Saturday, June 27, 2015

A Spoonful of Grace

A member of Bridge St directed me toward a Facts and Argument piece in the Globe and Mail recently. She thought it was a lovely first-person story and there was also the hook that it came out of Belleville.

Elizabeth McLellan went back to school in her late thirties, training at Loyalist College to become a developmental services worker. During her training she worked with a elderly woman named Gloria, or Glo, who was non-verbal. One day while carefully feeding Glo she had what I might describe as a holy moment of service to another:

Glo held my gaze steadily, and for a moment I thought I saw something flash in her eyes. It was knowledge. It was connection. It was intimacy that I’d never known existed, before her. It was grace, and it humbled me more than anything else ever has, including the births of my children and the death of my brother. Grace from Gloria.
I knew then that to serve my fellow human beings and to tell their stories is both a privilege and my calling. For that moment of connection and truth and grace, I will always be grateful to Glo. Without a single word, she said everything that matters most.
I have experienced a deep sense of God's presence in settings where folk have "lost their senses" in terms of communication and cognition. Often it is in the acts of practical kindness from support workers or family members that there is a sense of the holy. Grace is one of those religious words which is often tossed around thoughtlessly but McLelland uses it well.
Here is the link if you would like to read Elizabeth's piece.

Friday, June 26, 2015

The Right of Marriage

Gay rights supporters celebrate after the US supreme court ruled that the constitution provides same-sex couples the right to marry.

Today the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that the Constitution guarantees a right to same-sex marriage. Many states have already changed or developed legislation allowing gay marriage, but this is a significant decision by the highest court in the land, affecting all 50 states.

This is certainly of interest to Canadians, although same-sex marriage was legalized in this country more than a decade ago. Some denominations, including the United Church, have permitted same-gender marriage, with the decision to marry resting with congregation and pastor. Our moderator, Gary Patterson, is in a same-gender marriage.

The vote was close --five to four -- and was carried by the more liberal justices. Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote the majority opinion, saying that gay and lesbian couples had a fundamental right to marry: “no union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were.”
I certainly uphold the deep meaning and covenantal aspect of marriage, and particularly Christian marriage. I don't feel that same-gender marriage threatens my heterosexual marriage in any way. I can't see how legalizing same-gender marriage has resulted in any negative impact in this country. Instead it has reinforced the importance of this powerful union between two people, regardless of gender, through vows of commitment.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Sweet Nothings to the Trees

Let everything that has breath praise the LordPsalm 150:6

Do you remember the flurry of earnest interest in talking to plants to make them grow thirty years ago? It was crazy. "Experts" went on television, books were written, eventually we were told that there is no conclusive evidence. That was a shocker.

Still, who's to say that plants and trees do not have some form of intelligence? I grew up being told that other animals did not have emotions or even pain sensors the way humans do. Even though we knew from our pets that they have personalities and preferences and could express emotion, it took us a long time to concede what was obvious. We develop philosophical and spiritual constructs that suit our purposes.

But what if all God's creatures have some form of sentience, a response to the world around them? What if every living thing does praise the Creator in some form?

There is an article in the LA Times Review of Books which invites us to reconsider our bias toward humans and other animals over vegetative life. It is a bit heavy, but intriguing

It got me thinking about all this, and how I might at least be more aware of the interconnectedness of all that God has made. If we all did, would be "live with respect in Creation" in ways that actually made a difference.

Gotta run and whisper sweet nothings to a tree! And maybe I will abandon doing violence to my lawn with that terrible mower...nah.


Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Quiet Faithfulness

We like our celebrities and iconic figures, and in 1997 two died virtually at the same time, although in very different circumstances. Diana Spencer was killed in a car crash and the world mourned, almost to a frenzy of adulation.  Mother Teresa of Kolkata died of old age and while there was an outpouring of grief, particularly in India, it may have been lessened due to the focus on Princess Di.

Yesterday Nirmala Joshi, who succeeded Mother Teresa as the head of her Missionaries of Charity and expanded the movement overseas, died aged 80. After taking over the charity following Mother Teresa's death in 1997, Nirmala expanded the organization's reach to 134 countries by opening centres in nations such as Afghanistan, Israel and Thailand. She stepped down in 2009 due to poor health.

"She had big shoes to fill, expectations were huge, but with simplicity, unstinting love and faith she proved herself," said Sunil Lucas, a communications director for the Archdiocese of Calcutta.

It is important to recognize those whose compassion and devotion makes a significant difference, even though they may never reach "stardom" for their efforts. Churches are blessed by so many people who live their faith without much recognition, but make a difference where they are.



Notable People We've

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

An Eye for an Eye?



 ‘You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.
                 Matthew 5:38-42 Concerning Retaliation

  "That old law about 'an eye for an eye' leaves everybody blind. The time is always right to do the right thing.”

                                                Martin Luther King, Jr
A United Nations report released yesterday concludes that both Hamas and the IDF, the Israel Defense Force were guilty of war crimes during the 50-day conflict last summer in Gaza. Hamas indiscriminately fired rockets into Israel. Israeli forces used air strikes that killed more than a thousand civilians and destroyed infrastructure and many thousands of homes. Here is a single sentence from the report
“The fact that Israel did not revise its practice of airstrikes, even after their dire effects on civilians became apparent, raises questions of whether this was part of a broader policy which was at least tacitly approved at the highest level of government.”
This is such a reminder that extreme violence is a form of terror, whoever employs it, and that retaliation is futile. In the end the innocent suffer. Morality is also a casualty in these situations.
Jesus had it right.

 Here is a worthwhile opinion piece from the New York Times

Sunday, June 21, 2015

The Triumph of Forgiveness

This morning I'll be talking about David the shepherd boy who became king. Even though he begins as what scholar Robert Alter calls a "male Cinderella" who loves God, it seems as though the more power he receives, the more arrogant he becomes, and the farther he drifts from God and his true self.

On Ash Wednesday we read Psalm 51 in which David pleads for God's forgiveness, acknowledging his sinfulness and seeking a "clean heart."

Seeking forgiveness and being reconciled are both elusive and powerful. The past couple of days forgiveness has dominated the media as the families of the senseless shooting in Charlotte, North Carolina, stood in the courtroom where the murderer of their loved ones was arraigned. Rather than heaping anger on this hateful young man they rose to offer him forgiveness and ask for God's mercy.

Of course he will be tried for his alleged crimes and we're told that he has already confessed to the shootings. In so many respects though, love has already triumphed as these Christian men and women respond with forgiveness.

Thank God for their powerful witness.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Emanuel AME & Mental Illness

Many years ago a gunman walked into the church in Texas where my aunt and uncle worshipped. He shot and killed a couple of people and wounded others. My aunt was there that evening but fortunately or providentially she was in another part of the building.

This incident came to mind when I heard about the hate-crime slaying of nine people in a church in South Carolina. There are two issues at play in this recent horrific event. One is the colossal mess around gun out-of-control in the United States. There is no point in using the term "control" because there is none. The murderer in Charleston was given his weapon for his twenty-first birthday and not long after went on his rampage. Everyone in the States has the right to mow down their neighbours. Frankly, I found President Obama's statements sickening. The same thing is said repeatedly and nothing changes. This is a sin.

The other issue is race. Emanuel AMC Church has a storied history of civil rights activism and working toward better race relations. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke there. This was no random act by a madman. This was a strategic attack by a racist. As someone has said, if he had been a person of colour he would already be labelled as a terrorist or a thug. Because he is white he has been termed mentally ill. Racial hatred is a form of mental illness, but it is inexcusable.

Why won't the legislators of America address their collective mental illness of allowing this repeated slaughter? Why won't the spiritual leaders of this supposedly Christian nation rise up with a collective voice of outrage and protest? Shame.

Here is a prayer passed on by reader Judy which may provide some solace in the disheartening aftermath of this terrible incident.

A Prayer for Historic Emanuel AME Church of Charleston, SC
Nancy Taylor

Dear Mother Emanuel:

You, who authored courageous slave rebellions, who suffered and survived wretched bigotry, burnings and earthquake,

You, you who worshipped underground when black churches were outlawed …

Dear Mother Emanuel, in this day of grievous heartache we wrap you in bands of prayer.
We pour out upon your broken hearts the healing balm of Gilead.

You, whose shepherd has been taken from you,
   whose building has become a tomb,
   whose children are terrified:
We stand with you.
   We weep with you.
We rage for you.
   We keep vigil with you for your beloved dead.

May the God of Moses and Miriam, of Jesus and the Mary’s,
anoint you with healing, furnish you with hope and,
one day, some day, mend your torn hearts and wipe the tears from your swollen eyes.
God help us.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

The Grace to Live and to Die

Matheryn Naovaratpong, from Thailand, is thought to be the youngest person ever cryogenically preserved

Recently I read about the death of the adorable two-year-old from Thailand seen in the photo above. Her death from a brain tumour is certainly a tragedy but what made the story particularly newsworthy around the world is that she is the youngest person to be cryogenically frozen. Her parents have arranged for her body to be stored in a facility in the United States, and needless to say, this is an expensive proposition with minimal hope. When we are desperate not to lose those we love and are convinced they deserve more we will go to almost any length to save them.

We can imagine the desperation of parents who know that only a few years of life is a cheat, and the same came be said as we watch loved ones suffer from cancer and other life-threatening diseases. Surely there will be a cure? Can't they find another critical trial? Who is to blame for not catching the presence of disease quickly enough?

This can even extend into old age. When son Isaac was a chaplain at a trauma hospital in Montreal he witnessed families demanding extraordinary measures for elderly loved ones whose life was spent. Sometimes it was a single member of the family who could not come to grips with the mortality of mom or dad.

The precarious health of two cherished loved ones has us talking a lot about suffering and aging and the transition from this life to the next. Central to Christian faith is learning to live fully, abundantly, as disciples of Jesus. And essential to our faith is learning to die, to accept death as an inevitability for all of us. Christ can give us grace for both the living and the dying and the hope of life to come.

Perhaps this little girl will be brought to life again. Still, her parents will deal with loss, regardless of whether that happens in the future.

What are your thoughts about all this?

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Soul Food

Then the angel  showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal,
flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city.
On either side of the river is the tree of life  with its twelve kinds of fruit,
producing its fruit each month;
and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. Revelation 22: 1-2

Through the years we have lived in communities where there are a number of Italian and Portuguese  Canadians. How could we tell? They had the remarkable backyard gardens which seemed to outshine the efforts of everyone else. When we were in Toronto as students the yards were often tiny yet they were brimming with produce. There were beans as tall as Jack's beanstalk and tomatoes that seemed exotic compared to the standard beefsteak varieties.

Urban agriculture is making a comeback it seems, in everything from household plots to community gardens to larger tracts of reclaimed land amidst inner city decay.

I am intrigued by an organization called Sole Food Street Farms in Vancouver:

Sole Food’s mission is to empower individuals with limited resources by providing jobs, agricultural training and inclusion in a supportive community of farmers and food lovers. Individuals are given basic agriculture training and are employed at the farm based on their capability.
Some participants excel in this environment, but the project is set up to allow for the “ups and downs” of people with multiple barriers. For some individuals, a weekly shift at Sole Food is one of the only meaningful engagements they hold. Unlike mainstream employers, Sole Food uses employment as an outreach tactic, working to build and nurture relationships with even the most challenging individuals.

I love that so many of the Sole Food photos include people, and I would love to see our congregation get involved in an enterprise such as this. It would be a wonderful extension of our food ministries, empowering those who would like to get involved. Distributing meals is important and necessary, but actually growing food could be another aspect of reaching out.

The large vacant lot next to Bridge St. United Church could be transformed into an urban garden. I realize that I should pray more about this possibility. It could be Soul Food rather than Sole Food in the city.


Tuesday, June 16, 2015

The Christian Move to Include

Yesterday I rode with a group of cyclists to the Quinte Conservation offices along Highway 2 to meet Nick Foley as he arrived in Belleville. Nick began his Move for Inclusion ride from Victoria BC to St. John's Newfoundland in April and 5000 kilometres later he rolled into town where he will spend three busy days before continuing his journey.

t sounds as though he has experienced some tough challenges, but he mentioned his biggest concern was that his sweet three-year-old daughter might not recognize him when he arrived home. She did!

Amongst the group of forty or more who greeted Nick were a number of people who are developmentally challenged. This is the "inclusion" aspect of Nick's ride and the reason I was there. We have a family at Bridge St. with three lovely young people with Down Syndrome. They are warm and affectionate and exuberant and we are so glad they are part of our Christian family. On Sunday Kai, the oldest, read scripture at our Open Air Service. We all needed to be patient as he found his way through the verses but, hey, we weren't in a hurry on a beautiful morning. I am proud of the Bridge St. congregation for its inclusion of a developmentally challenged adult named Tom, a sprightly guy who likes to assist me so much I wonder who the lead minister is at times!

Our society is changing. At the YMCA where I work out there are a couple of staffers with Downs. I notice that the show So You Think You Can Dance auditioned a free-spirited soul named Cody Carlson and did so with great respect. His proud mother says that Cody  “doesn’t let a little Down Syndrome slow him down.” Judge Jason, Cody's inspiration, sent him to Vegas on his own dime.

Yet there are still ugly examples of contempt and exclusion. I heard recently of someone who works conscientiously and diligently for a local business who was called a "bleeping retard" (not bleeping) by the boss. When a family member heard about this the boss got a major earful. He apologized, but it should never have happened.

Ruth, my wife, and Isaac, our son, have both worked in group homes, and I became the informal chaplain in one. What a delight the gang proved to be, and both Ruth and Isaac loved the folk with whom they worked.

The community of Christ should always lead the way when it comes to inclusion. Always.
Thanks to Nick for reminding all of us how important this message of inclusion is.


Monday, June 15, 2015

The Return of the Sephardim

expulsion spain

In fourteen hundred and ninety two,
Columbus sailed the ocean blue...

The aboriginal peoples of North America may exclaim "and there goes the neighbourhood" any time they hear this. If the colonization of the Americas wasn't enough, 1492 was also the year Jews were expelled from Spain. The Inquisition of the Roman Catholic church had tortured and disenfranchised Jews who had formerly lived in peaceful coexistent with Christians. Tens of thousands were forced to convert to Christianity but the Grand Inquisitor, Torqemada, wanted the remainder of the Jews out of the country. Monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella readily agreed.

Many of those expelled died in transit to other countries but those who survived often made significant contributions to their new homelands. These Jews and their descendants are known as the Sephardim, which means "Spanish" in Hebrew.

Now the Spanish government wants to welcome home Sephardic Jews, more than five centuries later, and grant them citizenship:

The Spanish parliament formally approved on Thursday a law aiming to correct a “tragic and historic” error by offering citizenship to Jews whose ancestors were expelled from the country in 1492. Yes, 523 years later, it seems, Madrid wants to do the right thing.“This law says much about who we were in the past and who we are today and what we want to be in the future, an open, diverse and tolerant Spain ” Justice Minister Rafael Catalá told reporters outside the parliament building. 

The legislation, which passed with a wide majority and with support from all the largest parties, is a rare gesture out of Europe, where anti-Semitism and other ethnic tensions have been on the rise in recent years.  It was first proposed as the Sephardic Ancestry Bill in 2012, igniting self reflection and dragging up painful memories among the global community of Sephardic Jews.

Who knows what this gesture might mean. The hope is that 90,000 Sephardic Jews will return. The cynical suggest that this is a ploy by the Spanish government to bring in people who can give a jump-start to a faltering economy. Others figure young Sephardim will use this as a gateway to the EU economy.

As Canadians we have seen how what appears to be a heart-felt apology, in our case to First Nations peoples, can ring rather hollow in the end. Let's hope that there is more substance here.

Had you been aware of this new Spanish law? Does is seem like an empty gesture to you, or will it make a difference? Are apologies important?

Sunday, June 14, 2015

A Boo-boo-less Picnic?

We are trusting that no bears appear at our outdoor service today, that no pic-a-nic baskets are stolen, and no major boo-boos occur. Some of you are old enough to remember Yogi the Bear, his sidekick Booboo and their relentless and hapless search for food.

There will be plenty of food today I'm sure, and that the time together breaking bread and shoveling in macaroni salad will be as important as the worship. Our Hospitality Team is remarkably well organized for this event and the weather appears to be cooperating. There is something about gathering as God's people outside that is holy without it getting holier-than-thou. And of course picnics were important to Jesus, and the last meal we read about in scripture is the shore breakfast he has with his disciples at the edge of a lake.

Let's pray that we experience Christ's presence today, and that there is pleasure and joy in our shared meal.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Do Justice and Love Kindness

He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
   and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
   and to walk humbly with your God?
   Micah 6:8
So often it seems that we live in a cold-hearted and angry world where violence is the default setting. Peace and justice may be biblical principles but they seem elusive in everyday life.

It's good to know about initiatives such as Camp Micah, which is sponsored by the inter-denominational Christian organization known as Kairos. Here is what Camp Micah is about:

Camp Micah is a one-week leadership camp for social justice and peace held every August near beautiful Bancroft, Ontario. Founded in 2009, the camp is led by a staff of young adults, teachers, ministers, school chaplains and peace educators with many years of experience working with youth and developing leadership programs. Coming from different Christian traditions (including Catholic, Mennonite and United Church), the Camp staff shares a common passion for living out the call to leadership for peace and social justice.Camp Micah is a welcoming and inclusive community that values and celebrates the beautiful diversity of the human family. Come as you are!

My experience is that young people who are Christians want more than to be entertained, even though we tend to think that this is what they desire. Often they are more passionate about issues of justice and peace and equality than their elders. It is inspiring to hear them speak about the issues which matter to them.

Take a look at the website for Camp Micah. It might pick up your day.

Friday, June 12, 2015

Make Your Day Harder...and Better...

I listened to a doctor speak on CBC radio yesterday about an initiative called Make Your Day Harder. Dr. Mike Evans and others are encouraging us to do all the little things in our days to make us more active and therefore more healthy. We might actually choose a parking spot farther away from our destination or take the stairs or go for a brief walk during the day rather than sitting at our desks. It sounds simple, yet is so important. He points out that while going to the gym is good, we need to build healthy activity into the rhythms of each day.

I agree. For some reason we figure a mechanized form of virtually every task is better. Why cycle when we can drive? Why use a broom when we can fire up a gas-powered leaf blower? I have a neighbour in his forties who uses the blower on his short sidewalk. Why?

Not long ago I received a workbook from a publisher on a Christian program called Godfit: Through Love Serve. I actually like the categories which include Solitude, Meditation, Prayer, and Simplicity in conjunction with a program for physical fitness. Good for Mike Hayden in this attempt to integrate spiritual and physical health. I know I do better spiritually when I am physically active.

Maybe I'll leave my computer and take a quick walk around the block!

What do you think about Make Your Day Harder? Does Godfit intrigue you? Do you make the effort to be active?

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Respect for the Sacred

Embedded image permalink

I don't really care if a number of young Canadian climbers had a notion to get naked at the top of a mountain in Malaysia. It was youthful exuberance no doubt. This is considered a sacred mountain though and their nakedness was considered an affront which triggered a 5.9-magnitude earthquake. The quake sent rocks and boulders raining down the trekking routes on the 4,095-meter-high mountain in Sabah on Borneo island, killing 18 climbers. A brother and sister have been detained and may be charged with some crime. If found guilty the two could face up to three months in prison, a fine, or both.

I assure you that I find the detention and possible prosecution of these Canadians bizarre, but once again it raises the questions about respect, or lack thereof, for what others consider sacred even if we do not. When we lived in Northern Ontario I regularly climbed Dreamer's Rock, a sacred place for the dream quests of young aboriginal men and women for centuries. We took Confirmation Classes there as well, explaining the meaning of the dream quest and encouraging the young people to have their own spiritual aspirations and dreams. Eventually though the band restricted access, so I stopped going, except by permit, which wasn't easy to obtain.

I have never been impressed by those who enter into churches or mosques or temples or synagogues without demonstrating respect, so why shouldn't the same apply to sacred sites in the natural world? Exuberance isn't a bad thing, but it doesn't trump courtesy and respect.

Should we accept the limits of religious and sacred traditions, even if we don't share them?

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

This Little Piggy

We regularly get asked for financial assistance from people who are often seeking money for what seem like legitimate reasons. We can't follow up with every story so we take the way of generosity in Christ's name. After all, the requests are nearly always modest, sometimes as little as ten dollars and rarely more than twenty-five.

We do get scammed. One guy wanted money to buy a new lock for one he broke getting into his own room in a rooming house. He was responsible for a replacement, he brought in the estimate for a new one from Canadian Tire, we gave him the money. Three months later he was back with the same request having totally forgotten that he had been in before. A regular who has always been straightforward came back to us claiming that she had lost the cheque I wrote her earlier in the day. She promised that this wasn't a sneaky way to get double the money. It was. She cashed them both. I don't like this at all, and it makes me rather wary. Yet in both cases it didn't really amount to much.

Enter the piggies at the trough of the Canadian Senate. A number of them are racing to pay back thousands of dollars of my taxpayer money -- well, our money -- while squealing they have done nothing wrong. It is sickening greed, as are the bloated expense claims of many politicians who get caught with their hands in the public till. And what about those thieving swine from FIFA (forgive my anger please) who have pocketed millions on millions for years? It seemed that everyone knew, yet it took forever for charges to be laid.

For some reason a lot of people get really testy about the small potatoes a very few poor people winkle out of folk like me. The stereotypes are rife and the contempt palpable. Yet when I read my bible God and Jesus seem to favour the poor over the well-fixed.

Sure the greedy senators will get slaps on the wrist, but I wonder why we have such double standards at times. No, I don't like it when I'm duped by those who show up here looking for assistance. But I would take them over the political and corporate crooks any day.


Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Interfaith Generosity


The holy month of Ramadan will begin this year on June 18th, and as it commences Muslims around the world will fast, one of the five pillars of Islam. This is no small challenge and I have written before about the level of commitment required to fast through these thirty days as a spiritual discipline.

Giving is another of the five pillars and again this year Toronto adjunct law professor Ziyaad Mia is inviting Muslims and all people of good will to take up the Give 30 challenge.

I founded Give 30 ( in 2012 on the spark of an idea I had almost 15 years ago. The "Eureka" moment came when I was putting away my coffee cup at work one Ramadan, joking with a colleague that fasting is so great, it saves money.    

Ramadan does save people money because they aren't eating during the day.  Since a key part of Ramadan is learning about hunger and having empathy for (and helping) those in need, it seemed a perfect way to raise money to fight hunger.  Importantly, because that spirit of Ramadan is pretty much universal I wanted the initiative to be open to everyone regardless of faith or background.  

 The idea is simple:
If you are fasting contribute the money you save from not eating during the day for the month.  
If you are not fasting brown bag your lunch to save money and/or put a value on your coffee and snacks for 30 days so you can make a contribution.  

You'll be amazed at the impact a small behavioural change can have when everyone joins in.  
Ziyaad Mia enjoys one of his last cups of daytime tea before fasting for Ramadan begins on Sunday. Mia founded the Give 30 movement by donating his coffee and tea money during Ramadan to food banks.
I think this is an excellent initiative and one which Christians can certainly understand. When I heard Ziyaad Mia interviewed back in 2012 he pointed out that Christians have been very involved in charitable causes for a long time and urged Muslims to take up the challenge. The reality is that the number of Christians in this country is diminishing rapidly and it is important that we understand generosity as interfaith and open to the support of all who have a desire to address issues of poverty and inequality. Justice is central to our Christian faith but not exclusive to it.
Perhaps some of us will contribute through Give 30 as a sign of solidarity with the Muslims who will both fast and give during Ramadan.

Monday, June 08, 2015

The Oceans of the World

Four weeks from today I will be in outport Newfoundland and as quickly as possible I will find salt water. It won't be difficult because the friends I'm visiting live on Notre Dame Bay, next stop Ireland, and their view to the ocean is spectacular. After time with them I will head out to Change Islands where they have the saltbox house at the top of this photo. We have stayed there several times and it is always wonderful. I will drink in the quiet and the solitude and the sounds of the sea. The inhalation and exhalation of the tides is the breath of the planet and it is as though my own rhythms alter to this deeper, truer reality. On one occasion an iceberg sat out from shore and we have seen humpback whales from the hilltop.

Today is World Oceans Day and the statistics abound as to how seven billion humans are emptying the seas of living things and replacing them with masses of plastic and sewage and errant oil. I think I saw that a large cruise ship produces 200,000 gallons of sewage a week.

And yet the oceans are still home to extraordinary diversity and raw, unpredictable beauty. No matter what the weather, I will be rambling about by the water,peering into intertidal pools and scanning the horizon for creatures great and small. The thought of it excites me and I can already smell the unique tang of this part of the ocean, distinct from the Pacific and the Caribbean.

For me the ocean waters are a gift from God, one I receive with tremendous graititude. I know that I can be part of change for the better. Even though I wrestled with how responsible it is to hop a plane to that part of the world I always return inspired and with greater determination to make a difference.

Any thoughts about oceans today? Have any of you lived near salt water, as we have twice? Did it change you?

Sunday, June 07, 2015

Social Capital

In today's worship bulletin our administrator Carol has included thanks to the Bridge St bell-ringers and the choir for visits to different seniors' facilities this past week. Both were well organized thanks to our music minister, Terry, and the residents loved these musical outreach events.

The same evening the choir went to Quinte Gardens I was at the Quinte Living Centre, a downtown residence owned by Bridge St congregation. It has provided accommodation with reasonable rent for nearly 35 years, and at the annual meeting Wednesday several residents offered appreciation for the well-run facility which is their home.

I thought afterward about the importance of all of this in Belleville, the tremendous amount of "social capital" infused into the community through our congregation and many others. We talk a lot about the need for investment in infrastructure in towns and cities. But what about the intangibles that various fading organizations offer, including churches?

As congregations shrink and disappear will people begin to notice the loss of these often quiet efforts to support and encourage others? We certainly don't proselytize in these efforts, yet we do believe that this is gospel work. Of course much of the music is overtly Christian and brings a message of hope.

Perhaps other organizations will take up the torch of nurturing community in the way congregations have for so long. I wonder.


Saturday, June 06, 2015

God Was Present

On Thursday four guys got in a vehicle and drove to a country cemetery for a few minutes at a graveside. One of the four needed some time at the grave of his son who died tragically a few weeks ago. There were so many people around the grave the day of the funeral he felt unsettled and decided he needed to return to pay his respects and reflect.  

The other three men included me, an ordained ministry, a physician, and a retired vice-president from a large corporation. The man we were there to support lives modestly on a small pension in a little apartment. Our lives have been very different in some ways but it was important that the three of us were there to support someone we have all come to know and like.

I thought the trip and the moments in the cemetery were the best of church.  I did speak and read scripture and pray. The moment was more than the "God talk" though. We were four men who have come to know one another through our meal ministries and the worship life of Bridge St. congregation. Our credentials didn't matter, or perceived social status.It was meaningful for all of us, and I am convinced God was present.

Friday, June 05, 2015

World Environment Day...Again

Happy Environment Day Quotes & Sayings Image

This is World Environment Day and I wonder immediately if this is just another blah, blah, blah occasion to talk about the state of the earth and do nothing. The UN website has a visually appealing, well produced video which seems more like eye candy that anything substantive. I sound rather cynical, don't I?

Of course cynicism is the shadow side of idealism. As a Christian I am passionate about both Creator and Creation. I do find it discouraging that our federal government is so incredibly disinterested in any kind of systemic environmental program for this country. The "greenwash" of the feds angers me almost daily. And I am regularly startled by the number of conservative Christians who are downright malevolent about addressing threats to the wellbeing of our earthly home. I went to hear climate scientist Katherine Hayhoe in March and she was excellent. But as an evangelical Christian living in Texas she is under constant, vicious attack, mainly by supposed Christians.

Today I find hope in the papal encyclical soon to be released by the Vatican and Pope Francis. It will be a starting point for a deeper conversation about environmental care. I also pray that the climate conference which will take place later this year in Paris will make a difference, that eyes are opened and ears will hear in ways that will heal an overburdened planet and give hope to future generations.


Wednesday, June 03, 2015

When the End Comes

On Monday we made a two hour drive to the Perth area to have a half hour visit with a loved one, then drove back again. It was more than worth the trip despite the brevity of our time together. Ruth's beloved Sandy, her teen best friend who became her step-sister, is dying of cancer. I too have known Sandy for nearly 45 years, so we both count her as a life-time friend.

I have shared some of Sandy's journey through her illness on a couple of occasions in this blog, as well as seeking the Bridge St. congregation's prayers on her behalf. We are glad that she has outlived the rather blunt prediction of an oncologist last year that she wouldn't make it to Christmas, but it is clear that the end is at hand.

Her attentive husband was surprised that she was able to stay focussed for even the brief time we had with her. She was interested in our lives, and it was an actual conversation that included tears and laughter. But she can no longer leave her bed, she hasn't been able to eat for some time now, and even ingesting liquids is a challenge. She is weary of the fight, and ready for it to come to an end, as much as she still wants to live and cherishes her loved ones.

It may be that a change in medication will settle her stomach and give her more precious time. But that would really only prolong the inevitable, and we all agree that it would be cruel to hold on to her when she has suffered so much, and without complaint or self-pity.

At one point she admitted that the pain and the struggle have rattled her faith and left her questioning the life to come "even though I know I shouldn't," as she put it. I suggested that in the precious time left to her she can move beyond what anyone tells her she should or shouldn't do, or think, or believe. If she has doubts or fears, they need to be expressed, and those who really care about her should receive them and support her in the uncertainty.

At the end of our visit we prayed, holding hands. I began but at one point I faltered because of my emotion. Ruth graciously, beautifully continued. After we said "amen" Sandy told us that the darkness lifted as we prayed, even though we didn't make bold claims about healing or heaven. Of course I do have a resurrection hope for the life to come, and that we will enter the fullness of God's light. It was enough though to love each other in the moment and commend her to God's care.

Some of you have been through this. Your thoughts or comments?

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Right Relations

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On Sunday a large walk took place in Ottawa to mark the release this week of the Truth &
Reconciliation Report
and a small walk began here at Bridge St. Church in Belleville.

This morning the news is full of talk about the release of the report today, the culmination of the inquiry into Aboriginal Residential Schools in Canada. The T &R commission has been at work for six years, listening to the sad and even gruesome stories of cultural genocide against First Nations persons for the better part of a century. The report itself is 300 pages and documents the systemic and suffering. We know as well that an estimated 6,000 children died while in the schools and the graphic above points out the terribly toll of those deaths.

The United Church of Canada was complicit in this shameful reality as one of the denominations which ran residential schools. It is a dark reality in a denomination which has been passionate about justice through the years. We have been involved in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and worked toward both reparation and reconciliation. Our United Church crest now reflects our connection with First Nations and we have been involved in restoring "right relations" with our Aboriginal congregations and the broader community.

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I encourage you to listen carefully to the recommendations of the commission and to take time to become better acquainted with what the United Church has been doing. We can pray repentance and reconciliation in the days ahead. 

The Kairos website is helpful as well.