, to create an intimacy which isn't usually present in the formalized celebration of communion which is necessary with large groups of people.
What would be on the menu for your "last supper?" Where would it take place? Do you have a memory of an intimate Last Supper?

Monday, March 05, 2012

Giving Up Resentment

We were told two weeks ago that Nelson Mandela, the first black leader of South Africa, was hospitalized. He has Old-age-itis, the ailments of surpassing his ninetieth birthday. It is remarkable that he survived decades in Robbens Island prison.
It is just as remarkable that he chose a path for the nation which at least attempted to move people beyond retribution. He set the example by forgiving his enemies.
As it happens I came upon a Mandela quote in a book on forgiveness: "Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies." Simple but true.
Is it possible to give up resentment on the way to forgiveness? Should we all give up resentment for Lent.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Love Your Frenemies

The radio show DNTO did a piece on "frenemies" recently. It was fairly wide ranging, looking at the friends who offend and irritate but somehow remain friends, as well as those we might consider enemies with whom we are able to find common ground.
It got me thinking about the notion of frenemies. Jesus asked what good it is to love those who love you --after all, who wouldn't? He tells his listeners to love their enemies, and let them bring out the best of us rather than the worst.
This is a tough one. Lots of people talk to me about the problems they have with family members, both those who are "born family" and those they take on as family through marriage. Often they admit that they hate someone they once loved particularly after a tough divorce or custody battle. Family member can often be the Lucy to our Charlie Brown, pulling away the football of trust, over and over again.
Do you have frenemies? Are you winning or losing in the challenge of loving them? Can it be loving to walk away? What was Jesus thinking?

Saturday, March 03, 2012


Last Saturday we drove to Kingston to visit my mother and I will confess that on the drive home we sighed at the prospect of heading out in the evening for the Loaves and Fishes concert. Hey, I work Sunday mornings and I like a quiet Saturday night.

It turned out that the concert was quite inspiring for a number of reasons. It was a nice mix of spiritual and secular music, as well as opportunities for the audience/congregation to join in. This is a group of mixed ages and I think we were all impressed by the talent of the teens and young adults, along with their willingness to go "out on a limb" doing solos and duets. In turn the audience was very appreciative. What a positive environment in which to demonstrate God-given gifts.

The "free will" offering amounted to just over $500 which will be matched by a United Church grant. Jonathan, one of the Loaves (or is he a Fish?) is off to El Salvador for a youth mission trip in two weeks, and the $500 x 2 will go to a Vacation Bible School with over a thousand participants in that country. Impressive.

We should all be grateful for the four adults who work with this group of young people.

Where any of you there? Did you find the concert as uplifting as we did? Other comments?

Friday, March 02, 2012

Young Christians

I asked a grandmother who brought her four-year-old grandson to the Ash Wednesay service what his reaction was, after the fact. She told me that he was "flying high," that evening, excited to be included. He wouldn't wash off his cross before bed, assuring his grandmother that he would sleep so that it wouldn't rub off. He was disappointed the next morning because it did smear. He wanted to show the cross to his teacher and others, so they did a little mascara touch-up. The comment which has kept me glowing is "David makes me feel special."
We can't underestimate the importance of symbols to our young people. One of our tweens asked her mother if Lent is the time when we get rid of our Hallelujahs, which it is. She remembers being perplexed by the "J" in hallelujah.
This past Sunday we began the series of covenant passages for this year in Lent and I asked the kids what a promise is. One hand shot up, but the little guy pondered long enough that I wondered if he was stuck. No, just framing his answer which was "it's when you say you will do something, and then you do it." Could you come up with a better definition on the spot and in front of a couple of hundred people?
In the prayer box there was a request from another young 'un for enough blankets for everybody.
What a remarkable group of young Christians.Sometimes the connections they make may seem a little fuzzy but they are learning their faith, step by step.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Snow Day

Yesterday morning's bible study was great -- lots of stimulating conversation with seventeen bright and inquisitive Christians. But truth be told, I was looking forward to a snow day. I go to work when it snows, as does my wife Ruth, because we can both get there in minutes. But it can feel like a holiday when other activities are cancelled and there is opportunity to accomplish certain things which often get pushed into the background or are aching for attention, akin to a toothache. Yesterday wasn't nearly what was predicted.
Snow in Southern Ontario is almost never interpreted positively on the news. We get warned in really silly ways of impending storms, which this winter just haven't materialized. The next day the news is about why the storm didn't descend on us like the wrath of God and why people are annoyed at the inaccurate forecast. Snow is all about the almighty commute and nothing else really matters.
There was an article by Rodney Clapp in the latest issue of the Christian Century about snow and it's beauty:
Some­times it falls like dust, accumulating like soil. Other times it falls in clumpy, heavy flakes, splattering as it hits the ground. Either way, it leaves that ground white and smooth, trackless and bright with hope of new beginnings. It limns the tree limbs with frosting and makes the power wires glisten with ice.Snow brings a hush, a muffling quiet to busy neighborhoods. It really does change the world, beveling its rough edges of sight and sound.Farmers love snow. It is, as my farming grandmother used to say, good moisture. It covers evenly and melts gently, doing little to erode the topsoil. Dogs delight in snow. Our labradoodle runs and jumps through it, digs into...eats it like a delicacy, like manna falling from heaven.
Not for nothing does the Psalmist exhort "fire and hail, snow and frost" to praise God through its creaturely occurrence (148:8). The Bible's writers are struck most by snow's whiteness, and in it they see reflected holiness—not a self-righteous sort of holiness, but the holiness that brings cleansing and new, capacious life. "Wash me," the Psalmist cries, "and I shall be whiter than snow" (51:7). Similarly, and most famously, God promises Isaiah, "though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be like snow" (1:18). Snow can be tiresome and even deadly—it sometimes freezes and smothers people and other creatures. But snow can be a cipher of holiness, a sign of renewal and hope. In the lengthening calendar of winter, when the white stuff comes yet again and the shovel grows heavy, let there be a prayer of thanksgiving for snow.
I like it. How about you? Are you missing snow this winter? Gift from God or good riddance?