Wednesday, December 24, 2008

A Christmas Drive

Twenty-six years ago, Christmas Eve was on Saturday. I finished preparing the Christmas sermon for the congregation. Lois did last minute packing. Vaughn enjoyed the world as only a six month old baby can. It was unusually cold for Pennsylvania, a real white Christmas.

Our VW Beetle was giving trouble starting. So that night I parked it at the top of the hill leading down to a our house. There were a good hundred yards of fairly steep hill coming down to our driveway, so I thought for sure I could start the car by rolling, if the battery was dead.

Christmas morning was about minus 25 Celsius. The engine did not respond at all to the key: not even a click. Fine. I turned the key to on, pushed in the clutch, and let the car roll down the hill, popping the clutch several time3s as I gained speed. At the bottom of the hill I rolled into our neighbour's driveway, no closer to starting the car. Not a cough; not a hiccup; not a sign of turbo charged life in the frigid morning air.

Our neighbour Jay came out and helped me with jumper cables. It took a good 10 minutes of charging to get the car going. We did not turn it off again!

I love Christmas on a Sunday. We went to Speedwell for the Christmas morning service. Then piled into the VW, which started, mercifully, and drove off to Wilmer and Velma/s for Christmas dinner. They have been friends with my folks and Lois' family for many years, and their children are among our best friends (and cousins); so we had a wonderful dinner and time together, visiting, singing, celebrating.

About 4 pm we started on the next and final part of our day -- driving from Lancaster County to New Madison, Ohio, about an eight hour drive. As we neared Pittsburgh, daylight was fading fast, and the temperature started to drop. By the time we reached Zanesville in eastern Ohio, where I filled up the car with gas, it was minus 30 Celsius.

The car very nearly did not start again after I filled it up: the cold was too much for a dying battery. We started off through the Ohio night, with the old VW forced air heater doing its best. we had no fan to push the air in faster, just the speed of the car. A thin layer of frost formed all around the windows so that we could see only out of the windshield through a small arc kept clear by the defroster. Vaughn slept happily in his car seat, surrounded by enough luggage to keep him safe even if he wasn't seat belted in! His parents were less happy. I have never been so aware of how thin the car body is: a few inches of metal between us and the coldest weather we had ever experienced.

The last stretch from Zanesville to Mom and Dad's (Lois' parents) was about four hours; but we were not stopping for anything. Now I would have to stop for some sort of break, but we were young enough to keep going and foolish enough to have started without replacing the old battery! So we kept going. We got into New Madison about midnight. Mom and Dad were waiting for us and helped take everything inside, including their grandson snug in his car seat.

The next day (Boxing Day) we tried starting the car. Nothing. That battery was dead and needed to be buried. Dad took me to the store and bought me a new battery. He didn't say so, but I think he may have been worried that I might take his daughter back into the Winter's cold and get her stranded this time! Not to mention his new grandson. Now that I have sons close to the age I was then I understand him better, I think!

We have minus 30 temperatures regularly here in Manitoba, and it no longer seems so cold. Cold enough, but you learn to deal with it. We have a blanket in the car in case of emergency, and keep batteries and tires well checked, and make sure that we're safe when we go outside. In any case, I love Christmas. And I love family. And I'm grateful that God kept us safe 26 years ago so that I can remember that drive through the bitter Ohio night.

Sunday, December 21, 2008


We joined the church today. Many gave warm congratulations, welcoming us back. We had been members from late 1997 to 2005, when we helped start a church plant nearby. That is its own story, worth telling; but it closed in May 2007. For two years we were committed to outreach in a small community. The end felt abrupt, although one could see it coming from some distance away. For the past year we have been back at SMC, and today we renewed our membership there. Sometimes I wonder why: what does the gesture mean? Anything?

Not everyone sees membership as important. I am (I think) in a minority in the value I place on it. Many attend a large church and never consider any more formal step. Others participate in smaller fellowships where they feel fully at home, welcomed, belonging; no formal membership seems necessary. Our society prizes flexibility, choice, freedom; and membership can become a cumbersome obstacle. Why not define membership by attendance? If you come here, you belong. If you don't you don't.

I can speak only for myself, knowing that others whose judgment I respect do not share my impulse to make a public declaration for the thing itself to be real and true.

So first, for myself, I note the sound sense contained in our societal reflex. Formal membership can become formalism all too easily. Some substitute a public display for a real relationship, whether in a failed marriage or in a disappointing church experience. My first commitment, then, is to truth, to be true -- to God, to myself, to my family. Formal membership must grow out of real belonging. Public witness grows out of, comes out of, springs from real, lived, dynamic relationships. If the formal outer display exists alone, hypocrisy results. I'm a child of the Sixties: I commit myself to be true!

But I do not only reflect my age; I follow the beat of God's drum. Family requires commitment, not just liking and feeling good. A man and woman grow together and fall deeply in love. No formal commitment seems necessary. We sang so many years ago, "Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I'm 64?" No formal commitment; just stay with me! Of course, she didn't. Wedding vows help one keep one's deep inner desire to love forever. The promise means something, not just at that moment, but in the work and joy that follows.

So also in my church family. I belong at a deeper level than the formal commitment; but I make the promise to belong and act like I belong for at least two reasons: 1) I know that I will not always like SMC. But the longer I keep my commitment as a member, the greater the space to feel the greatest joy of belonging. 2) I know that I feel the sense of family that we have at SMC. I want others to know it too. Just as baptism functions to witness to the people around us that God is at work in our lives, formal membership is a witness to the community and to the church that we are God's family.

My reasons are not profound, deeper than thought. They are surface, I think, and somewhat trite. But they are real; they are mine; I belong here and now to God's family at SMC.

Saturday, December 20, 2008


I preach quite often. Once or twice a month I help usually in churches that are engaged in a pastoral search. Some thoughts based on the experiences.

I use words professionally.
Use: employ; manipulate; try to use, an unsatisfactory thought.
Professional: paid; paid to use --
Sounds almost obscene, a prostitution of the gift of words.

"In the beginning was the Word."
"I opened my mouth to speak, and the word is there:
formed by the lips, the tongue, the organ of voice."

Should I be an amateur instead?
An amateur wordsmith,
playing with words like an incompetent Shakespeare.
I could not, cannot,
Have not the wit, the skill to play such art.

Should I be the servant?
Beg the words to do their work,
Then sit and wait for words to form themselves,
To make sense, make nonsense integrate and coinhere,
become The Word before me, commanding me.

Perhaps. I could.

Word, Spirit, some mystery magic
Takes control when I preach teach make sense
Beyond my own understanding.
"Don't try to understand mystery," my African teacher said.
"Stand under mystery."

I use words as
Words take me and do their work.

20 December 2008

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


Accumulated piles of life
Laid out, scattered across the floor.
She sits, quiet -- almost serene among the debris;
Flotsam and jetsam: Thirty plus years

I helped to make.
"Whose is this?"
"What is that?"
Simple profound questions that question
our lives.

Music in the air more peaceful
Than the scattered pastiche:
Song reflects and magnifies jewels, diamonds
Thrown out of the rubble.
An old letter, a fragment of life
four decades old.
Pictures, reminders of that long past;
Some pitched without remorse,
Hesitating, Gone. So many sermons.

"We should do this more often."

We did once.

14 December 2008

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Christmas and Students and

I just finished putting together our Christmas tree. "Putting together" signals that we did not forage through the forest and find the perfect "real" tree and cut it down. Rather I assembled 9with the usual stops and starts that such processes engender for me) the tree we have had for quite a number of years. Then Lois fluffed it out, and wrapped some presents, and put them under the tree. No decorations yet, except for some stray tinsel left over from last year. "It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas ..."

In the background "The Fellowship of the Ring" played (extended edition). We have had Christmas music on for some weeks, so I didn't mind something different. I enjoy the weeks before Christmas: Advent, we call it. Anticipation. Hope of Christ's Return, and memory of the baby's birth. "All poor men and humble, All lame men who stumble, Come haste, nor feel ye afraid." But that's only one side of life for a teacher.

At the same time the semester winds down. The rhythm is similar each year. A frenzy of final assignments leaves students pressing, almost gasping, and all of us praying for strength. Then papers are done, exams are written, and faculty endure the pressure to finish grading and assessment for the semester.

I deal with those pressures easily enough. But there's another part of Advent that I find more difficult. Each semester ending means that people leave, and I walk up and down the empty corridors. The end of the second semester is much worse. The hardest day of the year for me is the day after graduation, when I go in to a school empty of students. Advent, and Easter, have their specific Christian meanings, to which I add the meaning of leaving.

Last night we met with our pastor to talk about the process of renewing our membership at SMC. (We had moved to a church plant in town for a couple of years; with its passing, we have moved back to SMC.) As seven of us talked about what church membership means to each of us, one stated that she has been part of four churches in her life. I sat there thinking through the churches I have belonged to (or attended regularly): 13, I think. It's hard to keep track.

Perhaps my peripatetic past leaves me more sensitive to the transitory nature of the school year's rhythm. It is not a bad thing. It is, I believe, a profoundly good thing. The past is passing, and the Return comes nearer. But transitions still leave me feeling shaky.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008


I posted pictures and thoughts on mortality on the 25th. A week has passed, full of happenings. The next day was our younger son's birthday. Twenty-two years ago he joined us after a day spent in the Baptist Memorial Hospital in Lexington, Kentucky. I remember Lois hooked up to a monitor after the doctor had done an exam during a routine pre-natal visit, "You're having a contraction now. Don't you feel it?" "Well, I feel a sort of tightening. is that it?" "If that's all you feel, I'm not letting you go home. You won't know you're in labour until it's too late!"

So we spent the day with Lois hooked up to a monitor. Every so often she would say, "Am I having a contraction?" And I would look at the monitor and say, "Yes." Nevin has not always been so unobtrusive; but for 22 years he has been a joy and delight in our lives. Two sons, and both wonderful men today.

The next day (the 27th) was Thanksgiving. We're in Canada, and most people here ignored American Thanksgiving. Considering how little attention Americans pay to our Thanksgiving celebration in October, one understands. the pictures I posted last time, reminding myself of what Lois and I looked like 32 years ago, are cause enough for thanks. I am sometimes simply surprised at my good fortune, to be in my 32nd year of marriage to a wonderful woman.

Then Sunday began the Advent season. "Lo, He comes with clouds descending, once for favoured sinners slain. Thousand, thousand saints attending swell the triumph of his train." Remembering our Lord's first coming in weakness, and anticipating his return in power and great glory.

When I think of these things, I think also of Zimbabwe -- or any place where injustice has a grip on people's lives. "All will be well, and all will be well, and all manner of things shall be well." Was that Julian of Norwich? I'm not sure. But the truth is there. Our world is in a mess -- ecologically, morally, politically -- but the prayer, "Your kingdom come on earth as in Heaven" holds true, and I can give thanks. Always.

Such language falls into sermonizing too easily; but I need strong hope for the pessimism that lies just beneath the surface. Family and faith in God: these are sources of strong hope indeed.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


I was sitting the faculty lounge having lunch. Several others around me started comparing thoughts on hair style and care. My own powers of observation are limited, so that I tend not to notice that Lois has had a haircut unless I was forewarned. But I realized quickly enough as I listened that I am as vain as anyone else about appearance.

I observed that I used to have red hair. Some were sceptical, but the picture of Lois and me when we first were engaged shows the truth.

Their scepticism is easy to understand. Here we are today.

Lois tells me that white hair is good, and I am willing to believe her. I notice the thinning, the weathering, the truth that time passes whatever we feel like inside. When we left Pennsylvania to go back to school, after about nine years of marriage, we had become a small family.

Lois, Vaughn, and I -- ready to leave Speedwell heights for Wilmore. I think I was less concerned with appearance then. A kind of carelessness that went with being 36. Now I'm not so sure. I know that I am older, and I notice.

Speedwell had been good for us. I preached 45 to 50 Sundays a year. The picture below comes from my ordination service, with John Byers sitting behind me. Time passes, and John himself is gone now.

One of the things that I notice most now is my aversion to the sun. I can't stay long in the sun under any conditions. When we last travelled abroad, I remember trying to avoid the sun often. First picture, making sure that I'm under the roof of the bicycle taxis in London.

Then hiding under a blanket while an electrician works on our wonder car in the Kalahari desert.

In a way the last picture is a metaphor for appearances. Sometimes I don't want to be seen, not just by the sun. As I get older, I become aware of both sides: wanting to be noticed, and wanting to hide away. Appearances. Alternately showing off and hiding.
The chance conversation about hairstyles and colours is an excuse to remember what we look like. The shell of physicality that encloses our selves (these "ensouled bodies") matters more than we might think. In the end, the shell crumbles and the self remains, so that the shell of John in the picture above lies now in a grave. John himself is stronger than ever; but appearances matter. He has a new body (shell), Paul tells us.
It's good to remember what we have had and been; the memories are ourselves anyway.

Thursday, November 20, 2008


This afternoon I went to a Russian sauna, or banya. One of my colleagues has extensive experience in Russia and has taken advantage of Manitoba's similarity to the Russian winter to build himself a banya in his backyard.

He found a supply of cedarwood and built a shed with a small outer room. I entered the outer room and stripped off my clothes, hanging them on a hook. Glasses came off immediately: too much steam to see with them on anyway. A swimsuit (too much of a new comer to this sort of thing to consider au naturel), and I was ready to go further in and much hotter. My friend only makes the banya about 70 Celsius (about 160 Fahrenheit). We're not setting any records, but it feels warm in the early Manitoba winter.

Soon sweat drips from my face and body and every pore. I can't see well without my glasses in any case, and with sweat flowing freely down my face I spend most of the time with my hands wiping my eyes. Three other men are there. They all sit on the top seat (we have three levels in the small sauna). John pours water into a container on the woodstove, and steam fills the air.

After about 10 minutes one of the others leads the way out; he's the closest to a newcomer besides me. I sit on the bottom seat, where the heat is lowest. And I follow him out without hesitation. The four of us cool off outside. The snow just covers the ground, so no rolling around in the snow today. The two who are most experienced take cold water from a tap and pour it over themselves. I just cool off, grateful to be able to see again.

Then back inside. John adds oil with some peppermint to the water this time, and scent mingled with steam fills the air. Soon I am holding my hands over my eyes again. Another 10 minutes and my first banya of the year is over. I cool off outside, put my clothes back on, and head for home.

It's a good experience. Physically it helps to bring out anything inside the body that needs to be purged. The four of us found that the steam and heat and cold also greases conversation and friendship. Perhaps holding one's hands over one's eyes helps men to speak more easily ....

The banya over, I walked back to the main campus building with one of the others. The two stalwarts remained in the banya for another half hour. I fingered my glasses, waiting for the frames to shrink enough for my to reinsert the right lens. A hot metal frame combined with a cool plastic-glass lens makes for loss of lens: unanticipated consequences of the banya. Next time I'll leave my glasses outside the hut entirely.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

A Rocha

I've been reading a book that brings together two of my passions, the story of the founding of A Rocha in Portugal. Peter and Miranda Harris were working in an English pastorate (curacy, if you prefer) when God called them to begin a bird-watching conservancy, specifically as a Christian outreach in Portugal. Under Bright Wings is the story of how they began the venture now known as the A Rocha Christian Field Study Centre and Bird Observatory.

A Rocha means Rock -- on this rock I will build my church. We have built often enough on dubious foundations, some thought that we might gain some credit for growing the church. And we have seen efforts struggle and fail even when they seemed to be succeeding. The story Peter Harris tells does not include great numbers of people in the Algarve (where they lived) becoming Christian. It does, however, show that genuine Christian faith came to be possible for people who thought that the church was quite irrelevant to the challenges of living in Europe today.

I think of other ventures, such as the retreat centre at Taize in France. I am in more sympathy with the theology of A Rocha, which is (to my mind) evangelical; while the theology of Taize is less clear. But both incorporate Scripture and prayer at the centre of everything they do. A deep abiding desire to know God and be in close communion with God endures in the human spirit, even when our culture, indeed so much of the world, tries so hard to get rid of God completely.

When I think of my two passions: knowing God and treating God's creation with respect and care (what some call "environmentalism"): it is clear to me that treating the earth rightly (conservation) is a form of worship. Secularists who want to save the earth mean well (as they might say of me also!), but why should I bother if we can't succeed and if there's nothing after this life anyway. But caring for creation, expressing my love and obedience for the Creator who has given us this incredible gift we call "earth"; that's another matter altogether.

I don't need to pursue environmental causes with a deep need to succeed, and thus to despair of doing anything when human greed destroys another part of nature (or, more accurately, Creation). Instead, I can do what is right (from using less fossil fuel to recycling to keeping the yard neat and enjoying Lois' garden because in all of this I am celebrating the goodness of the Creator who gave us this wonderful gift we call "earth".

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Life Continues

The American Presidential Election is over (except where they're doing recounts, such as the Minnesota senate race). Obama won, for which I am grateful. I wanted change, which is his watchword. I want a government and country that is more willing to be part of the whole world and less ready to invade other countries. I want a country in which it's okay to disagree with each other, without having one's patriotism questioned. Obama has promised such a country, although we're the ones who will have to make it work.

When it comes to specific policies, I tend to be fairly conservative -- a registered democrat who can vote republican without a lot of difficulty. But I am also a part of the world. I have lived in too many different countries to buy into the neo-con vision of America as the world's conscience and policeman and governor.

So I'm glad; but I know that the real disagreements I have with Obama (for example, taking the right away from the States to legislate on abortion) will remain. Now that the electoral message has been sent: don't invade other countries; use our military in self-defense: I can consider republican candidates again. I know that many others who voted for Obama had other issues in mind, from the economy to a dislike of conservatives in general. Those issues aren't mine. I am conservative, and I can't say as I dislike liberals. Many good people are some of each. And the economy stems from problems far deeper than republican policies, not least the greed that is endemic to American society. Overspending on a war we did not need to fight has lessened our ability to deal with the economic crisis, and that war was my single most important issue this time around.

The sun came up today. God orders the stars and planets in their courses, and God brought another day, regardless of who we voted for. The stock market fell, and the economy continues its antics. Our car needed repairing, and the plumber fixed a problem with the water softener. Our dog looks out the window and welcomes us home ecstatically, and then sleeps beside me as I type. He's old enough (11 and 1/2) to know that companionship and love are more important even than elections. Meanwhile, the election is over and Obama won. Some of my friends think that's a bad thing, but God reigns anyway. I think we all won this time, but I know that the real truth is that God reigns and the sun came up this morning.

Postscript: We have a new bed, higher than our old mattress (the same one we had when we got married over 31 years ago!). We've sprayed for spiders. So finally I am sleeping better and back in my own bed. I don't know yet if the saga is over, or if something else is going on. i still have some unexplained bumps on my head -- not the Slagenweit kind, but swellings that come and go. They may be the after effects of three weeks of spider bites, or something else. Who knows? But the sun came up this morning, after a good night's sleep in my own bed.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

More Spiders and Stuff

First, a reminder of Autumn. We don't have all the sugar maple reds that we used to in Indiana, but we've had a gorgeous Fall anyway. By now, approaching the end of October, we are used to the weather having turned much colder. It will, but so far we've had lovely weather and the yard and garden remain beautiful. Lois' autumn joy (above) is a special delight.

And now the spiders. Or, if you prefer, spiderman (as my car pool mates call me). We have tried vacuuming out the bed, plugging up holes in the wall, everything except setting off Konk (a pressurized aerosol that kills everything in the room -- but I can't quite imagine sleeping in the residue). And I have still gotten bitten each night for the past three weeks. We have found two different friends who have had the same problem, so we know more about what's going on; but we still do not know what kind of spider is involved.
I did get a brief respite by sleeping in Nevin's room for two nights, well covered up. Last night I returned to my own bed, attired thus:

Socks tucked over the sweatpants, gloves pulled over the sweatshirt, and a mosquito net over my head. I'm not sure that it actually worked: things tend to gap when the wearer is asleep, and I may still have gotten a bite. But it gives me some sense of taking action while we try to find the spiders. If I hadn't killed one crawling over my ear a couple of weeks ago, I would think that the bites came from something else. But one of the two friends who had spiders described the nest she found: 20 some spiders quite small (1/2 inch across) and perfectly round (body like a little ball and legs also making a circle), a tan coloured body. The description matches the one that I killed.
They may be in our mattress, which is quite old. We can of course replace it. They may be in the wall. We'll do some spraying of baseboards and see what happens. Eventually I hope we get rid of them, and I can return to lying in bed comfortably, without putting on a suit of spider armour.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


Some of my blogging friends do wonders with pictures. I wish I could take pictures of spiders, but as soon as I see them I squash them! I'm usually quite calm when I see a spider (or insects flying about the house): I tell Lois to kill them. But I have a good reason for becoming more active in my response.

I like spiders. They kill and eat other insects and keep the mosquito population (for example) under control. But at this moment I am in an uncharitable mood. Spiders bite! At least I think that's the problem. Here's my story.

Two weeks ago and a bit, I found a swelling on my neck. A couple of days later the swelling migrated to my left eye. Now I already feel self-conscious about the 58-year-old bags under my eyes. Usually I don't mind them: badges of honour I think. But when they fill with fluid and make me look puffy and drunk, I don't like them! At first I thought the swelling might be a reaction to a medication I had started taking. (One of those 50something things that 20somethings don't understand. I didn't 30 years ago. I do now.) I went to the doctor and showed him the original swelling and my puffy eye. He took me off the medication, but added that both looked more like the result of a spider bite to him than anything else.

So the saga began. I remember now that I have had similar swellings on my neck for some months, but disregarded them since they went away quickly enough. The doctor (who used to practice in Indiana) observed that our Manitoba spiders do not produce as severe a reaction as bites down south. That's good, but I kept checking for bites.

They came regularly. Over the past two weeks I have had bites on my scalp and neck almost every night. At least I think they're spider bites. The most compelling evidence came last week. I woke up to feel something on my ear, slapped at it, then turned on the light. Lo! A dead spider on my pillow! I thought, "Great! Now I can sleep without getting bitten!"

No such luck. The bites kept coming. Finally Sunday afternoon Lois and I pulled the bed out, cleared everything from under the bed (no more boxes of memorabilia there), and vacuumed carefully, including the baseboard. Lois performed a temporary plugging of a hole in the corner that could have been providing access for the spiders. Then we moved everything back into place.

Sunday night I tried to sleep, but Monday morning I found three more bites on my scalp, along with a puffy left eye. Back to the doctor, who saw no infection in the eye, so no real problem, but agreed that the bites were a nuisance. I also killed a spider that I found on the floor. I think it got lost trying to get back home after feasting on me! Lois had plugged its usual escape route, so it wandered about the floor until morning. I killed another downstairs this evening, which may or may not be connected to our bedroom spiders.

This morning I think there were no new bites. My eye has returned almost to normal. The swellings on my head have migrated together into one lump on the back of my neck, and I'm waiting to see what happens tonight.

"What happens to Lois?" I hear you ask. They don't bite her. If they did, I might suspect bed bugs or mites or some other pest. But she has escaped unscathed. She buries her head under the blankets every night, as she has for a long time. The spiders can't find her! So they crawl over the head they find -- mine. I've tried to copy her, but 58 years of sleeping habits can't be so easily undone. I think that all I've done is make sure that the bites are on my scalp.

I don't even know for sure that spiders are the problem. I do know that the swellings are not from the medication! I feel like I need my old mosquito net from sleeping in Zambia. If anyone has any advice or help for me, let me know!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

A Long Autumn

C. S. Lewis once wrote that old age was the best time of life, like Autumn. But like Autumn, he said, it doesn't last. Old age, or maturity past the full flower of summer.

We are having a delightful Fall in Manitoba. Our colours are not as showy as I remember from Indiana and Pennsylvania. In spite of the leaf on our country's flag, we have few red maples here: they are (I'm told) back in Ontario, which thinks it's Canada. (Hence the flag.) But the colours and temperatures and sun and clouds have all been lovely. Like a fading maturity.

I'm approaching 60 in another year and a half: maybe that's why I think of this. Sometimes getting older is a delight. To be with the wife of my youth (I was 27 years old then: it seems so young now, but it certainly did not at the time) for 31 years has been great joy. Another 31 years would bring me close to my father's age today. Which gives an idea of how old he was when I was born.

Sometimes I enjoy the Autumn, or at least late summer, the declining season of my life. Not always. Physical things that one shakes off quickly when young become more difficult to deal with. I exchange news of physical ailments with my friends in a way that no 2o something would think of doing! But most of the time I realize that God is good, and that Autumn is a wonderful season. Just too short -- especially in Manitoba.

The snow should come next month and stay until April, if past years are any guide. Meanwhile I listen to my jazz and world music, and work on my sermons and class lessons, and listen to people around me and listen for God's voice. Scott Peck said that the gift of our declining years is to be stripped of self-sufficiency so as to enter the presence of Omnipotence with an attitude of complete and total dependence: the only safe frame of mind with which to enter the presence of Omnipotence.

Autumn: long and warmly chill, coloured and shaded with reflective joy.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Back Again

School has started -- almost halfway through the fall semester. I'm in a routine, sort of. Car pooling with several other people from Steinbach to Providence. Teaching class. Reading and assessing essays. Learning to know new people and situations, and trying to keep a genuine awareness of God at the heart of the whole process.

We've just finished an election in Canada. That vote was pretty easy for me: Go Green! It's a protest vote in our riding, where the Conservative candidate takes almost twice as many votes as all other candidates combined. I'm also hoping to help the Green Party gain enough of a percentage to get people's attention, especially political type people.

We could vote in the American election too, based on dual citizenship; but somehow I don't feel right voting twice. So I vote where I live at the moment. If I did vote in the States, again it would be an easy call. I have opposed the invasion of Iraq from the beginning, and the primary recourse our system has for expressing such opposition is by voting against the architects and their supporters.

Whoever wins (McCain or Obama), I feel more hopeful about the future. It's a funny thing that: I hear one person after another talking as though, if the other guy wins, we're doomed! Obama will be the end of freedom in our country! McCain will take us to war with everyone else! I doubt it. Both of them seem to me to represent positive change in our foreign policy. They differ more at home, but congress carries the greater responsibility to pass any legislation proposed. I'm looking forward to a change.

Bush? I feel real regret. I supported him once, and wish I still could; but the course he has taken have pushed me right away. I'm looking forward to the next presidency. It won't fix very much, but at least I hope it won't invade anyone else.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Relating to People

I have a blog for a class I teach on World Religions. I posted this to that blog, and repeat it here.

A fuller title for this post could be "relating to people of other religions", but the title says what I want to say. We live in part of Manitoba that has a fairly high level of immigration. Once upon a time, immigration meant "more people like us" from Paraguay or Russia or Germany or Mexico. now it means people from all over the world. Filipinos make up the largest group of immigrants. Many others come from Asia and Africa. People who speak Low German and have a Mennonite background are no longer the overwhelming majority.

Christianity is still the primary religion represented among immigrants. But many from Europe are people who see their Christian or secular faith as so private that any question about faith makes them feel suspicious. Others from Asia and Africa are Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, and Buddhists. Although the overwhelming majority of Steinbach is still at least nominally Christian, we have many neighbours who represent other religions. How should we relate to them?

The European answer meshes with the Canadian approach: "Faith is private, and none of your business." I must admit that I have trouble with this approach. Private belief issues in public action, and refusal to admit who I am inside makes it harder for others to deal with the choices I make in public.

The desire to keep faith private is based in good sense. We see people around the world engaged in conflict, and faith seems to be an integral part of those conflicts. So we teach tolerance for all people and keep quiet about our faith. Does the fact of faiths in conflicts mean that we should keep quiet about faith or religion? I don't think so.

Many people in Africa and Asia are quite comfortable talking about religion, without assuming that the person they are speaking with must convert to their faith. The real roots of conflict in our world are political and economic. People then use religion to energize the conflict already felt for other reasons. What we need a primary commitment to peace and to respect.

Tolerance is such a weak word. Respect is much stronger. I can talk to you and listen to you respectfully. I do not need to accept that you are right, if I don't think you are; but I do need to continue to treat you fairly and respectfully.

As I said above, private faith results in public actions; so I would like to know what faith is behind the way that people live. I want to know if someone is a Christian or a Muslim, a Buddhist or an Atheist, and so on. I want to be free to say what i am (a Christian), without having my rights as a Canadian placed in jeopardy. I want to continue to respect and accept and work with all people around me, as Jews or New Age or whatever they are, with the freedom to say who they are and who I am. I want to relate to whole people.

A common concern is that such openness will lead to proselytizing. I suppose it might. Sometimes Liberal Party members try to convince someone from the NDP that he/she would be more at home in the Liberal Party. Is that a bad thing to do? Sometimes people who discuss bringing a a power line down the west side of Lake Winnipeg try to convince others that west is better than east. Is it wrong for them to do so?

It would be wrong to mistreat people with whom we disagree politically. One should not, for example, give less money to one school district than to another because it voted for the other party in the last provincial election. Nor should one break friendship with someone because the other thinks that the power line should be laid along the bottom of the lake. But we find out what is right and true in a free exchange of ideas in which we can say what we truly believe.

Religion is no different. We treat people from other religions as people. If we find they don't want to talk about it, we don't press the issue. If we find they are willing to talk about matters of faith, we may talk. At the least, we should be free to say who we are without embarrassment and without proselytizing.