Castlegar News Column for April 2023

Christianity and Creation
by Rev. Robin Murray

Among many other things in the United Church of Canada’s “New Creed”, it says that as a church, “We are called…to live with respect in Creation.” As Christians, our starting point for understanding creation, while sometimes wild, dangerous and unpredictable, is inherently good. (Genesis 1:31)

Also, as Christians, our starting point in understanding God is that God’s very essence is a loving relationship, traditionally represented as the Holy Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This is “trinitarian” understanding of God, with Christ as equal to God, is what makes Christianity distinct from other Abrahamic faiths, such as Judaism and Islam, and is essential to who we are.

In recent years, we have seen an increase in the wildness and unpredictability of our earth on a climactic level, due to human industrial activities raising atmospheric carbon dioxide levels. This imbalance in nature is a result of our selfish desire for endless growth and consumption.

Too often, Christians have justified putting human desires above natural processes, citing Genesis 1:26 which says we “have dominion over” the other living things in creation. Genesis 1:26 also says that we are designed in the image of God. Put that together with the Christian understanding that God is a Trinity, then we are designed to live in loving relationship with one another, with the Trinity and with creation.

Then perhaps we should view the idea of dominion found in Genesis, not as a mandate to dominate the earth, but as a simple descriptor; we have the capacity to dominate. However, to follow God’s example and live as those created in God’s image, we should not seek to dominate, but to live in respectful relationship with creation.

We should look for balance between our needs and the needs of other living beings. If nature is truly under our care, as we are in God’s care, then we might also need to be ready to make sacrifices for it, just as Christ sacrificed himself for us. What does your faith call you to do as we approach Earth Day on April 22nd? How will you live with respect in Creation? How can we, together, work towards, as Pope Francis said in his encyclical letter, Laudato Si’ on Care for our Common Home, the “peace, beauty and fullness” God desires for us and our planet?

May we pray on these things, hear the answer from God and take action.

Castlegar News Column for March 2023

Old Language in the Bible
by Rev. Robin Murray

I have heard some people say they find the language in the Bible “too old fashioned” and “it just doesn’t resonate in today’s world.” The oldest of these scriptures were probably written at least 5000 years ago and the most recent are from almost 2000 years ago. To complicate matters, what we are reading in English are translations of the original texts, most of which were written in Ancient Hebrew, and the rest in Ancient Greek.

The “fear of God” is a common phrase that puts some people off. In today’s society, we don’t like living in fear. Freedom and liberty are our buzzwords. We fight against fear and tyranny. Some would simply substitute the word “awe” or “reverence” for “fear” when talking about God. However, I would argue the Bible’s “fear of God” is more than just “awe.” It can best be understood as allowing ourselves to be awash in a love so big, it is terrifying. The God of the Universe stretches beyond our comprehension and that can be scary.

Patriarchal language in reference to God, such as “he” or “him” and “father” is another struggle for many. If masculine words are a stumbling block for people, I’m willing to switch. Changing to gender neutral words can be done easily without changing meaning. There are plenty of languages around the world that have no pronouns at all, into which the Bible has been translated, and those translations are no less sacred than our English versions.

Objections to imperial words such as “kingdom” and “Lord” are more difficult. Written during the height of the Roman Empire, the New Testament of the Bible borrows well known imagery and words from Roman propaganda and deliberately turns it upside down. To use the same words to describe the Emperor as to describe a wandering teacher from a conquered people, who had been shamefully executed on a cross, was a dangerously radical thing to do back then.

Perhaps today, we need to substitute ”economy” for “kingdom” and call Jesus the “CEO of CEOs” instead of the “King of Kings” for people to grasp the message! The words of the Bible may be old, but the ideas they represent are still relevant, because the nature of both humans and the divine remain unchanged in all this time. We may stumble over words, but engaging the Bible can still teach us much about living today.

Castlegar News Column for January 2023

The Ever-Changing Church

by Rev. Robin Murray

Okay, I got a bone to pick with y’all! According to Betsy Kilne’s article on the 2021 Census back in late November, 355 of you Castlegar folks claimed the United Church of Canada as your church, but we only see about 40 people on Sunday morning and maybe 100 on Christmas Eve. Where have the rest of you been hiding? Us 40 regulars miss you!

But seriously, the article talked about the decline of church attendance in Canada, however did you know globally, the percentage of Christians remains about the same as 100 years ago? That’s because while numbers in Europe and North America are shrinking, there is lots of growth happening, especially in East Asia and Africa. The worldwide church is now much more diverse than it once was.

This is not the first time the church has faced such dramatic change. Five hundred years ago, Martin Luther ignited the revolution known now as the Great Reformation, that brought on both the Protestant Reformation and the Counter-Reformation within the Roman Catholic church.

Five hundred years before that, the church saw the Great Schism, which split the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches from one another. Five hundred years before that, with the final collapse of the Roman Empire, Pope Gregory the Great laid a solid foundation for monastic communities as places of education and faith.

So what is the 500-year change the church is going though now? The structures that once dominated Christianity are no longer sufficient to hold the work of the church. Within the United Church of Canada, we have seen changes that affirm the belovedness of all people, regardless of their race, cultural background, sexual orientation, and gender identity.

We have also seen changes in how we view our relationship with the earth, recognizing the belovedness of all Creation. Additionally, the United Church has shifted it’s attitude towards other religions, recognizing that none of us have a monopoly on Truth and we all have something to learn from one another.

The church is known as “the body of Christ.” We are a living thing, not a static institution. Our job is to be the hands and feet of Christ in the world as it is today. So, led by the Holy Spirit, we have to continually adapt and grow to animate Jesus’ message of love and justice in the world. It’s work we do better together.

Castlegar News Column for December 2022

Celebrating Love and Justice
by Rev. Robin Murray

At Christmastime, we celebrate the birth of Jesus. Whether or not you believe in the Christian claim that he was/is the son of God is up to you, but either way, he is worth celebrating. The things he stood for as an adult, and his birth, which was at once both ordinary and extraordinary, are worth celebrating.

I say his birth was both ordinary and extraordinary, because he was born in such a humble way. He was born in a stable and soon afterwards his family became refugees, a scenario that was not and is still not unique. Millions of poor people birth their children into such situations or worse. And yet out of such hardship this time, was born an extraordinary man who advocated for love and equality, challenging the authority of both the Roman Empire and his own Jewish religious leaders.

There are two very different accounts of his birth recorded in the Bible, but they are not incompatible. The account in the book of Matthew focuses on how Jesus fits into the establishment. It gives his genealogy and talks about ancient prophecies, not just Jewish ones, but also includes Zoroastrian scholars who travel from Persia, sometimes called kings, sometimes called wisemen. It also tells of the local king, Herod, a puppet ruler of the Roman Empire, going on a murderous rampage to try and kill the infant Jesus.

The account in the book of Luke focuses on how Jesus fits into the lives of the poor and oppressed. We hear how his unwed pregnant teenage mother, Mary, declares her faith that God is turning the power structures of the world upside down and bringing justice to the poor, in the now famous “Mary Magnificat.” We hear how he is born in a stable and visited by shepherds, among the poorest and lowliest people in society at that time.

Out of all this grows a child and then a man, who would set in motion a movement that changed the world. Often in history, his movement has been hijacked by the powers of oppression, but the truth of his message of love always manages to resurface again and push us back towards justice.

So we celebrate Christmas and the hope that the way Jesus taught, the way of peace, love, equality and justice will be born once again, in our hearts and in our world. Merry Christmas to all!

Castlegar News Column for October 2022

Being Intentional
by Rev. Robin Murray

“Going to Church? I don’t have time for that!” she said, “I wish I did, but I just don’t need one more thing on my to do list.”

Our world is so fast paced and stressful, its true, we don’t have time for near as much as we wish. We can’t do it all, so something has to go. Deciding what that is going to be, is tough.

The people who show up at church on a Sunday don’t have any more time than anybody else. They, too, have the weight of work and volunteer commitments, toilets that need cleaning, leaves that need raking, and families needing attention. They have simply made church a priority.

I think it helps to consider that going to church is not like going to a concert or sports match or even a yoga class, it is more like a relationship. Going to church sets aside time for you to explore your relationship with God, the Universe, or whatever it is you call the divine. It also sets aside time for you to develop your relationship with community.

In that way, setting aside Sunday morning becomes a little like having a “date night” with God and community. Just like in a marriage or any committed relationship, you have to set aside time to care for and maintain your relationships. If you neglect them, they don’t usually come running after you. You just slowly drift away until one day you wake up and go, “What’s missing in my life?”

What’s missing is connection. Even introverts like me crave relationship with something bigger than ourselves, be that God or community or both. But life is so busy so much of the time, that connection doesn’t happen unless you are intentional about it.

Okay, now maybe you’re saying, “Yeah, but being intentional is just one more thing on my to-do list.” So, do you feel anxious? Do you have trouble finding hope in this world? Working on your relationship with God can help with that.

As for community, well, sometimes God puts on a human skin and shows up in the form of other people. I’m not talking about angels, I’m talking about regular human beings, who show up with a hug when your down, and sometimes even will rake leaves or clean toilets when you really need the help.
So, make the time. Church is worth it.

Castlegar News Column for September 2022

Let’s Eat!
by Rev. Robin Murray

The Bible tells of over 100 instances where Jesus eats a meal. Every few pages, he is sitting down with friends for dinner, drinking wine at a wedding, eating with despised community members such as tax collectors, or feeding thousands of people on a hillside. The guy loved to gather people around a simple meal.

It’s no surprise then, that people in churches like to eat together. As a teenager, I remember many Sunday luncheons at United Churches that consisted of four different kinds of tuna casserole, six different varieties of devilled eggs and about ten different kinds of jello salad. These days, you are much more likely to find four different kinds of soup, six different varieties of hummus and heaps of fresh fruits and vegetables. The point is, there’s good food, and lots of it.

The pandemic was really hard on us church folk, that way, cancelling our potlucks, community dinners, and in-person soup kitchens. But we got creative, like everyone else did, with things like ordering pizza to be delivered to multiple families and then having a Zoom pizza party, and cooking meals in our church kitchens so we could deliver meals to those in need.

Slowly, we are returning to shared meals and communal cooking. Castlegar United Church is excited to be planning for a return of our Annual Pie sale the first week of October this year, in which we expect to make at least 500 apple pies with the help of friends in the community. While it is a fundraiser, the truth is, we do it more for the fun of getting together and rolling out all those pie crusts and getting sticky with juice as we peel the apples.

There is a sacredness to sharing food together. We come together with gratitude for the meal and with the joy in the sharing of common experience, be it ever so simple. There aren’t many places in today’s society where we gather to eat together as community, where people are invited to simply bring what they can and take what they need. I am grateful that churches can once again be host to such gatherings safely.

Jesus said, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Matt. 18:19–20) So, lets dig into that hummus with our friends. It’s what Jesus liked to do!

Castlegar News Religion Column for July 2022

Money Talk
by Rev. Robin Murray

Let’s talk about money, shall we? There are always folks that want to see churches pay property taxes or who consider religion “big business.” Like any other charity, churches can become corrupted and spend too much on luxury for their leadership, but most churches strive for a healthy relationship with money as an organization and as individual members. Money is needed to meet our goals, but it is not the goal itself.

So who actually owns and funds churches? In some parts of the world they are owned and/or funded by the government, but not in Canada. Church buildings are usually held in trust on behalf of church members. The costs of upkeep and staffing in most churches, however, in most cases falls entirely on the shoulders of local church-goers.

The buildings may seem to be worth a fortune on paper, but unless the property underneath is worth more than the building itself, churches seldom realize the insured value of the building when it is sold. Often they are historic buildings that need prohibitively expensive upgrading to be useful for any other purpose than a large gathering space.

The real value of the church building is what happens inside. Weddings, funerals, and holiday celebrations, potlucks, AA meetings, community dinners, choirs, children’s groups – these are the things where having a church building is an asset, not just to Sunday church-goers, but to the entire community.

So, back to the issue of who pays for all this? It is mostly local, individual donors, usually the people who attend religious worship services. They do this, not just for the tax deduction, but as a spiritual practice of giving to the community. They are giving the gift of gathering space. They are giving the gift of staff people who can be there for the highs and lows of people’s lives and can organize meaningful events. They are giving to people in crisis.

Jesus said, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Luke 12:34) Where is your treasure? Is it sitting in a bank? Is it locked up in mini-storage? Or is it out in your community? Is it invested in your relationships with others and the good you can do in the world? Like investing in your home creates space for your family, so investing in a church creates space for community. Family and community are the real treasure.

Castlegar News Column for June 2022

Sharing Your Gifts
By Rev. Robin Murray

A phrase you will often hear in churches is that “we are the body of Christ.” This means that because Jesus is no longer living as a physical human in the world, it is up to those of us who are physically living to do the hands-on work towards love and justice that needs to be done in the world. With God’s guidance, we have to carry on the work that Jesus began in his ministry of teaching and healing 2000 years ago.

But there is more to the idea of being Christ’s body. The Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 12:4-5 “Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” Not only are we Christ’s physical being in the world, but we each have a special part to play, making us stronger as a whole.

Each person helps the body in a different way, just like your fingers do one job and your eyes do another in your body. Together, we make up something much bigger than ourselves, something more than any of us can be or do on our own, and this is important because the world is crying out for more justice, healing and sharing of love.

Church is one of those places you can connect with others to be a part of something larger, so that together we can make a positive difference in the world on a larger scale than we can alone. When we celebrate our different gifts and let go of jealousy over the giftedness of others, we can become a powerful force for good.

Perhaps you might not even know what gifts you bring to the larger group. Perhaps you think because you can’t do what others do, you don’t have any gifts to share, but that would be like a finger saying it isn’t useful because it can’t hear like an ear can. Even if your gifts aren’t obvious to you, they will probably become obvious to the rest of the group once take a chance to become part of it.

Come and share yourself with your community. The world needs your unique contribution to the larger whole. There’s a place for you in the Body of Christ. Come make a difference.

Castlegar News Column for May 2022

Greatness in Service
By Rev. Robin Murray

What does it mean to be a great person? The followers of Jesus in ancient Roman Palestine assumed it meant being rich and powerful. But Jesus challenged their assumptions. The Bible recalls many instances of Jesus teaching his followers that to be truly great, they should act as servants, rather than kings. Once, when he caught them arguing over which of them was the greatest, Jesus said, “Whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.” (Mark 10: 43-44)

Christians today take these words very seriously, and most try to live into this call to serve in some capacity in their lives. Service as a mark of greatness is not unique to Christianity, of course. Service is foundational to many other world religions and indigenous cultures, such as the Sinixt, but it is definitely a common feature among people in most churches.

The United Church of Canada declares in our “New Creed” (adopted in 1968) that “We are called to be the church…to love and serve others, to seek justice and resist evil…” To serve others, be it through community food and garden programs, or volunteering in the Thrift Store, visiting in care homes, or marching in rallies for racial or environmental justice, folks at church generally have well-developed networks for connecting volunteers in the church with the needs of our community.

Often those networks extend across the country and around the world. “Organized religion” often gets frowned on in popular culture, but sometimes organization can be the key to getting work done. Our large, organized network in the United Church helps find opportunities and funding for people to follow their passions in service, while also vetting international charities, making sure they aren’t scams. Together we can do so much more than any of us could on our own.

If you are looking to make a positive difference in the world, Churches are a great place for getting “plugged in” to ways you can help others. As a minister, I go to more funerals than most people do, and I have to agree with Jesus, the things people remember as “great” about someone, seldom have anything to do with power or money, and have everything to do with how they loved and cared for others, and how they helped make the world a better place.

Castlegar News Column for April 2022

God and Suffering

By Rev. Robin Murray

This week is Holy Week in the Christian tradition, the most sacred time of the year in which we remember the journey Jesus made to his death on the cross. We remember how his disciples declared their love and loyalty and then betrayed or denied knowing him as soon as times got tough. We remember how the Roman Governor, Pilate questioned him after his arrest, found him to be innocent, but sent him to his death anyway, because it was politically expedient to do so.

As we remember these tragic things, we remember that things like this continue to happen today, and the temptation to put our own interests above goodness and truth is not unique to the disciples and Pilate. We are all faced with this temptation, and giving in can have devastating results for other people and other living things. The innocent suffer and die with shocking regularity in our world because of poor choices made by others. Just look at what is going on in Ukraine.

Of course, this begs the question, if God exists and is all-powerful, why does God allow such suffering to go on? We feel that if we had the power, we would make everything right for everyone, everywhere in the world, creating a universe without destruction and chaos. However, a universe constructed in such a way would be static, without growth or freedom. Like it or not, we live in a world of cyclic change with constant growth, where our lives are finite, making our death inevitable.

Our comfort lies in knowing through everything, God is there. God journeys with us, not as some distant deity watching from on high, but as an intimate part of our experience. Christians believe that God entered our world as a human in the person of Jesus. In his death on the cross, God demonstrates the willingness to suffer and die as we do. Jesus is willing to sacrifice everything in the name of peace and love.

Holy Week ends with Easter Sunday. Our sorrow is turned into joy as Jesus is brought back to life, reassuring us that death is not the final word and love always wins. In the Easter story, we find a way to live in new relationship with God, not denying evil, but living into a call to respond to good and evil the way Jesus did, with compassion and love.

Castlegar News Column for March 2022

What We DO Believe

by Rev. Robin Murray

Do you ever get frustrated by politicians who seem to define themselves by the “other guy”? They will tell you all the things they are opposed to that the other parties are doing, but never tell you what they would do if elected or what they actually stand for themselves.

People often approach their religious beliefs that way. When people tell me they don’t believe in God, I will ask them to tell me about the God they don’t believe in. Usually it turns out, I don’t believe in that guy either! Once we start talking about what we do believe, we share much more in common than they first thought. Often their understanding of God, churches, and what it means to be a Christian, has come from the media, not from ordinary people of faith like me.

Unfortunately, it is often the negative groups that get publicity. When a church says they don’t believe in evolution, or vaccinations, or homosexuality, that’s what gets attention. The rest of us churches are just quietly living out our beliefs in the miracle of God’s constantly changing creation, God’s gift of science and medicine, and the love of God for all people, but who reports on that? We’re out here, though you wouldn’t know it from most news.

Of course, there are noticeable differences between what different types of churches believe, and it is worth finding out what those are, if you are looking to be a part of a faith community. We have differing opinions, for example, on how to interpret the Bible and what authority it has in our lives. Focus differs, too. Some might focus on the afterlife, some on our lives here and now. Some might focus on personal piety, some on group action rather than individual behaviours or beliefs.

Most churches do share the common values of welcome, community, and caring for one another. We believe there is value in spending time together sharing in worship and supporting one another through life challenges, or we wouldn’t bother gathering. These aren’t the things you would know if you only watched news reports or tv shows. Hollywood producers are seldom knowledgable about or interested in the real lives of faith communities.

What are some things you believe in or wonder about, thinking in positive terms? Chances are you are not alone. Chances are, there’s a community waiting to welcome you.

Castlegar News Column for December 2021

Preparing for Hard Times

by Rev. Robin Murray

Winter has come to the Kootenays as it always does. We prepared for it. We put winter tires put on our cars. We got out the mitts and toques from the backs of our closets. Those of us with gardens turned off the water spigots and drained the hoses. We got everything ready and now the cold is here.

In our lives, we know the hard times will come, just like winter. We know it. Our health will challenge us. Loved ones will die. We might face other challenges like a loss of work or our home, often through no fault of our own. There will be times in our lives for each of us where we need help or comfort.

So what do we do to prepare?

The best preparation there is, is to build relationships with a network of those who we can count on when times get tough. For me, that network is my church community. And I know I can count on them for a couple of reasons. First of all, because we spend time together talking about our fears, our concerns, and our shared values of helping those in need. We have laid a foundation for mutual trust.

Sure, you can wait until you are in crisis to reach out, and chances are, church folk will try to help out. But it is difficult to figure out what a person really needs if you don’t know them. And it is equally difficult to receive the full support you need from someone who you don’t know well enough to fully trust.

The second reason I know I can count on my church community, is that I have been there for them when they needed me. Ecclesiastes 4: 9-10 says, “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up the other; but woe to one who is alone and falls and does not have another to help.”

Of course, not everyone I have helped during times of trouble will be capable of returning the favour when my need arises. This is where having a relationship with a whole community of people is so important. We can’t be all things to all people all of the time. All we can do is to love and support one another as we go, as best we can.

Castlegar News Column for October 2021

Sharing Our Doubts

by Rev. Robin Murray

“How can I come to church when I’m not even sure I believe in God at all, let alone what it is that I believe about God?”

There was a time in the history of the church that it was understood that first you believed, and then you belonged. But that simply isn’t true for today’s mainline Christian churches. Now, you bring all your doubts and questions with you and still belong, just the way you are.

In fact, in my denomination, the United Church of Canada, it is unlikely you will ever hear someone tell you the church has all the answers for you. Our job as church-goers is not to find definitive answers, but rather to journey together and help each other live into our questions. Church gives us a safe space to share our doubts.

In case you are concerned about how God (assuming you do at least sort of believe there is one) will respond to you and your mixed feelings, you should know that many before you have had similar worries.

There is a lovely story about Jesus in the Gospel of Mark, in which the disciples brought him a boy with epilepsy for healing. Jesus said, “All things can be done for the one who believes.” Immediately the father of the child cried out, “I believe; help my unbelief!” And Jesus healed the child.

Another thing to consider about whether your unbelief is a barrier to joining a faith community is to ask what role doubt plays in your other relationships. Do you have any other relationships that are completely doubt free? Maybe in terms of the reliability of the other person or maybe in your own ability to always understand them?

As I said in my last column, the universe points to God as being fundamentally about relationship. Relationships are always works in progress. If you wait until everything is perfect to even begin a relationship, you will never get anywhere as a human being.

So, I encourage you to let go of that perfectionism. Let go of the idea that there is a giant single “TRUTH” that you must learn before you can start on a life of exploring your faith. Let’s release our past expectations about believing, and learn, explore and grow together, finding ways to share light and love in the world.

Let’s be the church together, doubts and all!

Castlegar News Column for August 2021

Talking About Religion

by: Rev. Robin Murray

Organized religion – these words are often spoken with distain in Canadian society, and for good reason. A friend of mine was so shocked and disgusted at what has been and continues to be done in the name of religion, after his job with the UN Peacekeepers stationed him in Jerusalem, that he basically thinks organized religion should be illegal. I can see his point. The clash of the Christians, Jews and Muslims in that part of the world has been bloody and has gone on for millennia.

So why do I not only belong to an organized religion, but have dedicated my life to it as an Ordained Minister in the United Church of Canada? Probably because I am a hopeless optimist who believes in the beauty of what could be. That’s also the reason I vote in every election, in spite of continual disappointment in our elected government. I know the journey we are on is far from perfect, and never will be perfect in my lifetime, but I will not let that stop me from striving for better.

From time to time, I see glimpses of the beauty that could be, in the now. I see children connecting to elders. I see people slowing down and making time to connect with God and community. I see alcoholics beating their addiction and healing from past pain, through faith in a higher power and connection to people who care. I see people banding together and working towards justice for those who are suffering. I see people supported by others in times of need. This is the work of organized religion.

None of us can fully fathom God or the vastness of the universe, so if there is one thing we know about religion, is that we all have at least some things incorrect. Our understanding of the divine is at best, incomplete. The organized part is where we can go either very wrong or very right. There is power in people joining together for common ideals, and power is always dangerous. But power can change lives for the better, too.

Intentionally talking about matters of the spirit and our relationship to the divine and one another, and creating space to do so, is a start towards tapping into that power, to live more whole lives, as individuals and as community. Thanks for joining me here in such conversation.