Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Solitude on the Rock(s)

Image result for change islands

I'm hoping and praying that when you read this we will be on the island of Newfoundland, Canada's easternmost province and the place where I began ministry on a five preaching point pastoral charge.  You'd think that would be enough to scare us away forever, but I figure that this is the eighth trip back in 35 years. We are actually going to a community off the island, called Change Islands. They are adjacent to the "rock star" island of Fogo, which has become the place to go, despite it's remote location. We are only a short ferry ride to Fogo, and Change Islands shares the rugged beauty of its more famous companion.

Image result for change islands

During our time on Change Islands we will hike and kayak and read lots of books, rain or shine. We will also step away from connectedness, the blessing and curse of the internet and social media. We are both aware of the effects of internet brain, which has altered our attention span, raised our expectations for constant information, and, honestly, has changed our relationship with God. Without silence and solitude how do we listen for the voice of the One who created us and leads us into the fullness of love. How do we savour and grow in wisdom, rather than consume, consume, consume?

We've stayed on the cove you see in the painting above in the past. The house below will be our retreat this time.

So, I shall return to blogging, I'm just not sure when. God be with you!

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Martin Sheen & the Spirituality of Imagination

Image result for martin sheen on being transcript

I really like Martin Sheen. I enjoy him as an actor because he has great range. He's played the president of the United States with a gravitas that would be the envy of Donald Trump if Trump had any clue about his role. He is able to do comedy as well, and if you've watched the Netflix series Grace and Frankie you'll know this is true.

Sheen also played a man on a quest in the film The Way. It's about the Camino, the pilgrimage walk across Spain. The character he plays goes in search of his son's body and finds himself as he saunters through his grief.

Sheen is a person of faith, returning to the abandoned Roman Catholicism of his youth in mid-life. After he finished his role in the film Gandhi he was in Paris, doing some serious soul-searching, aware that alcohol was not his friend, uncertain about the direction of his life. He wandered into the only English-speaking Roman Catholic church on the Left Bank and the experience became the most joyful moment in his adult life. Even still, he realized that he wasn't returning to the piety of his youth, which had been too restrictive. This was a different way of encountering God.

I would encourage you to search for Sheen's interview with Krista Tippet on the radio program On Being. It's called Spirituality of Imagination, and while it's a couple of years old it was reposted recently.

Has there been a time when you've moved away from the faith of your youth, only to return. Was that reimagining of faith liberating?

Image result for grace and frankie

Saturday, June 24, 2017

An Eye for an Eye?

A Canadian 3RCR Battlegroup sniper walks up a hill to his position during a mission near Kabul, Afghanistan, in 2003.

A couple of years ago the film American Sniper was a huge box office success. It glorified the sharp-shooting exploits of Chris Kyle, a US Navy Seal. Kyle served four tours in the Iraq War and was awarded several commendations for acts of heroism and meritorious service in combat. Ironically. Kyle was shot and killed by another serviceman suffering PTSD after his return to America.

There is a mystique surrounding snipers who must combine rock-steady nerves with mathematics while in the midst of combat. Canadians are reportedly amongst the best snipers in the world, and recently a Canadian sniper working alongside Iraqi forces in their fight against ISIS successfully struck a member of the militant group from a distance of a little more than three and a half kilometres away. This is now the record for a verified sniper kill, and may never be matched.
This has been all over the media and it seems grisly to me. As Tom Mulcair of the NDP points out we are supposedly not involved in offensive military action in Iraq. And while combatants kill the enemy in any conflict, the fascination is macabre, in my estimation.

As a Christian I constantly wrestle with Jesus' teaching to be peacemakers, to turn the other cheek, alongside the realities of evil in our world. While there are occasions where lethal force must be used, in policing and in situations of war, glorifying the death of human beings doesn't fit with my sense of the gospel. This may sound naïve, but really, has the message of Jesus ever made sense in the ways of the world?


Friday, June 23, 2017


Through the years but particularly the past six months I've blogged periodically about my mother, Margaret, whom a number of you know. Some of you have interacted with her as a senior and witnessed an intelligent, engaged woman whose faith issued in action well into her eighties. In recent years her Parkinson's Disease has become more of an issue, with her mobility and balance affected. In these past months the slow progress of dementia has become a freight train which we are scrambling to address. She never complains, but she is increasingly anxious in the afternoon and evening, evidence of Sundowners Syndrome.

My brother Eric is a constant support to Mom, taking care of so many practical aspects of her life. I've made a point of visiting more frequently, usually reading scripture, saying a prayer, and even wonkily warbling a hymn or two with her. We both want to affirm her personhood, her essence, even as her memory betrays her. And she continues to surprise us. In the past couple of visits she has asked how I feel in retirement and wondered when we leave on vacation. When I showed up with son Isaac and his family recently she was delighted. She was downright playful with her great-grandsons and beamed in a way we simply don't witness anymore.

The other day she got word that she would be visited by Dr. Paul Thistle, a medical missionary in Africa. Years ago Mom paid for a nurses residence to be built, at considerable cost. Paul has always been grateful for her support and visits when he's back in Canada.

Margaret Mundy is a person, loved by God, loved by her family and friends. Is she diminished by age and illness? Yes. But she continues to love us and teach us, in her own way.


Wednesday, June 21, 2017

National Aboriginal Day

Image result for national aboriginal day 2017
Finally! Yesterday the issues accessing my computer were resolved.

This morning I listened to CBC from Toronto and their live National Aboriginal Day broadcast from Nathan Phillips Square. It seems an unlikely setting for a sacred fire yet city hall in the heart of Canada's largest city was once Native land. The organizers say that this was the largest crowd yet, hundreds of people gathered at five o'clock in the morning.

There are days when I wonder whether we will very get beyond the indifference and systemic racism of a country where we pride ourselves on inclusion yet continue to treat our first nations as second class citizens, at best. Yet today's recognition across the country is encouraging. As always we have to ask if this will translate into the honouring of commitments by our federal and provincial governments to eradicate poverty, provide decent water and education, and protect the most vulnerable.

I pray that the United Church and other communities of faith will provide leadership in keeping these issues before the governments and that Canadians will understand that these are matters of justice, not charity.


Saturday, June 17, 2017

It's Not You...

Hey folks, it's not you, it's me. No, really! I'm
bedevilled with computer challenges as I get
established at home. So, please be more
patient than I am and keep visiting my Lion Lamb blog. Thanks!

Thursday, June 08, 2017

Admiration & Lament for the Oceans

Three weeks from now we will be in a house by an ocean, God willing. We'll be on Change Islands, adjacent to Fogo Island, a place of wild beauty and warm people. As my ministry draws to a close we'll be back where we started, a short distance by water from the communities I served in the early 1980's.

We'll be there during the recreational groundfish fishery which allows Newfoundland residents to catch cod for their own use. Homes on Change Islands which are empty are other times will be filled with those coming home for this opportunity. This personal fishery has expanded over time after a total  moratorium on cod fishing when it was established that stocks were plummeting toward extinction. There is now a controlled commercial fishery as well.

For the longest time it was considered a God-given  right - literally - to take as much as ships could haul in. The ships got bigger and more efficient until an abundant species all but disappeared. It was reckless plunder rather than careful management. It ruined a way of life for many.

On this World Oceans Day we can lament the emptying of the seas, even as we marvel at them. We can pray that it's not too late to change the course of our species when it comes to conservation and care. We can admire the diversity of the oceans enough to allow them to revive.


Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Christians and Muslims:  Caring for our Common Home

I hadn't realized that the Vatican sends a message each year to Muslims during the month of Ramadan, and 2017 marks the 50th anniversary. How appropriate that days after President Trump withdrew from the Paris Agreement on Climate Change this letter has been issued. Although it is dated May 19th it was issued June 2nd, the day after Trump's announcement. Here is the text of the letter

Christians and Muslims:  Caring for our Common Home

Dear Muslim Brothers and Sisters,
We wish to assure you of our prayerful solidarity during this time of fasting in the month of Ramadan and the celebration of ‘Id al–Fitr that concludes it, and we extend to you our heartfelt best wishes for serenity, joy and abundant spiritual gifts...

...The experience of both our religious communities affirms the value of this Message for promoting cordial relations between Christian and Muslim neighbours and friends, by offering insights on current and pressing issues.For this year, the PCID offers a theme related to Pope Francis’ Encyclical Letter “Laudato Si’– On Care for Our Common Home”, which was addressed not only to Catholics and Christians, but to the whole of humanity.

Pope Francis draws attention to the harm our lifestyles and decisions are causing to the environment, to ourselves and to our fellow human beings. There are, for example, certain philosophical, religious, and cultural perspectives that present obstacles which threaten humanity’s relationship with nature. To take up this challenge involves all of us, regardless of whether or not we profess a religious belief.

The Encyclical’s title itself is expressive: the world is a “common home”, a dwelling for all the members of the human family. Therefore, no one person, nation or people can impose exclusively their understanding of our planet. This is why Pope Francis appeals “for a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet…, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affects us all” (n. 14).

Pope Francis states that “the ecological crisis is also a summons to profound interior conversion” (no. 217). What is needed is education, spiritual openness and a “global ecological conversion” to adequately address this challenge. As believers, our relationship with God should be increasingly shown in the way we relate to the world around us. Our vocation to be guardians of God’s handiwork is not optional, nor it is tangential to our religious commitment as Christians and Muslims: it is an essential part of it.

May the religious insights and blessings that flow from fasting, prayer and good works sustain you, with God’s help, on the path of peace and goodness, to care for all the members of the human family and for the whole of creation.
With these sentiments, we wish you once again serenity, joy and prosperity.
From the Vatican, 19 May 2017

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Anglican Power!

Image result for exxonmobil cartoons

The dismal decision of the US government to opt out of the Paris Climate Change Agreement affects the fate of untold billions of Earthlings, including non-human creatures. The bizarre focus on economic gain over the wellbeing of our planetary home is sinful and wrong. I find this deeply discouraging.

There was encouraging news at the same time, although it was overshadowed by the decision of the Trump administration. ExxonMobil has decided to offer more transparent annual reports which will make shareholders and everyone else aware of the effects of their polices on climate change.

I celebrated this news, unaware that this was an initiative of the Church of England, the Anglicans. In these days of diminishing influence in world affairs by shrinking faith communities we might despair of making a difference. This is evidence of the importance of persistence and not losing heart.

Here is the description of what transpired from the Anglican Communion News Service:

Shareholders of the oil giant ExxonMobil pushed through a resolution on climate change at the company’s AGM yesterday despite strong opposition from the Board of Directors. The motion, tabled by the Church Commissioners, the financial arm of the Church of England, with the New York State Comptroller, will require the company to provide annual reports on showing how the business will be affected by global efforts to reduce climate change.
The moves comes as US President Donald Trump prepares to signal whether or not his administration will pull out of the Paris Agreement, in which global political leaders agreed efforts to cap global temperature rises at two degrees Celsius.
A similar motion last year was rejected when only 38 per cent of shareholders supported the motion. This week, the motion won the support of 62.3 per cent of shareholders.
In a speech to shareholders, the Church Commissioners head of responsible investment, Edward Mason, criticised the company’s non-executive directors for their stance. He highlighted that they had supported climate change policies in their main businesses, including Xerox, Merck & Co, and Johnson & Johnson.
He asked: “Members of the board, do you leave your understanding of climate change at the door when you attend ExxonMobil board meetings?”

Well done!

Monday, June 05, 2017

Contemplating Creation

Image result for child in nature

Apparently this is the first day of the rest of my life. While my official retirement date is June 30th, I finished work after worship yesterday. Last week I saw this online course offered through Shalem Institute in the United States. It intrigued me because I am trained as a spiritual director and this is the sort of program I would love to offer in retirement.

Does this interest you? What would you think of a "Made in Canada" approximation of this sort of retreat, either online or in person?

Contemplative Earth Awareness

An online retreat day with ShalemWake up to the wonder that is all around you.

This is a time of awakening and connection. As we hold Earth and one another in prayer, we have an opportunity to stretch our contemplative awareness in new ways.
Shalem’s online retreat day with staff member Ann Dean is an opportunity to notice the loving Presence all around us and to deepen our awareness of the oneness of life. Using poetry, meditations, reflection questions and invitations into silence, Ann creates a special space for seeing and appreciating our connection to the natural world.
Whether you are a volunteer at your local watershed, a parent or grandparent wanting to teach the next generation about Earth care, a pastor who wants to bring more Earth-friendly practices to your congregation, or simply a lover of nature—you are invited to join us.

Intent: to deepen contemplative Earth awareness by opening more fully to the divine, loving, unitive Presence in all living beings.
This online retreat day consists of video and audio teaching, which you can access on your computer or tablet, poetry for reading and contemplation, guided meditation audio, reflection questions and invitations into silence.
Ann Dean, a spiritual director and nationally-known leader of retreats and conferences for deepening the life of prayer, invites you to deepen your contemplative Earth awareness by opening more fully to the divine loving Presence in all living beings.

Sunday, June 04, 2017

Pentecost, the Great Outdoors, & the Gift of Ministry

Image result for pentecost fire and wind

This is my last Sunday at Bridge St. United Church as I retire...except that we're not at Bridge St. today. Originally I asked that May 28th would be my last Sunday for worship leadership, but that proved to be the Sunday of  the annual meeting of Bay of Quinte Conference in Brockville. Our nephew Michael Putnam was ordained during last weekend's Sunday morning service, so we made the change of date.

God moves in nifty ways. Today is Pentecost, the birthday of the Christian church in the liturgical calendar. It's a wonderful reminder that we are called to be the faithful community of followers, whomever might be leading. This is also our annual Outdoor Service and Picnic Sunday. You may have figured out by now that I love being outside in the beauty of God's Creation. In retirement I hope to offer opportunities for people to gather out-of-doors for worship, so today is a meaningful start.

You can also imagine that I've been doing a lot of pondering about past, present, and future in ministry, having served six pastoral charges in three different provinces, and five Conferences, during 37 years. I've been preparing for ministry and active as a pastor since I was nineteen. I haven't really known anything else in my adult life, so I'll have to figure out the next stages.

As I have dismantled my study I took down a page of Principles and Assumptions from an Episcopal congregation in New York City called St. Bartholomew's. They still ring true for me today, and they give me hope for "disorganized religion."

Grow or go
Radical welcome
52 equal Sundays
Powerful worship
Loose around the edges, solid at the core
Bias toward the next person through the door
Not a club
Belong before you believe
Add staff before growth
Growth, not maintenance

I like 'em all, some more than others. I'll let you figure which ones I appreciate most.

I figure I'll still write my Lion Lamb blog, although as a civilian now. I'm not sure how often, but you'll see.

Thanks to you all. My life has been immeasurably better as a Christian who has also served Christ in ministry. And I have been blessed by those I've served.

Image result for retiring minister cartoons

Saturday, June 03, 2017

Deliver Us From Everyday Evil

Image result for elizabeth wettlaufer

lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil...

Many of us have mumbled our way through these phrases so often through the years that we aren't actually paying attention to our own voices, sad to say.

I wonder if we have all but given up on the notion of temptation. And what about evil? Isn't evil off there somewhere, perhaps in the genocide of Syria?

Could evil reside in a supposedly meek nurse from  a seniors' facility? Elizabeth Wettlaufer has confessed and pled guilty to murdering eight elderly, vulnerable people, and attempting to kill others. "I honestly thought God wanted to use me," she told police, and she spoke of the exhilarating feeling she experienced when she knew she had been successful in murdering a patient. Chilling.

Wettlaufer has been called a monster repeatedly, but what does that really mean? She has been diagnosed with bipolar illness, but the vast majority of people who are bipolar would never consider harming others. She is a sick human being who was tempted to do grave harm to others. She succumbed to what is truly evil, taking innocent lives. God does not use persons to be the angel of death.

How have you reacted to these events? What do you think about Wettlaufer's confession?

Friday, June 02, 2017

Global Weirding & President Trump

Image result for moscow storm

At the beginning of this week a fierce storm raged through Moscow, killing sixteen people and injuring nearly two hundred. Thousands of trees were knocked down, and buildings were destroyed. In the aftermath the mayor said that he had no recollection of a storm which was so powerful and destructive.

We are hearing similar statements from officials and leaders around the world. The worst flooding in memory, the largest forest fires, the deepest droughts afflict communities. These are the dramatic events which sometimes overshadow the insidious changes such as thawing permafrost and rising sea levels. It's what some are calling "global weirding," the extremes of temperature and weather which are indicators of climate change.
Image result for trump climate change cartoon

And what happened at the end of the week? The United States, aka Trumpsylvania, has decided to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord. President Obama entered into this agreement in 2015 in recognition that climate change is a pressing global issue. President Trump, who has dismissed global warming as a hoax, was not convinced by other G7 member countries last weekend to keep the US in the agreement. Trump is certainly not alone amongst Republicans to exit the Paris Accord. He has been influenced by a letter from 22 Republican U.S. senators, including Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. This is bizarre given that only 28 percent of those who voted for Trump say the U.S. should not participate in the Paris agreement
Image result for global weirding

President Trump is a disaster as a world leader on nearly every front, but this could be his most destructive decision to date. We can only pray that the other nations which signed on will be strong in their resolve to fulfill their commitments. Honestly, I'm dubious about the practical resolve of our federal government here in Canada, but we'll see.