Monday, April 23, 2018

Wired for Awe and Wonder

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Last Tuesday I caught the first PBS episode of the BBC series called Civilizations. This one had the subtitle The Second Moment of Creation. It was sufficiently intriguing that I watched a portion again when it was broadcast on the weekend.

The Second Moment of Creation is about the development of human creativity through the centuries and while it was all worthwhile I was taken by the portion going back to our earliest artistic expression. Host Simon Schama visited caves (Chauvet in France, perhaps?) with their astonishing depictions of creatures, as well as tracings of human hands. Archeologists have also recreated wind instruments made of bone and stone for eerie, mystical recitals in these cathedral-like caves.

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What captivates me in this episode is the speculation that thousands of years before the emergence of the world's great religions, including Christianity, humans expressed themselves through art and music in settings which invited awe and contemplation. Despite our propensity for destruction we are wired for wonder and creative expression.

I was glad to have that reminder and it was probably the reason I was willing to watch a second time. Will our society, which seems to be abandoning religious institutions, come to a new appreciation of these experiences as vital to who we are?

Have a look at today's Groundling blog while you're here.

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Sunday, April 22, 2018

Touching the Earth Lightly

1 Touch the earth lightly, use the earth gently,
  nourish the life of the world in our care:
 gift of great wonder, ours to surrender,
  trust for the children tomorrow will bear.

2 We who endanger, who create hunger,
  agents of death for all creatures that live,
 we who would foster clouds of disaster,
  God of our planet, forestall and forgive!

 Touch the Earth Lightly Hymn: lyrics Shirley Erena Murray

Today is Earth Day and Earth Sunday, so our worship today could include a reverent hour or so within a bricks-and-mortar church sanctuary and a ramble or paddle in the glory of the created world. It's important to remember that Jesus spent a lot of his ministry in a counter-cultural way, preaching on hillsides, messing about in fishing boats, going to secluded spots to pray. If it was good enough for Jesus...

Despite a stretched single income when our children were young we travelled a lot in Northern Ontario where I served an active urban congregation. We car-camped when they were quite young and canoe-tripped into some surprisingly remote spots (in retrospect) when they got a bit older. We also did VW Vanagon trips to Atlantic Canada twice, camping all the way. I'm delighted that all three, now in their thirties, have fond memories of those forays and love the natural world themselves. The two with children make getting outside a regular part of family life.

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There are times when I teeter on despair for the damage we are doing to Planet Earth -- Turtle Island to our Aboriginal brothers and sisters. Yet I want a world in which our grandchildren will thrive and be able to delight in the beauty of all that God has made.

When our daughter Jocelyn was a child she created the image above of a happy, female figure in the background of a planet. We figured that this was a feminine Creator smiling upon the goodness of Creation. Joc is the mother of an infant daughter herself now and we pray that we will all make the decisions as a species which will allow the planet and this wee bright soul to flourish.

Oh yes. Ruth and I will be out on a river in our canoe today. Maybe we'll see some turtles. You're never too old for wonder as people of the Creator.

Happy Earth Day/Sunday!

Here is the link to today's Groundling blog which also has an Earth Day theme

3 Let there be greening, birth from the burning,
  water that blesses and air that is sweet,
 health in God's garden, hope in God's children,
  regeneration that peace will complete.

4 God of all living, God of all loving,
  God of the seedling, the snow and the sun,
 teach us, deflect us, Christ reconnect us,
  using us gently and making us one.


Saturday, April 21, 2018

"Sprinter" is Dead. Hallelujah!

This was one of the first days of 2018 when we weren't pretending it was Spring when it was actually Sprinter. We spent lots of time outside, including chinwags with neighbours who are all recovering from the trauma of last weekend's snow/ice pellet/freezing rain storm.

Today's warmth was a blessing from the Creator, so why not click on my Groundling blog link to read about the Blessing from the Woods.

Friday, April 20, 2018

The Boy on the Beach & Our Reponse

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In the Fall of 2015 I was approached by a member of the Bridge St UC, the congregation which I served until retirement. He was a retired military man, a physician who had also been a hospital administrator. A highly capable individual, he is also a compassionate Christian. As with so many of us he had been shaken by the heart-wrenching photos of "the boy on the beach," the young Syrian boy who drowned along with other members of his family as they attempted to escape to Greece. We had learned by that point that the boy had a name, Alan Kurdi.  My parishioner wanted to know if I would support efforts to sponsor a Syrian refugee family. I know that if Ian was behind this it would happen -- he's that kind of person.

I said yes and this sponsorship did happen, by the grace of God, along with the remarkable work of a coalition of church and community people in Belleville. Ours was a family of five, which arrived as the Canadian government sponsorship program was ramping up. In the end, more than 25,000 Syrian refugees came to Canada and the Belleville group which included Bridge St ended up sponsoring 23 members of the same family. It was one of the most satisfying and inspiring initiatives of my nearly four decades of pastoral ministry.

 The Boy on the Beach, by Tima Kurdi.

There is a new book called The Boy on the Beach by Tima Kurdi, Alan's aunt, as well as of his brother Ghalib. Tima lives in Canada and heads the Kurdi Foundation which provides nutritious meals, clothing, and medicine to youth in refugee camps in honour of her nephews. The Toronto Star offered this excerpt from the book and it is a reminder of the terrible family tragedy which sparked the compassion of a nation.

We must remember that the crisis of migrants and refugees in precarious circumstances continues and that we are able to live the love of Christ is practical ways.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Our Higher Loyalties

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 “man’s capacity for justice makes democracy possible,
but man’s inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary”

Reinhold Niebuhr quoted by James Comey

President Trump has been losing his mind (I considered using another, earthier word) over the new book called A Higher Loyalty by James Comey, the former director of the FBI. Trump summarily fired Comey is his usual classless way, demeaning him and practically throwing him out the door. Comey found out that he was done through the media.

Comey is an interesting character. Weeks before the presidential election he tipped the scales in Trump's favour by questioning Hilary Clinton's security measures when she was Secretary of State. While the FBI found no evidence of substantive wrongdoing, only sloppiness, the damage was done. Comey now says that he raised this publicly because he was sure Clinton would win and this would lay to rest the rumours and conspiracy theories about her competence. It sounds weak to me, but it may be true.

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I'm intrigued that Comey is something of a theological thinker and admires one of the leading Christian voices in America during the 20th century. Reinhold Niebuhr was a liberal Protestant theologian, perhaps the most prominent one of his time, and he was featured on the cover of Time seventy years ago in 1948. Comey wrote his undergraduate thesis on Niebuhr who is best known to most of us for what is often termed The Serenity Prayer.

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Comey actually used "Reinhold Niebuhr" as his Twitter handle until he was outed. Niebuhr's thought has helped shape Comey's perspective on "right and wrong" and establishing where our ultimate loyalties rest.

In A Higher Loyalty Comey offers about Trump that;“This president is unethical, and untethered to truth and institutional values. His leadership is transactional, ego driven and about personal loyalty.” Comey also likens Trump to a mafia boss who lies incessantly and demanded a personal loyalty rather than to law and truth that he wasn't willing to promise.

I don't know if Comey repeated the Serenity Prayer is the troubled days around his firing but I suggest The Donald use it as a mantra (I won't hold my breath.)  

Just in time for Earth Day my Groundling blog has emerged from hibernation. It's just a mouse click away

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Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Memory and Justice

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                          Auschwitz entrance sign: "Work Sets You Free"

I grew up in the generation which heard a great deal about World War II,  some of through  the stories of parents and family members who served in that global conflict. Both my father and father-in-law served in the military. As kids derogatory terms such as Krauts and Japs were used without reservation. We watched war TV dramas such as Rat Patrol and Combat! There were even WW2 comedies including McHale's Navy and Hogan's Heroes.

We were also very aware of the atrocities perpetrated by Hitler and the Nazis. We learned that six million Jews were exterminated in what were euphemistically called Concentration Camps but were centres for mass murder of Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, and others designated for annihilation by Hitler's regime. Jews were targeted for their ethnicity and religion and vilified as enemies of the state and humanity even though they contributed greatly to their societies in many ways, including political and military service.

Last week, on Holocaust Remembrance Day we saw images of Israeli's stopping whatever they were doing for two minutes at 10 AM. They stop their vehicles on highways and bear witness in the silence. I have been in Israel when this takes place and it is a somber and moving reminder of the Shoah, the Calamity.

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We also learned that an American poll of Millennials found that four in ten didn't know that six million Jews had been murdered during the war and two thirds didn't recognize the name Auschwitz as the Death Camp where a million Jews perished. It's chilling that this is the case, and a reminder that even the darkest events of human history can be forgotten.

I was encouraged to see that in Poland, a country whose government is systematically attempting to downplay its involvement in the extermination of Jews, there was what is called the International March of the Living to commemorate the Shoah. Young people and others from around the world gather to walk three kilometres from Auschwitz to Birkenau, another of the notorious camps.

We know that anti-Jewish sentiments continue to exist around the planet and often promulgated by fundamentalist of other religions. We can pray that education about the past will inform just and inclusive societies.

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Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Jimmy Carter and Faith

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Jimmy Carter has fascinated me for years, ever since he seemed to arise from nowhere to become President of the United States. Forty years ago the presidency was a position of both power and dignity, not a political clown car. Carter made a point of including humility as well, and left the clowning to his brother Billy.

In the end he was a rarity, a one-term president, and the analysis proclaimed him weak and ineffectual. I would take that over the strutting "mission accomplished" posturing of Bush 2.0 and Trump. Carter went on to broker peace on several occasions and won the Nobel Peace Prize.

At 93 former president Carter continues to be a remarkably active man, emerging from what was supposedly life-ending brain cancer to champion the cause of women around the world and challenge the activities of Israel in the Occupied Territories. He left the Southern Baptist church eighteen years ago over unequal treatment of women and men. He has actively worked for Habitat for Humanity and had a "spell" working on a house building project in Winnipeg last July.

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Carter is also a Christian, and not the skim-the-surface nonsense of many politicians in the States. He taught an adult Sunday School class before his presidency and returned to it afterward, although he has decided to step back from this role as a nonagenarian.

He has just released another book, his 32nd, called Faith and in a Religion News Service interview about it he responds to a question about prayer:

You write that “God is not my personal valet.” What do you mean by that?

(Laughs) When I was younger I used to devote my prayers primarily to things that I wanted God to help me get or to do or to accomplish. As I’ve gotten older and older I realized that my main prayers — I didn’t make this decision in advance — but my main prayers are ones of thanksgiving. And I had this feeling in particular when I thought a couple of years ago that I was going to die in a couple of weeks from cancer. I had cancer in my liver and also four places in my brain. And so I thought my life was about over and I realized at that time that I didn’t have any fear of death. I was just grateful for the wonderful life that I had been granted.

What a guy, although he does not play golf.

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