Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Live Like Jesus?

Pop star  Justin Bieber went from being a fresh young teen heartthrob to a nasty tempered spoiled brat rather quickly and while it was somewhat predictable and sad, it was hard for me to care.The 21-year-old gave a long interview to Complex magazine recently  and was frank about his lifestyle and the controversy that has surrounded him for the last few years because of his, at times, rowdy behaviour. Justin grew up in a Christian household but seemed to turn his back on that. Now he has opened up about his faith, his past troubles and his new desire to “live like Jesus.” In the interview he offers:

At this point, my faith has gotten me to where I am. My faith has brought me to a whole other level. I love talking about my faith. I think that with Christians, they’ve left such a bad taste in people’s mouths. Just like, overly pushy with the subject, overly churchy and religious … You ever flicked on a channel and a late-night church show is on? Sometimes it’s like, “You better do this or you gon’ die and you gon’ burn in hell!” And you’re like, I don’t want anything to do with this. I’m the same way. I’m not religious. I, personally, love Jesus and that was my salvation. I want to share what I’m going through and what I’m feeling and I think it shouldn’t be ostracized.

I just wanna honestly live like Jesus. Not be Jesus—I could never—I don’t want that to come across weird. He created a pretty awesome template of how to love people and how to be gracious and kind. If you believe it, he died for our sins. Sometimes when I don’t feel like doing something, but I know it’s right, I remember, I’m pretty sure Jesus didn’t feel like going to the cross and dying so that we don’t have to feel what we should have to feel … We have the greatest healer of all and his name is Jesus Christ. And he really heals. This is it. It’s time that we all share our voice. Whatever you believe. Share it. I’m at a point where I’m not going to hold this in.

Okay, maybe not profound, but heartfelt and sincere. We'll see if egging the neighbour's house and punching the chauffeur comes to an end. At least he was willing to speak about his faith, something so simple that many of us are reluctant to do. Here's hoping Justin finds meaning and hope from following Jesus.

So, did you roll your eyes at this? Are you glad for the kid that he is attempting a healthier direction for his life? Does "living like Jesus" seem like a reasonable aspiration?

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Compassion Deficit Disorder

On Friday 13 March 2015, category 5 Tropical Cyclone Pam lashed the islands of Vanuatu bringing with it destructive winds surpassing 300kph, heavy rainfall, storm surges and flooding. Large parts of the country were severely affected. 

Act for Peace (AfP) have supported the immediate needs of the disaster affected population (initial response) as well as their medium/longer term needs (early recovery). Initial response included the provision of WASH materials (hygiene kits) and water purification units, assistance with food distribution efforts along with seeds and farming tools to revive homestead gardens. These activities will be undertaken through local partner the Vanuatu Christian Council (VCC).

Act for Peace in partnership with the Vanuatu Christian Council (VCC) has distributed tarpaulins to churches that were identified as appropriate cyclone evacuation centers (those with strong structural elements as well as bathroom and cooking facilities). The tarpaulins are providing important temporary roofing to allow churches to return as quickly as possible to their regular function not only as a place for church services but for important community gatherings including acting as food distribution areas, mothers group venue, youth group center and general spiritual and mental health support space for the community suffering stress and trauma following Cyclone Pam.  Churches are a significant community centre point for people to come together to connect and support each other.  With so many church roofs destroyed by Cyclone Pam some churches have had to halt community activities for weeks following Cyclone Pam meaning communities were not able to connect and continue their support activities.
Act for Peace in partnership with the Vanuatu Christian Council (VCC) ran independent needs assessments across several islands determining the requirements for the churches.  On many occasions VCCâs distribution of tarpaulins arrived more quickly to churches that had applied to the government weeks earlier for help and had not yet received any roofing aid.
Yesterday I was pondering the power of the media to immerse us in issues and circumstances of our world for a brief time, only to scurry off to the next disaster. In this year we were terrified by the prospect of the spreading Ebola virus, wondered about the implications of the invasion of Ukraine, were deeply saddened by the earthquake in Nepal. The threat of ISIS was front and centre, and now it is the great wave of refugees in Europe, as well as the Syrian crisis. Pope Francis has pushed us to be more aware of the environment.

What is difficult for us as global citizens and compassionate Christians is how to awaken to these issues and not return to slumber. How can we possibly respond to so much heartache and tragedy in our world.

Today we heard that the CBC won an International Emmy for its coverage of the Ebola crisis, and the courage of reporter Adrienne Arsenault was upheld. is one of my heroes actually, along with other CBC reporters who do such an exceptional job of keeping us informed in situations which often involve personal peril.

Image result for cbc emmy

I have other heroes, and they are the people from aid agencies who respond to medical emergencies and disaster relief with considerable fortitude and bravery. They are not "here today and gone tomorrow" but determinedly active in situations which must be overwhelming.

Our United Church continues to support partners in Nepal and the countries affected by Ebola through Act Alliance, a coalition of 140 churches and faith-based organizations. When the media attention shifts to the latest disaster -- and there are always new ones -- we are able to counteract Compassion Deficit Disorder by our involvement with those whose work is heroic but often unsung.

God bless those who live their faith in places of challenge and even danger.


Monday, September 28, 2015

Compassion is Civilized

The Refugee Crisis Frontline: Croatia’s Christians Lend a Hand

“To do good to others does not mean civilization will perish in Europe.”
 ~ Marija Koprivnjak,
refugee coordinator for the Evangelical Pentecostal Church of Croatia

Ruth, my wife, was asked by a co-worker what she thought about bringing refugees into Canada. She offered that she strongly  supported it, but this "question" was really an opportunity for this person to work up a head of steam about Muslims infiltrating our country with their huge families. Apparently all our women will be wearing burkas in no time. There is a lot of this nonsense floating around in what people seem to think is a Christian nation.

I saw this story out of Croatia and was encouraged to discover that Christian communities there are responding with practical compassion, even though the strain in enormous and will only grow:

As of Monday, more than 27,000 people have crossed into Croatia from Serbia.
Beli Manastir, a small border town in northeast Croatia, boasts a population of less than 11,000. Over the course of last Thursday night, 8,000 refugees—many from Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq—flooded across the border into a holding area prepared for no more than 1,000 people.

In communities across Europe people of good will, including Christian individuals and congregations are doing what they can to respond to a refugee crisis which will not abate any time soon.

It's hard not to be angry at those who will use any excuse for xenophobia and selfishness. I am so impressed by the churches of Prince Edward County which have raised $50,000 to sponsor a family of fifteen Syrian refugees. There are a number of other sponsorship efforts underway in and around Belleville, including one which includes Bridge St., St. Matthew's, and other United Churches. The family of five we are sponsoring is Muslim, but human need is not confined by religion, nor should our compassion be sectarian.

It is essential that we open our hearts as well as our wallets as we find our ways to respond with Christ's compassion.


Sunday, September 27, 2015

Presidential Grace & Courage

Recently former president of the United States Jimmy Carter was at a baseball game and he kissed his wife Rosalynn when the cameras focussed on the two of them. It was a sweet exchange and entirely in keeping with their enduring, affectionate relationship. Remember the two of them walking hand-in-hand  along Pennsylvania Avenue to his inauguration nearly forty years ago?

It could be argued that Carter has been a more successful statesman and world leader since his single term in office rather than during it. He has worked for peace in the Middle East, challenged injustices everywhere, and taken up the cause of the rights of women. All the while he has been an active Christian, teaching Sunday School for decades. He left the Southern Baptist church because of inequality between men and women in the denomination but he certainly didn't relinquish his Christian faith

Jimmy and Rosalynn are facing a new and sombre challenge. The president has cancer which has spread to his brain. CNN reported Carter's press conference to announce his diagnosis in this way:

Atlanta (CNN)In a remarkable press conference marked by grace and devoid of self-pity, former President Jimmy Carter said Thursday that four spots of cancer had spread to his brain.
Carter, 90, said he initially thought he had only weeks to live when he first learned of the diagnosis. He's now more optimistic, placing his fate in the hands of God. At the news conference in Atlanta where he sat alone before a bank of reporters and cameras, Carter said he would begin a course of radiation therapy on Thursday afternoon.
"I have had a wonderful life," Carter said with the same unsparing honesty and meticulous detail that marked his presidency. "I'm ready for anything and I'm looking forward to new adventure," Carter said, in the 40-minute appearance before the cameras, in which he frequently beamed his huge smile and never fell prey to emotion. "It is in the hands of God, whom I worship."
The shots of the couple kissing were taken some time after his announcement. They intend to live together to the end as fully as possible.
God bless the Carters as they face this together. It sounds as though they will do so with grace and courage.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Running Toward Generosity

Click for Options

Last Saturday we held a shower for our daughter Jocelyn and her fiancé Jeff. They will be married in October and my aged mother will not be able to attend. So, the shower was held at Grandma's residence in Kingston so that she could be included. We had a playful wedding and the ice cream cake was cut with the knife used at my parents' reception.

The couple specified no shower gifts. They have owned a home and lived together for six years, so the usual practical gifts of a shower aren't necessary. Instead Jocelyn requested sponsorship for her ten kilometre Terry Fox run the next day. She completed the run in less than an hour and raised just over $1,000 for cancer research. Needless to say, we're proud of her choice, and what she achieved for a worthwhile cause. She is a kind and thoughtful young woman, but I am a little biased.

It got me thinking about the themes of simplicity and generosity which are central to our Christian faith. Jocelyn isn't a regular churchgoer these days, but she grew up in a Christian home and Christian values are still important to her. Jocelyn's choice is a reminder that care for others is not the exclusive domain of those who gather regularly for worship, or of Christians generally, or of those of any one faith.

What does happen when we worship is that we share a message of God's extravagant love in Christ which will spill over from our grateful hearts into the lives of others. We hope that we pass that message on to subsequent generations.

 If there isn't evidence of that selflessness in our lives we haven't been paying attention to the gospel. We may not all run toward generosity but we pray that we are moving in that direction on Sundays and all through the week.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Violence Against Women...Once Again...

When the news began to filter out about the multiple murders of women in the rather remote Wilno area of Ontario my heart sank, not just because of the terrible loss of life but because of the dread about what probably transpired.

When I spoke with Ruth, my wife, at the end of the work day we had come to similar conclusions. For nearly a decade Ruth worked as an outreach counsellor for a women's shelter and listened to countless stories from the victims of domestic violence. Many of these women had left their abusive situations, yet they lived in constant fear that former partners would search them out and kill them. These were not unfounded fears. The partners has assured them that this would be their goal.

The alleged perpetrator this week had connections with all three women and been in relationship with two of them. He was recently released from jail for violence against women, but these former partners were not informed. I heard an interview with another former partner of this coward who said that he had a huge chip on his shoulder about women in his past and was prone to violence.

This was ugly, cowardly slaughter, pure and simple. And there is something terribly wrong with a judicial system that does not protect women from violent men. This perpetrator refused to sign a probation order that prohibited him from contact with the women. Why then was he released? Wasn't this enough of a red flag? Every aspect of our society has to change to ensure the safety of women.

I have listened to two women sitting in my study recently who have been stalked and harassed by men over the summer. In both instances they were counselled by police to leave their residences for a time for their own protection. These men had been cautioned by police and one had a restraining order against him, but these only work with those who will exercise restraint. Often they live in rage-filled fantasy worlds. In the Spring I talked with an anxious grandmother from the congregation whose pregnant daughter has a verbally abusive partner. This isn't "out there" somewhere.

We need to pray for the safety of all women and to regularly inform our congregations about the issues of domestic violence. Over the decade Ruth worked at the shelter she was approached by a number of women in the congregation who were in abusive relationships. It's unlikely that the people they sat beside in the pews had any idea. That's the reality for so many.


Thursday, September 24, 2015

The Peril of Pilgrimage

Many years ago my travel agent mother won a pair of tickets for a flight to Britain, so off we went. While visiting the National Art Gallery we came upon an exhibition of pilgrimage badges or pins. In medieval times Christians would go on long walks to holy sites, and the rather bawdy and entertaining Canterbury Tales in a fictional account of an unlikely group of pilgrims on their journey. The badges were a memento of a completed pilgrimage.

People continue to embark on pilgrimages of various kinds and for many different reasons. Christians go to Lourdes, or walk the Camino in Spain. We have a friend who is currently on his third Camino walk, each having been a different route. Our son Isaac walked 800 kilometres of the Camino when he was nineteen. The medieval badge pictured above is a scallop shell symbolizing the Camino.

Hindus undertake pilgrimages, often arduous, and one of the five pillars of Islamic practice is the haj, a pilgrimage to Mecca. Up to two million pilgrims descend on Mecca every year, and the sheer volume of people make this pilgrimage a dangerous enterprise.

Early this morning we heard that 150 pilgrims had been trampled to death, then the figure was revised to over three hundred, and the death toll has risen to more than 700 with over 800 injured. Pilgrimages always have inherent dangers, everything from health issues to robbery to threats of violence.. A young woman was murdered in Spain recently while walking the Camino, even though her route is usually quite safe. Sadly, the deaths in Mecca are not the first. A few years ago 1400 people died in a similar incident, and there have been others.

We can pray for the situation in Mecca, and ponder the challenges of pilgrimage. They are undertaken because they aren't necessarily safe. There is both spiritual and physical challenge and uncertainty. But what a loss of life.

Would you ever consider undertaking a pilgrimage of some kind? Have you engaged in any sort of pilgrimage, formal or informal? What sets a pilgrimage apart from a hike or a tourist trip?

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

People are People

We know that fundamentalist followers of virtually any religion can be obnoxious, dangerous, and even deadly. It can be deeply disheartening and many have been either turned off religion or are deeply antagonistic because of these "ambassadors' of faith. This piece in the New York Times by Paul Krugman yesterday was so sensible I'll let it speak for itself.

Religions Are What People Make Them

The current crop of Republican presidential candidates is accomplishing something I would have considered impossible: making George W. Bush look like a statesman. Say what you like about his actions after 9/11 — and I did not like, at all — at least he made a point of not feeding anti-Muslim hysteria. But that was then.

Reason probably doesn’t do much good in these circumstances. Still, to the extent that there are people who should know better declaring that Islam is fundamentally incompatible with democracy, or science, or good things in general, I’d like to recommend a book aIrecently read: S. Frederick Starr’s Lost Enlightenment: Central Asia’s Golden Age From the Arab Conquest to Tamerlane. It covers a place and a time of which I knew nothing: the medieval flourishing of learning — mathematics, astronomy, medicine, philosophy — in central Asian cities made rich by irrigated agriculture and trade.

As Starr describes their work, some of these scholars really did prefigure the Enlightenment, sounding remarkably like Arabic-speaking precursors of David Hume and Voltaire. And the general picture he paints is of an Islamic world far more diverse in its beliefs and thinking than anything you might imagine from current prejudices.

Now, that enlightenment was eventually shut down by economic decline and a turn toward fundamentalism. But such tendencies are hardly unique to Islam.

People are people. They can achieve great things, or do terrible things, under lots of religious umbrellas. (An Israeli once joked to me, “Judaism has rarely been a religion of oppression. Why? Lack of opportunity.”) It’s ignorant and ahistorical to claim unique virtue or unique sin for any one set of beliefs.


Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Corporate Greed Stinks

Well, yet another corporate apology which rings hollow, to say the least. Volkswagen, one of the world's leading vehicle manufacturer's has been caught in willful and sophisticated deception involving half a million diesel car in the United States and eleven million worldwide.  The onboard computers were installed with a program to provide impressive data regarding emissions of CO2.  It turns out that the program was only activated during E-testing and that it fact --in truth-- vehicles were emitting up to forty times the acceptable levels.

The CEO of Volkswagen, Martin Winterkorn,said the company had “broken the trust of our customers and the public.” Hmm. When our kids were young there were occasions when their apologies for wrongdoing seemed less than sincere. We sternly asked "are you apologizing because you are sorry, or because you were caught?"  Doesn't it seem as though some of these corporate bosses are sociopathic four-year-olds? They are richly compensated to deceive the public, and there doesn't seem to be a lick of morality.

We saw that General Motors chose not to fix a problem in vehicles which led to the deaths of a number of people, even though the corporation knew the dangers. BP took shortcuts in the Gulf of Mexico which resulted in an environmental disaster. Canadian companies such as SNC Lavalin are accused of paying huge bribes to the despotic Gaddafi family and some Canadian mining interests are involved in practices which violate human rights and international environmental law. Apparently Exxon projected the effects of global climate change back in the early 1980's.

Ya, ya, not all corporations are immoral or unethical. It's just that too many are. Greed stinks. It's a noxious and persistent gas. While BP, GM, and VW have lost or will lose billions of dollars for their sins, it seems to be an accepted cost of doing business.

Perhaps we should all go back to the award-winning documentary The Corporation which asks hard questions about our virtual idolatry of institutions which are "persons" by law in many jurisdictions yet are not expected to have a moral conscience.

Scripture and Jesus strongly suggest that we have a responsibility as Christians to be a conscience in our world, but it can be so daunting in a "David and Goliath" world.

Are you just cynical, or should we be chirping away as people of faith and people of conscience?

I hope that the caption for the cartoon above is not something terribly rude in German!

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Pope Francis in Cuba

Cubans celebrate the arrival of the Pope, 19 Sept

Pope Francis is on his way to the United States and the United Nations later this week but at the moment he is in Cuba for four days.

It's interesting that considerable efforts were made to pretty up Havana and Holguin in anticipation of the pope's arrival. Christianity has not been welcome in Cuba for more than half a century. Under the communist and atheistic regime of Fidel Castro practicing Christianity was suppressed, despite essentially false claims of freedom of religion. To worship regularly or even to have a child baptized might mean lost opportunities for advancement in the workplace or surveillance.

When Pope John Paul II made his historic visit a number of years ago there was great hope that it would bring about change, and to some degree it did. However, we need to realize that there has been a faithful and determined Protestant Christian community in Cuba through all the difficult years. Our United Church of Canada has been in partnership with that community and the seminary in Matanzas which has upheld the way of Christ and the way of the cross in some respects.

Embedded image permalink

Pope Francis will walk a challenging line, praising Cuba for opening the diplomatic conversation with the United States while pushing for greater religious freedoms and human rights . He hasn't ruled out meeting with dissidents while he is there.

As I write this blog entry the pope is celebrating a Christian mass in what is called Revolution Plaza in Havana. May this visit will have positive and even revolutionary results.



Friday, September 18, 2015

Unsung Saints and Heroes

May the Christ who walks on wounded feet
    walk with you on the road.
May the Christ who serves with wounded hands
    stretch out your hands to serve.
May the Christ who loves with a wounded heart
    open your hearts to love.
May you see the face of Christ in everyone you meet,
    and may everyone you meet see the face of Christ in you
. Amen. 

My plan was to reflect on the importance of Pope Francis' visit to North America today. Then I cycled past an elderly man and a wheelchair-bound younger man I see often along the paved waterfront trail. The old guy has the suspenders which haul his baggy shorts up near his armpits. The younger man, who I assume is his son, appears to have cerebral palsy, or some other affliction which contorts his limbs. I suspect that they are there every day as part of their routine, the loving pattern of father and son as the elder pushes the younger out toward the water.

I also regularly see an elderly couple moving slowly along the same path. She uses a walker, he is beside her keeping a patient pace. Again, I know nothing about them, but I imagine they have been together for a lifetime, in sickness and in health.  

The father and the husband will never be "saints" in the traditional definition. They will never be featured on an icon for their deeds of faith. Nor will they be feted as heroes, the way we do with those who play games and are compensated with huge sums of money for their prowess. Yet they are faithful and quietly heroic in simple ways which touch me every time I see them.

I say hello as often as I am able. I wish I could have a deeper conversation. I do have a sense that Christ is there.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Essentials Under Review

We are not alone,
    we live in God's world.

We believe in God:
    who has created and is creating,
    who has come in Jesus,
       the Word made flesh,
       to reconcile and make new,
    who works in us and others
       by the Spirit.

We trust in God.

We are called to be the Church:
    to celebrate God's presence,
    to live with respect in Creation,
    to love and serve others,
    to seek justice and resist evil,
    to proclaim Jesus, crucified and risen,
       our judge and our hope.

In life, in death, in life beyond death,
    God is with us.
We are not alone.

    Thanks be to God.

The latest issue of the United Church Observer magazine includes an article about the review of a United Church minister, Gretta Vosper. I am reluctant to use the term "Rev." because Vosper is a self-described atheist.

I am encouraged that this review is taking place for several reasons. We are still a Christian denomination in all statements of faith, and it seems absurd to me that someone in a position of leadership is neither a follower of Christ or a theist. Even in the loosest definition of the commitment ministers make at ordination, both of these are essential. It also rankles me and many of my colleagues that Ms. Vosper is often approached as a spokesperson by the media. The perception is that her views are widely held in the United Church, and I don't think they are. The review will invite discussion about what core values are for leaders within our denomination.

I chatted with son Isaac about the review, and while he supports it he also wonders whether we are inclined to function in worship and in our congregational decision-making as though we are defacto atheists. Are we really prayerful, worshipful communities open to the leading and direction of a God who is active in the world? It was an interesting discussion.

Vosper's approach calls people to be good and compassionate without God. I imagine we all know exceptional individuals who are kind and generous and atheists. Still, we have chosen to shape our communities around the person of Jesus, who is the Christ, or so we hope. We trust that the empowering Holy Spirit enables us to be "more than the sum of our parts." 

I figure we should be "loose around the edges and solid at the core." That core is Christ, even as we explore who Christ is for us openly and honestly.

What are your thoughts on the review? Should an atheist be a minister in a Christian denomination?

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The Healing Power of Music

Bonnie Le Lyons-Cohen

My almost-90-year-old mother had a beautiful, confident singing voice as a younger woman and a commanding presence in front of a congregation. She often sang solos in worship and her singing and piano playing were amongst her gifts from and to God. She doesn't sing much anymore. She no longer gets to church, where she could join in singing hymns. Her singing may also be affected by her Parkinson's Disease, which affects motor control, facial affect, and memory as it progresses.

I was interested to see that there is a choir in Toronto for those with Parkinson's and it is making a difference for the 28 participants. They feel that their confidence has been boosted by the experience, not to mention making a joyful noise. It may also affect how others perceive them:

"Within a hundred milliseconds of seeing someone else smile or frown, we are smiling or frowning," said Frank Russo, a psychology professor at Ryerson University in Toronto. "We're mirroring what the other person is doing. And that's one of the things that is absent in Parkinson's. It's the absence of mirroring that is leading to some of the deficit in understanding other people's emotions."
Having a static face can leave people with Parkinson's seem cold and aloof as they also show deficits in understanding other people's emotions. The patient can then become emotionally disconnected from others.Studying the 28 members of the Parkinson's choir has bolstered Russo's thinking that singing, facial expressions and social communications are interconnected.

There are choristers, music ministers, and other church musicians who read this blog. You already know the benefits of making music as praise. It's good to hear of yet another benefit of music.


Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Our Common Home

Image result for the illegal lawrence hill

Serendipity? Providence?

Last evening I started into Lawrence Hill's new novel, The Illegal. I managed only a few pages before the physical labour of the day overwhelmed me. The timeliness of the release of this story of an "illegal" immigrant is astonishing in light of the recent world developments with migrants and refugees. The news is filled with stories of displacement and movement by desperate human beings seeking a better life. We all wonder how to respond compassionately, and Christian communities are attempting to mobilize.

What does it mean to be "illegal" in a world where we tout our global reach? What do the human constructs of borders mean anymore? We used to speak of illegitimate babies, those born out of wedlock, and often the term came with considerable judgement and even exclusion. Who uses that term anymore? We have come to realize that there is no such thing as an illegitimate child in God's eyes. Can anyone really be illegal

In Pope Francis' environmental encyclical, Laudato Si: On The Care of Our Common Home he emphasizes that tending and mending Creation invites and even demands a new way of thinking and acting. He calls for a collaborative vision for Planet Earth as our common home. This challenges me to consider my vision of the world every day and who is kin.


Sunday, September 13, 2015

Thank you Grandparents!

I heard this morning that this is Grandparents Day, and I took note because I am one. At the beginning of August --five weeks ago today -- our second grandson Roger came into this world. We were there to look after our other grandson, Nicholas, as his parents hurried off to the hospital for Roger's birth. We have loved the role with one grandchild, so having another should at least double the pleasure.

I listened to a grandmother who founded an organization to support grandparents who find themselves raising grandkids, sometimes on their own. She also spoke of grandparents who are denied access to grandchildren or find themselves in other difficult situations, often because of divorce. They never chose to divorce their grandchildren but they live through the pain of separation.

Over the years I have appreciated the grandparents who bring grandchildren to church and other activities of congregational life. They have deep convictions about the Christian formation of their grandkids, so they take on the role of practical spiritual mentors. I have been touched by the devotion they display, even though it isn't always easy.

I have also been impressed by the congregations I have served where elders welcome youngers with warmth and encouragement, as a cadre of honorary grandparents.

Congratulations to the loving grandparents out there. Keep up the fine work!


Friday, September 11, 2015

Let's Make a Deal

A significant political battle was won by President Obama's administration this week, and while this happened in the United States it is of global importance. A six-nation nuclear arms deal focussing on Iran's stockpiles of uranium cleared its final hurdles despite fierce opposition by Republicans and some Democrats. There was also a strong anti-deal lobby from a segment of the American Jewish community and of course Israeli's Benjamin Netanyahu was vocal in his criticism.

I see this as significant on several counts. The United States has finally chosen negotiation over armed conflict or military action. While claiming to be a Christian nation, military might has prevailed over diplomacy again and again, often with dismal results. This is not a deal predicated on trust. If anything the checks and balances are rooted in distrust, but it is step in a different direction.

This is also a significant blow to the politics of fear which seem to have gripped the American psyche. Often it is the theological right, or at least certain branches, which claims allegiance to the Christ whose love casts out fear and yet enthusiastically endorses military muscle. Fear-mongering was weakened by this deal, even if it isn't defeated.

Finally, for me anyway, there is hope that the United States will develop a new role on the international stage, one where there is credibility as a negotiator rather than the world's policeman. And can you imagine what might happen if some of the trillions of dollars spent on the military in the US was used for social programs at home and abroad? Why, they might even sponsor a few more refugees!

I know, silly talk. But the gospel of Jesus Christ is rather odd, with all that "blessed are the peacemakers" blather, and such.


Thursday, September 10, 2015

World Suicide Prevention Day

Today in Canada …11 people will end their lives by suicide.
210 others will attempt to end their lives.
77-110 people will become newly bereaved by suicide.

Today is World Suicide Prevention Day, an important reminder to us all that we can support those living through serious depression. I have been in this role during my 35 years of pastoral ministry, sitting alongside those who are certain that life has no meaning and that ending the pain could only come through terminating this life. More than once it was in bleak psych ward rooms, which are often the most depressing in any hospital. Go figure. Those were occasions of gentle talk and gentler prayers.

I am also aware today of being involved with a number of families who have lost loved ones to suicide. How does a pastor offer consolation or speak of the love of God to those who feel abandoned and inconsolable? It is difficult not to feel helplessness and even defeat in those circumstances.

I can say that within Christian community there are individuals who were convinced that they are beyond hope have returned to mental stability and health. Some live through the cycles of mental illness and are supported by brothers and sisters in Christ who love and uphold them. Those who have suffered loss realize that they are not alone.

Please say a prayer today for those who are dealing with depression. Consider who you might call or visit. Ask God to remove any sense of judgement or criticism in your heart toward those who "just can't get on with life." Reach out to those who have experienced loss to suicide, even if it happened years ago. Live the love of Christ.

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Stillness is an Art

When I read a review of Pico Iyer's latest book, The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere I was intrigued and impressed and decided that I have far too many books so the review was sufficient. Needless to say, I eventually purchased it because book addiction is powerful and irrational.

It is a blink of a read in some respects, only 66 small format pages, an extended essay really. Iyer is a fine essayist though, and the book is a gem. He extols the virtue of going nowhere in an age when just about everyone assumes that we ought to be going somewhere, although that destination is increasingly unclear. Iyer is also a devotee of  Canadian Leonard Cohen, the Jewish, Buddhist contemplative song-writer and poet.

One of his chapter's is called A Secular Sabbath but I had to smile. Iyer quotes two excellent Jewish writers on the Sabbath, Judith Shulevitz and the iconic Abraham Joshua Heschel. He also makes reference to the biblical Ten Commandments and one of the longest of those commandments which is about keeping the Sabbath holy. In making the case for a secular sabbath he gets 'ligion.

I agree with Pico Iyer that nothing and nowhere are admirable choices in a culture of frenetic media and empty diversion. My choice is to find the times to do nothing and go nowhere with the God who rested on the seventh day and directed us to be Sabbath-keepers.

Are you accomplished at keeping the Sabbath? Are you okay with going nowhere as an aspect of your spiritual life?

Here is Pico Iyer's TED Talk on stillness.

Tuesday, September 08, 2015


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i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any–lifted from the no
of all nothing–human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

e.e. cummings

I led worship at Bridge St UC on Sunday and friends joined us from out of town so that we could paddle a portion of the Salmon River in the afternoon. The day before we travelled up to Depot Lakes and paddled in to see our adult daughters and their partners who were camping there. We swam both times, which was wonderful on those hot muggy days.

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Yesterday we set out early to paddle a stretch of the Moira River north of Belleville, up to a set of rapids which are a torrent in springtime. This far into the year they are still noisy -- no, make that musical. We found a somewhat precarious spot to pull up our kayaks, then eased ourselves out into the rapids. We did a fair amount of hooting and laughing because the combination of cool water and current made the situation comical. 

We worked up our courage to move into increasingly faster water, then lay back so that only our faces were above the turbulent surface. Ruth is so much smaller she had to hang on to rocks for dear life to stay in one spot. The sky was a wonderful, cloudless blue, but it was the submarine sound of the water roaring past us that was the thrill. We hung out for fifteen minutes or more, getting our full body massage, eventually leaving reluctantly.

This may sound like a goofy expedition for a couple of sixty-somethings, but we loved every minute of the paddle and the baptism.

We are so fortunate in this country to have access to water all over the place. We can glide across it, immerse ourselves in it, delight in what lives alongside it and within it.

Our experience yesterday was physical, but it was also deeply spiritual and just plain fun. This month is Creation Time in the church year, and while we won't focus on water this year, as we did last year, it is always worthwhile to celebrate the gift of water.

Sunday, September 06, 2015

Death Without Killing

We have watched all three seasons of the American series called Rectify, something like twenty-two episodes in total. It is the story of Daniel Holden, convicted of raping and murdering a friend when he is eighteen years old and sentenced to death. After twenty years on death row and multiple appeals Daniel is released, although not exonerated, based on DNA evidence.

The story of his return to society unfolds slowly, with flashbacks to his time of incarceration in a bleak cell. We have friends who gave up on the series because they felt it crawled along, yet it asks some important questions about how supposedly advanced societies treat those in prisons, and what happens when those incarcerated find themselves out in the "real world" again. I have been surprised by how much religion and God-talk there is in the episodes. I got a kick of out of the prison chaplain, named Charlie, who Daniel calls Charlie Chaplain.

We don't have a death row in Canada because we don't have a death penalty. But we do send people away for a long time when they have committed serious crimes, and a very few will never be released. An article entitled Death Without Killing  in the most recent Christian Century asks if it is much more ethical to incarcerate human beings for decades without efforts at rehabilitation or an opportunity to eventually leave prison. In the US there is LWOP - "life without parole" in some states. We don't have a similar sentence in Canada although the federal Conservatives are back to the tough-on-crime rhetoric during this election campaign, including the notion of "life means life."

I figure there are some individuals who should never leave prison because of the nature of their crimes or their threat to society. Yet if I feel that if killing a person for killing a person is inhumane, how is incarcerating a young person for until he or she dies much better? Pope Francis equates the two and calls LWOP a "hidden death sentence." In both Canada and the United States the poor and people of colour tend to receive longer sentences, so the injustice goes even further.

We need to remember that we imprison inmates in penitentiaries, which suggests that they may eventually be penitent, and change. Supposedly Christians are convinced that God can be part of the process of change and redemption for any human being.

Are you willing to weigh in on this one?