Pick-a-Flick Post-Easter Revelation

My family spent last weekend on Vancouver Island, connecting with Presbyterian colleagues and their families and preaching on the Sunday. We stayed in Cook Street Village, a cute as pie little neighbourhood on the other side of Cobble Hill Park from James Bay. It’s a trendy spot, with hipsters and homeless, boutique shops and cafes, an organic grocery store and an obligatory Starbucks.

Oh, and there was one more establishment that caught my eye. In fact, as I stood there it was clear that the children were confused but I was speechless.  No, don’t worry it wasn’t a medical marijuana dispensary, we’re used to seeing those on the west coast all the time.  What I saw was called Pick-a-flik.

The children asked me, “Dad, what are those people doing?”  I stammered, “Well, they appear to be going into a store where they look at DVD’s and pay money to rent them, take them home and watch them on a DVD player. And then return them to this store.” Silence.  “Like in person…” the children asked in a confused tone, “where they have to carry it back and forth?” Nodding in astonishment I said,“Yes, in fact, if they’re late returning the video they have to pay extra money in fines.” Wheels turning. Blank expressions.  And then,“Why don’t they just get Netflix?” the children asked innocently.

“I don’t know,” I replied and then the words just slipped out of my mouth, “I didn’t realize that people did that kind of thing anymore.”

As soon as the words were out of my mouth I realized that I had heard them before…here in Vancouver…in coffee shops, on the soccer pitch, chatting to parents at swimming lessons. “Where do you work?” “Oh the church…I’m a pastor.” “Really, I didn’t realize that people do that anymore?”

The funny thing about being Christian in this secular, west coast context is not that we do battle all the time with angry atheists. Oh yes, there are those around and it is a helpful reminder of the end of our privileged Christendom legacy to be mocked and derided for faith (it just happened recently in my own neighbourhood). But I don’t bump into angry atheists all the time. No, I meet a lot of affable agnostics. People for whom participation in a Christian community seems as foreign and antiquated as renting a DVD or, heaven forbid, a VHS from a pick-a-flik store down the street.

How might our witness as a Christian community not strike people as quaint or old-fashioned but daring and hopeful as an alternative path of living and loving in this world?  How might the good news of Easter strike people not as “old news” or “odd news” for this world but as news worthy to be describe as, “love so amazing, so divine, it demands my life, my love, my all…”

Ross Lockhart is Associate Professor at St. Andrew’s Hall/VST in Vancouver, British Columbia.

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A good news story

I thought this week you might be interested in this little story in The Globe and Mail about one little town’s efforts toward Christian unity. Click here. 

When our differences and distinctiveness drive us toward sectarianism, even within the Christian community, I am heartened by stories like this. Many thanks to John Allemang for a fine article (and a pleasant interview, too.).

Happy Easter. Let the Great Fifty Days begin!

Rob Fennell is Associate Professor of Historical and Systematic Theology at Atlantic School of Theology in Halifax, Nova Scotia.




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A poem for Holy Week: Snow melting at the tips of hemlock needles

Each droplet poised, balanced, waiting,
Stay back.
I am transforming,
about to fall
and return to the earth.

The sun beats down and I notice the treetops
bare, unbothered,
breathing spring in and out.

A droplet whispers again.

Or dare!
Dare to catch me
on finger or tongue-tip.
Feel my wet coolness
before you yourself transform
and fall
and return to the earth.



Rob Fennell
12 March 2016

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The Surger

Here we are at the edge of the season of springtime; a time when the ice melts and the river waters surge.

It reminds me of a day, soon after VHS video cameras became affordable for the general population, when the first thing my Dad filmed (other than his feet) was the action of the spring thaw. At the edge of the bridge he stood in the cold air and captured images of big sheets of ice bobbing along in the brook beside our bungalow. It was clear from the footage that he was “new” at the toggle buttons for the zoom feature as he focused in on part of the roaring river that looked like a root-beer float. He panned across the auburn water frothing as it curled at the edges of the sheer white panels of the ice-lined riverbank. And though shaky at times, the video playback clearly depicted a sheet of ice freely rumbling along and then getting pushed into a “stuck” place.

I remember watching this footage with Dad after he had come back indoors, rosy-cheeked from the damp zero degree spring weather; his eyes lit up when he invited me to watch the footage he had captured. And so, we sat in the rec room where the wood fire burned, watching the river run … on our TV.

And after a while I wondered to myself “why was he excited to show me this?   It’s just the river.” I quietly questioned the amount of time Dad had spent filming the same stuck sheet of ice. Then … suddenly the surge of the spring energy pushed that enormous sheet of ice from its stuck place and immediately carried it off with abundant energy into the flowing, rushing stream of water, creating an awesome effect. It was a surge worth recording, a surge worth sharing.

I dare speak similarly of the action of Jesus. A surge worth sharing; He caused (and is causing) an extraordinary movement; loving us too much to leave us stuck. In Jesus, God is not only holding us up in the stream of life, but sends a surge of abundant renewing energy, ever creating an awesome effect.  

 Maryann Skinner serves in ministry at First United Church in Port Credit, ON.





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John 12:1-11

“John,” the fourth evangelist, tells this story of Mary pouring perfume on Jesus’ feet in a curious way. Read it here if you you’re not familiar with it.

The question has to be, why is Jesus’ burial being contemplated only halfway through the story? And why is Jesus drawing attention to his burial when Mary is simply welcoming him with this anointing of his feet, a sign of hospitality and affection? And why is Judas mixed up into this account?

Since John wanted us to see and know the story of Jesus with the eyes of faith, that is, to understand Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection from a theological point of view, John does not hesitate to mix all these ingredients into the scene: death and burial; anointing; Judas and betrayal; rising from the dead; the plot against Jesus. All these combine to set the stage for how we are to see the rest of the story that John will tell.

And indeed, again in theological terms, they set the stage for how we are to see the whole story, the whole of history, including our personal histories within the grand scheme of things.

This is one compact little scene in one ancient religious text from one cultural group in one particular area. But it has enormous impact for us as Christians, Christ-followers. It shapes how life is to be seen.

Mary’s act of extravagant, loving hospitality reminds us that life is not meant to be just a desperate getting by from one day to the next day; or an attempt to assert our wills or resist the wills of others; life is not meant to be a grasping, striving, fearing, fretting existence.

The utopians and the optimists and the pessimists and the opportunists are wrong.

Life is a gift, handed to us by a generous God,
our affectionate, extravagant God;
and the blessings of life are designed to draw us close to God’s heart,                                 where we may learn to love as God loves.

Rob Fennell teaches theology and Christian history at Atlantic School of Theology in Halifax, Nova Scotia. 


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Pokémon Catechesis

I remember watching my children with the neighbourhood kids, teaching one another to play Pokémon – the elaborate Japanese card game. Each card shows a monster or action figure and describes their attributes, which cards they work together with, how to triumph over another card, and so on.

To play this game properly involves very good reading skills, but older kids quickly taught younger kids the essentials and the ability to recognize important words or symbols so they could play a version of the game. Some kids I knew learned to read by playing Pokémon! They also quickly learned about a mythical world, and could name the major characters and essentials of the story they were re-enacting through the cards.

While parent groups, schools, boards, and governments agonized over how to teach children to read, children were busy teaching one another elaborate systems for interpreting symbols, words, attributes, and myth in a matter of several days.

So I have wondered ever after at the methods we use to teach the Christian faith, and how we could adapt our teaching styles and patterns to a way that children seem to learn naturally.

Worship, in many of our churches without Sunday Schools, is our primary teaching and story-telling time. And yet it seems that our worship has become increasingly focussed and limited to the ways that seniors reinforce their existing desire for comfort, rather than story-telling and sharing in ways that engage the adventure.

There is need for both, of course. But I struggle myself to know how to engage the adventure within the confines of my own preconceived notions of worship, Sunday School, and Bible Study.

Maggie Watts-Hammond is currently serving Gilmore Park United Church in Richmond, BC, where she and her colleague, Yoko Kihara, try to find new ways of sharing and teaching the story.

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In January 2016 Ross led a group from St. Andrew’s Hall to the Holy Land on pilgrimage.  Janet Taylor is a second year Master of Divinity student at St. Andrew’s Hall/VST and a Certified Candidate in The Presbyterian Church in Canada.  Janet reflects on a visit to the Church of the Beatitudes and nearby Tabgha – the traditional site of the multiplication of loaves and fishes:


This traditional site of the calling of Jesus’ first disciples and the feeding of the 5,000 is definitely, as Jesus himself described it, a “quiet place,” a serene hillside tucked away on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee. The Benedictine monks who live on the site care for the rose gardens, pathways, and the church. Built in 1940, it beckons pilgrims to venture past the red brick and pillar façade into a worship space of pristine white stone. Our songs of praise echoed skyward in the dome while sunshine filtered down in response, reflecting off the gentle pastel colours of stained-glass Beatitudes adorning the walls. Together the sound and light created a symphony of serenity.


My husband and I sat in the tranquil garden, overlooking the water while wild parrots called from frond-topped date palms and chubby hyraxes lounged in sunny nooks. Gently, almost imperceptibly, I was embraced with a soul-deep sense of peace which seemed to imprint itself on every cell of my being. When I need to retreat to a “solitary place” to replenish my spirit for the work of discipleship, my mind will take me here, where we sat on the hillside with Jesus and were fed abundantly.

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