Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Do Chickens Have Rights?

Our good friends from north of Sharbot Lake were down to Belleville on the weekend because the abbatoir which slaughters their meat chickens is just north of town. They take care in the way they transport the birds, as well as their others animals because of their own convictions and because the laws in Ontario are quite strict. Friend Bill is inclined to say that he wants his critters to have only one bad day on their lives and we have bought much of our meat from them because of their outlook.

Can we say, though, that chickens have status in our society which affords them basic rights to fair treatment? Many would argue that is an absurd urban notion. Chickens are chickens, so how can they have rights. Others, including ethicists a d theologians would say otherwise - what's good for the goose is...well, you know. Today there was a CBC radio program on animal rights and is was thought-provoking. A philosopher spoke of his conviction that a self-aware mature ape was more a realized person than a newborn human child. He assured listeners that he didn't pursue this line of reasoning with his own kids and grandkids!

There are plenty of bible verses that encourage respects, if not rights for non-human creatures. God created them as well, after all. Did anyone else hear the program? Is it folly to speak of the dignity and rights of creatures we consume? Should I attempt to swallow that a gorilla has more personhood than my six-month-old grandson? Never!

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Pope Francis in Brazil

Pope Francis, the first pontiff from South America, has spent a remarkable week in Brazil as part of world youth event for Roman Catholic young people. You may be aware that the influence of the Catholic church is waning in South America. A few decades ago 90% of the population was RC, now it hovers just over 50%. You wouldn't know this from the response of Brazilians during the past few days. An enthusiastic crowd estimated at three million gathered in Rio de Janeiro yesterday and today Francis will celebrate a huge mass on the normally hedonistic Copocabana beach.

There have been vocal detractors, alarmed at the 50 million dollars spent on his presence in the country, but this hasn't dampened the overall positive response. Francis has challenged political and church leaders to honour and support the poor, of whom there are many in Brazil. He has scolded priests for not moving out of their cloistered lives to address the needs of their parishioners. He visited a favela where the poorest of the poor live.

Yesterday the pope also called attention to care for the environment and specifically the Amazon basin. He offered that the Amazon should be treated as God's garden, not a resource to be plundered and exploited. Perhaps we need to lobby for a papal visit to Canada, where Francis could have a heart-to-heart with some of our politicians. Again, Francis seems determined to speak the truth of the gospel and to speak the message of his namesake.

Have you been following the papal visit, or are these the lazy hazy days of summer for you? Is it important for people to have this opportunity to respond to their faith leader or is this sort of expenditure unjustified in a country of great poverty and social need?

Saturday, July 27, 2013

In Sickness and in Health

Well, another Saturday, another family wedding at which I will be the presiding clergy. This time it is wife Ruth's step-sister Sandy who was her best friend before their parents married.  Ruth stood with Sandy at her first wedding and will again today. This will be a poignant and joyful occasion. Sandy has been living with cancer for a year and undergone both chemotherapy and surgery.

When her hair began falling out she shaved her head. She came home one day to see that her partner of several years, Denis, had shaved his in solidarity.
 Shortly thereafter he proposed, both of them mindful of the preciousness of each moment.Initially it was going to be just a handful of immediate family with minimal fuss. I'm pleased that the guest list has expanded and a sister who lives in Israel will be here.

I will do what I always do at weddings, affirming the presence of God as the one who brings strength and joy into the covenant of marriage. There will be a special sense to the promises of this day.


Friday, July 26, 2013

Living With Purpose

During this time away from work I have been aware of a terrible human and ecological tragedy which has unfolded in a small Quebec town most of us had never heard of before. One night an unmanned ,  runaway train derailed in Lac Megantic and the subsequent explosion killed almost fifty people, some of them sound asleep. For some reason I couldn`t get enough information about what was unfolding and sought out news even when we were in a remote ``off the grid`` spot for a few days. I was curious and horrified and deeply saddened. Part of it was the suddenness of disaster visited upon these innocent folk, in what would normally be a peaceful and safe setting. And then there were the survivors, the ones who were spared, including a guy who stepped out of the restaurant and bar for a smoke, only to see the building explode in flames.

A couple of weeks after Lac Megantic CBC radio interviewed three people who survived horrific circumstances: a mom whose son was not killed when his high school basketball team was virtually wiped out in an accident, a woman who was rescued from her car in a pile-up where a fourteen-year-old girl was incinerated beside her, and a worker in one of the New York towers of 911 who escaped even as he rescued others.

They talked about survivor guilt, the trauma of living when others perished. The 911 hero talked about the importance of living fully as a tribute to those who died, and choosing acts of kindness as a way of being. I was touched by the insights of all of them, and it made me think of the times when I have wondered why I have been spared the deep pain so many of those in congregations have suffered. Life can seem so arbitrary and unfair, and yet we want to find meaning in the sadness and loss. I have discovered through the years that faith has been so important to people, as is finding a new purpose and focus. I suppose I have experienced my own form of survivor guilt at times but I am grateful for the lessons in living those who have chosen to carry on with dignity have provided.

Were you shaken by the Lac Megantic tragedy. Have you lived through a terrible loss or hardship. Have you ever felt guilty that you were spared what others endured.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

A Kindness of Crows

A couple of days ago I noticed an adult crow on the ground beneath the one feeder we have established at our new home. I was curious because foraging for errant seeds is not the usual behaviour for a crow. Then I noticed that it had a wonky wing which rendered it unable to fly. Since then it has returned to the feeder and the bird bath where it makes a mighty hop to get a drink. We have started to put out food for this omnivorous bird with some iffy ham slices serving as road kill. All offerings are gratefully received.

This crow has kin. It's interesting and probably unfair that the terms are a "murder of crows" and an "unkindness of ravens" to describe a clutch of them. I watched the injured bird leap laboriously up through branches of bushes and trees before it called out to its family. I heard their response in moments and then they were there, three or four surrounding the broken-winged bird. They talked back and forth for a while. I have seen them as a group in the yard.

For the longest time we humans ignored the connections of creatures other than our ilk, even claiming that God intended that only we could feel empathy or emotion of any kind. Now scientists assure us that a variety of birds and animals communicate, defend each other, support each other, mourn each other. Personally, this fits better with my understanding of the Creator. Why would God bring into being such a magnificent and complex "ark" on this planet with only one rather rebellious creature capable of a range of emotions.

What are your thoughts about this? Has your outlook changed with time?

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Give Peace a Chance

Yesterday our 21-year-old niece, Rachel, returned from a year in the African nation of Zambia. She went under the auspices of the Mennonite Central Committee and as an extension of her peace and conflict studies at  Waterloo University. For a year she travelled from village to village establishing peace clubs in schools, helping children find new ways of dealing with conflict in a nation which has been torn apart by strife and violence. There was nothing easy about this work. Rachel lived with a family which had a steady diet of the same bland mash. She travelled to often distant communities by bus, alone. Rachel is very blonde and pale skinned so she lived with the constant stares of the curious.

At times we were concerned about her safety and loneliness was a factor. Still, she persevered, believing in her work, longing for some fast food. Only a couple of months before her planned departure Rachel's father died suddenly, but she decided to go just the same to honour his encouragement and memory. She has a strong Christian faith which sustained her, and she encountered many "overcomers" while in Zambia. The photo above shows her with her wonderful mentor.

She arrived back in Akron, Ohio for her debriefing and immediately became mildly stomach sick on the North American food. She made the final leg of her remarkable journey yesterday and tearfully declared "I'm home" to her greeting boyfriend and family.

What do you think about Rachel's year in Zambia? We admired her fortitude. There is a fair amount of criticism of the week or two-long mission trips of teens from schools and churches, questioning whether they really benefit those in developing countries. This much lengthier immersion strikes me as a different enterprise. Would you encourage something like this for your child or grandchild? What about the notion of teaching peace?

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Princely Births

My wife Ruth was in hospital in Gander, Newfoundland, about to give birth to our firstborn child, Isaac, as Princess Diana was in hospital in Britain for the birth of her firstborn, William. They were born a day apart, although William got far more press. It's interesting that those two lads became fathers of sons in the same year, this time six months apart. If anything the frenzy over the birth of a royal was amplified many times over for this latest prince.

The hoopla over royalty seems rather contrived to me, but millions would disagree. This prince will grow up to do...what, actually? Queen Elizabeth continues to make hundreds of appearances each year and her longevity as monarch makes her a beloved figure. But Prince X will grow up in a very different world, as has William.

The arrival of royalty nudges me to ponder the lowly birth of the Prince of Peace. According to Luke it was announced by angels (top that!) but it was "certain poor shepherds" who heard first. There isn't much doubt that Luke wanted to emphasize the humble beginnings of the one who would become our Saviour and monarch. Jesus as the Christ, the Messiah, had staying power that has outlasted any royal family in any era.

Congratulations to Kate and William and the lil' prince. Any observations about the birth of this child, or the one who arrived two thousand years ago? I know the prince can't be more adorable than our grandson!

Monday, July 22, 2013

The Importance of Doubt

On the weekend there was an article in the New York Times about a Swedish Mormon leader named Hans Mattson who ended up doubting his faith.
 He responded to concerns of members, assuming that the criticisms of Mormonism were the work of Lucifer, or Satan. As he searched on the internet he discovered that founder Joseph Smith was a polygamist, sometimes taking teen wives from other members. He found that blacks were excluded from leadership for over a century and that early documents contradict themselves. He admits that he lived in a bubble of accepting faith for years and had to go through a significant shift relatively later in life. He and his wife thought about leaving but have remained Mormons, although with a different perspective.

It's interesting that during the last US election many who had previously considered Mormonism a cult got on the Mitt Romney bandwagon, including Christian evangelist Billy Graham. More importantly, it points out that religion which requires belief and adherence to certain principles without question is not helpful and can even be dangerous. Obviously a faith requires, well, faith, and at times we choose to trust where others don't. As Christians we affirm the resurrection of the crucified Christ, not to mention the existence of a God we don't actually see. But it is important for us to ask questions and name our doubts, especially in regard to historical principles which may be destructive or exclusionary.

Is it important to you to have the freedom to doubt? Have you relinquished certain assumptions which you realized were destructive? Have you ever been part of a fundamentalist faith community?

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Wedding Bells...Again

Today I will experience a first in 33 years of ministry. I am presiding at a wedding where the groom is someone whose first marriage ceremony I performed more than twenty-five years ago. He went through a sad and acrimonious break-up eight years ago and vowed he would never marry again. We've had scores of conversations through the years and he was always adamant, until a year and a half ago when he met a lovely woman who captured his heart.

Today is the triumph of hope and love over cynicism and bitterness. I'm glad for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that the groom is my sole sibling, brother Eric. This time I will share the officiating with son Isaac who was a four-year-old last time and is now a United Church minister as well. We will affirm the covenant of lasting love, in the presence of God, along with family and friends.

My congratulations, in advance, to Shelley and Eric.

Any thoughts about marriage, divorce, weddings, starting over? I better get going!

Friday, July 19, 2013

A Canadian Great

The celebrated Canadian artist Alex Colville died a few days ago at the ripe old age of ninety-two. He enjoyed his home in Wolfeville, Nova Scotia to the end and while his wife and muse, Rhoda, died last December they shared 70 years of marriage.

There was a pensive and even ominous quality to Colville's paintings which meant that even though they were representational they were also surreal. We were invited into scenes that left us wondering about the outcome, such as Horse and Train which became the cover art for Bruce Cockburn's Night Vision album forty years ago. Colville was a war artist and Rhoda experienced the tragic loss of most of her family as a child, so perhaps these experiences shaped his artistic sensibilities. Colville was modest about his accomplishments and took a workmanlike approach to painting.

The Colville's were churchgoers and a story that always makes me smile is of Rhoda having a group of church women into their home in the early 1960's. At that time a large painting of a nude Rhoda was prominently displayed where the guests couldn't help but see it. She wondered what tongues were set to wagging as a result of that visit.

Do you know Colville's work? We have a Colville signed reproduction, a dubious art form to be sure, in our living room. The Seven Crows is so evocative of the Wolfville area, which we enjoyed while living in Nova Scotia. Any thoughts or comments about Colville? About the church ladies?

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Stand Your Ground?

Thirty-nine years ago this summer my first gift to new girlfriend Ruth was a Stevie Wonder album -yes, an actual LP. It was Innervisions, arguably his most sophisticated, not to mention funky, and it included a number of hits, not the least of which was Golden Lady. Wonder is a sixty-three-year-old now, but back in the news because of his boycott of concerts in the state of Florida. He is protesting the ludicrous "stand your ground" law there, which emboldened George Zimmerman to shoot and kill an unarmed teenager named Trayvon Martin. Zimmerman's acquittal has resulted in widespread protest by those who are convinced that Zimmerman got off because he is white and Martin was black. Wonder made his announcement at a concert in Quebec City. Maybe he figured there would be less risk of being shot himself by making the statement here in Canada.

Many religious leaders, black, white, and Latino, have decried the chain of events which led to Martin's death and Zimmerman's acquittal. There is a chilling madness, it seems to me, that makes this sort of violence acceptable, and race does seem to have a part in it.

Have you been following the story in these lazy, hazy days of summer? Do you have any more of a clue as to why these stories unfold in what is a great country with so many fine people? I may ask my Americans relatives what they think when they visit this weekend.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Take Back the Night

I got an email from iTunes yesterday inviting me to download Justin Timberlake's latest single. I was going to buy it (well, maybe not) but I won't  because he has appropriated the name of an important movement, Take Back the Night.  TBTN began in the early 70's as the initiative of a woman who had been raped and decided to respond with a night-time march with other women to emphasize the right to emphasize the freedom to walk without fear. Men are now invited to take part in the yearly event and I have in several communities. I have invited congregations to participate, in part because of wife Ruth's former work with a women's shelter

Timberlake's song is not an attempt at solidarity and he was actually unaware of the Take Back the Night movement. He has made noises about his support, but that ain't what his song is about.

What do you think about the kerfuffle? Did you know about Take Back the Night? Should Christian communities support TBTN?

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Google Rembrandt

Yesterday was Rembrandt van Rijn's 407th birthday. Who knew? Google, of course. How many people are gainfully employed by Google to provide the daily Google Doodle on the home page? There are lots of cool reminders about the famous, infamous, and obscure people and events of history, to be sure.

Those of you who follow this blog and have been in the worship services I have led know that I have a thing for Rembrandt. He is one of the great artists of any age and he was actually recognized, popular, and wealthy in his own lifetime. But he experienced the tragic losses of three beloved children as well as his wife and muse, Saskia. He was not good with money either, so this prolific artist who created 600 paintings and 400 etchings found himself in Dutch (sorry) in his not-so-golden years.

It was in that period of loss and decline that he produced what may have been his greatest painting, The Prodigal Son. It depicts the homecoming of the wayward man child described in  the parable of Jesus found only in Luke's gospel. It is one of three "lost and found" parables, along with the lost coin and the lost sheep. The stories move from misplaced object, to missing livestock, to errant kid. The final parable is longer and more subtle, as though the listeners are being prepared for the "heavy lifting" of the final parable with its dynamics of forgiveness, reconciliation, and even bitterness on the part of the other, faithful son. We are certainly led to see that the desire of our God is to bring us home in forgiving love.

In Rembrandt's work there is a sense that his own life is present in the painting rather than simply depicting a biblical story. There are many Rembrandt self-portraits, from the young and cocky to the old and broken. The Prodigal Son captures his life journey even though he is not literally portrayed.

Do you know this painting, now in Russia's Hermitage, or have you seen it? Have you lived it? How is your parable of forgiveness and reconciliation unfolding?

Monday, July 15, 2013

Death of an Unlikely Star

Cory Monteith Goes to Rehab; Glee Star In Treatment for Substance Abuse

A couple of years ago I stayed with long-time friends in Victoria while attending a conference. During an evening chat they asked if I knew the TV show Glee. I was never a Gleek, but who didn't? The friends have never been connected to cable so they hadn't seen it ,but they proceeded to tell me that for a while Cory Monteith, one of the Glee stars, had lived in their basement. It seemed so improbable, but apparently Monteith had made a connection with their conservative but welcoming Christian community. There were a lot of "strays" in this little church and young Cory needed a place to stay, He ended up with their family when the two girls were young. As later teens when I visited it didn't really register to be stars-struck.

Montieih died over the weekend at age thirty-one, which is very sad. He always acknowledged that he struggled with addictions along the way, and it may be that he died alone in a hotel room because of an overdose. He also willingly admitted that he wasn't the popular, high-achieving character, Finn, he played on Glee. He was big and awkward and had worked as a Walmart greeter and taxi driver in his wayward teens.

There is a persistent myth of celebrity which doesn't go well with the realities of loneliness and uncertainty and human struggle. I wonder if our friends even heard of Cory's death, and what their reaction might be. I'm glad they were around to be hospitable at a stage of his life.


Saturday, July 13, 2013

Give 30: Ramadan and Compassion

Lawyer Ziyaad Mia had the idea of encouraging people to hand over the money they save on coffee during Ramadan to the Daily Bread Food Bank. His Give 30 campaign, open to everyone,  soon took on a life of its own, expanding to Calgary and beyond this year. Muslims will begin a holy month of daytime fasting on July 9 this year.

You might remember me telling you about an initiative last year  called Give 30 which challenged members of various mosques in Toronto to donate  at least a dollar a day during the fast season of Ramadan for food banks. Both contemplation and compassion are elements of Ramadan, not unlike the Christian season of Lent, I suppose. The campaign raised $40,000 for the Daily Bread program.

It proved to be quite a success and I listened to the founder Ziyaad Mia  a couple of days ago who explained that this year it was expanding to other cities including Calgary. He reminded listeners that compassion is a key element in all major religions and I have to agree. His comments made me think of Karen Armstrong's book The Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life which appeals to this common principle amongst religions. One of the positive changes of my lifetime is interfaith dialogue which asks what we share rather than what divides us.

What do you think of this initiative? Would you be interested in studying Armstrong's book? Have you noticed the change in outlook through the years?

Friday, July 12, 2013

Voices and Hearts United

People who sing in choirs do so because they love it. Many individuals have told me that they drag themselves to choir practice after a demanding day or week and leave energized. They enjoy the challenge of "voices united" and for those who sing in church choirs there is the aspect of praising God in this unique form of prayer. The late philosopher Max Picard argued that music and singing is paradoxically an expression of silence which brings us into closer communion with God.

I read an NPR article this week about a study from Sweden which discovered that singing in a choir actually synchronizes the heartbeats of the participants. Cool!

Using pulse monitors attached to the singers' ears, the researchers measured the changes in the choir members' heart rates as they navigated the intricate harmonies of a Swedish hymn. When the choir began to sing, their heart rates slowed down."When you sing the phrases, it is a form of guided breathing," says musicologist Bjorn Vickhoff of the Sahlgrenska Academy who led the project. "You exhale on the phrases and breathe in between the phrases. When you exhale, the heart slows down."
But what really struck him was that it took almost no time at all for the singers' heart rates to become synchronized. The readout from the pulse monitors starts as a jumble of jagged lines, but quickly becomes a series of uniform peaks. The heart rates fall into a shared rhythm guided by the song's tempo.

Are you a choir member, or have you been? What is your experience of singing in a choir? Is singing in a choir a form of praise and prayer for you?

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Teach Me God to Wonder

Teach me, God, to wonder,
teach me, God, to see.
Let your world of beauty capture me.
Praise to you be given.
Love for you be lived.
Life be celebrated, joy you give!

I had a holy moment yesterday with five-month-old grandson Nicholas. We went for a gentle stroll in the backyard, and I watched his response as I carried him from place to place. He quietly took in the rustling leaves and reached out to touch the flowers in hanging baskets and along the fence. His infant wonder caused me to contemplate the simple beauty of the natural world. I have no idea what he is taking in at this stage of his young life, but he was obviously fascinated.

In the midst of unpacking inside and trimming outside it was good to slow down and share his experience. We can all savour creation and Creator in these rich days of summer.


Wednesday, July 10, 2013


You have to be impressed by the video issued this week by the three women held in brutal captivity by a monstrous man in Cleveland, Ohio until their escape a few months ago..In the video all three of them thanked those who have supported them since their release, including contributors to a fund to assist them which now tops a million dollars. They assured  people that they are rebuilding their lives with their families. One tells us that she will not be defined by what happened. In other words, she will not be held captive by the pain and suffering of those unimaginable years.

In my ministry I have listened to so many stories of loss and disappointment and heartache, often with no idea that the individuals had lived through so much until they shared with me. Some were deeply damaged by their experiences and seemed unconvinced that they could recover. I certainly understand why, yet they have often seemed like prisoners who needed to be liberated. I wondered if they might ever be free.

Others were remarkable "overcomers" who had faced circumstances which would surely crush any human spirit, and yet they found a way forward. Often their Christian faith was central to their recovery and a return of hope.

Did you take a look at the video? I pray that these three remarkable young women continue to heal, and that God can be part of their recovery. Have you known individuals who were able to overcome profoundly difficult situations, or left this life with dignity and grace? Have you found strength you didn't know you possessed?

Tuesday, July 09, 2013


I have mentioned before that I was born during Hurricane Hazel in October of 1954. On the worst day of that storm 100 millimetres of rain fell, and the flooding killed 80 people. The catastrophe brought about major changes in flood plain management.

Yesterday 120 millimetres fell at Pearson Airport and the city of Toronto was awash in water. Underpasses were flooded, GO train passengers were evacuated by boat, more than a billion litres of  sewage-laced water was flushed into Lake Ontario.  This certainly wasn't of the magnitude of  Calgary and other Alberta communities, but it was significant. More rain fell in Toronto yesterday than any other day since records have been kept.

Can this just be coincidence or  is this a result of changing climate?  Two cities which are major economic engines grind to a halt because of supposedly freak weather. Scientists keep warning us that this sort of weather will be part of climates change but for most of us it is same-old, same-old. I think of the biblical deluge myth involving an ark. People are warned by God to change their sinful ways but most ignore it until the waters rise.

Do extreme weather events concern you? Do you feel helpless to bring about change? Can faith communities engage in positive conversation and action?

Sunday, July 07, 2013

New Home Choices

We are really enjoying our new home in Belleville and we have welcomed a surprising numberr of guests in this first week of unpacking. We are finding most things we need, bit by bit, box by box, and actually becoming reaquainted with some stuff we didn't know we had. One of our big challenges is finding the wall space for artwork. The manse in Bowmanville was vast and the art expanded to fill it.

We are also making decisions about what choices we will make with mundane things which affect the use of water and energy. We know that our water heater is old and we will likely replace this traditional one with the "demand" type. Instead of a big canister of constantly hot water the demand units are small and produce hot water as it is needed. Friends have one, and while it costs more to rent, their gas bill has dropped significantly. We have one toilet which is low flow and it is on the ground floor. The other two are relatively new, so we are reluctant to replace them even though we would like to go to dual-flush toilets like the one in Bowmanville.

We had to buy all new appliances, including a dryer. It is great, but we are itching to get a clothesline up so we can use less energy. We are already using bulbs which require less electricity.We are certainly hoping that the gas fireplace in our principal room will allow us to keep the heat  lower in the rest of the house during the winter and we see that the thermostat is programmable.

\We have figured out where to put a rain barrel and just need to empty it out of all the garage gear we stuffed into it. It is a little crazy-making that our next-door neighbour, a very friendly guy, has a sprinkler system which also waters all of our front lawn. Why water the lawn in a Spring/Summer of steady rain?

Choices, choices, choices. How do we do the little things which allow us to be reponsible citizens and conscientious Christians who care for the world God has brought into being?

Saturday, July 06, 2013

No Child Should Ever Be for Sale

Have you seen the television ads for World Vision in which two cheerful shopping channel type hosts offer the opportunity to purchase a child who will work 18 hours a day for only $65? Of course they aren't real, but they are a creative way of bringing our attention to child labour and the plight of kids we might never consider in the course of a day. I wonder if they have received complaints from parents whose children may have seen the commercials and been alarmed.

The truth is that 1.2 million children are sold into slavery every year. World Vision is a respected Evangelical Christian organization which responds to the needs of children in more than a hundred countries around the world. They seem to be immediately on the ground after disasters but their ongoing work addressing poverty and the basics of life such as food, water, and shelter is impressive. There are more than 40,000 employees with 90% from the home countries.

What do you think about this sort of provocative advertising? Do you know much about World Vision? Have you ever sponsored a child?

Friday, July 05, 2013

Healing Prayer?

This past week a Wisconsin couple had their conviction of homicide upheld for the death of their eleven year old daughter in 2008. Their child became quite ill but rather than seeking medical help they "treated" her with prayer. They are conservative Christians who believe in the power of prayer rather than medical science. As a result their daughter died of a treatable problem.

I'm glad that they have been convicted of a crime, because that's exactly what it is. I must admit that I am angry at the moment about family members of a dear friend who are in total denial about her serious cancer. They too figure God will make it all better, and rather than providing support, including accompaniment for chemo treatments, they are off somewhere praying up a storm.

The strange thing is, I pray for individuals all the time. We pray for our friend most days as we are about to eat supper, and we hope that God does give her remission, and even healing. When I was in Sudbury I was part of a regular and well-attended healing prayer service with a number of United Church colleagues in the city. We always prefaced the service with an explanation that we weren't there for miracle sures, although we were open to anything God might do. We were praying that each person would find comfort and strength and peace for the journey through illness. Those who attended found them meaningful, and a source of hope.

I believe in prayer, and and any other way God might be at work, including surgery and medicine and therapy.

What are your thoughts about this? And your experiences?

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Faith and War

When I was a kid ou

cupola 2011

When I was a kid our family made a vacation trip to the States which included a stop at the historic Civil War battleground of Gettysburg. I remembered very little about it, and my younger brother even less  because we were so young. Together we returned forty years later and became aware of the scope of  the site of this turning point of the war. I have returned with wife Ruth and again after the opening of the new and expansive interpretation centre.

There was and still is a Lutheran Seminary in Gettsburg, on what it called Seminary Ridge. It was probably a lovely, rural setting to train for church leadership when all hell broke loose. The seminary became a field hospital for over 600 wounded men and people from different denominations provided medical and spiritual support.

This year marks the 150th anniversary for the Battle of Gettysburg and a new museum has opened on Seminary Ridge which examines the role of religion during the Civil War http://www.seminaryridgemuseum.org/  Scripture was used to justify both sides of the issue of slavery and clergy were criticized in both camps for the stands they adopted. The museum explores the concepts of duty and devotion which led men into this terrible conflict and resulted in the deaths of nearly three quarters of a million Americans. There are also exhibits of personal items such as a tiny bible carried by one soldier.

It sounds like an interesting museum from my standpoint. What about you? Have you been to Gettysburg? Would this museum interest you?

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Strength From the Sacred

Yesterday I listened to residents of the Siksika First Nation in Alberta speaking about the flood devastation in their community. I was struck by the determination and the spirituality of those interviewed. They were open in referring to God and the importance of prayer as they pondered the loss of virtually everything.

One man spoke about the sacred bundles of eagle feathers which date back through generations of the community. They represent their spiritual culture in a way we might think of a historic bible or cross. Going through such life-altering circumstances pushes people to consider what really matters in life, and what resources we draw on when most of our reference points for meaning are swept away.

How important would your faith be in the midst of loss? Would you turn to God, or away, in anger?

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Hush Now

 I will try again! Yesterday I posted a blog entry about Canada Day from my phone but it evaporated into the...who knows where! Today I want to muse about silence. Silence, to my way of thinking, is not an absence of sound, but an absence of unwanted noise. We humans have become very adept at creating jarring, grating noise with the myriad devices we have developed to assist our daily living. Some of them are hugely helpful, others are nuisances of questionable value.

I have never liked noisy stuff, and "toys" that roar make me want to run for cover. As I age my hearing is deteriorating, as is wife Ruth's. She commented the other day that both of us adopted the same favourite expression: " pardon, I didn't catch that." Yet noise has become an even greater assault with the passage of time.

If I had stayed at St Paul's I would be on sabbatical now and my submitted plan was to explore the spiritual dimensions of silence and solitude. Most religions encourage silence as a way to encounter God, with that sense that the divine can only be encountered as the rests between the notes of heavenly music. I have assembled my arsenal of silence books which will still be my reading this summer.

Bye the way, our search for a home in Belleville included a quiet street as a high priority. We hope we have found one, within reason.

What are your thoughts about silence?