Red Pine Row


“To me a lush carpet of pine needles or spongy grass is more welcome than the most luxurious Persian rug.”  Hellen Keller

When children reached grade six in Northwestern Ontario, at least when I, and at least two of my younger siblings, you went on a field trip to a recently clear-cut forest and planted pine seedlings.  Typically they were red pines.  We spent the day in pairs, one with a shovel to make a T-shaped hole in the earth.  First the supporting line of the T is made.  Then the top, keeping the shovel in the earth, levering it so the base of the T gapes open.  The second person would then insert the seeding and when the shovel was removed the earth would close up on the roots of the inserted tree.  Easy!  Efficient too, years later I have driven past the area that my class had planted over 40 years ago and the trees are strong and tall.

In subsequent years the students’  ‘payment’ for their efforts at reforestation on behalf of the local pulp and paper mill,  would be up to a dozen seedlings.  My oldest sister planted hers at the lake front property.  My youngest sister’s were planted in a line west of the family home to act as a wind break in winter and shade from the setting sun in summer.

A perfect choice because red pines are self pruning.  Dead branches fall from the trunks, so a walk through a red pine forest is a journey through branchless, straight, gradually greying trunks on a thick carpet of long needles beneath a canopy of wind whispering branches, the air perfumed with a clean pitch smell.  Perfect peace.

The needles grow in pairs. As kids we would carefully remove one and then insert the tip of the remaining needle into the void creating teardrop shapes that could be linked into long chains.  Of course this resulted in competitions of who could create the longest.

We would also collect the barely opened cones and shake out the little seeds, removing the small, wing that enables them to whirl to the ground.  We would chew on them, savouring the piney bite that we claimed was breath freshener, even though it was not the most delicious taste in the world.  Squirrels did, so why not?!

Red pines bring to memory soft sighing of summer breezes, rough bark, sticky new cones and God’s delicate symmetry in old ones.  The latter hold the memories of gold and silver spray paint, highlighting open scales, and placed in church floral arrangements for Advent and Christmas.  Take a deep breath, draw the pine scented memory in, be still, rest in God.

19  I will plant in the wilderness the cedar,
the acacia, the myrtle, and the olive.
I will set in the desert the cypress,
the plane and the pine together,
20 that they may see and know,
may consider and understand together,
that the hand of the Lord has done this,
the Holy One of Israel has created it.  Isaiah 41:19-20

Nothing Ordinary About It


After the Advent banners came down many people in the congregation complained how plain the sanctuary looked.  The women asked for another project to provide focus for visual meditation.  The decision was to do something for Ordinary Time which is represented by the colour green.  They will be dedicated to God’s glory this Sunday in memory of Bill M.  His widow is known for her preference for green so these were the obvious choice.  All the blocks have biblical references.  The women did a fabulous job.

In Planning Mode


My sewing machine is handicapped at the moment.  The light has burnt out and it is an hour drive to get another one.  It has severely limited the amount of quilting I can get done.  Frustrating to say the least.  I have been planning future projects instead.  Almost as frustrating because I can not begin them until the projects I have on the go are completed.

Dandelions

This one I am naming “Dandelions”.  I intend to use the fabrics above and sew it into a wall hanging for our spare bedroom.  It will go really well with the existing beadspread and drapes.  I got the idea when I drove up to the church this Sunday and noticed the grass starting to turn green along the building and the dandelions starting to bloom.  Always a cheery and welcome sight, at spring’s first blush.  Not so welcome as summer establishes herself.  I might change it to four block squares and scatter the colours more.  I’ll decide when I get that far and how ambitious I feel at the time.

Going to the fabric stores are too much of a temptation.  I see something I adore and cannot resist the temptation to purchase, without any thought as to how I am going to use it.  Here are some ideas for two patterns I couldn’t leave behind.

I love the large flowers that are somewhat stylized in their renditions.  The challenge then becomes finding a pattern that is conducive to the fabric and doesn’t detract from how fabulous it is.  Here is what I am considering.  I have to remember not to let my hair fall in front of the flash of the camera to avoid shadows.  The grouping on the right will probably be a modified nine block square in some way.

Finally I want to do a Sudoku quilt.  I’m thinking rainbow colours. 

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.

http://streetpastor.wordpress.com/2012/04/12/you-can-go-your-own-way-or-why-im-not-afraid-of-schism/

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.

I Promised …


     It’s almost been a year since we had our 2nd Annual Country Cowboy Service.  I promised when I mentioned it in a blog last August that I would post the pictures.  The quilts were made by our soon to be famous Ladies Quilting Group.  At least, I am confident that they will soon be famous.  They accomplish some lovely work.   Almost exactly a year ago they sent 12 quilts to Japan in response to the earthquake/tsunami disaster of March 11.  The quilts seen in these pictures were donated to a family shelter in Grande Prairie at Christmas.

Decorating the church in preparation for Sunday worship was filled with laughs and good fellowship.  The narthex (ahem, foyer), took on an almost stable atmosphere, complete (briefly!) with a newspaper on the floor piled with evidence of some well digested hay.  (Thanks to our retired law enforcement officer…not pictured!)  He thought it was a huge joke, and it brought on many laughs.  Replacing the candles along the walls with cowboy hats worked quite well, next year we promised to keep in mind we need more hats.  The decor was very conducive to setting the mood for some old favourite hymns and good worship.  Five more months and it will be the 3rd Annual.  Praise God!

Sirach 39:14-15   14 Send out fragrance like incense, and put forth blossoms like a lily. Scatter the fragrance, and sing a hymn of praise; bless the Lord for all his works.  15 Ascribe majesty to his name and give thanks to him with praise, with songs on your lips, and with harps; this is what you shall say in thanksgiving:

Stones and Rocks


Ecclesiastes 3:5   …a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together…

The patterns, shapes, weight, colour and use of stones hold as lifelong fascination.  I want to see the standing stones of Stonehenge.  My favourite stone is the amethyst (~purple~), closely followed by ammolite.  At one time I planned to own every gem stone in existence — ummm, not so much now — remember I have to save enough money to get to the Salisbury Plain as some point of my life.

Library at the Canadian Parliment Buildings

I marvel at stone hewn to construct amazing buildings, such as, say, the Salisbury Cathedral, although the building shown at the left is pretty inspiring.  So was the seminary that I attended, I’ll leave those photos for a later post.

In May we traveled to the Yukon.  We saw rocks and stones at every corner, piled high on top of themselves, mountain height, solid and unstable at the same time.  It is the smaller examples that demand my attention more so.

Lichen on rocks

So this photo is not primarily about rocks, I was drawn to the patterns of the lichen growning on them, or the mosses and lichen growing between them.

Lichens and rocks

This boulder was so fascinating.  There were no other rocks around that were similar, of the same composition or colour.  Where did it come from and why would the glaciers leave it specifically in this place?

Odd rock in what would seem to be the middle of nowhere.

Below is a closer look.

     What caused it to erode in this manner?   I love these unexpected, unusual surprises that reveal themselves when you take the time to stop travelling 100 kms an hour and walk around for an hour or so.

Who else knows about this place, who has found this curious thing, little in comparison to the mountains that surround and dwarf it.

At another stop I attempted to capture the image of stones beneath the water of a mesmerisingly aqua-blue Muncho Lake.  I later realized the camera settings were all wrong, but the camera was new to me, what can I say.  Here is the best effort.  Better luck next time.

Ice and Stones

Mountain near Toad River

 

 

 

 

 

And here, because the structure of the stones, is the single obligatory mountain image.  So soaringly beautiful.