Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Fast Schmast

What are you giving up for Lent? Anything? Decided to forgo the Lenten “fast” this year?

I don’t blame you.

Last year I simply didn’t have the imagination to give anything up. I couldn’t be bothered. Nothing “felt” right. Plus, it all seemed so contrived. How does giving up (say) chocolate for a few weeks help us to identify with Christ’s suffering? Doesn’t that, somehow, belittle what Jesus went through?

This year, though, I know what I’m giving up: everything that is making me unhealthy. I can’t help but notice this expansive epigastrium expatiating my belt buckle. I went from a size 32 waist to a 36 during the 2+ years I’ve been here in Lethbridge. My young supple body is now a blob of unsightly flab. I guess I’ll have to give up my dream of being an underwear model.


My clothes don’t fit properly, and I’m darn sure not going to buy new ones.

Vanity, the preacher says, all is vanity.

He’s right. I am vain. I like to look good. I don’t like spare tire parked in my bay window.

But perhaps more to the point, how can I be overweight when so many children are starving to death? How can I proclaim a gospel of life and salvation while being so trapped by the world’s destructive pleasures? How can I live to preach at my grandchildrens’ ordinations if I keep choking back chicken wings and sloshing back beer?

I don’t want to wake up at 50 dead of a heart attack (yeah, you read that correctly).

St. Paul says that the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. If that’s true, shouldn’t I keep God’s temple in at least as good a shape as I do my kitchen or living room (don’t ask about my office)?

So my Lenten fast is prompted by a hodge-podge of competing motivations. Just like everything else in life.

It looks like I’m going to be reacquainted with my good friends called vegetables, and clean the clothes off of the treadmill in my basement.

But not tonight. Tonight is about pancakes and grease rods, er, I mean sausages. Yum.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Goin' veggie

It turns out my four year old daughter has a deep social conscience. This afternoon, she learned that the turkey basting in our oven came from an animal that died just because we wanted it on our table.

She was appalled. And she felt sad for the turkey.

So, our family is going veggie. At least for the time being. My daughter doesn’t want to hurt any more animals. Even by proxy.

There are worse reasons to change our diet.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Forget cartoons, this is REAL blasphemy

Preventable diseases kill 29,000 children under the age of five every day around the world, says a report released Wednesday by UNICEF Canada. (article here)

Meanwhile, churches squabble over sexuality. Shameful.

Islam IS the West

Why the "Clash of Civilizations" is the wrong way to approach the cartoon controversy. (whole article here. via The Revealer)

A worthy read. I know that is the way I've framed this issue.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Minister Buys Lap Dances To Tell Strippers About Jesus

Ex-Stripper Founded J.C.'s Girls Girls Girls (article here)

There's something strangely biblical about this ministry. via CMS

Moral Climate Change

Terry Mattingly writes about NT Wright's February 9th speech to the British House of Lords.

Here's a piece:

Whose freedom are we talking about, anyway? Notoriously, the freedom of my fist ends where the freedom of your nose begins; and similarly the freedom of my speech is curtailed by the freedom of your honour, as the laws of slander and libel have always recognised. Part of the problem of ‘freedom of speech’ is that it tends to be the media who are most in favour of it – though they themselves often cheerfully censor information that cuts against editorial policy. Freedom of speech, my Lords, is useless if it is only selectively enjoyed, and if it is not combined with appropriate responsibility. If ‘freedom of speech’ is to be rehabilitiated as a useful concept, it needs to be set within a larger context of social and cultural wisdom. We have to find a way through the postmodern morass, not in order to go back to Enlightenment modernism, but in order to go through and out the other side into the construction of a new world of civility and mature public life. For this, freedom of speech has to be reciprocal; it needs the disciplines of interaction, of patient listening and attention. And that, my Lords, is what you don’t get when new moralities are invented overnight and enforced by policemen knocking on the door to see if you’re committing a thought-crime.

via Greg.

Thus Spake the Head of Marketing

A quick survey of local church signs reveals the usual:

“People Who Care”
“Where God’s People Gather”
“A Light that Shines for God”

Ever wonder if the lives of the people who are these churches bear any resemblance to their roadway signs? Because, let’s be honest; church committees meeting to design signs aren’t soul-searching—they’re marketing.

Challenging words from Real Live Preacher.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

An eye toward peace

I haven’t said much about the Muslim outrage over the Danish cartoon depicting the prophet Mohamed as a terrorist, because, to be honest, I’m not 100% sure I know where I stand on the issue.

On the one hand, I am a passionate advocate of freedom of speech. I am uneasy about hate crime legislation because it feels Orwellian. A hate crime is a thought crime. We punish people for what’s in their heads and hearts rather than just for what they do.

One the other hand, Kinsella makes some compelling points:

...I believe there are reasonable and proper limits on human expression.
...I believe that words and images have power. Words and images have the power to wound and hurt and, sometimes, kill.
...I believe that we are entitled, as a society, to sanction (civilly or criminally) those who use words and images to deliberately or recklessly inflict harm on others - as with laws relating to the propagation of hate, or laws prohibiting child pornography, or defamation codes, or laws designed to sanction pornography that promotes violence against women and children.

True. But, I’m no lawyer, nor am I philosopher, but how do we define those proper limits? Don’t our existing laws protect people from harassment without the need to stretch the laws to include motive?

However, are violent protests by Muslim extremists a legitimate form of political dissent when these rights get trodden on? Of course not. These protests are no more legitimate than radical right wing Christians shooting abortion doctors or radical leftists kidnapping foreign diplomats. Radical Muslims have not cornered the market on unreasoned political expressions of dissent.

I understand why Muslims are angry. Those cartoons were meant to inflame Muslim sensibilities, and they only deepen the divide between devout followers of Islam and the so-called secular west. But aren’t violent protests and killing innocent by-standers just as blasphemous as defaming the prophet Mohamed?

Were these cartoons good examples of enlightened political discourse? No. But as a Christian, I’ve been deeply offended by what I see as blasphemy offered by some, especially from my friends on the left (Colbert can be ruthless -if funny - sometimes). Jesus is an easy target that some folks to use to bash the Religious Right, but we moderate and liberal Christians get wounded along side as collateral damage.

For people of faith, I wonder if the best way to respond to attacks on what we hold sacred is to live out our faith more authentically, more lovingly, more faithfully. If Islam truly means “Peace” than maybe our Muslim sisters and brothers need to re-capture the heart of what that means, returning to their sacred texts with an eye toward peace.

For Christians, it means blessing those who curse us. It means loving those who declare us as the enemy. It seeing the world as God sees it, hurting, violent, broken, and sinful – but also as beloved, a world for which Jesus gave his life so it may find life. As followers of Jesus, does God expect any less from us?

UPDATE: Muslims praise Canadians for 'unique' response to Muhammad caricatures
(article from CP)

Hence cometh Winter

It’s cold today. Winter has returned, at least for the time being. But of course, this was the morning I realized my scarf was hanging on the hook in my office and not at my front door.

Brrr. But I love it.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Sermon: Epiphany 6 - Year B

Christ could not remain in majestic isolation from us. Instead, God came to us in Jesus, and shared with is what it means to be human, touched us in our uncleanness, and paid for it with his life.

Does Jesus expect anything less from his followers? To understand the world as being more than dividing the clean from the unclean? To draw out peoples’ humanity when they have been stripped of it? To treat suffering people with a dignity the world denies them? (the whole thing here)

Children's Message: Epiphany 6 - Year B

Suzie was terrible at math. So much so that she had to go to special classes for math because she simply couldn’t keep up with the other kids in her class. The other kids – even her friends - would make fun of her as she went to her special class.

“Hey Suzie,” some kids would shout, “have fun in nursery school!”

Or other kids would tease her saying, “Are you on your way to your ‘special’ class?”

Suzie didn’t like the way they said the word “special” as if it were something bad. But she would laugh at their jokes, even if she didn’t really find their jokes funny.

“I just can’t do math,” she would think to herself, “Is that a crime?”

One day, while sitting at her desk in her special math class, her teacher came in and announced, “Today, we’re going to do something different. Instead of adding up numbers, I want you to write a story using numbers as characters.”

“H’uh?” asked Suzie, not sure what the teacher was asking.

“I want you to write a story, but instead of people in the story, I want you to use numbers,” the teacher explained. Suzie still wasn’t sure what she was supposed to do. But she pulled out her note pad from her bag and started to write.

“Okay, lunch time!” the teacher announced after what seemed only a couple minutes.

“Lunch time?” thought Suzie, “But I only just got started.” She turned in her paper and headed for the cafeteria.

The next day as when the teacher gave her the story back, she saw something on the front page that she hadn’t seen before in math class – she saw an A! And next to the A was a note from the teacher,

“Well done, Suzie,” it read, “If it’s okay with you, I’m going to submit this story to the school newspaper.”

That night, as Suzie was setting the table for dinner, her dad came into the kitchen.

“Suzie, I talked with your math teacher today and he told me about your story. Great job, sweetie,” her dad said kissing the on top of her head.

“Yeah, but who ever heard of writing a story in math class, even if the characters were numbers?” replied Suzie.

“It sounds like your teacher knows that some people learn one way and other people learn another way, and that’s okay, even if the other kids tease you about being in that class. Now they’ll know how smart you really are when they read your story.”

“Maybe. We’ll see,” said Suzie.

“This sort of reminds me about that bible story where Jesus heals the guy with leprosy. When folks saw the man all they saw was his disease, all the things he couldn’t do. But when Jesus saw him, he saw a person who was more than what he couldn’t do. When Jesus healed him, he showed others how God saw him; a person God loved. ”

“He did?” asked Suzie.

“Yes,” replied her dad, “and your teacher saw the same thing in you. He saw that there was more to you than just someone who had trouble with math. He saw a little girl who probably had a wonderful imagination. And he was right.”

Suzie smiled.

Dinner was ready. And as they say down to eat they said a prayer like this as we do now: Dear God, thank you that you see in us more than we see in ourselves. Amen.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Complete Idiot's Guide to WHAT? WHO?

I was browsing the bargain book section at Save-On Foods this morning and found the coolest book: The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Jesus.

What a FANTASTIC title!

This book wasn’t about Christianity. This wasn’t a history of Jesus. This was all Jesus.

There are lots of scholarly books on Jesus, books where Jesus ends up looking like a perfected image of the author; a tweedy professor, a 1960's hippie radical, or Republican businessman.

Not this book.

This book was a quick but thorough jaunt through the gospels, presenting Jesus untainted by any discernable denominational influence (not that such a bias would be a bad thing).

But I always thought that the Holy Spirit guided us to Jesus. Not a book that claims to provide a pathway to the saviour. But the book made me stop and think.

I didn’t buy this book. I just thought it was cool.

Canada's First Olympic Gold...

...in Torino. Congratulations, Jennifer Heil!

Friday, February 10, 2006

Children's Message: Epiphany 5 - Year B

Dave woke up shivering in the middle of the night.

“That’s strange,” he thought to himself. “I have my big blanket over me but I can’t stop shaking.”

Dave climbed out of his bed, stumbled out of his room, and pulled a blanket from the hallway closet. On the way back to his room, he accidentally stepped on his dog, Hank who was sleeping outside his door. Hank let out a hefty “yelp!”

“Shhh,” whispered Dave, “You’ll wake up the whole house!”

Just then Dave saw a light creep out from underneath his parents’ door, which his dad then opened.

“Hey, there, what’s wrong Why are you out of bed?”

“I was cold,” replied Dave, “So I came to get a bigger blanket.”

“Cold? Wow, Dave, you look awful! I think you may be sick,” replied his Dad feeling Dave’s forehead, “We better get you back to bed and I’ll call the doctor first thing in the morning. It looks like you’ll be missing hockey practice tomorrow.”

“I’m not THAT sick,” Dave griped. “I can still practice.”

“Well, that may be, but you don’t want to give your germs to your teammates, do you?”

“I won’t be kissing them,” said Dave.

“That doesn’t matter,” said his dad, laughing. “It’s better if you stayed home.”

“A total rip,” muttered Dave, “I’m no leper.”

“Dave, you’ll be better in a few days and then you’ll be back playing hockey with your friends. It’s like in the bible where Jesus healed those folks. While it was great to be finally healed of whatever disease they had, the best part was when they could be with their friends again.”

“Where we they before that?” asked Dave.

“Well,” said his dad, “they were shuffled away to the outskirts of town and couldn’t associate with anyone. It made them lonely. When Jesus healed them, it meant they didn’t have to be lonely anymore. So, in the next couple days, when you get better, you can see your friends again. But until then I’ll be here taking care of you.”

Dave’s dad picked Dave up and put him in bed and tucked the two blankets over him. Hank slept on Dave’s feet to keep them warm.

And before dad left to go back to sleep, they prayed a prayer like this as we do now:

Dear God: Help us when we get sick. Help us to not be lonely. Amen.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Sermon: Epiphany 5 - Year B

“Do you reject sin, the devil, and all the forces of evil that defy God?” That’s the question we ask each baptism and confirmation. Every time I ask the question my mind wanders the cousin who just arrived in town to watch the baptism but hasn’t had much experience of church. I wander what that person thinks when she hears that question.

Does she hear it as further confirmation that Christians are stuck in a medieval mindset? A throwback to the superstitions of centuries past. Quaint, but entirely irrelevant to our well-educated, scientific society.

Because, if you haven’t hung around the church, that language could sound downright strange or weird, or even scary. Where else do you hear people talk about the Devil, evil, or even “sin?” Maybe in movies like “Stigmata” or “The Exorcism of Emily Rose.” Enticing diversions perhaps, but not to be taken seriously.

The fact is, demons are still possessing people. And, they are still...(the rest here)

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Another One

We lost another one today. M passed away quietly this afternoon while her fiancé held her hand and wailed with grief.

But here’s the kicker: she wasn’t supposed to die. She had gone in for an operation because she couldn’t move her leg like she used to. She liked to dance. She wanted to dance at her wedding. This was no big deal. A quick operation and she’d be back doing the Macarena in a week.

But, instead, she died.

For M and W, this was a new beginning for them both. They each went through terrible divorces and resigned themselves to living their lives alone.

Then they found each other.

He: A sad, deeply feeling man who needed breathing space, a refuge from life’s pain, a sanctuary. She was all that for him. And much, much more.

She: had given up on men. Men were controlling, abusive, couldn’t keep their hands to themselves. They were to be avoided at any or all costs. Her ex-husband almost destroyed any joy she harboured. Then he came along. A perfect gentleman. He showed her that men could be kind, tender. Loving.

They moved in together and started building a life. They did everything together. They wore matching outfits (yes, they were THAT couple. Annoying. But cute). She said he gave her a renewed faith and in men and life. He said she made him a better man.

They heard me preach at a wedding they attended and decided that, when they got married, they wanted me to be the preacher.

After Sunday worship, they would practice walking down the aisle together. They were SO looking forward to the wedding. It absolutely breaks your heart.

So instead, I’m doing a funeral. The family is beside themselves. The fiancĂ© is shell-shocked. The son can barely speak. The daughter - a strong, proud woman - struggles to keep from losing control.

(Job [to God]: You. Have. Wronged. Me.)
(God: Yes. I have.)

Now I have to preach at the funeral. Can I find some good news to comfort this family? This is where the rubber of life hits the road of our faith. What does that look like? Can I do this with integrity?

Maybe, my job is to do no more than announce that Jesus is alive. That’s what this whole Christian thing is about, isn’t it? Maybe, first, I have to announce it to myself.

Today, I need that announcement, because I can’t preach what I don’t receive myself. That’s the conundrum of the preacher.

So, here it is:

Behold He comes riding on the clouds,
Shining like the sun at the trumpet call;
Lift your voice, it's the year of jubilee,
And out of Zion's hill salvation comes
(Robin Mark Days of Elijah)

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

Winter, where art thou?

Is it just me or has the weather been creepily warm? This is February in Canada. We should be hunkered down under blankets, watching Canadian hockey teams almost win the cup, while sipping liquor-laced coffee, and eating the last can of Pringles, since we can’t buy anything else because we broke our credit cards using them to scrape the 5 cm of frost off our windshields.

Instead, we’re wandering the streets in shirt-sleeves, riding our bikes to school, and marveling at the “beautiful” weather. In February. In Canada. I'm not making this up.

I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling a little ripped-off. I miss the snow, the frosty wind, the weather alerts telling me to stay off the roads. Or that my skin will freeze in 20 seconds if I forget to wrap my scarf around my neck. Or stretch my toque over the tips of my ears, lest they ice over and fall off.

We Canadians tend to obsess about the weather. We carp and complain when it gets too cold, but we smugly wear it like a badge when any of our American friends make snide comments about the frigid eight months we call winter. It’s like family; you can call your sister any name under the moon, but if someone from outside your kin so much as breathes badly in her direction – POW!

Like most Canadians, my optimism is tempered by a healthy dose of cautious pessimism. In other words, this weather won’t last. If we like this weather, or even if we don't, it will get cold again. It will snow.  Snow has already walloped eastern Canada (as Bishop Pisiquid will no doubt remind us). My boots are out the closet ready for action. The snow shovel is prepared to do battle against the elements. My hat and mittens are standing by, waiting to be called up.

Now we wait. And as we all know, waiting is the hardest part.

UPDATE: Revised for spelling and grammar.