Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Pope Francis, Holy Pest


I have calmed down somewhat following my outrage two weeks ago regarding the news out of France of findings that since 1950 200,000 children have been abused by Roman Catholic clergy and an estimated 150,000 more by others working for and associated with the church. My initial thoughts were that there can be no redemption for the insitituion and I still wonder whether the ongoing revelations about abuse in every form, including patriarchy have destroyed the credibility of Roman Catholicism. 

There are still rays of light along the way. and they are often in the form of willingness by  Pope Francis to challenge conventions. One of these came in an address to the Fourth World Meeting of World Movements, an eclectic gathering of those working for a better world from all walks of life. Francis spoke to these "social poets" as he calls them, those addressing social inequalities with a persistent sense of hope. The pontiff identifies a number of these circumstances before issuing a challenge: 

And thinking about these situations, I make a pest of myself with my questions. And I go on asking. And I ask everyone in the name of God.

I ask all the great pharmaceutical laboratories to release the patents. Make a gesture of humanity and allow every country, every people, every human being, to have access to the vaccines. There are countries where only three or four per cent of the inhabitants have been vaccinated.

In the name of God, I ask financial groups and international credit institutions to allow poor countries to assure “the basic needs of their people” and to cancel those debts that so often are contracted against the interests of those same peoples.

In the name of God, I ask the great extractive industries -- mining, oil, forestry, real estate, agribusiness -- to stop destroying forests, wetlands and mountains, to stop polluting rivers and seas, to stop poisoning food and people.

In the name of God, I ask the great food corporations to stop imposing monopolistic systems of production and distribution that inflate prices and end up withholding bread from the hungry.

In the name of God, I ask arms manufacturers and dealers to completely stop their activity, because it foments violence and war, it contributes to those awful geopolitical games which cost millions of lives displaced and millions dead.

In the name of God, I ask the technology giants to stop exploiting human weakness, people’s vulnerability, for the sake of profits without caring about the spread of hate speech, grooming, fake news, conspiracy theories, and political manipulation.

In the name of God, I ask the telecommunications giants to ease access to educational material and connectivity for teachers via the internet so that poor children can be educated even under quarantine.

In the name of God, I ask the media to stop the logic of post-truth, disinformation, defamation, slander and the unhealthy attraction to dirt and scandal, and to contribute to human fraternity and empathy with those who are most deeply damaged.

In the name of God, I call on powerful countries to stop aggression, blockades and unilateral sanctions against any country anywhere on earth. No to neo-colonialism. Conflicts must be resolved in multilateral fora such as the United Nations. We have already seen how unilateral interventions, invasions and occupations end up; even if they are justified by noble motives and fine words.

This system, with its relentless logic of profit, is escaping all human control. It is time to slow the locomotive down, an out-of-control locomotive hurtling towards the abyss. There is still time.

Together with the poor of the earth, I wish to ask governments in general, politicians of all parties, to represent their people and to work for the common good. 

This is a bold and prophetic call to action, as is the rest of his address. And while Francis admits he doesn't have ready answers he expresses the urgency eloquently and invokes the God of mercy and justice as he does so.

 I do commend him and can imagine that some of the criticism that he has received for views such as these within his own church will become every sharper. I'm grateful that he a social poet and a holy pest. 

Here is the link to the full text of the address by Pope Francis:


Monday, October 18, 2021

The Nobel Prize for Economics &...the Gospel?


UC Berkeley economist David Card won the 2021 Nobel Prize in economics for his research on minimum wages and immigration.NOAH BERGER/THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Thus says the Lord:

For three transgressions of Israel,
    and for four, I will not revoke the punishment;
because they sell the righteous for silver,
    and the needy for a pair of sandals—
they who trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth,
    and push the afflicted out of the way;

                     Amos 2: 6-7 NRSV

It's been noted by several media observers that Premier Doug Ford has not yet congratulated ex-pat Ontarian David Card on winning the Nobel Prize for economics even though Prime Minister Trudeau has. Why, oh why? I must be truthful and say that usually I pay no attention to this prize but this one seems important (I know, they all are). Card and two others were the winners although Card in particular hs challenged some basic assumptions of labour economics. 

It's been suggested that economics is more of an art than a science except the Card and those who've worked with him have been data wonks who seek out empirical evidence about trends. Here is the way Ian Brown describes one aspect of Card's research, this on comparing the minimum wage in two US states:

Here again, classical economic theory predicted what seemed obvious and logical: Raise the minimum wage and jobs disappear. (It’s the same argument Doug Ford recently used to resist raising the minimum wage in Ontario.) But Card & Krueger, try as they might – and they were very rigorous – found (Hello, Mr. Ford. Are you still there?) no hint that the rise in the minimum wage reduced employment. In fact, under certain real-life conditions, boosting the minimum wage actually increased employment.

Another commandment of holy economic dogma had fallen. “The so-called conventional wisdom in a lot of these areas,” Prof. Card says, “is in fact much more complicated or ambiguous than is sometimes pretended to be the case in undergraduate textbooks.”

Card has also done research into which children get into so-called gifted programs and young people into graduate programs at universities. It would seem that who you know, how persuasive parents are, and what precedents there are in educated families disadvantage  kids from immigrant families and those from poorer households. Again drawing on Brown's article in the Globe and Mail:

But it’s his more recent work on the economics of education that, he suspects, will be his most lasting contribution. In 2015, to cite just one study, Prof. Card and his fellow researcher discovered that kids in Grade 2 in an undisclosed city were selected for gifted programs almost entirely on the basis of parent-teacher meetings and referrals. The result was that minority students and underprivileged kids were under-represented in gifted programs.

Now, if your economic policy is based on the assumption that raising the minimum wage kills jobs, or that cronyism is fundamental to political life and life in general. David Card may not be the sort of person you want to praise, do ya think? 

The United Church has been speaking out about a livable wage for a long time now, both in terms of a fair minimum wage and more recently about Guaranteed Livable Income (GLI). We are often dismissed as goofy leftists, although we feel that we are listening to the voices of the prophets and Jesus. I like the notion that an economist with a penchant for cold, hard data has done work which gives some credence to the gospel and the biblical imperative of economic justice.  

Congratulations Professor Card. Premier Ford's best wishes are in the mail. 

1 What does the Lord require of you? What does the Lord require of you?

2 Justice, kindness, walk humbly with your God.

3 To seek justice, and love kindness, and walk humbly with your God.

                                               Voices United 701 based on Micah 6:8

Sunday, October 17, 2021

World Food Sunday


                                                                       World Food Sunday logo 

1 We plough the fields and scatter the good seed on the land,

but it is fed and watered by your almighty hand;

you send the snow in winter, the warmth to swell the grain,

the breezes and the sunshine, and soft refreshing rain.

All good gifts around us are sent from heaven above;

we thank you, God, O holy God, for all your love.

Voices United 520

We won't be in worship this morning  at Trenton United Church when the Rev. Ed Bentley is guest presider. I am intrigued that Ed will be addressing World Food Sunday which falls on the third Sunday of October every year and in 2021 folllows immediately on October 16th, World Food Day. I know Ed will be thoughtful and faith-full. 

The bible is full of food stories, the scarcity and abundance of it, the celebration of harvests as a regular part of religious life, the importance of breaking bread together in ways that are fair and equitable. In the gospels Jesus is criticized when his hungry followers pluck some grains  gets in trouble for harvesting grains of wheat on the Sabbath. He challenges religious prohibitions by pointing out that compassion for the hungry overrides religiosity. 

At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the sabbath; his disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat.  When the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the sabbath.” He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him or his companions to eat, but only for the priests.But if you had known what this means,  ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless.  For the Son of Man is lord of the sabbath.” Matthew 12 NRSV

The provision of our daily bread is both a spiritual and practical issue which affects all of us, wherever we live. Food prices are rising in North America, affecting the poor more than those of us who have the financial means to absorb the increased costs. 

During the pandemic migrant workers who work in agriculture in Canada were mistreated in many instances and some died of COVID-19 because of lousy living conditions. 

Those who are attempting to make a living on smaller farms find that the pressures of debt can be overwhelming and lots of younger people are electing to leave family operations for work which pays a living wage. 

We know that there are huge famine and hunger issues in Afghanistan, and Ethiopia, and Yemen, brought about by conflict and the weaponization of food.

The United Church of Canada began in 1925 as a largely rural denomination with congregations in smaller communities where food production and harvest was a part of everyday life. So many of those congregations have closed or amalgamated and those enterig ministry are often from urban settings.Are we as aware as we once were about food issues and expressing gratitude to the Creator? Thanksgiving Sunday is no longer the celebration of provision and the harvest it once was. 

I'm impressed that Princeton Theological Seminary now offers what is called The Farminary, which is "a place where theological education is integrated with small-scale regeneratie agriculture to train faith leaders who are conversant in the areas of ecology, sustainability and food justice."  There is so much to ponder this World Food Sunday, and again, 

I'm grateful that Rev. Ed will be offering his perspective today. Here are a couple of links which might help in your understanding. 



Saturday, October 16, 2021

Counting Homeless Sheep in 2021

                                                                     Belleville Tent Encampment 

 So he told them this parable:  “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 

Luke 15:3-6

I'm pleased to say that I was part of the process to hire Steve Van de Hoef as coordinator of outreach programs at Bridge St, United Church five years ago. Steve was finishing a contract with the Chrisitan Reformed Churches of Canada and we were impressed by his background in research as well as his personal Christian faith. 

I retired not long after Steve came on board and through the years since then his role has expanded, notably in conducting enumerations of the homeless in our region, an elusive task when those being sought out, are without a fixed address. Yet it is important as municipalities attempt to provide services, including housing, to those who fly under the radar for the most part.

There are also the prejudices, some of them on full display and others which are more subtle, regarding those who live on the margins of society. There are genuine concerns as well. Homeless encampments can be eyesores and dangerous places for those who live in them. People can feel threatened by the presence of what we used to term vagrants, and businesses sometimes deal with vandalism and theft which affect the bottom line.  

Mental health issues and substance abuse can result in unpredictable behaviour in any sphere of society. If we're honest, we are inclined to want marginalized people to be somewhere other than where we are. The truth is that these folk are often invisible until something goes wrong. They live in tents in wooded areas or sleep rough under bridges in this community. Shelters such as Grace Inn can only accomodate a percentage, and some resist going to them. 

Earlier this week Steve made a presentation to Belleville city council which demonstrated that homelessness is increasing and that some of the assumptions about those who are homeless in the region have come here from elsewhere are not accurate. This is from the Belleville Intelligencer report on the presentation: 

The count found nearly two-thirds of people who were homeless in Belleville had been in the city for a period of six years or longer. About one-quarter “had always been in Belleville, he said.

“There doesn’t appear, through these results, to be that influx of individuals experiencing homelessness into Belleville” after moving to the city from other areas, he said. Respondents reported coming to the city because they had roots or family and friends here, etc. The city is also a hub for social services. Belleville Coun. Tyler Allsopp said the report showed “really conclusively” homelessness is an endemic problem in the city, not an issue caused by migration.

To say otherwise is “a terribly inaccurate suggestion,” Coun. Chris Malette said. He added he gets “quite annoyed” by complaints from people who don’t like seeing homeless people around Bridge Street United, the home of a newly-expanded drop-in centre for people who are homeless. It provides food, showers, laundry facilities and more.

“What better place than a Christian church to get help?” said Malette.“These are ideal places for helping the least fortunate, the least vulnerable in the community, and I commend you for that.”

Indeed. I commend city council and regional governments for the efforts to address this reality in our midst, one which doesn't have easy solutions.  And I'm grateful that there is ongoing funding for Steve to do this important work. We can pray for him and others who participate in a variety of ways.  Steve is also vitally involved with the meal ministries which happen out of Bridge St UC. While these meal ministries make a difference every day we know that there are broader issues for which we must find solutions. 

                                                                               Steve Van de Hoef

Friday, October 15, 2021

Nudged to Get the Jab


“Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others.”

                                                                                            Philippians 2:4

Yesterday all United Church clergy in paid accountable ministry along with all of us retread ministers received an email regarding vaccinations. Until now our denomination has not been directive regarding our vaccination status but while the message was more carrot than stick it was firm -- get jabbed. This makes eminent good sense in every regard; morally, ethically and certainly medically. Clergy have responsibilitiies as shepherds of their flocks, contributing to the health and wellbeing of parishioners. 

Through the years institutions including hospitals and nursing homes have encouraged clergy to get annual flu shots to protect the vulnerable when they visit. In latter years I refrained from shaking hands at the door on Sunday mornings during flu season. I happily complied because it was in the best interests of those with whom I had entered into a covenant as a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It only makes sense to extend this to COVID-19 vaccinations.

I appreciate that this directive to clergy is supported by theology and scripture: 

The United Church of Canada is committed to providing safe environments for work, worship, and study, especially in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. The church also seeks to support ministry personnel towards health, joy, and excellence in ministry practice.

The United Church’s resource on Duty of Care outlines the theological rationale for this commitment, which is grounded in scripture: Jesus came into the world to bring life in all its fullness. 

As followers of Jesus we are called to show love to one another, and to the world (John 13:34‒35), to share our gifts and resources, and to build a community of mutuality and respect (Acts 2:44‒47). As a church, we have a primary duty to care for those who are marginalized, less powerful or more vulnerable in our community. (Deuteronomy 10:17‒19, Isaiah 61:1‒2)

I have to say "well done." The United Church has decided not to require proof of vaccination for those attending worship, which I also support even though I hope everyone "sees the light" and gets their shots. Congregations are encouraged to maintain protocols which will protect those who attend and are involved in other activitiies. 

We will continue to adjust to changing conditions and science-based information along the way. It has been exhausting in some respects but I'm really impressed by the leadership demonstrated at every level in the United Church. 

We've seen the egotistical yahoos in some faith communities who strut and crow about "freedom" and issue nonsensical statements about being protected by Jesus.I thank God,  Jesus, and the Holy Spirit that I live in a country where vaccines have been available to all, quickly and without direct cost. 

Thursday, October 14, 2021

Bruce Cockburn, Geezer in the Worship Band

Lord of the star fields 
Ancient of days

Universe Maker Here's a song in your praise
Wings of the storm cloud Beginning and end
You make my heart leap Like a banner in the wind
Oh, love that fires the sun Keep me burning

Lord of the star fields Sower of life
Heaven and earth are 
Full of your light...
                                              Lord of the Starfields 1976

 Do you remember the 70's? Admit it, many of you do, and I'll leave it to you to calculate how old you were at the beginning of that decade. I was in my teens and was enthusiastic about rock music and didn't have much time for folk, which was moe the style of my girlfriend at the time, who has been my wife for the past 45 years. 

I did appreciate a guitarist and singer/songwriter who was one of her favourites, Bruce Cockburn. He wa an excellent player and he wrote thoughtful songs which often had a a spiritual element. Earnest young Christians speculated about his faith, and he did share that he was a Christian of the evangelical persuasion in those early years. Time passed, his marriage ended, and Cockburn drifted away from the "me and Jesus" sort of faith and church-going, even though he continued to be passionate about issues of social justice. We saw him in concert in various cities and venues through the years, at least four times. 

Nearly forty years later his now wife cajoled him into attending worship with her.San Francisco, where they live. She had returned to church after experiencing the loss of someone dear to her. Cockburn found the experience meaningful and he had a degree of anonymity despite his fame and accolades in Canada and elsewhere. When he was invited to join the wroship band he did, Earlier this year he released four songs as a fundraiser for the congregation's programs to assist homeless people and combat human trafficking. 

In a Religion News piece about his return to a faith community he reflects on being a Christian: 

The truth was, “The formal church and I had grown apart,” he said of his decision, even as his faith remained strong. “It’s a continuing journey,” he said. “I don’t feel I have the corner on understanding anything. I just have a desire to have a relationship with God, a day-to-day thing … I’ve always believed a relationship with God should be central to everyone’s life, and I’ve tried to keep it the center of mine.” 

While he doesn’t have “any hesitation” identifying as a Christian, he’s starting to wonder if that’s such a good thing to say in public in the U.S. these days. If someone asks if he’s a Christian, he still says, “Yes, I’m a Christian, but I got vaccinated.”Because of pandemic shutdowns, Cockburn hasn’t played live at church for more than a year. But he has played songs for online services and participated in a sermon series about parables. The worship band gives him “a chance to play music other than my own,” he said. “It’s a meaningful way for me to participate.”

I get a kick out of the notion of geezer Bruce (he's now 76) as part of a worship band with congregants saying "hey, the old guy is pretty good!"  How wonderful that he's sharing his gifts in this way. 

Here is the link for the Lighthouse congregation https://sflighthouse.org/

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Inviting Women

                                                                              Junia Icon

Greet Andronicus and Junia,my relatives who were in prison with me; they are prominent among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.Greet Ampliatus, my beloved in the Lord. Greet Urbanus, our co-worker in Christ, and my beloved Stachys.

Romans 16:7-9 NRSV

Recently I mentioned visiting the McMichael Gallery for a wonderful new exhibit called Uninvited: Canadian Women Artists in the Modern Moment. It features the work of 33 artists who were usually not invited to show their work with male counterparts. Few of them received the recognition they deserved during their lifetimes, even someone such as Emily Carr who had the support of Lawren Harris.  There are also pieces in the exhibit created by Indigenous women artisans whose work will never be attributed, sad to say. 

This was meant to be a complementary exhibit following the 100th anniversary retrospective for the Group of Seven painters, a decidedly male bastion. The pandemic meant tha
t Univited didn't open until this year, but it was worth the wait.

As we meandered through the rooms of captivating works my mind went to the "uninvited" women of the bible. There are actuallly many women in the stories of scripture, although they are often unnamed. They just don't get the airplay that men often do even there are heroic figures such as Miriam, sister of Moses, in the Hebrew scriptures, or another Miriam (we know her as Mary Magdalene) who was the first witness to the Risen Christ and arguably the first Chriistian evangelist. 

At least one woman in the New Testament was masculinized by translators because they weren't comfortable with the implications of her role in leadership. Paul seems to offering a shout out to Junia as an APOSTLE! The gender police added an "s" to her name to transform her into an acceptable guy, although more recent translations have corrected this.  As Junia was allowed to be a woman again some scholars questioned whether she really was regarded as an apostle. It never ends. 

Far too often in history women have been univited, not included at the table, either literally and figuratively. While we are learning, slowly, to recognize the historical and present-day gifts of women, we need every nudge and jolt possible to set us in the right direction.

 It has been argued, persuasively, that because Jesus' Last Supper was a Passover meal his women followers would have been present but we don't see that in many paintings, do we Leonardo?  

I'll be presiding in worship at Trenton United Church in a few weeks, so I think I'll explore this topic. And yes, there may be aspects of this blog entry which find their way into my message. 

Here is the cover of a new book by Ashley Wilcox which explores the passages about women in scripture which intrigues me. I do wish I still had a book allowance!