Who do you think I AM?

If you were hoping a personal reflection of Exodus 3:14, or the arrogant outburst of some demi-celeb, sorry to disappoint.
It is much more elemental than that. Saturday last, my ipad was stolen. That in itself is most inconvenient.  Especially since I have a significant suspicion of ‘the cloud’ and didn’t store any of my pictures, or quilt/block designs, or a few months of journalling up or out or into there, where ever ‘there’ is.  The latter made me particularly unhappy.  But, I could still access my emails, since all of them are web-based.  I could still play the interactive/multi-player game I have been playing for over a year.  I could still read all my tomes on kindle, know how my day was scheduled on an icalendar, and check the local weather.  The other stuff is regrettable, but not insurmountable.
No, the worst of it was, my purse was stolen too.
There was a fundraising roast beef dinner at the church.  I had put my purse, iPad and iPhone in a cabinet in my office and gone down to the hall to offer grace and lend a hand where ever they might be needed.  Hubby was working a split night shift and was expected to join me for dinner at 7:10 or so.  At 7:15 I went to my office, retrieved my iPhone and texted him to ask when he expected to arrive.  He showed up arond 7:20, we consumed a fabulous dinner, visited with people and decided it was time to leave at 8:20.  I returned to my office to collect my iPad and purse, and, they weren’t.
My keys were still sitting on my desk, as was my laptop. The silver communion ware was still occupying the Communion Table. But another church member’s wallet and cell phone were removed from her back pack hiding under a pew.
Attempts to contact the police put me on hold for 50 minutes.
I was able to report the theft on line before I hung up on the pre-recorded loop of music and redundant information.  Calling the credit card company brought similar results.  While on ‘wait’ I considered how I was going to get home as hubby had to return to work.  “I’ll just get a cab,” I thought.  Then I realized, I couldn’t, I had no money, no debit card, no credit card to pay them.  And it was dark, and the church in smack dab in the centre of one of the least ‘safe’ areas of the city.  Now what?  Thankfully a member of the Board of Managers had stayed to ensure I left the building safety and graciously acquiested when I asked for a ride home.
At home, when I finally got through to the credit card company, I gained a gradual awareness of how difficult it is to operate in the world without any proof of who I am.  My driver’s licence, credit and debit cards, health card, co-pay card, birth certificate and other loyalty cards were gone.  It settle over me as a cloud of confusion and frustration.  I had told the credit card provider that I needed a new debit card too.  “Just go to your bank with two pieces of photo ID and ask for one.”  Ummmmm, did you hear me?  Someone stole my purse.
It was disorientating. And anxiety ridden. What might someone attempt with everything they need to be me?  How do I replace my driver’s licence, I don’t have any way to pay for it?  I could request a new birth certificate on-line, no, not until my credit card arrives.  Starting at a place where you can get proof of who “I AM”, providing a police incident report, grateful that hubby is available to pay the necessary fees, eventually gets you to a place where, you have to replace your wallet, or purse, or organizer in which all these bits of paper and plastic are kept.  With it comes a feeling of vulnerability.  All that has to transpire is another theft and your identity is compromised again.  And you keep a close eye on your bank account, ask you employer to place a stop payment on next month’s pay (that was in the stolen purse) and the recently recieved expense cheque (also in the stolen purse), and send theft notifications to your iPad, hoping someone sees it and calls the number provided.  It definitely is a learning experience I hope very few people have to learn.

Exodus 3:13 And God said unto Moses, I Am That I Am: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I Am hath sent me unto you.

A growing movement inspired by 14-year-old Malala Yousufzia. Education is the key to solving so many problems in this world.


Last Monday, my friend Olivia and I decided to launch this idea called #GIRLWITHABOOK. At the time we were venting to each other about how horrified and utterly disgusted we were by the Taliban’s sick attempt at killing Malala Yousafzai on her school bus, and we wanted to do something about it. We wanted to do something for Malala, and at the same time stick it to the Taliban. So Olivia says to me “Let’s get people to post pictures of themselves with books! A favorite book, a random book, a school book, you name it. And we’ll post it on facebook, twitter, etc. to show Malala our support.” My reaction: THIS IS AWESOME.

The Taliban showed what they are most afraid: A GIRL WITH A BOOK.

So that’s exactly what we did. We created a Facebook page, Pinterest board, Twitter account and a tumblr. It sounds…

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Nothing Personal But You Asked

Hubby offered to cook fajitas for dinner last night.  I offered to pick up the necessary groceries.  Work finished for the day, I went to the local major grocery chain for peppers, mushrooms, onions, wraps, and sour cream.

Standing in line at the checkout, not the self checkout, one with another person scanning bar codes and bagging my groceries (save that for another rant), I confess to eavesdropping on the conversation between the cashier and the older gentleman ahead of me.

C – “Would you like to donate to breast cancer?”  Awkward pause.

OG – “Yeah, sure.”

C – “How much?”

OG – “Ummmm …”

C – “A dollar … two … five?”

OG (very quietly) – “A dollar.”

The transaction completes and the cashier begins scanning my grocery items.  She takes my airmiles and membership card.  The inevitable question.

C – “Would you like to donate to breast cancer?”

Me – “Do you issue a tax reciept?”  Blank stare.  “If I were to donate $20 to the Canadian Cancer Society, I would get a tax receipt.  I’d be happy to donate $20 to Fight for the Cure.  Will you give me a tax receipt.”

C – “We’re not a charity.”

Me – “Exactly.  But (this company) gets a tax credit for donating MY money to Fight for the Cure.  Why should I subsidize your employer’s tax break?”

C – “I don’t know nothing about that.”

Me – “I didn’t think you would.  Its nothing personal, but you asked.  I’m just explaining why I’m not donating to breast cancer, here.”

Lady in Line Behind Me – “And neither am I.”

I haven’t read Lord of the Flies, Catch-22, Of Mice and Men, The Grapes of Wrath, Catcher in the Rye, etc. in quite awhile. Maybe it is time to rummage through the book boxes.

The eNotes Blog

Banned Books Week is currently celebrating its 36th anniversary! This year’s theme, “Banning Books Silences Stories,” is a reminder that everyone needs to speak out against the tide of censorship.

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Did you know that some of the best works of all time, and very often the ones you’ll have studied in school, have at one time or another been censored from the public? Did you know that the practice of censorship in literature still goes on today?

Yup, somewhere out there, a blinkered individual could actually be pondering at this very moment the dangers of a mind raised on an “occultist” story like Bridge to Terabithia, while someone of the same mindset argues that the bildungsroman The Perks of Being a Wallflower is “unsuited to a teenage audience.” Seriously.

And it’s not all Sex, by Madonna, Gossip Girl and l8r, g8r that are considered poised to corrupt our…

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I had the privilege of sharing a year of internship with this amazing and brilliant minister at West Point Grey Presbyterian Church in Vancouver, BC. I couldn’t have said it any better. In fact when I was seeking a call one congregation asked what my plan was to grow the congregation was, I asked, “What are your gifts? Its not what I will do, but what you are willing to do.” I didn’t get the call.

Hopping Hadrian's Wall

Whenever a congregation goes looking for a new pastor, the first question on their minds when the committee interviews a new candidate is: Will this pastor grow our church?

I’m going to go ahead and answer that question right now: No, she will not.

No amount of pastoral eloquence, organization, insightfulness, amicability, or charisma will take your congregation back to back to its glory days.

What then can your pastor do?  She can make your board meetings longer with prayer and Bible study.  She can mess with your sense of familiarity by changing the order of worship and the arrangement of the sanctuary.  She can play those strange new songs and forget about your favorite old hymns.  She can keep on playing those crusty old hymns instead of that hot new contemporary praise music.  She can bug you incessantly about more frequent celebration of Communion.  She can ignore your phone…

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Guest Post: You Can Go Your Own Way (or, Why I am not Afraid of Schism)

Many, many posts ago, in a place far away and a time filled with learning into a new role I mentioned five amazing people I interned with.  I am so blessed and pleased to be able to share a recent post by one of them.  He is so wise and grace filled.  Check out his blog, it will be worth every word consumed.


You Can Go Your Own Way (or, Why I’m Not Afraid of Schism)

April 12, 2012 by J. Barrett Lee

It’s been a rough half-century for folks in the mainline Protestant denominations.  The numbers are undeniable.  We are smaller than we were in the 1950s and 60s.  Everybody seems to have a pet theory about why this is happening.

Extremists on one side are convinced that this decline in numbers is caused by fanatical adherence to superstitious dogmas that have been rendered irrelevant by philosophical, scientific, and technological advancement.  Extremists on the other side are convinced that the wrath of God is smiting our denominations with death because they have bowed down to the heresies of the modern world.  I want to say the same thing to extremists on both sides:

“Shut up and sit down.  This kind of talk isn’t helpful.”

While these voices tend to be the loudest, I find more often that they are in the minority.  Most folks in our churches identify themselves as moderates who tend to lean to one side of the spectrum or the other.

In spite of rampant conspiracy theories to the contrary, I find that most moderates on both sides are compassionate and intelligent believers who are essentially saying the same thing:

“I want to stay faithful to the core values of my faith, but I’m afraid that my denomination is becoming a place where I won’t be able to do that.”

We’ve all been through this before.  American mainline Protestant churches have split over the abolition of slavery, biblical literalism, the ordination of women, and (most recently) same-sex marriage.

My own denomination, the Presbyterian Church (USA), which I will abbreviate as PC(USA), is currently wrestling with the recent creation of a group that calls itself the Evangelical Covenant Order of Presbyterians (ECO).  ECO is a group that has come together out of its founders’ desire to have a denominational community with shared theological values and a commitment to evangelical mission in the world outside the walls of the church.  They believe the PC(USA) has drifted from its core theological roots and become too inwardly and institutionally focused.  They see the PC(USA)’s recent decision to allow for the ordination of non-celibate lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered (LGBT) people and this summer’s upcoming vote on same-sex marriage as symptoms of the larger and deeper theological problem.

Just to be clear about where I stand, let me lay all of my cards out on the table.  Those who know me or follow this blog will already know this, but I’ll say it again for the sake of any newcomers and first-time readers.  I identify as a theologically liberal Presbyterian.  I am a vocal advocate for LGBT equality in church and society.  I am not a part of ECO.  In fact, I probably represent much of what they think is wrong with the PC(USA).

The PC(USA) itself does a fairly good job at holding the middle ground in this debate.  They follow the example of Karl Barth and other Neo-orthodox theologians of the 20th century.  How do I know the denomination does this?  Because it frustrates folks on both sides.  Liberals think it’s too conservative and conservatives think it’s too liberal.

Liberals and conservatives have their own unique ways of vying for greater power in the decision-making process.  Liberals tend to invest in taking hold of regional and national positions of authority in the councils (formerly known as governing bodies) of the denomination.  They, in the tradition and spirit of historic liberalism, tend to put their trust (too much trust, I would say) in the amendment of large-scale human institutions.  The heroes of this bunch tend to be Moderators of our General Assembly and professors at our denominational seminaries.  In science-fiction terms, they see themselves as the United Federation of Planets (Star Trek).

Conservatives, on the other hand, love to cast themselves in the role of the oppressed underdog.  They see themselves as heirs of the American Revolution and the Protestant Reformation.  Their heroes tend to be the pastors of large and wealthy congregations.  They tend to idolize their pastors and demonize the denomination.  As one elder screamed (yes, screamed) during a recent meeting in our area, “The PC(USA) just wants more of our money so they can keep spreading their lies!”  In science-fiction terms, they see themselves as the Rebel Alliance, fighting the Sith-dominated Galactic Empire (Star Wars).

In reality, both sides are delusional.  The PC(USA) is not the United Federation of Planets and ECO is not the Rebel Alliance.  It’s pretty obvious to me that we’re essentially dealing with two different religious traditions under the roof of one denomination.  This leaves us with two options.  We can either: (A) Organize our denominational life together in such a way that leaves room for both parties to coexist, or (B) Peacefully part ways in a spirit that is consistent with our highest shared values.

As a liberal, I will primarily direct my critical comments toward the members of my own party.  But before I do that, I want to invite any conservatives and evangelicals to listen in and witness one liberal who is not a demon-possessed heretic that wants to invade your church, seize your building, fire your pastor, and force you into compliance with my wicked homosexual agenda.  Are you ready?  Let’s go.

I am a liberal who supports the creation of ECO.  My reasons for doing so are primarily biblical in nature.  I was reading Genesis 13 the other day, where the nomadic caravans of Abram and Lot are traveling together through the Promised Land, but have achieved critical mass in regard to the land’s ability to support both groups.  Conflict began to brew.  Abram then takes the moral high ground,

Let there be no strife between you and me, and between your herders and my herders; for we are kindred. Is not the whole land before you? Separate yourself from me. If you take the left hand, then I will go to the right; or if you take the right hand, then I will go to the left.

Abram even lets Lot have his first choice of the land.  There is a recognition that division is necessary, but a complete rejection of backbiting and contentiousness.  Here is an example of a person of faith who can declare “Separate yourself from me” and “we are kindred” in the same paragraph.

In the same way, our denominational landscape is being strained in the attempt to support both liberals and evangelicals.  It is clear that there are many among us who no longer wish for our caravans to sojourn together.  As heirs of Abram’s covenant, why can’t we do with each other what Abram did with Lot?  Who among us will take the moral (i.e. relational) high ground?

In this moment, I would call upon my fellow liberals to step up to the plate.  You have invested much energy in securing positions of power for yourself at the presbytery and General Assembly levels.  Use the power afforded you by those positions to walk like Jesus, who said,

You know that the rulers of the nations lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant.

I would venture to say that we should support the creation of ECO, let these congregations and presbyteries go their own way, and find a way to send them off with a parting blessing: their buildings, investments, and pensions.  Let’s leave a legacy that will provide an open door for reconciliation in some future generation.

Institutional division is not necessarily a church schism.  We can part ways and remain true to each other on multiple levels.  After Abram and Lot part ways, the relationship between them continues to grow faithfully.  Abram fights for Lot, rescues him from danger, and prays earnestly for his well-being.  Let’s learn how to do the same for each other.  Enough of all this backbiting crap.

Listen, we don’t really need their numbers and their money.  Their presence will not hold back the tide of mainline decline.  We are still shrinking, no matter what.  This is a subject for another blog post, but I see mainline decline as a good thing.

My point is that we might best guard the “peace, unity, and purity of the church” by allowing people to go their own way, even if we happen to disagree with where they are going.  We made a vow to guard the “peace, unity, and purity” of the church, not necessarily the denomination.  We should be careful to distinguish between the two.

Liberal Presbyterians: be ye not afraid of ECO.  Support its creation.  Send them off with a blessing.  Like Abram and Lot, let there be no strife between them and us; for we are kindred.


J. Barrett Lee is the pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Boonville, NY.  He is also a member of St. James Mission, an ecumenical spiritual community in Utica, NY.  He is also an Adjunct Professor of Philosophy at Utica College.  He lives in central New York with his wife, two kids, and two cats.  In his off-time (when he has any), he likes to watch Star Trek, listen to U2, and play his guitar.

The Iona Building – Vancouver School of Theology

In 2005 we moved to Vancouver with the intent of me returning to studies to earn my Master of Divinity.  There are three colleges recognized by my denomination as having the necessary courses for eligibility to be ordained as a Minister of Word and Sacrament.  The college I chose was Vancouver School of Theology.  From the onset I was so grateful that I had.  Not only were the courses challenging and enlightening, the community supportive and worshipful, but the campus itself was beautiful.

The north face of “the Castle” is lovely.  Set at the top of a slight rise it draws the eye upward.  When I began studies there the silhouette was uninterrupted.  Since, the skyline has been changed with the rectangular shapes of high-rise student residences and condominiums.  A shame.

The building does not boast many embellishments.  The subtle simplicity of the stone blocks in varying sizes and the small carvings over the entrance ways are in keeping with the purpose of the building.  God is in the small things. 

The charter of the college is magnificently illuminated.  Originally housing the Union College of British Columbia, the Iona Building was completed in the 1930’s and is an ecumenical college educating Anglican, United Church of Canada and Presbyterian students.  The charter hangs in the library.

I spent many hours there, writing, reading, researching, photocopying.

The Merton reading room is a quiet reading/meditation room.  It has comfy large chairs and it was not unusual to find a student napping there.

During my time there the college completed an environmentally controlled archive for many of its older and antique volumes.  People come from all over to access the theological resources.

The building was upgraded to meet seismic requirements, completed in 2005, the year I started.  The interior was brand new, bright and beautiful my first day of college.  Enjoy some of the interior views and patterns.  It was a delight to study and worship there.






Amazing stain glass window in the sanctuary, and beautiful glass sculpture depicting Creation in the foyer.

View of the north shore mountains at morning. Taken from the 6th floor of the Iona Building

A Walk on the Wild Side

2 Kings 4:39   One of them went out into the field to gather herbs; he found a wild vine and gathered from it a lapful of wild gourds, and came and cut them up into the pot of stew, not knowing what they were.

I am always interested, in everything.  Remember those knowledge books for children in the 60’s.  Everything you wanted to know about; astrology, rocks, fish, plants, just about any topic you could thing of.  My mom didn’t buy them too often, I think they may have been quite pricey.  I would read them from cover, over and over again.  I was fascinated by all the information and pictures they contained.  As a result I am a repository of a lot of rarely used or applicable natural history trivia.  There still exists a wealth of facts I don’t have stored away somewhere, or never knew in the first place.  But then, we have the internet now, and a plethera of applications for iphones, or smart phones, or all those other wireless devices I don’t own.  Come on, really, an app to remind you where you parked your car?  If it continues at this rate we won’t need our brains any more, although the regression in evolution in that aspect will be more than made up for by enlarged thumbs.  (I typed my email address into a blackberry today, I though I had fairly slender fingers!)

It wasn’t my intention for this to become something of a rant, rather, a vehicle for showing off a few more pictures.  These are of plants, most of which I can name, at least one that I can’t.  (I didn’t have to do a google search to do so either)

Salmon Berry Blossoms







Skunk Cabbage








Fiddle heads


Wild Rose & Bee


These were all taken in the park behind our house in Burnaby BC.  One or both of us walked there daily to exercise the dogs and get a breath of nature in the continuous encounter of people, traffic, buildings and roads that is the Lower Mainland.  A nice place to visit, but we are grateful not to live there anymore.





June 9, 2008 LISTEN

As I drove to Anishinabe this morning there was an interview on CBC radio with Belinda van den Brooke (sp?) who was commenting on Residential Schools. She said she could not speak for everyone else who is a Residential School survivor, or “in general.” Everyone’s experience was different. Her personal experience is not a blanket description of what happened. She talked about how she often acted as an advocate in the school, and it resulted in quite abit of trouble for her. I chuckled when she said that she would be proud to have a TM (trouble maker) after her BA if it meant she was helping people.

As I sit in the parking lot at the center I remind myself to 1. LISTEN 2. Expect to find God in the unexpected 3. Be a witness 4. Remember names!

The Rev. (the Reverend Margaret Mullin) has three people in mind for my Ministry Reflection Group. One is a residential school survivor who attended Cecilia Jeffrey in Kenora, Ontario. She is a Christian working in the Presbyterian Church in Canada (PCC), and making a claim for her experiences at CJ School which was administrated by the PCC. Another member is a AA co-ordinator, 20 years sober. The third is a lovely and very wise staff member, who has a beautiful spirit and a gentle way about her. All are aboriginal.

I learn that when speaking with a First Nations person, you should not stare. It is concidered extremely rude. In my ED100 class back at VST we read that looking down when someone is speaking indicates you are concentrating on listening, removing the distraction of sight and thereby gives honour to the speaker. It’s really hard! I have been brought up to look people in the eye when speaking to them, and occasionally watch them mouth their words so as to not miss any. I never realized how much I read lips and tend to doing so at the center because some of the dropins do not speak English very well and if I am not watching I miss so much I don’t have a clue what they are saying.

It is also rude to point, at anything, not just people. Its another cultural challenge, you try not to point for a day.

We distribute emergency food kits. They contain a canned protein, a vegtable or soup, a fruit and a starch (usually Kraft Dinner). People are eligible for only one a month and must show their health card to receive it. Some have been banned from receiving them because they take the food and trade it to some of the local food retailers for “sniff.” Anishinabe keeps a record of who receives food and this is remitted to Winnipeg Harvest who supplies us with the kits. Winnipeg Harvest distributes 10,000 loaves of bread a day to various social agencies throughout Winnipeg. Daily hot meals are provided by the Union Gospel and Siloam Missions on Main Street, four blocks away from our location. Siloam feeds upwards of 300 people a day.

It is mind boggling to consider the scope of poverty that exists, and infuriating that certain retailers with a goal to make a bigger profit, only enable people with addictions.