I am exhausted! After working all day, then often out for evening events, I still have to swoop and leap around the arenas with our skaters, tuck in my head with our bobsledders, dodge the Koreans with our speed skaters and toss the perfect rock with our curlers. These armchairs Olympics are just way too much! I find myself falling into bed well after midnight either delirious with joy over a win or in the pit of despondency over a loss. I am glad the closing ceremonies are only a couple of days away and life can return to normal.
The Canadian athletes have done us proud. Oh sure, many commentators and nay-sayers comment on the losses instead of the wins but we have much to be grateful for. Our talented young people have competed honestly and to a high standard of excellence. They have exhibited grace under pressure. Often after a challenging event they have patiently answered the questions of the reporters and expressed gratitude with humility. And they look like they are having so much fun! Role models indeed.
This Sunday at our early service we will be looking at some of the scripture verses that use the race as a metaphor for the practice of our Christian faith … “run that you may obtain the prize”; “run with perseverance the race that is set before us”; “fought the good fight … finished the race”. I wonder what our church would look like if, in fact, we practiced our faith the way an athlete practices for a race. What would it mean to prepare for each day with a faith-filled workout similar to an Olympian? Would that change your daily activity? Would it make your faith different? I am going to be giving this more thought as the Olympics wind down. How about you?
Tiger Woods has scheduled a news conference for today. Only certain media are invited and they have been told there will be no opportunity for questions. I am mildly curious as to what he might have to say although I expect it will be predictable in many ways. He’s sorry, he’ll try harder, he loves his wife and children. Do I sound cynical? Yes, I guess, I am.
I feel sorry for Tiger but not so sorry that I haven’t listened to, and repeated, some of the jokes that have been told about him over the last couple of months. Like other celebrities there is a larger than life quality to him that reduces the personal and makes him more of a curiosity than an individual.
His story does make me wonder about the role of confession and forgiveness in our culture. Will you believe his confession? If you have admired him or even just watched him as a golfer will his sexual infidelity and subsequent apology change how you think about him?
Scripture is full of sexual infidelity. Just recently a man told me he started reading the Bible as a teenager when his friend told him it had lots of sex in it! Many of the ‘bigger than life’ biblical characters found in our Bible were seduced or became seducers. Sex has a powerful influence. I have often sat with people who are emotionally devastated by their partner’s infidelity. At other times I have been to one to receive the confession of those who have betrayed their own partner by succumbing to the temptation of sex with another. Forgiveness can be hard to give. It can also be hard to receive.
Most Sunday’s our worship service includes a Prayer of Confession. I sometimes wonder how significant that is for people. Do we really believe that confession makes a difference? Does forgiveness from another make a difference to you? Does confession and forgiveness hold a godly or holy element to it? Are there things that only God can forgive?
Is there anything better than the aroma when someone else is cooking your supper? I think not! Yesterday afternoon I spent the time in my office and I couldn’t help but sniff the air every few minutes as the smell of pancakes on the griddle and sausages in the pan drifted up the stairs. When I finally got to the auditorium to satisfy my hunger that had grown over the afternoon I realized that there is something better than smelling dinner being prepared. It is watching the youth of our congregation fully engaged in the process of serving the adults. There were teenage boys flipping the pancakes and girls helping Janice and Jen dish up the sausages. The younger ones ferried the plates back and forth to the kitchen and poured the juice into the glasses.
It was a delight to watch but it also made me do some thinking about the preciousness of community. The church is one of the few places in our culture where intergenerational events happen on a regular basis. Our play of a couple of weeks ago, “Ernie’s Incredible Illucinations” was also an event that involved both young and ‘not-so-young’. At each of these I have been reminded once again of the value of spending time with people who are not of my generation. I love learning from, and being surprised by, people older than me and I am always renewed by time spent with those younger than me.
So, for yesterday, here’s to Jen and the youth of our congregation. Not only was it a highly successful pancake supper it was once again a time for young and old to congregate here at the church and just be together. Thanks for that!
Tonight we will gather in the sanctuary and as a congregation sing, “Dust and ashes touch our face”; it’s haunting melody and stirring words remind us of the struggles and challenges of keeping faith in our day to day living. This is the day that marks the beginning of the season of Lent. I grew up as a member of the United Church. It was common to have Pancakes on Shrove Tuesday but very few if any United Churches held Ash Wednesday services. That was considered too Catholic for our taste! Thankfully, over the last few decades, the United Church has come to appreciate the value of ritual and has embraced services that are primarily ritual in nature. There is something very profound about having someone touch my forehead with the mark of the ashes; reminding me of the brevity and sacredness of life.
Ash Wednesday is the day we begin our Lenten journey. I love the messages of the Ash Wednesday service. The readings are about confession and repentance, forgiveness and keeping faith. It is a day of fresh starts and new beginnings. It is a day to go deeper with God.
So ….. what are you giving up for Lent? That is a common question this week. Giving up something (coffee, drinking, chocolate) or taking up something (exercise, meditation, journaling) to improve lifestyle are good ways to start better daily habits. Are you going to change your habits for these six weeks of Lent? And, if so, do you think it will deepen your faith?
Just like many Canadians I spent much of the weekend in front of the television. Starting Friday night with the Opening Ceremony it was all Olympics all the time. I thought the opening ceremonies were spectacular and captured much that is special about our Canadian culture. The selection of the six flag bearers was brilliant; six Canadian icons known for their pursuit of the arts, athletics and science.
I have watched the various events and followed some of the media chat with various folks. I must admit the most moving moment for me so far was last night when Alexandre Bilodeau was presented with his gold medal. He is so humble and in every interview he has been generous in his recognition of others. He is a true Olympian in every sense of the word.
I have been trying to figure out why the Olympics are so compelling. Certainly part of it is the media hype. There is also the exhilaration of success and the despair of defeat as we live vicariously through our athletes. I always feel sorry for the athletes who don’t perform as predicted. I can only imagination the sense of failure some must feel. Alpine skier, Robbie Dixon of Whistler said, “I feel like I have let the whole country down.” Now that has got to hurt.
On Friday night I hung a Canadian flag in our front hall. It greets us every time we come in the front door. No matter how cynical one might be about the Olympics there is no denying that they do stir patriotism. Sunday morning, partly due to the Olympics and partly due to it being Scouting Sunday, we began the service by singing the National anthem. As “O Canada” rang through the sanctuary I had to swallow that lump in my throat and blink back the tear in my eye. How about you? Have the Olympics stirred up your patriotic spirit? Do you think the positive aspects of the Olympics are enough to counteract the negative side to the games?
This morning is “Women’s Morning Out”. On the second and fourth Friday from September to June the Parlour is a-buzz with women connecting. The stated purpose of our gathering is study but it is so much more. It is a group of amazing women who have built a network of support over the years. I was immediately welcomed into their embrace. In fact, my call to BUC we effective September 1, 2007 and I was invited to join them at their June pot luck in the June of that year. I was included before I had even arrived!
They laugh together; they cry together, they respond to needs within their group and in the congregation. They have raised money for grandmothers in Africa and for children in The Congo. But what impresses me most about this group is their willingness to push the edges of their belief and understanding. They are interested in challenging themselves and one another. Nothing is sacrosanct and every opinion will be considered.
Often as people age they are characterized as becoming stodgy and stuck in their views. My experience is the opposite. I have observed that as people age they learn that fewer and fewer things are ‘nailed down’ and that open-mindedness is often the best approach to life and the curves it throws at us.
The women I will meet with this morning have experienced a great deal in their years. They have come to see faith and friendship as a source of strength to get through the ups and downs of life. I have a lot to learn from these women including grace and open-mindedness. It is going to be a good morning!
In the circle you move in, and have moved in, can you think of people who have influenced you and supported you in your faith journey?
Another recall and with it another apology! Toyota is beleaguered these days. First it was a sticky gas pedal. Then it was failing brakes. They are dealing with a huge global recall but more significantly it is a loss of public confidence. Toyota earned its status based on reliability. Their trustworthy reputation has crumbled and with every new recall and every new report they drop lower on the reliability scale of public opinion.
Adam Giambrone withdrew from the Toronto mayoralty race after admitting to several affairs. In his speech he apologized to his long-time partner, his family & friends and his supporters. Now there is call for him to step down from current positions of authority because he can’t be trusted.
Colonel Russell Williams, base commander at Canada’s largest military base, was arrested on Sunday and charged with two counts of first-degree murder of two young women in the Trenton and Tweed area. General Walter Natynczyk, the Chief of Defence staff said in a news conference that Canada’s military is in a “state of shock” over the arrest of one of their own. I would hasten to add so are many Canadians.
Each news report speaks of loss of confidence because trust was broken. Much of our sacred story is about building trust. In the Hebrew scripture there are many stories of God making a covenant with the people; a sacred trust. Much of our life is carried out with a sense of trust. We trust that those who build our cars will make sure the brakes work. We trust that those giving leadership in our political system will be honest and faithful. We trust that those whose vocation it is to protect and defend will not harm.
When trust is broken it is hard to regain. Forgiveness is required. Grace is required. Acceptance is required.
When has your trust in another been broken? What did the other have to do to regain your confidence? When have you broken the trust of another? What did you have to do to regain his/her trust?
On Monday night “Spinning Reels” our local Film Society provided a viewing of the movie, “Creation”. Set in 1858 it tells the story of Charles Darwin at the time that he was writing his book “On the Origin of the Species”. It was a good movie. I was expecting to learn more about Darwin’s theory of evolution but the movie focused on his relationship with his wife Emma, a deeply pious woman, and his grief over the death of their nine-year-old daughter Annie.
The screenplay is an adaptation of the book, “Annie’s Box” by Randal Keynes a British conservationist, author and great-great-grandson of Charles Darwin. To write his books Keynes drew on family records. Through the unfolding story we are drawn into the family relationships and the profound impact Annie’s death had on this great scientist.
The movie presents the deep emotionality of Darwin’s nature and demonstrates how far he was from the picture of the dispassionate intellectual that we so often see. Woven through the story is Darwin’s changing perspective on his religious beliefs and his attitude to the church. His theory of evolution flies in the face of the beliefs held by his deeply religious wife. Darwin finds himself caught in a battle between faith and reason, love and truth.
Our modern-day acceptance of the Theory of Evolution makes it hard for us to fully grasp the global revolution that it caused. What was played out in the Darwin home and in their small English village became a sea-change of thought and belief for the world. Even today the debate continues when those who accept the Bible as literal truth dismiss Darwin’s theory as false.
In the movie as Darwin struggled to even write the book his friend Joseph Hooker visits him. Hooker brings with him the uninvited guest of Thomas Huxley. Huxley is adamant that Darwin must publish his theories. He tries to encourage him with the words, “You are killing God. And for my part I will be glad to see the end of the old bugger.”
The interplay of science and religion continues to be troubling for some while inseparable for others. I heard a biologist say, “The first time I looked at a cell under the microscope was a religious experience for me; such intricacy and beauty in one small cell. It convinced me there has to be a creator.” But, for others the awesome mystery of creation discounts the possibility of a higher power. A couple of years ago Kevin preached a sermon series on the book, “Thank God for Evolution” written by Michael Dowd. He explores the notion that science and religion are two sides of the same coin and that the marriage of science and religion transforms us.
What about you? Where do you sit on the religion – science continuum? Are they contrary or complimentary?
Well the props are put away and the expenses are tallied. This past weekend the BUC Players put on the play “Ernie’s Incredible Illucinations” This is a fun little comedy by British Playwright Alan Ayckbourn. Our directors John and Marion McTavish love this play. This is the fourth time they have directed it and I think they enjoy it more every time!
Drama is a wonderful thing. People love stories and to have actors invite us to use our imaginations and enter into a fantasy world is really a great break from the humdrum of everyday. But the best part of a dramatic production is the way it bonds a community of people. As we stacked the chairs and put away the stage pieces on Sunday afternoon several of us commented that on the night of auditions we couldn’t really imagine how this odd assortment of people (myself included) could ever make a cast! But there we were telling the story of the young boy Ernie and his fertile imagination.
Community happens in all sorts of ways. Our culture today longs for two things … stories that make sense of life and relationships that connect us with one another. Both of those things happened at BUC this weekend. The story gave us an opportunity to laugh at the unpredictable. The careful tutelage of our director built relationships among this mix of people of various ages and backgrounds to such a degree that we could tell the story. This was enhanced by the opportunity for the audience to sit at table and chat over coffee and goodies before the show began. (And what yummy goodies they were – thanks to all who donated the sweets.)
The lights are dimmed but the memory lives on. Thanks to Ernie and all the other cast members and the crew and support people for such a great production.
Some Americans, who were in Haiti out of their Christian convictions, now find themselves facing kidnapping charges. They were found spiriting a group of children from a Haitian village into the Dominican Republic. They say they were taking the children to an orphanage for their safety and care. One news reporter this morning asked, “Where they misguided do-gooders or was there something more sinister going on?” Much has been added to the story about child trafficking.
I always find it challenging when listening to the news reports to sift through the media hype that makes for a good story while discerning the truth in the report. I am sure these Baptists were, in their minds “doing good”. They found themselves in an horrific situation where poverty is rampant and the tragedy of the earthquake heightened the dire conditions. Did they really think these children were orphans? Did the parents ask them to take the children to a safer place? The answers to these questions might never be satisfactorily answered. Should they have taken these children? Probably not; but I suspect they were doing what they thought was right at the time.
That is the challenge of making decisions when we try to make them from an ethical position. We weigh the various pros and cons and then take action. More often than not I think we do what we do from a position of hope rather than certainty. We hope it is the right thing to do. But even with careful thought and prayer it is not always crystal clear what is the right course of action.
I am disappointed that this story once again puts Christians in a bad light as far as the media is concerned. It seems the only time we get news coverage is when we have done something wrong. This incident will give cynics and critics fresh ammunition for all that Christians do wrong. Meanwhile many fine Christians have quietly gone about doing valiant work to assist those that have been effected by the devastation in Haiti. Once in a while a good news story about what we do right would be refreshing don’t you think?
It is February …yes, already the fourth day of the month. Now I love each of the seasons of the year for many different reasons. But when it comes to the months of the year February ranks right up there for me. Yep, February is a great month. “Why” you ask? Well, you gotta love a month that begins with a day celebrating a ground hog. It doesn’t matter if you observe Willie or any one of his many cousins who get dragged out of their ground hog holes on February 2nd to squint in the sun; it is a day to celebrate the passing of time. Regardless of whether winter will last another six weeks or spring is on the way Ground Hog Day reminds us that the sun is coming back and the days are indeed getting longer.
Of course, right smack dab in the middle of the month we get Valentine’s Day. Now Valentine had to be a pretty cool saint to be celebrated with chocolate - he is my kind of Saint.
Then there is the fact the February is the shortest month. So, when it seems like the month has flown by and we don’t know where the days went we can be comforted by the fact that this month is minus a couple of days. It makes sense when the month has disappeared in a flash!
February is the month when outdoor activities are usually at their peak. The ski trails are well broken in. The slopes are usually covered with the white stuff. Ponds and lakes offer skating rinks to enjoy. Of course when the day is over there is ample entertainment inside. The crokinole board is at the ready. The jigsaw puzzle is spread on the table. And with the Academy Award Nominations announced at the beginning of the month we know which movies we have to rush to see before Oscar night.
Of course many readers will know that this is all just a build up to the real reason I love February. It is my birthday month! Yep, just as I am finishing up my Valentines Chocolates along comes a birthday cake to sweeten my disposition.
Gotta love February.
I think this will be the last entry about my week at “Epiphany Explorations”. I want to share with you a bit from one of the final speakers. I found her most engaging. Chung Hyun Kyung is a Korean Christian theologian and is an Associate Professor of Ecumenical Theology at Union Theological Seminary in the United States. Professor Chung's teaching and research interests include feminist and eco-feminist theologies and spiritualities from Asia, Africa and Latin America; Christian-Buddhist dialogue; Zen meditation; approaches to disease and healing in varied religious backgrounds; mysticism and revolutionary social change; Goddesses and women’s liberation in Asia; interfaith peacemaking; as well as the history and critical issues of various ecumenical theologies. Phew – that’s makes me tired just reading it.
Listening to her speak was anything but tiring. It was inspiring. She is an engaging, gentle and humorous presenter. Her first lecture highlighted her research as she traveled and met with Muslim women in 17 different Muslim countries. It was fascinating. But it was her second lecture that stole my heart. She talked about her own personal journey. She is a baptized and devoted Christian but during a time of personal struggle she found herself drawn to talk with a Buddhist Master. In those conversations she came to draw more and more strength from the Buddhist style of worship and theology. Eventually she committed herself to a year in the study of Buddhism and as a result became a Buddhist. Let me be clear she did not leave behind her Christian faith. She describes herself as a “Double-Belonger’ meaning she is both Christian and Buddhist.
She proposed that as our culture becomes more and more inter-racial, inter-cultural and inter-faith people will draw on and include in their belief structure many different faith perspectives. Chung was quite adamant that one could not “cherry-pick” just the good from this one and that one, asserting that it is necessary to commit to a faith. Nonetheless, she acknowledged that there is much good in every faith and people do have the capability to be, as she put it, omni-faith, meaning taking strength from many different faiths.
It is an interesting perspective. Do you think there is room in your Christian faith to recognize and adopt some of the practices from other religious beliefs? If so how would you live that out?
The opening seesion of “Epiphany Explorations” was sobering indeed. Reg Bibby is a sociology professor at the University of Lethbridge, Order of Canada recipient and a researcher who has surveyed the beliefs and attitudes of Canadian teens and adults for over 30 years. Trained in theology, he has written extensively about the religious and spiritual beliefs of today’s society. His research in Canada and the United States gives him a unique perspective on the similarities in social trends affecting religion and spirituality. He is the author of five books that focus on religion. At one time he was referred to as “bad-news Bibby” because he held up the mirror of church statistics noting how the role and appeal of the institutional church has diminished in our culture.
He continues to track the statistics and had these figures for us. In 1961 49% of Canadians identified as Protestant in 1981 that number had dropped to 41% and by 2001 it had dropped further to 32% His research on teenagers is most revealing. In 1984 those who identified as United Church were 10% but by 2008 that number had dropped to 1%. Furthermore teens who never attend church rose from 23% in 1985 to 47% in 2008. Plainly put this means that half of the population of teenagers in Canada never attends church.
Why is this? Well, Reg identified some reasons. Baby Boomers dropped out of church and their children simply aren’t connected because it was never part of their formative years. He also identified (as did Leonard Sweet in his lectures) that our culture has shifted from obligation to gratification. People don’t come to church because of loyalty or duty as previous generations did. People come to church because it is gratifying and meets their needs. He also identified the shift from deference to discernment. We live in a culture that questions many things particularly the status quo and people are generally more demanding insisting that anything they are involved in has significance and makes a difference in their lives. Finally he identified that biggest social change in the past half century is that women are working both outside and inside the home. This gets lived out in a variety of ways. He said this generation is less likely to entertain at home, is less likely to have informal social visits, is less likely to volunteer in the community and is less likely to go to church.
Did he have any good news to offer? Well, he said that people would come to church if they found it worthwhile. People place a high degree of value on interpersonal relationships. He said people are not looking for a church they are looking for ministry.
What do you think? What keeps you coming to church, if you do? What makes you stay away? Are there ways we here at BUC can make ministry more relevant for you?