Archive for the ‘United Church of Canada’ Tag

Religion AND Science   Leave a comment

“You’re a scientist AND a you want to be a minister in a church????”

That is a question that a friend was asked prior to his ordination.

In the UC Observer there are testimonies from four scientists / ministers who have also been asked that question of how they square the circle of being a scientist and a Christian leader.

A grouping of young stars, called the Trapezium Cluster (centre), shines from the heart of the Orion Nebula in this photo by NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope. Photo: NASA/ESA



Just tell me the TRUTH, eh   Leave a comment

Rev. Jim Wallis of Sojourners lives in Washington, D.C. That is true.

However, there seems to be some debate beginning about what is true these days, and what is not. This applies to politics in Canada, and possibly elsewhere. I can only speak from my experience of politics in the country where I live.

According to Stanley Hauerwas, German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer taught us that politics “can never be divorced from truth.” Indeed, Hauerwas maintains that Bonhoeffer believed that “cynicism is the vice that fuels the habits to sustain a politics that disdains the truth.”


The paragraph above is a quote from a posting by Rev.  Jim Wallis, the title of which is “Christians” Call to Speak Truth to “Alternate Facts“. Wallis examines what role Christians may have in the coming days, and years, as he makes the following observation:

Christians are called many times in the Scriptures to be truth-tellers and to reject falsehoods, from scriptural commandments against bearing false witness to Paul’s exhortation in Ephesians 4:

“We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ…. So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another.”

Yes, I believe that we are all in this together. As The New Creed in the United Church of Canada says, “We are not alone. Thanks be to God!”

The full column by Rev. Jim Wallis, from Washington, is available at:

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“Faith is a living thing – it is a category of the present.

It is not a once-for-all accomplishment.

It is not a possession, like a Visa card, that some have and others don’t.

It is an ongoing response to God, to the world, to life. It is therefore a matter of decision – taken not once, but over and over again, and in the presence of much evidence to the contrary.”

Douglas John Hall, Bound and Free, page 102

Rev. Vosper and the heretics of Scarborough   Leave a comment

Toronto Star column by Rick Salutin

United Church minister Gretta Vosper holds sevice at West Hill United Church on Sunday.
United Church minister Gretta Vosper holds sevice at West Hill United Church on Sunday.  (RANDY RISLING / TORONTO STAR) | ORDER THIS PHOTO  

The Rev. Gretta Vosper and her heretics — pardon, congregants — had their brief moment at the Inquisition yesterday — pardon, hearing. The deciders in the United Church of Canada will now pray, ponder, then render judgment.

Vosper is charged with not believing “in God, Jesus Christ or the Holy Spirit,” for which she could be defrocked — a term sounding newly pertinent in the era of the burkini. She calls herself an atheist, as regards the traditional “God” but says she understands “god” (she prefers lowercase) in her own way; so she both denies and affirms.

This isn’t Richard Dawkins’s atheism. The issue surfaced when she wrote an open letter on the Charlie Hebdo massacre saying bad things can be done in the name of God — hardly controversial or atheistic either. You could even argue that the Bible’s second commandment against worshipping false gods makes exactly her point.

As a teen, at Holy Blossom Temple, I read a novel by a rabbi, As a Driven Leaf, about a Talmudic-era sage named Elisha ben Abuyah, who raised impudent theological questions. He was in effect excommunicated and henceforth referred to as “the other” but remained revered by some sages and in subsequent tradition. Heresy in the name of faith and the truth — especially about the divine — has always been an intrinsic part of religions.

So, starting in the 1200s, a book known as The Atheist’s Bible — attacking Moses, Jesus and Mohammed — was denounced by religious authorities — and it didn’t even exist. Eventually, centuries later, it got written, as if it was necessary. In the 1960s, there was a “Death of God” movement inside U.S. Protestantism.

Vosper is in this tradition. She’s obsessed with god and writes books defining her concept. She says she believes in “a metaphorical God, as a symbol for a set of values.” She argues we “create god,” which in turn empowers us.

So yes, she’s being metaphorical but in theology, what isn’t? Surely most Greeks didn’t think actual gods lived up there on Olympus. There’s a developed theology of “demythologization” in Christianity. Atheism could end up as just another metaphor. One minister insisted the United Church “typically” affirms something “beyond material reality … more than the eye can see.” Okay, but who in the era of quantum physics wouldn’t affirm that? There are also groups of clergy who, like Vosper, “no longer hold supernatural beliefs.” But even that seems murky since it’s unclear what supernatural means today.

UCC clergy are expected to be in “essential agreement” with basic church doctrines but that can get pretty metaphorical too (“God is Holy Mystery … Mother, Friend, and Comforter”), leaving, says the UCC’s own journal, “plenty of leeway, God-wise.” And just how much is “agreement” really worth? Conrad Black, in his press lord days, apparently considered buying the Star so he was shown the leftish Atkinson Principles, which are legally built into the paper’s DNA. He looked at them and said something like, “Yah, I could sign on to that.”

If there’s anything innovative in Vosper’s challenge, it may be her serious treatment of the term, atheism. “New” atheists, such as Dawkins, just toyed with it, setting up simplistic, primitive versions of religion that they then debunked, like naughty kids in Sunday school. Vosper agonizes over the word, searching for any meaning it might have in religious settings. Such efforts keep religions vital.

In my own transition out of seminaries, for a long time I’d call myself an agnostic, till one day I thought, “Oh hell, I’m an atheist.” It wasn’t dramatic, more like the way a snake sheds its skin or, perhaps, being defrocked. In Obama’s first inaugural he mentioned atheists respectfully, which may have been a step along the way to rehabilitating the term in the U.S. context.

I used to ask people I knew at Union (protestant) seminary in New York how serious they were about Christian doctrines, like sin and salvation. Or was their Christianity just an autobiographical accident of birth through which they got attached to certain rituals, music, images etc., they were reluctant to abandon. I think those remain issues, especially in a globalizing world. In a way, Vosper is just stating the obvious and her opponents, merely postponing the inevitable.

She and her flock sound like they simply want a little meaning in their lives that feels really — meaningful. Can the United Church accommodate that?

Church: thermometer or thermostat?   1 comment

A reflection by Ted Schmidt

Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co-workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right.

ML King Jr “Letter from the Birmingham Jail” April 16,1963

One of the sad developments over the years has been the loss of power and agency in the institutional Catholic church.

“While it is inevitable that large institutions run down and in uber-capitalist countries will be co-opted by the culture, there will always be counter-movements fighting against such lassitude. History is full of examples beginning with the early church in the Roman Empire, then the Beguines, Francis of Assisi, Wesley’s challenge to high church Anglicanism, the Catholic Worker.” The examples are too numerous to mention. The Church at Vatican ll stated that it was “ecclesia semper reformanda”, a church always in need of renewal.

Today a Vatican ll pope has arrived, a man who understands that the church must be thrust into society as leaven.his theology is focused on Jesus’s call to God’s reign. Too many bishops are still locked into the church as the heart of the gospel. Sadly they resist Pope Francis.  The world today ruled by corporate power will always resist the gospel. Vatican ll reminded us that “we to must shoulder the cross which the world and the flesh inflict on those who search after peace and justice.” As King reminded us the church should not be a thermometer.

In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society.
Birmingham Jail

All of the above and below reminded me of a remarkable student I had in the 80s. John Popiel went on to do significant development in the Dominican Republic and today coordinates the Jesuit Volunteers in Canada.

In the nuclearized 80s I sent out students 2X2 to knock on doors and join the resistance to Canada  testing the Cruise Missile. Johnny came in with  a harrowing tale of some guy running him off his porch , telling him to eff off , saying he was all for testing.

I just laughed and had John read the gospel for that day in home room class. The gospel was Luke 10:5 ff

When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’”If someone who promotes peace is there, your peace will rest on them; if not, it will return to you. Earlier the Jesus of Luke gave this advice If people do not welcome you, leave their town and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.”

John was stunned. The gospel had leapt off the page as it always does when we turn it into action. It’s like putting on 3D glasses—you see a new reality.

Chris Hedges recently wrote (below) about an Anglican bishop who basically asked the church to become the leaven, stop mirroring the corrosive culture and take a stand for God’s reign of peace and justice.
Carrying out sustained acts of civil disobedience is the only option left to defy the corporate state, says retired Anglican bishop Packard, who over the years has been arrested at an Occupy Wall Street protest and other demonstrations. It will be a long, difficult and costly struggle the decorated Vietnam vet says. But there are moral and religious laws—laws that call on us to protect our neighbor, fight for justice and maintain systems of life—that must supersede the laws of the state. Fealty to these higher laws means we will make powerful enemies. It means we will endure discomfort, character assassination, state surveillance and repression. It means we will go to jail. But it is in the midst of this defiance that we will find purpose and, Packard argues, faith.

“This is the renewed presence of the church, people of spirit wandering around in the darkness trying to find each other,” Packard said to me before he was taken into custody by police during the Montrose protest. He stood holding one corner of a large banner reading, “We Say No to Spectra’s Algonquin Pipeline Expansion.” “When you find a cause that has spine, importance and potency you find the truth of the Scripture. You find it inside your gut. There is an ache in the culture.” Gesturing toward his fellow demonstrators, he added: “These are a few of the people who are speaking to it. This is what the church used to be. It used to be standing in conscience.”

Open Minds – open doors   Leave a comment


A wise woman once told me that,

“Your mind is like a parachute: it works best when it is open.”

On Good Friday the Toronto Star published a column titled, “An Easter Wish for Christianity” composed by Michael Coren. In it, Coren writes:

An authentic relationship with God is a dialogue,

involving questions,

arguments and even doubt.

The full column is at:

Re-thinking the Resurrection – Jim Taylor   Leave a comment


By Jim Taylor**

This is not one of my usual columns. The newspaper which gets “first publication” rights is not publishing today, Easter Sunday. That leaves me free to muse about Easter, in general.

Easter, as seen by the secular world, is about bunnies and eggs. And chocolate. And spring in the northern hemisphere. And did I mention chocolate? But in the Christian church, it’s about The Resurrection (with capital letters).

When I was much younger, the Rev. Jim Campbell invited his congregation to submit topics they wanted him to preach about. My note said, “Resurrection — I’d love to see how you handle it!”

I knew that Jim was too honest a minister to simply repeat conventional platitudes. He didn’t disappoint me. He admitted that he couldn’t understand it either, but clearly something had happened, “something” that changed lives, which started a domino effect that changed the world.

I can live with that ambiguity, even if part of my mind still wants a rational explanation for what happened. Or, perhaps, for what didn’t happen. But I would guess that 90 percent of the sermons preached this morning will declare, unequivocally,
a) that Jesus conquered death
b) that death is the direct consequence of sin
c) that Jesus had no sin, and that by accepting a death he didn’t deserve, Jesus paid off our sins in advance.

If our sins are already forgiven, why do we still pay the price of sin?

If Jesus defeated death, why do we still die?

In fact, why does everything die? Plants, mammals, fish, insects, bacteria — everything dies. They have different life spans — contrast a fruit fly and a sequoia, say — but they all die. Even our sun will eventually die, and take the inner planets with it. Death is the universal reality, simultaneously the immoveable object and the irresistible force.

The concept that death is the consequence of sin — “the wages of sin,” Paul called it — takes us into the Bermuda triangle of theology. If sin causes death, and all humans die, therefore all humans must have sinned. If we haven’t sinned ourselves — for example, a newborn baby — then we must have inherited sin from our parents. It’s a self-fulfilling equation, a vicious circle. Even if it’s nonsense. Sin may be learned, but it is not inheritable.

But it’s also nonsense to argue that death didn’t exist until Adam and Eve messed up. Would the plants and animals, the wild ones and the domesticated ones, the fruit trees and the fruitflies, all have lived forever if humans had not tasted that apple?

Now throw Jesus into that triangle. Traditionally, theology has insisted that Jesus was without sin. But he died. If sin and death have an unbreakable contract, Jesus broke it.

The only way to avoid admitting that the equation was faulty is for Jesus not to stay dead.

Besides, if sin leads to death, why didn’t Satan die? Satan is the personification of sin itself. But Satan has apparently achieved immortality. The Bible says that Satan was there in the Garden of Eden. Satan had tea with God in the story of Job. Satan tempted Jesus in the desert. According to Revelation, Satan will still be around until the final conflict. Even by Bishop Ussher’s timekeeping, that’s over 6,000 years.

By my reading, the Bible contradicts itself. Death happens whether or not someone sins. And sin — even the sin of rebelling against God — does not necessarily result in death.

I prefer to think of death as a gift from God. It is the matching bookend for the gift of life. Birth and death are our Alpha and Omega. Death was granted to all of creation, across the board. No exceptions, no favourites.

So Jesus didn’t have to undo the consequences of Adam’s disobedience. We didn’t have to be “redeemed” from inherited sin. That turns most rationales for The Resurrection into word games.

And yet, as Jim Campbell said long ago, something happened. Something that started 20 centuries of dominos toppling.
Copyright © 2016 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups encouraged; links from other blogs welcomed; all other rights reserved.
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** re-published with permission from Jim Taylor