Saturday, June 30, 2012

Wild Fires

A week ago I contacted a good friend in Colorado about a massive wildfire raging just north of their community. Not only has it burned over a significant area of scenic beauty, more than 250 homes were destroyed. She told me that while the fire was 30 to 40 kilometres to the north they were forced to hold their Vacation Bible School, which she directed, entirely inside because the smoke was so heavy. A couple of the kids still struggled because of asthma.

Another fire has developed to the south of Denver and again it is huge, fast-moving, and has already destroyed many homes. It is an area which is home to someone else I know, a fellow who was a roommate when I took a course at Ghost Ranch in New Mexico, where there are also fires.

Many of the places we enjoyed during our vacation week in Colorado last summer are off limits to tourists now because of these fires. They include the spectacular Garden of the Gods area with its unique red rock formations. This is such a beautiful state and it is sad to know it is in flames.

The very high temperatures of this early summer, up near 40 degrees celsius have contributed to one of the worst fire seasons in memory, and it is only June. Once again scientists are asking whether this is another example of the effects of climate change, as they did last summer in Texas where the combination of heat and drought led to terrible fires. Read this reflection by a climate change scientists who is a Christian.

Do you know anyone affected? What are your thoughts about all this?

Friday, June 29, 2012

Summer Worship

We have been busy setting up the hall for summer worship beginning this week, July 1st. Thanks to a generous donation the hall is now air-conditioned. It has already been a boon for several events, including The Gathering Place community meal, funeral luncheons, the Strawberry Tea, and Newcomers Dinner. The kitchen itself is also much cooler for those who are doing the food preparation.

While it would have been an expensive proposition to install A/C in the sanctuary, and costly to run, we can set up for well over a hundred people in the hall. We have moved in chairs, the necessary "holy hardware" and everything else we need to give God the glory from week to week. And when I say "we", I have to give credit to Edna, our custodian, who has done most of the haulin' and totin' when we weren't looking. The office staff has been figuring out how to do projection in this space and Doug has eye-balled the area for music leadership.

I hope you will join us for worship through the summer. There is a low-key but Christian program for kids, and Jesus promises to be present wherever two or three are gathered together. We hope we can do a bit better than that!


Thursday, June 28, 2012


I am the Light of the World
You people come and follow me.
If you follow and love,
You'll learn the mystery
Of what you were meant to do and be.
Can you say philumenist? Could you define it? I was listening to an interesting segment of CBC's Under the Influence with Terry O'Reilly. He used to do the Age of Persuasion and both shows look at the power of advertising and the innovation that goes with it.
The piece to which I was listening talked about the person who came up with the idea of advertising on matchbook covers. His agency made big bucks on this one, even though it was greeted with some skepticism at the beginning. It continued to be a success until the invention of disposable lighters.
People took up collecting matchbook covers as a hobby and a term was developed to describe them --philumenists, or lovers of light.
It struck me that as Christians we are philumenists, lovers and reflectors of Christ's light. So much of religion including forms of Christianity is gloomy and dark. So many miserable, shadowy things are perpetrated in God's name.
We really need to ask ourselves daily how we are living the light of Christ in our homes, communities, the world. Actually, I encounter good, generous, compassionate Christians all the time. It's important that we uphold these stories, to make sure we don't "hide our light under a bushel" as Jesus puts it in the Sermon on the Mount. We are meant to be light-bearers, philumenists.
Do you know lovers of light? Is your faith community made up of active philumenists?

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Ethical Investing

Our son Isaac serves a relatively small but growing United Church congregation in the idyllic Eastern Townships of Quebec. While they may not be big in numbers they have a sizeable investment portfolio because of the sale of buildings and property. The money is invested through one of Canada's big banks and the trustees feel they are acting responsibly.
Isaac has invited them to consider the United Church Foundation as an alternative. You might not have heard of this foundation but it has a number of goals, including ethical investments:
The Foundation's own endowments are invested in a balanced fund managed by Fiera
Capital Inc. The fund the Foundation has chosen adheres to the
responsible investment
requirements of the church.
The emphasis on "socially responsible" is mine. Presumably Christian institutions want their investments to pass the ethical "smell test" although in some cases folk may be willing to turn a blind eye when it comes to making their money work for them.
When Ike investigated their portfolio he discovered that it includes Lockheed Martin, one of the largest arms manufacturers in the world. They are building the controversial F-35 fighter jets which will cost Canadian taxpayers a bundle. In addition the investments include a tobacco company, a maker of video lottery terminals for gambling, an internet content producer which includes porn, and one of the Alberta oil sands giants. Yuck, yuck, and more yuck.
Isaac has yet to present this information to the trustees, so he doesn't know how they will respond. He figures they will be surprised. He doubts they know what he has discovered.
It's hard to know how to be ethical in a global economy. Should we buy personal goods from China with its lousy human rights record? Do we sell our cars and ride bicycles because all oil is dirty? Do we encourage members to examine their own portfolios?
I'm just impressed that my kid is trying to do the right thing. Shouldn't we all?
What are your thoughts about this? Should congregations be held to a higher standard? How about rank and file members?

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

UCC Controversy

I'm a little slow off the mark today, so I apologize!

I think I am being lobbied. I was contacted by someone a couple of days ago and I have yet to respond.  He wants to talk to me about what is a controversial report going to the 41st General Council of the United Church taking place in Ottawa in August. It concerns Israeli/Palestinian relations and because it challenges some of the polices of the Israeli government it has created a real stir. I can tell that he wants me and others to register our concern about the report in the hope that it will not be adopted.

Recently a physician in our congregation was asked by a Jewish colleague why the United Church is against Israeli, a provocative question. Actually, the United Church has always supported the existence of the state of Israel. But over time our denomination has expressed growing concern over the treatment of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, including Christians.

Of course the obvious and legitimate rejoinder is that there are Palestinians who are openly antagonistic to Israel and have been involved in aggression that can only be termed terrorism. Israelis have the right to protect themselves against attacks, not only from that small minority of Palestinians but from surrounding states which have waged war on them in the past and in the case of Iran, still threaten to do so.

Despite these grim realities the UCC still maintains that there have been violations of human rights which must be acknowledged. It's not as though the United Church is alone in expressing these concerns about justice in this region. Twice in the past couple of years the United Nations has concluded that the state of Israel has used unjustifiable force, first when it entered Gaza in search of those responsible for rocket attacks in the south and then to stop ships bringing medical and food aid to the area.

This is a complex issue which generates plenty of emotion. And the folk who wrote our UCC report used two trigger words "apartheid" and "holocaust" which were ill-advised, to say the least. It doesn't mean that the report as a whole should be abandoned, nor should we shie away from the issue.

Is this all "clear as mud" to you?  Do you think the United Church should avoid this controversial topic? I hope you will read it and come to your own conclusions.

Monday, June 25, 2012

God Outside

Yesterday nearly 100 people of all ages gathered at a local park for the St. Paul's annual outdoor service and picnic. Every year I watch the weather in the days leading up to the service and wonder whether it still makes sense to hold this event. After all, we don't get the attendance we would have at the church and everything would just be easier indoors.

Yet there is an atmosphere at this service ! enjoy once I get there. Some families are represented in three generations. Kids run around  because they can. One couple celebrated their 62nd wedding anniversary with their church family  Our praise group, Loaves and Fishes, leads us in song. The Congregational Committee makes sure there are cupcakes or all!

Part of the worship happens in the service. But there is also the less formal praise for the Creator in that setting of green and blue.

Is is still worth it to have an outdoor service.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

A Fitting Memorial

Ante Brkic

Yesterday I found my way to a memorial forest in the making in the Bowmanville creek valley. I say "in the making" because so far there are just over forty trees planted in memory of loved ones by families and friends as a start to this forest. Some are planted to celebrate births while others honour the long lives of people still with us. Then there are the trees in memory of those who have died.

I was there as part of a group of ninety to a hundred souls dedicating trees this year, including one as a living memorial to a young man who was the son of one of our members and died two years ago.

It was a meaningful and hopeful occasion on a beautiful Saturday morning. Of course trees are biblical, with a fruit tree figuring prominently at the beginning of Genesis and a bunch of them in the final chapters of Genesis. Jesus was crucified on a "tree" and  the "tree of life" is a Christological image.

Everything about this initiative makes sense to me. What are your thoughts?

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Planting, Watering, Harvesting

This past Sunday I thought of the Rev. Cathy Russell who was our Child and Youth Minister for three years. As I spoke of sowers and seeds in the service of confirmation, then quoted the apostle Paul as he reminded his readers that some plant, some water, but the glory goes to God, I was aware that she was instrumental in encouraging all of the teens who were participating in the service. I chatted about this with Laura, our current Child and Youth Worker and sent off a note of thanks to Cathy. After she responded I received her permission to share a portion of her email with you:
Hi David & Laura

What a pleasure to hear of the confirmation of those beautiful amazing young
people at St. Paul's. My time with them at St. Paul's has convinced me
that the primary thing about youth ministry, perhaps all ministry is about
making space, making safe, affirming, loving space for the Spirit to work in
the lives and hearts of these youth. What has happened in them, for them
and through them is far beyond anything I had ever hoped for, and far beyond
what I could ever hope to take credit for. And yet, I feel proud,
privileged and truly delighted to have played a role. All of them thrill
and amaze me, and I love them.
I have been thinking that youth is such a critical time for faith formation because they have a
luxury of time that adults do not have. Yes they have school and other
commitments, and yet there is the chance to make time for spiritual growth-
to belong to a weekly group, to go away for a few weekends every year to listen and grow
in the Spirit with their peers and leaders. Most of us don't get that
time again until we are into our sixties or even later. If we can make a
deep connection at this critical stage, the chances that they will always be
people of faith are so much greater.

Thanks again for including me in this important milestone.



A gracious and caring note from someone who made such a difference here.

Friday, June 22, 2012

No More Demons

Yesterday was the official opening of CAMH in Toronto, the refurbished and expanded Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. It looks like a place which will encourage health and wholeness, and the programs were ballyhooed at the launch of the new improved centre and in an advertising campaign. This is encouraging as is a generous gift of $10 million by the McCain family.
On CBC Metro Morning today host Matt Galloway challenged health minister Deb Matthews on the shadow side of all this. He mentioned responses from listeners who spoke of the frustration of waiting up to three years to get help for mentally ill loved ones and wondered whether the new CAMH will make a difference.
Some of you might remember what was probably my "rantiest" blog ever, in which I proclaimed our mental health care system crazy. It was my response to watching loving families stretched to the limits by a system which does not serve either those who are mentally ill or those who support them well.
I am glad for the goals of CAMH. I'm glad that slowly but surely the stigmas are receding. In ancient times people thought the mentally ill were demon possessed. Jesus responded to these outcasts as a compassionate healer. Until recently societies tended to demonize these folk rather than work toward health. We are changing.
What are your thoughts about the CAMH opening? Are we going in the right direction?

Greater Love Has No One...

"No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends" Jesus (John 15:3)
These photos got to me. How about you?

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Aboriginal Day

Today is National Aboriginal Day and across the country there will be events to uphold and celebrate the 1.2 million First Nations, Metis, and Inuit peoples in Canada and their culture.We have a sorry record of "right relatoinships" with aboriginal peoples but we are attempting to improve.

This August the United Church of Canada General Council will decide on changing the colours of the Crest to reflect the aboriginal medicine wheel. There is also a proposal to add a phrase in Mohawk, a first contact people which says "all my relations." What really matters is that our denomination honour our long-standing relationship with First Nations and honour the contribution of Native spirituality.

Take a lookat what moderator Mardi Tindal has to say on the fourth anniversary of Canada's Native apology and look at the CBC series 8th Fire which addresses the breadth of aboriginal culture.

How have you grown and changed in your understanding of First Nations peoples? What do we need to do better in Canada? What do you think of the proposed Crest changes?

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Refugees have no choice. You do

We must work together to mobilize the political will and leadership to prevent and end the conflicts that trigger refugee flows. [...] Despite budget constraints everywhere, we must not turn away from those in need. Refugees leave because they have no choice. We must choose to help."
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

I'm doubling up on blog entries today because I was reminded that this is World Refugee Day. The theme this year is Refugees have no choice. You do I read recently that the number of refugees crossing borders in 2011 was 800,000 -- about triple the number from the year before. St. Paul's member Joe, who has worked in this field for many moons, tells me that there are approximately 42 million refugees around the globe. People choose to flee their homelands for a host of reasons including hunger, oppression, and ethnic violence.

Canada has an impressive reputation for and history of welcoming refugees, but as the population of the world grows and the number of refugees rises, getting into this country and many others becomes more difficult.

I must say that the proposed changes to health care benefits for refugees which essentially excludes many seems colossally mean-spirited, especially from a government which spends 40 grand on a fighter jet photo op and excessive amounts on accomodation for travelling cabinet ministers.

What are your thoughts? Is there still "room in the inn" called Canada? I have initiated a conversation with ministerial colleagues about a joint church sponsorship for refugees locally. Is this our business?

ThenI will draw near to you for judgment; I will be swift to bear witness… againstthose who oppress the hired workers in their wages, the widow and the orphan,against those who thrust aside the alien, and do not fear me, says the Lord ofhosts. Malachi 3:5 (NRSV)

What A Wonderful World

Are you aware that there is an environmental conference underway in Rio de Janiero marking the 20th anniversary of the international event which we hoped would help heal what aboriginal peoples call Turtle Island?.

Instead there has been a series of blah,blah, blah conferences where a lot of money is spent by delegates without any binding, planet-changing agreements. And during that time Canada has careened into the ditch when it comes to environmental policy and law. Bill C-38 took us several steps back toward a day when we just didn't care about balance in our ecosystems.

Enter St.Paul's member Janet with a link to a brief BBC promo video..

From time to time Doug and the choir sneak this song into worship as an anthem. It is not overtly religious but it fits in celebrating a God of hope and the beauty of Creation. So we live and act in hope.

Does it lift your spirits? Thanks Janet!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Stirred Up

Country music star Carrie Underwood is coming to Bowmanville (well, Mosport) in August and I couldn't care less. I am intrigued though that she has entered the same-gender marriage conversation in the States. Underwood grew up Baptist and still attends a non-denominational church. She feels that her Christian faith and the underlying ethic of love motivates her to accept
gay couples:
"As a married person myself, I don’t know what it’s like to be told I can’t marry somebody I love, and want to marry. I can’t imagine how that must feel. I definitely think we should all have the right to love, and love publicly, the people that we want to love."
Also, another black pastor, Frederick Haynes of a Baptist megachurch in Texas has spoken out in support of President Obama's recent statement about same-gender marriage:
“Why are you so angry? Jesus never said a word about it [homosexuality]. … Well, maybe we need to talk about what issues you may have, because evidently you’ve got some major issues, or there is an ignorance that is rooted in fear. Y’all are not feeling this, but I’m going to preach the gospel anyhow, because you do understand, my brothers and sisters, that the sad reality is, we love to judge other folks’ sins, because it keeps it off of us, as opposed to looking at us.”
I appreciate the courage of both Underwood and Haynes. Both live in the Bible Belt South but they have the courage of their convictions. And hey, when the president of the United States talks, people get stirred up. I think that the discussion is long overdue. I know I have written about this recently, but any other comments?

Monday, June 18, 2012

Good Jobs, Bad Jobs

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty tells us that there is no such thing as a bad job. I suppose if that means employment is always better than unemployment then this is true. But there are plenty of lousy, soul-destroying, back-breaking jobs, many of which we fill in this country with temporary foreign workers and new immigrqants. Mr. Flaherty pointed out his Joe (Jim?) jobs in an earlier day but he was on his way to other more fulfilling and lucrative employment.

Our daughter Jocelyn just got her contract with the Toronto International Film Festival to work as a graphic designer. It is a dream job for her, because she has a uniiversity degree in film and a college diploma in design. But she did a 14-week internship at TIFF first, and she wasn't paid. Every weekend she worked as a waitress and she was exhausted. When she announced that she was leaving the restaurant the "lifers" congratulated her for moving beyond the low-paying, physically demanding work which may be their only option.

No doubt the 2000 GM workers who could lose their jobs in the next few months would like to speak with Mr. Flaherty about his "no bad jobs" comment.

Many of us do feel that the work we do is a gift from God and the so-called Protestant work ethic upholds the practical and spiritual value of meaningful work.

Are you doing work which you would categorize as a good job. paid or unpaid? Is there such a thing as a bad job? Is there a spirtual aspect to meaningful work.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Welcome and Farewell (but not goodbye)

Today we will welcome twenty people into membership at St. Paul's. Some are young people who have grown up in the congregation and will be confirmed. Others have gone through the Exploring Our Faith classes at a later stage of life. Some join us from other congregations and denominations. It's great to bring them into our community of Christian faith and life!

We will also send forth some of our young people this morning. Three fine young men, all of whom have provided excellent leadership at St. Paul's through Sunday School, music, tech support, and church courts will head off to university in the Fall. The service will include a leave-taking prayer and what I'm calling a "Holy Scrum" of other youth to say fare well, but not goodbye.

Here is our prayer for them:

Christ our Light and Hope, we ask that your Spirit be present in
the lives of Christopher, Jonathan, and Josh as they take their leave from us
to further their education.

Let them know in their heads and feel in their hearts

 that they are not alone,
that wherever they go the family of St. Paul’s cares for them
and prays for them.

Allow them to reflect your light in their new settings,
and sustain their faith in you.
Your blessing, blessing, blessing be upon them.


Adios Amigos! (go with God, friends)


Saturday, June 16, 2012

Just a Closer Walk With Thee

Did any of you know that Nik Wallenda was an evangelical Christian?As Wallenda carefully made his way along a mist-drenched 2-inch wide cable across Niagara Falls he was thanking Jesus and declaring Christ as Lord of his life. His ability to chat with commentators along the way was mind-boggling. His choice to declare his faith caught me off-guard. He took the metaphor of walking with Jesus to the limit. I was expecting him to warble "just a closer walk with thee..." Some wag has suggested that his next stunt will be walking on water.

Did you watch last night? What about the Christian testimony? I still think the man is crazy, but well done.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Man Up!

At the annual meeting of Bay of Quinte Conference our theme speaker identified the disappearance of men as one of several key factors in the decline of the United Church and other mainline churches.
I talked about this with the group of colleagues which meets weekly and I pointed out that church photos from fifty years ago usually show groups of suited, rather stern looking men who were the elders and board members. Women had other work which was usually in the Sunday School and kitchen. Thank God that by the late sixties that had changed significantly. But in many congregations today there are far fewer men in worship and leadership roles.
At conference it occurred to me that half our choir members are men (fourteen or fifteen) and that there are a fair number of young dads who join with their families in worship. We have a thirty-something guy as our vice-chair and several male Sunday School teachers. This past year a mens' group was formed and was well attended. All good, but the reality is that women still do outnumber men at St. Paul's.
Maybe some congregations have a culture of male involvement. My predecessor at St. Paul's was/is a woman and there were plenty of guys around during her tenure as well.
As we approach Father's Day I offer a hearty "thank you" to men in our faith family who lead by general example and in specific roles. And thank you to the dads who accept the manly role of spiritual formation and leadership.
What are your thoughts about this? Have you experienced the shift through the years?Is it important for congregations to have a balance?

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Greenest Farewell

I have done several funerals and memorials lately and as a result spent time in the local cemetery. As an older burial site it is beautiful and green, with plenty of mature trees, but it is not "green." So the article in the Monday Toronto Star called The Greenest Farewell caught my attention. It is about being eco-conscious even when you're not, well, conscious.

There is a new cemetery in Brampton called Meadowvale where the departed will be buried without chemical embalming, lacquered caskets, in some cases without a tombstone. Instead names will go on one of the common obelisks. The pathways in this cemetery will be natural rather than paved and the grass will not be cut.

When my wife Ruth's brother-in-law died in March she helped her sister make arrangements and asked about an eco-friendly casket. He was buried in a casket that was not lacquered and without metal hardware (wood handles.) It wasn't any cheaper and the Star article points out that "green" funerals are comparable in price, although I know some eco-friendly caskets can be more expensive.

The Meadowvale cemetery is one of only three natural burial sites in Canada, one of the others being in nearby Cobourg.

Does this option appeal to you? Have you given any thought to an eco-friendly farewell? Be honest, have you planned your funeral?

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Bill C-38

A few moments ago I tweeted a request for prayers about Bill C-38, so I will throw it into a blog as well. There will be an extended debate in Parliament today over this massive, American-style omnibus bill which has implications for immigration and refugee laws, the environment and fisheries, employment insurance, and sanctions on charities which the government deems too political. These are all issues over which Christians should be concerned.
The critics of this bill say that the magnitude, along with the indifference of citizens as we slide into summer was a calculated move to introduce significant changes to who we are as Canadians without our really being aware of what is going on. I'm inclined to agree.
So I ask you to pray, not really knowing what to ask. How are you feeling about today's debate and the bill itself?

Global Peace Index

This week the Global Peace Index for 2012 was issued, ranking 158 countries for peace, based on a number of criteria. Canada always ranks high as a peaceful nation, but this year we have moved up to number four globally, the best ranking in years. It is, in part, because of our reduced role in Afghanistan and fewer deaths in that conflict. By comparision , the U.S. is number eighty eight and Somalia is dead last.
We are blessed, and now we should ask how we might be a blessing. There was an article somewhere in the past few days pointing out that Canada's traditional role as peacekeepers wearing the blue berets has all but disappeared. We used to be proud of that role. Now we have to wonder if many young people are aware of the tradition. I also agonize over what is happening in Syria where children are used as human shields and terrible atrocities are being committed. Is our voice loud enough on the international stage?
A lot of conservatives, both religious and political, like to huff and puff about Canada as a Christian nation. I happen to feel that an aspect of our peacefulness is respectful coexistence, but if we are followers of Christ, can't we be actively promoting peace nationally and internationally?
Have you heard about the Global Peace Index? What is your reaction to our ranking?

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Blowin' In The Wind

Do you remember the plastic bag scene in the movie American Beauty? It was a testament to the script writer and cinematographer that something which is a blight on the landscape was protrayed as a thing of beauty.
The truth is that hundreds of millions of plastic bags are distributed daily around the world and while they are used on average about 20 minutes they take 400 years to decompose. When Toronto City Council made the decision to ban the use of plastic bags beginning January 2013 a lot of people were caught off guard, including retailers. One commented that he is environmentally conscious and uses alternatives wherever possible his products require a non-permeable package. He says he will usuable compostable plastic bags and take the risk of a fine.I'm not convinced that this was a well considered decision and the irony is that the the five-cent bag fee which was eliminated was effective, reducing the number of bags in landfill by about fifty percent. Still, many other jurisdictions have made the same decision, including Los Angeles during the same week. The nation of Italy has banned plastic bags except the biodegradable kind, eliminating 20 billion per year.

The use of plastic may not seem like a very spiritual issue, but it is one of the biggest planetary pollution problems we face so it is a matter of Creation Care. Come to think of it, Jesus and his posse didn't get asked "plastic or paper?" because neither existed. At Bay of Quinte Conference this year I joked with the person in front of me in the line at the book room that we have now become hoarders of the cloth bags everyone gives us, replacing the drawers stuffed with plastic.
Do you agree with Toronto mayor Rob Ford that this was "the dumbest thing council has done" or is it a good idea? Have you reduced your use of plastic bags over time? Do you connect your choices with your faith?

Monday, June 11, 2012

Chirp, Chirp, Tweet, Tweet

If the bird above looks stunned, so am I. I can't believe that I'm saying this, but I will now be chirping away on Twitter, to the extent that the limited number of characters allows. It may be more like Chir, Chir, Twee, Twee. Thanks to daughter Jocelyn for coaxing me on to the edge of the nest, and taking the leap with her calm one-on-one tutorial.

Hey it's an experiment for this old guy. At the risk of sounding very needy, follow me please! @lionlambstp

My first tweet was news yesterday about a premmie birth for a couple in the congregation. Please keep their 2.5 pounder, Xander in your prayers.


Vitamin N

We are told that it is important to spend some time out-of-doors to make sure we get a regular dose of Vitamin D, which is essential to our health. Yes, we can take a pill, but it is not the same.

What about Vitamin N. This is the term Richard Louv uses to refer to the spiritual nourishment and well-being we receive from the (N)atural world. His latest book The Nature Principle is a follow-up to the bestselling Last Child in the Woods. In Last Child he tied attention disorders, obesity, and depression in chidlren to a lack of time outdoors. In this book he extends the discussion to adults. He reminds us that knowing where we are requires knowing where we are.

And Louv makes the spiritual connection even though this is not a theological book:

Most us intuitively understand that all spiritual life, however it is defined, begins with and is nourished by a sense of wonder. The natural world is one of our most reliable windows into wonder and, at least to some, into a spiritual intelligence.

It won't surprise you that I agree. Whether it is sitting outside on a warm morning with a coffee, or time at the lake or in the garden, the natural world is God's world and good for the soul.

Are you getting your Vitamin N these days? Other thoughts?

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Gathered and Scattered

We had our last Gathering Place community meal until the Fall this past Friday evening. It was fun, with two Lions (Steve and Jim) cheerfully and sweatily barbecuing up a storm for our guests. There was a fifties/early sixties theme with checkered table cloth, soda counter serving up coke and root beer floats, and music from the era. Everyone was getting a kick out of the setting. What a great kitchen and hall staff we have.

Once again I was aware of the community-building going on. One regular showed me the sheet from the hospital giving him details on an upcoming medical test. He is nervous and I did my best to reassure him. A dad who comes all the time with his two young daughters let me know that he is going back to school in September and probably won't be able to attend anymore. At our table we talked about the sudden death of another regular, Rob. Rob looked like a cross between a human and a Wookie but he had a very gentle manner. His death at 51 shook us all. I prayed with the anxious woman who asks me to pray with her personally virtually every meal (you didn't pray with me last time David!) and I celebrated with the woman who told me with a big grin that she has lost 100 pounds and is getting her life back. They have been a deep blessing to me in ways I could not have anticipated.

I realize that these are folk who need to be known, to have the assurance that their lives matter, to have a pastor. I am grateful for the other pastors who come for most meals and chat with our guests, as well as the other table hosts who get to know their little flock.

We will keep feeding them, in body and spirit.


Saturday, June 09, 2012


President Obama's declaration of support for marriage equality has created an uproar in Christian communities across America, everything from the horrendous to the courageous.
Pastor Charles Worley of Providence Road Baptist Church in Maiden, N.C., condemns President Obama's endorsement while calling for gays and lesbians to be put in an electrified pen and ultimately killed off. "Build a great, big, large fence -- 150 or 100 mile long -- put all the lesbians in there," Worley said in a sermon filmed on May 13. He continues: "Do the same thing for the queers and the homosexuals and have that fence electrified so they can't get out...and you know what, in a few years, they'll die you know why? They can't reproduce!"
Wow. Obviously consistent with Christ's teaching. Another advocated execution, while still another encouraged parents to punch their boys if they exhibited effeminate tendencies. Folks, this is evil, whatever the religious convictions of these folks.
But a black pastor named Otis Moss (photo above) offered this challenge from his pulpit:
There is no doubt people who are same-gender-loving who occupy prominent places in the body of Christ. For the clergy to hide from true dialogue with quick dismissive claims devised from poor biblical scholarship is as sinful as unthoughtful acceptance of a theological position. When we make biblical claims without sound interpretation we run the risk of adopting a doctrinal position of deep conviction but devoid of love. Deep faith may resonate in our position, but it is the ethic of love that forces us to prayerfully reexamine our position.
I mention that he is African American only because there are deeply held convictions about homosexuality in the black Christian community. Another article asks "What Would Martin Do?" referring to the late, great Martin Luther King Jr.
I will leave the last word to United Methodist bishop William Willimon who encourages congregations to welcome gays and lesbians: "Jesus was notorious because of the persons he received, not those he rejected."
Have you been following this discussion, if it can be called that? What are your thoughts?

Friday, June 08, 2012


Yesterday I asked our administrator, Helen, about the Newcomers' Dinner which will be held at the church on the 16th of June. This dinner is a great idea which was well established long before I came to St. Paul's nine years ago. It used to be called the New Members Dinner because it was for those who were formally joining the congregation, but now we include everyone who has connected with us in the past year. Our board members are also invited as a bridge between those are involved in varous ways already, and those who are relatively recent arrivals.

It turns out that our hard-working congregational committee has its work cut out for it. I was quite surprised to hear that about 100 people have responded to the invitation! Roughly a third are board members. The rest are those who are becoming members on June 17th (twenty), other newcomers, and their families. This will be the largest group for this meal since I have been here.

Needless to say, I am happy because it is vital that new people are incorporated into this expression of the Body of Christ. Some may be taking the formal step of membership, while others may just be "kicking tires." In a world where people are much more transient because of work and education and spiritual needs we accept that at least a few will be "here today and gone tomorrow." But for that evening we will celebrate one another's company as Christians over a good meal.


Thursday, June 07, 2012

How Do You Spell Ecumenical?

Yesterday I got a look at the order of worship for this week. On Sunday the doors of many Bowmanville churches of all stripes will be closed so that we can join together in Rotary Park for our annual (fifth annual?) ecumenical service. I have said before that what we are doing is unprecedented in my experience. There are ecumenical services in some communities other than on Sunday morning. But to gather for morning worship in this way is a big deal and we get 500 to 600 people.

This is not a win/win situation. It is a win/win/win scenario. We show the community we can get along as Christians. We receive an offering which supports chaplaincy in Bowmanville hospital. We join in worshipping God with a speaker who will challenge us to consider self-giving in a very different way.

Well before all the interest stirred up by Helene Campbell's remarkable journey through double lung transplantation we decided that, if possible, we would have as our speaker someone who could address organ donation from a person standpoint.

Talk about personal! Our speaker on Sunday will be Deacon Michael Hayes, the only
two-time living organ donor in Canada. I joked with my colleagues that we better get him soon while there is still something left, but this is no joking matter. I am looking forward to hearing Michael, in part because of my fascination with those who have the courage to make this extraordinary gift when they are the decision-makers. It's one thing to say "sure, make off with my spare parts once I'm gone." It's another altogether when this is a personal choice. Not only has Michael survived these two donations (a kidney and part of his liver) but he is currently training for the 2013 Boston Marathon. I think I would use the donations as an excuse not to run.

I certainly hope you will join us at 11:00 am.


Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Take it as Gospel

Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, & 400 year old bible
You may have read recently of the efforts to turf the Gideons and their free bibles from the few school boards in Ontario which still allow distribution. We wouldn't want young minds to be destroyed by the reading of one of the most important holy texts in human history.
Well, take it as gospel that Richard Dawkins, a leading atheist, is all for the distribution of bibles in the schools of Britain as part of the 400th anniversary celebration of the King James Version. Not only is he in favour of the bibles being handed out, he says that he would contribute money to help: "A native speaker of English who has never read a word of the King James Bible is verging on the barbarian."
Dawkins, as with many other intellectuals who do and don't believe in God, realize that it difficult to understand Western culture without some basic knowledge of the Judeo/Christian bible. Lest you be worried that Dawkins is losing his atheistic edge, he adds that if the children read the bible they would realize that it is not a moral book and presumably be converted to non-belief.
I'm with Dawkins and a host of others who realize the importance of the bible regardless of religious convictions. Dawkins and others make the mistake of assuming that the bible was intended to be a moral manual. It is a narrative of God's saving action in the world, and because of the multitude of contexts and cultures contained within scripture we do get the good, the bad and the ugly. Despite the problematic and troubling texts the message of grace repeatedly springs to the surface. We are invited to wrestle with the weird and the wonderful as a discerning community.
Bye the way Muslim, Hindu, Jewish and Sikh religious leaders in Britain support the distribution and have praised the King James Bible as a “landmark” in the English language. How gracious of them and a reminder to those whose political correctness can be stifling.
Are you surprised by Dawkin's defence of scripture for kids? Would you be okay with bibles being handed out in our schools? Are you afraid of the Gideons?

Tuesday, June 05, 2012


I have admitted in the past that I don't care much about the monarchy, although I have seen the queen. However, after worship on Sunday I watched the remarkable flotilla of 1,000 boats and ships on the Thames, including a Canadian voyageur canoe. How Canadian is that!
And there was her Royal Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, standing throughout, waving to the passing armada and to the estimated million onlookers on the shores of the river. In case you missed it, one of the final vessels to pass contained an orchestra safely tucked inside and a hardy group of twelve singers on the upper deck. When the members of the London Philharmonic played a sea shanty the queen broke into a smile and began to sway. The singers gave a stirring rendition of God Save the Queen which certainly touched me. It was remarkable to see her grandsons, William and Harry, singing along.
Where am I going with this? Even though Queen Elizabeth has a largely symbolic role she has been involved in a life of service. During this Diamond Jubilee archival photos and film footage have emerged including a statement by the twenty one year-old Princess Elizabeth committing herself to that service. Sunday's event reminded us of that role, and that even in this day people respond to the notion of someone representing something larger than themselves. It could be argued that the queen is a nice old lady in a honorific position that doesn't matter anymore. But that wasn't the feeling over the weekend.
We Christians still use the language of royalty on occasion to refer to Jesus. He is the Shepherd King, and the Servant King, although in our denomination we are more inclined to use genderless monarchial terms. Even though we are less hierarchical in the 21st century, there are still occasions for this language, including Reign of Christ Sunday. The emphasis is on the Christ who humbles himself for the sake of others. During the service of celebration today at St. Paul's Cathedral the queen's service was acknowledged.
What was your response to the Jubilee celebrations? What about the use of royal language in our Christian faith?

Monday, June 04, 2012

A Good Death?

I have presided at somewhere between four and five hundred funerals through the years and I have concluded that death is something to be avoided if possible. Wait, that's isn't possible. I don't mean to be glib, and I do trust in the new life Christ offers, but dying can be heart-wrenching and loss can be crushing for all involved, no matter how strong our faith.
Today I will conduct the memoral service for another man I liked a great deal. I will describe him as a gentleman, a term which has fallen out of common use -- are there just fewer of those honourable, kindly guys these days?
The last week of his life Frank was in the critical care unit of the local hospital. It was tough, but he knew his family and friends almost to the end and they surrounded him in love. They even substituted whisky for water to swab his lips and tongue, which made a lot of sense for an old Scot!
The hospital staff were remarkable, attending to the needs of body, mind, and spirit for Frank and his family. I told them how impressed I was by their thoughtfulness and care.
It happened that I was able to see him every day during the week, something I'm not always able to do. Beth, our pastoral care worker went as well. I read scripture and prayed with him and we were able to talk together.
They called me from the hospital the morning of his death and I responded immediately, again not always possible. Within minutes of my arrival his breathing slowed and then stopped. It was perhaps the most gentle departure I have ever witnessed, and there have been a few.
I don't think I could define "a good death" but I know one when I see one.
Any thoughts about death and dying? Have you participated in a "good death?" Does the prospect of dying scare you?

Sunday, June 03, 2012

Holy Trinity!

Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
Early in the morning our song shall rise to thee.
Holy, holy, holy! Merciful and mighty,
God in three persons, blessed Trinity!
On Wednesday our bible study addressed the scripture readings for this Sunday which is Trinity Sunday. We discussed the hymn above, which many congregations sang at the beginning of worship every week for decades. Despite the repetition back then, as well as all the exclamation marks, I think we were in agreement that it didn't help to make this central Christian any less perplexing.
What did help was the brief but thoughtful exploration of the subject in Marcus Borg's book Speaking Christian. He notes that Jews and Muslims, our closest relatives, see the Christian Trinity as an abandonment of monotheism, while we affirm the mystery of three aspects of one God.
Borg suggests taht the word "person" trips us up and instead uses the Greek word persona which means "to speak through." He mentions that in the theatre of ancient times actors wore masks to assume different roles rather than to conceal identity. So God is revealed or speaks in the role of Creator, Christ, and Spirit, interrelated and unique.
Does the trinity baffle you? Have you made your peace with trinitarian theology or just lie down until the feeling goes away? Can we be Christian without it?

Saturday, June 02, 2012

Making Melody in Your Hearts

I'm fascinated by reports of the discovery of ancient musical instruments which keep pushing back the date at which humans made music. The flutes in the photo above were created between 43 and 44 thousand years ago and were found in a cave in Southern Germany. The BBC article says:
Musical instruments may have been used in recreation or for religious ritual,
experts say.
And some researchers have argued that music may have been one of a suite of
behaviours displayed by our species which helped give them an edge over the
Neanderthals - who went extinct in most parts of Europe 30,000 years ago.
Music could have played a role in the maintenance of larger social networks,
which may have helped our species expand their territory at the expense of the
more conservative Neanderthals.
Of course we employ music and musical instruments for religious purposes including connecting us socially within our worship. Music as praise also lifts us above ourselves into the presence of the God of life.
Joining together in making music is on the wane in our culture. When families say they want hymns at funerals now I ask them to picture who will be there and whether "it will a singing crowd." I asked this question of a family this week and they decided the hymns would be played but not sung. It's sad really, because we are transformed by musical expression, it seems to me.
Watch this remarkable video to see the effects of music on the elderly.
What does music do for you? Is it a form of religious expression? To the readers who are musicans but never comment: "don't make me come down there!"

Friday, June 01, 2012

Straightened Out?

All week long I have been trying to figure out what I think of the Ontario government's legislated insistence that Gay-Straight Alliances be allowed in every school, including those with a religious base. Just so you know, I still don't have a clue.
On the surface it is a no-brainer from my standpoint. If students want to use this name, they should not be impeded from doing so. You may remember, I commended one of our St. Paul's teens who was recognized for getting A G-S group going in his high school.
And yet... In this province we continue to fund a Roman Catholic school system which upholds what it views as core religious values, as is its right by law. I may disagree with some of those values, but the government has done nothing to eliminate publicly funded RC schools in favour of a universal school system. Other faith-based schools are entirely on their own when it comes to funding, yet we perpetuate this curious anomaly rooted in the 19th century. How can we avoid this controversial issue of funding, yet dictate values?
I also wonder how much this of this is the political "flavour of the day" even as I support the positive outcome of the dialogue that these G-S groups encourage. If this is really about bullying in the broadest definition, does the name Gay-Straight Alliance create too narrow a focus? Here are the goals of the G-S Alliance network from its website:
create safe environments in schools for students to support each other and learn about homophobia, transphobia, and other oppressions,
educate the school community about homophobia, transphobia, gender identity, and sexual orientation issues, and
fight discrimination, harassment, and violence in schools.
Of course, to add to the discussion, Premier McGuinty and his wife are both Roman Catholics, and she teaches in the RC system. Curiouser and curiouser.
Ah smart readers, have you got this sorted out?