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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Would you look at that!

On Sunday I spoke about being part of a school field trip with my child's class, when they went to visit an art gallery. The docent (the volunteer guide) who led the class through the long corridors kept saying, "Children, look at me!"

I compared this experience with that of walking through the same gallery with a good friend, who never said, "Look at me!". Instead, he directed my attention to the work of the artists.

Good teachers take care to not confuse themselves with their subject matter.

This past week we "survived" the day and time that had been predicted for "Judgment Day". The leadup to this non-event focussed a lot of attention on one man, and his assertion that he had deciphered the secret codes of the Bible, and had derived the date and time of the end of the world.

"Look at me!" "I know something no-one else knows!" "I am not going to share with you how I learned this vital information, you just have to trust me!"

"As crestfallen followers of a California preacher who foresaw the world's end strained to find meaning in their lives, Harold Camping revised his apocalyptic prophecy, saying he was off by five months and the Earth actually will be obliterated on Oct. 21.


Camping, who predicted that 200 million Christians would be taken to heaven Saturday before global cataclysm struck the planet, said Monday that he felt so terrible when his doomsday message did not come true that he left home and took refuge in a motel with his wife. His independent ministry, Family Radio International, spent millions — some of it from donations made by followers — on more than 5,000 billboards and 20 recreational vehicles plastered with the Judgment Day message."
(from the CBC News website)

Whatever else is going on in the mind and heart and spirit of this man, I suspect there is a very inflated desire to be in the spotlight.

On Monday evening as our house was settling down after a very active, and very pleasant Victoria Day weekend, my wife and I watched the The National news program on CBC. The top headline stories were about devastating tornado damage in Missouri, terrible flooding in Quebec, the enormous destruction caused by wildfire in Slave Lake, Alberta, and the continuing effects of earthquake and tsunami damage in Japan. Each of these stories touched me with the desire to pray for people in distress.

In each of these places, and in others, the destruction of homes, and workplaces, and whole communities may very well feel like the end of the world to the people in the midst of it. Many people have been killed or injured, and there are potential victims that have not been found.

It seems to me that the man who poured so much of his own, and other people's money into publicizing May 21 as Judgment Day, might have put the funds to better use, offering kindness and mercy to people in need of real help.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Just a spoonful of sugar...



This youtube video by an Episcopal priest in New York does an excellent job of drawing parallels between Jesus and Mary Poppins.

I wish I would have found this before I wrote my sermon!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

It takes a village to run a baseball team

I love the story I used this past Sunday, about a baptism-related custom practiced in some congregations in the West African nation of Sierra Leone. The night before an infant is baptized, the oldest woman in their family holds them in her arms, and walks with them around their community. She points out the homes of those who will help to nurture and care for the child. She shows them the school where they will learn to read and write. She also points out the places where danger lies. The tour ends up at the church in which the child will be baptized, and where they will learn about the life of faith.


For good and for bad, we live our lives in community. Our families thrive, or not, in a context. We can do a lot to improve that context. (And I don’t mean building a bigger house, or buying our way into the “best” neighbourhood.) We can get involved in our children’s school. We can volunteer for class trips. We can help our kids choose sporting and other activities that help them learn, and grow, and have fun. We can support not only our kids, but the volunteers who make most of these things happen. We can see the opportunity, in those long hours hanging out at the ball diamond, soccer pitch, or community centre, library, pool, arena, to make connections with other families.


Last weekend we got the email from our son’s coaches, about the beginning of baseball season. The good news was that our son has been put on a team with many team-mates from previous years, and with two coaches we know well. The challenging news was that the team practices are scheduled for 9 o’clock Sunday mornings. This presents our family with a number of hard questions.

How do two pastors get their child to a sports event that competes with Sunday worship? Are we supposed to show support or approval for this challenge to the Sabbath? We have both seen congregations “lose” families to the powerful draw of organized sports, that treat Sunday as an ideal day to schedule practices and tournaments.

Should we protest the Sunday practices, and draw our line in the sand? (What about Fridays for Muslim families, and Saturdays for Jewish families?)

On the other hand, should our child miss out on something he loves, and at which he excels, because he lives with the mixed blessing of being born into a clergy family?

On the other, other hand, what’s the big deal about Sunday morning? We nurture faith, and pray with our kids, and take time for the spirit every day. In our family, Sunday is a work day for both parents, and a day when the kids get saddled with responsibilities that are a lot like work. Their Sunday mornings are just one aspect of their spiritual lives.

We wondered about partnering with other faith communities to develop a program, or resources for families who face similar challenges. Maybe we could use a website to offer a place where a family could find a short video, a reading or story, a question to provoke discussion, and a closing prayer or ritual. Would such an effort backfire on us- giving people an alternative to church attendance? Would people wonder why we only thought of this once our own family faced the problem? Where would we find the time and energy for one more thing? (This kind of project would need to be done well, or not at all!)

Most of those questions remain unresolved. We emailed our son’s coaches. We explained that we see the importance of the practices for team-building and skill development. We also mentioned that our kids’ involvement with church and Sunday School matters to us, and not just because we are ministers. We asked if it would be acceptable that our son attend every second practice.

The coaches have been very encouraging, and supportive. Because they know us, they had anticipated the scheduling issue. They have offered to help get our son to practices and home afterwards. The coaches are fine with our son attending practice when he is able. Other parents have also extended offers of assistance.

Our “solution” is not perfect, but it seems to allow us space to uphold the value of spiritual nurture, as part of the range of activities we seek out for our children. We cannot do any of this by ourselves. We live, and we are raising our children, as part of a community that includes loving, caring people, who do not necessarily share our level of commitment to a church.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

What we take with us

I have spent this weekend as one of the "prayer guides" for 4 retreatants who are experiencing a silent retreat.  

I am writing this morning from a picnic table outside of the main building at Five Oaks, a United Church conference centre outside of Paris, Ontario. I can hear at least 3 kinds of birdsong. Because they are not leafed out yet, I can see down a hillside of trees to the Grand River. The property includes a place where you can stand and look at, and listen to the confluence of the waters of Whiteman's Creek and the Grand River. It is a beautiful place, that people have been coming to for many years, in search of quiet, and peace, and a sense of connection to the Creator of all this beauty.

Every time I go somewhere on retreat, I find a stone to bring home. Or it finds me. Yesterday I was walking down stairs cut into the hillside, and notice a weathered rock about the size of a walnut, that has a flattened base. On the bottom of the stone there is a formation of 5 small indentations. This seemed a perfect memento. It has an interesting look and feel to it, and it fits my baic requirement of memory stones, that I can easily hold it in my palm, and close my fingers around it.

It will find a home in a bowl of rocks that sits on the side table in my office prayer corner.

One of the questions we will ask the retreatants today at the closing worship time this afternoon, is what they will take away with them, when they leave Five Oaks. I think it is a good query to put into people's minds. I also think that it is a hard one to answer.

I don't quite know why the rock I found yesterday speaks to me. What is it that I see in it? I may have it for a long time before I "get it".

I have some vague inklings of what else I take away with from this retreat weekend. (What learnings, insights, hopes, challenges?) As with my new stone, I may have to hold them, and let them warm in my hands, before I can really grasp them.