Monday, November 23, 2020

JFK and CS Lewis


Did you notice that yesterday was the 57th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy? He was a flawed individual but an actual leader who  in his inaugural addressed said “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country,” as a challenge to American citizens to contribute in some way to the greater public good. This sentiment would be incomprehensible to the lame duck currently in office, clinging to power. 

That same day 57 years ago the Christian apologist CS Lewis died of cancer, an event overshadowed JFK's untimely death. Lewis was a remarkable man, an intellectual and atheist who was "surprised by joy", a conversion of both heart and head. He wrote 30 books through the years, including the beloved Narnia series. a sci-fi trilogy, a novel of letters from a senior demon, Screwtape, to his nephew, Wormwood, as well as a number of books of popular theology and philosophy. He married later in life only to have his brilliant wife, Joy Davidman, die in her 40's. His book A Grief Observed is an honest reflection on loss and the challenge to faith it posed for him. 

This anniversary of Lewis's death I'm pondering how he became a darling of the evangelical Christian world in the 70's and 80's because of his robust, orthodox, intelligent faith. He probably wouldn't have used the term Evangelical to describe himself, but he was adopted as such, particularly in the United States.I read many of Lewis's books as a young man and was grateful that he appealed to the mind in understanding the Christian life. 

In 2020 evangelicals in The US steadfastly support a president who is brazenly self-absorbed, arrogant, and sneers at most Christian values. And evangelicalism has become anti-intellectual and far more committed to tribalism than the gospel.

 I have no doubt that both JFK and CS Lewis would have rejected the politics and religion which have infected US discourse and action. It's important to remember who they were and what their legacy should be. 

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Homelessness & Tiny Shelters

                                         Khaleel Seivwright -- Scarborough carpenter

 Later this morning we're supposed to get a dose of sloppy weather with a mixture of rain and snow, a combination which is really miserable. Of course we'll be warm and dry, but some won't. Homelessness is not seasonal, and while communities attempt to provide shelter, this year there is the added challenge of a virus which can be deadly when people are in close proximity to one another. 

Many who are homeless won't go into shelters because of fear of violence from other residents, mental health issues, and real concerns about contagious illnesses such as COVID. In addition, a city such as Toronto claims to have a certain number of beds for homeless people but those who work as advocates for the homeless claim that they are regularly told that there are none available.

                                                   Toronto Tiny Shelter

Khaleel Seivwright, 28, a carpenter who has been building stand-alone, insulated, movable shelters under the title of Toronto Tiny Shelters. So far he's constructed ten of them and placed them in various city-owned locations. The city doesn't like this and told him to stop, and there are obvious reasons why problems could arise with having these tiny homes in public places such as parks. The real solution to un-housed populations is to house them but most municipalities don't do a good job of this. Cathy Crowe, a Toronto street nurse, has been opposed to this sort of impermanent initiative but she has changed her outlook and considers Seivwright a hero. She says that there are approximately a thousand homeless people in Toronto at the moment, with Winter looming, and not nearly enough spaces in city shelters and hotel rooms to house them. . 

Apparently there are private property owners, including churches, who are considering being hosts to the tiny shelters. Who knows where this will go, but to date Toronto Tiny Shelters has received about $130,000 in donations, which would be enough for 130 shelters, 130 people who would be protected from the elements. 

God bless Khaleel Seivwright for his practical compassion and generosity.  

                                   Cathy Crowe -- Toronto street nurse

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Lemonade and Lament

Actor Michael J. Fox is one of those Canadian exports who makes us proud. He came to fame as Alex Keaton,  the driven Republican teen son of earnest ex-hippy parents on the hit series Family Ties. We went on to even greater acclaim in the Back to the Future films, then in another series, Spin City. What we didn't know was that half his lifetime ago, at the age of 29, he was diagnosed with early-onset Parkinson's disease. He gave up acting for a time, then returned as a crafty lawyer who exploited a degenerative illness in the courtroom on The Good Wife. He has retired again, and short of a miracle this is likely permanent. 

Fox has been the point man for gratitude and hope with his autobiographical books, Lucky Man, and Always Looking Up. He feels that he's led a remarkable life and is grateful for the unfailing love of his wife and children. His new book takes a different direction as the result of the bleak challenges of a cancerous tumour on his spine which threatened to paralyze him. No one wanted to operate but he found a surgeon who admitted that no one wanted to be the doc who paralyzed Michael Fox. He had to learn to walk ago but as he did so he fell and shattered one of his arms. In all of this he began to question his optimism and wondered if he had been misleading his readers who often faced monumental challenges themselves. 

Fox is doing the virtual interview circuit for a new book,  No Time Like the Future and on the CBC radio program Q he reflected on his emphasis on making lemonades out of lemonade, until he came to the point where he said 'I'm out of the freakin' lemonade business. I can't put a shiny face on this. This sucks, and who am I to tell people to be optimistic?'​

In the interview he want on to speak bluntly about his mortality and mortality in general:

But I thought about the idea of the future, and then it came to me that the future is the last thing we run out of. We run out of breath. We run out of everything. Then there comes a point where we have no more future and that's the end of it.But until then there's always something in the future to be optimistic about, to look forward to. It may change our circumstances or it may not, but that will run out, so enjoy it while you have it.

I found Fox's honesty disarming (no pun intended) and while it is a personal story it is also a reflection of the times we'e in. The coronavirus pandemic has us all wondering what the future will look like, and even if we feel that we're blessed and have enjoyed full and meaningful lives there is a pall of uncertainty over everything.

We are struggling to be hopeful in the midst of this, but is it okay to be "cranky", the word Fox uses to describe this latest book? It seems to me that his latest  memoir is in some ways a lament, which is a biblical concept -- there is even a book in the Hebrew scriptures called Lamentations. To lament is not to deny hope, it recognizes our realities and lets lament and hope live alongside each other, even if it is an uneasy relationship. 

We're on the brink of  Advent in the Christian year, which begins with the Sunday of hope. Will we even be able to gather for worship through this season, or celebrate Christmas with loved ones?  Perhaps we can figure out how Christ comforts us in our loss and lament, while showing us the way to hope. 

                                  Back to the Future

Friday, November 20, 2020

MAID & Living With Disabilities


                                         Catherine Frazee

A few weeks ago I preached about Medical Assistance in Dying (MAID) at Trenton United Church and I wrote about the subject in this blog as well. I attempted to be measured, compassionate, and Christian in my approach. While I have come to a place of qualified support for MAID, in part because we have developed the ability to prolong life even when meaningful living has ceased, I continue to have reservations about it's ready availability because segments of our society are vulnerable, including the aged and those with disabilities. How do we ensure that these people don't become disposable in our society, or feel that the "honorable" choice is MAID? 

Through this year the Canadian government has been exploring amendments to the original MAID legislation from June 2016. The focus is on the provision for "reasonably foreseeable death."

You may have seen or heard that spokespersons for the disabled community are raising concerns about the proposals. Catherine Frazee, a professor emeritus at Ryerson University, was interviewed by Matt Galloway on CBC Radio's The Current yesterday and she raised some important questions and concerns. I'll share this from the transcript of the interview:

Frazee, who lives with a disabling medical condition, says that — through Bill C-7 — the government is making it possible for people with disability to kill themselves while doing whatever it can to prevent suicide for everyone else. Now this amendment proposes opening up an entire new approach to assisted death, where it's now an alternative not to a painful death, but to a painful life — to a life that is considered intolerable or not worth living. And that extension will apply only to people with disabling medical conditions, and so for those of us who live with — and many of us who live well with — disabling medical conditions, we think the question has to be asked: why us?"

Apparently these amendments will be addressed in Parliament by the deadline of December 18th, which by my math is four weeks today. We can keep our eyes and ears open and pray for discernment on the part of those who will make decisions about the legislation. We have a responsibility to do as people of faith and goodwill. This is a moral, ethical, and spiritual concern, not just a matter of the law. 

If you want to learn more just paste these addresses into a search engine/

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Justice for Bedouins in a World of Turmoil

A Palestinian woman walks in Khirbet Humsah in Jordan Valley in the Israeli-occupied West Bank November 5th 2020 REUTERS

 On the day of the election in the United States, when the eyes of the world were on the outcome, Israeli b.ulldozers demolished a Bedouin village in the area known as the West Bank. Bedouins are traditionally nomadic people but they do establish settlements for periods of time, often living in tents while using solar panels and availing themselves of the internet. The Israeli government has been involved in a program of destroying "illegal" Bedouin settlements for more than a decade, determined to concentrate tens of thousands of  Bedouins in small geographical areas. It sounds chillingly similar to what happened to Indigenous peoples in North America who ended up on reserves and reservations. 

On November 4th tented homes, shelters for animals , latrines and solar panels were among the structures destroyed in the village, according to the United Nations. By Thursday morning the residents had already moved back to the site, using tents donated by Palestinian aid groups. According to an article the next day in US News and World Report:

"They want to expel us from the area so that settlers can live in our place, but we will not leave from here," said resident Harbi Abu Kabsh, referring to the roughly 430,000 Israeli settlers who live alongside three million Palestinians in the West Bank, which Israel captured in a 1967 war...Yvonne Helle, a humanitarian coordinator for the United Nations in the Palestinian territories, said that relief agencies had visited Khirbet Humsah and recorded 76 demolished structures, "more than in any other single demolition in the past decade". Israeli human rights group B'Tselem said the structures included 18 tents and sheds.

For decades the United Church of Canada has spoken out about Israeli settlements in the West Bank and the heavy-handedness of the military in evicting Palestinians from their traditional lands, Because of this we have been accused of being anti-Jewish, which is not the case, and of supporting terrorism, which is nonsense. We have long been committed to interfaith dialogue and cooperation. The UCC's objections have been to injustices which have been condemned by the United Nations and many Western governments. Sadly, the current right-wing government in Israel has been emboldened by the Trump administration and the support of evangelical Christians in the United States. 

It would be wonderful if the corrupt Benjamin Netanyahu was finally evicted from office. And we can pray that the Biden administration will return to policies which are more measured than under the Emperor Trump. His administration's "Vision for Peace" in the region has been anything but, Why would we surprised by this? 

In the midst of many other pressing problems in the world this still matters and people of good faith can stay informed and hope that peace and justice will prevail. 

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

A Prayer for Putting on a Face Mask

                                                Moderator Richard Bott -- United Church of Canada

I am grateful that we live in a region where the donning of masks in shared spaces is treated neither as a virtue nor an infringement of personal freedom. People just put them on when around others, including at church, or the gym, or the shopping mall.Nearly all of us have figured out how to make this part of our routine, and while it can be inconvenient at times, it is for a greater good, In our fairly large geographical area there are only a handful of active COVID-19 cases and we want to keep it that way. 

Back in August the moderator of the United Church, the Rev. Richard Bott wrote a prayer for putting on a mask, and somehow I missed it at the time. Recently I began seeing links to the prayer on Twitter from pastors and priests across the country and in the United States, where there is such nonsense about wearing masks and people are getting infected as a rate of more than a million a week.

One Roman Catholic priest in the US posted the prayer for his parishioners and was attacked for this "heresy." There are only seven sacraments in Catholicism, some fussed, and to suggest otherwise is dangerous! Of course, Moderator Bott is not suggesting that an eight sacrament be added to the tradition of the church. So much for metaphor to the self-appointed true defenders of the faith. 

You can decide what you think for yourself. I really appreciate the notion of transforming an irritant into a blessing for all. Thank you Richard. 

as I prepare to go into the world,
help me to see the sacrament
in the wearing of this cloth –
let it be “an outward sign
of an inward grace” –
a tangible and visible way
of living love for my neighbours,
as I love myself.

since my lips will be covered,
uncover my heart,
that people would see my smile
in the crinkles around my eyes.
Since my voice may be muffled,
help me to speak clearly,
not only with my words,
but with my actions.

Holy Spirit,
as the elastic touches my ears,
remind me to listen carefully –
and full of care –
to all those I meet.
May this simple piece of cloth
be shield and banner,
and each breath that it holds,
be filled with your love.

In your Name
and in that love,
I pray.

May it be so.
May it be so.

Tuesday, November 17, 2020

The Second Wave & Human Loss


At a recent COVID-19 news conference featuring Ontario's premier, Doug Ford, and members of his cabinet CBC reporter Mike Crawley asked a pointed question. Crawley noted that recently Ford has spoken of how his "heart breaks" for small business people who may lose everything if the province moves back into strict lockdown because of the alarming rise in COVID cases. Why wasn't the premier talking about the growing number of people who have died because the virus was spreading? Ford took umbrage at this, saying he regularly phoned families who had experienced losses and was working long hours to address the resurgence of COVID.

Ford didn't really answer the question, still, I commend Crawley for asking it. The number of deaths is on the rise, but this figure is usually tacked on after the statistics about actual cases, and the press conferences certainly don't dwell on these statistics. Yet these are beloved human beings who are dying, and the majority of them are elderly and fragile. They live in institutions which are failing in providing protection in too many instances, and the proposed solutions to this tragedy are years away. 

When the first wave of COVID hit, most of us were appalled by the number of deaths in nursing homes and knew that this wasn't acceptable. Have we now decided as a society that a certain number of these losses of people who contributed to society, who love and are loved, is acceptable? Surely mentioning them on a regular basis in a public forum is one way of keeping a human face on what is transpiring. 

We know that one of the distinguishing features of the early Christian church which was an important part of its growth was compassion for the vulnerable, including the elderly. This care became a defining aspect of societies where Christianity was at the core, and even though we have become far more secular these values are still part of our ethos. Our hearts should break at the growing number of deaths, whatever the age of those who are lost. 

I'm not suggesting that Premier Ford is not a caring person as an individual,and God knows he has a tough job. We should all care about businesses which are struggling to survive. But as Premier of Ontario it is essential that he and his government regularly remind all citizens that the deaths associated with COVID-19 are more than numbers, they are cherished human beings. 

It would seem that despite the hope of vaccines we are in this for the long haul, and we must remain steadfast as a society. I'm glad that there are people such as Mike Crawley asking the challenging questions. 

                                                                              Mike Crawley