Thursday, January 28, 2016

Systemic Sadness


Every time I see the smiling face of Marie Janvier, the young teaching assistance gunned down in La Loche, Saskatchewan,  I feel a pang of sadness. All four of the deaths and the injuries to several more were senseless and brutal. The teen charged with these murders can never grow into any normal manhood. We have been told this mass shooting may be the worst event in the history of the community but in some respects is one event in the midst of systemic problems and violence experienced on many reserves. La Loche has one of the highest crime rates in the country.

 There have been articles in a number of publications including Macleans magazine which identify the layer on layer of challenges and concede that easy fixes really don't fix anything. 

Within days of these murders a report from a human rights tribunal was released, identifying that the federal government discriminates against First Nation children on reserves by failing to provide the same level of child welfare services that exist elsewhere.  Cindy Blackstock, executive director of the First Nations and Family Caring Society, along with the Assembly of First Nations, filed a complaint against Ottawa with the Canadian Human Rights Commission in February 2007. I wrote about Blackstock and how she was being spied on and harassed by the feds because of her activism. This report is a vindication and testament to her perseverance.

We should connect the dots between the findings of the tribunal and the culture of violence in isolated communities. The young man who pulled the trigger is responsible for his actions. Still, he grew up in a culture of limited opportunity, alienation, and violence.

Politicians showed up in La Loche after the tragedy and made commitments to change, but these declarations have a tendency to become empty promises.
Left to right: La Loche Mayor Kevin Janvier, Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall, federal Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale and MLA Georgina Jolibois lay flowers at a makeshift memorial at La Loche, Sask., on Sunday. January 24, 2016. A shooting Friday left four people dead.

We can hope and pray that substantive change will come under the current federal government. And we can ask how faith communities, including the United Church, can become partners in hope for aboriginal peoples across the country.


Wednesday, January 27, 2016


While this is International Holocaust Day many Jews find the word "holocaust" which means "burnt offering" offensive as a description of the annihilation of six million Jews during WW2. Instead they use the word "shoah," which is translated as "calamity." The systematic destruction of a third of the world's Jews by the Nazis was a staggering calamity, an unspeakable evil.

Unfortunately, whatever word or phrase we employ, awareness of the horror of the extermination camps may be fading in our society as the years go by.

Some of you may remember a documentary entitled Shoah released in 1985, a tour de force of nearly ten hours created by Claude Lanzmann, who is still alive at age 90.  In his review at the time, the late Roger Ebert called it "an enormous fact, a 550-minute howl of pain and anger in the face of genocide."

The toll on Lanzmann as he explored the darkness was enormous. A couple of days ago I listened to a CBC interview with Adam Benzine, the director of Claude Lanzmann: Spectres of the Shoah, nominated for Best Documentary (Short Subject) at this year's Oscars. He observed:

"It kind of broke him in almost every sense — financially, mentally. In some ways Shoah was the longest relationship of his life.It was like a bereavement for him. It took many months to recover. I think he's still recovering," 

Filming Shoah, which took a decade,  included convincing survivors to reopen their wounds, and covertly filming SS guards. The latter mission nearly got Lanzmann killed.

Shoah is available on YouTube, if you are interested. I think I would like to see Benzine's doc, although I imagine it would be both disturbing and insightful. At times we would prefer to simply turn away from evil, yet our faith, rooted in redemption and hope, acknowledges the reality of sin, both individual and systemic.

Did any of you see Shoah? Did you know this is International Holocaust Day? Do your children and grandchildren have an understanding of the Holocaust/Shoah?

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Pondering Retirement...sort of...

We have a son and a nephew who are United Church ministers. Both are in their 30's, and both have strong gifts for ministry. The United Church is blessed to have these two serving congregations, albeit in different capacities. I appreciate their creativity and vigour.

We are an aging denomination and that includes our clergy. That includes me. The other day I looked at the obits in the United Church Observer magazine and realized that five of the six long-retired ministers who had been "promoted to glory" had served fewer years than my thirty-six. The other person had served 38 years. In other words, I've been at this a long time, longer than my father and father-in-law did, both of whom served in WW2. I'm something of an anomaly in that I have served all of those years in pastoral ministry, and always in very active congregations. I currently work with a group of people I enjoy. I feel blessed in that regard.

I am pondering retirement, although not immediately. I realize though that I would be foolish not to consider when this might be, and what will happen afterward. I am a Christian first, and a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ as an outcome of my faith. Who will I be as a Christian when I retire? How will I live out my discipleship when I no longer serve a congregation?

A recent CBC article Serial retirement - the boomer approach to leaving work: The abrupt end to a career is getting rarer as people seek flexible work before retiring was an interesting read for me. It suggests that the "here's the gold watch, see ya" retirement scenario has come and gone. Many are flexing retirement, sometimes sharing jobs. And 43% of 60-64 year-old retirees are re-employed within a year.

In a former congregation the lead minister's job in now shared by two half-timers. One wanted to reduce work, the other was my predecessor who eventually retired but has come back part-time.

When I retire I don't want to be in the way of younger and newer ministers who are seeking employment by working in a position they might fill. And I don't want to keep doing pastoral ministry because it is familiar and comfortable. Too many aging ministers just can't let go.

I'm considering what I might do and be as a fresh expression of who I am as a Christian.





Sunday, January 24, 2016

The Equality of Washing Feet

Ruth, my wife, jokes that I give Pope Francis a lot of air time. It's true, I like the guy, especially after Pope Benedict.  has issued a decree revising the rules for the traditional foot-washing ritual on Holy or Maundy Thursday, saying the rite should no longer be limited to men, but also include women and young girls and boys. This might seem to be a "no-brainer" for most of us, but the logic (?) of the Roman Catholic church is that Jesus' disciples were men and therefore, since he only washed the feet of men, this should be the practice of the church.

Pope Francis has already broken with this tradition himself, washing the feet of women as well as men in a prison last year. But he is now making this the official stance of the church, and conservatives are not happy. In the announcement mention is made of revised understanding of the related biblical texts about the Last Supper. For years now scholars have suggested that if this was truly a pesach or Passover meal, women and children would have been present as well. Excluding women and children from the supper and subsequently from foot-washing would be historically inaccurate. Of course, if you allow women to have their feet washed, what might be next? This could be the slippery slope to women as priests. God help us all!

I am inclined to shake my head in bemusement at all this, but Roman Catholics still make up the majority of the world's Christians. Whatever Pope Francis does to move toward equality, whether liturgically or practically, really does matter.

What is your reaction to this news?

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Jesus 911

The "Homeless Jesus" statue in Hamilton, Ont. has been mistaken for a real person following a cold weather alert this week.

May the Christ who walks on wounded feet
 walk with you on the road.
May the Christ who serves with wounded hands
 stretch out your hands to serve.
May the Christ who loves with a wounded heart
 open your hearts to love.
May you see the face of Christ in everyone you meet,
 and may everyone you meet
 see the face of Christ in you.

Recently I wrote about those "sleeping rough" in Belleville through these cold winter nights and those who help them.  I got a response from Nightlight Belleville,
a Christian drop-in located downtown. It thanked me for drawing attention to this reality with a reminder that we don't see what we're not looking for. This is true for the homeless and the marginalized. Most of the people who come for meals at Bridge St United Church through Inn from the Cold have places to sleep, but not much more. They tend to be invisible in our culture.

It's encouraging that people do "have a care" in different communities across Ontario. A cold weather alert issued in Hamilton, earlier this week prompted a tongue-in-cheek reminder from paramedics that a “Homeless Jesus” statue located next to St. Patrick Catholic Church is not real. Concerned folk have been phoning about the guy sleeping on the bench, and the paramedics are required to respond. They don't have anything against Jesus, it's just that they can't do much for him.

As Christians we have a different mandate from these first responders. We are encouraged to see Jesus in the "lonely and the lost." We don't have to call 911 to make a difference.


Friday, January 22, 2016

The Courage of Refugees in Canada

The meeting yesterday of the Belleville United Churches Syrian sponsorship group was the last of six for me in three days. I should have been weary and resentful. Instead I was weary and deeply touched by what was a two-hour gathering of people whose hearts are huge. We laughed, we were moved to tears, we were heartened.

The Al Mansour family of five is finding its way into life of Canada with courage and determination. The three boys walk together to school now, joined each day by a friend of the oldest. When the middle boy was asked if he had friends he smiled and answered "whole class." The boys are picking up English quickly, but Mom and Dad are in ESL classes and she has gone from being excruciatingly shy to making an honest effort to converse with those who have befriended her.

The father and oldest son are now regulars at the mosque and the Arabic speakers there have been invaluable allies in helping the family settle. Several of them attend all of our meetings and they are warm and funny. At the meeting one who came from Syria accused another from Lebanon of attempting to sabotage his presentation. Their jocular banter had us all laughing out loud.

The family has been here less than six weeks and those who work with them have seen an astonishing transformation in their demeanour, and they express gratitude at every turn. The father is eager to find work, knowing that his family depends on the Canadian government and our group to fund their day-to-day living. He wants to be a contributor rather than a taker. And they are wondering what has to happen for other family members to come here. They are already convinced that this country will be home and want the same safe, welcoming environment for their other loved ones.

At the end of the meeting I told the group that this is Canada at its best. A report issued yesterday says that Canada is the second best country in the world to live in after Germany. It was definitely first in my heart yesterday. God bless the Al Mansour family and God bless all who are welcoming them in Belleville.  


Thursday, January 21, 2016

Matthew 5:30?

What happens when religions take literalistic and often punitive approaches to their holy writings? There is a horrific story out of Pakistan which reminds us of the illogical and brutal consequences of doing so. The Guardian reports the story this way:

A Muslim cleric has been arrested in Pakistan on terror charges after a teenage boy he accused of blasphemy responded by sawing off his own hand.Anwar Ali, 15, performed the act of self-amputation with a scythe after attending a religious gathering in his local mosque last Monday. Shabir Ahmed challenged anyone who did not love the prophet Muhammad, the most revered figure in Islam, to raise their hand. The boy misunderstood the question and put his hand up, prompting a chorus of shouts from those attending the Milad, a traditional event where songs and poems praising Muhammad are performed revered figure in Islam, to raise their hand. The boy misunderstood the question and put his hand up, prompting a chorus of shouts from those attending the Milad, a traditional event where songs and poems praising Muhammad are performed. Ahmed, the cleric at the mosque in the small Punjab town of Hujra Shah Muqeem, reportedly denounced the boy as a “blasphemer who was liable to be killed”.   Nausher Ahmed, a police officer, said an emotional Ali rushed home and returned with his severed hand on a plate, which he presented to the mullah.

While we may be stunned by this, I have listened with limited patience to those who claim that they believe in the bible as the literal word of God, without error. I am inclined to ask them whether they observe Jesus' teachings in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5) about plucking out an eye or severing an appendage. Often the individual will backtrack on this, insisting that Jesus meant to be provocative with these statements. I certainly agree, but as soon as they begin to interpret Jesus' words they prove that they don't take scripture literally.

And that's okay. After decades of ministry I am still moved by the power of scripture and the narrative of God's redeeming love I find there. There are portions of the bible I would readily expunge, or "archive" but I'm not alone in that. Martin Luther, the driving force of our Protestant tradition had books of the bible he would have gladly deleted, but this is the canon of scripture. So we ponder and wrestle and listen to the scriptures which lead us into love and acceptance, not away from them.


Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Friend and Ally?

Whippings, beheadings, stoning, and even crucifixions. These are terrible forms of torture and execution that no civilized nation could tolerate. That's why we must offer a united response to a terrorist organization such ISIS or ISIL. Except that this describes forms of punishment meted out by Saudi Arabia, one of our Canadian allies. Not only an ally, but a nation to which we are selling fifteen billion dollars worth of armed personnel carriers.

I am angry and ashamed that Canada is so willing to partner in almost every way with the Saudis, who have such a dismal human rights record. I am dismayed as a Canadian and as a Christian. The arms contract was brokered under the Conservative feds but the new Liberal government certainly has no intention of backing away from the deal.

A CBC report points out that last year Saudi Arabia executed more than 150 people, many of those foreigners (mostly poor migrant workers). It executes people for "crimes" such as adultery and sorcery that are not considered offences in other countries. Early in January they executed another 47, including a religious leader whose death has deepened Middle East tensions.

Sure China and Iran execute more people each year than the Saudis. I don't consider either of those nations to be shining examples of human rights. How can we follow the One whose crucifixion is the hinge of our faith experience and not uphold the rights of those who are dying in the same fashion?

Our Prophet from the Rock, Rick Mercer, had something to say about all this recently. Take a look.


Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Sing, Sing, Sing!

I wrote about the death of David Bowie last week and in the days since we have witnessed the outpouring of grief and reflection in response to his passing. His last album, released a couple of days before his death, bumped Adele from numero uno, which is a considerable feat. And there have been lots of tributes, including a Bowie sing-along at the Art Gallery of Ontario which took place this past Saturday night. More than 500 "choir members" sang Major Tom in three-part harmony, and they sounded pretty darn good.

Human beings have a profound desire to express themselves through music, whether in joy or grief. I read an article recently about the resurgence of community choirs as an opportunity for social interaction, and another more scholarly piece on choirs as a form of social capital. One sister-in-law recently sold her music business which taught children to sing collectively. I wrote about this a while ago, noting the irony that her programs ran out of a faltering United Church. In another day the kids would have been in congregational choirs and wouldn't have paid for it!

We sing in worship, whether it is in large gathering or small. It happens less often, but we still sing at some funerals and weddings. Sometimes we sing through the tears, and when we can't muster a song, others do so for us. Christians sing old hymns and praise songs, badly and beautifully. While music isn't listed as a spiritual gift in the 1 Corinthians passage we read on Sunday, we know it is.

Some of you sing in church and community choirs, and some of you lead them. What are your observations about music, as a spiritual gift and faith expression?

Here is the link to the AGO event. Listen up!

Monday, January 18, 2016

Praying with our Legs

This is Martin Luther King Jr. Day in the United States, a national holiday to commemorate this iconic figure of the Civil Rights movement. When we come to the occasion every year I recall speeding along a highway in New Mexico after flying in from Toronto and searching for my suitcase to no avail. I was bleary-eyed but captivated by the attention given to King on NPR. MLK is an American hero but his message of non-violent resistance to injustice belongs to the world, as do the words and witness of Mohandes Gandhi.

There is a documentary film in the works about another central figure of the rights movement, a Jew who worked closely with King. Rabbi Joshua Heschel. was born in Poland and escaped to the United States just before the Nazi invasion of his homeland. He was a theologian and philosopher whose book on the Sabbath is exceptional.

Praying With My Legs: the Spiritual Witness of Abraham Joshua Heschel  explores his life, including  the close relationship he shared with King and their involvement together in the civil rights and Vietnam War protest movements. Both men were prophetic, voices ahead of their time yet for their time. Both were gifted thinkers and writers, but as the name of the film suggests, they were willing to take to the streets to live their message with all the risks that entailed. Of course King was assassinated, murdered at the age of 39. Heschel died four years later at the age of 65.

You have heard of Martin Luther King. What about Heschel? Were they prophets of their respective faiths? Who are the spiritual prophets today?

Sunday, January 17, 2016

For the Record on God

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Last Sunday morning I explored how we perceive God as people who live in a religiously pluralistic world.  Are there many lesser gods, idols in effect, which pale before our One True God, or do we acknowledge that there can be only one God, even though our perceptions may vary greatly? I used the Day of Epiphany reading about the Zoroastrian Magi, or Wise Men, who seek the Jewish child Jesus, who is eventually recognized as the Christ. Three religions intersect in a few verses of Matthew's gospel.

Both Zoroastrianism and Judaism were long established religions at the time of Jesus' birth. So were none of their followers worshipping the God we worship? Islam was several centuries in the offing, and it holds Jesus in high esteem. Is Islam's god a pagan deity, or do we worship the same God? I spoke about Larycia Hawkins, the Wheaton College prof who has been fired for wearing the hijab and stating that Christians and Muslims worship the same God.

The reason I'm revisiting this is because of the latest edition of the student-run school paper, the Wheaton Record. Try to get in close on the depiction of Hawkins and her head scarf, or hijab. The words provoke thought, and this is a creative way of pursuing the conversation.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Living as a Groundling

It was been a long time since I was a Groundling, or at least a blogging Groundling! Keeping up with my Lion Lamb blog is a challenge in itself, and so I have slipped the Creation Care blogs in with my regular musings.

I am passionate about living a "grounded" life as a Christian, convinced that God has called me to live abundantly and incarnationally now. Here is the link to my latest Groundling entry. I hope you'll go there.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Truly, Deeply, Sadly

Man, oh man. Or since I'm United Church, person oh person! First Bowie dead at 69, now Alan Rickman at the same age, in the same week.

I really appreciated Rickman as an actor, although his recurring role as Severus Snape in the Harry Potter films was among my least favourite. I'm not sure why. He was good as an evil genius, or a philandering husband, or as a lovelorn aristocrat. He took some fun comedic turns as well.

My favourite Rickman film was Truly, Madly, Deeply, in which he plays a dead guy. It's been a long time since I've seen TMD but I found it a touching and imaginative meditation on loss and grief. 

Even those of us who have a resurrection hope must deal with the profound realities of loss and when our "heavenly hope" is portrayed in simplistic terms we can actually suffer more as we move through grief. What's our problem? Jesus gives us new life, so don't worry, be happy. In truth we hope through the tears, accepting that grief has its own way, and the healing of our spirits can't fit anyone else's timeline.

It's tough to find old movies since the demise of the video store, but Truly, Madly, Deeply really would be worth a look. I would be interested in seeing it again.

Does anyone else remember TMD? Did you find that it captured a sense of what it means to live through loss?

RIP Alan. You will be truly, deeply, sadly missed. Here is a meaningful tribute to Ryckman by Daniel Radcliffe his Potter co-star.

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Thursday, January 14, 2016

Contentment & Powerball

Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.

1 Timothy 6:6-11

Did someone win the 1.5 billion dollar Powerball Lottery prize? The obscene payoff was still available yesterday and lots of Canadians were figuring out how to get tickets for this American lottery. CBC radio had someone on to explain what the tax implications of a win in Canada would be, and how to best invest the money in the short term. The odds are millions to one of winning, but it's best to be prepared.

We ended up chatting about this at the breakfast table after we heard the segment. Given that we never buy tickets for any lottery our odds of winning are absolutely nil, but it sparked a conversation. I wondered if our basic values for life, rooted in our Christian faith, would be immediately and forever altered. Ruth wasn't convinced they would be, but I couldn't imagine they wouldn't. We can say all we like about making family comfortable and giving to charitable causes if we won big, but we aren't built for that sort of wealth. Many wealthy people are philanthropists, and I appreciate their generosity. Still, I have to pay attention to Jesus' admonitions about accumulating stuff, and what it does to us.

It comes down to our expectations of a good life, and our perceptions of abundance and scarcity. I enjoy a wonderful middle class Canadian lifestyle and I hear Jesus' encouragement to be generous to those on the margins. Yet I can be greedy and acquisitive just the same. I'm not convinced that I would become a better person by suddenly becoming one of the wealthy elite.

What about you? Could you handle big-time wealth? Do you fantasize about striking it big? Are you content with what you have?

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Ah Mercy, Mercy Me

A little credit to Marvin Gaye in my title today, even as I speak about Pope Francis and the 2016 Jubilee of Mercy. This declared year of mercy actually commenced last December and will continue through until November 2016. Roman Catholic parishes are encouraged to literally and figuratively demonstrate mercy during these twelve months, acknowledging that our world often seems cruel and merciless. Francis began the year on December 8th by designating a door of mercy at the Vatican. There are a number of resources for congregations to use in considering various aspects of mercy in daily life.

Here is a description of the year:

Pope Francis has called on Catholics around the world to use the ongoing Jubilee year of mercy to “open wide” the doors of their hearts to forgive others and to work against social exclusion, even of those that may have caused them bother or upset. In his weekly audience in St. Peter’s Square Wednesday, the pontiff said that walking through any of the holy doors open in dioceses around the world for the Jubilee year should be a sign of “true conversion of our heart.” “When we go through that door, it is good to remember that we must also open wide the doors of our heart,” said Francis, suggesting people can even stand before the holy door and ask: “Lord, help me to open the doors of my heart!” “The holy year won’t be very effective if the doors of our heart do not let Christ enter, who pushes us to go towards others, to bring him and his love,” said the pope.

I like the concept and it would be worthwhile for Protestants to pick up on the theme as well. In his book Speaking Christian the late Marcus Borg offers that while we often think of mercy as clemency in situations where there s a power differential, it has more to do with compassion, "to feel with" another. He suggests that when we consider the beatitude "blessed are the merciful" we might substitute "blessed are the compassionate."

What is your reaction to the Jubilee or Year of Mercy? Does it help to focus on the theme? What about the tangible element of a mercy door?

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Bowie and the Lazarus Effect

I was never a David Bowie fan. There, I said it. I was never not a Bowie fan either. I quite liked several of his hits, but I didn't love Bowie and his whole shape-shifting shtick the way some of my friends did and still do. I was into gnarlier rock at the time of his greatest fame. I do regret not taking in the Bowie exhibit at the Art Gallery of Ontario a couple of years ago. We were in the building for another exhibit, but time constraints meant that we left without a gander at the Bowie legacy.

I was shocked by the news of Bowie's death, in part because he was only 69 and had released a new album on the occasion of his birthday last Friday. One of the songs, Lazarus, now takes on much greater import as a foreshadowing of his death. Bowie has lived with cancer for the past year and a half, although he shared this reality with only a few friends. The song is a bit spooky, but good and poignant

Of course the biblical story of Lazarus is about a friend of Jesus who dies and is mourned by his sisters. Mary and Martha are bereft, and angry at Jesus for not showing up on time to save his life.  Jesus weeps, and then he raises Lazarus from the tomb.

The tributes to David Bowie are oozing from every media outlet, and rightly so. He was innovative, inquisitive, and talented. Apparently he was also a kind and caring person, good to his friends, collaborative, and gracious with interviewers. He deserves to be idolized as much as any celebrity, although the "immortal" legacies of artist doesn't literally raise them from the dead.

Are you mourning the passing of David Bowie? How are you when it comes to grieving? Do you have a "Lazarus" hope?

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Pucker up for Peace

  • A file picture taken on December 31, 2015, shows Israeli author Dorit Rabinyan posing with her Hebrew-language novel titled "Gader Haya"
  • Romans 16:16— "Greet one another with a holy kiss"
  • I Corinthians 16:20— "Greet one another with a holy kiss"
  • II Corinthians13:12 — "Greet one another with a holy kiss"
  • I Thessalonians 5:26 — "Greet all the brothers with a holy kiss"
  • I Peter 5:14— "Greet one another with a kiss of love"

  • As you can see there are five references in the New Testament to the holy kiss or kiss of love. Not surprisingly there is a long tradition of laying a chaste smooch on a brother or sister in Christ in the Roman Catholic and Orthodox communions, along with others. Don't worry, this is not an innovation which I'll attempt at Bridge St.

    It did come to mind when I read about the removal of a novel called Borderlife from a list of recommended books in Israeli schools. It is about the love between a Muslim and a Jew and apparently this would be a harmful subject for young minds. The result is a protest in the form of a video showing Muslims and Jews kissing in ways than are definitely more intimate than one might expect in church.

    Still, the notion of a kiss, holy or otherwise, includes vulnerability and intimacy and openness. The "protest" is a lovely one and breaks down prejudices and barriers. Take a look:

    Saturday, January 09, 2016

    Five & Two


    That is the final figure for the number of meals shared through the two meal ministries which happen out of Bridge St. United Church in 2015. We have a dedicated leadership team and wonderful volunteers -- more than 150 of them. What they do is remarkable. And both Inn from the Cold and Thank God Its Friday happen out of the Bridge St. physical plant.

    The same is the case for the lunch programs sponsored by St Matthew's and Eastminster United Churches in Belleville. It is a no-brainer in some respects. We have the three buildings in different locations, with kitchens. So we use them to deliver meals to the hungry. Of course we don't actually deliver. Folk have to figure out how to get to us, and all three churches are in the south end of the city, not that far from each other.

    Are there ways to be more responsive to the needs of our guests, who often have limited transportation? Honestly, we might not be able to consider anything other than what we are currently undertaking, but it is inspiring to hear and read about what others are doing.

    A United Methodist congregation in the States has developed a meal ministry called Five & Two, employing a food truck to allow them to be mobile. On their website they describe what they do this way

    In the Gospels, Jesus feeds thousands of people using only five loaves and two fishes.  This story has inspired the name of this exciting new ministry:  Five & Two:  A Street Food Ministry of Arlington Heights United Methodist Church.  This ministry feeds not only the physical needs of the hungry in our community, but also provides a vehicle to share the Gospel with those who hunger spiritually.We have partnered with community leaders to address the needs of our neigbhors as we reach out to offer a warm and healthy meal and a chance to connect  with others in a real and meaningful way.

    I wonder if they have a speaker system to play music beckoning people to the truck, like an old-time ice cream truck? What would they play -- the hymn "Travel On, Travel On" maybe?

    However we do the math of ministry, we are called to be responsive to the needs of those around us in Christ's name. God bless all who do so.


    Friday, January 08, 2016

    Condeming Hatred

    The anniversary edition of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo at a printing house near Paris.
    This week marks the first anniversary of the senseless and cowardly murders of several workers for the magazine Charlie Hebdo, along with a police officer who responded to the attacks. It was awful, violent religious extremism, and sadly not the last such outrage. Yesterday French police killed another attacking extremist. We should condemn hatred of any kind perpetrated in God's name. Come to think of it, we should condemn hatred in all its forms.

    That's why I couldn't get on the "je suis Charlie" bandwagon last year, and why I don't have much use for the satirical magazine now. The anniversary cover depicts a caricature of an angry God with an assault rifle. The magazine seems to revel in attacking religion indiscriminately and with venom. I am dismayed that so many uphold this as freedom of speech and that as such it supersedes basic decency. To me it is just hateful and offensive. The Vatican isn't impressed either:

    VATICAN CITY — The Vatican’s newspaper has criticized French weekly Charlie Hebdo for manipulating faith in the magazine’s latest front page, which depicts a blood-soaked God armed with a Kalashnikov. The controversial cover commemorates a year since the terrorist attack against Charlie Hebdo’s Paris headquarters, which left 12 people dead and led to a global debate on religious extremism and freedom of speech.“One year later, the assassin is still on the run,” reads the black-and-white front page, with a cartoon depicting a violent God.

    Thursday, January 07, 2016


    Last evening we went to see the film Brooklyn which is about a young Irish woman, Eilis
    (Ay-lish) Lacey, who makes the difficult choice to emigrate to America in the early 1950s. Even though there is a significant Irish diaspora in the New York borough of Brooklyn, Eilis is desperately homesick and dislocated. I won't spoil the plot, but she does adjust, and well, only to be beckoned home by family circumstances. The tension between familiarity and possibility is finely wrought.

    The acting is consistently superb in this film and it is quite moving. Along the way Eilis encounters a number of people who help her transition.  I was grateful that the ex-pat Irish priest in the story is a positive figure, kind, practical, and hospitable. Too often clergy are portrayed as cold and officious, and in the case of priests, predatory.

    I thought a lot about the Syrian family we have sponsored and which has taken up residence in Belleville. Coincidentally, yesterday was the one-month anniversary of their arrival and the day the parents began their English as a Second Language training. Both hope to work and know they need English. The boys resumed school on Monday and the older two are enthusiastic. Despite wonderful support from the sponsorship team and members of the Islamic community this is a tremendous cultural transition for the Al Mansours. There isn't a resident Syrian community and only a handful of Arabic speakers in town.

    I have pondered whether the family might eventually return to Syria is the conflict and danger ends for them, although what would they return to? They hope that other family members will be able to emigrate, but there are no guarantees. They are probably terribly homesick for a life which was destructive yet familiar.

    Siham Abu Sitta smiled throughout her Metro Morning interview.

    Yesterday I also listened to a wonderful interview on CBC Metro Morning with the mother of a Syrian family of three sponsored by a Toronto congregation. The father was killed a couple of years ago, but the articulate, motivated mom is determined to make a life in Canada and learned English in a matter of months anticipating her transition. She describes the Fairlawn Ave United Church congregation as her new family.

    We can make every effort to welcome the strangers in our midst, as scripture directs us to do. We can accept that this Syrian family and all the others will make choices in their best interests which may not fit with our assumptions. They have already demonstrated such courage.  We can practice hospitality in Christ's name and pray for their wellbeing.


    Wednesday, January 06, 2016

    Tell the Truth, Make it Right

    Did you pay much attention to the news about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission final report over Christmas? Most of us were busy with family and churchy stuff, so we may have missed the outcome of years of soul-searching, painful listening, and hard work to prepare a report about the cultural genocide of First Nations peoples in this country. That may sound like a harsh term, but how else do we describe the systematic removal of children from their homes through the Residential School system, and the attempts to eradicate cultural identity, including language?

    The final report of the commission was issued December 15th and begins this way:

    Canada’s residential school system for Aboriginal children was an education
    system in name only for much of its existence. These residential schools were
    created for the purpose of separating Aboriginal children from their families,
    in order to minimize and weaken family ties and cultural linkages, and to indoctrinate
    children into a new culture—the culture of the legally dominant Euro-Christian
    Canadian society, led by Canada’s first prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald. The
    schools were in existence for well over 100 years, and many successive generations of
    children from the same communities and families endured the experience of them.
    That experience was hidden for most of Canada’s history, until Survivors of the system
    were finally able to find the strength, courage, and support to bring their experiences
    to light in several thousand court cases that ultimately led to the largest class-action
    lawsuit in Canada’s history.

    A dark aspect of this school system was the complicity of several Christians denominations, including the United Church of Canada. There were teachers and others in the system who were kind, compassionate, and exhibited Christ's love. So often, though, there was abuse which was demonic and destructive.

    The United Church continues to be involved in the work of reconciliation, but we are far from done. We will see whether the bold statements by the federal Liberals will result in actual improvements for aboriginal peoples across the country. I am dismayed by the pervasive angry racism directed toward aboriginals, to the extent that the CBC shut down comments on First Nations stories. We also know that more aboriginal children are currently in care than were in residential schools at any given time during their sordid history. There have been a number of stories recently about the suicides of Native teens who left reserves for schooling. Of course there is also the issue of missing aboriginal women.
    If you want to learn more, including taking a look at the final report, follow these links:


    Tuesday, January 05, 2016

    Homeless Jesus Revisited

    And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests;

    but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’ Luke 9:58

    You have seen this sculpture in my blog in the past, along with this verse.  It was created by Canadian artist Timothy Schmalz and there are a number of casting in cities around the world. It is called "Homeless Jesus" although the only indication that this is the Christ are the wounds in the exposed feet. Schmalz is a devout Roman Catholic who wants those who ponder the sculpture to see Christ in the poor and the outcast; "I want people, when they see the marginalized in our community to realize that these people are sacred."  I have spoken with Timothy and he kindly sent me a small casting of the sculpture which is in my study.

    Yesterday Ruth, my wife, stopped in at Urban Escape Café in downtown Belleville to drop off some or her knitting, mittens and a scarf, for those who "sleep rough" in this community. The owner, Juliet DeWal, has a heart for street folk in the city and makes sure that they have food, blankets, warm clothes. This sudden and intensely cold weather has meant that these vulnerable individuals are at added risk.

    There is a need for the practical necessities, but also for an awareness of this reality in our community and many others, not just during winter weather, but all through the year. When I cycle to work along the water I often see people emerge from the woods or sitting on benches, obviously having spent the night. They are largely invisible in our society, and efforts to create shelters and programs for them are low priority.

    When we are tempted to complain about those first few chilly moments in a vehicle or waiting for a bus we can be aware of the realities of the homeless, the poor, the marginalized. We can pray and respond, however we are able.


    Sunday, January 03, 2016

    Any Mummers in the Night?

    This morning I will speak about the Christmas season, which is twelve days in duration, not just a splash on Christmas Eve. This year we actually have two Sundays during those twelve days, so this gives me the opportunity to address what Christmas means beyond the strange mixture of nostalgia and buying frenzy.

    I will mention the Newfoundland tradition of mummering, an odd and cheerful excuse for revelry and drinking which has its roots in Ireland. Mummering still had some energy in the outports I served 35 years ago. Folk would dress up, go door-to-door, hoping to confound neighbours who knew their voices and quirks. This 500-year-old practice has almost disappeared in the province, as it has in its country of origin, but apparently it is being revived with an annual Mummering Festival in St. John's.

    I wish that we could revive the Christian season of Christmas, as an antidote to the commercialism and secularization of what really is a wondrous celebration of the Incarnation. There is always hope!

    Friday, January 01, 2016

    Jesus and Gender

    The Grammy-nominated comedian had tweeted to her 7.5 million followers 'MERRY CHRISTMAS! Jesus was gender fluid!' on December 25

    What did comedian and actress Sarah Silverman mean when she posted this? Who knows and who cares. Well, a lot of irate fundamentalist Christians, that's who. After a lot of online scolding and hating Silverman responded:

    "I was in Wales w my boyfriend and his family. I was sitting in the car on the way to Christmas at his sister's and figured I'd send out a Christmas tweet." Silverman, who dates actor Michael Sheen, added, "decided to add on a word from our collective new vocabulary, since, to me, it's funny, beautiful, and true in that He is all of us."

    Rather harmless, don't you figure? Mark Silk, Jewish as Silverman is Jewish, and as Jesus was, come to think of it, offers his thoughts. He rightly points out through the centuries Christian mystics have recognized the feminine in Jesus, as one aspect of his incarnation. Julian of Norwich wrote, “Jesus Christ therefore, who himself overcame evil with good, is our true Mother. We received our ‘Being’ from Him ­ and this is where His Maternity starts ­ And with it comes the gentle Protection and Guard of Love which will never ceases to surround us.”

    Read Silk's entire piece. It's thoughtful

    This kerfuffle brings to mind the brash,"manly" Jesus preached by megachurch pastor Mark Driscoll and the wannabes who followed his lead. When nasty-tempered, arrogant Driscoll was finally given the boot by his board they claimed he hadn't done anything immoral and heretical. But I figure the Jesus he was inventing to support patriarchy was evidence of his immorality and heresy.

    I'll take Sarah Silverman's off-the-cuff tweet over all the Jesus-as-tough-guy sermons any day.