Monday, September 30, 2013


I will admit right off the top that I watched the first season and a half of the television drama series Breaking Bad and then I quit. It wasn't the quality of the show which made me stop. I just realized during one episode that sitting at the edge of my seat about to break into a cold sweat wasn't my idea of entertainment. Which means that the writers, actors, and producers did exactly what they were aiming to do, I just couldn't handle it.

The multiple-Emmy Award winning Breaking Bad concluded its five-season run last night. It is a morality tale of sorts. Chemistry teacher Walt White becomes very ill and looks for a way to pay his medical bills. One writer points out that Breaking Bad would have been one episode in Canada, with our medical social safety net. Walt begins cooking the street drug, crystal meth,  with a former slacker student and while this is to be a temporary and highly illegal path to healthcare and providing for his family, he changes. Over several seasons he goes from being a rather bland and conflicted "every guy" to evil drug lord.

I heard a reviewer who loves the show lamenting Breaking Bad's conclusion, given how good it is,  while offering that the only fair ending would be for Walt to die, given his descent into evil. The interviewer was a bit surprised but the reviewer held firm.

The apostle Paul told us that the wages of sin are death, for those who don't seek redemption in Christ. Walt flirted with redemption of a kind in the early days of his lawlessness but eventually chose a path of no return. So he gets his comeuppance. That's the moral of the story.

Bye the way, even though some argue that Breaking Bad is one of the best television shows ever, it drew half the viewers of the "reality" show, Duck Dynasty. Hmm.

Were you a Breaking Bad junkie? Are you intrigued by the series now? Do the Bad Guys get their comeuppance in life? Will they eventually?

Please read my Groundling blog today

Sunday, September 29, 2013

A New Wave at the Beach...United

Today Beach United Church in Toronto will open its sanctuary doors to a new era in its life. It has undergone a massive redesign which has made the building more accessible, usable and environmentally friendly.


This is how they describe the new wave:

Our renovated building will be:
  • welcoming and spiritually uplifting, encouraging a sense of community and responding to the needs of our neighbours
  • more energy efficient and environmentally sustainable than our existing building
  • accessible for people of all ages and abilities.
The congregation has actually demolished part of the structure which was built in the post-war era to accommodate the baby boom, along with the retrofit in keeping with the realities of the current congregation. How did they manage this? Beach United amalgamated with another congregation and the sale of that property financed the work they have done. Instead of two over-sized footprints they have established reasonable worship and work spaces, including a modernized kitchen.

Does anyone else figure this is both practical and putting a smile on God's face? Not that God has an actual know what I mean! Is this folly, or a exciting response to the changing church?

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Church Dinosaurs or New Creations?

This morning Bridge St. United Church will be filled with music as part of the Doors Open program in Belleville. Kudos to music director Terry Head and those who will join him in this initiative. We know that the acoustics in the expansive sanctuary are ideal for musical events and the atmosphere is remarkable. I have done roughly a dozen tours with family and friends since arriving as the lead minister for the Bridge St. congregation and it doesn't matter what the age of the persons walking through, all are struck by the beauty and the holiness of the sanctuary.

What are the long-term prospects of big, old church buildings in the heart of downtowns in towns and cities across the country? I was saddened to read yesterday about the sale of one of those structures in Hamilton. I would have known nothing about James St. Baptist Church except that last November I was MC for a fund-raising concert there. An excellent roster of musicians performed to raise funds so that my sister-in-law Martha could spend time in Africa with her daughter Rachel who was there with the Mennonite Central Committee. This James St. church building is vast, and lovely, and shabby. Now it has been purchased by developers and will be "re-purposed," although the new owners say that the structure will not be razed.

How long ago would this have been unthinkable for the James St. congregation? Ten years, or twenty? Obviously they attempted reinvention with an alternative worship group meeting there more recently. That congregation assures the public that they are not dead, but they are now meeting in another location.

I am convinced that there is still a need for downtown congregations and that it would be a tragic loss for all the architecturally magnificent buildings to be torn down or turned into condos. The Bridge St. sanctuary and the pipe organ are literally awe-inspiring. At the same time I know that God is not big on humans creating idols to replace true worship, including idols made of brick and stone.The bible tells me so.

The massive shift in the way and the where of worship is already well underway. I hope we can be adaptable in our purpose and sense of mission in Christ's name. If we aren't we may become dinosaurs -- brontochurchomemberus?

Read tomorrow about a "new creation" historic United Church.

What are your thoughts on this?

Friday, September 27, 2013

A Good and Managed Death

Do I, don't I? It seems that just about everyone has weighed in on the honest and articulate video released by the widow of Dr. Donald Low regarding assisted suicide. Dr. Low died recently of a brain tumour and felt that it should have been legal to hasten his death. He suggested that if the rest of us had to live one day in his illness-wracked body we would be convinced that something to aid his demise was reasonable. His purpose was to re-open the conversation about assisted suicide or managed death.

How could any of us argue with his suffering and his appeal for a managed death? Was he wrong or right? I really don't think its helpful to think in those terms. As long-time readers know, I don't see myself as particularly courageous and I wonder how well I would deal with chronic pain and suffering at the end of life.

Low's video has prompted others far more involved than I in end of life care to suggest that a managed death is the ideal for all of us and that effective palliative care is one way of moving in that direction. We have a friend who is a palliative care physician who is not opposed in principle to the possibility of hastening the end of life as an act of mercy, although she is law-abiding under current legislation. Others have expressed the concern that the vulnerable of our society, the elderly and the disabled need the protection of laws even though they are sympathetic to the realities of unreasonable prolongation of life.

What strikes me is that Dr. Low was a person of power in our society, by virtue of his position and his financial stability. This was not power he abused -quite the opposite from all accounts - but it was a reality. In addition he had a loving family which supported him and observed his wishes. He was a fortunate man in that regard. I also have little doubt that he could have arranged to terminate his life with a euthanizing cocktail if he so chose. He was making an important point about the very nebulous zone at the end of life, but his personal circumstances were different than those of many people.

The argument that we euthanize our dogs and cats rather than let them suffer has limited influence on me. We are able to exercise our own wills and make our own choices as humans. It's just not the same. But I sure don't believe in extending life no matter what, the way some over-zealous Christians want us to in a mistaken understanding of the sanctity of life.

I have no real answers, and in the meantime I will do my best to mediate Christ's compassion for those who are moving toward the finish line of this life and the starting blocks of the next.

How are you doing in this discussion folks?

A new Groundling posting today

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Grace of God

Satpal Singh

Once again terrorists attacked innocent and defenseless people in a truly despicable act of cowardice. Once again this terrorism was carried out in God's name, a gross perversion of religion which sadly seems to be the hallmark of Islamists, the extreme expression of Islam which is not the way of the vast majority of Muslims. Once again I am rattled by how some people perceive God and the terrible things they do as a result. The murders in the mall of Nairobi, Kenya were a low point, exacerbated by a mass killing at a church in Pakistan the same day.

I was greatly encouraged as I listened to one of the survivors of the Kenyan attack, a man who managed to initially escape the chaos only to return to help others. The CNN interviewer praised him for his courage but he was modest and deflected the conversation away from his heroism. He did say that God gave him the strength to return to danger and help others, as had many others. His whole conversation was sprinkled with talk of the grace of God.

What lifted me was that Satpal Singh is a Sikh and wore his turban during the interview. He demonstrated the best of faith in the midst of the worst and the most cowardly. I also listened to a Muslim leader here in Canada decrying the attacks and insisting that this has nothing to do with the tenets of the Islamic religion.

At it's worst religion is superstitious tribalism. At it's best it invites us to shared compassion and self-giving. Christians have deep convictions about how this is embodied in Jesus, who is the Christ. Yet we are diminished, as any person of any religion is, when we fail to understand that God is at work in others.

I ramble! What are your thoughts on this in light of the tragic events of last weekend?

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Crucified Woman in 2013

A couple of days ago I retweeted a Twitter message with an attached photo which was a "blast from the past." It was of the sculpture at Emmanuel College, my seminary alma mater, of the figure of a naked cruciform woman. In didn't begin life in the courtyard of the college, with the original installation at Bloor St. United Church in Toronto during Holy Week and Good Friday in 1979.

Almuth Lutkenhaus’ sculpture Crucified Woman was so controversial that the Rev. Clifford Elliot, the incumbent minister at the time, was charged with heresy in his presbytery. The charges were dropped, but it was a tough time for Cliff. I was a second year Emmanuel student at the time, and rather unnerved by this sculpture. But Cliff was such a gracious and decent person, so I listened carefully as he spoke about this work at the college. He kindly gave me a ride home after he spoke and he mentioned that a woman in the congregation had written an angry letter that included a range of opinions, including her convictions why God chose to enter humanity as a man, and about the subordinate role of women. He offered wryly that while normally he wouldn't agree, in this case he was tempted to make an exception and tell her to remain silent in church.

The sculpture was eventually installed in the Victoria University/ Emmanuel College courtyard, but not without debate and not until 1986. Nearly 35 years later someone chose to share the image again.

I will confess that I still find Crucified Woman somewhat jarring, yet I have come to appreciate the way it opens up many paths for reflection and discussion. What does this say about God's choice of the incarnation? What if Christ had come as a woman? If Christ has been depicted as Asian or a person of colour, why not a female? Can this sculpture help us ponder the suffering and marginalization of women through the ages?

Ah yes, so United Church. There is nothing simple or straightforward about our theology. For the most part I say, thank God.

What are your thoughts about this sculpture? What would your reaction be if it was in your church during Holy Week?

Take a look at my most recent Groundling blog musing.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

What we Know About Love

A couple of nights ago we watched a 2012 film called What Maisie Knew, an adaptation and modernization of the serialized novel of the same name by 19th century author Henry James. Maisie is a little girl, played brilliantly by Onate Aprile, who is caught in the tug-of-war between two separated, then divorced parents. There are the loud arguments between mom and dad, then the court battles for custody, then the recrimination and bitterness over who does what and when. Young Maisie is far more mature than her self-absorbed parents, although the moments when she just wants to be a child are touching.

The twist of the story is that the new partners of the warring parents are far more loving and attentive to Maisie than her biological mother and father. I won't spoil the story, but what Maisie seems to know is that love is not arrogant or rude, it is not boastful or jealous, it is not irritable or resentful. Didn't the apostle Paul say something along those lines?

Through the years I have been both witness and companion for families going through break-ups, and sadly, these family dissolutions get messy. Often the parents are determined to take the high road, only to get mired in the muck. And yes, there are occasions when the parents are far more childish than their children.

I am, bye the way, a "child" of divorce. The separation was when I was a teen and it was hard on us all. I'm glad my mother could maintain her spiritual compass and not descend into bitterness.

Have you seen the film? We certainly recommend it. Have you lived the story, or know folk who have?

Monday, September 23, 2013

Book Larnin'

Someone was visiting our home the other day and wanted to know what I was reading in the way of non-fiction. She is a layperson with an active mind, and liked that I would share titles during bible study through the years, even if  unrelated to the scripture  passages we were  considering

Recent  purchases include a book on the spiritual lives of  prison inmates called Down in the Chapel, Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth,  Invitation to Solitude and Silence, The Case for the Psalms, and Evil Men.

Now to eke out time to read these and others! The challenge of ministry is to be disciplined enough to be a theologian. There is a constant " tyranny of the urgent," the tasks, often important, sometimes not, which can crowd out prayerful reflection and reading. Pastoral care is essential as well, but so is the preparation and  investigation of new ideas.

It's a matter of balance I suppose. How do I talk about God and explore the way of Christ with others if I'm not doing the "heavy lifting" myself?

What are your thoughts about this? Do you want your clergy to spend valuable and limited time with their noses in books? Is this a luxury or a necessity?

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Prayers of the People

When I arrived at St. Paul's United Church Bowmanville a decade ago I was surprised and pleased to discover that there was a roster of people who led the Prayers of the People. I had never heard of this before, but it works. That group changed over time with some finding that preparing was a big challenge while others realized that it was just too emotional an experience for them. I would send a copy of the sermon to the pray-er for that week on Friday so the person would know my theme and he or she would prepare. There weren't more than a handful of times in the ten years where I wanted to say  afterward"those prayers did not reflect the editorial/theological position of the minister!" Instead I was touched by the sincerity and the thoughtfulness of what was offered. Sometimes our young people would lead the prayers collectively and with considerable grace. These really were prayers of and by the people.

Practically speaking, it gave me the only real opportunity other than the anthem and scripture readings to worship, since I was "on" the rest of the time. I'm sure God was grateful. I have prayed publicly so many times through the years I sometimes wonder if God's response is "huh, you again?"

Now I am at Bridge St. United Church and I'm back to leading the congregation in these prayers. It is additional work, but it has pushed me into prayerful, contemplative reflection to prepare. I have done what I started at St. Paul's a couple of times here, inviting prayers "from the floor" of the congregation and then weaving them into my pastoral prayer. I would never have considered this sort of extemporaneous prayer earlier in my ministry but I am more comfortable now.  

What should the Prayers of the People look like and sound like in your congregation? What was your response at St. Paul's, those of you who attend there? What about Bridge St.? What should we strive for?

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Resurrection Hope

There is a first time for everything in ministry, even in my 34th year in this vocation. Today at 11:00 AM there will be simultaneous services for two Bridge St. members. My partner in ministry. Rev. Vicki Fulcher, will be at an off-site location while I preside at a memorial service in our chapel. Both of the individuals who will be remembered and mourned tomorrow were elderly and in seriously compromised health for a while before death. The word "release" comes to mind, although the elderly man was very supportive of his wife who has Alzheimer's disease.

Both were loved and respected by family and friends. In one of those "it's a small world" situations I spoke with two former self-described Belleville girls (they are both in their eighties!) who knew the man who died quite well from an earlier time in their lives. He was an accomplished potter and one of the two has a number of his pieces still. She wondered about making the trip from Bowmanville for the service. The other person was in her late nineties and I have been so struck by the respectful, grateful love of her children, who of course are not kids. Even though she was denied the opportunity for education she nurtured it in her five children. Four have PhDs and one has an MA. I wish I had known her.

Once again I have turned to the painting by Gary Crawford used to illustrate the affirmation in one of our statements of faith, "in life, in death, in life beyond death, God is with us, we are not alone, thanks be to God." I'm doing my best to rehabilitate Gary's image now that he has painted Mayor Rob Ford's portrait!

In both these services we will express our gratitude for lives lived well and affirm our resurrection hop(e).

Some of you have gone through the loss of loved ones and funerals lately? Any thoughts or observations?

Please follow the link to my Groundling blog today

Friday, September 20, 2013

First Nation Eyes

There was an announcement on Wednesday that the author of one of those books staring balefully at me from my bedside saying "and when are you going to read me?" was nominated for the Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Prize. Thomas King, the writer, broadcaster and first aboriginal Massey lecturer, was nominated for The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America. King is also a First Nations humourist -- remember The Dead Dog Café Comedy Hour? It included segments such as
  • Gracie's Authentic Traditional Aboriginal Recipes (including puppy stew, fried bologna, and Kraft Dinners)
  • the Authentic Indian Name generator (featuring three wheels that could automatically create names like "Stewart Coffee Armadillo", or "Rosemarie Clever Tuna")
  • Gracie's Conversational Cree (designed for simple but useful phrases, such as "Please ask the chauffeur to bring the car around" and "How long will we be in port?")

  • The same day of the announcement  I was at Kente Presbytery, a United Church governing body which recently adopted a new name with aboriginal roots. We are part of Bay of Quinte Conference and Quinte is derived from Kente. Kente is the name of a French mission in this area and probably came from "Kenhtè:ke" which means "the place of the bay" in the Mohawk language.

    At presbytery we went through what is called a Blanket exercise with the name “Understanding Our History through First Nation Eyes.” It was developed by the KAIROS organization and is quite effective because everyone present is a participant and it literally takes place on a floor covered in blankets. As the story of Canadian First Nations is told from the time of European first contact the covering of blankets becomes smaller and smaller. We hear how what began as the negotiations between sovereign nations who are equal degraded to virtual servitude and loss of self-determination through the Indian Act. Eventually our group of fifty people was a handful standing on small squares of the remaining blankets.

    In the end we heard of the Canadian governments apology, which seems to have changed little. We were reminded that the United Church participated in the Residential School system and that the last school was closed in the 1990's, not the distant past.

    I do wish we heard more about the Healing Fund and other efforts of the United Church toward mending our relationships with First Nations. And about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission which is travelling across the country. A little of King's humour would have helped as well.

    But I quibble! It was an important reminder that this journey of healing isn't over and that our denomination still has a lot of work to do. May Christ the Healer guide us.

    Have you taken part in one of these Blanket exercises? Does it intrigue you? Do you feel well informed, or do you have just snatches of the story?

    Thursday, September 19, 2013


    Lamentations 3:22-23

    For these things I weep;
       my eyes flow with tears;
    for a comforter is far from me,
       one to revive my courage;
    my children are desolate,
       for the enemy has prevailed.

    Would you be able to find the book of Lamentations in your bible? Have you ever heard a passage from this Older Testament book read in worship? I remember doing so the Sunday after the attacks of September 11th, 2001, but not since then. This is a book described as a psalter (psalm book) of laments over Jerusalem

    I lament today. I realized last night how heavy-hearted I am over incidents of recent days which don't directly affect me, yet have given a dark weight to my spirit. A million children as refugees in Syria troubles me deeply, as does the ongoing violence there. The slaughter of people just going about their daily lives in Washington, another mass killing in a gun-obsessed nation is so sad. Then yesterday the inexplicable collision of an Ottawa bus and VIA train killing seven.

    In some respects these are simply the realities of life which happen somewhere in every day. Nobody said that life would be fair, and we are the followers of Jesus, the Christ who was unfairly put to death by a powerful regime. Still, there are times when it just gets to me, and lingers with me.

    I do want to trust that God restores us in the midst of the sadness. I want to pay attention to moments such as the award given to the courageous girl, Malala, who was given an award a couple of days ago for choosing to be a person in a culture that wanted to deny that personhood because she is female. Everywhere hope rises, even in barren ground.

    So I will both lament and live in God's hope. I will pray for those who mourn and suffer. There is an old hymn Great is Thy Faithfulness (VU 288)  which is a setting of verses from chapter three of Lamentations and they can be our guide.

    How are you feeling about all this sad news? Are you hopeful?

    Wednesday, September 18, 2013

    Imagine Your Church in 2025

    At our recent Governance Board meeting some of us were asked to consider discernment for our congregation with the image of a car travelling at night on a road illuminated only by the headlights of the vehicle. Our small group agreed that in this situation you better be making your way forward with the use of the headlights, however limited that might be, rather than the tail-lights. And you better keep an eye out for what might pop up out of the ditch.

    Congregations have a tendency to discern by tail-lights rather than headlights, harking back to what worked in another time and engaging in nostalgia which often is not an accurate reflection of what occurred. How do we look ahead to the road we are actually travelling as Christ's people?

    I hope you will read the article in the latest issue of the United Church Observer with the title Imagine Your Church in 2025. That's only a dozen years down the way, even though it sounds as though it is a date in a sci-fi movie. It is based on a survey of members and adherents who seem to know that the United Church is a rapidly changing expression of Christ's body. About a third of us figure we won't be worshipping in our current buildings by 2025, a remarkable number. Another quarter offer that it is "somewhat likely," which is hardly a ringing endorsement. I think that small rural congregations and those in large, downtown buildings are most vulnerable. I would like to know whether those polled from these two sectors had even greater percentages. ttp://

    I have a long-time colleague in Calgary whose congregation recently chose to sell its large, historic building and begin worshipping in another United Church.They will continue to meet as a separate congregation for the time being, but may eventually amalgamate. They will use the financial benefit of the sale for other forms of ministry. I am impressed by this creative use of headlights rather than tail-lights.

    Can you imagine worshipping in another building than the one where you gather now? Is your congregation forward-looking? Do you have hope for your congregation? Have you ever been forced to deal with a moose running up out of the ditch on a dark night? I have, literally and metaphorically. Let's pray for life-giving choices for the future.

    Tuesday, September 17, 2013


    Senator Pamela Wallin, the embattled Saskatchewan senator and former Conservative caucus member has been ordered to pay back a grand total of $138,970.

     Have mercy on me, O God,

    according to your steadfast love; 
    according to your abundant mercy 
    blot out my transgressions.
    Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
    and cleanse me from my sin.
                                   King David Psalm 51

    Four Canadian senators of the 105 sitting in the Upper House have been ordered to repay a total of more than half a million dollars in expense money they wrongfully claimed. Those monies included erroneous travel expenses and reimbursement for housing costs which didn't fit within the senate guidelines. These are the facts, although the factual information doesn't really tell the sordid story of cover-up and denial attached to the different situations. We need to remember that scrutiny revealed that less than four percent of senators were guilty of impropriety and one in particular stuck in our collective craws, that of the secret bail-out of Mike Duffy.

    I did shake my head last week at Pamela Wallin's unrepentant repayment of her illegal claims. She fulminated that the way she was treated was unfair. This from the Toronto Star:

    But she slammed the outside audit firm of Deloitte for sloppy accounting and an internal senate committee that concluded she was not entitled to claim certain travel expenses and, she said, “succumbed to a ‘lynch mob’ mentality.”

    Wallin was not required to refund the most in unjustified claims. That honour went to Marc Harbin, a liberal who has decided to retire from the Senate after repaying nearly a quarter million. And she has not been told to quit the Senate and assures us she won't. In most work settings Ms Wallin would be fired, with cause. The Deloitte firm is non-partisan, so where is the lynch mob?

    There are times in life when we need to be honest with ourselves and realize that we are not "entitled to our entitlements" as a defiant cabinet minister once told us. Someone has pointed out that this is yet another example of a wealthy white person who has no sense of reality about their wrongdoing.

    In our Christian faith we are invited to confess our sins, a "coming clean" of our frailties and shortcomings. If we repent we can be forgiven and begin again. It doesn't matter if we are the office cleaner or royalty, we all need to admit our faults. Perhaps Ms. Wallin needs to do some bible study.

    What was your reaction to Ms. Wallin's statement? How about this whole mess?

      (Brian Gable/The Globe and Mail)

    Monday, September 16, 2013

    Speaking ill, Speaking well.

    Last week an obituary of an elderly woman went viral. It was written by a daughter and endorsed by several other siblings. It received so much attention because it unapologetically spoke ill of the dead. The mother was abusive to the extent that her children were removed from her care and most had little contact with her through their lifetimes. The mother's cruelty led to legislation in Nevada which essentially allows children to divorce parents under certain circumstances. The obit starts out:

    “On behalf of her children who she abrasively exposed to her evil and violent life, we celebrate her passing from this earth and hope she lives in the after-life reliving each gesture of violence, cruelty and shame that she delivered on her children.”

    Wow. This is about as close to "rot in hell" as you can get. It expresses a hope of eternal retribution for evil deeds.

    It causes me to ponder how we live our lives and how we will be remembered. I have reflected on the lives of hundreds of people in funeral and memorial services and they are a form of obituary. Some of those individuals actually wrote their own obituaries, although they have been factual rather than flowery, informational rather than inspirational. They left it to others to say how their lives have been influenced.

     There was a day when funerals offered little about the individual, instead emphasizing eternal hope. I figure it should be a combination of both. Of course a eulogy literally means speaking well of the departed.

    What do you think about the obituary written by this miserable woman's family? Have you every been to a funeral where you didn't recognize the person as they are described? What would you hope for in your obituary?

    Saturday, September 14, 2013

    God intervention on Suicide Prevention Day

    After my Suicide Prevention Day blog and tweets I received a note from a friend who had a story to share. That day she happened to read a poem on Instagram written by the tween daughter of a friend who lives across the country. It was beautifully written and quite suicidal in tone. Disturbed by what she read she decided to "screen shot" the poem to the girl's mom who immediately went to her daughter. The mother discovered that her child had a well-thought-out suicide strategy, complete with a rope hidden away to use while her parents slept. They talked and talked, then talked some more to the person here in Ontario who saw the poem in the first place. She commented in her email to me:
    I didn't even realize it was Suicide Prevention Day until late last night. The irony is not lost on me. I learned a HUGE lesson yesterday. I will always trust my gut because it isn't my own inner voice trying to nudge me. I know I was nudged by a power greater than me. 

    I was asked to pray for the girl, which I will do. I hope you do too. The title for my blog entry today was the header for the email I received. I think it's true, and a reminder that God works through us.


    Friday, September 13, 2013

    Freedom of Expression, Freedom of Religion

    This week we have listened to Sikhs, Jews, Muslims in Quebec who are wondering whether they are welcome in the province after the introduction of the Charter of Quebec Values. I have been calling it the Charter of Discrimination on Twitter, which declares my feelings. Even though some of these folk are not public sector employees the message they have received is that they are not respected because they are not "real" Quebecers. We know that crosses hang in the National Assembly and other public buildings, and that prayers are said in meetings of different levels of government. And isn't the white cross on the flag from the French crusader flags, you know --back when they rode off to kill the Muslims?

    I'm trying to understand how a man wearing a kippah is offensive but a man wearing a bad toupee isn't! And I do wonder whether legislated discrimination is any better than the insidious racism, ageism, sexism of individuals. Bye the way, one Quebec professor noted that not only is this discrimination against particular religions over others, it is directed more toward woman because they wear headscarves and other more obvious clothing.

    Take a look at this clip from a television show in which discrimination in blatantly directed toward someone dressed in a certain way associated with a religion. Watch it through to its completion because the ending is quite touching.

    Shalom, Salaam, Peace.

    Thursday, September 12, 2013


       YouTube / becauseisaidiwould                      

    If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1John 1:9
    Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. James 5:16         

    How many conversations have I had with people through the years who dismiss the Roman Catholic sacrament of confession? We don't need to go through a priest to confess our sins. Those Catholics are just going through the motions anyway. It's all hocus pocus and weird ritual. For the most part the criticisms come from folk who have never stepped in to a confessional.

    Actually, I haven't either, but I know that confession is good for the soul, whether it is our private and personal conversation with the God of mercy or in a more formal relationship as with a spiritual director or guide. Who am I to say that formal confession is not valuable? There have been many occasions where the person pouring out his or her heart to me as a minister might be informally in the confessional.

    Recently Matthew Cordle, a young guy who was driving drunk, ran into another vehicle and killed the driver. His lawyer figured they might have a case that would get him off the hook or reduce his sentence.  Instead Cordle  went into the confessional called Youtube and took responsibility for what he had done:

     “When I get charged I will plead guilty and take responsibility for  everything I’ve done to Vincent (Canzani) and his family.I’m begging you. Please don’t drink and drive. I can’t bring Mr Canzani back  ... but you can still be saved. Your victims can still be saved.”

    Cordle has been charged based on his online confession.

    What do you think of Cordle's confession? Are you able to "confess your sins" and start over? Is there more to it than saying sorry?

    Wednesday, September 11, 2013

    A Fitting 911 Memorial

    We will travel to New York City later this year and if possible we will visit the site of the World Trade Towers which is now a memorial. Two pools and inscribed names honour those who lost their lives as a result of the cowardly attacks by terrorists on the innocent and unsuspecting workers and visitors to the towers in 2001.

    Our timing is off because next Spring the National September 11th Memorial Museum will open. This museum was featured on the television program Sixty Minutes on Sunday evening and it was evident that it will be a solemn and even sacred space. The family members who serve on the advisory committee see it as sacred and I understand why. It is effectively the gravesite for loved ones whose lives were snuffed out in the cause of hatred and this is an opportunity to remember them with dignity. It will be far beneath the ground. I wonder if there will be prayers when it is opened?

    There are questions over which the curator and committee have agonized. Do they acknowledge the perpetrators of this calamity, including Osama Bin Laden? Do they include photos of people jumping from the towers to their deaths? What information about those who died should be shared, and who decides? It appears that this will be fitting memorial of events we would like to forget but shouldn't forget. Let's hope it can be a place of healing and let's pray for those who were so deeply affected on what we have come to call 911.

    Would you visit a museum such as this one? What are your thoughts about 911 more than a decade later?

    Tuesday, September 10, 2013

    Suicide Prevention Day

    I woke up this morning -well, the third or fourth time with the thunderstorm- to discover that today is World Suicide Prevention Day. I had already posted a blog but I will share a couple of thoughts about suicide as well.

    Over the years I've spent time with good people who are walking through the valley of the shadow of death because hope has failed. They have gone through prolonged periods without work or are in destructive relationships or are living with mental illnesses. Sometimes they have been hospitalized, or are on leave from workplaces, but more often than not they are going about their daily activities without much that it is noticeable to others. It is the inner agony which they share with me, often at great emotional cost.

    I have also had the solemn responsibility of supporting families through their grief when loved ones have taken their own lives, including presiding at funerals. I will never get accustomed to this, nor should I or anyone else.

    I invite you to say prayers for those you know and don't know who may be in the grip of suicidal thoughts. We can ask God to restore hope and that the light of Christ will be present in their darkness. Pray as well for those who will always feel the loss of a family member or friend who died by suicide. Today would be a good day to reach out in love.



    Ministers in mainline churches have different challenges than pastors in evangelical congregations when it comes to the age of members. Even healthy, multi-generational congregations in denominations such as the United Church are likely to have a significant number of elderly folk who deserve pastoral support and often have spiritual issues particular to growing old.

    As an example, it can be difficult to experience abundant life when getting from Point A to Point B seems like an insurmountable challenge. I am constantly impressed by the courage of elderly members but the loss of loved ones and the failure of physical and mental health can be dis-couraging. I have been in my current pastorate for a matter of months and already I have been involved in several conversations about post-operative care and decisions about moving from homes to apartments or residences for seniors. Often the concern is mobility or lack thereof, a key factor affecting quality of life.

    You may heard that on-site physiotherapy support for those in nursing homes and seniors residences is going to be signicantly reduced in the province of Ontario with the promise of the new alternative being better. I have listened to both sides on this decision and  while I am aware that the idea is to curb runaway costs, I'm not convinced that anything will improve.

     My 87-year-old mother gets support from a physiotherapist in her seniors residence from someone who visits her at her room. The location and relationship established makes this palatable for my mother. She pays for her residence which means that the government is not subsidizing a nursing home bed and it frees that room for someone else. Yes, mom's therapy costs money which comes out of taxpayers dollars, but this is a whole lot less than hospitalization if she fell and broke a hip, or moved to a different level of care.

    I wish I knew what to say and do about support for the elderly in this province. This isn't a particularly attractive social justice area for Christian communities yet it is so important to our aging population. Hey, many of us Baby Boomers may be wondering soon why we were so much in denial about getting older and why we didn't do more to ensure a high quality of life for the elderly.

    Any thoughts?

    Monday, September 09, 2013

    Health, Happiness, and Wealth

    Joel Osteen, seen at the Night of Hope event at Yankee Stadium, has a huge fan base.  His television ministry is watched weekly by 12 million households in the United States.

    TIFF wasn't the only big show in town over the weekend. Joel Osteen was here! What's a Joel Osteen you may be asking. He's the handsome guy with great hair and gleaming teeth who has a massive congregation in -you guessed it - Texas.There are about 43,000 attending the congregation each week and another twelve million watch Osteen on television.

    What is the message? God wants you to be happy and God wants you to prosper. Of course when you get lots of money through your positive attitude you will share it with others -maybe. Osteen takes no salary from his congregation but he is a very wealthy guy thanks to multi-million dollar book deals and his speaking tours. Thousands attended the event in Toronto and some pay up to $500 to hear the message.

    Osteen has no formal theological training and he seems to have missed the teaching of Jesus about simplicity and the dangers of wealth. Jesus speaks of this more than anything else, but no matter, the other J -Joel- teaches differently. It sure plugs into the American Dream and the disturbing Health and Wealth Gospel so prevalent with televangelists. It may not surprise you that Oprah is a fan.

    What disturbs me is that this is a sort of pyramid scheme with someone doing extremely well promoting the false dreams of folk who will never be wealthy. One elderly member of my former congregation loved Osteen even though she didn't have two cents to rub together.

    It's interesting to see today that the Global Happiness Index ranks Canada at sixth and the United States at seventeenth. Maybe Americans are less happy because their society focusses on individual wealth rather than social responsibility.

    What do you think of Joel Osteen? That Health and Wealth Gospel?

    Sunday, September 08, 2013

    The Gospel and the Railway Man

    Yesterday we left Belleville early to get to Toronto in time to see a movie I knew nothing about. The Railway Man was debuting at the Toronto International Film Festival on Friday evening and shown again on Saturday morning. We stood in a very long line in the rain before gaining entry but we were able to sit together in the elegant Elgin theatre.

    I'm so glad we made the effort. Ruth made the choice after daughter Jocelyn, who works for TIFF, invited us to pick a film. It is about Eric Lomax, a young British soldier who was forced to surrender to the Japanese in 1942 and underwent terrible torture when it was discovered that he and others had constructed a radio to hear news from the outside world. Here is the description:

    Eric Lomax was one of thousands of Allied prisoners of war forced to work on the construction of the Thai/Burma railway during WW2. His experiences, after the secret radio he built to bring news and hope to his colleagues was discovered, left him traumatized and shut off from the world. Years later, he met Patti, a beautiful woman, on a train and fell in love. Patti was determined to rid Eric of his demons. Discovering that the young Japanese officer who haunted her husband was still alive, she faced a terrible decision. Should Eric be given a chance to confront his tormentor?

    This is ultimately a story of reconciliation and forgiveness which is so powerful that at the end the theatre was all a-sniffle.

    At the conclusion one of the stars Colin Firth, Lomax's widow, Patti, and several other cast members, producers, and director took questions from the audience. Patti Lomax admitted that she and Eric had never heard of Colin Firth when he was cast, but her late husband was impressed when he saw his photograph on the cover of the newspaper shortly thereafter.

    Our gospel message is rooted and grounded in the impossible becoming possible in the reconciling, forgiving love of Christ. While this is not an overtly religious film in any way, it is a deeply spiritual story.

    Has anyone heard of this story? Lomax completed a biography with the same title shortly before his death. He did not see the finished film, but he had the chance to go on location near his home.

    Doesn't this sound like a good film for another group discussion?

    Saturday, September 07, 2013


    When we lived in Halifax it was at the south end of the peninsula, a spot where we could hear the sound of fog horns coming from both directions and a ten-minute "portage", carrying our canoe to the Northwest Arm. We also lived very close to St. Mary's University, so close that we didn't need to attend games to be updated on the play-by-play announcements during games of the excellent football team.

    I wonder if we were still there if we would have heard the misogynist chants of students during orientation week. Actually a group of supposed student leaders performed for 300 new arrivals. Apparently these "playful" chants have been going on for years but thanks to the internet they have now been shared with the world. Of course being "outed" has led to contrition on the part of the leaders, as well as carefully expressed horror on the part of the administration. It all sounds rather hollow, the sort of regret politicians throw our way when they have been caught being naughty. This is in the province where 17-year-old Rehtaeh Parsons took her own life after being mocked online following non-consensual sexual assault.

    I should be outraged, but I am saddened and discouraged. Where have we come after decades of supposedly concerted effort to educate children and young men and women about respect for one another? It was the way I felt about the lewd display by Miley Cyrus a couple of weeks ago on a internationally broadcasted awards show watched by girls who remembered her as Hanna Montana. Student songs about non-consensual, underage sex are blasphemy, yet they would have gone on unabated without Youtube. Obviously no one felt compelled to keep Cyrus in check. It's all student fun and showbiz folks.

    I have to wonder whether this education about equality will ever have traction without connection to a community which nurtures a moral and ethical foundation. After all, why is this wrong? Is there any "wrong" anymore?

    We better keep praying folks. As people who uphold the dignity rooted in a relationship with Christ the life of congregations is as important as ever.


    Friday, September 06, 2013

    The Other Race Film

    The big race film of the summer has been The Butler with an all-star cast including Forest Whitaker and Oprah Winfrey. It looks as though a host of actors we know well fell all over themselves to appear in what was a well-acted and meaningful picture. A group of about twenty of us went to see it here in Belleville and I really appreciated the conversation that followed.

    This week we saw the other race film of 2013 called Fruitvale Station which has drawn high praise and actually affected us more deeply. It stars Michael B. Jordan (the other Michael Jordan) who we know from the gritty HBO series The Wire, as well as Octavia Spencer as his mother. All through the film I tried to figure out where I had seen her before. Spencer won an Oscar as Minnie in The Help. I wish we had seen this one with a group as well and then discussed it together.

    This film is also based on a true story, this one of Oscar Grant, a 22-year-old Bay Area of California resident, who crosses paths with friends, enemies, family, and strangers on the last day of 2008. I really don't want to spoil your viewing, but there is a scene of prayer in a hospital near the conclusion which was powerful. Spencer gathers a brood of angry and bewildered family and friends into a calm circle of prayer and leads with dignity and power.

    Fruitvale Station is in Belleville at the Empire, downtown, for the weekend and I hope it is playing somewhere near you.

    Have you seen Fruitvale Station? Have you even heard of it? We highly recommend it.

    Thursday, September 05, 2013

    Samson and the Elephants

    New mosaics discovered in synagogue excavations in Galilee

    As some long-suffering readers have come to realize, biblical archeology fascinates me. No, no, please don't fall asleep at your keyboard! It seems that every few weeks something new is literally unearthed in Israel, sometimes during organized digs but perhaps more often during roadwork or excavations for construction.

    Recently a new-to-us portion of a mosaic featuring Samson was revealed in Galilee at the site of an ancient synagogue. An article describes a previous discovery and this one:

    Last summer, a mosaic showing Samson and the foxes (as related in the Bible's Judges 15:4) was discovered in the synagogue's east aisle. This summer, another mosaic was found that shows Samson carrying the gate of Gaza on his shoulders (Judges 16:3). Adjacent to Samson are riders with horses, apparently representing Philistines.Although he is not described as such in the Hebrew Bible, Samson is depicted as a giant in both scenes, reflecting later Jewish traditions that developed about the biblical judge and hero.

    The archeologists are wondering if these mosaics are part of a cycle depicting a number of scenes from the dramatic story of  Samson. If this is the case, stay tuned for the one with Delilah snipping off the big guys curly locks.

    At the same site a mosaic has been uncovered showing a number of animals, including an elephant(upper right.) If you wonder where elephants fit into the story of Samson, keep wondering -- they aren't there and they aren't mentioned in the bible anywhere. This is a big deal in archeological circles. It is art for art's sake.


    I included the image below because it is clever. Part of the story of Samson has him smiting foes with the jawbone of a donkey, or ass. Samson was also impetuous, to put it mildly. This is a Walrus tote -ag giving us a take on the story of Samson.

    Anyone else willing to admit that he/she is intrigued by this stuff? Does it open the windows of your brain or leave you brain-dead? Any other thoughts?

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