The Catholic and the Pentecostal

My battered copy of John Hick's book

My battered copy of John Hick’s book

Although I wasn’t required to earn a university degree as part of my ministerial training, I decided to attend Memorial University before entering Bible College.

At MUN, I sat under Father Edward Thomas Bromley. I recall his coal black hair, glasses and clothes, and the bass voice reflective of a deep mind. My intellectual life has never been the same since.

Not too long ago, St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Parish in Carbonear celebrated a Golden Jubilee, commemorating a half century of priesthood for Msg. Bromley. (He has since retired.)

I suspect the Monsignor has a keen sense of humour. Because of this, I think he will enjoy this.

In the summer of 1976, I registered for Bromley’s Philosophy of Religion course. His office was in the so-called “temporary” buildings, where Queen Elizabeth II Library is now located.

A sign on the door identified the professor within: Fr. E.T. Bromley. Of course, we cynical students immediately noted what remained if you removed the full stops. Behind his back, we called him Fret Bromley!

On a more serious note, I will never forget his lectures, based on John H. Hick’s book, Philosophy of Religion.

Recently I pulled my battered copy of this book off my shelves to see what the Good Father was actually trying to instill within our captive minds. The text is liberally underscored, indicating I read it, even if I didn’t understand many of the concepts. More than once I scratched my head in consternation as I struggled to follow the author’s line of reasoning, wondering if a light would ever switch on.

Bromley began with an introduction to the subject.

Chapter 1 defines the Judaic-Christian concept of God. We impressionable students were guided through terms like atheism, agnosticism, scepticism, naturalism, deism, theism, polytheism, henotheism, pantheism, monotheism, and a few other “isms.”

Chapter 2 is the one which grabbed my attention, and which continues to challenge me even today: what are the grounds for belief in God?

Bromley highlighted the most important philosophical arguments offered to justify belief in the reality of God: the ontological argument, first cause and cosmological arguments, design (or teleological) argument, moral argument, and argument from special events and experiences.

However, chapter 3 provides cause for pause: grounds for disbelief in God. Having been raised in a pious Pentecostal pastor’s parsonage, I read with caution about the sociological and Freudian theories of religion and the challenge of modern science.

For me, the biggest objection to belief in God was–and remains–the problem of evil. Hick addresses the age-old question head-on.

“To many,” he writes, “the most powerful positive objection to belief in God is the fact of evil.” The dilemma is often couched in these terms: “if God is perfectly loving, he must wish to abolish evil; and if he is all-powerful, he must be able to abolish evil. But evil exists; therefore God cannot be both omnipotent and perfectly loving.”

Heady stuff for a 19-year-old boy from d’Bay.

Later, during my years of parish ministry, I often reflected on the intensity of evil around me. Whether it was the death of a child, the onslaught of cancer on an otherwise healthy body, or an earthquake on some part of the globe, it cannot be denied that evil, in all its various permutations, is part and parcel of what it is to live in an often feckless world.

Naturally, Bromley defended the Christian God, while never shying away from the big questions. He allowed for reflection, questions and objections, doing his level best to respond in an academic, yet spiritually sensitive, fashion. I know that much of what I believe today about God is directly attributable to what Bromley taught me in class. I am in his eternal debt.

So, as a Pentecostal, I am privileged to honour a Roman Catholic who, more than many other profs, changed the course of my life, stretching my mind, challenging me to academic excellence and to continually seek understanding for faith.

For those who are interested, I managed to scrape a “B” in Bromley’s course.

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My Public Apology

Dear Robert:

I owe you an apology.

In my younger and more carefree days, I really enjoyed playing practical jokes on people. However, one such joke, unfortunately at your expense, got out of hand and, to put it mildly, created quite a furor.

It was the 1970s and you and I were students at a Bible college in Ontario. At the time, if you will recall, I thought you were obsessed with the Illuminati, a secret organization that is evidently seeking world domination. Some of our fellow students were becoming scared and unsettled, so I decided to play a joke on you, to convince you that the Illuminati was not a subject worthy of such intense focus.

I typed a letter that, in no uncertain terms, expressed concern that you were prying into the organization. I then issued a cease and desist order.

“Failure to comply with these directions,” I added, “will be met with severe repercussions. You have been warned!” As a fitting point of emphasis, I attached my fingerprint in red paint and signed off with a name traditionally associated with the organization. I mailed the letter to a penpal in England and asked him to send it back to you.

Some weeks later, one of our teachers arrived late for class.

“I apologize for being late,” he said. “I’ve just been speaking with Robert, who has received a threat on his life from the Illuminati. He needs your prayers.”

Not surprisingly, news of the letter spread like wildfire around the college. Rather than accept responsibility and apologize at that time, I remained silent.

I recall, with horror, the day you told me you had gone out and purchased a life insurance policy because of your fear of being hunted down and killed.

Robert, I’m currently reading the book, Public Apology, in which Dave Bry grapples with a lifetime of regret, one incident at a time. Bry is sorry about many things.

He’s sorry for offering fake drugs in the boys’ room in junior high. For stealing a six-pack out of the fridge in a couple’s garage. For rejoicing over the prospect that the town where his French teacher lives would be destroyed.

He’s also sorry for spitting a mouthful of hamburger back onto his place in front of other customers in a bistro in Paris. “I’m sorry if I caused a scene, or worse, cost you any business…. It had been a weird week. You want so badly to be cool when you’re 12…. I had a lot yet to learn about being cool.”

For shunning a friend after he got up in front of everyone and cried at the personal growth workshop their parents had sent them to when they were in high school. “We made fun of you, as I’m sure you were aware,” Bry writes.

Bry claims to be a different man now. He desperately wants to come to terms with his past by making right a lifetime of wrongs before moving on. He’s doing this by publicly apologizing.

Robert, I would like to think that I too am a different and, hopefully, better person than I was in the 1970s. I realize now that, at the time I was cooking up this joke, I should have been doing more of what I had gone to college to do in the first place, prepare for the pastoral ministry. I should have spent more time studying the Bible and less time playing jokes on people. I should have devoted more time to prayer, in an attempt to discern the shape of my future. I should have paid more attention in chapel to spiritual things than to ways to scare the livin’ daylights out of you. I should have listened more closely to my teachers at the college and the pastors at the church I attended on Sundays.

Because hindsight is perfect sight, I cannot undo the past. But I can come clean by offering you a public, sincere and heartfelt apology for my insensitive act. Will you please forgive me?

Meanwhile, if you want to read Dave Bry’s book, Public Apology, it is published by Grand Central Publishing of New York.

In the words of Rosie Schaap, a columnist with New York Times Magazine, the author “shows us that compassion and maturity start with contrition. If you’ve ever behaved badly at a family gathering…, maybe it’s time to say you’re sorry. With abundant humour, humanity, and voice all his own, Bry shows the way.” I know he has shown me the way.

Burton Janes

Living With Doubt

For much of my adult life, I have lived with the dilemma of doubt. I’ve often wondered, Are doubt and faith mutually exclusive, or can they coexist? What is the relationship between the two extremes?

My favourite biblical character is the disciple of Jesus familiarly known as Doubting Thomas.

When the other disciples told Thomas they had seen their leader following his resurrection, Thomas refused to believe unless he had both visual and tactile proof.

Thomas often gets a bad rap for his rank skepticism, but perhaps he can be rehabilitated and serve as an ideal traveling partner on the rocky pathway of life.

In 1985, I wrote one of my former Religious Studies professors at Memorial University, the late great Dr. R. Sheldon MacKenzie, about my raging battle with persistent doubt.

His response set the issue in context for me.

“Burton,” he said, “we must not be afraid of our doubts…. The opposite of faith is unbelief, a different thing entirely. And it is by our doubts that we grow.”

He then told me that “the ONLY member of my class in theological college who later gave up his ordination was the only man who never had a doubt about anything.”

My personal experience has been that doubt can have a truly positive character, as it is an integral part of living, growing and maturing.

The writer of the Book of Proverbs states, “A simple man believes anything.”

The person who responds to an answer with more questions receives the greatest amount of knowledge.

I suggest God does not despise the honesty which detains the doubter from saying “I believe” until he is able to believe truly.

Being fearful to believe demands a willingness to take a risk, a leap of faith.

A doubting believer is not an oxymoron.

To say it is, leads to anxiety and bondage in the doubter. Unbelief is an intellectual refusal to believe, whereas doubt is a suspension of decision.

Back to my mentor-friend, Dr. MacKenzie, “We encourage people through their doubting periods, but we would not want them to stop asking deep questions of their faith. That would be to produce the most unlovely kind of Christians. There are too many people who have the answers to everything. They help only a few who refuse to do any thinking for themselves.”

As for how to deal with doubt, acknowledge it and admit you want it resolved. Candidly and honestly share it with a nonjudgmental person. Seek advise.

If, after counsel and personal meditation, you are able to determine the source of your doubt, deal directly with it.

Have I resolved all of my doubts, even after more than three decades as a clergyman?

Not by a long shot. Some doubts may never be adequately dealt with. Perhaps there is something to the title of one of Rev. Leslie D. Weatherhead’s books, The Christian Agnostic.

Meanwhile, while continuing to live with the dilemma of doubt, I draw encouragement from Doubting Thomas who, in the end, became an example of newfound faith by declaring “My Lord and my God!”

A Recipe for Disaster

Jiggs dinnerI enjoy Jiggs dinner. Having said this, I realize this delicacy means different things to different people.

In many places, it typically consists of salt beef (or riblets), boiled potatoes, carrots, cabbage, turnip, turnip greens (in season), bread pudding, dressing, pease pudding, and cooked turkey, chicken or beef roast. Condiments include mustard pickles (preferably homemade), bottled beets, cranberry sauce and butter.

That, to me, is a cooked Sunday dinner.

My Jiggs dinner is made up of salt beef, potatoes, carrots, cabbage, turnip, parsnip, brussel sprouts and pease pudding. That’s it. Nothing more, nothing less. Though a diabetic, I “mang” together this occasional ambrosial delight.

Which recently brought Mart to my mind.

He married Belinda from Western Canada. Sherry and I got to know them well while we were stationed in western Newfoundland.

Mart was a prime example of the adage, “You can take the boy out of the bay, but you can’t take the bay out of the boy.”

An accomplished cook, Belinda regularly regaled Mart’s tastebuds with a variety of dishes. As tasty as her cooking was, though, he missed certain dishes he had been raised on, especially Jiggs dinner.

“What would you like me to cook?” Belinda asked Mart repeatedly.

The answer was always the same: “Fish ’n brewis and Jiggs dinner.”

“But I don’t know how to make either,” Belinda said. “Do you have a preference?”

“Yes. Jiggs dinner! Man, I can taste it now! Easy as 1-2-3, too! Just boil the salt meat till it’s tender, drop in the vegetables, and cook it.”

So Belinda made covert plans to surprise Mart.

She gathered the ingredients for Jiggs dinner. For starters, she bought a tub of salt meat. At home, she dropped the meat into a large pot of water and boiled it for several hours. When the meat was tender, she added peeled vegetables. She boiled the mixture till everything was cooked.

She set the kitchen table with her china and best cutlery, then brought out candles, in readiness for the special feast.

Mart arrived home from work, dirty, tired and famished. Even before he opened their apartment door, he smelled the unmistakable odour of Jiggs dinner. Naw, can’t be, he thought. I must be daydreaming. Belinda couldn’t. But she could.

Flinging open the door, Mart was met by Belinda, a broad smile on her face. The lights had been extinguished, replaced by glowing candles on the table.

“Guess what?” Belinda said.

Playing along, Mart said, “What?”

“I cooked your favourite meal!”

“You did? Which one?”

“Jiggs dinner.”

“God love you, my darling!” He planted a kiss on her lips.

After a shower, Mart returned to the kitchen.

“Sit down,” Belinda instructed.

She removed the pot lid. Now, the smell was overpowering.

Mart watched as Belinda dug into the pot and lifted out their meal. His helping was generous; hers was modest.

Mart, having flashbacks to his childhood, grabbed his fork and stabbed a chunk of salt meat. Forgetting his table manners, he jammed the morsel into his mouth.

Suddenly, he stopped, looked at Belinda, and gasped, “A glass of cold water! Quick!”

“Too hot, is it?” she inquired.

“No, too salty!”

The significance of his response eluded her. “It is salt meat, after all,” she said. “Isn’t it supposed to be salty?”

“Yes, but this is really salt. Did you soak the meat?”

“Why would I do that?”

“Belinda, you knows you gotta soak salt meat to get rid of some of the salt!”

“Oh.” Her smile had narrowed considerably.

Then Mart tasted a carrot. “Holy smokes!” he exclaimed. “Is that ever salt.”

Belinda’s smile disappeared. “You said you loved Jiggs dinner,” she said. “You gave me the recipe, which I followed in slavish detail.”

“I know, honey.”

“Mart, I actually went to the store and bought a tub of salt meat. I cooked it all afternoon.”

“Whaddaya mean…you cooked it all afternoon?”

There was an icy silence before Belinda answered.

“That’s exactly what I mean. I cooked the meat all afternoon till it was tender.”

“Out of curiosity, Belinda, exactly how much meat did you cook?”

“Whatever was in the tub.”

“All of it? You’re only supposed to cook a piece or two, after it’s soaked.”

“But you didn’t tell me.” With that, her voice broke. “I did this just for you, Mart, and I blew it. I’m sorry.”

“Honey,” he said, “I appreciate your effort. I should’ve explained the recipe better. I guess I’m so used to Jiggs dinner back home, I thought everybody knew how to cook it. Anyway, it’s the thought that counts.”

Realizing that her husband wasn’t upset but could see the humour in the situation, Belinda’s tears slowly turned to smiles, then gales of laugher.

“I can now see why the instructions you gave me were a recipe for disaster!” she said.

My Trove of Postage Stamps from Israel

Stamps from Israel - 1What follows is a Facebook exchange I had earlier this year with a former parishioner of mine, Hubert:

H: Burton, I am going to take a trip to Israel during the first week of June for nine days. My wife doesn’t want to go. Do you want to go with me if I took care of expenses and paid for your trip?

B: Are you for real? Or is this a dream?

H: No, I’m serious.

Truth be told, I really did think Hubert was “pulling my leg.” So, I thought to myself, Yes, I’ll go with you to Israel and, once we get back home, we can fly to the moon together!

However, Hubert was serious. And, as they say, the rest is history. He and I travelled to Israel, which left me with enough memories to last a lifetime.

No trip to such a country would be complete for a philatelist–i.e., a person who studies or collects postage stamps–unless and until he buys a few stamps.

I could have left my tour group and gone to a local postal outlet, I suppose, but I chose not to. Instead, a couple of days before leaving the country for home, I dropped into a shop in our hotel.

“Do you have any postage stamps?” I asked the proprietor.

I was in luck. “I’m the only store in Israel that has them!” he exclaimed and exaggerated.

I purchased a selection of stamps, some of which can be viewed in the accompanying scan.

Newfoundland: An Island Apart

Newfoundland An Island ApartI share two tenuous connections to Dennis Minty.

For one, he was born in Twillingate, where I lived as a child.

Then, his current hometown is Clarke’s Beach, where I was born and where I was employed as museum director with the town this summer.

There the personal connections end.

Minty is a celebrated photographer, while I take snaps if and when I manage to operate my daughter’s camera.

Photography has been Minty’s passion ever since he was given a Brownie camera at age twelve.

“No matter what professional career I had,” he says, “my camera was almost always with me.”

His forte is nature-based photography.

However, he was fifty before he turned his adolescent hobby into a living.

“I was always having to do other things to put bread and butter on the table,” he explains. “I didn’t want to turn eighty and never have pushed the photography envelope harder.”

His first book of Newfoundland images was Wildland Visions, published by Breakwater Books in 1993.

His most recent book is Newfoundland: An Island Apart.

“To belong to a place is a gift,” he writes in the introduction. “And I have been blessed with a profound and abiding sense of belonging to Newfoundland.”

The island informs both his photography and his life. His perennial quest has been to seek out “the island’s gems and the light that washes over them.” He has learned the light and seen the landscape’s virility.

Newfoundland: An Island Apart is a celebration in images of what this place means to him.

What does Minty hope to impart to his viewers?

In short, to “evaluate people’s consciousness; to inspire other people to appreciate the natural world in some way like I do; and to create awareness, and gain greater understanding of and appreciation for the fantastic natural world we live in.”

The photographs in Newfoundland: An Island Apart reflect a wife range of themes, from the provincial flower, a pitcher plant, to the sea crashing against the Mad Rock off the coastline of The Shoreline Heritage Trail near my hometown, Bay Roberts; from an evening of peace and tranquility in Durrell to the scenic town of Trinity; from a man following his horse on a chilly winter morning in Carbonear to The Arches of the Great Northern Peninsula.

There are more than sixty images, a veritable visual treat for the artistically weary.

As for the future of Minty the Photographer, thankfully, he plans to “continue this until I can’t move around anymore. I don’t see myself ever retiring from it.”

Newfoundland: An Island Apart is published by Breakwater Books and retails for $18.95. The ISBN is 978-1-55081-600-6.

The Not-so-“Purr”fect Visitor to Church

Tommy dressed in drag

Tommy dressed in drag

I miss Tommy. When I was twelve, I “owned” a cat. I named him Tommy. I’ve put the word “owned” in quotation marks because technically he wasn’t mine. There were two reasons for this.

First, my father disliked four-legged animals. He didn’t encourage his children to have pets.

Second, Tommy belonged to a neighbour. However, over a summer, I wooed him to our garden. Then, whenever Dad was away on personal or church business, I would let Tommy inside the parsonage for a few minutes, hours or days, depending on the length of my father’s absence.

By summer’s end, Tommy was, for all intents and purposes, my cat. He watched me like a hawk from his vantage point on our veranda as I left for school in the morning, and he was there when I got home in the afternoon. He found his own home at night, but he religiously came to me for food, water and caressing. I always had a ready supply of treats on hand.

In August, it was so hot in our Pentecostal church–in more ways than one, I might add–the ushers would open the windows to let in a draft of air.

One Sunday evening, after the service had swung into high gear, an usher threw open all the windows.

The church was divided into two rows of pews, with an aisle in between. My brother and I, guitar players both, sat on the second pew from the front on the left, directly below one of the windows.

No sooner had the usher opened the windows and returned to his chair at the back of the sanctuary than I caught a blur of fur out of the corner of my eye. Jerking my head in disbelief, I saw Tommy, perched on the windowsill, purring and peering around the church, obviously looking for me. I caught my breath and waited for what I knew was the inevitable. I felt blood rush to my cheeks.

Suddenly Tommy spied me. In one grand leap, he jumped over my brother and landed on my left knee. Now, I was holding both a cat and a guitar.

Dad, doing his usual thing on the platform, missed nothing in the unfolding drama. He instructed his youngest son, “Burton, put the cat out.”

Not one to publicly disobey my parents, I dutifully placed my guitar aside, knocking it against the pew, the open strings making a loud discordant sound. I marched to the back door, where I released Tommy and shooed him away from the building.

Many of the congregants had knowing smiles on their faces, while others looked like they had just swallowed a lemon. Several of the younger set, who were my schoolmates, were enjoying the incident to the full. It was more exciting than what was happening on the platform.

My face burning, I returned to my pew, gathered my musical instrument, and picked up where I had left off.

To my horror, I suddenly heard a loud meow outside. I shot a glance at my reserved mother, who was sitting across the aisle from us, then at my father on the platform, then at my brother who had a deadpan expression on his face. I instinctively knew exactly what was about to happen…again. Tommy was back with a vengeance.

A moment later, he jumped up onto the windowsill. This time, though, he knew exactly where I was sitting. He crouched, then shot through the air like a bullet from a gun. Missing the mark by a few inches, he wedged himself between my guitar and me. There was an ungodly uproar as he tried to extricate himself, while I struggled to put my instrument down and hold him tightly, to prevent him from doing a holy roller dance around the church.

I was humiliated. Not surprisingly, my friends were delighted. I could imagine them saying, Now this is what makes church exciting!

Dad shifted his glasses and pursed his lips. A man of few words, he spoke directly to me for the second time, “Put the cat out.”

His order was my command, so I followed it to the detail. I walked to the back entrance and deposited the cat outside. Despite the fact that I thought the world of Tommy, I refuse to put into print what I whispered under my breath to him as I told him to get lost.

As I was walking back to my pew, my face aflame, I heard Dad say, “Mr. Usher, please close all the windows.”