Sunday, June 30, 2013

Moving Grace

I am outside on our deck this sabbath morning. It is very early and the sun has yet to rise but there is a chorus of birds and very little else in the way of sound. I'm thinking of the crew who facilitated our move over the past three days, the two women packers for our breakable and the total of seven men who schlepped our stuff out of one house and into another.

They were all "diamond in the rough" types who looked as though life has been less than kind at times. They worked extraordinarily hard and did so with amazing patience and cheerfulness. They knew I was a "man of the cloth" and a couple of them joked about me praying that they be delivered from their smoking habits - every one of the nine was a smoker! One guy liked my cross tattoo and showed me the cross and rosary tat in memory of his mom. Two of them mentioned that they given up drinking, one on the request of his young sons. I didn't want to ask too much. It's interesting how ministry can happen in unlikely places. And we received their hard-working grace.

Thank you God for the ways you are at work in the world.


Friday, June 28, 2013


When the DOMA talk began earlier this week I confess I was a little confused. I didn't know the acronym but then realized this was all about the US Defense of Marriage Act which came into being during President Clinton's tenure. It was intended as a clear statement of support of the traditional marriage between a man and a woman. This week the Supreme Court struck down the act, one which Clinton no longer supports. Neither does President Obama.

I do support marriage, particularly as a covenantal relationship between two individuals who realize that God can strengthen that bond. Through the years I have come to accept that this can be between two people of the same gender. I have seen many marriages between a man and a woman which were wretched, unequal, in no way reflective of God s intention. "Defending" marriage does 't make a marriage healthy,  commitment does. Faith groups should do everything possible to supports couples on their relational journey, and that can include same-gender couples.

What are your thoughts on this?

Thursday, June 27, 2013

A Time for Everything

South Africa and the rest of the world watches and waits as the life of one of the great figures of the 20th century ebbs away. Nelson Mandela is in his 90's and he has been hospitalized several times.  Virtually everyone is reconciled to his imminent death and even those who love him greatly agree "it is time."

Here in Bowmanville I discovered that an elderly member living with cancer died this week. She hoped I would still be the St. Paul's minister when her time came, but someone they respected will preside at her service. Marg would tell me that she had a full and meaningful life, married for more than sixty years. Her family has been very attentive, one daughter taking a leave of absence to provide care. It was her time.

Ecclesiastes tells us that there is a time and season for everything, including death. I have certainly come to this conclusion in pastoral care. Would you agree.? Have you gone through this? Is it important for Christian communities to be honest in the way in provides end-of-life support?

Sorry about the lack of a photo or any spelling errors. I am posting from my phone!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Biblical History Comes Alive


Daughter Emily gave me this issue of BAR for Father's Day, and it was not a magazine about good places to bend an elbow. The Biblical Archeological Review cover article is about wooden beams in Jerusalem which may have been part of the temple in Jesus' time.

The Romans destroyed Herod’s Jerusalem Temple in 70 C.E. Is it possible that some of the wooden beams from his Temple Mount have survived—and may be identified? I believe the answer is “yes.” Some of the beams may even be from the Temple.
Wooden beams of this quality—especially Cedar of Lebanon (Cedrus libani) and cypress (Cypressus sempervirens)—were extremely valuable and would have been used and reused, again and again.
Known to archaeologists as “secondary use,” the phenomenon of reuse is widely recognized, mostly in connection with stone building blocks but also with regard to other construction elements such as columns, capitals and bases. The same is true for wood. It was used again whenever possible.
There are beams which have been carbon dated from before and during the Second Temple period which may have been picked out of the rubble and destruction for reuse. The beams which were tested were actually removed from the El Aksa Mosque during the 1960's during renovations. Some are in storage but others sit outside.
Why is this important. In some respects it isn't. It doesn't affect our faith as Christians today to any extent. But having visited Israel on several occasions I found that the archeological evidence helped  awaken me to the "real world"  circumstances of biblical stories. These were people who walked and talked, planned and built, worshipped God with the fullness of their resources and lives.
Is this a yawner for you, or do share the fascination? Does it surprise you that wood from that era still exists and is usable?  Do these finds augment your faith?

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Prostitution, the Most Demeaning Profession in the World

Stock image of 'Young prostitute walking towards car on the street'

On the weekend Globe and Mail columnist Margaret Wente wrote a scathing column asking why anyone would push for the legalization of prostitution.
She criticizes feminists for supporting this initiative in Canada, a curious generalization which doesn't fit with the sensibilities of many feminists I know, including my wife.

I do feel that she is correct in saying that prostitution is a miserable, dangerous, demeaning "profession" which should never be given the sanction of the state. She points out that in Germany, where prostitution is legal, young women from Eastern European nations are coopted into cut-rate prostitution and virtual servitude. Police can do little to support these women when they are mistreated by their customers. Sweden eventually took a different course after first legalizing prostitution.

The notion that legalization makes prostitution safer is not necessarily the case, and what about the effects on the souls of the young men and women who enter into this trade. Did any young person grow up aspiring to be a prostitute?

I do hope that Christian communities and denominations stay aware of this initiative in Canada and resist it with every resource possible. Prostitution is contrary to values of equality and, dare we say it in this society, decency.

What are your thoughts?

Monday, June 24, 2013



Calgarians huddle around street signs in a flooded street in Calgary's Mission neighbourhood June 21, 2013. (John Lehmann/The Globe and Mail)

Many members of our daughter-in-law Rebekah's family live in Calgary and one household has been forced to evacuate as heavy rainfall results in unprecedented flooding. This is not a localized problem. More than a hundred thousand people have been displaced. It appears that the Bow has crested but the city core is awash. Long-timers say they have never seen the rivers and streams so swollen.

Isn't that what we are hearing everywhere these days? Record drought in the American South, record wildfires as well. In Ontario's cottage country is was unprecedented flooding this year, and Britain, and parts of Europe. Tornadoes that are wider and faster than ever before. Weather events are costing billions, even trillions of dollars in damage and disruption.

Do you notice that no one uses terms such as "Hundred Year Storm" anymore? We have been advised by the scientific community that extreme weather is one outcome of climate change. While we just can't conclude that what is happening recently is related to climate change we can't rule it out either. And there in the very heart of the wealth generated by oil, the waters rise.

I don't want to be a false prophet Chicken Little. I just hope that this weather has our attention, and we don't simply shake our heads in disbelief. Reading the ancient, authentic prophets of scripture we see that their role was to get God's people to wake up.

Are you feeling helpless? Are you awake? Are we all listening for God's direction?

Sunday, June 23, 2013

One More Step

One more step along the world I go,
one more step along the world I go;
from the old things to the new
keep me traveling along with you:
And it's from the old I travel to the new;
keep me traveling along with you

Sydney Carter

Today is my eighth Sunday, and the end of my first two months at Bridge St. United Church in Belleville, Ontario. It was a huge decision to leave St. Paul's UC in Bowmanville and move to a new community. Over the course of almost ten years as a pastor there deeply meaningful relationships were built, and we accomplished important things together in Christ's name. I walked away from a fine staff where we got along so well. As we left I had many Tom Sawyer moments, sitting in the balcony at my own funeral as the congregation and community sad goodbye thoughtfully and with humour.

The two months here have been a whirlwind of activity because the Bridge St. congregation has begun implementing a new governance system. While it has been overwhelming as I learn my role within it, I am convinced that its mission/vision-oriented approach is the right way to go, not only for this congregation but for so many in the United Church. We are in a time of profound transition and we don't have much time to figure out our direction.

Ministers are always a bit apprehensive that a forward-thinking search committee might not be representative of the congregation as a whole, but I have been grateful that the folk here have been welcoming and open.  The staff at Bridge St. Church couldn't have been more helpful in getting oriented. It's a bonus when you enjoy the people you are serving and working with in ministry!

Now back to Bowmanville for our final packing before our full move to Belleville at the end of next week. We have been in a lovely apartment for two months, but it just ain't home. The papers are signed, the lawyer is richer, we are ready to go.

I will continue to blog in the next few weeks but it will be sporadic because of moving and vacationing. Please keep checking, oh faithful readers.

It's comforting to know that Christ is with us on our journey.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

My Bad

Through the years I have been part of countless conversations about family squabbles, broken relationships, regrets over apologies not extended, or rifts not mended. When we talk about forgiveness and reconciliation, key aspects of God's love for us in Christ and our path as disciples, the hope is always for reciprocity, a two way street. Jesus invited a new way of dealing with conflict when he spoke about "turning the other cheek."

This week there was an unusual apology, obviously at attempt at contrition and the opportunity for reconciliation. A reckless driver contacted the Toronto Star asking for the chance to apologize to someone she had "done wrong" but who did not retaliate. She is obviously contrite.

“I would like to put in your paper an apology about a stupid and dangerous act that was orchestrated by none other than myself. “I dangerously cut a car off on the ramp from eastbound 401 to northbound 404. It was a stupid act of being in a hurry and almost creaming a poor guy coming on the on ramp to go north. I didn’t look properly. He had to do an amazing swerve and avoided an accident that would have tied up that ramp in rush hour. He did a stellar job and I did not.

“If there is a place in your paper you could put this I would appreciate it. I would like to say sorry to him in his black, small car and thank him for dealing with an idiot like me on the road. This happened at about 3:10 give or take, on Tuesday afternoon. (I was too busy driving like a wild woman to even notice the time.)“I was late to pick up my granddaughter and was totally engulfed in my own, obviously dangerous world. Thank you, sir for not reporting a maniac like me, and I’m sorry for causing you stress. Thank you for being a pro, unlike me.’’

What do you think of this woman's attempt? Have you ever felt the need to grovel for forgiveness? Do you accept God's grace readily? Are you holding on to grudges?

Time to catch up on my Groundling blog?

Friday, June 21, 2013

National Aboriginal Day

Today is National Aboriginal Day, a relatively recent recognition which is not a day off for most Canadians. I suspect that the majority of Canadian residents will go about their business today with no idea that we are invited to recognize the first peoples of our wonderful country. And far too often we think in terms of the problems aboriginal peoples contend with, rather than the richness of their heritage and culture and contributions to Canadian society.  Here is a description of the day:

The Canadian Constitution recognizes three groups of Aboriginal peoples: Indians (First Nations), Inuit and Métis. Although these groups share many similarities, they each have their own distinct heritage, language, cultural practices and spiritual beliefs.
Many people have pushed for a national day to recognize and celebrate Canada’s Aboriginal peoples and cultures prior to 1996. For example, in 1982 the National Indian Brotherhood (now the Assembly of First Nations) called for June 21 to be National Aboriginal Solidarity Day. In 1995 the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples recommended for a National First Peoples Day to be designated. The Sacred Assembly, a national conference of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people, called for a national holiday to celebrate the contributions of Aboriginal peoples.
Canada’s governor general proclaimed the first National Aboriginal Day in 1996. In cooperation with Aboriginal organizations, the Canadian government chose June 21 for National Aboriginal Day because it was on or near the June solstice.  Many of Canada’s Aboriginal peoples celebrated their culture and heritage on or near this day for many generations. National Aboriginal Day provides an opportunity to acknowledge the unique achievements of First Nations, Métis and Inuit in fields as diverse as agriculture, the environment, business and the arts.

A number of denominations in Canada, including the United Church, have an ugly history with aboriginal peoples, notably the Residential Schools. In the past three decades we have endeavoured to change that relationship, to enter a conversation based on respect and reciprocity. Recently the United Church changed its crest to include the colours of the four directions and added the Mohawk phrase translated as "all my relations." I'm glad we have taken these symbolic steps and I hope that they reflect a new way of thinking and acting.

Do you know any First Nations people? Are you aware of the United Church history, and recent changes? Is it important to have an acknowledgement  such as National Aboriginal Day. Should it be a national holiday?

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Dark Secrets

This is a photograph of a very glamorous and famous woman, Nigella Lawson. Lawson has become internationally known as a writer of cook books and as a chef celebrity. Her beauty enhances her cause, but in this photo she looks frightened because her husband's hand is around her neck. Her celeb husband Charles Saatchi grabbed her several times during a public argument, all of which he later attempted to dismiss as a "playful tiff." Police didn't see it that way, cautioning Saatchi, and it is rumoured that Lawson has left the family home with her children.

This ugly incident serves as a reminder that domestic violence is not just something that happens to low income folk, the unfairly named "trailer trash." Wealthy people and middle class people and poor people can become embroiled in violent cycles which are hard to end. Shortly before we moved a sweet woman, a member of the congregation, admitted that her former husband was a brutal man, but when she went to work with obvious signs of trauma she lied and insisted that she had fallen or made some other excuse. She didn't want to admit that she was abused, even though her co-workers weren't fooled. It took her a long time to leave, in part because of the shame. I have been part of far too many similar conversations with women in congregations through the years.

While Ruth, my wife, no longer counsels for a women's shelter she is well aware that the perpetrator downplaying violence, or insisting that the partner did not feel threatened is commonplace. Shame often keeps the victim from leaving.

This can be a reminder, once again, that domestic violence is an ongoing societal issue, even for the well-to-do, even for people in faith communities. We need to be vigilant and open about what was once a dark secret.


Wednesday, June 19, 2013


On Sunday I preached from the text above about not storing up treasures here on earth, on being generous, and keeping our spiritual priorities straight. In the afternoon we drove to Bowmanville to pack for our upcoming move. As we created more and more bags of stuff to be hauled to the curb, as well as transporting a vehicle-load of this-and-that to Bibles for Missions I was just a tad embarrassed. How do we accumulate so much! This time around, post-kids-at-home, we are being more thorough in our sorting and disposal, and by "we" I mean Ruth. She sorts, I haul. Yet there is still so much to move to our new home.

I don't want to be defined by our stuff, but I have to be honest and admit that it's hard to relinquish books, even though we have given away hundreds this time. The art on our walls is an expression of who we are as well, so it will travel with us.

It is strange though. We have done just fine in a modest two-bedroom apartment for a couple of months, even though the bathroom gives me claustrophobia. Our small abode would be luxurious for millions of the world's peoples. Now we will move into a spacious home with a double garage.

So, God help us pare down, pare down, pare down. Help us be satisfied with what we have, and less.

How are you with stuff? Can you let it go, or just not accumulate it in the first place? Should we all be required to move every five years to keep us honest about what we need and don't need.

Take a look at my Groundling blog while you're at it!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Prayer & Breathing

Over time I have come to realize that when I am stressed I forget to breathe. As odd as that may sound, that is exactly what happens when we are anxious and over-taxed and there are probably millions of North Americans who forget to breathe deeply when under pressure. It's a reason why some people feel faint when they are about to make presentations about which they are anxious. Meditation and other forms of prayer invite a focus on breathing as a way into relationship with God. Singing does something similar -- it is a form of breathing prayer. It's why choir members comment that they leave a practice feeling rejuvenated.  

The other day I saw this, an excerpt from Dr. David Benner's book, Opening to God: Lectio Divina and Life as Prayer. It is a wise book, and it was good to be reminded that it is on my shelf!

The problem with understanding prayer as conversation is that prayer is so much more than communication.  Reducing it to conversation makes it simply a mental activity – words and thoughts being a product of the left hemisphere of the brain.  Prayer includes the mind but is not limited to it.  God invites engagement with more of our brain and more of our being.  The glorious truth is that I can be praying to God without speaking to God, or without even consciously thinking of God.  The truth is that prayer can be as foundational to our daily life as breathing.  It can become a part of living, not just a religious practice or a spiritual discipline.  Prayer can become our life and our lives can become our prayers. Prayer is not only more than conversation. It is more than praying!

Does Benner's description help at all with your understanding of prayer? Do you ever practice deeper, full body breathing?

Monday, June 17, 2013

Won't You Be My Neighbour?


Remember Fred Rogers of Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood? Chances are that you do if you are of a certain vintage, even if it is only from Eddie Murphy's SNL parody. I will admit that I never watched one episode of Mr. Roger's, but my children did. He had a 33-year run with his gentle kids' show, which is the length of time I have been an ordained ministry. I add that because Fred Rogers was an ordained minister as well. This past week there was an homage to Rogers in the form of a conference at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. It marked the tenth anniversary of his death and there two films about his life, as well as seminars. His widow spoke as well. Read this description:

Rogers earned a degree in children’s ministry from the seminary and later was ordained a minister in the Presbyterian Church (USA). He never led a church, but saw his career in broadcasting, including 33 years as writer and star of the Pittsburgh-based children’s program, as a ministry.
His show taught children how to respond to challenges, fears, and life transitions. And while it was never overtly religious, it cultivated the virtues: neighborliness, hospitality and respect for others.
Children’s spirituality “is not an add-on to children’s lives but part and parcel of who they are,” said Patricia Crawford, associate professor of education at the University of Pittsburgh. She said the conference helped her understand that children’s sense of “caring and kindness” needs to be nurtured.

I couldn't agree with Crawford's observations more, and I have seen the tremendous benefits of staffing for children's ministry in congregations, as well as having the satisfaction of seeing children and youth mature in faith. Of course our son, Isaac, is a United Church minister doing work with children, youth, and young adults.

Do you remember Mr. Rogers? Did you know he was a minister? What are your thoughts about nurturing the faith of children?

Sunday, June 16, 2013

God Bless Dads

Earlier this year I came to the back of the church after worship was over and most people were gone. I overheard one of our seniors, a lovely person, telling someone else that she was struggling with the losses of several friends who had been part of the sprawling seniors' community where she lives. The listener turned out to be the son-in-law of one of the people who had died, an elderly member who was a true gentleman.

I was touched by the patience that son-in-law Bob exhibited. She needed to talk, and he listened with kindness, offering a few words here and there. Bob was and is a supportive son-in-law. He also has three daughters who are very active in the congregation and a spouse who practically lives at the church in busy seasons because she goes above and beyond the call of duty in her staff role. If he resents their involvement he doesn't let on, and I don't think he does...most of the time. I would see him in a front pew just about every week and even though he is a big, strong guy I could see he was tender-hearted when his loved ones took part in the service, or a particular sermon story touched him.

All this to say, God bless Dads today. God bless fathers who are supportive of others, and encourage their children as they mature in faith.  God bless fathers who are men enough to shed a few tears at times. Christ's church is stronger because of them.


Saturday, June 15, 2013

Cause for Paws

I'm having an anticipatory "senior's moment." I write blog ideas on slips of paper, and on the notepad of my smart phone. The trouble is, my phone may be smarter than I am, and I'm not always sure if I have already blogged about the specific note. In my feeble defense, I have now completed nearly 2100 Lion Lamb blog entries, as well as just shy of a hundred Groundling entries.

I was talking the other day with sister-in-law Martha about the emotional lives of animals, the creatures we once assumed had no "real" emotions, like humans. I checked my phone notes to find Tommy, the Italian German Shepherd. Sounds confusing, doesn't it, an Italian German Shepherd ? I made the note back in January about this dog whose mistress sadly died in her fifties and was buried from the local Roman Catholic church. Tommy began to attend the church after she died, as you can see in the photo. He comes in, lies down, and waits patiently to the end of the service.

His connection with this place of worship is remarkable. He is obviously waiting for his "owner" to return. Also remarkable is the kindness and understanding of the priest, and the church members, who feel that as long as Tommy is a well-behaved congregant he is welcome.

Even if you have read about this before, isn't this is touching story? I'm sure Christ is present, giving this pooch a pat on the head. Does it give you "cause for paws" (couldn't help myself) about the emotional life of God's creatures, other than humans?

Friday, June 14, 2013

Interfaith Hospitality


I just read an encouraging piece by John Buchanan in the Christian Century magazine . It's about a Jewish Rabbi who approached a downtown Presbyterian congregation in Chicago about using its chapel for Friday evening worship. The synagogue  for the Jewish congregation was 15 kilometres away in the 'burbs and a number of members lived downtown. Using the chapel would help them avoid the Friday afternoon rush-hour. The Presbyterian session said yes, and then yes again when the rabbi wondered if they could stay in the building for fellowship after the service.

Then the Sinai Congregation decided to sell its building, but couldn't find affordable premises downtown. Would it be possible to hold their high and holy days in the sanctuary rather than the chapel of the church? Those decent Presbyterians said yes again and at times the place was filled with Jewish worshippers.

All this door opening led to a rich and meaningful relationship between the two congregations. After 911 they had an interfaith prayer service. The pastor and rabbi offered a bible study on the Book of Ruth. There was lots of opportunity to talk about Jesus as an observant Jew and how the Last Supper was a Passover seder. When the Presbyterian denomination discussed divestment because of the Israeli/Palestinian situation the congregations were able to talk it through together.

This practical Jewish/Christian dialogue has opened up the vision of God's covenants in both directions and the possibilities of "tikkun olam," or "mending the world."

What do you think about this story? Would you be open to a similar arrangement in your church building? Is there a need for greater dialogue?

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Pillars for Peace


Every year I receive information about the Global Peace Index, a ranking of 162 countries from around the world using a number of criteria to establish a "portrait of peace" (my term) for each of them. For the third year in a row and the fourth in five years Canada ranked 8th, which should be a reminder to us of our many blessings and also evoke gratitude for what we often take for granted.  To give a reference point, Canada is one of three countries in North America and the United States ranks 100th, while Mexico is in the 130's.

The index suggests that the world is a less peaceful place than a year ago with greater internal conflict in a number of countries, Syria being a prime example. The world has become more murderous as well, with a growing number of homicides, although this is not the case in Canada.

-The top three most peaceful countries are Iceland, Denmark and New Zealand. Small and stable democracies make up the top ten most peaceful countries.
-With a newly elected government and a steady recovery from the 2011 turmoil, Libya had the biggest improvement in peace score since last year.
-The three least peaceful countries are Afghanistan, Somalia and Syria.
Syria’s score dropped by the largest margin, with the biggest ever score deterioration in the history of the GPI.

The report speaks of the eight "Pillars for Peace" the foundational elements of peaceful societies. They include: Well-functioning government; Sound business environment; Equitable distribution of resources; Acceptance of the rights of others; Good relations with neighbours; Free flow of information; High levels of human capital; Low levels of corruption.

I suppose that both freedom of religion and the lack of sectarian, religious violence would fit into "acceptance of the right of others."

Once again the GPI reminds us of the importance of praying and acting for global peace, as individuals, faith communities, and as a nation. We also have a responsibility as Christians to do everything possible to promote dialogue rather than suspicion between religious groups.

Any comments about this Peace Index? Do you find such exercises helpful in giving a context for world peace? Obviously I do because I keep blogging about it each year!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Cross Still Matters

I watched a program the other evening which speculated about the form of cross on which Jesus of Nazareth may have been crucified. When we think "cruciform" it is probably the vertical upright and the horizontal cross piece often called the Latin cross.  The many devotional images created through the centuries show Jesus with his hands pierced by nails, attached to the cross piece. Often painting depict his feet affixed with one spike on the upright post.

The documentary suggested that the cross on which Jesus died may have been "X" shaped rather than what we have long assumed. Because trees were small in Palestine, and so were people, the two members would not have been longer than two metres. The nails would have been driven through Jesus' wrists after his forearms had been wrapped over the wooden stakes, attaching him from behind. Obviously each foot would have been attached by a different nail.

There is a cross in this shape, called the St. Andrew's Cross, because it was thought to be the form of crucifixion for -- you guessed it -- St. Andrew. Rarely is Jesus portrayed being put to death on this sort of cross and the image above is of Andrew's crucifixion.

The Romans were actually inventive in their forms of execution and both styles of cross were used. What we do know is that this was an agonizing, brutal form of death. Jesus suffered and died as an innocent man, regardless of what we may believe about his mission and divinity. For many millions of Christians the crucifixion is God's powerful identification with us in the person of Jesus, the Christ. Through this forgiving, loving moment in human history death is both real and defeated.

I really don't care what form the cross took, although I find the historical and archeological stuff interesting. I have actually come to the conclusion that the form of execution is not what is important. It is the life-changing implications of death and resurrection which matter to me.

What are your thoughts? Does it matter to you the form of the cross?

Does Pickering need an airport? I muse about this today on my Groundling blog

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Exodus from Exodus

paulk Newsweek PETITION: Ask Newsweek To Correct The Record On Their 1998 Cover Story On John Paulk

It was just a paragraph-long item about John Paulk,who for years was the face of the Christian ex-gay movement. This movement advocated "reparative therapy" which would change the same-gender attraction of gays and lesbians. Paulk was the ex-gay who married an ex-lesbian. The organization for which Paulk worked is called Exodus International, a Christian ministry.

Paulk has renounced his former stance and says that he is "truly, truly sorry for the pain I have caused." His marriage of twenty years has come to an end. It sounds as though it was a difficult but amicable parting and she continues believing she has been released from lesbianism.

There has been a lot of humour, often cruel, directed toward so-called ex-gays, and the comedy sketch program This Hour Has Twenty Two Minutes did a particularly caustic skit a while back. Honestly, I am convinced that participants genuinely wanted to change their sexual attraction, and certainly did not want to acknowledge their sexual orientation. Most were in Christian communities which emphasized the sinfulness of homosexuality.

While we hear a lot about states in the US approving gay marriage and denominations making decisions to welcome  LGBT members, we can be mindful of all those individuals who work toward a new perception of self. I hope that they realize that they are loved by God regardless of orientation.

I wish Paulk and his former wife well. I also hope they find faith families which accept and support them.


Local rivers are full to overflowing these days. Read about Canadian rivers at my Groundling blog

Monday, June 10, 2013

Philism: The Soul of Success

I saw a book on the New Releases stand recently and it took me a moment to figure out the title, Eleven Rings: The Soul of Success It is ostensibly written by Phil Jackson (aren't there always ghost writers with sports memoirs?) the former NBA coach with both the Chicago Bulls and the Los Angeles Lakers. He won a total of eleven titles with those two teams and while it helped to have Michael Jordan and Scotty Pippen with the Bulls, and Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O'Neal with the Lakers, how do you argue with that kind of success? You might notice that there are a lucky thirteen rings in the photo because Jackson also won a couple as a journeyman player with the New York Knicks. Remarkable.

I didn't give much thought to the book which has become an immediate bestseller, other than that the title and cover seemed a bit "over the top": why didn't he just call it Lotsa Bling: The Soul of Excess?  But I do realize that it contains Jackson's musings about the spiritual elements of his coaching style.

Jackson grew up in a Pentecostal Christian household where his father was a pastor and his mother asked Phil's college friends if they were "right with the Lord." I saw Jackson interviewed on PBS by Tavis Smiley and they shared thoughts about their strict and dogmatic Pentecostal upbringings. I must admit that it was quite engaging.  Somehow Jackson gravitated toward Buddhism through the years and it was his unorthodox, "Zen" approach to coaching which got him a lot of attention. It sounds as though he has moved toward Philism, his own hybrid form of spirituality. In some ways this is the spirit of our time, and the blingy cover of his book says "look what my brand of spirituality produced.

Any thoughts about this approach to spirituality and its application? Do we live in an " a la carte" era where we choose what we want for the goals we want to achieve? What about Jackson himself? Would you read his book?

Sunday, June 09, 2013

Our Waters of Life

 Our Waters Our Life
Creator God, whose Spirit moved over the face of the waters,
who gathers the seas into their places and directs the courses of the rivers,
who sends rain upon the earth that it should bring forth life:
we praise you for the gift of water.
Create in us such a sense of wonder and delight in this and all your gifts,
that we might receive them with gratitude, care for them with love,
and generously share them with all your creatures,
to the honour and glory of your holy name. Amen.
Franciscans International

Today the Bridge St. congregation will gather after worship at Zwick's Park for a picnic whose history goes back more than a century. There will be good food and the opportunity for play and conversation. I will take along a small bottle to fill with water from the Bay of Quinte as well. This is part of a nation-wide project called Our Waters of Life, sponsored by the interfaith coalition called Kairos. We have been asked to find out about our watershed and the First Nations peoples who live nearest to us. The idea is to send the water to Ottawa through Kairos as a visible protest of  the changes to laws protecting the myriad waterways of this country. Two changes in legislation buried in omnibus bills are of concern to all Canadians but particularly to First Nations.

I had a good chat with Charles,  a staff member at the Tyendinaga Mohawk First Nation band office recently about water issues. This is not a group of people living in the distant north of the province. They are just down the road from Belleville, in the Quinte Watershed.

So we will do our little symbolic bit, and hope someone pays attention. The prayer above is offered as part of what we do today.

Is this just one more example of United Church goofiness? Have you thought much about the waters and watersheds of your area? Is your congregation doing anything to acknowledge this initiative?

Saturday, June 08, 2013

Sticky Faith

Recently Bridge St staff member Vicki commented on her positive dealings with a young adult from my former congregation, St. Paul's. Jonathan is nineteen (I think) and has been involved in the courts of the church which is where Vicki met him. She commented on his spiritual maturity and contributions to discussions as an involved Christian. I delighted to hear this because Jonathan is a fine young person, one of a number from St. Paul's. I have known him since he was a sprout and he is one of a group of young people I regard as my spiritual nieces and nephews. Watching them mature as Christians has been one of the honours of my life and I confess that I miss them greatly. I hope similar opportunities unfold at Bridge St.

Well, this week I read an article called Sticky Faith: What Keeps Kids Connected to Church? It explores elements of a book called Sticky Faith: Practical Ideas to Nurture Long-Term Faith in Teenagers. The article and book look at what works in terms of helping young people mature in faith -- to stick with Christianity.

Lo and behold, it is not about entertainment, the big mistake of the past few decades. For some reason we figured that the stuff for youth was supposed to compete with other pursuits. And we lost. Not that there aren't times to have fun, even goofy fun. But what sticks, the authors say, is first accepting what teens already know -- church and faith are not cool. But faith can be relevant and life-giving. Church matters because Jesus matters, so we should talk about Jesus. They also maintain that faith sticks with young people when they develop at least five meaningful relationships with adults of faith. This makes such sense to me because I watched folk quietly mentor and affirm the young people I got to know during the past decade. There have been excellent staff leaders encouraging this to happen.

I would love to hear your thoughts about this. I would especially love to hear from anyone under the age of twenty, but God loves the rest of you as well!

Friday, June 07, 2013

Torah, Torah, Torah!

An Italian expert in Hebrew manuscripts says he has found the oldest known complete Torah scroll, a sheepskin document dating from 1155-1225.

I freely admit that I get excited about stuff that "real" people may not find intriguing. And yet  I write about it anyway!

Recently a Torah scroll (first five books of the Jewish and Christian scriptures) was carbon-dated and discovered to be about 800 years old. Previously this manuscript had "languished in archival obscurity" to use a phrase from one scholar. In the 19th century it was dated to the 17th century, but advances in both science and scholarship now make it the oldest such scroll in the world. It is suddenly a scriptural superstar.

We can easily forget that none of the bible manuscripts of both the older and newer covenants, or testaments as we call them, date back to the times in which they were written. I suppose the closest we get to that is with the Dead Seas Scrolls, which contain certain books of the Hebrew scriptures. To find a complete Torah of this age is a big deal from a scholarly standpoint.

For me the excitement is that the sacred texts for Jews and Christians have been copied and printed for two millennia and when we read from the bible in our worship we are the recipients of this rich legacy of loving transmission.

Snore? Does this intrigue you or bore you? Do you ever consider how the bible we read today got to us? Is it important to be aware of that legacy?

What is Aquaviva? Take a look at my Groundling Blog to find out.

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Apology in Glass

There are magnificent traditional stained glass windows in Bridge St. United Church which are worth a gander from both inside and out. We tend to associate stained glass with churches, but there is a new window in the House of Commons which is worth noting. It commemorates the 2008 apology to Canadian Aboriginal peoples by Prime Minister Stephen Harper on behalf of the government. Harper did a good job of apologizing for our sorry national history of abuse and cultural genocide in the residential schools. Many Christian denominations, including the United Church of Canada, were collaborators in the school system and we too have apologized. Along with the spoken and written words, the United Church set up a Healing Fund, paid reparations to many survivors, and has done its best to develop "right relations" with First Nations communities. Is this enough? It's hard to imagine it ever could be, but it is a beginning.

I do hope that the government apology was not a hollow gesture, and there have been situations in the past five years which lead us to believe that it might have been more talk than action.

It would be worthwhile for us all to ponder the story represented in the window and ask whether we have come full circle toward peace and reconciliation, as the bottom images suggest, or if we engage in an endless round of broken promises.  

What do you think of the window? What about the apology and what it has or has not produced?

Please take a look at my Wonky Vegetable blog entry at Groundling today

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

The Good Ship Jesus Christ

A 102 Year Old Transport Ship Sprouts a Floating Forest trees nature history boats Australia

Bruce Hood

Over the past two weekends most of the thirteen regional Conferences of the United Church of Canada have met, including our Bay of Quinte. At virtually all of them there has been discussion of the Comprehensive Review, the "everything up for grabs" review of how we are a denomination initiated by last year's General Council (national.)

Some of the comments I read on Twitter from those annual meetings raised concerns that this supposedly wide-ranging review was quickly becoming about church structure rather than faith community culture. Of course both are important to change, but without a new vision of how we can effectively live out the gospel for our time which takes hold in our congregations we can tinker with structure forever and ever, amen.

It was interesting that our son, Isaac, who is a United Church minister, tweeted some extraordinary photos of a 100-year old barge in Australia. This ship was hauled to a bay where vessels were dismantled decades ago but the shipyard failed and so this vessel was left, derelict. Over time it became a nursery for what is now a forest on the water. Isaac's comment was "I'm sure there is a metaphor for the mainline church somewhere in these photos."

I agree, especially knowing that the boat or ship was a symbol for the church for centuries before the cross became significant. Those of us in mainline or "oldline" churches wonder if it is only a matter of time before we are derelict, "dead in the water." We want to believe that the Holy Spirit can create something new and alive for our day, but it can be unsettling and even painful to let go of what gave us our sense of security.

I wouldn't mind if this image of the lush forest sprouting from the rusting hulk became our United Church logo, but I'm not holding my breath.

Is anyone else amazed by this photo by Bruce Hood? Would this be a discouraging or hopeful church image for you? Do you trust that the Holy Spirit will enliven the good ship Jesus Christ once again?

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Drones, Robots, and Faith

I have started into Ross King's acclaimed book Leonardo and The Last Supper which is about the painting by Leonardo Da Vinci which has Jesus and his disciples at table together for its subject.

King sets the stage for the era by describing the invasion of Italy by the French king, Charles VIII.  The French army had a significant advantage because of its artillery. The French cannons fired large iron cannon balls rather than the small stones of the Italians. The artillerymen of the French were trained specifically for their task, which was unprecedented, and they could fire off rounds with precision and speed.

Where am I going with this? To the military robots and drones of the 21st century. Over the past couple of weeks the US president, Barack Obama, has addressed the ethical issues of using unmanned drone aircraft --essentially robots that fly -- to strike a perceived enemy, including American citizens living in other lands who may be part of terrorist organizations. Meanwhile the United Nations has debated the use of robots in combat and the implications of this new military technology.

This is all part of a long history of seeking military advantage, and while the United States certainly has the ability and desire to develop these sophisticated weapons we would be naïve to think that other nations such as China don't or won't do the same.

Where does the notion of "Just War" come into this? This is a theological concept which is more than a thousand years old, and offers that even military conflicts must have ethical boundaries. In the Christian tradition we associate Just War with Augustine and Thomas Aquinas. How do we apply some of the principles of Just War to the sophisticated technology of our day?

It is tempting to say that warfare which eliminates risk for "good guy" combatants is an advancement, but who determines the good guy, not to mention the target? Little wonder that I haven't seen responses from religious ethicists yet, although they may be commenting and I just haven't noticed.

Pondering all this makes my head hurt! How about you? Had you been aware of these debates? Is it important for religious groups to respond?

Monday, June 03, 2013

Interfaith Generosity

Recently I wrote a blog about philanthropy and mused about the significant gifts of wealthy donors. Since then I saw an article about an unassuming Canadian couple who made a multi-million dollar contribution to McGill University to establish a program for interfaith studies. Barbara and Patrick Keenan have given five million to establish the chair for this program, which is a first in Canada. There are other programs in comparative religions, but not interfaith.

Mr Keenan was a minng engineer and saw the level of misunderstanding about religions while working around the world. Patrick is a Roman Catholic while Barbara is United Church, so they have been enriched by their own differences through the years. They see this work as even more important, post 911.

I would certainly agree that this is an important endeavour, and it's good to know that there are folk who are willing to put their money where their thoughts are.

How about your thoughts on this one?

Sunday, June 02, 2013

Thank you Edith

This weekend the actress Jean Stapleton died at the age of ninety. Stapleton had a long and rewarding career on the stage and in various TV roles but she will be best known for her brilliant portrayal of Edith Bunker in the sitcom All in the Family. Edith was the dutiful stay-at-home wife to her wildly bigoted husband, Archie, played by Carol O'Connor. She was mom to Gloria and mother-in-law to Michael, aka Meathead. Gloria and Michael were young and passionate liberals, a comedic contrast to Archie's stubborn conservatism.

Archie regularly demeaned Edith by calling her Dingbat and at times she really didn't seem to be the sharpest knife in the drawer. But over the years we realized that Edith did have a mind of her own, and her basic human kindness motivated her to stand up to Archie on issues of race, creed and colour.

We can be grateful for Edith because she was the "every person" of decency and inclusion. She formed her opinions on experience, not stereotypes or ideologies at either end of the spectrum.

When we look back through the years we might ask where our prejudices and stereotypes came from, and why they changed. Often the new perspectives came out of a Christian faith which nudged or shoved us toward new ways of considering issues. As often as not it was our willingness to see people as people which brought about those new perspectives. Were we a little "thick" at times? I certainly was and still am. But Christ continues to work within me.

Do you remember Edith? Was she an example of kindness and compassion leading to changed attitudes?

Saturday, June 01, 2013

Speech/Sermon Amnesia?

Oprah Winfrey at Harvard, where she gave this year's commencement address (Jon Chase/Harvard Staff) Photographer
There was an article in the Washington Post yesterday about this being commencement speech season and there was an accompanying photo of Oprah Winfrey. Oprah spoke at Harvard (of course) and talked about how most of the 35,000 people she interviewed through the years wanted to be validated, no matter their fame. There are lots of young grads from Harvard who have received a fair amount of validation in order to get there in the first place, but hey, Oprah has a point.

The Post article used the term "speech amnesia" to describe the reality of forgetting what a commencement speaker says almost immediately. I have heard a fair number of commencement speeches through the years, including several for my kids. The best ever was by Oscar Peterson who played at my wife Ruth's commencement. His fingers did the talking. I heard a few as the interim chaplain at Dalhousie and while some were quite good, it is cruel and unusual punishment to say a blessing, then have to sit interminably while hundreds of strangers traipse across the stage.

I can't be too glib about this because preachers do their approximation of a commencement speech every week. We would like to brilliant on a regular basis, but would settle for insightful and God-focused with at least some humour and a nugget or two for the road. Do people remember what we say? Sometimes. Sometimes a lot, and other times very little. Sermon amnesia. There are times when folk quote back things I never said!

Rather than grow discouraged I like to think that it is along the lines of being regularly nourished by wholesome meals, even if we don't remember every one. If we stay spiritually healthy that's the sign we were well fed.

Are you inclined toward speech/sermon amnesia? Do orators still inspire? Is there much point to speeches and sermons in a time of sound bites?