Thursday, December 31, 2015


God has shown strength with his arm;
   he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.

God has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
   and lifted up the lowly;

God has filled the hungry with good things,
   and sent the rich away empty.

You have probably heard about the Texas teen, Ethan Couch, whose drinking and driving led to the deaths of bystanders and a friend being paralysed. This would seem to be a slam dunk for conviction, but no, money bought a skilled lawyer who convinced a judge that the kid was suffering from "affluenza" a condition brought on through coddling by his rich parents. He didn't know the difference between right and wrong because of it. The irony that money also provided this highly suspect defense was apparently lost on the judge, who let the young man off with a slap on the wrist. No jail time, even though he created havoc and destroyed lives.

We heard about Ethan again two weeks ago when a posted video showed him partying with friends. He and his enabling mother took off for Mexico where they were eventually found. They are now being extradicted and we can only hope that Ethan goes to jail for a long time.

What strikes me is that no one gets off with a "poorfluenza" defense. Okay, some judges are lenient with young people who come from circumstances where poverty has contributed to their criminal behaviour. But despite what we might think, by and large "if you do the crime, you do the time." Even though study after study shows that it is poverty, not privilege, which results in anti-social behaviour, money buys freedom and the poor go to prison.  

During Advent we heard the passage in Luke 1 which is often called The Magnificat, Mary's song of praise for the new order God will bring through Jesus. I am moved every time I hear it, and I know that we still have so far to go before this promise is realized.


Wednesday, December 30, 2015

A Moo Point


The cattle are lowing, the baby awakes,
the little Lord Jesus no crying he makes...

I can only imagine the uprising if we attempted to drift through the Advent/Christmas seasons without singing Away in a Manger at least once. We sang it twice, just to make sure. It is a curious carol though, with lyrics like these. Babies cry--it's what they do best. Why wouldn't Jesus wail like any other infant? And the lowing cattle? There is no mention of cows in the gospels, just shepherds of sheep. No matter, carols aren't known for their historical accuracy!

Cattle. I had not realized that a herd of cattle has been in the witness protection program for the past few years. When the late, not-so-great Conservative government shut down the prison farm at Joyceville a few years ago the herd was purchased in the hope that the program would be re-established. The farm taught skills to inmates, provided milk to food banks, and actually operated in the black. The feds offered the weak argument that these weren't practical skills, which should have annoyed dairy farmers across the country. Even if they weren't churning out dairy workers (sorry), working with animals humanizes people. I suppose that should read "animalizes." It made no sense at all to close the farm, any more than it made sense to close the farm at Kingston Pen decades ago.

The prison farm cows were acquired by the Pen Farm Herd Co-Op, which says it has a commitment from the new Trudeau government to reopen the operation at Collins Bay penitentiary in Kingston.
According to the CBC celebrities such as Conrad Black and Margaret Atwood were among the 180 people who paid $300 each for a share in the co-op.The money was used to buy 23 of the original cows from the prize-winning Pen Herd when they went up at auction. The cows were then placed at area farms where they have been bred, milked and cared for by local farmers for the past five years.

It would take a year and a couple million dollars to re-establish the farm at Collins Bay Pen rather than Joyceville, but I think the Baby Jesus would sign off on this one. Here's hoping.

Comments? Do you think that it's a good idea to start up again, or is it a moo point now that it's gone...(stop David, stop...)

Friday, December 25, 2015

Mother and Child

A 12-year-old Rohingya girl held her undernourished brother in a squalid camp. Persecution forced thousands of Rohingya to flee the country. Tomas Munita for The New York Times

I realize that this is a sister and brother, but for me it is a "mother and child" Nativity image for the 21st century. We are aware of the millions of people around the world who are on the move as migrants and asylum seekers and refugees. This Christmas, like no other in recent memory we read the story of the flight of Jesus' family to Egypt as a reminder that the One we call Saviour and Friend was a child refugee himself.

Here is a piece from Citizens for Public Justice about the refugees in our midst this Christmas. In the face of those who spout of the erosion of "Canadian values" we must uphold principles of justice and compassion. For those of us who are followers of Christ this commitment is essential.

Christ be with you and those you love this day.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Compassionate Care

There will be 10 palliative care beds on the ground floor and another seven on the second floor for family members of patients in the hospice or the hospital.

The marvellous head chef for our Inn from the Cold and Thank God It's Friday meal ministries is retired. We are blessed to have Rick's broad range of skills in the service of this outreach work, and it seems as though it is a full-time job.

Rick has an aging mother whose health is fragile. He has made the commitment to keep her in his home, and along with his partner they provide loving support which is impressive.

His mother and mine are close in age, which in mother's case will be 90 as of next Tuesday. My brother, Eric, lives close at hand to Mom and is an exceptional support to her, visiting several days a week in the residence which is now home for her. I will see her tomorrow, Christmas Day, and on her birthday, but he is the "go to" guy.

There are so many people who care for elderly loved ones and those who are not so old but require lots of support because of mental and physical challenges. Some find themselves making decisions about work and care which border on the impossible.

It's good to hear that one of the best initiatives of the Harper government, compassionate care leave, will be expanded by the Liberals as the Conservatives had planned. Starting January 3rd it will be available for 26 weeks rather than six. In addition, the government says it plans to rework the program later in the year to expand the number of people who can take advantage of the enriched employment insurance plan.

As a pastor who has seen the desperation and exhaustion of caregivers attempting to juggle work and care, this is encouraging news which might get lost in all the Christmas hoopla.

Thank you to all who do care so selflessly for loved ones. It is a powerful, compassionate gift, and the way of serving Christ as well.

Have you heard about the expansion of this program? Do you support it? Have you been in the role of a caregiver?

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The New Nativity?

For our early Christmas Eve service at 4:30 tomorrow we will create an ad hoc Nativity scene with costumes handed out as children arrive. The tableau is made up of whoever shows up and is a simple way to tell the story involving kids. There was a day when most churches could mount a pageant a la Prayer for Owen Meany, but it is a stretch for many mainline congregations now. Children attending church are as rare as fake donkeys' teeth.

Not so for the latest Star Wars film, The Force Awakens. Even thought the original Star Wars film was released nearly forty years ago --essentially two generations of moviegoers-- there are parents and children flocking to The Force Awakens in record numbers for the first four days of a motion picture. And guess what. Adults and children are showing up in costume as though this is some sort of space pageant. Theatres are banning masks and light sabres (security and safety issues) but there is a lot of creativity out there.

We seem to need a narrative, a story for our lives, and when we remove or diminish one, we seem to crave another. It's all good fun, but it makes me a little sad. The story of God-with-us in the person of a helpless infant still speaks to me deeply, and I feel that it still matters for our world. It is a message for "right here" rather than "out there," a message for transformed hearts and a changed world. It's strange when you think about it. The knock on Christianity is that it is too other-worldly. What is Star Wars.

We will celebrate Christ's birth and if we're fortunate we'll have a Mary and Joseph, and a few angels and shepherds to adore the baby.


Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Solstice and Christmas

It was a bit crazy to cycle to work today on the Winter Solstice, three days until Christmas. This could be a reflection on the realities of climate change but I'll stick to the correlation between solstice and Jesus' birth. In fact, historically speaking, there is none, because Jesus was probably born in the Spring during lambing season --shepherds in the fields and all that. But the Romans had a massive street party and feat called Saturnalia which celebrated the god Saturn and was tied to the solstice. On December 19th gifts were exchanged -- is this sounding familiar? The early Christians may have decided to celebrate the birth of Jesus, which became Christ Mass, under the cover of the Roman festival to avoid notice and persecution.

We do know that various pagan religions have made a big deal out of both the summer and winter solstices. The movement from darkness to light and light to darkness in accordance with the seasons has been a source of wonder and reverence. Christ is the light of the world, we say, and we are inclined to lighting candles through Advent and at Christmas.

Let's throw in something else. This year the full moon is on Christmas Day -- "twas in the moon of Wintertime when all the birds had fled." This is the first time in nearly twenty years, and there will be an asteroid fly-by to boot.

As someone who loves the rhythms of seasons and tides, I'm happy to throw a little Earth honouring paganism into the mix of my Christmas celebration. I'm sticking close to Jesus but I will take this over the commercialism any day.


Monday, December 21, 2015

Sorry, Sorry (Fingers Crossed)

There was Seth Blatter (or is it blather?) saying he was sorry, repeatedly, for the actions of others, not his own wrongdoing. In his usual defiant manner, the man who developed the ethics committee for FIFA, the international body for soccer, refused to accept blame and responsibility for his unethical behaviour. No matter that he had been found guilty and banned for eight years. It was "poor me" from the man who was complicit in corruption.

He is not alone though. While apologies are regularly issued by those who are found guilty of various legal and moral crimes, they are rarely admissions of culpability, or are only issued when evasion and deception no longer work.

We saw that this Fall as Volkswagen finally stopped its version of dirty corporate emissions and "came clean" about deceiving the public and regulatory agencies. Millions of loyal customers, including a co-worker, bought VWs on the assumption that they were actually caring for the environment rather than violating it. Volkswagen rewarded their trust by cheating, then lying, then admitting responsibility when they had no other recourse. The fake ads around Paris during the Climate Change summit recently were clever and so true.

While Christmas is Baby Jesus season Christians connect the dots with the rest of the story. Our faith invites us to admit the truth about ourselves, to say we're sorry from the heart, and to change our behaviour for the good of others and ourselves. In the midst of greed and self-interest, that seems to be lost.


Sunday, December 20, 2015

Love Incarnate

Jean Vanier visits the residents in one of the L'Arche homes in Trosly, France.
Ian Brown is the loving father of a son who has significant physical and cognitive challenges. Brown's book about the journey of their family is called The Boy in the Moon, and has won accolades and awards.

Through the years Brown, the kinda atheist, has come to know Jean Vanier, the devout Roman Catholic and founder of the L'Arche movement. L'Arche began simply and improbably with Vanier's decision to live with two mentally challenged men. He had seen how those with mental handicaps were cast aside in society, so he put aside his goals and aspirations to simply be with these men. L'Arche is now a world-wide movement.

Yesterday the Globe and Mail newspaper published a lengthy and moving article by Ian Brown, who travelled to France to reconnect with the elderly Vanier. On this Sunday of Love in Advent, it is a fitting story of love incarnate. Have a tissue handy.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Imagining the Nativity

I appreciate many of the traditional paintings of the Nativity from centuries past and because I thrive on the stimulation of visual art I browse through them at this time of year. The painting by Rembrandt below is remarkable with the glow of the central light --is there a lantern, or is it the Christ-child?-- illuminating the faces of everyone gathered 'round.

Artists have been exercising their imaginations for many centuries, as evidenced in the stained glass window from Canterbury Cathedral which dates from the 13th century -- eight hundred years old!

There are contemporary images which tickle my fancy just as much, or more. An example is Brian Kershisnik's imaginative depiction, above, with a flowing host of angels washing around a nursing Mary and a bewildered looking Joseph. Why not? We know so little about the birth of Jesus in terms of factual detail about the setting and which critters, natural and supernatural, were on hand.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Blessed By Our Elders

This week I went with our pastoral care minister, Vicki Fulcher, and two members of our pastoral care team to a residence for seniors where nine of our folk live. We go a couple of times a year to conduct a worship service with them, and this time we hit the jackpot with all nine present. Often individuals have medical appointments, or forget, or are communing with a pillow. This time everyone was on hand, and it was lovely.

At the conclusion of the service I mentioned the arrival of our Syrian family last Friday. Even though everyone was preparing to leave they all sat down and peppered us with excellent questions about the circumstances of the family in the refugee camp in Lebanon, and how they are adapting to life in Belleville.

An 87-year-old observed that this is a wonderful privilege for us to encounter a family from another part of the world who will enrich our culture. We talked about Maryam Monsef, the MP from Peterborough whose family emigrated from Afghanistan. Perhaps one of these Syrian boys will make a similar contribution to Canada one day.

What a tonic these senior citizens were for me, both as we worshipped and as we talked. Their attitudes were so positive and hospitable, I kept thinking about them for the rest of the day. As I have said before, while we want to offer some sense of Christian community to those who are aging, they often offer it to us. Such a blessing.


Thursday, December 17, 2015

One God

Regularly someone says to me, usually cheerfully, "well, there is only one God, right?" And regularly someone splutters about the only true and approved God, which of course is the one they claim to worship. I tend to wonder in both circumstances. In the former I wonder how much thought has been given to the reasons religions approach God differently. In the latter, it often seems that the speaker is revelling in the superiority of their notion of God. I am no longer surprised to discover that some of the "my God is better than your God" folk don't actually go to church or belong to a faith community. The statement is more tribal than relationally based.

This week a prof at an American Christian college was suspended because she said that there is only one God for all faiths and put on a headscarf as an aspect of her Advent devotion:

Larycia Alaine Hawkins, an associate professor who has taught at Wheaton since 2007, announced last week that she’d don the traditional headscarf as a sign of human, theological, and embodied solidarity. “I stand in religious solidarity with Muslims because they, like me, a Christian, are people of the book,” she wrote in a Facebook post on December 10. “And as Pope Francis stated last week, we worship the same God.”

Hawkins wasn't trying to be provocative, nor is she shallow. She is taking a stand in a moment of miserable Islamophobia, reminding all who might listen that we are called to common principles before God, despite our differences.

I strongly support what she is saying. Although I am Trinitarian in my personal theology and affirm Jesus as God incarnate, the living Christ, there is only one God. While I may disagree with brothers and sisters in some significant aspects of how they approach God, I benefit greatly from the conversation with Jews and Muslims and those devotees of other religions. In the same way I have learned humility (well, some!) in regard to other expressions of Christianity, I have travelled that road with other religions. We don't enter into this glibly, but with commitment.

I admire the courage of Hawkins in such a hostile climate. Her suspension probably has more to do with politics and fear than theology. I hope she is reinstated, and soon. I am pleased to hear that a number of faith leaders have stepped up to support her.


Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Charity Begins...Everywhere

On Monday there was a message on the Bridge St UC phone which was really a rant about our sponsorship of a Syrian refugee family. The person didn't leave a name, although call display is a helpful coward-detector. He blustered about how outrageous it was that we were helping these people when there are so many needs close at hand. He promised that he wouldn't come to the church for events anymore, which was the one upside of the call.

What is so laughable about this diatribe is that Bridge St. provides more than 7,000 meals a year to local people, many of them living within walking distance of the church. These folk tell us that Inn From the Cold and Thank God It's Friday are Godsends. The other two sponsoring congregations, St. Matthew's and Eastminster, also have food ministries.

In the past couple of weeks I have provided hundreds of dollars in support to two single parents struggling to pay the rent, along with smaller amounts of assistance to others. Our White Gift offering supported a local Christmas sharing program. This is all possible through the generosity of our members and a host of people in the community who like what we're doing.

I would have loved to ask this individual what he does for his neighbours. So often the "charity begins at home" huffers and puffers are just that, a lot of wind and not much action. I deeply appreciate that this congregation doesn't approach kindness and hospitality as an either/or. The neighbours Christ calls us to serve may live a block away, or in a camp in Syria. And now one of those Syrian families lives close at hand.


Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Be the Church


This sign is at a community church in a New Jersey town, and as you can see, it has been vandalized. This is the second time in a year that a banner has been defaced at The Community Church of Mountain Lakes, the first featuring a rainbow and the words, "God is still speaking." We have been aware of the anti-Muslim sentiments which have surfaced in ugly ways in the US recently, with some conservative Christian leaders at the forefront. These stupid acts remind us that churches are not except from hatred either, and no doubt congregations with a more inclusive and justice-oriented message are easy targets.

Rather than take the vandalized banner down immediately the congregation is leaving it in place for a time, as the source of discussion. The gospel of Jesus Christ is Good News, but not for everyone. Jesus reminded his disciples that they must take up the cross to follow him, and it's fitting that the paint splashed across the banner is read, the colour of blood. In the end this promoted the congregation's message rather than obscuring it. We wouldn't have been aware that it existed without the vandalism. Well done!

I wonder how well we proclaim our Christian story as an alternative in our world of both secularism and religious extremism? Would you be comfortable with that banner on your church building? What do you think of the choice to leave it in place for a while?

Sunday, December 13, 2015

A Degree of Hope?


I woke up yesterday knowing that it was the "make or break" day for the climate change deal at COP21, the global conference held in Paris. After days of hammering away at an agreement the announcement would be made on Saturday, December 12th, 2015. Shortly after six AM -- I am an environmental nerd-- I listened, live, as the initial announcement of an agreement to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees from pre-industrial levels was made. Later in the day we were told that 195 nations had signed on, including the United States, China, and India, the unholy trinity of atmospheric carbon producers.

Crazy as it may sound, the decision to limit temperature increases by 1.5 degrees rather than two was a triumph. For some island nations already experiencing the effects of climate change this might be the difference for survival. For the first time in human history a deal was struck involving virtually every nation on the planet.

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From the moment of the announcement frustration was expressed by some that it simply wasn't enough, and that there were no measurable targets. Yet other long-time environmental activists such as Elizabeth May are hopeful that this is the beginning of significant change. And Canada, represented by Environment and Climate Change minister Catherine McKenna, was actually part of the team which crafted the accord, rather than pushing against it. The end of the Fossil Fuel Era may not have arrived quite yet, as some are trumpeting, but we can be encouraged.

In worship today we will sing "joy to the world...let heaven and nature sing." We saw the joy on the faces of the thousands of delegates in Paris as the news was shared. Some of them "cried for happy." There will be a different spirit to this hymn this morning, thanks be to God. I brought along my tee-shirt to celebrate!


Friday, December 11, 2015

Write for Rights

The Quinte chapter of Amnesty International set up for a "write for rights" opportunity at Bridge St UC yesterday as part of International Human Rights Day. One of the organizers is from the congregation and another is an active Roman Catholic I have known for years, but this was an event for anyone with a desire to write on behalf of those who have been imprisoned or persecuted.

At one point I walked through the room and roughly fifteen individuals were writing, quietly and intently. Our member whispered that while folk had a choice of signing postcards most were penning letters, which required more thought and time. The atmosphere was very prayerful in my estimation, and uplifting.

The Syrian family Belleville United Churches has sponsored will arrive in the community today. We know that they left Syria under threat of violence and have waited in a refugee camp in Lebanon for two years for this opportunity. As much as we look forward to welcoming the five of them, and thousands more across the country, it would have been so much better if they had been able to remain in their homeland without threat of violence.

The event yesterday and the arrival of the family today remind us of the importance of working for justice with determination and eyes wide open to the world around us.


Thursday, December 10, 2015

Journey toward Justice with First Nations

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde laugh as they talk before the beginning of the Assembly of First Nations Special Chiefs Assembly in Gatineau, Tuesday December 8, 2015. (Adrian Wyld/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

I follow the CBC on Twitter and it has been tough to do so the past few days. My Twitter feed has been punctuated with the photos and brief descriptions of aboriginal women who have disappeared or were murdered. They are the solemn testimony to a broken society which has exploited and marginalized aboriginal peoples in this country. Sadly, religious institutions have been active in that exploitation.

The good news this week is that the federal government will consult with First Nations about an inquiry into the missing and the murdered. The previous government steadfastly ignored calls to establish an inquiry, although the current Conservative leadership now supports it.

The United Church of Canada has been calling for such an inquiry for several years. We do have an ugly history of involvement in the residential schools, which were supposedly about education but were often more about enculturation and even cultural genocide. Along with apologies and redesigning our denominational crest we have worked toward reparations for and healing with those who were harmed by the schools run by our denomination. We continue to work toward "right relationships," realizing that this will be a long journey.

I've explored this many times before, but any comments about the commitment of the federal government announced this week?

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

"Use it or lose it," Religion Included

"Use it or lose it." We have probably all heard this expression, which is used in many different contexts. It applies to budgets and physical fitness and just about anything else you might imagine. How about religion?

A report has just been issued by the Commission on Religion and Belief in British Public Life in Great Britain, in which a panel of political and religious leaders conclude that the country is now more secular than Christian. Other religions and those with no religion at all need to be acknowledged in rites and institutions.
Key recommendations include:
  • The creation of a  Magna Carta-style secular statement of values governing public life as an alternative to the much proclaimed but little understood adherence to “British values “
  • The scrapping of religious assemblies for schoolchildren, along with the segregation of children by faith at schools throughout the land.
  •   An end to the dominance of  26 Anglican male bishops in the House of Lords (the British Parliament’s Upper House) and their replacement with Muslim imams, Jewish rabbis and other non-Christian clerics.
  • The complete overhaul of the coronation service for the next monarch (Charles, Prince of Wales) so that leaders of faiths other than Christianity play major roles.
This is a big deal in a nation where the Church of England is so closely tied by tradition to the monarchy. In the wartime film Mrs. Miniver both the announcement of World War II and the climax are set in the local parish church, and the vicar applies Psalm 91 (“Thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night; nor for the arrow that flieth by day”) to the dark days ahead. The hymns, too, are chosen for dark times: “O God, Our Help in Ages Past” and “Onward Christian Soldiers,” the latter defiantly sung at the climax in a bombed-out church.
Yet since the end of the Second World War the CofE has shrunk drastically and only a small portion of the population attends worship except for "hatch, match, and dispatch." Even there, the shift to other rituals is dramatic.
Once again we see the secularization of a society, much like our own, although often people will invoke "Christian values," even if they rarely darken the door of a place of worship.
Whenever I see these stories I am reminded of how important it is to maintain our witness, as a loving, caring Christian alternative in a secular world. That's the way Christianity began, and where we are again.

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Tales of Two Memorials

Last week I spoke to someone whose former partner is in hospital and likely dying. They aren't on good terms, to put it diplomatically, but shared parenthood and step-children mean that the person to whom I was speaking will be involved with a service, when it comes. The concern, bordering on dread, is that it will crude and chaotic, and totally devoid on any deeper meaning, let alone spiritual.

Contrast this with the memorial yesterday here at Bridge St. UC. It was for a long-time member, a wonderful, kind woman who maintained her sense of humour to the end. She celebrated her 90th birthday recently with many friends in attendance. At the service family members offered loving tributes, we put her death in the context of Christian hope, and we sang some lovely hymns of the faith. More than a dozen choir members showed up for the anthem, and the prayers by Rev. Vicki were heartfelt. Afterward many of the more than two hundred people in attendance came downstairs to visit and reminisce and enjoy one another's company.

As I've said before, I accept that our culture has become much more secular and that the rituals of faith have limited or no meaning for many. Still, the alternatives often seem bleak and without much substance. Oh well, we'll continue to be faithful, as we are able.


Sunday, December 06, 2015

God Isn't Fixing This

Many criticized the New York Times editorial, including Conservative blogger Erick Erickson, who says he shot bullets through his copy and encouraged others to do the same.

Again this past week a mass killing stunned a community. Two people legally obtained weapons which led to the deaths of many innocent people.

I consider the powerful and pervasive resistance to gun control in the United States to be demonic. That's not a term I use lightly but I believe it is accurate. In a country where politicians and pastors crow about faith and following Jesus, the lack of will to end the carnage wrought by the indiscriminate sale of weapons is sick, and antithetical to the gospel. The earnest calls for prayer from those who at the same time defend the "right to bear arms" is hideous as many have noted. The New York Daily News said it bluntly, God isn't fixing this. While many sanctimoniously criticized the cover, it is absolutely correct.

Also this week the New York Times ran a front page editorial on the gun epidemic, the first front page editorial in nearly a century.

Some Christian leaders are calling on their followers to arm themselves against Muslims, which again is outrageous. It is time for some leadership in the States to stop this madness.


Thursday, December 03, 2015

Right Relationships?

I tweeted early today that I have been Pastor Pinball this week, popped around from unanticipated circumstance to circumstance.

I wanted to blog yesterday about the decision of the CBC to cut off online comments related to articles on Aboriginal issues. Sadly, the vitriol and unfettered racism of so many respondents has led the national news agency to stop what could be a worthwhile conversation. On CBC radio's Metro Morning, Jesse Wente, a First Nations person who works in programming for the TIFF Bell Light Box, lamented the ongoing reality of racism toward aboriginal peoples in this country which prides itself on its openness and acceptance.

There are times when I wonder whether our United Church commitment to reconciliation with First Nations is an overcompensation for our sad history of abuse through the Residential Schools. The United Church was involved with the schools until 1969. But I am regularly reminded that we have learned so little in this country over the decades about reciprocity and fairness. We had to have a change in federal government to agree that the deaths of so many aboriginal women is a national disgrace and that some form of inquiry is necessary.

Do you appreciate the commitment of the United Church to "right relationships" with Canada's indigenous peoples?

Were you aware of the CBCs decision  about limiting comments? How do you feel about this?

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Beyond Stigma - World AIDS Day

When Charlie Sheen made the public announcement of his HIV a few weeks ago those who confuse humour with cruelty were quick with nastiness. I have this strange notion that regardless of lifestyle (Sheen's has been atrocious) no one deserves to be kicked when they are vulnerable. What happened in response to his revelation was just cowardice from my perspective.

Today is World Aids Day and the significance of the occasion may be pushed into the background by COP 21, the refugee crisis, and concerns about security around the planet. Yet HIV/AIDS still represent a significant health issue and the stigma of the disease is very real.  

I realized this morning that the only congregation where individuals told me about their diagnosis was in Sudbury. I served the large downtown church there and was asked to serve on the newly formed AIDS committee for the city. It was 1988, the scientific community was still trying to figure out how HIV/AIDS worked, and it was nearly always a rapid death sentence. I ended up with folk in the gay community connecting with the congregation because of my role on the committee. I visited a number in the hospital, and buried them as well.

The stigma was very strong in those early days, and honestly I had my own struggles. It's strange though. Sometimes the gospel of a loving Christ leads us into a new way of being even as the old way of thinking persists. When I look back I realize that I found my way into acceptance by my practice before my head caught up. I have no regrets about my involvement, even though at the time there was enough fear of the unknown that I wondered if I might be jeopardizing the health of my three young children by visiting AIDS patients in the hospital. Some nurses would only enter rooms with masks and gloves on.

Do you recall how your outlook changed over time? Do you think discrimination is still out there? Would you speak up if you heard disparaging comments?