Monday, September 20, 2021

"Dios te Bendiga" in Bolivia


In the early morning light of this day our neice and her husband were dropped at Toronto's Pearson Airport for a looonnnggg flight to Bolivia, in South America. This ain't a tourist trip. They will be living and working in the capital, La Paz, for three years. Both will be employed by the Mennonite Central Committee which is strengthening partnerships with local agencies in various areas of social concern. 

The MCC is an impressive agency which often responds to situations of crisis. When the tornado ripped through Barrie more than 30 years ago they arrived that same weekend providing practical assistance. MCC ran the Ten Thousand Villages stores in North America with the mission of creating opportunities in developing countries to earn income in developing countries to earn income by bringing their products and stories to our markets through long-term, fair trading relationships.

The historical, colonial models of missionary work for denominations has largely ended as the emphasis is now on reciprocity and mutual respect. While they are still a Christian presence in many places,  there is a different understanding of the profound meaning of other religions and the wisdom of indigenous cultures. 

There will be many adjustments for the two of them in their new roles, including developing fluency in Spanish. La Paz is the highest capital in the world, at 3,650 metres or nearly 12,000 feet. They will also need to relearn how to breathe!

We with them Godspeed and "dios te bendiga."

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Faithfully Raising the Floor --With GLI


This morning we headed out of town early so we weren't part of the gathered faith community of Trenton United Church. We did have something of a religious experience with two UCC ministers though. One was the Rev. Isaac Mundy of Trention UC and the other was the Rev. Cathy Russell-Duggan of Bloomfield UC. Isaac is our kid and Cathy was a co-worker for several years and a colleague in Belleville for several more.

The two of them have brought their smarts to exploring the important subject of Guaranteed Livable Income, or GLI. They've recorded a couple of podcast interviews with people who can 'splain GLI, which is essentially establishing a modest financial baseline for all Canadians with the purpose of lifting the most vulnerable out of cycles of poverty and despair. 

The interview which we heard, the first in the series was with Dr. Evelyn Forget, author of Basic Income for Canadians. She speaks clearly about the reservations some have about GLI  --won't people who receive it be reluctant to work and carry their own weight? She reminds us that we do have certain forms of guaranteed income in this country, including child benefits and pensions for seniors. 

Forget describes how consolidating some programs could be cost efficient  and points out that there could be considerable reductions in healthcare costs and child welfare programs if everyone had a livable income. Then there is the possibility that GLI will create opportunities for people to lift themselves out of poverty through education in various forms, not to mention the increase in purpose and dignity for those living in the despair of poverty. 

We also appreciated that Cathy and Isaac spoke about the biblical and theological basis for "raising the floor" for all. They play on the phrase "Glee Club" in their podcast title, encouragint us to believe that there can be joy in ensuring that everyone realizes a degree of security and hope. 

I highly recommend listening to this first episode and I'm sure the second with the Rev. Ed Bentley will also be worthwhile.

Am I biased because Isaac is our son and Cathy a friend? Why not make your own evidence-based decision? 

Saturday, September 18, 2021

Thanks Once More for Norm Esdon


My seminary classmate and long-time friend, Norm Esdon, died on the last day of 2020 and for a number of reasons, including the pandemic, no service of remembrance was held at the time.That event is finally taking place today and unfortunately we're not able to attend.Here is my blog entry from two days after his death. It is the most viewed entry I've written through the years.


I have written about  the Rev. Norm Esdon, my friend from seminary days, on several occasions through the years. Norm was one of the "old guys" in my first year at Emmanuel College, 32 to my 22. His first career was as a teacher, and Norm had established what appeared to be a meaningful life with his wife Marie. He experienced two callings in a way, one to ordained ministry, and the other, eventually, to be true to his orientation as a gay man. Both took courage.

Norm was an exceptional student and stood near the top of our graduating class of 1980, the largest before the steady decline in student numbers during the past four decades. He served three multi-point pastoral charges through the years, if memory serves correctly, before stepping away from congregational ministry in his later 50's because of a blood disorder.

In June of this year I made further observations about Norm:

I came to appreciate Norm as a photographer (he chaired the weekly bulletin cover working group for years) and as poet. A former chemistry teacher, Norm was committed from those seminary days to the present to explore how "living with respect in Creation" is a vital and integral aspect of our Christian faith. 

Through the decades Norm visited us in Newfoundland and Northern Ontario where he took his deliberate time photographing the wild landscapes we explored. I tuckered him right out snowshoeing into Killarney Provincial Park to see a frozen waterfall one brilliant winter day. In true Norm fashion he wanted to be up close to the ice surface to capture the texture rather than the panorama of the fall. 

The United Church hasn't been a denomination which intentionally creates space for mystics and contemplatives and hermits. We leave that to the Roman Catholic and Orthodox communions. Norm was a combination of the three and the UCC was better for his ministries, even if there weren't many people who knew about him. He had a loyal circle of friends, but this cat-lover had a certain cat-like quality to his personality.

Norm's prognosis was that he would be dead by his mid-sixties but fortunately that was incorrect, for which we were all grateful. He did everything possible to prolong his life and did so with dignity and grace. 2019 was not kind to Norm and it seemed that as the year progressed everything revolved around treatment and stays in the hospital. 

On New Year's eve Norm died peacefully in Kingston at the age of 76. I'm grateful that I knew him, that he provided a unique witness and ministry within the United Church, and that he is now beyond suffering. 

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Yom Kippur and Happiness

                                                       Yom Kippur -- William Kurelek, 1975

This is Yom Kippur, the most solemn, reflective, penitential day in Judaism -- or at least what it seems to be from my admittedly limited Christian perspective. It is a day to acknowledge  wrongdoing and to seek forgiveness, which I think is healthy for all of us. It's not a matter of wallowing in shame or self-reproach. We acknowledge the ways in which we have turned from God and harmed others. We say we're sorry, express gratitude that we can be forgiven, and step forward in confidence that God loves us. I suppose our Christian equivalent is Ash Wednesday which includes Psalm 51. 

Yesterday David Frum tweeted  wishes for  a meaningful Kol Nidrei and Yom Kippur to all observing and added As a cherished rabbi once explained in a sermon: "It's the happiest day of the year. God's going to forgive everybody who asks, it's printed right there at the end of the prayerbook."

Here is a prayer for this day which all of us can ponder. The "Al Chet" confession of sins is said ten times in the course of the Yom Kippur services and it covers just about everything!

 For the sin which we have committed before You under duress or willingly.

And for the sin which we have committed before You by hard-heartedness.

For the sin which we have committed before You inadvertently.

And for the sin which we have committed before You with an utterance of the lips.

For the sin which we have committed before You with immorality.

And for the sin which we have committed before You openly or secretly.

For the sin which we have committed before You with knowledge and with deceit.

And for the sin which we have committed before You through speech.

For the sin which we have committed before You by deceiving a fellowman.

And for the sin which we have committed before You by improper thoughts.

For the sin which we have committed before You by a gathering of lewdness.

And for the sin which we have committed before You by verbal [insincere] confession.

For the sin which we have committed before You by disrespect for parents and teachers.

And for the sin which we have committed before You intentionally or unintentionally.

For the sin which we have committed before You by using coercion.

And for the sin which we have committed before You by desecrating the Divine Name.

For the sin which we have committed before You by impurity of speech.

And for the sin which we have committed before You by foolish talk.

For the sin which we have committed before You with the evil inclination.

And for the sin which we have committed before You knowingly or unknowingly.

For the sin which we have committed before You by false denial and lying.

And for the sin which we have committed before You by a bribe-taking or a bribe-giving hand.

For the sin which we have committed before You by scoffing.

And for the sin which we have committed before You by evil talk [about another].

For the sin which we have committed before You in business dealings. 

And for the sin which we have committed before You by eating  and drinking.

For the sin which we have committed before You by [taking or giving] interest and by usury.

And for the sin which we have committed before You by a haughty demeanor. 

For the sin which we have committed before You by the prattle of our lips. 

And for the sin which we have committed before You by a glance of the eye.

For the sin which we have committed before You with proud looks.

And for the sin which we have committed before You with impudence.

 For all these, God of pardon, pardon us, forgive us, atone for us. 

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Is This the Climate Election?

Last weekend 5,8 million Canadians voted in advanced polls for the federal election, and we were among them. We've since learned that another million of us have requested mail-in ballots, an unprecedented number. This is encouraging, although we both struggled with how to vote in an election which shouldn't have been called in the first place. 

As Christians there are a number of issues which matter to us, some of which have received little attention. They include affordable housing for the most vulnerable and childcare, and reconciliation with Indigenous peoples. We desire clear, welcoming refugee and immigration policies. We certainly care about Canada's abysmal record during the pandemic regarding protection for seniors, and general care for our elders. 

Our primary concern is how the federal government will address the climate emergency. This may turn out to be the hottest summer on record and we are witnessing more catastrophic weather events around the planet. This is an existential threat to Creation which requires a clear, practical, costed strategy. Some have termed this the Climate Election, although I'm not convinced that this is how Canadians view it. 

In 2019, economist Andrew Leach and climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe ranked the climate platforms of the political parties for Chatelaine magazine and they have updated it for this election. I have written about Hayhoe who is a Canadian and a Christian teaching in Texas. It is a state where many evangelicals are climate change deniers and where the government is central to the problem rather than part of the solution. I've appreciated her commitment to science and her persistent call to action without being adversarial. She is fond of saying that she doesn't "believe" in climate change because it's a matter of scientific fact rather than faith. 

Leach and Hayhoe aren't exactly thrilled with any of the parties but here is the link to the Chatelaine article, and their report card for 2021: 

The Grades

Conservatives: B for ambition, B- for feasibility
Greens: A+ for ambition, C- for feasibility
Liberals: A- for ambition, A- for feasibility
NDP: A for ambition, C- for feasibility
BQ: N/A for ambition, B+ for feasibility

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

The Loving Eyes of Tammy Faye


Ten days ago I received an email from one of the faith-based organizations I follow offering the opportunity to watch the film The Eyes of Tammy Faye. This is a Toronto International Film Festival movie and while it screened in TO it was also online as part of the hybrid format. We watched this dramatized depiction of the lives of Tammy Faye and Jim Bakker, the televangelists who eventually fell from grace due to hubris, greed, and sexual impropriety. Jim did jail time for financial malfeasance but he's back on televison at age 81 and still a scam artist. 

Tammy Faye died of cancer at the age of 65, and she left this life as the butt of endless jokes because her penchant for heavy makeup turned her into a clown figure. She is portrayed by Jessica Chastain who is excellent in the role and whose performance lifts a film which is up and down (still well worth watching.) 

The premiere at TIFF received a standing ovation and I imagine that it was because of Chastain's sympathetic portrayal of a woman who overcame poverty and personal rejection as a child to become a beloved figure to their huge audience. 

                                                         The Bakkers in their Heyday

The film reminds us that so much of the "health and wealth" gospel is a pyramid scheme with an off-kllter halo, and the Bakkers were pioneers in the media-savvy version of Christianity which is actually antithetical to the gospel. Bakker deserved to go to jail, as do many of his successors. 

Tammy Faye genuinely cared about others and was convinced that God loved everyone. In the homophobic milieu of the evangelical Christianity of the 70's which persists today she was remarkably open-minded and welcoming. One scene in the film depicts the hour on one episode she devoted to an interview with a man living with AIDS and who was open about his homosexuality and convinced that God loved him. 

Tammy Faye agreed “I refuse to label people,” she said in a 2000 documentary with the same name as the current film -- “We’re all just people made out of the same old dirt, and God didn’t make any junk.”

Tammy Faye became something of a gay icon, part parody, part appreciation, and ultimately support. In the final interview before her death she said, “When we lost everything, it was the gay people that came to my rescue, and I will always love them for that.”

The Bakkers' son, Jay, who has been a progressive pastor and supportive of the LGBTQ+ community, endorses the film and feels it humanizes his parents, despite all their flaws. He certainly loved his mother and her portrayal does honour strengths as well as foibles. 

                                                  Saturday Night Live Parody of the Bakkers


Monday, September 13, 2021

Thank God for Heath Care Workers

 Caim Prayer

Circle _________, Gracious God, keep protection near and danger afar. 

Circle __________, Healing God, keep hope within,keep despair without.

Circle ____________, Caring God, keep light near, and darkness afar.

Circle __________, God, keep peace within and anxiety without.

May God, Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer shield ___________on every side. 


During my ministry I used this Celtic Caim prayer with individuals who were about to undergo surgery or were in the throes of serious illness or were struggling with deep anxiety. On a number of occasions family and friends were invited to participate, literally encircling the one who was the focus of the prayer.

Today I invite you to say this prayer on behalf of those who will be entering hospitals across this country for medical treatment, including those brought by ambulance. We can offer it as well for health care workers and other staff in these places of healing.

In recent days angry, threatening crowds have been gathering outside hospitals in what are exhibitions of mass hysteria, protesting God knows what -- do they really know? Supposedly these selfish demonstrations are anti-vax and pro freedom. Some of the people allege to be Christians even though what they are doing is antithetical to the Good News of Jesus Christ. Most of the COVID patients in hospitals have not been vacciinated, but there is no logic to what is going on. It's a challenge to quell my own anger even though Jesus teaches "do not repay evil with evil." 

I've read that a hundred years ago during the deadly flu pandemic there were anti-vaccination rallies as well. Fear and selfishness are part of the human condition, sad to say, and while we think we live in a more advanced society there is something primal about this smacks of original sin (I'm not really an original sin guy, but I'll make exceptions!) 

Gracious God, please circle all those who need your protection in these hospital settings today, and bring the protesters to their senses -- they are a danger to everyone, including themselves.