Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Trudeau, China, and Human Rights

Image result for pierre trudeau in china

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is in China, his first trip there since the election last Fall. He has visited  before, including a trip with his father, Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, the year after the Tiananmen Square massacre. The elder Trudeau first trekked around China in the late 1940's as a young man. He made an historic state visit in 1973, leading to a recognition of the communist regime before a number of other Western nations, including the United States. When Pierre returned with two of his sons in 1989 he was aware that while he supported a  moderate Chinese government as prime minister, dissidence was readily and brutally crushed.

Image result for justin trudeau in china

It will be interesting to see what happens during Justin Trudeau's visit, and beyond. While human rights concerns will be raised, we know that dissidents are imprisoned and  the internet is regulated. Christian leaders are carefully monitored and church buildings are regularly closed and destroyed on feeble pretenses. Canada desires a robust trade relationship with China, one of our largest trade partners, and a succession of PMs have been reluctant to push too hard on the subject of rights. Opposition parties tend to speak courageously, until they're in power, then pragmatism takes over.

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As we watch the photo ops during this Trudeau visit, let's remember Canadians who are currently held on suspect charges, the dissidents and intellectuals who have disappeared, and beleaguered brothers and sisters in Christ who have uncertain freedom of religious expression.


Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Wilderness Balance

Lucas St. Clair, the son of Burt's Bees founder Roxanne Quimby, poses on land proposed for a national park in Penobscot County, Maine, Aug. 4, 2015. President Obama on Wednesday declared a new national monument in Maine on 87,000 acres donated by Ms. Quimby.

When we lived in Sudbury I was a member of Friends of Killarney, a group which supported the goals and aims of the provincial park by that name an hour away. Sometimes a sub-group had meetings in my study at downtown St. Andrew's United Church. We were involved in developing a canoe guide and eventually with a presentation to a provincial environmental consultation called Lands for Life. We were given ten minutes before a travelling panel which considered presentations on the use of Crown Land across the North. I was given the job of cramming our request for a buffer zone around the park which is the smallest and southernmost of wilderness parks in Ontario at just over 100,000 acres. I managed to stay within the ten minutes and our request was ultimately granted, although we waited a while for the outcome. I was the frontman but it was definitely a collaborative effort.


I thought about this when I heard last week that President Obama has created a new national park in Maine to correspond with the one hundred anniversary of national parks in America.

Approximately 87,500 acres of land in Maine's North Woods will be protected under the new designation of Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument. The land was donated to the government on Tuesday by Roxanne Quimby, the co-founder of Burt's Bees, and officially made a national monument Wednesday after a years-long push full of obstacles and controversy.

Even though Quimby owned the land and it is a generous gift, there are some who have resisted because of the timber value of this land the jobs it could create. Others feel that it is another example of rich folk imposing their will on those  who have been there for generations, hunting and fishing. Still others -- Republicans -- are grumpy that Obama just went ahead and did this without the wider approval they wouldn't have granted anyway.

Some of these same issues existed for Killarney when it was established more than fifty years ago. Locals resented the expropriation and restrictions which go with the creation of a park. And the area is now jam-packed with campers from elsewhere all through the summer. Sure, the outfitters and the fish and chip place in the village of Killarney do booming business, but people often feel disenfranchised. We loved Killarney, hiking, paddling, and interior camping there,  but rarely visited in the summer when "our" park was far too busy. We were there recently as Ruth paddled with women friends and I walked a couple of trails. It made me homesick.   

The balance between protecting wilderness places and respecting those who have lived there over time, including aboriginal peoples is not easy to establish. There is a new park adjacent to Killarney called Point Grondine which has been established by the Wekwimikong First Nation. One day we'll explore this new opportunity.

Any thoughts about this challenging balance? What about our activism as Christians for the protection of wilderness places?

Monday, August 29, 2016

Marilynne Robinson & Peace

President Barack Obama with Marilynne Robinson.

Marilynne Robinson is one of President Obama's favourite authors,has hosted her at the White House, and even interviewed her. How cool is that?   I'm with Barack on this, although so far Robinson hasn't responded to our invitation for a barbecue. It's her novels that have captured me, although I have read articles where she addresses Christian and philosophical subjects as well. I have a book of her essays in the mountain of "to be read" books by my easy chair.

Robinson is oft-honoured, and last week she became the recipient of the Dayton prize, which is for both literary achievement and peace. Here is The Guardian description of her choice for the Holbrooke achievement award.

Robinson, author of the award-winning Gilead trilogy, which tells the story of the Iowa pastor John Ames, was named by the Dayton literary peace prize as winner of its Richard C Holbrooke distinguished achievement award. Sharon Rab, founder of the Dayton literary peace prize foundation, praised Robinson’s “luminous, deeply moving prose”, which she said “explores the causes of strife in a family, in a community, and in the world, while ultimately demonstrating the universal healing power of reconciliation and love”. “In her fiction and in her essays, Marilynne Robinson is concerned with the issues that define the Dayton literary peace prize: forgiveness, the sacredness of the human creature and delight in being alive and experiencing the natural world,” said Rab.

Presidential hopeful Donald Trump admits that he doesn't read, which sure makes sense from what we've heard. He doesn't admit that he can't read, but I wouldn't be surprised. I'm glad that Obama does, and he gets Robinson's unique wisdom, rooted in faith.

Any other Robinson fans out there?

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Earthquakes and Miracles

When an earthquake hit the central Italian town of Amatrice the nuns of the local convent were asleep in their beds. A young man heard cries for help and pulled three of the nuns from the building, perhaps saving their lives.

One of those rescued nuns, Sister Mariana, said that is was a miracle that the man heard them from so far away. I'm grateful that they were rescued, yet several other nuns, along with several visitors, are still buried in the rubble. Why was there a miracle, which would be God's extraordinary intervention, for some of the sisters and not for others? And why have hundreds, including children, had their lives snuffed out? Rather than a benign, loving presence, God would be capricious and unfair. When one person walks away from the plane crash,  or the trailer park after the tornado roars through, can he or she claim that a miracle has occurred?

I'm not denying the existence of miracles, either the miracles we read about in scripture, or the possibility for miracles in the present. I am much less certain about their possibility than I once was, and I have come to realize that we are not magically protected from illness, or suffering, or the effects of the natural processes of the planet, including earthquakes.

I do trust that God is the source of our strength in every circumstance in life, even those dark mysteries which are beyond our comprehension in the moment. We can pray for these devastated communities and consider how we might respond with practical compassion.

What do you think about claims of miraculous intervention? Have you every experienced a miracle? What about Sister Mariana's comment?

Saturday, August 27, 2016

So, Who is the Oppressor?

I am so angry that armed French police accosted a Muslim woman on a beach and forced her to remove items of clothing, then fined her. A number of municipalities in France have instituted a draconian law prohibiting Muslim women from swimming in what is being called the burkini, a full length swim suit which corresponds with supposed religious requirements for modesty. I say "supposed" because there are Muslim scholars who argue that many of these rules are cultural rather than required by the Quran. Then again, many restrictions in certain expressions of Christianity related to modesty, past and present, have more to do with patriarchy than biblical directives.

The point is that the government is targeting Muslim women in the wake of a series of terrorist attacks which have been perpetrated by Islamic extremists. The irony is that these have been carried out by disaffected men, most of whom were not strongly observant Muslims. The women who are now the subject of this ridiculous law are not terrorists. They want to go for a swim or sit on the beach on a hot summer day, or go to the pool with their kids in clothes which suit their views on modesty. Since when is that a crime worthy of intervention by armed police?

Australian muslim swimming instructor Fadila Chafic wears her full-length 'burkini' swimsuit during a swimming lesson with her children Taaleenand Ibrahim at swimming pool in Sydney

It's crazy that "the powers that be" have deemed that virtually naked women on beaches represent French values but these Muslim women are antithetical to them.

At times I do wonder whether the hijab and other clothing requirements are repressive, yet when I see a cheerful young woman reporter on the evening newscast wearing a headscarf I don't have the impression that she is a poor repressed creature in the thrall of controlling men. And I'm glad that the RCMP will allow women officers to wear the hijab, if they choose.

What are your thoughts on this?

Friday, August 26, 2016

Preach that Word!

This week the Pew Research Center released the results of a survey of 5,000 people about what would attract them to a new place of worship. For more than eight out of ten --83%-- the top of their list is preaching. “This is what people value in a congregation — a good message, a good homily that resonates with them and gives them guidance,” said Greg Smith, Pew’s associate director for religion research.

I was gratified to read this, because the way we receive information has changed dramatically in the last decade, let alone through the centuries. I know that people respond to music as a powerful aspect of worship, and a  warm welcome is essential. In the day-to-day life of a congregation pastoral care matters a great deal. Once again, though, preaching is at the core. United Church studies have discovered the same through the years.

This is both an encouragement and a humbling reminder. I figure I have prepared and preached more than 1600 Sunday sermons through 36+ years of pastoral ministry, along with hundreds of other messages for special liturgical occasions, as well as weddings and funerals and in nursing homes. I do my best to bring my A-game, week in and out, and I've yet to bail on a Sunday morning, with an unscheduled absence. I don't get pastors who claim they don't have time to be well prepared for Sunday morning.

At the moment I am completing my sermon for a week from now because I'm away this Sunday, and I've started on my message for the first week of  Creation Time in September. I'm at the church on Sunday mornings by 8:00 AM, preaching to an empty sanctuary so I don't have to rely on my notes too heavily come 10:30. I'll keep up this regimen until I retire.

I can't speak to how folk receive my preaching, and every preacher has fans and detractors. I've said before that I am somewhat bewildered by what individuals do and don't hear, and what they thought they heard that just wasn't there! I don't hoot or holler or point, but I do hope that I touch hearts and minds.  All I can do is be as faithful to the texts of scripture, and endeavour to be as creative and current as possible, without being too captivated by the idol of relevance.

I actually enjoy preparing a sermon and the actual proclamation of a message. Even though I'm often my own strongest critic, I consider preaching a privilege. I've changed my style of preaching in a number of ways over the years in the hope that I will be authentic and responsive to the moment I find myself in.

Would you be amongst those eight out of ten who value the sermon highly? Have your expectations for preaching changed over time? Do you enjoy the addition of visual images and even videos at times?

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Colouring Outside the Lines

Pastor Steve Shirima, the leader of Jesus Is the Key of Life, a Pentecostal church, explains how his church was painted yellow. The church is deep within the shacks of a slum. RNS photo by Fredrick Nzwili

Pastor Steve Shirima, the leader of Jesus Is the Key of Life, a Pentecostal church, explains how his church was painted yellow. The church is deep within the shacks of a slum. RNS photo by Fredrick Nzwili

Not only do some people use their supposed love of God as the justification to hate others, in certain instances Christians perpetrate violence against other Christians, Muslims kill other Muslims. It is enough to cause some to become atheists.

An encouraging story out of Kenya caught my eye because it is about people of faith moving in the other direction. Even though Kenya has significant issues with ethnic sectarian violence, some faith communities are choosing to boldly identify themselves as places where love and acceptance are celebrated:

Colour in Faith encourages expressions of acceptance and tolerance, and reaching out beyond one’s own church, temple, synagogue or mosque. So far two churches — one Anglican and one Pentecostal — and one mosque in Kibera have been painted, out of a planned total of six churches and four mosques that will be primed for the yellow paint. Nationwide, 25 churches, temples and mosques are planning to turn yellow. “The yellow color symbolizes our openness. It indicates that we can work together as people of faith,” said the Rev. Albert Woresha Mzera, of Kibera’s Holy Trinity Anglican.

One Sunday a group of Muslims attended worship at one of the churches as a statement that they are not terrorists.

Here in Canada we don't engage in violence against our religious neighbours but we are inclined toward stereotypes, competition, and even "bearing false witness." It should embarrass us, but it doesn't. Perhaps we need to be looking for a paint sale ourselves.


Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The Value of Water

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Quinte Conservation has been reminding area residents that despite some significant rainfall on two days last week there is still a Level 3 Low Water Condition notice for the region. Basically, while my lawn may be green again, and our water barrels were replenished, water levels are not sufficient for the demand. While we are on Belleville city water, drawn from the bay rather than wells and rivers, we have been mindful about water use and redeployment. We use a dishpan so that we can water plants with the grey water and our dehumidifier nourishes the plants as well. And we don't flush as often --nuff said!

The last two days I've listened to reports out of Aberfoyle where a Nestle water bottling plant draws 3.6 million litres of water a day from the aquifer despite the drought conditions in the surrounding area. Nestle pays about $3.75 per million litres to extract the water, which amounts to less than $15 a day, by my math. Does anyone else think this is insane?

I do everything I can to avoid bottled water, and when I'm offered a bottle I often comment that it is against my religion. While I say it with a smile, the person offering it often looks puzzled and sometimes offended. Yet I'm telling the truth, to a degree. Water is a precious gift from the Creator and this insanity of bottling a resource readily available to most Canadians from the tap is a sin, from my perspective. Of course many Native communities would disagree but that's a different story.

When I heard a Nestle's rep speaking as though they provide an important community service with what is really a garbage-producing scam I found myself getting angry. This is about making money from what is a non-replenishable resource in many instances. A lot of aquifers are closed systems, or recharge over millennia. When the water is gone, it's gone.

When I began my ministry in Newfoundland the United Church participated in a boycott of Nestle because it promoted the use of their baby formula in developing nations, with reps actually insinuating that their product was superior to mothers' milk. That boycott was somewhat successful, although we discovered that Nestle was still selling under other brand names, which they owned.

The United Church has already chosen not to supply bottled water at its events and encouraged congregations and individuals to do the same. I wonder if we should be more intentional, not targeting one particular company, since their name is legion, but challenging the industry and those who sell bottled water.  We can certainly encourage our membership not to buy bottled water and perhaps we need to be supporting community organizations which are drawing attention to our irresponsible use of water, including essentially giving it away to corporate interests. In the name of Christ, who is Living Water, wouldn't this make sense?


Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Sixties Scoop

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The Tragically Hip concert on Saturday night in nearby Kingston proved to be a Canadian and international love-in, with about a third of the nation watching at some point. This was an occasion when Gord Downie might have benefitted from Autotune, but his message about our obligations to First Nations peoples and the challenge to Prime Minister Trudeau, who was in the crowd, were note-perfect.

"We're in good hands, folks, real good hands. He cares about the people way up North, that we were trained our entire lives to ignore, trained our entire lives to hear not a word of what's going on up there. And what's going on up there ain't good. It's maybe worse than it's ever been, so it's not on the improve. (But) we're going to get it fixed and we got the guy to do it, to start, to help."

Trudeau went on to a cabinet retreat in Sudbury where the issues of the year ahead, which we can hope included relations with aboriginal peoples.

Today a class action suit will be heard in court on behalf of those who were affected by what is called the "sixties scoop," the removal of thousands of aboriginal children by child-welfare workers. Here is the Global News description.

At issue is the apprehension of indigenous children by child-welfare officials, who placed the young wards with non-native families.Speakers said the practice was a deliberate effort to assimilate aboriginal children.

The $1.3-billion class action argues that Canada failed to protect the children’s cultural heritage with devastating consequences to victims. Their lawyers are pressing for summary judgment in the legal battle started in February 2009. The ’60s Scoop depended on a federal-provincial arrangement in which Ontario child welfare services placed as many as 16,000 aboriginal children with non-native families from December 1965 to December 1984.

That's a staggering number of children and 1984 is relatively recently. On one level this has nothing to do with the Residential Schools a destructive system in which a number of Christian denominations, including the United Church, participated. On another level they are closely related. So many of the children who were "educated" in those schools were scarred for life, and raised without benefit of nurturing family structure. Their children suffered as a result, a grim truth acknowledged by many survivors. When those children were "scooped" by child-welfare agencies there was little or no recognition of the systemic causes of the troubled family situations.

We can pray today for a worthwhile outcome for this suit, and not just in terms of the possible monetary settlement. We need to be honest about why this happened, how churches were complicit with governments, and how we might be part of a healing solution.


Friday, August 19, 2016

Lament for the Sturgeon

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Last night I walked outside to view the August full moon, which is supposedly known as the Sturgeon Moon. I'm a little suspicious that the moons of each month now have names, such as June's Strawberry Moon. It feels like the emergence of exotic names for weather events. The word though is that the name comes from the time of year when First Nations harvested this largest fish of our fresh waters. The moon was certainly brilliant and fully visible at 1:30 in the morning.

The Ontario map is dotted with names such as Sturgeon Falls, Sturgeon Beach, Sturgeon Point, and Sturgeon Bay Provincial Park. The reality is that these once plentiful prehistoric-looking leviathans are hard to find today. It's probably safe to say that most of us have never seen one. The only occasion I did was on Change Islands off the coast of Newfoundland. A five-footer was caught in a fishing net and was tethered, live, to a dock. Our family, including children who were young at the time, was fascinated.

The bible includes a number of laments for a compromised Creation, as a sign of our broken relationship with God. Our faith is not just "me and Jesus" and how we keep on good terms. Scripture suggests that when any strand of the Web of Creation is snapped, we are all the weaker for it. When we hear about the bleaching of the great living organisms which are coral reefs, or the relentless disappearance of songbirds we should shed tears of contrition and ask how we might repent and be reconciled.

Perhaps the moon invites us to lament the passing of the sturgeon.


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Thursday, August 18, 2016


A few weeks ago a world-wide bestselling author of 16 novels with 80 million copies sold died at the age of 90.  The Rev. Tim LaHaye, co-authored the "Left Behind" series of apocalyptic, end-time novels which readers may recall I have criticized more than once for creating a biblically unfaithful and false picture of the return of Christ. LaHaye wasn't rapturously transported to heaven, escaping a cataclysmic end to the Earth. He had a stroke, while fetching the morning paper I recall, surrounded in hospital by those who love him. It sounds as though it was a gentle end to a long life, what we would all hope for.

I despise the fear-based, ooga booga nonsense of these novels and all literature and teaching which predicts this sort of apocalypse. Jesus told his followers that they would not know the hour or the day of his coming, and urged them to live compassionately and with love in the here-and-now. I do not expect to be "raptured" but I do know I'm called to be a servant of Christ in each and every day I'm given. This stuff is fantasy avoidance at its worst.

I find it ironic that many of these devotees of End Times stuff are climate change deniers. While they are salivating over the apocalypse, "biblical" floods and fires are devastating regions of the US and these events are increasingly extreme. July was the hottest month for planet Earth in recorded history.  There is a crazy presidential candidate for the Denial Party who refuses to pay attention to the scientific evidence. Hullo!

Come to think of it, maybe Jesus should just beam us up...


Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Somebody Keep our Land?

We learned this morning that Member of Parliament Mauril Belanger has died of ALS. Back-bencher Belanger was in the news a lot in June because of his private members bill to change the words of our national anthem from "in all they sons command" to a gender neutral "in all of us command." Eventually it was passed, despite some dopey opposition in the House. It was a worthwhile endeavour and wonderful that the new words were adopted before Belanger's death. We sang the anthem with the revised words during our Canada Sunday service in late June. I didn't attempt to read lips to ascertain who sang retro!

CBC reporter Terry Milewski penned  a piece asking what will be next in terms of alterations to the anthem. At that time the Rogue Tenor anthem fiasco hadn't occurred. Milewski mused about the religious content of the anthem

Unmolested so far, though, in the debate about sons versus us, is the looming God problem. It lurks mainly in the French version of the anthem, about which the ungodly have muttered for years.
The English version, of course, does invoke the Almighty: "God keep our land glorious and free!"
But the French version, which preceded the English one and is not a translation, seems noticeably more militant in its invocation of a crusading Christianity.
"Car ton bras sait porter l'épée,
Il sait porter la croix
Literally, that's "because your arm knows how to carry a sword, it knows how to carry the cross." So we are deep into "Onward, Christian soldiers" territory. We're armed, and we're spreading the gospel of Jesus.
Perhaps, if you'd asked Adolphe-Basile Routhier, the author of the French lyrics, why he excluded other religions that don't revere any cross, he might have replied, "Because it's 1880."
And it was. But look at Canada now.

Milewski then spoke to the religious diversity of the country, not to mention those who would prefer not to mention the protection of a deity in our anthem at all. I have wondered about this myself, as some of you know. The vast majority of Canadians are still deists of some description, with Judaism, Christianity, and Islam representing a lot of us. My experience of Hindus is that they are very tolerant of diverse religious expression. So the anthem will probably be "godly" for a while yet, unless we get overly earnest.  

What are your thoughts? In a diverse society has the time come to be deity-free as well as gender neutral, or does the anthem as it exists reflect our society?

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Underground Railroad Revisited

This is how the new $20 bill might look like in 2020.

I read another worthwhile article on the Underground Railroad on the weekend, this one in the New Yorker magazine. This article served as another reminder that this conduit for slaves from the American South to the north, including Canada, was in some respects a dramatic fabrication. In pre-Civil War 19th century America there were white people who aided fleeing slaves, including Quakers and other committed abolitionists. However, they weren't as prevalent as some historians of the time made them out to be and the supposed Underground Railroad was a much looser enterprise than we've been led to understand.  

And it was far more common for freed blacks to assist in the escapes than whites, even though it was much riskier for them. Perhaps the best known was Harriet Tubman, who helped an estimated 300 slaves escape. The plan to put her on the American twenty dollar bill has elicited all sort of racist chatter. Hey, history was written by white folk, so it shouldn't surprise us that they are portrayed in the better light.

I also saw a Toronto Star article about the excavation of the site of a church in Toronto which was founded by escaped slaves from the US.

Without question, however, the most enthralling and historically singular discovery was the British Methodist Episcopal Church (BME), a place of worship established on Chestnut Street in 1848 by five African-Americans who fled slavery and came to Canada via the Underground Railroad. The church evolved into the spiritual, social and political hub of the entrepreneurial black community, whose members lived in the area during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The cornerstone of the original British Methodist Episcopal Church on Chestnut St. near Toronto City Hall. "The church evolved into the spiritual, social and political hub of the entrepreneurial black community, whose members lived in the area during the late 19th and early 20th centuries," writes John Lorinc.

Sadly, this site will now be redeveloped for a new $500 million courthouse with no plans to acknowledge this history.The sites of this church and a synagogue will be obliterated. Justice?

Saturday, August 13, 2016

So Much for the Poor

We have friends in Northern Ontario who are American politics junkies and travelled to the States for at least one of the two conventions (Democratic?) which took place over the past few weeks. They love the drama of US presidential elections, although I wonder if they are holding their noses this time around. Canadians have been busy despising Donald Trump and claiming they would vote for Hilary Clinton, as much by default as anything. But other than being aware that Trump hates anyone who isn't white, isn't armed to the teeth, and isn't nominally a Christian, and that Clinton has murky dealings involving an email server, what makes up their party platforms?

Apparently practical concern for the poor isn't a priority for either candidate. An article in the New York Times by Binyamin Appelbaum  entitled The Millions of Americans Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton Barely Mention: The Poor points out that Hilary stabs Donald for favouring the rich and both make noises about supporting the middle class, but there is essentially nothing in their economic strategies to lift Americans out of poverty. Trump is hideous in his "survival of the fattest" approach but Clinton essentially said boo about the poor in her convention acceptance speech. One observer offered:

“It’s not at all unusual for people running for president not to talk about poverty because the poor are not necessarily the swing voters you’re trying to pick off,” he said. “But I actually think a lot of her proposals would help — she just doesn’t always connect the dots to poverty and low-income workers.”

To be fair, Canadian political leaders gassed on about "hard-working middle class Canadians" during the election last Fall but offered little hope to those living in poverty. The Poverty Roundtable in Belleville had a candidates meeting on poverty and the Conservative candidate let us know that he wasn't going to show up. I encouraged our Bridge St. members to put pressure on him to participate and heard the grumbling for my efforts. Why, I wonder? Jesus was all about the poor and dispossessed, so why wouldn't Christians want to know what the strategy of their party was on poverty? The other candidates did participate but the emphasis kept leaning to the benefits for the middle class.

This year our Bridge St. meal ministries will likely distribute 10,000 meals, and our numbers keep growing. While I'm glad we're meeting a need and proud of our volunteers, this isn't getting to the core of the systemic problems related to poverty in our region and in this country.

What do you think about the silence of politicians on issues of poverty? Is it our responsibility at Christians to hold their feet to the fire?

Friday, August 12, 2016

Tree Hugging & Barkskins

I have written often about the significance of trees in the bible. Early in Genesis we read about a tree of good and evil, and at the conclusion of Revelation we are given a vision of a city adorned with trees. Jesus likely slept beneath the canopy of olive trees in the Garden of Gethsemane and he was "nailed upon the tree," a way of speaking of the crucifixion.

Canada is a nation of trees and even larger centres such as Toronto and Montreal and London, Ontario are remarkable for their urban forests.

I have nearly completed Barkskins the historical novel by Annie Proulx, author of  the Pulitzer Prize winning The Shipping News. I read The Shipping News on the "bridge" of a saltbox house on Change Islands, Newfoundland, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Barkskins tells the rather grim story of the insatiable hunger for timber in North America and other parts of the planet. While reviews haven't been all that kind, one calling Barkskins a jeremiad soaked in acid rain, it reminds us of the assumption that the forests of this continent were considered inexhaustible and expendable, so wantonly exploited. Living, breathing entities were and still are reduced to a commodity measured in board feet.

On our way through rural New Brunswick a couple of weeks ago we had a close encounter with a road-hogging pulp truck piled with forest plunder. It was a reminder that beyond the "beauty strip" of trees lining highways in a number of provinces there are large clearcuts which in the aftermath become plantations of trees rather than diverse forests.

Image result for logging truck

At 700 or so pages Barkskins requires some literal and figurative heavy lifting, but as a proud tree-hugger I'm glad to have persevered.

Anyone else read it? Are you inclined to wade in?

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Beyond Terror

Aaron Driver, shown in 2015, was shot by police after he detonated a device that wounded himself and one other person in Strathroy, Ont.

Early this morning Twitter informed me that police in Strathroy, Ontario shot and killed a young aspiring terrorist with an explosive device. He was known to authorities and had been before the courts because of his stated sympathies for ISIS or Daesh. While he was raised as a Christian he claimed to have converted to Islam.

The television and radio news gave us more information of a troubled young man who made threats against GO Transit and the TTC in Toronto, which led police to his door in a quiet neighbourhood in a small town. He detonated one bomb and was killed before he could set off a second.

While this fellow has been described as a "lone wolf" who probably had no actual contact with ISIS, the prospect of terrorism in scary for all of us when we witness what has happened in other countries. We don't really care if he was acting alone, if he had murdered others that knowledge would have provided little comfort.

There is a personal aspect to this in our family. Every work day daughter Jocelyn takes the GO train from Oshawa to Toronto and she passes through Union Station. Daughter Emily takes the TTC to work. And most sobering, son Isaac, who lives in London, drops our precious grandsons at a daycare half a kilometre from the site of the shooting.

As a father and grandfather I find this unsettling and too close to home. At the same time I will live with hope for this country and this planet. I am ashamed of supposed brothers and sisters in Christ in the United States who have allied themselves with the miserable presidential candidate, Donald Trump, a dangerous bigot and xenophobe. Their message of alienation and fear is antithetical to the gospel of Jesus Christ and unfaithful.

I celebrate the diversity of Canada and the freedom of religion. I am encouraged by the positive relationship our congregation has established in this community with the mosque and its members who have become partners in the sponsorship of our Syrian family.

Do terrorists scare me? Of course, although as  I look at the face of the young man who died I can only feel that this was a troubled person whose death is a senseless waste. 

I don't want to be terrified because God calls me to live a life of courage and hope and love.


Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Summer Reading

I'm back to blogging after three weeks of enjoyable vacationing in New Brunswick, Quebec, and Northern Ontario.

I hauled around two prodigious volumes on our travels, one fiction and the other non-fiction. Van Gogh: The Life is a remarkable biography of the painter who is now one of the best known on the planet, yet only managed to sell one painting near the end of his 37 years. The other is Barkskins by Annie Proulx, which is historical fiction. I'll write about it separately. Together the books add up to about 1600 pages, and I've finished Van Gogh and can see the end with Barkskins.

I was reminded as I read that Vincent, the son of a Dutch pastor, aspired to the ministry himself, although his convoluted sermons and relational tone-deafness meant that he didn't stand a chance for this vocation. He was shunted into situations of less and less responsibility despite his desire and persistence. Even the destitute found Vincent to be an eccentric character and mocked him.

In keeping with his obsessive personality he eventually abandoned this career path, and organized religion as well, often deriding those who were foolish enough to be Christians. While he was critical of the fantasy of the bible he revisited biblical themes and was fascinated by forgiveness and with Christ.

He made attempts to paint a sort of Cosmic Christ surrounded by stars, but his poor draftsmanship with human figures caused him to abandon these efforts. Eventually he settled on the image we know as Starry Night, truly one of his most enduring works.

There it is. Good to be back!