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electionahead Today I will do what I originally intended NOT to do, and that is wade into the quagmire that is the American Presidential election.  The outcome of the election matters not only to those who vote in it, but since the winner will be the most powerful person in the world, it matters to all of us.

To say that it has been and is a vicious campaign is an understatement.  A seasoned American journalist said after the second debate on October 9 , “this kind of thing goes on in a banana republic, but this is the United States of America!” And after last night’s debate, which began in a civil manner but quickly deteriorated to the usual mud-slinging of untruths, commentators are saying that Americans have reached an unprecedented low in American politics, where one of the contenders on stage refused to confirm that he would accept the verdict of the electorate.

What makes this election so troublesome is that neither of the two candidates of the two major parties is morally fit to occupy the White House, and wield the power that goes with it. The character, or shall I say that lack thereof of Donald Trump has dominated the news.  While many of the racist, sexist comments are outrageous, the most disturbing thing is how Donald Trump manipulates, reinvents and ignores the truth. Whether the subject is climate change, ISIS, past foreign policy, or anything else, Mr. Trump has his own reality: the truth according to Donald Trump. The list of lies that he has told is far too lengthy to reproduce here, but here is an example of the fact-checking that confirms this.

As theologian Wayne Grudem has written,   “Hillary Clinton is no better. She vilified the victims of Bill Clinton’s sexual advances; she abandoned our diplomats to be killed by terrorists in Benghazi and then lied about it; she illegally handled classified emails on her private server and put national security at risk; she left much of the world in chaos after four years as Secretary of State; and she has a lifelong pattern of acting as if she is above the law, protected by the Obama administration’s Justice Department, the FBI, and the mainstream media”.

It is no small wonder that American voters are confused if not hard pressed to make a choice between these two front running candidates. Along with the rest of the world, many are wondering that with an American population of 324,824,839 how it is that the two major parties could come up with these two candidates for the office of President.  The easy answer is that both of them have had their eye on the White House for a long time, and both have the financial means to pursue this prize. It seems that the White House is for sale to the highest bidder and that is sad.

The outcome of the election is impossible to predict, although Trump is trailing in the polls. However, polls have been wrong in the past, and anything can happen.  Here are some things that will almost certainly happen on November 8:

  1. Some voters will vote along party lines, no matter what. In other words some will vote Republican or Democrat because that is the way they, and perhaps their ancestors before them have always voted. We have voters like that in Canada too.  I remember one of my barbers telling me about his father, a staunch Conservative.  Whenever the Liberal Party was in power, he would hang mourning crepe in his house and wear a black mourning band. Party ideology means everthing, regardless of the human being out front.
  1. Some voters are single issue voters. In other words people who cherish their guns and the “right to bear arms” will go with Donald Trump, as will many of those whose beliefs mesh with the bigoted, racist remarks that their candidate has made. On the other hand, feminists and  those firmly in favour of abortion will side with Hillary Clinton. Whatever else the candidate believes about foreign policy, or the economy, or whatever doesn’t matter to these voters.
  1. Some voters will try to mix and match their religious and their political beliefs. An important wild card in American politics is known by different names: “the religious right”, or “the evangelical vote”. While some have tried to organize something similar in Canadian politics, it has never been unified here.  But in US politics this is a formidable power that no candidate ignores.  Both Clinton and Trump have tried to pander to the people of faith.  Incredibly, Donald Trump actually has a “religious advisor” and an “evangelical advisor” on his campaign team. The latter is televangelist Ken Copeland.  
  1. Some will vote for what they perceive as  the “Lessor of Two Evils”.  People know that whoever becomes president will have the power to appoint justices to the Supreme Court of the United States.  To evangelicals and other pro-life voters, Trump is waving the flag that he will appoint conservative leaning justices who will reverse Roe v. Wade, the court decision that permits abortions.  Hillary Clinton is promising the opposite – to appoint liberal-leaning justices who will not only uphold Roe v. Wade, but ensure that the court has a liberal slant for years, perhaps decades to come.  So the argument goes: what kind of America do voters want?  They should therefore overlook the weaknesses or flaws of the candidates and vote for the one who will best promote the causes that the particular voter favours.  In an initial statement, theologian Wayne Grudem advocated doing precisely that.  Other evangelical leaders have gone on the record as supporting Donald Trump for the same reasons.  Grudem has since reversed himself and said he would not vote for Donald Trump, and apologized for his earlier position.  I will say only that I find the practice of combining one’s faith with a political view, as the “Religious Right” movement in the US advocates very disturbing, and that whole problem would be enough fodder for another discussion.
  1. Some voters have said that they will “sit out” this election, that is they will not vote at all.  While they will not have a direct say in the outcome of the election, they may indirectly help one or the other candidate, depending on how the numbers pan out.
  1. Some voters will either spoil their ballot, or use the “write in option”. The “write in option” does not exist in Canada as far as I know. Writing in a name other than those printed on the ballot will spoil your ballot in our country, but Americans apparently have that option.  They can also vote for other names that are on the ballot, and apparently there are two other candidates running for president, although most certainly neither of them will become president.  But it does give voters an option. Again, depending on how many traditional Republican or Democrat voters are pulled away from their favourite party to these fringe candidates, that could affect the outcome, but not necessarily in the way the voter would want.

So with all of these factors, what is a voter to do?  I certainly would be the last person to tell anyone how to vote.  In a democracy, the secret ballot is a sacred secret between ourselves and our conscience. Certainly, Christian voters would be well advised to pray for guidance.  Speaking for myself, there have been times when I didn’t decide how to vote until I entered the polling booth, (and even changed my mind).  I know I am not alone here, so for those reasons I am not going to predict the outcome of November 8. Either way, I think there are dark times ahead for us all.

is the first anniversary of my father’s death.  It is hard to believe that it is already a year ago that Dad left this world in the early morning hours of October 8, 2015.  Much has happened since then, but all of it was surrounded by the cloud that Dad is gone.  Anyone who has lost both of their parents will know that certain realities come with that.  The one-year milestone is also a time to reflect on the journey of grief, and the road ahead.  I trust that readers will indulge me if I am more personal than in other posts, and if the subject matter bothers you, then perhaps you will find something more uplifting to read.

I want to focus here on the personal lessons that I have learned.  I realize that grief is very personal, and my lessons may or may not apply to someone else, but after almost 40 years of pastoral ministry, some of these lessons do seem to blend in with the observations I have made while accompanying others on their journey of grief. I would summarize by saying that I found Grief to be SURPRISING.

  1. Grief Is Surprising in its intensity

Dad’s death was not a surprise.  After years of failing health, worsened by a cancer diagnosis a few months before he died, Dad’s death was anticipated.  Dad knew it, and there came a time when the suffering was so great that he longed for it, and in a strange way, there came a time when we who loved him silently prayed that the suffering would soon be over, even though we knew what that meant – he would be gone. But when it happened, I was not ready for it. Yes, I had heard and read about “anticipatory grief”, and mistakenly thought that if you go through some of that then maybe the grief after the actual loss will be easier.  I was wrong. The full impact of it did not immediately hit.  As I noticed over the years with others,  during the days leading up to and including the funeral one lives in somewhat of a fog. Some call that denial, others refer to the “shock” that surrounds the actual loss, or perhaps it is just a coping mechanism to get us through the difficult events.  Moreover, the flurry of activities and the host of people that one encounters in the days of making arrangements, visitation, funeral, and reception, and being with other family members distracts somewhat from the actual activity of grieving.  But there comes a time when “it hits you”, usually after the flowers are gone and the sympathy cards stop coming.  One is expected by then to return to the routines of every day life.

In my case that meant returning to the pulpit.  When my mother died six years ago, I took vacation time, and a few months later began a 4-month sabbatical.  But when Dad died, I had used my vacation time for that year, and also was in the final preparations for a mission trip. It had to be “business as usual” very quickly.  Except it was not as usual for me.  Outwardly I managed to function.  I continued preaching the series of messages that I was in, and I did go to Kenya and Cameroon as scheduled, but I was not myself.  I had trouble concentrating.  My memory failed me at crucial moments (forgetting my carry one luggage at the airport in Toronto, forgetting my laptop at the security checkpoint in Amsterdam, leaving my jacket on the plane to Nairobi) and many more embarrassing things. 

  1. Grief is Surprising in its timing.

Grief does not operate on a predictable timetable.  Dad died between midnight and 1 o’clock in the morning.  I was at home in bed.  When the phone call came, I of course immediately drove from Hamilton to the hospice in Kitchener, where my brother and the pastor were waiting.  As I drove the empty highway, tears blinded my eyes at times.  But when I stood at my father’s bedside and looked down at his lifeless body, the tears would not come. Nor did they come later that morning when I walked into his empty house, which was just as Dad had left it three weeks before. But they did come again, and again when I least expected it.  And even when they didn’t come, (its actually hard to cry when you are on a high dose of antidepressants) there still was a feeling of ache and emptiness.

The deepest feelings of loss and sadness also were not during the days during and after the funeral.  They sometimes hit seemingly out of nowhere: perhaps right after a joyous or fun event. Just when you think you have turned a corner, bang there it is.  Or triggered by a memory of something that Dad or mom used to do, or seeing something that they had in their hands.  I write these lines from the family cottage, which Dad had built for the family, but especially for my mom who loved this place and the family gatherings that took place here. There are memories everywhere I look, and sometimes that doesn’t phase me – life does go on –.  But then there are other days.  Like yesterday when I opened a cupboard in the kitchen and saw a jar that still had a label that was hand-written by my mother.  And there it is – grief as though she had died yesterday and not six years ago. My first impulse was to get rid of that jar, but somehow that didn’t seem right either.

  1. Grief is Surprising in its expression

When I worked at the funeral home years ago, there was a certain ethnic group, whose funerals usually involved a lot of wailing and crying.  After working a few of those funerals I realized that this was an expectation in that culture…. if you didn’t make a lot of noise, it meant that you didn’t really love the deceased, nor were you saddened by his/her passing.  I found it curious that some of those who wailed the loudest could turn it off like a tap when they went to the coffee lounge of the funeral home, or outside for a smoke, and then turn it on again when they returned to the room where the casket was.  But still I would never suggest that the weeping wasn’t sincere, nor should we assume that someone who does not display their emotion is not grieving.  When I spoke at my mother’s funeral, some inconsiderate soul asked me afterwards how I could do such a thing with dry eyes.  I replied that I had done plenty of crying, and would do plenty more, and was thankful that God enabled me to do what my mother had wanted, namely to officiate at her service. As it turned out, there were many tears to come, beginning at the farewell at the cemetery.

Having said that, I do think it is important that grief be expressed in SOME way. Regardless of how you are emotionally wired, one should find some way to express what is in our heart. Tears are one way, but gestures are another.  When I place flowers on my parents’ grave, I know cerebrally, that these flowers do not benefit them in any way.  But they are a way for me to express what I feel.  Some make memorial gifts in memory of their loved one. Some go the cemetery often, others do not.  Whatever helps us to express what is in our hearts is what we should do. And if tears come, they should not be suppressed. They are part of the language of love.

  1. Grief is Surprising in its scope and breadth

Something else that surprised me is the kind of memories that surface during grief.  I’m sure we’ve all heard it said that one should not speak ill of the dead, for that brings bad luck. But the reality is that grief brings up not only the memories of good times, but also the things about the darker side of the deceased.  I remember experiences that I had with both Mom and Dad that are not pleasant to remember.  I recall feeling guilty when I felt disapproval of those things. I know now that I need not feel guilty.  I also remember that I am a son, not a judge. The things that they did wrong are between them and God.  It is not wrong for me to remember these things, but it would be wrong to hold on to feelings of resentment or anger or hurt. I found it helpful to talk to others who knew my Dad.  We laugh about the good times, and we soberly remember the not so good times.  It doesn’t change the fact that we love our Dad, even in death.

And what about guilt?  Yes, grief has a way of dredging up those things that I said or did to Mom or Dad that were wrong.  For many of these things I have apologized to them in life.  Others I never got around to.  What to do with that? Well my Christian beliefs forbid me to try and make contact with those in the eternal world.  The only thing that works for me is to pray to God, whom I believe does forgive.  Whether he passes my repentance on to my parents or not, is His concern.

And while I’m at it, I might mention that I have seen both my mother and father in dreams. The interesting thing is, that at no time have either of them spoken to me in those dreams.  The dreams usually consisted of familiar family scenes, in which either my mom or my dad or both appeared in silence. It was almost as if the action of the dream took place around them, rather than they being in them.  I find those dreams neither helpful nor upsetting.  They just are.

When does grief end? Or another way people ask that is, “how long does it take to get over someone”?  The specialists (who don’t know everything) say that it is over when the work of grief is done.  I prefer to look at it in terms of how intensely and how often we feel the hurt.  Losing someone involves adjusting to a life without the deceased.  That hurts like something awful at the beginning.  The intensity of the pain lessons, and enables us to sense joy and laughter and love again.  But life is never the same again.



There is a story about a man who felt that he had the call to preach.  Only nobody wanted to listen to him.  So he approached the elders of the church that he attended, and told them that while looking into the sky, he saw the clouds in a formation that looked like G.P.C. He felt a strong urge that this means “Go Preach Christ”. The elders were not convinced, but making allowance for the fact that God sometimes works in mysterious ways, they gave him an opportunity to preach once.  After the service one of the elders took him aside and said that he should reconsider if the G.P.C. didn’t mean “Go Plant Corn”.

Some bad humour  that shows that some people miss their true calling in life.  All of us have a true calling – God has a purpose and a place that belongs uniquely to us.  While for some that may include full time ministry or foreign missions, for others it may mean being the very best in some other vocation, profession, or trade.  But I want to discuss today the matter of a “call” to ministry, to preach, to be a chaplain, a counsellor or a youth pastor, or whatever.  How does God call people to such special tasks?

Our catholic friends call this process “receiving a vocation”, and they have a unique process in place to help men who are called to the priesthood or diaconate, or women who might be called to a life of religious vocation such as nun  discern if they have both the gifting, and the call of God on their life for that task.

As protestants, we also desire that people who enter our seminaries and Bible colleges in order to prepare for full time ministry have a sense of God’s calling in their life.  Often this requires that a prospective student submit reports from those who know them spiritually.  As a pastor, I have often been asked to fill out detailed questionnaires about applicants to various schools.  In fact, I have even filled some out for students who wished to enter police college or medical school.

In the Bible we have various examples of the kind of person whom God calls for a special holy task:

  1. Sometimes God calls those the Reluctant. A good example of that would be Moses.  Although Moses heard God speaking to him from within the burning bush, he had a litany of excuses of why he was not suited for doing what God was calling him to do, namely to lead God’s people out of Egypt’s slavery to the Promised Land. “Who me? (Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh); “Suppose they ask me something I don’t know?” (Paraphrased); “what if they do not believe or listen to me?”; “what if they don’t pay attention to the miraculous signs?”; “I have never been eloquent…I am of slow speech and tongue”.  After God had given a gracious response and promise of provision for each of Moses’ shortcomings, Moses pushed the envelope and finally said, “O Lord, please send someone else to do it.”  While every church has a “someone else”, I wonder what would happen if God responded to everyone who asked him to send someone else in the same way as he did to Moses: “Then the Lord’s anger burned towards Moses”. (Exodus 3 and 4).  As we know, Moses turned out to be a great leader with God’s help, and his leadership techniques are the subject of study today in both the religious and the secular realms.  Other reluctant leaders in the Bible are Jeremiah, who thought he was too young (Jer.1:6-7).  And of course who can forget Jonah, who learned to listen to God in the belly of a fish?
  1. Sometimes God calls the Unlikely. When Samuel received the task of finding a successor to King Saul, he was sent to Jesse, who paraded 7 of his sons before Samuel. To Samuel, some of these seemed likely candidates, but in each case God said that this is not the one whom He had chosen, or more emphatically, “I have rejected this one.” Finally, when asked if these were all the sons, Jesse replied, “there is still the youngest, but he is tending the sheep.”  In other words, Jesse didn’t even bother presenting his youngest.  But that is precisely whom God wanted.  His name was David, and he became king in place of Saul.  We know that David also became an adulterer and a murderer, and yet still was known as “a man after God’s own heart.”  We get an explanation in 1. Samuel 16 as to why David was chosen, “The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” (1.Sam 16:7)
  1. Sometimes God calls the Unworthy. Here I am thinking of the New Testament Saul of Tarsus, who became Paul the apostle. Think about it.  If you had to choose a man who was to lead the expansion of the early Christian church into non-Jewish territory, in other words be a church planter, and on top of it author a large portion of what would become the New Testament portion of God’s Word, would you choose a man like Saul?  Someone who was instrumental in the persecution of the church?  But that is precisely whom God chose to call, to transform, and to empower with His grace for that task. Paul never lost sight of the unworthiness with which he came to God. To the end of his life he refers to himself as the “chief among sinners.”  When we think of who Saul had been, and who he had become, it becomes clear that God can call and use anyone whom He chooses.
  1. Sometimes God calls the Volunteer. In Isaiah 6, is an account of Isaiah’s vision of God, “seated on a throne, high and exalted” ; his awareness of being cleansed after one of the seraphim flew to him and touched his lips with the live coal from the altar, saying “See this has touched your lips and your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”

When Isaiah heard the voice of God saying, “whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” he gave a response that changed his life, “Here am I! Send me!”.  Those words have been on the lips of countless people through the ages.  This story in Isaiah 6, has always been one of my favaourites in the Bible.  It was read on the occasion of my ordination to the Gospel ministry, and last year in Kenya, it was the text of my address to the graduates of the Missionary College in Eldoret.   I challenged the graduates that the prerequisites of anyone who wants to serve God in ministry are that they must have an encounter with God that includes being cleansed from sin, they must have an awareness that God is calling them, and they must have a willingness to be sent by Him anywhere.  I shared with the 1,000 or so people there that I had once said to God that He could send me anywhere but Africa!  (I can’t stand the heat or humidity or strange animals).  But there I was, preaching my first of several sermons on African soil.

Some lessons I learned over my life and career are these.  NEVER say “NO” to God.  If God is calling you to go, then you must go.  And if he is calling someone you know or love, don’t get in the way.  Don’t try to discourage or dissuade that person from following God lest you get in trouble with God.


23. July 2016 · Comments Off on THE MESSAGE IS THE MEDIUM ? · Categories: General · Tags:


It was Marshall McLuhan,  the erstwhile Canadian communications guru, who coined the phrase, “the medium is the message”.  McLuhan died before the internet became as pervasive and as accessible to all of us as it is now.  If he were alive today he would no doubt have much to say about how the internet is changing our every day life, and that not always to the better.  Most academics agree, that what McLuhan meant by his famous  the medium is the message phrase, is that the message imbeds itself into the medium that is used to transmit that message.  If that is so, then the internet, and all the electronic toys that go with it are used not only in order to communicate with one another, but some of what we communicate is in that message.  And what exactly is that message that is imbedded in a tweet, or a text message, or an email?

Allow me to come back to that after I digress for a moment to a fascinating book that I am currently reading. It bears the simple title THE AMISH and it is written by three researchers (Donald Kraybill, Karen Johnson, and Steven Nolt) who carefully trace their Anabaptist  origins in 16th century Europe,  their migration to the United States and Canada, and finally their lifestyle here.  I say that the book is fascinating, because I grew up (and now again live in) a part of Ontario surrounded by some Amish settlements.  My contact with them has so far been only visual.  That means that before reading this book, I knew very little about them except that they do not accept Daylight Savings Time, they ride around in horse drawn carriages, and they are dressed very plainly.  The Amish eschew the modern way of life, along with its many gadgets.  In other words, they would not have access to the the internet, cell phones, and the lightening speed communication which many of us deem as essential in order to “keep in touch with all the people in my life” as many of us would say.  Yet here is the fascinating thing.  The Amish are in no way communication-challenged.  While they live in their own communities, those settlements are closely knit.  While a person living in a high-rise often doesn’t know the name of the neighbor next door, an Amish family would know what their closest neighbour 2 miles down the road had for breakfast. And despite the predictions that this isolation from the rest of the world would lead to their eventual extinction, the Amish are in fact flourishing.  From a mere 6,000 of them in 1900, their population has grown to some 275,000 across thirty states and the province of Ontario, about half of them living in the State of Pennsylvania.

Now fast forward to 2016, to an experience that I had only last week.  While travelling by car, I stopped in at a roadside diner.  A very popular place it was rather crowded.  Almost every one of the closely spaced tables was occupied, but I managed to get a table for one.  The table next to me was less than 2 feet away and it was occupied by an elderly couple.  Directly across from me was another table for 2 with a somewhat younger couple.  I could see that couple, and I could hear the couple next to me.  I tried very hard NOT to listen, but it was unavoidable.  The couple was absorbed in a lively conversation about nothing that they wouldn’t mind someone overhearing.  They minded their own business and I minded mine.

The couple across from me immediately pulled out their smart phone after sitting down.  Each was busy either facebook checking, texting, or whatever.  So absorbed were they in this that the waitress actually had to interrupt them to take their order.  When his wife excused herself to powder her nose, the man checked voice mails on his phone and began making calls to answer them.  He was still talking when the meal arrived.  Surely, I thought, they would put their phones down in order to eat. Well sort of.  Between mouthfuls, the couple exchanged a few sentences.  But soon one of the cellphones rang, and the wife took the call.  I guess it was important or maybe she doesn’t have voice mail.  When she was done with the call, time for a few more mouthfuls while the husband picked up his smart phone either to text or tweet or whatever.

Now the couple next to me was definitely communicating with one another.  The couple across from me was also communicating in their own way, but not with each other.  Or were they?  What does it say to you, when you are having a face to face conversation with someone or enjoying their company , and they reach for their cell phone or smartphone?  I have had this happen to me so often that I know that it means: “you are not as important as this message that I am getting on Facebook, on Twitter, or on my phone.”  I know some smartphone4ofmy friends who have done this would argue: “that’s not what I’m communicating to you at all!”  And I would reply, “maybe not. But that IS the message that I pick up”. The medium is the message.

When I was still in pastoral ministry, I often observed people texting while I was preaching. You would be amazed what you see while you are up there. Sometimes people would even text someone else who was right in the room.  People think that we don’t notice these things, but hey, when you turn around and make goo goo eyes at someone in the balcony after receiving a text, how obvious is that?  And by the way, we preachers can also tell if you are using your smartphone to follow along in the Bible (which is totally OK), or doing something else.  What message does that send?  I don’t mean to judge, but I wonder whether that person is really focused on God and what HE has to say at that moment.

Now don’t get me wrong.  I have nothing against technology.  I like to think that I am up to date with all of it.  In fact, during a sleepless night in Kenya, I reached for my iPhone to check whats happening on Facebook.  I noticed a friend who was online, and we went into a private chat.  Amazing that we could communicate in real time 8 time zones away.

But seriously there is a difference between a smart phone that is tool or a toy. There also is such a thing as an addiction to technology, and yes i know that they said that first about the radio, then the television.  But it is not without reason that health care professionals and others talk about children having too much “screen time” (that covers both the big and the small screens) and not enough fresh air, exercise, and real time social interaction with others.

Are we perhaps raising a generation that will be lacking in communication skills despite the most modern gadgets?  Is the medium the message?

15. July 2016 · Comments Off on THE PERIL OF SOAPBOXES · Categories: General · Tags: ,

roguetenor2By now you would have seen the clip about the Canadian tenor who brought embarrassment to Canadians earlier this week when he changed the words to the Canadian national anthem during the opening exercises of the Major League Baseball all-star game in San Diego.

The Tenors – once known as the “Canadian Tenors” were about 25 seconds into a harmonized a capella arrangement of “O Canada”, the point where Remigio Pereira drops down an octave to his solo of the line “With glowing hearts we see thee rise, the True North strong and free.”  Instead he sang, “We’re all brothers and sisters, all lives matter to the great.”  Today, the news tell us that he apologized and says that he “meant no disrespect to the national anthem”.  It may have been too little too late, for at last word, his future with the Tenors is uncertain. He is suspended “indefinitely” according to the other three Tenors, who immediately distanced themselves from Pereira’s gaffe.

What makes this so offensive of course, goes deeper than the liberties that he took with the words of the national anthem, whose lyrics have been hotly debated of late.  The national anthem is not particularly sacred, despite being referred to as an anthem.  But it does belong to all Canadians, and no individual, no matter what their artistic ability has the right to arbitrarily alter it during a performance.  No, the brouhaha, according to Vinny Menson’s front page article in Thursday’s Toronto Star is that “the rogue tenor misses what really matters R-E-S-P-E-C-T (sic)”.  He didn’t get the “respect memo” on a number of fronts:  first of all that he was singing a Canadian national anthem on foreign soil, and secondly that he was involving himself in a volatile debate that he had no business to participate in, certainly not in a public ball park and on international TV.  The “all lives matter” phrase is a response to the “Black lives matter” watchword of the recent racial conflicts in the United States.  Certainly a free country guarantees us to the right to think what we will about this and for that matter any cause, but there are appropriate and inappropriate venues to participate in debate and express one’s opinion.  As Menson reminds us, it has become fashionable for entertainers, actors, sports personalities to steal a moment or more during their exposure to force their views on the rest of us.  “It is no longer enough for singers to sing or for actors to act or dancers to dance.  Now they must also take sides and make political statements, even while performing.

And while I’m at it, I would like to point out another place where I have observed this happening: in church.  During a recent worship service that I took part in, the mixture of contemporary worship music included an ancient pre-reformation hymn that I recognized from my childhood.  But I did not recognize all of the words on the screen.  Someone had “monkeyed” with them to make them fit their own politically correct view that certain words should not be sung if they appear to be gender-specific, even when the context clearly says that they are not.  To illustrate: “man” or “Mankind” clearly does not refer to males in a song that people have sung for longer than the “editor” of this song has been alive.  There is no clarity issue here, but yet the worshippers were being compelled to sing the views of a musician with a soapbox that did not belong in worship.  Ironically, the very words that were intended to be so “correct” were a barrier to worship, and not the ancient words that they replaced.

And if there should be any preachers reading this:  stop turning your sacred pulpit into a soapbox for politics, and other assorted opinions that really are a matter of personal view, and not doctrinal truth.  Just because you stand six feet above contradiction does not give you the right to force your views and hobby horses on your audience.  When it comes to politics, you probably have many political views represented in your pews, and all of those people have a right to hear the gospel.  But they won’t if you anger them by abusing your privilege and your duty to address them.  I have repented of those times when I have been guilty of that when I was in pastoral ministry.

I agree with the many editorials and writers this week who got it right.  Its all about R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

08. July 2016 · Comments Off on “RETIRED” · Categories: CHRISTIAN LIFE · Tags:


It seems like everyone who speaks to me  these days is asking about how I am enjoying retirement.  One reader of this blog was fishing for a “retirement musing” [you know who you are!]  To be perfectly honest:  I really have no idea.  Its only been 2 weeks – much too soon for any “insights”.    I don’t think that retirement has really “hit” me yet.  Right now I feel the way I always do at the beginning of a vacation: trying to decompress from a stressful ministry that hasn’t become any easier with time and experience.  Retirement as such, will no doubt hit me when it is time to go back to work, and there will be no job to return to.  Nevertheless, I do have some convictions and thoughts about retirement, and only time will tell if these convictions become reality.

  1. I do not plan to be busier than I was when I was working. I don’t know many times retirees have said that to me over the years and decades. When I replied that it was their own fault if they could not say the mono-syllabic word “NO”, they usually retorted, “just wait until you get there.  You’ll see.”  Well, I guess I am “there” but I still feel the same.  Now it is true that I do not have children nor grand-children who typically take up a lot of retirees’ time.  I’m not saying that is a bad thing.  Young people do need role models and other things that grand-parents can provide better than anyone else.  But too much of a good thing stops being a good thing.  I believe retirement should be a time to decide what activities will fill our time; a luxury that we didn’t always have in our working life.
  1. I do not plan to be Inactive. I am not yet ready for a rocking chair, nor a retirement community. And while our family cottage is close to a wonderful beach, I can’t imagine spending ALL of my time on the beach, not a northern nor a southern one. I have other things that I would like to do, and I won’t disclose all of them here.  But I plan to live up to the advice that I have given many retirees over the years, and that is to do the things that you want to do while you still can.  I cherish the ability to make decisions about where to go and what to do, but realize that to all of us will come the words that Peter heard from our Lord:     Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” (John 21:18)  Watching my parents in the sunset years of their life has taught me that this can happen very quickly and sometimes without warning.  Time should never be wasted or frittered away, and certainly not in this stage of life.
  1. I would like my life to continue to count for God’s Kingdom. Being the full time pastor of a church is not the only way for that to happen.  As they say, “Been there, done that” and I would add, have the scars to prove it.  But ordination is a lifelong commitment to minister God’s Word, and I will do that wherever opportunities present themselves.  Not everyone has that calling, of course, but if we are a Christian, we do have a calling to contribute our abilities as best we can to the Lord’s work, whether we are paid to do so or not.  It has always troubled me to observe many retirees “wasting” their retirement by coasting along from one golf course and tennis court to the next and contributing nothing to the work of the Lord’s body.  Maybe the work in your life’s vocation in business or some profession is done, but your spiritual life needs to grow deeper.  When God calls us home, either by death or by Christ’s return, He does not want to find us in an arm chair waiting for Him (unless we are disabled of course!) He wants to find us doing what He asked the church to do, and that is to make disciples. And yes, even when you are retired, there is something that we can do to help others grow in the Lord. But the attitude of so many seniors in our churches is, “I’ve done my time, paid my dues, now let others do their share”.
  1. Answers to Some Questions I am being asked. No, I don’t have a “bucket list” but there are some things I still want to accomplish. Stay tuned. No, I am not planning to run for political office.  Yes, I will continue this blog.  Now that I am no longer employed by a church, I can be a little more outspoken about my views, including my political ones.  Yes, I also plan to write other stuff, perhaps even a book, but no, I’m not ready to tell you about what! (No, it won’t be a “memoir” for almost 4 decades of ministries has produced some memories that ought never to be repeated).
  1. I am open to advice from other retirees who know more about this than I do. Feel free to leave your comments.
01. July 2016 · Comments Off on HAPPY CANADA – MY CANADA · Categories: CIVIC LIFE · Tags: ,

As I always do on July 1, I watched today’s live CBC coverage of the National Canada Day celebrations on Parliament Hill.  Much of it was the way it always was: crowds, VIP’s, 21 gun salutes, fly-pasts of the Snow Birds.  The Governor General inspecting the Guard of Honour.  Red and White were the theme colours on peoples’ clothing, and even on some painted faces.

I am proud to be a Canadian, and as I have written elsewhere, I am that by choice.  I was not born in this country, but chose to become a Canadian Citizen.  I remember the process well: having to learn various facts about Canada, and appearing before a Citizenship Judge in a one on one interview to demonstrate that I had done so.  (It was not an onerous test, but I dare to believe that many people who were born in Canada couldn’t pass it). Then there was the Citizenship Ceremony with its solemn pledge of loyalty to Her Majesty the Queen and “Her heirs and successors” and the handshake with the judge and the presentation of a certificate that I still have.  But that did not happen until after we listened to a speech about the “Duties and Privileges of Citizenship”. I have fulfilled at least one of each:  I have voted and served jury duty.

What struck me about today’s ceremony was not the pomp and pageantry, neither were the speeches of any particular brilliance.  The Prime Minister said what prime ministers say on such occasions.    What I listened to with more interest than anything else were the sound-bites of various Canadians who were invited to speak to “My Canada is….”.  Most of these comments hit all of the right “buttons”:  freedom, diversity, bilingualism, inclusiveness” to name a few.

That’s great.  Sort of like saying that mothers are wonderful on Mother’s Day.  Who would say anything else? So I had to think how I would answer that. Without meaning to be unpatriotic, what stands in the foreground for me, is somewhat different from these  “motherhood and apple pie” statements that everyone makes on this day.  I would have to say, “My Canada … is a very troubled country.”

For one thing, it is a divided country.  The question of Quebec independence is a long standing one. Twice – in 1980 and 1995 – that province held a referendum for its citizens to decide whether or not to remain part of Canada, and on both occasions they voted to stay, but only by a narrow margin.  Now, just days after the BREXIT – The decision of the people of the United Kingdom to exit the European Common Market – there are again open talks about a “Quebexit”.

But it is not only a “Francophone /Anglophone” problem.  Now and then voices are heard in other parts of our confederation about whether life would be better as an independent entity (I hesitate to use the word “nation” that lives in some sort of relationship with Canada). Anyone who has travelled throughout Canada knows that every region has a unique flavor, that sometimes even expresses itself even in accents of speech. Worse than that, there are hostile feelings among some Canadians.  I will never forget how some years ago, I was invited to preach in a church in western Canada in order to candidate for a position.  At the door after my sermon I was asked by a worshipper whether I was a member of the the Liberal Party.  I asked whether anything I had said in my sermon gave any indication of that.  The answer was, “no, but you are wearing a red tie”. Yes, I was wearing a red tie and a navy suit, only because that was fashionable in that day.  But the person who asked the question was reminded of the government of the day that was so despised in western Canada. After living in that western city only a short while, it didn’t take me long to figure out how deep the resentment was to the central government that resided in central Canada, and from which came such things as the National Energy Policy.

But aside from disunity, there is another disturbing thing about “my Canada” and that is its moral decay.  In this regard Canada is not a global trend setter or leader as it likes to posture itself.  From abortion to legalized assisted suicide, Canada is a follower that does what other nations have done first. Western society has lost its moral compass, and Canada is no different. Here is a reality check: How many of the ten commandments are still enforced by our legal system?  Maybe two of them, and that only if you are caught.  If you steal, you might be prosecuted for theft, but it depends whom you have stolen from, and whether or not you are actually convicted is still not certain.  If you “bear false witness against your neighbor”  you might be charged with perjury.  You say, “what about murder”?  Again, I would say, it depends whom you kill and under what circumstances.  Abortion has been legal for a long time, and not everyone agrees that it is murder.  Euthanasia has been carried out for the longest time, and not everyone agrees that it is murder.  And what about assisted suicide?  Well, who is to say?

We have not learned from human history that the destruction of a civilization is rarely accomplished by outside force.  It begins from within. And when the slide down the slippery slope has reached its full speed, it is usually too late. That is “my Canada”.

11. June 2016 · Comments Off on WAS MUHAMMAD ALI REALLY “THE GREATEST”? · Categories: General · Tags: , ,

greatestIn the interest of transparency, I have to admit that I never liked Muhammad Ali.  No, it has nothing to do with his religion, and nothing to do with boxing.  I am old enough to remember when Cassius Clay, (a former Baptist) changed his name and his religion.  Muhammad Ali firmly disavowed his former name Cassius Clay, calling it his “slave name”; a curious statement since he was born in 1942, well after the times of slavery.  Perhaps there was slavery in his ancestral heritage.

No, my dislike for “The Greatest” had more to do with the arrogance that became apparent in the public statements sprinkled throughout his professional career and well into his retirement from boxing.  Something that has always bothered me, is the fact that many professional athletes who are exceptional in their sport (and Ali was a boxer of Olympic proportions) ruin their “greatness” when they open their mouth in front of a camera and microphone.  And the idol worshiping society that we are, it seems that we love to give these people the platform that they crave in order to pontificate whatever they want to, whether or not they know anything about what they are talking about at any given time. In Ali’s case, confusing Baptists with slavery (just like some like to equate Islam with terrorism) is just one example. Biographer’s have suggested that after Ali’s retirement from boxing in 1982, he devoted the remainder of his life to religion and charity.  Indeed many people are involved in charitable works without showcasing that fact for all the world to see.  And being a good boxer does not entitle you to a world platform from which to advance your religion, or your political views, or a scrambled hodge-podge of the two.

The most offensive statement that I have ever heard is Muhammad Ali statement “I am the Greatest.”  Sadly, regardless of the context of the statement it seemed to “stick”.  By the end of his life millions of people were labelling him as “The Greatest”.  Not the greatest boxer mind you, which may or may not have been the case. Just the Greatest.  Not great mind you, not greater, but greatest.  The superlative of course excludes anyone being equal to anyone else. Nobody can hold a candle to you.  Was Muhammad Ali or is anyone for that matter, worthy of that description?

Yes, it does depend on how you define “great, greater, greatest”. The world knows many standards by which greatness is measured.  Money, power, popularity are just a few. But Jesus had a different way to define greatness.  While he acknowledges knowing what the world’s standards of greatness are, he said, “but you are not to be like that” (Luke 22:26). Jesus had 12 students who were constantly preoccupied, like many of us are, with the question of “who is the greatest”.  In all of the synoptic gospels, Jesus makes that point that his standard of greatness is different.  While the world recognizes and honours the ones who manage to climb to the top of the heap, mostly at the expense of others, Jesus says that servanthood, is the sign of greatness. “It is the one who is least among you who is greatest” (Luke 9:48) and “the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves.” (Luke 22:26). That is so contradictory to the wisdom of this world, truly a novel concept. Instead of becoming great and important by making others look small, you are great if you make others important by meeting their needs.  Such greatness does not come at the expense of others, but at the expense of oneself. Why is that great?  Because it assures us of the recognition by God.  That’s what really matters.  That’s ALL that really matters – not if you think you are great, nor who others think are great, but who God thinks is great: Children.  The poor. The marginalized. The outcast.  And all those who make it a point to serve these.

Predictably, Muhammad Ali’s departure from this life triggered the outpouring of attention and adulation that is customary on the death of a celebrity: huge crowds, famous pall bearers, eulogies by even more famous celebrities including a former president of the United States. One speaker, his widow Lonnie (who I suppose knew him better than anyone)  summed up Muhammad Ali’s life this way when she told the crowd: “If Muhammad didn’t like the rules, he rewrote them. His religion, his beliefs, his name were his to fashion, no matter what the cost”.

Perhaps some readers think my words are too judgmental.  Actually, I prefer to leave judgment up to the One who is truly “The Greatest”.  And that isn’t Mohammed Ali.


04. June 2016 · Comments Off on DON’T BE THE “CUSTOMER FROM HELL” · Categories: CHRISTIAN LIFE · Tags:

Today I feel led to write a few lines in support of cashiers and retail sales people, after I recently saw one of them abused by an inconsiderate customer.  But first let me say that having myself worked in retail years ago, and knowing from first hand experience how unreasonable some customers can be, I feel a great sense of empathy for people who work in retail sales.  Many readers may not know that these people do not earn a lot of money.  Large retail stores, particularly the chain stores that we like shop  for bargains, will pay people as little as they can get away with, often only on a part time basis to avoid having to pay them benefits.  In turn, many of these sales people struggle to make ends meet, and some hold down more than one job to do so.  Like everyone else, they have bills to pay!

Now back to something I witnessed in the check out line while grocery shopping.  Someone ahead of me was trying to pay with a bank card that was declined.  He then began to argue with the cashier that “there must be some mistake” because he had just sent in a payment to his credit card company last week etc. etc.  When the sales clerk (who behaved very professionally) politely told the man that there was nothing that she could do, the customer became more irate and raised his voice at the unfortunate woman.  Finally, when she was close to tears, people in the lineup began to speak up and told the man to “knock it off”. He demanded to speak to the manager who promptly appeared (another cashier at the next register had alerted him).  As the manager quietly took the man aside to deal with him, the line began to move, and it seems everyone in the line made a point of saying something to encourage the distraught clerk.

I had to reflect on how many customers like that the clerk might have faced in one day, and that nobody should have to put up with that nonsense. I also had to ask myself how often I had not treated sales clerks particularly well (though I’ve never done what this customer did).  So here are a few things to remember when dealing with clerks and sales people in a retail setting.

  1. If you can’t find what you are looking for, by all means ask for help. But if the store doesn’t carry what you are looking for, don’t take it out on the clerk.  S/he does not decide what the store carries and what it doesn’t.
  2. If your credit or debit card is not honoured for whatever reason, don’t take it out on the clerk. You need to take up the issue with your bank or credit card company.  If you think that the electronic equipment of the store is at fault, then politely ask if you can try the transaction again, perhaps at another register.
  3. When being denied an exchange or refund, remember that the clerk you are dealing with does not make store policy, but s/he is obliged to administer that policy. That’s their job.  If you don’t like the policy, politely ask to speak to someone in management.
  4. Sales people are human. You have no idea what the person you are yelling at is going through in his/her personal life, nor is that your business.  But it could have an effect on how that person is doing their job.  Cut them some slack.  After all, you have bad days too.  Why should anyone else have to suffer for that?
  5. True, sales people are sometimes inattentive and perhaps even not as knowledgeable about the products they are selling. Sometimes they are outright rude.  No, you don’t have to take that. As a customer you deserve to be treated with respect.  If you are not, you have the right to walk away, or ask to speak to another sales person, or ask to speak to a manager.  But you don’t have the right to be abusive.  Nobody does.
  1. Most workplaces nowadays have anti-abuse policies in place to protect people, both customers and staff from all kinds of harassment, be it verbal, sexual, or violent. Don’t be the “customer from hell”.

Something to think about: How many Christians “lose their testimony” at the supermarket, the gas bar, the bank ?  Hint:  it doesn’t help if you wear a tee shirt with a pious slogan on it while behaving like an idiot.



21. May 2016 · Comments Off on WE ARE NOT AMUSED · Categories: General · Tags:


web-queen-victoria-rexWell it is the first long weekend of the yet to arrive summer.  For our American Friends it is the Memorial Day weekend, and for us here in Canada it is VICTORIA DAY. Originally the day was to honour the Queen who ruled the United Kingdom for 63 years from 1837 to 1901.  From 1876 she had the additional title of Empress of India. Today, the holiday does double duty to honour not only Victoria, but also the present reigning monarch, regardless of the actual date of her birthday (April 21).

But today I want to write some thoughts, amusing and otherwise about Victoria. While her life was literally in another century (or two to be exact), she continues to be remembered as a dour and formidable woman to whom the phrase is attributed “We are not amused.”  While the context of that is not absolutely certain, it is said that she uttered these words when a messenger brought her the news of a scandal in some place of her realm.

Many believed that her long years of widowhood helped to shape her dour image. Victoria married her first cousin, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha in 1840. Although royal marriages were often arranged affairs, the marriage between Victoria and Albert seemed to be one of great love. Albert’s death in 1861 devastated the queen.  Apparently she did not appear in public for three years, and did not open parliament again until 1866.

Much has been written about her grief: how the room in which Albert had died was left undisturbed for the rest of her life, and how she continued to wear dark clothing for the rest of her life and reign. Part of that stemmed from the customs of mourning generally in those days. People kept the “stiff upper lip”, and grieving was done in private.

Sixty-three years is a long time to be queen, and of course is surpassed by the reign of our present queen.  Her time on the British throne became known as “the Victorian era”. Depending on whom you ask, it was an era of repression and restraint, or it was a time of morality and progress.

All of that is beyond the scope of this blog.   I would rather touch on a personal or local connection to Victoria.  In the city that I live in there is a park named after Victoria.  It played a part in my childhood.  When I was four years old (I remember it was 4 because I was not yet in Kindergarten and my younger brother had not yet been born) our family lived on a street adjacent to Victoria Park.  It was a convenient place for mother to take my sister and I to play, and the site where we did that looks much the way it did then.  So does the pond in which ducks and geese would swim, and where people would scate in the winter.  In the hot summers there was a wading pool in which we as kids would cool off under Mom’s watchful eye.  When Mom died, the funeral director routed her procession to the church on the road that leads through the park, and that somehow seemed appropriate.

That road leads past Victoria’s statue, which was there in our childhood, but it had not always been there.  Previously that spot had been occupied by a bust of Kaiser Wilhelm I of Germany.  It had been placed there in 1897, in the city then known as Berlin.  In 1914, at the beginning of World I the statue was unceremoniously torn down and dumped into the lake in the park.  From there it was  retrieved and stored in the Concordia Club in Kitchener from where it was “captured” and paraded through the streets of Berlin with derision. Somehow it disappeared within the drunken mob and it wasn’t seen again.wilhelm

There are various theories about what happened to Wilhelm’s statue.  One is that it was taken to London Ontario.  In 1956 and in 1966 the Kitchener-Waterloo Record published stories that the statue was melted down and fashioned into napkin holders.  One of these can be seen in the Doon Pioneer Village.  However, it has never been conclusively proven that the brass actually comes from the statue.  In any case Queen Victoria now reigns over Victoria Park.



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