Saturday, May 30, 2015

When You Come to the Fork in the Road...

Friday and today I have been attending the annual meeting of Bay of Quinte Conference, one of the courts of the United Church since the formation of our denomination in 1925. This may be one of the final two or three meetings of this Conference and twelve others across the country because of significant proposals to change the structure of the United Church.

The General Council will meet in Newfoundland this summer and decide how to streamline a system that was designed for close to a million members and adherents, not the few hundred thousand left. The United Church is aging and shrinking and we are running out of money, fast.

Do you remember that I found a United Church Observer article in an issue my mother kept from the year of my ordination, 1980? A report to the General Council of that year recommended moving from four levels of governance to three at a time when there was still vitality in the UCC. These decisions will be a matter of necessity and so carry an bitter aroma of defeat.

The United Church has found its way through other challenges and even crises, so we aren't throwing in the towel. We already are a different church from that of the past.

It was supposedly Yogi Berra who said "when you come to the fork in the road, take it!" Now we are at the fork we have to figure out how Christ is present in both our deliberations and new realities.


Friday, May 29, 2015

The Big Diseasy

  John Woods for National Post

I tend to pay attention to the deaths of those who die younger than me, and age fifty-one is definitely in my rearview mirror. Mike O'Brien, a longtime CBC comedy writer and an actor who played a recurring character on "Corner Gas," died of cancer recently. O'Brien wasn't keen on dying young, yet he remained thoughtful and playful to the end, as is evident in his blog called The Big Diseasy, a play on The Big Easy.

Here is his final blog post from last Sunday -- last Sunday! While I would challenge his "faith is earned" observation, who am I to quibble with a courageous dead guy.

Do you gotta have faith?

Sorry for the delay.  I went golfing two weeks ago and tore something in my upper thigh. It was extremely ouchy and I didn’t feel like writing. But at least it had nothing to do with cancer. Several well-intentioned people have encouraged me to embrace Jesus Christ as part of my cancer journey. One reader observed I never write about the role of faith in my life and looming death.

Faith is earned. I have faith in my oncologists. I have faith in my radiologist, my surgeons, my nurses, my pharmacist and my counsellors. They all helped me live longer. I have faith my palliative care team will help me through my final footsteps.
After years of surgery and chemo and radiation burns and pain, I have a hard-won faith in my own body. To paraphrase E.E. Milne, I was stronger than I knew. Above all, I have faith Robin will guide Will toward a fine life. That’s the belief I treasure the most.

Many people pray for me. I appreciate their efforts. Knowing that other people care about me is spiritually uplifting and therefore medically beneficial. I feel stronger. Thank you.
But I have to continue to believe what I always have. I am a secular humanist. I believe we can achieve ethical, kind co-habitation, based on science, not superstition. It incorporates some of the teachings of prophets like Christ, Buddha and Muhammad (image not available).

I admit, my internal monologues sometimes turn into dialogues with unseen powers. “If you’re there, I would love to go camping one more time.” But is that faith, or bargaining? I refuse to be a death-bed convert, finding God one second before midnight. If that’s not hypocritical, it is certainly convenient. Of course, I may be wrong. I often am. Fortunately, if God really exists, I’m confident he’ll look at my overall record and let me slide on the faith/skeptic issue. It just sounds like the kind of decent thing he’d do.

I've known a number of people through the years who talk a really good game about heaven but in the end are terrified about dying. Sadly, my own clergy Dad couldn't talk about his impending death. Honestly, I have no idea how I will face the end, even though I'm in the eternal life business. And because I follow the Christ of love, I suspect that all death-bed converts are welcome. I think there may be a parable or two to support that notion.

Are you ready to meet your Maker? Are you just "dust in the wind" and good with that? What do you think of Mike O'Brien's last blog entry?


Thursday, May 28, 2015

The Presence of Evil

A scene from the film 'Son of Saul' (Cannes Film Festival)
I really don't follow the Cannes Film Festival all that closely even though it is the premier gathering for motion pictures in the world. This year a French filmmaker, Jacques Audiard, took home the Palme d'Or for Dheepan, a crime drama about a Sri Lankan Tamil warrior who flees to France.
The Grand Prix award, which is second place, went to Laszlo Nemes' Son of Saul. Apparently both of these films, while very different, are about evil and do an exceptional job of exploring the subject. Son of Saul is set in a World War 2 extermination camp and this is the plot outline:
It is early October, 1944. Saul Ausländer (Géza Röhrig), a Hungarian-Jewish prisoner in Auschwitz works as a Sonderkommando member, burning the dead. One day he finds the body of a boy he takes for his son. He tries to salvage the body from the flames, and find a rabbi to arrange a clandestine burial. Meanwhile other members of the Sonderkommando learn about their impending extermination, rise up and destroy the crematorium. Saul keeps focused on his own plan to pay the last honours to a son he never could take care of before.
Those who have seen the film describe it as harrowing, and claim that it  is unprecedented in the way it looks at the experience of those camps. Finding ways to explore the nature of evil are important because we witness it everywhere: in the barrel-bombing of innocents in Syria, the physical and psychological abuse of women and children, the torture of prisoners in order to obtain information, to name a few examples. Of course religion has its share of evil, including the exploitation of children through sexual abuse.
I will probably try to see one or both of these films eventually, although it won't be easy.
Do you believe in evil as a malevolent reality in our world? Have you experienced it? Would you watch a film which explores evil?

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Holy Trinity!

This morning I spent half an hour with the eight o'clock bible study group. They are a committed group of Christians who have gathered for many years at an early hour. And it couldn't have been easy for them this morning as we grappled with the theology of the Trinity, a concept all of them learned in worship as children with hymns such as Holy, Holy, Holy. This Sunday is Trinity Sunday, yet the word "trinity" is not in the New Testament. It was the early church which grappled with how Jesus might be God and the Holy Spirit God's enduring, enlivening presence in the world.
We admitted that there just isn't as much Trinitarian emphasis in worship today, although I attempt to include all three persons of the Trinity in prayers and benedictions each week. I shared the section in the United Church Song of Faith regarding the Trinity and I appreciate the nod to the traditional language, even though it quite male. Some of the other ways of describing the Trinity work better for me.
With the Church through the ages,
we speak of God as one and triune:
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

 We also speak of God as
  Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer
  God, Christ, and Spirit
  Mother, Friend, and Comforter
  Source of Life, Living Word, and Bond of Love,
  and in other ways that speak faithfully of
the One on whom our hearts rely,

the fully shared life at the heart of the universe.
Would you say that you are Trinitarian in your perception of God? Is this a concept you don't think about anymore -- or perhaps never did? Would it help for there to be more discussion?

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The Good Sikh Samaritan

What are Jesus' best loved parables? Two which are only in the gospel of Luke would rank in most people's top three, and they even have their own capitalized titles. The Prodigal Son is one, and the Good Samaritan is the other. A lot of folk who aren't "churched" understand what these phrases mean even if they don't know the bible or go to church

The Good Samaritan is about a Samaritan who is good, which seems obvious. He is an "outlier" who helps a person in distress when those who are supposedly religious and righteous won't. The Samaritans were religious outcasts in the Israel of Jesus' day.

There is a lovely story making the rounds out of New Zealand about a Good Sikh. Harman Singh, a 22-year-old, heard squealing brakes outside his apartment and looked out to see that a child had been struck. He ran to offer assistance and removed his turban to use to staunch the blood of the bleeding child's head.  

Normally a Sikh would only remove a turban in the privacy of his own home but he responded to an emergency compassionately rather than being bound by religious convention. I have seen film footage of an interview in which he is modest to the point of shyness about his response.

The nice upside is that viewers noticed that his apartment was virtually bare, with hardly any furniture. A company donated enough new furniture to fill it, and Singh is obviously overwhelmed by the generosity.

What a reminder that compassion is not "owned" by any one religion and that good hearts are "open source."

Have you heard this story? What was your response? It is heart-warming.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Pentecostal Awe & Wonder

Aahhhhh!!!! Yawn! Church is a big yawn, don't you know? An increasing number of people in our culture figure that this is a reality, if they bother to think about us at all. And in many congregations, including lots in mainline churches, such as the United Church, there may be strong evidence that not much is happening, that the air has gone out of the tires of our faith traditions.

Instead of "Ah," what about "Awe," and wonder, and a sense of the holy? This weekend there is an interesting piece in the New York Times called Why Do we Experience Awe by two researchers who wanted to examine why humans experience awe. It starts out this way:

HERE’S a curious fact about goose bumps. In many nonhuman mammals, goose bumps — that physiological reaction in which the muscles surrounding hair follicles contract — occur when individuals, along with other members of their species, face a threat. We humans, by contrast, can get goose bumps when we experience awe, that often-positive feeling of being in the presence of something vast that transcends our understanding of the world.

Why do humans experience awe? Years ago, one of us, Professor Keltner, argued (along with the psychologist Jonathan Haidt) that awe is the ultimate “collective” emotion, for it motivates people to do things that enhance the greater good. Through many activities that give us goose bumps — collective rituals, celebration, music and dance, religious gatherings and worship — awe might help shift our focus from our narrow self-interest to the interests of the group to which we belong.

On this Day of Pentecost when we celebrate the air or pneuma of the Holy Spirit pumping into the tires of those frightened followers of the crucified and Risen Christ it would be worth our while to consider how we experience awe and the glory of God, rather than just "same old, same old." I have experienced "goose bump" awe in large gatherings of praising Christians, and in the tranquil chapels of monasteries and in the beauty of creation. Even in moments when I have been on the brink of terror such as holding on in  whacking great thunder storms while paddling I have experienced something wild and holy. There is no set way to experience awe, yet for me the common factor is being lifted into the extraordinary from the mundane and predictable.

What about for you? Where and when have you experienced awe? Do we have too many yawns and not enough wonder?

Friday, May 22, 2015

Yes or No on Gay Marriage?

Banners encouraging voters to support the Yes and the No campaign in the Irish same-sex marriage referendum
I have held off on today's blog entry as I await news from Ireland of the results in the first national referendum every held in any country to decide on gay marriage. A number of other countries have approved gay marriage but it has been legislative bodies which have done so. Approval in this fashion would be significant not only as a first amongst nations but remarkable in a country where the Roman Catholic church has been such a powerful social force for hundreds of years. Not unlike the province of Quebec, Ireland has swung toward secularization and a rejection of a church that was both controlling and hypocritical. A number of Roman Catholic bishops have been vocal for a "no" decision, but that may not be enough.
I found this on the Toronto Star website:
Early indications suggest this referendum is mobilizing voters on both sides just like Ireland’s previous landmark votes on joining the European Union, banning abortion and legalizing divorce. Electoral officers reported stronger-than-usual turnout at many stations in schools, church halls and pubs across this nation of 3.2 million registered voters.As voters left one polling station in northeast Dublin, they demonstrated a clear generation gap when The Associated Press asked them how they had voted. Those under 40 were solidly yes, the older voters much more likely to have voted no.
This exit poll is no surprise. Around the world young people are not only much inclined to support LGBT equality but in the United States young adults are leaving their churches in significant numbers because of the intolerance preached and taught regarding homosexuality.
The United Church of Canada has certainly taken considerable heat for its pro LGBT stance through the years and many have argued that our decline is God's judgement. I'm tempted to be glib and say that God has told me otherwise, but I am in fact grateful to be part of a denomination where acceptance, not just tolerance is so important.
Have you been following what is happening in Ireland. Any comments about the shift in societal perceptions about LGBT persons?

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Quiet Zone

Football pitch with GBT telescope in the background
Are there any truly quiet zones anymore, the places where we are able to truly focus in the moment because the accepted electronic distractions of daily life including cells phones just don't function?

I have mentioned before that while at the Ghost Ranch retreat and conference centre in New Mexico I would go for an early morning climb up a mesa with a guy from Atlanta I met during a visit. I was impressed to see other participants on the climb, first assuming that they were catching some quiet time with the Creator. They were actually attempting to catch a phone signal in this supposedly tranquil place.

There is a fascinating quiet area, the National Radio Quiet Zone in the Allegheny Mountains of the United States. A radio silence area of 34,000 square kilometres has existed in the wooded terrain of West Virginia since 1958 for the benefit of  a dazzling white saucer. It's the planet's largest land-based movable object - the Robert C Byrd Green Bank Telescope (GBT) - 2.3 acres in surface area, and taller than the Statue of Liberty. Nothing using radio waves works there, not even baby monitors and the residents of the sparsely populated area have learned to accept this.

While the Quiet Zone exists for scientific reasons site director Karen O'Neill and the BBC writer who interviews her comment on the community benefits:

"When I watch a soccer game, every parent on that field is watching the kids playing soccer, nobody is looking at their cell phone, no-one is worrying about that."And while I'm here, I no longer feel the constant compulsion to check my mobile - it's not like being in a remote spot with a frustratingly slow or expensive connection, it's a completely different way of life.

In this quiet pocket of North America there is a strong sense of community where conversations aren't interrupted by phone calls, status updates or notifications."You really don't see that struggle with the parents here where they talk to their kids and say, 'You've got to put the phones away,' and the kids go, 'Do I have to?' and they're sneaking them under the table and doing everything they can to text their friends," says O'Neill.

I wonder how we might encourage quiet, sanctuary as the Christian community. I am now tied to my phone like so many others. It gives me the wonderful benefit of communication with my family and friends at virtually any time of the day or night. I was awakened by fighting cats the other night at 2:00 AM so I checked my phone. There was the link to this BBC article from son Isaac.

So the blessing becomes a curse, becomes a blessing... I'm not sure what to think other than Jesus made sure he was in the Quiet Zone with God to be focussed in his ministry of healing and hope.


Wednesday, May 20, 2015


...the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. Galatians 5

I have just discovered that George Saunders delivered the convocation speech at Syracuse University for the class of 2013, and rather than an exhortation to achieve and change the world it was a humorous and yet very serious invitation to be kind. Saunders is funny about some of the incidents of his life which he might regret, but doesn't really. Then he goes on to say:

So here’s something I know to be true, although it’s a little corny, and I don’t quite know what to do with it: What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness. Those moments when another human being was there, in front of me, suffering, and I responded . . . sensibly. Reservedly. Mildly.

Or, to look at it from the other end of the telescope: Who, in your life, do you remember most fondly, with the most undeniable feelings of warmth? Those who were kindest to you, I bet. It’s a little facile, maybe, and certainly hard to implement, but I’d say, as a goal in life, you could do worse than: Try to be kinder.
So let me just say this. There are ways. You already know that because, in your life, there have been High Kindness periods and Low Kindness periods, and you know what inclined you toward the former and away from the latter. Education is good; immersing ourselves in a work of art: good; prayer is good; meditation’s good; a frank talk with a dear friend; establishing ourselves in some kind of spiritual tradition — recognizing that there have been countless really smart people before us who have asked these same questions and left behind answers for us.Because kindness, it turns out, is hard — it starts out all rainbows and puppy dogs, and expands to include . . . well, everything.

I have been blessed by kindness throughout my life and I know it is a spiritual gift which is often undervalued but as essential as food and water in order to flourish. Witnessing simple acts of kindness, often in Christ's name, can bring me to tears. I will endeavour to be a kinder person, God being my helper. If we all do, we will change the world.


Tuesday, May 19, 2015

"Zero Tolerance" & a Measured Response

On Sunday I spoke to the congregation about the unsettling statements from representatives of the federal government suggesting that there will be "zero tolerance" for boycotts of Israel or settlements in the Palestinian territories. The suggestion is that any such activity could be addressed under Canada's Hate Crime laws, which is absurd to the extreme and would be likely be indefensible under the Charter of Rights & Freedoms. Since the initial statements and the article from the CBC Steven Blaney claimed that the concerns are "ridiculous." Why were they made in the first place.
Here is the measured and direct response from the Moderator of the United Church, Gary Paterson.

Dear Prime Minister Stephen Harper,

Greetings in Christ from The United Church of Canada.
This letter comes to you with concern in light of responses from our government to the article by CBC journalist Neil Macdonald ("Ottawa cites hate crime laws when asked about its ‘zero tolerance’' for Israel boycotters," May 11 2015, CBC)1.

The United Church seeks to live into a vision of Canada as a just society within a caring world, expressed in active, thoughtful involvement in society. This is reflected in the church’s commitment to working with others seeking peace with justice in Israel and Palestine. This work is rooted in the gospel mandate to be peacemakers and in response to the calls of Palestinian and Israeli partners to join them in working toward a just peace for both peoples.

The United Church is not advocating a boycott of Israel; our economic action campaign against goods produced in illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories is one piece within a broader program of prayer, partnership, and trust-building efforts. The church’s actions are consistent with our understandings of the shared value Canadians have for the democratic right of freedom of expression. The United Church of Canada stands in solidarity with groups and individuals exercising this right in non-violent, peaceful ways.

The CBC story picks up on concerns in the larger Canadian context about a growing climate of fear and possible infringements of democratic rights through recent legislation. Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney has said that the concerns raised in the CBC article are "inaccurate and ridiculous." However, coupled with comments made by the Minister himself at the United Nations in New York, and by his office in response to a request for clarification as to the meaning of "zero tolerance," we believe that Canadians need clear reassurance from our government.

We welcome your response, and pray for you and all political leaders as you carry out your duties and responsibilities in public service.


The Right Rev. Gary Paterson

Moderator The United Church of Canada/L’Église Unie du Canada

I hope you are proud of Gary for responding in such a worthwhile manner.


Sunday, May 17, 2015

Always Safe, Definitely Risky.

anti-progressive xnity banner

There is a congregation called The Fountains in Fountain Hills Arizona that is under concerted attack by a group of other Christian congregations. Why? Because it is "progressive" in its theology and providing an alternative to the very conservative theology of its neighbours. Fountains welcomes LGBT persons and according to its pastor, David Felton upholds a way of being church "that lets people know there's a choice out there, they don't have to deny science, they don't have to hate their gay neighbor, they don't have to read and take the bible in a way that causes them to abandon their rational mind."

Such crazy talk! The push-back is that eight other congregations have joined together in offering a series of sermons directed against this heresy. Do they not have better things to do in worship, such as encouraging members to love as Jesus loved and caring for the outcasts and downtrodden.

Reading about his came close to home this week because I will be telling the Bridge St congregation today on the International Day Against Homophobia that we recently provided space for an LGBT prom in Belleville, the first of its kind. It provided a safe environment, a sanctuary for teens who are often mocked and rejected by their peers. So far we haven't been targeted by any other churches, but you never know.

Sometimes when God's Spirit is at work we are led to different and even uncomfortable places. I don't really think of myself as a "progressive" in my theology because I am still rather orthodox and Trinitarian. But I like the motto "Always Safe. Definitely Risky."


The Fountains's photo.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Sunday Stops

The TTC is removing Sunday streetcar stops from in front of churches, partly because other places of worship don't get similar special treatment, and, in the words of Brad Ross, "it's the 21st century."

I haven't lived in Toronto for 35 years and I rarely took the streetcar but I noticed a report this week about the end of special streetcar stops. I had not realized that there are 42 Sunday stops near places of worship across the city. They will end in June though, the outcome of declining use and an awareness that they are at churches, not synagogues or mosques or temples.

Some congregations have protested because their elderly members depend upon the streetcars but the cancellations are inevitable. The stops were created in the 1920's but a TTC spokesperson says that we are now a secular society and times have changed.

We are seeing how dramatically those times have changed for religion in so many ways. Mainline churches have not responded at all well to those changes, to our peril. Actually, while we often ask nervously why the evangelicals are doing better they are in fact "holding their own" in Canada, rather than flourishing. Even in the States church attendance is declining and so are the numbers of those identifying as Christian. 

Is this the streetcar stop at the end of the world? Apparently not. Christianity is still vibrant and alive in many regions around the globe. Perhaps we will come to the realization that our supposedly secular culture actually needs meaning & purpose beyond what we can buy in the short time we are here. In the meantime we can be faithful, loving God and our neighbour and serving Christ with compassion.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Admitting Mistakes

There are books that I will not purchase and probably never read but intrigue me just the same. There is a new autobiography by British neurosurgeon Henry Marsh called Do No Harm in which he admits some of the mistakes of his long and accomplished career. The review in the New Yorker magazine includes this paragraph:

In his decades of medical practice, Marsh has been a witness or a party to almost every kind of mistake. There are errors of commission (the hubristic removal of too much tumor) and of omission (the missed diagnosis). There are errors that go unreported (after a successful surgery, Marsh might decide not to tell a patient about a close call) and errors for which Marsh is held accountable. (He writes that, after one operation, “I told them to sue me.)

The willingness to acknowledge all of this strikes me as courageous and honest and probably cathartic for Marsh. Admitting our failures is, to my mind, a sign of maturity and often grace. Yet so many of us struggle to do so, to see where we have made mistakes and to fess up.

You might argue that ministry isn't brain surgery yet what I do can make a difference in lives. Through these thirty five years of ministry I have made too many mistakes to catalogue. I have forgotten appointments with people, although that is not common. I have been unkind and unfair, usually unintentionally, but I regret it just the same. At times I have been grumpy at the wrong people and too patient with those who didn't deserve it. I have missed opportunities to provide comfort and solace, sometimes because I thought other priorities were more important, only to realize they weren't. People have died and I will never have the chance to say sorry and make amends.

I am sorry, often to the point that I feel ashamed of my sins of commission and omission and I lie awake at night ruminating about them. I am grateful for God's grace in Christ, and for forgiveness. I am also appreciative of the remarkable generosity of folk in letting go of what could be relationship changing hurts and grievances. Because of them I have a deeper appreciation of grace and I hope I am a kinder person as a result. I know I can do better.

Are you able to admit mistakes? Do you beat yourself up for the things you have done which have harmed others? Is there room for God's grace in your life?

Wednesday, May 13, 2015


CityNews reporter Shauna Hunt confronts a man who shouted a vulgar phrase at her while she was broadcasting from Sunday's TFC game.

This is not good for my blood pressure. For the second day in a row I was incensed by a news story in this great country of ours. Yesterday I was outraged by and ashamed of a group of young louts at a professional soccer game in Toronto. Shauna Hunt, a female reporter from CityNews was just trying to do her job when these fools began shouting profanities and obscenities at her in what has to be considered sexual harassment. I was sickened to read what they said and appalled that they would do so in such a public manner. And you can see the sense of entitlement on their faces.

The reporter then confronted these men (I use the men term loosely) and one of them announced that he thought this aggressive and obscene behaviour was hilarious and that his mother would think it was as well. Lovely family.

It turns out that this jerk is a public employee, making $106,000 a year at Ontario Hydro. I get great satisfaction in knowing that Hydro has taken action to fire his sorry... --well, you know.

In typical "blame the victim" fashion the reporter is now being criticized online for her action supposedly leading to this guy's dismissal. Let's be clear, his decisions led to his firing in accordance with the standards of his place of employment. I feel that our society must take swift and decisive action to respond to this sort of harassment.

My two lovely daughters experienced unwanted attention as servers in earlier years and were relieved when that stage of their lives ended. I spoke with a woman the other day who was so distressed by inappropriate comments in her work environment that she threw up. It has changed how she feels about being there. And to make it worse, the man claims to be a Christian and is quite public about it.

God knows how those young men were raised but I pray their families are ashamed of what they have seen. And I pray that we all understand that this is not acceptable.

To Shauna and all women who experience this nonsense, my apologies for men who don't have a clue what it means to be a man.


Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The United Church & Hate Crimes?

The federal government of Canada has infuriated me once again. A reminder here that I equal opportunity dubious about political parties, and I am disappointed in the recent inexplicable antics of Green Party leader Elizabeth May. But the feds and Mr. Harper have entirely lost my respect.

The latest is the proposed legislation to make boycotting Israel by any group a hate crime, surely one of the most absurd notions the government has floated, although one which must be taken seriously in its execution. It would affect many organizations and groups in Canada, including the Quakers. The Quakers for God's sake! Don't we all associate the Quakers with hate crimes!

Of course the United Church is lumped in here as well, even though we have been careful to point out that our membership has been encouraged to boycott the products of illegal communities established in the Occupied Territories, not Israel itself. It is intimidation and bullying by the feds who have lined up behind the aggressive approach of the Israeli government toward Palestinians unlike any other nation. Now they are threatening any group which dares to disagree with this controversial policy.

When CBC News inquired about statements by federal ministers of a "zero tolerance" approach to groups participating in a loose coalition called Boycott, Divest and Sanction (BDS), which was begun in 2006 at the request of Palestinian non-governmental organizations it was reiterated that the government is opposed to this new "anti-Semitism."

I'll stop now before I go all "Elizabeth May" on the government. Actually I am an admirer of May, but you get the idea. Here is the info from the United Church.

What is your reaction to this?

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Christian Family

This morning Ruth, the wonderful mother of our three adult children will lead the Prayers of the People in our Christian Family Sunday worship. I watched Ruth with our daughter Jocelyn yesterday as they planned together for Joc's wedding in October. They seemed so easy in their relationship, with lots of laughter and love as they pondered and experimented. In her prayers today Ruth will remember the two sons of two families who drowned ten days ago near Deseronto, not far away. Tyler was 21 and Matthew was 26 and they were fishing. On Friday their bodies were recovered and the faint hope for their mothers and families was dashed.

The father of Matthew, Don, is a member of our congregation and he has appreciated our love and support during this time of dread and uncertainty. His family wanted him to join them first thing this morning, and while he will be with his mother and other family members this afternoon he decided that he wanted to come for worship at Bridge St. first. After church last Sunday one of our seniors joined Don and the search along the stretch of shore where the bodies were eventually recovered. We prayed for him in our service as well.

Living the Christian family is more than a day, more than an ideal. It is who we choose to be together in all our sorrows and joys, in our prayers and our actions, each and every day.

Saturday, May 09, 2015

A Chance to Start Over?

Khadr free
Omar Khadr, convicted murderer has been released on bail in Alberta after spending nearly half of his life in jail. We are probably all aware that Khadr, a Canadian citizen, was captured in Afghanistan when he was 15 years old after a firefight with U.S. soldiers. He was accused of throwing a grenade that killed an American soldier. His defense was that he was a combatant, not a terrorist, but he was convicted of this crime. He was the youngest person to be incarcerated at the infamous Guantanamo Bays prison. Eventually Khadr was repatriated to serve his sentence but the Canadian government has fought Khadr's bail and may continue to do so.

In his statement to the media upon release Khadr spoke to young people who are considering joining terrorist organizations: "Don't let emotions control you. I've noticed that a lot of people are manipulated by not being educated."

He also spoke about what lies before him: "I can just say that I'm sorry for the pain that I might [have] caused the families of the victims. There is nothing I can do about the past but ... I can do something about the future."

I appreciate the gravity of taking the life of another human being. I also believe that a boy of 15 should be given the opportunity to make something out of what began as a troubled and manipulated life. We say that our God is a God of second chances and that in Christ we can be forgiven and begin again. I hope this can happen for Omar Khadr.

What are your thoughts on his release?

Friday, May 08, 2015

The Mystery of the Liesborn Prayer Wheel.

Liesborn Gospel - Prayer Wheel - Latin to English translation. For use with RNS-PRAYER-WHEEL, transmitted on April 30, 2015, Photo courtesy of Les Enluminures Ltd.

I do my best to address a range of topics in this blog and many of them are topical -- almost literally up to the moment. From time to time along comes something that is ancient and esoteric and is fascinating in its oddity.

The page above is a transcription from a scripture volume which dates from 980 AD, and contains the four gospels only. It appears to have been ordered up by a woman for women. An abbess in Liesborn, Germany, named Berthildis, had it made for the highborn ladies who had traded the medieval court for her convent. Within the pages is this mysterious page which looks like a game of sorts yet is religious.  It has been named the Liesborn Prayer Wheel.

The wheel’s outermost circle consists of the instructions we’ve read, but in medieval Latin. The next is labeled “Seven Petitions” and contains seven quotations from the Lord’s Prayer (“Daily Bread,” “Will Be Done,” “Kingdom Come.”) In the third circle, seven “Gifts Of The Holy Spirit” (“Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel … ”) run clockwise in red, interspersed with seven events in Christ’s life (Incarnation, Baptism, Passion Day of Judgment) in black. The fourth segment contains seven groups blessed in Jesus’ Beatitudes (“Meek, Poor in Spirit, Mourn”) and — opposite each — their rewards (“Inherit the Earth,” “Kingdom of Heaven,” “Be Comforted”). Finally, at the center, surrounding the pinhole of the compass, is the word “DEUS,” or God.

No one who has studied it quite understands how it works or what it's purpose may have been. Was it a game of sorts, or an aid to systematic prayer? As one article puts it, the volume may be up for sale at $6.5 million but speculation is free.

Any thoughts folks? Anyone else find this intriguing?

Thursday, May 07, 2015

God Bless the Mennonites

Ruth and I  are responding to the disaster in Nepal through the United Church partnership with ACT Alliance. Our denomination has benefitted from working with global partners in situations of crisis because there is a high likelihood of our dollars translating into the aid needed on the ground.

We will also contribute through the Mennonite Central Committee, the respected aid agency whose slogan is "Relief, development and peace in the name of Christ." MCC's reputation is rock-solid and I admire that after the earthquake when most Westerners were understandably seeking a way out of Nepal its workers chose to stay and respond.

I heard this morning that MCC has chosen to buy as much of its relief supplies in Nepal. This overcomes the bottleneck of supplies sitting in India because planes can't into Katmandu and the Nepalese bureaucracy which has made distribution difficult. It also supports local economies which have been devastated.

I hope you have responded in some fashion. Remember that donations to the United Church and MCC qualify for matching federal dollars in Canada.

Nepal Earthquake Relief

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

The Boycott Mightier than the PEN?

The organization known as PEN America found itself in the midst of controversy recently because of a decision to present a freedom of expression award to the French magazine, Charlie Hebdo. A few months ago extremists brutally murdered several of the Charlie Hebdo staff for creating and publishing satirical cartoons of the prophet Mohammed. 145 authors, including Canada's Michael Ondaatje chose to boycott the PEN gala. They wrote a letter condemning the murders but identifying the disrespectful and arguably hateful nature of the cartoons. The PEN charter includes the following commitment:

PEN stands for the principle of unhampered transmission of thought within each nation and between all nations, and members pledge themselves to oppose any form of suppression of freedom of expression in the country and community to which they belong, as well as throughout the world wherever this is possible. PEN declares for a free press and opposes arbitrary censorship in time of peace. It believes that the necessary advance of the world towards a more highly organised political and economic order renders a free criticism of governments, administrations and institutions imperative. And since freedom implies voluntary restraint, members pledge themselves to oppose such evils of a free press as mendacious publication, deliberate falsehood and distortion of facts for political and personal ends.

The emphasis is mine, but I have little doubt that this is an important aspect of the decision of these authors to boycott the PEN event. You may recall that after the murders I stated that the "je suis Charlie" slogan was one I couldn't support because of the affront to Islam that Charlie Hebdo perpetrated. For that matter, the magazine created offensive cartoons targeting the Roman Catholic church as well.  It certainly seemed to be mendacious, not to mention crude. 

While there has been a counter-protest I am pleased that there was a boycott. None of those Charlie Hebdo journalists and cartoonists deserved to die. They shouldn't be lauded as champions of free expression either.

Your thoughts?

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Blessed are the Poor.

I'm off to an event called Bridges Out of Poverty today, a community gathering with a specific program used across North America. It is not sponsored by a faith community but several of us who are involved with Inn from the Cold and Thank God it's Friday will be there. Bridge St UC has named it's food ministries as one of five key ministry focuses (foci) so this is certainly connected.

Apparently 130 people are registered, which is very encouraging. I spoke about issues of poverty on Sunday because it is a gospel imperative and Jesus spoke about our response to the marginalized more than virtually anything else. In Luke's gospel the Jesus saying corresponding to the Sermon on the Mount's "blessed are the poor in spirit" is "blessed are the poor" plain and simple.

I will let you know the outcome!

Sunday, May 03, 2015

Millenials and Mental Health

More than half of Canada’s Millennials are at a high risk of developing a mental health issue, according to a new poll released exclusively to Global News.

You might figure that the older people are, the greater the likelihood of mental health issues. You know, with death being imminent and all. Surveys show that while the elderly are certainly not immune to depression and other mental health challenges they are generally content with life. Perhaps there is a sense of community for many of them which includes belonging to a faith of community and the comfort of faith. For subsequent generations there is less of a sense of connection and lots of uncertainty.

A recent poll shows that the youngest Canadian adults are strongly affected by that uncertainty. Global News has reported it this way:

As we are entering into Mental Health Week in Canada an Ipsos Poll indicates that 53 per cent of Canada’s young adults are at risk of grappling with depression and other mental well-being concerns. This group of Canadians had the highest rates of being at risk compared to Gen Xers and Baby Boomers. Millennials — or those 18 to 33 years old — are feeling the weight of the world on their shoulders. They may not have kids to feed, mortgages to pay or a minivan, but Canada’s generation of the future is feeling the stress. Societal issues, such as a low employment rate and rising living costs, as pressures that weigh on millennials.

I take this to heart because our three adult children are Millennials, and I see these challenges in their lives. One daughter commutes a total of three hours each day to a job with lots of demands. The other is in a job with high expectations, including work on weekends when her partner is off. Our son in a United Church minister, but last time I checked there is a wobbly future for the denomination and he has a growing family.  

We pray for our kids, but I realize we don't pray often in worship for this generation. There have to be other ways that we reach out as well. While our congregations are graying, we need to be broader in our outlook and expansive in our grace. It's important for us to understand mental health as a spiritual and congregational issue.

Do you feel your congregation supports that Millenial generation well, or adequately? Where should the conversation happen? Do you have children or grandchildren that fit the profile?

Saturday, May 02, 2015

Goodness and Evil

Recently I was asked by direct message whether I believed in demons and evil. I offered a qualified "yes." I do believe in evil and I have seen it close at hand. Yet I know how the spectre of evil has been used to subjugate people through the centuries. I don't get asked this sort of question often but it would probably be good to address the subject more often.

This week there was an opinion piece in the New York Times which reflects on how the German people will remember the evil of the Holocaust or Shoah now that those of the generation who lived through this terrible atrocity are all but gone.
The piece was prompted by the current trial of Oskar Gröning, the 93-year-old “accountant of Auschwitz.”  Mr. Gröning is charged with complicity in the murder of at least 300,000 people.  Several of the few remaining camp survivors have testified at the trial and after all these years their pain in palpable. While Gröning has expressed remorse he has also described the mass murders in clinical terms.

Speaking about evil is never easy. So often it is not identified in the moment, whether it is manifested in personal relationships or in systemic brutality. Yet we know it exists in our world and too often under the cloak of religious piety. We must ask God to give us clarity in the challenging task of naming the destructive forces of our world.

There has been an expression of the triumph of goodness over evil during the trial. Survivor Eva Kor allowed Gröning to kiss her, and she said that she forgave him: 

“I know many people will criticize me for this photo, but so be it. It was two human beings 70 years after it happened. For the life of me I will never understand why anger is preferable to a goodwill gesture.”


Embedded image permalink

Friday, May 01, 2015

The Pope & Protecting the Earth

The word is that sometime this year Pope Francis will issue an encyclical on climate change and the environment. An encyclical is a papal letter circulated to bishops, often globally, and while it sounds simple an encyclical carries considerable weight. I have mentioned before that other popes have issued thoughtful statements on care for creation but this will be different.

In preparation, a meeting called Protect the Earth, Dignify Humanity: The Moral Dimensions of Climate Change and Sustainable Development took place in Rome this week. It included speeches by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and leaders of the pontifical academies, along with panels on relevant scientific, moral and economic issues. Here is a paragraph from the statement released out of this gathering:

The Catholic Church, working with the leadership of other religions, can now take a decisive role by mobilizing public opinion and public funds to meet the energy needs of the poorest 3 billion people, thus allowing them to prepare for the challenges of unavoidable climate and eco-system changes. Such a bold and humanitarian action by the world’s religions acting in unison is certain to catalyze a public debate over how we can integrate societal choices, as prioritized under UN’s sustainable development goals, into sustainable economic development pathways for the 21st century, with projected population of 10 billion or more.

I admire the pope for this initiative and pray that it will make a difference. The deniers have been at work already, so many of them from conservative religious communities, including the theological right of the Roman Catholic church. I spoke with someone recently who mentioned the contempt of her former pastor for the notion of climate change. In the twisted logic, acting on behalf of our earthly home is a sign of unfaithfulness both to scripture and Christ's salvation promise. It is bizarre distortion of the Good News of Christ and, to my mind incarnation-denying and evil.

Thank you Francis. I trust we will be your partners in this important faith endeavour.