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The spot for the good news, the good word, the quick reports of the many, many wonderful news items I hear all the time and want to share with the rest of you. Expect to find the good news when you come to check out "what’s the good word?"

Friday, September 30, 2011


It's not exactly "dinner" that I want to talk about. But I couldn't really put it all into a single word, so "dinner" is what you get.

I was reading this essay about Shared Meals earlier today and I've been thinking about it ever since. While I don't always agree with everything on this site for Christian women, I can count on them to force me to think!

I remember well my own family dinner table. (I've shared this before). We always ate together. We always sat in the same place. I was down there at the end; my left-handed brother sat at the corner so his elbow wouldn't conflict with anyone else's space. Much conversation happened at our table. Many lessons were taught and learned--some obvious, some not-so-much.

Much is written these days about ways our culture has changed. Many a comment has been made about the loss of the family dinner table. The essay I referenced earlier speaks of the changes in hospitality, the need for congregations to find ways to resurrect the shared meal, the importance of modeling Jesus' teachings about the common table.

Congregational practices around "pot luck" that informal ninth sacrament always generate lively discussion. Small groups and new groups (think Barrie) --ask them how often the eat together! It's one of the best ways we know how to bond a community into something tight and real.

Listen to the "experts" on family dynamics and the psychology of children or teens and pretty soon, you're likely to hear them talking about the need to establish, or re-establish the practice of eating together as a family. They'll advise you to turn off the television, remove the ear-buds and sit together at the table and to make it a habit.

I am really quite aware that I haven't offered you much in the way of answers. I'm quite conscious of the barriers that exist--the time crunch, the sports and school schedules, the allure of fast and pre-prepared meals, the dearth of time and volunteers to manage the congregational communal meal. But what do you think? Have we lost something that we should be reviving? Have we managed to hold onto something we want to keep? Is there something theological here that we might need to think about more deeply?

If you've got thoughts on this, please share. If you'd like to raise some more questions that's OK too. But if you've got answers toss them into the mix as well.

Posted by Marion

Thursday, September 29, 2011


Last evening, the camping commission of Canada East Mission of Community of Christ met again via teleconference to work on plans for the up-coming Director’s Retreat. As I listened to their thorough and careful planning, I couldn’t help but think of how far we have come. It represents something of a quantum leap from where we were just two short years ago.

Until 2011, CEM sponsored the fall Director’s Retreat and Camp Staff Training day in the spring. Several people who had been involved in both told me Director’s Retreat was very helpful, but the spring gathering was not as strong. That observation was reflected in the attendance. It became clear that we needed a team of people with skills and experience to take over the leadership and direction of our camping ministries. From this realization our camping commission was born.

In the spring of 2011, the weaker Camp Staff Training Day was replaced with Skills and Leadership weekend. For the first time at this event, several key instructors were available to teach camp staff important skills. For example, a professional trainer was provided to help us in the area of conflict resolution and to lead our conversation on the risks as well as the opportunities of using social media. Apostle Susan Skoor offered classes in pastoral ministry. Mike Hewitt instructed Directors and Business Managers about planning, budgeting, and reporting. Other skills were also imparted. It was an excellent start; a strong leap forward.

In the meantime, the camping commission began to turn their attention to some important questions around emergency preparedness. How ready are we at our camps for an emergency? For example, exactly what steps would we need to take to protect our campers in the event of a tornado? What about a fire? Are the directors and staff aware of these steps? Too often, the answer is no, and clearly we need to change that.

If an unknown and potentially hostile intruder were to appear on the grounds, what do we do to protect the children? What exactly will we do in the event of a water emergency? Do we know how to direct emergency personnel (fire, police, ambulance) to the correct area on the campgrounds? Who is responsible to make that call? Who will go to the road to guide emergency personnel when they arrive? In some cases, our campground boards have clearly been working on these areas, but are the camp directors aware of this preparation and how to take advantage of it?

At this year’s Directors Retreat we will begin working together to become better prepared. Campground board executives will be invited to share with directors the plans and preparations they have made. An expert in emergency preparedness is being invited to come and provide appropriate instruction. All this will lay the groundwork for a major emphasis and training at the spring 2012 Skills and Leadership Weekend. An effective coordinated plan is beginning to emerge. It is an amazing leap in the right direction, and our campers will be safer as a result.

Posted by Carman

Wednesday, September 28, 2011


Here I am at the end of the day without having posted anything to the Blog!
It must be time to dip into the archives. With Mission Conference coming up soon (October 15, get details here) I thought you might like to read the following from our Archives.

Here's Construction.

Check out both links and then leave your comment.

Posted by Marion

Tuesday, September 27, 2011


I have a friend whom I have often heard say, when speaking about those who have gone before us in our faith movement, “We stand on the shoulders of giants!” I had occasion to think of that twice this past weekend, once at the funeral of Leighton Robinson, and again on Sunday while participating in the Wiarton, ON congregation of Community of Christ.

I had the great honour and privilege to read Leighton’s testimony at his funeral. His stories of healing are remarkable, and speak of the tremendous faith of this man, and that of his parents before him. It reminded me again of his father, Sam, driving from Wiarton to Stokes Bay so many Sunday mornings to bring a sermon and share his stories of faith with that little congregation. It may be partially because of him and others like him that I am who I am today.

There are many reasons why Wiarton holds a special place in my consciousness. It is the place where I can draw close to the very source of my own faith roots. In this church I can visualize my grandparents sitting in their place, paying fervent attention to the gospel message being delivered. This is the place where my father grew up. This was also the community that continuously upheld my mother and her family in prayer when she was dying at the pre-mature age of thirty-two. This is the community that surrounded her and us with their love.

The Wiarton congregation was probably the mother ship that launched several other congregations and many remarkable persons on their faith journey. It would be interesting to look at the surnames of the charter members of this congregation, and even more fascinating to know their stories. My memory, of course, does not go (quite) that far back, but I know some of the names who came after. They were the faithful, stalwart witnesses of my childhood. This list includes names like Farrow, Mason, Rydal, Leeder and Robinson to name a few, and of course there were multiple given names to go with each family name. Each of them nurtured the very marrow of the gospel in their bones, and they were always ready to share it. When I think of them, I cannot help but realize, “We stand on the shoulders of giants!”

Having spent this few moments looking back, it now seems appropriate to invest a moment or two in looking forward. What of those who come after us? When they look back, who will they see as being of critical importance in their faith journey? Will it be you? Will it be me? Will the testimony of our lives provide strength and stability, a place where they can grow to discover their own relationship with God? Will our testimonies and examples help them find or plant their own roots in the fertile fields of God's generous grace?

This morning I ask you two questions. Who are the giants upon whose shoulders you stand? Who is looking to you to provide a shoulder upon which they can depend?

Posted by Carman

Monday, September 26, 2011


The view off my deck is very decidedly moving in an autumnal direction. I am awakened every morning by a cacophony of goose honking. (I considered using "Honk!" as today's "good word" but rejected it quickly. There's not much good to say about Honk! in my humble opinion at this moment.

I am reminded, however, of another autumn week once when I was taking a writing class. Our teacher challenged us to write a Haiku Poem each day for the next week. My reaction, as usual--rebel that I am--was to think "No, I don't do haiku." Haiku had never typically been my genre. But then neither had any other type of poetry. And my commitment to the class was to at least give it a try.

Now, a few years later, as the leaves change colour, the geese begin to assemble for migration, the squirrels get crazy active, my thoughts turn to Haiku.

Fat frantic squirrel
hides nuts in the window box.
Alas, poor fool.

Birds wait on the line
listening for the signal
telling them "Head south!"

Blackbirds swell in
undulating wave against
a grey autumn sky.

Wings wide--landing gear
down--wild geese follow their feet
into the ground.

Orange orange orb
balances on purple hills
then drops out of sight.

There you go. Five of my haiku a day for an autumn week. What about you? Any budding haiku poets out there? By all means share.

Posted by Marion

Friday, September 23, 2011


There seems to be a pretty formidable connection between churches and the times in which they were born. I was struck by that observation recently while attending one of our congregations. As I sat in church, it occurred to me that I had been there for the dedication service of that congregation over 40 years ago. Upon that realization, I began to reflect on how much, and how little, had really changed. On the surface there are differences. The facility has been modernized and updated somewhat, there is a sound system and so on, but when it comes to the programs of the congregation and the expectations that surround those programs, things are more the same than they are different.

That observation is not intended as a criticism; I think it is pretty normal for almost all churches. I suspect a sociological study would show that churches started in the 1750s would maintain certain characteristics while those begun in the 1970s would have quite different ones. Churches seem to maintain a certain continuity with the era in which they were begun. As someone asked me recently, however, if we were starting this congregation today, would we do things the same way? The answer is, "Of course not!" We would not start a new church using the methods that were popular 40 years ago. We would look for methods that appealed to people in this post-modern age, or whatever the current era may eventually be called.

Examples of what a congregation or a ministry started in the 2nd decade of the 21st century might look like are already beginning to emerge. The new Barrie congregation is one of those as highlighted in the recent What’s the Good Word post Steam. Actually Steam is only one of Barrie’s activities that are different. You will probably read about more of them in the weeks to come, or you can follow them now on Facebook.

But there are other examples too. Some of these new Christian movements appear to have their genesis in Great Britain. Messy Church is an example of one such effort. The Messy Church movement is already beginning to appear in Canada, as is its cousin Fresh Expressions.

So here are a couple of questions to ponder. If you were starting a new congregation in 2011, what do you think that church would look like? What would its programming be? What would you do differently than you do today? For church planters of our era, these are the questions that really matter.

Posted by Carman

Thursday, September 22, 2011


Have you noticed the tv ad where the grumpy dad expresses his missing of his young adult daughter, clearly just moved to the big city, with lots of complaints and suggestions, until they meet on common ground at a beloved coffee shop? I like her line "I like the noise!"

At this moment I'm sitting alone in the office, keeping one eye on the driveway, lest someone come in who needs attention, one ear out for the door-bell (in case I miss the drive-by) and listening to the noise from the street and the parking lot next door. And I'm thinking "I like this noise."

You're aware that I have moved from the centre of this small city out to the edge where the noise is of quite a different quality. In fact, it's not unlike the office just now. The most prevalent sound is...nothing. It's generally a very quiet place to be. The quiet makes it possible to hear the noises that most of the time get missed. Seldom is there real, deep quiet. Almost always there's some sort of noise around us.

But we get used to tuning it out. I recall growing up on a farm that was crossed by a railroad track. People would visit us and would invariably ask: how do you stand having that train running so close to you? Doesn't it disturb your sleep?

We never heard it! Just as the current flight path over our house to the newly international Waterloo airport is hardly noticeable. I'll hear a new bird before I'll notice the noise of that regular afternoon flight.

I'm thinking that much of the time my life chugs along. There's "noise" that comes in so many forms. People around come and go, experience joy and sorrow, have their own ups and downs that just become so much ambient sound for me. It's so easy to just become accustomed to the comings and goings that it takes something really unusual or surprising or jarring to catch my attention. I suppose it's normal, even necessary that we not notice everything.

But once in awhile I want to remember that those noises out there are the indications that your life matters to me to. If we are to be in community, then I must remember that I do like the noise. I have to look up from my own life now and then and connect with you and yours. I hope not to forget that. If I do, though, please make some noise!

Posted by Marion

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


If you do a search on this word, one of the items very near the top of the list is likely to be this offering "meetings, bloody meetings." I guarantee, if you utter the word "meetings" in most any gathering, someone will respond with some similar (if not identical) derogatory statement. It seems to be fashionable, acceptable, normal to hate meetings!

Why is that? Mainly I think it's a bit of a self-fulfilling thing. Because we tend not to like meetings, we don't give them the kind of attention they need and deserve. Therefore we approach our meetings without giving them adequate thought or planning. And they turn out accordingly. And we are confirmed in our opinions that meetings are things to be scorned.

I spoke the other day about congregations getting back to a regular schedule of activities. Maybe you're also returning to thinking about your meetings. Here's a tiny bit of advice, hopefully to help you.

Consider that in any organization--as small as a family, as large as a corporation or even a country--there need to be be two kinds of meetings. One is the Regular Meeting. It's called "regular" because it kind of regularizes who we are. This is the time we get together and look at each other and remember we belong together. We remind each other of our overriding vision and purpose and recall our priorities and values. We look around and notice our leaders, our leaders-in-training. We hand out certificates of appreciation, or long-service, or even retirement. We observe how we're organized and we celebrate who we are.

Think family holiday dinners, openings of parliament, annual stock-holders' meetings, the congregational budget meeting (perhaps).

Then there are the Working Meetings. This one is plural, because we have many more of these than we do Regular meetings. These are the generally much smaller groups who need to get together to gather information, figure out the critical questions, assign tasks to individuals or task forces, report back on how our task is going, brief and de-brief each other as we work towards our specific piece of the priorities we've shared at our regular meeting. They can be lots shorter, maybe even just touching base on the phone.

This lesson could go on much longer, with lots more helpful tips about agendas and memory systems, but you've got the critical piece. Much of the time we mix up our purposes and try to cover too much. We think "if we've got these people here we'd better get it all done." We'd be better to keep them separate, and clearly so. Consider your meeting; decide which type it is; make sure everyone knows that; organize to serve the announced purpose. Doing this much should make your meetings work better and make your people appreciate what you've done and be more willing to attend your meetings.

I hope this helps.

Posted by Marion

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


What do you think of when you hear the word “Steam”? Perhaps the image of a boiling kettle comes to mind, or a steam generator. Each of you will have your own answer to that question, but I am guessing not many of you thought of Steam as a worship service.

Once each month, Barrie Community of Christ holds an event it calls Steam. In this case, Steam refers to a Christian Coffeehouse held at the TLC Café and Bistro, 49 Maple Avenue in downtown Barrie. During this event, people come together to enjoy live music, share what gives them joy or sorrow, pray, and strengthen their relationship with God and each other. Kind of sounds like worship, doesn’t it? In fact, last Sunday night, Pastor Matthew Swain even shared a homily on a passage from Leviticus in the Hebrew Scriptures he has been studying in Seminary!

Steam is hosted by Larry Christopher, the owner of the TLC café. Larry is a chef and a musician who probably loves all music but is especially devoted to the music of Neil Young. During Steam, Larry is present, preparing and serving food or refreshments for the group, and even sharing his music when invited to do so. Talk to him about his café, his music, or his relationship with Pastor Matthew, and one quickly senses the love Larry seeks to share with the world. Listen to his stories and his generous attitude of graciously doing what he can to make others happy, and it is clear that Larry also receives a lot of love in return. He is a living example of living generously.

What sets Steam apart from church in most congregations is the setting, and not just that it occurs in a downtown cafe. The difference is that Steam happens when the café is open! In other words, the congregation meets in a public place with people coming and going, all of whom are welcome to stay and participate. It rather reminds me of the Apostles in the Book of Acts, going daily to the Temple to worship and teach others about Jesus. Like those ancient Apostles, for the leaders of Steam it is not about inviting people to come where you are, but going where the people are and inviting them to share in the joy.

Will Barrie Community of Christ always do Steam? I confess I do not know. What I can say is that, for now at least, Barrie has found a way to go to the Community and invite others to Christ. They do so in a way that fits the times and the community in which they live. Praise God!

Posted by Carman

Monday, September 19, 2011


One of the first principles of time management is this: What gets scheduled gets done.

Most of us have a pretty good grasp on many of these rules. Even if you only read the covers on the magazines while you wait in line at the grocery store; especially if you read any of the self-help books. There aren’t that many new rules for having a good life. And you already know all the old ones:

Never skip breakfast.
Exercise for thirty minutes at least three times a week.
It’s essential to be consistent if you want to train your puppy well.
Make sure your plate holds more vegetables than meat.
Don’t leave your big assignment ‘til the day before it’s due.

You can list a million of them. Right?

But that scheduling one is worth gold. We can have good intentions from here to eternity. We can sincerely believe that we ought to invite a friend, to share about our most valued relationship with Jesus. We all have a deep desire to end the suffering in the world around us. Imagine how wonderful it would be if we really could abolish poverty. Every single one of us would dearly love to live in a country, a world that is more peaceful—where justice rules.

At least one of those things is probably something we might say “matters most” to us. If so, then here’s the best advice of all those self-help gurus. If you want something to happen, decide what steps you can take to start moving in that direction and put it in the schedule.

This is the season when most of our congregations are drafting our church calendars. We’re creating our schedules. If we’re truly honest when we look at those schedules, we should be able to see what matters most to us. If those mission initiatives truly resonate in our hearts, then we’ll be making every effort to create events, activities, space that will make something happen. Something that will make a difference in the community where our congregation is planted, where our people live and work and have their being.

How’s your calendar shaping up? Is it looking pretty much exactly as it always does? Have you considered how your fall dinner or your Christmas concert or you spring rummage sale are moving the world toward the abolition of poverty or the advancement of the cause of peace and justice? Because if we want those things to happen, we need to schedule them!

I know several of you have booked working sessions to spend some time working on What Matters Most and creating a strategy for your congregation. Good for you! Make sure your strategy includes some scheduling. Because what gets scheduled gets done.

Posted by Marion

Friday, September 16, 2011


There are any number of words I could have selected for today's "good word." Maybe my choice was dictated by the barrage of election ads coming my way these days. Each candidate offers me a "better option." Perhaps it's a recent experience of dressing a four-year-old for school. Her options needed to include more than just the shorts and t-shirt offered by daddy. (Although that was her final choice in the matter, much to daddy's delight!)

All our lives we're presented with options. Options are good things.

In my job I'm often asked for "the answer." And even when I have several good options to offer, my questioner wants me to make the judgement for him or her and just tell them the one, best way to proceed.

One of the big pieces in my department is study. I'm in the business of offering options for folks who want to learn something or who need to study something. Questions come from adult class teachers, or pastors or new priesthood ordinands. Years ago, when I first came to this job, the questions tended to be posed something like this:
When and where is the next temple school course being offered for this or that required credit?

My response was never a direct one. I'd be more inclined to ask them:
What is it you need to learn? What do you want to study?

And then I'd start to look for options. I'm happy to say that things have changed as my callers these day are much more open to hearing the various possibilities and selecting the one or more that work best for them in their various situations.

In just the last couple of weeks I've had conversations with people who will be ordering the home study version of their priesthood office course, but will be working together with another elder in her congregation to review the course and to work on ministry plans together, applying what they'll discuss as they study to the situation in their own congregation.

Another coordinator has a couple of courses running. One of them was opened to all members of the congregation who wanted to share in the study. Some will take credit; others will not. That group is meeting in a home mid-week. But for their second course, most will do the home study questions, then meet all together with the coordinator for a final discussion session and sign-off to obtain the credit.

I just saw a notice that a third congregation is holding a full-blown temple school weekend with a qualified instructor. They've sent out the announcement so that others who want to come can join their class.

And finally, a Sunday morning adult class will use temple school material as their main study book for the entire next semester. They haven't decided whether or not to give/take credit for it.

So there you are-- several viable options for using temple school materials (available from Herald House directly: call 1-800-767-8181 to order and obtain any more information you need).

Call me for more suggestions if you want to branch out into other study materials. I've got options for you.

Posted by Marion

Thursday, September 15, 2011


In the pre-dawn darkness, the world is caressed and wrapped in beauty. The air is crisp and clean, delicious to the nostril and welcome in the lung. To the West, the silent, barren moon coolly reflects the light from an as yet invisible sun that burns and boils 150 million kilometres away. To the East, the road falls away before me, and in the valley below, the living white mist winds it way across the landscape. Like currents in an ocean of white, it wraps the land with silence and peace.

Fields and farms are visible by the fences, barns and trees that rise above the stream. Not far away near a neigbouring house, a row of tall young pines stand like sentinels, their silhouette somehow warm and welcoming. The horizon glows with an incredible pink-orange promise or warning that day will soon arrive. Above this glow, a large but solitary cloud wears the colour of blue slate. The scene is incredible, like a living picture created by an artist who understands the beauty of simplicity. For this brief moment, I am part of it, and it becomes part of me. My spirit drinks it in, like tonic for an introverted soul.

Steadily the light increases, and by the time I finish my walk, the sun is already leaking over the horizon. I hurry home. The day begins. There is a blog to write, meetings to attend, decisions to be made, budgets to be prepared, but my mind and heart lingers in this memory of awesome grace and beauty.

May your awareness be blessed by the gift of God today, wherever you may find it.

Posted by Carman

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


I’ve just come through a couple of days of billboard country. Mile after mile, high and low, both sides of the road they call out to me as I drive along. There’s really no way to avoid the clear message: I am the most important person in the world. I am the centre of the universe. I am entitled to the best, the biggest, the sweetest. Everyone out there was created to serve me and my every need, my every want, my every whim or desire.

There is not a restaurateur, realtor, insurance agent or health care provider not poised at the ready to serve me with comfort, luxury, healing. Come to us and we’ll make you feel like one of the family they offer. (Somehow I don’t get the sense they want me to wash the dishes or take my turn cleaning the toilets.)

As I drove along in the glow of all these extravagant offers coming at me from billboard after billboard it occurred to me that most of modern life is quite this way for those of us who live the typical North American lifestyle. Certainly if we’re not careful. We are “marketed at” constantly.

No wonder that we can so easily fall into a feeling of entitlement. We may think it just normal that our politicians promise us things. Why would we not want them to take care of us, cut our taxes, preserve our favoured services. After all, am I not Number One? I’ve been hearing it forever.

One little conversation from the previous family weekend comes to mind. “How do you teach values to children who have everything they need, and most of what they want?”

I think it isn’t just our children we need worry about. I think it’s so important to talk, teach, practise and model generosity. How easy it would be just to allow ourselves to be lulled by the marketing messages bombarding us on every side. We start to believe that we deserve all that we have, that somehow it’s our due. It’s pretty easy to become convinced that we’ve got here by our own efforts, our own hard work, our own "just because" we're just so fine.

And yet the facts are otherwise. We who live at the top of the heap must take seriously the need in our world. Not just in countries far away, although for sure it is there. But right here in our own neighbourhoods. At the base of those billboards there live hungry children, working poor, communities of people who don’t enjoy all that good food and luxury and comfort pictured up above them there.

Fifteen hours on the road, looking at all those billboards has brought me to a place of thinking just what all these messages convey. I don’t want to forget to be generous and thoughtful about my resources. Here’s my suggested antidote one more time: Talk, teach, practise, model generosity.

Posted by Marion

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Stones II

When I can, at least when the weather is good and the season such that it is not pitch black outside, I love to go for an early-morning walk around the country block near the village where I live. Most of this walk is on gravel roads, and my eye has often been caught by a particular stone as I go along. I have mused about the lessons to be learned from stones before.

It is usually the colour of the stone that draws my attention; perhaps a particular shade of red or blue. Occasionally I have even bent down and picked up the stone, dusted if off and put it in my pocket. The disappointing thing, however, is that when I get it home, these stones often appear just to be rather ordinary, and not unique or special at all! At first I was a little puzzled by this.

Gradually I have come to understand that what makes the stones seem unique and interesting is the contrast they provide to the other stones around them. If most of the stones on the road are grey and then a dusty red one shows up, it will stand out from the crowd and seem particularly interesting. If all the stones are red, however, it will be just one more of the same. It is the contrast, the difference, the uniqueness within its context that makes the stone seem interesting.

Is that how it is with people? Do we value people for their differences within the community or do we like people best when they are just like us? Sometimes it seems we value people despite their unique characteristics, not because of them. The metaphor may be too simplistic of course, since unless you are a geologist, you probably don’t take time to think about or understand the personality of a stone. People on the other hand…well that’s a different story.

What if we valued people for their differences? What if we saw in the person who is disabled or “differently-abled” someone who has accomplished so much more than an ordinary person just to get where they are? What if we saw the child or adult with physical characteristics such as Down’s syndrome as someone who is a special gift from God? Would we feel it a privilege to know them? Would we then feel blessed by their treasured gifts, such as the ability to laugh easily and heartily? And what of the person who is a different size or shape and does not fit the modern image of beauty? Would we value them more for thier uniqueness?

Just a few morning musings as we journey along life’s road together,

Posted by Carman

Monday, September 12, 2011

Dismantling Barriers to Peace

On Sunday, September 11, 2011, a remarkable panel assembled at First Unitarian Congregation of Toronto. The panelists who met there were as follows.

Buddhist – Gen Kelsang Suma, Barrie Kadampa Centre
Christian – Darren Kropf, Mennonite Central Committee Ontario
Hindu – Bhaktimarga Swami, Hare Krishna Temple, Toronto
Islam – Imam Hamid Slimi, Chairman, Canadian Council of Imams
Jewish – Rabbi Karen Levy, Oraynu Congregation for Humanistic Judaism, Toronto
Unitarian – Rev. Shawn Newton, First Unitarian Congregation of Toronto

First Unitarian Congregation wanted to commemorate the 10th Anniversary of September 11, 2001, not by merely remembering the tragedy of the events which occurred that day, but in a way that might advance the cause of peace. As a result, they asked JW Windland of Encounter World Religions Centre to design and moderate this event. As usual, JW did that with distinction. The objective of the day was eloquently stated by JW in his keynote address; “We hope today to shift the focus for a while from images of tumbling towers to visions of peace.”

Each member of the panel was asked to address two questions.
1. Speaking from your tradition, how is peace understood?
2. What barriers to peace are there in your tradition and how is it actively dismantling these barriers?
Each responded to the questions, to each other, and to questions from the audience in an open, thoughtful and peaceful way.

I will not here attempt to summarize the comments of the six distinguished speakers, however I can tell you that it was quite clear that there was general consensus of thought. The idea behind that consensus was first suggested by JW Windland when he stated that the enemy is not each other, the persons within other nations or the ideas of other faith movements. The enemy is absolutism. The barriers to peace arise from absolutism, dogmatism, intolerance, rigidity, arrogance and ignorance within any faith. When we look at the thoughts or ideas of others as being inferior to our own, we have already taken a step away from peace.

The importance or success of this day cannot be measured in the eloquent words or phrases that were spoken, however. The success of the day is measured in the fact that representatives of six world religions were willing to come together, without fanfare, without flashbulbs and cameras, without the news media even being invited, just to talk to each other. The spirit of love and generosity was apparent in the voice of each speaker, and the barriers slowly melted as we shifted our focus from those “images of tumbling towers to visions of peace." We need more of this.

Posted by Carman

Friday, September 9, 2011


“Be still, and know that I am God!”

Psalm 46 was originally a song of praise to God, probably in celebration of the deliverance of Jerusalem and the Temple, God’s place of habitation, from the Assyrian army in 701 BCE. The piece reminds one of a great symphonic work that is filled with drama and power at some points, but moments of gentleness and tranquility at others.

The Psalm calls us not to fear despite images of mountains shaking in the heart of the sea, waters roaring and foaming, and mountains trembling. Recent cataclysmic events in Japan, Chili and other places may come to mind as we consider this. This call for calm and faith in the midst of trouble are powerfully reminiscent of the resilient, faith-filled people of Haiti breaking out into songs of praise to God in the midst of the chaos and destruction following the earthquake there.

In the Psalm, these dramatic images are followed by a pastoral scene with pictures of peace and tranquility in the morning light in God’s Holy city, even though “the nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter” (verse 6). Then in a dramatic conclusion, we are called to quietly consider God’s awesome displays of power in defense of Jerusalem.

Come, behold the works of the Lord;
See what desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
He breaks the bow, and shatters the spear;
He burns the shields with fire.

“Be still, and know that I am God!
I am exalted among the nations,
I am exalted in the earth.”

The Lord of hosts is with us;
The God of Jacob is our refuge.

Be still in the midst of chaos. Be still and know that God is God. No matter how great your troubles, be still, find your centre, your source of quiet strength and peace. Be still and find your point of balance.

Be still. What an amazing way to start your day.

Posted by Carman

Thursday, September 8, 2011


I have recently read a lovely book from Marion’s steadily diminishing library entitled Feed My Shepherds. The book, written by Flora Slossan Wuellner, explores the reasons why burnout is so common in ministers, suggests some ways to prevent this from happening, cope when you are in the throes of it, and ultimately heal. The author’s wisdom is well earned, having grown out of her own experience with the subject.

While I recommend the title highly, especially if you are experiencing spiritual or emotional fatigue, it is the book’s cover that I am thinking about this morning. The paper wrapper or “dust jacket” as it is known in the industry displays a picture of a very pastoral scene; a small stream moving past the gnarled roots and trunk of an old, moss covered tree. The stream brings life-sustaining moisture and nourishment in what otherwise might appear to be a barren and rocky place. It is a lovely image.

I had adopted this delightful little book as part of my personal quiet time, reading a few pages or a chapter each morning for a couple of weeks. I had not thought much about the image or the cover until one morning when I happened to peal the jacket back to reveal the rather plain, imageless hard-cover book underneath. I realized then what a difference the cover made. It was the picture on the cover that caught my attention, intriguing me as a potential reader, suggesting the life-giving nourishment contained in the book’s interior. Without that dust jacket, it would have been just some paper elements with no suggestion of the rich message contained inside.

Reflecting on that this morning, it occurs to me that this is not unlike our everyday experience in human life; one we probably do not spend much time thinking about. The various elements of the package we display outwardly to the world convey messages to those we encounter in our daily lives. For instance, a smile may suggest we are a pleasant, happy person that someone might enjoy talking to. A frown may suggest preoccupation or problems, conveying the impression that we may not be open to conversation. A scowl might simply say, “Keep away, I’m busy or annoyed or frustrated at the moment!” A smile in the midst of scars may convey a life that has learned to cope with life’s hard knocks.

I am not in any way suggesting here that we wear a false front or try to create an impression that is not true. If we are to be honest and authentic, the package we present to the world will grow out of our everyday life experience. It is the way we choose to deal with that experience, however, that shows in our countenance. Do we convey the image of a gnarled and rocky spiritual landscape, one that is hostile and uninviting? Or does our image suggest that our life experience, whether difficult or easy, is being nourished by the life enriching stream of God’s generous grace? Does the personal dust-jacket we wear suggest that we have a positive and wonderful message we are happy to share with others? Or do we convey a closed or hostile image? The jacket we wear may well make all the difference in determining whether or not we get to share the Peace of Jesus Christ with someone today.

May your personal dust jacket reflect life and grace today, both for you and those whose lives you touch.

Posted by Carman

Wednesday, September 7, 2011


As I was driving across town Tuesday morning I passed by my normal bunch of schools, elementary, high school, college and university. This is a very well-educated community I have. And I’m thinking of all those hundreds, thousands of people looking for the place they belong. Some are searching class lists posted on a bulletin board; some will have schedule in hand and will be approaching a room expecting to be welcomed, to find a seat, to locate someone already known.

“Is this where I belong?”

“Can I find my place here?”

“Will these people let me into this group?”

It’s a normal, human need – to find a place to belong.

We speak of belonging in church too. Some of the terms we use are “hospitality” and “community” and “relationship.” There was a time when we spoke of belief in the same context as we spoke of belonging. Phyllis Tickle (in her book "The Great Emergence") speaks of how the church has changed. Fifty years ago we found people who believed the same way and, after the prescribed time and rituals, we joined up and then we belonged. More commonly we were born into a congregation, grew up being taught the “correct” set of beliefs, conformed to the expected behaviours and at the appropriate age we joined; but really, we already belonged.

Not so in the twenty-first century says Tickle (and many others who observe the same patterns). People on the move long for a place to belong, to feel at home, to be accepted and loved. As they come into the community and observe how this group behaves, how its values are expressed, they may or may not find common beliefs. In fact one thing that communities do is talk together about those values. They may search out beliefs together. They may believe the same or they may not.

I spoke recently about expectations. We can’t expect, or assume, that everyone in our community will believe exactly the same. We won’t all have the same history or understanding. One of the things that will make our community feel safe is our willingness to accept people’s doubts and questions and struggle with belief. I’m much more likely to feel like I belong if you work with me as I struggle with my “unbelief”!

What do you think? Do you agree with Phyllis Tickle’s analysis? Which order of things resonates best for you: Believe, Behave, Belong? or Belong, Behave, Believe?

Posted by Marion