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.


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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Thursday, June 14, 2018

Tully and the Risk of Birth

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Last evening we went to see the film Tully at the Empire Theatre with about eight other people. It was definitely much better than a ten-person audience would suggest, the latest screenplay by Diablo Cody who also wrote Juno. As with that film there is plenty of wry and insightful humour within a storyline which is serious stuff. Juno is about an unplanned pregnancy while Tully is about...an unplanned pregnancy. In this film the mom is married to a hard-working but often-absent dad and has two other children, one of whom is "quirky." Charlize Theron plays Marlo with a gritty honesty and the bone-deep weariness of parenthood which can engulf and overwhelm personhood.

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After the birth of Mia, Marlo reluctantly accepts the gift of a night nanny, a doula, from her wealthy and somewhat overbearing brother. The nanny proves to be a godsend who helps Marlo swim to the surface of life's overwhelming demands. I won't say more about how the film unfolds because it is worth seeing. I will say that there have been both critics and supporters of the way the story addresses or doesn't address post-partum depression and psychosis. I read a review by a psychiatrist, a woman, who suggests that the film is pretty good, and opens discussion on a largely ignored subject.

While I was cutting the grass this morning it occurred to me that through the decades I ministered to those who experienced miscarriages and stillbirths and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. I talked with women who were considering abortion and one who was wracked with guilt for having made that choice. Some mourned infertility and the frustration of unsuccessful IVF. Others awaited adoption or struggled with the adjustment when adoption was successful.

 I've kept vigil in neo-natal nurseries, visited parents after both straightforward and touch-and-go childbirth, joyfully baptized hundreds of young uns into the family of Christ, including our three. And yes, some of these mothers dealt with post-partum depression, even though having given birth was one of the happiest events in their lives.

I realize now that there was absolutely no specific preparation for this aspect of pastoral care in my seminary training. None. Even though Christianity is an incarnational religion and the birth of Jesus is a pretty big deal (I think they call it Christmas) the small-n nativities of our existence didn't warrant Birthin' Babies 101.

Our denomination is aging and getting into Sarah-and-the-birth-of-Isaac territory. Yet there are plenty of grandparents in our churches, and they too sought me out as families were grieving or adjusting to the unexpected.

I thank God for the privilege of this unique aspect of being a pastor. I'm glad for Tully, and any meaningful story-telling about the messy, unpredictable, devastating, joyous realities of birth. 

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Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Objects of Devotion and Desperation

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‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family,
 you did it to me.’  Then he will say to those at his left hand,

‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels;   for I was hungry and you gave me no food,
 I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 
I was a stranger and you did not welcome me,
naked and you did not give me clothing,
sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 
 Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty
or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ 
 Then he will answer them,
‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 
 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

                                                              Matthew 25

For years the United States has wrestled with its immigration policy and practice, both with those who apply legally and those who attempt to circumvent the process. There are millions of undocumented residents in the US, most of whom work, often at jobs no one else wants to do. Some have established successful businesses and thrived, employing others and paying taxes. The children of these immigrants are the so-called Dreamers, born in the States but without the status of citizenship.

Both the Bush and Obama administrations attempted to curtail the number of people who entered the country illegally, the vast majority coming across the US/Mexico border. These efforts have taken on a terrible intensity in the past 18 months since President Trump assumed office. Long-time residents know they are being hunted by ICE and are regularly apprehended and deported immediately. Those who are attempting to enter the country illegally and those who present themselves at the border as asylum-seekers are treated as hardened criminals.

The heart-wrenching news of recent months is that families are often broken up immediately, with children as young as three taken from parents and warehoused. A father who had his child taken away was so distraught he took his own life. Some of the children have disappeared in the system.

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A recent New Yorker piece shares the story of a janitor named Tom Kiefer who worked at one of the detention centres. https://www.newyorker.com/culture/photo-booth/a-janitors-collection-of-things-confiscated-from-migrants-in-the-desert/amp?__twitter_impression=true
A decade ago he asked if he could sort through the bins of confiscated and discarded items for sealed food packages to give to a local food bank. He began to collect other items and to employ his skills as a photographer. They are remarkable photos, of rolls of toilet paper and cutlery and other simple objects carried by people on the move.

The photo which really grabbed me is of rosaries, the prayer beads of devout Roman Catholics. These are people "without a prayer" in their homelands who desperately desire a new life. Instead of hospitality they encounter hostility and treatment which actually violates basic human rights which the United States supposedly supports by law. The grim truth is that evangelical Christians in America are amongst Trump's strongest supporters and more likely than atheists to agree with the harsh measures regarding undocumented migrants.

We can pray for a return to sanity in the US and that Christians will heed the voice of Jesus. Woe to those of us who claim to follow him and live as though we've never heard of him.

Today in my Groundling blog I go up north and down memory lane as I recall Creation advocacy from 20 years ago.
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