We Will Return to our Regular Programming…

I’m spending this week tracking down all the places on Kortright’s website where Don McCallum’s name appears as a contact. I will admit it is a weird feeling. It’s also an interesting little dance trying to figure out where to draw the line.  It’s going to be a bit of a dance for a while I’m sure, but eventually it will all get worked out.

One of the interesting aspects of this is how to refer to Rev. Ralph Neil. Ralph has agreed to take on the bulk of the Sunday morning teaching duties for the duration of the interim process. With a few decades experience under his belt in both the Baptist and Presbyterian denominations he’s an excellent choice and we are blessed to have him and his wife Bonnie around.

He’s a great guy and a good preacher, but what do I call him? He’s not the pastor, he’s just the person who will be preaching on Sunday mornings.  And while he is an ordained minister, to call him the minister also has connotations of permanence that are likely best avoided. I’ve settled on the title ‘Interim Speaker’ based on some input from members of session and a learned friend of mine. And while it works for reference purposes, it too is a less than perfect choice.

The word ‘interim’ seems to hold different connotations for different people. This is best illustrated by something I overheard during the picnic lunch after Don’s last service.  One person in the line up for coffee said to another, “I hope the process of finding a new pastor doesn’t take too long. Once this interim period is over we’ll be able to get back to normal.”

Now, while I agree with the sentiment that the process should not drag on too long (personally I’d like to see us with a new pastor in time for our 30th anniversary in Sept 2010) I really hope we never have to “get back to normal” because I don’t want to see us leave normal in the first place. The ‘interim’ is not about abandoning normal for the next year or so and then getting ‘back to normal’ later on.  At least, I don’t think it should be.

Because the ‘normal’ operation of the church is not dependent on who the pastor may or may not be.    The normal operation of the church is to love God, love others, care for the poor and the sick, comfort the heart-broken, lift the downtrodden, and proclaiming the good news to the nations. This is not of course an exhaustive list, but you get the idea.  These activities should make up the normal daily life of the church and should be continuing to take place regardless of who’s preaching, who’s on session, or who’s making the coffee between services.

This, for me, is the challenge of the next few months, not putting church life on hold until the search process is over. The pastor is just another member of the congregation, a significant member to be sure; a member with great responsibility without question; but in the end, still a member of the congregation along with the rest of us. And it is the congregation that determines what ‘normal’ is in the life of the church.

The period Kortright is facing is not like summer reruns on television and when the new ‘host’ is hired we will “return to our regular programming.” The months to come are integral part of the life of the church. It is, if you’ll excuse an entirely over-worn expression, our ‘new normal.’ It’s part of the process that God is taking us through to make who He needs us to be to bring about His kingdom here on earth.

The pastor can and should be used by God to influence that process; he or she can show us from the Word what God expects normal to look like. But ultimately it is the congregation who, by their actions and testimony as they live their lives before the world, determines what is the day-to-day normal of the church. And they need to keep doing that regardless of who is occupying the pulpit, either permanently, or just for the interim.

Hanging in for the duration… Shalom.

Doing the Right Thing

I want to begin by thanking all of you who signed the petition at the Dominion Institutes’s web site. This afternoon Canada’s Parliament unanimously passed an NDP motion to offer the option of a full state funeral to the family of Canada’s last WWI veteran. With only three veterans of that war still alive and all of them over the age of 105, it was important that this be arranged as quickly as possible. My hope is that this sets a precedent and when the time comes a similar honour will be extended to the last remaing veteran of WWII as well. I also want to thank all the federal parties for putting aside their politics for one hour and doing the right thing. As my friend Ella commented, it proves that they can work together when they want to. It almost gives me hope.

Then just when I’m starting to feel hopeful they go and return to their old (current?) ways. It amazes me that when the opposition can’t find anything else to complain about they will actually criticize the government for doing the right thing.

This week Stephen Harper is under attack for his recent comments concerning China’s human rights record and in particular their imprisonment of Canadian
Huseyin Celil. As you know Celil is accused of being a terrorist by the Chinese government and is being held by them without allowing him access to consular officials. Celil was arrested in Uzbekistan in March while visiting his wife’s family. In June, he was extradited to China, where he could face the death penalty for an alleged involvement in “separatist” activities.

Meanwhile here in Canada all the opposition can do is complain about how Harper’s tough stand on China’s human rights record is jeopardizing Canada’s economic relationship with the Communist country. It would seem that fighting for human rights is okay with interim opposition leader Bill Graham only as long as it doesn’t get in the way of importing cheap electronics and sneakers from China.

All this tells me the Liberals haven’t learned thing from the Maher Arar affair. Are they going to allow another Canadian citizen to be tortured at the hands of a foreign government? Can they not see the total hypocrisy of their position on this?

Or are they sending the message that protecting Canadians accused of terrorism is a priority when doing so will poke a stick in the eye of American president George Bush; but, when doing so interferes with one of their favorite dictatorships it ranks much lower down?

I’m just glad that while the Liberals don’t seem to get the danger of trying to balance human rights and the almighty dollar, at least our Prime Minister does.

“We were very critical of past governments for not vocally defended the interests of Canadian citizens who had been mistreated abroad, and I think when it comes to general human rights I think we have a general obligation to express our values,” Harper said. “But when it comes to the specific case of a Canadian citizen who is being mistreated, we have an absolute moral obligation to defend those citizens and express our views.”

Of course, given the Liberal track record of dealing with dictatorships and human rights abusers around the world, I guess it’s understandable they don’t recognize that what they are criticizing Harper for this time is simply doing his job. Holding other governments accountable for how they treat Canadians is what a government is supposed to do. Let’s hope the Harper government keeps the job long enough to get it done.

Lest We Forget

Each November we see a wide variety of things come to light that are intended to help us remember the men and women who have given their lives in the service of their country. Some of these are good and honourable ideas, others are just attempts to cash in on the emotions that run high at this time of year. Every once in a while however an idea surfaces that is an unqualified ‘ one of ‘ that makes you sit up and take notice. Today, I came across such an idea.

There are three Canadians left alive who served during the First World War. They are: 105-year-old Dwight (Percy) Wilson (shown in photo getting a kiss from his grand-daughter on his 105th birthday) and Lloyd Clemett and John Babcock, both 106. They are the last remaining links to the 619,636 Canadians who served between 1914 and 1918. Soon, when they too have passed on, there will be no one left to say, “Thank You” to from that terrible time in our history.

The Dominion Institute has suggested that when the inevitable day comes that the last of Canada’s WWI veterans passes, they should, on behalf of all the 66, 655 Canadians who died in service to their country during that war, be given a formal state funeral. I fully agree.

The passing of the last WWI veteran will, in fact, mark the passing of a generation, even an era. We should do all we can to make sure that their sacrifice does not fade from memory. To give the last veteran a state funeral as a significant tribute to every soldier who died in WWI is by all means a very fitting act. I hope you agree as well.

I am therefore asking you to join with me in asking our federal government to do just that. There is an online petition available to be signed at www.dominion.ca/petition . You may well have heard about this on the news by now, so what I have written here is not news. Some of you have already signed and for that I thank you. If you hadn’t please take a moment to click on the link above and do so. You will receive a verification email that requires you click another link to verify your email address is a valid one. The whole process takes only a few minutes.

The passing of the last Canadian WWI veteran will only happen once in our entire history. Let’s make sure it is an event that is well remembered.


Blessed are the meek…

Like many of you I have spent this week watching the events unfold around a small Amish community in Pennsylvania. There is a part of us that can rationalize the idea of shootings in crowded inner-city communities where our children walk to school through all the horrors that modern urban life has to offer, but who among us ever thought that Amish country was also a breeding ground for this kind of behaviour?

Even more remarkable than the fact that such an event would take place in this small rural community lost in time, is the response of that same community. It is a response that in many ways is also lost in time. It is a response that has caught the attention of many people in North America and has them wondering about their own responses. And I would like to suggest that the people who should be paying the most attention to the gentle ways of these gentle people are the Christians of Canada and the United States.

It has been somewhat disheartening for me to watch the behaviour of my fellow Christians in the press of late. It seems that the default reaction by many believers to people who disagree with them is to unload all of the bile and hate they’ve been storing up. Condemning people to any or all of Dante’s 9 levels of hell, wishing disease and calamity upon them, questioning their humanity, comparing them to various tyrannical dictators (Hitler remains the favorite), even death threats are among the list of responses the practitioners of “Christian Love” levy at those who would dare to oppose them. It all calls to mind the lyrics of an old song by the Christian rock-band Petra…

“Seen and not heard, seen and not heard
Sometimes God’s children should be seen and not heard.
Too much talk and not enough walk
Sometimes God’s children should be seen and not heard.”

Not so the people of faith in this Amish community that has suffered so devastating a blow. The people of Lancaster County took a very different view.

“The grandfather was there and he made a point. They are instructing their kids not to think evil of the man who did this. I think that was the most moving of all,” Rev. Rob Schenck of the National Clergy Council told CBS.

“I don’t think there’s anybody here that wants to do anything but forgive and not only reach out to those who have suffered a loss in that way but to reach out to the family of the man who committed these acts,” Jack Meyer told CNN.

“The hurt is very great,” she said, “but they don’t balance hurt with hate.”

Today’s pastors and Christian writers have a great deal to say about how to live the Christian life in the modern world. They spend a lot of pulpit time and ink on paper trying to re-create the Gospel in a flavour that the ‘post-moderns’ can find easier to swallow. But in a small community that for the most part is still in the 18th century, the teachings of Jesus are being lived out for all the world to see, and the world is listening.

This small community that has rejected cell-phones and computers, even gas engines and the automobile has refused to reject the man who committed this terrible act (Charles Roberts). They get ‘closure’ on the matter not by seeing that the shooter is vilified and the world never forgets how evil he was; but rather by forgiving what many consider unforgivable. They reach out not to obtain revenge, but to extend compassion and comfort to the Robert’s family in the understanding that they too have suffered loss – a husband and father. They do not alter their view of the Gospel to address a circumstance they never imagined facing, instead they cling to centuries old teachings from the scriptures to get them through whatever happens no matter how unfamiliar.

It truly speaks to the power of the Gospel itself to make a louder statement than any preacher or evangelist ever could. We don’t need special effects or a New Testament re-written in text-message style wording. We don’t even really need to trip over ourselves trying to be seeker-friendly. What we really need to do is live the life we have been called to live — honestly, every day. We need to remember that the timeless message we have been called to share with the world is just that — timeless.

That doesn’t mean we need to get rid of the tools of the electronics age, but we do need to remember the message we are called to deliver. Marshall McLuhan said, “The medium is the message,” and nowhere is that more true than in the case of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That is because we are the medium by which the message is transmitted. It is not the computers, the Internet, the new translations, the church programs and activities that communicate the gospel — It is us! And as we’ve learned this week, a gentle word, a firm resolve, and a forgiving embrace speak louder than anything sermon we might preach.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

You can’t say it any better than that.


Not My Best Day

This is not usually the kind of blog where I write about the stuff I did today so that you can live vicariously through me or at the very least feel better about yourself because your life doesn’t suck as much as mine does. However, today you’re going to get a small dose of Dennis’ life because, well, to put it bluntly, I screwed up today — big time!

One of the hardest things about being out there in front of everyone is that you really have to stay on your toes. When you do something that people feel is not right for a Christian to do, they will waste no time in telling you so. Some even take a certain pleasure in it. The natural instinct is to make excuses or try to justify it because of circumstances and the like. But the simple fact is that as Christians we have the responsibility to make sure that we own up to our mistakes. So here goes…

I broke a promise I made to my nephew Jacob today. Actually, the promise was made to his parents my brother Alex and his wife Joan. I told them on Saturday that Roberta and I would be over to visit tonight. But we didn’t go. Why is totally beside the point. I could explain it all but it would make no difference. The fact remains that Robert and I got home about 8pm. We had a bite to eat and watched a little TV and then at 9 o’clock I went downstairs to my den in the basement and turned on the computer. And there was the reminder staring at me from the computer screen. Today was Jacob’s birthday!

Both Roberta and I had completely forgotten about it!! There is no excuse, no explanation that can make restitution for this. I blew it. I made a promise and I failed to keep it. The ironic thing about it is I am currently preparing a piece of scripture for storytelling in church this Sunday. Here’s part of the passage…

“Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord. But I say to you, do not swear at all: neither by heaven, for it is God’’s throne; nor by the earth, for it is His footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Nor shall you swear by your head, because you cannot make one hair white or black. But let your ‘Yes’’ be ‘Yes’, and your ‘No’,’ ‘No.’’ For whatever is more than these is from the evil one.Matthew 5:33-37 New King James Version

In case you missed it, we need to keep our oaths to family and friends as well; and especially, I think, to children. We can make all the excuses we like about how busy we are and how much the world in closing in on us, but that is really all just excuses. What matters most in life is that we can be trusted; that we are the people that God expects us to be. Because if we are not it reflects badly not just on us, but on every person who calls themselves a Christian, and ultimately on God as well.

It bothers me deeply that I let my family down tonight. I love my brother and his wife and my nephew Jacob. They are very important to me even though we travel in different circles and don’t socialize very much. Which is why it is even more important that I keep my word to them and am there for them when I say I will be. Tonight I wasn’t there when I should have been and it’s going to take me a long time to repair that damage.

That’s why I’m writing this tonight. The first step in repairing the damage is to admit the mistake. Especially for those of us who claim to represent the Kingdom of God. If we cannot be counted on to keep our word; if our ‘yes‘ doesn’t always mean ‘yes‘, then the world is justified to call into question the message we present to them in Jesus’ name. And that is something we must not allow to happen.