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Wednesday, 28 December 2016

And the Word became flesh…

John the Gospel Writer wrote the words in the title to this blog.  They are found in the first chapter and are part of a longer passage that gives the theological and philosophical meaning of Jesus’ birth.  Luke and Matthew provide the details of the story: angels, magi, shepherds, Bethlehem, Jesus’ birth, and Mary and Joseph.  John is more interested in the meaning of Jesus’ life and birth.

The Word, which we translate from the Greek word Logos, is associated with self-expression and revelation of the self.  The Word is thus God’s self-disclosure (according to Richard Rohrbaugh and Bruce Malina in Social Science Commentary on the Gospel of John).  God speaks and there is light in Genesis; God’s Word is uttered and there is a new revelation of God’s being in John.

So, this brings me to think about words.  Remember the rhyme our teachers taught us in elementary school (at least if you are the same vintage as I): “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.”  I confess that I never believed this when I was a kid; and today’s research into bullying and other forms of intimidation categorically disprove this aphorism.  Words matter!

Words are important and when used in a negative or bullying way are hurtful.  As we learn in history over and over, and as we learn in our own lives after language faux pas, we need to choose our words carefully.  There are lots of examples where words are hurtful or wounding, but I want to cite three that have recently bothered me.
1.    Bal Brach, a CBC journalist, wrote an article called “Canada limits the number of privately sponsored Syrian refugee applicants in 2017.”  A spokesperson for the Ministry of Immigration, Refugee and Citizenship Canada—Sonia Lesage—was quoted as saying, when addressing the backlog of cases in the refugee system, “Annual caps help reduce processing times and prevent an inventory backlog to build up.”  I was appalled that this Canadian government official would refer to human beings as “inventory.” (http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/canada-limits-the-number-of-privately-sponsored-syrian-refugee-applicants-in-2017-1.3911172.)
2.    A phrase that we hear all of the time, even in the church, to which I object is the reference to an issue as a “file.”  Even referring to something as an “issue” is bad enough.  When we refer to a situation involving the earth or human beings or something specific, we objectify it by referring to it as a “file.”
3.    The recent discussion about fake news has been enlightening.  Fake news, employed most recently by Trump supporters, is now a political tactic. Words are used to twist or deny the veracity of something.  The words of fake news items are used to create a false reality.

Words are important because we disclose something of ourselves when we use them.  How we use words, don’t use them, or misuse them matters!

As we enter the year 2017, I want to commit to using words wisely and lovingly.  I want to convey my understanding of God’s intention for the world.  I hope that in my use of language I can convey something of the Word made flesh and God’s intention for distributive justice and love.


Happy New Year!

Thursday, 22 December 2016

The Blessing of Christmas be Yours…



I’ve finished my Christmas worship preparations: 2 Christmas Eve services and Christmas Day all ready to go.  I have some cookies to bake and some other gifts to finalize, but things are looking good for the start of the 12 days.

To all who might take a moment to read these blogs, I extend my joy and blessing to you all, and to the whole world.  May we all know peace and love this Christmas and in in the new year.

I’ve been listening to some of my Christmas songs on my iPod; my daughter gave me a copy of Michael Bublé singing “My Grown-Up Christmas List” by David Foster and Linda Thompson-Jenner.  While it is a little schlocky for my tastes, it does capture the essence of hope and love in the world.  It’s been covered by many pop singers over the years.  The refrain of this song is this:
No more lives torn apart
That wars would never start
And time would heal all hearts
And everyone would have a friend
And right would always win
And love would never end
This is my grown-up Christmas list.

These words do reflect my hope for Christmas and beyond, especially as 2016 comes to a close; it has been a challenging year for many for a whole host of reasons, politically and personally!

My understanding of Christmas has always been informed by the idea that the Christ Child was first shown to shepherds who featured very low in the 1st century social stratification.  In humility, the Christ was born among us and within us.  William Kurelek, a Canadian artist and writer from the prairies, created a book entitled A Northern Nativity.  The essence of this book is the line, “If it happened then, why not now?  If it happened there (i.e. Bethlehem), why not here?”  There are depictions of tough Canadian situations in which the birth of the Christ child occurs.  The Christ child is always found in challenging situations inviting justice and love.

May the Christ break into our world anew this year with the new life of justice, love and hope.  Justice, love and hope are desperately needed in Aleppo, and in the downtown Eastside of Vancouver; they are in need wherever life is lived.  May 2017 truly be a year in which we figure out how to live in harmony with creation and with each other!

Blessings to you all!

Monday, 19 December 2016

Peace-making through compassion: A tribute to Bud Godderis.

If ever there was someone who embodied peace-making through compassion, it was Bud Godderis; Bud lived in Castlegar with Ann.  Bud died this past week.  Bud was a gentle soul who had the fire of compassion and love deep in his heart.  He stood tall in the face of injustice and oppression, but he did so with dignity, with grace, with gentle humour and never with violence.  Bud will be missed and my prayers go out to Ann and their family.

Bud was someone who helped me redefine what it is to be an activist. We never spoke about activism particularly, but his actions confirmed for me what I’d already been concluding… when we show up or stand up or speak up in any fashion against injustice and oppression, we are activists.

As remarkable as it seems, the peace and justice movement can sometimes become elitist where only those who engage in civil disobedience are seen as true activists.  Those who engage in other forms of protest, as in writing letters or blogs, organizing protests, or providing food or other supports, are not seen as true activists.

Bud quietly affirmed anyone and everyone as an activist who was engaged in speaking truth to power.  He helped to confirm for me what I’d long believed, namely that we all use the gifts and skills we have to speak out against injustice and tyranny—and that makes us activists.

Among the many things Bud gifted the world, I want to name two other things particularly: he had a gentle and amazing way of creating alliances and relationships, bringing people from disparate backgrounds together; and he unstintingly spoke about being a follower of Jesus the peacemaker.  The first time I heard Bud speak, he spoke from his perspective of being a follower of Jesus; he didn’t speak of being a follower of Jesus in a “Bible-thumping” exclusivist kind of way, but as one who followed the same path of justice-making and standing against tyranny and oppression.


Bud’s legacy will live on in those of us who continue to counter injustice with love and oppression with compassion.  He is now part of the communion of saints, our ancestors, who help us walk the path of peace with courage and integrity.  He has helped us affirm that people-to-people peace-making, creating relationships and affirming each other as human beings is the only way we will create lasting peace and communities of hope and love.

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

An unexpected moment

Yesterday (i.e. Tuesday, December 13th), in the midst of a regular schedule of monthly events, one of those special moments occurred.

Every 2nd Tuesday of the month, Nelson United is responsible for worship at the 2 complex care senior’s homes.  A group of us from NUC attend and spend time with residents; we bring communion and lead in worship.

At yesterday’s worship service at Jubilee, there was a “special moment.”  It wasn’t anything dramatic or particularly breathtaking, and it may have only been my awareness.  But there was a moment of convergence, a moment of Spirit, a moment of perception.

It was a simple Advent candle-lighting worship, one that I’ve done for a few years.  We light all 4 Advent candles—hope, peace, joy and love—and I have some readings that go with each of those themes.  We finish with communion and a blessing.  When I lit the last candle, the candle of love, I had this sense of hushed presence and profound love.  It was beautiful and it seemed to be a shared moment.

I tried to recapture this same moment at the later afternoon worship, but it didn’t happen—at least for me in the same way.  There is no rhyme nor reason to these “moments.”  It’s not individual-dependent; it’s not something that can be fabricated.  I guess the Apostle John had it right when he wrote, “The wind—the Spirit—blows where it wills.”

As I’ve thought about that moment yesterday—and it shouldn’t be overanalyzed—I realize that it was the perfect story for Advent.  Into the midst of preoccupied people—staff concerned for residents, folk thinking about the next event in busy schedules, residents concerned about health matters or who might be visiting later in the day—came this moment of light and hope.  For a moment, the hope, peace, joy and love that were the themes of the candles we lit became real in a new way.

That unexpected blessing is the nature of what this Advent-leading-into-Christmas season is about.  Lighting candles helps; telling the ancient story helps, too.  And isn’t that what we humans have been doing for thousands of years to help us make sense of our lives and live as part of a gathered community?  Telling stories and lighting candles or a sacred fire.


The Christ is coming anew.  And has come.  And will come again.  Into our midst, into the very existence of our lives, and all life, comes the new light of hope, peace, joy and love.  And it often comes at an unexpected moment!

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Margins: Do We Have Them Anymore?

You may be wondering what I’m on about.  A book was recommended to a number of us at a well being conference last April.  The book is by Dr. Richard Swensen and it’s called Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives.  Swensen is a physician who is commenting from his practice and faith experience.

The title says what the book is about.  Essentially, the thesis is that for healthy living there should be a sizable margin between what we are doing and what our capacity is.  Swensen’s experience is that in some cases there is no margin at all between what some are attempting to do in their lives and what their capacity is.

I might fall into this category of not having much margin left.  I’ve had some back issues this fall and some other minor things to deal with.  As many know, I struggle with depression.  And it has been a delight to read Swensen’s book; I’m almost finished it.

One of the practical things I’ve learned, which is applicable to all of us especially during this Advent-leading-into-Christmas season, is that it is a good thing to build margins into our day.  Whether we are working or volunteering or doing errands or puttering around the house, it is good to have a margin between one activity and the next.  For example, I regularly go from one meeting to another with no time for letting go of my thoughts with respect to the last meeting and getting my thoughts in order for the next meeting.

Swensen is all about the small and bigger picture.  If we can learn to rebuild margins into our lives in small, practical ways, it has healthy consequences for the bigger picture and a healthier life.  One of the things that I’ve addressed in my life over the years is that I learned the good old “Protestant Work Ethic.”  I learned that being overworked is better than underworked and giving oneself to others to the level of exhaustion is a good thing.  Well, let me say categorically, THIS IS NOT TRUE.  Having healthy margins means that we treat ourselves with respect.

This is a good time of the year to start treating ourselves with respect if we are not already doing so!  This is the time of the year when we focus on God-with-us, an incarnational God.  God is in us, with us, and around us in ways that are about life, joy, hope and love.  Having healthy margins is a faithful response to God’s gift of life.


Thinking about margins in the big picture also leads us to many conclusions about the climate, about politics, about justice and about healing.  But at this moment, I want to simply affirm that Advent has helped me recover a sense of margin so that I’m not always overtaxed working at full capacity.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Prime Minister Trudeau’s Approval of Pipelines Disappointing

In the wake of world faith leaders’ call for an addendum to the Paris Agreement to help nations meet their climate reduction goals, Prime Minister Trudeau earlier this week approved two controversial pipelines.

World faith leaders presented an addendum to the Climate Conference COP22 in Marrakech last month.  They wanted to help nations meet their Carbon pollution reduction targets and have nations mitigate greed, ignorance and hatred of the other.  The leaders indicated that a major shift in consciousness needs to occur if humans are going to learn to live within the capacity of the earth.  (You can see the Canadian statement at www.cccb.ca/site/images/stories/pdf/COP22_Marrakech_-_November_2016_-_EN.pdf.)

But Prime Minister Trudeau decided to approve two pipelines and has perpetuated the myth that jobs and economic prosperity can only come from a carbon-based economy.  Tom Rand and economists at the Centre for Policy Alternatives have suggested for years that a clean, green economy, which include good jobs and economic prosperity, are not mutually exclusive.  These and other economists have raised questions about whether we are still a resource-based economy, which is part of the myth.

Some of us were quietly optimistic after last year’s Paris Agreement and Canada’s modest targets.  And we’ve remained quietly optimistic after announcements about the elimination of coal-fired power and hydrofluorocarbons as well as a commitment to a national price on carbon and a national clean fuel standard.  But now, all of that goodwill is out the window and it seems that the Liberal government wants to perpetuate the myth that green energy is not good for the economy or job creation.

From the Canadian faith leaders’ letter:
Hopeful for a better world in spite of the greed and pride which often beset our human efforts, we are determined not to be disengaged from the care for our natural environment but to continue to underscore the troubling connections between the degradation of our physical environment, the plight of the poor and marginalized, economic systems which exclude, and the unconscionable assaults on the dignity of the human person which are evident in so many ways.

Former Canadian leaders like Lloyd Axworthy, Joe Clark, Ed Broadbent, and Pierre Trudeau have spoken and written about Canada being a power that can influence other nations through persuasion and be a middle power of peace seeking and justice.  I don’t believe that our current Prime Minister is living up to this possibility.


I believe that religious leaders have a spiritual responsibility to contribute to a more just, a safer, and a healthier world for us all.  We can end our dependence of fossil fuels, build a world community where there are enough jobs, and live in a world of fairness and equity.

(In a later post, I'll suggest some possibilities of how to get off fossil fuels and enter the brave, new world of clean energy... with the caveat that I'm not an engineer.)

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Giving Tuesday.

It's Advent again, the beginning of the new church year.  The day that I write this--the 29th of November--has come to be known as "Giving Tuesday."  Which means that "Black Friday" and "Cyber Monday" are over.

Giving Tuesday is a positive counterpoint to Black Friday and Cyber Monday.  Black Friday and Cyber Monday coincide with American Thanksgiving and are all about purchasing and consuming.  To be sure, many good deals can be found on these days , but life is so much more than what we can purchase.

Giving Tuesday arose as a reminder that we can give back to our communities and to our world either through giving a donation to a charity or volunteering our time.  In some of the email reminders I received about Giving Tuesday, it was stated that Giving Tuesday is the beginning of the season of giving.

That's the reminder that I want to share as Advent begins, that this is the season of giving leading into Christmas, the season of celebrating anew the birth of love.  One of the recent challenges for churches who observe the church year is that Advent becomes lost in the Christmas celebration, which seems to start at the end of November.  In Canada, advertisements for Christmas begin after Remembrance Day.  It's hard to let Advent stand on its own and let Christmas be Christmas.

The church season of Advent is a time of waiting; we count down the 4 weeks leading up to Christmas.  It can begin as early as the end of November and as late as early December.  The focus is on hearing the promises of love and blessing and being reminded that God is the Creator of a world where justice is equally distributed and all deserve the right to live and grow in love and compassion.  As a church community, we try to save the actual stories of Jesus' birth for Christmas Day and the season of Christmas--the Great 12 days.

For progressive Christians like Nelson United Church, Christmas is about hearing the ancient stories as metaphor for the understanding that God is with us, which is the literal meaning of the word Emmanuel, a name that is used often during Advent and Christmas; think of the Advent carol, O Come, O Come Emmanuel.  At Christmas, we are reminded of the birth anew of love, compassion, community, solidarity, and peace... just to name a few values that we celebrate.

Wordsmiths who know Hebrew remind us that the word compassion comes from a word in Hebrew that is related to womb.  Thus, compassion is about taking into the deepest parts of ourselves and then delivering into the world anew that for which we have compassion.  It is a birthing image in which all people can participate; that's partly what Christmas is about.

Advent then is about preparing for this birth of love and compassion.  Just as we prepare for the birth of a child, there is waiting and things we can do.  So, in this season of Advent, we focus on waiting and wondrous anticipation.  We focus on opening our hearts to be compassionate.  We focus on the real meaning of this season and the need for peace with justice in our world.  This is a time in which spiritual practices like meditation, lighting Advent candles, prayer, having coffee with friends, spending time together in meaningful ways can help open us to this time of wonder and compassion.

Happy Advent... and a blessed Giving Tuesday.

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Progressive Christianity a Growing Trend.



I have been asked on a number of occasions why I speak so much about justice and peace.  “Aren’t you being political, and besides, the Church has no business in politics?”  This is a question that I get, sometimes with the implication that I should just stick to spiritual matters.

My sense of spirituality, especially as a follower of Jesus, compels me to speak to issues relating to power, oppression, injustice and exclusion.  The Jesus that I follow was a non-violent resister of that which would oppress; in Jesus’ time and place, that meant resistance to the empire of Rome.  For Jesus, and for progressive followers, we cannot separate out our politics from our spirituality.  It is all entwined and requires a commitment in seeking the common welfare of our planet.

Many who have been outspoken about the injustices of the world have highlighted that as we do to the planet and to others, we do to ourselves.  We are all linked and as we seek the common welfare of all so the welfare of the planet is also sought.  For me, this is spirituality, and this is progressive Christianity.

The Church is entering the season of Advent, a time of waiting; we wait for the blessing of Christmas, yes, but more importantly, we look forward to the blessing of peace with justice, the wellbeing of all people, creatures, and our island home.  As I come to this season of Advent, I am compelled to renew my commitment to the birth of justice and transformation, which are wrapped up in the Christmas story.  I am compelled to resist the commercialization of this season, and to stand in solidarity with those who seek justice for the climate.

In this season of Advent leading into Christmas, there is a renewed focus on Bethlehem as we hear that ancient story.  Our common quest for justice leads us back to Bethlehem and the call for justice for the Palestinian people and renewed hope for the birth of distributive justice in the world.

This article will be published in the November 25th edition of The Nelson Star.