Monday, September 27, 2021

The Michaels Come Home


                                                   Michael Kovrig reunited with family at Pearson Airport 

Six weeks ago I wrote about the outrageous prison sentence given to Canadian Michael Spavor at the conclusion of his phoney trial in China. Everyone knew that neither of the Michaels -- Spavor and Kovrig -- were gulty of any crime but they were incarcerated in relatiation for the onging detainment of Huawei executive Meng Wangzhou. Her extradition hearing to the United States had stretched on for years and the Chinese were punishing Canada through these two men despite denying that this was the case.

Yesterday Meng struck a plea deal with the US, agreeing to pay a substantial fine for wrongdoing without admitting guilt -- figure that one out. Within hours the two Michaels were released from prison and on a plane back to Canada. None of the former diplomats and journalists following this situation anticipated this immediate release, assuming that the Chinese government would want to save face by holding both men for a time, perhaps months. 

Many Christian communities prayed for the Michaels in worship services, including Trenton United where we attend. Their circumstances certainly seemed bleak. In my August blog I mentioned that the apostle Paul, John the Baptist, and possibly Jesus on the night he was tried, were held in jails . We can only imagine how they felt and what their prayers were. I also offered: 

As helpless and outraged as we may feel, we can continue to pray for the release of both of the Michaels, held under terrible circumstances. We can also pray for another Canadian, Robert Schellenberg, who was sentenced to death in China for drug smuggling a few days ago. After originally receiving a lengthy prison sentence he was retried and given the death penalty, again in what is an act of retaliation. His crime doesn't warrant this draconian punishment. 

We can be thankful for the determined diplomcacy of the Canadian government and the effort of the United States to secure this outcome. There must have been a lot of behind-the-scenes work which didn't involve bluster and postering. 

We can continue to pray for Schellenberg, even as we celebrate the return to Canada of Spavor and Kovrig. Thank God they are home! 

Sunday, September 26, 2021

Anticipating Orange Shirt Day in Worship


A Prayer for Orange Shirt Day*

Today we wear orange
to remember and honour all the Indigenous children who went to residential schools.

Today we wear orange and we pray
for the residential school and intergenerational survivors who are still struggling.

Today we wear orange and we are thankful
for those who speak the truth, and who work to shine a light on injustice.

Today we wear orange in the name of compassion and the spirit of truth and reconciliation.

Help us, God, to remember and act on this this every day.


*This prayer was inspired by Honarine Scott’s Orange Shirt Day blog.

I wrote about Orange Shirt  Day and Sunday during the Summer, and lo and behold, it is today. I'll share with you my previous blog entry with the update that the shirts did arrive!

A couple of months ago those of us who are part of the Trenton United Church congregation were invited to purchase Every Child Matters tee-shirts in anticipation of Orange Shirt Sunday later that name in September.  This  Sunday is an act of solidarity with those who were taken from their families and essentially incarcerated and indoctrinated under the guise of Residential Schools. 

As is so often the case, dedicated congregation members had stepped up to organize this initiative and not long ago we received word that our shirts had arrived. The description on the United Church website is helpful: 

Why orange? Because of Phyllis Jack Webstad from the Stswecem’c Xgat’tem First Nation, who went to St. Joseph Mission Residential School. On her first day of school, Phyllis wore an orange shirt that her grandmother had given her. It was immediately taken away, and that marked the beginning of Phyllis’s long separation from her family and community, a separation caused by actions of the church and federal government.

Orange Shirt Day is a time for us all to remember those events, their ongoing impact, and just as importantly the continuing strength and resilience of Indigenous peoples. 

The shirts are now available in lots of locations but this concerted effort by a group of concerned Christians is an important act of solidarity. And while Orange Shirt Day is actually September 30th  congregations will be commemorating the event a few days earlier on Sunday, September 26th. Trenton UC has also put up a flag on the building in anticipation of the events. 

If you are interested in participating here is the United Church link with important practical information and food for thought. 

Saturday, September 25, 2021

All Aboard for the Peace Train


                                                                          Yousef Stevens

Do you need a little pick-me-up in the midst of gloomy weather and a fair amount of gloomy news around the globe? How about a remake of a 50-year-old song by an folk-rock artist who was a hit-making machine until he disappeared from sight for years. I'll let Wikepedia tell some of the story about the song Peace Train:

Cat Stevens later converted to Islam, changed his name to Yusuf Islam, and reduced his public appearances, but during the Iraq War he commented on the song's renewed relevance, saying: "'Peace Train' is a song I wrote, the message of which continues to breeze thunderously through the hearts of millions. There is a powerful need for people to feel that gust of hope rise up again. As a member of humanity and as a Muslim, this is my contribution to the call for a peaceful solution." Yusuf Islam performed the song live at the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize Concert ceremony when Muhammad Yunus of Bangladesh received the award.

Most religions uphold the importance of peace in our hearts, our relationships, and in our world which, sadly,  is often marked with suspicion and strife. Jesus was the embodiment of God's shalom, or peace, and his violent death was transformed into resurrection hope. 

My brother, Eric,  sent me the YouTube link to a collaborative effort by more than 25 musicians from 12 countries on a reissue of Peace Train. Have a listen and feel more hopeful about your day.

Friday, September 24, 2021

Proof of Vaccination for Congregations?

This week the local YMCA began checking on the vaccine status members as required by the province of Ontario. I had registered a couple of weeks ago so everything went smoothly. I have toiled away at the Y for periods beginning last Fall when there were no vaccines, so I haven't been overly concerned, but there is a degree of reassurance in knowing that everyone around me is double-vaxxed. It certainly hasn't been busy at the gym during the past 18 months. 

There has been some discussion as to whether communities of faith should have been included in the list of institutions and businesses requiring proof of double vaccination. I feel that as long as congregants follow careful protocols it isn't necessary to require proof of vaccination, although there has been some discussion on the subject within our United Church Region.

Broadview Magazine, the United Church publication, has offered a worthwhile article on how the United Church is proceeding, with interviews from across the country. The UCC as a denomination won't be requiring proof of vaccination and the observations of Rev. Tricia Gerhard make a lot of sense to me:

 Rev. Tricia Gerhard, minister at Sunset United in Regina, is chair of the executive council for Living Skies Region and former member of an ecumenical Saskatchewan COVID-19 advisory group. She is fully vaccinated and encourages people to follow suit, but says “mandatory vaccines make sense health and science-wise, but I am not sure they make sense pastorally.”

“Once we start segregating our communities of faith into vaccinated and unvaccinated, we deepen the grief and trauma that already exists in our communities because of the pandemic – it becomes another way of making worship and community support unreachable.”

Here is the link to the Broadview article

Thursday, September 23, 2021

The Legacy of Henri Nouwen

 Thirty years ago I was a participant at one of the first Jubilee Program in Spiritual Direction cohorts. At the time I wa in my thirties, father to three young children, and lead minister of a very active downtown congregation with lots of administrative duties. I also yearned for the contemplative life for myself as a follower of Jesus, and wanted to support those members of my flock who were seeking the inner way. 

I suppose it was a bit crazy to take on the demands of a rigorous program which included two residential stints but I made the commitment. We had a number of excellent presenters including a quiet spiritual superstar of that time, the late Dutch Catholic priest, Henri Nouwen. It seemed that everyone was reading his book The Wounded Healer and another book The Return of the Prodigal Son also became a bestseller. Nouwen left university teaching at Harvard and Yale as well as a high profile speaking circuit to live in a L"Arche community just north of Toronto. At Daybreak he came to a sense of self-acceptance and spiritual peace amidst those who are often at the margins of society because of their cognitve and physical challenges.He continued to write prolifically while there. 

Nouwen spent part of a day with our Jubilee group and at lunch I noticed that he was sitting alone. I asked to join him and we chatted about my desire to stay focussed in Christ despite the often overwhelming realities of that stage of life. I honestly don't recall much of our conversation but I was reassured by his kindness and willingness to listen. 

Two days ago marked the 25th anniversary of  Henri's untimely death at the age of 64 due to a heart attack. After decades away from home he happened to be on the way to Russia to create a documentary about Rembrandt's painting The Return of the Prodigal Son and had stopped in the Netherlands to be with family. He is buried near Daybreak in Richmond Hill. He was a gift to the world. 

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Notre Dame Rising From the Ashes


The encompassing fire which nearly destroyed Notre Dame Cathedral two and half years ago closed an 850-year-old place of worship and a tourist destination for 13 million visitors each year. Last week it was announced that the massive edifice which had been on the brink of collapse has been stabilized and the actual work of restoration can begin. The French government wants the work to be completed by the time France hosts the Olympics in 2024 but this may be overly ambitious. 

                                                   Notre Dame Interior Scaffolding 

I have such mixed feelings about this effort even though I've been in Notre Dames several times and it is an architectural wonder. About 850 million euros, or 1,3 billion Canadian dollars have been pledged for the restoration and more donations are being solicited. Does this make sense in the midst of the many pressing needs on Earth, including saving the planet.? The  cutting of a thousand of mature oaks for new beams makes me queasy. 

 What does the Jesus who taught on hillsides and wasn't kindly disposed to religious edifces think about this? 

Of course my undergraduate degree was in art history so despite my misgivings I'll probably celebrate the eventual reopening. I never promised to be logically consistent!

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

The Lipstick on a Pig Election?


Do we declare this a truly Canadian election where nothing much changed and all party leaders are putting lipstick on a pig this morning, metaphorically speaking? We should be disgusted that hundreds of millions of dollars were spent for such an inconclusive outcome, money which could have bolstered social programs which need funding. I'm exasperated, as I'm sure many others are. Perhaps Canadians of every stripe are united in their sense that this is an unsatisfactory outcome.

Here it is though. I'm grateful that I couild vote in a democracy and that even if the other major party had won we would still have had a government which supported healthcare for all, freedom of reproductive choice, and even that climate change urgently needs to be addressed. The government which held on to power still says that it cares about Indigenous issues and supports welcoming refugees. 

We'll see what happens on other issues which are important to me as a Christian who desires an inclusive society. 

Monday, September 20, 2021

"Dios te Bendiga" in Bolivia


In the early morning light of this day our neice and her husband were dropped at Toronto's Pearson Airport for a looonnnggg flight to Bolivia, in South America. This ain't a tourist trip. They will be living and working in the capital, La Paz, for three years. Both will be employed by the Mennonite Central Committee which is strengthening partnerships with local agencies in various areas of social concern. 

The MCC is an impressive agency which often responds to situations of crisis. When the tornado ripped through Barrie more than 30 years ago they arrived that same weekend providing practical assistance. MCC ran the Ten Thousand Villages stores in North America with the mission of creating opportunities in developing countries to earn income in developing countries to earn income by bringing their products and stories to our markets through long-term, fair trading relationships.

The historical, colonial models of missionary work for denominations has largely ended as the emphasis is now on reciprocity and mutual respect. While they are still a Christian presence in many places,  there is a different understanding of the profound meaning of other religions and the wisdom of indigenous cultures. 

There will be many adjustments for the two of them in their new roles, including developing fluency in Spanish. La Paz is the highest capital in the world, at 3,650 metres or nearly 12,000 feet. They will also need to relearn how to breathe!

We with them Godspeed and "dios te bendiga."

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Faithfully Raising the Floor --With GLI


This morning we headed out of town early so we weren't part of the gathered faith community of Trenton United Church. We did have something of a religious experience with two UCC ministers though. One was the Rev. Isaac Mundy of Trention UC and the other was the Rev. Cathy Russell-Duggan of Bloomfield UC. Isaac is our kid and Cathy was a co-worker for several years and a colleague in Belleville for several more.

The two of them have brought their smarts to exploring the important subject of Guaranteed Livable Income, or GLI. They've recorded a couple of podcast interviews with people who can 'splain GLI, which is essentially establishing a modest financial baseline for all Canadians with the purpose of lifting the most vulnerable out of cycles of poverty and despair. 

The interview which we heard, the first in the series was with Dr. Evelyn Forget, author of Basic Income for Canadians. She speaks clearly about the reservations some have about GLI  --won't people who receive it be reluctant to work and carry their own weight? She reminds us that we do have certain forms of guaranteed income in this country, including child benefits and pensions for seniors. 

Forget describes how consolidating some programs could be cost efficient  and points out that there could be considerable reductions in healthcare costs and child welfare programs if everyone had a livable income. Then there is the possibility that GLI will create opportunities for people to lift themselves out of poverty through education in various forms, not to mention the increase in purpose and dignity for those living in the despair of poverty. 

We also appreciated that Cathy and Isaac spoke about the biblical and theological basis for "raising the floor" for all. They play on the phrase "Glee Club" in their podcast title, encouragint us to believe that there can be joy in ensuring that everyone realizes a degree of security and hope. 

I highly recommend listening to this first episode and I'm sure the second with the Rev. Ed Bentley will also be worthwhile.

Am I biased because Isaac is our son and Cathy a friend? Why not make your own evidence-based decision? 

Saturday, September 18, 2021

Thanks Once More for Norm Esdon


My seminary classmate and long-time friend, Norm Esdon, died on the last day of 2020 and for a number of reasons, including the pandemic, no service of remembrance was held at the time.That event is finally taking place today and unfortunately we're not able to attend.Here is my blog entry from two days after his death. It is the most viewed entry I've written through the years.


I have written about  the Rev. Norm Esdon, my friend from seminary days, on several occasions through the years. Norm was one of the "old guys" in my first year at Emmanuel College, 32 to my 22. His first career was as a teacher, and Norm had established what appeared to be a meaningful life with his wife Marie. He experienced two callings in a way, one to ordained ministry, and the other, eventually, to be true to his orientation as a gay man. Both took courage.

Norm was an exceptional student and stood near the top of our graduating class of 1980, the largest before the steady decline in student numbers during the past four decades. He served three multi-point pastoral charges through the years, if memory serves correctly, before stepping away from congregational ministry in his later 50's because of a blood disorder.

In June of this year I made further observations about Norm:

I came to appreciate Norm as a photographer (he chaired the weekly bulletin cover working group for years) and as poet. A former chemistry teacher, Norm was committed from those seminary days to the present to explore how "living with respect in Creation" is a vital and integral aspect of our Christian faith. 

Through the decades Norm visited us in Newfoundland and Northern Ontario where he took his deliberate time photographing the wild landscapes we explored. I tuckered him right out snowshoeing into Killarney Provincial Park to see a frozen waterfall one brilliant winter day. In true Norm fashion he wanted to be up close to the ice surface to capture the texture rather than the panorama of the fall. 

The United Church hasn't been a denomination which intentionally creates space for mystics and contemplatives and hermits. We leave that to the Roman Catholic and Orthodox communions. Norm was a combination of the three and the UCC was better for his ministries, even if there weren't many people who knew about him. He had a loyal circle of friends, but this cat-lover had a certain cat-like quality to his personality.

Norm's prognosis was that he would be dead by his mid-sixties but fortunately that was incorrect, for which we were all grateful. He did everything possible to prolong his life and did so with dignity and grace. 2019 was not kind to Norm and it seemed that as the year progressed everything revolved around treatment and stays in the hospital. 

On New Year's eve Norm died peacefully in Kingston at the age of 76. I'm grateful that I knew him, that he provided a unique witness and ministry within the United Church, and that he is now beyond suffering. 

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Yom Kippur and Happiness

                                                       Yom Kippur -- William Kurelek, 1975

This is Yom Kippur, the most solemn, reflective, penitential day in Judaism -- or at least what it seems to be from my admittedly limited Christian perspective. It is a day to acknowledge  wrongdoing and to seek forgiveness, which I think is healthy for all of us. It's not a matter of wallowing in shame or self-reproach. We acknowledge the ways in which we have turned from God and harmed others. We say we're sorry, express gratitude that we can be forgiven, and step forward in confidence that God loves us. I suppose our Christian equivalent is Ash Wednesday which includes Psalm 51. 

Yesterday David Frum tweeted  wishes for  a meaningful Kol Nidrei and Yom Kippur to all observing and added As a cherished rabbi once explained in a sermon: "It's the happiest day of the year. God's going to forgive everybody who asks, it's printed right there at the end of the prayerbook."

Here is a prayer for this day which all of us can ponder. The "Al Chet" confession of sins is said ten times in the course of the Yom Kippur services and it covers just about everything!

 For the sin which we have committed before You under duress or willingly.

And for the sin which we have committed before You by hard-heartedness.

For the sin which we have committed before You inadvertently.

And for the sin which we have committed before You with an utterance of the lips.

For the sin which we have committed before You with immorality.

And for the sin which we have committed before You openly or secretly.

For the sin which we have committed before You with knowledge and with deceit.

And for the sin which we have committed before You through speech.

For the sin which we have committed before You by deceiving a fellowman.

And for the sin which we have committed before You by improper thoughts.

For the sin which we have committed before You by a gathering of lewdness.

And for the sin which we have committed before You by verbal [insincere] confession.

For the sin which we have committed before You by disrespect for parents and teachers.

And for the sin which we have committed before You intentionally or unintentionally.

For the sin which we have committed before You by using coercion.

And for the sin which we have committed before You by desecrating the Divine Name.

For the sin which we have committed before You by impurity of speech.

And for the sin which we have committed before You by foolish talk.

For the sin which we have committed before You with the evil inclination.

And for the sin which we have committed before You knowingly or unknowingly.

For the sin which we have committed before You by false denial and lying.

And for the sin which we have committed before You by a bribe-taking or a bribe-giving hand.

For the sin which we have committed before You by scoffing.

And for the sin which we have committed before You by evil talk [about another].

For the sin which we have committed before You in business dealings. 

And for the sin which we have committed before You by eating  and drinking.

For the sin which we have committed before You by [taking or giving] interest and by usury.

And for the sin which we have committed before You by a haughty demeanor. 

For the sin which we have committed before You by the prattle of our lips. 

And for the sin which we have committed before You by a glance of the eye.

For the sin which we have committed before You with proud looks.

And for the sin which we have committed before You with impudence.

 For all these, God of pardon, pardon us, forgive us, atone for us. 

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Is This the Climate Election?

Last weekend 5,8 million Canadians voted in advanced polls for the federal election, and we were among them. We've since learned that another million of us have requested mail-in ballots, an unprecedented number. This is encouraging, although we both struggled with how to vote in an election which shouldn't have been called in the first place. 

As Christians there are a number of issues which matter to us, some of which have received little attention. They include affordable housing for the most vulnerable and childcare, and reconciliation with Indigenous peoples. We desire clear, welcoming refugee and immigration policies. We certainly care about Canada's abysmal record during the pandemic regarding protection for seniors, and general care for our elders. 

Our primary concern is how the federal government will address the climate emergency. This may turn out to be the hottest summer on record and we are witnessing more catastrophic weather events around the planet. This is an existential threat to Creation which requires a clear, practical, costed strategy. Some have termed this the Climate Election, although I'm not convinced that this is how Canadians view it. 

In 2019, economist Andrew Leach and climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe ranked the climate platforms of the political parties for Chatelaine magazine and they have updated it for this election. I have written about Hayhoe who is a Canadian and a Christian teaching in Texas. It is a state where many evangelicals are climate change deniers and where the government is central to the problem rather than part of the solution. I've appreciated her commitment to science and her persistent call to action without being adversarial. She is fond of saying that she doesn't "believe" in climate change because it's a matter of scientific fact rather than faith. 

Leach and Hayhoe aren't exactly thrilled with any of the parties but here is the link to the Chatelaine article, and their report card for 2021: 

The Grades

Conservatives: B for ambition, B- for feasibility
Greens: A+ for ambition, C- for feasibility
Liberals: A- for ambition, A- for feasibility
NDP: A for ambition, C- for feasibility
BQ: N/A for ambition, B+ for feasibility

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

The Loving Eyes of Tammy Faye


Ten days ago I received an email from one of the faith-based organizations I follow offering the opportunity to watch the film The Eyes of Tammy Faye. This is a Toronto International Film Festival movie and while it screened in TO it was also online as part of the hybrid format. We watched this dramatized depiction of the lives of Tammy Faye and Jim Bakker, the televangelists who eventually fell from grace due to hubris, greed, and sexual impropriety. Jim did jail time for financial malfeasance but he's back on televison at age 81 and still a scam artist. 

Tammy Faye died of cancer at the age of 65, and she left this life as the butt of endless jokes because her penchant for heavy makeup turned her into a clown figure. She is portrayed by Jessica Chastain who is excellent in the role and whose performance lifts a film which is up and down (still well worth watching.) 

The premiere at TIFF received a standing ovation and I imagine that it was because of Chastain's sympathetic portrayal of a woman who overcame poverty and personal rejection as a child to become a beloved figure to their huge audience. 

                                                         The Bakkers in their Heyday

The film reminds us that so much of the "health and wealth" gospel is a pyramid scheme with an off-kllter halo, and the Bakkers were pioneers in the media-savvy version of Christianity which is actually antithetical to the gospel. Bakker deserved to go to jail, as do many of his successors. 

Tammy Faye genuinely cared about others and was convinced that God loved everyone. In the homophobic milieu of the evangelical Christianity of the 70's which persists today she was remarkably open-minded and welcoming. One scene in the film depicts the hour on one episode she devoted to an interview with a man living with AIDS and who was open about his homosexuality and convinced that God loved him. 

Tammy Faye agreed “I refuse to label people,” she said in a 2000 documentary with the same name as the current film -- “We’re all just people made out of the same old dirt, and God didn’t make any junk.”

Tammy Faye became something of a gay icon, part parody, part appreciation, and ultimately support. In the final interview before her death she said, “When we lost everything, it was the gay people that came to my rescue, and I will always love them for that.”

The Bakkers' son, Jay, who has been a progressive pastor and supportive of the LGBTQ+ community, endorses the film and feels it humanizes his parents, despite all their flaws. He certainly loved his mother and her portrayal does honour strengths as well as foibles. 

                                                  Saturday Night Live Parody of the Bakkers


Monday, September 13, 2021

Thank God for Heath Care Workers

 Caim Prayer

Circle _________, Gracious God, keep protection near and danger afar. 

Circle __________, Healing God, keep hope within,keep despair without.

Circle ____________, Caring God, keep light near, and darkness afar.

Circle __________, God, keep peace within and anxiety without.

May God, Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer shield ___________on every side. 


During my ministry I used this Celtic Caim prayer with individuals who were about to undergo surgery or were in the throes of serious illness or were struggling with deep anxiety. On a number of occasions family and friends were invited to participate, literally encircling the one who was the focus of the prayer.

Today I invite you to say this prayer on behalf of those who will be entering hospitals across this country for medical treatment, including those brought by ambulance. We can offer it as well for health care workers and other staff in these places of healing.

In recent days angry, threatening crowds have been gathering outside hospitals in what are exhibitions of mass hysteria, protesting God knows what -- do they really know? Supposedly these selfish demonstrations are anti-vax and pro freedom. Some of the people allege to be Christians even though what they are doing is antithetical to the Good News of Jesus Christ. Most of the COVID patients in hospitals have not been vacciinated, but there is no logic to what is going on. It's a challenge to quell my own anger even though Jesus teaches "do not repay evil with evil." 

I've read that a hundred years ago during the deadly flu pandemic there were anti-vaccination rallies as well. Fear and selfishness are part of the human condition, sad to say, and while we think we live in a more advanced society there is something primal about this smacks of original sin (I'm not really an original sin guy, but I'll make exceptions!) 

Gracious God, please circle all those who need your protection in these hospital settings today, and bring the protesters to their senses -- they are a danger to everyone, including themselves. 

Sunday, September 12, 2021

Norwich Cathedral & Dippy the Dinosaur

All things bright and beautiful,
All creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful,
The Lord God made them all.
He gave us eyes to see them,
And lips that we might tell
How great is God Almighty,
Who has made all things well.

During the periods when our congregation has been able to gather for worship during the pandemic I've been impressed by the number of seniors who've attended. It's the group most vulnerable to COVID-19 but we observed protocols and stayed safe, thanks be to God. Many congregations will resume worship today for the first time in 18 months and I imagine that there will be lots of elders who show up. 

What if an actual dinoosaur  arrived for church? This has happened at Norwich Cathedral in Britain where what is actually a cast of a Diplodocus skeleton has been on display since July as part of  "Dippy on Tour" throughout the nation. As the photo above shows, choir membes were part of the opening at Norwich, singing John Rutter's marvellous  setting of the hymn All Things Bright and Beautiful and a nine-year-old chorister put the last bone in place. Since Dippy took up residence in the 900-year-old cathedral there have been 10,000 visitors. 

We live in a time when some Christians are determined to see religion and science as opponents rather than allies. This has been very evident with conservative Christians who oppose vaccines but it extends to many other areas of scientific endeavour. It is baffling to me that some are willingly stepping back to superstition and magical thinking. 

We know that in the 18th and 19th centuries the discovery of fossil remains of ancient creatures rocked the theological world as notions of an actual six-day creation and and a young Earth were challenged. The presence of Dippy in Norwich may seem a bit gimmicky but it is also a statement about God as the Creator who is not confined by limited human thinking. As a dinosaur myself I would certainly love to walk in that historic church with this massive creature nearby. 

Saturday, September 11, 2021

A 911 Sanctuary for Healing Hearts and Minds

                                                      Interior of St. Paul's Chapel, New York City

 September 11th, 2001 -- 911 -- 20 years ago today.. Many of can remember exactly where we were when the news broke about the heinous terrorist attacks on the World Trade Towers in New York City, along with the hijacking of two other planes, one of which was flown into the Pentagon. I was in my study at St. Andrew's UC in Halifax, Nova Scotia,  when the custodian told us what was unfolding. It seemed unbelievable but he brought a television into the hallway and the staff watched images of the developing tragedy. 

In 2013 we visited New York City, just a few months before the opening of the memorial and museum at the site of the collapsed towers. We regret being in the city just a little too early and who knows if we'll ever be able to visit this solemn and meaningful tribute to those who were lost that day. 

                                                    911 Memorial and Museum New York City

We did enter St. Paul's Chapel, a historic church which is adjacent to Ground Zero yet somehow escaped damage, some say miraculously. It became a staging place for responders and a refuge for the weary and heartbrokem. The fence around the church became an impromptu place for memorial banners which were eventually moved inside. There are other exhbits inside, including one in the entrance called "Healing Hearts and Minds" 

It sounds as though St. Paul's Chapel has returned to active ministry as well as being a memorial. Regular services are held, and it provides a shelter for the homeless. This is important and ultimately the best response to evil. 

Friday, September 10, 2021

Lion Lamb Blog, 15 Years On

It occurred to me recently that I'm coming up on the fifteen anniversary of my Lion Lamb blog which I began on the encouragement of a young member of my congregation at that time. I got going with some trepidation and got into the daily rhythm of reflection, always with a faith theme or allusion. I have averaged about 300 blog entries per year for a total of 4,500 or so, and with my Groundling blog entries the number is above 5,000. In a way blogs are now old-school social media and reading even a few paragraphs takes more mental energy and focus than most of the successors. I am deeply grateful for all of you as readers and I'm regularly surprised to discover who follows this blog even though the comments are few. 

Here is my first blog entry from 2006 which is on a subject I have addressed on many occasion in sermons and in study groups, as well as blog entries. Christianity is a religion rooted in forgiveness and God's accepting, reconciling love. It is also one of the most challenging aspects of everyday life because forgiveness is not a matter of dogma or intellect, it punches us right in the breadbasket. The image which I used back then is the cover on a thoughtful exploration of the subject. 

Friday, September 29, 2006


In this way we differ from all the animals. It is not our capacity to think that makes us different, but our capacity to repent, and to forgive. Only humans can perform that most unnatural act, and by doing so only they can develop relationships that transcend the relentless law of nature.

                                        Alexandr Solzhenitsyn

On October 10th I am beginning a study group on the subject of forgiveness. It's probably because of my preparation that I'm noticing that anger, apologies, hatred, forgiveness, alienation, retaliation, reconciliation, are all themes that show up on almost a daily basis in the news. Yesterday the head of the RCM Police in Canada apologized to Maher Arar for their part in his nightmarish suffering at the hands of the Syrians. Will Arar forgive them? Should he?

One of my favourite books on the subject of forgiveness is Helping People Forgive by David Augsburger. Augsburger says that forgiveness is a bridge which must bear weight under the coming and going of life. It's a helpful metaphor for me. All religions speak of forgiveness and Christianity focusses on the forgiving love of Jesus. But that forgiveness can't be flimsily constructed or it will fall to the ground.

Thursday, September 09, 2021

Remembering the Offering Envelope


Broadview is the print and online magazine of the United Church of Canada. It is nearly always thought-provoking and innovative, not afraid to address challenging topics. I'm tempted to describe Broadview as "progressive" except that this term tends to be the religious left's "holier than thou" way of describing itself. I also enjoy when the magazine is "regressive"  such as the piece on jellied salads, a staple of congregational potlucks for decades. They are the source of nostalgia for some, although I'd be happy if I never saw one on a church table again.

In the issue which just arrived there is a descriptive page on Offering Envelopes, again a staple of church life in the Baby Boom era. They too are going the way of the jellied salad though, as many of us choose to support our congregations and the broader work of Christ's church through Pre-Authorized Remittance (PAR) and other forms of electronic giving. As a pastor I promoted PAR because it meant that members gave regardless of whether they were physically present during the leaner summer months. To this day some folk are resistant to using anything but an envelope, but most of us are accustomed to other forms of payment in much of our lives now. 

There was and perhaps still is a place for the Offering Envelope, just the same. My mother got out the box of envelopes on Sunday morning, put in the cash, and wrote in where the money was to go. She explained to my brother and me that some went to pay the Local church bills, including our father's salary, and some went to the Mission and Service Fund which was church in the world. I recall feeling slightly resentful that money I could enjoy was being given away, but apparently the lessons were learned. When our children were growing up they were informed about where the money was going and our youngest was not impressed by how much was going to God when she had genuine needs.

The Offering Envelopes also fulfilled an important purpose as a physical act of worship. There is a place in the service when the offering is received as a sign of our response, in trust, to God's lavish love and generosity in Jesus Christ. Prior to COVID the offering plates would pass along the pews, we'd sing our thanks, and a prayer of dedication offered. There are PAR cards for this purpose but somehow it doesn't seem the same. I woujld always preface the offering with "we will now receive our tithes and offerings." Not many United Church members tithe, sad to say. but hope sprang eternal each Sunday. 

So, Broadview, thanks for the memories, and the reminder of the importance of our offering as a form of practical spirituality. 

Wednesday, September 08, 2021

A Candle of Hope on Rosh Hashana


Bevis Marks was built in 1701 and is the only non-Christian house of worship in the City of London.

Today marks the conclusion of Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, an annual celebration which commenced Monday evening. “Shanah Tovah” or Happy New Year to any Jewish readers. I figure it's important to note important commemorations and celebrations in religions other than my own, which is Christianity. People of faith mark the seasons in ways that are unique and meaningful and which often maintain their spiritual significance. Through the years I have been dismayed at how first Christmas and then Easter have been commercialized and secularized. 

I am thinking of an ethnicJewish congregation in London, Great Britain called Bevis Marks today which is struggling for survival and an uncertain year ahead. Their synagogue is likely the oldest in continuous use in Europe, establlished in 1701 after Jews were allowed back into England by Oliver Cromwell, following their banishment by Edward I in 1290 -- I didn't know about this expulsion, did you? 

Developers have proposed to build a 21-storey building on Creechurch Lane and a 48-floor tower in Bury Street which the synagogue trustees argue would block out nearly all sunlight on the building, except for one hour a day.

Such a move would make services "almost impossible" as the synagogue is currently only lit by up to 240 candles and some electric lighting which was installed in 1928. It cannot be added to due to planning restrictions on the building, the trustees claim.

Shalom Morris, rabbi for Bevis Marks, said the proposed towers "would be catastrophic" and the "very survival of our great synagogue as a place of worship is at stake". "Not only will light be blocked, on which the building depends for ambiance, spirituality, and atmosphere, but the very foundations will be at risk," he said.

The last congregation I served before retirement,  Bridge St. UC, actually resisted the request of a condo developer to excavate beneath a portion of the church physical plant for its foundation and if the structure is eventually built it will block the natural light which illuminates a significant stained glass window behind the choir. This is all supposedly progress but it isn't, in my estimation. 

Authorities in London say that a final decision hasn't been made and perhaps decency and respect will prevail. I'm not holding my breath, but perhaps I'll light a candle of hope.