Thursday, September 7, 2017

All Beautiful the March of Days

When I was driving to work this morning I had this realization, I had not once looked at the speedometer as I drove. But when I checked it in that moment I was driving 50 km/h. I played with this fact, because I also drive through an 80 zone, so I did not check, waited, checked, yup, I was driving 80. It has become so natural for me to drive this route that I do it automatically.

There is so much in my life that I seem to do automatically. Some days I am in the shower and I wonder, did I wash my hair – and yes, I did. There are a ton of things I do the same way over and over without thinking about it.

And then there are those moments when you wake up in the morning and reality slaps you rudely across both cheeks in the form of frost.

The seasons always seem to surprise me. You would think after nearly half a century of summers ending in nights too cold to sit outside that it would no longer shock, but it does.

So why is that. Perhaps most of you out there reading this are fine with the change of seasons. Perhaps you are okay that soon the invisible mystery of breath will be solidified before your very eyes. Maybe you don’t even mind that it rains for months in the spring… But for me, even the hint of a change from summer is unwelcome. I never get used to cold.

The title of this column comes from an old hymn. Perhaps you have sung it in a church before? The opening verse, written by Frances Whitmarsh While in 1912 reads like this:

All beautiful the march of days, as seasons come and go;
The Hand that shaped the rose hath wrought the crystal of the snow;
Hath sent the hoary frost of Heav'n, the flowing waters sealed,
And laid a silent loveliness on hill and wood and field.

I wish I was there. I really do. I know the changing leaves are going to be phenomenal. I know the cool nights make sleep easier. I know Pumpkin Spice Lattes are back at Starbucks. And yet, I am pining for 30 degrees and sunshine.

My attitude, although probably familiar, is wrong.

I know this for certain because I have tried in all other aspects of life to adopt a more relaxed and spiritual attitude to letting things be what they are. When we accept life and live in the moment it is easy to find oneself surrounded by beauty.

Embracing life in its fullness, the good and the bad, the cold and the hot, is a spiritual practice. It is an important way to be. I just find it hard.

The Bible starts… our religious manual as Christians starts… with this long convoluted creation story. So over the last 4000 or so years of collecting religious stories the agreed upon starting place is creation. Everyone should read that first. And to be fair, not a lot of the first bit matters. I don't care if stars came before sea or vice versa. But the message of the Biblical account does matter. The point matters.

So do you know what is said over and over and over in that story? The one repeated truth? “And it was good!” God created trees and they were good, God created swamps and they were good, God created… wait for it… snow… and it was good.”

So, back to work, back to school, back to coats and shoes with laces. Soon the shoveling, but first the turkey… life has seasons. And we need to embrace them and live in them and love them. Even when it is hard. There is beauty in everything. 

Monday, June 26, 2017


Karl Marx once famously quipped that religion is the opium of the people,

By that he was saying that religion is used to keep people happy, to keep them complacent, and to keep them in line.

Basically, if you be good and follow the rules and do not stir up any trouble, you are being faithful to God, who is in charge anyway, and you will be rewarded beyond your wildest dreams in the afterlife.

To be fair, Marx was right that too often this is what religion becomes. I saw it growing up where some of the more strict baptists I knew believed the world to be a vale of tears from which they would one day be rescued. And when you see this life as a place you need to be rescued from, what difference does anything really make? Why recycle for example, if there is no value to this world. Why worry about the environment? Why try to change things?

As long as you are good, follow the rules, confess your faith… you will be rescued from the hell that is life on earth.

If you are a Christian I am thinking this might not sound all that crazy. There is at least a part of that way of thinking built into every denominations way of understanding the faith. I just don’t think that most of us are so black and white anymore. But when someone dies we console each other with the thought that they are in heaven, and we make half hearted jokes about getting rewarded for our good behaviour.

I feel that sometimes we conveniently forget our own foibles when we look out into the world and condemn others.

So I want to suggest to you that when a fundamentalist does something terrible, when there are suicide bombers, when there are death threats, whenever religious extremism resorts to violence, their thinking is not very far off from our own.

Religious extremists come in many forms, don’t forget. There was that guy in Norway who shot all the teenagers, there was Timothy McVeigh in the states, I could do you a whole long list. But here is an interesting fact as reported by the Globe and Mail, 90% of the worlds terrorist attacks are performed by non Muslims, while the number one, overwhelmingly, targeted group of terrorism, is Muslims.

Terrorism, Murder, even rudeness have their genesis in this idea I have been talking about, that this world, these people, life itself, is only temporary. That there is something better waiting on the other side.

But for some reason we convince ourselves that Islamic extremists who are willing to strap a bomb on themselves, or open fire on strangers are completely crazy for thinking their reward is in heaven.

It is also a very Christian way to think. Think of the crusades, for example.

Think of Waco, the Jonestown Murders, even Charles Manson. These people all felt that death was preferable because it would usher in salvation. And they are all Christian.

Which brings me to the latest bit of London terror, the attack on the Finsbury Park Mosque. The media plays it up as if this guy was mentally ill and that is why he did it, which certainly is true. But he was also anti Muslim, and Christian.

I know I am circling around a topic without naming it. So here it is, the only true religious value is love. That is it, pure and simple. And the worst, the absolute worst people in the world for disregarding this truth are Christians - the people who claim to follow a person whose one message was that all of religious truth can be boiled down to “love God, love others, love yourself.”
That is not opiate stuff - that is not get into heaven stuff - that is hard truth, and hard work. And the first step to getting back in track is to admit that we are the ones who got off track in the first place, just saying.