Tuesday, May 31, 2016

More Than Sorry

In keeping with the final report of the national Truth and Reconciliation Commission Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne has issued an apology to the aboriginal peoples of this province for what were essentially the genocidal injustices of the past. It was an appropriate step to take, and one I fully support as a citizen of the province. This paragraph from the text of Wynne's speech gives us the essence of the apology

As Premier, I apologize for the policies and practices supported by past Ontario governments and for the harm they caused. I apologize for the province’s silence in the face of abuses and deaths at residential schools. And I apologize for the fact that the residential schools are only one example of systemic, intergenerational injustices inflicted upon Indigenous communities throughout Canada.

We will now see whether our provincial and federal governments fulfill the promises of their apologies and  verbal commitment to a reciprocal relationship with First Nations.

I continue to follow this discussion with great interest, as a concerned citizen, as a United Church member, and as the pastor of a congregation with a direct history with aboriginal peoples. Bridge St. Methodist Church established a First Nations community on Grape Island in the Bay of Quinte during the early 1800s, but it was short-lived and likely ill-conceived. The group of more than one hundred moved to Alderville within a couple of years.

We have invited David Mowat of the Alderville First Nation to be our guest speaker at this year's Canada Sunday service at Bridge St UC.  David participated in the Circuit Riders dramatic presentation during two performances last year and he did an excellent job of offering an aboriginal perspective consistent with the era. He was pleased to be invited because he has been involved in the Truth and Reconciliation process. I look forward to his presence with us.

Do you feel the apologies of governments are worthwhile? Are they a step toward reconciliation? Have you read the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report? Will you join us for the June 26th service at which David Mowat will speak?

Sunday, May 29, 2016

The United Moose of Canada

This weekend Conference meetings of the United Church of Canada will meet across the country. Our Bridge St. congregation is part of Kente Presbytery of the Bay of Quinte Conference, which this year will meet in Pembroke. I won't be there this weekend because...I won't. I will lead worship at Bridge St. while Rev. Vicki Fulcher is attending from our congregation. I have attended conference in Newfoundland, Toronto, Northern Ontario (Manitou,) various places in the Maritimes, and across Southern Ontario. I also dropped in to Montreal and Ottawa Conference for our son Isaac's ordination. To be honest, I've been a Youth Forum leader and a table group discussion facilitator, and honestly, I've had my fill after 30+ meetings.

The format for Bay of Quinte looks good this year. They won't be meeting in an arena (kiss of death) and there will be lots of interesting workshops. There will also be discussion of how the structure of the United Church will change. The "if" of change is over, and we are on to the "when" and "how." Changes to our congregation/presbytery/conference/general council four-court system of governance have been on the agenda since my ordination year, which was 1980.

There is the old chestnut that a moose is a horse designed by a committee. Our United Church of Canada is the equivalent of a moose, an amalgamation of three denominations in 1925 which incorporated elements of all three. It was always somewhat unwieldy and became ponderously so over time as our numbers have shrunk and we have become more congregational in outlook.

We hope that the United Moose of Canada will find a new form of expression which allows us to uphold our commitment to inclusivity and social justice in Christ's name. The UCC is unique and oddly faithful in a number of ways. It would be a loss to the Canadian social fabric if we simply faded away, like the Cheshire Cat.

Let's say a prayer for all these Conferences across the country, shall we?

Saturday, May 28, 2016

The Other Elbowgate

Polls are indicating that Canadians really don't care about the so-called Elbowgate incident in which a testy Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made like Gordie Howe and body-checked an NDP MP from Quebec. Elizabeth May said it was an accident, so it must be true.  In fact, it seems that more people are annoyed with the hapless MP than the dastardly PM, claiming she blew the incident out of proportion. When in doubt, blame the victim.
Archbishop of Westminster Cardinal Vincent Nichols at Westminster Cathedral in London.

Another Elbowgate surfaced this week, this one involving a fragment of an elbow bone purported to belong to Thomas Becket, who was famously murdered in Canterbury Cathedral in 1170 by those loyal to Henry II. Becket challenged the king, who was supposedly his friend, and in a time-honoured tradition the monarch had the cleric offed. Becket is recognized as a martyr and saint by both the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches. This bone chip has been displayed in splendour in Hungary - I kid you not -- and will be repatriated this weekend, as sort of a cameo appearance before returning to Hungary.  According to The Guardian

For almost eight centuries, the tiny sliver of bone has been venerated by distant devotees of England’s famous “turbulent priest”. But this weekend, Thomas Becket's elbow will make a solemn, if fleeting, return from Esztergom, in Hungary, to Canterbury, the seat of his clerical authority – and the scene of his brutal murder...It will be the culmination of an extraordinary week in which Becket’s bone has toured Westminster Cathedral, Westminster Abbey, Rochester Cathedral and other churches associated with the 12th-century archbishop of Canterbury.

This probably seems rather goofy to most of us, something out of Monty Python. Although, perhaps we  shouldn't be too quick to judge. Venerating relics -- bones and wooden slivers from the "true cross" -- is certainly not a Western nor a Protestant tradition. But if we're honest we tend to tend to venerate our buildings, as though they are God, rather than the places where we worship God. We spend countless millions to shore up the bricks and mortar of the places in which we assemble, often starving active ministry as we do so. It is one of my great frustrations at this stage of ministry, the seemingly unending discussions about the buildings of our United Church of Canada. Meanwhile we are fading away as an aged congregational base dies off.

Ah well, let the bone chips fall where they may.


Friday, May 27, 2016

Executing Grace

The death penalty was abolished in Canada more than forty years ago and the murder rate continues to decline in this country. I used to wear a button which asked "Why do we kill people to show that killing people is wrong?" The United States is the only developed nation, if you can describe it as such with Donald Trump as a presidential candidate, which still executes its citizens. There have been 14 executions in the US so far in 2016 in five states: six in Texas, five in Georgia and one each in Alabama, Florida and Missouri. Last year, there were 28 in six states.

There are Christians in the US who eloquently and faithfully oppose the death penalty, including Shane Claiborne and Sister Helen Prejean, of Dead Man Walking fame.

Here is the irony. It may be a pharmaceutical giant, Pfizer, which brings about the change which vigils and prayers has not been able to effect. Pfizer has announced that it will no longer supply the drugs which death penalty states depend upon for execution. This doesn't cover every form of execution, but this is one more challenge for those jurisdictions which use chemicals to kill people.

Do I think some people deserve the death penalty? Certainly. Should we use this as a retributive response to heinous crimes. Nope.

We know about the death penalty as Christians. Good Friday is about three executions by a regime that used crucifixion as a gruesome deterrent to execution. We know that the Roman Empire is long gone, so that didn't work out well. And Jesus, peacemaker, is still present in our world. Perhaps Pfizer is the answer to prayer.


Thursday, May 26, 2016

Gotta Serve Somebody

You may be an ambassador to England or France
You may like to gamble, you might like to dance
You may be the heavyweight champion of the world
You may be a socialite with a long string of pearls

But you're gonna have to serve somebody, yes
Indeed you're gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you're gonna have to serve somebody

Gotta Serve Somebody

This week Bob Dylan turned 75 and the hoopla prompted my recollection of seeing him on Letterman several years ago in a disastrous performance where he seemed stoned and ancient. It turns our that "several years ago" was more than twenty! That makes me ancient, although I assure you any befuddlement on my part is not chemically induced.

Although Dylan was an icon of the sixties and wrote some important protest songs, I was more inclined to Jimmy Hendrix's All Along the Watchtower than Bob's original.  

In honour of this milestone birthday there have been plenty of tributes, including recognition of his Jewish origins and his brief foray into evangelical Christianity. Dylan became a "born again" Christian in the late 70's and put out a couple of albums with Christian themes. The first, Slow Train Coming,  featured Mark Knopfler on guitar, which ain't too shabby for a sideman.

It has been suggested that Dylan is still a Christian, although not in the same conservative vein. Who knows, but it is interesting that faith, both Jewish and Christian, along with social justice have been aspects of his musical expression.

Any Dylan fans out there? Are you like me and figured he was 100? Did any of you connect with his Christian songs?

Wednesday, May 25, 2016


While PM Trudeau  is enjoying a wedding anniversary break in Japan today, POTUS Obama is on his way there after a brief visit to Viet Nam. Many of us grew up with news footage from "Nam" even though this wasn't our war, and then there were the films such as Platoon, and Born on the Fourth of July and Full Metal Jacket, and...I'll stop there. We saw this conflict through an American lens which increasingly cloudy as the morality of the war was and protests mounted. Think of the killings at Kent State and the song Ohio by Neil Young.

The Viet Cong communists were the evil enemy, and if Viet Nam fell, so would all of Southeast Asia in the "Domino Effect." Yet there was Obama announcing a new trade agreement which would allow the sale of US manufactured weapons to the Vietnamese government. No matter that Viet Nam has a lousy human rights record. Apparently Canada and the United States share the motto "show me the money" when it comes to selling military hardware to suspect nations.

Photo published for Obama expresses 'deepest regrets' over alleged murder at US base in Japan

On Friday Obama will visit Hiroshima, one of the two Japanese cities obliterated by American nuclear bombs during WW2. Japan was one of the evil enemies  (certainly guilty of terrible atrocities) although surrender was inevitable at the time the bombs were dropped. Hundreds of thousands of civilians perished, some vaporized in an instance, many suffering agonizing deaths due to radiation poisoning. During the visit neither nation will take responsibility for its actions, with a carefully orchestrated tour of the Hiroshima museum.

What do we make of all this, beyond the ceremonial presentations by children and the handshakes between leaders. Perhaps we can all pray on Friday, even just a few moments of reflection and silence to consider the folly and the pointlessness of the wars we glorify during and after the fact. We might go a step farther and repent of violence and bloodshed which is committed in the name of national interests. What curious creatures we are, in need of God's grace and Christ's forgiveness.


Tuesday, May 24, 2016

World Humanitarian Summit

Yesterday Prime Minister Trudeau arrived in Japan for a visit in advance of for the G-7 Summit later this week. Of course this visit upstages other events taking place around the world, including the World Humanitarian Summit taking place in Istanbul, Turkey. This is a United Nations sponsored event but many faith groups are participating and watching with interest. The goals are in keeping with the work for social justice many Christian denominations are involved in, including our United Church of Canada.

There are seven basic tenets that the Summit is upholding, and they sure seem worthwhile to me. More than one relates to the growing crisis related to displaced persons, including Syrian refugees. There are hundreds of United Church congregations participating in refugee sponsorship including those in Belleville. But this is much bigger issue than our modest efforts.

I do wish that the G-7 leaders, including PM Trudeau, were more directly involved in this Summit. It would give it a higher profile and greater credibility. It sends a message about what really matters in the world.

Were you aware that the Summit is taking place? What about our world leaders being elsewhere as it unfolds?

Monday, May 23, 2016

Brexit & the Apocalypse

In another galaxy, far, far away -- the 1970s --  conservative Christians were in love with a book that scared them to death --kinda. It was The Late Great Planet Earth by Hal Lindsey. Lindsey let everyone know that Old Testament books such as Daniel and Ezekiel, along with the last book of the bible, the Revelation of John, were warning us about Russia as an end-times superpower. For some reason let the United States off the hook. The European Economic Union, the precursor of the EU, would be a modern revival of the Roman Empire.

The apocalypse needed a sequel, and in Lindsey's 1980 book The 1980s: Countdown to Armageddon, he predicted that "the decade of the 1980s could very well be the last decade of history as we know it". The 1980s may have been a forgettable decade in some respects, but we're still here.

I thought about all this after reading that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had time to gently speak against a possible British exit from the EU -- when he wasn't channelling Gordie Howe with his elbows up in the corners of the House of Commons. President Obama has already discouraged Great Britain from leaving. There hasn't been any apocalyptic language from either leader and no one is suggesting Christ will return if Britain exits the union.

Isn't it strange that religious folk seem to relish the prospect of being whacked by the Creator in these elaborate end-times scenarios? They have done so for centuries. At the same time, many of these same believers deny the possibility of catastrophic changes to the Earth because of climate change. We're a goofy bunch.

The Brexit referendum is on June 23rd, just a month from now. Maybe we shouldn't make any long-term plans as we wait, enraptured, for the outcome.


Sunday, May 22, 2016

Improvisational Three-in-One

I must admit that after more than thirty years of preparing Trinity Sunday sermons I still feel somewhat defeated before I even begin. How do we 'splain a profound mystery which should be beyond our imagining, because this is God, after all. I have been aware that one of the biggest deals of our Christian faith falls on a sleepy, get-out-of-dodge holiday weekend when there is more emphasis on  party "2-4" than Holy Three.

I like this sonnet by Malcom Guite, a song-writer, poet, and Anglican priest. Guite was born in Nigeria to ex-pat British parents, spent some of his childhood in Canada, before returning to Britain. He looks a little like the stereotypical image of a patriarchal god, and some of his language for God is rather male, but God as improvisational "three in one" poet is magnificent.

In the Beginning, not in time or space,
But in the quick before both space and time,
In Life, in Love, in co-inherent Grace,
In three in one and one in three, in rhyme,
In music, in the whole creation story,
In His own image, His imagination,
The Triune Poet makes us for His glory,
And makes us each the other’s inspiration.
He calls us out of darkness, chaos, chance,
To improvise a music of our own,
To sing the chord that calls us to the dance,
Three notes resounding from a single tone,
To sing the End in whom we all begin;
Our God beyond, beside us and within.

Malcolm Guite

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Not-so-Visible Ministry

Yesterday I downloaded and printed the Calls to Action in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission  report. The United Church is committed to developing "right relations" with First Nations peoples and the denomination was involved in the hearings which were held across the country. The United Church was one of several denominations which ran Residential Schools in conjunction with the federal government and it is perhaps the darkest chapter of our story. We have provided millions of dollars in settlement and restitution, created a separate healing fund, issued formal apologies, and been involved in a host of other conversations. I plan to offer opportunities for discussion about the TRC report, so I better do my homework.

This is one of the not-so-visible aspects of ministry. Early on I had a parishioner who would joke that I was "six days of the week invisible, one day of the week incomprehensible." It was clever and funny -- the first time. Granted, ministry is a profession which can be invisible and incomprehensible, but most clergy do a lot of stuff which never registers on the radar of most folk.

A couple of weeks ago we hosted Rob Oliphant, the co-chair of the joint committee of Parliament and the Senate which produced the report on Medical Assistance in Dying. Since I was interviewing Rob I figured I better do my homework. I read the report and the proposed legislation.

Last summer I read through Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home the environmental encyclical issued by Pope Francis. I created questions for a four-week study group on the encyclical and its creation care implications.

Am I blowing my own horn here? Maybe. Actually, this is more a reminder that not all of ministry meets the eye. Would everyone consider this a good use of my time? Not likely, given that this is the United Church. But if I won't do the "heavy lifting." who will. It's strange. As I get greyer, my grey matter becomes more compromised. Focus, comprehension -- all the challenges of aging. I'll plug away at it though!


Friday, May 20, 2016

Seeds of Concern

At 6:30 this morning I was reading an article about a possible merger between an industrial giant and a mega-giant. Monsanto is a global company which has often been criticized for its bullying monopolistic tactics in agri-business. Bayer is a multi-national colossus which produces some products which are similar, and sees a takeover of Monsanto as good business. The deal would be worth more than $30 billion. Why am I reading about this at dawn? I'm a sick man. http://www.cbc.ca/news/business/bayer-monsanto-merger-1.3589081

In North America farmers have been sued by Monsanto for choosing to use Genetically Modified Seed from their own yield, violating seed patents owned by the company. There have been others issues about allowing seed which has accidentally taken root on their land through wind and bird distribution to grow. Monsanto has massive resources and has never lost a case.

In India Monsanto has changed the nature of agriculture, pushing small farmers off their land. Activists claim that this had led to a rash of suicides by those who can no longer provide for their families. http://www.globalresearch.ca/the-seeds-of-suicide-how-monsanto-destroys-farming/5329947

I attended a conference of Presbyterians for Earth Care in Colorado a number of years ago where I heard about some of these issues for the first time.  I suspect few of us are aware of the global reach of these companies which portray themselves as agricultural when they are primarily technological and industrial. I am not against GMO foods in principle -- honestly, what food products haven't been modified in some way as part of agricultural development through the millennia. I am deeply concerned about the injustices where corporations can overpower individuals and even governments for their purposes.

I came to work and found an email reminding me that tomorrow there will be Marches Against Monsanto, including a number across Canada and a dozen throughout Ontario. I can't claim to know much about them, but it was an interesting coincidence -- providence?

Have you heard the influence of these global agri-business companies. Does it concern you, or just make your eyes glaze over. Should faith groups bother with getting involved?

May 21, 2016

Thursday, May 19, 2016

A Firm Foundation?

Yesterday a dedicated "group of 7" Bridge St congregation members sat together pondering nearly fifty grant applications to the Bridge St. Foundation. These grant committee members had already spent hours poring over the applications from organizations across Canada and around the world. Truth be told, even though I often sit in, as I did yesterday, I let them do the heavy lifting when it comes to checking financial statements, if they have met basic criteria, and when or if they applied previously. The wisdom of the group is remarkable, and some have been doing this for years. While they would prefer to be lavish in their support to these worthy causes, miniscule interest rates mean that the money available to distribute continues to shrink. This year is will be just over $90,000. While that ain't chump change, there was a time when more than a quarter million was given away annually. Over the years there have been scores of recipients with a total distribution in excess of $5 million.

This Spring there were applications for church "edible green space" projects, aboriginal youth canoe trips, a refugee furniture bank, and a parent support group for those affected by sexual assault. Internationally there is request out of Thailand from a play centre for children who are exploited as labourers and one from Nicaragua to help women who have been victims of violence. Locally, a project to bring music to those with Alzheimer's through iPods applied again. How to chose?

I am grateful that the Foundation exists, and that grants are made according to merit, not religious affiliation. I do wonder how long we will be able to continue this important work. In so many organization and faith communities the volunteers are aging. Will there be a next generation of thoughtful and prayerful philanthropy. The best thing I had to offer yesterday was an opening prayer for God's guidance with a group of dedicated souls who believe in it.


Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The Truth of our Dying

It happens. Several months without a death in the congregation, then a tsunami of losses. It has happened before, and it occurred this past week with three funerals and a Spring burial. All four individuals were fine "elders" and will be missed.

In three of these situations we made our way to a cemetery after the service for a committal, the interring of remains. With one the funeral director didn't bring the sand for the committal, a practice which I loathe. Who came up with the notion of beach sand to make the sign of the cross on a casket? I asked him to use a clump of earth instead, which he did.

In the other two family members were involved in putting earth in the grave. With one an urn was placed in the ground and the widow and I trowelled earth in on top. Yesterday the daughter of the deceased wanted the casket lowered into the ground in her presence. There was a glitch, with the planking around the grave being a bit too small for the casket, so it couldn't be lowered. The funeral home staff went into problem-solving mode, and several male mourners stepped forward to help. With a little "arm-strong" the planks were adjusted and the casket lowered.

The daughter had also arranged that the trailer of earth be brought to the grave while she was there. When it arrived she took a shovel and dumped back in the first of the soil which had been removed to make room for the casket. She shed tears as she did so, and she spoke to her beloved mother with gratitude. It was a moving moment.

If I had it do over in this 36-year journey of ministry I would have early-on purchased a small shovel and carried it with me to cemeteries. What we have created is a sanitized and death-denying experience that is not helpful to mourners, in my estimation. I should know better. On my first pastoral charge in Newfoundland family members dug the grave, and everyone present at the graveside tossed in some earth. Our hands got dirty as we said goodbye. It was messy and real, the way life is, and death as well.

We are people of a God who entered into our messiness and died and was buried and was mourned. Yes, we have resurrection hope, but we should never downplay or hide the truth of our dying.


Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Beyond Phobia

Today is the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia which is a phobic mouthful. Except that this is a day to move beyond fear rather than participate in fear-based exclusion and violence. This is the day that our Canadian federal government will introduce legislation protecting transsexual persons in this country.

It will be interesting to see what this will entail and what the response of more conservative Canadians will be. Our experience in introducing legal protection for gays and lesbians, and making provision for same-gender marriage has likely paved the way for a general level of acceptance. There is still fear, however, around some of the practical realities, including the use of washrooms. In the United States there have been phobic reactions in some states, with odd and exclusive legislation being passed. This has resulted in some companies withdrawing from those jurisdictions, and the locations of sporting events taken out of state.

I have written before about my own experience of realizing that just because I don't initially understand certain things, including nonconventional sexual identification and orientation doesn't mean that they are wrong. I need to look inside first, rather than externalize my fear or confusion. I do so because I follow Jesus, who saw people for who they were when others couldn't or wouldn't. And in the end he died a painful, unjust death because his wide circle of compassion was seen as a threat.

In a few weeks Bridge St UC will host the Belleville LGBT highs school prom for a second year. I welcomed the young people last year and it was a moving moment for me. These were teens who had often been rejected by their peers who just wanted to enjoy an environment where they were accepted and could be themselves. I was glad that our Christian congregation could provide that venue.


Sunday, May 15, 2016

Marshmallows Anyone?

Come Holy Spirit Come
Come as the Fire and Burn

Come as the Wind and Cleanse
Come as the Light and Reveal
Convict, Convert, Consecrate
Until We are Wholly Yours

We've been attempting to find a date for today's congregational Town Hall at Bridge St. for some time, the third in a series intended to inform our flock about the work of our Strategic Planning Group. We have lurched along in some respects, in part because the two dreaded M's, Money and Mortar, seem to bump Mission and Ministry because of the "tyranny of the urgent."

We settled on this day, Pentecost, the birthday of the church, because it fits in our calendar of events and it makes sense that we ask whether the wind and the fire of the Holy Spirit are still at work in our midst. I can't imagine that we'll become capital-P Pentecostals as a result of our conversations about our vision and values, but let's pray that we are open to what Christ has in store for us.


Saturday, May 14, 2016

Thank God for Prophetic Voices

Earlier this week a peace bond was issued against former media celebrity and interviewer Jian Ghomeshi. In the byzantine workings of the law, Ghomeshi took responsibility for his inappropriate behaviour and abuse of power with a female co-worker, Kathryn Borel admitting guilt. Figure that one out.

Later Borel bravely stood before the media and made a statement that everyone should read, or hear. Here is a portion.

And that is what Jian Ghomeshi just apologized for: the crime of sexual assault. This is a story of a man who had immense power over me and my livelihood, admitting that he chronically abused his power and violated me in ways that violate the law. Mr. Ghomeshi’s constant workplace abuse of me and my many colleagues and friends has been corroborated by multiple sources, a CBC documentary and a third-party investigation.

In a perfect world, people who commit sexual assault would be convicted for their crimes. Jian Ghomeshi is guilty of having done the things that I’ve outlined today. So when it was presented to me that the defence would be offering us an apology, I was prepared to forego the trial. It seemed like the clearest path to the truth. A trial would have maintained his lie, and would have further subjected me to the very same pattern of abuse that I am currently trying to stop.

Jian Ghomeshi has apologized, but only to me. There are more than 20 other women who have come forward to the media and made serious allegations about his violent behaviour. Women who have come forward to say he punched and choked and smothered and silenced them. There is no way I would have come forward if it weren’t for their courage. And yet Mr. Ghomeshi hasn’t met any of their allegations head on, as he vowed to do in his Facebook post of 2014. He hasn’t taken the stand on any charge. All he’s said about his other accusers is that they’re all lying and that he’s not guilty. And remember: that’s what he said about me.

I am grateful for Borel's courage and her prophetic voice. What might have happened if this situation had quietly gone away? What if she had been too weary or intimidated to make a statement.

At the time of Ghomeshi's first trial many pundits felt that the evidence suggested he would be acquitted, for a number of reasons. The inconsistent testimony of his accusers sealed those opinions. The judge's ruling came across as punitive toward the three women, even though they weren't on trial. We still seem to trot out scarlet letters for women, despite what we say about equality in our culture.

As people of faith we should pay attention to what unfolded this week, and the real issues of sexual aggression, abuse of power, and even the cult of celebrity.

It's important to note the failure of my beloved CBC in all this. While Canada's broadcaster offered an apology as well, it is clear that the CBC failed Borel miserably, and likely others as well. Too often institutions, including churches, move immediately into a defensive posture rather than seeking the truth.

Was justice done? I don't think so. Let's pray that we become a more just society.



Friday, May 13, 2016


Preachers, Talk Show

No, your eyes don't deceive you. This summer on Fox you can watch a new talk show called Preachers, starring...preachers. The four pastors are from large congregations, or mega-churches, in the United States with names such as Empowerment Temple and House of Hope. The executive producer is excited about the concept:

After 'The View,' I figured I'd never do another panel show, but these preachers knocked me off my feet," said Geddie in a statement highlighted by Broadcasting & Cable. "They're not just another set of talking heads yakking about the events of the day; they bring real-world experience as pastors and counselors. They have a unique spiritual take on things, and they're funny as hell ... I mean, heck!"
Nuck, nuck, nuck. I'm not offended that I didn't get the call to be a co-host. Hey, I'm a little pale to fit the profile, I'm the minister of We're Still Hangin' In There Tabernacle, and the only mega we can boast about is the running total of repair bills for our aging building.
I'll never be on a television show, yet I consider preaching a calling and a craft. I've been dedicated to this aspect of ministry for 36 years. I hope I have learned and grown as a communicator through the decades. I know that many of my colleagues feel the same way, and we earnestly desire to preach messages that are faithful, relevant, and words of hope and empowerment. We're not celebrities, but we never thought we would be, and the expectations can be daunting.
Today I'll offer a message in a memorial service, funeral tomorrow, sermon Sunday, another funeral Tuesday. On each occasion I'll do my best, by the grace of God, to share the Good News of Jesus Christ.
Would you watch a program called Preachers? Don't snore too loudly! Is this just another example of turning religion into entertainment. Does preaching still matter?

Thursday, May 12, 2016

A Pact with the Creator

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

Yesterday morning I made what I called a "canoe-icide" pact with Ruth, my wife. It sounds much more dire that it was. In truth, it was a positive commitment to head out somewhere for a paddle even though we both had busy work days ahead of us. It can be mentally tough to come home, put on roof racks and canoe, gather gear and drive somewhere before the physical activity begins. And now that we're in our sixties...enough said.

We fulfilled our pact, eating quickly, and on the Moira River at O'Brien's Bridge shortly after six. We made our way southwest on the river, to the mouth of a stream leading through a maple swamp. A few weeks ago we were there and the river was high enough to wend our way through the swamp and into meadows and woods. Last evening there was a noticeable drop in water level and we didn't get far. Within a week or two it will be inaccessible.

We savoured the moment, just the same. There was a clutch of merganser chicks smaller than those pictured above and we drifted toward them. As we did so what looked like a yearling beaver moved cautiously toward us, curious but tentative. When he/she was half a metre from the chicks the tension was too great, there was a slap of the tail and a dive. The tiny mergansers scattered like water droplets, then quickly reassembled. Momma was nearby frantically attempting to lead us away, so we complied. We sat in the stillness for a while, drinking tea, breathing in the sounds of woodpeckers and bullfrogs, watching kingfishers and blue herons. It was a glorious stillness. On the paddle back we saw a number of Baltimore orioles and swallows and wondered at how magically the trees have come into leaf.

Today I have a committal service, tomorrow a memorial service, Saturday a funeral. All three are for lovely people who lived full and generous lives, are now mourned. In addition a friend experienced a loss this week which is the source of sadness. Our watery foray was a reminder that life surges forth even in the midst of death and offers the Creator's tonic for our spirits. As our "New" Creed of the United Church assures us:

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

    Thanks be to God.


Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Blessed are the Poor?


Yesterday our excellent administrator, Carol, sent me the death notice of a local guy who was well known in Belleville, at least by sight, because he stood at the corner of a major intersection, panhandling. He would frequent our offices when he was looking for assistance and the combination of his speech impediment and an inclination to drink made our attempts to fathom what he was after interesting. He spent several months in a coma after choking on food and we helped his wife and daughter who depended on his income.

A couple of weeks ago one of the folk from Quinte Deaf Fellowship let me know that a member had died. She passed this on because the deceased person used to attend out Inn from the Cold meal program. I intervened in a situation one evening where this woman and another hearing impaired guest were on the verge of fisticuffs. Through translation by another guest I was able to get them calmed down and the translator confided that she was generally quick-tempered and unpredictable. Just the same, after that incident she would wave and smile when she saw me at the church or on the street. One Inn from the Cold evening she explained to me through another translator that she had been cutting herself but got help through a hospital program and was doing better. I was touched that she confided in me.

Both of these people were in their early to mid fifties. It is a reminder to me that often those with disabilities have a tough go, and that poverty generally results in a shorter life. Jesus said that the poor are blessed, but it often seems as though they are cursed by compromised health and limited opportunity. 

I suppose those of us who are blessed with material security and wellbeing are the ones who are cursed when we don't see those in our midst who struggle for basic dignity. I know there aren't easy solutions, but the deaths of these two sure challenges me to consider what our response as Christians might be.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

MAID in Canada

On Friday evening Bridge St. UC hosted a Kente Presbytery event featuring Member of Parliament and United Church minister, Rob Oliphant. I've known Rob for 35 years, and when I saw that he was co-chair of the joint senate and parliament committee given the task of writing a report on Medical Assistance in Dying I started an email conversation. This is a subject which I can't recall ever being addressed at a meeting of presbytery or conference, although our current moderator, Jordan Cantwell, did offer a thoughtful "general epistle" on the subject.

Rob kindly offered to speak to a gathering in Belleville and we worked around his busy schedule. A Friday evening at 6:00 PM on what was the loveliest day of the year so far did not bode well for attendance -- or so I thought. Somewhat to our surprise, roughly 90 people appeared, and they were an attentive crowd. I interviewed Rob with a series of questions which he answered thoughtfully and engagingly. At the conclusion of the interview there were some very direct questions and a bit of speechifying, even though I asked people not to succumb to that temptation. It was evident that the majority of those present supported legislation which will remove medically assisted suicide or death from the criminal code and create safeguards and guidelines. Some were quite testy at the lack of provision for advanced directives, and felt that the proposed legislation wasn't going far enough to satisfy the Supreme Court decision last year. We'll see.

I have written about my reservations concerning assisted death, from a number of standpoints. We must protect the vulnerable, and support those who may make this choice out of feeling they are a burden to others. We need comprehensive supportive or palliative care, which may take years to put in place in a country where healthcare dollars are already stretched. I think it is right that faith communities push the government to be thorough in addressing the ethical issues, although I am convinced that governments aren't all that skilled at addressing moral and ethical issues.

I mentioned an article in a recent Christian Century by a Dutch ethicist who expressed his second thoughts on the practice in the Netherlands and it is worth reading. http://www.christiancentury.org/article/2016-03/rushing-toward-death

I do feel that Friday evening was helpful, and participants were grateful for Rob's presence and reflections. Here's hoping and praying that our society enters into this with wisdom and respect for both the sanctity of life and individuals rights.

Were you there Friday evening? Do you wish you had attended? Have you read the proposed legislation?

Sunday, May 08, 2016

The Temptation of McJesus

Ewan McGregor in a scene from "Last Days in the Desert." Photo courtesy of Sundance Institute

I like Ewan McGregor as an actor. He has an excellent dramatic range and he does well in comedic roles. But who does he think he is, God? I'm not referring to his Jedi role.  McGregor is Jesus, on film at least, and he doesn't look all that sure of himself in the photo above.

The film is Last Days in the Desert and Ewan admits that he was "freaked out" by the role, even thought the emphasis is on the humanness of Jesus rather than divinity.  The imaginative story picks up on the conclusion of Jesus' forty days in the wilderness before he begins his ministry, the gospel story which begins the season of Lent.  It’s writer-director Rodrigo Garcia’s imagining of Jesus meeting a teenage boy and his father who are struggling to reconcile their plans for the boy’s life. The boy wants to go to Jerusalem. His father wants him to stay in the desert.

The other freaky aspect to McGregor's involvement is that he also plays Lucifer, The Tempter, yup, Satan. This isn't exactly original. Anne Rice used the same concept in one of her novels about Jesus, with the devil as a cleaned-up mirror image of Jesus. Why not? Most of us don't give much thought to the Prince of Darkness these days, but we do wonder about our darker side, and why it can be affect us so profoundly.

I'll be waiting for the reviews of Last Days. I enjoy imaginative interpretations of biblical stories, if they're well done. Does the casting of McGregor and/or the storyline intrigue you? Will his Lucifer look like Donald Trump?

What about the gospel telling of the temptation of Jesus?

Saturday, May 07, 2016

Giving from the Heart...& Online

In the past week or so I have placed online orders with Amazon, Mountain Equipment Coop, TSC (a honkin' big item!) and a company that produces plasticized topographical maps. I am diverse in my consumerism. All those orders were processed immediately and shipped before the estimated time. I have received three of the four ahead of schedule. 
We also contributed to the Red Cross emergency relief fund for Alberta and immediately received confirmation of our gift. We made a contribution to Ecuadorean Relief as well, through Bridge St Church, the United Church of Canada, and our partnership with Act Alliance. While I could have done so online, I prefer to contribute through my local congregation. Unfortunately we are like most congregations, with only "old school" methods for special contributions. I rummaged around for a cheque, and gave that way.

At a recent staff meeting we discussed the successful use of a tablet and credit card "square" to take payment at a Silent Auction at the church. Well over a thousand dollars came in through that method. which was not bad at all. When the discussion came to making this available on Sundays some were "fer it" and others "agin it." My own feeling is that we use the methods which are most effective and which reflect the changes in our culture. I can't recall any scripture references to cheques, or offering plates. So why are these sacred? We now give through Pre-Authorized Remittance or PAR. This keeps us on the straight and narrow, which is generally a good thing in churches.

There are now smartphone apps such as Tithe.ly, Pushpay, and EasyTithe. It's interesting that two of the three use traditional language for what is an up-to-the moment form of contributing to the life and work of Christ's church.

What are your thoughts? Is using credit card readers and apps crass, or does it just make sense? Would you use one of these methods, if available?