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AOTS President's Christmas Message

Hello everyone and greetings of the season:

At this time of celebration for Christian communities across the world we are reminded of the lowliness of Jesus’ birth. He was born into nothing, the son of an unmarried woman and a father who stood by that woman as they made the journey to Bethlehem.

It is a story worth remembering, as many of us struggle with the mantra of consumption and “buy, buy, buy” during the Christmas period.

It is worth remembering the shepherds who gave up their jobs and travelled from afar to view the Christ child. It is worth remembering that those same shepherds might be people we would shun if they got onto a bus we were travelling on or entered a Tim Horton’s and sat in the next booth over. They would be poorly dressed – not fashionable at all. They might even smell. And they might have some crazy ideas about how one should live one’s life – just like Jesus did.

For me that is the essence of the story of the birth of the Christ child. From a little child born into nothing came great things; a philosophy of life and a spiritual purpose that is inclusive and full of the generosity of God’s love for each and every one of us. Christmas reminds us who we are by telling us the story of Jesus and calling on us to follow that story in our own lives. The story of Christmas helps us define what is important and what is not.

The merriest of Christmas to everyone.

Thank you
Jim McKibbin

President’s Report - December, 2010

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all!

My message this month is one of gratitude for the work of the members of this great organization and all the wonderful work they do. Thank you all.

For those of you tracking the Dondi story the combined contributions to date (in drumming circles and the Drumathon) is $220,000. In addition, the expenses associated with the raising of that money are being underwritten by at least one major donor who has pledged an amount of $200,000. This will mean the $200,000 in monies will be set aside for Dondi and $20,000 for the M&S fund. Monies will be transferred to Angola as obligations, responsibilities and infrastructure are provided by our Angolan partners in conjunction with United Church General Council offices.

Dondi Lessons Learned

The Dondi project provided us with some new understandings of mission support and community fundraising. We learned some things about what to do and what not to do. We have been provided with an excellent summary of an experience by friends in the wider Men’s Ministry Network.

While we did not reach the goal of the project ($1.3 million) we did raise over $400,000 (including major donors) with more money coming in and various locales committed to an ongoing process.

While I would be the last to say the drumming isn’t important, because it is, it’s community building fun too, I am quite comfortable with those who would rather not drum and simply raise money for Dondi. This has turned out to be a splendid project for AOTS. If someone would have told me that we would be part of an initiative that would raise over $400,000 in the name of rebuilding a school in Angola I wouldn’t have believed it.

I think if there is one thing we learned with the process it is that the drumming circles didn’t have to be drumming circles of just men. We started out on that foot but I think we soon learned that being exclusive in our approach was something we shouldn’t necessarily cling to. The drumming circles and the Drumathon had to be community events. The events didn’t have to be about men so much as it had to include men in the organizing.

Harold and the Handshake

Harold Lorenz has told me that we can expect to see the next issue of the Handshake shortly. And we can look for some updates there.

At the same time I must report that Harold has let me know that this will be the last issue of the Handshake that he will be producing and we are now looking for a new editor/publisher.

I am deeply grateful for all the wonderful work Harold has done to professionalize this organization through his work as editor and publisher of the Handshake. In all his AOTS work Harold demonstrates strong ‘can do’ mentality. He has a great drive for results. He doesn’t dwell on obstacles.

We look good thanks to you, Harold. Thank you.

I am pleased to report that Mark Browning has taken on responsibilities as Alberta and Northwest Conference representative for AOTS.

Since my last report I have had the opportunity to participate in a number of AOTS events including the Bay of Quinte Fally Rally, the 50th Anniversary of the Selby / Empey Hill AOTS and an AOTS breakfast and service at Northminster United Church. What follows is the text of the sermon I delivered that day at Northminster.

The Illusion of Celebrity Culture

Sermon, Northminster United Church
November 14, 2010
(LLWL course for May 2011)
Jim McKibbin
Scripture: Luke 21:5-19, 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13, Isaiah 65:17-25

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Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable before you god, we pray here in Jesus name. Amen.
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It was American philosopher David Star Jordan who said “Wisdom is knowing what to do next; virtue is doing it.”

Our lectionary readings today are full of this principle. Doing the right thing is the challenge of our time; certainly the challenge for our church.

In October some 16 positions were made redundant at our national church office and this weekend the General Council Executive is meeting to consider our path forward. We are committed to a course of action to support denominational identity and connection by clarifying and redefining the roles of the courts of the church. We are reducing the complexity and size of The Manual and establishing a Network for Ministry Development which will support new and innovative ministries, giving high priority to using new technologies and new media to their full potential.

Change is at hand. Churches are closing and amalgamating and various initiatives are underway to examine the role of the church in the world. What are we to do? How are we to do it? What do we do with what we have?

As Jesus tells us in today’s gospel reading: the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.’ And Jesus of course is speaking of his contemporary society – of his specific situation.

Our specific situation has many parallels. More and more we witness working class people, the poor and many of the elderly struggle with survival. More of those in the middle class see a horizon of full of the discomfiture of unemployment, foreclosure, bankruptcy and a pending currency crisis where their livelihood and wellbeing is seriously compromised. We look to an ecological future where our children, our grandchildren and our grandchildren’s grandchildren face the increasingly devastating effects of climate change.

We are at a past due date.

The church struggles to defend the name of Jesus in the context of a contemporary society where people’s deep sentiments for fairness, justice, equity, compassion, accountability and generosity are turned into election extravaganzas, where the god of public opinion makes outcasts, of all who “never tire of doing right”.

Elections used to be vital, alive with discussion and debate about which way forward. Now they are toxic dead zones where the truth is simply what works, and communication is a constant diet of negativity and self-interest.

The self-interested society - where the key to happiness is just a self help book away! You can make it if you try. And for those of you who don’t. We’ll make you disappear. You are not worthy. You are not a survivor. We extinguish your flame. We decompose your photo as you exit the runway of Canada’s Top Model. You are weak and imperfect. Your imperfection is your fault. You are failing because you aren’t good enough.

It was Bertrand Russell who said: “One should respect public opinion insofar as is necessary to avoid starvation and keep out of prison, but anything that goes beyond this is voluntary submission to an unnecessary tyranny.”

In his book The Empire of Illusion, Chris Hedges tracks “the descent of Ralph Nader from being one of the most respected and powerful public figures to being an outcast” and the decision by major media to simply stop quoting social critics like Nader and Noam Chomsky and others.

Why?

So that this anti-Christ of a runaway corporate state can manage its teetering financial infrastructure down the destructive path of privatization of the social commons? Our water, our health, out very right to life, our right not to be collateral damage in this permanent state of war? Is this what is being asked for?

Can we respectfully disagree? Can we beg the question? Can we refuse to cooperate?

Runaway corporate state you ask? Let us recognize it for what it is. Corporations can be sued by shareholders for engaging in what is called corporate social responsibility. Corporations have all the rights of individuals but none of the responsibilities. When they fail, they are bailed out. When they make a mess, civil society cleans it up.

In the documentary film The Corporation psychologist Robert Hare recites a checklist of psychopathic traits and ties them to the behaviour of corporations:

“Callous unconcern for the feelings of others;
Reckless disregard for the safety of others;
Deceitfulness: repeated lying and conning of others for profit;
Incapacity to experience guilt;
Failure to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behaviour”.

We should worship this beast?

We see with our own eyes says Hedges: “The worse reality becomes – the more foreclosures and unemployment skyrocket – the more people seek refuge and comfort in illusions”: watching Maury Povich and Jerry Springer. Does it make the pain feel better to see those with even more pain?

Ultimately, there is nothing there. The spectacle has been the illusion and the betrayal.

The reassurances of Bank of Canada types fall on deaf ears. Yes, the slow recovery is even slower than first thought... and jobless too.

Let us recognize that there are those who are tired of doing the right thing – and instead, transform doing the right thing into doing what is good for them, alone? “They are idle. They stand by.”

Some come in the name of Jesus and we are told that he warns us: “Do not go after them”.

“But how are we to know? What is the sign that will tell us? Give us the sign.” And Jesus tells them “you will be persecuted”. Some of you will die. By your endurance you shall gain your souls.”

And Jesus tells them to look at who is being persecuted. Is that their hint?

But what are these riots in France and these cuts in England and demonstrations there as well. As here too and our own G20. There is uproar. The church has a choice.

“But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you. They will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name.”

My name? What is it?

“No longer will they build houses and others live in them, or plant and others eat.”

Neal Gabler who wrote Life: The Movie: How Entertainment Conquered Reality calls “celebrity culture not a convergence of consumer culture with religion but a hostile takeover of religion by celebrity culture.”

We imagine ourselves as the main characters in the movie of our own life, our own personal screenplay, where appearances are everything. Martha Stewart is there telling us how to create, decorate and set design the perfect home. It doesn’t matter that the realities of that home are never discussed, the actual family relationships never addressed.

Not to worry; appearances make everything whole.

The cult of the self dominates our cultural landscape, where we are assaulted with moral nihilism and narcissistic self-absorption.

Things become newsworthy based on their celebrity appeal.

We know that we don’t know. We know we aren’t getting everything. We know we are only getting what is reported. And it’s getting worse.

What we have now is a sinister approach to news communications where reporters no longer ask whether the message is true but rather, whether the message works, whether the political treatise was a success. The truth for the moral nihilist is what works.

We are left with a public that can no longer distinguish between truth and fiction and is left to interpret reality through illusion.

The old production-oriented culture demanded character. The new consumer-based celebrity culture demands personality; the ability to perform.

As people of god we aspire to “never tire of doing what is right” and being accountable before god. “If a man will not work, he shall not eat.”

As German philosopher Immanuel Kant wrote: The single most important quality needed to resist evil is moral autonomy. Moral autonomy, as Hedges points out is possible only through reflection, self-determination and the courage not to cooperate. Jesus had that courage. It is reflected in all three passages we heard today.

As people of god our challenges are great. Our choices are large.

Hedges reminds us that “no tyranny in history has destroyed the human capacity for love... Love will endure. Hope exists. It will always exist”.

And Jesus tells us, “Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth. ... They will not toil in vain or bear children doomed to misfortune.

By your endurance you will gain your souls.”

Thanks be to god.