Monday, June 30, 2014

Summer Vacation

Remember when the last day of school signalled the beginning of summer?  The days stretched out ahead of us, seemingly endless.  Freed from the routine of books and classes and homework and clubs and chores, the  sun-soaked days of summer beckoned us to unstructured play.  We'd lie on our backs and watch the clouds, black thunderheads racing across a lowering sky, or wisps of white drifting like thistledown.  When we got tired of clouds, we could roll over and study the amazing, hidden world that lives at the bottom of the grass.  So many bugs!

   We could spend a whole morning crawling through long grass, stalking "the enemy" while keeping our heads low.  Then we'd spend the afternoon hiding among the cornstalks and declaring loudly that we weren't dead because the slender cornstalk had stopped the bullet, or arrow, or laser beam or cannonball, depending on where our imaginations had taken us that day.
   The days were long, beginning in dew-wet grass and ending with a long twilight when the fireflies danced and June bugs batted against the screens.    A summer idyll, or idle.

    It turns out idleness is not just for kids.

  Forbes Magazine recently published an interview with  Andrew Smart, author of Autopilot: The Art & Science of Doing Nothing, in which he explains that all that multi-tasking,  so popular with modern CEO's, is actually detrimental to our mental health.   Those who study these kinds of things tell us that brain activity is measured by blood flow to the brain and the amount of oxygen the blood carries.  Scientists have learned that when the brain is engaged in a specific task, like solving a math problem, activity in certain brain regions is suppressed.  They have also found that those same regions, become super active when not focussed on a specific task.  Conclusion?  An idle brain is healthier, happier and more creative than its multi-tasking counterpart.

    I think that openness to creativity, to flashes of brilliance and unexpected insight, means we're more open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  We've all been taught since childhood that "an idle mind is the devil's workshop," but what if the idle mind is tuned to God rather than the devil?  What if our imagination flies along God's pathways?  When we take time to stare at clouds or watch the waves on the beach, we make space for wonder, for awe, for messages to the heart.

    When we engage in study, as we should, we apply our mind to the task of learning, we follow guidelines laid out by others, we look up references, we write essays on topic, we might even take exams.  All useful means for growing in our Christian understanding.
     But when we set aside the distraction of study guides and theological treatises, we're available to the "still small voice," we're overwhelmed by the marvel of creation, we pray without words in a jubilation of thanksgiving.  
    The idle mind allows our spirit to soar with the birds, to dip and dive and ride the winds as God directs.
     Happy summer, everyone.  Enjoy your season of re-creation.

Monday, June 23, 2014


We had a beautiful day for the annual congregational picnic.  Lots of people came.  Some older, some younger.

 We all brought a picnic.  It seemed there was more food than we could eat.

  There were races.

   Some got wet.

 Some stayed dry.

Open wide for the popcorn toss!

On our list of gratitudes we can add a beautiful day, lovely company, and lots of laughter, all under God's blue sky.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Father's Day

by Alice Valdal

The newspaper in my home town decided to do a "memories of Dad" column for father's day and sent a request to my brother for a contribution.  Quick as a mouse click, he passed the request to me.  I didn't mind.  I loved my dad and I love words.  But the constraints of two inches of newsprint column required that I distil a lifetime of moments into one, quintessential thought.  In the end, I realized, my father's greatest gift to his children was our home.  No matter the time, no matter the day, no matter the circumstances we could always go home and be welcomed with joy and open arms.

    Then I remembered another story.  A young man from my home province, raised in a "good" family, made bad choices and ended up on the streets in Victoria.  He eventually found his way to the Open Door, a ministry for street people housed in my old church.  There he found a peanut butter sandwich, a compassionate friend and a good listener.  After a time, the young man cleaned himself up, recognized his errors and decided to go home.  The delighted pastor made the phone call, the good news for the young man's family, their lost son was found and ready to return to them.  But the family didn't care.  They would not come to get him, they would not send a ticket, they would not even talk with him on the telephone.

    When that story was related from the pulpit, the gasps around the congregation were audible.  A father not want his son back?  A mother who turned her back on her child?  Could any rejection be more painful?

    No wonder the Prodigal Son is one of the best known and best loved parables in the Bible.  We all long for home.  We all long for a love that doesn't measure the cost, for a father who opens his arms and his heart, who kills the fatted calf and throws a party to welcome back the one who wandered away.

     As a child, I took my family and my home for granted, believing everyone shared my experience.  I've learned since that I was wrong.  Not all homes are places of refuge and love.  Not all fathers are generous and kind. 
    On Father's Day, I thank God for my father, and I thank God that He is Father to us all.  A Father who never fails, who never turns away from a penitent child, a Father whose greatest joy is His children.

Monday, June 9, 2014


   The Bible Study groups that meet on Wednesday have completed our study of One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp.
 It has been quite different from our usual style of study.  The sessions were presented in video form by Ann Voskamp, so Irwin got to be more of a student than the teacher.  The small group discussions were very open-ended, allowing participants to share personal experiences and relate them to the message of the study.  Since we had just completed a very rigorous examination of the Book of Revelation, the Voskamp study was a refreshing change of pace.
But, school is still in session.  This week we are going to play "Stump the teacher."  Irwin has invited us to submit passages of scripture we find particularly troubling, and he will prepare a one session study of those verses.  I've heard suggestions for the Book of Job -- too big for a one session study, but perhaps we'll do a segment.  Someone asked for the Book of James, but that too is too much for a one-off, but it may show up as a longer study after the summer break. The Syro-Phoenician Woman, as found in Matthew 15:21 -28 and Mark 7:24-30 has been put forward for discussion.  Isaiah 53 was mentioned.  

   You don't have to be attending the Bible studies previously to join in.  If you've got questions, now is a good time to ask.  Ever wonder why the Song of Solomon is in the Bible?  How about Proverbs 17:2?  
    We did this same kind of exercise last year, discussing the parable of the dishonest steward among other passages.  Later we did a short study on the Book of Jonah in response to a request.  
If you've ever wanted to try Bible Study but were afraid to sign up for a long commitment, here's your chance to try it out, no strings attached, for one session.  What a way to round out the school year!
    Bible Study meets Wednesdays at 9:30 am and at 7:00 pm at the church.  Coffee and goodies provided.  A Bible is the only study material needed and that is provided.   

Monday, June 2, 2014

140th General Assembly

   On the first Sunday of June we welcomed Rev. Noel Kinnon to the pulpit as Rev. Irwin was attending the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. The theme of this year's Assembly is "Light of the World."

This year marks the 140th assembly since our church was organized as the Presbyterian Church in Canada at a meeting held in Montreal in 1875.

At that first Assembly four main branches of Presbyterianism were represented, the Presbyterian Church of Canada, The Church of Scotland, the Presbyterian Church of the Lower Provinces, and the Presbyterian Church of the Maritime Provinces.  

One of the first pieces of business was the creation of a fund for the relief of widows and orphans of ministers of the Presbyterian Church in Canada.

The business of that first assembly was grave, indeed.  The representatives, over 400 of them, were about to constitute the Presbyterian Church in Canada.  Of such weight was this matter, the men were polled by name for the vote.  And it was all men.  The first women commissioners for our denomination attended the General Assembly in 1967 -- 93 meetings later.

Today, the work of General Assembly is open to all.  Click here and you can  see a summary of the reports to be presented, or read the whole report if you like.  If you tune in during the session you can watch them with live-streaming.  You don't even have to a Presbyterian!

Today, we take the structure and courts of our church as a matter of course, but in 1875, all of that constitution and means of governance had to be created -- a monumental task.  Twenty-one committees were formed with mandates as diverse as education, finance, home mission, foreign mission and the state of religion.  I'm not sure what that last one discussed, but there was a motion brought to the assembly concerning the "desecration of the Sabbath on Railroads in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.

Today's commissioners are also confronted with a difficult and complicated business.  There are reports on the Atlantic Mission, Church Doctrine, Ecumenical and Interfaith Matters, International Affairs, Life and Mission, which includes Presbyterians Sharing, Presbyterian World Service and Development, Planned Giving, Justice -- just to name a few.

 There is a report on the Maclean Estate, a 250 Acre parcel in Southern Ontario, donated to the Presbyterian Church in Canada by the founder of the Maclean-Hunter publishing company.  This is the 40th year of operation of Crieff Hills, has provided a "place apart" for 15,000 guests from within our denomination and from without.  

    The manner and conduct of the 140th General Assembly may differ from the 1st, but don't think that those first commissioners were too dour.  On the first day of their meeting, they accepted an "invitation to a social entertainment" offered by one of the congregations of Montreal.  

    May the work of the 140th General Assembly bear fruit for our denomination and may our commissioners return to their daily lives with their spirits refreshed and renewed.