Lenten Devotion for March 22, 2023

Today’s Good Courage reading is a meditation on courage rooted in hope. It describes a family’s long and arduous journey from Eritrea, via a refugee camp in Sudan, to Northern Saskatchewan.

A little over 25 years ago my wife and I were a freshly married couple. We we wanted to start our married life, and hopefully, a family, in a place as close to her folks as we could manage. She was called to a full-time position at a church in Windsor, and I found a part-time job at another. We packed up and moved from the prairies to Southwestern Ontario. (A lovely place, but still two hours from my wife’s parents.)

This was the late 1990’s. The nightly news was all about the conflict in the aftermath of the dissolution of the former Yugoslavia. Many people fled their homes, and sought new places to live, and raise their families.

The Windsor Multi-Cultural Association connected us with a family who’d made their way from Bosnia to Canada, via Germany. A husband and wife, and two young boys. He’d been raised Muslim, and she Catholic. They wanted a life for their children safe from the ethnic and religious and political tensions, violence and war into which they had been born.

They became our friends, and our extended family. They helped us move into, and renovate our first home, including the nursery for our first child.

Their courage, and undefeatable hope that life could be better, and that their sons could have opportunities not available to them, still inspires me.

Lenten Devotion for March 21, 2023

The writers in Good Courage, the 2023 United Church daily devotion book for Lent have taken their readers on journeys to places that for many of us, are outside our experience. I think that’s good. Lent is a season for self-examination and growth.

To visit, even briefly, the hard places where people dwell, and struggle, and look for meaning and hope, is a good thing.

A few years ago I was on the writing team for one of these Lenten books. It was an honour to be asked. It’s humbling now, to see how much deeper into places of vulnerability and pain this year’s writers have gone, than I went with my writing. They have shown such, well, Good Courage.

Amy Panton’s pieces have been particularly challenging. Today she asked how we might respond if someone in our life revealed they practised self-harm. The character she creates for us to meet wants to be accepted for who they are.

I could not tell, from the brief sketch, if this person wants to be accepted as someone who has found in self-harm a necessary coping mechanism that they have no desire to stop, or if the person wants to be accepted as someone who is struggling to find healthier ways to cope.

I’m not sure my question would matter all that much, in the moment the person revealed the scars on their arms from cutting. I think they might just want to know that the person they chose to hear their story, would listen.

Amy Panton, the writer of today’s devotion is doing important work. Check out her website, podcast, and The Canadian Journal of Thelology, Mental Health and Disability.

The website:


The Podcast:


The Podcast in Video Form, with captions, on Youtube:


The Journal:


A note to my readers.

The dashboard for this blog shows me that a surprising number of people follow and read what I post.

I am very grateful for all of you! I really, really am.

I am also branching out.

This blog tends to be a place for things I write that are connected to church- preaching, teaching, and that kind of thing.

I’ve started another project using a platform called Substack, which is more like an email newsletter. My plan is it will be the place for writing that is more in the mystery and detective fiction vein.

The two “worlds” do intersect, and inform each other. That’s inevitable. I look at mystery fiction with the heart of a spiritual seeker, and I look at sermons with the critical eye of a fiction writer.

If you are interested in the “mystery” end of things, I would love it if you were to click on the link below and check it out, and perhaps even take a free subscription to my Substack, which is called “reluctant sleuth”.

One of my ideas for “reluctant sleuth” is to serialize my first novel as I revise it. My writing mentor gave me some constructive criticism about how to make it better, and I was thinking I could let people read it, chapter by chapter, and get your reactions.


Lenten Devotion for March 20, 2023

Where does your help come from?

Not everyone imagines God the way I do. Many people use different words and concepts to form their prayers, and to “name” the God to which? to whom? to what? they pray.

Today’s devotion from Good Courage included a story about a brave and kind, committed and compassionate doctor, who set aside worries about their own well-being, to care for worried and desperate people at a huge, over-crowded, and under-resourced hospital in India.

It’s an inspiring story. When I meet people like this physician, I wonder how they do what they do. If I get to know them well enough to ask, I say something like “Where do you find the energy, or strength to keep on?”

Often the answer is they derive their sense of self, purpose, and connection to others, to the universe, from the faith in which they have been nurtured.

The doctor in today’s devotion said, “Every day I said a prayer to the ancestors to keep us safe and give me the courage to face whatever adversity. That’s how I got through.”

The doctor is of the Kodova faith. Kodovas worship ancestors and nature. Their deity is the river, Kaveri. The photo below is of that river.

According to Wikipedia, the Kaveri is a sacred river to the people of South India and is worshipped as the Goddess Kaveriamma (Mother Cauvery). It is considered to be among the seven holy rivers of India.

I had to look those things up, because I’d never heard of any of it before.

But I recognize faith, and the fruit of faith, when I see it.

Learning Time for Sunday, March 19, 2023 at Harrow United Church

“Shepherds and Sheep”

When my kids were growing up we lived in Oakville. My wife Lexie and I both worked as ministers, always in different churches. For part of that time she was a minister of Education and Pastoral Care, so it was natural our kids went to her church. It was also natural, that because our kids and their mother were very involved in the life of that congregation, that I would help when I was available. 

I did a lot of gathering craft materials, and cutting out bits and bobs, gluing, and painting, and generally getting stuff ready. I also helped set up Sunday School rooms, and lay out costumes. A lot of this would happen on Saturday nights.

The best years of that Sunday School were when they worked on the Rotation Model. The kids were gathered in groups according to age or grade level, and the groups would take turns at a series of stations that brought a Bible story to life in different ways. There was often a kitchen unit that involved making or baking something good to eat. There might be song time, a story time, a time to act out the story, or a craft time to make something connected to the story. 

The kids would explore and learn the story in several different ways, over the course of a few weeks. I know a lot of those kids as adults, including our own, and they remember their time in Sunday School.

Learning the stories provides a great foundation for when the child grows up. They can think about the stories, and the stories may help them develop their own ideas about faith, and life, and God. Beyond the stories, the kids have this experience of being loved, and cared for, fed and played with, and feeling at home. That’s a feeling that can be important in later years, when life becomes more complicated for them, and the questions get bigger and more confusing.

Something I thought was absolute genius, that my wife did with the Sunday School, was create a role she called “Shepherd”. A shepherd was a person responsible to help a group of kids make their way from one activity area to the next.

It was a big church building, with music happening in the auditorium, cooking in the kitchen, woodworking in the basement, puppet show in the library, science lab on the stage in the gym. Groups of kids needed to be escorted from one exciting venue to another, perhaps with a bathroom break along the way.

The shepherds were more than tour guides. They really had to shepherd the kids. Make sure they didn’t get distracted or lost along the way. Kind of like what actual shepherds do with actual sheep, except they did not have those big staffs to help them herd the little lambs.

My wife, the genius, recruited shepherds from that group of people who’d say, “You’re doing such great work with the children. I would love to help, but I’m not a teacher, I don’t know the bible and I can’t sing, draw or do crafts.” 

Every church seems to have people who cheer from the sidelines, or have ideas about what programs a church needs to offer, but don’t necessarily step up to make them happen. Some may feel they aren’t qualified. 

From this large pool of people who claimed they had nothing to contribute, Lexie and her Sunday School Superintendent recruited a whole crew of shepherds. There was no age limit to who could be a shepherd, and no particular skill set required. She’d sign them up on a big sheet where they could each commit to a certain block of weeks. They weren’t signing on to be there always and forever. They could take turns.

I noticed over the years that some of the shepherds became repeat customers. They’d come back and help again and again. Some would also volunteer to be shepherds, or serve snack and juice at Vacation Bible School in the summertime.

Some also discovered they liked being around the kids, got over some of their anxiety and inhibitions, and realized they did have talents, gifts, and skills to offer. They could demonstrate a craft they enjoyed, or talk about one of their hobbies. Almost everybody could read a story book out loud. Even those who didn’t like to read, could just be there, as another friendly face.

I saw some older folks become transformed by the experience of helping out. It was a reminder that the mission of a church should include the ongoing education of people of all ages.

It’s not just the kids in Sunday School who learn and grow. We are all works in progress. We can all learn by doing, and by growing into new roles, and accepting new challenges. As long as we are alive, we can learn, and grow, and we can help. We can find ways to contribute.

The people my wife recruited had opportunities to learn through lived  experience what it means to be a shepherd. It gave them glimpses of how God loves and shepherds us. 

They were reminded that we all get to be God’s sheep, and also be a shepherd to others at the same time. 

Today we baptized the amazing, delightful Mia. I had the folks stand up as a congregation, and promise to be there for her, as a community of faith. 

We stood in support of Mia and her family, her god-parents and grandparents and in-laws and out-laws and neighbours and friends of her family. We did that because we know that none of us can do well on our own, at the awesome, huge, and wonderful, overwhelming job of raising, guiding, teaching, inspiring a child.

It’s a cliche’ to say it takes a village to raise a child. During the land acknowledgment today I talked about the Wendat people. In their tradition, all the children were the shared responsibility of all members of the community, not just the biological parents. 

There was a shared understanding that everyone has a stake in instilling the knowledge, values, survival skills, and spirituality that sustain each child, and also help ensure the long-term survival of the people.

It’s common sense. We should take care of everyone in the community, so there can be a community.

I take my wisdom where I can find it. I enjoy mystery novels, and one of my current favourite writers is Michael Connelly. 

Connelly has a character called Harry Bosch, who is a homicide detective. I like characters who, although they are basically broken and faulted human beings, like everyone I know in real life, also have a strong sense of purpose, or a moral code that guides them.

The fictional Detective Harry Bosch, who is relentless in his pursuit of truth, and never gives up until he finds the killer, has a good motto. He says, “Everybody counts, or nobody counts.” 

It’s simple, and to the point, and I think, very much like Jesus. Everyone counts. No one should be left out. We treat everyone with equal love and respect, because each child, each person matters.

The flip side of that is that everyone can be counted, and counted on, to have something they can contribute, to add to the life of the faith community. To be the community God dreams we can be, everyone has something to contribute. We actually need everyone. Everyone counts. Amen

Here is a link to the Youtube video of this week’s worship service, which includes this learning time:

Lenten Devotion for March 19, 2023

The Good Courage writer for today asks the reader to think about who they know, who is acting with courage to make a difference in the world.

Today is Sunday, so I was at Harrow United Church to lead worship. I also had opportunity to chat with some people, who are doing important things.

We have a lot of active and retired teachers in the congregation. Teachers work every day to encourage, and inspire, to care for and educate young people. To do what they do takes so much heart. (The word courage comes from the same Latin root as heart.)

There were people at church who are involved with Project Hope, a non-profit that works every day to treat people with dignity and respect, and to address food insecurity.

We heard from someone at church today who is one of the organizers of a concert that will raise money for Project Hope, for the Harrow Food Bank, and for the scholarships Harrow United Church sponsors every year for two girls to go to school in Tanzania. That’s a long term commitment, and investment the congregation is making in their future.

During coffee hour I witnessed two women recruiting other women, of all ages, to join a women’s self-defense class that will be offered free of charge by the sensei of the Karate Dojo that meets in the church.

These are all important, heart-felt efforts to make a difference in people’s lives.

Lenten Devotion for March 18, 2023

The Good Courage writer for today worked from a passage in the 3rd chapter of the letter to the Phillippians. Here is a version of part of it from The Message:

 “I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back.

So let’s keep focused on that goal, those of us who want everything God has for us.”

I started running cross-country in high school. I was not good at it, but I liked it. It’s the only athletic team I ever “made” in high school. There were no try outs. If you came to practice, you were a runner.

I’m still not a great runner. Years ago I ran a few half-marathons, and full marathons. More recently, I do 5 km events, that others think of as races. I am happy to start, cover the course, and finish.

I cheer on the ones who are out front, and who will reach the finish line before I am halfway there. I cheer on the ones who are struggling. It’s okay to take a walk break, stop at a water station for a drink and a rest. It’s okay to go as far as you can, and be kind to yourself.

We are, all of us, on the race course and off, works in progress. We do what we can do.

The photo is from about a decade ago. My friend Mary Ann joined me for part of “Darrow’s Dash”, a fundraiser for the congregation I served then.

I remember running in the 1980’s while carrying my rather sizable and weighty “Walkman”, and listening to the soundrack from “Chariots of Fire”. That’s the movie about Eric Liddell, the Scottish missionary who famously refused to run in the qualifying heats for the 100 metre sprint at the 1924 Paris Olympics, because they were on Sunday.

Because life is weird and amazing, the congregation for which I ran “Darrow’s Dash” included a lovely woman named Heather, who is one of Eric Liddell’s daughters.

Lenten Devotion for March 17, 2023

The Good Courage devotion today asked the reader to consider what they give out of their abundance, and what do they give out of their poverty. The underlying message or point I took from this was that giving out my abundance is easy. Further, that which we give from our poverty, the areas of our life in which we feel lacking, is a deeper, more noble kind of giving.

The practical example the writer gave came from their experience of sorting cans collected in a food drive, and seeing how many from her parish gave expired canned goods. I’ve “been there and done that”, in that I’ve helped sort after two community wide food drives in our area.

We packed dozens of cardboard boxes with cans that could not be passed along at the food bank, or the local food pantry, so would be taken to a local farmer who’d feed it all to their chickens. (Apparently, chickens can eat almost anything.)

What does it mean to give in the way the “poor widow” in the gospel story gives?

“Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For they all contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on. ” (Mark 12: 43– 44)

Lenten Devotion for March 16, 2023

We have a St. Vincent De Paul Society collection box at the back of our church parking lot. I’ve noticed that every day I am at the church, the bin is full to over-flowing, and there are usually items piled in front.

Even at the height of COVID, when we were all presumably shopping less, and staying home more, every time I visited the church, the bin was full. This was a bit of an issue for a short while, when the re-sale stores were not able to open, and the Saint Vincent de Paul Society, Goodwill, and Value Village were all gathering more donated goods than they could process and were running out of storage room.

I think the community-based Full Circle Thrift Store in Harrow had similiar issues, when they could not be open to sell the goods that kept appearing in their loading area.

We live in a culture with a lot of stuff. I know that we have more in our closets, garage, and backyard sheds, than we can use, or actually need. We were amongst the COVID cleaners, who used the lockdown time to sort, order, and dispose of many things. There is a lot more we could live without.

The spiritual practice suggested in today’s Good Courage devotion was to “set a goal that for the next few weeks, you’re going to set aside one item that offers you very little. Maybe it’ll be a book on the shelf that you’re likely to never read, a habit that offers no joy, or a grudge that holds you captive.”

If you listen carefully, you might hear Lyle Lovett and John Prine backing up Delbert McCLinton on this rocking country song. The track also has some very fine Hammond organ.

Lenten Devotion for March 15, 2023

In the summer before I started my under-grad degree, I worked in the equipment yard for an engineering and construction company. The shop foreman assigned me a lot of jobs that involved paint. Spray paint the company colours on all those tools. Re-paint the lines on the parking lot at the corporate office. (An after-hours job, when the shirts and ties had gone home.) Paint the sheet metal fencing that hemmed in the equipment yard. (Including re-tracing the three-foot high letters of the company name, that had originally been done by an actual sign-painter.)

What those tasks had in common, besides paint, was at the end of the day, I could actually see the proof of my labours. (And not just from the spills and smears on my work clothes.)

The Good Courage writer for today, the Rev. Nora Vedress described taking a Covid enforced rest from her regular full and fast paced life.

Often, my first reaction when I hear or read a clergy colleague sharing on the topic of their busyness, is to feel like I am not doing enough.

It’s not as if I can look to a pile of freshly painted mallets and power tools, and exclaim, ” look what I did! “

The exercise suggested for today, to list the top five things that take my energy had a similiar effect- to make me wonder what I actually do in a day.

As I read further in the devotion, I could see the writer was working towards getting her readers to think about taking Sabbath, necessary and restorative rest time.

I wonder if I was the only reader for whom the devotion had the opposite effect, to leave me wondering if I do enough to “deserve” a rest.

I had to take a few breaths, and remind myself that there are acually things I do, that make a difference.