Saturday, October 29, 2016

Small Wonders

We have a membership for the Art Gallery of Ontario, as do both of our daughters, who live in Toronto. Ruth was there last weekend with Jocelyn and Emily, but a new exhibit wasn't open yet, one I am looking forward to seeing.

It features exquisitely small carvings, including rosaries:

Marvels of human ingenuity, so small they can fit in the palm of your hand, miniature boxwood carvings from the early 1500s have long remained a mystery.The AGO is pleased to debut Small Wonders: Gothic Boxwood Miniatures, a groundbreaking exhibition of more than 60 boxwood miniatures organized in partnership withThe Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Rijksmuseum. Offering new insight into the methods of production and cultural significance of these awe-inspiring works of art, this exhibition highlights more than four years of research that has used cutting-edge technology to understand these elegantly precise miniature rosaries, prayer beads and altarpieces.

Image result for rosaries tattoo

Rosaries are strings of prayer beads, used as a prayer aid. While traditionally they have been associated with Roman Catholicism, they are found in Judaism, Islam, Buddhism. In our ecumenical age they have been used more by those from other "brands" of Christianity. And there is a more free-style approach to prayer beads these days, creating beads which are representational of cherished family members and other relationships. Ruth made a string of prayer beads when our kids were teens, and had it on her night table to pray in the dark if she was inclined to be anxious about their whereabouts and wellbeing.

Do you know much about prayer beads or rosaries? Are you intrigued? Will we make a trip to the AGO for the exhibit?

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Friday, October 28, 2016

Justice for Adam Capay

Adam Capay going into court in 2012. (Jeff Labine/DougallMedia/

For years we have been aware of the military prison camp called Guantanamo or Gitmo which is run by the United States at the tip of Cuba. The United States promised to give the land back to Cuba, and hasn't, while President Obama made a promise to close it, and hasn't. It is notorious for the torture of prisoners who had not necessarily been convicted of crimes in contravention of international law. Extended isolation of prisoners was one of those forms of torture.

We have been made aware in recent days of a young First Nations man, Adam Capay, who has been held in an isolation room in the Thunder Bay jail for more than four years --52 months -- awaiting trial. He has lived in the tiny confines of that room for twenty three hours of each day, with the light on constantly. He was jailed originally for a minor crime, then accused of killing another inmate during a fight, but he has been convicted of nothing. He is considered a potential danger to himself and others but his incarceration under these conditions is akin to torture under every standard in this country and our Charter of Rights and Freedoms. And if Adam has mental health issues, this treatment won't improve them.

This is truly inhumane and I have to wonder if this has to do with his being aboriginal. Who has been his advocate? I heard an interview with  Renu Mandhane, Ontario’s chief human rights commissioner. She was finally able to speak to Capay during a visit to the Thunder Bay jail and brought the circumstances of his incarceration to the attention of the public. Capay appeared to be losing his capacity for speech because of the lack of human contact. How did this happen?

We are well aware of the injustices of churches and governments toward aboriginal peoples in Canada during the Residential School era. We also await the inquiry into the fate of missing and murdered aboriginal women. This is a grim reminder that our system of justice is flawed, well beyond what has happened to Adam Capay in that jail.


Thursday, October 27, 2016

Momento Mori, South Korean Style


Memento mori ("remember that you have to die")[

Okay, some trends are lost in translation. Apparently there is a centre in South Korea where people can go and contemplate their mortality, actually sitting in a casket as they do so. This is the story from the New York Times:

SEOUL, South Korea — Did you ever wonder what it would be like to be at your own funeral? Some South Koreans aren’t waiting to die to find out. It’s become a trend in recent years to act out a mock funeral service as a way of better appreciating life.

The Hyowon Healing Center in Seoul runs one such program, with financial backing from a funeral service company. After an instructional lecture and video, participants are led into a dimly lit hall decorated with chrysanthemums, where they sit, often tearfully, beside caskets and write their last testaments. Then they put on burial shrouds and lie down in the coffins.A grim-looking man dressed in a black robe, “the Envoy from the Other World,” hammers the lids closed. The participants are left encased in utter darkness for 10 minutes — which can feel like an eternity.

At the end of the two-and-a-half-hour session, Mr. Jeong tells the participants: “Now, you have shed your old self. You are reborn to have a fresh start!” It takes a few minutes for them to readjust, but soon they are chatting, laughing and taking selfies with their coffins.

As bizarre as this sounds, we live in a society which seems to be increasingly death-denying and where many of the rituals to help people grieve are being abandoned or minimized. The phrase "memento mori" reminds us that we are mortal and whatever our eternal hope we all kick the bucket which supposedly informs our "bucket list." (I really hate that term.)

I wonder whether this somewhat morbid experience will find it's way to North America? I suppose we have a literary precedent with Tom Sawyer attending his own funeral. I do like the born again emphasis at the conclusion of the South Korean sessions, but surely there is an easier way!

Would you be interested in test-driving a casket? Are we part of a death-denying culture? Are you prepared to meet your maker?

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Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Basic Income?

Yesterday folk were lined up out the door at Bridge St. UC to pick up frozen meals from our Thank God It's...well, usually Friday, but also Tuesdays and Thursdays at the end of the month. Later a crowd arrived for a hot meal as part of End of the Month Meals. I also chatted with our Property Team chairperson about the ten by twelve walk-in freezer which will be built to replace the armada of chest freezers we use now. It will be installed before our Inn from the Cold Program begins in January. This year the three programs have distributed and served roughly 13,000 meals, with two months to go before the end of the year.

All of this is impressive in terms of volunteer effort, community involvement, and the commitment of the congregation to live out the gospel message of responding, in Christ's name, to those who need to be fed. Despite our affluent society and a social safety network too many people make difficult choices about which bills to pay and how to balance this with healthy meals.

Our team knows that serving meals is helpful in keeping the wolf from the door and providing a safe and welcoming social environment. It certainly isn't the answer to social inequality in our country. We are aware that mental and physical health suffer when people are poor and so does education and other opportunities.

When I saw the book above advertised I was reminded once again that we need to have the conversation about basic income for all to address all these issues. While lots of people are against this for a number of reasons, there are economists and sociologists who are convinced that it would benefit society and the economy. This is a matter of justice which is at the heart of Christ's teachings. It's time to listen. In the meantime, we feed, and pray that all will be fed.


Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Our Christian Culture

This is my second try at this blog subject. After completing my musings yesterday they mysteriously evaporated (to my chagrin)  and I didn't have time to rewrite until now.

I listened to an interview with ethnobotanist and anthropologist Wade Davis on the CBC radio program, The Current. I've long admired Davis, a Canadian, for his explorations of other cultures which we are inclined to dismiss as primitive. Davis has appreciated for decades that these cultures often have a deep wisdom which is connected to the natural world in a supernatural way. This is the description of Davis's work on the CBC website:

"There is no reason whatsoever to use the word primitive to describe any culture."
He says cultures are just different ways of interpreting the world and are not on a continuum from traditional to modern. "The whole question is what kind of world do we want to live in and how do we figure out a way as we transition forward in the march of history we can maintain the glory of diversity which is in a sense the poetry of life itself."

Conversely, our industrial and technological society has distanced itself from the rhythms of our ecosystems, to our peril. How can we describe ourselves as advanced or sophisticated when we are rapidly degrading and destroying the very fabric of the planet which sustains us? We seem oblivious to our impact and continue headlong on pathways to disaster.

Davis was described yesterday as working for years with National Geographic as an "explorer in residence" which seems like the coolest job description every, even if it is a tad oxymoronic. This got me thinking in an entirely different direction.

Don't you think we need many more "explorers in residence" in mainline churches these days? The ways in which we have expressed the gospel haven't been working for a long time and our faith ecosystems are breaking down. We're beginning to appreciate that what we took for granted as Christian may not be grounded in Christ at all.

Rather than abandoning the church, or Christ for that matter, we can venture forth to reconnect with the deep and supernatural wisdom of the Christ Way with a fresh and adventurous perspective for our time. To explore these possibilities may daunt us, but it may also be the great adventure of our spiritual lifetimes

Would you agree? How far should we explore? Is there hope for our Christian tribe?

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Darkness and Light in Leonard Cohen

Image result for you want it darker

If you are the dealer, I'm out of the game
If you are the healer, it means I'm broken and lame
If thine is the glory then mine must be the shame
You want it darker
We kill the flame

Magnified, sanctified, be thy holy name
Vilified, crucified, in the human frame
A million candles burning for the help that never came
You want it darker
Hineni, hineni
I'm ready, my lord

There's a lover in the story
But the story's still the same
There's a lullaby for suffering
And a paradox to blame
But it's written in the scriptures
And it's not some idle claim
You want it darker
We kill the flame

They're lining up the prisoners
And the guards are taking aim
I struggled with some demons
They were middle class and tame
I didn't know I had permission to murder and to maim
Hineni, hineni
I'm ready, my lord

Magnified, sanctified, be thy holy name
Vilified, crucified, in the human frame
A million candles burning for the love that never came
You want it darker
We kill the flame
If you are the dealer, let me out of the game

If you are the healer, I'm broken and lame
If thine is the glory, mine must be the shame
You want it darker...

You Want It Darker
Leonard Cohen

When Bob Dylan was announced as the recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature I wondered how long it would be before speculation about other singer/songwriters as equally worthy. It wasn't long before Canada's Leonard Cohen was named as someone perhaps more deserving.

Cohen certainly deserves an award for coolest octogenarian on the planet, and he is a thoughtful and spiritual writer. Cohen began life as a Jew, often uses Christian imagery, and practices Buddhist meditation. The title song from his newly released You Want It Darker reflects those traditions and he uses the choir from the synagogue of his youth as the introit for this song. This is what the The Guardian has to say in its positive review of You Want It Darker.

But equally, you can see why Cohen is keen to deflect the interpretation that You Want It Darker is intended as some kind of musical last will and testament. It arrives packed with songs you could interpret as reflective farewells – from Leaving the Table to Steer Your Way – and with references to mortality and faith. The first sound you hear is a choir from the Montreal synagogue in which Cohen’s family worshipped, and the last is Cohen apparently addressing Jesus with a certain irrevocability: “It’s over now, the water and the wine … I wish there was a treaty between your love and mine.”

Do we nominate Cohen now for the Nobel? Have you been aware of the spiritual and religious themes of his music? Are you a fan?

Friday, October 21, 2016

The Glory of God & Contemplative Prayer

The heavens are telling the glory of God;
   and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours forth speech,
   and night to night declares knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words;
   their voice is not heard;
yet their voice goes out through all the earth,
   and their words to the end of the world. 
Psalm 19

I'm writing a sermon on prayer for this Sunday which invites us into openness and contemplation rather than just yakking at God, which is what we Protestants tend to lean toward.

We really don't trust our senses when it comes to prayer. It's unfortunate because we live in a country of extraordinary beauty and sensory delight. One of my most holy moments in recent memory was the cycle home from Bridge St.UC on Tuesday afternoon. While my early morning cycle was lovely and calm, in the afternoon the wind was stirring up the Bay of Quinte and the colourful leaves of Autumn rustled and roared. God was there in the stiff breeze in a way that lifted my spirit.

I saw the illustration above and the encouragement below on Twitter and it spoke to me.

“Fall is a feast for the physical senses, the perfect opportunity to step out of our thoughts and into the body, connecting with the world around us.” — Andy Puddicombe, co-founder of the meditation app Headspace.
Step outside on a fall day.
Notice the quality of the light.
Feel the air against your skin, cooler than it was just a few weeks ago.
Observe the sunlight filtering through the trees.
Notice the play of the shadows.
Listen to the sounds of rustling leaves.
Inhale the smell of an autumn day.
The rain today and tomorrow may bring down many leaves, but this is a great encouragement to contemplate and appreciated the glory of God.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

A Song of Hope

Image result for the jungle camp france

                                                     The Calais Jungle

By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion.
We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof.
For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song; and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion.
How shall we sing the Lord's song in a strange land?

                             Psalm 137 King James Version

There is a makeshift refugee camp in France which has stubbornly defied closure, although the threat looms again this week. It's not as though The Jungle, as it's called, is a model place for asylum seekers. In fact this camp near Calais, which has shifted from location to location, has been described as a hellhole. Each time the camp is dismantled it reappears, filling up with those hoping to get to Britain by any means possible. The refugees jump onto moving transport trucks and attempt to sneak through the Chunnel. The current issue is unaccompanied minors living in the camp who have family members in Britain. Under international law they are entitled to be reunited with family, but Britain doesn't want a new wave of refugee claimants.

I contrast this with the United Refugee Family Sponsorship Group Belleville which met yesterday at Bridge St. Church. It was a warm and positive meeting with participants from three United Churches, the Muslim and Bahai communities, and a Roman Catholic parish.

We heard touching reports of trips to the Toronto and Ottawa airports to pick up family members of our first sponsored family, the Al Mansours. One grandmother and a sibling family of five are now in Canada. In both situations the Al Mansours were able to greet their loved ones at the airport and there was joy for everyone as they were reunited. One of the Al Mansour boys played O Canada and the Syrian national anthem on a portable keyboard as they made the drive to Ottawa. In Toronto the grandmother jumped out of her wheelchair when she saw her family.

Those describing the experiences were emotional in the telling, as were those of us listening. The Al Mansours and these relatives all spent extended periods of time in crowded refugee camps in Lebanon. Now they are settling in to fully equipped apartments in Belleville.

We recognize that we can't solve the problems of the Middle East and the rising tide of displaced people in the region. There are now 52 million refugees from 13 countries in that troubled part of the world, more than the population of Spain.

As people of faith, choosing a common cause of compassion and hospitality, we endeavour to make a difference in this moment and this place. We will do everything possible to let these human beings, loved by God, learn a new song of hope.


Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Honouring Chanie Wenjack

Recently the exceptional Canadian writer Joseph Boyden released a book about a First Nations boy named Chanie “Charlie” Wenjack who was born the same year as me, 1954. But rather than living a full and meaningful life as I've been able to do as white, middle class male, Chanie died at the age of twelve as the result of hunger and exposure.  He ran away from his residential school, and perished as he attempted to return to his home. His death sparked national attention and the first inquest into the treatment of Indigenous children in Canadian residential schools.

Image result for wenjack

Along with this book there is a project connected to Chanie Wenjack initiated by Gord Downie, the leader singer of the Tragically Hip. Downie has terminal brain cancer, so his Secret Path collection of sung poems in particularly poignant. As Downie's memory fades, he is collaborating with the Wenjack family to uphold  the memory of a child wrested from his own culture by a system created by government and religious authorities. The concert which launched Secret Path this past Tuesday was moving, according to all reports. This from CBC News:

Pearl closed the concert with a traditional Anishinaabe healing song, sung without accompaniment. Her hand was held by Downie as she sang, her strong, clear voice softening with emotion at the fourth and final chorus. Charlie Wenjack's grave in Marten Falls First Nation at Ogoki Post in northwestern Ontario. She stepped back from the microphone, and then forward again. "My father died in 1987 without ever knowing why his son had to die," she said. "My mother still waits. To this day no one has told her why her son had to go." Wenjack's sobs filled the auditorium.

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Both the federal government and various religious groups, including the United Church of Canada, have acknowledged what was cultural genocide, and the dark
truth that many of the children taken into the residential school system were not only abused, psychologically and physically, but died.  The estimates of those who died has been growing steadily since the Truth and Reconciliation commission has fulfilled its grim mandate across the country.

Musician Gord Downie meets with Charlie Wenjack's sister Pearl Wenjack in Marten Falls First Nation last month.

Gord Downie and Pearl Wenjack ( Chanie's sister)

While we don't always want to have our sins revealed, whether individually or corporately, we know that the notions of forgiveness and reconciliation are hollow unless we confess and repent. I hope that the efforts of both Gord Downie and Joseph Boyden will help us as we discover how this can happen. I encourage you to revisit the apologies made by the United Church and read more about our participation in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission process.

When we hear of four children, with one only ten years old, taking their lives on a Northern Saskatchewan Reserve in recent days we realize the legacy of  despair is still painfully real.


Charlie Wenjack's grave

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The Next Chapter

On Sunday morning I informed the Bridge St. congregation of my intention to retire as of June 30th, 2017. I began the conversation with our Personnel Team in June of this year, had further discussions, and chose to let the congregation know early so the sometimes ponderous search process could get underway. This is actually earlier than I had intended when accepting a call here, but It just seems right.

I had my first interview to become a candidate for ordained ministry when I was nineteen years old and I am grateful that the Rev. Dr. Stanley Osborne and the committee from Oshawa Presbytery took me seriously, and honoured my developing sense of God's call,  even though I was essentially a kid. Dr. Osborne was principal of the Ontario Ladies College at that time, and in a lovely coincidence our daughter Jocelyn was married in the chapel a year ago. She and Jeff chose the venue not knowing that I was interviewed there decades before.

The church no longer interviews possible candidates before they have begun post-secondary education, yet here I am 42 years later, having completed six years of university, including my Masters of Divinity, before embarking on what will be 37 consecutive years of pastoral ministry in six pastoral charges. Hmm...

As I spoke Sunday, Ruth, my partner in life and ministry, listened from the congregation. Remarkably, we began our relationship with we were nineteen-year-olds and were married at twenty-one. Not only has ministry been the trajectory of my entire adult life, she has been my loving, encouraging, wise and patient companion through all those years. We have lived in Newfoundland, Northern Ontario, Nova Scotia, as well as Southern Ontario, and Ruth has always been willing to pick up and go on to the next challenge. She is a remarkable person.

Ruth and our adult children Isaac, and Jocelyn, and Emily, have been wonderfully supportive in this decision. They have seen that while I love ministry in many respects, and consider serving these congregations in Christ's name an honour, the demands have taken a toll. I am physically healthy, yet emotionally and spiritually weary, so it is time.

I promised myself that after being absent far too often from family life when our children were young, I would make the right decisions about being present to grandchildren when the time came. Because Ruth and I are both Preacher's Kids we've had a lifetime of weekend commitments when others were enjoying something as simple as consecutive days off and three-day weekends supposedly mandated by law. Congregations really need to figure this out in the 21st century!

That said, I really appreciate the folk of the Bridge St. congregation and what I feel is our vital and meaningful Christian presence in this community. I commented to Ruth this morning that this is a congregation with a heart in the heart of the city, and our meal ministries and refugee sponsorships are amongst the highlights of my ministry.

What will I do next? Gulp...I'm not sure. I commented Sunday that this feels like jumping off a cliff, and I'm trusting that I'm wearing a wing suit to soar into new and creative opportunities. I want to reconnect with my contemplative self, expand my passion for the outdoors and creation, and rediscover the dormant aspects of my creative spirit. "Splat!" is not an option.  

Christ has been my companion through these years, and I'm confidant that this will not end.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

For Whom the Bell Tolls

We have a massive bell tower at Bridge St Church, which soars over the downtown in Belleville. In that tower there is a hefty bell pull rope, although it is no longer used, as the bell is controlled electronically from the convenience of the narthex. It's better and worse to ring it from downstairs. We can't speed the ringing to a joyful cadence for a wedding, nor can we slow it down to a mournful toll for a funeral or a memorial service such as the one held here for those killed in an Orlando nightclub earlier this year.

In some of the cathedrals of Europe, and a handful of places in North America, bells are much more serious business. There are peals of bells, and trained ringers who play complicated changes which ring out over the cities where the churches are located. I've heard this, quite by happy coincidence while in Canterbury, Great Britain.

There has been a stir at another of the foremost cathedrals of Britain, York Minster, over the firing of 30 bell ringers from their team for reasons unknown. If you're like me, you're surprised that there might be that many ringers (are there more?!) and that this would become such an issue. How do you get fired as a bell ringer? Do you riff on Born to be Wild" when you should be playing medieval changes?  Apparently these volunteers ringers will be replaced with professionals, but not until the new year. This means that the fourth "heaviest" peal of bells in Britain will be silenced for Remembrance Day and Christmas/New Year's.

Image result for york minster cathedral bells

As odd as this controversy sounds, we know that there is a long and meaningful tradition of church bells serving as warning, celebration, invitation to worship within communities of all sizes. Bells are rung to mark the conclusion of conflict, to say farewell to a significant figure, to warn about climate change, and to mark the hours of the day. It's wonderful that places of worship have been the home to bells and it is curious and intriguing that the brouhaha at York Minster has become newsworthy.


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Saturday, October 15, 2016

Above and Beyond Ugly

When I was in a community in the summer where I once served I had contact with two people I liked very much when I was their minister. One has remained a good friend for Ruth, and me, and I stayed in her home during the visit. I had lunch with the other, and it was good to renew acquaintances after many years. During those Sudbury years they were a married couple, at least to begin with, and our children were friends with their children. Then the marriage came apart, and the months and years following have not been kind. Even though the breakup occurred more than 15 years ago, there has never been resolution. The recent wedding of one of the children had its tensions, sad to say.

We so wish this wasn't the case, but as a minister I've experienced this all too often through the years. In most instances the hope is that the end of a relationship won't be contentious, for the sake of the children, but the wheels of civility come off along the way.

These situations came to mind when I saw the article in The Guardian entitled  Parenting after divorce: the art of not being ugly by Sasha Frere-Jones. This couple seems to have gone through a painful parting, yet they managed to establish a couple of basic ground rules which have served them well.

We held to that one point of agreement: change the boys’ lives as little as possible. After children have seen their lives inverted, that all sounds a bit feeble, but it was a seed.

But a second rule went into effect early: no badmouthing the other parent, whatever the topic. And we were lucky – we liked and respected each other, beneath the turbulence. That’s where we had started. So the irregular interactions led to a committed decision to not be ugly, even when that seemed impossible. There was enough doubt and hurt for all four of us – anything to clean the air helped. It was a way of being both selfish and considerate.Even when there wasn’t much of it, talking was a boon.

"Thou shalt not be ugly" seems to be an excellent 11th commandment for separated parents. One would hope that it would be an even greater priority for people of faith, but life isn't easy, and it's a mistake to be judgmental from the outside.

Have you lived through this yourself? Have you the child in a difficult family breakup? Is there an art and a spiritual grace to not being ugly?

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Bob Dylan, Nobel Laureate

Come you masters of war
You that build the big guns
You that build the death planes
You that build all the bombs
You that hide behind walls
You that hide behind desks
I just want you to know
I can see through your masks

You that never done nothin'
But build to destroy
You play with my world
Like it's your little toy
You put a gun in my hand
And you hide from my eyes
And you turn and run farther
When the fast bullets fly

Like Judas of old
You lie and deceive
A world war can be won
You want me to believe
But I see through your eyes
And I see through your brain
Like I see through the water
That runs down my drain

Bob Dylan - Masters Of War 1962-3

Well, the debate is on. Should any songwriter, let alone Bob Dylan, be awarded a prize for literature. Dylan's win was a surprise to many yesterday, and the reaction was mixed in unusual ways. There were eminent poets who applauded what was an audacious choice. Then there were singer/songwriters who expressed disdain, even though they are Dylan fans, feeling that a literature prize should not go to a songsmith. Go figure.

Dylan began as something of a social activist rebel, became an icon, and has always been enigmatic to put it diplomatically. While he was reviled and booed when he went electric in the sixties, he actually began with rock, moved to folk, and then...well, he was Dylan.

He has been something of a mystery when it comes to religion as well. As the name Bob Zimmerman might suggest, he grew up Jewish, then became a "born again" Christian in the late 70s. A couple of albums from that period are exclusively Christian, but he returned to Judaism along the way. He once described Jesus as his hero.

In response to a question whether he regarded himself as a follower of Christ or as a Jew, he humorously responded that he followed Christ "about 50% of the time and (is) a Jew only when I have to be."  I've included a couple of stanzas from one of the songs from his  Saved album.

What do you think Dylan's choice for the Nobel Prize? Were you, are you a fan? Were you aware of his Christian fervour? Are your answers blowin' in the wind?

When they came for Him in the garden, did they know?
When they came for Him in the garden, did they know?
When He spoke to them in the city, did they hear?
When He spoke to them in the city, did they hear?

When He rose from the dead, did they believe?
When He rose from the dead, did they believe?
He said, "All power is given to Me in heaven and on earth."
Did they know right then and there what that power was worth?

  Bob Dylan - In The Garden Lyrics

Luther's Dark Side

Anti-Semitic Sculpture Outside Luther's Church Creates Controversy

I'm already musing about what we might do to commemorate the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther's momentous challenge to the Roman Catholic practice of selling indulgences with the posting of the 95 theses on the door of a church in Wittenberg, Germany. I've already purchased my best-selling Playmobil Luther and begun reading a fascinating book called Brand Luther.

Image result for playmobil martin luther

I just discovered a shocking anecdote about a sculpture which is a graphic and ugly reminder of two thousand years of anti-Jewish sentiment and involved Luther.  

According to an article in Christianity Today another church in Wittenberg, where Luther regularly preached, married his wife Katharina von Bora( a former nun) and baptized their six children, is currently drawing greater attention because of a challenge to remove a 700-year-old anti-Semitic sculpture from its facade. Perched 26 feet above the ground, on the exterior southeast corner of the Town Church, is a 14th-century sandstone sculpture of a pig with two people in identifiably medieval Jewish hats suckling at its teats and another holding a piglet’s ear. An additional Jewish person lifts the tail while looking into the sow’s rear. Written above the relief is an inscription with the words, “Rabini Shem Hamphoras.” This nonsensical reference to the Jewish appellation of God’s name, added after Luther’s time, quotes a derogatory comment in one of Luther’s writings. Sadly, Luther became increasingly anti-Semitic through the years. a dark blot on the legacy of the founder of the Reformation.

There are Lutherans who are determined to remove this sculpture and others like it, but there is an interesting twist to the story. There are approximately 100,000 Jews in Germany and about 1400 live in the state where Wittenberg is located. The Jewish communities in the area have recently discussed the removal of the “Judensau” and they have concluded that it should remain in place as a blatant reminder of anti-Semitism.“We think that the sculpture represents a testimony of medieval thinking and Christian architectural tradition,” said Max Privorozki, chairman of the executive committee of the association of Jewish communities in the state of Saxony-Anhalt.

While I find this sculpture quite unsettling perhaps the Jewish community has it right. Knowing that some Christians, including Lutherans, were complicit in the annihilation of six million Jews during WW2, it's important to have reminders of how deep-seated the antipathy toward them has been around the world, and for such a long time.

What do you think? Should the sculpture be taken down, or should it remain as an educational opportunity and a cautionary tale (not tail)?. Should 2017 be reserved for celebration, or do we acknowledge Luther's darker side?

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Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Groping for Answers on American Faith

We're told that more than a quarter of Republican leaders have abandoned Donald Trump, either out of principle or pragmatism, Many are disgusted by his misogyny and lies, while others are afraid that the growing voter disenchantment will affect their campaigns.

Where is Trump holding strong? With evangelicals, including some of the supposed leaders of that peculiar brand of American Christian. Franklin Graham, son of evangelist icon Billy, had proven himself to be a nut long before the campaign began, declaring his support for Russia's Vladimir Putin. Jerry Falwell was no prize, but his son Jerry Jr. makes his old man look like a moderate. Nothing seems to shake his determination to support Mussolini...excuse me, Trump.  Apparently Falwell commented "five years from now, no one will remember what horrible things Donald Trump said about women."

Others haven't budged on their Trumpolatry, and rank and file evangelicals are evenly split in their support even after hearing the hideous things he said about sexually assaulting women. They claim he's a different man now. Where is that evident?

To be fair, there are a fair number of evangelicals who didn't support Trump from the get-go, and in the past week a very few others have withdrawn their support.

In my opinion irreparable harm has been done to conservative Christianity in the United States. It no longer has anything to do with the gospel of Jesus Christ. It has aligned itself with the harsh, "despise the other" politics of the Republican party. Actually, the credibility of a country where "Make America Grope Again" is now the punchline has been deeply harmed around the world.