Twenty years have gone by since the Presbyterian Church in Canada developed a Policy on Dealing with Sexual Abuse and Sexual Harassment. After the policy was adopted, Presbyteries organized events for ministers and elders to introduce and discuss the document and its implications for ministry. My experience suggests that not all male clergy, and not many elders attended.

My memory of attending an event held for two neighbouring presbyteries is distant. It has come closer, and become more vivid over the past few weeks. Every day brings us fresh news of accusations of harassment and abuse by men, usually against women over whom the men have power.

One memory from that day in London, Ontario is of a generational gap. I had just turned forty. Female and male ministers my age and younger got it. The older male clergy, some of them as old as I am now, scoffed. Some laughed. I remember one, recently retired, who said, “If we had this policy in my day, I wouldn’t have met my wife!” I believe he was responding to the new rules about personal relationships between ministers and church staff and members. He boasted that he had married the organist in his first pastoral charge. Those of us in London that day who were under forty got it.

The old line goes, “It’s not about sex. It’s about power.” Some of my students used to argue with me when we talked about power in the pastoral relationship. They believed power was a dirty word. They didn’t think they would have any authority over anyone after they were ordained. They shook their heads when I talked about the pastoral relationship as privileged.

Power is neither good nor bad. It just is. It can be employed in many ways, leading to consequences good and bad. A minister is in a privileged position. People trust her or him with their deepest confidences. They allow their pastor into places of vulnerability. They expect their preacher to speak words they can believe, and from which they can make meaning. To be with people at times of greatest joy and deepest sorrow is a huge privilege. The authority a minister has is inherent in the role. It’s also given, in trust, by the congregation. The temptation to exploit and abuse is great.

The relationship between a director and an actor, a TV personality and his assistants, a coach and a player, is pretty much the same. So is the relationship between any employer and any employee. The catch phrase today for that is “power differential”. Some people believe authority is license. They can do what they want. They can try and see what they can get away with. And the most effective way to assert power over another person is to violate intimacy, to pierce to the core of their being.

When the powerful one is male, there’s another layer to the differential. Some males today deny that. Many are oblivious to it. The older men at that gathering in London just didn’t get it. Women of all ages, then and now, get it. They live with it, every day.

I must confess that, lately, I’ve been bringing the paper in and saying out loud, “Who will be accused today.” As I write this, the freshest news is about Gregg Zaun, one of my favourite sports commentators. Before him it was Matt Lauer. And Garrison Keillor, one of my favourite authors. Al Franken, my favourite U.S. Senator. On and on it goes. More and more women, not just those who are often in the public eye, are coming out to say, “Me too.” Will it ever end? Probably not.

Maybe the news and celebrity media should tone it down, acknowledge but don’t make a big deal of it. Shouldn’t this all be handled in private? And, for that matter, are all of these accusations real? People make mistakes. People misunderstand friendly touches, harmless jokes. Some just want revenge. They want money. Nobody’s innocent, after all. Forgive and forget. Doesn’t the Bible say that?

For the most part, what the Bible says about male-female relationships is horrifying. Some Christians use it to justify abuse and exploitation. If we’re going to turn to the Bible for advice, we need to hear what it says about relationships—person-to-person, person-to-God, God-to-world. Let’s listen for the Bible’s message about love. I know that means drowning out the voices that call for judgment, punishment, and war. We have to leave Paul in his time, with his concern for good order in the church and home, and work with his words about love and community. What the Bible says about gender, marriage, and sexuality is descriptive, not prescriptive. It reflects times, places, and purposes we don’t share. What the Bible says about relationships of love, and how power and authority are supposed to be used by those who receive it from God and the people, tells us how it’s supposed to be.

Only God can forget our sins when we confess them. Forgiveness is a goal. It’s a gift to be given, and those who have been harmed may never be ready to give it. Yet Christians can be too quick to say “forgive and forget” as if it just soothes everything, makes everything nice again. Christians can also be selective, prescribing forgiveness for some, withholding it from others.

Because so few incidents of sexual assault are reported… As long as girls and women are encouraged to “brush it off”, “move on”… While men and boys still believe they’re free to do as they will, because they’re male… As our culture continues to use sex to sell… It has to go on—not only among celebrities and athletes, but everywhere. If not, then there will be no change.

I want my granddaughter to grow up into a world where she doesn’t have to be afraid. I don’t want her ever to feel that she’s less because she’s a girl. She should never become an object in the view of anyone she should be able to trust. I look at children and youth today and see more sharing, acceptance, mutuality in relationships. I see young men who respect, even fear young women. Awe and apprehension can be good things.

I still see boys bullying girls, girls walking behind boys. Often I’m on the sidewalk or on the TTC when the high school students are out of school. I see and hear what boys say about girls behind their backs and to their faces. I also know how boys and men use social media to insult and degrade girls and women.

I get it. I could do with fewer headlines and social media updates about famous or allegedly-famous men being called to account for their behaviour. But this can be a fruitful time, when more men are called to account because more women feel safe to speak out.

I get it. Maybe because I can say, “Me too.” I try to forget my teens, but I can’t. Boys and men also claim and abuse power over males who are smaller, weaker, or smarter than they are. They ridicule, verbally degrade with sexual innuendo, spread rumours, and touch. My best memories of High School are the hours spent hiding in a dark room. That’s a Darkroom. With some others who needed a refuge, I worked and waited to walk home from school until everyone else was gone. I joined the Photography Club. But I’m still a man in this world, a highly privileged male.

I hope for a time when no one will have to say, “Me too.” I believe the church must help lead the way forward to that time.



On the Beach in Normandy

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On the Beach in Normandy

On Monday, July 10 we left Toronto for Paris. The next day we boarded a river cruise ship, the “Avalon Creativity”, and our journey along the Seine began. We traveled through Normandy, toward the D-Day landing beaches. The theme of the cruise was World War II History.

Along the way we heard stories and explored the places where those stories were first told. We walked with Monet, Van Gogh, Richard Lionheart, Joan of Arc, Samuel de Champlain, and Kings Louis the fourteenth, fifteenth, and sixteenth. In each location stories of France, during and after the War were told. An historian came along on the cruise and gave two excellent lectures. (After the first talk, an American passenger was heard to say, “I thought D-Day was just an American landing. I didn’t know there were others.”)

Midway in the cruise we boarded buses that would take us to the coast. It happened to be Bastille Day, France’s national holiday. The Americans and their guide went in one direction. Canadians, Brits, Aussies, and Kiwis took another road. We Canadians were few, but it was definitely our day. After touring the countryside and visiting a small Commonwealth Cemetery, we headed for the coast. On the way we stopped at the site of what the British called “Pegasus Bridge”. There’s an excellent museum there, a replica of a RAF glider, and a section of the actual bridge. A larger copy of the bridge is in place now, carrying 21st Century traffic. The capture of the bridge in the early hours of June 6, 1944 is my favourite scene in the movie, “The Longest Day”. Our local guide was able to tell us all the liberties the filmmakers took with the story. The facts are even more interesting than the film.

Then we went to Arromanches, where the remains of the temporary harbour the British built can still be seen. The town was decorated for Bastille Day, but with flags of both the wartime Allies and the former enemy, all over the town square. One street along the beach is called “Rue du Canada”.

Next stop was Juno Beach, site of the Canadian landing on D-Day, and now a popular holiday destination. A charitable foundation has built and maintains a beautiful visitors’ centre. Young adults from all over Canada serve as docents and tour guides. We were greeted by a young woman from Bridgewater, NS. The Juno Beach Centre is an important place for Canadians.

In the 1990s I served as Protestant Chaplain to the First Hussars, an army reserve regiment based on London and Sarnia, ON. The First Hussars have a distinguished history of service, which begins before Confederation. When Canada has been called to war, the First Hussars have always been among the first to mobilize. Their tanks were in the midst and the vanguard of the landing on D-Day. One company lost 90% of its men on “Black Sunday”, June 11, miles into German-held territory.

I looked for First Hussars graves in both cemeteries we visited. I took time to find markers bearing the June 11 date. I left a poppy and some regimental insignia at several of the graves at Beny sur mer, the terribly beautiful, beautifully terrible Canadian cemetery.

As a Nova Scotian I also sought out graves of men of the North Nova Scotia Highlanders. They were not hard to find. The North Novies were among the most distinguished fighters in both World Wars.

At the Juno Beach Centre I found memorials to both regiments, and a whole display dedicated to one member of the First Hussars.

I was surprised, when I stood on Juno Beach, to find it easy to imagine that morning in 1944. My imagination is shaped by movies I’ve seen: “The Longest Day”, “Saving Private Ryan”. But I could see faces I knew from stories and pictures preserved by the regiment, some I had just seen in the Juno Beach Centre.

I’m not writing this to glorify war. War, in itself, is always wrong. Evil. Even when we can convince ourselves there is a just cause. Most of the men who died, and those who survived D-Day would not have thought of themselves as heroes. A clear-eyed reading of history teaches us that, for every decision that was taken in the interest of saving lives, at least one mistake was made that cost lives. When war ends the battle continues. Lands and people don’t recover instantly, as if truces and treaties work magic.

As a Christian in the Reformed tradition I’m painfully aware that even the best human efforts are shadowed by human sin. We cannot have absolute certainty in this life. That means we act, as we are able, to do good as we understand the good. It also means we don’t shrink away in the presence of what we can only call evil. We do our best to discern God’s will, as far as we can understand it. But we must still act, and risk, taking responsibility for our own actions. We can do no better. Only God’s grace can save us.

In an old-fashioned way I saw those soldiers’ graves as markers of gifts given in response to God’s grace. Many soldiers, sailors, and flyers prayed on D-Day, and after. I doubt many took time for theological reflection. But they were willing—maybe not fully prepared, but willing—to give whatever it might take to fulfill their mission. That included God’s great, free gift of life.

Remembering war, in both victory and defeat, is an awful necessity of life. It can remind us of both the weakness and fallibility, and the strength and capacity for nobility of all human beings.

On Juno Beach we met a young couple from Calgary. They were delighted to be there. They told us they were honeymooning in London. They looked at a map and realized they could rent a car and be at Juno Beach in a few hours. The next day, they could go to Vimy Ridge. So they changed their honeymoon plans to fulfill two of their dreams. They were proud Canadians, in love with their country’s story. I’ll remember that the next time I’m tempted to say “no one” cares about the past today!

This year, Normandy. Vimy, next year?

Oh yes! There’s an old saying, “See Paris and die.” I can understand the sentiment! Paris is amazing. But don’t wait till just before you die to see it. You’ll want to return!


On Juno Beach, praying my beret doesn't blow off!

On Juno Beach, praying my beret doesn't blow off!

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The Trouble With Symbols


The Trouble With Symbols

The trouble with symbols.

When we were kids we were taught that a symbol stood for, or stood in for, something much bigger and more complicated than the symbol itself. Like a cross in church. Like a national flag.

I grew up in a white, Anglo, working class, Protestant, home. What I was told was a normal Canadian household and family. It was easy to believe a symbol represented whatever I was told it represented. That was the one, right understanding.

Like a lot of white, Anglo Canadians I lived all my early life in a world where everyone—at least everyone I knew or knew of—looked, learned, and believed like me.

It was a real shock when I learned, as an adult, that any symbol can carry more than one meaning. First, I had to enter a new world, where not everyone was more or less like me. I stepped into that world in University, though leaving campus in Halifax was like going back to my old world. When I went on to study in Toronto, Knox College at that time was a safe place for refugees from the world I grew up in. Leaving campus was a new-world experience.

I began to listen and found, even among people who were more or less like me, that different people assigned different meanings to symbols.  Even when we agreed on an interpretation of a given symbol, we didn’t all get there on the same path.

So, here’s what’s on my mind today. I’ve just learned that some Presbyterians have considered not marching in the Pride Parade on Sunday because the organizers decided not to allow police officers to march in uniform. Black Lives Matter demanded that ruling.

I was angry when I first heard about that. As a white, well-off, Anglo Canadian I see uniformed police as my helpers and protectors. They represent good order, and safety for everyone. Though I must admit, as I read and hear each day’s news, I’m less inclined to assume those things here in the GTA. I did, blissfully, think that way in Halifax. (Halifax Police have dropped out of the parade this year, but will take part in other Pride activities. Vancouver Police will march in civvies, with t-shirts that say who they are.)

My objections to the actions of Black Lives Matter aside, I now realize that there are many, many people—people who aren’t like me—who can’t blissfully identify a uniformed woman or man as a helper or a protector. Often it’s because they, and others like them, have had a very different experience of uniformed police than I have. As a white, well-off, Anglo Canadian my experience of uniformed police is limited. A couple speeding tickets. Seeing my brother-in-law go to work. A chat with an officer guarding a construction site near my home.

Many new Canadians have fled countries where uniformed police and fighters represented death. Most of them were law-abiding citizens in their home countries, but the presence of police near their homes always meant trouble for someone. Often someone close to them.

I understand the original intent of police officers who have chosen to join in parades everywhere. I was overwhelmed by the joyful presence of hundreds of police and fire personnel when I watched the Pride Parade in New York City. But I remember now that most people around me on the steps of the NY Public Library looked and sounded more or less like me. We got what those men and women in uniform so wanted to communicate. They were showing solidarity through the symbol they wore, and were.

Many in the LGBTQ+ communities, people of all colours, do not attach positive meaning to any uniform. They can’t assume anyone will accept them for who they are. The Pride Parade itself has evolved from a march that commemorated a brutal police raid and mass arrest of gay men and their straight friends. It began as a protest. Perhaps it will evolve further, and no one will have reason to be frightened of anyone who wants to march. But our society has to evolve, first.

I’m working on a sermon for Sunday, based on Psalm 23. I’m fascinated by these words: “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me.” I guess I never noticed them before. Just took them for granted, because the psalm itself is such a powerful symbol. There’s the problem. I was taught what the psalm meant. Now I know it’s strong enough to support many meanings.

I was caught by these words of Walter Brueggemann—a hero of mine, but you know that if you’ve heard me preach more than once—from a sermon he preached on the 23rd Psalm.

We are being chased by God's powerful love. We run from it. We fear that goodness, because we are then no longer in control. We do not trust such a generosity, and we think our own best efforts are better than God's mercy.

Lent [Now!] is a time to quit running, to let ourselves be caught and embraced in love, like that of a sheep with safe pasture, like a traveler with rich and unexpected food. Our life is not willed by God to be an endless anxiety. It is, rather, meant to be an embrace, but that entails being caught by God.

Could it be that God is chasing all of us toward what and whom we fear? Is God chasing people who are afraid to join in the parade? People who are angry about one thing and find in that anger a reason not to face a greater reality?

I hope God is chasing the clergy of our PCC who are so opposed to justice and hospitality for all that they’ve stopped listening to people like those of us who will march as proud Presbyterians on Sunday. After all, we’re all more or less like them. We’re all looking at the same symbols: Bible, worship, mission, church. But we don’t all look at them in the same way. As long as any of us is afraid, we won’t recognize what we share.

Maybe we all need to stop and let God catch us.


Presbyterian Pride


Presbyterian Pride

On Sunday, June 25 I’ll be marching with the Presbyterian contingent in Toronto’s Pride Parade.

Again this year I will take part as an individual Presbyterian minister, not representing Glenview. But anyone from Glenview who would like to come along is welcome. Last year two members were there with Janet and me. This year Janet won’t be able to march. She has a cast on her foot. It would be great to have someone take her place.

I won’t be there with the blessing of our Session. I would never claim to represent the whole congregation. But I believe there are many at Glenview who stand with me, even if they don’t march with me, for hospitality and justice for all in the Presbyterian Church in Canada (PCC). I believe we are a hospitable and just congregation. I hope, one day, we will take the next step and declare that to the PCC and the world. Even if we have to do that before the PCC does.

I know of three congregations that have already done that. You won’t hear about them through official PCC channels. They’re not part of the PCC post-General Assembly buzz. That’s all about the people who are trying to scare us all by threatening to walk away if the PCC takes a progressive, inclusive course.

A Presbyterian congregation in Waterloo ON adopted this “Statement of Welcome”:

As an inclusive and affirming congregation, we honour the diversity of God’s creation.

Our community is richer when we include people of all ages, gender identities, racial and cultural backgrounds, sexual orientations, abilities, economic circumstances and family configurations.

We seek to provide a safe space so that each person can bring every aspect of their whole self into participation within this congregation.

We invite all to join into the life, leadership, witness and ministry of Knox Waterloo.

Knox is a healthy, growing congregation.

St. Andrew’s in Kitchener is one of the largest and most active congregations in the PCC. You’ll read these words, right up front on their website.

St. Andrew’s is a welcoming and affirming congregation. You are welcome here regardless of your background, your race, gender, sexual orientation, or financial status. We welcome you and we affirm and value each person in all of our human diversity. We are all children of God.

Earlier this year the congregation of Knox Church in Calgary voted unanimously to declare their church inclusive and affirming of LGBTQ persons. They took this step after a long process of study and conversation, following a model from the United Church. The CBC interviewed their minister about this decision, which takes the congregation out of step with most other Presbyterian churches in Canada.

Why do congregations decide to declare their churches open to all? Why can’t they just quietly absorb any members who might be different from the majority, and avoid making a fuss? Why risk trouble?

Consider this: If your gay or lesbian neighbour, co-worker, son or daughter wanted to come to church, would they feel welcome at Glenview? What if they wore rainbow jewellery? What if they wanted to bring their partner? How would you introduce them to your Glenview friends at coffee hour?

If they came on their own, how would they know they were welcome at Glenview? Most LGBTQ+ people can’t assume they’ll be welcome in a church. That’s especially true for younger people. Many have had very hurtful experiences in faith communities.

Remember this: Within the PCC there are many gifted leaders—ministers, elders, musicians, teachers, youth leaders—who have to hide who they really are. Many have left PCC congregations. Some find places of welcome. Many give up on church. The PCC has lost too many ministers. We rarely hear about them leaving till they’re gone.

My experience working and worshiping all over the United Church of Canada, and visiting Presbyterian churches in the U.S., is that congregations grow and flourish when people outside know everyone is welcome inside. Welcome, just as they are. Accepted for who they are. Yes, some who can’t accept that leave their congregations. That’s their right.

The church folk who join in Pride Parades all across Canada witness to the truth that many Christians welcome and accept everyone as visitors, members, and leaders. People who might not think of the church as a place for them take notice. I was overwhelmed by the welcome in last year’s parade. I was carrying the banner for the Presbyterian group, so many people saw me first as we marched past.

After this year’s General Assembly there’s at least another year of study for the PCC. I hope we can make good use of that time. Maybe we’ll come to some of our own conclusions, and join with other congregations in stepping ahead of the denomination.

That’s my hope. But I’m just one voice at Glenview. I know my voice has some weight to it, but I know I'm not the church, and the church isn't mine. I march as a Presbyterian. I hope, not alone.





Tuesday, April 18, 4:44 a.m. the phone rings. The land line. Only one person ever calls our land line. At 4:44 a.m., it must be serious. I struggle awake and grab the phone. An unexpected voice says "hello". It's my daughter. She never calls the land line. We text. "I'm at the hospital. Things are moving fast. You can come... whenever." We get to the hospital in Kitchener at 6:20. Barely an hour after the baby came into the world. Then it strikes me. I've been grandfathered! Two weeks early.

I wasn't ready. But I wouldn't have been ready if Ava Isabelle Kratz had waited until this week to arrive, as scheduled. I'm still too young! I have to remind myself my father was three years younger than I am now the first time he was grandfathered, a week after his 55th birthday. I don't know what to do, how to be, now that I've been grandfathered! All I had to do was hold her. All I've had to do since Ava was born was hold her. And burp her, of course. All I've had to be is still. And proud. And fearful for her future in this world. And determined to do all I can to keep her safe in this world.

I discovered another consequence of being grandfathered. My daughter isn't my little girl anymore. My son in law isn't the boy who took her away from me. We're all adults now. All parents. We share the most important job in the world. Yes, the relationship has changed, even more than it did a year ago when Maggie and Brian got married.

I also discovered that, 32 years after I first held a newborn child, my emotions are the same as they were then. I was back in that hospital room in Listowel for a sacred moment, feeling that fragile being give and receive warmth in my arms. Back in those days Dads had to wear hospital gowns. I didn't miss that part of the experience.

When people around me have congratulated me for being grandfathered, I've often responded, "Thanks, but I didn't do anything." But I have done something, after all. Not just providing Ava with a good chunk of her genetic composition. That really frightens me! More than that, I was a father, a co-parent. I shared in raising a daughter, who is now a loving, fearless mother. Her mother and I can look at Maggie and say, "We did good." In fact, she is the only part of my life and my accomplishments that I can be unreservedly proud of. Nothing else counts.

To be a parent is to be a co-creator with God. Whether we birth or adopt our children we help God create and sustain lives. Not just human beings of flesh, blood, and breath. But living souls, a la Genesis. When we're grandparented we remember that. We have a chance to share in creating a new life, too.

It's best to begin this fresh chance to be a co-creator with humility, gratitude, fervent prayer, and a durable credit card.

Oh, please forgive me. I haven't finished the book on children's spirituality that I promised to read last time I posted on the blog. I've been busy.


The Faith of Our Children


The Faith of Our Children

I've just bought a book I saw reviewed in the "Christian Century". After reading the review and some excerpts from The Spiritual Child, by eminent child psychologist Lisa Miller, I bought the Kindle edition so I can read the book before I become a grandparent in May. (More about that later.) I've started reading today.

One thing that caught my attention, beyond my own interest as a prospective Grampa, was Miller's audacious claim. These words are from the blurb in "Publisher's Weekly".

In The Spiritual Child, psychologist Lisa Miller presents the next big idea in psychology: the science and the power of spirituality. She explains the clear, scientific link between spirituality and health and shows that children who have a positive, active relationship to spirituality:

* are 40% less likely to use and abuse substances
* are 60% less likely to be depressed as teenagers
* are 80% less likely to have dangerous or unprotected sex
* have significantly more positive markers for thriving including an increased sense of meaning and purpose, and high levels of academic success.

Combining cutting-edge research with broad anecdotal evidence from her work as a clinical psychologist to illustrate just how invaluable spirituality is to a child's mental and physical health...

Whoa... Does that mean making our kids go to Sunday School works? No. Not exactly. Dr. Miller writes about "children who have a positive, active relationship to spirituality". That's not the same as Sunday School or Youth Group or Confirmation Class. It's not just those things, though any of them can contribute to "a positive, active relationship to spirituality". They can't do it alone. Not without an environment where growing children can observe adults who demonstrate their "positive, active relationship to spirituality". It's not just about talking the talk, or making sure the kids walk into Sunday School. It's about walking the walk. Living a life that shows how important our spirituality is to us. It's recognizing that human beings are more than flesh, bone, and the drive to survive. We're also beings of spirit, and attending to our souls is at least as important as taking care of our bodies.

Dr. Miller believes we are designed as spiritual people; and designed for relationship with a higher power, or at least a set of values that calls us to more than just existing on this earth. She declares that the "Science of Spirituality" is the newest frontier of scientific discovery. It's worth reading the book just to find out what she has to say about that.

Dr. Miller is Jewish. In her work she makes room for Atheists, and all other religions. A Christian perspective on our humanity is pretty much the same as the Jewish understanding. We are "living souls", created in the image and likeness of God. The New Testament speaks more of us as beings of "flesh and spirit". But the two go together. We're not just flesh, any more than we are just the wet dirt or the stolen bone Genesis says God used to make human beings.

For most of the church's history the understanding of both the humanity and spirituality of children was that they weren't yet fully-formed souls. They had the potential to grow into the knowledge and practice of religion. They had to be taught and disciplined so they would grow into full personhood. But their capacity for relationship with God wasn't recognized. Churches today are still struggling to get beyond those assumptions about children. Those beliefs still shape what many adults in church believe Christian Education is for. Authors like Lisa Miller are calling parents, educators, faith leaders, and congregations of all kinds to see children in a new way.

I said I would say more about grandparenting. I'll just touch briefly on a widespread phenomenon among churches all over the world: the spiritual power, or the faith, of grandparents leaps a generation to offer children "a positive, active relationship to spirituality". This is especially true of grandmothers, but grandfathers can tell the stories and make the connections that feed children's spirits, too.

Many parents have to admit that, at least for now, their grown sons and daughters aren't interested in religion or-- more important-- being part of the community the church is, at least, supposed to be. Sometimes it's our fault, for not demonstrating "a positive, active relationship to spirituality". Grandparenting can give us a chance to try again. More often, though, our daughters and sons grew up to know they can be good people and have good lives without the church. Sometimes they can tell stories of how the people in church who were supposed to teach and mentor them treated them like... look back two paragraphs.

Scholars in our part of the world are just beginning to explore the phenomenon of children coming to the faith community under the influence of their grandparents. I think we parents who wish our adult offspring came to church can recognize some good reasons why they don't.

But, don't despair! This is anecdotal evidence. There's no study yet. There are stories of parents coming back to the community of faith, in gratitude to their own parents, because they see how much their kids love coming to church with Grandma and Grampa.

The faith, the "positive, active relationship to spirituality" of children can be contagious!

I'll let you know when I've finished reading the book. Probably around the time I tell you I'm a Grampa.


Let's Talk

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Let's Talk

January 25 offers an opportunity to start a conversation. This is a long post. Click the title to read the whole thing. Please read it and feel free to share it.

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Year-End Reflections


Year-End Reflections

This isn't a typical Christmas or New Year's message. It's more like a Minister's Letter for the Annual Reports. But there are some things I would like to say that can't wait until March.

I've been with you for just over a year now. I'm looking back and reflecting on my time so far at Glenview. I'm looking forward to 2017 and hope it will be a real first year of ministry together.

Over the last thirteen months I've been doing a lot of listening, watching, and studying. It has been, as I expected, a time of unintentional Interim Ministry. That means I've been doing work that has to be done during an Intentional Interim Ministry: observation and diagnosis.

Here are some points in the kind of initial report an Intentional Interim Minister might make.

  1. Compared to other pastoral charges in the Presbyterian Church in Canada, Glenview is a generally healthy body with many strengths. Compared to memories of Glenview's past, the body is weak. When the frame is a remembered yesterday, the picture fades. When that frame is removed, and the context becomes church life in North America today, the picture is vivid, with many bright points.
  2. Within that broader context, Glenview is far from unique. Glenview is not exempt from the challenges all congregations in our part of the world are facing today. There are no quick fixes. It's hard for everyone to sustain Sunday attendance and weekday activity, and to meet budgets. We have to be quick to respond by trying new approaches to meeting today's needs. We also have to be unafraid to fail at some of the things we try. Recent studies remind us of the importance of personal evangelism. It's every church member's responsibility to invite others to come to church, and demonstrate that it's worth coming. Growing churches have one thing in common: members share their faith with their family, friends, and neighbours.
  3. One of Glenview's strengths, again compared to other Presbyterian churches, is the generational range of the actual congregation (not the one that exists only on paper or in memory). One of Glenview's present weaknesses is that the people on both ends of that range don't see enough of each other.
  4. A focus on leadership and pastoral care for those at both ends of the age range is vital. We are well aware of the number of people in our congregation who are ageing into the time of life when the need for care and support grows. We also have a growing number of families with young children. True, we don't see them all every week, but as families they identify with Glenview and find their church home here. Their children, from toddlers to teens, love being here, even if it's only one Sunday a month. If we are convinced that we need staff to provide ministry in both areas, then we have to be willing and able to pay for it. We also have to be prepared to help along the way in any way we can so we can sustain ministry to and with all ages.
  5. It's time to move beyond habits of fundraising and crisis management to a culture of stewardship. Stewardship makes mission possible. Fundraising and management, at best, support maintenance. Stewards are faithful, hopeful, and creative. Jesus actually said "wily". Stewards are realistic about the present and look to the future. Those who give out of a mindset of charity, and in response to crisis appeals, focus on the present, framed by a remembered past.
  6. We need more money. Meeting that need will include growing our accumulated resources. Our financial endowments produce income that supplements our contributions. We need more income-producing resources to support both existing and dreamed ministries. Those of us who have resources to share can consult the excellent guides provided by the Presbyterian Church in Canada, or any Financial Planner.
  7. We also need more regular contributions throughout the year. With more people coming to worship less often, that means we have to make sure our support for Glenview is consistent. We need more people on PAR. That's one, good solution. We all also have to look at the pattern of our giving across twelve months.
  8. Poor communication is the number one complaint in most congregations. Most congregational leaders are quick to point out that listening carefully, reading thoroughly, and asking questions politely before complaining loudly are all components of good communication. In this Glenview is no different from any other congregation I've known. That doesn't let us off the hook.
  9. Interim Ministers usually rely on the authors and consultants associated with what used to be called the Alban Institute. Many of their resources build on Arlin Rothauge's description of four types of congregation, based on the number of active members. I'll post a link below for hard-core readers. Most important to us are Rothauge's concepts of the Corporate Church (350+ active members) and the Program Church (150+ active members). Canadian congregations cluster at the low end of each range. In actual size Glenview is a Program Church. Many at Glenview think we are still a Corporate Church. In many ways we still try to function in Corporate mode. Two signs of this are in attitudes to me in my position, and the siloing of ministries within the congregation.
  10. The Senior Minister of a Corporate Church functions largely as a CEO, relying on staff to provide leadership to the congregation's varied ministries. The Senior Minister in a Program Church, especially in Canada, may be the only ordained person in leadership. He or she must be much more hands-on, less the executive and more the coach and facilitator. A Program Church pastoral leader shares in pastoral care, joins in planning and program development, and supports volunteers and/or staff in their ministries.
  11. A Corporate Church can sustain many different ministries that function alongside one another, each with enough staff and volunteer energy to sustain it. A Program Church can sustain several ministries, but none can exist without connection to all the others. Ministry leaders help sustain that connection.  In this article by Roy Oswald, Part II is especially relevant to Glenview. You can skip to the section called "From Corporate to Program Size Church" if you like. Working through that transition will require major shifts in attitudes and expectations.
  12. As we navigate through change we will need a thorough review and revision of our governance and leadership structures, including the Ministry Team model and our provision for ongoing pastoral care. These structures are more reflective of a Corporate Church model than a Program Church. We don't have the numbers to sustain the structures.

With all twelve points in mind I'm looking forward to 2017! A new year always dawns with a fresh helping of hope. Let's take that hope and build on it. I wish you and your family a joyful Christmas season (which doesn't end until January 6) and new light for the New Year.




Post-Election Blues and the Politics of Jesus


Post-Election Blues and the Politics of Jesus

All candidates campaign for office by appealing to our overt fears. They promise to change, remove, or prevent things that disturb us. Especially things that cause us to worry about the future. Successful candidates appeal to our latent fears. They know they have to win our hearts, or guts, as well as our minds. They offer to speak on our behalf. They say things we haven’t found words to express. They speak what we’ve been afraid to say out loud.

Sometimes this means we grasp at least the possibility of renewed hope in the future. We trust our chosen candidates to put our fears to rest, or at least help us go on burying them. Sometimes this means our deep fears come quickly to the surface. Since few of us are really emotionally equipped to face our fears, we become angry. We may not know exactly why we're angry, so we look for targets.

Trump says at the Republican Convention, “I alone can fix it!”, meaning the mess he says the country is in. One person created the mess. A crowd of people who are convinced the wrong kind of man has been in power for eight years cheer louder than ever. Clinton quietly tells supporters, every chance she gets, “I’m the last thing standing between you and the apocalypse.” They believe everything will be lost if the other side wins, so they redouble their efforts to stop Trump. Any debate is reduced to ad hominem arguments. The goal is not to demonstrate who will be the better President, but who is the worse candidate.

Every night for the last week or so there have been protests in cities across the United States. Crowds of people have marched with raised fists and bobbing signs, shouting “Not My President!” and “Dump Trump”. If Clinton had won the Electoral College the chants would be “Not My President!” and “Lock Her Up!” Counter-demonstrators shout, "You lost. Get over it!"

If Hillary Clinton were President-elect, there would certainly be demonstrations of white rage and racism in reaction. With Trump the winner those demonstrations are cropping up every day with the energy of triumph. This isn't the backlash of the defeated. It’s celebration. There’s a sense of blessedness among the extremists whose support Trump claims never to have courted, but whose aims he never opposed.

In Canada a Rabbi in Ottawa gets up in the morning and discovers a swastika and a racial slur painted across her front door. In Alberta a female candidate drops out of her party’s leadership race after being harassed because of her gender. On a crowded streetcar in Toronto a man shouts racist slogans at another man with darker skin. Posters calling “Hey, White People” appear on lampposts in East York, inviting anyone “tired of multiculturalism” to join the Alt-Right movement. One of the candidates for party leadership in Canada is proud of her Trump-like policies and personal support for him.

In the United States up to 80% of white evangelical Christians voted for Trump. This can only be because they believe Trump will uphold their chosen key values, notwithstanding the ways in which his personal morality and business ethics violate other Christian values. (The image at the top of this post is from a post-election gathering.) It’s probably also because, deep down, they believe it’s as wrong for a woman to be President as it was for a black man more than half of them insist is Muslim. They take Trump's victory as vindication and crown him Defender of the Faith. President Clinton would have been given another title. (Some Charismatic Christians gave her that name awhile before the election.

Post-Election Anti-Trump Protest

Post-Election Anti-Trump Protest

So the country is divided, as it would have been after a Clinton victory. The state of the United States affects the whole world, Canada more than any part of it. As Canadians we have to watch carefully what pours over the border every day. We also have to admit the same overt and latent fears are present among us. We can't be self-righteous, as we often are when we look across the international boundary.

As Christians we have to be vigilant. We can't ignore politics now that the election is past. This isn't a partisan, left-right matter. This calls for us to be political as Jesus was political: concerned about the polis, the people, together. Concerned about the good of all. Especially concerned about those without power or privilege. People who are labelled "others", and therefore vulnerable to the will and actions of the powerful.

The politics of Jesus don't embrace or endorse the policies of any party, left, right, or centre. As individuals we participate in partisan political process as our consciences guide us, but we cannot believe any party or leader fully embodies the politics of Jesus. We make compromises every time we vote or run for office. But vote and stand for election we must, with open eyes, for the good of the polis.

Jesus' call to us as disciples, and as the polis called church, is to enact the values of the Kingdom of God, here and now. In that kingdom there is no room for hatred, violence, or the enforced exclusion of anyone. It's a kingdom of peace, of justice that begins with mercy. It's an order in which the poor come first, until there is no poverty.

The whole protracted campaign, not just the election of Donald Trump, has brought voices and forces out of the shadows, into the open. These voices and forces will thrive in the light and air. It's up to us to stand up for Jesus and the values of the Kingdom of God. That means being engaged in our communities and neighbourhoods, prepared to defend anyone who is vulnerable, and demonstrating proactively that there is a better way to live. It isn't possible to live entirely without fear. It is possible to live without being guided by fear, acting out in anger. We can live without being afraid. Everyone deserves that freedom.

Opinions expressed on this Blog are those of the author. This Blog is intended to offer the congregation and friends a look into the author's heart and mind. It does not necessarily represent the Session or congregation of Glenview Church.


How Big is the Tent?

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How Big is the Tent?

Is any tent big enough to make room for someone who rejects its resident language? Is there room in any Christian church for a leader who says she doesn’t believe in its God?

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Changing Lectionaries


Changing Lectionaries

If the title hasn't bored you already, please read on.

"Changing Lectionaries". To begin with, what's a Lectionary? It's a list of readings from the Bible that is law in some denominations and gospel in others. In some churches there is no choice. Every congregation hears the same readings every Sunday. Every preacher must strike at least one of the readings (usually the Gospel) at least a glancing blow. In other traditions, like the Presbyterian Churches, following a lectionary is optional. It's helpful. It allows for coordination of themes in preaching, worship, and Church School. If everyone knows in advance-- up to three years in advance-- what the readings and themes for a Sunday will be it can be easier to plan and prepare sermons, music, and lessons. Presbyterian preachers often appreciate not having to choose their texts each week, while still being free to set the lectionary aside at times. A lectionary that's shared across traditions also supports Christian ecumenism. It reinforces the truth that we all read the same book and live by the same gospel. Preachers often gather weekly to share sermon preparation, as I did with a group of colleagues in Halifax for many years.

You may not even have noticed that at least some preachers at Glenview have followed a lectionary since the practice became common among Presbyterians in the 1970s. The first version was called the Common Lectionary. It's a three-year cycle of readings, based on a very old Roman Catholic lectionary. I started following it in 1983 and have been using it off-and-on since then. It has been updated several times. It's now called the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) Every month in the Presbyterian Record I offer a column to preachers on one of the RCL readings.

The RCL is far from perfect. Cycle after cycle the selectivity reflected in it is reinforced and congregations never hear readings from many parts of the Bible. Especially the Old Testament and the Gospel of John. As a former teacher of preachers, I believe slavish and repeated use of the same Lectionary for many cycles can make a preacher lazy. I also have to admit that I've occasionally retreaded old sermons throughout my ministry, hoping no one can remember more than three years back! (And I've been caught more than once by very attentive parishioners!)

I've decided to change lectionaries. A new lectionary is becoming popular among Protestant preachers in North America. It's called the Narrative Lectionary. It was developed by Bible and preaching teachers at a Lutheran seminary in Minnesota. Many Presbyterian, Lutheran, and United Church preachers and congregations in Canada have begun to follow the Narrative Lectionary. They want to return to a more thorough reading of the Bible. Here's how the authors describe it:

The Narrative Lectionary is a four-year cycle of readings. On the Sundays from September through May each year the texts follow the sweep of the biblical story, from Creation through the early Christian church.

The texts show the breadth and variety of voices within Scripture. They invite people to hear the stories of Abraham and Sarah, Moses and the prophets, Jesus, and Paul. Listening to the many different voices within Scripture enriches preaching and the life of faith.

Four years, rather than three, means each of the Gospels gets its own year. Many more stories and themes from the Old Testament are covered than in the RCL. The Narrative Lectionary reflects the functional church year in North America, September through May. That doesn't mean the Christian calendar is ignored. We'll still celebrate Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost! In the summer the Narrative Lectionary encourages preaching on the Psalms, or on themes from familiar texts like the Lord's Prayer.

In each year there are periods with themes. Through this fall both Sunday messages and Church School classes will focus on the great theme of "Promise".

But, all that being said, the only difference you'll note on Sundays is that there may be just one reading, after the Psalm. Or there will be one longer reading and one shorter. There may be a clear thread running through several weeks of sermons. Or you may not even notice a difference! For the time being I'll continue to write about RCL readings for the Record.

This Sunday, September 11, we'll start to work with the Narrative Lectionary. We'll follow it most weeks. We're beginning the year of Luke's Gospel. Through the fall, though, Old Testament readings will be our main texts for Sundays.


After the Parade


After the Parade

What amounts to a medium-sized congregation of Canadian Presbyterians dared to show up at a major community event. We were welcome, and our message was welcome. In a world we often think doesn't care we're here anymore, we have a positive witness. We can tell the good news about God's love. More people than we might ever imagine wait to hear that from us.


Whose Opinion Is It?

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Whose Opinion Is It?

I began the reflection time for the June Session meeting with a story. I spoke of an experience from an earlier period in my ministry when I didn't just write a letter to the Editor of a regional newspaper in response to something another clergyman had written about marriage and family values. I signed the letter as minister of the congregations I served at the time. I was taken to task by one of the Sessions in the pastoral charge, and rightly so. I knew there was a lot of sympathy for the opinion I expressed. I got letters of support from the community and positive feedback from individuals in the pastoral charge. But I didn't write on behalf of those congregations or their Sessions.

I've been cautious since then.

Last Tuesday I asked the elders, "To what extent do you feel your minister represents you and Glenview in public? What are the limits, if any, on your minister's freedom of opinion on controversial issues?"

We had a good discussion. I got the sense most church folk grant their minister freedom to say what she or he thinks needs to be said. That's certainly true of preaching. The minister in our Presbyterian tradition has the freedom of the pulpit. In the pews there is freedom to agree or disagree. In public, however, most would say their minister should only claim to represent the congregation and Session when specifically authorized to do so. As an individual a minister should feel free to speak for her- or himself. The way media may spin a sound bite or an image is beyond anyone's control. There's always the risk a pastor will be identified with her or his flock without intending to do so. That doesn't mean ministers should stay out of the way and keep silent.

I also concluded that, at least for some, it depends on the issue. If there's some sympathy for the minister's position, if not explicit authorization to express it on the church's behalf, there's freedom. Even a tacit blessing. If, on the other hand, there's little support for what the minister espouses, she or he had better be careful.

There are always a few people who find it hard to accept that it's possible to trust someone with whom they differ on matters they're attached to emotionally. Ministers can offend these people without intending to, and may never find out what they've done to give offense.

Be careful. Take the temperature of the church. Read the congregation before speaking out, writing, marching. A minister's place isn't quite like walking on eggshells. More like walking on ice. Not always thin ice, but slippery nonetheless. Core strength is required.

I hope by now you know my position on the issues that are hot in the Presbyterian Church in Canada right now. In the pulpit, and in conversation I believe I've been clear about where I stand on the full inclusion of LGBTQ people in the church. As I speak and act I claim the liberty of the individual Christian's conscience that is a sacred principle of our Presbyterian tradition. That allows me to disagree with the PCC when I feel I must, in order to be faithful.

Again, it's my responsibility to say what I believe needs saying in the pulpit. It's your responsibility to think in response to what I preach, and decide for yourself if you agree or not. Outside the pulpit it's my responsibility to ensure I don't put words in your church's mouth. It's also my responsibility to follow my conscience and set an example of integrity. I hope anyone who disagrees with me can at least see that.

(This Blog is hosted on Glenview's website, but it bears my name. That's intentional. No endorsement by Session is implied. I used to have a Blog I called "Out of my mind". This Blog is offered as a little window into my mind.)

On Sunday afternoon I will join with more than 50 other Presbyterians and march together in the Pride Parade. I won't be there as a representative of Glenview. I will, however, represent many Presbyterians, including some at Glenview. The organizers have asked clergy to wear collars. That's something I rarely do, in worship, if I'm not in a gown. I haven't decided about the collar for the parade. For some it's a sign of solidarity. They tell me it's appreciated. For others the collar is a symbol of hierarchy and oppression. It's also just plain uncomfortable on a hot, summer afternoon.

I've been watching Pride Parades for years. I saw my first in New York City. Halifax's parade was much smaller. I don't like everything I see portrayed in every parade. I could say that about a lot of events I attend. The path some follow to freedom sometimes leads to excess. The important thing for me is to be there and demonstrate my conviction that God is love and God's people are called to love everyone. I also want to celebrate the gifts LGBTQ sisters and brothers-- lay and ordained, Presbyterian or not-- have been to me. I want to give thanks for the gifts I've received through them.

I haven't announced the Pride Parade or promoted Presbyterian Pride at Glenview. Perhaps I've been too careful. I've only recently been added to the email list and become part of the conversation. This is, in part, because some people feel they have to remain on the level of word-of-mouth, need-to-know in their congregations and Presbyteries. I'm angry that those on one side in the PCC advertise and trumpet their views, while others stay quiet for fear of further exclusion.

I'm pleased that Knox Church in Waterloo has taken leadership and put their name on the parade list. St. Andrew's Toronto will host us after the big event. If you would like to come downtown on Sunday afternoon and watch the parade, I encourage you to do so. The Presbyterians will be walking behind the Metropolitan Community Church and just ahead of the Anglicans. If you'd like to join in, let me know and I'll pass your name to the organizers.

If you go to the parade, watch for this sign.

If you go to the parade, watch for this sign.

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F.O.T.B. The Sequel


F.O.T.B. The Sequel


Of all my posts to this Blog my meditation on being Father of the Bride is the most-read. It has attracted more comments and "likes" (here, on Facebook, by email, and in person) than any other post. It struck an emotional chord.

So, here's another reflection on my FOTB experience. The picture captures a lot of it. Here's how the dance started. Two little girls met for the first time that day, both on the Bride's side, but not related by blood. After their mothers broke the ice for them, they became fast friends. I'm sure a lot of people thought they were related. Sophia was adopted from China. McKenna's paternal grandparents came from Viet Nam. When the music started, the girls took to the dance floor.

Their joy was infectious. It was hard to resist joining the circle, dancing to Andy Grammer's "Honey, I'm Good!" We were alive, fully in the moment, and it was good. And we were good.

In Bible stories and prophetic visions the greatest celebrations the ancients could imagine were weddings. We know hardly anything about marriage liturgies in biblical times. We know the receptions went on, for days and days. Eating together, drinking wine together, being together with one purpose and one heart was the greatest joy our ancestors in faith knew. It's not stretching things to say they sang and danced together, too. When Christians made the Lord's Supper into something more than a sacred moment at the end of the weekly pot luck, they began to compare it to the heavenly wedding banquet. What became Communion was for them an appetizer at an even greater celebration to come. What we used to think was the only Presbyterian Communion hymn, Horatius Bonar's "Here O my Lord", is all about that "sweet foretaste of the festal joy". We need to refresh ourselves in that theology, if not the vocabulary.

Last month I dared to say being FOTB gave me a window into the mystery and wonder of God's love for us. I'll dare now to say our life together as Christians, including our worship on Sundays, is supposed to help us discover the joy in God's heart. More than a look through a window. A big stride in through a door that's never closed. On Trinity Sunday I talked about the wedding dance to describe the energy that draws us close to God.

As an FOTB who's still running on the energy of the wedding reception round dance, I'm looking for more joy in my life. And in life at Glenview. I thrive on the joy that's in the congregation I'm privileged to serve. But we could survive even more joy and still be Presbyterian. I'm convinced being church together is supposed to be a lot more like a wedding reception than a wake.

Discipleship, mission, being church together... Serious business, indeed. But we can't take on the serious business faithfully if we try to do it without joy. If we're not able to celebrate being together we won't find the confidence we need to work together, especially when the going is tough and we must make difficult decisions. The energy we need to be the church together today is the energy of the dance. God's mission is urgent. We are privileged to participate in that mission. Bringing joy to the world-- even quiet, confident, Presbyterian joy-- is a big part of our part in God's mission.

Coming together for a wedding celebration gives us hope for the future. It also puts our past into perspective. Whenever families gather there's a lot of history in the room. But the relative importance of past hurts, grievances, and grudges becomes clear. If we're lucky, we'll discover we've already moved on from the past and we really can move forward together.

This summer I plan to do some things I know will make me happy. Joy means more than just being happy. The two don't always go together. I'll know joy when I find it, though, with the memory of that day in May still fresh. And the energy of the dance still alive.






After Orlando: Let us be gentle and let us be bold.

I'm not sure what to say this week, after the horrendous attack on LGBTQ+ people at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, FL early last Sunday. So much has already been said, by people from around the world. Most of what I've read has been helpful. I've been selective. Much that has been spread across the media and on the web has been hurtful and inflammatory. I'm angry that some influential people will turn this tragedy toward their agendas. I'm wrestling with the Gospel for Sunday, the story of Jesus in Gerasa, and his encounter with a man possessed by a legion of evil spirits. Jesus wasn't afraid. I must admit I'm finding it hard not to be afraid for neighbours and friends who are LGBTQ+. And Muslims. And not just in the United States. People who I hope are no more than opportunists and egotists have already suggested Toronto's Pride Parade as a target for a terrorist act.

Today I read these words, written by the Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada, Archbishop Fred Hiltz. I worked with Fred addressing interfaith concerns in Halifax when he was Bishop of Nova Scotia and PEI. "Let us be gentle and then let us be bold." Beautiful and powerful words.



Spiritual Foundation

Summer Reading: Grounded

If you grew up in a Presbyterian congregation and are old enough to remember the little beige book with the shiny pages, share a memory in the Comments section below this post. If you don't share the experience or the memory, that's OK. Read on! One of the first questions of the Primary Catechism was "Where is God?" The answer: "God is everywhere." As a little kid I found that both awesome and awful. It meant I was never alone. It also meant I could never hide! God could see everything I did, and hear every word I said! As an adult I have learned that God is still everywhere and I am never alone. God is far less concerned with my faults and errors than I am! And God is far more willing to forgive me than I am.

Somewhere along the way, though, most of us were taught to think of our relationship with God as vertical. We're down here. God is up there. If we want to know where God really is, we have too look up, beyond the earth we still believe God created. Some of us may even have been told we had to avoid or ignore as much of the world as possible, to keep ourselves as clean as we could, so we would have a chance to escape to go up there and be with God.

If we always and only imagine our connection with God as vertical it's easy to believe we're lost in this world. But what if we can come close to God down here, where we live and move and have our being? Can we imagine a horizontal relationship with the God who is, as some of us were taught, everywhere?

I have a short summer reading list. It's nice, for the first summer in many years, not to have text books on that list. One book I look forward to finishing is Grounded by Diana Butler Bass. I recommend it for summer reading. Bass weaves together her expert observations on current trends in religion and spirituality in North America, and a creation-based Christian theology that is both new and very old. For those of us who are more inclined to look around than up to locate God, or at least to look around first, this makes sense. But Bass has a way of provoking us to take a fresh look at what we already believe.

I invite you to join with me in reading Grounded. It will be great preparation for a conversation I'm looking forward to in September. On Wednesday, September 21, we'll begin a six-session discussion, based on Grounded, Come at Noon or 7:30 p.m., or / and participate in an online conversation.

Grounded is available for purchase in book stores or online, in print and as an e-book. It's a great summer read for the cottage, backyard, or balcony.



Light and Darkness

On Victoria Day I went to visit the Aga Khan Museum, the Ismaili Centre next door, and the park in the middle. It was a beautiful day. I got off the bus just before midday. The sun was high in the sky and the whole complex shone bright and hot. I was glad to step inside the cool museum, with its controlled, diffused light and air conditioning. I had heard both buildings were beautiful. The museum is anything but ornate inside. The architecture is deceptively simple. The galleries are small. The collections are what people come to see. They are housed and displayed in peaceful spaces that allow for prolonged attention. One visit isn’t enough.

A lot of westerners say “Islamic Art” is an oxymoron. After all, it seems we only hear about the Islamist extremists who are bent on burning beauty away from the earth. “Islamic Science” isn’t a phrase most in the west have ever heard. Long before Christians drove Muslims out of Europe and tried to do the same in Palestine Islamic artists, architects, astronomers, mathematicians, and physicians were at work. Their work was centuries ahead of the Europeans. A few wise and brave western scholars, like Copernicus sought out translations of Arabic texts and quietly worked with them to lay the foundations of what we call science. The permanent collection at the Aga Khan Museum reveals an earlier foundation few of us learned about in school. It also represents later developments in a part of the world people in our part of the world said was in the dark. After all, we in the west had an “Enlightenment” 400 years ago! Weren’t we lucky?

Visiting the Ismaili Centre provides a dramatic contrast to the important history lesson offered by the museum. The centre is all about today, and the way Ismaili Muslims bring faith and tradition, rich with ancient symbols, into the present. The building is a masterpiece itself, a celebration of design and decoration, the craft of artisans, Muslim and non-Muslim. Every detail has meaning, old and new. The contemporary take on the traditional dome over the prayer room is magnificent. The whole building is filled with light.

While there I remembered that I once heard a Muslim scholar respond to a western Christian’s question about history. When did Muslims experience the enlightenment? He replied, “We didn’t need one.” Not the elevation of reason to divine status and the reduction of religion to a harmless intellectual exercise that set the course of western civilization.

I’ve heard Christians and Hindus in India say the same thing.

If we go looking for darkness, we’ll surely find it. Yes, there are elements in every society that cast darkness, not light, and fight to draw others into deep shadows. Too often, though, we only see the darkness when we look toward people who are different from us. Too often, we forget how many people look on us in the same way.

If we’re confident in what we believe, and can honestly say we live what we believe with integrity, we will have no reason to cast people who aren’t like us into darkness. We’ll have no reason to be afraid of others. We’ll find the grace to join with others in the light, and work with them for the good of all. We all need enlightenment, real enlightenment. None of us will ever find it on our own.

I’m a better Christian when I see the light that others live in. Not the shadows my certainties cast over them.

As I left the Ismaili Centre and headed out onto the sidewalk I looked across Wynford Drive at another centre of religion. It was a pretty stark contrast. Shouldn’t it be all lit up, too, as a witness to the light we Presbyterians live in?

I’d love to meet Pope Francis some day. Maybe invite the Aga Khan to join in the conversation. I know a really beautiful place to meet in. The food’s great there, too.


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Does what we believe really matter?

Last Sunday, as I read the Preamble to the service for the ordination of elders I saw some puzzled looks in the congregation. We don't often hear the recitation of our doctrine of ministry, or even the names of our statements of Presbyterian belief. They are the Westminster Confession of Faith (1643), The Declaration of Faith Concerning Church and Nation (1954), and Living Faith (1998 - the Little Green Book). Presbyterians believe what we believe matters.

Churches in the Reformed tradition are called "Confessional" or "Confessing" churches. When I begin to explain that, most people think it means we have a Prayer of Confession in every service, and we may be a little too concerned about sin and forgiveness. We don't "go to Confession", do we? It means we believe we must always be ready to confess, or profess our faith. We believe there are times that call for us to make clear statements of how we interpret the Bible, and how we understand our purpose in the world. The mid-seventeenth century was such a time in our church history. From that time we have documents that came from an assembly at Westminster, in London. The English didn't adopt those documents, but the Scots did.

In 1954, the memory of World War II was still fresh and fear of the spread of Communist totalitarianism was a powerful force. Our Presbyterian Church in Canada adopted a statement about the relationship of the church to the state, and the Christian's duty as citizen.

In the mid-eighties Living Faith was written for use in worship and in study groups. The document became so popular in the PCC that it was elevated to the same status as the older confessions in 1998.

There are parts of the Westminster Confession that we just don't accept today. It'll curl your hair, if not your toes. It's an historic document, very much of its time. We're Presbyterians. We don't throw old things away. There is still much in that document to remind us, for one thing, that God is God and we are not. The Declaration is obviously a document of the 1950s, but still a serious work of theology. It deserves to be read. Parts of Living Faith are now dated. It reflects concerns about the world as it was in the 1980s. On the whole, it's a sound summary of orthodox Christian belief, without the heavy-handedness of the Westminster. The latter comes from an age when Christians were addicted to Certainty. Living Faith reflects a slightly more open approach to things.

These words are often missed when the Preamble is read out at a minister's induction, or when elders are ordained: ...and such doctrine as the church, in obedience to Scripture and under the promised guidance of the Holy Spirit, may yet confess in the church's continuing function of reformulating the faith.

"Continuing function of reformulating the faith..." We believe that's part of the church's work in this world. What we believe is important. It's important to know what we believe, and to be able to tell others what we believe. It's just as important to question what we say we believe and to be open to the possibility we may be wrong. The Puritans influenced the assembly at Westminster, yet it was also a Puritan who said, I am verily persuaded the Lord hath more truth yet to break forth out of His Holy Word.” John Robinson sent his friends to the Americas on the Mayflower with these words. He stayed behind to challenge the terrible certainties of his brethren. He wasn't charmed by the Presbyterians, either. He said we stopped thinking when John Calvin died! I like to think we've learned from Robinson and others, that there is more light than we can see, and more truth about God than we have yet discovered.

For each time and purpose it is important to be able to say what we believe and demonstrate our convictions in our lives. To be a Confessing church isn't just to say "This we believe, and here we stand". We can't stop there. The next words must be, "And this is what we do because we believe". It was a Confession of Faith that provided Reformed Christians in Europe a platform for their resistance to Hitler. When we act on our convictions we put them to the test. That testing often leads us to "reformulate" our beliefs. We won't see new light if we just sit still and take no risks.

Maybe the time has come for a new statement of faith for Presbyterians to celebrate, ponder over, question, and push against. It takes awhile to write one. The work that finally led to Living Faith began in the 1940s! Sometimes the journey is the biggest share in the reward. As the great Canadian Presbyterian theologian Walter Bryden put it, when the Westminster was only 300 years old, a Confession of Faith becomes dated the moment it's printed. (My paraphrase.)

What we believe matters, in the same way having footings beneath a foundation matters. We lay sound footings so we can build great things upon them. We can forget they're there at times, but we can never take them for granted.

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I'm grateful to everyone who has asked me about preparations for Maggie's wedding on Saturday. Before and after the ceremony I will be chauffeur and concierge for some family and friends. I know I'll spend the day before in my familiar role as Laurence the Camel: hauling, loading, unloading, hauling. I'm an expert at packing and unpacking our SUV. As FOTB I've dutifully paid for a share of wedding expenses. I expected and welcome all of this.

What I wasn't ready for was the emotional roller coaster ride that goes with being FOTB. As a pastor I've dealt with the emotions of many Mothers of the Bride. A MOTB can be a real handful in the days before and after a wedding, while a bride can be as cool as a cucumber. FOTBs are usually in the background, feeling things just as deeply as their wives, but mostly silent. At least until the toasts at the reception begin.

Today I saw a young father having a lunch date with his daughter, who looked to be between three and four. I saw Maggie and me and, to be honest, that's how I still see us a lot of the time. I figure that's how I'll see us on Saturday. She will always be my girl. I know not every father-daughter relationship is good and loving. I also know fathers and daughters can share a bond that may stretch but can never be broken. When she's three or four you are like a god to her. When she looks at you with love at any age, you feel like a god. When you have just one child, and that child is a daughter, it's especially hard to let her grow, and let her go to follow a path she has chosen. 

So, to everyone who has asked me how I'm doing, I have to say I'm happy, I'm sad, I'm proud, I'm afraid, and I'm already tired. I have two FOTB speeches prepared. One ends with me telling the groom he's the luckiest man in the world and we're delighted to welcome him into the family. The other speech is a warning. If he ever disappoints my girl, I'll hunt him down and... I'll probably go with the first speech. I think he already gets the second message.

Parenting offers us a unique opportunity to experience what it's like for God to love us unconditionally. If we think of the old image of the church as the Bride of Christ, then maybe we can imagine God riding the FOTB (or POTB) roller coaster of joy, sorrow, pride, frustration, rage when others hurt us, anger when we choose to hurt ourselves, forgiveness that flows like tears, beyond control. God knows the mixture of pain and satisfaction that come from letting us grow, and letting us go.

Like a FOTB God watches, mostly silent, but loving truly, madly, deeply. Seeing us only at our best. Taking us by the hand only when and for as long as necessary. But never stepping beyond our reach.

Maybe this post would be more appropriate in the week before Father's Day than now, with Mother's Day approaching. I didn't choose the wedding date.

I'll do my best to be a good FOTB. Play chauffeur, concierge, Laurence the Camel, and Rock of Gibraltar. For my little girl, who is in so many ways much smarter than I am, and in so many ways more mature than her mother and I were when we got married.



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