Thursday, November 23, 2017

Bread Not Stones


If a child asks for bread, who among us would give that child a stone?"
                                                Matthew 7:9 

Our Canadian Thanksgiving is long past but millions of Americans have been on the move the past couple of days so that they can be with family today and over this long holiday weekend. Thanksgiving is a bigger deal in the States with a greater emphasis in some families to be together for this meal than Christmas dinner. There are guides out there on how not to end up in brawls over the political tensions in the country at the moment. And the gross consumer excesses of Black Friday have now crept into Thanksgiving Thursday with encouragement for homo consumerus to eat early and then get down to the shopping mall to binge buy. In the United States the welcome and generosity of Aboriginal people extended to European newcomers is a foundational aspect of Thanksgiving. The newcomers would have starved without this hospitality.

Maybe today is a good time to mention a program which the United Church of Canada has initiated and which is now endorsed by governments at various levels. It is called Bread Not Stones and it's goal is to raise awareness about child poverty in Canada. It's estimated that 1.3 million Canadian children are poor, and we know that Quinte region has one of the highest rates of child poverty in the province of Ontario. 

 In 1989 the Canadian parliament adopted a goal to eradicate child poverty by the year 2,000, and we aren't even close nearly two decades beyond the turn of the millennium. Aboriginal children are disproportionately represented in these figures, and issues of adequate food, shelter, and education are a national shame. Affordable housing and a living wage have been in the news a lot lately, and these issues certainly affect child poverty.

Bread Not Stones is not a fundraiser. It is the attempt of one Christian body to keep this often hidden issue before the nation, and decision-makers in government.

Have you heard about Bread Not Stones? Does the statistic above shock you? Is it possible to eliminate child poverty?


God of all children,

we come before you bewildered by the fact of child poverty.

We come in frustration and shame that students are hungry,

that homeless children sleep in cars and church basements

because we don’t provide meals at school or build enough affordable housing.

Strengthen us to honour and care for the children in our communities.

Help us to place the best interests of children first.

In the name of your child, Jesus. Amen.

(Carolyn Pogue)

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Museum of the Bible

Image result for museum of the bible
I first wrote about the Museum of the Bible in April of 2015. At that time it was "in the offing" with a prime location purchased and an impressive collection of biblical artifacts as the foundation for the exhibits. Two and a half years and 500 million dollars later the museum is open with some spectacular exhibits to welcome people in.

There has been a ton of articles about the opening and a lot written about the controversy around the enterprise. The museum is the brainchild of the wealthy Green family, known for a conservative Christian stance, challenging in court the provision of contraception in their employee health plans along with an anti-LGBTQ stance. The Greens insist that the museum will be non-sectarian and without any agenda to proselytize. The tax form for nonprofit status states: “We exist to invite people to engage with the Bible through our four primary activities: traveling exhibits, scholarship, building of a permanent museum in DC, and developing elective high school curriculum.”

Image result for museum of the bible

Along with these concerns are the accusations, some already substantiated, that articles in the collection were acquired illegally or questionably. There is a shadowy market for biblical artifacts and the Greens have admitted that they made mistakes when they began collecting. Some artifacts have been returned to Iraq, where they were pilfered, and a three million dollar fine was paid to the US government for illegal importation.

Despite these clouds of controversy the exhibits do look fascinating and extensive. It would take more than a week of full days to tour through them all. Here are some examples:

Christmas Illuminated: Prestigious Manuscripts from around the Fifteenth Century in the Bavarian State Library Collection Explore the Christmas story as presented in rare and precious illuminated manuscripts.

The Living Dead: Ecclesiastes Through Art: Explore themes from the book of Ecclesiastes through early modern art.

The Art of the Gospels by Makoto Fujimura A contemporary art exhibition highlighting the work of Makoto Fujimura, as he revisits the legacy of illumination and explores the Bible as a source of creative inspiration.
Image result for fujimura illuminations museum of the bible

If I'm in Washington, will I go to the museum? I'm not sure, but I wanna! When I wrote about MOTB in 2015 I made this observation:
Of course this museum will be about history rather than interpretation. For all the bible has been misused, it can speak to us so powerfully in this moment. It is up to us to humbly, receptively listen for God's voice in scripture, appreciating that it is a lamp showing our path rather than a club to threaten and control. We need to understand the history of scripture, and of its interpretation. And we can pray that Christ will be opened to us in fresh ways as we read and study and hear the Word proclaimed.

Are you intrigued? Will you visit if you are in the vicinity?

Image result for museum of the bible exhibits


Tuesday, November 21, 2017

World Fisheries Day

 Image result for canadian fishermen

As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, Jesus saw two brothers,
Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother,
casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. 
And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.”

Matthew 4:18-19 NRSV

I will make you fishers of men,
fishers of men, fishers of men.
I will make you fishers of men,
if you follow me.

Traditional chorus

When I was a kid we used to sing this chorus with abandon, even though the words were, well, boring. We never gave any real thought that such a watery metaphor is central to a religion born in such an arid region. Jesus did spend a lot of time around the Sea of Galilee, which is actually a freshwater lake called Kinneret. He called disciples from its shore, he calmed its unpredictable waters, and he even walked on it, according to one miracle story. There are still fish in Kinneret, the tilapia called St. Peter's fish for the benefit of tourists.
Image result for jesus and the fishermen

Today is World Fisheries Day, a yearly reminder that about 15% of the protein humans eat comes from the seas and oceans of the planet. And that two thirds of the world's fisheries are in decline, some of them in catastrophic free-fall.

A quarter of a billion humans are involved in fisheries in some way, which is quite remarkable. Those numbers are in decline as well. I've mentioned that we spent a month on islands in the North Atlantic this past summer. Change Islands were once all about the fishery which sustained over a thousand people in the community. Now a handful of 200 residents fish for a living and the plant is open sporadically. In one of the nearby outports I served in ministry there are now three full-time fishers. When I was there in the early 80's there were more than thirty.

Through the years I have ministered in communities which focused on agriculture, mining, lumbering, and fishing -- all dangerous. The first three have become safer over time, but fishing is still fraught with danger in Canada, and most other places as well. here was an interesting article about this in the Globe and Mail not too long ago called Canada's Deadliest Jobs and fishing is at the top of the list.

Did Jesus call fishermen as disciples because he needed their courage and ability to respond to difficult and unpredictable circumstances? They didn't always shine under pressure, but he shied away from theologians and academics and he didn't seem to have much fear of the tough going himself.

As followers of Jesus today we can take the risks necessary to protect the planet, including the seas. And we can accept the challenges of "fishing for people" in ways we never considered in the past.

I'll give you some Canadian content with words from a Gene Maclellan song made famous by Anne Murray.

Put your hand in the hand of the man
Who stilled the water
Put your hand in the hand of the man
Who calmed the sea
Take a look at yourself
And you can look at others differently
Put your hand in the hand of the man
From Galilee.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Helter Skelter

Image result for helter skelter scrawl
Definition of helter-skelter 
1 :in undue haste, confusion, or disorder
  • ran helter-skelter, getting in each other's way
  • —F. V. W. Mason
2 :in a haphazard manner
Do you, don't you want me to make you
I'm coming down fast now don't let me break you
Tell me tell me tell me the answer
You ain't no lover but you ain't no dancer
Helter skelter
Helter skelter
Helter skelter
When you get to the bottom
You go back to the top of the slide
And you stop and you turn
And you go for a ride
Then you get to the bottom
Then you see me again
Helter Skelter Beatles 1968
In 1967 Charles Manson was released from a California prison and very soon was living in a communal situation with at least 18 women. He obviously had a weird charismatic influence on them and others in what was essentially a cult. Manson portrayed himself as a Christ-like figure and preached about simplicity, but he was a violent and manipulative man. Manson gave psychedelic drugs to his followers every day and abused them sexually. Yet he talked his way into jam sessions with Neil Young, the Mamas and the Papas and visited Dennis Wilson of the Beach Boys.
In 1969 Manson was using songs from the Beatles' White Album as "scripture" for teaching about an impending race war, with Helter Skelter as the theme for the chaos which would ensue. He instructed some of his followers to invade a home in a toney California to begin "helter skelter" by killing the residents. They brutally murdered five unsuspecting residents, including actress Sharon Tate, the wife of director Roman Polanski. The next day they killed a couple at another location.
Dec. 03, 1969-Charles Manson is escorted to court for preliminary hearing. (John Malmin / Los Angel
Manson spent nearly 50 years in prison for his role in the murders and overnight he died at the age of 83. Through those years he applied for parole a number of times, and denied his involvement in the deaths. He was always turned down for parole and in psychiatric sessions and interviews he contradicted himself often.
Was Charles Manson insane, or was he the embodiment of evil? Defining evil is never straightforward, although "profoundly immoral and malevolent" does work here. The bigger question is whether Manson and his followers, most from stable middle class backgrounds, had given themselves over to a force of darkness which invited them into such heinous acts. You might recall that one of the Manson cult members, Squeaky Fromme, was not charged in these murders but did attempt to assassinate President Gerald Ford in 1975. What "possessed" this group to follow Manson and what motivated his hatred in what was then called the Summer of Love in 1967?
We'll never know with certainty, but the questions arise with news of Manson's death. What are your recollections from this time, if you're old enough to remember. Was Manson's cult evil? How would you define evil? Is there an Evil One?
Image result for charles manson


Saturday, November 18, 2017

Black Elk, Visionary

Image result for black elk the life of an american visionary

More than 25 years ago I was involved in a spiritual direction/ spiritual direction program called Shalem. We read extensively in the mystics and contemplatives through the ages, some of whom I knew and others I didn't. One of the "didn'ts" was Black Elk,  an Oglala Lakota Native American who was born in the 19th century and died in 1950. When Black Elk was a boy he had a vision which he eventually shared with others and which was eventually published in the 1930's with the help of a transcriber. He had a fascinating life, actually present for the Battle of Little Bighorn in 1876. The following year he joined Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show, which toured Europe, including a performance before Queen Victoria. As an example from Black Elk Speaks:

And while I stood there I saw more than I can tell and understood more than I saw; for I was seeing in a sacred manner the shapes of all things in the spirit, and the shape of all shapes as they must live together like one being. And I saw that the sacred hoop of my people was one of many hoops that made one circle, wide as daylight and as starlight, and in the center grew one mighty flowering tree to shelter all the children of one mother and one father. And I saw that it was holy.

Image result for black elk speaks

Black Elk married a woman who was a Roman Catholic and their children were baptized. Eventually he became a Catholic, so there is a blending of Christianity and aboriginal spirituality in his visions. In my "to get to" pile of books there is a new biography called Black Elk: the Life of an American Visionary.

This week the US bishops of the Roman Catholic church took steps toward the canonization of this medicine man and mystic. He became a catechist of the church, with an excellent memory for scripture. It will be interesting to see how these steps toward sainthood unfold.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Salvator Mundi & the Folly of Wealth

 Christie's unveils Leonardo da Vinci's 'Salvator Mundi'

...but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust[a]consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

 “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light;  but if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!

“No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.

Matthew 6:20-24 (NRSV)

Holy Antiques Road Show! The art world was stunned a couple of days ago by the auction of what became the most expensive painting ever sold. Sixty years ago this painting, now called Salvator Mundi, was sold for under a hundred dollars. At that time is was considered an enigmatic image created by an unknown Renaissance artist. After years of verification and restoration it was attributed to Leonardo da Vinci, one of history's most famous painters, and is considered to be an image of Christ, Saviour of the World.

There are only 80 or so works attributed to Leonardo, so while this piece hasn't been absolutely attributed to him, the desire to possess it reached a fever pitch. Only four years ago it was purchased by a Russian collector for $127 million. He has been cranky because of  the speculation that he had overpaid. It was assumed that he would take a considerable loss, with the painting not even reaching its reserve bid of $100 million. Well, US $450 million later, the owner and the auction house made a tidy gain. Think of it, that's more than half a billion Canadian for a painting whose provenance is uncertain!

We could talk all day about how any object is valued, whether it is the diamond necklace which sold in Geneva earlier this week for "only" $34 million, or the $700,000 paid for one of the late Prince's guitars, or the junk from your garage sale.

The buyer of Salvator Mundi should be grateful that Jesus is not the "smiting" sort, because a well-aimed bolt of lightning might have emanated from the heavens at the conclusion of the auction. Yeshua, the Jewish peasant, talked a lot about the dark power of wealth. It's misuse was a far more important topic for Jesus than sex, or just about anything else.

Were you amazed or appalled by the outcome? Were you one of the anonymous phone bidders? Is a fool and his money soon parted?

Bye the bye, I'm reading the excellent new biography about Leonardo by Walter Isaacson and I'll probably write more about the book later.

Image result for leonardo biography walter isaacson

Thursday, November 16, 2017

The Spiritual Challenge of COP 23

Image result for cop 23 fiji bonn

The international climate change gathering known as COP 23 is nearing its end in Bonn, Germany. It is the delegation from Fiji which is hosting, apparently, which is fitting given that the oceanic islands of the world are most vulnerable to rising sea levels. As we saw during hurricane season, many islands have already experienced events where property has been destroyed and in some places permanent relocation has been necessary.
Today a twelve year old Fijian boy gave a heartfelt speech at COP 23 about the effects of climate change on his nation.  In his address he says that "the sea is swallowing villages, eating away at shorelines, withering crops. Relocation of people...cries over lost loved ones, dying of hunger and thirst. Its catastrophic. It’s sad…but its real." No child should have to make this sort of plea for the survival of his home.
Image result for 12 year old fijian boy cop 23
The faith communities of Fiji issued a joint statement before COP 23 and I'll include a portion of it here, as well as the link. Addressing climate change will include the essential work of the scientific community and the collaborative political will of nations. It is also a spiritual challenge, as I've said so often you may be tired of hearing it!


Multi-Faith Charter

As believers from several of the world’s faiths, we come together to express our deep concern over the warming climate that threatens the Earth, and especially our vulnerable seas and islands, which we hold in trust. We believe that we are not owners of the earth, but are its custodians, and that we are entrusted by the Creator with the stewardship of this planet. We are responsible for the care of our rivers and oceans and all the flora and creatures that depend on the earth for life. We cannot fail to leave a healthy planet to our children and all future generations.

The scientific community’s consensus that climate change is caused by human activity is a call to action for all the nations of the earth. We confess that we have been poor stewards and that humankind’s wasteful behavior and unsustainable lifestyles have led to the crisis we are living today: climate change and massive loss of species – fish, corals, wild creatures – and degradation of forests, coastlines, glaciers and clean water sources. As custodians of this great planet, it is our moral and ethical responsibility to collectively take urgent action to do all that is possible to combat climate change and save our planet and humanity.

The responsibility is ours, and the solutions lie in our hands through the scientific and technical knowledge we have amassed, in partnership with the traditional wisdom of indigenous peoples and the spiritual insights of people of faith the world over. We must sacrifice our current self-centered attitude and unsustainable habits and consumption patterns. We must now find and keep within us the will to do what is ethically and morally right, the foresight to forgo immediate gains for the greater good, and the hope that we can pass on to our children a legacy of living in harmony with nature.