Archive for March 2013

A Resurrection Story

A Resurrection Story

by the Right Rev. Gary Paterson, Moderator, United Church of Canada

Like everyone, I have my blind spots and stereotypes—like, my assumption that small towns aren’t all that accepting of differences, and if, just for instance, you’re an LGBT person you should probably head for the big city as soon as you can. Well, let me tell you an Easter story that blows a hole in my stereotypes!

Up in northern Ontario—north as in you have to turn the map over to take a look at the other half of the province—way up there, was a young boy named Isaac. Except he didn’t feel like a boy. Rather, he felt like a girl who was stuck inside the wrong body. His family knew Isaac was different, and they visited doctors, psychologists, and a whole bunch of experts. Now here, I guess, is the first miracle: nobody told Isaac he was crazy. Instead, they agreed with him—he was a girl in a boy’s body. Which was going to make life very difficult, but it was his truth.

And here’s the second miracle: Isaac’s family said, with no reservations or conditions, “We love you!” And when Isaac slowly began to appear as Crystal, they said, “Welcome!”

Now, Crystal’s family are United Church folk—members and worshippers at a little church in a small town in the north. Not the larger, liberal, affirming congregation in town but the little church that some think of as more conservative. Holy Week was fast approaching, and everyone was excited about Easter Sunday worship. Only trouble was, when it came to church, it was always Isaac who had shown up. But this year was going to be different.

On Easter Sunday, as Crystal got ready for church, she put on fancy shoes, her hairband, and a beautiful dress. And off the family went. At Children’s Time, when all the kids came forward, Crystal was part of the crowd. Well, not actually a crowd—remember, this was a small church, where everybody pretty much knew everyone else. People were staring, whispering, and surreptitiously pointing at the little girl sitting on the steps at the front of the church. The minister took a good long look at this new person who had arrived for worship, and she said, “Well, hello. You must be Crystal. You’re very beautiful. I’m happy to meet you. Welcome to church!” And then she proceeded to tell the Easter story just like always.

And that was that. Except, of course, it wasn’t. It’s never that simple. There were phone calls—lots of them—and much upset in the congregation. So the minister called folk together and said, “We’re surprised; we don’t understand. Of course it feels strange. Isaac isn’t Isaac anymore but now is Crystal. But she’s a member of our church; this is where she belongs. She has trusted us enough to let us see who she really is. She needs us. This isn’t easy for her. We have to help her. We’re called to accept Crystal, to love her for the person she is, the person she is becoming, the person she was brave enough and trusting enough to share with us. We need to say, ‘Welcome to the church, Crystal.’”

And they did. I don’t know all the details, and I’m sure it wasn’t always easy. But I believe the church’s welcome will be one of the reasons Crystal will thrive in adolescence, unlike so many other young transgendered people who try to kill themselves. Crystal will have known a place of acceptance in her family and her church.

Which sounds to me like resurrection occurred that Easter in a little church in a small northern Ontario town, where followers of Jesus discovered and proclaimed that “if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation” for “there is no longer Jew or Greek…slave or free…male or female; for all of [us]…are one in Christ Jesus.”

And here’s how Easter keeps moving in our midst: Crystal’s family writes:

We are also willing to communicate with others, if…the Moderator pass[es] contact information to us, we would be willing to talk, share resources, and be supportive.


Good Friday 2013

Updating one’s theology?
Years ago I, for some unknown reason, participated in the Good Friday Walk in Toronto, Canada. It deepened my faith, and enriched my life. Here’s a commentary on this year’s opportunity to ACT theologically.

Theology in the Vineyard


We know Pharaoh is always with us, so in that realization  a small group of Catholic  teachers (Teachers for Social Justice) began this ongoing tradition in 1979. It quickly became  ecumenical and is a  welcome antidote to the  privatized spirituality in evidence today. The original crucifixion was a publi event and it placed in sharp contrast the  values of empire andf social justice.Crucifixion today is organized globally by corporate worldview which continues to place too many people on the margins of life. Christians today must be in the vanguard of taking people off history’s manifold crosses.

Marginalized Youth, Idle No More and the Sanctuary Movement to protect vulnerable refugee claimants will be the focus of ‘stations’ for the Ecumenical Good Friday Walk for Justice March 29. The annual event begins at 2 p.m. at the Church of the Holy Trinity, beside the Eaton Centre.

These three themes reflect issues of which the…

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Lent 2013 – day 32

IMG_0621What to DO in Lent 2013?

Is this a season to go deeper and to reflect on updating one’s theology?

Today I had a very interesting conversation that dealt with Christianity and theology. It seemed to me that the person who I was talking with assumed that I might be hesitant about talking with other people about the theory of evolution.

Question: “As a person who goes to church, are you comfortable teaching about evolution?

Answer: In our (United Church of Canada) New Creed  we say:

“We believe in God:

who has created and is creating,”

Question:You mean it didn’t happen all at once?

Answer: No. In our faith tradition we believe that creation is an on-going process. God’s life-giving continues to be present in creation each day.”

According to theologian Bruce Sanguin,

“The evolutionary universe is a sacred text revealing god’s purposes; intentions, and very being.”*

Isaiah 43:19

I am about to do a new thing;
    now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
    and rivers in the desert.

Where did the idea come from that the evolutionary theories of our scientific knowledge might not be compatible with our religious faith?

Is this another false dualism?

Maybe its not just my theology that needs to be updated?

* Bruce Sanguin, Darwin, Divinity and the Dance of the Cosmos, page 131

Lent 2013 – day 31

IMG_0311What to DO in Lent 2013?

Is this a season to go deeper and to reflect on updating one’s theology?

There has been much said, and written, about the election of Pope Francis. He offered a homily this week as he began his term as the head of the Roman Catholic Church.

A columnist for The Toronto Star, Rosie Dimanno, wrote this about the content of the homily:

“Protection, looking out for each other, was the homily’s central theme, “protecting all creation, the beauty of the created world. . . . It means respecting each of God’s creatures and respecting the environment in which we live.’’ Our first tree-hugger pope, oh my.

“It means protecting people, showing loving concern for each and every person, especially children, the elderly, those in need, who are often the last we think about’’, embracing “with tender affection the whole of humanity, especially the poorest, the weakest, the least important, the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the native, the sick, those in prison.’’

Francis segued to unusually frank admonitions. “Please, I would like to ask all those who have positions of responsibility in economic, political and social life, and all the men and women of goodwill: Let us be ‘protectors’ of . . . one another and the environment. Let us not allow omens of destruction and death to accompany the advance of the world.’’

Protection, he emphasized, demands “tenderness and love.’”

The whole column by Dimanno can be found at:

Who am I “protecting”?

How does the way I live “protect” life, and love?

Lent 2013 – day 30

emptytombWhat to DO in Lent 2013?

Is this a season to go deeper and to reflect on updating one’s theology?

If we are to update our theologies in 2013, we might look to the Principal of a theology college for guidance.

Mark G. Toulouse is the Principal of Emmanuel College in Toronto, Canada. In the Winter 2013 edition of EC News he wrote:

“Max Weber, in his 1904 book The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, theorized that Protestant Germany had a better economy than Catholic Germany because of the “inner loneliness” of Protestants. Catholics had rituals to help them internalize forgiveness for sins. Protestants did not. Therefore, Protestants lacked confidence that they were truly worthy of salvation. They worked harder to earn worthiness. Along the way, their work ethic created economic growth. Today, across the world, Protestants still struggle with the notion that links financial success with divine favour.”

Toulouse goes on to describe how this affects humanity, and what it means to be human, in the 21st century. The whole column can be read on page 3 at:

I am wondering what causes that “inner loneliness” that Max Weber referred to in these times?

Is the desire for “financial success“, whatever that means, still driving that “inner loneliness“?

Have we forgotten the God who is with us in life, in death, and in life beyond death?

Lent 2013 – day 29

Bridge to the future?

Bridge to the future?

What to DO in Lent 2013?

Is this a season to go deeper and to reflect on updating one’s theology?

Where is the journey taking us?

Last week the Roman Catholic denomination of Christianity elected a new Pope – who took the name of Francis 1st.

Pope Francis is reported to have taken that name because of his admiration for Francis of Assisi, and that man’s priorities for the poor. Let’s not forget that Francis of Assisi also advocated for a healthy relationship with nature.

This is a positive sign.

Can our theologies be re-formed so that they can become a bridge to the future – one where priority is given to the poor and marginalized among us, and our relationship within creation?

Are we not “keepers of one another”?

Lent 2013 – day 26

‘Rebuild My Church’ – by Jim Wallis of Sojourners

Francis. Pope Francis. This could be good news for the Catholic Church, for the whole church, and for the world. Let’s hope and pray so.

Jorge Bergoglio, the Argentinian cardinal from Buenos Aires, will be the first pope from Latin America and the first outside of Europe in a millennium. That’s good news from the start. And the world is now learning about the 76-year-old new pontiff whose election caused the white smoke to rise in the night skies of Rome to the cheers of tens of thousands of people in St. Peter’s Square. A Jesuit scholar, he seems to be a humble man who lives simply, choosing to live in a small apartment instead of the archbishop’s palace, and travel on buses and trams instead of in the church limousine.

Will simplicity and social justice become the witness of the Roman Catholic Church around the world — and will it emanate from the first pope from the Global South, which is clearly the growing future of the church? What good news that would be.

While a theological conservative, Cardinal Bergoglio is also known for his compassion — a good combination reminiscent of Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador or Dorothy Day of the Catholic Worker Movement. In Buenos Aires, the cardinal showed real compassion for HIV victims, and he sternly rebuked priests who refused to baptize children born out of wedlock. There are also reports of the new pope being a “bridge builder” between Jesuits and other orders and, more widely, between conservatives and liberals in the church. How welcome that would be.

In all I read about the new pope following the announcement, two quotes stood out to me. The first was about the poor and the world’s massive inequality — from the perspective of one of the world’s poorest places.

“We live in the most unequal part of the world, which has grown the most yet reduced misery the least,” said Bergoglio at a 2007 Latin American bishops meeting, according to National Catholic Reporter. “The unjust distribution of goods persists, creating a situation of social sin that cries out to Heaven and limits the possibilities of a fuller life for so many of our brothers.”

The second was about clerical privilege and insular church hierarchy. That ecclesial isolation has set the terms of the Catholic Church’s reputation and behavior for far too long.

The new pope said:

“We have to avoid the spiritual sickness of a self-referential church. It’s true that when you get out into the street, as happens to every man and woman, there can be accidents. However, if the church remains closed in on itself, self-referential, it gets old. Between a church that suffers accidents in the street, and a church that’s sick because it’s self-referential, I have no doubts about preferring the former.”

I think the term “self-referential” is a powerful insight and prophetic critique of what the church’s institutions have become. Reverencing and worshiping God is so very different from doing the same for the structures of the church.

And if that preference of the new Pope Francis prevails in Rome, might it even begin to change those church structures?

I fervently hope and pray that a Global South pope who deliberately chooses his name from Francis of Assisi will be that agent of change. In the 12th century, the young Francis of Assisi heard a call that became his mission — “rebuild my Church” — straight from the voice of God. And today, the church needs rebuilding again — to be what the church was meant to be. But to make those changes, Pope Francis will need to address some very fundamental issues.

First, the church must indeed be transformed to become known, as Francis of Assisi was, as the defender of the poorest and most vulnerable. Biblically speaking, that should be the church’s first and primary reputation. Sadly, the Catholic Church’s hierarchy is not best known for those primary issues today.

Second, Pope Francis must address, with both compassion and justice, the enormously painful reality of church’s sexual abuse of children. In the United States and around the world, the horrible sins of pedophile priests and cover-up bishops must be repented and reconciled. Until that happens, the church’s reputation can never be restored.

Third, the new pope must reverse and redress the Vatican’s recent censure and, in my view, mistreatment of its own sisters. These Catholic religious women around the world represent the best of Catholic social teaching. Pope Francis could and should embrace the women of the church instead of suspecting and disrespecting them.

While these are enormous challenges for Pope Francis, the grace of God is sufficient for faithful church leaders to lead. And Jorge Bergoglio is said to be such a man of God — fervent in personal faith and consistent prayer.

So let us all do what the first thing the new Pope Francis asked the people in the square to do: pray for him.

Jim Wallis is CEO of Sojourners. His forthcoming book, On God’s Side: What Religion Forgets and Politics Hasn’t Learned about Serving the Common Good, is set to release in April. Follow Jim on Twitter @JimWallis.


Lent 2013 – day 24


What to DO in Lent 2013?

Is this a season to go deeper and to reflect on updating one’s theology?

IMG_0315Where is the journey taking us?

Diana Butler Bass writes that,

“Contemporary Western culture is marked by a sense of dislocation, the feeling of being lost in the universe, unmoored, without direction, without hope.”*

Do Christians have an unwillingness to show the world who we are – people who live with values that are in contrast to the “popular culture”? As a Christian, am I concealing my faith, contrary to the counsel of Jesus? (Matthew 5:15)

United Church of Canada Moderator Gary Patterson visited the Christian Resource Centre in downtown Toronto a week ago Monday. Part of his reflection on that visit is as follows:

“I could tell you about reactions when well-meaning suggestions were made to remove the word “Christian” from the name of the Resource Centre—to make it more inclusive, interfaith, non-threatening, and perhaps more eligible for government funding. It was people of the community who said, “Why ever would you do that? You’re Christian; that’s why you’re doing this work.”

And that included Muslim members of Regent Park, who said,

“Please, we respect and appreciate that this is who you are. It’s good that you say you are Christian.”

The blog of the Moderator’s experience can be found at:

Where is this Lenten journey taking me?

Is it a journey that will help me live with a sense of purpose in God’s world?

* Diana Butler Bass, Christianity for the Rest of Us, page 223

Lent 2013 – day 21

What to DO in Lent 2013?

Is this a season to go deeper and to reflect on updating one’s theology?

IMG_0282Yesterday the reflection was about generosity. Today:

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing,  

give thanks in all circumstances;

for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

 Do not quench the Spirit.”

1 Thessalonians 5: 16 – 19 NRSV

David Hallman asks an excellent question. He writes, ” How can we be expected to give thanksgiving in all circumstances when there is so much suffering, poverty and ecological destruction in the world?”*

Hallman’s response is that we can give thanks, and express our gratitude, for the life-enhancing gifts that God has shared among God’s children, and in God’s world. It is not simply one’s material well-being, or lack thereof.

Is it possible that we can take responsibility for our attitude?

Can an attitude of gratitude enhance our generosity as a response to God’s generosity?

Can anyone improve the spirit of the times through modelling a generosity of Spirit?

The earth has yielded its increase;
    God, our God, has blessed us.
 May God continue to bless us;
    let all the ends of the earth revere God.

Psalm 67: 6,7

* David Hallman, Spiritual Values for Earth Community, page 35

Lent 2013 – day 20

What to DO in Lent 2013?

Is this a season to go deeper and to reflect on updating one’s theology?

Grapes in Prince Edward County

Grapes in Prince Edward County

Of course, one of things that we worship in Canada is money, and the economy. It is called, “econotheism.”

A basic statement of belief in the worship of money and the economy is that there isn’t enough of anything. This kind of thinking ignores the abundance of God’s creation, and the abundant gifts of God’s children.

My friend Yvonne Stewart reflected on the false doctrine of “scarcity” at her congregation’s Annual Meeting. Here’s what Yvonne offered to her congregation:

“My major point was that when our present secular society is in debt, we seek to pay it off (for the sake of our children’s future) on the basis of scarcity of money, which justifies making the kind of cuts that leave many members of society worse off.

“God’s people are called in times of deprivation to enter into relationship with the mystery at the heart of life;

  • which is the source of wisdom, love, justice, compassion;

  • to remember God’s abundance,

  • and make decisions which model to our children how we ensure the well being of all members of the community under constrained circumstances, and trust that these decisions will lead to new and faithful directions.”

What if …. what if we were to concentrate on abundance and sharing, rather than scarcity and greed? 

What if … what if my life were to be one in which others could see generosity being lived as a spiritual value?