Sunday, July 05, 2020

Worship in a Wierd World

YouTube sermons will not feed the hungry

Let's be honest, the commandment to "remember the Sabbath day  and keep it holy" hasn't been observed in secular Canada for decades now, even though it is one of the lengthiest and most detailed  There are a bunch of reasons for this, including the reality that even for religious people in our pluralistic society the equivalent of the Sabbath may be Friday, or Saturday.

For nearly four months now Sunday worship for even the most devout has been...weird. For a long time we weren't allowed to physically attend at all, and now the permission to gather is provisional. Many congregations will continue to worship virtually, often with a very different format. It's possible to watch a service on days other than Sunday, and who cares if you're in your PJ's or have the family pooch on your lap?

Most of us miss coming together to hear the Word, sing the words, and share our meal of faith. Good things do happen in alternative formats, but something seems lost in translation when we can't see, hear, and sometimes smell our brothers and sisters in Christ.

All this said, here is the link to Trenton United Church and the worship possibilities for this week. I'm one of the presiders, while Rev. Isaac is on vacay/staycay, with links to my visual and print message. Dianne provides music while wife Ruth shares a prayer from the bow of a canoe. Please join us!

Saturday, July 04, 2020

Frederick Douglass & the 4th of July

Frederick Douglass's "What to the Slave is the Fourth of July ...
Last evening the venal, self-aggrandizing excuse for an American president pulled a "reality TV" stunt, celebrating the 4th of July from Mt. Rushmore in South Dakota. Just about every aspect of this event was tone-deaf. The monument is on contested sacred land for the Lakota people and the carver had strong ties to the Ku Klux Klan. Two of the four presidents portrayed, Washington and Jefferson, owned a number of slaves (124 and 600+) and Jefferson fathered children with at least one of them. To ice the cake, guests at this shindig were not required to maintain physical distance and there was a "uge" fireworks display in the midst of tinder dry conditions.

Millions of Americans were appalled by this spectacle and lots of Christians denounced it and Trump's message for the race-bating mess it was.

At the same time many racialized leaders were calling for a more reflective recognition of what it means to be American by turning to the words of a former slave of the 19th century, the great orator Frederick Douglass. In one of his speeches, which were often sermons because he drew heavily on scripture and biblical imagery of freedom for all peoples, he notes that for White Americans Independence Day is akin to Passover a celebration of liberation. He eventually asked the question , "what to the slave is the 4th of July?' This question resounds in the present day when Indigenous peoples, Blacks, People of Colour are asking what equality means in the United States.

As Canadians of faith we can be in solidarity today with American brothers and sisters who will be offering an alternative to the disastrous direction a great nation is heading. Many of them will be engaged in prayer and we can pray with them.

Here is a paragraph from Douglass's speech made 168 years ago before a group of abolitionists, those working to end slavery:

What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade, and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices, more shocking and bloody, than are the people of these United States, at this very hour.

Mt.Rushmore before carving. Look at those lines!! : climbing
Six Grandfathers before Mt Rushmore carving commenced in 1927

Friday, July 03, 2020

Lift Every Voice

Lift Every Voice and Sing | The Poem and Song | Black History | PBS
Lift ev'ry voice and sing
'Til earth and heaven ring
Ring with the harmonies of Liberty
Let our rejoicing rise
High as the list'ning skies
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun
Let us march on 'til victory is won
Stony the road we trod
Bitter the chastening rod
Felt in the days when hope unborn had died
Yet with a steady beat
Have not our weary feet
Come to the place for which our fathers sighed?
We have come over a way that with tears has been watered
We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered
Out from the gloomy past
'Til now we stand at last
Where the white gleam of
God of our weary years
God of our silent tears
Thou who has brought us thus far on the way
Thou who has by Thy might
Led us into the light
Keep us forever in the path, we pray
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee
Lest, our hearts drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee
Shadowed beneath Thy hand
May we forever stand
True to our God
True to our native land
Lift Every Voice and Sing
James Weldon Johnson, J. Rosamond Johnson
Several major sports leagues are lurching toward reopening play, including the National Basketball Association. In keeping with the current emphasis on racial justice and equality the plan it to play a song sometimes termed the Black National Anthem before Game 1 for each franchise. The piece is called Lift Every Voice and Sing, and I have to admit that I'd never been aware of its significance before this announcement, although I have heard it.

Lift Every Voice and Sing was first performed on the birthday of Abraham Lincoln in 1900 and the words are inspiring and spiritual. It was written as a poem by James Weldon Johnson and set to music by his brother, J Rosamond Johnson. It is a celebration of freedom, a recognition of the hardships of slavery, and a hymn of praise to the God who guides us all. It is patriotic but puts God first as the source of strength for the journey. There is a sense of the biblical exodus in that final verse..

Here is an amazing contemporary rendition of Lift Every Voice.and Sing. Such talent! Such youthful exuberance!

Thursday, July 02, 2020

Justice for Migrant Workers

Advocates urge protection for migrant workers travelling to Canada ...

I realize that I have written many blog entries on migrants, refugees, and migrant workers through the years of this blog. They are usually from our current context but the bible is full of stories about migrants.

Think about Joseph and his brothers, Abram and Sarai,  the exodus from Egypt,  the story of Ruth and Naomi. Of course in the New Testament it is Jesus' family with their flight to Egypt. There are actually many other stories which shape our biblical narrative which involve people on the move for economic and political reasons, famine and war and fear of violence.

During the pandemic we've been aware of migrant workers in a different context. A few months ago politicians realized that those who come to Canada seasonally are essential to our economy, picking the crops which we have been able to take for granted in our grocery stores and on our tables despite the disruptions and turmoil all around us.

The decision was made to allow thousands of workers from Mexico, Central America, and Caribbean nations into Canada to do this work that year-round citizens don't want to do. These are people who are dedicated workers without whom we would be in a lot of trouble. Yet we have treated them poorly through the decades with high expectations, generally low wages, and sub-standard accommodation. There have been some improvements in conditions and pay over time, but we don't have anything to brag about.

Rogelio Muñoz Santos, a 24-year-old from Chiapas, Mexico, was admitted to Erie Shores Hospital in Leamington on June 1 with breathing difficulties, and transferred to an ICU in Windsor the next day. He died in hospital on June 5. (GoFundMe)

Now we hear that migrant workers in this country have been hard hit by COVID-19 and an area of the province is still in Phase 1 of the coronavirus response because there are hundreds of afflicted workers. Sadly, three have died, a terrible reality for families thousands of kilometres away.

The provincial government has come up with a plan for those who are documented, providing support through illness and return to work, demanding better conditions for workers. . But there are thousands of workers who are undocumented, earning less than minimum wage, provided with little or no protective equipment, and with the threat of deportation if they can't work because of illness. It is a miserable situation.

These circumstances should be cause for concern for Christians in Ontario as a matter of justice and compassion. It is deeply connected to the story of our faith and we can ponder what is happening every time we enjoy produce that is seasonal, local, and fresh. Surely these are people who deserve all the protections of this country when they are putting food on our tables.


Wednesday, July 01, 2020

Happy Canada Day!

Canada Day 2020: A Stay at Home Celebration - London

"A Mari usque ad Mare" or "From sea to sea," has been Canada's official motto since 1921. It is taken from the Old Testament of the Bible, Psalm 72, Verse 8: "God shall have dominion from sea to sea and from the river unto the ends of the earth."

Yesterday we searched out our Canadian flag and hung it in our front yard in anticipation of Canada Day. For us it is an important gesture, although in the past couple of years we've all become aware of the toxic threat of hyper-nationalism around the world. Often this includes "pledging allegiance to the flag" as though there is some magical power in a piece of cloth. For some this fealty is a justification for vilifying those perceived as strangers, the "other." Their supposed patriotism becomes an excuse for arrogance and hatred.

For us this version of the Canadian flag,  which was created in controversy during our childhoods,  is not and cannot be a symbol of superiority and exceptionalism, as is too often the case. It is an invitation to gratitude for the rich blessings of our lives which in many respects come through the accident of birth. That gratitude is shallow unless we choose to look to the wellbeing of others because we have been blessed.

In this country it must mean a renewed commitment to reconciliation and reciprocity with First Nations and other Indigenous peoples. It means celebrating the contributions of immigrants and redoubling our efforts to welcome refugees. It means choosing governments which provide leadership on the world stage for justice and peace.

In the end, though, our first allegiance is to Christ, not to any flag or nation. If we ever forget this then our understanding of the gospel has been perverted and we have become idolatrous.

Well, happy Canada Day. We're not having a stay-at-home Canada Day. We are heading out to paddle on a lake surrounded by pines on a glorious summer day. Thank you, God, for the richness of our lives, from sea to sea!

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

When "Freedom" translates as "Selfishness"

What Was Being Worshiped Yesterday at First Baptist Church in ...

First Baptist Church Dallas Texas

By now most of us have seen the videos of  men and women raging away like spoiled toddlers because of the terrible expectation that they be considerate for the safety of others. They are in retail stores or taking up valuable time at town council meetings, literally screaming their outrage at the expectation that they wear a mask for a few minutes  so they won't spread a potentially deadly virus. Some of the store videos show men threatening violence against employees and women flinging groceries out of carts.  

Often these absurd, petulant people cite the right to personal and civic freedom as their reason for refusing to wear a mask or take other precautions. Somehow, in the United States (these all seem to originate south of the border) extreme selfishness and the resultant poor behavior are translated as some twisted conception of freedom.

A Viral Video Shows A Woman Berating Trader Joe's Employees And ...

What is worse, a twisted form of  freedom is often glorified in churches, usually with a conservative "me and Jesus" theology. At times there is no distinction between freedom to worship Christ and some sort of warped patriotism. This past Sunday was Freedom Sunday in one mega-church congregation with everyone present waving an American flag from their seats.

The Apostle Paul explores freedom in several of his letters and assures readers that they and we are set free in Christ. For Paul, though, we are set free from destructive self-interest and the bondage of sin. He also knew, as did the prophets before him, that religion dependent on power, including the state, was false religion.

Didn't Jesus say that if we want to find our lives we'll need to lose them, and that the truth will set us free?  Such silly talk...

Monday, June 29, 2020

The Persistence of Hope

I let you know that earlier this month the United Church acknowledged the 40th anniversary of my ordination as a minister in 1980. I've come to realize that our graduating class was sort of a "last hurrah" in terms of the significant number of people being ordained and commissioned by Emmanuel College in Toronto -- more than thirty that year. While the number of students entered into a steady decline, this was one of the last, if not the last year in which men outnumbered women as ordinands and commissionands. That shift was an important one for our denomination. 

Our year was too big to get to know all classmates well, but there were some who became more than acquaintances and a few who became lasting friends. I got to know one, Norm Esdon, through a small and theologically eclectic group who prayed together -- what a concept. I came to appreciate Norm as a photographer (he chaired the weekly bulletin cover working group for years) and as poet. A former chemistry teacher, Norm was committed from those seminary days to the present to exploring how "living with respect in Creation" is a vital and integral aspect of our Christian faith. 

Unfortunately Norm had to retire early because of a blood disorder which made the rigours of pastoral ministry unmanageable but he has continued to express his creativity through these years. Recently he has spent far too many hours in hospital receiving the treatments necessary to address his wonky blood cells. Last week, after a particularly long day of transfusion and treatment, he shared the photo and poem I've included above (with his permission)  on the nature of hope.

It seems to me that what Norm captures here is the truth we often reluctantly arrive at that hope is, as he says, not necessarily about "outcome" but "on-going." This is an important message in the midst of our personal trials, but also the tribulations of a pandemic, as well as the climate crisis. Faith may be assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1) but the hope part is not for the faint of heart.

I continue to pray for the "outcome" in Norm's sojourn, and I admire the gracious "on-going" fortitude of his hope which is an inspiration to all who know him.