Friday, December 30, 2005

Here's a reason... eat crappy pizza.

Life Together

It’s been a tough week for our congregation. We lost two long time and much loved members on the same day – Christmas Eve. So, Christmas worship took on a less celebratory, more solemn, sombre tone.

Vesta was the matriarch of our congregation. People joked that she taught me how to hug. 94 years old and could still beat all comers at cards. I told someone recently, only half-joking, that I thought it was her prayers that were keeping our church ship afloat. She had such a tremendous gift of faith. She talked about her faith as effortlessly as if she was talking about a cookie recipe. But she wasn’t given to trite Christian sloganeering. She had seen too much and suffered too greatly in her 94 years to allow such nonsense.

Anne was a kind, gentle, soul, who died very suddenly in the hospital.She had been admitted because her headaches making her crazy. She had a heart attack just after breakfast on the 24th. I always enjoyed my visits with her. I gave her holy communion two days before she died. She was a gracious hostess, even in her hospital bed, even when she could barely life her head to speak. We prayed. She always had a kind word for me. After I left her room, I wondered who was being blessed; her or me.

Vesta’s funeral was on Wednesday. Anne’s was yesterday. Both of them took more from me than I expected. Wednesday was particularly tough. When I sat back behind my desk I felt like I had been slapped by a big fat fish. But I still had another funeral to prepare. And little energy left from which to draw.

Then the phone rang. It was the daughter of the man to whom I gave “last rites” (or “Commendation of the Dying” in Lutheran parlance) on Christmas Eve following our late service. He was in the final stages of cancer. The family was gathered and asked for a Lutheran pastor. So the nurse started cold calling Lutheran churches. Our’s was the last church on the list and the first to answer the phone. I prayed with the man and the family. Then went home and collapsed.

On Wednesday afternoon I had to prepare for yet another funeral.

These funerals remind me why I love the church. We are a family. We care for each other. Some folks came back early from their holidays to say say good-bye. Everyone pitched in on short notice. It all seemed so effortless and natural.

The sanctuary was packed for both church funerals. Folks needed to grieve and hear Jesus’ promises of resurrection again. People leaned on each other. They wept openly. They smiled in gratitude for having known these two remarkable women. They wanted to sing songs of praise and lamentation, knowing that death brings both grief and promise.

I went back to my office yesterday after the reception and pulled from my shelf Dietrich Bonfoeffer’s masterpiece Life Together and sipped on this passage:

“It is easily forgotten that the fellowship of Christian brethren [and sisteren] is a gift of grace, a gift of the Kingdom of God that any day may be taken away from us, that the time that still separates us from utter loneliness may be brief indeed. Therefore, let him who until now has had the privilege of living a common Christian life with other Christians praise God’s grace from the bottom of his heart. Let him thank God on his knees and declare: It is grace, nothing but grace, that we are allowed to live in community with Christian brethren [and sisteren].”

So, tomorrow I have funeral number 3. An opportunity for God’s grace to shine in the midst of grief. Grace in Jesus’ promises of the resurrection to eternal life. And grace in our life together.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Friday, December 23, 2005

Have the Churches Abandoned Peace on Earth?

[This is the text of my opening remarks from yesterday’s forum which I talked about here]

On November 26, Christian Peacemaker Team members Norman Kember, Harmeet Sooden, Jim Loney, and Tom Fox were taken hostage by a group calling themselves “The Swords of Righteousness Brigade.”

On November 29, right-wing radio show host Rush Limbaugh, commenting on the hostage taking said, I quote: "part of me likes this…here's why I like it. I like any time a bunch of leftist feel-good hand-wringers are shown reality…any time a bunch of people walk around with the head in the sand practicing a bunch of irresponsible, idiotic theory confront reality, I'm kind of happy about it, because I'm eager for people to see reality, change their minds, if necessary, and have things sized up." (

I’m guessing the “irresponsible, idiotic theory” that Limbaugh was referring to comes from the favourite philosopher of a certain US president, a little known wandering sage called Jesus of Nazareth, who said:

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

“You have heard that it was said, "You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy." But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.”

I could go on and on but you get the idea.

Given the full-throated support folks like Limbaugh have given the Iraq war, not to mention their defense of the US as a so-called “Christian” nation, together with some of their high profile Canadian clones, the question of “have Christians abandoned peace on earth?” is, on many fronts, a very appropriate one.

However, not since apartheid in South Africa has there been such an overwhelming worldwide consensus among religious leaders regarding an important issue until the war in Iraq. From the pope to the Archbishop of Canterbury to the eastern patriarchs to African Pentecostal preachers, the message to George Bush and Tony Blair was clear; the invasion of Iraq did not meet the criteria of the Just War.

At the local level, the message remained the same.

In the run-up to the Iraq invasion, my congregation in Halifax, Lutheran Church of the Resurrection, held prayer services each Saturday at noon. We kicked them off with an ecumenical gathering which included leaders from a variety of denominations and faith communities. We raised a united voice in prayer, pleading for peace, unified in opposition, and in a greater vision for the world than one provided for us by many world leaders.

From there we joined thousands of others opposed to the impending war, and marched through downtown Halifax in the cold January wind. Two Anglican bishops joined the march. As did most of the pastors in the city.

My congregation was well represented. But one member stands out in my mind. Aino Brzak was 90 years old, a refugee from post-WWII Europe. She had seen war up close and very personal, having lost many family members to the war. Although she harboured a special hatred for tyranny – a Saddam certainly fits that category –she hated the human cost of war even more. She marched because she knew that Jesus’ message of self-giving love for neighbour and even for enemy was more powerful than any weapon of mass destruction.

She’s not alone. I find it interesting that the those in my congregation who were most opposed to the war were war veterans and European immigrants. People who still bore the scars of war.

It’s easy to sit back and criticize churches for not doing enough. I, too, often play that game. But I’m a parish pastor because I believe passionately in the power of ordinary Christians doing God’s work underneath the radar screen. While Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, and Rush Limbaugh maybe the loudest voices in Christendom, we need to remember that they don’t speak for Christianity. Theirs is a partisan political agenda that confuses the gospel of Jesus Christ with gospel of worldly power.

But to ask whether churches have withdrawn from contemporary social and systemic issues by focusing on more individual matters is, in my opinion, a false choice. When way say that we need to, “confront sinful structures that keep people in poverty” we need ask ourselves what that really means. When we confront government, by whose authority do we speak? And if so, why should government listen? Do we then become a left-wing version of the religious right by demanding government adopt our agenda? What is the relationship between church and state?

The underlying question is: how is society and the world transformed? I have helped organize grassroots anti-poverty organizations and rallies. I have helped organized days of Action to protest draconian cuts in our social safety net. I have spent many hours in the cold rain and snow with a placard in my hand. I have written countless letters to and visited with government and private enterprises, advocating a more just treatment of our world’s poorest citizens.

But over the years I have become less enamored with “changing social structures” than I have with changing peoples’ hearts. Like poverty, social structures are not abstract, impersonal notions, but are the product of people. So I wonder if, to change structures, we need to change people. But I also wonder if we let ourselves too easily off the hook by saying we need to confront sinful social structures than to engage living, breathing human beings.

And that’s where churches come in. That’s where churches excel. Most Christians are deeply concerned with poverty, racism, the environment, war. And we do believe that we are called to witness to a different reality than the realty presented to us.

Hard work is being done by individual Christians, walking together down the hard road of faith. When I flip through my congregational directory, I see a diverse group of men, women, and children; people from both ends of the political spectrum, people who despite many, almost irreconcilable differences, have followed the Spirit’s leading and live together in the bond Christian love..

I’m thinking of two church members, one a liberal and one a conservative. They sit down for coffee to talk about the most divisive issue facing the church: the blessing of same-sex unions. They share openly and honestly. They argue. They pray. Then they shake hands and agree that no matter the outcome, whatever the church decides on this issue, they will still be brothers in Christ, because baptism trumps politics.

Or I’m thinking of the crotchety old-man who’d been a thorn in the flesh of one congregation over fifty years. Particularly of one man who’d been a pillar of the church for almost as long. These two men sat on opposite sides of the table, one yelling at the other, who quietly asserts his view. They agree on nothing for over five decades. But when the old-guy starts to fail and can’t get out, even to get groceries, this guy he’s been tormenting for 50 years, makes these trips for him twice a week. “No big deal,” he says, “The guy’s gotta eat.”

Or I’m thinking of the teenage mom who stumbles unexpectedly into the church one day, holding her new born baby. She hasn’t been to church since she was a little girl. She has little money. Few clothes for the baby. Some women of the church conspire and throw this young mom a baby shower. Nothing big or extravagant. Just enough to get her started. The women do this because she is loved, no matter where she came from.

I could go on and on, but you get the idea. That’s what the churches are doing. Is this social justice. Maybe. But not really. Is it life-giving? Definitely.

Have the churches abandoned peace on earth? Not by a long shot. Could we be doing more? Absolutely.

Peace on earth is not a political agenda, but a deeply human one. I think the fact that churches are trying to figure out what peace on earth looks like is a sign that God hasn’t given up on us yet. That’s why Christians celebrate Jesus’ birth, the poor child born in a barn, who brought life and salvation to a hurting and broken world.

But the Christian task is not done yet. Together we struggle to live Jesus’ message of the kingdom of peace, justice, and life. Some times we get it right, other times we mess up completely. That’s because, at the beginning and end of the day, we are only human.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

The Battlefield of Beliefs

This afternoon I participated in a forum to discuss the question: “Has the Church Abandoned Peace on Earth?”

I found the question offensive. So I said I’d be glad to participate. It was me, a Mennonite Peace Activist, and philosophy professor from the University of Lethbridge. The Mennonite woman was excellent. Smart. Passionate. Engaging.

The philosophy professor was…shall we say, less so. His whole shtick was what he called “Ideological Marketing,” of which the church was guilty. The first words out of his mouth were “Religion has done more harm than good in the world.” His arrogant dismissal of religion in general and Christianity in particular made me want to tear out what’s left of my hair. It was the same stuff that I’ve heard a hundred times, “You think that Christianity is the only truth. But MY philosophy of secular, modernist dogma is the only truth.” “All Christians are theocrats.” Etc.

I found myself getting defensive. Giving full-throated defense of the hard work that Christians are doing in the areas of peace, human rights, development, etc.

I’m a BIG believer in the marketplace of ideas. Now I know the rigour of such a marketplace. The give and take of two fervently held positions. The clash of competing world views. The battlefield of beliefs.

I had a GREAT time.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Children's Message: Advent 4 - Year B

After waiting in the cafeteria line at lunch Hannah found a seat across from Lydia, the girl who lived down the street from her.

Lydia fumbled through her backpack then pulled out a chocolate bar.

“A girl after my own heart,” said Hannah, “eating dessert first.”

“This isn’t my dessert,” replied Lydia, “This is my lunch.”

“What do you mean it’s your lunch? Where’s your sandwich?”

Lydia looked away and took another bite of her chocolate bar.

Hannah opened her brown bag lunch. There was a ham sandwich, a juice-box, a banana, and a granola bar. She looked in her bag then looked at Lydia.

“Here, have this,” said Hannah, handing Lydia her sandwich, juice-box, and granola bar. She kept the banana.

Lydia didn’t say anything.

“Don’t you want them?” Hannah asked.

Lydia still didn’t say anything.

“Well, here they are if you want them,” said Hannah getting up from the table and leaving the sandwich, juice-box, and granola bar on the table.

A minute later, Hannah stuck her head back in the cafeteria door and watched as Lydia took huge bites out the sandwich Hannah left on the table.

That night when she came home from school, Hannah opened the fridge and pulled out some leftover ham, lettuce and tomatoes, mustard, mayo, and bread. And started making herself a triple-decker super-duper, skyscraper sandwich.

As she was assembling the second layer, her mom came into the kitchen.

“Wow! That’s a big sandwich for a growing girl,” said her mom.

“I’m hungry,” replied Hannah.

“Apparently,” replied her mom. “I guess we have to pack you more food for lunch.”

“I gave my lunch to Lydia.”

“Who’s Lydia? And why’d you give away your lunch?” asked her mom.

“Lydia’s a girl in my class. She only had a chocolate bar for lunch so I gave her mine.”

“Boy, that’s generous,” said her mom. “That’s sounds a lot like the story of Mary, Jesus’ mother.”

“How?” asked Hannah.

“God gave her a wonderful gift. The angel Gabriel told her that she would be Jesus’ mother.”

“But what did Mary do to get that kind of a gift?” asked Hannah

“Mary didn’t do anything to deserve it,” replied her mom. “All she did was open her arms to receive the gift of the Christ child. But what I think is even more amazing is that we all can be like Mary. We all carry Christ’s Spirit within us, and when we show love like Jesus did, and you did with that girl at school, Jesus is born again in the world.”

“H’uh?” asked Hannah.

“It’s just another way of saying that we all can share God’s love with everyone who needs it. Where love is, so is Jesus.”

Then they said a prayer like this as we do now: Dear God, please love the world through us. Amen.

National Bishop's Christmas Message

ELCIC National Bishop Ray Schultz's Christmas Message from Bethlehem (you need Realplayer to watch this)

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Sermon: Advent 4 - Year B

She lumbered out of bed to wash her face and splashed water on her forehead, already hot from the early morning sun. She waddled over to the bed and eased herself back down. Soon she was supposed to go on a journey, yet she was as big as a house.

Staring at the ceiling, Mary concentrated on her breathing. The baby inside kicked. With sweat trickling into her ears, she wondered how long ‘til she’d have to get up – and get moving. She lay there, studying the cracks in the ceiling.

She was pregnant without a father. An angel had told her that...(the rest here)

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Writer's Block

I have three sermons, three children’s sermons, and one presentation to write in the next week and a half. I have no choice. This needs to be done. But each time I sidle up to my computer – nothing.

Last night I did a little reading on writer’s block. This guy suggested I’m afraid of something, probably my topic. Hmmm. The high holy days usually put the fear of God into me. Kind of like the Super Bowl of church. Expectations are high and I feel extra pressure to deliver.

But that’s not it. I’m not THAT afraid. Pressure doesn’t paralyze me. At least not usually.

Maybe it’s because these bible passages are simply too familiar. What can I say that hasn’t already been said? How do I know I’m not just wasting peoples’ valuable time? How can I breathe new life into these dry bones?

Could it be that I’ve lost the wonder and delight of Jesus’ birth story? Could it be that the in-breaking of the kingdom of God – the Word made flesh - has become so ho-hum that the thought of preaching AGAIN fills me with more boredom than dread? Could it be that the story of life, joy, and salvation in the baby Jesus has become, for me, so commonplace that it fails to move me?

Apparently so.

Maybe I need to get out of the office. The stacks of books lining my four walls are standing over me in judgment, an unyielding reminder that I can’t put two decent words together. Well, at least not any two words that I get paid to say.

Perhaps I need to go out and find where this story is hiding. Maybe that single mom down the street, the one who works two part time jobs just to pay the rent but can’t afford toys for her kids, she might know where he is. Her guess is as good as anyone’s. From there I should head to the library. Folks there chat all day about stuff they’ve seen. And they’ve seen a lot. Then maybe I’ll make my way to the hospital. Maybe Jesus is wandering the halls with a bag of candy for the kids and handfuls of healing and comfort for everyone.

Then maybe I should head home and listen to my daughter and hear what she has to say about the wonderfully bizarre story that - somehow - tells us who God is.

I need to go learn once again where Jesus is being born. Then maybe, just maybe, I’ll can be the herald of good tidings, the bearer of good news, the messenger of salvation.

Because I can’t tell anyone anything that I haven’t already seen.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Pope: Materialism is polluting Christmas

For once, Pope Ben and I agree. But the question remains, how do we escape the trap of a consumer Christmas?

Canadian Blog Awards: Results

The results are up. Unfortunately, this humble blog didn't make it to the podium. But a big thank you to Princess Monkey who nominated me for Best Religious Blog. It's been a great honour. And thank you everyone who took the time to vote for me.

The winners for Best Religious Blog are:

1. Aaron's Head
2. Relapsed Catholic
3. The Green Knight.

Congratulations! Three excellent blogs. Be sure to check them out.

And thank you to Robert McLelland of MyBlahg for hosting the awards.

Quote of the Day

"Politics turns into virtue what religions often see as a vice — the fact that we do not all think alike, that we have conflicting interests, that we see the world through different eyes. Politics knows what religion sometimes forgets, that the imposition of truth by force and the suppression of dissent by power is the end of freedom and a denial of human dignity. When religion enters the political arena, we should repeat daily Bunyan’s famous words: 'Then I saw that there was a way to Hell, even from the gates of Heaven.'" - Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks.

via Andrew Sullivan

Saturday, December 10, 2005

CTV Election Blog

Check it out.

Festival of Thomas Merton?

Without a doubt, one of the books that made the greatest impact on my faith is The Sign of Jonas by Thomas Merton. Usually I devour books. But this one I read slowly and devotionally.

It’s an Advent book. Meaning it’s Merton’s testimony of his waiting, waiting to publish his book, to make his final vows, to become a priest. It’s about making your life your liturgy, seeing God, not only in the ancient prayers of the church, but also in silence and solitude. For Merton, God wasn’t powerfully present. But God’s presence was most markedly noted by God’s absence. A man after my own heart.

He begins his book on December 10, 1946, exactly five years after entering the Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemane outside of Louisville, Kentucky. Ironically (or some might say providentially) Merton would die on December 10, 1968, exactly 27 years after entering Gethsemane.

For me, Merton’s most powerful legacy is the creative ways he engages the Christian tradition. For him, Christianity is not a staid, fixed, dogmatic religion. But a dynamic, living, breathing tradition. A conversation and an argument with all those saints and sinners who followed the way of the poor man from Nazareth throughout the centuries.

Today, when the loudest Christian voices are also the shrillest, I return to Merton for a gentle witness of the gospel’s life-changing, life-affirming power. Or when popular Christianity diminishes the gospel by turning it into a self-help program, Merton reminds us that follow Christ is walking the way of the cross and not of our selves.

So I propose (if it isn't already) that December 10 be proclaimed the Festival of Thomas Merton.

The grace of Easter is a great silence, an immense tranquility and a clean taste in your soul. It is the taste of heaven, but not the heaven of some wild exultation. The Easter vision is not a riot and drunkenness of spirit but a discovery of order above all order –
a discovery of God and of all things in Him. This is wine without intoxication, a joy that has no poison hidden in it. It is life without death…Sometimes we taste some reflection splashed from the clean Light that is the life of all things…slake us always with this water [O God] that we may not thirst forever.
(Merton, The Sign of Jonas)

[Update: revised and edited.]

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Mickey Mouse is offering me $1000 for my soul

From the Philadelphia Inquirer:

Attention, pastors: You have just four weeks remaining to work a lion, a witch or a wardrobe into your next sermon. Walt Disney Pictures is so eager for churches to turn out audiences for The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, which opens Friday, that it's offering a free trip to London - and $1,000 cash - to the winner of its big promotional sermon contest.

It's becoming a short walk from preacher to prostitute these days.

From Leadership Journal blog

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

The Daily Dig

Sign up for the Daily Dig, Bruderhof Community's quote of the day.

Here's today's:

With Hunger for Him

Jane Tyson Clement

He who has come to men
dwells where we cannot tell
nor sight reveal him,
until the hour has struck
when the small heart does break
with hunger for him;

those who do merit least,
those whom no tongue does praise
the first to know him,
and on the face of the earth
the poorest village street
blossoming for him.

Secular "liberals" aren't cancelling Christmas...

...megachurches are.

via Bene Diction

Remembering the Montreal Massacre - again.

I don’t know why I remember this date each year. But I do. Every year. Something inside makes me return to this tragedy; to remember and grieve women I never met.

Maybe it’s because I have two small girls and I wonder how they will be treated as they grow. Will they fall victim to abusive and dominating men? Or will they be strong like their mother and demand that the world respect and treat them like equal partners in the world’s great enterprise?

Maybe I remember because, in remembering, I can never become complacent.

UPDATE: Families Remember the Montreal Massacre

2nd UPDATE: The Prime Minister released a statement on the National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women. Stephen Harper also released a statement but I couldn't find it on their website.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Sermon: Advent 2 - Year B

Mark begins his gospel in an artless, matter-of-fact sort of way. It’s as if he has something to get off his chest and doesn’t have time for pleasantries. No genealogies. No pregnant octogenarians. No babies born in barns. Nothing. Just “boom!” we’re in the middle of an on-going story.

Right out of the gate jumps John the Baptist. Part wild man, part TV preacher. Don’t get too close, he can smell your fear.

“Prepare the way of the Lord!” he roars. His camel-hair shirt battered by the wind and his beard dusty from a lifetime spent spitting out sand in the desert. He speaks with an authority that isn’t his own. His breath is aflame with words that burn. “Repent! For the kingdom of heaven has come near!” (the rest here)

Friday, December 02, 2005

Near Misses

I was almost killed on Tuesday. Twice. Within the space of two minutes. It was snowing and I miscalculated a turn, hit some black ice, and my car spun into on-coming traffic before sliding toward a ditch.

A minute later – after retrieving my heart from my throat - I went east on an unpaved side road. An 18-wheeler came barreling down the westbound lane. A gust of wind pushed me into the lane in front the truck. At the very last minute my tires clenched some gravel and I was able to pull the car back into the eastbound lane.

Seconds. Milliseconds later. I'd be maggot feed.

This is the closest I've ever come to dying. At least that I know of.

When I got to my office an hour later I was still shaking inside. I kept running the events over and over in my head, constructing little scenarios about what people would do in the event of my demise. Where would the funeral be? Who would preside? Who would attend?

My two little girls would grow up without a dad. My wife would bury her (first?) husband. I would only be a memory.

I used to think that I was prepared for death. This is not because I have super duper, unshakable confidence in the resurrection to eternal life.

No. I have HOPE in the resurrection, not certainty. I have NO IDEA what happens to us when we die. The bible makes promises, tells stories and poems, and tries it’s darndest to relieve us hapless souls of our existential anxiety. But alas, the bible does not offer certainty.

I used to believe that I was prepared for death for one simple reason: I’ve outlived many friends. I’m 36 and I know my fair share of dead people.

When I was in grade 3, a classmate died from bone cancer. In high school, a basketball player keeled over and died during practice. In university, it seemed that a summer break couldn’t go by without the news of someone dying while away from school. Five years ago, a colleague, who was a year younger than me, died suddenly from meningitis 2 days before Christmas.

And I outlived them all. So whatever life I have now, I’d consider gravy. I would tell myself that I have to live the life that these people were robbed of.

At least that was the theory. It sounded good. It FELT good. But after Tuesday’s near misses I feel like I need to confront my own mortality – for real. I don’t know what that looks like or how it will make me behave differently. Some moments it makes me afraid to leave the house. Other moments I need to be out in the world doing something, making a difference, leaving my mark, “participating in God’s reconciling love for the world” as my church’s purpose statement puts it.

It is a cliché that after a near miss, life seems better, fuller, your senses sharpen; beer tastes better, sex feels better, flowers smell better. Like most clichés, it rises out of the ashes of burnt truth.

Near misses remind me that, one day, I will say good bye to those whom I love. When I snuggle with my daughter before she falls asleep I know that, one day, we will part. Either she will die or I will. The same goes for my wife. And everyone else in my life. I call that the underside of intimacy. With great love there is also great loss.

When I remind myself that one day I will say good-bye, I also remind myself that that day is not today. Today I will love and be grateful. Let tomorrow take care of itself.

Canadian Blog Awards - Round Two

Wow! I made the second round! Thanks to everyone who voted for me.

If you are so inclined to vote again, click here for all the finalists. If you want to see the full results, click here.

Tentative Timetable
Saturday December 3rd - Friday December 9th: Round Two voting.
Sunday December 11th, 9pm EST: Round Two results will be announced.

Voting Instructions

You may vote once per day.
Note: It's not required that you vote in each category, but you must make all your selections before you submit your vote.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Game on!

Liberals lose. 171 to 133. Paul Martin will visit the Governor General tomorrow to ask her to dissolve parliament.

A Christmas election.

Liberals and Conservatives running neck and neck. The NDP is the wild card. The Bloc Quebecois are poised to make great gains in northern Quebec. Also, let's not discount the Greens.

It's going to be a helluva ride.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Robert Kennedy would be 80 this week

“His speeches were effective not so much for their words, which, when scripted, were usually bland, or their delivery, which was often flat or awkward, but for something more ineffable: the body language, the aura, the emanations of compassion and understanding that Kennedy conveyed. Inarticulate but urgent and sincere, Kennedy could reach poor and dispossessed people who themselves had difficulty articulating their needs and anxieties. People loved him even though he challenged, even baited them, to overcome their fears and narrow self-interest. He would embarrass middle-class college students — whose support he desperately wanted — by belittling their draft deferments, pointing out that the casualties in Vietnam were disproportionately suffered by minorities and the poor. When a medical student asked him who would pay for better care for the poor, he answered bluntly: "You will." Measured by the poll-driven caution of the stereotypical politician, Kennedy's willingness to speak hard truths seems almost quaint. But it worked to inspire many voters, particularly those most alienated from conventional politics.”

Evan Thomas author of “Robert Kennedy: His Life”

via Kevin Also here.

See also RFK's remarks upon the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.

ET Phone Ottawa

(PRWEB) - OTTAWA, CANADA (PRWEB) November 24, 2005 -- A former Canadian Minister of Defence and Deputy Prime Minister under Pierre Trudeau has joined forces with three Non-governmental organizations to ask the Parliament of Canada to hold public hearings on Exopolitics -- relations with “ETs.”

By “ETs,” Mr. Hellyer and these organizations mean ethical, advanced extraterrestrial civilizations that may now be visiting Earth.
(Whole article here)

Thursday, November 24, 2005

An Advent Prayer

It is my prayer, O God, that in this Advent season, you will disquiet us enough; make us uncomfortable enough, that our embrace will widen, our love for the world will deepen. Enlarge our vision of your kingdom in our lives and in the world; your kingdom of love, mercy, and peace. Help us to live a broader vision of life for all people and all creation. Keep us hungering for more of your kingdom alive in our midst. Amen.

Book Reviews by Real Live Preacher

Check it out.

Canadian Blog Awards - Go Vote!

If you want to vote for the best Canadian blogs under a variety of categories, click here.

psst, I've been nominated for Best Religious Blog, so...

UPDATE: You can vote once a day until November 30. I'm just sayin'...

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

More on Atheist Fundies

Is it too easy to dismiss intelligent design? Strike that. Is it too rational to dismiss intelligent design? (the rest here)

via Jordon.

December Pastoral Letter or Buy Nothing Christmas?

Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel,
you who lead Joseph like a flock!
You who are enthroned upon the cherubim,
shine forth before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh.
Stir up you might, and come to save us!
Restore us, O God; let your face shine that we might be saved
. (Psalm 80 1-3)

This ancient cry of God’s people was heard in the heavens. And the answer came as a child born in Bethlehem.

Some Christian groups are getting upset because some stores say “Happy Holidays” to their customers rather than the traditional “Merry Christmas.” Some churches are targeting Target, for example, for just this reason.

“We need to send a message to the retailers,” says one pro-Merry Christmas activist, “that Christmas is part of the country’s cultural heritage.”

I find it puzzling that the problem is with the greeting and not with the hi-jacking of Christmas by a consumer culture.

I remember when I was growing up I began to feel a disconnection between the Christmas story – the story of a poor saviour, born in a barn – with the way we celebrate that child’s birth. I was told at Sunday school that Jesus came from a poor family, and that the gifts Jesus received from the three wise men had deep symbolic meaning.

Some Mennonites suggest that Christmas has become so corrupted by crass consumerism that the only alternative is to “buy nothing.” While I have deep sympathy for this approach, I also have two young children. I know that Rebekah and I won’t get away with giving “nothing” to the kids.

But that’s the challenge: celebrating the saviour’s birth without getting sucked into the cultural traps of buying too much stuff we don’t need with maxed-out credit cards.

Maybe the best way we can celebrate Jesus’ birth is to reach out to other who need God’s love in their lives, and also offering him ourselves; our brokenness, our sorrow, our pain, and our sins, laying them at the manger, which he will then bring with him to the cross to be crucified. So, then we can rise again with Jesus into new and everlasting life.

As we begin our Advent journey to the manger at Christmas, I encourage you to think about how you and your family celebrate the birth of the saviour.

Grace to you and peace...Pastor Kevin

Monday, November 21, 2005

Sermon: Christ the King Sunday

Jesus...couldn’t care less if whether or not they were deserving of our help. Jesus seems to be placing no conditions on us lending a hand to folks who need help. Jesus would say, “Of course its folks who smell, who drink to much, who probably do drugs and gamble away their rent, who come knocking on your door. And I expect YOU to receive THEM as you would receive ME. I expect YOU to treat THEM like ROYALTY – like Christ the king – the guy you sing about.” (the whole thing here)

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

True Christianity?

Robert over at My Blahg has a good discussion going about true Christianity. Check it out. But be forewarned, the discussion often gets a little intense over there.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Monday, November 14, 2005

A Culture of Life...

From Steve at Catholicism, Holiness, and Spirituality:

If we valued life more than
good appearances,
and vengeance…

If we loved,
listened to,
and cared for
ourselves as well as others…

Then we could truly have a pro-life society, a culture of life.

For me, these are all just restatements of the two great Christian commandments to love God and love your neighbor as yourself. Two simple, if not always easy, principles...

...I believe we’re not all called to heroic feats of social justice. But, we are all called to live the two great commandments in our daily lives. And while we may not move a mountain of injustice on our own, lots of little bits of daily love & justice done by lots of people all around the world certainly can....

Amen, Steve.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

If you're being burned at the stake...

If there is no hope of escape, request dry wood and plenty of dry kindling. Green wood burns slower, smokier, and at lower temperatures, causing a more painful death.

Great advice.Thanks Tom.

From the Lutheran Handbook.

Sermon: Pentecost 26 - Year A

Did you know that if a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to hear it, it DOESN’T make a noise?

Yes, that’s true. The tree’s fall will send out a sound wave. And it remains only a wave until it comes in contact with an ear which processes it as sound.

At least that’s the theory. Proving it is something else altogether.

Today’s gospel asks a similar question: If you have gifts and talents and you bury them under ground so no one can see them, how do you live...
(the whole thing here)

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Happy Birthday, Martin

Today in 1483, Martin Luther was born.

Martin Luther, loved and hated, heroic and foolish, stood at the doorstep a new world, indeed, pushed the door wide open, and the chimes of religious freedom rang throughout western Europe. The 95 Theses that he nailed to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg was a clarion call to all who sought after God amidst the abuses of the medieval church.

After Luther, the western church was split in two: Protestant and Catholic.

Luther democratized the faith. No longer was the believer beholden to the cruel teachings of the Holy Roman church. Just the bible and the individual conscience were enough to discern the Word of God, Luther said. Bibles were translated into the common language. The Latin Mass was thrown away in favour of the vernacular.

Literacy was on the rise. Education blossomed. Faith surged.

But when people stop me on the street and ask what a Lutheran is, I tend to revert to church-speak that I learned in seminary, “A Lutheran is a Christian who believes that sinners are justified by grace alone through faith alone, not by works of the law.” An answer which meets a glassy stare. The great triumphant Reformation call of the gospel is unintelligible to modern or post-modern ears.

But what about those of us inside the church. What would your answer be if asked what a Lutheran is? I often ask my confirmation class what they know about Martin Luther and the history of our church and I am often met with that same glassy stare as the person on the street.

I remember the first time I really heard and experienced the gospel and felt its impact. It was in seminary, oddly enough. I heard the gospel previously of course, in church, in bible study, etc, but never really EXPERIENCED it. It was in church history class, of all places, and the professor, Dr. Oz Cole-Arnal was lecturing on – you guessed it – the Lutheran Reformation.

He described Luther’s understanding the salvation: salvation was something that you couldn’t earn. You can’t cozy up to God to receive God’s favour, you can’t even choose salvation.

Salvation was a gift, pure and simple. There was nothing we could do to make God love us more and there was nothing we could do to make God love us less. Our salvation was taken care of when Jesus stretched out his hands in suffering and death, and rose again to bring us new and everlasting life. Jesus went and came back from where we could never go ourselves. And in our baptism we die and rise again with Jesus, named and claimed as God’s own beloved children, clothed in the garments of salvation

To suggest that we could co-operate in any way with our salvation was an offence. Hubris. An insult to the sacrifice Jesus made for us. We didn’t have to do a thing. No good works. No moral purity. No religious observance. Nothing. It was Christ alone that gave us our salvation.

Wow. I walked out of class renewed. And I committed my whole life to sharing this good news as a minister of the gospel.

A message that tell us that a world that says: “You must compete, achieve, earn.” I can say, “No, I am a beloved child of God. a world that seeks freedom through violence, peace through war, and prosperity through greed, I can answer “No. I am a servant of the Prince of Peace, who makes all things new through God’s creative and self-giving love.” a world that tells me to be self-sufficient, to be independent, to pull myself along by the force of my own internal will, I can say, “No. I am surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, who lift me up when I fall, who comfort me when I sorrow, who seek me when I stray. And in return, I help bind their wounds, I feed them when they are hungry, I listen when they speak. And together, we pray, we serve, we love. Because we can’t do it alone.”

That is Luther’s legacy. Happy birthday, Martin.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Harper is starting to sound a lot like Layton

From Politics Watch

OTTAWA — A week after he took NDP Leader Jack Layton to task for trying to strike a health-care deal with the Liberal government, Conservative Leader Stephen Harper would not rule out voting in favour of the government's supplementary estimates early next month because it could contain things his party agreed with.
(Whole thing here)

Update: Check this out. Yes, there will be an election this winter. Hello, Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

What Harper needs to do to win

Calgary Grit offers Harper some free advice. Here's a snippet:


Don’t wait. Don’t hesitate. None of this wimpy “wait for Jack” nonsense. One of the reasons people have soured on Paul is his “Mr.Dithers” label. Don’t look desperate, but you should stand up November 14th and announce that you cannot support the Liberals in light of the Gomery Report – toss a non-confidence motion out there and force Jack’s hand.

I just need to emphasize that THIS IS YOUR LAST CHANCE.

Yes it is. But CG is wrong on one thing. He says that Harper should keeping hammering away at Liberal corruption. That would be a mistake. They should offer a compelling reason for traditionally Liberal voters to turn to the CPC other than they're not Liberals.

Gomery should be only part of their strategy.

Kinsella has this advice for Harper: "policy, hope, you love the country."

Harper also needs to muzzle some of the more radical members of his caucus. Most Ontarians are afraid of anything that smells of extremism. So, maybe Cheryl Gallant should be sent on a vacation until after the election.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Does this mean election?

Jack Layton says that Canadians shouldn't have to wait months to pass judgment on the Liberals. I think he's right. I don't buy the whole "Canadians don't want an election during Christmas" nonsense. It seems that we never want an election. Summer is vacation time. The Spring is too close to summer. Fall is too close to Christmas.

I think that Canadians think that, if an election could sort out the nonsense in Ottawa, then let's do it and get it over with. Folks are tired of the constant politiking at the expense of good governance.

But while I haven't voted NDP since 1990, I think Jack and his crew are the only party behaving responsibly. They've gotten their so-called "NDP Budget" passed. They're still hammering away on health care. They're doing the work voters elected them to do. Whether or not you share their values, they're effectively representing their constituencies.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Sermon: All Saints Day - Year A

Many people remark to me that they wonder the same thing, nuclear threat, terrorism, or not. They wonder if the headstone that marks their burial place will be the only monument left by which people will remember them; they wonder if their story will be lost, their name forgotten.

They wonder if when they close their eyes, they will never open them again.

So they come to the cemetery looking for some kind of guarantee. What clues to eternity are hidden amidst all this death? Are our loved ones really in heaven? Will we join them when we die? How will we know them? What really happens to us when we die?
(read the whole thing here)

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Religion v Science...or not.

While I have many disagreements with the Roman Catholic Church (contraception and the role of women in the church being chief among them), it sounds as if they are trying to distance themselves from the US conservative religious establishment by affirming science as an arbitor of truth.

Religion divorced from reason runs the risk of falling prey to fundamentalism, warns Cardinal Paul Poupard, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture. (the rest here)

Poupard's statement may sound like common sense, but in light of this, sadly, it needs to be re-affirmed.

Thanks to Holy Weblog.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Which 16th Century Theologian Are you? (I'll bet you were dying to know)

Philip Melachthon
You are Philip Melancthon, author of the Augsburg
Confession and colleague of Luther at
Wittenberg. You were the most prominent among
the Lutheran theologians seeking reconciliation
with the Catholic Church.

Which 16th century theologian are you?
brought to you by Quizilla

Thanks to the "other" Melancthon.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Where faith and life collide

If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time you might notice a change in my tag line. I’ve taken out the “politics and culture” part because it seemed so limiting. I’ve been reflecting on the connection or “collision” between faith and life, while touching on politics and grazing on culture. I want to make this blog more encompassing of faith experience.

I Participated in a Pagan Ritual!

Last night the pagans came out to play. And our family participated fully.

My wife, who is the Martha Stewart of the progressive, hippie, feminist set, carved a pumpkin with a beatific smile radiating from the environmentally friendly candle. She placed the pumpkin lovingly beside the “pumpkin people” – a grandpa with a baby in his arms she made out of old clothes filled with newspaper– who sat smiling at the trick-or-treaters who stopped by for candy.

I took my kids out, door-to-door, trick-or-treating. My oldest – four years old – was a mouse. My youngest – 22 months – was a can of Tomato Soup.

They had a blast and collected more candy than can be eaten without an insulin overload.

But there were some Christians who decided that my daughters, by dressing up and collecting candy, were – somehow - glorifying Satan. These churches had their own alternative celebrations.

Halloween. All Hallow’s Eve. The Witch’s Sabbath. Satan is rubbing his (her?) hands with glee. Think of it. Candy. Costumes. Community. What else can bring down western civilization, or send the WORLD into everlasting fire, than a 4-year-old gorging on Mars Bars and lollipops while dressed up as a mouse?

I wonder if these same folks have Christmas trees in their houses in December. Last time I checked, the Christmas tree has its roots in paganism.

It occasionally occurs to me that folks who get their shorts in a bunch over Halloween miss the larger picture. Where are the tears of sorrow over genocide in Sudan? Where is the weeping over the suicide rates on the Native reserves? Where is the outrage over the 30 000 children who died today of hunger and malnutrition related diseases?

It’s easier to confront Satan. A disembodied, almost abstract concept, rather than to jump in the fray of flesh-and-blood human tragedy.

I know my church could do a better job of engaging the pressing issues of humanity. But one thing I LOVE about my congregation is that these people aren’t hung up on non-essentials. There is a variety of political perspectives in our pews but one thing they can all agree on: they will not tolerate playing church. They know that faith is not a game. They know that faith has temporal AND eternal consequences.

They know that there’s too much pain, sorrow, brokenness in the world to be worried about whether or not my kids go out on Halloween.

They want the real deal. They want to make an ACTUAL difference in peoples’ lives and the world. They want to see the kingdom of God alive and active. They want to see the promise of the New Creation actualized before their eyes.

They want to see the lame walk, the dead raised, the blind see. They want to see good news preached to the poor.

So don’t bother them about this Halloween nonsense. They don’t want to hear it. Paint them a picture of what God is doing in the world. Show them lives being changed. Declare forgiveness of their sins and the sins of world.

Then, you’ll get their attention. And you’ll get mine.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Waging Peace

From the American Friends Service Committee (Quakers). The Wage Peace Campaign (movie).

I'm Back!

Vacation was awesome! I saw lots of friends, ate my mom’s cooking, and drank many beers. And I only gained 3 pounds!

But it’s great to be back.

I often spend my vacation time thinking about my work; where the church needs to be going and who it has to be. I get thinking about my own role as pastor and what that looks like.

I picked up a book by Kim L. Beckmann called Prepare a Road; Preaching Vocation, Community Voice, Marketplace vision. Wow! Great stuff. This woman has the heart of a shepherd and the soul of a poet. She’s a preacher after this preacher’s own heart: gracious, earthy, joyous, and real. She finds God in the craziest places. On a logging truck. Channel surfing. In a Casino.

That’s part of my struggle in preaching; finding real life examples of God active and alive, examples I can point to. I’ve stopped telling stories of the superheroes of the faith. You won’t get any stories from me about Martin Luther King Jr, St. Francis of Assisi, or Oscar Romero. People seemingly so holy as to be irrelevant to ordinary Christians.

No, I’d rather tell stories of no-name Christians. People with dirt under their finger nails, mud on their shoes, and wine on their breath. People just like those listening to me.

People who don’t know they’re doing God’s work until someone tells them. Even then they’re not sure.

“Certainly there must be more to this God thing then delivering a casserole dish to the old man next door, whose wife died six years ago and he still can’t figure out the microwave,” they might say.

“Certainly, Jesus wants more from us than sitting in the corner with a new kid in Sunday school because she doesn’t know anyone in her class,” another might protest.

“Certainly, there’s more to this church thing than taping the church service for the shut-ins to listen to at home,” says yet other, shaking his head.

What about Paul and Silas turning the world upside down? What about the early Christians who were martyred for the faith? What about the saints of old whose lives breathed the message of Jesus?

To that I answer: virtuoso Christians aren’t the point. In fact, super-duper faithful Christians end up pointing to themselves rather than to the one they proclaim.

God wants US - frail, limited, petty, small, human beings - to do God’s work. God doesn’t want heroics. God wants simple faithfulness and gentle love for neighbour.

Anonymous Christians (to bastardize Karl Rahner’s excellent phrase) do God’s work without worrying how it will look. Their toil is its own reward. Their love – God’s love shining through them – is their message.

They’re often hard to spot because, on the surface, it doesn’t look like they’re doing anything special.

But if you look underneath you’ll see the kingdom of God active and alive.

That’s what I learned on my vacation.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

On Vacation!

I'm off to Ontario with the family for the rest of the month. I don't know how much blogging I'll get done while I'm there. But be sure to check back often ;)

Until then...!

Sermon: Pentecost 22 - Year A

...history tells us that church does its best work from the sidelines, far from the corridors of power, on the fringes.

In the late 1980's, it was the churches in East Germany that largely prevented the revolt against the Marxist-Leninist regimes from turning violent. The churches were among the only people in the country who had the moral credibility to stop the crowds because the churches were NOT part of the establishment. They had enough distance between them and the power brokers that people could look to them for guidance without worrying that they might be betrayed into government hands.

I think that’s a powerful lesson for us.

The political doctrine of the separation of church and state arises...(the rest here)

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Pulpit Pretensions

After reading Tom’s honest confession about his preaching, I got thinking about my own pulpit pretensions.

I have a love/hate relationship with preaching. I love the verbal/physical act of preaching. But it takes a lot out of me. I hate it when I have Sunday afternoon obligations. When I get home from church all I want to do is SLEEP.

But the worst part of preaching is Monday morning when I look at the bible readings for the coming week and – nothing. I have absolutely nothing to say about them. The readings frequently speak for themselves. Too often it feels like I’m stating the obvious. People aren’t stupid. They can read the lessons for themselves, and can usually figure out what the bible is trying to say. This is not rocket science.

Sometimes I panic. Other times I distract myself with other “more important” parts of ministry: meetings, worship planning, meetings, visitation, meetings, programming, and meetings. But I know that Sunday morning is coming. It always does. Whether or not I am ready.

I keep myself distracted because I’m afraid that I will stand up in front of the congregation, a group of people who assemble each week hungry for a word from God, and I’ll have to confess: “I’m empty. I have nothing to give you. The bread is stale and the wine’s gone sour. Let’s just sing some songs, say some prayers, and get outta here.”

It hasn’t happened yet. But I know that day is coming. It almost happened last Sunday.

It’s Thursday and I still don’t know what I’m preaching on this Sunday. Each week I’m terrified. I’m terrified I’ll have nothing to say. I’m terrified that I won’t be able to make God’s message of salvation credible or relevant. I’m terrified my words will fail and I will have sullied the Word that spoke all Creation into being.

To preach, to have the temerity to speak for God either requires great hubris or great humility – or both. You may ask how hubris and humility can co-exist. But they can. They MUST. My soul is a witch’s brew of mixed motivations. To preach you need an ego. It takes audacity to stand in front of people and say with conviction: These are the words of God!

But when I preach, I often fear my words are poison in the ears of the Almighty. It’s like I’m always on the edge of blasphemy and heresy, pushing the edges of polite discourse, wondering if I’m doing justice to God’s message of salvation.

So I ascend the pulpit with fear and trembling. But also cockiness and self-assuredness. I have worked hard. Each word has been deliberately placed. The rhythm of the phrases and the cadences of the sentences have been purposefully positioned to fit my pre-determined outline. My manuscript has been vetted, examined, scrutinized, and studied. I am prepared. I am ready to preach.

I take a deep breath, open my mouth, and hope for the best. Sometimes my words reach people in ways that only God alone can describe. Other days, my words fall to the floor, only to be trampled upon by my own dirty feet.

It is then that I need to remember that it’s not MY words that I proclaim. I have no personal message. The power of my sermons come - if they have any power at all - not from any facility with words that I think I may have, but from the Spirit that lives within my words. The Spirit that still broods over the waters breathing life and salvation into the whole creation. The Spirit that still descends from the clouds giving words that I couldn’t speak for myself. The Spirit that dares to proclaim God’s everlasting kingdom through an earthen vessel like me.

So I keep preaching. Even when my soul is in danger. Even when my words fail. Even when good news seems shallow and empty. I keep preaching because I still believe in God’s promises for a new creation.

Then I hide behind Jesus, clinging to the cross with both hands, clutching his message of the kingdom - the kingdom of peace, the kingdom of love, the kingdom of new and everlasting life.

And I open my mouth and announce: Good News! The Kingdom of God has arrived!

Y'know...For Kids!

Get them while their young, that's what I always say. Via Streak.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Sick as a dog

My throat is on fire. My voice has dropped three octaves. My nose is running a marathon. Someone get me some Ny-Quill.

While all this is going on, I had an interview with a couple alderman about my coming on the Lethbridge Public Library board. I have to say, I wasn't at my best. I couldn't muster any enthusiasm, let alone smile at anyone, Y'know, I didn't play the game well.

Tonight, I just want to curl up in a ball on the floor, sipping hard, hallucinogenic medication, and moan southern gospel hymns in a guttural, hoarse, cry.


Sunday, October 09, 2005

No Sermon today

I wasn't happy enough with it to share it with the world.

Praying with the 700 Club

Too funny. But very appropriate. Via my brother.

Light Blogging

I know! I know! I've been shurking my blogging duties. Too much to do here at the church. I'm hoping to have a few posts ready for next week as I have much on my mind.

Until then...

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Christianity Today's Leadership Journal Has a Blog

Check it out. Despite what I said in the past about CT, I have a soft spot in my heart for Leadership because they published an article of mine back in 2000.

Peter MacKay: Will he or won't he?

Rick Mercer weighs in.

A Conversation at the dinner table Sunday evening

Me (reading from a book in a mock deep voice): Our reading today is Mary's song called the magnificat...

My Wife: You're supposed to be reading the part of a Mexican priest, not some pompous ass clergy!

My Three Year Old Daughter
: But mom, Daddy IS a pompous ass...

Monday, October 03, 2005

What kind of elitist are you?

You speak eloquently and have seemingly read every
book ever published. You are a fountain of
endless (sometimes useless) knowledge, and
never fail to impress at a party.
What people love: You can answer almost any
question people ask, and have thus been
nicknamed Jeeves.
What people hate: You constantly correct their
grammar and insult their paperbacks.

What Kind of Elitist Are You?
brought to you by Quizilla

Thanks to daveberta

The End is the Beginning

It's official. Summer is now over and it's not coming back for a long, long time. Today it snowed. Hello winter.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Sermon: Pentecost 20 - Year A

...then Jesus tells this story about the wicked tenants in the vineyard. Really, he’s invoking the prophet Isaiah. Everyone back then would have known the song of the vineyard which is today’s first reading. He’s turning it around on them. It’s like Jesus wanted to stick the knife as far into these learned scholars and powerful religious leaders as he could.

The landowner: God. The rotten tenants: The religious leaders and scholars who didn’t get what Jesus was all about. The vineyard: God’s people - Israel. The son: Jesus.

People were probably wondering how many ways can Jesus call these people “corrupt”? They are so crooked, Jesus says, that these wicked tenants, these scholars and leaders, will be destroyed when the landowner returns. (the whole thing here)

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Sermon: Pentecost 19 - Year A

On Monday we met to discuss what we were going to do. Either it was a HUGE coincidence or the work of the Holy Spirit, but we all had the SAME idea. We were going to minister to the folks at the most infamous, the dingiest, most dangerous bar in town – the Station Hotel. “That would be really cool,” we thought.

So, on Friday afternoon, we strapped on clerical collars, and the three of us, young, shiny, seminarians, wandered into...(the rest here)

NB: The link is fixed. Thanks Tom!

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Tom in Ontario

Tom in Ontario is a fine Lutheran pastor who I know from my seminary daze. It turns out he has a blog. Here's a snippet:

The church that was holding the benefit concert for hurricane relief efforts ended up delaying the concert by two weeks and half of our quartet can't make it on that day so our group has disbanded before it even banded.

Sigh! I was looking forward to it. I thought it would be fun. Alas, perhaps it wasn't meant to be.

We have started choir practices at church though. My wife joined the choir this year. Now we're 5 sopranos, 2 altos (my wife doubled the size of the alto section), 1 tenor (me) and 1 bass. It's fun although our organist/choir director is somewhat challenged when it comes to organization. There have been threats of members quitting our already tiny choir because his lack of organization skills can be frustrating.

He's a good guy though. And the choir members like him. I like him too. Maybe it's an artistic thing because I've heard of other musicians lacking in that department.

Anyway, no quartet but I can sing with the choir. I gotta sing.

I'm looking forward to many great posts, Tom!

Guys, take aim...

It's funny because it's true. From Scott.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Simon Wiesenthal 1908-2005

'Conscience of the Holocaust,' Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal dies

"In a way, he became the permanent representative of the victims of the Holocaust, determined to bring the perpetrators of the greatest crime to justice." - Rabbi Marvin Hier

See also the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Honey, where's the dustpan?

About a month ago, without realizing what I was doing, I pulled out the vacuum cleaner and sucked up some sand that my two daughters brought in with them.

After the floor was clean, I filled up the kitchen sink and did the dishes.

After the kitchen became its shiny best, I did the same thing to my office. You can now see the floor.

My wife watched all this with her mouth gaping open. She was scared. But pleasantly so.

You have to understand, this is not like me. Anyone who knows me will tell you that I am a slob. A pig. Slovenly. That I luxuriate in my own crapulence.

But not now. Now I have an obsessive need to clean, organize, systematize, rank, and classify. I storm through the dishes the SECOND the last mouthful is swallowed. I run the vacuum cleaner through the house five times a week. I sweep my desk clean twice a day. I scrub, I shine, I bust dust.

I need to do this. I don’t know why.

It’s starting to freak me out.

My wife thinks it’s great. She says she feels like she’s on vacation.

My body feels like a nuclear reactor on overload. Or its the result of a deadline induced Red Bull binge. My limbs are awash with energy. But it’s not like the anxiety attacks I’d been having. I like this energy. My brain and body are in a constant race with each other, battling it out for supremacy.

I’m getting a lot of work done.

But I’m wondering if this is simply a result of growing up. I see my 36th birthday on this side of the horizon, and it’s telling me that I can’t be a kid anymore; that I need to put away childish things. That I need to contribute, to use my gifts, to do the best work that God has called me to do. This means that I need to be a better husband, better dad, better pastor, better friend, better neighbour, and better person.

Maybe my brain and body are giving me the tools to become who and what I want, and who and what God wants me to be.


Sunday, September 11, 2005

Pentecost 17 - Year A

Peter was in one of his moods. This was no mere intellectual puzzle that Peter presented to Jesus. This was no theological conundrum. Bare-knuckled human relationships were at stake.

“How many times do I have to forgive those who’ve hurt me?” he asked Jesus. “How much garbage do I have to put up with before I can get back at folks?

Seven seemed to be a good, reasonable number, Peter thought. Even generous. It showed people that, yes, as a follower of Jesus, he was a forgiving person, but not letting himself become a full fledged doormat.

But Jesus offers no comfort. “Not...(the rest here)

Friday, September 09, 2005

It's my blog-o-versary!

A year ago, after a brief conversation with my brother, I decided to check out some blogs. I didn’t know the medium at all. But it seemed that they were popping up everywhere.

I like to write to blow off steam. I like people reading what I write. I like forwarding interesting articles to friends and colleagues. I like when they do the same. The blog seemed like the perfect medium for me.

But, if truth be told, I started this blog on a whim. I was trying to comment on someone’s blog and I couldn’t do so without first registering with Blogger. Argh. I hate it when I have to hand out personal info just for the privilege of using something that’s free.

But I did it anyway. And on the dashboard I spotted a button labeled “create your own blog.” And Three minutes and 22 seconds later, “Kevin G Powell: Where faith, culture, and politics collide” was born.

(I threw in my middle initial (“G” for "George") not to sound like a pompous ass, but because I was hoping that such a moniker would distinguish me from the “other” Kevin Powell, the hip hop theorist. It didn’t work. I wonder if folks confuse the “other” Kevin with me.)

I’ve always been interested in politics. In fact, there was a time when I almost went into politics instead of music, before I ended up training for the ministry. Also, when I was in high school, I knew the names if all MPs and their ridings, as well as cabinet ministers and their portfolios. Classical music and politics. Yes, I was a nerd. No wonder I never got laid.

It wasn’t until I went to seminary that I became interested in the intersection or “collision” of faith and politics. While I strongly believe in the protective wall between church and state, I do believe there is a place for faith within the public sphere.

The best examples of religion and politics colliding are Martin Luther King Jr who provided the moral and spiritual foundation which was based on his reading of the Sermon on the Mount, for the civil rights movement.

Archbishop Oscar Romero, who offered his voice to the voiceless, courageously speaking out against government death squads and corruption that were keeping millions in El Salvador mired in poverty.

Gandhi, who inspired MLK’s reading of Matthew Chapters five and six, led a nation into freedom by using Christian principles of non-violence and love for enemy.

And many, many, many others who struggle 'till their fingers are raw, 'till their bodies collapse from exhaustion, 'till their lives are living examples of the kingdom of God alive in our world.

When faith and politics collide, it isn’t a partisan struggle. While I have been a member of two political parties in my 35 years (NDP and Liberal), I can’t ally myself too strongly, as a person of faith, with any partisan agenda. For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God; the measure of righteousness: justice, mercy, peace, self-giving, suffering love.

The collision of faith and politics happens in deeply intimate human relationships. Public policy happens best when the faces and stories of real human beings are seen and heard, celebrated and cherished.

I blog because it helps me remember and re-think how I relate to the world, as a pastor, as a parent,as a husband, and most importantly, as a human being. It helps me blow off intellectual steam. It forces me to think out loud. And it invites the world into the conversation. That way I can grow by learning from others.

It’s been a great ride so far.

NB: I've cleaned up the grammar, fixed the typoes, and added a word or two.

Being Poor

Being poor. Via the Ooze.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Lies, and Damn Lies

I was going to blog about this, but Jordon Cooper says it better than I ever could:

I am tired of politicians lying. I am tired of food distribution centers set up for George W. Bush's photo op and then taken down once he leaves. I am tired of George W. Bush saying "We could never have known" when I have been watching documentries this week from the 1980s and 90s that said this was going to happen. I am tired of Bill Clinton saying "We could never have known" when I have been watching documentries this week from the 1980s and 90s that said this was going to happen. I am tired of George H. Bush saying "We could never have known" when I have been watching documentries this week from the 1980s and 90s that said this was going to happen. I am tired of reading how much of a challenge this will be to Republican congressional races and what this will do to the White House congressional agenda. I am tired of reading how Democratic leaders can use Katrina. I am tired of reading how Republican leaders can use Katrina. I am tired of German politicians bashing the United States with Katrina to help them win elections. I am tired of decisions being made solely on winning the next election.

What is wrong with a system that immediately turns a natural disaster into partisan politics? Why were fifty firefighters in the area of New Orleans used as window dressing for the President instead of being dispatched to do what they were trained for?

It's more than just the United States. It is Canada as well. Recently the Saskatchewan Party sent out a press release that was so full of lies, I was embarrassed when I found out I knew the person who wrote it.

I want my political leaders to be more than this. I want them to be great men and women of character. I don't care what side of the floor that they are on. I just want them to be a great leader. Instead, all I get is this. I don't hate Republicans. It is just they are in power right now. I hated it when Bill Clinton did this kind of stuff as well. I want my political leaders to do better and maybe that is why I am so disappointed in them when it goes back to politics as usual.


Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Kevin Little Reflects on Life's Labours

AUTHOR Eric Fromm, in his book To Have or To Be, describes a state of mind all too common in our post-modern society: "We are a society of notoriously unhappy people: lonely, anxious, depressed, destructive, dependent - people who are glad when we have killed the time we are trying so hard to save."

This is the Labour Day weekend. Most of those reading this article spend between 40 and 60 hours a week either at paid employment or volunteering. Subtract the time we sleep and what you quickly realize is these 40 to 60 hours represent the most productive and intense period in our lives. In a moment of complete self-honesty, can you say these hours have meaning or purpose?

I have recently passed the 40-year mark, the time in a person's life often associated with a mid-life crisis. I frankly never thought I'd experience this. In my early years, I saw two extremes: a wonderful family and close-knit band of friends, combined with an awkward and unhappy time in school. But from my high school years onward, I hit my stride. I discovered I was a communicator, a motivator, with a vivid imagination. All that was left was to acquire some discipline.
(whole text here)

Monday, September 05, 2005

Sermon: A reading from the letter of Paul to the people of New Orleans

A reading from the letter of Paul to the people of New Orleans,

To all in New Orleans who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

I have heard of your troubles. Your city has drowned. The fury unleashed by Hurricane Katrina has made plunged your city into chaos. Many of you have been asking what you did to have God’s wrath visited upon you. You ask, what did you do to anger the Almighty?

I implore you to remember the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, who said that God rains down upon the just as well as the unjust. Rain happens. Rain has the power to save life and take life; to cleanse and to destroy; to heal and to hurt.

Just as the waters of baptism drown our old sinful self, and we rise to new life with our Lord Jesus, the waters of Hurricane Katrina remind us that we are not creatures of our own destiny. Life is fragile. That’s what makes it so precious.

I have heard of the deserted dead decaying under the hot Louisiana sun, corpses floating down the flooded streets, the sick and elderly abandoned to die hungry and alone.

I have heard of your babies dying from hunger, medicine being denied to the sick, water contaminated by the disease ridden corpses and the backed up sewers.

I have heard of snipers shooting at Aid workers, looters pillaging through the wreckage of peoples’ lives, sexual assaults in wide open spaces.

I have heard your cries of despair.

You ask how this could happen in the United States of America. You ask how such chaos could erupt in the richest country in the world. You ask how the strongest power in the history of the planet could fail to protect its own citizens.

As you look out at a sorrowing city, I’m guessing that you now understand the difference between anarchy and freedom. You’ve learned that the freedom we have in Christ is not a lawlessness that leads to destruction, but a way of love that brings life to the world.
(the rest here)

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

New Orleans Mayor: Katrina May Have Killed Thousands

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Hurricane Katrina probably killed thousands of people in New Orleans, the mayor said Wednesday an estimate that, if accurate, would make the storm the nation's deadliest natural disaster since at least the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. "We know there is a significant number of dead bodies in the water," and other people dead in attics, Mayor Ray Nagin said. Asked how many, he said: "Minimum, hundreds. Most likely, thousands."

Christ forsaken
Have mercy on all who are forsaken
Christ afraid
Have mercy on all who are afraid
Christ grieving
Have mercy on all who are in grief
Christ slain
Have mercy on all who have died. Amen.

Donations to the Lutheran disaster fund can be made here.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Pentecost 15 - Year A

“Grab your electric chair and follow me.”

How’s that for an invitation?

“Here’s some rope, make a noose out of it, throw it around your neck, and walk behind me.”

Doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, does it? It didn’t make sense to the disciples either.
(the rest here)

Friday, August 26, 2005

From the ground up

NB: This appears in my church's newsletter as my monthly pastoral letter to the congregation.

Lately, I’ve been having “writer’s block” when preparing my sermons. So, instead of banging my head against my computer, I’d go for a walk, or visit the hospital, or meet someone for coffee. Just to get my mind off the stress of having NOTHING to say about the bible passages; knowing that Sunday is coming whether I’m prepared or not!

Without fail, I meet someone along the way who tells me a story about their life that illumines the bible passage I’m wrestling with, and it’s like I’ve taken off my sunglasses – I see scripture very differently. Whether it’s someone who hasn’t been to church in years, a person who’s been diagnosed with a difficult illness or stranger at the hospital who stops me and asks me to pray for a sick parent, I feel like the bible is intersecting with life in ways that my feeble brain cannot conceive.

I feel like my ministry is becoming closer to the ground – slower – and less calculated.

I’m at ground level because I’m walking more often. You may have noticed that my belly is protruding over my belt. Too many goodies and too little exercise. So I leave the car at home and I make my way around town under my own steam. Leaving just a little less exhaust.

Being at ground level makes me feel more visible and vulnerable. I’ve found that’s it’s not always safe down here. There are a lot of people down here. Forgotten people. Invisible people.

People stop me on the street and want to talk. I’m glad to. Some just want to unload. Some want to tell me a dirty joke – just to get a rise out the guy with a dog collar. Other times, people lock eye contact with me, and I know they want to share something with me - a deep hurt, a secret wound, and unfulfilled longing – but don’t want to me to make the first move.

I’ve been re-learning that the gospel is always ground level. I’ve been driving past stories of pain and healing, sin and forgiveness, life and death, and been missing out where God silently and gently working.

So, if during the week, you need to find me, look down to the ground. And maybe you can find your way down there as well. Maybe together we can learn how to be messengers of good news from the ground up.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

What month is this?

Apparently, it’s still August. But from the cold and the rain we’ve been having it feels more like late October. People around here hate it when I say this but: I love this weather!

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Sermon: Pentecost 14 - Year A

“Can you believe it? Some folks actually think you’re John the Baptist with his head re-attached!”

The group laughs.

“This will blow your mind, Jesus; others are saying you’re Elijah, or Jeremiah, or Isaiah, or Amos or Micah, that you’ve miraculously popped out from the bible.” says someone else says.

They laugh again to each other.

“But who do YOU say I am?” Jesus asks.


The disciples weren’t expecting the question to be turned around on them. They shifted their eyes back and forth, each hoping the teacher would call on someone else.

Finally, Simon Peter...
(the rest here)

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Okay...last quiz, I promise (unless I find a really cool one)

You scored as Fideist. You are a fideist! You love to read Soren Kierkegaard, Martin Luther, and Karl Barth. Knowing God is a personal thing, so you believe that the best case for Christianity is made on a subjective level.



Reformed/Presuppositional Apologist






Classical Apologist


What kind of apologist are you?
created with

Friday, August 19, 2005

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Five Years Down...

Today is my wife’s and my 5 year anniversary. Wow. Five years. Where did the time go? (or, as I ask my wife, “Five years down, how many more?” – she tires of that particular joke).

I visited with a couple yesterday who have been married 45 years. Now THAT is an achievement.

Last night we had a gospel singer perform at our church. He travels full time with his wife and two young children. His wife handles the money and his kids sing with him. It’s his name on the marquee but this ministry is definitely a family effort. They perform for free and live off the offerings and the CDs they sell.

I watched as they set up and tore down their equipment, wondering if their relationship would be different because they spend so much time together. Would they seem closer than other families? More distant? Would they snipe if one was moving too slowly? Have they learned to sleep despite dad's snoring? Have they told each other all their jokes? Have they gotten bored with each other? Or have they deepened their relationship because of their forced intimacy?

I used to work with my wife in a shared ministry in Halifax, and - wow – there were days when both our marriage and our ministry hung together by slimmest fibre of the slimmest thread. That lasted 3 years. So instead of working together we decided that we’d rather be married. So I accepted my present call.

These folks have been on the road together 5½ years. Together. All day. Everyday. 24/7/365. The mind boggles.

It’s not that I don’t love my wife and kids. Words can’t begin to describe the lengths I would go to protect my family from harm, or just to keep our relationship strong. It’s just that we’ve recognized what we need to do to stay together. Working together is something that we are to avoid. At all costs.

But there are days when I forget how much she’s given up to make this move to Lethbridge. She stays home with the kids. Not an easy job by any standard. She’s put her career ambitions on hold. Which is quite the sacrifice, considering she’s the brains of our outfit. She is five times the preacher I am. She’s has her Governor General bronze and gold medal awards hanging humbly on our basement wall. She’s a published author of a scholarly article and sermon. She has a killer resume, and worked ‘till her hands were raw to get it that way.

She was supposed to be a doctor. But she chose ministry instead. Then she chose me. Then she chose motherhood.

Choices. That’s what relationships are all about. Especially marriage. That’s something I’ve learned the hard way. The church calls marriage a “covenant,” mirroring the covenant that God has with us through our baptism. But this comparison breaks down quickly. God chooses the covenant. We don’t choose God. In fact, if we choose anything, it’s to be as far away from God as earthly possible.

But in the marriage covenant we choose each other; two people deciding that they will be faithful to each other. No matter what. At least that the promise.

As a pastor, I sometimes wish the wedding vows that people write weren’t so darn sappy. Marriage has little or nothing to do with romance and everything to do with hard work. I wish someone would write a vow that sounds something like this:

I, Tarzan, take you, Jane, to be my wife, even when you put garden shears in my hand before I’ve taken my jacket off upon getting home from work; even when you hide my beer because, you say, I’m getting too fat; even when you get pissy when I want to watch the Flames instead of discussing colour options for the kitchen; even if sex is less frequent than Christmas. In other words, I’m in this for the long haul.

I, Jane, take you, Tarzan, to be my husband, even when you come home late stinking like cheap beer and $2 cigars; even when you forget to pick up your skid-marked underwear; even when you can’t be bothered to cut the grass for two weeks and cows are starting to graze on it; even when you feed the kids potato chips and root beer for breakfast; even when you want to watch hockey instead helping me make household decisions. In other words, you aren’t getting rid of me so easily.

Now that would be a more realistic beginning to marriage. Yes, marriage is work. Love is a choice, not a feeling. But I think the choices we make is like a midwife that helps give birth to intimacy. Intimacy is not fuzzy feelings. But a deep attachment to an Other. Intimacy is faithfulness when the fuzzy feelings have long since gone south.

So, today I re-affirm my choice – our choice – to be faithful. Even when we are burning with so much anger that we can’t stand the sight of each other, I will be faithful. Even when everything inside of me screams to turn left and head out of the city, I will turn right and head straight home. Even when we've forgotten how to talk to one another, and the silence is killing us, I will learn a new language with which to speak once again and new ears with which to listen.

I make that choice.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Brother Roger murdered...

Brother Roger, founder of the Taize community was murdered on Tuesday while saying evening prayers. He was a bridge builder among Christians, and was deeply respected by all people of faith. Taize’s influence in the Christian community is immeasurable. He will be deeply missed.

Let us never forget that this simple desire for God is already the beginning of faith. - Brother Roger of Taize.

Revised: Here and Here are other news stories regarding Frere Roger's death.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Thomas Merton prayer

“…Grant us prudence in proportion to our power,
Wisdom in proportion to our science,
Humaneness in proportion to our wealth and might.
And bless our earnest will to help all races and peoples to travel, in friendship with us,
Along the road to justice, liberty and lasting peace:
But grant us above all to see that our ways are not necessarily your ways,
That we cannot fully penetrate the mystery of your designs
And that the very storm of power now raging on this earth
Reveals your hidden will and your inscrutable decision.
Grant us to see your face in the lightning of this cosmic storm,
O God of holiness, merciful to men:
Grant us to seek peace where it is truly found!

In your will, O God, is our peace!