Friday, August 14, 2020

I'm Sinister, & I Can Live With That!

 Left Handers Day, August 13th - Official Site #lefthandersday

As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 

 There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, 

there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.

Galatians 3:27-28

I am sinister, and I'm proud of it. Sinister actually means "left", as in left-handed, and because there are fewer lefties than righties they were once regarded with suspicion, as minorities often are. Although only 10 percent of the population is left-handed, many famous and accomplished people have been lefties, including US presidents Obama, Bush II, and Clinton. Evidence suggests that the current president is neither left nor righ-handed.  

While I bat left, throw a ball and frisbee left, and shoot left with a hockey stick, I write with my right hand. Why? My old-school grade four teacher, who was actually very supportive in many ways, made me stay after school to "cure" my sinister penmanship through repetition. By the time my parents realized what was happening I had been converted. 

Image for post

This day is always a reminder that cultures tend to stigmatize and "other" those who are in the minority or different. We do so in many different spheres, including sexual orientation. We make up rigid rules and often make strong biblical claims, even when the evidence is scanty. 

As an example, Jesus never spoke about homosexuality, let alone condemned it. I remember the first time I heard a seminary professor make a comparison between what we then termed gay and lesbian orientation and left-handedness. I was offended as a sinister person that he would do so. Even though I didn't express my response verbally, this is not one of my prouder moments. 

Isn't it sinister to create barriers and bolster our sense of self by condemning and excluding others? Left Handed Day is as good an occasion as any to examine our biases and ask how they reflect the Good News of Jesus Christ. I hope that as a disciple of Jesus I'll be learning these lessons for a lifetime. 

International Left-Handers Day 2020: History, Date, Famous Lefties ...

Thursday, August 13, 2020

United Church Response to the Lebanon Crisis

 Lebanon. UNHCR rushes support to Beirut in aftermath of deadly explosions

Many of us watched the videos of the explosions in Beirut last week, often taken by residents on their phones as they stood on balconies following the first blast. Thousands of tons of highly volatile ammonium nitrate was in storage in the port area and when it detonated a huge portion of the city was leveled or seriously damaged. At least two hundred people died, thousands were injured, and more than a quarter million were displaced from their homes.

We immediately wondered about the fate of a Syrian refugee family which has been living in immigration limbo in the city. A group in Trenton, Ontario, which includes folk from different congregations has been working to sponsor the family for years and it seemed that its efforts were coming to fruition as COVID-19 hit. Despite the diligence and prayer the waiting continues in a country which is overwhelmed by refugees and whose economy was a shambles before this devastation. Providentially, no family members were injured but this makes a dire situation worse. 

As is so often the case the United Church of Canada is inviting donations which will be forwarded to our trusted partners in Lebanon rather than to what is a corrupt and incompetent government. Here is the link

We can also remember in our prayers the extremely vulnerable refugees in camps and those living hand-to-mouth in urban centres. 

Woman and child in Beirut, Lebanon

A woman carries a child through the streets of Beirut, Lebanon after the explosion.

World Vision/Reuters

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

The Wolf in Sheep's Clothing

 Jerry Falwell Jr., and the allegations against him, explained - Vox

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing 

but inwardly are ravenous wolves.

Matthew 7:15

I have to be honest and admit that I despise Jerry Falwell Jr. It's important for me as a Christian not to hate any human being and to see every person as a child of God. At the same time I cannot respect those who manipulate Christian faith for personal gain and the accumulation of wealth. Falwell is often described as an evangelical leader when he is actually a shady business person who has used the university his fundamentalist pastor father started to create a financial empire which has very little to do with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Falwell once stood in front of the student body at Liberty University and encouraged the young people to purchase weapons in order to fend off the supposed Muslim threat in America. In his unrelenting defense of Donald Trump he has demonstrated that gospel values mean nothing to him and he regularly offers "might makes right" comments. 

Whenever faculty members or students challenge Falwell's autocratic leadership or the apparent hypocrisy of his statements and actions they are silenced. Some faculty members of colour have left the university because they are uncomfortable with Falwell's statements.

Liberty University Students Have to Tell Their President Jerry ...

For all of this, it was only after Falwell posted a rather salacious photo in which he is standing next to a woman on a yacht in which he is holding a drink and both have zippers down that the board of the university directed him to take a leave of absence from his position. Both the compromising pose and the alcohol would lead to dismissal for faculty members or expulsion for students so its obvious that he figures he is "above the law" of the institution he serves.

It's been pointed out that many of his other statements and actions are far more egregious that what transpired in the photo, but in evangelical circles the focus is often on individual moral transgression than the bigger picture of what it means to be faithful to Jesus' teaching and example.

I have the suspicion that Falwell will return after some statement of contrition to satisfy his base. The truth is that he should be permanently removed because he is truly a false prophet, a wolf in sheep's clothing. 

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

The Other Health Crisis -- Opioids

Toronto Public Health issues warning about rise in fatal opioid ...

Rescue the perishing, care for the dying,

Snatch them in pity from sin and the grave;

Weep o’er the erring one, lift up the fallen,
Tell them of Jesus, the mighty to save.

  • Refrain:
    Rescue the perishing, care for the dying,
    Jesus is merciful, Jesus will save.

We are gratified here in Ontario that the number of cases. hospitalizations, and deaths due to COVID-19 have generally been below 100 a day in the past week, although yesterday saw a small uptick. For Canadians there is a sense of relief that the measures imposed by different levels of government have worked and I literally thank God I'm not a part of the death cult in the United States. Let's keep that border closed!

Sadly, we've heard that another health crisis has been on the rise with a disturbing increase in the number of deaths. First British Columbia reported a record number of deaths in May and noted that the toxicity of the drugs has increased. Now Ontario have seen surges in opioid drug deaths.Toronto Public Health issued a warning on Friday afternoon after paramedics reported a total of 15 suspected overdose deaths involving opioids between July 9th and July 17th. I wonder if this is more deaths than from COVID in the same period. 

We shouldn't be surprised given the challenges of isolation and anxiety we have all faced during these uncertain months. I imagine that those dealing with other addictions, including alcohol, have also struggled as support systems were curtailed and the future has seemed bleak.

One of the arguments for allowing places of worship to reopen is that some congregations have significant ministries to those dealing with addictions and that they were providing an essential service.

I'm someone who has never used drugs and I don't drink much, even in these past few months. Still, I've come to realize over the years that it doesn't help to stigmatize those who live with addiction and that moral judgement solves nothing. Some of the old hymns have rather florid lyrics about rescuing the lost, but in practice our society has often been more about stigmatizing and leaving addicts to perish than throwing a lifeline. 

I really hope that governments will figure out how to provide services and support agencies which are attempting to address the opioid crisis It is a moral obligation to do so.

Monday, August 10, 2020

Upholding Human Rights at the Museum for Human Rights

 human rights

We have family in Winnipeg and if and when we go to visit we want to visit the Canadian Museum for  Human Rights which opened in 2014. At least we think we do. In recent months the museum has come under serious scrutiny for systemic racism and discrimination, which is, of course, antithetical to the purpose of the institution. 

The museum closed for two days last week while the independent interim report into the situation was shared with staff. It was scathing in its criticism of the marginalization of Black, Indigenous, and Persons of Colour who work at the museum, some of whom have left because of it. 

The report also notes that exhibits containing LGBTQ content had been omitted or hidden from school tours on numerous occasions, and we might assume that this is because it would offend more conservative religious groups.

If you go to the museum website a statement about the review and a link to more information is immediately accessible. It's both encouraging and sad.

This is a reminder that no matter what the stated goals of any institution or group may be, including communities of Christian faith, sexism, and racism can and do exist, Strong leadership is a key to conscientiously working to address explicit and implicit discrimination. We can all be vigilant about our own attitudes and actions, particularly as followers of Jesus. 


Racism at Canadian Museum for Human Rights 'pervasive and systemic ...

Sunday, August 09, 2020

A Christian Witness for Peace

“I am one of those who can tell a firsthand story of human suffering that the bomb caused,” said Setsuko Thurlow, who was 13 when the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, Japan.

Setsuko Thurlow

Today marks the 75th anniversary of the atomic bomb being dropped on the Japanese city of Nagasaki during WW2. Tens of thousands of people died immediately, thousands more due to radiation poisoning, and countless more were injured and lost loved ones.

 I didn't plan to write about this because I blogged about the bombing of Hiroshima three days ago but I came upon an article in the New York Times about  Setsuko Thurlow,  the 88-year-old Toronto woman who was a 13-year-old living in Hiroshima at the time of the first explosion.The blast killed her sister and she was knocked unconscious, the family home was destroyed  Her life was upended but by the grace of God she survived, eventually moved to North America, and a few years ago shared in a Nobel Peace Prize for working toward nuclear disarmament.

Ms. Thurlow, with Beatrice Fihn, right, the executive director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, accepting the Nobel Peace Prize in 2017.

Credit...Ntb Scanpix/Reuters

The motivation for me to revisit the subject is discovering that Thurlow is a Christian and as such an advocate for peace. In the Times piece the author writes: 

Just two months after the bombing, Ms. Thurlow returned to her Christian girls school. She also met Kiyoshi Tanimoto, a Methodist pastor profiled by the journalist John Hersey in “Hiroshima,” his book about the bombing and its aftermath. 

After the bombing, Ms. Thurlow said, she questioned the God worshiped by so many Americans. But at the school and with Mr. Tanimoto, she was surrounded by Christian adults who supported her emotionally. “Because of them, I was able to deal with that crisis and came out of that trauma,” she said. Three years after the blast, she converted.

This is a powerful testimony, and a reminder that among the thousands of civilians who died in those two horrendous events there were many Christians. Even when we are convinced of being on the side of good war is such a futile human endeavour and repeatedly we here of how the innocent suffer. We demonize the enemy yet they are so often like us in their hopes and aspirations. 

I am sure that I would benefit greatly from hearing Setsuko Thurlow speak but I'll settle with doing my best to follow her example as a Christian. 

Ms. Thurlow, second from right, with her family in Japan.

Credit...via ICAN

Saturday, August 08, 2020

An Intriguing Series with a Central Jewish Character Watch A Place to Call Home - Season 3 | Prime Video

One of the COVID semi-isolation dilemmas is deciding what to binge-watch on television. We've watched lots of noir crime dramas and thrillers, but after a while the allure of brutal murders and mutilated corpses runs out. And no matter what country they're from they all have the same ominous sound track with tones and drones rather than actual scores.

A friend recommended an Aussie series set in the 1950's,  A Place to Call Home, and after a number of episodes there has only been one death, so that's a plus. There is a bit of Dallas meets Dynasty with a side order of Downtown Abbey, but that adds to the fun. As season one draws to a close I'm hoping they'll all enter therapy -- this is a messed up bunch.

What I find intriguing is that the central character is a woman who returns to Australia after 20 years in Europe. While there she converted from her family's Roman Catholicism to Judaism for reasons I won't reveal here. Despite prejudice and rejection she remains true to her adopted faith and continues to use the name Sarah. She has lived through the horrors of Jewish persecution during WW2 and refuses to assimilate on her return. 

In one episode Sarah observes Shabbat with one of the few Jewish households. In another she observes Yom Kippur, the holiest day in Judaism, entering a stream as a makeshift mikveh for cleansing. She seeks out forgiveness from someone who has wronged her far more significantly, a gesture which is rejected as empty ritual. Donna Robinson Divine, a professor of Jewish studies describes her faith this way: 

...Sarah’s Judaism stakes an even broader claim for universal meaning that gives it its emotional power and philosophical depth. Her Judaism springs from an ongoing dialogue she seems to have with God. Having been thrust into situations that are fraught with moral complexities, she gravitates to God for guidance even though she knows the decisions are hers and that she bears responsibility for their consequences.

As we've watched it occurred to me that there are few Jewish characters in dramas who are central to the story and seldom is the Jewish faith treated with respect. For this alone I'm glad we've watched.

Has anyone else seen this series? Are you a fan?