Monday, July 16, 2018

A Caged Holy Family?

 Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream
 and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother,
and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you;
for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” 
Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, 
 and remained there until the death of Herod.
This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet,
“Out of Egypt I have called my son.”

                                    Matthew 2

We are hearing that many children are being united with their parents after a nationwide protest against the abomination which was the Zero Tolerance immigration policy in the United States. As families arrived at the US border from Central American countries seeking asylum they were treated as criminals and the children were separated from their families and incarcerated. In a horrific example of Orwellian Newspeak members of the Trump administration along with his media shills insisted that the cages the children are kept in aren't cages at all, they are "wire enclosures." Take a look in the dictionary and you'll discover that "wire enclosure" is the definition for a cage.

These families have fled their countries in desperation and often with limited understanding of what they might encounter along the way. Their dreams of sanctuary have become a nightmare. The response of Trump's government is heartless. It was gratifying that there was essentially a united response from Christian groups across the country decrying this heartless policy. Even the evangelical Protestant leaders who are in thrall to Trump spoke out.

 One of the most effective responses ended up on the lawn of a Roman Catholic church in Indianapolis, Indiana. The congregation re-purposed their Nativity scene, placing it within a "wire enclosure" for passersby to see. The result was international attention and likely a hectic couple of weeks of interviews for the parish priest who came up with the idea, the Rev. Canon Lee Curtis. His comment to CNN was "This symbol is something that speaks to every one of us at our most basic level, because of who we are as a church and as Christians.We don't want this message to disappear."

The caged Holy Family is brilliant, and it also supports the current slogan for the church which is Every Family is Holy. Well done!

Is Bee Thou my Vision a typo? Check out my Groundling blog

A sign outside of the Christ Church Cathedral is part of the church's "Every Family is Holy" campaign.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

The Gift of Dementia Darnings

My brother and I are now in our 60's, and I am a grandfather, yet our mother is still alive at the age of 92 -- and a half! She is living comfortably in a nursing home and we attempt to be faithful in our visiting, sometimes arranging to be there together and other times with our spouses. She always seems pleased to see us. She chuckles at the videos of her great-grandchildren and listens intently to scripture.

We trust that she still knows us and she responds readily to photos from the past. It is the present which is coming unraveled. She lives with dementia, which can unsettle her contentment in the late afternoon, and some days she can't complete a sentence. We do our best to connect her with her own story without making it an unattainable goal.

I am intrigued by an art project by Jenni Dutton which is described in Selvedge magazine:

As long as she can remember, Jenni Dutton has always made things; weaving nests for imaginary birds as a child and making faces out of wet concrete. She frequently drew, painted and experimented with customising clothes. Eventually going to art school, Jenni later became an art teacher with plenty of ti
When she left teaching, she began to experiment with making conceptual clothing, amongst which were dresses made from human hair, corsets made from fish skins. Influenced by fairy tales, myths and legends, the work became darker with currents of unease. She made a series of shoes, again experimenting with different man-made and natural materials.
me to research other artists and to experiment with different materials, tools and techniques. 

The Dementia Darnings were started in 2011 whilst Jenni was a carer for her mother, who was developing dementia. She began exploring ways of engaging with the past, often looking at old photo albums. She would use stitching to 'draw' likenesses of family members and her mother would enjoy watching her create these pictures of familiar faces.
The name 'Darnings' implies mending and repair, as Jenni builds up the individual stitches to create a mesh it does resemble the technique of darning.

I think this project is brilliant. Not only are these images creative, they capture the truth that our lives are woven together from so many materials, so many experiences. When these begin to unravel an individual often knows and mourns, and so do those who love them. Sometimes the best we can do is to honour what we remember and still cherish.


Saturday, July 14, 2018

Faith and Hope in the Darkness

The rescued soccer players and their assitant coach are receiving care at a hospital in Chiang Rai, Thailand.

 It was almost impossible not to follow the story of twelve Thai schoolboys and their soccer coach who ended up trapped in a cave system which filled with water. I assumed that they had drowned and the news that they had been found, relatively safe, was astonishing. Of course the drama was far from over and a daring rescue was undertaken after teaching these kids to use scuba gear and make their way through murky, confined passages. I shudder at the thought of it, but it would have been a glorious success if not for the death of a retired Navy Seal who worked to free them.

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We are learning more about the boys, a number of whom were Rohingya refugees now living in Thailand, Four, including the coach, are officially stateless. One of them, Abdul Sam-on is only 14, but he showed remarkable poise in these desperate circumstances. He is multilingual, including English, so acted as a translator between the other boys and the British rescuers in the days before they swam to freedom. Abdul came to Thailand on his own, sent by his parents from Myanmar in the hope that he would have a better life. He was living in a community run by the Baptist church which supports refugees.

The coach of the team was instrumental in the wellbeing of the boys as well, even though he'd led them into the caves. In his early twenties, he had trained as a Buddhist monk for a year and taught the kids to meditate to stay calm.

For all the criticisms of religion we hear it is gratifying to know that faith and faith communities were part of the positive outcome in this dramatic situation.

Take a quick boo at my Groundling blog while you're at it

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Friday, July 13, 2018

Sex Ed and Religious Hysteria

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I listened yesterday to a radio interview an opponent of what is now the previous sex ed component of the health program for Ontario schools. She cheered the new government's decision to revert to the program which was developed twenty years ago before sexting, social media bullying and easily accessed online porn. Her two children are teens and probably well aware of all these aspects of the internet. But her objection was to teaching children in Grade One the proper names of their sexual body parts. When she was asked why she objected she stated that children than young shouldn't be taught those names she could muster nothing more than that they shouldn't. It was entirely her opinion, not based on any reasoning. I was amazed, not only by her lack of logic, but that the government for nearly 13 million people, the majority of whom supported the scrapped program, has thrown it out because of the vocal opposition of those who often can't explain why they are against it.

There was an article in the Toronto Star, also yesterday, by Edward Keenan, who says he can't find any of the dire claims about the program content by critics who have bordered on hysterical at times. Others have noted the same thing, and pointed out that what is on the internet about teaching anal and oral sex in the curriculum is nonsense.

Another contention is that the program was written solely by a paedophile, which is also false. One member of the team was eventually convicted of a crime related to online pornography, but this wasn't until after the program was developed and he was one a number of experts who worked together. The irony is that one of the goals of the now abandoned curriculum was to help children and youth avoid predators, who could be emboldened by the changes.

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I am saddened, once again, that conservatives in different religions, including Christianity, have led the fear-mongering. Ironically, many of them are Roman Catholics, including Doug Ford's opponent for the leadership of the PC's, Tanya Granic Allen. There are also elements of the Islamic community which have deliberately promulgated misinformation.

The way I read the bible, God invented sexuality in creatures, including humans, and through the narrative there is coercive and destructive sexuality, as well as the good stuff. Religions have often used sex to control people even as the clergy have made up their own personal rules about sexual propriety at times. There are untold numbers of the victims of sexual abuse by religious leaders, often children who had no preparation to deal with predators.

I can just add this decision to the list of "promises kept" by the new regime which should never have been made in the first place. This is a huge step backward.

How do you feel about all this?

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Thursday, July 12, 2018

Who are "the people" in Ontario?

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When the June election in Ontario brought in a new government some of wondered when the damage associated with the Great Bloviator, Premier Doug Ford, would begin. As he was sworn in (not the same as being sworn at) he claimed that his government would be "Ontario's first government for the people." It was such ridiculous braggadocio and worthy of a statement by a certain president of the United States.

Shortly thereafter he announced his cabinet which eliminated the minister of, rolling this portfolio in with energy, mines and northern affairs. I hope this administration understands that many First Nations are in Southern Ontario. Then this past week curriculum writing sessions aimed at introducing more Indigenous knowledge and history into Ontario classrooms, in response to Truth and Reconciliation Commission calls to action, were cancelled at the last minute. Some participants had already arrived from Northern Ontario and, needless to say, Indigenous educators and Elders were bewildered and frustrated.

Apparently when Premier Ford claims that this will be a government for the people, he means...well, who does he mean? Are First Nations peoples included? Does his government have a goal of furthering the work of reconciliation?

The United Church is one of several denominations working toward "right relations" with Aboriginal peoples in this province and country. We have come to realize that this will require decades of commitment and openness and a desire for reciprocity. Premier Ford would do well to reconsider what "for the people" requires.

Here are the TRC Calls to Action

The tempest in the teapot about leaf blowers. Today's Groundling blog

And how about some wind turbines while we're at it?

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

A Tale of Woe in the Supreme Court?

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We've finally got around to watching The Handmaid's Tale series, an adaptation of Margaret Atwood's 1985 dystopian novel. The series focusses on Offred, played by the exceptional Elizabeth Moss, but the true star is Atwood herself. Atwood is refreshingly open to the strengths of religion. Still, the novel and its adaptation lead us into a chilling exploration of the ways in which misogynistic, patriarchal religion can be destructive. In this grim society called Gilead there is no separation of church and state and the bible is used to justify the repression of woman, including sexual freedom.

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I've mused about The Handmaid's Tale before but it was unsettling the other evening to watch an episode then tune in to President Trump's announcement of a candidate for the Supreme Court of the United States. The "reveal" of Brett Kavanaugh was bizarre as he was ushered out from the shadows with his wife and children in tow. Why do we need to see his family? Is this some coded visual reminder that he is a conservative Roman Catholic? Many critics feel that if Brett Kavanaugh makes his way through the vetting process the Supreme Court will veer to the right for decades and that Roe vs Wade, the landmark 1973 decision on access to abortion could be in peril.

I have addressed abortion and reproductive rights in the past, and I have attempted to be subtle in my reflections on what is a challenging subject. Ultimately I feel that the state should not restrict these rights regardless of personal moral and religious convictions.

Part of what made me uneasy in watching the nomination spectacle was a moment when Trump stood before deep red coloured drapes. Coincidentally, we had just seen a similar colour in the red robes of the women, the Marthas who become "handmaids" for reproduction. In fact, protest groups in the US have been dressing in similar coloured clothes to protest defunding of groups such as Planned Parenthood and to campaign for reproductive rights and women's liberty

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In the past year and a half we've witnessed right-wing Christians support a lecherous and misogynist President because he supposedly support their anti-reproductive rights stance and we've heard members of the cabinet quote scripture, usually erroneously, as though the United States is some sort of theocracy. To me this is false religion, a gross distortion of Christian faith.

Well, who knows. Kavanaugh may be confirmed and prove to be an excellent and unbiased choice. I'm not holding my breath.

It is remarkable that Atwood's cautionary tale has so much resonance with what is transpiring not far from us.

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

In Life, In Death, In Life Beyond Death...

                                              New Creed Booklet illustration Gary Crawford

 "in life, in death,
in life beyond death,
God is with us. We are not alone.
Thanks be to God."

Yesterday I presided at the memorial service in Kingston for my 85-year-old brother-in-law whose failing health I mentioned in an earlier blog. Truth be told, I'm reluctant to be in the "family chaplain" role, but I have great admiration and affection for my sister-in-law, Shirley, so I was glad to be of support to her. And, hey, I'd known Bill for over 40 years!

There were perhaps 75 people in attendance, including folk from many aspects of Bill's life, including his career as a teacher. Shirley's friends from church and community choir were there as well. And fortunately all five of her biological siblings were present.

Both our son Isaac and nephew Michael are United Church ministers so they were invited to participate and both did so with dignity. Sister-in-law Martha sang, beautifully, and Shirley's music colleague from church accompanied both her and the hymns.

We agreed that because Bill wasn't particularly religious and a no-fuss guy we would keep the service simple, which we did. Yet we wanted this to a worship experience, which it was.

What struck me as the retired player who nonetheless laced up his cleats once again is that this experience of a service of worship to mark the end of a life is increasingly unusual. The funeral director mentioned on the way to the cemetery that there are far more "gatherings" or no collective events at all when a person dies. Yesterday the congregation -- and it was a congregation -- sang hymns with verve and listened to scripture passages of hope and heard that we are people of resurrection hope. I noted to this disparate group of people that these occasions are a gift that we can't take for granted, and I believe this.

Gathering for the committal beneath the trees of the cemetery on a remarkable summer day was meaningful for members of a family which has been through thick and thin together. The time to visit afterward was filled with stories and mutual caring.

We may not want to attend funerals and memorial services but thank God for what they can give us as people of faith.


Hot enough for ya?...but no smog days! My Groundling blog