Thursday, March 22, 2018

The Song of World Water Day

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But let justice roll down like waters,    and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. Amos 5:24

On our way back from visiting my elderly mother in Napanee earlier this week we stopped at a spot where the Salmon River tumbles over a small dam on its way toward Lake Ontario. As we opened the doors of our vehicle we were immediately aware of the sound of the rushing water, and it was music to our ears. When we eventually drove away it was as though we were leaving a stirring concert.

Often I drive to Lakeshore Lodge Point in Prince Edward County where the land juts out into Lake Ontario. I love a windy day when the sound of waves comes from both sides of the point with a different tuning from east and west.
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I didn't plan to write a second blog on water in the same week but this is World Water Day and I noticed an event which will take place in Australia today to mark the occasion.

Celebrate World Water Day with immersive compositions exploring the soundscapes of aquatic ecosystems ranging from the sonic complexity of the Great Barrier Reef to melting glaciers in Antarctica.
The concert features internationally renowned and emerging composers who have pioneered the use of hydrophones (underwater microphones) in aquatic ecology and music composition. The event will open with leading freshwater ecologist Dr Simon Linke introducing the latest research in freshwater ecoacoustics using sound to monitor the health of aquatic environments.
Featuring works by Jana Winderen (Norway), Annea Lockwood (USA), Ros Bandt (Australia), Leah Barclay (Australia) and Nicole Carroll (USA)
This event is part of Griffith University’s program for World Science Festival Brisbane 2018 – an international event that explores and celebrates the entanglement of science and art.
This sounds innovative and fascinating, but it would be a bit of a commute in order to attend.
We receive so much grim news about the degradation of water and both the increased scarcity and overabundance through drought and flooding, respectively, due to climate change. While we are blessed with an excellent water supply in most of this province there are dozens of First Nations communities under boil-water advisories.
In the midst of these sobering realities it's important to give thanks for the taste of water which quenches our thirst, but also for the sight and sound of water, which are gifts from the Creator. There is a mystical quality to the sound of running water which is constantly changing due to season and circumstance. There is a hopefulness to a stream or river which finds its voice again after a period of frozen silence.
We may not find our way to running water today but the next time you do, receive the sounds as a song and a prayer. Express your gratitude to the God who formed the waters of Creation and whose Spirit brooded over them. Listen for the voice of Christ who is Living Water.
Salmon River Watershed

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

The Wisdom of Trees & the Life of the Spirit

Beaver Meadow, Prince Edward County, March 2018

They came to Bethsaida.
Some people brought a blind man to Jesus and begged him to touch him. 
He took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village;
and when he had put saliva on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him,
“Can you see anything?” 
And the man looked up and said,
“I can see people, but they look like trees, walking.” 

Mark 8

This is the first full day of Spring, dontcha know, and while it will be sunny and hopeful, it won't be warm. As predicted, this has been a chilly March, which means that trees in our "neck of the woods" haven't been tricked into early budding. Six years ago fruit trees in Southern Ontario were tricked out of dormancy by a stretch of warm March days with disastrous results for the eventual meagre crop.

Today is the International Day of Trees and as a person of faith in the Judeo-Christian tradition I feel that I must honour trees which are essential to the beginning and the conclusion of our bible. There is a profoundly spiritual quality to a walk amidst trees, whether the giants of Vancouver Island  America or the wind-shaped dwarfs of coastal Newfoundland.

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One of the documentaries I enjoyed most during Belleville's recent Docfest was Call Of The Forest – The Forgotten Wisdom Of Trees, a documentary featuring scientist and acclaimed author Diana Beresford-Kroeger. As the blurb describes it, "the film follows Diana as she investigates our profound biological and spiritual connection to forests. Her global journey explores the science, folklore, and restoration challenges of this essential eco-system." 

Diana exudes wisdom herself. Watch the trailer for the film and tell me you aren't inspired:

You can watch the entire film at TV Ontario.

Beresford-Kroeger resides in Canada but grew up in Ireland where as an orphan she was versed by elders in the old ways of receiving the gifts of the wild places, including woods and forests. There is plenty of science in the film but there is much which resonates with the earth-honouring Druidic and Celtic Christian traditions.

My encouragement for you today is to answer the call of the forest. Get outside, even in your own yard, and consider a tree or three, or three thousand. They are the lungs of the planet, and a source of wonder and spiritual renewal.

Any thoughts about trees? Here is my Vitamin T blog entry from six weeks ago with a photo from the same woods

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An Ent in Middle Earth

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Day Zero and Sacred Water

We gather to worship God, the Lord and Giver of Life.
God gives us the waters of new life.
In the deserts of our lives, in the wilderness within,
God gives us the waters of new life.
To give us hope when our lives run dry, to give us strength when our world seems barren.
God gives us the waters of new life.
To let peace flow like a river and love spring forth like a fountain,
God gives us the waters of new life.
To make justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a living stream,
God gives us the waters of new life.
To give us-- and our world-- a second chance and a new beginning,
God gives us the waters of new life.
Come, people of God, open your lives to receive God’s new life. Open your hearts to sing God’s praise.
The Rev. Talitha Arnold, United Church of Santa Fe, New Mexico

There has been a tremendous amount of reportage on what has been dubbed "Day Zero" for the South African city of Cape Town. The ominous term refers to the day when the water runs out for the city. Cape Town is a major centre on the African continent, the second largest city in the country with a population pushing four million. And it is running out of water. The reservoirs have reached dangerously low levels with no prospect of being replenished by rains. There is now severe rationing, enforced by city officials. People are bathing infrequently, flushing once a day, using grey water for plants. Still, the prospect of running out of water looms over the city. The economy is affected as well. Cape Town is a popular tourism destination but fewer people want to visit a city where they are encouraged not to shower or flush the toilet. What is booming is Kijiji ads for those who will do water runs to other areas, for a fee.

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The global fascination with Cape Town's plight no doubt comes from the prospect that if it can happen in this larger urban centre it can happen elsewhere. The truth is that it is already occurring and it is almost certainly a combination of climate change and unrestricted usage of a precious resource. Santa Fe, the capital of New Mexico, requires water conservation measures as the aquifer which supplies the city is depleted. Communities in California have run out of water in the midst of drought, or have come close, bringing it in by the truckload for residents. We take it for granted that water will be available for our needs, whether in towns and cities or in rural areas, for agriculture. Yet the "what if" questions are being asked in the Canadian West as snow pack in the mountains lessens and summers are drier. Forest fires were a major problem in BC last summer.  

It is encouraging that conservation is making a difference in Cape Town and Day Zero keeps getting pushed further into the year. Some residents are angry about this, convinced that officials have created the panic, but the crisis is real.

Faith groups are participating in the response, both in terms of worship and in encouraging conservation measures. A thousand Muslims gathered for outdoor prayer for rain and Christians have as well. Congregations are grappling with being told they can't use their wells which will affect meal ministries and other programs. An Anglican conference was held to address what is unfolding with an encouragement to live with purposeful hope rather than a "day zero" mentality.

Wherever we are, whatever we assume about the availability of water, we can be mindful that water is sacred in scripture, that Jesus is Living Water, and that we must regard it with respect as a gift from the Creator. We can join in praying for the people of Cape Town and for a change of heart and mind which will result in conservation and simple living for all of us.

Could Day Zero happen in our country of abundant fresh water? Are you a water conserver?

Monday, March 19, 2018

A New Way for Earth, Ashes and Dust

What is this lovely image of sticks and moss and wildflowers, you might wonder? It might surprise you to be told that it is a casket. Ya, here I go again talking about how we shuffle off this mortal coil. But as someone who presided at 500 or more funerals and memorials through my years of ministry, I do have a fascination which I hope is not morbid but is definitely realistic about the inevitability of death.

I've said before that I generally have respect for funeral directors. Most of those I worked with were professional, the majority compassionate, and some Christian. Still, this is a business, an industry which has become less personal and depends on burial methods that are costly and not that great for the environment. Body burial means putting lots of toxins into the earth and cremation requires a ton of energy. Why are these the principal options?

A former funeral director in Tennessee, John Christian Phifer has developed Larkspur Conservation which offers more natural burial in a park-like setting:

This will be a different kind of cemetery: no rows of tombstones and monuments, and no plastic flowers. The nature preserve will be used for "natural burials" only. Caskets are optional, as are makeup and clothing on the body. Vaults around the caskets are prohibited. So are headstones, beyond a native stone from the property. No need for a hearse. Graves average 3.5 to 4 feet deep — or a bit deeper for biodegradable caskets — in the microbe-rich, living layer of soil. Ceremonies may involve clergy of any faith, or none at all. Walking through a meadow on the property, ... Phifer says, "People [who] choose to be buried in this area are the people who want wildflowers blooming on their grave and butterflies fluttering about."

This sounds far more reasonable to me. Sure, you're still dead, but why leave a toxic slick on your way out? It is important for humans to depart this life with respectful ritual and burial. For many of us affirming our hope of eternal life in Christ matters as well. I do think we will make the shift to more responsible burial practices which in some respects will be a return to the ways of our forbearers. 

Does this appeal to you?  Have you made plans for your, um, disposal?

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Sunday, March 18, 2018

Giving Mary Magdalene her Due

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Consider Miriam of Magdala, or Mary Magdalene as we are inclined to refer to her. For centuries she was wrongly considered the "fallen woman" in Jesus' circle. During the Middle Ages Mary Magdalene was regarded as a repentant prostitute or promiscuous woman reputation not supported by any of the four canonical gospels. Of course Jesus Christ Superstar perpetuated this misogynistic interpretation of Mary and the bestseller novel The Da Vinci Code has her in a sexual relationship with Jesus. Even Lady Gaga has got in on the conspiracy in her song Judas.

I'm in love with Judas
In the most Biblical sense
I am far beyond repentance
Fame hooker, prostitute wench, vomits her mind...

Give the poor woman a break! In fact, Mary is mentioned a dozen times in the gospels more than most of the disciples. Jesus heals her of "seven demons" according to Luke, which may have been a way of saying that she suffered from some form of mental illness. She was loyal to Jesus to the end, part of his circle of followers, and present at the crucifixion. In John's account of the morning of the resurrection it is this Mary who was first to discover the empty tomb and first to encounter the Risen Christ, although in her grief she mistakes him for the gardener.

Mary Magdalene has deserved better treatment through the ages and a soon-to-be-released film might have helped. The actors are promising with Rooney Mara as Mary and Joaquin Phoenix as Jesus. But reviews suggest that they are respectful of their characters to the point of robbing them of any vitality. The Guardian review offers this insight of what it dubs an "apostlemance":

The drama plausibly suggests that Mary was a fiercely intelligent, resourceful woman who rejected the male norms of marriage and children laid down for her, and insisted on following Jesus. This was what caused her to be (at least initially) condemned as mad or possessed: it is entirely convincing. When she takes up her new position among the apostles, the film suggests that she does indeed become a favourite pupil, permitted à deux confidences on hillsides. But all this means for Mary is doing an awful lot of enlightened gazing at Jesus, who in turn does a good deal of infinitely knowing smiles back at her, while their dialogue is muted and restrained.

Ah well. On Easter morning we can give a respectful and grateful thought to courageous Mary Magdalene.

Why do we feel the need to sexualize Mary in this way? Maybe develop a biblical #metoo movement? Should we give more attention to the women in Jesus' circle?

Saturday, March 17, 2018

St Patrick and the Celtic Hope

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Thou art the joy of all joyous things,
Thou art the light of the beam of the sun,
Thou art the door of the chief of hospitality,
Thou art the surpassing star of guidance,
Thou art the step of the deer of the hill,
Thou art the step of the steed of the plain,
Thou art the grace of the swan of swimming,
Thou art the loveliness of all lovely desires.

Twenty-five years ago it seemed as though mainline churches couldn't get enough of the ancient tradition of Celtic Christianity. There were many books written on the subject and I have at least a dozen of them. One of the popular authors was and is J. Philip Newell, a Canadian who moved to Britain and immersed himself in the tradition. I actually met him in New Mexico -- a circuitous route indeed! Esther De Waal wrote another popular book called Every Earthly Blessing: Rediscovering the Celtic Tradition, Celebrating a Spirituality of Creation.

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 I led several well-attended study groups on the subject and participants were enthusiastic about a spiritual tradition which was Christian, Trinitarian, and Earth-honouring. We learned about Celtic saints such as Patrick and Brigid but also the lesser lights, of whom there are many. We read from prayers from the oral tradition of common folk which might have been lost if they hadn't been collected by the 19th century civil servant Alexander Carmichael. The Celts incorporated the wisdom of the Druids in their spirituality and were more egalitarian than the church of Rome with its hierarchical structure and roots in the empire.

The excitement we experienced came out of our awareness of the failing "empire" of mainline denominations and a sense that the way we had worshipped and perceived our faith was not addressing the growing ecological crisis. Perhaps what was old could become new again. In this quarter century since this Celtic revival we have come to a deeper realization that our church structure no longer serves us well. Not only that, our planet has a fever that is spiking to dangerous levels.

On this St Patrick's Day we could be content to drink green beer and engage in goofy faux Irish jollity. We might do well to revisit what is was that captured our imaginations and ask how we can celebrate Creation and be part of its healing.

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Friday, March 16, 2018

Are You Happy Yet?

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I think I wrote about the annual World Happiness Report last year, and maybe the year before that as well. It tends to capture attention, especially for Canadians who are impatiently anticipating Spring, at least in some parts of the country. You might think we'd be a grumpy lot, but we are actually relatively happy using the measures of  GDP per capita, social support, life expectancy, freedom to make life choices, generosity and corruption levels.

Last year Canada 7th on the list and this year we've soared to...7th. While we may be in a holding pattern, this ranking out of 156 countries is impressive. Maybe you need to be cold to be happy. Finland is numero uno, then Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Switzerland, and the Netherlands. I find it interesting that relatively wealthy countries which "tax people to death" are high in the rankings. The piratical politicians of  neighbours to the south just voted themselves a whopping tax cut but apparently they aren't all that happy. Last year the United States ranked 14th. This year they're 18th. Not quite "shithole country" to be sure, but heading in the wrong direction.

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Nobody likes paying taxes -- I sure don't. I hate paying taxes for the mistakes of government -- are you listening Premier Wynne? Yet countries which provide for the well-being of all its citizens through social services, universal health care, and education seem to have a higher level of contentment and well-being. As a Christian I support all of these, although it's strange that most of the countries at the top of the list have drifted away from organized religion, including Canada. That saddens me, but I am glad that we have different values than the "every person for him/herself" attitude which seems to have infested the supposedly Christian USA.

A political party in Ontario just elected a leader who figures we'll all live happier ever after if we cut taxes, and there will be plenty of people who'll believe this come election time. It isure sn't gospel folks and, looking to the world around us, there is evidence to the contrary.