Friday, November 29, 2013

Repeated Thanks

Canadian Thanksgiving was seven weeks ago and now we are dominated by images and messages about American Thanksgiving. And I'm liking it! The message of gratitude, especially our recognition that everything in life is a gift of God, is one I need to hear repeatedly. It would probably be good to have a Thanksgiving once a month.

Here's a mealtime prayer shared by Brian McLaren for today that could be used anytime:

Let us give thanks for this meal, saying,
We thank you, Living God.
For this breath, for this heartbeat, for the gift of these companions,
we thank you, Living God.
For this nourishment and flavor, for soil and sunlight, air and rainfall,
for all to whom this food connects us,
from field to farm and store to table,
we thank you, Living God.
As we share this meal together,
may our thirst for peace be strengthened and our hunger for justice deepened,
until all are fed, and safe, and well.
We thank you, Living God. Amen.

 We Make the Road by Walking: A Year-Long Quest for Spiritual Formation, Reorientation, and Activation

If we could just convince our American neighbours to move their Thanksgiving to March....


Thursday, November 28, 2013


This is the beginning of the American Thanksgiving weekend and the first full day of Hannukah, the Jewish festival of lights. The two seldom coincide, in fact this is the first time since the early 1800's. Hence the term Thanksgivukkah.  To this we can add the beginning of Advent, the season of preparation for Christmas.

The U.S. postal service has issued a stamp to commemorate Hannukah, which is considered a minor holiday but is certainly worth acknowledging. I've always had a soft spot for Hannukah.

Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights, is a joyous celebration of ritual and remembrance. Central to the holiday is the lighting of the hanukiah, the nine-branched menorah used only at Hanukkah.The 2013 Hanukkah stamp features a photograph of a beautiful forged-iron menorah created by Vermont blacksmith Steven Bronstein, who uses the ancient techniques of blacksmithing to create modern designs.

This is a lovely confluence of religious and quasi-religious traditions which celebrate gratitude and illumination in the darkness. We have been invited to a Hannukah party on Saturday night and our host is loaning several menorahs to put on display at Bridge St. United Church following worship on Sunday. I enjoy the lighting of Advent candles through the season and this year our music director Terry Head, has chosen an Advent setting of Christ Be Our Light as the musical accompaniment to the lighting of the candles.

Living our gratitude for the fullness of the blessings God has bestowed upon us is an awakening and illumination, so it is great that all three coincide in 2013.

This is a serious topic but the lighter side is comedian Adam Sandler's tribute to Hanukkah and Judaism called the Hanukkah Song. He points out that all Three Stooges were Jewish, along with many other luminaries.

Were you aware that Advent, Hanukkah, and American Thanksgiving were all bumping up against each other this weekend? What are your thoughts about any or all of these festivals?

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Trouble With Loneliness

Did anyone else read the article featured on the front page of the Globe and Mail Saturday, and expanded within the Focus section? The title was Loneliness: The Trouble With Solitude and written by Elizabeth Renzetti. I thought it was well developed and explored the challenges of loneliness as we age, the contradictions of a "connected" culture which can actually isolate us, and the stigma of loneliness.

I thought Renzetti got it wrong in making loneliness and solitude synonymous. During our Silence, Solitude, Sanctuary, and Simplicity study group this Fall we talked about the difference between choosing aloneness as a way of spiritual recollection and loneliness, enforced or otherwise. Solitude need not be the debilitating, isolating experience described in the article.

When Renzetti gave the example of the Vancouver Foundation giving out grants to organizations creating community events I wondered why she didn't point out that study after study indicates that those who gather regularly for worship are healthier in body, mind, and spirit. While organized religion is becoming the unexplored option for many Canadians, we are apparently getting lonelier. Might there be a connection? Religion also encourages us not to be so self-absorbed, with many opportunities to lose our lives in concern for others in order to find a sense of meaning.

Do you see the distinction between solitude and loneliness? Has Christian community made a difference for you when it comes to a sense of belonging? Why is it "against the religion" of so many writers these days to offer religion as an option?

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Eliminating Violence Against Women


Well, I have been experiencing some posting problems, and this is my third attempt today. Yesterday was the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women which is a real mouthful. There is a day for everything now and it is a challenge to keep up. Perhaps having every day as an assigned day diminishes the impact.

At any rate, I missed it, and so did my wife Ruth. It was unusual for both of us because of Ruth's work for the better part of a decade. She was first of all a Child and Youth Worker in a shelter called Bethesda House, then a crisis counselor in their outreach centre. She met with women who were often at the lowest point in their lives, supported them at court and in their transitions, helped them develop exit strategies. I am glad that she no longer does this work, even though she did it so well. She heard far too many stories of brutality, both physically and psychologically. I was often outraged and ashamed to discover what men were willing to inflict on their partners. I could not comprehend how fathers could keep their children in almost constant terror. What a perverted sense of manhood.

I became aware of how many of these women were part of faith communities and that some were actually encouraged to put up with the abuse because of the "sanctity" of marriage. While their faith sustained many of the women, it could also trap them. And of course there is the shame.

Shortly before I left Bowmanville one of our senior women admitted that she had lived with an abusive husband. Her friends and co-workers knew her bruises were not the result of accidents. But who wants to admit that they are being beaten? Eventually she left, and only then realized what she should have done years before.

Any comments about this, a day late? I suppose it's never too late to remind ourselves of this reality.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Diplomatic Hope

Watch this video

Last evening we watched the second part of an excellent PBS television documentary on President John F. Kennedy. This second installment included what came to be known as the Cuban Missile Crisis. In 1962 Kennedy and Soviet Premier Nikita Krushchev played a tense game of nuclear chicken as the Americans established nuclear warheads in Turkey and the Soviets responded by setting up a missile base in Cuba, just 90 miles from the U.S. Virtually all of Kennedy's advisors, including brother Bobby, urged him to first-strike the Cuban base. Instead he and Krushchev inched their way back from confrontation.

This was a crisis of global significance, including here in Canada. As we watched last night Ruth and I recalled the classroom drills in which we crawled under our desks as the rather pathetic response to nuclear attack. What were our leaders thinking?

This morning we woke up to discover that a deal has been struck with Iran to curtail enrichment of uranium which could be used in nuclear weapons. The hawkish leadership in Iran has been replaced, in part, and there is a different tone. The international sanctions against Iran have created great hardship and crippled the economy. It hasn't been pretty, but it hasn't resulted in war.

As with Syria, the option has been there for military strikes, and with a fair degree of justification. We know that Israel would have been happy with those strikes in both instances, and Israeli PM Netanyahu is disappointed with today's outcome.

As Christians we do need to pray for diplomacy and solutions which avoid military aggression, even though we know that at times conflict may be necessary. We trust that every diplomatic effort is hopeful.

Well, I do. What do you think?

Saturday, November 23, 2013

JFK and LBJ and the Wars of the Sixties

We were visiting and elderly family friend in another community the day President John Kennedy was shot in November of 1963. The adult conversation was boring so I slipped away with my younger brother to see kids we knew who lived by. On arrival one of them told us, wide-eyed, that the president had been shot and we hurried back to let our parents and host know. The black and white television was warmed up and I was introduced, as a nine-year-old, to a world in mourning.  I recall the chaos of the next few days as assassin Lee Harvey Oswald was murdered and speculation began about accomplices in this heinous act. Then the state funeral with John Jr. saluting his departed father.

There was also the footage of Lyndon Baines Johnson being hastily sworn in as president on Air Force One. I had forgotten that a traumatized Jackie Kennedy was at his side.

What occurred to me in my recollections of this week is that out of this tragedy came Johnson's initiative which was unofficially named the War on Poverty. It was included in his State of the Union Address less than two months after Kennedy's death. The program was intended to improve education and healthcare in the United States and therefore reduce poverty. But The War on Poverty  coincided with another war, in Vietnam, and Martin Luther King became a critic of the amount of money spent on that foreign conflict at the expense of battling inequality at home. In his speech on April 4, 1967 at Riverside Church in New City, King connected the two:

There is at the outset a very obvious and almost facile connection between the war in Vietnam and the struggle I, and others, have been waging in America. A few years ago there was a shining moment in that struggle. It seemed as if there was a real promise of hope for the poor -- both black and white -- through the poverty program. There were experiments, hopes, new beginnings. Then came the buildup in Vietnam and I watched the program broken and eviscerated as if it were some idle political plaything of a society gone mad on war, and I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic destructive suction tube.

Where am I going with this? Ah, if I only knew! It is curious what filters back to the surface during anniversaries of life-changing events. And where history takes us, often by accident rather than design. For all the horrors of Vietnam, Johnson's initiative seems compassionate and almost -- dare we say it --socialist. Little wonder it isn't remembered kindly.

Do you remember the events of this tumultuous time? Any of your own recollections? Comments on the era?

Friday, November 22, 2013

Remembering C.S.Lewis

I remember where I was when John Fitzgerald was assassinated in Dallas Texas fifty years ago today. At the time I was not aware that renowned atheist Aldous Huxley died that day, nor did I know that Oxford don and Christian apologist Clive Staples "Jack" Lewis died on November 22nd, 1963. Neither death had much of an impact on a nine-year-old.

Some of you will know of C.S. Lewis because of his Narnia series of children's books and the films that eventually ensued. He also created a science fiction series, a couple of entertaining books called the Screwtape Letters, which are missives from a junior demon reflecting on evil and sin. Lewis's Surprised By Joy is a thoughtful spiritual autobiography which influenced me as a young man, and his A Grief Observed at a later stage of my spiritual development.

What do I appreciate most about Lewis? Well, the Inklings for one. This was an informal but regular creative gathering which included J.R.R Tolkien (also a Christian) and others to discuss their literary works in progress. They met in a pub named The Eagle and Child, or The Bird and Baby as they called it. In a day when many congregations are convening "beer and bible" chats at local watering holes, some might be surprised that Lewis and his companions were decades out in front.
The Eagle and Child were "The Inklings" met. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

I am also impressed that Lewis did a series of B.B.C radio talks during the WWII which were improbably popular, given the rather heady theological reflection. They became the book Mere Christianity but only one of those radio broadcast recordings survived. He was effectively using the only social medium available in that day.

While I haven't revisited Lewis' work in many years, he did contribute to my spiritual awakening at a critical time in my life. Have any of you been influenced by C.S. Lewis? Have you read any of his books, or seen the films?

Thursday, November 21, 2013

A Chrismon?

 I saw the poster above in a tweet from Columbia University in the US -- I think! Sometimes information floats into view and it's a challenge to remember where it came from. I love this image and the workshop will probably be great. But I had never heard of Chrismon ornaments. Chrismon? Is this like Kramer's Festivus on the Seinfeld sitcom of years ago?  A few minutes on Google introduced me to something I had never heard of previously.

A chrismon is a Christian symbol representing Jesus Christ. As in the case of Christogram, the term chrismon comes from the Latin phrase "Christi monogramma", meaning "monogram of Christ". Since early Christianity  the term chrismon has traditionally referred any symbol or figure reminiscent of the name of Christ, by contrast with the basic Christogram consisting of plain letters typically implying the presence of some kind of calligraphic ornamentation.In the 20th century the term also started to be used in a wider sense to refer to a wide range of ornaments used during Christmas.

Where have I been? Have any of you heard of Chrismon's before? Are you going to run out to a Chrismon workshop to create an ornament, or eight? Does this sound like a project for a bunch of teens?

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

United Church Elephant

Limba the elephant and her trainer, Robert Crawford, from the Bowmanville Zoo, wait for the start of the 52nd annual Bowmanville Santa Claus Parade.

Okay, Limba , Canada's oldest elephant is not a United Church member, but apparently she is an adherent. In this photo she is standing in front of Trinity United Church in Bowmanville and an unnamed camel is right behind her. Every November a number of animals from the Bowmanville zoo take part in the Santa Claus parade in Bowmanville and it gives a rather exotic feel to the event. When one of our daughters was a teen she like that she could stay in bed and see the top of the elephant cruise past her window on parade day. Another daughter enjoyed the fact that one day as she ate her lunchtime pita in a downtown restaurant an elephant walked by.

Limba may not be well though, as a grapefruit size growth on her side indicates something is amiss, perhaps cancer. There was a handful of protesters on hand as the parade began, claiming that her presence was animal cruelty. We know that the Toronto Zoo sent its three elephants to a reserve in the States, thanks to Monty Hall's cheque book and a fair amount of political back-and-forth in city council. Recently the zoo has been moved to Council chambers.

I don't think that the animals have been treated cruelly at the Bowmanville Zoo. Limba is quite accustomed to human crowds and probably benefits from exercise the way people do even when they are ill. I wonder if this is the latest bandwagon (parade float?) for some people.

At the same time we have to wonder what we are doing by keeping animals in captivity for our amusement. Is it really God's intention that we incarcerate creatures? The time may be coming, and soon, that we realize this is an injustice which needs to be corrected. There was a time when humans from other cultures were paraded before crowds as objects of curiosity. People of colour were made to dance and sing and make music in demeaning ways. Now we consider this barbaric, and we know that people of faith led the way toward reform.

What are your thoughts on this? Has the time come to see zoos as an enterprise of another era? Is there too much of a fuss? Is liberating creatures an aspect of Christian justice or just the flavour of the day?

Tuesday, November 19, 2013


Priest Art Cablao stands next to rubble of the 400-year-old Immaculate conception church destroyed by Typhoon Haiyan, 17 November

Oi, what a gloomy, wet Sunday it was a couple of days ago. And, lo and behold, attendance was down. November really can be a miserable month in Canada, and the temptation is to just stay under the covers.

Earlier that day I saw photos of Filipino Catholics gathered for worship despite the devastation of their homes and communities. You may notice that the roof of the church has been torn away and the anguish of those gathered to sing and pray and listen to scripture. I pray that they found solace in coming together as the Christian community.

Sometimes it doesn't take much to convince us to ditch church, and we North Americans tend to have it good. I look at these folk in the midst of their misery and I admire them. I ponder Christians in countries where they are often persecuted for their faith and feel a little chastened about my level of commitment. I need their inspiration in a land where Christianity is fading due to indifference rather than challenge.

A devotee cries during Sunday Mass at Santo Nino Church in Tacloban. Photo: 17 November 2013

What are your thoughts about the people of the Philippines and their dedication? Would we turn to the church for strength if we suffered the way we are, or would we just be angry at God?

Monday, November 18, 2013

Want Therefore Shall Not I

Yesterday morning the Bridge St. Choir sang a setting of the 23rd psalm by Marty Haugen as the anthem:

Shepherd me, O God,
beyond my wants,
beyond my fears,
from death into life.

God is my shepherd,
so nothing shall I want,
I rest in the meadows
of faithfulness and love,
I walk by the quiet waters of peace.

A couple of days ago I saw the words of the 23rd psalm from a 17th century psalter which will soon be up for auction:

 “The Lord to mee a shepheard is,

want therefore shall not I.
Hee in the folds of tender-grasse,
doth cause mee downe to lie.”       

Neither this recent setting or the very old one jibe with the words which most of us know, either from the King James Version of the bible or the New Revised Standard Version.

The Bay Psalm Book was the first book printed in the colonies and the first book printed in English in the New World.  In 1640 a locksmith printed 1700 copies but eleven still exist. The historian for Old South Church quit over the decision to sell it, but there is always controversy when these decisions are made. A copy belonging to Boston’s Old South Church will be auctioned by Sotheby’s on Nov. 26th and is expected to fetch $15 million to $30 million. If it realizes much more than $15 mil it will become the most expensive book ever sold at auction.

If only we would treat the psalms as extremely valuable for our everyday lives, rather than establishing a monetary value for one particular text. The 150 psalms of our psalter invite us to put God first in our lives. There is a certain irony that a fragile little book creates such a stir because it is worth a lot to collectors. The notion that we "want nothing" other than God is often far from our reality.

What do you think about big-bucks-bidding for a religious text? Do you ever search out the psalms for solace and encouragement?


Sunday, November 17, 2013

Darkness Brought to Light

Detective Constable Lisa Belanger led the investigation into what is believed to be the largest .most extensive commerical child pornography ring ever uncovered in Canada.

This week I thought about the late Timothy Findley's dystopian novel Headhunter which was published two decades ago. It is set in Toronto and, no, it didn't come to mind because of a certain dysfunctional mayor.The dark story includes a pedophile ring which includes a number of prominent citizens who assume their influence will protect them.

It was the news of yet another online child porn operation being brought to light, this time working out of Toronto. Actually, the boys who have been exploited and abused are Romanian, living in a poor village where a wealthy German gained their trust and convinced them to pose for photos. The distributor was Canadian, as were scores of the men who availed themselves of the pictures.

They included more than 40 teachers, doctors, lawyers, and nine religious leaders, pastors and priests. It always sickens me and I am always amazed that these predators assume they won't be caught. Of course, thousands probably aren't detected. While experts tell us that the vast majority never abuse children and youth themselves, they allow others to prey on the innocent and the desperate.

This is a dreadful sin, an evil which is soul-destroying for the victims. I do know families where members have been charged, and my heart goes out to those who cannot fathom why their loved ones would choose to go down this dark road. We can hope and pray that police and other authorities will continue their vigilance and their skills will become increasingly sophisticated.

Any thoughts?

Saturday, November 16, 2013

The Poop on Toilets

Often when Christians speak of water it is in terms of the wonderful qualities of H2O, how it bubbles and flows and refreshes. There is so much scriptural attention to water and Jesus is Living Water in the gospel of John.

Well, how about the way water flushes? After all, our homes have toilets which depend on water and even if we have gone "low flow with ours, we depend on them for sanitation. It is a "given" of our society and we are the better for it. But what about the  2.5 billion or more humans on the planet who do not have access to toilets and adequate sanitation. This is obviously more than an inconvenience. Poor sanitation means that drinking water becomes contaminated and children die. Girls don't go to school in many countries because there are no toilets. Women working in fields risk assault when they leave the safety of numbers to relieve themselves. Women spend an estimated 40 billion hours a year in the search for water.

Earlier this year actor Matt Damon and others promised that they wouldn't go to the toilet until everyone had access to one, a spoof perhaps of the commitment Angelina and Brad made not to marry until everyone had the right to marry. Damon and his posse are very serious about bringing our attention to the issues of adequate sanitation.

We might not think of a satisfying flush when we use the term living water, but maybe we should. Tuesday is World Toilet Day -- I kid you not - so give some thought to the more than one in three earthlings who won't be able to flush on November 19th. We can all be flushed for justice.

Any comments fit to print?

Friday, November 15, 2013

The Church, Darn it All

A few years ago I took a ministry colleague out for lunch shortly after his retirement. He was and is such a gracious man, serving his denomination and various congregations with dedication for a lifetime. I asked him which congregation he planned to make his church home now that he had hung up the collar. He admitted that he was thinking about taking a sabbatical from congregational life for a while. It was not the answer I expected, yet I felt an immediate affinity.
I am now serving in my sixth and probably final pastorate. With only one exception they have been positive experiences. And even in that situation there were many tremendous human beings, some of whom I still correspond with from time to time. I feel that I have learned to be a better Christian as I pastored others who have been faithful disciples. Some of these people have been very old and some very young. They have inspired me and changed me. Now I have come to a new place and have quickly come to admire lots of Christ's faithful all over again.
That said, there is a lot about congregational life --any congregation- from which I will happily leap and dance and skip away. There are lots of activities which are tedious and have more to do with social convention than faithful living. We get so fixated on buildings and the stuff which goes in them, and that is a form of idolatry. We are inclined to show too much deference to the mean and the mouthy, instead of telling this small minority to put a cork in it or ship out. Why oh why do we allow them such power? In other words, the church can be tediously like the world whose values we say we want to counter with Christ's love and compassion. A sabbatical after retirement sounds like a plan.
Enter Anne Lamott and her new book, Stitches. A review by Debra Bendis mentions an anecdote in the book where Lamott compares the church to a darning egg and mending a hole.  A darning egg is an object that a sewer puts into the ankle of a sock to hold the fabric taut. Church, Lamott says, is like a darning egg, giving us “a shape to work against”:
Darning is to send parallel threads through the damage in socks and sweaters, in and out, in and out, back and forth, over and under, and somehow, you have a piece of fabric again—such as the heel of a sock, that’s good enough again, against all odds.
I like it. Some congregations are more '"darn" that sock, it seems to me, and may not hold up much longer, but it is Christ the seamtress --seamster?- who holds us together despite our tattered, loose ends. I suppose we are both holy and holey. I may hang around, when all it said and done.
What do you think? Done with church? Hanging in there, raggedy edges and all? Do you like Lamott's imagery?

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Acceptance Beyond The Newsroom

Because we do not subscribe to HBO we have been rather slow on the uptake with several series including The Wire, Boardwalk Empire, and now The Newsroom. We have taken to the Newsroom slowly, in part, perhaps, because there is so much blah, blah, blah. That is a signature of creator Aaron Sorkin who also gave us The West Wing. Hey, it is intelligent, socially liberal blah, blah, blah to be sure, but we get washed over by words at times.

By the end of Season 1, we were on board, and actually enjoying the themes being developed. While we were watching one episode, set in real-time 2011, the acerbic news anchor, Will McAvoy, makes a comment about the five states which have legalized same-gender marriage. Since I had my smart phone handy I did a quick check of how many states have now legalized same-gender marriage. It is now fifteen, with five more allowing civil unions

Of course there are many in the States and here in Canada, where equal marriage is the law in all provinces and territories,  who would view this as the tragic moral decline of our culture. It is interesting, though, to see the shift in perceptions on homosexuality and the rights attached to orientation. This includes practitioners of different religions and various expressions of Christianity. While Canadians view Americans as more likely to engage in religion and to be conservative in their expression, surveys show that young evangelicals are inclined to be more accepting of their LGBTQ neighbours than their parents. Surely we have far too many letters in that acronym...but I digress.

I know from previous blog entries that opinions on the subject range from "let's get on with it" to "we have to accept the slow pace of change" to "why did this become acceptable in the first place?" I do sense that for many, many Christians this has been a steady working-through. Good people attempt to discern what is moral and just, often wrestling with values and perspectives formed in childhood. In many instances it involves relationships with friends, family members, co-workers who are loved and respected and simply want to be treated equally. Many heterosexuals have come to realize that gay marriage is not a threat to their marriages or anyone else's. Many gays and lesbians have concluded that they are loved and accepted by God despite what they were taught, and choose not to live in shame.

I'm not sure what to ask you, in light of previous conversations, but I'm tossing in out there. It's always good to hear from you.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013


So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up.
                                                                                                                              Galatians 6:9

This morning I grabbed a cheque on my way out the door in order to make a contribution to the relief effort for the Philippines. I am choosing to do so through the United Church of Canada because we work with partner churches in the Philippines and have confidence they do good work. We could have chosen the Red Cross, or World Vision, or other organizations, and with each one the money we contribute would be matched by the federal government. It's so refreshing to say that the feds have done a good thing in light of recent nonsense.

On the drive to the church I listened to a panel made up of those who are involved in organizations doing important work in situations of poverty and violence around the world. They conceded that the challenge after disasters is coordination of relief effort. One offered that despite the negative press at times, agencies and organizations are becoming more effective in coordinating efforts.

I think we have no idea of how chaotic it is to be on the ground in situations such as Haiti, and Syria, and now the Philippines. I have no doubt that there is misappropriation of funds and theft and miscommunication. This in no way absolves me of responsibility to act compassionately. I have accepted that some of what I choose to give may not reach its goal. God forbids my inaction on the basis of cynicism. Honestly, I need no motivation to be selfish, so I need to act and pray that what I contribute does its work.

You may not agree. What are your thoughts?

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Casting the First Stone

There is a story in the gospel of John which is not found in any of the other three gospels. It is also a story which scholars tell us was probably a later addition, since it isn't found in the earliest manuscripts for John. That doesn't mean that the story was fabricated at a later date, but it does suggest to us that it was a Johnny-gospel-come-lately. It is still one of my favourites, the story of the woman found in adultery, surrounded by a lynch-mob of sanctimonious religious people who are more than willing to punish a woman while the man probably escapes censure. Jesus rescues her, first of all by his presence, as he doodles in the dust, then with his words: "whoever is without sin, cast the first stone."

A billboard went up in Toronto this past week which included those scriptural words in defense of  embattled and disgraces mayor Rob Ford. We all know about Ford's admissions of drug use, and the curious defense that he was too drunk to remember. His defenders, Ford Nation as they are dubbed, insist that the poor schmo should be given a break and they use the bible to back them up.

Actually, they make a good point. Football is one of Mayor Ford's passions and we will probably end up realizing we should all be penalized for the infraction of piling on. This isn't really news anymore, it is gawking at a train wreck, like the morbid tourists who continue to flock to Lac Megantic to see the destruction.

Just the same, the mayor is a public figure with responsibilities which demand a standard of competence, preparedness to respond to emerging situations even when he is "off the clock" and -dare we say it -- demonstrating that he has some perspective on right and wrong, not to mention legal and illegal. There is a certain irony is the misspelling of the word "responsibility" on the billboard.

The billboard does not include Jesus' words to the same woman after the mob dissipates: "go and sin no more." Anyone can apologize and say "sincerely, sincerely, sincerely." But clearly Mr. Ford is in denial, denial, denial and has not addressed his strategy for "sinning no more." Nor has he addressed his determined and aggressive lying over many months.

What do you think? Cut the guy a break? Hold his feet to the fire? Combine the phrases in the story from John's gospel?

Monday, November 11, 2013

Lest We Forget

I have been fuming lately about the Canadian government's cruel and disrespectful treatment of its veterans. While we are in conflict we regard those who serve, and particularly those who fall in battle, with a reverential, quasi-religious respect. Consider the Highway of Heroes and those who gathered in their hundreds on every 401 overpass to pay their respects to passing hearses and the vehicles transporting the families of those who had died.

Sadly, there is a long history of mistreatment of those who have served and returned, often with significant physical and psychological injuries. The new Veterans Charter sounds grand, but it is a cost-cutting measure which substitutes a lump-sum payment for the pensions available to many veterans. It appears that some military personnel are being ushered out before their ten years of service to avoid full pensions. Veterans offices are being closed in various places across the country.

Into the midst of my slow burn comes Rick Mercer and his weekly rant. Thank God for Rick, an unlikely and irreverent prophet who isn't afraid to speak truth to power.

What is the point of our solemn observances during Remembrance Sunday services, or trips to the Cenotaphs of our communities if we do and say nothing about the treatment of those who have "shown no greater love than to lay down their lives for a friend?" There is a fine article by Doug Saunders in Saturday's Globe and Mail which addresses these issues,

Are you aware of these changes in government policy regarding veterans? What should we be doing? Should Christian communities sound the concern for what is happening?

Sunday, November 10, 2013

The Bully The Bullied And The Bystander

Miami Dolphins' Richie Incognito and Jonathan Martin
R. Incognito, 2nd from left, J. Martin, 3rd from left

I have heard Barbara Coloroso, the author of the book The Bully The Bullied And The Bystander. I went with my wife Ruth to get a better understanding of the dynamics of bullying and why we often stand by while it happens. I have been part of discussions with youth workers and ministerial colleagues about the bullying young people undergo, sometimes because of their faith. It can be terribly isolating and even lead to suicide.

A recent case of alleged bullying in the National Football League reminds us that it can happen to anyone, anywhere. Jonathan Martin of the Miami Dolphins left the team over the relentless bullying of teammate Richie Incognito. Both of these guys weigh in at over 300 pounds and they play in a tough, punishing game. Incognito has a history of violent outbursts and erratic behaviour, but he is talented, so he keeps getting hired by teams. Messages left by Incognito for Martin included racist slurs. Incognito and other teammates actually invited Martin to sit at their table for a meal, then got up and left when he joined them. Shades of high school. It is pathetic there, and in this situation.

Of course some of Incognito's other teammates defend him, and the NFL doesn't know what to do. Incognito is suspended, but he will be back, while Martin's choice will probably end his pro career. After all, you can't be a sissy and take your concerns public.

We know what a serious problem this is, but what can we do? I'm interested to know if you have experiences of bullying, or see it with the children and youth with whom you work. Any other thoughts or comments?

Saturday, November 09, 2013

Freedom to Express, Freedom to Create

Poster for the "degenerate art" exhibition
I was astonished by the recent announcement of a massive treasure trove of art which was discovered by accident during a police investigation. Roughly 1,400 pieces of art by an array of the 20th century's great artists, as well as some from earlier centuries, was found in a squalid apartment in Germany. This was artwork seized by the Nazis during World War II, labeled as "degenerate." The artists included are Picasso, Beckmann, Chagall, Matisse, Renoir and a host of others whose work is on display in the great art museums of the world. I stood and admired their work while in New York City recently, both in the MOMA and the Met. While the monetary value is estimated at a staggering 1.4 billion dollars it is the thrill of discovery in the case of some pieces, and rediscovery of works which were assumed destroyed.

Of course, the confiscation of this art was tied by the Nazis to Judaism. Before the war began, in 1937, there was an exhibition of this so-called degenerate art meant to mock and demean the artists who produced it and the movements they supposedly represented. The Nazis claimed that degenerate art was the product of Jews and Bolsheviks, although only six of the 112 artists featured in the exhibition were actually Jewish. The art was divided into different rooms by category - art that was blasphemous, art by Jewish or communist artists, art that criticized German soldiers, art that offended the honour of German women. Go figure.
Man looking at pictures in the Degenerate Art Exhibition

The year following the exhibit, 1938, the Nazis and many ordinary citizens attacked Jewish homes and businesses and Jews themselves across Germany. Kristallnacht, or The Night of Broken Glass, left more than a 1,000 dead, and began the persecution of Jews in earnest. Today marks the 75th anniversary of

The control of artistic expression is often the precursor to suppression of ideas and religious freedom in totalitarian states.I am thrilled that these works of art still exist. I hope that we are also aware of the importance of freedom of expression in our culture. Perhaps this speaks to us about the control of religious dress and adornment under the guise of values.


Friday, November 08, 2013

White or Red on the Lapel?

File:Anzac poppies.JPG

Aren't you impressed by my restraint? So far no "Lying Liars and the Lies they Tell" blog entry, although last Sunday's missive was close.

I'll take you in another direction instead. There has been a tempest in a flower field in Ontario over the distribution of white poppies, along with the traditional red. They are peace poppies and some are arguing that they are offensive to veterans. The Canadian Legion is making noises that it may sue those who are distributing them, which, despite my respect for the Legion, seems downright silly. I have addressed the white poppy around the time of another Remembrance Day, but just so you are aware of the history

In 1926, a few years after the introduction of the red poppy in the UK, the idea of pacifists making their own poppies was put forward by a member of the No More War Movement (and that the black centre of the British Legion's red poppies should be imprinted with "No More War"). Their intention was to remember casualties of all wars, with the added meaning of a hope for the end of all wars; the red poppy, they felt, signified only the British military dead. However they did not pursue the idea. The first white poppies were sold by the Co-operative Women's Guild in 1933. The Peace Pledge Union (PPU) took part in their distribution from 1934, and white poppy wreaths were laid from 1937 as a pledge to peace that war must not happen again. Anti-war organizations such as the Anglican Pacifist Fellowship now support the White Poppy Movement.

In Britain the Legion has stated that they have no problem with the distribution of white poppies, which seems sensible. After all, poppies became a symbol after the "war to end all wars" (WWI), so its not as though this is some quasi-religious artifacts going back centuries. The white poppy is a way of augmenting, not negating the message of Remembrance Day.

I have considered wearing a white poppy as well as the red, although if I lost the white one as often as I manage to lose the red one it wouldn't be around for long. I do wear a red poppy every year, and all through my ministry we have observed Remembrance Sunday in the congregations I have served. I always make a point though of concluding our remembrance with a commitment to peace, which I think the white poppy is meant to symbolize. Our first allegiance as Christians is to the Prince of Peace, even as we express our gratitude to veterans for the price they have paid on behalf of others.

What do you think? Is the white poppy an act of disrespect to our veterans or a statement about the desire for a peaceful world without violence? I think I asked before, but would you wear one?

Thursday, November 07, 2013

God's Open Door

Katy Perry is famous as a singer of catchy but forgettable pop tunes. In the age of music videos and stage pyrotechnics she makes a splash, but she has probably achieved stardom through assets other than just her voice. In fact, I had to work to find a photo in which she wasn't sharing those assets as liberally as she usually does. At 46.5 million followers she is now more popular than Justin Bieber on Twitter, which we know is the true measure of a person.

I saw recently that Katy reinvented herself after a stuttering start to her career in the role of Christian singer. Yup, that Katy Perry. Apparently Perry was a huge fan of Amy Grant, one of the first pop/country/soft rock Christian musicians. Grant digressed from the Christian music path herself for a time, although not from her Christian faith, as I understand it. Earlier this year Grant released an album, or whatever we call them now, called How Mercy Looks from Here.  James Taylor sings back-up on one of her songs.

There is a Canadian star who had her roots in Christian music as well. Serena Ryder has a CD which is a huge international hit thanks to the song Stompa, although I can tell you that all the songs are great. I actually chatted with Serena in New Mexico as we rode to the airport on a shuttle. She gave me her plane seat after she decided to hop off our delayed flight and find another.

Serena grew up in Millbrook Ontario and sang and played in the Christian rock band Thousand Foot Krutch. She moved on from those earnest beginnings. I have no idea where Serena may be in her faith journey, nor Katy for that matter, although I have the feeling that it may be "back-burner" for Katy in this season of her life.

There's the thing. For many of us our faith may wax and wane over the years. We get distracted, disappointed, lured elsewhere along the way. We may choose to return, but to a different expression of faith, one which is more mature. We may abandon it all together. It's good to know that God is patient and has an "open door policy."

Did you know about these artists and faith? I know, some of you don't care. Any other thoughts or comments?

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Jesus on our Team

Okay, full disclosure here. There are many blog entries which don't get past the "twinkle in my eye" stage because I can't find the corroborating news nugget. I just don't want to offer up phantom stories which my just be figments of my imagination. In other words, I have no political aspirations.

I am almost certain, though, that I saw a review of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's new book on hockey which refers to the Mutual St. Arena in Toronto as the birthplace of the National Hockey League. The book is supposed to be well written and informative, by the way.

The record does show that the Mutual St. Arena was home to the professional hockey team in Toronto which eventually became the Maple Leafs for roughly twenty years before Maple Leaf Gardens was opened. In 1914 the Toronto Blue Shirts played the Victoria Aristocrats for the Stanley Cup there. The first live radio broadcast from this arena with Foster Hewitt doing the honours.

The reason the name of the venue caught my eye is that is was definitely the place where the United Church of Canada was born in 1925. The United Church of Canada was inaugurated at a large worship service at Mutual Street Arena on June 10, 1925.

The thousands who attended were handed 38-page order of service containing the full text of the liturgy, prayers, hymns, and music. Hymns from all three churches were sung: All people that on earth do dwell from the Scottish Presbyterian psalm tradition; the Methodist favourite O for a thousand tongues to sing; the Congregationalist O God of Bethel; and When I survey the wondrous cross.  The denomination is "United" because the Methodists, Congregationalists, and two thirds of the Presbyterians in Canada came into the union.

We are looking a little creaky as a denomination, although that tends to happen to octogenarians. We haven't done all that well at re-inventing ourselves for the 21st century, so the 600,000 members at union, which grew to 1.1 million in the early sixties, has faded to about half a million. Yes there are about 2.8 million adherents, but it seems that too many of them are interested in "hatch, match, and dispatch, along with warm fuzzies at Christmas and Easter. During those 83 years Canada's population has grown from 10 million to 35 million.

We may not play in the big leagues anymore, but maybe the game hasn't passed us by altogether. Let's hope that we can find our way into some creative pick-up pond shinny. I am choosing Jesus for my team, because I don't think we have a prayer without him.


Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Oasis of Green in the Big Apple

The main street of the City was pure gold, translucent as glass. But there was no sign of a Temple, for the Lord God—the Sovereign-Strong—and the Lamb are the Temple. The City doesn’t need sun or moon for light. God’s Glory is its light, the Lamb its lamp!

Then the Angel showed me Water-of-Life River, crystal bright. It flowed from the Throne of God and the Lamb, right down the middle of the street. The Tree of Life was planted on each side of the River, producing twelve kinds of fruit, a ripe fruit each month. The leaves of the Tree are for healing the nations. Revelation chapters 21 &22

The busyness of recent weeks has meant that eking out the time for one blog entry per day -- Lion Lamb -- has been all I can handle. Sadly, I have neglected my Groundling blog because the issues of faith and the environment are so dear to my heart: You always hurt the one you love / The one you shouldn't hurt at all..."

 I do want to comment on my reaction to spending time in Central Park while in New York City recently. The guest house we stayed in was adjacent to the park so we walked through it several times. It is remarkable to see how many people use this sprawling green space designed by Frederick Law Olmstead in the 19th century. He also designed Mount Royal in Montreal, and the Emerald Necklace in Boston, amongst many other public spaces.

While in New York we went to the top of the Rockefeller Center --"30 Rock"- during the day, and the Empire State Building at night. The view toward the park is a wonderful reminder of the ongoing commitment to providing green space in a city of such intensification of real estate. During the day Central Park is spectacularly green and at night it is notable by its darkness in the city that never sleeps.

No one has a lawn in New York and a three-bedroom apartment in The Dakota, adjacent to Central Park goes for 10 million dollars. Actually, where we stayed was a block from The Dakota, the home of John Lennon and Yoko Ono at the time he was murdered. The Imagine memorial to Lennon is just inside the park entrance near that building in Strawberry Fields.

But I digress. For nearly a century and a half the commitment has remained to protecting and sustaining this ecological jewel in a city founded and perpetuated on commerce. There are even spaces dedicated to quiet in the park

The value of the park to the city is measured by a different standard and the people of New York are the better for it. I have discovered that the Conservancy group for Central Park is a public/private partnership which has raised 690 million dollars for maintenance over the past 25 years.

Conservancy crews care for 250 acres of lawns, 24,000 trees, 150 acres of lakes and streams and 80 acres of woodlands; install hundreds of thousands of plantings annually, including bulbs, shrubs, flowers and trees; maintain 9,000 benches, 26 ballfields and 21 playgrounds; preserve 55 sculptures and monuments, as well as 36 bridges; remove graffiti within 24 hours; collect over 5 million pounds of trash a year; and provide horticultural support to City parks.

We should pay attention to this is our urban areas. We can choose to create areas which literally breathe on our behalf, and provide places for recreation and the enjoyment of the natural world.  I love the Belleville Waterfront Trail and have taken the longer bike ride to work many times so I can enjoy this green space adjacent to the Bay of Quinte.

The book of Revelation speaks of a new heaven and a new earth in which the Holy City is a place of trees and clean rivers. Whatever our eternal promise, we have the opportunity to make the right choices now, for ourselves and future generations.
File:Southwest corner of Central Park, looking east, NYC.jpg

Monday, November 04, 2013

God's Glory and Changing Times

On Friday evening we scooted over to Kingston to hear the dress rehearsal for the Cantabile choirs. This is a remarkable musical organization with a children's chorus, teen choirs for young men and women, as well as the adult choirs. The rehearsal was in Sydenham St. United Church, the venue for these choirs and for other musical events.

The music was glorious, uplifting and beautifully sung. At one point though I was overwhelmed by sadness because the music was not intended for the glory of God.  Here were people of all ages creating exquisite song in a setting that was built for worship of the Living God. Now the remnant congregation depends on this usage for survival and I imagine that the majority of these talented young people are not part of a Christian community, given the demographics of our country. Don't get me wrong, I admire the resolve and inventiveness of the Sydenham St. faithful, but it is one more reminder that something went astray along the way in our sharing of the gospel in so many congregations.

There is a certain irony that these young and not-so-young people are extremely disciplined, as was evident as the patient but demanding director prepared them. So why has Christian discipleship become so rare in our culture? After all, discipline and discipleship share the same root.

I don't want to be negative, and I'm not "throwing in the towel" but there are moments for lament. Despite all this I am still convinced that Jesus Christ is Good News for our time.

I am grateful when I hear of the positive work being done with children and youth in our Bay of Quinte Conference. I think of the marvelous teens in congregations I have served and the work of our son Isaac in his new ministry setting.


Sunday, November 03, 2013

Coming Clean

Oh Sinnerman, where you gonna run to?
Sinnerman, where you gonna run to?
Where you gonna run to?
All along dem day
Well I run to the rock, please hide me
I run to the rock,please hide me
I run to the rock, please hide me, Lord
All along dem day

Don't you know I need you Lord
Don't you know that I need you
Don't you know that I need you
Power, Lord!

                      Afro-American Spiritual

The RCMP allege a Canadian senator, and another dramatically claims innocence on the floor with no one buying his story. The Prime Minister of the nation changes his story repeatedly while saying "let me be very clear" in parliament, over and over again. The mayor of the largest city in the country would be a laughingstock if it weren't apparent that he is in serious denial about the effects of his behavior and the company he keeps, not to mention what he might be smoking.

In nearly six decades as a citizen of this country I can't remember a time when more shameful activity has been brought to light about politicians, and less willingness to "come clean." Well, the gang in Quebec would give them a run for their money, probably literally.

Today in worship we hear the story of Zaccheus, a shady tax-collector, or at least that is the way he is perceived by his peers.  It is a rich story on the day we ponder saints and sinners. When are we willing to acknowledge our failures and shortcomings and even make restitution if need be.

In her thoughtful book Speaking of Sin: The Lost Language of Salvation Barbara Brown Taylor points out that we have confused the issues of sin by calling lying "spin" and greed "motivation." Sound familiar.

There is still a place for acknowledging our sins and our sin and choosing a different path. For Christians there is the Good News that we can be forgiven and reconciled. Perhaps the individuals above need to do a little "knee time." Then again, don't we all?