Sunday, October 02, 2022

World Wide Communion & Creation Time

1. God's got the whole world in his hands.

God's got the whole wide world in his hands.

God's got the whole world in his hands.

God's got the whole world in his hands.


2. God's got the wind and the rain in his hands.

God's got the wind and the rain in his hands.

God's got the wind and the rain in his hands.

God's got the whole world in his hands.


Text: African-American Spiritual

Music: African-American Spiritual

I am certain that today thousands of congregations in both Canada and the United States will be praying for the residents along the Eastern Seaboard of both countries whose lives were thrown into chaos in the past ten days by two different storm systems. Hurricanes Fiona and Ian devastated regions accustomed to strong weather events but both were probably the strongest ever for the affected areas. In Florida, where the governor has forbidden state employees from publicly using the term "climate change", the financial cost will be in the tens of billions and there is a human toll as well, both in loss of life and a sense of place.

We can't describe this as the "new normal" because it is likely the harbinger of even greater weather extremes around the globe, for which we are ill-prepared. Climate scientists regularly remind us that climate change doesn't create weather events but it accelerates and amplifies them, resulting in lengthening droughts and intensified rainfall. 

This is the final Sunday for Creation Time or the Season of Creation which began on September 1st and concludes Tuesday with the Feast of St. Francis, patron saint of ecology. The Creator may have the whole world in God's hands, but our future depends on our taking hold of the responsibility to care for all of Creation, rather than what it really reckless self interest.  

                                                            Port aux Basques, Newfoundland 

Sadly, many of the congregations in the affected communities will not be able to gather for mutual solace and strength because of the damage to their buildings and lack of electrical service. I'm thinking of my cousin and his family in Fort Myers, Florida. Their home survived Ian's onslaught but his wife is a church-goer and its hard to imagine that they'll be worshipping today. 

On this World Communion Sunday we can appreciate that there is no "us and them", "here or there", when it comes to the climate emergency. As we celebrate the Lord's Supper or the Eucharist we are in communion with all Christians, all humans, all living beings. 

5. God's got ev’rybody in his hands.

He’s got ev’rybody in his hands.

He’s got ev’rybody in his hands.

He’s got the whole world in his hands.

                                                                              Fort Myers, Florida 

Saturday, October 01, 2022

The Wicked Margaret Atwood

                                                               The Handmaid's Tale Opera

How can we not love writer Margaret Atwood? She is the award-winning author of novels, essays and  plays, but really a national icon. She is even the librettist for the opera based on her prescient 1985 novel The Handmaid's Tale, a story of a totalitarian, quasi-theocratic Republic of Gilead, which has overthrown the government of the United States The central character and narrator is a woman named Offred, one of the "handmaids"—a group of women who are forcibly assigned to produce children for the "commanders"—the ruling class of men in Gilead. The television adaptation of the novel has been hugely popular and the imagery of the oppressed handmaids has been used often in protests against misogyny. 

Of course, some feel that Atwood is anti-religous, which is not the case. She has written about her United Church of Canada experiences as a child in a reasonably positive fashion and she actually supports Christian environmental and social justice organizations in practical ways. She just isn't a fan of oppression in the guise of religion, including the control of women's reproductive rights. 

Atwood is a wicked woman, at least in terms of having a playful and sometimes wicked sense of humour. The Handmaid's Tale has been banned in some American communities and she attempted her own book burning in response. 

I'm trying to figure our whether it is her actual wry humour expressed in an open letter to the US of A regarding plagarism of the themes of The Handmaid's Tale or others channelling her. I won't include it all but I'll include the link and the first couple of paragraphs. 

 Dear United States of America: 

You are currently using my 1985 novel The Handmaid’s Tale as the template for your own dystopia and are doing so without my authorization, thereby violating U.S. copyright law. Adopting one or two aspects of The Handmaid’s Tale to rebrand the American Dream would be considered “fair use,” but all of them? 

Honestly, America, I get a Google alert every time you rip off one of my ideas. My condo strata filed a noise complaint, and Hulu producers banned me from The Handmaid’s Tale season 5 set due to my phone’s inceso you’ll understand my dismay at seeing you plagiarize the following key scenarios...sant pinging. It took me 18 months to write this book and to develop the nightmare world of Gilead, so you’ll understand my dismay at seeing you plagiarize the following key scenarios...

Friday, September 30, 2022

Rekindling Creativity on a Day for Truth and Reconciliation


                                                     Toronto Sign Wrap -- Joseph Sagaj

This is second annual National Day for Truth and Reconcilation and I trust that our Prime Minister is not on vacation. This is a holiday for some while many of us will wear our orange shirts and put up flags with the words "Every Child Matters" in recognition of the horrors of the Residential Schools for Indigenous children.

We now acknowledge that this supposed education system was designed to eradicate Indigenous culture and language. The Canadian government enlisted various Christian denominations in this concerted effort toward cultural genocide, to our great shame. Hundreds and likely thousands of children died while at these indoctrination centres from malnutrition, lack of adequate medical care, and God knows what other reasons. 

While this program was largely successful, creating intergenerational trauma and normalizing systemic racism, there has been an upwelling of Indigenous identity and culture in recent years. The arts have flourished in everything from music to dance to visual art. It's not hard to focus on the wrongdoing toward and victimization of Indigenous peoples but this artistic expression, along with the resurgence of Indigenous languages has been vital to the ongoing process of Truth and Reconcilation.

This week the Toronto sign in Nathan Philips Square was unveiled with a new artistic wrap called Rekindle by Joseph Sagaj. Canada Post just issued four new stamps featuring Indigenous artists and artworks. 

We have a lot of art in our home and over the years have acquired a number of pieces from different Indigenous artists across the country, two of which are by an Inuk member of our extended family. While we have essentially no space for more art we recently purchased an original print by the wonderful Christi Belcourt called The Fish are Fasting for Knowledge, a title which intrigues us. We love this image and eagerly await its framing so we can put it in a place of prominence -- we're already musing about the wall space juggling. An interview with  Belcourt was on CBC Radio's Q this morning.

We feel this is a way to affirm Indigenous culture in a tangible way. For too long "good art" was associated with Europe and the settler descendents of Europeans in this land. 

                                                The Fish are Fasting for Knowledge -- Christi Belcourt

I have long believed that artistic expression can be a form of prayer as well as an affirmation of culture. This may not surprise people who know me and that I have a degree in art history as well as theology. Art also speaks truth to power. The paintings of Kent Monckman are irreverent (to say the least) and provide biting commentary on the history of colonialism.

                                                   The Scream -- Kent Monkman  -- 2017

                                                          Stained Glass in Parliament -- Christi Belcourt 

Thursday, September 29, 2022

Migrants, Refugees, & a Newfoundland (H)airport


                                                      Re-opened Gander Airport International Lounge

Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, 

for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.

Hebrews 13:2 NRSVue

There is a World Refugee Day in June and a World Migrants Day in December. So I was somewhat befuddled when I heard Pope Francis speak of yet another "day" on this theme, Sunday past. It turns out that the Roman Catholic church recognized Refugee and Migrants Day on the last Sunday of September each year. While this is a tad confusing, displaced peoples should be front of mind all through the year.

Canada has a mixed history of xenophobia and welcome when it comes to those from other parts of the world looking for hospitality. We can be stirred to generosity -- think of the Vietnamese boat people and Syrian refugees -- but we have also shameful aspects of our past -- we refused to welcome Jews fleeing the Nazi regime. 

Earlier this month we returned from a couple of weeks in Newfoundland and had a couple of hours in Gander airport. In July the restored International Lounge was reopened after forty years of being closed to the public. Queen Elizabeth was on hand when this showcase of design and art was unveiled in 1959 at a time when Gander Airport was one of the busiest in the world because flights to and from Europe and North America had to refuel for longer journeys.

Along with the fascinating mural, floor, and furniture created by the top designers of the day there is a photographic display in the mezzanine at the top of the elevator. Photos of famous personalities such as Bob Hope, Marilyn Monroe, and Muhammad Ali  are there. There are also photos of groups of people who passed through the airport on their way to refuge and new lives. 

                                                                           Hungarian refugees

In the 1950s nearly 40,000 Hungarian refugees fleeing the Soviet invasion of their country,  arrived in Canada, many through Gander airport. 

In the 1990s kids from the Chernobyl region of Ukraine came here to avoid radiation poisoning from the failed reactor. 

There is also a photo montage of the thousands of "Come from Away" airline passengers who ended up in Gander after 911. The mothballed lounge was opened to accommodate them and while we were looking around a contingent of organizers came in to scope out the space for an event which was taking place a couple of days later to commemorate those remarkable days of shelter and hospitality. 

I found myself quite moved by these reminders of Canada and Canadians at their best, rather than gripped by "fear of the other." Often it has been groups of dedicated Christians and congregations who have been involved in sponsorships for refugees, as was the case with Syrians, beginning in 2015. As it happens I will drive one of the 23 Syrian refugees welcomed by a coalition of faith communities and other people of good will in 2015 and 2015 to a medical appointment in another city. I haven't been involved with this group since my retirement but I agreed to be added to this week's roster and I see that other drivers are folk who were part of the group then and have continued to be supportive. 

I pray that Canadians can continue the positive aspects of our tradition of welcome, and that even as many faith groups are aging and struggling they will understand that hospitality is a vital aspect of the gospel of Jesus Christ -- who doesn't want to welcome an angel? 

                                                      Chernobyl children in Gander

Wednesday, September 28, 2022



                                           Damage in Port aux Basques NL from Hurricane Fiona

I don't want to say that I have been obssessed with Hurricane Fiona -- it's path, the impact, and the aftermath. Yet that may be an accurate way of describing the way it has affected me. It might be that we recently returned from two weeks in Newfoundland, although an area on the Northeast coast of the province which wasn't affected by the hurricane, other than high winds. It may be because we lived in Newfoundland as my first pastorate with five outport congregations, then later in Nova Scotia serving a large downtown congregation in Halifax.

We have experienced our share of fierce storms while living and spending time near the Atlantic Ocean.

 We lived in Newfoundland forty years ago during the unnamed February storm which sank the Ocean Ranger oil rig. We lost power and woke up the next morning unable to see out of any of our windows because they were plastered thick with snow. Then three years ago we were ensconced on Change Islands in the same area when the tail end of Hurricane Dorian battered the province with wind and the old house we were in shook and rattled and moaned for hours.

There were substantial storms when we were in Halifax, although nothing like Hurricane Juan or the winter blast which was dubbed White Juan which occurred in the months after we left. Two of our young adult children stayed on in the city after our departure and experienced these storms which left the city paralysed and without power. A huge maple tree leaned over onto our recently sold home as a result of Juan, a dilemma we didn't have to address.

None of these storms compared to Fiona which affected all four Atlantic provinces and devastated areas of three of them. As you'll know, houses were swept into the sea, thousands were displaced, and a couple of hundred thousand are still without power days later. At least three people died as a result of the storm.  

This hurricane or cyclone was unprecedented. No one was really prepared for the sheer power of what some are saying is the strongest storm in the recorded history of Atlantic Canada and perhaps in the country. How can people anticipate something like this, even when they've had a lifetime of battening down the hatches? Even oldtimers concede that this is the strongest weather event in their memory. 

On the news some bewildered survivors speak of climate change, and can we doubt that this is a factor? Climate change doesn't necessarily cause destructive weather but it accelerates it, whether drought and fire, or wind and rainfall. 

We hear officials, including the Prime Minister, saying that we're all in this together. Are we I wonder? There are 2.4 million people in the four Atlantic provinces, which is only about seven percent of Canada's population. They will be disproportionately affected by events such as these as weather patterns change. At least we can respond to the needs of our citizens.  We know, too, that poorer countries around the world which contribute relatively little to climate  change are already being heavily impacted. There is nothing fair or equitable about what is transpiring. And eventually we will all be dealing with a radically changed planet. 

Once we get past the "weather porn" of these catastrophic events we tend to get back to our everyday lives, which won't be the case for so many in these four provinces. We will be diverted by Hurricane Ian which has the potential to be the next unprecedented storm.

Here is the weird thing about the reporting from Halifax in the past few days. During a live segment the Global weather guy stood in front of a south end home where a big tree was sprawled along the street. We realized that our former home was in the background -- what trees will be left eventually? 

Do we have the wherewithall to act with determination for a safer and livable world? I pray we do but we're stiff-necked people, to use an oft-used biblical phrase.  

                                                           Halifax clean-up after Fiona

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Shana Tova, For a Good Year

Sunday began Rosh Hashana, one of the holiest times in the Jewish calendar of festivals and observances. The name means "first of the year" or "head of the year," and it's is a time for reflection for all Jews. Rosh Hashanah is celebrated with symbolic foods, prayers, synagogue services, and the blowing of the shofar which is traditionally a ram's horn.

I figure every faith tradition should have some occasion to blow a ram's horn, but Christians have already appropriated a lot from other religions, especially Judaism.

I've noticed that there are some thoughtful pieces out there on including our environmental responsiblities as part of the reflection of these days, which makes sense to me when Creation is in crisis. 

This is the final day of Rosh Hashanah for 2022, if I read the calendar correctly. Here is a tweet from Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg which we can all take to heart, whatever our background. 

Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg
Shana tova, all. May it be a year of blessing, of healing, of righteous action, of inspiration, of laughter, of community, of connection, of compassion, of creativity, of building power, of vision, of truth-telling, of liberation, of justice, of unmitigated joy.

Monday, September 26, 2022

Medical Assistance in Dying: A Faithful Response


Yesterday I did a brief invitation from the pulpit (well, lectern) at Trenton United, inviting folk to participate in a three-session study/conversation on the sensitive subject of Medical Assistance in Dying. Since 2016 Canadians can legally choose to end their own lives within certain parameters, and the number of people who are availing themselves of MAID has grown over that time period. 

After the service I was approached by someone from the congregation who wondered if she could attend, in person, with her sister. It sounds as though they've had some conversations about whether this should be an option because of a situation in their family. 

I've also heard from a couple of people who are part of congregations in other communities and will join us via Zoom. One has been involved in hospice and palliative care through the years and while she is committed to these options for end-of-life support she wants to be better informed and to wrestle with the implications of MAID. We will have a guest from Hospice Quinte in our second session. 

There are individual Christians and Christian denominations which are categorically opposed to Medical Assistance in Dying. When the legislation was first enacted a Roman Catholic bishop out West warned people that they might be denied a Christian funeral if they chose MAID. My blood boiled at this announcement. 

We need to have this conversation, it seems to me, because eventually we all die (sorry to break this to you) and it's likely we will all be affected by Medical Assistance in Dying eventually, as someone we know makes this choice. We never know how we will feel personally if faced with the prospect of a lengthy, irremediable illness. 

Ultimately we may decide that we are opposed to MAID or that it is an option to be considered. Surely as people of faith, of the God who chose to live among us with all the sorrows and suffering of human existence, we can have a respectful conversation with one another. 

I have to say that I don't have a definitive answer or answers regarding Medical Assistance in Dying. I have attempted to become better informed over time and to take a prayerful approach to my evolving outlook as a Christian who cares for the vulnerable.  

Please join us if you're intrigued. 

Wednesdays, September 28 (this week), October 5 & 12, 10:15 AM.  Check out the Trenton United website for a Zoom link or show up at the church. You will be welcomed!