The Golden Rule: Column for the Kingsville Observer January 20, 2021

Defying COVID rules puts church needs above community safety (kingsvilleobserver.com)

The above link takes you to my latest column for the Kingsville Observer.

Below is an image of a great poster expressing the Golden Rule as found in many cultural and faith traditions. As I mention in the column, you can learn more about the poster at Golden Rule (scarboromissions.ca)

Covid Dreams

The worship service for this weekend is the second in our series about things we can learn from the life of Jesus, that may help us in these grey lock-down times.

Learning Time: Attending to your dreams

A writer named Lance Weller dreamed he was on a street, and a sleek black town car pulled up to the curb. A tinted window powered down, and the person in the car called him over. It was Ronald Reagan, former Hollywood actor who was the President of the United States from 1981 to 1989, and who died in 2004. In the dream,  Reagan escorted Lance to a comic book shop stocked with every title he had ever wanted. Before he could buy anything, Reagan stole his wallet and skipped out the door.

That story is from a National Geographic piece about Covid dreams. There have been serious studies done, and articles written about the strange dreams people are having during the pandemic.

Last spring I recorded an interview with my old friend Justin Webber, who is the pastor of a Quaker congregation in Iowa. Justin was the first person in his county diagnosed with Covid-19, and spent almost two months in the hospital, including some time in a coma, time on a ventilator, and a long recovery in the ICU. He is still working hard to return to his former levels of fitness and health.

He came through the first part of his ordeal with a deeper faith, and a wider appreciation for the ways God is at work in people- especially in folks who don’t think much about religion, or God, as we talk about God in church.

Justin told me that during his time in the hospital, and since then, he’s had wild dreams.

Psychologists, mystics, and poets agree that almost everybody dreams. How about you? Do you have dreams? Do you remember them? Have your dreams changed since the pandemic began?

Today we heard excerpts from the Book of Genesis, about Joseph, one of the most famous dreamers in the Bible. His dreams caused trouble with his brothers, who were already jealous of him. When they heard he dreamed of being someone they would all kneel before, they got rid of him.

It’s quite a story. No wonder it made a good musical.

My wife and I lived in Windsor, from 1995 to 2000. We both pastored churches. I was involved in a number of out-of-the-box experiments, in the ongoing effort to connect the church to the world, and people to the church and its mission. One of the most fun things I instigated was to charter a City of Windsor bus, and fill it with people who all went to the Masonic in Detroit, to see Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, starring Donny Osmond. It was a great show. Did any of you see it?

Joseph’s brothers faked his death, and sold him to slave-traders, who hauled him off to Egypt. That might have been the end of Joseph, except that he helped people with their dreams. He became a trusted confidante of the Pharoah, who put him in charge of running the country. 

Joseph’s dreams helped him through his times of personal crisis, and he helped the Pharaoh steer his country through a disaster. He saved his own family from starvation, when his brothers came to Egypt in search of food, and they did end up bowing down to him, just like in his dream.

One of Joseph’s brothers was Judah, who’s listed in the Bible as an ancestor of another Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus. We might wonder why the Gospels would include Joseph’s family tree, if he was not actually related to Jesus by flesh and blood- but we’re not sorting out that one today.

We heard the part of Matthew’s Gospel in which Mary’s Joseph, distant descendant of the Donny Osmond Joseph, had a dream. God told him not to worry about the flesh and blood business, and go ahead and marry the pregnant Mary, and raise the child as his own. Joseph followed this  dreamy advice, and another crisis was averted.

We also heard about 2 more warning dreams. The Magi who brought gifts to the infant Jesus were guided in a dream not to travel back to Herod and tell him where to find the child.

Joseph had another dream, that warned him to flee with Mary and Jesus to Egypt, to avoid the murderous plans of Herod.

In the Bible, God doesn’t just send angels, to tell people to not be afraid. Sometimes, people meet God in their dreams, and discover things that help them through hard times.

Not all dreams are about the future. Most dreams call the person to be who God wants them to be.

This makes sense to me. God is always with us, and always giving us clues, offering guidance, about how we are to live, and letting us know we are not alone. For most of us, it’s a question of learning how to pay attention. If this is true while we are awake, could it also apply when we are sleeping?

I’ve long been fascinated with dreams, other peoples, and my own. I’ve had some training on how to work, and play with dreams. One of my teachers is a man named Rodger Kamenetz. In his book, The History of Last Night’s Dream, he wrote:

“A whole world inside us is asleep. We wake to it but rarely. We glimpse and barely remember. Or we don’t understand what we’ve seen.

A third of our time on earth we’ve spent sleeping, with little to show: an image, a face. Only rarely does a dream come that wakes us to ourselves.”

Rodger is a critically renowned author and poet, best known for a book he wrote about his time with the Dalai Lama.

I met Rodger at a writer’s conference 6 years ago, and we’ve stayed in touch. In 2017 I went to New Orleans for a workshop he lead in what he calls Natural Dreamwork. I like his approach, which is different from all the books and websites where you go to a big index, and look it up, and some expert tells you what it means, that you had a dream about a big blue cat that plays the drums.

Rodger wrote, “Instead of puzzling over what your dreams mean, we ask you to dwell on how your dreams feel.”

In my own work I have learned that for many people, if they keep paper and pen on their bedtable, and tell themselves that they want to remember, pretty soon they can get up in the morning, and make simple notes about their dreams. How did the dream feel? What were the colours, images, sounds? Who was in it? Was there a story?

When I prepared for the dream worskshop, I kept a daily dream journal. Over the course of a month, I got pretty good at remembering my dreams, and noticed I often had variations of the same dream, again and again.

Through the prayer journal, I noticed an image in my dreams, and discovered something I still think about, that I needed to know, that has made a big difference in my life.

Practitioners of Natural Dreamwork teach that contemplating the images in your dreams, and paying attention to how they make you feel, can help heal the broken imagination.

In this strange time, many of us are living with a kind of baseline of worry, anxiety, distrust of the world. It is not surprising, then, that those who are studying covid dreams are hearing about scary dreams, and frightening images in dreams.

Some people believe our dreams are a place where we kind of go over the material of our daily lives, and almost like an artist making a painting, or a movie director, we move the images around, play with them, until they tell a story that says something, or asks a question, or maybe somehow answers a question or concern we have.

I love the idea that God’s spirit is in there with us, helping design the set, and giving the character costumes and lines, so that we can watch the movie, or actually be in the movie, that is from us, without necessarily being directly about us.

I am not a big fan of scary movies, but I have heard some people like them because they allow them to confront things they are afraid of, in a way that is safe, and survivable.

I generally don’t have scary dreams, but I do have dreams in which sad, or confusing things happen. One I have been having lately is I am traveling, usually walking through a town, and I don’t recognize the streets, and can’t figure out where I am going, and sometimes even forget that I was trying to go anywhere at all.

The feeling of that dream is not hard for me to recognize. I wake up everyday, to life in this covid world, and wonder when the virus will run its course, or be eradicted, or we will all get vaccinated so it has nowhere left to thrive. Because I am not in charge, or privy to the facts about when that will happen, I can have this feeling, of being lost, in a world that I don’t understand, or control.

Having the dream, and thinking that in some way, God is dreaming it with me, I feel like that deep feeling inside me has been noticed, and understood. I may not be able to fully explain the dream in words, but God is with me, God knows what I am going through, and God understands. Thanks be to God. Amen

Jesus Baptism and Ours

Dennis Graham, the producer, director and post-production guru said that the worship video for this weekend is one of the best we have ever done.

We looked at the story of Jesus’ Baptism in the Jordan River, and also reflected on what it means to be beloved child of God.

Here is the link to the Youtube video:

Here is the text of the Learning Time:

Learning Time: “Jesus’ Baptism, and Ours”

Jesus joined a crowd of people who went to the bank of the Jordan River to hear John the Baptist preach his fiery sermons, and to be baptized. They were not baptized into the Christian church, because that did not yet exist. They were Jews called to a life of faithfulness, and offered a way to have a fresh start.

Jesus was about thirty at the time of his baptism. He had lived a lot of years since being a newborn in a manger, and from that time when he was twelve, and hung out in the Jerusalem temple, talking about God with the teachers of religion.

What did he do for those 18 years, from that time in the temple, to this moment in the Jordan River? There has been a lot of speculation about that over the centuries, and books written about the possibilities. John Prine wrote a song called “Jesus, the hidden years”, which is worth checking out on YouTube. It’s a lot of fun.

Is it possible that like the escaped convict in the little clip from “O Brother Where Art Thou,” Jesus felt like he needed a fresh start? That would make him seem a lot more human than he is usually described. 

Where were you at age thirty? What were you doing? Were you ready for a washing clean, a fresh start? Did you have a clear sense of who you were, and what God wanted you to be? Do you have that now?

A few years ago I heard a story about a young man who had led a kind of wild life. He had a lot of money, and many grown up toys. He didn’t have to work, and had more free time than many people. He was also very lonely, and at times, drank too much.

He was also had a deep spiritual hunger and curiosity. His search for more in life, and led him to walk into a church one Sunday. It was a non-denominational congregation led by a husband and wife team of co-pastors.

This very small congregation, made up mostly of seniors, met in a building that used to be a United Church. When the co-pastors saw a man in his late twenties walk in, they were thrilled. One of them actually said out loud, “Thank God, someone to help.’

The young man stuck around. Before long he was teaching Bible study, and helping with the sound system at the church, and going to Haiti on mission trips. Something in him responded to being needed to help, and he blossomed. He found himself.

That is an important and powerful thing, to discover who you are meant to be, who you are in God’s eyes, and to find your purpose in life.

This congregation practiced baptism by full immersion, and the old church building they were renting did not have running water, never mind a baptismal tank. The young man invited the congregation to use the pool at his condo for a baptismal service.

Have you ever seen that kind of baptism? It’s like what we saw in the video clip. The person walks in, or is standing in water that may be above their waist. The candidate for baptism is literally dunked under. In some traditions they are pushed in backwards, and totally submerged in the water. They are not held down, but they go all the way in, so that they are completely under water.

As a person who does not even like to put my head in the water when I swim, I would find this terrifying. If you are able, and willing, try an experiment with me. I am going to use my watch to time us for 20 seconds as we hold our breath.

That’s not very long. But it is about long enough to remind us how it feels to not breathe. I prefer to breathe. My body resists holding my breath. It instinctively knows what it needs.

You would have to hold your breath if you were being baptized by John in the Jordan River. You might also close your eyes, in case the water wasn’t clean. A lot of other people may have been dipped in that part of the river.

The experience, and the symbolism would be powerful. A total rinsing off of the dust and dirt, and messiness of life up to that point, and a rising up out of the water, with a commitment to live a new kind of life. Terror, and then relief, and perhaps joy, as you rose up out of the water.

The story says that after Jesus was baptized, and rose up out of the water, the heavens opened, the dove of the Holy Spirit came down, and a voice said to him , “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

One of the ways the church has understood baptism is as a way to participate in the mysteries of Jesus life, his death, and his resurrection.  The person totally submerged for baptism is for a moment, cut off from life around them.  They are like an unborn child, in those few seconds, except without the umbilical cord to provide all they need for life.

There is at once a hint of death, or the risk of it, and the reminder of what it is like for each of us, before we leave the safety of the womb, and enter the world. The water is at the same time, a womb, and a reminder of the tomb in which Jesus was laid, after he was killed on the cross.

Then the person rises up out of the water breathless, and is able again to breathe, and it suggests coming back to life, or being born. There is a lot of powerful symbolism there, that we may only catch a glimpse of in the way we tend to do baptisms.

But back to the story of the young man in the pool at his condo. I heard about it from his father, who is not a regular church goer, but who came to the condo pool that day. When his son had been baptized, and was getting out of the pool, he slipped on the wet deck, and almost broke his leg.

The father said his son was sore for a few days, but not seriously hurt. It could have been a lot worse. That little story, of falling on the wet deck is a reminder that this business of baptism, of life, and death, and new life, is risky.  You never know what’s going to happen. Did Jesus know what would happen in his life, after he submitted to John’s baptism?

The father told me this story of his son’s baptism, 4 years ago, while we stood together at the reception after his son’s funeral.  There was a great deal of sadness over this young man’s death. But in the midst of this, I also heard that the happiest, most fulfilling part of his short life began when he joined that little church, was baptized, and grew into a new understanding of his purpose. He found his identity as a beloved child of God, when he began to live a life that was about serving God, by helping others. It is so good that he found that little church, and found out who he was meant to be.

In the 1700’s there was an Anglican minister named John Wesley, who found the church he grew up in, and in which he had been ordained, to be a fairly dry, lifeless, and ineffectual institution, that was failed to reach the people who most needed it. The industrial revolution in England had made some people very wealthy, but it had also displaced many people from traditional rural lives, and pushed them into the cities in search of factory work. The cities were filled with the casualties of poverty, and poor education, and alcoholism, and child labour. Some evangelical ministers had begun preaching on street corners and holding open-air meetings to try to reach people who had no connection to a church.

Wesley became one of those people who brought the church to people where they were. He organized people into small groups, or classes, of 12 or so people, who would meet regularly to learn and pray together, and hold each other accountable for how they were living. The members would minister to each other, in between the visits from travelling preachers who would each watch over a number of these local classes. This system came to be called Methodism, and the Methodist Church in Canada was one of the denominations that joined together as the United Church in 1925.

John Wesley believed it was helpful to offer people them the opportunity to re-new their covenant relationship with God, and with their fellow believers. He called them “Covenant Services”, and I have borrowed some parts of a service he wrote, for our service today. Near the end of his life, Wesley tended to have these services around New Year’s- it seemed like a good time to offer people a fresh start.

So at the end of this service we have the opportunity to renew our faith commitments.  You can dip your fingers in warm water, and make the sign of the cross on your forehead.

This is not a baptism- but a symbol of your faith in Jesus, or at the very least, your desire to believe. This is a chance to say to ourselves, and to God, that we are choosing to live as beloved children of God.  Amen

Celebrating Epiphany and Home Communion Jan 3, 2021

Our first worship service for the New Year is an opportunity to ponder the story of God offering the Magi “another way” to get home after their visit to Jesus, which allows them to avoid having to report back to King Herod.

“Another Way” is a theme of this worship service. In the grip of a pandemic, and under lockdown rules, we are all finding ways to adapt to circumstances. We can celebrate communion in a new way.

Back during the first lockdown, in March and April, I adhered carefully to the guidance offered by the General Council Executive of the United Church of Canada, that “virtual communion” could happen, if the video of the worship service was livestreamed to those watching on their own devices. We were discouraged from having a recorded service. The idea was to retain the sense that we are all “together”, while still being safely apart.

I still agree with that idea, and also think that it is impossible to limit God. God existed before time started, and some theologians say that God is present in all moments of time, simultaneously. So who is to say that God can’t be with each person, at each moment, while they watch the communion video, and ask God to bless their bread and cup?

We do the best we can, and find “another way”.

Our service includes some beautiful music, old and newly recorded, as well as a lyric video of the James Taylor song “Home by Another Way”, and a clip of Naomi Woods reading “Refuge” by Anne Booth and Sam Usher.

Here is the text of the Learning Time: “Going by another way”

I remember going to a hardware store in Windsor with our landlord, a wise, practical, chain-smoking, hard-working, big-hearted wiry little old Ukrainian man.

John and I were looking for a kit to install an air conditioner in an attic window. The store clerk had trouble understanding what John wanted, and maybe couldn’t get it all through his accent. It was a frustrating conversation, and we ended up leaving the store, to look elsewhere. As we walked away, we heard the clerk mutter “stupid bohunk”.

John was such a good man. He must have read my face, because I really wanted to go back and have words with the clerk. John shook his head, and gave a look that seemed to express both gratitude for my indignation, and resignation to the cruelty and ignorance of some people.

John said, “Whaddaya gonna do?”

We went on with our mission, picked up what we needed at another store, and installed the air conditioner. It was one of those times when an elder’s wisdom won out.

John was right, I think, to have us walk away from the guy in the hardware store. Who knows why the clerk spat out his racial hatred in that moment.  As the Scottish theologian Ian McLaren wrote, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

People are facing all kinds of hard battles these days. We have all the usual things like racism, and misogyny, and homophobia. We have poverty and its related diseases and issues. People struggle with mental health, and addictions. People live with the cruel legacies of childhood neglect and abuse.

People get sick from things in the air, the water, the soil. Sometimes there is help for them.

People live with grief, and regret, and loneliness, and fear. Some people are so weighed down by debt and obligation they never want to answer the phone. Some people have made big mistakes, or little ones, in relationships, and feel like life is spinning apart, leaving them in pieces.

Parents worry about children. Children worry about their parents, while at the same time trying to find a way to be themselves.

Hospitals and care facilities are filled with folks who struggle with illness, and aging. Families face tough decisions about the care of loved ones. Ailments, accidents, diseases, and illnesses come upon people, and cause devastation with little warning.

We get old. We get sick. We think about death, or try not to think about death.  All of this just comes with being human, being alive, making our way in the world.

Then a pandemic comes along, and adds whole new layers of complication, crisis, limitation and sometimes desperation. Businesses, and jobs, and our basic patterns of life are all threatened. Things we have taken for granted have been taken away, or drastically limited, changed, under lockdown.

There is so much that seems beyond our control, that just happens to us.

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

One of the problems we face is that even though we may feel like we are fighting a hard battle, there may not actually be anyone to fight.

Who should we get mad at, because the pandemic has led to a lockdown? Does it help to call our leaders names, or pass on weird conspiracy stories that claim to explain the secret reasons we are all wearing masks, and waiting for vaccine shots?

When the guy in the hardware store was so stupidly rude and cruel to my friend John, a part of me wanted pick up something sharp or heavy- it was a hardware store after all, and explain things to him. As if that would change anything, make anything better. John’s “Whaddya gonnna do?” reminded me that there has to be another way.

The wise men, or magi, or as James Taylor calls them, those guys, had an encounter with King Herod, who personifies evil in this story. He wants the magi to pay him a call on the way back from meeting the newborn, to tell him how to find the baby. Herod does not want this little one to grow up to be a rival to his power. His invitation to the magi to come back and see him was an offer they were not supposed to refuse.

After having successfully followed the Bethlehem Star, the wisemen are warned in a dream to go home by another way- to avoid a confrontation with Herod. I love this story about God using stars and dreams to guide them, and offer them another way.

Jesus was born into a world in which rich and powerful people make decisions that cause poor people to leave their homes, and seek shelter against the cold night. It is a world in which an evil ruler can hatch plots against real or imagined enemies. It is a world in which violence is perpetrated against innocent and defenseless children. It is a world in which it is possible to feel insignificant, helpless to make things better. In other words, it is our world.

The gospels bring the Good News about God’s love for all people, and were written for people like us, living in a world in which there are many hard battles, often against faceless, nameless enemies.

Epiphany is the English word that comes from ancient Greek words “Epi-phanos”, which translate roughly as “manifestation” or “appearance” or “making known”. It means that something previously hidden has been revealed. A sunrise is a kind of epiphany, a moment when darkness is sliced open by light, and everything changes.

The word epiphany gets used in non-religious ways to point to the moment in which something suddenly becomes clear.  A good example is when the apple fell on Isaac Newton, and he had a sudden insight into the existence of gravity. There is a similar story about Albert Einstein struck as a young child by being given a compass, and realizing some unseen force was making it move.

In the Gospel according to Thomas, an interesting, and strange, and mystical text that did not make it into the New Testament, Jesus is quoted as saying, “I’m the light that’s over everything. I am everything; it’s come from me and unfolds toward me. “Split a log; I’m there. Lift the stone, and you’ll find me there.”

That is a way of expressing the startling news of the Incarnation, the claim the Christian church has made almost from the beginning, that one of the things we learn from Jesus is that God is not distant, and uninvolved, looking down on us from some lofty height. God is with us in the midst of this reality.

We don’t wait until we die and depart this existence to meet God. God is in the apples, and compass needles, and in the light, and in the split logs, and in the vulnerable child of Bethlehem, and in you and I. This is not to say that you are God, or that I am. The poetry of the Incarnation says to us that God is here, with us. God is with us, and there is hope of another way. Amen

December 27, 2020 Worship Service for Harrow United

The last Sunday of 2020. For the worship service we dove into the video archives, and came out with some joyous treasures. The bell choir from 2017, and the candle-lighting and Impromptu Nativity Play from 2018.

Below is the text for the scripture readings and prayers.

Dedication of our offerings:

We have so much for which to be grateful, even now.

Most of us are safe and warm in our homes.

We have food enough, and clean, safe water to drink.

We are blessed, and we share from our blessings to make a difference for others.

We give of our time, our money, our creativity.

We offer leadership, compassion, and sometimes, hard work.

Sometimes we give less than we could.

Sometimes we give more than we can afford.

Sometimes we doubt that what we are able to do,

could ever make a difference.

But it does. We do, with your help God.

Our giving makes us different, for the giving.

Our giving makes the world different.

We ask God to bless it all. Amen

Luke 2:1-20  (The Inclusive Bible)

In those days, Caesar Augustus published a decree ordering a census of the whole Roman world. This first census took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All the people were instructed to go back to the towns of their birth to register. And so Joseph went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to “the city of David”—Bethlehem, in Judea, because Joseph was of the house and lineage of David; he went to register with Mary, his espoused wife, who was pregnant.

While they were there, the time came for her delivery.  She gave birth to her firstborn, a son; she put him in a simple cloth wrapped like a receiving blanket, and laid him in a feeding trough for cattle, because there was no room for them at the inn. 

There were shepherds in the area living in the fields and keeping night watch by turns over their flock.  The angel of God appeared to them, and the glory of God shone around them; they were very much afraid.  The angel said to them, “You have nothing to fear! I come to proclaim good news to you—news of a great joy to be shared by the whole people.  Today in David’s city, a savior—the Messiah—has been born to you.  Let this be a sign to you: you’ll find an infant wrapped in a simple cloth, lying in a manger.” 

Suddenly, there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying,  “Glory to God in high heaven! And on earth, peace to those on whom God’s favor rests.”  When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go straight to Bethlehem and see this event that God has made known to us.” 

They hurried and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger;  once they saw this, they reported what they had been told concerning the child.  All who heard about it were astonished at the report given by the shepherds. 

Mary treasured all these things and reflected on them in her heart.  The shepherds went away glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, just as they had been told.

Matthew 2:1-12 (The Inclusive Bible)

After Jesus’ birth—which happened in Bethlehem of Judea, during the reign of Herod—astrologers from the East arrived in Jerusalem  and asked, “Where is the newborn ruler of the Jews? We observed his star at its rising and have come to pay homage.” 

At this news Herod became greatly disturbed, as did all of Jerusalem.  Summoning all the chief priests and religious scholars of the people, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born.  “In Bethlehem of Judea,” they informed him. “Here is what the prophet has written: 

‘And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah,

are by no means least among the leaders of Judah,

since from you will come a ruler

who is to shepherd my people Israel.’ ”

Herod called the astrologers aside and found out from them the exact time of the star’s appearance.  Then he sent them to Bethlehem, after having instructed them, “Go and get detailed information about the child. When you have found him, report back to me—so that I may go and offer homage, too.” 

After their audience with the ruler, they set out. The star which they had observed at its rising went ahead of them until it came to a standstill over the place where the child lay.  They were overjoyed at seeing the star and,  upon entering the house, found the child with Mary, his mother.

They prostrated themselves and paid homage. Then they opened their coffers and presented the child with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.  They were warned in a dream not to return to Herod, so they went back to their own country by another route.

The Christmas Play (from Dec 23, 2018)

Pastoral Prayers

Gracious God, we pray this day

for all who make the spiritual journey to Bethlehem- for those who are seeking

God’s presence and peace in their lives.

We pray for all who are poor and cold

and hungry like the shepherds,

that they may hear good news.

We pray for all who are wandering and searching like the magi,

that they may find the place to leave their gifts

and their burdens.

We pray for all who are busy, hurried,

preoccupied like the innkeeper,

that they may know the peace

that comes from genuine acts of hospitality.

We pray for all like Herod who have power,

that they may use it with good will.

We pray for ourselves—we who need comfort, peace and joy,

even in this starlit season,

and all the days of our lives.

We pray for those places in the world, and in the lives of people around us,

in which peace and joy are deeply needed.

We pray for those who are ill, for those who feel alone, for those who are grieving, and for those who feel lost. We pray for those who are travelling.

We offer all of our spoken prayers, and the unspoken prayers of our hearts, in Jesus’ name. Amen

The Lord’s Prayer: (together)

Our Father, who art in heaven,

hallowed be thy name,

thy kingdom come,

thy will be done,

on earth, as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread,

And forgive us our trespasses,

as we forgive those who trespass against us.

And lead us not into temptation,

but deliver us from evil:

For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory

forever and ever. Amen

Blessing and Commissioning

Hope, Peace, Joy and Love come to us as spiritual blessings,

and bring with them the capacity to endure,

even when life is disappointing, feels difficult, and is at times overwhelming.

We pray for the blessings of Hope, Peace, Joy and Love, for ourselves,

for those we will encounter as we leave this time of worship, and for our world.

We pray for the blessing of God the Creator, God the Spirit, and the God we meet in Jesus. Amen

“From our House to Yours”

Here is the link to our YouTube video, “From Our House to Yours”. It’s a kind of Christmas Eve present to folks connected to two faith communities to which we are connected: Harrow United Church, where Darrow serves as the pastor, and Essex United Church, where Lexie has been doing Sunday Supply.

We hope the video will offer you a glimpse into some of the ways we celebrate the birth of Jesus, and get your thinking about the ways that celebration happens at your house.

https://youtu.be/wub3ZtL4oLw

At the end of the video we have included pictures of some favourites, from our collection of Nativity sets. The image below is a photo of the Veggie Tales characters in Bethlehem.

one of those other things I write

I set up this blog as a place to put things I write, some of which have no other home. I realized a few days ago that most of what ends up posted here is to some degree, related to my work as a pastor.

This winter and spring I took part in a micro-fiction contest, just for the challenge. The assigned genre was romance. The piece had to include a knitting needle, and a seniors residence, and was limited to 100 words.

Muscle Memory

The years had been hard on us both, but oh, those clear blue eyes. Bright as when we first found each other, behind the toolshed at the Baptist Boys Camp.

My weary heart had leaped when Lou-Ann wheeled Gerald in. She announced, “Sunny Rest’s newest resident has consented to teach the knitting class I’ve organized.”

I focused on his hands. He pretzel looped yarn around the needle, and pulled the tail. Those soft, sure fingers. Did he know me?

Lou-Ann asked me, “Marvin, how does he do that without looking?”

Gerald winked, and I said, “Some things you don’t forget.”

I am also including the feedback from the judges. I think some of their comments were bang on, and every bit of constructive feedback contributes to the development of the craft.

Dear Darrow Woods,

The feedback from the judges on your first round submission from the 100-word Microfiction Challenge 2020 is below.  You should be proud of rising to the challenge and we hope you find the feedback helpful.  Because you placed in the top 20 of your group, you have advanced to the 2nd Round kicking off at 11:59PM EDT (New York time) on Friday, June 26th.  Congratulations and best of luck in the 2nd Round!

”Muscle Memory” by Darrow Woods –     WHAT THE JUDGES LIKED ABOUT YOUR STORY – {1499}  There’s real power in that “some things you don’t forget” in this love story between Marvin and Gerald. I like the suspense in the question “Did he know me?” and the poignancy in the answer. Names give the piece its ring of authenticity: Baptist Boys Camp, Sunny Rest, Lou-Ann. Also, great title!   {1689)  I love how you establish that depth of your hero Marvin’s feelings for Gerald by his bold response to his clear blue eyes. Nice moment when Gerald winks as Marvin explains how he does all that needle work without looking.  {1815}  I loved the sense of time passing in this story. In less than 100 words, the writer has managed to conjure a lifetime of love and affection. The story ends on a humorous and hopeful note — I was delighted by these characters.   WHAT THE JUDGES FEEL NEEDS WORK – {1499}  What we know of the love has to do with “clear blue eyes” and “soft, sure fingers.” I’d like a bit more about the romance, about Gerald, and I’d prefer the details to be less familiar (clear blue eyes) and more remarkable.   {1689)  Good job creating a story of lost romance. Now consider: ONE — Now clear up a few things. How long were they together? How long have they been apart? Why did they part? As you can see from my questions, you have created a powerful moment. You don’t have to answer them all–or maybe any of them–but you do need to clarify just a little bit more so that we understand why–and how deeply–this moment matters to your hero. I suggest that this moment should be as powerful and meaningful as you can possibly make it. TWO — Make room for these changes by cutting 1 to 5 words from several sentences in your story.  {1815}  I would have loved to know more about the speaker. What has happened to him between the Baptist Boy’s Camp and now? What kind of life has he led? Who is he as he returns to this boyhood love?

Gift Bag Sunday School for Dec 20: Love

https://youtu.be/qpyYt50rblM

Here is the link to this week’s YouTube video.

We hope your family enjoys it- a lot of love went into making it!

If you are looking for something special for Christmas Eve, please come by Harrow United Church between 6-7:30 for our “Drive-Thru” Nativity.

Drive in to the church parking lot at the elevator entrance, where you can drop off donations to the Food Bank, and receive a special Christmas gift bag from the church. Then drive to the back of the parking lot to see our live nativity, sheltered behind the church building.