Moderator Mardi’s Blog: Meaning and mortality

Doug and I have decided to save the earth and the church (not to mention our own sanity) the cost of commuting to Toronto from our home in Brantford during my term as Moderator. Today we are immersed in the task of coming to terms with a houseful of stuff that cannot possibly fit into our new home—a two-bedroom condo apartment. (I’ve just slipped away for a moment to take an unauthorized break from work!)

As I sort and pack and consider the significance of each item, I think about words from Matthew 6:19: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal.” Easier said than done…yet some of the best biblical advice for coming to terms with meaning and mortality.

Given my limited time for reflective writing this week, I am treasuring the writing of other church leaders, including James Christie, who wrote the following invitation to reflection on meaning and mortality in the context of the swine flu pandemic, published in the Ottawa Citizen last Saturday:

What can religious leaders contribute during this swine flu pandemic?
The Ottawa Citizen, Saturday, November 7, 2009

The two most important contributions religious leaders might make in any societal crisis are to maintain a sense of perspective and to offer a non-anxious presence throughout the community.

I take basic pastoral care to the afflicted and their loved ones as a given, pandemic or no pandemic.

We must never lose sight of the sad reality of the number of young people and children who have lost their lives as a result of the H1N1 virus, but it is difficult to be charitable to those in the media and other walks of public life who have whipped up a frenzy of hysteria over this illness.

In consequence of the public fear generated by constant and often contradictory coverage of this particular flu strain—a variety of which has apparently visited us before, in 1957—we have witnessed the unseemly spectacle of a mad rush for vaccine on a first-come first-served basis, leaving those who are the most vulnerable untreated and at risk.

We have been advised to cough into our sleeves and to avoid human contact when the virus—according to the provincial health authorities—lives but 15 minutes on flesh but up to 12 hours on cloth and 24 hours on hard surfaces such as doorknobs.

We are being taught to fear our neighbour.

Any death toll is sad, but just over 3,000 identifiable H1N1 deaths worldwide in a year isn’t quite the same as 20,000 child deaths every day from malaria, which is totally eradicable at little cost.

Religious leaders can encourage the telling of truth: about H1N1, about malaria, and about the fact that no one gets out of life alive. We can urge reflection on meaning and mortality even when the media neglects to remind us.

And if Jesus could touch lepers, we should at least be willing to shake hands.

Rev. James Christie is a minister of The United Church of Canada. He is dean of the Faculty of Theology of the University of Winnipeg and past president of the Canadian Council of Churches.

Thank you, Jim, for reminding us to be unafraid and to take what this moment offers to reflect on meaning and mortality.

Dr. David Butler-Jones, Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, offers the kind of leadership of non-anxious presence for which Jim calls. I first met David when he and I worked together in youth ministry on behalf of The United Church of Canada. David was an elected volunteer serving on the youth ministry advisory group, and I was serving on General Council staff. In my sorting of stuff today, I came across a photo of us working together in the late seventies.

David has always been someone who serves the community with a keen eye for matters of meaning and mortality—again, as a non-anxious presence. I give thanks for his leadership as well as for Jim’s, especially in these days.

Who has provided the kind of non-anxious presence and sense of perspective that has helped you in the never-ending task of exploring meaning and mortality? How have they done that?
And by what criteria do you sort out where your true treasure lies, and thereby where your heart is?

I’d love to read about these folks in your life, and to share with you in a prayer of gratitude for them. And I suspect that considering your criteria for sorting out true treasure from the rest would help me a lot!

But now, back to my packing…