Thursday, June 21, 2018

First Nations Cloud of Witnesses

Toward Woody Island Tickle, Change Islands

Last year at this time we were packing up for our departure to Newfoundland for a month. We'd rented a house on Change Islands, adjacent to Fogo Island off the northeast coast of the province, next stop Ireland. It proved to be a wonderful few weeks during which we never left Change Islands except for some excursions to nearby Fogo. We paddled out to icebergs and even smaller islands in our kayaks and explored both formal and informal trails. With all our exploring we seldom encountered another human being, yet there were moments when we were deeply aware of those who had gone before us in that place.

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Beothuk Encampment with a sea-going canoe

One day near the end of our stay I walked along a coastal path which was once the road to the main community from a cluster of houses which no longer exist at what is called Woody Island Tickle. Older people we know once lived there in the summer and eked out a living in the fishery. At one point Ruth paused to explore a pebble beach and I strolled further. I was overwhelmed in the moment by a sense of the pre-European peoples who came to these islands in the summer months to fish and pick berries. They crossed dangerous waters to their seasonal camps for generations. Some were Beothuks, the Native people at the time of contact who were eventually wiped out by the Europeans. Before them were the Paleo-Eskimo people whose forays left behind spear tips which were found quite by accident by others we know on Change Islands.

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Palaeo Eskimo spear tips from Change Islands cache

Today, on Indigenous Peoples Day, I recall what was a spiritual experience of the "cloud of witnesses" in that rugged, ravishingly beautiful landscape. I mourn the extinction of a culture by those who eventually built churches and worshiped the Prince of Peace without a sense of contradiction. I admire the determination of those who arrived from Europe and established communities which are still in evidence, despite decline. I can't forget those who were here when they came and deserved a better fate.

Read more at my Groundling blog

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Trans Mountain & the United Church

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When I heard the news that the Canadian government was purchasing the old, leaky Trans Mountain oil pipeline I was appalled. The cost is supposedly $4.5 billion but we know that the feds will borrow the money to make this purchase, so add a billion or so to the pricetag. And this has nothing to do with the cost of a new and controversial pipeline to transport diluted bitumen (dilbit) from Alberta to the BC coast.

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Along with many other Canadian taxpayers I feel that this is rash expenditure and that we're being "had" by a corporate entity which will now give massive payouts to key executives -- take the money and gleefully skip out of town.

I am also disgusted that a government which campaigned on promises of environmental responsibility and a new relationship with First Nations appears to have abandoned those commitments. As a Canadian who is a Christian, both of these are front and centre in my desire for a better country now and for my grandchildren.
Right Reverend Jordan Cantwell, Moderator

The moderator of the United Church, Jordan Cantwell, has written to Prime Minister Trudeau and I encourage you to read what she has to say.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Zero Tolerance & Unjust Laws

One may well ask: 'How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?' The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that 'an unjust law is no law at all.'

Martin Luther King Jr.

We have all being hearing and reading the horror stories about migrant children being separated from their parents when they arrive at the United States border, a definite strategy which the duplicitous Trump administration vigorously denies even all the evidence is there. They claim there are no cages to house these children, even though they are evident in photographs, and that the children are treated well, despite tapes of kids wailing while a jailer mocks them in the background.

This "zero tolerance" sure seems to be part of a barely veiled White Supremacist agenda and many in America are pushing back, including all four living former Presidential First Ladies. A fund has been established to help reunite deported families and it has already reached four million dollars.

Christian leaders have spoken out as well and this is encouraging because the Christian protests are almost universal, including evangelicals such as Franklin Graham, a staunch Trump supporter until now.

What is really chilling for me is that the Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, quoted scripture, namely Romans 13, to justify what is happening. This is  a Pauline passage about submitting to authority and rulers, verses trotted out by pro-slavery Christians in the 19th century. Of course if the Sessions misuse of this passage was accurate then the Apostle Paul wouldn't have been put to death by the Romans, the American Revolution would be null and void, and every resistance movement the United States has ever supported should be deemed illegal.

Sessions is supposedly a United Methodist and now a group of more than 600 clergy and laity have brought charges against him. In their they have accused Sessions of child abuse, immorality, racial discrimination and dissemination of doctrines contrary to the standards of the doctrine of the United Methodist Church.

My anger about what is occurring in the States borders on rage at times. Instead I need to pray for those who are resisting this despicable and illegal tactic by the US government so that sanity and humanity and democracy will prevail. God has zero tolerance for the oppression of vulnerable children.


Did you know that weather trading is a job? Today's Groundling blog

Monday, June 18, 2018

Voyages of the Damned 2018

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Recently I reflected on the decision of the Canadian federal government to apologize for a nearly 80 year old wrong. In 1939 the Canadian government turned away the ship called the MS St. Louis and the nearly 1,000 Jewish refugees who were fleeing Nazi Germany. Canada followed the lead of other nations in rejecting these vulnerable migrants and the ship returned to Europe. Well over 200 of those passengers eventually died as a result of Nazi persecution. An Oscar nominated dramatic film was made in the 1970's called Voyage of the Damned.  

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Apologies are important, although they can be a form of "cheap grace." seeking forgiveness for sins of omission or commission rather than conscientiously striving to act in ways that do no harm to others.

I thought about the MS St. Louis last week when we heard that the Aquarius, a ship full of migrants,  was turned away from first Italy, then Malta. Many European countries are establishing more restrictive immigration policies to stem the flood of migrants from North Africa and elsewhere. The crowded ship spent a number of days at sea with no port, until Spain accepted it.

While Canadians are currently more focused on the atrocity of separating migrant parents and children at the southern border of the United States, not to mention our own border challenges, there are asylum seekers drowning every week in the Mediterranean. One of those deaths, of a toddler named Aylan Kurdi, prompted Canadians to open their hearts and borders to Syrian refugees. Many faith groups responded with practical compassion as more than 20,000 came to this country in a matter of months.

Perhaps we all need to be asking whether our response to the drowning  of a Syrian child and our outrage at the draconian immigration policies in the US are just an emotional response or whether we genuinely want to address the humanitarian crisis which deepens around the planet.

It is understandable that we weep over the fate of destitute children. It is a matter of justice and Christian compassion to do more. Do we really want another apology a few decades down the road?

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Sunday, June 17, 2018

Indigenous Day of Prayer

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Let us give thanks to our Creator
for the Creator is always with us.

God is with us in the call of a loon
and in the flight of an eagle.

Our Creator is with us in the changing of the seasons.

God is with us when we gather together
and when we are alone.

Our Creator is with us in our giftedness
and in our search for new understandings of ourselves,
new visions of our communities.

Prayer for Indigenous Day of Prayer

All my Relations or Mitakuye-Oyasin (pronounced mi-TAHK-wee-a-say or Mee-tah-koo-yay Oy-yah-seen) is a saying in the Obijway or Lakota language meaning We are all related or All are related.

Thursday of this week is the 22nd anniversary of National Aboriginal Peoples Day in Canada. It is a celebration which coincides with the summer solstice and over the years the number of events held on this important day across the country has grown. There are nearly 1.7 million aboriginal people in Canada, with approximately 600,000 of them being Metis. This is 5% of the Canadian population and they are younger, on average, than the population as a whole.

The United Church of Canada has been engaged in a process of  apology, healing, and reconciliation with Native Peoples for the past thirty years and more, in part because of our participation in the Residential School debacle, an exercise in colonialism and cultural genocide which was not the Good News of Jesus Christ it was supposedly intended to be.

There are worship resources for this day, including the prayer above, some congregations welcome First Nations speakers, and there is the United Church crest which now includes the colours of the four directions and the words in Mohawk which are "all my relations,"  the equivalent of the United Church motto, "that all may be one" from John's gospel.

The balance between celebration and contrition is an uneasy one, to say the least. There is so much that is positive to acknowledge in the reemergence of identity and pride for Native communities. At the same time, many Aboriginal communities deal with the lack of clean water and inadequate education for children. Youth suicide is a tragedy which recurs. Federal governments make promises about recognizing the sovereignty of First Nations in negotiations over land use and getting to the heart of Missing and Murdered Aboriginal Women, but disappoint again and again.

Today we can also acknowledge that while we are appalled by the separation of migrant children and parents in the United States, that is what happened with Residential Schools and still happens today. Far more First Nations children are in foster care today than at the height of the residential schools of an earlier era.

It is important for us to pray today and every day that our country will move beyond prejudice and injustice in all our relations.
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Saturday, June 16, 2018

Raising Awareness of Homelessness in Quinte

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Homeless Jesus Sculpture --Timothy Schmaltz

I'm out of town today but I want to quickly make you aware of a presentation which happened in Belleville a couple of days ago. The venue was a meeting of the Poverty Roundtable, the subject was an area study of homelessness, and the presenter was Steve Van de Hoef. Steve is the coordinator of the Bridge St. United Church meal ministries. I was the minister at Bridge St. when Steve was hired, although I knew him before he became a staff member and was delighted that he was willing to take on this role. He has been a huge asset to these ministries and his background in statistical studies made him a great fit for the work regional government wanted to undertake regarding homelessness.

We believed strongly in the work we were doing to feed people and well over 10,000 meals a year in three different formats are distributed out of Bridge St. We also realized that there are systemic issues for those who live in poverty, including the challenge of finding affordable housing. The study discovered that homelessness exists in smaller centres such as Belleville and in rural areas as well. Those who are homeless are often hidden in plain sight, and those of us who taken food and housing security for granted aren't inclined to look for them. I'll let you read the articles in the local papers to become better informed.

Thanks Steve. We can hope and pray that this study moves the region one step further toward a practical strategy to address homelessness and its root causes.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Stephen Hawking and What Was Mortal

When celebrated physicist Stephen Hawking died earlier this year there was a service, in a church, for one of the world's best-known atheists. His first wife, Jane, is a Christian and may have had some influence on this decision. Today there is a memorial at Westminster Abbey, another Christian place of worship, where his ashes will be interred alongside other great scientists such as Charles Darwin and Isaac Newton. Its interesting because Darwin also moved away from his Christian faith after the tragic death of a daughter, although his wife remained a devout Christian. When I first saw Darwin's marker in the Abbey as a 19-year-old I wondered why he was buried in a place of worship. These are mortal remains, "earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust." Perhaps these brilliant men will discover that they have calculated incorrectly and will be welcomed into a glorious new reality in the embrace of a loving, redeeming God.
Here is the BBC description from this morning:
British actor Benedict Cumberbatch, who played Hawking in a BBC drama, and astronaut Tim Peake are among those giving readings at the ceremony.Professor Hawking died in March, aged 76, after a long battle with motor neurone disease.

His words have also been set to an original score by composer Vangelis, which will be beamed into space towards the nearest black hole after the service.An address will be given by Astronomer Royal Martin Rees, and Hawking's collaborator and Nobel prize winner Kip Thorne will give a tribute.

TV personalities David Walliams and Piers Morgan, musician Nile Rodgers and Professor Brian Cox have joined members of the public to celebrate the life of the scientist. One thousand members of the public, from more than 100 countries, were offered the opportunity to attend the service, after a ballot attracted 25,000 applications for tickets.

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