Thursday, May 31, 2012

Consider It Done!

On Sunday we took our administrator, Helen, totally off guard by acknowledging her twenty five years of ministry at St. Paul's during worship. I use the word "ministry" rather than "work" or even "service" because a good secretary or administrator in a congregation realizes that she or he will often be the frontline person in the broader picture of effective pastoral care, outreach, and even worship.

Helen has done this job admirably through the years. For six years it was with Rev. Ed, then nine years with Rev. Nancy and another nine avec moi. There was a transition year from one pastorate to the next, a number of other staff positions, and an ever-changing corps of congregants who take on roles of leadership.

I am amazed at Helen's ability to get her work done with such efficiency given the constant interruptions. Often she hears about the travails and triumphs of our folk before I do as they stop by for a quick chat. The best of the adminstrators I have worked with through the decades are supportive collaborators in providing the best ministry possible and Helen is at the top of the list.

Our Child and Youth Worker, Laura, gave Helen a plaque some time ago which says Consider it Done as a response to her efficiency. It is so apt for Helen who seems to respond to each request almost before we have finished voicing it.

Well done, good and faithful servant!


Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Restorative Justice

The Christian Century magazine had a short article in a recent issue about a couple of teen vandals who defaced a synagogue in Iowa with anti-Semitic slurs. Fortunately they were caught and most people were so outraged they wanted them prosecuted to the full extent of the law.
Instead the rabbi, Stephen Fink, met with the teens as part of a restorative justice process. In the meeting several Holocaust survivors shared their stories. The youths were told that it is the Jewish tradition to work for forgiveness. Each performed 200 hours of community service for the synagogue and in return the charges were dropped. It turned out that the teen boy came from an abusive family situation, ran away from home, and connected with the Aryan Nation, a racist group.
Who knows? This alternative approach may make a difference in the lives of these two. There are no guarantees, but a criminal record probably wouldn't change much and this way the subjects of the racist acts were given the opportunity to show a human face.
What are your thoughts? Too easy an out? A step in the right direction?

Tuesday, May 29, 2012


On Sunday morning we got a call that one of our elderly members was in the critical care unit of the local hospital. Our Pastoral Care Worker, Beth, was the first to respond and I followed later. This man has been dealing with a number of health issues but he has been a quiet but strong support to his wife of almost 50 years. She sat as his bedside as he struggled for consciousness and fought the multi-tentacled tubes and wires. I wondered if he would make it through the night but he did, and yesterday I was in again and he knew me.
This morning I was there before his wife and other members of his family. One of the first things he said to me was "how is M?" referring to his life partner. These moments are so touching and such a testament to life-long love and the "in sickness and in health" portion of the wedding vows.
Once again we prayed for peace and strength not only for him but for his wife and I left feeling I had been in the midst of something holy.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Theological Bloopers

Tom Beaudoin is a theology prof at Fordham University in the U.S. He has posted student bloopers, the sometimes desperate and highly amusing attempts of students to interpret what he has imparted to them as they write exams. Here is an example:

On Scripture

The closest written text to the period of the Big Bang is the Bible, which is
the underlying scripture of the Christian tradition, and one of the earliest and
most influential texts available for theologians. In the Bible, God is loving,
forgiving, powerful, and a creationist. In the Book of Genius, God created all
the living and nonliving, proclaiming his intention ‘good.’

For tempting Adam and Eve, God scalds the serpent. With regard to Adam and Eve,
I am so tired of being told that because of two fictitious people
I am not dancing around naked with Brittany Spheres.

God promised never to erase mankind again but there is no
mention that He won’t screw with us. God led the Israelites out of Egypt to the
land of cannon, so they could make scarifeces in the woods. God wreaks havoc on
the Egyptians in a fairy tale manor. I really like interrupting the scriptures
in class.

Luke’s gospel tells of shepherds who come to worship a babe. In the Greek
language of the Gospel of John, Jesus is described as the “haggis” or Word of
God. Mary Magdalene was the first to see the woman Christ. Women were
whitenesses of the death of Jesus. Jesus always tells people that he is the sun
of God. Jesus amazed people, starting with his emasculate conception. The
passion of Christ is a dramatic, griping story. The New Testament ends with the
reformation, and allows the writers to see into heaven. The Bible should not be
rewritten because it is apart of the Christian Tradition.

Jesus as the haggis? I did not know he was Scottish! How did "Brittany Spheres" get into the "Book of Genius?" Ah, dear readers, I laughed until I cried.

Am I alone in finding this hilarious?

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Wind Warning

This is the day of Pentecost in the Christian church, a Big Three event in the liturgical year which doesn't get the attention that Christmas and Easter receive. A little like Chris Bosh playing alongside Lebron James and Dwane Wade (any b-ball fans out there?)Yet we wouldn't be the church without the mind-boggling events of that first remarkable Pentecost recording in Acts chapter two.
We talked about the work of the Holy Spirit as wind/breath/spirit in bible study this past week and I used a Holy Spirit Scale I developed years ago, tongue firmly in cheek, to correspond with the Beaufort Wind Scale.
Our Child and Youth Worker, Laura, commented that they had talked about Pentecost in Sunday School last Sunday and one little boy wanted to know if the wind of the spirit wrecked things. She assured him "no," but then wondered if she might have offered a different answer. On the Beaufort Scale a Force 9 wind might skin shingles off a roof and do other damage. Not terribly destructive but packing a punch.

Holy Spirit Scale

Church Type Effects

1. Rest in Peace –The only members are in the cemetery

2 Last Stages – Only those with grey, white or blue hair attend

3 Congregation Hanging On – Squabbling over every decision

4. House Proud – Love the building more than God

5 Nostalgia Central – The Good Ol’ Days matter more than this moment

6. Social Christians – Plenty of good will but not much talk about Jesus

7 Desire for Ministry & Mission -- Signs of life but more talk than action

8 Thriving Through the Generations – Christ at the centre, flexible at the edges

9 Mature and Vibrant Faith – Joyful worship and commitment to justice

10 Praise Gone Wild -- Entertainment rather than worship

11 Too Religious for Their Own Good -- Members figure they are Jesus’ body guards

12 Welcome to our Cult!

The Holy Spirit Scale 9 is Mature and Vibrant Worship -- Joyful worship and commitment to justice. Laura wondered if we aren't afraid of the shingles coming off the roof to the extent that we won't venture into new and renewing areas.
I hope the children leading worship today fill our sails and encourage us in new directions.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Conflict's End?

At the recent NATO Conference in Chicage our prime minister, Stephen Harper, said firmly and clearly that while Canada will continue to provide financial aid to Afghanistan, our military mission is over. While my initial reaction is "thank God" I am also deeply saddened by that decade in which158 and women lost their lives, and more than 2000 others were injured. Some of them will struggle to live meaningful lives as a result of psychological and physical disabilities.
Billions of dollars were spent on the war which most now agree didn't accomplish much. Even the much ballyhooed assassination of Osama Bin Laden happened near the end of that decade and in another country.
Jeffrey Simpson of the Globe and Mail said it much better than I can and I encourage you to read the article. What I can offer is my reflection that the intense emotions connected to both war and religion can easily become confused, and religion can be coopted to support war out of the best of intentions. After all they both extoll unselfish behaviour and the willingness to sacrifice for a greater good. The trouble is that that "good" can often become obscured.
Again it is important to be grateful for the bravery and sacrificial service of our military personnel. We can pray for a new order in Afghanistan despite our cynicism about what has existed there for centuries.
What are your thoughts in light of Prime Minister Harper's announcement?

Friday, May 25, 2012

Women in God's Image

I mentioned recently that I have a lot of time for certain nuns. One of them is Joan Chittister, a Benedictine who is very wise and whose books are deeply thoughtful. Recently she offered this liturgical prayer and even though it is long and obviously Roman Catholic, I thought it worth sharing. Maybe the Vatican will take it to heart. We could do a study group on all the women she includes:
Dear God, creator of women in your own image,
born of a woman in the midst of a world half women,
carried by women to mission fields around the globe,
made known by women to all the children of the earth,
give to the women of our time the strength to persevere,
the courage to speak out,the faith to believe in you beyond
all systems and institutions
so that your face on earth may be seen in all its beauty,
so that men and women become whole,
so that the church may be converted to your will
in everything and in all ways.
We call on the holy women who went before us,
channels of Your Word in testaments old and new,
to intercede for us so that we might be given the grace
to become what they have been for the honor and glory of God.
Saint Esther, who pleaded against power
for the liberation of the people, -Pray for us.
Saint Judith, who routed the plans of men and saved the community,
Saint Deborah, laywoman and judge, who led the people of God,
Saint Elizabeth of Judea, who recognized the value of another woman,
Saint Mary Magdalene, minister of Jesus,first evangelist of the Christ,
Saint Scholastica, who taught her brother Benedictto honor the spirit above the system,
Saint Hildegard, who suffered interdict for the doing of right,
Saint Joan of Arc, who put no law above the law of God,
Saint Clare of Assisi, who confronted the pope with the image of woman as equal,
Saint Julian of Norwich, who proclaimed for all of us the motherhood of God,
Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, who knew the call to priesthood in herself,
Saint Catherine of Siena, to whom the pope listened,
Saint Teresa of Avila, who brought women's gifts to the reform of the church,
Saint Edith Stein, who brought fearlessness to faith,
Saint Elizabeth Seton, who broke down boundaries between lay women and religious
by wedding motherhood and religious life,
Saint Dorothy Day, who led the church to a new sense of justice,
* * *
Mary, mother of Jesus,who heard the call of God and answered,
Mary, mother of Jesus,who drew strength from the woman Elizabeth,
Mary, mother of Jesus,who underwent hardship bearing Christ,
Mary, mother of Jesus, who ministered at Cana,
Mary, mother of Jesus, inspired at Pentecost,
Mary, mother of Jesus, who turned the Spirit of God
into the body and blood of Christ, pray for us. Amen.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Praying Well With Others

When children are young it seems to be a high compliment that they "play well with others." Too often church folk act childishly when it comes to getting along with those from other denominations and I always figure it reflects badly on us to a world looking for some signs that organized religion is still worthwhile.

Today about 100 Christians and leaders from local government (they may also be Christians!) are gathering for what is being called the Mayor's and Community Leaders Prayer Breakfast. Here is the explanation:

The purpose of the Mayor's and Community Leaders Prayer Breakfast is to invite
leaders to meet in the spirit of Jesus Christ in order to pray together. You are
invited to join other leaders of Clarington for breakfast and fellowship as we
pray for the leaders in our Business Community, Political Leaders, Police and

Emergency Services, Schools, Hospital and Churches.

Honestly, this is something evangelical churches are more inclined to do but I am a member of the Bowmanville Ministerial and support all efforts for ecumenical dialogue. This is the most active and collaborative ministerial I have been in through the years.

There are about fifteen St. Paul's folk who will attend and I trust it will be a positive event as we "pray well with others."

What do you think?

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Youth Isn't Wasted on the Young

A couple of Wednesday's ago our board met and we heard a worthwhile presentation on installing solar panels on a portion of our church roof. The presenter was from a company that has done a number of United Church installations and what he showed us seems "doable" and an excellent proposition both ecologically and financially. The groundwork for this was done by Ryan, the vice-chair of our board who is in his early thirties.
Later another thirty-something member, Adam, outlined the plans to install wi-fi throughout the St. Paul's structure, which will help in a number of ways, including making our Sunday School curriculum more versatile.
The lone teen on the board, Jonathan, shared his decision to explore a vocation in ministry, which everyone applauded. All this was recorded by the secretary of the board, Janet, who is in her late twenties and extremely capable.
I am heartened by the involvement of these younger adults. Their lives are very full but they are finding time to put their faith into constructive action in the decision-making of our congregation.
We have been blessed by strong lay leadership during the years I have been at St. Paul's and our current chair is a gem who apparently enjoys the job so much he has done it twice while I have been here. He is the first to agree that it is essential to bring another generation into leadership roles. They bring fresh eyes, fresh skills, fresh energy into our community and we are the better for it. We also have a number of people in their forties within our committees and the board and they are rather frisky as well! There is an old expression that youth is wasted on the young, but it must have been coined by an oldie who didn't appreciate change.
Any comments on what needs to happen with the "changing of the guard?" Do you see St. Paul's as a congregation that makes room for the energy of youth? Can we do better in this regard? Hey, it is Pentecost Sunday this coming weekend.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Shores of Souls

"Love one another but make not a bond of love: Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls. Fill each other's cup but drink not from one cup."
Before a recent wedding I waited with our organist, Doug, and we chatted about the various trends we have seen for wedding ceremonies which come and go in waves, apparently on the shores of souls.
Back in the 1980's it seemed as though every other couple wanted these words from The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran to be read during their wedding ceremonies. I am partial to the bible myself so my compromise was to let someone else read them apart from the scripture readings. Mercifully I don't get asked for this one anymore. I find it all pretty goopy.
A recent article in the BBC news service took a look at Gibran, although I'm not sure why because it wasn't attached to an anniversary.
"Many people turned away from the establishment of the Church to Gibran," says Professor Juan Cole, historian of the Middle East at the University of Michigan who has translated several of Gibran's works from Arabic. "He offered a dogma-free universal spiritualism as opposed to orthodox religion, and his vision of the spiritual was not moralistic. In fact, he urged
people to be non-judgmental." Despite the immense popularity of his writing, or perhaps because of it, The Prophet was panned by many critics in the West who thought it simplistic, naive and lacking in substance.
Curious that the requests have dried up in this "spiritual rather than religious" time we live in, although fewer couples get married in a church anyway. Do any of you remember readings from The Prophet at weddings? Did you include one in your ceremony? Never heard of him before?

Monday, May 21, 2012

Living Planet

I always brace myself for the exodus of this weekend and its impact on worship attendance. The beautiful forecast means that many of us will be enjoying time out-of-doors, and why not. Even in heavily populated Southern Ontario we are blessed with lakes, trails, and many churchgoers will be cottage-goers this long weekend.

We are also a wealthy nation which is Bigfoot in terms of its ecological footprint, This has been confirmed by the World Wildlife Fund Living Planet report released recently.

Canada continues to add to its ecological debt through unsustainable consumption of its natural resources, says a new report released Tuesday by an international conservation group.The Living Planet Report, released by WWF International, said the footprint of the average Canadian is 2 1/2 times greater than that of the planet's average citizen. More than half of that Canadian footprint is coming from the consumption of fossil fuels, such as gasoline and the resulting heat-trapping gases that cause global warming.The conservation group said that humans would need 3.5 planets to meet their resource demands if all people consumed as much as the average Canadian.
Would you say you are doing more or less today than a year ago, or five, when it comes to your ecological footprint? Are you more or less discouraged? What should the role of the church be? Government?

Saturday, May 19, 2012

The Cupcake Club

The Cupcakes are shutting down for the summer. I mean the fifteen or so little tykes who have been meeting at St. Paul's for the Cupcake Club, a group name as enticing as you're going to find. These children come together to play, learn about God, and --you guessed it -- eat cupcakes. What's not to like?

Last Saturday I arrived at the church to prepare for a wedding and there was the gang of them on the lawn, having lots of fun with a parachute. I got a dose of waves and a couple of leg tackles, aka hugs, and went on my way.

I am so impressed that this group is happening and provides another entry point to life in Christian community for our children, to go along with Junior Choir, Sunday School, Junior Young Peoples, and Hi-C. I never would have thought of a Cupcake Club, so thank God for Laura, our child and youth staff person, as well as the parents who provide support.

And thank God for children!

Any cupcake parents out there who care to comment? Any other thoughts or kudos?

Friday, May 18, 2012

Faith for All Ages

Last evening we wrapped up our Confirmation/Exploring our Faith sessions for this Spring. The group numbered fifteen with seven teens, several thirty-somethings, a couple in their fifties and another in their sixties. This year I included interviews with four people who have joined the church in recent years with the teens, twenties, thirties and beyond represented. All four of the interviewees have become quite involved in congregational life, rather than viewing confirmation as graduation.

I have enjoyed this varied group and I chatted with the woman from the couple in their sixties the other day. She good-humouredly suggested that they were the fogeys, which they aren't. She went on to comment on how impressed she is by the seven teens. We agreed that they are self-confident, thoughtful, willing to talk about faith. And she knows this is a rarity in mainline churches these days, including the Anglican church from which they came.

Once again I gave credit to the excellent leadership with children and youth we have enjoyed through the years, both volunteers and paid staff. I am convinced that our commitment to a staff member for children and youth has returned rich dividends in the faith development of our young people. Of course the term Confirmation refers to confirming the decisions of parents in baptism, and I hope all of the group feels that they are affirming and confirming their faith in Christ.


Thursday, May 17, 2012

Might Makes Right?

During Holy Week, the period leading up to Easter, we were reminded that Jesus, the Christ, was incarcerated, tortured, and put to death by one of the most effective regimes to ever exist on the planet. The Romans did have a rule of law for those who were considered citizens, but it was still harsh for those who challenged authority, and draconian for those who were subjects of occupied lands. So while Christians claim that the crucifixion of Jesus has cosmic significance, it was also a brutal form of execution employed to control those who might be considering insurrection. Crude but effective.
Yesterday a scathing 300-page report was issued about the tactics of police in Toronto during the G-20 meetings two years ago. Yes, there were anarchists on hand who were intent on mayhem. They deserved to be apprehended and punished. But most of the protesters assumed that they had the freedom of peaceful and lawful assembly, enshrined in our Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Instead police chose to aggressively suppress those assemblies, herd people together without cause, actually physically attack and humiliate some who were either peacefully protesting or passing by. Even journalists with credentials such as the one pictured above were rounded up.
The acts of the anarchists were shameful. So were the actions of far too many police officers and their superiors. What a dark stain on democracy, a form of government often argued to have grown out of Judeo-Christian values.
We know that policing can be tough work. But Canada is not a police state, not even temporarily, and I hope that message is being heard loudly and clearly through this report. Might does not make right. I hope as well that there will be repercussions for those who acted outside the law rather than enforcing it.
What was your reaction to yesterday's report?

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Tomato Whisperer

I love it when people of different generations connect with each other in this family of faith! A senior citizen who has an amazing ability to grow vegetables (hey, he was born in the Netherlands) offered tomato plants he had started as a fundraiser for our young people.
The youth have been making meals for our freezer bank which distributes them to those in the congregation and beyond who may be going through a season in their lives where meal prep is a chore. Jan gives them the tomato plants, the congregation makes donations for the plants, and the money is used to buy groceries for the meal preparation. Well, $260 later the young people have the cash to make meals.
Thanks to Jan, the Tomato Whisperer.
How good is this!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

A Year in the Woods

I just read a lovely little book about a hired assassin. A Year in the Woods is actually a biographical work by Colin Elford. Elford lives in Britain and is employed as as a forest ranger who has the task of selectively shooting the deer of his area who have no natural predators. If they weren't controlled they would quickly eat themselves out of house and home and compromise the surrounding forests.
Elford rises early most days and it seems rare that he doesn't shoot and kill at least one deer. Despite this jarring reality the book is about Elford's keen love of the natural world, including the deer he hunts. He takes us through all twelve months, offering his observations about the changing seasons and encounters with "all creatures great and small." His solitude brings him into close proximity with owls and badgers, butterflies and foxes. I found myself soothed and uplifted by his writing.
Elford admits to feeling pangs of sadness and guilt with each kill but also understands that by assuming the role of predator he helps to ensure the balance of this ecosystem: "If you can go on stalking and feel no pain yourself when you take a life or wound an animal, then you are not fit for the purpose."
Would reading this sort of book intrigue or anger you? As a Christian and a carnivore I regularly ponder the strange realities of meat consumption and hunting. Are you reconciled to some creatures dying for the greater good?

Monday, May 14, 2012

When Faith Departs

At the end of April National Public Radio offered a piece on religious people coming "out of the closet." No, it's not about Christians who are gay. It looks at clergy who have lost their faith, an obvious vocational dilemma. Wouldn't that be akin to a paleontologist who believes in a seven-day creation?. How can a minister/pastor/priest fulfill his or her responsibilities without a belief in God?

I actually have tremendous sympathy for clergy who get to this place. I would go so far as to say that most of us have moments of profound doubt and "dark nights of the soul" where we simply have trouble believing in a personal and caring God. It is an occupational hazard because we see it all, and think about it all. We are required to ask the profound questions of faith and answers often elude us. We watch good people suffer and die and miserable human beings prosper. We function in an institution where some individuals are mean as stink and yet claim to love Jesus (not moi of course!) It's enough to knock the faith out of the most pious of leaders.

What we hope and pray is that we will find our way back to a sense of the loving embrace of the God of life, revealed in Christ. From my perspective, so far so good, although I have developed some major speed wobbles along the way.

Despite my appreciation of the dilemma of doubt and disbelief I do feel that if this becomes a persistent state, it's time to move on. Yes, it can be scary. Yes, it means a loss of income, vocation, status. Some people just won't understand. But there has to be honesty and integrity.

The pastor featured in the NPR piece, Teresa McBain, was nine years in the ministry before realizing she couldn't continue:

"On my way to church again. Another Sunday. Man, this is getting worse," she tells her phone in one recording. "How did I get myself in this mess? Sometimes, I think to myself, if I could just go back a few years and not ask the questions and just be one of those sheep and blindly follow and not know the truth, it would be so much easier. I'd just keep my job. But I can't do that. I know it's a lie. I know it's false."

Later she concluded:

"I got to come out. I got to get out of it. It used to terrify me, what people's reaction would be. But it's been so long now and I've done this for so long, I don't even care."

McBain left the ministry with the support of her husband, who still believes. She founded an organization called The Clergy Project for clergy who no longer believe, which is a  good thing. She continues to look for work a year later and many people have shunned her, which is very sad.

I would support any colleague who realized that they no longer have faith in God. And I would pray that their faith would flourish again.

Does this surprise you? Unsettle you? What are your thoughts? Should a denomination provide some support for a minister who needs to exit ministry because faith is no longer there?

Sunday, May 13, 2012

No Greater Love

First of all, Happy Mother's Day to all you moms (mine included.) Did you know that Julia Ward Howe declared the first Mother's Day in 1870 as an empassioned call to peace?
On to Helene Campbell who became an Ellen DeGeneres, Justin Bieber-worthy cause celebre because of her need for a double lung transplant and her public appeal for organ donation.
Helene received her new lungs and afterward her parents publicly expressed gratitude for all the prayers their daughter received, and the generosity of the donor. Her dad spoke of the prayers with hands touching in the classic prayer pose and that simple gesture was very moving. It was a reminder that this sort of practical and sacrificial generosity can be a profound form of prayer.

I was reminded of her journey by Jesus' words from John's gospel for today "no one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends."
Helene went home from hospital and then back in again, so we need to pray for her recovery. And we can make sure that our driver's licenses indicate our willingness to be organ donors, as well as checking online that we are on the donor registry of our province or state.
Does it work for you that a willingness to be a donor is a prayerful, practical act? Have you registered your intentions? Are you superstitious about doing so? Just to reassure you, I did so years ago and I'm still kicking.

Saturday, May 12, 2012


Last Monday was Music Monday across Canada, a celebration of the many ways in which music touches our lives.
How appropriate that this day came just after St. Paul's members and anyone they could convince to come with them enjoyed two musical events. The first was the Annual Spring Concert featuring both Senior and Junior choirs and a number of talented individuals. The church was full, the congregation/audience had a great evening of excellent music and went away happy.
A week later many of the same people and a bunch more -- 350+ -- came together for Lynn Live Four, an every-five-year event which is the brain and soul child of Lynn L. who happens to be a choir member and a reader. Fortunately I can say good things about Lynn Live with a clear conscience. Lynn enlisted the support of her musical extended family plus some other excellent musicians for two lovely hours. Again, everyone went away satisfied and uplifted.
And I guess I should mention that the two events raised in excess of $7,000 for the life and work of St. Paul's. Impressive.
Where would we be without music as the family of faith? Every week we celebrate Music Sunday
and we are moved into the presence of God through praise.
Any comments about what music means to you? How about your response to these two events?

Friday, May 11, 2012

Sliding and Deciding

Monday morning I visited a member of the congregation who took a "that last step is a lulu" tumble from a ladder and ended up in Oshawa hospital. I sat in my car in the parking garage listening to an interview with the psychologist and researcher who wrote in the New York Times about the longevity of relationships, as well as publishing a book on the subject. her name is Dr. Meg Jay and her book is The Defining Decade which explores the assumptions of 20-somethings. Dr. Jay is the person to whom I referred last week in a blog. Her work has led her to conclude that, counter-intuitively, those who don't live together before marriage have longer lasting relationships.
She was quite calm in admitting that she has received hate mail from both sides, those who uphold the inviolability of marriage and those who consider her research flawed without looking at her methodology. She reiterated points from the article including that she has no ideological or moral bias toward marriage.
And she also noted that cohabitation can be very successful if both people enter into the relationship as a result of "deciding" rather than "sliding." Couples who decide that cohabitation is the beginning of a deep commitment are more likely than those who enter into the relationship because of convenience or to "test the waters." She is convinced through her research and practice that couples who discuss their intentions do better as staying together. She also noted that women are more inclined to see cohabitation as a sign of long-term commitment than men.
As I said in my response to the musings of my own blog entry and your comments, it is remarkable how ambivalent we have become to an institution which we once held in such high regard. I wasn't really satisfied with what I wrote or what I really wanted to say. Of course in religious communities we have always considered marriage as a commitment before God. I do believe in marriage as a covenantal act, even if it isn't a sacrament in Protestant churches the way it is in the Roman Catholic church
Any further observations on your part?

Thursday, May 10, 2012

A Calculated Gamble

Yesterday President Obama decided to declare himself on same-gender marriage in a statement that is bound to angry those to the political and religious right. The Washington Post describes his decision to endorse same-gender marriage as a "calculated gamble" aware that many fundraisers and supporters are gay.

At least Obama is willing to take a stand in a country where thirty states have passed anti-same-gender legislation. The latest to do so was North Carolina and one of the state's prominent citizens, Billy Graham, spoke against gay marriage. I'm glad that the president was willing to say that in part his decision was a matter of Christian faith, which no doubt will bring on the wrath of many. Take a look at this article from Sojourners Christian magazine which includes some of the text of Obama's remarks:

I will be at a conference in the States in July, so it will be interesting to speak with American colleagues about this. The events I attend are usually made up of folk from the liberal minority but I am always fascinated by their perspectives.
You might also be interested in these differing views from the BBC news service.

What do you think of Obama's "calculated gamble."

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Life is Wasted Without Jesus

William Swimminer, a Nova Scotia high school student was suspended for twelve days recently for wearing an offensive tee-shirt which the school and board deemed a violation of the human rights of others. What was the horrific slogan on the shirt? Well, you see it above: "Life is Wasted Without Jesus." My God --whoops, can't say that-- what depravity will young people sink to next?
Swimminer seems to be an earnest and some would say zealous --even obnoxious at times -- young man who believes that life without Jesus is unthinkable. Certainly not everyone would agree, but they are free to feel that way in this country. Somehow the school concluded that Swimminer's public but non-verbal expression of this conviction warranted more than two weeks of suspension.
There was considerable public outcry about this absurd exercise in political correctness. Among the most vocal were atheists who believe in reasonable freedom of expression. Officials first of all claimed that if the shirt read "My Life is Wasted Without Jesus" would be acceptable, as though the specifically subjective stance would make it more palatable. Eventually cooler heads prevailed and they decided that there was no violation of anyone's rights.
How bizarre. Walk the halls of a high school and it doesn't take long to hear profanity which, ironically, invokes Christ's name. There are slogans on tee-shirts which I find offensive but apparently don't upset the sensibilities of authorities. Why pick on a religious slogan, one obviously worn out of deep conviction? Surely William is well aware that this sort of statement will draw the derision of others but chooses to wear it anyway.
Does anyone else find this to be just plain strange? What does it say about the growing conviction that religion can't have any place in the public square?

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Peace Prize?

Is it just me or does anyone else think the Nobel Prize committee is feeling a little sheepish these days. They were the ones who presented President Barack Obama with the Nobel Peace Prize. At the time many people, including myself, wondered what he had done to deserve this award so soon into his presidency. Don't get me wrong, I still feel that President Obama is a major upgrade on President Bush as well as any of the current Republican candidates.

Still, Obama seems determined to brag about killing Osama Bin Laden as the campaign begins to ramp up. It's as though he's boasting about bagging a deer during huntin' season. It feeds into the whole "myth of redemptive violence" which seems pervasive in American culture. It's a tough job being president of the most powerful military machine on the planet. Looking presidential appears to include a willingness to hunt down the bad guys and shoot them dead. It's a sad statement that this becomes a plank in the campaign platform.

What are your thoughts?

Monday, May 07, 2012

Nuns Gone Wild

Nuns are cool. Well, you may feel differently if you had one of the stern ones as a piano teacher as a kid,  but I have conversed with a number of Roman Catholic sisters through the years who are smart, spiritual, and don't take a back seat to anyone. Some have addressed the connection between faith and the environment by greening their convents. Others have been fearless in addressing controversial social issues. There are even the uppity sisters who publicly question why women can't move into more significant role of leadership

Thist seems to be a problem for the Vatican. Recently it was revealed that an archbishop has been appointed in North America to ride herd on the heifers who won't stay with the herd, citng "serious doctrinal problems." The nuns union --well, that's not quite what they call themselves is stunned by this assessment.

It would be bull if there is a heavy-handed crackdown by the Vatican. The nuns offer a vibrant Christian voice in a church which is foundering under the weight of its patriarchy.

Have you heard about this? What is your reaction?

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Strength For the Moment

Not along ago I suggested to our excellent pastoral care group that a seminar and/or support group for caregivers might be a Godsend for the many people in our congregation who have the privelege and task of providing support to elderly family members. It's estimated that eight to ten thousand people turn eighty five every day (yes, every day) in North America, so the issues of elder care are very real.
Since then I saw a piece by someone named Lori Hogan which speaks to these concerns. She describes an organization called Strength for the Moment and offers Ten Tips for Caregivers.
They seemed wise to me, even though not all may fit for every person. The truth is that while the photo above shows a very positive picture of support it is often lonely, exhausting, overwhelming work. And who wants to admit resentment or frustration with those we love? The ten are:
Ask for help: Caregiving can be very demanding of an individual's time and energy. Don't suffer in silence. Ask for assistance and share your story with others at

Be patient: I once asked Paul's grandmother what she thought was one of the most valuable pieces of advice she could give me for my family. "Patience" is all she said. That advice still helps me through every situation.

Treat yourself: Schedule a foot massage, manicure, nice dinner out or a concert to take yourself away from the situation and to reward yourself for the wonderful care you are providing to your aging relative. You shouldn't feel guilty about wanting to feel good.

Take a break: So many of the caregivers in the book tried to go it alone, which is impossible in a demanding caregiving situation. Take single day's or even a week's vacation. And when you're away, stay away.

Keep moving: Even if you don't like exercise and your time is limited, keep moving. Simply taking a brief walk or parking the car as far away as possible from the store door can help.

Don't avoid the doctor: You can become so busy with your loved one's health and well-being that you neglect your own. A healthy you is worth more to your aging loved one than a sick, weak you.

Avoid junk food: Junk food, sugar and caffeine are so tempting under stress. Instead eat plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables, proteins, including nuts and beans, and whole grains.

Maintain a sense of humor: Sometimes humor is all you have, especially when dealing with a disease such as Alzheimer's. One family caregiver recalls his dad eyeing his favorite candy bar at the store. "When asked if he'd like one, Dad declined, but then could be seen slipping the treat into his pocket," the son said. "I felt like a parent who could barely contain laughter as their child misbehaves in the most hilarious way." When all else fails, laugh!

Pray: In a recent survey of family caregivers conducted for the Home Instead Senior Care network, prayer was found to be one of the top coping mechanisms for those caregivers who repress their feelings. These caregivers know the value of prayer and meditation when life becomes overwhelming. Share your prayer requests with others at
Strength for the Moment on Facebook.

Look to God: These caregiving stories reinforced my belief that strong faith and a positive attitude can guide us through even the most difficult situations. When facing difficulty, we can rely on our faith to remind us that we are not alone and that God is in control.
What do you think of these?

Saturday, May 05, 2012

Body or Bricks of Christ?

A couple of weeks ago Fenway Park, the home of the Boston Red Sox baseball team celebrated its one hundredth anniversary. There was lots of pomp and circumstance befitting this venerable institution. One writer described it as the Holy of Holies of baseball parks. How is that for a religous metaphor? Another pointed out that it was the only sports venue for a major league team in any sport to make it to the century mark. Now there is pause for thought.

But of course Maple Leaf Gardens and the Montreal Forum, true shrines of hockey, have been supplanted by the Air Canada and Bell centres. Lots of people look upon their sports teams as a form of worship -- they aren't called fans, an abbreviation of fanatics, for nothing.

Bricks and mortar institutions come and go in just about every sphere of life. Why then are we so unwilling to let our structures go when we claim that church is the people, not the buildings? I served a congregation which had to pull down its impressive city core building and start again. I would meet people who practically bragged that they hadn't been to church since the demolition. The last church I served in Halifax had spent a million dollars on the building just before I arrived and have spent a bundle since I left. Meanwhile there are a bunch of other United Churches within a couple of kilometres.

Here in Bowmanville we have two United Churches within spitting distance, although I point out that we refrain from actually doing so. Many of our rural pastoral charges are one major structural problem away from insolvency. What is the matter with us? Can't we do better than this? Is this a form of idolatry?

But maybe its just me that is puzzled by this. Ministers don't stay with one congregation forever, so we don't get as attached to the buildings, even the best of them. I realize I have written about this before, but how about you? Would you be willing to shift your place of worship a block or two if it meant stronger ministry?

Friday, May 04, 2012


Spring has sprung and the Occupy Movement in Toronto has been sending up new shoots of protest. Yesterday protestors were at the annual general meeting of Barrick Gold demonstrating against what they say are unfair and exploitive practices by this mining giant in foreign countries. Some of the protestors were from Tanzania where Barrick guards have been accused of violence and sexual attacks. The founder, Peter Munk, insists that the company is a good corporate citizen wherever it does business.

Meanwhile shareholders of another Canadian company, SNC Lavalin, the engineering firm, have been putting heat on management over allegations of bribery in foreign countries to the tune of tens of millions of dollars. A top official was arrested and charged in Switzerland. We also know that the company was involved in building a massive prison in Libya before the fall of Gaddafi. God knows what would have gone on there.

Of course these are allegations, not convictions, and this company and its leaders will have their day in court. It does raise important issues about standards for honesty and justice in foreign countries by Canadian companies. Canada gets high marks in international surveys for the low levels of corporate corruption and influence-buying within our borders. But there are murkier rules and laws elsewhere. We can assume that most companies conduct themselves with integrity, but one of the seven deadly sins is greed and it appears that some have made "deals with the devil" for financial gain.

There have been times when church groups have purchased shares in companies for the purpose of speaking at annual meetings and voicing concerns over corporate practices. Should faith groups raise these issues or stick to the business of saving souls? Who is supposed to challenge the uglier side of making a profit? Is it good that Occupiers are raising a stink?

Thursday, May 03, 2012


Does Russell Crowe look like Noah to you? He has been cast as Cap'n Noah in a film called The Ark, coming to a theatre near you sometime next year. Hey, Crowe got experience at the tiller of a period piece ship in Master and Commander, so why not Noah?

When this Genesis 9 covenant story came up during Lent this year I spoke about how unlikely it was that this was meant as a literal event. But it is a powerful metaphor which speaks to our relationship with God, the importance of faithfulness, and the bow in the sky which is a promise for all living things. Afterward a teen and a not so teen thanked me for the image of the planet as the Ark.

Does this covenant or promise passage resonate with you? Do you like Russell Crowe as Noah? Who would you cast as Mrs. Noah?

Wednesday, May 02, 2012

For Better, For Worse

This blog has been hanging around as a draft for a couple of weeks because it is one of those subjects which could easily get folk riled up in either direction. Perhaps those are the best kind!

It is about a research project in the States whose outcome suggests that couples who don't live together before tying the knot are more likely to stay married. This may sound counter-intuitive to some. Surely "test driving" cohabitation makes sense, the common wisdom goes. Not necessarily, according to this study, and a number that have been published through the years.

Sociologists are reluctant to speculate as to why this is so, but it does seem to have to do with the nature of commitment. Often those of strong religious background adhere to prohibitions of living together before marriage. Marriage does present us with a different expectation for longevity in relationship, including the premise that "what God has joined together, let no one put asunder." It's not that cohabitation doesn't allow for this, but some couples may consider their relationships as a different form of partnership than traditional marriage.

We celebrated our 36th anniversary this past week and Ruth is one of five siblings who have been married to their original partner for 35 years or more. Still, we take nothing for granted and we have many friends and family members who married with a genuine commitment to a lifelong covenant before God whose relationships came to an end. Some of those marriages proved to be very destructive and they have done better the second time around. A family member recently announced his engagement after years of saying that he would never marry again after a bad marriage and messy divorce. Our three children have all lived with a partner before marriage, which suggests that they live in a different generation with different outlooks on relationships.

I have seen a number of articles on this most recent study online and lots of the people who comment are highly critical, the opposite of the criticism which might have been levelled a generation ago. Interesting.

Do you have any answers? Let's hear 'em!

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Hell's Kitchen, God's Garden

My apologies for the missing blog yesterday and a late one today. We were away this past weekend to celebrate our anniversary and while I had scheduled posts yesterday and today they didn't show up at expected.

There is a church in a rough and tumble part of New York City which is growing nutritious food and a crop of hope on it's roof. Last year volunteers at Metro Baptist Church carried seven tons of soil and a lot of supplies to the rooftop to begin a community garden. They use plastic wading pools as the raised beds.

I quote from a Huffington Post article:

The vision for The Hell’s Kitchen Farm Project, named for the ‘Hell’s Kitchen’ neighborhood in which the church is located, is to create a hub of urban agriculture that grows vegetables and contributes to greater food security in the neighborhood, while providing a platform for education on nutrition and environmental sustainability.

Now in its second year, the rooftop farm has become an integral part of the church's identity. “I think of it as public witness,” explains Metro Baptist’s current pastor, Rev. Alan Sherouse, "The farm project has given people another point of entry to our church, community ministry and our understanding of the Gospel.”

I think this a remarkable Grass Roots (Veggie Roots?)initiative. How about you?